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Christ has left them to their own discretion, with that general rule, that they should exercise the utmost wisdom they can obtain, in pursuing that which, upon the best view of the consequences of things, will tend most to the advancement of his kingdom. This is implied in those words of Christ to his disciples, when he sent them forth to preach the gospel, Matth. x. 16. “ Be
wise as serpents." The scripture always represents the work of a gospelminister by those employments that especially require a wise foresight of, and provision for future events and consequences. So it is compared to the business of a steward, which in an eminent manner requires forecast ; as, for instance, a wise laying in of provision for the supply of the needs of the family, according to its future necessities. So it is compared to the business of a husbandman, that almost wholly consists in things done with a view to the future fruits and consequences of his labour. The husbandman's discretion and forecast is eloquently set forth in Isa. xxviii. 24-26. “Doth the plowman plow all day to sow? doth he open and break the clods of his ground ? When he hath made plain the face thereof, doth he not cast abroad the fitches, and scatter the cummin, and cast in the principal wheat, and the appointed barley, and the rye in their place? For his God doth instruct him to discretion, and doth teach him." So the work of the ministry is compared to that of a wise builder or architect, who has a comprehensive view; and for whom it is necessary, that, when he begins a building, he should have at once a view of the whole frame, and all the future parts of the structure, even to the pinnacle, that all may be fitly framed together. So also it is compared to the business of a trader or merchant, who is to gain by trading; a business that exceedingly requires forecast, and without which it is never like to be followed with success for any long time. So it is represented by the business of a fisherman, which depends on peculiar skill; and to that of a soldier, which perhaps, above any other secular business, requires great foresight, and a wise provision for future events and consequences.
And particularly, ministers ought not to be careless how much they discompose the minds of natural men, or how great an uproar they raise in the carnal world, and so lay blocks in the way of the propagation of religion. This certainly is not to follow the example of the zealous apostle Paul, who though he would not depart from his duty to please carnal men, yet, wherein he might with a good conscience, exceedingly laid out himself to please them. He avoided raising in the multitude, prejudices, oppositions and tumults against the gospel ; and looked upon it as of great consequence. I Cor. x. 32, 33. “Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor TOL. IV.
to the church of God: Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved." Yea, he declares that he laid himself out so much for this, that he made himself a kind of servant to all sorts of men, conforming to their customs and various humours in every thing wherein he might, even in things that were very burdensome to him, that he might not fright men away from Christianity, and cause them to stand as it were braced and armed against it; but on the contrary, if possible, might with condescension and friendship win and draw them to it; 1 Cor, ix. 19_23. And agreeable hereto are the directions he gives to others, both ministers and people: So he directs the Christian Romans, “not to please themselves, but every one please his neighbour, for his good, to edification,'' Rom. xv. 1, 2. and to “ follow after the things that make for peace," chap. xiv. 19. And he expresses it in terms exceeding strong. Rom. xii
. 18. “ If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men." And he directs ministers to endeavour, if possible, to gain opposers by a meek, condescending treatment, avoiding all appearance of strife or fierceness, 2 Tim. ii. 24-26. TO the like purpose, the same apostle directs Christians to “ walk in wisdom towards them that are without,” Eph. iv. 5, and to avoid giving offence to others, if we can," that our good may not be evil spoken of," Rom. xiv. 16. So that it is evident, the most zealous and most successful propagator of vital religion that ever was, looked upon it to be of great consequence to endeavour, as much as possible, by all the methods of lawful meekness and gentleness, to avoid raising the prejudice and opposition of the world against religion. When we have done our utmost, there will be opposition enough to vital religion, against which the carnal mind of man has such an enmity. We should not therefore needlessly increase and raise that enmity. The apostle, though he took so much pains to please men, had persecution almost every where raised up against him. A fisherman is careful not needlessly to ruffle and disturb the water, lest he should drive the fish away from his net; but he will rather endeavour, if possible, to draw them into it. Such a fisherman was the apostle, 2 Cor. xii. 15, 16. “ And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you ; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved. But be it so, I did not burden you: nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you with guile."
The necessity of suffering persecution, in order to being a true Christian, has undoubtedly by some been carried to an extreme, and the doctrine has been abused. It has been looked upon as necessary, to uphold a man's credit amongst others as a Christian, that he should be persecuted. I have heard it made an objection against the sincerity of particular persons, that they were no more hated and reproached. And the manner of glorying in persecution, or the cross of Christ, has in some been very wrong, bearing too much the appearance of lifting up themselves in it, that they were very much hated and reviled, more than most, as an evidence of their excelling others, in being good soldiers of Jesus Christ. Such an improvement of the doctrine of the enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, and of the necessity of persecution, becoming credible and customary, has a direct tendency to cause those that would be accounted true-Christians, to behave themselves so towards those that are not well-affected to religion, as to provoke their hatred, or at least to be but little careful to avoid it, and not very studiously and earnestly to strive (after the apostle's example and precepts) to please them to their edification, and by meekness and gentleness to win them, and by all possible means to live peacably with them.
