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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.
I PROCEED to the second advantage which the Spirit of truth hath above the spirit of error and seduction, namely, that the motives which good men have to persuade them to adhere to truth and holiness, are more powerful than the motives to the contrary. They who embraced the Christian religion, did firmly believe the eternal rewards and punishments of an other world; and this principle of faith being fixed and rooted in them, made them victorious over all the temptations of the world, over all the allurements and terrors of it; because they were fully persuaded of the happiness and misery of an other world; the happiness of those who continued steadfast in the faith and obedience of the gospel, and the dreadful misery and punishment of those who disobeyed the gospel of Christ, or apostatized from the profession of it. Hence it was that they were not to be moved by any temporal considerations, either of ease or advantage, or of trouble and persecution in this world. Their eternal interest lay so near their hearts, and they were so fully possessed with the belief of the everlasting rewards and punishments 418of another life, that they overlooked the goods and evils of this life; and all temporal considerations, put into the scales against their everlasting interest, were of no weight and moment with them.
And this our apostle very particularly insists upon in this Epistle, (ch. v. 4, 5.) “Whatsoever is born of God, overcometh the world;” the children of God are victorious over the temptations of the world; and then he tells us what it is that makes them so, “And this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” The believing that “Jesus is the Son of God,” infers the belief of his doctrine, and consequently of that eminent part of it, the eternal recompence of another world, which, whosoever firmly believes, will be able to resist and overcome all the temptations of this world. For by the belief of the Christian religion, and faith in the Son of God, we are fully assured of the reality and certainty of the mighty rewards and punishments of another world, though they be future and at a distance; and a firm persuasion of these things, makes them in some sort present to us, as to their efficacy and operation; for to a wise and considerate man, a great good, or a great evil, which he believes will certainly befal him, according as he manageth his affairs well or ill, though it be at some distance, is of greater force than a far lesser good or evil which is present and nearer at hand. And of this we see many in stances in the temporal concerns of men. A prudent man will forego his present ease and pleasure, and part with a present advantage, lay down ready money, upon the certain prospect of a far greater 419benefit that will come to him some years hence; and will undergo present pain and trouble, to prevent a far greater mischief and inconvenience; and upon this principle of the belief of future good and evil, all the great affairs of the world are managed. Upon this principle men plough and sow, and venture their estates in traffic to foreign parts, and trust out their present stock, and purchase reversions, and take physic, and cut off a limb, and run all those hazards of estate and life, which we see men every day do; and all this for the securing of some great advantage, or the preventing of some great mischief, which, though it be future and at a distance, yet they probably or certainly foresee will happen to them.
And this principle is so much the stronger, and of greater force and efficacy, in matters of greater moment and importance, where the good hoped for, or the evil feared, is infinitely great, and concerns us for ever. If we firmly believe the reality and certainty of it, no temporal advantage or affliction can come in competition with them, in the calculation and account of a wise man; because there is no proportion between finite and infinite, between the goods and evils which are temporal, and those which are eternal; though the one be seen, and the other not seen; though the one be present and near to us, and the other future and at a great distance.
Upon this principle the first Christians continued firm and steadfast in the belief and obedience of the gospel, and were bold and open in the profession of it, notwithstanding all the cruel assaults of persecution, though they hazarded the loss of all that was dear to them in this world, and exposed themselves to the suffering of whatever is grievous and 420terrible to flesh and blood. They “gloried in tribulation;” and did not only patiently submit to the greatest sufferings, but heartily praised God, who “accounted them worthy to suffer for his name: they took joyfully the spoiling of their goods, knowing that, in heaven, they had a better and more en during substance; they were tortured not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection;” and when they were harassed with all the evils and calamities of human life, yet they fainted not, knowing “that their light affliction, which was but for a moment, would work for them a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,” having their minds fixed, “not upon the things which are seen, but upon the things which are not seen; the things which are seen being but temporal, but the things which are not seen being eternal.”
