THE Christian Conventicle, OR, The Private-Meetings of God's People in evil times, vindicated and warranted by the Word of God. Being some-time since deli­vered in several Sermons, And now published for publick benefit.

Not forsaking the Assembling of our selves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another, &c. Heb. 10.25.

THE Christian Conventicle, &c.

Malach. 3.16, 17.

Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to a­nother, and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a Book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his Name: And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my Jewels, &c.

THis Prophecy of Malachi may fitly be stiled, A holy Dialogue; wherein many are brought in to speak their minds.

  • First, you have here the Prophet;
  • Secondly, the Messias;
  • Thirdly, Wicked and Prophane men;
  • Fourthly, the pious and holy persons;
  • And, lastly, God himself.
  • The Prophet, he speaks thunderingly:
  • Christ, he speaks threatningly;
  • The Prophane, they speak blasphemingly:
  • God's People, they speak frequently: And
  • God himself, he speaks most comfortably.

1. For the first: The Prophet, he speaks thun­deringly; he lets fly thunderbolts of wrath both against the Priests, and against the People of that Age: Their sins were very many, and very great both, as their Sacriledge, their mixtures in the Worship of God, their marrying to the daughters of a strange god; and many such things, as may be read in the first and second chapters. But that that did aggravate their sin, was, that this was done presently after their deliverance out of a seventy years captivity. And this is that which is very much displeasing unto God, that he should lose all his labour and love in afflicting of a peo­ple, and that after restoring of them to their for­mer priviledges, they should make such evil returns unto the Lord God.

2. The Messias, he speaks, and he speaks very threateningly. The Jews they had a flattering conceit, that when Christ came, there should be nothing but honey, and oyl, and fatness, i. e. all manner of pleasure; they had a foolish false con­ceit, that Christ should come as another Alexan­der, in great glory and pomp, conquering all be­fore him: But our Messias tells them here, that he would come in another way, they should find him to come in a way of purity and holiness; it's to purifie the sons of Levi: he would be as the Re­finers fire, and the Fullers sope; He sends his Her­rald of Arms before him, to proclaim War.

3. Prophane men, they speak; and they speak [Page 5] blasphemously, as you may see in chap. 2. last vers. and in chap. 3.13. These Vipers they spit their venom in the very face of Almighty God; Wherein have we wearied him? when ye say, Every one that doth evil, is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delighteth in them, or, where is the God of Judge­ment? (Oh, my Brethren, that ever the just and righteous God should be so much scandal'd and blasphemed, that he should delight in sinners!) And then he goes on, — And, your words have been stout against me, — Ye have said, It is in vain to serve God, and what profit is it that we have kept his Ordinance, and walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts? We count the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up, and they that tempt God are delivered. And then,

4. You have the People of God, they speak; and they speak frequently; Then they that feared the Lord, spake often one to another. What it was that was spoken by them one to another? It is thought they spake contrary to what the wicked did; they blessed God, when others blasphemed him; and spake for him, when they spake against him. And then,

5. God, he speaks; and he speaks comfortably to them; — They shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in the day that I make up my Jewels, and I will spare them, as a man spareth his children that are near and dear unto him.

Thus have I (as briefly as I could) brought [Page 6]you unto the Text. And you may see what my Text (at the very first view of it) seems to be; (I shall make some use of it, and (I hope) to some purpose;) My Text is nothing else but An Holy Conventicle, (For, how could they speak often one to another, if they did not often meet together?) and you have the probation and approbation of it;

  • 1. The probation of it, from the practice of God's People. And
  • 2. The approbation, from the speech of God himself.

1. The probation. They don't assemble them­selves together (as the prophane rabble of the world would make it) for evil practices, and for evil purposes. And

2. It cannot be so bad; nay, it must be singu­larly good for them so to meet together, or else it would not have that promise made of God unto it, as you see in the words.

In the Text,

  • 1. You have Christians regarded, And
  • 2. Recorded (for the credit of them) for their meeting together.

1. Regarded. The Text sayes, The Lord hearkened and heard. 'Tis a word that implies a diligent attention unto any thing; and (as one ob­serves well upon the place) there is the attention of the ear, and the intention of the mind. And then,

'Tis recorded. That whatever they spake, all [Page 7]their speeches, prayers, &c. they were entred in­to God's Book of Remembrance. As God has his bottle, so he has his book; as he is present in the Assembly, to bottle up their tears; so he is there with his Book, to write down all their perfor­mances. God has but two books, the book of his Documents, and the book of his Monuments: now if we learn & live according to the book of Gods documents, we shall be sure to be recorded in, and rewarded according to God's Book of Monuments, where he hath written down the carriages of his Saints and People.

But now, for the matter of the Text it self: you may be pleased to observe these particulars;

  • 1. The Persons, who;
  • 2. The Act, what;
  • 3. The Time, when;
  • 4. The Manner, how;
  • 5. The Subjects, with whom they were thus meeting.

1. The Persons, who. Who? They are they that fear the Lord.

2. The Act, what they are about. Some may think, sure they are about some vain foolish thing or other. No, they are talking and discoursing of God, and of holy things. And then,

3. The time, when. When wicked and un­godly men were [...]laspeming God, when they were feasting, and in the midst of their jovialty, then these were keeping a Conventicle. And then,

4. The manner, how. Some may say, They will be quickly weary of thus spending time to­gether; they may do it once it may be. No, but they do it often. — They spake often one to ano­ther. And then

5. The Subjects, with whom they did it; and that with those of their own party, opinion, and perswasion, those that were fellow-Jewels with themselves, those whose names were written in the Book of Life.

Thus have I given you the division of the Text. The Observations are these;

1. Obser. That let the Times be never so bad, and never so prophane, yet the Lord has a cer­tain number of people that are good at that time. Though the Devil has most, yet God ever has the best; he will take the choice unto himself: Then they that feared the Lord, &c.

2. Obser. That when wicked men are the worst, then God's People are the best; — Then they that feared the Lord, they stood up, and there was a holy courage within them: It was winter with the wicked, and therefore it was fire with the righteous, they burnt the hotter.

3. Obser. That the fear of God is a singular Antidote against Atheism and Aposlacy. — They that feared the Lord, then they stood up.

4. Obser. That holy Conference, 'tis a most ne­cessary duty in unholy times. As here you see, the Times the Prophet conplains of most bitter­ly, [Page 9]how full of vileness and wickedness they were; Now the People of God, they met often one with another, conferred and discoursed often one with another.

Brethren, you see here are four very sweet and soveraign Doctrines; they are all so singu­lar, that (I confess) I can't tell which of the four to chuse, and to make the subject of my discourse.

Here is that that is matter of comfort, of credit, of safety, and of duty unto you; As

1. That the times are never so bad, but that God has some that are good in those times, (se­ven thousand in the Prophet Elijah's time, though he did not know it; so, there may be many now that we do not know of.) That's matter of comfort.

2. That the worse others are, the better will God's People be. Brethren, this is matter of credit and commendation to God's People, that they will not be made the worse, but are made the better by bad times.

3. That the fear of God is a preservative against the infection of Atheism and Apostacy: This is matter of safety and security. We see Cedars blown up by the root, but so long as we have the fear of God in us, we shall never be blown up.

4. These are the most unholy times (I am per­swaded) that ever England saw: Now, Brethren, for us to meet together, and confer together, and [Page 10]pray together, is but a performance of that duty that is required of us. And this I could chuse very well, to make the subject of my discourse:

But, as Samuel, when many were brought be­fore him, 1 Sam. 16. This I could think the Lord's Anointed, and another, and another; but it was a David, a little younger son that the Lord had chose: O so (me-thinks) I could think of these four Doctrines; yet there is a little Do­ctrine, a little David yet behind (methinks) that I would desire to spend a little discourse on at this time, and that is, ‘Doct. That the Fearers of God are, and ought to be frequenters of Conventicles.

