But what counsel can you give me towards the establishing of my judgement in the truth of Christ?
First Direction. Let thy aim be sincere in embracing truths. A false naughty heart and unsound judgment, like ice and water, are produced mutually by one another. The reason of the fickleness of some men’s judgments proceeds from the guile of their hearts. A stable mind and a double heart seldom meet. That place speaks full to this, I Tim. 1:5, ‘The end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.’ Now mark what follows, ver. 6—‘from which some have swerved’—or as it is in the original, not aiming at—‘having turned aside unto vain jangling.’ They never aimed at the power of holiness in receiving truth, that by it they might advance in their love, faith, and other graces. And taking a wrong end and aim, no wonder they turn out of the right way. A naughty heart can easily bribe the judgment to vote on its side. This shall be truth now, and no truth a month hence if it please. That is truth with many which serves their interest. They tie their judgments to their purse-strings, or preferments, &c., and such men are ready—with that weather-cock in Queen Mary’s days—to sing a new song upon any change in their carnal concernments. When love receives a truth it is held fast, but if lust after any worldly interest be the cause, then it may be packed away again when the turn is served. Amnon was soon as sick of Tamar as ever he was for her. And have we not in our days seen some truths and ordinances kicked away with as much scorn and contempt as he did her, and by those that have been sufficiently fond of them a few years past, but who, it is to be feared, were never truly in love with them?
Second Direction. Attend on the ministry of the word. One great end of its appointment is to establish us in the truth: ‘He gave some pastors and teachers for the perfecting of the saints,’ Eph. 4:11, 12; and mark, ‘that henceforth we be no more children tossed to and fro,’ &c., ver. 14. He that runs from his guide will soon be out of his way. It is no small testimony that God hath given to his faithful ministers in this present age, viz. that few leave them but the leprosy of error appears soon on their forehead. And in thy waiting on the ministry of the word, be sure thou attendest to the doctrinal part of the sermon, as well as to the application. The former is necessary to make thee a solid Christian, as the other to make thee a warm Christian. Indeed, hot affections without solid knowledge, are but like fire in the pan, when the piece is not charged. The Levites, we find, ‘gave the sense of the law, and caused the people to understand the reading,’ Neh. 8:7, 8. Planting goes before watering, and so should teaching before exhorting. And the same method people should learn in, that we are to preach in.
Third Direction. Enslave not thy judgment to any person or party. There is a spiritual suretiship which hath undone many in their judgments and principles. Be not bound to, or for the judgment of any. Weigh truth, and tell gold thou mayest, after thy father; but thou must live by thy own faith, not another’s. Labour to see truth with thine own eyes. That building stands weak which is held up by a shore, or some neighbour house it leans on, rather than on a foundation of its own. When these go, that will fall to the ground also. Let not authority from man, but evidence from the word, conclude thy judgment; that is but a shore, this is a foundation. Quote the Scripture rather than men for thy judgment. Not, so saith a learned man; but thus saith the holy Scripture. Yet, take heed of bending this direction too far the other way; which is done when we contemn the judgment of such whose piety and learning might command reverence. There is sure a mean to be found betwixt defying men, and deifying them. It is the admiring of persons that forms the traitor to truth, and makes many cry ‘Hosanna’ to error, and ‘Crucify’ to truth. Eusebius, out of Josephus, tells us of Herod’s—that Herod whom we read of, Acts 12:23, as being eaten up of worms—coming upon the theatre gorgeously clad, and that while he was making an eloquent oration to the people, his silver robe, which he then wore, did, by the reflex of the sunbeams shining on it, so glister, as dazzled the eyes of the spectators; and this, saith he, occasioned some flatterers to cry out, ‘The voice of God, and not of man.’ And truly the glistering varnish which some men’s parts and rhetoric put upon their discourses, does oft so blind the judgments of their admirers, that they are too prone to think all divine they speak, especially if they be such as God hath formerly used as instruments for any good to their souls. O it is hard then, as he said, amare hominem humaniter—to love and esteem man as a man, to reverence him such so, as not to be in danger of loving their errors also. Augustine had been a means to convert Alypius from one error, and he confesseth this was an occasion why he was so easily by him led into another error—no less than Manicheism. Alypius thought he could not pervert him here that had converted him. Call therefore none father on earth; despise none, adore none.
Fourth Direction. Beware of curiosity. He is half gone into error that vainly covets novelties, and listens after every new-fangled opinion. We read of ‘itching ears,’ II Tim. 4:3. This itch commonly ends in a scab of error. Tamar lost her chastity by gadding. Castitas mentis est fides incorrupta—the chastity of the mind is its soundness in the faith. And this they are in danger to lose who will go into all companies, and lend an ear to all doctrines that are preached. First be a hearer, and then a disciple of them. Many indulge themselves so far in this curiosity of conversing with every sect and opinion, that at last they turn skeptics, and can settle upon nothing as truth. Augustine confesseth of himself, that he had gone through so many errors and delusions of the Manicheans—that at last he was afraid of truth itself, which heard Ambrose preach. Ut malum medicum expertus, etiam bono timeat se committere—as, saith he, one that hath had experience of an unskilful physician, is at last afraid to put himself in the hands of him that is skilful. O take heed that you, who will not hear anything, come not in the end that you will believe nothing.