Imatges de pÓgina

likewise, for they know they have no strength nor goodness of their own. Therefore, avoiding unnecessary reflections on others, they endeavour to maintain a watchful jealousy over themselves, and to fix their hearts and hopes upon Christ Jesus their Lord; who, they are persuaded, is able to keep them from falling, to save them to the uttermost, and at length to present them faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.


Of the Heresies propagated by false Teachers in the
Apostles' Days.

THE parables in the thirteenth chapter of St. Matthew are prophetical of the reception and event of the Gospel in succeeding ages. In this view our Lord himself has explained them. Wherever it is preached, the hearers may be classed according to the distribution in the parable of the sower. Some hear without understanding or reflection. In some it excites a hasty emotion in the natural affections, and produces an observable and sudden change in their conduct, resembling the effects of a real conversion to God; but the truth not being rooted in the heart, nor the soul united to Christ by a living faith, these hopeful appearances are, sooner or later, blasted and come to nothing. Others are really convinced in their judgement of the truth and importance of what they hear; but their hearts cleave to the dust, and the love of this world, the care of what they have, the desire of what they have not, the calls of business, or the solicitations of pleasure,

choke the word which they seem to receive, so that it brings forth no fruit to perfection. A part, however (usually the smallest part), who are compared to the good ground, are disposed and enabled, by divine grace, to receive it thankfully, as life from the dead, and, though they meet with many difficulties, and like the corn upon the ground, pass through a succession of trying and changing seasons, yet, having the love, promise, and power of God engaged on their behalf, in defiance of frosts, and blasts, and storms, they are brought to maturity, and when fully ripe, are safely gathered into his garner.* This is an epitome of the ecclesiastical history of every nation, and of every parish, to which this word of salvation is sent.

But the parable of the tares † teaches us farther to expect, that besides the general influence which Satan, as the god of this world, will exert to blind the eyes of mankind, lest the light of the glorious Gospel should shine upon them, he will take occasion, from the knowledge of the truth, to insinuate a variety of errors. His first attempts in this way are often so specious and unsuspected, that they are compared to a man's sowing seed by stealth and in the night, but, as the corn grew, a large crop of tares springing up with it, demonstrated that an enemy had been there. This, in fact, has been universally the case, in every country and age where the Gospel has been received; and we may remark, that the sowing the good seed was the occasion of the tares being cast into the same ground. When a people are involved in gross darkness and ignorance, sleeping in a false peace, and buried in the pleasures and

*Matt. iii. 12. + Matt. xiii. 24-30. 1-2 Cor. iv. 4.

pursuits of the world, they have neither leisure nor inclination to invent or attend to novelties in religion. Each one is satisfied with that form (if even the form of godliness is retained) which he has received from his parents, and neither pretends nor desires to be wiser than those who went before him. But when the truth has shone forth, and been received, and seems to bid fair for further success, Satan employs all his power and subtilty either to suppress or counterfeit it, or both. Much has been done in the former way: he has prevailed so far as to enkindle the fiercest animosities against the nearest relatives, and persuaded men that they might do acceptable service to God by punishing his faithful servants with torture, fire, and sword. And no less industrious and successful has he been in practising upon the passions and prejudices of mankind to admit and propagate, instead of the Gospel of Christ, and under that name, an endless diversity of opinions, utterly incompatible with it. Of these, some are ingenious and artful, adapted to gratify the pride of those who are wise in their own conceits; others more gross and extravagant, suited to inflame the imaginations, or to gratify the appetites of such persons as have not a turn for speculation and refinement.


As these appearances have always accompanied the Gospel, so they have always been a stumblingblock and offence to the world, and have furnished those who hated the light with a pretext for rejecting it; and the doctrines of truth have been charged as the source and cause of those errors, which have only sprung from their abuse and perversion. When popery, for a series of ages, detained mankind in darkness and bondage, and deprived them of the knowledge of the holy Scrip* John, xvi. 2.

tures, the tide of error ran uniformly in one great channel; when dead works were substituted in the place of living faith, and the worship and trust, which is due only to Jesus the great Mediator, was blasphemously directed to subordinate intercessors, to angels, and to saints, whether real or pretended; when forgiveness of sin was expected, not by the blood of Christ, but by penances, pilgrimages, masses, and human absolutions, by the repetition of many prayers, or the payment of sums of money: while things continued thus, the world was generally in that state of stupidity and blind security which is miscalled religious peace and uniformity; and the controversies of the times were chiefly confined to those points which immediately affected the power, wealth, or pre-eminence of the several religious orders by whom the people were implicitly led. Some differences of opinion were indeed known; but the charge of heresy and dangerous innovations was seldom so much as pretended against any, but the few who refused to wear the mark of the beast upon their right hands and foreheads, and who, by the mercy of God, retained and professed the main truths of Christianity in some degree of power and purity. But when it pleased God to revive the knowledge of the Gospel, by the ministry of Luther and his associates, and many were turned from darkness to light, the enemy of mankind presently changed his methods, and, by his influence, the sowing of the good seed was followed by tares in abundance. In the course of a few years the glory of the Reformation was darkened, and its progress obstructed, by the enthusiasm and infatuation of men, who, under a pretence of improving upon Luther's plan, propagated the wildest, most extrava

gant and blasphemous opinions, and perpetrated, under the mask of religion, such acts of cruelty, villany, and licentiousness, as have been seldom heard of in the world. The Papists beheld these excesses with pleasure. Many of them could not but know that Luther and the heads of the Reformation did all that could be expected from them, to show the folly and iniquity of such proceedings; but, against the light of truth and fact, they laboured to persuade the world that these were the necessary consequences of Luther's doctrine, and that no better issue could be justly hoped for when men presumed to depart from the authorized standards of popes and councils, and to read and examine the Scripture for themselves.

This religious madness was, however, of no long duration. The people who held tenets inconsistent with the peace of society, were deservedly treated as rebels and incendiaries by the governing powers; the ringleaders were punished, and the multitudes dispersed; their most obnoxious errors were gradually abandoned, and are now in a manner forgot. After the peace of Passau, the Reformation acquired an establishment in Germany and other places; and since that time, error has assumed a milder form, and has been supported by softer methods, and more respectable names.

In our own country the same spirit of enthusiasm and disorder has appeared at different times (though it has been restrained, by the providence of God, from proceeding to the same extremities), and has been most notorious, when, or soon after, the power of Gospel truth has been most eminently revived; for, as I have already observed, when religion is upon the decline, and only so much of a profession retained as is consistent with the love of the present world, and a conformity



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