I chose this subject upon this double account,

1. Because no thing is more derided by wicked men than these are; and truly, nothing more slighted (for the most part) by the Godly them­selves than these are. Now to raise the honour of Conventicles against the contempt of wicked men, and the value of them against the contempt of godly men, I thought good to say something of it, to declare the excellency of it.

2. I chose it, because that in this Doctrine is contained the extract of all the other Doctrines: For,

1. If I can make this good to you, (as I hope I shall) here you shall be sure to meet with such [Page 11]as are good in bad times: and there you meet with the first Doctrine.

2. By frequenting of Conventicles, you will be made the better by the prayers and exhortations of God's faithful Ministers, and those that fear the Lord. And this will make the second Doctrine, That the worse others are, the better they be.

3. By frequenting of Conventicles, you will at­tain to the more fear of the Lord, and so attain to more safety; And there you meet with the third Doctrine.

4. By frequenting of Conventicles, you will perform Duty; And that's the summe of the last Doctrine.

Now, in the prosecution of this point, I shall a little make bold,

  • 1. To explain this Doctrine.
  • 2. To confirm it.

And so to make application of it.

For the first. For the explication. There is but two things to be explained,

  • 1. What's meant by a Conventicle?
  • 2. What by the Fearers of God?

First, for a Conventicle: 'tis nothing else but a meeting together of men and women in one place. That's the proper meaning of that word, Conven­ticle. And then

You must know, there are two sorts of Con­venticles; such as are the greater, and such as are the lesser Conventicles: the great ones in the [Page 12] Churches, and the lesser ones in Chambers, or in private Houses, and no more difference, but with respect to the degrees of them; and more or less does not any way vary the kind. And if there be any such that deride private Meetings in Cham­bers as Conventicles, they do throw dirt into the Congregation of God. And

Again; There is a twofold Conventicle, a bad, and a good.

1. A bad: A Convention or meeting toge­ther of ungodly men, for wicked ends, and to ac­complish wicked designs. [And indeed, they are only these which may properly be called Conven­ticles.] This (in Scripture) hath many names given unto it; It is called the Convention of De­riders: 'tis called the Councel of Scorners, Psal. 1.1. 'tis called the Congregation of Hypocrites, &c, Job 15.34.

Now, for the matter of their ends, why they convent themselves, they are ordinarily these six;

1. They meet to offer up worship to Idols, 1 Kin. 18.20, & 26.

2. They meet to defile themselves and bodies, 1 Tim. 1.10.

3. They meet to abuse the creatures; to run on in excess of riot, 1 Pet. 4.4.

4. They meet to slander, to censure, and to scandalize the People of God. Psal. 41.5, 6, 7, 8.

5. They meet to lay their design for the ruine and destruction, and extirpation of the Churches and [Page 13]People of God, Prov. 30.14. Act. 22.22. And

6. They meet to disturb the peace of the Place and Nation where they are. Psal. 140.2.

These are such as (in their sense) they call Conventicles. And I know none more guilty than they that frequent Play-houses, Whore-houses, Alehouses and Taverns, where wicked men come to make their Songs against the People of God. And these (in Scripture-sense) may more fitly be called Confederacies than Conventicles. For my part, I think such places worthy to be punished by the Judges.

Secondly, (Brethren) There is a good and a holy Conventicle; That is, when God's People meet together for holy ends, to perform holy acti­ons. And this (my Brethren) is called the Con­gregation of the Righteous, Psal. 1.5. the Assem­bly of the Saints, Psal. 89.5. the meeting together of the upright ones, Psal. 111.1. And many such names are given to it in Scripture.

And the ends that they meet for, they are very many, and as good as many; (And when I speak of this Conventicle, I mean nothing but the Commu­nion of Saints.)

That God's People meet together in private in evil times; —

1. 'Tis not in contempt of the Publick Assem­blies. The Lord (that knows our hearts) knows, that while we had Publick Assemblies, and the Ordinances in purity, without the mixture of dis­tasteful [Page 14]things, we did prize Publick Ordinan­ces, and did highly esteem them; and the loss of them is our grief, and the ground of our mourning. 'Tis not therefore out of contempt that we meet in private; for when we are to­gether there, we do mourn for our losses, and pray for the freedom of Publick Ordinances again. Much less —

(2.) is the ground of our meeting in private for lewd practices, as the wicked are apt to charge us. The Heathens were wont to charge the Pri­mitive Christians, That they met in the evening, and put out their Candles, and then they were guilty of all manner of lewdness. They muse as they use; They themselves are wicked in private, and they think others so: But now God's People, they mourn for the wickedness of the wicked; they detect the lewd practices of the wicked, and ther­fore are far from being guilty themselves. Nor,

3. Do God's People convent together to move Sedition, (That's another thing that's charged upon them.) No, Religion teacheth us better, to pray for Kings, and those in Authority. And God, and the Places where we meet, can bear witness, that we make it our work to call on God for mercy for our King, and for our Governors. But—

When the People of God meet together in private, 'tis

1. To confer one with another. This is plain [Page 15]in the Text; — Then they that feared the Lord spake often one with another.

2. Another end why they meet together, it is to pray with one another, to pour out their souls into the bosom of God, to call and cry to God for mercy for the Nations, and mercy for their own Souls, and mercy for their Friends, and to supplicate God's return to them again.

3. A third end is, to observe the Gifts and Gra­ces one of another.

4. To break Bread one with another.

5. To humble our souls exceedingly, for the sins and calamities of the Age and Time wherein we live; to humble our selves for those sins that have provoked God to deprive us of Publick-Meetings. Such as fear the Lord, O they mourn for the sins of their nature in private Meetings, and for the sins of their lives; for their omissions and commissions; for their sins of prosperity, for wantonness under means and mercies; for the sins of Professors, (for their formality and lukewarm­ness) that have laid stumbling-blocks before the weak; and they mourn for the enmity and de­bauchery of the Wicked now, and for all those dishonours that are done to God.

6. Another end of their meeting, is, to exhort one another.

7. To warn one another.

8. To edifie one another. The People of God they find themselves weak, dull, sad, therefore [Page 16]they go into the communion of Saints in private places, that they may be strengthened, quickened, and comforted by conference, and by the discharge of their duties.

9. The People of God meet thus together, that they may meet with Christ, that they may have his sweet presence, and may be instructed of him, that they may have Christ's Spirit, and the graces and comforts of Christ. Act. 2.1, 2, 3, 4.

10. They thus meet to advance the Name of God, and of Christ. That's rendred as the reason of their meeting here in the Text; When they were met together, the Text sayes, they thought on his Name; every one was proposing what they should do to promote the Honour of God, what course they should take to advance the In­terest of Jesus Christ, how to further the Sal­vation of Souls.

11. When you are met together, you must be sure to praise the Lord; As you ought to begin with prayer, so you should end with praise; God must never lose the praise that is due unto his Name.

12. You ought to meet together to excommu­nicate wicked men, to curse them in the Name of God, (i. e.) such as are impenitent, and no­thing will serve their turns but to reproach Gods People. Thus much for the explication of the first thing, (viz.) a Conventicle, what it is.

Secondly. The Fearers of God, What's mean by that? (This is as large to explain as the o [...] ther.)

1. You must look upon the fear of God wit [...] reverence to the Object of Fear, and the Autho [...] of Fear: The Object of Fear, so God is; the [...] Author of Fear; so God must be. Take it thus [...] We must look unto God as the Object of Fear, and we must look unto God (as he is the Author of Fear) to make us the Subjects of Fear. And these two, they end in that same fear which is called a fear to offend.

2. There is a servile Fear, a slavish Fear, and a filial Fear, a Religious Fear. Some fear God because he is a just God, and an avenger, more than for his goodness: but the other is a filial fear, whereby a gracious soul fears to offend God because he is good and gracious.

3. This Fear is taken two wayes, (1.) for the Worship of God; (2.) for our walking with God; our worshipping God aright, and for our walking with God aright.

These two Fears are like two great Poles, on which the body of our Spiritual-Life doth move and turn.

And this fear of God it wil over-aw our hearts; it will keep us from sinning; it will cast out the fear of men; it will quicken to duty; it will draw out love; it will make you willing to lay down your life for him, who so readily laid down his life for you.

