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and children in such circumstances, on religious accounts, that it has appeared to me no more a transgressing the laws of humility and modesty for them to speak freely, let who will be present, than if they were in danger of dying.
But then may a man be said to set up himself as a public teacher, when in a set speech, of design, he directs himself to a multitude, as looking that they should compose themselves to attend to what he has to say. And much more when this is a contrived and premeditated thing, without any thing like a constraint by an extraordinary sense or affection; and more still, when meetings are appointed on purpose to hear laypersons exhort, and they take it as their business to be speakers, while they expect that others should come, and compose themselves, and attend as hearers. When private Christians take it upon them in private meetings to act as the masters or presidents of the assembly, and accordingly from time to time to teach and exhort the rest, this has the appearance of authoritative teaching.
When private Christians, who are no more than mere brethren, exhort and admonish one another, it ought to be in an humble manner, rather by way of entreaty, than with authority; and the more, according as the station of persons is lower. Thus it becomes women, and those that are young, ordinarily to be at a greater distance from any apearance of authority in speaking than others. Thus much at least is evident by 1 Tim. ii. 9, 11, 12. That lay-persons ought not to exhort one another as clothed with authority, is a general rule; but it cannot justly be supposed to extend to heads of families in their own families. Every Christian family is a little church, and the heads of it are its authoritative teachers and governors.
Nor can it extend to schoolmasters among their scholars; and some other cases might perhaps be mentioned, that ordinary discretion will distinguish, where a man's circumstances do properly clothe him with authority, and render it fit and suitable for him to counsel and admonish others in an authoritative manner.
II. No man but a minister duly appointed to that sacred calling, ought to follow teaching and exhorting as a calling, or so as to neglect that which is his proper calling. Having the office of a teacher in the church of God implies two things : 1. A being invested with the authority of a teacher; and, 2. A being called to the business of a teacher, to make it the business of his life. Therefore that man who is not a minister, taking either of these upon him, invades the office of a minister. Concerning assuming the authority of a minister I have spoken already. But if a lay-man do not assume authority in his Teaching, yet if he forsakes his proper calling, or doth so at
least in a great measure, and spends his time in going about from house to house to counsel and exhort, he goes beyond his line, and violates Christian rules. Those that have the office of teachers or exhorters, have it for their calling, and should make it their business, as a business proper to their office; and none should make it their business but such, Rom. xii. 3–8. “ For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think ; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the proportion of faith. For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office; so we, being many, are one body in Christ. He that teacheth, let him wait on teaching; or he that exhorteth, on exhortation." I Cor. xii. 29. “ Are all apostles ? are all prophets? are all teachers?" I Cor, vii. 20. “Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.” 1 Thess. iv. Il. “ And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you."
It will be a very dangerous thing for lay-men, in either of these respects, to invade the office of a minister. If this be common among us, we shall be in danger of having a stop put to the work of God, of the ark turning aside from us, before it comes to Mount Zion, and of God making a breach upon us; as of old there was an unhappy stop put to the joy of the congregation of Israel, in bringing up the ark of God, because others carried it besides the Levites. And therefore David, when the error was found out, says, 1 Chron. xv. 2. “None ought to carry the ark of God, but the Levites only; for them hath the Lord chosen to carry the ark of God, and to minister unto him for ever.” And because one presumed to touch the ark who was not of the sons of Aaron, therefore the Lord made a breach upon them, and covered their day of rejoicing with a cloud in his anger.- Before I dismiss this head of layexhorting, I would take notice of three things relating to it, upon which there ought to be a restraint.
1. Speaking in the time of the solemn worship of God ; as public prayer, singing, or preaching, or administration of the Sacrament of the Holy Supper, or any duty of social worship. This should not be allowed. I know it will be said, that in some cases, when persons are exceedingly affected, they cannot help it; and I believe so too; but then I also believe and know by experience, that there are several things which contribute to that inability, besides merely and absolutely the sense of divine things upon their hearts. Custom and example or the thing being allowed, have such an influence, that they actually help to make it impossible for persons under strong affections to avoid speaking. If it was disallowed, and persons at the time that they were thus disposed to break out, had this apprehension, that it would be very unbecoming for them so to do, it would contribute to their ability to avoid it. Their inability arises from their strong and vehement disposition; and, so far as that disposition is from a good principle, it would be weakened by this thought, viz. “What I am going to do, will be for the dishonour of Christ and religion." And so the inward vehemence, that pushed them forward to speak, would fall, and they would be enabled to avoid it. This experience confirms.
2. There ought to be a moderate restraint on the loudness of persons' talking under high affections; for, if there be not, it will grow natural and unavoidable for persons to be louder and louder, without any increase of their inward sense; till it becomes natural to them, at last, to scream and halloo to almost every one they see in the streets, when they are much affected. But this is certainly very improper, and what has no tendency to promote religion. The man Christ Jesus, when he was upon earth, had doubtless as great a sense of the infinite greatness and importance of eternal things, and the worth of souls, as any have now; but there is not the least appearance in his history, of his taking any such course, or manner of exhorting others.
