« AnteriorContinuar »
the evil one had prevailed upon man, by a woman also he should come into the world, who would prevail against him, and bruise his head, and deliver man from his power: and which, in a signal manner, by the dispensation of the son of God in the flesh, in the fulness of time, was personally and fully accomplished by him, and in him, as man's saviour and redeemer.
But his power was not limited, in the manifestation of it, to that time; for both before and since his blessed manifestation in the flesh, he has been the light and life, the rock and strength of all that ever feared God: present with them in their temptations, followed them in their travels and afflictions, and supported and carried them through and over the difficulties that have attended them in their earthly pilgrimage. By this, Abel's heart excelled Cain's, and Seth obtained the pre-eminence, and Enoch walked with God. It was this that strove with the old world, and which they rebelled against, and which sanctified and instructed Noah to salvation.
But the outward dispensation that followed the benighted state of man, after his fall, especially among the patriarchs, was generally that of angels; as the scriptures of the Old Testament do in many places express, as, to Abraham, Jacob, &c. The next was that of the law by Moses, which was also delivered by angels, as the apostle tells us. This dispensation was much outward, and suited to a low and servile state; called therefore, by the apostle Paul, that of a schoolmaster, to point out and prepare that people to look and long for the Messiah, who would deliver them from the servitude of a ceremonious and imperfect dispensation, by knowing the realities of those mysterious representations in themselves. In this time the law was written on stone, the temple built with hands, attended with an outward priesthood, and external rites and ceremonies, that were shadows of the good things that were to come, and were only to serve till the seed came, or the more excellent and general manifestation of Christ, to whom was the promise, and to all men only in him, in whom it was yea and amen; even life from death, immortality and eternal life.
This the prophets foresaw, and comforted the believing Jews in the certainty of it; which was the top of the Mosaical dispensation, and which ended in John's ministry, the forerunner of the Messiah, as John's was finished in him, the fulness of all. And then God, that at sundry times, and in divers manners, had spoken to the fathers by his servants the prophets, spoke to men by his son Christ Jesus, " who is heir of all things;' being the gospel day, which is the dispensation of sonship: bringing in thereby a nearer testament, and a better hope, even the beginning of the glory of the latter days, and of the restitution of all things; yea, the restoration of the kingdom unto Israel.
Now the spirit, that was more sparingly communicated in former dispensations, began to be poured forth upon all flesh,' according to the prophet Joel, and the light that shined in darkness, or but dimly before, the most gracious God caused to shine out of darkness, and the day star began to arise in the hearts of believers, giving unto them the knowledge of God in the face (or appearance) of his son Christ Jesus.
Now the poor in spirit, the meek, the true mourners, the hungry and thirsty after righteousness, the peace makers, the pure in heart, the merciful, and the persecuted, came more especially in remembrance before the Lord, and were sought out and blessed by Israel's true shepherd. Old Jerusalem with her children grew out of date, and the new Jerusalem into request, the mother of the sons of the gospel day. Wherefore, no more at old Jerusalem, nor at the mountain of Samaria, will God be worshipped above other places; for, behold, he is, by his own son, declared and preached a spirit, and he will be known as such, and worshipped in the spirit and in the truth. He will come nearer than of old time, and he will write his law in the heart, and put his fear and spirit in the inward parts, according to his promise. Then signs, types, and shadows flew away, the day having discovered their insufficiency, in not reaching to the inside of the cup, to the cleansing of the conscience; and all elementary services were expired in and by him that is the substance of all.
And to this great and blessed end of the dispensation of the son of God, did the apostles testify, whom he had chosen and anointed by his spirit, to turn the Jews from their prejudice and superstition, and the Gentiles from their vanity and idolatry, to Christ's light and spirit that shined in them; that they might be quickened from the sins and trespasses in which they were dead, to serve the living God in the newness of the spirit of life, and walk as children of the light, and of the day, even the day of holiness: for such put on Christ, the light of the world, and make no more provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.'. So that the light, spirit, and grace that come by Christ, and appear in man, were that divine principle the apostles ministered from, and turned people's minds unto, and in which they gathered and built up the churches of Christ in their day. For which cause they advised them , not to quench the spirit, but wait for the spirit, and speak by the spirit, and pray by the spirit, and walk in the spirit too, as that which approved them the truly begotten children of God, born not of flesh and blood, nor of the will of man, but of the will of God;' by doing his will, and denying their own; by drinking of Christ's cup, and being baptized with his baptism of self-denial: the way and path that all the heirs of life have ever trod to blessedness. But alas! even in the apostles' days,
(those bright stars of the first magnitude of the gospel light,) some clouds (foretelling an eclipse of this primitive glory) began to appear, and several of them gave early caution of it to the Christians of their time; that even then there was, and yet would be, more and more, a falling away from the power of godliness, and the purity of that spiritual dispensation, by such as thought to make a fair show in the flesh, but with whom the offence of the cross ceased: yet with this comfort. able conclusion, that they saw beyond it a more glorious time than ever, to the true church. Their sight was true, and what they fore. told to the churches, gathered by them in the name and power of Jesus, came so to pass : for Christians degenerated apace into outsides, as days, and meats, and divers other ceremonies. And which was worse, they fell into strife and contention about them, separating one from another, then envying, and, as they had power, persecuting one another, to the shame and scandal of their common christianity, and grievous stumbling and offence of the heathen, among whom the Lord had so long and so marvellously preserved them. And having got at last the worldly power into their hands, by kings and emperors embracing the Christian profession, they changed what they could the kingdom of Christ, which is not of this world, into a worldly kingdom; or at least styled the worldly kingdom that was in their hands the kingdom of Christ, and so they became worldly, and not true Christians. Then human inventions and novelties, both in doctrine and worship, crowded fast into the church, a door being opened thereunto by the grossness and carnality that appeared then among the generality of Christians; who had long since left the guidance of God's meek and heavenly spirit, and given themselves up to superstition, will-worship, and voluntary humility. And as superstition is blind, so it is heady and furious; for all must stoop to its blind and boundless zeal, or perish by it: in the name of the spirit, persecuting the very appearance of the spirit of God in others, and opposing that in others which they resisted in themselves, viz. the light, grace, and spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ; but always under the notion of innovation, heresy, schism, or some such plausible name. Though christianity allows of no name or pretence whatever for perecuting of any man for matters of mere religion ; religion being in its very nature meek, gentle, and forbearing; and consists of faith, hope, and charity, which no persecutor can have, whilst he remains a persecutor; in that a man cannot believe well, or hope well, or have a charitable or tender regard to another, whilst he would violate his mind or persecute his body for matters of faith or worship towards his God.
