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Last of all, I now come to give you directions and motives for obtaining peace and unity. First . If ever we would live in peace and unity, we must pray for it. We are required to seek peace: of whom then can we seek it with the expectation of finding it, but of him who is a God of peace, and hath promised to bless his people with peace? It is God that hath promised to give his people one heart, and one way; yet for all these things he will be sought unto. O then let us seek peace, and pray for peace, because God shall prosper them that love it.
The peace of churches is that which the apostle prays for in all his epistles; in which his desire is, that grace and peace may be multiplied and increased among them. Second . They that would endeavor the peace of the churches, must be careful to whom they commit the care and oversight of the churches. 1. Over and besides those qualifications that should be in all Christians — they that rule the church of God, should be men of counsel and understanding. Where there is an ignorant ministry, there is commonly an ignorant people; according as it was of old, like priest, like people.
How said is it to see the church of God committed to the care of such as pretend to be teachers of others, that understand not what they say, nor whereof they affirm. No marvel the peace of churches is broken, when their watchmen want skill to preserve their unity, which of all other things is as the church’s walls. When they are divided, so wonder they crumble to atoms, if there is no skillful physician to heal them. It is sad when there is no balm in Gilead, and when there is no physician there. Hence it is, that the wounds of churches become incurable, like the wounds of God’s people of old; either not healed at all, or else slightly healed, and to no purpose. May it not be said of many churches at this day, as God said of the church of Israel, That he sought for a man among them that should stand in the gap, and make up the breach; but he found none?
Remember what was said of old, ( Malachi 2:7), “the priest’s lips should preserve knowledge: and the people should seek the law at his mouth.” But when this is wanting, the people will be stumbling and departing from God and one another. Therefore God complains, ( Hosea 4:6), that his people were destroyed for want of knowledge; that is, for want of knowing guides.
How many are there that take upon them to teach others, that need to be taught in the beginning of religion; that instead of multiplying knowledge, multiply words without knowledge: and instead of making known God’s counsel, darken counsel by words without knowledge! The apostle speaks of some who did more than darken counsel: for they wrested the counsel of God. 2 Peter 3:16. In Paul’s epistles, saith he, “are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, (as they do also the other scriptures), to their own destruction.” Some things in the scriptures are hard to be known, and they are made harder by such unlearned teachers as utter their own notions by words without knowledge.
None are more bold and adventurous to take upon them, to expound the dark mysteries and sayings of the prophets and Revelations, and the 9th of the Romans, (which I believe contains some of those many things which in Paul’s epistles, Peter saith, were “hard to be understood;”) I say none are more forward to dig in these mines, than those that can hardly give a sound reason for the first principles of religion. And such as are ignorant of many more weighty things that are easily to be seen in the face and superficies of the scripture, nothing will serve these but swimming in the deeps, when they have not yet learned to wade through the shallows of the scriptures; like the Gnostics of old, who thought they knew all things, though they knew nothing as they ought to know. And as those Gnostics did of old, so do such teachers of late break the unity and peace of churches.
How needful then is it, if we desire the peace of churches that we choose out men of knowledge, who may be able to keep them from being shattered and scattered with every wind of doctrine: and who may be able t convince and stop the mouths of gainsayers. 2. You must not only choose men of counsel, but if you would design the unity and peace of the churches, you must choose men of courage to govern them. For as there must be wisdom to bear with some, so there must be courage to correct others; as some must be instructed meekly, so others must be rebuked sharply, that they may be sound in the faith; there must be wisdom to rebuke some with long-suffering, and there must be courage to suppress and stop the mouths of others. The apostle tells Titus of some whose mouths must be stopped, or else they would subvert whole houses. Titus 1:11. Where this courage hath been wanting, not only whole houses, but whole churches have been subverted. And Paul tells the Galatians, that when he saw some endeavor to bring the churches into bondage, that he did not give place to them, no not for an hour. Galatians 2:5. If this course had been taken by the rulers of churches, their peace had not been so often invaded by unruly and vain talkers. 3. In choosing men to rule, (if you would endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit, and the bond of peace thereby), be careful you choose men of peaceable dispositions. That which hath much annoyed the peace of churches, hath been the froward and perverse spirit of the rulers thereof.
