|« Prev||SECTION II. What should be done to advance it.||Next »|
What must be done more directly to advance this work.
What has been mentioned hitherto, has relation to the behaviour we are obliged to, as we would prevent the hindrances of the work; but, besides these, there are things that must be done, more directly to advance it. And here it concerns every one, in the first place, to look into his own heart, and see to it that he be a partaker of the benefits of the work himself, and that it be promoted in his own soul. Now is a most glorious opportunity for the good of souls. It is manifestly with respect to a time of great revival of religion in the world, that we have that gracious, earnest, and moving invitation proclaimed in the 55th of Isa. “Ho, every one that thirsteth,” &c. as is evident by the foregoing chapter, and what follows in the close of this. In the 6th verse, it is said, “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near.” And is with special reference to such a time, that Christ proclaims as he does, Rev. xxi. 6. “I will give unto him that is athirst, of the fountain of the water of life freely.” And chap. xxii. 17. “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come; and let him that heareth say, Come; and let him that is athirst come; and whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” And it seems to be with reference to such a time, which is typified by the feast of tabernacles, that Jesus, at that feast, stood and cried, as we have an account, John vii. 37, 38. “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. He that believeth on me, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” And it is with special reference to God’s freeness and readiness to bestow grace at such a time, that it is said in Isa. lx. 11. Of the spiritual Jerusalem, “Thy gates shall be open continually, they shall not be shut day or night.”
And though I judge not those who have opposed this work, and would not have others judge them, yet, if any such shall happen to read this treatise, I would take the liberty to entreat them to leave off troubling themselves so much about others, and to look into their own souls, and see to it that they are the subjects of a true, saying work of the Spirit of God.—If they have reason to think they never have been, or if it be but a very doubtful hope that they have, then how can they have any heart to be fiercely engaged about the mistakes and the supposed false hopes of others? And I would now beseech those who have hitherto been somewhat inclining to Arminian principles, seriously to weight the matter with respect to this work, and consider, whether, if the Scriptures are the word of God, the work that has been described in the first part of the treatise must not be, as to the substance of it, the work of God, and the flourishing of that religion which is taught by Christ and his apostles. Can any good medium be found, where a man can rest with any stability, between owning this work, and being a deist? If indeed this be the work of God, does it not entirely overthrow their 423 scheme of religion; and does it not infinitely concern them, as they would be partakers of eternal salvation, to relinquish their scheme? Now is a good time for Arminians to change their principles. I would now, as one of the friends of this work, humbly invite them to come and join with us, and be on our side; and, if I had the authority of Moses, I would say to them as he did to Habab, Num. x. 29. “We are journeying unto the place, of which the Lord said, I will give it you; come thou with us, and we will do thee good; for the Lord hath spoken good concerning Israel.”
As the benefit and advantage of the good improvement of such a season is very great, so the danger of neglecting and misimproving it is proportionably great. It is abundantly evident by the Scripture, that as a time of great outpouring of the Spirit is a time of great favour to those who are partakers of the blessing, so it is always at time of remarkable vengeance to others. So in Isa. lxi. 2. what is called, the acceptable year of the Lord, is also called the day of vengeance of our God. So it was amongst the Jews, in the apostles days. The apostle in 2 Cor. vi. 2. says of that time, that it was the accepted time, and day of salvation; and Christ says of the same time, Luke xxi. 22. “These are the days of vengeance.” While the blessings of the kingdom of heaven were given to some, there was“an axe laid at the root of the trees, that those that did not bear fruit, might be hewn down, and cast into the fire,” Matt. iii. 9-11. Then was glorified both the goodness and severity of God, in a remarkable manner, Rom. xi. 22. The harvest and the vintage go together; at the same time that the earth is reaped, and God’s elect are gathered into his garner, “the angel that has power over fire, thrusts in his sickle, and gathers the cluster of the vine of the earth, and casts it into the great wine-press of the wrath of God,” Rev. xiv. So it is foretold, in reference to the beginning of the glorious times of the christian church, that as “the hand of the Lord is known towards his servants, so shall his indignation be towards his enemies,” Isa. lxvi. 14. So when that glorious morning shall appear, wherein “the Sun of righteousness shall arise to the elect with healing in his wings, the day shall burn as an oven to the wicked,”Mal. iv. 1-3. There is no time like it for the increase of guilt, and treasuring up wrath, and desperate hardening of the heart, if men stand it out; which is the most awful judgment, and fruit of divine wrath, that can be inflicted on any mortal. So that a time of great grace, and the fruits of divine mercy, is evermore also a time of divine vengeance, on those that neglect and misimprove such a season.
