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were many false Christs : Lo, here is Christ and there is Christ, was common language in those days; as, This is the only way, and that is the only way, is now; and yet the true Christ was in the world. And whatever light at any time comes forth, some mock; false light about the same thing immediately breaks forth. So was it in the first spreading of the gospel; so in the late reformation, and so in our days; and this is no evidence against the coming of Christ, but rather for it. For,
1. Satan pours out this flood of abominations, on purpose to bring an ill report upon the truth and light that is sent out by Christ. The great prejudice against truth in the world is, that it is new. • He seems to be a setter forth of strange' or new 'gods,' say they, of Paul; because he preached Jesus, and the resurrection. To increase this prejudice, the devil with it or after it sends forth his darkness; which, first, enables the world to load the truth itself with reproaches, whilst it comes accompanied with such follies, as though it also were of the number. Secondly, It disables weak friends to find out and close with the truth amidst so many false pretenders. Where much false money is abroad in the world, every man cannot discern, and receive only that which is good. Much less will men always keep safe, when they are so unstable and uncertain, as they are for the most part about choosing of truth.
2. God permits it so to be.
(1.) For the trial of careless professors. There must be heresies, that the approved may be tried. Most men are apt to content themselves with a lazy profession. They will hold to the truth whilst nothing appears but truth. Let error come with the same pretences and advantage, they are for that also. Now God delights to judge such persons even in this world; to manifest that they are not of the truth, that they never received it in the love thereof. And he sifts and tries the elect by it, and that for many advantages, not now to be insisted on. As, first, that they may experiment the efficacy of truth: Secondly, His power in their preservation: Thirdly, That they may hold truth upon firm and abiding grounds.
(2.) God permits it to set a greater lustre and esteem upon truth. Truth, when it is sought after, when it is con
tended for, when it is experimented in its power and efficacy, is rendered glorious and beautiful ; and all these with innumerable other advantages it hath by the competition that is set up against it by error. When men keep to the truth by the power of God, and the sense of its sweetness and usefulness to their own souls, and shall see some by their errors turned aside to one abomination, some to another, some made to wither by them and under them, they discern the excellency of the truth they embrace. So that notwithstanding this exception, the observation stands good.
Fourthly, It appears from the general nature of the dispensation itself, which clearly answers the predictions that are of the great works to be accomplished in the latter days, upon the account of Christ and his church. This is a general head, whose particulars I shall not enter into. They cannot be managed without a consideration of all, at least, of the most principal prophecies of the last times, and of the kingdom of Christ as to its enlargement, beauty, and glory in them; too large a task for me to enter upon at present.
And these are some of the grounds on which I am persuaded, that the alterations and providential dissolutions of these days, have related unto, and do lie in a subserviency to the interest of Christ and his church; whatever be the issue of the individual persons who have been engaged therein.
Come we now to the uses.
Use 1. Of trial or examination.
Hath Christ for many years now been in an especial manner come amongst us? Do these alterations relate to him and his interest; and so require universal holiness and godliness? Let us then in the first place see, whether in their several stations the men of this generation have walked answerable to such a dispensation. Christ indeed hath done his work; but have we done ours? He hath destroyed many of his enemies, judged false professors, hardened and blinded the wicked world, sent out his Spirit to plead with his people, and taken vengeance on their inventions, he hath given out plentiful measures of truth and light: but now the whole inquiry is, Whether all or any of us have answered the mind of Christ in these dispensations, and prepared ourselves to meet him as becometh his greatness and holiness?
