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OF OBEDIENCE TO OUR SPIRITUAL GUIDES
HEBREWS, CHAP. XIII.-VERSE 17.
Obey them that have the rule over you.
The more to engage and incline us to the performing this part of our duty, (the regarding, prizing, confiding in the judgment of our guides,) we may consider the great advantages, both natural and supernatural, which they have to qualify them in order to such purposes.
1. They may reasonably be presumed more intelligent and skilful in divine matters than others; for as they have the same natural capacities and endowments with others, (or rather commonly somewhat better than others, as being designed and selected to this sort of employment,) so their natural abilities are by all possible means improved : it is their trade and faculty, unto which their education is directed; in acquiring ability toward which they spend their time, their care, their pains; in which they are continually versed and exercised, (having,' as the Apostle speaketh, ' by reason of use their senses exercised to discern both good and evil;') for which also hey employ their supplications and devotions to God.
Many special advantages they hence procure, needful or very conducible to a more perfect knowlege of such matters, and to security from errors; such as are conversing with studies, which enlarge a man's mind, and improve his judgment; a skill of
disquisition about things; of sifting and canvassing points coming under debate ; of weighing the force of arguments, and distinguishing the colors of things; the knowlege of languages, in which the divine oracles are expressed; of sciences, of histories, of practices serving to the discovery and illustration of the truth; exercise in meditation, reading, writing, speaking, disputing, and conference, whereby the mind is greatly enlightened, and the reason strengthened ; acquaintance with variety of learned authors, who with great diligence have expounded the holy Scriptures, and with most accuracy discussed points of doctrine ; especially with ancient writers, who, living near the apostolical times and being immediately (or within a few degrees mediately) their disciples, may justly be supposed most helpful toward informing us what was their genuine doctrine, what the true sense of their writings : by such means as in other faculties, so in this of theology, a competent skill may be obtained; there is no other ordinary or probable way; and no extraordinary way can be trusted, now that men appear not to grow learned or wise by special inspiration or miracle ; after that all pretences to such by-ways have been detected of im. posture, and do smell too rank of hypocrisy.
Since then our guides are so advantageously qualified to direct us, it is in matters difficult and doubtful (the which require good measure of skill and judgment to determine about them) most reasonable that we should rely on their authority, preferring it in such cases to our private discretion; taking it for more probable that they should comprehend the truth than we (unassisted by them, and judging merely by our own glimmering light) can do; deeming it good odds on the side of their doctrine against our opinion or conjecture.
They have also another peculiar advantage toward judging sincerely of things, by their greater retirement from the world and disengagement from secular interests; the which ordinarily do deprave the understandings and pervert the judgments of men, disposing them to accommodate their conceits to the maxims of worldly policy, or to the vulgar apprehensions of men, many of which are false and base : by such abstraction of mind from worldly affairs, together with fastening their meditation on the best things (which their calling necessarily doth put them on) more than is usual to other men, they commonly get principles and habits of simplicity and integrity, which qualify men both to discern truth better, and more faithfully to declare it.
