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We should endeavour to remove stumbling-blocks.
That which I think we ought to set ourselves about, in the first place, is to remove stumbling-blocks. When God is revealed as about to come gloriously to set up his kingdom in the world, this is proclaimed, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a high-way for our God,”Isa. xl. 3. And again, Isa. lvii. 14. “Cast ye up, cast ye up; prepare the way; take up the stumbling-block out of the way of my people.” And, chap. lxii. 10. “Go through, go through the gates; prepare you the way of the people; cast up, cast up the highway; gather out the stones.”
And, in order to this, there must be a great deal done at confessing of faults, on both sides. For undoubtedly many and great are the faults that have been committed, in the jangling and confusions, and mixtures of light and darkness, that have been of late. There is hardly any duty more contrary to our corrupt dispositions, and mortifying to the pride of man; but it must be done. Repentance of faults is, in a peculiar manner, a proper duty, when the kingdom of heaven is at hand, or when we especially expect or desire that it should come; as appears by John the Baptist’s preaching. And if God does now loudly call upon us to repent, then he also calls upon us to make proper manifestations of our repentance. I am persuaded that those who have openly opposed this work, or have from time to time spoken lightly of it, cannot be excused in the sight of God, without openly confessing their fault therein; especially ministers. If they have any way, either directly or indirectly, opposed the work, or have so behaved, in their public performances or private conversation, as to prejudice the minds of their people against the work; if hereafter they shall be convinced of the goodness and divinity of what they have opposed, they ought by no means to palliate the matter, or excuse themselves, and pretend that they always thought so, and that it was only such and such imprudences that they objected against. But they ought openly to declare their conviction, and condemn themselves for what they have done; for it is Christ that they have spoken against, in speaking lightly of and prejudicing others against this work; yea, it is the Holy Ghost. And though they have done it ignorantly and in unbelief, yet, when they find out who it is that they have opposed, undoubtedly God will hold them bound publicly to confess it.
And on the other side, if those who have been zealous to promote the work have in any of the fore-mentioned instances openly gone much out of the way, and done that which is contrary to christian rules, whereby they have openly injured others, or greatly violated good order, and so done that which has wounded religion, they must publicly confess it, and humble themselves; as they would gather out the stones, and prepare the way of God’s people. They who have laid great stumbling-blocks in others’ way, by their open transgression, are bound to remove them by their open repentance.
Some probably will be ready to object against this, that the opposers will take advantage by this to behave themselves insolently, and to insult both them and religion. And indeed, to the shame of some, they have taken advantage by such things; as of the good spirit that Mr. Whitfield showed in his retractions, and some others. But if there are some embittered enemies of religion, that stand ready to improve every thing to its disadvantage, yet that ought not to hinder doing an enjoined christian duty; though it be in the manifestation of humility and repentance, after a fault openly committed. To stand it out, in a visible impenitence of the real fault, to avoid such an inconvenience, is to do evil in order to prevent evil. Besides, the danger of evil consequence is much greater on the other side: to commit sin, and then stand in it, is what will give the enemy the greatest advantage. For Christians to act like Christians, in openly humbling themselves when they have openly offended, in the end brings the greatest honour to Christ and religion; and in this way are persons most likely to have God appear for them.
Again, at such a day as this, God especially calls his people to the exercise of extraordinary meekness and mutual forbearance. Christ appears as it were coming in his kingdom, which calls for great moderation in our behaviour towards all men; Phil. iv. 5. “Let your moderation be known unto all men: The Lord is at hand.” The awe of the Divine Majesty, that appears present or approaching, should dispose us to it, and deter us from the contrary. For us to be judging one another, and behaving with fierceness and bitterness one towards another, when he who is the searcher of all hearts, to whom we must all give an account, appears so remarkably present, is exceeding unsuitable. Our business at such a time should be at home, searching and condemning ourselves, and taking heed to our own behaviour. If there be glorious prosperity to the church of God approaching, those that are the most meek will have the largest share in it. For, when Christ ,“rides forth in his glory and his majesty” it is “because of truth, meekness, and righteousness,” Psal. xlv. 3, 4. And, when God remarkably “arises to execute judgment,” it is “to save all the meek of the earth,”Psal. lxxvi. 9. and it is “the meek” that “shall increase their joy in the Lord,” Isa. xxix. 19. And, when the time comes that God will give this lower world into the hands of his saints, it is “the meek that shall inherit the earth.”Psal. xxxvii 11. and Matt. v. 9. “But with the froward, God will show himself unsavoury.”
