« PreviousContinue »
The Introduction and Method of this Treatise.
AFTER that the Lord God in his own appointed time had seen meet to put an end to the dispensation of the law, which was delivered to the children of Israel, by the ministry of Moses; through and by whom he did communicate unto them in the wilderness from Mount Sinai, divers commandments, ordinances, appointments and observations, according as they are testified in the writings of the law; it pleased him to send his own Son the Lord Jesus Christ in the fulness of time; who having perfectly fulfilled the law, and the righteousness thereof, gave witness to the dispensation of the gospel. And having approved himself, and the excellency of his doctrine, by many great and wonderful signs and miracles, he sealed it with his blood; and triumphing over death (of which it was impossible for him to be held) he cherished and encouraged his despised witnesses, who had believed in him, in that he appeared to them, after he was raised from the dead; comforting them with the hope and assurance of the pouring forth of his Spirit, by which
they were to be led and ordered in all things; in and by which, he was to be with them to the end of the world, not suffering the gates of hell to prevail against them. By which Spirit come upon them, they being filled, were emboldened to preach the gospel without fear; and, in a short time, thousands were added to the church; and the multitude of them that believed were of one heart, and of one soul; and great love and zeal prevailed, and there was nothing lacking for a
But all that were caught in the net did not prove good and wholesome fish; some were again to be cast into that ocean, from whence they were drawn of those many that were called, all proved not chosen vessels, fit for the master's use; and of all that were brought into the great supper and marriage of the king's son, there were that were found without the wedding garment.-Some made a shew for a season, and afterwards fell away; there were that drew back; there were that made shipwreck of faith, and of a good conscience; there were not only such as did backslide themselves, but sought to draw others into the same perdition with themselves, seeking to overturn their faith also; yea, there were that brought in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them. And also of those members that became not wholly corrupt (for some were never again restored by repentance) there were that were weak, and sickly, and young; some were to be fed with milk, and not with strong meat; some were to be purged, when the old leaven received any place; and some to be cut
off for a scason, to be shut out, as it were, of the camp for a time, until their leprosy was healed, and then to be received in again.
Moreover, as to outwards, there was the care of the poor, of the widow, of the fatherless, of the strangers, &c. Therefore the Lord Jesus Christ who is the head of the body, the church, (for the church is the body of Christ, and the saints are the several members of that body) knowing in his infinite wisdom, what was needful for the good ordering and disposing all things in their proper place, and for preserving and keeping all things in their right station, did, in the dispensation and communication of his holy Spirit, minister unto every member, a measure of the same Spirit, yet diverse according to operation, for the edification of the body; some apostles, some teachers, some pastors, some elders; there are old men, there are young men, there are babes. For all are not apostles, neither are all elders, neither are all babes; yet are all members: and as such, all have a sense and feeling of the life of the body, which from the head, flows unto all the body, as the ointment of Aaron's beard unto the skirts of his garment and every member has its place and station in the body, so long as it keeps in the life of the body; and all have need one of another; yet is no member to assume another place in the body, than God has given it; nor yet to grudge or repine its fellow member's place; but be content with its own; for the uncomely parts, are no less needful than the comely; and the less honourable than the more honourable; which the apostle Paul holds forth in 1 Cor. 12, from verse 13 to 30.
Now the ground of all schisms, divisions or rents in the body is, when as any member assumes another place than is allotted it; or being gone from the life and unity of the body, and losing the sense of it, lets in the murmurer, the eye that watches for evil, and not in holy care over its fellow members: and then, instead of coming down to judgment in itself, will stand up and judge its fellow members, yea, the whole body, or those whom God has set in a more honourable and eminent place in the body than itself. Such suffer not the word of exhortation; and term the reproofs of instruction, which is the way of life, imposition and oppression, and are not aware how far they are in the things they condemn others for; while they spare not to reprove and revile all their fellow members: yet if they be but admonished themselves, they cry out as if their great charter of gospel liberty were broken.
Now though such, and the spirit by which they are acted, be sufficiently seen and felt by thousands, whose hearts God has so established as they are out of danger of being entangled in that snare, and who have power and strength in themselves to judge that spirit, even in its most subtile appearances; yet there are, who cannot so well withstand the subtilty, and seeming sincerity some such pretend to, though in measure they have a sight of them; and others, that cannot so rightly distinguish between the precious and the vile; and some there are that through weakness, and want of true discerning, may be deceived, and the simplicity in them betrayed for a season; as it is written, "with fair speeches and smooth words they deceive the hearts of the simple,"