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And before I dismiss this head of the degenerating of experiences, I would mention one thing more that tends to it; and that is persons' aiming in their experience to go beyond the rule of God's word, i. e. aiming at that, which is indeed, in some respect, beyond the rule. Thus some persons have endeavored utterly to root out and abolish all natural affection, or any special affection or respect to their near relations, under a notion that no other love ought to be allowed, but spiritual love, and that all other love is to be abolished as carnal, and that it becomes Christians to love none upon the account of any thing else, but the image of God; and that therefore love should go out to one and another only in that proportion in which the image of God is seen in them. They might as well argue that a man ought utterly to disallow of, and endeavor to abolish all love or appetite to their daily food, under a notion that it is a carnal appetite, and that no other should be tolerated but spiritual appetites. Why should the saints strive after that, as a high attainment in holiness, which the apostle, in Rom. i. 31., mentions as one instance wherein the heathen had got to the most horrid pass in wickedness, viz. a being without natural affection?
Some have doubted whether they might pray for the conversion and salvation of the souls of their children, any more than for the souls of others; because the salvation of the souls of others would be as much to God's glory, as the salvation of their children; and they have supposed that to pray most for their own, would show a selfish disposition. So they have been afraid to tolerate a compassionate grief and concern for their nearest friends, for fear it would be an argument of want of resignation to God.
And it is true, there is great danger of persons' setting their hearts too much upon their earthly friends; our love to earthly friends ought to be under the government of the love of God, and should be attended with a spirit of submission and resignation to his will, and every thing should be subordinated to his glory but that is no argument that these affections should be entirely abolished, which the Creator of the world has put
within mankind, for the good of mankind, and because he saw they would be needful for them, as they must be united in society, in the present state, and are of great use, when kept in their proper place; and to endeavor totally to root them out, would be to reproach and oppose the wisdom of the Creator. Nor is the being of these natural inclinations, if well regulated, inconsistent with any part of our duty to God, or any argument of a sinful selfishness, any more than the natural abhorrence that there is in the human nature of pain, and natural inclination to ease that was in the man Christ Jesus himself.
It is the duty of parents to be more concerned, and to pray more for the salvation of their children, than for the children of their neighbors; as much as it is the duty of a minister to be more concerned for the salvation of the souls of his flock, and to pray more for them, than those of other congregations, because they are committed to his care; so our near friends are more committed to our care than others, and our near neighbors, than those that live at a great distance; and the people of our land and nation are more, in some sense, committed to our care, than the people of China, and we ought to pray more for them, and to be more concerned that the kingdom of Christ should flourish among them, than in another country, where it would be as much, and no more for the glory of God. Compassion ought to be especially exercised towards friends. Job vi. 14. Christ did not frown upon a special affection and compassion for near friends, but countenanced and encouraged it from time to time, in those that, in the exercise of such an affection and compassion, applied to him for relief for their friends; as in the instance of the woman of Canaan, Jairus, Mary and Martha, the centurion, the widow of Nain, and many others. The apostle Paul, though a man as much resigned and devoted to God, and under the power of his love, perhaps as any mere man that ever lived, yet had a peculiar concern for his countrymen the Jews, the rather on that account, that they were his brethren
and kinsmen according to the flesh; he had a very high degree of compassionate grief for them, insomuch that he tells us he had great heaviness and continual sorrow of heart for them, and could wish himself accursed from Christ for them.
There are many things that are proper for the saints in heaven, that are not suitable to the state God has set us in, in this world and for Christians, in these and other instances, to affect to go beyond the present state of mankind, and what God has appointed as fit for it, is an instance of that which the wise man calls a being righteous overmuch, and has a tendency to open a door for Satan, and to cause religious affections to degenerate into something very unbecoming of Christians.
Thus I have, as I proposed, taken notice of some things with regard to the inward experiences of Christians, by which Satan has an advantage. I now proceed in the
II. place, to take notice of something with regard to the external effects of experiences, which also gives Satan an advantage. What I have respect to, is the secret and unaccountable influence that custom has upon persons, with respect to the external effects and manifestations of the inward affections of the mind. By custom, I mean both a person's being accustomed to a thing in himself, in his own common, allowed, and indulged practice, and also the countenance and approbation of others amongst whom he dwells, by their general voice and practice. It is well known, and appears sufficiently by what I have said already in this treatise and elsewhere, that I am far from ascribing all the late uncommon effects and outward manifestations of inward experiences to custom and fashion, as some do I know it to be otherwise, if it be possible for me to know any thing of this nature by the most critical observation, under all manner of opportunities of observing. But yet, this also is exceeding evident by experience, that custom has a strange influence in these things: I know it by the different manners and de
grees of external effects and manifestations of great affections
Therefore, though it would be very unreasonable, and prejudicial to the interest of religion, to frown upon all these extraordinary external effects and manifestations of great religious affections (for a measure of them is natural, necessary, and beautiful, and the effect in no wise disproportioned to the spiritual cause, and is of great benefit to promote religion ;)
yet I think they greatly err who think that these things should be wholly unlimited, and that all should be encouraged in going in these things to the utmost length that they feel themselves inclined to: the consequence of this will be very bad: there ought to be a gentle restraint held upon these things, and there should be a prudent care taken of persons in such extraordinary circumstances, and they should be moderately advised at proper seasons, not to make more ado than there is need of, but rather to hold a restraint upon their inclinations; otherwise extraordinary outward effects will grow upon them, they will be more and more natural and unavoidable, and the extraordinary outward show will increase, without any increase of the internal cause; persons will find themselves under a kind of necessity of making a great ado, with less and less affection of soul, till at length almost any slight emotion will set them going, and they will be more and more violent and boisterous, and will grow louder and louder, till their actions and behavior become indeed very absurd. These things experience proves.
Thus I have taken notice of the more general causes whence the errors that have attended this great revival of religion have risen, and under each head have observed some particular errors that have flowed from these fountains. I now proceed, as I proposed, in the
Second place, to take notice of some particular errors that have risen from several of these causes; in some perhaps they have been chiefly owing to one, and in others to another, and in others to the influence of several, or all conjunctly.