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APOSTASY FROM EVANGELICAL WORSHIP.
THIRDLY, That which was proposed to be considered in the last place is that apostasy which is in the world from the purity of the worship of the gospel as appointed by Jesus Christ; and herein principally did consist that great defection foretold by our apostle, 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12, which is also prophesied of in the Revelation, and did accordingly come to pass. But because I have insisted on this subject on many other occasions, and some things relating thereunto are under difference and debate among such as are capable of the warning given concerning the apostasy that is in the world, I shall wholly waive the consideration of particulars about which any such differences may be, and only mention such things as the generality of Christians, at least of Protestants, cannot but acknowledge.
I shall take it for granted at present, that our Lord Jesus Christ did institute and appoint a solemn worship of God, to be continued inviolably and unalterably unto the end of the world. And the principal end of his appointing, continuing, or preserving any church on the earth, is the celebration of this worship; for herein alone consisteth that public revenue of glory which God requires from believers in this world. All other duties of the gospel may be performed by men in their single capacities, if there were no such thing as a church on the earth. And those churches do exceedingly mistake their duty, and every end of their being, which make it not their principal business to take care of the due celebration of that worship which the Lord Christ hath appointed. He was faithful in the whole house of God, as was Moses, Hebrews 3:5,6; and if the life, being, happiness, and welfare, of the church of Israel, consisted in and depended on their remembrance of the law of Moses, which “God commanded unto him in Horeb, with the statutes and judgments,” Malachi 4:4, because he was faithful in the house of God as a servant, certainly the being and well-being of the Christian church consist in and depend upon that observing and doing of all whatsoever He hath commanded in the worship of God (as Matthew 28:20) who is faithful as a son in and over the whole house of God.
Besides, it is acknowledged by all, — and we shall, God willing, show the manner of it in our exposition of the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, — that the Lord Christ, in and by the gospel, hath altered and abolished all that solemn worship, all those ordinances and institutions, which God himself had set up under the old testament, to continue unto the time of reformation; and hereby he rendered it absolutely unlawful for any one to serve God according unto those institutions. Hereunto God signally set his public seal of approbation in the sight of the world; for no sooner had the Lord Christ, by the promulgation of the gospel, taken away all their authority and obligatory power, so as that his disciples ought not to make use of them any longer, but God immediately, by severe and unparalleled judgments, destroyed the seat and place of them, so that those who would yet never could regularly make use of them unto this day. And shall we think that the Lord Jesus Christ thus took away and abolished the old solemn worship of the church, and substituted none in the room of it? or that he took away that which was erected by the wisdom of God, though but for a season, and left the church, as to its main duty and principal end in this world, unto the inventions and imaginations of men?
One of these must be supposed, if it be denied that he hath established a solemn worship of God, to continue unalterably unto the end of the world; and both of them are highly blasphemous. Again, let any, in faith and obedience unto him, practice and attend unto all those parts of divine worship which he hath appointed, and I am persuaded no man will have the confidence to say that there is this or that wanting to render it a solemn and acceptable service, however they may contend for the conveniency of some circumstantial additionals. Wherefore I take it for granted at present, that the Lord Jesus Christ hath appointed such a solemn worship under the gospel, which all his disciples are obliged constantly and invariably to observe, as he declares, Matthew 28:20. And with respect hereunto men may fall away and apostatize from the gospel, no less sinfully and fatally than they may fall from the mystery of its doctrine or the holiness of its precepts. And there are two ways whereby this may be done: — 1. By neglecting and refusing to observe and do what he hath appointed; 2. By adding appointments of our own thereunto, inconsistent with and destructive of that which he hath ordained: — I. In the first way we have some among ourselves who are fallen off from the worship of the gospel It is true, they will do some things which have an appearance of being what Christ hath commanded; such are their firstday’s meeting, and their prayers, with speaking in them; — but they neither observe the Lord’s day, nor pray or speak in obedience unto any institution of his. Conveniency and the light within are all the reason and guide which they plead for them. And for the sacraments, or baptism and the supper of the Lord, which are so great a part of the mystical worship of the church, on I know not what fond pretenses, they utterly reject them. In like manner they deal with a stated ministry as of Christ’s appointment, although they have found out means to set up one of their own.
