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But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.
AS the great comprehensive gospel duty is the denial of self, so the grand gospel sin that confronts it is the denial of Christ. These two are both the commanding and the dividing principles of all our actions: for whosoever acts in opposition to one, does it always in behalf of the other. None ever op posed Christ, but it was to gratify self: none ever renounced the interest of self, but from a prevailing love to the interest of Christ. The subject I have here pitched upon may seem improper in these times, and in this place, where the number of professors and of men is the same; where the cause and interest of Christ has been so cried up; and Christ’s personal reign and kingdom so called for and expected. But since it has been still preached up, but acted down; and dealt with, as the eagle in the fable did with the oyster, carrying it up on high, that by letting it fall he might dash it in pieces: I say, since Christ must reign, but his truths be made to serve; I suppose it is but reason to distinguish between profession and pretence, and to conclude, that men’s present crying, Hail king, and bending the knee to Christ, are only in order to his future crucifixion.
For the discovery of the sense of the words, I shall inquire into their occasion. From the very beginning of the chapter we have Christ consulting the propagation of the gospel; and in order to it 57(being the only way that he knew to effect it) sending forth a ministry; and giving them a commission, together with instructions for the execution of it. He would have them fully acquainted with the nature and extent of their office; and so he joins commission with instruction; by one he conveys power, by the other knowledge. Supposing (I conceive) that upon such an undertaking, the more learned his ministers were, they would prove never the less faithful.1111 In the parliament 1653, it being put to the vote, whether they should support and encourage a godly and learned ministry, the latter word was rejected, and the vote passed for a godly and faithful ministry. And thus having fitted them, and stript them of all manner of defence, ver. 9. he sends them forth amongst wolves: a hard expedition, you will say, to go amongst wolves; but yet much harder to convert them into sheep; and no less hard even to discern some of them, possibly being under sheep’s clothing; and so by the advantage of that dress, sooner felt than discovered: probably also such, as had both the properties of wolves, that is, they could whine and howl, as well as bite and devour. But that they might not go altogether naked among their enemies, the only armour that Christ allows them is prudence and innocence; Be ye wise as serpents, but harmless as doves, ver. 16. Weapons not at all offensive, yet most suitable to their warfare, whose greatest encounters were to be exhortations, and whose only conquest, escape. Innocence is the best caution, and we may unite the expression, to be wise as a serpent is to be harmless as a dove. Innocence is like polished armour; it adorns, and it defends. In sum, he tells them, 58that the opposition they should meet with was the greatest imaginable, from ver. 16. to 26. But in the ensuing verses he promises them an equal proportion of assistance; and, as if it were not an argument of force enough to outweigh the forementioned discouragements, he casts into the balance the promise of a reward to such as should execute, and of punishment to such as should neglect their commission: the reward in the former verse, Whosoever shall confess me before men, &c. the punishment in this, But whosoever shall deny, &c. As if by way of pre-occupation he should have said, Well, here you see your commission; this is your duty, these are your discouragements: never seek for shifts and evasions from worldly afflictions; this is your reward, if you perform it; this is your doom, if you decline it.
As for the explication of the words, they are clear and easy; and their originals in the Greek are of single signification, without any ambiguity; and therefore I shall not trouble you, by proposing how they run in this or that edition; or straining for an interpretation where there is no difficulty, or distinction where there is no difference. The only exposition that I shall give of them, will be to compare them to other parallel scriptures, and peculiarly to that in Mark viii. 38. Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father, with the holy angels. These words are a comment upon my text.
1. What is here in the text called a denying of Christ, is there termed a being ashamed of him, 59that is, in those words the cause is expressed, and here the effect; for therefore we deny a thing, be cause we are ashamed of it. First, Peter is ashamed of Christ, then he denies him.
2. What is here termed a denying of Christ, is there called a being ashamed of Christ and his words: Christ’s truths are his second self. And he that offers a contempt to a king’s letters or edicts, virtually affronts the king; it strikes his words, but it rebounds upon his person.
3. What is here said, before men, is there phrased, in this adulterous and sinful generation. These words import the hinderance of the duty enjoined; which therefore is here purposely enforced with a non obstante to all opposition. The term adulterous, I conceive, may chiefly relate to the Jews, who being nationally espoused to God by covenant, every sin of theirs was in a peculiar manner spiritual adultery.
4. What is here said, I will deny him before my Father, is there expressed, I will be ashamed of him before my Father and his holy angels; that is, when he shall come to judgment, when revenging justice shall come in pomp, attended with the glorious retinue of all the host of heaven. In short, the sentence pronounced declares the judgment, the solemnity of it the terror.
