Sivut kuvina
PDF
ePub

For, from hence we may learn, First, That a Catholic spirit is not speculative Latitudinarianism. It is not an indifference to all opinions. This is the spawn of hell, not the offspring of heaven. This unsettledness of thought, this being "driven to and fro, and tost about with every wind of doctrine," is a great curse, not a blessing, an irreconcilable enemy, not a friend to true Catholicism. A man of a true Catholic spirit, has not now his religion to seek. He is fixed as the sun, in his judgment concerning the main branches of Christian doctrine. It is true, he is always ready to hear and weigh, whatsoever can be offered against his principles But as this does not show any wavering in his own mind, so neither does it occasion any. He does not halt between two opinions, nor vainly endeavour to blend them into one. Observe this, you who know not what spirit ye are of: who call yourselves men of a Catholic spirit, only because you are of a muddy understanding: because your mind is all in a mist: because you have no settled, consistent principles, but are for jumbling all opinions together. Be convinced, that you have quite missed your way: you know not where you are. You think you are got into the very Spirit of Christ: when, in truth, you are nearer the spirit of antichrist. Go, first, and learn the first elements of the gospel of Christ, and then shall you learn to be of a truly Catholic spirit.

curse.

2. From what has been said, we may learn, Secondly, That a Catholic spirit is not any kind of practical Latitudinarianism. It is not indifference as to public worship, or as to the outward manner of performing it. This, likewise, would not be a blessing but a Far from being a help thereto, it would, so long as it remained, be an unspeakable hinderance to the worshipping of God in spirit and in truth. But the man of a truly Catholic spirit, having weighed all things in the balance of the sanctuary, has no doubt, no scruple at all concerning that particular mode of worship wherein he joins. He is clearly convinced, that this manner of worshipping God, is both scriptural and rational. He knows none in the world, which is more scriptural, none which is more rational. Therefore, without rambling hither and thither, he cleaves close thereto, and praises God for the opportunity of so doing.

3. Hence we may, Thirdly, learn, That a Catholic spirit is not indifference to all congregations. This is another sort of Latitudinarianism no less absurd and unscriptural than the former. But it is far from a man of a truly Catholic spirit. He is fixed in his congregation as well as in his principles. He is united to one, not only in spirit, but by all the outward ties of Christian fellowship. There he partakes of all the ordinances of God. There he receives the Supper of the Lord. There he pours out his soul in public prayer, and joins in public praise and thanksgiving There he rejoices to hear the word of reconciliation, the gospel of the grace of God. With these his nearest, his best beloved brethren, on solemn occasions, he seeks God by fasting. These particularly he watches over in love, as they do over his soul, admonishing, exhorting, comforting,

reproving, and every way building up each other in the faith. These he regards as his own household, and therefore, according to the ability God has given him, naturally cares for them, and provides that they may have all the things that are needful for life and godli

ness.

4. But while he is steadily fixed in his religious principles, in what he believes to be the truth as it is in Jesus: while he firmly adheres to that worship of God, which he judges to be most acceptable in his sight, and while he is united by the tenderest and closest ties, to one particular congregation, his heart is enlarged toward all mankind, those he knows and those he does not he embraces with strong and cordial affection, neighbours and strangers, friends and enemies. This is Catholic, or universal love. And he that has this, is of a Catholic spirit. For love alone gives the title to this character. Catholic love is a Catholic spirit.

5. But if we take this word in the strictest sense, a man of a Catholic spirit, is one who, in the manner above mentioned, gives his hand, to all whose hearts are right with his heart. One who knows how to value, and praise God, for all the advantages he enjoys; with regard to the knowledge of the things of God, the true scriptural manner of worshipping him; and above all, his union with a congregation, fearing God and working righteousness. One who, retaining these blessings with the strictest care, keeping them as the apple of his eye, at the same time loves as friends, as brethren in the Lord, as members of Christ and children of God, as joint partakers now of the present kingdom of God, and fellow heirs of his eternal kingdom, all of whatever opinion, or worship, or congregation, who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ; who love God and man; who, rejoicing to please and fearing to offend God, are careful to abstain from evil, and zealous of good works. He is the man of a truly Catholic spirit, who bears all these continually upon his heart, who, having an unspeakable tenderness for their persons, and longing for their welfare, does not cease to commend them to God in prayer, as well as to plead their cause before men who speaks comfortably to them, and labours by all his words, to strengthen their hands in God. He assists them to the uttermost of his power in all things, spiritual and temporal. He is ready "to spend and be spent for them;" yea, "to lay down his life for their sake.

[ocr errors]

:

6. Thou, O man of God! think on these things. If thou be already in this way, go on. If thou have heretofore mistook the path, bless God who hath brought thee back. And now run the race which is set before thee, in the royal way of universal love. Take heed, lest thou be either wavering in thy judgment or straitened in thy bowels. But keep an even pace, rooted in the faith once delivered to the saints, and grounded in love, in true Catholic love, till thou art swallowed up in love for ever and ever.

SERMON XLII.

ON CHRISTIAN PERFECTION.

"Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect." PHILIPPIANS iii. 12.

1. THERE is scarcely any expression in Holy Writ, which has given more offence than this. The word perfect is what many cannot bear. The very sound of it is an abomination to them. And whosoever preaches perfection, (as the phrase is) i. e. asserts that it is attainable in this life, runs great hazard of being accounted by them, worse than a heathen man or a publican.

2. And, hence, some have advised, wholly to lay aside the use of those expressions; because they have given so great offence. But are they not found in the oracles of God? If so, by what authority, can any messenger of God lay them aside, even though all men should be offended? We have not so learned Christ; neither may we thus give place to the devil. Whatsoever God hath spoken, that will we speak, whether men will hear, or whether they will forbear: knowing that, then alone can any minister of Christ be, "pure from the blood of all men," when he hath "not shunned to declare unto them all the counsel of God."