Thus I have done with the first Particular, the [...]xplaining of the Text.

Secondly. For the proving on't, (though there [...]e no great need, yet) take two or three Texts;

In Jer. 23.25. 'tis said, That the people shall meet together, and enquire one of another, What hath the Lord answered? what hath the Lord spo­ken? They should come together and enquire what the Lord had delivered to the Prophet.

So, in 1 Thess. 5.11, 14. Comfort your selves together, and edifie one another, even as also ye do. And, We exhort you, Brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feeble-minded, support the weak, be patient towards all men.

And, in Heb. 10.23, 24, 25. (speaking there that we should continue constant in the profes­sion of our Faith, saith he) Let us consider one an­other, to provoke unto love, and to good-works, [not forsaking the assembling of our selves together,] as the manner of some is. No, God's People must not forsake the Conventicles.

One Text more, (and that's very full to this purpose;) in John 13.34, 35. There you shall find that our Saviour was telling his Disciples, that he was going away from them; and, thinking that that would take away much of their comfort, saith he, A new Commandment give I unto you, that ye love one another. The meaning of the Text is this, (as some render it) 'Tis true, you will have a great loss by my absence, but you may make it up by [Page 19]the presence one of another: Frequent comm [...] one with another, help one another, and this make up the loss, this will make up your comfort [...]

For matter of presidents, the Scripture is [...] full.

When the Disciples (for fear of the Je [...] were met together in a holy Conventicle, C [...] he came and stood in the midst of them, and [...] parted his mind to them freely and fully, J [...] 20.19 & 26 verses.

And the Apostles themselves spent their t [...] in little else than in meeting together; we re [...] of their being met all together in one place with [...] accord, Act. 2.1. of their going into an upper ro [...] and continuing there with one accord in prayer [...] supplication, Act. 1.13, 14. and again, of th [...] being assembled with one accord, Act. 15.25.

And it was their common course in the p [...] ­mitive times thus to meet together; As sa [...] Tertullian in his Apologie; saith he, We all m [...] together in a Conventicle, and we knock at Heav [...] doors with our prayers, and we will not let God al [...] till he be pleased to come down graciously unto [...] Know thus much, that all places are now sa [...] ctified for our assembling. I confess, 'tis best [...] publick; Truth needs not to seek corners. Bu [...] In every place Incense shall be offered up unto [...] Name, Mal. 1.11. And,—I will—that men pr [...] every where, lifting up pure hands, 1 Tim. 2.8.

But now, what's the ground or reason that the [...] [Page 20] [...] be such a care amongst God's People, that should thus frequent the Communion of Saints? answer,—

Because there are many duties that are en­ [...]ed God's People to perform, that if they [...]t conventicle, they can never perform; as, [...]ling up one another in their most holy Faith, [...]. 20. and their strengthning and watching over another, &c. How can these duties be done [...]hey don't meet together, and assemble them­selves together, to strengthen, encourage, ex­ [...], reprove one another?

2. Another reason is, That God hath given [...] of Gifts, of Abilities and Graces unto his [...]ple, that they should communicate them one [...]rother. That God has given light unto the [...] 'tis that it should distribute its beams to Earth for the good of its Inhabitants. That [...]d hath given water unto the Sea, it is, that it [...]uld send forth of its abundance in Rivers and [...]eams, that it may come to be serviceable un­ [...] the use of man. And so truly, that God hath [...]de the light of the Sun of Righteousness to arise the hearts of any of his People, and the beams his Graces and Gifts to be in them, 'tis that [...]y should disperse them, and communicate them [...] the use and service one of another. As in Co [...]. 10.7. The manifestation of the Spirit is gi­ [...]n to every man to profit withal. And, in Luke [...] from ver. 13, to ver. 26. Christ (there) gave [Page 21]variety of Talents, Why? For Improven [...] There is no Gift, Grace, or Ability that God [...] given to any one that is a member of his Chu [...] but he ought to be serviceable and instrume [...] with the same for the good of others. 'Tis enough for Merchants to have an Estate, but [...] must have a trading, they must go to the [...] change. So it is with Christians; 'tis not eno [...] for them that they have gifts and graces, but t [...] must meet together in some place; that is th [...] Exchange, where they do sell such and [...] things to others, and buy such and such thing [...] them again; I mean in a Gospel sense; (vi [...]) imparting Counsels and Admonitions to othe [...] and receiving Exhortations & Counsels of othe [...] Some have the gift of resolving Cases of Cons [...] ­ence; others have a special gift to pour out th [...] souls in Prayer: Some (again) God has given gr [...] abilities to in the imparting of Experiences; so [...] to comfort and heal wounded Spirits, and such lik [...] Now, every one of these must be improved a [...] imployed; And how could this possibly thus be, it were not that they had meetings together? B [...] then—

3. Another reason is, Because that in the Meetings, they are sure to meet with the Lo [...] Jesus Christ. O my Brethren, whither wou [...] not a gracious heart go, if he were sure to me [...] with Christ there? Why, if thou comest thith [...] to the end thou oughtest to come, (i. e. to me [...] [Page 22] [...] Christ) he will be sure to meet with thee [...]e.—Where two or three are met together in my me, there am I in the midst of them. He will [...]chsafe his spiritual and blessed presence, and [...] be giving out of his graces, and making [...]arer discoveries of himself and of his love to [...]m that come there to that end, to meet with [...]. Whence should we come to have those [...]athings of soul after Jesus Christ? comes it [...]m the Ministers words? No, but from Christs [...]rit. O therefore (Brethren) I beseech you, [...]t seeing Christ promiseth his presence in such [...] [...]ce, do not withdraw your selves from the [...]ne. Again,

4. Another reason is, Because in these Meet­ [...]gs we are sure to meet with pure Ordinances, [...]th holy and heavenly Administrations and In­ [...]tutions; we shall have God's Worship in a [...]ospel-mould, without humane Inventions or [...]ens Traditions. In the publick (many times) [...] Elephants hoof has been too deep in those wa­ [...]rs, so that there is a great deal of need of the [...]icorns horn: but here is nothing but what comes [...]m an upright heart, guided and ordered accor­ [...]ng to the Rule. And as God has set us apart [...] his Worship, so we should uphold his Worship. [...]here the Carcase is, there the Eagles are gathered [...]gether; And (not where the shew of an Ordi­nance is, but) where the true Ordinance of the [...]ord Jesus Christ is, there the Eagles are upon [...]eir wings. Again,

5. Another reason is, Because this is an Arti­cle of our Faith; We believe the Communion [...] Saints. Now, my Brethren, we believing it in ou [...] principle, it would be sad if we should deny it i [...] our practice. It is strange to me, that men shoul [...] be so zealous to stand up at the Creed, and not t [...] stand up to the Creed, to keep all the Article there repeated. For a man to hold the Communio [...] of Saints, and to oppose the Communion of Saints 'tis somewhat strange: I shall not give much fo [...] this man's faith. Those men that hate and derid [...] the Communion of Saints, I can't believe that they believe any such thing as the Communion of Saints let their Creed be what it will. I fear there are too many that have no better account to give o [...] their belief, but that it must be so. Again,

6. The People of God must be frequenters o [...] Conventicles, because of the great good that may be done and received by these Christian Meetings. My Brethren, true communion, 'tis nothing else but the communication of our spiritual strength, of our graces and of our comforts unto one another. Here (my Brethren) the tongue of the Wise is a [...] choice Silver, and the lips of the Righteous feed ma­ny. Many times there are those that have got so much comfort, strength, building up in faith and resolution at such a Meeting, that they have had cause to bless God for it forever. Many times a [...] Merchant gets more mony in one hour on the Ex­change, than in a whole day in his own Warehouse: [Page 24]So, many times God's People get more in one [...]ou [...] at the Exchange, at the place of the meeting of [...]od's People, than at home in a whole day.

