For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.
~ 2 Peter 2:20-22
Truly ye bear witness that ye allow the deeds of your fathers: for they indeed killed them, and ye build their sepulchres.
~ Luke 11:48
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
~ Matthew 7:21-22
Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works:
~ 2 Timothy 4:14
Apostasy from the Gospel, An Exposition of Hebrews 6:4-6, by John Owen. The following contains Chapters Four, Five and Six of his work.
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.
~ Hebrews 6:4-6
THE REASONS AND CAUSES OF APOSTASY FROM THE TRUTH OR DOCTRINE OF THE GOSPEL, AND THE INCLINATION OF ALL SORTS OF PERSONS THEREUNTO IN ALL AGES, INQUIRED INTO AND DECLARED — UNCURED ENMITY IN THE MINDS OF MANY AGAINST SPIRITUAL THINGS, AND THE EFFECTS OF IT IN A WICKED CONVERSATION, THE FIRST CAUSE OF APOSTASY.
For an entrance into the ensuing discourse, I shall lay down that principle which, I presume, all men will give their assent unto, — namely, that a defection from the truth of the gospel once professed is a sin of the highest guilt, and that which will issue in the most pernicious events. God himself did frequently complain, by his prophets of old, that his people “had forsaken him,” and were gone away from him, — that is, from the doctrine and institutions of his law, the only means of conjunction and communion between him and them, Deuteronomy 28:20; 1 Samuel 8:8; 2 Chronicles 34:25; Jeremiah 5:7,19, 16:11. To convince them of their horrible folly and iniquity herein, he demands of them what iniquity they had seen in him, what inequality in his ways, what disappointments they had met withal, that they should grow weary of his laws and worship, so as to relinquish them for such things and ways as would end in their temporal and eternal ruin, Jeremiah 2:5, Ezekiel 18:25: for if there were nothing in them whereof they had cause to complain; if they were all holy, just, and good; if in the observance of them there was great reward; if by them God did them good and not evil all their days, — there was no apology or excuse to be made for their folly and ingratitude. That so it was with them, that their defection from the law and institutions of God was the highest folly and greatest wickedness imaginable, is by all acknowledged: yea, it will be so by them who at the same time are under a greater guilt of the same kind; for the judgments of men are ofttimes so bribed by their present interests, or corrupted by the power of depraved affections, as to justify themselves in worse evils than those which they condemn in others. But as it was with the people of old, so it is at present with them who decline from the mysteries or renounce the doctrines of the gospel, after they have been received and professed by them, or have done so at any time: yea, their guilt hath greater aggravations than accompanied the idolatrous revolts of the Jews of old; for the gospel is a clearer revelation of God, and much more glorious, than that which was made by the law. There is therefore no reason to be taken from itself why men should desert it, either in its doctrines and precepts or the worship which it doth require. Nothing can be charged on the gospel, nothing on any thing contained in it or produced by it, which should countenance any in a defection from it. It is in itself a blessed emanation from the eternal Fountain of wisdom and truth, and hath more impressions and characters upon it of divine excellencies than the whole creation besides. Neither hath it any proper operations or effects on the souls of men but what are means and causes of deliverance from their original apostasy from God, with all the evil that ensued thereon, which is all that is evil; for the recovery of lost mankind from a state of darkness, bondage, and misery, into that of liberty, light, and peace, the present favor and future enjoyment of God, with order and mutual usefulness in this world whilst they continue therein, is the great and immediate design of the truths of the gospel. Neither is there any thing that is truly good, holy, just, benign, or useful among men, but what is influenced by them and derived from them. Some there have been, indeed, perhaps in all ages, who, pretending unto the liberty of it, have really been servants of corruption, and have turned the grace of God into lasciviousness; and some have charged the principal doctrines of it as those which give men a discharge from a necessity of holy obedience and the utmost use of their own endeavors therein. And there are those who, being given up to sensuality of life, living under the power of darkness, in the pursuit of secular ends, have no other thoughts of it But what the devils in the possessed man had of our Lord Jesus Christ, — that it comes to “torment them before the time.” And there are not wanting some who fear no evil But from the gospel, who suppose that the minds of all men would be serene and peaceable, that all things would be quiet, flourishing, and orderly in the world, if the gospel were out of it; for whatever disturbances men make themselves, in envy, wrath, malice, persecution of others, the guilt and blame of them shall be charged on the gospel itself. And it is notoriously known how a false pretense of some grants made in, and appointments settled by, the gospel, hath been made use of to countenance some sorts of men in the crafty acquisition and violent possession of worldly power, grandeur, and wealth, venting themselves in ambition, cruelty, luxury, and pride of life. But the iniquity and folly of all these abominations, cursed artifices of the father of lies and fountain of malice, shall be, if God will, elsewhere discovered. At present I shall take it for granted that in itself it is a glorious representation of divine wisdom, goodness, grace, and love; neither doth it produce any effects but whereof God is the immediate author, and will be the everlasting rewarder. Wherefore the reasons and causes of apostasy from the part of the gospel under present consideration, — that is, the mysteries and truth of its doctrine, — must be searched for in the minds of them by whom it is forsaken, with the external furtherances that do accompany them.
It is not unnecessary such an inquiry should be engaged into; for things are in that posture and condition in the Christian world in this present age, that if it should be supposed that the lives of professed Christians do make a due representation of the gospel, that the generality of men were led and influenced into that course of life and conversation which they openly pursue by the doctrines and principles of it, it could scarce stand in competition with heathenish philosophy for usefulness unto the glory of God and the good or advantage of mankind. It is not, therefore, the gospel, but it is apostasy from it, which hath produced so many deplorable effects in the world, and which, by drenching mankind in wickedness, makes way for their misery and ruin. And this, in the vindication of the gospel, will be made in some measure to appear in the discovery of the causes and reasons of this apostasy; for let men pretend what they please, unless they have first forsaken the gospel in their hearts and minds, they would not, they could not, forsake all rules of holiness and morality also in their lives.
Again; the prevalency of this defection is so great, and the neglect of men (either intent on their private occasions, desires, and interests, or captivated under the power of it unto the approbation of the greatest and most dangerous evils) so visible and shameful, as that every sincere attempt to warn them of their danger, to excite them unto their duty, or direct them in its performance, whereby the progress of this product of the counsels of hell may be obstructed and themselves defeated, ought to have a candid reception of all those who have a due regard unto the interest of Christ and the gospel in the world, or the everlasting concernments of their own souls.
These are the general ends which are aimed at in the ensuing discourses; and if any one of greater abilities for this work shall be hereby provoked, or take occasion from hence, to make a more diligent inquiry into the causes and reasons of that defection from the glory and power of Christian religion which prevails in the world, and shall thereon prescribe more suitable and effectual remedies for the healing of this epidemical distemper, I shall rest abundantly satisfied in the success of this attempt and essay. And the reasons which present themselves to my thoughts are these that follow.
I. That rooted enmity which is in the minds of men by nature unto spiritual things, abiding uncured under the profession of the gospel, is the original and first spring of this apostasy. So the apostle tells us that “the carnal mind is enmity against God,” Romans 8:7; — that is, unto the revelation of the will and mind of God in Christ, with the obedience which he requireth thereunto; for of these things doth he there discourse. The nature of this enmity, and how it operateth on the minds of men, I have elsewhere f6 declared at large, and shall not here again insist upon it. It is sufficient unto our present purpose that men, on various accounts, may take upon them the profession of the truths of the gospel whilst this enmity unto spiritual things abides uncured, yea, predominant in their minds. So was it with them of whom the apostle complains that under their profession they manifested themselves, by their wicked lives, to be “enemies of the cross of Christ,” Philippians 3:18; as those also are who, “professing that they know God, do yet in works deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and to every good work reprobate,” Titus 1:16.
Thus, upon the first preaching of the gospel, many were convinced of its truth, and took upon them its profession, merely on account of the miracles that were wrought in its confirmation, whose hearts and minds were not in the least reconciled unto the things contained in it. See John 2:23,24; Acts 8:13.
Some are so far prevailed with as to acknowledge its truth, by the efficacy of its dispensation as an ordinance of God for their conviction and instruction, and yet do not part with their enmity against it. Thus John was among the Jews as “a burning and a shining light,” and they rejoiced for a season in his ministry, John 5:35, insomuch that the body of the people were initiated into his doctrine by the token and pledge of it in baptism, Matthew 3:5,6; but though all of them confessed their sins, according to his direction, very few forsook them, according to their duty.
When both these concurred, preaching and miracles, in an eminent manner, as when our Savior preached on his feeding five thousand with five barley loaves and two small fishes, being prepared in their minds by the miracle they saw, they were so affected with his doctrine about “the bread of life that came down from heaven,” that they cried out, “Lord, evermore give us this bread,” John 6:34; but, their natural enmity unto spiritual things being yet uncured, upon his procedure to instruct them in heavenly mysteries, they put in exceptions to his doctrine, verses 41, 52, 60, and immediately forsook both him and it, verse 66. And our Savior assigns the reason of their defection to have been their unbelief, and that it was not given unto them of the Father to come unto him, verses 64,65, or the enmity of their carnal minds was yet unremoved. Hence what they esteemed a hard and unintelligible saying, verses 52, 60, his true disciples understood to be “the words of eternal life,” verse 68.
In process of time, many are prepossessed with notions of the truth of the gospel in their education, by the outward means of instruction that have been applied unto them; but yet, notwithstanding this advantage, they may. still abide under the power of this depravation of their minds.
Evangelical truths being by these or the like means entertained in the minds of men, which are also variously affected with them, they will move and act towards their proper end and design. And hereof there are three parts: —
1. To take off the soul of man from rest and satisfaction in itself, as unto present peace in the condition wherein it is, and hope of future blessedness by its own endeavors; for neither of these are we capable of in our depraved, apostate state. Wherefore the first work of the gospel is to influence, guide, and direct the minds of men to renounce themselves as to these ends, and to seek after righteousness, life, peace, and blessedness, by Jesus Christ.
2. The renovation of our minds, wills, and affections, into the image or likeness of God, is another part of its design. And this it doth by presenting spiritual things unto us in that light and evidence, with that power and efficacy, as to transform us into their likeness, or to bring the substantial image of them upon our whole souls, 2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 4:23, 24; Colossians 3:10.
3. It engageth the whole soul, in all its powers and faculties, through the whole course of its activity, or in all it doth, to live unto God in all holy obedience, Romans 12:1. But when this work, or any part of it, is urged on the consciences and practice of men, they like it not in any measure. The uncured enmity whereof we speak riseth up in opposition unto them all. It begins to suppose that it hath admitted a troublesome inmate, that came in, as it were, to sojourn, and will now be a judge. Whilst the mind is exercised only about the notions of truth in speculation and reasonings, it is satisfied and pleased with them; yea, it will come unto a compliance with its guidance in sundry things and duties which it may perform, and yet abide upon its old foundations of self-sufficiency and satisfaction, Mark 6:20. But when, in pursuit of the ends before mentioned, the gospel presseth to take men off wholly from their old foundations and principles of nature, to work them unto a universal change in powers, faculties, operations, and ends, to make them new creatures, it proves irksome unto that enmity which is predominant in them; which therefore stirreth up all the lusts of the mind and the flesh, all the deceitful policies of the old man and powers of sin, all carnal and unmortified affections, in opposition unto it. Hence spiritual truths are first neglected, then despised, and at last, on easy terms, parted withal. For men, by conviction, and on rational grounds or motives, whether natural or spiritual, may receive that as truth, and give an assent unto it, which, when it should be reduced unto practice, the will and affections will not comply withal. So it is said of some, that ouvk evdoki,masan to.n Qeo.n e;cein evpignw,sei, Romans 1:28, — “it liked them not,” it pleased them not, they approved not of it, “to hold,” retain, or keep, “God in their knowledge,” or to continue in that acknowledgment of him whereof they were convinced. The inbred notions which they had by the light of nature, with their consideration of the works of creation and providence, gave them conceptions and apprehensions of the being and power of God, verses 19,20. Hereby they are said to “know God,” as they did with respect to the things mentioned; that is, the essential properties of his nature, — “his eternal power and Godhead,” verse 21. This knowledge, these notions and conceptions, did immediately direct them to “glorify him as God,” in holy worship and obedience, as it is expressed in the same verse; but this, through the depravation of their minds and affections, they liked not, and therefore would not retain this knowledge of him, but gave themselves up unto all abominable idolatries and brutish lusts, which were inconsistent therewithal, as the apostle at large declares. Wherefore, even as unto divine things that are conveyed unto us by natural light, and such as is unavoidable unto all mankind, the will, the affections, and the practical understanding are more vitiated and corrupted than are the preceptive and directive powers of the mind; and hence it was that all the world, who had nothing to conduct them but the light of nature, apostatized from its guidance, and lived in contrariety unto it. They were all rebels against that light which they had; and so will all mankind be without the especial grace of God.
It is so also with respect unto truths communicated by supernatural revelation. It is given as the character of those who were to carry on the great apostasy from the mysteries and worship of the gospel, that “they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved,” 2 Thessalonians 2:10. The truth itself, as to the profession of it, they did receive and own for a time; but such an approbation of it, such a love unto it, as should incline them unto obedience, or the improvement of it unto its proper ends, that so they might be saved, they neither had nor endeavored after. This made them prone, on all occasions and temptations, to forego and relinquish the profession of it, to change it for the vilest errors and grossest superstitions; for in such a posture of mind, men’s corruptions will prevail against their convictions. First they will stifle the truth as to its operation, and then reject it as to its profession. Let other notions be proposed unto them more suited unto the vanity of their minds or the sensuality of their affections, and they will not fail of a ready entertainment.
There are instances among all sorts of men, how, when they have imbibed persuasions and opinions, even such as are false, vain, and foolish, and have them riveted in their minds by powerful interests or inveterate prejudices, neither the evidence of truth nor the fear of danger can prevail with them for their renunciation or relinquishment. All false ways in Christianity, and that of Mohammedanism, give us examples hereof. But we have two general instances of it that may well fill the minds of men with astonishment. The first is of the Jews, who for so many successive generations, under all manner of difficulties and calamities, continue obstinate in the most irrational unbelief and apostasy from the faith of Abraham their forefather and the expectation of all their ancestors that can enter into the heart of any man to imagine. For many generations, those who from among them have been so convinced of their folly as really and sincerely to embrace the gospel do scarce answer one unto a century of years. The other is in the church of Rome. It is known how that communion aboundeth with men otherwise wise and learned, what kings and rulers of the earth do adhere thereunto; and this they continue to do, and will do so, notwithstanding that the errors, impieties, superstitions, and idolatries of that church are so many and so manifest. Other instances there are sufficiently pregnant to evince that no opinions in religion can be so foolish or contemptible but that some will be found pertinaciously to adhere unto them against all endeavors for their relief, either in the way of God by rational and spiritual convictions, or in the way of the world by persecution.
It may be more may and will be found to be obstinate in error upon trials, with difficulties, dangers, and oppositions, than will on the like trials be constant in the profession of the truth, — I mean among them who together with its external profession have not received its internal power and efficacy, with the love of it in their hearts: for both sorts receive their notions and apprehensions of things in the same way, and on the same grounds of appearing reasons, though the understanding be imposed on and deceived in the one and not in the other; but error once received under the notion of truth takes firmer root in the carnal minds of men than truth doth or can whilst their minds are so carnal. And the reason of it is, because all error is some way suited unto the mind as thus depraved, and there is nothing in it that is enmity thereunto.
Neither in itself nor any of its effects doth the mind dislike it, for being fallen off from the first Truth and Goodness, it wanders and delights to wander in crooked or by paths of its own; for “God made man upright, but they have sought out many inventions,” Ecclesiastes 7:29. These it pleaseth itself withal and is conformed unto; for there is somewhat in every error to recommend itself unto the vanity, or curiosity, or pride, or superstition of the carnal mind. But it is otherwise with evangelical truths, which the mind disrelisheth because of its innate enmity unto the things which they propose and exhibit. Hence it is easier, for the most part, to draw off a thousand from the profession of it, who have no experience of its power and efficacy in their souls, than to turn one from an erroneous way, especially if he be confirmed in it by interest and prejudice. And so it is at present in the world. Every sort or party of false professors, as Papists and others, do carry off multitudes of common professors from the truth which they had owned, but seldom do we hear of any one recovered from their snares. Nor need any seducers desire a greater advantage than to have admittance unto their work where persons live in an outward profession of the truth and inward enmity unto it. They shall be filled with proselytes unto satiety.
This was the fundamental cause of that apostasy from the doctrine and truths of the gospel which has prevailed in almost the whole visible church. Had the generality of men received the truth in the love thereof, had they not had a secret enmity in their hearts and minds against it, had not things vain, curious, and superstitious been suited unto the prevailing principles of their minds and affections, they would not, they could not, upon any suggestions or temptations, so easily, so universally, have forsaken the gospel for the traditions of men, nor gone away from Christ to follow after Antichrist, as we know them to have done. But when an external profession of the truth became to be transmitted from one generation to another, the spirit and power of it being wholly neglected, men did but wait for opportunities gradually to part with it, and give it up for any thing else that was suggested unto them, many in the meantime setting their wits on work to find out inventions suited to their lusts and corrupt affections. That it was thus with them who were carried away with the great apostasy, that they did by all outward ways and means, in their lives and conversations, manifest that so it was with them, shall be afterward declared; and had it not been so with them, the event complained of had not ensued.
