Shewing why Grace in the heart, is better then unne∣cessary Disputes in the head; together with Rules how to manage Disputes and Controversies, without prejudice to Grace.
HEBREVVS 13. 9.
THis Text hath already informed us of this necessary truth, in these times especially, wherein men desire to dispute subtilly, more then to live ex∣actly; viz. That it is better to have the heart established with Grace, then the head with unnecessary Disputes in Religion: Having therefore mani∣fested what it is for Grace to establish the heart, let us proceed to give the rea∣sons of this Doctrine. The Corinthians were very zealous of those gifts and abilities, which brought them applause and esteem among others, but negligent about love to God and mens souls, which is an effect of sanctifying Grace; therefore saith the Apostle, I will shew you a more excellent way, 1 Cor. 12. 5. And certainly, though it be laudable to inquire and try all things in the matter of Religion, yet there is a more excellent way, which is to hold fast that which is good, 1 Thess. 5. 21. These and the like insuing particulars, are the grounds and reasons of the Doctrine.
First, Because the proper end and use of all Doctrinal Principles, is to lead and*guide the heart into a practical exercise of Grace: Therefore all the while a man doth imploy his head, and his heart not sanctified, he falls short of the end of all Religious principles; If ye know these things, saith our Savior, happy are ye if ye do them, John 13. 17. Happiness lieth not in the knowing of them, but do∣ing of them. Divinity is practical, even as the art of Medicine; for a man doth not attain health by reading Galen, or knowing Hippocrates his Aphorisms, but by the practical application of them to remove his diseases: Hence you have that notable expression, The acknowledgement of the truth, which is after godliness, Tit. 1. 1, If thou doest not acknowledge God, Christ, and all other matters of Religion after godliness, thou missest the mark: But yet we see this vanity upon men, that they know onely to know, as it is said of one people, that they had money onely to tell it, they made no other use of it. To eat meat, and not to digest it, is like getting knowledge, and not follow it into practice. Know∣ledge is so ordained for, and relating to practice, that all wicked men are said not to know God, because though they have a general knowledge, yet they improve Page 317 it not in a particular application. If then Solomon observed it as a great vanity in the world, that God gave some men riches, and yet they had no power to use them, Eccles. 5. 19. how much more is it to have great intellectual abilities, and continual exercises of the understanding, and in the mean while to have no power to make use of them for the good of their souls: To be often eating of the tree of knowledge, but never to taste of the tree of life. The very Hea∣thens, though they had but some few sparks of a true knowledge about God, having no other Book but that of nature to learn by, yet in how grievous a measure are they punished by God, because they did not live according to their knowledge, neither did they glorifie God as they knew him, Rom. 1. So then, though thou shewest thy self a rational man, and not a beast, in that thou searchest into the grounds and reasons of thy Divine hope, yet it is but labor in vain. if these eyes to see, be not also accompanied with feet to walk in the Commandments of God.
Secondly, It is far better to establish the heart with Grace, then reason with Di∣sputes, because the more quick and apprehensive a mans understanding is, if his heart*be not ballasted with godliness, its the greater enemy and froward adversary unto God. The Apostle calls the wisdom of the flesh, enmity to God, Rom. 8. 7. such as is not or cannot be subject to the will or truths of God: Thus the wise of this world, have the mysteries of Religion hid from them, and they are revealed to babes: A working head, without a working heart and hand in the ways of God, is like a sword in a mad mans hand. The greatest opposition to Christianity, was from Philosophers, which made Tertullian call Philosophers the Patriarchs of Heretiques: Therefore the first thing the Gospel doth, is to captivate the un∣derstanding, and to bring down every high thing that exalts it self against God, 2 Cor. 10. 5. Oh then, thou doest not choose the better part in Religion, when thy intellectuals are continually exercised and whetted, but thy heart and life is barren of all goodness: Its true, nothing revealed in Scripture is contrary to right reason, though it be much above it; but corrupt and carnal reason can no more receive the things of God, then a Dwarf can measure the Pyramides: So all the while thou art increasing knowledge, if Grace be not accompanying, thou art but nourishing an enemy against God; corrupt understandings have prejudiced mens Salvations, as much as loose and dissolute lives; therefore saith John Baptist to the Pharisees, Think not to say in your hearts, &c. Their reason∣ings and disputes within, kept off the power of Gods word upon them; What brought in all that Angel Worship, and desertion of Christ as the head, but that men were puffed up in their filthy mindes? Col. 2. 18.