From the words we may deduce these observations:
I. We shall find strong motives and temptations from men, to draw us to a denial of Christ.
II. No terrors or solicitations from men, though never so great, can warrant or excuse such a denial.60
III. To deny Christ’s words, is to deny Christ.
But since these observations are rather implied than expressed in the words, I shall wave them, and instead of deducing a doctrine distinct from the words, prosecute the words themselves under this doctrinal paraphrase:
Whosoever shall deny, disown, or be ashamed of either the person or truths of Jesus Christ, for any fear or favour of man, shall with shame be disowned and eternally rejected by him at the dreadful judgment of the great day.
The discussion of this shall lie in these things:
I. To shew, how many ways Christ and his truths may be denied; and what is the denial here chiefly intended.
II. To shew, what are the causes that induce men to a denial of Christ and his truths.
III. To shew, how far a man may consult his safety in time of persecution, without denying Christ.
IV To shew, what is imported in Christ’s denying us before his Father in heaven.
V. To apply all to the present occasion.
But before I enter upon these, I must briefly premise this, that though the text and the doctrine run peremptory and absolute, Whosoever denies Christ, shall assuredly be denied by him; yet still there is a tacit condition in the words supposed, unless repentance intervene. For this and many other scriptures, though as to their formal terms they are absolute, yet as to their sense they are conditional. God in mercy has so framed and tempered his word, that we have, for the most part, a reserve of mercy wrapped up in a curse. And the very first judgment 61that was pronounced upon fallen man, was with the allay of a promise. Wheresoever we find a curse to the guilty expressed, in the same words mercy to the penitent is still understood. This premised, I come now to discuss the first thing, viz. how many ways Christ and his truths may be denied, &c. Here first in general I assert, that we may deny him in all those acts that are capable of being morally good or evil; those are the proper scene in which we act our confessions or denials of him. Accordingly therefore all ways of denying Christ I shall comprise under these three.
1. We may deny him and his truths by an erroneous, heretical judgment. I know it is doubted whether a bare error in judgment can condemn: but since truths absolutely necessary to salvation are so clearly revealed, that we cannot err in them, unless we be notoriously wanting to ourselves; herein the fault of the judgment is resolved into a precedent default in the will; and so the case is put out of doubt. But here it may be replied, Are not truths of absolute and fundamental necessity very disputable; as the deity of Christ, the trinity of persons? If they are not in themselves disputable, why are they so much disputed? Indeed, I believe, if we trace these disputes to their original cause, we shall find, that they never sprung from a reluctancy in reason to embrace them. For this reason itself dictates, as most rational, to assent to any thing, though seemingly contrary to reason, if it is revealed by God, and we are certain of the revelation. These two supposed, these disputes must needs arise only from curiosity and singularity; and these are faults of a diseased will. But some will farther demand 62in behalf of these men, whether such as assent to every word in scripture, (for so will those that deny the natural deity of Christ and the Spirit,) can be yet said in doctrinals to deny Christ? To this I answer, Since words abstracted from their proper sense and signification lose the nature of words, and are only equivocally so called; inasmuch as the persons we speak of, take them thus, and derive the letter from Christ, but the signification from themselves, they cannot be said properly to assent so much as to the words of the scripture. And so their case also is clear. But yet more fully to state the matter, how far a denial of Christ in belief and judgment is damnable: we will propose the question, whether those who hold the fundamentals of faith may deny Christ damnably, in respect of those superstructures and consequences that arise from them? I answer in brief, By fundamental truths are understood, (1.) either such, without the belief of which we cannot be saved: or, (2.) such, the belief of which is sufficient to save: if the question be proposed of fundamentals in this latter sense, it contains its own answer; for where a man believes those truths, the belief of which is sufficient to save, there the disbelief or denial of their consequences cannot damn. But what and how many these fundamentals are, it will then be agreed upon, when all sects, opinions, and persuasions do unite and consent. 2dly, If we speak of fundamentals in the former sense, as they are only truths, without which we cannot be saved: it is manifest that we may believe them, and yet be damned for denying their consequences: for that which is only a condition, without which we cannot be saved, is not therefore 63a cause sufficient to save: much more is required to the latter, than to the former. I conclude therefore, that to deny Christ in our judgment, will condemn, and this concerns the learned: Christ demands the homage of your understanding: he will have your reason bend to him; you must put your heads under his feet. And we know, that heretofore, he who had the leprosy in this part, was to be pronounced utterly unclean. A poisoned reason, an infected judgment, is Christ’s greatest enemy. And an error in the judgment is like an imposthume in the head, which is always noisome, and frequently mortal.