And herein lies the present danger of the persons, churches, and nations, which at this day make profession of the gospel: for if a pressing trial or vigorous temptation, if a coincidence of various ways and means of seduction, do befall them who have received the truth, but not in the love and power of it, they will be hardly preserved from a general apostasy; for when any attempts shall be made from without upon them, they have treachery from the deceitfulness of their own hearts at the same time working in them, for their uncured enmity against the truth doth but watch for an opportunity to part with it and reject it. Any thing that will but free them from the efficacy of those convictions or power of the traditions under which they are held captive unto the profession of the truth, as it were whether they will or no, shall be cheerfully embraced and complied withal. And the danger hereof doth sufficiently evidence itself in that open dislike of the rule and conduct of the truth which most men testify in the whole course of their lives.
It is plain, therefore, that unless this enmity be conquered or cast out of the mind; unless the mind be freed from its corrupt agency and effects; unless the truth obtain its real power and efficacy upon the soul; unless it be so learned “as it is in Jesus,” whereby men, “put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and are renewed in the spirit of their minds, putting on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness;” unless they love and value it for the effects of spiritual peace, power, and liberty, which it produceth in them, — there will be found among them little constancy or perseverance in their profession when temptations shall concur with opportunities for a revolt: for who can give security that what hath formerly fallen out amongst the generality of mankind shall not in any place do so again, where the same causes of it do again concur?
Having discovered this first cause of defection from the gospel, we may easily discern what are the only true effectual ways and means of the preservation and continuance of the true religion in any place or among any people where it hath been professed, especially if temptations unto a revolt should abound, and the season be made perilous by advantageous opportunities. Love of the truth, and experience of its power in the hearts of men, will produce this effect, and nothing else [will.] All other means, where these have been wanting, have failed in all places in the world, and will do so again when a time of trial shall come. True religion may be established by law, countenanced by authority, have a prescription of a long profession, or be on other accounts so fixed on the minds of men as that multitudes shall promise the firmest stability in the profession thereof; but there is no security in things of this nature, and we shall quickly see all the hopes that are built upon them vanish into nothing. Convictions or traditions, unto whose power a secret enmity is retained, may make a bluster and noise for a season, but every breath of temptation will carry them away before it. Were it not so with the most of men, had it been possible that so many nations in less than an age should fall into Arianism, after the truth had been so long known and professed among them; or that the body of this nation after a blessed reformation should again relapse into Popery, as in the days of Queen Mary, when many who had professed the gospel east others into flames who continued so to do?
It is greatly complained of that Popery doth increase in this nation; and some express their fears of its farther prevaleney, and that perhaps not without cause. And although there are several other ways whereby men may and do apostatize from the truth, yet all those who take any other measure of things besides their own secular interests, with the corrupt affections of their minds, in wrath, envy, and revenge, do look on this as far the most dangerous, as that which will be most compliant with the predominant lusts of the present age, and most comprehensive to receive the community of men. Besides, by what it hath done formerly, it sufficiently instructs what it is likely enough to do again. Wherefore very many industriously attempt its prevention, as that which would prove (if it should prevail) deplorably ruinous unto the nation and their posterity therein. To this end some implore the aid of authority for the enacting of severe laws for the prohibition of it. This, according to the opinion of late ages, some suppose the most effectual means for the preservation of the truth; for if they can but destroy all that are otherwise minded, the rest of mankind will have the face of peace unto them who are advantaged thereby. Some write books in the confutation of the errors of it, and that to very good purpose. But in the meantime, if there be any thing of truth in reports, the work is as effectually progressive as if no opposition had been made unto it; and we may assure ourselves that these and such like means as these, if they are alone, will never keep Popery out of England, if it should ever have an advantage and opportunity for a return, nor prevent the entrance of any other false way in religion.
As for the use and severity of penal laws, I meddle not with it, as that which is to be referred to the wisdom of our governors. But I must needs say, it seems not to be unto the advantage of truth, or, at least, not unto the reputation of them by whom it is professed, that they should no otherwise be able to preserve its station amongst men. Neither can it be honorable unto any religion, that where it pretends unto all the advantages and rights of truth, and [is] in the real possession of all outward emoluments and supportments, yet that it cannot secure itself or maintain its profession without outward force and violence, things so remote from the first introduction and planting of truth in the world. But these things are not of our present consideration. [As] for the confutation of the errors, superstitions, and idolatrous practices of the church of Rome, in books of controversy, it is no doubt a work good, useful, and necessary in its kind; but when all is done, these things reach but a few, nor will many divert from other occasions to the serious consideration of them. Wherefore some other way must be fixed on and engaged in to secure the truth and interest of protestant religion among us; and this is no other but the effectual communication of the knowledge of it unto the minds, and the implantation of the power of it on the hearts of the people. This is that alone which will root out of them that enmity unto evangelical mysteries and spiritual things which betrays the souls of men into apostasy.
Unless men know what they are to value religion for, and what benefit they really receive by its profession, it is irrational to expect that they will be constant therein when a trial shall befall them. If once they come to say, “It is in vain thus to serve God,” or, “What profit is it that we have kept his ordinances?” they will easily admit the yoke of any falsehood or superstition that pretends to gratify them with greater advantages. And at one time or other it will be no otherwise with them with whom this enmity is predominant.
But, on the other side, when God by the gospel “shines in the hearts of men, to give them the light of the knowledge of his glory in the face of Jesus Christ;” when they find their consciences set free thereby from the intolerable yokes of superstition and tradition; and that by the word of truth which they do profess they are begotten anew unto the hope of eternal life, their inward man being renewed and their lives reformed thereby; that their expectation of a blessed immortality is well founded on it and safely resolved into it, — they will, through the effectual supplies of the Spirit of Christ, abide constant in the profession of it, whatever may befall them.
On these terms, on these experienced evidences of truth and goodness, was the gospel first entertained among men, and the reformation of religion first introduced into this nation; for although sundry other things concurred unto its reception and establishment, yet if the minds of multitudes had not received an experience of its power and efficacy unto the ends mentioned, it would never have been of any permanency among us. The mere outward form of true religion is not able to contend with that appearance which error and superstition will represent unto the minds of men, as knowing how much they stand in need thereof.
These things I know are by some despised. They suppose they have surer ways and better expedients for the preservation of the profession of the gospel amongst us than its own power and efficacy. What those ways are we need not conjecture, seeing themselves declare them continually; but they shall not be here spoken unto. But it is to be feared that they may be filled with the fruit of their own imaginations when those things shall fail them wherein they have placed their confidence. Wherefore, if there be a neglect about these things in the ministry and others whose duty it is to promote them, the issue will be sad, it may be beyond what is feared: for if the body of the people be suffered to live without any evidence of an acquaintance with the power of that truth which they do profess, or any demonstrative fruits of it in a holy conversation, we may cry out, “Popery, Popery,” as long as we please; but when temptations, opportunities, and interests do concur, their profession will fall from them as dry leaves from a tree when they are moved with the wind. The apostle tells us that those who “went out from them were not of them, for if they had been of them they would have continued with them,” 1 John 2:19. They were among them by the profession of the truth, or they could not have gone out from them; — but they were “not of them” in the participation of the power of the truth, and “communion thereby with the Father and the Son;” for if they had, “they would have continued with them,” — that is, steadfast in their profession.
This is that which ought to be fixed on the minds of all persons concerned, of all that are zealous for the truth of the protestant religion, or are obliged, what lies in them, to provide for its preservation. When things are come unto the appointed season, when they are issuing in that period which they have a natural tendency unto, all other expedients and devices will be of none effect. A diligent communication unto the body of the people, through the dispensation of the word, or preaching of it, of the power of the truth they profess in all its blessed effects, — whereon they will have an experience and witness within themselves of the reasons why they ought to abide constantly in its profession, — will alone secure the continuance of the gospel in succeeding generations. All other means will be ineffectual unto that end; and so far as without this they are or may be effectual, it will be of no advantage unto the souls of men.
That there is a danger at all times of a defection among professed Christians from the truth hath been before evinced. That this danger at present hath many especial circumstances rendering it dangerous in a peculiar manner is in like manner acknowledged by all such as call these things into serious consideration. And it will not, I presume, be denied but that every man, according as he is called and warranted by especial duty, is obliged to his utmost endeavors for the prevention of a revolt from the truth. The whole inquiry is, What is the best way, means, or expedient, to be plied unto this end? And this, I say, is only by the diligent ministerial dispensation of the word, with such an exemplary zeal and holiness in them by whom it is dispensed, and all other things requisite unto the discharge of that work, as may reconcile the hearts of the people unto evangelical truths, beget in them a delight in obedience, and implant the power of the word in their whole souls. Want hereof was that which lost the gospel in former ages, and will do so wherever it is, in this or those which are to come. And I shall not, in my own thoughts, blamably digress from my present subject, if I confirm this opinion with some few obvious considerations; for, —
1. It is the way, the only way, which God hath ordained, and which he blesseth to this end and purpose. None will pretend, as I suppose, that God hath appointed any other way to bring men unto the profession of the truth but by the preaching and dispensation of the word alone. When they are wrought upon or convinced thereby, so as to give up themselves unto the profession of it, it will be hard to find an ordinance of God of another kind for their preservation therein. When the apostle took his last farewell of them who were converted by his ministry at Ephesus, he “commended them to the word of God’s grace, which,” as he judged, “was able to build them up, and to give them an inheritance among all them which are sanctified,” Acts 20:32.
A man would think it were a more difficult work to convert men from Judaism or Paganism, or any false religion, unto the profession of the gospel, than to retain them in that profession when they are initiated thereinto: for in that first work there are all sorts of prejudices and difficulties to be conflicted withal, and not the least advantage from any acknowledged principles of truth; but as to the preservation of men in the profession of truth which they have received and owned, the work on many accounts seems to be more expedite and easy. If, therefore, the dispensation of the word, as it is God’s ordinance unto that end, hath been a sufficient and effectual means for the former, what reason can be assigned that it should not be so for the latter also, without farther force or violence?
It will be said that the first preachers of the gospel were furnished with extraordinary gifts, whereby their ministry was rendered effectual unto the first conversion of the nations; but whereas now those gifts do cease, the efficacy of the ministry doth so also, and therefore stands in need of such outward assistance as the former did not. I say, for my part, I wish it all the assistance which those unto whom it is committed can desire, so that no force be offered to the consciences or persons of other men. But why shall we not think that the ordinary gifts of the ministry are as sufficient for the ordinary work of it as the extraordinary were for that which was extraordinary? To speak the truth, the difference lieth in persons in the discharge of their duty, and not in the things, gifts, or duties themselves. Were all those who are called, or profess themselves to be called, unto the preservation of the truth of the gospel in the work of the ministry, as conscientiously diligent in the discharge of their duty, as well fitted, according to the rules of the gospel, with those ordinary spiritual gifts which are necessary unto their work and calling, did as fully represent the design and nature of their message unto men in a holy conversation, as those first appointed unto the conversion of the nations were and did, according to their larger measures of grace and gifts, the work would have a proportionate success in their hands unto what it had in the beginning. But whilst those unto whom this charge is committed do neglect the use of this means, which is the ordinance of God unto this purpose, that the truths of the gospel be preserved amongst men; whilst either they judge that the principal end of their office is to capacitate them for secular advantages, and to give them outward rest therein, with the enjoyment of those things which unto the most in this world seem desirable; and therewithal think meet to betake themselves unto other expedients for the preservation of the truth, which God hath not appointed nor sanctified to that end, — it is no wonder if faith and truth fail from amongst men.
The apostle Paul foresaw that a time would come wherein some men would “not endure sound doctrine, but after their own lusts would heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears,” who should “turn them away from the truth, and turn them unto fables,” 2 Timothy 4:3, 4; and we may see what course he prescribeth for the prevention of this evil, that it might not proceed unto a general apostasy. It must also be observed that the advice he gives in this case, though originally directed unto one individual person, who was immediately concerned, yet it lies in charge on all that are or shall be called unto the rule of or ministry in the church. This course he proposeth, verses 1, 2, 5, of that chapter: “I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine. Watch in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.” This is that course and way which he prescribeth for the preservation of the truth against the corruptions of men’s minds and the craft of seducers; and the charge of this duty he giveth with so great a solemnity, and urgeth with so many motives emphatically expressed, as manifest of how great moment he conceived it to be.
Perhaps this way of the preservation of the truth and the salvation of the souls of men, by continual laboring in the word and doctrine, with an undergoing of all those difficulties which attend it, is not esteemed so advisable as formerly; for what good would men’s lives or preferments do unto them if they should be obliged thus to labor in this sweaty kind of preaching? But if it be so, they must at one time or another be contented to part with the truth and all the advantages they have by the profession of it; for let men turn themselves which way they please, let them traverse their methods and multiply their counsels, to secure religion according to their apprehension, however they may hereby chain their idols, as the heathens did their gods of old to prevent their departure from them, and fix a profession of lies, the truth of the gospel, as unto any useful end of it, will be no otherwise preserved in a nation, church, or people, but by this means of God’s appointment.
2. This is such a way and expedient for the preservation of the truth and the profession of the gospel as none can have the impudence to complain of or except against. There is in all places, among all sorts of persons, a pretense of zeal for the retaining of what they conceive to be the truth or right in religion. But the ways which, for the most part, they have chosen unto that purpose have been full of scandal unto Christian religion; so far from being rational means of preserving men in it as that they are effectual to deter them from it. Such is that outward force which hath been now tried in this nation, as elsewhere by all sorts of persons; and wise men may easily observe what it is arrived unto. In the meantime, it is openly evident that, let the end aimed at be never so good, the means used for the attaining of it are accompanied with much evil. What peace or satisfaction they have in themselves who are the prosecutors of this way I know not. It is above my understanding to apprehend that the minds of any Christians can be thoroughly at ease, rejoicing in God through Jesus Christ, whilst they cause others to be terrified, pursued, ruined, and destroyed, merely for that which is their faith and hope in Christ Jesus. But I know not the principles of the minds of other men, the make or constitution of their consciences, nor the rules of their walking before God, much less their prevailing prejudices and interests, that influence them beyond all evidence of reason to the contrary; and therefore they may have a satisfactory peace in this way, though I understand not how. On the other side, those who are practiced upon and forced to suffer in this course of proceeding are filled with alienation from them and their profession by whom they suffer. Hence it is known what mutual animosities, hatreds, contentions, severe reflections, and dreadful scandals, this way is attended withal. We see at this day what clamors and contests are raised about it, what pleas are managed against such procedures, how uncouth it is unto human nature to suffer all extremities for that which men are fully persuaded they deserve well in of mankind; nor can any man give assurance but that, at one time or other, the wheat shall be plucked up instead of tares.
But as to the way now proposed, of preserving the truth by the diligent, effectual dispensation of the word of the gospel unto the generality of the people, who can pretend a provocation by it or take offense at it? No mortal man will be prejudiced by it in any thing that he dares own a concernment in. The devil, indeed, will be enraged at it, not only as that which is designed unto the ruin of his interest and kingdom in the issue, but as that wherein he hath no share, nor can interpose his endeavors; for he is a spirit as restless and active as he is malicious, and loves not to be excluded out of any business that is on foot in the world. Wherefore, although he equally hates the truth in the management of all men, yet in the way of preserving of it before mentioned he can and doth so apparently immix himself and his effectual workings that he is very well satisfied with it; for what he may possibly lose on the one hand in point of truth, he gains ten times more on the other in the loss of love, peace, holiness, with all the fruits of goodness, meekness, and benignity, which ought to be among men. And let him have but his hand effectually in the promotion of this loss, and have the contrary fruits to feed upon, he is little concerned with the profession of truth in this or that way of worship amongst men. Be it, therefore, that he is or will be enraged at this way of preserving the truth, we know that the kingdom of Christ will be no otherwise maintained in the world but by a conquest of his rage; and for those who manage the same design with him, their wrath and envy, which they dare not manifest, will but torment and consume themselves.
3. Setting aside some few instances of violence and blood, consuming the persons of men, as among the Waldenses, Bohemians, and some others, which yet were never totally prevalent, and revolutions of government attended with the like cruelties, as in the days of Queen Mary in England, which was but of short continuance, no instance can be given of the defection of any church or nation from the truth but where there was a neglect of implanting the power of the gospel on the minds and hearts of men by those unto whom that charge was committed. This sinful neglect was that which constantly opened the door unto all apostasy. Wherefore on this foundation the weight of all useful profession of the gospel among us doth depend. And if God will be pleased to put it into the hearts of all them who are concerned in this duty to labor effectually therein, and to give unto the people an example of the power of the gospel in their own holy, humble, useful, fruitful conversation among them, and shall be pleased, moreover, to furnish them with the gifts of his Spirit, enabling them unto a successful discharge of their duty, evangelical truth would certainly receive an unconquerable establishment among us. And it may be it is not suited unto the exigence of this season that any of those who are called and enabled unto this work, being willing to engage their utmost in defense of the truth, especially in this way of its preservation, by leavening the minds of men with a sense of its power and worth, should be prohibited the discharge of their duty. But the purposes of God in all things must stand, and himself be humbly adored, where “his judgments are unsearchable, and his ways past finding out.”
