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On the other side, this sin of rejecting Christ and the gospel after profession is absolutely wilful, and with a high hand, against all the light and conviction that God will give of the truth unto any of the children of men in this world.
2. These persons had an experience of the truth, goodness, and excellency of the gospel, which those others had not, nor could have; for they had tasted of the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,' and had received great satisfaction in the things they were convinced of, as was before at large declared. Wherefore in their rejection of him and them, an unconquerable hatred and malice must be granted to be predominant. And let men take heed what they do when they begin to sin against their own experience, for evil lies at the door.
3. In and under the crucifying of the Lord Christ, God had yet a design of mercy and grace to be communicated unto men by the dispensation of his Spirit. Therefore there was a way set open unto those who were guilty of that sin, to repentance and pardon. But now having made use of this also, that being sinned against, there is no place left for any thing but severity. Wherefore,
4. There was in the sin of these persons blasphemy against the Holy Ghost.' For they had received in themselves, or seen in others, those mighty operations of his whereby he gave attestation unto Christ and the gospel. Therefore they could not renounce the Lord Christ, without an ascription of these works of the Holy Ghost unto the devil, which the devil acted them unto. So saith our apostle, 'No man speaking by the Holy Ghost, calleth Jesus' anathema, or accursed;' 1 Cor. xii. 3. To call him anathema, is to declare and avow that he was justly crucified as an accursed person, as a public pest. This was done by these persons who went over to the Jews, in approbation of what they had done against him. This no man can do speaking by the Holy Ghost. That is, whosoever doth so, is acted by the spirit of the devil; and if he have known the testimony of the Holy Spirit to the contrary, he doth it in despite of him, which renders the sin irremissible.
Partial apostacy from the gospel. Pretences of the church of Rome against the charge of this evil, examined and rejected.
APOSTACY from the gospel is either total or partial. Of the former we have treated in a high and signal instance. When men wilfully and maliciously (for they cannot do it wilfully but they must do it maliciously) renounce Jesus Christ as a seducer and malefactor, going over in their suffrage unto the Jews by whom he was crucified, they enter into that part of hell and darkness which properly constitutes this sin. It were well for such persons if their guilt had no other aggravation, than theirs who actually 'with wicked hands slew him, and hanged him on a tree.' But rising up unto a contempt of all the means of conviction and evidences of truth that God will grant us in this world, they cast themselves without that line of divine mercy and pardon, which some of the others were encompassed withal. So is it with many at this day in the world; who with wicked hearts and blinded minds in the pursuit of carnal lusts, voluntarily and obstinately embrace Mahometanism, with an open renunciation of Christ and the gospel. Unto such persons there is nothing left but a fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation that shall consume the adversaries.' Not that I would cast all persons who may be actually hurried into this abomination under the same dreadful doom, seeing the case in general will admit of many circumstantial differences, if not altering the nature of the crime, yet disposing of things unto various events. Not only surprisals by mighty temptations with dread and terror, so shaking the powers of nature as to intercept the influence of light and convictions of truth, do claim an exemption from a decretory determination under this sentence; but other cases may also be attended with some such alleviating circumstances, as preserving their minds and sculs from wilful malice, leave room for the exercise of sovereign grace. I myself knew one, yea, was conversant with him, and assisting of him in the concerns of his soul, who in the Indies turned Mahometan, was actually initiated
by circumcision into their superstition, and lived in its outward practice a year or two; who yet was sincerely recovered unto repentance, and died in the faith of the Son of God.
Partial apostacy, is every crime against the gospel which partakes of the nature of the other in any measure or degree. And whatever doth so, makes an accession towards the guilt of 'crucifying the Son of God afresh, and putting him unto open shame.' For it is in his gospel and church alone wherein he can now suffer from the sons of men. When any important principle of evangelical truth is forsaken and renounced, especially when many of them are so; when the rule of obedience which the gospel prescribeth is habitually neglected; when men believe otherwise than it teacheth, and live otherwise than it requireth; there is a partial apostacy from it, whose guilt and danger answers the degrees and measures which in each kind it proceeds unto.
