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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.
I. 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, 1 Tim. ii. 12. In order to a man’s preaching, special authority must be committed to him, “How shall they preach, except they be sent?” Ministers in this work of teaching and exhorting are clothed with authority, as Christ’s messengers, Mal. ii. 7. as representing him, and so speaking in his name, and in his stead, 2 Cor. v. 18-20. And it seems to be the most honourable thing that belongs to the office of a minister of the gospel, that to him is committed the word of reconciliation, and that he has power to preach the gospel, as Christ’s messenger, and speaking in his name. The apostle seems to speak of it as such, 1 Cor. i. 16, 17. Ministers therefore, in the exercise of this power, may clothe themselves with authority in speaking, or may teach others in an authoritative manner, “These things speak and exhort, and rebuke with all authority; Let no man despise thee.” But the common people, in exhorting one another, ought not thus to exhort in an authoritative manner. There is a great deal of difference between teaching as a father amongst a company of children, and counselling in a brotherly way, as the children may kindly counsel and admonish one another. Those that are mere brethren ought not to assume authority in exhorting, though one may be better, and have more experience, than another. Lay-men ought not to exhort as though they 418 were the ambassadors or messengers of Christ, as ministers do; nor should they exhort, warn, and charge in his name, according to the ordinary import of such an expression, when applied to teaching.—Indeed in one sense, a Christian ought to do every thing he does in religion in the name of Christ, i.e. he ought to act in a dependence on him as his head and mediator, and do all for his glory. But the expression, as it is usually understood, when applied to teaching or exhorting, is speaking in Christ’s stead, and as having a message from him.
Persons 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,” Prov. xxi. 4. Again, a man may clothe himself with authority, in the circumstances under which he speaks; as for instance, if he sets himself up as a public teacher. Here I would have it observed, that I do not suppose that a person is guilty of this, merely because he speaks in the hearing of many. Persons may speak only in a conversation, and yet speak in the hearing of a great number, as they often do in their common conversation about temporal things, at feasts and entertainments, where women as well as others converse freely together, in the hearing it may be of a great number, and yet without offence. And if their conversation on such occasions should turn on spiritual things, and they should speak as freely and openly, I do not see why it would not be as harmless. Nor do I think, that besides a great number being present, persons speaking with a very earnest and loud voice, is for them to set up themselves as public teachers, if they do it from no contrivance or premeditated design, or as purposely directing themselves to a congregation or multitude. But persons speaking in conversation, or when all freely converse one with another—directing themselves to none but those that are near them, and fall in their way—in that earnest and pathetic manner, to which the subject naturally leads, and as it were constrains them: I say, that for persons to do such, though many happen to hear them, does not appear to me to be setting themselves up as public teachers. Yea, suppose all this happens to hear them, does not appear to me to be setting themselves up as public teachers. Yea, suppose all this happens to be in a meeting-house; I do not think that this much alters the case, provided the solemnity of public service and divine ordinances be over; and provided also that they speak in no authoritative way, but in an humble manner, becoming their degree and station, though they speak very earnestly and pathetically.—Indeed modesty might in ordinary cases restrain some persons (as women and those that are young) from so much as speaking when a great number are present, at least, when some of those present are much their superiors, unless they are spoken to. And yet, the case may be so extraordinary as fully to warrant it. If something very extraordinary happens to persons, or if they are in extraordinary circumstances; as if a person be struck with lightening in the midst of a great company, or if he lies a-dying, it appears to none any violation of modesty for him to speak freely before those that are much his superiors. I have seen some women and children in such circumstances, on religious accounts, that it has appeared to me no more a transgressing the laws of humility and modesty for them to speak freely, let who will be present, than if they were in danger of dying.
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.
When 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 1 Tim. ii. 9, 11, 12. That lay-persons ought not to exhort one another as clothed with authority, is a general rule; but it cannot justly be supposed to extend to heads of families in their own families. Every christian family is a little church, and the heads of it are its authoritative teachers and governors. Nor can it extend to schoolmasters among their scholars; and some other cases might perhaps be mentioned, that ordinary discretion will distinguish, where a man’s circumstances do properly clothe him with authority, and render it fit and suitable for him to counsel and admonish others in an authoritative manner.
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 minister, taking 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 make it their business, as a business proper to their office; and none should make it their business but such, Rom. xii. 3-8. “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the proportion of faith. For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office; so we being many, are one body in Christ.—He that teacheth let him wait on teaching, or he that exhorteth, on exhortation.” 1 Cor. xii. 29. “Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers?” 1 Cor. vii. 20. “Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.” 1 Thess. iv. 11. “And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you.”
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 419 be 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.
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