A SERMON OF Destructive Ignorance, AND Saving Knowledge.

Preached in Christ-Church, Dublin, August 4. 1672.

And Published at the importunity of divers, who thought it might tend to disabuse many well-meaning people.

By Edw. Wetenhall, B. D. Prebendary of St. Peters Exon.

LONDON, Printed for Thomas Rooks, and are to be sold by Joseph Wilde, Bookseller in Castle-street, Dublin. 1672.

To the most Reverend Father in God, MICHAEL Lord Archbishop of Dublin, AND Lord Chancellor of the Kingdom of IRELAND.

May it please your Grace,

DIvers of my Friends, Auditors of this Sermon, have taken occasion to be so troublesome to me for it, that I saw no way to deliver my self from their displea­sure, but by gratifying their importunity. The same Persons, as I understood, expresly pro­fessing when they should have a Copy they would make it publick, I resolved by making the Ori­ginal such my self, to give both them and the World leave to take as much of it as they [Page] should list. Being now publick, it comes, as Duty directs it, an humble Present unto your Grace.

I am not at all solicitous as to its Entertain­ment in the World: being conscious to my self its Contents are wholly sober truth, with which if any should be angry, I am not yet satisfied that I ought to be concerned thereat, otherwise than to vouchsafe such persons my Pity, and the charity of my Prayers.

I only fear how your Grace may resent so bold a Dedication: But I have to say for my self, That, by the laxest Laws of Gratitude, I ought some publick testification of your Graces singu­lar Sweetness and Constancy to me; That I had no fitter means of such testification than this, this being my first appearance in publick in the Kingdom of Ireland, and besides it being not possible for me ever to present in so short a com­pass, more of my self and most intimate thoughts in a case of this nature, than I have done here: (Now First-fruits, and what is most sincerely Ours, use to come most acceptable Oblations.) [Page] That the Experience, which I have had of your Graces favourable admission of Addresses far more troublesome than this, gave me confi­dence an attempt of Gratitude would not be ill taken.

In this confidence I forbear other Apologies, and most passionately pray to your Grace, amidst the great and various Vicissitudes of Humane affairs, such continuance of Health, Fortunes, and the Divine Blessing, that you may long live, what admirably you are, a glorious Precedent and Patron of all Learning, Worth and Virtue.

Your Graces most Humble Servant, Edw. Wetenhall.

Collyrium: OR, A SERMON

• Destructive Ignorance, , and • Saving Knowledge. 
The Text.‘Hos. 4. 6. My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.

IT is a Rule as wholsom as general, and deri­ving immediately from the great design of all Sacred Scripture, (wherein whatsoever was recorded, the Apostle assures us to have been written for our ensample and instruction) that in those several parts of it which were on particular occasions more immediately address'd to particular ages, [Page 2] peoples or persons, we should all, as every subject is justly applicable, accommodate it each to our present case and stite.

In compliance with which Rule, we shall not now concern our selves in a curious inquest into the Manners and Condition of this Jewish age, to whom our Prophet directs his speech▪ which (briefly) were sufficiently corrupt and deplorable; nor yet into the Originals of such their corruption and misery, (for those matters, though of good ad­vantage to other purposes, than those we have proposed our selves at present, are notwithstanding such, for the not knowing whereof, we are secure enough people shall not be destroyed)▪ But rather, taking the boldness to suppose, that what God here complains of these Jews is without injury to the words or us, accommodable to our generation; and that even in this knowing, and (as presum'd) most Eagle-ey'd age, men amongst us do still perish for lack of knowledge, First, we will direct a scrutiny to­wards the discovering what knowledge that is, for lack of which people amongst us are destroyed: and, Secondly, endeavour some probable notices, whence those clouds arise which obscure our light, and what the malignant causes are of the present de­structive ignorance: and, Lastly, with all due sub­mission consult, what are the most hopefull reme­dies to be applyed in this case.

In pursuance of all which, we promise, what we say shal observe due reverence to all who have but [Page 3] any fair pretence to knowledge, much more to the truly Judicious: and as to those, whose good opi­nions of themselves are chiefly placed upon their own confidence, we beseech such, with all humility, and in the spirit of meekness, that they will be pleased to think some men in the World, who do little else but seek knowledge, may have some knowledge besides themselves; and therefore impartially to consider, whether what shall be said to them, carry not greater reason to convince them of the lack of sound know­ledge, than what their own strong presumptions bear, to ensure them of their being already masters of it. No wise man but will be thankfull to be shewed his error: none therefore, who pretend to be such, may reasonably ill resent, what sincerity and good will speaks, to discover such mistakes, which there is much better evidence to pronounce pernicious, than to imagine tolerable.

