But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain.
Never was there a time wherein there was more talk or bustle and ado made about religion, and yet so little of the power of it seen in the world, whilst every one is most eager and busy in defending and propagating those doubtful doctrines which distinguish their several sects and factions, and so few mind those great and certain truths wherein they all are, or at least pretend to be, agreed.
I. THAT OUR SAVIOUR AND HIS GOSPEL GAVE NO REAL JUST OCCASION FOR THOSE CONTROVERSIES, which since have been so hotly moved, will appear if we consider a little His doctrine and way of teaching whilst He was here on earth, for we shall find all along that He delivered His message not in any studied, artificial, spruce, and affected method, but with the greatest perspicuity and plainness imaginable. He accommodated not His discourses to the learned or wiser part of mankind only, but to the ignorant and simple. Thus also, if we consult the Acts of the Apostles, we shall find it was in the first and early times of the gospel. Much pains it cost them to convince Gentiles and Jews of the truth of our Saviour's religion, and to take off their prejudices against it and His person, and to resist and gainsay apostate Christians who would set up new religions of their own in opposition to Christ's, but little or none, in comparison, to make them understand the doctrine of it when once they were ready to follow and embrace it. They did not perplex their hearers with any quirks and intricacies, but avoiding all needless disputations, which engender strife and are not unto edification, told them plainly that Jesus commanded them everywhere to repent of their sins, and to forsake them, and to behove His gospel, and become His disciples, and obey what He enjoined in being temperate, humble, just, and charitable, and they should be forever happy in the other world; and that for the effecting of this the Son of God came down from heaven, and lived here amongst men, and died, and rose again, of which they were witnesses.
II. IT IS TRUE SOME DISPUTES SOON AROSE IN THE CHURCH, AND WHAT GAVE OCCASION TO THEM I AM NEXT TO INQUIRE. Some did arise even in the apostles' days, occasioned either by that great respect and veneration the Jews had for Moses' laws and institutions, or that fond presumption they had of God's particular inconditionate favour to them, and His absolute election of the seed of Abraham only; or else by the wickedness of those who for some private ends would pretend to Christianity, but, being unwilling to undergo the severities of it, invented such doctrines as might best serve to patronise their lusts or impieties. Thus though there were disputes, then, yet they were chiefly between Christians and their open and professed enemies, or such as had apostatised from them, or were but in part converted; but for some considerable time (whilst the persecutions lasted) the Christians amongst themselves lived in all love and peace, professing the same faith, joining in the same worship, and agreeing in the same principles and practices. But when once our religion had triumphed over all others and brought the greatest part of the world to its subjection, and the princes of the earth and the great and wise men became Christians, and there was no public enemy, either Jew or Gentile, to oppose, and find work for busy wits, then they began to fall out about their own religion; and this still increased more as the Christians grew more learned and idle, and less honest, and found time and leisure to study philosophy, the greatest part of which about that time was nothing else but sophistry, or the art of wrangling, and making plain things obscure.
III. But yet by anything I have now said I WOULD NOT BE THOUGHT TO PERSUADE YOU THAT THERE WAS NOTHING IN OUR RELIGION THAT WAS DIFFICULT OR MYSTERIOUS. There are, without all doubt, some things contained in Scripture which are past our understandings, the particular modes and circumstances of which we cannot perfectly comprehend, but only that it would have been much more for the honour of God, the interest of Christianity, and the good of souls, if men would have suffered those things which were mysterious to have remained so, and also left those things that were plain in the same condition they found them.
IV. Had I time in particular to show HOW SUCH IDLE DISPUTES IN MATTERS OF RELIGION ARE STILL CONTINUED IN THE WORLD, I MIGHT TELL YOU —
1. Some men there are of a voluble tongue and of a talking, prating humour, who debate and dispute about everything, and therefore religion shall not escape if it ever comes in their way; you can say nothing but they presently contradict and oppose it.
2. Others there are that are pretty cool, tame, and calm, and can discourse freely and civilly about any ordinary common affair; but let the smallest and most inconsiderable point of religion be started, and they shall be presently all on fire, and as quarrelsome as if they had been born disputing, and as fierce as if at the pronouncing of every article of their belief their swords were to be drawn, and it was to be fought out.
3. Others there are who furnish themselves for dispute by reading a great deal of Scripture and getting it by heart, and so pouring it forth upon all occasions, interpreting it as peremptorily, and explaining it as confidently, as if they were guided by the same infallible spirit that the writers of it were endued withal.
4. Others there are who are very eager in maintaining a great many opinions, which are not to be found in Scripture, but in some authors they have great esteem of, or first chanced to read, or were directed to by those whose judgments they most valued; and these men's books such make their Bible, and from them fetch all their divinity.
V. But whatever be, and many more there are, occasions of these quarrels and debates in religion, THE INCONVENIENCE OF THEM IS GREAT AND NOTORIOUS.
1. This foolish contending consumes so much time of our lives, which ought to be spent in our honest employments, in serious devotions, and doing the offices of justice, friendship, and charity one towards another; and I doubt not but much of our religious brawling and disputing shall be accounted for at the last day as idle words, for which neither ourselves, nor neighbours, nor anybody else was anything the better.
2. That which is a greater mischief than this, from hence men's lusts learn to dispute, and from these controversies in and about religion men have found out how to quiet their consciences in a way of sin, and to go on securely and undisturbedly, hoping by the help of a distinction or two they shall for all that get to heaven at last.
3. These disputes have been the occasion of those great breaches that have been made amongst Christians, whose care it ought to be to be of one mind, of one faith, and of one Church, and to adorn the doctrine of our Saviour by their mutual good will and serviceableness to one another; but instead of this, Christians, by their several little models of faith and their passions, have made it their business to divide the Church, excluding as many from salvation and their communion as are not just of their own way and fancy.
Parallel VersesKJV: But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain.