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USING THE STYLE OF CHRIST AND THE PROPHETS.
admission of unlearned men to the work of the ministry, though they should be persons of extraordinary experience, would, on some accounts, be especially prejudicial at such a day as this; because such persons, for want of an extensive knowledge, are oftentimes forward to lead others into those things, which a people are in danger of at such a time, above all other times, viz. impulses, vain imaginations, superstition, indiscreet zeal, and such like extremes; instead of defending them from them, for which a people especially need a shepherd, at such an extraordinary season.
Another, erroneous principle that it seems to me some have been, at least, in danger of, is, that ministers, because they speak as Christ's embassadors, may assume the same style, and speak as with the same authority that the prophets of old did, yea, that Jesus Christ himself did in Mat. xxiii., "Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers," &c., and other places; and that not only when they are speaking to the people, but also to their brethren in the ministry; which principle is absurd, because it makes no difference in the different degrees and orders of messengers that God has sent into the world, though God has made a very great difference: for though they all come, in some respect, in the name of God, and with something of his authority, yet certainly there is a vast difference in the degree of authority with which God has invested them. Jesus Christ was one that was sent into the world as God's messenger, and so was one of his apostles, and so also is an ordinary pastor of a church; but yet it does not follow, that because Jesus Christ and an ordinary ministsr are both messengers of God, that therefore an ordinary minister in his office, is vested with an equal degree of authority, that Christ was in his. As there is a great difference in their authority, and as Christ came as God's messenger, in a vastly higher manner, so another style became him, more authoritative than is proper for us worms of the dust, though we also are messengers of inferior degree. It would be strange if God, when he has made so great a difference in the degree
in which he has invested different messengers with his authority, should make no difference as to the outward appearance and show of authority, in style and behavior, which is proper and fit to be seen in them. Though God has put great honor upon ministers, and they may speak as his embassadors, yet he never intended that they should have the same outward appearance of authority and majesty, either in their behavior or speech, that his Son shall have, when he comes to judgment, at the last day; though both come, in different respects and degrees, in the name of the Lord. Alas! can any thing ever make it enter into the hearts of worms of the dust, that it is fit and suitable that it should be so?
Thus I have considered the two first of those three causes of error in conduct that were mentioned.
Errors from being ignorant or unobservant of things, by which the devil has a special advantage.
I COME now to the third and last cause of the errors of those that have appeared to be the subjects or zealous promoters of this work, viz. a being ignorant or unobservant of some particular things, by which the devil has special advantage.
And here I would particularly take notice, 1. Of some things with respect to the inward experiences of Christians themselves. And 2. Something with regard to the external effects of experiences.
I. There are three things I would take notice of with regard to the experiences of Christians, by which the devil has many advantages against us.
1. The first thing is the mixture there oftentimes is in the experiences of true Christians; whereby when they have truly gracious experiences, and divine and spiritual discoveries and exercises, they have something else mixed with them, besides what is spiritual: there is a mixture of that which is natural, and that which is corrupt, with that which is divine. This is what Christians are liable to in the present exceeding imperfect state: the great imperfection of grace, and feebleness and infancy of the new nature, and the great remains of corruption, together with the circumstances we are in in this world, where we are encompassed all round with what tends to pollute us, exposes to this. And indeed it is not to be supposed that Christians ever have any experiences in this world that are wholly pure, entirely spiritual, without any mixture of what is natural and carnal: the beam of light, as it comes from the fountain of light upon our hearts, is pure, but as it is reflected thence, it is mixt: the seed as sent from heaven and planted in the heart, is pure, but as it springs up out of the heart, is impure; yea there is commonly a much greater mixture, than persons for the most part seem to have any imagination of; I have often thought that the experiences of true Christians are very frequently as it is with some sorts of fruits, that are enveloped in several coverings of thick shells or pods, that are thrown away by him that gathers the fruit, and but a very small part of the whole bulk is the pure kernel, that is good to eat.
The things, of all which there is frequently some mixture with gracious experiences, yea with very great and high experiences, are these three, human, or natural affection and passion; impressions on the imagination; and a degree of self-righteousness or spiritual pride. There is very often with that which is spiritual a great mixture of that affection or passion which arises from natural principles; so that nature has a very great hand in those vehement motions and flights of the passions that appear. Hence the same degrees of divine communications from heaven, shall have vastly different effects, in what outwardly appears, in persons
of different natural tempers. The great mixture of that which is natural with that which is spiritual, is very manifest in the peculiar effects that divine influences have in some certain families, or persons of such a blood, in a distinguishing manner of the operating of the passions and affections, and the manner of the outward expressions of them. I know some remarkable instances of this. The same is also evident by the different effects of divine communications on the same person at different times, and in different circumstances: The novelty of things, or the sudden transition from an opposite extreme, and many other things that might be mentioned, greatly contribute to the raising of the passions. And sometimes there is not only a mixture of that which is common and natural with gracious experience, but even that which is animal, that which is in a great measure from the body, and is properly the result of the animal frame. In what true Christians feel of affections towards God, all is not always purely holy and divine; every thing that is felt in the affections does not arise from spiritual principles, but cominon and natural principles have a very great hand; an improper selflove may have a great share in the effect. God is not loved for his own sake, or for the excellency and beauty of his own perfections as he ought to be; nor have these things in any wise, that proportion in the effect that they ought to have. So in that love that true Christians have one to another, very often there is a great mixture of what arises from common and natural principles, with grace; and self-love has a great hand: the children of God be not loved purely for Christ's sake, but there may be a great mixture of that natural love that many sects of heretics have boasted of, who have been greatly united one to another, because they were of their company, on their side, against the rest of the world; yea, there may be a mixture of natural love to the opposite sex, with Christian and divine love. So there may be a great mixture in that sorrow for sin that the godly have; and also in their joys; natural principles may greatly contribute to
what is felt, a great many ways, as might easily be shown, would it not make my discourse too lengthy. There is nothing that belongs to Christian experience that is more liable to a corrupt mixture than zeal; though it be an excellent virtue, a heavenly flame, when it is pure: but as it is exercised in those who are so little sanctified, and so little humbled, as we are in the present state, it is very apt to be mixed with human passion, yea with corrupt, hateful affections, pride and uncharitable bitterness, and other things that are not from heaven but from hell.
Another thing that is often mixed with what is spiritual in the experiences of Christians, are, impressions on the imagination; whereby godly persons, together with a spiritual understanding of divine things, and conviction of their reality and certainty, and a strong and deep sense of their excellency or great importance upon their hearts, have strongly impressed on their minds external ideas or images of things. A degree of imagination in such a case, as I have observed elsewhere, is unavoidable, and necessarily arises from human nature, as constituted in the present state; and a degree of imagination is really useful, and often is of great benefit ; but when it is in too great a degree, it becomes an impure mixture that is prejudicial. This mixture very often arises from the constitution of the body. It commonly greatly contributes to the other kind of mixture mentioned before, viz. of natural affections and passions; it helps to raise them to a great height.
Another thing that is often mixed with the experiences of true Christians, which is the worst mixture of all, is a degree of self-righteousness or spiritual pride. This is often mixed with the joys of Christians: the joy that they have is not purely the joy of faith, or a rejoicing in Christ Jesus, but is partly a rejoicing in themselves: there is oftentimes in their elevations a looking upon themselves, and a viewing their own high attainments; they rejoice partly because they are taken with their own experiences and great discoveries, which