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difficult places, depending on the skill of languages, grammar, and criticism, on the knowlege of human arts and sciences, on histories and ancient customs: in such cases, all illiterate persons (bowever otherwise diffident and disregardful of authority) are forced to see with the eyes of other men, to submit their judgment to the skill and fidelity of their learned guides, taking the very principles and foundations of their religion on trust : and why then consonantly may they not do it in other cases; especially in the resolution of difficult, sublime, obscure, and subtile points, the comprehension whereof transcendeth their capacity ?
SUMMARY OF SERMON LIX.
HEBREWS, CHAP. XIII.-- VERSE 17.
The more to engage us in the performance of this part of our duty, we may consider the great advantages, natural and supernatural, which these our guides have to qualify them for their office.
1. They may reasonably be presumed more intelligent in divine matters than other meņ; for as they have the same natural capacities and endowments with others, so these natural abilities are by all possible means improved, by education, &c.: this point enlarged on.
Hence it is most reasonable that we should rely on their authority in matters difficult and doubtful, &c.
They have also another peculiar advantage, by their greater retirement from the world, and disengagement from secular interests, which generally pervert men's judgment, &c. : this topic enlarged on.
2. We may also consider that they are by God appointed and empowered to instruct and guide us : they are God's messengers, specially sent by him, selected and separated for this work: this gives especial weight to their words, and no mean ground of assurance to us in relying on them.
3. We may consider that our guides, as such, have special assistance from God: they are stewards of God's various grace ; and God having given them, as St. Paul saith, to the church, implies that he has endowed them with ability, and will further them with his aid in perfecting the saints, and edifying the body in knowlege, and virtue, and piety. As the Holy Ghost constitutes them in their charge, (Acts xx. 28.) so doubtless he assists them in their functions. As God of old communicated his spirit to his prophets and to the Apostles, he surely hath not withdrawn the same from those who minister under the dispensation of the spirit, &c.
4. We are also encouraged to confide in our guides by the consideration that they are themselves deeply concerned in our being rightly guided; their present comfort, their future salvation depending on the faithful and careful discharge of this their duty.
On these considerations, it is plainly reasonable to follow them in all matters wherein we have no other very clear and certain light of reason or revelation to conduct us; lest we be carried about with divers and strange doctrines, &c.
It is therefore a great advantage, that by God's grace there are such helps provided for us; and it is great folly and ingratitude in us to neglect them.
It may be added, that, as wisdom may induce, so modesty and humility should dispose us to follow the direction of our guides. Ye younger, saith St. Peter, submit yourselves unto the elder, and be clothed with humility ; signifying that it is a point of humility to yield that submission.
Neither in doing so, though against some of our private conceits, do we act against our conscience, but rather according to it; for conscience, as the word in this case is used, is nothing but an opinion in practical matters grounded on the best reasons which we can discern.
It is not here meant that we are obliged indifferently, with implicit faith or blind obedience, to believe all that our teachers say, or practise all they exhort; for they are men, and therefore subject to error and sin ; they may neglect or abuse the advantages which they have received, &c. Instances among the priests, pastors, elders, and prophets of old time; also of false guides in the time of our Saviour: nor have such been wanting since.
We are, in matters of such infinite moment, obliged by wisdom and duty not wholly and without heed to trust the diligence and integrity of others, but to consider and look about us, using our own reason, judgment, and discretion, so far as we are capable.
We are not devoid of reason-we are accountable personally for all our actions, as agreeable or contrary to it-in order to our practice we are obliged to get a knowlege and persuasion concerning our duty, viz. to prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God — we are bound to study truth, and to improve our minds in the knowlege and love of it the Apostles charge it on us as a duty, that we abound in faith and knowlege, &c.—we are likewise by them commanded to take heed of false prophets ; to try the spirits, &c. to see that no man deceive us—we are also bound principally to regard God's wisdom and will, so as, without reservation or exception, to embrace whatever he commands, &c.
These things considered, we may, and it much behoveth us, reserving due respect for our guides, with humility and modesty to weigh and scan their dictates, lest by them we be unawares drawn into error or sin. We are bound, if they tell us things repugnant to God's word, or to sound reason and common sense, to dissent from them : which proceeding is not inconsistent with what has been delivered before : this shown.
To these things one rule may be added ; that at least we forbear openly to dissent from our guides, or to contradict their doctrine, except it be so false as to subvert the foundations of faith, or the practice of holiness : this point enlarged on.
Thus much may serve for the obedience due to the doctrine of our guides : concluding observations regarding our duty in following their practice, which is considered safely imitable in all cases, wherein no better rule is found, and when it does not appear discordant from God's law, and the dictates of sound reason.