Page images
PDF
EPUB

CHAP. II.

Opposition made unto the church as built on the person of Christ.

There are in the words of our Saviour unto Peter concerning the foundation of the church, a promise of its preservation, and a prediction of the opposition that should be made thereunto. And accordingly all things are come to pass, and carrying on towards a complete accomplishment. For (that we may begin with the opposition foretold) the power and policy of hell ever were, and ever will be, engaged in opposition unto the church built on this foundation ; that is, the faith of it concerning his person, office, and grace, whereby it is built on him. This as unto what is past concerneth matter of fact; whereof therefore I must give a brief account; and then we shall examine what evidences we have of the same endeavour at present.

The gates of hell, as all agree, are the power and policy of it; or the actings of Satan both as a lion, and as a serpent, by rage and by subtlety. But whereas in these things he acts not visibly in his own person, but by his agents, he hath always had two sorts of them employed in his service. By the one he executes his rage, and by the other his craft; he animates the one as a lion, the other as a serpent: in the one he acts as the dragon, in the other as the beast that had two horns like the lamb, but spake like the dragon. The first is the unbelieving world, the other apostates and seducers of all sorts. Wherefore this work in this kind is of a double nature; the one an effect of his power and rage, acted by the world in persecution, the other of his policy and craft, acted by heretics in seduction. In both he de. signs to separate the church from its foundation.

The opposition of the first sort he began against the person of Christ immediately in his human nature. Fraud he first once attempted in his temptation, Matt. iv. but quickly found that that way he could make no approach unto him, • The Prince of this world came, but had nothing in him.' Wherefore he betook himself unto open force, and by all means possible sought his destruction; so also the more at

VOL. XII.

any time the church is by faith and watchfulness secured against seduction, the more doth he rage against it in open persecution. And for the example and comfort of the church, in its conformity unto him, no means were left unattempted that might instigate and prepare the world for his ruin. Reproaches, contempt, scorn, false and lying accusations by his suggestions, were heaped on him on every hand. Hereby in the whole course of his ministry he ‘endured the contradiction of sinners against himself;' Heb. xii. 3. And there is herein blessed provision made of inestimable consolation, for all those who are predestinated to be conformed unto his image,' when God shall help them by faith to make use of his example, He calls them to take up his cross and follow him; and he hath shewed them what is in it by his own bearing of it. Contempt, reproach, despiteful usage, calumnies, false accusations, wrestings of his words, blaspheming of his doctrine, reviling of his person, all that he said and did as to his principles about human government, and moral conversation, encompassed him all his days. And he hath assured his followers, that such and no other, at least for the most part, shall be their lot in this world. And some in all ages have an experience of it in an eminent manner. But have they any reason to complain ? Why should the servant look for better measure than the Master met withal ? To be made like unto him in the worst of evils, for his sake, is the best and most honourable condition in this world. God help some to believe it. Hereby was way made for his death. But in the whole it was manifested, how infinitely in all his subtlety and malice Satan falls short of the contrivances of divine wisdom and power, For all that he attained by effecting his death, in the hour of darkness, was but the breaking of his own head, the destruction of his works, with the ruin of his kingdom; and what yet remains to consummate his eternal misery, he shall himself work out in his opposition unto the church. His restless malice and darkness will not suffer him to give over the pursuit of his rage, until nothing remains to give him a full entrance into endless torments, which he hasteneth every day. For when he shall have filled up the measure of his .sins, and of the sins of the world, in being instrumental unto his rage, eternal judgment shall put all things unto their issue. Through that shall he, with the world, enter into everlasting flames, and the whole church built on the rock into rest and glory.

[graphic]

No sooner did the church of the New Testament begin to arise on this foundation, but the whole world of Jews and, Gentiles, set themselves with open force to destroy it. And all that they contended with the church about was their faith, and confession of it, that. Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God.' This foundation they would cast it from, or exterminate it out of the earth. What were the endeavours of the gates of hell in this kind, with what height of rage, with what bloody and inhuman cruelties they were exercised and executed, we have some obscure remembrance in the stories that remain from the martyrdom of Stephen unto the days of Constantine. But although there be enough remaining on record, to give us a view of the insatiable malice of the old murderer, and an astonishing representation of human nature degenerating into his image in the perpetration of all horrid inhuman cruelties, yet is it all as nothing in comparison of that prospect which the last day will give of them, when the earth shall disclose all the blood that it hath received, and the righteous Judge shall lay open all the contrivances for its effusion, with the rage and malice wherewith they were attended. The same rage continueth yet unallayed in its principles. And although God in many places restrain and shut it up in his providence, by the circumstances of human affairs, yet as it hath the least advantage, as it finds any door open unto it, it endeavours to act itself in lesser or higher degrees. But whatever dismal appearance of things there may be in the world, we need not fear the ruin of the church by the most bloody oppositions. Pormer experiences will give security against future events. It is built on the rock, and those gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

