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SERMON CCXXXI.

THE ADVANTAGES OF TRUTH, IN OPPOSITION TO ERROR.

Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. They are of the world; therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them.—1 John iv. 4, 5.

IN the beginning of this chapter, the apostle cautions Christians against the false teachers, and false prophets, intending more especially those of the gnostic sect, as is plain from the scope of the whole Epistle, who were so busy to seduce Christians to their impious ways, and to tempt them to apostatize from the Christian religion to the heathen idolatry, for fear of persecution.

And to encourage them who had hitherto continued in the truth, and resisted the seducing arts of those false prophets, still to persevere in their holy profession and practice, he tells them what advantages they, who have embraced the truth and lived according to it, have above those who seduce men to errors, or are seduced by them. “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” That which gives truth and the professors of it the advantage over error and seducers, is, that truth is from God, and the Spirit of God dwells in those who sincerely embrace and obey it.

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“Ye are of God,” that is, ye are taught by him, and instructed in the doctrine which is from God, and relish Divine truth, which our Saviour calls savouring the things which are of God, in opposition to the things of the world, the lusts and interests of the world which sway and rule in those false prophets and seducing spirits. For so it follows in the next verse, “they are of the world;” they are acted by worldly lusts and interests: “therefore speak they of the world;” they teach things suitable to their worldly affections and interests: “and the world heareth them,” they who are of the same temper are seduced and led away by them.

So that the apostle’s design in these words, is plainly to shew the great advantage which truth and the sincere professors of it have above error, and the teachers and disciples of it.

“Ye are of God.” This phrase is very frequently , and very peculiarly used by St. John; it signifies to belong to God in a special and peculiar manner, and is the same with “being born of God,” and “being the children of God,” (chap. iii. 10.) “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever cloth not righteousness, is not of God.” Where you see to be “of God, “and to be “the children of God,” are the same thing: and so to be the children of the devil, and to be of the devil, are by this apostle used in the same sense, (chap. iii. 8.) “He that committeth sin is of the devil.” And, (ver. 12.) “Cain was of that wicked one,” that is, a child of the devil, as he had called such before, (ver. 10.) And because children do resemble their parents in nature and disposition, therefore those who are of a Divine temper and disposition, who relish the things of God, and are apt to embrace 404the truths of God when they are duly propounded to them, are ready to be taught of God, are said likewise to be of God: (John viii. 47.) “He that is of God, heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God.” So here in the text, “Ye are of God;” ye are of a temper and disposition apt to relish Divine things, ready to embrace the truths of God, and ye have entertained them, and are his children, and are led by his Spirit, and have the Spirit of God dwelling in you; and this makes you victorious. “Ye have overcome them.” He had spoken immediately before of false prophets and antichrist, by which he doth point out not one particular person, but the whole number and faction of false teachers, as he tells us, (chap. ii. 18.) that “now there are many antichrists. Ye are of God, and have overcome them/ This hath enabled you to resist those seducing spirits, and made you too hard for them, that “ye are of God; because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” The force of the reasoning is this: “Ye are of God,” that is, ye are taught of God, and have received his doctrine, and are born again by the word of God, and are his children, and being his children, ye have his Spirit; and the Spirit of truth and of God is a stronger principle, than that spirit of error and seduction which is in the world, that is, the devil. Greater is he that is in yon, than he that is in the world.” The Spirit of truth is more powerful than the spirit of error and seduction; and consequently they that are of God, who sincerely embrace and obey the truth, are able to over come all the temptations of the world to apostacy from the truth.

My work at this time shall be to shew, what advantage 405good men, and those who sincerely embrace and obey truth, have to secure them in the ways of truth and holiness, against all the temptations of the devil and the world. I say, in the ways of truth and holiness, because there is a strict connexion between a hearty embracing of the truth of God, and a sincere obedience to it. And the apostle speaks of both, in opposition to the gnostics, who did not only endeavour to seduce men to apostacy from Christian faith, but likewise from the practice of a holy life. Now to secure men against temptations to both these, they who are of God, who sincerely embrace and obey the truth, have a great advantage, because that spirit and principle, which rules and sways in them, is more powerful than that spirit which rules in the world and in the children of disobedience. “Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world;” and that in these three respects:

First, Divine truth carries greater evidence along with it.

Secondly, The motives to persuade men to adhere to truth and holiness, are more operative and powerful.

Thirdly, There is a greater and more immediate assistance accompanies the truth of God, and they who entertain it are acted by a more powerful principle than that which is in the world.

