Графични страници
PDF файл
[ocr errors]

'structions, and paraphrases upon scripture, for the mind and will of God, the rule of the people's faith. They were near at this pass in the church of Corinth, when they cried out, “I am for Paul, I am for Apollos, and I am for Cephas, though they had not the same temptation.

And that which followed then, ever will follow in the like case, and that is, distraction ; which is the contrary to the second thing that opposeth itself to this practice, and that is, the concord of Christians. For the sake of peace consider it: Lo here, and, lo there, always followed; one of this mind, and another of that: as many sects, as great men to make and head them. This was the case of the Jews; and yet I do not hear that they devoured one another about their opinions and commentaries upon scripture ; but the Christians have done both ; divided and persecuted too. First, they have divided, and that mostly upon the score of opinions about religion. They have not been contented with the expressions of the Holy Ghost; they liked their own better. And when they were set up, in the room of scripture, and in the name of scripture, submission was required, upon pain of worldly punishments. This dissatisfied curiosity, this unwarrantable, what shall I say? This wanton search, has cost Christendom dear, and poor England dearest of any part of it.

I design not to grate upon any, or to revive old stories, or search old wounds, or give the least just occasion of displeasure to those that are in present power; yet I must needs say, that opinion, on one side or the other, has been the cause of much of that discord, animosity and confusion that have troubled this kingdom. And it seems to have been the great stratagem of Satan, to prevent the spreading of the glorious gospel of salvation in the world, by taking men off from the serious pursuit of piety and charity, humility and holy living, peace and concord; and, under pretence of more raised apprehensions, and sublime knowledge of religion, to put them upon introducing curious and doubtful questions, that have given occasion, first for contention, and then for persecution. This was no more uncondemned, than unforeseen of the apostle Paul, who exhorted his beloved son Timothy, 1 Tim. vi. 3, 4, 5.' “ To avoid those that doted about questions ;” those men that would be thought skilful, inquisitive searchers after truth, such as love to exercise their faculties, and improve their talents : but let us hear his judgment, “ Of which,” says he, “cometh strife, railing, surmises, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds.” And the truth is, none else love such disputings: they, who seek a daily victory over the world, the flesh and the devil, and press fervently after fellowship with God, and that consola.

tion that ensues such an employment of their time, have very little to lose upon contention about words. I could wish Í were able to say, that vain controversy were not our case ! but this is not all, the apostle does expressly tell Timothy, that." if any man consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the doctrine that is, according to godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions,” &c. They were such as used " Philosophy, and vain deceit,” as he writes to the Colossians, Col. ii. 8. “ Beware," says he, “ lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit,” (that is, draw them away from the simplicity of the gospel, and the wholesome words of Christ) " after the traditions of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ." He used no human wisdom, yet he spake wisdom ; but it was in a mystery; though to the humble disciples of Jesus nothing was plainer; but it was “a mystery to the wise men of this world.” And truly, they that are not unacquainted with the more degenerate ages of the Greek philosophers, how philosophy, once taken for the love of virtue and self-denial, which they esteemed the truest wisdoin, and was begun by men of ordinary rank, but great example of life, became little else, than an art of wrangling upon a multitude of idle questions, and so they entertained the apostle Paul at Athens, may very well guess which way apostacy entered among Christians; especially when we consider, that in the third and fourth centuries, the heathen-philosophers had the education of Christian youth, and that no man had any reputation among the Christian doctors, who was not well initiated in the philosophy, rhetoric, and poetry of the Gentiles; which made for impurity of language, and laid a foundation for great feuds in the church. Christ and his doctrine must be proved by Aristotle and his philosophy. Yes, Aristotle must explain Scripture, and by degrees methodize the loose parts of it, and reduce them to formal propositions and axioms; and by the help of such philosophers, the poor fishermen were taught to speak metaphysically, and grew polite in the sense of Athens, who, to say trųe, were neither guilty of using nor understanding it. But as the first rules of philosophy were few and plain, and consisted in virtuous living; so the Christian religion was delivered with much brevity, yet much plainness; suited to the capacity of the young, the ignorant, and the poor; to inform their understanding, subdue their affections, and convert their souls to God, as well as persons of more age, knowledge, and ability.

And truly, when we consider the smallness of the writ.

ings of the evangelists, the shortness of Christ's sermons, the fewness of the epistles writ by the apostles, and the many and great volumes of commentators and critics since, we may justly say, the text is almost lost in the comment, and truth hid, rather than revealed, in those beaps of fallible apprehensions. Where, by the way, let me say, that the voluminousness of the books is no small token of the unclearness of the writers; for the more evident, and better digested any matter is, the more easy and short it will be in expressing. But after the Christians had declined the sim, plicity of their own religion, and grew curious and wanton ; loving God above all, their neighbours as themselves, and keeping the plain commandments of Christ, that relate to good life, became but ordinary and homely things: their easiness rendered them contemptible: they gave but little pleasure to speculative minds; they had nothing in them above ordinary capacities; and it seemed hard that men of inquisitive and raised spirits, should sit down with the lesson of rustics and peasants : philosophers did not do so; and they would be like other nations. It was not enough now to know,' There was a God,' and that he was but One, just and good, the observer of their actions, and the rewarder of their deeds, and that therefore they should serve him ;' but they must be distinctly informed of his nature, and all his attributes, his purposes and his decrees, and the suitableness of them all to the line and plummet of their understanding : So that God was to be, what their conclusions would allow him to be; that yet knew not themselves.' Nor did it satisfy that there was a Christ; that this Christ was the Son of God; that God so loved mankind, as, beholding them in a way of destruction, he sent his son to proclaim pardon upon true repentance, and offered a general reconciliation to as many as received and embraced his testimony; and that to that end he laid down his life a ransom, rose and ascended, and gave his good spirit to lead his followers, after his example, in the way of truth and holiness : but they must search into the secret of this relation; how, and after what manner, he is the Son of God ? His nature, power and

