« PreviousContinue »
than of the judgment, and practice, and concernments of the universal church. He knoweth not how to prefer the judgments and holiness of some that he thinketh more excellent than the rest, without much undervaluing and censuring of all others that are not of their opinion: he cannot choose the actual local communion of the best society, without some unjust contempt of others, or separation from them. He hath not so much knowledge as may sufficiently acquaint him with his ignorance; and therefore he is apt to be unreasonably confident of his present apprehensions, and to think verily that all his own conceptions are the certain truth; and to think them ignorant, or ungodly, or very weak at least, that differ from him. For he hath not thoroughly and impartially studied all that may be said on the other side. The authority of his chosen teacher and sect, is greater with him (if he fall into that way) than the authority of all the most wise and holy persons in the world besides. What the Scripture speaketh of the unbelieving world, he is apt to apply to all those of the church of Christ, that are not of his mind and party. And when Christ commandeth us to come out of the world, he is prone to understand it of coming out from the church into some stricter and narrower society; and is apt with the papists, to appropriate the name and privileges of the church, to his party alone, and to condemn all others. Especially if the church-governors be carnal and self-seeking, or otherwise very culpable; and if discipline be neglected, and if profaneness be not sufficiently discountenanced, and godliness promoted, he thinketh that such a church is no church, but a profane society. God hath taught him by repentance to see the mischief of ungodliness, but he yet wanteth that experience which is needful to make him know the mischief of church divisions. He had too much experience himself, of the evil of profaneness before his conversion; but he hath not tried the evil of schism; and without some sad experience of its fruits, in himself or others, he will hardly know it as it should be known: because it is the custom of some malignant enemies of godliness, to call the godly heretics, schismatics, factious sectaries, &c. therefore the very names do come into credit with him; and he thinks there are no such persons in the world, or that there is no danger of any such crimes, till he be taught by sad experience, that the professors of sincerity are in as much danger
on that side as on the other; and that the church, as well as Christ, doth suffer between two thieves, the profane and the dividers. Paul was unjustly called the ringleader of a sect, Acts xxiv. 5.), and Christianity called a heresy and a sect, every where spoken against; Acts xxviii. 22. xxiv. 14. But for all that, heresy is a fruit of the flesh, (Gal. v. 20.) and some of them called damnable; (2 Pet. ii. 1.) and they are the trial of the church, to difference the approved members from the chaff; 1 Cor. xi. 19. And an obstinate heretic is to be avoided by true believers; Titus iii. 10. And the Pharisees and Sadducees are well reputed to be several sects; Acts v. 17. xv. 5. xxvi. 5. And dividers and divisions are justly branded as aforesaid. There must be no schism in the body of Christ; 1 Cor. xii. 25. The following of selected teachers, in a way of division from the rest, or opposition to them, doth shew, that men are carnal in too great a measure, though it be not in predominancy, as in the profane. “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat; for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able, for ye are yet carnal. For whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? For while one saith, I am of Paul, and another, I am of Apollos, are ye not carnal?" 2 Cor. iii. 1-3. How much more when he that is for Paul doth censure and rail at Cephas and Apollos? He that hath seen the course of men professing godliness in England in this age, may easily and sadly know how prone weak Christians are to unjust separations and divisions, and what are the effects. He that had heard many zealous in prayer, and other duties, and the next year see them turning Quakers, and railing in the open congregations at the most able, holy, self-denying ministers of Christ, and at their flocks, with a Come down thou deceiver, thou hireling, thou wolf, ye are all greedy dogs,' &c. and shall see how yet poor souls run into that reviling, and irrational sect (to say nothing of all other sects among us,) will no longer doubt whether the weak be inclined to schism, but will rather lament the dangerousness of their station; and know that all is not done when a sinner is converted from an ungodly state. Study the reason of those three texts; Ephes. iv. 13-16. "For the edifying the body of Christ, till we all come in the unity of
the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man; and the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ, so that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ; from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted, by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body, to the edifying of itself in love." Here you see the children are apt to be carried into dividing parties. And that they are more apt to be proud, and that way to miscarry, see 1 Tim. iii. 6." Not a novice (or raw young Christian) lest being lifted up with pride, he fall into the condemnation of the devil," and then followeth the effect, Acts xx. 30. " Also of your ownselves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them." I would not have you groundlessly accuse any Christian with a charge of pride; but I must tell you that the childish pride of apparel is a petty business, in comparison of that pride which many in sordid attire have manifested, who in their ignorance do rage and foam out words of falsehood and reproach against Christ's ministers and servants, as if they were fools or impious in comparison of them, speaking evil of that which they never understood. The lifting up the heart above the people of the Lord, in the pride of supposed holiness, is incomparably worse than pride of learning, honour, greatness, wit, or wealth. Nay, it hath often been to me a matter of wonder to observe how little all those plain and urgent texts of Scripture, which cry down division, do work upon many of the younger Christians, who yet are as quickly touched as any, with a text that speaketh against profaneness and lukewarmness. In a word, they are often of the temper of James and John, when they would fain have had Christ revenged himself on his opposers by fire from heaven; "They know not what manner of spirit they are of;" Luke ix.55. They think verily that it is a holy zeal for God, when it is the boiling of passion, pride, and selfishness. They feel not the sense of such words as Christ's, "I pray also for them who shall believe on me, through their word, that they all may be one, as thou Father art in
me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that thou hast sent me;" &c. John xvii. 20-24.