First, Divine truth carries greater evidence along with it. As will appear if we consider three things:

I. The doctrines that are from God have more intrinsic goodness in them, and teach such things as are more worthy of God, and more likely to proceed from him.

II. The external confirmation of these doctrines is greater and hath more conviction in it.

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III. The Spirit of God doth illuminate the minds of good men, and is concerned to lead them into the truth, and to secure them from dangerous and damnable errors.

I. The doctrines which are from God, have a more intrinsical goodness in them, and teach such things as are most worthy of God, and more likely to proceed from him. Whoever supposeth God to make a revelation of himself to men whereby to conduct them to happiness, must in all reason suppose such a Divine doctrine to contain plain rules and directions to that end, and powerful helps, motives, and encouragements, to enable and excite men to the observation of those rules. For a man would naturally reason, that God, who is so infinitely good, would, in revealing his will to men, aim at no other end, but the happiness of his creatures: and that he being infinitely wise as well as good, the means would be proportionable, and consequently that the laws and precepts which he gives would apparently tend to the happiness of mankind: and because, if men have immortal souls, and are designed to live for ever, their greatest happiness is that of another world; therefore it is reasonable to conclude, that those rules and directions should principally regard the eternal happiness of men in another life, and in subserviency to that, should respect likewise the temporal happiness of men in this world.

And such laws and rules being supposed, the next thing to be expected is, that God should consider the condition and circumstances of persons to whom these laws are given; and if they be averse to them, that they should be awakened and quickened to the observance of them, by such motives and 407encouragements as are proper and powerful to that end; and if they be weak and impotent to the performance of what God’s laws require, that they should be enabled and assisted by a proportionable strength.

Now the doctrine of the Christian religion, which our blessed Saviour revealed to the world, and (as we Christians say,) by Divine commission and authority, hath all these marks and characters of divinity upon it. The laws of it are plain and obvious to the common understanding of mankind; all men know what the precepts of piety, and goodness, and mercy, and righteousness, and integrity, and truth, and faithfulness, of meekness, and humility, and patience, and forgiveness, and forbearance, and charity, mean; and so I might instance in temperance and chastity, and all those other virtues and graces which the Christian religion requires of us, and recommends to us. These all tend to the advancement and perfection of our natures, and make us like to God, and capable of the enjoyment of him in the next life; and besides this, they do apparently conduce in all respects to our temporal happiness in this world. And excepting the case of persecution (to which God hath promised abundant recompence in another world,) the practice of these virtues is evidently to the advantage of particular persons in this world, and to the peace and happiness of human society.

And, because of the great corruption of human nature, and the strong inclinations of it to vice, the gospel offers proportionable arguments and encouragements to men to persuade them to their duty; an act of oblivion and pardon for what is past; perfect reconciliation to God in and through the 408merits and mediation of our blessed Saviour, and the eternal rewards and punishments of another world; which to men that believe the immortality of their souls, and are not stupidly insensible of their interest, are the most powerful considerations in the world to take men off from sin, and to bring them to goodness.

And because the corruption of human nature hath brought a great weakness and impotency upon mankind, God is pleased in the gospel to offer to men the powerful assistance of his grace and Holy Spirit, to enable them to perform all this which he requires of them. And beyond this, what can we expect God should discover to men, in order to their happiness in this world, or the other? And in all these respects the doctrine of the gospel, revealed from heaven by the Son of God, hath, to any impartial considerer, infinitely the advantage of paganism or Mahometanism, or any other doctrine or institution that ever the world was acquainted withal.

But now, if we bring the doctrines of false prophets and seducing spirits, whom St. John calls antichrists, to this trial, we shall find that they are quite of another stamp, destitute of goodness, and calculated not for the happiness and benefit of men, but for base and unworthy ends; whereby it is evident, that the teachers of them are not “of God, but of the world,” and “therefore they speak of the world, and the world heareth them.” And of this I will give two instances; one in those false teachers the gnostics, intended by the apostle in this Epistle; and the other in a sort of seducers nearer to us in our own times.

As for the gnostics, besides their contradicting 409and virtual renouncing the main principles of Christianity, by denying that Christ was really come in the flesh, or that he really died, or rose, affirming all this to be only in appearance; the sum of their doctrine was either a heap of unintelligible words and phrases, under a pretence of a high mystery; or a doctrine of liberty, as to all manner of vice and wickedness, under a pretence of perfection, and that whatever they did, they could not sin; both which at the first sight are as plain evidence as any reasonable man can desire, that such a doctrine could not be from God; nothing being more unlikely to be a Divine revelation, than such absurd and confused stuff as no man can understand, and which hath no tendency to make men better. But above all, nothing can be more unworthy of God, nor more unlikely to proceed from him, than such a doctrine as gives encouragement to vice and wickedness of life, under what pretence soever it be. For what can be more contrary to God, and a greater affront to the reason of mankind, than to let men loose to do the vilest and lewdest things, under pretence of perfection in goodness?

