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will, self-interest;) from turbulent animosity, froward crossness of humor, rancorous spite, perverse obstinacy; from envy, ambition, avarice, and the like ill sources, the worst fruits of the flesh and corrupt nature: to such dispositions the rejecting God's prophets of old, and the noncompliance with the A postles are ascribed in Scripture; and from the same the like neglect of God's messengers now do proceed; as whoever will observe, may easily discern; do but mind the discourses of factious people, you shall perceive them all to breathe generally nothing but ill-nature,
The fruits also which it produceth are extremely bad; manifold great inconveniences and mischiefs, hugely prejudicing the interest of religion and the welfare of the church.
It is immediately and formally a violation of order and peace; whence all the woful consequences of disorder and faction do adhere thereto.
It breedeth great disgrace to the church and scandal to religion ; for what can appear more ugly than to see among the professors of religion children opposing their fathers, scholars contesting with their masters, inferiors slighting and crossing their superiors ? what can more expose the church and religion to the contempt, to the derision of atheists and infidels, of profane and lewd persons, of wild heretics and schismatics, of all enemies unto truth and piety, than such foul irregularity ?
It corrupteth the minds and manners of men: for when that discipline is relaxed which was ordained to guard truth and promote holiness; when men are grown so licentious and stubborn as to contemn their superiors, to disregard their wholesome laws and sober advice, there can be no curb to restrain them, but down precipitantly they run into all kind of vicious irregularities and excesses; when those mounds are taken away, whither will men ramble? when those banks are broken down, what can we expect but deluges of impious doctrine and wicked practice, to overflow the ignorant and inconsiderate people ?
Doth not indeed this practice evidently tend to the dissolution of the church and destruction of Christianity ? for when the shepherds are (as to conduct and efficacy) taken away,
will not the sheep be scattered,' or 'wander astray, like sheep without a shepherd,' being bewildered in various errors, and exposed as a prey to any wild beasts; to the grievous wolves, to the ravenous lions, to the wily foxes ? here a fanatical enthusiast will snap them, there a profane libertine will worry them, there again a desperate atheist will tear and devour them.
Consult we but obvious experience, and we shall see what spoils and mines of faith, of good conscience, of common honesty and sobriety, this practice hath in a few years caused; how have atheism and infidelity, how have profaneness and dissoluteness of manners, how have all kinds of dishonesty and baseness grown up since men began to disregard the authority of their spiritual guides! what dismal tragedies have we in our age beheld acted on this stage of our own country! what bloody wars and murders, (murders of princes, of nobles, of bishops and priests!) what miserable oppressions, extortions, and rapines! what execrable seditions and rebellions! what barbarous animosities and feuds! what abominable treasons, sacrileges, perjuries, blasphemies! what horrible violations of all justice and honesty! And what, I pray, was the source of these things ? where did they begin? where but at murmuring against, at rejecting, at persecuting the spiritual governors, at casting down and trampling on their authority, and slighting and spurning at their advice? Surely would men have observed the laws, or have hearkened to the counsels of those grave and sober persons whom God had appointed to direct them, they never would have run into the commission of such enormities.
It is not to be omitted, that, in the present state of things, the guilt of disobedience to spiritual governors is increased and aggravated by the supervenient guilt of another disobedience to the laws of our prince and country. Before the secular powers (unto whom God hath committed the dispensation of justice, with the maintenance of peace and order, in reference to worldly affairs) did submit to our Lord, and became nursing parents of the church,' the power of managing ecclesiastical matters did wholly reside in spiritual guides; unto whom Christians, as the peculiar subjects of God, were obliged willingly to yield obedience; and refusing it, were guilty before God of spiritual disorder, faction, or schism : but now, after that political authority (out of pious zeal for God's service, out of a wise care to prevent the influences of disorder in spiritual matters on the temporal peace, out of grateful return for the advantages the commonwealth enjoyeth from religion and the church) hath pleased to back and fortify the laws of spiritual governors by civil sanctions, the knot of our obligation is tied faster, its force is redoubled, we by disobedience incur a double guilt, and offend God two ways, both as supreme governor of the world, and as king of the church; to our schism against the church we add rebellion against our prince, and so become no less bad citizens than bad Christians. Some may perhaps imagine their disobedience 'hence more excusable, taking themselves now only thereby to transgress a political sanction : but (beside that even that were a great offence, the command of our temporal governors being sufficient, out of conscience to God's express will, to oblige us in all things not evidently repugnant to God's law) it is a great mistake to think the civil law doth anywise derogate from the ecclesiastical; that doth not swallow this up, but succoreth and corroborateth it; their concurrence yieldeth an accession of weight and strength to each ; they do not by conspiring to prescribe the same thing either of them cease to be governors, as to right; but in efficacy the authority of both should thence be augmented, seeing the obligation to obedience is multiplied on their subjects; and to disobey them is now two crimes, which otherwise should be but one.
SUMMARY OF SERMON LVIII.
HEBREWS, CHAP. XIII._VERSE 17.
Such is the nature of this duty, and the reasons for its practice : two impediments to that practice remain to be removed.
1. One hindrance of obedience is this, that spiritual authority is not despotical or compulsory, but parental or pastoral; that it hath no external force to abet it, or to avenge disobedience to its laws: the word of spiritual governors is their only weapon, the force of argument all the constraint they apply: hence men commonly do not stand so much in awe of them, &c.
But this in truth, if things be duly considered, is so far from diminishing our obligation and their authority, that it increaseth both; for the sweeter and gentler this way of governing is, the more disingenuous and unworthy a thing it is to disobey; and the circumstance that God has commanded us to obey them, without assigning visible forces to constrain or chastise us, argument that he reserves the vindication of them to his own right hand : this topic dilated on.
2. Another obstruction to this duty is, pretence to scruples about the lawfulness, or dissatisfaction in the expediency of that which our governors prescribe. But would not any government be appointed in vain, if such pretences might exempt us from conformity to its orders ? Can such ever be wanting? Is there any thing here that hath no inconveniences attached to it ? Can there be any constitution so pure, as to have no defect or blemish? To what purpose did God institute a government, if the resolutions thereof must be suspended till every man is satisfied with them, &c. ? Are the objections against obedience
so clear and cogent, as are the commands which enjoin, and the reasons which enforce it ? Are the scruples which we propound, so strong as to outweigh the judgment of those whom God has authorised by his commission, and whom he enables by his grace to instruct and guide us? Is not a design of their office to resolve our doubts, that we may act securely and quietly, being directed by better judgments than our own ? Do we seem to be in earnest when we ground the justification of our nonconformity on dark subtilties and intricate quirks ? Would we not do well to consider what danger they incur, and what a load of guilt they must undergo, on whom shall be charged all the sad disorders consequent on disobedience ?
Did the Apostles, when they settled orders in the church, and imposed what they considered needful for edification, &c. regard such pretences ? or had their self-conceited opponents no such pretences to object? Did not also the primitive bishops, &c. proceed in the same course, not fearing to enact such laws as seemed conducive to the good of the church ? did not all good people readily comply with them ? and had not they as much sense and conscience as ourselves ?
Next point of duty considered, concerning the doctrine of our guides.
1. We should readily and gladly address ourselves to hear them, not out of profane contempt or slothful negligence declining to attend on their instructions: this topic enlarged and commented on out of the holy Scriptures.
2. We should hear them with serious, earnest attention and consideration ; so that we may well understand, weigh, retain in memory, and be duly affected with their discourses: this point enlarged on.
3. We should bring to their instructions good dispositions of mind, such as may render them most effectual and fruitful to us; not hearing them out of vain curiosity, or with minds af