As it was delivered in a sermon (1691)
By Samuel Willard, Teacher of a Church in Boston.
1 Cor. 11.23 For I have received of the Lord, that which I also delivered unto you.
Mat. 28.20 Teaching them to observe all this whatsoever I have commanded you.
Mat. 15.9 But in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
The Scribes and Pharisees bore inveterate malice against Christ for his searching doctrines, by which he detected them of gross hypocrisy. And the more confirmation he gave thereunto by his Miracles, the deeper rooting did their prejudice take in their hearts. And because his spotless Conversation secured him from any impeachment, referring to the Law of God, they sought occasion against him with respect to the Customs of men. Accordingly, in the beginning of this chapter [Mat. 15], they are brought in picking a quarrel with him because his disciples did not wash their hands before they sat down to their meals [Mat. 15:2]. The pretence on which they ground their contest is that it was against the tradition of the elders. They plead Antiquity for it, and the Authority of the Sanhedrim, which to neglect, they account a scandal. And they suppose that Christ was to blame for this omission of his disciples, either for prohibiting, or at least not commanding them. Christ therefore undertakes the justification of them and himself; they did well to omit this Ceremony. And that, not only because it was an indifferent thing—and for that reason it ought not to be accounted a matter of scandal for any to neglect it—but also, as it was, in the circumstances of it, a thing unlawful for them to do. As the whole of his reply carrieth it. This Custom among the Jews was not a thing merely civil, but was made Religious, and had a Symbolical Holiness affixed to it, and by prescription, it was now grown a ceremony in worship. And men were esteemed Ceremonially defiled who did not attend it. And by this means it became unlawful.
Christ in his reply, useth arguments ad hominem, and ad rem.
1. Ad hominem [to the man]; (verses 3-7) they of all men had no reason to be offended, for they were notorious offenders, in that they had made void the command of God by their traditions, which he exemplifies in the fifth command, they had their beams in their own eyes, and therefore very unfit to pluck out motes in others, if there were any.
2. Ad rem [to the point]; where:
1. He discovers the hypocrisy of their traditional worship (verses 7-9).
2. He instructs the auditory in the vanity of this particular tradition (verses 10-21).
In his taxing them with hypocrisy, he refers them to the Prophet, who had laid the same charge to their fore-fathers for the very same reason: and it refers to Isaiah 29:13. Here are two things in which this their hypocrisy is detected:
1. Their putting of God off with lip service, whilst their hearts were absent, ver. 8
2. Their introducing of human institutions into the worship of God.
In the words then there are two things:
1. The sin which is here reproved, preaching for doctrines the commandments of men, i.e. introducing human institutions into, and making them parts of, divine worship. Here observe:
(1.) The subject matter about which this sin was conversant. The commandments of men; i.e. men’s inventions, by which he doth not understand civil laws respecting civil government; for they were not wont to be men’s texts to preach upon, and as for the authority of rulers to enact such laws, Christ never called it into question. Nor yet can he intend the civil sanctions which are put upon divine institutions by human authority, for this also is to be accounted warrantable, as well from Scripture-precept, as the example of godly rulers in all the ages of the Church of God. But that which he intends is things devised by men, and imposed as parts of worship, which are no where commanded by God. Such a thing was this under debate, viz. the washing of the hands before meat.
(2.) The sin which he chargeth them with on this account, teaching doctrines. The word translated, teaching, is used in the New Testament for preaching the gospel; and the word translated, doctrines, is used for the articles of religion. It therefore intends a preaching of these up, as matters of conscience, and binding them upon men as duties incumbent on them, on whatsoever pretext. They were the Scribes and Pharisees whom our Saviour had now to do withal, who pretended to be teachers of others. It was therefore a special sin they were under the guilt of, that they bound these burdens on men’s consciences, by pleading men’s authority to make traditions, and impose them upon others. But he also insinuates that as it was their sin to teach such things to the people, so it was no less a sin in others to receive, and practice according to such teachings. For this whose discourse is brought in to justify his disciples for non-compliance with them, and himself for prohibiting them so to do.
