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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 391 earnestness 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.
Those texts, Isa. lviii. 1. “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up they voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.” And, Ezek. vi. 11. “Thus saith the Lord God, Smite with thine hand, and stamp with thy foot, and say, Alas, for all the evil abominations of the house of Israel!” I say, these texts (however the use that some have made of them has been laughed at) will fully justify a great degree of pathos, and manifestation of zeal and fervency in preaching the word of God. They may indeed be abused, so as to countenance that which would be odd and unnatural amongst us, not making due allowance for difference of manners and customs in different ages and nations; but, let us interpret them how we will, they at least imply, that a most affectionate and earnest manner of delivery, in many cases, becomes a preacher of God’s word.
Preaching 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 Isa. xl. 2. “Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her iniquity is pardoned.” And ver. 3. “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord,”— ver. 6. “The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof as the flower of the field.” Jer. ii. 2. “Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the Lord, ” &c. Jonah i. 2. “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it.” Isa. lxi. 1,2. “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings to the meek—to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound: to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God.” Isa. lxii. 11. “Behold, the Lord hath proclaimed unto the end of the world, Say ye to the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy salvation cometh,” &c. Rom. x. 18. “Their sound went into all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” Jer. xi. 6. “Proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem, saying, Hear ye the words of this covenant, and do them.” So, chap. xix. 2. and vii. 2. “Doth not wisdom cry, and understanding put forth her voice?” ver. 3, 4. “She crieth at the gates, at the entry of the city, at the coming in at the doors. Unto you, O men, I call, and my voice is to the sons of men.” and chap. i. 20. “Wisdom crieth without, she uttereth her voice in the streets.” chap. ix. 3. “She hath sent forth her maidens, she crieth upon the high places of the city.” John vii. 37. “In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink.”
It 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. Isa. xl. 9. “O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain! O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength! Lift 392 it up, and be not afraid! Say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!” Isa. lii. 7, 8. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings!—Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice.” Isa. xxvii. 13. “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come which were ready to perish.”—And this will be one way by which the church of God will cry at that time like a travailing woman, when Christ mystical is going to be brought forth; as Rev. xii. At the beginning, It will be by ministers, as her mouth, that Christ will then cry like a travailing woman, as in Isa. xlii. 14. “I have long time holden my peace, I have been still and refrained myself: now will I cry like a travailing woman.” Christ cries by his ministers, and the church cries by her officers. And it is to be noted, that the word commonly used in the New Testament which we translate preach, properly signifies to proclaim aloud like a crier.
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, Matt. xiii. 38. 1 John iii. 10.) and it is uncertain whether they shall ever obtain mercy. God is under no obligation to show them mercy, nor will he, if they fast and pray and cry never so much: and they are then especially provoking to God, under those terrors, that they stand it out against Christ, and will not accept of an offered Saviour, though they see so much need of him. And seeing this is the truth, they should be told so, that they may be sensible what their case indeed is.
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.
I 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, 393 though 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; Isa. vi. 10. John ix. 39. Matt. xiii. 14. Though a few have abused the awakening preaching to their own temporal death; yet it may be to one such instance, there have been hundreds, yea thousands, who have been saved, by this means, from eternal death.
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 ascension, Acts ii. 46. “And they continued daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house;” and at Ephesus, where the Christians attended public religious exercises, every day, for two years together, Acts xix. 8, 9, 10. “And he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God. But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus. And this continued by the space of two years; so that all they that dwelt in Asia, heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.” And as to the grand objection of, six days shalt thou labour; all that can be understood by it, and all that they very objectors themselves understand by it, is, that we may follow our secular labours in those six days that are not the Sabbath, and ought to be diligent in them: not but that sometimes we may turn from them, even within those six days, to keep a day of fasting or thanksgiving, or attend a lecture; and that more frequently or rarely, as God’s providence and the state of things shall call us, according to the best of our discretion.
Though 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 394 made? For it might have been sold for more than three hundred pence, and have been given to the poor,” Mark xiv. 3, &c. and John xii. 4, &c.
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.
