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man speaks with his friend, and concerning whom God gives his testimony, that he was very meek, above any man upon the face of the earth, yet may be rash and sinful in his zeal, when his spirit is stirred by the hardheartedness and opposition of others, so as to speak very unadvisedly with his lips, and greatly to offend God, and shut himself out from the possession of the good things that God is about to accomplish for his church on earth; as Moses was excluded Canaan, though he had brought the people out of Egypt; Psal. cvi: 32, 33. And men, even in those very things wherein they are influenced by a truly pious principle, yet, through error and want of due consideration and caution, may be very rash with their zeal. It was a truly good spirit that animated that excellent generation of Israel that was in Joshua's time, in that affair that we have an account of in the 22d chapter of Joshua; and yet they were rash and heady with their zeal, to go about to gather all Israel together to go up so furiously to war with their brethren of the two tribes and half, about their building the altar Ed, without first inquiring into the matter, or so much as sending a messenger to be informed. So the Christians that were of the circumcision, with warmth and contention condemned Peter for receiving Cornelius, as we have account; Acts xi. This their heat and censure was unjust, and Peter was wronged in it; but there is all appearance in the story that they acted from a real zeal and concern for the will and honor of God. So the primitive Christians, from their zeal for, and against unclean meats, censured and condemned one another.This was a bad effect, and yet the apostle bears them witness, or at least expresses his charity towards them, that both sides acted from a good principle, and true respect to the Lord; Rom. xiv: 6. The zeal of the Corinthians with respect to the incestuous man, though the apostle highly commends it, yet at the same time saw that they needed a caution, lest they should carry it too far, to an undue severity, and so as to fail of Christian meekness and forgiveness; 2 Cor. ii: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11,
and chap. vii: 11, to the end. Luther that great reformer had a great deal of bitterness with his zeal.
It surely cannot be wondered at by considerate persons, that at a time when multitudes all over the land have their affections greatly moved, that great numbers should run into inany errors and mistakes with respect to their duty, and consequently into many acts and practices that are imprudent and irregular. I question whether there be a man in New England, of the strongest reason and greatest learning, but what would be put to it to keep master of himself, thoroughly to weigh his words, and consider all the consequences of his behaviour, so as to behave himself in all respects prudently, if he were so strongly impressed with a sense of divine and eternal things, and his affections so exceedingly moved, as has been frequent of late among the common people. How little do they consider human nature, who look upon it so insuperable a stumbling block, when such multitudes of all kinds of capacities, natural tempers, educations, customs and manners of life, are so greatly and variously affected, that imprudences and irregularities of conduct should abound; especially in a state of things so uncommon, and when the degree, extent, swiftness and power of the operation is so very extraordinary, and so new, that there has not been time and experience enough to give birth to rules for people's conduct, and so unusual in times past, that the writings of divines do not afford rules to direct us in such a state of things?
A great deal of noise and tumult, confusion and uproar, and darkness mixed with light, and evil with good, is always to be expected in the beginning of something very extr:ordinary, and very glorious in the state of things in human society, or the church of God. As'after nature has long been shut up in a cold dead state, in time of winter, when the sun returns in the spring, there is, together with the increase of the light and heat of the sun, very dirty and tempestuous weather, before all is settled, calm, and serene, and all nature rejoices in its bloom and beauty. It is in the news creation as it was in the old, the Spirit of God first moved upon the face of the waters, which was an occasion of great uproar and tumult, and things were gradually brought to a settled state, until at length all stood forth in that beautiful, peaceful order, when the heavens and the earth were finished, and God saw every thing that he had made, and behold it was very good. When God is about to bring to pass something great and glorious in the world, n:ture is in a ferment and struggle, and the world as it were in travail. As when God was about to introduce the Messiah into the world, and that new and glorious dispensation that he set up, He shook the heavens and the earth, and shook all nations. There is nothing that the church of God, is in scripture more frequently represented by than vegetables; as a tree, a vine, corn, &c. which gradually bring forth their fruit, and are first green before they are ripe. A great revival of religion is expressly compared to this gradual production of vegetables; Isa. Ixi: 11. “ As the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations. The church is in a special manner compared to a palmtree; Cant. vii: 7,8. Exod. xv: 27. 1 Kings, vi: 29. Psal. xcii. 12. Of which tree this peculiar thing is observed, that the fruit of it, though it be very sweet and good when it is ripe, yet before it has had time to ripen, has a mixture of poison.
