A Plea for strictness in Religion.
MAT. 22. 14.
VVE have described the characters and properties of those who are called and not chosen: And that which is most remarkable in them is, They are careful to do many things, but not the main necessa∣ry things. This Guest mentioned before, he was careful to come and sit down at the feast, but not as careful to prepare a Wedding-garment; whereas com∣mon reason and discretion would have taught him, if I go to this wedding, this Marriage-Feast, which is also of so Royal a person, I must prepare sutable garments, I shall dishonor them, and disgrace my self, if I do other∣wise?
Now the plain meaning of this Parable is thus much, I am called to be a * Christian, I am invited to the precious feast and dainties of the Gospel; now if I go to them, and accept of them, my conscience tells me, I must live the life of a Christian, I must not dishonor that Christ, whose servant and Disciple I profess my self to be: But because men are so apt to divide these two, which God hath so necessarily conjoyned together; and there is nothing more ordi∣nary then to have the faith of a Christian, and the life of a Christian, as con∣trary as light and darkness whereby they are like those night Bats, look upon their wings, and you would judge them Birds, but look upon their body, you would judge them Vermin: So it is, look upon their faith, their profession, you would then judge them Christians; look upon their lives and ways, you Page 638 would then say, they were Atheists or Heathens.
Because of this diverse mixture in mens lives, their plowing with an Ox and Ass, their sowing with contrary seeds, I shall amplifie and urge this parti∣cular;
That by the same reason any man doth receive any thing of Christ, he is bound to*receive all.
Upon what ground thou wilt pray, hear his word preached, thou art bound to cast away all thy ungodliness, to set upon the strict and powerful means of holiness: And O that God would by this truth convince you, how contradicto∣ry every ill-lived Christian is to his own principles; that he is a self convinced man, that he is the greatest hypocrite in the world, that God requireth all or none; that we are to love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our strength; that there is no taking half of God, or half of Christ: To be almost a Christi∣an, is to be almost saved, and that is to be wholly damned.
Before we come to lay down the grounds of this, consider these parti∣culars: *
First, That the imbracing of the Christian faith, and the Laws of Christ, are to be an act of the freest choice, and voluntary acceptation that can be: Though custom and education may help and prepare, and much incline, yet till a man come to Christ by his own faith, and by his own willing inclination, its not acceptable: Religio non potest cogi: Caesar non potest dare fidem, was the saying of the Ancients; even as it is said of Moses, He chose the afflictions of Christ, rather then the trea∣sures of Egypt, Heb. 11. Thus a Christian, he chooseth rather the way of Christ, though requiring much self-denial, though exposed to all hatred, rather then any other advantagious way in the world: Now then grant this, That to obey Christs call, is an act of meer voluntary choice, then there is no intelligent man, can imbrace any one command of Christ, who doth not likewise submit to all. Would you then know, how Christianity comes to be thus divided and mingled, an un∣godly life, to a godly faith, like a live man, to a dead carkass; one main rea∣son is, because we have this Religion by education, by custom, by the Laws of the Land, if it had been any other, Popery or Judaism, it had been all one: It is to the unknown God that most build an Altar, and by this means men are not careful to bring up their lives to this Christianity, but bring down that to them; whereas every man that taketh this holy and glorious profession upon him, should wisely weigh, what is this I have taken upon me? what doth it re∣quire of me? In all other worldly or external callings we conclude, and much more this should be done in this heavenly calling. Our Saviour gives an excel∣lent caution herein, making the profession of Christianity, to be like war and building, Luke 14. 31. which are the two most expensive attempts that can be: Do you not deride that builder, who goeth about to rear a glorious building, and hath nothing to do it withall? Do you not say, Where is your money? what will you do it with? will you not proclaim your folly to all the world? So it is here, What? wilt thou be a Christian? wilt thou believe in Christ? Why where is thy holiness, thy purity, thy chastity, thy heavenliness? I tell thee, to profess Christ, and yet be a drunkard, a whoremonger, is as great a mocking and scorning of Christ, as they did who crucified him, that in scorn put on him a crown of thorns, and saluted him as a King: Oh then, that this truth might sound as terribly in your ears, as the Archangels trumpet will at the day of Judgement! Its no dallying matter, its no matter of words and comple∣ment to come at Gods call: No, let every one that calls on the name of Christ depart from iniquity.