Those therefore that have been zealous for this work, and have greatly erred and been injurious with their zeal, ought not to be treated with bitterness. There is abundant reason to think, that most of them are the dear children of God, for whom Christ died; and therefore that they will see their error. As to those things, wherein we see them to be in an error, we have reason to say of them as the apostle, Phil. iii. 15. “If any are otherwise minded, God shall reveal this unto them.” Their errors should not be made use of to excite indignation towards them, but should influence all who hope we are the children of God, to humble ourselves, and become more entirely dependent on the Lord Jesus Christ, when we see those who are God’s own people so ready to go astray. And those ministers who have been judged, and injuriously dealt with, will do the part of Christ’s disciples, not to judge and revile again, but to receive such injuries with meekness and forbearance, and making a good improvement of them, more strictly examining their hearts and ways, and committing themselves to God. This will be the way to have 422 God vindicate them in his providence, if they belong to him. We have not yet seen the end of things; nor do we know who will be most vindicated, and honoured of God, in the issue. Eccl. vii. 8. “Better is the end of a thing, than the beginning thereof; and the patient in spirit is better then the proud in spirit.”—Contrary to this mutual meekness, is each party’s stigmatizing one another with odious names, as is done in many parts of New England; which tends greatly to widen and perpetuate the breach. Such distinguishing names of reproach do as it were divide us into two armies, separated, and drawn up in battle-array; which greatly hinders the work of God.
And as such an extraordinary time as this does especially require of us the exercise of great forbearance one towards another; so there is peculiarly requisite in God’s people the exercise of great patience, in waiting on God, under any special difficulties and disadvantages they may be under as to the means of grace. The beginning of a revival of religion will naturally and necessarily be attended with a great many difficulties of this nature; many parts of the reviving church will, for a while, be under great disadvantages, by reason of what remains of the old disease, of a general corruption of the visible church. We cannot expect that, after a long time of degeneracy and depravity in the state of things in the church, all should come to rights at once, it must be a work of time. And for God’s people to be over-hasty and violent, in such a case, being resolved to have every thing rectified at once, or else forcibly to deliver themselves by breaches and separations, is the way to hinder things coming to rights as they otherwise would. It is the way to keep them back, and to break all in pieces. Indeed the difficulty may be so intolerable as to allow of no delay, and God’s people cannot continue in the state wherein they were, without violations of God’s absolute commands: but otherwise, though the difficulty may be very great, another course should be taken. God’s people should have recourse directly to the throne of grace, to represent their difficulties before the great Shepherd of the sheep, who has the care of all the affairs of his church; and, when they have done, they should wait patiently upon him. If they do so, they may expect that in his time he will appear for their deliverance; but if, instead of that, they are impatient, and take the work into their own hands, they will betray their want of faith, will dishonour God, and have reason to fear that he will leave them to manage their affairs for themselves as well as they can. If they had waited on Christ patiently, continuing still instant in prayer, they might have had him appearing for them, much more effectually to deliver them. He that believeth shall not make haste. And it is for those that are found patiently waiting on the Lord, under difficulties, that he will especially appear, when he comes to do great things for his church; as is evident by Isa. xxx. 18. at the latter end, and Isa. xlix. 23. and Psal. xxxvii. 9. and many other places.
I have somewhere, not long since, met with an exposition of those words of the spouse, several times repeated in the book of Canticles, I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, till he please. It was the only satisfying exposition that ever I met with, and was to this purpose, viz. That when the church of God is under great difficulties, and in distress, and Christ does not appear for her help, but seems to neglect her, as though he were asleep, God’s people, or the daughters of Jerusalem, in such a case, should not show a hasty spirit, and, not having patience to wait for Christ to awake for their help till his time comes, take indirect courses for their own deliverance, and use violent means for their escape, before Christ appears to open the door for them; and so, as it were, stir up, and awake Christ, before this time. When the church is in distress, and God seems not to appear for her in his providence, he is very often represented in Scripture as being asleep; as Christ was asleep in the ship, when the disciples were tossed by the storm, and the ship covered with waves. And God’s appearing for his people’s help, is represented as his awaking out of sleep, Psal. vii. 6. Psal. xxxv. 23. Psal. xliv. 23. Psal. lix. 4. Psal.lxxiii. 20. Christ has an appointed time for his thus awaking out of sleep; and his people ought to wait upon him, and not, in an impatient fit, stir him up before his time. It is worthy to be observed, how strict this charge is given to the daughters of Jerusalem; it is repeated three times over in the book of Canticles, chap. ii. 7.— iii. 5.— viii. 4. In the 2d chapter and six first verses, are represented the support Christ gives his church, while she is in a suffering state, as the lily among thorns. In the 7th verse is represented her patience in waiting for Christ, to appear for her deliverance, when she charges the daughters of Jerusalem not to stir up, nor awake her love till he please, by the roes, and the hinds of the field; which are creatures of a gentle, harmless nature. They are not beasts of prey, do not devour one another, do not fight with their enemies, but flee from them; and are of a pleasant loving nature, Prov. v. 19. In the next verse, we see the church’s success, in this way of waiting under sufferings, with meekness and patience; Christ soon awakes, speedily appears, and swiftly comes; Cant. ii. 8. “The voice of my beloved! Behold, he cometh, leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills!”
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