The weakness of human nature has always appeared in times of great revival of religion, by a disposition to run to extremes and get into consusion; and especially in these three things, enthusiasm, superstition, and intemperate zeal. So it appeared in the time of the reformation, very remarkably; and also in the days of the apostles; many were then exceedingly disposed to lay weight on those things that were very notional and chimerical, giving heed to fables and whimsies, as appears by 1 Tim. i: 4, and iv: 7. 2 Tim. ii: 16, and v: 23, and Tit. i: 14, and iii: 9. Many, as ecclesiastical history informs us fell off into the most wild enthusiasm, and extravagant notions of spirituality, and extraordinary illu
mination from heaven beyond others; and many were prone to superstition, willworship and a voluntary humility, giving heed to the commandments of men, being fond of an unprofitable bodily exercise, as appears by many passages in the apostles writings.
And what a proneness then appeared among professors to swerve from the path of duty, and the spirit of the gospel in the exercises of a rash indiscreet zeal, censuring and condemning ministers and people; one saying, I am of Paul, another I of Apollos, another I of Cephas; judging one another for differences of opinion about smaller matters, unclean meats, holy days and holy places, and their different opinions and practices respecting civil intercouse and communication with their heathen neighbors? And how much did vain jangling and disputing and confusion prevail through undue heat of spirit, under the pame of a religious zeal? 2 Tim. vi: 4,5. 2 Tim. ii: 16, and Tit. iii: 9. And what a task had the apostles to keep them within bounds, and maintain good order in the churches? How often are they mentioning their irregularities? The prevailing of such like disorders seems to have been the special occasion of writing many of their Epistles. The church in that great effusion of the spirit that was then, and the strong impressions that Gods' people were then under, was under the care of infallible guides, that watched over them day and night; but yet so prone were they, through the weakness and corruption of human nature, to get out of the way, that irregularity and confusion rose in some churches, where there was an extraordinary outpouring of the spirit, to a very great beight, even in the apostles' life time, and under their eye. And though some of the apostles lived long to settle the state of things, yet presently after they were dead, the christian church raii into many superstitions and childish notions and practices, and in some respects into a great severity in their zeal. And let any wise person that has not, in the midst of the disputes of the present day, got beyond the calmness of consideration, impartially consider to what lengths, we may reasonably suppose, many of the primitive christians, in their heat
of zeal, and under their extraordinary impressions, would soon have gone, if they had had vo inspired guides; and. whether or no, it is not probable that the church of Corinth in particular, by an increase of their irregularities and contentions, would not in a little time have broke to pieces, and dissolved in a state of the utmost confusion? And yet this would have been no evidence that there had not been a most glorious and remarkable outpouring of the spirit in that city. But, as for us, wo have no infallible apostle to guide and direct us, to rectify disorders, and reclaim us when we are wandering; but every one does what is right in his own eyes; and they that err in judgment, and are got into a wrong path continue to wander, till experience of the mischievous issue convinces them of their error.
If we look over this affair, and seriously weigh it in its circumstances, it will appear a matter of no great difficulty to account for the errors that have been gone into, supposing the work in general to be from a very great outpouring of the Spirit of God. It may easily be accounted for, that many have run into great errors, and into just such errors as they have. It is known, that some that have been improved as great instruments to promote this work, have been very young;' and how.natural is it for such as are themselves newly awaked out of sleep, and brought out of that state of darkness, insensibility and spiritual death, which they had been in ever since they were born; and have a new and wonderful scene opened to them; and have in view the reality, the vastness, and infinite importance, and nearness of spiritual and eternal things; and at the same time are surprised to see the world asleep about them; and have not the advantage of age and experience, and have had but little opportunity to study divinity, or to converse with aged experienced Christians and divines; I say, how natural it is for such to fall into many errors with respect to the state of mankind, with which they are so surprised, and with respect to the means and methods of their relief? Is it any wonder that they have not at once learned how to make all the allowances that are to be made,