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No. 7. Of the church's endeavouring to go on toward perfection.
Perfection is an object which the church ought constantly to have in view. Leaving, says the apostle Paul, the principles of the oracles of God, let us go on unto perfection. The church as well as every believer ought to imitate the example of that apostle which he sets before us in these words; Not as though I had already attained; or were already perfect: but this one thing I do: forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth to those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. The propensity to know or attain something new, is, in itself, a necessary principle of our nature as reasonable creatures, and directed by the word and Spirit of God, produces excellent effect; but in our nature, as deprived and destitute of that direction, it degenerates into a capricious fondness for novelty, or into the affectation, ascribed to the Athenians, of telling and hearing some new thing, without regard to its real value or usefulness. The prevalence of this evil in the christian is both a sign and a cause of spiritual declension; as he there. by loses the relish he once had for many of the truths and ordinances of Christ; and it is a great source of error and corruption in the visible church. But this evil may be distinguished from the scriptural endeavours of the church of Christ to make progress in the knowledge and profession of the truth in the following respects :
First, by the church's care to receive all her new information with regard to truth or duty, upon no less authority than that of God, speaking to us in the holy scriptures. Real advances in reformation, either in the case of a particular christian, or in that of the church, are the fruit of diligence in searching the scriptures. See an example to this purpose in Nehem. xiii. 1, and 3. Every proposal of a new step in reformation, should be evidently supported either by the express words, or by the necessary consequence of what is written.
Secondly, by her sincere endeavours to hold fast the measure of conformity to the word of God, which she has attained; according to the charge that our Lord gives the church in Philadelphia, Revel. iii. 10; and the apostle's direction in Philip. iii. 16. It may be justly denied, that there are any real scriptural attainments of christians, either in their individual or in their united capacity, that have a native tendency to render them less careful to retain any particular acknowledged point of Divine truth, or less attentive to any particular acknowledged duty, than they were before. To neglect to insert in our testimony particular articles of faith or practice, which had been inserted in it in opposition to errors which are still avowed and acted on, under the pretence, that we still retain in our testimony the general principles of truth and duty, is going backward, instead of going forward unto perfection. It is to decline an open unequivocal confession of some part of Christ's name; while that evil is greatly aggravated by our former confession of it.
Thirdly, by the tendency of new attainments, to promote a due regard to the examples of the church's former attainments. These examples are instructive, as they serve to illustrate those parts of the Divine rule to which they are conformable. Hence, that direction in Song i. 8. The several parts of truth and duty, exhibited in the scripture, are so uniform and consistent, that they recommend one another: they are so much of a piece, that they are called one way: and, with regard to the examples of those who have gone before us, they are called the old way, Jerem. vi. 16. Our new advances in reformation should be so much of a piece with the examples of the Lord's people in former times, as to be, on the matter, nothing else but our walking forward in the same old way.
That the associate presbytery first, and the associate synod afterward, have not altogether failed in their endeavours to aim at farther attainments in reformation, cannot well be denied, by such as are duly acquainted with their Judicial Testimony; their act concerning the doctrine of grace; the declaration of their principles concerning civil government; their act concerning the renewing of the national covenant of Scotland, and of the Solemn League of England, Scotland and Ireland; their decisions concerning the religious clause of some burgess oaths, and concerning the mason oath; their act concerning particular redemption; their testimony against lord Kames' scheme of liberty in the censure of Mr. Pirie, who had attempted to propagate that scheme among their young men who studied under him with a view to the ministry.
No. 8. Of the cause of God. All the truths, ordinances and offices, which the Lord hath made known to his church, are to be considered as belonging to his cause.
There is much opposition mad to the cause of God by different bodies of christians, who profess to be cleaving to it. For if these truths, ordinances of worship, and form of government, which God hath revealed and enjoined by his authority, tend to promote his glory, in the conversion, edification and complete salvation of souls; then, every deviation from these, must have some opposite tendency.
One of the methods by which God pleads his cause, in a time of general apostacy from it, is that of disposing and enabling a number of persons to hold it fast. They are as prone to wander from God's way as other men.
