SOME THOUGHTS CONCERNING THE PRESENT REVIVAL OF RELIGION IN NEW ENGLAND, AND THE WAY IN WHICH IT OUGHT TO BE ACKNOWLEDGED AND PROMOTED. HUMBLY OFFERED TO THE PUBLIC, IN A TREATISE ON THAT SUBJECT.
—Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a high-way for our God
In the ensuing treatise, I condemn ministers assuming, or taking too much upon them, and appearing as though they supposed that they were the persons to whom it especially belonged to dictate, direct, and determine; but perhaps shall be thought to be very guilty of it myself. And some, when they read this treatise, may be ready to say that while I condemn this in others, I have the monopoly of it. I confess that I have taken a great deal of liberty freely to express my thoughts concerning almost every thing appertaining to the wonderful work of God that has of late been carried on in the land, and to declare what has appeared to me to be the mind of God concerning the duty and obligations of all sorts of persons, and even those that are my superiors and fathers, ministers of the gospel, and civil rulers. But yet I hope the liberty I have taken is not greater than can be justified. In a free nation, such liberty of the press is allowed, a that every author takes leave, without offence, freely to speak his opinion concerning the management of public affairs, and the duty of the legislature, and those that are at the head of the administration, though vastly his superiors. As at this day, private subjects offer their sentiments to the public, from the press, concerning the management of public affairs, and the duty of the legislature, and those that are at the head of the administration, though vastly his superiors. As at this day, private subjects offer their sentiments to the public, from the press, concerning the management of the war with Spain; freely declaring what they think to be the duty of the parliament, and the principal ministers of state, &c. We in New England are now engaged in a more important war. And I am sure, if we consider the sad jangling and confusion that has attended it, we shall confess that it is highly requisite somebody should speak his mind, concerning the way in which it ought to be managed. Not only a few of the many particulars, which are the matter of strife, should be debated, on the one side and the other, in pamphlets (as has of late been done, with heat and fierceness enough) which do not tend to bring the contention in general to an end, but rather to inflame it, and increase the uproar—but something should be published to bring the affair in general, and the many things that attend it, which are the subjects of debate, under a particular consideration. And certainly it is high time that this was done. If private persons may speak their minds without arrogance; much more may a minister of the kingdom of Christ speak freely about things of this nature, which do so nearly concern the interest of the kingdom of his Lord and Master, at so important a juncture. If some elder minister had undertaken this, I acknowledge it would have been more proper; but I have heard of no such thing like to be done. I hope therefore I shall be excused for undertaking such a work. I think that nothing I have said can justly be interpreted, as though I would impose my thoughts upon any, or did not suppose that others have equal right to think for themselves. We are not accountable one to another for our thoughts; but we must all give an account to Him who searches our hearts, and has doubtless his eye especially upon us at such an extraordinary season as this. If I have well confirmed my opinion concerning this work, and the way in which it should be acknowledged and promoted, with Scripture and reason, I hope those who read it will receive it as a manifestation of the mind and will it. I think I have been made in some measure sensible, and much more of late than formerly, of my need of more wisdom than I have. I make it my rule to lay hold of light and embrace it, wherever I see it, though held forth by a child or an enemy. If I have assumed too much in the following discourse, and have spoken in a manner that savours of a spirit of pride, no wonder that others can better discern it than I myself. If it be so, I ask pardon, and beg the prayers of every Christian reader, that I may have more light, humility, and zeal; and that I may be favoured with such measures of the divine Spirit, as a minister of the gospel stands in need of, at such an extraordinary season. 366
THOUGHTS ON THE REVIVAL, &C
PART I. A glorious Work of God.
SHOWING THE EXTRAORDINARY WORK WHICH HAS OFLATE BEEN GOING ON IN THIS LAND, IS A GLORIOUS WORK OF GOD
The error of those who have had ill thoughts of the great religious operation on the minds of men, which has been carried on of late in New England, (so far as the ground of such an error has been in the understanding, and not in the disposition,) seems fundamentally to lie in three things: First, In judging of this work a priori. Secondly, In not taking the Holy Scriptures as a whole rule whereby to judge of such operations. Thirdly, In not justly separating and distinguishing the good from the bad.
SECTION I. We should judge of it by its effects.
We should not judge of this work by the supposed causes, but by the effects.
have greatly erred in the way in which they have gone about to try this
work, whether it be a work of the Spirit of God or no, viz. In
judging of it a priori, from the way that it began, the instruments
that have been employed, the means that have been used, and the methods
that have been taken and succeeded, in carrying it on. Whereas, if we
duly consider the matter, it will evidently appear that such a work is
not to be judged of a priori, but a
posteriori. We are to observe the effect wrought; and if, upon
examination of that, it be found to be agreeable to the word of God, we
are bound to rest in it as God’s work; and be like to be rebuked for
our arrogance, if we refuse so to do till God shall explain to us how
he has brought this effect to pass, or why he has made use of such and
such means in doing it. These texts are enough to cause us, with
trembling, to forbear such a way of proceeding in judging of a work of
God has not taken that course, nor made use of those means, to begin
and carry on this great work, which men in their wisdom would have
thought most advisable, if he had asked their counsel; but quite the
contrary. But it appears to me that the great God has wrought like
himself, in the manner of his carrying on this work; so as very much to
show his own glory, exalt his own sovereignty, power, and
all-sufficiency. He has poured contempt on all that human
strength, wisdom, prudence, and sufficiency which men have been wont to
trust, and to glory in; so as greatly to cross, rebuke, and chastise
the pride and other corruptions of men;
the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men
shall be made low, and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.”
God doth thus, in intermingling in his providence so many
stumbling-blocks with this work; in suffering so much of human weakness
and infirmity to appear; and in ordering so many things that are
mysterious to men’s wisdom; in pouring out his Spirit chiefly on the
common people, and bestowing his greatest and highest favours upon
them, admitting them nearer to himself than the great, the honourable,
the rich, and the learned; agreeable to that prophecy,
God in this work has begun at the lower end, and he has made use of the weak and foolish things of the world to carry it on. Some of the ministers chiefly employed, have been mere babes in age and standing; and some of them not so high in reputation among their brethren as many others; and God has suffered their infirmities to appear in the sight of others, so as much to displease them; and at the same time it has pleased God greatly to succeed them, while he has not so succeeded others who are generally reputed vastly their superiors. Yea, there is reason to think that it has pleased God to make use of the infirmities of some, particularly their imprudent zeal, and censorious spirit, to chastise the deadness, negligence, earthly-mindedness, and vanity found among ministers in the late times of declension and deadness, wherein wise virgins and foolish, ministers and people, have sunk into a deep sleep. These things in ministers of the gospel, that go forth as the ambassadors of Christ, and have the 367care of immortal souls, are extremely abominable to God, vastly more hateful in his sight than all the imprudence and intemperate heats, wildness and distraction (as some call it) of these zealous preachers. A supine carelessness, and a vain, carnal, worldly spirit in a minister of the gospel, is the worst madness and distraction in the sight of God. God may also make use at this day of the unchristian censoriousness of some preachers, the more to humble and purify some of his children and true servants that have been wrongfully censured, to fit them for more eminent service and future honour.
SECTION II. We should judge by Scripture.
We should judge by the rule of Scripture.
Another foundation-error of those who do not acknowledge the divinity of this work is, not taking the Holy Scriptures as whole, and in itself a sufficient rule to judge of such things by. They who have one certain consistent rule to judge by, are like to come to some clear determination; but they who have a dozen different rules, instead of justly and clearly determining, do but perplex and darken themselves and others. They who would learn the true measure of any thing, and will have many different measures to try it by, have a task that they will not accomplish.—Those of whom I am speaking will indeed make some use of Scripture, so far as they think it serves their turn, but do not make use of it alone as a rule sufficient by itself, but make as much and a great deal more use of other things, diverse and wide from it, by which to judge of this work. For,
1. Some make philosophy, instead of the Holy Scriptures, their rule of judging of this work; particularly the philosophical notions they entertain of the nature of the soul, its faculties and affections. Some are ready to say, “There is but little sober solid religion in this work; it is little else but flash and noise. Religion now all runs out into transports and high flights of the passions and affections.” In their philosophy, the affections of the soul are something diverse from the will, and not appertaining to the noblest part of the soul. They are ranked among the meanest principles that belong to men as partaking of animal nature, and what he has in common with the brute creation, rather than any thing whereby he is conformed to angels and pure spirits. And though they acknowledge that a good use may be made of the affections in religion, yet they suppose that the substantial part of religion does not consist in them, but that they are something adventitious and accidental in Christianity.
But these gentlemen, I cannot but think, labour under great mistakes, both in their philosophy and divinity. It is true; distinction must be made in the affections or passions. There is a great deal of difference in high and raised affections, which must be distinguished by the skill of the observer. Some are much more solid than others. There are many exercises of the affections that are very flashy, and little to be depended on; and oftentimes a great deal appertains to them, or rather is the effect of them, that has its seat in animal nature, and is very much owing to the constitution and frame of the body; and that which sometimes more especially obtains the name of passion, is nothing solid or substantial. But it is false philosophy to suppose this to be the case with all exercises of affection in the soul, or with all great and high affections; and false divinity to suppose that religious affections do not appertain to the substance and essence of Christianity. On the contrary, it seems to me that the very life and soul of all true religion consists in them.
I humbly conceive that the affections of the soul are not properly distinguished from the will, as though they were two faculties. All Acts of the affections are in some sense acts of the will, and all the acts of the will are acts of the affections. All Exercises of the will are, in some degree or other, exercises of the soul’s appetition or aversion; or which is the same thing, of its love or hatred. The soul wills one thing rather than another, or chooses one thing rather than another, no otherwise than as it loves one thing more than another; but love and hatred are affections of the soul. Therefore all acts of the will are truly acts of the affections; though the exercises of the will do not obtain the name of passions, unless the will either in its aversion or opposition, be exercised in a high degree, or in a vigorous and lively manner—All will allow that true virtue or holiness has its seat chiefly in the heart, rather than in the head. It therefore follows, from what has been said already, that it consists chiefly in holy affections. The things of religion take place in men’s hearts, no further than they are affected with them. The informing of the understanding is all vain, any farther than it affects the heart, or, which is the same thing, has influence on the affections.
Those gentlemen, who make light of these raised affections in religion, will doubtless allow that true religion and holiness, as it has its seat in the heart, is capable of very high degrees, and high exercises in the soul. For instance, they will probably allow, that the holiness of the heart or will is capable of being raised to a hundred times as great a degree of strength as it is in the most eminent saint on earth, or to be exerted in a hundred times so vigorous exercises of the heart; and yet be true religion or holiness still. Now therefore I would ask them, by what name they will call these high and vigorous exercises of the will or heart? Are they not high affections? What can they consist in, but in high acts of love; strong and vigorous exercises of benevolence and complacence; high, exalting, and admiring thoughts of God and his perfections; strong desires after God, &c.?—And now, what are we come to but high and raised affections? Yea, those very affections that before they objected against, as worthy of little regard?
All will allow that there is nothing but solid religion in heaven; but there, holiness is raised to an exceeding great height, to strong, high, exalted exercises of heart. Now, what other strong and high exercises, or of holiness as it has its seat in their hearts, can we devise for them, but holy affections, high degrees of actings of love to God, rejoicing in God, admiration of God, &c.?—Therefore these things in the saints and angels in heaven are not to be despised and cashiered by the name of great heats and transports of the passions.—And it will doubtless be yet further allowed, that the more eminent the saints are on earth, the stronger their grace, and the higher its exercises are, the more they are like the saints in heaven, i. e. (by what has been just now observed,) the more they have of high or raised affections in religion.
Though there are false affections in religion, and in some respects raised high; yet undoubtedly there are also true, holy, and solid affections; and the higher these are raised, the better. And, when they are raised to an exceeding great height, they are not to be suspected merely because of their degree, but on the contrary to be esteemed. Charity, or divine love, is in Scripture represented as the sum of all the religion of the heart; but this is only a holy affection. And therefore, in proportion as this is firmly fixed in the soul, and raised to a great height, the more eminent a person is in holiness. Divine love or charity is represented as the sum of all the religion of heaven, and that wherein mainly the religion of the church in its more perfect state on earth shall consist, when knowledge, and tongues, and prophesyings shall cease; and therefore the higher this holy affection is raised in the church of God, or in a gracious soul, the more excellent and perfect is the state of the church, or a particular soul.
If we take the Scriptures for our rule, then the greater and higher our exercises of love to God, delight and complacency in him, desires and longings after him, delight in his children, love to mankind, brokenness of heart, abhorrence of sin, and self-abhorrence for it; the more we have of the peace of God which passeth all understanding, and joy in the Holy Ghost, unspeakable and full of glory; the higher our admiring thoughts of God, exulting and glorying in him; so much the higher is Christ’s religion, or that virtue which he and his apostles taught, raised in the soul.
is a stumbling to some, that religious affections should seem to be so
powerful, or that they should be so violent, (as they express it,) in
some persons. They are therefore ready to doubt whether it can be the
Spirit of God; or, whether this vehemence be not rather a sign of
368the operation of an evil spirit. But why
should such a doubt arise? What is represented in Scripture as more
powerful in its effects than the Spirit of God? Which is therefore
called “the power of the Highest,”
But if it were in multiplied instances (which I do not suppose it is) that persons received a lasting wound to their health by extraordinary religious impressions made upon their minds, yet it is too much for us to determine that God shall never bring an outward calamity, in bestowing a vastly greater spiritual and eternal good. Jacob in doing his duty in wrestling with God for the blessing, and even at the same time that he received the blessing from God, suffered a great outward calamity from his hand. God gave him the blessing, but sent him away halting on his thigh, and he went lame all his life after. And yet this is not mentioned as if it were any diminution of the great mercy of God to him, when God blessed him, and he received his name Israel, because as a prince he had power with God, and had prevailed.
say some, The operations of the Spirit of God are of a benign nature;
nothing is of a more kind influence on human nature than the merciful
breathings of God’s own Spirit. But it has been generally supposed and
allowed in the church of God, till now, that there is such a thing as
being sick of love to Christ, or having the bodily strength weakened by
strong and vigorous exercises of love to him. And however kind to human
nature the influences of the Spirit of God
are, yet nobody doubts but that divine and eternal things, as they may
be discovered, would overpower the nature of man in its present weak
state; and that therefore the body, in its weakness, is not fitted for
the views, and pleasures, and employments of heaven. Were God to
discover but a little of that which is seen by saints and angels in
heaven, our frail natures would sink under it. Let us rationally
consider what we profess to believe of the infinite greatness of divine
glory, the divine infinite love and grace in Jesus Christ, and the
infinite importance of eternal things; and then how reasonable it is to
suppose, that if God a little withdraw the veil, to let light into the
soul—and give a view of the great things of another world in their
transcendent and infinite greatness—that human nature, which is as the
grass, a shaking leaf, a weak withering flower, should totter under
such a discovery! Such a bubble is too weak to bear a weight so vast.
Alas! What is
man that he should support himself under a view of the awful wrath or
infinite glory and love of jehovah! No wonder therefore that it is
is pleased sometimes, in dealing forth spiritual blessings to his
people, in some respects to exceed the capacity of the vessel in its
present scantiness; so that he not only fills it, but makes their cup
to run over;
We cannot determine that God never shall give any person so much of a discovery of himself, not only as to weaken their bodies, but to take away their lives. It is supposed by very learned and judicious divines, that Moses’ life was taken away after this manner; and this has also been supposed to be the case with some other saints. Yea, I do not see any solid sure grounds any have to determine, that God shall never make strong impressions on the mind by his Spirit, that shall be an occasion of so impairing the frame of the body, that persons shall be deprived of the use of reason. As I said before, it is too much for us to determine that God will not bring an outward calamity in bestowing spiritual and eternal blessings; so it is too much for us to determine how great an outward calamity he will bring. If God gives a great increase of discoveries of himself, and of love to him, the benefit is infinitely greater than the calamity, thought the life should presently after be taken away; yea, though the soul should lie for years in a deep sleep, and then be taken to heaven: or, which is much the same thing, if it be deprived of the use of its faculties, and be as inactive and unserviceable, as if it lay in a deep sleep for some years, and then should pass into glory. We cannot determine how great a calamity distraction is, considered with all its consequences; and all that might have been consequent if the distraction had not happened; nor indeed whether, thus considered, it be any calamity at all, or whether it be not a mercy, by preventing some great sin, &c. It is a great fault in us to limit a sovereign all-wise God, whose judgements are a great deep, and his ways past finding out, where he has not limited himself, and in things concerning which he has not told us what his way shall be. It is remarkable, considering in what multitudes of instances, and to how great a degree, the frame of the body has been overpowered of late, that persons’ lives have, notwithstanding, been preserved. The instances of those who have been deprived of reason, have been very few, and those, perhaps all of them, persons under the peculiar disadvantage of a weak, vaporous habit of body. A merciful and careful divine hand is very manifest in it that the ship, though in so many instances it has begun to sink, yet has been upheld, and has not totally sunk. The instances of such as have been deprived of reason are so few, that certainly they are not enough to cause alarm, as though this work was like to be of baneful influence; unless we are disposed to gather up all that we can to darken it, and set it forth in frightful colours.
is one particular kind of exercise by which many have been overpowered,
that has been especially stumbling to some: and that is, their deep
distress for the souls of others. I am sorry that any put us to the
trouble of defending such a thing as this. It seems like mere trifling
in so plain a case, to enter into a particular debate, in order to
determine whether there be any thing in the greatness and importance of
the case that will bear a proportion to the
greatness of the concern manifested. Men may be allowed, from no higher
a principle than common humanity, to be very deeply concerned, and
greatly exercised in mind, at seeing others in great danger of, or
being burnt up in a house on fire. And it will be allowed to be equally
reasonable, if they saw them in danger of a calamity ten times greater,
to be still much more concerned; and so much more still, if the
calamity was still vastly greater. Why then should it be thought
looked on with a suspicious eye, as if it must come from some bad
cause, when persons are extremely concerned at seeing others in a very
great danger of suffering the fierceness and wrath of almighty God to
all eternity? Besides, it will doubtless be allowed that those who have
great degrees of the Spirit of God, which is a Spirit of love, may well
be supposed to have vastly more love and compassion to their
fellow-creatures, than those who are influenced only by common
humanity. Why should it
be thought strange that those who are full of the Spirit of Christ
should be proportionally, in their love to souls, like to Christ? He
had so strong a love and concern for them, as to be willing to drink
the dregs of the cup of God’s fury; and, at the same time that he
offered up his blood for souls, he offered up also, as their high
priest, strong crying and tears, with an extreme agony, wherein the
soul of Christ was as it were in travail for the souls of the elect;
and therefore, in saving
them, he is said to see of the travail of his soul. As such a spirit of
love and concern for souls was the spirit of Christ, so it is that of
the church. Therefore the church, in desiring and seeking that Christ
might be brought forth in the souls of men, is represented,
III. Another thing that some make their rule to judge of this work by, instead of the Holy Scriptures, is history, or former observation. Herein they err two ways:
If there be any thing extraordinary in the circumstances of this work,
which was not observed in former times, theirs is a rule to reject this
work which God has not given them, and they limit God, where he has not
limited himself. And this is especially unreasonable in this case: for
whosoever has well weighed the wonderful and mysterious methods of
divine wisdom in carrying on the work of redemption, from the first
promise of the seed of woman to this time—may
easily observe that it has all along been God’s manner to open new
scenes, and to bring forth to view things new and wonderful—such as eye
had not seen, nor ear heard, nor entered into the heart of man or
angels—to the astonishment of heaven and earth, not only in the
revelations he makes of his mind and will, but also in the works of his
hands. As the old creation was carried on through six days, and
appeared all complete, settled in a state of rest, on the seventh; so
the new creation, which
is immensely the greatest and most glorious work, is carried on in a
gradual progress, from the fall of man, to the consummation of all
things. And as in the progress of the old creation, there were still
new things accomplished; new wonders every day in the sight of the
angels, the spectators of that work—while those morning-stars sang
together, new scenes were opened, till the whole was finished—so it is
in the progress of the new creation. So that that promise,
Besides, those things in this work, which have been chiefly complained of as new, are not so new as has been generally imagined. Though they have been much 370more frequently lately, in proportion to the uncommon degree, extent, and swiftness, and other extraordinary circumstances, of the work, yet they are not new in their kind; but are of the same nature as have been found, and well approved of, in the church of God before, from time to time.—We have a remarkable instance in Mr. Bolton, that noted minister of the church of England, who after being awakened by the preaching of the famous Mr. Perkins, minister of Christ in the university of Cambridge, was the subject of such terrors as threw him to the ground, and caused him to roar with anguish. The pangs of the new birth in him were such, that he lay pale and without sense, like one dead; as we have an account in the fulfillment of the Scripture, the 5th edition, p. 103, 104. We have an account in the same page of another, whose comforts under the sun-shine of God’s presence were so great, that he could not forbear crying out in a transport, and expressing in exclamations the great sense he had of forgiving mercy and his assurance of God’s love. And we have a remarkable instance, in the life of Mr. George Trosse, written by himself, (who, of a notoriously vicious profligate liver, became an eminent saint and minister of the gospel,) of terrors occasioned by awakenings of conscience, so overpowering the body, as to deprive him, for some time, of the use of reason.
Yea, such extraordinary external effects of inward impressions have not been found merely in here and there a single person, but there have been times wherein many have been thus affected, in some particular parts of the church of God; and such effects have appeared in congregations, in many at once. So it was in the year 1625, in the west of Scotland, on a time of great outpouring of the Spirit of God. It was then a frequent thing for many to be so extraordinarily seized with terror in hearing the word, by the Spirit of God convincing them of sin, that they fell down, and were carried out of the church, and they afterwards proved most solid and lively Christians; as the author of the Fulfilling of the Scripture informs us, p. 185. The same author in the preceding page, informs of many in France that were so wonderfully affected with the preaching of the gospel, in the time of those famous divines Farel and Viret, that for a time they could not follow their secular business: and, p. 186. of many in Ireland, in a time of great outpouring of the Spirit there, in the year 1628, that were so filled with divine comforts, and a sense of God, that they made but little use of either meat, drink, or sleep; and professed that they did not feel the need thereof. The same author gives a similar account of Mrs. Katharine Brettergh, of Lancashire, in England, (p. 391, 392.) After great distress, which very much affected her body, God did so break in upon her mind with light and discoveries of himself, that she was forced to burst out, crying, “O the joys, the joys, the joys that I feel in my soul! O they be wonderful, they be wonderful! The place where I now am is sweet and pleasant! How comfortable is the sweetness I feel, that delights my soul! The taste is precious; do you not feel it? Oh so sweet as it is!” And at other times, “O my sweet Saviour, shall I be one with thee, as thou art one with the Father? And dost thou so love me that am but dust, to make me partaker of glory with Christ? O how wonderful is thy love! And O that my tongue and heart were able to sound forth they praises as I ought!” At another time she burst forth thus; “Yea, Lord, I feel thy mercy, and I am assured of thy love! And so certain am I thereof, as thou art that God of truth; even so certainly do I know myself to be thine, O Lord my God; and this my soul knoweth right well!” Which last words she again doubled. To a grave minister, one Mr. Harrison, then with her, she said, “My soul hath been compassed with the terrors of death, the sorrows of hell were upon me, and a wilderness of woe was in me; but blessed, blessed, blessed be the Lord my God! He hath brought me to a place of rest, even to the sweet running waters of life. The way I now go in is a sweet and easy way, strewed with flowers; he hath brought me into a place more sweet than the Garden of Eden, O the joy, the joy, the delights and joy that I feel! O how wonderful!”
Great outcries under awakenings were more frequently heard of in former times in the country than they have been of late, as some aged persons now living do testify: particularly I think fit here to insert a testimony of my honoured father, of what he remembers formerly to have heard.—“I well remember that one Mr. Alexander Allen, a Scots gentleman of good credit, that dwelt formerly in this town, showed me a letter that came from Scotland, that gave an account of a sermon preached in the city of Edinburgh (as I remember) in the time of the sitting of the general assembly of divines in that kingdom, that so affected the people, that there was a great and loud cry made throughout the assembly. I have also been credibly informed, and how often I cannot now say, that it was a common thing, when the famous Mr. John Rogers of Dedham, in England, was preaching, for some of his hearers to cry out; and, by what I have heard, I conclude that it was usual for many that heard that very awakening and rousing preacher of God’s word, to make a great cry in the congregation.
Windsor, May 5, 1742
Mr. Flavel gives a remarkable instance of a man whom he knew, that was wonderfully overcome with divine comforts; which it is supposed he knew, as the apostle Paul knew the man that was caught up to the third heaven. He relates, that “As the person was travelling alone, with his thoughts closely fixed on the great and astonishing things of another world, his thoughts began to swell higher and higher, like the water in Ezekiel’s vision, till at last they became an overflowing flood. Such was the intenseness of his mind, such the ravishing tastes of heavenly joys, and such his full assurance of his interest therein, that he utterly lost all sight and sense of this world, and the concernments thereof; and for some hours knew not where he was, nor what he was about; but, having lost a great quantity of blood at the nose, he found himself so faint, that it brought him a little more to himself. And after he had washed himself at a spring, and drank of the water for his refreshment, he continued to the end of his journey, which was thirty miles; and all this while was scarce sensible: and says, he had several trances of considerable continuance. The same blessed frame was preserved all that night, and, in a lower degree, great part of the next day; the night passed without one wink of sleep; and yet he declares he never had a sweeter night’s rest in all his life. Still, adds the story, the joy of the Lord overflowed him, and he seemed to be an inhabitant of another world. And he used for many years after to call that day one of the days of heaven; and professed that he understood more of the life of heaven by it, than by all the books he ever read, or discourses he ever entertained about it.”
There have been instances before now, of persons crying out in transports of divine joy in New England. We have an instance in Capt. Clap’s memoirs, (published by the Rev. Mr. Prince,) not of a silly woman or child, but a man of solid understanding, that, in a high transport of spiritual joy, was made to cry out aloud on his bed. His words, p. 9. are, “God’s Holy Spirit did witness (I do believe) together with my spirit, that I was a child of God; and did fill my heart and soul with such full assurance that Christ was mine, that it did so transport me, as to make me cry out upon my bed, with a loud voice, He is come, he is come!”
There has, before now, been both crying out and falling, even in this town, under awakenings of conscience, and in the pangs of the new birth; and also in once of the neighbouring towns, more than seven years ago, a great number together cried out and fell down under conviction; and in most of whom there was an abiding good issue. And the Rev. Mr. Williams of Deerfield gave me an account of an aged man in that town, many years before that, who being awakened by his preaching cried out aloud in the congregation. There have been many instances, before now, of persons in this town fainting with joyful discoveries made to their souls, and once several together. And there have been several instances here of persons waxing cold and benumbed, with their hands clinched, yea, and their bodies in convulsions, being overpowered with a strong sense of the astonishingly great and excellent things of God and the eternal world. 371
Secondly, Another way that some err in making history and former observation their rule instead of the Holy Scripture, is in comparing some external, accidental circumstances of this work, with what has appeared sometimes in enthusiasts. They find an agreement in some such things, and so they reject the whole work, or at least the substance of it, concluding it to be enthusiasm. Great use has been made to this purpose of many things that are found amongst the Quakers; however totally and essentially different in its nature this work is, and the principles upon which it is built, from the whole religion of the Quakers. To the same purpose, some external appearances that were found amongst the French prophets, and other enthusiasts in former times, have been of late trumped up with great assurance and triumph.
IV. I would propose it to be considered, whether or no some, instead of making the Scriptures their only rule to judge of this work, do not make their own experience the rule, and reject such and such things as are now professed and experienced, because they themselves never felt them. Are there not many, who, chiefly on this ground, have entertained and vented suspicions, if not peremptory condemnations, of those extreme terrors, and those great, sudden, and extraordinary discoveries of the glorious perfections of God, and of the beauty and love of Christ? Have they not condemned such vehement affections, such high transports of love and joy, such pity and distress for the souls of others, and exercises of mind that have such great effects, merely, or chiefly, because they knew nothing about them by experience? Persons are very ready to be suspicious of what they have not felt themselves. It is to be feared that many good men have been guilty of this error, which however does not make it the less unreasonable. And perhaps there are some who upon this ground do not only reject these extraordinary things, but all such conviction of sin, discoveries of the glory of God, excellency of Christ, and inward conviction of the truth of the gospel, by the immediate influence of the Spirit of God, now supposed to be necessary to salvation.—These persons who thus make their own experiences their rule of judgement, instead of bowing to the wisdom of God, and yielding to his word as an infallible rule, are guilty of casting a great reflection upon the understanding of the Most High.
SECTION III. We should not judge of the whole by a part.
We should distinguish the good from the bad, and not judge of the whole by a part.
Another foundation-error of those who reject this work, is, their not duly distinguishing the good from the bad, and very unjustly judging of the whole by a part; and so rejecting the work in general, or in the main substance of it, for the sake of some accidental evil in it. They look for more in men because subject to the operations of a good spirit, than is justly to be expected from them for that reason, in this imperfect state, where so much blindness and corruption remains in the best. When any profess to have received light and comforts from heaven, and to have had sensible communion with God, many are ready to expect that now they appear like angels, and not still like poor, feeble, blind, and sinful worms of the dust. There being so much corruption left in the hearts of God’s own children, and its prevailing as it sometimes does, is indeed a mysterious thing, and always was a stumbling-block to the world; but will not be so much wondered at by those who are well versed in, and duly mindful of, two things, viz. First, The word of God, which teaches the state of true Christians in this world; and, Secondly, Their own hearts, at least if they have any grace, and have experience of its conflicts with corruption. True saints are the most inexcusable, in making a great difficulty of much blindness and many sinful errors in those who profess godliness. If all our conduct, both open and secret, should be known, and our hearts laid open to the world; how should we be even ready to flee from the light of the sun, and hide ourselves from the view of mankind! And what great allowance would we need that others should make for us? Perhaps much greater than we are willing to make for others.
The great weakness of the greater part of mankind, in any affair that is new and uncommon, appears in not distinguishing, but either approving or condemning all in the lump. They who highly approve of the affair in general, cannot bear to have any thing at all found fault with; and, on the other hand, those who fasten their eyes upon some things in the affair that are amiss, and appear very disagreeable to them, at once reject the whole. Both which errors oftentimes arise from the want of persons having a due acquaintance with themselves. It is rash and unjust when we proceed thus in judging either of a particular person, or a people. Many, if they see any thing very ill in a particular person, a minister or private professor, will at once brand him as a hypocrite. And, if there be two or three of a people or society that behave themselves very irregularly, the whole must bear the blame of it. And if there be a few, though it may not be above one in a hundred, that professed, and had a show of being the happy partakers of what are called they saying benefits of this work, but afterwards give the world just grounds to suspect them, the whole work must be rejected on their account; and those in general, that make the like profession, must be condemned for their sakes.
So careful are some persons lest this work should be defended, that now they will hardly allow that the influences of the Spirit of God on the heart can so much as indirectly, and accidentally, be the occasion of the exercise of corruption, and the commission of sin. Thus far is true, that the influence of the Spirit of God in his saving operations will not be an occasion of increasing the corruption of the heart in general; but on the contrary of weakening it: but yet there is nothing unreasonable in supposing, that, at the same time that it weakens corruption in general, it may be an occasion of turning what is left into a new channel. There may be more of some kinds of the exercise of corruption than before; as that which tends to stop the course of a stream, if it do it not wholly, may give a new course to so much of the water as gets by the obstacle. The influences of the Spirit, for instance, may be an occasion of new ways of the exercise of pride, as has been acknowledged by orthodox divines in general. That spiritual discoveries and comforts may, through the corruption of the heart, be an occasion of the exercise of spiritual pride, was not used to be doubted, till now it is found to be needful to maintain the war against this work.
They who will hardly allow that a work of the Spirit of God can be a remote occasion of any sinful behaviour or unchristian conduct, I suppose will allow that the truly gracious influences of the Spirit of God, yea, and a high degree of love to God, is consistent with these two things, viz. A considerable degree of remaining corruption, and also many errors in judgment in matters of religion. And this is all that need to be allowed, in order to its being most demonstratively evident, that a high degree of love to God may accidentally move a person to that which is very contrary to the mind and will of God. For a high degree of love to God will strongly move a person to do that which he believes to be agreeable to God’s will; and therefore, if he be mistaken, and be persuaded that that is agreeable to the ill of God, which indeed is very contrary to it, then his love will accidentally, but strongly, incline him to that, which is indeed very contrary to the will of God.—They who are studied in logic have learned, that the nature of the cause is not to be judged of by the nature of the effect, not the nature of the effect from the nature of the cause, when the cause is only causa sine qua num, or an occasional cause; yea, that, in such a case, oftentimes the nature of the effect is quite contrary to the nature of the cause.
disciples of Christ may have a great deal of false zeal, such as the
disciples had of old, when they would have fire called for from heaven
to come down on the Samaritans, because they did not receive them. And
even so eminently holy, and great, and divine a saint as Moses—who
conversed with God as a man speaks with his friend, and concerning whom
God gives his testimony, that he was very meek, above any man upon the
face of the earth—
372may be rash and
sinful in his zeal, when his spirit is stirred by the hard-heartedness
and opposition of others. He may speak very unadvisedly with his lips,
and greatly offend God, and shut himself out from the possession of the
good things that God is about to accomplish for his church on earth; as
Moses was excluded Canaan, though he had brought the people out of
It surely cannot be wondered at by considerate persons, when multitudes all over the land have their affections greatly moved, that great numbers should run into many errors and mistakes with respect to their duty, and consequently, into many practices that are imprudent and irregular. I question whether there be a man in New England, of the strongest reason and greatest learning, but what would be put to it to keep master of himself, thoroughly to weigh his words, and to consider all the consequences of his behaviour, so as to conduct himself in all respects prudently, if he were so strongly impressed with a sense of divine and eternal things, and his affections so exceedingly moved, as has been frequent of late among the common people. How little do they consider human nature, who look upon it so insuperable a stumbling-block, when such multitudes of all kinds of capacities, natural tempers, educations, customs, and manners of life, are so greatly and variously affected, that imprudences and irregularities of conduct should abound; especially in a state of things so uncommon, and when the degree, extent, swiftness, and power of the operation is so very extraordinary, and so new, that there has not been time and experience enough to give birth to rules for people’s conduct, and the writings of divines do not afford rules to direct us in such a state of things!
great deal of noise and tumult, confusion and uproar, darkness mixed
with light, and evil with good, is always to be expected in the
beginning of something very glorious in the state of things in human
society, or the church of God. After nature has long been shut up in a
cold dead state, when the sun returns in the spring, there is, together
with the increase of the light and heat of the sun, very tempestuous
weather, before all is settled calm and serene, and all
nature rejoices in its bloom and beauty. It is in the new creation as
it was in the old; the Spirit of God first moved upon the face of the
waters, which was an occasion of great uproar and tumult. Things were
then gradually brought to a settled state, till at length all stood
forth in that beautiful, peaceful order, when the heavens and the earth
were finished, and God saw every thing that he had made, and behold it
was very good. When God is about to bring to pass something great and
in the world, nature is in a ferment and struggle, and the world as it
were in travail. When God was about to introduce the Messiah into the
world, and a new, glorious dispensation, he shook the heavens and the
earth, and he shook all nations. There is nothing that the church of
God is in Scripture more frequently represented by than vegetables; as
a tree, a vine, corn, &c. which gradually bring forth their fruit,
and are first green before they are ripe. A great revival of religion
expressly compared to this gradual production of vegetables,
weakness of human nature has always appeared in times of great revival
of religion, by a disposition to run to extremes, and get into
confusion; and especially in these three things, enthusiasm,
superstition, and intemperate zeal. So it appeared in the time of the
reformation very remarkably, and even in the days of the apostles. Many
were exceedingly disposed to lay weight on those things that were very
chimerical, giving heed to fables, (
If we look over this affair, and seriously weigh it in its circumstances, it will appear a matter of no great difficulty to account for the errors that have been gone into, supposing the work in general to be from a very great outpouring of the Spirit of God. It may easily be accounted for, that many have run into just such errors as they have. It is known that some who have been great instruments to promote this work were very young. They were newly awaked out of sleep, and brought out of that state of darkness, insensibility, and spiritual death, in which they had been ever since they were born. A new and wonderful scene opens to them; and they have in view the reality, the vastness, the infinite importance, and nearness of spiritual and eternal things; and at the same time are surprised to see the world asleep about them. They have not the advantage of age and experience, and have had but little opportunity to study divinity, or to converse with aged experienced Christians and divines. How natural is it then for such to fall into many errors with respect to the state of mankind, with which they are so surprised, and with respect to the means and methods of their relief? Is it any wonder that they have not at once learned how to make allowances, and that they do not at once find out that method of dealing with the world, which is adapted to the mysterious state and nature of mankind? Is it any wonder that they cannot at once foresee the consequences of things, what evils are to be guarded against, and what difficulties are like to arise?
