REVEREND AND DEAR BRETHREN,—Our business here this day is to humble ourselves before the Lord for our former negligence, especially with regard to catechising and personally instructing those committed to our charge, and to desire God’s assistance in the employment we have undertaken for the time to come. Indeed, we can scarce expect the latter without the former. If God will help us in our future duty and amendment, he will surely humble us first for our past sins. He who has not such a sense of his faults as unfeignedly to lament them, will hardly have such as will move him to reform them. The sorrow of repentance may be without a change of heart and life, because a passion is easier wrought than true conversion; but the change cannot take place without some good measure of that sorrow. Indeed, we may justly here begin our confessions. It is too common for us to expect that from our people, which we do little or nothing in ourselves. What pains do we take to humble them, while we ourselves are unhumbled! How hard do we press them with expostulations, convictions, and aggravations, to bring them to true repentance, when our own eyes are dry, and our hearts but little affected with remorse. We give them an example of hard-heartedness, while we are endeavoring by our words to mollify and melt them. O! if we did but study half as much to affect and amend our own hearts as we do our hearers, it would not be with many of us as it is! We do too little for their humiliation; but I fear many of us do much less for our own. Many do somewhat for other men’s souls, while they seem to forget their own. They so carry the matter, as if their part of the work lay in calling to repentance, and their hearers’ in repenting; theirs in speaking of tears and sorrow, and their hearers’ in weeping and sorrowing; theirs in preaching duties, and their hearers’ in performing them; theirs in crying down sin, and the people’s in forsaking it.
But the Scriptures inform us that the guides of the church confessed their own sins as well as the sins of the people, and began in tears for their own and the people’s sins. Ezra confessed the sins of the priests as well as of the people, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God. So did the Levites. Daniel confessed his own sin as well as the sins of the people. And God calls such to it as well as others.*
(* Ezra ix, 6-10; x, 1. Neh. ix, 32-34. Dan. ix, 20. Joel ii, 15-17.)
When the fast is summoned, the people gathered, the congregation sanctified, the elders assembled, the priests, the ministers of the Lord, are called to begin the work with weeping, calling upon God for mercy. I think if we consider well the duties already opened, and also how we have performed them; the rule, and how far we have deviated from it; we need not demur upon the question, nor put it to a question, whether we have any cause for humiliation. I must needs say, though I judge myself in saying it, that he who reads but this one exhortation of Paul in Acts xx, and compares his life with it, is stupid and hard-hearted, if he do not melt under a sense of his negligence, be not laid in the dust before God, and forced to bewail his great omissions, and to flee for refuge to the blood of Christ, and to his pardoning grace. I am confident, brethren, that none of you do in judgment approve of the libertine doctrine that crieth down the necessity of confession, contrition, and true humiliation, in order to the pardon of sin. Is it not a pity then that our hearts are not more orthodox as well as our heads? But I see our lesson is but half learned when we know it and can say it. When the understanding has learned it, there is much difficulty to teach it our wills and affections, our eyes, our tongues, and our hands. It is a sad thing that so many of us preach our hearers asleep; but it is sadder still if we have studied and preached ourselves asleep; and have talked so long against hardness of heart, till our own are grown hard under the noise of our own reproofs. Though the head only have eyes, ears, smell, and taste; the heart should have life, and feeling, and motion, as well as the head.
That you may see that there is cause for the sorrow which God calls us to, I consider it my duty to call to remembrance our manifold sins, or at least those that are most obvious, and set them this day in order before God and ourselves,that he may cast them behind his back; and to deal plainly and faithfully in a free confession, that He who is faithful and just may forgive them; and to judge ourselves, that we be not judged of the Lord: wherein I suppose I have your free and hearty consent, and that you will be so far from being offended with the disgrace of your persons and of others in this office, that you will readily subscribe the charge, and be humble self-accusers; and so far am I from justifying myself by the accusation of others, that I do unfeignedly put my name with the first in the bill: for how can a wretched sinner of such great transgressions presume to justify himself with God, or how can he plead guiltless whose conscience has so much to say against him! If I cast shame upon the ministry, it is not on the office, but on our persons, by opening that sin which is our shame. The glory of our high employment does not communicate any glory to our sin; nor will it afford the smallest covering for its nakedness, for sin is a reproach to any people or persons: and it is myself as well as others, on whom I must lay the shame. If this may not be done, what do we here to-day? Our business is to take shame to ourselves, and to give God the glory; faithfully to open our sins, that he may cover them; and to make ourselves bare by confession, as we have done by transgression, that we may have the white raiment which covers none but the penitent; for, whether they be pastors or people, it is only he “that confesseth and forsaketh his sins that shall have mercy, when he that hardeneth his heart shall fall into mischief,” Prov. xxviii, 13.
Doubtless, if we are willing to know ourselves, we shall find that to confess which will lay us very low before the Lord. I shall, in all I have to say, keep my eye on my own heart, which I am so far from justifying in this common lamentation, that I look upon it as my necessary duty to cast the first stone at myself.
4.1. Confession of our present sins
I shall not undertake to enumerate the great sins of which we are guilty, and therefore my passing over any particular is not to be considered as a denial of it. But I shall instance a few that cry loudly for humiliation and speedy reformation. Only I must first premise that, notwithstanding all the faults that are now among us, I do not believe that ever England had so able and faithful a ministry since it was a nation, as it has at this day: and I fear that few nations on earth, if any, have the like. Sure I am the change is so great within these twelve years, that it is one of the greatest joys that ever I had in the world to behold it. O how many congregations are now plainly and frequently taught that lived then in great obscurity! How, many able, faithful men, are there now in a county, in comparison to what were then! How graciously has God prospered the studies of many young men who were little children in the beginning of the late troubles, so that now they eclipse most of their seniors! How many miles would I have gone twenty years ago, and less, to have heard one of those ancient revered divines, whose congregations are now grown thin, and their parts esteemed mean, by reason of the notable improvement of their juniors. And, in particular, how mercifully has the Lord dealt with this poor country, (Worcestershire,) in raising up so many of those who do credit to their sacred office, and self-denyingly, freely, zealously, and unweariedly, lay out themselves for the good of souls! I bless the Lord who has placed me in such a neighbourhood, where I have the brotherly fellowship of so many able, humble, unanimous, peaceable, and faithful men. O that the Lord would long continue this admirable mercy to this unworthy country! I hope I shall rejoice in God while I have a being, for the common change in other parts that I have lived to see; that so many hundreds of faithful men are hard at work for the saving of souls, frementibus licet et frendentibus inimicis; and that more are springing up apace. I know there are some men, whose parts I reverence, who, being in point of government of another mind, will be offended at my mentioning this happy change: but I must profess, suppose I absolutely embraced episcopacy, if I know my heart, I could not for all that but rejoice. What, not rejoice at the prosperity of the church, because men differ in opinion about its order! Should I shut my eyes against the mercies of the Lord! The souls of men are not so contemptible to me, that I should envy them the bread of life, because it is broken to them by a hand that had not episcopal approbation. O that every congregation were thus supplied! But all cannot be done at once. It requires much time to get rid of a corrupted ministry; and when the ignorant and scandalous are cast out, we cannot create abilities in others, but must wait for their preparation and growth; and then, if England drive not the gospel away by their abuse, even by their wilful hatred of the light, they are likely to be the happiest nation under heaven. For, with regard to all the sects and heresies which are creeping inland daily troubling us, I doubt not but the free gospel, managed by an able, self-denying ministry, will effectually disperse and shame them all.
