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Ecclesiastical Policy the best Policy:

OR

RELIGION THE BEST REASON OF STATE:

IN A

SERMON

PREACHED

BEFORE THE HONOURABLE SOCIETY OF LINCOLN’S INN.


1 Kings xiii. 33, 34.

After this thing Jeroboam returned not from his evil way, but made again of the lowest of the people priests of the high places: whosoever would, he consecrated him, and he became one of the priests of the high places. And this thing became sin unto the house of Jeroboam, even to cut it off, and to destroy it from off the face of the earth.

JEROBOAM (from the name of a person become the character of impiety) is reported to posterity eminent, or rather infamous, for two things; usurpation of government, and innovation of religion. It is confessed, the former is expressly said to have been from God; but since God may order and dispose what he does not approve, and use the wickedness of men while he forbids it, the design of the first cause does not excuse the malignity of the second: and therefore, the advancement and sceptre of Jeroboam was in that sense only the work of God, 86in which it is said, Amos iii. 6. that there is no evil in the city which the Lord hath not done. But from his attempts upon the civil power, he proceeds to innovate God’s worship; and from the subjection of men’s bodies and estates, to enslave their consciences, as knowing that true religion is no friend to an unjust title. Such was afterwards the way of Mahomet, to the tyrant to join the impostor, and what he had got by the sword to confirm by the Alcoran; raising his empire upon two pillars, conquest and inspiration. Jeroboam being thus advanced, and thinking policy the best piety, though indeed in nothing ever more befooled, the nature of sin being not only to defile, but to infatuate; in the xiith chapter, and the 27th verse, he thus argues; If this people go up to do sacrifice in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, then shall the heart of this people turn again unto their lord, even unto Rehoboam king of Judah, and they shall kill me, and go again unto Rehoboam king of Judah. As if he should have said; The true worship of God, and the converse of those that use it, dispose men to a considerate lawful subjection. And therefore I must take another course: my practice must not be better than my title; what was won by force, must be continued by delusion. Thus sin is usually seconded with sin; and a man seldom commits one sin to please, but he commits another to defend himself: as it is frequent for the adulterer to commit murder, to conceal the shame of his adultery. But let us see Jeroboam’s politic procedure in the next verse. Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel. As 87if he had made such an edict: I Jeroboam, by the advice of my council, considering the great distance of the temple, and the great charges that poor people are put to in going thither; as also the intolerable burden of paying the first-fruits and tithes to the priest, have considered of a way that may be more easy, and less burdensome to the people, as also more comfortable to the priests themselves; and therefore strictly enjoin, that none henceforth presume to repair to the temple at Jerusalem, especially since God is not tied to any place or form of worship; as also because the devotion of men is apt to be clogged by such ceremonies; therefore, both for the ease of the people, as well as for the advancement of religion, we require and command, that all henceforth forbear going up to Jerusalem. Questionless these and such other reasons the impostor used, to insinuate his devout idolatry. And thus the calves were set up, to which oxen must be sacrificed; the god and the sacrifice out of the same herd. And because Israel was not to return to Egypt, Egypt was brought back to them: that is, the Egyptian way of worship, the Apis, or Serapis, which was nothing but the image of a calf or ox, as is clear from most historians. Thus Jeroboam having procured his people gods, the next thing was to provide priests. Hereupon to the calves he adds a commission for the approving, trying, and admitting the rascality and lowest of the people to minister in that service: such as kept cattle, with a little change of their office, were admitted to make oblations to them. And doubtless, besides the approbation of these, there was a commission also to eject such of the priests and Levites of God, as being too ceremoniously 88addicted to the temple, would not serve Jeroboam before God, nor worship his calves for their gold, nor approve those two glittering sins for any reason of state whatsoever. Having now perfected divine worship, and prepared both gods and priests; in the next place, that he might the better teach his false priests the way of their new worship, he begins the service himself, and so countenances by his example what he had enjoined by his command, in the 11th verse of this chapter; and Jeroboam stood by the altar to burn incense . Burning of in cense was then the ministerial office amongst them, as preaching is now amongst us. So that to represent to you the nature of Jeroboam’s action; it was, as if in a Christian nation the chief governor should authorize and encourage all the scum and refuse of the people to preach, and call them to the ministry by using to preach,1616   Cromwell (a lively copy of Jeroboam) did so. and invade the ministerial function himself. But Jeroboam rested not here, but while he was busy in his work, and a prophet immediately sent by God declares against his idolatry, he endeavours to seize upon and commit him; in ver. 4. he held forth his hand from the altar, and said, Lay hold of him. Thus we have him completing his sin, and by a strange imposition of hands persecuting the true prophets, as well as ordaining false. But it was a natural transition, and no ways wonderful to see him, who stood affronting God with false incense in the right hand, persecuting with the left, and abetting the idolatry of one arm with the violence of the other. Now if we lay all these things together, and consider the parts, 89rise, and degrees of his sin, we shall find, that it was not for nothing that the Spirit of God so frequently and bitterly in scripture stigmatizes this person; for it represents him first encroaching upon the civil government, thence changing that of the church, debasing the office that God had made sacred, introducing a false way of worship, and destroying the true. And in this we have a full and fair description of a foul thing, that is, of an usurper and an impostor: or, to use one word more comprehensive than both, of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.

From the story and practice of Jeroboam, we might gather these observations.

1. That God sometimes punishes a notorious sin, by suffering the sinner to fall into a worse.

Thus God punished the rebellion of the Israelites, by permitting them to fall into idolatry.