7. For the People of God thus to meet toge­ther, it is one way of owning and honouring of Christ. That when good things are frequently left off, we should be found in the practice of them, such as Psalms are, and the like, thus we honour our Lord Jesus.

8. Thus to assemble our selves, and perform our duty to the Most-High, does much hinder the prevalency of corruption. If we should leave off assembling our selves, corruption would get head; you can't omit a duty but your sin will be encouraged by it. Thomas was absent from that holy Conventicle, John 20.24, 25. and his un­belief got nead; I will not believe (sayes he) till I see his wounds. Omit Prayer in a morning, and Passion will get head that morning. Therefore the People of God should thus meet together, to prevent the growth of their corruptions.

Now, all this laid together, I hope you will give me leave to conclude, That it is a very ne­cessary duty, for God's Peopls to meet often one with another.

Now for the Application of this point.

Let it be,

First, A Use of Information. If it be thus, (Brethren) that the Fearers of God are and ought to be frequenters of Conventicles, the Old-Te­stament-Believers [Page 25]were so, and the New-Testa­ment-Believers were so, as you have heard, Then

1. It does inform us what we should think of those men that hate, abhor, deride, detect, op­pose, make Laws against, and persecute the As­semblies of God's People: What to think of them? why that they are ignorant of that very Religion that they profess; to think of them as enemies of goodness, as limbs of Satan, and Factors for Hell; yea, worse than very Heathens and Infidels themselves. Nero, and other Roman Magistrates, will one day rise up against that Ge­neration that do oppose, oppress, depress the Meetings of Gods People; for they permitted Paul to dwell in his own hired house, and let such as would come unto him, and (saith the Text) no man hin­dered him, Act. 28.30, 31. Nay, the Grand-Turk (that great enemy of Christianity) will rise up against this Generation; for, pay him but Toll and Tribute, and he will let you enjoy your Liberty in Religion.

2. What does it inform us of them that will needs be accounted Professors of Christianity, and very good Christians would be thought to be, yet will be so shy as to shun all these Meetings, they will not come nigh them? Why, that they have too much of the fea [...] of men, and too little of the fear of God: that's the reason they will not come thither. It was a very great blemish in Nichodmus's Coat of Arms, that he would not [Page 26]come to our Saviour's Conventicle but by night, (Joh. 3.2.) when none should take notice of him: and 'tis a greater dishonour to them that will ne­ver come at all, neither in the day, nor at night neither. Even as it was with Nichodemus and o­thers of the Jews, they were afraid they should be thrust out of the Synagogue: So (I have cause to think) many of these are afraid of Communica­tion, and all because they are afraid of Excommu­nication.

Object. I know what some will plead for them­selves, to take off all such kind of censures as these, viz. That there are Publick Meetings and Assemblies—.

Answ. Take heed of touching any such Pitch, lest you should be defiled with the same. Take this for a Rule, That Worship which we ought to perform to the Most-High, and be found in the practice of ought to be both for the matter and man­ner thereof, according to the prescribed Rule of Gods Word only, no men on Earth having authority to de­vise according to their own fancies and imaginati­ons, any forms of God's Worship and Service. Any Worship which is not bottom'd and grounded upon the Word of God, is a false Worship, and such as we may not lawfully be present at, unless some way or other we do shew our dislike, or de­clare our dissent.

I shall now give you (1.) some discoveries of a false Worship, and then (2.) prove to you the [Page 27]unlawfulness of being present at such a way of Worship, when by our presence we do seem to own, or to countenance, or to approve of it.

First, To give you some discoveries of a false [...]orship.

1. When it's such a worship, the patern where­ [...]f is taken from Idolaters, and not from the pra­ctice of the holy Prophets and Apostles of God. Thus, if you observe that place in 1 King. 16.31. Ahab taking to wife Jezebel, the daughter of Eth­ [...]aal King of the Zidonians, went and served Baal, and worshipped him. Ahab marrying Jezebel, he will presently be of his wife's Religion. And we might note this by the way, That it's a very dan­gerous thing for those that are of the true Religion, to marry with those that are of a false Religion. When the children of Israel began to fall in love with the daughters of Moab, they soon fell to commit Idolatry with them. Solomon's Wives you know how they drew him to Idolatry. Wives when they are naught, are oftentimes great In­struments to draw their husbands unto false wor­ship. So that hence they took their pattern for this worship of Baal, from the Idolaters. Yea, when God had prescribed Moses the pattern of his House, how he ought to frame the Tabernacle for his Worship; if Moses should have left that, and gone to the Nations round about him, and taken patterns from them, would not this have been a great abomination in the sight of God? [Page 28]Why, should we lay by the Rule of the Word, and the practice of the Churches in the dayes of the Apostles recorded in the Scriptures, and go unto Turkie, to take our pattern of Worship from the Pagans, or go unto Rome, and borrow our forms, and rites, and modes of Worship from the Papists; would not this be to present an unclean thing unto the Lord, who hath so strictly commanded his People, that they should not so much as en­quire after other Nations, how they worship their Gods, nor imitate them in any of their actions? Deut. 12.30, 31, 32. Why should Light go to borrow of Darkness? shall the Church of Christ take their pattern of Worship from Anti­christ? can there any pure Water (fit for the service of the Sanctuary and the City of our God) flow out of the Romish puddle? or, can a man pick any Gold (for the adorning of the Temple of Christ) out of the Popes dunghil, where there is nothing but mire and filth? Though you should take a Spaniard, or a French-man, and put an English coat upon him, yet this does not make him an English man: So, if there be one thing in the way of Worship that was not prescribed nor pra­ctised in the dayes of Christ, or in the dayes of the Apostles recorded in Scripture, it is born out of due time, and is the innovation and invention of Antichrist, and it is certainly a false worship.

2. Such a worship as has been cast out by the People of God in reforming times, and afterwards [Page 29]in corrupt times is brought in again, this is (cer­tainly) a false worship. So it was here in this [...]ame worship of Baal which we have been speak­ing of. You shall find it was in Israel many years before Ahab, for (in Judg. 2.11.) 'tis said, That the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served Baalim; and they forsook the Lord God of their fathers, which brought them out of the Land of Egypt, and followed other gods, &c. And afterwards (in chap. 6.) you find how that they raised up some other forms, pull down the Altars of Baal, and abolish all the worship of Baal in Israel. And indeed, you may observe concern­ing the people of Israel, that when (for their run­ning a whoring after false worship) the judge­ments of God were upon them; Then they cried unto the Lord, and God delivered them. And you shall then often find a very zealous spirit upon them against false Worship; then they pul down the Altars of Baal, & cut down the Groves, and break in pieces the Idols, and enter into a Covenant with God, that they will keep close to his Worship: but after a few years are over again, (by means of some evil Princes or Governours, who did discountenance the true wayes of God, and were favourers of Idolatry) the people fell to false worship again, and did build again the things that they had destroyed. Now, God com­mands his People to come out of Babylon; now, when they have come out (in any degree or mea­sure) [Page 30]by casting off corruptions in worship, the Lor [...] likes not that they should go back again, tha [...] they should return to those corruptions fro [...] whence they had before departed.

3. When 'tis such a way of worship as is mat­ter of great offence, and a burden to the Godly in a Nation. So it was here too in this worship of Baal; though the most and worst of the people of the Jews fell in with it, yet there were thousands in Israel (which feared the Lord) that were great­ly offended with it, and cryed out against it, and withdrew from it. Surely it's one sign that Wor­ship is not of God, when the most holy and gracious and strict-living people in a Nation are greatly offended with it, and cannot submit unto it; and when 'tis the wicked and ungodly tout in a Na­tion that do so exceedingly desire it, and take their rest in it. Why, that a way of Worship is so well lik'd of by the superstitious and ungodly people in a Nation, is argument enough how much it is disliked of by God. In Exod. 8.26. when Pharaoh would have had Moses to have sa­crificed in the Land, (—Sacrifice to God in the Land.) Sayes Moses, 'Tis not meet so to do; for we shall sacrifice the abominations of the Egyp­tians to the Lord our God: [...]o, shall we sacrifice the Abominations of the Egyptians before their eyes, and shall they not stone us? will they not stone us? Mark, The pure and sincere Worship of God, tha [...] would have been an Abomination to the Egyp­tians, [Page 31]they would not have endured it, but would have faln upon them and stoned them. Ah! my Brethren, the pure Ordinances of God, are hated by the carnal world, they don't like of them. I but when a way of worship is so well liked, and approved of by those that are the worst, and the most prophane in a Nation, that may be argu­ment enough to prove that 'tis not of God; for, if it were God's Worship, they would not love it nor delight in it. So then, I say, when the mul­titude of those that are the most vicious, ungra­cious and unholy, those that are the gross, loose, superstitious and wicked in a Nation, are the peo­ple that do like and love it, surely this is ano­ther sign that Worship is not of God.