2. We may deny Christ verbally, and by oral expressions. Now our words are the interpreters of our hearts, the transcripts of the judgment, with some farther addition of good or evil. He that interprets, usually enlarges. What our judgment whispers in secret, these proclaim upon the house top. To deny Christ in the former, imports enmity r but in these, open defiance. Christ’s passion is renewed in both: he that misjudges of him, condemns him; but he that blasphemes him, spits in his face. Thus the Jews and the Pharisees denied Christ. We know that this man is a sinner, John ix. 24. and a deceiver, Matt, xxvii. 63. And he casts out devils by the prince of devils, Matt. xii. 24. And thus Christ is daily denied, in many blasphemies printed and divulged, and many horrid opinions vented against the truth. The schools dispute whether in morals the external action superadds any thing of good or evil to the internal elicit act of the will: but certainly the enmity of our judgments is wrought up to an high pitch, before it rages in an open denial. And it is a sign that it is grown too 64big for the heart, when it seeks for vent in our words. Blasphemy uttered, is error heightened with impudence: it is sin scorning a concealment, not only committed, but defended. He that denies Christ in his judgment, sins; but he that speaks his denial, vouches and owns his sin: and so, by publishing it, does what in him lies to make it universal, and by writing it, to establish it eternal. There is another way of denying Christ with our mouths, which is negative; that is, when we do not acknowledge and confess him: but of this I shall have occasion to treat under the discussion of the third general head.
3. We may deny Christ in our actions and practice; and these speak much louder than our tongues. To have an orthodox belief, and a true profession, concurring with a bad life, is only to deny Christ with a greater solemnity. Belief and profession will speak thee a Christian but very faintly, when thy conversation proclaims thee an infidel. Many, while they have preached Christ in their sermons, have read a lecture of atheism in their practice. We have many here who speak of godliness, mortification, and self-denial; but if these are so, what means the bleating of the sheep, and the lowing of the oxen, the noise of their ordinary sins, and the cry of their great ones? If godly, why do they wallow and steep in all the carnalities of the world, under pretence of Christian liberty? Why do they make religion ridiculous by pretending to prophecy; and when their prophecies prove delusions, why do they blaspheme?1212 A noted independent divine, when Oliver Cromwell was sick, of which sickness he died, declared that God had revealed to him that he should recover, and live thirty years longer, for that God had raised him up for a work which could not be done in less time. But Oliver’s death being published two days after, the said divine publicly in prayer expostulated with God the defeat of his prophecy, in these words: Lord, thou hast lied unto us; yea, thou hast lied unto us. If such are self-deniers, what means 65the griping, the prejudice, the covetousness, and the pluralities preached against, and retained, and the arbitrary government of many? When such men preach of self-denial and humility, I cannot but think of Seneca, who praised poverty, and that very safely, in the midst of his great riches and gardens; and even exhorted the world to throw away their gold, perhaps (as one well conjectures) that he might gather it up: so these desire men to be humble, that they may domineer without opposition. But it is an easy matter to commend patience, when there is no danger of any trial, to extol humility in the midst of honours, to begin a fast after dinner.1313 Very credibly reported to have been done in an independent congregation at Oxon. But, O how Christ will deal with such persons, when he shall draw forth all their actions bare, and stript from this deceiving veil of their heavenly speeches! He will then say, It was not your sad countenance, nor your hypocritical groaning, by which you did either confess or honour me: but your worldliness, your luxury, your sinister partial dealing: these have denied me, these have wounded me, these have gone to my heart; these have caused the weak to stumble, and the profane to blaspheme; these have offended the one, and hardened the other. You have indeed spoke me fair, you have saluted me with your lips, but even then you betrayed me. Depart from me therefore, you professors of holiness, but you workers of iniquity.66
And thus having shewn the three ways by which Christ may be denied, it may now be demanded, which is the denial here intended in the words.
Answer. (1.) I conceive, if the words are taken as they were particularly and personally directed to the apostles, upon the occasion of their mission to preach the gospel, so the denial of him was the not acknowledgment of the deity or godhead of Christ; and the reason to prove that this was then principally in tended is this; because this was the truth in those days chiefly opposed, and most disbelieved; as appears, because Christ and the apostles did most earnestly inculcate the belief of this, and accepted men upon the bare acknowledgment of this, and baptism was administered to such as did but profess this, Acts viii. 37, 38. And indeed, as this one aphorism, Jesus Christ is the son of God, is virtually and eminently the whole gospel; so, to confess or deny it, is virtually to embrace or reject the whole round and series of gospel truths. For he that acknowledges Christ to be the son of God, by the same does consequentially acknowledge, that he is to be believed and obeyed, in whatsoever he does enjoin and deliver to the sons of men: and therefore that we are to repent, and believe, and rest upon him for salvation, and to deny ourselves: and within the compass of this is included whatsoever is called gospel.
As for the manner of our denying the deity of Christ here prohibited, I conceive, it was by words and oral expressions verbally to deny and disacknowledge it. This I ground upon these reasons:
1. Because it was such a denial as was before men, and therefore consisted in open profession; for a denial 67in judgment and practice, as such, is not always before men.
