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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.
True 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— 372 may 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 Egypt, Psal. cvi. 32, 33. And men, even in those very things wherein they are influenced by a truly pious principle, may, though error and want of due consideration and caution, be very rash with their zeal. It was a truly good spirit which animated that excellent generation of Israel in Joshua’s time. Josh. xxii. And yet they were rash and heady with their zeal, to gather all Israel together to go so furiously to war with their brethren of the two tribes and half, about their building the altar without first inquiring into the matter, or so much as sending a messenger to be informed. So the Christians of the circumcision, with warmth and contention condemned Peter for receiving Cornelius, Acts xi. Thus their heat and censure was unjust, and Peter was wronged in it; but there is every appearance in the story, that they acted from a real zeal and concern for the will and honour of God. So the primitive Christians, from their zeal for and against unclean meats, censured and condemned one another. This was a bad effect, and yet the apostle bears them witness, or at least expresses his charity towards them, that both sides acted from a good principle, and true respect to the Lord, Rom. xiv. 6. The zeal of the Corinthians with respect to the incestuous man, though the apostle highly commends it, yet he at the same time saw that they needed a caution, lest they should carry it too far, to an undue severity, so as to fail of Christian meekness and forgiveness, 2 Cor. ii. 6-11. And chapter vii. 11, to the end.—Luther, that great reformer, had a great deal of bitterness with his zeal.
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!
A 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 glorious 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 is expressly compared to this gradual production of vegetables, Isa. lxi. 11. “As the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.” The church is in a special manner compared to a palm-tree, (Cant. vii. 7, 8. Exod. xv. 27. 1 Kings vi. 29. Psal. xcii. 12.) of which it is observed, That the fruit of it, though very sweet and good when ripe, has, while unripe, a mixture of poison.
The 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, (1 Tim. I. 4. and iv. 7 2 Tim. ii. 16. and ver. 23. 373 and Tit. i. 14. and Tit. iii. 9.) Many, as ecclesiastical history informs us, fell off into the most wild enthusiasm, and extravagant notions of spirituality, and extraordinary illumination from heaven beyond others; and many were prone to superstition, will-worship, and a voluntary humility, giving heed to the commandments of men, being fond of an unprofitable bodily exercise, as appears by many passages in the apostles’ writings. And what a proneness then appeared among professors to swerve from the path of duty, and the spirit of the gospel, in the exercises of a rash indiscreet zeal, censuring and condemning ministers and people; one saying, I am of Paul; another, I am of Apollos; another, I am of Cephas.—They judged one another for differences of opinion about smaller matters, unclean meats, holy days and holy places, and their different opinions and practices respecting civil intercourse and communication with their heathen neighbours. And how much did vain jangling, disputing, and confusion prevail, through undue heat of spirit, under the name of a religious zeal! (1 Tim. vi. 4, 5. 2 Tim ii. 16. and Tit. iii. 9.) And what a task had the apostles to keep them within bounds, and maintain good order in the churches! How often do they mention their irregularities! The prevailing of such like disorders seems to have been the special occasion of writing many of their epistles. The church in that great effusion of the Spirit, and under strong impressions, had the care of infallible guides, that watched over them day and night; but yet, so prone were they, through the weakness and corruption of human nature, to get out of the way, that irregularity and confusion arose in some churches, where there was an extraordinary outpouring of the Spirit, to a very great height, even in the apostles’ lifetime, and under their eye. And though some of the apostles lived long to settle the state of things, yet, presently after their death the Christian church ran into many superstitions and childish notions and practices, and in some respects into a great severity in their zeal. And let any wise person that has not in the midst of the disputes of the present day got beyond the calmness of consideration, impartially consider, to what lengths we may reasonably suppose many of the primitive Christians, in their heat of zeal, and under their extraordinary impressions, would soon have gone, if they had not had inspired guides. Is it not probable, that the church of Corinth in particular, by an increase of their irregularities and contentions, would in a little time have been broken to pieces, and dissolved in a state of the utmost confusion? And yet this would have been no evidence that there had not been a most glorious and remarkable outpouring of the Spirit in that city. But as for us, we have no infallible apostle to guide and direct us, to rectify disorders, and reclaim us when we are wandering; but every one does what is right in his own eyes; and they that err in judgment, and are got into a wrong path, continue to wander, till experience of the mischievous issue convinces them of their error. 373
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.
Though 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, Job xvi. 9-11. “He teareth me in his wrath who hateth me, he gnasheth upon me with his teeth; mine enemy sharpeneth his eyes upon me: they have gaped upon me with their mouth.—God hath delivered me to the ungodly, and turned me over into the hands of the wicked.” He is very positive that they are hypocrites, and shall be miserably destroyed as such, Job xvii. 2-4. “Are there not mockers with me! and doth not mine eye continue in their provocation? Lay down now, put me in surety with thee; who is he that will strike hands with me? For thou hast hid their heart from understanding, therefore shalt thou not exalt them.” And again, Job xvii. 8-10. “Upright men shall be astonished at this, and the innocent shall stir up himself against they hypocrite; the righteous also shall hold on his way, and he that hath clean hands shall be stronger and stronger. But as for you all, do you return and come now, for I cannot find one wise man (i.e. one good man) among you.”
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 374 of 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.
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