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7. I mean, lastly, Love me not in word only, but in deed and in truth. So far as in conscience thou canst, (retaining still thy own opinions, and thy own manner of worshipping God,) join with me in the work of God, and let us go on hand in hand. And thus far, it is certain, thou mayest go. Speak honourably, wherever thou art, of the work of God, by whomsoever He works, and kindly of his messengers. And if it be in thy power, not only sympathize with them when they are in any difficulty or distress, but give them a cheerful and effectual assistance, that they may glorify God on thy behalf.
8. Two things should be observed with regard to what has been spoken under this last head: The one, that whatsoever love, whatsoever offices of love, whatsoever spiritual or temporal assistance, I claim from him whose heart is right, as iny heart is with his ; the same I am ready, by the grace of God, according to my measure, to give him : The other, that I have not made this claim in behalf of myself only, but of all whose , heart is right toward God and man, that we may all love one another as Christ hath loved us.
III. 1, One Inference we may make from what has been said. We may learn from hence, what is a Catholic Spirit.
There is scarce any expression which has been more grossly misunderstood, and more dangerously misapplied, than this: But it will be easy for any who calmly consider the preceding observations, to correct any such misapprehensions of it, and to prevent any such misapplication.
For, from hence we may learn, first, That a Catholic Spirit is not Speculative Latitudinarianism. It is not an indifference to all opinions : This is the spawn of hell, not the offspring of heaven. This unsettledness of thougbt, this being “driven to and fro, and tossed about with every wind of doctrine,” is a great curse, not a blessing; an irreconcilable enemy, not a friend, to true Catholicism. A man of a truly catholic spirit, has not now his religion to seek. He is fixed as the sun, in his judgment concerning the main branches of Christian Doctrine. It is true, he is always ready to hear and weigh whatsoever can be offered against his principles; but as this does not show any wavering in his own mind, so neither does it occasion any. He does not halt between two opinions, nor vainly endeavour to blend them into one. Observe this, you who know not what spirit ye are of; who call yourselves men of a catholic spirit, only because you are of a muddy understanding; because your mind is all in a mist; because you have no settled,
consistent principles, but are for jumbling all opinions together. Be convinced, that you hare quite missed your way; you know not where you are. You think you are got into the very spirit of Christ; when, in trutlı, you are nearer the spirit of Antichrist. Go, first, and learn the first elements of the Gospel of Christ, and then shall you learn to be of a truly catholic spirit.
2. From what has been said, we may learn, secondly, that a Catholic Spirit is not any kind of Practical Latitudinarianism. It is not indifference as to public worsbip, or as to the outward manner of performing it. This, likewise, would not be a blessing but a curse. Far from being an help thereto, it would, so long as it remained, be an unspeakable hinderance to the worshipping of God in spirit and in truth. But the man of a truly catholic spirit, having weighed all things the balance of the sanctuary, has no doubt, no scruple at all, concerning that particular mode of worship wherein he joins. He is clearly convinced, that this manner of worshipping God is both scriptural and rational. He knows none in the world, which is more scriptural, none which is more rational. Therefore, without rambling hither and thither, he cleaves close thereto, and praises God for the opportunity of so doing.
3. Hence we may, thirdly, learn, that a Catholic Spirit is not Indifference to all Congregations. This is another sort of latitudinarianism, no less absurd and unscriptural than the former. But it is far from a man of a truly catholic spirit. He is fixed in his congregation as well as his principles. He is united to one, not only in spirit, but by all the outward ties of Christian fellowship. There he partakes of all the ordinances of God. There he receives the Supper of the Lord. There he pours out his soul in public prayer, and joins in public praise and thanksgiving. There he rejoices to hear the word of reconciliation, the Gospel of the grace of God. With these his nearest, his best beloved brethren, on solemn occasions, he seeks God by fasting. These particularly he watches over in love, as they do over his soul; admonishing, exhorting, comforting, reproving, and every way building up each other in the faith. These he regards as his own household; and therefore, according to the ability God has given bim, naturally cares for them, and provides that they may have all the things that are needful for life and godliness.
4. But while he is steadily fixed in his religious principles, in what he believes to be the truth as it is in Jesus ; while he firmly adheres to that worship of God which he judges to be most acceptable in bis sight, and while he is united, by the tenderest and closest ties, to one particular congregation,-his heart is enlarged toward all mankind, those he knows and those he does not; he embraces with strong and cordial affection, neighbours and strangers, friends and enemies. This is catholic, or universal love. And he that has this, is of a catholic spirit. For love alone gives the title to this character: Catholic Love is a Catholic Spirit.