3. We may not, therefore, lay these expressions aside, seeing they are the words of God, and not of man. But we may and ought to explain the meaning of them; that those who are sincere of heart, may not err to the right hand or left from the mark of the prize of their high calling. And this is the more needful to be done, because in the verse, already repeated, the Apostle speaks of himself as not perfect: "Not," saith he, "as though I were already perfect." And yet immediately after, in the fifteenth verse, he speaks of himself, yea and many others, as perfect. "Let us," saith he, "as many as be perfect, be thus minded.”

4. In order, therefore, to remove the difficulty arising from this seeming contradiction, as well as to give light to them who are pressing forward to the mark, and that those who are lame be not turned out of the way, I shall endeavour to show,

First, In what sense Christians are not and,
Secondly, In what sense they are, perfect.

I. 1. In the first place, I shall endeavour to show, In what sense Christians are not perfect. And both from experience and Scripture

it appears, first, that they are not perfect in knowledge: they are not so perfect in this life, as to be free from ignorance. They know, it may be in common with other men, many things relating to the present world: and they know, with regard to the world to come, the general truths which God hath revealed. They know, likewise, (what the natural man receiveth not; for these things are spiritually discerned) "what manner of love it is, wherewith the Father hath loved them, that they should be called the sons of God;" they know the mighty working of his Spirit in their hearts, and the wisdom of his Providence, directing all their paths, and causing all things to work together for their good. Yea, they know in every circumstance of life, what the Lord requireth of them, and how to keep a conscience void of offence both toward God and toward man.

[ocr errors]

2. But innumerable are the things which they know not. "Touching the Almighty himself, they cannot search him out to perfection. Lo, these are but a part of his ways; but the thunder of his power, who can understand?" They cannot understand, I will not say, how "there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one ;" or how the eternal Son of God" took upon himself the form of a servant but not any one attribute, not any one circumstance of the Divine Nature. Neither is it for them to know the times and seasons, when God will work his great works upon the earth; no, not even those which he hath in part revealed, by his servants and prophets, since the world began. Much less do they know, when God, having "accomplished the number of his elect, will hasten his kingdom :" when "the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat."

3. They know not the reasons even of many of his present dispensations with the sons of men: but are constrained to rest here, though "clouds and darkness are round about him, righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his seat." Yea, often with regard to his dealings with themselves, doth their Lord say unto them, "what I do, thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter." And how little do they know, of what is ever before them, of even the visible works of his hands? How "he spreadeth the North over the empty place, and hangeth the Earth upon nothing?" How he unites all the parts of this vast machine by a secret chain, which cannot be broken? So great is the ignorance, so very little the knowledge of even the best of men!

4. No one, then, is so perfect in this life, as to be free from ignorance. Nor, secondly, from mistake, which indeed is almost an unavoidable consequence of it; seing those who know but in part, are ever liable to err, touching the things which they know not. It is true, the children of God do not mistake, as to the things essential to salvation. They do not "put darkness for light, or light for darkness, neither seek death in the error of their life." For they are taught of God, and the way which he teaches them, the way of holiness, is so plain, that "the wayfaring man, though a fool, need not

err therein." But in things unessential to salvation, they do err, and that frequently. The best and wisest of men are frequently mistaken, even with regard to facts; believing those things not to have been, which really were, or those to have been done, which were not. Or, suppose they are not mistaken as to the fact itself, they may be, with regard to its circumstances; believing them, or many of them, to have been quite different, from what, in truth, they were. And hence cannot but arise many farther mistakes. Hence they may believe either past or present actions, which were, or are evil, to be good; and such as were, or are good, to be evil. Hence also they may judge, not according to truth, with regard to the characters of men and that, not only by supposing good men to be better, or wicked men to be worse than they are; but by believing them to have been, or to be good men, who were, or are very wicked: or perhaps, those to have been, or to be wicked men, who were, or are holy and unreprovable..

5. Nay, with regard to the holy Scriptures themselves, as careful as they are to avoid it, the best of men are liable to mistake, and do mistake day by day: especially with respect to those parts thereof, which less immediately relate to practice. Hence even the children of God are not agreed as to the interpretation of many places in holy writ: nor is their difference of opinion any proof that they are not the children of God on either side. But it is a proof, that we are no more to expect any living man to be infallible than to be omniscient.

6. If it be objected to what has been observed under this and the preceding head, that St. John, speaking to his brethren in the faith, says, "Ye have an unction from the holy one, and know all things," 1 John ii. 20. The answer is plain, "Ye know all things that are needful for your soul's health." That the Apostle never designed to extend this farther, that he could not speak it in an absolute sense, is clear, first, from hence, that otherwise he would describe the disciple as above his Master; seeing Christ himself, as man, knew not all things:-" Of that hour," saith he, "knoweth no man, no, not the Son, but the Father only." It is clear, secondly, from the Apostle's own words that follow, "These things have I written unto you concerning them that deceive you :" as well as from his frequently repeated cautions, "let no man deceive you :" which had been altogether needless, had not those very persons, who had that unction from the Holy One been liable, not to ignorance only, but to mistake also..

7. Even Christians, therefore, are not so perfect, as to be free either from ignorance or error. We may, thirdly, add, nor from infirmities. Only let us take care to understand this word aright. Only let us not give that soft title to known sins, as the manner of some is. So, one man tells us, every man has his infirmity, and mine is drunkenness" another has the infirmity of uncleanness; another of taking God's holy name in vain. And yet another has the infirmity of calling his brother, thou fool, or returning railing for railing. It

66

« EdellinenJatka »