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stroyed; will gospel obedience be preserved in the lives of men by such weak and languid endeavours as many satisfy themselves withal? If it be so, conversion unto God, and the fruits of holiness, must be looked on as most easy things, and the ministry itself to be of little use in the world. Certainly, there is another representation of these things in the Scripture; and notwithstanding the growth of some opinions that would render the whole work of Christianity so easy and facile as to be accommodated unto a negligent ministry, yet the event thereof is openly pernicious. Wherefore, we need not fear to say, that coldness, lukewarmness, sloth, and negligence, especially when accompanied with ignorance and spiritual darkness about the principal mysteries of the gospel, with an inconcernment of mind and affections in the importance, end, and design of their work, among them who are looked on as the public teachers of the church at any time, or in any place, keeps open a wide door for the lusts of men to pour forth themselves into that deluge of apostacy from the power of godliness, which the world is even overwhelmed withal.
So was it with the church under the Old Testament, as God by the prophets complains in a hundred places. Can any man be so stupid as to imagine, that the ordinary discharge of the priestly office in the church of Rome, in saying their offices at canonical hours, hearing of confessions, and giving absolutions, without the least dram of labouring in word and doctrine, is a means to keep up the power of Christian religion, or is not an effectual means to drench mankind in sin and security? Neither doth the calling of things by other names, change their natures. Wherever there is the same neglect of the true work of the ministry, in the matter of it, or manner of its performance, the same event will ensue thereon. And it will be nowhere more fatal than where men love to have it so, and despise whatever is spoken to the contrary, so as that it shall be esteemed a crime for any one to be dissatisfied with the soul-ruining sloth and negligence of this sort of men.
4. Moreover, whereas great relief in all these cases might be taken from a holy exemplary conversation and walking, among them in whom it is required as an ordinance of God for the direction and encouragement of the people; it is ma
nifest in the world, and sufficiently taken notice of, that many of them in their own persons are openly ambitious, insatiably covetous, proud, sensual, haters of them that are good, companions of the worst of men, evidencing the depraved habits of their minds in all signal instances of vice and folly. He that shall consider what was the state, what were the lives of the apostles and first preachers of the gospel, with those who succeeded them for some ages following, not merely as to their outward condition of straits and poverty (which as it will be pleaded, was occasioned by the state of things then in the world), but as to that humility, lowliness of mind, self-denial, contempt of the world, zeal for God, purity of life, which they prescribed unto others, and gave an exemplification of in themselves; and then take a view of that universal contradiction unto them and their ways, which the lives and course of very many in the world do at this day openly express, he must conclude, that either all those things were needless in them as to the public interests of Christianity, or that they are unspeakably endamaged by those of some at present.
Wherefore it cannot with any modesty be denied, but that by reason of these and the like miscarriages in the spiritual guides of the people, that the generality of Christians have been either led, or suffered insensibly to fall into the present apostacy. When God shall be pleased to give unto the people who are called by his name, in a more abundant manner, 'pastors after his own heart, to feed them with knowledge and understanding,' when he shall revive and increase a holy, humble, zealous, self-denying, powerful ministry, by a more plentiful effusion of his Spirit from above, then and not until then may we hope to see the pristine glory and beauty of our religion restored unto its primitive state and condition.
Those who do yet judge, that matters among the common professors of Christianity, as to the obedience of faith, are in as good a posture as they were at any time formerly, or as they need to be, who have no other desire or interest in them, but only that they should not be better; may abide in their security without troubling themselves with these things. But for such as cannot but see that a revolt or defection from gospel obedience, is not only begun in the
world, but carried unto that height that it is ready to issue in idolatry or atheism, it is time for them to consider under whose hand this hath fallen out, and be stirred up to put a stop unto its progress, before it be too late. Nor is it to be expected or fancied that there will be a recovery of the people from ungodliness and profaneness, or unto the holy obedience the gospel requireth, until there be such a change wrought in the ministry, that the word may be so dispensed, and such examples given, as may be effectual unto that end. It is to cast the highest contempt on the office itself, to imagine that this breach can be otherwise healed. For whereas this declension is fallen out under the conduct of the present ministry, and that of the foregoing ages, it is not to be thought that it will be retrieved under the same conduct; and to suppose that it can be done any other way, that the world of professed Christians shall be recovered unto holy obedience by any other means but the ministerial dispensation of the word, is to render it a thing altogether useless. Here then must begin the cure of that lethargy in sin that the world is fallen into, namely, in the renovation of a powerful evangelical ministry, or the due discharge of that office by them that are called thereunto, or possess the place of it, if ever it be effected unto any purpose in this world.