3. And as for the seeming Christian, in this they are of several sorts. When their carnal interest lieth in compliance with the major part and stronger side, then no men do more cry up unity and obedience. What a noise do many thousand Papist prelates, Jesuits, and friars make with these two words throughout the world. Unity and obedience (unto them upon their terms) do signify principally their worldly greatness, wealth, and power. But if the hypocrite be engaged in point of honour, or other carnal interest on the suffering side, or be out of hope of any advantage, in the common road, then no man is so much for separation and singularity as he. For he must needs be noted for somebody in the world, and this is the chief way that he findeth to accomplish it. And so being "lifted up with pride, he falleth into the condemnation of the devil," and becomes a firebrand in the church.
LIII. 1. A Christian indeed, is not only zealous for the unity and concord of believers, but he seeketh it on the right terms, and in the way that is fittest to attain it. Unity, peace, and concord, are like piety and honesty, things so unquestionably good, that there are scarce any men of reason and common sobriety, that ever were heard to oppose them directly and for themselves: and therefore all that are enemies to them are yet pretenders to them; and oppose them. 1. In their causes only. 2. Or covertly, and under some other name. Every man would have unity, concord, and peace in his own way, and upon his own terms. But if the right terms had been understood and consented to as sufficient, the Christian world had not lain so many hundred years in the sin, and shame, and ruins as it hath done. And the cause of all is, that Christians indeed, that have clear, confirmed judgments, and strength of grace, are very few; and for number and strength, unable to persuade or overrule the weak, the passionate, and the false-hearted, worldly, hypocritical multitude; who bear down all the counsels and endeavours of the wise.
The judicious, faithful Christian knoweth, that there are three degrees or sorts of Christian communion, which have their several terms. 1. The universal church commu
nion, which all Christians as such must hold among themselves. 2. Particular church communion, which those that are conjoined for personal communion in worship, do hold under the same pastors and among themselves. 3. The extraordinary intimate communion that some Christians hold together, who are bosom friends, or are especially able and fit to be helpful and comfortable to each other.
The last concerneth not our present business; we must hold church communion with many that are unfit to be our bosom friends, and that have no eminency of parts or piety, or any strong persuading evidence of sincerity. But the terms of catholic communion he knoweth are such as these. 1. They must be such as were the terms of church communion in the days of the apostles. 2. They must be such as are plainly and certainly expressed in the holy Scriptures. 3. And such as the universal church hath in some ages since been actually agreed in. 4. And those points are most likely to be such, which all the differing parties of Christians are agreed in, as necessary to communion to this day, (so we call not those Christians that deny the essentials of Christianity). 5. Every man in the former ages of the church, was admitted to this catholic church communion, who in the baptismal vow or covenant, gave up himself to God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, as his Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier; his Owner, Governor, and Father, renouncing the flesh, the world, and the devil. And more particularly, as man hath an understanding, a will, and an executive power, which must all be sanctified to God, so the creed was the particular rule for the credenda' or things to be believed, and the Lord's prayer for the 'petenda' or things to be willed, loved, and desired, and the ten commandments for the 'agenda,' or things to be done; so that to consent to these rules particularly, and to all the holy Scriptures implicitly and generally, was the thing then required to catholic communion. The belief of the doctrine being necessary for the sanctifying of the heart and life, the belief of so much is of necessity, without which the heart cannot be sanctified, or devoted in covenant to God, our Creator, Redeemer, and Regenerator; and without which we cannot love God (as reconciled to us in Christ) above all, and our neighbours as ourselves. So that, in a word, he that can tell what the baptismal vow or covenant is, can tell what is necessary