« PreviousContinue »
Christian that well observes it, so to mistake it, as to understand those things to be implied in it, that have indeed been objected against, by many eminent Christians and Divines among Protestants, as entangling men's consciences, and adding to divine institutions, &c. Here is no pretence of establishing any thing by authority ; no appearance of any claim of power in the proposers, or right to any regard to be paid to their determinations or proposals, by virtue of any deference due to them, in any respect, any more than to every individual person of those that they apply themselves to. So far from that, that they expressly mention that which they have thought of, as what they would propose to the thoughts of others, for their amendments and improvements, declaring that they chose rather to receive and spread the directions and proposals of others, than to be the first authors of any. No times, not sanctified by God's own institution, are proposed to be observed more than others, under any notion of such times being, in any respect, more holy, or more honorable, or worthy of any preference, or distinguishing regard; either as being sanctified, or made honorable, by authority, or by any great events of divine Providence, or any relation to any holy persons or things ; but only as circumstantially convenient, helpful to memory, especially free from worldly business, near to the times of the administration of public ordinances, &c. None attempts to lay any bonds on others, with respect to this matter ; or to desire that they should lay any
bonds on themselves ; or look on themselves as under any obligations either by power or promise ; or so much as come into any absolute determination in their own minds, to set apart any stated days from secular affairs ; or even to fix on any part of such days, without liberty to other circumstances, as shall be found expedient ; and also liberty left to a future alteration of judgment, as to expediency, on further trial and consideration. All that is proposed is, that such as fall in with what is proposed in their judgments and inclinations, while they do so, should strengthen, assist and encourage their brethren that are of the same mind, by visibly consenting and joining with them in the affair. Is here any thing
like making laws in matters of conscience and religion, or adding men's institutions to God's ; or any shew of imposition, or superstitious esteeming and preferring one day above another, or any possible ground of entanglement of any one's conscience ?
For men to go about by law to establish and limit circumstances of worship, not established or limited by any law of God, such as precise time, place and order, may be in many respects of dangerous tendency. But surely it cannot be un. lawful or improper, for Christians to come into soiue agreement, with regard to these circumstances : For it is impossible to carry on any social worship without it. There is no institution of scripture requiring any people to meet together to worship God in such a spot of ground, or at such an hour of the day ; but yet these must be determined by agreement; or else there will be no social worship, in any place, or any hour. So we are not determined by institution, wbat the precise order of the different parts of worship shall be ; what shall precede, and what shall follow ; whether praying or singing shall be first, and what shall be next, and what shall conclude : But yet some order must be agreed on, by the congregation that imite in worship; otherwise they cannot jointly carry on divine worship, in any way or method at all. If a congregation of Christians do agree to begin their public worship with prayer, and next to sing, and then to attend on the preaching of the word, and to conclude with prayer ; and do by consent carry on their worship in this order from year to year ; though this order is not appointed in scripture ; none will call this superstition. And if a great number of congregations, through a whole land, or more lands than one, do by common consent, keep the same method of public wor, ship; none will pretend to find fault with it. But yet for any to go about to bind all to such a method, would be usurpation and imposition. And if such a procise order should be regarded as sacred, as though no other could be acceptable to God, this would be superstition. If a particular number of Christians shall agree, that besides the stated public worship of the sabbath, they will, when their circumstances allow,
meet together, to carry on some religious exercises, on a sabbath day night, for their mutual edification ; or if several societies agree to meet together in different places at that time ; this is no superstition ; though there be no institution for it. If people in different congregations, voluntarily agree to take turns to meet together in the house of God, to worship him and hear a public lecture, once a month, or once in six weeks ; it is not uplawful; though there be no institution for it : But yet to do this as a thing sacred, indispensable, and binding on men's consciences, would be superstition. If Christians of several neighboring congregations, instead of a lecture, agree on some special occasion to keep a circular fast, each congregation taking its turn in a certain time and order, fixed on by.consent ; or if instead of keeping fast by turns, on different days, one on one week, and one on another, they should all agree to keep a fast on the same day, and to do this either once or frequently, according as they shall judge their own circumstances, or the dispensations of divine Providence, or the importance of the mercy they seek, do require ; neither is there any more superstition in this than the other.