2. There is nothing so absurd, but may be obtruded upon the vulgar under pretence of religion.

Certainly, otherwise a golden calf could never have been made either the object or the means of divine worship.

3. Sin, especially that of perverting God’s worship, as it leaves a guilt upon the soul, so it perpetuates a blot upon the name.

Hence nothing so frequent, as for the Spirit of God to express wicked, irreligious kings, by comparing them to Ahab or Jeroboam. It being usual to make the first and most eminent in any kind, not only the standard for comparison, but also the rule of expression.

But I shall insist only upon the words of the text, and what shall be drawn from thence. There 90are two things in the words that may seem to require explication.

1. What is meant by the high places.

2. What by the consecration of the priests.

1. Concerning the high places. The use of these in the divine worship was general and ancient; and as Dionysius Vossius observes in his notes upon Moses Maimonides, the first way that was used, long before temples were either built or thought lawful. The reason of this seems to be, because those places could not be thought to shut up or confine the immensity of God, as they supposed an house did; and withal gave his worshippers a nearer approach to heaven by their height. Hence we read that the Samaritans worshipped upon mount Gerizim, John iv. 20. and Samuel went up to the high place to sacrifice, 1 Sam. ix. 14. and Solomon sacrificed at the high place in Gibeon, 1 Kings iii. 4. Yea, the temple itself was at length built upon a mount or high place, 2 Chron. iii. 1. You will say then, why are these places condemned? I answer, that the use of them was not condemned, as absolutely and al ways unlawful in itself, but only after the temple was built, and that God had professed to put his name in that place and no other: therefore, what was lawful in the practice of Samuel and Solomon before the temple was in being, was now detestable in Jeroboam, since that was constituted by God the only place for his worship. To bring this consideration to the times of Christianity. Because the apostles and primitive Christians preached in houses, and had only private meetings, in regard they were under persecution, and had no churches; this can not warrant the practice of those nowadays, nor a 91toleration of them, that prefer houses before churches, and a conventicle before the congregation.

2. For the second thing, which is the consecration of the priests; it seems to have been correspondent to ordination in the Christian church. Idolaters themselves were not so far gone, as to venture upon the priesthood without consecration and a call. To shew all the solemnities of this would be tedious, and here unnecessary: the Hebrew word which we render to consecrate, signifies to fill the hand, which indeed imports the manner of consecration, which was done by filling the hand: for the priest cut a piece of the sacrifice, and put it into the hands of him that was to be consecrated; by which ceremony he received right to sacrifice, and so became a priest. As our ordination in the Christian church is said to have been heretofore transacted by the bishop’s delivering of the Bible into the hands of him that was to be ordained, whereby he received power ministerially to dispense the mysteries contained in it, and so was made a presbyter. Thus much briefly concerning consecration.

There remains nothing else to be explained in the words: I shall therefore now draw forth the sense of them into these two propositions.

I. The surest means to strengthen, or the readiest to ruin the civil power, is either to establish or destroy the worship of God in the right exercise of religion.

II. The next and most effectual way to destroy religion, is to embase the teachers and dispensers of it.

Of both these in their order.

For the prosecution of the former we are to shew,

92

1. The truth of the assertion, that it is so.

2. The reason of the assertion, why and whence it is so.

1. For the truth of it: it is abundantly evinced from all records both of divine and profane history, in which he that runs may read the ruin of the state in the destruction of the church; and that not only portended by it, as its sign, but also inferred from it, as its cause.

2. For the reason of the point; it may be drawn

(1.) From the judicial proceeding of God, the great king of kings, and supreme ruler of the universe; who for his commands is indeed careful, but for his worship jealous: and therefore in states notoriously irreligious, by a secret and irresistible power, countermands their deepest project, splits their counsels, and smites their most refined policies with frustration and a curse; being resolved that the kingdoms of the world shall fall down before him, either in his adoration, or their own confusion.

