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SHOWING WHAT THINGS ARE TO BE CORRECTED OR AVOIDED, IN PROMOTING THIS WORK, OR IN OUR BEHAVIOUR UNDER IT.
Having thus observed, in some instances, wherein the conduct of those that have appeared to be the subjects of this work, or have been zealous to promote it, has been objected against or complained of without or beyond just cause; I proceed now to show what things ought to be corrected or avoided.
Many, who are zealous for this glorious work of God, are heartily sick of the great noise there is in the country about imprudences and disorders; they have heard it so often from the mouths of opposers, that they are prejudiced against the sound. And they look upon it, that what is called being prudent and regular, so much insisted on, is no other than being asleep, or cold and dead, in religion; and that the great imprudence, so much blamed, is only being alive and engaged in the things of God. They are therefore rather confirmed in any practice, than brought off from it, by the clamour they hear against it, as imprudent and irregular. And, to tell the truth, the cry of irregularity and imprudence has been much more in the mouths of those who have been enemies to the main of the work than others; for they have watched for the halting of the zealous, and eagerly catched at any thing that has been wrong, and have greatly insisted on it, made the most of it, and magnified it; especially have they watched for errors in zealous preachers, who are much in reproving and condemning the wickedness of the times. They would therefore do well to consider that scripture, “The scorner is consumed, and all that watch for iniquity are cut off, that make a man an offender for a word, and lay a snare for him that reproveth in the gate, and turn aside the just for a thing of naught.” They have not only too much insisted on the magnified real errors, but have very injuriously charged them as guilty in things wherein they have been innocent, and have done their duty. This has so prejudiced the minds of some, that they have been ready to think that all that which has been said about errors and imprudences was injurious and from an ill spirit. It has confirmed them, that there is no such thing as any prevailing imprudences; and it has made them less cautious and suspicious of themselves, lest they should err.—Herein the devil has had an advantage put into his hands, and has taken it; and, doubtless, has been too subtle for some of the true friends of religion. That would be strange indeed, if in so great a commotion and revolution, and such a new state of things, wherein so many have been engaged, none have been guilty of any imprudence. It would be such a revival of religion as never was, if among so many men, not guided by infallible inspiration, there had not been many notable errors in judgement and conduct; our young preachers, and young converts, must in general vastly exceed Luther, the head of the reformation, who was guilty of a great many excesses in that great affair in which God made him the chief instrument.
If we look back into the history of the church of God in past ages, we may observe that it has been a common device of the devil, to overset a revival of religion; when he finds he can keep men quiet and secure no longer, then he drives them to excesses and extravagances. He holds them back as long as he can; but when he can do it no longer, then he will push them on, and, if possible, run them upon their heads. And it has been by this means chiefly that he has been successful, in several instances, to overthrow most hopeful and promising beginnings. Yea, the principal means by which the devil was successful, by degrees, to overset the grand religious revival of the world, in the primitive ages of Christianity, and in a manner to overthrow the Christian church through the earth, and to make way for the great Anti-Christian apostacy, that master-piece of all the devil’s works, was to improve the indiscreet zeal of Christians, to drive them into those three extremes of enthusiasm, superstition, and severity towards opposers; which should be enough for an everlasting warning to the Christian church.
Though the devil will do his diligence to stir up the open enemies of religion, yet he knows what is for his interest so well, that, in a time of revival of religion, his main strength shall be tried with the friends of it; and he will chiefly exert himself in his attempts to mislead them. One truly zealous person, in the time of such an event, that seems to have a great hand in the affair, and draws the eyes of many upon him, may do more (through Satan’s being too subtle for him) to hinder the work, than a hundred great, and strong, and open opposers. In the time of the great work of Christ, his hands, with which he works, are often wounded in the house of his friends, and his work hindered chiefly by them: so that if any one inquires, as in “What are those wounds in thine hands?” He may answer, “Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.”
The errors of the friends of the work of God, and especially of the great promoters of it, give vast advantage to the enemies of such a work. Indeed there are many things which are no errors, but are only duties faithfully and thoroughly done, that wound the minds of such persons more than real errors: but yet one real error gives opposers as much advantage, and hinders and clogs the work as much, as ten that are only supposed ones. Real errors do not fret and gall the enemies of religion so much as those things that are strictly right; but they encourage them more, they give them liberty, and open a gap for them; so that some who before kept their enmity burning in their own breasts, and durst not show themselves, will on such an occasion take courage, and give themselves vent, and their rage will be like that of an enemy let loose. Those who lay still before, having nothing to say but what they would be ashamed of, (agreeable to Tit. ii. 8.) when they have such a weapon put into their hands, will fight with all violence. And indeed the enemies of religion would not know what to do for weapons to fight with, were it not for the errors of its friends; and so must soon fall before them. Besides, in real errors, things that are truly disagreeable to the rule of God’s word, we cannot expect the divine protection, and that God will appear on our side, as if our errors were only supposed ones.