2. Because it was such a denial or confession of him as would appear in preaching: but this is managed in words and verbal profession.
But now, (2.) if we take the words as they are a general precept, equally relating to all times and to all persons, though delivered only upon a particular occasion to the apostles, (as I suppose they are to be understood;) so I think they comprehend all the three ways mentioned of confessing or denying Christ: but principally in respect of practice; and that, 1. Because by this he is most honoured or dishonoured. 2. Because without this the other two cannot save. 3. Because those who are ready enough to confess him both in judgment and profession, are for the most part very prone to deny him shamefully in their doings.
Pass we now to a second thing, viz. to shew,
II. What are the causes inducing men to deny Christ in his truths. I shall propose three.
1. The seeming supposed absurdity of many truths: upon this foundation heresy always builds. The heathens derided the Christians, that still they required and pressed belief; and well they might, say they, since the articles of their religion are so absurd, that upon principles of science they can never win assent. It is easy to draw it forth and demonstrate, how upon this score the chief heresies, that now are said to trouble the church, do oppose and deny the most important truths in divinity. As first, hear the denier of the deity and satisfaction of Christ. What, says he, can the same person be God and man? the creature and the creator? Can 68we ascribe such attributes to the same thing, whereof one implies a negation and a contradiction of the other? Can he be also finite and infinite, when to be finite is not to be infinite, and to be infinite not to be finite? And when we distinguish between the person and the nature, was not that distinction an invention of the schools, savouring rather of metaphysics than divinity? If we say, that he must have been God, because he was to mediate between us and God, by the same reason, they will reply, we should need a mediator between us and Christ, who is equally God, equally offended. Then for his satisfaction, they will demand to whom this satisfaction is paid? If to God, then God pays a price to himself: and what is it else to require and need no satisfaction, than for one to satisfy himself? Next comes in the denier of the decrees and free grace of God. What, says he, shall we exhort, admonish, and entreat the saints to beware of falling away finally, and at the same time assert, that it is impossible for them so to fall? What, shall we erect two contradictory wills in God, or place two contradictories in the same will? and make the will of his purpose and intention run counter to the will of his approbation? Hear another concerning the scripture and justification. What, says the Romanist, rely in matters of faith upon a private spirit? How do you know this is the sense of such a scripture? Why, by the Spirit. But how will you try that Spirit to be of God? Why, by the scripture. This he explodes as a circle, and so derides it. Then for justification. How are you justified by an imputed righteousness? Is it yours before it is imputed, or not? If not, as we must say, is this to be justified 69to have that accounted yours, that is not yours? But again, did you ever hear of any man made rich or wise by imputation? Why then righteous or just? Now these seeming paradoxes, attending gospel truths, cause men of weak, prejudiced intellectuals to deny them, and in them, Christ; being ashamed to own faith so much, as they think, to the disparagement of their reason.
The second thing causing men to deny the truths of Christ is their unprofitableness. And no wonder, if here men forsake the truth, and assert interest. To be pious is the way to be poor. Truth still gives its followers its own badge and livery, a despised nakedness. It is hard to maintain the truth, but much harder to be maintained by it. Could it ever yet feed, clothe, or defend its assertors? Did ever any man quench his thirst or satisfy his hunger with a notion? Did ever any one live upon propositions? The testimony of Brutus concerning virtue is the apprehension of most concerning truth: at it is a name, but lives and estates are things, d therefore not to be thrown away upon words. That we are neither to worship or cringe to any thing under the Deity, is a truth too strict for a Naaman: he can be content to worship the true God, but then it must be in the house of Rimmon: the reason was implied in his condition; he was captain of the host, and therefore he thought it reason good to bow to Rimmon, rather than endanger his place: better bow than break. Indeed sometimes Providence casts things so, that truth and interest lie the same way: and, when it is wrapt up in this covering, men can be content to follow it, to press hard after it, but it is, as we pursue some beasts, 70only for their skins: take off the covering, and though men obtain the truth, they would lament the loss of that: as Jacob wept and mourned over the torn coat, when Joseph was alive. It is incredible to consider how interest outweighs truth. If a thing in itself be doubtful, let it make for interest, and it shall be raised at least into a probable; and if a truth be certain, and thwart interest, it will quickly fetch it down to but a probability: nay, if it does not carry with it an impregnable evidence, it will go near to debase it to a downright falsity. How much interest casts the balance in cases dubious, I could give sundry instances: let one suffice: and that concerning the unlawfulness of usury. Most of the learned men in the world successively, both heathen and Christian, do assert the taking of use to be utterly unlawful; yet the divines of the reformed church beyond the seas, though most severe and rigid in other things, do generally affirm it to be lawful. That the case is doubtful, and may be disputed with plausible arguments on either side, we may well grant: but what then is the reason, that makes these divines so unanimously concur in this opinion? Indeed I shall not affirm this to be the reason, but it may seem so to many: that they receive their salaries by way of pension, in present ready money, and so have no other way to improve them; so that it may be suspected, that the change of their salary would be the strongest argument to change their opinion. The truth is, interest is the grand wheel and spring that moves the whole universe. Let Christ and truth say what they will, if interest will have it, gain must be godliness: if enthusiasm is in request, learning must be inconsistent with 71grace. If pay grows short, the university maintenance must be too great. Rather than Pilate will be counted Caesar’s enemy, he will pronounce Christ innocent one hour, and condemn him the next. How Christ is made to truckle under the world, and how his truths are denied and shuffled with for profit and pelf, the clearest proof would be by induction and example. But as it is the most clear, so here it would be the most unpleasing: wherefore I shall pass this over, since the world is now so peccant upon this account, that I am afraid instances would be mistaken for invectives.