Thus they overcame the world, not by the force and power of this world, but by the belief of an other world, and of the mighty rewards and punishments of it. And this “faith purified their hearts,” and reformed their lives, and made them steadfast and unmoveable in their holy profession, and raised their minds above all the temptations and terrors of present and sensible things.
Let us now see on the contrary what kind of motives and arguments false teachers use to seduce men to their pernicious ways. “They speak from the world,” and commonly make use of base, and low, and temporal considerations, of little tricks and devices, and “all deceivableness of unrighteousness,” (as the Scripture calls it) to make disciples and gain proselytes. They terrify them with temporal dangers and inconveniences, and represent to them suffering, and persecution, and death, in all 421their frightful shapes, to deter them from profession of the true religion: they set before them all manner of worldly baits and allurements, ease, and wealth, and preferment; they promise them liberty from the strictness of those laws and rules which religion ties them up to. By these arts and arguments the gnostics of old used to tempt men from Christianity to shake their constancy in the profession of it; and the same ways are still put in practice by seducers at this day: they tell men of a glorious church that hath great power and interest in the world; they amuse them with a great deal of outward pomp and ceremony; they promise them preferment and great worldly advantages, by coming over to them; they threaten them with fire and faggot, with persecutions and massacres, and, where they have power, they hold them fast when they have gained them, by the terror of an Inquisition; they promise them liberty, and what by the looseness of their casuistical divinity, and by the easiness of their penances and absolutions, and the cheats of their indulgences, they have devised ways to reconcile almost the worst life that any man can lead, with fair hopes of getting to heaven at last. They tell them, indeed, they must make some stop in purgatory: but they have so many ways to release men from those sufferings, as do very much abate the terror of them, to any man that hath but credulity enough to believe them: for, besides the vast treasure of merits in the common bank of the church, which the pope hath in his disposal, and which nobody ought to doubt but that they are faithfully employed by him for the ease and deliverance of souls in purgatory; I say, besides these, there are so many particular ways of effecting this 422business, that a man of ordinary discretion, with an indifferent purse, may so order the matter, that he shall only pass through purgatory, but need not make any stay in that place of torments.
But though these be their common motives and inducements to draw men to their communion, yet they do not wholly omit the arguments taken from the eternal happiness and misery of men in another world; for, to give them their due, there are no people in the world more prodigal of eternal salvation and damnation: they promise the one upon the easiest terms, and threaten the other upon the least displeasure: if a man be in their communion, he can hardly fail of salvation; and if he be out of it, and differ from them in the least point of faith, though but of their own making, he is sure to be damned, though he had the graces and virtues, the sanctity and charity, of an angel: and this is the true reason why these arguments, which are so powerful in themselves, signify so little from their mouths; because every man that hath read the Bible and understands the Christian religion, plainly sees, that they have made terms of salvation and damnation quite different from those which God hath constituted; so that these motives, which are so strong and mighty in themselves, quite lose their edge and force, when they are managed by seducers in so undue a manner, and to ends and purposes so cross to the main design of Christianity. This is the second advantage which the Spirit of truth hath above the spirit of error and seduction, that the motives to persuade men to adhere to truth and holiness, are really in themselves more powerful than the motives to error and seduction.
Thirdly, Those who sincerely embrace and obey 423the truth of God, have a greater assistance, and are acted by a more powerful spirit and principle, than, that which is in the world; and this seems more especially to be the meaning of the reason here given in the text, why the Spirit of truth is victorious over the spirit of error and seduction; “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in yon, than he that is in the world;” that is, the Spirit which is in good men, is more powerful than the devil, that evil spirit which inspires and acts the “children of disobedience.”
For the farther explication of this, I will do these three things:
I. Shew that there are these two principles in the world, the Spirit of God, and the devil, very active and powerful in good and bad men.