Again: this innate and yet uncured enmity unto things spiritual and heavenly becomes a cause and means of apostasy from the truths of the gospel, by filling the hearts of men with a love of sin, and their lives with the fruits of it in wicked works; for men are “alienated and enemies in their mind,” in or “by wicked works,” Colossians 1:21. The enmity which is in their minds doth operate and manifest itself in wicked works. And the alienation wherewith this enmity is accompanied is from the “life of God:” Ephesians 4:18, “Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God;” that is, from the spiritual, heavenly life of faith and holiness, which God requireth, and whereof he is the end and object. Of this life the truths of the gospel are the spring, rule, and measure. See Acts 5:20; Ephesians 4:20, 21. Wherefore, when men are “alienated from the life of God,” and through the love of sin are given up unto wicked works, they cannot but secretly dislike and hate that truth, that spiritual and heavenly doctrine, which is the spring and rule of holiness, and whereby both the love of sin and the fruits of it in wicked works are everlastingly condemned. Let, then, men pretend and profess what they please, whilst this enmity is in them as a predominant principle of sin and wicked conversation, they are practically and really enemies unto the gospel itself; and where any persons are so, it is easily imaginable how ready and prone they will be to part with it on any occasion, for none will retain that in their minds which is useless to them, and troublesome unto their principal inclinations, any longer than they have a fair opportunity to part with it. That this frame of mind is an effectual obstruction unto the due receiving of the gospel, our Savior expressly declares: John 3:19, 20, “This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.” Wherever the power of sin abideth, and men are engaged in the practice of it, so as that their deeds are evil, they will not receive the light of the gospel, — that is, in its own nature and power, and for its proper ends; and when they are, by conviction or any other means, wrought unto a compliance with it, yet they do it but partially and hypocritically, nor can do it otherwise whilst their deeds are evil. So was it with them who are said to believe in Christ. Being some way convinced of the truth of his doctrine, yet would they not confess him, because “they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God,” John 12:42,43. By the reigning power of this one sin of ambitious hypocrisy most of them were kept off from any assent unto the gospel; as our Savior speaks unto them, “How can ye believe, which receive honor one of another, and seek not the honor that cometh from God only?” John 5:44. With the residue, who were not able wholly to withstand their convictions, it prevailed so far as that they should not receive it sincerely, but partially and hypocritically. Now, that which so effectually keeps the most from giving any admission at all unto the gospel, and which suffers none to receive it in a due manner, will easily prevail, where it abides in its power, unto a total relinquishment of it when occasion is offered.
Seeing, therefore, that all those whose deeds are evil, who through the enmity that is in their minds do give up themselves in their lives unto wicked works, are really alienated from the truths of the gospel, they are and will be ready at all times for a defection from them; for being kept under the dominion of sin, they have no real benefit by them, but rather find them inconsistent with their principal interests and chiefest joys.
Hence is that description which the apostle giveth of those who were evangelically converted unto God: Romans 6:17, 18, “God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.” There is no obedience from the heart unto the gospel, no possibility of being cast into the mould of the doctrine delivered in it, unless we be made free from the service of sin.
We may therefore, without scruple, fix [on] this as one principal means and cause of that apostasy from the truth of the gospel which hath been in the world, and which is yet deplorably progressive. Men who love sin and live in sin, whose works are wicked and whose deeds are evil, are all of them in their hearts alienated from the spiritual, holy doctrines of the gospel, and will undoubtedly, on any occasion of temptation or trial, fall away from the profession of them.
What reason have we to hope or judge that drunkards, swearers, unclean persons, covetous, proud, ambitious, boasters, vain, sensualists, and the like enemies of the cross of Christ, should adhere unto the truth with any constancy if a trial should befall them? “Look diligently,” saith the apostle, “lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright,” Hebrews 12:15, 16. Esau’s birthright was his right unto and interest in the promise of the gospel made unto Abraham. This he, being a profane person, when he was pressed with a little hunger, parted withal for one morsel of meat. And if others, saith the apostle, are like him, profane persons, fornicators, or such as live in any course of sin, if a temptation befall them, and their lusts call to be satisfied, they will for morsels of bread, for the smallest earthly advantages, part with their interest in and profession of the gospel. So he tells us of them who, having put away a good conscience, did make shipwreck of the faith, 1 Timothy 1:19. After men have debauched their consciences by living in sin, they may for a while speed on their voyage with full sails of profession; but if a storm come, if a trial befall them, if they meet with a rock or shelf in their way, they quickly make shipwreck of the faith, and lose that, whatever else they labor to preserve.
What should secure such persons unto any constancy in profession for whilst they are in this condition, it is altogether indifferent unto them, as to their present or future advantage, what religion they are of, or whether they are of any at all or no. It is true, one way of religion may more harden them in sin, lay more prejudices against and hinderances of their conversion, than another; but no religion can do them good or yield them the least eternal advantage whilst they abide in that condition. It will be all one at the last day what religion wicked and ungodly sinners have been of, unless it be that the profession of the truth will prove an aggravation of their sins, Romans 2:11,12.
Besides, when a temptation unto the relinquishment of the truth doth befall them, it hath nothing but a few traditional prejudices to contend withal. When they are taken off from them, and begin to search themselves for reasons why they should adhere unto the truth which they have outwardly professed, they quickly find in their own hearts a predominant dislike and hatred of that light and truth which they are solicited to part withal; for every man, as our Savior testifieth, hateth the light whose deeds are evil.
This is that which abroad in the world hath lost the gospel so many princes, nobles, and great men, who for a while made profession of it. This is that which is of such dismal abode at this day as to the danger of a general apostasy. All sorts of persons do give up themselves unto the service of sin. The complaint of the prophet is not unsuited to our occasion, Isaiah 1:4-6. Many are openly flagitious, beyond precedent or example among the heathen. Worldliness, pride, ambition, vanity, in all its variety of occasions and objects, with sensuality of life, have even overrun the world. And that which is of the most dreadful consideration is, that the sins of many are accompanied with the highest aggravation of all provocations, — namely, that they proclaim them like Sodom, and hide them not, but glory in their shame. In all these things men do really, though not in words, proclaim that they are weary of the gospel, and are ready to leave it; some for any pretense of religion, some for none at all.
And this is the most dangerous posture that any place, church, or people can be found in; for whereas men are of themselves ready and prone unto a spiritual revolt and defection, when this ariseth from and is promoted by the love of sin and a life therein, God is ready also penally to give them up unto such delusions as shall turn them off from the gospel. So the apostle expresseth it, 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12, “They received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” Where men, under the profession of the truth, will continue profligate in sin, and take pleasure in unrighteousness, God will not always suffer the gospel to be prostituted to give them countenance in their wickedness, but will judicially give them up unto such delusions as shall flood them away into an open apostasy from it.
This was the great cause of that general and almost catholic apostasy that was in the world before the reformation. The body of the Christian people, by such means and on such occasions as shall be afterward declared, were grown worldly, sensual, wicked, and obstinate in sin. The complaints hereof are left on record in the writings of many in those days. And in vain it was for any to attempt to reduce them unto a conformity unto the gospel, especially considering that the most of their guides were no less infected than themselves. Chrysostom was almost the only person, at least he was the most eminent, who set himself in his ministry to stem, if it were possible, the rising tide of impiety and wickedness among all sorts of persons; but instead of any success, his holy endeavors ended in his own banishment and death. All degrees and orders of men undertook the patronage of public sinning against him, and to his ruin. Wherefore there remained but two ways of dealing with the generality of men in such a condition. The one was, according to the advice of the apostle, to “turn away” or withdraw from them, 2 Timothy 3:5, so leaving them out of the communion of the church; the other was, to accommodate religion unto their temper and lusts, whereby a face and appearance of Christianity might be preserved among them. And the generality of their leaders preferring their interest before their duty, the latter way was chosen and gradually promoted.
Hence were opinions and practices invented, advanced, and taken into religion, that might accommodate men in their lusts, or give countenance and pretended relief unto them who were resolved to live in their sins. Such were auricular confession, penances, absolutions, commutations of all sorts, missatical sacrifices for the living and the dead, the church’s treasury of merit and power of pardon, suffrage and help of saints, especially purgatory, with all its appendages.
Hereby was the apostasy completed; for men being grown carnal and wicked, there appeared no way to keep them up unto the profession of the gospel but by corrupting the whole doctrine and worship of it, that their lusts might be some way accommodated. To this end external things were substituted in the room of things internal, having the same names given unto them; ecclesiastical things in the room of things spiritual; outward offices, orders, and multiplied sacraments, with their efficacy by virtue of the work wrought, in the place of real conversion unto God, purity of heart, with strict universal holiness; disciplines and corporeal severities in the room of evangelical repentance and mortification; — nor could the lusts of men have possibly a higher accommodation, whilst any pretense of religion was necessary to be preserved. So formerly did wickedness of life lead the way unto apostasy from the truth. And the whole of the papal apostasy may be reduced unto these two heads: — First, An accommodation of the doctrine and worship of the gospel unto the carnal minds and lusts of men, with the state of their consciences that ensued thereon; and, secondly, The accommodation of the lusts, ignorance, and superstition of men unto the interests and worldly advantage of the pope and his clergy.
And herein lieth the danger of this age. The great design of the generality of men is, to live in sin with as little trouble at present, and as little fear of what is future, as they can arrive unto. And there are but two ways whereby such a posture of mind may be attempted.
The one is by obliterating all notions of good and evil, all sense of future rewards and punishments, or of God’s government in the world. This some in all ages have endeavored: for “the fool hath said in his heart, There is no God;” and thereon are “they corrupt, and do abominable works,” Psalm 14:1. And no age could ever give more instances of this affected atheism than that wherein we live. Neither do any deceive themselves into it, but merely with this design, to live in sin without control from themselves; which is the last restraint they can acquit themselves of. And some of them do please themselves with the attainment of them in the psalmist: “The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts,” Psalm 10:4. But God hath inlaid the minds of men, antecedently unto all actings of their wills and affections, with such a tenacious and unanswerable witness to the contrary, that it is very difficult for any to bring themselves unto any tolerable satisfaction this way: for “that which may be known of God is manifest in themselves,” whether they will or no, Romans 1:19; neither can they free themselves from prevailing apprehensions that it is “the judgment of God, that they who commit sin are worthy of death,” verse 32. Wherefore we have not many instances of men who pretend a senselessness of these things out of principle, or that find no disquietment on the account of sin. And by the most of them this is but pretended. Their outward boasting is but a sorry plaster for their inward fears and vexations; nor will the pretended security of such impious persons endure the shock of the least of those surprisals, calamities, and dangers, which human nature is obnoxious unto in this life, much less of death itself. The end therefore mentioned, be it never so earnestly desired, is not this way to be attained.
Another way, therefore, must be found out unto the same end, and this must be by a religion. Nothing but religion can convert men from sin, and nothing but religion can secure them therein. To this purpose is that of our apostle: “In the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, truce-breakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof,” 2 Timothy 3:1- 5. Had they the power of religion in them, they could not give themselves up unto the pursuit of such brutish lusts; and had they not some form or other of it, they could not be secure in their practice: for, —
Sin and conscience are stubborn in their conflict whilst immediately opposed, conscience pleading that there should be no sin, and sin contending that there may be no conscience; but, as nature is corrupted, they will both comply with an accommodation. Wherefore a device to satisfy sin and to deceive conscience will not fail of a ready entertainment; and this is the design in part or in whole of every false way in religion that men apostatize unto from the purity and simplicity of the gospel. See 2 Peter 2:18,19. One way or other is proposed to take men off from the necessity of regeneration and the renovation of their nature into the image of God, in the first place; for this is that lion in the way which deters all sorts of sluggards from attempting any thing seriously in religion. And whereas our Lord Jesus Christ hath placed the necessity of it at the first entrance into the kingdom of God, there is no false way of religion but its first design is to destroy its nature or take away its necessity. Hence some would have it to be only baptism, with the grace it confers by the work wrought; some substitute a moral reformation of life in the room of it, which, as they suppose, is sufficiently severe; and the light within makes all thoughts of it useless; — for if this point be not well secured, all ensuing attempts to accommodate men with a religion will be in vain; it will still be returning on them, that “except they be born again, they cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Internal sanctification of the whole person, the mortification of all the motions of sin that are in the flesh, with that universal obedience which is required unto the life of God, must also be provided for or against, and yet conscience be satisfied therewithal. Wherefore, if you can obtain that persons who live in sin, and are resolved so to do, not troubling themselves about these things, shall suppose that they may be secured eternally in such a way of religion as you propose unto them, — that what is wanting in themselves shall be done for them by absolutions and masses, and various supplies out of the church’s treasury, with the great reserve of purgatory when things come to the worst, — there is no great fear (especially if some other circumstances fall in also to promote the design) but that you will find them very ductile and pliable unto your desires. Add hereunto, that the ways whereby any may be interested in these efficacious means of eternal salvation, — namely, by confession, penances, and alms, — are possible, yea, easy to persons who never intend to leave their sins. Of this sort are the most of those visibly who every day fall off to the Roman church. And it were to be desired that the wickedness of men did not give grounds of fearing additions to their number; for if there be no assurance of the constancy of men in the profession of the truth, unless their souls and lives are transformed into the image of it (as there is not), certainly those ways wherein men are furiously engaged in the pursuit of their lusts must needs be perilous, and may, without the especial help of divine grace, bring forth a fatal defection.
DARKNESS AND IGNORANCE ANOTHER CAUSE OF APOSTASY.
II. The second spring or cause of defection from the gospel in any kind, is that spiritual darkness and ignorance which abides in the minds of men under the profession of the truth. The gospel may fall under a double consideration: First, Of the things themselves that are contained, revealed, and proposed therein; — these are the material objects of our faith. Secondly, With respect unto the doctrinal way of their declaration. With respect unto the first, there is a spiritual darkness on the minds of all men by nature, so as that they cannot discern them in their own native form and beauty. With respect unto the latter, men are said to be ignorant, namely, when they do not in a due manner understand and comprehend the doctrines of the gospel, and so perish for want of knowledge. These things being of a distinct consideration, and of different influence into this pernicious event, the first shall be first spoken unto.
1. That there is such a spiritual darkness on the minds of men by nature, and wherein their depravation by sin cloth principally consist, is fully testified in the Scripture, as I have at large elsewhere evinced. Hence all men grant, so far as I know, that there is need of spiritual illumination to enable us to discern spiritual things in a due manner, though all are not agreed in the nature and causes of that illumination. But to deny the thing itself is to deny the gospel, and to make the promises of God of none effect. Now, where illumination is needful, there darkness is to be removed; for the end of the bringing in of light is to dispel darkness. Wherefore, such a depravation of the minds of men in spiritual darkness must be acknowledged, or the gift and grace of God in illumination must be rejected; and they by whom it is done do by their own blindness give new evidence unto the truth which they do oppose, there being no more certain demonstration of the power of darkness in any than for them to affirm that they stand in no need of light to be communicated unto them by the effectual operation of the Spirit of God. As to the nature of this illumination I shall not here dispute, but take it at present for granted that it is an act of His power who of old “commanded light to shine out of darkness, shining in our hearts, to give us the knowledge of his glory in the face of Jesus Christ,” 2 Corinthians 4:6.
There is a glory and beauty in those spiritual things which are the subjects of the truths of the gospel. There is in them the wisdom of God, “the wisdom of God in a mystery,” 1 Corinthians 2:6,7, yea, “the manifold wisdom of God,” Ephesians 3:10; the glory of the Lord, which is represented unto believers in the glass of the gospel, 2 Corinthians 3:18, or “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” chapter 4:6; — things expressly beyond discovery by the use of any means whatever merely natural, 1 Corinthians 2:9,10. Even the philosophers of old contended that there was a beauty in all truth, which would engage the minds and affections of men unto it were they able to discern it; and if they saw and granted this in things natural and moral, which are earthly and exposed unto the common reason of mankind, how much more must it be granted of the truth of things heavenly, spiritual, and divine! See John 3:12. In brief, whatever there is of divine glory or excellency in the divine nature itself, in any or all of its holy properties, in the great and most glorious effect of them in the person and grace of Christ, in the renovation of our nature into the image of God, in the divine life of faith and obedience, it is proposed unto us in the truths of the gospel.
