« FöregåendeFortsätt »
body in Christ. He that teacheth, let him wait on teaching, or he that exhort-
It will be a very dangerous thing for laymen, in either of these respects, to invade the office of a minister; if this be common among us we shall be in danger of having a stop put to the word of God, and the ark's turning aside from us, before it comes to mount Zion, and of God's making a breach upon us; as of old there was an unhappy stop put to the joy of the congregation of Israel, in bringing up the ark of God, because others carried it besides the Le vites : and therefore, David, when the error was found out, says, 1 Chron. xv. 2, * None ought to carry the ark of God but the Levites only; for them hath the Lord chosen to carry the ark of God, and to minister unto him forever.” And because one presumed to touch the ark that was not of the sons of Aaron, therefore, the Lord made a breach upon them, and covered their day of rejoicing with a cloud in his anger.
Before I dismiss this head of lay exhorting, I would take notice of three things relating to it, upon which there ought to be a restraint. 1. Speaking in the time of the
solemn worship of God, as public prayer, singing, or preaching, or administration of the sacrament of the holy supper; or any duty of social worship: this should not be allowed. I know it will be said, that in some cases, when persons are exceedingly affected, they cannot help it; and I believe so too: but then I also believe, and know by experience, that there are several things that contribute to that inability, besides merely and absolutely the sense of divine things they have upon their hearts. Custom and example, or the thing's being allowed, have such an influence, that they actually help to make it impossible for persons under strong affections to avoid speaking. - If it was disallowed, and persons at the time that they were thus disposed to break out, had this apprehension, that it would be a very unbecoming, shocking thing for them so to do, it would be a help to them, as to their ability to avoid it: their inability arises from their strong and vehement disposition; and so far as that disposition is from a good principle, it would be weakened by the coming in of this thought to their minds, viz., “ What I am going to do, will be for the dishonor of Christ and religion :” and so that inward vehemence, that pushed them forward to speak, would fall, and they would be enabled to avoid it. This experience confirms.
2. There ought to be a moderate restraint on the loudness of persons talking under high affections; for if there be not, it will grow natural and unavoidable for persons to be louder and louder, without any increase of their inward sense; until it becomes natural to them, at last, to scream and halloo to almost every one they see in the streets, when they are much affected: but this is certainly a thing very improper, and what has no tendency to promote religion. The man Christ Jesus, when he was upon earth, had doubtless as great a sense of the infinite greatness and importance of eternal things, and the worth of souls, as any have now-a-days; but there is not the least appearance in his history, of his taking any such course, or manner of exhorting others.
3. There should also be some restraint on the abundance of person's talk, under strong affections; for if persons give themselves an unbounded liberty, to talk just so much as they feel an inclination to, they will increase and abound more and more in talk, beyond the proportion of their sense or affection; until
at length it will become ineffectual on those that hear them, and by the commonness of their abundant talk, they will defeat their own end.
One thing more, I would take notice of before I conclude this part, is the mismanagement that has been in some places of the duty of singing praises to God. I believe it to have been one fruit of the extraordinary degrees of the sweet and joyful influences of the Spirit of God that have been lately given, that there has appeared such a disposition to abound in that duty, and frequently to fall into this divine exercise; not only in appointed solemn meetings, but when Christians occasionally meet together at each other's houses. But the mismanagement I have respect to, is the getting into a way of performing it, without almost any appearance of that reverence and solemnity with which all visible, open acts of divine worship ought to be attended; it may be two or three in a room singing hymns of praise to God, others that are present talking at the same time, others about their work, with little more appearance of regard to what is doing, than if some were only singing a common song, for their amusement and diversion. There is danger, if such things are continued, of its coming to that by degrees, that a mere nothing be made of this duty, to the great violation of
the third commandment.-Let Christians abound as much as they will in this #holy, heavenly exercise, in God's house and in their own houses; but when it
is performed, let it be performed as a holy act, wherein they have immediately and visibly to do with God. When any social open act of devotion, or solemn worship of God is performed, God should be reverenced as visibly present, by those that are present. As we would not have the ark of God depart from us, nor provoke God to make a breach upon us, we should take heed that we han dle the ark with reverence.