And that it may be apparent. I intend not to dis­gust the age by a wild and indefinite imputation of ignorance to it, I shall with all candour own the knowledge in which our age may be confessed emi­nent; and therefore, first, bring in a negative answer to the proposed matter of enquiry, by saying, that people are not destroyed at present,

1. For lack of a Dogmatick knowledge, amounting from intricate speculations, and fine notions, whe­ther newly coined or retrieved from their deserved Graves. We have both in Sacred matters and Civil, conceits enough to spare the World, very suffici­ently [Page 4] to furnish (I had almost said to overlay) it, should it continue to well nigh infinite successions of ages. Besides that we have been fertile of some Opinions which our days may solely boast of, there are few old Heresies, which have not received a­mongst us what improvement mischievous wits could give them. And when the present new-fashioned sin­gularities shall grow stale, we are not likely to want a fresh succession, so long as Spiritual illuminations are so frequent, and every petite hit of wild imagination must be reputed an irradiation of the Holy Ghost, and a New Light from above.

Nor doth this eminency extend it self only to single Opinions; but, secondly, we are generally skilfull in Bodies and Systems of them; and those modell'd and contrived into a dutifull subserviency to the common designs of innovating Factions. Of all which new-framed Schemes, this be sure is the con­stant Law, that they be lax enough, immediately to place, upon none or easie terms, all who receive them in an inamissible possession of the Divine fa­vour; and rigid enough on the other side to damn all, who are such Infidels as to put a difference be­twixt Saints and Confidents, or to think mens Christianity ought to have other reason besides their own presumption.

And from these two ariseth a third sort of pre­cious knowledge, in which we are of so high attain­ments, that all our predecessors wheresoever, have been but meer Punies and Chits in comparison of [Page 5] us. I know not by what name fitlier to stile it, than Theological Lullianisme, or the art of senceless Divi­nity-Harangues: a fine verbose talkative skill, by which men are able, without the trouble of any pre­paration, to deliver endless and unintelligible Myste­ries, in the language of the Times, to preach and pray most spiritually, but in truth to amuse and confound themselves and their weak admirers with neither knows what.

I would not here be mistaken, as if I did slight the gifts of utterance in a particular relation as well to prayer, as preaching, in places and seasons where their use is meet: But I would fain have men rationally to conceive of them. For verily it is necessary, that as we put a difference between speaking spiritually and speaking much, so that we know even ready speaking is a habit attained by the common blessing of God upon mens natural parts, industry and practice in some measure improving them; and no such Di­vine inspiration as fancied: much less doth it con­stitute that which they call Saving knowledge, or ne­cessarily proceed from a sanctified heart. And that therefore the affectation of many and new-coined forms of speech ought not to be so idolized, as be­ing not at all an extraordinary gift; And further, in as much as nothing can be more notorious, than that through this one Enthusiastical strain of thus preaching and praying, a multitude of the most zea­lous pretenders to Religion are run clearly beyond all reason and sobriety, and never now think they [Page 6] edifie by any Sermon or Prayer, but when they have got a long headless piece of stuff together, made up of odd Phrases and canting: Allegories, out of which neither themselves nor the wit of man can pick sense. That only, I say, they judge them­selves to profit by, of which distinctly they can make nothing, and which is in truth only a new kind of empty noise, and train of riddles void of sober signification.

I hope it will be observed my discourse hitherto hath confin'd it-self to Religious knowledge: I could have given an account of other forts of knowledge for lack of which men are not likely to perish. And I can scarcely forbear that marvellous skill and sa­gacity we have all attained to in Politicks, scarce a Foreman of a Shop but is acquainted with all the reasons of State, and publick necessities, and sole ex­pedients to salve them. And there are here and there dispers'd little smart precocious suckers of the late Republican Bramble, who set up for Masters in this Mystery, and scrape together Intelligences from every Posts News, and make up their reckon­ings, and thence inferr most necessary and fallible Aphorisms, which they confidently disperse in all Companies, hoping for, what not rarely they find, greedy admirers, who giddily lick up all this their Spittle, and as giddily again diffuse it. But I will pass this: And of all the knowledge I have hither­to spoke of, I say, men are so far from being in danger for the lack of a curious, Dogmatick, verbose, [Page 7] or pragmatical knowledge, that I pray God the generality of people be not destroyed by its super­abundance.

To come then to a positive satisfaction to the en­quiry in hand; which I most passionately beseech all to attend unto without prejudice, my design (God knows it) being only to undeceive all I can, to expose none.

The knowledge for lack of which people at pre­sent are destroyed, is a sober information of Consci­ence touching matters of Faith and Practice, ne­cessary to their real happiness: What those matters are universally to all men, it is not easie, haply not possible precisely to determine; by reason of the variety of mens conditions, and the answerable ex­pectation of Justice, according to that most equi­table rule, (Luke 12. 48.) Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required. Certainly less than this can be required of no man of ordinary reason and condition.