2. Whatever doctrinal proposition may be made of these things unto the minds of men, yet the things themselves cannot be comprehended nor spiritually discerned without the illumination of the Holy Ghost before mentioned. Hence it follows that men may be instructed in the doctrines of truth, yet, continuing under the power of natural darkness, not discern the things themselves in their own spiritual nature and glory, nor have any experience of their power and efficacy. This all the prayers of holy men in the Scripture for spiritual light and instruction, all the promises of God savingly to enlighten the minds of men, and the descriptions given of that work of his grace whereby he doth effect it, do undeniably evince. One consideration will be sufficient unto our purpose. Whosoever hath a spiritual view and knowledge of these things, his mind will be, and is, certainly changed and transformed into the image of them. So the apostle tells us expressly, 2 Corinthians 3:18, “We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image.” They are cast into the same mould with the doctrine whereunto they are given up, Romans 6:17. The mind is united unto the things so discerned, and the image of them is so brought forth therein as that there is an exact conformity between them. But we see by open and palpable experience, that notwithstanding the knowledge which many have of spiritual things, their minds continue carnal and fleshly, filled with corrupt and depraved affections, and are no way changed into the image or likeness of the things themselves. There needs no farther demonstration that men have never had a spiritual view of or insight into the glory of gospel truths, be their doctrinal knowledge of them what it will, than this, that their minds are not renewed thereby, nor transformed into the likeness of them.
Where it is thus with men, they have no stable grounds whereon to abide in the profession of the truth against temptation, opposition, or seduction; for their steadfastness must be an effect of such an assurance in their minds of the truth of the things which they do believe, as will be prevalent against all that force and artifice wherewith they may be assaulted, and such as will not suffer their own minds to be indifferent, careless, or negligent about them. But whence should this arise? Assurance from outward natural sense in spiritual things we are not capable of, nor are they evidenced unto our minds by rational demonstration All the full persuasion or assurance we can have of them, which will be prevalent against temptations and oppositions, ariseth from such a spiritual view of them as gives an experience of their reality, power, and efficacy upon our minds: and this respects both the renovation of the mind itself in light and faith; the adhesion of the will unto the things known and believed, with a holy, heavenly, unconquerable love; and the constant approbation of the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God in all things. Hence this assurance, though it be neither that of sense nor that of reason, yet in the Scripture is compared with them and preferred above them, as that which giveth the mind a more certain satisfaction than they can do, although it be of another kind. And without this it is impossible that men should attain any such evidence or full persuasion of that evangelical truth which they may profess, as to secure them in their profession in such a juncture of circumstances and occasions as they may fall into.
Here, therefore, I place another means and cause of apostasy from the truth of the gospel after it hath been received and professed. Multitudes in all ages have been instructed in the truth, some have been learned and knowing in the doctrines of it; but whereas, by reason of their darkness, as being destitute of spiritual illumination, they did not discern the things themselves which they assented unto, in their supernatural, heavenly nature and glory, and therefore had no experience of their proper power and efficacy on their own minds, affections, and lives, they could not have any such evidence of their truth as would upon trials confirm their adherence unto them or secure them from apostasy.
Had the minds of men been transformed in their renovation to “prove what is the good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God,” — had they by beholding of spiritual things “been changed into the same image from glory to glory, by the Spirit of the Lord,” — they would not have abandoned the most important doctrines of the gospel, as we know them to have done, nor have embraced foolish imaginations in their stead, on every plausible courtship and address unto their fancies How came men under the papal apostasy gradually to desert the principal truths of the gospel and all the spiritual glory of its worship? Not discerning the internal glory and beauty of things evangelical and purely divine, not having an experience of the power of them in and upon their own minds, they chose to comply with, and give admission unto, such things whose outward painted beauty they could discern, and whose effects on their natural and carnal affections they had experience of.
We have seen, in all ages, men learned and skilled in the doctrines of the truth, so as that they might have been looked on as pillars of it, yet to have been as forward as any unto apostasy from it when they have been tried; yea, such have been the leaders of others thereinto. So many of this sort fell into Arianism and Pelagianism of old, as some have done into Socinianism, and many into Popery in our days When such fall away, usually they overthrow the faith of some, and shake the confidence of others.
But the apostle gives a double relief against this temptation: — first, The stability of God’s purpose in the preservation of the elect; and, secondly, The means of preservation in holiness of them that believe, 2 Timothy 2:19. And we may be assured concerning them all, that they never had that intuition into nor comprehension of spiritual things which alone could secure their stability. They never saw so much or that in them for which they should be preferred above all other things. No man who forsakes the truth ever saw the glory of it, or had experience of its power. “They went out from us, but they were not of us,” saith the apostle of such persons; “for if they had been of us” (whose fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ), “they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us,” 1 John 2:19.
Thus when the apostle had described the woeful apostasy of some among the Hebrews, he adds concerning them whose preservation he believed, “But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation,” Hebrews 6:9. Whatever knowledge men may have of the doctrines of the gospel, and whatever profession they may make, unless they have withal those things which are inseparable from salvation, such as is the saving illumination of the Holy Ghost, whereby the darkness of our minds is removed, there can be no assurance that they will always “quit themselves like men,” and “stand fast in the faith.” And this consideration doth not a little evidence the danger of a defection from the truth which attends the days wherein we live.
For, first, it is from hence that we have such a numerous generation of sceptics in religion among us, — a sort of men who pretend not to renounce or forsake the truth, only they will talk and dispute about it with the greatest indifferency as to what is true or false. The Scripture, the holy Trinity, the person of Christ, his offices, the nature of justification and grace, whether it be or be not, this or that church, all or any in the world, as to their profession and worship, are weighed in the defiled, tottering scales of bold, irreverent discourses. For some reasons known to themselves, this sort of persons will own the public profession of religion, perhaps be teachers in it. But on all occasions they fully manifest that they are utterly ignorant of the fundamental difference between truth and error, and so give no firm assent unto what they do profess; for this difference lieth in their glory and beauty in themselves, and in their power and efficacy towards us. Spiritual, heavenly truth, by its relation unto the being, infinite wisdom, goodness, love, and grace of God, by the characters of all these things impressed on it and represented by it, is glorious, amiable, and desirable; — all error, as an effect of darkness, and by its relation unto Satan as the head of the apostasy which drew off our minds from the original essential Truth, is distorted, deformed, and brings the mind into confusion. Truth is powerful and effectual to conform the soul unto God, and to principle it with a love of and power unto obedience; — error turns the mind aside into crooked and by paths of folly or superstition, or pride and self-advancement. Were men practically acquainted with this difference between truth and error, it would take away that indifferency in their minds unto them which this skeptical humor doth discover. Truth so known in its nature and efficacy will beget that reverence, that love, that sacred esteem of itself, in the souls of men, as they shall not dare to prostitute it to be bandied up and down with every foolish imagination. And from this sort of men, who are commonly the most bold and forward in undertaking the conduct of others, by a pretended generous contempt of their narrow principles, groundless scruples, and pusillanimous fears, nothing is to be expected but a wise and safe compliance with any ways or means of apostasy from the truth which shall be advantageously presented unto them.
And by the means of this darkness, it is easy to conceive how uncertain and unstable the minds of the generality of men, who perhaps also are somewhat ignorant (whereof we shall treat afterward), must needs be in their assent unto the truth and the profession of it, They are no way able to discover it in such a way or manner as to give them an assurance which will be infallibly victorious against temptations and oppositions; nor can they have that holy love unto it which will secure their minds and affections from being enticed and ravished from it. But, all the difference between truth and error which they can discern lying in bare different notions and apprehensions, wherein also they are dark and unskilled, it is no wonder if at any time they make an easy transcursion from the one to the other. So did the body of the people lose the truth gradually under the papal defection without any great complaint, yea, with much complacency and satisfaction; and it is to be feared that multitudes are ready at once to steer the same course if occasion be offered unto them.
From this consideration we may rectify the seeming solecism that is in the profession of religion, or the professors of it. Truth in every kind is the only guide of the mind in all its actings; wherein it proceeds not according unto it, it is always out of the way. Divine truth is the sole conduct of the mind in all its actings towards God; it is the only fountain, immediate cause, and rule of all our obedience. But yet, whereas in other things men generally walk in the light of those sparks of truth which they have received, we see that many by whom divine truth is owned and professed in its greatest purity and highest discovery are ofttimes no less wicked and vicious in their lives, no less enemies unto holiness, no less barren and unfruitful in those good and useful works it guides and directs unto, than those who, having the greatest aversation from it, are, under the conduct of other principles, erroneous and superstitious. Thus the lives of the common sort of Protestants are no better than those of the Papists, nor are theirs to be compared with those of some of the Mohammedans; yea, by the power of false and superstitious apprehensions imposed on their minds and consciences, some are carried out unto greater and more frequent acts of bounty and charity, of the mortification of the flesh, the denial of its sensual appetites and satisfactions, than are to be found among the most who profess themselves to be under the conduct and rule of truth. Hence no profession of religion, be it never so corrupt or foolish, is advanced amongst us, but instantly (at least for a season, and while it is new) it pretends an advantage as unto life and conversation against the truth, measured by the lives of its common professors; yea, this is made the principal motive and argument to prevail with honest and well-meaning people unto a compliance with the profession of their way, because of the effects which (as it is pretended) it produceth in their lives and conversations above those which profess the truth. And how prevalent this pretense hath been among us is known unto all.
Wherefore, I say, we cannot allow that the lives of the common sort of professors should be esteemed a just and due representation of the doctrine which they do profess. It is true, that where it is not so men will have no benefit by their profession, nor will they be steadfast in it when a trial shall befall them. Where the mind is internally and really conformed unto the truth, there the actions of the life may be allowed to represent sincerely, though not perfectly, the truths which are believed; and he is no firm Christian in any kind, he is brought into no spiritual order, whose mind doth not receive by the Spirit of Christ the transforming influence of evangelical truth, and who exerts not the power of it in a holy conversation, so as that he is not unwilling that what he believeth may be impartially judged by what he liveth, as to sincerity, though not as to perfection. But if we should allow the lives of men in general to be a rule whereby judgment might be safely passed in these things, it cannot be denied but that sometimes, and in some ages and places, error would, at least for a season, carry it in glory and reputation from the truth, yea, the light of nature from grace, tradition from the Scripture, and the Alcoran from the Gospel.
But we have sufficient ground of exceptions unto this interpretation and exposition of the doctrine of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that without the least apology for the ungodly lives of its professors. Among these, that now insisted on is of the first rank and evidence. Multitudes of those who profess the truth never had a view of its spiritual glory because of the darkness of their minds, and therefore have no experience of its power and efficacy, nor are their hearts and lives influenced or guided by it; for the gospel will not have its effects on the minds of men unless it first communicates unto them those internal spiritual principles which are necessary unto all the operations that it doth require. Put this new wine into old bottles and all is lost, both bottles and wine also. The doctrine of the gospel, taken notionally into the old, unrenewed, corrupt minds of men, is utterly lost as unto all the proper ends of it. And wherever there is a reformation of life, with any diligent attendance unto duties moral or religious, wrought in persons by the light and dispensation of the gospel, they are the immediate effects of those doctrines which it hath in common with the light of nature and the law in its power, and not of those which are peculiarly its own. And this they seem to understand well enough who, finding, either in their own experience, or from the observation they have made of others, how ineffectual the truth of gospel mysteries is towards the minds of carnal men, have upon the matter abandoned the preaching of it, and have taken up only with those principles which are suited unto the light of nature and convictions of the law.
The holiness which the gospel requireth is the transforming of our whole souls into the image and likeness of God, with the actings of renewed nature in a universal approbation of his “good, and acceptable, and perfect will,” Romans 12:2. But this will not be effected unless we can “behold the glory of the Lord” in it, whereby alone we may be “changed into the same image from glory to glory,”
2 Corinthians 3:18. Nor can we so behold that glory unless he “who commanded the light to shine out of darkness do shine in our hearts to give us the knowledge of it,” chap. 4:6. Hence is the doctrine of it ineffectual in the hearts and upon the lives of many by whom its truth is openly professed.
It is otherwise with every false religion. The motives which they make use of, and the instruments they apply, unto the hearts of men, to effect the reformation of their lives, and to engage them unto such works and duties as they require, are all of them suited either unto their natural light, or unto their superstitions, fears, desires, pride, and other depraved affections. Those of the first sort, — namely, such as are suited unto natural light, — are common, in some degree or measure, unto all religion whatever, be it on other accounts true or false. Every thing that is called religion pretends at least unto the improvement of natural light, as did the philosophers among the heathen of old. It urgeth also the law so far as it is made known unto them, though by other presumptions and prejudices some do abate and take off from its force and efficacy, making void the commandments of God through their own traditions. Whatever change is wrought or effected on the minds and lives of men by virtue of these principles, and motives taken from them, doth not belong unto any one way in religion more than another; nor is it to be accounted unto the glory or advantage of any of them. In these things Mohammedanism and all false ways in Christianity have an equal share and interest, unless where, by some corrupt opinions of their own, men deprave the light of nature and the rule of the law itself.
Some finding, as they say, more of justice, temperance, veracity, righteousness in dealings, with common usefulness unto mankind, among Turks and Banians, than among the common sort of Christians, do foolishly begin to think that their religion is better than Christianity. But as this scandal will be surely required at the hands of them who give it by their flagitious lives, so it is foolishly and wickedly taken by others; for those truths and laws which produce these effects in them are common unto all religions, and are equally suited unto the light and reason of all mankind, and have more evidence and efficacy communicated unto them by the gospel than by any other kind of religion whatever. And so it is with them among ourselves who would plead an advantage unto their profession by the effects of it in their lives as to a moral conversation, when they can pretend unto no real motive thereunto, — namely, unto what is good and useful, and not mere affectation and hypocrisy, — but what is owned and pressed in the doctrine of the gospel which we adhere unto. The differences, therefore, that are in this kind are not from the doctrines men profess, but they arise from the persons themselves who embrace them, with their various lusts, inclinations, and temptations.
It is evident, therefore, that whatever there is of moral good, duty, or usefulness among men in any false way of religion, it all proceeds from those principles and is the effect of those motives which are owned and improved in that which is true; and it may be easily evinced that they are more cultivated and cleared, have more evidence, life, light, and power given them, by the truths of the gospel, than by any other means or way whatever. And where they have not an equal effect upon those who profess that truth which they have on some by whom it is deserted, it is from the power of their own cursed lusts and carnal security. The difference on the part of religion itself consists in what is superadded unto these general principles by any notions of it. Now this, in every false religion, is what is suited unto the natural principles of men’s minds, their innate pride, vanity, curiosity, superstition, irregular hopes and fears. Such among the Romanists are the doctrines of merit, of outward disciplines, of satisfactions for sin, of confession, penances, of purgatory, and the like. They were all of them found out to put some awe on the minds, and to have some influence on the lives of men, who had lost all sense of the principles and motives of gospel obedience, though some considerable respect was had unto the benefit and advantage of them by whom they were invented; for why should men labor and beat their brains merely for others, without some income and revenue of advantage unto themselves? And it is no wonder if they produce in many, as they have done, great appearing acts of devotion, many outward works of bounty and charity, yea, in some, real austerities of life and renunciations of the pleasures of the world. I doubt not but that the sensual, wicked paradise of Mohammed doth effectually prevail in the minds of many of his followers unto that kind of virtuous and devout life which they suppose may bring them unto its enjoyment.
The inquiry, then, on the whole matter is, wherefore the truths of the gospel do not produce, in all by whom they are professed, effects as much more excellent than those mentioned as truth is more excellent than error, heavenly light than superstition, faith than frightful apprehensions of feigned torments, true peace and tranquility of mind than outward reputation and glory. And the principal reason hereof is, because such persons as are barren in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ do not discern those troths in their spiritual nature, nor can therefore take in the power and efficacy of them on their souls.
There is a holiness, obedience, and fruitfulness in good works, wrought, preserved, and maintained by the truth of the gospel, in them who are truly regenerated and sanctified thereby, who receive the proper efficacy of it on their minds and souls, which differ in the whole kind and nature from any thing which the principles and motives before mentioned, which have their efficacy from their suitableness unto the depraved affections of men’s minds, can produce; and this alone is acceptable with God. But it must be granted, that where men are ignorant of the power mad unacquainted with the internal efficacy of the gospel, their lives under the profession of the truth may be as bad, and it is a great wonder they are not worse than those of the Papists, of the most erroneous persons, or even of the Mohammedans themselves: for they have many superstitious imaginations and false principles that are suited to put some outward restraint upon their lusts, and to press them unto actions praiseworthy in themselves; but these being no way influenced by such apprehensions, and being not under the power of gospel truth, it is a wonder, I say, if they exceed them not in all manner of wicked conversation. It is not merely the outward profession of the truth, but the inward power of it, that is useful either unto the world or the souls of men.
And hence it is that the preaching of any person which principally dwelleth on and argueth from the things which the light of nature can of itself reach unto, and the convictions which are by the law, is better accepted with, and appears more useful unto, multitudes of common professors, than the declaration of the mysteries of the gospel is: for such things are suited unto the natural conceptions of men and the working of their own reason, which gives them a sense of what efficacy they have; but being in the dark unto the mysteries of the gospel, they neither see their excellency nor experience their power. Nevertheless, they and they only are the true spring, cause, and rule of all acceptable obedience, even “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” From the whole it appears how prone such persons must be unto an apostasy from the truth who have no spiritual light to discern its glory nor to let in the power of it upon their souls.
