Contributing unto the Discovery of the Dangers that threaten RELIGION, and the Work of REFORMATION in the Church of
Published for informing the ignorant and inadvertent;
By JAMES GUTHRIE,
Minister of the Gospel at STIRLING.
The lion hath roared, who will not fear? The Lord God hath spoken, who will not prophecy? Amos. 3.8.
What meanest thou, O sleeper? Arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not, Jonah 1.6.
I will come unto thee quickly, and remove thy candlestick
out of his place, except thou repent, Rev. 2.5.
G L A S G O W:
P R I N T E D I N T H E Y E A R, M, DCC, LXXX.
[First Published 1660.]
From that swarm of pestilent errors and heresies that doth abound in the neighbour nation of England, and our vicinity thereunto, and intimate and daily correspondence therewith.IT is far from my purpose to cast any imputation upon England, or to render the neighbour church and nation vile in the eyes of any, by discovering their nakedness, in reckoning up the many pestilent errors and heresies that many therein are infected with: I know there be many thousands in that land who have not bowed their knees to Baal, nor defiled their garments by departing from the faith; but do sadly bemoan, and faithfully bear witness against the falling away of others. And I do easily acknowledge, that England hath a great and honourable company of precious, and sound, and able, and godly ministers and professors, as readily are to be found in any nation or church upon the earth; but I hope it shall be no injury nor offence to say, (and would to God I could speak it with that compassionate resentment and serious affectedness of heart, that doth become in so sad and soul-concerning a case) that a great many in that church and nation, are infected with many noisome errors and pestilent heresies, which fret as a gangrene unto the destroying of many poor souls. Is there almost any of the precious and necessary truths of God, but hath some opposers and contradictors in England? Not only are the beautiful superstructures thrown down, but the very lowest and most necessary foundations of the Christian religion are razed and plucked up by the roots by the blasphemies of some. To dispute, and declaim, and write against the blessed Trinity, against the divinity of the eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ, who is over all, God blessed for ever, against the sacred scriptures, that they are not the word of God, are, with not a few, things common and ordinary: Yea, these very things which Jews and Mahometans, and not a few in Pagan nations do acknowledge; and which being denied, the condition of a man is little better than that of a beast; such as, the immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the dead, heaven and hell, eternal rewards and eternal punishments, are, by diverse, wantonly debated, and by some pertinaciously denied and impugned. The time was, and that not many years ago, when Independency, Erastianism, Brownism, and Anabaptism in that land, were looked upon as threatening danger to the churches and work of reformation in these nations; yet in comparison to the errors that now abound in England, these are but as mole-hills to mountains. The whole body of Arminianism, Antinomianism, Pelagianism, Socinianism, Familism, Quakerism, and almost what not, that hath at any time been broached by the father of lies, and infested the Christian church, but hath some brokers and patrons there. That these things are so, is but too sadly true, and these things being so, Is not the church of Scotland by reason of its vicinity unto, and intimate and daily correspondence and commerce with England, in imminent hazard to be tainted with infection thereby? The vicinity and next neighbourhood of nations and churches, especially when attended with intimate and ordinary fellowship, hath always had great influence upon the manners of one another, chiefly as to the depraving and corrupting of religion; to which all the sons of men, by reason of their in-bred ignorance and instability, and the power of corrupt imaginations, are of themselves but too prone. The children of Israel (not only) when they lived in the land of Egypt, were infected with many idolatrous and heathenish customs, Ezek. 21.27, (but even) when separated and brought into Canaan, albeit railed in and fenced with the holy and perfect law of the Lord, to which was added the sanction of many great and precious promises to such as did obey, and of many dreadful threatenings against the disobedient and rebellious, which were accordingly verified by God in eminent acts of his justice and goodness; the idolatrous opinions and practices of their neighbour nations had such influence upon them, that they could not be kept (scarce at any time for one generation together) from learning their works, and going a-whoring after their corrupt customs, Psalm 106.35-39. Yea, sometimes came to be worse than the heathen, whom the Lord had destroyed before them, 2 Chron. 33.9, and to change his judgments into wickedness, more than the nations, and his statutes more than the countries that were round about them, Ezek. 5.6, especially after that religion came to be corrupted amongst the ten tribes by Jeroboam, his erecting the calves at Dan and Bethel. Judah and Jerusalem, though they had the temple, and the ark, and the oracle, and the altar, with all the other ordinances of God, and also many prophets rising up early, and speaking to them in the name of the Lord, did then become treacherous, Jer. 3.11. When Aholah saw what Aholibah had done, she became more corrupt in her inordinate love than she, and in her whoredoms more than her sister in her whoredoms,till the Lord saw that she was defiled, and that they took both one way, Ezek. 23.11,13. The histories of the English and Scotch nations and churches, do testify, that they have for most part run one lot, both as to their reforming and corrupting of religion. This consideration was the prime ground of these confederacies that were transacted, first, between Q. Eliz. of England, and the lords of the congregation in Scotland; and afterwards between that queen and king James the VI. It was also this especially, that did induce these nations and churches to engage themselves in the solemn league and covenant, Anno 1643, because (as it is expressed by the ministers of England in their letter to the General Assembly of the church of Scotland, Anno 1641) they "did know and acknowledge, that these churches of England Scotland, seem both to be embarked in the same bottom, to sink and swim together, and are so nigh conjoined by so many strong ties, not only as fellow-members, under the same head, Christ, and fellow-subjects, under the same king; but also by such neighbourhood and vicinity of place, that if any evil shall much infest the one, the other cannot be altogether free, or if for the present it should, yet in process of time it would sensibly suffer also." Which is also homologated by the Assembly in their answer to that letter: "We have learned (say they) by long experience, ever since the time of reformation, and especially after the two kingdoms have been by the great goodness of God both, united under one head and monarch, but most of all, of late, which is not unknown to you, what danger and contagion in matters of kirk-government, of divine worship, and of doctrine, may come from the one kirk to the other; which besides all other reasons, may make us pray to God, and to desire you and all that love the honour of Christ, and the peace of these kirks and kingdoms, heartily to endeavour, that there might be in both kirks one Confession of Faith, one Directory for Public Worship, one Catechism, and one form of Kirk-Government," And the Commissioners of the Parliament of England in their propositions given by them to a Committee, to be presented to the General Assembly of this church, Anno 1643, for persuading of them to further and expedite the aid and assistance, then demanded by both Houses from the kingdom of Scotland, after they have given them to understand, that by reason of the prevailing of Papists, the Prelatical faction, and other malignant enemies to these who desired reformation, the hopeful beginnings hereof, were likely not only to be rendered ineffectual, but all the former evils, superstitions, and corruptions to be introduced by strong hand.
They do in the next place tell them, "That if once these again should take root in the church and kingdom of England, they would quickly spread their venom and infection into the church, and kingdom of Scotland;" the truth of which being well known, both to our church and state, did prevail upon them to concur with England in counsels and forces, for suppressing and preventing of these things, as may be seen in their answers to the declarations of the honourable houses of the Parliament of England, concerning that purpose. Upon the same ground, the church of Scotland did frequently by her commissioners at London, and by her letters to the Parliament of England, and to the Assembly of Divines at Westminster, and by her exhortations to her brethren of England, often warn of the danger of errors and heresies, when they were but yet in their first buddings, and far from the height that they are now at in England. The words of the Assembly in their declaration and brotherly exhortation to their brethren of England, Anno 1647, are worth the repeating in this case: (say they) while in the neighbour kingdom, "The staves of beauty, and bands, covenant, and brotherhood, are broken by many, the horn of malignants and sectaries exalted, the best affected borne down, reformation ebbing, heresy and schism flowing: It can hardly be marveled at by any person of prudence and discretion, if we be full of such fears, and apprehensions, as use to be in these who dwell near to a house set on fire, or a family infected, especially being taught by the sad experience of the Prelatical times; how easily a gangrene in the one half of this Island may spread through the hole, knowing also the inveterate and insatiable malice of the enemies of this cause and covenant, against this church and kingdom, which we cannot be ignorant of, unless we would shut our eyes, and stop our ears:" I might cite many things to this purpose out of the public records of both churches and nations, but these few I hope do sufficiently witness, what were the thoughts and apprehensions of men of judgment and understanding in both, but a very few years ago, as to the danger of religion in Scotland in the case of England's being infected with errors and heresies. And if there was reason then so to judge, how much more now, when besides the vicinity and contiguity of these two, and the daily commerce and correspondency that is between the people thereof, Scotland, is incorporated into one civil body and government with England, and have also the bar of civil laws for keeping out, and curbing of many errors and heresies taken away, and toleration and protection allowed thereunto, by which it cometh to pass, that the danger which was formerly nigh unto us, is now also in our bowels. And to this I shall speak in the next place.
