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SERMON LXXXII.

[Preached Nov. 5, 1686.]

THE BEST MEN LIABLE TO THE WORST TREATMENT FROM MISTAKEN ZEALOTS.

They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that lie doth God service.—John xvi. 2.

THESE words were spoken by our blessed Saviour, when he was about to leave the world; at the thoughts whereof, finding his disciples to be exceedingly troubled, he comforts them by the consideration of the great benefit and advantage which from thence would accrue to them; he tells them that he was going to heaven to intercede for them, and to make way for their admission there; and withal promiseth, that his Father would send the Holy Ghost, who should abundantly supply the want of his presence with them; but he tells them, at the same time, that they should meet with very ill entertainment and usage from the world: but so had he: (chap. xv. 18.) “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you;” and why should they expect to be better treated than he was? (Ver. 20.) “Remember the word that I said unto you, the servant is not greater than the Lord; if they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”

And at the beginning of this chapter, he tells them, that he did on purpose forewarn them of these things, to prepare their minds beforehand, and to 516arm them against the worst that might happen: (ver. 1.) “These things have J spoken unto you that you should not be offended.” And then he declares more particularly, how far the rage and malice of men should proceed against them, and in what kind they should suffer: “They shall put you out of the synagogues; yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doth God service.”

So that our Saviour here foretels two sorts of persecution, which his disciples should be exercised withal—excommunication: “they shall put you out of their synagogues:” and excision: “yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doth God service.” And these, perhaps, were but several kinds and degrees of excommunication; for the clearer understanding whereof, it will be requisite briefly to explain the three degrees of excommunication among the Jews.

The first called Niddui, is that which our Saviour here means by putting out of the synagogue; and which he elsewhere expresseth by ἀφόρισμος, or separation. (Luke vi. 22.) “Blessed are ye when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company.” And the effect of this excommunication was to exclude men from the communion of the church and people of God, and from his service, which was a great disgrace; because after this sentence none of the Jews were to converse with them, but to look upon them as heathens and publicans.

The second degree of this censure was called Cherem; which included the first, but extended farther, to the confiscation of goods into the sacred treasury, and devoting them to God; after which 517there was no redemption of them. And of this we find express mention (Ezra x. 7, 8.) where it is said, that “they made proclamation throughout Judah and Jerusalem unto all the children of the captivity, that they should gather themselves together unto Jerusalem; and that whosoever would not come within three days, according to the councils of the princes and elders, all his substance should be devoted, and himself separated from the congregation of those that had been carried away.”

The third degree was Shammatha, when the rebellious and contumacious person was anathematized and devoted, and, as some conceive, according to the law (Levit. xxvii. 29.) was to be put to death; though other very knowing men in the Jewish learning think it amounted to no more than a final sentence, whereby they were left to the judgment of God, by some remarkable judgment of his to be cut off from the congregation of Israel.

Of the first and last of these degrees of excommunication our Saviour seems here to speak; but whether, in both instances in the text, he alludes in the one to the lowest, and in the other to the highest degree of excommunication among the Jews, is not so certain. To the first he plainly does, when he says, “they shall put you out of the synagogues:” and then he adds, that they should proceed much higher against them, even to put them to death: if the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doth God service;” that is, they should not only think it lawful to kill them, but look upon it as a duty, as a high act of religion, as an acceptable piece of worship, and “a sacrifice well-pleasing to God.” For so, indeed, the word does not only import, but most properly signify, 518 “Whosoever killeth you shall think,” λατρείαν προσφέρειν τῷ Θεῷ, “that he offers a sacrifice to God;” for so the word λατρεία is sometimes used for a sacrifice; but, being joined with προσφέρειν, seems necessarily to be determined to that sense.

From the words, thus explained, I shall make these following observations, very proper for our consideration upon the occasion of this day.

1. That the best of men may be separated and excluded from the communion of those who may assume to themselves to be the true and the only true church; yea, and suffer under the notion of very bad and criminal persons. This our Saviour here fore to Id of his apostles, some of the best men that ever lived: “They shall put you out of the synagogues.”