(2.) The reason of the doctrine may be drawn from the necessary dependance of the very principles of government upon religion. And this I shall pursue more fully. The great business of government is to procure obedience, and keep off disobedience: the great springs upon which those two move are rewards and punishments, answering the two ruling affections of man’s mind, hope and fear. For since there is a natural opposition between the judgment and the appetite, the former respecting what is honest, the latter what is pleasing; which two qualifications seldom concur in the same thing, and since withal man’s design in every action is delight; therefore to render things honest also practicable, 93they must be first represented desirable, which can not be, but by proposing honesty clothed with plea sure; and since it presents no pleasure to the sense, it must be fetched from the apprehension of a future reward: for questionless duty moves not so much upon command as promise. Now therefore, that which proposes the greatest and most suitable rewards to obedience, and the greatest terrors and punishments to disobedience, doubtless is the most likely to enforce one, and prevent the other. But it is religion that does this, which to happiness and misery joins eternity. And these, supposing the immortality of the soul, which philosophy indeed conjectures, but only religion proves, or (which is as good) persuades; I say these two things, eternal happiness and eternal misery, meeting with a persuasion that the soul is immortal, are, without controversy, of all others, the first the most desirable, and the latter the most horrible to human apprehension. Were it not for these, civil government were not able to stand before the prevailing swing of corrupt nature, which would know no honesty but advantage, no duty but in pleasure, nor any law but its own will. Were not these frequently thundered into the understandings of men, the magistrate might enact, order, and proclaim; proclamations might be hung upon walls and posts, and there they might hang, seen and despised, more like malefactors than laws: but when religion binds them upon the conscience, conscience will either persuade or terrify men into their practice. For put the case, a man knew, and that upon sure grounds, that he might do an advantageous murder or robbery, and not be discovered; what human laws could hinder 94him, which, he knows, cannot inflict any penalty, where they can make no discovery? But religion assures him, that no sin, though concealed from human eyes, can either escape God’s sight in this world, or his vengeance in the other. Put the case also, that men looked upon death without fear, in which sense it is nothing, or at most very little; ceasing, while it is endured, and probably without pain, for it seizes upon the vitals, and benumbs the senses, and where there is no sense, there can be no pain: I say, if while a man is acting his will towards sin, he should also thus act his reason to despise death, where would be the terror of the magistrate, who can neither threaten or inflict any more? Hence an old malefactor in his execution at the gallows made no other confession but this; that he had very jocundly passed over his life in such courses; and he that would not for fifty years pleasure endure half an hour’s pain, deserved to die a worse death than himself. Questionless this man was not ignorant before, that there were such things as laws, assizes, and gallows; but had he considered and believed the terrors of another world, he might probably have found a fairer passage out of this. If there was not a minister in every parish, you would quickly find cause to increase the number of constables: and if the churches were not employed to be places to hear God’s law, there would be need of them to be prisons for the breakers of the laws of men. Hence it is observable, that the tribe of Levi had not one place or portion together, like the rest of the tribes: but, because it was their office to dispense religion, they were diffused over all the tribes, that they might be continually preaching to the rest their duty 95to God; which is the most effectual way to dispose them to obedience to man: for he that truly fears God cannot despise the magistrate. Yea, so near is the connection between the civil state and religious, that heretofore, if you look upon well regulated, civilized heathen nations, you will find the government and the priesthood united in the same person; Anius rex idem hominum, Phoebique sacerdos, Virg. 3. Æn. if under the true worship of God; Melchisedech, king of Salem, and priest of the most high God, Hebrews vii. 1. And afterwards Moses, (whom as we acknowledge a pious, so atheists themselves will confess to have been a wise prince,) he, when he took the kingly government upon himself, by his own choice, seconded by divine institution, vested the priesthood in his brother Aaron, both whose concernments were so coupled, that if nature had not, yet their religious, nay, their civil interests, would have made them brothers. And it was once the design of the emperor of Germany, Maximilian the first, to have joined the popedom and the empire together, and to have got himself chosen pope, and by that means derived the papacy to succeeding emperors. Had he effected it, doubt less there would not have been such scuffles between them and the bishop of Rome; the civil interest of the state would not have been undermined by an adverse interest, managed by the specious and potent pretences of religion. And to see, even amongst us, how these two are united, how the former is up held by the latter: the magistrate sometimes cannot do his own office dexterously, but by acting the minister: hence it is, that judges of assizes find it necessary in their charges to use pathetical discourses 96of conscience; and if it were not for the sway of this, they would often lose the best evidence in the world against malefactors, which is confession: for no man would confess and be hanged here, but to avoid being damned hereafter. Thus I have in general shewn the utter inability of the magistrate to attain the ends of government, without the aid of religion. But it may be here replied, that many are not at all moved with arguments drawn from hence, or with the happy or miserable state of the soul after death; and therefore this avails little to procure obedience, and consequently to advance government. I answer by concession: that this is true of epicures, atheists, and some pretended philosophers, who have stifled the notions of a Deity and the soul’s immortality; but the unprepossessed on the one hand, and the well-disposed on the other, who both together make much the major part of the world, are very apt to be affected with a due fear of these things: and religion, accommodating itself to the generality, though not to every particular temper, sufficiently secures government; inasmuch as that stands or falls according to the behaviour of the multitude. And whatsoever conscience makes the generality obey, to that prudence will make the rest conform. Wherefore, having proved the dependence of government upon religion, I shall now demonstrate, that the safety of government depends upon the truth of religion. False religion is, in its nature, the greatest bane and destruction to government in the world. The reason is, because whatsoever is false, is also weak. Ens and verum in philosophy are the same: and so much as any religion has of falsity, it loses of strength and existence. Falsity 97gains authority only from ignorance, and therefore is in danger to be known; for from being false, the next immediate step is to be known to be such. And what prejudice this would be to the civil government, is apparent, if men should be awed into obedience, and affrighted from sin by rewards and punishments, proposed to them in such a religion, which afterwards should be detected, and found a mere falsity and cheat; for if one part be but found to be false, it will make the whole suspicious. And men will then not only cast off obedience to the civil magistrate, but they will do it with disdain and rage, that they have been deceived so long, and brought to do that out of conscience, which was imposed upon them out of design: for though men are often willingly deceived, yet still it must be under an opinion of being instructed; though they love the deception, yet they mortally hate it under that appearance: therefore it is no ways safe for a magistrate, who is to build his dominion upon the fears of men, to build those fears upon a false religion. It is not to be doubted, but the absurdity of Jeroboam’s calves made many Israelites turn subjects to Rehoboam’s government, that they might be proselytes to his religion. Herein the weakness of the Turkish religion appears, that it urges obedience upon the promise of such absurd rewards, as, that after death they should have palaces, gardens, beautiful women, with all the luxury that could be: as if those things, that were the occasions and incentives of sin in this world, could be the rewards of holiness in the other: besides many other inventions, false and absurd, that are like so many chinks and holes to discover the rottenness of the whole fabric, when God shall 98be pleased to give light to discover and open their reasons to discern them. But you will say, what government more sure and absolute than the Turkish, and yet what religion more false? Therefore, certainly government may stand sure and strong, be the religion professed never so absurd. I answer, that it may do so indeed by accident, through the strange peculiar temper and gross ignorance of a people; as we see it happens in the Turks, the best part of whose policy, supposing the absurdity of their religion, is this, that they prohibit schools of learning; for this hinders knowledge and disputes, which such a religion would not bear. But suppose we, that the learning of these western nations were as great there as here, and the Alcoran as common to them as the Bible to us, that they might have free recourse to search and examine the flaws and follies of it; and withal, that they were of as inquisitive a temper as we: and who knows, but as there are vicissitudes in the government, so there may happen the same also in the temper of a nation? If this should come to pass, where would be their religion? And then let every one judge, whether the arcana imperii and religionis would not fall together. They have begun to totter already; for Mahomet having promised to come and visit his followers, and translate them to paradise after a thousand years, this being expired, many of the Persians began to doubt and smell the cheat, till the Mufti or chief priest told them that it was a mistake in the figure, and assured them, that upon more diligent survey of the records, he found it two thousand instead of one. When this is expired, perhaps they will not be able to renew the fallacy. I 99say therefore, that though this government continues firm in the exercise of a false religion, yet this is by accident, through the present genius of the people, which may change; but this does not prove, but that the nature of such a religion (of which we only now speak) tends to subvert and betray the civil power. Hence Machiavel himself, in his animadversions upon Livy, makes it appear, that the weakness of Italy, which was once so strong, was caused by the corrupt practices of the papacy, in depraving and misusing religion to that purpose, which he, though himself a papist, says, could not have happened, had the Christian religion been kept in its first and native simplicity. Thus much may suffice for the clearing of the first proposition.