We have been long in a strange stupor: The influences of the Spirit of God upon the heart have been but little felt, and the nature of them but little taught; so that they are in many respects new to great numbers of those who have lately fallen under them. And is it any wonder that they who never before had experience of the supernatural influence of the Divine spirit upon their souls, and never were instructed in the nature of these influences, do not so well know how to distinguish one extraordinary new impression from another, and so (to themselves insensibly) run into enthusiasm, taking every strong impulse or impression to be divine? How natural is it to suppose, that among the multitudes of illiterate people who find themselves so wonderfully changed, and brought into such new circumstances, many should pass wrong and very strange judgments of both persons and things about them! Now they behold them in a new light, and in their surprise they go further from the judgment that they were wont to make of them than they ought, and, in their great change of sentiments, pass from one extreme to another. And shy should it be thought strange, that those who scarce ever heard of any such thing as an outpouring of the Spirit of God before; or, if they did, had no notion of it; do not know how to behave themselves in such a new and strange state of things? And is it any wonder that they are ready to hearken to those who have instructed them, who have been the means of delivering them from such a state of death and misery as they were in before, or have a name for being the happy instruments of promoting the same work among others? Is it unaccountable that persons in these circumstances are ready to receive every thing they say, and to drink down error as well as truth from them? And why should there be all indignation, and no compassion, towards those who are thus misled?
These persons are extraordinarily affected with a new sense, and recent discovery, of the greatness and excellency of the Divine Being, the certainty and infinite importance of eternal things, the preciousness of souls, and the dreadful danger and madness of mankind, together with a great sense of God’s distinguishing kindness and love to them. Is it any wonder that now they think they must exert themselves, and do something extraordinary for the honour of God and the good of souls? They know not how to sit still, and forbear speaking and acting with uncommon earnestness and vigour. And in these circumstances, if they be not persons of more than common steadiness and discretion, or have not some person of wisdom to direct them, it is a wonder if they do not proceed without due caution, and do things that are irregular, and that will, in the issue, do much more hurt than good.
Censuring others is the worst disease with which this affair has been attended. But this is indeed a time of great temptation to this sinful error. When there has been a long-continued deadness, and many are brought out of a state of nature in so extraordinary a manner, and filled with such uncommon degrees of light, it is natural for such to form their notions of a state of grace wholly from what they experience. Many of them know no other way; for they never have been taught much about a state of grace, the different degrees of grace, and the degrees of darkness and corruption with which grace is compatible, nor concerning the manner of the influences of the Spirit in converting a soul, and the variety of the manner of his operations. They therefore forming their idea of a state of grace only by their own experience, no wonder that it appears an insuperable difficulty to them to reconcile such a state, professors about them. It is indeed in itself a very great mystery, that grace should be compatible with so much and such kind of corruption as sometimes prevails in the truly godly; and no wonder that it especially appears so to uninstructed new converts, who have been converted in an extraordinary manner.
censoriousness is very sinful, and is most commonly found in hypocrites
and persons of a pharisaical spirit, yet it is not so inconsistent with
true godliness as some imagine. We have remarkable instances of it in
those holy men of whom we have an account in the book of Job. Not only
were Job’s three friends, who seem to have been eminently holy men,
guilty of it, in very unreasonably censuring the best man on earth—very
positively determining that he was an
unconverted man—but Job himself, who was not only a man of true piety,
but excelled all men in piety, and particularly excelled in an humble,
meek, and patient spirit, was guilty of bitterly censuring his three
friends, as wicked, vile hypocrites,
Thus, I think, the errors and irregularities that attend this work may be accounted for, from the consideration of the infirmity and common corruption of mankind, together with the circumstances of the work, though we should suppose it to be the work of God. And it would not be a just objection in any to say, if these powerful impressions and great affections are from the Spirit give strength of understanding and capacity in proportion, to those persons who are the subjects of them; so that strong affections may not, through their error, drive them to an irregular and sinful conduct? I do not know that God has anywhere obliged himself to do it. The end of the influences of God’s Spirit is, to make men spiritually wise to salvation, which is the most excellent wisdom; and he has also appointed means for our gaining such degrees of other knowledge as we need, to conduct ourselves regularly, which means should be carefully used. But the end of the influence of the Spirit of God is not to increase men’s natural capacities, nor has God obliged himself immediately to increase civil prudence in proportion to the degrees of spiritual light.
If we consider the errors that attend this work, not only as from man and his infirmity, but also as from God and by his permission and disposal, they are not strange, upon the supposition of its being, as to the substance of it, a work of God. If God intends this great revival of religion to be the dawning of a happy state of his church on earth, it may be an instance of the divine wisdom, in the beginning 374of it, to suffer so many irregularities and errors in conduct, to which he knew men in their present weak state were most exposed, under great religious affections, and when animated with great zeal. For it is very likely to be of excellent benefit to his church, in the continuance and progress of the work afterwards. Their experience, in the first setting out, of the mischievous consequences of these errors, and smarting for them in the beginning, may be a happy defence to them afterwards for many generations, from these errors, which otherwise they might continually be exposed to. As when David and all Israel went about to bring back the ark into the midst of the land, after it had been long absent, first in the land of the Philistines, and then in Kiriath-jearim, in the utmost borders of the land; they at first sought not the Lord after the due order, and they smarted for their error: but this put them upon studying the law, and more thoroughly acquainting themselves with the mind and will of God, and seeking and serving him with greater circumspection. The consequence was glorious, viz. Their seeking God in such a manner as was accepted of him. The ark of God ascended into the heights of Zion, with great and extraordinary rejoicings of the king and all the people, without any frown or rebuke from God intermixed; and God any frown or rebuke from God intermixed; and God dwelt thenceforward in the midst of the people for those glorious purposes expressed in the 66th Psalm.
It is very analogous to the manner of God’s dealing with his people, to permit a great deal of error, and suffer the infirmity of his people to appear, in the beginning of a glorious work of his grace, for their felicity, to teach them what they are, to humble them, and fit them for that glorious prosperity to which he is about to advance them, and the more to secure to himself the honour of such a glorious work. For, by man’s exceeding weakness appearing in the beginning of it, it is evident that God does not lay the foundation of it in man’s strength or wisdom.—And as we need not wonder at the errors that attend this work, if we look at the hand of men who are guilty of them, and the hand of God in permitting them: so neither shall we see cause to wonder if we consider them with regard to the hand that Satan has in them. For, as the work is much greater than any other that ever has been in New England; so, no wonder that the devil is more alarmed and enraged, that he exerts himself more vigorously against it, and more powerfully endeavours to tempt and mislead the subjects and promoters of it.
SECTION IV. Nature of the work.
The nature of the work in general.
Whatever imprudences there have been, and whatever sinful irregularities; whatever vehemence of the passions, and heats of the imagination, transports, and ecstasies: whatever error in judgment, and indiscreet zeal; and whatever outcries, faintings, and agitations of body; yet, it is manifest and notorious, that there has been of late a very uncommon influence upon the minds of a very great part of the inhabitants of New England, attended with the best effects. There has been a great increase of seriousness, and sober consideration of eternal things; a disposition to hearken to what is said of such things, with attention and solemnity, and as of great importance; to make these things the subject of conversation; to hear the word of God preached, and to take all opportunities in order to it; to attend on the public worship of God, and all external duties of religion, in a more solemn and decent manner; so that there is a remarkable and general alteration in the face of New England in these respects. Multitudes in all parts of the land, of vain, thoughtless, regardless persons, are quite changed, and become serious and considerate. There is a vast increase of concern for the salvation of the precious soul, and that inquiry, What shall I do to be saved? The hearts of multitudes had been greatly taken off from the things of the world, its profits, pleasures, and honours. Multitudes in all parts have had their consciences awakened, and have been made sensible of the pernicious nature and consequences of sin, and what a dreadful thing it is to be under guilt and the displeasure of God, and to live without peace and reconciliation with him. They have also been awakened to a sense of the shortness and uncertainty of life, and the reality of another world and future judgment, and of the necessity of an interest in Christ. They are more afraid of sin, more careful and inquisitive that they may avoid it, and what he requires of them, that they may do it, more careful to guard against temptations, more watchful over their own in the use of the means that God has appointed in his word, in order to salvation. Many very stupid, senseless sinners, and persons of a vain mind, have been greatly awakened.
There is a strange alteration almost all over New England amongst young people: by a powerful invisible influence on their minds, they have been brought to forsake, in a general way, as it were at once, those things of which they were extremely fond, and in which they seemed to place the happiness of their lives, and which nothing before could induce them to forsake; as their frolicking, vain company-keeping, night-walking, their mirth and jollity, their impure language, and lewd songs. In vain did ministers preach against those things before, in vain were laws made to restrain them, and in vain was all the vigilance of magistrates and civil officers; but now they have almost every where dropt them as it were of themselves. And there is great alteration amongst old and young as to drinking, tavern-haunting, profane speaking, and extravagance in apparel. Many notoriously vicious persons have been reformed, and become externally quite new creatures. Some that are wealthy, and of a fashionable, gay education; some great beaus and fine ladies, that seemed to have their minds swallowed up with nothing but the vain shows and pleasures of the world, have been wonderfully altered, have relinquished these vanities, and are become serious, mortified, and humble in their conversation. It is astonishing to see the alteration there is in some towns, where before there was but little appearance of religion or any thing but vice and vanity. And now they are transformed into another sort of people; their former vain, worldly, and vicious conversation and dispositions seem to be forsaken, and they are, as it were, gone over to a new world. Their thoughts, their talk, and their concern, affections, and inquiries are now about the favour of God, an interest in Christ, a renewed sanctified heart, and a spiritual blessedness, acceptance, and happiness in a future world.
Now, through the greatest part of New England, the holy Bible is in much greater esteem and use than before. The great things contained in it are much more regarded, as things contained in it are much more regarded, as things of the greatest consequence, and are much more the subjects of meditation and conversation; and other books of piety that have long been of established reputation, as the most excellent, and most tending to promote true godliness, have been abundantly more in use. The Lord’s day is more religiously and strictly observed. And much has been lately done at making up differences, confessing faults one to another, and making restitution; probably more within two years, than was done in thirty years before. It has been undoubtedly so in many places. And surprising has been the power of this spirit, in many instances, to destroy old grudges, to make up long-continued breaches, and to bring those who seemed to be in a confirmed irreconcilable alienation, to embrace each other in a sincere and entire amity. Great numbers under this influence have been brought to a deep sense of their own sinfulness and vileness; the sinfulness of their lives, the heinousness of their disregard of the authority of the great God, and of their living in contempt of a Saviour. They have lamented their former negligence of their souls, and their neglecting and losing precious time. The sins of their life have been extraordinarily set before them; and they have had a great sense of their hardness of heart, their enmity against that which is good, and proneness to all evil; and also of the worthlessness of their own religious performances, how unworthy of God’s regard were their prayers, praises, and all that they did in religion. It has been a common thing, that persons have had such a sense 375of their own sinfulness, that they have thought themselves to be the worst of all, and that none ever was so vile as they. And many seem to have been greatly convinced that they were utterly unworthy of any mercy at the hands of God, however miserable they were, and though they stood in extreme necessity of mercy; and that they deserved nothing but eternal burnings. They have been sensible that God would be altogether just and righteous in inflicting endless damnation upon them, at the same time that they have had an exceedingly affecting sense of the dreadfulness of such endless torments, and apprehended themselves to be greatly in danger of it. And many have been deeply affected with a sense of their own ignorance and blindness, and exceeding helplessness, and so of their extreme need of the divine pity and help.
Multitudes in New England have lately been brought to a new and great conviction of the truth and certainty of the things of the gospel; to a firm persuasion that Christ Jesus is the Son of God, and the great and only Saviour of the world; and that the great doctrines of the gospel touching reconciliation by his blood, and acceptance in his righteousness, and eternal life and salvation through him are matters of undoubted truth. They have had a most affecting sense of the excellency and sufficiency of this Saviour, and the glorious wisdom and grace of God shining in this way of salvation; and of the wonders of Christ’s dying love, and the sincerity of Christ in the invitations of the gospel. They have experienced a consequent affiance and sweet rest of soul in Christ, as a glorious Saviour, a strong rock and high tower; accompanied with an admiring and exalted apprehension of the glory of the divine perfections, God’s majesty, holiness, sovereign grace, &c.—with a sensible, strong, and sweet love to God, and delight in him, far surpassing all temporal delights, or earthly pleasures; and a rest of soul in him, as a portion and the fountain of all good. And this has been attended with an abhorrence of sin, and self-loathing for it, and earnest longings of soul after more holiness and conformity to God, with a sense of the great need of God’s help in order to holiness of life; together they have had a most dear love to all that are supposed to be the children of God, and a love to mankind in general, and a most sensible and tender compassion for the souls of sinners, and earnest desires of the advancement of Christ’s kingdom in the world. And these things have appeared with an abiding concern to live a holy life, and great complaints of remaining corruption, and a longing to be more free from the body of sin and death. And not only do these effects appear in converts, but great numbers of those who were formerly esteemed the most sober and pious people, have, under the influence of this work, been greatly quickened, and their hearts renewed with greater degrees of light, renewed repentance and humiliation, and more lively exercises of faith, love, and joy in the Lord. Many have been remarkably engaged to watch, and strive, and fight against sin; to cast out every idol, sell all for Christ, give up themselves entirely to God, and make a sacrifice of every worldly and carnal thing to the welfare and prosperity of their souls. And there has of late appeared in some places an unusual disposition to bind themselves to it in a solemn covenant with God. And now, instead of meetings at taverns and drinking-houses, and of young people in frolics and vain company, the country is full of meetings of all sorts and ages of persons—young and old, men, women, and little children—to read and pray, and sing praises, and to converse of the things of God and another world. In very many places the main of the conversation in all companies turns of religion, and things of a spiritual nature. Instead of vain mirth among young people, there is now either mourning under a sense of the guilt of sin, or holy rejoicing in Christ Jesus: and, instead of their lewd songs, there are now to be heard from them songs of praise to God, and the Lamb that was slain to redeem them by his blood. And there has been this alteration abiding on multitudes all over the land, for a year and a half, without any appearance of a disposition to return to former vice and vanity.
And, under the influences of this work, there have been many of the remains of those wretched people and dregs of mankind, the poor Indians, that seemed to be next to a state of brutality, and with whom, till now, it seemed to be to little more purpose to use endeavours for their instruction and awakening, than with the beasts. Their minds have now been strangely to receive instruction, and been deeply affected with the concerns of their precious souls; they have reformed their lives, and forsaken their former stupid, barbarous, and brutish way of living; and particularly that sin to which they have been so exceedingly addicted their drunkenness. Many of them to appearance brought truly and greatly to delight in the things of God, and to have their souls very much engaged and entertained with the great things of the gospel. And many of the poor Negroes also have been in like manner wrought upon and changed. Very many little children have been remarkably enlightened, and their hearts wonderfully affected and enlarged, and their mouths opened, expressing themselves in a manner far beyond their years, and to the just astonishment of those who have heard them. Some of them for many months, have been greatly and delightfully affected with the glory of divine things, and the excellency and love of the Redeemer, with their hearts greatly filled with love to and joy in him; and they have continued to be serious and pious in their behaviour.
The divine power of this work has marvelously appeared in some instances I have been acquainted with; in supporting and fortifying the heart under great trials, such as the death of children, and extreme pain of body; and in wonderfully maintaining the serenity, calmness, and joy of the soul, in an immovable rest in God, and sweet resignation to him. And some under the blessed influences of this work have, in a calm, bright, and joyful frame of mind, been carried through the valley of the shadow of death.
And now let us consider:—Is it not strange that in a Christian country, and such a land of light as this is, there are many at a loss to conclude whose work this is, whether the work of God or the work of the devil? Is it not a shame to New England that such a work should be much doubted of here? Need we look over the histories of all past times, to see if there be not some circumstances and external appearances that attend this work, which have been formerly found amongst enthusiasts? Whether the Montanists had not great transports of joy, and whether the French prophets had not agitations of body? Blessed be God! He does not put us to the toil of such inquiries. We need not say, Who shall ascend into heaven, to bring us down something whereby to judge of this work? Nor does God send us beyond the seas, nor into past ages, to obtain a rule near at hand, a sacred book that God himself has put into our hands, with clear and infallible marks, sufficient to resolve us in things of this nature; which book I think we must reject, not only in some particular passages, but in the substance of it, if we reject such a work as has now been described, as not being the work of God. The whole tenor of the gospel proves it; all the notion of religion that the Scripture gives us confirms it.
I suppose there is scarcely a minister in this land, but from Sabbath to Sabbath is used to pray that God would pour out his Spirit, and work a reformation and revival of religion in the country, and turn us from our intemperance, profaneness, uncleanness, worldliness, and other sins; and we have kept from year to year, days of public fasting and prayer to God, to acknowledge our backslidings, and humble ourselves for our sins, and to seek of God forgiveness and reformation: and now when so great and extensive a reformation is so suddenly and wonderfully accomplished, in those very things that we have sought to God for, shall we not acknowledge it? Or, do it with great coldness, caution, and reserve, and scarcely take any notice of it in our public prayers and praises, or mention it but slightly and cursorily, and in such a manner as carries an appearance as though we would contrive to say as little of it as ever we could, and were glad to pass from it? And that because the work is attended with a mixture of error, imprudences, darkness, and sin; because some persons are carried away with impressions, and are indiscreet, and too censorious with their zeal; and because there are high transports of religious affections; and some effects on their bodies of which we do not understand the reason.
SECTION V. Nature of the work in a particular instance.376
The nature of the work in a particular instance.
I have been particularly acquainted with many persons who have been the subjects of the high and extraordinary transports of the present day. But in the highest transports I have been acquainted with, and where the affections of admiration, love, and joy, so far as another could judge, have been raised to the highest pitch, the following things have been united, viz. A very frequent dwelling for some considerable time together, in views of the glory of the divine perfections and Christ’s excellencies; so that the soul has been as it were perfectly overwhelmed, and swallowed up with light and love, a sweet solace, and a rest and joy of soul altogether unspeakable. The person has more than once continued for five or six hours together, without interruption, in a clear and lively view or sense of the infinite beauty and amiableness of Christ’s person, and the heavenly sweetness of his transcendent lobe. So that (to use the person’s own expressions) the soul remained in a kind of heavenly Elysium, and did as it were swim in the rays of Christ’s love, like a little mote swimming in the beams of the sun that come in at a window. The heart was swallowed up in a kind of glow of Christ’s love coming down as a constant stream of sweet light, at the same time the soul all flowing out in love to him; so that there seemed to be a constant flowing and reflowing from heart to heart. The soul dwelt on high, was lost in God, and seemed almost to leave the body. The mind dwelt in a pure delight that fed and satisfied it, enjoying pleasure without the least sting, or any interruption. And, (so far as the judgment and word of a person of discretion may be taken, speaking upon the most deliberate consideration,) what was enjoyed in a single minute of the whole space, which was many hours, was worth more than all the outward comfort and pleasure of the whole life put together; and this without being in any trance, or at all deprived of the exercise of the bodily senses. And this heavenly delight has been enjoyed for years together, though not frequently so long together to such a height. Extraordinary views of divine things, and the religious affections, were frequently attended with very great effects on the body. Nature often sunk under the weight of divine discoveries, and the strength of the body was taken away. The person was deprived of all ability to stand or speak. Sometimes the hands were clinched, and the flesh cold, but the senses remaining. Animal nature was often in a great emotion and agitation, and the soul so overcome with admiration, and a kind of omnipotent joy, as to cause a person, unavoidably, to leap with all the might, with joy and mighty exultation. The soul at the same time was so strongly drawn towards God and Christ in heaven, that it seemed to the person as though soul and body would, as it were of themselves, of necessity mount up, leave the earth, and ascend thither.
These effects on the body were not owing to the influence of example, but began about seven years ago, when there was no such enthusiastical season as many account this, but it was a very dead time through the land. They arose from no distemper catched from Mr. Whitefield, or Mr. Tennant, because they began before either of them came into the country.—Near three years ago, they greatly increased, upon an extraordinary self-dedication, renunciation of the world, and resignation of all to God; which were made, in a great view of God’s excellency, in high exercise of love to him, and rest and joy in him. Since that time they have been very frequent; and began in a yet higher degree, and greater frequency, about a year and a half ago, upon another new resignation of all to God, with a yet greater fervency and delight of soul; the body often fainting with the love of Christ.—These effects appeared in a higher degree still, the last winter, upon another resignation to and acceptance of God, as the only portion and happiness of the soul, wherein the whole world, with the dearest enjoyments in it, were renounced as dirt and dung. All that is pleasant and glorious, and all that is terrible in this world, seemed perfectly to vanish into nothing, and nothing to be left but God, in whom the soul was perfectly swallowed up, as in an infinite ocean of blessedness.—Since this time there have often been great agitations of body, and an unavoidable leaping for joy; and the soul as it were dwelling, almost without interruption, in a kind of paradise; and very often, in high transports, disposed to speak to others concerning the great and glorious things of God, and Christ, and the eternal world, in a most earnest manner, and with a loud voice, so that it is next to impossible to avoid it. These effects on the body did not arise from any bodily distemper or weakness, because the greatest of all have been in a good state of health.
This great rejoicing has been with trembling, i.e. attended with a deep and lively sense of the greatness and majesty of God, and the person’s own exceeding littleness and vileness. Spiritual joys in this person never were attended with the least appearance of laughter, or lightness, either of countenance or manner of speaking, but with a peculiar abhorrence of such appearances in spiritual rejoicings. These high transports, when past, have had abiding effects in the increase of sweetness, rest, and humility which they have left upon the soul; and a new engagedness of heart to live to God’s honour, and watch and fight against sin. And these things took place not in the giddy age of youth, nor in a new convert, or unexperienced Christian, but in one that was converted above twenty-seven years ago; and neither converted not educated in that enthusiastic town of North Hampton, (as some may be ready to call it,) but in a town and family which none, that I know of, suspected of enthusiasm. And these effects were found in a Christian that has been long, in an uncommon manner, growing in grace, and rising, by very sensible degrees, to higher love to God, weanedness from the world, mastery over sin and temptation, through great trials and conflicts, long-continued strugglings and fighting with sin, earnest and constant prayer and labour in religion, and engagedness of mind in the use of all means, attended with a great exactness of life.—Which growth has been attended, not only with a great increase of religious affections, but with a wonderful alteration of outward behaviour, in many things, visible to those who are most intimately acquainted, so as lately to have become as it were a new person; and particularly in living so much more above the world, and in a greater degree of steadfastness and strength in the way of duty and self-denial, maintaining the Christian conflict against temptations, and conquering from time to time under great trials; persisting in an unmoved, untouched calm and rest, under the changes and accidents of time. The person had formerly, in lower degrees of grace, been subject to unsteadiness, and many ups and downs, in the frame of mind, being under great disadvantages, through a vaporous habit of body, and often subject to melancholy, and at times almost over-borne with it, it having been so even from early youth; but strength of grace and divine light has of a long time wholly conquered these disadvantages, and carried the mind, in a constant manner, quite above all such effects.—Since that resignation spoken of before, made near three years ago, every thing of that nature seems to be overcome and crushed by the power of faith and trust in God, and resignation to him; the person has remained in a constant uninterrupted rest, humble joy in God, and assurance of his favour, without one hour’s melancholy or darkness, from that day to this; vapours have had great effects on the body, such as they used to have before, but the soul has been always out of their reach. And this steadfastness and constancy has remained through great outward changes and trials, such as times of the most extreme pain, and apparent hazard of immediate death.
These transporting views and rapturous affections are not attended with any enthusiastic disposition to follow impulses, or any supposed prophetical revelations; nor have they been observed to be attended with any appearance of spiritual pride, but very much of a contrary disposition, and increase of humility and meekness, and a disposition in honour to prefer others. And it is worthy to be remarked, that when these discoveries and holy affections were evidently at the greatest height—which began early in the morning of the holy Sabbath, and lasted for days together, melting all down in the deepest humility and poverty of spirit, reverence and resignation, and the sweetest meekness, and universal benevolence—these two things were felt in a remarkable manner, viz. First, a peculiar aversion 377 to judging other professing Christians of good standing in the visible church, with respect to their conversion or degrees of grace; or at all intermeddling with that matter, so much as to determine against and condemn others in the thoughts of the heart. Such want of candour appeared hateful, as not agreeing with that lamb-like humility, meekness, gentleness, and charity, which the soul then, above other times, saw to be beautiful. The disposition then felt was, on the contrary, to prefer others to self, and to hope that they saw more of God and loved him better; though before, under smaller discoveries, and feebler exercises of divine affection, there had been a disposition to censure and condemn others. Secondly, another thing that was felt at that time, was a very great sense of the importance of moral social duties, and how great a part of religion lay in them. There was such a new sense and conviction of this, beyond what had been before, that it seemed to be as it were a clear discovery then made to the soul. But, in general, there has been a very great increase of a sense of these two things, as divine views and divine love have increased.
The things already mentioned have been attended also with the following things, viz. An extraordinary sense of the awful majesty, greatness, and holiness of God, so as sometimes to overwhelm soul and body, a sense of the ineffable misery of sinners who are exposed to this wrath. Sometimes the exceeding pollution of the person’s own heart, as a sink of all manner of abomination, and the dreadfulness of an eternal hell of God’s wrath, opened to view both together. There was a clear view of a desert of that misery, and that by the pollution of the best duties; yea, only by the irreverence, and want of humility, that attended once speaking of the holy name of God, when done in the best manner that ever it was done. The strength of the body was very often taken away with a deep mourning for sin, as committed against so holy and good a God; sometimes with an affecting sense of actual sin, sometimes especially indwelling sin, and sometimes the consideration of the sin of the heart as appearing in a particular thing, as for instance, in that there was no greater forwardness and readiness to self-denial for God and Christ, who had so denied himself for us. Yea, sometimes the consideration of sin that was in only speaking one word concerning the infinitely great and holy God, has been so affecting as to overcome the strength of nature. There has been a very great sense of the certain truth of the great things revealed in the gospel; an overwhelming sense of the glory of the work of redemption, and the way of salvation by Jesus Christ; of the glorious harmony of the divine attributes appearing therein, as that wherein mercy and truth are met together, and righteousness and peace have kissed each other. A sight of the fullness and glorious sufficiency of Christ has been so affecting as to overcome the body. A constant immovable trust in God through Christ, with a great sense of his strength and faithfulness, the sureness of his covenant and the immutability of his promises, made the everlasting mountains and perpetual hills to appear as mere shadows to these things.
Sometimes the sufficiency and faithfulness of God, as the covenant God of his people, appeared in these words, i am that i am, in so affecting a manner as to overcome the body. A sense of the glorious, unsearchable, unerring wisdom of God in his works, both of creation and providence, was such as to swallow up the soul, and overcome the strength of the body. There was a sweet rejoicing of soul at the thoughts of God being infinitely and unchangeably happy, and an exulting gladness of heart that God is self-sufficient, and infinitely above all dependence, and reigns over all, and does his will with absolute and uncontrollable power and sovereignty. A sense of the glory of the Holy Spirit, as the great Comforter, was such as to overwhelm both soul and body; only mentioning the word the comforter, has immediately taken away all strength; that word, as the person expressed it, seemed great enough to fill heaven and earth. There was a most vehement and passionate desire of the honour and glory of God’s name; a sensible, clear, and constant preference of it, not only to the person’s own temporal interest, but to his spiritual comfort in this world. There was a willingness to suffer the hidings of God’s face, and to live and die in darkness and horror, if God’s honour should require it, and to have no other reward for it but that God’s name should be glorified, although so much of the sweetness of the light of God’s countenance had been experienced. A great lamenting of ingratitude and the defect of love to God, took away bodily strength; and there were very often vehement longings and faintings after more love to Christ, and greater conformity to him; especially longing after these two things, viz. To be more perfect in humility and adoration. The flesh and heart seem often to cry out for lying low before God, and fall down before his throne, have often overcome the body, and set it into a great agitation. The person felt a great delight in singing praises to God and Jesus Christ, and longing that this present life may be, as it were, one continued song of praise to God. There was a longing, as the person expressed it, to sit and sing this life away; and an overcoming pleasure in the thoughts of spending an eternity in that exercise. Together with living by faith to a great degree, there was a constant and extraordinary distrust of our own strength and wisdom; a great dependence on God for his help in order to the performance of any thing to God’s acceptance, and being restrained from the most horrid sins.
A sense of the black ingratitude of true saints, as to coldness and deadness in religion, and their setting their hearts on the things of this world, has overcome the bodily frame. There was an experience of great longing that all the children of God might be lively in religion, fervent in their love, and active in the service of God; and, when there have been appearances of it in others, rejoicing so in beholding the pleasant sight, that the joy of soul has been too great for the body.—The person took pleasure in the thoughts of watching and striving against sin, fighting through the way to heaven, and filling up this life with hard labour, and bearing the cross for Christ, as an opportunity to give God honour; not desiring to rest from labours till arrived in heaven, but abhorring the thoughts of it, and seeming astonished that God’s own children should be backward to strive and deny themselves for God. There were earnest longings that all God’s people might be clothed with humility and meekness, like the Lamb of God, and feel nothing in their hearts but love and compassion to all mankind; and great grief when any thing to the contrary appeared in any of the children of God, as bitterness, fierceness of zeal, censoriousness, or reflecting uncharitably on others, or disputing with any appearance of heat of spirit; a deep concern for the good of others’ souls; a melting compassion to those that looked on themselves as in a state of nature, and to saints under darkness, so as to cause the body to faint. There was found an universal benevolence to mankind, with a longing as it were to embrace the whole world in the arms of pity and love; and ideas of suffering from enemies the utmost conceivable rage and cruelty, with a disposition felt to fervent love and pity in such a case, so far as it could be realized in thought. Sometimes a disposition was felt to a life given up to mourning alone in a wilderness over a lost and miserable world; compassion towards them being often to that degree, that would allow of no support or rest, but in going to God, and pouring out the soul in prayer for them. Earnest desires were felt that the work of God, now in the land, may be carried on, and that with greater purity, and freedom from all bitter zeal, censoriousness, spiritual pride, hot disputes, &c. and a vehement and constant desire for the setting up of Christ’s kingdom through the earth, as a kingdom of holiness, purity, love, peace, and happiness to mankind.
The soul often entertained, with unspeakable delight, the thoughts of heaven, as a world of love; where love shall be the saints’ eternal food, where they shall dwell in the light, and swim in an ocean of love, and where the very air and breath will be nothing but love; love to the people of God, or God’s true saints, as having the image 378of Christ, and as those who will in a very little time shine in his perfect image. The strength was very often taken away with longings that others might love God more, and serve God better, and have more of his comfortable presence, than the person that was the subject of these longings; desiring to follow the whole world to heaven, or that every one should go before, and be higher in grace and happiness, not by this person’s diminution, but by others’ increase. This experience included a delight in conversing on religious subjects, and in seeing Christians together, talking of the most spiritual and heavenly things in religion, in a lively and feeling manner; and very frequently the person was overcome with the pleasure of such conversation. A great sense was often expressed of the importance of the duty of charity to the poor, and how much the generality of Christians come short in the practice of it. There was also a great sense of the need ministers have of much of the Spirit of God, at this day especially; and there were most earnest longings and wrestlings with God for them, so as to take away the bodily strength. It also included the greatest, fullest, longest continued, and most constant assurance of the favour of God and of a title to future glory, that ever I saw any appearance of in any person, enjoying, especially of late, (to use the person’s own expression,) the riches of full assurance. Formerly there was a longing to die with something of impatience; but lately, since that resignation forementioned, about three years ago, an uninterrupted entire resignation to God with respect to life or death, sickness or health, ease or pain, which has remained unchanged and unshaken, when actually under extreme and violent pains, and in times of threatenings of immediate death. But notwithstanding this patience and submission, the thoughts of death and the day of judgment are always exceeding sweet to the soul. This resignation is also attended with a constant resignation of the lives of dearest earthly friends, and sometimes when some of their lives have been imminently threatened; the person often expressing the sweetness of the liberty of having wholly left the world, and renounced all for God, and having nothing but God, in whom is an infinite fullness. These things have been attended with a constant sweet peace and calm, and serenity of soul, without any cloud to interrupt it; a continual rejoicing in all the works of God’s hands, the works of nature, and God’s daily works of providence, all appearing with a sweet smile upon them; a wonderful access to God by prayer, as it were seeing him, and immediately conversing with him, as much oftentimes (to use the person’s own expressions) as if Christ were here on earth, sitting on a visible throne, to be approached to and conversed with.
There have been frequent, plain, sensible, and immediate answers of prayer, all tears wiped away, all former troubles and sorrows of life forgotten, and all sorrow and sighing fled away—excepting grief for past sins, and for remaining corruption, and that Christ is loved no more, and that God is no more honoured in the world; and a compassionate grief towards fellow creatures—a daily sensible doing and suffering every thing for God, for a long time past, eating, working, sleeping, and bearing pain and trouble for God, and doing all as the service of love, with a continual uninterrupted cheerfulness, peace, and joy. Oh how good, said the person once, is it to work for God in the day-time, and at night to lie down under his smiles! High experiences and religious affections in this person have not been attended with any disposition at all to neglect the necessary business of a secular calling, to spend the time in reading and prayer, and other exercises of devotion; but worldly business has been attended with great alacrity, as part of the service of God; the person declaring that, it being done thus, it was found to be as good as prayer. These things have been accompanied with exceeding concern and zeal for moral duties, and that all professors may with them adorn the doctrine of God their Saviour; and an uncommon care to perform relative and social duties, and a noted eminence in them; a great inoffensiveness of life and conversation in the sight of others; a great meekness, gentleness, and benevolence of spirit and behaviour; and a great alteration in those things that formerly used to be the person’s failings; seeming to be much overcome and swallowed up by the late great increase of grace, to the observation of those who are most conversant and most intimately acquainted.
In times of the brightest light and highest flights of love and joy, there was found no disposition to the opinion of being now perfectly free from sin, (according to the notion of the Wesleys and their followers, and some other high pretenders to spirituality in these days,) but exceedingly the contrary. At such times especially, it was seen how loathsome and polluted the soul is; soul and body, and every act and word, appearing like rottenness and corruption in the pure and holy light of God’s glory. The person did not slight instruction or means of grace any more for having had great discoveries; on the contrary, never was more sensible of the need of instruction than now. And one thing more may be added, viz. That these things have been attended with a particular dislike of placing religion much in dress, and spending much zeal about those things that in themselves are matters of indifference, or an affecting to show humility an devotion by a mean habit, or a demure and melancholy countenance, or any thing singular and superstitious.
SECTION VI. The work glorious.
This work is very glorious.
