« PreviousContinue »
very image of our Maker, his wisdom, truth, goodness, power, and holiness. No wonder if a doctrine of heaven produce a heavenly mind and life, and if a doctrine of love do make men loving, and if a doctrine of mercy do make men merciful, and if a doctrine of humility do make men humble, and a perfect doctrine do fill up all those sad wants and chasms that imperfect ones leave in men's minds; when the heathenish doctrines, on the contrary, produce little but pride, vain glory, covetousness, voluptuousness, and makes them all slaves to the flesh. If ever paganism were in splendour, it was among the learned Romans, and that even then when Christianity came and shamed it; and, as a glorious sun, dispelled its darkness : and yet what a monstrous age of wickedness was that learned, civil age; and what a horrid place of all villainy was that learned, civil place of Rome, who called almost all other barbarians to them. What should we talk of the worst of them, when even their great, learned
men, that condemned the vices of the world, and their excellent, virtuous princes, whom they called gods when they were dead, for their virtues; even these were sinks of sensuality; as if they had been made to pour in meat and drink, and take their fleshly lusts. When they have commended all their excellent virtues, yet all is concluded with some confession of the whole gallons of wine that they were wont to drink at once, or that they would eat till they cast it up at table, or scarce any but had his whores commonly; that was one of Rome's venial sins; then valiant acts in fighting for their country, or acts of justice to men, were the substance of all the best part of their religion ; for all that help they had from the church of God near them.
2. Besides this objective advantage, Christianity hath an effective advantage. Man's soul is so far depraved and enslaved to sensuality, and mastered by inferior things, and its inclinations corrupted and turned to them, that now a mere objective help is not enough. The object is a sufficient seal, but the understanding turns away from it, and will not receive it: it is not as wax, but as water, or as iron; either it will not receive, or will not retain, the impression. The best principles of religion find men's understandings and wills like a bottle already full of water, into which you cannot pour any wine, because it is full; besides all the prejudice and other hinderances raised by the flesh. Now, therefore, if there be not a Spirit within to take the seal in hand, and make the impression deeply and effectually, all doctrine will be for the most part lost. This, therefore, is the great advantage of the christian religion, that besides what the doctrine tendeth to of itself there is the Spirit of God within that doth second these doctrines, and take the received species of them, and impress them on the soul, and doth this effectually and potently, according to the mighty, irresistible power of the agent. I confess (and I would more would confess it considerately) that its
way of working is secret to us, as is the way of the Spirit's forming us in the womb: some question; whether it be physical or moral, this way or that way; I think it may be called both, and many learned disputers do, in a blind zeal for the glory of God's strength, deny him the glory of his admirable wisdom, as if he governed not the rational creature, and healed and sanctified the souls of believers, per viam sapientiæ, but only per viam omnipotentiæ ; yea, as if his wisdom itself had not in it such an omnipotency as God will have to be observed and glorified, but the manner is past our clear and exact apprehension; and he that knows himself, and his distance from God and spiritual things, will not wonder at that. But yet, though we know not how the Spirit worketh, yet through the great mercy of God, we feel that it doth work, and what it doth work; and hence we see those holy affections in Christians, those holy breathings after God, and that sense of the evil of sin, and that conscience of duty, and those groans excited by the spirit of prayer, and those mindings of the things of another world, and those joys and spiritual comforts in life and death, and that ability to deny the flesh its desires, and to overcome all temptations from things below, and to suffer in hope of an unseen glory, and that hearty love to one another, and that ability to forgive enemies, with many the like excellencies, which are not in any other sort of men in the world. I speak of those that have truly and thoroughly received the impress and spirit of this religion, though even the half Christians go beyond all other men by far; for even they are often cleansed from the pollutions of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Christ. God will not give forth the Spirit with a false religion ; no, not to make forcible these few truths of his own which the heathen, or Jewish, or Mahometan world doth detain in unrighteousness. So that you see the truth of the christian religion by the Spirit of holiness; besides that of miracles formerly.