First, That he understand his happiness consists not in any of those lower enjoyments, but that as his Soul is an intelligent and immortal being, so it can never be satisfied but with that which hath within it, what suits and may perfect all its powers, and shall be eternal as it self, of which Nature is nothing here below. Only Virtue here administers any thing of real and durable content. And if perfect Virtue could be attained, and we eternally secured therein, free from all molestation and trouble consequent [Page 8] upon former guilt, thence must needs result a full content and complacence, as to any thing from within the mans self. And as to what without him his Soul could further covet, it being supposed that in God infinitely dwells all good, and that Heaven gives us the sight and enjoyment of him, it cannot be but a person so qualified as before, being received into Heaven, is compleatly happy, or as blessed as he can be. Now to secure us in perfect Virtue and such its result, to acquit us from our Vices, and possess us eternally of Heaven and the sight of God, there is no probable (at least no safe) way but what Christianity propounds.

Upon this, Secondly, follows the necessity of Faith in Christ Jesus, or an expectation of remission of sins and such compleat happiness through him, upon the performance of the conditions he requires. Of which conditions the summe is, that we believe and honestly receive whatsoever was delivered or pub­lished by him, when it is sufficiently declared unto us that it was by him delivered. So that it is evi­dent, that though for the general, Faith in Christ be the same to all men, that is to say, that all men are bound to receive whatever they are reasonably sa­tisfied to have been deliver'd by Christ, (and there­fore generally to be Virtuous;) yet to particular per­sons it may be different, according to the particular degrees of light that every one hath enjoyed, that is, according to the evidence or means of satisfaction he hath had, and the capableness of his mind to [Page 9] admit such evidence: so that in fine, that particu­lar may be a point of Faith, and so of Duty to one man, which to another by reason of his ignorance or other impediment is not such. In the mean while this cannot but be indubitably evident to all men, who have so much as well heard of the Gospel, that it requireth all men every where to repent, Acts 17. 30.

That therefore, Thirdly, must be concluded, that Repentance from dead works is a matter of such in­dispensible necessity to the happiness of every man, that whoso is not duly informed in the nature of it, may be destroyed for lack of knowledge. And by such Repentance we are not to understand some tran­sient displeasure with our selves for some actions of ours, which we apprehend to have been imprudent­ly or incommodiously done, nor meerly a sorrow for all our past sins as well known as unknown; But besides this, (first) a considerate and stedfast purpose or resolvedness to forsake sin, and approve a mans self impartially holy, which is a change of mind; and (secondly) an honest endeavour according to that resolvedness, which is a change of life. Acts of Contrition, Confession, and mourning over sin, are more truly steps and preparatives to Repentance, by which as by a proper cause this purpose comes to be rooted and setled in the mans mind, than Repen­tance it self; which, I say, if we will speak of as it is acceptable to God, and available to our salvation, we must determine to be such a permanent habit as [Page 10] already declared, a new state, a durable course of Reformation, not an act of sorrow, or a pang of devotion, or an amendment for a day or two. And it is much to be feared, that the want of the know­ledge of this the true nature of Repentance, occa­sioned by some insufficient Teachers mistaking, and so mis-representing its notion, has destroyed many, and to this day retains the same mischievous and damning influence.

And, lastly, because we have determined him only to be the true penitent, who thus is, and remains a changed man, that is to say, Virtuous according to his resolves, therefore most necessary to salvation must be the knowledge of particular Virtues, what those Moral Duties are which are required of us, and what those sins which under the pain of eternal wrath we are to avoid. Namely, that to God, be­sides the outward worship of Prayer, Sacraments, and attending his Word, we owe a devout and pious temper of Soul, consisting in a sweet combination of Faith, Hope, Love, Humility, Fear, and what Graces else of the like nature: to Men, if Governours, Honour, Obedience, and Loyal adhaesion as need shall require. He's no good Christian who would not venture his Life and Fortunes, if called thereto, in defence of his rightfull Soveraign. Again, to men if simply Superiors, and having nothing of obligation upon us, but what the eminency of their condition gives them, yet even to these respectively according to their degree, Honour and Reverence. To Equals, [Page 11] due valuation of them, and modest praeference: to Inferiors, courtesie and condescention as need re­quires: to all, justice, charity, and good will, as well in words and actions as in thought. And, lastly, to our selves, a care and reverence suiting our nature and condition, in not betraying our reason, our health, our honour, our estate, by any intemperate, vile or pittiful practices. I do not say that every private Christian must be an exquisite Casuist, or able to cleave an hair in determining the right of matters in every perplexed case: Herein they have Spiritual Guides appointed them by God, whom they are to consult. But surely as to the ordinary cases of life, of common concernment to all men, each person ought to wear knowledge enough about him, to determine what is his duty, what his sin, or he is in great danger of being destroyed for lack of knowledge.