With the froward we learn frowardness. How do some men’s words eat like a canker! who instead of lifting up their voices like a trumpet, to sound a parley for peace, have rather surrounded an alarm to war and contention.
O, how have some men made it their business to preach contentions; and upon their entertainment of every novel opinion to preach separation! How hath God’s word been stretched and torn, to furnish these men with arguments to tear churches! Have not our ears heard those texts, that say, “Come out from among them, and be separate, etc,” and “Withdraw from every brother that walketh disorderly,” — I say, have we not heard these texts that were written to prevent disorder, brought to countenance the greatest disorder that ever was in the church of God, even schism and division? Whereas one of these exhortations was written to the church of Corinth, to separate themselves from the idol’s temple, and the idol’s table, which many of them lived in the participation of, notwithstanding their profession of the true God; (as appears, 2 Corinthians 10:14,20,22, recites); and not for some few more members, who shall make themselves both judges and parties, to make separation, when and as often as they please from the whole congregation and church of God where they stood related. For by the same rule, and upon the same ground, may others start some new question among these new separatists, and become their own judges of the communicableness of them, and thereupon make another separation from these, till at last two be not left to walk together.
And for that other text mentioned, ( 2 Thessalonians 3:6), where Paul exhorts the church of Thessalonica to withdraw themselves from every brother that walks disorderly; I cannot but wonder that any should bring this to justify their separation or withdrawal from the communion of a true (though a disorderly) church. For (1.) Consider, that this was not writ for a few members to withdraw from the church, but for the church to withdraw from disorderly members. (2.) Consider, that, if any offended members, upon pretense of error, either in doctrine or practice, should by this text become judges (as well as parties) of the grounds and lawfulness of their separation; then it will follow, that half a score of notorious heretics, or scandalous livers, (when they have walked so as that they foresee the church are ready to deal with them, and withdraw from them) shall anticipate the church, and pretend somewhat against them, of which themselves must be judges, and so withdraw from the church, to prevent the disgrace of being condemned by the church.
How needful then is it, that men of peaceable dispositions, and not of froward and factious and dividing spirits, be chosen to rule the church of God, for fear lest the whole church be leavened and soured by them? Third . As there must be care used in choosing men to rule the church of God, so there must be a consideration had that there are many things darkly laid down in scripture. This will temper our spirits, and make us live in peace and unity the more firmly, in things in which we agree. This will help us to bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ; insomuch as all things necessary to salvation and church communion are plainly laid down in Scripture.
And where things are more darkly laid down, we should consider that God intended hereby to stir up our diligence, that thereby we might increase our knowledge, and not our divisions. For it may be said of all discoveries of truth we have made in the scriptures, as it is said of the globe of the earth, that though men have made great searches, and thereupon great discoveries, yet there is still terra incognita, unknown land. So there is in the scriptures.
For after men have traveled over them, one age after another, yet still there is, as it were, a terra incognita, an unknown track to put us upon farther search and inquiry, and to keep us from censuring and falling out with those who have not yet made the same discoveries; that so we may say with the Psalmist, when we reflect upon our short apprehensions of the mind of God, that we have seen an end of all perfection, but God’s commands are exceeding broad. And as one observes in speaking of the scriptures, there is a path in them leading to the mind of God, which lieth a great distance from the thoughts and apprehensions of men. And on the other hand, in many other places, God sits, as it were, on the superficies, and the face of the letter, where he that runs may discern him speaking plainly, and no parable atall. How should the consideration of this induce us to a peaceable deportment towards those that differ! Fourth . If we would endeavor peace and unity, we must consider how God hath tempered the body, that so the comely parts should not separate from the uncomely, as having no need of them. 1 Corinthians 12:23-25.