Now if such things are enthusiasm, and the fruits of a distempered brain, let my brain be evermore possessed of that happy distemper! If this be distraction, I pray God that the world of mankind may be all seized with this benign, meek, beneficent, beatifical, glorious distraction! If agitations of body were found in the French prophets, and ten thousand prophets more, it is little to their purpose who bring it as an objection against such a work as this, unless their purpose be to disprove the whole of the Christian religion. The great affections and high transports, that others have lately been under, are in general of the same kind with those in the instance that has been given, though not to so high a degree, and many of them not so pure and unmixed, and so well regulated. I have had opportunity to observe many instances here and elsewhere; and though there are some instances of great affections in which there has been a great mixture of nature with grace, and, in some, a sad degenerating of religious affections; yet there is that uniformity observable, which makes it easy to be seen, that in general it is the same spirit from whence the work in all parts of the land has originated. And what notions have they of religion, that reject what has been described, as not true religion! What shall we find to answer those expressions in Scripture, “The peace of God that passeth all understanding; rejoicing with joy unspeakable and full of glory, in believing in and loving an unseen Saviour;—All joy and peace in believing; God’s shining into our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ; With open face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, and being changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord;—Having the love of God shed abroad in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost given to us;—Having the Spirit of God and of glory rest upon us;—A being called out of darkness into marvellous light; and having the day-star arise in our hearts:”—I say, if those things which have been mentioned, do not answer these expressions, what else can we find out that does answer them? Those that do not think such things as these to be the fruits of the true Spirit, would do well to consider what kind of spirit they are waiting and praying for, and what sort of fruits they expect he should produce when he comes. I suppose it will generally be allowed, that there is such a thing as a glorious outpouring of the Spirit of God to be expected, to introduce very joyful and glorious times upon religious accounts; times wherein holy love and joy will be raised to a great height in true Christians: but, if those things be rejected, what is left that we can find wherewith to patch up a notion, or form and idea, of the high, blessed, joyful religion of these times? What is there sweet, excellent, and joyful, of a religious nature, that is entirely of a different nature from these things? 379
Those who are waiting for the fruits, in order to determine whether this be the work of God or no, would do well to consider, what they are waiting for; whether it be not to have this wonderful religious influence subside, and then to see how they will behave themselves? That is, to have grace subside, and the actings of it in a great measure to cease, and to have persons grow cold and dead; and then to see whether, after that, they will behave themselves with that exactness and brightness of conversation, that is to be expected of lively Christians, or those that are in the vigorous exercises of grace. There are many that will not be satisfied with any exactness of laboriousness in religion now, while persons have their minds much moved, and their affections are high; for they lay it to their flash of affection, and heat of zeal, as they call it; they are waiting to see whether they will carry themselves as well when these affections are over; that is, they are waiting to have persons sicken and lose their strength, that they may see whether they will then behave themselves like healthy strong men. I would desire that they would also consider, whether they be not waiting for more than is reasonably to be expected, supposing this to be really a great work of God, and much more than has been found in former great outpourings of the Spirit of God, that have been universally acknowledged in the Christian church? Do not they expect fewer instances of apostasy and evidences of hypocrisy in professors, than were after that great outpouring of the Spirit in the apostles’ days, or that which was in the time of the reformation? And do not they stand prepared to make a mighty argument of it against this work, if there should be half so many? And, they would do well to consider how long they will wait to see the good fruit of this work, before they will determine in favour of it. Is not their waiting unlimited? The visible fruit that is to be expected of a pouring out of the Spirit of God on a country, is a visible reformation in that country. What reformation has lately been brought to pass in New England, by this work, has been before observed. And has it not continued long enough already, to give reasonable satisfaction? If God cannot work on the hearts of a people after such a manner, as reasonably to expect it should be acknowledged in a year and a half, or two years’ time; yet surely it is unreasonable that our expectations and demands should be unlimited, and our waiting without any bounds.
As there is the clearest evidence, from what has been observed, that this is the work of God; so it is evident that it is a very great and wonderful and exceeding glorious work.—This is certain, that it is a great and wonderful event, a strange revolution, an unexpected, surprising overturning of things, suddenly brought to pass; such as never has been seen in New England, and scarce ever has been heard of in any land. Who that saw the state of things in New England a few years ago, would have thought that in so short time there would be such a change? This is undoubtedly either a very great work of God, or a great work of the devil, as to the main substance of it. For though, undoubtedly, God and the devil may work together at the same time, and in the same land; and Satan will do his utmost endeavour to intrude, and, by intermingling his work, to darken and hinder God’s work; yet God and the devil do not work together in producing the same event, and in effecting the same change in the hearts and lives of men. But it is apparent that as to some things wherein the main substance of this work consists, there is a likeness and agreement every where: now this is either a wonderful work of God, or a mighty work of the devil; and so is either a most happy event, greatly to be admired and rejoiced in, or a most awful calamity. Therefore, if what has been said before be sufficient to determine it to be, as to the main, the work of God, then it must be acknowledged to be a very wonderful and glorious work of God.
Such a work is, in its nature and kind, the most glorious of any work of God whatsoever, and is always so spoken of in Scripture. It is the work of redemption (the great end of all the other works of God, and of which the work of creation was but a shadow) in the event, success, and end of it: it is the work of new creation, which is infinitely more glorious than the old. I am bold to say, that the work of God in the conversion of one soul, considered together with the source, foundation, and purchase of it, and also the benefit, end, and eternal issue of it, is a more glorious work of God than the creation of the whole material universe. It is the most glorious of God’s works, as it above all others manifests the glory of God; it is spoken of in Scripture, as that which shows the exceeding greatness of God’s power, and the glory and riches of divine grace, and wherein Christ has the most glorious triumph over his enemies, and wherein God is mightily exalted. And it is a work above all others glorious, as it concerns the happiness of mankind; more happiness, and a greater benefit to man, is the fruit of each single drop of such a shower, than all the temporal good of the most happy revolution, or all that a people could gain by the conquest of the world.
This work is very glorious both in its nature, and in its degree and circumstances. It will appear very glorious, if we consider the unworthiness of the people who are the subjects of it; what obligations God has laid us under by the special privileges we have enjoyed for our souls’ good, and the great things God did for us at our first settlement in the land; how he has followed us with his goodness to this day, and how we have abused his goodness; how long we have been revolting more and more, (as all confess,) and how very corrupt we were become at last; in how great a degree we had forsaken the fountain of living waters; how obstinate we have been under all manner of means that God has used to reclaim us; how often we have mocked God with hypocritical pretences of humiliation, as in our annual days of public fasting, and other things, while, instead of reforming, we only grew worse and worse; and how dead a time it was every where before this work began. If we consider these things, we shall be most stupidly ungrateful, if we do not acknowledge God’s visiting us as he has done, as an instance of the glorious triumph of free and sovereign grace.
The work is very glorious, if we consider the extent of it; being in this respect vastly beyond any that ever was known in New England. There has formerly sometimes been a remarkable awakening and success of the means of grace, in some particular congregations; and this used to be much noticed, and acknowledged to be glorious, though but now God has brought to pass a new thing, he has wrought a great work, which has extended from one end of the land to the other, besides what has been wrought in other British colonies in America.
The work is very glorious in the great members that have, to appearance, been turned from sin to God, and so, delivered from a wretched captivity to sin and Satan, saved from everlasting burnings, and made heirs of eternal glory. How high an honour and great a reward of their labours, have some eminent persons of note in the church of God signified that they should esteem it, if they should be made the instruments of the conversion and eternal salvation of but one soul! And no greater event than that, is thought worthy of great notice in haven among the hosts of glorious angels, who rejoice and sing on such an occasion. Now, when there are many thousands of souls thus converted and saved, shall it be esteemed worth but little notice, and be mentioned with coldness and indifference here on earth, by those among whom such a work is wrought.
The work has been very glorious and wonderful in many circumstances and events of it, wherein God has in an uncommon manner made his hand visible and his power conspicuous; as in the extraordinary degrees of awakening, and the suddenness of conversions in innumerable instances. How common a thing has it been for a great part of a congregation to be at once moved by a mighty invisible power! And for six, eight, or ten souls to be converted to God (to all appearance) in an exercise, in whom the visible change still continues! How great an alteration has been made in some towns, yea, some populous towns, the change still abiding! And how many very vicious persons have been wrought upon, so as to become visibly new creatures! God has also made his hand very visible, and his work glorious, in the multitudes of little children that have been wrought upon. I suppose there have been some hundreds of instances of this nature of late, any one 379of which formerly would have been looked upon so remarkable, as to be worthy to be recorded, and published through the land. The work is very glorious in its influences and effects on many who have been very ignorant and barbarous, as I before observed of the Indians and Negroes.
The work is also exceeding glorious in the high attainments of Christians, in the extraordinary degrees of light, love, and spiritual joy that God has bestowed upon great multitudes. In this respect also, the land in all parts has abounded with such instances, any one of which, if they had happened formerly, would have been thought worthy to be noticed by God’s people throughout the British dominions. The New Jerusalem in this respect has begun to come down from heaven, and perhaps never were more of the prelibations of heaven’s glory given upon earth.
There being a great many errors and sinful irregularities mixed with this work of God, arising from our weakness, darkness, and corruption, does not hinder this work of God’s power and grace from being very glorious. Our follies and sins in some respects manifest the glory of it. The glory of divine power and grace is set off with the greater lustre, by what appears at the same time of the weakness of the earthen vessel. It is God’s pleasure to manifest the weakness and unworthiness of the subject, at the same time that he displays the excellency of his power and the riches of his grace. And I doubt not but some of these things which make some of us here on earth to be out of humour, and to look on this work with a sour displeased countenance, heighten the songs of the angels, when they praise God and the Lamb for what they see of the glory of God’s all-sufficiency, and the efficacy of Christ’s redemption. And how unreasonable is it that we should be backward to acknowledge the glory of what God has done, because the devil, and we in hearkening to him, has done a great deal of mischief!
PART II. Obligations to acknowledge, rejoice in, and promote this work.
SHOWING THE OBLIGATIONS THAT ALL ARE UNDER TO ACKNOWLEDGE, REJOICE IN, AND PROMOTE THIS WORK; AND THE GREAT DANGER OF THE CONTRARY.
SECTION I. Indifference dangerous.
The danger of lying still, and keeping long silence, respecting any remarkable work of God.
are many things in the word of God, showing that when God remarkably
appears in any great work for his church, and against his enemies, it
is a most dangerous thing, and highly provoking to God, to be slow and
backward to acknowledge and honour God in the work. Christ’s people are
in Scripture represented as his army; he is the Lord of hosts, the
Captain of the host of the Lord, as he called himself when he appeared
to Joshua, with a sword drawn in his hand,
a time when God manifests himself in such a great work for his church,
there is no such thing as being neuters; there is a necessity of being
either for or against the king that then gloriously appears. When a
king is crowned, and there are public manifestations of joy on that
occasion, there is no such thing as standing by as an indifferent
spectator; all must appear as loyal subjects, and express their joy on
that occasion, or be accounted enemies. So when God, in
any great dispensation of his providence, remarkably sets his King on
his holy hill of Zion, Christ in an extraordinary manner comes down
from heaven to the earth, and appears in his visible church in a great
work of salvation for his people. When Christ came down from heaven in
his incarnation, and appeared on earth in his human presence, there was
no such thing as being neuters, neither on his side nor against him.
Those who sat still and said nothing, and did not declare for him, and
and join with him, after he, by his word and works, had given
sufficient evidence who he was, were justly looked upon as his enemies.
When God manifests himself with such glorious power in a work of this nature, he appears especially determined to put honour upon his Son, and to fulfil his oath that he has sworn to him, that he would make every knee to bow, and every tongue to confess to him. God hath had it much on his heart, from all eternity, to glorify his dear and only-begotten Son; and there are some special seasons that he appoints to that end, wherein he comes forth with omnipotent power to fulfil his promise and oath to him. Now these are times of remarkable pouring out of his Spirit, to advance his kingdom; such is a day of his power, wherein his people shall be made willing, and he shall rule in the midst of his enemies; these especially are the times wherein God declares his firm decree, that his Son shall reign on his holy hill of Zion. And therefore those who at such a time do not kiss the Son, as he then manifests himself, and appears in the glory of his majesty and grace, expose themselves to perish from the way, and to be dashed in pieces with a rod of iron.
As such is a time wherein God eminently sets his King on his holy hill of Zion, so it is a time wherein he remarkably
fulfils that in
The prophet Isaiah (
The church of
Christ is called upon greatly to rejoice, when at any time Christ
remarkably appears, coming to his church, to carry on the work of
salvation, to enlarge his own kingdom, and to deliver poor souls out of
the pit wherein there is not water.
must be acknowledged, that so great and wonderful a work of God’s
Spirit, is a work wherein God’s hand is remarkably lifted up, and
wherein he displays his majesty, and shows great favour and mercy to
sinners, in the glorious opportunity he gives them, and by which he
makes our land to become much more a land of uprightness. Therefore
SECTION II. The probability that the latter-day glory will begin in America.
The latter-day glory, is probably to begin in America.
is not unlikely that this work of God’s Spirit, so extraordinary and
wonderful, is the dawning, or, at least, a prelude of that glorious
work of God, so often foretold in Scripture, which, in the progress and
issue of it, shall renew the world of mankind. If we consider how long
since the things foretold as what should precede this great event, have
been accomplished; and how long this event has been expected by the
church of God, and thought to be nigh by the most
eminent men of God in the church; and withal consider what the state of
things now is, and has for a considerable time been, in the church of
God, and the world of mankind; we cannot reasonably think otherwise,
than that the beginning of this great work of God must be near. And
there are many things that make it probable that this work will begin
in America.—It is signified that it shall begin in some very remote
part of the world, with which other parts have no communication but by
God has made as it were tow worlds here below, two great habitable continents, far separated one from the other: The latter is as it were now but newly created; it has been, till of late, wholly the possession of Satan, the church of God having never been in it, as it has been in the other continent, from the beginning of the world. This new world is probably now discovered, that the new and most glorious state of God’s church on earth might commence there; that God might in it begin a new world in a spiritual respect, when he creates the new heavens and new earth.
God has already put that honour upon the other continent, that Christ was born there literally and there made the purchase of redemption.
So, as Providence observes a kind of equal distribution of things, it
is not unlikely that the great spiritual birth of Christ, and the most
glorious application of redemption, is to begin in this. The elder sister brought forth Judah, of whom Christ came, and so she was the mother of Christ; but the younger
sister, after long barrenness, brought forth Joseph and Benjamin, the beloved children. Joseph who
had the most glorious apparel, the coat of many colours; who was
separated from his brethren, and was exalted to great glory out of a
dark dungeon—who fed and saved the world when ready to perish with
famine, and was as fruitful bough by a well, whose branches ran over
the wall, and was blessed with all manner of blessings and precious
things of heaven and earth, through the good-will of
him that dwelt in the bush—was, as by the horns of an unicorn, to push
the people together, to the ends of the earth, i. e. conquer the world.
The other continent hath slain Christ, and has from age to age shed the blood of the saints and martyrs of Jesus, and has often been as it were deluged with the church’s blood. God has therefore probably reserved the honour of building the glorious temple to the daughter that has not shed so much blood, when those times of the peace, prosperity, and glory of the church, typified by the reign of Solomon, shall commence.
The Gentiles first received the true religion from the Jews: God’s church of ancient times had been among them, and Christ was of them. But, that there may be a kind of equality in the dispensations of providence, God has so ordered it, that when the Jews come to be admitted to the benefits of the evangelical dispensation, and to receive their highest privileges of all, they should receive the gospel from the Gentiles. Though Christ was of them, yet they have been guilty of crucifying him; it is therefore the will of God, that the Jews should not have the honour of communicating the blessing of the kingdom of God in its most glorious state to the Gentiles; but on the contrary, they shall receive the gospel in the beginning of that glorious day from the Gentiles. In some analogy to this, I apprehend, God’s dealings will be with the two continents. America has received the true religion of the old continent; the church of ancient times has been there, and Christ is from thence. But that there may be an equality, and inasmuch as that continent has crucified Christ, they shall not have the honour of communicating religion in its most glorious state to us, but we to them.
The old continent has been the source and original of mankind, in several respects. The first parents of mankind dwelt there; and there dwelt Noah and his sons; there the second Adam was born, and crucified and raised again: and ‘tis probable that, in some measure to balance these things, the most glorious renovation of the world shall originate from the new continent, and the church of God in that respect be from hence. And so it is probable that will come to pass in spirituals, which has taken place in temporals, with respect to America; that whereas, till of late, the world was supplied with its silver, and gold, and earthly treasures from the old continent, now it is supplied chiefly from the new; so the course of things in spiritual respects will be in like manner turned.—And it is worthy to be noted, that America was discovered about the time of the reformation, or but little before: which reformation was the first thing that God did towards the glorious renovation of the world, after it had sunk into the depths of darkness and ruin, under the great anti-Christian apostacy. So that, as soon as this new world stands forth in view, God presently goes about doing some great thing in order to make way for the introduction of the church’s latter-day glory—which is to have its first seat in, and is to take its rise from, that new world.
is agreeable to God’s manner, when he accomplishes any glorious work in
the world, in order to introduce a new and more excellent state of his
church, to begin where no foundation had been already laid, that the
power of God might be the more conspicuous; that the work might appear
to be entirely God’s, and be more manifestly a creation out of nothing;
are several things that seem to me to argue, that the Sun of
righteousness, the Sun of the new heavens and new earth, when he
rises—and comes forth as the bridegroom of his church, rejoicing as
a strong man to run his race, having his going forth from the end of
heaven, and his circuit to the end of it, that nothing may be hid from
the light and heat of it,
—shall rise in the west, contrary to the course of things in the old
heavens and earth. The movements of Providence shall in the day be so
wonderfully altered in many respects, that God will as it were change
the course of nature, in answer to the prayers of his church; as he
caused the sun to go from the west to the east, when he promised to do
such great things for his church; a deliverance out of the hand of the
king of Assyria, is often used by the prophet Isaiah, as a
type of the glorious deliverance of the church from her enemies in the
latter days. The resurrection as it were of Hezekiah, the king and captain of the church, (as he is called,
The same seems also to be represented by the course of the waters of the sanctuary,
SECTION III. The danger of slighting the work.
The danger of not acknowledging and encouraging, and especially of deriding, this work.
have thus long insisted on this point, because, if these things are so,
it greatly manifest how much it behooves us to encourage and promote
this work, and how dangerous it will be to forbear so doing. It is very
dangerous for help of the Lord, whenever he remarkably pours out his
Spirit, to carry on the work of redemption in the application of it;
but above all, when he comes forth, to introduce that happy day of
God’s power and salvation, so often spoken of. That
is especially the appointed season of the application of redemption,
the appointed time of Christ’s reign. The reign of Satan as god of this
world lasts till then; but afterwards will be the proper time of actual
redemption, or new creation, as is evident by
great danger of not appearing openly to acknowledge, rejoice in, and
promote that great work of God, in bringing in that glorious harvest,
is represented in “And it shall come to pass, that every one that is
left, of all the nations which came against Jerusalem, shall even go up
from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep
the feast of tabernacles. And it shall be, that whoso will not come up
of all the families of the earth unto Jerusalem,
to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, even upon them shall be no
rain. And if the family of Egypt go not up, and come not, that have no
rain; there shall be the plague wherewith the Lord will smite the
heathen that come not up to keep the feast of tabernacles. This shall
be the punishment of Egypt, and the punishment of all nations that come
not up to keep the feast of tabernacles.” It is evident by all the
context that the glorious day of the church of God in the latter ages
of the world is
the time spoken of. The feast of tabernacles here seems to signify that
glorious spiritual feast which God shall then make for his church, the
same that is spoken of,
world is supposed to have been created about the time of year wherein
the feast of tabernacles was appointed; so, in that glorious time God
will create a new heaven and a new earth. The temple of Solomon was
dedicated at the time of the feast of tabernacles, when God descended
in a pillar of cloud, and dwelt in the temple; so, at this happy time,
the temple of God shall be gloriously built up in the world, and God
shall in a wonderful manner come down from heaven
to dwell with his church. Christ is supposed to have been born at the
feast of tabernacles; so, at the commencement of that glorious day,
Christ shall be born; then, above all other times, shall “the woman
clothed with the sun with the moon under her feet, that is in travail,
and pained to be delivered, bring forth her son, to rule all nations,”
It is threatened (
of the great temporal deliverances wrought for Israel of old, were
typical of the great spiritual works of God for the salvation of souls,
and the deliverance and prosperity of his church, in gospel days; and
especially they represented that greatest of all deliverances of God’s
church in the latter days; which is above all others the proper season
of actual redemption of men’s souls. But it may be observed, that if
any appeared to oppose God’s work in those great
temporal deliverances; or if there were any of his professing people,
who on such occasions lay still, stood at a distance, or did not arise
and acknowledge God in his work, and appear to promote it; it was what
n a remarkable manner incensed God’s anger, and brought his curse upon
such persons.—When God wrought that great work of bringing the children
of Israel out of Egypt, (which was a type of God’s delivering his
church out of the spiritual Egypt at the time of the fall of
Antichrist, as is
was a glorious work which God wrought for Israel, when he delivered
them from the Canaanites, by the hand of Deborah and Barak. Almost
every thing about it showed a remarkable hand of God. It was a
prophetess, one immediately inspired by God, that called the people to
the battle, and conducted them in the whole affair. The people seem to
have been miraculously animated and encourage in the matter, when they
willingly offered themselves, and gathered together to
the battle; they jeoparded their lives in the high places of the field,
without being pressed or hired, when one would have thought they should
have but little courage for such an undertaking. For what could a
number of poor, weak, defenceless slaves do, without a shield or spear
to be seen among forty thousand of them, to go against a great prince,
with his mighty host, and nine hundred chariots of iron? And the
success wonderfully showed the hand of God; which makes Deborah
exultingly to say,
It was another glorious work of God that he wrought for Israel, in the victory that was obtained by Gideon over the Midianites and Amalekites, and the children of the east, when they came up against Israel like grasshoppers, a
multitude that could not be numbered. This also was a remarkable type
of the victory of Christ and his church over his enemies, by the
pouring out of the Spirit with the preached gospel; as is evident by
manner in which Gideon was immediately directed of God, which was not
by human sword or bow, but by blowing of trumpets, and by lights in
earthen vessels. We read that, on this occasion, Gideon called the
people together to help in this great affair; and that accordingly
great numbers resorted to him, and came to the help of the lord,
return of the ark of God to dwell in Zion, in the midst of the land of
Israel, after it had been long absent—first in the land of the
Philistines, and then in Kiriath-jearim, in the utmost borders of the
land—strikingly represented the return of God to a professing people,
in the spiritual tokens of his presence, after long absence from them.
The ark ascending up into a mountain typified Christ’s ascension into
heaven. It is evident by the psalms that were penned
on that occasion, especially the
us take heed that we be not like the son of the bond-woman, born after
the flesh, that persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, and
mocked at the feasting and rejoicings that were made for Isaac when he
was weaned; let we should be cast out of the family of Abraham, as he
The weaning of the church form its milk of carnal ordinances,
ceremonies, shadows, and beggarly elements upon the coming of Christ,
and pouring out of the Spirit in the days of the apostles. The church
of Christ, in the times of the Old Testament, was in its minority, even
as a babe: and the apostle tells us that babes must be fed with milk,
and not with strong meat: but when God weaned his church from these
carnal ordinances, on the ceasing of the legal
dispensation, a glorious gospel-feast was provided for souls, and God
fed his people with spiritual dainties, filled them with the Spirit,
and gave them joy in the Holy Ghost. Ishmael in mocking at the time of
Isaac’s feast, by the apostle’s testimony, represented the carnal Jews,
the children of the literal Jerusalem, who, when they beheld the
rejoicings of Christians in their spiritual and evangelical privileges,
were filled with envy, deriding, contradicting, and blaspheming, (
This weaning of Isaac seems also to represent the conversion of
sinners, which is several times represented in Scripture by the weaning
of a child; as in
that we may be warned not to continue doubting and unbelieving
concerning this work, because of the extraordinary degree of it, and
the suddenness and swiftness of the accomplishment of the great things
that pertain to it; let us consider the example of the unbelieving lord
in Samaria, who could not believe so extraordinary a work of God to be
accomplished so suddenly as was declared to him. The prophet Elisha
foretold that the great famine in Samaria should very
suddenly, even in one day, be turned into an extraordinary plenty; but
the work was too great and too sudden for him to believe; says he, “If
the Lord should make windows in heaven, might this thing be?” And the
curse that he brought upon himself by it his eyes, and did not eat
thereof, but miserably perished, and was trodden down as the mire of
the streets, when others were feasting and rejoicing,
When God redeemed his
people from their Babylonish captivity, and they rebuilt Jerusalem, it
was, as is universally owned, a remarkable type of the spiritual
redemption of God’s church; and particularly of the great deliverance
of the Christian church from spiritual Babylon, and their rebuilding
the spiritual Jerusalem, in the latter days; and therefore they are
often spoken of as one by the prophets. And this probably was the main
reason that it was so ordered in
Providence, and particularly noted in Scripture, that the children of
Israel, on that occasion, kept the greatest feast of tabernacles that
ever had been kept in Israel since the days of Joshua, when the people
were first settled in Canaan. (
persons will greatly expose themselves to the curse of God, by
opposing, or standing at a distance, and keeping silence at such a time
as this; so for persons to arise, and readily to acknowledge God, and
honour him in such a work, and cheerfully and vigorously to exert
themselves to promote it, will be to put themselves much in the way of
the divine blessing. What a mark of honour does God put upon those in
Israel, that willingly offered themselves, and came to the
help of the Lord against the mighty, when the angel of the Lord led
forth his armies, and they fought from heaven against Sisera!
of the band.” It is particularly noted of those that came to David to
Hebron, ready armed to the war, to turn the kingdom of Saul to him,
according to the word of the Lord, that “they were men that had
understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do,”
favourable notice that God will take of such as appear to promote the
work of God, at such a time as this, may also be argued from such a
very particular notice being taken in the sacred records, of those that
helped in rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem, upon the return from the
SECTION IV. Obligations of rulers and others to promote the work.
The obligations of rulers, ministers, and all sorts to promote this work.
such a time as this, when God is setting his King on his holy hill of
Zion, or establishing his dominion, or showing forth his regal glory
from thence, he expects that his visible people, without exception,
should openly appear to acknowledge him in such a work, and bow before
him, and join with him. But especially does he expect this of civil
rulers: God’s eye is especially upon them, to see how they behave
themselves on such occasions. When a new king comes to the
throne, if he comes from abroad, and enters into his kingdom, and makes
his solemn entry into the royal city, it is expected that all sorts
should acknowledge him; but above all others is it expected that the
great men, and public officers of the nation, should then make their
appearance, and attend on their sovereign, with suitable
congratulations, and manifestations of respect and loyalty. If such as
these stand at a distance at such a time, it will be much more noticed;
and will awaken the
prince’s jealousy and displeasure much more, than such a behaviour in
the common people. And Thus it is, when that eternal Son of God, and
heir of the world—by whom kings reign, and princes decree justice, and
whom his Father has appointed to be King of kings—comes as it were from
far, and in the spiritual tokens of his presence enters into the royal
city of Zion. God has his eye at such a time, especially, upon those
prices, nobles, and judges of the earth, spoken of,
day wherein God, in an eminent manner, sends forth the rod of Christ’s
strength out of Zion, that he may rule in the midst of his enemies, the
day of his power wherein his people shall be made willing, is also
eminently a day of his wrath, especially to such rulers as oppose him,
or will not bow to him. It will prove a day wherein
he “shall strike through kings, and fill the places with the dead bodies, and wound the heads over many countries,”
as rulers, by neglecting their duty at such a time, will especially
expose themselves to God’s great displeasure; so by fully acknowledging
God in such a work, and by cheerfully and vigorously exerting
themselves to promote it, they will especially be in the way of
receiving peculiar honours and rewards at God’s hands. It is noted of
the princes of Israel, that they especially appeared to honour God with
their princely offering, on occasion of setting up the
tabernacle of God in the congregation of Israel. I have observed
already that this was done at the time of the feast of tabernacles, and
was a type of the tabernacle of God being with men and his dwelling
with men in the latter days. And with what abundant particularity is it
noted of each prince, how much he offered to God on that occasion, for
his everlasting honour, in the
And I humbly desire it may be considered, whether we have not reason to fear, that God is provoked with this land, because no more notice has been taken of the late glorious work by the civil authority; that no more has been done by them as a public acknowledgment of God in this work, and no more improvement of their authority to promote it. This might have been done, either by appointing a day of public thanksgiving to God for so unspeakable a mercy, or a day of fasting and prayer, to humble ourselves before God for our past deadness and unprofitableness under the means of grace, and to seek the continuance and increase of the tokens of his presence. Can it be pleasing to God, that the civil authority have not so much as entered upon any public consultation, what should be done to advance the present revival of religion, and great reformation that is begun in the land? Is there not danger that such a behaviour, at such a time, will be interpreted by God, as a denial of Christ? If but a new governor comes into a province, how much is there done, especially by those who are in authority, to put honour upon him! They arise, appear publicly, and go forth to meet, to address, and congratulate him, and with great expense to attend and aid him! If the authority, or a refusing to receive and honour him as their governor? And shall the head of the angels, and Lord of the universe, come down from heaven, in so wonderful a manner, into a land; and shall all stand at a distance and be silent and inactive on such an occasion? I would humbly recommend it to our rulers to consider whether God does not now say to them, “Be wise now, ye rulers; be instructed, ye judges of New England: kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way.”
It is prophesied,
above all others, is God’s eye upon the ministers of the gospel, as
expecting of them, that they should arise, acknowledge, and honour him
in such a work as this, and do their utmost to encourage and promote
it. For this is the very business to which they are called and devoted;
it is the office to which they are appointed, as co-workers with
Christ. They are his ambassadors and instruments, to awaken and convert
sinners, and establish, build up, and comfort
saints; it is the business they have been solemnly charged with, before
God, angels, and men, and to which they have given up themselves by the
most sacred vows. These especially are the officers of Christ’s
kingdom, who, above all other men upon earth, represent his person;
into whose hands Christ has committed the sacred oracles, holy
ordinances, and all his appointed means of grace, to be administered by
them. They are the stewards of his household, into whose hands he has
committed to them,
as a flock of sheep are committed to the care of a shepherd, or as a
master commits a treasure tot he care of a servant, of which he must
give an account. It is expected of them, above all others, that they
should have understanding of the times, and know what Israel ought to
do; for it is their business to acquaint themselves with things
pertaining to the kingdom of God, and to teach and enlighten others in
the same. We who are employed in the sacred work of the gospel
ministry, are the
watchmen over the city, to whom God has committed the keys of the gates
of Zion; and if, when the rightful King of Zion comes to deliver his
people from the enemy that oppresses them, we refuse to open the gates
to him, how greatly shall we expose ourselves to his wrath! We are
appointed to be the captains of the host in this war; and if a general
will highly resent it in a private soldier, if he refuses to follow him
when his banner is displayed, and his trumpet blown; how much more will
resent it in the officers of his army! The work of the gospel-ministry,
consisting in the administration of God’s word and ordinances, is the
principal means that God has appointed for carrying on his work on the
souls of men; and it is his revealed will, that whenever that glorious
revival of religion, and reformation of the world, so often spoken of
in his word, is accomplished, it should be principally by the labours
of his ministers. Therefore, how heinous will it be in the sight of
if, when a work of that nature is begun, we appear unbelieving, slow,
backward, and disaffected! There was no sort of persons among the Jews treated with such manifestations of God’s great displeasure, and severe indignation, for not acknowledging
Christ, and the work of his Spirit, in the days of Christ and his
apostles, as the ministers of religion. See how Christ deals with them
the tabernacle was erected in the camp of Israel, and God came down
from heaven to dwell in it, the priests were above all others
concerned, and busily employed in the solemn transactions of that
Though ministers preach never so good doctrine, and be never so painful and laborious in their work, yet if they show to their people that they are not well-affected to this work, but are doubtful and suspicious of it, they will be very likely to do their people a great deal more hurt than good. For the very fame of such a great and extraordinary work of God, if their people were suffered to believe it to be his work, and the examples of other towns, together with what preaching they might hear occasionally, would be likely to have a much greater influence upon the minds of their people to awaken and animate them in religion, than all other labours with them. Besides, their ministers’ opinion will not only beget in them a suspicion of the work they hear of abroad, whereby the mighty hand of God that appears in it loses its influence upon their minds; but it will also tend to create a suspicion of every thing of the like nature, that shall appear among themselves, as being something of the same distemper that is become so epidemical in the land. And what is this, in effect, but to create a suspicion of all vital religion, and to put the people upon talking against and discouraging it, wherever it appears, and knocking it on the head as fast as it rises. We, who are ministers, by looking on this work from year to year with a displeased countenance, shall effectually keep the sheep from their pasture, instead of doing the part of shepherds by feeding them; and our people had a great deal better be without any settled minister at all, at such a day as this.
who are in this sacred office had need to take heed what we do, and how
we behave ourselves at this time: a less thing in a minister will
hinder the work of God, than in others. If we are very silent, or say
but little about the work, in our public prayers and preaching, or seem
carefully to avoid speaking of it in our conversation, it will be
interpreted by our people, that we, who are their guides, to whom they
are to have their eye for spiritual instruction, are
suspicious of it; and this will tend to raise the same suspicions in
them; and so the formentioned consequences will follow. And if we
really hinder and stand in the way of the work of God, whose business
above all others it is to promote it, how can we expect to partake of
the glorious benefits of it? And, by keeping others from the benefit,
we shall keep them out of heaven; therefore those awful words of Christ
to the Jewish teachers, should be considered by us,
times of Christ’s remarkably appearing in behalf of his church, to
revive religion, and advance his kingdom in the world, are often spoken
of in the prophecies of Scripture, as times wherein he will remarkably
execute judgements on such ministers or shepherds as do not feed the
flock, but hinder their being fed, and so will deliver his flock from
The example of the unbelieving lord in Samaria should especially be for the warning of ministers and rulers. At the time when God turned an extreme famine into great plenty, by a wonderful work of his, the king appointed this lord to have the charge of the gate of the city; where he saw the common people, in multitudes, entering with great joy and gladness, laden with provision, to feed and feast their almost famished bodies; but he himself, though he saw it with his eyes, never had one taste of it, but, being weak with famine, sunk down in the crowd, and was trodden to death, as a punishment of God for his not giving credit to that great and wonderful work of God, when sufficiently manifested to him to require his belief.— Ministers are those whom the King of the church has appointed to have the charge of the gate at which his people enter into the kingdom of heaven, there to be entertained and satisfied with an eternal feast, i.e. ministers have the charge of the house of God, which is the gate of heaven.
should especially take heed of a spirit of envy towards other
ministers, whom God is pleased to use for carrying on this work more
than they; and that they do not from such a spirit, reproach some
preachers who have the true spirit, as though they were influenced by a
false spirit—or were bereft of reason, were mad, and proud, false
pretenders, and deserved to be put in prison or the stocks, as
disturbers of the peace—lest they expose themselves to the curse of
Shemaiah the Nehelamite, who envied the prophet Jeremiah, and in this
manner reviled him, in his letter to Zephaniah the priest,
is our wisest and best way, fully, and without reluctance, to bow to
the great God in this work, and to be entirely resigned to him, with
respect to the manner in which he carries it on, and the instruments he
is pleased to use. Let us not show ourselves out of humour, and
sullenly refuse to acknowledge the work in its full glory, because we
have not had so great a hand in promoting it, or have not shared so
largely in its blessings, as some others. Let us not
refuse to give all that honour which belongs to others as instruments,
because they are young, or are upon other accounts much inferior to
ourselves and others; and may appear to us very unworthy that God
should put so much honour upon them. When God comes to accomplish any
great work for his church, and for the advancement of the kingdom of
his Son, he always fulfils that scripture,
Not only magistrates and ministers, but every living soul,
is now obliged to arise and acknowledge God in this work, and put to
his hand to promote it, as they would not expose themselves to God’s
curse. All sorts of persons throughout the whole congregation of Israel,
great and small, rich and poor, men and women, helped to build the
tabernacle in the wilderness; some in one way, others in another; each
one according to his capacity: every one whose
heart stirred him up, and every one whom his spirit made willing; all
sorts contributed and all sorts were employed in that affair, in
labours of their hands, both men and women. Some brought gold and
silver, others blue, purple, and scarlet, and fine linen; others
offered an offering of brass; others, with whom was found shittim-wood,
brought it an offering to the Lord; the rulers brought onyx-stones, and
spice, and oil; and some brought goats’ hair, some rams’ skins, and
As all sorts of persons were employed in building the tabernacle in the wilderness, so the whole congregation of Israel were called together to set up the tabernacle in Shiloh, after they came into Canaan,
care should be taken that the press should be improved to no purpose
contrary to the interest of this work. We read, that when God fought
against Sisera, for the deliverance of his oppressed church, they that handle the pen of the writer came to the help of the Lord in that affair,
When a people oppose Christ in the work of his Holy Spirit, it is because it touches them in something that is dear to their carnal minds, and because they see the tendency of it is to cross their pride, and deprive them of the objects of their lusts. We should take heed that at this day we be not like the Gadarenes, who—when Christ came into their country in the exercise of his glorious power and grace, triumphing over a legion of devils, and delivering a miserable creature that had long been their captive—were all alarmed, because they lost their swine by it; and a whole multitude of the country came, and besought him to depart out of their coasts. They loved their filthy swine better than Jesus Christ; and had rather have a legion of devils in their country with their herd of swine, than Jesus Christ without them.
This work may be opposed in other ways, besides by directly speaking against the whole of it. Persons may say that they believe there is a good work carried on in the country; and may sometimes bless God, in their public prayers, in general terms, for any awakenings or revivals of religion there have lately been in any part of the land; and may pray that God would carry on his own work, and pour out his Spirit more and more; and yet, as I apprehend, be in the sight of God great opposers of his work. Some will express themselves after this manner, who are so far from acknowledging and rejoicing in the infinite mercy and glorious grace of God in causing so happy a change, that they look on the religious state of the country, take it on the whole, much more sorrowful than it was ten years ago; and whose conversation, to those who are well acquainted with them, evidently shows, that they are more out of humour with the state of things, and enjoy themselves less, than they did before ever this work began. If it be manifestly thus with us, and our talk and behaviour with respect to this work be such as has though but an indirect tendency to beget ill thoughts and suspicions in others concerning it, we are opposers of the work of God.
