Page images

him: and lib. ad Constant. he advises, not to overstep the immutable constitution of the Apostolic faith, lest our fuith should change with time, and not continue that of the unchangeable Gospel. And Athanasius, De consiliis ; If you are disciples of the Gospel, walk in the Scriptures : if you wish to invent any thing different to the Scriptures, why do you enter the lists with us, who cannot endure to hear what is not in them? Tertullian, De anima, cap. 1, says; Who shall reveal what God hath concealed ? It is better to be ignorant with God on our side because he has not revealed, than to flatter ourselves with the false knowledge which the presumption of man imparls. Jerome, in Titus i. observes ; Without the authority of the Scriptures prating is not to be credited. Augustine frequently teaches, that no one is to be bound to believe human authority without the foundations of Scripture; as in Epist. 19 to Jerome, and Epist. 48 to Vincent Donatist. These things may suffice to open the perfidy of the Papists.

It also concerns this fidelity, not to withhold from the people any part of the doctrine of salvation. For God gives this in command to all his ministers; Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish from it, Deut. iv. 2. If any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, Rev. xxii. 19. And Paul on this account, when he endeavours to shew how faithfully he had conducted himself in the ministry, says, I am pure from the blood of all men, because he had withheld nothing from them, but had declared the whole counsel of God, Acts xx. 26, 27. Here, therefore, the Papists greatly sin, who plead often for the worship of images, the sale of indulgences, and ihe observance of their traditions; but concerning justification by faith in the blood of Christ, and other fundamental doctrines of the Gospel, they are more dumb among the people than fish. Those also among ourselves sin, who do not endeavour to imbue their people with a knowledge of all those things (at least summarily) which are necessary to be believed or done for the attainment of salvation.

Lastly, it concerns this fidelity, so to apply doctrines, warnings, and reproofs, that they may be useful to the hearers, not that they may be vain or pernicious. For arguments true and useful in their own nature, sometimes become hurtful, when they are not set forth or applied in their place. And indeed rightly writes Augustine, De bono persever. lib. ii. cap. 21, It is the character of a treacherous physician so to make up useful medicine, that it shall not do harm, or at leust no good. And in this matter it is usual and almost customary for most ministers to deviate, and not to speak as they ought. For nothing is more usual, than among the great and noble to proclaim smooth things to the people; among the rude and common people, to bring crimes against the noble, the magistrates, and bishops. For what end, unless that all may be rendered curious and inflated with enquiring into and censuring the faults of others, but stupid and indifferent in judging and correcting their own ?

But we must pray and labour not only to preach the Gospel, but to do it as it ought to be done by all ministers, that is, freely, diligently, faithfully. Thus much for the first part of this exhortation.

Vers. 5. Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming

the time.

The foregoing exhortation to fervent and constant prayer having been explained, we proceed to the other, which excites the Colossians to a wise and circumspect conversation. And in treating this, there are three things to be observed.

1. The duty imposed; Walk in wisdom.

2. The persons towards whom this duty is especially to be discharged ; toward them that are without.

3. The certain primary business of this requisite wisdom; redeeming the time.

Walk in wisdom.] To walk in wisdom is to do all things cautiously and circumspectly, as men are wont to do when they perceive that they are beset on every side with difficulties and dangers : for danger is the whetstone of wisdom. Believers in those days lived in the midst of heathens ruling over Christians themselves, and serving idols and dæmons : there was need therefore of remarkable and precise wisdom, so to keep the middle course between Scylla and Charybdis, as neither to confirm the pagans themselves in their idolatries and impiety, nor seem to oppose government and lawful power.

There are then, as it were, four primary reasons of imposing this duty in this place.