3. The third cause inducing men to deny Christ in his truths is their apparent danger. To confess Christ is the ready way to be cast out of the synagogue. The church is a place of graves, as well as of worship and profession. To be resolute in a good cause is to bring upon ourselves the punishments due to a bad. Truth indeed is a possession of the highest value, and therefore it must needs expose the owner to much danger. Christ is sometimes pleased to make the profession of himself costly, and a man cannot buy the truth, but he must pay down his life and his dearest blood for it. Christianity marks a man out for destruction; and Christ some times chalks out such a way to salvation as shall verify his own saying, He that will save his life shall lose it. The first ages of the church had a more abundant experience of this: what Paul and the rest planted by their preaching, they watered with their blood. We know their usage was such, as Christ foretold; he sent them to wolves, and the common course then was, Christianos ad leones. For a man to give his name to Christianity in those days 72was to list himself a martyr, and to bid farewell, not only to the pleasures, but also to the hopes of this life. Neither was it a single death only that then attended this profession, but the terror and sharpness of it was redoubled in the manner and circumstance. They had persecutors, whose invention was as great as their cruelty. Wit and malice conspired to find out such tortures, such deaths, and those of such in credible anguish, that only the manner of dying was the punishment, death itself the deliverance. To be a martyr signifies only to witness the truth of Christ, but the witnessing of the truth was then so generally attended with this event, that martyrdom now signifies, not only to witness, but to witness by death: the word, besides its own signification, importing their practice. And since Christians have been freed from heathens, Christians themselves have turned persecutors. Since Rome from heathen was. turned Christian, it has improved its persecution into an inquisition. Now, when Christ and truth are upon these terms, that men cannot confess him, but upon pain of death, the reason of their apostasy and denial is clear; men will be wise, and leave truth and misery to such as love it; they are resolved to be cunning, let others run the hazard of being sincere. If they must be good at so high a rate, they know they may be safe at a cheaper. Si negare sufficiat, quis erit nocens? If to deny Christ will save them, the truth shall never make them guilty. Let Christ and his flock lie open, and exposed to all weather of persecution, foxes will be sure to have holes. And if it comes to this, that they must either renounce their religion, deny and blaspheme Christ, or forfeit their lives to the fire or the sword, it is 73but inverting Job’s wife’s advice, Curse God, and live.
III. We proceed now to the third thing, which is to shew, how far a man may consult his safety, &c.
This he may do two ways.
1. By withdrawing his person. Martyrdom is an heroic act of faith: an achievement beyond an ordinary pitch of it; To you, says the Spirit, it is given to suffer, Phil. i. 29. It is a peculiar additional gift: it is a distinguishing excellency of degree, not an essential consequent of its nature. Be ye harmless as doves, says Christ; and it is as natural to them to take flight upon danger, as to be innocent: let every man throughly consult the temper of his faith, and weigh his courage with his fears, his weakness and his resolution together, and take the measure of both, and see which preponderates; and if his spirit faints, if his heart misgives and melts at the very thoughts of the fire, let him fly, and secure his own soul, and Christ’s honour. Non negat Christum fugiendo, qui ideo fugit ne neget: he does not deny Christ by flying, who therefore flies that he may not deny him. Nay, he does not so much decline, as rather change his martyrdom: he flies from the flame, but repairs to a desert; to poverty and hunger in a wilderness. Whereas, if he would dispense with his conscience, and deny his Lord, or swallow down two or three contradictory oaths, he should neither fear the one, nor be forced to the other.
