« PreviousContinue »
lege;' that the word of God should dwell richly in us in all wisdom ;' that we should be filled with all knowlege, so as to be able to teach and admonish one another;' that our love should abound more and more in knowlege and all judgment, that we may approve things excellent,' (or scan things different;)
• be enriched in all the word, (that is, in all the doctrine of the gospel,) and in all knowlege;' that 'we be filled in the knowlege of God's will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding ;' that we should not be unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is ;' that we should be perfect and complete in all the will of God,' (that is, first in the knowlege of it, then in compliance with it;) that in understanding we should not be children, but perfect men.'
We are likewise by them commanded to take heed of false prophets;' to ' try the spirits whether they are of God;' to see that no man deceive us;' to · look that no man spoil us by vain deceit;' to try all things, and hold fast that which is good ;' which precepts imply that we should be furnished with a good faculty of judgment, and competent knowlege in the principal matters of Christian doctrine, concerning both the mysteries of faith and rules of practice. Our Lord himself and his Apostles did not on other terms than of rational consideration and discussion, exact credit and obedience to their words; they did not insist barely on their own authority, but exhorted their disciples to examine strictly, and judge faithfully concerning the truth and reasonableness of their doctrine : Search the Scriptures,' for ' they testify of me;' . If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not; but if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works;' so our Lord appealed to their reason, proceeding on grounds of Scripture and common sense : and, • I speak as to wise men, judge ye what I say;' so St. Paul addressed his discourse to his disciples; otherwise we should be uncapable to observe them.
We are also bound to defer the principal regard to God's wisdom and will, so as, without reservation or exception, to embrace whatever he doth say, to obey what he positively doth command, whatever authority doth contradict his word, or cross his command: in such cases we may remonstrate with the A postles, “If it be just before God to hearken unto you
rather than unto God, judge ye;' and, We ought to obey God rather than men: we may denounce with St. Paul; • If an angel from heaven preach any other gospel, let him be accursed.'
We are obliged always to act with faith,' (that is, with a persuasion concerning the lawfulness of what we do; for,
whatever is not of faith, is sin :' we should never condemn ourselves in what we try or embrace.
These things considered, we may, and it much behoveth us, reserving due respect to our guides, with humility and modesty to weigh and scan their dictates and their orders ; lest by them unawares we be drawn into error or sin ; like the ingenuous Bereans, who did ανακρίνειν τας γραφάς, “ search and examine the Scriptures, if those things were so.' Our guides are but the helpers, they are not lords of our faith; the Apostles themselves were not. We
e may, and are bound, if they tell us things evidently repugnant to God's word, or to sound reason and common sense, to dissent from them; if they impose on us things evidently contrary to God's law, to forbear compliance with them; we may in such cases appeal ad legem et testimonium; we must not admit a non obstante to God's law.
If other arguments, weighed in the balance of honest and impartial reason, with cautious and industrious consideration, do overpoise the authority of our guides; let us in God's name adhere to them, and follow our own judgments; it would be a violation of our conscience, a prevarication toward our own souls, and a rebellion against God to do otherwise : when against
a our own mind, so carefully informed, we follow the dictates of others, we like fools rashly adventure and prostitute our souls.
This proceeding is nowise inconsistent with what we delivered before; for this due weariness in examining, this reservation in assenting, this exception in practice, in some cases, wherein the matter hath evidence, and we a faculty to judge, doth nowise hinder but that we should defer much regard to the judgment of our guides ; that we should in those cases, wherein no light discovereth itself outshining their authority, rely on it; that where our eyes will not serve clearly to direct us, we should use theirs; where our reason faileth to satisfy us, we should acquiesce in theirs; that we should regard their judgments so far, that no petty scruple emerging, no faint semblance of reason should prevail on us to dissent from their doctrine, to reject their advice, to disobey their injunctions.
In fine, let us remember that the mouth of truth, which bid us to beware of the bad doctrine of those who sat in Moses's chair, did also charge us • to observe all they taught and enjoined;' that is, all not certainly repugnant to the divine law. In effect, if we discost from the advices of our sober teachers, appointed for us by God, we shall in the end have occasion to bewail with him in the Proverbs : · How have I hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof; and have not obeyed the voice of my teachers, nor inclined mine ear to them that instructed me!'
To these things I shall only add one rule, which we may well suppose comprised in the precept we treat on; which is, that at least we forbear openly to dissent from our guides, or to contradict their doctrine; except only, if it be not so false (which never, or rarely can happen among us) as to subvert the foundations of faith, or practice of holiness If we cannot be internally convinced by their discourses, if their authority cannot sway with us against the prevalence of other reasons, yet may we spare outwardly to oppose them, or to slight their judgment; for doing thus doth tend, as to the disgrace of their persons, so to the disparagement of their office, to an obstructing the efficacy of their ministry, to the infringement of order and peace in the church: for when the inconsiderate people shall see their teachers distrusted and disrespected; when they perceive their doctrine may be challenged and opposed by plausible discourses; then will they hardly trust them, or comply with them in matters most certain and necessary; than which disposition in the people there cannot happen any thing more prejudicial or baneful to the church.
But let thus much serve for the obedience due to the doctrine of our guides ; let us consider that which we owe to them in reference to their conversation and practice.
The following their practice may well be referred to this precept; for that their practice is a kind of living doctrine, a visible law, or rule of action ; and because indeed the notion of a guide primarily doth imply example; that he which is guided should respect the guide as a precedent, being concerned to walk after his footsteps.
Most of the reasons, which urge deference to their judgment in teaching, do in proportion infer obligation to follow their example; (which indeed is the most easy and clear way of instruction to vulgar capacity: carrying with it also most efficacious encouragement and excitement to practice :) they are obliged, and it is expected from them, to live with especial regularity, circumspection, and strictness of conversation ; they are by God's grace especially disposed and enabled to do so; and many common advantages they have of doing so ; (a more perfect knowlege of things, firmness of principles, and clearness of notions; a deeper tincture, and more savory relish of truth, attained by continual meditation thereon; consequently a purity of mind and affection, a retirement from the world and its temptation, freedom from distraction of worldly care and the incumbrances of business, with the like.)
They are often charged to be exemplary in conversation, as we before showed, and that involveth a correspondent obligation to follow them. They must, like St. John Baptist, ‘be burning and shining lights;' stars in God's right-hand ;' • lights of the world;' whose light should shine before men, that men may see their good works;' and by their light direct
They are proposed as copies, which signifies that we must in our practice transcribe them.
We are often directly commanded to imitate them; uv peMeiole riiv aloriv, whose faith imitate ye,' (that is, their faithful perseverance in the doctrine and practice of Christianity,) saith the Apostle in this chapter.
Their conversation is safely imitable in all cases wherein no better rule appeareth, and when it doth not appear discordant from God's law and the dictates of sound
for supposing that discordance, we cease to be obliged to follow them; as when our Lord prescribeth in respect to the Pharisees ; • Whatever they bid you observe, that o serve and do ; but do not after their works; for they say and do not.'