Zion's Alarm not Without Cause
TO MR. CARNAL, BROADWAY, WESTMINSTER.
Bristol, Dec. 5, 1786.
I RECEIVED yours, and acknowledge that an epistle was due to you, payable a fortnight after I had the last sight of you at Newberry. But you must acknowledge, that the treasure of grace is in an earthen vessel; and, consequently, a distinction ought to be made between the vessel and the treasure, as well as between the manna and the golden pot. Paul was obliged to make a difference between his promises to visit, and the promised salvation which had visited him. "In this confidence," said he, "I was minded to come unto you before,?and to pass by you into Macedonia, and to come again out of Macedonia unto you.?When I therefore was thus minded, did I use lightness? or the things that I purpose, do I purpose according to the flesh, that with me there should be yea, yea, and nay, nay? But as God is true, our word toward you was not yea and nay. For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us," 2 Cor. i. 15?20. You are the first carnal man that ever solicited a spiritual epistle from me; therefore I am constrained to send it, that it may serve for the eighth wonder of the world. I have the happiness once a week of visiting a place called Kingswood; a place I have often wished to see, having read so much about it in the works of those eminent servants of God Mr. Whitfield and Mr. Cenneck. And to be sure there are some choice souls among those subterraneous miners. Six days they are hidden ones, but on the Lord's day great numbers of these Hebrews, as the Philistines said of the Jews, come forth out of their holes, to enjoy both the light of the sun and the light of the gospel; thus, like a certain set of debtors, they appear abroad once a week: they seem somewhat pleased that they have got a brother tradesman in their pulpit; and, blessed be God, he has condescended more than once to visit us, though we are but a poor smutty family.
I bless God, at Bristol, I am constantly attended with a very crowded audience, who give me great attention, and I trust God gives testimony to the word of his grace, Acts xiv. 3. But I shall leave that to those who believe and receive the report of the gospel.
Indeed, Sir, we live in a day of much apostasy; in a day, when there is, agreeable to ancient prophecy, a great forsaking in the earth; and it is if God does not follow it with a removing men far away: but our Great High Priest will have his tithes, he will leave a tenth, and the tenth shall return to God, Isaiah vi. l2, 13. It is high time those who love and fear God to awake out of sleep, the sun is going down over the heads of many prophets. Wo unto us, for the day goeth for the shadows of an awful evening are out, Jer. vi. 4.
We have many professors who have itching ears; these are heaping to themselves teachers; and we have many preachers who never received their testimony from God, but have stolen it from others, and the applause of a giddy multitude has the main pillar of all their popularity.
This text forcibly struck me last Sabbath-day about four o'clock, as I was meditating on the awful departure of many from the truths of God, and from the profession they have made of the God of Truth. "Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy, their conscience seared with a hot iron," 1 Tim. iv. 1, 2. If apostasy from the faith be a sign of the last times, and a prelude to the last judgment, then surely the Judge is even at the door.
Many depart from the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, the first and grandest mystery of faith; others from the essential, self-existent, and independent Deity of Jehovah the Saviour, the proper object of faith; others lampoon all experience, and they depart from even an acknowledgment of the mystery of faith in a pure conscience; others pay no regard to their life, walk, and conversation, these depart from the fruits of faith; and others depart from all the doctrines of faith, and begin to appear in word, what they always were in heart; I mean children of the bond-woman. Men who can forswear themselves, and preach contrary to the articles they have subscribed, must have their consciences seared with a witness, and be led to give heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils, before they can speak lies in hypocrisy.
As for their preaching up good works in so violent a manner, and enforcing the law, it does not surprise me at all; for trunk-makers make more noise than goldsmiths, though no manufacture is more hollow and empty than trunks. If such men performed those good works which they talk of, their good works would preach themselves. "Let another man praise thee, and not thy own mouth," Prov. xxvii, 2. "Shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works," Jam. ii. 18. By their fruits ye shall know them, says Christ, not by their words. Make the tree good, and the fruit will be good; "a good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit." This is the doctrine of our Saviour, who lived as none ever did, and spake as none ever shall, and yet he never preaches up his own good works, but only tells them that had shewed them many a good work from his Father, and asked "for which of those works do ye stone me?" He acknowledged them to be the works of his Father, to shew that he sought not honour from men, and says, if I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. I am still of opinion, that good works will preach themselves; and i think the word of God bears me out, for whenever the Saviour wrought a good work, he charged object to see that he told no man of it: but to shew that good works could not be hid, it is said, that the more he charged them, the more they spread it abroad.
