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pastors have destroyed my vineyard: they have trodden my portion under foot: they have made my pleasant portion a desolate wilderness: they have made it desolate and being desolate it mourneth unto me:" And Jer. xxiii. 1, 2. "Woe be to the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture, saith the Lord: therefore thus saith the Lord God of Israel against the pastors that feed my people: Ye have scattered my flock and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold I will visit on you the evil of your doings, saith the Lord. And I will set up shepherds over them, that shall feed them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed." Then was the church fain to take up this lamentation, Jer. x. 19-21. "Woe is me, my hurt! for my wound is grievous: but I said, truly this is a grief, and I must bear it: my tabernacle is spoiled, and all my cords are broken: my children are gone forth of me, and they are not there is none to stretch forth my tent any more, and to set up my curtains: for the pastors are become brutish, and have not sought the Lord: therefore they shall not prosper, and all their flocks shall be scattered."
But the voice of healing mercy saith, "Only acknowledge thine iniquity, &c.—Turn, O backsliding children, &c. and I will give you pastors according to my heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding." (Jer. iii. 13-15.)
You see in all other professions (that require not supernatural illumination), there are but few that attain to excellency: it is but in few that nature layeth the foundation, or giveth that capacity, to be excellent, which grace doth elevate and improve.
Take therefore the advice of the ablest you can get: If most physicians are weak and ignorant, do not therefore cast off all, nor yet cast yourselves upon one that is likely to kill you, because he is your neighbour. I will not persuade you to go always to the minister of your parish, to open the case of your souls, be he fit or unfit; but to the fittest that you can have access to: the Papists themselves will give men leave to choose others for their confessors. Where there is most of the heavenly illumination, and holy skill in the matters of the soul; where there is the soundest and most exact judgment, joined with experience and tender compassion, and faithful plainness, and cautelous secresy,
there open your hearts if you have opportunity, and take the help of such faithful counsellors to acquaint you with yourselves.
Object. But such ministers being few, and having more of greater work than they can turn them to, are not to be spoken with as oft as my necessity requireth help.'
Answ. Use then the best that are at leisure; and it is not only ministers that you must use, but any other Christian friend that hath such abilities and qualifications, as fit them to assist you: whosoever hath the light, refuse not to come to it; God's gifts and graces may be helpful to you in a parent, a husband, a neighbour, and not only in a minister.
Quest. But how far may a dark and doubting person take up and rest in the judgment of a minister, or of others, about the state of his soul, when he is not satisfied himself?'
Answ. This question is of very great use, and therefore the more carefully to be resolved; I shall answer it therefore, 1. Negatively, and, 2. Affirmatively.
1. No man's judgment of your state is to be taken as absolutely infallible or Divine: nor is man to be believed as God is, with a Divine belief. When they tell you, that 'If you are regenerate, you are justified,' then they do but tell you what God hath told you, and therefore this is to be taken as of infallible certainty, not as it is their word, but as it is God's: So also when they tell you, that If you are unconverted you are not forgiven.' But when they tell you, that you are converted or unconverted, pardoned or unpardoned,' this judgment is not to be taken as infallible or Divine.
2. For the bare matter of fact (whether you repent or not; whether you had rather be holy or unholy, &c.) there is no minister that can know your heart so well as yourselves may know it, except in case when melancholy or passion, or a weakness of understanding on one side, or a wilfulness of presumption on the other side, doth make men judge of their own condition quite contrary to the evidence that appeareth in their lives to others.
3. It is not safe to rest on the judgment of one that is either an enemy or stranger to the workings of a careful, troubled soul; or one that is drunk with any heresy, or fond of any private opinion of his own, and layeth out his zeal to
form people into his opinion, as if the life of religion lay in that: nor yet of a weak unskilful man.
4. It is not safe for you to rest much in the judgment of one that knows you not, and is not acquainted (by himself, or by the report of others, or some good evidence) of the bent and manner of your lives, but must judge only by the present expressions of your own mouths.
5. It is not safe for you to rest on the judgment of any one single person, when the judgment of most of your judicious acquaintance is contrary to it. So much for the negative. 2. Affirmatively, I answer,
1. By a Divine faith you are bound to believe all the promises of Scripture that your pastor (or any other) shall acquaint you with.
