2. Secondly, But error is a sin of an increasing nature, and usually stops not at one or two falsehoods, but is apt to spawn into many others, as some of the most noxious creatures have the most numerous broods. for one error hath this mischievous danger in it, that it taints the mind to an instability in every truth, and the bond of steadfastness being once broken, a man hath no certainty where he shall stay: as a wanton horse, once turned loose, may wander far. This hazard is made a serious warning against error: 2 Peter iii 17, ‘Beware lest ye, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness.’ One error admitted, makes the heart unsteady, and besides this inconvenience, error doth unavoidably branch itself naturally into many more, as inferences and conclusions resulting from it, as circles in water multiply themselves.
Grant but one absurdity, and many will follow upon it, so that it is a miracle to find a single error. These locusts go forth by bands, as the experience of all ages doth testify, and besides the immediate consequences of an error,
which receive life and being together with itself, as twins of the same birth, we may observe a tendency in errors, to others that are more remote, and by the long stretch of multiplied inferences, those things are coupled together that are not very contiguous. If the Lutherans—it is Dr Prideaux his observation—admit universal grace, the Huberians introduce universal election, the Puccians natural faith, the Naturalists explode Christ and Scriptures at last as unnecessary. This is then a fair mark for the devil to aim at; if he prevails for one error, it is a hundred to one but he prevails for more.
3. Thirdly, Satan hath yet a further reach in promoting error, he knows it is a plague that usually infects all round about, and therefore doth he the rather labour in this work, because he hopes thereby to corrupt others, and infected persons are commonly the most busy agents, even to the ‘compassing of sea and land to gain proselytes’ to their false persuasions. This harvest of Satan’s labour is often noted in Scripture. ‘They shall deceive many,’ Matthew xxiv 24. ‘Many shall follow their pernicious ways,’ 2 Peter ii 2. How quickly had this leaven spread itself in the church of Galatia, even to Paul’s wonder! Galatians I 6, ‘I marvel that you are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel.’ Instances of the spreading of error are frequent. Pelagianism rose about the year, but presently spread itself in Palestine, Africa, Greece, Italy, Sicily, France, and Britain.
Arianism, like fire in straw, in a little time brought its flame over the Christian world, and left her wondering at herself that she was so suddenly become Arian. Socinianism had the like prevalency. Lælius privately had sowed the seeds, and after his death, Faustus Socinus, his nephew, did so bestir himself, that within ten years after his confident appearing, whole congregations in Sarmatia submitted themselves to his dictates, as Calovius affirms, and within twenty or thirty years more several hundreds of churches in Transylvania were infected, and within a few years more the whole synod was brought over to subscribe to Socinianism. We have also instances nearer home. After the Reformation, in the reign of Edward VI, how soon did popery return in its full strength when Queen Mary came to the crown! which occasioned Peter Martyr, when he saw young students flocking to mass, to say, ‘that the tolling of the bell overturned all his doctrine at Oxford.’ And of late we have had the sad experience of the power of error to infect. No error so absurd, ridiculous, or blasphemous, but, once broached, it presently gained considerable numbers to entertain it.
4. Fourthly, Error is also eminently serviceable to Satan for the bringing in divisions, schisms, rents, hatreds, heart-burnings, animosities, revilings, contentions, tumults, wars, and whatsoever bitter fruits, breach of love, and the malignity of hatred can possibly produce. Enough of this might be seen in the church of Corinth. The divisions that were amongst themselves were occasioned by it, and a great number of evils the apostle suspected to have been already produced from thence, as debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults, 2 Corinthians xii 20. He himself escaped not from being evilly entreated by those among them that were turned from the simplicity of the gospel. The quarrelsome exceptions that they had raised against him he takes notice of.
They charged him with levity, in neglecting his promise to come to them, 2 Corinthians I 17. They called him carnal, one that walked according to the flesh, chapter x 2: they taunted him as a contemptible fellow, verse 10. They undervalued his ministry, which occasioned, not without great apology, a commendation of himself nay, they seemed to call him a false apostle, and were so bold as to challenge him for a proof of Christ speaking in him, 2 Corinthians xiii 3.
If the devil had so much advantage from error that was but in the bud, and that in one church only, what may we imagine hath he done by it, when it broke out to an open flame in several churches! What work do we see in families when an error creeps in among them! The father riseth up against the son, the son against the father, the mother against the daughter, the daughter against the mother. What sad divided congregations have we seen! what fierceness, prejudices, slanders, evil surmises, censurings, and divisions hath this brought forth! what bandying of parties against parties, church against church, hath been produced by this engine! How sadly hath this poor island felt the smart of it! The bitter contests that have been betwixt presbyterian and independent, betwixt them and the episcopal, makes them look more like factious combinations, than churches of Christ.
The present differences betwixt conformists and nonconformists, if we take them where they are lowest, they do daily produce such effects as must needs be very pleasing and grateful to the devil, both parties mutually objecting schism, and charging each other with crime and folly. What invectives and railings may be heard in all companies,
as if they had been at the greatest distances in point of doctrine! But whosoever loseth, to be sure the devil gains by it. Hatreds, strife, variance, emulations, lyings, railings, scorn, and contempt, are all against the known duty of brotherly kindness, and are undoubted provocations against the God of love and peace. What can we then think of that can be so useful to Satan as error, when these above-mentioned evils are the inseparable products of it?
The modestest errors that ever were among good men are still accompanied with something of these bitter fruits.
The differences about meats and days, when managed with the greatest moderation, made the strong to despise the weak as silly, wilful, factious humorists and, on the contrary, the weak judged the strong as profane, careless, and bold despisers of divine institutions for so much the apostle implies, Romans xiv 3, ‘Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not and let not him which eateth not, judge him that eateth.’ But should we trace error through the ruins of churches, and view the slaughters and bloodshed that it hath occasioned, or consider the wars and desolations that it hath brought forth, we might heap up matter fit for tears and lamentations, and make you cease to wonder that Satan should so much concern himself to promote it.