From the Infection of Errors and Heresies already begun, and the footing that they have already got in this Church and Nation.THOUGH the plague when near unto us is dangerous, and fire in our neighbour's house, can hardly be kept from taking hold of our own, yet infection in our own body is more dangerous; and much harder it is to keep our house from burning when the fire hath already seized upon it, and the flames are flashing about our ears; and this is the case that the church of Scotland, and religion therein do stand in at this day: Not only have we amongst us many strangers who vent their errors at will, and without controulment, but sundry also of our own church and nation, are come to be infected therewith. The ministry of the land, though differing in that unhappy question about the public resolutions, yet are by the singular mercy and goodness of God, for anything that yet doth appear, kept sound and unanimous in their judgments against the errors of the times; and so also is the body of the people according to the measure of their knowledge in their several ranks and degrees; neither have sectaries so much cause to boast of their number and growth in Scotland, as commonly they do give out; they are (blessed be the God of truth and of mercy for it) as yet but very few, and inconsiderable in comparison to the body of this church, scarce one to a thousand; yet is the infection such, as ought not to be despised or neglected, as threatening no danger to religion and the work of reformation amongst us: Besides sundry others who are infected with errors in several sorts, there being not a few of these monstrously erring-souls, commonly called Quakers, who strike at the root of Christian religion, by denying the scriptures to be the word of God, and setting up, and holding forth their own doting fancies, and foolish imaginations, under the name of the light within them, as the infallible dictates of the Spirit of truth, and by denying the in-being of sin, and asserting the perfection of the new creature in the regenerated, even to such a measure of righteousness and holiness, as is equal with that of our blessed Saviour, Jesus Christ himself, and by denying the resurrection of the body from the dead, and maintaining many other errors, which though abominable and vile in themselves, yet are boldly vented and actively spread by these persons; and which is more lamentable, sad experience proveth in both nations, that not a few, and these not of the most ignorant and seeming profane, are apt to receive, and be carried away with these strange delusions: And therefore should we not be so slothful and secure, as to think that religion is not in hazard by the infection already begun amongst us. The apostle telleth us, That a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump, 1 Cor. 5.6. And if the church of Corinth was in hazard by one incestuous person, sinning against the light of nature, shall we not judge ourselves to be in hazard by some hundreds; the leaven of whose errors is not so sour to the natural man's taste. As the infection of the plague of pestilence hath in a little time derived itself into many, and at last brought forth the ruin of great and populous cities and societies, so hath the gangrene of error often spread itself from one or a few members of particular visible churches unto the body of visible professors therein; that from the sole of the foot unto the top of the head, there has been little or no soundness, but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores. The Arian heresy, which was one of the most dangerous and dreadful, that ever troubled the Christian church, had its beginning from one Presbyter in the church of Alexandria in Egypt, and yet did run so fast and so far, that in a few years, it did overspread a great part of the Christian world, which made Jerome say, that the world did groan and wonder at itself, that it was become Arian. We will ordinarily find, that the greatest and most prevailing heresies, have had their rise and original from very small beginnings, and that their authors and abettors have been at first but very few and inconsiderable. If we will not believe our ears, and that which our fathers have told us, yet let us believe our eyes, and that which experience hath taught us. How few and inconsiderable were the sectaries in these nations some eighteen or twenty years ago? And how numerous are they at this day? The Quakers (besides many others of several sorts) do boast themselves to be for number sundry ten thousands; And yet I do believe, that within these sixteen years, or little more, scarce were ten single persons of that judgment, heard of in any place of these nations; and their increasing in so short a time to so great a number, may convincingly teach us, that we may and ought to fear the growth and increase of sectaries in Scotland, albeit their number for the present be not great: And though haply there be not in every respect, such an aptitude in the people in this nation to receive errors, nor such parts and abilities for spreading of them as in sundry of the English, and that we have also the advantage of church-discipline for curbing of them; yet should we not upon such apprehensions as these, be secure: Errors have got no small footing amongst us already, and if the infection could enter, while the body is more entire and sound; how much more is it like to spread, when sundry of the members are corrupted. If we shall take a view of the many great advantages, that the spirit of error and delusion hath at this time, for strengthening and enlarging itself in this land, a man that hath but half an eye, may see, that religion is eminently in hazard thereby. Therefore I shall now proceed to speak somewhat unto these.
From the Toleration and Protection that is pleaded for, and allowed to many gross Errors and Heresies.THAT the civil magistrate is appointed of GOD to take care, not only of these things that do belong unto righteousness, and concern the civil peace, and natural life of man, but also of the things that concern religion, and do respect the glory of God, and the good of souls: and that in subordination to these ends, such outward impediments and obstructions as do hinder the same, ought by him to be removed out of the way, and not to be tolerated in a Christian common-wealth; is a truth so clearly set down in the scriptures, and so fully confirmed in the writings of divines, and so plainly and solemnly engaged unto in the Solemn League and Covenant, that it were needless for me to insist upon the proof thereof: Neither is this my purpose, if any do desire to furnish themselves with scripture and reason, in these things, they will find somewhat for their help in the former Testimony, and in the Warning and Testimony of the reverend Presbytery of Edinburgh, lately emitted against that sinful and unseasonable Petition of some of our unhappy country-men to the Parliament of England: That which we have to lament, is, That notwithstanding the clear light of the scriptures, and that reason both divine and human, do strongly plead the contrary, and that these nations are solemnly engaged by the public vows of God upon them, without respect of persons, to endeavour the extirpation of Popery, Prelacy, Superstition, Heresy, Schism, Profaneness; and whatsoever shall be found contrary to sound doctrine, and to the power of godliness: Yet a very vast toleration is not only pleaded for, and promoted by many, but also framed into a law; by which, protection and encouragement is allowed unto many gross errors and heresies, that do not only deny and destroy many of the beautiful superstructures, but do also strike at not a few of the cornerstones, and chief foundations of Christian religion; which doth minister singular advantage to the spirit of delusion for strengthening and spreading of itself, unto the corrupting of the truth of God, and subverting of souls. The corrupt nature of man, is of itself most fertile of vain imaginations, and most prone to carnal liberty, and to transgress the bounds, and remove the land-marks that are set unto it of God; so that even when curbed and hemmed in with the rail of his law, and with the utmost extent of the care and diligence, and faithfulness, and zeal, both of spiritual and civil rulers, it can hardly be kept from debording into many gross extravagancies in the things of God, and from turning into its course, as the horse rusheth into the battle. What then can be expected, when not only the yoke is taken off its jays, but that it is also fostered upon the breasts, and dandled upon the knees of protection, and countenance and encouragement, and suffered to grow up under the warm shadow of civil authority; but that the fountains of the great deep shall be opened up, and overflow the face of the whole land? when Satan is loosed out of his prison, shall he not deceive the nations? and when the serpent's bands are taken off, shall he not cast water out of his mouth as a flood after the woman, that he may cause her to be carried away of the flood? Let us but a little consider, what hath been the fruits of such toleration in these churches and states where it has got footing. I shall not go so far back as to the first ages of the world, in which men being left to themselves in the things of God, professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God, into an image made like to a corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things. Neither shall I speak of the condition of religion, in some Protestant states beyond the sea, in which toleration is allowed; but I desire it to be considered:
1. How it fared with the church of Judah in these periods of time, when toleration got any footing therein: I shall not now stand to debate, whether it was at any time established in Judah by a law; but it is clear enough, that when any of the kings of Judah, whether through negligence or want of integrity, or upon carnal and politic considerations, did not restrain, but tolerate false prophets, and idolaters, and corrupters of the worship of God, and perverters of his truth, that idolatry, and the leprosy of manifold errors and corruptions, did quickly spread themselves over the face of that church and nation; that if the Lord had not been graciously pleased to raise up some good kings, who in the zeal of God, and conscience of their duty, did employ their power for destroying of idolatry and false worship, and for making the people serve the Lord God of their fathers, according to the law, and the testimony; it had fared no better with them, than it did with the church of Israel, or of the ten tribes, who came by their sinful neglect of the things of God, and tolerating and protecting of false worship, in a few generations, to lose the substantials of religion, and the very face of a church, and of a state too. What sad instances were of these things in the days of Solomon, Rehoboam, Abijah, Jehoram, Ahaziah, Joash, Amaziah, Ahaz, Manasseh, Ammon, Jehoiakim, &c.
