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not only be vastly more knowing, but more humble than I am. -Though I believe some of God's own children have of late been very guilty in this matter, yet, by what is said of it in the scripture, it appears to me very likely, that God will awfully rebuke that practice. May it in sovereign and infinite mercy be prevented, by the deep and open humiliation of those that have openly practised it!
As this practice ought to be avoided, so should all such open, visible marks of distinction and separation that imply it
, (as particularly, distinguishing such as we have judged to be in a converted state with the compellations of brother or sister,) any further than there is a visible ecclesiastical distinction. In those places where it is the manner to receive such, and such only, to the communion of the visible church, as recommend themselves by giving a satisfying account of their inward experiences, there Christians may openly distinguish such persons, in their speech and ordinary behaviour, with a visible separation, without being inconsistent with themselves. I do not now pretend to meddle with that controversy, whether such an account of experience be requisite to church-fellowship. But certainly, to admit persons to communion with us as brethren in the visible church, and then visibly to reject them, and to make an open distinction between them and others, by different names or appellations, is to be inconsistent with ourselves. It is to make a visible church within a visible church, and visibly to divide between sheep and goats, setting one on the right hand, and the other on the left.—This bitter root of censoriousness must be totally rooted out, as we would prepare the way of the Lord.
It has nourished and upheld many other things contrary to the humility, meekness, and love of the gospel. The minds of many have received an unhappy turn with their religion: there is a certain point or sharpness, a disposition to a kind of warmth, that does not savour of that meek, lamb-like, sweet disposition that becomes Christians. Many have now been so long habituated to it, that they do not know how to get out of it; but we must get out of it; the point and sharpness must be blunted, and we must learn another way of manifesting our zeal for God.
Some have a way of reflecting on others, and censuring them in open prayer; which, though it has a fair shew of love, is indeed 'the boldest way of reproaching others imaginable; because there is implied in it an appeal to the most high God, concerning the truth of their censures and reflections.And some have a way of joining a sort of imprecations with their petitions for others, though but conditional ones, that appear to me wholly needless and improper. They pray that others
may either be converted or removed. I never heard nor read of any such thing practised in the church of God till now, unless it be with respect to some of the most visibly and notoriously abandoned enemies of the church of God. This is a sort of cursing men in our prayers, adding a curse with our blessing ; whereas the rule is, “ Bless, and curse not." To pray
that God would kill another, is to curse him as Elisha cursed the children who came out of Bethel. And the case must be very great and extraordinary indeed to warrant it, unless we were prophets, and did not speak our own words, but words indited by the immediate inspiration of the Spirit of God. It is pleaded, that if God has no design of converting others, it is best for them and others, that they should be immediately taken away and sent to hell before they have contracted more guilt. To which I would say, that so it was best for those children who met Elisha, seeing God had no design of converting them, to die immediately, as they did; but yet Elisha's imprecating that sudden death upon them, was cursing them; and therefore would not have been lawful for one who did not speak in the name of the Lord as a prophet.—And then, if we give way to such things as these, where shall we stop? A child that suspects he has an unconverted father and mother, may pray openly that his father and mother may either be converted, or taken away and sent to hell now quickly, before their guilt is greater. For unconverted parents are as likely to poison the souls of their family in their manner of training them up, as unconverted ministers are to poison their people. And so it might come to be a common thing all over the country, for children to pray after this manner concerning their parents, brethren and sisters concerning one another, husbands concerning their wives, and wives concerning their husbands; and so for persons to pray concerning all their unconverted friends and neighbours. And not only so, but we may also pray concerning all those saints who are not lively Christians, that they may either be enlivened or taken away; if that be true which is often said by some at this day, that these cold dead saints do more hurt than natural men, and lead more souls to hell, and that it would be well for mankind if they were all dead.
How needless are such petitions or imprecations as these? What benefit is there of them ? Is it not sufficient for us to pray that God would provide for his church and the good of souls, take care of his own flock, and give it needful means and advantages for its spiritual prosperity? Does God need to be directed by us in what way he shall do it? What need we ask of God to do it by killing such and such persons, if he do not convert them? unless we delight in the thoughts of God's answering us in such terrible ways, and with such awful manifestations of his wrath to our fellow-creatures.And why do not ministers direct sinners to pray for them
selves, that God would either convert them, or kill them, and send them to hell now, before their guilt is greater ? In this way we should lead persons in the next place to self-murder ; for many probably would soon begin to think, that what they may pray for, they may seek by the use of means.
Some, with whom I have discoursed about this way of praying, have said, That the Spirit of God, as it were, forces out such words from their mouths, when otherwise they should not dare to utter them. But such kind of impulse does not look like the influence of the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God indeed sometimes strongly inclines men to utter words; not by putting expressions into the mouth, and urging to utter them, but by filling the heart with a sense of divine things, and holy affections, whence the mouth speaks. That other way of being urged to use certain expressions, by an unaccountable force, is very probably from the influence of the devil.
Of errors connected with lay-exhorting.
