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OF CONSTANCY IN THE PROFESSION OF THE TRUE RELIGION.
Let us hold fast the profession of our faith with out wavering; for he is faithful that promised.—Heb. x. 23.
IN these words, I have told you, are contained,
First, An exhortation to “hold fast the profession of our faith,” or hope, “without wavering.”
Secondly, An argument or encouragement thereto; “because he is faithful that promised.” I am yet upon the first of these; the exhortation to Christians, to be constant and steady in the profession of their religion: “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering.” And that we might the better comprehend the true and full meaning of this exhortation, 1 shewed,
First, Negatively, what is not meant and intended by it. And I mentioned these two particulars:
1. The apostle doth not hereby intend, that those who are capable of inquiring into, and examining the grounds of their religion, should not have the liberty to do it. Nor,
2. That when upon due inquiry and examination, men are settled, as they think and verily believe, in the true faith and religion, they should obstinately refuse to hear any reason that can be offered against their present persuasion. Both these I shewed to be unreasonable, and arguments 107of a bad cause and religion: and therefore neither of them can be intended by the apostle in this exhortation.
Secondly, I proceeded positively to explain the meaning of this exhortation. And to this purpose I proposed,
I. To consider what it is that we are to hold fast, viz. the confession or profession of our faith. The ancient Christian faith, of which every Christian makes profession in his baptism: for of that the apostle here speaks, as appears by the context; not the doubtful and uncertain traditions of men, nor the impious dictates and doctrines of any church not contained in the Holy Scriptures, imposed upon the Christian church; though with never so confident a pretence of the antiquity of the doctrines proposed, or of the infallibility of the proposers of them. And then I proceeded in the
II. Second place, to shew, How we are to “hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering.” And I mentioned these following particulars, as probably implied in the apostle’s exhortation.
1. That we should “hold fast the profession of our faith,” against the confidence of men, without Scripture or reason to support their confidence.
2. And much more against the confidence of men, against Scripture and reason, and the common sense of mankind.
3. Against all the temptations and terrors of the world.
4. Against all vain promises of being put into a safer condition, and groundless hopes of getting to heaven upon easier terms in another religion.
5. Against all the cunning arts and insinuations of busy and disputing men, whose design is to 108unhinge men from their religion, and to gain proselytes to their party and faction.
1. We are to “hold fast the profession of our faith,” against the confidence of men, without Scripture or reason to support their confidence. And of this I gave several instances, as in the pretence of the church of Rome to infallibility, without any proof or evidence of it, either by Scripture or miracles: I mean such miracles as are sufficiently attested. For as for their legends, since the wisest among themselves give no credit to them, I hope they do not expect that we should believe them, or be moved by them. And then their pretence that the church of Rome is the mother and mistress of all churches; which is now made an article of their creed. And that the bishop of Rome, as successor of St. Peter there, is by Divine appointment the supreme and universal pastor of Christ’s church. And that it is necessary to salvation, for every human creature to be subject to him. And, lastly, their invocation and worship of the blessed virgin and saints departed; without any warrant or example of any such thing, either in Scripture, or in the practice of the first ages of the Christian religion: and without sufficient ground to believe that they hear the prayers which are put up to them.
2. Much more are we “to hold fast the profession of our faith,” against the confidence of men, contrary to Scripture and reason, and the common sense of mankind. And here I instanced in the worship of images, the locking up of the Scriptures from the people, and celebrating the public prayers and service of God in an unknown tongue; and their doctrine of transubstantiation, their communion in one kind, and their daily repetition, in the sacrifice 109of the mass, of the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ; which was offered “once for all,” and is of eternal virtue and efficacy; and therefore ought not, because it needs not, like the Jewish sacrifices under the law, to be repeated.