2. The reproof itself is contained in the sharp censure which he passeth upon this sin, viz. that it is vain worship. The word signifies that which is to no purpose, frivolous, lost labour, that will do the person no good at all, which is idle and impertinent. And it may have respect either:
(1.) To the worship itself, that it is foolish, and therefore not to be admitted; or,
(2.) To the worshippers, that they do spoil their whole worship by such additaments, it makes all the rest to be too little or no purpose. It is a dead fly in the ointment [Ecc. 10:1].
From the words we may rationally infer this:
DOCTRINE: Men’s institutions cannot be admitted and practiced in the worship of God, without incurring the guilt of a very great sin.
There is not only a sin committed by them that invent and appoint them, nor only by them that preach them up and tie them upon men’s consciences; of which, it is not my present business to treat; but it is also no small sin in those that comply with, and yield conformity to them. In the clearing up of this doctrine, we may enquire,
1. What we are here to understand by the institutions of men?
2. Wherein the sin under consideration doth consist?
3. How it appears to be so very great a sin?
1. What we are here to understand by the institutions of men?
Answer. Whatsoever is made a part of religious worship wholly by human authority. Here we must observe,
1. The head which it properly refers to, viz. religious worship. There are the ordinances of men, which we are in the Scripture commanded to yield obedience unto, and that for conscience sake [1 Pet. 2:13; Rom. 13:5]. Civil government is doubtless of God’s appointment; and as rulers ought to make the moral law the rule of their governing so there are divers prudentials about which they have authority from God, to enact such laws as are most conducive to the benefit of their subjects. But this is of another nature. Now in worship we consider, either the object of it, and that is God only, or the matter and the media, and they are either natural or instituted. The latter of these is here specially respected; viz. those external ways and means by which this worship is to be paid unto God. These are in Scripture called ordinances and commands, by a special appropriation. And because they are so, they must depend upon some authority that doth command them, and this must both appoint and give a sanction to them.
2. The reference which it bears to this head. It is made a part of it, we are warily to distinguish between that which is essential, and that is merely accidental, or a common adjunct. Man is to be considered, not only as he is religious, but also as he is a man. And in this last respect, there are many things that are inseparable from his actions, and for that reason, are common to all both natural, civil, and religious: such as time, and place, and what else of like nature. And therefore their consideration in religion is not essential, but accidental to it, and that have a mere civil respect in it, and are directed to by the law of nature, and common prudence is to direct men in their usage of them. Though these also, when they have a religious respect put on them, are made essential, and come under the things our Saviour here refers to. But a thing may then be said to be made a part of worship, when it hath such an holiness put upon it, as to be reputed a medium of our communion with God. And this is not to be judged of by what men say of it, but by the necessary consequence of the usage of it. Of this nature were all the observances of the ceremonial law of old, and they continued to be such, till such time as Christ abolished them. And such was this usage which he here condemns in our context. It was not the washing of their hands at meals, as it was a point of civility and outward cleanliness, that our Saviour was offended at, or would ever have found fault withall, but it was for their placing of a ceremonial holiness in this tradition, thinking that God was a great deal more honoured by them that did it, than by such as omitted it, which opinion of theirs removed it from among civils, and placed it among religious things.
3. When its being so made depends wholly upon human authority. Natural worship is such as the nature of the object to whom, and of the subject by whom it is to be performed, doth require, and is therefore taught by the light of nature. Such is prayer to God, fearing and reverencing him, etc. But instituted worship is something that is positive, and must needs therefore depend upon some authority. It is for that reason a duty, because it is enjoined, and must suppose a power in him who doth enjoin it, so to do. Now a thing may be said to be made by the institutions of men, when not only the injunction, but also the devising of it proceeds from them. In this respect Jeroboam is said to offer sacrifice in a month which he devised in his own heart (1 Kings 12:33). Not only the imposition, but the thing imposed derives from men, they first invent, and then they command it. And it may be said thus to be commanded, not only when lawful authority do pass it into a ordinance, and give it a sanction by affixing penalties to the neglect of it, but also when by custom or tradition it is so brought into practice of a people, that it becometh a scandal to any that shall omit it, and they are looked upon to be irreligious for not carefully complying with it. And such was the present case in our context.
