William Woodward, Esq.; High Sheriff of Surrey.
The Gentlemen of the Grand Jury of the Said County.
Sir Francis Vincent, Bart.; Sir Richard Onslow, Bart.; Leonard Wessell, Esq.; Denzil Onslow, Esq.; Ch. Bloodworth, Esq.; George Woodroffe, Esq.; Charles Gresham, Esq.; Peter Hussy, Esq.; Caesar Bradshaw, Esq.; Thomas Lant, Esq.; Henry Fendal, Esq.; James Titchburn, Esq.; Thomas Onslow, Esq.; William Jordan, Esq.; John Ladd, Esq.; John Lampard, Esq.; John Cater, Esq.; Joseph Wandal, Esq.; William Sledd, Esq.; William Taulden, Esq.; Thomas Wyat, Esq.
THE EPISTLE DEDICATORY
THE setting forth this discourse at the Commands of so many Honourable Persons, brings no small advantage to the Argument treated of, by bearing this mark of your PUBLICK approbation: Your authority asserting and [i/ii] supporting a Truth, in which the Preacher can only reason and persuade; successful to his own wishes, if He may gain them, whose Character, Judgment, and Example, will have Influence over the rest.
You best understand what the true English Liberty is, and the Foundations on which its stands. Nor is it unknown to you, how many of very sound Judgment, and warm English Hearts (against all Oppression and Tyranny) have appear'd with you on this side of the Question. And you disdain not to be seen in their Company, who were eminent for their Piety and Learning, and for their Sufferings in this very cause of Liberty; wherein they shew'd that they wanted neither Charity nor Moderation (nor any Gospel-Grace) with their Zeal.
Whatever opposite Opinions there are, it is most sincerely wish'd they may still be possess'd with Liberty, and, (if it so please God) with Peace of Conscience, if no Conviction can prevail. But since 'tis much better to be preserv'd from Error, than to live in it never so freely; It may, I hope, be without Offence to shew, that neither Licentious Notions, nor unreasonable Prejudices in Religion, can be the Ground-work of any true Liberty; and that it is only your [ii/iii] Steady Principles of Integrity, Justice, and Vertue, which are a Security against the Former; and against the Latter, your Firm Adherence to the purest Reform'd Religion: that is, whilst you are English Gentlemen, and Faithful Members in Communion of this Church, you are proof against the Errors of either Kind.
In which Confidence, I humbly present this Sermon to your Perusal; not without a particular Regard to your Commands, Mr. High Sheriff, who engaged me to this Duty, upon the Honour I once had of being your Tutor: A Relation, soon outgrown by most! and seldom remembred gratefully, but by those who have improv'd upon those good Rudiments then receiv'd, and still retain'd.
But you are pleas'd not to forget those former times! Give me leave therefore to recommend to your Thoughts, the Memory of (that Great Example of Piety and Publick Good) the most Excellent Bishop Dr. Fell, under whom we both receiv'd our Education, with some other Gentlemen, whose names I see here prefix'd. And I cannot wish any thing better to our Religion and Country, than that upon his True Christian Principles, we may all join to promote the Interests of Peace and Truth in the Church of Christ; [iii/iv] which is more especially the Duty of my Station; in all Submission to you, and to that Honourable Body of Gentlemen, to whom I am a
Most Humble Obedient Servant,
UNDER what Capacity soever we shall consider our selves, and Actions, as Men and Christians, there is a proper Sphere of Liberty allotted us to act in with Freedom, and yet within the compass of that which is Right and Honest: For the Power to do, or to refuse whatever we will, is not destroy'd by our being shew'd that which is Good. God may endue us with Freedom above our Fellow Creatures, and yet by his Grace and Wisdom (that we may use his Good Gift to our benefit, and his Glory) may lay that general Liberty, which we have as Free-Agents to do any thing, under certain Restrictions, as we are Men, and Christians, whereby we may be directed, but not compell'd, to do that which is Right.