The state of the present revival of religion has an awful aspect upon those that are advanced in years. The work has been chiefly amongst the young; and comparatively but few others have been made partakers of it. And indeed it has commonly been so, when God has begun any great work for the revival of his church; he has taken the young people, and has cast off the old and stiff-necked generation. There was a remarkable outpouring of the Spirit of God on the children of Israel in the wilderness, but chiefly on the younger generation, their little ones, that they said should be a prey, the generation that entered into Canaan with Joshua. That generation seems to have been the most excellent that ever was in the church of Israel. There is no generation, of which there is so much good, and so little evil, spoken in Scripture, as might be shown. In that generation, such as were under twenty years when they went out of Egypt, was that kindness of youth, and love of espousals, spoken of, Jer. ii. 2, 3. But the old generation were passed by; they remained obstinate and stiff-necked, were always murmuring, and would not be convinced by all God’s wondrous works that they beheld. God by his awful judgments executed in the wilderness, and the affliction which the people suffered there, convinced and humbled the younger generation, and fitted them for great mercy; as is evident by Deut. ii. 16. but he destroyed the old generation; “he swore in his wrath that they should not enter not his rest, and their carcasses fell in the wilderness.” When it was a time of great mercy, and of God’s Spirit on their children, it was remarkably a day of vengeance unto them; as appears by the 90th Psalm. Let the generation in this land take warning from hence, and take heed that they do not refuse to be convinced by all God’s wonders that he works before their eyes, and that they do not continue for ever objecting, murmuring, and cavilling against the work of God, lest while he is bringing their children into a land flowing with milk and honey, he should swear in his wrath concerning them, that their carcasses shall fall in the wilderness.
So when God had a design of great mercy to the Jews, in bringing them out of the Babylonish captivity, and returning them to their own land, there was a blessed outpouring of the Spirit upon them in Babylon, to bring them to deep conviction and repentance, and to cry earnestly to God for mercy; which is often spoken of by the prophets. But it was not upon the old generation, that were carried captive. The captivity continued just long enough for that perverse generation to waste away and die in their captivity, at least those of them that were adult persons when carried captive. The heads of families were exceeding obstinate, and would not hearken to the earnest repeated warnings of the prophet Jeremiah; but he had greater success among the young people; as appears by 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 (i.e. the heads of families, and parents of these children) shall be taken, the aged, with him that is full of days.” Blessed be God! there are some of the elder people that have been made partakers of this work. And those that are most awakened by these warnings of God’s word, and the awful frowns of his providence, will be most likely to be made partakers hereafter. It infinitely concerns them to take heed to themselves, that they may be partakers of it; for how dreadful will it be to go to hell, after having spent so many years in doing nothing but treasuring up wrath!