4. And lastly. When 'tis such a way of Wor­ship as people are forced into by violence and com­pulsion, whether they like or approve of it or no. Thus it was also with this Worship of Baal; it was as much as their lives were worth not to sub­mit to it. Those that would not bow down to the golden Image, they must be thrown into the fie­ry Furnace, Dan. 3.6. And 'tis the known mark of the Beast and his false worshippers, Rev. 13.16. that he causeth all, both small and great, rick and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right­hand, or in their foreheads; and that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark. That is, those that would not by some act or other, by some kind of testimony or other, testifie their [Page 32]conformity unto his worship, they must be impri­soned, they must be banished. The worship of Antichrist, 'tis an Iron yoke, it will break those that will not bow unto it. If men will not believe their Doctrines, and subscribe their Articles and submit unto their Worship, what then? Why then they must be fined, then imprisoned, then banished. Why now, certainly, this is not the way of Christ, that men should be whipped and scourged, and driven into the profession of his Religion, and the practice of his Worship; that they should be forced into it by fire and faggot, strappado's and gallows's: No, the way of Christ is, to teach people, and to instruct them; to per­swade Japhet to dwell in the tents of Shem: he would not have his Religion forced on any one; that people (by Fines, Imprisonments and Ba­nishments) should be forced into the acknow­ledgement of him; He would have men drawn to him, and not compelled to him; for indeed, no man's judgement can be commanded by another man's will.

But now, having given you some discoveries of a false Worship, I come to the proof of the second thing which I proposed, That it is not lawful to be present at such worship, (i. e.) when by your presence there you seem to own it, to approve of it, to assent or consent to it: You have a clear proof of it in 1 King. 19.18. Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees [Page 33]that have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him. They would not bow the knee to Baal, nor kiss him with the lip. This denying to bow the knee, and to kiss with the mouth, sheweth, that they did not only in heart abhor this false worship, but that they would not by any outward act so much as seem to own it, or countenance it; The meaning (in short) is, they did no way conform themselves to that corrupt service of the times. Another Scripture for this you have in 2 Chron. 11. the 15th & 14th verses compared. When Jeroboam had set up Calves there, and commanded all the people to Worship them, in ver. 15. 'tis said, He ordained him Priests for the High-places, and for the Devils, and for the Calves which he had made. But now, in ver. 14. The Levites left their suburbs, and their possessions, and came to Judah and Jerusalem (for Jeroboam and his sons had cast them off from executing the Priests Office unto the Lord:) and after them, out of all the Tribes of Israel, such as set their hearts to seek the Lord God of Israel, came to Jerusalem to sacrifice unto the Lord God of their Fathers. Mark that; such as set their hearts to seek the Lord God of Israel. Though the generality of the people went with Jeroboam to Dan and Bethel to sacrifice to the Calves, yet a remnant of Israel set their hearts to seek the Lord God of Israel, who knew that God would be worshipped at Jerusalem: therefore they would not joyn with others, and [Page 34]go with others; no, the Priests would lose their Lands and Livings, rather than they would own Jeroboams false gods, and worship them. You know what is commanded, in Hos. 4.15. saith the Lord there, Come not ye unto Gilgal, neither go ye up to Beth [...]aven; What was this Gilgal and Beth­aven, that God commands them not so much as to come thither? O they were the principal places and seats where Jeroboam had set up his false wor­ship: now God layes a Command on them that feared his Name, not to come thither, no, not for curiosity-sake to please their fancies; they must not come there where that false worship was. So some would fain be present with them that wor­shipped false gods in the Temple, that yet did not approve of them; see how the chief Apostle reproves them for it, in 1 Cor. 10.20. The Gen­tiles, they sacrifice to Devils, and not to God; and I would not that ye should have fellowship with De­vils: Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of Devils; ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and the table of Devils. Why do we provoke the Lord to jealousie? So, again, in 2 Cor. 6.14. Be not unequally yoaked with unbelievers; for what fellowship hath Righteousness with Unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what agreement hath the Temple of God with Idols? For ye are the Temple of the living God;—where­fore, come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing, and [Page 35]I will receive you. — Mark how the Apostle dot multiply expression upon expression; Come out — Touch not, — Be ye separate, and have nothing to do with them.

And I might shew you, how that by joynin [...] with others in their false worship,

  • 1. You sin against your selves.
  • 2. You sin against others.
  • 3. You sin against God.

I say—

1. Joyn not with others in their false worship because hereby you sin against your selves; for, by being parties in any false worship, (i. e.) by owning of it, you come to be accessory to their sin. In Revel. 18.4. Come out of her my people, be not partakers of her sins, that ye receive not of her plagues. — My People: Why if God's own People will defile themselves with the Corrupti­ons of Babylon, they must expect to partake of the Judgments of Babylon. And indeed, many times God is more quick with his own People in this re­spect than with others, because 'tis their duty to stand resolutely against all the Innovations and Corruptions in matters of Religion; therefore when they shall comply with the times, and de­file themselves, many times (I say) the Lord is quick in cutting them off, when he may suffer others to go on. And besides, hereby they throw themselves into the mouth of a temptation. God commands (you know) Thou shalt not come near [Page 36] [...] house of an Harlot, Prov. 5.8. because of the [...]ptation. Why, you know what's said con­cerning King Ahaz. (in 2 King. 16.10.) that [...]ing unto Damascus to meet the King of Assyria [...]ere, (out of a Complement it may be, to con­ [...]atulate him, or the like) he saw an Altar that [...] as at Damascus; and King Ahaz sent to Uriah [...]e Priest the fashion of the Altar, and the pat­ [...]rn of it, according to all the workmanship [...]ereof; and the Priest built an Altar, &c. He [...] as presently in love with the Altar; to see it, [...] as a temptation to him to make it, and to sacri­ [...]ce on it, and worship in like manner. This Uriah [...] it seems) was one that was a Temporizing Priest, [...]hat would do any thing the King commanded [...]im; therefore when once he had gotten the Al­ [...]ar made, and the King comes home, he present­ [...]y falls to Idolatry: they lay on their Offering, [...]hen they eat it, and then they go to worshiping. Peter goes to see what the High-Priest hath done, [...]e goes to warm himself, and is accused. It's dangerous to come into the High-Priests Hall, [...]o warm at his fire, lest we go away with a scorched conscience. And again—

2. You sin against others too, that set up these superstitious wayes; whom you herein do abet, and encourage, and harden in their evil wayes. Do not communicate with them. Though you be not as Master-builders to draw out a Platform, yet you should have a care of bringing any brick or [Page 37] mortar to build Babel. In short; in practice yo [...] do offend others, and (it may be) by example d [...] draw them aside too: As in Gal. 2.11. Pete [...] (there) by his dissimulation, was a means to dra [...] Barnabas and others of the Jews to side with him. And specially, such a one as is look'd on as [...] knowing and a religious person, he is herein mor [...] dangerous than a Pagan or a Papist is; you hat [...] them, and will not be led by their example. An [...] again,

3. You sin herein against God too, by bring­ing him the blinde, the halt, and the lame: (For such is every way of Religion, every way of Worship that is of mans devising.) The Lord has not required any such service at your hands, and therefore you have no promise (and so no reason to expect) to be accepted in it. Nor can you do it in faith. As you must not believe for Doctrines the Commandments of men, neither are you to solemnize for Worship the Command­ments of men. The People of God are bound to maintain the Integrity and Purity of God's Or­dinances. Take heed of any thing that does but look like false Worship. VVe must abhor the gar­ment that is but spotted with the flesh. VVe must not so much as touch the unclean thing. God for­had the Israelites to have a false god in their houses: though they did not worship it, yet they must not have it in their houses. And, in Isa. 65.4. he reprehends them, not only for eating [Page 38] [...]he abominable thing, Swines flesh, but for having the broth of that abominable thing in their vessels.

