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THE AUTHORITY OF JESUS CHRIST, WITH THE COMMISSION AND PROMISE WHICH HE GAVE TO HIS APOSTLES.
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth: go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: audio, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.—Matth. xxviii. 18, 19, 20.
THESE words are the last that our blessed Saviour spake to his apostles, immediately before his ascension into heaven: and there are these three things contained in them:
I. A declaration of his own authority; “all power is given unto me, both in heaven and in earth:”
II. A commission to his disciples, grounded upon that authority; “Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”
III. A promise to encourage them in this work; “and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”
I. Here is our Saviour’s declaration of his own authority; “all power is given unto me in heaven and 138in earth.” Here is an unlimited power and authority given him over all creatures in heaven and earth. This the Scripture tells us, was conferred upon him, as a reward of his sufferings: (Phil. ii. 8, 9, 10.) “He humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name, which is above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;” that is, that all creatures, angels, and men, and devils, should do homage, and acknowledge subjection to him.
II. Here is the commission he gave to his apostles, by virtue of this authority; “go ye therefore and teach all nations.” The commission which he here gives, is founded in the authority he had before received. Having all power committed to him, he constitutes and appoints the apostles and their successors to manage the affairs of this his spiritual kingdom upon earth; and this seems to be the same commission, which St. John mentions in other words: (John xx. 21.) “As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you;” that is, as my Father commissioned me before, so now, having received full authority from him, I commission you.
Now, in this commission, which our Saviour gave to his disciples, I shall take notice,
First, Of the general import and design of it.
Secondly, A more particular declaration how they were to manage this design.
First, The general import and design of this commission; “go ye and teach all nations.” The word which we translate teach, is μαθητεύσατε, disciple all nations, endeavour to make all the world 139Christians. One would think here was a power plainly enough given them, to preach the gospel to the gentiles, as well as the Jews. Which will more fully appear, if we compare this passage in St. Matthew with the other evangelists. St. Mark, chap. xvi. 15. hath it; “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” From which text, I suppose, St. Francis thought himself bound to preach to beasts and birds, and accordingly did it very often, and with wonderful success, as they tell us in the legend of his life. But to extend our Saviour’s commission so far, is want of common sense; in which St. Francis (though they tell us he had other gifts and graces to an eminent degree) was plainly defective.
But to proceed, St. Luke (chap. xxiv. 47.) tells us, our Saviour commanded, that l( repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. So that their commission did plainly extend to the gentiles, as well as to the Jews; only they were to begin with the Jews, and to preach the gospel first to them; and, when they had gone over Judea and Samaria, then to pass to other nations, as St. Luke doth most expressly declare: (Acts i. 8.) “Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you, and ye shall be witnesses unto me, both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, unto the uttermost parts of the earth.”
But see the strange power of prejudice, to blind the eyes even of good men in the plainest matters. The disciples of our Saviour, for all they had entertained a new religion, yet they retained the old pride and prejudice of their nation against the rest of the world; as if none but themselves had any 140share in the favour of God, or were to have any part in the salvation of the Messias.
Our Saviour did so far consider this prejudice of theirs, that he never, in his life-time, acquainted them with this matter, so as to make them fully to understand it, because they were not able to bear it. And it is very probable, that this is one of those things which our Saviour meant: (John xvi. 12, 13.) “1 have yet many things to say unto you; but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all truth.” That is, he should lead them into the knowledge of those truths, of which they were not then capable. And though our Saviour, after his resurrection, seems to have declared this sufficiently to them; yet by their practice, after his ascension, it appears that they understood all this only of the Jews; namely, that they were to preach the gospel first to the Jews that were at Jerusalem, and in Judea, and then to those that were dispersed in other nations; for it is clear from the history of their first preaching, recorded in the Acts, that they preached to none but to the Jews, and the proselytes of the Jewish religion. So strong was their prejudice, that they had not the least suspicion that this blessing of the gospel was intended for the heathen world; nor were they convinced to the contrary till St. Peter had a special vision and revelation to this purpose, and the Holy Ghost came upon the gentiles in miraculous gifts, as he had done before upon the Jews that were converted to Christianity. And thus the Spirit of God led them into this truth, and then they understood this command of our Saviour’s in a larger sense. And to this St. Peter plainly refers, (Acts x. 42.) where he tells us, how that Christ, after his resurrection 141appeared to them, and “commanded them to preach unto the people.” So likewise do Paul and Barnabas, (Acts xiii. 40.) where they speak thus to the Jews: “it was necessary that the word should first be preached to you; but seeing you put it from you, lo, we turn to the gentiles, for so hath the Lord commanded us.” Now he no where commanded this, but in this commission, which he gave them before his ascension.
