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grounded peace, and at once to the well ordering of your whole conversation !
Direct. XXVIII. Be very careful that you create not perplexities and terrors in your own soul, by rash misinterpretations of any passages either of Seripture, of God's providence, or of the sermons or private speeches of ministers: but resolve with patience, yea, with gladness, to suffer preachers to deal with their congregations in the most searching, serious and awakening manner, lest your weakness should be a wrong to the whole assembly, and possibly the undoing of many a sensual, drowsy or obstinate soul, who
a will not be convinced and awakened by a comforting way of preaching, or by any smoother or gentler means:'
Here are three dangerous enemies to your peace, which (for brevity) I warn you of together.
1. Rash misinterpretations and misapplications of Scripture. Some weak-headed, troubled Christians can scarce read a chapter, or hear one read, but they will find something which they think doth condemn them. If they read of God's wrath and judgment, they think it is meant against them. If they read, “Our God is a consuming fire,” they think presently it is themselves that must be the fuel ; whereas justice and mercy have each their proper objects; the burning fire will not waste the gold, nor is water the fuel of it; but combustible matter it will presently consume.
A humble soul that lies prostrate at Christ's feet, confessing its unworthiness, and bewailing its sinfulness, this is not the object of revenging justice; such a soul bringing Christ's mercies, and pleading them with God, is so far from being the fuel of this consuming fire, that he bringeth that water which will undoubtedly quench it. Yet this Scripture expression of our God, may subdue carnal security even in the best, but not dismay them or discourage them in their hopes. Another reads in Psalm I. “I will set thy sins in order before thee;" and he thinks, certainly God will deal thus by him, not considering that God chargeth only their sins upon them that charge them not by true repentance on themselves, and accept not of Christ who hath discharged them by his blood. It is the excusers, and mincers, and defenders of sin, that love not those that reprove them, and that will not avoid them, or the occasions of them, that would not
be reformed, and will not be persuaded, in whose souls iniquity bath dominion, and that delight in it, it is these on whom God chargeth their sins: "For this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men love darkness rather than light; and come not to the light, lest their deeds should be reproved;" John iii. 20, 21. But for the soul that trembleth at God's word, and comes home to God with shame and sorrow, resolving to return no more to wickedness, God is so far froin charging his sins upon him, that he never mentioneth them, as I told you, is evident in the case of the prodigal. He makes not a poor sinner's burden more heavy by hitting him in the teeth with his sins, but makes it the office of his Son to ease him by disburdening him.
Many more texts might be named (and perhaps it would not be lost labor) which troubled souls do misunderstand and misapply; but it would make this writing tedious, which is already swelled so far beyond my first intention.
2. The second enemy of your peace here mentioned, is Misunderstanding and misapplying passages of providence. Nothing more common with troubled souls, than upon every new cross and affliction that befals them, presently to think, God takes them for hypocrites; and to question their sincerity! As if David and Job had not left them a full warning against this temptation. Do you lose your goods? So did Job. Do you lose your children? So did Job; and that in no very comfortable way. Do you lose your health? So did Job. What is your godly friends should come about you in this case, and bend all their wits and speeches to persuade that you are but a hypocrite, as Job's friends did by him, would not this put you harder to it? Yet could Job resolve, “I will not let go mine integrity till I die.” I know God's chastisements are all paternal punishments; and that Christians should search and try their hearts and ways at such times; but not conclude that they are graceless ever the more for being afflicted, seeing God chasteneth every son whom he receiveth ; Heb. xii. 6, 7. And in searching after sin itself in your afflictions, be sure that you make the word, and not your sufferings, the rule to discover how far you have sinned ; and let afflictions only quicken you to try by the word. How many a soul have I known that by misinterpreting providences,
have in a blind jealousy, been turned quite from truth and duty, supposing it had been error and sin; and all because of their afflictions. As a foolish man in his sickness accuseth the last meat that he eat before he fell sick, though it might be the wholesomest that ever he eat, and the disease may have many causes which he is ignorant of. One man being sick, a busy seducing Papist comes to him (sor it is their use to take such opportunities) and tells him,