God is not indebted to the friends of his cause: they owe whatever faithfulness in adhering to his cause they attain, to his free grace. They are not to be viewed as a set of men, united in a party, for some notions of their own, or for their own cause, in opposition to other parties. But, if the religious principles they profess and abide by, are warranted by Divine authority, then they are witnesses for God; and Godóis, by their means, holding forth his cause to men, and calling them to embrace it.
A Sermon, by Robert Chalmers, on Psalın Ixxiv. 22. Pages 13, 29, 30.
No. 9. Of the duty of adhering faithfully to a testimony against the
errors and corruptions of the present times: an extract from the application of a discourse delivered before the associate synod in Scotland, in the year 1776, by the Rev. Archibald Bruce, professor of Divinity in Whitburn.
In the first place, It is the duty of all, whether ministers or private christians, to be fully persuaded in their own minds, that what they appear
for is the cause of God; or, in other words, that it is warranted in his word, and conducive to his glory and interests in the world : a persuasion, which is necessary, not only with regard to the general articles which they hold in common with others, but also with regard to those particulars, wherein they are distinguished from them; and on account of which they maintain a separate communion. Without this persuasion on scriptural grounds, their separation from the national churches or other denominations of christians, cannot be effectually justified. Whatsoever is not of faith, is sin. It is a great absurdity and iniquity to patronize or promote any separate cause, in opposition to fellow-protestants, which, we are not maturely convinced in our consciences, is the LORD'S cause. Without such a conviction, we could not consider what we do or suffer for that cause, as done or suffered for his name's sake; nor could we consistently seek or expect his blessing and countenance in such a course.
Secondly, it is necessary, in the present times, to be remembered, that every part of the cause of God and trath, is not only to be acknowledged, but contended for. The formal ground on which the doctrines and injunctions of the REDEEMER are to be received and contended for, is their being revealed or enjoined by the Divine Lawgiver of the church; and the formal reason, for which errors and corruptions must be testified against and purged out, is their contrariety to his will and authority. As that authority is the highest, and as it is the same in all his doctrines and injunctions, it must be an offence of the most dangerous nature to pretend to set aside that authority, or to violate it in the least as well as in the greatest. According to the loose casuistry of many teachers and professors, no truth is to be held and contended for, simply as truth, but only as a great and saving truth ; nor any error condemned as an error, but because it is a great and damnable one: corruption is not to be contended against, as contrary to the word of GOD and the edification of Christ's body in its progress to perfection, but merely as inconsistent with a gracious state, and the possibility of being saved ;-no matter what become of the glory of God, the honour and authority of the laws of CHRIST, the public good and purity of the church: these are small matters; but man's chief and highest end is to save his soul, and the ultimate scope of his religion is himself. Abominable pernicious doctrine, contrary to the answer of the first question in our Catechism, and to one of the first principles of all religion! And what scheme can be more narrow and selfish than this, with all its pretensions to uncommon charity and liberality.
The latitudinarian scheme, which prevails so much in the Protestant churches, whatever may be the views of its promoters, is plainly at war
with the principles and interests of the reformation; and, if carried to all its extent, must tend to weaken and subvert christianity itself.
“ Christ's small things,” said Mr. Livingston, “ are great things. 6 It might be proved to you, that there never was a controversy since 6 the beginning of the world, even touching the most momentous truths, 6 that was not accounted a small thing, while it was an occasion of 66 trial.”
