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graces, imitate God, who was impassible: but he was pleased, at a great rate, to set forward this duty; and when himself became obedient in the hardest point,“ obediens usque ad mortem," and is now become to us “ the Author and Finisher of our obedience,” as well as of our faith,—"admonetur omnis ætas fieri posse quod aliquando factum est.” We must needs confess it very possible to obey the severest of the Divine laws, even to die if God commands, because it was already done by a man; and we must needs confess it excellent, because it was done by God himself.
But this great example is of universal influence in the whole matter of obedience : for, that I may speak of that part of this duty, which can be useful, and concerns us; men do not deny but they must obey in all civil things; but in religion they have a supreme God only, and conscience is his interpreter; and, in effect, every man must be the judge, whether he shall obey or no. Therefore it is that I say, the example of our Lord is the great determination of this inquiry; for he did obey and suffer, according to the commands of his superiors, under whose government he was placed; he gave his back to the smiters, and his cheeks to the nippers ;' he kept the orders of the rulers, and the customs of the synagogues, the law of Moses, and the rites of the temple; and by so doing, ‘he fulfilled all righteousness.' Christ made no distinctions in his obedience; but obeyed God in all things, and those that God set over him, ' in all things according to God,' and in things of religion most of all; because to obey was of itself a great instance of religion: and if ever religion comes to be pretended against obedience, in any thing where our superior can command, it is imposture: for that is the purpose of my text, “ obedience is better than sacrifice.” Our own judgment, our own opinion, is the sacrifice seldom fit to be offered to God, but most commonly deserving to be consumed by fire : but, take it at the best, it is not half so good as obedience ; for that was, inleed, Christ's sacrifice; and, as David said of Goliah's sword, “ Non est alter talis," there is no other sacrifice that can be half so good : and when Abraham had lifted up his sacrificing knife to slay his son, and so expressed his obedience, God would have no more; he had the obedience, and he cared not for the sacrifice.
By sacrifice here, then, is meant the external and contingent actions of religion; by obedience, is meant submission to authority, and observing the command. Obedience is a not choosing our duty, a not disputing with our betters, not to argue, not to delay, not to murmur; it is not only this, but it is much better; for it is love, - and simplicity, - and humility,- and usefulness; and I think these do reductively contain all that is excellent in the whole conjugation of Christian graces.
My text is a perfect proposition, and hath no special remark in the words of it; but is only a great representation of the most useful truth to all kingdoms and parliaments, and councils and authorities, in the whole world : it is your charter, and the sanction of your authority, and the stabiliment of your peace, and the honour of your laws, and the great defence of your religion, and the building up, and the guarding of the king's throne. It is that by which all the societies in heaven and earth are firm: without this you cannot have a village prosperous, or a ship arrive in harbour: it is that which God hath bound upon us by hope and fear, by wrath and conscience, by duty and necessity. Obedience is the formality of all virtues, and every sin is disobedience : there can no greater thing be said, unless you please to add, that we never read that the earth opened and swallowed up any man alive but a company of rebellious, disobedient people, who rose up against Moses and Aaron, the prince of the people, and the priest of God. For obedience is the most necessary thing in the world, and corruptio optimi est pessima :' disobedience is the greatest evil in the world, and that alone which can destroy it.
My text is instanced in the matter of obedience to God; but yet the case is so, that though I shall, in the first place, discourse of our obedience to man, I shall not set one foot aside from the main intention of it; because obedience to our superiors is really, and is accounted to be, obedience to God; for they are sent by God; they are his vicegerents, his ministers, and his ambassadors. “ Apostolus cujusque est quisque,” say the Jews; “ Every man's apostle is himself;"
* Nullam malum majus ant infeliciter feracius quam inobedientia. - Seneca.
and “ he that heareth or despiseth you," said Christ, “ heareth or despiseth me:" and the reason is very evident,because it is not to be expected, that God should speak to us by himself, but sometimes by angels, sometimes by prophets, once by his Son, and always by his servants.
Now I desire two things to be observed :
First: We may as well perceive that God speaks to us, when he uses the ministry of men, as when he uses the ministry of angels: one is as much declared and as certain as the other. And if it be said, a man may pretend to come from God, and yet deliver nothing but his own errand, that is no strange thing: but remember also that St. Paul puts this supposition in the case of an angel, “ If an angel preach any other Gospel;” and we know that many angels come like angels of light, who yet teach nothing but the ways of darkness. So that we are still as much bound to obey our superior as to obey an angel: a man is ‘ paulò minor angelis, • a little lower than the angels ;' but we are much lower than the king. Consider, then, with what fear and love we should receive an angel; and so let us receive all those whom God hath sent to us, and set over us ; for they are no less; less, indeed, in their persons, but not in their authorities. Nay, the case is nearer yet; for we are not only bound to receive God's deputies as God's angels, but as God himself: for it is the power of God in the hand of a man, and “ he that resists, resists God's ordinance." And I pray remember, that there is not only no power greater than God's, but there is no other; for all power is his. The consequent of this is plain enough; I need say no more of it: it is all one to us who commands, God, or God's vicegerent. This was the first thing to be observed.
