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persecution against the truth and its profession; would require a discourse fully to declare longer than the whole of this is designed to be. It may suffice to know, that he is not weary nor wanting unto any of those manifold advantages which are administered unto him. He is at work in all places at this day, in some making havoc of the churches, in others by various wiles and artifices filling the minds of men with prejudices against the truth, and turning them from it.
Lastly, God doth not look on all these things as an unconcerned spectator. He indeed is not tempted with evil;' he tempteth none, he seduceth none, but he rules them all, and overrules all events unto his own glory. He will not suffer men first to undervalue and despise, and then to reject and forsake the chiefest of his mercies, such as his word and truth are, without reflecting on them with some acts of his severity. Wherefore, when men, from the corrupt principles mentioned, seduced by the lusts of their own hearts, and entangled by the deceits of Satan, do relinquish the truth, God in his holy righteous judgment gives them up unto farther delusions, so that they shall complete their apostacy, and grow obstinate therein unto their destruction. When a people, a nation, a church, or private persons have received the gospel and the profession thereof, not walking answerably thereunto, God may forsake them, and withdraw from them the means of their edification and preservation. The rule of his continuance with any people or church, as to the outward dispensation of his providence and the means of grace, is that expressed, 2 Chron. xv. 2. The Lord is with you while ye be with him; and if ye seek him, he will be found of you; but if ye forsake him, he will forsake you.' He judicially forsakes them by whom he is wilfully forsaken.
God may be forsaken by men in one way, and he may righteously forsake them in another: for instance, under the profession of the truth men may give up themselves unto all ungodliness and unrighteousness, unto a flagitious course of life in all abominations; so holding the truth captive in unrighteousness. In this case God ofttimes, in a way of punishment, gives men up unto an apostacy from the truth which they have professed, to shew that he will not
always have it prostituted unto the lusts of men. So the apostle speaks expressly, 2 Thess. ii. 10-12. Although they received the truth in the profession of it, yet they loved it not, they yielded not obedience unto it, but took pleasure in sin; therefore God ordered things so, that they should reject the truth itself also, and believe lies unto their own destruction. Herein at this day lies the danger of a total and ruinous apostacy. Multitudes, the generality of all sorts, the body of the people, do yet assent unto and profess the truth; but alas! what are the lives and conversations of many under that profession? How do all manner of sins abound among us? The profession of the truth by not a few is the greatest dishonour and disparagement that can be cast upon it. The best service many can do it, is by forsaking it, and declaring that the belief of it is inconsistent with their cursed wicked lives. And may we not justly fear, lest such persons should speedily be given up, by one means or other, to 'strong delusions to believe a lie' unto their just damnation? And on the other hand also, God sometimes gives men up to sins and wickednesses in practice, because of the rejection of the truth which they have received. So he dealt with them who liked not those notions of truth which they had concerning him, his being, and his providence, from the light of nature; Rom. i. 28. And so he usually deals with all apostates. If they will forsake the truth, they shall forsake righteousness and holiness, which are the proper fruits of it, and be given up unto all abominable lusts and practices.
We may therefore inquire, by what ways and means God doth so punish and revenge the beginnings of wilful apostacy from the gospel, so that men shall complete them and prove obstinate in them, unto their eternal destruction. And this he doth,
First, By removing his candlestick from among them. This the Lord Jesus threatens his backsliding church withal, Rev. ii. 5. God will by one means or another deprive them of the light and means of the knowledge of the truth, that ignorance and darkness shall cover them, and irresistibly increase upon them. Some of the instruments of light, it may be, shall be taken away by death, and some shall lie under prejudices; the gifts of the Spirit shall be
restrained or withheld from others, that they shall have darkness for vision, and the sword of the Lord shall be upon their right eye, that it shall be quite dried up.' In this condition of things the minds of apostates already bent upon backsliding, are by their ignorance and darkness more and more filled with prejudices against the truth, and alienated from it. For as they lose the knowledge and faith of any part of truth, their minds are possessed with what is opposite thereunto.