Of these points then, the true happiness of man, and (the means thereto) Faith in Jesus Christ, and Repentance from dead works, and to that purpose the nature of particular Virtues, we have said it is necessary the Conscience be soberly informed, or that in default thereof, men are in all likelihood of perishing for lack of knowledge.

Now what we mean by due information of Consci­ence, will appear best by considering the nature of Conscience it self, which in truth is but another name for the Understanding, considered in a parti­cular regard. At least as the mind of man takes in [Page 12] or conceives the natures and notions of things, and generally judgeth of them, we call it the Under­standing: As it is furnished with certain principles and rules, by which as by its next and most inti­mate guide the mans practice is directed, we call it Conscience. Now that any thing may become a prin­ciple of Conscience, and so be of force to sway a man in his practice, it is necessary that the Propo­sition, which is supposed a Principle, be not only understood but believed, more or less, according as more strongly or faintly it sways the man. So that for a mans Conscience to be duly informed touch­ing these matters, is not only for him speculatively to comprehend the meaning of such Propositions as these, God is the chief good and happiness of man, Faith, Repentance and Virtue, are the means to attain the enjoyme [...] [...] this God, but to be deeply in his heart convinced and perswaded of the verity of these things, and his concernment as to them.

If therefore any person amongst us, of common reason and capacity, be ignorant wherein true hap­piness doth consist, what the true nature of Faith in Christ, Repentance, of Devotion, Justice, Cha­rity, Temperance, and Chastity is, or further, want the knowledge of such things as are sufficient to perswade him of the truth and necessity of these points, I say, that such person dying thus ignorant, in all likelihood perisheth for lack of knowledge.

But when I say thus, I would be understood to speak only of such whom providence hath blessed with the good tidings of the Gospel of Peace, and abilities in a good measure to comprehend its Doctrine: That, of the Heathen World, and of Na­turals, to whom less hath been given, less will be required, I suppose it becometh not me to doubt. He amongst such, who believeth God to be, and to be a rewarder of them that diligently seek him, if he shall so seek him, and yet believe little or nothing more, because by seeking he can find no more, may, for ought I know, sit above them in Heaven, who for want of unbyass'd reason and charity, as well to Almighty God, as the poor virtuous Ethnick, or weak headed Innocent, judge the men so bad, as to be unfit for Heaven; or God so ill-natur'd, that is the infinitely good, so merciless a Tyrant, as to ex­clude men from happiness, for what he designedly left them under an utter disability to redress.

And now we are thus far up the hill, and can take a prospect of the destructive ignorance, let us stand still a while and look back, and see if we have not a reason to take up a lamentation, that black­ness enfolds large tracts, and multitudes perish for lack of knowledge.

Meekly and without an affront to the knowledge of the age, First, as to that knowledge which con­sists in a sober and distinct understanding Divine Truths, even such as are necessary, are not the generality much to seek? It hath not been the business of [Page 14] many Teachers to instruct, but amuse people in Re­ligion. We have been many of us bred up with Seraphick discourses of the in-dwelling of the Spirit, and of wonder-working Grace, and of the Elect of God from before the foundation of the World; with endless and impertinent (many times most seditious and lying) catalogues of the signs of the Grace of God in his people: With the glympses of Christ, and how Believers are made partakers of the Divine Nature, whether the essence of it be in us, or only its effects, (which last was too sober a truth for the age:) How each Believer ought to seek after a distinct com­munion with each person of the Trinity by himself; with a multitude of such mysterious whimsies, out of which, as I said, the wit and reason of man cannot pick sober sence or truth. Hence it came to pass, that every amused or affrighted and thunder-struck person, finding within his breast a change which he knew not what to make of, in truth a tumult of affections much like (what they lead unto) a phrensie, (sometimes wonder, anon fear, then hope, then joy) every such person, I say, thought himself a Convert, and began to talk of his experience. And this was the work of Grace and Conversion. Then every one, who could perswade himself God had a favour from ever for him, and not for another, had the Faith of Gods Elect, and this was Believing. Every good-mean­ing Woman, who by sympathizing with groans and whynings which she heard from the Pulpit, put finger into the eye and cryed, was a broken-hearted [Page 15] person, and this was Repentance. And in every com­pany without fear or wit to talk of Sermons, and Gods people, and to look demurely, was to be a gra­cious and precious person. And this was Virtue and Godliness. And, alas! these mistakes are so deeply rooted in the hearts of many of the common people, of honest good-meaning, that we who would redress them, coming upon this sad disadvantage, that we are to put people out of conceit with themselves, and what they have a long time pleased themselves in, as in a Fools Paradise, are by many such honest abused persons disrelish'd, reviled, cryed out on as Carnal Preachers, no whit spiritualized; nor can it yet (God knows when it will) be effected, that the Religion of the multitude be much more than a confident, presumptuous and irrational humour, than which there being nothing more contrary to sober knowledge, alas! people perish for lack of knowledge.