Thirdly, Therefore its better to get Grace in the heart, then Notions in the head,*because all brain-Knowledge and Disputes may be perverted to an ill and ungodly end; onely Grace in the heart cannot be abused: Its true, the profession of Grace, and the outward appearance of it may be abused to ungodly designs: The name and reputation of piety, may be a colour for iniquity; but real piety it self can never be overruled for any sinful end, because its the nature of Grace to make a man refer all things to God. Jehu had but the outward body of Religion, not the soul, therefore his intentions were carnal and earthly, while his pretenti∣ons were spiritual and heavenly: But where true Grace is, there is not divers seeds sowen together, but his inward and outward man are both alike; but it is not thus with Knowledge, Opinions and Disputes in Religion. This light may be like that of a blazing Star, which is nourished onely by slimy and loath∣some exhalations. Several ways, and to several corrupt ends may all this Disputing be abused; As
First, To gain applause and esteem, to be admired by some followers: Thus the * Pharisees, they did all to be seen of men; this the Apostle calls Puffing up in their filthy mindes: This the Apostle expresseth, when he saith, Knowledge puff∣eth up, but charity edifieth, 1 Cor. 8. 7. Its a very hard thing if God hath given a Page 218 man golden Talents, not to fall down and worship them: If therefore these Opinions and Disputes are fit fewel, to beget pride and vain glory, and to make men look after victory over others, more then the truth; how much better had it been for thee to be exercising thy self in godliness, and to walk humbly with God! The pride of parts and Opinions, is far greater then that of Cloathes or Beauty, or any other earthly thing, because we judge those excellencies of the minde, above any temporal excellency; therefore consider with thy self, what is the issue of all thy inquisitions and debates into Religious truths, is it to make thee more self-conceited, more boasting, and confident in thy self? The igno∣rance of a simple man, will not be so great a damnation, as the pride of a know∣ing man. Labor then for that which will keep thee low, humble and self-de∣based, and this Grace onely in the heart will accomplish: Worms do not sooner breed in ripe and sweet fruit, then Pride and Self-confidence doth in knowledge and intellectual abilities.
Secondly, Another corrupt end of Parts and Disputes in Religion, is to be self-willed,*and stiff-necked, not willing to yield to any; like the Motto upon the Ro∣man god Terminus, Cedo nulli; and this is that which makes a man an Heretique, when a man after several admonitions, doth obstinately and willfully adhere to that opinion which he hath chosen, and will not, as Religion which is from above, would incline, Be pure, peaceable, and easily to be entreated, James 3. 17. The Pharisees they were frequent in Disputes with Christ, and despised the peo∣ple, as those that knew not the Law, when they had nothing to say, and their mouthes were stopped, yet they would adhere to their former way. Its true indeed, constancy and stedfastness in the truths of God is necessary: Herein (saith Luther) we ought to be more Pertinacious then Stoicks; and it was a Proverbial speech in Galen, when men would express a difficulty, You may sooner change a Christian from Christ, they were such holdfast men: But this doth no ways excuse erronious pertinacy, or self-willed obstinacy in false ways, or in doubtful disputations: Its like removing a mountain out of his place, when we would perswade a man against that Tenet or Opinion he is ingaged in.
Thirdly. Those Disputations and Opinions may be carried on, for carnal and temporal advantages, for covetousness and filthy lucre; as we may see it was in the Pharisees: * And the Apostle discovers the ends of the false Apostles, that they thought gain was godliness, 1 Tim. 5. 6. and the love of money made many suffer shipwrack in their faith: How then can that be best, which may be prostituted to the worst and most ignoble respects? It was Pauls comfortable Protestation, That he had not used a cloak of Covetousness, 1 Thess. 2. 5. The reason why the false Apostles vented their vain Opinions was, that they might not suffer persecution for the Gospel of Christ. And thus Austin defined an Heretique, one that took up any false way, Alicujus temporalis commodi gratiâ, for any temporal advantage and profit. How then can the quintessence and safety of Religion be laid in that, which may be subservient to such sinful lusts of the soul.
