Puslapio vaizdai

I perceive that that vile and rotten principle, unworthy of a Christian who is a child of light and of the day, is taken up by many, That it is no matter how little we know, if we do but practise what we know: what a cheat hath the Devil put upon them! hath not God commanded you to know more, as well as to practise what you know? is it likely you should practise what you know upon God's command, who will not upon his command increase your knowledge? And yet this is the usual plea of profane men: ask them why they frequent the public ordinances so seldom, they will tell you, they know more by one sermon, than they can practise: but how can such make conscience of practising, who make none of knowing, though the same God hath enjoined them both? Yea, though they cannot practise what they know, yet let me tell them, that, for those, who live under the means of grace and may be instructed if they will, it may be as great a sin to omit a duty, out of neglect of knowing it, as out of neglect of doing it: yea, and much greater we should ourselves judge that servant, who, while we are speaking to him, stops his ears on purpose that he might not hear what we command him; we should, I say, judge him worthy of more stripes, than he, who gives diligent ear to our commands, although he will not obey them. So it is, in this case: thou, who stoppest thine ears, and wilt not so much as hear what the will of thy Lord and Master is, deservest much more punishment, than he, who takes pains to know it, although he doth it not: it is damnable, not to give God the service which he requires; but, O insolence! not to give God, thy Lord and Master, so much as the hearing! hath God sent man into the world, and sent the Scriptures after, as letters of instruction what we should do for him here; and will it, thinkest thou, be a sufficient excuse, when thou returnest to thy Lord, that it is true thou hadst instructions, but never openedst them, never lookedst into them? what a fearful contempt is this cast upon the Great God, never so much as to enquire what his will is! whether or no he commands that, which is fit and reasonable for ús to perform! And, therefore, refuse not to search and study the Scriptures, upon pretence that the knowledge of what you cannot fulfil will but aggravate your sin and condemnation: for, be assured of it, greater sin and sorer condemnation can no man have, than he, who neglects the means of knowledge, thereby to disoblige himself from practice: and, again, the Scriptures were given to assist us in the performance of those duties, which

they require from us: they do not only inform the judgment, but quicken the will and affections, and strengthen the whole soul to its duty.

And this is in Answer to the First Objection.

2. Some will say, that the reading of the Scriptures possesseth them with strange fears, and fills them with incredible terrors. It raiseth up such dreadful apparitions of hell and the wrath of God, as make them a terror to themselves.

To this I answer,

(1) It may be, thy condition is such as requires it.

Possibly, thou art in a state of wrath; and wouldst thou not be under the apprehensions of it? Thou art under the guilt of thy sins; and, then, no wonder that the voice of God should be terrible unto thee. It is most unreasonable to hate the word, as Ahab hated Micaiah, because it prophesieth no good concerning thee: alas! what good can it speak, so long as thou thyself continuest evil?

(2) It is not so much the Scripture, as thine own evil conscience, that haunts and terrifies thee.


When thou readest that dreadful threatening, Ezek. xviii. 4. The soul that sinneth, it shall die, there were nothing of terror in it, did not thy guilty conscience witness against thee, that thou art the man it is this, that turns and levels all God's artillery against thee. Get, therefore, a conscience pacified upon good grounds; and the very threatening of the Word will speak to thee, not so much terror from the dreadfulness of the wrath and condemnation denounced, as joy, that thou hast escaped it.

(3) It may be, the Word of God, by working in thee the spirit of fear, is preparing thee for the Spirit of Adoption; for that, usually, ushers in this.

We find the gaoler trembling, before we find him rejoicing, There were mighty and rending winds, earthquakes, and fire, all terrible; before there came the still voice, in which God was, 1 Kings xix. 12: so God, in convictions, many times prepares the way by thunders and earthquakes, by the thundering of his word and the trembling of our own consciences, before he comes to us in the still and sweet voice of peace and comfort. And, certainly, they are much more afraid than hurt, whom God by his terrors thus frights into heaven.

3. But some may still say, their fears are so strong, that they will drive them into desperation or distraction, if they longer pore on those dreadful things, which the Scripture contains.

I answer, there is not one line or syllable in the whole Book of God, that gives the least ground for despair. Nay, there are the most supporting comforts, which a poor, fearful, trembling soul can desire: Come unto me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Come unto me, and I will in no wise cast you out. Return unto the Lord....and he will abundantly pardon: Isa. lv. 7. 1, even I, am he, that blotteth out and forgetteth your sins; and innumerable such like. Now, if men will only take the Sword of the Spirit to wound them, and not also the Balm of the Spirit to heal them, they may, through their own fault, especially when they read the Scriptures with the Devil's commentaries, fret themselves into despair.

4. Some may say, "Certainly, it cannot be thus necessary, that the Word of Christ should dwell thus richly and abundantly in all Christians. It is requisite, indeed, for ministers, whose calling it is to teach and instruct others, that they should have this abundance of Scripture dwelling in them; but, for us, who are to receive the law at their mouth, a competent knowledge in the fundamentals of religion may well be sufficient. We know, that Christ is the Son of God; that he came into the world to save sinners; and that, if we would be saved by him, we must believe in him and such chief points of Christianity, which are sufficient to salvation."

