Sanctify them through thy Truth, thy Word is Truth.
II. THE Church hath owned the Word. You see how God hath owned it, he saith it is my Word. Let us see how the Church hath owned it.
Here I shall shew three things:
- What is the Church’s Duty to the Word?
- What Credit and Value we ought to put on the Churches Testimony?
- How the Church hath witnessed to the Word in all Ages.
1. What is the Churches Duty?
To keep the Word, and to transmit it pure to the next Age, that nothing be added, nothing diminished; that it be published to the present Age, and transmitted pure to the next. Rom. 3.2. Vnto them were committed the Oracles of God. We are Trustees; Jude 3. Earnestly contending for the Faith that was once delivered to the Saints. 1 Tim. 3.15. The Church of the Living God, the Pillar and Ground of the Truth. The Church is to hold it forth, as a Pillar doth a Proclamation, that it may not be lost and extinguished. This is the Jewel Christ hath left his Spouse, as the Law was kept in the Ark.
2. What respect we ought to bear to the Churches Testimony?
To hearken to it, till we have better Evidence. We do not ultimately resolve our Faith into the Churches Authority; for the Authority of the Church is not Absolute, but Ministerial; as a Royal Edict doth not receive Credit by the Officer and Crier, he only declareth it. Yet the Church’s Testimony is not to be neglected; for Faith cometh by hearing, Rom. 10.14. It is a preparative Inducement. John 4.42. Now we believe, not because of thy saying, for we have heard him our selves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the World. If we would know the Truth of a thing before we have experience, go to them that have experience; the judgment of others, whom we respect and reverence, causeth us to have a good opinion of a thing, till we make trial. The Testimony of the Church hath inclined us to think, that the Scriptures are the Word of God: not that the Church can make and unmake Scripture when it pleaseth; as a Messenger that carrieth Letters from a King, doth not give Authority to them.
3. How the Church hath witnessed to the Truth of the Scriptures in all Ages? Partly by Tradition, partly by Martyrdom.
(1.) By Tradition. Holy Books were indited one after another, according to the necessity of Times, and still the latter confirmed the former. Moses was confirmed by Joshua, Chap. 23.6. Be ye couragious to keep, and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses: And Joshua and others, by succeeding Prophets; and all were confirmed by Christ; Luke 24.44. These are the Words which I spake unto you while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses, and the Prophets, and in the Psalms concerning me. For the New Testament, it was confirmed by all the succeeding Ages of the Church. Christians different in other things, yet agreed these to be the Writings of the Apostles. So that we have a more general consent than we have about any other Matter probable in the World. Men of excellent Parts and Learning, that were not apt to take Matters on trust, all assent to Scripture, as the publick Record for the trial of Doctrines. When Heirs wrangle, they go to the Last Will and Testament.
(2.) By Martyrdom. The Patience and Constancy of the Martyrs, who have ratified this Truth with the loss of their dearest Concernments, yea, even of Life it self. Rev. 12.11. They overcame by the Blood of the Lamb, and the Word of their Testimony; and they loved not their Lives unto the Death. It is possible that a Man may suffer for a false Religion, and sacrifice a stout Body to a stubborn Mind; but because there is counterfeit Coin, is there no true Gold? The Devil’s Martyrs are neither so many for number, nor for temper and quality so holy, so wise, so meek, as Christ’s Champions. The Christian Religion can shew you Persons of all Ages, Young and Old; of all Sexes, Men and Women; of all Conditions of Life, Noble and of low Degree; of all Qualities, Learned and Unlearned; Persons that could not be suspected to be mopish or melancholy, or tired out with the Inconveniences of an evil World, but were in a capacity to enjoy temporal Things with the highest delight and sweetness, and yet counted not their Lives dear to them, to confirm the Truth of this Word: What is dearer to Men than Life? And this, not out of any desire of vain Glory, their Death being accompanied with as many disgraceful as painful Circumstances; not out of any sensless stupidity, or fierceness of Mind, they being of a meek Temper, and blamed for nothing else but their constancy in asserting that Truth which they professed; not out of any confidence in their own strength, in bearing those horrible Cruelties that were inflicted upon them, but humbly