If, then, we would be established in the truth, if we would stand fast in the faith, if we would be preserved from the danger of that defection from the gospel which the world is prone, disposed, and inclined unto, it must be our principal endeavor to have a spiritual acquaintance with the things themselves that are declared in the doctrine of truth which we do profess, and to have an experience of their efficacy upon our own souls. Mere notions of truth, or the knowledge of the doctrines of it, enabling us to talk of them or dispute for them, will not preserve us. And although this spiritual light be the grace, promise, and gift of God, yet is it that which we are to endeavor after in a way of duty; and the directions ensuing may contribute somewhat towards the right discharge of our duty herein: —
1. Pray earnestly for the Spirit of truth go lead us into all truth. For this end is he promised by our Savior unto his disciples; and there are no teachings like his. If we learn and receive the truths of the gospel merely in the power and ability of our natural faculties, as we do other things, we shall not abide constant unto them in spiritual trials. What we learn of ourselves in spiritual things, we receive only in the outward form of it; what we are taught by the Spirit of God, we receive in its power. The apostle grants that “the spirit of man,” his mind, reason, and understanding, is able to conceive of and apprehend “the things of a man,” things merely natural, civil, or moral, which are cognate unto human nature; but saith he, “The things of God,” the mystery of his wisdom, love, and grace in Christ Jesus, “knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God,” and by him are they revealed unto them that do believe, 1 Corinthians 2:9-12. Without his especial aid, men may, by their natural sagacity and industry, attain an acquaintance with the doctrines of truth, so as to handle them (like the schoolmen) with incredible subtilty and curiosity; but they may be far enough for all that from an establishing knowledge of spiritual things. That horrible neglect which is among Christians of this one duty of earnest prayer for the teaching of the Spirit of Christ, that scorn which is cast upon it by some, and that self-confidence in opposition unto it which prevails in the most, sufficiently manifest of what nature is their knowledge of the truth, and what is like to become of it when a trial shall befall them. The least spark of saving knowledge inlaid in the minds of the poorest believers, by the gracious operation of the Holy Ghost, will be more effectual unto their own sanctification, and more prevalent against oppositions, than the highest notions or most subtle reasonings that men have attained in leaning unto their own understanding. Wherefore the Scripture abounds in examples, instances, and directions for prayer, unto this end, that we may have the assistance of the Holy Spirit in learning of the truth of the mysteries of the gospel, without which we cannot do so in a due manner: Ephesians 1:16-20, “Making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places.” Chap. 3:14-19, “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.” Colossians 2:1-3, “I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh; that their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ; in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
2. Rest not in any notions of truth, unless you find that you have learned it as it is in Jesus What it is to learn the truth as it is in Jesus, the apostle fully declares, Ephesians 4:20-25, “But ye have not so learned Christ; if so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: that ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” This it is to learn the truth as it is in Jesus, — namely, together with the knowledge of it, to have an experience of its power and efficacy in the mortification of sin, in the renovation of our nature, and transforming of the whole soul into the image of God in righteousness and the holiness of truth.
When men learn that they may know, and are satisfied with what they know, without an endeavor to find the life and power of what they know in their own hearts, their knowledge is of little use, and their assent unto the truth will have no stability accompanying of it. The immediate end (with respect unto us) of the whole revelation of the mind and will of God in the Scripture is, that it may put forth a spiritual, practical power in our souls, and that we may do the things which are so revealed unto us. Where this is neglected, where men content themselves with a bare speculation of spiritual truths, they do what lies in them to frustrate the end, and “reject the counsel of God” in them. If, therefore, we would know any evangelical truths in a due manner, if we would have that evidence and assurance of them in our minds which may secure our profession against temptations and oppositions, let us not rest in any apprehensions of truth whose efficacy we have no experience of in our hearts, nor think that we know any more of the mysteries of the gospel than we find effectually working in the renovation of our minds, and the transforming of our souls into the image of the glory of God in Christ.
3. Learn to esteem more of a little knowledge which discovers itself in its effects to be sanctifying and saving, than of the highest attainments in notions and speculations, though gilded and set off by the reputation of skill, subtilty, eloquence, wit, and learning, which do not evidence themselves by alike operations. We are fallen into days wherein men of all sorts, sects, and parties, are vying for the reputation of skill, ability, knowledge, subtilty, and cunning in disputes about religion. And few there are who are cast under such disadvantages by apparent want of learning, but that they hope to make it up one way or other, so as to think as well of their own knowledge and abilities as of other men’s. He who hath learned to be meek, humble, lowly, patient, self-denying, holy, zealous, peaceable, to purify his heart, and to be useful in his life, is indeed the person who is best acquainted with evangelical truth. Wherefore, let this knowledge be esteemed, both in ourselves and others, above all that proud, presumptuous, notional, puffing knowledge, which sets up for so great a reputation in the world, and we shall have experience of a blessed success in our pursuit of it.
4. Be not satisfied without a discovery of such a goodness, excellency, and beauty in spiritual things, as may attract your hearts unto them, and cause you to cleave unto them with unconquerable love and delight. This is that necessary, inseparable adjunct, property, fruit, or effect of faith, without which it is not essentially differenced from the faith of devils. That knowledge, that perception and understanding of the truth, which doth not present the things known, believed, perceived, as lovely, excellent, and desirable unto the will and affections, is a “cloud without water,” which every wind of temptation will scatter and blow away. Do not, therefore, suppose that you have learned any thing of God in Christ, of the mystery of his grace, of his acceptable and perfect will, unless you see therein such evidence of infinite wisdom, goodness, holiness, love, in all things so suited unto the eternal glory of God and advantage of your own souls, in the uttermost rest, peace, and satisfaction that they are capable of, as that you may admire, adore, delight in them, and cleave unto them with a holy, prevalent, unconquerable love. When you do so, then will you be established in the truth, and be able to bid defiance unto the artifices of Satan, with the solicitations of men, that would withdraw or separate you from it. But I will not farther digress in these discourses.
Ignorance is another occasion of apostasy from the truth, which was named under this head of the depravation of the minds of men. It is the want of a due perception, understanding, or knowledge of the principal doctrines of the gospel, with the evidence which is given unto them, and the use of them in the Scriptures, that we intend hereby. A general knowledge of some doctrines, without an acquaintance with their grounds and reasons, their use and effects in the life of God, is of no value in these things When persons know not in religion what they ought to know, as they ought to know it, or what it is their duty to know, and without the knowledge whereof they can perform no other duty of religion in a right manner, then are they culpably ignorant, and so as to be exposed unto all other evils that may befall them; for whether this be for want of due instruction from others, or want of diligence in themselves to learn, the event is equally pernicious. In the first way, the Holy Ghost assures us that “where there is no vision, the people perish,” Proverbs 29:18. The people will suffer where those whose duty it is so to do are not able to instruct them; for “if the blind lead the blind, both must fall into the ditch.” And in general it is affirmed, that the “people are destroyed for lack of knowledge,” Hosea 4:6. Of such ruinous consequence, by one means or other, is the people’s ignorance of what it is their duty to know; and by no one way doth it so effectually operate unto their destruction as by this of disposing them to a defection from the truth which they have professed when any trial or temptation doth befall them.
Multitudes, yea, whole nations, are often brought unto an outward general profession of the truth of religion, especially with respect unto the opposition of any other that is made thereunto. The influence and example of some that are in power and esteem among them, falling in with a season of encouraging circumstances, may produce this effect, where men have little knowledge of what they profess, and less sense of its power and efficacy. So the body of the people of old turned unto the profession of the true religion under the reformation made by Josiah; nevertheless, as the prophet observes, “they did it not with their whole hearts, but feignedly,” Jeremiah 3:10. They did it not out of love to the truth, or a cordial respect unto the ways of God, but in a hypocritical compliance with their ruler. The conversion of the northern nations after they had possessed the western parts of the Roman empire was a pledge of what their future profession was like to prove. The first conversion of the world was by the laborious preaching of apostles, evangelists, and others, accompanied with many miraculous operations, exemplified in holiness of life, and patience under all sorts of persecutions; and by this means none were received or admitted into the profession of Christian religion but such as were personally convinced of its truth, instructed in its mysteries, conformed in their lives to its precepts, and engaged unto its profession against persecution. But in these latter conversions, some kings, rulers, or potentates, being dealt withal by popes or other princes, and thereon (perhaps with no small influence from secular considerations) admitting of the Christian religion in opposition unto Paganism, their allies, kindred, and subjects, usually followed them therein; having indeed little more of Christianity than the administration of some external rites, and a relinquishment of their old idols for the new saints proposed unto them. By this means their first profession of Christianity was laid in profound ignorance of the principles and most important doctrines and duties of the gospel. Hence it became most easy for them who were looked on as their guides to lead them into all those foolish opinions, idolatrous practices, superstitious devotions, and blind subjection to themselves, whence at length issued the fatal apostasy. Knowing but little of what they ought to have known, and delighting not in obedience unto what they did know, they willingly embraced themselves, and God judicially gave them up unto, those strong delusions which turned them wholly from the gospel.
Thus the generality of this nation hath received and professed the protestant religion in opposition unto Popery; and no doubt many did so through a sincere and effectual conviction of its truth, upon the first reformation. But it is so come to pass, that what through their own supine negligence and carelessness about all things invisible and eternal, what through the sloth, ignorance, laziness, and wretched indifferency in religion, of some of those that should instruct them, multitudes are become shamefully ignorant of the rudiments and principles of that religion which they account themselves to profess. So hath it been almost in all ages and places after profession became national. Many will not make use of the means of instruction which they have, and more want that means in an effectual measure. Nor, it may be, can there be an instance given where there hath been sufficient care taken, or at least sufficient provision made, for the instruction of the body of the people in all parts of it; neither is that ordinary course of the ministry which is passant in the world sufficient to this purpose. Can any man who knows any thing of the gospel, or of the nature of men with respect unto spiritual things, once suppose that the reading of prayers unto a people, or the rehearsing of a sermon without zeal, life, power, or evidence of compassion for the souls of men, accompanied with a light, vain, worldly conversation (as it is with many), should answer the apostolical pattern of laying the foundation, and then carrying on of men by continual instruction unto perfection? From hence (as also from other reasons obvious unto all impartial observers) it is that “darkness covers the earth, and gross darkness the people,” ignorance prevailing on all sorts of men. Some will not learn, some have none to teach them, some are engaged in the pursuit of sensual lusts and vanities, some swallowed up in the love of and cares about the things of the world; few in any age have been conscientiously diligent in the things which are of eternal concernment unto them.
This was that which facilitated the papal apostasy, from whence it took its rise, and by which it received its progress. Those who would on the motives mentioned be accounted Christians, and which it was the interest of the pretended presidents in religion to have so esteemed, being profoundly ignorant, they first accommodated the practices of religion unto their carnal, superstitious minds, and then gradually led them into all errors and fables; for they were blind, and knew not whither they went. So were the important truths of the gospel abandoned for monkish dreams, for legends of foolish, lying miracles, and other heathenish superstitions. It was by ignorance, I say, principally, that the people gave themselves up unto the power of seducers; which enabled the architects of the Roman apostasy to carry them into opinions, ways, and practices, suited unto their secular interest: and so sensible have they been of their advantage hereby, as that some of them have commended ignorance, as the most useful qualification of the people in religion!
We may therefore well fix this as another cause, or occasion at least, of apostasy. When men are ignorant of the religion which themselves profess, as to its doctrines, and the principal grounds of them; when they are like the Samaritans, who understood not their own religious worship, which they had received by tradition, but “worshipped they knew not what,” John 4:22, — they are no way able to defend themselves against the least impressions of seducers. They may plod on in the old track of some formal outward duties, but if any one meet them in their way, it is easy for him to turn them out of it. So the apostle, showing the danger that professors were in because of apostatical seducers, assigns the means of their preservation to be “the unction which they had received, whereby they knew all things,” 1 John 2:19,20,27. Had they not been taught and instructed in the truth, they could not, at such a season, have persevered in the profession of the faith. Yea, such persons are very ready to think that there is something worthy their consideration in what is proposed unto them by the most corrupt seducers, whereas they have really found nothing in what themselves have so long professed; for no man can find any real benefit, profit, or advantage, in that whereof he is ignorant. So it is said that some by “good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple,” Romans 16:18. Every thing they say hath a plausible pretense and appearance unto persons under that character, so as that they are apt to be taken and pleased with it. Hence is that advice of the apostle unto them who design establishment in faith and order: “Brethren, be not children in understanding; howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men,” 1 Corinthians 14:20. Te,leioi gi,nesqe tai/j fresi., Be ye complete, perfect,” well instructed in your minds, fully initiated into the doctrines of the gospel. Such the apostle calls telei,ouj, “perfect men,” 1 Corinthians 2:6; Hebrews 5:14. Those who, in opposition hereunto, are “children,” — that is, weak and ignorant, — will also be uncertain and unstable. They will be as 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,” Ephesians 4:14.
For let some crafty papal emissaries come among this sort of people, and let them confidently tell them that they neither have, nor ever will have, any benefit by the religion they profess, and that they have no evidence or assurance of the truth of it; — they tell them no more but what they will know to be true if once they take it into consideration; for whereas they have seemed to be “always learning,” by resorting to church, and the like outward means whereby religion is expressed, yet they “never came to the knowledge of the truth.” Wherefore, when by any means they are put unto a stand, and are forced to consider themselves, they are amazed to find how little it is that they believe of the religion which they profess, or know of the ground of what they would be thought to believe.
Let such persons add (as they will not fail to do) that with them of Rome is full assurance, that none ever mistook the way who accompanied them that are of the old religion, which their forefathers professed so many ages before this new-fangledness came up, which hath filled all things with confusion, disorder, sects, and divisions, whereas before all were of one mind (which was the most plausible argument of Paganism against Christianity), every troublesome personal circumstance of their present condition makes them inclinable to believe that it may be as they say. Let them tell them, moreover, of the power granted unto the priesthood of their church to pardon all sorts of sins; of the effectual intercession of saints and angels, among whom they may choose out particular patrons and guardians for themselves; of the mercy, grace, goodness, power, and interest in heaven of the blessed Virgin, all continually exercised in the behalf of Catholics; of the miracles that are daily wrought among them; of the wondrous sanctity and devotion which some among them have attained; — they begin to think that there is somewhat in these things which they can feel or see, whereas in their own religion they can understand little or nothing at all. The “great things” of the gospel are “strange things” unto them; they neither do nor can understand them by all the diligence they think meet to use in this case. But the things now proposed unto them have the nature of tales, which the mind of man is accustomed unto, and apt both to receive and retain. And it is not imaginable how easy a transition will prove from a religion whereof men know little or nothing at all, unto that which at one view presents unto their fancies and senses all that they need believe or do that they may be eternally happy.
Suppose one of another sort to come among such persons, and at once call them off from the profession of that religion which they pretend unto, confidently requiring them to attend wholly unto a light within them, which will be their guide and direct them unto God; — they find by natural experience that there is some such light within them as that which he seems to propose unto them; for there is so in all men, as the apostle declares, even the light of conscience, accusing or excusing as unto sin or duty, Romans 2:14,15. Having, therefore, by reason of their ignorance, no experience of any power or efficacy in that religion which themselves profess, they begin to think there is a reality in what is proposed unto them, and so are easily inveigled; for there is no security of his constancy for one moment, when a trial or temptation shall befall him, who hath not light or knowledge enough of the truth to give him some inward experience of the efficacy of what he doth profess.
But it is no way necessary to insist any longer on that which is so evident, both in matter of fact and in the reasons of it. An apostasy from a traditional profession of those truths which indeed men understand not, is easy, and in a time of temptation unavoidable. In all ages, multitudes have thus perished for want of knowledge; for such persons are destitute of defense against any external cause or means of defection. They have nothing in their minds to oppose to force, nothing unto seductions or fraud, nothing to the examples of great leaders, nothing to conflict with the superstition of their own minds; and will therefore, when wind and tide suit the design, comply with any fair pretense for a revolt.
And herein lieth no small part of the danger of the public profession of the protestant religion among us. By whose defect principally God knows, but it is incredible how stupidly ignorant multitudes are. Such there are who know no difference in religion, whilst the same names of God and Christ are commonly used, and the same places frequented for worship. Yet will this sort of men show great zeal and earnestness against Popery and other heresies! None more forward to revile, contemn, and prosecute them to their power; as ready as Mohammedans are to persecute Christians, or Papists sincere believers, and that on the same grounds. But if at any time they are put unto a stand, and necessitated to give an account unto themselves of the reason of their own religion, what it is they believe, and why they do so, their confidence will fail them, and, like unto men fallen into cross-paths and ways, they will not know what to do. And on such occasions they are the readiest of all men, in a kind of shame of themselves, to give up the religion which they have professed for any other, wherein it is promised they shall have more skill, and by which they may have some benefit, as it is pretended, whereas by their own they have had none at all.