But you may say, this is not confessing sin, but applauding those whose sins you pretend to confess. I answer, it is the due acknowledgment of God’s grace, and thanksgiving for his admirable mercies, that I may not seem unthankful in confession, much less to obscure or vilify his grace, while I open the frailties with which in many instances it is accompanied.
4.1.1. particularly pride
One of our most heinous and palpable sins is pride. A sin this which has too much interest in the best, but is more hateful and inexcusable in us than in any; yet it is so prevalent in some of us, that it indites our discourses, it chooses our company, it forms our countenances, it puts the accents and emphasis upon our words; when we reason, it is the determiner and exciter of our cogitations; it fills some men’s minds with aspiring desires and designs; it possesses them with envious and bitter thoughts against those who stand in their light, or by any means eclipse their glory, or hinder the progress of their idolized reputation. O what a constant companion, what a tyrannical commander; what a sly, subtle, and insinuating enemy is pride! It goes with men to the draper, the mercer, and the tailor; it chooses them their cloth, their trimming, and their fashion, and dresses them in the morning. Fewer ministers would follow the fashion in hair and habit, were it not for the influence of this imperious vice: and I would that were all; but, alas, how frequently does it go with us to our studies, and there sit with us, and do our work! How often does it choose our subject, and our words and ornaments! God bids us be as plain as we can, that we may inform the ignorant; and as convincing and serious as we can, in order to melt and change unchanged hearts: but pride stands by and contradicts all. It puts in toys and trifles, and under pretence of laudable ornaments, dishonours our sermons with childish conceits. It takes off the edge and life of all our teaching, under pretence of filing off the roughness and superfluity. If we have a plain and cutting passage, it throws it away as rustical or ungrateful; when God charges us to deal with men as for their lives, and beseech them with all the earnestness we are able, this cursed sin controls all, and condemns the holy commands of God, calls our most necessary duty madness, and says to us, “What, will you make people think you are mad; will you make them say you rage or rave; cannot you speak soberly and moderately?” Thus does pride make many men’s sermons; and what pride makes, the devil makes; and what sermons the devil will make, and to what end, we may easily conjecture. Though the matter be of God, yet if the dress, and manner, and end be from Satan, we have no great reason to expect success.
And when pride has made the sermon, it goes with them into the pulpit; it forms their tone, animates them in the delivery, takes them off from that which may be displeasing, however necessary, and sets them in pursuit of vain applause; and the sum of all this is, that it makes men, both in studying and preaching, seek themselves, and deny God, when they should seek God’s glory, and deny themselves. When they should ask, “What shall I say, and how shall I say it, to please God best, and do most good?” it makes them ask, “What shall I say, and how shall I deliver it, to be thought a learned and able preacher, and to be applauded by all who hear me?” When the sermon is over, pride goes home with them, and makes them more eager to know whether they were applauded, than whether they prevailed with any for the saving of their souls. They could find in their hearts, but for shame, to ask folks how they liked them, and to draw out their commendation. If they perceive that they are highly thought of, they rejoice as having attained their end; but if they find that they are esteemed as weak or common men, they are displeased, having missed the prize.
But even this is not the worst, if worse may be. O that ever it should be spoken of godly ministers, that they are so set upon popular air, and of sitting highest in men’s estimation, that they envy the parts and names of their brethren who are preferred before them, as if all were taken from their praises that is given to another, and as if God had given them his gifts to be the mere ornaments and trappings of their persons, that they may walk as men of reputation in the world, and all his gifts in others were to be trodden down and vilified, if they stand in the way of their honour! What, a saint, a preacher for Christ, and yet envy that which has the image of Christ, and malign his gifts for which he should have the glory; and all because they seem to hinder our glory! Is not every true Christian a member of the body, and therefore a partaker of the blessings of the whole, and of each particular member thereof? And does not every man owe thanks to God for his brethren’s gifts, not only as having himself a part in them, as the foot has the benefit of the guidance of the eye, but also because his own ends may be attained by his brethren’s gifts as well as by his own? If the glory of God and the church’s felicity be not his end, he is not a Christian. Will any workman malign another because he helps him to do his master’s work? Yet, alas, how common is this heinous crime among men of parts and eminence in the church! They can secretly blot the reputation of those who stand cross to their own; and what they cannot for shame do in plain and open terms, lest they be proved palpable liars and slanderers, they will do it in general and malicious intimations, raising suspicions where they cannot fasten accusations. And so far are some gone in this Satanical vice, that it is their ordinary practice, and a considerable part of their business, to keep down the estimation of any that they dislike, and to defame others in the slyest and most plausible way. And some go so far, that they are unwilling that any abler than themselves should come into their pulpits, lest they be applauded above themselves. A fearful thing that any man who has the least fear of God should so envy God’s gifts; and had rather that his carnal hearers were unconverted, and the drowsy not awakened, than that it should be done by another, who may be preferred before him. Yea, so far does this cursed vice prevail, that, in great congregations, where they have need of the help of many teachers, we can scarcely get two in equality to live together in love and quietness, and unanimously to carry on the work of God. Unless one of them be quite below the other in parts, and content to be so esteemed; or unless one be a curate to the other, or ruled by him, they are contending for precedence, envying each other’s interest, and walking with strangeness and jealousy towards one another, to the shame of their profession, and greatly to the injury of the congregation. Nay, some men are so far gone in pride that, when they might have an equal assistant to farther the work of God, they prefer taking all the burden upon themselves, though more than they can bear, to letting any share with them in the honour, lest they should diminish their interest in the people.