2. That they who are thus excommunicated by the pretended true church, may nevertheless be real members of the true church of Christ. Though the apostles were thus dealt withal by the Jewish church, they did not cease, for all that, to be members of the true church of God.

3. That from uncharitable censures men do easily and almost naturally proceed to cruel actions. After they had put the disciples of our Lord out of their synagogues, and thereby concluded them to be here tics and reprobates, they presently proceed to kill them, as not worthy to live. “They shall put you out of their synagogues;” and when they have done that, they will soon after think it a thing not only fit, but pious and meritorious, to put you to death; the time will come, that they will think it a good service to God to kill you.

4. That men may do the vilest things, and the most wicked, not only under a grave pretence of religion, 520but out of a real opinion and persuasion that they do religiously. Murder is certainly one of the greatest and most crying sins; and yet our Saviour fortels, that the Jews should put his disciples to death, being verily persuaded that in so doing they offered a most acceptable sacrifice to God: “Yea the time shall come, that whosoever killeth you shall think that he offers a sacrifice to God.”

5. That such actions are nevertheless horribly impious and wicked, notwithstanding the good mind with which, and the good end for which, they are done. The Jews were not excused from the guilt of persecution and murder, for all they thought they did well in killing the disciples of our Lord.

6. I observe that the corruption of the best things is the worst. Religion is the highest accomplishment and perfection of human nature; and zeal for God and his truth an excellent quality, and highly acceptable to God: and yet nothing is more barbarous, and spurs men on to more horrible impieties, than a blind zeal for God, and false and mistaken principles in the matter of religion; as is plain from the instances here before us in the text. I shall speak as briefly as I can to these observations.

1. That the best of men may be separated and excluded from the communion of those, who may assume to be the true and only true church, and that under the notion of very bad and criminal persons. This our Saviour foretels in the text should be the fate of his apostles, some of the best and holiest persons that ever lived; “they shall put you out of the synagogues.”

And what the Jews did in the beginning of Christianity to the apostles of our Lord and Saviour, hath been too frequently practised since, by some of the 520professors of Christianity towards one another; and very good men have in several ages fallen under the censure of excommunication, and have been separated from the external communion of the church, and branded with the odious names of heretics and apostates, by those who have arrogated to themselves to be the only orthodox and true church, and have got the external power and management of religion into their hands; witness the case of Athanasius and others, in the reign and prevalency of Arianism; and the ill treatment, that not only particular persons, eminent for their learning and piety, but whole churches have met with in this kind, from that haughty and uncharitable church, which makes nothing of thundering out this most fearful sentence of excommunication against persons, and churches much better and more Christian than herself, and against all that will not submit to her pretended in fallibility, and usurped authority over the souls and consciences of men.

But it is our great comfort, that the apostles and disciples of our Lord and Master were thus used, by a church that made the same pretences that they do, and upon grounds every whit as plausible, as I could clearly shew, if I were minded to pursue and make out this comparison.

2. They who are thus excommunicated, by the pretended only true church, may nevertheless be true members of the church of Christ. Though the apostles were thus deal t withal by the Jewish church, they did not cease for all this to be real members of the true church of God. For it is not calling here tics first, that proves them that do so to be no heretics, or acquits them from the same or greater crimes, than those which they are so forward to charge upon 521other men; nor will God condemn all those who are excommunicated by men, and deny salvation to every one whom they shall please to separate from their society, and to call by some odious name. Men may be put out of the synagogue, and yet received into heaven; for the judgment of God is not according to the uncharitable censures of men, but according to truth and right.

The sentence of excommunication is certainly very dreadful where it is duly inflicted; and, next to the judgment of God, men ought to be afraid of justly incurring the danger of censure; and it ought to be upon very plain and evident grounds that men either separate themselves, or endanger their being cut off from the communion of the church they live in: but when it once comes to this, that a church is infected with gross errors and corruptions, plainly contrary to the word of God, especially if that church will impose her errors upon all that are of her communion; then those who refuse to comply, do not separate themselves, but are cut off; do not depart, but are driven out of the communion of that church; and separation in that case is as innocent and free from the guilt of schism, as the cause of it is; for the terms of communion are become such, that those who are convinced of those errors and corruptions can have no salvation, if they continue in that communion, and then I am sure their salvation will not be endangered by leaving it, or being excommunicated out of it; for that would be the hardest case in the world, that men should be damned for continuing in the communion of such a church, and damned likewise for being cast out of it.