Secondly, You have here a particular declaration how they were to manage this work of making disciples to the Christian religion.
1. By baptizing them into the Christian faith.
2. By instructing them in the precepts and practices of a Christian life.
1. By baptizing them into the Christian faith, which is here called “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Baptism is a solemn rite appointed by our Saviour for the initiating persons into the Christian religion: but it was a ceremony in use before, both among the Jews and gentiles. The heathens observed it at the initiating persons into their religious mysteries; and the Jews, when they admitted proselytes to their religion; at which time the males (as Maimonides tells us) were both circumcised and baptized, the women were only baptized. One circumstance of the baptism of grown persons was, that, standing in the water up to the neck, they recited several precepts of the law. And as the Jewish writers further tell us, this ceremony did not only belong to them that were of grown years, but to the children of proselytes, if it were desired, upon condition, that when they came to years they should continue in their religion.142
Now, though this was a religious ceremony used both by Jews and gentiles, and without any Divine institution, that we know of, our blessed Saviour (who in none of his institutions seems to have favoured unnecessary innovations; was so far from the superstition of declining it upon this account, though it had been in religious use both among Jews and gentiles, that he seems the rather to have chosen it for that very reason. For seeing it was a common rite of all religions, and in itself very significant of that purity which is the great design of all religions, it was the more likely to find the easier acceptance, and to be most suitable to that, which he intended to be the universal religion of the world.
As for the form of baptism, “in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,” it plainly refers to that short creed, or profession of faith, which was required of those that were to be baptized, answerably to the reciting of the precepts of the law, at the baptizing of proselytes among the Jews: now the articles of this creed were reduced to these three heads, “of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” and contains what was necessary to be believed concerning each of these. And this probably is that which the apostle calls the doctrine of baptism, (Heb. vi. 2.) viz. a short summary of the Christian faith, the profession whereof was to be made at baptism; of which the most ancient fathers make so frequent mention, calling it “the rule of faith.” It was a great while, indeed, before Christians tied themselves strictly to that very form of words, which we now call the Apostles Creed; but the sense was the same, though every one expressed it in his own words; nay, the same father 143reciting it upon several occasions, does not confine himself to the very same expressions: a plain indication that they were not then strictly bound up to any form of words, but retaining the sense and sub stance of the articles, every one expressed them as he pleased. So that to baptize “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,” is to perform this rite or sacrament by the authority of, and with special relation to, the three persons of the blessed Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, as the chief objects of the Christian faith, whereof solemn profession was then made. So that upon this form of baptism, appointed by our Saviour, compared with what is elsewhere said in Scripture, concerning the divinity of the Son, and the Holy Ghost, is principally founded the doctrine of the blessed Trinity; I mean in that simplicity in which the Scripture hath delivered it, and not as it hath been since confounded and entangled in the cob webs and niceties of the schools. The Scripture, indeed, no where calls them persons, but speaks of them as we do of several persons; and therefore that word is not unfitly used to express the difference between them, or at least we do not know a fitter word for that purpose.