5. If then we take this word in the strictest sense, a man of a catholic spirit is one who, in the manner above-mentioned, gives his hand to all whose hearts are right with his heart: One who knows how to value, and praise God for, all the advantages he enjoys, with regard to the knowledge of the things of God, the true scriptural manner of worshipping him, and, above all, his union with a congregation fearing God and working righteousness: One who, retaining these blessings with the strictest care, keeping them as the apple of his eye, at the same time loves,-as friends, as brethren in the Lord, as members of Christ and children of God, as joint partakers now of the present kingdom of God, and fellow-heirs of his eternal kingdom,-all of whatever opinion, or worship, or congregation, who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ; who love God and man; who, rejoicing to please, and fearing to offend God, are careful to abstain from evil, and zealous of good works. He is the man of a truly catholic spirit, who bears all these continually upon his heart; who, having an unspeakable tenderness for their persons, and longing for their welfare, does not cease to commend them to God in prayer, as well as to plead their cause before men; who speaks comfortably to them, and labours, by all his words, to strengthen their hands in God. He assists them to the uttermost of his power in all things, spiritual and temporal. He is ready “ to spend and be spent for them;" yea, to lay down his life for their sake.
6. Thou, O man of God, think on these things! If thou art already in this way, go on.
If thou hast heretofore mistook the path, bless God who hath brought thee back! And now run the race which is set before thee, in the royal way of universal love. Take heed, lest thou be either wavering in thy judgment, or straitened in thy bowels : But keep an even pace, rooted in the faith once delivered to the saints, and grounded in love, in true catholic love, till thou art swallowed up in love for ever and ever!
ON CHRISTIAN PERFECTION.
"Not as though I had already attained, either were already
perfect." Phil. iii. 12.
1. There is scarce any expression in Holy Writ, which has given more offence than this. The word perfect is what many cannot bear. The very sound of it is an abomination to them. And whosoever preaches Perfection, (as the phrase is,) i.e. asserts that it is attainable in this life, runs great hazard of being accounted by them worse than a heathen man or a publican.
2. And hence some have advised, wholly to lay aside the use of those expressions; “because they have given so great offence.” But are they not found in the Oracles of God? If so, by what authority can any Messenger of God lay them aside, even though all men should be offended? We have not so learned Christ; neither may we thus give place to the Devil. Whatsoever God hath spoken, that will we speal, whether men will hear, or whether they will forbear; knowing, that then alone can any Minister of Christ be“ pure from the blood of all men,” when he hath “not shunned to declare unto them all the counsel of God.”
3. We may not, therefore, lay these expressions aside, sceing they are the words of God and not of man.
But we may and ought to explain the meaning of them ; that those who are sincere of heart may not err to the right hand or left, from the mark of the prize of their high calling. And this is the more necdful to be done, because, in the verse already repeated, the Apostle speaks of himself as not perfect; “ Not,” saith he, “as though I were already perfect.” And yet immediately after, in the fifteenth verse, he speaks of himself, yea, and many others, as perfect : “Let us,” saith he, “as many as be perfect, be thus minded."
4. In order, therefore, to renove the difficulty arising from this seeming contradiction, as well as to give light to them who are pressing forward to the mark, and that those who are lame be not turned out of the way, I shall endeavour to show,
First, In what sense Christians are not; and,
1. 1. In the First place, I shall endeavour to show, In what sense Christians are Not Perfect. And both from experience and Scripture it appears, first, that they are not perfect in Knowledge: they are not so perfect in this life, as to be free from Ignorance. They know, it may be, in common with other men, many things relating to the present world; and they know, with regard to the world to come, the general truths which God hath revealed. They know, likewise, (what the natural man receiveth not; for these things are spiritually discerned,) " what manner of love" it is, wherewith “ the Father” bath loved them, “ that they should be called the sons of God:” they know the mighty working of bis Spirit in their hearts, and the wisdom of his Providence, directing all their paths, and causing all things to work together for their good. Yea, they know in every circumslance of life what the Lord requireth of them, and how to keep a conscience void of offence both toward God and toward man.
2. But innumerable are the things which they know not. Touching the Almighty himself, they cannot search him out to perfection. “Lo, these are but a part of his ways; but the thunder of his power, who can understand ?” They cannot understand, I will not say, how “ there are Three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and these Three are One;” or how the eternal Son of God “ took upon himself the form of a servant;”—but not any one attribute, not any one circumstance of the Divine Nature. Neither is it for them to know the times and seasons when God will work his great works upon the earth ; no, not even those which he hath in part revealed by bis servants and prophets, since the world began. Much less do they know, when God, having “ accomplished the number of his elect, will hasten his kingdom;" when “the heavens shall pass away with a great uoise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat."
3. They know not the reasons even of many of His present dispensations with the sons of men ; but are constrained to rest here,-Though “clouds and darkness are round about him,