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made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world."
but easy. must be.
Behold now the true end of Christ's coming! viz. "To save from sin, and to purge us from all iniquity; that he might present us to God without spot or blemish." Let us not then flatter ourselves, for we shall be the losers: neither let us make that impossible through our infidelity, which a grain of sincere faith can make not only possible, What has been may be again; nay, in this case Did the first Christians "overcome the wicked one?" so must the last Christians too. Were those ages led by the Holy Spirit, and taught by the grace of God to live God-like, or like God, in the world? so must we of these latter ages too, if we will be blessed for ever; that, having "put off the old man," the devil and his works, we may put on Christ," the new and heavenly man, the second Adam, with his holy life and works; so shall "the fruits of his spirit" shine through us, which are "love, joy, peace, long-suffering, patience, gentleness, faith, meekness, temperance; for they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh, with the affections and lusts:" they hear his voice, that leads them out of the concupiscences of this vile world; "and they follow him, and he gives unto them eternal life, and a stranger they will not follow." The world, the flesh, and the devil, make up this stranger; and those that are carried away by this stranger are in an unreconciled state to God, and, so dying, must inevitably perish. Well, then! will we be true Christians? Have we faith? Then let us take the advice of that good man Peter || "Let us add to our faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and to knowlege temperance, and to temperance patience, and to patience godliness, and to godliness brotherly-kindness, and to bro therly-kindness charity: for," says he, "if these things be in you and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence, to make your calling and election sure; for if ye do these things ye shall never fall. For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ."
Thus much, O ye protestants! that profess a reformation, and value yourselves upon it, of the true reformed doctrine of godliness, a virtuous and good life; without which your
profession will be the aggravation of your guilt. For know this once for all, that a true reformation lies in the spirit of reformation, reforming the minds and manners of such as profess it. God Almighty open your eyes, and affect your hearts with this great truth.
The Fourth great Ecclesiastical Evil, is preferring Human Authority above Reason and Truth.
THIS, and the next evil, which is the last now to be considered, to wit, propagation of faith by force, and religion by arms, are the two legs upon which the false church hath in all ages stood. Under this degeneracy we find the jewish church at Christ's coming, and he complains of it,* Ye teach for doctrines the traditions of men; ye seek to kill me, a man that has told you the truth :" but I challenge the whole account of time, and records of the world, which are come to the hands of this age, to tell me, when, where, and by whom, these principles have been received, improved and used, in any sort of proportion or comparison with the tice of that church, which has long prided herself in the name of Catholic and Christian. And yet I could wish nothing of these two ill principles had found any place amongst us, that call ourselves protestants; though to the great men of her communion in divers countries of Europe, is chiefly owing most of that ignorance, superstition, idolatry, persecution and bloodshed that have been among Christians, since the Christian profession hath grown to any power in the world. I shall consider them severally, respecting us, and in their due order, with as much brevity as well I can.
That human authority hath been preferred above reason and truth, that is, that the apprehensions, interpretations, conclusions, and injunctions of men have been reputed the great necessaries or essentials to salvation and Christian communion, insomuch as a sober and reasonable dissent hath been too often overruled, not by weight of argument or evidence of truth, but by the power and numbers of men in ecclesiastical office and dignity, is, and speak modestly, in a large degree true amongst us. The first church-evil reprehended in this discourse may begin the proof, and give the first witness upon this part of the charge, viz. That opi nions have been made articles of faith; that is, the con
* Mat. xv. 9. John viii. 40.
structions and conclusions of men from sacred writ, and not the text itself, have been enjoined and imposed as essential to eternal salvation, and external Christian communion,' insomuch that no reason, scripture, or purest antiquity, hath been suffered to prevail against such determinations, and too often not enough to excuse those that have pleaded for a conscientious dissent from them; the authors of them either resting upon the authority of their own judgments, or conforming themselves to the example of ages less pure and clear.
I conscientiously refuse to name parties, because I am tender of giving the least offence; but upon a just observance of those revolutions of protestancy that have been amongst us, we may see with what stiffness, not to say obstinacy, several models of religion and draughts of creeds have been contended for. I would beseech every party, in Christ's name, to look into itself, for I do not; because such are best able (if they will be impartial, and put no cheat upon themselves) to make the application of what I say. However, I will name those points, about which the authority of man, as it seems to me, has been so positive. Of God, as to his prescience and predetermination of Christ, as to his natures and personality, and the extent of his death and intercession of free-will and grace: of faith and works: of perseverance and falling away of the nature and power of the church: and, lastly, of the dignity and power of the clergy.'
