« السابقةمتابعة »
who begins it with an act of fuch complicated guilt. How can he take upon him to reprove others for fin, or to train them up in virtue and true goodness, while himself is chargeable with direct, premeditated, and perpetual perjury. I know nothing fo nearly resembling it, as those cafes in trade, in which men make false entries, and at once screen and aggravate their fraud, by swearing, or caufing others to fwear contrary to truth. This is justly reputed fcandalous even in the world, and yet I know no circumftance in which they differ, that does not tend to fhow it to be lefs criminal than the other. We are not yet fo much hardened in this fin as many in our neighbor church, for I have never found any among us fo bold as to profefs and defend it. But, if no fuch thing is at all admitted among us, Why is there fo heavy a fufpicion of it? Why do fo many complain, that the great and operative doctrines of the gospel are withdrawn, and an unsubstantial theory of virtue fubftituted in their place? Or why are not fuch complaints put to filence, fince it may be fo eafily done? Appearances are certainly fuch as will warrant me in mentioning it upon this occafion: and I have particularly chofen to introduce it upon this fubject, that I may attack it not as an error, but as a fraud; not as a mistake in judgment, but an inftance of grofs dishonesty and infincerity of heart. Suppofing, therefore, that there may poffibly be truth in the charge against some of us, I muft beg every minifter, but especially thofe young perfons who have an eye to that facred office to remember, that God will not be mocked, though the world may be deceived. In his fight, no gravity of deportment, no pretence to freedom of enquiry, a thing excellent it itself, no regular exercife of the right of private judgment, will warrant or excufe fuch a lie for gain, as folemnly to fubfcribe what they do not believe.
The other particular I propofed to mention is the folemn atteftation of men's characters, not only in general, but for particular qualities, without any fatisfying knowledge whether the thing affirmed is true or falfe. This hath been often done in the church of Scotland, not by particular perfons, with whom we might renounce relati
on, but by confent of many, gravely and deliberately in conftituted courts. Can we avoid making the following obvious but melancholy reflection. How great is the blindness of men to thofe fins which are introduced by degrees and countenanced by prevailing fashion? Should we be told by an hiftorian of credit, that, in one of the dark and corrupt ages of popery, it was common for a body of minifters, when defired, to give a figned atteftation to particular perfons, that they were ftrict obfervers of the fabbath, and worshipped God regularly in their families, while the perfons attefting knew nothing of the matter, and, in fact, with regard to fome of them, it was abfolutely falfe-Would there be a diffenting voice in affirming, that fuch men must have been loft to all fense of in tegrity, and utterly unworthy of regard? What shall we fay, if the fame thing is done among us every day, and defended by no better argument than the judgment of chari, ty, which believeth all things? Charity teaches us to be lieve no ill of another without fatisfying evidence, and forbids us to spread it, although it be true, without apparent neceffity. But will charity either juftify or excufe us, in folemnly affirming a pofitive fact, the exiftence of which is uncertain in itself, and to us unknown. I do not take upon me to say that all are bad men who are guilty, by act or confent, of this practice, because I do not know how far the plea of ignorance or mistake my go; but this may be fafely faid that they do in a public capacity, what, if they were to do in a private capacity between man and man, would render them contemptible, or infamous, or both.
Thefe two particulars have often brought reproach upon the church of Scotland, to which it is very difficult to make a proper reply. Would to God the occafion given for it were wholly taken away. In the mean time, every one who has a juft regard to the glory of God, or the fuccefs of his own work, will endeavour to maintain fuch an uniformity of character, as will bear that examination, to which it ought in juftice, and muft of neceffity be expa sed,
In the last place, I muft beg leave to fpeak a few words. to the people in general, on the fubject of this discourse. You may learn, my brethren, from the preceding difcourse, by what rule you ought to judge, in all religious controverfies, where a determination is neceflary. Try all principles by their effects, and every perfon's pretences by his conduct. Examime, as far as you have proper evidence, who have real and vital religion moft at heart, and what means do effectually promote it. Believe not every profeffion, but fee which is moft confiftent in all its parts. Have patience, in difficult cafes, till the tree have time to bring its fruits to maturity. Time will often write a clear and legible character, on what was very dark and dubious at first.
It is probable fome will be ready to fay, there is no fmall doubtfulness in this rule itfelf. There may be found good men of many different parties, how then fhall we judge between them? I anfwer, wherever there is true religion, thefe perfons are to be confidered as the fervants of God, and his grace in them is to be confeffed without reluctance, and adored with thankfulness. There will, nevertheless, be ftill fufficient means to diftinguifh be. tween one profeffion and another, which hath the greatest influence in making men truly good. There may be, here and there, a good man under very great difadvantages, This may ferve to keep us from a bigotted narrowness of mind, and uncharitable condemnation of others. But it will never occafion, in any prudent perfon, a departure from these principles, and that difpenfation of ordinances, which he fees to be beft for building him up in holiness and comfort, through faith unto falvation. The truth is, one great defign of this difcourfe was to teach men to dif tinguish between the upright and the worthlefs of all fects. Turn your zeal from parties to perfons. Do not reproach or oppofe men merely because they are of this or the other perfuafion. But wherever there is a wicked or a world, ly man in the office of a minifter, avoid the wolf in sheep's clothing for your own fake, and, if poffible, drag off his difguife, that others may not be his prey. What doth it fignify what party a man is of, if the foundations are de
ftroyed, and truth and holiness, these infeparable companions, are trampled under foot? When fhall the time come, when the fincere lovers of Chrift, of every denomination, fhall join together in oppofition to his open enemies and treacherous friends? There is a wonderful, though a natural union, among all worldly men, against the spirit and power of true religion wherever it appears. I am forry to add, that this is one of the inftances in which the children of this world are wifer in their generation than the children of light. Many will not meet together on earth for the worship of God, who fhall have but one temple at laft, where all from the eaft and from the weft, from the north and from the fouth, fhall meet, and join in their Creator's and Redeemer's praife. The terms of admission into, and of exclufion from this happy dwelling, are recorded in the following remarkable terms, with which I shall conclude this discourse, as indeed they are the sum of all that has been faid in it, "And there fhall in no wife enter "into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever work"eth abomination, or maketh a lie, but they which are " written in the Lamb's book of life."a
a Rev. xxi. 27.