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they may either he enlivened or taken away; if that be true that is often said by some at this day, that these cold, dead saints do more hurt than natural men, and lead more souls to hell, and that it would be well for mankind if they were all dead.
How needless are such petitions or imprecations as these? What benefit is there of them? Why is it not sufficient for us to pray that God would provide for his church, and the good of souls, and take care of his own flock, and give it needful means and advantages for its spiritual prosperity? Does God need to be directed by us in what way he shall do it? What need we ask of God to do it by killing such and such persons, if he does not convert them? unless we delight in the thoughts of God's answering us in such terrible ways, and with such awful manifestations of his wrath to our fellow-creatures.
And why do not ministers direct sinners to pray for themselves, that God would either convert them or kill them, and send them to hell now, before their guilt is greater? In this way we should lead persons in the next place to self-murder: for many probably would soon begin to think that that which they may pray for, they may seek, and use the means of.
Some with whom I have discoursed about this way of praying, have said that the Spirit of God, as it were, forces them to utter themselves thus, as it were forces out such words from their mouths, when otherwise they should not dare to utter them. But such a kind of impulse does not look like the influence of the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God sometimes strongly inclines men to utter words; but not by putting expressions into the mouth, and urging to utter them; but by filling the heart with a sense of divine things, and holy affections; and those affections and that sense inclines the mouth to speak. That other way of men's being urged to use certain expressions, by an unaccountable force, is very probably from the influence of the spirit of the devil.
Of errors connected with lay exhorting.
ANOTHER thing I would take notice of, in the management of which there has been much error and misconduct, is lay exhorting; about which there has been abundance of disputing, jangling, and contention.
In the midst of all the disputes that have been, I suppose that all are agreed as to these two things, viz. 1. That all exhorting one another of laymen is not unlawful or improper; but on the contrary, that some exhorting is a Christian duty. And 2. I suppose also, all will allow that there is something that is proper only for ministers; that there is some kind or way of exhorting and teaching or other, that belongs only to the office of teachers. All will allow that God has appointed such an office as that of teachers in the Christian church, and therefore doubtless will allow that something or other is proper and peculiar to that office, or some business of teaching that belongs to it, that does not belong as much to others as to them.
If there be any way of teaching that is peculiar to that office, then for others to take that upon them, is to invade the office of a minister: which doubtless is very sinful, and is often so represented in scripture. But the great difficulty is to settle the bounds, and to tell exactly how far laymen may go, and when they exceed their limits: which is a matter of so much difficulty, that I do not wonder if many in their zeal have transgressed. The two ways of teaching and exhorting, the one of which ought ordinarily to be left to ministers, and the other of which may and ought to be practiced by the people, may be expressed by those two names of preaching, and exhorting in a way of Christian conversation. But then a great deal of difficulty and contro
versy arises to determine what is preaching, and what is Christian conversation. However I will humbly offer my thoughts concerning this subject of lay exhorting, as follows. I. The common people in exhorting one another ought not to clothe themselves with the like authority with that which is proper for ministers. There is a certain authority that ministers have, and should exercise in teaching, as well as governing the flock. Teaching is spoken of in scripture as an act of authority, 1 Tim. ii. 12. In order to a man's preaching, special authority must be committed to him. Rom. x. 15. "How shall they preach, except they be sent ?" Ministers in this work of teaching and exhorting are clothed with authority, as Christ's messengers, Mal. ii. 7. and as representing him, and so speaking in his name, and in his stead, 2 Cor. v. 18, 19, 20. And it seems to be the most honorable thing that belongs to the office of a minister of the gospel, that to him is committed the word of reconciliation, and that he has power to preach the gospel, as Christ's messenger, and speaking in his name. The apostle seems to speak of it as such, 1 Cor. i. 16, 17. Ministers therefore in the exercise of this power, may clothe themselves with authority in speaking, or may teach others in an authoritative manner. Tit. ii. 15. "These things speak and exhort, and rebuke, with all authority: let no man despise thee." But the common people, in exhorting one another, ought not thus to exhort in an authoritative manner. There is a great deal of difference between teaching as a father amongst a company of children, and counseling in a brotherly way, as the children may kindly counsel and admonish one another. Those that are mere brethren ought not to assume authority in exhorting, though one may be better, and have more experience than another. Laymen ought not to exhort as though they were the embassadors or messengers of Christ, as ministers do; nor should they exhort, and warn, and charge, in his name, according to the ordinary import of such an expression, when applied to teaching; indeed in one
sense, a Christian ought to do every thing he does in religion in the name of Christ, i. e. he ought to act in a dependence on him as his Head and Mediator, and do all for his glory but the expression as it is usually understood, when applied to teaching or exhorting, is speaking in Christ's stead, and as having a message from him.
Persons may clothe themselves with authority in speaking, either by the authoritative words they make use of, or in the manner, and authoritative air of their speaking: though some may think that this latter is a matter of indifferency, or at least, of small importance, yet, there is indeed a great deal in it: a person may go much out of his place, and be guilty of a great degree of assuming, in the manner of his speaking those words, which as they might be spoken, might be proper for him the same words spoken in a different manner, may express what is very diverse: doubtless, there may be as much hurt in the manner of a person's speaking, as there may in his looks; but the wise man tells us, that "a high look is an abomination to the Lord," Prov. xxi. 4. Again, a man may clothe himself with authority, in the circumstances under which he speaks: as for instance, if he sets himself up as a public teacher. Here I would have it observed, that I do not suppose that a person is guilty of this, merely because he speaks in the hearing of many persons may speak, and speak only in a way of conversation, and yet speak in the hearing of a great number, as they often do in their common conversation about temporal things, at feasts and entertainments, where women, as well as others, do converse freely together about worldly things, in thehearing of a considerable number; and it may happen to be in the hearing of a great number, and yet without offense: and if their conversation on such occasions should turn on spiritual things, and they should speak as freely and openly, I do not see why it would not be as harmless. Nor do I think, that if besides a great number being present, persons speak with a very earnest and loud voice, this is for them to set up themselves as
public teachers, if they do it from no contrivance or premeditated design, or as purposely directing themselves to a congregation or multitude, and not speaking to any that are composed to the solemnity of any public service; but speaking in the time of conversation, or a time when all do freely converse one with another, they express what they then feel, directing themselves to none but those that are near them, and fall in their way, speaking in that earnest and pathetical manner, to which the subject they are speaking of, and the affecting sense of their souls naturally leads them, and as it were constrains them: I say, that for persons to do thus, though many happen to hear them, yet it does not appear to me to be setting themselves up as public teachers: yea, if this be added to these other circumstances, that all this happens to be in a meeting-house; I do not think that merely its being in such a place, much alters the case, provided the solemnity of public service and divine ordinances be over, and the solemn assembly broke up, and some stay in the house. for mutual religious conversation; provided also that they speak in no authoritative way, but in a humble manner, becoming their degree and station, though they speak very earnestly and pathetically.
Indeed modesty might in ordinary cases restrain some persons, as women, and those that are young, from so much as speaking, when a great number are present; at least, when some of those present are much their superiors, unless they are spoken to and yet the case may be so extraordinary, as fully to warrant it. If something very extraordinary happens to persons, or if they are in extraordinary circumstances; as if a person be struck with lightning, in the midst of a great company, or if he lies a dying, it appears to none any violation of modesty for him to speak freely, before those that are much his superior's. I have seen some women and children in such circumstances, on religious accounts, that it has appeared to me no more a transgressing the laws of humility