2. By concealing his judgment. A man some times is no more bound to speak, than to destroy himself: and as nature abhors this, so religion does not command that. In the times of the primitive 74church, when the Christians dwelt amongst heathens, it is reported of a certain maid, how she came from her father’s house to one of the tribunals of the gentiles, and declared herself a Christian, spit in the judge’s face, and so provoked him to cause her to be executed. But will any say, that this was to confess Christ, to die a martyr? He that, uncalled for, uncompelled, comes and proclaims a persecuted truth, for which he is sure to die, only dies a confessor of his own folly, and a sacrifice to his own rashness. Martyrdom is stamped such only by God’s command; and he that ventures upon it without a call, must endure it without a reward: Christ will say, Who required this at your hands? His gospel does not dictate imprudence; no evangelical precept justles out that of a lawful self-preservation. He therefore that thus throws himself upon the sword, runs to heaven before he is sent for; where, though perhaps Christ may in mercy receive the man, yet he will be sure to disown the martyr.
And thus much concerning those lawful ways of securing ourselves in time of persecution: not as if these were always lawful: for sometimes a man is bound to confess Christ openly, though he dies for it; and to conceal a truth is to deny it. But now, to shew when it is our duty, and when unlawful to take these courses, by some general rule of a perpetual, never-failing truth, none ever would yet presume: for, as Aristotle says, we are not to expect demonstrations in ethics or politics, nor to build certain rules upon the contingency of human actions: so, inasmuch as our flying from persecution, our confessing or concealing persecuted truths, vary and change their very nature, according to different circumstances 75of time, place, and persons, we cannot limit their directions within any one universal precept. You will say then, how shall we know when to confess, when to conceal a truth? when to wait for, when to decline persecution? Indeed, the only way that I think can be prescribed in this case, is to be earnest and importunate with God in prayer for special direction: and it is not to be imagined, that he, who is both faithful and merciful, will leave a sincere soul in the dark upon such an occasion. But this I shall add, that the ministers of God are not to evade, or take refuge in any of these two forementioned ways. They are public persons; and good shepherds must then chiefly stand close to the flock, when the wolf comes. For them to be silent in the cause of Christ, is to renounce it; and to fly, is to desert it. As for that place urged in favour of the contrary, in ver. 23. When they persecute you in this city, flee into another, it proves nothing; for the precept was particular, and concerned only the apostles; and that, but for that time in which they were then sent to the Jews, at which time Christ kept them as a reserve for the future: for when after his death they were indifferently sent both to Jews and gentiles, we find not this clause in their commission, but they were to sign the truths they preached with their blood; as we know they actually did. And moreover, when Christ bids them, being persecuted in one city, fly into another, it was not (as Grotius acutely observes) that they might lie hid, or be secure in that city, but that there they might preach the gospel: so that their flight here was not to secure their persons, but to continue their business. I conclude therefore, that faithful 76ministers are to stand and endure the brunt. A common soldier may fly, when it is the duty of him that holds the standard to die upon the place. And we have abundant encouragement so to do. Christ has seconded and sweetened his command with his promise: yea, the thing itself is not only our duty, but our glory. And he who has done this work, has in the very work partly received his wages. And were it put to my choice, I think I should choose rather with spitting and scorn to be tumbled into the dust in blood, bearing witness to any known truth of our dear Lord, now opposed by the enthusiasts of the present age, than by a denial of those truths through blood and perjury wade to a sceptre, and lord it in a throne. And we need not doubt, but truth, however oppressed, will have some followers, and at length prevail. A Christ, though crucified, will arise: and as it is in Rev. xi. 3. the witnesses will prophesy, though it be in sackcloth.
IV. Having thus despatched the third thing, I proceed to the fourth, which is to shew, what it is for Christ to deny us before his Father in heaven. Hitherto we have treated of men’s carriage to Christ in this world; now we will describe his carriage to them in the other. These words clearly relate to the last judgment, and they are a summary description of his proceeding with men at that day.