Fourthly, Its better to get Grace, then to be exercised in these Disputes, because many times head-Disputations are used for to make Parties and Schisms in the Church;* To draw many Disciples after them, and so to stand a divided body from others. The Apostle, how careful was he to prevent schisms and divisions? therefore he daily pressed love, and to think the same thing, and to speak the same thing, com∣manding all things to be done in charity, and nothing through contention and vain glory. It would be a sad story, to tell you what rents the Leaders of any false Opinions have made, which could not be cured in some hundreds of years afterwards; and which is the greater wonder, while the Apostles were alive, who were infallible Judges, and could have determined any doubt of Religion, yet in their days weeds did come up in Christs Garden, and the envious one did sow tares amongst the good wheat.
Fifthly, Therefore it is better to exercise our selves in Grace then in Parts, because*Page 319a man may take a great deal of delight in his Opinions and Notions, and be as in∣ordinately in love with them, as the Adulterer is with his unlawful object. The Scripture many times useth this expression, To go a whoring after the imaginati∣ons of their own hearts: When the false Phophets and seduced people committed any Idolatry, they took a great deal of pleasure and content in their imagina∣tions and carnal reasonings, so that there may be contemplative fornication, as well as real. Men may fall into inordinate love with the conceits of their own brain, as unclean men with a beautiful face; or as Pigmalion, grow inamoured with his own face; so that a man may think he preacheth for God, liveth and dyeth for God, when all the while, its but for the apprehension of his own minde, which is like a Dalilah to him: A fearful thing its thus to be deluded, but its a judgement foretold that shall befall those, who receive not the truth in the love of it, That they shall be delivered up to believe a lye, 2 Thess. 2. 11. *
Fourthly, A fourth general ground, Why its better to minde Godliness then Disputes, is because at the day of Judgement, God will proceed according to our works we have done; not so much the knowledge and parts we have had: It will not be, what hast thou known? chiefly, but how hast thou lived? Thus the Scripture saith, We must be all manifested at the tribunal, to give an account for what hath been done in the flesh, 2 Cor. 5. 11. Oh then, how shouldest thou spend thy time most about that, where in the great question wil be at the day of Judgement: God will then make inquiry how fruitful thy life hath been, of Love, Humili∣ty, Temperance, Sobriety, and other good fruits of the Spirit. Would it not be a vain thing in a servant, who expects his Masters coming daily, that will call him to give an account of his Stewardship, and he should all the while imploy himself in bables, and unnecessary imployments, not at all tending to that work which his Master doth most expect, what stripes may he justly look for? Seeing then the end of thy calling is holiness, and thou art created to a godly life: Oh look to have this Oyl, besides the Lamp of knowledge, lest thou art surprized by horrible confusion, when the Bridegroom comes.
Fifthly, In Knowledge and Parts there is not a true satisfying, and filling of the*heart with spiritual content; but Grace onely brings Christ into the heart, and makes God our portion and inheritance, in having of whom there is onely hap∣piness. He that drinks of me, saith Christ, shall never thirst more. John 4. 14. Eat∣ing and drinking of Christ, is more then to dispute about him, to make controver∣sies in Religion about him: Its by saving Grace to be incorporated into him, and to receive Vivifical influence from him. Solomon doth not onely discover vanity in riches, and temporal advantages, that they give no true content to the soul, but also in knowledge and learning, that hath a greater vexation with it; there∣fore he concludes, Of making Books there is no end: The sum or perfection of all is, Fear God, and keep his Commandments, Eccles. 12. 13. Of Controversies and Disputes there is no end, there comes jars and contentions endless about them, but the sum of all is, to get the fear of God in our hearts, and to keep our selves unspotted from the sins of the world: This hath made even some Papists who have imployed their whole time in Controversal Divinity, to cry out of it as an heavy burthen, thinking they have lost the sweetness of Religion thereby: As Suarez, who wrote so many Tomes of Disputes; yet said, He prized that time which was set apart for the searching and examination of his Conscience, in re∣lation towards God, above all the other time he spent. It was a witty allusion, of Isidorus Pelusiota, As the Israelites, who did gather Manna, were to go out of the Camp where war was, for the Manna did not fall within the Camp; so those that would gather the Manna and Sweetness of Religion, must go out of the Camp, where spiritual war is, by Religious Disputes. As in eating of the Pas∣chal Lambs, they took the flesh, and feasted on that, but threw away the bones; so thou art to take that in Religion, which will feed and nourish thy soul, but cast away hard, unprofitable Controversies.