The 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, Acts ii. 42, 46. and Act xix. 8, 9, 10. They did not avoid preaching one day, for fear they should thrust out of the minds of their hearers wheat they had delivered the day before; not did Christians avoid going every day to hear, for fear of any such bad effect; Act ii. 42, 46.
There 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 Isa. lxii. 1, 2. “For Zion’s sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth. And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory.” And ver. 5,6. “For as a young man marrieth a virgin, so shall thy sons marry thee: And as a bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee. I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, which shall never hold their peace day nor night.” The destruction of the city of Jericho is evidently, in all its circumstances, intended by God as a great type of the overthrow of Satan’s kingdom. The priests’ blowing with trumpets represents ministers preaching the gospel. The people compassed the city seven days, the priests blowing the trumpets. But, when the day was come that the walls of the city were to fall, the priests were more frequent and abundant in blowing their trumpets; there was as much done in one day then, as had been done in seven days before; they compassed the city seven times that day, blowing their trumpets, till at length it came to one long and perpetual blast, and then the walls of the city fell down flat. The extraordinary preaching that shall be at the beginning of that glorious jubilee of the church is represented by the extraordinary sounding of trumpets, throughout the land of Canaan, at the beginning of the year of jubilee. And the reading of the law before all Israel, in the year of release, at the feast of tabernacles; and the crowing of the cock at break of day, which brought Peter to repentance; seem to me to be intended to signify the awakening of God’s church out of their lethargy, wherein they had denied their Lord, by the extraordinary preaching of the gospel that shall be at the dawning of the day of the church’s light and glory. And there seems at this day to be an uncommon hand of Divine Providence, in animating, enabling, and upholding some ministers in such abundant labours.
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.
I 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 Zech. ix. 15, 16. Those that in the latter days should be filled in and extraordinary manner with the Holy Spirit, so as to appear in outward manifestations, and making a noise, are spoken of as those that God, in these circumstances, will set up to the view of others, as a prize or ensign, by their example and the excellency of their attainments, to animate and draw others, as men gather about an ensign, and run for a prize, a crown and precious jewels, set up in their view. The words are; “And they shall drink and make a noise as through wine, and they shall be filled like bowls, and as the corners of the altar. And the Lord their God shall save them in that day as the flock of his people; for they shall be as the stones of a crown, lifted up as an ensign upon his land.” (I shall have occasion to say something more of this scripture afterwards.) Those that make the objection I am upon, instead of suffering this ensign to be in public view, are for having it removed, and hid in some corner. To the like purpose is that, “Thou shalt be a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of thy God.” Here it is observable, that it is not said, thou shalt be a crown upon the head, but in the hand, of the Lord; i.e. held forth, in thy beauty and thy excellency, as a prize, to be bestowed upon others that shall behold thee, and be animated by the brightness and lustre which God shall endow thee with. The great influence of the example of God’s people, in their bright and excellent attainments, to propagate religion in those days, is further signified in Isa. lx. 3. “And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and Kings to the brightness of thy rising.” Isa. lx. 22. With “A little one shall become a thousand, and a small one a strong nation.” And Zech. x. 8, 9. “And they shall increase, as they have increased: and I will sow them among the people.” And Hos. ii. 23. “And I will sow her unto me in the earth.” So Jer. xxxi. 27.
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?