To these instances, which I have already spoken to, I shall add one or two more; as, namely, that to the due administration of the sacraments, an intention in the minister at least to do what the church does is requisite. This is expressly defined, and under an anathema upon all that shall say otherwise, by the council of Trent. Sess. the 7th, Can. 11th; which is to make the validity and virtue of the sacraments to depend upon the intention of the priest or minister. So that if, in the administration of baptism, he do not intend to baptize the party he pretends to baptize, then it is no baptism, and consequently the person baptized is not made a member of Christ’s church; nor is any grace or special benefit conferred upon him, nor is he a Christian. So likewise in the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, if the priest do not intend to consecrate the host, then is it no sacrament; and they that receive it receive no benefit by it; and (which according to their opinion is a dreadful consequence) by the words of consecration there is no change made of the elements into the body and blood of Christ, and consequently, they that give adoration to the sacrament in such cases, worship bread and wine for God; which is idolatry. And so, likewise, in their sacrament of penance, though the priest pronounce the words of absolution, yet if he do not intend to absolve the penitent, though he be never so truly penitent, and God on his part is ready to forgive him, yet if the priest do not intend 110to do so, there is nothing done, and the man is still in his sin. So, likewise, in ordination, (which is another of their sacraments) if the bishop do not intend to ordain the man, he is no priest, and all that he does as a priest afterwards, either in administration of baptism or the Lord’s supper, or the absolution of penitents, all is vain, and of no effect. Nay, in marriage, (which they will needs have to be a sacrament too) if the intention of the priest be wanting, there is nothing done, the contract is nulled, and they that are so married do really live in adultery, though they do not know it, nor have any suspicion of it.
Now this is contrary to Scripture and the whole tenor of the gospel, which promiseth the benefit and efficacy of the sacraments, to all those that perform the conditions of the covenant, which are required on their parts, and declares forgiveness of sins to those who confess them to God, and truly repent of them.
And there is not the least intimation given in the Bible, that the virtue and efficacy of the sacraments does depend upon the intention of him that administers them, or that the forgiveness of sins is suspended upon the intention or absolution of the priest, but only upon the sincere resolution of the penitent. And surely nothing can be more absurd, and contrary to reason, than that when men have performed all the conditions which the gospel requires, yet they should, notwithstanding this, be deprived of all the blessings and benefits which God hath promised, and intends to confer upon them, because the priest hath not the same intention. So that when a man hath done all he can to work out his own salvation, he shall never be 111the nearer, only for want of that which is wholly out of his power—the right intention of the priest.
Besides, that after all the boasts of the safe condition of men in their church, and the most certain and infallible means of salvation to be had in it, this one principle (that the intention of the priests is necessary to the validity and virtue of the sacraments) puts the salvation of men upon the greatest hazard and uncertainty; and such as it is impossible for any man either to discover or prevent, unless he had some certain way to know the heart and intention of the priest. For, upon these terms, who can know whether any man be a priest, and really ordained, or not? Nay, whether he be a Christian, and have been truly baptized, or not? and, consequently, whether any of his administrations be valid, and we have any benefit and advantage by them? because all this depends upon the knowledge of that which we neither do nor can know.
So that when a man hath conscientiously done all that God requires of any man to make him capable of salvation, yet without any fault of his, the want of intention in an idle-minded man may frustrate all: and though the man have been baptized, and do truly believe the gospel, and hath sincerely repented of his sins, and lived a most holy life, yet all this may signify nothing, and after all he may be no Christian, because his baptism was invalid; and all the promises of God to the means of salvation, which his goodness and wisdom hath prescribed, may be of no efficacy, if the priest do not intend in the administration of the sacraments to do that which God and the church intend.
Now if this be true, there is certainly no church in the world in which the salvation of men runs so 112many hazards; and yet all this hazard and uncertainty has its rise from a scholastical point, which is directly contrary to all the notions of mankind concerning the goodness of God, and to the clear reason of the thing, and to the constant tenor of the gospel, and which was never asserted by any of the ancient fathers, much less defined by any council before that of Trent; so that it is a doctrine new and needless, and in the necessary consequences of it, unreasonable and absurd to the utmost degree.
The last instance I shall mention, is their rule of faith. The rule of faith universally received and acknowledged by the Christian church in all ages, before the council of Trent, was the word of God, contained in the canonical books of Holy Scripture; which were therefore by the church called canonical, because they were the rule of faith and manners, of the doctrines to be believed, and the duties to be practised, by all Christians. But when the errors and corruptions of the Romish church were grown to the height, and the Pope and his council of Trent were resolved not to retrench and reform them, they saw it necessary to enlarge and lengthen out their rule; because the ancient rule of the Holy Scriptures would by no means reach several of the doctrines and practices of that church, which they were resolved to maintain and make good by one means or other: as, namely, the doctrine of transubstantiation, of purgatory, and of the seven sacraments; and the practice of the worship of saints and images; of the Scriptures, and the service of God, in an unknown tongue; of indulgences, and the communion in one kind; and several other superstitious practices in use among them.113
Now, to enlarge the rule to the best advantage for the justification of these doctrines and practices, they took these two ways:
First, They have added to the canonical books of the Old Testament, which were received by the Jewish church (to whom “were committed the oracles of God”); I say, to these they have added several apocryphal books, not warranted by Divine inspiration, because they were written after prophecy and Divine inspiration had ceased in the Jewish church; Malachi being the last of their prophets, according to the general tradition of that church. But, because the addition of these books did not make a rule of faith and practice large enough for their purpose, in imitation of the Jews, in the time of the greatest confusion and degeneracy of that church, they added, in the
Second place, to their books of Scripture, which they call the “written word,” an “unwritten word,” which they call “oral tradition” from Christ and his apostles; which they declare to be of equal authority with the Holy Scriptures themselves; and that it ought to be received with the same pious veneration and affection: of which traditions, they being the keepers and judges, they may extend them to what they please; and having them in their own breasts, they may declare whatever they have a mind to, to have been a constant and universal tradition of their church; though it is evident to common sense, that nothing can be more uncertain, and more liable to alteration and mistake, than tradition, at the distance of so many ages, brought down by word of mouth, without writing, and passing through so many hands. He that can think these to be of equal certainty and authority with what is 114delivered by writing, and brought down by books, undertakes the defence of a strange paradox; viz. That general rumour and report of things said and done fifteen hundred years ago, is of equal authority and credit with a record, and a written history.