It is God's hand upon you for forsaking or straying from the Roman Catholic Church, and God hath sent this affliction to bring you home. All your ancestors lived and died in this church, and so must you if ever you will be saved.' The poor, jealous, affrighted sinner hearing this, and through his ignorance being unable to answer him, thinks it even true, and presently turns Papist. In the same manner do most other sects. How many have the Antinomians and Anabaptists thus seduced! Finding a poor silly woman (for it is most commonly with them) to be under sad doubts and distress of soul, one tells her, “It is God's hand on you to convince you of error, and to bring you to submit to the ordinance of baptism; and upon this many have been rebaptised, and put their foot into the snare which I have yet seen few escape and draw back from. Another comes and tells the troubled soul, 'It is legal preaching, and looking at something in yourself for peace and comfort, which hath brought you to this distress : as long as you follow these legal preachers, and read their books, and look at any thing in yourself, and seek assurance from marks within you, it will never be better with you. These preachers understand not the nature of free grace, nor ever tasted it themselves, and therefore they cannot preach it, but despise it. You must know that grace is so free that the covenant hath no condition : you must believe, and not look after the marks. And believing is but to be persuaded that God is reconciled to you, and hath forgiven you ; for you were justified before you were born, if you are one of the elect, and can but believe it. It is not any thing of your own, by which you can be justified ; nor is it any sin of yours that can unjustify. It is the witness of the Spirit only persuading you of your justification and adoption, that can give you assurance; and fetching it from any thing in yourself, is but a resting on your own righteousness, and forsaking Christ. When the Antinomian hath but sung this ignorant charm to a poor soul as ignorant as himself, and prepared by terrors to entertain the impression, presently it (oft) takes, and the sinner without a wonder of mercy is undone. This doctrine, which subverteth the very scope of the Gospel, being entertained, subverteth his faith and obedience; and usually the libertinism of his opinion is seen in his liberty of conscience, and licentious practices; and his trouble of mind is cured, as a burning fever by opium, which give him such a sleep, that he never awaketh till he be in another world. Yet these errors are so gross, and so fully against the express texts of Scripture, that if ministers would condescendingly, lovingly and familiarly deal with them and do their duty, I should hope many well meaning souls might be recovered. Thus you see the danger of rash interpreting, and so misinterpreting providences. As such interpretations of prosperity and success delude not only the Mahometan world, and the profane world, but many that seemed godly, so many such interpretations of adversity and crosses do; especially if the seducer be but kind and liberal to relieve them in their adversity, he may do with many poor souls almost what he please.
3. The third enemy to your peace here mentioned, is, Misinterpreting or misapplying the passages of preachers in their sermons, writings or private speeches. A minister cannot deal thoroughly or seriously with any sort of sinners, but some fearful, troubled souls apply all to themselves. I must entreat you to avoid this fault, or else you will turn God's ordinances and the daily food of your souls, into bitterness and wormwood, and all through your mistakes. I think there are few ministers so preach, but you might perceive whom they mean, and they so difference as to tell you who they speak to. I confess it is a better sign of an honest heart and sell-judging conscience, to say, He speaks now to me, this is my case;' than to say, He speaks now to such or such a one, this is their case.' For it is the property of hypocrites to have their eye most abroad, and in every duty to be minding most the faults of others : and you may much discern such in their prayers, in that they will fill their confessions most with other men's sins, and you may feel them all the while in the bosom of their neigh
bors, when you may even feel a sincere man speaking his own heart, and most opening his own bosom to God. But though selfapplying and self-searching be far the better sign, yet must not any wise Christian do it mistakingly : for that may breed abundance of very sad effects. For besides the aforesaid embittering of God's ordinances to you, and so discouraging you from them, do but consider what a grief and a snare you may prove to your minsiter. A grief it must needs be to him who knows he should not make sad the soul of the innocent, to think that he cannot avoid it, without avoiding his duty. When God hath put two several messages in our mouths ; " Say to the righteous, it shall be well with him ;” and “Say to the wicked it shall be ill with him;" Isaiah iii. 10, 11. “ He that believeth shall be saved ; he that believeth not shall be damned ;” and we speak both ; will you take that as spoken to you, which is spoken to the unbeliever and the wicked ? Alas, how is it possible then for us to forbear troubling you? If you will put your head under every stroke that we give against sin and sinners, how can we help it if you smart? What a sad case are we in by such misapplications! We have but two messages to deliver, and both are usually lost by misapplications. The wicked saith, • I am the righteous, and therefore it shall go well with me.' The righteous saith, I am the wicked, and therefore it shall go ill with me.' The unbeliever saith, 'I am a believer, and therefore am justified.' The believer saith, “I am an unbeliever, and therefore am condemned.' Nay, it is not only the loss of our preaching, hut we oft do them much barm ; for they are hardened that should be humbled ; and they are wounded more that should be healed. A minister must now needs tell them who he means by the believer, and who by the unbeliever ; who by the righteous, and who by the wicked : and yet when he hath done it as accurately, and as cautelously as he can, misapplying souls will wrong themselves by it. So that because people cannot see the distinguishing line, it therefore comes to pass, that few are comforted but when ministers preach nothing else but comfort ; and few humbled, but where ministers bend almost all their endeavors that way, that people can feel almost nothing else from him. But for him that equally would divide to each their portion, each one Vol. I.