2. When about the time of the incarnation of our blessed Lord, and his being on the earth, sundry sects were tolerated in the church of the Jews, did they not come at last to be all overgrown with nettles and thorns, and to lose the being and face of a church? It is worthy of observation, that the men of that time, who were zealous patrons of toleration, were in the just judgment of God given up to themselves, to be zealous opposers of the gospel, and to crucify the Lord of glory.
3. It should be considered, what hath already been the sad and dreadful effects of this toleration; is not the glory of God trodden under foot, the precious truths of the gospel corrupted and perverted, the ordinances of Jesus Christ contemned and cried down, the government and discipline of the kirk in a great measure overthrown, the worship of God despised and profaned, the Lord's-day disregarded and casten loose, the power of godliness eaten out, and the whole work of reformation obstructed, and in many things overturned, many souls subverted, Popery, Libertinism, Superstition, Heresy, Schism, Scepticism, Atheism, Profaneness, and many things contrary to sound doctrine, increased? And if there be such a growth of so dreadful evils, in so few years, and whilst that generation is yet living, whom God brought back from the borders of Babylon, (to which we were threatened to be carried captive under the corruptions and tyranny of the Prelate) and who have seen the wonderful works of the Lord in that great deliverance, and have lifted up our hands to heaven, to swear by him that liveth, and reigneth for evermore, that we would endeavour the extirpation of these things; What is to be expected if this toleration shall continue, and be transmitted to our posterity, but darkness, instead of divination, and that darkness shall cover the land, and gross darkness the people?
4. Let us suppose, that such a toleration were granted unto men, in the things that relate unto the duties of righteousness, that are commanded in the second table of the law, viz. that they might without controulment of the civil authority, and with assurance of protection from the same, walk in these things, according to the dictates of their own spirits, and imaginations, and inclinations of their own hearts; were it possible, that there could be long peace to him that goes out, or to him that cometh in; or that goods, or good name, or chastity, or life, could be long preserved; should not the whole land in a very short time be filled with rapine, and oppression, and violence, with thefts and robberies, and slanders, with fornications, adulteries, and incests, with blood, and murder, and every sort of abominations? And is there not in the heart of man, as great, if not greater pravity, in order to the duties of the first table, as to these of the second table? Nature's light in our corrupt state, being more eclipsed and depraved in the one, than in the other: Can we then expect any better fruit of this toleration, in order to the things of God, and that do concern religion, than it would produce in reference to the things of men, and that do concern righteousness? Upon this account it is, That as God hath revealed in his word, the rule both of religion and righteousness, according to which he hath commanded us to walk in his matters, and in the matters of men, and not according to the imaginations of our own hearts, doing what seemeth good unto us in our own eyes, either in the one or in the other; so hath he appointed civil governments and magistrates among the children of men, that they might be keepers of both tables of his law, and that by keeping of both, they might preserve both religion and righteousness; which do otherwise (without a mighty hand of more than ordinary providence) soon go to ruin, when rulers are not a terror to evil works that are done against both.
5. As toleration doth bring forth the sad fruits already mentioned; so doth the mother and daughter both of them, provoke the Lord to give up men to vile affections, and to give them over to a reprobate mind, to do things not convenient, as appeareth from the last part of the first chapter of the epistle to the Romans; and so bringeth at last the ruin both of religion and righteousness, and destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power. All which, with many other obvious considerations, that would be tedious to insist upon, may make it evident to such as will impartially and without prejudice weigh the same in the balance of the Lord's sanctuary, and of reason and experience, that as the spirit of error and delusion hath singular advantage; so religion is in imminent hazard thereby.
From the ignorance, unfruitfulness, instability, looseness, and profanity that do abound in the land at this time.DANGERS and diseases, whether natural, or moral, or spiritual, are more or less to be feared, according to the weakness or strength, the disposition or indisposition of the object about which they are conversant, to resist or to receive the same. As weak and ill-complexioned bodies are readily obnoxious to sickness, and do soon receive infection; and unwise and unvigilant states are easily deceived and soon broken, and put into confusion; so ignorant, or unstable, or carnal, or profane souls, do easily become a prey to temptations, whether in the matter of their profession or of their conversation; their ignorance and want of watchfulness, rendering them blind as to the discovering of the snare; and their want of spiritual life and strength, rendering them impotent and indisposed, as to the avoiding and resisting of it; and their instability and looseness inclining and disposing them to tamper and dally with it: By which it cometh to pass, that they are easily and often entangled, especially in a time of abounding temptations; yea, it is righteous with the Lord, because they do not like to retain him in their knowledge, to give them up to a mind void of judgment; and because they receive not the love of the truth, to send them strong delusion to believe a lie. Hence it was that the world in older times, both before and after the flood, came to be drowned in gross superstition and abominable idolatry; and that a great part of the Christian church in later ages, came to be drowned in Mahometanism and Popery. Now if we shall look through the breadth of our land, may we not find that there are multitudes of ignorant souls, who do scarce know the first and most common principles of the Christian religion, much less have they their senses exercised in the knowledge of the truth, and of the holy scriptures, which are the ground thereof? And how many do sit down satisfied with a very small measure of knowledge, taking many precious and necessary truths upon mere tradition from their ancestors and teachers, without searching the scriptures whether these things be so, that they may attain in themselves a warrantable and well-grounded persuasion thereof? By which it cometh to pass, that sundry such, meeting with deceivers, come to be soon shaken in their minds. Be there not also many simple and unstable souls, who are as reeds shaken with the wind, and apt to be driven to and fro with every wind of doctrine? And be there not many lukewarm and indifferent, and of a carnally politic spirit, who care for none of these things? Be there not many loose and profane? All which are apt to cast off the profession of the truth, and to be easily seduced and drawn away into error; because, though happily many such do not much regard either truth or error, yet when error is like to prevail and come in reputation, and the owning thereof to be attended with carnal or civil advantages, they can easily be induced to shape their garments, and wear their clothes according to the fashion of the time; yea, their carnal minds, which are enmity to God, are also enmity to his truth, and doth dispose them to cast off the yoke thereof; which they are easily persuaded to do, when there is nothing to hinder it but naked respect to the truth itself. Every man is in some sense naturally a heretic, having the seeds of error in his soul, and an aptitude and inclination to bring forth these bitter grapes of wormwood and of gall; and the more that he liveth in formality, and hypocrisy, and looseness, these seeds do in the common body of sin that is in him, receive the more increase and strength, and become the more apt to bring forth their own native fruit. There is also no doubt, a great sibness between errors of judgment and looseness of conversation, and an easy passage from the one to the other. A heretic is easily made vicious and profane, and a vicious and profane man is easily made a heretic. A great part of the Christian world first turned formal and carnal, then Arian and Nestorian, &c. and in the end Mahometan. Do we not see that looseness and profanity in the conversation of sundry, doth easily usher in Popery in their profession; but much more swiftly do such men by swarms decline from the truth and embrace errors, when to their natural inclination and corrupt disposition temporary advantages and disadvantages, the countenance or disrespect, dthe command or threatening of civil authority, cometh to be super-added. Hence it is, that the bulk of sundry people and nations, have, after receiving and professing the truth, sometimes suddenly shaken it off again, and turned aside into errors; whereof we have many instances, both in sacred and in church-history. Therefore, albeit the truth is for the present professed in purity by the inhabitants of this land; yet, there being amongst the body of the people such a multitude of ignorant, lukewarm, unstable, loose souls, who have lived and grown up in these sins for many years together, under the light of the gospel, as they may be easily made a prey to the temptations unto error and delusion that do already abound among us, so there is just cause to fear, that if the Lord shall, for the further punishment of our provocations, give us up into the hand of a popish or heretical power, who should enjoin their profession by law, that many such would soon turn popish or heretical. And whether this may not be our lot to be exercised with such a trial, I leave it to wise men to judge.
