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church, or body of Christians, whether with or without cause. So that the immense pains which have been taken both by Papists and Protestants, in writing whole volumes against schism, as a separation. whether from the church of Rome, or from the church of England, exerting all their strength, and bringing all their learning, have been employed to mighty little purpose. They have been fighting with shadows of their own raising; violently combating a sin which had no existence, but in their own imagination; which is not once forbidden, no, nor once mentioned, either in the Old or New Testament.
10. "But is there no sin resembling what so many learned and pious writers have termed schism; and against which all the members of religious communities have need to be carefully guarded?" I do not doubt but there is; and I cannot tell, whether this too, may not, in a remote sense, be called schism: I mean, "a causeless separation from a body of living Christians." There is no absurdity in taking the word in this sense; though it be not strictly scriptural. And it is certain all the members of Christian communities should be carefully guarded against it. For how little a thing soever it may seem, and how innocent soever it may be accounted, schism, even in this sense, is both evil in itself, and productive of evil consequences.
11. It is evil in itself. To separate ourselves from a body of living Christians, with whom we were before united, is a grievous breach of the law of love. It is the nature of love to unite us together; and the greater the love, the stricter the union. And while this continues in its strength, nothing can divide those whom love has united. It is only when our love grows cold, that we can think of separating from our brethren. And this is certainly the case with any who willingly separate from their Christian brethren. The pretences for separation may be innumerable, but want of love is always the real cause; otherwise, they would still hold the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. It is therefore contrary to all those commands of God, wherein brotherly love is enjoined to that of St. Paul; "Let brotherly love continue;"-to that of St. John; " My beloved children, love one another;"-and especially to that of our blessed Master; This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you." Yea, "by this," saith he, "shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye love one another."
12. And as such a separation is evil in itself, being a breach of brotherly love, so it brings forth evil fruit; it is naturally productive of the most mischievous consequences. It opens a door to all unkind tempers, both in ourselves and others. It leads directly to a whole train of evil surmisings, to severe and uncharitable judging of each other. It gives occasion to offence, to anger and resentment, perhaps in ourselves as well as in our brethren; which, if not presently stopped, may issue in bitterness, malice, and settled hatred; creating a present hell wherever they are found, as a prelude to hell eternal.
13. But the ill consequences of even this species of schism do not terminate in the heart. Evil tempers cannot long remain within, before they are productive of outward fruit. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. As he whose heart is full of love, openeth his mouth with wisdom, and in his lips there is the law of kindness; so he whose heart is full of prejudice, anger, suspicion, or any unkind temper, will surely open his mouth in a manner corresponding with the dispo
sition of his mind. And hence will arise, if not lying and slandering, (which yet will hardly be avoided,) bitter words, tale bearing, back biting, and evil speaking of every kind.
14. From evil words, from tale bearing, backbiting, and evil speaking, how many evil works will naturally flow! Anger, jealousy, envy, wrong tempers of every kind, do not vent themselves merely in words, but push men continually to all kind of ungodly and unrighteous actions. A plentiful harvest of all the works of darkness, may be expected to spring from this source; whereby, in the end, thousands of souls, and not a few of those who once walked in the light of God's countenance, may be turned from the way of peace, and finally drowned in everlasting perdition.
15. Well might our blessed Lord say, "Wo unto the world because of offences!" Yet "it must needs be, that offences will come:" yea, abundance of them will, of necessity, arise, when a breach of this sort is made in any religious community: while they that leave it endeavour to justify themselves, by censuring those they separate from; and these, on the other hand, retort the charge, and strive to lay the blame on them. But how mightily does all this altercation grieve the Holy Spirit of God! How does it hinder his mild and gentle operations in the souls both of one and the other! Heresies and schisms, (in the scriptural sense of those words,) will, sooner or later, be the consequence; parties will be formed, on one and the other side, whereby the love of many will wax cold. The hunger and thirst after righteousness, after either the favour or the full image of God, together with the longing desires, wherewith so many were filled, of promoting the work of God in the souls of their brethren, will grow languid; and, as offences increase, will gradually die away. And as the "fruit of the Spirit" withers away, "the works of the flesh" will again prevail; to the utter destruction, first of the power, and then of the very form, of religion. These consequences are not imaginary; are not built on mere conjectures, but on plain matter of fact. This has been the case again and again within these last thirty or forty years: these have been the fruits which we have seen over and over, to be consequent on such a separation.
