Chapter 8: Directions how to deal with self-conceited opinionists


8.1. Directions how to deal with self-conceited opinionists

8.1.1. In your work

IT is likely you will have some come to you who, when they should give an account of their faith, will fall into a contentious discourse. One will tell you that you have no true church, because you have such bad members; another will ask you by what authority you baptize infants; another will ask what scripture you have for praying and singing psalms in a mixed assembly; and another will quarrel with you because you administer not the Lord’s supper to them in the gesture and manner that they desire and were wont to receive it, or because you exercise any discipline among them. With such I should think it best to take this course:—

8.1.1.1. Let them know that this meeting is appointed for instructing the people in the principles of religion

Let them know that this meeting is appointed for instructing the people in the principles of religion, and you think it very wrong to pervert it from that use; that as you durst not turn God’s public worship on the Lord’s day into vain and contentious disputings, so neither do you think it lawful to abuse these meetings to such purposes.

8.1.1.2. Let him know that you do not this to avoid any trial of the truth

Let him know that you do not this to avoid any trial of the truth; and therefore that you will at any other fit season endeavour to give him full satisfaction, but on condition only that he will submit first to be instructed by you.

8.1.1.3. Question him wisely

Desire him to give you some account of the principles in the catechism; and if he deny it, convince him before all of the iniquity of his course. (1.) In that it is the first principles that salvation most depends on; and therefore, being of greatest excellence and necessity, are first to be taken into consideration. (2.) In that it is the appointed business of this day. (3.) It is orderly to begin with fundamentals, because they bear up the rest which suppose them, flow from them, and cannot be understood without them. (4.) It is the note of a proud, vainglorious man, to make a flourish about lesser things, and yet either to be ignorant of the greater, or to scorn to give that account of his knowledge which the people whom he despises refuse not to give.

If he yield to you, ask him only such questions as are of great weight, and yet strain him up a little higher than you do the common people; and especially put him most on defining and distinguishing, or expounding some terms or sentences of Scripture. If they be sacramental controversies which he raises, tell him it is necessary you should be first agreed what baptism and the Lord’s supper are, before you dispute who should be baptized; and it is twenty to one he will not be able to tell you what the sacraments themselves are. A true definition of baptism or the Lord’s supper is not so commonly given as is pretended.

8.1.1.4. endeavour to humble him in the sense of his pride and presumption

If he discover his ignorance in the cases propounded, endeavour to humble him in the sense of his pride and presumption; and let him know what it is, and what it signifies, to go about with a contentious, proud behaviour, while he is indeed so ignorant in things of greater moment.

8.1.1.5. See that you be able to give him better

See that you be able to give him better in formation yourselves in the points wherein you find him ignorant.

8.1.1.6. Take care that you discern the spirit of the man

Take care that you discern the spirit of the man; and if he be a settled, perverse schismatic, so that you see him peremptory and quite transported with pride, and have but little hopes of his recovery, then do all this that I have said openly before all that are present, that he may be humbled or shamed, and the rest confirmed. But if you find him godly and temperate, and that there is any hope of his reduction, then see that you do all this privately, between him and you only, and let not fall any bitter words that tend to his disparagement. And thus I advise, both because we must be as tender of the reputation of all good men as fidelity to them and the truth will permit; we must bear one another’s burdens, and not increase them; and we must restore those with a spirit of meekness who fall through infirmity, remembering that we ourselves also may be tempted; and also because there is but little hope that you should ever do them any good, if once you exasperate them.

8.1.1.7. To such erring persons as you have any hopes of

To such erring persons as you have any hopes of, be sure you carry yourselves with as much tenderness and love as is consistent with your duty to the church of God: for most of them, when they are once tainted this way, are so selfish and high-minded that they are much more impatient of reproof than many of the profaner sort of people.

Musculus took this method with the Baptists, visiting them in prison, and relieving them, even while they railed at him as antichristian; and so continued, without disputing with them, till they were convinced that he loved them; and then they sought to him for advice themselves, and many of them were reclaimed by him.