The second way whereby Satan attempted the same end, and yet continueth so to do, was by pernicious errors and heresies. For all the heresies wherewith the church was assaulted and pestered for some centuries of years, were oppositions unto their faith in the person of Christ. I shall briefly reflect on the heads of this opposition, because they are now, after a revolution of so many ages, lifting up them

selves again, though under new vizards and pretences. And they were of three sorts.

1. That which introduced other doctrines and notions of divine things, absolutely exclusive of the person and mediation of Christ. Such was that of the Gnostics, begun as it is supposed by Simon the magician. A sort of people they were with whom the first churches, after the decease of the apostles, were exceedingly pestered, and the faith of many was overthrown. For instead of Christ, and God in him reconciling the world unto himself, and the obedience of faith thereon according unto the gospel, they introduced endless fables, genealogies, and conjugations of deities, or divine powers, which practically issued in this, that Christ was such an emanation of light and knowledge in them, as made them perfect; that is, it took away all differences of good and evil, and gave them liberty to do what they pleased without sense of sin, or danger of punishment. This was the first way that Satan attempted the faith of the church, namely, by substituting a perfecting light and knowledge in the room of the person of Christ; and for aught I know, it may be one of the last ways whereby he will endeavour the accomplishment of the same design. Nor had I made mention of these pernicious imaginations, which have lain rotting in oblivion for so many generations, but that some again endeavour to revive them, at least so far as they were advanced and directed against the faith and knowledge of the person of Christ.

2. Satan attempted the same work by them who denied his divine nature, that is, in effect, denied him to be the Son of the living God, on the faith whereof the church is built. And these were of two sorts :

(1.) Such as plainly and openly denied him to have any pre-existence unto his conception and birth of the holy Virgin. Such were the Ebionites, Samosetanians, and Photinians. For they all affirmed him to be a mere man, and no more, though miraculously conceived and born of the Virgin, as some of them granted; though denied, as it is said, by the Ebionites, on which account he was called the Son of God. This attempt lay directly against the everlasting rock, and would have substituted sand in the room of it. For no better is the best of human nature to make a foundation

for the church, if not united unto the divine. Many in those days followed those pernicious ways; yet the foundation of God stood sure, nor was the church moved from it. But yet after a revolution of so many ages, is the same endeavour again engaged in. The old enemy, taking advantage of the prevalency of Atheism and profaneness among those that are called Christians, doth again employ the same engine to overthrow the faith of the church, and that with more subtlety than formerly, in the Socinians. For their faith, or rather unbelief, concerning the person of Christ, is the same with those before-mentioned. And what a vain wanton generation admire and applaud in their sophistical reasonings, is no more but what the primitive church triumphed over through faith, in the most subtle management of the Samosetanians, Photinians, and others. An evidence it is that Satan is not unknowing unto the workings of that vanity and darkness, of those corrupt affections in the minds of men, whereby they are disposed unto a contempt of the mystery of the gospel. Who would have thought, that the old exploded pernicious errors of the Samosetanians, Photinians, and Pelagians, against the power and grace of Christ, should enter on the world again with so much. ostentation and triumph as they do at this day? But many men, so far as I can observe, are fallen into such a dislike of the Christ of God, that every thing concerning his person, spirit, and grace, is an abomination unto them. It is not want of understanding to comprehend doctrines, but hatred unto the things themselves, whereby such persons are seduced. And there is nothing of this nature, whereunto nature as corrupted, doth not contribute its utmost assistance.

(2.) There were such as opposed his divine nature under pretence of declaring it another way than the faith of the church did rest in. So was it with the Arians, in whom the gates of hell seemed once to be near a prevalency. For the whole professing world almost was once surprised into that heresy. In words they acknowledged his divine person; but added, as a limitation of that acknowledgment, that the divine nature which he had was originally created of God, and produced out of nothing, with a double blasphemy, denying him to be the true God, and making a God of a mere creature. But in all these attempts the opposition of

« PreviousContinue »