And we may consider our Liberty in a threefold Respect conducing to this End. 1. In a Natural [1/2] Capacity, wherein right Reason is plac'd to guide us to such Actions as are agreeable to our Nature. 2. In a Moral Respect (for that may be conceiv'd different from Natural Liberty) which is under Obligation to Positive Laws, renewing and reinforcing our Obedience by Express Commands to the same things, which a Rational Nature tacitly suggested in our Hearts. And then 3dly, (that we may be freed from Captivity to Sin, and many unprofitable Burdens) our Christian Liberty takes place; which breaks the Yoke of a Temporary, Ceremonial, and Typical Law, and dissolves the Bonds of Iniquity; but tyes us down to the Law of the Gospel, and sets us not loose from the Law of Nature or Morality, or the Christian Magistrate.
And this is that Liberty, wherein the Apostle Exhorts that we stand fast: For the Gospel it self (which is the Charter of our Christian Liberty) never represents it otherwise, than with plain suggestions, that we are not invested by it with an unlimited Power to do all things we have a mind to. To this purpose we are exhorted by St. Peter to perform our Duty, not as Slaves, but as Free; yet within this Caution added, not to use our Liberty for a Cloak of Maliciousness. I. Peter 2. 16. No pretence of Liberty can give us a Power to do that which is Ill. Even to Servants St. Paul says, that They are the Lords Free-Men, and to the Free, that they are Christ's Servants, I. Cor. 7. 22. Whether Servants or Free-Men, we are not Exempted from the Commands of Christ; for even the Free are his Servants. St. James calls the Gospel, the perfect Law of Liberty. Ja. I. 25. But the Gospel contains Precepts, and strict Duties; [2/3] Every Law binds to Obedience in what it Commands; and the perfect Law of Liberty is to be consider'd in those things it enjoins, as well as in the Privileges and Exemptions it grants.
And now, that we are laid under these, and such like Restrictions, but that they are not any real Diminutions of our true Liberty, either as we are Men, or Christians, I shall endeavour to prove in my following Discourse; by considering our Liberty in these Four several Respects.
I. In its Natural Capacity
II. In its Moral Capacity, with regard to positive Laws in things Simply, Good and Evil.
III. Our Christian Liberty in the same Respect.
IV. Our Christian Liberty, with respect to things Indifferent.
From hence it will appear, that our Liberty is under several Limitations in all these Respects; but that either as we are Men, or Christians, It is not infring'd by any of them. For,
I. Liberty, (as far forth as concerns our present Purpose) is to be consider'd as an Inward, Rational Principle, proper only to Man; and not (as the Author of the Leviat. supposes, 2 Pt. ch. 21.) as applicable to Inanimate and Irrational Creatures. For Inanimate Beings which are carried necessarily to their Ends, cannot be said to act with Freedom; nor to have Liberty in what they cannot do otherwise: 'Tis not from a Principle of Liberty that the Stone moves, (but of Necessity, that it is carried) downwards. And as for Irrational Creatures, they all stand on the same Foot with respect to Liberty, as they do unto Laws; for both these equally suppose a freedom of Choice, and [3/4] Reason to direct it. The supreme Lawgiver (as well in the Law of Nature, as in Positive laws) hath consider'd his Subjects as Free Agents to act; as Reasonable Creatures to choose that which is best; and under no previous Incapacity to act on either side; for that would render Laws of all sorts (and in all cases) of no use; unnecessary, if we could not do otherwise than they command; and in vain, if we could not obey them.
Now it is the same consideration which must give us a right View of our Natural Liberty; for those beings are not (properly speaking) capable of Laws, because of their want of Reason; on the same account, are excluded from being Sharers with us in Liberty, properly taken: For their can be no Liberty (as there can be no Law) without Freedom of Choice; nor Freedom of Choice, (but to the detriment of the Creature) without those Faculties which may direct to the choosing of that which is best. It is from our Rational Powers of comparing the Congruities of things, of inferring Consequences, and from thence of forming a Judgment (Faculties not of Brutes, but of Men) by which our Choice stands distinguish'd from Instinct and Licentiousness. For which reason, Natural Liberty is to be consider'd even in Men, Chiefly with respect to what they may choose to do as they are Reasonable Creatures: For the Law of Nature (than which Liberty cannot be justly higher carried) is nothing else but the Dictate of Right Reason, discovering the Good or Evil of our Actions, from their Conformity or Repugnancy to Natural Light; and therefore Liberty (consider'd in that State) cannot be a Power of doing without Controul, [4/5] ev'ry thing to which a wild ungovernable Appetite may carry us (as it is in Brutes) but such Actions properly, as are agreeable to right Reason, which is the Law of our Natural State.
