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It is no sign that affections are truly gracious, or that they are not, that they cause those who have them, to be fluent, fervent, and abundant in talking of religious things.
There are many persons, who, if they see this in others, are greatly prejudiced against them. Their being so full of talk, is with them a sufficient ground to condemn them as Pharisees, and ostentatious hypocrites. On the other hand, there are many who, if they see this effect in any, are very ignorantly and imprudently forward, at once to determine that they are the true children of God, under the saving influences of his Spirit, and speak of it as a great evidence of a new creature. Such an one’s mouth, say they, is now opened: he used to be slow to speak; but now he is full and free: he is free now to open his heart, and tell his experiences, and declare the praises of God; it comes from him, as free as water from a fountain; and the like. And especially are they captivated into a confident persuasion that they are savingly wrought upon, if they are not only free and abundant, but very affectionate and earnest in their talk.
But this is the fruit of little judgment, and short experience; as events abundantly show: and is a mistake into which persons often run, through their trusting their own wisdom, and making their own notions their rule, instead of the Holy Scripture. Though the Scripture be full of rules, both how we should judge of our own state, and also how we should be conducted in our own opinion of others; yet we have no where any rule, by which to judge ourselves or others to be in a good estate, from any such effect: for this is but the religion of the tongue, and what is in the Scripture represented by the leaves of a tree, which—though the tree ought not to be without them, yet—are no where given as an evidence of the goodness of the tree.
That persons are disposed to be abundant in talking of religious things, may be from a good cause, and it may be from a bad one. It may be because their hearts are very full of holy affections; for out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh: and it may be because persons’ hearts are very full of affection which is not holy; for still out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. It is very much the nature of the affections, of whatever kind, and whatever objects they are exercised about, if they are strong, to dispose persons to he very much in speaking of that with which they are affected; and not only to speak much, but to speak very earnestly and fervently. And therefore persons talking abundantly and very fervently about the things of religion, can be an evidence of no more than this, that they are very much affected with the things of religion; but this may be (as has been already shown) without any grace. That which men are greatly affected with, while the high affection lasts, they will be earnestly engaged about, and will be likely to show that earnestness in their talk and behaviour; as the greater part of the Jews, in all Judah and Galilee, did for a while, about John the Baptist’s preaching and baptism, when they were willing for a season to rejoice in his light: a mighty stir was made all over the land, and among all sorts of persons, about this great prophet and his ministry. And so the multitude, in like manner, often manifested a great earnestness, a mighty engagedness of spirit, in every thing that was external, about Christ, his preaching and miracles, being astonished at his doctrine, anon with joy receiving the word. They followed him sometimes night and day, leaving meat, drink, and sleep to hear him; once they followed him into the wilderness, fasting three days going to hear him; sometimes extolling him to the clouds, saying, Never man spake like this man! being fervent and earnest in what they said. But what did these things come to, in the greater part of them?
A person may be over full of talk of his own experiences; falling upon it every where, and in all companies; and when so, it is rather a dark sign than a good one. A tree that is over full of leaves, seldom bears much fruit. And a cloud, though to appearance very pregnant and full of water, if it brings with it over much wind, seldom affords much rain to the dry and thirsty earth: which very thing the Holy Spirit is pleased several times to make use of, to represent a great show of religion with the mouth, without answerable fruit in the life, Prov. xxv. 14. “Whoso boasteth himself of a false gift, is like clouds and wind without rain.” And the apostle Jude, speaking of some in the primitive times, that crept in unawares among the saints, and having a great show of religion, were for a while not suspected, These are clouds (says he) without water, carried about of winds, Jude ver. 4. and 12. And the apostle 248 Peter, speaking of the same, says, 2 Pet. ii. 17. “These are clouds without water, carried with a tempest.” False affections, if they are equally strong, are much more forward to declare themselves, than true: because it is the nature of false religion to affect show and observation; as it was with the Pharisees. 432432 That famous experimental divine Mr. Shephard, says, “A Pharisee’s trumpet shall he heard to the town’s end; when simplicity walks through the town unseen. Hence a man will sometimes covertly commend himself, (and myself ever comes in.) and tells you a long story of conversion; and an hundred to one if some lie or other slip not out with it Why, the secret meaning is, I pray admire me. Hence complain of wants and weaknesses: pray think what a broken-hearted Christian I am.”—Parab. of the Ten Virgins. Part I. page 179, 180. And holy Mr. Flavel says this. “O reader, if thy heart were right with God, and thou didst not cheat thyself with a vain profession, thou wouldst have frequent business with God, which thou wouldst be loth thy dearest friend, or the wife of thy bosom, should be privy to. Non est religio, ubi omnia patent Religion doth not lie open to all, to the eyes of men. Observed duties maintain our credit, but secret duties maintain our life. It was the saying of a heathen, about his secret correspondency with his friend What need the world to be acquainted with it? Thou and I are theatre enough to each other. There are inclosed pleasures in religion, which none but renewed spiritual souls do feelingly understand.” Flavel’s Touchstone of Sincerity, chap. II. sect. 2.
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