committing themselves to God, and imploring his Strength, did deliberately and voluntarily give up themselves to be cruelly butchered and tormented, as a Testimony of the Power of this Truth upon their Hearts; some of them kissing the Stake, thanking the Executioner; others wrestling a while with Flesh and Blood, and natural desires of Life, yet (the Love of the Truth prevailing) came at length to encounter the Horrors of a cruel Death, with a well-tempered Constancy and Resolution; which certainly in so many thousands, even to an incredible Number, could not be without some Divine Power and Force upon their Souls. That all this should be done by Persons otherwise of a delicate tender Sense, and a meek and flexible Spirit! what should move them to it, but the Power of the Truth? This being a Religion of little Reputation in the World, which the Philosophers, and Disputers of that Age, sought to batter down with Arguments; the Politicians, with all manner of Discouragements; the Orators, with a Flood of Words; the Tyrants, with Slaughters and Torments; the Devil, by all manner of Crafts and Subtilties. What had the poor Christians before their Eyes, but Prisons, and wild Beasts, and Gibbets, and Fires, and Racks, and torturing Engines more cruel than Death? They had Flesh and Blood as well as others, a Nature that continually prompted them to spare themselves as well as others; Life was as dear to them, and their care of their Families and Little-ones as great, their respect to Parents and Friends as much in them as any; yea more, Religion requiring natural Affection in the highest Exercise, and intendering their Hearts with a sense of their Duty: Yet rather than give their Bibles to be burnt, or be led away from their Religion, they could trample upon all. Certainly such an invincible constancy could not be imputed to any rigid Sullenness, or foolish Obstinacy, or distempered Stiffness, but meerly to the love of Truth, which prevailed over all other Concernments. Let it shame us, that they could part with Life, and all their Interests, for Christ, and his Truth, and we cannot part with our Lusts; they with their well-being, and we not with our ill-being. Could they suffer the Persecutors to destroy their Bodies? and will not we suffer the Fire of the Word to consume our Lusts? Reason and Conscience is calling upon us to quit these things, and yet we hug them to our great Prejudice; we to whom a little Duty is so irksome, a little pains in Prayer so tedious, what would we do if the Fires were kindled about us, and we were every day to carry our Life in our Hands, and could look for nothing but Halters, and Stakes, and Instruments of Destruction? Surely our Spirits are too silken and soft for such a Religion, so abstracted from Ease and Pleasure, and worldly Interests.
III. The Malignant World hath owned it; the deadly hatred of the Devil, and the constant opposition of wicked Men, is a proof of it. The Malignant World know it, and therefore they hate and oppose it. The Reason of the Argument is, because the Heart of Man is naturally averse to God. 1 Cor. 2.14. The natural Man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.Now that which all wicked Men do univer∣sally and constantly oppose and malign, certainly that is of God. As Christ saith of his own Disciples, John15.19. If ye were of the World, the World would love its own: but because ye are not of the World, but I have chosen you out of the World, therefore the World hateth you.So may we reason; If the Scriptures were of Men, if devised by them, and suitable to their Lusts and Humours, the Men of the World would receive them with a great deal of stillness, Flesh and Blood would love its own. But carnal Men have constantly and universally opposed the Doctrine of God, and always have been afflicting the Church, and seeking to oppose the People of God, because of their pro∣fessing the Truth. Mark it, before Christianity began to be generally propagated in the World, the Jews were the Mark and Butt of Malice, whereat all Nations did shoot their envenomed Arrows of Malice and Rage; and therefore it is very notable, that the Romans,tho they conquered many Nations, yet they never put down the Idolatry of the Nations, as they put down the Religion of the Jews,and sought to oppose that, and molested that: And when the Christiansbegan to be discovered, then all their Malice was turned off from the Jewsto Christians.Certainly it was not meerly because of the Difference of Worship, for they tolerated the Epicureans,but took a∣way all the Worship of God; yea, they burnt the Christians, and made them to be Torches, to give light to Romein a dark Night. Therefore there was so special a spight at the Ways of God.