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between true and false professors. God is evidently making manifest those whom he approves, and those whom he disapproves, by the prevailing errours and heresies of the day. Professors of religion in all our churches are rapidly taking sides with the orthodox and heterodox, by which they will necessarily, though not, perhaps, intentionally, discover the sincerity and insincerity of their hearts ; which is a desirable discovery._I must further observe,
3. That God chooses, that errours, delusions, and heresies should be in the world and in the christian church, that mankind may have a fair opportunity of choosing the way to life, or the way to death. Truth is the way to life, and errour is the way to death. It is through the medium of truth, that God prepares men for salvation, and it is through the medium of errour, that he prepares men for destruction. Accordingly, it has always been his method to exhibit both truth and errour before their minds, and give them opportunity of choosing the one, or the other, that they may be saved, or that they may be damned. He gave a fair opportunity to the first generations of mankind, to hear and embrace the preaching of Enoch, or to follow their own delusions. He gave a fair opportunity to the Israelites, when they first entered into Canaan, to embrace the laws of Moses, or to embrace the fatal errours of the ignorant and benighted heathens. Hear the proposal that Joshua made to them. Now, therefore, fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth ; and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the Lord. And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose ye this day whom ye will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served, that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose lands ye dwell, but as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” The same opportunity of choosing truth or errour ; life or death God has given to all, to whom he has sent the gospel. And all under the light of the gospel, have now a fair op
portunity to embrace truth, or errour; that is, to believe and love the great and essential doctrines of the gospel, or believe and love destructive delusions and fatal heresies. Those who believe and cordially embrace the gospel, believe and love the great truths, which make them wise unto salvation. But to those who disbelieve and reject the great and essential doctrines of the gospel, God sends a strong delusion, that they may believe a lie, that they may be damned. For this great, glorious, and awful purpose of saving and destroying the souls of men, God chooses, that there should be fatal errours and heresies in the world and in the church. God compels no man to embrace truth, and no man to embrace errour. He gives.every one opportunity to embrace the one, or the other. This places mankind in this erroneous world, in a most important and critical situation. They have life and death set before them, and they are commanded to choose life, and the way that leads to it. If it be important, that truth and errour should be distinguished; or that true believers should be distinguished from false professors; or that mankind should have a fair opportunity of choosing the way of life, rather than the way of death; then God has great and good reasons, for choosing that there should be strong delusions and fatal heresies in the church and in the world from age to age.
1. If heresies consist in those' errours which are opposite to, and subversive of the great and essential doctrines of the gospel ; then we have reason to think, that they have had a long and extensive spread in the world. Ever since the gospel was first preached to mankind, the great majority of the human race, who have had an opportunity to hear the great and essential truths contained in it, have been disposed to reject it, and have sought out many other ways of salvation. Though the seed of Abraham were numerous as the stars of heaven; yet amidst the greatest light they enjoyed, they were perpetually apostatizing from God, and falling into the grossest idolatries and delusions of the heathen nations. Though Christ has afforded the best means of instruction and edification to his churches; yet there has always been great and destructive heresies among them. Indeed, there have been as great errours and delusions among prosessed christians, as among heathens. And considering the religious privileges and advantages, which nominal christians have enjoyed, they have discovered a greater love to errour, and a greater stupidity in embracing gross and fatal heresies, than the most ignorant and stupid heathens have done. The god of this world has reigned universally and triumphantly among all the heathen nations, and seduced them into the most absurd and fatal heresies and delusions. And he has been very successful in blinding the minds and corrupting the hearts of nominal christians, and leading them to reject the plainest and most important truths of the gospel. Heresy, which consists in fundamental and fatal errours, has done more, than any other secondary cause whatever to destroy the souls of men. Heresy has blinded the minds of more than half mankind, respecting the being, perfections, designs, and government of God. Heresy has blinded the minds of the great majority of those, who have lived under the gospel, respecting their own sinful and perishing condition, and the way of salvation through the atonement of Christ, and the special operations of the holy spirit. The way of the world is still as darkness, they know not at what they stumble. They are stupidly and insensibly pursuing the path that leads to darkness, disappointment, and everlasting despair. Though light shines, yet it shines in darkness, and the darkness comprehends it not. For wise and holy reasons, God has chosen that the great deceiver should lead all the heathen world into idolatry, and a great part of the christian world into heresy, and cause. darkness to cover the earth, and thick darkness the people.
2. It appears from the nature and tendency of heresy, that a church composed of real christians, ought to censure and reject any of their members who embrace it. Many suppose, that a church have no right to censure and excommunicate professors of religion for mere heresy. They say, that every one has the right of private judgment, and does not stand amenable for any religious sentiments, which he chooses to adopt, to any human tribunal. They say, that no church can distinguish errour from truth, and consequently cannot determine whether any man is an heretick, or not. But these are groundless objections against censuring and condemning men for heresy. Heresy has been explained to consist in essential errours. And it is as easy to determine what essential errours are, as to determine what essential truths are. Any errour is essential errour, that opposes or denies an essential truth. So that there may be as many essential errours as there are essential doctrines of the gospel. And if a christian church can determine what are essential doctrines of the gospel, then they can determine what heresy is, which consists in the denial of the essential doctrines of the gospel. And though every member of a church has the right of private judgment, yet he has no right to judge wrong, and embrace errours, which would pervert and destroy the gospel. Heresy is as plain and sure an index of a man's character, as immorality. As immorality flows from a corrupt heart, so does heresy. Let a catalogue of essential truths be presented to one member of a church, and a catalogue of essential errours be
presented to another member of the church. And if the first embraces the catalogue of truths presented to him ; and the second embraces the catalogue of errours, presented to him; the church would then have as just ground to judge, that he who embraced the catalogue of errours was an enemy to Christ and the gospel; as to judge that he who embraced the catalogue of truths
was a friend to Christ and the gospel. It is with the heart, that a man believes and loves the gospel; and it is with the heart, that a man disbelieves and rejects the gospel. He that professes to believe and love the essential doctrines of the gospel, is a visible christian; and he that professes to disbelieve and hate the essential doctrines of the gospel is a visible heretick ; and such a visible heretick is a visible enemy to all righteousness, whom the church ought to censure, and exclude from their christian fellowship and communion. Hence says the apostle, “ an heretick after the first and second admonition reject." Not only the nature, but the tendency of heresy shows that hereticks ought to be shut out of a christian church. For they are not only unworthy, but corrupt members, who are disposed to corrupt and destroy the church. And in reference to such persons the apostle says, “ a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” A church cannot discharge their duty to Christ, nor to themselves, nor to hereticks, unless they exclude them from their christian communion and fellowship.
3. If it be one design of God in continuing heresies, to distinguish real christians from false and erroneous professors; then there is a palpable impropriety and absurdity, in attempting to unite those together in christian harmony and communion, who differ essentially in their religious sentiments. Many, at this day, are zealously engaged to bring about a coalition, harmiony, and connection among almost all, who profess the christian name, though they widely differ in their opinions respecting the great and important doctrines of the gospel. It is, indeed, much to be desired, that all denominations of christians should be brought to believe, and love, and profess the first principles of the oracles of God. But it is not to be desired, that they should visibly unite, while they are visibly disunited upon the most important religious subjects. Such a union would imply something more than mutual charity and condescension to each other; it would imply a mutual combination in errour. It would be practically