The other instance I intend is nearer at hand, and concerns us more, and that is in the church of Rome, and those false teachers which she sends abroad into the world, and which at this day swarm among us; and never did any character more unluckily agree to any sort of men than this of the apostle does to that church and the teachers of it, that “they are of the world, and therefore they speak of the world, and the world heareth them.”

In which words there are three remarkable characters given of the false prophets and teachers.

1. That they are acted by a worldly spirit, and 410carry on a secular interest and design; “they are of the world.”

2. That they teach things suitable to their worldly interest and design, and therefore they speak ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου, “from the world,” according to that worldly spirit that acts them, and rules in them.

.3. Those that hearken to them are a sort of people like themselves, of worldly affections and interests; “the world heareth them.”

1. They are acted by a worldly spirit, and carry on a secular interest and design of greatness and ambition, of dominion and tyranny, of riches and wealth. Any man that considers the church of Rome at this day, and by what steps and degrees, by what worldly ways and unworthy means, she hath attained to that power and wealth and greatness, to that dominion and tyranny, which now for several hundreds of years she hath exercised, not only over the consciences of men in the most cruel manner, but even over temporal princes and states, in commanding their treasures and armies, in deposing kings, and disposing of their kingdoms, and in all imaginable instances of secular dominion and tyranny, cannot but be satisfied by what spirit they are acted, and that they as visibly carry on a worldly interest and design, as the most ambitious secular prince ever did.

2. They teach things suitable to their worldly designs and interests. Let but any man impartially survey those which are the proper doctrines of the Romish church, and which we challenge for innovation and corruption of the truly ancient catholic and Christian doctrine, and it will at first sight be evident to him, whither these doctrines tend, and that they do not serve the ends of religion, but of worldly 411greatness and dominion. What greater instance of ambition, than the claim of the universal supremacy of the bishop of Rome over all Christians and churches in the world, without the least ground, or indeed colour of ground, either from Scripture or antiquity; and not only of an universal spiritual power over Christians, but of an indirect temporal power over princes in order to spiritual ends, which may be extended to any thing, and hath been, upon occasion, to the donation of kingdoms, and the deposing of princes, and the transferring of temporal dominion from lawful and hereditary princes, to those who had no manner of right or title? What more arrogant and directly tending to the enslaving of mankind, than their pretence to infallibility, which yet they could never agree among themselves where to place? What greater tyranny can be exercised over mankind, than to oblige them to an implicit faith, and blind obedience to believe what the church believes, though they do not know what it is; and to do what the church commands, though they doubt never so much of the lawfulness of it? Than to hide the word of God from them, and to lock it up in an unknown tongue, and to deter them from the free use of that which was designed by God to be the great instrument of the salvation of mankind? Than not to let men exercise their understandings in the service of God; nor, when they join in public prayers, to suffer them to know what it is they ask of God; as if the priests lips were so to preserve knowledge, as to keep it all to themselves, and not to make use of it for the benefit and edification of the people? And lastly, to impose upon men, under pain of damnation, the belief of doctrines, not only contrary to the true sense of Scripture, but to all the 412sense and reason of mankind, as is the doctrine of transubstantiation? How is it possible to bring people into a greater subjection to the priests, and dependance upon them, than by auricular confession, and that unreasonable doctrine of making the efficacy of the sacraments to depend upon the intention of the priest; and consequently, to put it into the power of a malicious and bad man to damn all his parish? And to mention but one thing more, what better contrivance could be thought of to enrich the church, and drain the purses of the people, than their doctrines of purgatory and prayers for the dead, of indulgences and satisfaction, and their forms of sins and vices of all kinds, called the tax of the apostolic chamber? Can any man think that these and such-like doctrines are “of God,” which do so directly serve the ends of covetousness and ambition? Any one that does not wilfully shut his eyes, may plainly see that such doctrines, and such teachers, are “of the world,” and that they speak and teach these things out of a worldly interest and design.

