« PreviousContinue »
It is in itself a thing very good and acceptable to God, very just and equal, very wise, very comely and pleasant.
It cannot but be grateful unto God, who is the God of love, of order, of peace, and therefore cannot but like the means furthering them; he cannot but be pleased to see men do their duty, especially that which regardeth his own ministers; in the respect performed to whom he is himself indeed avowed, and honored, and obeyed.
It is a just and equal thing, that every member of society should submit to the laws and orders of it; for every man is supposed on those terms to enter into, and to abide in it; every man is deemed to owe such obedience, in answer to his enjoyment of privileges and partaking of advantages thereby; so therefore whoever pretendeth a title to those excellent immunities, benefits, and comforts, which communion with the church affordeth, it is most equal that he should contribute to its support and welfare, its honor, its peace; that consequently he should yield obedience to the orders appointed for those ends. Peculiarly equal it is in regard to our spiritual governors, who are obliged to be very solicitous and laborious in furthering our best good; who stand deeply engaged, and are responsible for the welfare of our souls: they must be contented to spend, and be spent;' to undergo any pains, any hardships, any dangers and crosses occurring in pursuance of those designs : and is it not then plainly equal (is it not indeed more than equal, doth not all ingenuity and gratitude require ?) that we should encourage and comfort them in bearing those burdens, and in discharging those incumbencies, by a fair and cheerful compliance ? it is the Apostle's enforcement of the duty in our text: · Obey them,' saith be, and submit yourselves; for they watch for your souls, as those who are to render an account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief,' (or groaning.)
Is it not indeed extreme iniquity and ingratitude, when they with anxious care and earnest toil are endeavoring our happiness, that we should vex and trouble them by our perverse and cross behavior ?
Nay, is it not palpable folly to do thus, seeing thereby we do indispose and hinder them from effectually discharging their
duty to our advantage ? αλυσιτελές γάρ υμίν τούτο, “ for this,' addeth the Apostle, farther pressing the duty, ' is unprofitable to you,' or it tendeth to your disadvantage and damage ; not only as involving guilt, but as inferring loss; the loss of all those spiritual benefits, which ministers being encouraged, and thence performing their office with alacrity and sprightful diligence, would procure to you : it is therefore our wisdom to be obedient, because obedience is so advantageous and profitable
The same is also a comely and amiable thing, yielding much grace, procuring great honor to the church, highly adorning and crediting religion : it is a goodly sight to behold things proceeding orderly; to see every person quietly resting in his post, or moving evenly in his rank; to observe superiors calmly leading, inferiors gladly following, and equals lovingly accompanying each other : this is the psalmist's, Ecce quam bonum ! • Behold, how (admirably) good, and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! such a state of things argueth the good temper and wisdom of persons so demeaning themselves, the excellency of the principles which do guide and act them, the goodness of the constitution which they observe; so it crediteth the church, and graceth religion ; a thing which, as St. Paul teacheth, in all things we should endeavor.
It is also a very pleasant and comfortable thing to live in obedience; by it we enjoy tranquillity of mind and satisfaetion of conscience, we taste all the sweets of amity and peace, we are freed from the stings of inward remorse, we escape the grievances of discord and strife.
The causes also and principles from which obedience springeth do much commend it: it ariseth from the dispositions of soul which are most Christian and most humane; from charity, humility, meekness, sobriety of mind, and calmness of passion; the which always dispose men to submiss, complaisant, peaceable demeanor toward all men, especially toward those whose relation to them claimeth such demeanor : these a genuine, free, cordial, and constant obedience do signify to live in the soul; together with a general honesty of intention, and exemption from base designs.
