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be best: "When they cast their leaves;" and so the opposition is clear between the standing of the stock and the falling of the leaves; and it notes the strength, firmness, and lastingness of the tree itself, though it lose its present beauty and verdure. The stateliest trees may cast their leaves; but then their trunks continue firm and fast in the earth, which may afterwards spring and flourish afresh.


The holy seed-Or, “seed of holiness," by an usual Hebraism: so a godly seed," or "seed of God." (Mal. ii. 15.) I doubt not but it is to be understood of the really religious or righteous among that people, who are indeed the only true "seed of God," which others only seem to be.

Shall be the substance thereof―The body of the people are here compared to a tree; the holy seed, to the stock or stem of it, the rest to the leaves. A tree in winter casts its leaves, the sap retiring toward the root; but yet still the stock remains firm and unmovable, and the sap that is in it will afterwards cause it to shoot forth anew. The tree, though bare, is not dead; it hath lost its leaves, but not its life. So, when carnal men and common professors drop away, like leaves from a tree, in the winter of affliction; or, as withered boughs and branches, are broken off by the violence of persecutions, and storms of worldly troubles; then "the holy seed," the truly religious among them, are like the trunk of the tree, which is not blown down nor rooted up, but still continues, still lives, and is likely to flourish again. What is here spoken of the Jews is not peculiar to them, but may likewise be affirmed of other professing people, the great staple privileges of the church being the same both in Jews then and Gentiles now. The seed of God is the stock, whether Jews or Gentiles be the branches: there may be a change in the branches, but not in the stock; that is still the same, when wild branches are grafted in, as it was before the natural were cut off.

The doctrine [which] I observe from the words thus explained, is in answer to the question propounded.


That the truly religious of a nation are, under God, the strength of it. What I shall say of this doctrine may be reduced to these heads :-I shall show,

I. What we are to understand by "the religious" of a nation.
II. How, and in what respects, they may be said to be its “strength.”
III. Upon what accounts.

IV. Make application of it to practice.

I. Who are the religious of a nation.

1. Negatively.

(1.) I understand not "the religious" here in a Popish sense, for those that are under a religious vow, or in a religious order.-This is an abuse of the word, and a restraining it to those that know little of the thing.

(2.) I do not restrain it to any particular party or way or persuasion, even among those who, as to their profession, are really of the

true religion. Though I am far from so loose and extravagant a charity, as to judge that men may be saved in any religion whatever, if they do but live suitably to the principles and rules of that religion; when there are so many false, so many idolatrous, ones, so many which deny fundamental truths, or maintain damnable errors : yet, on the other side, I am not so uncharitable as to confine true religiousness, and consequently final salvation, to any particular sect or sort or party of men professing Christianity, to the exclusion of all that dissent from them. True religion is more affection and practice than doctrine or notion, and is seated more in the heart than in the head. Men may be really gracious, and so in truth religious in God's account, who yet differ in some things from others who are no less truly religious too.

There is, indeed, but one true religion in the world; but, in that, we must distinguish between principles and conclusions, and those either nearer or more remote; between fundamentals and superstructures, and those either which touch the foundation or are farther from it; between substance and circumstances; things necessary, or not necessary, to the being or to the well-being of religion. In some things they that are wise and godly may differ without prejudice to the salvation of either. Every truth is not necessary to salvation, nor is every error de facto ["actually"] damning. All men's light is not alike clear, nor are all men's minds equally enlightened; some see more than others, and some more clearly; nor is every degree of light which shall be for the perfection of saints hereafter, necessary while they are here in order to their salvation. There may be the unity of faith in the main, and of love too, where yet there is some disagreement about some things believed. It is confessed that there is but one way of salvation,-that of faith and holiness; from which whatever by-paths of error lead men aside, they do at the same time carry them off from the end of faith,-the salvation of their souls; whatever is inconsistent with either faith or holiness, is inconsistent likewise with salvation. But every difference or mistake about such truths as are not necessarily saving, must not presently be looked upon as a false way, or an error certainly damning.