Exceeding vicious therefore is that Definition of the above-mention'd Author, wherein He says, "That a Freeman is He, that in all things, which by his Wit and Strength He is able to do, is not hindered to do, what He has a Will to." -- But this extravagant Liberty belongs not to any Man in any State; for it is not Will or Wit or Strength, but Reason, which presides in a Natural State; and Justice and Morality, which are to govern our Actions under positive Laws. And there may be an Internal Law (to check the Exorbitancies of our Will) which a rational Nature hath imprinted on our Minds, without any dimunition of our Liberty; and we may be still Freemen, tho' we are externally hindred from doing any Evil, that we have the Will and Power to do.
For Posse Malum, non est Posse: It is not Power, but Weakness to be able to do Evil. And therefore of all Beings, those that are Intellectual and purely Spiritual (for ever Blessed!) have Liberty in the greatest Perfection: Yet it is no Impeachment, even to God's Omnipotence, that He cannot be Unjust or Untrue; nor to the Blessed Spirits, upheld by his Grace, that they cannot harbour Malice or Hatred. These have Liberty to the highest degree it can be carried; but porportion'd to the Nature of their Beings: And such is the Natural Power and Liberty of a Man; which is therefore controul'd by the Law of our own Nature, in whatever is apt to carry us beside [5/6]our Nature; a law not given to destroy our Power, but to support us from Weakness; setting us more at large, by laying a restraint upon us in those things, which would most impede our freedom; and securing our Liberty, by fencing it against a Power which would in the end destroy it. For when Murder or Rapine (for Example) are forbid by Laws Natural, Humane and Divine, can it be said, that any part of a Man's Liberty is thereby diminished? So far the contrary, that the Security and Preservation of ev'ry Man's Life, and Liberty and Estate, consists in those very Laws, which restrain this Liberty to Evil.
Considering then Liberty, as the Liberty of a Man, (to whom it properly belongs,) no State can be imagin'd so free, in which it is not bounded with some Laws. In the State of Nature, which I take not to be a real State, (but to consist only in imagination, for the better understanding the Nature and Obligations of Laws) yet even herein, there is no such thing, as absolute uncontroulable Liberty, to do whatsoever is according to our Will, and to be compass'd by our Wit and Strength; but what is agreeable to our Nature, and warranted by the Laws of Right Reason; and ev'ry thing beyond that, is either Folly, Madness, or Oppression. And that there can be no such State, even in imagination, but what is under some outward Subjection, as well as inward Restraint, is in effect confess'd by the most liberal Assertors of this State of Nature; in their owning it to be impossible, that the Relation of Parents and Children, can be conceiv'd in the State of Natural Liberty; because Children, [6/7] as soon as born, are actually under the Power and Authority of their Parents. But to talk of Men in a Natural State, without considering them as born, is not to consider Men but Mushrooms: And to consider Men as born, brings them immediately under subjection, to them they are born of; and not so free, as to be in a State of absolute Liberty.
II. Let us consider then our Moral Liberty, with respect to those Laws which are positive, in things simply Good and Evil.
There needed not the Obligation of such Laws, if all things simply Good and Evil were universally acknowledged; and we perfectly upright, and firm in our adherence to what we know. But considering the Degeneracy and Corruption into which all mankind is fall'n, it cannot be deny'd, but that the Law of Nature, doth now stand in need of a new Enforcement; both, as we are blind and ignorant in many of its Dictates, and perverse, and vitiously depraved, as to all of them. For which reason, Commands more express and particular, seem necessary, even in those Duties, which are originally written in our Hearts; to renew their effac'd Remembrance, and to press Obedience more vigorously, from the consideration of Rewards and Punishments, either in a future State, not so clearly (if at all) known from the Book of Nature, as from Revelation; or else of Temporal Ones, in the present: Rewards, (both future and present,) which may more engage to Good, than any present, short-liv'd Pleasure can to Evil; and Punishments, which may more deter from Evil, than any deceitful Sweetness thereof allureth.
