« PreviousContinue »
the terrifying preaching that has of late been in New England, viz. That there have been some instances of melancholic persons who have so abused it, that the issue has been the murder of themselves. The objection from hence is no stronger against awakening preaching, than it is against the Bible itself. There are hundreds, and probably thousands of instances, of persons who bave murdered themselves under religious melancholy. These murders probably never would have been, if the world had remained in a state of heathenish darkness. The Bible has not only been the occasion of these sad effects, but of thousands, and I suppose millions, of other cruel murders committed in the persecutions that have been raised, wbich never would have been if it had not been for the Bible. Many whole countries have been as it were deluged with innocent blood, which would not have been if the gospel never had been preached in the world. It is not a good objection against any kind of preaching, that some men abuse it greatly to their hurt. It has been acknowledged by all divines, as a thing common in all ages, and all Christian countries, that a very great part of those who sit under the gospel abuse it. It proves an occasion of their far more aggravated damnation, and so of eternally murdering their souls; which is an effect infinitely more terrible than the murder of their bodies. It is as unjust to lay the blame of these self-murders to those ministers who have declared the awful truths of God's word in the most lively and affecting manner, as it would be to lay the blame of hardening men's hearts, and blinding their eyes, and their more dreadful eternal damnation, to the prophet Isaiah or Jesus Christ, because this was the consequence of their preaching with respect to many of their hearers ; Isa. vi. 10. John ix. 39. Matt. 13, 14, Though a few have abused the awakening preaching to their own temporal death ; yet it may be to one such instance, there have been hundreds, yea thousands, who have been saved, by this means, from eternal death.
What has more especially given offence to many, and raised a loud cry against some preachers, as though their con duct were intolerable, is their frighting poor innocent children with talk of hell-fire, and eternal damnation. But if those who complain so loudly of this, really believe what is the general profession of the country, viz. That all are by nature the children of wrath, and heirs of hell—and that every one that has not been born again, whether he be young or old, is exposed every moment to eternal destruction—then such a complaint and cry as this bewrays a great deal of weakness and inconsideration. Innocent as children seem to us, yet, if they are out of Christ, they are not so in the sight of God; but are in a most miserable condition, as well as grown persons: and
they are naturally very senseless and stupid, being born as the wild ass's colt, and need much to awaken them. Why should we conceal the truth from them? Will those children who have been dealt tenderly with in this respect, and lived and died insensible of their misery till they come to feel it in hell, ever thank parents and others for their tenderness, in not letting them know their danger? If parents' love towards their children were not blind, it would affect them much more to see their children every day exposed to eternal burnings, and yet senseless, than to see them suffer the distress of that awakening which is necessary in order to their escape, and that tends to their being eternally happy as the children of God. A child that has a dangerous wound may need the painful lance, as well as grown persons ; and that would be a foolish pity, in such a case, that should hold back the lance, and throw away the life. I have seen the happy effects of dealing plainly and thoroughly with children in the concerns of their souls, without sparing them at all, in many instances; and never knew any ill consequence of it, in any one instance,
III, Another thing, against which a great deal has been said, is having so frequent religious meetings, and spending so much time in religion. Indeed there are none of the externals of religion but what are capable of excess; and I believe it is true, that there has not been a due proportion observed of late. We have placed religion too much in the external duties of the first table; we have abounded in religious meetings, in praying, reading, hearing, singing, and religious conference; and there has not been a proportionable increase of zeal for deeds of charity, and other duties of the second table; though it must be acknowledged that they are also much increased. But yet it appears to me, , that this objection has been in the general groundless. Though worldly business must be done, and persons ought not to neg. lect that of their particular callings; yet it is to the honour of God, that a people should be so much in owlward acts of religion, as to carry in it a visible, public appearance of a great engagedness of mind, especially at such an extraordinary time. When God appears unusually present with a people in wonderful works of power and mercy, they should spend more time than usual in religious exercises, to put honour upon that God who is then extraordinarily present, and to seek his face. Thus it was with the Christian church in Jerusalem, on occasion of that extraordinary pouring out of the Spirit, soon after Christ's ascension, Acts ii. 46. And they continued daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house; and at Ephesus, where the Christians attended public religious exercises, every day, for two years together, Acts xix. 8, 9, 10. And he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God. But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus. And this continued by the space of two years; so that all they which dwelt in Asia, heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks. And as to the grand objection of, six days shalt thou labour; all that can be understood by it, and all that the very objectors themselves understood by it, is, that we may follow our secular labours in those six days that are not the sabbath, and ought to be diligent in them; not but that sometimes we may turn from them, even within those six days, to keep a day of fasting or thanksgiving, or to attend a lecture; and that more frequently or rarely, as God's providence and the state of things shall call us, according to the best of our discretion.