From the great decay of a true public spirit, and of diligence, and zeal, and watchfulness in the things of God; and from the great increase of a spirit of sloth, and neutrality, and security amongst us.THOUGH in the things of God it be eminently true, that except the Lord build the house, the builder buildeth in vain, except the Lord keep the city, the watchman watcheth in vain: Yet doth he call upon, and command his people to be zealous for his house, and to be faithful and watchful in the things that relate thereunto. The blessing is his, and the duty is ours: And as it is a token for good when his people are cordial and active for his interests; so it is a prognostic of ruin and decay when they become neutral and indifferent, and deal with a slack hand, and wax secure in the midst of dangers. In speaking to this, it is not my purpose to charge backsliding upon any party or person in the land, upon the account of public differences; I think, that without reflecting upon these, or giving offence to any that are concerned therein upon one hand or another, that taking the body off this church complexly, it may be truly said, that there is a great decay of a true public spirit, and of former integrity and diligence, zeal and watchfulness for the things of God amongst us; and that no party are so insensible of their own guilt, or so tenacious of their own innocency, that they will deny this. I do not speak as to appearing or acting in civil capacities, the Lord having broken our civil government to pieces, and cast bye our governors as broken vessels, whereof he maketh no use for the defence and preservation of religion; but what a decay is upon us as to many of these things that do beseem us as Christians, especially in such an hour of temptation; and when the public cause of God, and all the precious interests of Jesus Christ and of his kingdom, are in so imminent hazard. It is true, that every man hath his gifts and station assigned him of God, according to the measure and bounds of which, without over-reaching, (a thing too common in these evil days) he is to demean himself. But it is also true, that all of us being members of the body of Christ, and having an interest in the things that concern the kingdom, we ought to be so far of public spirits, as not only cordially to wish well unto, and pray for the common interest thereof, but also according to the talents we have received of him, and in our station, and as we are thereunto called of God, to put forth ourselves cheerfully and actively for the good of the same whether by doing or suffering. The public cause and work of God was wont to be precious and dear unto us; and the time was when no pains, nor expense, nor hazard was declined, for preserving or promoving thereof: we were wont to stir up ourselves, and to stir up one another, and to wrestle with God in prayer and supplication together, and apart, for setting up of Jerusalem, and making her a praise in the earth. The time was, when upon the appearing of any danger to religion, though haply but afar off, and far inferior to many dangers that are now within our bowels, seasonable and clear warning was given thereof by the body of the watchmen in the land and many private Christians made it their work to deal seriously with God in the secret watches of the night, for preventing of the same, and many were found of every rank and condition throughout the land, who did readily put forth themselves in their stations and callings to prevent future, and remove present prejudices to religion. The time was, when the things of God were more minded and sought than our own things; his matters were wont to have the preference in all public councils and transactions amongst us; and as public motions and overtures did tend to the promoving or prejudicing of the things of God; so they were wont to be entertained or rejected in public meetings. Civil interests were wont to be carried on in subordination to these that are spiritual; our own safety and security were wont to be minded, in subordination to the safety and security of religion, and of the kingdom of Jesus Christ; but now such a public and tender, and vigilant spirit is in a great manner gone, from amongst us; and instead thereof, neutrality, and indifferency, and carnal security possess many, as to what concerneth religion and the kingdom of Jesus Christ; and to many it seemeth to be but of small concernment, whether the Lord's matters sink or swim; many seek their own things, and study to secure themselves, and their own matters, but few seek the things of Jesus Christ, or care for the preserving or securing of his interest. Is it not for a lamentation, that in the public meetings which have been kept in the several shires of this nation these eight or nine years past, there hath been little or no care, or resentment of religion, or of the work of God, but these things have been in a great measure forgotten or laid aside, as if we were not a people devoted to the Lord; or, as if religion were nothing of our concernment; or as if all that care did belong to ministers only? On these it is indeed in a special way incumbent to take care thereof; and would to God, that all of us who bear that name, did endeavour to be faithful and vigilant in this hour of tentation. There is no doubt but we, even we also, have our own faintings and failings as to many things that are called for in such a day, and that our breaches have both weakened ourselves, and blunted and stumbled others: But surely neither all the fault, nor all the duty is ours only. As the several ranks and estates of the land were honoured of God to be eminently instrumental both in the beginning and progress of the work of reformation for sundry years together; so there is no question but it is still incumbent to them in duty, in their several stations and callings, according to the oath of God in the covenant, really, constantly and sincerely, all the days of their life, to endeavour the preservation of the reformed religion in the church of Scotland, in doctrine, worship, discipline and government; and not to give themselves over to indifferency and neutrality thereanent, or to give themselves to be possessed with a spirit of carnal security and negligence in reference thereunto. I do not doubt but the conscience and care of their duty is upon the hearts of some of all ranks in the land; but who can deny, that a spirit of security and neutrality hath prevailed upon many: Flesh and blood, and carnal wisdom will not want excuses in these matters: But if we shall enter into the sanctuary of the Lord, and weigh it in his balance, it cannot be excused, that the covenant and cause of God, that religion and the interests of Jesus Christ should be so much forgotten and laid aside; and that there should be so small resentment of the injuries that are done thereunto; and that no security nor remedy against the encroachments that are made thereupon, and the dangers that threaten the same should be so much as propounded or desired. How far is this from that which we were once at? And is there not cause to fear, that because of this lukewarmness, God shall spew us out of his mouth, as he threateneth to do unto the church of Laodicea, because she was neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm in the matters of God, Rev. 3.16.
