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the people of God from that regular and standing ministry which God has ordained, to follow teachers set up by their own authority, that is, by no authority at all. Such irregular practices come not of the Holy Spirit. “God is not the author of “confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints b." St. Peter's rule is; “ Submit yourselves to every ordinance of “ man” (that is, lawful ordinance) “ for the Lord's sake." Indeed the Apostles had special commission from God to oppose human ordinances, and to disturb the religions then prevailing, which were false religions : but they had the power of working miracles, which were their credentials to authorize them in it, and their heavenly warrants for what they did : otherwise their methods of proceeding would have been both unwarranted and vain.
When our pious Reformers, about 200 years ago, went about the restoring religion to its ancient purity, they did it in a regular and orderly way, under the direction and countenance of the ruling powers, and with a due regard to such a regular ministry as Christ had appointed in his Church. Those excellent men were indeed full of the Spirit, which appeared in their wise counsels and exemplary conduct, and was visible, in a manner, to all good men ; unless we may except themselves, whose great humility and modesty would scarce permit them to see those shining graces of their own, which could not be hid from the observing world. Under such a regular and authorized ministry, so justly settled, our Church (God be thanked) had subsisted and flourished, and does to this day: and they who any way presume to disturb that comely order, or to throw any contempt upon it, only to draw disciples to themseloes, cannot be led by the Spirit in such attempts ; except it be a spirit of delusion, altogether opposite to the Holy Spirit of God.
What, though they pretend to be ministers of righteousness, and affect to outvie others in some strictnesses of their own, (loose all the while in the main things, which are of the last importance to peace, order, and unity,) is there any thing strange in such conduct? There were Christian teachers in the first age, who vied even with St. Paul, and affected to set up a stricter and purer religion than he could pretend to, in order to bring him under contempt. But what said he of them, writing by the Spirit of
1 Cor. xiv. 33
c 1 Pet. ii. 13.
God ? He said thus : “ Such are false apostles, deceitful workers,
transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no “ marvel; for Satan himself is (sometimes) transformed into an “ angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his (Satan's] “ ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteous“ ness; whose end shall be according to their works d." What avail magnificent words and smooth speeches? Perhaps some false pretenders may labour earnestly to convert men from gluttony and drunkenness, from cursing and swearing, from fornication and adultery, or the like. Well : what is there of this kind which is not done by the regular ministry, and done also in a more regular and much more edifying way? But if, while such pretenders endeavour to draw men off from some vices, they lead them into others as bad, or worse, namely into faction and schism, into sidings and parties, into a contempt of rule, order, and authority, and into a secession from their proper pastors, their much more knowing and more faithful guides, (besides turning the minds of the people off unto fables and reveries, instead of wholesome truths, and encouraging them in the wantonness of itching ears ;) I say, if such pretenders behave in this way, it will be manifest to all men who have their senses exercised, that they have not the Spirit of God to direct them in what they do.
3. Another sure mark of a false spirit is the laying down deceitful rules or tokens whereby to judge whether or when a man has the Spirit of God. There have been many, both in former and later times, who have laid great stress upon I know not what sensible emotions, or violent impulses, coming upon them at times, which they holdly and rashly impute to the Holy Spirit ; presuming also to date their conversion, or new birth, (as they call it,) from such fanciful impressions. There is not one syllable in sacred Writ to countenance the notion of such impulses : it is all mere fiction, invention, presumption, and exceeding dangerous in its issue or tendency. For by that blind rule, a man may very easily mistake the suggestions of Satan for Divine impulses : therefore, if they do indeed feel any emotions extraordinary, the first and most important inquiry is, whether those emotions are not really Satan's illusions, rather than Divine impressions; or whether they are not rather marks of possession than of inspiration ? Confidence is no argument in a dark affair :
but it is the grand deceiver's artifice to hoodwink forward men in a blind presumption, and to blow them up into an assurance beyond their evidence.
There is but one certain rule whereby to know when we are led by the Spirit; and that is the rule of God's commandments. When we so think, and so do, as the Spirit of God has directed in God's holy word, then, and then only, are we sure that we are led by the Spirit, or born of the Spirit. St. John has said all in a very few words; “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit “ sin e;" that is, doth not allow himself in any known sinful practices. There is the mark, and the only true mark of regeneration, and of the spiritual life. Let every man examine himself by this rule : and when they can, upon sure grounds, speak peace to their own consciences, then let them attribute the glory of it to God's Holy Spirit, for that is right: but let them not blaze it out to the world, however certain they are of it ; for that will be seeking honour of men, and endeavouring to share with the Holy Spirit in that glory which belongs to him only; and it will be forfeiting the favour of that very Spirit whereof they so proudly boast. The Spirit has not given us leave to boast of his favours for our own glory or fame ; much less to do it for the sake of preeminence, or to make others look less in comparison. Such affectation of preeminence cometh not from above, but is a sad token, yea, and a fatal symptom, of an earthly and a sensual spirit.
