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if they will not hearken before, experience will convince them at last, when it will be too late for them to rectify their mistake.
Another error, arising from an erroneous principle, is a wrong notion that they have an attestation of divine providence to persons, or things.' We go too far, when we look upon the success that God gives to some persons, in making them the instruments of doing much good, as a testimony of God's approbation of those persons and all the courses they take. It has been a main argument to defend the conduct of some ministers, who have been blamed as imprudent and irregular, that God has blessed them, and given them great success; and that however men charge them as guilty of wrong things, yet that God is with them, and then who can be against them? And probably some of those ministers themselves, by this very means, have had their ears stopt against all that has been said to convince them of their misconduct. But there are innumerable ways by which persons may be misled, in forming a judgment of the mind and will of God, from the events of providence. If a person's success be a reward of something in him that God approves, yet it is no argument that he approves of every thing in him. Who can tell how far the divine grace may go in greatly rewarding some small good in a person, a good meaning, something good in his disposition ; while he at the same time, in sovereign mercy, hides his eyes from a great deal that is bad, which it is his pleasure to forgive, and not to mark against the person, though in itself it be very ill ? God has not told us after what manner he will proceed in this matter, and we go upon most uncertain grounds when we undertake to determine. It is an exceeding difficult thing to know how far love or hatred are exercised towards persons or actions by all that is before us. God was pleased in his sovereignty to give such success to Jacob in that which, from beginning to end, was a deceitful, lying contrivance and proceeding of his. In that way he obtained a blessing that was worth infinitely more than the fatness of the earth and the dew of heaven, given to Esau in his blessing ; yea, worth more than all that the world can afford. God was for a while with Judas, so that by God's power accompanying him, he wrought miracles and cast out devils ; but this could not justly be interpreted as God's approbation of his person, or the thievery in which he lived at the same time.
The dispensations and events of Providence, with their reasons, are too little understood by us, to be as our rule, instead of God's word ; “ God has his way in the sea, and his path in the mighty waters, and his footsteps are not known, and he gives us no account of any of his matters.” And therefore we cannot safely take the events of his providence as a revelation of his mind concerning a person's conduct and behaviour : we
have no warrant so to do. God has never appointed those things to be our rule. We have but one rule to go by, and that is his holy word : and when we join any thing else with it, as having the force of a rule, we are guilty of that which is strictly forbidden. Deut. iv. 2. Prov. xxx. 6. and Rev. xxii. 18. They who make what they imagine is pointed forth to them in providence, the rule of behaviour, do err, as well as those that follow impulses and impressions. We should put nothing in the room of the word of God. It is to be feared that some have been greatly confirmed and emboldened, by the great success that God has given them, in some things that have really been contrary to the rules of God's holy word. If so, they have been guilty of presumption, and abusing God's kindness to them, and the great honour he has put upon them. They have seen that God was with them, and made them victorious in their preaching; and this, it is to be feared, has been abused by some to a degree of self-confidence. This has much taken off all jealousy of themselves; they have been bold therefore to go great lengths, in a presumption that God was with them, and would defend them, and finally baffle all that found fault with them.
Indeed there is a voice of God in his providence, that may be interpreted and well understood by the rule of his word; and providence may, to our dark minds and weak faith, confirm the word of God, as it fulfils it. But to improve divine providence thus, is quite a different thing from making a rule of providence. Good use may be made of the events of providence, of our own observation and experience, and human histories, and the opinion of eminent men; but finally all must be brought to one rule, viz. the word of God, and that must be regarded as our only rule.
Nor do I think that they go upon sure ground, who conclude they have not been in an error in their conduct, because at the time of their doing a thing for which they have been blamed and reproached by others, they were favoured with special comforts of God's Spirit. God's bestowing special spiritual mercies on a person, is no sign that he approves of every thing he sees in him at that time. David had the presence of God while he lived in polygamy; and Solomon had some very high favours, and peculiar smiles of heaven, and particularly at the dedication of the temple, while he greatly multiplied wives to himself, and horses, and silver, and gold; all contrary to the most express command of God to the king, in the law of Moses, Deut. xvii. 16, 17. We cannot tell how far God may hide his eyes from beholding iniquity in Jacob, and seeing perverseness in Israel. We cannot tell what are the reasons of God's actions any further than he interprets for himself.
God sometimes gave some of the primitive Christians the extraordinary influence of his Spirit when they were out of the way of their duty, and even while they were abusing it; as is plainly implied, I Cor. xiv. 31, 33. Suppose a person has done a thing for which he is reproached, and that reproach be an occasion of his feeling sweet exercises of grace in his soul; I do not think that a certain evidence that God approves of the thing he is blamed for: for undoubtedly a mistake may be the occasion of stirring up the exercise of grace, if a person, through mistake, thinks he has received some particular great mercy, that mistake may be the occasion of stirring up the sweet exercises of love, and true thankfulness to God. Suppose one that is full of love to God should hear what he deems credible tidings, concerning a remarkable deliverance of a child or a dear friend, or of some glorious thing done for the city of God, no wonder if, on such an occasion, the sweet actings of love to God, and delight in God, should be excited, though indeed afterwards it should prove a false report that he had heard. So, if one that loves God is much maligned and reproached for doing what he thiuks God required and approves, no wonder that it is sweet to such an one to think that God is his friend, though men are his enemies; no wonder at all, that this is an occasion of his betaking himself to God as his sure friend, and find sweet complacence in him; though he be indeed in a mistake concerning that which he thought was agreeable to God's will. As I have before shewn that the exercise of a truly good affection may be the occasion of error, and may indirectly incline a person to do that which is wrong; so, on the other hand, error, or a doing that which is wrong, may be an occasion of the exercise of a truly good affection. The reason of it is this, that however all exercises of grace be from the Spirit of God, yet he dwells and acts in the hearts of the saints, in some measure after the manner of a vital, natural principle, a principle of new nature in them; whose exercises are excited by means, in some measure, as other natural principles are. Though grace is not in the saints as a mere natural principle, but as a sovereign agent, and so its exercises are not tied to means, by an immutable law of nature, as in mere natural principles; yet God has so constituted, that grace
should dwell so in the hearts of the saints, that its exercises should have some degree of connection with means, after the manner of a principle of nature.