And, Secondly, as to Divine knowledge, as opposed to Scepticisme in Religion, and as it signifies the seeing the evidence of Religious Principles, which per­swades us solidly of their truth, is not the com­plaint as just and sad as of the former branch, mul­titudes perish for lack of it? As generally, justifying Faith, amongst people, is nothing but a trust or con­fidence of Gods favour in Christ, so, with the most part, the Faith of Principles is little more than Opinion, insomuch that not only the Articles of our Creed, that is, the chief points of Christian Religion, but [Page 16] even the common principles of all Religion, the stand­ing boundaries of good and evil, are doubted, que­stion'd and impugned, and by reason of the multi­tude of Disputants, we can scarce find Believers. Of this, said experience being an irrefragable proof, is there not reason to take it up for a lamentation, Alas! for it is a day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness spread upon the face not of the valleys only, but of the mountains? The ignorance (or which is much the same, mistake) of these plain necessaries in Religion, the not-seeing, or (which is but a willful blindness) not-attending to the evidences which would perswade men touching them, destroys many not only of the inferiour Com­monalty, but higher Personages.

But we have possibly dwelt too long on the view of this ungratefull subject, the common destructive crime and woe: and time it were to consult its re­medy, were it not proper and naturally conducing thereunto, first to inspect its Causes, which was the second thing propounded.

The First of which I take to be, the making so many things necessary to Christianity, which indeed are not: for from hence it comes to pass, that most men being not able to give their whole time to Re­ligion, and commonly allowing to it only some odd parts of their vacancy and leisure, can never pene­trate and digest the so manifold points and mem­bers of its enlarged body. And then in so great a Wilderness of pretended necessaries, not being able [Page 17] to discern what are principally (and it may be truly and solely) necessary, they stick upon the most po­pular and commonly ventilated points, and totally or for the most part neglect what to them is of greater concernment. Verily, were Christianity such an infinite thing as some seem to have made it, it is not most mens lives, (considering they must follow common Callings) that were sufficient for them to attain unto a mean knowledge therein.

Amongst those things made necessary to Chri­stianity, which are not, I shall instance only in two heads; Various Doctrines, and Various Gifts.

As to the first, It is scarce a moderate Volume which will contain a Confession of Faith, as some of our Faith-menders have enlarged it. And yet we have all heard of more Holy and Orthodox times, when Twelve Articles comprised its summe. If we would have more, we have a Catechism, which first acquaints us with our Baptismal Vow, or the Co­venant every of us made or ought to keep with God; then, briefly, explains the Creed, the Lords Prayer, and Decalogue, things we are concerned to know by the particular branches of that fore­named Vow or Covenant. And then, lastly, adds what is further necessary to be known and observed by us, as to the Seals of that Covenant. This was thought enough by our Church for common men to know, in order to the making them Christians, and possibly was more than what the Primitive Church for two or three hundred years thought necessary too.

What will some say? will you then have our Bibles taken from us? By no means: for these will teach you the same things in different forms, and besides convince you of their truth, and otherwise affect you with them. But when plain persons meet with hard places in their Bibles, not relating to these necessaries, I would have them pass such difficulties over, and not interpret them on their own heads, without a due Teacher, but content themselves commonly to know, to believe, be affected with, and practise these necessary points thus summarily comprised by our Church. And the truth is, since the people have had more knowledge than this, it hath made them (what it was objected to St. Paul his Learning had him) mad: I should have said, since they have had more, they have had less; for they have neglected a great deal of this, which was more necessary than what succeeded in its room.

And yet how little a part is this, according to some, of the necessary Christianity for the people? Not a word here of the eternal Decrees of God, ac­cording to some the great and necessary founda­tion of our happiness. The reason possibly was, because our Church thought it enough, as she ex­plains that part of the Creed, to believe the holy Catholick Church was the Elect people of God, or Gods choice people; but of those without, she thought the people ought to judge, no more than what she saith, and that is nothing. Again, not a word here [Page 19] of the holy Discipline, and what form, or if any▪ strictly instituted by God; which if it were not ne­cessary to the peoples common Christianity, some men abominably did, and still do abuse the World, who preach to them little else or more vehemently than invectives against Bishops and Episcopacy. The reason why our Church pass'd this point over so lightly, may be presumed because she found a form of Government setled in the Catholick Church, which could pretend to more of a Divine Right than any else could be produced. And therefore what was enough for people to know, was what she sayes, that we should submit our selves to all our Governours, Teachers, Spiritual Pastors and Ma­sters. And of this point of Government, while they would know more, we see they unlearn thus much, they grow forgetful of this necessary. I may not insist on more instances: by these it is evident, the too much enlarging of Christian Doctrine, produceth the want of knowledge which we complain of.

