Use First. They were emboldened to reprove those that, instead of endeavouring to establish their judgments in the truth, make it their great study how to strengthen themselves in their errors. I am persuaded some men take more pains to furnish themselves with arguments to defend some one error they have taken up, than they do for the most saving truths in the Bible; yea, they could sooner die at a stake to defend one error they hold, than for all the truths they profess. Austin saith of himself when he was a Manichean, Non tu eras, sed error meus erat Deus meus—‘thou, O Lord, wast not, but my error was, my God.’ O it is hard to reduce a person deeply engaged in the defence of an error! How oft had the Pharisees their mouths stopped by our Saviour? yet few or none reclaimed. Their spirits were too proud to recant. What! they lay down the bucklers, come down from Moses’ chair, and confess [that] what they have taught the people for an oracle is now false! they will rather go on, and brave it out as well as they can, than come back with shame, though the shame was not to be ashamed of their error, but ashamed to confess it. The cynic answered smartly, who, coming out of a brothel-house, was asked, whether he was not ashamed to be seen coming out of such a naughty house: No, he said, the shame was to go in, but honesty to come out. O sirs, it is bad enough to fall into an error, but worse to persist. The first shows thee a weak man—humanum est errare, to err is human; but the other makes thee too like the devil, who is to this day of the same mind he was at his first fall.
Use Second. It reproves those who labour to unsettle the judgements of others—to ungird this belt about the Christian loins. They come with the devil’s question in their mouths, ‘Yea, hath God said?’ are you sure this is a truth? do not your ministers deceive you? labouring slyly to breed suspicions and jealousies in the hearts of Christians towards the truths they have received. Such were they that troubled the Galatians, whom Paul wished ‘cut off’ for their pains, Gal. 5:12. They laboured to puzzle them, by starting scruples in their minds concerning the doctrine of the gospel. This is a cunning way at last to draw them from the faith, and therefore they are called ‘subverters of the faith of others,’ II Tim 2:14; Titus 1:11. The house must needs be in danger when the groundsels are loosened. Can you think he means honestly that undermines the foundation of your house? This they do that would call in question the grand truths of the gospel. But this is a small fault in our loose age, or else so many seducers—whom I may call spiritual rogues and vagrants—would not be suffered to wander like gipsies up and down, bewitching poor simple souls to their perdition. O, it is sad that he who steals the worth of two or three shillings should hold up his hand at the bar for his life, yea, sometimes hang for it; and that those who rob poor souls of the treasure of saving truths, and subvert the faith of whole families, should be let to lift up their heads with impudence, glorying in their impunity. It is sad that blasphemy against God should not bear an action, where blasphemy against the king is indicted for treason. It is well that God loves his truth better than men, or else these would escape in both worlds. But God hath declared himself against them. There is a day when they who rob souls of truth shall be found, and condemned as greater felons than they who rob houses of Gold and silver. See how God lays their indictment, ‘Behold, I am against the prophets, saith the Lord, that steal my words every one from his neighbour,’ Jer. 23:30. He means the false prophets that enticed the people from those truths which the faithful servants of God had delivered to them. There will be none on the bench to plead the blasphemer’s and seducer’s cause when God shall sit as judge.
Use Third. This might well chastise the strange fickleness and unsettledness of judgment which many labour with in this unconstant age. Truths in many professors’ minds are not as stars fixed in the heaven, but like meteors that dance in the air. They are not as characters engraven in marble, but writ in the dust, which every wind and idle breath of seducers deface. Many entertain opinions as some entertain suitors —not that they mean to marry them, but cast them off as soon as new ones come. Never was there a more giddy age than ours. What is said of fashion-mongers—that some men, should they see their pictures in that habit which they wore a few years past, would hardly know themselves in their present garb—is most true in regard of their opinions. Should many that have been great professors take a few of their religious principles a dozen years ago, and compare them with their present, they would be found not the same men. They have so chopped and changed that they seem to have altered their whole creed. And it is no wonder that so many are for a new baptism when they have forsaken their old faith. Not that the old which they renounce was false, or [that] the new which they espouse is true, but because they were either ignorant of the truth they first professed, or were insincere in their profession of it. And it is no wonder that the one should upon easy terms part with that which he first took up upon as weak grounds as now he leaves it; or that the other, who did not love or improve the truth he professed, should be given up of God to change it for an error. If the heathen—who did not glorify God with the light of nature they had—were righteously given up to a reprobate injudicious mind to do that which was inconvenient and morally absurd, then they who dishonoured God with the revealed light of Scripture truth, much more deserve that they should be given up to that which is spiritually wicked, even to believe errors and lies for truth. A heavy curse, did we rightly judge of it, to wander and wilder in a maze of error, and yet think they are walking in the way of truth.
Question. But some may say, How is it possible that ordinary professors should attain to this established judgement in the truth, when we see many of great parts and eminency much unsettled in their judgments?
Answer First. We must distinguish between persons. Of persons, there are many eminent for parts, whose parts want piety to establish them, and no wonder to see wanton wits unfixed in the truths of God. None sooner topple over into error than such as have not an honest heart to a nimble head. The richest soil without culture is most tainted with such weeds. They have been men of unsanctified parts that have been the leaders in the way of error, though the more simple and weak that are led by them. They are knowing men, which first disgorge and vomit error from their from their corrupt hearts, and ignorant ones that lick it up. And therefore despair not of an established judgement, so long as thou desirest to have an honest upright heart, and conscientiously usest the means. The promise is on thy side: ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,’ and ‘a good understanding have they that do his commandments,’ Ps. 111:10.
Answer Second. We must distinguish between truths. Some are fundamental, others are superstructory. Now, though many eminent for piety as well as parts, are in the dark concerning some of the superstructory and more circumstantial—because mysteriously laid down in the word—yet there is a sweet harmony among the godly in fundamentals; and in those, poor souls, thou mayest come by a faithful use of means to be established. As for our bodies, God hath so provided, that things necessary to preserve their life are more common, and to be had at a cheaper rate, than things for delicacy and state. So also for our souls. If bread were as hard to come by as sweetmeats, or if water were as scarce as wine, the greatest part of men must needs famish. So if truths necessary to salvation were as hard to be understood and cleared from the Scriptures as some others, many poor weak-parted Christians would certainly perish without a miracle to help them. But the saving truths of the gospel lie plain, and run clear to all, but those who roil the stream with their own corrupt minds.