With respect to companies singing in the streets, going to, or coming from, the place of public worship, I would humbly offer my thoughts in the following particulars.
i. The rule of Christ concerning putting new wine into old bottles, does undoubtedly take place in things of this nature, supposing it to be a thing that in itself is good, but not essential, and not particularly enjoined or forbidden. For things, so very new and uncommon, and of so open and public a nature, to be suddenly introduced and set up and practised, in many parts of the country, without the matter's being so much as first proposed to any public consideration, or giving any opportunity for the people of God to weigh the matter, or to consider any reasons that might be offered to support it, is putting new wine into old bottles with a witness; as if it were with no other design than to burst them directly. Nothing else can be expected to be the consequence of this, than uproar and confusion, and great offence, and unhappy mischievous disputes even among the children of God themselves: not that that which is good in itself, and is new, ought to be forborne, until there is nobody that will dislike it; but it ought to be forborne until the visible church of God is so prepared for it, at least, that there is a probability that it will not do more hurt than good, or hinder the work of God more than promote it; as is most evident from Christ's rule, and the apostles' practice. If it be brought in, when the country is so unprepared, that the shock and surprise on persons minds, and the contention and pfejudice against religion, that it is like to be an occasion of, will do more to hinder religion, than the practice of it is like to do to promote it, then the fruit is picked before it is ripe. And indeed, such a hasty endeavor to introduce such an innovation, supposing it to be good in itself, is the likeliest way to retard the effectual introduction of it; it will
hinder its being extensively introduced, much more than it will promote it, and so will defeat its own end. But, VOL. III.
2. As to the thing itself, if a considerable part of a congregation have occasion to go in company together to a place of public worship, and they should join together in singing praises to God, as they go, I confess, that after long consideration, and endeavoring to view the thing every way, with the utmost diligence and impartiality I am capable of, I cannot find any valid objection against it. As to the common objection from Matt. vi. 5, “ And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues, and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men;" it is strong against a single person's singing in the streets, or in the meeting-house, by himself, as offering to God personal worship, but as it is brought against a considerable company, their thus publicly worshipping God, it appears to me to have no weight at all; to be sure, it is of no more force against a company's thus praising God in the streets, than against their praising him in the synagogue or meeting-house, for the streets and the synagogues are both put together in these words of our Saviour, as parallel in the case that he had respect to. It is evident that Christ speaks of personal, and not public worship. If to sing in the streets be ostentatious, then it must be because it is a public place, and it cannot be done there without being very open; but it is no more public than the synagogue or meeting-house is when full of people. Some worship is in its nature private, as that which is proper to particular persons, or families, or private societies, and has respect to their particular concerns: but that which I now speak of, is performed under no other notion than a part of God's public worship, without any relation to any private, separate society, or any chosen or picked number, and in which every visible Christian has equal liberty to join, if it be convenient for him, and he has a disposition, as in the worship that is performed in the meeting-house.
When persons are going to the house of public worship, to serve God there with the assembly of his people, they are upon no other design than that of putting public honor upon God, that is the business they go from home upon, and even in their walking the streets on this errand, they appear in a public act of respect to God; and therefore if they go in company with public praise, it is not a being public when they ought to be private. It is one part of the beauty of public worship, that it be very public; the more public it is, the more open honor it puts upon God; and especially is it beautiful in that part of public worship, viz., public praise : for the very notion of public praising of God, is to declare abroad his glory, to publish his praise, to make it known, and proclaim it aloud, as is evident by innumerable expressions of Scripture. It is fit that God's honor should not be concealed, but made known in the great congregation, and proclaimed before the sun, and upon the house-tops, before kings, and all nations, and that his praises should be heard to the utmost ends of the earth.
I suppose none will condemn singing God's praises, merely because it is performed in the open air, and not in a close place: and if it may be performed by a company in the open air, doubtless they may do it moving, as well as standing still. So the children of Israel praised God, when they went to mount Zion, with the ark of God; and so the multitude praised Christ, when they entered with him into Jerusalem, a little before his passion; and so the children of Israel were wont, from year to year, to go up to Jerusalem, when they went in companies, from all parts of the land, three times in the year, when they often used to manifest the engagedness of their minds, by travelling all night, and manifested their joy and gladness, by singing praises, with great decency and beauty, as they went towards God's holy mountain ; as is evident by Isa. xxx. 29: “Ye shall have a song, as in the night when a holy solemnity is kept, and glad
ness of heart; as when one goeth with a pipe, to come into the mountain of the Lord, to the mighty one of Israel.” And Psal. xlii. 4,“ When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me; for I had gone with the multitude, I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holy day.” Psal. c. 4, “ Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise.” When God's people are going to his house, the occasion is so joyful to a Christian in a lively frame (the language of whose heart is, Come, let us go up to the house of the Lord, and who is glad when it is so said to him), that the duty of singing praises seems to be peculiarly beautiful on such an occasion. So that if the state of the country was ripe for it, and it should be so that there should be frequent occasion for a considerable part of the congregation to go together to the places of public worship, and there was in other respects a proportionable appearance of fervency of devotion, it appears to me that it would be ravishingly beautiful, if such things were practised all over the land, and would have a great tendency to enliven, animate, and rejoice the souls of God's saints, and greatly to propagate vital religion. I believe the time is coming when the world will be full of such things.