Hence it also comes to pass, that men so magnify their own opinions, and are as censorious of any who differ from them in lesser things, as if it were all one to differ from them and from God; and expect that all should be conformed to their judgment, as if they were the rules of the church’s faith. Thus, while we cry down papal infallibility and determination of controversies, we would, too many of us, be popes ourselves, and have all stand to our determination, as if we were infallible. It is true, we have more modesty than expressly to say so. We pretend that it is only the evidence of truth that we expect men should yield to, and our zeal is for the truth, and not for ourselves; but as that must needs be taken for truth which is ours, so our reasons must needs be considered valid; and if they be freely examined and found to be fallacious, as we are exceeding backward to see it ourselves, because they are ours, so we are angry that it should be disclosed to others. We espouse the cause of our errors, as if all that were spoken against them were spoken against our persons, and we were heinously injured to have our arguments fully confuted, by which we injured the truth and the minds of men. So that the matter is come to this through our pride, that if an error or fallacious argument fall under the patronage of a reverend name, which is not uncommon, we must either give it the victory, and give away the truth, or else become injurious to that name that patronizes it; for though you meddle not with their persons, yet they put themselves under all the strokes which you give their arguments, and feel it as sensibly as if you had spoken it of themselves, because they think it will follow in the eyes of men, that weak arguing is a sign of a weak man. If, therefore, you take it for your duty to shame their errors and false reasonings, by discovering their nakedness, they take it as if you shamed their persons; and so their names must be a garrison or fortress to their mistakes, and their reverence must defend all their sayings from the light.
And so high are our spirits that, when it becomes a duty to any to reprove or contradict us, we are commonly impatient; both of the matter and of the manner. We love the man that will say as we say, be of our opinion, and promote our reputation, though less worthy of our love in other respects; but he is disagreeable to us who contradicts us, differs from us, and deals plainly with us in our miscarriages, telling us of our faults: especially in the management of our public arguments, where the eye of the world is upon us, we can scarcely endure any contradiction or plain dealing. I know that railing language is to be abhorred, and that we should be as tender of each other’s reputation as our fidelity to the truth will permit: but our pride makes too many of us think all men contemn us who do not admire us; yea, and admire all that we say, and submit their judgments to our most palpable mistakes. We are so tender that no man can touch us but we are hurt; and so stout and high minded, that we can scarcely be spoken to.
I confess I have often wondered that this most heinous sin should be made so light of, and thought consistent with a holy frame of heart and life, when far less sins are, by ourselves, proclaimed to be damning in our people; and I have wondered still more to see the difference between ungodly sinners and godly preachers in this respect. When we speak to drunkards, worldlings, or any ignorant and unconverted men, we declare their condition to be most deplorable and dangerous, and, as plainly as we can speak, tell them of their sin, shame, and misery; and we expect, not only that they should bear all patiently, but take all thankfully; and we have good reason for all this; yea, most that I deal with do take it patiently; and many gross sinners will commend the closest preachers most, and say that they care not for hearing a man who will not tell them plainly of their sins. But if we speak to godly ministers against their errors, or any sin, suppose we honour and reverence them, and speak as smoothly as we can; yea, suppose we mix commendation with our contradiction or reproof, yet if the applause be not predominant, so as to drown all the force of the reproof or confutation, they take it as an injury almost insufferable. That is considered as railing against them which would be no better than flattery in them to the common people, though the cause may be as great.
Brethren, I know this is a sad and harsh confession; but that all this should be among us, ought to be more grievous to us than to be told of it. Could this nakedness be hid, I should not have disclosed it, at least not so openly in the view of all. But alas, it is long ago open to the eyes of the world! We have dishonoured ourselves by idolizing our honour. We print our shame, preach our shame, and tell it to all. Some will think that I speak over charitably to call such persons godly men, in whom so great a sin prevails. I know where it is indeed predominant, and not hated, bewailed, and mortified, there can be no true godliness; and I leave every man to a cautious jealousy and search of his own heart. But if all be graceless who are guilty of any, or many, or most of the forementioned discoveries of pride, the Lord be merciful to the ministers of this land, and give us quickly another spirit; for grace is a rarer thing than most of us have supposed it to be.
Yet I must needs say that it is not all I intend. To the praise of grace be it spoken, we have some among us here, (and I doubt not but it is so in other parts,) who are eminent for humility and condescension, and exemplary therein to their flocks and to their brethren; and it is and shall be their glory, and makes them truly honourable and amiable in the eyes of God and all good men, yea, and in the eyes of the ungodly themselves. O that the rest of us were but such!
O that the Lord would lay us at his feet in tears of unfeigned sorrow for this sin! Brethren, may I take the liberty for a little to expostulate this case with my own heart and you, that we may see the shame of our sin and be reformed? Is not pride the sin of devils, the first-born of hell? Is it not that wherein Satan’s image consists; and is it a tolerable evil in men who are so engaged against him and his kingdom as we are? The very design of the gospel is self-abasing; and the work of grace is begun and carried on in humiliation. Humility is not a mere ornament of a Christian, but an essential part of the new creature. It is a contradiction to be a sanctified man, or a true Christian, and not humble. All that will be Christians must be Christ’s disciples, and come to him to learn; and their lesson is, to be meek and lowly. O how many precepts and admirable examples has our Lord and Master given us for this end! Can we once conceive of him as purposely washing and wiping his servant’s feet, and still continue stout and lordly? Did he converse with the meanest, and shall we avoid them as contemptible people, and think none but persons of riches and honour to be fit for our society? How many of us are oftener found in the houses of gentlemen, than in the poor cottages of those who have most need of our help! There are many of us who would think it base to be daily with the most needy and beggarly people, to instruct them in the matters of life, and to supply their wants, as if we had taken charge only of the souls of the rich. Alas, what is it that we have to be proud of! Of our bodies? Are they not made of the like materials as the brutes, and must they not shortly be as loathsome and abominable as the dung? Is it of our graces? The more we are proud of them, the less we have to be proud of; and when so much of the nature of grace consists in humility, it is a great absurdity to be proud of it. Is it of our learning, knowledge, abilities, and gifts? Surely, if we have any knowledge at all, we must needs know much reason to be humble; and if we know more than others, we must know more reason than others to be humble. How little is it that the most learned know, in comparison of what they are ignorant of! And to know that many things are beyond your reach, and that you cannot know them, one would think should be no great cause of pride. However, do not the devils know more than you; and will you be proud of that in which the devils excel you? Our very business is to teach the great lesson of self-denial and humility to our people, and how unfit is it then that we should be proud ourselves! We must study humility, and preach humility; and must we not also possess and practise it? A proud teacher of humility is at least a self-condemning man.
It is truly deplorable that so vile a sin is so little discerned by us. But many who are very proud can blame it in others, and take no notice of it in themselves. Even the world observes some among us, that they have aspiring minds, and seek for the highest rooms, and must be rulers, and bear the sway wherever they come, or else there is no standing before them.