But above all others does it concern us who are ministers, to see to it that we have experience of the saving operations of the same Spirit that is now poured out on the land. How sorrowful and melancholy is the case, when it is otherwise! For one to stand at the head of a congregation of God’s people, as representing Christ and speaking in his stead; and to act the part of a shepherd and guide to a people in such a state of things, when many are under great awakenings, many are converted, and many of God’s saints are filled with divine light, love, and joy; to undertake to instruct and lead them all under these various circumstances; to be put to it continually to play the hypocrite, and force the airs of a saint in preaching; and from time to time in private conversation, and particular dealing with souls, to undertake to judge of their circumstances; to try to talk with persons of experience, as if he knew how to converse with them, and had experience as well as they; to make others believe that he rejoices when others are converted; and to force a pleased and joyful countenance and manner of speech, when there is nothing in the heart; what sorrowful work is here! Oh how miserable must such a person feel! What a wretched bondage and slavery in this! What pains, and how much art, must such a minister user to conceal himself! And how weak are his hands! What infinite provocation of the most high God, and displeasure of his Lord and Master, he incurs, by continuing a secret enemy to him in his heart, in such circumstances! I think there is a great deal of reason from the Scripture to conclude, that no sort of men in the world will be so low in hell as ungodly ministers. Every thing spoken of in Scripture, as that which aggravates guilt, and heightens divine wrath, meets in them. And what great disadvantages are unconverted ministers under, to oppose any irregularities, imprudences, or intemperate zeal, which they may see in those who are the children of God, when they are conscious to themselves that they have no zeal at all! If enthusiasm and wildness comes in like a flood, what poor, weak instruments are such ministers to withstand it! With what courage can they open their mouths, when they look inward, and consider how it is with them!
424 We who are ministers, not only have need of some true experience of the saving influence of the Spirit of God upon our heart, but we need a double portion at such a time as this. We need to be as full of light as a glass that is held out in the sun; and, with respect to love and zeal, we need to be like the angels, who are a flame of fire. The state of the times extremely requires a fulness of the divine spirit in ministers, and we ought to give ourselves no rest till we have obtained it. And, in order to this, I should think ministers, above all persons, ought to be much in prayer and fasting, both in secret and one with another. It seems to me, that it would become the circumstances of the present day, if ministers in a neighbourhood would often meet together, and spend days in fasting and fervent prayer among themselves, earnestly seeking extraordinary supplies of divine grace from heaven. And how desirable that, on their occasional visits one to another, instead of spending away their time in sitting and smoking, in diverting, or worldly, unprofitable conversation—telling news, and making their remarks on this and the other trifling subject—they would spend their time in praying together, singing praises, and religious conference. How much do many of the common people shame many of us who are in the work of the ministry, in these respects! Surely we do not behave ourselves so much like Christian ministers, and the disciples and ambassadors of Christ, as we ought to do. And, while we condemn zealous persons for censuring ministers at this day, it ought not to be without deep reflections upon, and great condemnation of, ourselves; for indeed we do very much to provoke censoriousness, and lay a great temptation before others to the sin of judging. And if we can prove that those who are guilty of it transgress the scripture-rule, our indignation should be chiefly against ourselves.
Ministers, at this day in a special manner, should act as fellow-helpers in their great work. It should be seen that they are animated and engaged, that they exert themselves with one heart and soul, and with united strength, to promote the present glorious revival of religion; and to that end should often meet together, and act in concert. And if it were a common thing in the country, for ministers to join in public exercises, and second one another in their preaching, I believe it would be of great service. I mean that ministers having consulted one another as to their subjects before they go to the house of God, should there (two or three of them) in short discourses earnestly enforce each other’s warnings and counsels. Such appearance of united zeal in ministers would have a great tendency to awaken attention, and to impress and animate the hearers; as has been found by experience in some parts of the country.—Ministers should carefully avoid weakening one another’s hands; and therefore every thing should be avoided, by which their interest with their people might be diminished, or their union with them broken. Therefore, if ministers have not forfeited their acceptance in that character in the visible church, by their doctrine or behaviour, their brethren in the ministry ought studiously to endeavour to heighten the esteem and affection of their people towards them, that they may have no temptation to repent their admitting other ministers to preach in their pulpits.
