« PreviousContinue »
"Wicked, and godliness is ever despised by them; of which Lactantius + afsigns this reason, "That he who fins, wants to have • a free opportunity of finning, and thinks he can no otherwise
enjoy securely the pleasure of his ill deeds, than when there
are many who delight in the same faults. Hence they study 16 to destroy and cut off root and branch, those who are witner• ses of their wickedness, and they cannot endure that good
mens lives fhould be a reproof, as it were, of theirs. Therefore by the friendfhip of the wicked, piety is endangered.'
We have fome amongst us, that put on a form of godliness, but have denied the power thereof : of such | Bernard in his time thus complained : “Woe to this generation, which hath * the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy: If indeed - that should be called hypocrisy, which now through its pré* valency cannot be hid, and through its impudency feeks not
to be hid. At present rottenness and corruption affects the
whole body of the church, and the wider it spreads, the more • desperate ; and the more inwardly it spreads, the more dan
gerous : for if an heretic, an open enemy, fhould rise up, he would be cast out; if a violent enemy, she (i. e.) the church)
would perhaps conceal herself from him. But now, whom • shall the church cast out? or whom tall the hide herself ' from? All are friends, and all are enemies ; all are in mutual " connexions, as relations, yet in mutual contests, as adversa• ries: all are fellow-members of one family, yet none are
promoters of peace : all are neighbours, yet all are seekers of • their own things : by profession servants of Christ, in reality
they serve Antichrift: they make an honourable figure ly * the good things they have received from the Lord, while, at
the same time, they give no honour to the Lord.' I will say of these men, My soul, come not into their council; my glory, be not in their ailembly.
But there are many others, zealous of peace and truth, agreeing in fundamentals, and standing equally against the commou enemies of the reformed religion, who, notwithstanding, differ (alas !) about matters not necessary to falvation, and 1plit into opposite parties, and cause strife : while this fierce contention spreads itself among the brethren, it affords a continual occasion to their enemies to insult and moleft them. Could any one find out a remedy for this epidemical distemper, he would de
+ Lactantius on Justice, b. 5. p. 382, 383.
Bernard, Sermon xxxiii, on Capt,
serve well of the church ; but since the experience of so many years has put it beyond doubt that it is difficult, or indeed impracticable to accomplish this by scholastic disputes, or by opo pressing the conscience with penalties; it were more adviseable to fopite all their debates, thân, by fruitless ftrife, to tear afunder the church, and in fine, to have recourse to that which is the most useful, if not the only rule for promoting peace, Phil. ii. 16. Wherein we have already attained, let us walk by the fame rule : with which agrees well that most wholesome advice given by Toffanus to the college of Tubing, in the following words: All bitter railings and accusations ought juftly to be “ laid aside, and the judgment of these matters in debate left
wholly to the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Chrift, and to our
own pofterity, who, not being authors but fpectators of the • debate, will judge more impartially about it. Our adversa
ries still live and become bolder every day; they make it their business, night and day, to plot and contrive how they may
extinguish the light of the gospel that has arisen, and bring « ancient darkness; in the mean time, we who, at first, with one • accord, by God's grace, preached the gospel, do now, with 6 weapons of death turned against one another, rush mutually
on deftruction ; thereby exhibiting a delightful spectacle to « our enemies, who place more of their safety and confidence « in our contentions, than the weak foundation of their own « cause.
Let us therefore frequently consider that of the apoftle, Gal. V. 15. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. What Cicero said of the discords of great men, our countryman Davenant scruples not to affirm concerning those of the churches, That they commonly end, either in the ruin of both parties, or in the unjust tyranny of that side which overcomes. It is greatly to be feared, that every one, by these continual and fierce debates, is hastening (may God prevent it) his own ruin : yet I doubt not but that all dile cords amongst the godly might be extinguished, whatever some may alledge to the contrary, if the minds of some were freed from the violent emotions of fufpicion, anger, and envy. Behold, brethren, what a seasonable and proper softening plaister our skilful Phyfician hath applied to us all at this time. God grant
it the desired effect , left the scar not being right closed up, the wound fhould break out again.
The godly in every place lament the present deplorable ftate of the church ; and, from the destruction of fome, do, conjec. gure what danger hangs over alle
Hence let contending nations know, What direful mischiefs from their discords flow.. Certain it is, that all wise and good men on both sides, (however they differ among themselves) are unanimous in this at least, That these are not times for strife, but times that call for prayer and reformation; for, fuch are the prayers they every where offer up : ' May God turn the heart of the fathers to
the children, and the heart of the children to the fathers, left he come and fmite the earth with a curse. These do not well (consult their own intereft, who, because of disputes among the • learned, perhaps never to be ended, will needs be tearing the • church by perpetual divisions. Our brethren, that seriously'
profess they differ from us in smaller matters of religion, for ! no other reason, than a fear of offending, these ought to be
embraced with the greatest affection. Let all causes of offence be presently removed, that we may not fțumble twice
the same stone. If we fall upon it again, we are broken in pieces. We will not grant them this praise, that they are (more ftudious of peace and concord than ourselves., You may ' re-exact a conformity in fundamentals and things necessary in • religion, but in matters of indifference, and not absolutely neceffary, you may give a larger liberty. No body should aflume to himself a liberty of dividing the church, and diffolving brotherly unity on such a ground as neither Christ, nor the apostles, nor the primitive church in its pureft state would ever have approved.'