2. As a disciple of Christ, you are bound to learn the meaning of those promises (and other passages of the Scripture) from your teachers, duly authorised to instruct you: and with such a human belief, as a scholar oweth to his teacher in arts or sciences, you are bound to believe your teachers concerning the meaning of the promises, in cases wherein you are unable yourselves to understand the word by its proper light and evidence, as well as they; and in case you see no evidence of falsehood in their exposition, nor have any special reason to distrust them. He that will believe nothing that his teacher telleth him, in order to his own understanding, shall never understand by teaching. If you know as much as he already, you need no teacher if you do not, you must believe him, or else you can never learn of him. But this is not to take him for omniscient, or infallible in himself, but to credit him as a man.
3. You are bound, when he judgeth of your particular case, upon your opening to him the matter of fact, to allow him so much credit as is due to the proportion of his understanding. You tell him how you feel your hearts affected, and what the actions of your lives have been; when you have told it him, he judgeth by God's word, whether this be a state of saving grace which you describe, or not; if upon much stronger parts, or longer study, and more experience, he know more of the meaning of the word, and of the nature of grace, and so be abler to judge than you, modesty requireth that you do in that measure submit your understanding unto his, and believe him according to the measure of
his skill, upon supposition that you deceive him not in your information. Even as you will believe a lawyer about your title to your lands, when you have shewed him your evidence; or a physician about your disease, when you have told him what you feel, as I said before.
4. You are bound to add also, all that credit that his honesty and fidelity requireth, if he be a godly man unwilling to deceive you.
5. And you are bound to add so much belief, as in the case is due to a stander-by that is out of the dust, and is not blinded by self-love, or partiality, or passions, or any selfish bias, as most men are to themselves.
6. If you are darkened by melancholy, or any other weakening distemper, that maketh you incapable of judging for yourselves, you are bound to allow another so much credit, as the advantage of his sounder understanding, and more composed judgment doth require. If every child, or sick person, will believe nobody that doth not say as they, their self-conceitedness and their distrust of others will be their wrong.
7. In the manner of reception, you are bound to do all this with such a submission as belongeth to an officer of Christ: not that you are to believe any falsehood that he bringeth you, and fathereth upon Christ; nor to put out your own eyes, and see with his, but to learn of him to understand yourselves, and receive what he bringeth you, according to his office: as a child is bound to submit to any tutor or teacher that the parents shall set over him. The same truth must be received as from a double obligation, when besides its proper evidence it is delivered by a messenger of Christ.
8. You may yet more boldly and confidently give credit to the judgment of such a minister of Christ, when he is not singular, but speaks according to the concurrent judgment of the generality of able, experienced men, modesty will forbid you to think yourselves wiser than all the able ministers about you.
9. You have the less reason to suspect his judgment, when you may be sure that he is not perverted by any selfinterest or self-respect, and frustrateth not the truth for fear of displeasing you, or bringing any discredit or suffering on himself.
10. Lastly, When all these things concur, you may with the greater confidence rest upon his judgment. And though still he is but an imperfect man, and no absolute certainty of your estate can be had from his bare judgment (though from his doctrine, and the effects and signs there may), yet such a judgment should weigh very much with you, to the raising of fear, and care in the ungodly, and for the quieting of a troubled soul.
Let us a little now apply this direction to both parties. Beloved hearers, if any of you can look before you to eternity, and do not with awakened thoughts conclude, that all probable means should be used in time, to make sure of your final justification at the dreadful day of God, that man wants either the faith of a Christian, or the feeling of a considerate
Are you all desirous to be sure beforehand, what sentence shall pass upon you then, or are you not? If you are, come on, and let me make a motion that you cannot reasonably refuse: the business is of unspeakable consequence: to be deceived, may be to be undone for ever. Will you advise with those that God hath appointed to give you advice in so great a case? Well then! will you go and faithfully open your state (supposing you have the need before expressed,) to some able, faithful minister of Christ? Not to an ignorant, or a carnal, unexperienced man, but unto one that is skilled in spiritual affairs, and that will be faithful to you, and deal with that serious gravity and reverence as beseems him that is helping to prepare a soul for the bar of Christ. Will you (if you never did it) tell him, whether ever you were convinced of your sin and misery? And whether ever you saw the need of Christ? And whether you have loathed yourselves for your iniquities, and fled to Christ as your only refuge from the wrath of God, and have turned away with resolution from your former ungodly, careless life, and have changed your company, your business, and your delights? Whether you make it your chief business to please God, and to save your souls? and resolve to take up with the hopes of heaven as your only portion, and not to hazard it for any worldly interest, or fleshly pleasure whatsoever? "Whether in your eyes a vile person be contemned, but you love and honour them that fear the Lord ?" Tell these and other such particulars of your state to your faithful pastors: answer them to these, and such