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Morality, sobriety, and external duties, promoted by preaching Christ crucified.
It is worthy of remark, secondly, that numbers of these people are brought to a strict compliance with the rules of morality and sobriety, and to a conscientious performance of the external duties of Christianity, by the internal power and influence of divine truths the peculiar doctrine of grace upon their minds; without their having these moral duties frequently repeated and inculcated upon them, and the contrary vices particularly exposed and spoken against. What has been the general strain and drift of my preaching among these Indians; what were the truths I principally insisted upon, and how I was influenced and enabled to dwell from time to time upon the peculiar doctrine of grace; I have already observed in the preceding remarks. Those doctrine, which had the most direct tendency to humble the fallen creature, to show him the misery of his natural state, to bring him down to the foot of sovereign mercy, and to exalt the great Redeemer discover his transcendent excellency and infinite preciousness, and so to recommend him to the sinner’s acceptance were the subject-matter of what was delivered in public and private to them, and from time to time repeated and inculcated upon them.
And God was pleased to give these divine truths such a powerful influence upon the minds of these people, and so to bless them for the effectual awakening of numbers of them, that their lives were quickly reformed, without my insisting upon the precepts of morality, and spending time in repeated harangues upon external duties. There was indeed no room for any kind of discourses but those that respected the essentials of religion, and the experimental knowledge of divine things, whilst there were so many inquiring daily not how they should regulate their external conduct, for that persons, who are honestly disposed to comply with duty, when known, may, in ordinary cases, be easily satisfied about, but how they should escape from the wrath they feared, and felt a desert of, obtain an effectual change of heart, get an interest in Christ, and come to the enjoyment of eternal blessedness? So that my great work still was to lead them into a further view of their utter undoneness in themselves, the total depravity and corruption of their hearts; that there was no manner of goodness in them; no good dispositions nor desires; no love to God, nor delight in his commands: but, on the contrary, hatred, enmity, and all manner of wickedness reigning in them: and at the same time to open to them the glorious and complete remedy provided in Christ for helpless, perishing sinners, and offered freely to those who have no goodness of their own, no “works of righteousness which they have done,” to recommend them to God.
This was the continued strain of my preaching; this my great concern and constant endeavour, so to enlighten the mind, as thereby duly to affect the heart, and, as far as possible, give persons a sense and feeling of these precious and important doctrine of grace, at least, so far as means might conduce to it. And these were the doctrine, this the method of preaching, which were blessed of God for the awakening, and, I trust, the saving conversion of numbers of souls, and which were made the means of producing a remarkable reformation among the hearers in general.
When these truths were felt at heart, there was now no vice unreformed, no external duty neglected. Drunkenness, the darling vice, was broken off from, and scarce an instance of it known among my hearers for months together. The abusive practice of husbands and wives in putting away each other, and taking others in their stead, was quickly reformed; so that there are three or four couple who have voluntarily dismissed those they had wrongfully taken, and now live together again in love and peace. The same might be said of all other vicious practices. The reformation was general; and all springing from the internal influence of divine truths upon their hearts; and not from any external restraints, or because they had heard these vices particularly exposed, and repeatedly spoken against. Some of them I never so much as mentioned; particularly, that of the parting of men and their wives, till some, having their conscience awakened by God’s word, came, and of their own accord confessed themselves guilty in that respect. And when I did at any time mention their wicked practices, and the sins they were guilty of contrary to the light of nature, it was not with design, nor indeed with any hope, of working an effectual reformation in their external manners by this means, for I knew, that while the tree remained corrupt, the fruit would naturally be so; but with design to lead them, by observing the wickedness of their lives, to a view of the corruption of their hearts, and so to convince them of the necessity of a renovation of nature, and to excite them with utmost diligence to seek after that great change, which, if once obtained, I was sensible, would of course produce a reformation of external manners in every respect.
And as all vice was reformed upon their feeling the power of these truths upon their hearts, so the external duties of Christianity were complied with, and conscientiously performed, from the same internal influence; family prayer set up, and constantly maintained, unless among some few more lately come, who had felt little of this divine influence. This duty was constantly performed, even in some families where there were none but females, and scarce a prayerless person to be found among near a hundred of them. The Lord’s day was seriously and religiously observed, and care taken by parents to keep their children orderly upon that sacred day, &c. And this, not because I had driven them to the performance of these duties by a frequent inculcating of them, but because they had felt the power of God’s word upon their hearts, were made sensible of their sin and misery, and thence could not but pray, and comply with every thing they knew was duty, from what they felt within themselves. When their hearts were touched with a sense of their eternal concerns, they could pray with great freedom, as well as fervency, without being at the trouble first to learn set forms for that purpose. And some of them who were suddenly awakened at their first coming among us, were brought to pray and cry for mercy with utmost importunity, without ever being instructed in the duty of prayer, or so much as once directed to a performance of it.
The happy effects of these peculiar doctrine of grace, which I have so much insisted upon with this people, plainly discover, even to demonstration, that instead of their opening a door to licentiousness, as many vainly imagine, and slanderously insinuate, they have a direct contrary tendency: so that a close application, a sense and feeling of them, will have the most powerful influence toward the renovation, and effectual reformation, both of heart and life.
And happy experience, as well as the word of God, and the example of Christ and his apostles, has taught me, that the very method of preaching which is best suited to awaken in mankind a sense and lively apprehension of their depravity and misery in a fallen state, to excite them earnestly to seek after a change of heart, and to fly for refuge to free and sovereign grace in Christ, as the only hope set before them, is like to be most successful toward the reformation of their external conduct. I have found that close addresses, and solemn applications of divine truth to the conscience, tend directly to strike death to the root of all vice; while smooth and plausible harangues upon moral virtues and external duties, at best are like to do no more than lop off the branches of corruption, while the root of all vice remains still untouched.
A view of the blessed effect of honest endeavours to bring home divine truths to the conscience, and duly to affect the heart with them, has often minded me of those words of our Lord, (which I have thought might be a proper exhortation for ministers in respect of their treating with others, as well as for persons in general with regard to themselves,) “Cleanse first the inside of the cup and platter, that the outside may be clean also.” Cleanse, says he, the inside, that the outside may be clean. As if he had said, The only effectual way to have the outside clean, is to begin with what is within; and if the fountain be purified, the streams will naturally be pure. And most certain it is, if we can awaken in sinners a lively sense of their inward pollution and depravity their need of a change of heart and so engage them to seek after inward cleansing, their external defilement will naturally be cleansed, their vicious ways of course be reformed, and their conversation and behaviour become regular.
Now, although I cannot pretend that the reformation among my people does, in every instance, spring from a saving change of heart; yet I may truly say, it flows from some heart-affecting view and sense of divine truths that all have had in a greater or less degree. I do not intend, by what I have observed here, to represent the preaching of morality, and pressing persons to the external performance of duty, to be altogether unnecessary and useless at any time; and especially at times when there is less of divine power attending the means of grace; when, for want of internal influences, there is need of external restraints. It is doubtless among the things that “ought to be done,” while “others are not to be left undone.” But what I principally designed by this remark, was to discover plain matter of fact, viz. That the reformation, the sobriety, and external compliance with the rules and duties of Christianity, appearing among my people, are not the effect of any mere doctrinal instruction, or merely rational view of the beauty of morality, but from the internal power and influence that divine truths (the soul-humbling doctrine of grace) have had upon their hearts.
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