8.1.2. At other times

Having advised you what to do with such men in your work, I shall add a word or two of advice how you should behave towards them, and deal with them, at other times; because the preservation of the unity and peace of your congregations greatly depends on your rightly dealing with such as these. For, alas, it is most commonly men that profess to be more than usually religious in some particular way that are the dividers of the church of Christ.

8.1.2.1. the chief part of your work to preserve the church from such consists in preventing their fall

I must premise that the chief part of your work to preserve the church from such consists in preventing their fall; for when they are once thoroughly infected, be the error what it will, they are seldom recovered. If beaten out of the error which they first fell into, they go to another, and perhaps from that to another; but seldom return to the truth.

8.1.2.2. the minister should be of parts above the people, so far as to be able to teach and awe them, and manifest their weaknesses to themselves.

It is most desirable that the minister should be of parts above the people, so far as to be able to teach and awe them, and manifest their weaknesses to themselves. It is greatly owing to ministers that our people run into so many factions, and particularly the weakness of too many is not the least cause. When a proud seducer has a nimble tongue, and a minister is dull or ignorant, so that such a one can baffle him, or play upon him in the ears of others, it brings him into contempt, and overthrows the weak; for they commonly judge him to have the best cause who has the most confident, plausible, triumphant tongue. But when a minister is able to open their shame to all, it greatly tends to preserve the church from all their infection.

8.1.2.3. Possess your people of the great sin and danger of a perverse zeal about the lower points before the greater are well learned

Frequently and thoroughly possess your people with the nature, necessity, and daily use of the great unquestionable and fundamental principles of religion and of the great sin and danger of a perverse zeal about the lower points before the greater are well learned; and let them be made sensible that it is these principles, and not their smaller controversies, on which life or death depends.

8.1.2.4. Make them sensible of the mischief of schism

Make them sensible of the mischief of schism, and the great and certain obligations that lie upon us all to maintain the church’s unity and peace.

8.1.2.5. When a fire is kindled, resist it in the beginning

When a fire is kindled, resist it in the beginning, and make not light of the smallest spark; and therefore go presently to the infected person, and follow him by the means hereafter mentioned, till he be recovered.

8.1.2.6. Use a fit diversion.

Use a fit diversion. When a small controversy begins to endanger the church, raise a greater yourself which you have better advantage to manage, and which is not likely to make a division; that is, let them know that there are far greater difficulties than theirs to be resolved, that they may be humbled in the sense of their ignorance, and their self-conceit thereby abated.

8.1.2.7. You must feed them not with milk only, but sometimes with stronger meat

You must feed them not with milk only, but sometimes with stronger meat; for it exceedingly puffs them up with pride when they hear nothing from ministers but what they know already or can say themselves. This makes them think themselves as wise as you, and as fit to be teachers; for they think you know no more than you preach: and this has set so many of them on preaching, because they hear nothing from others but what they can say themselves; and ministers do not set them such patterns as may humble and deter them from that work. Not that I would have you overlook the great fundamental truths, or neglect the weak and ignorant people while you are dealing with these; but only when the main part of your sermons is as plain as you can speak, let a small part be such as shall puzzle these self-conceited men, that they may see they are yet but children who have need of milk, and that you would be more upon those higher points, if they were capable of profiting by them.

8.1.2.8. See that you preach as little as may be against them in a direct manner

See that you preach as little as may be against them in a direct manner, opposing their sect by name; for in general they are exceedingly tender, proud, passionate, and rash; and will but hate and fly from you as an enemy, and say you rail. The way therefore is, without naming them, to state those truths clearly and fully which must subvert their errors, and then the error will fall of itself: and when you are necessitated to deal with them directly, do it not by short, unsatisfactory applications, or irritating reproaches; but, without naming them, take up the controversy, and handle it thoroughly, mildly, and convincingly; Yet do not dwell too long upon it: but give them your full evidence in a few sermons, not saying all that might be said, but choosing out that which they can have least pretence to quarrel with.