Brethren, I desire to deal closely with my own heart and yours. I beseech you consider whether our speaking well of the grace that we are destitute of, and against the sin that we live in, will save us. Have not many of us cause to inquire once and again whether sincerity can consist with such a measure of pride? When we are telling the drunkard that he cannot be saved without becoming temperate, and the fornicator unless he become chaste; have we not as great reason, if we be proud, to say of ourselves, that we cannot be saved unless we become humble? Certainly pride is a greater sin than whoredom or drunkenness; and humility is as necessary as chastity and sobriety. Truly, brethren, a man may as certainly, and more slyly and dangerously, make haste to hell in a way of profession and earnest preaching of the gospel, and seeming zeal for a holy life, as in a way of drunkenness and filthiness. For what is true holiness but devotedness to God, and living to him; and what is wickedness, and being in a state fit for damnation, but a devotedness to ourselves, and living to ourselves; and does any man live more to himself or less to God than the proud; and may not pride make a preacher study for himself, and pray, and preach, and live for himself, even when he seems to outgo others in the work, if he outgo them that he may have the glory of it from men? It is not the work, without the principle and end, that will prove us upright. The work may be God’s, and yet we do it not for God, but for ourselves. I confess I feel such continual danger, lest I should study for myself, preach for myself, and write for myself, rather than for Christ, that if I did not watch against it I should soon miscarry.
Consider, I beseech you, brethren, what habits there are in the work of the ministry, to entice a man to be selfish, that is, to be carnal and impious, even in the highest works of piety! The fame of a godly man is as great a snare as the fame of a learned man; and wo to him who takes up with the fame of godliness instead of godliness! Verily, I say unto you, they have their reward. When the times were for learning and empty formalities, then the temptation of the proud lay that way: but now, through the unspeakable mercy of God, the most lively practical preaching is in credit, and godliness itself is in credit; and now the temptation to proud men is here, even to pretend to be zealous preachers and godly men. O what a fine thing it seems to have the people crowd to hear us, and to be affected with what we say, and that we can command their judgment and affections! What a taking thing it is to be cried up as the most able and godly man in the country, and to be famed through the land for the highest spiritual excellence. Alas, brethren, little grace will serve to make you join yourselves with the forwardest of those men who have such inducements as these. To have the people plead for you as their felicity, call you the pillars of the church of God, and their fathers, the chariots and horsemen of Israel, and no lower language than excellent men, and able divines, and to have them depend upon you, and be ruled by you; though this may be no more than their duty, yet I must again tell you that little grace will serve to make you seem zealous men for this; nay, pride may do it, without any special grace. O therefore be jealous of yourselves, and in all your studies be sure to study humility. “He that exalteth himself shall be brought low, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” I observe commonly that almost all men, good and bad, loathe the proud, and love the humble. So far does pride contradict itself, unless where it purposely hides itself; and, conscious of its own deformity, borrows the homely dress of humility: and we have cause to be the more jealous, because it is the most radicated vice, and as hardly as any extirpated from the soul. When it was a disgrace for a man to be a godly, zealous preacher, then pride had not such a bait as now.
4.1.2. Undervaluing the unity and peace of the catholic church
Another sin the ministers of England, and many other churches, are guilty of, is undervaluing the unity and peace of the whole church. Though I scarcely ever met with any that will not speak for unity and peace, or at least that will expressly speak against it; yet it is not common to meet with those who are serious and active in promoting it: but too commonly do we find men averse to it, and jealous of it, if not themselves the instruments of division. The papists have so long abused the name of the catholic church, that, in opposition to them, many either put it out of their creed, or only fill up room with the name, while they understand not, or consider not, the nature of the thing; or else think it enough to believe that there is such a body, though they behave not themselves as members of it. If the papists will idolize the church, shall we therefore deny, disregard, or divide it? It is a great and common sin through the Christian world, to take up religion in a way of faction; and, instead of love and tender concern for the universal church, to confine that love and respect to a party. Not but that we must prefer in our estimation and communion the purer parts, and refuse to participate with any in their sins; but the most infirm and diseased part should be compassionated and assisted to the utmost of our power, and communion held as far as is lawful, and nowhere avoided but upon the urgency of necessity. As we must love those in our neighbourhood who have the plague or leprosy, and afford them all the relief we can, though we may not have local communion with them; so in other diseases which are not so infectious, we may be the more with them for their help, by how much the more they need it. Among the multitudes who say they are of the catholic church, it is rare to meet with any of a catholic spirit. Men do not consider and respect the whole church, but look upon their own party as if it were the whole. If there be some called Lutherans, some Calvinists, and some among these of subordinate divisions, most of them will pray hard for the prosperity of their party, and rejoice and give thanks accordingly, when it goes well with them; but if any other party suffer, they little regard it, as if it were no loss at all to the church. They behave as if they were the whole church, and as if it went well with the church when it goes well with them. We cry down the pope as antichrist, for including the church in the Romish pale, and no doubt but it is an abominable schism: but alas, how many of us imitate him while we reprove him! The papists foist the word Roman into their creed, and turn the catholic church into the Roman Catholic Church; as if there were no other catholics, and the church were of no larger extent. So it is with many others. Some will have it to be the Lutheran Catholic Church, some the Reformed Catholic Church, some the Baptist Catholic Church, and so with others: and if they differ not among themselves, they are not much troubled at differing from others, though it be from almost all the Christian world. The peace of their party they take for the peace of the church.
How rare it is to meet with a man who smarts and bleeds with the church’s wounds, and sensibly lays them to heart as his own; or who ever was solicitous about a cure! No, but almost every party think that the happiness of the rest consists only in turning to them; and because they are not of their mind, they cry, “Down with them;” and are glad to hear of their fall, as thinking that is the way for the church to rise. How few are there who understand the true state of controversies between the several parties; or who ever clearly discerned how many of them are but verbal, and how many are real! And if those who understand the matter, in order to right information and accommodation, disclose it to others, it is taken as an extenuation of their error, and a carnal compliance with them in their sin. Few men grow zealous for peace till they are old, have much experience of men’s spirits and principles, and see the true state of the church better, and the several differences, than they did before. Then they begin to write their irenecons, &c., as our Davenant, Morton, Hall, whose excellent treatise, called, The Peace-Maker, and his Pax terris, deserve to be transcribed upon all our hearts. Nay, it frequently brings a man under suspicion either of favouring some heresy, or abating his zeal, if he attempt a pacific work; as if there were no zeal necessary for the great fundamental verities of the church’s unity and peace, but only for parties, and some particular truths.
A great advantage the devil has gained this way, by employing his own agents, the unhappy Socinians, in writing so many treatises for catholic and arch-catholic unity and peace, which they did for their own ends; by which means, the enemy of peace has brought it to pass, that whoever makes a motion for peace, is immediately brought under suspicion of being one who has need of it for an indulgence to his own errors. A fearful case this, that heresy should be credited, as if none were such friends to unity and peace as they who propagate it; and that so great and necessary a duty, upon which the church’s welfare depends, should be brought into such suspicion or disgrace.