For my part, I know, by woeful experience, that when I have done my best, I am an unprofitable servant; I have done no more than was my duty to do. Therefore, I must say, as the Psalmist did, "My goodness extendeth not to thee, but to the saints that are in the earth;" or as good Elihu says to Job, "If thou be righteous, what givest thou him? or what receiveth he of thine hand?" Job xxxv. 7. "Is it any pleasure to the Almighty that thou art righteous? or is it gain to him that makest thy ways perfect?" Job xxii. 3.
It is plain to me, that those who make such an outcry in the pulpit about their own personal holiness, have but very little of it to proclaim itself. "Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness; but a faithful man who can find?" Prov. xx. 6. I will never believe that any man, who is not truly enlightened into the word of God, and his own interest in it, and who does not deliver the whole truth of God, the real truth, and nothing but the truth, that such a man can have any good works about him: his works must be wind and confusion, Isaiah xli. 29. The Saviour couples divine light and good works together, and tells us to let men see them, not we to praise them; "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." If the tree be good, the fruit will be good; for, as Paul says, the grace of God which hath appeared unto all men, will teach them to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world. Therefore I shall, conclude this head with the words of Wisdom to the spouse of Christ, that the objects of her liberality, whether it be in spirituals or temporals, ought to praise her, without compelling her to do it herself. "Her children [or converts] rise up, and called her blessed; her husband [the Saviour] also, and he praiseth her. Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all.?Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her own works praise her in the gates," Prov. xxxi. 28?31.
I have ever found more happiness in declaring what God hath done for my soul, than ever I did in declaring what I have done for God. And when I hear a man proclaiming his own goodness, I always think that God has done nothing for that man; if he had, he would have owned it, for it is of the abundance of a gracious heart that the mouth speaketh: "a good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things." The Lord says, "from me is thy fruit found," Hosea xiv. 8. If then I am made fruitful, it is owing to my union with the Saviour, and the care of my covenant Father. "The branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye except ye abide in me. He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit; for without me ye can do nothing." And again, "every branch in me that beareth fruit, he the [Father] purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit." Seeing this is the case, I cannot, with conscience, boast of my fruitfulness, but of the grace of God which makes me so, that God may have the glory. The church of God, by Isaiah, saith, "Thou [Lord] hast wrought all our works in us;" and Paul agrees with this, and says, "it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do, of his good pleasure."
If this be the real truth of the matter, then I have no more to boast of than Paul had, when he acknowledged, that by the grace of God he was what he was. Then let not the rich man glory in his riches, nor the strong man in his strength, nor the wise in his wisdom; but let him that glorieth, glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me: that I exercise loving-kindness, tender mercy, and judgment, in the earth; for in these things I delight, saith the Lord, Jer. ix. 23, 24.
I am not at all surprised at such men preaching up the law continually, because the Saviour himself tells us, that the legal "servant abideth not in the house for ever, but the son abideth ever;" therefore, it must be expected, that if Abraham turns Ishmael out of the house, he will cleave to Hagar, his mother, who is the law in a figure; and there he will be sure of the greatest company, "for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord." You must expect, Sir, that men who forswear themselves, and deny and lampoon the articles which they have subscribed, and who preach a false doctrine, will creep to the law, for the scriptures tell you that the law was made for such: it is not made for a righteous man, that is, it is not made to condemn a believer in Christ. "Is the law then against the promise of God? God forbid," Gal. iii. 21. The law is made for the lawless and disobedient; for perjured persons; and is in force against every man who advances any thing contrary to sound doctrines, 1 Tim. i. 9, 10.