Instead of coming to the help of the Lord, we shall actually fight against him, if we are abundant in insisting 390 on and setting forth the blemishes of the work; so as to manifest that we rather choose and are more forward to take notice of what is amiss, than what is good and glorious in the work. Not but that the errors committed ought to be observed and lamented, and a proper testimony borne against them, and the most probable means should be used to have them amended; but insisting much upon them, as though it were a pleasing theme, or speaking of them with more appearance of heat of spirit, or with ridicule, or an air of contempt, than grief for them, has no tendency to correct the errors; but has a tendency to darken the glory of God’s power and grace appearing in the substance of the work, and to beget jealousies and ill thoughts in the minds of others concerning the whole of it. Whatever errors many zealous persons have ran into, yet if the work, in the substance of it, be the work of God, then it is a joyful day indeed; it is so in heaven, and ought to be so among God’s people on earth, especially in that part of the earth where this glorious work is carried on. It is a day of great rejoicing with Christ himself, the good Shepherd, when he finds his sheep that was lost, lays it on his shoulders rejoicing, and calls together his friends and neighbours, saying, Rejoice with me. If we therefore are Christ’s friends, now it should be a day of great rejoicing with us. If we viewed things in a just light, so great an event as the conversion of such a multitude of sinners, would draw and engage our attention much more than all the imprudences and irregularities that have been; our hearts would be swallowed up with the glory of this event, and we should have no great disposition to attend to any thing else. The imprudences and errors of poor feeble worms do not prevent great rejoicing, in the presence of the angels of God, over so many poor sinners that have repented; and it will be an argument of something very ill in us, if they prevent our rejoicing.
loves, in a day of great joy and gladness, to be much insisting on
those things that are uncomfortable? Would it not be very improper, on
a king’s coronation day, to be much in taking notice of the blemishes
of the royal family? Or would it be agreeable to the bridegroom, on the
day of his espousals, the day of the gladness of his heart, to be much
insisting on the blemishes of his bride? We have an account, how at the
time of that joyful dispensation of
Providence, the restoration of the church of Israel after the
Babylonian captivity, and at the time of the feast of tabernacles, many
wept at the faults which were found amongst the people, but were
reproved for taking so much notice of the blemishes of that affair, as
to overlook the cause of rejoicing.
God doubtless now expects, that all sorts of persons in New England, rulers, ministers, and people, high and low, rich and poor, old and young, should take great notice of his hand in this mighty work of his grace, and should appear to acknowledge his glory in it, and greatly to rejoice in it, every one doing his utmost, in the place where God has set them in, to promote it. And God, according to his wonderful patience, seems to be still waiting to give us opportunity thus to acknowledge and honour him. But, if we finally refuse, there is not the least reason to expect any other than that his awful curse will pursue us, and that the pourings out of his wrath will be proportionable to the despised outpourings of his Spirit and grace.
PART III. Wherein the zealous Promoters of this Work have been injuriously blamed.
SHOWING, IN MANY INSTANCES, WHEREIN THE SUBJECTS, OR ZEALOUS PROMOTERS, OF THIS WORK HAVE BEEN INJURIOUSLY BLAMED.
This work, which has lately been carried on in the land, is the work of God, and not the work of man. Its beginning has not been of man’s power or device, and its being carried on depends no on our strength or wisdom; but yet God expects of all, that they should use their utmost endeavours to promote it, and that the hearts of all should be greatly engaged in this affair. We should improve our utmost strength in it, however vain human strength is without the power of god; and so he no less requires that we should improve our utmost care, wisdom, and prudence, though human wisdom, of itself, be as vain as human strength. Though God is wont to carry on such a work, in such a manner as many ways to show the weakness and vanity of means and human endeavours in themselves; yet, at the same time, he carries it on in such a manner as to encourage diligence and vigilance in the use of proper means and endeavours, and to punish the neglect of them. Therefore, in our endeavours to promote this great work, we ought to use the utmost caution, vigilance, and skill, in the measures we take in order to it. A great affair should be managed with great prudence. This is the most important affair that ever New England was called to be concerned in. When a people are engaged in war with a powerful and crafty nation, it concerns them to manage an affair of such consequence with the utmost discretion. Of what vast importance then must it be, that we should be vigilant and prudent in the management of this great war with so great a host of subtle and cruel enemies. We must either conquer or be conquered; and the consequence of the victory, on one side, will be our eternal destruction in both soul and body in hell, and on the other side, our obtaining the kingdom of heaven, and reigning in it in eternal glory! We had need always to stand on our watch, and to be well versed in the art of war, and not be ignorant of the devices of our enemies, and to take heed lest by any means we be beguiled through their subtlety.
Though the devil be strong, yet, in such a war as this, he depends more on his craft than his strength. The course he has chiefly taken, from time to time, to clog, hinder, and overthrow revivals of religion in the church of God, has been by his subtle, deceitful management, to beguile and mislead those that have been engaged therein; and in such a course God has been pleased, in his holy and sovereign providence, to suffer him to succeed, oftentimes, in a great measure, to overthrow that which in its beginning appeared most hopeful and glorious. The work now begun, as I have shown, is eminently glorious, and, if it should go on and prevail, it would make New England a kind of heaven upon earth. Is it not therefore a thousand pities that it should be overthrown, through wrong and improper management, which we are led into by our subtle adversary, in our endeavours to promote it?—My present design is to take notice of some things at which offence has been taken beyond just bounds.
I. One thing that has been complained of is, ministers addressing themselves rather to the affections of their hearers than to their understandings, and striving to raise their passions to the utmost height, rather by a very affectionate manner of speaking, and a great appearance of 391earnestness in voice and gesture, than by clear reasoning, and informing their judgment: by which means it is objected that the affections are moved, without a proportionable enlightening of the understanding.
To which I would say, I am far from thinking that it is not very profitable for ministers, in their preaching, to endeavour clearly and distinctly to explain the doctrines of religion, and unravel the difficulties that attend them, and to confirm them with strength of reason and argumentation, and also to observe some easy and clear method in their discourses, for the help of the understanding and memory; and it is very probable that these things have been of late too much neglected by many ministers. Yet I believe that the objection made, of affections raised without enlightening the understanding, is in a great measure built on a mistake, and confused notions that some have about the nature and cause of the affections, and the manner in which they depend on the understanding. All affections are raised either by light in the understanding, or by some error and delusion in the understanding: for all affections do certainly arise from some apprehension in the understanding; and that apprehension must either be agreeable to truth, or else be some mistake or delusion; if it be an apprehension or notion that is agreeable to truth, then it is light in the understanding. Therefore the thing to be inquired into is, whether the apprehensions or notions of divine and eternal things, that are raised in people’s minds by these affectionate preachers, whence their affections are excited, be apprehensions agreeable to truth, or whether they are mistakes. If the former, then the affections are raised the way they should be, viz. by informing the mind, or conveying light to the understanding. They go away with a wrong notion, who think that those preachers cannot affect their hearers by enlightening their understandings, except by such a distinct and learned handling of the doctrinal points of religion, as depends on human discipline, or the strength of natural reason, and tends to enlarge their hearers’ learning, and speculative knowledge in divinity. The manner of preaching without this, may be such as shall tend very much to set divine and eternal things in a right view, and to give the hearers such ideas and apprehensions of them as are agreeable to truth, and such impressions on their hearts as are answerable to the real nature of things. And beside the words that are spoken, the manner of speaking has a great tendency to this. I think an exceeding affectionate way of preaching about the great things of religion, has in itself no tendency to beget false apprehensions of them; but on the contrary, a much greater tendency to beget true apprehensions of them, than a moderate, dull, indifferent way of speaking of them. An appearance of affection and earnestness in the manner of delivery, though very great indeed, if it be agreeable to the nature of the subject—and be not beyond a proportion to its importance, and worthiness of affection, and if there be no appearance of its being feigned or forced—has so much the greater tendency to beget true ideas or apprehensions in the minds of the hearers concerning the subject spoken of, and so to enlighten the understanding: and that for this reason, That such a way or manner of speaking of these things does, in fact, more truly represent them, than a more cold and indifferent way of speaking of them. If the subject be in its own nature worthy of very great affection, then speaking of it with very great affection is most agreeable to the nature of that subject, or is the truest representation of it, and therefore has most of a tendency to beget true ideas o fit in the minds of those to whom the representation is made. And I do not think ministers are to be blamed for raising the affections of their hearers too high, if that which they are affected with be only that which is worthy of affection, and their affections are not raised beyond a proportion to their importance, or worthiness of affection. I should think myself in the way of my duty, to raise the affections of my hearers as high as possibly I can, provided that they are affected with nothing but truth, and with affections that are not disagreeable to the nature of the subject. I know it has long been fashionable to despise a very earnest and pathetical way of preaching; and they only have been valued as preachers, who have shown the greatest extent of learning, strength of reason, and correctness of method and language. But I humbly conceive it has been for want of understanding or duly considering human nature, that such preaching has been thought to have the greatest tendency to answer the ends of preaching; and the experience of the present and past ages abundantly confirms the same. Though, as I said before, clearness of distinction and illustration, and strength of reason, and a good method, in the doctrinal handling of the truths of religion, is many ways needful and profitable, and not to be neglected; yet an increase in speculative knowledge in divinity is not what is so much needed by our people as something else. Men may abound in this sort of light, and have no heat. How much has there been of this sort of knowledge, in the Christian world, in this age! Was there ever an age, wherein strength and penetration of reason, extent of learning, exactness of distinction, correctness of style, and clearness of expression, did so abound? And yet, was there ever an age, wherein there has been so little sense of the evil of sin, so little love to God, heavenly-mindedness, and holiness of life, among the professors of the true religion? Our people do not so much need to have their heads stored, as to have their hearts touched; and they stand in the greatest need of that sort of preaching, which has the greatest tendency to do this.
of the word of God is commonly spoken of in Scripture, in such
expressions as seem to import a loud and earnest speaking; as in
seems to be foretold that the gospel should be especially preached in a
loud and earnest manner, at the introduction of the prosperous state of
religion in the latter days.
II. Another thing that some ministers have been greatly blamed for, and I think unjustly, is speaking terror
to them who are already under great terrors, instead of comforting
them. Indeed, if ministers in such a case go about to terrify persons
with that which is not true, or to affright them by representing their
case worse than it is, or in any respect otherwise than it is, they are
to be condemned; but if they terrify them only by still holding forth
more light to them, and giving them to understand more of the truth of
their case, they are altogether to be justified. When consciences are
greatly awakened by the Spirit of God, it is but light imparted,
enabling men to see their case, in some measure, as it is; and, if more
light be let in, it will terrify them still more. But ministers are not
therefore to be blamed, that they endeavour to hold forth more light to
the conscience, and do not rather alleviate the pain they are under, by
intercepting and obstructing the light that shines already. To say any
thing to those who have never believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, to
represent their case any otherwise than exceeding terrible, is not to
preach the word of God to them; for the word of God reveals nothing but
truth; but this is to delude them. Why should we be afraid to let
persons, who are in an infinitely miserable condition, know the truth,
or bring them into the light, for fear it should terrify them? It is
light that must convert them, if ever they are converted. The more we
bring sinners into the light, while they are miserable, and the light
is terrible to them, the more likely it is that afterward the light
will be joyful to them. The ease, peace, and comfort, which natural men
enjoy, have their foundation in darkness and blindness; therefore as
that darkness vanishes, and light comes in, their peace vanishes, and
they are terrified. But that is no good argument why we should
endeavour to hold their darkness, that we may uphold their comfort. The
truth is, that as long as men reject Christ, and do not savingly
believe in him, however they may be awakened, and however strict, and
conscientious, and laborious they may be in religion, they have the
wrath of God abiding on them, they are his enemies, and the children of
the devil; (as the Scripture calls all who are not savingly converted,
To blame a minister for thus declaring the truth to those who are under awakenings, and not immediately administering comfort to them, is like blaming a surgeon, because when he has begun to thrust his lance, whereby he has already put his patient to great pain, and he shrinks and cries out with anguish, he is so cruel that he will not stay his hand, but goes on to thrust it in further, till he comes to the core of the wound. Such a compassionate physician, who as soon as his patient began to flinch, should withdraw his hand, and go about immediately to apply a plaster, to skin over the wound, and leave the core untouched, would heal the hurt slightly, crying, Peace, peace, when there is no peace.
Indeed something besides terror is to be preached to them whose consciences are awakened. They are to be told that there is a Saviour provided, who is excellent and glorious; who has shed his precious blood for sinners, and is every way sufficient to save them; who stands ready to receive them, if they will heartily embrace him; for this is also the truth, as well as that they now are in an infinitely dreadful condition. This is the word of God. Sinners, at the same time that they are told how miserable their case is, should be earnestly invited to come and accept of a Saviour, and yield their hearts unto him, with all the winning, encouraging arguments, that the gospel affords. But this is to induce them to escape from the misery of their condition, not to make them think their present condition to be less miserable than it is, or to abate their uneasiness and distress, while they are in it. That would be the way to quiet the, and fasten them there, and not to excite them to flee from it. Comfort in one sense, is to be held forth to sinners under awakenings of conscience, i.e. comfort is to be offered to them in Christ, on their fleeing from their present miserable state to him. But comfort is not to be administered to them, in their present state, or while out of Christ. No comfort is to be administered to them, from any thing in them, any of their qualifications, prayers, or other performances, past, present, or future; but ministers should in such cases, strive to their utmost to take all such comforts from them, though it greatly increases their terror. A person who sees himself ready to sink into hell, is prone to strive, some way or other, to lay God under some obligation to him; but he is to be beat off from every thing of that nature, though it greatly increases his terror, to see himself wholly destitute of any refuge, or any thing of his own to lay hold of; as a man that sees himself in danger of drowning, is in terror, and endeavours to catch hold on every twig within his reach, and he that pulls away those twigs from him increases his terror; yet if they are insufficient to save him, and by being in his way prevents his looking to that which will save him, to pull away them is necessary to save his life.
If sinners are in distress from any error they embrace, or mistake they are under, that is to be removed. For instance, if they are in terror, from an apprehension that they have committed the unpardonable sin, or that those things have happened to them which are certain signs of reprobation, or any other delusion, such terrors have no tendency to do them any good; for these terrors are from temptation, and not from conviction. But that terror which arises from conviction, or a sight of truth, is to be increased; for those who are most awakened, have great remaining stupidity. It is from remaining blindness and darkness that they see no more, and that remaining blindness is a disease which we should endeavour to remove. I am not afraid to tell sinners who are most sensible of their misery, that their case is indeed as miserable as they think it to be, and a thousand times more so; for this is the truth. Some may be ready to say, that though it be the truth, yet the truth is not to be spoken at all times, and seems not to be seasonable then. But it seems to me, such truth is never more seasonable than at such at time, when Christ is beginning to open the eyes of conscience. Ministers ought to act as co-workers with him; to take that opportunity, and to the utmost to improve that advantage, and strike while the iron is hot. When the light has begun to shine, then they should remove all obstacles, and use all proper means, that it may come in more fully. And experience abundantly shows, that to take this course is not of a hurtful tendency, but very much the contrary. I have seen, in very many instances, the happy effects of it, and oftentimes a very speedy happy issue; and never knew any ill consequence, in case of real conviction, and when distress has been only from thence.
know of but one case, wherein the truth ought to be withheld from
sinners in distress of conscience, and that is the case of melancholy:
and it is not to be withheld from them, as if the truth tends to do
them hurt; but because, if we speak the truth to them, sometimes they
will be deceived, and led into error by it, thought that strange
disposition there is in them to take things wrong. So that,
393though what is spoken is truth, yet as it
is heard, received, and applied by them, it is falsehood; as it will
be, unless the truth be spoken with abundance of caution and prudence,
and consideration of their disposition and circumstances. But the most
awful truths of God’s word ought not to be withheld from public
congregations, because it may happen that some such melancholic persons
may be in it: any more than the Bible is to be withheld from the
Christian world, because it is manifest that there are a great many
melancholic persons in Christendom that exceedingly abuse the awful
things contained in the Scripture, to their own wounding. Nor do I
think that to be of weight, which is made use of by some, as a great
and dreadful objection against the terrifying preaching that has of
late been in New England, viz.
That there have been some instances of melancholic persons who have so
abused it, that the issue has been the murder of themselves. The
objection from hence is no stronger against awakening preaching, than
it is against the Bible itself. There are hundreds, and probably
thousands, of instances, of persons who have murdered themselves under
religious melancholy. These murders probably never would have been, if
the world had remained in a state of heathenish darkness. The Bible has
not only been the occasion of these sad effects, but of thousands, and
I suppose millions, of other cruel murders committed in the
persecutions that have been raised, which never would have been if it
had not been for the Bible. Many whole countries have been as it were
deluged with innocent blood, which would not have been if the gospel
never had been preached in the world. It is not a good objection
against any kind of preaching that some men abuse it greatly to their
hurt. It has been acknowledged by all divines, as a thing common in all
ages, and all Christian countries, that a very great part of those who
sit under the gospel abuse it. It proves an occasion of their far more
aggravated damnation, and so of eternally murdering their souls; which
is an effect infinitely more terrible than the murder of their bodies.
It is as unjust to lay the blame of these self-murders to those
ministers who have declared the awful truths of God’s word in the most
lively and affecting manner, as it would be to lay the blame of
hardening men’s hearts, and blinding their eyes, and their more
dreadful eternal damnation, to the prophet Isaiah or Jesus Christ, because this was the consequence of their
preaching with respect to many of their hearers;
What has more especially given offence to many, and raised a loud cry against some preachers, as though their conduct were intolerable, is their frightening poor innocent children with talk of hell-fire, and eternal damnation. But if those who complain so loudly of this, really believe what is the general profession of the country, viz. That all are by nature the children of wrath, and heirs of hell—and that every one that has not been born again, whether he be young or old, is exposed every moment to eternal destruction—then such a complaint and cry as this betrays a great deal of weakness and inconsideration. Innocent as children seem to us, yet, if they are out of Christ, they are not so in the sight of God; but are in a most miserable condition, as well as grown up persons: and they are naturally ver senseless and stupid, being born as the wild ass’s colt, and need much to awaken them. Why should we conceal the truth from them? Will those children who have been dealt tenderly with in this respect, and lived and died insensible of their misery till they come to feel it in hell, ever thank parents and others or their tenderness, in not letting them know their danger? If parents’ love towards their children were not blind, it would affect them much more to see their children every day exposed to eternal burnings, and yet senseless, than to see them suffer the distress of that awakening which is necessary in order to their escape, and that tends to their being eternally happy as the children of God. A child that has a dangerous wound may need the painful lance, as well as grown persons; and that would be a foolish pity, in such a case, that should hold back the lance, and throw away the life—I have seen the happy effects of dealing plainly and thoroughly with children in the concerns of their souls, without sparing them at all, in many instances; and never knew any ill consequence of it, in any one instance.
III. Another thing, against which a great deal has been said, is having so frequent religious meetings,
and spending so much time in religion. Indeed, there are none of the
externals of religion but what are capable of excess; and I believe it
is true, that there has not been a due proportion observed of late. We
have placed religion too much in the external duties of the first
table; we have abounded in religious meetings, in praying, reading,
hearing, singing, and religious conference; and there has not been a
proportionable increase of zeal for deeds of charity, and other duties
of the second table; though it must be acknowledged that they are also
much increased. But yet it appears to me, that this objection has been
in the general groundless. Though worldly business must be done, and
persons ought not to neglect that of their particular callings; yet it
is to the honour of God, that a people should be so much in outward
acts of religion, as to carry in it a visible, public appearance of a
great engagedness of mind, especially at such an extraordinary time.
When God appears unusually present with a people in wonderful works of
power and mercy, they should spend more time than usual in religious
exercises, to put honour upon that God who is then extraordinarily
present, and to seek his face. Thus it was with the Christian church in
Jerusalem, on occasion of that extraordinary pouring out of the Spirit, soon after Christ’s
secular business, as I said before, ought not to be neglected; yet I
cannot see how it can be maintained, that religion ought not to be
attended, lest it should injure our temporal affairs, on any other
principle than that of infidelity.—None object against injuring one
temporal affair for the sake of another of much greater importance: And
therefore, if eternal things are as real as temporal things, and are
indeed of infinitely greater importance; then why may we not
voluntarily suffer, in some measure, in our temporal concerns, while we
are seeking eternal riches, and immortal glory? It is looked upon as no
way improper for a whole nation to spend a considerable time, and much
of their outward substance, on some extraordinary temporal occasion,
for the sake only of the ceremonies of a public rejoicing; and it would
be thought dishonourable to be very exact about what we spend, or
careful lest we injure our estates, on such an occasion. And why should
we be exact only with Almighty God, so that it should be a crime to be
otherwise than scrupulously careful lest we injure ourselves in our
temporal interest, to put honour upon him, and seek our own eternal
happiness? We should take heed that none of us be in any wise like Judas, who greatly complained of needless expense, and waste of outward substance, to put honour upon Christ, when Mary broke her box, and poured the precious ointment on his head. He had indignation
within himself on that account, and cries out, “Why was this waste of ointment
made? For it might have been sold for more than three hundred pence, and have been given to the poor,”
Besides, if the matter be justly examined, I believe it will be found, that the country has lost no time from their temporal affairs by the late revival of religion, but have rather gained; and that more time has been saved from frolicking and tavern-haunting, idleness and unprofitable visits, vain talk, fruitless pastimes, and needless diversions, than has lately been spent in extraordinary religion; and probably five times as much has been saved in various ways, as has been spent by religious meetings. The great complaint made against so much time being spent in religion, cannot be in general from a real concern that God may be honoured, and his will done, and the best good of men promoted; as is very manifest from this, that now there is a much more earnest and zealous outcry made in the country against this extraordinary religion, than was before against so much time spent in tavern-haunting, vain company-keeping, night-walking, and other thins, which wasted both our time and substance and injured our moral virtue.
frequent preaching that has lately obtained has in a particular manner
been objected against as unprofitable and prejudicial. It is objected
that, when sermons are heard so very often, one sermon tends to thrust
out another; so that persons lose benefit of all. They say, tow or
three sermons in a week is as much as they can remember and
digest.—Such objections against frequent preaching, if they be not from
an enmity against religion, are for want of duly considering the way
that sermons usually profit an auditory. The main benefit obtained by
preaching is by impression made upon the mind at the time, and not by
an effect that arises afterwards by a remembrance of what was
delivered. And though an after-remembrance of what was heard in a
sermon is oftentimes very profitable; yet, for the most part, that
remembrance is from an impression the words made on the heart at the
time; and the memory profits, as it renews and increases that
impression. A frequent inculcating the more important things of
religion in preaching has no tendency to erase out such impressions,
but to increase them, and fix them deeper and deeper in the mind, as is
found by experience. It never used to be objected against, that persons
upon the Sabbath, after they have heard two sermons on that day, should
go home, and spend the remaining part of the Sabbath in reading the
Scriptures, and printed sermons; which, in proportion as it has a
tendency to affect the mind at all, tends as much to drive out what
they have heard, as if they heard another the apostles to preach every
day, in places where they went; yea, though sometimes they continued
long in one place,
are some things in Scripture that seem to signify that there should be
preaching in an extraordinary frequency, at the time when God should
introduce the flourishing state of religion in the latter days; as
IV. Another thing, wherein I think some ministers have been injured, is in being very much blamed for making so much of outcries, faintings, and other bodily effects; speaking of them as tokens of the presence of God, and arguments of the success of preaching; seeming to strive to their utmost to bring a congregation to that pass, and seeming to rejoice in it, yea, even blessing God for it when they see these effects.
Concerning this I would observe, in the first place, That there are many things, with respect to cryings out, falling down, &c. charged on ministers, that they are not guilty of. Some would have it, that they speak of these things as certain evidences of a work of the Spirit of God on the hearts of their hearers, or that they esteem these bodily effects themselves to be the work of God, as though the Spirit of God took hold of and agitated the bodies of men; and some are charged with making these things essential, and supposing that persons cannot be converted without them; whereas I never yet could see the person that held either of these things.
But for speaking of such effects as probable tokens of God’s presence, and arguments of the success of preaching, it seems to me they are not to be blamed; because I think they are so indeed. And therefore when I see them excited by preaching the important truths of God’s word, urged and enforced by proper arguments and motives, or as consequent on other means that are good, I do not scruple to speak of them, and for this reason, viz. That from time to time, upon proper inquiry and examination, and observation, of the consequences and fruits, I have found that these are all evidences of the persons in whom these effects appear, being under the influences of God’s Spirit, in such cases. Crying out, in such a manner, and with such circumstances, as I have seen them from time to time, is as much an evidence to me, of the general cause it proceeds from, as language. I have learned the meaning of it the same way that persons learn the meaning of language, viz. By use and experience. I confess that when I see a great crying out in congregation, in the manner that I have seen it, when those things are held forth to them which are worthy of their being greatly affected by them, I rejoice in it, much more than merely in an appearance of solemn attention, and a show of affection by weeping; and that because when there have been those outcries, I have found from time to time a much greater and more excellent effect. To rejoice that the work of God is carried on calmly, without much ado, is in effect to rejoice that it is carried on with less power, or that there is not so much of the influence of God’s Spirit.—For though the degree of the influence of the Spirit of God on particular persons, is by no means to be judged of by the degree of external appearances, because of the different constitutions, tempers, and circumstances of men; yet, if there be a very powerful influence of the Spirit of God on a mixed multitude, it will cause some way or other a great visible commotion.
And as to ministers aiming at such effects, and striving by all means to bring a congregation to that pass, that there should be such an uproar among them; I suppose none aim at it any otherwise, than as they strive to raise the affections of their hearers to such a height as very often appears in these effects. And if those affections are commonly good, and it be found by experience that such a 395 degree of them commonly has a good effect, I think they are to be justified in so doing.
V. Again, some ministers have been blamed for keeping persons together that have been under great affections, which have appeared in such extraordinary outward manifestations.—Many think this promotes confusion; that persons in such circumstances do but discompose each others’ minds, and disturb the minds of others; and that therefore it is best they should be dispersed; and that when any in a congregation are strongly seized, that they cannot forbear outward manifestations of it, they should be removed, that others’ minds may not be diverted.
cannot but think that those who thus object go upon quite wrong notions
of things. For though persons ought to take heed that they do not make
an ado without necessity; for this will be the way in time to have such
appearances lose all their effect; yet the unavoidable manifestations
of strong religious affections tend to a happy influence on the minds
of bystanders, and are found by experience to have an excellent and
durable effect. And so to contrive and order things, that others may
have opportunity and advantage to observe them, has been found to be
blessed, as a great means to promote the work of God; and to prevent
their being in the way of observation, is to prevent the effect of that
which God makes use of as a principal means of carrying on his work at
such and extraordinary time, viz.
Example; which is often spoken of in Scripture, as one of the chief
means by which God would carry on his work in the prosperity of
religion in the latter days.—I have mentioned some texts already to
this purpose, in what I published before, of the marks of a work of the true Spirit; but would here mention some others. In
VI. Another thing that gives great disgust to many, is the disposition that persons show, under great affections, to speak so much; and, with such earnestness and vehemence, to be setting forth the greatness, and wonderfulness, and importance of divine and eternal things; and to be so passionately warning, inviting, and entreating others. Concerning which I would say, that I am far from thinking that such a disposition should be wholly without any limits or regulation (as I shall more particularly show afterwards); and I believe some have erred, in setting no bounds, and indulging and encouraging this disposition without any kind of restraint or direction. But yet it seems to me, that such a disposition is in general is what both reason and Scripture will justify. Those who are offended at such things, as though they were unreasonable are not just. Upon examination it will probably be found, that they have one rule of reasoning about temporal things, and another about spiritual things. They do not at all wonder, if a person on some very great and affecting occasion, an occasion of extraordinary danger or great joy, that eminently and immediately concerns him and others—is disposed to speak much, and with great earnestness, especially to those with whom he is united in the bonds of dear affection, and great concern for their good. And therefore, if they were just, why would not they allow it in spiritual things? And much more in them, agreeably to the vastly greater importance and more affecting nature of spiritual things, and the concern which true religion causes in men’s minds for the good of others, and the disposition it gives and excites to speak God’s praises, to show forth his infinite glory, and talk of all his glorious perfections and works?
a very great and proper sense of the importance of religion, and the
danger sinners are in, should sometimes cause an almost insuperable
disposition to speak and warn others is agreeable to
ought not to be, in any measure, like the unbelieving Jews in Christ’s
time, who were disgusted both with crying out with distress, and with
joy. When the poor blind man cried out before all the multitude,
“Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me!” and continued instantly
thus doing, the multitude rebuked him, and charged him that he should
hold his tongue,
many, under great religious affections, are earnestly speaking together
of divine wonders, in various parts of a company, to those who are next
them; some attending to one, and others to another; there is something
very beautiful in it, provided they do not speak so as to drown each
others’ voices, that none can hear what any say. There is a greater and
more affecting appearance of conversation. When a multitude meets on
any occasion of temporal rejoicing, freely and cheerfully to converse
together, they are not wont to observe the ceremony of but one speaking
at a time, while all the rest in a formal manner set themselves to
attend to what he says. That would spoil all conversation, and turn it
into the formality of set speeches. It is better for lay persons,
speaking one to another of the things of God, when they meet together,
to speak after the manner of Christian conversation, than to observe
the formality of but one speaking at a time, the whole multitude
silently and solemnly attending to what he says; which would carry in
it too much of the air of the authority and solemnity or preaching. The
VII. Another thing that some have found fault with, is abounding so much in singing in religious meetings. Objecting against such a thing as this, seems to arise from a suspicion already established of this work. They doubt of the pretended extraordinary love and joys that attend this work, and so find fault with the manifestations of them. If they thought persons were truly the subjects of an extraordinary degree of divine love, and heavenly rejoicing in God, I suppose they would not wonder at their having a disposition to be much in praise. They object not against the saints and angels in heaven singing praises and hallelujahs to God, without ceasing day or night; and therefore doubtless will allow that the more the saints on earth are like them in their dispositions, the more they will be disposed to do like them. They will readily own that the generality of Christians have great reason to be ashamed that they have so little thankfulness, and are no more in praising God, and manifesting a delight in that heavenly exercise? To complain of this, is to be too much like the Pharisees, who were disgusted when the multitude of the disciples began to rejoice, and with loud voices to praise God, and cry, hosanna, when Christ was entering into Jerusalem.
There are many things in Scripture, that seem to intimate that praising God, both in speeches and songs, will be what the church of God will very much abound in, in the approaching glorious day. So on the seventh day of compassing the walls of Jericho, when the priests blew with the trumpets in an extraordinary manner, the people shouted with a great shout, and the wall of the city fell down flat. So the ark was brought back from its banishment, with extraordinary shouting and singing of the whole congregation of Israel. And the places in the prophecies of Scripture, signifying that the church of God, in the glorious Jubilee that is foretold, shall greatly abound in singing and shouting forth the praises of God, are too many to be mentioned. And there will be cause enough for it: I believe it will be a time wherein both heaven and earth will be much more full of joy and praise than ever they were before.
But what is more especially found fault with, in the singing that is now practised, is making use of hymns of human composure. I am far from thinking that the book of Psalms should be thrown by in our public worship, but that it should always be used in the Christian church to the end of the world: but I know of no obligation we are under to confine ourselves to it. I can find no command or rule of God’s word that does any more confine us to the words of the Scripture in our singing, than it does in our praying; we speak to God in both. And I can see no reason why we should limit ourselves to such particular forms of words, that we find in the Bible, in speaking to him by way of praise, in metre, and with music, than when we speak to him in prose, by way of prayer and supplication. And it is really needful that we should have some other songs besides the Psalms of David. It is unreasonable to suppose that the Christian church should for ever, and even in times of her greatest light, in her praises of God and the Lamb, be confined only to the words of the Old Testament, wherein all the greatest and most glorious things of the gospel, that are infinitely the greatest subjects of her praise, are spoken of under a veil, and not so much as the name of our glorious Redeemer ever mentioned, but in some dark figure, or as hid under the name of some type. And as to our making use of the words of others, and not those that are conceived by ourselves, it is no more than we do in all our public prayers; the whole worshipping assembly, excepting one only, makes use of the words that are conceived by him who speaks for the rest. 397
VIII. Another thing that many
have disliked, is the religious meetings of children to read and pray
together, and perform religious exercises by themselves. What is
objected is children’s want of that knowledge and discretion which is
requisite in order to a decent and profitable management of religious
exercises. But it appears to me the objection is not sufficient.
Children, as they have the nature of men, are inclined to society; and
those of them who are capable of society one with another, are capable
of the influence of the Spirit of God in its active fruits. And if they
are inclined by a religious disposition, which they have from the
Spirit of God, in order to improve their society one with another, in a
religious manner, and to religious purposes, who should forbid them? If
they have not discretion to observe method in their religious
performances, or to speak sense in all that they say in prayer, they
may notwithstanding have a good meaning, and God understands them, and
it does not spoil or interrupt their devotion one with another. We who
are adults have defects in our prayers that are a thousand times worse
in the sight of God, and are a greater confusion, and more absurd
nonsense in his eyes, than their childish indiscretions. There is not
so much difference before God, between children and grown persons, as
we are ready to imagine; we are all poor, ignorant, foolish babes, in
his sight. Our adult age does bring us so much nearer to God, as we are
apt to think. God in this work has shown a remarkable regard to little
children; never was there such a glorious work amongst persons in their
childhood, as has been of late, in New England.
He has been pleased in a wonderful manner to perfect praise out of the
mouths of babes and suckling; and many of them have more of that
knowledge and wisdom that pleases him, and renders their religious
worship acceptable, than many of the great and learned men of the
world: it is they, in the sight of God, who are the ignorant and
foolish children; these are grown men, and an hundred years old, in
comparison with them. It is to be hoped that the days are coming,
have seen many happy effects of children’s religious meetings; and God
has seemed often remarkably to own them in their meetings, and really
descended from heaven to be amongst them: I have known several probable
instances of children’s being converted at such meetings. I should
therefore think, that if children appear to be really moved to it by a
religious disposition, and not merely from a childish affection of
imitating grown persons, they ought by no means to be discouraged or
discountenanced. But yet it is fit that care should be taken of them by
their parents and pastors, to instruct and direct them, and to correct
imprudent conduct and irregularities if they are perceived, or any
thing by which the devil may pervert and destroy the design of their
meetings.—All should take heed that they do not find fault with and
despise the religion of children, from an evil principle, lest they
should be like the chief priests and scribes, who were sore displeased
at the religious worship and praises of little children, and the honour
they gave Christ in the temple. We have an account of it, and of what
Christ said upon it, in
PART IV. What things are to be corrected and avoided.
SHOWING WHAT THINGS ARE TO BE CORRECTED OR AVOIDED, IN PROMOTING THIS WORK, OR IN OUR BEHAVIOUR UNDER IT.
Having thus observed, in some instances, wherein the conduct of those that have appeared to be the subjects of this work, or have been zealous to promote it, has been objected against or complained of without or beyond just cause; I proceed now to show what things ought to be corrected or avoided.
Many, who are zealous for this glorious work of God, are heartily sick of the great noise there is in the country about imprudences and disorders;
they have heard it so often from the mouths of opposers, that they are
prejudiced against the sound. And they look upon it, that what is
called being prudent and regular, so much insisted on,
is no other than being asleep, or cold and dead, in religion; and that
the great imprudence, so much blamed, is only being alive and engaged
in the things of God. They are therefore rather confirmed in any
practice, than brought off from it, by the clamour they hear against
it, as imprudent and irregular. And, to tell the truth, the cry of
irregularity and imprudence has been much more in the mouths of those
who have been enemies to the main of the work than others; for they
have watched for the halting of the zealous, and eagerly catched at any
thing that has been wrong, and have greatly insisted on it, made the
most of it, and magnified it; especially have they watched for errors
in zealous preachers, who are much in reproving and condemning the
wickedness of the times. They would therefore do well to consider that
If we look back into the history of the church of God in past ages, we may observe that it has been a common device of the devil, to overset a revival of religion; when he finds he can keep men quiet and secure no longer, then he drives them to excesses and extravagances. He holds them back as long as he can; but when he can do it no longer, then he will push them on, and, if possible, run them upon their heads. And it has been by this means chiefly that he has been successful, in several instances, to overthrow most hopeful and promising beginnings. Yea, the principal means by which the devil was successful, by degrees, to overset the grand religious revival of the world, in the primitive ages of Christianity, and in a manner to overthrow the Christian church through the earth, and to make way for the great Anti-Christian apostacy, that master-piece of all the devil’s works, was to improve the indiscreet zeal of Christians, to drive them into those three extremes 398 of enthusiasm, superstition, and severity towards opposers; which should be enough for an everlasting warning to the Christian church.
the devil will do his diligence to stir up the open enemies of
religion, yet he knows what is for his interest so well, that, in a
time of revival of religion, his main strength shall be tried with the
friends of it; and he will chiefly exert himself in his attempts to
mislead them. One truly zealous person, in the time of such an event,
that seems to have a great hand in the affair, and draws the eyes of
many upon him, may do more (through Satan’s being too subtle for him)
to hinder the work, than a hundred great, and strong, and open
opposers. In the time of the great work of Christ, his hands, with
which he works, are often wounded in the house of his friends, and his
work hindered chiefly by them: so that if any one inquires, as in
errors of the friends of the work of God, and especially of the great
promoters of it, give vast advantage to the enemies of such a work.