Object. 1. But, you will say, Was not Elijah himself present at the Worship of Baal? so we find, [...]n 1 King. 18.26, &c. Elijah, why he stands by [...]hem, and is a looker-on, and bids them cry aloud unto Baal: therefore (it seems) we may be present at false Worship, and yet not sin.

Answ. Though Elijah was present, yet he did not by his presence any way countenance or al­low that worship of theirs, but he did reprove them for it; he was present to convince them of the evil of it, and to shew them the vanity of their worship. And thus indeed the Prophets and Apostles of God, they were sometimes pre­sent at Sacrifices that were performed to Idols, but it was on purpose to reprove them for it, and to convince them of their Idolatry.

Obj. 2. But (you will say unto me) though we be present at it, yet we can keep our minds to our selves; we will not say Amen unto their prayers, we will not joyn with them, but will keep our minds still unto our selves.

I answer. That is but to dissemble, and to play the Hypocrite both with God and men. To say you will be present with your bodies at false wor­ship, and yet absent in your spirits, it is in effect to say, you will serve God with your souls, and the Devil with your bodies. You know, the worship that is done in an Assembly, 'tis look'd [Page 39]on as the joynt action of the whole Assembly; to which you ought to say your Amen, if lawful; and if not, to shew your dislike of it. And therefore, if it be an Ordinance of God that thou beest pre­sent at, thou oughtst to come to it with thy whole heart and soul; and if otherwise, 'tis such, any act of which worship thou canst not warrantably joyn in, or be present at.

Obj. 3. I but (you will say unto me) what if the Worship be corrupt in part, yet not in the whole? there may be many good prayers and good words in it; now, must we reject the good because of the bad that is mingled with it?

I Answ. There are many good things in the Turkish Alcoran, as well as in the Popish Masse­book, yet may we not lawfully make use of either. The Israelites did halt betwixt God and Baal; that is, they did retain a great part of the true Worship of God, though they did joyn their own inventions with it: Now, 'tis not the retaining some part of the true Worship, that will sanctifie any part of the false Worship that is joyned with it; no, nor the true matter of worship that will san­ctisie the false form of it. A little leaven (here) will leaven the whole lump. VVhat though the Philistines did set up the Ark in the temple [...] Dagon; yet that neither honoured Dagon nor [...] Temple the more. VVhat though there may [...] some tares among the corn; yet still both retain their own nature; this doth not make the tare [Page 40]or weeds to become Corn. The Inventions and Devices of men in God's Worship, they are but unclean things, that nothing is able to wash, or to make clean. In Ezek. 43.8. God does reprove them there for setting up their post by his post, and their threshold by his threshold. They did not pull down God's post or threshold, and set up their own in the room; but they set up their own by it. And in Zeph. 1.5. They there would swear by the name of the Lord, and of Malcam too. So in 2 King. 17.33. There were some that would serve Baal, and yet fear the Lord. That is, they would not cast off all the Worship of God, but would retain some parts of it, onely they would joyn their own Inventions with it. Now, God hates to share his VVorship between Christ and Anti­christ; that men should have in their right-hands many Truths of Christ, but in their left many fal­sities of Antichrist. Indeed, sometimes some part of God's VVorship covers a great deal of Super­stition; There are many evils, much superstition used in the VVorship of God at this day, yet be­cause they retain some principal Truths of the Gospel therwith, that's a great cover to all their corruptions. And indeed, the nearer you come to the true VVorship of God, and yet retain false worship with it, the more danger there is of swal­lowing up many people.

Obj. 4. I but (you will say unto me) there may some things be found amiss in the prayers and preach­ing [Page 41]of the best Ministers, that we cannot joyn in faith with. If we may not joyn with some good because there is some evil mingled with it, why in this case more than in that?

I answer. That preaching and praying of Mini­sters, when they do exercise their own gifts, and have not Prayers and Sermons made for them, 'tis an Ordinance of God, and being an Ordi­nance of God, you may safely communicate ther­in, notwithstanding that there may be some fail­ings in the Minister: in which case the rule is, To prove all things, and only to hold fast that which is good, 1 Thess. 5.25. I but, when any thing is brought into the worship of God that is not God's Ordinance, but mans, here you cannot communi­cate in it safely, because 'tis that that God has not required, nor promised any blessing unto; and therfore you are to reject it, and not to have communion with it. Indeed, there are corruptions in the best hearts, and mixtures in the holiest du­ties: I but when the People of God do worship God in spirit and in truth, as long as they don't set up any Idols in their hearts, nor regard any ini­quity in their souls, (as David says) so long the Lord doth not reject their services, though there are some personal infirmities that attend them.

Obj. 5. I but (you'l say) we hear worse things than these can be every day; as we go along the streets we hear men swearing and cursing; and though we are present, yet we hope we are never the worse for that.

I answer. Though you hear such things in the streets, yet if you by no act of yours joyn with them in it, but do grieve in your spirits when you hear them, the sin is theirs, and not yours.

Obj. 6. I but (you'l say) suppose it be such a way of Worship that (it may be) many holy and godly men use, and they have found good and comfort in it?

Answ. We must follow the examples of holy men, no further than they follow the example and rules of Christ. 'Tis no sufficient argument to prove that such a thing is good, because some holy men have used it; then it might be an argu­ment that taking of Concubines is good, because we reade of some good men in the old Testament that used it. Asa and Jehosaphat (I think) were good Kings; yet 'tis said, that in their dayes the High-Places were not taken down, and they are blamed for it. Hezekiah comes after, and he re­moves them, and is commended for what he did. I question not but when these good men went into these High-Places, though they did evil in what they did, yet the Lord might manifest him­self good to them. Though some good men have used the Ordinances of God with some corrupti­ons and mixtures, yet the Lord hath so far ac­cepted of the integrity and uprightness of their hearts in what they did, as that they have found peace and comfort in so doing: I but this was the mercy of God to them. You must not think it enough to justisie any evil or corruption in wor­ship, that some good men have used it, and yet found [Page 43]comfort in the Ordinances: the times of their ig­norance God might wink at, if they did but seek and serve him according to what they knew.

Obj. 7. I but what if such a way of Worship be imposed on us, and commanded, then 'tis their faults that impose it, and not our faults that do it.

I answer: That no man can without sin com­pose, or impose any forms or wayes of Worship of his own devising, for which he hath no ground in the Word of God; so neither can any submit to them without sin. VVhat is unlawful in him that imposeth, must needs be unlawful in him that doth receive it, and submit to it. The King in commanding Daniel not to pray, did not make Daniels praying ever the more unlawful: And the King's commanding the three Children and the rest to bow, did not commend the act, or make it ever the more lawful. 'Tis not mans allowing or commanding that doth make lawful any way of Worship that is not warranted by the Word of God. No man can lawfully do any thing in the Worship of God, but that which he is satisfied in his conscience he may do, whether commanded by man or not.

Obj. 8. I but (you will say) the matter is not great, and we will yeeld but a little for peace and quietness sake.