The way to life is called "the narrow way;" (Matt. vii. 14;) but is it therefore indivisible? Is there no latitude in it? May not two, or three, or four, or five, go abreast in it? Must all go in the selfsame track or path? May not several paths be in the same great road, or run along by the side of it, and lead to the same place; which, if sometimes they decline a little from the road, yet, before the end, fall-in again with it, and for the main are parallel to it? It is as certain that truth is simplex, error is multiformis,-truth is but "one," and error is "various,"—and whatever in the least deflects from truth must be a degree of error, as it is that there can be but one perfectly straight line between any two points. But may not a line that divaricates a little from the straight one, and is so far crooked, run-in again to it? Doth any saint on earth attain to the whole of truth, without any mistake so much as in lesser things?

Doth any keep exactly to the straight line, so as never to take a crooked step, never in any thing to go off from it? Some indeed may miss it in fewer things, some in more; and yet both, keeping to what is necessary, hit it in the main. Some may go to heaven more directly and with fewer wanderings; when others may go farther aside, and fetch a greater compass, and yet at last arrive at it.

2. Positively. By "religious," I understand those,

(1.) Who, as to the doctrine of Christianity, "hold the Head." (Col. ii. 19.)-Keep to that only foundation which God hath laid,— the Lord Jesus Christ; though, perhaps, they may build some things on it which are not suitable to it,-"wood, hay, stubble:" (1 Cor. iii. 11, 12) such whose "works shall be burned," yet "themselves saved," though with difficulty and "as by fire." (Verse 15.) Such I mean, therefore, as own so much truth as is necessary to the life of faith and power of godliness, and maintain no error which is inconsistent with either.

(2.) Those who, as to the practice of Christianity, "fear God, and work righteousness." (Acts x. 35.)-They that not only believe in Christ, but live in obedience to him; not only "have received Christ Jesus the Lord," but "walk in him." (Col. ii. 6.) All true religion consists in faith and holiness; it is nothing else but a glorifying [of] God by believing and obeying; a seeking salvation in that way and method, in which alone God hath determined to bring men to it; that is, through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth." (2 Thess. ii. 13.) Whoever, therefore, they are that do unfeignedly believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and live up to that faith, [they] are truly religious; though in some lesser things they may dissent from others who have the same faith, and practise the same holiness. So that, from being thus religious, I exclude not only atheists that have no religion, idolaters, damnable heretics, and all those whose principles are inconsistent with or repugnant to the truth of the gospel, and so are of a false religion; but even among those that profess the truth, I exclude,

(i.) Those that are grossly ignorant.-Know not the first principles of Christianity, understand not what they own and pretend to believe.

(ii.) Those that are profane, scandalous, vicious livers, despisers of them that are good, persecutors of powerful godliness.—These are not real saints, but a profane generation; the seed of the serpent, not of God.

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(iii.) Hypocrites.-Masked professors, that make a show of religion to serve a carnal interest; that "have a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof; (2 Tim. iii. 5 ;) have unsound hearts, though under never so smooth faces. In a word, all those that are destitute of true faith and real holiness; that allow themselves in any way of known sins, whether more often, as the second sort, or more secret and close, as these last.

II. How, or in what respects, the religious of a nation are the strength" of it.-In order to the stating of this, I shall premise

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one distinction :- "The holy seed," or religious, in a nation may be considered either,

1. As being actually in the world, and actually in a state of grace. -Brought into Christ's fold, engaged in God's ways, effectually called and sanctified.

2. Or as being in the world, but not yet converted.-Though in God's time to be converted; elect unbelievers. He that is a sinner at present, may be a saint in time; a publican may come to be an apostle; nay, a persecutor of the saints may be called to "preach that faith which once he destroyed." (Gal. i. 23.) They that are Christ's sheep by election, may in time, nay, certainly must, be so by actual calling : “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me." (John vi. 37.)

3. Or as not yet actually in being in the world, but in the loins of their parents, whether saints or sinners.—God may have a seed even among the children of wicked men; and as sometimes he may pass by the children of gracious men,—the parents may be a seed of God, and children not, so sometimes he may overlook the parents, and take the children; the parents may be wicked, and the children holy. God is a Sovereign, and may choose where he will; and sometimes he pitcheth upon the most unlikely subjects. A wicked Ahaz may have a godly Hezekiah for his son, and a good Josiah a wicked Jehoiakim for his.