By which proceeding of the council of Trent, concerning the rule of faith and practice, it is very evident, that they had no mind to bring their faith to the ancient rule, the Holy Scriptures. That they knew could not be done; and therefore they were resolved to fit their rule to their faith. And this foundation being laid in their first decree, all the rest would afterwards go on very smoothly. For do but give men the making of their rule, and they can make good any thing by it. And accordingly, the council of Trent having thus fixed and fitted a rule to their own purpose; in the conclusion of that decree, they give the world fair warning, upon what grounds, and in what ways they intend to proceed in their following decrees of practice and definitions of faith. Omnes itaque intelligant, quo ordine et via ipsa synodus post jactum fidei confessionis fundamentum sit progressura, &c. “Be it known therefore to all men, in what order and way the synod, after having laid this foundation of the confession of faith, will proceed; and what testimonies and proofs she chiefly intends to make use of, for the confirmation of doctrines, and reformation of manners in the church.” And no doubt, all men do see very plainly to what purpose this foundation is laid of so large a rule of faith. And this being admitted, how easy is it for them to confirm and prove whatever doctrines and practices they have a mind to establish?
But, if this be a new, and another foundation, than 115that which the great author and founder of our religion hath laid and built his church upon, viz. the foundation of the prophets and apostles; it is no matter what they build upon it. And if they go about to prove any thing by the new parts of this rule; by the apocryphal books which they have added to the ancient canon of the Scriptures, brought down to us by the general tradition of the Christian church; and by their pretended unwritten traditions—we do with reason reject this kind of proof, and desire them first to prove their rule, before they pretend to prove any thing by it: for we protest against this rule, as never declared and owned by the Christian church, nor proceeded upon by the ancient fathers of the church, nor by any council whatsoever, before the council of Trent.
In vain then doth the church of Rome vaunt it self of the antiquity of their faith and religion, when the very foundation and rule of it is but of yesterday; a new thing never before known or heard of in the Christian world: whereas the foundation and rule of our religion is the word of God, contained in the Holy Scriptures; to which Christians in all ages have appealed, as the only rule of faith and life.
I proceed now to the
Third thing I proposed, viz. That we are “to hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering,” against all the temptations and terrors of the world. And this seems more especially and principally to be here intended by the apostle in this exhortation.
I shall first speak of the temptations of the world. And they are chiefly these two: the temptation of fashion and example; and of worldly interest and advantage.116
1. Of fashion and example. This in truth and reality is no strong argument; and yet in experience and effect it is often found to be very powerful. It is frequently seen, that this hath many times too great an influence upon weak and foolish minds. Men are apt to be carried down with the stream, and to follow a multitude in that which is evil: but more especially men are prone to be swayed by great examples, and to bend themselves to such an obsequiousness to their superiors and betters, that, in compliance with them, they are ready not only to change their affection to persons and things as they do, but even their judgment also; and that in the greatest and weightiest matters, even in matters of religion, and the great concernments of another world. But this surely is an argument of a poor and mean spirit, and of a weak understanding, which leans upon the judgment of another, and is in truth the lowest degree of servility that a reason able creature can stoop to; and even beneath that of a slave, who, in the midst of his chains and fetters, doth still retain the freedom of his mind and judgment.