2. Wherein the sin under our consideration doth consist?
Answer. 1. We may consider it negatively. And here,
1. It doth not necessarily suppose a change of the object; though it may be so interpretatively, for God is not pleased to acknowledge that to be done to him, which is not done by his order, but still, it may be professedly devoted to the honour of the true God, so was that feast, Exod. 32:5. Men may pretend a true object, and yet use a false medium. It is left as a mark of infamy upon the Jews, that they offered sacrifice in the high places (places which they had consecrated of their own heads, and put holiness upon), although it was only to the true God, 2 Chron. 33:17.
2. Nor are they only guilty that wholly lay aside the institutions of God and surrogate the inventions of men in their room. The Jews, under their greatest apostasy, kept up Temple worship, observed the days that were of God’s own appointment, attended on the stated feasts, offered those sacrifices which had been appointed them by Moses (though possibly they were not so careful and constant in them), but they attached their own traditions to them, and so made a mixture of one and the other. Men may go to the House of God and attend upon his worship in those ordinances which he hath instituted, and they may annex unto them a worship which he never gave any order about. The men that offered in the high places came to the Temple too.
2. Positively, in two things:
1. When men have any manner of fellowship with such a worship as this is. Any thing wherein we partake with others, in that which is sinful, is a sin, and renders us guilty of that very sin. Hence we have that dehortation, Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of Darkness (Eph. 5:11), and men do contract such a fellowship more ways than one. It is done, not only by performing the same things ourselves, and placing religion upon them, but by our being present at such worship and thereby joining in it with them that so do, and so far countenancing of them in it. Our presence being a signal approbation, whilst we no ways reprove it. Or by our pleading for such things as lawful in themselves, and therefore not absolutely to be condemned in those that practise them. Or by our allowing of those that are under our watch and command to give their attendance on such a worship as that is.
2. When we pin our faith for any part of worship that we do perform, on the authority of men. Suppose the thing itself be really a part of the worship which is of divine institution, yet if we do not search the Scriptures to see whether it be indeed so or other-wise, as those noble Bereans did, for which they are commended (Acts 17:11), but contentedly take it upon trust—and all the pretence we can plead for our doing of it is that such and such, holy, wise, able, learned men so practised—we incur this censure justly. I know there is a good respect to be had for such men, and great use to be made of them, but still, if their authority and so saying be the basis on which we lay the stress of our practice, and the highest reason we can give for it, this is to worship God, not for his authority, but on human authority. So that though it should be God’s worship in itself, yet it becomes man’s institution as it is attended by us.
3. How it appears to be so very great a sin?
Answer. That it is really a sin thus to do, will be evident by making it out to be a great sin. And that will be cleared by considering of those rules by which the greatness of a sin is to be judged of, which I shall here instance only in three particulars.
1. We may judge of the greatness of it by the dishonour that is done to God by it. All sin receives its true denomination in that it is against God, and the malignity of it doth properly consist in that it is a coming short of his glory. And for this cause, the more he is dishonoured by it, the more aggravated it must needs be. Now there are these considerations that may be had of this sin in this respect.
(1.) That it is a sin against the second command of the First Table. Now all sins that are against the First Table are more directly against God, he being the next and immediate object of it. Whereas the next object of Second Table duties is our neighbour, all the duties of this Table are to be done by us, not only for him as our Lord and Law-giver for so are the other also, but to him, as he on whom they are to terminate. If then we pray, we must pray to God, if we fast we are to do it to him; that therefore is the fault found in them, that they did it not to him (Zech 7:5). Now the second command hath a proper aim at instructing us about instituted worship. In the first we are told whom we are to worship, and what is that natural worship which is due to him. In the second, what manner of worship he will have paid him by us. It therefore enjoins us to take his directions in it, and to receive the command from his mouth, not daring to add to, or to take away anything from it, hence there are so many serious and solemn cautions given about it, Deut. 4:2, 12:32, Prov. 30:6, and elsewhere.
