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led aside into this schism, Numb. xvi. 19, “ And Korah gathered all the congregation against them,” viz. against Moses and Aaron. Two of the heads of it, being called to come before Moses, sent him a declinature, stuffed with scandalous defamations against him, Numb. xvi. 12, 13, 14, “ And Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab: which said, We will not come up. Is it a small thing that thou hast brought us up out of a land that floweth with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness ?" &c. Yea, when God himself had inflicted the censure on them, the people would not quit their good opinion of them ; but as it is in the 41st verse, “ They murmured against Moses and Aaron, saying, Ye have killed the people of the Lord.” Another notable schism was that made by the ten tribes, 1 Kings xii., where two things are very remarkable, 1st, The rise of it, their dissatisfaction with the civil government whereupon they refused to own Rehoboam as their king, and also separated from the church of Jerusalem, who owned his authority, though he was very far degenerate from the piety and wisdom of David and Solomon. 2d Thing remarkable in it, is the way how it was maintained, viz. by priests that were not of the sons of Levi, ver. 31, of that chapter, that is, men who had no right to the priestly office. The New Testament is so full of dismal accounts this way, that there is not almost an epistle written, wherein we have not something of church rents and divisions, exhortations to unity, or some one thing or another of that kind. See Rom. xvi. 17, 18, “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences, contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such, serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.” From the 1st Epistle to the Corinthians, read our test, and downwards. See the x. xi. and xii. chapters of the 24 Epistle to the Corinthians, throughout, where Paul is put to defend himself against the slanders cast on him by false teachers, and to compare himself with them. As to the Epistle to the Galatians, I need not cite chapter and verse, the body of that espistle being against them that troubled the churches of Galatia. Eph. iv. ye have a pathetical exhortation to unity, from ver. 1 to 17. Phil. ii. 1, and downwards, “ If there be any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies; fulfil ye my joy that ye be like-minded.” Col. ii. 18, and downwards, “Let no man beguile you of your reward.- Wherefore are ye subject to ordinances? touch not, taste not, handle not; which things have indeed a shew of wisdom,” &c. The Thessalonians are exhorted, 1 Thess. v. 14, to “warn them that are unruly.” In the 22 Epistle to the Thessalonians
--chap. ii. 2, there are some troubling the church, and shaking them
Here is a cloud of witnesses from whom we may clearly learn two lessons,
1st, That though the apostles themselves were alive to guide and govern the churches, yet they would not be able to prevent schisms, divisions, and rending of churches.
A second lesson we may learn from them is, That those who had most of the Spirit of God, were of the most peaceable temper, most
tender of the peace of the church, most careful to preserve it where it was entire, and most careful to restore it where it was lost.
If we take a view of after-times, we shall find schism and division infecting the church. When the Pagan persecution was over, the fire of contention burnt up the church. Then was that in the Rev. viii. 5, accomplished, “ Fire from the altar was cast into the earth.” When Constantine the Great had restored peace unto the church, she was miserably defaced by the schism of the Donatists, who separated from the church, at first, to eschew the impurity of promiscuous communion. This schism lasted more than two hundred years. They held, that men were defiled with the corruptions of those with whom they kept church communion, and that there was no other true church but their own. That which led them to these extravagancies, was, that the church kept in ministerial communion with her one Cecilian, whom the Donatists would have had deposed; because, as they alleged, that when he was a deacon, he had hindered 8ɔme people to assist some that were in prison for the cause of Christ, and that he had been ordained by those that were traitors, that is, who had delivered up the Bible to the persecutors: so, thinking the whole church polluted with the fellowship of this man and his fellows, they separated.
When the Lord raised up Luther to reform the church from Popery, then came in the Anabaptists, who rebelled against the magistrate, and taught sedition: and withal pretended that Luther had made but a balf reformation, that he had only cut off the branches of Popery, but they would strike at the root.