Qther causes and occasions of the decay of holiness.
SECONDLY, Multitudes are led into, and countenanced in, the ways of sin and profaneness, freely indulging unto their lusts and corrupt affections, by a false appropriation of justifying names and titles unto them, in ways of sin and wickedness. This was one principal means of old whereby the Jews were hardened in their impieties and flagitious lives. For when the prophets told them of their sins, and warned them of God's approaching judgments, they opposed that outcry unto their whole ministry, The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord are these;' say what you please, we are the only posterity of Abraham, the only church of God in the world. This contest they ma2 L
naged with the prophet Jeremiah in an especial manner, chap. vii. he saith unto them in the name of the Lord, ' Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place,' ver. 3. their reply and defence is, The temple of the Lord,' &c. ver. 4. Where unto the prophet makes that severe return, ver. 9, 10, Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense to 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?” Will you give up yourselves unto all manner of wickedness, and countenance yourselves therein by being a people unto whom the temple and the worship of it is appropriated? And this in like manner was the great prejudice which the Baptist had to contend withal when he came to call them to repentance. Abraham's children they were, and by virtue of that relation had right unto all the privileges of the covenant made with him, whatever they were in themselves; Matt. iii. 9. And it is evident in these examples, that the nearer churches or persons are unto an utter forfeiture of all their privileges, and destruction itself for their sins, the more ready they are to boast of and support themselves with their outward state, as having nothing else to trust unto. But if men were able to countenance themselves in their sins on this pretence against that extraordinary prophetical ministry which endeavoured to discard them of it, and called them unto the necessity of personal holiness; how much more will they be able to shelter themselves under its shades, when they shall be taught so to do?
When men who have given up themselves unto a vicious, sensual, worldly course of life, having either fallen into it by the power of their lusts and temptations, or were never brought into a better course by any means of correcting the vices of nature, shall find, that notwithstanding what they are, what they know themselves to be, and what judgment others must needs pass of them, yet that they are esteemed to belong to the church of Christ, and are made partakers of all outward privileges of it, it cannot but greatly heighten their security in sin, and weaken the efficacy of all means of their reformation. And when others, not so engaged in the ways of sin and profaneness, shall see that they may have all external pledges of divine love and favour communicated
unto them, although they should run into the same compass of riot and excess with others, it cannot but insensibly weaken their diligence in duty, and render them more pliable subjects of temptations unto sin. For they are but few who care to be better than they judge they must be of necessity. When the church of Sardis was really dead, the principal means of keeping it in that condition, was the name it had to be alive.
Let us, therefore, consider how it hath been in the world in this matter. Whilst these things have been communicated promiscuously unto all sorts of men, yea, to the worst that live on the earth, is it not evident that the name of the church, and the administration of its ordinances, would be made use of to countenance men in a neglect of holiness, yea, a contempt and hatred of it? Whilst these sacred names, titles, and privileges, these pledges of the love of God, and of all the benefits of the mediation of Christ are forced to lackey after men into the most provoking courses of flagitious sins, what can put a stay to the lusts of men? If the church be that society in the world which is alone the object of God's especial love and grace, if the principal end of the administration of its ordinances be to confirm unto men their interest in the benefits of the mediation of Christ, how can the lusts of men be more accommodated than by the application of these things unto them, whilst they are flagrant in their pursuit? It may indeed be supposed, that the Lord Jesus Christ hath made evangelical obedience to be the immoveable rule of an interest in his church; indeed, whether obedience unto the precepts of the gospel be not the only and indispensable condition of a participation of the privileges of the gospel, ought to be out of dispute with them that own the truth of its doctrine. And whereas all that is required of us that we may be eternally saved, is contained in the precepts of the gospel, men can have no other outward security of their souls' welfare, than what doth accompany the church and its rights. When therefore they do find on what easy terms they may hold an undefeasible interest in them, so as that by a compliance with some outward forms or constitutions, they may secure their right from any impeachment or forfeiture by the most profligate course of life, which for the satisfaction of their lusts they can betake them