Indeed there are many things which are no errors, but are only duties
faithfully and thoroughly done, that wound the minds of such persons
more than real errors: but yet one real error gives opposers as much
advantage, and hinders and clogs the work as much, as ten that are only
supposed ones. Real errors do not fret and gall the enemies of religion
so much as those things that are strictly right; but they encourage
them more, they give them liberty, and open a gap for them; so that
some who before kept their enmity burning in their own breasts, and
durst not show themselves, will on such an occasion take courage, and
give themselves vent, and their rage will be like that of an enemy let
loose. Those who lay still before, having nothing to say but what they
would be ashamed of, (agreeable to
therefore the errors of the friends and promoters of such a glorious
work of God are of such dreadful consequence; and seeing the devil,
being sensible of this, is so assiduous, watchful, and subtle in his
attempts with them, and has thereby been so successful to overthrow
religion heretofore; certainly such persons ought to be exceeding
circumspect and vigilant, diffident and jealous of themselves, and
humbly dependent on the guidance of the good Shepherd.
It is a mistake I have
observed in some, by which they have been greatly exposed to their
wounding, that they think they are in no danger of going astray, or
being misled by the devil, because they are near to God; and so have no
jealous eye upon themselves, and neglect vigilance and circumspection,
as needless in their case. They say, they do not think that God will
leave them to dishonour him, and wound religion as long as they keep
near to him. And I believe so too, as long as they keep near to God, so
as to maintain a universal and diligent watch, and care to do their
duty, avoid sin and snares with diffidence in themselves, and humble
dependence and prayerfulness. But not merely because they are receiving
blessed communications from God, in refreshing views of him; if at the
same time they let down their watch, and are not jealous over their own
hearts, by reason of its remaining blindness and corruption, and a
subtle adversary.—It is a grand error for persons to think they are out
of danger from the devil, and a corrupt, deceitful heart, even in their
highest flights, and most raised frames of spiritual joy. For persons,
in such a confidence, to cease to be jealous of themselves, and to
neglect watchfulness and care, is a presumption by which I have known
many woefully ensnared. However highly we may be favoured with divine
discoveries and comforts, yet, as long as we are in the world, we are
in the enemies country; and therefore that direction of Christ to his
disciples is never out of date in this world,
is therefore a great error and sin in some persons, at this day, that
they are fixed in some things which others account errors, and will not
hearken to admonition and counsel, but are confident that they are in
the right, because God is much with them. There were some such in the
apostles’ days. The apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians, was sensible that some of them would not be easily convinced that they had been in error, because they looked upon
themselves as spiritual, or full of the Spirit of God,
And although those who are spiritual amongst us have no infallible apostle to admonish them, yet let me entreat them, by the love of Christ, calmly and impartially to weigh what may be said to them by one who is their hearty and fervent friend, (though an inferior worm,) in giving his humble opinion concerning the errors that have been committed, by the zealous friends or promoters of this great work of God. In speaking of past errors, and those we are in danger of, I would in the
First place, take notice of the causes whence the errors that attend a great revival of religion usually arise; and, as I go along, take notice of some particular errors that arise from each of those causes.
Secondly, Observe some errors that have been owing to the influence of several of those causes conjunctly.
The errors that attend a great revival of religion usually arise from these three things: 1. Undiscerned spiritual pride; 2. Wrong principles; and 3. Ignorance of Satan’s advantages and devices.
SECTION I. Spiritual pride.
One cause of errors attending a great revival of religion, is undiscerned spiritual pride.
The first and the worst cause of errors that prevail in such a state of things is spiritual pride. This is the main
door by which the devil comes into the hearts of those who are zealous
for the advancement of religion. It is the chief inlet of smoke from
the bottomless pit, to darken the mind and mislead the judgment. This
is the main handle by which the devil has hold of religious persons,
and the chief source of all the mischief that he introduces, to
clog and hinder a work of God. —This cause of error is the main spring,
or at least the main support, of all the rest. Till this disease is
cured, medicines are in vain applied to heal other diseases. It is by
this that the mind defends itself in other errors and guards itself
against light, by which it might be corrected and reclaimed. The
spiritually proud man is full of light already; he does not need
instruction, and is ready to despise the offer of it. But, if this
disease be healed, other
things are easily rectified. The humble person is like a little child,
he easily receives instruction; he is jealous over himself, sensible
how liable he is to go astray, and therefore, if it be suggested to him
that he does so, he is ready most narrowly and impartially to inquire.
Nothing sets a person so much out of the devil’s reach as humility, and
so prepares the mind for true divine light without darkness, and so
clears the eye to look on things as they truly are;
I know that a great many things at this day are very injuriously laid to the pride of those that are zealous in the cause of God. When any person appears, in any respect, remarkably distinguished in religion from others; if he professes those spiritual comforts and joys that are greater than ordinary, or appears distinguishingly zealous in religion; if he exerts himself more than others in the cause of religion, or seems to be distinguished with success; ten to one but it will immediately awaken the jealousy of those about him. They will suspect (whether they have cause or no) that he is very proud of his goodness, and affects to have it thought that nobody is so good as he; and all his talk is heard, and all his behaviour beheld, with this prejudice. Those who are themselves cold and dead, and especially such as never had any experience of the power of godliness on their own hearts, are ready to entertain such thoughts of the best Christians; which arises from a secret enmity against vital and fervent piety. But zealous Christians should take heed lest this prove a snare to them, and the devil take advantage from it, to blind their eyes from beholding what there is indeed of this nature in their hearts, and make them think, because they are charged with pride wrongfully and from an ill spirit, in many things, that therefore it is so in every thing. Alas, how much pride have the best of us in our hearts! It is the worst part of the body of sin and death; the first sin that ever entered into the universe, and the last that is rooted out; it is God’s most stubborn enemy!
The corruption of nature may all be resolved into two things, pride and worldly-mindedness, the devil and the beast, or self and the world. These are the two pillars of Dagon’s temple, on which the whole house leans. But the former of these is every way the worst part of the corruption of nature; it is the first-born son of the devil, and his image in the heart of man chiefly consists in it. It is the last thing in as sinner that is overborne by conviction, in order to conversion; and here is the saint’s hardest conflict; the last thing over which he directly militates against god, and is most contrary to the Spirit of the Lamb of God. It is most like the devil its father, in a serpentine deceitfulness and secrecy; it lies deepest, is most active, and is most ready secretly to mix itself with every thing.
of all kinds of pride, spiritual pride is upon many accounts the most
hateful, it is most like the devil; most like the sin he committed in a
heaven of light and glory, where he was exalted high in divine
knowledge, honour, beauty, and happiness. Pride is much more difficult
to be discerned than any other corruption, because its nature very much
consists in a person’s having too high a thought of himself. No wonder
that he who has too high a thought of himself,
does not know it; for he necessarily thinks that the opinion of himself
was without just grounds, he would therein cease to have it. Those that
are spiritually proud, have a high conceit of these two things, viz.
Their light, and their humility, both which are a strong prejudice
against a discovery of their pride. Being proud of their light, that
makes them not jealous of themselves; he who thinks a clear light
shines around him, is not suspicious of an enemy lurking near him
then, being proud of their humility, that makes them least of all
jealous of themselves in that particular, viz.,
as being under the prevalence of pride. There are many sins of the
heart that are very secret in their nature, and difficultly discerned.
The psalmist says,
own people should be the more jealous of themselves with respect to
this particular at this day, because the temptations that many have to
this sin are exceeding great. The great and distinguishing privileges
to which God admits many of his saints, and the high honours he puts on
some ministers, are great trials of persons in this respect. It is
true, that great degrees of the spiritual presence of God tends greatly
to mortify pride and corruption; but yet,
though in the experience of such favours there be much to restrain
pride one way, there is much to tempt and provoke it another; and we
shall be in great danger thereby, without great watchfulness and
prayerfulness. The angels that fell, while in heaven had great honours
and high privileges, in beholding the face of God, and viewing his
infinite glory, to cause in them exercises of humility, and to keep
them from pride; yet, through want of watchfulness in them, their great
honour and heavenly
privilege proved to be to them an undoing temptation to pride, though
they had no principle of pride in their hearts to expose them. Let no
saint therefore, however eminent, and however near to God, think
himself out of danger. He that thinks himself most out of danger, is
indeed most in danger. The apostle Paul, who doubtless was an eminent a
saint as any now, was not out of danger, even just after he was
admitted to see God in the third heavens,
Spiritual pride in its own nature is so secret, that it is not so well discerned by immediate intuition on the thing itself, as by the effects and fruits of it; some of which I would mention, together with the contrary fruits of pure Christian humility. Spiritual pride disposes to speak of other persons’ sins, their enmity against God and his people, the miserable delusion of hypocrites, and their enmity against vital piety, and the deadness of some saints, with bitterness, or with laughter and levity, and an air of contempt; whereas pure Christian humility rather disposes, either to be silent about them, or to speak of them with grief and pity. Spiritual pride is very apt to 400suspect others; whereas an humble saint is most jealous of himself; he is so suspicious of nothing in the world as he is of his own heart. The spiritually proud person is apt to find fault with other saints, that they are low in grace; and to be much in observing how cold and dead they are; and being quick to discern and take notice of their deficiencies. But the eminently humble Christian has so much to do at home, and sees so much evil in his own heart, and is so concerned about it, that he is not apt to be very busy with other hearts; he complains most of himself, and complains of his own coldness and lowness in grace. He is apt to esteem others better than himself, and is ready to hope that there is nobody but what has more love and thankfulness to God than he, and cannot bear to think that others should bring forth no more fruit to God’s honour than he. Some who have spiritual pride mixed with high discoveries and great transports of joy, disposing them in an earnest manner to talk to others, are apt, in such frames, to be calling upon other Christians about them, and sharply reproving them for their being so cold and lifeless. There are others, who in their raptures are overwhelmed with a sense of their own vileness; and, when they have extraordinary discoveries of God’s glory, are all taken up about their own sinfulness; and though they also are disposed to speak much and very earnestly, yet it is very much in blaming themselves, and exhorting fellow-Christians, but in a charitable and humble manner. Pure Christian humility disposes a person to take notice of every thing that is good in others, and to make the best of it, and to diminish their failings; but to gave his eye chiefly on those things that are bad in himself, and to take much notice of every thing that aggravates them.
In a contrariety to this, it has been the manner in some places, or at least the manner of some persons to speak of almost every thing that they see amiss in others, in the most harsh, severe, and terrible language. It is frequent with them to say of others’ opinions, or conduct, or advice—or of their coldness, their silence, their caution, their moderation, their prudence, &c.—that they are from the devil, of from hell; that such a thing is devilish, or hellish, or cursed, and that such persons are serving the devil, or the devil is in them, that they are soul-murderers, and the like; so that the words devil and hell are almost continually in their mouths. And such kind of language they will commonly use, not only towards wicked men, but towards them whom they themselves allow to be the true children of God, and also towards ministers of the gospel and others who are very much their superiors. And they look upon it as a virtue and high attainment thus to behave themselves. Oh, say they, we must be plain hearted and bold for Christ, we must declare war against sin wherever we see it, we must not mince the matter in the cause of God and when speaking for Christ. And to make any distinction in persons, or to speak the more tenderly, because that which is amiss is seen in a superior, they look upon as very mean for a follower of Christ when speaking in the cause of his Master. What a strange device of the devil is here, to overthrow all Christian meekness and gentleness, and even all show and appearance of it, and to defile the mouths of the children of God, and to introduce the language of common sailors among the followers of Christ, under a cloak of high sanctity and zeal, and boldness for Christ! And it is a remarkable instance of the weakness of the human mind, and how much too cunning the devil is for us!
The grand defence of this way of talking is, That they say no more than what is true; they only speak the truth without mincing the matter; and that true Christians who have a great sight of the evil of sin, and acquaintance with their own hearts, know it to be true, and therefore will not be offended to hear such harsh expressions concerning them and their sins. It is only (say they) hypocrites, or cold and dead Christians, that are provoked and feel their enmity rise on such an occasion. But it is a grand mistake to think that we may commonly use all such language as represents the worst of each other, according to strict truth. It is really true, that every kind of sin, and every degree of it, is devilish and from hell, and is cursed, hellish, and condemned or damned. And if persons had a full sight of their hearts, they would think no terms too bad for them; they would look like beasts, like serpents, and like devils to themselves; they would be at a loss for language to express what they see in themselves. But shall a child therefore, from time to time, use such language concerning an excellent and eminently holy father or mother, as, That the devil is in them; that they have such and such devilish, cursed dispositions; that they commit every day hundreds of hellish, damned acts; and that they are cursed dogs, hell-hounds, and devils? And shall the meanest of the people be justified, in commonly using such language concerning the most excellent magistrates, or the most eminent ministers? I hope nobody has gone to this height. But the same pretences of boldness, plain-heartedness, and declared war against sin, will as well justify these things as the others. If we proceed in such a manner, on such principles as these, what a face will be introduced upon the church of Christ, the little beloved flock of that gentle Shepherd the Lamb of God! What a sound shall we bring into the house of God, into the family of his dear little children! How far off shall we soon banish that lovely appearance of humility, sweetness, gentleness, mutual honour, benevolence, complacence, and an esteem of others above themselves, which ought to clothe the children of God all over! Not but that Christians should watch over one another, and in any wise reprove one another, and do it plainly and faithfully; but it does not thence follow that dear brethren in the family of God, in rebuking one another, should use worse language than Michael the archangel durst use when rebuking the devil himself.
Christians, who are but fellow-worms, ought at least to treat one another with as much humility and gentleness as Christ, who is infinitely above them treats them. But how did Christ treat his disciples when they were so cold towards him, and so regardless of him, at the time when his soul was exceeding sorrowful even unto death—and he in a dismal agony was crying and sweating blood for them—and they would not watch with him and allow him the comfort of their company one hour in his great distress, though he once and again desired it of them? One would think that then was a proper time, if ever, to have reproved them for a devilish, hellish, cursed, and damned slothfulness and deadness. But after what manner does Christ reprove them? Behold his astonishing gentleness! Says he, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. And how did he treat Peter when he was ashamed of his Master, while he was made a mocking stock and a spitting stock for him? Why, he looked upon him with a look of love, and melted his heart. And though we read that Christ once turned, and said unto Peter, on a certain occasion, Get thee behind me, Satan; and this may seem like an instance of harshness and severity in reproving Peter; yet I humbly conceive that this is by many taken wrong, and that this is indeed no instance of Christ’s severity in his treatment of Peter, but on the contrary, of his wonderful gentleness and grace, distinguishing between Peter and the devil in him, not laying the blame of what Peter had then said, or imputing it to him, but to the devil that influenced him. Christ saw the devil then present, secretly influencing Peter to do the part of a tempter to his Master; and therefore Christ turned him about to Peter, in whom the devil then was, and spake to the devil, and rebuked him. Thus the grace of Christ does not behold iniquity in his people, imputes not what is amiss in them to them, but to sin that dwells in them, and to Satan that influences them.
Spiritual pride often disposes persons to singularity in external appearance, to affect a singular way of speaking, to use a different sort of dialect from others, or to be singular in voice, countenance, or behaviour. But he that is an eminently humble Christian, though he will be firm to his duty, however singular—going in the way that leads to heaven alone, though all the world forsake him—yet he delights not in singularity for singularity’s sake. He does not affect to set up himself to be viewed and observed as one distinguished, as desiring to be accounted better than others—despising their company, or conformity to them— 401but on the contrary is disposed to become all things to all men, to yield to others, and conform to them and please them, in every thing but sin. Spiritual pride commonly occasions a certain stiffness and inflexibility in persons, in their own judgment and their own ways; whereas the eminently humble person, though he be inflexible in his duty, and in these things wherein God’s honour is concerned; and with regard to temptation to those things he apprehends to be sinful, though in never so small a degree, he is not at all of a yielding spirit, but is like a brazen wall; yet in other things he is of a pliable disposition, not disposed to set up his own opinion, or his own will; he is ready to pay deference to others’ opinions, loves to comply with their inclinations, and has a heart that is tender and flexible, like a little child. Spiritual pride disposes persons to affect separation, to stand at a distance from others, as being better than they; and loves the show and appearance of the distinction. But, on the contrary, the eminently humble Christian is ready to look upon himself as not worthy that others should be united to him—to think himself more brutish than any man, and worthy of the society of God’s children.—And though he will not be a companion with one that is visibly Christ’s enemy—but delights most in the company of lively Christians, choosing such for his companions, and will be most intimate with them, not delighting to spend much time in the company of those who seem to relish no conversation but about worldly things—yet he does not love the appearance of an open separation from visible Christians, as being a kind of distinct company from them who are on visible company of those who seem to relish no conversation but about worldly things—yet he does not love the appearance of an open separation from visible Christians, as being a kind of distinct company from them who are one visible company with him by Christ’s appointment; and will as much as possible shun all appearances of a superiority, or distinguishing himself as better than others. His universal benevolence delights in the appearance of union with his fellow-creatures, and will maintain it as much as he possibly can without giving open countenance to iniquity, or wounding his own soul. And herein he follows the example of his meek and lowly Redeemer, who did not keep up such a separation and distance as the Pharisees, but freely ate with publicans and sinners, that he might win them.
eminently humble Christian is as it were clothed with lowliness,
mildness, meekness, gentleness of spirit and behaviour, and with a
soft, sweet, condescending, winning air and deportment; these things
are just like garments to him, he is clothed all over with them.
pride takes great notice of opposition and injuries that are received,
and is apt to be often speaking of them, and to be much in taking
notice of their aggravations, either with an air of bitterness or
contempt. Whereas pure and unmixed Christian humility, disposes a
person rather to be like his blessed Lord, when reviled, dumb, not
opening his mouth, but committing himself in silence to him that
judgeth righteously. The eminently humble Christian, the more
clamorous and furious the world is against him, the more silent and
still will he be; unless it be in his closet, and there he will not be
still.—Our blessed Lord Jesus seems never to have been so silent as
when the world compassed him round, reproaching, buffeting, and
spitting on him, with loud and virulent outcries, and horrid cruelties.
There has been a great deal too much talk of late, among many of the
true and zealous friends of religion, about opposition and persecution.
It becomes the
followers of the Lamb of God, when the world is in an uproar about the,
and full of clamour against them, not to raise another noise to answer
it, but to be still and quiet. It is not beautiful, at such time, to
have pulpits and conversation ring with the sound of persecution,
persecution, or with abundant talk about Pharisees, carnal persecutors,
and the seed of the serpent.—Meekness and quietness among God’s people,
when opposed and reviled, would be the surest way to have God
appear for their defence. It is particularly observed of Moses, on occasion of Aaron and Miriam envying him, and rising up in opposition against him, that he “was very meek, above all men upon the face of the earth,”
Here some may be ready to say, “It is not in our own cause that we are thus vehement, but it is in the cause of God, and the apostle directed the primitive Christians to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints.” But how was it that the primitive Christians contended earnestly for the faith? They defended the truth with arguments and a holy conversation, but yet gave their reasons with meekness and fear. They contended earnestly for the faith, by fighting violently against their own unbelief, and the corruptions of their hearts: yea, they resisted unto blood striving against sin; but the blood that was shed in this earnest strife, was their own blood, and not the blood of their enemies. It was in the cause of God that Peter was so fierce, and drew his sword, and began to smite with it; but Christ bids him put up his sword again, telling him that they that take the sword shall perish by the sword; and, while Peter wounds, Christ heals. They contend the most violently, and are the greatest conquerors in a time of persecution, who bear it with the greatest meekness and patience. Great humility improves even the reflections and reproaches of enemies, to put upon serious self-examination, whether or no there be not some just cause; whether or no there be not some just cause; whether they have not in some respect given occasion to the enemy to speak reproachfully. Whereas spiritual pride improves such reflections to make them the more bold and confident, and to go the greater lengths in that for which they are found fault with. I desire it may be considered, whether there has been nothing amiss of late among the true friends of vital piety in this respect; and whether the words of David, when reviled by Michal, have not been misinterpreted and misapplied to justify them in it, when he said, “I will be yet more vile, and will be base in mine own sight.” The import of his words is, that he would humble himself yet more before God, being sensible that he was far from being sufficiently abased; and he signifies this to Michal, that he longed to be yet lower, and had designed already to abase himself more in his behaviour.—Not that he would got the greater length, to show his regardlessness of her revilings; that would be to exalt himself, and not to abase himself as more vile in his own sight.
effect of spiritual pride is a certain unsuitable and self-confident
boldness before God and men. Thus some, in their great rejoicings
before God, have not paid a sufficient regard to that rule in
It is beautiful for persons, when they are at prayer as the mouth of others, to make God only their fear and their dread, and to be wholly forgetful of men present, who, let them be great or small, are nothing in the presence of the great God. And it is beautiful for a minister, when he speaks in the name of the Lord of hosts, to be bold, and to put off all fear of men. And it is beautiful in private Christians, though they are women and even children, to be bold in professing the faith of Christ, in the practice of all religion, and in owning God’s in the work of his power and grace, without any fear of men; though they should be reproached as fools and madmen, frowned upon by great men, and cast off by parents and all the world. But for private Christians, women and others, to instruct, rebuke, and exhort, with a like sort of boldness as becomes a minister when preaching, is not beautiful. Some have been bold in things that have really been errors; and have gloried in their boldness in practising them, though odd and irregular. And those who have gone the greatest lengths in these things, have been by some most highly esteemed, as appearing bold for the Lord Jesus Christ, and fully on his side; while others who have professed to be godly, and who have condemned such things, have been spoken of as enemies of the cross of Christ, or at least very cold and dead; and thus many, that of themselves were not inclined to such practices, have by this means been driven on, being ashamed to be behind, and accounted poor soldiers for Christ.
Another effect of spiritual pride is to make the subject of it assuming.
It oftentimes makes it natural to persons so to act and speak, as
though in a special manner it belonged to them to be taken notice of
and much regarded. It is very natural to a person that is much under
the influence of spiritual pride, to take all the respect that is paid
him. If others show a disposition to submit to him, and yield him the
deference of a preceptor, he is open to it, and
freely admits it; yea, it is natural for him to expect such treatment,
and to take much notice if he fails of it, and to have an ill opinion
of others that do not pay him that which he looks upon as his
prerogative.—He is apt to think that it belongs to him to speak, and to
clothe himself with a judicial and dogmatical air in conversation, and
to take it upon him, as what belongs to him, to give forth his
sentence, and to determine and decide. Whereas pure Christian humility
itself, doth not behave itself unseemly, and is apt to prefer others in
honour. One under the influence of spiritual pride is more apt to
instruct others, than to inquire for himself, and naturally puts on the
airs of a master. Whereas one that is full of pure humility, naturally
has on the air of a disciple; his voice is, “What shall I do? What
shall I do that I may live more to God’s honour? What shall I do with
this wicked heart?” He is ready to receive instruction from any body,
who have been the principal instruments of carrying on this glorious
revival of religion, and whom God has made use of to bring up his
people as it were out of Egypt, should take heed, that they do not
provoke God, as Moses did, by assuming too much to themselves, and by
their intemperate zeal to shut them out from seeing the good things
that God is going to do for this church in this world. The fruits of
Moses’ unbelief, which provoked God to shut him out of
Canaan, and not to suffer him to partake of those great things God was
about to do for Israel, were chiefly these two things:—First, His
mingling bitterness with his zeal. He had a great zeal for God, and he
could not bear to see the intolerable stiffneckedness of the people,
that they did not acknowledge the work of God, and were not convinced
by all his wonders that they had seen. But human passion was mingled
with his zeal,
young ministers, in this day of bringing up the ark of God, should take
warning by the example of a young Levite in Israel, Uzzah the son of
Abinadab. He seemed to have a real concern for the ark of God, and to
be zealous and engaged in his mind on that joyful occasion of bringing
it up. God made him an instrument to bring the ark out of its
long-continued obscurity in Kiriath-jearim, and he was succeeded to
bring it a considerable way towards mount Zion; but for
his want of humility, reverence, and circumspection, and assuming or
taking too much upon him, God broke forth upon him, and smote him for
his error, so that he never lived to see and partake of the great joy
of his church on occasion of the carrying up the ark into mount Zion,
and the great blessings of heaven upon Israel consequent upon it.
Ministers employed to carry on this work, have been chiefly of the
younger sort, who have doubtless (as Uzzah had) a real concern for the
ark; and it is
evident that they are much animated and engaged in their minds (as he
was) in this joyful day of bringing up the ark.—They are afraid what
will become of the ark under the conduct of its ministers: they see it
shakes, and they are afraid these blundering oxen will throw it. Some
of them, it is to be feared, have been over-officious on this occasion,
have assumed too much to themselves, and have been bold to put forth
their hand to take hold of the ark, as though they were the only fit
worthy persons to defend it. If young ministers had great humility,
without a corrupt mixture, it would dispose them especially to treat
aged ministers with respect and reverence, as their fathers,
notwithstanding that a sovereign God may have given themselves greater
assistance and success,
spiritual pride disposes persons to assume much to themselves, so it
also disposes them to treat others with neglect. On the contrary, pure
Christian humility disposes persons to honour all men, agreeable to
One qualification that the Scripture speaks of once and again, as requisite in a minister, is, that he should be (NOT ENGLISH) apt to teach,
SECTION II. Wrong principles.
Another cause of errors in conduct attending a religious revival, is the adoption of wrong principles.
One erroneous principle, that which scare any has proved more mischievous to the present glorious work of God, is a notion that it is God’s manner in these days, to guide his saints, at least some that are more eminent, by inspiration, or immediate revelation. They suppose he makes known to them what shall come to pass hereafter, or what it is his will that they should do, by impressions made upon their minds, either with or without texts of Scripture; whereby something is made know to them, that is not taught in the Scripture. By such a notion the devil has a great door opened for him; and if once this opinion should come to be fully yielded to, and established in the church of God, Satan would have opportunity thereby to set up himself as the guide and oracle of God’s people, and to have his word regarded as their infallible rule, and so to lead them where he would, and to introduce what he pleased, and soon to bring the Bible into neglect and contempt.—Late experience, in some instances, has shown that the tendency of this notion is to cause persons to esteem the Bible as in a great measure useless.
This error will defend and support errors. As long as a person has a notion that he is guided by immediate direction from heaven, it makes him incorrigible and impregnable in all his misconduct. For what signifies it, for poor blind worms of the dust, to go to argue with a man, and endeavour to convince him and correct him, that is guided by the immediate counsels and commands of the great JEHOVAH? This great work of God has been exceedingly hindered by this error; and, till we have quite taken this handle out of the devil’s hands, the work of God will never go on without great clogs and hindrances.—Satan will always have a vast advantage in his hands against it, and as he has improved it hitherto, so he will do still. And it is evident, that the devil knows the vast advantage he has by it; that makes him exceeding loath to let go his hold.
It is strange what a disposition there is in many well-disposed and religious persons to fall in with and hold fast this notion. It is enough to astonish one, that such multiplied, plain instances of the failing of such supposed revelations in the event, do not open every one’s eyes. I have seen so many instances of the failing of such impressions that would almost furnish a history. I have been acquainted with them when made under all kinds of circumstances, and have seen them fail in the event, when made with such circumstances as have been fairest and brightest, and most promising. They have been made upon the minds of apparently eminent saints, and with an excellent heavenly frame of spirit yet continued, and made with texts of Scripture that seemed exceeding opposite, wonderfully brought to the mind, and the impressions repeated over and over; and yet all has most manifestly come to nothing, to the full conviction of the persons themselves. God has in so many instances of late, in his providence, covered such things with darkness, that one would think it should be enough quite to blank the expectations of those who have been ready to think highly of such things. It seems to be a testimony of God, that he has no design of reviving revelations in his church, and a rebuke from him to the groundless expectations of it.
It seems to me that
that follow impulses and impressions indulge a notion, that they do no
other than follow the guidance of God’s word, because the impression is
made with a text of Scripture that comes to their mind. But they take
that text as it is impressed on their mind. But they take that text as
it is impressed on their minds, and improve it as a new revelation to
all intents and purposes; while the text, as it is in the Bible,
implies no such thing, and they themselves do not
suppose that any such revelation was contained in it before. Suppose,
for instance, that text should come into a person’s mind with strong
texts of Scripture, that speak of the children of God as led by the
Spirit, have been by some brought to defend such impulses; particularly
leading of the Spirit which God gives his children, and which is
peculiar to them, is that teaching them his statutes, and causing them
to understand the way of his precepts, which the psalmist so very often
prays for, especially in the 119th Psalm: and not in giving them new statutes and new precepts.
He graciously gives them eyes to see, and ears to hear, and hearts to
understand; he causes them to understand the fear of the Lord, and so
blind by a way they knew not, and leads them in paths that they had not
known, and darkness light before them, and crooked things straight.” So
the assistance of the Spirit in praying and preaching seems by some to
have been greatly misunderstood, and they have sought after a
miraculous assistance of inspiration, by the immediate suggesting of
words to them, by such gifts and influences of the Spirit, in praying
and teaching, as the apostle speaks of,
But, to return to the head of impressions and immediate revelations; many lay themselves open to a delusion by expecting direction from heaven in this way, and waiting for it. In such a case it is easy for persons to imagine that they have it. They are perhaps at a loss concerning something, undetermined what they shall do, or what course they shall take in some affair; and they pray to God to direct them, and make known to them his mind and will: and then, instead of expecting to be directed, by being assisted in considering the rules of God’s word, his providence, and their circumstances, to look on things in a true light, and justly to weigh them, they are waiting for some secret immediate influence, unaccountably swaying their minds, and turning their thoughts or inclinations that way in which God would have them to go. Hereby they are exposed to two things; first, they lay themselves open to the devil, and give him a fair opportunity to lead them where he pleases; for they stand ready to follow the first extraordinary impulse that they shall have, groundlessly concluding it is from God. And, secondly, they are greatly exposed to be deceived by their own imaginations: for such an expectation awakens and quickens the imagination; and that oftentimes is called an uncommon impression, that is no such thing; and they ascribe that to the agency of some invisible being, which is owing only to themselves.
Again, another way that many have been deceived, is by drawing false conclusions from true premises. Many true and eminent saints have been led into mistakes and snares, by arguing that they have prayed in faith. They have indeed been greatly assisted in prayer for such a particular mercy, and have had the true spirit of prayer in exercise in their asking it of God: but they have concluded more from these premises than is a just consequence from them. That they have thus prayed is a sure sign that their prayer is accepted and heard, and that God will give a gracious answer according to his own wisdom, and that the particular thing asked shall be given, or that which is equivalent; this is a just consequence from it.—But it is not inferred by any new revelation now made, but by the promises made to the prayer of faith in the Holy Scriptures. But that God will answer them in that individual thing they ask, if it be not a thing promised in God’s word, or they do not certainly know that it is what will be most for the good of God’s church, and the advancement of Christ’s kingdom and glory, nor whether it will be best for them, is more than can be justly concluded from it. If God remarkably meets with one of his children while he is praying for a particular mercy of great importance, for himself or some other person, or any society of men, and does 406by the influences of his Spirit greatly humble him, and empty him of himself in his prayer, and manifest himself remarkably in his excellency, sovereignty, and all-sufficient power and grace in Jesus Christ—and in a remarkable manner enables the person to come to him for that mercy, poor in spirit, and with humble resignation to God, and with a great degree of faith in the divine sufficiency, and the sufficiency of Christ’s mediation—that person has indeed a great deal the more reason to hope that God will grant that mercy, than otherwise he would have. The greater probability is justly inferred, agreeable to the promises of the Holy Scripture, in that such prayer is accepted and heard; and it is much more probable that a prayer that is heard will be returned with a particular mercy that is asked, than one that is not so. And there is no reason at all to doubt, but that God sometimes especially enable to the exercises of faith, when the minds of his saints are engaged in thoughts of, and prayer for, some particular blessing they greatly desire; i.e. God is pleased especially to give them a believing frame, a sense of his fulness, and a spirit of humble dependence on him, at such times. When they are thinking of and praying for such mercy, he gives them a particular sense of his ability, and of the sufficiency of his power to overcome obstacles, and the sufficiency of his mercy and of the blood of Christ for the removal of the guilt that is in the way of the bestowment of such a mercy, in particular. When this is the case, it makes the probability still much greater, that God intends to bestow the particular mercy sought, in his own time, and his own way. But here is nothing of the nature of a revelation in the case, but only a drawing rational conclusions from the particular manner and circumstances of the ordinary gracious influences of God’s Spirit. And as God is pleased sometimes to give his saints particular exercises of faith in his sufficiency, with regard to particular mercies; so he is sometimes pleased to make use of his word in order to it, and helps the actings of faith with respect to such a mercy. The strengthening of their faith in God’s sufficiency, in this case, if therefore a just improvement of such scriptures; it is no more than what those scriptures, as they stand in the Bible, hold forth. But to take them as new whispers or revelations from heaven, is not making a just improvement of them. If persons have thus a spirit of prayer remarkably given to them, concerning particular mercy, from time to time, so as evidently to be assisted to act faith in God, in that particular, in a very distinguishing manner; the argument in some cases may be very strong, that God does design to grant that mercy, not from any revelation now made of it, but from such a kind and manner of the ordinary influence of his Spirit with respect to that thing.
But here a great deal of caution and circumspection must be used in drawing inferences of this nature. There are many ways by which persons may be misled and deluded. The ground on which some expect that they shall receive the thing they have asked for, is rather a strong imagination, than any true humble faith in the divine sufficiency. They have a strong persuasion that the thing asked shall be granted, (which they can give no reason for,) without any remarkable discovery of that glory and fulness of God and Christ, that is the ground of faith. And sometimes the confidence that their prayers shall be answered, is only a self-righteous confidence, and no true faith. They have a high conceit of themselves as eminent saints, and special favourites of God, and have also a high conceit of the prayers they have made, because they were much enlarged and affected in them; and hence they are positive in it, that the thing will come to pass. And sometimes, when once they have conceived such a notion, they grow stronger and stronger in it; and this they think is from an immediate divine hand upon their minds to strengthen their confidence; whereas it is only by their dwelling in their minds on their own excellency, and high experiences, and great assistances, whereby they look brighter and brighter in their own eyes. Hence it is found by observation and experience, that nothing in the world exposes so much to enthusiasm as spiritual pride and self-righteousness.
In order to drawing a just inference from the supposed assistance we have had in prayer for a particular mercy, and judging of the probability of the bestowment of that individual mercy, many things must be considered. We must consider the importance of the mercy sought, and the principle whence we so earnestly desire it; how far it is good, and agreeable to the mind and will of God; the degree of love to God that we exercised in our prayer; the degree of discovery that is made of the divine sufficiency, and the degree in which our assistance is manifestly distinguishing with respect to that mercy.—And there is nothing of greater importance in the argument than the degree of humility, poverty of spirit, self-emptiness, and resignation to the holy will of God, exercised in seeking that mercy. Praying for a particular mercy with much of these things, I have often seen blessed with a remarkable bestowment of the particular thing asked for. From what has been said, we may see which way God may, only by the ordinary gracious influences of his Spirit, sometimes give his saints special reason to hope for the bestowment of a particular mercy they prayed for, and which we may suppose he oftentimes gives eminent saints, who have great degrees of humility, and much communion with God. And here, I humbly conceive, some eminent servants of Jesus Christ that we read of in ecclesiastical story, have been led into a mistake; and, through want of distinguishing such things as these from immediate revelations, have thought that God has favoured them, in some instances, with the same kind of divine influences that the apostles and prophets had of old.