Another erroneous principle that has been an occasion of some mischief and confusion, is, That external order in matters of religion, and use of the means of grace, is but little to be regarded. It has been spoken lightly of, under the names of ceremonies and dead forms, &c. and is probably the more despised by some, because their opposers insist so much
upon it, and because they are so continually hearing from them the cry of disorder and confusion. It is objected against the importance of external order, That God does not look at the outward form ; he looks at the heart. But that is a weak argument against its importance, that true godliness does not consist in it; for it may be equally made use of against all the outward means of grace whatsoever. True godliness does not consist in ink and paper, but yet that would be a foolish objection against the importance of ink and paper in religion, when without it we could not have the word of God. If any external means at all are needful, any outward actions of a public nature, or wherein God's people are jointly concerned in public society, without doubt external order is needful. The management of an external affair that is public, or wherein a multitude is concerned, without order, is in everything found impossible.-Without order there can be no general direction of a multitude to any particular designed end, their purposes will cross and hinder one another. A multitude cannot act in union one with another without order; confusion separates and divides them, so that there can be no concert or agreement. If a multitude would help one another in any affair, they must unite theinselves one to another in a regular subordination of members, in some measure, as it is in the natural body; by this means they will be in some capacity to act with united strength. And thus Christ has appointed that it should be in the visible church, as I Cor. xii. 14, &c. and Rom. xii. 4-8. Zeal without order will do but little, or at least it will be effectual but a little while. Let a company, however zealous against the enemy, go forth to war without any order, every one rushing forward as his zeal shall drive bim, all in confusion; if they gain something at the first onset, by surprising the enemy, yet how soon do they come to nothing, and fall an easy helpless prey to their adversaries? Order is one of the most necessary of all external means of the spiritual good of God's church; and therefore it is requisite even in heaven itself, where there is the least need of any external means of grace. Order is maintained amongst the glorious angels there. And the necessity of it for carrying on any design, wherein a multitude are concerned, is so great that even the devils in hell are driven to something of it, that they may carry on the designs of their kingdom. And it is very observable, that those irrational creatures for whom it is needful that they should act in union, and join as a multitude together to carry on any work for their preservation-by a wonderful instinct that God has put into them-observe and maintain a most regular and exact order among themselves; such as bees and some others. And order in the visible church is not only VOL. IV,
necessary for carrying on the designs of Christ's glory and the church's prosperity, but it is absolutely necessary to its defence; without it, it is like a city without walls, and can be in no capacity to defend itself from any kind of mischief. And so, however it be an external thing, yet is not to be despised on that account; for though it be not the food of souls, yet it is in some respect their defence. The people of Holland would be very foolish to despise the dikes that keep out the sea from overwhelming them, under the names of dead stones and vile earth, because the matter of which they are built is not good to eat. It seems to be partly on this foundation that some have seemed to act on that principle, That the power of judging and openly censuring others should not be reserved in the hands of particular persons, or consistories appointed thereto, but ought to be left at large, for any body that pleases to take it upon them, or that think themselves fit for it. But more of this afterwards.
On this foundation also, an orderly attending on the stated worship of God in families, has been made too light of; and it has been in some places too much a common and customary thing to be absent from family-worship, and to be abroad late in the night at religious meetings, or to attend religious conversation. Not but that this may be done on certain extraordinary occasions; I have seen the case to be such in many instances, that I have thought did afford sufficient warrant for persons to be absent from family-prayer, and to be from home till very late in the night. But we should take heed that it do not become a custom or common practice; if so, we shall soon find the consequences to be very ill. It seems to be on the same foundation—the supposed unprofitableness of external order—that it has been thought by some, there is no need of religious services and performances being limited to any certain office in the church ; (of which more afterwards.) And also, that those offices themselves, particularly that of the gospel-ministry, need not be limited, as it used to be, to persons of a liberal education ; but some of late have been for having others, whom they have supposed to be persons of eminent experience, publicly licensed to preach, yea and ordained to the work of the ministry; and some ministers have seemed to favour such a thing. But how little do they seem to look forward, and consider the unavoidable consequences of opening such a door! If once it should become a custom, or a thing generally approved and allowed of, to admit uneducated persons to the work of the ministry, because of their remarkable experiences, and good understanding, how many laypersons would soon appear as candidates for the work of the ministry? I doubt not but that I have been acquainted with scores that would have desired it. And how shall we know