Two things exceeding needful in ministers, as they would do any great matters to advance the kingdom of Christ, are zeal and resolution. Their influence and power, to bring to pass great effects, is greater than can well be imagined. A man of but an ordinary capacity will do more with them, than one of ten times the parts and learning without them; more may be done with them in a few days, or at least weeks, than can be done without them in many years. Those who are possessed of these qualities commonly carry the day, in almost all affairs. Most of the great things that have been done in the world, the great revolutions that have been accomplished in the kingdoms and empires of the earth, have been chiefly owing to them. The very appearance of a thoroughly engaged spirit, together with a fearless courage and unyielding resolution, in any person that has undertaken the managing of any affair amongst mankind, goes a great way towards accomplishing the effect aimed at. It is evident that the appearance of these in Alexander did three times as much towards conquering the world, as all the blows that he struck. And how much were the great things that Oliver Cromwell did owing to these! And the great things that Mr. Whitfield has done, every where, as he has run through the British dominions, (so far as they are owing to means,) are very much owing to the appearance of these things which he is eminently possessed of. When the people see these in a person, to a great degree, it awes them, and has a commanding influence upon their minds. It seems to them that they must yield; they naturally fall before them, without standing to contest or dispute the matter; they are conquered as it were by surprise. But while we are cold and heartless, and only go on in a dull manner, in an old formal round, we shall never do any great matters. Our attempts, with the appearance of such coldness and irresolution, will not so much as make persons think of yielding. They will hardly be sufficient to put it into their minds; and if it be put into their minds, the appearance of such indifference and cowardice does as it were call for and provoke opposition.—Our misery is want of zeal and courage; for not only through want of them does all fail that we seem to attempt, but it prevents our attempting any thing very remarkable for the kingdom of Christ. Hence oftentimes, when any thing very considerable is proposed to be done for the advancement of religion or the public good, many difficulties are in the way, and a great many objections are started, and it may be it is put off from one to another; but nobody does any thing. And after this manner good designs or proposals have often failed, and have sunk as soon as proposed. Whereas, if we had but Mr. Whitfield’s zeal and courage, what could not we do, with such a blessing as we might expect!
Zeal and courage will do much in persons of but an ordinary capacity; but especially would they do great things, if joined with great abilities. If some great men who have appeared in our nation, had been as eminent in divinity as they were in philosophy, and had engaged in the christian cause with as much zeal and fervour as some others have done, and with a proportional blessing of heaven, they would have conquered all Christendom, and turned the world upside down. We have many ministers in the land that do not want abilities, they are persons of bright parts and learning; they should consider how much is expected and will be required of them by their Lord and Master, how much they might do for Christ, and what great honour and glorious a reward they might receive, if they had in their hearts a heavenly warmth, and divine heat proportionable to their light.
With respect to candidates for the ministry, I will not undertake particularly to determine what kind of examination or trial they should pass under, in order to their admission to that sacred work. But I think this is evident from the Scripture, that another sort of trial with regard to their virtue and piety is requisite, than is required in order to persons being admitted into the visible church. The apostle directs, that hands be laid suddenly on no man; but that they should first be tried, before they are admitted to the work of the ministry; but it is evident that persons were suddenly admitted by baptism into the visible church, on profession of their faith in Christ, without such caution or strictness in their probation. And it seems to me, those would act very unadvisedly, that should enter on that great and sacred work, before they had comfortable satisfaction concerning themselves, that they have had a saving work of God on their souls.
And though it may be thought that I go out of my proper sphere, to intermeddle in the affairs of the colleges; yet I will take the liberty of an Englishman that speaks his mind freely concerning public affairs, and the liberty of a minister of Christ, (who doubtless may speak his mind as freely about things that concern the kingdom of his Lord and Master,) to give my opinion, in some things, with respect to those societies; the original and main design of which is to train up persons, and fit them for the work of the ministry. And I would say in general, that it appears to me care should be taken, some way or other, that those societies should be so regulated, that they should, in fact, be nurseries of piety. Otherwise they are fundamentally ruined and undone as to their main design and 425 most essential end. They ought to be so constituted, that vice and idleness should have no living there. They are intolerable in societies, whose main design is, to train up youth in christian knowledge and eminent piety, to fit them to be pastors of the flock of the blessed Jesus. I have heretofore had some acquaintance with the affairs of a college, and experience of what belonged to its tuition and government; and I cannot but think that it is practicable enough, so as to constitute such societies, that there should be no residing there, without being virtuous, serious, and diligent. It seems to me a reproach to the land, that ever it should be so with our colleges, that, instead of being places of the greatest advantages for true piety, one cannot send a child thither without great danger of his being infected as to his morals. It is perfectly intolerable, and any thing should be done, rather than it should be so. If we pretend to have any colleges at all, under any notion of training up youth for the ministry, there should be some way found out, that should certainly prevent its being thus. To have societies for bringing persons up to be ambassadors of Jesus Christ, and to lead souls to heaven, and to have them places of so much infection, is the greatest nonsense and absurdity imaginable.