Page 320 But you will say, Is it unlawful to inquire and Dispute in matters of Religi∣on? Is not this to plead with the Papists for ignorance, and to make that the * Mother of Devotion? Doth not the Apostle bid us Try all things? Are we not to search the Scriptures? Are we not forbid to believe every spirit, but to try it? 1 John 4. 1. Must we not grow in Knowledge as well as Grate? If the Hea∣then make no search, how can he turn Christian? If the Papist do not enquire, how can he become Protestant? Why are Reformations so much magnified, if so be we must lie down in an old ignorance, or take all things upon trust? Is not this to make blinde men lead blinde, and so both to fall into the ditch?
I shall therefore handle this case onely, and so make application: And first, It * cannot be denied, but that its a duty not onely upon Ministers and learned men, but all Christians, men and women, to read and search the Scriptures, and not to take any Doctrine upon the Authority of men, & because the State is of that Re∣ligion, or because our Ancestors & Forefathers did so, and believed so, Qui descrit 〈…〉mpropter authoritatum humanum, inciditin insipientiam bestialem. said Durand: this must be acknowledged, & the ignorance, lesiness and sottishness of most people is to be sharply reproved, who see with other mens eyes, believe with mens faith, and do not rest assured in matters of Religion, because God saith so, the word delivers so, but because men say so. Are not those Bereans said to be more no∣table then others, Acts 17. 11. because they examined the Apostles Doctrine, and looked whether it was consonant to the Scripture or not, and yet this is the ge∣neral ignorance and stupidity of the whole body of Christianity; If they should be required to give an account of their faith, or their Worship of God, they could give no better answer, then that ignorant woman did to Christ, Our fathers worshipped here, and art thou better then they〈◊〉 John 4. Our fathers believed thus, and are we wiser and holier then they: This is not faith, for-faith is a gift of God, wrought by his spirit in our bearts, whereby we believe matters of Religion, for a Divine Motive and Authority, even because God hath revealed it in his word; But wo be to us, because of that supine and damnable ignorance which is in most men: This therefore must be granted, that its our duty to grow more in knowledge, and not to rest as babes in the principles of Religion, as the Apostle presseth, but to grow and be strong men, and to have our sences exercised to discern between good and evil, Heb. 6. but here is the difficulty, and the great wisdom required, how to use our parts in sinding out truth, so as not to prejudice Grace in our hearts; for the Apostle, when he saith in the Text, Its good or better to have the heart establised with Grace, then with Doctrines about meats; he doth not absolutely forbid the Disputes about them, for we know this contro∣versie was much disputed about, and even in the Councel at Jerusalem, after there was much dispute, there was a determination of it for all Churches: There∣fore take these Rules:
First, Labor to know and improve thy parts, but still in reference to Grace; Let all knowledge tend to practice; count all that knowledge and Dispute barren and * unprofitable, which doth not leave thee in a better frame of heart, more godly, more humble, more zealous: When we know truths, as they are in Jesus Christ, then they make us to put off the old man, and so be renewed more and more in our spirits, Ephes. 41. Do not then start questions, as children many times strick 〈◊〉, to see how the sparks fly out, but they make no fire to warm them with: Thou startest questions, but they do not kindle a fire in thy bosome.
