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But the thing which they mainly rely upon as to both these practices is this, That though these things were otherwise in the Apostles times, and in the ancient church, yet the church hath power to alter them, according to the exigence and circumstances of time. I have purposely referved this for the last place, because it is their last refuge; and if this fail them, they are gone.
To shew the weakness of this pretence, we will, if they please, take it for granted, that the governors of the church have in no age inore power than the Apostles had in theirs. Now, St. Paul tells us, 2 Cor. x. 8. that the authority which the Apostles had given them from the Lord, was only for exlification, but 119t for dejtruction. And the fame St. Paul makes it the business of a whole chapter to fhcw, that the performing the publick service of God, and particularly praying, in an unknown tongue, are contrary to edification : from which premisses the conclusion is plain, that the Apostles themfelves had no authority to appoint the service of God to be performed in an unknown tongue. And surely it is arrogance for the church in any age to pretend grcater authority than the Apostles had.
This is the sum of what our adversaries say in justification of themselves in these points. And there is no doubt but that men of wit and confidence will always make a shift to say something for any thing; and some way or other blanch over the blackest and most absurd things in the world. But I leave it to the judgment of mankind, whether any thing be more unreasonable, than to tell men, in effect, that it is fit they should understand as little of religion as is possible ; that God hath published a very dangerous book, with which it is not safe for the people to be familiarly acquainted; that our blessed Saviour and his Apostles, and the ancient Christian church, for more than six hundred years, were not wise managers of religion, nor prudent dispensers of the scriptures; but, like fond and foolish fathers, put a knife and a sword into the hands of their children, with which they might easily have foreseen what mischief they would do to themselves and others. And who would not chuse to be of such a church, which is provided of such excellent and effectual means of igno
rance, such wise and infallible methods for the prevention of knowledge in the people, and such variety of close shutters to keep out the light?
I have chosen to insist upon this argument, because it is so very plain, 'that the most ordinary capacity may judge of this usage and dealing with the souls of men ; which is so very gross, that every man must needs be sensible of it ; because it toucheth men in the common rights of human nature, which belong to them as much as the light of heaven, and the air we breathe in.
It requires no subtilty of wit, no skill in antiquity, to understand these controversies between us and the church of Rome. For there are no fathers to be pretended on both sides in these questions: they yield we have antiquity on ours : and we refer it to the common fense of mankind, which church, that of Rome or ours, hath all the right and reason in the world on her side in these debates ? and who they are that tyrannize over Christians, the governors of their church or ours ? who use the people like sons and freemen, and who like slavęs? who feed the flock of Christ committed to them, and who take the childrens bread from them ? who they are that, when their children ask bread, for bread give them a stone, and for an egg, a serpent; I mean the legends of their saints, instead of the holy scriptures, which are able to make men wise unto salvation and who they are that lie molt justly under the suspicion of errors and corruptions ; they who bring doctrine and practices into the open light, and are willing to have them tried by the true touchstone, the word of God; or they who fhun the light and decline all manner of trial, and examination and who are most likely to carry on a worldly design; they who drive a trade of such mighty gain and advantage under pretence of religion, and make fuch markets of the ignorance and fins of the people; or we whom malice itself cannot charge with ferving any worldly design, by any allowed doctrine or practice of our religion? for we make no money of the mistakes of the people ; nor do we fill their heads with vain fears of new places of torment, to make them willing to empty their purses in a vainer hope of being delivered out of them. We do not, likc them, pretend a
mighty bank and treasure of merits in the church, which they fell to the people for ready money, giving them bills of exchange from the Pope to purgatory ; when they who grant them have no reason to believe they will avail them, or be accepted in the other world.
For our parts, we have no fear that our people should understand religion too well: we could with, with Mofes, that all the Lord's people were prophets : we should be hcartily glad the people would read the holy scriptures more diligently, being fufficiently assured, that it is their own fault if they learn any thing but what is good from thence: we have no doctrines or practices contrary to scripture, and consequently no occasion to keep it close from the light of the people, or to hide any of the commandments of God from them : we leave these mean arts to those who stand in need of them.