Use II. You see here, also, what clear, evident light it is that those
men among us do sin against, who say we have lost our Scriptures, and our church, and our ministry in antichristian darkness, which hath choked the truth, and destroyed and drowned the certainty of all; and that, therefore, we must have new prophets, or apostles, and a new spirit of miracles, for the restoration of all. Do these men think that God must seal one and the same Scripture and religion with miracles, as often as they will be unbelieving? Is it not enough that he sealed it with the miracles of an age, before a thousand of witnesses in open congregations, in many countries; and that even those that quarrelled with the apostles, were forced to confess it, as being eye and ear-witnesses, being challenged to deny it if they could ? Moses once sealed his doctrine by miracles; should the Jews say, they would not believe it, except it were so sealed over again, in every age? Should not these wretches, that in their ignorance cry for signs and wonders afresh, forgetting, or undervaluing, the old, (like the Israelites in the wilderness,) do better to blame their own unbelieving hearts, than God's providence ? and rather beg and wait for a spirit of faith, than a spirit of miracles ? Blessed be the great Governor of the world, and Lord of the church, that hath delivered us his Scriptures, and the testiinony of his first miracles, in so clear, so certain, so infallible a way, as no book or matter of fact in the world hath the like. For all that is said against Rome, true or false, this is certainly true, that God hath kept them in the acknowledgment of his Scripture, though they sinfully magnify unwritten traditions of doctrines; yet they confess all the Scripture to be the word of God, and to be true, which we maintain, and have carefully preserved it to this day. And what silly souls are those to think, either that Ronie could have corrupted the Scripture considerably, if they had been willing, (there being so many thousand copies among them, and some of more conscience than such corrupters would be,) or that the church of Rome was the only keeper of Scripture? - Do they not know there are far more Christians in the world than all those of the church of Rome are ? And that all they have kept the Scripture among them as safely and certainly as we could desire, as to all considerable things? Have not all the Greek churches in Muscovy, and through all the Turks' dominions in Asia and Africa, the Scripture pure? And have not the Ethiopian churches, which are exceedingly large, all the same Scripture as the church of Rome have, and we have? Is there any book
that ever the world saw, that had such means to preserve it from alteration or corruption? When so great a part of the world, and almost all the learned part of the world, have had it among them, as that which they held their hope of salvation by, and that which they take for their guide in worshipping God, having all ministers, whose constant office hath been to read it, and expound it in the open congregations; and have, every week, one day in seven set apart, wherein all the people should come together to hear the Scripture read and expounded to them, as the law, by which they all must live, and by which God will judge them at the last. Let men be men, and not renounce their reason, nor turn stark mad, and let them tell us how it is possible that such a book should be considerably depraved, and the depravation take so generally through all the world, as that all the books should be the very saine to this day? Except here and there a letter or inconsiderable,word that differs through the fault of some transcribers : as our printers may now misprint a word.
2. Besides, do not these men see God accompanying this doctrine to this day, with the Spirit of sanctification and consolation ? Certainly these men do but tempt God, and delude themselves and others, by talking of the loss of Scriptures, and church, and ministry, and manifest their own gross ignorance and unbelief. Though, for my part, I confess that I am strongly persuaded that some wicked, subtle Jesuits have fomented this opinion among us : for they may well know, that if they can once get the people to believe, that either there is no church or ministry, or Scripture, or else it must be the church of Rome, all reasonable men will easily believe rather that the church and ministry of Rome is true, than that there is none. For he that believeth not that there is a church, doth scarce believe, I think, that there is a Christ, the Head of the church. There are many such books lately gone forth, that confirm me in this opinion; such as “ William Parker’s Answer to the Assemblies' Confession of Faith,' which maintains the main substance of the doctrine of Rome; only, instead of pleading the infallibility of the church or pope, they plead the necessity of new prophets. But it is easy, when that doctrine is once received, to show men the vanity of their grounds, and bring them to receive the same doctrines, upon other grounds: their prophets will be gazed after but a few days. A little time ever discovereth the folly of such pretenders; and then how easy is it for a papist to challenge such to dispute about the grounds of their religion, and to show them that their prophets are deceivers; and therefore they must rather hearken to their church? In the mean time, it is a sad providence to us, that so many should be permitted to call other men, and their ways of worship, antichristian, and so long cry out of antichrist, till they are almost papists already, and more likely than others to turn such, when they are tempted.
Use III. Hence, also, we may be informed that all these several parties in the world, by what name or title soever distinguished, that hold the substance of the christian religion, are not so many different religions, but are all but one true religion, and, cousequently, are all one church. But that there be no quarrel about mere words, take notice that I use the word, 'religion' not for every particular opinion or practice about the immediate worship of God, but for the body or frame of such doctrines and practices, called, commonly, our faith and profession : as Christianity is called one religion, or the christian faith, and Mahometanism another, and Judaism another. Otherwise, taking the word 'religion’ for some particular parts of that frame, and that not essential, but merely integral, so it may be said, that there are as many religions among us, as there are particular differences about the worship of God. Yea, if you extend it to opinions or practices, which by the owners, are supposed and called essentials or fundamentals; and on a conceit of such necessity, are added to the main frame or body, yet not de. stroying or nulling that frame or body to which they are so added : in this sense, also, I confess, there are many religions in the christian world, and many churches. But I shall now choose to take the word religion and church in the primitive sense, and so I
that there is but one true religion and church in the world, and that is, the christian religion and church: from which I exclude all and only those sects, parties, heretics, or infidels, that hold not the whole essence of this religion and church : both those that deny the whole or any one essential part, so denying it, as that they do not hold it.
Here observe these three parts of my assertion :
3. And every one is of the true religion and true church, and that is apparent from my text and experience set together ;