Though secular business, as I said before, ought not to be neglected; yet I cannot see how it can be maintained, that religion ought not to be attended, lest it should injure our temporal affairs, on any other principle than that of infidelity. None object against injuring one temporal affair for the sake of another of much greater importance: And therefore, if eternal things are as real as temporal things, and are indeed of infinitely greater importance; then why may we not voluntarily suffer, in some measure, in our teinporal concerns, while we are seeking eternal riches, and immortal glory ? It is looked upon as no way improper, for a whole nation to spend a considerable time, and much of their outward substance, on some extraordinary temporal occasion, for the sake only of the ceremonies of a public rejoicing; and it would be thought dishonourable to be very exact about what we spend, or careful lest we icjure our estates, on such an occasion. And why should we be exact only with Almighty God, so that it should be a crime to be otherwise than scrupulously careful lest we injure ourselves in our temporal interest, to put honour upon him, and seek our own eternal happiness? We should take heed that none of us be in any wise like Judas, who greatly complained of needless expence, and waste of outward substance, to put honour upon Christ, when Mary broke her box, and poured the precious ointment on his head. He had indignation within himself on that account, and cries out, Why was this waste of ointment made? For it might have been sold for more than three hundred pence, and have been given to the poor. Mark xiv. 3, &c. and John xii. 4, &c.
Besides, if the matter be justly examined, I believe it will
be found, that the country has lost no time from their temporal affairs by the late revival of religion, but have rather gained ; and that more time has been saved from frolicking and tavern-haunting, idleness and unprofitable visits; vain talk, fruitless pastimes, and needless diversions, than has lately been spent in extraordinary religion; and probably five times as much has been saved in various ways, as has been spent by religious meetings. The great complaint made against so much time being spent in religion, cannot be in general from a real concern that God may be honoured, and his will done, and the best good of men promoted ; as is very manifest from this, that now there is a much more earnest and zealous outcry made in the country against this extraordinary religion, than was before against so much time spent in tavern-haunting, vain company keeping, night-walking, and other things, which wasted both our time and substance, and injured our moral virtue.
The frequent preaching that has lately obtained, has in a particular manner been objected against as unprofitable and prejudicial. It is objected, that, when sermons are heard so very often, one sermon tends to thrust out another; so that persons lose the benefit of all. They say, two or three sermons in a week is as much as they can remember and digest.
-Such objections against frequent preaching, if they be not from an enmity against religion, are for want of duly considering the way that sermons usually profit an auditory. The main benefit obtained by preaching is by impression made upon the mind at the time, and not by an effect that arises afterwards by a remembrance of what was delivered. And though an after-remembrance of what was heard in a sermon is oftentimes very profitable; yet, for the most part, that remembrance is from an impression the words made on the heart at the time, and the memory profits, as it renews and increases that impression. A frequent inculcating the more important things of religion in preaching, has no tendency to rase out such impressions, but to increase them, and fix them deeper and deeper in the mind, as is found by experience. It never used to be objected against, that persons upon the sabbath, after they have heard two sermons on that day, should go home, and spend the remaining part of the sabbath in reading the scriptures, and printed sermons; which, in proportion as it has a tendency to affect the mind at all, tends as much to drive out what they have heard, as if they heard another sermon preached. It seems to have been the practice of the apostles to preach every day, in places where they went; yea, though sometimes they continued long in one place, Acts ii. 42, 46. and xix. 8, 9, 10. They did not avoid preaching one day, for fear they should thrust out of the minds of their bearers what they had delivered the day
before; nor did Christians avoid going every day to hear, for fear of any such bad effect; Acts ii. 42, 46.
There are some things in scripture that seem to signify that there should be preaching in an extraordinary frequency, at the time when God should introduce the flourishing state of religion in the latter days; as Isa. Ixii. 1,2. For Zion's sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth. And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory. And, ver. 5, 6. For as a young man marrieth a virgin, so shall thy sons marry thee: and as a bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee. I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, which shall never hold their peace day nor night. The destruction of the city of Jericho is evidently, in all its circumstances, intended by God as a great type of the overthrow of Satan's kingdom. The priests blowing with trumpets, represents ministers preaching the gospel. The people compassed the city seven days, the priests blowing the trumpets. But, when the day was come that the walls of the city were to fall, the priests were more frequent and abundant in blowing their trumpets ; there was as much done in one day then, as had been done in seven days before; they compassed the city seven times that day, blowing their trumpets, till ai length it came to one long and perpetual blast, and then the walls of the city fell down Aat. The extraordinary preaching that shall be at the beginning of that glorious jubilee of the church, is represented by the extraordinary sounding of trumpets, throughout the land of Canaan, at the beginning of the year of jubilee. And the reading of the law before all Israel, in the year of release, at the feast of tabernacles; and the crowing of the cock at break of day, which brought Peter to repentance ; seem to me to be intended to signify the awakening of God's church out of their lethargy, wherein they had denied their Lord, by the extraordinary preaching of the gospel that shall be at the dawning of the day of the church's light and glory. And there seems at this day to be an uncommon hand of Divine Providence, in animating, enabling, and upholding some ministers in such abundant labours,
IV. Another thing, wherein I think some ministers have been injured, is in being very much blamed for making so much of outcries, faintings, and other bodily effects; speaking of them as tokens of the presence of God, and arguments of the success of preaching: seeming to strive to their utmost to bring a congregation to that pass, and seeming to rejoice in it, yea, even blessing God for it when they see these effects.