Another erroneous principle that some have embraced, and which has been a source of many errors in their conduct, is, That persons ought always to do whatever the Spirit of God (though but indirectly) inclines them to. Indeed the Spirit of God is in itself infinitely perfect, and all his immediate actings, simply considered, are perfect, and there can be nothing wrong in them; and therefore all that the Spirit of God inclines us to directly and immediately, without the intervention of any other cause that shall pervert and misimprove what is from him, ought to be done. But there may be many things, disposition to do which may indirectly be from the Spirit of God, that we ought not to do. The disposition in general may be good, and from the Spirit of God; but the particular determination of that disposition, as to particular actions, objects, and circumstances, may be from the intervention or interposition of some infirmity, blindness, inadvertence, deceit, or corruption of ours. So that although the disposition in general ought to be allowed and promoted, and all those actings of it that are simply from God’s Spirit, yet that particular ill direction or determination of that disposition, which is from some other cause, ought not to be followed.
As for instance, the Spirit of God may cause a person to have a dear love to another, and so a great desire of and delight in his comfort, ease, and pleasure. This disposition in general is good, and ought to be followed; but yet through the intervention of indiscretion, or some other bad cause, it may be ill directed, and have a bad determination, as to particular acts; and the person indirectly, through that real love he has to his neighbour, may kill him with kindness; he may do that out of sincere goodwill to him, which may tend to ruin him.—A good disposition may, through some inadvertence or delusion, strongly incline a person to that which, if he saw all things as they are, would be most contrary to that disposition. The true loyalty of a general, and his zeal for the honour of his prince, may exceedingly animate him in war; but this good disposition, through indiscretion and mistake, may push him forward to those things that give the enemy great advantage, and may expose him and his army to ruin, and may tend to the ruin of his master’s interest.
apostle does evidently suppose that the Spirit of God, in his
extraordinary, immediate, and miraculous influences on men’s minds, may
in some respect excite inclinations, which, if gratified, would tend to
confusion, and therefore must sometimes be restrained, and in their
exercise must be under the government of discretion,
I make no doubt but that it is possible for a minister to have by the Spirit of God such a sense of the importance of eternal things, and of the misery of mankind—so many of whom are exposed to eternal destruction—together with such a love to souls, that he might find in himself a disposition to spend all his time, day and night, in warning, exhorting, and calling upon men; and so that he must be obliged as it were to do violence to himself ever to refrain, so as to give himself any opportunity to eat, drink, or sleep. And so I believe there may be a disposition, in like manner, indirectly excited in laypersons, through the intervention of their infirmity, to do what only belongs to ministers; yea, to do those things that would not become either ministers or people. Through the influence of the Spirit of God, together with want of discretion, and some remaining corruption, women and children might feel themselves inclined to break forth aloud to great congregations, warning and exhorting the whole multitude; and to scream in the streets, or to leave their families, and go from house to house, earnestly exhorting others; but yet it would by no means follow that it was their duty to do these things, or that they would not have a tendency to do ten times as much hurt as good.
wrong principle, from whence have arisen errors in conduct, is, that
whatsoever is found to be of present and immediate benefit, may and
ought to be practised, without looking forward to future consequences.
Some persons seem to think that it sufficiently justifies any thing
they say or do, that it is found to be for present edification; it
assists and promotes their present affection, and therefore they think
they should not concern themselves about future
consequences, but leave them with God. Indeed in things that are in
themselves our duty, being required by moral rules, or absolute
positive commands of God, they must be done, and future consequences
must be left with God; our discretion takes no place here: but in other
things we are to be governed by discretion, and must only look at the
present good, but our view must be extensive, and we must look at the
consequences of things. It is the duty of ministers especially to
discretion. In things wherein they are not determined by an absolute
rule, and not enjoined them by a wisdom superior to their own, Christ
has left them to their own discretion, with that general rule, that
they should exercise the utmost wisdom they can obtain, in pursuing
that which, upon the best view of the consequences of things, will tend
most to the advancement of his kingdom. This is implied in those words
of Christ to his disciples, when he sent them forth to preach the
Scripture always represents the work of a gospel-minister by those
employments that especially require a wise foresight of, and provision
for, future events and consequences. So it is compared with the
business of a steward, which in an eminent manner requires forecast;
as, for instance, a wise laying in of provision for the supply of the
needs of a family, according to its future necessities. So it is
compared to the husbandman, that almost wholly consists in
things done with a view to the future fruits and consequences of his
labour. The husbandman’s discretion and forecast is eloquently set
particularly, ministers ought not to be careless how much they
discompose the minds of natural men, or how great an uproar they raise
in the carnal world, and so lay blocks in the way of the propagation of
religion. This certainly is not to follow the example of the zealous
apostle Paul, who though he would not depart from his duty to
please carnal men, yet, where he might with a good conscience,
exceedingly laid out himself to please them. He avoided
raising in the multitude prejudices, oppositions, and tumults against
the gospel; and looked upon it as of great consequence.
The necessity of suffering persecution, in order to being a true Christian, has undoubtedly by some been carried to an extreme, and the doctrine has been abused. It has been looked upon as necessary to uphold a man’s credit amongst others as a Christian, that he should be persecuted. I have heard it made an objection against the sincerity of particular persons, that they were no more hated and reproached. And the manner of glorying in persecution, or the cross of Christ, has in some been very wrong, bearing too much the appearance of lifting up 408themselves in it, that they were very much hated and reviled, more than most, as an evidence of their excelling others, in being good soldiers of Jesus Christ. Such an improvement of the doctrine of the enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, and of the necessity of persecution, becoming credible and customary, has a direct tendency to cause those that would be accounted true Christians, to behave themselves so towards those that are not well-affected to religion, as to provoke their hatred, or at least to be but little careful to avoid it, and not very studiously and earnestly to strive (after the apostle’s example and precepts) to please them to their edification, and by meekness and gentleness to win them, and by all possible means to live peaceably with them.
I believe that saying of our Saviour,
know there is naturally a great enmity in the heart of man against
vital religion; and I believe there would have been a great deal of
opposition against this glorious work of God in New England, if
the subjects and promoters of it had behaved themselves never so
agreeably to Christian rules; and I believe if this work goes on and
spreads much in the world, so as to begin to shake kingdoms and
nations, it will dreadfully stir up the rage of earth and hell, and
will put the world into the greatest uproar that ever it was in since
it stood. I believe Satan’s dying struggles will be the most violent;
but yet a great deal might be done to restrain this opposition, by a
good conformity to that of the apostle,
this head of carelessness about future consequences, it may be proper
to say something of introducing things new and strange, and that have a
tendency by their novelty to shock and surprise people. Nothing can be
more evident from the New Testament, than that such things ought to be
done with great caution and moderation, to avoid the offence that may
be thereby given, and the prejudices that might be raised, to clog and
hinder the progress of religion. Yea, it
ought to be thus n things that are in themselves good and excellent,
and of great weight, provided they are not things of absolute duty,
which though they may appear to be innovations, yet cannot be neglected
without immorality or disobedience to the commands of God. What great
caution and moderation did the apostles use in introducing things that
were new, and abolishing things that were old, in their day! How
gradually were the ceremonial performances of the law of Moses removed and
abolished among the Christian Jews! and how long did even the apostle Paul himself conform to those ceremonies which he calls weak and beggarly elements! yea, even the rite of circumcision, (
Persons influenced by indiscreet zeal are always in too much haste; they are impatient of delays, and therefore are for jumping to the uppermost step first, before they have taken the preceding steps; whereby they expose themselves to fall and break their bones. They are delighted to see the building rise, and all their endeavour and strength is employed in advancing its height, without taking care proportionably of the bottom; whereby the whole is in danger of coming to the ground. Or they are for putting on the cupola and pinnacle before the lower parts of the building are done; which tends at once to put a stop to the building, and hinder its ever being a complete structure. Many that are thus imprudent and hasty with their zeal, have a real eager appetite for that which is good; but like children, are impatient to wait for the fruit, and therefore snatch it before it is ripe. Oftentimes in their haste they overshoot their mark, and frustrate their own end; they put that which they would obtain further out of reach than it was before, and establish and confirm that which they would remove. Things must have time to ripen. The prudent husbandman waits till the harvest is ripe, before he reaps. We are now just beginning to recover out of a dreadful disease; but to feed a man recovering from a fever with strong meat at once, is the ready way to kill him. The reformation from popery was much hindered by this hasty zeal. Many were for immediately rectifying all disorders by force, which was condemned by Luther, and was a great trouble to him. See Sleiden’s Hist. of the Reformation, p. 52, &c. and book v. throughout. It is a vain prejudice that some have lately imbibed against such rules of prudence and moderation; but they will be forced to come to them at last; they will find themselves unable to maintain their cause without them; and, if they will not hearken before, experience will convince them at last, when it will be too late for them to rectify their mistake.
Another error, arising from an erroneous principle, is a wrong notion that they have an attestation of Divine Providence to persons, or things. We go too far, when we look upon the success that God gives to some persons, in making them the instruments of doing much good, as a testimony of God’s approbation of those persons and all the courses they take. It has been a main argument to 409defend the conduct of some ministers, who have been blamed as imprudent and irregular, that God has blessed them, and given them great success; and that however men charge them as guilty of wrong things, yet that God is with them, and then who can be against them? And probably some of those ministers themselves, by this very means, have had their ears stopt against all that has been said to convince them of their misconduct. But there are innumerable ways by which persons may be misled, in forming a judgment of the mind and will of God, from the events of providence. If a person’s success be a reward of something in him that God approves, yet it is no argument that he approves of every thing in him. Who can tell how far the divine grace may go in greatly rewarding some small good in a person, a good meaning, something good in his disposition; while he at the same time, in sovereign mercy, hides his eyes from a great deal that is bad, which it is his pleasure to forgive, and not to mark against the person, though in itself it be very ill? God has not told us after what manner he will proceed in this matter, and we go upon most uncertain grounds when we undertake to determine. It is an exceeding difficult thing to know how far love or hatred are exercised towards persons or actions by all that is before us. God was pleased in his sovereignty to give such success to Jacob in that which, from beginning to end, was a deceitful, lying contrivance and proceeding of his. In that way he obtained a blessing that was worth infinitely more than the fatness of the earth and the dew from heaven, given to Esau in his blessing; yea, worth more than all that the world can afford. God was for a while with Judas, so that by God’s power accompanying him, he wrought miracles and cast out devils; but this could not justly be interpreted as God’s approbation of his person, or the thievery in which he lived at the same time.
and events of providence, with their reasons, are too little understood
by us, to be as our rule, instead of God’s word; God has his way in
the sea, and his path in the mighty waters, and his footsteps are not
known, and he gives us no account of any of his matters. And
therefore we cannot safely take the events of his providence as a
revelation of his mind concerning a person’s conduct and behaviour; we
have no warrant so to do. God has never
appointed those things to be our rule. We have but one rule to go by,
and that is his holy word; and when we join any thing else with it, as
having the force of a rule, we are guilty of that which is strictly
Indeed, there is a voice of God in his providence, that may be interpreted and well understood by the rule of his word; and providence may, to our dark minds and weak faith, confirm the word of God, as it fulfils it. But to improve divine providence thus, is quite a different thing from making a rule of providence. Good use may be made of the events of providence, of our own observation and experience, and human histories, and the opinion of eminent men; but finally all must be brought to one rule, viz. the word of God, and that must be regarded as our only rule.
do I think that they go upon sure ground, who conclude they have not
been in an error in their conduct, because at the time of their doing a
thing for which they have been blamed and reproached by others, they
were favoured with special comforts of God’s Spirit. God’s bestowing
special mercies on a person, is no sign that he approves of every thing
he sees in him at that time. David had the presence of God while he lived in polygamy; and Solomon had
some very high favours, and peculiar smiles of Heaven, and particularly
at the dedication of the temple, while he greatly multiplied wives to
himself, and horses, and silver, and gold; all contrary to the most
express command of God to the king, in the law of Moses,
erroneous principle that has been an occasion of some mischief and
confusion, is, That external order in matters of religion, and use of
the means of grace, is but little to be regarded. It has been spoken
lightly of, under the names of ceremonies and dead forms, &c. and
is probably the more despised by some, because their opposers insist so
much upon it, and because they are so continually hearing from them the
cry of disorder and confusion.—It is
objected against the importance of external order, that God does not
look at the outward form, he looks at the heart. But that is a weak
argument against its importance, that true godliness does not consist
in it; for it may be equally made use of against all the outward means
of grace whatsoever. True godliness does not consist in ink and paper,
but yet that would be a foolish objection against the importance of ink
and paper in religion, when without it we could not have the word of
any external means at all are needful, any outward actions of a public
nature, or wherein God’s people are jointly concerned in public nature,
or wherein God’s people are jointly concerned in public society,
without doubt external order is needful. The management of an external
affair that is
410public, or wherein a multitude is
concerned, without order, is in every thing found impossible.—Without
order there can be no general direction of a multitude to any
particular designed end,
their purposes will cross and hinder one another. A multitude cannot
act in union one with another without order; confusion separates and
divides them, so that there can be no concert or agreement. If a
multitude would help one another in any affair, they must unite
themselves one to another in a regular subordination of members, in
some measure as it is in the natural body; by this means they will be
in some capacity to act with united strength. And thus Christ has
appointed that it should be
in the visible church, as
On this foundation also, an orderly attending on the stated worship of God in families, has been made too light of; and it has been in some places too much a common and customary thing to be absent from family-worship, and to be abroad late in the night at religious meetings, or to attend religious conversation. Not but that this may be done on certain extraordinary occasions; I have seen the case to be such in many instances, that I have thought did afford sufficient warrant for persons to be absent from family-prayer, and to be from home till very late in the night. But we should take heed that it does not become a custom or common practice; if so, we shall soon find the consequences to be very ill. It seems to be on the same foundation—the supposed unprofitableness of external order—that it has been thought by some, there is no need of religious services and performances being limited to any certain office in the church; (of which more afterwards) and also, that those officers themselves, particularly that of the gospel-ministry, need not be limited, as it used to be, to persons of a liberal education; but some of late have been for having others, whom they have supposed to be persons of eminent experience, publicly licensed to preach, yea and ordained to the work of the ministry; and some ministers have seemed to favour such a thing. But how little do they seem to look forward, and consider the unavoidable consequences of opening such a door! If once it should become a custom, or a thing generally approved and allowed of, to admit uneducated persons to the work of the ministry, because of their remarkable experiences, and good understanding, how many lay-persons would soon appear as candidates for the work of the ministry; I doubt not but that I have been acquainted with scores that would have desired it. And how shall we know where to stop? If one is admitted because his experiences are remarkable, another will think his experiences also remarkable; and we perhaps shall not be able to deny but that they are nearly as great. If one is admitted because, besides experiences, he has good natural abilities, another by himself, and many of his neighbours, may be thought equal to him. It will be found of absolute necessity that there should be some certain, visible limits fixed, to avoid bringing odium upon ourselves, and breeding uneasiness and strife amongst others; and I know of none better, and indeed no other that can well be fixed, than what the prophet Zechariah fixes, viz. That those only should be appointed to be pastors or shepherds in God’s church, that “have been taught to keep cattle from their youth,” or that have had an education for that purpose. Those ministers who would break over these limits, and make a practice of it, would break down that fence which they themselves, after they have been wearied with the ill consequences, would be glad to have somebody else build up for them. Not but that there may probably be some persons in the land, who have had no education at college, that are in themselves better qualified for the work of the ministry, than some others who have taken their degrees, and are now ordained. But yet I believe the breaking over those bounds which have hitherto been set, in ordaining such persons, would in its consequences be a greater calamity than the missing such persons in the work of the ministry. Opening a door for the admission of unlearned men to the work of the ministry, though they should be persons of extraordinary experience, would on some accounts be especially prejudicial at such a day as this; because such persons, for want of extensive knowledge, are oftentimes froward to lead others into those things which a people are in danger of at such a time, above all others; viz. impulses, vain imaginations, superstition, indiscreet zeal, and such like extremes.
erroneous principle that some have been, at least, in danger of, is,
that ministers, because they speak as Christ’s ambassadors, may assume
the same style, and speak as with the same authority, that the prophets
of old did, yea that Jesus Christ himself did in the
SECTION III. Ignorance of inward experiences.411
A third cause of errors in conduct, is, being ignorant or unobservant of some things, by which the devil has special advantage.
And here I would particularly notice some things with respect to the inward experiences of Christians themselves. And something with regard to the external effects of experiences.
I. Inward experiences. There are three things I would notice with regard to the experiences of Christians, by which the devil has many advantages against us.
1. The first thing is the mixture there oftentimes is in the experiences of true Christians; whereby when they have truly gracious experiences, and divine and spiritual discoveries and exercises, they have something else mixed with them, besides what is spiritual. There is a mixture of that which is natural, and that which is corrupt, with that which is divine. The great imperfection of grace, the feebleness and infancy of the new nature, and the great remains of corruption, together with our circumstances in this world, where we are encompassed with what tends to pollute us, expose to this. And indeed it is not to be supposed that Christians ever have any experiences in this world that are wholly pure, entirely spiritual, without any mixture of what is natural and carnal. The beam of light, as it comes from the fountain of light upon our hearts, is pure; but, as it is reflected thence, it is mixt. The seed as sent from heaven, and planted in the heart, is pure; but, as it springs up out of the heart, is impure: yea, there is commonly a much greater mixture than persons for the most part seem to imagine. I have often thought that the experiences of true Christians are very frequently as it is with some sorts of fruits, which are enveloped in several coverings of thick shells or pods, that are thrown away by him that gathers the fruit, and but a very small part of the whole bulk is the pure kernel that is good to eat.
The things, of all which there is frequently some mixture with gracious experiences, yea with very great and high experiences, are these three; human or natural affection and passions; impressions on the imagination; and a degree of self-righteousness or spiritual pride. There is very often with that which is spiritual a great mixture of that affection or passion which arises from natural principles; so that nature has a very great hand in those vehement motions and flights of the passions that appear. Hence the same degrees of divine communications from heaven shall have vastly different effects, in what outwardly appears, in persons of different natural tempers. The great mixture of that which is natural with that which is spiritual, is very manifest in the peculiar effects that divine influences have in some certain families, or persons of such a blood, in distinguishing the operations of the passions and affections, and the manner of their outward expressions. I know some remarkable instances of this. The same is also evident by the different effects of divine communications on the same person at different times, and in different circumstances. The novelty of things, or the sudden transition from an opposite extreme, and many other things that might be mentioned, greatly contribute to the raising of the passions. And sometimes there is not only a mixture of that which is common and natural with gracious experience, but even that which is animal, what is in a great measure from the body, and is properly the result of the animal frame. In what true Christians feel of affections towards God, all is not always purely holy and divine; every thing that is felt in the affections does not arise from spiritual principles, but common and natural principles have a very great hand; an improper self-love may have a great share in the effect: God is not loved for his own sake, or for the excellency and beauty of his own perfections, as he ought to be; nor have these things in any wise that proportion in the effect that they ought to have. So, in the love true Christians have one to another, very often there is a great mixture of what arises from common and natural principles, with grace. Self-love has a great hand; the children of God are not loved purely for Christ’s sake, but there may be a great mixture of that natural love which many sects of heretics have boasted of, who have been greatly united one to another, because they were of their company, on their side, against the rest of the world; yea, there may be a mixture of natural love to the opposite sex, with christian and divine love. So there may be a great mixture in that sorrow for sin which the godly have, and also in their joys; natural principles may greatly contribute to what is felt, a great many ways, as might easily be shown. There is nothing that belongs to christian experience more liable to a corrupt mixture of zeal. Though it be an excellent virtue, a heavenly flame, when it is pure; yet as it is exercised in those who are so little sanctified, and so little humbled, as we are in the present state, it is very apt to be mixed with human passion, yea with corrupt, hateful affections, pride and uncharitable bitterness, and other things that are not from heaven, but from hell.
Another thing often mixed with what is spiritual in the experiences of Christians, is an impression on the imagination; whereby godly persons, together with a spiritual understanding of divine things, and conviction of their reality and certainty, and a deep sense of their excellency or great importance upon their hearts, have strongly impressed on their minds external ideas or images of things. A degree of imagination in such a case, is unavoidable, and necessarily arises from human nature, as constituted in the present state; and often is of great benefit; but, when it is in too great a degree, it becomes an impure mixture that is prejudicial. This mixture very often arises from the constitution of the body. It commonly greatly contributes to the other kind of mixture mentioned before, viz. of natural affections and passions; it helps to raise them to a great height.
Another thing that is often mixed with the experiences of true Christians, which is the worst mixture of all, is a degree of self-righteousness or spiritual pride. This is often mixed with the joys of Christians. Their joy is not purely the joy of faith, or a rejoicing in Christ Jesus, but is partly a rejoicing in themselves. There is oftentimes in their elevations a looking upon themselves, and a viewing their own high attainments; they rejoice partly because they are taken with their own experiences and great discoveries, which makes them in their own apprehensions so to excel; and this heightens all their passions, and especially those effects that are more external. There is a much greater mixture of these things in the experiences of some Christians than others; in some the mixture is so great, as very much to obscure and hide the beauty of grace in them, like a thick smoke that hinders all the shining of the fire.
These things we ought to be well aware of, that we may not take all for gold that glisters, and that we may know what to countenance and encourage, and what to discourage; otherwise Satan will have a vast advantage against us, for he works in the corrupt mixture. Sometimes, for want of persons distinguishing the ore from the pure metal, those experiences are most admired by the persons themselves and by others that are not the most excellent. The great external effects, and vehemence of the passions, and violent agitations of the animal spirits, is sometimes much owing to the corrupt mixture, (as is very apparent in some instances,) though it be not always so. I have observed a great difference among those of high affections, who seem disposed to be earnestly talking to those about them. Some insist much more, in their talk, on what they behold in God and Christ, the glory of the divine perfections, Christ’s beauty and excellency, and wonderful condescension and grace, and their own unworthiness, and the great and infinite obligations that they themselves and others are under to love and serve God; others insist almost wholly on their own high privileges, their assurance of God’s love and favour, and the weakness and wickedness of opposers, and how much they are above their reach. The latter may have much of the presence of God, but their experiences do not appear to be so solid and unmixed as the former. And there is a great deal of difference in persons’ earnestness in their talk and behaviour. In some it seems to come from the fulness of their hearts, and from the great sense they have of truth. They have a deep sense of the certainty and infinite greatness, excellency, and importance of divine and eternal things, attended with all appearances of great humility. 412In others their earnestness seems to arise from a great mixture of human passion, and an undue and intemperate agitation of the spirits, which appears by their earnestness and vehemence not being proportioned to the nature of the subject they insist on, but they are violent in every thing they say, as much when they are talking of things of smaller importance, as when speaking of things of greater weight. I have seen it thus in an instance or two, in which this vehemence at length issued in distraction. And there have been some few instances of a more extraordinary nature still, even of persons finding themselves disposed earnestly to talk and cry out, from an unaccountable kind of bodily pressure, without any extraordinary view of any thing in their minds, or sense of any thing upon their hearts; wherein probably there was the immediate hand of the devil.
2 Another thing, by which the devil has great advantage, is the unheeded defects there sometimes are in the experiences of true Christians, connected with those high affections wherein there is much that is truly good. I do not mean that defect or imperfection of degree which is in every holy disposition and exercise in this life, in the best of the saints; but I aim at experiences being especially defective in some particular thing that ought to be in them; which, though it be not an essential defect, or such as is in the experiences of hypocrites, which renders them utterly vain, monstrous, and altogether abominable to God, is such as maims and deforms the experience. The essence of truly Christian experiences is not wanting, but that is wanting which is very needful in order to the proper beauty of the image of Christ in such a person’s experiences. Things are very much out of a due proportion; there is indeed much of some things, but at the same time there is so little of some other things that should bear a proportion, that the defect very much deforms the Christian, and is truly odious in the sight of God. What I observed before was something too much, something mixed, not belonging to the Christian as such; what I speak of now is something not enough, something wanting that does belong to the Christian as such. The one deforms the Christian as a monstrous excrescence; by the other the new creature is maimed, some member in a great measure is wanting, or so small and withering as to be very much out of due proportion. This is another spiritual calamity that the saints are liable to through the great imperfection of grace in this life. Thus the chicken in the egg, in the beginning of its formation, has indeed the rudiments or lineaments of all the parts; yet some few parts only are plainly seen, when others are hid, so that without a microscope it appears very monstrous. When this deficiency and disproportion is great, as sometimes it is in real saints, it is not only a great deformity in itself, but has many ill consequences; it gives the devil great advantage, leaves a door open for corruption, exposes to very deformed and unlovely actions, and issues oftentimes in the great wounding of the soul.
For the better understanding of this matter, we may observe, that God, in the revelation that he has made of himself to the world by Jesus Christ, has taken care to give a proportionable manifestation of two kinds of excellencies or perfections of his nature, viz. those that especially tend to possess us with awe and reverence, and to search and humble us; and those that tend to win, to draw, and encourage us. By the one, he appears as an infinitely great, pure, holy, and heart-searching judge; by the other, as a gentle and gracious father and a loving friend. By the one, he is a pure, searching, and burning flame; by the other, a sweet, refreshing light. These two kinds of attributes are as it were admirably tempered together in the revelation of the gospel. There is a proportionable manifestation of justice and mercy, holiness and grace, majesty and gentleness, authority and condescension. God hath thus ordered that his diverse excellencies, as he reveals himself in the face of Jesus Christ, should have a proportionable manifestation, herein providing for our necessities. He knew it to be of great consequence that our apprehensions of these diverse perfections of his nature should be duly proportioned one to another. A defect on the one hand, viz. having a discovery of his love and grace, without a proportionable discovery of his awful majesty, his holy and searching purity, would tend to spiritual pride, carnal confidence, and presumption; and a defect on the other hand, viz. having a discovery of his holy majesty, without a proportionable discovery of his grace, tends to unbelief, a sinful fearfulness and spirit of bondage. And therefore herein chiefly consists that deficiency of experiences that I am now speaking of. The revelation God has made of himself in his word, and the provision made for our spiritual welfare in the gospel, are perfect; but the actual light and communications we have, are many ways exceeding imperfect and maimed. And experience plainly shows, that Christians may have high manifestations in some respects, and yet their circumstances may be unhappy in this regard, that their discoveries are no more general. There is a great difference among Christians in this respect; some have much more general discoveries than others, who are upon many accounts the most amiable Christians. Christians may have experiences that are very high, and yet there may be very much of this deficiency and disproportion. Their high experiences are truly from the Spirit of God, but sin comes in by the defect, (as indeed all sin is originally from a defective, privative cause,) and in such a case high discoveries, at the same time that they are enjoyed, may be and sometimes are the occasion, or causa sine qua non, of sin. Sin may come in at the back door, the gap that is left open; as spiritual pride often does. And many times the Spirit of God is quenched by this means, and God punishes the pride and presumption that rises, by bringing such darkness, and suffering such awful consequences and horrid temptations, as are enough to make one’s hair stand on end to hear them.—Christians therefore should diligently observe their own hearts as to this matter, and should pray to God that he would give them experiences in which one thing may bear a proportion to another, that God may be honoured and their souls edified thereby; and ministers should have an eye to this, in their private dealings with the souls of their people.
It is chiefly from such a defect of experiences that some things have arisen which have been pretty common among true Christians of late, though supposed by many to have risen from a good cause; as particularly, talking of divine and heavenly things, and expressing divine joys, with laughter or light behaviour. I believe in many instances such things have arisen from a good cause, as their causa sine qua non. High discoveries and gracious joyful affections have been the occasion of them; but the proper cause has been sin, even that odious defect in their experience, whereby there has been wanting a sense of the awful and holy majesty of God as present with them, and their nothingness and vileness before him, proportionable to the sense they have had of God’s grace and the love of Christ. And the same is true in many cases of unsuitable boldness; a disposition to speak with authority, intemperate zeal, and many other things that sometimes appear under great religious affections. And sometimes the vehemence of the motion of the animal spirits, under great affections, is owing in considerable measure to experiences being thus partial. I have known it in several instances, that persons have been greatly affected with the dying love of Christ, and the consideration of the happiness of the enjoyment of him in heaven, and other things of that nature, and their animal spirits at the same time have been in great emotion; but in the midst of it they have had such a deep sense of the awful, holy majesty of God, as at once composed them, and quieted animal nature, without diminishing their comfort, but only has made it of a better and more solid nature. When they have had a sense both of the majesty and grace of God, one thing has as it were balanced another, and caused a more happy sedateness and composure of body and mind.
From these things we may learn how to judge of experiences, and to estimate their goodness. Those are not always the best which are attended with the most violent affections, and most vehement motions of the animal spirits, or have the greatest effects on the body. Nor are they always the best, that most dispose persons to abound in talk to others, and to speak in the most vehement manner, though these things often arise from the greatness of spiritual experiences. But those are the most excellent experiences 413 that are qualified as follows: 1. That have the least mixture, or are the most purely spiritual. 2. That are the least deficient and partial, in which the diverse things that appertain to Christian experience are proportionable one to another. And, 3. That are raised to the highest degree. It is no matter how high they are raised if they are qualified as before mentioned, the higher the better. Experiences, thus qualified, will be attended with the most amiable behaviour, will bring forth the most solid and sweet fruits, will be the most durable, and will have the greatest effect on the abiding temper of the soul.
God is pleased to carry on this work, and it should prove to be the
dawning of a general revival of the christian church, it may be
expected that the time will come before long, when the experiences of
Christians shall be much more generally thus qualified. We must expect
green fruits before we have ripe ones. It is probable that hereafter
the discoveries which the saints shall have of divine things, will be
in a much higher degree than yet have been; but yet shall
be so ordered of an infinitely wise and all sufficient God, that they
shall not have so great an effect, in proportion, on the body, and will
be less oppressive to nature. The outward manifestations will rather be
like those that were in Stephen, when he was full of the Holy Ghost, when
3. There is another thing concerning the experiences of Christians, of which it is of yet greater importance that we should be aware, than of the preceding, and that is the degenerating of experiences. What I mean is something diverse from the mere decay of experiences, or their gradually vanishing, by persons losing their sense of things; viz. experiences growing by degrees worse and worse in their kind, more and more partial and deficient; in which things are more out of due proportion, and also have more and more of a corrupt mixture; the spiritual part decreases, and the other useless and hurtful parts greatly increase. This I have seen in very many instances; and great are the mischiefs that have risen through want of being more aware of it.
There is commonly, as I observed before, in high experiences, besides that which is spiritual, a mixture of three things, viz.
natural or common affections, workings of the imagination, and a degree
of self-righteousness or spiritual pride. Now it often comes to pass,
that through persons not distinguishing the wheat from the chaff, and
for want of watchfulness and humble jealousy of themselves—and by
laying great weight on the natural and imaginary part,
yielding to it, and indulging it, whereby that part grows and
increases, and the spiritual part decreases—the devil sets in, and
works in the corrupt part, and cherishes it to his utmost. At length
the experiences of some persons, who began well, come to little else
but violent motions of carnal affections, with great heats of the
imagination, a great degree of enthusiasm and swelling of spiritual
pride; very much like some fruits which bud, blossom, and kernel well,
but afterwards are blasted
with an excess of moisture; so that though the bulk is monstrously
great, yet there is little else in it but what is useless and
unwholesome. It appears to me very probable, that many of the heresies
that have arisen, and sects that have appeared in the christian world,
in one age and another, with wild enthusiastic notions and practices,
began at first by this means, that it was such a degenerating of
experiences which first gave rise to them, or at least led the way to
them.—Nothing in the
world so much exposes to this, as an unheeded spiritual pride and
self-confidence, and persons being conceited of their own stock,
without an humble, daily, and continual dependence on God. And this
very thing seems to be typified of old, by the corrupting of the manna. Some of the children of Israel, because they had gathered a store of manna
trusted in it; there being, as they apprehended, sufficient in the
store they had gathered and laid up, without humbly looking to
heaven, and stooping to the earth, for daily supplies; and the
consequence was, that their manna bred worms and stank,
By the mixture there is of common affection with love to God, the love of true Christians is liable to degenerate, and to be more and more built on a supposition of being his high and peculiar favourites, and less and less on an apprehension of the excellency of God’s nature as he is in himself. So the joy of Christians, by reason of the mixture there is with spiritual joy, is liable to degenerate, and to become little else but joy in self, joy in a person’s own supposed eminency, and distinction from others in the favour of God. So zeal, that at first might be in great part spiritual, yet, in a long continuance of opposition and controversy, may degenerate more and more into human and proud passion, and may come to bitterness, and even a degree of hatred. And so love to the brethren may by degrees come to little else but fondness, and zeal for a party; yea, through a mixture of a natural love to the opposite sex, may degenerate more and more, till it issues in that which is criminal and gross. And I leave it with those who are better acquainted with ecclesiastical history, to inquire whether such a degeneracy of affections as this, might not be the first thing that led the way, and gave occasion to the rise, of the abominable notions of some sects that have arisen, concerning the community of women. However that is, yet certainly the mutual embraces and kisses of persons of different sexes, under the notion of christian love and holy kisses, are utterly to be disallowed and abominated, as having the most direct tendency quickly to turn christian love into unclean and brutish lust, which will not be the better, but ten times the worse, for being christened by the name of christian love. I should also think it advisable, that meetings of young people, of both sexes, in the evening, by themselves, without a minister, or any elder people amongst them, for religious exercises, should be avoided. For though for the present, while their minds are greatly solemn with lively impressions, and a deep sense of divine things, there may appear no ill consequence; yet we must look to the further end of things, and guard against future dangers, and advantages that Satan might gain against us. As a lively, solemn sense of divine things on the minds of young persons may gradually decay, so there will be danger that an ill improvement of these meetings may gradually prevail; if not in any unsuitable behaviour while together in the meeting, yet, when they break up to go home, they may naturally consort together in couples, for other than religious purposes; and it may at last so terminate, that young persons may go to such meetings chiefly for the sake of such an opportunity for company-keeping.
The defect there sometimes is in the experiences of Christians exposes them to degenerate, as well as the mixture that they have. Deficient maimed experiences do sometimes become more and more so. The mind being wholly intent upon those things that are in view, and those that are most wanting being neglected, there is less and less of them, and so the gap for corruption to come in grows wider and wider. And commonly both these causes operate together.—We had need to be jealous over ourselves with a godly jealousy, as the apostle was over the christian Corinthians, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so our minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. God indeed will never suffer his true saints totally and finally to fall away, but yet may punish their pride and self-confidence, by suffering them to be long led into a dreadful wilderness, by the subtle serpent, to the great wounding of their own souls and the interest of religion.
I dismiss this head of the degenerating of experiences, I would mention
one thing more that tends to it; and that is, persons aiming in their
experience to go beyond
the rule of God’s word, i.e. aiming at that which is indeed,
in some respect, beyond the rule. Thus some persons have endeavoured
utterly to root out and abolish all natural affection, or any special
affection or respect to their near relations, under a notion that no
ought to be allowed but spiritual love, and that all other love is to
be abolished as carnal, and that it becomes Christians to love none
upon the account of any thing else but the image of God; and that
therefore love should go out to one and another only in that proportion
in which the image of God is seen in them. They might as well argue
that a man ought utterly to disallow of, and endeavour to abolish, all
love or appetite to his daily food, under a notion that it is a carnal
that no other appetite should be tolerated but spiritual appetites. Why
should the saints strive after that, as a high attainment in holiness,
which the apostle in
is the duty of parents to be more concerned and to pray more for the
salvation of their children, than for the children of their neighbours;
as it is the duty of a minister to be more concerned for the salvation
of the souls of his flock, and to pray more for them, than those of
other congregations, because they are committed to his care. So our
near friends are more committed to our care than others, and our near
neighbours, than those that live at a great
distance; and the people of our land and nation are more, in some
sense, committed to our care than the people of China,
and we ought to pray more for them, and to be more concerned that the
kingdom of Christ should flourish among them, than in another country,
where it would be as much, and no more, for the glory of God.