I bless the Almighty, he has not left me to live in any avowed breach of his law; no, not of the least commandment; nor has he suffered me to teach men so. I have narrowly watched the lives and conduct of those men who say, Stand by thyself, I am more holy than thou, and who have falsely reproached me for an Antinomian, or loose liver, whose lives I never could wish in the least to imitate. I could only observe and do what they said, but dare not do after their works; for I saw clearly, that they said and did not. And, indeed, those who deal most in the law, know the least of it, and bind grievous burdens on others, but never touch them with their own fingers. The love which the law requires, the righteousness which it demands, the holiness it calls for, and good works which it prescribes, must all be fetched out of the Saviour's fullness, who is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. The preacher who sends a poor sinner trembling elsewhere, is a rebel against the command and commission of God the Saviour, who tells us to go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature; and he that believes the gospel is sure to have the law written on the fleshly tables of his heart, and that is better than having it written and graven in tables of stone, 2 Cor. iii. 7. Have I committed an offence in sending the distressed soul to Christ? Far from it, for all the apostles did the same; they preached Christ to the people, and declared that there was salvation in no other name.
"The law is good," says Paul, "if a man use it lawfully," and ought to be preached, to shew the helpless sinner his undone, and lost estate, that all boasting may be excluded, and that he may become guilty before God; and when the awakened sinner is made to feel his guilt and native depravity, and sees the unlimited demands of law and justice, let him acknowledge and confess as the Psalmist did, Thy commandment is exceeding broad, "Enter not into judgment with thy servant, [O Lord,] for in thy sight [by the deeds of the law,] shall no man living be justified." David, in these views and under these sensations, calls for mercy, and says unto God, Thou art my salvation. And when he had apprehended and laid hold of the promised Saviour, he points others to the same refuge, and leaves an eternal benediction on all those who embrace it. "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile," Psalm xxxii. 1, 2. The above passage I shall presume to gospelise thus: blessed is the man that believes in a Redeemer's blood, and obtains the forgiveness of sins by his faith: blessed is the man whose sin is covered with the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ: and, blessed is the man whose sins were imputed to the Saviour on the cross as the sinner's surety; and unto whom God will never impute sin again: and blessed is that man who is a partaker of the Holy Ghost, and is regenerated by the same; for in his spirit, or new man, there is no guile. If any critic doubts of the validity of this comment, let him read the fourth chapter of Paul to the Romans, and compare it with other parts of the scriptures.
I know the law requires a perfect obedience, and it is by the obedience of one that many shall be made righteous, Rom. v. 19. The law demands love to God, and love to the neighbour, and God has promised to circumcise our hearts to love him, and to reveal it to us by his holy Spirit; "the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us." "The commandment," says Paul, "is holy," Rom. vii. 12. "The law is spiritual," Rom. vii. 14. And God has promised to give us of his holy Spirit, Joel ii. 28; and has made Jesus Christ to be sanctification or holiness to us, as well as righteousness, 1 Cor. i. 30. The law requires good works; works from a holy and spiritual root; but how is the natural man to produce these works, when the law is spiritual, but man is carnal, sold under sin, Rom. vii 14. Can he love God in his carnal state, when the Lord himself declares, that "The carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." I know that the law requires good works; and I read that a chosen vessel is pre-ordained to them, though not to be saved by them; "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast: For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them," Eph. ii. 8?10. Thus the apostle Paul made the Saviour all in all; and acknowledged himself under no law, but in obedience to his covenant head: I am not without law to God, but under the law to Christ, 1 Cor. ix. 21.
If handling the law in this way, and enforcing liberty from the bondage of the law, by the Holy Ghost, be Antinomianism; and, if the experience of the terrors of the law, and of the liberty of the gospel, be enthusiasm; then I must declare, that the whole bible is full of such things. And the reproach that is cast upon the doctrine, and upon the Spirit's work, falls upon God himself, as well as upon those that preach his truth, and enforce the Spirit's work on the minds of men.
I have often thought, and that with many tears, that God, who is the searcher of hearts and trier of reins, will, when he comes to judgment, call his pure gospel, and the operations of his Spirit, by their proper names, and bring in these infallible gentlemen culpable of blaspheming his holy word and Spirit. That which makes me think so is, because I never heard a man that had felt the bondage of the law, and the liberty of the gospel, that dared to talk at that impious rate. I have published to the world the dealings of God with me in a way both of providence and grace; I have published to the world my sentiments of the law, in its full force and power, against every hardened sinner, and as disarmed of its condemning and commanding power, as a covenant of works, to every believer who is under the law to Christ; and both the religious and the profane world have been spectators of my life and conversation for fifteen years; therefore they may judge of the tree by the fruit that it bears. We cannot gather grapes of thorns, nor figs of thistles; no more can we expect good works from an unsanctified sinner.