By baptizing, then, “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” is meant, the initiating of men by this solemn rite and ceremony into the Christian religion, upon their profession of the necessary doctrines of it, concerning the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and a solemn stipulation and engagement to live according to those doctrines: which promise of a suitable life and practice was likewise made at the same time, as Justin Martyr and others of the ancient fathers do testify.144
But before I leave this head, it is very fit to take particular notice what use the anabaptists make of this text, so as in effect to lay the whole stress of their cause upon it, as if by virtue of this command of our Saviour s, and the manner wherein it is expressed, all infants, even those of Christian parents, who are themselves already admitted into the new covenant of the gospel, were excluded from baptism; because it is here said by our Saviour, “Go ye and disciple all nations, baptizing them;” from whence they infer, (and very clearly and strongly as they think) that none are to be baptized, but such as are first thoroughly instructed in the Christian religion, and made disciples, which infants are not, but only those who are grown to some maturity of years and understanding: but the opinion and practice of the ancient church in this matter, is a sufficient bar to this inference, at least to the clearness of it. And, indeed, it cannot reasonably be imagined, that the apostles, who had all of them been bred up in the Jewish religion, which constantly, and by virtue of a Divine precept and institution, admitted infants into that church, and to the benefits of that covenant, by the right of circumcision, and likewise the infants of proselytes by baptism (as I observed before), I say no man can reasonably imagine, that the apostles could understand our Saviour, as in tending, by any consequence from this text, to exclude the children of Christians out of the Christian church, and to debar them of the benefits of the new covenant of the gospel; the children of Christians being every whit as capable of being taken into this new covenant, and of partaking of the benefits of it, as children of the Jews were of being admitted into the old. Unless we will suppose 145(which at first sight seems very harsh and unreasonable), that by the terms of the Christian religion, children are in a much worse condition than the children of the Jews were under the law. So that the parity of reason being so plain, nothing less than an express prohibition from our Saviour, and an exception of children from baptism, can be thought sufficient to deprive the children of Christians of any privilege, of which the Jewish were capable. For the plain meaning of this commission to the apostles is, to go and proselyte all nations to the Christian religion; and to admit them solemnly into it by baptism; as the Jews were wont to proselyte men to their religion by circumcision and baptism; by which rites also they took in the children of the proselytes, upon promise that when they came to years they should continue in that religion. And if this was our Saviour’s meaning, the apostles had no reason, from the tenor of their commission, to understand that the children of Christian proselytes were any more excluded than the children of proselytes to the Jewish religion, unless our Saviour had expressly excepted them; for it is a favourable case, and in a matter of privilege, and therefore ought not to be determined to debar children of it, upon any obscure consequence from a text, which it is certain was never so understood by the Christian church for fifteen hundred years together. I have done with the first part of their commission, which was, to disciple or proselyte all nations to the Christian religion, and to admit them into the Christian church, by the rite or sacrament of baptism. I proceed to consider the
Second part of their commission, which was, to instruct men in the precepts and duties of a Christian 146life, “teaching them to observe all things what soever I have commanded you.” You see how their commission bounds and limits them: they were to teach others those precepts which Christ had taught and delivered to them; they had no power by virtue of this commission to make new laws, which would be of universal and perpetual obligation, and consequently necessary to the salvation of all Christians; they were only to be the publishers, but not the authors, of this new religion. And therefore St. Paul, when the Corinthians consulted him about several things relating to marriage and virginity, he only gives his advice, but would not take upon him to make a law in those cases that should be binding to all Christians. And, for the same reason, Christians do generally at this day think themselves ab solved from the obligation of that canon, which was made even in a council of the apostles, as to all those branches of it, the reason whereof is now ceased. But notwithstanding this, the authority which our Saviour conferred upon his apostles to teach his doctrine, does in the nature of it necessarily imply a power of governing the societies of Christians, under such officers, and by such rules as are most suitable to the nature of such a society, and most fit to promote the great ends of the Christian religion: for without this power of governing, they cannot be supposed to be endowed with sufficient authority to teach; and, therefore, in pursuance of this commission, we find that the apostles did govern the societies of Christians by such rules and constitutions, as were fitted to the present circumstances of Christianity. And as they did appoint temporary officers upon emergent occasions, so they constituted others that were of perpetual 147use in the church, for the instructing and governing of Christians, and that in such a subordination to one another, as would be most effectual to the attaining of the end of government; which subordination of governors, hath not only been used in all religions, but in all the well-regulated civil societies that ever were in the world. And this may suffice to have spoken of the second part of their commission.
The third and last thing in the text, is the promise which our Saviour here makes for the encouragement of the apostles in this work; “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world; that is, though I be going from you in person, yet I will still be present with you by my power and Spirit, And surely this must needs be a great encouragement to have him engaged for their assistance, who had “all power in heaven and earth committed to him,” as he tells them at the 18th verse.
I shall endeavour therefore, as far as the time will permit, to explain to you the true meaning and extent of this promise. That it is primarily made to the apostles, no man can doubt, that considers that it was spoken to them immediately by our Saviour; and in regard to them, the meaning of it is plainly this that our Saviour would send down the Holy Ghost upon them, in miraculous gifts, to qualify and enable them for the more speedy planting and propagating of the gospel in the world, and that he would be with them and assist them extraordinarily in this work.
And that this is the primary meaning of it, in regard to the apostles, will be very plain, by considering how this promise is expressed by the other evangelists; Mark xvi. 17. instead of this promise, 148you have these words immediately after our Saviour had given them commission to go and preach the gospel; “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature: he that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not, shall be damned.” And then it follows: “These signs shall follow them that believe; in my name they shall cast out devils, and shall speak with new tongues.” And, Luke xxiv. 49. instead of, “Lo, I am with you,” it is said, “Behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you;” that is, the miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost; for it follows in the next words, “but tarry in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endowed with power from on high.” This St. Luke himself interprets of the promise of the Holy Ghost; (Acts i. 4, 5.) “He commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which (saith he) ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water, but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost, not many days hence.” And, (ver. 8.) “Ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you, and ye shall be witnesses unto me, both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” So that no man that compares these texts together, can doubt, but that this was the primary meaning of this promise, as it was made to the apostles.
But then it is as plain, likewise, that this promise is to be extended farther than to the persons of the apostles, even to all those that should afterwards succeed them in this work of preaching the gospel, and baptizing, because our Saviour adds, that he would be with them to the end of the world: which words, because they reach far beyond the apostles’ 149times (as I shall shew by and by), must necessarily be extended to such persons in after ages, as should carry on the same work.
There are two famous controversies about the sense of these words, in which this promise is expressed.
The first is, concerning the circumstance of time mentioned in this promise, “alway, to the end of the world.”
The other, concerning the substance of the promise itself, what is meant by our Saviour’s being with them. In the first, we have to deal with the enthusiasts; in the latter, with the papists. I shall examine the pretences of both these, as briefly and plainly as I can.
First, Concerning the circumstance of time expressed in these words, “alway, to the end of the world.” The enthusiast would persuade us, that the meaning of these phrases is not to be extended beyond that age, and that this promise is to be limited to the apostles persons, and that the sense of it is, that Christ would be with the apostles πᾶσας τὰς ἡμέρας, all their days, so long as they should live, and that would be, ἕως τῆς συντελείας τοῦ αἰῶνος, to the end of that age; thus they translate it, and with no worse design than to take away the necessity of a gospel ministry.
But this pretence will vanish, if we can make good these two things:
1. That the letter of this promise extends farther than the persons of the apostles, and the continuance of that age.
2. However that be, it is certain that the reason of it extends to all that should succeed them in their ministry, to the end of the world.150
1. The letter of this promise extends farther than the persons of the apostles, and the continuance of that age. I will easily grant that the phrase πᾶσας τὰς ἡμέρας, signifies only continually; I will be with you continually; but then the other phrase ἕως τῆς συντελείας τοῦ αἰῶνος, until the end of the world, is several times in Scripture undeniably used for the end and dissolution of all things, and cannot, with any probability, be shewn to be ever used otherwise. In this sense it is unquestionably used three times, Matt. xiii. “The harvest is the end of the world,” (ver. 39.) “So shall it be at the end of the world,” (ver. 40.) and ver. 49. it is said, that “at the end of the world, the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from the just, and cast them into the furnace;” which must either be understood of the end of the world, and of the day of judgment, or there will be no clear text in the whole Bible to that purpose; and it is very probable, that this phrase is used in the same sense, (Matt. xxiv. 3.) where the disciples ask our Saviour, “What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” As will appear to any one that considers our Saviour’s answer to this question; the latter part whereof cannot, without too much violence, be accommodated to any thing but the final dissolution of the world. Now, if this phrase be every where else in Scripture used in this sense, there is no reason why it should be taken otherwise in the text, only to serve the purpose of an unreasonable opinion.
I know there are phrases very near akin to this, which are used in a quite different sense; namely, for the expiration of the Jewish state: and that we may know how to distinguish them, it is observable, that when the Scripture speaks of the end of the world, 151it is called συντελεία τοῦ αἰῶνος, the end of the age, in the singular number; but when it speaks of the times before the gospel, it always expresseth them in the plural: the reason of which is, that famous tradition among the Jews, of the house of Elias, which distributed the whole duration of the world into three ages; the age before the law, the age under the law, and the age of the Messias; and this last age they looked on with great difference from the rest, as the famous and glorious age, which was to be, as it were, the beginning of a new world: and therefore the Jews in their writings constantly call it the saeculum futurum, the age, or the world to come: and therefore the apostle in this Epistle to the Hebrews, calls the state of the gospel by that name, as best known to them: (Heb. ii. 5.) “But unto the angels hath he not put in subjection the world to come, whereof we now speak;” that is, the law was given by the disposition of angels, but the dispensation of the gospel, which is called the world to come, was managed and administered by the Son of God. So likewise, (Heb. vi. 5.) those miraculous powers which accompanied the first preaching of the gospel, are called δυνάμεις τοῦ μέλλοντος αἰῶνος, “the powers of the world to come;” that is, of the gospel age.
