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would give us experiences in which one thing may bear a proportion to another, that God may be honored and their souls edified thereby; and ministers should have an eye to this, in their private dealings with the souls of their people.
It is chiefly from such a defect of experiences that some things have arisen that have been pretty common among true christians of late, that have been supposed by many to have risen from a good cause; as particularly talking of divine and heavenly things, and expressing divine joys with laughter or a light behaviour. I believe, in many instances, such things have arisen from a good cause, as their causa sine qua non, that high discoveries and gracious joyful affections have been the occasion of them; but the proper cause has been sin, even that odious defect in their experience, whereby there has been wanting a sense of the awful and holy majesty of God as present with them, and their nothingness and vileness before him, proportionable to the sense they have had of God's grace and the love of Christ. And the same is true in many cases of person's unsuitable boldness, their disposition to speak with authority, intemperate zeal, and many other things that sometimes appear in true christians, under great religious affections.
And sometimes the vehemence of the motion of the · animal spirits, under great affections, is owing in con
siderable measure; to experiences being thus partial. 1 have known it in several instances, that persons have been greatly affected with the dying love of Christ, and the consideration of the happiness of the enjoyment of him in Heaven, and other things of that nature, and their animal spirits at the same time have been in a great emotion, but in the midst of it have had given them a deep sense of the awful, holy majesty of God, and it has at once composed them, and quieted animal naturo, without diminishing their comfort, but only has mude it of a better, and more solid nature; when they have had a sense both of the majesty and grace of God, one thing
has as it were balanced another, and caused a more happy sedlateness and composure of body and mind.
From these things we may learn how to judge of experiences, anil to estimate their goodness. Those are not always the best experiences, that are attended with the most violent affections, and most vehement motions of the animal spirits, or that have the greatest effects on the body; nor are they always the best, that do most dispose persons to abound in talk to others, and to speak in the most vehement manner; (though these things often arise from the greatness of spiritual experiences) but those are the most excellent experiences that are qualified as follows.
1. That have the least mixture, or are the most purely spiritual.
2. That are the least deficient and partial, in which the diverse things that appertain to christian experience are proportionable one to another. And
3. That are raised to the highest degree: It is no matter how high they are raised if they are qualified as before mentioned, the higher the better. Experiences thus qualified, will be attended with the most amiable behaviour, and will bring forth the most solid and sweet fruits, and will be the most durable, and will have the greatest effect on the abiding temper of the soul.
If God is pleased to carry on this work, and it should prove to be the dawning of a general revival of the Christian church, it may be expected that the time will come before long, when the experiences of Christians shall be much more generally thus qualified. We must expect green fruits before we have ripe ones.
It is probable that hereafter the discoveries which the saints shall have of divine things, will be in a much higher degree than yet have been; but yet shall be so ordered of an infinitely wise and allsufficient God that they shall not have so great an effect, in proportion, on the body, and will be less oppressive to nature; and that the outward manifestations will rather be like those that were in Stephen, when he was full of the Holy Ghost, when all that sat in the council, looking stedfastly on him, samo
his face, as it had been the face of an angel. Their inward fullness of the Spirit of God, in his divine, amiable and sweet influences, shall as it were shine forth in an heavenly aspect, and manner of speech and behaviour. But
III. There is another thing concerning experiences of Christiaus, of which it is of yet greater importance that we should be aware, than either of the preceding, and that is the degenerating of experiences. What I mean is something diverse from the mere decay of experiences, or their gradually vanishing, by persons' losing their sense of things; it is persons' experiences growing by degrees worse and worse in their kind, more and more partial and deficient, in which things are more out of due proportion; and also have more and more of a corrupt mixture, the spiritual part decreases, and the other useless and hurtful parts greatly increase. There is such a thing, and it is very frequent, as experience abundantly evidences. I have seen it in very many instances; and great are the mischiefs that have arisen through want of being more aware of it.
