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i Tim. vi.
submit to better judgments; and, Not to lean to SERM. our understanding, not to be wise in our own eyes,
LIX. not to seem to know any thing, not to seem any Prov. iii. 5, body to oneself, in humility to prefer others be- Rom. xii. fore ourselves, are divine injunctions, chiefly appli-Gal. vi. 3. cable to this case, in reference to our spiritual hori viải. guides; for if it be pride or culpable immodesty to ? presume ourselves wiser than any man, what is it 4. then to prefer ourselves in that respect before our teachers; as indeed we do, when without evident reason we disregard, or dissent from their opinion ?
It is then a duty very reasonable, and a very commendable practice, to rely upon the guidance of our pastors in such cases, wherein surer direction faileth, and we cannot otherwise fully satisfy ourselves.
Neither in doing so (against some appearances of reason, or with some violence to our private conceits) do we act against our conscience, but rather truly according to it; for conscience (as the word in this case is used) is nothing else but an opinion in practical matters grounded upon the best reason we can discern : if therefore in any case the authority of our guides be a reason outweighing all other reasons apparent, he that in such a case, notwithstanding other arguments less forcible, doth conform his judgment and practice thereto, therein exactly followeth conscience; yea, in doing otherwise, he would thwart and violence his own conscience, and be self-condemned, adhering to a less probable reason in opposition to one more probable.
I do not hereby mean to assert that we are obliged indifferently (with an implicit faith, or blind obedience) to believe all that our teachers say, or to practise all they bid us: for they are men, and
Isa. xxviii. 7. Jer. x. 21. xii. 10. xxii. u.
SERM. therefore subject to error and sin; they may neglect
or abuse the advantages they have of knowing better than others ; they may sometimes, by infirmity, by negligence, by pravity, fail in performing faithfully their duty toward us; they may be swayed by temper, be led by passion, be corrupted by ambition or avarice, so as thence to embrace and vent bad doctrines : we do see our pastors often dissenting and clashing among themselves, sometimes with themselves, so as to change and retract their own opinions
We find the prophets of old complaining of priests, (Jer. ii. 8.) of pastors, of elders and prophets, who handled the
law, yet were ignorant of God; who erred in vi
sion, and stumbled in judgment; who were pro(xviii. 18.v.
fane, brutish, light, and treacherous persons ; who Zoom. 32. polluted the sanctuary, and did violence to the law, Ezek. xxii. and profaned holy things; who handled the law, Mal. i. 6. yet knew not God; from whom the law and coun
sel did perish; who taught for hire, and divined Mal. ii.8,9. for money; who themselves departed out of the
way, and caused many to stumble, and corrupted the covenant of Levi; who destroyed and scattered the sheep of God's pasture.
There were in our Saviour's time guides, of the Luke xii. 1. ferment of whose doctrine good people were bid to Matt. xv. beware ; who transgressed and defeated the comLukexi. 52. mandment of God by their traditions ; who did take
away the key of knowledge, so that they would not
enter themselves into the kingdom of heaven, nor Matt
. xv. would suffer others to enter ; blind guides, who both
Jer. xxiii. 11. xii. 10.
Matt. xvi. 6, 12.
c Isa. iii. 12. O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths.
themselves did fall, and drew others into the ditch SERM.
LIX. of noxious error and wicked practice: the followers of which guides did in vain worship God, observing Matt. xv.9. for doctrine the precepts of men.
There have not since the primitive times of the gospel wanted those who (indulging to ambition, avarice, curiosity, faction, and other bad affections) have depraved and debased religion with noxious errors and idle superstitions, such as St. Bernard Vid. Apol.
Eccl. Ang describeth, &c.
We are, in matters of such infinite concernment to our eternal welfare, in wisdom and duty obliged not wholly without further heed or care to trust the diligence and integrity of others, but to consider and look about us, using our own reason, judgment, and discretion, so far as we are capable; we cannot in such a case be blamed for too much circumspection and caution.