From the divisions that are amongst us.WHILST I am speaking of these dangers that are intestine, and do minister advantage to the spirit of error and delusion; I cannot overpass our divisions, that being a danger that is none of the smallest. It is the assertion of our blessed Lord Jesus, which reason and experience do verify, that a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand; and how sad are these divisions which are in Scotland at this day? I shall not insist on these that do concern civil government, which yet (wherever they are) have no small influence upon things religious; men being oftentimes apt to follow that way, even in the things of God, that seemeth most to contribute for setting up or settling these civil governments or governors which their hearts do most affect; and their endeavours thereanent, together with the reciprocal endeavours of these governors themselves, having oftentimes no small tendency unto the altering or changing somewhat in religion: but waving these things, Is there not difference and division amongst us, even in order to things religious, viz. the discipline and government of the church, and the covenant, and a great part of the late work of reformation, &c? It is true, there hath been external subjection in these things by the body of the inhabitants of this land; but it were to shut our eyes and to befool ourselves in the clear day, to think, that all these who did externally subject thereunto, before the year 1650, do now approve thereof; the practices and profession of many witnessing the contrary; some being openly fallen off to Independency; some to Anabaptism; some to Quakerism; and many being fraught with the old malignant enmity against the covenant and work of reformation, and the discipline and government of the church; speaking evil of, and reproaching these things at their pleasure, and making it manifest, that they would be glad of any means and opportunity to bear down and overturn the same: And how sad are these divisions that are amongst us of the ministry? How are the watchmen who ought to see with one eye, and to speak with one tongue, and to bear with one shoulder, divided amongst ourselves? It is not my purpose, at present, to discover the fountain of this evil, or to impute the guilt thereof to one rather than to another; neither do I mean from the bad consequences of our divisions, to debate innocency and truth into silence, or to persuade to an union upon any terms, though with the increase of our sin against God, and with the greater prejudice of his work, and with more offence to the consciences of these that are truly tender and godly; but simply to hold forth that division doth, in many respects, threaten danger to religion and the ordinances of Jesus Christ amongst us, that so the true causes and right cure thereof may be searched into, and studied.
- It giveth advantage to adversaries to cast slanders and imputations upon our church and the government thereof, as having (if they may be believed) little or nothing of that unity and peace, and love that becometh the true church and pastors of Jesus Christ.
- It doth lay a stumbling-block in the way not only of ignorant, carnal, and profane men, to make them cast at religion and reformation; but also of some less knowing and weak amongst the godly, who are brought to doubt which way to follow, whilst they see some learned and godly ministers pleading for one thing, and others also learned and godly pleading for another.
- It doth much harden and confirm such of that party in the land, who formerly opposed the work of reformation, and do retain their enmity thereto, that it is not a work that hath been of God, as having no consistence, nor concord with itself, but like to pull down and destroy itself by the divisions that are among the chief instruments thereof.
- It doth divert the judicatories of the kirk, and the members thereof, from employing themselves against the common adversaries, and promoting the exercises and power of godliness.
- It maketh discipline and church censures sundry times to be disregarded, as not proceeding from Presbyteries and Synods jointly, but oftentimes in a divided way.
- It breedeth sundry inconveniencies in the planting of churches, sometimes obstructing the plantation for sundry years together; sometimes planting them with men not satisfyingly qualified; sometimes making two differing plantations in one congregation, by which, both the ministers and the people come to be divided, or the dissatisfied party, if they cannot win at a minister, to be casten loose, and left without a ministry and benefit of the public ordinances.
- The door is thereby shut sundry times against sundry able and godly expectants, who are thereby kept from entering into the ministry.
- Advantage is thereby given to disaffected people in some congregations, to separate and withdraw from their own lawful pastors, and either to cast themselves loose of the ordinances, or else to call and set up others in an inorderly way.
- It doth retard and obstruct the purging of the church from insufficient and scandalous ministers and elders, who do shelter themselves, and are but taken too little notice of, under these differences and divisions.
- It doth occasion men in the heat of their debates, anent these differences, to run too far upon the asserting and venting of things for the defence of their own opinions and judgments, that may prove seeds and inlets to tenets and evils that are of greater and more dangerous consequence.
- It doth in no small measure alienate the minds, and estrange the hearts and affections of good men one from another, and weaken them in their prayers before God one for another, and in that confidence and cordialness that they should have in their joint carrying on of common and uncontroverted duties; all which, as they are present prejudices to religion and the work of God; so being continued, are like to prove more and more dangerous and destructive thereunto.
From the Attempts and Assaults that are made by many upon the Ordinances of Jesus Christ.AS this inferior world without the light of the sun, would be but a mass of darkness and confusion, so would the church militant without ordinances; and as food is necessary for preserving of the life of the body, so hath God appointed, that in our pilgrim condition here below, the soul's life should depend upon the use of his ordinances: What is religion but a conscientious worshipping of God, after the manner, and in the use of the ordinances prescribed by himself? And yet I do not know, if in any generation the ordinances of God have been more directly struck at, than they are by many in these nations at this day: I shall pass that fanatic generation of Familists, that cry down all worship and ordinances, as things below a saints condition, sundry of which as wanderings stars be traveling up and down these lands: But let us a little consider what attempts and assaults are made by many against the word of God, and the preaching thereof, against the sacraments, against the Lord's-day, against the ministry, and against the discipline and government of the church; which things are the very pillars of religion, that being destroyed, religion cannot but evanish and turn into nothing. As to the holy word of God contained in the scriptures of truth; there be not only sundry Jesuits and Seminary-Priests lurking in sundry places of the land, who cry down the perfection and authority of the scriptures, and the reading thereof in our vulgar tongue, and the Bibles which are in people's hands, as false, and corrupt, and heretical translations, and do commend unto them the authority of the church of Rome, and her traditions, for the ground of salvation, and the old Latin version for the authentic text of scripture, and the Bible of Doway for the best and purest English version, and all our public worship as corrupt; but we have also the whole tribe of the Quakers concurring and conspiring to the utmost of their power, to cry down the divinity and authority of the written word of God, and to persuade such as will believe them, that the scriptures have no authority over men's consciences, and that no command in scripture that was given to others, doth bind us, save what we have an impulse upon our own spirits for, and that every man in the world hath a light within him, sufficient to guide him unto salvation, without the help of any outward light or discovery, and that the dictates of this inward light, are the infallible dictates of the Spirit of God, which every one is bound to hearken unto. This, as it is one of the most impudent, so it is one of the most compendious ways that ever was taken by Satan, for striking at the root of the Christian religion, and banishing of it out of the world. If the scriptures be not the word of God, what have we for the ground of our faith, and rule of our duty? The light that is within us, when not derived from, and founded upon, and agreeable unto the law and the testimony, is but darkness, and leadeth us unto as many by-paths of division and destruction, as our corrupt fancy can devise, or the father of lies suggest unto us: Neither are these men any greater friends to the sacraments instituted and appointed by Jesus Christ under the gospel: they cry down baptism with water, and the Lord's Supper, as being but types and shadows ceasing upon the appearance of Christ within them. The Anabaptists also, tho' they do not simply deny or oppugn the ordinance of baptism, yet by denying and oppugning the baptism of infants, born within the visible church, they do not only at one dash un-baptize and un-church all the thousands of our Israel, but do also leave our children and posterity, in regard of any covenant-privilege, or seal, in little or not better condition, than these of Infidels or Pagans; and how prevailing an opinion and party this is in these nations at this day, is manifest enough. The Lord's day, though a moral and divine institution, and generally acknowledged in the churches of Christ, to be the key of religion, and that ordinance which keepeth all the rest in life and being, by separating us one day of every week from the world and worldly business, to be solemnly set apart and exercised in religious duties; chiefly these that concern the public worship of God, in the public assemblies of his people; yet is by many of the sectaries of this time, also cried down, and the keeping thereof, slighted and opposed, which being added to that natural averseness and enmity that is in the hearts of all carnal and profane men, (the number of which in all quarters of our land is not small) unto the giving or keeping a day unto the Lord, threaten no small danger unto this most necessary and divine institution, and to the whole public worship of God. What is more like to