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But the thing which they mainly rely upon as to both thefe practices is this, That though these things were otherwife in the Apostles times, and in the ancient church, yet the church hath power to alter them, according to the exigence and circumftances of time. I have purposely referved this for the laft place, because it is their last refuge; and if this fail them, they are gone.
To fhew the weaknefs of this pretence, we will, if they pleafe, take it for granted, that the governors of the church have in no age more power than the Apoftles had in theirs. Now, St. Paul tells us, 2 Cor. x. 8. that the authority which the Apoftles had given them from the Lord, was only for edification, but not for deftruction. And the fame St. Paul makes it the bufinefs of a whole chapter to fhew, that the performing the publick fervice of God, and particularly praying, in an un'known tongue, are contrary to edification: from which premiffes the conclufion is plain, that the Apoftles themfelves had no authority to appoint the fervice of God to be performed in an unknown tongue. And furely it is arrogance for the church in any age to pretend greater authority than the Apoftles had.
This is the fum of what our adverfaries fay in justification of themselves in these points. And there is no doubt but that men of wit and confidence will always make a fhift to fay fomething for any thing; and fome way or other blanch over the blackest and most abfurd things in the world. But I leave it to the judgment of mankind, whether any thing be more unreasonable, than to tell men, in effect, that it is fit they fhould understand as little of religion as is poffible; that God hath published a very dangerous book, with which it is not fafe for the people to be familiarly acquainted; that our bleffed Saviour and his Apoftles, and the ancient Chriftian church, for more than fix hundred years, were not wife managers of religion, nor prudent difpenfers of the fcriptures; but, like fond and foolish fathers, put a knife and a fword into the hands of their children, with which they might eafily have forefeen what mifchief they would do to themfelves and others. And who would not chufe to be of fuch a church, which is provided of fuch excellent and effectual means of igno
rance, fuch wife and infallible methods for the prevention of knowledge in the people, and fuch variety of close fhutters to keep out the light?
I have chofen to infift upon this argument, because it is fo very plain, that the most ordinary capacity may judge of this ufage and dealing with the fouls of men; which is fo very grofs, that every man must needs be fenfible of it; because it toucheth men in the common rights of human nature, which belong to them as much as the light of heaven, and the air we breathe in.
It requires no fubtilty of wit, no fkill in antiquity, to understand these controverfies between us and the church of Rome. For there are no fathers to be pretended on both fides in thefe questions: they yield we have antiquity on ours: and we refer it to the common fenfe of mankind, which church, that of Rome or ours, hath all the right and reafon in the world on her fide in these debates and who they are that tyrannize over Chriftians, the governors of their church or ours? who ufe the people like fons and freemen, and who like flaves? who feed the flock of Chrift committed to them, and who take the childrens bread from them? who they are that, when their children afk bread, for bread give them a stone, and for an egg, a ferpent; I mean the legendsof their faints, instead of the holy fcriptures, which are able to make men wife unto falvation? and who they are that lie most justly under the fufpicion of errors and corruptions; they who bring doctrine and practices into the open light, and are willing to have them tried by the true touchstone, the word of God; or they who fhun the light and decline all manner of trial, and examination? and who are most likely to carry on a worldly defign; they who drive a trade of fuch mighty gain and advantage under pretence of religion, and make fuch markets of the ignorance and fins of the people; or we whom malice itself cannot charge with ferving any worldly defign, by any allowed doctrine or practice of our religion? for we make no money of the miftakes of the people; nor do we fill their heads with vain fears of new places of torment, to make them willing to empty their purfes in a vainer hope of being delivered out of them. We do not, like them, pretend a R 3
mighty bank and treasure of merits in the church, which they fell to the people for ready money, giving them bills of exchange from the Pope to purgatory; when they who grant them have no reason to believe they will avail them, or be accepted in the other world.
For our parts, we have no fear that our people fhould understand religion too well: we could wifh, with Mofes, that all the Lord's people were prophets: we should be heartily glad the people would read the holy fcriptures more diligently, being fufficiently affured, that it is their own fault if they learn any thing but what is good from thence we have no doctrines or practices contrary to fcripture, and confequently no occafion to keep it clofe from the fight of the people, or to hide any of the commandments of God from them: we leave these mean arts to those who ftand in need of them.
