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fected by prejudices and partial opinions; but being docile and tractable, willing and apt to learn, &c.
4. But farther, as a more immediate ingredient of this duty, we should be effectually enlightened by their doctrine, convinced by their arguments, and moved by their admonitions, &c.
5. We should, in fine, obey their doctrine by conforming our practice thereto : this our Lord prescribed in regard even to the Jewish doctors and guides, (Matt. xxiii. 2. 3.); and the same we may well suppose he requires in respect to his own ministers, the teachers of a better law.
6. There is still one point which perhaps will be more hardly admitted; viz. that as in all cases it is our duty to defer much to the opinion of our guides, so in some cases it behoves us to rely barely on their judgment and advice; those especially who excel amongst them in dignity, worth, and wisdom. Reasons for this, drawn from the certainty that all men are not capable to judge, or able to guide themselves, in matters of a spiritual nature: this point enlarged on to the end.
OF OBEDIENCE TO OUR SPIRITUAL GUIDES AND GOVERNORS.
HEBREWS, CHAP. XIII.-VERSE 17.
Obey them that have the rule over you.
SUCH is the nature of this duty, and such are the reasons enforcing the practice thereof: I shall only farther remove two impediments of that practice, and so leave this point.
1. One hindrance of obedience is this, that spiritual power 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 : they must not κατεξουσιάζειν, οι κατακυριεύειν, (be imperious, or domineer,) they are not allowed to exercise violence, or to inflict bodily correction; but must rule in meek and gentle ways, directly influential on the mind and conscience, (ways of rational persuasion, exhortation, admonition, reproof,) ' in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; convincing, rebuking, exhorting with all longsuffering and doctrine;' their word is their only weapon, their force of argument all the constraint they apply: hence men commonly do not stand in awe of them, nor are so sensible of their obligation to obey them; they cannot understand why they should be frighted by words, or controlled by an unarmed authority.
But this in truth (things being duly considered) is so far from diminishing our obligation, or arguing the authority of our governors to be weak and precarious, that it rendereth our obligation much greater, and their authority more dreadful;
for the sweeter and gentler their way of governing is, the more disingenuous and unworthy a thing it is to disobey it; not to be persuaded by reason, not to be allured by kindness, not to admit friendly advice, not to comply with the calmest methods of furthering our own good, is a brutish thing; he that only can be scared and scourged to duty, scarce deserveth the name of a man: it therefore doth the more oblige us, that in this way we are moved to action by love rather than fear. Yet if we would fear wisely and justly, (not like children, being frighted with formidable shapes and appearances, but like men, apprehending the real consequences of things,) we should the more fear these spiritual powers, because they are insensible: for that God hath commanded us to obey them, without assigning visible forces to constrain or chastise, is a manifest argument that he hath reserved the vindication of their authority to his own hand, which therefore will be infallibly certain, and terribly severe; so the nature of the case requireth, and so God hath declared it shall be the sentence that is on earth pronounced by his ministers on contumacious offenders, he hath declared himself ready to ratify in heaven, and therefore most assuredly will execute it. As under the old law God appointed to the transgression of some laws, on which he laid special stress, the punishment of being cut off from his people;' the execution of which punishment he reserved to himself, to be accomplished in his own way and time; so doth he now in like manner take on him to maintain the cause of his ministers, and to execute the judgments decreed by them; and if so, we may consider that it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.' Ecclesiastical authority therefore is not a shadow void of substance or force, but hath the greatest power in the world to support and assert it; it hath arms to maintain it most effectual and forcible, (those of which St. Paul saith; The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God,') it inflicteth chastisements far more dreadful than any secular power can inflict; for these only touch the body, those pierce the soul; these concern only our temporal state, those reach eternity itself; these at most yield a transitory smart, or kill the body, those produce endless torment, and (utterly as to all comfort in being) destroy the soul.
The punishment for extreme contumacy is called 'delivery to Satan' and is not this far worse than to be put into the hands of any gaoler or hangman? what are any cords of hemp or fetters of iron in comparison to those bands, of which it is said, 'Whatever ye bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven ;' which engage the soul in a guilt never to be loosed, except by sore contrition and serious repentance? what are any scourges to St. Paul's rod, lashing the heart and conscience with stinging remorse? what any axes or falchions to that sword of the spirit,' which cutteth off a member from the body of Christ? what are any fagots and torches to that unquenchable fire and brimstone of the infernal lake? what, in fine, doth any condemnation here signify to that horrible curse, which devoteth an incorrigible soul to the bottomless pit?
It is therefore indeed a great advantage to this power that it is spiritual.
2. Another grand obstruction to the practice of this duty is, pretence to scruple about the lawfulness, or dissatisfaction in the expedience of that which our governors prescribe; that we are able to advance objections against their decrees; that we can espy inconveniences ensuing on their orders; that we imagine the constitution may be reformed, so as to become more pure, more convenient and comely, more serviceable to edification; that we cannot fancy that to be best which they enjoin for removing the obstruction let me only propound some questions.
Were not any government appointed in vain, if such pretences might exempt or excuse from conformity to its orders? can such ever be wanting? Is there any thing devisable, which may not be impugned by some plausible reason, which may not disgust a squeamish humor? Is there any matter so clearly innocent, the lawfulness whereof a weak mind will not question; any thing so firm and solid, in which a small acuteness of wit cannot pick a hole; any thing so indisputably certain, that whoever affecteth to cavil may not easily devise some objections against it?
Is there any thing here that hath no inconveniences attending it? are not in all human things conveniences and inconveniences so mixed and complicated, that it is impossible to
disentangle and sever them? can there be any constitution under heaven so absolutely pure and perfect, that no blemish or defect shall appear therein ? can any providence of man foresee, any care prevent, any industry remedy all inconveniences possible? Is a reformation satisfactory to all fancies anywise practicable; and are they not fitter to live in the Platonic idea of a commonwealth than in any real society, who press for such an one? To be facile and complaisant in other cases, bearing with things which do not please us, is esteemed commendable, a courteous and humane practice: why should it not be much more reasonable to condescend to our superiors, and comport with their practice? is it not very discourteous to deny them the respect which we allow to others, or to refuse that advantage to public transactions which we think fit to grant unto private conversation?
To what purpose did God institute a government, if the resolutions thereof must be suspended till every man is satisfied with them; or if its state must be altered so often as any man can pick in it matter of offence or dislike; or if the proceedings thereof must be shaped according to the numberless varieties of different and repugnant fancies?
Are, I pray, the objections againt obedience so clear and cogent, as are the commands which enjoin, and the reasons which enforce it? are the inconveniences adhering to it apparently so grievous, as are the mischiefs which spring from disobedience? do they in a just balance counterpoise the disparagement of authority, the violation of order, the disturbance of peace, the obstruction of edification, which disobedience produceth?
Do the scruples (or reasons, if we will call them so) which we propound, amount to such a strength and evidence, as to outweigh the judgment of those whom God hath authorised by his commission, whom he doth enable by his grace, to instruct and guide us? May not those, whose office it is to judge of such things, whose business it is to study for skill in order to that purpose, who have most experience in those affairs specially belonging to them, be reasonably deemed most able to judge both for themselves and us what is lawful, and what expedient? have they not eyes to see what we do, and hearts to judge concerning the force of our pretences, as well as we ?