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Rule x. To mark diligently and avoid carefully all causes and causers of divisions; especially to shun seducers, false teachers, and broachers of heresies and errors, contrary to the form of wholesome words.
Rom. xvi. 17, 18, “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.”
Matt. xxiv. 4, 5, 23–25, “Jesus said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before.”
1 Tim. vi. 3–5, “If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; he is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.”
2 Tim. ii. 16, 17, “Shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungoldiness. And their word will eat as doth a canker.”
Tit. iii. 9–11, “Avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain. A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.”
771 John ii. 18, 19, “Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.”
1 John iv. 1, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.”
2 John 10, 11, “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him Godspeed: for he that biddeth him God-speed is partaker of his evil deeds.”
Acts xx. 29–31, “I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch.”
Rev. ii. 14–16, “I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate. Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.”
Explication x. The former part of this rule was something spoken to, Rule 4. If the preservation of unity ought to be our aim, then certainly the causes and causers of division ought to be avoided. “From such turn away.” There is a generation of men whose tongues seem to be acted by the devil; James calls it, “Set on fire of hell,” chap. iii. 6. As though they were the mere offspring of serpents, they delight in nothing but in the fire of contention; disputing, quarrelling, backbiting, endless strivings, are that they live upon. “Note such men, and avoid them.” Generally they are men of private interests, fleshly ends, high conceits, and proud spirits. “From such turn away.” For the latter part of the rule in particular, concerning seducers, that a judgment of discerning by the Spirit rests in the church and the several members thereof is apparent, 1 John ii. 27; 1 Cor. ii. 15; Isa. viii. 20. To the exercise of this duty they are commanded, 1 John iv. 1; 1 Cor. xiv. 29: so it is commended, Acts xvii. 11; and hereunto are they encouraged, Phil. i. 9, 10; Heb. v. 14. “If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into the ditch.” That gold may be suspected which would not be tried. Christians must choose the good, and refuse the evil. If their teachers could excuse them if they lead them aside, they might well require blind submission from them. Now, that the brethren may exercise this duty aright, and perform obedience to this rule, it is required, —
1. That they get their senses exercised in the word, “to discern 78good and evil,” Heb. v. 14; especially, that they get from the Scripture a “form of sound words,” 2 Tim. i. 13, of the main truths of the gospel and fundamental articles of religion; so that, upon the first apprehension of the contrary, they may turn away from him that brings it, and not bid him “God-speed,” 2 John 10.
2. That they attend and hearken to nothing but what comes to them in the way of God. Some men, yea, very many in our days, have such itching ears after novelty, that they run greedily after every one that lies in wait to deceive with cunning enticing words, to make out some new pretended revelations; and this from a pretended liberty, yea, duty of trying all things, little considering that God will have his own work done only in his own way. How they come it matters not, so they may be heard. Most of the seducers and false prophets of our days are men apparently out of God’s way, leaving their own callings to wander without a call, ordinary or extraordinary, — without providence or promise. For a man to put himself voluntarily, uncalled, upon the hearing of them, is to tempt God; with whom it is just and righteous to deliver them up to the efficacy of error, that they may believe the lies they hear. Attend only, then, to, and try only that which comes in the way of, God. To others bid not God-speed.
3. To be always ready furnished with and to bear in mind the characters which the Holy Ghost hath given us in the word of seducers, which are indeed the very same, whereby poor unstable souls are seduced by them; as, — First, That they should come in “sheep’s clothing,” Matt. vii. 15, — goodly pretences of innocency and holiness. Secondly, With “good words and fair speeches,” Rom. xvi. 17, 18, smooth as butter and oil. Thirdly, Answering men’s lusts in their doctrine, 2 Tim. iv. 3, — bringing doctrines suitable to some beloved lusts of men, especially a broad and easy way of salvation. Fourthly, Pretences of glorious discoveries and revelations, Matt. xxiv. 24; 2 Thess. ii. 2.
4. Utterly reject and separate from such as have had means of conviction and admonition, Tit. iii. 10.
5. Not to receive any without testimony from some of the brethren of known integrity in the churches. Such is the misery of our days, that men will run to hear those that they know not from whence they come, nor what they are. The laudable practice of the first churches, to give testimonials to them that were to pass from one place to another, 1 Cor. xvi. 3, and not to receive any without them, Acts ix. 26, is quite laid aside.
6. To walk orderly, not attending to the doctrine of any not known to and approved by the churches.
7. To remove far away all delight in novelties, disputes, janglings, 79contentions about words not tending to godliness; which usually are beginnings of fearful apostasies, Tit. iii. 9; 2 Tim. iv. 3; 1 Tim. ii. 3–5.
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