Seeing then in every faculty the advice of the skilful is to be regarded, and is usually relied on; and in other affairs of greatest importance we scruple not to proceed so; seeing we commit our life and health (which are most precious to us) to the physician, observing his prescriptions commonly without any reason, sometimes against our own sense; we intrust our estate, which is so dear, with the lawyer, not contesting his advice; we put our goods and safety into the hands of a pilot, sleeping securely whilst he steereth us as he thinketh fit; seeing in many such occasions of common life we advisedly do renounce or wave our own opinions, absolutely yielding to the direction of others, taking their authority for a better argument or ground of action than any which our conceit or a bare consideration of the matter can suggest to us; admitting this maxim for good, that it is a more advisable and safe course in matters of consequence to follow the judgment of wiser men than to adhere to our own apprehensions : seeing it is not wisdom (as every man thinks) in a doubtful ease to act on disadvantage, or to venture on odds against himself, and it is plainly doing thus to act on our own opinion against the judgment of those who are more improved in the way, or better studied in the point than ourselves; seeing in other cases these are the common approved apprehensions and practices; and seeing in this case there is plainly the same reason, for that there are difficulties and intricacies in this no less than in other faculties, which need good skill to resolve them; for that in these matters we may easily slip, and by error may incur huge danger and damage: why then should we not here take the same course, following (when no other clearer light, or prevalent reason occurreth) the conduct and advice of our more skilful guides ? especially considering that, beside ordinary, natural, and acquired advantages, they have other supernatural both obligations to the well discharging this duty, and assistances toward it: For,
2. We may consider that they are by God appointed and empowered to instruct and guide us: it is their special office,
not assumed by themselves, or constituted by human prudence, but ordained and settled by divine wisdom for our edification in knowlege, and direction in practice : they are God's messengers, purposely sent by him, selected and separated by his instinct for this work : they are by him 'given for the perfecting of the saints, and edifying the body of Christ:' it is by God's warrant, and in his name that they speak; wbich giveth especial weight to their words, and no mean ground of assurance to us in relying on them : for who is more likely to know God's mind and will, who may be presumed more faithful in declaring them, than God's own officers and agents ? those whose great duty, whose main concernment it is to speak not their own sense, but the word of God? They are God's mouth, by whom alone ordinarily he expresseth his mind and pleasure; by whom he intreateth us to be reconciled ' in heart and practice to him : what they say therefore is to be received as God's word, except plain reason on due examination do forbid.
If they by office are teachers, or masters in doctrine, then we answerably must in obligation be disciples, which implies admitting their doctrine and proficiency in knowlege thereby : if they are appointed shepherds, then must we be their sheep, to be led and fed by them ; if they are God's messengers, we must yield some credence, and embrace the message uttered by them; so the prophet telleth us: · The priest's lips should keep knowlege, and they should seek the law at his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts :' so the law of old enjoined ; • According to the sentence of the law which they shall teach thee, and according to the judgment which they shall tell thee, thou shalt do ; thou shalt not decline from the sentence which they shall show thee, to the right hand nor to the left :' so our Lord also, in regard to the scribes and pharisees, saith,. The scribes and pharisees sit in Moses's chair : all therefore whatsoever they bid
you observe, that observe and do ;' on account of their office, whatever they direct to (not repugnant to the divine law) was to be observed by the people; and surely in doubtful cases, when on competent inquiry no clear light offereth itself, it cannot be very dangerous to follow their guidance whom God bath appointed and authorised to lead us; if we err doing
we err wisely in the way of our duty, and so no great blame will attend our error.
3. We may consider that our guides as such have special assistance from God; to every vocation God's aid is congruously afforded; but to this (the principal of all others, the most important, most nearly related to God, and most peculiarly tending to his service) it is in a special manner most assuredly and plentifully imparted.
They are stewards of God's various grace;' and they who dispense grace to others cannot want it themselves : they are 'co-operators with God,' and God consequently doth co-operate with them; it is God who doth ikavoūv, .render them sufficient to be ministers of the New Testament;' and they minister of the ability which God supplieth ;' every spiritual laborer is obliged to say with St. Paul, · By the grace of God I am what I am-I have labored, yet not I, but the grace of God, which was with me.'
God's having given them, as St. Paul saith, to the church, doth imply that God hath endowed them with special ability, and furthereth them in their conscionable discharge of their ministry) with aid requisite to the designs of perfecting the saints, and edifying the body' in knowlege, in virtue, in piety.
As the Holy Ghost doth constitute them in their charge, (according to that of St. Paul in the Acts, • Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers,') so questionless he doth enable and assist them in administering their function. There is a gift (of spiritual ability and divine succor) imparted by their consecration to this office, with • the laying on the hands of the presbytery,' joined with humble supplications for them, and solemn benedictions in God's name on them. The divine Spirit, which • distributeth, as he seeth good, unto every member of the church' needful supplies of grace, doth bestow on them in competent measure the word of wisdom and the word of knowlege' requisite for their employment.
God of old did in extraordinary ways visibly communicate his Spirit unto his prophets and agents; the same he did liberally pour out on the Apostles and first planters of the