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III. But now suppose we are willing to receive them, it will be inquired in the last place, what considerations may further us in their due improvement, and what directions may be given thereunto.
An answer to this enquiry shall shut up this discourse. And I shall say hereunto,
1. If there be not open evidence unto the contrary, it is our duty to judge that every reproof is given us in a way of duty. This will take off offence with respect unto the reprover, which unjustly taken is an assured entrance into a way of losing all benefit and advantage by the reproof. The reason why any man doth regularly reprove another, is because God requireth him so to do, and by his command hath made it his duty towards him that is reproved. And do we judge it reasonable, that one should neglect his duty towards God and us, and in some degree or other make himself guilty of our sins, for no other cause, but lest we should be displeased, that we are not suffered to sin securely, and it may be to perish eternally? And if we are convinced that it is the duty of another to reprove us, we cannot but be convinced that it is our duty to hearken and attend thereunto. And this will fix the mind unto a due consideration of the present duty that lies before us, and what is our just concernment in the reproof. Besides, if it be done in a way of duty, it is done in love: for all orderly rebukes are effects of love. And if we are convinced of any one, that he doth reprove in a way of duty, we must be satisfied that what he doth proceedeth from love, without by-ends or dissimulation. For what doth not so, be it what it will, belongs not to rebuking in a way of duty. And this will remove all obstructing prejudices in all who have the least gracious ingenuity. Ahab despised the warning of Micaiah, because he thought they mutually hated one another; he knew how it was with himself, and falsely so judged of the prophet, by his necessary sharpness towards him. But where there are such surmises, all advantages of reproofs will be assuredly lost. Where therefore our minds are satisfied that any reproof is an effect of love, and given in a way of duty, 'dimidium facti,' we are half way in the discharge of the duty directed unto.
2. Take heed of cherishing habitually such disorders, vices, and distempers of mind, as are contrary unto this duty, and will frustrate the design of it. Such are,
(1.) Hastiness of spirit. Some men's minds do with such fury apply themselves unto their first apprehension of things, that they cast the whole soul into disorder, and render it incapable of farther rational considerations. There may be, it is possible, some failures and mistakes in useful and necessary reproofs, in matter, manner, circumstance, some way, or other. This immediately is seized on by men of hasty spirits (a vice and folly sufficiently condemned in Scripture) turned unto a provocation, made a matter of strife and dispute, until the whole advantage of the reproof is utterly lost and vanisheth. A quiet, gentle, considerative, sedate frame of spirit is required unto this duty.
(2.) Pride, and haughtiness of mind, self-conceit, elation of spirit, which will be inseparably accompanied with the contempt of others, and a scorn that any should think themselves either so much wiser, or so much better than ourselves, as to reprove us in any kind, are a fenced wall against any benefit, or advantage by reproofs; yea, things that will turn judgment into hemlock, and the most sovereign antidote into poison. No wild beast in a toil doth more rave, and tear, and rend, than a proud man when he is reproved. And therefore he who manifests himself so to be, hath secured himself from being any more troubled by serious reproofs from any wise man whatever. See Prov. ix. 7. 8.
(3.) Prejudices, which are so variously occasioned, as it were endless to recount. If now we make it not our constant business to purge our minds from these depraved affections, they will never fail effectually to exert themselves on all occasions to the utter defeatment of all use in, or benefit by, the most necessary and regular reproofs.
3. Reckon assuredly, that a fault, a miscarriage, which any one is duly reproved for, if the reproof be not received and improved as it ought, is not only aggravated, but accumulated with a new crime, and marked with a dangerous token of an incurable evil: see Prov. xxix. 1. Let men do what they can, bear themselves high in their expressions, grow angry, passionate, excuse, or palliate; unless they are seared and profligately obstinate, their own consciences will take
part with a just and regular reproof. If hereupon they come not up to amendment, their guilt is increased by the occasional excitation of the light of conscience to give it an especial charge. And there is an additional sin in the contempt of the reproof itself. But that which principally should make men careful, and even tremble in this case is, that they are put on a trial, whether ever they will forsake the evil of their ways and doings, or no.