Since therefore the errors of the friends and promoters of such a glorious work of God are of such dreadful consequence; and seeing the devil, being sensible of this, is so assiduous, watchful, and subtle in his attempts with them, and has thereby been so successful to overthrow religion heretofore; certainly such persons ought to be exceeding circumspect and vigilant, diffident and jealous of themselves, and humbly dependent on the guidance of the good Shepherd. 1 Pet. iv. 7. “Be sober, and watch unto prayer.” And 1 Pet. v. 8. ” Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about.” For persons to go on resolutely, in a kind of heat and vehemence, despising admonition and correction, being confident that they must be in the right because they are full of the Spirit, is directly contrary to the import of these words, be sober, be vigilant.
It is a mistake I have observed in some, by which they have been greatly exposed to their wounding, that they think they are in no danger of going astray, or being misled by the devil, because they are near to God; and so have no jealous eye upon themselves, and neglect vigilance and circumspection, as needless in their case. They say, they do not think that God will leave them to dishonour him, and wound religion as long as they keep near to him. And I believe so too, as long as they keep near to God, so as to maintain a universal and diligent watch, and care to do their duty, avoid sin and snares with diffidence in themselves, and humble dependence and prayerfulness. But not merely because they are receiving blessed communications from God, in refreshing views of him; if at the same time they let down their watch, and are not jealous over their own hearts, by reason of its remaining blindness and corruption, and a subtle adversary.—It is a grand error for persons to think they are out of danger from the devil, and a corrupt, deceitful heart, even in their highest flights, and most raised frames of spiritual joy. For persons, in such a confidence, to cease to be jealous of themselves, and to neglect watchfulness and care, is a presumption by which I have known many woefully ensnared. However highly we may be favoured with divine discoveries and comforts, yet, as long as we are in the world, we are in the enemies country; and therefore that direction of Christ to his disciples is never out of date in this world, Luke xxi. 36. “Watch and pray always, that you may be accounted worthy to escape all these things, and to stand before the Son of man.” It was not out of date with the disciples to whom it was given, after they came to be full of the Holy Ghost, and out of their bellies flowed rivers of living water, by that great effusion upon them that began on the day of Pentecost. And though god stands ready to protect his people, especially those that are near to him; yet he expects of all great care and labour, and that we should put on the whole armour of God, that we may stand in the evil day. To whatever spiritual privileges we are raised, we have no warrant to expect protection in any other way; for God has appointed this whole life, to be all as a race or a battle; the state of rest, wherein we shall be so out of danger as to have no need of watching and fighting, is reserved for another world. I have known it in abundance of instances, that the devil has come in very remarkably, even in the midst of the most excellent frames. It may seem a great mystery that it should be so; but it is no greater mystery, than that Christ should be taken captive by the devil, and carried into the wilderness, immediately after the heavens had been opened to him, and the Holy Ghost descended like a dove upon him, and when he heard that comfortable, joyful voice form the Father, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” In like manner Christ in the heart of a Christian, is oftentimes as it were taken, and carried captive into a wilderness, presently after heaven has been as it were opened to the soul, and the Holy Ghost has descended upon it like a dove, and when God has been sweetly owning the believer, and testifying his favour to him as his beloved child.
It is therefore a great error and sin in some persons, at this day, that they are fixed in some things which others account errors, and will not hearken to admonition and counsel, but are confident that they are in the right, because God is much with them. There were some such in the apostles’ days. The apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians, was sensible that some of them would not be easily convinced that they had been in error, because they looked upon themselves as spiritual, or full of the Spirit of God, 1 Cor. xiv. 37, 38. “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandment of the Lord; but if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.”
And although those who are spiritual amongst us have no infallible apostle to admonish them, yet let me entreat them, by the love of Christ, calmly and impartially to weigh what may be said to them by one who is their hearty and fervent friend, (though an inferior worm,) in giving his humble opinion concerning the errors that have been committed, by the zealous friends or promoters of this great work of God. In speaking of past errors, and those we are in danger of, I would in the
First place, take notice of the causes whence the errors that attend a great revival of religion usually arise; and, as I go along, take notice of some particular errors that arise from each of those causes.
Secondly, Observe some errors that have been owing to the influence of several of those causes conjunctly.
The errors that attend a great revival of religion usually arise from these three things: 1. Undiscerned spiritual pride; 2. Wrong principles; and 3. Ignorance of Satan’s advantages and devices.
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