And as thorough and effectual care should be taken that vice and idleness be not tolerated in these societies, so certainly their design requires that extraordinary means should be used in them for training up the students in vital religion, and experimental and practical godliness; so that they should be holy societies, the very place should be as it were sacred. They should be, in the midst of the land, fountains of piety and holiness. There is a great deal of pains taken to teach the scholars human learning; there ought to be as much and more care thoroughly to educate them in religion, and lead them to true and eminent holiness. If the main design of these nurseries is to bring up persons to teach Christ, then it is of the greatest importance that there should be care and pains taken to bring those who are there educated to the knowledge of Christ. It has been common in our public prayers, to call these societies, the schools of the prophets; and, if they are schools to train up young men to be prophets, certainly there ought to be extraordinary care taken to train them up to be Christians.—And I cannot see why it is not on all accounts fit and convenient for the governors and instructors of the colleges particularly, singly, and frequently, to converse with the students about the state of their souls; as is the practice of the Rev. Dr. Doddridge, one of the most noted of the present dissenting ministers in England, who keeps an academy at Northampton, as he himself informs the Rev. Mr. Wadsworth of Hartford in Connecticut, in a letter dated at Northampton, March 6th, 1741. The original of which letter I have seen, and have by me an extract of it, sent me by Mr. Wadsworth; which is as follows:
“Through the divine goodness, I have every year the pleasure to see some plants taken out of my nursery, and set in neighbouring congregations; where they generally settle with an unanimous consent, and that to a very remarkable degree, in some very large and once divided congregations. A circumstance in which I own and adore the hand of a wise and gracious God; and cannot but look upon it as a token for good. I have at present a greater proportion of pious and ingenious youth under my care, than I ever before had; so that I hope the church may reasonably expect some considerable relief from hence, if God spare their lives a few years, and continue to them those gracious assistances which he has hitherto mercifully imparted.—I will not, Sir, trouble you at present with a large account of my method of academical education; only would observe, that I think it of vast importance to instruct them carefully in the Scriptures; and not only endeavour to establish them in the great truths of Christianity, but to labour to promote their practical influence on their hearts. For which purpose, I frequently converse with each of them alone, and conclude the conversation with prayer. This does indeed take up a great deal of time; but I bless God, it is amply repaired in the pleasure I have in seeing my labour is not in vain in the Lord.”
There are some who are not ministers, nor are concerned immediately in those things that appertain to their office, or in the education of persons for it, who are under great advantages to promote such a glorious work as this. Some laymen, though it be not their business publicly to exhort and teach, are in some respects under greater advantage to encourage and forward this work than ministers; as particularly great men, or those who are high in honour and influence. How much might such do to encourage religion, and open the way for it to have free course, and bear down opposition, if they were but inclined! There is commonly a certain unhappy shyness in great men with respect to religion, as though they were ashamed of it, or at least ashamed to do much at it; whereby they dishonour and doubtless greatly provoke the King of kings, and very much wound religion among the common people. They are careful of their honour, and seem to be afraid of appearing openly forward and zealous in religion, as though it were what would debase their character, and expose them to contempt.—But, in this day of bringing up the ark, they ought to be like David, the great king of Israel, who made himself vile before the ark; and as he was the highest in honour and dignity among God’s people, so he thought it became him to appear foremost in the zeal and activity manifested on that occasion; thereby animating and encouraging the whole congregation to praise the Lord, and rejoice before him with all their might. And though it diminished him in the eyes of scoffing Michal, yet it did not at all abate the honour and esteem of the congregation of Israel, but advanced it; as appears by 2 Sam. vi. 22.