I answer: There is not a more dangerous and deceitful temptation than that in the world, for men to yeeld to the beginnings of evil under this pre­tence, that they will yeeld but in a little. He that [Page 44]is not faithful in a little, will not be faithful in much. The Priest that yeelded to the King so far as to make the Altar, and set it up, afterwards must yield further, to offer upon the Altar, 2 Kin. 16. the 11th, 15 & 16 verses compared. As, many good men, they have thought to yield thus far, and thus far, for peace and quietness sake: I but when once their feet have been in the snare, they have after swallowing some gnats, swallow­ed Camels too: and if the Serpent once get in his head, he will soon get in his whole body. 'Tis a dangerous thing to go after the inventions of men, though in never so little, (the Rule is certain;) because they know not how far they shall go. As a Nobleman of England once said, I will pin my faith on no mans sleeve, because I know not whither they will carry it. The true Religion hath the Word of God for its Rule, which remains certain and unalterable; so that when I guide my self by that, I know how far I must go, and where to stop; but when I make the Traditions and Inven­tions of men my Rule, here is no certain stop at all; for men may be multiplying their Traditi­ons and Inventions every day. Therefore 'tis dangerous to yield in little things in matter of false Worship.

Obj. 9. I but (you may say) it's possible hereby we may deprive our selves of many of the Ordinances of God, and so deprive our souls of comfort, and we had better do it.

Answ. 1. Let me ask you, What comfort and [Page 45]benefit can you expect from the Ordinances of God, if you may not enjoy them as appointed by [...]he Lord? If you cannot enjoy God's Ordinan­ces without committing sin, 'tis your duty to for­bear them; for this is the Rule, You may not do evil for the enjoyment of good, Rom. 3.8. And therefore, 'tis not simply the want of Ordinances that is your sin, but your contempt of them. I but now, when you can't enjoy them in the way and after the manner enjoyned of the Lord, and for­bear them upon that account, this is no contempt, therefore not your sin. But further,

Answ. 2. Blessed be the Father of mercies, there is yet a possibility of enjoying the Ordi­nances of God according to his own appointment; Though we may not have them so publickly as we could desire, yet we may have them elswhere, and 'tis our duty (as you have heard made good to you) to follow Gospel-Administrations to what-ever place they are confined, and in what­ever place they may be enjoyed; if they are driven into corners, we must follow them into those corners.

But now, here I meet with another Objecti­on, and it has respect

1. To our absenting our selves from the Pub­lick Assemblies. And —

2. To our betaking of our selves to the more Private-Meetings of God's People.

And both of them have their rise from the Laws made in that behalf.

1. Respecting our absenting our selves from the Publick Assemblies.

Object. You will say unto me, 'Tis possible, if we do not yeeld, we may suffer; we may be undone both We and our Families too.

Answ. All I will say to that, is this; When you may not obey the Commands of men, without sinning against God, you had better suffer than sin: you had better suffer from men, because you are afraid of offending God; than to suffer from God, because you are afraid of offending men. This in­deed is a great temptation to many a good soul, and holy man, O what will become of my Wife and Children? if I lose my Living, my means of Liveli­hood, they may starve, and my Conscience is against that: I have peace neither day nor night. Why it was the case of those we spake of but now, (in 1 King. 19.18.) they ventured Lives and Estates and All, rather than they would bow the knee to Baal: I but yet God was a Sanctuary to them, he provided an Obadiah that fed them, 1 King. 18.4. And when Elijah was forc'd to flee for his life from the Prophets of Baal, God commanded an Angel one time, and a Raven another time to feed him, 1 King. 19.17. & 1 King. 14.4, 6. If ordinary means fail, God knows how to raise up extraordinary means, and will do so in time of his Peoples distress. Mind that place in Isa. 66.5. Hear the Word of the Lord, ye that tremble at his Word; your Brethren that hated you, that cast you out for my Name sake, said, Let the Lord be glori­fied; [Page 47]but he shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed. Mark, my Brethren: There are a company among you that do tremble at my Word, (q. d.) that dare not do any thing in my Worship without my Word; but there are others of your Bre­thren that will find out wayes to avoid sufferings; and will adventure upon things in my Worship that I never commanded them; and they hate you, and cast you out, excommunicate you, because you are not of their judgment, because your con­sciences are more tender than theirs: I but he shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed: though for the present you may lie under con­tempt, and be reproached as factious persons, and they may flatter it out, and have preferments from the world, yet in time to come, the Lord will appear to your joy, and their shame. And cer­tainly, Brethren, the time is a coming, and not far off, when the Lord will appear for his Wor­ship, & for his Ordinances in the purity of them; and when he will cast shame and contempt-upon all false worship and worshippers. Let me shut up this, with a story concerning a Christian Soul­dier, who being in the Heathen Army, and it be­ing a day whereon the Heathen Souldiers did al­wayes use to wear a Vail upon their heads, in honour to some Idol god; the Christian Souldi­er in stead of wearing his Vail on his head, he carried it in his hand: whereupon his fellow-Souldiers did begin to scoff at him, and a great mutiny there was presently in the Army, and he [Page 48]brought before the Officers to answer for his fact; and his answer was, I am a Christian, I dare not conform to them in their superstitious observation of dayes. At which they were exceedingly enraged, and so, that not only he, but other Christians were like to suffer by his means: so that many other Christians were hugely offended with this Chri­stian, that he would stand upon such a small thing. Now, Tertullian commends him, as being one that was holier than any of the rest, who for fear of Persecution would comply and yeeld to their superstitious observations. And though the o­ther Christians said, Where are we [forbidden] to wear a Vail on our heads? He answered, But where are we [commanded] to do any such thing? So, some indeed may comply, and yeeld to ruperstitious observations; yet those that are of a true Chri­stian Spirit will not comply, whatever persecu­tions or sufferings may fall upon them for it. As in that fore-quoted place, 1 King. 19.8. I have left me seven thousand in Israel, that have not (no, nor never will, come what will) bowed the knee to Baal, nor kissed him with their lips. But now,

2. The other part of the Objection respects our betaking of our selves to the more Private-Meetings of Gods People; and it is this: There are Laws made against them, and we shall run our selves into danger if we be taken in these Conventicles. To this I answer:

1. If you will be afraid of danger, then never think of performing duty: if you will stil be afraid [Page 49]of danger, you will be sure to keep your selves as much as you can out on't, what-ever duty you neglect for it: if you will be afraid of danger, little hope then that you will ever either do, or be good at all; seeing that if any man [will] live godly in Christ Jesus, he [must] suffer persecution. The fearful did never yet set up any Trophies of Victory.

2. Had the Saints in former Ages and Times been afraid of danger, they had never left us such examples as they have done. They would do their duty, and trust God with their safety, let what­ever would come on them.

3. Let me tell you, 'tis a very shameful and a very sinful thing, to shun services and duties, because we would avoid sufferings and dangers. You must have a care you don't suffer as evil­doers, but never fear suffering as well-doers. In 1 Pet. 4.15, 16. But let none of you suffer as a mur­derer, or as a thief, or as an evil-doer, or as a busie­body in other mens matters; yet, if any man [suffer as a Christian] let him not be ashamed, but let him glorifie God in this behalf.

And thus I have done with the second Infe­rence. Again—

3. It doth inform us what to think of these Conventicles, of these meetings together of God's People. You should think of them as things of consequence, as things of concernment, as things of soul and salvation-concernment, as things that we ought and are bound as much to come to, as to any other duty whatsoever.

Now there are six or seven things this way that I would lay before you.

1. Look on them in God's Dictionary, and find how you reade them there: There they are call'd the Communion of Saints; the Paradise of the Earth; the Harbingers of Heaven; the First­fruits of Canaan; the Earnest of Eternal Joy, and this is all.

2. Look upon them as the only Worship that God had in the pure and primitive times, in the beginning of the Gospel-dayes, when no place in publick was admitted them, or allowed to them.

3. Look on Conventicles as all the means of comfort that you your selves are like to have in times of persecution and fiery tryal. When Mi­nisters are driven into corners, follow them into those corners.

4. Look upon them as the great Hammer, to break and beat down Antichrist's Kingdom.

5. Look upon them as Evidences of your Grace, of the truth of your Grace, and of the strength of your Grace, that you are neither a­fraid to confess Christ, nor yet ashamed to con­fess him.