If any thing that I have written can be overthrown, my friends have liberty to do it; but if they cannot, which I believe they cannot, then I am determined to defend the whole of them; nor will I give any of them up, unless they are fairly wrenched out of my hands and heart by the light of truth.
What I understand by Antinomianism, appears to me to be a most wretched doctrine, and quite contrary to the truths that I preach. First, I am informed, that they exclude all doubting, and seem to condemn every weak believer, and exclude him from the household of faith, which is a doctrine that no mortal ever heard drop from my lips. For though doubting is not believing, yet I know that the flesh will lust against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary the one to the o0her, Gal. v. 17; so that the weak believer finds that when his faith musters up her evidences, unbelief will muster up her doubts to oppose it. He that never felt any thing of this has only a name to live, but is dead in sin; and he that has no unbelief in his heart is a perfect man, and fit for no society but the spirits of just men made perfect. So I take it for-granted, that he that never doubted, never believed; for if they had been warmly engaged in the fight of faith, they would have doubted of victory at times, as well as Paul, when he said, we were pressed beyond measure, and despaired even of life. I shall rank such a faith as this among Agur's comely walkers: "There he three things which go well: yea, four are comely in going: a lion, which is strongest among beasts, and turneth not away for any; a greyhound; an he-goat also; and a king, against whom there is no rising up:" and I add, a faith that never was tried. Though I know, by happy and blessed experience, that there is such a doctrine as the full assurance of faith; yet I know many of the Lord's people have not attained to it; and he that is weak in faith we are to receive, but not to doubtful disputation, we are not to dispute him out of his interest, because of his doubts and fears.
Another branch of Antinomianism seems to me, to be only hoping on the paper; or, in other words, it seems to be a bare assent to the written word. I own this attends a real faith; but the word of God must be received into the heart, in the light and love of it, before it can be called the gospel of salvation to such a soul. In short, a gospel messenger is a savour of death unto death, except the message be sent home to the heart in power, in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance. A believer has the word of God in his heart, as the Saviour says, he receives the word in an honest and good heart, and brings forth fruit with patience. He is no christian whose faith and hope stand only on the paper; the word and spirit that God the Father gave to the Saviour must be in the heart of his seed, Isaiah lix. 21. The Saviour gave the same word to his church that the Father gave to him; "For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me, and they have received them," John xvii. 8. It is the word and Spirit of God that makes an assembly to be what it is; namely, "The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth," 1 Tim. iii. 15. Thus the gospel of God, which is called the dispensation of the Spirit, shall return in the church to God from whence it came, and there be established on its own basis; "Mercy shall be built up for ever; thy faithfulness shalt thou establish in the very heavens."
I am informed that those persons who are real Antinomians make void the law: but a real believer does not make void the law through faith, but establishes it by believing. For he sees, that if righteousness, came by the law, that Christ died in vain, therefore he dares not frustrate the grace of God, Gal. ii. 21; but looks to the Saviour for justification, knowing it cannot be obtained by the law of Moses, and he finds Christ to be the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth, Rom. x. 4. The believer sees that the main hinge of the law is love; this hinge turns towards two objects, God and the neighbour; "on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." He having got the obedience of the Saviour imputed to his faith, Rom. iv. 24; and the love of God shed abroad in his heart, the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in him, Rom. viii. 4; while he walks not after the flesh, but after the Spirit, Rom. viii. 1. That soul that has received Christ Jesus the Lord, and walks in him, and walks by faith, and not by sight, as he is commanded to do, and walks in love as Christ has loved him, Eph. v. 2; may truly be said to walk in the spirit; and while he thus walks by faith, and in love, he produces more pure spiritual and evangelical obedience to the law of God, than all the legal workmongers in the world, put them all together. For God declares, that whatsoever is not of faith is sin; and if a man hath not the love of God in his heart, he is but sounding brass, and a tinkling cymbal, 1 Cor. xiii. 1.
