Page images
PDF
EPUB

nicious tendency of what has been bad, and earnestly to oppose that. But yet, I am humbly, but fully persuaded, we shall never be in the way of truth, nor go on in a way acceptable to God, and tending to the advancement of Christ's kingdom, till we do so. There is indeed something very mysterious in it, that so much good, and so much bad, should be mixed together in the church of God : as it is a mysterious thing, and what has puzzled and amazed many a good Christian, that there should be that which is so divine and precious, as the saving grace of God, and the new and divine nature, dwelling in the same heart, with so much corruption, hypocrisy, and iniquity, in a particular saint. Yet neither of these, is more mysterious than real. And neither of thein is a new or rare thing. It is no new thing, that much false religion should prevail, at a time of great reviving of true religion; and that at such a time, multitudes of hypocrites should spring up among true saints. It was so in that great reformation, and revival of religion, that was in Josiah's time; as appears by Jer. iii. 10. and iv. 3, 4. and also by the great apostacy that there was in the land, so soon after his reign. So it was in that great out-pouring of the S;;irit upon the Jews, that was in the days of John the Baptist; as appears by the great apostacy of that people, so soon after so general an awakening, and the temporary religious comforts and joys of many; John v. 35. Ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light. So it was in those great commotions that were among the multitude, occasioned by the preaching of Jesus Christ; of the many that were then called, but few were chosen; of the multitude that were roused and affected by his preaching, and at one time or other appeared mightily engaged, full of admiration of Christ, and elevated with joy, but few were true disciples, that stood the shock of the great trials that came afterwards, and en. dured to the end : many were like the stony gruund, or thorny ground ; and but few, comparatively, like the goodground. Of the whole heap that was gathered, great part was chaff, that the wind afterwards drove away; and the heap of wheat that was left, was comparatively small; as appears abundantly, by the history of the New Testamenta So it was in that great out-pouring of the Spirit that was in the apostles days; as appears by Matt. xxiv. 10,-13. Gal. iii. li and iv. 11, 15. Phil. ii. 21. and iii. 18, 19.; and the two epistles to the Corinthians, and many other parts of the

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]

New Testament. And so it was in the great reformation from Popery. It appears plainly to have been in the visible church of God, in times of great reviving of religion, from time to time, as it is with the fruit-trees in the spring; there are a multitude of blossoms; all which appear fair and beautiful, and there is a promising appearance of young fruits ; but many of them are but of short continuance, they soon fall off, and never come to maturity.

Not that it is to be supposed that it will always be so; for though there never will

, in this world, be an entire purity; either in particular saints, in a perfect freedom from mixtures of corruption; or in the church of God, without any mixture of hypocrites with saints, and counterfeit religion, and false appearances of grace, with true religion, and real holiness : yet it is evident, that there will come a time of much greater purity in the church of God, than has been in

ages past; it is plain by these texts of scripture, Isa. lii. 1. Ezek. xliv. 6, 7, 9. Joel iï. 17. Zech. xiv. 21. Psal. Ixix. 32, 35, 36. Isa. xxxv. 8, 10. and iv. 3, 4. Ezek. xx. 38. Psal. Xxxvii. 9, 10, 21, 29. And one great reason of it will be, that at that time, God will give much greater light to his people, to distinguish between true religion and its counterfeits; Mal. iii. 3. And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: ond he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer to the Lord an offering in righteousness. With ver. 18. which is a continuation of the prophecy of the same happy times, Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked; between him that serveth God, and him that serveth him not.

It is by the mixture of counterfeit religion with true, not-discerned and distinguished, that the devil hás had his greatest advantage against the cause and kingdom of Christ, all along, hitherto. It is plainly by this means, principally, that he has prevailed against all revivings of religion, that ever have been, since the first founding of the Christian church. By this, he hurt the cause of Christianity, in, and after the apostolic age, much more than by all the persecutions of both Jews and Heathens: the apostles, in all their epistles, shew themselves much more concerned at the former mischief, than the latter. By this, Satan prevailed against the reformation, begun by Luther, Zuinglius, &c. to put a stop to its progress, and bring it into disgrace; ten times more, than by all those bloody, cruel, and before

