« PreviousContinue »
would lodge where she lodged; and that Naomi's people should be her people, and Naomi's God, her God. Ruth, who was the ancestral mother of David, and of Christ, was undoubtedly a great type of the church; upon which account her history is inserted in the canon of scripture. In her leaving the land of Moab and its gods, to come and put her trust under the shadow of the wings of the God of Israel, we have a type of the conversion, not only of the Gentile church, but of every sinner, that is naturally an alien and stranger, but in his conversion forgets bis own people, and father's house, and becomes a fellow-citizen with the saints and a true Israelite, The same seems to be signified in the effect the example of the spouse, when she was sick of love, has on the daughters of Jerusalem, i. e. visible Christians, who are first awakened, by seeing the spouse in such extraordinary circumstances, and then converted. See Cant. v. 8, 9. and vi. 1, And this is undoubtedly one way that “the Spirit and the Bride say, come.” Rev. xxii. 17. i. é. the spirit in the bride. It is foretold, that the work of God should be very much carried on by this means, in the last great out-pouring of the Spirit, that should introduce the glorious day of the church, so often spoken of in scripture. Zech. viii. 21–23. “And the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord, and to seek the Lord of Hosts ; I will go also. Yea many people, and strong nations,
; shall come to seek the Lord of Hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord. Thus saith the Lord of Hosts : In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold, out of all languages of nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you."
VI. It is no sign that a work is not from the Spirit of God, that many, who seem to be the subjects of it, are guilty of great imprudences and irregularities in their conduct. We are to consider that the end for which God pours out his Spirit, is to make men holy, and not to make them politicians. It is no wonder that, in a mixt multitude of all sorts--wise and unwise, young and old, of weak and strong natural abilities, under strong impressions of mind-there are many who behave themselves imprudently. There are but few that know how to conduct them under vehement affections of any kind, whether of a temporal or spiritual nature ; to do so requires a great deal of discretion, strength and steadiness of mind. A thousand imprudences will not prove a work to be not of the Spirit of God; yea, if there be not only imprudences, but many things prevailing that are irregular, and really contrary to the rules of God's boly word. That it should be thus may be well accounted for from the exceeding weakness of human nature, together with the remaining darkness and corruption of those that are yet the subjects of the saving influences of God's Spirit, and have a real zeal for God.
We have a remarkable instance, in the New Testament, of a people that partook largely of that great effusion of the Spirit in the apostles' days, among whom there nevertheless abounded imprudences and great irregularities ; viz. the church at Corinth. There is scarce any church more celebrated in the New Testament for being blessed with large measures of the Spirit of God, hoth in his ordinary influences, in convincing and converting sinners, and also in his extraordinary and miraculous gifts; yet what manifold imprudences, great and sinful irregularities, and strange confusion, did they run into, at the Lord's Supper, and in the exercise of church discipline! To which may be added, their indecent manner of attending other parts of public worship, their jarring and con. tention about their teachers, and even the exercise of their extraordinary gifts of prophecy, speaking with tongues, and the like, wherein they spake and acted by the immediate inspiration of the Spirit of God.
And if we see great imprudences, and even sinful irregularities, in some who are great instruments to carry on the work, it will not prove it not to be the work of God. The apostle Peter himself
, who was a great, eminently holy, and inspired apostle—and one of the chief instruments of setting up the Christian church in the world—when he was actually engaged in this work, was guilty of a great and sinful error in his conduct; of which the apostle Paul speaks, Gal. ii. 11, 12, 13. “But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed : for before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles; but when they were come, he withdrew, and separated himself, fearing them that were of the circumcision : and the other Jews dissembled likewise with him ; insomuch, that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation." If a great pillar of the Christian church-one of the chief of those who are the very foundations on which, next to Christ, the whole church is said to be built-was guilty of such an irregularity; is it any wonder if other lesser instruments, who have not that extraordinary conduct of the divine Spirit he had, should be guilty of many irregularities?
And in particular, it is no evidence that a work is not of God, if many who are either the subjects or the instruments of it, are guilty of too great forwardness to censure others as unconverted. For this may be through mistakes they have embraced concerning the marks by which they are to judge of the hypocrisy and carnality of others; or from not duly appre
hending the latitude the Spirit of God uses in the methods of his operations; or, from want of making due allowance for that infirmity and corruption that may be left in the bearts of the saints; as well as through want of a due sense of their own blindness and weakness, and remaining corruption, whereby spiritual pride may have a secret vent this way, under some disguise, and not be discovered, If we allow that truly pious men may have a great deal of remaining blindness and corruption, and may be liable to mistakes about the marks of hypocrisy, as undoubtedly all will allow, then it is not unaccounta able that they should sometimes run into such errors as these, It is as easy, and upon some accounts more easy to be accounted for, why the remaining corruption of good men should sometimes have an unobserved vent this way, than most other ways; and without doubt (however lamentable) many holy men have erred in this way.