II. That the Spirit of God, which is in good men, is greater than he that is in the world.
III. In what ways the Spirit of God doth move and assist good men.
I. That there are these two principles in the world, the Spirit of God, and the devil, very active and powerful, the one in good, the other in bad men. This is very credible in the general, from the universal tradition and consent of mankind, in the belief of good and evil spirits attending men, and prompting them to good and evil; but we who embrace the revelation of the gospel have a much firmer and surer ground for it, nothing being more plain and frequent in Scripture, than that the Holy Spirit of God guides and assists good men in doing the will of God; and that the devil “works in the children of disobedience,” and is always ready to tempt men to and promote any evil action or design. 424From hence it is, that the Scripture does almost every where ascribe all good motions and actions to the operation and influence of God’s grace and Holy Spirit upon the minds of men; and the sins of men to the temptation and suggestion of the devil; and this is so well known to any one conversant in the Holy Scriptures, that I need not cite particular texts for the proof of it.
It is true, indeed, that the motions of God’s Holy Spirit, and the suggestions of the devil, are very secret to us, and imperceptible by us, so that no man can say certainly, that this good inclination or action is an immediate motion of God’s Holy Spirit in me, or that evil thought and design is an immediate suggestion of the devil; it is sufficient for us, that we are assured from Divine revelation in general, that the Spirit of God very frequently does, and is always ready to assist good men in the doing or suffering of God’s will; as the evil spirit, where God permits him, is always busy to tempt and seduce men to evil. And this ought not to be strange to us, because our Saviour hath expressly told us, that the Spirit of God works in men after an imperceptible manner; (John iii. 8.) “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou nearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” Though we do not know the manner of the Spirit’s working, nor perceive the operations of it upon our minds, yet we find the effects of it in the renovation and sanctification of our hearts. Thus, by undeniable arguments, men are assured of a Divine providence governing the world, though men do not always see, nor can make out to others, the particular interpositions of it, so as to say that 425this or that was an immediate effect of Divine Providence. To know certainly that a thing is, it is not necessary that we should be able to give a particular account of all its operations, and the manner of them; these may be hidden from us, and yet we may be sufficiently assured by other arguments that there is such a thing. Men are sure they have souls, though they can give no account how the actions of understanding, and remembrance, and sensation, are produced by them: so it is in the present case; we are sufficiently assured from the word of God, that good and bad spirits have a great influence upon the minds of men, though we be not conscious to their operations, and the manner of them.
II. The Spirit of God which is in good men, is greater than he that is in the world; he is more able and ready to assist men to good purposes, than the devil is to tempt and help forward that which is evil. And this will appear, if we consider these three things:
1. The Spirit of God is more powerful than the devil; and this is so evident in itself, that it needs no proof.
2. The Spirit of God is as forward and willing to assist men to good purposes, as the devil is to the contrary. That extremity of malice and envy, which is in evil spirits, does, no doubt, make them very forward and active to do all the mischief they can to mankind, by tempting and seducing them to sin: but, on the other hand, the utmost perfection of goodness which in God is more and greater than the malice of the devil, will incline more strongly the Holy Spirit of God to pity and aid and help good men, than the malice of the devil can urge 426him to procure the harm and mischief of mankind; and if we could suppose their will and inclinations equal, yet our comfort is, their power is not.
3. The Spirit of God hath a more free and immediate access to the minds of good men, and a more intimate conjunction with, and operation upon them, than the devil. The Spirit of God is always present to us, and willing to dwell and abide in us, and ready to help and assist us, if we be ready to obey his dictates, and comply with his holy and blessed motions; if we did not resist, and quench, and grieve him, he would always take up his abode and habitation in us, and would be continually exciting, and guiding, and assisting us to that which is good; he knows our hearts, and sees all the secrets of our souls; knows all our inclinations, knows our weakness and our danger, what assistance we want, and when it will be most seasonable; and is as intimate to us, and as conscious to all the motions of our spirits, as we ourselves are.