Therefore no man ought to be terrified because of the boldness and presumption of those, who with so 522much confidence, and so little charity, damn all that are not in their communion; for we see plainly from the text, that men may be in the right and surest way to salvation, and yet be excommunicated by those who call themselves the true church, and will not allow salvation to any but those of their own communion. The disciples of our Lord and Saviour were certainly very good men, and in a safe way of salvation, though they were excommunicated, and put out of the synagogue by the chief priests and rulers of the Jewish church. I proceed to the

3d Observation, which was this, that from uncharitable censures, men do by an easy step and almost naturally proceed to cruel actions. After the Jews had put the disciples of our Lord out of their synagogues, and thereby concluded them to be heretics and reprobates, no wonder they should proceed to kill those, whom they thought not worthy to live; “they shall put you out of their synagogues,” (says our Saviour) and when they have done that, they will soon think it a thing not only fit and reasonable, but pious and meritorious, and a good piece of service done to God, to put you to death. Uncharitableness naturally draws on cruelty, and hardens human nature towards those, of whom we have once conceived so ill an opinion, that they are enemies to God and his truth.

And this hath been the source of the most barbarous cruelties that hath been in the world; witness the severity of the heathen persecution of the Christians, which justified itself by the uncharitable opinion which they had conceived of them, that they were despisers of religion and the gods, and consequently atheists; that they were pertinacious and obstinate in their opinions; that is, in the modern style, they 523were heretics. And the like uncharitable conceit among Christians hath been thought a sufficient ground (even in the judgment of the infallible chair) for the justification of several bloody massacres, and the cruel proceedings of the inquisition against persons suspected of heresy; for after men are once sentenced to eternal damnation, it seems a small thing to torment and destroy their bodies.

4. Men may do the vilest and most wicked things, not only under a grave pretence of religion, but out of a real opinion and persuasion of mind, that they do religiously. Murder is certainly one of the great est and most crying sins; and yet our Saviour foretels, that the Jews should put his disciples to death, being verily persuaded that in so doing they should offer a most acceptable sacrifice to God; “yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you shall think that he offers a sacrifice to God.”

Not but that the great duties and virtues of religion are very plain and easy to be understood; and so are the contrary sins and vices: but then they are only plain to a teachable, and honest, and well-disposed mind; to those who receive the word with meekness, and are not blinded with wrath and furious zeal; to those that receive the truth into an honest heart, and entertain it in the love of it: they are plain to the humble and meek; for the humble God will guide in judgment, and the meek will he teach his ways; such as these God seldom suffers to fall into fatal mistakes about their sin, or duty, so as to call good evil, and evil good; to call light darkness, and darkness light; to think uncharitableness a virtue, and downright murder a great duty.

But if men will give up themselves to be swayed by self-love and self-conceit, to be governed by any 524base or corrupt interest, to be blinded by prejudice, and intoxicated by pride, to be transported and hurried away by violent and furious passions, no wonder if they mistake the nature, and confound the differences of things, in the plainest and most palpable cases; no wonder if God give up persons of such corrupt minds to strong delusions to believe lies. It ought not to be strange to us, if such men bring their understandings to their wills and interests, and bend their judgments to their prejudices, make them stoop to their pride, and blindly to follow their passions, which way soever they lead them; for God usually leaves such persons to themselves, as run away from him, and is not concerned to se cure those from splitting upon the most dangerous rocks, who will steer their course by no compass, but commit themselves to the wind and tide of their own lusts and passions.

In these cases men may take the wrong way, and yet believe themselves to be in the right; they may oppose the truth, and persecute the profess ors of it, and be guilty of the blackest crimes, and the most horrid impieties, malice and hatred, blasphemy and murder; and yet all the while be verily persuaded that they are serving God, and sacrificing to him.