I am aware, that the false pretenders to the Spirit have often laid hold on that text of St. John, warping it unnaturally, so as to draw it to favour their own fond delusions. They first take for granted that they are born of God, (which is their fond presumption,) and then they conclude that they are without sin. This is vilely perverting and abusing the text: for they ought first to know that their ways are right, and then to draw their conclusion; and not vainly to presume first that they have the Spirit, and then from thence to conclude that their ways are right. But such has often been the self-delusive method of vain pretenders : and they have sometimes carried it so far as to argue, that since they are saints, and born of God, (that is, in their own fond imagination,) they cannot be guilty of sin; but let them do what they please, the Spirit is to warrant and sanctify all; for God sees no sin in his saints. This is turning the tables much in the same way as the Romanists have often done with respect to their pretended infallibility. Give them a thousand plain proofs that they have erred and do err; and they will answer all by telling you, that they cannot err. In like manner, tell some false pretenders to the Spirit that they are guilty of such and such manifest iniquities, and prove it upon them by plain evidence of fact, they will persist in it that they cannot sin, because (which is their vanity) they are, in their own conceit, born of God, and led by the Spirit. How dangerous a principle this is, how productive of all ungodliness, and of the most shocking im. pieties, was too sadly seen in the last century, and stands upon record in the histories of those distracted times. But enough hath been said of the rules or marks whereby to try and detect every false pretender to the Spirit.
e 1 John iii. 9. v. 18.
III. And now, for an application of the whole, give me leave briefly to suggest, how much it concerns us to be upon our guard in such cases.
Religion, like all other weighty concernments, is best carried on in the calm, regular, and sedate way; and therefore great care should be taken to keep up the old and well tried methods, rather than to change them for new devices, which will never
If sinners will not listen to the Spirit of God speaking by the scriptures, and by a regular ministry, they will not listen to the same Spirit supposed (but vainly supposed) to speak in the undigested, incoherent, extemporary effusions of raw teachers. It is easy for warm zealots of distempered minds to throw reflections upon the wiser and more considerate guides, who come not up to their degrees of unnatural heat and ferment: but a small knowledge of mankind will suffice to shew, that they who will not be converted by the cool, calm, rational methods, will never be wrought upon, as to any good and lasting effect, by eagerness and passion. If sinners, wedded to their darling vices, will not be regularly reasoned into a change of life, we must not become as mad in one way as they are in another, in hopes to recover them to their senses : for that, instead of reclaiming, would but harden them so much the more. The world indeed, generally, is bad enough, always was, and always will be: but still we must not take upon us to use any affected and unjustifiable methods in order to mend it; which in reality would not mend it, but make it worse. We must bring men to God in God's own way, if we hope to compass it at all. The making use of wrong means for the sake of a good end, is nothing else but doing evil that good may conne; which is a dangerous and detestable practicef. I say then, that when the ministers of Christ have done all that is prudent and proper, and the effect does not answer, they must not run wild lengths in order to gain their point: for God will say to such persons, if you could not prevail by methods of my appointment, how could you hope to do it by weak devices of your own ? You have run wide and far to make proselytes: but who sent you? or who required it at your hands? There is as much mischief in over-doing as in underdoing : both are equally transgressions of the Divine laws, and deviations from the rule of right. Are they eager and impatient to bring sinners to a sober life? It is well they are, and we commend them for it. But there is one thing of still greater importance to them, which ought to be attended to in the first place, which is, to rest content with God's appointed methods of reforming the world, and to proceed no further than he has given leave ; to make use of sound judgment and discretion in an affair of that high concernment; and to submit to stop where God requires it, as well as to run on where he has sent: otherwise religion will not be promoted, but greatly obstructed and exposed; and the world will not be made wiser or better, but ten times wilder than before.
These things I have here laid before you in as plain words, and in as strong a light, as I could.
May that Divine Spirit, whereof I have been speaking, dwell richly in us, in all wisdom, and in all virtues and graces ; particularly in soundness of mind, and in humility of heart, and in purity of life and manners. Such are the fruits, such the marks of the Spirit's presence with us, and of his love towards us : which, that we may evermore plentifully enjoy, here and hereafter, God of his mercy grant, through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.