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MINISTERS CENSURED AS UNCONVERTED OR DEAD.
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 till 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 aught we know, God may hereafter raise up ministers of so much more excellent and heavenly 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 the saints of heaven, any otherwise than as their deadness, deformity and rottenness is hid by the veil of Christ's right
Another thing that has been supposed to be sufficient warrant for openly censuring ministers as unconverted, is their opposing this work of God that has lately been carried on in the land. And there can be no doubt with me but that opposition 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 their 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, through 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 visible 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 making us too much of lords over our fellow-creatures. Judging our brethren and passing a condemnatory sentence upon them, seems 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 damnation; as is evident by such interrogations as those (to hear which from God's mouth, is enough to make us shrink into nothing with shame and confusion, and 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 James 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! 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 practiced 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 converted 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, 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 show 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 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 practiced in the church of God till 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 words, but words indited by the immediate inspiration of the Spirit of God. It is pleaded that if God has no design of converting others, is is best for them, as well as best for others, that they should be immediately taken away and sent to hell before they have contracted more guilt. To which I would say, that so it was best that those children that met Elisha, seeing God had no design of converting them, should die immediately as they did; but yet Elisha's imprecating that sudden death upon them, was cursing them; and therefore would not have been lawful for one that did not speak in the name of the Lord as a prophet.
And then if we give way to such things as these, where shall we stop? A child that suspects he has an unconverted father and mother, may pray openly that his father and mother may either be converted, or taken away and sent to hell now quickly, before their guilt is greater. (For unconverted parents are as likely to poison the souls of their family in their manner of training them up, as unconverted ministers are to poison their people.) And so it come to that, that it might be a common thing all over the country, for children to pray after this manner concerning their parents, and brethren and sisters concerning one another, and husbands concerning their wives, and wives concerning husbands; and so for persons to pray concerning all their unconverted friends and neighbors; and not only so, but we may also pray concerning all those saints that are not lively Christians, that