(2.) Hence it is a sin that is directly against the divine prerogative. When God gave his positive commandment to his people of old, he was pleased to set his name to them, as a King doth to his royal edicts, I Am the LORD. Herein manifestly intimating that the authority of all such institutions depends entirely upon his prerogative, that the obligation of them lies in his being Lord and Law-giver to his people. So that for any to undertake in this matter to make any ordinances of their own heads in worship, and bind them upon men’s consciences, is an invasion upon his sovereignty, of which he is very tender. And who shall dare to fetch the warrant for the practising of anything of this nature from any authority inferior unto his? Must not this of necessity be to put men upon God’s throne? And what can that be less than an act of treachery or rebellion against the crown of Heaven? And what deeper died a blemish can sin have charged upon it?
(3.) It calls a great reproach upon the wisdom of God. He hath made no small displays of his wisdom, in contriving the way wherein he will be worshipped by his creatures, suitably and sufficiently to answer his end, by gaining to himself glory, and procuring the salvation of his chosen. And for this reason Israel of old were said to be a wise people, on account of their enjoying his ordinances (Deut. 5:6), but herein we make men wiser than God, whilst our thus practising declares us to suppose that they can meliorate his worship by their adding of those things to it, as if men knew better than he what is most advantageous to his glory and our salvation.
(4.) It casts a great reflection upon the faithfulness of Christ in his Church. Moses was a type of Christ; and herein doth the Apostle make the parallel between the type and the antitype, that he was faithful to him that appointed him, as Moses was in all his house (Heb. 3:2). And this hath a peculiar respect unto instituted worship. Now we find that Moses prescribed, by divine appointment, the whole of that in the times of the Law, even to the very pins, taches, and fillets of the Tabernacle, and all this exactly according to the pattern given him in the Mount, so as that nothing was wanting, or might be added (Heb. 8:5). And thus must Christ have done in the Gospel Church, or else the parallel will not hold, but the type must outshine the antitype, which it never did. That therefore was a prophesy of Gospel times though delivered in Old Testament language, shew them the form of the house, and the fashion thereof, and the goings out thereof, and the comings in thereof, and all the forms thereof, and all the ordinances thereof, and all the forms thereof, and all the laws thereof, and write it in their sight, that they may keep the whole form thereof, and all the ordinances thereof, and do them (Ezek. 43:11). Whereas thus to do, is to signify that we acknowledge and believe that Christ hath omitted something that is essential to his worship.
(5.) It is to impose upon God, and that is a great sin. We do nothing less herein, than to give laws to the great King, from whose mouth we ought to receive all. Acts of worship are designed for communion between God and his people. And he hath promised to them that do rightly worship him, that he will be among them and bless them, which is their great encouragement to give attendance to his institutions, because there is a blessing in them. But God hath obliged himself no farther than to his own appointments. Whereas in those things we say that God shall come and hold communion with us in men’s prescriptions, that these shall oblige his presence with us. For without this supposal, ordinances must lose their proper end, and this must needs be the highest arrogancy that can be.
(6.) Hence it is a vain worship, so it is called (Mat. 15:9), and this must needs denominate it sinful. To do anything in vain, is folly, but to worship God in vain, is gross iniquity. And what less than vain must that of necessity be, in which we can promise to ourselves no fellowship with God, or participation in his grace, except he will for our pleasure lay aside his prerogative, and submit himself to the prescriptions of men? If men only were imposed upon, it were not so much, but to think to impose upon God, is in itself presumption, and will prove ruin in the event.