Whatever, therefore, is amongst us or elsewhere an occasion of ignorance among the people, it doth expose them unto a fatal defection from the truth If those upon whom it is incumbent to instruct them in the knowledge of the truths and mysteries of the gospel are unskillful or negligent in the discharge of their duty, they do what lieth in them to give them up bound hand and foot to the power of their spiritual adversaries; and they will be found chargeable with no less guilt who lay obstructions in the way of others who would willingly labor in the instruction of them unto their power. A man would think, from all circumstances, and all indications of the present inclinations of the minds of men, that it were the chief interest of all that really love the protestant religion to preserve its professors from apostasy or any disposition thereunto. That this will be done effectually without a continual instruction of them in the truths which are to be professed, with their grounds, reasons, and effects, is so fond an imagination as that it deserves no consideration. It is but to build castles in the air, to suppose that men will be kept constant in the profession of religion by outward laws, the observance of external forms, and the secular advantage of some persons by it, wherein they are not concerned. They will not be so, I say, when a trial shall befall them. There is no other means that is appointed of God, or is rational in itself, for the attaining of this end, but that those who are so concerned do what in them lies personally to instruct the people in the truth, encouraging them unto obedience by their own example; and to prevail with them who have the same design to be assisting with them therein. But to cry out of the great danger of protestant religion in the growth of Popery, and at the same time not only to be negligent themselves in the great duty of communicating the real effectual knowledge of it unto the souls of men, but also to lay needless obstructions in the way of others who would sincerely endeavor so to do, is an unaccountable solecism in religion. Either we are not in earnest in our pretended zeal for the truth and our fears of the prevalency of Popery, or we believe not that instruction in the truth is the only means to preserve men in the useful profession of it; which is to renounce the gospel and all rational consideration therewithal, or we are influenced by other things, which we far more esteem than evangelical truth and the purity of religion.
The reformation of the church consisted principally in the deliverance of the people from darkness and ignorance; and if through our neglect they should be reduced again into the same state and condition, they would be a ready prey for the Papacy to seize upon. The advice of the apostle, as to the duty of all gospel ministers and officers in such a season as we are fallen into, is that alone which will preserve us, 2 Timothy 4:1-5.
But it may be supposed that so much labor and diligence in the instruction and teaching of the people, as some assert, is altogether unnecessary. It is enough if they be taught what are the general principles of religion, and do thereon comply with the conduct of the church whereunto they do belong. Besides, if this burden be incumbent on the ministry, that those called thereunto are to have no relaxation from constant, sedulous “laboring in the word and doctrine,” and are moreover required to exemplify what they teach in the whole course of their conversation, who would ever take upon him that office that can advantage himself in the world any other way? It must needs prove very burdensome if we have a religion that will not be preserved in the minds of men without all this constant., endless toil and labor. In the Roman church we see how easy a thing it is to keep up the people unto its profession, whilst the clergy are at liberty to pursue and use the pleasures and honors of this world, nor are any of them obliged unto those irksome and endless pains which we seem to require; yea, they find by experience that ignorance in the people is the best expedient to keep them in subjection to the priests, and then all things are secure. I wish that such thoughts as these do not influence the minds of some unto a readiness for a change, if so be it might be effected without hazard. But if more pains, diligence, labor, with perseverance therein, be required by us in the ministers of the gospel and guides of the church, than the Holy Ghost in the Scripture doth plainly, positively, frequently enjoin, let it be rejected and despised. Alas! the best of us, of all that are alive, do come short in many things of the rules and examples that are proposed unto us therein, nor do I know on what grounds or by what measures the most of us do intend to give in our accounts at the last day. Nor is there any more impious opinion, nor more contradictory to the gospel, than that it is enough for the people to be instructed only in the general principles of religion, without any farther improvement or growth in knowledge: for those who are thus called “The people” are, I suppose, esteemed Christians, — that is, disciples of Jesus Christ, and members of his mystical body; and if they are so, their growth in understanding, their edification in knowledge, their being
carried on unto perfection, their acquaintance with the whole counsel of God, with the mysteries of his love and grace in Christ Jesus, are as necessary for them as the “saving of their souls,” indispensably depending thereon, can render them. And if we will be ministers of the gospel, it will not be best for us to prescribe unto ourselves our rules and measures of duty. It will be our wisdom to accept of that office on the terms limited by the Holy Ghost, or utterly to let it alone. And we must know, that the more exactly our profession is suited unto the gospel, the less mixture there is in it of any thing human, the more difficult it is thoroughly to instruct men in the knowledge of it. The mind of man is far more apt and able to comprehend and retain fables, errors, and superstitions, than evangelical truths. The former are natural unto it; against the latter it hath a dislike and enmity, until they are removed by grace. Hence, some will make a more appearing proficiency in a false religion in four or five days than others will do in the knowledge of the truth almost in so many years. We may have well-grown Papists in a month’s time, that shall be expert in the mysteries of their devotion; and there is another profession that two or three days will bring men unto a perfection in: but slow is the progress of most in learning the truth and mysteries of the gospel. If peculiar diligence and constant sedulity be not used in their instruction, they will be made a prey unto the next opportunity for a defection from the truth.
PRIDE AND VANITY OF MIND, SLOTH AND NEGLIGENCE, LOVE OF THE WORLD, CAUSES OF APOSTASY — THE WORK OF SATAN, AND JUDGMENTS OF GOD IN THIS MATTER.
III. The innate pride and vanity of the minds of men is another means whereby they are disposed and inclined unto an apostasy from the profession of evangelical truth. With respect hereunto the design and work of the gospel is, to “cast down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God,” taught therein, “bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ,” 2 Corinthians 10:4, 5. The mind of man is naturally lifted up with high thoughts in itself and of itself. That it is sufficient unto all the ends of its being, all the duties of its condition, without any special aid or assistance from above, is the prevailing principle whereby it is acted. Men do not only by nature say, “With our tongue will we prevail; our lips are our own: who is lord over us?” Psalm 12:4, — “We have a sovereignty over all our outward actions;” but also, that nothing is, or can, or ought to be required of us, but what we have power in ourselves to comprehend, comply withal, and perform. This in all ages of the church, under various forms and pretenses, hath been contended for. The true state of all controversies about the powers of nature and grace is this, That, on the one hand, the minds and wills of men are asserted to be self-sufficient as to internal abilities unto all duties of obedience necessary unto eternal blessedness; on the other, that we have no sufficiency of ourselves, but that all our sufficiency is of God. See 2 Corinthians 3:5, 9:8. This principle, which sprung immediately out of that pride whereby, aiming at an enlargement of our self-sufficiency, we utterly lost what we had, was never yet rooted out of the minds of the generality of professed Christians.
In all things the mind of man would be its own measure, guide, and rule, continually teeming with these two evils: —
1. It exalts imaginations of its own, which it loves, applauds, dotes on, and adheres unto. This is the original of heresy, this hath given birth, growth, and progress, to error; for “God hath made man upright, but they have sought out many inventions,” Ecclesiastes 7:29. Seeking out and exalting inventions of our own, in things spiritual and religious, is the principal and most pernicious consequent of our fall from that state of uprightness wherein of God we were created.
2. It makes itself the sole and absolute judge of what is divinely proposed unto it, whether it be true or false, good or evil, to be received or rejected, without desire or expectation of any supernatural guidance or assistance; and whatever is unsuited unto its own prejudicate imaginations, it is ready to scorn and despise.
That, therefore, which we are now to demonstrate is, that where this pride and principle are predominant, where the one is not mortified by grace nor the other eradicated by spiritual light, there men can never receive the truths of the gospel in a due manner, and are ready to renounce them when they have by any means been brought unto the profession of them for a season; for, —
The gospel, — that is, the doctrines of it and truths contained in it, — is proposed unto us in the name and on the authority of God, having his image and superscription upon it. It hath such impressions of divine wisdom, goodness, grace, holiness, and power upon it, as manifests it to be the “glorious gospel of the blessed God,” 1 Timothy 1:11. Hence it ought to be received with a holy reverence, with a due sense of the glory of God, and as his voice speaking unto us from heaven. Hence is the caution of the apostle, that we would “not refuse” or “turn away from him that speaketh from heaven,” Hebrews 12:25. Without this it will never be duly received, truly understood, nor steadfastly believed. It is not to be received as “the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God,” 1 Thessalonians 2:13. It must be received with that frame of spirit, with that submission, that subjection of soul and conscience, which becomes poor worms of the earth when they have to do with the great and holy God, expressed Genesis 18:27. So our Savior tells us that “unless we be converted, and become as little children, we cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Unless we deny ourselves and all our own imaginations, unless we become humble and teachable, we can never arrive at a useful acquaintance with the mysteries of it. And he convinced the learned Pharisees that by reason of their pride, vain-glory, and hypocrisy, they could not perceive or understand the doctrine which he taught.
God promiseth that he will teach the meek or humble in judgment: “The meek will he teach his way,” Psalm 25:9. “The secret of the LORD is with them that fear him; and he will show them his covenant,” verse 14. “Whom shall he teach knowledge? whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts,” Isaiah 28:9. Unless men become as weaned children, as David affirms of himself, Psalm 131:2, when “his heart was not haughty, nor his eyes lofty,” verse 1, God will not teach them. There is, therefore, no such effectual obstruction of divine teachings as the pride of men’s minds, which is utterly inconsistent with them. Hence it is that men come with carnal confidence in themselves, the ability and sagacity of their own minds, to the consideration of the gospel and the things contained in it, without the least peculiar awe or reverence of God from whom it is; and hence do they suppose themselves, without more ado, competent judges of the mind of the Holy Ghost in all divine revelations. Can men who have once read the Scripture imagine that this is the way to learn heavenly truth or to partake of the teachings of God? Will the same frame of spirit suffice them in this design as that which they have when they are exercised about their other occasions? When we consider how men for the most part learn the truth, we need not wonder to see how easily they unlearn and forsake it. If the truth at any time be entertained by a soul whose mind is unhumbled and whose affections are unmortified, it is a troublesome inmate, and will, on the first occasion, be parted withal. It is true, we ought to employ the utmost of our rational abilities in the investigation of sacred truth; but yet if therein we follow the conduct of our own minds, diving perhaps into subtilties and niceties, forsaking a humble dependence on the teachings of God, it may be under apprehensions of singular wisdom, we betray ourselves into ruinous folly. This was that which corrupted all the endeavors of the schoolmen, and left them, in the height of their inquiries, to wax vain in their imaginations. The way of handling spiritual things in a spiritual manner, in the words which the Holy Ghost teacheth, — that is, not with curious, subtile reasonings and inventions of carnal, unsanctified minds, but with that evidence and plainness in argumentation, suited practically to affect the minds and consciences of men, which the Scripture giveth us both example and rule for, — was despised by them; but they came to the study of sacred things with their minds stuffed and prepossessed with philosophical notions and conceptions, with sophisms, distinctions, and various expressions of the serpentine wits of men, which they mixed with divinity, or the doctrine of the Scripture, woefully corrupting, debasing, and perverting it thereby. Most of their disputes were such as had never had foundation nor occasion in the world, if Aristotle had not invented some odd terms and distinctions, remote from the common understanding and reason of men wiser than himself. To inquire into divine revelation with a holy, humble frame of heart, waiting and praying for divine teaching and illumination of mind, that themselves might be made wise in the knowledge of the mysteries of the gospel, and able to instruct others in the knowledge and fear of God, it never came into their minds; but being furnished and puffed up with a conceit of their own sagacity, philosophical ability, and disputing faculty, harnessed with syllogisms, distinctions, solutions, and most preposterous methods of craft, they came with boldness on Christian religion, and forming it to their own imaginations, dressing it up and exposing of it in foolish terms of art, under a semblance of wondrous subtilty they wholly corrupted it, and drew off the minds of men from the simplicity of the truth as it is in Christ Jesus. Not one article of religion did this proud, self-conceited generation of men leave, that (whether their conclusions were true or false about it) any man could come to the understanding of it who had not been a better proficient in the school of Aristotle than of Christ. To believe and teach the doctrine of the Scripture, though with sound reason and judgment, and in the way of the Scripture to affect the minds and consciences of men, without their philosophical notions, niceties, and distinctions, whereby they had carved a corrupt, depraved, monstrous image of all things, and the knowledge of them, was, among them, to be a heretic or a blockhead. By the pride, confidence, and pretended subtilty of these men was religion totally corrupted, and the fountains poisoned from whence others sought for the waters of the sanctuary. Even what was left of truth among them was so debased, so divested of its native heavenly glory, beauty, and majesty, was rendered so deformed and unsuited unto that spiritual light wherein alone it can be usefully discerned, as to render it altogether useless and inefficacious unto its proper ends. Nor are we ever in more danger to subduct ourselves from under the teachings of God than when we lean unto our own understandings in our inquiries into spiritual things, so as to forget that humble, lowly frame of heart wherein alone we are meet to be taught or to learn in a due manner. And this is one way whereby men, through the innate pride of their minds, are obstructed in the receiving and disposed unto the relinquishment of evangelical truths.
Again; it is confessed that there is nothing proposed unto us in the gospel that is contrary unto reason, as reason is the due comprehension and measure of things as they are in their own nature; for how should there be so, seeing it is in itself the principal external effect of the reason or wisdom of God, which hath given unto all things their natures, properties, and measures? But yet there are things revealed in it which are above the comprehension of reason, as planted in the finite, limited understanding of man; nor is the ground hereof the accidental corruption of our nature, but the essential constitution of its being. There are, I say, divine mysteries in the gospel whose revelation we may understand, but the nature of the things themselves we cannot comprehend. And this reason itself cannot but acknowledge; for whereas it knows itself to be finite, limited, and bounded, how should it be able perfectly to comprehend things infinite, or all the effects of infinite wisdom? “Can we by searching find out God? can we find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is high as heaven; what can we dot deeper than hell; what can we know? The measure thereof is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea,” Job 11:7-9. These things so exceed the natural and duly proportionate objects of our understandings as that we cannot find them out to perfection. The reason of man hath nothing here to do, but humbly to comply with the revelations that are made of them.
Moreover, there are in the gospel things that are unsuited, yea, contradictory unto reason as it is corrupted. Reason in us is now no longer to be considered merely as it is finite and limited, but as, in the subject and exercise of it, it is impaired, depraved, and corrupted. To deny this, is to deny the fundamental principle and supposition that, in all things, the gospel proceedeth on; that is, that Jesus Christ came into the world to restore and repair our nature. In this state, as it is unable of itself to discern and judge of spiritual things in a due manner, so it is apt to frame unto itself vain imaginations, and to be prepossessed with innumerable prejudices, contrary unto what the gospel doth teach and require; and whatever it doth so fancy or frame, the mind esteems as proper acts and effects of reason as any it exerciseth or is capable of.
With respect unto both these, — namely, the weakness of reason as it is finite and limited, and the depravation of reason as it is corrupted, — it is the design of the gospel to bring every thought into captivity unto the obedience of faith; for, —
1. As to the former, it requires men to believe things above their reason, merely on the authority of divine revelation. Things they must believe which “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have they entered into the heart of man to conceive;” only they are “revealed unto us by the Spirit,” 1 Corinthians 2:9,10. It will not admit of an inquiry how those things may be which the mouth of the Lord hath spoken. The sense and meaning of the revelation it may inquire into, but cannot comprehend the things revealed. “Nobis curiositate opus non est post Jesum Christum, nec inquisitione post evangelium; cum credimus nihil desideramus ultra credere, hoc enim prius credimus, non esse quod ultra credere debemus,” Tertull. Praescrip. adv. Haeres. And when of old the wise, the scribes, the disputers of this world, would not submit hereunto, under the supposed conduct of their reason, they fell into the most brutish unreasonableness, in judging the wisdom of God to be folly and his power to be weakness, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25. And it is an unparalleled attempt of atheism which some in our days (who would yet be accounted Christians) have engaged in; — they would exalt philosophy or human reason into a right of judicature over all divine revelations. Nothing must be supposed to be contained in them but what is measurable by its principles and rules. What pretends to be above them, they say ought to be rejected; which is to make itself infinite, or the wisdom and understanding of God finite and limited. Wherefore, as to the things that are revealed in the gospel, because many of them are absolutely above the comprehension of our minds or reasons, they are not the judges of them, but are the servants of faith only in bearing witness unto them; for “the things of a man knoweth the spirit of man which is in him; but the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God,” 1 Corinthians 2:11. In brief, to affirm that we can be obliged to believe no more than we can comprehend, or nothing but what we can perfectly understand the nature of in itself, or that we may reject what is really above reason, on a supposition that it is contrary unto reason, is to renounce the gospel, and therewith all divine revelations. And this is spoken not of reason as it is corrupted, but merely as it is human reason, finite and limited.
2. As in things infinite, spiritual, and heavenly, the gospel proposeth unto men things quite above their comprehension, supposing their reason to be pure and incorrupted, only allowing it to be that which is finite and limited; so in things which practically respect the obedience of faith which it doth require, it prescribeth things contrary unto our natural conceptions, or reason as it is in us depraved: for the natural conceptions of our minds about religious duties and the way of living unto God are all of them suited unto the covenant of works, for they are the effects of the remainders of that light which did direct us to walk with God thereby. But hereunto the disposal of things in the covenant of grace is diametrically opposed, so that their accounts will never intermix, Romans 11:6; yea, the carnal mind, — that is, reason as it is corrupted, — acts its contradiction unto the will of God as revealed in the gospel with enmity and hatred, chap. 8:7. And [as] for those duties which are suited unto the light of nature, the gospel doth so change them, with the respect it gives them unto the mediation of Christ and the efficiency of the Holy Spirit, as that corrupted reason defies them, being so qualified, as foreign unto its conceptions. The duties themselves it can approve of, but not of their respect unto Jesus Christ, whereunto they are disposed by the gospel.