3. It seems to me to be requisite that there should be the consent of the governing part of the worshipping societies, to which persons have joined themselves, and of which they own themselves a part, in order to the introducing of things in public worship, so new and uncommon, and not essential, nor particularly commanded, into the places where those worshipping societies belong: the peace and union of such societies seem to require it; seeing they have voluntarily united themselves to these worshipping societies, to that end, that they might be one in the affairs of God's public worship, and oblige themselves in covenant to act as brethren and mutual assistants, and members of one body, in those affairs, and all are hereby naturally and necessarily led to be concerned with one another, in matters of religion and God's worship; and seeing that this is a part of the public worship, and worship that must be performed from time to time in the view of the whole, being performed at a time when they are meeting together for mutual assistance in worship, and therefore that which all must unavoidably be in some measure concerned in, so at least as to show their approbation and consent, or open dislike and separation from them in it; I say, it being thus, charity and a regard to the union and peace of such societies, seems to require a consent of the governing part, in order to the introducing of anything of this nature; (unless they think those societies unworthy that they should be joined to them any longer, and so first renounce them, as the worshipping societies of which they are members). Certainly if we are of the spirit of the Apostle Paul, and have his discretion, we shall not set up any such practice without it: he, for the sake of peace, conformed, in things wherein he was not particularly forbidden, to the Jews, when among them; and so when among those that were without the law, conformed to them, wherein he might. To be sure, those go beyond proper limits, who, coming from abroad, do immediately of their own heads, in a strange place, set up such a new and uncommon pracice, among a people.
In introducing any thing of this nature among a people, their minister especially ought to be consulted, and his voice taken, as long as he is owned for their minister. Ministers are pastors of worshipping societies, and their heads and guides in the affairs of public worship. They are called in Scripture those that rule over them, and their people are commanded to obey them, because they watch for their souls as those that must give account. If it belongs to these
shepherds and rulers to direct and guide the flock in any thing at all, it belongs to them so to do in the circumstantials of their public worship.
Thus I have taken particular notice of many of those things that have appeared to me to be amiss, in the management of our religious concerns, relating to the present revival of religion, and have taken liberty freely to express my thoughts upon them. Upon the whole it appears manifest to me, that things have as yet never been set a going in their right channel; if they had, and means had been blessed in proportion as they have been now, this work would have so prevailed, as before this time to have carried all before it, and bare triumphed over New England. as its conquest.
The devil, in driving things to these extremes, besides the present hinderance of the work of God, has, I believe, had in view a twofold mischief_hereafter, in the issue of things; one with respect to those that are more cold in religion : to carry things to such an extreme, that people in general, at length, having their eyes opened, by the great excess, and seeing that things must needs be wrong, he might take the advantage to tempt them entirely to reject the whole worl
as being all nothing but delusion and distraction. And another is with respect "To those that have been very warm and zealous, of God's own children, that have been out of the way, to sink them down in unbelief and darkness. The time is coming, I doubt not, when the bigger part of them will be convinced of their errors ; and then probably the devil will take advantage to lead them into a dreadful wilderness, and to puzzle and confound them about their own experiences, and the experiences of others; and to make them to doubt of many things that they ought not to doubt of, and even to tempt them with atheistical thoughts. I believe if all true Christians all over the land, should now at once have their eyes opened, fully to see all their errors, it would seem for the present to damp religion: the dark thoughts, that it would at first be an occasion of, and the inward doubts, difficulties, and conflicts that would rise in their souls, would deaden their lively affections and joys, and would cause an appearance of a present decay of religion. But yet it would do God's saints great good in their latter end; it would fit them for more spiritual and excellent experiences, more humble and heavenly love, and unmixed joys, and would greatly tend to a more powerful, extensive, and durable prevalence of vital piety.
I do not know but we shall be in danger by and by, after our eyes are fully opened to see our errors, to go to contrary extremes. The devil has driven the pendulum far beyond its proper point of rest; and when he has carried it to the utmost length that he can, and it begins by its own weight to swing back, he probably will set in, and drive it with the utmost fury the other way; and give us no rest, and if possible prevent our settling in a proper medium. What a poor, blind, weak, and miserable creature is man, at his best estate! We are tike poor helpless sheep; the devil is too subtle for us : what is our ! strength! What is our wisdom ! How ready are we to go astray-How easily are we drawn aside, into innumerable snares, while we in the mean time are bold and confident, and doubt not but that we are right and safe! We are foolish sheep, in the midst of subtle serpents and cruel wolves, and do not know it. Oh! how unfit are we to be left to ourselves! and how much do we stand in need of the wisdom, the power, the condescension, patience, forgiveness, and gentleness of our good Shepherd !