ANOTHER thing, in the management of which there has been much error and misconduct, is lay-exhorting; about which there has been an abundance of disputing, jangling, and contention. In the midst of these disputes, I suppose that all are agreed as to these two things, viz. 1. That all exhorting one another by lay-men is not unlawful or improper ; but, on the contrary, that such exhorting is a Christian duty. And, 2. I suppose also, all will allow that there is some kind or way of exhorting and teaching which belongs only to the office of teachers. All will allow that God has appointed such an office as that of teachers in the Christian church, and therefore doubtless will allow that something or other is proper and peculiar to that office, or some business of teaching that does not belong as much to others as to them. If there be any way of teaching that is peculiar to that office, then for others to take that upon them, is to invade the office of a minister; which doubtless is very sinful, and is often so represented in scripture. But the great difficulty is to settle the bounds, and to tell exactly how far lay-men may go, and when they exceed their limits; which is a matter of so much difficulty, that I do not wonder if many in their zeal have transgressed. The two ways of teaching and exhorting, the one of which ought ordinarily to be left to ministers, and the other of which may and ought to be practised by the people, may be expressed by those iwo names of preaching, and exhorting in a way of
Christian conversation. But then a great deal of difficulty and controversy arises to determine what is preaching and what is Christian conversation. However, I will humbly offer my thoughts concerning this subject of lay-exhorting, as follows.
1. The common people, in exhorting one another, ought not to clothe themselves with the like authority with that which is proper for ministers.
There is a certain authority that ministers have and should exercise in teaching, as well as in governing the flock. Teaching is spoken of in scripture as an act of authority, 1 Tim. ii. 12. In order to a man's preaching, special authority must be committed to him, Rom. X. 15." How shall they preach, except they be sent ?" Ministers in this work of teaching and exhorting are clothed with authority, as Christ's messengers, Mal. ii. 7. as representing him, and so speaking in his name, and in his stead, 2 Cor. v. 18—20. And it seems to be the most honourable thing that belongs to the office of a minister of the gospel, that to him is committed the work of reconciliation, and that he has power to preach the gospel, as Christ's messenger, and speaking in his name. The apostle seems to speak of it as such, I Cor. i. 16, 17, Ministers, therefore, in the exercise of this power, may clothe themselves with authority in speaking, or may teach others in an authoritative manner, Tit. ii. 15. “These things speak and exhort, and rebuke with all authority: Let no man despise thee." But the common people, in exhorting one another, ought not thus to exhort in an authoritative manner. There is a great deal of difference between teaching as a father amongst a company of children, and counselling in a brotherly way, as the children may kindly counsel and admonish one another. Those that are mere brethren ought not to assume authority in exhorting, though one may be better, and have more experience than another. Lay-men ought not to exhort as though they were the ambassadors or messengers of Christ, as ministers do; nor should they exhort, warn, and charge in his name, according to the ordinary import of such an expression, when applied to teaching. -Indeed, in one sense, a Christian ought to do every thing he does in religion in the name of Christ, i. e. he ought to act in a dependence on him as his head and mediator, and do all for his glory. But the expression, as it is usually understood, when applied to teaching or exhorting, is speaking in Christ's stead, and as having a message from him.
Persons may clothe themselves with authority in speaking, either by the authoritative words they make use of, or in the manner and authoritative air of their speaking. Though some may think that this latter is a matter of indifference, or at least of small importance, yet there is indeed a great deal in it; a
person may go much out of his place, and be guilty of a great degree of assuming, in the manner of his speaking those words, which as they might be spoken, might be proper for him.-The same words, spoken in a different manner, may express what is very diverse. Doubtless there may be as much hurt in the manner of a person's speaking, as there may be in his looks; but the wise man tells us, that " an high look is an abomination to the Lord,” Prov. xxi. 4. Again, a man may clothe himself with authority, in the circumstances under which he speaks; as for instance, if he sets himself up as a public teacher. Here I would have it observed, that I do not suppose that a person is guilty of this, merely because he speaks in the hearing of many. Persons may speak only in a way of conversation, and yet speak in the hearing of a great number, as they often do in their common conversation about temporal things, at feasts and entertainments, where women as well as others converse freely together, in the hearing it may be of a great number, and yet without offence. And if their conversation on such occasions should turn on spiritual things, and they should speak as freely and openly, I do not see why it would not be as harmless. Nor do I think, that besides a great number being present, persons speaking with a very earnest and loud voice, is for them to set up themselves as public teachers, if they do it from no contrivance or premeditated design, or as purposely directing themselves to a congregation or multitude. But persons speaking in conversation, or when all freely converse one with another-directing themselves to none but those that are near them, and fall in their way–in that earnest and pathetic manner, to which the subject naturally leads, and as it were, constrains them; I say, that for persons to do thus, though many happen to hear them, does not appear to me to be setting themselves up as public teachers. Yea, suppose all this happens to be in a meeting-house; I do not think that this much alters the case, provided the solemnity of public service and divine ordinances be over, and provided also that they speak in no authoritative way, but in an humble manner, becoming their degree and station, though they speak very earnestly and pathetically.--Indeed modesty might in ordinary cases restrain some persons, (as women and those that are young,) from so much as speaking when a great number are present, at least, when some of those present are much their superiors, unless they are spoken to. And yet, the case may be so extraordinary as fully' to warrant it. If something very extraordinary happens to persons, or if they are in extraordinary circumstances; as if a person be struck with lightning in the midst of a great company, or if he lies a-dying, it appears to none any violation of inodesty for him to speak freely before those that are much his superiors. I have seen some women