Hence it is that of old those who pretended such an absolute sovereignty of their own reason as to admit of nothing as truth but what its dictates complied withal, were of all men the slowest to receive and the forwardest to oppose the mysteries of the gospel; because they were above it in some things, and contrary unto it in more, as it is in most things corrupted, they looked on them as folly, and so despised them. This the apostle declares and records, 1 Corinthians 1:2. Especially was it so among them who, unto the vain imaginations wherein in general “their foolish heart was darkened,” had superadded some peculiar sect in philosophy which was of reputation among the wise men of the world; for they conceived and maintained all the maxims of their sect as the absolute dictates of right reason, though most of them were foolish fancies, either taken up by tradition or sophistically imposed on their understandings.
Hence, every thing that was contrary unto such principles or inconsistent with them, they looked on as opposite unto reason, and so despised it. Nor is it much otherwise at this day with many Christians, who make the traditional principles of their sect or party the rule whereby every thing that is in religion proposed unto them may be examined. Thus, though the generality of philosophers and wise men at Athens rejected the doctrine of the apostle, yet were there none so forward and fierce in their opposition unto him, so contemptuously proud in their censures of him, as were the Epicureans and Stoics, Acts 17:18; and the reason hereof was, because the doctrine which he taught was eminently contrary to the maxims of their peculiar sects: for whereas the Epicureans denied the providence of God in the government of the world, the existence of the souls of men after this life, all eternal rewards or punishments, there was no admission of any one word of the apostle’s doctrine without a renunciation of all their impious sentiments, and so the ruin of their sect. And as for the Stoics, the fundamental principle of their philosophy was, that a man should look for all blessedness or happiness in and from himself alone, and from the things that were in his own power, as being every way sufficient unto himself for that end. All that the apostle taught concerning the mediation of Christ and the grace of God by him was also diametrically opposite unto this principle. Wherefore those of these two sects opposed him in a peculiar manner, not only from the pride and darkness that are naturally in the minds of men, and are improved by the advancement of corrupted reason above its own proper place and dignity, but from the prejudicate opinions which, on the reputation of their sects, they adhered unto, as assured dictates of right reason in general. And when some such persons as these afterward, upon a general conviction of its truth, took upon them a profession of the gospel, they were the men who corrupted its principal mysteries by their vain philosophy, as the apostle intimates, Colossians 2:8. So Tertullian, “Haereses a philosophia subornantur. Inde Æones et formae, et nescio quae, et Trinitas hominum apud Valentinum, [qui] Platonicus fuerat. Inde Marcionis Deus melior de tranquillitate, a Stoicis venerat; et ubi anima interire dicatur ab Epicuraeis observatur; et ut carnis restitutio negatur, de una omnium philosophorum schola sumitur.”
We may apply these things unto our present purpose. The design of the gospel, in all its especial truths and mysteries, is to bring every thought into subjection unto the obedience of faith. Hence is that direction which flesh and blood will never comply withal, “If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise,” 1 Corinthians 3:18. Unless men renounce their carnal wisdom, in all its principles, effects, and operations, they will never become wise with that wisdom which is from above; and he who knoweth not what it is so to become a fool, be he who he will, was never yet wise towards God. Wherefore, when men have taken on them the outward profession of the gospel, they begin to find, upon inquiry, that the mysteries and principles of its doctrine are unsuited unto the natural pride of their minds, and inconsistent with that absolute sovereignty which they would in all things give unto their own reason. Hereon “many inventions are sought out” to cast off the yoke of faith, and to re- enthrone reason in the room thereof; — not that men depart from the faith with this express design, but this is that which secretly influenceth them thereunto. Hence the generality of those who forsake the truth on this ground and occasion are such as, trusting too soon to their own rational abilities, having neither will, nor humility, nor industry to inquire into the principles and reasons of truth in a due manner, do give up themselves unto the conduct and teaching of others, who have invented opinions more suited unto the innate pride of their minds and carnal reasonings; and some, by an over-earnest pursuit of the workings of their own rational faculties in spiritual things, having subducted their minds from that humble frame wherein alone they are capable of divine teaching, are betrayed into the same miscarriage. All ancient heresies sprung from this root, yea, those of them which are most absurd and foolish, and most diametrically opposite unto right reason, arose from a pretense thereof: for when men will have reason to have an absolute supremacy in religion, it is unavoidable but they must judge that their own is the reason which is intended; and that some may be led hereby into very foolish imaginations is easy to be conjectured, unless we shall suppose all men to be equally wise and sober.
I shall briefly exemplify these things in one instance, and that in a prevalent apostasy from the truth, and which at present is visibly progressive in the world; this is that of Socinianism. And I shall give an instance herein, because the poison of it is highly efficacious where it meets with the complexion and constitution of mind before described, and is more diffused than many are aware of: for although the name of it be generally condemned, and there are some opinions comprised under it whose profession is inconsistent with the interest of the most, yet all those deviations from the truth which we have amongst us, under several denominations, are emanations from that corrupt fountain; yea, the whole of it being a system of opinions craftily suited unto the first notions and conceptions of corrupted reason, and the inbred pride of men’s minds, in them who on any account own divine revelation, the first proposal of them finds ready entertainment with many of those whose souls are not prepared and fortified against them by a spiritual experience of the excellency, power, and efficacy, of the mysteries of the gospel. They no sooner hear of them but they know they express what they would have, as gratifying all the corrupt desires and carnal reasonings of their minds.
There are, as was observed before, two sorts of things in the doctrines of the gospel:—
1. Such as are above the comprehension and measure of reason in its best condition, as it is in us limited and confined; 2. Such as are contrary unto it as corrupted and depraved. And unto these two heads is this kind of apostasy reducible.
1. What is above reason, incomprehensible by it, those of this way do absolutely reject. Such are the doctrines of the Trinity and of the incarnation of the Son of God. Because the things taught in these doctrines are not comprehensible by their reason, they conclude that they are repugnant unto right reason. And by others the same doctrines are refused, as not compliant with the light that is within them; for the existence of the divine nature in three distinct persons, with the hypostatical union of the natures of God and man in the same person, they cannot acknowledge. These things, so fully, so plainly, so frequently revealed and asserted in the Scripture, so attested by the primitive catholic church, are rejected on no other reason but that they are against reason; nor is there any pretense that they are so, but because they are above it. When they have puzzled themselves with Nicodemus’ question, “How can these things be?” they peremptorily deny their existence, because they cannot comprehend the manner of it.
2. As unto those things which are contrary unto reason as corrupted, these they deprave and wrest unto a compliance therewithal. So they deal with the doctrines of the attributes of God, of his eternal decrees, of the office and mediation of Christ, of justification by his righteousness, of the power and efficacy of the grace of the Holy Spirit in the conversion of sinners, and of the resurrection of the dead. Because they cannot bring their reason as corrupted and depraved unto a compliance with these truths, they will force, hale, torture, and rack the truths themselves, to bring them into slavery unto their own reasons, or carnal, fleshly conceptions of spiritual things; for, allowing the words, terms, and propositions wherein they are expressed, they put absurd senses upon them, destructive unto the faith and contrary to the whole scope and design of the Scripture. So do they endeavor expressly to bring every divine revelation into captivity unto the bondage of their own perverse reasonings and imaginations.
It is, therefore, evident that this kind of apostasy springs from no other root but the pride of the minds of men, refusing to admit of evangelical truths on the mere authority of divine revelation, where they are above reason as it is limited, or contrary unto it as corrupted. On these terms the gospel can nowhere keep its station, nor will it forego its prerogative by subjecting itself to be tried by these uncertain measures or weighed in these uneven, tottering balances. The humble, the meek, the teachable, those who are made free and willing to captivate their understandings unto the obedience of faith, are those alone with whom it will abide and continue.
But it may be said, that, this being only one private heresy, of no great extent or acceptation in the world, there is no danger of any influence from it unto a more general defection. So, it may be, it seems unto many; but I must acknowledge myself to be otherwise minded, and that for two reasons: —
1. Because of the advance which it maketh every day in the addition of new, bold, proud imaginations unto what it hath already made its successful attempts in: for, in the pursuit of the same principles with those of the men of this way and persuasion, not a few begin absolutely to submit the Scripture, and every thing contained in it, to the judgment and sentence of their own reason; which is the true form and spirit of Socinianism, visibly acting itself with some more than ordinary confidence. What is suited unto their reason they will receive, and what is not so, let it be affirmed a hundred times in the Scripture, they will reject with the same ease and confidence as if they were imaginations of men like themselves. Both books that are written unto this purpose, and the common discourses of many, do fully testify unto this advance of the pride of the minds of men; and he is careless about these things who seeth not that the next stage is downright atheism. This is that dunghill which such blazing exhalations of pride do at last fall into. And herein do many countenance themselves with a false and foolish pretense that all those whom they differ from are fanatical enemies of reason, when they ascribe unto it all that any man in his wits can so do who believeth divine revelation, and doth not absolutely disavow the corruption of nature by the fall.
2. The poison of these principles is greatly diffused in the world; for hence it is that all those doctrines of the gospel which have any thing of spiritual mystery in them, which are constituent principles of, or do any way belong unto, the covenant of grace, and so not absolutely reconcilable unto reason as corrupt and carnal, are by many so laden with contempt and scorn that it is sufficient to expose any man unto the contumelies of “ignorant, irrational, and foolish,” who dares to avow them. Such are the doctrines of eternal predestination, of the total corruption of the nature of men as unto spiritual things by the fall, of the power and efficacy of the grace of God in the conversion of sinners, of the nature and necessity of regeneration, of union with Christ, of justification by the imputation of his righteousness, of the nature of internal, inherent righteousness or evangelical holiness, of the necessity of continual supplies of the Spirit in actual grace unto all duties of obedience, of the power of the Holy Ghost evidencing the divine authority of the Scriptures in and by themselves, with sundry others. Many can see no reason for the admittance of these things, or they cannot see the reason of them; and therefore, although they are fully and plainly declared in the Scriptures, yet are they, by no small generation among us, so derided and exploded as that the very names of them are grown into contempt. But why all this scorn, all this severity? Men may do well to consider, that not long since all the prelates of England owned those doctrines as articles of faith which now they so deride; and although they are not obliged by any divine precept to be of the same judgment with them because it was theirs, yet it may be they are under some obligation from the laws of the land not to renounce the ancient doctrines of the church, and are certainly bound by the laws of Christian modesty and sobriety not to vilify and scorn the doctrines they owned, and all that do profess them.
But it is warrant sufficient unto some for the utmost detestation of any principles in religion, that they have a seeming incompliance with their reason, though apparently corrupted by prejudice and weakened by ignorance. Hence they will not admit that there can be a consistency between the unchangeableness of God’s decrees and the freedom of our wills; that justification by the blood of Christ doth not render our own obedience needless; that the efficacy of God’s grace and the necessity of our duty are reconcilable. And herein they seem to take along with them, as their security, these two principles, seeing without them they have no foundation to build upon: —
(1.) That reason as it acts in them is the same with right reason in general, — that whatever respect is due to the one is so to the other. It were well, in the meantime, if prejudices, corrupt affections, and gross ignorance, did not, on great variety of occasions, manifest themselves among this sort of persons; and not only so, but such a course of conversation among some of them as none can think consistent with the divine teachings who believe the Scriptures. But it is so come to pass, that all that humility, meekness, self-diffidence, all that conscientious fear of sinning and practice of holiness, which the word of God makes so necessary unto them who would learn the truth as it is in Jesus, are by many (puffed up with a conceit of their own ability to know all things) utterly disregarded.
(2.) That there is no time or instance wherein those thoughts which seem to us most rational are to be captivated unto the obedience of faith; and yet without this there is no true knowledge of the mind of God in the gospel to be attained. What such principles will carry men out unto in religion were easy to conjecture, if experience did not render conjecture useless in this case.
Wherefore, this pride of the minds of men, refusing to bow or subject themselves unto the authority of divine revelation, designing to exalt self, in its intellectual and moral abilities, in its powers to know what it should and do what it ought, hath in all ages been a great principle of opposition unto and apostasy from evangelical truth: nor was it ever more rampant than in the days wherein we live; for besides that it hath openly spawned that whole brood of errors which some entire sects do espouse, it diffuseth itself in its effects among all sorts of professors of Christianity. An humble subjection of mind and conscience unto the authority of God in his word, — which alone, upon trial, will be found to answer the experience of believers, — is the only security against this distemper. This we may, this we ought to, pray for, not only for ourselves, but that it might be given of God unto them who scarce believe that God gives any thing that is spiritual and supernatural unto the souls of men, in any such way as that the effect should depend on the efficiency of grace, and not on their own wills.
Unto this pride, as inseparable from it, we may adjoin that vanity and curiosity that are in the minds of men. These are those which the apostle marketh under the outward sign and effect of them, namely, “itching ears,” 2 Timothy 4:3; for hence an inclination and hankering of mind after things novel, vain, and curious, doth arise. Under the power of these affections, men “cannot endure sound doctrine,” nor will abide in the simplicity of the gospel They know not how to be wise unto sobriety, and to keep their speculations about spiritual things within the bounds of sober modesty; but they are still intruding themselves into things they have not seen, being vainly puffed up by their own fleshly minds, Colossians 2:18. And as this curiosity hath produced many of these needless, vain opinions, subtle, nice, philosophical disputations and distinctions, wherewith some have filled religion; so from the uncured vanity of mind doth proceed that levity and inconstancy which are in many, whereby they are “tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine” that blows upon them, from the “cunning sleights of men who lie in wait to deceive.”
Unto all we may add carnal pride and ambition (where the outward affairs of the church or the profession of religion are accompanied with such secular advantages of wealth, honor, and rule, as to stir up envy and emulation among men of earthly minds); which, as they have occasioned many scandalous outrages in religion, so they have been the rise and occasion of many heresies also.
IV. Careless security and groundless confidences do betray men into apostasies from the gospel when unexpected trials do befall them. To give evidence hereunto we may do well to consider the things that ensue: —
1. The Holy Spirit hath sufficiently warned us all that defections and backslidings from the truth would fall out among the professors of it. This hath been already abundantly manifested in the express instances of such warnings and predictions before produced and insisted on. And there is in the word a vehement application made of all these warnings unto us and our duties. Hence are those exhortations and precepts multiplied, to “watch,” to “stand fast in the faith,” to “be strong and quit ourselves like men” in this matter. Nothing but a diligent attendance unto all gospel duties and a vigorous acting of all gospel graces will preserve us, if the Scripture may be believed. And as for those by whom these things are despised, it is no matter at all what religion they are of.
2. We are foretold and forewarned of the great danger that will attend the professors of the gospel when such a season of apostasy shall by any means come upon them. So prevalent shall the means of it be as that many shall be deceived, and if it were possible even the elect themselves, Matthew 24:11,24. Such a season is an “hour of temptation that cometh on all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth,” Revelation 3:10; and the woful event in them that shall be overtaken with the power of it, in their utter and eternal destruction, is in many instances set before us.
3. It is also plainly intimated that such a season of the prevalency of a defection from the truth shall be a time of great security among the generality of professed Christians. Churches shall be asleep, persons shall cry, “Peace, peace,” when that day eometh as a snare.
We are not, therefore, left without sufficient warning in this case, both of the certainty of our trial, the greatness of our concernment, and the danger of security; and yet, notwithstanding all these means of excitation unto a vigorous attendance unto our condition, danger, and duty, it is evident unto every discerning eye how desperately secure are the generality of professors of the gospel with respect unto this evil and the consequents of it. Nothing can awake them unto the consideration of their own state, although their neighbors’ houses are set on fire from hell. Love of the world, with prosperity and ease, on the one hand, or the cares and businesses of it on the other, do so take up the minds of men that they are not sensible of any concernment in these things. And we may briefly consider the various ways whereby this security puts forth its ettlcacy in disposing men unto apostasy when they fall into the occasions of it: —
(1.) It doth so by possessing and overpowering them with a proud, careless, supine negligence. Men hear of this evil and the danger of it, but, like Gallio, they “care for none of these things.” They know not of any concernment they have in them, nor of any need they have to provide against them. Unto some others, perhaps, these things may belong, but unto them not at all. Those who would press them on their minds and consciences they look on as persons causelessly importunate, or troubled with groundless suspicions and fears. If there be any danger about religion, they doubt not but sooner or later provision will be made against it by law; but as unto any special duty incumbent on themselves with respect unto their own souls, they know nothing of it, nor will consider it, Had not the world been asleep in this security, had not men been utterly regardless of their interest in the truth, it had not been possible that religion should have been so totally corrupted as it was in the Papacy, and yet so few take any notice thereof. At some seasons God raised up among them witnesses for the truth, who not only declared and professed it, but also sealed their confession with their blood; but the generality of Christians were so far from being excited thereby to the consideration of their own concern and duty as that they opposed and persecuted them unto destruction, as the disturbers of the public tranquillity. And it is no otherwise at this day. Many complain of, more fear, a defection from the gospel. It is also evident in how many things the doctrine of it is already by some corrupted by whom it was formerly professed. Instances of as great apostasies as the name of Christianity is capable of are multiplied among us; and yet how few are there that do at all regard these things, or once consider what is either their duty or their danger in such a season!