Brethren, I speak not all this without good reason. We have as sad divisions among us in England, considering the piety of the persons, and the smallness of the matter of our discord, as most nations under heaven have known. The most that keeps us at odds is the right form and order of church-government. Is the distance so great that Presbyterian, Episcopal, and Independent might not be well agreed? Were they but heartily willing and forward for peace, they might—I know they might. I have spoken with some moderate men of all the parties, and I perceive by their concessions it might easily be done. Were men’s hearts but sensibly affected with the situation of the church, and unfeignedly touched with love to one another, and did they but heartily set themselves to seek it, the settling of a safe and happy peace would be an easy work. If we could not in every point agree, we might easily find out, and narrow our differences, and hold communion upon our agreement in the main; determining of the safest way for the managing of our few small differences, without danger or trouble to the church. But is this much done? It is not. To the shame of all our faces be it spoken. Let each party flatter themselves now as they please, it will be recorded to the shame of the ministry of England, while the gospel shall abide in the Christian world. What will be recorded? What! Why this: That learned and godly ministers in England did first disagree among themselves, and head and lead on their people in those disagreements; that they proceeded in them for the space of fourteen years, and in all that time had as great advantages and opportunities for agreement as any people in the world —they had the sad experience of the conflagration of the commonwealth, and were scourged to it by a calamitous war. They saw the fearful confusions in the church; and the perverting of multitudes, as Socinians, Ranters, and Infidels; they saw the continual jealousies and bitterness that their distance bred, and how it was the fuel of a daily course of sin: and yet for all these they used no effectual endeavours for a cure. They could let a course of sin run; they could let divisions and heresies increase, and see the church of Christ bleed, and yet forbear the cheapest cure that ever a people could be called to use. They could see, and hear, and know, that we were all made a very derision to our enemies, and the public scorn or pity of the world, and yet sit still, as if all this were little to them. They had magistrates who did not hinder them from the work; but gave them full liberty to consult and endeavour a complete agreement. They lived near each other, and might easily have met together for the work: and if one, or two, or a hundred meetings could not have accomplished it, they might have held on till it was done. And yet for all this there is nothing done, nor any considerable attempt yet made towards it. O what heinous aggravations accompany this sin! Never since the apostles’ days, I think, did men make greater profession of godliness. The most of them are bound by solemn oaths and covenants to promote unity and reformation. They all confess the worth of peace; and most of them will preach and talk of it, while they sit still and neglect it, as if it were not worth looking after. They will read and preach on those texts that command men to follow peace with all men, and as much as in us lies, if it be possible, to live peaceably with them; and yet they are so far from following it, and doing all they possibly can for it, that too many will snarl at it, and malign and censure any who endeavour it, as if all zeal for peace proceeded from an abatement of zeal for holiness; and as if holiness and peace were so fallen out, that there were no reconciling them, notwithstanding they have found by long experience, that concord is a sure friend to piety, and piety always moves to concord. We have seen how errors and heresies are bred by discord, as discord is bred and fed by them. We have seen, to our sorrow, that where the servants of God should live together as one, of one heart, one soul, and one lip, and should promote each other’s faith and holiness, and admonish and assist each other against sin, and rejoice together in the hope of their future glory, we have contrarily lived in mutual jealousies, drowned holy love in bitter contention, and have studied to disgrace and undermine each other, and to increase our own parties by right or wrong; and we who are wont to boast of our love to the brethren as the certain mark of our sincerity in the faith, have now turned it into the love of a party only: and those who are against that party have more of our spleen, envy, and malice, than our love.
I know this is not so with all; but yet it is so common, that it may cause us to question the sincerity of many who are thought by themselves and others to be most sincere. And it is not ourselves only that are scorched in this flame; but we have drawn our people into it, and cherished them in it; so that most of the godly in the nation are fallen into several parties, and have turned much of their ancient piety into vain opinions, vain disputes, envyings, and animosities; yea, whereas it was wont to be made the certain mark of a graceless wretch to deride the godly, how few there are now who stick at secretly deriding and slandering those who are not of their opinion? A pious Episcopalian can reverently scorn and slander a Presbyterian; and some of them an Independent, and an Independent both: and, which is worst of all, the common ignorant people take notice of all this, and do not only deride us, but are hardened by us against religion; and when we go about to persuade them to be religious, they see so many parties that they know not which to join, and think it as good to be of none at all, as of any, when they are uncertain which is right; and thus thousands contemn all religion in consequence of our divisions; and poor carnal wretches begin to think themselves in the better case of the two, because they hold to their old way, when we hold to nothing. Yea, and these pious contenders do more effectually plead the devil’s cause against one another than any of the ignorant people can do. They can prove one another deceivers and blasphemers, and what not; and they do this by secret slanders among all that they can handsomely vent them to, and perhaps also by public disputations and printed books. So that when the obstinate drunkards are at a loss, and have nothing to say of their own against a man that would drive them from their sin, prompted by the railing books or reports of factious malice, they say, “I regard him not, or his doctrine; such a man has proved him a deceiver and a blasphemer; let him answer him if he can.” And thus the lies and slanders of some, and the bitter opprobrious speeches of others, have more effectually done the devil’s service, under the name of orthodoxy and zeal for truth, than the malignant scorners of godliness could have done it. So that the matter is come to that pass, that there are few men of note of any party, on whom the reproaches of the other parties are not so public, that the ignorant and wicked rabble who should be converted by them, have learned to be orthodox, and to vilify and scorn them. Mistake me not. I do not slight orthodoxy, nor jeer at the name; but disclose the pretences of devilish zeal in pious, or seemingly pious men. If you be offended with me for my harsh language, because I can tell you that I learned it of God, I dare be bold therefore to tell you farther, that you have far more cause to be offended at your own practices. The thing itself is surely odious, if the name be so odious that you cannot bear it. How should the presence and guilt of it terrify you, if the name make you start! I know that many of these reverend calumniators think they show that soundness in the faith, and love to truth which others want. But I will resolve the case in the words of the Holy Ghost: “Who is a wise man, and endued with knowledge among you? Let him show out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envying (or jealousies) and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth; this wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish: for where envying (or bitter zeal) and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above, is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, without hypocrisy; and the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for them that make peace,” James iii. I pray you read these words again and again, and study them.
4.1.3. Want of serious industry, and unreservedly laying out ourselves in the work of God
The next sin which I shall mention, that we are lamentably guilty of, is this: We do not seriously, unreservedly, and industriously, lay out ourselves in the work of the Lord, as becomes men of our profession and engagements. I bless the Lord that there are so many who do this work with all their might! But, alas, for the most part, even of those whom we consider as godly ministers, how reservedly and how negligently do they go through their work! How few of us behave ourselves in our office as men that are wholly devoted thereto, and have devoted all they have to the same end! That you may see the grounds of this confession, I shall mention to you some of the sinful discoveries of it, which too much abound.