8.1.2.9. Keep up private meetings, draw them in among you, and manage them prudently.

Be sure to keep up private meetings, draw them in among you, and manage them prudently. By this means you may keep them from dividing meetings among themselves, where they are at liberty to say what they please without control; for most professors are addicted to private meetings, which, when well ordered, are of great use to their edification; and if they have not the opportunity of such as they should have, they will attend such as they should not. In these meetings observe the following things:—(1.) Be sure to be always with them yourselves. (2.) Let not the main exercises of the meeting be such as tend to contention, or for particular persons to show their parts, but such as tend to the edification of the people; not for private men to preach or expound Scripture, nor to let every one speak to questions of their own proposing: but to repeat the sermons which you have preached, to call upon God, and sing his praise. (3.) Yet let there be some opportunity for them to speak, in order to learn. To this purpose, when you have done repeating, let all that are present know, if they doubt of any thing that has been delivered, or would have anything made more plain to them, or would be resolved in any thing else that concerns the subject in hand, you desire them to state their doubts: and so let them have the liberty of inquiring as learners, while you remain the teachers, and resolve all the doubts yourselves, and do not set them on disputing, by leaving it to them to make the answer. (4.) If you perceive them so exercising their own parts that they are likely to divide if they have not opportunity to do it, be not too stiff against them; but mildly tell them it is for their good that you dislike it, both because it is a sign of a proud heart, that had rather teach than learn, especially where a teacher by office is in the place, and where there is no necessity; and also because you fear it will not tend to the edification of the flock, but to vain janglings, or to excite others who are unfit for the work to imitate them. Inquire also whether they have any truth of God to reveal to the people that you do not reveal. If they have not, why should they desire needlessly to tell them what they are daily told by you? If they have, it is necessary that you know and consider it before you consent it should be taught to your flock. But if this mild resistance satisfy not, let them take their course a while, rather than separate from you, unless they be already perverse and subtle heretics; and when they have done their exercises, tell them that as you give liberty to all to propose their doubts about what you have delivered, so you must take the same liberty that you give. Ask them, first, whether the people are more likely to be edified by having such variety obtruded upon them, or by fastening well in their memories the things they have lately heard; and whether such exercises or repetitions are most necessary: and then open the weaknesses of their discourse, the misexpounding of scriptures, the errors in matter, in method, and in words; and that not in a contemptuous way, but as the points concerning which you remain unsatisfied. By such means as these you will quickly make them ashamed of their way, and recover them from it.

8.1.2.10. Make use of your people’s parts to the utmost, as your helpers

Make use of your people’s parts to the utmost, as your helpers, in an orderly way, under your own direction, or else they will make use of them in a disorderly and dividing way, in opposition to you. One great cause of schism has been, ministers contemptuously crying down private men’s preaching, and at the same time not willing to make any use of the gifts which God has bestowed on such for their assistance. They have thrust them too far from holy things, as if they were a profane generation. The work is likely to go poorly on, if there be no hands employed in it but the minister’s. God does not give any of his gifts to be buried, but for common use. By a prudent improvement of the gifts of the more able Christians we may receive much help, and prevent their abuse. The uses you must especially put them to are these: (1.) Urge them to be diligent in teaching and praying with their own families, especially catechising them and teaching them the meaning of what they learn, and setting it home upon their affections; and there, if they have a mind to preach to their children and servants, so they undertake no more than they are able to do, I know no reason why they may not. (2.) Urge them to step out now and then to their poor ignorant neighbours, and catechise and instruct them in meekness and patience from day to day; and that will bring them more peace of conscience than contemning them. (3.) Urge them to go often to the impenitent and scandalous sinners about them, and deal with them with all possible skill and earnestness, yet also with love and patience, for the purpose of converting, reforming, and saving their souls. (4.) Acquaint them with their duty of watching over each other in brotherly love, admonishing and exhorting one another daily; and if any walk scandalously, to tell them their fault before two or three, after the contempt of private reproof; and if that prevail not, to tell the officers of the church, that they may be proceeded with as Christ has appointed. (5.) At your private meetings, and on days of humiliation or thanksgiving in private, employ them in prayer. (6.) If there be any very ignorant or scandalous sinners that you know of, and you cannot possibly have time yourselves to speak to them at that season, send some of those who are able and sober, to instruct the ignorant and to admonish the offenders, as far as a private man on a message from a minister, and in discharge of his own duty, may go. (7.) Let some of them be chosen to represent the church; and be their agents to prepare all cases of discipline for public audience, and to be present with the church officers at appointed meetings, to hear the evidences that are brought in against scandalous, impenitent sinners; and to discern how far they are valid, and how far the persons are obliged to make satisfaction, and give public testimony of repentance, or to be farther proceeded against. (8.) Let such as are fit be made subservient officers, I mean deacons; and then they may afford you help in a regular way, and will, by their relation, feel themselves obliged to maintain the unity of the church, and authority of the ministry, as they have some participation of the employment and honour; and so by a complication of interests you will make them firmer to the church: but then, see that they be men fit for the place.