That 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 Jer. vi. 10, 11. “To whom shall I speak and give warning, that they may hear? Behold, their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken: Behold, the word of the Lord is unto them a reproach; they have no delight in it. Therefore I am full of the fury of the Lord; I am weary with holding in: I will pour it out upon the children abroad, and upon the assembly of the young men together; for even the husband with the wife shall be taken, the aged, with him that is full of days.” And that true Christians, when they come to be as it were waked out of sleep, and to be filled with a sweet and joyful sense of the excellent things of religion, by the preaching of the gospel, or by other means of grace, should be disposed to be much in speaking of divine things, though before they were dumb, is agreeable to what Christ says to his church, Cant. vii. 9. “And the roof of they mouth is like the best wine, for my beloved, that goeth down sweetly, causing the lips of those that are asleep to speak.” The roof of the church’s mouth is the officers in the church, that preach the gospel; their word is to Christ’s beloved like the best wine, that goes down sweetly; extraordinarily refreshing and enlivening the saints, causing them to speak, though before they were mute and asleep. It is said by some, that the subjects of this work, when they get together, talking loud and earnestly in their pretended great joys, several in a room talking at the same time, make a noise just like a company of drunken persons. On which I would observe, that it is foretold that God’s people should do so, in that formentioned place, Zech. ix. 15-17. Of which I shall now take more particular notice. The words are as follows; “The Lord of hosts shall defend them, and they shall devour and subdue with sling stones, and they shall drink and make a noise as through wine, and they shall be filled like bowls, and as the corners of the altar. And the Lord their God shall save them in that day as the flock of his people; for they shall be as the stones of a crown, lifted up as an ensign upon his land. For how great is his goodness, and how great is his beauty! Corn shall make the young men cheerful, and new wine the maids.” The words are very remarkable: Here it is foretold, that at the time when Christ shall set up an universal kingdom upon earth (ver. 20.) the children of Zion shall drink, till they are filled like the vessels of the sanctuary. And, if we would know with what they shall be thus filled, the prophecy does in effect explain itself; they shall be filled as the vessels of the sanctuary that contained the drink offering, which was wine. And yet the words imply, that it shall not literally be wine that they shall drink, and make a noise, as through wine, as if they had drank wine; which the wine of the drink-offering typically represented, which is the Holy Spirit, as well as the blood of Christ, that new wine that is drank in our heavenly Father’s kingdom. They shall be filled with the Spirit, 396 which the Apostle sets in opposition to a being drunk with wine, Eph. v. 18. “This is the new wine spoken of, ver. 17. It is the same with that best wine, spoken of in Canticles, “that goes down sweetly, causing the lips of those that are asleep to speak.” It is here foretold, that the children of Zion, in the latter days, should be filled with that which should make them cheerful, and cause them to make a noise as through wine, and by which these joyful happy persons shall be as the stones of a crown lifted up as an ensign upon God’s land, being made joyful in the extraordinary manifestations of the beauty and love of Christ; as it follows, “How great is his goodness! And how great is his beauty!” And it is further remarkable that, as is here foretold, it should be thus especially amongst young people; “Corn shall make the young men cheerful, and new wine the maid.” It would be ridiculous to understand this of literal bread and wine. Without doubt, the same spiritual blessings are signified by bread and wine here, which were represented by Melchizedek’s bread and wine and are signified by the bread and wine in the Lord’s supper. One of the marginal readings is, “shall make the young men to speak;” which is agreeable to that in Canticles, of the “best wines causing the lips of those that are asleep to speak.”
We 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, Mark x. 46-48. And Luke xviii. 38, 39. They looked upon it to be a very indecent noise that he made; a thing very ill becoming him, to cause his voice to be heard so much, and so loud, among the multitude. And when Christ made his solemn and triumphant entry into Jerusalem, (which, I have before observed, was a type of the glory and triumph of the latter days,) the whole multitude of the disciples, especially young people, began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice, for all the mighty works that they had seen saying, “Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest!” The Pharisees said to Christ, “Master, rebuke thy disciples.” They did not understand such great transports of joy; it seemed to them a very unsuitable and indecent noise and clamour that they made, a confused uproar, many crying out together, as though they were out of their wits; they wondered that Christ would tolerate it. But what says Christ? “I tell you, that if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.” The words seem to intimate, that there was cause enough to constrain those whose hearts were not harder than the very stones, to cry out, and make a noise; which is something like that other expression, of “causing the lips of those that are asleep to speak.”
When 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 apostle says, 1 Cor. xiv. 29, 30, 31. “Let the prophets speak, two or three, and let the others judge: If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by let the first hold his peace: For ye may all prophesy, one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted;” but this does not reach the present case, because what the apostle is speaking in the church by immediate inspiration, and in the use of the gift of prophecy, or some gift of inspiration, in the exercises of which they acted as extraordinary ministers of Christ.
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, prophesied of, Isa. lxv. 20. When “the child shall die an hundred years old.”
I 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 Matt. xxi. 15, 16. “And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the Son of David, they were sore displeased, and said unto him, Hearest thou what those say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea, have ye never read, Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?”
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