Secondly, Consider this: we grant, That even the godliest men that are, though they*do for the substance and main, as the substantial acts of them, do all that God commands, yet they fail in many things, and the degrees of their grace are imperfect: So that al∣though there be the same reason why they should fulfil all the degrees of grace, Page 639 yet they cannot in this life; and the reason is, because God giveth no man such measure of grace in this life, as to make him perfect without sin; there are the stubs and reliques of original corruption in the most holy, which are an heavy conflict and combate in them: Therefore let not the godly wring this truth till blood come from it, which is intended onely for milk: Say not, There is the same reason why I should do every thing perfectly, as that I should do any thing at all; for although there be the same ground, yet God gives not the same pro∣portion of strength for one, as he doth for another; our perfection is, to ac∣knowledge our imperfections: The reliques of sin are still acting in us, that the grace of the Gospel may be made the more glorious.
Thirdly, In the matters of Christ, some are Doctrinal, some are practical; and there is the same reason for the receiving of the one, as well as of the other: For the mat∣ters * of faith, some say, He that doth discredit or misbelieve one main Article of faith, he doth misbelieve about all, because there is Eadem ratio formalis fidei, in one as well as another; and therefore the Church never held a Macedonian who denyed the Holy Ghost to be God, though he were put to death by the Arrians for maintaining Jesus Christ to be God, to be a Martyr; for though he dyed for one fundamental Article, yet because he denyed another, he did believe nothing at all aright; onely now in matters of faith, you must distinguish between Fundamentals and Superstructions: For Fundamentals, whosoever re∣ceiveth one, must receive all the rest, else the whole building will fall to the ground; and for Superstructions, its true, all should be of one accord and minde, speak the same thing, and judge the same thing, but because these are not so clearly laid down in Scripture, nor are conclusions that are very remote so easi∣ly discerned as principles, therefore some believe that which another doth not, but because the Wedding-garment consists not in these things, the master of the feast will not cast out for this difference: Then there are practicals, such things as Christ hath commanded us to do, and they are either moral duties, or posi∣tive duties: Moral duties are those which are contained in the Moral Law of God, for Christ did not come to destroy these, but confirm them; and for these none can plead ignorance: The inward light of conscience, especially furthered by the light of the word, doth evidently demonstrate all this wickedness; yea, as is to be shewed, there is more reason for thy godly life, then thy true faith; for the former is more easily discerned then the latter: And as for the positive du∣ties, which concern us as a Church, in the government of it, and the good or∣ders he hath prescribed thereby; though all people that receive the former, should come up to the latter, yet time and daily instruction must make way for that. Two things Christ requireth of you: First, duties of you as men; then duties as a Church, as a Society meeting by order in all visible worship: Now these latter duties are not so much known, because indeed men have not attain∣ed to the practice of the former: The sum of this head is, That in the things of Christ, whether Doctrinal or Practical, some things are obscure, and some things are evident and plain: Now the meaning of the assertion is, That by what ground we receive or do any thing Christ hath required, by the same reason we are to do all the rest that are of evident and plain knowledge. And I shall especially follow this in practicals, viz. That what reason thou hast to profess a faith in Christ, to come to Church, to pray to him; there is the same to lay aside all thy ungodliness and prophaneness; insomuch, that it is a wonder, that any man should think he is no good Christian, if he do not come to Church and pray, and doth not also say, I am no good Christian as long as I lye, swear, curse, live in riotings and drunkenness: Oh! how hath sin and Satan bewitched you, and blinded your eyes, that you should not see these plain things? this matter should so easily convince your conscience, that it needs not much in∣forcing; but yet men are more senseless then the earth, in Divine and Heaven∣ly Page 640 things. Bring we then the grounds forth, that, if possible, this day thy soul and thy sins may be divorced from one another: And *
First, That of the Apostle James is very urgent, James 2. 11. viz. The Autho∣rity and Divine command of the Law-giver: The Apostle speaketh to him that doth all the Commandments, yet breaks one, that he is guilty of all; as a man that breaks the round of a chain, he doth in effect break the whole chain; And why? because the same Authority is despised in one, as well as in all: He that said, Believe Christ to be God, said also, No unrighteous or wicked person shall en∣ter into the Kingdom of heaven: If so be then, that though Christ commanded thee to believe, and to be baptized, he had given thee an indulgence to any lust or sin, that thou mightst commit any iniquity without control, there had been no word of God against it, then thou mightest have answered all well; but now thou must needs be speechless: Oh then that men would attend to these things! We are not now preaching any sublime mysteries of Religion, we have not a vail upon our matter; even the weakest and ignorant may hear and understand this: The same God that bids me pray, and hear his word, bids me give over my lusts, my drunkenness, my swearing; now why should I make conscience of one, and not of the other? why should I do one because God commands it, and not the other?