16. And what a grievous stumbling block must these things be to those who are without; to those who are strangers to religion; who have neither the form nor the power of godliness! How will they triumph over these once eminent Christians! How boldly ask, "What are they better than us?" How will they harden their hearts more and more against the truth, and bless themselves in their wickedness? From which, possibly, the example of the Christians might have reclaimed them, had they continued unblamable in their behaviour. Such is the complicated mischief which persons separating from a Christian church or society do, not only to themselves, but to that whole society, and to the whole world in general.
17. But perhaps such persons will say, "We did not do this willingly; we were constrained to separate from that society, because we could not continue therein with a clear conscience; we could not continue without sin. I was not allowed to continue therein, without breaking a commandment of God." If this was the case, you could not be blamed for separating from that society. Suppose, for instance, you were a member of the church of Rome; and you could not remain therein, without
committing idolatry; without worshipping of idols, whether images, or saints and angels; then it would be your bounden duty to leave that community; totally to separate from it. Suppose you could not remain in the church of England, without doing something which the word of God forbids, or omitting something which the word of God positively commands; if this were the case, (but, blessed be God, it is not,) you ought to separate from the church of England. I will make the case my own: I am now, and have been from my youth, a member and a minister of the church of England. And I have no desire nor design to separate from it, till my soul separates from my body. Yet if I was not permitted to remain therein, without omitting what God requires me to do, it would then become meet, and right, and my bounden duty, to separate from it without delay. To be more particular: I know God has committed to me a dispensation of the gospel; yea, and my own salvation depends upon preaching it: "wo is me if I preach not the gospel." If then I could not remain in the church without omitting this; without desisting from preaching the gospel, I should be under a necessity of sepǎrating from it, or losing my own soul. In like manner, if I could not continue united to any smaller society, church, or body of Christians, without committing sin; without lying and hypocrisy; without preaching to others, doctrines which I did not myself believe; I should be under an absolute necessity of separating from that society. And in all these cases the sin of separation, with all the evils consequent upon it, would not lie upon me, but upon those who constrained me to make that separation, by requiring of me such terms of communion, as I could not in conscience comply with. But setting aside this case, suppose the church or society to which I am now united, does not require me to do any thing which the Scripture forbids, or to omit any thing which the Scripture enjoins, it is then my indispensable duty to continue therein. And if I separate from it, without any such necessity, I am justly chargeable (whether I foresaw them or not) with all the evils consequent upon that separation.
18. I have spoke the more explicitly upon this head, because it is so little understood; because so many of those who profess much religion, nay, and really enjoy a measure of it, have not the least conception of this matter, neither imagine such a separation to be any sin at all. They leave a Christian society with as much unconcern, as they go out of one room into another. They give occasion to all this complicated mischief, and wipe their mouth, and say they have done no evil! Whereas they are justly chargeable, before God and man, both with an action that is evil in itself, and with all the evil consequences which may be expected to follow; to themselves, to their brethren, and to the world.
19. I entreat you, therefore, my brethren, all that fear God, and have a desire to please him; all that wish to have a conscience void of offence, towards God and towards man; think not so slightly of this matter, but consider it calmly. Do not rashly tear asunder the sacred ties, which unite you to any Christian society. This indeed is not of so much consequence to you who are only a nominal Christian. For you are not now vitally united to any of the members of Christ. Though you are called a Christian, you are not really a member of any Christian church But if you are a living member, if you live the life that is hid with Christ in God, then take care how you rend the body of Christ, by separating
from your brethren. It is a thing evil in itself. It is a sore evil in its consequences. Oh have pity upon yourself! Have pity on your brethren! Have pity even upon the world of the ungodly! Do not lay more stumbling blocks in the way of these for whom Christ died.
20. But if you are afraid, and that not without reason, of schism, improperly so called; how much more afraid will you be, if your conscience is tender, of schism in the proper scriptural sense! Oh beware, I will not say of forming, but of countenancing, or abetting any parties in a Christian society! Never encourage, much less cause, either by word or action, any division therein. In the nature of things, "there must be heresies [divisions] among you;" but keep thyself pure. Leave off contention before it be meddled with: shun the very beginning of strife. Meddle not with them that are given to dispute, with them that love contention. I never knew that remark to fail; "He that loves to dispute, does not love God." Follow peace with all men, without which you cannot effectually follow holiness. Not only "seek peace," but "ensue it:" if it seem to flee from you, pursue it nevertheless. "Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good."