So that this last age of the gospel, is that which the Scripture, by way of eminency, calls the age; those that went before are constantly called αἰῶνες, the ages, in the plural number. So we find, (Eph. iii. 9.) the gospel is called “the dispensation of the mystery that was hid in God,” ἀπὸ τῶν αἰώνων, from ages; and you have the same phrase, Col. i. 26. Upon the same account, the expiration of the Jewish state is in Scripture called “the last times,” and “the last days:” (Heb. i. 2.) “But in these last days, God 152hath spoken to \is by his Son.” (1 Cor. x. 11.) “These things are written for our admonition, upon whom τὰ τέλη τῶν αἰώνων, the ends of the ages are come.” In the same sense the apostle, (Heb. ix. 26.) speaking of Christ, says, that “he appeared, ἐπὶ συντελείᾳ τῶν αἰώνων, at the end of the ages,” to take away sin; that is, at the conclusion of the ages which had gone before, in the last age. So that if we will be governed in the interpretation of this text, by the constant use of this phrase in Scripture, the letter of this promise will extend to the end of the world.
2. But however this be, it is certain that the reason of this promise does extend to all those that should succeed the apostles in their ministry, to the end of the world; I will suppose now (to give the adversaries their utmost scope), that which we have no reason to grant, that the letter of this promise preacheth only to the apostles and their age, and that our Saviour’s meaning was no more but this—that he would send down the Holy Ghost upon them in miraculous gifts, to qualify and enable them for the speedy planting and propagating of the gospel in the world, and that he would be with them till this work was done. Now, supposing there were nothing more than this intended in the letter of it, this ought not much to trouble us, so long as it is certain, that the reason of it does extend to the successors of the apostles in all ages of the world. I do not mean, that the reason of this promise does give us sufficient assurance, that God will assist the teachers and governors of his church in all ages, in the same extra ordinary manner as he did the apostles, because there is not the like reason and necessity for it; but that we have sufficient assurance from the reason of this promise, that God will not be wanting to us, in 153such fitting and necessary assistance, as the state of religion, and the welfare of it in every age, shall require: for can we imagine that God will use such extraordinary means to plant a religion in the world, and to take no care of it afterwards? that he who had begun so good a work, so great and glorious a design, would let it fall to the ground for want of any thing that was necessary to the support of it?
This is reasonable in itself; but we are not also without good ground for thus extending the general reason of particular promises beyond the letter of them. The apostle hath gone before us in this, for (Heb. xiii. 5, 6.) he there extends two particular promises of the Old Testament to all Christians: “Let your conversation (says he) be without covetousness, and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” And again, “The Lord is my helper, I will not fear what man can do unto me.” These promises were made to particular persons; the first of them to Joshua, and the other to David; but yet the apostle applies them to all Christians, and to good men in all ages, because the general ground and reason of them extended so far. He who gave Joshua and David this encouragement to their duty, will certainly be as good to us, if we do ours.
And thus I have done with the first controversy about the sense of these words, which concerns the circumstances of time mentioned in this promise, “alway, to the end of the world;” and have plainly shewn, that both the letter and the reason of this promise does extend further than the persons of the apostles, and the continuance of that age, even to all that should succeed them in their ministry to the end of the world, I come now to consider,154
Secondly, The substance of the promise itself; namely, What is meant by our Saviour’s “being with them.” And here our adversaries of the church of Rome would fain persuade us, that this promise is made to the church of Rome, and that the meaning of it is, that the church should always be infallible, and never err in the faith. But as there is no mention of the church of Rome in this promise, nor any where else in Scripture upon the like occasion, whereby we might be directed to understand this promise to be made to that church; so, to any unprejudiced person, the plain and obvious sense of this promise can be no other than this, that our Saviour, having commissioned the apostles to go and preach the Christian religion in the world, he promises to assist them in this work, and those that should succeed them in it “to the end of the world.” But how any man can construe this promise so as to make it signify the perpetual infallibility of the Roman church, I cannot, for my life, devise; and yet this is one of the main texts upon which they build that old and tottering fabric of their infallibility.