Of this we have a plain and full instance in the scribes and pharisees, the chief priests and rulers among the Jews, who because they sought the honour of men and not that which was from God, and loved the praise of men more than the praise of God; because they were prejudiced against the meanness of our Saviour’s birth and condition, and had upon false grounds (though, as they thought, upon the infallibility of tradition, and of Scripture 525interpreted by tradition) entertained quite other notions of the Messias, from what he really was to be; because they were proud, and thought themselves too wise to learn of him: and because his doctrine of humility, and self-denial, did thwart their interest, and bring down their authority and credit among the people; therefore they set themselves against him with all their might, opposing his doctrine, and blasting his reputation, and persecuting him to the death; and all this while did bear up themselves with a conceit of the antiquity and privileges of their church, and their profound knowledge in the law of God, and a great external shew of piety and devotion, and an arrogant pretence and usurpation of being the only church and people of God in the world: and, by virtue of these advantages, they thought they might do any thing; and that whosoever opposed the authority of so ancient and good a church, must needs be very bad men, and deserve to be proceeded against in the severest manner. As if any pretence of piety could give a privilege to do wickedly, and by how much the wiser and holier any man took himself to be, he might do so much the worse things.

There is another remarkable instance of this in St Paul, who, out of a blind furious zeal for the traditions of his fathers, persecuted the true church of God, by imprisonment and death, and all manner of cruelties; and all this while he verily thought that he was in the right, and that he ought to do all these things against the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And if God had not in a miraculous manner checked him in his course, and changed his mind, he would have spent his whole life in that course of persecution and cruelty, and would (with Pope Paul IV. upon his 526death-bed) have recommended the inquisition (or if he could have thought of any thing more severe), to the chief priests and rulers of the Jewish church.

I will not trouble you with nearer instances; though the Jewish church is not the only church in the world, that hath countenanced the destruction and extirpation of those who differ from them, as a piece of very acceptable service to God, and meritorious of the pardon of their sins.

5. I observe that such actions as these are nevertheless horribly wicked and impious, notwithstanding the good mind with which, and the good end for which, they are done. The Jews were not excused from the guilt of persecution and murder, for all they thought they did well in killing the disciples of our Lord.

For to make an action good and acceptable to God, the goodness of all causes, and of all circumstances, must concur; and any one defect in any of these does vitiate the whole action, and spoil the goodness of it. We must do it with a good mind, being verily persuaded that what we do is good and acceptable to God; in which sense St. Paul saith, “whatever is not of faith is sin;” and we must do it for a good end, for the honour of God, and the service of religion, and the benefit and edification of men. But there is one thing wanting yet, which is often forgotten, but is mainly considerable, viz. what we do with a good mind, and to a good end, must be good and lawful in itself, commanded or allowed, or at least not forbidden by God: if it be, what good circumstances soever may belong to the action, the whole action is stark naught; because the very matter and substance of it is evil, and unlawful, and damnable, though done for never so 527good an end. So St. Paul tells us, that they who say they might do evil, that good might come, their damnation was just. He tells us, indeed, that some would have charged this doctrine upon the Christians, and particularly upon himself; but he rejects it with the greatest detestation; and (which is not unworthy our observation) in his Epistle to the Ro man church, as if the Spirit of God, to whom all times are present, had particularly directed him to give this caution to that church, that in future ages they might be warned against so pernicious a principle, and all wicked practices that are consequent upon it.

And we find that St. Paul, after his conversion, did think it no sufficient plea and excuse for himself, and his persecution of the Christian profession, that what he did was out of zeal for God, and his true religion, as he was verily persuaded; but, notwithstanding that, acknowledged! himself a murderer, and one of the greatest sinners; for which, without the great mercy of God, he had perished everlastingly.

6. And lastly, I observe, that the corruption of the best things is the worst. Religion is certainly the highest accomplishment and perfection of human nature; and zeal for God and his truth an excellent quality, and highly acceptable to God: and yet nothing is more barbarous, and spurs men on to more horrid impieties, than a blind zeal for God, and false and mistaken principles in the matter of religion.

Our Saviour compares the Christian religion, and the ministers and professors of it, to salt and light, the most useful and delightful things in the world, enlightens the minds of men, and directs 528them in the way wherein they should go; it seasons the spirits and manners of men, and preserves them from being putrefied and corrupted; but if the salt lose its savour, if that which should season other things be tainted itself, it is thenceforth the most insipid and offensive thing in the world, “good for nothing, but to be cast upon the dunghill; if the light that is in us be darkness, how great is that darkness!”

