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that was a widow: And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet: and none of them were cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian :" But how was this differencing doctrine of Christ entertained by the Jews? It is said, ver. 28, 29, "All they in the synagogue when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill, whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong." Read it, and consider what moved these men to so much rage against Christ himself for preaching this doctrine, which restrained the fruit of the Gospel to a few; and then you will not wonder, if those preachers that imitate Christ in this, be used no better than their master.
But let ministers know that this is their duty, to shew every man himself, his deeds, and state, as indeed they are: and let Christians choose and love such ministers. Choose not the glass that makes you fairest, but which is truest, and representeth you to yourselves as God accounteth you, whether he do it with more eloquence or less, with smoother or with rougher language; hear him if you may, that will best acquaint you with the truth of your condition, and choose not those that speak not to the heart.
2. And when you have heard the best, the clearest, the most searching preacher, do not think that now you can do all the rest of the work yourselves, and that you have no further need of help, but make use of their more particular personal advice, not needlessly, but in these following cases.
1. In case that after your most diligent self-examination, you are yet at uncertainty and doubt, whether you are truly sanctified or not, the settling of your states for all eternity, and the well-grounding of your hopes and comforts, is a matter of such unspeakable moment, as that you should not remain in careless, negligent uncertainty, while God hath provided you any further means that may be used for assurance. Yea, if you were not troubled with doubting, yet if you have opportunity of opening your evidences to a judicious, faithful minister or friend, I think it may be worth your labour, for the confirmation of the peace and comforts which you have. You cannot make too sure of everlasting happiness.
2. And not only in the first settling of your peace, but also when any notable assault or dangerous temptation shall afterward shake it, which you cannot overcome without
assistance, it is seasonable to betake yourselves to a physician.
And also in case of any dangerous lapse or declining, that hath brought you into a state of darkness. The sick and wounded must have help: they are not sufficient for themselves.
4. Also in case of any particular corruption or temptation, your particular sinful inclinations may, cautiously, be opened to a faithful guide, that by his prudent and lively counsel you may be strengthened.
If you say, 'To what end do ministers preach to me, and why do I hear them opening the natures of grace and of hypocrisy, if I cannot judge of myself by the doctrine which they preach?' I answer, 1. You may and must judge yourselves by the public common helps, as far as you are able: but a personal applying help, added unto this, is a further advantage. And humility should teach you, not to think better of your understandings than there is cause; nor to think you are so wise as to need but one help, when God hath provided you two; or that you need but the lesser, when he hath provided you a greater. And doth not your own experience convince you? Do you not find, that after the best public preaching, you are yet in doubt, and at a loss about your spiritual state, and therefore that you have need of further help?
2. I further answer you: There is so great a diversity of particular circumstances in the cases of particular persons, that a great deal of help is necessary to most, to pass a right judgment, when they do understand both the law and the fact. Will you think it enough that you have the statutes of the land, and the law-books, to judge of all your own cases by? Or will you not think that you have also need of the counsel of the wisest lawyer (in your weightiest cases) to help you to judge of your cause by the particular application of the law to it? So in physic, who is so foolish, as to think that by the help of the most learned book, or approved recipes, he is able to be his own physician, without any more particular advice? You must be long in studying law or physic, before you can understand them so well as those that have made them the study and business of their lives. It is not having or reading a book only, or hearing a lecture of them, that can make you as un
derstanding as the masters of the profession; and also to have: all passages at hand that must be observed in the judging your cause. So is it in matters of the soul. When you have heard much, and understand much, you cannot in modesty think that all the sense of Scripture, about those points, is known as exactly to you, as to your most judicious teachers; and that you are as able at once to see all the passages of the word, and of the fact, as may enable you to pass so clear a judgment on it. Perhaps you will say, that you know your own hearts and actions better than they do. I answer, you do so, or should do so, as to the matter of fact; and it is you that they must know it from: and yet when you have done, you may not be able to judge of your state by those acts which you say you know. You must shew the lawyer all your evidences: he cannot see them, you shew them him; and yet when he seeth them, he can judge of them whether they are good or bad, and of your title by them; better than you can that have the keeping of them, because he better understands the law. The physician feeleth not your pain, nor knoweth it till you tell it him; and yet when you have told it him, he knows better than you what it signifieth, and whither it tendeth, and whether it be curable or not; and what must cure it.