And here I might take notice likewise, that “they speak from the world,” also, in another sense, by shewing what worldly and indirect means (not to say wicked and sinful arts) they commonly make use of to make disciples and gain proselytes, by flattery and falsehood, by concealing and misrepresenting their own doctrines and practices, by defaming their adversaries with known fictions and calumnies, tempting men from their religion by promises of temporal advantages, which, when they have gained them, they do not always perform and make good. Can any thing be more opposite to the genius of true religion, than to promote it by means 413so plainly contrary to the very nature and design of it?

3. Those who hearken to them and are seduced by them, are generally like themselves; “they speak from the world, and the world heareth them.” Not but that men of very honest and sincere minds may be seduced into great errors, through prejudice or weakness, or a melancholy superstition: but gene rally such a religion as is calculated for the promoting of secular interest, and is carried on by secular arts, does gain upon carnal and worldly minds; and it is usually some worldly consideration or other that prevails with men to embrace and profess it. A religion that can find out ways to save men without sincere repentance and a good life, is very fit to make proselytes in the world; they that teach such doctrines speak from the world, and the world is very apt to hear them.

And thus I have done with the first thing, where by it appears, that Divine truth carries great evidence along with it, namely, that the doctrines which are from God, have more intrinsical goodness in them, and teach such things as are more worthy of God, and more likely to proceed from him. I will be briefer in the rest.

II. The external confirmation of Divine doctrines is greater, and carries more conviction along with it. By external confirmation, I mean chiefly that of miracles. And though the pagan religion pretended to some, and our Saviour plainly foretold, that antichrists and false prophets should arise, and should “shew signs and wonders;” and St. Paul hath told us, that “the man of sin” should “come with signs, and wonders, and mighty power;” yet none of these are of any great consideration, in comparison of the 414many, and great, and unquestionable miracles, which were so universally wrought for the establishment of the Christian religion, and continued for some ages; they bear no manner of proportion to them, neither for the nature, nor number, nor circumstances of them, so as to shake or weaken any man’s belief of the Christian religion, which had so much a greater confirmation given to it; especially when our Saviour did foretell, that false prophets should do some things of this kind. For after a religion is established by plain and unquestionable miracles, such as for their number, nature, publickness, and continuance, and all imaginable circumstances of advantage, were never upon any occasion wrought in the world; I say, after this, it is not reasonable, that one or two single miracles or wonders pretended to, or really wrought by a false prophet, should bring in question the truth of a religion confirmed by a long series of the greatest and most unquestionable miracles.

Besides that the doctrine of it is such as is worthy of God, and most likely to proceed from him.1313   See of this more at large, in the three last foregoing Sermons.

As for the miracles pretended to by the church of Rome, they are generally so fantastical and ridiculous, and so unlike the works of God, and wrought to no end and purpose, not among unbelievers for their conviction, which was always the great end of miracles, but among themselves, and so destitute of credit, that the wisest among themselves are so far from believing them, that they are heartily ashamed of them, so that we need not trouble ourselves about them, for they are not likely to give any great confirmation 415to any doctrine, which stand in so much need of confirmation themselves.

III. Besides the goodness of the doctrines which are from God, and the external confirmation of them by miracles, which is a great advantage to the reception of them, the Spirit of God doth likewise illuminate good men, and those who are desirous to know the truth, and hath promised to lead them into it, and to assist them in discerning between truth and falsehood. So our Saviour hath assured us, (John vii. 17.) “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” Besides that the doctrines which are from God do commonly carry the marks and characters of their own divinity upon them; the providence of God is likewise particularly concerned, that good men, and those who are of honest minds, and sincerely desirous to know the truth, should not be deceived in matters of so great consequence to the happiness and salvation of mankind. To the same purpose is that promise, (John xiv. 21.) “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me, shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him; and will manifest myself to him.”

God is always ready to reveal his will to those who are sincerely desirous to do it, and will not suffer men of honest minds to err dangerously in matters wherein their eternal salvation is concerned.

Thus you see what advantage the Spirit of truth hath above the spirit of error and seduction; that Divine truth carries greater evidence along with it, both in respect of the goodness of the doctrines which are from God, and the great confirmation that is given to them, and the extraordinary illuminations 416of God’s Spirit, which is wont to accompany the truths of God to the minds of good men, who are ready and disposed to give entertainment to Divine truth.

I should now have proceeded to the second advantage which the Spirit of truth hath above the spirit of seduction, namely, that the motives to persuade men to adhere to truth and holiness, are more powerful and operative upon the minds of men, than the motives to the contrary.

And then, Thirdly, That those who embrace and obey the truth of God, have a greater assistance, and are acted by a more powerful spirit and principle, than any is in the world: and this seems to be more especially the meaning of that in the text, “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” But these I shall not now enter upon.

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