The inferences from hence are two.

1. If government depends upon religion, then this shows the pestilential design of those, that attempt to disjoin the civil and ecclesiastical interest, setting the latter wholly out of the tuition of the former. But it is clear that the fanaticks know no other step to the magistracy, but through the ruin of the ministry. There is a great analogy between the body natural and politic; in which the ecclesiastical or spiritual part justly supplies the part of the soul; and the violent separation of this from the other does as certainly infer death and dissolution, as the disjunction of the body and the soul in the natural; for when this once departs, it leaves the body of the commonwealth a carcass, noisome, and exposed to be devoured by birds of prey. The ministry will be one day found, according to Christ’s word, the salt of the earth, the only thing that keeps societies of ten from stench and corruption. These two interests 100are of that nature, that it is to be feared they cannot be divided, but they will also prove opposite; and not resting in a bare diversity, quickly rise into a contrariety: these two are to the state, what the elements of fire and water to the body, which united compose, separated destroy it. I am not of the papist’s opinion, who would make the spiritual above the civil state in power as well as dignity, but rather subject it to the civil; yet thus much I dare affirm, that the civil, which is superior, is upheld and kept in being by the ecclesiastical and inferior; as it is in a building, where the upper part is supported by the lower; the church resembling the foundation, which indeed is the lowest part, but the most considerable. The magistracy cannot so much protect the ministry, but the ministers may do more in serving the magistrate. A taste of which truth you may take from the holy war, to which how fast and eagerly did men go, when the priest persuaded them, that who soever died in that expedition was a martyr? Those that will not be convinced what a help this is to the magistracy, would find how considerable it is, if they should chance to clash; this would certainly eat out the other. For the magistrate cannot urge obedience upon such potent grounds, as the minister, if so disposed, can urge disobedience. As for instance, if my governor should command me to do a thing, or I must die, or forfeit my estate; and the minister steps in, and tells me, that I offend God, and ruin my soul, if I obey that command, it is easy to see a greater force in this persuasion from the advantage of its ground. And if divines once begin to curse Meroz, we shall see that Levi can use the sword as well as Simeon; and although ministers do not 101handle, yet they can employ it. This shews the imprudence, as well as the danger of the civil magistrate’s exasperating those that can fire men’s consciences against him, and arm his enemies with religion. For I have read heretofore of some, that having conceived an irreconcileable hatred of the civil magistrate, prevailed with men so far, that they went to resist him even out of conscience, and a full persuasion and dread upon their spirits, that, not to do it, were to desert God,1717   See Serm. on Prov. xii. 22. and consequently to incur dam nation. Now when men’s rage is both heightened and sanctified by conscience, the war will be fierce; for what is done out of conscience, is done with the utmost activity. And then Campanella’s speech to the king of Spain will be found true, Religio sem per vicit, praesertim armata: which sentence deserves seriously to be considered by all governors, and timely to be understood, lest it comes to be felt.