There are in Christ’s body and house some members and vessels less honorable. 2 Timothy 2:20. And therefore we should not as some nowa- days do, pour the more abundant disgrace, instead of putting the more abundant honor upon them. Did we but consider this, we should be covering the weakness, and hiding the miscarriages of one another, because we are all members one of another, and the most useless member in his place is useful. Fifth . If we would live in peace, let us remember our relations to God, as children to a father, and to each other as brethren. Will not the thoughts that we have one Father, quiet us; and the thoughts that we are brethren, unite us? It was this that made Abraham propose terms of peace to Lot. Genesis 13 “Let there be no strife,” saith he, “between us, for we are brethren.” And we read of Moses, ( Acts 7:26), using this argument to reconcile those that strove together, and to set them at one again: “Sirs,” saith he, “you are brethren; why do you wrong one another?” A deep sense of this relation, that we are brethren, would keep us from dividing. Sixth . If we would preserve peace, let us mind the gifts, and graces and virtues, that are in each other; let these be more in our eye, than their failings and imperfections. When the Apostle exhorted the Philippians to peace, as a means hereunto, that so the peace of God might rule in their hearts, he tells them, ( Philippians 4:8), “that if there were any virtue, or any praise, they should think of these things.” While we are always talking and blazoning the faults of others, and spreading their infirmities, no marvel we are so little in peace and charity; for as charity covereth a multitude of sins, so malice covereth a multitude of virtues, and makes us deal by one another, as the Heathen persecutors dealt with Christians, viz: put them in bears’ skins, that they might the more readily become a prey to those dogs that were designed to devour them. Seventh . If we would keep unity and peace, let us lay aside provoking and dividing language, and forgive those that use them. Remember that old saying, “Evil communications corrupt good manners.” When men think to carry all afore them, with speaking uncharitably and disgracefully of their brethren or their opinions, may not such be answered as Job answered his unfriendly visitants, ( Job 6:25), “How forcible are right words; but what doth your arguing reprove?” How healing are words fitly spoken! A word in season, how good is it! If we would seek peace, let us clothe all our treaties for peace with acceptable words; and where one word may better accommodate than another, let that be used to express persons or things by; and let us not, as some do, call the different practises of our brethren, willworship, and their different opinions, doctrines of devils, and the doctrine of Balaam, who taught fornication, etc., unless we can plainly, and in expressness of terms, prove it so. Such language as this hath strangely divided our spirits, and hardened our hearts one towards one another. Eighth . If we would live in peace, let us make the best constructions of one another’s words and actions. Charity judgeth the best, and thinks no evil. If words and actions may be construed to a good sense, let us never put a bad construction upon them. How much hath the peace of Christians been broken by an uncharitable interpretation of words and actions? As some lay to the charge of others that which they never said; so, by straining men’s words, others lay to their charge that which they never thought. Ninth , Be willing to hear, and learn, and obey those that God by his providence hath set over you. This is a great means to preserve the unity and peace of churches. But when men (yea, and sometimes women) shall usurp authority, and think themselves wiser than their teachers, no wonder if these people run into contentions and parties, when any shall say they are not free to hear those whom the church thinks fit to speak to them. This is the first step to schism, and is usually attended, if not timely prevented, with a sinful separation. Tenth . If you would keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, be mindful, that the God whom you serve is a God of peace. And remember also that your Savior is a Prince of peace, and that “his ways are ways of pleasantness, and all his paths are peace;” and that Christ was sent into the world, “to give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death, and to guide our fee in the way of peace.” Eleventh . Consider the oneness of spirit that is among the enemies of religion. Though they differ about other things, yet to persecute religion, and extirpate religion out of the earth, here they will agree; the devils in the air, the devils in the earth, all the devils in hell, and in the world, make one at this turn. Shall the devil’s kingdom be united; and shall Christ’s be divided? Shall the devils make one shoulder to drive on the design of damning men, and shall not Christians unite to carry on the great design of saving them? Shall the papists agree and unite to carry on their interest, notwithstanding the multitude of orders, degrees, and differences, that are among them; and shall not those that call themselves reformed churches, unite to carry on the common interest of Christ in the world, notwithstanding some petty and disputable differences that are among them? Quarrels about religion (as one observes) were sins not named among the Gentiles. What a shame is it then for Christians to abound in them, especially considering the nature of the Christian religion, and what large provisions the Author of it hath made to keep the professors of it in peace? Insomuch, (as one well observes), it is next to a miracle that ever any, especially the professors of it, should fall out about it. Lastly . Consider and remember that the Judge stands at the door. Let this moderate your spirits, that the Lord is at hand. What a sad account will they have to make when he comes, that shall be found to smite their fellowservants, and to make the way to his kingdom more narrow than ever he made it?
Let me close all in the words of that great apostle, 2 Corinthians 13:11, “Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace, and the God of love and peace shall be with you.”