Imágenes de páginas

sight of their own eyes; chap. iv. 14, 15. But yet after all this, upon a sudden, so as that he was surprised with it and amazed at it, they fell from the doctrine of grace and justification by faith alone, to seek after righteousness as it were by the works of the law; chap. iii. 1. 'O foolish Galatians,' saith he, 'who hath bewitched you, that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth crucified among you?' Notwithstanding the evident demonstrations of the truth which they had received, and experience of the power of the word, which he mentions, ver. 2. yet all on a sudden they apostatized from it. And as the foundation hereof lay in the uncured folly and vanity of their minds (as we shall see afterward that it doth in all alike cases), yet the strangeness of the manner of it, that it should be so sudden, and it may be universal, makes him ask if there were not some strange fascination or spiritual witchcraft in it. So have we seen persons among ourselves, who in a day or two have renounced all those principles of truth wherein they have been instructed, and embraced a system of notions diametrically opposite unto them; insomuch as some have supposed that there hath been a real diabolical fascination in the matter. Now this apostacy of the Galatians was such, as the apostle peremptorily declares that Christ and all the benefits of his death were renounced therein.

Wherefore, although we may be troubled at it and bewail it, that sundry persons are so ready to fall off from the same truth in the same manner, yet ought we not to think strange of it, or be moved by it; seeing that whole churches called and instructed therein, and that particularly by the apostle himself, did so fall in a short time after their first plantation.

It is more than probable, that those who endeavoured to make a spoil of the Colossians by philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men,' chap. ii. 8. had no small success among them. And such things they were, wherewith they were attempted and beguiled, as took them off from holding the head, turning them aside unto the curious speculations of men vainly puffed up in their own fleshly minds;' ver. 18, 19. Things of the like nature may be ob


served in most of the other churches unto whom the epistles are directed.

And in those unto particular persons, as unto Timothy and Titus, he warns them of this readiness of all sorts of persons to apostatize from the truth, giving express instances in some by name who had done so themselves, and sedulously endeavoured the overthrow of the faith of others. The holy apostle John lived to see more of these woful turnings aside from the truth, and relinquishments of evangelical mysteries. Hence in his epistle he gives an account expressly of the apostacies that were among professors of the gospel, of the seducers, and their pretences whereby it was promoted; warning believers of the danger thereof, and of sundry duties incumbent on them necessary to their preservation: and the Epistle of Jude is written to the same purpose. It is known also how most of the churches unto whom the Lord Jesus Christ granted the favour of his visitation, wherein he tried and judged their state and condition, their stability in, and declensions from the truth, were found guilty by him as to some degrees of backsliding and apostacy, for which they were severely reproved.

Certainly we can never enough admire the profound negligence and security of most churches and professors in the world, with respect unto a due adherence unto the mysteries and truths of the gospel. Some think that they have such a privilege, as that they can never decline from them, or mistake about them, nor have done so in the long tract of sixteen hundred years, although they have been plunged into all manner of wickedness and carnal security. Others are wanton and careless under their profession, making little difference between truth and error, or however suppose that it is no great achievement to abide in the truth wherein they have been instructed. And these things have brought most churches and places under the power of that apostacy which shall afterward be discovered. But if the churches thus planted by the apostles themselves were liable unto such defections, and many of them did actually, at least for a season, fall away from most important doctrines of the gospel (from whence it may be they had never been recovered, if healing had not been timely applied by aposto

lical authority and wisdom), can we, who have not their advantages, nor some of the evidences of the truth which they enjoyed, having all the same causes of apostacy inward and outward which they had to be tried withal, expect that we shall be preserved, unless we watchfully and carefully attend unto all the ways and means whereby we may so be. But these things will be spoken unto afterward.

We may in the next place inquire, What was the state of the churches after the ending and finishing of the sacred records, and the death of the apostles, with all other persons divinely inspired? Here some would have us believe that all things were well, at least for a long season, and some that they are so to this very day. All that was believed and practised among them, must be esteemed almost as sacred as the gospel itself, and be made a part of the rule of our faith and worship. It seems those very churches, which during the days of the apostles and whilst they were under their inspection, were so prone to mistakes, to follow their own imaginations, or comply with the inventions of others, yea, in sundry instances so as to apostatize from the most important doctrines of the gospel, were all on a sudden, on no other advantage but being delivered from apostolical care and oversight, so changed, established, and confirmed, that they declined not in any thing from the truth and rule of the gospel. For my part I pay as great a respect and reverence unto the primitive churches of the first, second, and third centuries, as I think any man living can justly do; but that they did in nothing decline from the grace, mystery, truth, or rule of the gospel, that they gave no admittance unto vain deceits after the tradition of men, and the rudiments of the world, there are such evidences unto the contrary, as none can believe it, but those who have a great mind it should be so, and their credulity at their disposal. I shall therefore briefly inquire what was foretold that would ensue among those churches, and what came to pass accordingly.