2. If the safety of government is founded upon the truth of religion, then this shews the danger of any thing that may make even the true religion suspected to be false. To be false, and to be thought false, is all one in respect of men, who act not according to truth, but apprehension. As on the contrary, a false religion, while apprehended true, has the force and efficacy of truth. Now there is nothing more apt to induce men to a suspicion of any religion, than frequent innovation and change: for since the object of religion, God, the subject of it, the soul of man, and the business of it, truth, is always one and the same; variety and novelty is a just presumption of falsity. It argues sickness and distemper in the mind, as well as in the body, when a 102man is continually turning and tossing from one side to the other. The wise Romans ever dreaded the least innovation in religion: hence we find the advice of Maecenas to Augustus Caesar, in Dion Cassius, in the 52d book, where he counsels him to detest and persecute all innovators of divine worship, not only as contemners of the gods, but as the most pernicious disturbers of the state: for when men venture to make changes in things sacred, it argues great boldness with God, and this naturally imports little belief of him: which if the people once perceive, they will take their creed also, not from the magistrate’s laws, but his example. Hence in England, where religion has been still purifying, and hereupon almost always in the fire and the furnace; atheists and irreligious persons have took no small advantage from our changes. For in king Edward the sixth’s time, the divine worship was twice altered in two new liturgies. In the first of queen Mary, the protestant religion was persecuted with fire and fagot, by law and public counsel of the same persons, who had so lately established it. Upon the coming in of queen Elizabeth, religion was changed again, and within a few days the public council of the nation made it death for a priest to convert any man to that religion, which before with so much eagerness of zeal had been restored. So that it is observed by an author, that in the space of twelve years there were four changes about religion made in England, and that by the public council and authority of the realm, which were more than were made by any Christian state throughout the world, so soon one after another, in the space of fifteen hundred years before. Hence it is, that the enemies 103of God take occasion to blaspheme, and call our religion statism. And now adding to the former, those many changes that have happened since, I am afraid we shall not so easily claw off that name: nor, though we may satisfy our own consciences in what we profess, be able to repel and clear off the objections of the rational world about us, which, not being interested in our changes as we are, will not judge of them as we judge; but debate them by impartial reason, by the nature of the thing, the general practice of the church; against which, new lights, sudden impulses of the Spirit, extraordinary calls, will be but weak arguments to prove any thing but the madness of those that use them, and that the church must needs wither, being blasted with such inspirations. We see therefore how fatal and ridiculous innovations in the church are: and indeed when changes are so frequent, it is not properly religion, but fashion. This, I think, we may build upon as a sure ground, that where there is continual change, there is great shew of uncertainty; and uncertainty in religion is a shrewd motive, if not to deny, yet to doubt of its truth.

Thus much for the first doctrine. I proceed now to the second, viz. That the next, and most effectual way to destroy religion, is to embase the teachers and dispensers of it. In the handling of this I shall shew,

1. How the dispensers of religion, the ministers of the word, are embased or rendered vile.

2. How the embasing or vilifying them is a means to destroy religion.

1. For the first of these, the ministers and dispensers of the word are rendered base or vile two ways:

(1.) By divesting them of all temporal privileges 104and advantages, as inconsistent with their calling. It is strange, since the priest’s office heretofore was always splendid, and almost regal, that it is now looked upon as a piece of religion, to make it low and sordid. So that the use of the word minister is brought down to the literal signification of it, a servant: for now to serve and to minister, servile and ministerial, are terms equivalent. But in the Old Testament the same word signifies a priest, and a prince, or chief ruler; hence, though we translate it priest of On, (Gen. xli. 45.) and priest of Midian, (Exod. iii. 1.) and as it is with the people so with the priest, Isa. xxiv. 2. Junius and Tremellius render all these places, not by sacerdos, priest, but by praeses, that is, a prince, or at least a chief counsellor, or minister of state. And it is strange, that the name should be the same, when the nature of the thing is so exceeding different. The like also may be observed in other languages, that the most illustrious titles are derived from things sacred, and be longing to the worship of God. Σεβαστὸς was the title of the Christian Caesars correspondent to the Latin Augustus, and it is derived from the same word that σέβασμα, cultus, res sacra, or sacrificium. And it is usual in our language to make sacred an epithet to majesty; there was a certain royalty in things sacred. Hence the Apostle, who, I think, was no enemy to the simplicity of the gospel, speaks of a royal priesthood, 1 Pet. ii. 9. which shews at least, that there is no contradiction or impiety in those terms. In old time, before the placing this office only in the line of Aaron, the head of the family and the first-born offered sacrifice for the rest; that is, was their priest. And we know, that such rule 105and dignity belonged at first to the masters of families, that they had jus vitae et necis, jurisdiction and power of life and death in their own family; and from hence was derived the beginning of kingly government: a king being only a civil head, or master of a politic family, the whole people; so that we see the same was the foundation of the royal and sacerdotal dignity. As for the dignity of this office among the Jews, it is so pregnantly set forth in holy writ, that it is unquestionable. Kings and priests are still mentioned together: Lam. ii. 6. The Lord hath despised in the indignation of his anger the king and the priest. Hos. v. 2. Hear, O priests, and give ear, O house of the king. Deut. xvii. 12. And the man that doth presumptuously, and will not hearken unto the priest that standeth there to minister before the Lord thy God, or unto the judge, even that man shall die. Hence Paul, together with a blow, received this reprehension, Acts xxiii. 4. Revilest thou God’s high-priest? And Paul in the next verse does not defend himself, by pleading an extraordinary motion of the Spirit, or that he was sent to reform the church, and might therefore lawfully vilify the priesthood and all sacred orders; but in the 5th verse he makes an excuse, and that from ignorance, the only thing that could take away the fault; namely, that he knew not that he was the high-priest, and subjoins a reason which farther advances the truth here defended: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people. To holy writ we might add the testimony of Josephus, of next authority to it in things concerning the Jews, who in sundry places of his history sets forth the dignity of the priests; 106and in his second book against Apion the grammarian has these words, πάντων τῶν ἀμφισβητουμένων δικασταὶ οἱ ἱερεῖς ἐτάχθησαν, the priests were constituted judges of all doubtful causes. Hence Justin also in his 36th book has this; Semper apud Judaeos mos fuit, ut eosdem reges et sacerdotes haberent: though this is false, that they were always so, yet it argues, that they were so frequently, and that the distance between them was not great. To the Jews we may join the Egyptians, the first masters of learning and philosophy. Synesius in his 57th epist. having shewn the general practice of antiquity, ὁ πάλαι χρόνος ἤνεγκε τοὺς αὐτοὺς ἱερέας τε καὶ κριτὰς, gives an instance in the Jews and Egyptians, who for many ages ὑπὸ τῶν ἱερέων ἐβασιλεύθησαν, had no other kings but priests. Next, we may take a view of the practice of the Romans: Numa Pompilius, that civilized the fierce Romans, is reported in the first book of Livy sometimes to have performed the priest’s office himself. Tum sacerdotibus creandis animum adjecit, quanquam ipse plurima sacra obibat; but when he made priests, he gave them a dignity al most the same with himself. And this honour continued together with the valour and prudence of that nation: for the success of the Romans did not extirpate their religion; the college of the priests being in many things exempted even from the jurisdiction of the senate, afterwards the supreme power. Hence Juvenal in his 2d Sat. mentions the priesthood of Mars, as one of the most honourable places in Rome. And Jul. Caesar, who was chosen priest in his private condition, thought it not below him to continue the same office when he was created absolute governor of Rome, under the name of perpetual 107dictator. Add to these the practice of the Gauls mentioned by Caesar in his 6th book de Bello Gallico, where he says of the Druids, who were their priests, that they did judge de omnibus fere controversiis publicis privatisque. See also Homer in the 1st book of his Iliad representing Chryses priest of Apollo, with his golden sceptre, as well as his golden censer. But why have I produced all these examples of the heathens? Is it to make these a ground of our imitation? No, but to shew that the giving honour to the priesthood was a custom universal amongst all civilized nations. And whatsoever is universal is also natural, as not being founded upon compact, or the particular humours of men, but flowing from the native results of reason: and that which is natural neither does nor can oppose religion. But you will say, this concerns not us, who have an express rule and word revealed. Christ was himself poor and despised, and withal has instituted such a ministry. To the first part of this plea I answer, that Christ came to suffer, yet the sufferings and miseries of Christ do not oblige all Christians to undertake the like. For the second, that the ministry of Christ was low and despised by his institution, I utterly deny. It was so, indeed, by the malice and persecution of the heathen princes; but what does this argue or infer for a low, dejected ministry in a flourishing state, which professes to encourage Christianity? But to dash this cavil, read but the practice of Christian emperors and kings all along, down from the time of Constantine, in what respect, what honour and splendor they treated the ministers; and then let our adversaries produce their puny, pitiful arguments for the contrary, 108against the general, clear, undoubted vogue and current of all antiquity. As for two or three little countries about us, the learned and impartial will not value their practice; in one of which places the minister has been seen, for mere want, to mend shoes on the Saturday, and been heard to preach on the Sunday. In the other place, stating the several orders of the citizens, they place their ministers after their apothecaries; that is, the physician of the soul after the drugster of the body: a fit practice for those, who, if they were to rank things as well as persons, would place their religion after their trade.