2. We may judge of the greatness of this sin, by the displeasure of God which appears against it. It can be no little provocation that God manifests his sore indignation at, and this discovers itself:
(1.) In the jealousy which he entertains on this account. Where is it that he declares himself to be a jealous God, but in the matters of instituted worship (Exod. 20:5)? Solomon tells us that jealousy is the rage of a man [Prov. 6:34]. When therefore God assumes it to himself, it must needs intimate his great indignation. A person is not wont to be jealous but in something that he placeth a very high account upon, and consequently looks upon himself to be basely abused, if he be touched in that. And thus doth God in point of this prerogative, to have the acknowledgment from his people that he alone hath the ordering of every part of his worship.
(2.) In the awful threatenings which he hath denounced against this sin, we find that he hath menaced generations to come, that they shall feel the smart of their Fathers’ prevarication upon this account (Exod. 20:5). We see therefore how he threatens the ten tribes for making of many altars, and building of temples (Hos 8:11, 14). The sum is this sin should increase their guilt, till it had rooted them out. Yea, when Israel had made the golden calf, which was a new mode of worship, and the feast held to it is called a feast to Jehovah (Exod. 32:5), God both plagued them at present for it, and also threatens them to keep it in remembrance against them for afterwards (verse 34). The Jews therefore have an observation, that no judgment ever after fell upon that people, but it had an ounce of the golden calf in it.
(3.) In the severe judgments which he hath executed upon men for this sin. It is well to be remarked that the first quarrel that ever God had with mankind was about instituted worship, and a transgression of a positive precept referring to the worship of God in a sacrament, hath filled the world with all the miseries which to this day it groans under. Nadab and Abihu will offer up incense unto God with strange fire, and it brought them to a strange and sudden end. Gideon’s ephod became a snare to his house, and it cost the lives of sixty nine of his sons. Jeroboam dedicated his golden calves to the worship of God, and it rooted out every branch of his family, and at length carried the whole land into captivity. And these things are written for our learning. The jealousy of God hath many times burnt like a fire, and consumed root and branch of such as have thus tempted him.
3. It may also be seen in the harm that men do to themselves by it. And this is consequent upon the former. Men sin against their own souls by thus doing, and that is a great sin. And this harm will especially appear in three things:
(1.) They certainly lose all the labour and cost that they lay out upon such worship. This also is implied in calling of it vain worship; and this loss brings unknown damage along with it. In matters of worship, men are more peculiarly concerned for the furthering of their own salvation; it is therefore a spiritual loss that men sustain by this. If they worshipped God aright, how much might they forward their everlasting good by it? For it would afford them the opportunity of the nearest communion with God that is to be enjoyed before such time as the glass shall be removed, and he be seen face to face. But now they do nothing at all towards this, they do but trifle in matters of eternity, and by reason of this they come to sustain an eternal loss.
(2.) It hazards our losing the good of the institutions of God. The words of our text seem to intimate as if the whole worship were rendered vain by this mixture. And truly it cannot be denied to be a righteous judgment of God, to withdraw that blessing from his own institutions, which hath its absolute dependence upon his influence, with respect to those that are fond of interweaving human inventions with them. Nay, usually, when they lay themselves out so much upon these, they too often neglect the right improvement of the other, and are not seldom punished by God, in being left to fall into all sorts of immoralities. This sin very seldom goes alone, but is wont to have a train of other grievous sins attending upon it. And this is according to God’s forewarning, Israel would none of me, so I gave them up to their own hearts lusts (Ps. 81.11-12).
(3.) Men by thus doing expose themselves to the danger of being deprived of God’s institutions. When men cannot rest satisfied with God’s appointments, but they must have more, and such as come out of a mint which hath no warrant for the coining them, he often righteously takes these away from them partly by leaving them gradually to lay them aside, first one, and then another. Because it may be, both cannot be conveniently attended. Men’s commandments thrust out God’s institutions. The Altar of Damascus justles away the Brazen Altar [2 Kings 16:10-18], and it must now be put in a corner, and serve only for some private devotions. Partly by bringing of desolating judgments which lay all waste, thus the Kingdom of Judah in time lost their temple, and altar, and sacrifices, and were carried into a fearful captivity, and this sin was a leading one to the procuring of these dismal calamities.