 That Vertue in general is justly Rewardable and Vice justly Punishable, is the common voice of Nature: but neither doth Nature always effectually shew the particular Action to be Vertuous or Vitious; nor doth she speak at all, what the Reward and Punishment shall be, any farther than the inward Satisfaction, or Torment arising upon a Man's own Mind. And yet without these, the Government of Mankind would be extremely defective, neither having sufficient incouragement to good and laudable Actions, nor terror enough to discourage from bad ones.
Ev'ry one must own that Theft and Murder are naturally, in Justice, punishable; but none but God can declare, what the Punishment of them shall be in another World; and what in this, none but God's Ministers, as they shall think fit by their Laws to appoint, agreeable to the Law of God. In which Laws, that which is Natural indeed, only bindeth Universally; and not so, that which is positive in them: For altho' the Obligation (in things simply Good and Evil) is of universal Extent, yet that ariseth not from the Reward or Punishment; which being determin'd by a positive Law, the Consideration thereof bindeth not, where that Law is not known; nor any, but those, for whom the Law was Enacted.
From hence it may appear how reasonable it is, that positive laws should direct us in particular Duties, and superinduce a new Obligation, even in things already written in our Hearts, and thereby lay a new restraint upon our natural Liberty, in the very things, wherein it was under restraint before from its own Laws. Which is not to multiply [8/9] Obligations one on another to no purpose (as some love to speak;) but to secure our Obedience, (if it may be,) on any terms, and by that band which may take its hold, and tye us the fasteth. And it is neither unlawful nor inexpedient to add a new Obligation in Duties, wherein we stand already oblig'd: We often do it of our own accord; and shall we dispute against God's, or his Ministers Power in it? frequently have Holy Men (as Jacob and David) found it convenient to bind themselves by a Vow unto God in things, which (without a Vow) they were oblig'd to perform: And such a Vow, will always bring a new Obligation upon him that makes it, altho' under one before to the same thing. Nor is it without Reason, that no Person is admitted to the Priviledges of the Gospel-Covenant, but under a new Obligation of a Baptismal-Vow, to renounce the Devil, the Flesh, and the World; all which he was before oblig'd to renounce.
If then we consider our Moral Liberty with respect to Positive laws in things simply Good and Evil, it cannot be conceiv'd but under New Obligations from thence to Obedience; which (by adding Fetters only to that which is irregular in us) set our true Liberty more at large: for the matter of these Laws, being nothing else, but what is agreeable to the Dictates of Right Reason, they communicate so much of new Strength to our Liberty, as they diminish of that Force which oppresses our Right Reason. For Reason being the Spring from which all Liberty receives its regular Motion, it rises higher, or is lower depressed, in proportion as our Reason is weigh'd down, or acts [9/10]with greater Freedom: As whatsoever abates the Malignity of a raging Feaver, recovers so much of Strength to the Sick Man, as it takes away from his Disease; so multiplied Bands, by which the Force of Licentiousness is weaken'd, renders the Liberty of a Man the more Vigorous, and Free, and easy to act according to Right Reason. And therefore, the Holy Scripture (which shews us our Condition in the truest Light) represents our Servitude to Sin as the greatest Slavery; and our being freed from its Dominion, as the truest State of Liberty.
Liberty therefore (thus far consider'd) may be defin'd to be the Power of a Man to act with Choice, according to the Dictates of Right Reason; bounded by the Law of Nature, and by the Positive Laws of God and Man, in things simply Good and Evil.
III. Unto which, if we add my Third Consideration of Christian Liberty, that is the same thing, only with the Obligation to the Laws of the Gospel added unto it. It is the same I say, in all these respects already mention'd; and different only with regard to the Obligations 'tis under, unto the Laws of the Gospel; which do not alter the State of our Liberty as reasonable Creatures, in any of these things thus fix'd and determin'd; Nor set us loose from the Law of Nature, or Morality or of the Christian Magistrate; as will appear from these following Considerations.