But I need not to urge this upon considerate persons, who know better how to value their duty and obligation to God, than to be tempted to do any thing contrary thereto, merely in compliance with fashion and example. There are some things in religion so very plain, that a wise and good man would stand alone in the belief and practice of them, and not be moved in the least by the contrary example of the whole world. It was a brave resolution of Joshua; though all men should forsake the God of Israel, and run aside to other gods, yet he would not do it: (Joshua xxiv. 15.) “If it seem evil 117unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” It was well resolved of Peter, if he had not been too confident of his own strength, when he said to our Saviour, “though all men forsake thee, yet will not I.”
2. Another sort of temptation, and which is commonly more powerful than example, is worldly interest and advantage. This is a mighty bait to a great part of mankind, and apt to work very strongly upon the necessities of some, and upon the covetousness and ambition of others. Some men are tempted by necessity, which many times makes them do ugly and reproachful things, and, like Esau, for a morsel of meat to sell their birthright and blessing. Covetousness tempts others to be of that religion which gives them the prospect of the great est earthly advantage, either for the increasing or securing of their estates. When they find that they “cannot serve God and Mammon,” they will “forsake the one and cleave to the other.” This was one of the great temptations to many in the primitive times, and a frequent cause of apostacy from the faith—an eager desire of riches, and too great a value for them; as St. Paul observes, (1 Tim. vi. 9, 10.) “But they that will be rich, fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil; which while some have coveted after, they have erred,” or been seduced “from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” This was the temptation which drew off Demas from his religion; as St. Paul tells us, (2 Tim. iv. 10.) “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world.”118
Ambition is likewise a great temptation to proud and aspiring minds, and makes many men false to their religion, when they find it a hinderance to their preferment; and they are easily persuaded, that that is the best religion, which is attended with the greatest worldly advantages, and will raise them to the highest dignity. The devil understood very well the force of this temptation, when he set upon our Saviour, and therefore reserved it for the last assault. “He shewed him all the kingdoms of the earth, and the glory of them; and said to him, All this will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.” And when he saw this would not prevail, he gave him over in despair, and left him. But though this be a very dazzling temptation, yet there are considerations of that weight to be set over-against it, from the nature of religion, and the infinite concernment of it to our immortal souls, as is sufficient “to quench this fiery dart of the devil,” and to put all the temptations of this world out of countenance, and to render all the riches and glory of it, in comparison of the eternal happiness and misery of the other world, “but as the very small dust upon the balance.” What temptation of this world can stand against that argument of our Saviour, if it be seriously weighed and considered—“What is a man profited, if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul: or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” If we would consider things impartially, and weigh them in a just and equal balance; the things which concern our bodies, and this present life, are of no consideration, in comparison of the great and vast concernments of our immortal souls, and the happy or miserable condition of our bodies and souls to all eternity.119
And religion is a matter of this vast concernment; and therefore not be bargained away and parted with by us for the greatest things this world can offer. There is no greater sign of a sordid spirit, than to put a high value upon things of little worth; and no greater mark of folly, than to make an unequal bargain, to part with things of greatest price for a slender and trifling consideration: as if a man of great fortune and estate should sell the inheritance of it for a picture, which, when he hath it, will not perhaps yield so much as will maintain him for one year. The folly is so much the greater in things of infinitely greater value; as for a man to quit God and religion, to sell the truth and his soul, and to part with his everlasting inheritance for a convenient service, for a good customer, and some present advantage in his trade and profession, or indeed for any condition which the foolish language of this world calls a high place, or a great preferment. The things which these men part with upon these cheap terms, God, and his truth and religion, are, to those who understand themselves, and the just value of their immortal souls, things of inestimable worth, and not to be parted with by a considerate man for any price that this world can bid. And those who are to be bought out of their religion upon such low terms, and so easily parted from it, it is much to be feared that they have little or no religion to hold fast.
Secondly, As we are to “hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering,” against the temptations and allurements of this world; so likewise against the terrors of it.
Fear is a passion of great force; and, if men be not very resolute and constant, will be apt to stagger them, and “to move them from their steadfastness:” 120and therefore, when the case of suffering and persecution for the truth happens, we had need “to hold fast the profession of our faith.” Our Saviour, in the parable of the sower, tells us, that there were many “that heard the word, and with joy received it: but when persecution and tribulation arose because of the word, presently they were offended.”