2. Begin in a right maner: First possess thy self well, and be rightly instructed in the first principles and fundamental points of Religion. The Apostle to the *Hebrens, though he would not have them stay in the first principles, yet he sup∣poseth they had not fully learned them: This hath made many miscarry in their disputes about truth, they took upon them to teach others, before they were well taught themselves: They never were well catechised and instructed in the fun∣damental points of Religion, and so they build an honfe without a foundation. Page 321 And therefore instruction in the rudiments and first principles of Religion, is ve∣ry necessary for all; do not then affect high and sublime things, before thou hast attained to the main and necessary ones; and its Gods goodness that those points which are absolutely necessary to salvation, be plainly and clearly revealed in the word of God.
3. When thou art gone beyond principles, and endeavorest to improve thy talents,*then study not curious, sublime and impertinent questions, but such as tend to edifi∣cation, of thy self and others. There came a man and propounded this question to Christ, Whether many should be saved; This was a curious question, for what was * that to him? let him look to his own salvation; therefore our Saviour did not directly answer him, nor directly repel him, but said, Strive to enter in at the straight gate, for many shall seek, and not be able to enter. The Souldiers shewed their goodness, when they came to John Baptist, and instead of impeitment questions, asked this, What they should do in their particular calling to be saved; so that instead of many general or sublime questions, be thou inquiring, what thou art to do as a husband, or a wife, or a servant in thy relation to glorifie God.
4. While thou tryest all things, labor to be humble, and meek, and practise so far as*thou hast attained unto. The humble and meek he will teach his way: And he that doth my fathers will, shall know whether the doctrine be of God or not, John. 7. 17. If therefore thou dost not love that truth, which already thou art convinced of, but keepest it as a prisoner, within thy breast, fear least God give thee up to blindeness of minde, and hardness of heart.
5. Do not lean to thy own understanding, but honor and esteem those helps and*guides God hath appointed in his Church: It was Hieroms speech, Nunquam me ipsum habui magistrum, I never taught my own self: And the Rabbins say, He that is a scholar to himself, hath a fool for his master. The Apostle giveth many ex∣hortations to this purpose; and therefore bids them obey those Guides and Pastors God hath appointed in his Church, which he therefore dignifieth with the title of Lights; Although they are not infallible, yet God hath appointed this method for our teaching and instruction, and therefore at the very same time, when he giveth a command To try all things, he saith, Despise not prophesying.
Lastly, Consider thy own strength, If thou art weak in faith, and subject to * mistakes, then do thou of all men take heed of Disputes: Its the Apostles advice, Rom. 14. 1. Him that is weak in faith, do not receive to doubtful disputations. These things deserve a larger handling, but I press to the Use; And
First, Its of caution and admiration; do not thou from hence, because Grace is better then parts, sit down in thy ignorance, and never make inquiry and search into matters of Religion: This is an universal disease; How few are asking about the principles of Religion? seeking for more knowledge, but as bi•de men, swallow flies; so they believe any Doctrine propounded to them: This argues, many Christians have nothing but an Humane faith, for a Divine faith hath knowledge for one main act of it. Oh the ignorance that covers the face of the Christian world, as the waters do the sea! whereas the promise is, that in times of the Gospel knowledge should abound.
Use. 2. If Grace be better then Knowledge, then let this exhort you, not for to rest in your parts, in being a Protestant, and you are able in some measure to de∣fend the truth of it against the Papists, but see above all things, how grace and godliness is in thy life: What if thou canst tell what Sanctification and Regene∣ration is, if thou thy self art not Regenerated? What if thou canst read many Chapters in the Bible, but thou dost not live according to the Commands there∣in? and certainly, if godliness be thus better then knowledge, how much rather is it better then wealth, or outward honor and greatness? O then, seeing Grace is the onely necessary thing, why is it looked upon as the onely superfluous thing? Its according to thy godliness that thou wilt finde death and the day of judgement comfortable to thee. Now thou hast thy hearts desire, takest Page 322 content in worldly comforts, but this will not be always; thou wilt have other thoughts when arraigned at Gods Tribunal.