I. As to all things in themselves Good and Evil, their Nature is unchangeable, and Christian Liberty, cannot loose the bands of Obedience; but it always binds them more streight by subsequent [10/11] Commands, by bringing a clearer Light, and a fuller Knowledge of the Will of God. In these things the Apostle proves that the Gentiles are a Law unto themselves, Rom. 2. 14. without any express Revelation from God. From thence arose one Obligation. And the Author to the Hebrews, Heb. 1. 1. (to introduce the last Obligation to the Gospel with the greater Authority,) says, that God who at sundry times, and in diverse manners, spake in time past unto the Fathers by the Prophets.--Whatever God thus spake by Man, He spake; and that of consequence requir'd Man's Obedience. But, when in these last days He hath spoken unto us by his Son, (Heir of all things, the brightness of his Glory, and the express Image of his Person.) Can any thing come with greater Authority, to reinforce what had been before commanded, or to establish any thing of New?
II. Our Christian Liberty cannot therefore abrogate any part of the Moral Law; which (as Bishop Sanderson rightly distinguishes) doth still bind as a Rule, but not as a Covenant. What the Moral Law commands, is still a Duty; but the terms of that Covenant, are not now conditions of entering into Life: For consider'd as a Covenant, it is indeed most rigorous, and lays ev'ry Transgressor under a Curse in ev'ry Transgression. But nevertheless, the Law is still equal as a Rule, and we still under that Equity; It is good in all its Commands, tho' we cannot keep them: and our Liberty in Christ consists not in being freed from our Obedience to them, but in being admitted by Repentance, to the forgiveness of our Transgressions, thro' the Merits of the Sacrifice [11/12] of Christ's Death, which is therefore the foundation of the second Covenant. But ev'ry Transgression of the Moral Law is, (notwithstanding this,) an Offence against God, and a Sin against a Man's own Soul; and therefore it is, that it needs the Repentance of the Sinner, and the Blood of the Sacrifice, for its Expiation. But if we had been set free from the Law it self, the Violation of it had not been a Sin; nor need Repentance have been a part, (much less so Essential a part) of the Gospel Covenant. We needed not then, to have Repented at all, of any Transgression against the Ten Commandments; for so hath Christ deliver'd us from the Law of Ceremonies, by abolishing their use, that they are no longer a Law unto us; and therefore our Transgressing against any of them, never comes into our Repentance.
III. As to our outward State in this World, it is very plain from Scripture, that Christian Liberty doth not at all change our Condition, nor free us from our former Obligations; but that every man is to abide in the same calling, wherein he was called, I. Cor. 7. 20. The reason of which is this; that no outward Condition of a Man's Life is inconsistent with the Christian Profession; not the State of Servant or Freeman, of Single or Married Persons, of Prince or Subject: But now these, and such-like Mutual Relations, cannot be dissolv'd without manifest Confusion, and the violation of many Precepts in the Gospel; of Subjection, Fidelity, Obedience, Conjugal Affection, &c. In these Conditions of Life therefore, the Gospel is so far from warranting a Change, in its Professors, that we [12/13] are all commanded by it to continue in them. And if we may live Christianly, (fear the Lord, and serve him in truth with all our heart) in any outward State of Life, there needs not any Change of our outward Condition, with regard to Christianity: But if Confusion and Disorder must necessarily follow such a Change; it would be destructive to Peace and Love, and many other excellent Graces peculiar to the Gospel: upon which account, Christianity would be destructive to it self, if it warranted any Change as to our outward Condition.
In short, this may stand for a general Rule in all these Cases; that Liberty is always to be considered under so many different Relations and Restrictions, according to the different States it is conceiv'd in: Each of which having its own Laws, there arise from thence new Obligations. For altho' in Laws contrary to each other, the Obligation to the higher Law makes the other void; yet in Laws of the same Nature and Subservient to each other, there doth always spring a new Obligation to Obedience from the Last Law. The Commands of the Decalogue (for Example) brought a new Obligation upon the Consciences of the Jews, tho' the things contain'd in it, were from the beginning, of the Law of Nature. And the same things again renew'd in the Gospel do of new bind the Christian. And when the Duties of the Gospel become part of the Law of a Country, there is another Cord added, to bind Men to their Duty as Subjects, as well as Christians.