Secondly, There is the same necessity of one as well as the other: A man can be no more saved, unless he part with all these ungodly ways, then if he should * renounce the Christian faith: It is needless to reckon up all those places, which make repentance and a godly life absolutely necessary to eternal happiness; If then you should see a man deny his Christian faith, Renounce Christ and his truth, you would then presently conclude, There is no hope for this man: So it is here, If you see a man professing the faith of Christ, yet doing the works of the Devil, renouncing all the holy works Christ hath commanded, there is no hope of such a man while abiding so; and therefore the Scripture calls this A denying of God, and A denying of Christ, Tit. 1. 16. when men in words do ac∣knowledge him, but in their practice live contrary to him: Oh I how near doth this truth come many of you? Do not your deeds deny God? do not your lusts, your oathes, unlawful pleasures deny him? and yet the leaving of these is as indispensably necessary to salvation, as the outward professing of the ways of Christ; going to the feast with a Wedding-garment, was as necessary as go∣ing to the feast at all; and there was no more hope of him that went without it, then those who did utterly refuse to come unto him.
Thirdly, There is not the same reason onely, that thou shouldst do all the duties God requireth, as well as externally profess him, and call on his name; but also, that thou shouldst do them with all accurateness, strictness, and all diligence: There is no man that thinks himself bound to be a Christian, but he is by the same ar∣gument to think; he is bound to be an accurate, diligent and strict one; and he that is not a strict, precise one, is indeed none, as to have any benefit by his Re∣ligion: This I would have you consider, for men think it indeed their duty to be Christians at large, Protestants in a general loose way, they are contented with this; but if you press them to a more exact circumspect walking, not to be conformed to the World, then this is the strictness they cannot abide; What needs all this? cannot we be saved without all this nicety? as they call it. Now consider
First, No, ye cannot be saved without this strictness: The way to hell is a broad * way, the way to heaven is a strait way, the gate is a narrow gate, Mat. 7. 14. and men must strive to enter in, ye are to walk circumspectly, 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, Ephes. 5. 15. What singular thing do ye? saith our Saviour, do not even the publicans and the heathens do the like? Matth. 5. So that you see, there is a good singularity, and we must be singular from the way of the world: Oh then consider, that the same Page 641 Bible which commands thee to be a Christian, commands thee to be a strict and accurate one: That general, loose and formal way, is too easie to be the way to heaven: In vain have David, Job and Paul watched over themselves, if thy way will lead to heaven.
Secondly, Its a principle ingrafted in every man, that the best is still to be given*to God: In the Old Testament, the first-fruits, and the fat of the Sacrifices were to be offered: The command is, To love God with all our heart, all our might, and all our strength; that as God is He, quo nihil melius cogitari potest, then whom no∣thing can be thought better; so if we have any better affections, any better strength, any better power then other, we should spend it wholly in service of God: Thus they cryed, Hoc age, in offering their Sacrifices; how then cometh it about, that thou shouldst have this foolish perswasion, to think thou servest God, and thou pleasest him, when the world and the Devil have far more of thee then they have? This made Joshua say to the people of Israel, when they proffered to serve God, Ye cannot serve God, for he is a jealous God, Joshua 24. 19. ye cannot serve him, unless you become other men then you are, and be∣take your selves wholly to him.
