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23. But how shall we reconcile this with the direction given by St. Paul to the Corinthians ? “ If any that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, with such an one, no not to eat.” 1 Cor. v. 11. How is it reconcileable with that direction in his second epistle; (chap. vi. 17;) “Come out from the midst of them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing ?” I answer, the former passage has no relation at all to the present question. It does not concern ministers, good or bad. The plain meaning of it is, Have no intimacy with any that is called a Christian, and lives in any open sin: a weighty exhortation, which should be much attended to by all the children of God. As little does the other passage refer to ministers or teachers of any kind. In this the Apostle is exhorting the children of God, to break off all intercourse with the children of the Devil. The words literally are, “ Go out from the midst of them, and be ye separate, and touch not the uriclean thing.” Intimating that they could not continue united with them, without being more or less partakers of their sins.
We may, therefore, boldly aflirm, that neither St. Paul, nor any other of the inspired writers, ever advised holy men to separate from the Church wherein they were, because the ministers were unholy.
24. Nevertheless it is true, that many pious Christians, as was observed before, did separate themselves from the Church, some even in the second, and many more in the third century. Some of these retired into the desert, and lived altogether alone': others built themselves houses, afterwards termed convents, and only secluded themselves from the rest of the world. But what was the fruit of this separation? The same that might easily be foreseen. It increased, and confirmed, in an astonishing degree, the total corruption of the Church. The salt which was thus heaped up in a corner, had effectually lost its savour. The light which was put under a bushel, no longer shone before men. In onsequence of this, ungodliness and unrighteousness reigned without control. The world being given up into the hands of the Devil, wrought all his works with greediness. And gross darkness, joined with all manner of wickedness, covered the whole earth.
25. “ But if all this wickedness was not a sufficient reason for separating from a corrupt Church, why did Calvin and Luther, with their followers, separate from the Church of Rome ?” I answer, they did not properly separate from it, but were violently thrust out of it. They were not suffered to continue therein, upon any other terms than subscribing to all the errors of that Church, and joining in all their superstition and idolatry. Therefore this separation lay at their door. With the Reformers it was not a matter of choice, but of necessity. And if such necessity was now laid upon us, we ought to separate from any Church under heaven.
26. There were not the same reasons why various bodies of men should afterwards separate from the Church of England. No sinful terms of communion were imposed upon them ; neither are at this
day. Most of them separated, either because of some opinions, or some modes of worship, which they did not approve of. Few of them assigned the unholiness either of the clergy or laity, as the cause of their separation. And if any did so, it did not appear that they themselves were a jot better, than those they separated from.
27. But the grand reason, which many give for separating from the Church, namely, that the ministers are unholy men, is founded on this assertion, that the ministration of evil men can do no good; that we may call the sacraments means of grace; but men who do not receive the grace of God themselves, cannot convey that grace to others. So that we can never expect to receive the blessing of God through the servants of the Devil.
This argument is extremely plausible, and is indeed the strongest that can be urged. Yet before you allow it to be conclusive, you should consider a few things.
23. Consider, first, Did the Jewish sacraments convey no saving grace to the hearers, because they were administered by unholy mnen? If so, none of the Israelites were saved, from the time of Eli, to the coming of Christ. For their priests were not a whit better than ours; if they were not much worse. But who will dare to afirm this? Which is no less in effect, than to affirm, That all the children of Israel went to hell for eleven or twelve hundred years together!
29. Did the ordinances administered in the time of our blessed Lord convey no grace to those that attended them ? Surely, then, the Holy Ghost would not have commended “ Zacharias and Elizabeth for walking in these ordinances !" If the ministrations of wicked men did no good, would our Lord have commanded his followers (so far from forbidding them to attend those of the Scribes and Pharisees! Observe, again, the remarkable words: (Matt. xxiii. \, &c. :) “ Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, saying, The Scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses' seat,”-are your appointed teachers; “all, therefore, whatsoever they bid you observe, ihat observe and do." Now what were these Scribes and Pharisees? Were they not the vilest of men ? Yet these very men he commands them to hear. This command is plainly implied in those words : * Whatsoever they command you to observe, that observe and do." For unless they heard what they said, they could not do it.
30. Consider, a little farther, the dreadful consequences of affirming, that wicked ministers do no good. That the ordinances administered by them do not convey saving grace to those that attend them. If it be so, then well nigh all the Christians from the time of the Apostles, to that of the Reformation, are perished! For what manner of men were well nigh all the clergy, during all those centuries! Consult the history of the church in every age, and you will find more and more proofs of their corruption. It is true, they have not been so openly abandoned since; but ever since that happy period, there has been a considerable change for the better, in the clergy, as well
as the laity. But still there is reason to fear, that even those who now minister in holy things, who are outwardly devoted to God for that purpose, (yea, and in Protestant, as well as Romish countries,) are, nevertheless, far more devoted to the world, to riches, honour, or pleasure, (a few comparatively excepted,) than they are to God : so that in truth they are as far from Christian holiness as earth is from heaven. If then no grace is conveyed by the ministry of wicked men, in what a case is the Christian world! How hath God forgotten to be gracious! How hath he forsaken his own inheritance ! 0, think not so ! Rather say with our own church, (though in opposition to the church of Rome, which maintains, “ If the Priest does not minister with a pure intention, which no wicked man can do, then the sacrament is no sacrament at all :) the unworthiness of the minister doth not hinder the efficacy of God's ordinance. The reason is plain, because the efficacy is derived, not from him that administers, but from him that ordains it. He does not, will not, suffer his grace to be intercepted, though the messenger will not receive it himself.
31. Another consequence would follow from the supposition, that no grace is conveyed by wicked ministers; namely, that a conscientious person cannot be a member of any national church in the world. For wherever he is, it is great odds, whether a holy minister be stationed there ; and if there be not, it is mere lost labour to worship in that congregation. But, blessed be God, this is not the case : we know by our own happy experience, and by the experience of thousands, that the word of the Lord is not bound, though uttered by an unholy minister: and the sacraments are not dry breasts, whether he that administers be holy or unholy.
32. Consider one more consequence of this supposition, should it ever be generally received. Were all men to separate from those churches where the minister was an unholy man: (as they ought to: do, if the grace of God never did, nor could attend his ministry :). what confusion, what tumults, what commotions, would this occasion throughout Christendom! What evil-surmisings, heart-burnings, jealousies, envyings, must every where arise ! What censuring, talebearing, strife, contention! Neither would it stop here: but from evil words the contending parties would soon proceed to evil deeds ; and rivers of blood would soon be shed, to the utter scandal of MaHometans and Heathens.
33. Let us not then trouble and embroil ourselves and our neighbours with unprofitable disputations, but all agree to spread, to the uttermost of our power, the quiet and peaceable gospel of Christ. Let us make the best of whatever ministry the Providence of God has assigned us. Near fifty years ago, a great and good man, Dr. Potter, then Archbishop of Canterbury, gave me an advice, for which I have ever since had occasion to bless God : If you desire to be extensively useful, do not spend your time and strength, in contending for or against such things as are of a disputable nature; but in testifying against open notorious vice, and in promoting real, essential holiness.” Let us keep to this ; leaving a thousand disputable points tothose that have no better business, than to toss the ball of controversy to and fro; let us keep close to our point. Let us bear a faithful testimony in our several stations, against all ungodliness and unrighteousness; and with all our might recommend that inward and outward holiness, “ without which no man shall see the Lord.”
- For our rejoicing is this, the Testimony of our Conscience."
2 CORINTHIANS 1. 12.
1. HOW few words are there in the world more common than this, Conscience? It is in almost every one's mouth. And one would thence be apt to conclude, that no word can be found, which is more generally understood. But it may be doubted whether this is the case or not; although numberless treatises have been written upon it. For it is certain, a great part of those writers have rather puzzled the cause than cleared it; that they have usually “darkened counsel, by uttering words without knowledge.”
2. The best treatise on the subject which I remember to have seen, is translated from the French of Mons. Placatt, which describes in a clear and rational manner the nature and offices of Conscience. But though it was published near a hundred years ago, it is in very sew hands. And indeed a great part of those that have read it, complain of the length of it. An octavo volume of several hundreds of pages, upon so plain a subject, was likely to prove a trial of patience to most persons of understanding. It seems, therefore, there is still wanting a discourse upon the subject, short, as well as clear. This, by the assistance of God, I will endeavour to supply, by showing, First, The Nature of Conscience; and then the several sorts of it; after which I shall conclude with a few important Directions.
I. 1. And, first, I am to show the Nature of Conscience. This a very pious man in the last century, (in his Sermon on Universal Conscientiousness,) describes in the following manner :-" This word, which literally signifies knowing with another, excellently sets forth the Scriptural notion of it. So Job xvi. 19: “My witness is in heaven:' and so the Apostle, Rom. ix. 1: 'I say the truth; my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost.' In both places it is as if he had said, God witnesseth with my conscience. Conscience is placed in the middle, under God and above man. It is a kind of silent reasoning of the mind, whereby those things which are judged to be right are approved of with pleasure ; but those which are judged evil are disapproved of with uneasiness." This is a tribunal in the breast of men, to accuse sinners, and excuse them that do well.
2. To view it in a somewhat different light : Conscience, as well as the Latin word, from which it is taken, and the Greek word, ouverOndews, necessarily imply, The knowledge of two or more things together : suppose the knowledge of our words and actions, and at the same time of their goodness or badness : if it be not rather the faculty whereby we know at once our actions and the quality of them.
3. Conscience, then, is that faculty, whereby we are at once con. scious of our own thoughts, words, and actions, and of their merit or demerit, of their being good or bad; and, consequently, deserving either praise or censure. And some pleasure generally attends the former sentence; some uneasiness the latter. But this varies exceedingly, according to education, and a thousand other circumstances.
4. Can it be denied, that something of this is found in every man born into the world ? And does it not appear, as soon as the understanding opens ? as soon as reason begins to dawn? Does not every one then begin to know that there is a difference between good and evil, how imperfect soever, the various circumstances of this sense of good and evil may be? Does not every man, for instance, know, unless blinded by the prejudices of education, (like the inhabitants of the Cape of Good Hope,) that it is good to honour his parents ? Do not all men, however uneducated, or barbarous, allow, It is right to do to others as we would have them do to us? And are not all, who know this, condemned in their own mind, when they do any thing contrary thereto? as, on the other hand, when they act suitably thereto, they have the approbation of their own consciences ?
5. This faculty seems to be what is usually meant by those who speak of Natural Conscience; an expression frequently found in some of our best Authors, but yet not strictly just. For though in one sense it may be termed natural, because it is found in all men; yet, properly speaking, it is not natural ; but a supernatural gift of God, above all his natural endowments. No; it is not nature but the Son of God, that is “the true light, which enlighteneth every man which cometh into the world.” So that we may say to every human creature, “ He,” not nature, “ hath shown thee, O man? what is good.” And it is his Spirit which giveth thee an inward check, which causeth thee to feel uneasy, when thou walkest in any instanco contrary to the light which he hath given thee.
6. It may give a peculiar force to that beautiful passage, to consider by whom, and on what occasion the words were uttered. The persons speaking are Balak the king of Moab, and Balaam, then under divine impressions: (it seems, then “not far from the kingdom of God," although afterward he so foully revolted.) Probably