Compassion ought to be especially exercised towards friends,
II. To take notice of something with regard to the external effects of experiences, which also gives Satan an advantage. What I refer to, is the secret and unaccountable influence that custom has upon persons, with respect to the external effects and manifestations of the inward affections of the mind. By custom I mean, both a person’s being accustomed to a thing in himself, in his own common, allowed, and indulged practice; and also the countenance and approbation of others amongst whom he dwells, by their general voice and practice. It is well known, and appears sufficiently by what I have said already in this treatise and elsewhere, that I am far from ascribing all the late uncommon effects and outward manifestations of inward experiences to custom and fashion, as some do; I know it to be otherwise, if it be possible for me to know any thing of this nature by the most critical observation, under all manner of opportunities of observing. But yet this also is exceeding evident by experience, that custom has a strange influence in these things. I know it by the different manners and degrees of external effects and manifestations of great affections and high discoveries, in different towns, according to what persons are gradually led into, and to which they are insensibly habituated, by example and custom; and also in the same place, at different times, according to their conduct. If some person conducts them, that much countenances and encourages such kind of outward manifestations of great affections, they naturally and insensibly prevail, and grow by degrees unavoidable; but, when afterwards they come under another kind of conduct, the manner of external appearances will strangely alter. And yet it seems to be without any proper design or contrivance of those in whom there is this alteration; it is not properly affected by them, but the influence of example and custom is secret and insensible to the person themselves. These things have a vast influence in the manner of persons manifesting their joys, whether with smiles and an air of lightness, or whether with more solemnity and reverence; and so they have a great influence as to the dispositions persons have under high affections to abound in talk; and also as to the manner of their speaking, the loudness and vehemence of their speech. It would, however, be exceeding unjust, and against all the evidence of fact and experience, and the reason of things, to ascribe to custom all dispositions to be much in speaking to others, and to speak in a very earnest manner. It is manifest that example and custom has some way or other, a secret and unsearchable influence on those actions that are involuntary, in different places, and in the same places at different times.
It would be very unreasonable, and prejudicial to the interest of religion, to frown upon all these extraordinary external effects and manifestations of great religious affections.—A measure of them is natural, necessary, and beautiful, and the effect in no wise disproportioned to the spiritual cause, and is of great benefit to promote religion. Yet I think they greatly err who suppose that these things should be wholly unlimited, and that all should be encouraged in going to the utmost length that they feel themselves inclined to. There ought to be a general restraint upon these things, and there should be a prudent care taken of persons in such extraordinary circumstances. They should be moderately advised at proper seasons, not to make more ado than there is need of, but rather to hold a restraint upon their inclinations; otherwise extraordinary outward effects will grow upon them, they will be more and more natural and unavoidable, and the extraordinary outward show will increase, without any increase of the internal cause. Persons will find themselves under a kind of necessity of making a great ado, with less and less affection of soul, till at length almost any slight emotion will set them going; and they will be more and more violent and boisterous, and will grow louder and louder, till their actions and behaviour become indeed very absurd. 415These things experience proves. Thus I have taken notice of the more general causes whence the errors that have attended this great revival of religion have risen, and under each head have observed some particular errors that have flowed from these fountains.
SECTION IV. Of censuring professing Christians.
Some particular errors that have risen from several of the preceding causes—Censuring others.
In some cases perhaps they have chiefly owing to one, and in others to another, and in others to the influence of several, or all conjunctly. And here the first thing I would take notice of is, censuring professing Christians of good standing in the visible church, as unconverted. I need not repeat what I have elsewhere said to show this to be against the plain, frequent, and strict prohibitions of the word of God. It is the worst disease that has attended this work, most contrary to the spirit and rules of Christianity, and of the worst consequences.—There is a most unhappy tincture that the minds of many, both ministers and people, have received that way. The manner of many has been, when they first enter into conversation with any person that seems to make any pretences to religion, to fix a judgment of him, from his manner of talking of religious things, whether he be converted, or experimentally acquainted with vital piety, or not; and then to treat him accordingly, and freely to express their thoughts of him to others, especially those of whom they have a good opinion, as true Christians, and accepted as brethren and companions in Christ. Or if they do not declare their minds expressly, yet by their manner of speaking of them, at least to their friends, they will show plainly what their thoughts are. So, when they have heard any minister pray or preach, their first work has been to observe him on a design of discerning him, whether he be a converted man or no; whether he prays like one that feels the saving power of God’s Spirit in his heart, and whether he preaches like one that knows what he says. It has been so much the way in some places, that many new converts do not know but it is their duty to do so, they know no other way. And when once persons yield to such a notion, and give in to such a humour, they will quickly grow very discerning in their own apprehension, and think they can easily tell a hypocrite. And when once they have passed their censure, every thing seems to confirm it; they see more and more in the person they have censured, that seems to them to show plainly that he is an unconverted man. And then, if the person censured be a minister, every thing in his public performances seems dead and sapless, and to do them no good at all, but on the contrary to be of a deadening influence, and poisonous to the soul; yea, it seems worse and worse to them, his preaching grows more and more intolerable. Which is owing to a secret, strong prejudice, that steals in more and more upon the mind, as experience plainly and certainly shows. When the Spirit of God was wonderfully poured out in this place more than seven years ago, and near thirty souls in a week, take one with another, for five or six weeks together, were to appearance brought home to Christ, and all the town seemed to be alive and full of God, there was no such notion or humour prevailing here. When ministers preached here, as very many did at that time, young and old, our people did not go about to discern whether they were men of experience or not; they did not know that they must. Mr. Stoddard never brought them up in that way; it did not seem natural to them to go about any thing of that nature, nor did any such thing enter into their hearts; but, when any minister preached, the business of every one was to listen and attend to what he said, and apply it to his own heart, and make the utmost improvement of it. And it is remarkable, that never did there appear such a disposition in the people to relish, approve of, and admire ministers’ preaching as at that time. Such expressions as these were frequent in the mouths of one and another, on occasion of the preaching of strangers here, viz. That they rejoiced there were so many such eminent ministers in the country; and they wondered they never heard the fame of them before. They were thankful that other towns had so good means; and the like. And scarcely ever did any minister preach here, but his preaching did some remarkable service; as I had good opportunity to know, because at that time I had particular acquaintance with most of the persons in the town, in their soul-concerns. That it has been so much otherwise of late in many places in the land is another instance of the secret and powerful influence of custom and example.
has been an unhappy disposition in some ministers toward their brethren
in the ministry in this respect, which has encouraged and greatly
promoted such a spirit among some of their people. A wrong improvement
has been made of Christ’s scourging the buyers and sellers out of the
temple. It has been expected by some, that Christ was now about thus to
purge his house of unconverted ministers; and this has made it more
natural to them to think that they should do
Christ service, and act as co-workers with him, to put to their hand,
and endeavour by all means to cashier those ministers that they thought
to be unconverted. Indeed it appears to me probable that the time is
coming when awful judgments will be executed on unfaithful ministers,
and that no sort of men in the world will be so much exposed to divine
judgments. But then we should leave that work to Christ, who is the
searcher of hearts, and to whom vengeance belongs; and not, without
take the scourge out of his hand into our own. There has been too much
of a disposition in some, as it were, to give ministers over as
reprobates, being looked upon as wolves in sheeps’ clothing; which has
tended to promote and encourage a spirit of bitterness towards them,
and to make it natural to treat them too much as if they knew God hated
them. If God’s children knew that others were reprobates it would not
be required of them to love them; we may hate those that we know God
hates; as it
is lawful to hate the devil, and as the saints at the day of judgment
will hate the wicked.
have been too apt to look for fire from heaven upon particular
ministers; and this has naturally excited that disposition to call for
it, which Christ rebuked in his disciples at Samaria.
For my part, though I believe no sort of men on earth are so exposed to
spiritual judgments as wicked ministers, yet I feel no disposition to
treat any minister as if I supposed that he was finally rejected of
God; for I cannot but hope that there is coming a day of such great
time so appointed for magnifying the riches and sovereignty of divine
mercy, beyond what ever was, that a great number of unconverted
ministers will obtain mercy. There were no sort of persons in Christ’s
time that were so guilty, and so hardened, and towards whom Christ
manifested such great indignation, as the priests and scribes; and
there were no such persecutors of Christ and his disciples as they. And
yet in that great outpouring of the Spirit that began on the day of
Pentecost, though it
began with the common people, yet in the progress of the work, after
awhile, “a great company of priests in Jerusalem were obedient to the faith,”
Nothing has been gained by this practice. The end that some have aimed at in it has not been obtained, nor is ever like to be. Possibly some have openly censured ministers, and encourage their people’s uneasiness under them, in hopes that the uneasiness would be so general, and so 416great, that unconverted ministers in general would be cast off, and then things would go on happily. But there is no likelihood of it. The devil indeed has obtained his end; this practice has bred a great deal of unhappiness among ministers and people, has spoiled Christians’ enjoyment of Sabbaths, and made them their most uneasy, uncomfortable, and unprofitable days, and has stirred up great contention, and set all in a flame. In one place and another, where there was a glorious work of God’s Spirit begun, it has in a great measure knocked all on the head, and their ministers hold their places. Some have aimed at a better end in censuring ministers; they have supposed it to be a likely means to awaken them. Whereas indeed no one thing has had so great a tendency to prevent the awakening of disaffected ministers in general; and no one thing has actually had such influence to lock up the minds of ministers against any good effect of this great work of God in the land. I have known instances of some who seemed to be much moved by the first appearance of this work, but since have seemed to be greatly deadened by what has appeared of this nature. And, if there be one or two instances of ministers who have been awakened by it, there are ten to one on whom it has had a contrary influence. The worst enemies of this work have been inwardly caused by this practice; they have made a shield of it to defend their consciences, and have been glad that it has been carried to so great a length; at the same time that they have looked upon it, and improved it, as a door opened for them to be more bold in opposing the work in general.
There is no such dreadful danger of natural men being undone by our forbearing thus to censure them, and carrying it towards them as visible Christians. It will be no bloody hell-peopling charity, as some seem to suppose, when we only allow them to be worthy of a public charity, on their profession and good external behaviour; any more than Judas was in danger of being deceived, by Christ’s treating him a long time as a disciple, and sending him forth as an apostle. Christ did not then take it upon him to act as the judge and searcher of hearts, but only as the head of the visible church. Indeed such a charity as this may be abused by some, as every thing is, and will be, that is in its own nature proper, and of never so good tendency. I say nothing against dealing thoroughly with conscience, by the most convincing and searching dispensation of the word of God. I do not desire that sword should be sheathed, or gently handled by ministers; but let it used as a two-edged sword, to pierce, even to the dividing asunder soul and spirit, joints and marrow; let ministers handle it in flaming fire, without having any more mercy on it, than the furnace has on those metals that are tried in it. But we should let men’s persons alone; let the word of God judge them, but let us not take it upon use till we have a warrant for it.
Some have been ready to censure ministers because they seem, in comparison of some other ministers, to be very cold and lifeless in their ministerial performances. But then it should be considered, that, for ought we know, God may hereafter raise up ministers of so much more excellent and heavenly qualifications, and so much more spiritual and divine in their performances, that there may appear as great a difference between them, and those who now seem the most lively, as there is now between them, and others that are called dead and sapless. And those that are now called lively ministers may appear to their hearers, when they compare them with others who shall excel them, as wretchedly mean, and their performances poor, dead, dry things; and many may be ready to be prejudiced against them, as accounting them good for nothing, and, it may be, calling them soul-murderers. What a poor figure may we suppose the most lively of us, and those that are most admired by the people, make in the eyes of one of the saints of heaven, any otherwise than as their deadness, deformity, and rottenness is hid by the veil of Christ’s righteousness!
Another thing that has been supposed to be sufficient warrant for openly censuring ministers as unconverted, is their opposing this work of God that has lately been carried on in the land. And there can be no doubt with me but that opposition against this work may be such, as to render either ministers or people truly scandalous, and expose them to public ecclesiastical censure; and that ministers hereby may utterly defeat the design of their ministry, (as I observed before,) and so give their people just cause of uneasiness. I should not think that any person had power to oblige me constantly to attend the ministry of one who did from time to time plainly pray and preach against this work, or speak reproachfully of it frequently in his public performances, after all christian methods had been used for a remedy, and to no purpose.—But to determine how far opposing this work is consistent with a state of grace, is, as experience shows, a very difficult thing; who can tell how far, and for how long time, some persons of good experience in their own souls may proceed, through prejudices they have received from the errors that have been mixed with this work, or through some peculiar disadvantages they are under to behold things in a right view, by reason of the persons they converse with, or their own cold and dead frames? I have seen what abundantly convinces me, that the business is too high for me; I am glad that God has not committed such a difficult affair to me; I can joyfully leave it wholly in his hands, who is infinitely fit for it, without meddling at all with it myself. We may represent it as exceeding dangerous to oppose this work, for this we have good warrant in the word of God; but I know of no necessity we are under to determine whether it be possible for those that are guilty of it to be in a state of grace or no.
seems so strictly to have forbidden our judging our brethren in the
visible church, no only because he knew that we were infinitely too
weak, fallible, and blind, to be well capacitated for it, but also
because he knew that it was not a work suited to our proud hearts; that
it would be setting us vastly too high, and making us too much of lords
over our fellow-creatures. Judging our brethren, and passing a
condemnatory sentence upon them, seems to carry in it an
act of authority, especially to sentence them with respect to
that state of their hearts, on which depends their liableness to
eternal damnation. This is evident by such interrogations as the
following, to hear which from God’s mouth, is enough to make us shrink
into nothing with shame and confusion, under a sense of our own
blindness and worthlessness,
As this practice ought to be avoided, so should all such open, visible marks of distinction and separation that imply it, (as particularly, distinguishing such as we have judged to be in a converted state with the compellations of brother or sister,) any further than there is a visible ecclesiastical distinction. In those places where it is the manner to receive such, and such only, to the communion of the visible church, as recommend themselves by giving a satisfying account of their inward experiences, there Christians may openly distinguish such persons, in their speech and ordinary behaviour, with a visible separation, without being inconsistent with themselves. I do not now pretend to meddle with that controversy, whether such an account of experience be requisite to church-fellowship. But certainly, to admit persons to communion with us as brethren in the visible church, and then visibly to reject them, and to make an open distinction between them and others, by different names or appellations, is to be inconsistent with ourselves. It is to make a visible church within a visible church, and visibly to divide between sheep and goats, setting one on the right hand, and the 417other on the left.—This bitter root of censoriousness must be totally rooted out, as we would prepare the way of the Lord. It has nourished and upheld many other things contrary to the humility, meekness, and love of the gospel. The minds of many have received an unhappy turn, with their religion; there is a certain point or sharpness, a disposition to a kind of warmth, that does not savour of that meek, lamb-like, sweet disposition that becomes Christians. Many have now been so long habituated to it, that they do not know how to get out of it; but we must get out of it; the point and sharpness must be blunted, and we must learn another way of manifesting our zeal for God.
Some have a way of reflecting on others, and censuring them in open prayer; which, though it has a fair show of love, is indeed the boldest way of reproaching others imaginable; because there is implied in it an appeal to the most high God, concerning the truth of their censures and reflections.—And some have a way of joining a sort of imprecations with their petitions for others, though but conditional ones, that appear to me wholly needless and improper. They pray that others may either be converted or removed. I never heard nor read of any such thing practised in the church of God till now, unless it be with respect to some of the most visibly and notoriously abandoned enemies of the church of God. This is a sort of cursing men in our prayers, adding a curse with our blessing; whereas the rule is, Bless, and curse not. To pray that God would kill another, is to curse him as Elisha cursed the children who came out of Bethel. And the case must be very great and extraordinary indeed to warrant it, unless we were prophets, and did not speak our own words, but words indited by the immediate inspiration of the Spirit of God. It is pleaded, that if God has no design of converting others, it is best for them and others, that they should be immediately taken away and sent to hell before they have contracted more guilt. To which I would say, that so it was best for those children who met Elisha, seeing God had no design of converting them, to die immediately, as they did; but yet Elisha’s imprecating that sudden death upon them, was cursing them; and therefore would not have been lawful for one who did not speak in the name of the Lord as a prophet.—And then, if we give way to such things as these, where shall we stop? A child that suspects he has an unconverted father and mother, may pray openly that his father and mother may either be converted, or taken away and sent to hell now quickly, before their guilt is greater. For unconverted parents are as likely to poison the souls of their family in their manner of training them up, as unconverted ministers are to poison their people. And so it might come to be a common thing all over the country, for children to pray after this manner concerning their parents, brethren and sisters concerning one another, husbands concerning their wives, and wives concerning their husbands; and so for persons to pray concerning all their unconverted friends and neighbours. And not only so, but we may also pray concerning all those saints who are not lively Christians, that they may either be enlivened or taken away; if that be true which is often said by some at this day, that these cold dead saints do more hurt than natural men, and lead more souls to hell, and that it would be well for mankind if they were all dead.
How needless are such petitions or imprecations as these! What benefit is there of them? Is it not sufficient for us to pray that God would provide for his church and the good of souls, take care of his own flock, and give it needful means and advantages for its spiritual prosperity? Does God need to be directed by us in what way he shall do it? What need we ask of God to do it by killing such and such persons, if he do not convert them? unless we delight in the thoughts of God’s answering us in such terrible ways, and with such awful manifestations of his wrath to our fellow-creatures.—And why do not ministers direct sinners to pray for themselves, that God would either convert them or kill them, and send them to hell now, before their guilt is greater? In this way we should lead persons in the next place to self-murder; for many probably would soon begin to think, that what they may pray for, they may seek by the use of means.
Some, with whom I have discoursed about this way of praying, have said, That the Spirit of God, as it were, forces out such words from their mouths, when otherwise they should not dare to utter them. But such kind of impulse does not look like the influence of the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God indeed sometimes strongly inclines men to utter words; not by putting expressions into the mouth, and urging to utter them, but by filling the heart with a sense of divine things, and holy affections, whence the mouth speaks. That other way of being urged to use certain expressions, by an unaccountable force, is very probably from the influence of the devil.
SECTION V. Errors relative to lay-exhorting.
Of errors connected with lay-exhorting.
Another thing, in the management of which there has been much error and misconduct, is lay-exhorting; about which there has been abundance of disputing, jangling, and contention. In the midst of these disputes, I suppose that all are agreed as to these two things, viz. 1. That all exhorting one another by lay-men is not unlawful or improper; but, on the contrary, that such exhorting is a Christian duty. And, 2. I suppose also, all will allow that there is some kind or way of exhorting and teaching which belongs only to the office of teachers. All will allow that God has appointed such an office as that of teachers in the christian church, and therefore doubtless will allow that something or other is proper and peculiar to that office, or some business of teaching that does not belong as much to others as to them. If there be any way of teaching that is peculiar to that office, then for others to take that upon them, is to invade the office of a minister; which doubtless is very sinful, and is often so represented in Scripture. But the great difficulty is to settle the bounds, and to tell exactly how far lay-men may go, and when they exceed their limits; which is a matter of so much difficulty, that I do not wonder if many in their zeal have transgressed. The two ways of teaching and exhorting, the one of which ought ordinarily to be left to ministers, and the other of which may and ought to be practised by the people, may be expressed by those two name of preaching, and exhorting in way of christian conversation. But then a great deal of difficulty and controversy arises to determine what is preaching, and what is christian conversation. However, I will humbly offer my thoughts concerning this subject of lay-exhorting, as follows.
The common people, in exhorting one another, ought not to clothe
themselves with the like authority with that which is proper for
ministers. There is a certain authority that ministers have and should
exercise in teaching, as well as in governing the flock. Teaching is
spoken of in Scripture as an act of authority,
may clothe themselves with authority in speaking, either by the
authoritative words they make use of, or in the manner and
authoritative air of their speaking. Though some may think that this
latter is a matter of indifference, or at least of small importance,
yet there is indeed a great deal in it; a person may go much out of his
place, and be guilty of a great degree of assuming, in the manner of
his speaking those words, which, as they might be spoken, might
be proper for him.—The same words, spoken in a different manner, may
express what is very diverse. Doubtless there may be as much hurt in
the manner of a person’s speaking, as there may in his looks; but the
wise man tells us, that “an high look is an abomination to the Lord,”
But then may a man be said to set up himself as a public teacher, when in a set speech, of design, he directs himself to a multitude, as looking that they should compose themselves to attend to what he has to say. And much more when this is a contrived and premeditated thing, without any thing like a constraint by an extraordinary sense or affection; and more still, when meetings are appointed on purpose to hear lay-persons exhort, and they take it as their business to be speakers, while they expect that others should come, and compose themselves and attend as hearers. When private Christians take it upon them in private meetings to act as the masters or presidents of the assembly, and accordingly from time to time to teach and exhort the rest, this has the appearance of authoritative teaching.
private Christians, who are no more then mere brethren, exhort and
admonish one another, it ought to be in an humble manner, rather by way
of entreaty, than with authority; and the more, according as the
station of persons is lower. Thus it becomes women, and those that are
young, ordinarily to be at a greater distance from any appearance or
authority in speaking than others. Thus much at least is evident by
II. No man but a minister duly appointed to that sacred calling, ought to follow teaching and exhorting as a calling, or so as to neglect that which is his proper calling. Having the office of a teacher in the church of God implies two things: 1. A being invested with the authority of a teacher; and 2. A being called to the business of a teacher,
to make it the business of his life. Therefore that man who is not a
either of these upon him, invades the office of a minister. Concerning
assuming the authority of a minister I have spoken already. But if a
lay-man do not assume authority in his teaching, yet if he forsakes his
proper calling, or doth so at least in a great measure, and spends his
time in going about from house to house to counsel and exhort, he goes
beyond his line, and violates christian rules. Those that have the
office of teachers or exhorters, have it for their calling, and should
their business, as a business proper to their office; and none should
make it their business but such,
It will be a very dangerous thing for lay-men, in either of these respects, to invade the office of minister. If this be common among us, we shall be in danger of having a stop put to the work of God, of the ark turning aside from us, before it comes to mount Zion, and of God making a breach upon us; as of old there was an unhappy stop put to the joy of the congregation of Israel, in bringing up the ark of God, because others carried it besides the Levites. And therefore David, when the error was found out, says, “None ought to carry the ark of God, but the Levites only; for them hath the Lord chosen to carry the ark of God, and to minister unto him for ever.” And because one presumed to touch the ark who was not of the sons of Aaron, therefore the Lord made a breach upon them, and covered their day of rejoicing with a cloud in his anger.”—Before I dismiss this head of lay-exhorting, I would take notice of three things relating to it, upon which there ought to be a restraint.
1. Speaking in the time of the solemn worship of God; as public prayer, singing, or preaching, or administration of the sacrament of the holy supper, or any duty of social worship. This should not be allowed. I know it will 419be said, that in some cases, when persons are exceedingly affected, they cannot help it; and I believe so too; but then I also believe, and know by experience, that there are several things which contribute to that inability, besides merely and absolutely the sense of divine things upon their hearts. Custom and example, or the thing being allowed, have such an influence, that they actually help to make it impossible for persons under strong affections to avoid speaking. If it was disallowed, and persons at the time that they were thus disposed to break out, had this apprehension, that it would be very unbecoming for them so to do, it would contribute to their ability to avoid it Their inability arises from their strong and vehement disposition; and, so far as that disposition is from a good principle, it would be weakened by this thought, viz. “What I am going to do, will be for the dishonour of Christ and religion.” And so the inward vehemence, that pushed them forward to speak, would fall, and they would be enabled to avoid it. This experience confirms.
2. There ought to be a moderate restraint on the loudness of person’s talking under high affections; for, if there be not, it will grow natural and unavoidable for persons to be louder and louder, without any increase of their inward sense; till it becomes natural to them, at last, to scream and halloo to almost every one they see in the streets, when they are much affected. But this is certainly very improper, and what has no tendency to promote religion. The man Christ Jesus, when he was upon earth, had doubtless as great a sense of the infinite greatness and importance of eternal things, and the worth of souls, as any have now; but there is not the least appearance in his history, of his taking any such course, or manner of exhorting others.
3. There should also be some restraint on the abundance of talk, under strong affections; for, if persons give themselves an unbounded liberty to talk just so much as they feel an inclination to, they will increase and abound more and more in talk, beyond the proportion of their sense or affection; till at length it will become ineffectual on those that hear them, and, by the commonness of their abundant talk, they will defeat their own end.
SECTION VI. Errors relative to singing.
Of errors connected with singing praises to God.
One thing more of which I would take notice, before I conclude this part, is the mismanagement of singing praises to God. I believe it to have been one fruit of the extraordinary degrees of the sweet and joyful influence of the Spirit of God, that there has appeared such a disposition to abound in this divine exercise; not only in appointed solemn meetings, but when Christians occasionally meet together at each other’s houses. But the mismanagement I have respect to is a way of performing it, without almost any appearance of that reverence and solemnity with which all visible, open acts of divine worship ought to be attended. It may be two or three are in a room singing hymns of praise to God, others talking at the same time, others about their work, with little more appearance of regard to what is doing, than if only singing a common song for their amusement and diversion. There is danger, if such things are continued, that a mere nothing be made of this duty, to the great violation of the third commandment. Let Christians abound as much as they will in this holy, heavenly exercise, in God’s house and in their own houses; but, let it be performed as a holy act, wherein they have immediately and visibly to do with God. When any social open act of devotion or solemn worship of God is performed, God should be reverenced as present. As we would not have the ark of God depart from us, nor provoke God to make a breach upon us, we should take heed that we handle the ark with reverence.
With respect to companies singing in the streets, going to or coming from the place of public worship, I would humbly offer my thoughts in the following particulars:
1. The rule of Christ, concerning putting new wine into old bottles, does undoubtedly take place in things of this nature, supposing the thing in itself is good, but not essential, and not particularly enjoined or forbidden. For things so very new and uncommon, and of so open and public a nature, to be suddenly introduced and set up and practised in many parts of the country, without the matter being so much as first proposed to any public consideration, or giving any opportunity for the people of God to weigh the matter, or to consider any reasons that might be offered to support it, is putting new wine into old bottles with a witness; as if it were with no other design than to burst them directly. Nothing else can be expected to be the consequence of this than uproar and confusion, great offence, and unhappy mischievous disputes, even among the children of God themselves. Not that what is good in itself, and is new, ought to be forborne, till there is nobody that will like it; but it ought to be forborne, till there is nobody that will like it; but it ought to be forborne till the visible church of God is so prepared for it, at least, that there is a probability it will not do more hurt than good, or hinder the work of God more than promote it; as is more evident from Christ’s rule, and the apostles’ practice. If it be brought in when the country is so unprepared, that the shock and surprise, the contention and prejudice against religion it is like to occasion, will do more to hinder religion, then the practice is like to promote it, then the fruit is picked before it is ripe. And, indeed, such a hasty endeavour to introduce an innovation, supposing it to be good in itself, is the likeliest way to retard the effectual introduction of it; it will hinder its being extensively introduced, much more than it will promote it, and so will defeat its own end. But,
to the thing itself, if a considerable part of a congregation have
occasion to go in company together to a place of public worship, and
they should join together in singing praises to God, as they go, I
confess, that after long consideration—and endeavouring to view the
thing every way with the utmost diligence and impartiality I am capable
of—I cannot find any valid objection against it. As to the common
suppose none will condemn singing God’s praises, merely because it is
performed in the open air; and, if it may be performed by a company in
the open air, doubtless they may do it moving, as well as standing
still. So the children of Israel praised God, when they went to mount Zion with the ark of God; and the multitude praised Christ, when they entered with him into Jerusalem, a little before his passion. The children of Israel were wont, from
year to year, to go up to Jerusalem in
companies, from all parts of the land, three times in the year, when
they often used to manifest the engagedness of their minds by
travelling all night, and manifested their joy and gladness by singing
praises with great decency and beauty, as they went towards God’s holy
mountain; as is evident by
It seems to me to be requisite that there should be the consent of the governing part of the worshipping societies, to which persons have joined themselves, and of which they own themselves a part, in order to the introducing of things in public worship, so new and uncommon, and not essential, nor particularly commanded, into the places where those worshipping societies belong. The peace and union of such societies seems to require it. They have voluntarily united themselves to these worshipping societies, to the end that they might be one in the God’s public worship, and have obliged themselves in covenant to act as brethren, mutual assistants, and members of one body in those affairs. All are hereby naturally and necessarily led to be concerned with one another, in matters of religion and God’s worship; and this is a part of the public worship, that must be performed from time to time in the view of the whole, being performed at a time when they are meeting together for mutual assistance in worship, and therefore that which all must unavoidably be in some measure concerned in, at least so as to show their approbation and consent, or open dislike and separation from them in it. Hence charity, and a regard to the union and peace of such societies, seems to require a consent of the governing part, in order to the introducing any thing of this nature. Certainly if we are of the spirit of the apostle Paul, and have his discretion, we shall not set up any such practice without it. He, for the sake of peace, conformed in things wherein he was not particularly forbidden, to the Jews when among them; and so, when among those that were without the law, he conformed to them wherein he might.—To be sure, those go much beyond proper limits, who, coming from abroad, do immediately of their own heads, in a strange place, set up such a new and uncommon practice among a people.
any thing of this nature among a people, their minister especially
ought to be consulted, and his voice taken, as long as he is owned for
their minister. Ministers are pastors of worshipping societies, and
their heads and guides in the affairs of public worship. They are
called in Scripture, “those that rule over them;” and their people are
The devil, in driving things to these extremes, besides the present hindrance of the work of God, has, I believe, had in view a twofold mischief, in the issue of things; one, with respect to those that are cold in religion, to carry things to such an extreme in order that people in general, having their eyes opened by the great excess, might be tempted entirely to reject the whole work, as being all nothing but delusion and distraction. And another, with respect to those of God’s children who have been very warm and zealous out of the way, to sink them down in unbelief and darkness. The time is coming, I doubt not, when the greater part of them will be convinced of their errors; and then probably the devil will take advantage to lead them into a dreadful wilderness, to puzzle and confound them about their own experiences, and the experiences of others; and to make them to doubt of many things that they ought not, and even to tempt them with atheistical thoughts. I believe, if all true Christians over the land should now at once have their eyes opened fully to see all their errors, it would seem for the present to damp religion. The dark thoughts that it would at first occasion, and the inward doubts, difficulties, and conflicts that would rise in their souls, would deaden their lively affections and joys, and would cause an appearance of a present decay of religion. But yet it would do God’s saints great good in their latter end; it would fit them for more spiritual and excellent experiences, more humble and heavenly love, and unmixed joys, and would greatly tend to a more powerful, extensive, and durable prevalence of vital piety. I do not know but we shall be in danger, after our eyes are fully opened to see our errors, to go to contrary extremes. The devil has driven the pendulum far beyond its proper point of rest; and when he has carried it to the utmost length that he can, and it begins by its own weight to swing back, he probably will set in, and drive it with the utmost fury the other way; and so give us no rest; and if possible prevent our settling in a proper medium. What a poor, blind, weak, and miserable creature is man, at his best estate! We are like poor helpless sheep; the devil is too subtle for us. What is our strength! What is our wisdom! How ready are we to go astray! How easily are we drawn aside into innumerable snares, while in the mean time we are bold and confident, and doubt not but we are right and safe! We are foolish sheep in the midst of subtle serpents and cruel wolves, and do not know it. Oh how unfit are we to be left to ourselves! And how much do we stand in need of the wisdom, the power, the condescension, patience, forgiveness, and gentleness of our good Shepherd!
PART V. What ought to be done to promote this work.421
showing positively, what ought to be done to promote this work.
In considering means and methods for promoting this glorious work of God, I have already observed, in some instances, wherein there has been needless objecting and complaining; and have also taken notice of many things amiss, that ought to be amended. I now proceed to show positively, what ought to be done, or what courses (according to my humble opinion) ought to be taken to promote this work. The obligations that all are under, with one consent, to do their utmost, and the great danger of neglecting it, were observed before.—I hope that some, neglecting it, were observed before.—I hope that some, upon reading what was said under that head, will be ready to say, What shall we do? To such readers I would now offer my thought, in answer to such an inquiry.
SECTION I. We should remove stumbling blocks.
We should endeavour to remove stumbling-blocks.
which I think we ought to set ourselves about, in the first place, is
to remove stumbling-blocks. When God is revealed as about to come
gloriously to set up his kingdom in the world, this is proclaimed,
“Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a high-way
for our God,”
And, in order to this, there must be a great deal done at confessing of faults, on both sides. For undoubtedly many and great are the faults that have been committed, in the jangling and confusions, and mixtures of light and darkness, that have been of late. There is hardly any duty more contrary to our corrupt dispositions, and mortifying to the pride of man; but it must be done. Repentance of faults is, in a peculiar manner, a proper duty, when the kingdom of heaven is at hand, or when we especially expect or desire that it should come; as appears by John the Baptist’s preaching. And if God does now loudly call upon us to repent, then he also calls upon us to make proper manifestations of our repentance. I am persuaded that those who have openly opposed this work, or have from time to time spoken lightly of it, cannot be excused in the sight of God, without openly confessing their fault therein; especially ministers. If they have any way, either directly or indirectly, opposed the work, or have so behaved, in their public performances or private conversation, as to prejudice the minds of their people against the work; if hereafter they shall be convinced of the goodness and divinity of what they have opposed, they ought by no means to palliate the matter, or excuse themselves, and pretend that they always thought so, and that it was only such and such imprudences that they objected against. But they ought openly to declare their conviction, and condemn themselves for what they have done; for it is Christ that they have spoken against, in speaking lightly of and prejudicing others against this work; yea, it is the Holy Ghost. And though they have done it ignorantly and in unbelief, yet, when they find out who it is that they have opposed, undoubtedly God will hold them bound publicly to confess it.
And on the other side, if those who have been zealous to promote the work have in any of the fore-mentioned instances openly gone much out of the way, and done that which is contrary to christian rules, whereby they have openly injured others, or greatly violated good order, and so done that which has wounded religion, they must publicly confess it, and humble themselves; as they would gather out the stones, and prepare the way of God’s people. They who have laid great stumbling-blocks in others’ way, by their open transgression, are bound to remove them by their open repentance.
Some probably will be ready to object against this, that the opposers will take advantage by this to behave themselves insolently, and to insult both them and religion. And indeed, to the shame of some, they have taken advantage by such things; as of the good spirit that Mr. Whitfield showed in his retractions, and some others. But if there are some embittered enemies of religion, that stand ready to improve every thing to its disadvantage, yet that ought not to hinder doing an enjoined christian duty; though it be in the manifestation of humility and repentance, after a fault openly committed. To stand it out, in a visible impenitence of the real fault, to avoid such an inconvenience, is to do evil in order to prevent evil. Besides, the danger of evil consequence is much greater on the other side: to commit sin, and then stand in it, is what will give the enemy the greatest advantage. For Christians to act like Christians, in openly humbling themselves when they have openly offended, in the end brings the greatest honour to Christ and religion; and in this way are persons most likely to have God appear for them.
at such a day as this, God especially calls his people to the exercise
of extraordinary meekness and mutual forbearance. Christ appears as it
were coming in his kingdom, which calls for great moderation in our
behaviour towards all men;
therefore that have been zealous for this work, and have greatly erred
and been injurious with their zeal, ought not to be treated with
bitterness. There is abundant reason to think, that most of them are
the dear children of God, for whom Christ died; and therefore that they
will see their error. As to those things, wherein we see them to be in
an error, we have reason to say of them as the apostle,
And as such an extraordinary time as this does especially require of us the exercise of great forbearance one towards another; so there is peculiarly requisite in God’s people the exercise of great patience, in waiting on God,
under any special difficulties and disadvantages they may be under as
to the means of grace. The beginning of a revival of religion will
naturally and necessarily be attended with a great many difficulties of
this nature; many parts
of the reviving church will, for a while, be under great disadvantages,
by reason of what remains of the old disease, of a general corruption
of the visible church. We cannot expect that, after a long time of
degeneracy and depravity in the state of things in the church, all
should come to rights at once, it must be a work of time. And for God’s
people to be over-hasty and violent, in such a case, being resolved to
have every thing rectified at once, or else forcibly to deliver
breaches and separations, is the way to hinder things coming to rights
as they otherwise would. It is the way to keep them back, and to break
all in pieces. Indeed the difficulty may be so intolerable as to allow
of no delay, and God’s people cannot continue in the state wherein they
were, without violations of God’s absolute commands: but otherwise,
though the difficulty may be very great, another course should be
taken. God’s people should have recourse directly to the throne of
represent their difficulties before the great Shepherd of the sheep,
who has the care of all the affairs of his church; and, when they have
done, they should wait patiently upon him. If they do so, they may
expect that in his time he will appear for their deliverance; but if,
instead of that, they are impatient, and take the work into their own
hands, they will betray their want of faith, will dishonour God, and
have reason to fear that he will leave them to manage their affairs for
as well as they can. If they had waited on Christ patiently, continuing
still instant in prayer, they might have had him appearing for them,
much more effectually to deliver them. He that believeth shall not make haste.
And it is for those that are found patiently waiting on the Lord, under
difficulties, that he will especially appear, when he comes to do great
things for his church; as is evident by
I have somewhere, not long since, met with an exposition of those words of the spouse, several times repeated in the book of Canticles, I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, till he please. It was the only satisfying exposition that ever I met with, and was to this purpose, viz.