Hence complained that holy man thus, “ It cost us ten years' pains to erect a little church, and then comes one that knows nothing, but to rail on faithful ministers, and he in one moment overturns all.” And elsewhere he says, " They that received the doctrine of the gospel from us, even they persecute us most bitterly.” How cur own church was thus troubled in the time of former Presbytery, is evident from the writings of worthy men of that time, against separation : so we find an Act of the Assembly, 1643, appointing to search for books tending to separation. I cannot but particularly remark an Act of the Assembly, 1641, sess. 10, against impiety and schism, wherein they charge “all ministers and members of this kirk, to endeavour to suppress all impiety, and mocking of religious exercises." And upon the other part, “That, in the fear of God, they be aware, that under the pretext of religious exercises, otherwise lawful and necessary, they fall not into error, heresy, schism, scandal, self-conceit, and despising of others, pressing above the common calling of Christians, and usurping that which is proper to the pastoral vocation,
contempt or disregard of the public means," &c. This I take plainly to be meant of what we call fellowship meetings, which have been so much mocked by wicked men on the one hand, and abused on the other hand to schism, &c. But the Assembly, 1647, sess. 19, in their directions for secret and private worship, and mutual edification, for cherishing piety, for maintaining unity, and avoiding schism and division, which are ordinarily bound in with the Confession of Faith, towards the latter end of the book, they discharge these meetings altogether, as you may see in the seventh direction, where they say,
“ Whatever bath been the fruits and effects of meetings of persons of divers families, in the times of corruption and trouble, yet such meetings of persons of divers families, (except in the cases mentioned in the directions), are to be disapproved, as tending to the prejudice of the public ministry, to the rending of the families of particular congregations, and (in progress of time) of the whole kirk." I bring not in this to shew my own judgment anent these meetings, but to let you see there was a spirit of separation going in these days as well as now: and how the fire of division left not this church till she was cast into the fire of persecution, is too well known. O that it had from that time left us !
II. I coine now to the second thing proposed, to give you a few observations, as to the rise and way of carrying on this sad plague in churches. And,
1. I say, God has his own holy ends in these things. By these he tries his people, 1 Cor. xi. 18, 19; and thereby he punisheth men for the contempt of the gospel, and not receiving the truth in love, 2 Thess. ii.
2. We find schisms and divisions raised in the church, under the plausible pretext of strictness. This was the way how the churches of Galatia were rent in pieces. The corrupt teachers would needs add the observation of Moses' law to the gospel, as if that were a more perfect and strict way. Thus the corrupt teachers among the Colossians, pretending great strictness, cry, “ Touch not, taste not, handle not,” Col. ii. 21. This, in part, seems to have been the rise of the schism in Corinth, which the apostle points at in the matter of the Lord's supper, while he says, “Let a man examine himself,” 1 Cor. xi. 28. This was the schism of the Novatians and Donatists brought in of old--that discipline was not exercised, as they would have had, against those that fell in time of persecution.
3. There are ordinarily some, (I hope I am not speaking to those with whom the very scripture text will be accounted treason); there are some, I say, who are at great pains going liither and thither to spread the flame, that compass sea and land to make proselytes,
Thus we find some travelling from Jerusalem to Antioch through Syria and Cilicia, to make disciples, and disturb the churches, Acts xv. 23, 24, “ Unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch, and Syria, and Cilicia : Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us bave troubled you with words, subverting your souls,” &c.
4. We may always observe, that one main thing church renders aim at, is to discredit the ministers of the gospel, as if the word were, Fight neither with small nor great but the ministers; for Satan knows, if once the ministry be made contemptible, and their credit sunk, then they will be useless; and if once they were laid by as useless, bis kingdom were in a fair way of thriving. These are the wolves, who, though they be in sheep's clothing, yet discover themselves by barking at the shepherds: so did Korab. Look the Epistles to the Corinthians and Galatians, and see how the renders of these churches railed upon and discredited the apostle Paul; they said he was no lawful apostle ; hence he is so oft put to clear his call, 1 Cor. ix. 1, 2; Gal. i. and ii. chap.; they sought a proof of Christ speaking in him, 2 Cor. xiii. 3; they charged him with levity and inconstancy, as if his words were not to be regarded, 2 Cor. i. 17; they charged him with walking after the flesh, 2 Cor. xi. 2; they held him out to be a vain-glorious person, and a very contemptible man, 2 Cor. xi. 9, 10; see the four last chapters of 2 Cor.
5. We often find they have great pretences to holiness, and attainments above ordinary; so they are said to go in sheep's clothing, and to transform themselves into apostles of Christ : and no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light, 2 Cor. xi. 13, 14. And it doth not a little favour their design, that men who have suffered for the cause of Christ, are sometimes engaged in it, which is clear from what the apostle says, comparing himself with the renders of the church of Corinth, 2 Cor. xi. 23, “ Are they ministers of Christ? I am more : in prisons more frequent;" which clearly holds forth, that they had been sufferers and prisoners for the cause as well as he : yea, really godly persous may be engaged in it, Rev. ii. 20, where we find Jezebel seducing Christ's servants; for sometimes even good men may run the devil's errands, aud yet be saved at last.
Lastly, We may observe what characters the scriptures give such, 2 Pet. ii. 10, “Presumptuous are they, self-willed ; they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities.” 1 Tim. vi. 4, “ Proud, (for only by pride cometh contention), knowing nothing, but doting about questions,” &c. Rom. xvi. 17, 18, they are said to be “such as serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly," &c. They are en