Again, there are various Gifts made very much necessary to Christianity, or as they speak to a gracious heart, which being not so necessary pro­duce the like effect, though people at first do not perceive it. I shall instance only in what they call the Gift of Prayer, which some can scarce think any person who hath received true Grace, in some measure at least to want. A thing so far from be­ing necessary to every private mans Christianity, that in truth it can scarce be said to have any pro­per [Page 20] and distinct nature at all. For if we will un­derstand any thing of sense thereby, its import is, a gift or faculty of utterance in the particular case, or office of Prayer; and so consists in a readiness of invention, and volubility of speech: which whoso has, and useth as much to other purposes, suppose to Preaching, as to Praying, would be equally ex­pert at both, that is to say, have as good a gift of Preaching as of Praying. So that both being ma­terially one and the same, viz. a faculty of ready uttering what a man hath conceived, if there could be any such distinct thing as the gift of Prayer, that gift of Prayer would be no more necessary to any one to make him a Christian, than it would be to every Christian that he have the gift of Preaching, because I say the nature of both is one and the same. I cannot now digress to vindicate particular Texts, which giddy heads have detorted to assert this matter; but I only say, and appeal for truth thereof to sad experience, that since pri­vate persons, as thinking it necessary to their Chri­stianity, have made it their great business to make their Prayers as fast as they say them, they have pickt up words and phrases, and forgot and neg­lected necessary things; they have been con­founded with their own dreams and rambles, and mistaken commotions of wild fancy and affection, for the solid joys, and Christian comfort, which only arise from the testimony of a good Conscience, that is, from a reflexion on a virtuous life. In [Page 21] short, as men ought not to be idle, and neglect the improving of their understanding in searching into commonly reputed truths, or raising their other fa­culties of utterance in whatever cases may benefit themselves or others, so ought all first to make sure of such necessaries as before spoken of, lest while they spend their time on what they might have spared, they perish for the lack of knowledge of what surely would have made them happy.

A second original of this destructive ignorance amongst us, I conceive to be the mistaking the na­ture of sincerity, or what it is heartily to be a Chri­stian or Convert. Many poor honest-minded per­sons, have suppos'd it to be little else, than to be zealously addicted to that Party or Faction, which of all others they judged purest. You'l say, such were silly, or Fools▪ And who can help it, if many have been made such? Let their Seducers answer for that. Again, Others, of more sobriety and good mean­ing, have thought sincerity to be nothing else but the motion of good affections in holy Exercises: When they have pray'd or heard with some con­cernedness under each part of the office, their breasts relenting, and as it were thawing from their an [...]ient sencelesness; by reason of a more attentive temper at such times than others, they have thought this to be indubitable sincerity. Not considering that even a Romance, a well contriv'd and well acted Play, in an attentive Auditor, shall beget like con­cernments of grief, hope, commiseration, joy, &c. [Page 22] And having run away with this mistake, whatever it was, which they remembred to have raised their affections, and begot in them such inward titilla­tions of griefs, hopes or joys, this they conceived they ought to make it their whole business to fol­low. And because Novelty had this effect, especi­ally if set up (as was the custom) with some Mi­mick gestures and tones, therefore they could hear Sermons and long-winded Prayers all their days. Nor were they concerned either to understand or remember them, much less to practice them. It was enough if they were moved and wrought upon by the present, hearing of them, though they came back again no whit the wiser, nor a jot more re­solved on any particular Duty, or against sin. I am far from censuring all late Non-Conformists of this weakness: but the event shews it to have been good in many, who will say they have wondrously pro­fited by such a Sermon, of which they are not able to tell you two words. The poor people do not dissemble, but are deceived: They mean their affecti­ons were tickled and stirred by it. Hence it is ap­parent, such persons nestle themselves up in igno­rance: and whereas sincerity lies in an heart soberly changed, and a virtuous life flowing from thence, this they overlook, and seeing not, run on with­out it, till many times they perish for lack of know­ledge.

A third thing, which because it will be easily un­derstood a cause of this mischief, we need but touch [Page 23] upon, is some mens pride and self conceit. As they are confident they are Saints and shall be saved, whereas the reprobate World they are sure shall perish, so have they the same good confidence that they have Saving knowledge, and a more Spiritual notion of Divine Truths than other people, who cannot but be carnal, because they talk so much of reason, and endeavour both to apprehend and teach Christianity, so as to make sense of it, and give a reason for it: And what marvel if such who are ignorant or mistaken, and will not learn, perish by a destructive ignorance?