The weighty matters of the law are judgment, mercy, and faith; and when God has pronounced the sentence of justification upon a soul, his judgment is past; the Saviour says, he is passed from death unto life, and shall never come into condemnation. The believer sees, that it was in mercy that God justified him as an ungodly sinner; and by faith in Jesus was he justified; therefore he has got the weighty matters of the law in his heart, and the lesser matters, such as tithing mint, rue, anise, and cumin, will follow of course. The man that will contradict these truths of God, never knew the demands of the law, nor the blessed discharge of the gospel. "If any man teach other wise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; he is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions, and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings," &c. 1 Tim. vi. 3, 4. Paul sent Timothy to Ephesus, to charge some that they taught no other doctrine, and told him that the great end of the law was answered when the sinner was brought to love God out of a pure heart and a purged conscience, and that those teachers that contradicted these truths knew not what they were about. "Now the end of the commandment is charity [or love], out of a pure heart and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned from which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling; desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm," 1 Tim. i. 5?7.
I am informed, that a real Antinomian is a person that talks about faith, and the word of God; and yet unites with the world, and lives as the world does. All that I can say to such men is, that all preaching to them hath been in vain, their faith is also vain, and they are yet in their sins, 1 Cor. xv. 14, 17. A faith that has no fruits is not gospel faith, it is only the presumption of a hardened hypocrite, and such are destitute of the grace of God. And those that think to extract a crop of spiritual fruits from lifeless sinners, by preaching the ministration of death, are as far from the spiritual knowledge of the law as the other is from the power of the gospel: both these are Antinomians, for they make void both the law and the gospel; the former daringly presumes on the mercy of God without an evidence; and the latter, as Paul says, is alive without the law, in its spiritual meaning. The Lord deliver his own children from the dreadful delusions of them both!
I am informed of what the Reverend Gentleman reproached me with to his society about my name, &c. If this is any part of the ministry that he has received from the Lord to fulfil, he should not have stopped there, but he should have brought in Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Paul, and many more, for the crimes of their natural state were as bad as mine. When the Lord converted Paul to the faith the church glorified God in him; but my conversion has given such an offence, that many have dishonoured God in me: but it is a comfort to me, that my friends are obliged to rake into my unconverted state for matter of reproach; and is, I think, a demonstrable proof to the world, that they are at a loss to find any scandal in my life since I have known the Lord.
It is true what the good man affirms about none of the ministers giving me the right-hand of fellowship; but it is no great grief to me, nor would their right-hand be an infallible testimony of my being approved of either as a believer, or a preacher. The witness of God's Spirit is sufficient to prove me a believer, and God setting his seal to my doctrine, is a sufficient proof of my being a preacher sent of God. And I can see that some who refuse the right-hand of fellowship to me, whom Christ has received, will give their right-hand to them that never knew what fellowship with the Saviour meant. This God has loudly proclaimed to the world, by suffering many, after they have received the right-hand of fellowship, to wander out of the way of understanding, and to remain to this day in the, congregation of the dead, Prov. xxi. 16. Indeed, Sir, I see that various connexions and the right-hand of fellowship have been fatal to many young preachers; and I trust I shall be enabled by grace to see that it was good for me to stand alone. God has promised to withhold no good thing from them that walk uprightly; therefore, if the right-hand of fellowship was essential to my salvation, or essential, to usefulness in the church of God, he would favour me with it; but as I see it has lifted many souls up into pride and errors, I shall remain contented without it.
As to the rest of the reproach that he cast upon me it is a scandal to him as a man, much more so as a gentleman, a scholar, and a Christian; therefore I shall pass it by; he may think better of it by and by. He is not like those whom I have contended with; he has only levelled a little artillery personally at me: he is not like the others, who have blasphemed the word of God; therefore I would willingly believe that he did not speak as he meant; and this appears plain by his charging the whole society to keep it all a secret, which, if the word of God and his own conscience had justified, there had been no call for such a charge; for whatever the Lord says unto us in secret, we may warrantably proclaim on the house-top.
I hope God will give me a heart to love him, and to pray for him; and it is the earnest desire of my soul to Almighty God, that he may keep him from being seduced from the purity and simplicity of the gospel.