6. Look upon them as a great help of your Faith, to encrease it, to strengthen it; to get and procure joy and comfort.

7. Look on them, as things very highly plea­sing unto God: as you may see in the Text; —The Lord hearkened and heard; even as a man that hears some curious Musick, he gives his [Page 51]mind with all intention to the same. —O let me hear thy voice; for thy voice is sweet, Cant. 2.14. 'tis spoken of the Church in her Meetings. When they came together, O how delightful it was to God! But—

Secondly. The next Use shall be of Lamenta­tion. Is it thus, that there ought to be such Meetings, and for such ends as you have heard, among which (I told you) this was one, To humble and afflict our souls? then let us put it into exe­cution this day. Give me leave to strike this nail to the head, yea, to the heart, that it may be a day of great lamentation, and of great mourning, that we may every one pour out our souls before the Lord. (Beloved, this is very necessary.) And—

First, Begin with your own souls, search them to the very bottom; labour to find out your sins, and endeavour to bring your hearts to a godly sor­row and repentance for them, such a one as may be unto life. O that as your sins have been as clouds over your heads, so now they may break down in­to your hearts by a shower of godly sorrow! Con­sider seriously how highly and heavily God is pro­voked against you. Methinks that very one thing, That God is become our Enemy, hides his face from us, stops his cars against us, and turns his back upon us, were enough to kill any gracious heart, and to strike him dead at his soul.

Look but upon what your sin has provoked God to do, and upon what it may provoke God to do, and I hope that will humble you at this day, for [Page 52]fear your peace, and the things thereof should be hid from your eyes.

First. What it has provoked God to do, viz. to rid you of your choicest mercies, your precious opportunities, to strip you stark naked of all your glorious priviledges; except now and then a bit in a corner, we can else get no pure bread, but a stone in stead of bread, and a Viper in stead of Fish. Sayes David, My tears are my meat and drink day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God? Psal. 42.3. The loss of God's pre­sence may well humble us, and cause us to water our couch with our tears. And then,

Another thing that may make us humble is this; God has spit in our faces. O this should go to our hearts. If a Father spit in his Daughters face for her Adultery and Uncleanness, will she not be ashamed? yea, and grieve too? Now, shall God spit in his Peoples face, and we not be ashamed, and grieved? Why, 'tis so, that God has spit in our faces. For,

1. God has (in a large degree) given us over to the power and lust of our enemies. There is not a greater cut to God's People, than to be in their enemies hand, or in their enemies Land. —He delivered his glory over into the enemies hand, because they had provoked him, Psal. 78.58, 61. Why truly, the Philistines have gotten us into their hands, and whether they will put out our eyes, or take away our lives we cannot tell.

2. Not only so; but we have provoked God [Page 53] so to spit in our faces, as that we stink in the nostrils of our enemies, so that they scorn and deride us, because we have sinned against the Lord. Jacob's complaint was of Simeon and Levi, — You have made me to stink among the inhabitants of the Land, Gen. 34.30. Truly, so have our sins made us to stink in the nostrils of all our enemies round about us. This it has provoked God to do. But now,

Secondly, Consider what your sins may pro­voke God to do. If so be you don't lament, re­turn, reform, you will provoke God to proceed yet further against you. Brethren, there are sad things, rods laid in brine for you, if you don't lay your souls in brine: There are Fines, Prisons,— carrying of you into strange Lands, &c. In Lev. 26. ver. 27 to 33. there God tells them plainly, because they would not be instructed nor reform­ed by those punishments that he had brought upon them, therefore he would send them into their enemies Land; he would make the Nation to cast them out, so that they should have no more sanctuary in that place. Again,

Thirdly. Let me tell you (by way of comfort) if you will repent, lament, reform, and return, there is hope in Israel concerning this thing: Oh there is mercy with God, that he might be feared. With God there is pity, pardon, peace; and God is ready to bestow it, yea, more ready than we are to receive it. But—

Secondly. As we should mourn over our own sins, so we should lament over the sins of the [Page 54] people of the Land among whom we live; we should weep for them that laugh at us, and mourn for them that mourn not for themselves.

And know, there are (1.) the sins of the Priests, and (2) the sins of the People. Now take either of these:—

First, The sins of the Priests. Jer. 23.15. For from the [Priests] prophaneness is gone out into the Land. Truly, so we may say; God's House that was a House of Prayer, is [now] become a Den of Thieves and Robbers. The Wine of the Sanctuary is now become the Venom of the Sanctuary.

And I might divide them over again, into the Fathers of the Church, and the Sons of the Church, (as they call themselves:) they have their great and grievous sins of both sorts:—

First. The Fathers: Look upon their Pride and Prelacy, their setting up of will-worship, their lording it over Christ's people, their persecuting of God's People for Conscience-sake, &c. And,

Secondly. The Sons of the Church; their Apo­stacy and Atheism.

1. Their Apostacy. Divers that were among us once, their compliance with them that hate the Lord, and putting stumbling-blocks before the weak; and their horrible subscription, whereby they do interpretatively deny the Faith it self.

2. Their Atheism: their base Ignorance, their gross Drunkenness & Covetousness, their slavish [...] of him they call their Diocessan, being more [...] of offending against a Bishops Canon, than [Page 55] Gods Commandment; and their preferring the Book of Common Prayer above the Bible. O that we could lay these things seriously and sadly to heart, even the wick­edness of the Clergie! O the sins of the Clergie are very great and grievous! And then,

Secondly. For the People. (And 'tis very like, if the Priests be bad, the people will be worse; and if the sons of the Church will be the sons of Belial, the people will be apt to learn any wickedness that they shall teach them, either by their principles, or by their practices.) O the Blasphemy, the hatred of Holiness, Swearing, Cursing, drinking of Healths, yea, even in their own blood; yea, many drinking Healths to the Devil himself! We reade in Act. 14.11. that the people there cryed out concern­ing Paul and Barnabas, that the Gods were come down from heaven to them in the likeness of men: but if they were now in England, they would surely say that the Devils were come up into the Land among us.

Let us therefore (my Brethren) now do our duties, carry our selves as friends to them, though they carry themselves as enemies to us. Let us be the Lot's, the Noah's, the David's, the Jeremiah's, the Paul's, whose eyes were Rivers of waters, and did run down night and day, because men did break the Law of God. I have told you often, and now tell you weeping, that they are enemies to the Cross of Christ; whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is their shame, who mind earthly things. O let us pray for their souls, their conviction and conversion. Brethren, though you have been praying long already, and see but little account of your prayers, yet follow it on still, you do not know but that the hearts of your enemies may be given in unto you: O pray that they may be reformed, and that they may return, and may set up the Lord Jesus Christ, whom they have dethroned.

And then, my Brethren, if so be that your prayers (you see) can't prevail for them, then (there is ano­ther duty remains for you to do, (The first must be done first; but afterwards) pray that the strong East [Page 56]wind of the Lord would come, and blow these [...], and Locusts, and Droans out of the Land. I shall not need to give you many places of Scripture to prove this Truth, seeing it is so very plain from that fourth chapter of Nehemiah, the 4th and 5th verses, where when the enemies of God set themselves against the building of the Temple of the Lord, Nehemiah prays unto the Lord that he would preserve them, but over­turn, their enemies. And truly, my Brethren, though I speak of this as our duty, yet I could more abun­dantly wish, that God would hear our prayers for their conversion, than for their destruction.

Here I might have added a third Use, and that is, To exhort and perswade you all, that whenever these is any such opportunity of private meeting together, ne­ver to be discouraged from it, because you shall be de­rided, or may come other wayes to suffer by it: No, 'tis your Glory, 'tis your Crown, at such times as these are, that you dare so bravely and boldly acknowledge the Lord Jesus Christ, against so many opposers and deniers of Him, that are in the times and places where you live. But I suppose it would be needless to urge it any further: you see 'tis a duty, and the very Rea­sons (that I have given you) of the Point, will be Arguments sufficient: Therefore I shall leave this with you, and both this and you with God, desiring of the Lord to adde his blessing to what has been spoken, that it may be of good use to you.

FINIS.

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