And thus much concerning the first way of debasing the ministers and ministry.

(2.) The second way is by admitting ignorant, sordid, illiterate persons to this function. This is to give the royal stamp to a piece of lead. I confess, God has no need of any man’s parts or learning; but certainly then, he has much less need of his ignorance and ill behaviour. It is a sad thing, when all other employments shall empty themselves into the ministry: when men shall repair to it, not for preferment, but refuge; like malefactors flying to the altar, only to save their lives; or like those of Eli’s race, (1 Sam. ii. 36.) that should come crouching, and seek to be put into the priest’s office that they might eat a piece of bread. Heretofore there was required splendor of parentage to recommend any one to the priesthood, as Josephus witnesses in a treatise which he wrote of his own life; where he says, to have right to deal in things sacred, was, amongst them, accounted an argument of a noble and illustrious descent. God would not accept the offals of other professions. Doubtless many 109rejected Christ upon this thought, that he was the carpenter’s son, who would have embraced him, had they known him to have been the son of David. The preferring undeserving persons to this great service was eminently Jeroboam’s sin, and how Jeroboam’s practice and offence has been continued amongst us in another guise, is not unknown: for has not learning unqualified men for approbation to the ministry? have not parts and abilities been reputed enemies to grace, and qualities no ways ministerial? while friends, faction, well-meaning, and little understanding have been accomplishments beyond study and the university; and to falsify a story of conversion, beyond pertinent answers and clear resolutions to the hardest and most concerning questions. So that matters have been brought to this pass, that if a man amongst his sons had any blind, or disfigured, he laid him aside for the ministry; and such an one was presently approved, as having a mortified countenance. In short, it was a fiery furnace, which often approved dross, and rejected gold. But thanks be to God, those spiritual wickednesses are now discharged from their high places. Hence it was, that many rushed into the ministry, as being the only calling that they could profess without serving an apprenticeship. Hence also we had those that could preach sermons, but not defend them. The reason of which is clear, because the works and writings of learned men might be borrowed, but not the abilities. Had indeed the old Levitical hierarchy still continued, in which it was part of the ministerial office to flay the sacrifices, to cleanse the vessels, to scour the flesh-forks, to sweep the temple, and carry the filth and rubbish to the brook Kidron, 110no persons living had been fitter for the ministry, and to serve in this nature at the altar. But since it is made a labour of the mind; as to inform men’s judgments, and move their affections, to resolve difficult places of scripture, to decide and clear off controversies; I cannot see how to be a butcher, scavenger, or any other such trade, does at all qualify or prepare men for this work. But as unfit as they were, yet to clear a way for such into the ministry, we have had almost all sermons full of gibes and scoffs at human learning. Away with vain philosophy, with the disputer of this world, and the enticing words of man’s wisdom, and set up the foolishness of preaching, the simplicity of the gospel: thus divinity has been brought in upon the ruins of humanity; by forcing the words of the scripture from the sense, and then haling them to the worst of drudgeries, to set a jus divinum upon ignorance and imperfection, and recommend natural weakness for supernatural grace. Hereupon the ignorant have took heart to venture upon this great calling, and instead of cutting their way to it, according to the usual course, through the knowledge of the tongues, the study of philosophy, school divinity, the fathers and councils, they have taken another and a shorter cut; and having read perhaps a treatise or two upon the Heart, the bruised Reed, the Crumbs of Comfort, Wollebius in English, and some other little authors, the usual furniture of old women’s closets, they have set forth as accomplished divines, and forthwith they present themselves to the service; and there have not been wanting Jeroboams as willing to consecrate and receive them, as they to offer themselves. And this has been one of the most 111fatal and almost irrecoverable blows that has been given to the ministry.