We are not wholly blind, not void of reason, not destitute of fit helps ; in many cases we have competent ability to judge, and means sufficient to attain knowledge: we are therefore concerned to use our eyes, to employ our reason, to embrace and improve the advantages vouchsafed us.
We are accountable personally for all our actions, as agreeable or cross to reason ; if we are mistaken by our own default, or misled by the ill guidance of others, we shall however deeply suffer for it, and die in our iniquity; the ignorance or error of our Ezek.iii.18. guides will not wholly excuse us from guilt, or exempt us from punishment; it is fit therefore that we should be allowed, as to the sum of the matter, to judge and choose for ourselves : for if our salvation were wholly placed in the hands of others, so
SERM. that we could not but in case of their error or deLIX
fault miscarry, our ruin would be inevitable, and consequently not just : we should perish without blame, if we were bound, as a blind and brutish herd, to follow others.
We, in order to our practice, (which must be regulated by faith and knowledge,) and toward preparing ourselves for our grand account, are obliged
to get a knowledge and persuasion concerning our Rom. xii.a. duty; to prove (or search and examine) what is Eph. V. 10.
that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God;
for ignorance, if anywise by our endeavour vincible, Luke xii. will not secure us: He that, saith our Lord and 48.
Judge, knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes ; (few; not in themselves, but comparatively to those which shall be inflicted on them who transgress against knowledge and conscience.)
We are bound to study truth, to improve our minds in the knowledge and love of it, to be firmly persuaded of it in a rational way; so that we be not easily shaken, or seduced from it.
The apostles do charge it upon us as our duty 2 Cor. viii. and concernment, that we abound in faith and Col. ii. 7. knowledge; that we be rooted and built up in 1. Cor. xv. Christ, and stablished in the faith, so as to be 2 Thess. ii. steadfast, and unmoveable, not to be soon shaken in Col. i. 10. mind, or troubled; to grow up and increase in
all divine knowledge ; that the word of God should Eph. iv
. 15: dwell richly in us in all wisdom ; that we should be Rom. xv. filled with all knowledge, so as to be able to teach Heb. v. 12. and admonish one another; that our love should
abound more and more in knowledge, and all judgment, that we may approve things excellent, (or
2 Pet. jii.
18. ii. 2.
Phil, i.9, 10.
Heb. V. 12.
scan things different ;) that we be enriched in all SERM.
LIX. the word, (that is, in all the doctrine of the gospel,) and in all knowledge; that we be filled in the Cor. i. 5.
Col. i.9. knowledge of God's will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that we should not be un- Eph. v. 17. wise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is ; that we should be perfect and complete in all Col. iv. 1a. the will of God, (that is, first in the knowledge of it, then in compliance with it;) that in understand- Cor. xiv. ing we should not be children, but perfect men.
We are likewise by them commanded to take heed Matt. vii. of false prophets; to try the spirits whether they i John iv. 1. are of God; to see that no man deceive us ; to look that no man spoil us by vain deceit; to try all things, Col.: 8; and hold fast that which is good; which precepts imply, that we should be furnished with a good fa-21. culty of judgment, and competent knowledge in the principal matters of Christian doctrine, concerning both the mysteries of faith and rules of practice. Our Lord himself and his apostles did not upon other terms than of rational consideration and discussion exact credit and obedience to their words; they did not insist barely upon their own authority, but exhorted their disciples to examine strictly, and judge faithfully concerning the truth and reasonableness of their doctrine: Search the scriptures, for they testify John v. 39. of me; If I do not the works of my Father, believe John x. 37, me not; but if I do, though ye believe not me, be- 24. xii. 48. lieve the works: so our Lord appealed to their reason, proceeding upon grounds of scripture and common sense : and, I speak as to wise men, judge ye 1 Cor. x. what I say; so St. Paul addressed his discourse to his disciples; otherwise we should be uncapable to observe them.
Matt. xxiv. 4.