That when the church of God is under great difficulties, and in
distress, and Christ does not appear for her help, but seems to neglect
her, as though he were asleep, God’s people, or the daughters of Jerusalem,
in such a case, should not show a hasty spirit, and, not having
patience to wait for Christ to awake for their help till his time
comes, take indirect courses for their own deliverance, and use violent
means for their escape, before Christ appears to open the door for
them; and so, as it were, stir up, and awake Christ, before
this time. When the church is in distress, and God seems not to appear
in his providence, he is very often represented in Scripture as being
asleep; as Christ was asleep in the ship, when the disciples were
tossed by the storm, and the ship covered with waves. And God’s
appearing for his people’s help, is represented as his awaking out of
SECTION II. What should be done to advance it.
What must be done more directly to advance this work.
has been mentioned hitherto, has relation to the behaviour we are
obliged to, as we would prevent the hindrances of the work; but,
besides these, there are things that must be done, more
directly to advance it. And here it concerns every one, in the first
place, to look into his own heart, and see to it that he be a partaker
of the benefits of the work himself, and that it be promoted in his own
soul. Now is a most glorious opportunity for the good of
souls. It is manifestly with respect to a time of great revival of
religion in the world, that we have that gracious, earnest, and moving
invitation proclaimed in the
though I judge not those who have opposed this work, and would not have
others judge them, yet, if any such shall happen to read this treatise,
I would take the liberty to entreat them to leave off troubling
themselves so much about others, and to look into their own souls, and
see to it that they are the subjects of a true, saying work of the
Spirit of God.—If they have reason to think they never have been, or if
it be but a very doubtful hope that they have, then
how can they have any heart to be fiercely engaged about the mistakes
and the supposed false hopes of others? And I would now beseech those
who have hitherto been somewhat inclining to Arminian principles,
seriously to weight the matter with respect to this work, and consider,
whether, if the Scriptures are the word of God, the work that has been
described in the first part of the treatise must not be, as to the
substance of it, the work of God, and the flourishing of that religion
is taught by Christ and his apostles. Can any good medium be found,
where a man can rest with any stability, between owning this work, and
being a deist? If indeed this be the work of God, does it not entirely
423scheme of religion; and does it not
infinitely concern them, as they would be partakers of eternal
salvation, to relinquish their scheme? Now is a good time for Arminians to change their principles. I would now, as one of the friends of this work,
humbly invite them to come and join with us, and be on our side; and, if I had the authority of Moses, I would say to them as he did to Habab,
the benefit and advantage of the good improvement of such a season is
very great, so the danger of neglecting and misimproving it is
proportionably great. It is abundantly evident by the Scripture, that
as a time of great outpouring of the Spirit is a time of great favour
to those who are partakers of the blessing, so it is always at time of
remarkable vengeance to others. So in
state of the present revival of religion has an awful aspect upon those
that are advanced in years. The work has been chiefly amongst the
young; and comparatively but few others have been made partakers of it.
And indeed it has commonly been so, when God has begun any great work
for the revival of his church; he has taken the young people, and has
cast off the old and stiff-necked generation. There was a remarkable
outpouring of the Spirit of God on the children of
Israel in the wilderness, but chiefly on the younger generation, their little ones, that they said should be a prey, the generation that entered into Canaan with Joshua. That generation seems to have been the most excellent that ever was in the church of Israel.
There is no generation, of which there is so much good, and so little
evil, spoken in Scripture, as might be shown. In that generation, such
as were under twenty years when they went out of
Egypt, was that kindness of youth, and love of espousals, spoken of,
So when God had a design of great mercy to the Jews,
in bringing them out of the Babylonish captivity, and returning them to
their own land, there was a blessed outpouring of the Spirit upon them
in Babylon, to bring them to deep conviction and repentance,
and to cry earnestly to God for mercy; which is often spoken of by the
prophets. But it was not upon the old generation, that were
carried captive. The captivity continued just long enough for
that perverse generation to waste away and die in their captivity, at
least those of them that were adult persons when carried captive. The
heads of families were exceeding obstinate, and would not hearken to
the earnest repeated warnings of the prophet Jeremiah; but he had greater success among the young people; as appears by
But above all others does it concern us who are ministers, to see to it that we have experience of the saving operations of the same Spirit that is now poured out on the land. How sorrowful and melancholy is the case, when it is otherwise! For one to stand at the head of a congregation of God’s people, as representing Christ and speaking in his stead; and to act the part of a shepherd and guide to a people in such a state of things, when many are under great awakenings, many are converted, and many of God’s saints are filled with divine light, love, and joy; to undertake to instruct and lead them all under these various circumstances; to be put to it continually to play the hypocrite, and force the airs of a saint in preaching; and from time to time in private conversation, and particular dealing with souls, to undertake to judge of their circumstances; to try to talk with persons of experience, as if he knew how to converse with them, and had experience as well as they; to make others believe that he rejoices when others are converted; and to force a pleased and joyful countenance and manner of speech, when there is nothing in the heart; what sorrowful work is here! Oh how miserable must such a person feel! What a wretched bondage and slavery in this! What pains, and how much art, must such a minister user to conceal himself! And how weak are his hands! What infinite provocation of the most high God, and displeasure of his Lord and Master, he incurs, by continuing a secret enemy to him in his heart, in such circumstances! I think there is a great deal of reason from the Scripture to conclude, that no sort of men in the world will be so low in hell as ungodly ministers. Every thing spoken of in Scripture, as that which aggravates guilt, and heightens divine wrath, meets in them. And what great disadvantages are unconverted ministers under, to oppose any irregularities, imprudences, or intemperate zeal, which they may see in those who are the children of God, when they are conscious to themselves that they have no zeal at all! If enthusiasm and wildness comes in like a flood, what poor, weak instruments are such ministers to withstand it! With what courage can they open their mouths, when they look inward, and consider how it is with them!
424 We who are ministers, not only have need of some true experience of the saving influence of the Spirit of God upon our heart, but we need a double portion at such a time as this. We need to be as full of light as a glass that is held out in the sun; and, with respect to love and zeal, we need to be like the angels, who are a flame of fire. The state of the times extremely requires a fulness of the divine spirit in ministers, and we ought to give ourselves no rest till we have obtained it. And, in order to this, I should think ministers, above all persons, ought to be much in prayer and fasting, both in secret and one with another. It seems to me, that it would become the circumstances of the present day, if ministers in a neighbourhood would often meet together, and spend days in fasting and fervent prayer among themselves, earnestly seeking extraordinary supplies of divine grace from heaven. And how desirable that, on their occasional visits one to another, instead of spending away their time in sitting and smoking, in diverting, or worldly, unprofitable conversation—telling news, and making their remarks on this and the other trifling subject—they would spend their time in praying together, singing praises, and religious conference. How much do many of the common people shame many of us who are in the work of the ministry, in these respects! Surely we do not behave ourselves so much like Christian ministers, and the disciples and ambassadors of Christ, as we ought to do. And, while we condemn zealous persons for censuring ministers at this day, it ought not to be without deep reflections upon, and great condemnation of, ourselves; for indeed we do very much to provoke censoriousness, and lay a great temptation before others to the sin of judging. And if we can prove that those who are guilty of it transgress the scripture-rule, our indignation should be chiefly against ourselves.
Ministers, at this day in a special manner, should act as fellow-helpers in their great work. It should be seen that they are animated and engaged, that they exert themselves with one heart and soul, and with united strength, to promote the present glorious revival of religion; and to that end should often meet together, and act in concert. And if it were a common thing in the country, for ministers to join in public exercises, and second one another in their preaching, I believe it would be of great service. I mean that ministers having consulted one another as to their subjects before they go to the house of God, should there (two or three of them) in short discourses earnestly enforce each other’s warnings and counsels. Such appearance of united zeal in ministers would have a great tendency to awaken attention, and to impress and animate the hearers; as has been found by experience in some parts of the country.—Ministers should carefully avoid weakening one another’s hands; and therefore every thing should be avoided, by which their interest with their people might be diminished, or their union with them broken. Therefore, if ministers have not forfeited their acceptance in that character in the visible church, by their doctrine or behaviour, their brethren in the ministry ought studiously to endeavour to heighten the esteem and affection of their people towards them, that they may have no temptation to repent their admitting other ministers to preach in their pulpits.
Two things exceeding needful in ministers, as they would do any great matters to advance the kingdom of Christ, are zeal and resolution. Their influence and power, to bring to pass great effects, is greater than can well be imagined. A man of but an ordinary capacity will do more with them, than one of ten times the parts and learning without them; more may be done with them in a few days, or at least weeks, than can be done without them in many years. Those who are possessed of these qualities commonly carry the day, in almost all affairs. Most of the great things that have been done in the world, the great revolutions that have been accomplished in the kingdoms and empires of the earth, have been chiefly owing to them. The very appearance of a thoroughly engaged spirit, together with a fearless courage and unyielding resolution, in any person that has undertaken the managing of any affair amongst mankind, goes a great way towards accomplishing the effect aimed at. It is evident that the appearance of these in Alexander did three times as much towards conquering the world, as all the blows that he struck. And how much were the great things that Oliver Cromwell did owing to these! And the great things that Mr. Whitfield has done, every where, as he has run through the British dominions, (so far as they are owing to means,) are very much owing to the appearance of these things which he is eminently possessed of. When the people see these in a person, to a great degree, it awes them, and has a commanding influence upon their minds. It seems to them that they must yield; they naturally fall before them, without standing to contest or dispute the matter; they are conquered as it were by surprise. But while we are cold and heartless, and only go on in a dull manner, in an old formal round, we shall never do any great matters. Our attempts, with the appearance of such coldness and irresolution, will not so much as make persons think of yielding. They will hardly be sufficient to put it into their minds; and if it be put into their minds, the appearance of such indifference and cowardice does as it were call for and provoke opposition.—Our misery is want of zeal and courage; for not only through want of them does all fail that we seem to attempt, but it prevents our attempting any thing very remarkable for the kingdom of Christ. Hence oftentimes, when any thing very considerable is proposed to be done for the advancement of religion or the public good, many difficulties are in the way, and a great many objections are started, and it may be it is put off from one to another; but nobody does any thing. And after this manner good designs or proposals have often failed, and have sunk as soon as proposed. Whereas, if we had but Mr. Whitfield’s zeal and courage, what could not we do, with such a blessing as we might expect!
Zeal and courage will do much in persons of but an ordinary capacity; but especially would they do great things, if joined with great abilities. If some great men who have appeared in our nation, had been as eminent in divinity as they were in philosophy, and had engaged in the christian cause with as much zeal and fervour as some others have done, and with a proportional blessing of heaven, they would have conquered all Christendom, and turned the world upside down. We have many ministers in the land that do not want abilities, they are persons of bright parts and learning; they should consider how much is expected and will be required of them by their Lord and Master, how much they might do for Christ, and what great honour and glorious a reward they might receive, if they had in their hearts a heavenly warmth, and divine heat proportionable to their light.
With respect to candidates for the ministry, I will not undertake particularly to determine what kind of examination or trial they should pass under, in order to their admission to that sacred work. But I think this is evident from the Scripture, that another sort of trial with regard to their virtue and piety is requisite, than is required in order to persons being admitted into the visible church. The apostle directs, that hands be laid suddenly on no man; but that they should first be tried, before they are admitted to the work of the ministry; but it is evident that persons were suddenly admitted by baptism into the visible church, on profession of their faith in Christ, without such caution or strictness in their probation. And it seems to me, those would act very unadvisedly, that should enter on that great and sacred work, before they had comfortable satisfaction concerning themselves, that they have had a saving work of God on their souls.
And though it may be thought that I go out of my proper sphere, to intermeddle in the affairs of the colleges; yet I will take the liberty of an Englishman that speaks his mind freely concerning public affairs, and the liberty of a minister of Christ, (who doubtless may speak his mind as freely about things that concern the kingdom of his Lord and Master,) to give my opinion, in some things, with respect to those societies; the original and main design of which is to train up persons, and fit them for the work of the ministry. And I would say in general, that it appears to me care should be taken, some way or other, that those societies should be so regulated, that they should, in fact, be nurseries of piety. Otherwise they are fundamentally ruined and undone as to their main design and 425most essential end. They ought to be so constituted, that vice and idleness should have no living there. They are intolerable in societies, whose main design is, to train up youth in christian knowledge and eminent piety, to fit them to be pastors of the flock of the blessed Jesus. I have heretofore had some acquaintance with the affairs of a college, and experience of what belonged to its tuition and government; and I cannot but think that it is practicable enough, so as to constitute such societies, that there should be no residing there, without being virtuous, serious, and diligent. It seems to me a reproach to the land, that ever it should be so with our colleges, that, instead of being places of the greatest advantages for true piety, one cannot send a child thither without great danger of his being infected as to his morals. It is perfectly intolerable, and any thing should be done, rather than it should be so. If we pretend to have any colleges at all, under any notion of training up youth for the ministry, there should be some way found out, that should certainly prevent its being thus. To have societies for bringing persons up to be ambassadors of Jesus Christ, and to lead souls to heaven, and to have them places of so much infection, is the greatest nonsense and absurdity imaginable.
And as thorough and effectual care should be taken that vice and idleness be not tolerated in these societies, so certainly their design requires that extraordinary means should be used in them for training up the students in vital religion, and experimental and practical godliness; so that they should be holy societies, the very place should be as it were sacred. They should be, in the midst of the land, fountains of piety and holiness. There is a great deal of pains taken to teach the scholars human learning; there ought to be as much and more care thoroughly to educate them in religion, and lead them to true and eminent holiness. If the main design of these nurseries is to bring up persons to teach Christ, then it is of the greatest importance that there should be care and pains taken to bring those who are there educated to the knowledge of Christ. It has been common in our public prayers, to call these societies, the schools of the prophets; and, if they are schools to train up young men to be prophets, certainly there ought to be extraordinary care taken to train them up to be Christians.—And I cannot see why it is not on all accounts fit and convenient for the governors and instructors of the colleges particularly, singly, and frequently, to converse with the students about the state of their souls; as is the practice of the Rev. Dr. Doddridge, one of the most noted of the present dissenting ministers in England, who keeps an academy at Northampton, as he himself informs the Rev. Mr. Wadsworth of Hartford in Connecticut, in a letter dated at Northampton, March 6th, 1741. The original of which letter I have seen, and have by me an extract of it, sent me by Mr. Wadsworth; which is as follows:
“Through the divine goodness, I have every year the pleasure to see some plants taken out of my nursery, and set in neighbouring congregations; where they generally settle with an unanimous consent, and that to a very remarkable degree, in some very large and once divided congregations. A circumstance in which I own and adore the hand of a wise and gracious God; and cannot but look upon it as a token for good. I have at present a greater proportion of pious and ingenious youth under my care, than I ever before had; so that I hope the church may reasonably expect some considerable relief from hence, if God spare their lives a few years, and continue to them those gracious assistances which he has hitherto mercifully imparted.—I will not, Sir, trouble you at present with a large account of my method of academical education; only would observe, that I think it of vast importance to instruct them carefully in the Scriptures; and not only endeavour to establish them in the great truths of Christianity, but to labour to promote their practical influence on their hearts. For which purpose, I frequently converse with each of them alone, and conclude the conversation with prayer. This does indeed take up a great deal of time; but I bless God, it is amply repaired in the pleasure I have in seeing my labour is not in vain in the Lord.”
are some who are not ministers, nor are concerned immediately in those
things that appertain to their office, or in the education of persons
for it, who are under great advantages to promote such a glorious work
as this. Some laymen, though it be not their business publicly to
exhort and teach, are in some respects under greater advantage to
encourage and forward this work than ministers; as particularly great
men, or those who are high in honour and influence.
How much might such do to encourage religion, and open the way for it
to have free course, and bear down opposition, if they were but
inclined! There is commonly a certain unhappy shyness in great men with
respect to religion, as though they were ashamed of it, or at least
ashamed to do much at it; whereby they dishonour and doubtless greatly
provoke the King of kings, and very much wound religion among the
common people. They are careful of their honour, and seem to be afraid
openly forward and zealous in religion, as though it were what would
debase their character, and expose them to contempt.—But, in this day
of bringing up the ark, they ought to be like David, the great king of Israel, who made himself vile before
the ark; and as he was the highest in honour and dignity among God’s
people, so he thought it became him to appear foremost in the zeal and
activity manifested on that occasion; thereby animating and encouraging
congregation to praise the Lord, and rejoice before him with all their
might. And though it diminished him in the eyes of scoffing Michal, yet it did not at all abate the honour and esteem of the congregation of Israel, but advanced it; as appears by
men have a talent in their hands, in the disposal and improvement of
which they might very much promote such a work as this, if they were so
disposed. They are far beyond others in advantages to do good, and lay
up for themselves treasures in heaven. What a thousand pities it is
that, for want of a heart, they commonly have no share at all there,
but heaven is peopled mostly with the poor of this world! One would
think that our rich men who call themselves
Christians, might devise some notable things to do with their money, to
advance the kingdom of their professed Redeemer, and the prosperity of
the souls of men, at this time of such extraordinary advantage for it.
It seems to me, that in this age most of us have but very narrow
penurious notions of Christianity, as it respects our use and disposal
of our temporal goods. The primitive Christians had not such notions;
they were trained up by the apostles in another way.—God has greatly
distinguished some of the inhabitants of New England from
others, in the abundance he has given them of the good things of this
life. If they could now be persuaded to lay out some considerable part
of that which God has given them for his honour, and lay it up in
heaven, instead of spending it for their own honour, or laying it up
for their posterity, they would not repent of it afterwards. How
liberally did the heads of the tribes contribute to their wealth at the
setting up the
tabernacle, though it was in a barren wilderness! These are the days of
erecting the tabernacle of God amongst us. We have a particular account
how the goldsmiths and the merchants helped to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem,
Great things might be done for the advancement of the kingdom of Christ at this day by those who have ability, by establishing funds for the support and propagation of religion; by supporting some who are eminently qualified with gifts and grace in preaching the gospel in certain parts of the country, which are more destitute of the means of grace; by searching out children of promising abilities, and their hearts full of love to Christ, but of poor families, (as doubtless there are such now in the land,) and bringing them up for the ministry; and by distributing books, that are remarkably fitted to promote vital religion, and have a great tendency to advance this work.—Or if they would only bear the trouble and expense of sending such books into various parts of the land to be sold, it might be an occasion that ten times so many of those books should be bought, as otherwise would be–by establishing and supporting schools in poor towns and villages; what might be done on such a foundation, as not only to bring up children in common learning, but also might very much tend to their conviction and conversion, and being trained up in vital piety. Doubtless something might be done this way in old towns and more populous places, that might have a great tendency to the flourishing of religion in the rising generation.
SECTION III. Some things that concern all.
Of some particulars that concern all in general.
And here, the first thing I shall mention is fasting and prayer. It seems to me, that the circumstances of the present work loudly call upon God’s people to abound in this; whether they consider their own experience, or the riches of God’s grace. God has lately given them an experience of the worth of his presence, and of the blessed fruits of the effusions of his Spirit, to excite them to pray for the continuance, increase, and greater extent of such blessings; and they have great encouragement to pray for the out-pouring of his Spirit, and the carrying on of this work, by the great manifestations he has lately made of the work, by the great manifestations he has lately made of the freeness and riches of his grace. There is much in what we have seen of the glorious works of God’s power and grace, to put us in mind of the yet greater things of this nature that he has spoken of in his word, and to excite our longings, and our hopes of their approach. Beside, we should consider the great opposition that Satan makes against this work, the many difficulties with which it is clogged, and the distressing circumstances that some parts of God’s church in this land are under at this day, on one account and another.
is God’s will, through his wonderful grace, that the prayers of his
saints should be one great and principal means of carrying on the
designs of Christ’s kingdom in the world. When God has something very
great to accomplish for his church, it is his will that there should
precede it the extraordinary prayers of his people; as is manifest by
am sensible that somewhat considerable has been done in duties of this
nature in some places, but I do not think so much as God in the present
dispensations of his providence calls for. I should think the people of
God in this land, at such a time as this is, would be in the way of
their duty while doing three times as much at fasting and prayer as
they do; not only, not principally, for the pouring out of the Spirit
on those places to which they belong; but that God
would appear for his church, and, in mercy to miserable men, carry on
his work in the land, and in the world, and fulfil the things he has
spoken of in his word, that his church has been so long wishing, and
hoping, and waiting for. “They that make mention of the Lord,” at this
day, ought not to “keep silence” and should “give God no rest, till he
establish, and till he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth;” agreeable to
God seems at this very time to be waiting for this from us. When he is about to bestow some great blessing on his church, it is often his manner, in the first place, so to order things in his providence, as to show his church their great need of it, and to bring them into distress for want of it, and so put them upon crying earnestly to him for it. Let us consider God’s present dispensations towards his church in this land; a glorious work of his grace has been begun and carried on; and he has of late suffered innumerable difficulties to arise, that in a great measure clog and hinder it, and bring many of God’s dear children into great distress. And yet he does not wholly forsake the work of his hand; there are remarkable tokens of his presence still to be seen, here and there; as though he was not forward to forsake us, and (if I may so say) as though he had a mind to carry on his work, but only was waiting for something that he expected in us, as requisite in order to it. And we have a great deal of reason to think, that one thing at least is, that we should further acknowledge the greatness and necessity of such a mercy, and our dependence on God for it, in earnest and importunate prayers to him. And by the many errors that have been run into, by the wounds we have thereby given ourselves and the cause that we would promote, and the mischief and confusion we have thereby made, God has hitherto been remarkably showing us our great and universal dependence on him, and exceeding need of his help and grace; which should engage our cries to him for it.
There is no way that Christians in a private capacity can do so much to promote the work of God, and advance the kingdom of Christ, as by prayer. By this, even women, children, and servants may have a public influence. Let persons in other respects be never so weak, and never so mean, and under never so poor advantages to do much for Christ and the souls of men; yet, if they have much of the spirit of grace and supplication, in this way they may have power with him who is infinite in power, and has the government of the whole world. A poor man in his cottage may have a blessed influence all over the world. God is, if I may so say, at the command of the prayer of faith; and in this respect is, as it were, under the power of his people; as princes, they have power with God, and prevail. Though they may be private persons, their prayers are put up in the name of a Mediator who is a public person, being the Head of the whole church, and the Lord of the universe. If they have a great sense of the importance of eternal things, and a concern for the precious souls of men, they need not regret it that they are not preachers; they may go in their earnestness and agonies of soul, and pour out their souls before one who is able to do all things. Before him they may speak as freely as ministers; they have a great High Priest, through whom they may come boldly at all times, and may vent themselves before a prayer-hearing Father without restraint.
427 If the people of God at this day, instead of spending time in fruitless disputing, in talking about opposers, judging them, and animadverting upon the unreasonableness of their talk and behaviour, and its inconsistence with true experience, would be more silent in this way, and open their mouths much more before God, and spend more time in fasting and prayer, they would be more in the way of a blessing. And if some Christians who have been complaining of their ministers, and struggling in vain to deliver themselves from the difficulties complained of under their ministry, had said and acted less before men, and had applied themselves with all their might to cry to God for their ministers, had as it were risen and stormed heaven with their humble, fervent, and incessant prayers for them, they would have been much more in the way of success.
God in his providence appearing in the present state of things; does especially call on his people in New England to be very much in praying to him for the pouring out of the Spirit upon ministers in the land. For though it is not for us to determine concerning particular ministers, how much they have of the Spirit of God; yet in the general degrees of the presence of God with the ministry in New England, much greater degrees of it than have hitherto been granted; they need it for themselves, and the church of God stands in extreme need of it.
On days of fasting and prayer, wherein the whole congregation is concerned, if the day, besides what is spent in our families, was not wholly spent in the meeting-house, but part of it in particular praying companies or societies, it would have a tendency to animate and engage devotion, more than if the whole day were spent in public, where the people are no way active themselves in the worship, and otherwise than as they join with the minister. The inhabitants of many of our towns are now divided into particular praying societies; most of the people, young and old, have voluntarily associated themselves in distinct companies, for mutual assistance in social worship, in private houses. What I intend therefore is, that days of prayer should be spent partly in these distinct praying companies. Such a method as this, has been several times proved, viz. In the forenoon, after the duties of the family and closet, as early as might be, all the people of the congregation have gathered in their particular religious societies; companies of men by themselves, and companies of women by themselves; young men by themselves, and young women by themselves; and companies of children in all parts of the town by themselves, as many as were capable of social religious exercises; the boys by themselves, and the girls by themselves; and about the middle of the day, at an appointed hour, all have met together in the house of God, to offer up public prayers, and to hear a sermon suitable to the occasion; and then, they have retired from the house of God again into their private societies, and spent the remaining part of the day in praying together there, excepting so much as was requisite for the duties of the family and closet in their own houses.—And it has been found to be of great benefit, to assist and engage the minds of the people in the duties of the day.
have often thought it would be very desirable, and very likely to be
followed with a great blessing, if there could be some contrivance for
an agreement of all God’s people in America, who are
well-affected to this work, to deep a day of fasting and prayer;
wherein we should all unite on the same day, in humbling ourselves
before God for our past long-continued lukewarmness and
unprofitableness; not omitting humiliation for the errors that so many
people—though zealously affected towards this work—through their
infirmity and remaining blindness and corruption have run into; and
together with thanksgivings to God for so glorious and wonderful a
display of his power and grace in the late out-pourings of his Spirit,
to address the Father of mercies, with prayers and supplications, and
earnest cries, that he would continue and still carry on this work, and
more abundantly and extensively pour out his Spirit, and particularly
and that he would bow the heavens and come down, and erect his glorious
kingdom through the earth.—Some perhaps may think that its being all on
the same day, is a circumstance of no great consequence; but I cannot
be of that mind. Such a circumstance makes the union and agreement of
God’s people in his worship the more visible, and puts the greater
honour upon God, and would have a great tendency to assist and enliven
the devotions of Christians. It seems to me, it would mightily
animate God’s saints in humbly and earnestly seeking to God for such
blessings which concern them all; and that it would be much for the
rejoicing of all, to think, that at the same time such multitudes of
God’s dear children, far and near, were sending up their cries to the
same common Father, for the same mercies. Christ speaks of agreement in
asking, as wheat contributes to the prevalence of the prayers of his
doubt not but such a thing as I have now mentioned is practicable
without a great deal of trouble. Some considerable number of ministers
might meet together, and draw up the proposal, wherein a certain day
should be fixed at a sufficient distance, endeavouring therein to avoid
any other public day that might interfere with the design in any of the
provinces, and the business of the day should be particularly
mentioned. These proposals should be published, and sent
abroad into all parts, with a desire, that as many ministers as are
disposed to fall in with them, would propose the matter to their
congregations, and, having taken their consent, would subscribe their
names, together with the places of which they are ministers, and send
back the proposals thus subscribed to the printer. The hands of many
ministers might be to one paper. The printer having received the
papers, thus subscribed, from all the provinces, might print the
proposals again, with all
the names; thus they might be sent abroad again with the names, that
God’s people might know who are united with them in the affair. One of
the ministers of Boston
might be desired to have the oversight of printing and dispersing the
proposals. In such a way, perhaps, might be fulfilled, in some measure,
such a general mourning and supplication of God’s people as is spoken
thing more I would mention concerning fasting and prayer, wherein I
think there has been a neglect in ministers; and that is, That although
they recommend and much insist on the duty of secret prayer, in their
preaching, so little is said about secret fasting. It is a duty
recommended by our Saviour to his followers, just in like manner as
secret prayer is; as may be seen by comparing
Another thing I would also mention, wherein it appears to me that there has been an omission, with respect to the external worship of God. There has been of late a great increase of preaching the word, of social prayer, and of singing praises. These external duties of religion are attended much more frequently than they used to be; yet I cannot understand that there is any increase of the administration of the Lord’s supper, or that God’s people do any more frequently commemorate the dying love of their Redeemer, in this sacred memorial of it, than they used to 428do. I do not see why an increase of love to Christ should not dispose Christians as much to increase in this as in those other duties; or why it is not as proper that Christ’s disciples should abound in this duty, in this joyful season, which is spiritually supper-time, a feast-day with God’s saints, wherein Christ is so abundantly manifesting his dying love to souls, and is dealing forth so liberally of the precious fruits of his death. It seems plain by the Scripture, that the primitive Christians were wont to celebrate this memorial of the sufferings of their dear Redeemer every Lord’s day; and so I believe it will be again in the church of Christ, in days that are approaching. And whether we attend this holy and sweet ordinance so often now, or no; yet I cannot but think it would become us, at such a time as this, to attend it much oftener than is commonly done in the land.
But another thing I would
mention, which it is of much greater importance that we should attend
to, and that is the duty incumbent upon God’s people at this day, to
take heed, that while they abound in external duties of devotion, such
as praying, hearing, singing, and attending religious meetings, there
be a proportionable care to abound in moral duties, such as acts of
righteousness, truth, meekness, forgiveness, and love towards our
neighbour; which are of much
greater importance in the sight of God than all the externals of his
worship. Our Saviour was particularly careful that men should be well
aware of this,
internal acts and principles of the worship of God, or the worship of
the heart, in love and fear, trust in God, and resignation to him,
&c. are the most essential and important of all duties of religion
whatsoever; for therein consists the essence of all religion. But of
this inward religion there are two sorts of external manifestations or
expressions. To one sort belong outward acts of worship, such as
meeting in religious assemblies, attending sacraments
and other outward institutions, honouring God with gestures, such as
bowing, or kneeling before him, or with words, in speaking honourably
of him in prayer, praise, or religious conference. To the other sort
belong expressions of our love to God, by obeying his moral commands,
self-denial, righteousness, meekness, and christian love, in our
behaviour among men. The latter are of vastly the greatest importance
in the christian life; God makes little account of the former, in
comparison of them;
they are abundantly more insisted on, by the prophets of the Old
Testament, and Christ and his apostles in the New. When these two kinds
of duties are spoken of together, the latter are evermore greatly
preferred; as in
a time when there is an apparent approach of any glorious revival of
God’s church, he especially calls his professing people to the practice
of moral duties,
God’s people at such
time as this, ought especially to abound in deeds of charity, or
alms-giving. We generally, in these days, seem to fall far below the
true spirit and practice of Christianity with regard to this duty, and
seem to have but little notion of it, so far as I can understand the
New Testament.—At a time when God is so liberal of spiritual things, we
ought not to be strait-handed towards him, and sparing of our temporal
things. So far as I can judge by
the Scripture, there is no external duty whatsoever, by which persons
will be so much in the way, not only of receiving temporal benefits,
but also spiritual blessings, the influences of God’s Holy Spirit in
the heart, in divine discoveries and spiritual consolations. I think it
would be unreasonable to understand those promises, made to this duty,
in the 58th chap. of Isaiah, in a sense exclusive of spiritual
discoveries and comforts;
We have a remarkable instance in Abraham, of God rewarding deeds of charity with sweet discoveries of himself. He had been remarkably charitable to his brother Lot,
and the people redeemed out of captivity with him, by exposing his life
to rescue them. He had re-taken not only the persons, but all the spoil
that had been taken by Chedorlaomer and the confederate kings. The king of Sodom offered him, that, if he would give him the persons, he
might take the goods to himself; but Abraham refused
to take any thing, even so much as a thread or shoe-latchet, but
returned all.—He might have greatly enriched himself if he had taken
the spoil to himself, for it was the spoil of five wealthy kings and
their kingdoms, yet he did not covet it. The king and people of Sodom were now become objects of charity, having been stript of all by their enemies; therefore Abraham generously bestowed all upon them, as we have an
Christ was upon earth, he was poor, and an object of charity; and,
during the time of his public ministry he was supported by the charity
of some of his followers, and particularly certain women, of whom we
Rebekah, in her marriage with Isaac,
was undoubtedly a remarkable type of the church, in her espousals to
the Lord Jesus. She obtained her husband in doing deeds of charity;
agreeable to the prayer of Abraham’s servant, who desired that this might be the thing to distinguish the virgin who was to be Isaac’s wife. So Cornelius was
brought to the knowledge of Christ in this way. “He was a devout man,
and one that feared God, with all
his house; which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God
always. And an angel appeared to him, and said to him, Thy prayers and
thine alms are come up for a memorial before God; and now send men to
Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter,” &c.
Some may possibly object, That for persons to do deeds of charity, in hope of obtaining spiritual blessings and comforts in this way, would seem to show a self-righteous spirit, as though they would offer something to God to purchase these favours. But, if this be a good objection, it may be made against every duty whatsoever. All external duties of the first table will be excluded by it, as well as those of the second. First-table duties have as direct a tendency to raise self-righteous persons’ expectations of receiving something from God, on account of them, as second-table duties; and on some accounts more, for those duties are more immediately offered to God, and therefore persons are more ready to expect something from God for them. But no duty is to be neglected, for fear of making a righteousness of it. And I have always observed, that those professors who are most partial in their duty—exact and abundant in external duties of the first table, and slack as to those of the second—are the most self-righteous.
God’s people in this land were once brought to abound in such deeds of
love, as much as in praying, hearing, singing, and religious meetings
and conference, it would be a most blessed omen. Nothing would have a
greater tendency to bring the God of love down from heaven to earth; so
amiable would be the sight in the eyes of our loving and exalted
Redeemer, that it would soon as it were fetch him down from his throne
in heaven, to set up his tabernacle with men on the
earth, and dwell with them. I do not remember ever to have read of any
remarkable outpouring of the Spirit, that continued any long time, but
what was attended with an abounding in this duty. We know it was so
with that great effusion of the Spirit which began at Jerusalem in the apostles’ days. And so it was in the late remarkable revival of religion in Saxony, which began by the labours of the famous professor Franck,
and has now been carried on for above thirty years,
and has spread its happy influences into many parts of the world; it
was begun, and has been carried on, by a wonderful practice in this
duty. And the remarkable blessing that God has given Mr. Whitfield,
and the great success with which he has crowned him, may well be
thought to be very much owing to his laying out himself so abundantly
in charitable designs. And it is foretold, that God’s people shall
abound in this duty at the time of the great outpouring of the Spirit
that shall be
in the latter days,
To promote a reformation, with respect to all sorts of duties among a professing people, one proper means, and that which is recommended by frequent scripture examples, is their solemn, public renewing of their covenant with God.—And doubtless it would greatly tend to promote this work in the land, if the congregations of God’s people could generally be brought to this. Suppose a draught of a covenant be made by their ministers, wherein there should be an express mention of those particular duties that the people of the respective congregations have been observed to be most prone to neglect, those particular sins into which they have heretofore especially fallen, or of which it may be apprehended they are especially in danger, whereby they may prevent or resist the motions of God’s Spirit. Suppose the matter be fully proposed and explained to the people, and, after sufficient opportunity for consideration, they be led, all that are capable of understanding, particularly to subscribe the covenant. Suppose also all appear together on a day of prayer and fasting, publicly to own it before God in his house, as their vow to the Lord; hereby congregations of Christians would do what would be beautiful in itself, what would put honour upon God, and be very profitable to themselves. Such a thing was attended with a very wonderful blessing in Scotland, and followed with a great increase of the blessed tokens of the presence of God, and remarkable outpourings of his Spirit; as the author of the Fulfilling of the Scripture informs, p. 186. 5th edition.—A people must be taken when they are in a good mood, when considerable religious impressions prevail among them; otherwise innumerable will be their objections and cavils against it.
One thing more I would mention, which, if God should still carry on this work, would tend much to promote it; and that is, That a history should be published once a month, or once a fortnight, of its progress, by one of the ministers of Boston, who are near the press, and are most conveniently situated to receive accounts from all parts. It has been found by experience, that the tidings of remarkable effects of the power and grace of God in any place, tend greatly to awaken and engage the minds of persons in other places. It is a great pity, therefore, but 430that some means should be used for the most speedy, most extensive, and certain information of such things; that the country be not left to the slow, partial, and doubtful information, and false representations, of common report.
Thus I have (I hope, by the help of God) finished what I proposed. I have taken the more pains in it, because it appears to me that now God is giving us the most happy season to attempt an universal reformation that ever was given in New England. And it is a thousand pities, that we should fail of that which would be so glorious, for want of being sensible of our opportunity, of being aware of those things that tend to hinder it, of taking improper courses to obtain it, or of not being sensible in what way God expects we should seek it. If it should please God to bless any means for convincing the country of his hand in this work, for bringing them fully and freely to acknowledge his glorious power and grace in it; and for bringing them to engage with one heart and soul, and by due methods, to endeavour to promote it, it would be a dispensation of Divine Providence that would have a most glorious aspect, happily signifying the approach of great and glorious things to the church of God, and justly causing us to hope that Christ would speedily come to set up his kingdom of light, holiness, peace, and joy on earth, as is foretold in his word. Amen; even so come, Lord Jesus!