And this may suffice concerning the second way of embasing God’s ministers; namely, by intrusting the ministry with raw, unlearned, ill-bred persons; so that what Solomon speaks of a proverb in the mouth of a fool, the same may be said of the minis try vested in them, that it is like a pearl in a swine’s snout.

2. I proceed now to the second thing proposed in the discussion of this doctrine, which is, to shew how the embasing of the ministers tends to the destruction of religion.

This it does two ways.

(1.) Because it brings them under exceeding scorn and contempt; and then, let none think religion itself secure: for the vulgar have not such logical heads, as to be able to abstract such subtile conceptions as to separate the man from the minister, or to consider the same person under a double capacity, and so honour him as a divine, while they despise him as poor. But suppose they could, yet actions cannot distinguish, as conceptions do; and therefore every act of contempt strikes at both, and unavoidably wounds the ministry through the sides of the minister. And we must know, that the least degree of contempt weakens religion, because it is absolutely contrary to the nature of it; religion properly consisting in a reverential esteem of things sacred. Now that which in any measure weakens religion, will at length destroy it: for the weakening of a thing is only a partial destruction of it. Poverty and meanness of condition expose the wisest to scorn, it being natural for men to place their esteem 112rather upon things great than good; and the poet observes, that this infelix paupertas has no thing in it more intolerable than this, that it renders men ridiculous. And then, how easy and natural it is for contempt to pass from the person to the office, from him that speaks, to the thing that he speaks of, experience proves: counsel being seldom valued so much for the truth of the thing, as the credit of him that gives it. Observe an excellent passage to this purpose in Eccles. ix. 14, 15. We have an account of a little city, with few men in it, besieged by a great and potent king, and in the 15th verse, we read, that there was found in it a poor wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city. A worthy service indeed, and certainly we may expect that some honourable recompence should follow it; a deliverer of his country, and that in such distress, could not but be advanced: but we find a contrary event in the next words of the same verse, yet none remembered that same poor man. Why, what should be the reason? Was he not a man of parts and wisdom? and is not wisdom honourable? Yes, but he was poor. But was he not also successful, as well as wise? True; but still he was poor: and once grant this, and you cannot keep off that unavoidable sequel in the next verse, the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard. We may believe it upon Solomon’s word, who was rich as well as wise, and therefore knew the force of both: and probably, had it not been for his riches, the queen of Sheba would never have come so far only to have heard his wisdom. Observe her behaviour when she came: though upon the hearing of Solomon’s wisdom, and the resolution of 113her hard questions, she expressed a just admiration; yet when Solomon afterwards shewed her his palace, his treasures, and the temple which he had built, 1 Kings x. 5. it is said, there was no more spirit in her. What was the cause of this? Certainly, the magnificence, the pomp and splendor of such a structure: it struck her into an ecstasy beyond his wise answers. She esteemed this as much above his wisdom, as astonishment is beyond bare admiration: she admired his wisdom, but she adored his magnificence. So apt is the mind, even of wise persons, to be surprised with the superficies, or circumstance of things, and value or undervalue spirituals, according to the manner of their external appearance. When circumstances fail, the substance seldom long survives: clothes are no part of the body; yet take away clothes, and the body will die. Livy observes of Romulus, that being to give laws to his new Romans, he found no better way to procure an esteem and reverence to them, than by first procuring it to himself by splendor of habit and retinue, and other signs of royalty. And the wise Numa, his successor, took the same course to enforce his religious laws, namely, by giving the same pomp to the priest, who was to dispense them. Sacerdotem creavit, insignique eum veste, et curuli regia sella adornavit. That is, he adorned him with a rich robe, and a royal chair of state. And in our judicatures, take away the trumpet, the scarlet, the attendance, and the lordship, which would be to make justice naked as well as blind, and the law would lose much of its terror, and consequently of its authority. Let the minister be abject and low, his interest inconsiderable, the word will suffer for 114his sake: the message will still find reception according to the dignity of the messenger. Imagine an ambassador presenting himself in a poor frieze jerkin and tattered clothes, certainly he would have but small audience, his embassy would speed rather according to the weakness of him that brought, than the majesty of him that sent it. It will fare alike with the ambassadors of Christ, the people will give them audience according to their presence. A notable example of which we have in the behaviour of some to Paul himself, 1 Cor. x. 10. Hence in the Jewish church it was cautiously provided in the law, that none that was blind or lame, or had any remarkable defect in his body, was capable of the priestly office; because these things naturally make a person contemned, and this presently reflects upon the function. This therefore is the first way by which the low despised condition of the ministers tends to the destruction of the ministry and religion; namely, because it subjects their persons to scorn, and consequently their calling; and it is not imaginable that men will be brought to obey what they cannot esteem.