IV. Let us consider lastly our Christian Liberty, with regard to things indifferent; and see [13/14] whether we are exempted by it from the Commands of the Christian Magistrate; and what the Liberty is, wherein we are to stand fast in relation to such things. And this will be shewn by examining Three Principal Heads of Argument, commonly urg'd in this Case; from whence the true notion of Christian Liberty may be adjusted in many particulars: for I have not time nor thought capacious enough, to comprehend all Cases, wherein it may be unreasonably claim'd.
First, Christian Liberty is pleaded against Obedience in indifferent things commanded, from the Nature of the things themselves, which no Command of Man having power to change and make necessary, they ought not to be made so, by being enjoyn'd, especially in Religious Matters.
As to the fundamental indifference, or Necessity in the Nature of the things, that is of too great compass to be declar'd fully here; and too nice to be stated in short, for the Capacity of those whom it most concerns. However it may suffice to say, that it is the Necessity of Obedience, (and not of the things,) which we stand for; that therefore the Necessity arises from the Law, and is concomitant and consequential to it; but neither antecedent to the Law, nor concomitant nor consequential from the Nature of the Things. By being Indifferent, these things are own'd not to be Sinful: what is not Sinful, the Magistrate hath power to enjoyn in Prudence, and with Soberness. And what the Magistrate thus commands, we have the command of the Gospel to obey him in; It matters not whither in things Religious or Civil; for the Command is positive and general, and without exception to either.
 But now in neither of these doth the Magistrate assume a power of altering the Nature of Indifferent things, who commands them as Indifferent, and makes them Necessary only as commanded; by which the Radical Indifference of the things themselves remains untouch'd, though the Action be determin'd; and the Nature of Christian Liberty, being founded upon the freedom of Judgment, (and not of Practice,) that is preserv'd, tho' determin'd to any particular Action, which in it self is not Sinful.
It was this Liberty, in which the Apostles and Primitive Christians stood with regard to the Jews, keeping their Liberty of Judgment free in those very things wherein they comply'd with them, whenever their compliance might tend to the furtherance of the Gospel. Even in Circumcision it self (notwithstanding St. Paul says, that it would make Christ profit nothing, Gal. 5. 2.) neverthe-less He circumcised Timothy, because of the Jews, Acts 16. 3. and the reason is evident, because He did it out of opinion of its present convenience, but not of its necessity; which would have utterly destroy'd his Christian Liberty. Where-ever therefore the Opinion prevail'd of the necessity of Jewish Rites, He set himself with all his Strength to oppose it, as in his Epistle to the Colossians and Galatians. But to other Churches, not leven'd with this Doctrine, He us'd his Christian Liberty in complying with weak Brethren.
It is not therefore they which command the use of indifferent things; nor they which obey the Commands: but those which make them necessary [15/16] to be obey'd, or disobey'd, from their own Nature, that do take away Christian Liberty. If Commanded or obey'd, as in themselves indifferent, the Christian Liberty of Judgment is preserv'd; but if commanded as in themselves Necessary, or forbid as Sinful, it is taken away; and thereby a sore burden laid upon the Consciences of Men, contrary to the nature of the things themselves, and repugnant to the Law of God; which hath left Men's consciences free in their judging of all indifferent Things; but not their Practice, which Humane Laws may determine in all things Lawful.
And in this Liberty, the Members of this Church stand fast against all Opposers; as is evident both from our publick Declarations, and from our own Practice. We protest to the World, that nothing thus commanded, but may (upon just cause) be alter'd: Our Laws in these things prescribe to our selves only; declaring that ev'ry Nation hath Power to appoint such Rites in the Worship of God, as they shall think best fit to the setting forth his Honour and Glory, and reducing their People to a Godly Life, without Error and Superstition. And we our selves omit these very Ceremonies upon any extraordinary just occasion; as in the case of private Baptism, and of administering the Lord's Supper on a Sick-Bed: A Liberty, which we neither durst to allow to others, or take our selves, if these things were in themselves necessary, or by us so esteem'd. [Discourse of Ceremony before Common Prayer.]
