« PrécédentContinuer »
things, but something else to be our rule; we have but one rule to go by, and that is his holy word, and when we join any thing else with it as having the force of a rule, we are guilty of that which is strictly forbidden, Deut. iv: 2. Prov. xxx: 6, and Rev. xxii: 18. They who make what they imagine is pointed forth to them in Providence, their rule of behaviour, do err, as well as those that follow impulses and impressions. We should put nothing in the room of the word of God. It is to be feared that some have been greatly confirmed and emboldened by the great success that God has given them, in some things that have really been contrary to the rules of God's holy word. If it has been so, they have been guilty of presumption, and abusiny God's kindness to them, and the great honor he has put upon them. They have seen that God was with them, and made them victorious in their preaching; and this it is to be feared has been abused by some to a degree of self confidence; it has much taken off all jealousy of themselves; they have been bold therefore to go great lengths, in a presumption that God was with them, and would defend them, and finally baffle all that found fault with them.
Indeed there is a voice of God in his Providence, that may be interpreted and well understood by the rule of his word; and Providence may to our dark minds and weak faith, confirm the word of God, as it fulfils it. But to improve divine Providence thus, is quite a diffi:rent thing from making a rule of Providence. There is a good use may be made of the events of Providence, of our own observation and experience, and human histories, and the opinion of the fathers and other eminent men; but finally all must be brought to one rule, viz. the word of God, and that must be regarded as our only rule.
Nor do I think that they go upon sure ground, that conclude that they have not been in an error in their conduct, because that at the time of their doing a thing, for which they have been blamed and reproached by others, they were favored with special comforts of God's Spirit. God's bestowing special spiritual mercies on a person at such a time, is no sign that he approves of every thing that he sees in him at that time. David had very much of the presence of God while he lived in polygamy. And Solomon had some very high favors, and peculiar smiles of Heaven, and particularly at the dedication of the temple, while he greatly multiplied wives to himself, and horses, and silver and gold; all contrary to the most express command of God to the king, in the law of Moses, Deut. xvii: 16, 17. We cannot tell how far God may hide his eyes from beholding iniquity in Jacob, and seeing perverseness in Israel. We cannot tell what are the reasons of God's actions any further than he interprets for himself. God sometimes gave some of the primitive Christians, the extraordinary influence of his spirit, when they were out of the way of their duty; and continued it, while they were abusing it; as is plainly implied, 1 Cor. xiv: 31, 32, 33.
Yea, if a person has done a thing for which he is reproached, and that reproach be an occasion of his feeling sweet exercises of grace in his soul, and that from time to time, I do not think that is a certain evidence that God approves of the thing he is blamed for. For undoubtedly a mistake may be the occasion of stirring up the exercise of grace, in a man that has grace, If a person, through mistake, thinks he has received some particular great mercy, that mistake may be the occasion of stirring up the sweet exercises of love to God, and true thankfulness and joy in God. As for instance, if one that is full of love to God should hear credible tidings, concerning a remarkable deliverance of a child, or other dear friend, or of some. glorious thing done for the city of God, no wonder if, on such an occasion, the sweet actings of love to God, and delight in God, should be excited, though indeed afterwards it should prove a false report that he heard. So if one that loves God, is much maligned and reproached for doing that which he thinks God required and approves, no wonder that it is sweet to such an one to think that God is his friend, though men are his enemies; no wonder at all, that this is an occasion of his, as it were, leaving the world, and sweetly betaking himself to God, as his sure friend, and finding sweet complacence in God; though he be indeed in a mistake, concerning that which he thought was agreeable to God's will.
As I have before shewn that the exercise of a truly good affection, may be the occasion of error, and may indirectly incline a person to do that which is wrong; so on the other hand, error, or a doing that which is wrong, may be an occasion of the exercise of a truly good affection. The reason of it is this, that however all exercises of grace be from the Spirit of God, yet the Spirit of God dwells and acts in the hearts of saints, in some measure after the manner of a vital, natural principle, a principle of new nature in them; whose exercises are excited by means, in some measure as other natural principles are. Though grace be not in the saints, as a mere natural principle, but as a sovereign agent, and so its exercises are not tied to means, by an immutable law of nature, as in mere natural principles; yet God has so constituted that grace should dwell so in the hearts of the saints, that its exercises should have some degree of connexion with means, after the manner of a principle of nature.