Here is a general promise of assistance to the pastors and governors of the church, in all ages, to the end of the world; but that this assistance shall always be to the degree of infallibility (as it was to the apostles) can neither be concluded from the letter of this promise, nor from the reason of it; much less can it be from hence concluded, that the assistance here promised, if it were to the degree of infallibility, is to be limited and confined to the supreme pastor and governor of the Roman church.
That the assistance here promised shall always be to the degree of infallibility, can by no means be 155concluded from the letter of this promise. Indeed, there is no pretence or colour for it; he must have a very peculiar sagacity, that can find out in these words, “I am with you always,” a promise of in fallible assistance. Is not the promise which God made to Joshua, and which the apostle to the He brews applies to all Christians, and to all good men, in all ages, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee,” the very same in sense with this, “I will be with you always?” And yet, surely, no man did ever imagine, that by virtue of this promise, every Christian, and every good man, is infallible.
But neither can it be inferred from the reason of this promise, that this assistance shall always be to the degree of infallibility. It was so, indeed, to the apostles; the miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost, which were bestowed upon them for the more speedy and effectual planting and propagating of the gospel in the world, were a Divine testimony and confirmation to the doctrine which they delivered; and having this Divine testimony given to them, we are certain that they were secured from error in the delivery of that doctrine. So that the apostles had no other in fallibility, but what depended upon, and was evidenced by, the miraculous gifts wherewith they were endowed; and therefore, without the like gifts, none can with reason pretend to the like infallibility: for infallibility signifies an extraordinary assistance of God’s Spirit, whereby those who are thus assisted are secured from error. This every confident man may, if he pleaseth, pretend to; but no man is to be believed to have it, but he who can give such evidence of it, as is fit to satisfy reasonable men that he hath it. Now, the only sufficient evidence of such an extraordinary Divine assistance, is the 156power of miracles. This, indeed, is the great external testimony of a teacher come from God, “if he do such works as none can do, except God be with him;” and this evidence the prophets of old, and our Saviour, and his apostles, always gave of their infallibility. And if the pope and general councils can give the testimony of such miracles for their infallibility, as Moses, and our Saviour, and his apostles did work, we are ready to acknowledge it. Such a testimony as this would give the world a thousand times more satisfaction concerning their infallibility, than all the subtle arguments of Bellarmine, and all their writers. But if they cannot, they may dispute about it to the end of the world; and every man that hath but the same confidence, may pretend to it with as much reason as they do.
But to proceed in my argument: here is a plain reason why this extraordinary assistance should be granted to the apostles at first; and another reason, as plain, why it should not be continued afterwards. It was reasonable, and in some degree necessary, that the apostles should be thus assisted at the first publication of the gospel; namely, to give satisfaction to the world, that they were faithful and true witnesses of the doctrine and miracles of Christ, But since this doctrine and these miracles are recorded to posterity by those very persons that were thus assisted, here is as plain a reason, why, after the gospel was planted and established in the world, this infallibility should cease. So long as we have an infallible foundation of faith; namely, the Divine revelation consigned in writing, and transmitted down to us by testimony of undoubted credit, what need is there now of a fixed and standing infallibility in the church? But having handled 157this argument more at large elsewhere, I shall insist no further upon it here.
I have now done with the three things I propounded to discourse upon from this text. You have heard what authority our Saviour had given him; what commission he gave to his disciples; and what assistance he hath promised to the pastors and governors of his church to the end of the world: namely, such an assistance as is suitable to the exigencies of the church, in the several ages and states of Christianity; which assistance was at first very extraordinary and miraculous. God was pleased to give witness to the first teachers and publishers of the gospel, “with signs and wonders, and divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost;” and this, at first, was in a very great degree necessary, it not being otherwise imaginable, how Christianity could have borne up against all that force and violent opposition which was raised against it: but this extraordinary assistance was but a temporary and transient dispensation. God did, as it were, pass by “in the strong and mighty wind, in the earthquake, and in the fire: but he was in the still voice;” that is, he designed to settle and continue that dispensation, in that more calm and secret way of assistance, which offers less violence to the nature of man, but which was intended for the constant and permanent dispensation. So that we have no reason to think, that God hath now forsaken his church, though he be not with it in so sensible and extraordinary a manner.