And here we will consider,
1. The action itself, He will deny them.
2. The circumstance of the action, He will deny them before his Father and the holy angels.
1. Concerning the first: Christ’s denying us is otherwise expressed in Luke xiii. 27. I know you 77not. To know, in scripture language, is to approve; and so, not to know, is to reject and condemn. Now who knows how may woes are crowded into this one sentence, I will deny him? It is (to say no more) a compendious expression of hell, an eternity of torments comprised in a word: it is condemnation itself, and, what is most of all, it is condemnation from the mouth of a Saviour. O the inexpressible horror that will seize upon a poor sinner, when he stands arraigned at the bar of divine justice! When he shall look about, and see his accuser, his judge, the witnesses, all of them his remorseless adversaries; the law impleading, mercy and the gospel up braiding him, the devil, his grand accuser, drawing his indictment; numbering his sins with the greatest exactness, and aggravating them with the cruelest bitterness; and conscience, like a thousand witnesses, attesting every article, flying in his face, and rending his very heart: and then after all, Christ, from whom only mercy could be expected, owning the accusation. It will be hell enough to hear the sentence; the very promulgation of the punishment will be part of the punishment, and anticipate the execution. If Peter was so abashed when Christ gave him a look after his denial; if there was so much dread in his looks when he stood as prisoner, how much greater will it be when he sits as a judge! If it was so fearful when he looked his denier into repentance, what will it be when he shall look him into destruction! Believe it, when we shall hear an accusation from an advocate, our eternal doom from our intercessor, it will convince us that a denial of Christ is something more than a few transitory words: what trembling, what outcries, 78what astonishment will there be upon the pronouncing this sentence! Every word will come upon the sinner like an arrow striking through his reins; like thunder, that is heard, and consumes at the same instant. Yea, it will be a denial with scorn, with taunting exprobrations: and to be miserable without commiseration is the height of misery He that falls below pity, can fall no lower. Could I give you a lively representation of guilt and horror on this hand, and paint out eternal wrath, and decipher eternal vengeance on the other, then might I shew you the condition of a sinner hearing himself denied by Christ: and for those whom Christ has denied, it will be in vain to appeal to the Father, unless we can imagine that those whom mercy has condemned, justice will absolve.
2. For the circumstance, He will deny us before his Father and the holy angels. As much as God is more glorious than man, so much is it more glorious to be confessed before him, than before men: and so much glory as there is in being confessed, so much dishonour there is in being denied. If there could be any room for comfort after the sentence of damnation, it would be this, to be executed in secret, to perish unobserved: as it is some allay to the infamy of him who died ignominiously, to be buried privately. But when a man’s folly must be spread open before the angels, and all his baseness ript up before those pure spirits, this will be a double hell: to be thrust into utter darkness, only to be punished by it, without the benefit of being concealed. When Christ shall compare himself, who was denied, and the thing for which he was denied, together, and parallel his merits with a lust, and lay eternity in 79the balance with a trifle, then the folly of the sinner’s choice shall be the greatest sting of his destruction. For a man shall not have the advantage of his former ignorances and error to approve his sin: things that appeared amiable by the light of this world, will appear of a different odious hue in the clear discoveries of the next: as that which appears to be of this colour by a dim candle, will be found to be of another, looked upon in the day. So when Christ shall have cleared up men’s apprehensions about the value of things, he will propose that worthy prize for which he was denied; he will hold it up to open view, and call upon men and angels: Be hold, look, here’s the thing, here’s that piece of dirt, that windy applause, that poor transitory pleasure, that contemptible danger, for which I was dishonoured, my truths disowned, and for which, life, eternity, and God himself was scorned and trampled upon by this sinner: judge, all the world, whether what he so despised in the other life, he deserves to enjoy in this. How will the condemned sinner then crawl forth, and appear in his filth and shame, before that undefiled tribunal, like a toad or a snake in a king’s presence-chamber! Nothing so irksome, as to have one’s folly displayed before the prudent; one’s impurity before the pure. And all this before that company surrounding him, from which he is neither able to look off, nor yet to look upon. A disgrace put upon a man in company is unsupportable: it is heightened according to the greatness, and multiplied according to the number of the persons that hear it. And now as this circumstance [before his Father] fully speaks the shame, so likewise it speaks the danger of Christ’s then denying 80us. For when the accusation is heard, and the person stands convict, God is immediately lifting up his hand to inflict the eternal blow; and when Christ denies to exhibit a ransom, to step between the stroke then coming and the sinner, it must inevitably fall upon him, and sink his guilty soul into that deep and bottomless gulph of endless perdition. This therefore is the sum of Christ’s denying us before his Father, viz. unsupportable shame, unavoidable destruction.
V. I proceed now to the uses which may be drawn from the truths delivered. And here,
1. (Right honourable) not only the present occasion, but even the words themselves, seem eminently to address an exhortation to your honours. As for others not to deny Christ, is openly to profess him; so for you who are invested with authority, not to deny him, is to defend him. Know therefore, that Christ does not only desire, but demand your defence, and that in a double respect.
(1.) In respect of his truth. (2.) Of his members.
(1.) He requires that you should defend and confess him in his truth. Heresy is a tare sometimes not to be pulled up but by the civil magistrate. The word liberty of conscience is much abused for the defence of it, because not well understood. Every man may have liberty of conscience to think and judge as he pleases, but not to vent what he pleases. The reason is, because conscience bounding itself within the thoughts is of private concernment, and the cognizance of these belong only to God: but when an opinion is published, it concerns all that hear it; and the public is endamaged, and therefore becomes punishable by the magistrate, to whom the 81care or the public is intrusted. But there is one truth that concerns both ministry and magistracy, and all; which is opposed by those who affirm, that none ought to govern upon the earth, but Christ in person: absurdly; as if the powers that are, destroyed his; as if a deputy were not consistent with a king; as if there were any opposition in subordination. They affirm also, that the wicked have no right to their estates; but only the faithful, that is, themselves, ought to possess the earth. And it is not to be questioned, but when they come to explain this principle, by putting it into execution, there will be but few that have estates at present, but will be either found, or made wicked. I shall not be so urgent, to press you to confess Christ, by asserting and owning the truth, contrary to this, since it does not only oppose truth, but property; and here to deny Christ, would be to deny yourselves, in a sense which none is like to do.