Mistakes and false principles are no where so pernicious, and of such mischievous consequence, as in religion. A blind and misguided zeal in religion is enough to spoil the best nature and disposition in the world. St. Paul (for aught appears) was of himself of a very kind and compassionate nature; and yet what a fury did his mistaken zeal make him! It is hardly credible how madly he laid about him, but that he himself gives us the account of it: (Acts xxvi. 9, 10, 11.) “I verily thought with myself (says he) that I ought to do many things, contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth; which thing I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests. And when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them; and I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them, even to strange cities.”

I might descend lower, and give instances both of former and latter times, of emperors and princes, both heathen and Christian, that of themselves were mild and gentle; and yet through a mistaken zeal, and the instigation of the chief priests, have been carried to cruel and bloody things. And, indeed, 529nothing gives so keen an edge, even to the mildest tempers, as an erroneous and wild zeal for God and religion; it is like quicksilver in the back of a sword that is not very sharp of itself, which gives a mighty force and weight to its blow, and makes it cut terribly.

And it is very sad to consider, that the zealous prosecution of mistakes in religion, hath produced sadder and more barbarous effects in the world, and more frequently, than the ordinary corruptions and degeneracy of natural light is apt to do; as the decay of the richest and most generous wines makes the sourest vinegar: so that the pasquil, or libel against Pope Urban VIII. upon occasion of his taking off the brazen roof of the old capital (which had held out so many ages, and that notwithstanding Rome had been so often sacked by barbarous nations) and his selling it to enrich his family [quod non fecerant Barbari, fecerunt Barberini] may, with: changing the name and occasion, be applied to a great many others; that they have been guilty of those cruelties against Christians, upon account of difference in religion, which the most barbarous nations never exercised upon one another.

I have done with the observations and the text; and shall I now need to make any application of what hath been said to the occasion of this day? The thing applies itself; since the horrid design of this day was undertaken and carried on upon the same pretences and principles, upon which the Jews persecuted the disciples of our Lord, and much in the same method; for they first thundered out an excommunication against them, and then took it for granted, that it would be an acceptable sacrifice to God to destroy them.

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I will not go about to aggravate the conspiracy of this day—it is past my skill; nor will I extend the blame and guilt of it any farther than the plain evidence and reason of the thing does enforce. It is a thing so scandalous to human nature, and so great a reflection upon any church and religion, to be accessary to the contriving or countenancing of any such design, that I am very well contented that it should be confined to as narrow a compass as may be, and none esteemed guilty of it but those that were openly in it, or have since endeavoured to excuse it. All that we desire of others, is, that they would declare their hearty detestation of such abominable practices, and be as good as their word, and that they would not account it a service and sacrifice to God, to destroy all that cannot be of their mind.

So that in the inference from all this discourse, in short, shall be this, that men should take great care to inform their consciences aright, and to govern them by the plain rules of good and evil, the law of God written upon our hearts, and revealed in his word, which forbids such practices as I have been speaking of, as clearly as the sun shines at noon-day; and that we would always be afraid to do a bad thing, though gilded over with never so glorious colours, and specious pretences of zeal for God and his truth. For a man may do a thing with an honest mind, and for a religious end, and be commissioned and countenanced (as St. Paul was) by them who take themselves to be the only true church in the world, and yet at last prove to have been all the while a blasphemer and a murderer, and the greatest of sinners; for none of these pretences are sufficient to warrant and sanctify a wicked 531action: before this can be done, the immutable nature of good and evil must be changed.

I will conclude all with that gentle reproof of our blessed Saviour to his disciples, when their zeal for him had transported them to make that cruel request to him, that he would (as Elias had done upon a like occasion) call for fire from heaven to destroy the Samaritans: “ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of; for the Son of man came not to destroy men’s lives, but to save them;” hereby declaring to us the true temper and spirit of Christianity, and that they that act contrary to it, are ignorant of the Christian religion: “ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of; for the Son of man came not to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”

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