Three characters you may observe among those who are most commonly seduced. 1. They are called ‘simple’ ones—‘By good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple,’ Rom. 16:18, such who mean well, but want wisdom to discern those who mean ill—in cautious ones, that dare pledge everybody, and drink of any one’s cup, and never suspect poisoning. 2. They are called ‘children’—‘Be no more children, tossed to and fro, with every wind of doctrine,’ Eph. 4:14. Now children are very credulous, prone to believe every one that gives them a parcel of fair words. They think anything is good, if it be sweet. It is not hard to make them eat poison for sugar. They are not swayed by principles of their own, but by those of others. The child reads, construes, and parses his lesson as his master saith, and thinks it therefore right. Thus as poor creatures that have little knowledge of the word themselves, they are easily persuaded this or that way, even as those of whom they have a good opinion please to lead them. Let the doctrine be but sweet, and it goes down glib. They, like Isaac, bless their opinions by feeling, not by sight. Hence many poor creatures applaud themselves so much of the joy they have found since they were of this judgement and that way. Not being able to try the comfort and sweetness they feel by the truth of their way from the word, they are fain to believe the truth of it by their feeling, and so, poor creatures, they bless error for truth. 3. They are such as are ‘unstable’—‘beguiling unstable souls,’ II Peter 2:14, such as are not well grounded and principled. The truth they profess hath no anchor-hold in their understanding, and so they are at the mercy of the wind, soon set adrift, and carried down the stream of those opinions which are the favourites of the present time, and are most cried up—even as the dead fish with the current of the tide.
Reason Third. We are to endeavour after an established judgment in the truth, because of the universal influence it hath upon the whole man.
- Upon the memory,which is helped much by the understanding. The more weight is laid on the seal, the deeper impression is made on the wax. The memory is that faculty which carries the images of things. It holds fast what we receive, and is that treasury where we lay up what we desire afterward to use and converse with. Now, the more clear and certain our knowledge of anything is, the deeper it sinks, and the surer it is held by the memory.
- Upon the affections.Truth is as light, the more steady and fixed the glass of the understanding is, through which its beams are darted upon the affections, the sooner they take fire—‘Did not our hearts,’ saith the disciples, ‘burn within us, while he opened to us the Scriptures?’ Luke 24:32. They had heard Christ, no doubt, preach much of what he said then, before his passion; but never were they so satisfied and confirmed as now, when Scriptures and understanding were opened together, and this made their hearts ‘burn.’ The sun in the firmament sends his influence where he doth not shed his beams, I mean into the bowels of the earth, but the Sun of righteousness imparts his influence only where his light comes. He spreads the beams of truth into the understanding, to enlighten that; and while the creature sits under these wings, a kindly heart-quickening heat is begotten in its bosom. Hence we find that even when the Spirit is promised as a comforter, he comes as a convincer, John 16:13—he comforts by teaching. And certainly, the reason why many poor trembling souls have so little heat of heavenly joy in their hearts, is because they have so little light to understand the nature and tenure of the gospel-covenant. The farther a soul stands from the light of truth, the father he must needs be from the heat of comfort.
- An established judgment hath a powerful influence upon the life and conversation.The eye directs the foot. He walks very unsafely that sees not his way, and he uncomfortably that is not resolved whether right or wrong. That which moves must rest on something that doth not move. A man could not walk if the earth turned under his feet. Now the principles we have in our understanding are, as it were, the ground we go upon in all our actions; if they stagger and reel, much more will our life and practice. It is as impossible for a shaking hand to write a straight line, as for an unfixed judgement to have an even conversation. The apostle joins steadfastness and unmovableness with ‘abounding in the work of the Lord,’ I Cor. 15:58. And if I mistake not, he means chiefly in that place, a steadfastness of judgment in the truth of the resurrection, which some had been shaking. It is not the many notions we have, but the establishment we have in the truth, that makes us strong Christians; as he is a strong man whose joints are well set together and knit—not he who is spun out at length, but not thickened suitable to his height. One saith well, ‘Men are what they see and judge; though some do not fill up their light, yet none go beyond it.’ A truth under dispute in the understanding is, as I may so say, stopped in the head; it cannot commence in the heart, or become practicable in the life. But when it passeth clearly there, and upon its commendation is embraced in the will and affections, then it is held fast, and hath powerful effects in the conversation. The gospel, it is said, came to the Thessalonians ‘in much assurance,’ i.e.evidence of its truth, I Thes. 1:5. And you see how prevalent and operative it was: ‘Ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost,’ ver. 6. They were assured that the doctrine was of God, and this carried them merrily through the saddest afflictions which attended the same.