Secondly, In this condition God 'sends them strong delusions that they may believe a lie; 2 Thess. ii. 11. God is, as it were, now resolved on the end of these persons, what they have righteously deserved. And therefore he makes use of any means as it is merely penal to bring them thereunto. And as by the former act of his displeasure he took from them the knowledge of his truth, so by this he gives them up irrecoverably to adhere unto a lie; they shall not only profess it, but believe it, which is the cruellest slavery the mind of man is capable of. Now God's sending of men strong delusions that they may believe a lie,' consists in these things;
1. Delivering them up to the power of Satan. He is the grand seducer, the deluder of the souls of men, the first author of lying, whose principal design it is to win over the faith and assent of men thereunto. This work he stands continually ready for, but that God is pleased to limit, bound, and restrain him with respect unto those who are yet under his especial care; but as to these apostates, God breaks down all his fences about them, and by his efficacious permission suffers Satan to act his part to the utmost, for their delusion. This was the state of things under the papal apostacy; wherein Satan had deluded men (as it should seem), to the satisfaction of his utmost malice. And to shew how absolute he was in his success, he did, as it were, make sport with the deluded souls of men. There was nothing so foolish and sottish that he did not impose on their credulity. Many volumes will not contain the stories of those ridiculous follies which he hath so imposed on the minds of poor deluded mortals, wherein he seemed to sport himself in the misery of blinded mankind. God grant that he never receive a commission to act the same part
among us, whose sins seem to cry aloud for it; and men live as if they longed to be again given up to the power of the devil.
2. By suffering seducers and false teachers to come among a people, with such advantageous outward circumstances as shall further their success. These seducers prepare themselves for their work by their own inclinations and the suggestions of Satan. But God, for the executing of his just displeasure, will by his providence put advantages into their hands, of prevailing over the minds of men. So the chief seducers in the world at this day, namely, the pope and those acting with or under him, have possessed that place, and obtained that reputation among men, as gives them ofttimes an uncontrollable success in their work. Did men stand upon even ground with them who were in the profession of the truth, should any so come unto them to persuade them unto the errors, superstitions, and idolatry of the papacy, they could not but despise their offer. But these men having once gotten the name of 'The temple of God,' and shewing themselves to the people in the stead and place of God, what could they not draw and seduce them unto? Neither is their superstition or profession continued on any other grounds on the minds of the multitude, but only by that power over the consciences of men, which names, titles, and the places they seem to possess in the church, do give unto them. Then therefore doth God give up men to delusions, when in his providence he affords such advantages unto them by whom they are to be deluded. For those who possess the places of outward veneration may lead a backsliding multitude into what they please.
Lastly, God doth judicially smite such persons with blindness of mind and hardness of heart, that they shall not see, nor perceive, nor understand, even when the means of light and truth are proposed unto them. This effect of God's severity is declared, Isa. vi. 9-11. and application is made of it unto the Jews under the ministry of our Saviour himself, John xii. 40, 41. and that of the apostles, Acts xxviii. 29. and is expounded, Rom. xi. 8. When things are come to this issue, when God subducts the means of grace from men in the whole or in part, or as unto their efficacy, when he permits Satan to deceive them by
strong delusions, and moreover himself smites them with hardness of heart and blindness of mind; then is the state of such apostates miserable and irrecoverable. We are not therefore to think it strange, that the light of the gospel diffuses itself no more in the world; that so eminent a stop is put unto its progress. God hath put an end unto his gracious dealings with some kinds of apostates, and they are reserved for another dispensation of his providence.
These are some of the general principles of that defection which is in the world from the mystery and truth of the gospel, with the reasons and causes of them; unto which more, I doubt not, of the like nature may be added.
But there is moreover a particular consideration to be had of those especial truths which any turn away from, and the imaginations they fall into, whereof the especial grounds and reasons, superadded unto these we have considered, as equally respecting every kind of defection from the gospel, are also to be inquired into, and it shall be done in one instance among ourselves.
Instance of a peculiar defection from the truth of the gospel;
BESIDES the reasons insisted on, which have a general influence into all apostacies from the doctrine or mystery of the gospel, each especial defection in every kind, hath reasons and causes peculiarly suited unto its rise and furtherance. There are indeed not a few who forsake the truth which they have professed, merely on the impressions of outward circumstances, in the encouraging examples of some who go before them in the same paths, from whom they expect advantage. And every age giveth us in one place or another renewed evidence, that where either secular interest, or weariness of the truth, through the love of the present world, and hatred of holiness, or strict evangelical obedience, do give a propensity unto a declension from any doctrines of the gospel, unto persons whose grandeur and outward