It must be confessed, that all kinds of controversy will never be at an end ; nevertheless we can bid farewel to all discord; for variety of opinions, and unity among those that hold them, are not things inconsistent. Why should there dwell in the breast of a Christian, the fierceness of wolves, the madness of dogs, the deadly poison of serpents, the cruel savageness of beasts? as Cyprian long since complained. That is (faith Gregory) a new and unheard of manner of preaching, that forces a belief with stripes : therefore let all bitter railing and accusation be gone; May the God of peace bring all into order and peace.
III. Especially and above all, I humbly beseeeh you, that, having laid afide all designs of smaller importance, you would mind this one thing, how you may gain to Christ the souls com
it-En quo difcordia gentes
mitted to you, to which all earthly things are to be postponed. This is the labour, this the work incumbent on us.
Put far from you a vile, niggardly sparing of your gifts, ar immoderate care for worldly things, an excessive indulgence of the vile body. Let it not seem much to us to spend a little sweat for the sake of those fouls for which Chrift so willingly and plentifally poured out his own most precious blood. we hide the Lord's talent in a napkin, where shall we find a napkin to dry up our tears of blood for so base a crime?
Remember, brethren, that it will be required at our hands, bow we have spent every portion of that time which is given us; how much of it have we already loft in unprofitable filence ! But among all the oppreffions, under which you have long groaned, I perfuade myself, there is none you have more forrowed for than that of being fo long withholden from feeding poor hungry fouls. The present opportunity is flippery, and may be lost, as to what concerns futurity, the clouds réturn after the rain. Up then ye servants of God, mind this your business, and the Lord thall be with you : don't regard the ufual murmurings of the flesh. Look forward to that heavenly crown: “ They that be wife shall shine as the brightness ** of the firnament, and they that turn many to righteousness
as the stars for ever and ever."
With the hopes of this, let us rouze up and fortify our drooping hearts, against the mockings and troubles we may expect for the sake of the gospel; What bowels of compassion ought we to put on, when we speak to such men of saving their fouls, and thunning perdition, into which they may quickly fall, but who, in the mean time, have not the least thought about these things themselves ? A famous author in Amelius * complains, • That the words of life in fome preachers and " teachers' lips die away, as to any power or efficacy : For so • coldly and unconcernedly do they deliver the word of God,
that it feems to die in their lips. Hence, as they themselves Bare cold and dead preachers, so they leave their hearers in a • cold and dead frame. I knew one who left Paris for this reasfon, because he faid, he was more and more benumbed with • the lectures and sermons he heard from day to day in that ci
ty; and was afraid, that if he staid much longer there, his foul < would have perished with spiritual cold: wherefore he join. • ed himself to lively ministers, as unto live-coals; that fo by
* Cafes of Conscience, book 3. p. 16.
e conversing with them, he inight nourish and encrease an hos ly flame in his heart.'
Lift up your eyes and behold the fields white, and ready to harvest; see how you are on every fide surrounded with crouds. of poor hungry fouls, with open inouth and earnest looks begging fpiritual bread from you. If we have the bowels of the chief Shepherd in us, let us feed his sheep. Some are almost worn out with old age and various troubles : others. lessen the majesty of scripture by insisting much on things of little moment, and fill the ears of the multitude with a vain noise of words, or tickle them with smooth speeches. In such a situation, if you, who are furnished with all kind of gifts, and have so full and fair opportunity, do not burn with zeal to God, and love to souls ; I tremble to look forward to the dreadful and wretched end of you all.
IV. Lastly, I will conclude with a few things which I thought necessary for students of Theology, and candidates for the miniftry, who have at this needful time willingly devoted them selves to this service, or are about to do it: We have long borne the burden and heat of the day; we are veteran soldiers almoft. worn out. The next age will poslibly produce more tractable minds, and men of gentler dispositions than our timesafford,
I congratulate you on account of your birth especially, if your natural birth be, or shall be ennobled and fanétified by regeneration : and this is the more reasonable, because all our famous chronologers and fearchers into times, who have beftowed much time and pains in that study, are big with expectation, like a woman big with child, past the time of her reckon ing, who therefore expects her pains to come upon her every hour. It is very probable; that the day which all the prophets foretold, and all good men have, as it were with outstretched neck, been eagerly looking for, is now at hand.
Do you, therefore, ye brave youths, the hope and desire of the reviving chureh, with eagerness lay hold on this favourable opportunity of enriching your minds with all neceffary gifts.. and endowments. Keep yourselves close night and day at your studies and most fervent prayers : He will make the best divine, that studies on his knees. And how shall we contend for the truth, or defend it against the adversaries, if we are destitute of gifts ? Neither a good disposition, nor the charms of eloquence, nor a graceful gesture, nor good manners, can com. pensate for the want of gifts.
But on the other hand, beware, brethren, left while the tree of knowledge every day thrives and prospers, the tree of life