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and all that pertained to him because of the ark of God, 2 Sam. vi. 12. The gospel of peace oft brings outward peace and plenty, though through the corruption of men's hearts it stirs up opposition occasionally.
[ii.] But the chief blessings are spiritual, as conversion of the soul to God, regeneration, effectual vocation; so that it may oft be said, as of Zion, This and that man was born there, Psal. lxxxvii. 5. Also increase of grace: 2 Cor. iii. 18, "We all with open face, beholding as in a glass," this broader glass of ordinances, and the secret glass of private duties, "the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory," that is, from grace to grace, “as by the Spirit of the Lord," or of the Lord the Spirit.* Besides, ordinances discover, and help to remove those foul spots that are on the face of the Christian, James i. 23, 24. Sanctuary discoveries resolve many intricate cases in the providence of God; see Psal. lxxiii. 17. Here also the hearts of God's people may be abundantly satisfied, Psal. xxxvi. 8; for here is goodness from God to do it, Psal. lxv. 4. Ordinances are channels,† through which divine grace and influences flow to the soul, Zech. iv. 12. These display Christ, open gospel privileges, promises, terms of salvation, are as the gate of heaven; well then may, and must the observant believing soul, lament after both the ordinances of God, and God in his ordinances.
Fourthly, An objection may be framed against all that I have said. You will say, What is all this canting for? how doth it concern us? have we not public ordinances? doth not the gospel flourish? is there not excellent preaching in public places? The generality have no reason to complain, since we have christian magistrates, a glorious church, learned preachers; nay, ̓Απὸ Κυρίου Πνεύματος + Canales gratiæ.
with respect to others that pretend tenderness of conscience, they complain before they are hurt; have they not their separate meetings in a public way without disturbance? Little reason have any to make this ado in lamenting; what cause have you to lament?
I answer as Cleophas, "Art thou only a stranger in our Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which are come pass there in these days?"* If you ask what things? Do I need to inform you, or rub up your memories by telling you, that twenty years ago two thousand ministers, then found in peaceable possession of their places of worship, were dispossessed and ejected by the Act of Uniformity, commencing August 24, 1662, and shortly after in 1665, were prohibited meeting together above four for religious worship, and another Act prohibiting them from coming or being within five miles of any such place where they had preached, or a corporation, and were severely menaced and punished by a second Act, against conventicles, with sharper penalties; and though the king's majesty set them at liberty for a season, yet that was quickly retracted, and many could have little benefit by it. Now, whether the silencing of ministers be not an obstructing of the gospel, and of ordinances, judge you; and if you say you are not concerned in this case, I shall not speak to you, but turn my discourse to others: only I shall briefly propose some questions. First, about the ordinances of God; and secondly, about the God of ordinances, and leave it to you to judge whether there be not some cause to lament after the Lord.
1. Are all congregations supplied with able, faithful ministers? God forbid I should condemn all, or censure any unjustly; blessed be God there are some gracious men in public stations, whose main design is * Luke xxiv. 18, 19.
to win souls to God; but O how small is their number! I would rather you read an account of this in Ichabod, or Five Groans of the Church, writ by a conforming minister A. D. 1663; in which he laments 3000 raw young heads, that teach before they have learned, and 1500 debauched ministers, in which also many factious men, some illiterate tradesmen, simonists, pluralists, and non-residents are particularly described. God knows whether these things be true; but it is well if many have not cause to complain as our Lord, Matt. ix. 36, who when he saw the multitudes, was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted and were scattered abroad as sheep having no shepherd; you know what follows: if all public places were well supplied there would be less need of us; if there were no need, we should be glad of a supersedeas.
2. Is there not work enough for all the ministers in England, if all were faithful, conscientious, and set themselves seriously to the work of God? Oh how many thousand ignorant souls to be instructed! obstinate, to be admonished; careless, to be quickened ; weak, to be strengthened; wandering, to be reclaimed !* Surely they that know any thing of the worth of souls, of the work of the ministry, and of the importance of eternity, cannot but bitterly lament that so little is done for saving of sinners, and that there are so few to lay out themselves, or that do actually or effectually perform the work of faithful pastors, for the conviction and edification of sinners' souls. If every minister in England were gracious, and had a hundred persons under his cure and charge, he would find it as difficult to manage, as a physician dealing with so many patients under several diseases. Hic labor, hoc opus. 3. Does not the liberty that some take in dispens
* See Ezek. xxxiv. 4.
ing ordinances labour under many disadvantages? Are they not subject to fines, confiscations, imprisonments, banishments, and censures? and all have not an equal opportunity of feeding Christ's flock, where there is the same necessity. What liberty is taken, is but stolen, or from courtesy; still they are exposed to the rage of malevolent spirits, and under the lash of the law, and also under the censure of being indiscreet zealots, that adventure further than their more prudent brethren; yet still the candle is under a bushel, and they that need it the most, have least share in it, they are glad that they are out of the way, and are furnished with stones enow, even by existing laws, to cast at such as would disturb them in their career of sin, and while posting down to hell; and in these circumstances, those whose eyes are opened to see the blind running into a pit, cannot but lament that their hands are so bound that they cannot stop them.
4. Are there not sad symptoms upon us of a departing gospel? It would not now be seasonable to enumerate the prognostics of God's taking away his ark and ordinances. Mr. Gurnal,* speaking of the unkind welcome the gospel hath found among us, addeth, “O what will God do with this degenerate age in which we live! O England, England! I fear some sad judgment or other bodes thee! If such glad tidings as the gospel brings be rejected, sad news cannot be far off. I cannot think of less than a departing gospel. God never made such a settlement of his gospel amongst any people, but he could remove it from them. He comes but upon liking, and will he stay where he is not welcome? who will that hath elsewhere to go?" Read the rest. Two words on this; observe,
(1.) Have there not been many great attempts made * Christian in Complete Armour, part 2, p. 325.
to quench the light amongst us? O what a combination is there at home and abroad, of Papists and atheists, to root out the name of Israel, and to banish the God of Israel, and cause him to cease from amongst O what crafty councils, and potent confederates, animated with devilish hatred, may we espy in this our native country! Antichrist makes many furious assaults, with a design to kill the poor witnesses, after they have been prophesying in sackcloth, Rev. xi. 3,7. Even among ourselves, are there not some that are indifferent whether the ark or mass, gospel preaching or dumb idols take place? Yea, some say unto God, Depart from us, we desire not the knowledge of thy ways.† Men are scorched with the glorious rays of the gospel sun, and blaspheme God, rather than kindly melted by its warm and benign influences. How many Ahabs hate Micaiahs? or Felixes at best, that adjourn the court of conscience, and plain preaching? or Gadarenes, that prefer their swine-sty to God's sanctuary, and desire the blessed Jesus to depart out of our coasts? God's ark is a troublesome guest to graceless Philistines. Some that received not the truth in love, in danger of being given up to Popish delusions, and of joining the mixed multitude that fall a lusting or longing for the onions of Egypt. If the gospel may be sinned away, surely it is in hazard now to depart. If monstrous lusts, defiances of heaven, unfruitfulness, decay of zeal, loss of first love, carnal confidence in privileges, and contempt of the power of godliness, neutrality and empty formality, have ever robbed any people of this pearl; surely, without an extraordinary display of mercy, we cannot keep it long.
(2.) Where are the souls that stir up themselves to * Psalm lxxxiii 3-8. Isa. xxx. 10, 11.
Rev. xvi. 9.
+ Job xxi. 14.
|| 2 Thess. ii. 10.