take with worldly-minded men, and wanton persons, and carnal libertines, than this, that all days are alike, and that the Lord's-day is but a device of man, and a yoke, and a bondage upon the necks of the disciples, from which they ought to deliver themselves? This being one of the things which carnal hearts do most desire and hunt after: When carnal liberty getteth conscience upon its side, and carnal and licentious practices get under the shadow of religious opinions, they do then wax bold as lions, and tear in pieces the precious truths and commandments of God, that stand in their way; and thus it is like to prove in the matter of the Lord's-day. And not only are ministers had in derision, and contempt, and railed upon, and reviled as deceivers, thieves, robbers, Baal's priests, conjurers, Antichrists, witches, devils, Symons, serpents, bloody Herodians, scarlet-coloured beasts, Babylon's merchants, wolves, dogs, swine, Sodomites, murderers, ministers of darkness, cursed speakers, Cain's stock, vagabonds, who walk in the way of Cain, Balaam and Core, and what not, that a malicious heart can invent, and a violent tongue utter; but the ordinance of the ministry itself is also cried down, as altogether needless, and burdensome to the Lord's people under the gospel, who (if some of these men may be believed) have no need of any outward teaching, by reading or hearing of the scriptures opened or applied, that light within them being sufficient to teach them in the knowledge of the will of God: As to all these things that concern their duty and salvation, or as others of these men will have it, all of them are warranted to be teachers themselves, and that a peculiar office of a teaching or preaching ministry, is no ordinance of Christ: Or, if any such be, that they are not to be by an mediate call from man, but by an immediate call from God, and the peculiar instinct of the Holy Ghost. I may add to these things, the general disrespect and disesteem that prevaileth on the hearts, and appeareth in the carriage of disaffected and profane men, to the ministry; together with a strong inclination that is in many, to have ministers according to their own hearts, who will speak smooth things unto them, and heal their hurt slightly, and that the maintenance of entrants to the ministry, to which there was wont to be free and legal access by virtue of their ordination, is now seized upon by their civil power, who do not allow it to any, but upon condition of their declaring their resolution to live peaceably under the present government: And for the discipline and government of the church, not only are the civil laws that concern the upholding thereof, and giving obedience thereunto, repealed, and liberty allowed to all these who are pleased to speak or write against it, or withdraw their subjection therefrom; but other sorts also of kirk discipline and government that are destructive thereunto, are set up and promoted, and protected, and countenanced amongst us. These things being so, is it not past all question, that the pillars of religion, which is wisdom's house, are in hazard to be overthrown by the malicious and subtle devices of Satan? And that it is high time for us to awake, and see our danger, lest, ere we be aware, we be spoiled of the precious treasure of the gospel, and blessed ordinances of Jesus Christ, by which we live, and in which is the life of our souls.
From the Growth and Increase of Popery in the Land.THAT the Pope, and his party have these many years past, had a special eye upon Britain, and upon this nation as a part thereof, for reducing the same into obedience of the See of Rome, is better known than that I need to insist upon the proof of it; and therefore hath he always had his emissaries the Jesuits and Seminary-priests, traveling up and down in this Island, under diverse masks, for perverting of souls, and setting plots and conspiracies on foot, for compassing that design. How much their hopes were heightened, and in what a fair way they were for brining it about, before the year 1638, is fresh in remembrance: And although these hopes were in a great measure blasted by the reformation, then begun in Scotland, and prosperously carried on in both nations for sundry years thereafter; yet are they now again revived under our present distempers and confusions, which (especially by reason of the vast toleration of errors and heresies, of which I have already spoke) do minister unto Papists great and singular advantages, for promoting and compassing their design. Not only is liberty afforded them to vent most part of the popish doctrine, (which keeping off the Pope's supremacy, and the popish hierarchy, with some other things of that kind, they may do without hazard) but these penal statutes and laws, which concern men's coming to church, and attending the word and sacraments, &c. being taken away; they have liberty to withdraw themselves from the ordinances and means of conviction and instruction, and may keep their own private meetings with their ghostly fathers at home, without regard to the censures of the church; and in the mean while Jesuits and Seminary-priests, come not a few of them into the country, and do import, or cause to be imported, numbers of popish pamphlets, which are industriously spread, and put into the hands of such as they perceive in any measure inclinable to their way, or by reason of their malignant disposition, to be in dislike with the covenant, or the government and discipline of the church, or any part of the work of reformation, or to be ignorant or loose in their conversation: Neither are sundry of them wanting in the mean while, to the utmost of their power, by subtle and fair speeches, to draw away such from the purity of their profession, and to instill into them, the love of the way of the church of Rome, as that which was the religion of our fore-fathers. Not a few papists also, who had formerly left the country, because of the strictness of the laws, do now return home again, and others who staid at home, and did profess subjection and conformity to the church, do now withdraw and openly avow themselves to be papists: Neither is their advantage small by the remnant of the malignant and Prelatical party, that is yet amongst us: These also having a great enmity against the covenant and government of the church, and the work of reformation: And there being in sundry things a great sympathy between these parties, and a great sibness in their principles and ways, and a deal of readiness to correspond together, and to countenance one another: By these means, and such as these, it comes to pass, that popery grows and spreads in several places of the land from year to year; to which if we shall add, the correspondence that Papists have with, and the encouragements they have from their friends abroad; together with the design (which hath been long a hatching) of the popish leaguers beyond sea, of invading Britain as the strongest bulwark of the protestant cause, that it being brought under, they may the more easily make a prey of the rest of the Protestant states and churches; and that this invasion is like to be stated upon such a quarrel, and carried on under such a pretext as will engage the affection and assistance of some, and blunt the opposition of others: Do not all these things, put together, much heighten the danger of the true Protestant religion in Scotland?
From our Guiltiness in many of these things for which the Lord threateneth to depart, and remove his candlestick.I HAVE spoke to sundry sins that do abound amongst us, as they do weaken the soul, in resisting of temptations, and in following of these duties that are necessary, for preserving of religion in its purity and power, and as inlets to dispose unto things, that are contrary and destructive thereunto. I shall now resume some of these sins, and add thereunto some others, whereof we are in a great measure guilty, for which the Lord threateneth to depart, and to remove his candlestick. The first I name, is, That gross ignorance of the gospel, and of the necessary truths of God that possesseth multitudes of our land in this clear gospel-day, and under the plenty of the means of knowledge. Is not this the condemnation of many, that light is come amongst us, and that they love darkness rather than light? The ignorance of many is affected and perverse, and therefore without excuse: Is there not cause to fear that dreadful word, It is a people of no understanding, Therefore he that made them, will have no mercy on them, and he that formed them, will shew them no favour, Isa. 27.11? And that of another of the prophets, Be thou instructed, O Jerusalem, lest my soul depart from thee, Jer. 6.8? The second is, The abounding and prevailing formality that is amongst us, or a form of godliness without the power thereof: because of this, the Lord threatens to send delusion, strong delusion upon a people that they may believe a lie, 2 Thess. 2.10-12, yea, to choose their delusions, and bring their fears upon them, Isa. 66.3,4. And do not such delusions seem to be the proper plague of these nations at this time, chosen and sent of God for punishing our formality? Hath there been at any time more strong delusion, whether we look into the multiplicity and monstrousness of the errors that are hatched and vented, or multitude of the persons that have come quickly to be infected therewith? This is doubtless a piece of the hour and power of darkness, wherein Satan is loosed out of his prison, and is gone forth to deceive these nations, and when delusions are chosen and sent of God, and the holy One doth in his spotless and righteous providence, for punishing the sins of men, say to the lying spirit, who offers himself to be the minister of enticing souls, go forth, and thou shalt prevail: have not all of us reason to tremble and fear, Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed, lest he fall, 1 Cor. 10.12. The third, is, barrenness, and unfruitfulness under the gospel, for which the Lord threatens to take away the hedge of his vineyard, and it shall be eaten up; to break down the wall thereof and it shall be trodden down; to lay it waste, and it shall not be pruned nor digged, Isa. 5.6,7. A charge is given by the Master of the vineyard, to cut down the fig-tree that yielded no fruit for three years, Luke 13.7. And the apostle telleth us, That the earth that drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth nothing but thorns and thistles, is rejected and near unto cursing, Heb. 6.8. And is not this in an eminent measure the sin of our land, that notwithstanding the Lord doth plentifully water us with the dew of heaven, and with the sweet rain of the gospel, day by day, yet are we, as to most of us an empty vine, that bringeth forth fruit unto ourselves, but not unto God?