I doubt my dear Father Carnal will be weary of this long epistle, but your own importunity has set the cruse a springing, and I am determined not to stop till the oil is stayed. I hope these alarming circumstances of apostasy will rouse up the servants of God; if so, I think it will terminate in God's honour, and in his people's good. We have got many things to be purged out of the church, and the fan will surely come amongst us. We have got many strange connexions, which are kept up by a contracted spirit, and cemented together by prejudice against others. This is building up the old partition wall which the Saviour came to destroy, and which every gospel trumpeter ought to level, like the walls of Jericho, even to its foundation. We have likewise many human inventions, such as pompous places of worship, an half-hearted gospel, an organ, fine singing, &c. in order to blunt the edge of persecution, that the offence of the cross may cease, and the rich worldlings make a profession without being exposed to contempt for religion. These things have patched up a peace where God himself declared war, and therefore the fan must come to purge the floor, and to separate the chaff from the wheat, Jer. xxiii. 28. I am much mistaken if these things are not some of the beginnings of sorrow. We have many good ministers of Jesus Christ, who, in attempting to oppose others, have warped sadly from the truths of the gospel, in order to represent those as erroneous who have stood fast in their own testimony for God. I hope these will look about them, own and cleave to their own standard, as they see so many attempting to run away with the banner of the church.
Others are declaring, that the third part of the Bible has only a moral meaning, though the Holy Ghost says, that "all scripture is given by inspiration of God." Others tell us, that many parts of the scriptures are indelicate, though the Almighty declares that every word of his is pure, Prov. xxx. 5. Others find fault with a 'spiritual interpretation of the word of God, except scholastic rules are observed; though the Holy Ghost says that "no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation." We have got other labourers in the vineyard, who are chaining up all their followers to their own pews, whether they are fed there or not: these lead them out of one bondage into another.
You know, Sir, that many poor souls have stole into Monkwell street Chapel, and though they have got a blessing under my ministry, they have not dared to come again, unless they stood at the door, or behind it, incognito for fear their pastor should see them: and if they have bought a book of mine, it was obliged to fly into the closet, like a night-bird by day, for fear of the reader's being excommunicated for having it in his possession. This is bringing the necks of poor sinners out of one yoke into another; bringing them from under the bondage of the law, that they may submit to the yoke of priest-craft. "Take my yoke upon you," says the Saviour, "and learn of me." He that will be great, let him be servant of all, says Christ. A preacher is to take the oversight of his flock, without an eye to gain; neither are they to be lords over God's heritage, 1 Pet. v. 3. And, in effect, to lord it over the flock of God, is too much like being a rival to the King of kings and Lord of lords, Rev. xix. 16. Surely such souls may complain, and say, as Zion of old did, "0 Lord our God, other lords besides thee have had dominion over us; but by thee only will we make mention of thy name," Isaiah xxvi. 13. Reader, call no man Master, for one is your Master, even Christ, Matt. xxiii. 8, 6. Therefore call no gospel minister Rabbi, Rabbi, for God has strictly forbidden mastership in his ministerial servants. "My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. For in many things we offend all."
Many of these things must be done away, that the excellency and the power of religion may appear to be of God, and not of us. God is jealous of his own honour, and will never give his glory to another. God's own truth, faithfully delivered, bring glory to God from every recipient of grace; but, if false doctrine be advanced instead of truth, the hearer is zealously affected, but not well; and, if he adheres to false or legal doctrines, he is excluded from Christ by the preacher, that he may affect, or place his affections on, him instead of Christ, Gal. iv. 17. I hope I shall ever be honest in my Lord and Master's work, for I know that the goods which are put into the hands of every faithful minister are his Spirit, his word, and his people; and it becomes a steward to be found faithful, and not to waste his Master's goods. But, alas! for the want of gospel matter, and gospel experience, many have kept a flying troop in a profession by nothing but telling old wives' fables; and there are to this day legions in London who would go three miles to hear a country tale from the pulpit, who would not go over the threshold of their doors to hear Paul explain the seventh chapter of his epistle to the Romans, I know a pious broken-hearted soul, in London, who once sat in a congregation of three or four thousand souls, and wept almost through the whole time of service, to see such a number gathered together, and nothing to entertain their minds with but a few foolish tales, more fit for a tea-table, or a washing-tub, than a pulpit. We may say, indeed, of such a ministry, as an old woman says of her calling, that?mangling is done here.