The apostle Paul tells the elders of the church of Ephesus, that he knew that after his departure grievous wolves would enter in among them, not sparing the flock;' Acts xx. 29. Though he compare them to devouring wolves, yet are they not bloody persecutors by external force that he doth intend. For that expression, 'shall enter in among you,'

2 A


denotes an admission into the society and converse of the church, under pretence of the same profession of religion. They are therefore heretics and seducers who lay in wait to deceive through various sleights and cunning craftiness, being not (whatever they pretended) really of the church, not of the flock of sheep, no not in profession, but devouring wolves. The same persons are intended, who by Peter are called false teachers, such as should privily bring in damnable heresies, denying the Lord that bought them;' 2 Pet. ii. 1. But the apostle adds moreover in the next place, Also of your own selves shall men arise speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them;' ver. 30. I do not think that the apostle in that expression, 'Also of your own selves,' intended precisely any of those who were then personally present with him, or at least it is not necessary that we should so judge; but some that were quickly to succeed in their room and office, are intended. And all the perverse things which they would teach, being contradictory to the doctrine of the gospel, contained some degrees of apostacy in them. That they prevailed in this attempt, that the church was leavened and infected by them, is evident from hence, that not long after that church is charged by our Saviour to be fallen in sundry things from its first purity; Rev. ii. 4, 5. So he assures Timothy, that the time would come (and that speedily, as appears by the prescription he makes for its prevention), 2 Tim. iv. 1, 2. That men would not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts should heap up to themselves teachers, having itching ears, whereby they should be turned from the truth, and turned unto fables;' ver. 3, 4. A plain prediction of that defection from evangelical truth and purity which was to befall the churches, and did so. And this, with the danger of it, he doth more vehemently urge, as from a spirit of prophecy, 1 Tim. iv. 1, 2.

[ocr errors]

Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils.' By that phrase of speech, The Spirit speaketh expressly,' the apostle understands not a plain distinct revelation made thereof unto himself alone, but that the infallible Spirit of God, whereby himself and the rest of the apostles were guided, did every where testify the same. It is an expression not unlike that he

useth, Acts xx. 23. The Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city; that is, in all places those who were divinely inspired agreed on the same prediction.

And I judge the apostles did everywhere by joint consent acquaint the churches, that after the gospel had been received and professed for awhile, there would ensue a notable apostacy from the truth and worship of it. So Jude tells them, ver. 17, 18. That the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ told them, that in the latter days there should be mockers, who walk after their hearts' lusts.' This all the apostles agreed in the prediction of, and warned all the churches concerning it. St. John expresseth it, 1 Epist. chap. iv. 3. This is that spirit of antichrist whereof you have heard that it should come.' He speaks of the coming of antichrist, and therewithal an apostacy from the faith, as that which they had been fully instructed in. And the apostle Paul mentioneth it, as that which not only they were forewarned of, but also acquainted with some particulars concerning it, which it was not, it may be, convenient in those days to mention publicly for fear of offence; there must,' saith he, 'be a falling away,' or an apostacy from the faith, under the leading of the man of sin; and,' saith he, 'remember ye not that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? and now ye know what withholdeth;' 2 Thess. ii. 3. 5, 6. He had both told them of the apostacy, and also acquainted them with one particular about it, which he will not now mention. This being the great testimony of the Spirit of God in those days, that the visible church should so fall away from the faith; one of the chief ways whereby Satan brought it to pass was, by the advancing of a contrary revelation and principle, namely, That this or that church, the church of Rome for instance, was infallible and indefectible, and could never fall away from the faith. By this means he obliterated out of the minds of men the former warnings given by the Spirit unto the churches, so rendering them secure, defeating the ends of the prediction: for hereby he not only led men insensibly into the greatest apostacy, but taught them to adhere invincibly unto what they had done, and with the highest confidence to justify themselves therein. But all those and many other warnings did the Holy Ghost give concerning the defection from the

« AnteriorContinuar »