In Vertue of this Christian Liberty, we protest against the Tyrannical Impositions of the Church of Rome, who (in these Matters) subject the Consciences of Men to the things themselves, and not on account only of their Obedience; whereby they [16/17] assume a most unjust Power (equal at least to the Law of God) of altering the Nature of things, by removing their Indifferency, and inducing a Necessity; for as long as they remain indifferent in their Nature, they cannot of themselves bind. From whence it ought to be most seriously consider'd, whether it be not much the same thing to pronounce any of these things to be Sinful, when Commanded; and to proclaim to the People, Stand not, Kneel not, &c. But why not? unless these things are in themselves unlawful; and then 'tis you that change their Nature, for the Command cannot. There is no Command of God on which you ground your Prohibition of them as Sinful; It must arise then from the Nature of the Things; for the Law of God leaves them free, and the Law of Man commands them; in respect of neither of these, are they Sinful. Consider then, whether it be not an high Violation of Christian Liberty, to forbid Christians the free use of these things when Indifferent; and at the same time an Usurpation upon Christian Obedience, to hinder their Compliance with them, when commanded.
II. There are many Places of Scripture usually cited in this Cause; in which this one general Rule may suffice, as an Answer applicable to them all: which is, always to take great heed that we apply our Christian Liberty, only to that thing concerning which the Text it self treats; and not to urge any Text in claim of Liberty, in matters foreign to its meaning.
For Example in my Text. [Stand fast in the Liberty wherewith Christ hath made us Free, and be [17/18] not intangled again in the Yoke of Bondage.] Now what is this Liberty which we must assert? and what the Yoke of Bondage in which we are not to be again entangled? It is the Scope of this whole Epistle to shew us; and the Apostle tells us in the next Verse, that Circumcision is the Yoke of Bondage. This Liberty then, is not a general Charter to set us free from Laws in all indifferent things Commanded; but only from the Imposition of Circumcision under the Gospel. From which Text (consider'd with other places of Scripture) may be rightly inferr'd a Freedom from all Jewish Ceremonies: but he argues very wrong, that wou'd infer any other sort of Liberty from the Force of these Words.
Taking then the aforesaid Rule along with us, we may observe that the Chief Places of Scripture cited by the Antinomians in vindication of Christian Liberty (in their Sense,) mean nothing less than what they infer from them; and in general only one of these four things; in which I cannot be particular.
1. A Freedom from the Law as a Covenant, and not as a Rule. For Jesus Christ (by whom the Covenant was annull'd) came not to destroy, but to fulfill the Law.
2. A general Discharge from all the Parts of the Ceremonial Law whatever.
3. A Liberty in things relating to Scandal, in respect of their Lawfulness many times, but not always of their Expedience.
4. And chiefly, a Freedom from the Dominion and Guilt of Sin.
 In these things our Christian Liberty principally consists:--and we cannot enough Exhort one another (as the Apostle does) to stand fast in it against the yoke of Bondage. In that Liberty, wherewith Christ hath made us free: to which, we have been bought with a Price; wherein, we are the Lord's Freemen, and not the Servants of Men, I Cor. 7. 23. These are the Points, in which the Two great Apostles (St. Peter and Paul) touch frequently upon Christian Liberty; the latter much in cases of Scandal; but the Apostle of the Circumcision mixes all along with his Liberty, Precepts of Submission to earthly Governors: A most Necessary Doctrine to the Jews against their fatal Error, grounded upon an earnest expectation of Temporal Immunities, and great Pre-eminence, to be enjoy'd under their Messiah as a Temporal Prince. But his Kingdom was not of this World.
Yet this is the Error, which even at this day, holds that Stubborn People in their Blindness, from seeing the Redeemer of Israel! so extremely distant is it from Christian Liberty, that it is the greatest Obstruction to the Kingdom of Christ! And amongst what Christians soever the like Principle prevails, it is Jewish still; and the worst of their Errors, in as much as it keeps them from believing in, and their Followers from submitting to a Crucified Jesus.
