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error of his way, shall save a soul from death, and shail hide a multitude of sins." I must add,
3. The professors of religion ought to unite in the exercise of that holy discipline, which Christ has appointed for the express purpose of reforming transgressors, or excluding them from the church. This mode of discipline we find enjoined upon christians in the eighteenth chapter of Matthew. Though different denominations of christians have adopted different modes of church discipline; yet they have all agreed, that some mode of discipline ought to be maintained and exercised. But as this is a duty, which requires peculiar tenderness, fidelity, and self-denial, churches in general have, from age to age, been too negligent in
, keeping up a proper care and watchfulness and authority over their delinquent members, which has opened the door to innumerable errors in doctrine and practice. The apostles exhorted christians to be very faithful in maintaining a strict discipline over their brethren, who transgressed the laws of Christ, and violated their own covenant-obligations. And when they were faithful in this respect, their fidelity was crowned with success. This appears from the good effect of christian discipline in the church of Corinth in particular. Let any church properly exercise that discipline over their members, which Christ has appointed, and they will have great reason to hope, that they shall be able to prevent or purge out every essential error in doctrine and practice, and carry conviction to all around them of their own sincerity, and of the beauty and importance of true religion. It now remains to show,
IV. Why christians should be zealous in maintaining the purity and simplicity of divine institutions.
Zeal always has respect to some external action, and not to any mere immanent exercise of the mind. We may properly say, that a man pursues an object zealously; but we cannot properly say, that he zealously loves or hates that object. But no man ever pursues an object zealously, unless it appears to him to be an object not only very desirable, but very important, or difficult, to obtain. One duty, therefore, may require the exercise of zeal and not another. Though Christ always paid perfect obedience to his Father's will, yet he did not exercise zeal in the performance of every duty, He often conversed and acted with great calmness and serenity, without the least appearance of zeal; but he never failed to exercise a holy and fervent zeal, whenever some difficult and important duty was to be performed. It is now natural to inquire, why christians shouid be more zealous in maintaining divine institutions, than in discharging many other religious duties.
1. They ought to be zealous in performing this duty, because it is extremely difficult to perform. Those who abuse or profane divine ordinances are averse from being rebuked and restrained, and scarcely ever fail of resenting and opposing any thing that is said or done to rebuke and restrain them. Solomon observes, that “he that reproveth a scorner, getteth to himself shame; and he that rebuketh a wicked man, getteth to himself a blot.” Christ was hated, reproached, and opposed, because he testified of the world, that their works were evil. The same spirit still reigns in the breasts of transgressors. They will manifest their resentment and opposition towards all, who attempt to rebuke or restrain them. To meet and overcome this great and formidable difficulty, requires peculiar Zeal in the professors of religion. It was owing to a
want of zeal in the Jewish priests, that they were afraid to rebuke and restrain those who profaned the house of God. Nor can it be owing to any thing but the want of holy zeal in the followers of Christ, that so many corrupt doctrines and corrupt practices have been suffered to creep in and prevail among the once pure and flourishing churches in this land. But such a pure and fervent zeal as glowed in the breast of Christ, will embolden his true followers to stem the torrent of error and corruption, and maintain the purity of divine ordinances in the face of the boldest corrupters. True zeal takes away that fear of man, which bringeth a snare, and enables christians to triumph over all opposition in the path of duty. How extremely difficult was it to purify the Jewish church, after it had been corrupted by idolatrous priests and princes? But how often did the zeal of pious priests and princes bear down all opposition, and bring back the deluded and corrupted to the true worship of the true God? Nothing but a pure and fervent zeal ever did, or ever will prompt the friends of God to surmount the great and formidable difficulties, which lie in the way of maintaining the worship and ordinances of God
and entire. But,
2. The importance as well as the difficulty of preserving the purity of divine institutions, ought to inspire christians with peculiar zeal in faithfully discharg. ing this duty. Though the instituted forms of religion may be maintained, without maintaining religion itseif; yet religion itself cannot be maintained, without maintaining its instituted forms. These are the bulwarks of religion, which its enemies never fail to attack, in order to bring it into neglect and contempt. The enemies of the Jewish church gained their greatest advantage against it, by attacking its sacred rites
and ceremonies: and those who have corrupted christian institutions, have done the greatest injury to the christian church. Christ has been most deeply wounded in the house of his friends, who have either neglected, perverted, or corrupted his holy ordinances. False professors of religion were the principal instruments of introducing those errors and corruptions in the seven churches of Asia, which finally destroyed them.
By persons of the same character and disposition, were all the idolatry, errors, and superstition of the church of Rome introduced, which have defaced christianity, and spread infidelity through the christian world. The whole history of the church of God teaches us, that if we suffer the Sabbath, the sacraments, and the positive duties of religion to be neglected, perverted, or corrupted, we shall certainly find, that christianity will die in our hands. This is a solemn consideration, which ought to awaken the warmest zeal in the breasts all sincere christians, to maintain the purity of all divine institutions, upon which the very existence of religion depends. Zeal' in pursuing any object, ought to rise in proportion to the importance of the object pursued. There is no duty, therefore, in which christians ought to exercise a more enlightened and ardent zeal, than in maintaining those special ordinances of the gospel, which are absolutely necessary to promote the cause, and enlarge the kingdom of Christ.
1. If positive duties, which cannot be discovered by the light of nature, are founded in as much reason as moral duties; then we may justly conclude, that a divine Revelation has always been necessary. This is denied by infidels, who maintain, that the light of nature is sufficient to teach moral agents all moral duties,
249 which are founded in reason, and which they can be bound to perform. They say, if God should command his creatures to do any thing, which is not founded in reason, and which they could not discover by the proper use of their rational powers, his positive command would not lay them under moral obligation to obey; because his positive command could not make that right which was not right before, nor that duty which was not duty before. So that the very supposition of his giving his creatures a revelation, which contains positive precepts, is palpably absurd, being altogether unnecessary and useless. The whole plausibility of this mode of reasoning arises from a great mistake, which is, that there can be no reasons for any divine command, which are not discoverable by the light of nature. But it appears from what has been said, that there always are as good reasons for positive, as for moral duties; and therefore God may, with equal propriety and authority, enjoin both upon any of his intelligent creatures, who stand in need of a divine revelation to teach them positive duties in particular, which they cannot discover by their mere intellectual powers. Adam, in his primitive state of innocence, stood in need of a divine revelation, to teach him what fruits of the earth he might use for food; what business he might pursue; what day he might rest from labour, and how he might spend that day of rest. These were positive duties, which he could not discover by the light of nature, and which he needed a divine revelation to teach him. After he sinned and incurred the divine displeasure, he stood in greater need of a further revelation, to teach him how he might escape deserved punishment and obtain the forfeited favour of his offended Sovereign. His posterity likewise have stood in need of the same revelation: