Fifth Direction. Humbly beg and established judgment of God. No travellers lose their way sooner than they who think they know it so well that they need not ask it. And no professors are in danger of being drawn from the truth, as much as they who lean to their own understandings, and acknowledge not God in their way, by consulting with him daily. Mark pride—however it may seem to soar aloft in profession at present—and you shall find it at last laid in the ditch of error or profaneness. This is the bed God hath made for it, and it must lie there where God hath appointed its lodging. It is very necessary that such men should be left to be bewildered, and so put to shame, that, when their understanding returns to them—if God hath such a mercy in store for them—they may, with Nebuchadnezzar, ‘bless the Most High,’ and acknowledge him, at their return, whom they neglected so unworthily at their setting forth. O take heed therefore of pride, which will soon make thee a stranger at the throne of grace. Pride takes little delight in begging. It turns humble praying for truth into a busy stickling and ambitious disputing about truth (there is honour to be got here): and thus many, to get victory, have lost truth in the heat of the battle. Lay this deep in thy heart, that God, which gives an eye to see truth, must give a hand to hold it fast when we have it. Quœ habemus ab eo, tenere non possumus sine eo (Bern.)—what we have from God, we cannot keep without God. Keep therefore thy acquaintance with God, or else truth will not keep her acquaintance long with thee. God is light, thou art going into the dark, as soon as thou turnest thy back upon him. We stand at better advantage to find truth, and keep it also, when devoutly praying for it, than when fiercely wrangling and contending about it. Disputes roil the soul, and raise the dust of passion. Prayer sweetly composeth the mind, and lays the passions which disputes draw forth. And I am sure a man may see farther in a still clear day, than in a windy and cloudy one. When a person talks much, and rests little, we have great cause to fear his brain will not long hold; and truly, when a person shall be much in talking and disputing about truth without a humble spirit in prayer to be led into it, God may justly punish that man’s pride with a spiritual frenzy in his mind, that he shall not know error from truth.
Sixth Direction. Look thou takest not offense at the difference of judgments and opinions that are found amongst the professors of religion. It is a stone which the Papists throw, in these divided times especially, before our feet. How know you, saith he, which is truth, when there are so many judgments and ways amongst you? Some have so stumbled at this, that they have quit the truth they once professed, and, by the storms of dissensions in matters of religion, have been, if not thrown upon the rock of atheism, yet driven to and fro in a fluctuation of mind, not willing to cast anchor anywhere in their judgment till they see this tempest over, and those that are scattered from one another by diversity of judgment, met together in a unity and joint consent of persuasions in matters of religion—a resolution, as one saith very well, as foolish and pernicious to the soul, if not more, than it would be to the body if a man should vow he would not eat till all the clocks in the city should strike twelve just together. The latter might sooner be expected than the former.
Seventh Direction. Rest not till thou feelest the efficacy of every truth thou holdest in thy judgement, upon thy heart. One faculty helps another. The more clear truth is in the understanding, the more abiding in the memory. And the more operative truth is on the will, the more fixed in the judgment. Let a thing be never so excellent, yet, if a man can make little or no use thereof, it is little worth to him, and may easily be got from him. Thus may rare libraries have been parted with, by rude soldiers, into whose hands they have fallen, for little more than their covers were worth, which by some, that could have improved them, would [have] been kept as the richest prize. And verily, it fares with truth according as they are into whose hands it falls. If it lights upon one that falls to work with it, and draws out the strength and sweetness of it, this man holds it so much the faster in his judgement, by how much more operative it is on his heart; but if it meets with one that finds no divine efficacy it hath, to humble, comfort, sanctify him, it may soon be turned out of doors, and put to seek for a new host. Such may, for a time, dance about that light which, a while after, themselves will blow out. When I hear of a man that once held original sin and the universal pollution of man’s nature to be a truth, but now denies it, I cannot but fear, he did never lay it so close [to] his heart, as to abase and humble himself kindly for it; or that he grew weary of the work, and, by sloth and negligence, lost the efficacy of that truth in his heart, before he lost the truth itself in his judgment. I might instance in many other particulars, wherein professors in these rowling times have slidden from their old principles. Singing of psalms hath been a duty owned and practised by many, who now have laid it down; and it were a question worth the asking them, Whether formerly they never enjoyed sweet communion with God in that duty as well as in others? whether their hearts did never dance and leap up to God with heavenly affections, while they sang with their lips? and verily I should think it strange to hear a godly person deny this. Well, if ever thou didst, Christian, meet with God at this door of the tabernacle—for I cannot yet think it other—let me ask thee again, whether the heart did not grow common, cold, and formal in they duty before thou durst cast it off? And if so—which I am ready to believe—I desire such in the fear of God to consider these four questions, I John 2:23, 24.
- Question. Whether they may not fear that they are in an error, and that this darkness is befallen their judgments as a punishment for their negligence and slightness of spirit in performing the duty when they did not question the lawfulness of it?
- Question. Whether it were not better they should labour to recover the first liveliness of their affections in the duty—which would soon bring them again acquainted with that sweetness and joy they found of old in it—than to cast it off, upon so weak evidence as they who can say most, bring in against it?
- Question. Whether such as neglect one duty, are likely to thrive by any other, and keep up the savour of them fresh in their souls?
4. Question. Whether, if God should suffer them to decline in their affections to any other ordinance—which [may] he forbid, if it be his will—it were not as easy for Satan to gather together arguments enough to make them scruple, and in time cast off that also as well as this? And that there is reason for such a question, these times will tell us; wherein every ordinance hath had its turn to be questioned, yea, disowned, some by one, some by another. One will not sing; another will not have his child baptized; a third will not have any water baptism, nor supper neither; a fourth bungs up his ear too from all hearing of the word, and would have us expect an immediate teaching. Thus when once ordinances and truths become dead to us through our miscarriage under them, we can be willing—how beautiful soever they were once in our eye—yea call, to have them buried out of our sight. These things sadly laid to heart, will give you reason to think, though this direction be placed last in order of my discourse, yet it should not find neither the last nor least place among all the other named, in your Christian care and practice.