3. There should also be some restraint on the abundance of talk, under strong affections ; for, if persons give themselves an unbounded liberty to talk just so much as they feel an inclination to, they will increase and abound more and more in talk, beyond the proportion of their sense or affection; till at length it will become ineffectual on those that hear them, and, by the commonness of their abundant talk, they will defeat their own end,
Of errors connected with singing praises to God.
One thing more of which I would take notice, before I conclude this part, is the mismanagement of singing praises to God. I believe it to have been one fruit of the ex. traordinary degrees of the sweet and joyful influence of the Spirit of God, that there has appeared such a disposition to abound in this divine exercise; not only in appointed solemn meetings, but when Christians occasionally meet together at each other's houses. But the mismanagement I have respect to is a way of performing it, without almost any appearance of that reverence and solemnity with which all visible, open acts of divine worship, ought to be attended. It may be two or three are in a room singing hymns of
praise to God, others talking at the same time, others about their work, with little more appearance of regard to what is doing, than if only singing a common song for their amusement and diversion. There is danger, if such things are continued, that a mere nothing, be made of this duty, to the great violation of the third commandment. Christians abound as much as they will in this holy, heavenly exercise, in God's house and in their own houses; but, let it be performed as a holy act, wherein they have immediately and visibly to do with God. When any social open act of devotion or solemn worship of God is performed, God should be reverenced as present. As we would not have the ark of God depart from us, nor provoke God to make a breach upon us, we should take heed that we handle the ark with reverence.
With respect to companies singing in the streets, going to or coming from the place of public worship, I would humbly offer my thoughts in the following particulars :
1. The rule of Christ, concerning “putting new wine into old bottles,” does undoubtedly take place in things of this nature, supposing the thing in itself is good, but not essential, and not particularly enjoined or forbidden. For things so very new and uncommon, and of so open and public a nature, to be suddenly introduced and set up and practised in many parts of the country, without the matter being so much as first proposed to any public consideration, or giving any opportunity for the people of God to weigh the matter, or to consider any reasons that might be offered to support it, is putting new wine into old bottles with a witness; as if it were with no other design than to burst them directly. Nothing else can be expected to be the consequence of this than uproar and confusion, great offence, and unhappy mischievous disputes, even among the children of God themselves. Not that what is good in itself, and is new, ought to be forborne, till there is nobody that will like it ; but it ought to be forborne till the visible church of God is so prepared for it, at least, that there is a probability it will do more hurt than good, or hinder the work of God more than promote it; as is more evident from Christ's rule, and the apostle's practice. If it be brought in when the country is so unprepared, that the shock and surprise, the contention and prejudice against religion it is like to occasion, will do more to hinder religion, than the practice is like to promote it, then the fruit is picked before it is ripe. And, indeed, such a hasty endeavour to introduce an innovation, supposing it to be good in itself, is the likeliest way to retard the effectual introduction of it; it will hinder its being extensively introduced, much more than it will promote it, and so will defeat its own end. But,
2. As to the thing itself, if a considerable part of a congregation have occasion to go in company together to a place of public worship, and they should join together in singing praises to God, as they go, I confess, that after long consideration-and endeavouring, to view the thing every way with the utmost diligence and impartiality I am capable of-I cannot find any valid objection against it. As to the common objection from Matt. vi. 5, “ And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are ; for they love to pray, standing in the synagogues, and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men;" it is strong against a single person singing in the streets, or in the meeting-house by himself
, as offering to God personal worship. But as it is brought against a considerable company, their thus publicly worshipping God, appears to me to have no weight at all; it is of no more force against a company's thus praising God in the streets, than against their praising him in the synagogues, or meeting-houses; for the streets and the synagogues are both put together in these words of our Saviour, as parallel in the case.
It is evident that Christ speaks of personal, and not public worship. If to sing in the streets be ostentatious, then it must be because it is a public place, and it cannot be done there without being very open ; but it is no more public than the synagogue or meeting-house is when full of people. Some worship is in its nature private, as that which is proper to particular persons, or families, or private societies, and has respect to their particular concerns; but that which I now speak of, is performed under no other notion than a part of God's public worship, without any relation to any private, separate society, and in which every visible Christian has equal liberty to join, if it be convenient for him, and he has a disposition, as in the worship that is performed in the meetinghouse. When persons are going to the house of public worship, to serve God there with the assembly of his people, they are upon no other design than that of putting public honour upon God; that is the business they go from home upon; and, even in their walking the streets on this errand, they appear in a public act of respect to God; and therefore, if they go in company with public praise, it is not being public when they ought to be private. It is one part of the beauty of public worship, that it be very public; the more public it is, the more open honour it puts upon God; and especially is it beautiful in public praise ; for the very notion of publicly praising God, is to declare abroad his glory, to publish his praise, to make it known, and proclaim it aloud, as is evident by innumerable expressions of scripture. It is fit that God's honour should not be concealed, but made known in the great congregation, and proclaimed before the sun, and upon the