And though, blessed be God, this be not our case, yet there was a time when it was the general case of Christians, in the first beginning of Christianity, and for several ages after, though with some intermission and intervals of ease. It was then a general rule, and the common expectation of Christians, that “through many tribulations they must enter into the kingdom of God,” and that, if “any man will live godly in Christ Jesus, he must suffer persecution.” And in several ages since those primitive times, the sincere professors of religion have, in divers places, being exposed to most grievous sufferings and persecutions for the truth. And even at this day, in several places, the faithful servants of God are exercised with the sharpest and sorest trials that perhaps were ever heard of in any age; and for the sake of God, and the constant profession of his true religion, are “tormented and killed all the day long, and are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” It is their hard lot to be called to these cruel and bitter sufferings, and our happy opportunity to be called upon for their relief; those of them I mean that have escaped that terrible storm and tempest, and have taken refuge and sanctuary here among us; and, out of his majesty’s great humanity and goodness, are by his public letters recommended to the charity of the whole nation, by the name of “distressed protestants.”
Let us consider, how much easier our lot and 121our duty is than their’s; as much as it is easier to compassionate the sufferings, and to relieve the distresses of others, than to be such sufferers, and in such distress ourselves. Let us make their case our own, and then we ourselves will be the best judges, how it is fit for us to demean ourselves towards them, and to what degree we ought to extend our charity and compassion to them. Let us put on their case and circumstances, and suppose that we were the sufferers, and had fled to them for refuge: the same pity and commiseration, the same tender regard and consideration of our sad case, the same liberal and effectual relief, that we should desire and expect, and be glad to have shewn and afforded to ourselves, let us give to them; and then, I am sure, they will want no fitting comfort and support from us.
We enjoy (blessed be the goodness of God to us) great peace and plenty, and freedom from evil and suffering: and surely one of the best means to have these “blessings continued to us, and our tranquillity prolonged, is to consider and relieve those who want the blessings which we enjoy; and the readiest way to provoke God to deprive us of these blessings, is to “shut up the bowels of our compassion from our distressed brethren.” God can easily change the scene, and make our sufferings, if not in the same kind, yet in one kind or other, equal to their’s; and then we shall remember the afflictions of Joseph, and say, as his brethren did when they fell into trouble, “We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us.”
God alone knows, what storms the devil may yet 122raise in the world, before the end of it: and therefore it concerns all Christians, in all times and places, who have taken upon them the profession of Christ’s religion, to consider well beforehand, and to calculate the dangers and sufferings it may expose them to, and to arm ourselves with resolution and patience against the fiercest assaults of temptation: considering the shortness of all temporal afflictions and sufferings, in comparison of the eternal and glorious reward of them; and the lightness of them too, in comparison of the endless and intolerable torments of another world; to which every man exposeth himself, who forsakes God, and renounceth his truth, and wounds his conscience, to avoid temporal sufferings.
And though fear, in many cases, especially if it be of death and extreme sufferings, be a great excuse for several actions, because it may, cadere in constantem virum, happen to a resolute man: yet in this case of renouncing our religion (unless it be very sudden and surprising, out of which a man recovers himself when he comes to himself, as St. Peter did; or the suffering be so extreme, as to put a man besides himself for the time, so as to make him say or do any thing); I say, in this case of renouncing God and his truth, God will not admit fear for a just excuse of our apostacy; which, if it be unrepented of (and the Scripture speaks of repentance in that case as very difficult) will be our ruin. And the reason is, because God has given us such fair warning of it, that we may be prepared for it, in the resolution of our minds: and we enter into religion upon these terms, with a professed expectation of suffering, and a firm purpose to lay down our lives for the truth, if God shall call us to 123it. “If any man will be my disciple, (says our Lord,) let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” And again, “He that loveth life itself more than me, is not worthy of me; and if any man be ashamed of me and of my words, in this unfaithful generation, of him will I be ashamed before my Father and the holy angels.”
And therefore, to master and subdue this fear, our Saviour hath propounded great objects of terror to us, and a danger infinitely more to be dreaded, which every man runs himself wilfully upon, who shall quit the profession of his religion, to avoid temporal sufferings; (Luke xii. 4, 5.) “Fear not them that can kill the body, but after that have nothing that they can do: but I will tell you whom you shall fear. Fear him, who, after he hath killed, can destroy both body and soul in hell; yea, I say unto you, fear him.” And to this dreadful hazard every man exposeth himself, who, for the fear of men, ventures thus to offend God. These are the fearful and unbelievers, spoken of by St. John, “who shall have their portion in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
Thus you see, how we are to “hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering,” against all temptations and terrors of this world. I should now have proceeded to the next particular; namely, that we are to “hold fast the profession of our faith,” against all vain promises of being put into a safer condition, and groundless hopes of getting to heaven upon easier terms in some other church and religion:
But this I shall not now enter upon.124
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