· Lukewarmness in religion is abominable, and zeal an excellent grace ; yet above all other Christian virtues, this needs to be strictly watched and searched; for it is that with which corruption, and particularly pride and human passion, is exceedingly apt to mix unobserved. And it is pbservable, that there never was a time of great reformation, to cause a revival of zeal in the church of God, but that it bas been attended, in some notable instances, with irregularity, and a running out some way or other into an undue severity. Thus in the apostles' days, a great deal of zcal was spent about unclean meats, with heat of spirit in Christians one against another, both parties condemning and censuring one another, as not true Christians; when the apostle had charity for both, as influenced by a spirit of real piety: “ He that eats," says he, “ to the Lord he eats, and giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.” So in the church of Corinth, they had got into a way of extolling some ministers, and censuring others, and were puffed up one against another : but yet these things were no sign that the work then so wonderfully carried on, was not the work of God. And after this, when religion was still greatly flourishing in the world, and a spirit of eminent holiness and zeal prevailed in the Christian Church, the zeal of Christians ran out into a very improper and undue severity, in the exercise of church discipline towards delinquents. In some cases they would by no means admit them into their charity and communion, though they appeared never so humble and penitent. And in the days of Constantine the Great, the zeal of Christians against heathenism run out into a degree of persecution. So in that glorious revival of religion, at the reformation, zeal in many instances appeared in a very improper severity, and eyen a degree of persecution; yea, in some of the most eminent reformers; as in the great Calvin in particular. And many in those days of the flourishing of vital religion, were guilty of severely censuring others that differed from them in opinion in some points of divinity.
VII. Nor are many errors in judgment, and some delusions of Satan intermixed with the work, any argument that the work in general is not of the Spirit of God. However great a spiritual influence may be, it is not to be expected that the Spirit of God should be given now in the same manner as to the apostles, infallibly to guide them in points of Christian doctrine, so that what they taught might be relied on as a rule to the Christian church. And if many delusions of Satan appcar, at the same time that a great religious concern prevails, it is not an argument that the work in general is not the work of God, any more than it was an argument in Egypt, that there were no true miracles wrought there, by the hand of God, because Jannes and Jambres wrought false miracles at the same time by the hand of the devil. Yea the same persons may be the subjects of much of the influences of the Spirit of God, and yet in some things be led away by the delusions of Satan, and this be no more of paradox than many other things that are true of real saints, in the present state, where grace dwells with so inuch corruption, and the new man and the old man subsist together in the same person ; and the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the devil remain for a while together in the same heart. Many godly persons bave undoubtedly in this and other ages, exposed themselves to woeful delusions, by an aptness to lay too much weight on impulses and impressions, as if they were immediate revelations from God, to signify some thing future, or to direct them where to go, and what to do.
VIII. If some, who were thought to be wrought upon, fall away into gross errors, or scandalous practices, it is no argument that the work in general is not the work of the Spirit of God. That there are some counterfeits, is no argument that nothing is true : such things are always expected in a time of reformation. If we look into church history, we shall find no instance of any great revival of religion, but what has been attended with many such things. Instances of this nature in the apostles' days were innumerable ; some fell away into gross heresies, others into vile practices, though they seemed to be the subjects of a work of the Spirit--and were accepted for a while amongst those that were truly so, as their brethren and companions and were not suspected till they went out from them. And some of these were teachers and officers and eminent persons in the Christian church-whom God had
endowed with miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost; as appears by the beginning of the 6th chapter of the Hebrews. An instance of these was Judas, who was one of the twelve apostles, and had long been constantly united to, and intimately conversant with a company of truly experienced disciples, without being discovered or suspected, till he discovered himself by his scandalous practice. He had been treated by Jesus bimself, in all external things, as if he had truly been a disciple, even investing him with the character of apostle, sending him forth to preach the gospel, and enduing him with miraculous gifts of the Spirit. For though Christ knew him, yet he did not then clothe himself with the character of omniscient Judge, and searcher of hearts, but acted the part of a minister of the visible church, (for he was his Father's minister ;) and therefore rejected him not, till he had discovered himself by his scandalous practice ; thereby giving an example to guides and rulers of the visible churchi, not to take it upon them to act the part of searcher of hearts, but to be influenced in their administrations by what is visible and open. There were some instances then of such apostates as were esteenied eminently full of the grace of God's Spirit. An instance of this nature probably was Nicolas, one of the seven deacons, who was looked upon by the christians in Jerusalem, in the time of that extraordinary pouring out of the Spirit, as a man full of the Holy Ghost, and was chosen out of the multitude of Christians to that office, for that reason; as you may see in Acts vi. 3, 5; yet he afterwards fell away, and ,
, became the head of a sect of vile heretics, of gross practices, called from his name the sect of the Nicolaitanes, Rev. ii. 6, and 15.
So in the time of the reformation from Popery, how great was the number of those who for a while seemed to join with
a the reformers, yet fell away into the grossest and most absurd errors, and abominable practices. And it is particularly observable, that in times of great pouring out of the Spirit to revive religion in the world, a number of those who for a while seemed to partake in it, have fallen off into whimsical and extravagant errors, and gross enthusiasm, boasting of high degrees of spirituality and perfection, censuring and condemning others as carnal. Thus it was with the Gnostics in the apostles' times; and thus it was with several sects at the reformation, as Anthony Burgess observes in his book called Spiritual Refinings, Part I. Serm. 23. p. 132. 6 The first worthy reformers, and glorious instruments of God, found a bitter conflict herein, so that they were exercised not only
* But though these heretics assumed his name, it does not follow that be countenaaced their enormities. See CALMET's Dict. Nicolas,