III. It is said that all Obedience is due unto God, and not to Man: for there is but one Law-giver, (i.e. God and Christ) who is able to Save and to Destroy, (as St. James tells us) And this is true: none but God hath so direct an Empire over our Consciences, as (from himself and by his own Power) [19/20] to bind them. But this hinders not, but that there may be other Law-givers of an Inferior Rank under God, who by a Power delegated from the supreme Legislator, may (not of themselves, but) in Consequence of that Power, and in vertue of God's Commands, bind the Conscience.
And as to this, St. Paul and St. Peter are very plain. St. Paul commands (if he may be esteem'd to have Power so to do) that every Soul should be subject to the Higher Powers; Rom. 13. 1. and assigns this reason, because the Powers that be, are ordain'd by God. And for the same Reason, he lays his Obedience upon the Conscience, because the Magistrates are the Ministers of God, and to resist them is to resist the Ordinance of God. Which is the same Doctrine with St. Peter's I Pet. 2. 13. Submit your Selves (saith he,) to every Ordinance of man. What, for Man's sake? or for the Ordinance sake? for neithers sake; but for the Lord's sake.
This shews, that we do own but one Supreme Lawgiver, who hath direct Power over the Conscience; and it being his Command that we should obey Magistrates, we do so for the Lord's sake, not theirs. And to prove that we obey God, and not Man; when the Magistrate shall make unjust laws, or as our Consciences shall deem, opposite to the Law of God; our answer is to them (as the Apostle's was to the Council of the Jews) whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken to you, more than God, Judge ye, Acts 4. 19. If he shall command an Idolatrous Worship, we answer with the three children to Nebuchadnezzar, Be it known unto thee, O King, that we will not serve thy Gods, nor worship the Golden Image, which thou hast set up. [20/21] Dan. 3. 18. and as the primitive Christians said to the Heathen Emperors, Da veniam Imperator, Tu Carcerem, Ille Gehennam. You can Kill the Body; but we will fear him who can cast both Body and Soul into Hell.
Thus stands our Christian Liberty in this respect, wherein by the Grace of God, we will stand fast! in not obeying the Unrighteous Commands of the highest Power on Earth, for which Christ shall reward us: but yet in submitting to their Just Laws for the Lord's sake; but never in Principles of disobeying their Just Commands, which is to disobey the Commands of Christ.
Lastly, there is a Liberty likewise so peculiar to the Church of Christ, that it is independant of the Civil Magistrates Power. Of which I have not time, and (have the less reason) to speak, being now under the Guardianship of just Laws, and the Protection of Righteous Magistrates. From whence we cannot doubt of its Security, when in the three first Ages of Christianity, it was preserv'd by God's Providence (in greater Purity and Peace than ever since) not only without them, but against them.
But to conclude. Liberty belongs unto us as we are Men, and as we are Christians; and (coming thus far within the compass of my Profession to be consider'd) it behoves us to speak of it always in the Words of Soberness and Truth. For that Liberty which shall be grounded upon Right and lasting Principles, (warranted by the word of God, and secured by the Just Laws of our Country) shall stand fast both in the Opinion and Practice of all sober Men and Hearty Christians, being built [21/22] upon a Rock. Whilst the inconsistent Schemes of Liberty, either drawn from a wretched crude Philosophy, or laid in Popularity, or built upon the Doctrines of the most mistaken of our Separatists, (having their Foundation in the Sand) must fall.
But whatever Liberty is truly Natural unto us, Nature itself must be dissolv'd, before it can be wholly lost; that which the Laws of God have made our Patrimony, God himself will be our Defender in, to all the Conscientious Observers of his Laws; and that which is Christian, (being founded in the Freedom of Judgment and Conscience) no Earthly Power can take away; tho' it may most miserably oppress, as it does at this Day, in more Neighbouring Kingdoms than one.
But all these, together with our Civil Rights, are again secur'd unto us (thro' God's great Mercy) by the Bulwark of Just National Laws, in the Administration of Upright Magistrates: to obey these therefore, and to stand up in the Lawful Defence of those (against all Innovators) becomes them who desire to stand fast in that Liberty where-with Christ hath made us Free, and not to be again intangled in the Yoke of Bondage.