For the generality of the people of the nation, Christ hath been pleading with them about their unbelief, worldliness, atheism, and contempt of the gospel. And what hath been the issue ? Alas ! he that was filthy is filthy still; he that was profane is so still; swearers, drunkards, and other vicious persons are so still. Where is that man in a thousand in the nation, that takes notice of any peculiar plea of Christ with him about his sin, in any of these dispensations? One cries out of one party of men, another curses another party, a third is angry with God himself; but as to the call of Christ in his mighty appearances, who almost takes any notice of it? The abominable pride, folly, vanity, luxury that are found in this city, testify to their faces, that the voice of wisdom is not heard in the cry of fools. And whereas Christ's peculiar controversy with this nation hath been about the contempt of the gospel; is there any ground got upon the generality of men ? Is any reformation wrought on this account among them? Nay, may we not say freely, that there is a greater spirit of hatred, enmity, and opposition to Christ, and the gospel risen up in the nation than ever before? Light hath provoked and enraged them, so
that they hate the gospel more than ever. How mad are the generality of the people on and after their idols, their old superstitious ways of worship which Christ hath witnessed against ? What an enmity against the very doctrine of the gospel? What a combination in all places is there against the reforming dispensation of it? And is this any good omen of a comfortable issue of this dispensation? Is not Christ ready to say of such a people, 'Why should you be smitten any more, you will revolt more and more?' and to swear in his wrath, that they shall not enter into his rest?' Nay, may he not justly take his gospel from us, and give it to a people that will bring forth fruit?: O England, that in this thy day, thou hadst known the things of thy peace! I fear they will be hidden from thee. The temptations of the day, the divisions of thy teachers, with other their miscarriages, and thine own lusts, have deceived thee, and without mercy, insuperable mercy, will ruin thee. Shall this shame be thy glory that Christ hath not.conquered thee, that thou hast hardened thyself against him?
But passing them, let us inquire, whether the mind of Christ hath in these dispensations been answered in a due manner by the saints themselves? Have they made it their business to meet him in all holy conversation and godliness? Indeed to me, the contrary appears upon these considerations: (1.) Their great differences among themselves about lesser things; (2.) Their little difference from the world in great things; (3.) The general miscarriage of them all, in things prejudicial to the progress of the gospel ; (4.) The particular deviation of some into ways of scandal and offence; (5) The backsliding of most if not of all of them.
(1.) Consider their great differences among themselves about lesser things. I cannot insist on the weight that is laid by our Saviour on the union of his disciples; with the condescension and love which he requires of them to that purpose; the motives and exhortations given by the Holy Ghost unto them on that account; the provision of principles and means made in the gospel for it; the necessity of it to the promotion of the interest of Christ in the world; the benefit and advantage of it to the saints themselves; the testimony given by it to the power of Christ, and truth of his word; the blasphemies and woful soul-ruining offences that
ensue on the contrary frame; the weakening of faith, hindrance of prayer, quenching of zeal, strengthening of the men of the world, that attend the neglect of it: I must not, I say, insist on these things; but see John xvi. 21–23. and Phil. ii. 1–3. of a hundred places that might be mentioned; how little the mind of Christ, and his expectation at his coming hath been answered by his saints in this particular, is evident unto all.
[1.] Who is there almost who having got any private opinion, true or false, wherein he differs from all or any of his brethren, who is not ready to proclaim it, without due regard to scandal and division, and even to quarrel with and divide from all that will not think as he thinks, and speak as he speaks? Now the pride, self-fulness, vanity of mind, unlikeness to Christ, folly, want of faith and love that is in such a frame can never be expressed, nor sufficiently lamented. Christ abhors such a frame of spirit, as he doth the pollution of the world.
[2.] Neither is this all; but men will lay more weight on their mint and cummin, on the lesser things, wherein they differ from their brethren, spend more time about them, write more books of them, labour more in their prosecution, than they will do in and about the weighty things of law and gospel ; all which will appear at length to have been but the laying of hay and stubble on the foundation, that must be consumed.
[3.] And farther; men fall to judging and censuring each other, as to their interest in Christ, or their eternal condition. By what rule? the everlasting gospel? the covenant of grace? no; but of the disciples : Master, they follow not with us.' They that believe not our opinion, we are apt to think believe not in Jesus Christ; and because we delight not in them, that Christ does not delight in them. This digs up the roots of love, weakens prayer, increases evil surmises, which are of the works of the flesh, genders strife, and contempt; things that the soul of Christ abhors.
[4.] The abomination of this wickedness ends not here; persecution, banishment, the blood of one another hath on this account lain in the hearts and minds of some of the saints themselves : not only have expressions to that purpose broken out from particular men; but it is to be feared,