In a word, there is nothing which God hath faid to men, which we defire fhould be concealed from them: nay, we are willing the people should examine what we teach, and bring all our doctrines to the law and to the teftimony; that, if they be not according to this rule, they may neither believe them nor us. It is only things falfe and adulterate, which fhun the light and fear the touchftone. We have that fecurity of the truth of our religion, and of the agreeablenefs of it to the word of God, that honeft confidence of the goodness of our caufe, that we do not forbid the people to read the best books our adverfaries can write against it.
And now let any impartial man judge, whether this be not a better argument of a good caufe, to leave men at liberty to try the grounds of their religion, than the courfes which are taken in the church of Rome, to awe men with an inquifition; and, as much as is poffible, to keep the common people in ignorance, not only of what their late adverfaries, the Proteftants, but their chief and ancient adversary, the scriptures, have to fay against them.
A man had need of more than common fecurity of the skill and integrity of thofe to whom he perfectly refigns his understanding. This is too great a trust to be repofed in human frailty, and too strong a temptation to others to impofe upon us, to abuse our blindness, and
to make their own ends of our voluntary ignorance and eafy credulity. This is fuch a folly, as if a rich man fhould make his phyfician his heir; which is to tempt him either to destroy him, or to let him die, for his own intereft. So he that trufts the care of his foul with other men, and at the fame time by irrevocable deed fettles his understanding upon them, lays too great a temptation before them to feduce and damn him for their own ends.
And now to reflect a little upon ourselves: What caufe have we to blefs God who are fo happily refcued from that more than Egyptian darkness and bondage, wherein this nation was detained for feveral ages! who are delivered out of the hands of those cruel task-masters, who required brick without straw; that men fhould be religious without competent understanding, and work out their own falvation, while they denied them the means of all others the most neceffary to it; who are fo uncharitable, as to allow us no falvation out of their church, and yet fo unreafonable, as to deny us the very beft means of falvation when we are in it.
Our forefathers thought it a mighty privilege to have the word of God restored to them, and the publick prayers and service of God celebrated in a known tongue. Let us ufe this ineftimable privilege with great modefty and humility; not to the nourishing of pride and selfconceit, of divifion and faction; but, as the Apoftle exhorts, Let the word of God dwell richly in you, in all wifdom; and let the peace of God rule in your hearts, unto which ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.
It concerns us mightily, with which admonition I fhall conclude, both for the honour and fupport of our religion, to be at better union among ourselves, and not to divide about leffer things; and fo to demean ourfelves, as to take from our adverfaries all thofe pretences whereby they would justify themselves, or at least extenuate the guilt of that heavy charge, which falls every whit as juftly upon them as ever it did upon the fcribes and Pharifees, of taking away the key of knowledge, and fbutting the kingdom of heaven against men: neither going in themselves, nor fuffering those that are entering, to go in.
The parable of the ten virgins.
Preached before her Royal Highness the Princess Anne of Denmark, at Tunbridge-wells, Sept. 2. 1688.
MATTH. XXV. 1. 2. &c.
Then fhall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.
And five of them were wife, and five were foolish, &c.
Y defign at prefent is, to explain this parable, and to make fuch obfervations upon it as feem moft naturally, and without fqueezing the parable, to spring from it; and then to make fome application of it to ourselves.
Then fhall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins by the kingdom of heaven is meant the ftate and condition of things under the gofpel; by the ten virgins, those who embraced the profeffion of it; which is here reprefented by their taking their lamps, and going forth to meet the bridegroom; in allufion to the ancient cuftom of marriages, in which the bridegroom was wont to lead home his bride in the night by the light of lamps or torches.
But this profeffion was not in all equally firm and fruitful: and therefore those who perfevered and continued ftedfaft in this profeffion, notwithstanding all the temptations and allurements of the world, and all the fierce ftorms and affaults of perfecution to which this profeflion was expofed, and being thus firmly rooted in it, did bring forth the fruits of the Spirit, and abound in the graces and virtues of a good life; thefe are the wife virgins: but thofe who either deferted this profef