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in height, without taking care withal proportionably to en large the bottom; whereby the whole is in danger of coming to the ground; or they are for putting on the cupola and pinnacle before they are come to it, or before the lower parts of the building are done ; which tends at once to put a stop to the building, and hinder its ever being a complete structure. Many that are thus imprudent and hasty with their zeal, have a real eager appetite for that which is good ; but are like children, that are impatient to wait for the fruit until the proper season of it, and therefore snatch it before it is ripe : Oftentimes in their haste they overshoot their mark, and frustrate their own end ; they put that which they would obtain further out of reach than it was before, and establish and confirm that which they would remové. Things must have time to ripen : The prudent husbandman waits until he has receive ed the former and the latter rain, and till the harvest is ripe, before he reaps.
We are now just as it were beginning to recover out of a dreadful disease that we have been long under; and to feed a man recovering from a fever with strong meat at once, is the ready way to kill him. The reformation from Popery was much hindered by this hasty zeal : Many were for immediately rectifying all disorders by force, which were condemned by Luther, and were a great trouble to him. See Sleiden's History of the Reformation, page 52, &c. and book v, throughout. It is a vain prejudice that some have lately imbibed against such rules of prudence and moderation : They will be forced to come to them at last ; they will find themselves that they are not able to maintain their cause without them ; and if they will not hearken before, experience will convince them at last, when it will be too late for them to rectify their mistake.
Another error, that is of the nature of an erroneous principle, that some have gone upon, is a wrong notion that they have of an attestation of divine providence to persons or things. We go too far when we look upon the success that God gives to some persons, in making them the instruments of doing much good, as a testimony of God's approbation of those persons and all the courses they take. It is a main argument that has been made use of to defend the conduct of some of those ministers, that have been blamed as imprudent and irregular, that God has smiled upon them and blessed them, and given them great success, and that however men charge them as guilty of many wrong things, yet it is evident that God is with them, and then who can be against them ? And probably some of those ministers themselves, by this very means, have had their ears stopped against all that has been said to convince them of their misconduct. But there are innumerable ways that persons may be misled, in forming a judgment of the mind and will of God, from the events of Providencc. If a person's success be a reward of something that God sees in him, that he approves of, yet it is no argument that he approves of every thing in him. Who can tell how far the divine grace may go in greatly rewarding some small good that he sees in a person, a good meaning, something good in his disposition, while he at the same time, in sovereign mercy, hides his eyes from a great deal that is bad, that it is his pleasure to forgive, and not to mark against the person, though in itself it be very ill ? God has not told us after what manner he will proceed in this matter, and we go upon most uncertain grounds when we undertake to determine. It is an exceeding difficult thing to know how far love or hatred are exercised towards persons or actions, by all that is before us. God was pleased in his sovereignty to give such success to Jacob in that, which from beginning to end, was a deceitful, lying contrivance and proceeding of his, that in that way, he obtained that blessing that was worth infinitely more than the fatness of the earth, and the dew of heaven, that was given to Esau, in his blessing, yea worth more than all that the world can afford. God was for a while with Judas, so that he by God's power accompanying him, wrought miracles and cast out devils ; but this could not justly be interpreted as God's approbation of his person, or his thievery, that he lived in at the same time.
The dispensations and events of Providence, with their reasons, are too little understood by us, to be improved by us as our rule, instead of God's word ; God has his way in the sea, VOL. III.
and his path in the mighty waters, and his footsteps are not known, and he gives us no account of any of his matters ; and therefore we cannot safely take the events of his providence as a revelation of his mind concerning a person's conduct and behavior, we have no warrant so to do, God has never appointed those things, but something else to be our rule ; we have but one rule to go by, and that is his holy word, and when we join any thing else with it as having the force of a rule, we are guilty of that which is strictly forbidden, Deut. iv. 2. Prov. XXX. 6, and Rev. xxii. 18. They wlio make what they imagine is pointed forth to them in Providence, their rule of behavior, do err, as well as those that follow impulses and impressions : We should put nothing in the room of the word of God. It is to be feared that some have been greatly confirmed and emboldened by the great success that God has given them, in some things that have really been contrary to the rules of God's holy word. If it has been so, they have been guilty of presumption, and abusing God's kindness to them, and the great honor he has put upon them : They have seen that God was with them, and made them victorious in their preaching; and this it is to be feared has been abused by some to a degree of self confidence ; it has much taken off all jealousy of themselves; they have been bold therefore to go great lengths, in a presumption that God was with them, and would defend them, and finally base all that found fault with them.