In the third place, Faithful witnesses for God must pay a special attention and regard to what may be denominated, by way of distinction, the present truth, and exert themselves for maintaining those parts of his cause and testimony which are more immediately controverted, and chiefly opposed. We read of the present truth which christians are both to know and be established in, 2 Pet. i. 12; and the word of CHRIST'S patience, which some are commended for having kept, Revel. ii. 10. Whatever strikes against present error or sin; whatever is most attacked and opposed by force or fraud; that which professors are under the greatest temptation to lose or relin
sh; that, for the maintaining of which, they are exposed to the greatest hardships and suffering, and to a peculiar trial of their faith and patience, may be so called. So that what has been formerly the present truth, and the word of Christ's patience, may cease to be so; and what has not hitherto been, or at present is not, may become such hereafter. There is no article, whether relating to the appointed faith, worship, government, discipline, or manners of the christian church, but may, in its turn, become thus eminently distinguished. Paul terms that, for which he was presently suffering imprisonment at Rome, the testimony of our Lord Jesus, 2 Tim. i. 8. John applies the same expression to the cause of his banishment to the isle of Patmos, and afterwards to the particular causes of contending and suffering under antichrist, Revel. i. 2, 9. xii. 17. Hence it is easy to see, though many consider it as a paradox, that there may be multitudes of professors, and
among them too, when yet Christ's witnesses may be few, very few. Churches and professors therein may retain many great and precious articles of the christian profession; and yet the testimony of Jesus, in this view of it, may be wanting
If a man were called to bear witness in a litigated cause, though he should speak truth in all other points, yet if he contradicted it in the single point in debate, or if he withheld his evidence, or could say nothing to the purpose relative to the present matter in question, his testimony would go for nothing. Thus, though persons should be faithful in many things, and orthodox in a thousand articles; yet if they be not so in those which are presently contested, or take a wrong side, were it but in one point, on which, as on a binge, the testimony for the time turns, they must hereby lose the honour of being faithful witnesses, or helpers of the cause of God, in the manner in which it is then stated, and in the precise points to which it is then in a manner reduced. What praise is it for a man to hold fast what none attempts to take from him? To testify where there is no strife; to contend where there is no antagonist or quarrel; or to carry on å vigorous war in a time of profound peace, sounds very like a contradiction in terms.
Fourthly, It is the duty of such as are contending for truth and reformation, to take the Lord's own ways for promoting his service, such ways as he himself appoints and approves. They must be attentive to walk in plain paths, because of observers. They are restricted to the use of such methods and means only as are warrantable and proper; and the use of any other must tend rather to mar and disgrace, than advance the cause that is Divine; which has no need either of the inventions or corruptions of men to be called in to its aid. His work is to be advanced by those means only that are conformable to its nature. The goodness of the cause or of the intention will not sanctify any unwarrantable mean.
When David and his company put the ark into a cart to bring it into its place, they intended to do it honour; yet the manner in which it was done displeased the Lord : and when Uzzah, out of pious concern for the ark, put forth his hand and touched it, when it shook by the stumbling of the oxen, the Lord smote him, and made a breach among the people; because all this was seeking him out of the due order. Not by might nor by power, much less by dishonest wiles and stratagems, or wicked Machiavelian politics, is the cause of true religion and righteousness to be maintained and propagated in the earth. All deceit, fraud, injustice, wrath, bitterness, railing, evil surmising, detraction and evil-speakings, are to be laid aside, as utterly improper, having nothing to do in any cause that is the Lord's. Those, who have received the ministry, ought especially, in imitation of the holy apostles, to renounce the hidden things of dishonesty in all their proceedings, not walking in craftiness, not handling the word of God deceitfully; but, by manifestation of the truth, recommending themselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.
Fifthly, Zeal for the glory of God, and the interests of religion, becomes all who have espoused his cause. These are objects which deserve to be promoted with the utmost earnestness and fervency of spirit. The Redeemer hath expressed the highest disgust with those who are neither cold nor hot; and to such he says, Be zealous and repent. This duty stands opposed to that indolent and neutral frame of heart, which makes persons neglect, or coldly improve opportunities of doing good, and disposes them passively and tamely to suffer the progress of evil. There are indeed frequent instances of a blind, partial, imprudent, and furious zeal, with which some have been affected but not well; but this is no reason for condemning or explod ing that which is enlightened, regulated, uniform, disinterested, and upright. The danger of a false and unscriptural zeal should teach us to take heed what manner of spirit we are of, and to be well informed and assured of the cause in which we engage: but when these are duly attended to, what can be more reasonable, more conducive to public good, more becoming the christian profession, more conformably to scriptural examples, more Christ-like and God-like, than to be exceedingly jealous for the LORD GOD OF HOSTS, and keen in opposition to those evils which dishonour his name, and injure his interests and people? Shall this be reckoned bigotry, rage, or enthusiasm ? Let the Gallios of the world, the graceless and disaffected, call it so, if they please; but the friends of religion, instead of being ashamed, have cause to glory in such a temper and spirit; and may say, as the