In fine, innumerable and inestimable are the benefits and good fruits accruing from this practice; beside the support it manifestly yieldeth to the church, the gracefulness of order, the conveniences and pleasures of peace, it hath also a notable influence on the common manners of men, which hardly can ever prove very bad, where the governors of the church do retain their due respect and authority; nothing more powerfully doth instigate to virtue, than the countenance of authority; nothing more effectually can restrain from exorbitancy of vice, than the bridle of discipline : this obvious experience demonstrateth, and we shall plainly see, if we reflect on those times when piety and virtue have most flourished: whence was it, that in those good old times Christians did so abound in good works, that they burned with holy zeal, that they gladly would do, would suffer any thing for their religion? whence but from a mighty respect to their superiors, from a strict regard to their direction and discipline ? Did the bishops then prescribe long fasts, or impose rigid penances ? willingly did the people undergo 'them : Did the pastor conduct into danger, did he lead them into the very jaws of death and martyrdom ? the fock with a resolute alacrity did follow : Did a prelate interdict any practice scandalous or prejudicial to the church, under pain of incurring censure ? every man trembled at the consequences of transgressing: no terror of worldly power, no severity of justice, no dread of corporal punishment had such efficacy to deter men from ill-doing, as the reproof and censure of a bishop; his frown could avail more than the menaces of an emperor, than the rage of a persecutor, than the rods and axes of an executioner: no rod indeed did smart like the spiritual rod, no sword did cut so deep as that of the Spirit; no loss was then so valuable as being deprived of spiritual advantages; no banishment was so grievous as being separated from holy communion ; no sentence of death was so terrible as that which cut men off from the church ; no thunder could astonish or affright men like the crack of a spiritual anathema: this was that which kept virtue in request, and vice in detestation; hence it was that men were so good, that religion did so thrive, that so frequent and so il. lustrious examples of piety did appear; hence indeed we niay well reckon that Christianity did (under so many disadvantages and oppositions) subsist, and grow up; obedience to governors was its guard; that kept the church firmly united in a body sufficiently strong to maintain itself against all assaults of faction within, of opposition from abroad ; that preserved that concord, which disposed and enabled Christians to defend their religion against all fraud and violence; that cherished the true virtue, and the beautiful order, which begot veneration to religion : to it therefore we owe the life and growth of Christianity; so that through many sharp persecutions it hath held up its head, through so many perilous diseases it hath kept its life until this day. There were not then of old any such cavils and clamors against every thing prescribed by governors; there were no such unconscionable scruples, no such hardhearted pretences to tender conscience devised to bastle the authority of superiors : had there been such, had men then commonly been so froward and factious as now, the church had been soon shivered into pieces, our religion had been swallowed up in confusion and licentiousness.,
If again we on the other hand fix our consideration on disobedience, the nature, the sources, the consequences thereof,) it will, I suppose, much conduce to the same effect, of persuading us to the practice of this duty.
It is in itself a heinous sin, being the transgression of a command in nature and consequence very important, on which God layeth great stress, which is frequently inculcated in Scripture, which is fenced by divers other precepts, which is pressed by strong arguments, and backed by severe threatenings of punishment on the transgressors.
It is in its nature a kind of apostacy from Christianity, and rebellion against our Lord; for as he that refuseth to obey the king's magistrates in administration of their office is interpreted to disclaim his authority, and to design rebellion against him; so they who obstinately disobey the ministers of our Lord's spiritual kingdom do thereby appear to disavow him, to shake off his yoke, to impeach his reign over them; so doth he himself interpret and take it : He,' saith our Lord, that heareth you heareth me, and he that (o úderw, that baffleth) despiseth you despiseth me;' and, • If any man neglect to hear the church, (or shall disobey it, éày napakoúon,) let him be to thee as a heathen, and a publican;' that is, such a refractory person doth by his contumacy put himself into the state of one removed from the commonwealth of Israel, he forfeiteth the special protection of God, he becometh as an alien or an outlaw from the kingdom of our Lord.
Under the Mosaical dispensation those who would do presumptuously, and would not hearken unto the priest, that stood to minister before the Lord,' did incur capital punishment; those who factiously murmured against Aaron are said to make an insurrection against God, and answerably were punished in a miraculous way, (“the Lord made a new thing, the earth opened, and swallowed them up; they went down alive into the pit.') It was in the prophetical times an expression signifying height of impiety, 'My people is as those who strive with the priest.' Seeing then God hath no less regard to his peculiar servants now than he had then; seeing they no less represent him, and act by his authority now, than any did then ; seeing their service is as precious to him, and as much tendeth to his honor now, as the Levitical service then did ; seeing he no less loveth order and peace in the church than he did in the synagogue; we may well suppose it a no less heinous sin, and odious to God, to despise the ministers of Christ's gospel, than it was before to despise the ministers of Moses's law.
It is a sin indeed pregnant with divers sins, and involving the breach of many great commands, which are frequently proposed and pressed in the New Testament, with design in great part to guard and secure it: that of doing all things in charity; of doing all things without murmurings and dissensions;' of pursuing peace so far as lieth in us;' of maintaining unity, concord, unanimity in devotion; of avoiding schisms, and dissensions, and the like: which are all notoriously violated by this disobedience; it includeth the most high breach of charity, the most formal infringing peace, the most scandalous kind of discord that can be, to cross our superiors.
It is also a practice issuing from the worst dispositions of soul, such as are most opposite to the spirit of our religion, and indeed very repugnant to common reason and humanity; from a proud haughtiness or vain wantonness of mind; from the irregularity of unmortified and unbridled passion; from exorbitant selfishness, (selfishness of every bad kind, self-conceit, self