Page images

SERM. morse? what any axes or falchions to that sword LVIII.

of the spirit, which cutteth off a member from the body of Christ? what are any fagots and torches to that unquenchable fire and brimstone of the infernal lake? what, in fine, doth any condemnation here signify to that horrible curse, which devoteth an incorrigible soul to the bottomless pit ?

It is therefore indeed a great advantage to this power that it is spiritual.

2. Another grand obstruction to the practice of this duty is, pretence to scruple about the lawfulness, or dissatisfaction in the expedience of that which our governors prescribe; that we are able to advance objections against their decrees; that we

can espy inconveniences ensuing upon their orders; Cypr. Ep. that we imagine the constitution may be reformed, 50. 52. (p. 97.)

so as to become more pure, more convenient and comely, more serviceable to edification; that we cannot fancy that to be best, which they enjoin: for removing this obstruction let me only propound some questions.

Were not any government appointed in vain, if νος ου λείπει, vidi qidovsi- such pretences might exempt or excuse from conSocr. Hist. formity to its orders ? can such ever be wanting?

Is there any thing devisable, which may not be impugned by some plausible reason, which may not disgust a squeamish humour? Is there any matter so clearly innocent, the lawfulness whereof a weak mind will not question; any thing so firm and solid, in which a small acuteness of wit cannot pick a hole; any thing so indisputably certain, that whoever affecteth to cavil may not easily devise some objections against it?

Is there any thing here that hath no inconveni

Φιλoίνους οί

vii. 31.

ences attending it? are not in all human things SERM. conveniences and inconveniences so mixed and com

LVIII. plicated, that it is impossible to disentangle and sever them ? can there be any constitution under heaven so absolutely pure and perfect, that no blemish or defect shall appear therein ? can any providence of man foresee, any care prevent, any industry remedy all inconveniences possible ? Is a reformation satisfactory to all fancies anywise practicable; and are they not fitter to live in the Platonic idea of a commonwealth than in any real society, who press for such an one? To be facile and complaisant in other cases, bearing with things which do not please us, is esteemed commendable, a courteous and humane practice: why should it not be much more reasonable to condescend to our superiors, and comport with their practice? is it not very discourteous to deny them the respect which we allow to others, or to refuse that advantage to public transactions which we think fit to grant unto private conversation ?

To what purpose did God institute a government, if the resolutions thereof must be suspended till every man is satisfied with them; or if its state must be altered so often as any man can pick in it matter of offence or dislike; or if the proceedings thereof must be shaped according to the numberless varieties of different and repugnant fancies b?

Are, I pray, the objections against obedience so clear and cogent, as are the commands which enjoin,

• Ου γαρ μόνον την αρίστης (πολιτείαν) δεί θεωρείν, αλλά και την duvathy. Arist. Pol. iv. I.

Si ubi jubeantur quærere singulis liceat; pereunte obsequio etiam imperium intercidit. Tac. i. p. 450. Otho.

SERM. and the reasons which enforce it? are the inconveLVIII. niences adhering to it apparently so grievous, as are

the mischiefs which spring from disobedience ? do they in a just balance counterpoise the disparagement of authority, the violation of order, the disturbance of peace, the obstruction of edification, which disobedience produceth?

Do the scruples (or reasons, if we will caļl them so) which we propound, amount to such a strength and evidence, as to outweigh the judgment of those whom God hath authorized by his commission, whom he doth enable by his grace, to instruct and guide usc? May not those, whose office it is to judge of such things, whose business it is to study for skill in order to that purpose, who have most experience in those affairs specially belonging to them, be reasonably deemed most able to judge both for themselves and us what is lawful and what expedient ? have they not eyes to see what we do, and hearts to judge concerning the force of our pretences, as

well as we? Qui fidei

Is it not a design of their office to resolve our præsumus.

doubts and void our scruples in such cases, that we Cypr. Ep.

may act securely and quietly, being directed by better judgments than our own ? Are they not strictly obliged in conscience, are they not deeply engaged by interest, to govern us in the best manner? Is it therefore wisdom, is it modesty, is it justice for us to advance our private conceits against their most deliberate public resolutions ? may we not in so doing mistake? may we not be blind or weak, (not c Dixisti sane scruplum tibi esse tollendum de animo, in

et veritati

quem incidisti; Incidisti sed tua credulitate irreligiosa, &c. Cypr. Ep. 69. (ad Florent.) vid. optime et apposite de hac re disserentem.


to say fond, or proud, or perverse ?) and shall those SERM. defects or defaults of ours evacuate so many com

LVIII. mands of God, and render his so noble, so needful an ordinance quite insignificant ?

Do we especially seem to be in earnest, or appear otherwise than illusively to palliate our naughty affections and sinister respects, when we ground the justification of our nonconformity upon dark subtilties and intricate quirks; which it is hard to conceive that we understand ourselves, and whereof very perspicacious men cannot apprehend the force ? Do we think we shall be innocent men, because we are smart sophisters? or that God will excuse from our duty, because we can perplex men with our discourses? or that we are bound to do nothing, because we are able to say somewhat against all things?

Would we not do well to consider what huge danger they incur, and how massy a load of guilt they must undergo, upon whom shall be charged all those sad disorders and horrid mischiefs which are naturally consequent on disobedience? What if confusion of things, if corruption of manners, if oppression of truth, if dissolution of the church do thence ensue; what a case then shall we be in, who confer so much thereto ? Would not such considerations be apt to beget scruples far more disquieting an honest and truly conscientious mind, than any such either profound subtilties or superficial plausibilities can do, which dissenters are wont to allege ? For needeth he not to have extreme reason (reason extremely strong and evident) who dareth to refuse that obedience which God so plainly commandeth; by which his own authority is maintained; on which the


14, 6.

SERM. safety, prosperity, and peace of the church dependeth; LVIII.

in which the support of religion, and the welfare of numberless souls is deeply concerned ?

Did, let me further ask, the apostles, when they settled orders in the church, when they imposed what they conceived needful for edification and decency, when they inflicted spiritual chastisements upon disorderly walkers, regard such pretences ? or

had those self-conceited and self-willed people (who 2 Tim. iv. obeyed not their words, but resisted and rejected 1 Tim. i. them) no such pretences ? had they nothing, think 2 Thess. iii.we, to say for themselves, nothing to object against

the apostolic orders and proceedings ? They had surely; they failed not to find faults in the establishment, and to pretend a kind of tender conscience for their disobedience ; yet this hindered not, but that the apostles condemned their misbehaviour and inflicted severe censures upon them?

Did not also the primitive bishops (and all spiritual governors down from the beginning every where almost to these days of contention and disorder) proceed in the same course ; not fearing to enact such laws concerning indifferent matters and circumstances of religion, as seemed to them conducible to the good of the church ? Did not all good people readily comply with their orders, how painful soever, or disagreeable to flesh and blood, without contest or scruple ? yet had not they as much wit, and no less conscience than ourselves ? They who had wisdom enough to descry the truth of our religion through all the clouds of obloquy and disgrace, which it lay under; who had zeal and constancy to bear the hardest brunts of persecution against it; were they such fools as to see no fault, so stupid as to resent

« PreviousContinue »