And because herein also Christ is “put to an open shame,” we shall briefly inquire into the grounds and reasons of this defection from the obedience due to his commands: — 1. Now the principal reason, and which compriseth all others, why some men have forsaken the gospel, as unto the administration of its ordinances, is because they are no way suited unto, nor indeed consistent with, that faith and obedience which they have betaken themselves unto; for the ordinances of the gospel are representations of the things which we believe, and means of the conveyance of their efficacy unto us. Unto the confirmation of that faith and our edification therein are they suited, and to nothing else. Now, these persons having fallen, as we have showed, from the faith of the gospel in the mystery of it and the spiritual obedience which it doth require, of what use can the ordinances of worship be unto them? For instance, the ordinance of the Lord’s supper is instituted in the remembrance of the death of Christ, of his suffering in our stead, of the sacrifice he made of himself therein, of the atonement or reconciliation with God that he wrought, and of the sealing of the new covenant with his blood. To what end should, any man solemnly worship God in and by this ordinance who upon the matter believeth none of these things, at least doth not believe them as proposed in the gospel, namely, as the principal causes and springs of life, righteousness, and salvation? Those who believe in God through these things, who find the effects of them upon their souls in righteousness and peace, cannot but delight to be found in the exercise of faith through this ordinance, as they know it to be their duty so to do. But it is apparent that neither this nor the other ordinance of baptism doth contribute any thing to the furtherance, increase, or establishment, of that light within men which upon the matter they resolve their faith and obedience into; yea, they are, in their true and proper notion, as both directing unto the sanctifying and justifying blood of Christ, diametrically opposite thereunto and unto what is ascribed unto it. It is, therefore, so far from being strange that these men should forsake these ordinances of gospel worship, that the admission of them in their true and proper use and signification is destructive of the whole scheme of religion which they have formed unto themselves. Where the faith of the gospel is forsaken, the ordinances of worship must be so too, and so all instituted divine service be neglected, or other things found out that may suit unto the imaginations whereunto men are turned aside. 2. Another reason hereof hath been want of spiritual light to see through the veils of outward institutions, and of the wisdom of faith, to obtain communion with God in Christ by them. Our worship under the gospel is either absolutely spiritual, or that which comes immediately unto what is so. But in these institutions there is somewhat that is outward and sensible, and it is to be feared that many do rest in these outward things, and proceed no farther in the worship of God by them than the actions and words that are used will carry them; but they are, as appointed by Christ, “animae vehicula,” means of leading and conveying the soul unto an intimate communion with God. That they may be so unto us, three things are required: — (1.) That we submit our souls and consciences unto the authority of Christ in these institutions. Unless this be the foundation which we build upon, the whole service will be lost unto us. (2.) That we rest on the veracity of Christ for the working of the grace and accomplishment of the mercy represented in them and sacramentally exhibited by them; for they will not profit them by whom the promises of Christ, virtually contained in them and accompanying of them, are not mixed with faith, and we cannot believe the promise unless we submit to the authority of Christ in the appointment of that whereunto it is annexed. (3.) That we understand in some measure the mystical relation that is between the outward symbols of the ordinance and the Lord Christ himself, with his grace represented thereby, wherein the nature, use, and end of the institutions are contained.
And all these are necessary to keep up any delight in them, or a conscientious use of them. Where, therefore, all these are wanting, — as apparently they are in those concerning whom we treat, being none of them either understood, owned, or acknowledged by them, — whereas they have neither spiritual light into the internal nature of these things, nor spiritual gifts for their administration unto edification, following the conduct of their own principles, they could do no otherwise but reject them, and therein fell off from the worship of the gospel, and thereby do reflect dishonor upon the Son of God, the author and Lord of all these institutions.
II. There is another way whereby men may, and many men do fall away, and have for many ages fallen away, from the gospel with respect unto its worship, and that is, by rejecting its simplicity and pure institutions, substituting a superstitious, yea, idolatrous worship of their own in the room thereof, 2 Corinthians 11:3: for whereas there are various degrees of declension from the purity of gospel worship, according as men forsake any part of it, or make any additions of their own unto it, yet at present I shall mention them only by whom it is wholly perverted, — that is, those of the church of Rome; for as they have added unto it rites and institutions of their own in great number, partly superstitious and partly idolatrous, so there is no one ordinance or institution of Christ which they have not corrupted, the most of them so far as utterly to destroy their nature and use. Whereas, therefore, the Lord Jesus Christ doth in the ordinances of gospel worship and the due celebration of them represent his own religion and authority unto the church, to remove them out of the way, and to introduce another fabric of them of another constitution, is to represent Antichrist unto the church, and not Christ, and thereby to “put Christ to an open shame.” The ways and means whereby this apostasy was effected, by the craft of Satan and the carnal interest of men, in a long tract of time, I shall not here declare; it shall suffice at present to observe, that as men grew carnal, having lost the spirit, life, and power of the gospel, and so far as they did so, they found it necessary to introduce a carnal, visible, pompous worship, suited unto that inward principle and light whereby they were acted. And as the people in the wilderness, being carnal in their hearts, and accustomed unto carnal ways of worship, upon the absence of Moses in the mount, cried out unto Aaron, “Make us gods, which shall go before us” (that is, gods visibly present), “for as for this Moses, we wot not what is become of him,” whereupon they made a calf; so these men, finding the whole fabric of Mosaical institutions, consisting in outward images and representations of things, taken away, and themselves left as it were without any present gods to guide them, — that is, such visible representations of the presence of God as their carnal hearts and minds might delight in, — they provided all those calves whereof their present worship doth consist. And because there were many in those days when this design was first set on foot who were truly spiritual and holy, worshipping God in spirit and in truth, this idolatrous worship could not be introduced and preserved but by insensible degrees and in a long tract of time, throughout the whole whereof the “mystery of iniquity” wrought effectually unto the same certain end. Those, in the meantime, who worshipped God in truth, were either imposed on by a show of humility and devotion in the degrees of apostasy which were added in their days, or else complained of what they could not remedy.
And if these brief considerations of the nature of the present apostasy that is in the world from the power of Christian religion, in all the principal concerns of it, with the causes and occasions thereof, do excite or provoke any one who hath more leisure and ability for this work unto a more diligent and useful inquiry into them, it will be an ample reward unto my endeavors.