« PreviousContinue »
the principles of so glorious an example and predecessor. Her gentle government subdues the hearts of all her people to herself; her charity joins their affections to one another; her parental care and love reconciles christian partics, and her wisdom unites christian nations.
IV. The last mischief I shall mention, and which should fright us terribly from the peril of it, is, that " an uncharitable man wounds the very vitals of that religion, by which he hopes for eternal life:” And whilst his fury rages against his brother for accidental differences, he shakes the very foundations of his own christianity, and endangers or prevents his own salvation ; bis boasted orthodoxy in opinion is made vain, while his practical ungodlinesses are so real; and his faith appears to be little better than that of devils, when he mingles so much of their malice · with it. In vain does he glory in the brightness of his notions; in vain doth he presume " darkness is past, and the true light nous shineth: For he that suith he is in the light and hateth his brother, he abideth in darkness, even till now; 1 John ü. 8, 9.
Such a wisdom composed of mere opinion and wrath can never leail aright up to heaven, for it did not descend from thence: The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace: But if ye have bitter envying and strije in your hearts, glory not. Whatever your pretences of truth be, this is but lying against the truth: This wisdom descendeth not from above, but his earthly, sensual, carnal, devilish ; James iii. 14-18. It is impossible there should be true faith without sincere love: If I understand all mysteries, and have all knowledge, if I speak with the tongues of men and angels, and have all faith, so that I could remote mountains, and were destitute of charity, my pretensions to religion are the mere sound of noisy brass, or a tinkling cymbal ; 1 Cor. xii. 1, 2. It is such a charity that suffereth long, that is not easily provoked, that bearelh all things, and believeth all things, and taketh all things in the best sense, and thinketh no evil: It is such a charity as this that is a substantial part of our religion. Charity in the heart, is absolutely required to make up inward christianity; and the appearance of it in the life is a most necessary part of godliness.
It is true indeed, that all graces and virtues are very imperfect in this present state, and there is much of uncharitableness remaining in many a good man: But that man can never be good that has no charity. Zelotus has spent his life in declaiming against some little modes and gestures used in worship by his fellow.christians, or in imposing some uninstituted ceremonies on the consciences of his brethren. He hath stirred up the
magistrate to persecute some of them to prisons, and almost to death. He flattered his conscience with hopes that his zeal for the church should not only render him acceptable at the last day, but provide liim a large reward. He lies now languishing upon a bed of sickness, on the borders of eternity, and is terribly awakened to behold his own mistake; whilst he stand within sight of the tribunal of Christ, and the face of the Judge, his former practice appears to his conscience in its true and frightful shape; the fire that hath animated him against his brethren, now flashes in his soul, and discovers its infernal source; now he dreads to be made an example of the same vengeance ainong devils, with which he hath pursued his fellow-mortals, he groans out his last breath in bitter agonies ; cries to the God of love for mercy upon his departing spirit; and expires almost without hope. He is gone. But we leave his soul to the compassions of a God who can better pardon bis mighty errors, than he would forgive others in their little mistakes. Thus dreadfully hath this vice of uncharitableness prevailed against the honour of chris tianity, and the peace of mankind. Thus sacrilegiously hath it taken away one of the brightest marks of the best religion, and that is love. It hath defaced the beauty of our holy profession, scandalized the sacred name that we bear, made a slaughterhouse of the church of Christ, and deceived the souls of men to their own eternal ruin.
Just as I had finished this essay, Pharisaino happenod to come into my study, and taking up the first leaf, read the title, and was persuaded this discourse must be written againt himself
. “No, said I, there is not any man alive personally intended in these papers, but if you please to peruse them, aud shall apply the characters to yourself, I hope you will confess divine provi. dence has led you into a conviction of your false zeal.” Pharisaino sat him down immediately, and with a running eye passed througb every page. And though the frequent wrinkle of his brow discovered his inward chagrin and disgust, yet he paid me many a ceremony; and “behold, said he, how language and fancy will dress
up zeal like a monster to frigliten men out of their fervour of spirit.
“I have heard, added he, that you have some skill in painting, pray draw me the figure of this upcharitableness in just and proper colours, this monster which you complain has so narrowed and disgraced, and nurdered christianity.” I will attempt it, Pharisaino, if you will furnish me with a sheet of large paper, and that of the fairest kind, to represent the christian church in this world. First, I will pare it round, and reduce it to a very small compass; then with much ink will I stain the whiteuess of it, and deferm it with many a blot; at the next sitting I will stab it through rudely with an iron peu; and when I put the last hand to complete the likeness, it shall be smeared over with blood.
APPENDIX TO THE FIRST EDITION.
If the scandal and cruelty of an uncharitable temper have not been described in characters sufficien ly frightful, it must be imputed to a want of skill in the hand that attempted it, for there is no want of formidable features in the vice itself. Perhaps a little and uuknown pen bath not force enough to wage successful war against this mighty iniquity; and the printer in two or three vacant pages, permits me to call in the aid of some great and well-known names: Names who fought against it in their lives, who being dead, yet speak, and plead heartily that it may be destroyed. They espoused the cause of charity with a warm zeal, being persuaded that it made a considerable part of our religion, and the contrary humour was destructive to all that is called christian. Since this infection is not confined to one party of men, but hath spread itself wide through all christian societies among us, I have taken the liberty in the foregoing leaves to strike at it wheresoever I found it ; and those who hide this venom in their heart still, to whatsoever tribe they belong, Jet them hear the words of their dead fathers: Let them blush at their own folly, aud no longer refuse to be healed.