For he who is orderly reproved for any fault, and neglects, or despiseth the rebuke, can have no assurance that he shall ever be delivered from the evil rebuked; but hath just cause to fear, that he is entering into a course of hardness and impenitency.
4. It is useful unto the same end, immediately to compare the reproof with the word of truth. This is the measure, standard, and directory of all duties, whereunto in all dubious cases we should immediately retreat for advice and counsel. And whereas there are two things considerable in a reproof; first, the matter of it, that it be true, and a just cause, or reason of a rebuke; and, secondly, the right which the reprover hath unto this duty, with the rule which he walked by therein; if both these for the substance of them prove to be justified by the Scripture, then have we in such a case no more to do with the reprover, nor any of his circumstances, but immediately and directly with God himself: for where he gives express warranty and direction for a duty in his word, his own authority is as directly exerted thereby, as if he spoke unto us from heaven. Hereby will the mind be prevented from many wanderings, and vain reliefs, which foolish imagination will suggest, and be bound up unto its present duty. Let our unwillingness to be reproved be what it will, as also our prejudices against our reprover; if we are not at least free to bring the consideration and examination of the one and the other unto the word of truth, it is because our deeds are evil, and therefore we love darkness more than light. No milder, nor more gentle censure can be passed on any, who is not free to bring any reproof, that may be given him, unto an impartial trial by the word, whether it be according to the mind of God, or no. If this be done, and conviction of its truth and necessity do then appear; then let the soul know it hath to do with God himself, and wisely
consider what answer he will return, what account he will give unto him. Wherefore,
5. The best way to keep our souls in a readiness rightly to receive, and duly to improve such reproofs, as may regularly be given us by any, is to keep and preserve our souls and spirits in a constant awe and reverence of the reproofs of God, which are recorded in his word. The neglect, or contempt of these reproofs, is that which the generality of mankind do split themselves upon, and perish eternally. This is so fully and graphically expressed, Prov. i. that nothing can be added thereunto. And the great means whereby much hardness comes upon others, through the deceitfulness of sin, is want of keeping up a due sense or reverence of divine reproofs and threatenings on their souls. When this is done, when our hearts are kept up unto an awful regard of them, exercised with a continual meditation on them, made tender, careful, watchful by them, any just reproof from any, that falls in compliance with them, will be conscientiously observed, and carefully improved.
6. We shall fail in this duty unless we are always accompanied with a deep sense of our frailty, weakness, readiness to halt, or miscarry, and thereon a necessity of all the ordi nances and visitations of God, which are designed to preserve our souls. Unless we have due apprehensions of our own state and condition here, we shall never kindly receive warnings beforehand to avoid approaching dangers; nor duly improve rebukes for being overtaken with them. It is the humble soul that feareth always, and that from a sense of its own weakness, yea, the treacheries and deceitfulness of its heart, with the power of those temptations, whereunto it is continually exposed, that is ever like to make work of the duty here directed unto.
CHAMBER OF IMAGERY
CHURCH OF ROME LAID OPEN:
AN ANTIDOTE AGAINST POPERY.
If so be
have tasted that the Lord is gracious.—1 Pet. ii. 3. When false worship had prevailed in the church of old, unto its ruin, God shewed and represented it unto his prophet, under the name and appearance of a chamber of imagery ;' Ezek. viii, 11, 12. For therein were pourtrayed all the abominations wherewith the worship of God was defiled, and religion corrupted. Things relating unto divine truth and worship, have had again the same event in the world, especially in the church of Rome. And my present design is to take a view of the chambers of their imagery, and to shew what was the occasion, and what were the means of their erection; and in them we shall see all the abomination wherewith the divine worship of the gospel hath been corrupted, and Christian religion ruined. Unto this end it will be necessary to lay down some such principles of sacred truths, as will demonstrate and evince the grounds and causes of that transformation of the substance and power of religion into a lifeless image, which shall be proved to have fallen out amongst them. And because I intend their benefit principally who resolve all their persuasion in religion into the word of God, I shall deduce these principles from that passage of it in 1 Pet. i. 1–3.
* This sermon was preached at the Morning Exercise at Cripplegate, 1682. In answer to this question, How is the practical love of truth the best preservative against Popery?