OBJECT. II. Some may be ready to say, There seems to be something whimsical in its being insisted on that God's people in different places should put up their prayers for this mercy at the same time ; as though their prayers would be more forcible on that account; and as if God would not be so likely to hear prayers offered up by many, though they happened not to pray at the same time, as he would if he heard them all at the same moment.
Ans. To this I would say, if such an objection be made, it must be through misunderstanding. It is not signified or implied in any thing said in the proposal, or in any arguments made use of to enforce it that I have seen, that the prayers of a great number in different places will be more forcible, merely because of that circumstance of their being put up at the same time. It is indeed supposed, that it will be very expedient, that certain times for united prayer should be agreed on : Which it may be, without supposing the thing supposed in the objection, on the following accounts.
1. This seems to be a proper expedient for the promoting and maintaining an union among Christians of distant places, in extraordinary prayer for such a mercy. It appears, from what was before observed, that there ought to be extraordinary prayers among Christians for this mercy; and that it is fit, that God's people should agree and unite in it. Though there be no reason to suppose that prayers will be more prevalent, merely from that circumstance, that different persons pray exactly at ibe same time ; yet there will be more reason to hope that prayers for such mercy will be prevalent, when God's people are very much in prayer for it, and when many of them are united in it. And therefore if agreeing on certain times for united and extraordinary prayer, be a likely means to promote an union of many in extraordinary prayer, then there is more reason to hope, that there will be prevalent prayer for such a mercy, for certain times for extraordinary prayer being agreed on. But that agreeing on certain times for united, extraordinary prayer, is a likely and proper means to promote and maintain such prayer, I think will be easily evident to any one that considers the matter. If there should be only a loose agreement or consent to it as a duty, or a thing fit and proper, that Christians should be much in prayer for the revival of religion, and much more in it than they used to be, without agreeing on particular times, how liable would snch a lax agreement be to be soon forgotten, and that extraordinary prayerfulness, which is fixed to no certain times, to be totally neglected ? To be sure, distant parts of the church of Christ could have no confidence in one another, that this would not be the case. If these ministers in Scotland, instead of the proposal they have made, or any other ministers or Christians in any part of the Christian world, had sent abroad only a general proposal, that God's people should, for time to come, be much more in prayer for the advancement of Christ's kingdom, than had been common among Christians heretofore ; and they should hear their proposal was generally allowed to be good ; and that ministers and people, in one place and another, that had occasion to speak their minds up. en it, owned that it was a very proper thing, that Christians
should pray more for this mercy than they generally used to do ; could they from this only, have in any measure the like grounds of dependence, that God's people in various parts of the Christian world, would indeed henceforward act unitedly, in maintaining extraordinary prayer for this mercy, as if they should not only hear that the duty in general was approved of, but also that particular times were actually fixed on for the purpose, and an agreement and joint resolution was come into, that they would, unless extraordinarily hindered, set apart such par icular seasons to be spent in this duty, from time to time, maintaining this practice for a certain number of years?
2. For God's people in distant places to agree on certain times for extraordinary prayer, wherein they will unitedly put up their requests to God, is a means fit and proper to be used, in order to the visibility of their union in such prayer. Union among God's people in prayer is truly beautisul, as has been before observed and shewn ; it is beautiful in the eyes
of Christ, and it is justly beautiful and amiable in the eyes of Christians. And if so, then it must needs be desirable to Christians that such union should be visible. If it would be a lovely sight in the eyes of the church of Christ, and much to their comfort, to behold various and different parts of the church united in extraordinary prayer for the general outpouring of the Spirit, then it must be desirable to them that such an union should be visible, that they may behold it ; for if it be not visible, it cannot be beheld. But agreement and union in a multitude in their worship becomes visible, by an agreement in some external visible circumstances. Worship it. self becomes visible worship, by something external and visible belonging to the worship, and no other way: Therefore union and agreement of many in worship becomes visible no other way, but by union and agreement in the external and visible acts and circumstances of the worship. Such union and agreement becomes visible, particularly by an agreement in those two visible circumstances, time and place. When a number of Christians live near together, and their number and situation is convenient, and they have a desire visibly to unite in any acts of worship, they are wont lo