Indeed there is a voice of God in his Providence, that may be interpreted and well understood by the rule of his word; and Providence may to our dark minds and weak faith, confirm the word of God, as it fulfils it: But to improve divine Providence thus, is quite a different thing from making a rule of Providence. There is a good use may be made of the events of Providence, of our own observation and experience, and human histories, and the opinion of the fathers and other eminent men ;- but finally all must be brought to one rule, viz. the word of God, and that must be regarded as our only rule.
Nor do I think that they go upon sure ground, that conclude that they have not been in an error in their conduct, because that at the time of their doing a thing, for which they have been blamed and reproached by others, they were favored with special comforts of God's Spirit. God's bestowing special spiritual mercies on a person at such a time, is no sign that he approves of every thing that he sees in him at that time. David had very much of the presence of God while he lived in polygamy: And Solomon had some very high favors, and peculiar smiles of Heaven, and particularly at the dedication of the temple, while he greatly multiplied wives to himself, and horses, and silver and gold ; all contrary to the most express command of God to the king, in the law of Moses, Deut. xvii. 16, 17. We cannot tell how far God may hide his eyes from beholding iniquity in Jacob, and seeing perverseness in Israel. We cannot tell what are the reasons of God's actions any further than he interprets for himself. God sometimes gave some of the primitive Christians, the extraordinary influence of his spirit, when they were out of the way of their duty; and continued it, while they were abusing it ; as is plainly implied, 1 Cor. xiv, 31, 32, 33.
Yea, if a person has done a thing for which he is reproached, and that reproach be an occasion of his feeling sweet exercises of grace in his soul, and that from time to time, I do not think that is a certain evidence that God approves of the thing he is blamed for. For undoubtedly a mistake may be the occasion of stirring up the exercise of grace, in a man that has grace.
If a person, through mistake, thinks he has received some particular great mercy, that mistake may
be the occasion of stirring up the sweet exercises of love to God, and true thankfulness and joy in God. As for instance, if one that is full of love to God should hear credible tidings; concerning a remarkable deliverance of a child, or other dear friend, or of some glorious thing done for the city of God, no wonder if, on such an occasion, the sweet actings of love to God, and delight in God should be excited, though indeed afterwards it should prove a false report that he heard. So if ove that loves God, is much maligned and reproached for doing that which he thinks God required and approves, no wonder that it is sweet to such an one to think that God is his friend, though men are his enemies; no wonder at all, that this is an occasion of his, as it were, leaving the world, and sweetly betaking himself to God, as his sure friend, and finding sweet complacence in God; though he be indeed in a mistake, concerning that which he thought was agreeable to God's will.
As I have before shewn that the exercise of a truly good affection, may be the occasion of error, and may indirectly incline a person to do that which is wrong ; so on the other band, error, or a doing that which is wrong, may be an occasion of the exercise of a truly good affection. The reason of it is this, that however all exercises of grace be from the Spirit of God, yet the Spirit of God dwells and acts in the hearts of the saints, in some measure after the manner of a vital, natural principle, a principle of new nature in them; whose exercises are excited by means, in some measure as other natural principles are. Though grace be not in the saints, as a mere natural principle, but as a sovereign agent, and so its exercises are not tied to means, by an immutable law of nature, as in mere natural principles; yet God has so constituted that grace should dwell so in the hearts of the saints, that its exercises should have some degree of connexion with means, after the manner of a principle of nature.
Another erroncous principle that there has been something of, and that has been an occasion of some mischief and confu. sion, is that external order in matters of religion, and use of the means of grace, is but little to be regarded : It is spoken lightly of, under the names of ceremonies and dead forms, &c. And is probably ihe more despised by some because their opposers insist so much upon it, and because they are so continually hearing from them the cry of disorder and confusion..... It is objected against the importance of external order that God does not look at the outward form, he looks at the heart: But that is a weak argument against its importance, that true Godliness does not consist in it; for it may be equally made use of against all the outward means of grace whatsoever.... True Godliness does not consist in ink and paper, but yet that would be a foolish objection against the importance of ink