I will never believe that God will own any doctrine but his own pure word. It is truth that is to make a sinner free; and if a preacher has any armour in God's work, it is truth. "Under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler," Psalm xci. 4. These things have embittered the minds of many souls against the holy word of God, and against the preachers of it; and as they themselves have not an experience of the truth of God, they have not the springing well of God's Spirit within them; and therefore they find, that dealing in doctrines which they never enjoyed, and talking of grace which they never felt the power of, is all against the bent of their own spirits. Hence it is that they turn to the natural bias of their own wills, and preach up for doctrines those things which lie within the compass of natural reason; and they find that to be a minister of the letter is much easier than to attempt the ministry of the spirit. These, says the Apostle, are desirous of being teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm. These lay by the truths of the gospel, the promises, and the blessings of it, and fly to the precepts, and zealously enforce them, without any regard to the promised blessings of grace, which alone can enable the poor sinner to walk in the commandments of God.
These, says the apostle, begin in the spirit, and end in the flesh, that is, they make a beginning with the gospel dispensation, but end with the carnal commandment; they confuse the lines of the gospel plan, they make shipwreck of the doctrines of faith, which they once confessed and preached, and then they go on board of the galley with oars, Isaiah xxxiii. 21. For if a man be not a real believer in the blessed Saviour, he must, in spirit, be under the law; and if he be under the law he will naturally listen to the law; for the voice of the law is to such persons in particular, "Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law." Blessed be God, he himself applied the doctrine to my soul that I am enabled to preach. In this I can say, with our great apostle, the doctrine which I preach "is not after man; for I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it; but by the revelation of Jesus Christ." "It pleased God to reveal his Son in me." Happy and blessed is that soul that receives the word from God's mouth, and lays up his commandments in his heart. But; alas! we live in a day when the blessed book of God is sadly neglected, private communion with God in closet prayer is little enforced, and consequently little practised; hence every thing goes down for gospel, and the faith of many stands on the wisdom of men, instead of the power of God, 1 Cor. ii. 5. "Trust ye not in a friend, put ye not confidence in a guide," says the Almighty, Micah vii. 5. It is a dangerous thing to have an inordinate affection for an unevangelised preacher; for if he apostatizes, the warm attachment of the simple to him will drag them into his error. "Blessed," says the Psalmist, "is that man that maketh the Lord his trust; and respecteth not the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies." It was not without cause that the Saviour rebuked the natural affections of his followers when their love was hovering continually about his human nature. "Weep not for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children: for if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?" The fan must come, the floor must be purged: the man of sin shall never be revealed, except there come a falling away first.
The sun is going down over the prophets indeed, because his enlivening rays are little observed, and less enforced. The shadows of the evening are stretching out, and many wolves are creeping forth, who will not spare the flock. My dear friends, pray for me, that I may watch in all things, that I may do the work of an Evangelist, and make full proof of my ministry.
I know the word of God is fulfilled in the apostasy of some men, as well as in the steadfastness of others. God is the strength of his people; no man can stand alone; if he stand not in the Lord, he must fall. Christ is the foundation, and if a man be not fixed on that rock, though he begin to build, yet he is sure never to be able to finish. All profession, zeal, gifts, knowledge, diligence, and usefulness, will vanish, if the man has not got the real root of religion. These are they which for a while believe, but in time of temptation fall away, because they have no root in themselves. Except the branch be united to the vine by the uniting bond of love, he cannot be fruitful, nor abide in the vine; he may make a fair shew of wisdom in will-worship and voluntary humility, and that is all. "Every branch in me that beareth not fruit, [which are the fruits of the spirit] he taketh away; and every branch that beareth fruit [the fruits of the spirit], he purgeth it [from the corruptions of the flesh], that it may bring forth more fruit."
The word of God in the heart, and gifts for the ministry too, must both be watered by the springing well of God's holy Spirit, or else they will soon be scorched, and wither away for want of moisture. No branch will abide in the vine without the spirit of love, no stone will stand fast on the foundation without the cement of faith, no ministerial gift will endure without a fresh supply of the Spirit of God.
"Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God: he that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son." Therefore such persons as deny the Bible, and preach contrary to the doctrinal articles of the church of England, are men that the just are forbid to entertain in their houses. "If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed. For he that biddeth him God speed, is a partaker of his evil deeds," and is a friend to the devil's cause, 2 John ix. 11.
I suppose I shall weary you with this long epistle, but you can blame none but yourself for it; your importunity set the cruse a springing, and I must conclude before the oil stays. Farewell.
Ever thine in the gospel of Christ,