(2.) Christ requires you to own and defend him in his members; and amongst these, the chief of them, and such as most fall in your way, the ministers; I say, that despised, abject, oppressed sort of men, the ministers, whom the world would make antichristian, and so deprive them of heaven; and also strip them of that poor remainder of their maintenance, and so allow them no portion upon the earth. You may now spare that distinction of scandalous ministers, when it is even made scandalous to be a minister. And as for their discouragement in the courts of the law, I shall only note this, that for these many years last past, it has been the constant observation of all, that if a minister had a cause depending in the court, it was ten to one but it went 82against him. I cannot believe your law justles out the gospel; but if it be thus used to undermine Christ in his servants, beware that such judgments passed upon them, do not fetch down God’s judgments upon the land; and that for such abuse of law, Christ does not in anger deprive both you and us of its use. (My lords) I make no doubt, but you will meet with many suits in your course, in which the persons we speak of are concerned, as it is easy to prognosticate from those many worthy petitions preferred against them, for which the well-affected petitioners1414 Whensoever any petition was put up to the parliament in the year 1653, for the taking away of tithes, the thanks of the house were still returned to them, and that by the name and elogy of the well-affected petitioners. will one day receive but small thanks from the court of heaven. But however their causes speed in your tribunals, know that Christ himself will recognize them at a greater. And then, what a different face will be put upon things! When the usurping, devouring Nimrods of the world shall be cast with scorn on the left hand; and Christ himself in that great consistory shall deign to step down from his throne, and single out a poor despised minister, and (as it were taking him by the hand) present him to, and openly thus confess him before his Father: Father, here is a poor servant of mine, who, for doing his duty impartially, for keeping a good conscience, and testifying my truths in an hypocritical pretending age, was wronged, trod upon, stripped of all: Father, I will that there be now a distinction made, between such as have owned and confessed me with the loss of the world, and those that have denied, persecuted, and insulted over me. It will be 83in vain then to come and creep for mercy; and say, Lord, when did we insult over thee? when did we see thee in our courts, and despised or oppressed thee? Christ’s reply will be then quick and sharp: Verily, inasmuch as you did it to one of these little, poor despised ones, ye did it unto me.
2. Use is of information, to shew us the danger as well as the baseness of a dastardly spirit, in asserting the interest and truth of Christ. Since Christ has made a Christian course a warfare, of all men living a coward is the most unfit to make a Christian: whose infamy is not so great, but it is sometimes less than his peril. A coward does not always scape with disgrace, but sometimes also he loses his life: wherefore, let all such know, as can enlarge their consciences like hell, and call any sinful compliance submission, and style a cowardly silence in Christ’s cause, discretion and prudence; I say, let them know, that Christ will one day scorn them, and spit them, with their policy and prudence, into hell; and then let them consult, how politic they were, for a temporal emolument, to throw away eternity. The things which generally cause men to deny Christ are, either the enjoyments or the miseries of this life: but alas! at the day of judgment all these will expire; and, as one well observes, what are we the better for pleasure, or the worse for sorrow, when it is past? But then sin and guilt will be still fresh, and heaven and hell will be then yet to begin. If ever it was seasonable to preach courage in the despised, abused cause of Christ, it is now, when his truths are reformed into nothing, when the hands and hearts of his faithful ministers are weakened, and even broke, and his worship extirpated in a 84mockery, that his honour may be advanced. Well, to establish our hearts in duty, let us beforehand propose to ourselves the worst that can happen. Should God in his judgment suffer England to be transformed into a Munster: should the faithful be every where massacred: should the places of learning be demolished, and our colleges reduced (not only as one1515 A colonel of the army, the perfidious cause of Penruddock’s death, and some time after high-sheriff of Oxfordshire, openly and frequently affirmed the uselessness of the universities, and that three colleges were sufficient to answer the occasions of the nation, for the breeding of men up to learning, so far as it was either necessary or useful. in his zeal would have it) to three, but to none; yet, assuredly, hell is worse than all this, and is the portion of such as deny Christ: wherefore, let our discouragements be what they will, loss of places, loss of estates, loss of life and relations, yet still this sentence stands ratified in the decrees of Heaven, Cursed be that man, that for any of these shall desert the truth, and deny his Lord.85
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