To this I answer,

(1) God may well expect a more plentiful measure of the Word to dwell in ministers; because it is not only their general, but particular calling to peruse and study it.

There is, therefore, a twofold fullness: a fullness of the private Christian; and a fullness of the Treasurer or Steward, to whose charge the oracles of God are committed, and who is to communicate knowledge to the people. This being the minister's office, it is his duty, especially, to abound and to be enriched in the knowledge of the Scripture.


(2) Wherefore must the Word of Christ dwell so richly in ministers? Is it for themselves only, or is it to instruct their flock? What! And can it be necessary for them to teach, and yet unnecessary for you to learn? Are they bound to search into the depth of Gospel-Mysteries, to inform you of them; and is it enough for you, only to know the first principles and rudiments? Certainly, whatsoever God requires the minister to teach, that he requires you to learn. Now would you yourselves

judge the minister to have sufficiently discharged his duty, that should only in the general preach, that we are all sinners; that Christ, the Son of God, came into the world to save us; that the glory of heaven and the torments of hell shall be the rewards of obedience, or disobedience? if these few absolutely necessary and fundamental truths were all, you might well think the ministry to be a very easy or a very needless office. If, then, it is our duty to reveal to you the whole counsel of God, and to withhold nothing from you of all those mysteries which the Scripture contains, whereof some give life, others light, some are vital, others ornamental; you cannot with reason but conclude, that, if we are obliged to teach these things, you also are obliged to learn and know them.

(3) It is a most destructive principle, that many have, through sloth and laziness, taken up, That a little knowledge will suffice to bring them to heaven.

Certainly, God would never have revealed so many deep and profound mysteries in his Word, if it were not necessary that they should be known and believed. Shall we think all the rest of the Bible superfluous, except a few plain practical texts? What God hath recorded in the Scripture, is written for our instruction. It is true, if we have not the means of instruction, nor are in a possibility of attaining it, a less measure of knowledge, answered by a conscientious practice, may suffice for our salvation: but, for us, who have line upon line and precept upon precept, for us to satisfy ourselves with a few of the common principles, slighting the rest as nice and unnecessary points, for us to neglect knowledge, argues defect of grace; for, wheresoever true grace is, there will be a most earnest endeavour to grow daily in both: and yet multitudes every where, even of those who abhor grosser sins, as swearing, drunkenness, and the like, yet take up with a few notions of religion, that all are sinners and all must perish, unless Christ save them, &c. This they knew, as soon as they knew any thing; and more than this, they will not know: they will not trouble their heads with any farther discoveries, nor look deep into the mysteries of godliness; contenting themselves that they have, as they think, knowledge enough to bring them to heaven. Let me tell them, that though, where there are not means of knowledge, a little may suffice for salvation; yet, where God doth afford plentiful means, the knowledge of those very things becomes necessary to them, which others might safely be ignorant of.

This is in Answer to the Fourth Objection.

5. Some may object, that they have found, by experience, that the study of Scripture hath many times made them the worse: it hath alarmed their lusts, and put them in an uproar. Such and such suits were quiet, till they read in the Word a command against them therefore, they are discouraged, and think it best to forbear the study of the Scripture; since they find, that, by forbidding sin, it only rouses and awakens it.

I answer,

(1) This was St. Paul's very case: Rom. vii. 8. Sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence.

Now this effect is merely accidental, and is not to be imputed unto the holy Word of God, but to the wicked heart of man, which takes a hint (so desperately corrupt is it) from God's forbidding sin, to put itself in mind of committing it.

(2) Thou complainest, that the Word exciteth to corruptions; but it doth it no otherwise, than the sun draws smoke and stink out of a dunghill.

It doth not increase, but unhappily excites them: the very same lusts lay hid in the heart before: there they lay, like so many vipers and serpents, asleep, till the light and warmth of the Word made them stir and crawl about. And this advantage thou mayest make of it, that, when thy corruptions swarm thick about thee, upon the disturbance which the Law of God hath made among them, thou mayest thence see what a wicked heart and nature thou hast; how much filth and mud there lieth at the bottom of it, which presently riseth upon the first stirring: this may make thee vile in thine own eyes, and deeply humbled under the sad and serious consideration of thy indwelling sin : it is the very use, which the Apostle makes, in the same case: Rom. vii. 24. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? When humours are in motion, we soon perceive what is the state of our body; and when corruptions are once stirred, we may thereby easily know the state and condition of our souls.

(3) The same Word, which doth thus occasionally stir up sin, is the best means to beat it down.

You may perceive by this, that there is somewhat in the Word, which is extremely contrary to your sins, since they do so rise and arm against it: their great enemy is upon them; and this alarm, that they take, is but before their overthrow. It may

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