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

unheard-of persecutions of the church of Rome. By this principally, has he prevailed against revivals of religion, that have been in our nation since the reformation. By this he prevailed against New-England, to quench the love, and spoil the joy of her espousals, about an hundred years ago. And I think, I have had opportunity enough to see plainly that by this the devil has prevailed against the late, great revival of religion in New-England, so happy and promising in its beginning : here most evidently has been the main advantage Satan has had against us; by this he has foiled us: it is by this means, that the daughter of Zion in this land, now lies on the ground, in such piteous circumstances, as we now behold her; with her garments rent, her face disa figured, her nakedness exposed, her limbs broken, and weltering in the blood of her own wounds, and in no wise able to arise; and this, so quickly after her late great joys anch hopes; Lam. i. 17. Zion spreadeth forth her hands, and there is none to comfort her : the Lord hath commanded concerning Jacob, that his adversaries will be round about him : Jerusalem is as a menstruous woman among them. I have seen the devil prevail the same way, against two great revivings of religion in this country. --Satan goes on with mankind, as he began with them. He prevailed against our first parents, and cast them out of paradise, and brought suddenly all their happiness and glory to an end, by appearing to be a friend to their happy paradisaic state, and pretending to advance it to higher degrees. So the same cunning serpent, that beguiled Eve through his subtilty, by perverting us from the simplicity that is in Christ, hath suddenly prevailed to deprive us of that fair prospect, we had a little while age, of a kind of paradisaic state of the church of God in New England.

AFTER religion has revived in the church of God, and enemies appear, people that are engaged to defend its cause, are commonly most expused, where they are least sensible of danger. While they are wholly intent upon the opposition that appears openly before them, to make head against that, and do neglect carefully to look all around them, the devil comes behind them, and gives a fatal stab unseen; and has opportunity to give a more home stroke, and wound the deeper, because he strikes at his leisure, and according to his pleasure, being obstructed by no guard or resistance.

AND so it is likely ever to be in the church, whenever res ligion revives remarkably, till we have learned well to distinguish between true and false religion, between saving affections and experiences, and those manifold fair shews, and glistering appearances, by which they are counterfeited; the consequences of which, when they are not distinguished, are often inexpressibly dreadful. By this means, the devil gratifies himself, by bringing it to pass, that that should be offer. ed to God, by multitudes, under a notion of a pleasing acceptable service to him, that is indeed above all things abominable to him. By this means, he deceives great multitudes about the state of their souls ; making them think they are something, when they are nothing; and so eternally undoes them: and not only so, but establishes many in a strong confidence of their eminent holiness, who are in God's sight some of the vilest of hypocrites. By this means, he many ways damps and wounds religion in the hearts of the saints, obscures and deforms it by corrupt mixtures, causes their religious affection wofully to degenerate, and sometimes for a considerable time, to be like the manna, that bred worms and stank; and dreadfully ensnares and confounds the minds of others of the saints, and brings them into great difficulties and temptation, and entangles them in a wilderness, out of which they can by no means extricate themselves. By this means, Satan mightily encourages the hearts of open enemies of religion, and strengthens their hands, and fill them with weapons, and makes strong their fortresses; when, at the same time, religion and the church of God lie exposed to them, as a city without walls. By this means, he brings it to pass,' that men work wickedness under a notion of doing God service, and so sin without restraint, yea, with earnest forwardness and zeal, and with all their might. By this means, he brings in even the friends of religion, insensibly to themselves, to do the work of enemies, by destroying religion in a far more effectual manner than open enemies can do, under a notion of advancing it. By this means, the devil scatters the flock of Christ, and sets them one against another, and that with great heat of spirit, under a notion of zeal for God; and religion, by degrees, degenerates into vain jangling; and during the strife, Satan leads both partie far out of the right way, driving each to great extremes, one on the right hand and the other on the left, according as he finds thau ar

most inclined, or most easily moved and swayed, till the right path in the middle is almost wholly neglected. And in the midst of this confusion, the devil has great opportunity to advance his own interest, and make it strong

in

ways innumerable, and get the government of all into his own hands, and work his own will. And by what is seen of the terrible consequences of this counterfeit religion, when not distinguished from true religion, God's people in general have their minds unhinged and unsettled, in things of religion, and know not where to set their foot, or what to think or do; and many are brought into doubts, whether there be any thing at all in religion; and heresy, and infidelity, and atheism greatly prevail.

THEREFORE, it greatly concerns us to use our utmost endeavours, clearly to discern, and have it well settled and esa tablished, wherein true religion does consist. Till this be done, it may be expected, that great revivings of religion will be but of short continuance: till this be done, there is but little good to be expected of all our warm debates, in conversation and from the press, not knowing clearly and distinctly what we ought to contend for.

My design is to contribute my mite, and use my best (however feeble) endeavours to this end, in the ensuing treatise : wherein it must be noted, that my design is somewhat diverse from the design of what I have formerly published, which was to shew the distinguishing marks of a work of the Spirit of God, including both his common and saving operations; but what I aim at now, is to shew the nature and signs of the gracious operations of God's Spirit, by which they are to be distinguished from all things whatsoever that the minds of men are the subjects of, which are not of a saving nature. If I have succeeded in this my aim, in any tolerable measure, I hope it will tend to promote the interest of religion. And whether I have succeeded to bring any light to this subject, or no, and however my attempt may be reproached, in these captious, censorious times, I hope in the mercy of a gracious and righteous God, for the acceptance of the sincerity of my endeavours; and hope also, for the candour and prayers of the true followers of the meek and charitable Lamb of God.

1

« PreviousContinue »