(2.) The second way by which it tends to the ruin of the ministry is, because it discourages men of fit parts and abilities from undertaking it. And certain it is, that as the calling dignifies the man, so the man much more advances his calling: as a garment, though it warms the body, has a return with an advantage, being much more warmed by it. And how often a good cause may miscarry without a wise manager, and the faith for want of a defender, is, or at least may be known. It is not the truth of an assertion, but the skill of the disputant, 115that keeps off a baffle; not the justness of a cause, but the valour of the soldiers, that must win the field: when a learned Paul was converted, and undertook the ministry, it stopped the mouths of those that said, None but poor weak fishermen preached Christianity; and so his learning silenced the scandal, as well as strengthened the church. Religion, placed in a soul of exquisite knowledge and abilities, as in a castle, finds not only habitation, but defence. And what a learned foreign divine1818   Caspar Streso. said of the English preaching, may be said of all, Plus est in artifice quam in arte. So much of moment is there in the professors of any thing, to depress or raise the profession. What is it that kept the church of Rome strong, athletic, and flourishing for so many centuries, but the happy succession of the choicest wits engaged to her service by suitable preferments? And what strength, do we think, would that give to the true religion, that is able thus to establish a false? Religion in a great measure stands or falls according to the abilities of those that assert it. And if, as some observe, men’s desires are usually as large as their abilities, what course have we took to allure the former, that we might engage the latter to our assistance? But we have took all ways to affright and discourage scholars from looking towards this sacred calling: for will men lay out their wit and judgment upon that employment, for the undertaking of which both will be questioned? Would men, not long since, have spent toilsome days and watchful nights, in the laborious quest of knowledge preparative to this work, at length to 116come and dance attendance for approbation, upon a junto of petty tyrants, acted by party and prejudice, who denied fitness from learning, and grace from morality? grill a man exhaust his livelihood upon books, and his health, the best part of his life, upon study, to be at length thrust into a poor village, where he shall have his due precariously, and entreat for his own; and when he has it, live poorly and contemptibly upon it, while the same or less labour, bestowed upon any other calling, would bring not only comfort but splendor, not only maintenance but abundance? It is, I confess, the duty of ministers to endure this condition; but neither religion nor reason does oblige either them to approve, or others to choose it. Doubtless, parents not throw away the towardness of a child, and the expense of education, upon a profession, the labour of which is increased, and the rewards of which are vanished to condemn promising, lively parts to contempt and penury in a despised calling, what is it else but the casting of a Moses into the mud, or offering a son upon the altar; and instead of a priest, to make him a sacrifice? Neither let any here reply, that it becomes not a ministerial spirit to undertake such a calling for reward; for they must know, that it is one thing to undertake it for a reward, and not to he willing to undertake it without one. It is one thing to perform good works only that we may receive the recompence of them in heaven, and another thing not to be willing to follow Christ and forsake the world, if there were no such recompence. But besides, suppose it were the duty of scholars to choose this calling in the midst of all its discouragements; yet a prudent governor, 117who knows it to be his wisdom as well as his duty, to take the best course to advance religion, will not consider men’s duty, but their practice; not what they ought to do, but what they use to do: and therefore draw over the best qualified to his service, by such ways as are most apt to persuade and induce men. Solomon built his temple with the tallest cedars: and surely, when God refused the defective and the maimed for sacrifice, we cannot think that he requires them for the priesthood. When learning, abilities, and what is excellent in the world, forsake the church, we may easily foretell its ruin, without the gift of prophecy. And when ignorance succeeds in the place of learning, weakness in the room of judgment, we may be sure heresy and confusion will quickly come in the room of religion: for undoubtedly there is no way so effectual to betray the truth, as to procure it a weak defender.

Well now, instead of raising any particular uses from the point that has been delivered, let us make a brief recapitulation of the whole. Government, we see, depends upon religion, and religion upon the encouragement of those that are to dispense and assert it. For the further evidence of which truths, we need not travel beyond our own borders; but leave it to every one impartially to judge, whether from the very first day that our religion was unsettled, and church government flung out of doors, the civil government has ever been able to fix upon a sure foundation. We have been changing even to a proverb. The indignation of heaven has been rolling and turning us from one form to another, till at length such a giddiness seized upon government, 118that it fell into the very dregs of sectaries, who threatened an equal ruin both to minister and magistrate; and how the state has sympathized with the church is apparent. For have not our princes as well as our priests been of the lowest of the people? Have not cobblers, draymen, mechanics, governed, as well as preached? Nay, have not they by preaching come to govern? Was ever that of Solomon more verified, that servants have rid, while princes and nobles have gone on foot? But God has been pleased by a miracle of mercy to dissipate this confusion and chaos, and to give us some openings, some dawnings of liberty and settlement. But now, let not those who are to rebuild our Jerusalem think that the temple must be built last: for if there be such a thing as a God, and religion, as whether men believe it or no, they will one day find and feel, assuredly he will stop our liberty, till we restore him his worship. Besides, it is a senseless thing in reason, to think that one of these interests can stand without the other, when in the very order of natural causes, government is preserved by religion. But to return to Jeroboam with whom we first began. He laid the foundation of his government in destroying, though doubtless he coloured it with the name of reforming God’s worship; but see the issue. Consider him cursed by God, maintaining his usurped title by continual vexatious wars against the kings of Judah: smote in his posterity, which was made like the dung upon the face of the earth, as low and vile as those priests whom he had employed: consider him branded, and made odious to all after-ages: and now, when his kingdom and glory was at an end, and he and his posterity rotting under ground, 119and his name stinking above it, judge what a worthy prize he made in getting of a kingdom, by destroying the church. Wherefore the sum of all is this; to advise and desire those whom it may concern, to consider Jeroboam’s punishment, and then they will have little heart to Jeroboam’s sin.

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