USE I. For Information in Two Particulars.
1. Indifferency in the matter is not sufficient to justify a tradition in worship.
For what though the thing itself be not a sin to be done civilly, yet by being made a commandment, which borrows its authority from men—and so thrust into the worship of God as a part of it—it now becomes a piece of vain worship. What can be more indifferent than washing one’s hands in order to eating our food? The thing hath no harm in it at all. Yea, it may sometimes occasionally be a point of cleanliness and good manners to do it when the not doing it would be offensive to our own and others stomachs. But if this once come to have religion put upon it, and it must be accounted a note of greater sanctity in them that do it, and a token of unholiness in such as neglect it, exposing them to scandal, now Christ will by no means admit that his disciples should practise it. Had it been only a civil custom of the nation, he would never have found fault with it; such as was offering them water to wash their feet, he therefore reflects on him [i.e. Simon] (Luke 7.44). But he censures and condemns this, and good reason, for it is vain, a man can get no good by it, nor do God any honour with it. It therefore doth not serve to any end of purpose at all, but wholly falls short of the very design of worship. A plea therefore from indifferency in the thing is vain, for the excusing—much more for the warranting—of any tradition which by the commandment of men loseth its indifferency, and is tied as a burden on men’s consciences.
2. A divine precept is necessary to warrant every part of religious worship.
Instituted worship must be able to prove its legitimacy by institution, for, because it’s not natural but positive, it depends upon authority. Its obligation therefore can be of no greater strength than the authority of its author can put upon it; and that must be founded in his right to command it. All instructions derive their authority either from God, or the creature. If it be from God, then he hath signified his mind about it in Scripture, and that in particular. For he hath no where by any general indulgence given away this liberty of his to any other authority in the world, to have the dominion of the conscience of men, or to give rules of worship. But hath on the one hand strongly prohibited it and severely threatened any that shall presume to do it. If then any such derive from men let them shew their authority, if they expect them to be entertained. The authorizing of any part of worship belongs to the second, and not to the fifth command, and must for that reason have a divine warrant. Hence it follows that there is nothing to be received by us on this account, but what hath God’s scale affixed to it. It is therefore enough to set us down resolved against any such thing, if we can say there is a silence about it in the Scripture; that God hath nowhere commanded it in his Word, either expressly or by just and necessary consequence, it is no order of his devising. Scripture silence about any tradition, gives it a full condemnation whatever pleas men may bring for the justification of it. Although they may pretend that it is very profitable, that many have been edified by it, that it is a very prudent way to secure the interests of religion, that many wise, holy, and learned men have pleaded for and practised it, that there is much of decency in it, and the thing in itself is no ways harmful—all this is fully answered with that one word, God hath spoken nothing about it (Heb. 7.14), it never entered into his heart to enjoin it (Jer. 7.31).
USE II. God’s Jealousy for His Pure Worship.
This may put us upon asking whether God manageth no part of his controversy with us upon this account. It is a time wherein God is making discoveries of his holy displeasure against us, in a whole series of frowning providences that we are labouring under, witnessing that he is not a little offended at this his people. It is therefore a time for deep heart searching, and in the doing of it, it will not be amiss to make a little enquiry for this sin among the rest. Possibly it may be supposed that of all the sins that a people of God are wont to be charged withal, these churches are least guilty in this article, of any. However, if we look narrowly, there may for ought I know be enough to humble us before God and put us upon repentance. It may be we may find some that have willingly and upon choice, exchanged the more pure worship of God, for that which is more mixed, and had much rather to serve him at an high place, than at the sanctuary. Are there not they that have observed days of human consecration, and put a title of holiness upon them, though they have expressed little of it in the manner of their observation? It may be there are traditions, by custom grown into ordinances, gotten at least into some of our churches, which can shew no warrant under Christ’s hand to authorize them, and yet it hath been an offence not to comply with and cry them up. Hath there not been too much of a pinning our faith on the credit or practice of others, attended on, with a woeful neglect of seeking to know what is the mind of Christ in it?