Archbishop Tillotson in his works in folio, page 217, acquaints us that “ other sects were distinguished by little opinions, or by some external rites and observances in religion ; but our Saviour pitches upon that which is the most substantial, the most large and extensive, the most useful and beneficial, the most human, and the most divine quality of which we are capable, and that is love." And page 126. He declares that “uncharitableness is as bad an evidence, either of a true christian or a true church, as a man would wish. Damning of men is a very hard thing, and therefore whenever we do it, the case must be wonderfully plain. And page 364. We should rather be contented to err a little on the favourable and charitable part, than to be mistaken on the censorious and damning side. Our blessed Saviour frames his parables with a remarkable bias to the charitable side, to reprove the uncharitableness of the Jews, who positively excluded all the rest of mankind besides themselves, from all hopes of salvation. An odious temper, which to the infinite scandal of the christian name and profession bath prevailed upon some chris. tians to a notorious degree.”
Doctor Owen in his Discourse of the Person of Christ, page 222, saith « One christian who is meek, bumble, kind, patient and useful unto all, that condescends to the ignorance, weaknesses, and infirmities of others, that passés by provocations, injuries and contempt with patience and with silence, unless where the glory and truth of God call for a just vindication, that pitieth all soits of men in their failings and miscarriages, who is free from jealousies and evil surmises, that loveth what is good in all men, and all men, even wherein they are not good, nor do good, doth more express the virtues and excellencies of Christ, thân thousands can do with the most magnificent works of piety or charity, that is liberality where this frame is wanting in them. For men to pretend to follow the example of Christ, and in the mean time to be proud, wrathful, envious, bitterly zealous, calling for fire from heaven to destroy men, or fetching it themselves from hell, is to cry, “ Hail unto him," and to crucify him afresh unto their power.”
Nr. Baxter in his Christian Directory, part I. page 40, writes thus : " Surely if the very life of godliness lay not much in unity and love, we should never bave had such words spoken of it as you find in scripture. Love is to the soul as our natural heat is to the body, whatever destroys it, destroys life; and therefore cannot be for ow good. Be certain that opinion,
course or motion tends to death that tends to abate your love to your brethren, much more, which under pretence of zeal, provoketh you to hate and hurt them. And a little after, to limit all the church to your party, and deny all or any of the rest to be christians and parts of the universal church, is schisin by a dangerous breach of charity. And page 41. he asserts it as a most dangerous thing to a young convert to be ensnared in a sect: It will, before you are aware, possess you with a feverish sinful zeal for the opinions and interest of that sect. It will make you bold in bitter invectives and censures against those that diffepfrom them. It will corrupt your church-communion, and fill your very prayers with partiality and human passions. It will secretly bring malige under the name of zeal into your minds and words; in a word, it is a secret but deadly enemy to christian love and peace. Let then that are wiser and more orthodox and godly than others, shew it as the Holy Ghost directs them; James ii. 13-17.
The Baptists in their Appendix to their Confession of Faith, 1677, say, " The discharge of our own consciences, in point of baptism doth not any ways disoblige or alienate our affections or conversation from any others that fear the Lord; but that we may and do, as we have opportunity, participate of the labours of those whom God hath endued with abilities above ourselves, and qualified and called to the ministry of the word; earnestly desiring to approve ourselves to be such as follow after peace with holiness; and therebore we always keep that blessed “ Irenicum” or healing word of the apostle before our eyes ; Pbilip iï. 15, 16. And at the end of the appendix they declare, that in as much as these things, viz. modes of baptism, &c. are not of the essence of christianity, but that we agree in the fundamental doctrines thereof
, we do apprehend there is sufficient ground to lay aside all bitterness and prejudice, and in the spirit of love and meekness to embrace and own each other therein ; leaving each other at liberty to perforin such other sera vices, wherein we cannot concur, apart unto God, according to thč best of our vaderstanding.”
Of the Difficulties in Scripture, and the Different Opinions of
Christians in Things less Necessary.
Section 1.-A short Account of these Difficulties. CONCERNING the doctrines and duties which peculiarly belong to the New Testament, I have generally concluded this to be a good rule of judgment, that according to the degree of their importance or necessity to salvation, such is commonly the degree of their evidence; and the frequency of their repetition is, for the most part, proportionable to their usefulness. Those great truths of our religion, and those practices of christianity, without which we cannot be saved, are described in the word of God, in large and fair characters, so that "he who runs may read them." The visions and revelations of the mind and will of God our sovereign, are written and made plain upon the tables of the evangelists, or of the apostles ; Heb. ii. 2. they are not mentioned onec and briefly, but many pages explain and repeat them; they stand in a divine and convincing light, and may easily be understood by those who with a humble and teachable spirit, enquire what they must believe and do, in order to please God. This remark is much confirmed by that promise which assures us that it should be so in gospel-times. The highway to heaven is so plain, that the way-faring incn, or strangers, though they be fools in understanding, shall not err therein; Is. xxxv. 8. A man that Jabours in his daily calling, in the city or the field, or a servant in the lowest rank of life, may, with due application in their vacant moments, be acquainted with the necessary truths and duties of our religion ; besides that the Spirit of God is promised to sincere and diligent seekers, to faithful and humble enquirers, and shall be bestowed sufficiently to inform them of the sure way to eternal life ; Prov. ii. 1, 6. If thou criest after knowledge, und liftest up thy voice for understanding, if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures, then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God; Luke xi. 13. Your heavenly Father shull give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him. And the srit is sent to guide the faithful into all truth; John xvi. 13.
The wisdom, the equity and the goodness of God seem all to concur in fixing matters of necessary belief and practice in this situation, that is, that they should be often and plainly expressed. If there be any particular doctrine or daty which I fipd written