In a word, there is nothing which God hath faid to men, which we desire should be concealed from them : nay, we are willing the people should examine what we teach, and bring all our doctrines to the law and to the testimony ; that, if they be not according to this rule, they may neither believe them nor us. It is only things falfe and adulterate, which shun the light and fear the touchstone. We have that security of the truth of our religion, and of the agreeableness of it to the word of God, that honest confidence of the goodness of our cause, that we do not forbid the people to read the best books our adverfaries can write against it.
And now let any impartial man judge, whether this be not a better argument of a good cause, to leave men at liberty to try the grounds of their religion, than the courses which are taken in the church of Rome, to awe men with an inquisition; and, as much as is possible, to keep the common people in ignorance, not only of what their late adversaries, the Protestants, but their chief and ancient adversary, the scriptures, have to say against them.
A man had need of more than common security of the skill and integrity of those to whom he perfectly resigns his understanding. This is too great a trust to be reposed in human frailty, and too strong a temptation to others to impose upon us, to abuse our blindness, and
to make their own ends of our voluntary ignorance and easy credulity. This is such a folly, as if a rich man should make his physician his heir ; which is to tempt him either to destroy him, or to let him die, for his own interest. So he that trusts the care of his soul with other men, and at the same time by irrevocable deed settles his understanding upon them, lays too great a temptation before them to seduce and damn him for their own ends.
And now to reflect a little upon ourselves : What cause have we to bless God who are so happily rescued from that more than Egyptian darkness and bondage, wherein this nation was detained for several ages! who are delivered out of the hands of those cruel talk-masters, who required brick without straw; that men should be religious without competent understanding, and work out their own falvation, while they denied them the means of all others the most necessary to it; who are so uncharitable, as to allow us no salvation out of their church, and yet so unreasonable, as to deny us the very best means of salvation when we are in it.
Our forefathers thought it a mighty privilege to have the word of God restored to them, and the publick prayers and service of God celebrated in a known tongue. Let us use this inestimable privilege with great modesty and humility; not to the nourishing of pride and selfconceit, of division and faction ; but, as the Apostle exhorts, Let the word of God dwell richly in you, in all wifdom; and let the peace of God rule in your hearts, unto which ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.
It concerns us mightily, with which admonition I shall conclude, both for the honour and support of our religion, to be at better union among ourselves, and not to divide about lesser things; and so to demean ourselves, as to take from our adversaries all those pretences whereby they would justify themselves, or at least extenuate the guilt of that heavy charge, which falls every whit as justly upon them as ever it did upon
the scribes and Pharisees, of taking away the key of knowledge, and shutting the kingdom of heaven against men: neither going in themselves, nor suffering those that are entering, to go in.
S E R M ON
The parable of the ten virgins.
Preached before her Royal Highness the Princess Anne
of Denmark, at Tunbridge-wells, Sept. 2. 1688.
MAII H. XXV. I. 2. doc. Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten vir
gins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish, &c.
Y defign at present is, to explain this parable,
and to make such observations upon it as seemi
most naturally, and without squeezing the parable, to spring from it; and then to make some application of it to ourselves.
Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten vir. gins : by the kingdom of heaven is meant the state and condition of things under the gospel; by the ten virgins; those who embraced the profession of it; which is here represented by their taking their lamps, and going forth to meet the bridegroom; in allusion to the ancient custom of marriages, in which the bridegroom was wont to lead home his bride in the night by the light of lamps or torches.
But this profession was not in all equally firm and fruitful: and therefore those who persevered and continued stedfast in this profession, notwithstanding all the temptations and allurements of the world, and all the fierce storms and assaults of persecution to which this profession was exposed, and being thus firmly rooted in it, did bring forth the fruits of the Spirit, and abound in the graces and virtues of a good life; these are the wife virgins : but those who either deserted this profes