I believe that saying of our Saviour “I came not to send peace on earth, but division,” has been abused; as though when we see great strife arise about religion, violent heats of spirit against the truly pious, and a loud clamour and uproar against the work of God, it was to be rejoiced in, because it is that which Christ came to send. It has almost been laid down as a maxim by some, That the more division and strife, the better sign; which naturally leads persons to seek and provoke it, or leads them to such a manner of behaviour, such a roughness and sharpness, or such an affected neglect as has a natural tendency to raise prejudice and opposition ; instead of striving as the apostle did to his utmost, by all meekness, gentleness, and benevolence of behaviour, to prevent or assuage it.—Christ came to send a sword on earth, and to cause division, no otherwise than he came to send damnation ; for Christ, that is set for the glorious restoration of some, is set for the fall of others, and to be a stone of stumbling and rock of offence to them, and an occasion of their vastly more aggravated and terrible ruin. And this is always the consequence of a great revival of vital religion ; it is the means of the salvation of some, and the more aggravated damnation of others. But certainly this is no just argument that men's exposedness to damnation is not to be lamented, or that we should not exert ourselves to our utmost, in all the methods that we can devise, that others might be saved, and to avoid all such behaviour towards them as tends to lead them down to hell.
I know there is naturally a great enmity in the heart of man against vital religion; and I believe there would have been a great deal of opposition against this glorious work of God in New England, if the subjects and promoters
of it had behaved themselves never so agreeably to Christian rules ; and I believe if this work goes on and spreads much in the world, so as to begin to shake kingdoms and nations, it will dreadfully stir up the rage of earth and hell, and will put the world into the greatest uproar that ever it was in since it stood. I believe Satan's dying struggles will be the most violent; but yet a great deal might be done to restrain this opposition, by a good conformity to that of the apostle, Jam. iii. 13. “Who is a wise man, and endued with knowledge ? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom." And I also believe that if the rules of Christian charity, meekness, gentleness and prudence, had been duly observed by the generality of the zealous promoters of this work, it would have made three times the progress that it has; i. e. if it had pleased God in such a case to give a blessing to means in proportion as he has done.
Under this head of carelessness about future consequences, it may be proper to say something of introducing things new and strange, and that have a tendency by their novelty to shock and surprise people. Nothing can be more evident from the New Testament, than that such things ought to be done with great caution, and moderation, to avoid the offence that may be thereby given, and the prejudices that might be raised, to clog and hinder the progress of religion. Yea, it ought to be thus in things that are in themselves good and excellent, and of great weight, provided they are not things of absolute duty, which though they may appear to be innovations, yet cannot be neglected without immorality or disobedience to the commands of God. What great caution and moderation did the apostles use in introducing things that were new, and abolishing things that were old in their day? How gradually were the ceremonial performances of the law of Moses removed and abolished among the Christian Jews? and how long did even the apostle Paul himself conform to those ceremonies which he calls weak and beggarly elements? yea, even to the rite of circumcision, (Acts xvi. 3.) that he might not prejudice the Jews against Christianity ? So it seems to have been very gradually that the Jewish sabbath was abolished, and the Christian sabbath introduced, for the same reason. And the apostles avoided teaching Christians in those early days, at least for a great while, some high and excellent divine truths, because they could not bear them yet, 1 Cor. iii. 1, 2. Heb. v. 11. to the end. Thus strictly did the apostles observe the rule that their blessed master gave them, of not putting new wine into old bottles, lest they should burst the bottles and lose the wine. And how did Christ himself, while on earth, forbear so plainly to teach his disciples the great doctrines of Christianity, concerning his satisfaction, and
the nature and manner of a sinner's justification and reconciliation with God, and the particular benefits of his death, resurrection, and ascension ? because, in that infant state of the disciples, their minds were not prepared for such instructions; and therefore the more clear and full revelation of these things was reserved for the time when their minds should be further enlightened and strengthened by the out-pouring of the Spirit after his ascension ; John xvi. 12, 13. “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now, Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all truth.” And Mark iv. 33. “And with many such parables spake he the word unto them, as they were able to bear it." These things might be enough to convince any one, that does not think himself wiser than Christ and his apostles, that great prudence and caution should be used in introducing things into the church of God, that are very uncommon, though in themselves excellent, lest by our rashness and imprudent haste we hinder religion much more than we help it.
Persons influenced by indiscreet zeal are always in too much haste; they are impatient of delays, and therefore are for jumping to the uppermost step first, before they have taken the preceding steps; whereby they expose themselve to fall and break their bones. They are delighted to see the building rise, and all their endeavour and strength is employed in advancing its height, without taking care proportionably of the bottom; whereby the whole is in danger of coming to the ground. Or they are for putting on the cupola and pinnacle before the lower parts of the building are done; which tends at once to put a stop to the building, and hinder its ever being a complete structure. Many that are thus imprudent and hasty with their zeal, have a real eager appetite for that which is good; but like children, are impatient to wait for the fruit, and therefore snatch it before it is ripe. Oftentimes in their haste they overshoot their mark, and frustrate their own end; they put that which they would obtain further out of reach than it was before, and establish and confirm that which they would remove. Things must have time to ripen. The prudent husbandman waits till the harvest is ripe, before he reaps. We are now just beginning to recover out of a dreadful disease ; but to feed a man recovering from a fever with strong meat at once, is the ready way to kill him. The reformation from popery was much hindered by this hasty zeal. Many were for immediately rectifying all disorders by force, which was condemned by Luther, and was a great 'trouble to him. (See Sleiden's Hist. of the Reformation, p. 52, &c. and book v. throughout.) It is a vain prejudice that some have lately imbibed against such rules of prudence and moderation ; but they will be forced to come to them at last ; they will find themselves unable to maintain their cause without them; and,