Thirdly, Thou must be an exact Christian, if any at all; because if you go over*all the Religions in the world, you shall see, they have the greatest approbation, that are more devout and fervent then others in serving their God: Doth not the hea∣then admire him who is most touched with a fear and reverence about his Idol? In Popery, are not they Canonized for Saints, who have in the most strict and precise way, given up themselves to their Religion? What then should be the matter, that among us its the clean contrary? If a man walk in the ways of Christ more strictly then others, if a man desire to follow his or∣ders directly, so that he doth not either run into the same excess of ryot, or boundless superstition as others do, such a man is scorned, and most ab∣horred of all men; yet thus it is, Be no more godly, be no more holy then the custom of the world is, and you shall be applauded: but if you go fast∣er then they, will not sit down with such loosness and formality as they do, then they cry out of you: Thus you see, that by what reason a man takes up any thing of Christ, he is bound to receive all; and what he doth, he is bound to do it with that strictness and accurateness that possibly may be. You may ask the question then, How comes it about, that when there is the same ground, yet most persons think it enough to come to the Feast, though without a Wedding-garment; think it enough to be called, though not cho∣sen: And
First, They do not set Faith, Reason and Iudgement on work; for if they did, * this sun arising, would presently dispell that darkness: If men would take the Psalmists counsel, To commune with their own hearts, and be still; To propound these Questions to their Souls, Why do I take this of Christs, and refuse the other? Why do I own this particular, and neglect the o∣ther? The matter would be so clear presently to a mans conscience, that he would cry out, All or none: As the Apostle compareth wicked men to bruit beasts, because they are led aside with the present pleasures; so they are like to them, because they never reflect upon themselves, and compare things rati∣onally together. Be not as the horse and mule, saith the Psalmist, Psal. 32, 9. e∣ven to men that have no understanding.
Secondly, A meer speculative and external profession of Christ, is easie and*cheap; it doth not spiritually crucifie or mortifie a man, as the practical power of godliness doth; a man must deny himself, and the practice of his dear lusts, if his life be conformable to so holy a Doctrine, the Wedding-garment will sit straight upon a man: Wonder not then, if the greater sort of people sit down with this general way, for it goeth not to the quick, it tryeth Page 642 them not about the killing of any one Isaac.
Thirdly, A total mistake about Godliness and Regeneration: Men never se∣riously * consider, what exactness, what labor, what conflicts are in that way; They walk by the Rules of the multitude, they do as most do, especially they are resolved, they will not stirre up the hatred of the World against them: And by these mistakes, and being thus blindfolded, no wonder if they fall into the ditch.
Fourthly, An inordinate love to some lust, or to the world: So that al∣though * in the general they know better, and have this perswasion on the con∣science, yet the violence of some indeared lust carrieth away all with it, as some violent torrent: Thus the yong man, that thought he had kept all the Commandments, when our Saviour tried him in that where his heart lay, he went away then very sorrowful, Matth. 19. 22. So then, though Faith, though Christ, through the Scripture, be never so plain, yet their custom and delight in sin, makes them forget all.
Use of Instruction: How inexcusable all wicked men will be at the last day; * out of your own mouthes God will judge you; Christ will say, If it was good to call upon my Name, to make some profession of my Faith, Why was it not also good to obey my commands? You need no Devil, no Law, no Justice of God to accuse and indict you, you your selves will condemn your selves: As Peter told Ananias, that kept back part of the money for which he sold his Land, Was it not free to thee to do what thou wouldst, before thou didst promise? but since thou hast promised, and yet dealt deceitfully, Why hast thou lyed against the holy Ghost? Oh thus it will be with thee: hadst thou been an Athiest, a Pagan, hadst thou never ingaged to be for Christs way, then the sin had been more tollerable; but now thou hast lyed to the Holy Ghost, thou hast lyed to God: Hearken O heavens; and hear O earth, the just condemnation of such perfidious men! set these things home upon your hearts; say, O Lord, How clear and evident is this? have I any thing to say, why I should keep this sin, delight in this lust? doth not Christ, whom I believe in, condemn it? doth not the word that I read, judge it? doth not the Ministery which I hear, reprove it? and doth not the Conscience I bear about with me, witness a∣gainst it.