18.104.22.168. Discovered by negligent studies
It is too common with us to be negligent in our studies. Few men will take that pains which is necessary for rightly informing their understanding, and fitting them for their farther work. Some men have no delight in their studies, but take only now and then an hour, as an unwelcome task which they are forced to undergo, and are glad when they are from under the yoke. Will neither the natural desire of knowing, nor the spiritual desire of knowing God and divine things, nor the consciousness of our great ignorance and weakness, nor a sense of the weight of our ministerial work; will none of these keep us closer to our studies, and make us more diligent in seeking after the truth? This diligence is now the more necessary for ministers, because the necessity of the church draws many from the universities so young, that they are obliged to teach and learn at the same time. And, for my part, I would not discourage such young ones, provided they be but competently qualified, and quickened with an earnest desire for men’s salvation, and are drawn out by the present necessities sooner than they would go, if the church could longer wait for their preparation, and will but study hard in the country. For I know that as theology is practical science, so the knowledge of it thrives best in a practical course. Laying out here is a means of gathering in; and a hearty endeavour to communicate and do good is not the smallest help to our own proficiency. Many men have not been ashamed to confess how young and raw they were at their entrance, who yet have grown to eminent parts. Vigilius, the martyr, was made bishop of Trent at twenty years old. Ambrose says, “Men should learn before they begin to teach: and whatever proficiency any one may have made, there is none but will require to be taught as long as he lives.”
O what abundance of things there are that a minister should understand; and what a great defect it is to be ignorant of them; and how much shall we miss such knowledge in our work! Many ministers study only to compose their sermons, and very little more, when there are so many books to be read, and so many matters that we should not be unacquainted with. Nay, in the study of our sermons we are too negligent, gathering only a few naked heads, and not considering of the most forcible expressions by which we should set them home to men’s hearts. We must study how to convince and get within men, and how to bring each truth to the quick, and not leave all this to our extemporary promptitude, unless it be in cases of necessity. Certain1ly, brethren, experience will teach you that men are not made learned or wise without hard study, and unwearied labours and experience.
22.214.171.124. Dull, drowsy preaching
If ministers were set upon the work of the Lord, it would be done more vigorously than it is. How few ministers preach with all their might; or speak about everlasting joy or torment in such a manner as may make men believe that they are in good earnest! It is enough to make a man’s heart ache to see a company of dead and drowsy sinners sit under a minister, and not have a word that is likely to quicken or awaken them. To think with ourselves, “If these sinners were but convinced and awakened, they might be converted and live.” And, alas, we speak in such a smooth and careless manner, that sleepy sinners cannot hear: the blow falls so light, that hard-hearted persons cannot feel it! Most ministers will not so much as put out their voice, and stir themselves up to an earnest utterance. But if they do speak loud and earnestly, how few answer it with earnestness of matter; and then the voice does but little good: the people will take it but as mere bawling, when the matter does not correspond. It would grieve one to hear what excellent doctrines some ministers have in hand, and let them die in their hands for want of close and lively application. What fit matter they have for convincing sinners, and how little they make of it; and what a deal of good it might do if it were set home, and yet they cannot or will not do it! O, sirs, how plainly, how closely, and how earnestly should we deliver a message of such vast importance as ours; in which the everlasting life or death of men is concerned! Methinks we are nowhere so wanting as in this seriousness. There is nothing more unsuitable to such a business than superficialtity and dulness. What, speak coldly for God, and for men’s salvation! Can we believe that our people must be converted or condemned, and yet speak in a drowsy tone?
In the name of God, brethren, labour to awaken your hearts before you come, and when you are in the work, that you may be fit to awaken the hearts of sinners! Remember that they must be awakened or damned; and a sleepy preacher will hardly awaken them. If you give the holy things of God the highest praises in words, and yet do it coldly, you will in the manner unsay what you said in the matter. It is a kind of contempt in great things, especially things so great, to speak of them without great affection and fervency: the manner as well as the words must set them forth. If we are commanded whatever our hand finds to do, to do it with all our might; then certainly such a work as preaching for men’s salvation should be done with all our might. But, alas, how few, how thin are such men: here one, and there one, even among good ministers, that have an earnest, persuading, working way; so that the people can feel him preach when they hear him.
126.96.36.199. Not helping them who want
If we be all heartily devoted to the work of God, why do we not compassionate the poor unprovided congregations about us, and take care to help them to able ministers; and in the mean time step out now and then to their assistance, when the business of our own particular charge will give us leave. A lecture in the more ignorant places, purposely for the work of conversion, performed by the most lively working preachers, might be a great help, where constant means are wanting.
188.8.131.52. Neglect of acknowledged duties, viz., church discipline; The pretences refuted which are brought to justify it
The negligent execution of acknowledged duties shows that we are not so devoted to the work as we should be. If there be any work of reformation to be set on foot, how many there are who will go no farther than they are drawn; and it were well if all would do so much.
If any business for the church be on foot, how many neglect it for their own private business: when we should meet and consult together for the unanimous and successful performance of our work, one has this business of his own, and another that, which must be preferred before God’s business.
And when a work is likely to prove difficult and costly, how backward are we to it, make excuses, and will not come forward! For instance: What has been more talked of and prayed for, and contended about in England for many years past, than the business of discipline? And there are but few men who are not zealous in disputing for one side or other: some for the Episcopal way, some for the Presbyterian, and some for the Congregational. And yet, when we come to the practice of it, for aught I see, we are most of us for no way. It has made me wonder sometimes to look on the face of England, and see how few congregations in the land have any considerable execution of discipline; and to think withal what volumes they have written for it, and how almost all the ministers in the nation are engaged for it—how zealously they have contended for it, and made many a just exclamation against the opposers of it; and yet for all this do little or nothing in the exercise of it. I have marvelled what should make them so zealous in siding for that which their practice shows that their hearts are against: but I see a disputing zeal is more natural than a holy, obedient, and practising zeal. How many ministers there are in England who know not their own charge, who plead for the truth of their particular churches, and know not which they are, or who are the members of them; and who never cast out one obstinate sinner; no, nor have brought one to public confession of repentance, and promise of reformation; nor yet admonished one publicly, to call him to such repentance. But they think they do their duty if they do not give them the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, when, perhaps, they themselves avoid it voluntarily, as well as thousands more who keep away without our prohibiting them; and in the mean time we leave them stated members of our churches, grant them all other communion with the church, and do not call them to personal repentance for their sin. Brethren, I desire not to offend any party, nor to bring the least dishonour on them; but I must say that these sins are not to be covered over with excuses, extenuations, or denials. We have long cried up discipline. Would you have people value your mode of government or not? No doubt but you would: and if you would have them value it, it must be for some excellence. Show them then that excellence, what it is, and wherein it consists; and if you would have them believe you, show it them not only on paper, but in practice; not only in words, but in deeds. How can the people know the worth of bare notions and names of discipline, without the thing? Is it a name and a shadow that you have made all this noise about? How can they think that that is good which does no good? Truly, I fear, we take not the way to maintain our cause, but to betray it, while we are only hot disputers for it.