And this is that which we may charge, yea, which the Lord Christ in his word doth charge on every nation under heaven where the gospel is publicly professed. Men are apt to please themselves, to approve of their own state and condition, wherein they have framed unto themselves rest and satisfaction. Churches content themselves with their outward order and administrations, especially where accompanied with secular advantages; and contend fiercely that all is well, and the gospel sufficiently complied withal, whilst their outward constitution is preserved, and their laws of order kept inviolate: about these is the world filled with endless digladiations, wherein the most aim at no more but success in their especial contests. Only a few remain who fruitlessly complain, that under all these conflicts, the glory power, and purity of Christian religion is lost in the world. And it is known that the judgment of Christ concerning churches, as unto their good or bad spiritual estate, is ofttimes very distant from their own concerning themselves. It was not only for their sakes, but as a warning unto all others in all ages, that it is entered on an everlasting record, that when the church of Laodicea judged and declared without hesitation, that she was rich, increased in goods, and wanted nothing;' the Lord Christ, the Amen, the 'true and faithful witness,' pronounceth her 'poor, and blind, and
wretched, and miserable.' That things at this day are in no better a condition in many, in most churches in the world, is too evident to be denied with any pretence of reverence to the word of God; and it will be afterward made to appear.
Certainly the Lord Christ may say to the churches and nations among whom his name is yet owned in the world, what God said of old concerning that of the Jews, then his only church; I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed; how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a wild vine unto me?' Jer. ii. 21. Yèa, to most of them as in another place; 'How is the faithful city become a harlot? it was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it, but now murderers. Thy silver is become dross, thy wine mixed with water;' Isa. i. 21, 22. The greatness of the evil complained of, the secret mystery of its accomplishment, the unreasonableness, folly, and ingratitude of the fact, the strangeness of the event, makes the complaint to be formed. into a scheme of admiration. And indeed, if a man be able to consider the nature of the gospel, with the benefits communicated thereby unto mankind, he cannot but be astonished to find the generality of them to be so soon weary of it, and so ready on all occasions to relinquish it; for as future glory and blessed immortality are attainable only thereby, so all that true freedom, tranquillity, peace, and blessedness whereof our nature in this life is capable, are by no other means communicable unto the souls of men. In brief, whatever is of advantage in any gracious communication from God unto us, without which we are nothing but the very worst and most malignant product of sin and misery, it is all confined unto the gospel and the contents thereof. Wherefore the carelessness of men in neglecting of it, their wickedness in its relinquishment as to its principles and obedience, may well be expressed as God doth in the inferior instance of the apostacy of the Jewish church, Jer. ii. 11, 12. Hath a nation changed their gods which are yet no gods? But my people hath changed their glory for that which doth not profit. Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid; be ye very desolate, saith the Lord.' Yet thus is it and no otherwise, as we shall afterward manifest, amongst the generality of them that are called Christians in the world.
The church of Rome violently pleads an exemption from this charge, by virtue of special privilege. Not an internal privilege of efficacious grace unto their minds and wills, to preserve it and all that belongs unto it always in saving faith and obedience, wherein alone a compliance with the gospel consists; but an outward privilege of indefectibility, keeping them in the state the gospel requireth, they know not how, but as it were, whether they will or no.
But there is no party or society of men under heaven (considering the notoriety of matter of fact to the contrary) that can with less violence unto common modesty make use of this pretence. So when the Jews of old were charged by the prophets, of apostacy from the law and the obedience which it required, with threats of destruction for their sins, they warded themselves from a conviction of guilt and fear of punishment, by an unreasonable, yea, outrageous confidence in church privileges, then not only appropriated but confined unto them, crying out, 'The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord are these;' this they thought sufficient to repel the charge of the prophets, to vindicate their innocency, and secure their peace. The reply of the prophet unto them will equally serve in both cases; Behold, ye trust in lying words which cannot profit. Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom ye know not; and come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, We are delivered to do all these abominations?' Jer. vii. 8-10. A plea of innocency and hope of impunity, under an evident guilt of the highest immoralities, and the vilest of superstitions, do equally participate of folly and impudence.
It is fallen out with this church of Rome somewhat in like manner as it did with him from whom she falsely pretends to derive her wonderful privilege of indefectibility. For when our Lord Christ foretold that all men should forsake him, he alone with the highest confidence, and in a singular manner undertook the contrary for himself. But all the prerogative which he pretended unto issued only in this, that when all the other disciples forsook their Master and fled, according to his prediction, he alone forsook him and denied him. And that impossibility of failing which