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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

A Lesson on Practical Religion

By Nathaniel Ward (1578–1652)

[From The Simple Cobbler of Aggawam. 1647.]

WHEN States are so reformed that they conform such as are profligate into good civility; civil men, into religious morality; when Churches are so constituted, that Faith is ordained pastor, Truth teacher, Holiness and Righteousness ruling elders; Wisdom and Charity deacons; Knowledge, love, hope, zeal, heavenly-mindedness, meekness, patience, watchfulness, humility, diligence, sobriety, modesty, chastity, constancy, prudence, contentation, innocency, sincerity, etc., admitted members, and all their opposites excluded: then there will be peace of country and conscience.

Did the Servants of Christ know what it is to live in Reformed Churches with unreformed spirits, under strict order with loose hearts; how forms of Religion breed but forms of Godliness; how men by Church-discipline learn their Church-postures, and there rest:—they would pray as hard for purity of heart, as purity of ordinances. If we mock God in these, He will mock us; either with defeat of our hopes, or which is worse, when we have what we so much desire, we shall be so much the worse for it. It was a well salted speech, uttered by an English Christian of a Reformed Church in the Netherlands: “We have the good Orders here, but you have the good Christians in England.” He that prizes not Old England graces, as much as New-England ordinances, had need go to some other market before he comes hither. In a word, he that is not pastor, teacher, ruler, deacon and brother to himself, and looks not at Christ above all, it matters not a farthing whether he be Presbyterian or Independent; he may be a zealot in bearing witness to which he likes best, and yet an Iscariot to both, in the witness of his own conscience.

I have upon strict observation seen so much power of Godliness and spiritual-mindedness in English Christians, living merely upon sermons and private duties, hardly come by, when the Gospel was little more than symptomatical to the State; such epidemical and lethal formality in other disciplinated Churches, that I profess in the hearing of God, my heart hath mourned, and mine eyes wept in secret, to consider what will become of multitudes of my dear countrymen when they shall enjoy what they now covet. Not that good ordinances breed ill consciences, but ill consciences grow stark naught under good ordinances; insomuch that might I wish an hypocrite the most perilous place but Hell, I should wish him a membership in a strict Reformed Church: and might I wish a sincere servant of God the greatest grief earth can afford, I should wish him to live with a pure heart, in a Church impurely reformed; yet through the improvement of God’s Spirit, that grief may sanctify him for God’s service and presence, as much as the means he would have, but cannot.

I speak this the rather to prevent, what in me lies, the imprudent rummaging that is like to be in England, from villages to towns, from towns to cities, for Church’s sake, to the undoing of societies, friendships, kindreds, families, heritages, callings, yea, the wise Providence of God in disposing men’s habitations, now in the very infancy of Reformation, by forgetting that a little leaven may season a large lump, and it is much better to do good than receive. It were a most uncharitable and unserviceable part, for good men to desert their own congregations, where many may glorify God in the day of his Visitation, for their presence and assistance. If a Christian would pick out a way to thrive in grace, let him study to administer grace to them that want; or to make sure a blessing upon his family, let him labor to multiply the family of Christ, and believe, that he which soweth liberally, shall reap abundantly; and he that spareth more than is need from them that have more need, shall surely come to poverty: yea, let me say that he who forsakes the means of grace for Christ and his Church’s sake, shall meet with a better bargain, namely, grace itself….

In matter of Reformation, this would be remembered, that in premonitory judgments, God will take good words and sincere intents; but in peremptory, nothing but real performances.