21. Happy is he that attains the character of a peace maker in the church of God. Why should not you labour after this? Be not content, not to stir up strife; but do all that in you lies, to prevent or quench the very first spark of it. Indeed it is far easier to prevent the flame from breaking out, than to quench it afterwards. However, be not afraid to attempt even this: the God of peace is on your side. He will give you acceptable words, and will send them to the heart of the hearers. Noli diffidere: noli discedere, says a pious man, fac quod in te est; et Deus aderit bonæ tuæ voluntati: "do not distrust him that has all power; that has the hearts of all men in his hand. Do what in thee lies, and God will be present, and bring thy good desires to good effect." Never be weary of well doing: in due time thou shalt reap if thou faint not.
SERMON LXXXI.-On Perfection.
"Let us go on unto perfection," Heb. vi, 1.
THE whole sentence runs thus: "Therefore, leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection: not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith towards God;" which he had just before termed, "the first principles of the oracles of God," and "meat fit for babes;" for such as have just tasted that the Lord is gracious.
That the doing of this is a point of the utmost importance, the apostle intimates in the next words: "This will we do, if God permit. For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, and have fallen away, to renew them again to repentance." As if he had said, If we do not "go on to perfection," we are in the utmost danger of" falling away." And if we do fall away, it is "impossible [that is exceeding hard] to renew us again to repentance."
In order to make this very important scripture as easy to be understood as possible, I shall endeavour,
I. To show what perfection is:
II. To answer some objections to it: and
III. To expostulate a little with the opposers of it.
1. And first, I do not conceive the perfection here spoken of, to be the perfection of angels. As those glorious beings never" left their first estate;" never declined from their original perfection; all their native faculties are unimpaired: their understanding, in particular, is still a lamp of light; their apprehension of all things clear and distinct; and their judgment always true. Hence, though their knowledge is limited; (for they are creatures ;) though they are ignorant of innumerable things; yet they are not liable to mistake: their knowledge is perfect in its kind. And as their affections are all constantly guided by their unerring understanding, so that all their actions are suitable thereto; so they do, every moment, not their own will, but the good and acceptable will of God. Therefore it is not possible for man, whose understanding is darkened, to whom mistake is as natural as ignorance; who cannot think at all, but by the mediation of organs which are weakened and depraved, like the other parts of his corruptible body; it is not possible, I say, for man always to think right, to apprehend things distinctly, and to judge truly of them. In consequence hereof his affections, depending on his understanding, are variously disordered. And his words and actions are influenced, more or less, by the disorder both of his understanding and affections. It follows, that no man, while in the body, can possibly attain to angelic perfection.
2. Neither can any man, while he is in a corruptible body, attain to Adamic perfection. Adam, before his fall, was undoubtedly as pure, as free from sin, as even the holy angels. In like manner, his understanding was as clear as theirs, and his affections as regular. In virtue of this, as he always judged right, so he was able always to speak and act right. But since man rebelled against God, the case is widely dif ferent with him. He is no longer able to avoid falling into innumerable mistakes; consequently he cannot always avoid wrong affections; neither can he always think, speak, and act right. Therefore man, in his present state, can no more attain Adamic than angelic perfection.
3. The highest perfection which man can attain, while the soul dwells in the body, does not exclude ignorance, and error, and a thousand other infirmities. Now from wrong judgments, wrong words and actions will often necessarily flow: and, in some cases, wrong affections also may spring from the same source. I may judge wrong of you; I may think more or less highly of you than I ought to think; and this mistake in my judgment, may not only occasion something wrong in my behaviour, but it may have a still deeper effect; it may occasion something wrong in my affection. From a wrong apprehension, I may love and esteem you either more or less than I ought. Nor can I be freed from a liableness to such a mistake, while I remain in a corruptible body. A thousand infirmities, in consequence of this, will attend my spirit, till it returns to God who gave it. And, in numberless instances, it comes short of doing the will of God, as Adam did in paradise. Hence the best of men may say from the heart;
"Every moment, Lord, I need