(2.) It worketh and is effectual by a wicked indifferency as unto all things in religion. Men under the power of this security neither see, nor will understand, nor can be made sensible of, the difference that is between truth and error, piety and superstition, so as to value one more than another. “It is all religion, and it is no more but so. If persons change from one way to another, so as they do not utterly renounce Jesus Christ, they may be saved in the way they betake themselves unto.” The profession of such persons attends on all occasions, and an apostasy from the mysteries of the gospel will be but a useful compliance with opportunity.
We judge no men, no party of men, as to their eternal state and condition, upon the account of their outward profession in religion, unless they are open idolaters or flagitious in their lives God only knows how it is between him and their souls The framing of churches (as the church of Rome) according unto men’s minds, fancies, opinions, or interests, and then confining salvation unto them, is an effect of pride and folly, as contradictory to the gospel as any thing that can be imagined. But yet there is a wide difference to be made between apostates and others. “Better men had never known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment.” Those who have been instructed in the truth of the gospel, and have made profession of it, are for the most part acted by such depraved principles, moved by such corrupt lusts, and do show so much ingratitude against the Lord Jesus Christ in their defection, “denying the Lord that bought them,” that they put a peculiar character and mark upon themselves; and although we will not judge any, yet is it our duty to put men in remembrance of the danger that attends such apostasies. So the apostle expressly tells the Galatians, that upon their admittance of legal ceremonies, and falling from the grace of the gospel in the one point of justification, “Christ should profit them nothing,” or they should have no benefit by what they yet retained of the profession of the gospel, chap. 5:2-6. And as to those who are carried away by the “strong delusion” of the grand apostasy, foretold 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12, he says plainly that “they shall be damned,” verse 12; and Peter also affirms that those who introduce “damnable heresies” do bring on themselves, and those that follow their pernicious ways, “swift destruction,” 2 Peter 2:1,2. So little countenance doth the Scripture give unto this effect of cursed security.
(3.) It likewise worketh by vain confidences. Most men think with Peter, and on no better grounds than he did (nor so good neither, as not being conscious unto themselves of so much sincerity as he was), that though all men should forsake the truth and purity of religion, yet they will not do so. But they understand not at all what it is to be preserved in an hour of temptation, nor what is required thereunto. They scorn to fall away, and yet they scorn all the means whereby they may be preserved from so doing. Tell them that they stand in need of the power of God for their preservation, of the intercession of Christ, of the constant supplies of the Spirit, of an experience of the goodness and efficacy of the truth, with the benefits which their own souls have received thereby; and that for this end they are to watch, pray, and live in a constant attendance unto all evangelical duties; and they despise them all through their pride, or neglect them through their spiritual sloth that they are given up unto. Such persons as these, if they meet with any thing that mates f9 their confidence, fall at once under the power of the next temptation they are assaulted withal.
Wherefore, whereas the generality of professed Christians are influenced, one way or other, by this woful security, it is no wonder if they are surprised and hurried away from their profession by seducers, or that they will be easily carried down the stream when they fall into a general inclination unto a defection.
V. Love of this present world and the perishing satisfactions of it betrays innumerable souls into frequent apostasies from the gospel. So the apostle assures us in the instance of Demas: 2 Timothy 4:10, “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world.” And as he forsook the apostle, so also the work of the ministry, and it may be Christianity therewithal. I shall not insist on that love of the world which works by covetousness in the course of men’s lives, though this be a means also disposing them unto apostasy; for our Savior affirms that the “seed which falls among thorns is choked,” — the word which is received by men whose hearts are filled with the cares of this present world never comes to the perfection of fruit-bearing. I shall only make mention of two seasons wherein the predominancy of this love in the hearts of men multiplies apostates from the truth.
The first is that of persecution, wherein the professors compared by our Savior unto the stony ground do presently fall away. “Such persons,” saith he, “have no root in themselves, but, during for a while, when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, they are offended,” Matthew 13:20,21. The first thing that persecution attacks the minds of men withal is their secular interests in this world; their wealth, their houses, lands, and possessions, are put into hazard by it. Willing, it may be, this sort of men are to follow Christ for a while, with the young man in the gospel; but when they hear that all they have will be hazarded, it may be must be parted withal, they go away sorrowful. Sorry they are for a while to leave that word or doctrine which before they had received with joy, as Matthew 13:20, but sorrowful as they are, love of the world overcomes all other considerations, and away they go. What multitudes such seasons have driven from the truth, what stars they have cast down from heaven, no nation hath had greater experience than our own in the days of Queen Mary. I pray God it never meet with another trial, and also hope that it is not likely so to do!
The other season when love of the world gives up men unto this fatal evil is, when and where superstition and error are enthroned. We may look into some foreign nations where the gospel had once taken great place, especially a great part of the nobles were obedient unto the faith; but the supreme power of the nations abiding in the hands of those of the Roman profession, and therewith the disposal of authority, fiches, and honor, those vain bubbles of the world, and idols of corrupted minds, it is known what influence it hath had upon the profession of religion, most of the posterity of those great and truly noble persons which once professed the protestant religion being in most places fallen back into the old apostasy: for, their minds being filled with the love of this world, and precipitated by ambition into a fierce pursuit of their desires, finding the way to worldly honor and wealth shut up unto all that would steadfastly adhere unto the truth, they have generally sacrificed their convictions, consciences, and souls, unto this predominant lust. And such a season as this is more to be feared than persecution itself. Many have a generous stoutness not to be violently forced out of their persuasion and profession; but when these cursed baits are laid before men, with various pretenses to stifle their consciences and advantages to keep up their reputation, there is no setting up a dam against the torrent of their love of this world. The warmth of the sun caused him to cast away his garment which the blustering of the wind did but wrap closer about him. The rays of power in honors and favors have made more cast away their religion in the neighboring nations than persecutors ever could do. Whilst, therefore, the world is enthroned in the minds of men, whilst it is made their idol, whilst hopes of advance and fears of loss are the principal affections whereby their course of life is steered, profession of the truth stands upon very uncertain and ticklish terms. And therefore, whilst we see that the minds of multitudes are under the power of this lust, all the security which can be had of their continuance in the profession of the truth is their not being led into either of the temptations mentioned.
I shall not insist on other depraved affections of the minds of men. The truth is, there is no one prevalent lust, no one predominant sin no spiritual or moral disorder indulged unto, but it disposeth the soul first unto an under-valuation and then to a relinquishment of the truth, as occasions are offered.
VI. The hand of Satan is in this matter. He was the head of the first apostasy from God. Having himself fallen away from that place and order in the obediential part of the creation wherein he was made, the first work he engaged in (and he did it effectually) was, to draw mankind into the guilt of the same crime and rebellion; and ever since the revelation of the means of recovery for man (from which he was justly excluded), he hath pursued the same design towards all unto whom that way of recovery is proposed. Thus he quickly carried away the whole old world upon the matter into idolatry. And ever since God hath been pleased to make known the way of life and salvation by Jesus Christ, his two great designs and works in the world have been to keep men off from receiving the gospel, and to turn them aside who have received it. The first he managed two ways, — first, by stirring up raging, bloody persecutions against them that professed it, to deter others from engaging into the like way; and the other, by blinding the eyes of men, and filling them with prejudices against the truth, as the apostle declares, 2 Corinthians 4:4. By what ways and means in particular he carried on this first design, in both parts of it, belongs not unto our present inquiry. Failing herein, his principal design in the world hath been, and continueth yet to be, the corrupting of the minds of men about the truth, and drawing them off from it, in part or in whole. So the apostle intimates, 2 Corinthians 11:3, “I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” It was the serpent by whom Eve was beguiled, but who is it the apostle is jealous that the Corinthians might have their minds corrupted by, from the simplicity that is in Christ; that is, by false doctrine, or, as it were, “another gospel,” as he speaks, verse 4? It was the same serpent, by himself and in his agents, as he expresseth it, verses 14,15. And he compareth his attempt to draw off professors from the gospel unto his attempt on Eve, whereby he began the apostasy from God in the state of nature. The tenor of the covenant was proposed unto our first parents in the prohibition of eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and the threatening annexed thereunto; and he beguiled Eve by corrupting the threatening by his false interpretation of it, whereby he corrupted her mind. The tenor of the covenant of grace is proposed unto us principally in the promises of the gospel, which are the center of the whole doctrine of it. These, therefore, he endeavors by all means to pervert, in opposition unto the wisdom and grace of God in them. Hereby he hopes to draw off men from the simplicity that is in Christ, or the plain declaration of the will of God in the gospel, unto false and foolish imaginations of his own suggestion. And what a hand he was to have in the great apostasy the apostle foretells, 2 Thessalonians 2:9-11. There was to be the working of Satan in it, and strong or effectual delusions, unto the, belief of lies; which are all from him, who is the father of them. So men departed from the faith by “giving heed to seducing spirits,” 1 Timothy 4:1, — that is, to the devil and his agents. It would be too long a digression, to engage into a particular inquiry how, by what ways and means, Satan prevails with men to turn them off from the truth, and turn them unto fables. How he blinds their minds, how he inflames their lusts, how he presents occasions, how he suggests temptations, with false and corrupt reasonings; what colors and pretenses he puts upon his designs when he transforms himself into an angel of light; with what power, signs, and lying wonders, he gives countenance to his delusions; how he works on the minds of seducers, how on the minds of them that are to be seduced; how he stirs up persecution against the truth and its profession, — would require a discourse, fully to declare, longer than the whole of this is designed to be. It may suffice to know that he is not weary nor wanting unto any of those manifold advantages which are administered unto him. He is at work in all places at this day; in some, making havoc of the churches; in others, by various wiles and artifices, filling the minds of men with prejudices against the truth, and turning them from it.
Lastly, God doth not look on all these things as an unconcerned spectator. He, indeed, “is not tempted with evil;” he tempteth none, he seduceth none; but he rules them all, and overrules all events unto his own glory. He will not suffer men first to undervalue and despise, and then to reject and forsake, the chiefest of his mercies, such as his word and truth are, without reflecting on them with some acts of his severity. Wherefore, when men, from the corrupt principles mentioned, seduced by the lusts of their own hearts and entangled by the deceits of Satan, do relinquish the truth, God, in his holy, righteous judgment, gives them up unto farther delusions, so that they shall complete their apostasy, and grow obstinate therein unto their destruction. When a people, a nation, a church, or private persons, have received the gospel and the profession thereof, not walking answerably thereunto, God may forsake them, and withdraw from them the means of their edification and preservation. The rule of his continuance with any people or church, as to the outward dispensation of his providence and the means of grace, is that expressed 2 Chronicles 15:2, “The LORD is with you, while ye be with him; and if ye seek him, he will be found of you; but if ye forsake him, he will forsake you.” He judicially forsakes them by whom he is wilfully forsaken.
God may be forsaken by men in one way, and he may righteously forsake them in another. For instance; under the profession of the truth, men may give up themselves unto all ungodliness and unrighteousness, unto a flagitious course of life in all abominations, so holding the truth captive in unrighteousness. In this case God ofttimes, in a way of punishment, gives men up unto an apostasy from the truth which they have professed, to show that he will not always have it prostituted unto the lusts of men. So the apostle speaks expressly, 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12. Although they received the truth in the profession of it, yet they loved it not; they yielded not obedience unto it, but took pleasure in sin: therefore God ordered things so that they should reject the truth itself also, and believe lies, unto their own destruction. Herein at this day lies the danger of a total and ruinous apostasy. Multitudes, the generality of all sorts, the body of the people, do yet assent unto and profess the truth; but, alas! what are the lives and conversations of many under that profession? How do all manner of sins abound among us! The profession of the truth by not a few is the greatest dishonor and disparagement that can be cast upon it. The best service many can do it is by forsaking it, and declaring that the belief of it is inconsistent with their cursed wicked lives. And may we not justly fear lest such persons should speedily be given up, by one means or other, to “strong delusion, to believe a lie,” unto their just damnation? And on the other hand, also, God sometimes gives men up to sins and wickednesses in practice, because of the rejection of the truth which they have received. So he dealt with them who liked not those notions of truth which they had concerning him, his being and his providence, from the light of nature, Romans 1:28. And so he usually deals with all apostates. If they will forsake the truth, they shall forsake righteousness and holiness, which are the proper fruits of it, and be given up unto all abominable lusts and practices.
We may therefore inquire by what ways and means God doth so punish and revenge the beginnings of wilful apostasy from the gospel, so that men shall complete them and prove obstinate in them unto their eternal destruction. And this he doth, —
First, By removing his candlestick from among them. This the Lord Jesus threatens his backsliding church withal, Revelation 2:5. God will, by one means or another, deprive them of the light and means of the knowledge of the truth, so that ignorance and darkness shall cover them and irresistibly increase upon them. Some of the instruments of light, it may be, shall be taken away by death, and some shall lie under prejudices; the gifts of the Spirit shall be restrained or withheld from others, that they shall have darkness for vision, and “the sword of the LORD shall be upon their right eye, that it shall be quite dried up.” In this condition of things, the minds of apostates, already bent upon backsliding, are, by their ignorance and darkness, more and more filled with prejudices against the truth, and alienated from it; for as they lose the knowledge and faith of any part of truth, their minds are possessed with what is opposite thereunto.
Secondly, In this condition God “sends them strong delusion, that they may believe a lie,” 2 Thessalonians 2:11. God. is, as it were, now resolved on the end of these persons, — what they have righteously deserved; and therefore he makes use of any means, as it is merely penal, to bring them thereunto. And as by the former act of his displeasure he took from them the knowledge of his truth, so by this he gives them up irrecoverably to adhere unto alia They shall not only profess it, but believe it; which is the cruellest slavery the mind of man is capable of. Now, God’s sending on men “strong delusion, that they may believe a lie,” consists in these things: —
1. Delivering them up to the power of Satan. He is the grand seducer, the deluder of the souls of men, the first author of lying, whose principal design it is to win over the faith and assent of men thereunto. This work he stands continually ready for, but that God is pleased to limit, bound, and restrain him, with respect unto those who are yet under his especial care. But as to these apostates, God breaks down all his fences about them, and by his efficacious permission suffers Satan to act his part to the utmost for their delusion. This was the state of things under the papal apostasy, wherein Satan had deluded men, as it should seem, to the satisfaction of his utmost malice; and to show how absolute he was in his success, he did, as it were, make sport with the deluded souls of men. There was nothing so foolish and sottish that he did not impose on their credulity. Many volumes will not contain the stories of those ridiculous follies which he so imposed on the minds of poor deluded mortals, wherein he seemed to sport himself in the misery of blinded mankind. God grant that he never receive a commission to act the same part among us, whose sins seem to cry aloud for it, and men live as if they longed to be again given up to the power of the devil!
2. By suffering seducers and false teachers to come among a people with such advantageous outward circumstances as shall further their success. These seducers prepare themselves for their work by their own inclinations and the suggestions of Satan; but God, for the executing of his just displeasure, will, by his providence, put advantages into their hands of prevailing over the minds of men. So the chief seducers in the world at this day, — namely, the pope and those acting with or under him, — have possessed such place and obtained such reputation among men as gives them ofttimes an uncontrollable success in their work. Did men stand upon even ground with them who were in the profession of the truth, should any so come unto them to persuade them unto the errors, superstitions, and idolatry of the Papacy, they could not but despise their offer; but these men having once gotten the name of “The temple of God,” and showing themselves to the people in the stead and place of God, what could they not draw and seduce them unto? Neither is their superstition or profession continued on any other grounds on the minds of the multitude, but only by that power over the consciences of men which names, titles, and the places they seem to possess in the church, do give unto them. Then, therefore, doth God give up men to delusions, when in his providence he affords such advantages unto them by whom they are to be deluded; for those who possess the places of outward veneration may lead a backsliding multitude unto what they please.
Lastly, God doth judicially smite such persons with blindness of mind and hardness of heart, that they shall not see, nor perceive, nor understand, even when the means of light and truth are proposed unto them. This effect of God’s severity is declared, Isaiah 6:9,10; and application is made of it unto the Jews under the ministry of our Savior himself, John 12:39-41, and that of the apostles, Acts 28:25-27, and is expounded, Romans 11:7,8.
When things are come to this issue; when God subducts the means of grace from men in whole or in part, or as unto their efficacy; when he permits Satan to deceive them by strong delusions; and, moreover, himself smites them with hardness of heart and blindness of mind, — then is the state of such apostates miserable and irrecoverable. We are not, therefore, to think it strange that the light of the gospel diffuses itself no more in the world, — that so eminent a stop is put unto its progress. God hath put an end unto his gracious dealings with some kinds of apostates, and they are reserved for another dispensation of his providence.
These are some of the general principles of that defection which is in the world from the mystery and truth of the gospel, with the reasons and causes of them; unto which more, I doubt not, of the like nature may be added.
But there is, moreover, a particular consideration to be had of those especial truths which any turn away from, and the imaginations they fall into; whereof the especial grounds and reasons, super-added unto those we have considered, as equally respecting every kind of defection from the gospel, are also to be inquired into; and it shall be done in one instance among ourselves.