This I am sure of, that an aspiring mind is natural to fallen man, and will be stirring whilst there is corruption in us, and this is greatly delighted in tampering with things that are above us, and particularly to be patching in religion. But let us beware to ourselves in this: The God we have to do with is a jealous God; and if there be any such thing, we had need very carefully look after it and remove it, God will else charge us for committing of lewdness, and deal with us accordingly.
USE III. Exhortation to Avoid Will Worship.
Be we then exhorted to avoid this sin. So far as there may have been any guilt contracted, if not willingly and knowingly, yet if ignorantly and through neglect, let us repent of and turn from it, and let us set ourselves more strenuously against it for the time forward. Is it a sin so great? Let not us then think it little, or ourselves to be out of the danger of falling into it. And to move us to be the more careful in our endeavours against it, let us consider:
1. There are no small temptations to it from within, and from without. The world and your own corrupt hearts have a great deal to say and plead, which is suited to the flesh, to insinuate into you unto a compliance with such things. These things are many of them adapted to the carnal wisdom of men. And are easily clothed with divers religious pretences, and how many ways they are seemingly advantageous to the promoting of piety. These all must be withstood, if you will not be baffled into this sin. Besides there are no small arguments, from the lawfulness of the things in themselves, and scandal apt to arise from a non compliance with them.
2. Except we thus do, we shall directly vacate our fathers’ design in planting of this wilderness [i.e. American colonies]. It is certain that their errand hither was to sequester themselves into a quiet corner of the world, where they might enjoy Christ’s unmixed institutions, and leave them uncorrupted to their posterity. And if this design of theirs were unworthy of them, and reproachful to their names, let it then be buried with them, and forgotten, and no more mention made of it to stain their memories withal. But if it were worth their parting with so many comforts and conveniences of a pleasant land, in which they enjoyed a considerable share, and the exposing of themselves to the suffering of so many hardships, and almost unconquerable difficulties of an uncultivated desert, and so many discouragements cast in their way—which were in themselves very ungrateful to the minds of men—let us not cast this reproach upon it and them, which we shall certainly do if we depart from the strict avoidance of whatsoever worship doth not derive from the precept of God and appointment of Jesus Christ. In every such act, we call them fools; and this will rise up in judgment against us another day.
3. We cannot else stand to our explicit covenant. That it is lawful and a duty for the people of God solemnly to enter into and renew covenant, and that frequently referring to the matters of God’s House, and to all duties wherein they stand obliged to serve him, the Scripture is full, and we have divers examples there recorded. It being too true that a professing people are apt to forget themselves and fall under neglects, and for this cause ought to be doing something to quicken themselves up and bind their souls to their work. And what is this for? Not to find out any new ways of worshipping God—that would be a conspiracy instead of a covenant—but it is to reform anything that is amiss, to revive anything that is decayed, to restore that which is lost, and to ratify that which ought to be. Now these churches have declaredly covenanted with God, and mutually, that we will serve the Lord with no other manner of worship, but that which he hath appointed and established in his Word. And do we think that he will be trifled withal in a covenant and vow that hath been made by us before angels and men?
4. Hence our so doing will leave us under the guilt of apostasy. To depart from anything which God hath required of us, and we have covenanted with him to perform, will certainly have this brand upon it. And it will be so much the more aggravated by all that light which God hath afforded to shew us the sinfulness of so doing; which will take away all cloaks from us, and there hath been not a little of that, which we have enjoyed the advantage of. Yea, and that which will make it yet more provoking to God, and dangerous for us, is that this will be an apostasy in that very thing, which is the test upon which God tries the churches in New England.