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Some particular errors that have arisen from these
AND here the first thing I would take notice of, is censuring others that are professing Christians, in good standing in the visible church, as unconverted. I need not repeat what I have elsewhere said to show this to be against the plain, and frequent, and strict prohibitions of the word of God it is the worst disease that has attended this work, most contrary to the spirit and rules of Christianity, and of worst consequences. There is a most unhappy tincture that the minds of many, both ministers and people, have received that way. The manner of many has been, when they first enter into conversation with any person, that seems to have any show, or make any pretenses to religion, to discern him, or to fix a judgment of him, from his manner of talking of things of religion, whether he be converted, or experimentally acquainted with vital piety or not, and then to treat him accordingly, and freely to express their thoughts of him to others, especially those that they have a good opinion of as true Christians, and accepted as brethren and companions in Christ; or if they do not declare their minds expressly, yet by their manner of speaking of them, at least to their friends, they will show plainly what their thoughts are. So when they have heard any minister pray or preach, their first work has been to observe him on a design of discerning him, whether he be a converted man or no ; whether he prays like one that feels the saving power of God's Spirit in his heart, and whether he preaches like one that knows what he says. It has been so much the way in some places, that many new converts do not know but it is their duty to do so; they know no other way. And when
once persons yield to such a notion, and give in to such a humor, they will quickly grow very discerning in their own apprehension, they think they can easily tell a hypocrite : and when once they have passed their censure, every thing seems to confirm it, they see more and more in the person that they have censured, that seems to them to show plainly that he is an unconverted man. And then, if the person censured be a minister, every thing in his public performances seems dead and sapless, and to do them no good at all, but on the contrary, to be of deadening influence, and poisonous to the soul; yea, it seems worse and worse to them; his preaching grows more and more intolerable; which is owing to a secret, strong prejudice, that steals in more and, more upon the mind, as experience plainly and certainly shows. When the Spirit of God was wonderfully poured out in this place, more than seven years ago, and near thirty souls in a week, take one with another, for five or six weeks together, were to appearance brought home to Christ, and all the town seemed to be alive and full of God, there was no such notion or humor prevailing here; when ministers preached here, as very many did at that time, young and old, our people did not go about to discern whether they were men of experience or not: they did not know that they must: Mr. Stoddard never brought them up in that way; it did not seem natural to them to go about any thing of that nature, nor did any such thing enter into their hearts; but when any minister preached, the business of every one was to listen and attend to what he said, and apply it to his own heart, and make the utmost improvement of it. And it is remarkable, that never did there appear such a disposition in the people, to relish, approve of, and admire ministers? preaching as at that time: such expressions as these were frequent in the mouths of one and another, on occasion of the preaching of strangers here, viz. that they rejoiced that there were so many such eminent ministers in the country; and they wondered they never heard the
fame of them before: they were thankful that other towns had so good means; and the like. And scarcely ever did
any minister preach here, but his preaching did some remarkable service; as I had good opportunity to know, because at that time I had particular acquaintance with most of the persons in the town, in their soul concerns. That it has been so much otherwise of late in many places in the land, is another instance of the secret and powerful influence of custom and example.
There has been an unhappy disposition in some ministers toward their brethren in the ministry in this respect, which has encouraged and greatly promoted such a spirit among some of their people. A wrong improvement has been made of Christ's scourging the buyers and sellers out of the temple; it has been expected by some, that Christ was now about thus to purge his house of unconverted ministers, and this has made it more natural to them to think that they should do Christ service, and act as co-workers with him, to put to their hand, and endeavor by all means to cashier those ministers that they thought to be unconverted. Indeed, it appears to me probable that the time is coming, when awful judgments will be executed on unfaithful ministers, and that no sort of men in the world will be so much exposed to divine judgments; but then we should leave that work to Christ, who is the Searcher of hearts, and to whom vengeance belongs; and not without warrant take the scourge out of his hand into our own. There has been too much of a disposition in some, as it were, to give ministers over as reprobates, that have been looked upon as wolves in sheep's clothing; which has tended to promote and encourage a spirit of bitterness towards them, and to make it natural to treat them too much as if they knew God hated them. If God's children knew that others were reprobates, it would not be required of them to love them; we may hate those that we know God hates; as it is lawful to hate the devil, and as the saints at the day of judgment will hate the wicked.
Some have been too apt to look for fire from heaven upon particular ministers; and this has naturally excited that disposition to call for it, that Christ rebuked in his disciples at Samaria. For my part, though I believe no sort of men on earth are so exposed to spiritual judgments as wicked ministers, yet I feel no disposition to treat any minister as if I supposed that he was finally rejected of God; for I cannot but hope that there is coming a day of such great grace, a time so appointed for the magnifying the riches and sovereignty of divine mercy, beyond what ever was, that a great number of unconverted ministers will obtain mercy. There was no sort of persons in Christ's time, that were so guilty, and so hardened, and towards whom Christ manifested such great indignation, as the priests and scribes, and there were no such persecutors of Christ and his disciples as they; and yet in that great outpouring of the Spirit that began on the day of pentecost, though it began with the common people, yet in the progress of the work, after a while, "a great company of priests in Jerusalem were obedient to the faith," Acts vi. 7. And Saul, one of the most violent of all the persecuting Pharisees, became afterwards the greatest promoter of the work of God that ever was. I hope we shall yet see in many instances a fulfillment of that in Isa. xxix. 24. CC They also that erred in spirit shall come to understanding, and they that murmured shall learn doctrine."
Nothing has been gained by this practice. The end that some have aimed at in it has not been obtained, nor is ever like to be. Possibly some have openly censured ministers, and encouraged their people's uneasiness under them, in hopes that it would soon come to that, that the uneasiness would be so general, and so great, that unconverted ministers in general would be cast off, and that then things would go on happily but there is no likelihood of it. The devil indeed has obtained his end; this practice has bred a great deal of unhappiness among ministers and people, has spoiled Christians' enjoyment 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 have 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