Secondly: There can be but two things in the world required to make obedience necessary; the greatness of the authority, and the worthiness of the thing. In the first you see the case can have no difference, because the thing itself is but one: there is but one authority in the world, and that is God's ; as there is but one sun, whose light is diffused into all kingdoms. But is there not great difference in the thing commanded ? Yes, certainly there is some; but nothing to
warrant disobedience : for, whatever the thing be, it may be commanded by man, if it be not countermanded by God. For,
1. It is not required, that every thing commanded should of itself be necessary;
for God himself oftentimes commands things, which have in them no other excellency than that of obedience. What made Abraham the friend of God ?' and what made his offer to kill his son to be so pleasing to God? It had been naturally no very great good to cut the throat of a little child; but only that it was obedience. What excellency was there in the journeys of the patriarchs from Mesopotamia to Syria, from the land of Canaan into Egypt? and what thanks could the sons of Israel deserve, that they sat still upon the seventh day of the week? and how can a man be dearer unto God by keeping of a feast, or building of a booth, or going to Jerusalem, or cutting off the foreskin of a boy, or washing their hands and garments in fair water ? There was nothing in these things but the obedience. And when our blessed Lord himself came to his servant, to take of him the baptism of repentance, alas ! he could take nothing but the water and the ceremony; for, as Tertullian observes, he was ' nullius pænitentiæ debitor ;' he was, indeed,' a just person, and needed no repentance ;' but even so it became him to fulfil all righteousness :' but yet even then it was that the Holy Spirit did descend upon his holy head, and crowned that obedience, though it were but a ceremony. Obedience, you see, may be necessary, when the law is not so: for in these cases, God's Son and God's servants did obey in things, which were made good only by the commandment : and if we do so in the instances of human laws, there is nothing to be said against it, but that what was not of itself necessary, is made so by the authority of the commander, and the force of the commandment: but there is more in it than so. For,
2. We pretend to be willing to obey, even in things naturally not necessary, if a Divine command does interpose; but if it be only a commandment of man, and the thing be not necessary of itself, then we desire to be excused. But will we do nothing else? We ourselves will do many things, that God hath not commanded ; and may not our superiors command us, in many cases, to do what we may lawfully do
without a commandment? Can we become a law unto ourselves, and cannot the word and power of our superiors also become a law unto us? hath God given more to a private than to a public hand? But consider the ill consequents of this fond opinion. Are all the practices of Geneva or Scotland recorded in the word of God? are the trifling ceremonies of their public penance recorded in the four Gospels ? are all the rules of decency, and all things that are of good report, and all the measures of prudence, and the laws of peace and war, and the customs of the churches of God, and the lines of public honesty, are all these described to us by the laws of God? If they be, let us see and read them, that we may have an end to all questions and minute cases of conscience : but if they be not, and yet by the word of God these are bound upon us in general, and no otherwise; then it follows, that the particulars of all these, which may be infinite, and are innumerable, yet may be the matter of human laws; and then are bound upon us by the power of God, put into the hands of man. The consequent is this, that whatsoever is commanded by our superiors, according to the will of God, or whatsoever is not against it, is, of necessity, to be obeyed.
3. But what if our princes or our prelates command things against the word of God? What then? Why nothing then, but that we must obey God, and not man; there is no dispute of that. But what then again? Why, therefore, says the papist, ‘I will not obey the protestant kings, because, against the word of God, they command me to come to church, where heresy is preached;—.and I will not acknowledge the bishops,' saith the presbyterian, because they are against the discipline and sceptre of Jesus Christ;' and the independent hates parochial meetings, and is wholly for a gathered church, and supposes this to be the practice apostolical; and ‘I will not bring my child to baptism,' saith the anabaptist, because God calls none but believers to that sacrament;' and I will acknowledge no clergy, no lord, no master,' saith the quaker, because Christ commands us to “ call no man master on the earth, and be not called of men
rabbi.'” And if you call upon these men to obey the authority God had set over them, they tell you with one voice, with all their hearts, as far as the word of God will give them