184.108.40.206. The power of worldly interests
Another sad discovery, that we have not so devoted ourselves and all we have to the service of God as we ought, is, the prevalence of worldly and selfish interests against the interest and work of Christ. And this I shall farther manifest in these three instances following:—Our temporizing—our too much minding worldly things and shrinking from duties that clash with our interest in that respect— our barrenness in works of charity, and in the improvement of all that we have to our Master’s use.
220.127.116.11.1. these manifested by temporizing
I would not have any to be contentious with those who govern them, nor to be disobedient to any of their lawful commands. But it is not the least reproach upon the ministry, that the most of them, for worldly advantage, still suit themselves with the party that is most likely to suit their ends. If they look for secular advantages, they suit themselves to the secular power; if for the air of ecclesiastic applause, then they suit themselves to the party of ecclesiastics that is most in credit. This is not a private, but an epidemical malady. In Constantine’s days how prevalent were the Orthodox! In Constantine’s days they almost all turned Arians; so that there were very few bishops who did not apostatize or betray the truth, even of the men who had been in the Council of Nice. And when not only Liberius, but the great Osius himself, fell, who had been the president, or chief, in so many orthodox councils, what better could be expected from weaker men! Were it not for secular advantage, or ecclesiastical faction and applause, how could it come to pass that ministers of all the countries in the world are either all, or almost all, of that religion and way which is most in credit, and most consistent with their worldly interest? Among the Greeks, they are all of the Greek profession; and among the Abasines, the Nestorians, the Maronites, the Jacobites, the ministers generally go one way; and among the papists, they are almost all papists. In Saxony, Sweden, Denmark, &c., they are almost all Lutherans; and in Holland, France, and Scotland they are almost all Calvinists.
It is strange that they should be all in the right in one country, and all in the wrong in another, if carnal advantages and reputation did not sway much. When men fall upon a conscientious search, the variety of intellectual capacities unavoidably causes a great variety of conceits about some hard and comparatively unimportant things: but let the prince and the stream of men in credit go one way, and you shall have the generality of ministers agree to a hair, and that without any extraordinary search. How generally and often did the common sort of ministers change their religion with the prince in this land! Not all, as our martyrology can witness, but the most. I purposely forbear to mention any later change. If the rulers of a university, who have the disposal of preferments, should be corrupt, how much might they do with most of the students, where mere arguments would not take! And the same tractable distemper so often follows them into the ministry, that it occasions the enemies to say that reputation and preferment are our religion and our reward.
18.104.22.168.2. worldly business
How common is it for ministers to drown themselves in worldly business! Too many are such as the sectaries would have them be, who tell us that we should go to plough and cart, and labour for our living, and preach without so much study: and this is a lesson easily learned. Men take no pains to cast off and prevent worldly care, that their souls and the church may have their care. How commonly are those duties neglected that are likely, if performed, to diminish our estates! For example: Are there not many who dare not, and will not, set up the exercise of any discipline in their churches; not only on the formentioned accounts, but especially because it may hinder the people from paying them their dues! They will not offend sinners with discipline, lest they offend them in their estates. I find money is too strong an argument for some men to answer, who can proclaim the love of it to be the root of all evil, and can make large orations on the danger of covetousness. I will now say no more to these but this: If it were so deadly a sin in Simon Magus to offer to buy the gift of God with money, what is it to sell his gifts, his cause, and the souls of men, for money; and what reason have such to fear lest their money perish wlth them!
22.214.171.124.3. barrenness in works of charity
But the most that I have to say is to the third discovery. If worldly and selfish interests did not prevail against the interest of Christ and the church, surely most ministers would be more fruitful in good works, and more ready to lay out what they have for their Master’s use. Experience has fully proved that works of charity most potently remove prejudice, and open the ears to words of piety. If men see that you are accustomed to do good, they will the more easily believe that you are good, and therefore that that is good to which you persuade them. When they see that you love them and seek their good, they will the more readily trust you; and when they see that you seek not the things of the world, they will the less suspect your intention, and the more easily be drawn by you to seek that which you seek. O how much good might ministers do, if they set themselves wholly to do good, and would dedicate all their faculties and substance to that end! Say not that it is a small matter to do good to men’s bodies and that this will but win them to us, and not to God, nor convert the soul, for prejudice is a great hinderance to men’s conversion, and this will remove it. We might do men more good, if they were but willing to learn of us: and this will make them willing, and then our farther diligence may profit them.
Brethren, I pray you do not think that it is ordinary charity that is expected from you, any more than ordinary piety. You must, in proportion to your talents, go much beyond others. It is not to give now and then twopence to a poor man: others do that as well as you. But what singular thing do you with your estates for your Master’s use? I know you cannot give away that which you have not: but I think all that you have should be for God. I know the great objection is, “We have wife and children to provide for; a little will not serve them at present, and we are not bound to leave them beggars.” To which I answer, first, There are few texts of Scripture more abused than that of the apostle: “He that provideth not for his own, and especially those of his family, hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” This is made a pretence for gathering up portions, and providing a full estate for posterity, when the apostle speaks only against those who cast their poor kindred and family on the church, to be maintained out of the common stock, though they were able to do it themselves. As if one who has a widow in his house, who is his mother or daughter, and would have her be kept on the parish, when he has enough himself. His following words show that it is present provision, and not future portions, that the apostle speaks of, when he bids “them that have widows administer to them,” or give them what is sufficient. Secondly: You may so educate your children, as other persons do, that they may be able to get their own livings, in some honest trade or employment, without great provision laid up for them. I know that your charity and care must begin at home, but it must not end there. You are bound to do the best you can to educate your children so that they may be most serviceable to God; but not to leave them rich, nor to forbear other necessary works of charity merely for a larger provision for them. There must be some proportion kept between our provision for our families and for the church and poor. A truly charitable, self-denying man, who has devoted himself and all that he has to God, would be the best judge of the due proportions, and would see which way of expense is likely to do God the greatest service, and that way he would take. Thirdly: I confess I would not have men lie under endangering strong temptations to incontinence, lest they wound themselves and their profession by their falls: but yet methinks it is hard that men can do no more to mortify the concupiscence of the flesh, that they may live single, and have none of these temptations from wife and children, to hinder them from furthering their ministerial ends by charitable works. If he who marries not does better than he who does, surely ministers should labour to do that which is best; and if he who can receive this saying must receive it, we should endeavor after it. Fourthly: But they who must marry should take such as can maintain themselves and their children, or maintain them at such a rate as their temporal means will afford, and devote as much of the church’s means to the church’s service as they can.