This distinction I lay down, because, though I understand the doctrine in the first place of the religious actually in being among a people, yet not only of them, God sometimes acting for a nation with respect to those [whom] he is to have among them. This premised, I come to show in what respect the godly may be said to be the "strength" of a people; and this I shall [do] by a little following the metaphor in the text. "The holy seed" is here called "the substance," or "stock," of a people; so that in what respect the strength of a tree is in its stock, in those, or several of them, the strength of a people is in the religion of them.

1. The stock of a tree is the most firm and durable part of it. When the leaves are shaken off, the branches many of them dry and withered; nay, though it be close lopped, and all the boughs cut down ; yet still it continues and lives, keeps its place and retains its sap. So it is with the truly religious, at least as to their spiritual state (as we intimated in the explication of the text:) when hypocrites and temporaries drop off from the body of professors, and quit their stations in a church and their religious profession, yet the godly still continue, hold their own, keep their standing. They are all united to Christ the Root, as well as to each other in the body, and as parts together of the same stock; and so are preserved and continued in life by sap derived to them from the Root, the constant supplies of the Spirit and grace of Christ. In this respect we may "He that doeth the will of God abideth for ever; say," (1 John ii. 17;) and, They that "have an unction from the Holy One, abide in him." (Verses 20, 27.)

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2. The stock is that which propagates its kind.—Cut off all the boughs; and yet the stem will shoot forth again, send out new leaves and fruit and seed, from which other trees will come. So here the righteous propagate their righteousness, communicate to others, beget children to God, are spiritual parents, and have a spiritual offspring. How many children come in upon their parents' covenant, not only as to outward privileges in the church, but as to real grace! "The promise is unto them, and to their children;" (Acts ii. 39;) and as it takes place in all of them as to church-membership, so it doth in many as to saintship. And besides, how many are wrought-on by their instruction, won by their example, awakened by their admonitions, overcome by their persuasions! How many have cause to bless God for religious parents, religious acquaintance, religious instructors, (as well as godly ministers,) who have been instrumental in their conversion! Thus, when many particular branches of righteousness are plucked off as to their temporal state in this life, yet "the holy seed" continues, the stock is perpetuated in a succession of righteous ones.

Men usually spare the tree for the sake of the stock. "As the new wine is found in the cluster, and one saith, Destroy it not; for a blessing is in it :"—a man finds a cluster or two of grapes on a vine, and by those few perceives that there is life in the tree, and some hopes of more fruitfulness hereafter, and therefore doth not cut it down:-" so will I do," says the Lord, "for my servants' sakes, that I may not destroy them all.” (Isai. lxv. 8.) He spares the rest, or many of them; doth "not destroy them all, for his servants' sakes,' for the sake of the righteous among them. "He shall deliver the island of the innocent:" (Job xxii. 30:) according to marginal reading, "The innocent shall deliver the island;" which suits best with the following clause : "It is delivered by the pureness of their hands." Eliphaz tells Job before, what advantage he should himself have by returning to God, and "acquainting himself with him;" (verse 21;) from whom he supposes him to have departed, and to be estranged by sin: and here he tells him what benefit should redound to others; his goodness should not only do good to himself, but keep off evil from them. For the better understanding [of] this, take two things by way of concession, and a third by way of position.

(1.) I grant, that the religious part of a people may not always be active as men, in a natural or civil way, in delivering them or keeping off evils from them.-They may have no proper and direct efficiency in it; for,


(i.) Sometimes they may want power and ability for it. They may be but few and inconsiderable for number: "the holy seed" may be very thinly sown; there may be but a few grains of corn among a great deal of chaff, but a little wheat among abundance of tares. Or, those that are, may be weak and low as to their outward condition in the world;-for, "not many mighty, not many noble, are called;" (1 Cor. i. 26 ;)—and so may be in ill case to contribute much by an active concurrence to the help of others.

(ii.) Sometimes they may be simple and unskilful in outward

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