The fourth is, Slighting, loathing and wearying of the precious things of God, and the blessed opportunities thereof, and preferring our own carnal and worldly advantages thereunto, for which the Lord threatens that he will cause the sun go down at noon-day, and that he will darken the earth in the clear day, and that he will send a famine of hearing the words of the Lord, and that his people shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it, Amos 8.4,5,6,9,11,12. And this sin also reigneth among us. How many loath the ordinances, and slight the opportunities thereof? How many weary of the Lord's day, and halve it between God and the world? How is our blessed Lord Jesus and the inestimable treasure of the gospel valued by many at a very low rate, many times less than thirty pieces of silver? that he may justly take up that sad complaint, A goodly price that I was prized at of them, Zech. 11.13, and break his statutes and be gone.
The fifth is, Refusing to hearken unto God, for which my God, saith the prophet Hosea, chap. 9.17, will cast them away. Are we not a rebellious and gain-saying people, who neither fear the threatenings of God to repent, nor entertain his promises to believe, nor regard his commandments to obey? and may not the Lord upbraid us as he did these cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not, and bring upon us the judgments and desolation threatened in that place? Matt. 11.21-24. May he not because of our unbelief, cut us off as he did the church of the Jews, Rom. 11.20? Doth not their example call upon us not to be high-minded, but to fear? May he not, because of our disobedience, and that so many of us do refuse to suffer him to reign over us, pass upon us that sad sentence that is recorded, Luke 19.27?
The sixth is, That which is written as the sin of the prophets, Jer. 6.14; Ezek. 13.10,16,22; 34.18-21; Micah 3.5, for which the Lord threatens that night shall be unto them, and that they shall not have a vision, that it shall be dark unto them, that they shall not divine, and that the sun shall go down over them. [Micah 3.6.] I do not intend the application of this to any upon the account of public differences; but without respect to parties or differences, it can hardly be denied, that though (blessed be God for it) there be in the land many precious ministers of both judgments who study to divide the word of God aright, warning the wicked to turn from the evil of their ways, and encouraging the godly in the pursuit and practice of godliness, and speaking a word in season to weary souls: Yet there be not a few who heal the hurt of the daughter of the Lord's people slightly, and do speak peace to these to whom the Lord doth not speak peace; who thrust with the side and the shoulder, and bite with the teeth those who ought to be encouraged and comforted.
It is sadly bemoaned by the serious seekers of God in many places of the land, that the word of some ministers, is, not to commend themselves to every man's conscience as in the sight of God; but to handle the word of God deceitfully, in making sad the hearts of the righteous by turning the edge of their doctrine against them, under the notion of hypocrites and sectaries, and such like; and in strengthening the hands of the wicked, that he should not return from his wicked way, by promising him life; by which it cometh to pass, that sundry of the people in sundry congregations, do bless themselves in their hearts, and say, that they shall have peace, though they walk in the imagination of their hearts, adding drunkenness to thirst; and that the few seekers of God that are in these congregations, or in the country about, are looked upon by such as the vilest and most hateful of men, and their way more scarred at than that of the drunkard, or the common swearer; because of this there is cause to fear that the Lord shall accomplish the threatening of the prophet, by sending darkness instead of divination.
The seventh is, Dealing treacherously with God in the matter of his covenant, for which the Lord threateneth dreadful desolation, Deut. 29.22-25. And in many scriptures besides, which threatenings he hath eminently verified against the church of the Jews, who because of breach of covenant were cast out of his sight many hundred years ago, and have continued in that doleful and desolate condition unto this day; and are not we, even we also, these who have been unsteadfast, and have dealt falsely in the covenant of God? I shall not descend into particulars about which there may be difference; but sure I am, that cleaving unto God, and close walking with him, and zeal for the kingdom of Jesus Christ, and against the open enemies and adversaries thereof, and the reforming of ourselves and our followers in our several stations and capacities, will be denied by none, to be amongst the great ends, whether of our baptismal covenant, or of our national covenant, or of the solemn league and covenant. And that every tender heart among us, will also acknowledge, that most of us have not only come exceedingly short, but most palpably and grossly transgressed in order to all these things, insofar that the very obligation thereunto, is not only forgotten, but trodden under foot of many; a sin that is much heightened by the greatness of the Lord's mercies and wonderful works manifested and done in our behalf, in the contriving and carrying on of these covenants, and by the openness and solemnity of our way, in engaging ourselves thereunto. We may say, that because of the oath of the covenant the land mourneth, and that God hath a great and sore controversy with us for this thing, and that there is just cause to fear, that as he hath begun, so he will continue to pursue the quarrel thereof, until he bring darkness and desolation upon us, unless mercy shall prevent us, by giving us to repent and turn again to himself.
The eight, is, forsaking our first love, for which the Lord threatens to remove the candlestick of the church of Ephesus, Rev. 2.4, which may also breed us great fear, that our candlestick shall be removed; and that upon these two grounds, first, because we have in a great measure left our first love, and declined from our former attainments. I shall not compare this generation of our church with the generation of our fathers; I mean, those who did shake off the yoke of the Roman Antichrist, and embrace the light of the gospel, from whose zeal we are far degenerated; but let us compare ourselves with ourselves, I mean what we are now with what we once were, and that but a very few years ago, and see if there be not cause to say, we have left our first love. I shall name but a few particulars, first, There was in our love not long ago a tender respect to all the precious truths of God, with a fervent desire and serious endeavour of attaining and possessing them in their purity, which brought forth a deal of abhorrence and indignation against every thing that tended unto the leavening or corrupting of the same. What if the toleration that is now amongst us, had been but moved in Scotland some ten years ago? Would it have been brooked with so many close mouths, and with so many dry eyes as it is this day? Secondly, There was in our love a wonderful zeal for the privileges of the church, and for Christ's visible kingdom amongst us, that these might not be encroached upon, nor born down by the powers of the world. But now we can hear and see sad encroachments made upon these, and say little or nothing against it, either before God or men. Thirdly, There was in our love a great deal of zeal against that bitter root of malignancy; I mean, that which is so diametrically opposite to godliness, and to the kingdom of Jesus Christ; but now it getteth leave to grow up kindly under our shadow; and many are so favourable to it that they will scarce once name it, or suffer it to be named. Fourthly, There was in our love a holy severity in the exercise of church-discipline for purging of the house of God, especially against corrupt church-officers; but that is now in a great measure slacked and gone. Fifthly, There was in our love much Christian and cordial respect one to another, which brought forth sweet union, concord and harmony in the judicatories of the kirk, and amongst the ministers of the house of God: but now we bite and devour one another. I might also name the abating of our love to the ordinances, and to holy duties, and to Christian fellowship and tenderness of conversation.