person must be discussed: they will be satisfied in this, before they can find in their hearts to believe in him.' Next, Whe. ther he be the cause, or the effect, of God's love: What was that price he paid, and ransom he gave? And how he died for us? If properly and strictly, or tropically and ele. gantly, to satisfy the justice of God? and whether God could, or could not have saved man another way! If this mercy were offered to all, or but some? And whether acceptance and repentance be with the consent of the creature, or by an irresistible grace? What body he rose and ascended with? And what bodies we shall have in the resurrection, in nature, stature, and proportion ? Lastly, What this spirit is, that comes from Christ? If it comes from God also ? Whether it be God, or an inferior minister? How it exists? If a person, in what relation, degree, or dignity it stands to the Father and Son ?'. With abundance more of this unreasonable strain, flowing from the curious, ungoverned, and restless minds of men. No man would be used by his servant as they treat God. He must wait our leisure, before we will believe, receive, and obey him: his message is obscure, we do not understand it; he must gratify our curiosity; we desire to be better satisfied with it before we believe or deliver it; it comes not presently up to men's understandings; it is too obscurely expressed, we will explain it, and deliver it with more caution, clearness and success, than it is delivered to us. Thus God's revelation hath been scanned, and his precepts examined, before licensed by his creature: man would be wiser than God; more wary than the Holy Ghost. Our Lord, it should seen, understood not what kind of creature man was; he wanted his wisdom to admonish him of the danger; or haply he thought not upon that corruption, which should befall mankind in these latter ages of the world, which might require the abilities of men to supply the wants and defects left by the Holy Ghost, in the wording of the scripture.--I wrong not this practice ; I render it not more odious than it is : it is an inexcusable piece of presumption, that which debases the external testimony of God, and draws men off from that which is eternal too. It introduces the traditions of men, in the rooi of God's records, and setteth up their judgments and results for the rule of Christian faith, and canons of Christ's church. This is one of those things that made Rome so hateful, and her yoke intolerable, to our predecessors : pretended deductions from scripture, put in the room of scripture, with a supersedeas to all dissent upon ever so just a ground of dissatisfaction.

I beseech you, protestants, by the mereies of God, and love of Jesus Christ, ratified to you in his most precious blood, - Flee Rome at home : look to the enemies of your own house ! have a care of this presumption ; carry it not too high; lay not stress, where God has laid none, neither use his royal stamp to authorise your apprehensions in the name of his institutions.

I do not say, that men are never to express their minds upon any place of scripture to edification : there is a Christian liberty, not to be denied; but never to lay down articles of faith, which ever ought to be in the very language of holy writ, to avoid temptation and strife. You see how the contrary method hath been the great make-bait in all ages, and the imposition of such opinions the privilege of bypocrites, but the snare of many honest minds; to be sure the sad occasion of feuds and miserable divisions. It was plainly seen, that by the many disputes that rose from hence, men's wits were confounded with their matters; truth was lost, and brotherhood was destroyed. Thus the devil. acted the part both of opponent and defendant, and managed the passions of both parties to this end, which was discord. And but too many were ready to persuade themselves, from the miscarriages on both sides, that nothing certain could be concluded about religion ; for it so fell out, that wbilst men were perpetually wrangling and brawling about some one opinion of religion, the most important points of faith and life were little regarded, unity broken, amity destroyed, and those wounds made, that were never closed but with the extinction of one party; not a good Samaritan being to be found to heal and close them. Now it was that a godly man was distinguished from an ungodly by this, 'Let his life have been almost what it would, that he seemed to maintain the opinions in vogue, and to abhor the doctrine, which, in some one or two points, might be reputed heretical, or schismatical.'

O that we could but see how many and how great defeats Satan hath given to the work of God in the hearts of men ! what desolations he hath made by this one evil, controversy; begot of opinion, and used for it; and how few have contended for the faith as it was once delivered to the saints !” he must be a man of brass, that could refrain from weeping at these calamities. And truly I must desire to take leave sometimes to bewail this broken condition of Christendom, and to bestow my tears in secret upon these common ruins : and I beseech God Almighty, with a soul sensibly touched with the mischiefs that naturally flow from this practice, to awaken you to a most speedy and serious consideration of your present standing, an amendment of your miscarriage, in this and all other points that may concern your good, and his glory. Put away wrath! away with clamours ! away with arrogance and impatience ! let that holy spirit of God, which we in common profess to be the Christian's guide, have the ordering of our understandings in spiritual things, lest ignorance should mistake, interest wrest, or prejudice pervert, the sense of God's book. For as too many are ignorant of the divine truth through their own concupiscence, and vile affections, that carry them

« ПредишнаНапред »