But perhaps you will say, that when you have gone to ministers, and opened your case to them, they cannot resolve you, but you are still in doubt.
I answer, 1. Perhaps when they have resolved them, yet you would not be resolved. Have they not told you the truth and you would not believe it? Or directed you to remedies which you would not use? They cannot, when they have told you the truth, compel you to believe it; nor when they have told you what will do the cure, they cannot make you use it.if you refuse.
2. And what if the nature of the disease be obstinate, and will not be cured easily and at once, but with time, and diligence, and patience? Will you therefore think the means are vain? Must you at once, or in a short time, be resolved, and delivered from all your doubts, about your title to eternal life, or else will you cast off all advice? Should you do so by your bodies, you may know what were likely to be the issue: should your children learn thus of
their teachers, they were likely to make unhappy scholars. As you will not have done with Christ, if he cure you not at once, nor give over praying, if you have not all your desires at once, (if you love yourselves,) so you must not have done with the counsel of your guides, if they satisfy not your doubts at once: As you cease not hearing them in public, though you have still your doubtings; so why should you cease advising with them personally upon that account? Use God's means, and be thankful, if by degrees they do cure, and prevail at last.
Object. But I find it is God only that can speak peace; and therefore it is vain to hang on men.'
I answer, God speaketh by his Word and Spirit: his word is to be delivered, expounded, and applied to you by his ministers if therefore you will have it from God, you must not refuse his own appointed ordinary means. Spirit comforteth by the promise: As in conversion God useth not to do it by the Spirit, without, but in, and by the ministry of the word, so also in all our directions, and satisfaction and comfort afterwards. As he that will run from the ministry of the word, because it is God that must convert, doth indeed run from God, and is not likely to be converted; so is it in point of assurance and consolation. The teachers of the church "are to be accounted of as the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God," (1 Cor. iv. 1,)" by whom the people have believed;" (1 Cor. iii. 5;) "not having dominion over their faith, but being helpers of their joy;" (2 Cor. i. 24;)" who are comforted in all their tribulations, that they might be able to comfort them that are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith they themselves are comforted of God." (ver. 4.) They are to be "faithful and wise stewards, whom the Lord maketh rulers over his household to give them their portion of meat in due season." (Luke xii. 42.) Thus Christ has given "authority to his servants, and appointed to every man his work, (Mark xiii. 34,) and given pastors and teachers to his church, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God to a perfect man." (Eph. iv. 11—13.) These therefore being Christ's officers, and this their ap
pointed work, we must receive so much of God's mercies by their hands, as belongeth to their office to administer. "If there be a messenger with him, an interpreter, one among a thousand, to shew unto man his uprightness, then God is gracious unto him, and saith, Deliver him from going down to the pit; I have found a ransom. (Job xxxiii. 23, 24.)
So that you see it is God's way to shew to man his uprightness, and to speak peace to souls by his messengers and interpreters that are fitted and authorised thereto.
Object. But it is but few that are able thus to discuss the case of unsettled, doubting souls, and to give them clear and safe directions, that may save both from presumption and despair: in many places the ministers are senseless of these things, and unacquainted with the concernments and works of conscience, and have nothing to say to us, unless to deride us as scrupulous and precise; and bid us not trouble our heads about such matters, seeing God is merciful, and Christ died for sinners. They will discourse with us long enough about news, or worldly businesses, or opinions, or controversies; but when we open to them the state of our souls, and desire their advice for the "making our calling and election sure," they have no sense or savour of such discourse: and many ministers that are truly conscientious, are yet so unskilful and so weak, that we have no encouragement to acquaint them with our state.'
To this I answer: It cannot be denied but all this is too true; and it is matter of lamentation, and must send us to God with the old petition which Christ himself hath put into our mouths, (Matt. ix. 37, 38,) "The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest."
But consider that this is no wonder, or unusual thing: For all this, there is no nation under heaven that hath more able, faithful ministers of Christ, than are in these nations. Alas, how much of the church is guided by mere ignorant readers! And how much by superstitious deceivers! Did you know the case of the poor Christians in the Ethiopian, the Greek, and the Roman churches, you would bless God that it is so well with us: even when the church was in a narrower room, yet God complained, (Jer. xii. 10,) "Many