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tained his end ; this practice has bred a great deal of unhappiness among ministers and people, has spoiled Christiansenjoyment of sabbaths, and made them their most uneasy, uncomfortable and unprofitable days, and has stirred up great contention, and set all in a flame ; and in one place and another where there was a glorious work of God's Spirit begun, it has in a great measure knocked all in the head, and their ministers hold their places. Some have aimed at a better end in censuring ministers; they have supposed it to be a likely means to awaken them : Whereas indeed, there is no one thing has had so great a tendency to prevent the awakening of disaffected ministers in general : And no one thing has actually had such influence to lock up the minds of ministers against any good effect of this great work of God in the land upon their minds in this respect : I have known instances of some that seemed to be much moved by the first appearance of this work, but since have seemed to be greatly deadened by what has appeared of this nature. And if there be one or two instances of ministers that have been awakened by it, there are ten to one on whom it has had a contrary influence. The worst enemies of this work have been inwardly eased by this practice ; they have made a shield of it to defend their consciences, and have been glad that it has been carried to so great a length ; at the same time that they have looked upon it, and improved it, as a door opened for them to be more bold in opposing the work in general.
There is no such dreadful danger of natural men's being undone by our forbearing thus to censure them, and carrying it towards them as visible Christians ; it will be no bloody, hell peopling charity, as some seem to suppose, when it is known that we do not treat them as Christians, because we bave taken it upon us to pass a judgment on their state, on any trial, or exercise of our skill in examining and discerning them, but only as allowing them to be worthy of a public charity, on their profession and good external behavior; any more than Judas was in danger of being deceived, by Christ's treating him a long time as a disciple, and sending him forth as an apostle, (because he did not then take it upon him to act
as the judge and searcher of hearts, but only as the head of the visible church.) Indeed such a charity as this may be abused by some, as every thing is, and will be, that is in its own nature proper, and of never so good tendency. I say nothing against dealing thoroughly with conscience, by the most convincing and searching dispensation of the word of God: I do not desire that that sword should be sheathed, or gently handled by ministers ; but let it be used as a two edged sword, to pierce, even to the dividing asunder soul and spirit, joints and marrow ; let conscience be dealt with, without any compliments ; let ministers handle it in flaming fire, without having any more mercy on it, than the furnace has on those metals that are tried in it. But let us let men's persons alone : Let the word of God judge them, but do not let us take it upon us until we have warrant for it.
Some have been ready to censure ministers because they seem, in comparison of some other ministers, to be very cold and lifeless in their ministerial performances. But then it should be considered that for ought we know, God may hereafter raise up ministers of so much more excellent and hearenly qualifications, and so much more spiritual and divine in their performances, that there may appear as great a difference between them, and those that now seem the most lively, as there is now between them, and others that are called dead and sapless ; and those that are now called lively ministers may appear to their hearers, when they compare them with others that shall excel them, as wretchedly mean, and their performances poor, dead, dry things ; and many may be. ready to be prejudiced against them, as accounting them good for nothing, and it may be calling them soul murderers. What a poor figure may we suppose, the most lively of us, and those that are most admired by the people, do make in the eyes of one of the saints of heaven, any otherwise than as their deadness, deformity and rottenness is hid by the vail of Christ's righteousness?
Another thing that lias been supposed to be sufficient warrant for openly censuring ministers as unconverted, is their opposing this work of God, that has lately been carried op in
the land. And there can be no doubt with me but that oppo* sition against this work may be such, as to render either ministers or people, truly scandalous, and expose them to public ecclesiastical censure ; and that ministers hereby may utterly defeat the design of ther ministry, as I observed before ; and so give their people just cause of uneasiness ; I should not think that any person had power to oblige me, constantly to attend the ministry of one, who did from time to time, plainly pray and preach against this work, or speak reproachfully of it frequently in his public performances, after all Christian methods had been used for a remedy, and to no purpose.
But as to determining how far opposing this work is consistent with a state of grace, or how far, and for how long time, some persons of good experience in their own souls, throagh prejudices they have received from the errors that have been mixed with this work, or through some peculiar disadvantages they are under to behold things in a right view of them, by reason of the persons they converse with, or their own cold and dead frames, is, as experience shows, a very difficult thing; I have seen that which abundantly convinces me that the business is too high for me ; I am glad that God has not committed such a difficult affair to me; I can joyfully leave it wholly in his hands, who is infinitely fit for it, without meddling at all with it myself. We may represent it as exceeding dangerous to oppose this work, for this we have good warrant in the word of God; but I know of no necessity we are under to determine whether it be possible for those that are guilty of it to be in a state of grace or no.
God seems so strictly to have forbidden this practice, of our judging our brethren in the visiblc church, not only because he knew that we were too much of babes, infinitely too weak, fallible and blind, to be well capacitated for it, but also because he knew that it was not a work suited to our proud hearts; that it would be setting us vastly too high, and make ing us too much lords over our fellow creatures. Judging our brethren and passing a condemnatory sentence upon them, seenis to carry in it an act of authority, especially in so great a case, to sentence them with respect to that state of their
hearts, on which depends their liableness to eternal damnaa tion; 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, 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 conversed 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,
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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 shew 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 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 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