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render them liable to be turned about by strange and unaccountable impulses. And generally our affections are apt to creep into and mingle with our arguings, so that in most of our disputes the argument on both sides is commonly lost, and the controversy determines in a conflict of affections. And in a word, the generality of men are unalterably determined in their opinions by their fear or their hope, or their prejudices, or the prepossessions of their educations; which, like so many whirlpools, having once sucked a man in, do most commonly keep his head under water, and never permit him to emerge and recover himself : and if the prejudices of our education happen to be false, in all our reasonings from them we do only spin out one error from another, and so our thoughts wander in a labyrinth, wherein the farther we go, the more we lose ourselves. And as our understandings are very dim-sighted, so the paths wherein we seek after truth are commonly very obscure and intricate: for whilst we rack our brains with nice and curious speculations, we generally but delude our reason with the little images and airy phantasms of things; while we weary our eyes with laborious reading, our books prove oftener the tombs than the shrines of truth; and while we pursue it through the stormy seas of controversy, there we are tossed with endless doubts and difficulties, which, like the rolling waves, crowd one upon the neck of another. And thus we grope to and fro in the dark; and it is a very great acquist, if, in our search after knowledge, we do but discover our own ignorance. It is true, as for those necessary truths which are the fundamentals of our everlasting well-being, God hath taken care
to propose them to us in so clear a light, that no man can be ignorant of them who sincerely inquires after them: but commonly the remoter any truth is from a necessary article, the less plain and obvious it is to our understanding; and therefore if in these we do err and mistake, it is not to be wondered at, considering how weak our understanding is, and what disadvantageous prospect it hath. And though these our mistakes are many times caused by a corrupt bias in our wills, by a factious prejudice, or an overweening self-conceit, by a carnal interest, or a supine neglect of the means of a better information ; which, according as they are more or less wilful, do render our errors sins of infirmity, or damnable heresy; yet very often they are merely the effects of a weak-sighted mind, that is either unavoidably seduced with fair shows, or innocently tinctured with false prejudices : and in this case they are not our crimes, but our miseries. For we can no more be obliged not to err in our opinions, than not to be sick or hungry; all that we are bound to is to understand as well as we can, and if when we do so, we should happen to be deceived, we have a just claim to mercy and commiseration. And the proper acts of mercy which this miserable case requires are, first, forbearance and toleration ; with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love, as the apostle expresses it, Ephes. iv. 2. that is, abstaining from all harsh judgments and severe censures, from all peevish separations from our communion and charity, and mutually treating each other with all the candour and forbearance, lenity and indulgence, that a pitiable case requires and deserves. For if I am in the right, and my brother in the wrong, to be sure it is my happiness, and perhaps it is only his misery; and what an unmerciful part is it for me to damn or censure, or rigorously treat him, merely because it is his lot to be miserable, and mine to be happy? What if he hath had the ill-luck to have his brains cast into a different figure from mine, by reading different books, or keeping different company, or being prejudiced by a different education, is it reasonable that I should hate or severely judge him, because he hath been unfortunate, and perhaps could no more prevent those little errors wherein he differs from me, than he could the moles on his skin, or the different colour of his hair and complexion : what is this, but to load the oppressed, and heap misery upon misery, which is the most unmanly cruelty ? In this case therefore the laws of mercy require us, as private Christians, to bear with one another's mistakes, to make the most candid judgment and construction of them, and interpret them in the most favourable sense; and not to separate from one another for trifles, or fly out into bitterness and animosity upon every little opinion which we judge false and erroneous.
2. Another act of mercy which this case requires, is to endeavour by all prudent and peaceable ways to rectify one another's mistakes. If I behold my brother's understanding labouring under the misery of error, mercy will incline me, so far as I am able, to endeavour his relief and recovery; an error in the understanding being as great a misfortune, as a wound or a disease in the body : and what merciful mind can behold that noblest part of a man diseased and affected, without being strongly inclined to administer what it can towards its health and recovery? And as mercy will incline us to it, so it will direct us to the properest means of effecting it: for if it be mercy and compassion that moves me to rectify my brother's mistake, it will move me to endeavour it with the spirit of meekness, which, as the apostle assures us, Gal. vi. 1. is the most likely expedient to restore him; that is, calmly and compassionately to represent to him his error, so that he may see it is not my design to expose or upbraid him, to insult over his folly, or to triumph in his confutation; but merely to set his understanding to rights, and to rescue it from the mistakes in which it is unfortunately entangled. And this, if any thing, will dispose him to listen to my reasons, and make way for my arguments to enter into his mind : whereas by deriding his error, or persecuting it with sharp and bitter invectives, I shall engage his passion to defend it, as well as his reason; for witty jests and severe sarcasms may provoke an adversary, but will never convince him. And as mercy will direct me to treat my erring brother with meekness and compassion, so it will also instruct me not to tease and importune him with perpetual disputacity; for this will look rather like an affectation of wrangling with him than a desire of convincing him; but to wait the fairest opportunity of remonstrating his error to him, when he is most at leisure, and most disposed to attend to reason and argument. For errors, like
. paper-kites, are many times raised and kept up in men's minds by the incessant bluster of over-fierce opposition.
3. Another of the miseries which affect men's souls is blindness and ignorance in things of the
greatest moment, which is doubtless one of the greatest miseries that can happen to a soul in this life. For the interests of souls are everlasting, they being born to live happily or miserably for ever; and their happiness depending upon the right use of their liberty, and this upon their knowledge how to use and determine it; it will be impossible for them to attain to eternal happiness, or escape eternal misery, without knowledge to steer and direct them: so that whilst they are ignorant of those truths, by which their liberty is to be governed, and their choices and actions to be determined to eternal happiness, they are under a very remote incapacity of being happy. And what a miserable case is this, to have an eternal interest at stake, and not to know how to manage it! to be travelling on this narrow line or frontier which divides those boundless continents of everlasting happiness and misery, and not to see one step of our way before us, nor to perceive whither we are going, till we are gone beyond recovery! Should you behold a blind man walking upon the brink of a fatal precipice, without any guide to direct his steps, and secure him from the neighbouring danger, would not your hearts ache and your bowels yearn for him ? Would you not call out to him and warn him of his danger, and make all the haste you could to take him by the hand, and conduct him to a place of safety? And is it not a much more deplorable sight, to see a poor ignorant wretch walking blindfold on the brinks of hell, and, for want of sight to direct him heavenwards, ready to blunder at every step into the pit of destruction? Can you behold such a miserable object with a regardless eye, and yet pretend to pity or compassion? Can you sit still, and see