I would put no man upon extremes: but in this case flesh and blood make even good men so partial that they take their duties, and duties of very great worth and weight, to be extremes. If worldly vanities did not blind us, we might see when a public, or other greater good, calls us to deny ourselves and our families. Why should we not live more sparingly and poor in the world, rather than leave those works undone which may be of greater use than our plentiful provision? But, in matters of duty, we consult with flesh and blood; and we may easily know what counsel it will give us. It tells us we must have a competency; and many pious men’s competency is but little below the rich man’s rates. If they be not clothed with the best, and fare not deliciously every day, they have not a competency. A man who preaches an immortal crown of glory, must not seek much after transitory vanity; and he who preaches the contempt of riches, must himself contemn them, and show it by his life; and he who preaches self-denial and mortification, must practise these in the eyes of those to whom he preaches, if he would have his doctrine prosper. All Christians are sanctified, and therefore themselves and all that they have are consecrated and dedicated to their Master’s use; but ministers are doubly sanctified—they are devoted to God both as Christians and as ministers, and therefore they are doubly obliged to honour him with what they have.
O, brethren, what abundance of good works are before us, and how few of them do we put our hands to! I know the world expects more from us than we have: but if we cannot answer the expectations of the unreasonable, let us do what we can to answer the expectations of God, conscience, and all just men. It is the will of God that with well doing we should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. Especially those ministers who have large incomes must do good in proportion.
I will give but one instance at this time, which I mentioned before. There are some ministers who have 150, or 200, or £300 per annum, of church means; and have so great parishes that they are not able to do a quarter of the ministerial work, nor once in a year to deal personally with half their people for their instruction; and yet they will content themselves with public preaching, as if that were all that were necessary, and leave almost all the rest undone, to the everlasting danger or damnation of multitudes, rather than maintain one or two diligent men to assist them. Or, if they have an assistant, it is but some young man to ease them about baptizings or burials, or such work, and not one that will faithfully and diligently watch over the flock, and afford them that personal instruction which is so necessary. If this be not serving ourselves of God, and not serving God and selling men’s souls for our fuller maintenance in the world, what is? Methinks such men should fear, lest, while they are accounted excellent preachers and godly ministers by men, they should be accounted cruel soul murderers by Christ; and lest the cries of those souls whom they have betrayed to damnation should ring in their ears for ever. Will preaching a good sermon serve the turn, while you never look more after them, but deny them that closer help that you find to be necessary, and alienate that maintenance to your own flesh which should provide relief for so many souls? How can you open your mouths against oppressors, when you yourselves are such great oppressors, not only of men’s bodies, but their souls? How can you preach against unmercifulness, while you are so unmerciful? And how can you talk against unfaithful ministers, while you are so unfaithful yourselves? The sin is not therefore small because it is unobserved, and not become odious in the eyes of men; nor because the charity which you withhold is such as the people blame you not for withholding. Satan himself, their greatest enemy, has their consent all along in the work of their perdition. It is no extenuation therefore of your sin that you have their consent; for that you may sooner have for their hurt than for their good.
4.2. The whole applied for humiliation.
I shall proceed no farther in these confessions and discoveries, but beseech you to take what is said into consideration; and see whether this be not the great and lamentable sin of the ministers of the gospel, that they are not fully devoted to God, and give not up themselves and all that they have to the carrying on of the blessed work which they have undertaken: and whether flesh-pleasing and self-seeking interests, distinct from that of Christ, do not make us neglect much of our duty, and walk unfaithfully in so great a trust, and reservedly serve God in the cheapest and most applauded part of his work, and withdraw from that which would put us upon cost and sufferings: and whether this do not show that too many are earthly who seem to be heavenly, mind the things below while they preach for the things above, and idolize the world while they call men to contemn it. And as Salvian says, Nullus salutem plus negligit quam qui Deo aliquid anteponit. Despisers of God will prove despisers of their own salvation.
And now, brethren, what remains but that we all cry guilty of these sins, and humble our souls in the lamentation of them before the Lord! Is this taking heed to ourselves and all the flock? Is this like the pattern that is given us in the text? If we should now prove stout-hearted and unhumbled men, and disregard these confessions as tending to our disgrace, how sad a symptom would it be to ourselves and to the church! The ministry has been often threatened here, and is still maligned by many sorts of adversaries; though all this shows their impious malice, yet it also intimates to us God’s just indignation. Believe it brethren, the ministers of England are not the least nor last in the sin of the land. They have encouraged the common profaneness; they have led the people into divisions, and are now backward to bring them out; and as sin has been found in them, so judgments have been found and laid upon them. It is time, therefore, for us to take our part of that humiliation to which we have been so long calling our people. We cannot but perceive that God has been offended with us, and that the voice which called this nation to repentance spoke to us as well as others. He therefore who has ears let him hear the voice of railing enemies of all sorts; the voice of those who cry, “Down with them to the ground”; all calling us to try our ways, and to reform. He who has eyes to see, let him see the precepts of repentance written in so many admirable deliverances and preservations, and in so many lines of blood. By fire and sword has God been calling us to humiliation; and as judgment has begun at the house of God, so, if humiliation begin not there too, it will be a sad prognostic to us and to the land. What, shall we deny, excuse, or extenuate our sins, while we call our people to such free confessions? Is it not better to give glory to God by a full and humble confession, than in tenderness for our own glory to seek fig-leaves to cover our nakedness, and as it were to oblige God to build his glory, which we denied him, upon the ruins of our own, which we preferred before him; and to distrain for that, by yet sorer judgments, which we denied voluntarily to surrender to him! Alas! if you put God to get his honour as he can, he can get it to your great sorrow and dishonour. If any of our hearers, in a day of humiliation, when sin is fully confessed and lamented, should be offended at the confession, and stand up against it, and say, “You wrong me: I am not so bad. You should have told me of this in private, and not have disgraced me before the congregation;”—what could we think of such a man but that he was an impenitent wretch? and as he would have no part in the confession, so he should have none in the remission. And shall we do that which we scarcely ever see the most hardened sinner do? Shall we say, This should not have been spoken of us in the ears of the people, but we should have been honoured before them. Certainly sins openly committed are more dishonourable to us when we hide them than when we confess them. It is the sin, and not the confession, that is our dishonour. We have committed them before the sun, so that they cannot be hid. Attempts to cloak them only increase the guilt and shame. There is no way to repair the breaches which our sin has made, but by free confession and humiliation. I durst not but make confession of my own; and if any be offended that I have confessed theirs, let them know that I do but what I have done by myself. And if they dare disown the confession of their sin, let them do it at their peril. But as for the truly humble ministers of the gospel, I doubt not but they will rather be provoked more solemnly, in the face of their several congregations, to lament their sins, and promise reformation.
|Chapter 3||CONTENTS||Chapter 5|