And if men please but to lay their hands upon their hearts, and cast their eyes upon the scriptures; if they will but use the light that God has afforded them, and bring such debates and results to the test of that light, and the sound form of words the Holy Ghost hath used and preserved amongst us, I need not take the employment upon me of pointing to human authority among the several parties of protestants, as to these points, since nothing will be clearer. For it is about the meaning of this, and the intention of that, place of scripture, the contest hath been and still is and how to maintain and propagate those conceits; so that the falling out is in the wood of our own opinions, and there the contention is kindled, that consumes all about our ears: a most unwarrantable curiosity and nicety, for the most part, that has more influence upon our passions than our practice; which is usually the worse in point of charity, and not the better for them in any thing. O that we would but be impartial, and see our own overplus to the scriptures, and retrench that redundancy, or keep it modestly! for it is an horrid thing that we protestants should assume a power of
ranging our human apprehensions with the sacred text, and enjoining our imaginations for indispensable articles of faith and Christian communion.
But the next proof of the prevalency of human authority amongst us protestants, is The great power and sway of the clergy, and the people's reliance upon them for the knowledge of religion, and the way of life and salvation.' This is such plain fact, that every parish more or less proves it. Is not prophecy, once the church's,* now engrossed by them, and wholly in their hands? Who dares publicly preach or pray, that is not of that class or order? Have not they only the keys in keeping? May any body else pretend to the power of absolution or excommunication? Much less to constitute ministers? Are not all church rights and privileges in their custody? Do not they make it their proper inheritance? Nay, so much larger is their empire than Cæsar's, that only they begin with births, and end with bu rials; men must pay them for coming-in and going-out of the world: to pay for dying is hard! Thus their profits run from the womb to the grave; and that which is the loss of others, is their gain, and a part of their revenue. Both lives and deaths do bring grist to their mill, and toll to their exchequer; for they have an estate in us for our lives, and an heriot at our deaths.
It is of this great order and set of men only, that all synods and convocations are, of modern ages, compounded; and what they determine, is called the canons or decrees of the church; though, alas! she is only to obey, what they of the gown ordain; giving us thereby to understand, that they want the authority of her name, where they deny her to have a part, or to be present.
But they have not only been the usual starters of new opinions, and the great creed-makers among Christians, but the sway they have long had with the people, makes them so considerable an interest in the eyes of the civil magistrate, that he often finds it not for his safety to disoblige them, Upon this it is, that we see them so successful in their solicitations of public authority to give its sanction to their opinions and forms; and not only recommend them (which goes certainly a great way with the people) but impose their reception, and that on severe penalties: insomuch, that either men must offer up their understandings to their fears, and dissemble conviction, to be safe, or else perish there is no medium. Something of this lies near us: God Almighty open our eyes to see both the truth and mischief of this thing.
* 1 Cor. xiv.
But what shall I say of that implicit reverence the people have for the clergy, and dependance upon them about religion and salvation; as if they were the only trustees of truth, and high-treasurers of divine knowledge to the laity : and we daily see, that the blind opinion they have of their office (as that which is peculiar to that order, and not common to Christians, be their gifts as they will) disposes them to rely entirely upon their performances. The minister is chooser and taster, and every thing for them: they seem to have delivered up their spiritual selves, and made over the business of religion, the rights of their souls, to their pastor; and that scarcely with any limitation of truth too: and, as if he were, or could be, their guarantee in the other world, they become very unsolicitous of any farther search here. So that if we would examine the respective parishes of protestant as well as popish countries, we shall find, and it is come to that sad pass, that very few have any other religion than the tradition of their priest. They have given up their judgment to him, and seem greatly at their ease, that they have discharged themselves of the trouble of" working out their own salvation, and proving all things, that they might hold fast that which is good;" and, in the room of that care, bequeathed the charge of those affairs to a standing pensioner for that purpose.
Thus the clergy are become a sort of mediators betwixt Christ and us; that as we must go to God by Christ, so must we come to Christ by them: they must be, it seems, like the high-priest under the law, who only entered into the "holy of holies; whose lips preserved knowledge ;" and by them we must understand the divine oracle. As if the mysteries of salvation were not to be intrusted with the vulgar, or that it were a kind of profanation to expose them to their view; and the only way to make them cheap and contemptible to suffer every Christian to have the keeping of them; though they belong to every Christian But this language, thanks be to God! is that of human authority, that would magnify the mysteries of salvation by the ignorance of those that should know them; as if the gospel-dispensation were not that of full age, but infancy or minority.
It is true, the state of people under the law and the Levitical priesthood is called "a state of bondage, childhood and minority," and the law therefore is termed a "schoolmaster to bring us to Christ;"* but it is as true, that the state of Christianity is reputed the age of" grace, freedom, manhood. and inheritance," by the same apostle and that we should have external guardians of our faith and religion
* Gal. iii.