I am persuaded, had ministers thus made use of the parts of their ablest members, they might have prevented many of the divisions, and distractions, and apostacies that have befallen us; for they would have then found work enough upon their hands for higher parts than theirs, without invading the ministry, and would have seen cause to bewail their want of abilities for that work which properly belongs to them. Experience would have convinced and humbled them more than our words can do. See that you stir them up to diligence in these works, and let them know what a sin it is to neglect their families, and their ignorant, miserable neighbours; and then they will be kept humble, and have no mind to engage in other work, when they find you spurring them on to that wnich is properly their own, and rebuking them for the neglect of it; nor will they have any leisure, because of the constancy and greatness of their employment.

8.1.2.11. Still keep up Christian love and familiarity with them even when they have begun to warp

Still keep up Christian love and familiarity with them even when they have begun to warp; and lose not your interest in them while you have any thoughts of attempting their recovery.

8.1.2.12. If they withdraw into separate meetings, follow them, and be among them

If they withdraw into separate meetings, follow them, and be among them, if it may be, continually. Enter a mild protest against the lawfulness of those meetings; but yet tell them that you are willing to hear what they have to say, and to be among them for their good, if they will give you leave, lest they run to farther evil; and be not easily removed, but hold on, unless they absolutely exclude you.

8.1.2.13. Let not the authors of the schism outdo you in any thing that is good

Let not the authors of the schism outdo you in any thing that is good; for as truth should be more effectual for sanctification than error, so if you give them this advantage, you give them the day; and all your disputation will signify very little: for many judge only by the outward appearance and the effects, and are not able to judge of the doctrine itself. They think that he has the best cause whom they take to be the best man.

I extend this rule both to doctrine and life. If a libertine preach up free grace, do you preach it up more effectually; be much upon it, and make it more glorious on right grounds than he can do on wrong. If he magnify the grace of love, and in order to cry down fear and humiliation, be all for living in pure love to God; do not contradict him, but outgo him, and preach up the love of God, with its motives and effects, more fully and effectually than he can do on the corrupt grounds on which he proceeds. Otherwise all the silly people will believe that this is the difference between you—that he is for free grace and the love of God, and you are against it. So if an enthusiast talk of the Holy Ghost, and the light, and witness, and law within us; fall you upon that subject too, and preach up the office of the Holy Ghost, his indwelling and operations, the light, and testimony, and law within us, better than they do. This is the most effectual way of preserving your people from seduction. So if one who is for private men preaching come and inveigh against ministers for inhibiting them to use the gifts of God for the edification of the church, I would not immediately thwart him; but rather persuade private men to use their gifts in all the ways that I have just now mentioned, and sharply chide them for not using them more; and then, among my cautions, or reprehensions, touch upon his desired abuse in the end. What I have said by way of example in these few points I mean in all others. Preaching truth is the most successful way of confuting error; and I would have no seducer to have the glory of outgoing us in any good, or in defending any truth.