Rich men have a talent in their hands, in the disposal and improvement of which they might very much promote such a work as this, if they were so disposed. They are far beyond others in advantages to do good, and lay up for themselves treasures in heaven. What a thousand pities it is that, for want of a heart, they commonly have no share at all there, but heaven is peopled mostly with the poor of this world! One would think that our rich men who call themselves Christians, might devise some notable things to do with their money, to advance the kingdom of their professed Redeemer, and the prosperity of the souls of men, at this time of such extraordinary advantage for it. It seems to me, that in this age most of us have but very narrow penurious notions of Christianity, as it respects our use and disposal of our temporal goods. The primitive Christians had not such notions; they were trained up by the apostles in another way.—God has greatly distinguished some of the inhabitants of New England from others, in the abundance he has given them of the good things of this life. If they could now be persuaded to lay out some considerable part of that which God has given them for his honour, and lay it up in heaven, instead of spending it for their own honour, or laying it up for their posterity, they would not repent of it afterwards. How liberally did the heads of the tribes contribute to their wealth at the setting up the tabernacle, though it was in a barren wilderness! These are the days of erecting the tabernacle of God amongst us. We have a particular account how the goldsmiths and the merchants helped to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, Neh. iii. 32. The days are coming, and I believe not very far off, when the sons of “Zion shall come from far, bringing their silver and their gold with them, unto the name of the Lord their God, and to the holy One of Israel;” Isa. lx. 9. when the merchants of the earth shall trade for Christ, more than for themselves, and “their merchandise and hire shall be holiness to the Lord, and shall not be treasured or laid up for posterity, but shall be for them that dwell before the Lord, to eat sufficiently, and for durable clothing;” Isa. xxiii. 18. when “the ships of Tarshish shall bring the wealth of the distant parts of the earth to the place of God’s sanctuary, and to make the place of his feet glorious; and the abundance of the sea shall be converted to the use of God’s church, and she shall suck the milk of the Gentiles, and suck the breasts of kings.”Isa. lx. 5, 9, 13, 16. The days are coming, when the great and the rich men of the word “shall bring their honour and glory into the church,” and shall, as it were, strip themselves in order to spread their garments under Christ’s feet, as he enters triumphantly into Jerusalem; and when those that will not do so shall have no glory, and their silver and gold shall be cankered, and their garments moth-eaten. For the saints shall then inherit the earth, and they shall reign on 426 it; and those that honour God he will honour, and those that despise him shall be lightly esteemed.—If some of our rich men would give one quarter of their estates to promote this work, they would act a little as if they were designed for the kingdom of heaven, and as rich men will act by and by who shall be partakers of the spiritual wealth and glories of that kingdom.
Great things might be done for the advancement of the kingdom of Christ at this day by those who have ability, by establishing funds for the support and propagation of religion; by supporting some who are eminently qualified with gifts and grace in preaching the gospel in certain parts of the country, which are more destitute of the means of grace; by searching out children of promising abilities, and their hearts full of love to Christ, but of poor families, (as doubtless there are such now in the land,) and bringing them up for the ministry; and by distributing books, that are remarkably fitted to promote vital religion, and have a great tendency to advance this work.—Or if they would only bear the trouble and expense of sending such books into various parts of the land to be sold, it might be an occasion that ten times so many of those books should be bought, as otherwise would be–by establishing and supporting schools in poor towns and villages; what might be done on such a foundation, as not only to bring up children in common learning, but also might very much tend to their conviction and conversion, and being trained up in vital piety. Doubtless something might be done this way in old towns and more populous places, that might have a great tendency to the flourishing of religion in the rising generation.
|« Prev||SECTION II. What should be done to advance it.||Next »|