But now the devil is under great restraint, and can not make nearer approaches to any man than God permits him; he does not know our hearts, nor can pry into the secret of our thoughts. God knows, but the devil does but guess at the thoughts, and designs, and inclinations of men; he hath no power over us, nor any access to us, but what we give him, or God permits. By obedience to God’s will, and resisting the temptations of the devil to sin and disobedience, we may not only keep out the devil, but keep him at a great distance, and make him flee from us, so that we shall have little trouble or molestation from him; for though he be unwearied in his malicious attempts to ruin our souls, yet, be cause he cannot be every where, he haunts those 427most where he hath the greatest hopes of success; and is too eager and intent upon mischief to employ his time and temptations where he hath been often foiled, and hath reason to despair of victory. So that, if all things be considered, it is our own fault if we want the assistance of God’s Holy Spirit, or if the devil have any great power over us: for God does not usually, but upon great provocation, take away his Holy Spirit from men, and lay them open to the assaults and temptations of the devil, ff any be led captive by the devil, at his pleasure, it is those who have wilfully forsaken God, and “sold themselves to do wickedly.”
III. We will consider in what ways the Spirit of God doth move and assist good men. These two ways:
1 . By exciting good motions in us, and enabling us to bring them to effect.
2. By supporting us under persecution for religion.
1. By exciting good motions in us, and enabling us to bring them to effect. These the apostle puts together. (Phil. ii. 13.) “For it is God that worketh in you, both to will and to do, of his good plea sure.” It is he that stirs up good inclinations in us, and carries them on to effect. And this he makes an argument why we should be diligent and industrious in the work of our salvation, because God is so ready to assist us: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do, of his good pleasure.”
2. By supporting us under persecution for religion. In case of extraordinary temptations, and violent assaults upon our constancy in religion, by fierce and cruel persecutions, God affords immediate 428and extraordinary supports to good men, whereby they are many times borne up under the greatest sufferings, not only with patience, but with comfort and “joy unspeakable, and full of glory.” Wherever God suffers good men to be tempted above humanity, he affords them an immediate Divine assistance, to bear them up, and make them victorious. So St. Peter tells us, (1 Pet. iv. 14.) “That those who suffer and are reproached for the name of Christ, the Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon them.” So likewise, St. Paul, (1 Cor. x. 13.) speaking of those who had not yet been set upon by any sharp persecution, “No persecution hath taken you, but such as is common to man,” εἰ μὴ ἀνθρώπινος, nothing but what is human, what the spirit of man may bear: but if such a case happen, of temptation above nature, and the spirit of a man be too weak to support itself under it, God will, in that case, afford men immediate and extraordinary supports and comforts: “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above what you are able; but will, with the temptation, also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it:” and then it immediately follows; “wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry;” because God hath promised such an extraordinary assistance, in case of persecution for religion, therefore he encourageth them to continue steadfast in the profession of Christianity, and cautions them against apostacy to the heathen idolatry.
The inference from all this discourse is, to en courage us to continue steadfast in the truth, and in the practice of our holy religion, “to hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering,” and not to suffer ourselves to be shaken “with every wind of 429doctrine,” by the arts and cunning of those who “lie in wait to deceive; who creep into houses, and lead captive silly women, laden with sins, and led away by divers lusts.” You see what kind of persons these false teachers used to proselyte; women of no virtue, of a prostituted reputation, “laden with sins, and led away with divers lusts;” a character that notoriously agrees to some seducers of our times.
Therefore, let us “continue in the things which we have heard,” and not suffer ourselves to be “moved from our steadfastness.” The more we consider our religion, and compare it with the unquestionable revelation of God in the Holy Scriptures, the greater reason we shall see to adhere to it. The doctrines of our religion are of God, plainly contained in his word, and such as are worthy of him, and likely to proceed from him, and tend to the good and happiness of mankind, to make men really better, and to qualify them for that happiness which God hath promised to holy souls. The doctrines of our religion are free from the suspicions of a worldly interest and design. But if we consider the doctrines and innovations of that church which pretends to be the only Christian catholic society in the world, we shall find that they are of another stamp, and of a quite contrary tendency; that they savour so rankly of a worldly interest, that any impartial man would, at first sight, judge them to be the contrivances of worldly, covetous, and ambitious men, and that they did not look like Divine truths, and doctrines that are of God, but that they are of the world; and therefore, they that propagate them, and would se duce men to them, “speak from the world, and the world heareth them.”430
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