But passing these, I come to the other ground of fear, and that is, That we seem to be much more fallen from our first love at this day, than the church of Ephesus was fallen from her's, when God threatened to remove her candlestick. Let us look upon the text, and see what Ephesus then was; I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, saith Jesus Christ unto her, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil, and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars; and hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. Do we deserve so great a testimony as this? Or are we not far short in all these things? Where are our works, and where is our labour and patience, and where is our zeal against these that are evil? Are we not a barren and fruitless people? Is not our way the way of the sluggard, and full of murmuring and fretting? Do we not bear with many who are evil, and do we not suffer many to go without trial, who say they are pastors, and are not? Do we not decline the cross of Jesus Christ, and refuse to bear and labour for his name? And do we not either faint or turn aside to crooked ways? And shall we in all these things fall so far short of Ephesus, and of her carriage, even when the removal of her candlestick was threatened, and yet not fear the removal of our candlestick? If we deal impartially with ourselves, by considering all these our provocations which I have already named, and many more that are but too obvious and would be tedious to insist upon, we cannot but be affrighted that the Lord shall depart from amongst us; yea, he hath in no small measure departed already, and this is that to which I shall speak somewhat in the next place.
That the Lord who is our light, life and strength, is in no small measure departed from us, and hath smitten us with many plagues of heart.THE presence and appearances of God amongst a people, are either such as do concern them simply, as men united together in civil society under civil government, in order to righteousness and peace, or such as concern them as Christian men united in a church state, under ecclesiastical and spiritual government, in order to truth and holiness. Of the first sort are these which are manifested in the common operations and effects of the Spirit, when he given unto them the gifts of knowledge, wisdom, fortitude, temperance, justice, courage and such like, in reference to civil administrations, and blesseth and prospereth them in the exercise thereof; so the Lord was with Cyrus, whose right hand he did hold to subdue nations before him, and to loose the loins of kings, and to open before him the two-leaved gates, &c. Isa 45.1, &c. Of the other sort are either these which are manifested in the more peculiar operations and effects of his Spirit, (which yet are but common in opposition to saving grace) when he giveth unto his people the gift of prophecy, or ministry, or teaching, or exhortation, or church-ruling, and countenanceth them in the exercise thereof, for perfecting of the saints, and edifying of the body of Christ, Rom. 12.6,7. Eph. 4.8,11,12; or else these which are manifested in the special operations of his renewing spirit, when he giveth sanctifying and saving grace, and by his continued breathings thereupon, maketh his people to be more and more renewed in the inward man day by day; so he was with his servant Paul in the midst of all his tribulations and afflictions, 2 Cor. 4.16, and according to the measure of the appearances or withdrawings of God in these things; so do the matters of his people, whether civil, ecclesiastic, or spiritual, prosper or decay. Now in reference to all these, God is in no small measure departed from amongst us, and hath left us under a cloud of desertion, and smitten us with sundry plagues of heart. As to civil administrations, wisdom and understanding, courage, strength, and success were taken from us, and the Lord did smite us with blindness, confusion, and astonishment, and trembling of heart; wisdom was not to be found with the ancient, nor understanding and counsel with the prudent. He mingled a perverse spirit in the midst of us, that caused us to err in every work. He went not forth with our armies, and therefore our princes became like harts that find no pasture, and that fly before the pursuer; and the men of might did not find their hands, but became like unto women that were affrighted and did fear, because of the shaking of the hand of the Lord of hosts which he shook over our land. He made all our strong-holds to be like fig-trees with the first ripe figs which fall into the mouth of the eater when they are shaken, and the gates of our land to be set open to our enemies; and his hand was against us until he had taken from us the mighty man and the man of war, the judge and the prudent, the whole stay of armies and staff of our civil government: neither is his wrath in these things turned away, but his hand is stretched out still. Our nobles are not of ourselves, nor do our governors proceed from the midst of us, but strangers do bear rule over us, and the home-born sons are broken as the breaking of a potter's vessel that is broken to pieces; so that there is not found in the bursting of it, a sherd to take fire from the hearth, or to take water out of the pit. Neither is the Lord's departure small in reference to our church and church-administrators. He hath sorely cracked if not broken to pieces both the staves, the staff of beauty and the staff of bands, the unity and authority of pastors and church-judicatories; he hath divided us in his anger, and poured contempt upon us, and tho' we have essayed to heal our wound and recover our strength, yet have all our essays hitherto, for most part, been frustrated of the Lord. Do we not come together many times for the worse and not for the better? Is there not bruising instead of binding up, and much bitter contention and strife in many of our meetings? Instead of the sweet fruits of an edifying union and peace, whilst we should draw with one shoulder in the work of the Lord, do not some draw one way and others another, rendering our endeavours almost useless to the church, comfortless to ourselves, and despicable to others? Hath not God in his holy and just indignation mingled somewhat of a perverse spirit in the midst of us? and are we not full of the fury of the Lord, and of the rebuke of our God? We wait for light, but behold obscurity, for brightness, but we walk in darkness; we grope for the wall like the blind, and we grope as if we had no eyes, we stumble at noon-day as in the night, we are in desolate places as dead men, we look for judgment, but there is none, for salvation, but it is far from us. And is not the Lord's hand also upon his ordinances, to restrain and withhold the blessing thereof; in this respect much is sown and little brought in. The word of salvation, as to any sensible evidence thereof, is but rarely blessed in the hand of the ministers unto the converting of souls, and turning men from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God. It is the complaint of faithful ministers in many places of the land, that they labour in vain and spend their strength for nothing; yea, how doleful and dreadful is the withering and decay that is upon many souls who lay claim to conversion and a real interest in Jesus Christ? The generation of the righteous in the land do bemoan this thing, and complain, day by day, that light is darkened, that life is withered, that strength is abated, that presence is evanished, that tenderness is gone, that influences are withholden, that prayer is restrained and shut out, that faith faileth, that love is grown cold, that hearts are hardened as stones, that there is little or no delight in God or in his word, or in the fellowship of his people, that corruptions are aloft, and heart plagues do abound, that God hideth his face and is as a stranger unto his people, and leaveth them to wrestle alone in their duties and difficulties; so that to deny the withdrawings of God from his people, were to deny what they feel written upon their hearts, and upon their way in a continued tract of sad experiences now for a long time. And yet whilst it is confessedly thus, How little ado is there for his departings, even among those who are convinced, and do acknowledge that he is in a great measure gone? some remembrance there is of a better condition, whilst we did enjoy his fellowship, and his countenance did shine upon us, and some light to discover our loss and the evils that do attend it, which bring a sort of desire to recover our former state; but these how faint and feckless are they? and how many of us are in a manner content to live without God, and to suffer him to be gone without taking hold on the skirts of his garments? It may justly be said, that we do fade as a leaf, and that our iniquities like the wind do take us away [Isa. 64.6.], and that there be few among us that call upon his name, or stir up themselves to take hold on him; for he hath hid his face from us, and doth consume us because of our iniquities. If his gracious influences were strong upon our hearts, we would not, we could not easily brook his departing, nor would we, or could we be satisfied, or hold our peace, night and day, until he did return and revive his work, and renew his strength, and repair the ruins and build up the breaches of his people; and our sitting almost satisfied and silent under his withdrawings, doth say, that many of us, tho' we have a name that we are living, yet we are dead, and that the spiritual life which remains in others is ready to die [Rev. 3.1,2.]; which things do say, that our gourd is withering at the root, that religion is wounded at the heart, and smitten in its vitals, in the spiritual powers of the soul; all which, if the Lord breathe not from above, by pouring out his spirit from on high, will soon make any fruit or leaves of profession that do remain without, to wither and decay, and leave us like Nebuchadnezzar, his tree, which by the command of the Watcher and holy One that came down from heaven, was hewn down, and had it's branches cut, and it's leaves shaken, and it's fruit scattered, and the beasts driven from under it, and the fowls from its branches, and the stump of its roots only left in the earth, bound with a band of irons and of brass, until seven times did pass over it.
F I N I S.