1. To look well not to cast any spot of disgrace upon that God whom they worshipped, and the religion which they professed, by living badly. For it is presumed, that servants conform themselves to the disposition of their niasters. Hence the pagans, as soon as they saw wickedness committed by Christians, spake against the God himself whom they worshipped, and imputed the wickedness of private men to our religion. This was charged to the adultery of David by the prophet, 2 Sam. xii. 14, Thou hast given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme. Paul alleges this against the Jews, Rom. ii. 23. Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God? For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you. In fine, this Apostle employs this as a special incentive to integrity of life, 1 Tim. vi. 1, That the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed. Cyprian graphically describes the insult and blasphemy of unbelievers bursting forth on this account; whose words I transcribe out of his hook De dupl. martyr. Behold they who boast that they are redeemed from the tyranny of Sutan, who preach that they are dead to the world, nevertheless are overcome by their lusts as well as we, whom they affirm to be yet held under the dominion of Satan. What does baplism profit them? What does the Holy Spirit profit them, by whose will they say they are governed ? Why have they the Gospel, the Gospel, continually in their mouth, when their whole life varies from the precepts of the Gospel? Thus far Cyprian. Therefore let this primary business of wisdom be, so to walk, that our life may be an ornament, not a disgrace to the Christian profession.

2. To beware that we do not so gratify the heathen and ungodly, as to inflict a wound upon our consciences, by communicating in any manner in their superstitions. For it is the character of an idle, and moreover of an impious mind, to be led away from the Divine direction even in the slightest degree in the business of Religion, and to pass over to the adversaries' camp: neither is it the conscience of the Christian only, sinning in this manner, which it wounds, but it hardens the mind of the pagan also in his superstition who witnesses it. Hence this communication with idolaters is strictly prohibited in both Testaments. Thus in Exodus xxxiv. 15, Thou shalt not make a covenant with the inhabitants of the lund; when they go a whoring after their gods and do sacrifice unto them, and one call thee, thou shalt not eat of his sacrifice. In 2 Cor. vi. 15, 16, it is urged, What communion hath light with darkness ? and what concord hath Christ with Belial ? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel ? and what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? In Ephes. v. 11, we are enjoined to have no fellowship with the works of darkness.

And here it is worth while to consider the severity of the antient Church towards those who incurred the least suspicion of committing idolatry, although they had done so being compelled to it through danger of death. Diocletian, Licinius, Julian, and other idolatrous emperors, partly by fear, and partly by rewards, endeavoured to induce Christians to offer incense to their idols ; as may be seen in Eusebius, Hist. eccl. lib. 8. cap. 3, and De vita Constant. lib. I, cap. 47; and in Nazianzen, Orat. 1. in Julian. It might not seem perhaps of great moment to any one, to throw a few grains of incense into the fire, at the command of the emperor : but because this was done in honour of the idols, severe decisions were passed against

them by the Church; which may be seen in the eight first canons of the Council of Ancyra.* Tom. i. Concil. p. 293. How great a wound they inflicted upon their consciences who did this, may be gathered from that narration which we have in Nazianzen, Orat. 1, in Julian. Some Christians were led by the gifts and subtilty of Jutian to offer incense; but being presently chastised by others, and brought to penitence, they returned to the emperor ; they cried out, that their hand had sinned, not their mind, that they were Christians; they insisted that he would lop off the hands which they held out to offer the incense, and that (if he wished) he might cast them into that fire which they had polluted by their idolatry. This perturbation of conscience follows every act of idolatry in the godly: in the ungodly and carnal for the most part, obduracy succeeds, and at length an entire falling away to idolatry. Let this, therefore, be the second business of walking wisely, carefully to beware not to bring guilt upon the conscience by any idolatrous communication,

3. The third is, that they should not rashly endeavour by external force to abolish idols or idolatrous rites, since they had neither the call nor the power of aiming at such things : for this is not to walk in wisdom, but to act madly without any reason. Indeed, a wise man will attempt to throw down idols placed in the hearts of pagans, sooner than in temples; if he takes a contrary course, he seems to perform not so much a work of wisdoin as of sacrilege. God himself prescribed this wisdom to all the godly, in Deut. vii. ], 5; When the land shall be given into your power, shall destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves, &c. Hence says Augustine, De verb. Dom. secun. Matt. serm. 6, It is the part of furious Circumcellionest to be cruel where they have not the

• This Council was held in the year 314.

+ These were a set of men who sprang up amidst the religious commotions occasioned by the heresies that infected the Church in the fourth Century, especially that of the Donatists. “ These unhappy commotions,” says Mosheim, Vol. i. p. 406, “ gave rise to a horrible confederacy of des. perate ruffians, who passed under the name of Circumcelliones. This fu.

« PreviousContinue »