A fourth evil, which will be easily apprehended to be of the same malign influence, is the admiration of some mens persons. There have been men whose business it has been to make themselves popular, to the end they might have power to overturn what they did not like. These have screwed themselves into a good esteem among common people, by crying out against the evils of the Times, the crimes of Great ones and Governours, (things which peo­ple are always greedy to hear of) and by an osten­tation of those parts, which they had in an odd way from other men, have gained the repute of wise, and able, and holy: which advantage when they were sensible they had got, they then lead the people whither they pleased, as they saw themselves able. And having brought a multitude to this pass, that they would hear none but them, the poor people knew little more than what they would let them [Page 24] know, and those were mostly such curiosities and whimsies as spoken of, which did confound, not edifie unto salvation.

A fifth original of this lack of sober knowledge, is a barbarous constancy to mens own Opinions, though too rashly by them taken up. The most men can­not endure to have been mistaken: and when they see their error, confess it not to be such, but endea­vour to make it probable, till they have even cheated themselves and believe their own delusion. And then besides that these opinions, and the de­fence of them, take up the time and thought, which sober knowledge ought to do, Errors hanging as in a string, and one part drawing on the other, they cannot believe, at least not maintain one, but they must admit more. And so in fine the sober know­ledge becomes partly adulterated, partly neglected and oppress'd, and men perish through destructive ignorance.

The last of these banefull mischiefs which I shall present, is the holding the truth in unrighteousness. Men sometimes are not ignorant, and yet become so. They do know Truth, and their Duty, but they have no mind such things should be Truths, be­cause then such and such points must be Duty. They study therefore what uncertainty they can find in those ungrateful Truths, and after-long search, sometimes think they have found a knot in the Bulrush. They then doubt what before they saw evidence to believe: after proceed to impugn, and [Page 25] in the end totally dis-believe. By this means come multitudes to perish for want of such a know­ledge, which acquiesces in the due evidence of Truths.

But what redress can be found for this destructive wanr of sober Divine knowledge?

The remedies are either publick or private. I begin with the private, which I commend to every mans Conscience in the fear of God, as by a strict scrutiny thereof he finds himself more or less to seek, either in understanding the notions, or seeking the evidence of Divine Truths.

The first will be, to resolve upon a spirit of meek­ness and submission to the Church, and those which are by her sent, as able to instruct them in the Lord. It is beyond all controversie, and confess'd by our Adversaries, that all those things which are necessary to our salvation, are certainly determined by our Church. As to those things which are more uncer­tain and indifferent, and so apt to ingenerate scru­ples, no man of modesty or good manners but must say, they are likely to be best determined by Su­periors. And it is undoubted, that our Lord ap­pointed Governors and Pastors in his Church, and that when he promised to be with them unto the end of the world, he assur'd us too they should con­tinue to the end of the world. And when that command (and the like) was given, Obey them that have the rule over you in the Lord, and submit your selves, it was intended to oblige unto the end of [Page 26] the world: wherefore I see not how men can doubt but that they are indispensible bound by the Law of God to what I advise. And one would think what I advise is so reasonable, that it should easily take. For what is it in effect, but to desire common people to have the charity and civility to their Kings and Parliaments, and those Reverend Convocation, which have laboured in the modelling the Doctrine and Orders of our Church, according to Primi­tive patterns, to believe them neither to have been Knaves nor Fools: to have understood better than a company of pragmatical Novellists, (many of whom scarce ever read over three good Books in their lives, besides the Bible) what was Christian, and Primitive, and necessary: and then not to have gone about to abuse their power and trust, by pro­ceeding contrary to their knowledge, to ruine their own souls and other mens. Truly I cannot see how any common private person can adhere to his own Judgment, against this the publick Judgment of his Governors, but he must think the one of these of them, at least that they are such comparatively in respect of himself. Wherefore in short, let us be content to learn Christianity, as to its necessary part, from our Church, which in the Catechism, Prayer-Book and Homilies, all even the darkest places have opportunities to do, and in most places, God be blessed, other plentiful advantages besides. And as to us who are Ministers, let us carefully teach according to this form of Doctrine, lest we come to [Page 27] have charged upon us not only Error and Schism, but also Apostacy, if not Perjury. This will be one more private remedy of the want of necessary knowledge.

A second will be, that people would endeavour, when conversant in the publick worship of God, to hear with understanding: I mean, would not only attend unto the words and forms of speech which they hear, but to the things, and endea­vour to carry them with them treasured up in faithful minds. It's possible every plain man un­derstands not every word, or if he did, could not remember the hundredth part: yet the drift, scope and common subject of all, represented in so various forms, few attentive persons can miss. As for instance: suppose me to have heard a discourse of Repentance; possible all the pre­paratives to it, and particular rules in its practice, I may not so distinctly conceive or re­tain: but thus much, that without Repentance no forgiveness of sin is to be had, and that every sorrow for sin is not Repentance, but it must be a durable Reformation which only will pass with God; this I may easily retain. And so much as this should a person definent in sober knowledge learn by each Sermon, truly he would not be long in danger of perishing by any destructive ig­norance.