Another erroncous principle that there has been something of, and that has been an occasion of some mischief and confusion, is that external order in matters of religion, and use of the means of grace, is but little to be regarded. It is spoken lightly of, under the names of ceremonies and deal forms, &c. And is probably the more despised by some because their opposers insist so much upon it, and because they are so continually hearing from them the cry of disorder and confusion.It is objected against the importance of external order that God does not look at the outward form, he looks at the heart. But that is a weak argument against its importance, that true Godliness does not consist in it; for it may be equally made use of against all the outward means of grace whatsoever. True Godliness does not consist in ink and paper, but yet that would be a foolish objection against the importance of ink and paper in re
ligion, when without it we could not have the word of God. If any external means at all are needful, any outward actions of a public nature, or wherein God's peos ple are jointly concerned in public society, without doubt external order is needful. The management of an external affair that is public, or wherein a multitude is concerned without order, is in every thing found impossible. Without order there can be no general direction of a multitude to any particular designed end, their purposes will cross one another, and they will not help but hinder one another. A multitude cannot act in union one with another without order; confusion separates and divides them, so that there can be no concert or agreement. If a multitude would help one another in any affair, they must unite themselves one to another in a regular subordination of members, in some measure as it is in the natural body; by this means they will be in some capacity to act with united strength. And thus Christ has appointed that it should be in the visible church, as 1 Cor. xii: 14, to the end, and Rom. xii: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. Zeal without order will do but little, or at least it will be effectual but a little while.
Let a company that are very zealous against the enemy, go forth to war, without any manner of order, every one rushing forward as his zeal shall drive him, all in confusion, if they gain something at first onset, by surprising the enemy, yet how soon do they come to noihing, and fall an easy, helpless prey to their adversaries? Order is one of the most necessary of all external means of the spiritual good of God's church; and therefore it is 'requisite, even in heaven itself, where there is the least need of any external means of grace; order is maintained amongst the glorious angels there. And the necessity of it in order to the carrying on any design, wherein a multitude are concerned, is so great, that even the devils in hell are driven to something of it, that they may carry on the designs of their kingdom. And it is very observable, that those kinds of irrational creatures, for whom it is needful that they should act in union and join a multitude together, to carry on any work for their pres
ervation, they do by a wonderful instinct that God has put into them, observe and maintain a most regular and exact order among themselves; such as bees and some others. And order in the visible church is not only necessary to the carrying on the designs of Christ's glory and the church's prosperity, but it is absolutely necessary to its defence; without it, it is like a city without walls, and can be in no capacity to defend itself from any kind of mischief. And so however it be an external thing, yet it is not to be despised on that account; for though it be not the food of souls, yet it is in some respect their defence. The people of Holland would be very foolish to despise the dikes that keep out the sea from overwhelming them, under the names of dead stones and vile earth, because the matter of which they are built is not good to eat.
It seems to be partly on the foundation of this notion of the worthlessness of external order, that some have seemed to act on that principle, that the power of judging and openly censuring others should not be reserved in the hands of particular persons, or consistories appointed thereto, but ought to be left at large, for any body that pleases to take it upon them, or chat think themselves fit for it. But more of this afterwards.
On this foundation also, an orderly attending on the stated worship of God in families, has been made too light of; and it has been in some places too much of a common and custoniary thing to be absent from family worship, and to be abroad late in the night at religious meetings, or to attend religious conversation. Not but that this may be, on certain extraordinary occasions; I have seen the case to be such in many instances, that I have thought did afford sufficient warrant for persons to be absent from family prayer, and to be from home until very late in the night. But we should take heed that this does not become a custom or common practice, if it should be so, we shall soon find the consequences to be
It seems to be on the same foundation, of the supposed unprofitableness of external order, that it has been