Thus the false church sprang up, and mounted the chair. But though she lost her nature, she would needs keep her good name of the Lamb's
bride, the true church and mother of the faithful; constraining all to receive her mark, either in their forehead or right hand, that is, publicly or privately. But in deed and in truth she was mystery Babylon, the mother of harlots; mother of those that with all their show and outside of religion, were adulterated and gone from the spirit, nature, and life of Christ, and grown vain, worldly, ambitious, covetous, cruel, &c. which are the fruits of the flesh, and not of the spirit.
Now it was that the true church fled into the wilderness, that is, from superstition and violence to a retired, solitary, and lonely state; hidden and as it were out of sight of men, though not out of the world, which shows that her wonted visibility was not essential to the being of a true church in the judgment of the Holy Ghost; she being as true a church in the wilderness, though not as visible and lustrous, as when she was in her former splendour of profession. In this state many attempts she made to return, but the waters were yet too high, and her way blocked up, and many of her excellent children, in several nations and centuries, fell by the cruelty of superstition, because they would not fall from their faithfulness to the truth.
The last age did set some steps towards it, both as to, dqetrine, worship, and practice. But practice quickly failed, for wiekedness flowed in a little time, as well among the professors of the reformática as those they reformed from; so that by the fruits of conversation they were not to be distinguished. And the children of the reformers, if not the reformers themselves, betook themselves very carly to earthly policy and power, to uphold and carry on their reformation that had been begun with spiritual weapons; which, I have often thought, has been one of the greatest reasons the reformation made no better
progress, as to the life and soul of religion. For whilst the reformers were lowly and spiritually minded, and trusted in God, and looked to him, and lived in his fear, and consulted not with flesh and blood, nor sought deliverance in their own way, there were daily added to the church such as, one might reasonably say, should be saved; for they were not so careful to be safe from persecution, as to be faithful and inoffensive under it. Being more concerned to spread the truth by their faith and patience in tribulation, than to get the worldly power out of their hands that inflicted their sufferings upon them; and it will be well, if the Lord suffer them not to fall by the very same way they took to stand. In doctrine they were in some things short; in other things, to avoid one extreme, they ran into another. And for worship, there was for the gene. rality more of man in it than of God. They owned the spirit, inspiration, and revelation, indeed, and grounded their separation and reformation upon the sense and understanding they received from it, in the reading
the scriptures of truth; and this was their plca, the scripture is
the text, the spirit the interpreter, and that to every one for himself. But yet there was too much of human invention, tradition, and art, that remained both in praying and preaching, and of worldly authority and worldly greatness in their ministers, especially in this kingdom, Sweden, Denmark, and some parts of Germany. God was therefore pleased in England to shift us from vessel to vessel. And the next remove humbled the ministry, so that they were more strict in preaching, devout in praying, and zealous for keeping the Lord's day, and catechising of children and servants, and repeating at home in their families what they had heard in public.
But even as these grew into power, they were not only for whipping some out, but others into the temple. And they appeared rigid in their spirits, rather than severe in their lives, and more for a party, than for piety; which brought forth another people, that were yet more retired and select. They would not communicate at large, or in com with others; but formed churches among themselves of such as could give some account of their conversion, at least of very promising experiences of the work of God's grace upon their hearts, and under mutual agreements and covenants of fellowship they kept together. These people were somewhat of a softer temper, and seemed to recommend religion by the charms of its love, mercy, and goodness, rather than by the terrors of its judgments and punishments; by which the former party would have terrified people into religion.
They also allowed greater liberty to prophesy than those before them; for they admitted any member to speak or pray as well as their pastor, whom they always chose, and not the civil magistrate. If such found any thing pressing upon them to either duty, even without the distinction of clergyor laity, persons of any trade had their liberty, be it never so low and mechanical. But, alas ! even these people suffered great loss; for tasting of worldly empire, and the favour of princes, and the gain that ensued, they degenerated but too much. For though they had cried down national churches, and ministry, and maintainance too, some of them, when it was their own turn to be tried, fell under the weight of worldly honour and advantage, got into profitable parsonages too much, and outlived and contradicted their own principles; and, which was yet worse, turned some of them absolute persecutors of other men for God's sake, that but so lately came themselves out of the furnace; which drove many a step farther, and that was, into the water: another baptism, as believing they were not scripturally baptized, and hoping to find that presence and power of God, in submitting to this watery ordinance, which they desired and wanted.
These people made also profession of neglecting, if not renouncing and censuring, not only the necessity, but use of all human learning