Thirdly, Let each person conscientiously cleave [Page 28] unto, and practice what he understands, and hath sufficient evidence to perswade him is his concern­ment. What we have above said of Errors, is no less certain of all Christian Truths and Du­ties; they have a most necessary connexion, and one will draw in another. He that adheres to one Truth, will by force and consequence of that be lead into more. He that practiseth righteous­ness in his common dealings with man, will at length see he must give Caesar the things that are Caesars, as well as pay John and Thomas the money he owes them; that is, be a Loyal as well as an Honest man. Besides, such may ex­pect the blessing and influence of Heaven to suc­cour their weakness: for the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him, and he will shew them his Covenant.

Lastly, Let such an one beware of all those fore­recited evils, which induce an ignorance of plain necessaries. Let him be content his Faith be no larger than the Churches. Let him place since­rity in an honest heart, and conscientious practice. Let him beware of pride, self-conceit, and being led by the nose by men dissenting from publick determinations, and of popular and moving hu­mour. Let him never be ashamed to acknow­ledge and renounce his error, or to amend his fault, and in nothing let him live against the solid rational dictates of his Conscience. Solid [Page 29] rational dictates, I said, for in matters of plain necessity, Conscience will quickly be resolved: and in scruples touching lesser matters, I am of the mind clearly, without any other difficult rules, every common man ought to submit his Judgment to his Spiritual Guides, and they theirs to the deter­mination of the Church; and that is a short issue, and we may quickly live sober, honest, and in peace; and I think then we are wise enough unto salvation, that is, past the danger of being destroyed for lack of knowledge.

It remains I should now speak to the publick remedies: but these, according to the purport of my former Doctrine, I leave to my Superiors, whom they concern, and whom I pretend not to instruct, as being always resolved, according to my Duty, to believe them wiser than my self, and better to understand the redress of publick evils. I will therefore briefly conclude the whole, in an earnest address to persons of all conditions, that they will each endeavour by the most proper means they have heard, or can devise, to secure to themselves, and propagate amongst others, this practical knowledge, a knowledge which may make them and the World more pure, more peaceable, full of all good works, without partiality and with­out hypocrisie.

My Brethren, we all of us profess to be Chri­stians, that is, persons who believe our selves to [Page 30] have here no abiding place, but to seek one to come, a City which has foundations whose builder and maker is God; this World therefore to be a place which we must only pass through, but yet that we ought so to demean our selves in our passage, as to secure a blissful reception at our journeys end: If this be our belief, as it is our pretence, there can be but two things, as to our Souls, of concernment to us: the first, to know what may make us virtuous; the second, to be virtuous in pur­suance of what we know. It is the first of these which my whole discourse hath driven at, yet so that in all likelihood, that attain'd will secure the latter.

And I beseech you give me leave a little to expostulate the case: What have these glorious, these Heaven-born Souls of ours deserved of us, that they should be made slaves and vassals to what is base or mean? that they should be rais'd and imployed to no better offices, than to un­derstand how to eat and drink well, or how to amass thick clay, or get money, it may be to put it into a bag with holes? Or if we think knowledge an acquist more worthy of them, why then should they be airy and trivial notions only which we will pursue? Why not this know­ledge which is both of present and eternal use and excellence; which will transform us into the Divine likeness here in Virtue, and hereafter in Glory.

Sure it is, we cannot but approve this kind of knowledge as fittest for us, and of all most honourable, and which may most truly denominate­us knowing. For all wise men judge him to be the most Learned, who understands not so much variety of things, as that one thing, which con­cerns him and which he professes. Now as Chri­stians what concerns us more, or what profess we more than Holiness?

Then, if we look to the effects of this know­ledge, it is really most Pleasant, as conducing to possess us of clean and quiet breasts, the greatest pleasure on earth, and much the most noble.

Again, we cannot be unsensible of those most effectual means and advantages, which we have hereto, if we will not be wanting to our selves; God having revealed the Doctrine hereof from Heaven, and that by his Son sent into the world to enlighten every man.

As we would not then be destroyed everlast­ingly, by our own selves too, and that most in­excusably, let us meditate in these things day and night; Let the knowledge of the Holy, the rule of Virtue, and articles and evidences of Faith, which are all so many incentives to the most strictly virtuous life, be our greatest study. We shall thus surely escape this danger of perishing for lack of knowledge: and then there can be but one [Page 32] danger only remaining, and that is of perishing for lack of practice; which too certainly we shall escape, if we suffer such knowledge to have its perfect work upon us.

Which that we may do, the Lord grant us his grace, and by that bring us to glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord: To whom, &c.


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