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in so great a case, to sentence them with respect to that state of their hearts, on which depends their liableness to eternal damnation; as is evident by such interrogations as these (to hear which from God's mouth, is enough to make us shrink into nothing with shame and confusion, and a sense of our own blindness and worthlessness), Rom. xiv. 4," Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth." And Jam. iv. 12, "There is one lawgiver that is able to save and to destroy; who art thou that judgest another ?" Our wise and merciful Shepherd has graciously taken care not to lay in our way such a temptation to pride; he has cut up all such poison out of our pasture; and therefore we should not desire to have it restored. Blessed be his name, that he has not laid such a temptation in the way of my pride! I know that in order to be fit for this business I must 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 before these things which God has lately begun, have an end, 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 behavior, with a visible separation, without being inconsistent with themselves: and 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, in some respects, with their religion: there is a certain point or sharpness, a disposition to a kind of warmth, that does not savor of that meek, lamblike, 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.
There is a way of reflecting on others, and censuring them in open prayer, that some have; which though it has a fair show of love, yet 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 here I would also observe by the way, that 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 until now, unless it be with respect to some of the most visibly and notoriously abandoned enemics 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 with the like curse wherewith Elisha cursed the children that 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, as well as best for 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 that those children that met Elisha, seeing God had no design of converting them, should 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 that 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 that, that it might be a common thing all over the country, for children to pray after this manner concerning their parents, and brethren and sisters concerning one another, and husbands concerning their wives, and wives concerning husbands; and so for persons to pray concerning all their unconverted friends and neighbors and not only so, but we may also pray concerning all those saints that are not lively Christians, that they may either be enlivened or taken away; if that be true that 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? Why is it not sufficient for us to pray that God would provide for his church, and the good of souls, and 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 does 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 themselves, 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 that which they may pray for, they may seek, and use the means of.
Some with whom I have discoursed about this way of praying, have said, that the Spirit of God, as it were, forces them to utter themselves thus, as it were forces out such words from their mouths, when otherwise they should not dare to utter them. But such a kind of impulse does not look like the influence of the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God sometimes strongly inclines men to utter words but 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;
and those affections and that sense incline the mouth to speak. That other way of men's being urged to use certain expressions, by an unaccountable force, is very probably from the influence of the spirit of the devil
2. Another thing I would take notice of, in the management of which there has been much error and misconduct, is, lay exhorting; about which there has been abundance of disputing, jangling, and contention.
In the midst of all the disputes that have been, I suppose that all are agreed as to these two things, viz.
That all exhorting one another of laymen is not unlawful or improper, but on the contrary, that some exhorting is a Christian duty. And,
I suppose also, all will allow that there is something that is proper only for ministers; that there is some kind or way of exhorting and teaching or other, that 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 belongs to it, 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. Scripture. But the great difficulty is to settle the bounds, and to tell exactly, how far laymen 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 two 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.
I. 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 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), and as representing him, and so speaking in his name, and in his stead, 2 Cor. v. 18, 19, 20. And it seems to be the most honorable thing that belongs to the office of a minister of the gospel, that to him is committed the word 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, 1 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. Laymen ought not to exhort as
though they were the ambassadors or messengers of Christ, as ministers do; nor should they exhort and 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 indifferency, 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 a 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, and 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, do converse freely together about worldly things, in the hearing of a considerable number, and it may happen to be in the hearing 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 if besides a great number being present, persons speak with a very earnest and loud voice, this 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, and not speaking to any that are composed to the solemnity of any public service; but speaking in the time of conversation, or a time when all do freely converse one with another, they express what they then feel, directing themselves to none but those that are near them, and fall in their way, speaking in that earnest and pathetical manner, to which the subject they are speaking of, and the affecting sense of their souls naturally leads them, and as it were constrains them: I say that for persons to do thus, though many happen to hear them, yet it does not appear to me to be a setting themselves up as public teachers: yea, if this be added to these other circumstances, that all this happens to be in a meeting house: I do not think that merely its being in such a place, much alters the case, provided the solemnity of public service and divine ordinances be over, and the solemn assembly broke up, and some stay in the house for mutual religious conversation; provided also that they speak in no authoritative way, but in a 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 modesty, for him to speak freely, before those that are much his superiors. I have seen some women and children in such circumstances, on religious accounts, that it has appeared to me no more a transgressing the laws of humility and modesty, for them to speak freely, let who will be present, than if they were dying.
But then may a man be said to set up himself as a public teacher, when he in a set speech, of design, directs himself to a multitude, either in the meetinghouse or elsewhere, as looking that they should compose themselves to attend to what he has to say; and much more when this is a contrived and premeditated thing, without any thing like a constraint, by any extraordinary sense or affection that he is then under; and more still, when meetings are appointed on purpose to hear lay persons exhort, and they take it as their business to be speakers while they expect that others should come, and compose themselves, and attend as hearers; when private Christians take it upon them in private meetings, to act as the masters or presidents of the assembly, and accordingly from time to time to teach and exhort the rest, this has the appearance of authoritative teaching.
When private Christians, that are no more than mere brethren, exhort and admonish one another, it ought to be in a humble manner, rather by way of entreaty than with authority; and the more according as the station of persons slower. Thus it becomes women, and those that are young, ordinarily to be at a greater distance from any appearance of authority in speaking than others: thus much at least is evident by that in 1 Tim. ii. 9, 11, 12.
That lay persons ought not to exhort one another as clothed with authority, is a general rule; but it cannot justly be supposed to extend to heads of families in their own families. Every Christian family is a little church, and the heads of it are its authoritative teachers and governors. Nor can it extend to schoolmasters among their scholars; and some other cases might perhaps be mentioned, that ordinary discretion will distinguish, where a man's circumstances do properly clothe him with authority, and render it fit and suitable for him to counsel and admonish others in an authoritative manner.
2. No man but only a minister that is duly appointed to that sacred calling, ought to follow teaching and exhorting as a calling, or so as to neglect that which is his proper calling.-An having the office of a teacher in the church of God implies two things:
1. A being invested with the authority of a teacher; and,
2. A being called to the business of a teacher, to make it the business of his life.
Therefore that man that is not a minister, that takes either of these upon den him, invades the office of a minister. Concerning assuming the authority of a minister I have spoken already. But if a layman does not assume authority in his teaching, yet if he forsakes his proper calling, or doth so at least in a great measure, and spends his time in going about from house to house, to counsel and exhort, he goes beyond his line, and violates Christian rules. Those that have the office of teachers or exhorters, have it for their calling, and should make it their business, as a business proper to their office; and none should make it their business but such.-Rom. xii. 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, " For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the proportion of faith. For as we have many members, in one body, and all members have not the same office; so we being many, are one