« PreviousContinue »
Gal. i. 8.
Rom. xiv. 22, 23.
SERM. We are also bound to defer the principal regard LIX.
to God's wisdom and will, so as, without reservation or exception, to embrace whatever he doth say, to obey what he positively doth command, whatever authority doth contradict his word, or cross his com
mand : in such cases we may remonstrate with the Acts iv. 19. apostles, If it be just before God to hearken unto Acts v. 29. you rather than unto God, judge ye; and, We
ought to obey God rather than men : we may denounce with St. Paul; If an angel from heaven preach any other gospel, let him be accursed.
We are obliged always to act with faith, (that is, with a persuasion concerning the lawfulness of what we do ;) for whatever is not of faith is sin: we should never condemn ourselves in what we try or embrace.
These things considered, we may, and it much behoveth us, reserving due respect to our guides, with humility and modesty to weigh and scan their dictates and their orders; lest by them unawares we be
drawn into error or sin ; like the ingenuous Bereans, Acts xvii. who did avokpíveiv tas ypapás search and examine the
scriptures, if those things were so. Our guides are 2 Cor. i. 24. but the helpers, they are not lords of our faith; the
apostles themselves were not.
We may, and are bound, if they tell us things evi
dently repugnant to God's word, or to sound reason Is. viii. 20. and common sense, to dissent from them; if they mens Do- impose on us things evidently contrary to God's law,
to forbear compliance with them ; we may in such debet a pec- cases appeal ad legem et testimonium; we must not posito. admit a non obstante to God's law. Cypr.
If other arguments, weighed in the balance of honest and impartial reason, with cautious and in
minum separare se
dustrious consideration, do overpoise the authority SERM.
LIX. of our guides ; let us in God's name adhere to them, and follow our own judgments; it would be a violation of our conscience, a prevarication toward our own souls, and a rebellion against God to do otherwise: when against our own mind, so carefully informed, we follow the dictates of others, we like fools rashly adventure and prostitute our souls.
This proceeding is nowise inconsistent with what we delivered before; for this due wariness in examining, this reservation in assenting, this exception in practice, in some cases, wherein the matter hath evidence, and we a faculty to judge, doth nowise hinder but that we should defer much regard to the judgment of our guides; that we should in those cases, wherein no light discovereth itself outshining their authority, rely upon it; that where our eyes will not serve clearly to direct us, we should use theirs ; where our reason faileth to satisfy us, we should acquiesce in theirs; that we should regard their judgments so far, that no petty scruple emerging, no faint semblance of reason should prevail upon us to dissent from their doctrine, to reject their advice, to disobey their injunctions.
In fine, let us remember, that the mouth of truth, which bid us to beware of the bad doctrine of those Matt. xv.
14. xxiii. 3. who sat in Moses's chair, did also charge us to observe all they taught and enjoined; that is, all not certainly repugnant to the divine law. In effect, if we discost from the advices of our sober teachers, appointed for us by God, we shall in the end have occasion to bewail with him in the Proverbs: How Prov. v. 12, have I hated instruction, and my heart despised"3. reproof; and have not obeyed the voice of my
SERM. teachers, nor inclined mine ear to them that inLIX. structed me!
To these things I shall only add one rule, which we may well suppose comprised in the precept we treat upon; which is, that at least we forbear openly to dissent from our guides, or to contradict their doctrine; except only, if it be not so false (which never, or rarely, can happen among us) as to subvert the foundations of faith, or practice of holiness. If we cannot be internally convinced by their discourses, if their authority cannot sway with us against the prevalence of other reasons, yet may we spare outwardly to oppose them, or to slight their judgment; for doing thus doth tend, as to the disgrace of their persons, so to the disparagement of their office, to an obstructing the efficacy of their ministry, to the infringement of order and peace in the church: for when the inconsiderate people shall see their teachers distrusted and disrespected; when they perceive their doctrine may be challenged and opposed by plausible discourses; then will they hardly trust them, or comply with them in matters most certain and necessary; than which disposition in the people there cannot happen any thing more prejudicial or baneful to the church.
But let thus much serve for the obedience due to the doctrine of our guides ; let us consider that which we owe to them in reference to their conversation and practice.
The following their practice may well be referred to this precept; for that their practice is a kind of living doctrine, a visible law, or rule of action; and because indeed the notion of a guide primarily doth imply example; that he which is guided should respect the guide as a precedent, being concerned to SERM. walk after his footsteps.
LIX Most of the reasons, which urge deference to their judgment in teaching, do in proportion infer obligation to follow their example ; (which indeed is the most easy and clear way of instruction to vulgar capacity; carrying with it also most efficacious encouragement and excitement to practice ;) they are obliged, and it is expected from them, to live with especial regularity, circumspection, and strictness of conversation; they are by God's grace especially disposed and enabled to do so; and many common advantages they have of doing so; (a more perfect knowledge of things, firmness of principles, and clearness of notions; a deeper tincture, and more savoury relish of truth, attained by continual meditation thereon; consequently a purity of mind and affection, a retirement from the world and its temptation, freedom from distraction of worldly care and the encumbrances of business, with the like.)
They are often charged to be exemplary in conversation, as we before shewed, and that involveth a correspondent obligation to follow them. They must, like St. John Baptist, be burning and shining John v. 35. lights; stars in God's right hand; lights of the world; whose light should shine before men, that Matt
. V. 14, men may see their good works; and by their light direct their steps.
They are proposed as copies, which signifies that we must in our practice transcribe them.
We are often directly commanded to imitate them; šu usueñobe Thu níotiv, whose faith imitate ye, (that is, their faithful perseverance in the doctrine and
Rev. xvi. 20.
SERM. practice of Christianity,) saith the apostle in this LIX.
Their conversation is safely imitable in all cases wherein no better rule appeareth, and when it doth not appear discordant from God's law and the dictates of sound reason; for supposing that discordance, we cease to be obliged to follow them; as
when our Lord prescribeth in respect to the PhaMatt. xxiii. risees; Whatever they bid you observe, that ob
serve and do; but do not after their works; for they say and do not.
It is indeed easier for them to speak well than to do well; their doctrine therefore is more commonly a sure guide than their practice; yet when there wanteth a clearer guidance of doctrine, their practice may pass for instructive, and a probable argument or warrant of action.