You should be as careful that they shall not outgo you in the practice of a holy and righteous life, as in sound and diligent teaching. Do they express a hatred of sin, and desire for church reformation? So must we more abundantly. Do they spend their time when they meet together in holy discourse, and not in vain janglings? Let us do so much more. Are they unwearied in propagating their opinions? Let us be more so in propagating the truth. Do they condescend to the meanest, and creep into houses to lead captive the silliest of the flock? Let us stoop as low, and be as diligent to do them good. Are they loving to their party, and contemners of the world? Let us be lovers of all, and do good to all, according to our power, and especially to the household of faith, and love an enemy as well as they can do a friend. Let us be more just than they, more merciful, more humble, more meek and patient; for this is the will of God, that by well-doing we may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. Let us excel them in a holy, harmless, righteous, merciful, fruitful, heavenly life, as we do in soundness of doctrine; that by our fruits we may be known, and the weaker sort of our people may see the truth when thus reflected, who cannot see it in itself; and that our light may so shine before men that they may see our good works and glorify our Father which is in heaven; and that even those who obey not the word, may, without the word, be won by the conversation of their teachers.

8.2. How to deal with those concerning whom we have cause both to hope and fear.

Three sorts of persons that we may meet with in our work of personal instruction have already been considered:—(1.) The ignorant and unconverted. (2.) The doubting, troubled believer. (3.) The cavilling opinionist, or seduced schismatic. The fourth sort of whom I should speak in this direction are, those who by a professed willingness to learn and obey, and by other signs give us some reason to think that they are penitent, and have a measure of faith; and yet by their ignorance and lukewarmness, or for want of a more steady walk, cause our fears to be as great or greater than our hopes, so that we are between hope and fear of them, doubting the worst of their present safety, though we have not sufficient ground to charge them with being impenitent unconverted persons. I think half of those who come to me are of this sort. Now it may be a great difficulty with some younger ministers what they should do with this sort of people, where there is no sufficient ground to determine of them as godly or ungodly, whatever their fears or hopes may be. With regard to such I shall only say this:—

1. The first directions may suffice in the main for dealing with these, and are as much fitted to them as to the worst: for, as we may tell a notorious sinner, “Your case is miserable; you are a child of death;” so may we tell these, “I much fear your case is sad; these are ill signs; I wonder how you dare thus hazard your salvation.” And so abating of the confidence and severity of our censures according to the several degrees of hopeful good that appear in them.

2. I would advise you to be very cautious how you pass hasty or absolute censures on any that you have to do with; because it is not so easy a matter to discern a man to be certainly destitute of real religion, who professes himself a Christian, as many imagine it to be: and you may do the work in hand as well without such an absolute conclusion as with it.

3. The general description of the ministerial work may supply the rest. I shall therefore only add:—(1.) Keep them close to the use of private and public means. (2.) Be often with the lukewarm to awaken them, and with the careless to admonish them. (3.) Take the opportunity of sickness, which will bow their hearts and open their ears. (4.) See that they spend the Lord’s day and order their families aright. (5.) Draw them from temptations and occasions of sin. (6.) Charge them to come and seek help in all great straits, and open their temptations and dangers before they are swallowed up. (7.) Strike at the great radical sins: self-seeking, earthly-mindedness, sensuality, pride, and infidelity. Keep them to read the Scripture and good books, and direct them to those that are most likely to affect and rouse them. (8.) Engage their godly neighbours to have an eye upon them. (9.) Keep up discipline to awe them. (10.) Maintain the life of grace in your own souls, that it may appear in all your sermons to them; that every one who comes cold to the assembly may be warmed and quickened before he departs.

Thus I have finished my advice, and leave you to practise it.

THE END.
Chapter 7 CONTENTS Appendix A: Items not found in the Brown abridgment

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