But then, if any particular church desire and expect this blessed presence and assistance of God’s Holy Spirit, we must remember, there is a condition to be performed on our parts. For how absolute soever this promise may be, in respect of the 158church universal; it is certainly conditional to any particular church, as sad experience, in many instances, hath shewn. God hath long since left the church of Jerusalem, where the gospel was first published; he hath left the church of Antioch, where the believers of the gospel were first called Christians; he hath left the famous churches of Asia, to that degree of desolation, that the ruins and places of some of them are hardly at this day certainly known. And this may also be the fate of any particular church, not excepting Rome herself, for all her pride and confidence to the contrary. “Behold, therefore, the goodness and severity of God: towards them that fell, severity; but towards us goodness, if we continue in his goodness, otherwise we also shall be cut off.”
This, as I observed before, is spoken particularly to the Roman church; the apostle supposeth that the church of Rome herself may be guilty of apostacy from the faith, and cut off by unbelief, and, indeed, seems to foretel it; which, how it consists with their confident pretence to infallibility, let them look to it.
And let all particular churches look to themselves, that they do not forfeit this promise of Divine assistance. For Christ hath not so tied himself to any particular church, but that, if they forsake him, he may leave them, and “remove his candlestick from them.” There have been ninny sad instances of this, since the first planting of Christianity; and we have no small reason to apprehend that it may come to be our own case; for certainly we have many of those marks of ruin among us, which did foretel the destruction of the Jewish church and nation: horrible profaneness and contempt 159of religion, division and animosities to the highest degree, and an universal dissoluteness and corruption of manners. And why should we, who do the .same things, think ourselves exempted from the same fate? What can we expect, but that God should deal with us as he did with them; “take away the kingdom of God from us, and give it to a nation that will bring forth the fruits of it?”
The condition of this great promise here in the text, to the pastors and governors of the Christian church, is the faithful execution of their commission; if they do sincerely endeavour to gain men to the belief and practice of Christianity, Christ hath promised to be with them. The performance of this condition doth primarily concern the chief governors of the church, and next to them the ministers of the gospel in general, that they should be diligent and faithful in their respective stations, “teaching men to observe all things, whatsoever Christ hath commanded.” And if we would make this our great work, to instruct our respective charges in the necessary doctrines of faith, and the indispensable duties of a good life, we should have far less trouble with them about other matters. And that we may do this work effectually, we must be serious in our instructions and exemplary in our lives.—Serious in our instructions: this certainly the apostle requires in the highest degree, when he chargeth ministers, “so to speak, as the oracles of God;” to which nothing can be more contrary than to trifle with the word of God, and to speak of the weightiest matters in the world, the great and everlasting concernments of the souls of men, in so slight and in decent a manner, as is not only beneath the gravity of the pulpit, but even of a well-regulated stage. 160Can any thing be more unsuitable than to hear a minister of God, from this solemn place, to break jests upon sin, and to quibble upon the vices of the age? This is to shoot without a bullet, as if we had no mind to do execution, but only to make men smile at the mention of their faults; this is so nauseous a folly, and of so pernicious consequence to religion, that hardly any thing too severe can be said of it.
And then, if we would have our instructions effectual, we must be exemplary in our lives. Aristotle tells, that the manners of the speaker have κυριοτάτην πίστιν, the most sovereign power of persuasion. And, therefore, Cato puts it into the definition of an orator, that he is vir bonus, dicendi peritus, “a good man, and an eloquent speaker.” This is true as to all kinds of persuasion; the good opinion which men have of the speaker gives great weight to his words, and does strangely dispose the minds of men to entertain his counsels. But the reputation of goodness is more especially necessary and useful to those whose proper work it is to persuade men to be good; and therefore the apostle, when he had charged Titus to put men in mind of their duty, he immediately adds, “in all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works.” None so fit to teach others their duty, and none so likely to gain men to it, as those who practise it themselves, because hereby we convince men that we are in ear nest, when they see that we persuade them to no thing but what we choose to do ourselves. This is the way to stop the mouths of men, and to confute their malice, by an exemplary piety and virtue. So St. Peter tells us: (1 Pet. ii. 15.) “For so is the will of God, that by well-doing ye put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.”161
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