There is commonly, as I observed before, in high experiences, 'besides that which is spiritual, a mixture of three things, viz. natural or common affections and workings of the imagination, and a degree of self-righteousness or spiritual pride. Now it often comes to pass, that through persons not distinguishing the wheat from the chaff, and for want of watchfulness and humble jealousy of themselves, and laying great weight on the natural and imaginary part, and yielding to it, and indulging of it, that part grows and increases, and the spiritual part decreases; the devil sets in, and works in the corrupt part, and cherishes it to his utmost; until at length the experiences of some persons, who began well, come to but little else, but violent motions of carnal affections, with great heats of the imagination, and a great degreo of enthusiasm, and swelling of spiritual pride; very much like some fruits which bud, blossom and kernel well, but afterwards are blasted with an excess of moisture, so that though the bulk is monstrously great, yet
there is little else in it but what is useless and unwhole
It appears to be very probable, that many of the heresies that have arisen, and sects that have appeared in the Christian world, in one age and another, with wild enthusiastical notions and practices, began at first by this means, that it was such a degenerating of experiences that first gave rise to them, or at least led the way to them.
There is nothing in the world that does so much expose to this degenerating of experiences, as an unheeded spiritual pride and self-confidence, and persons being conceited of their own stock, without an humble, daily and continued dependence on (tod.
And this very thing seems to be typified of old, by the corrupting of the manna. Some of the children of Israel, because they had gathered a store of manna, trusted in it, there being as they apprehended, sufficient in the store they had gathered and laid up, without humbly looking to heaven, and stooping to the earth for daily supplies; and the consequence was, that their manna bred worms and stank, Exod. xvi: 20. Pride, above all things promotes this degeneracy of experiences, because it grieves and quenches the spirit of the Lamb of God, and so kills the spiritual part; and it cherishes the natural part, it inflames the carnal affections, and heats the imagination.
The unhappy person that is the subject of such a degeneracy of experiences, for the most part, is not sensible of his own calamity; but because he finds himself still violently moved, and greater heats of zeal, and more vehement motions of his animal spirits, thinks himself fuller of the Spirit of God than ever. But indeed it is with him, as the apostle says of the Galatians, Gal. iii:3. Having begun in the Spirit, they are made perfect by the flesh.
By the mixture there is of common affection with love to God the love of true Christians is liable to degenerate, and to be more and more built on the foundation of a supposition of being his high and peculiar favorites, and less and less on an apprehension of the excellency
of God's nature, as he is in himself. So the joy of Christians, by reason of the mixture there is with spiritual joy, is liable to degenerate, and to come to that at last, as to be but little else but joy in self, joy in a per, son's own supposed eminency, and distinction from others in the favor of God. So zeal, that at first might be in great part spiritual, yet through the mixture there is, in a long continuance of opposition and controversy, may degenerate more and more into human and proud passion, and may come to bitterness, and even a degree of hatred. And so love to the brethren may by degrees come to but little else but fondness, and zeal for a party; yea, through a mixture of a natural love to the opposite sex, may degenerate more and more, until it issues in that which is criminal and gross. And I leave it with those who are better acquainted with ecclesiastical history, to inquire whether such a degeneracy of affections as this, might not be the first thing that led the way, and gave occasion to the rise of the abominable notions of some sects that have arisen, concerning the community of women. However that is, yet certainly the mutual embraces and kisses of persons of different sexes, under the notion of Christian love and holy kisses, are utterly to be disallowed and abominated, as having the most direct tendency quickly to turn Christian love into unclean and brutish lust, which will not be the better, but ten times the worse, for being christend by the name of Christian love.
I should also think it advisable, that meetings of young people, of both sexes, in the evening, by themselves, without a minister, or any elder people amongst them, for religious exercises, should be avoided. For though for the present, while their minds are greatly solemnized with lively impressions, and a deep sense of divine things, there may appear no ill consequence; yet we must look to the further end of things, and guard against -future dangers and advantages that satan might gain against us. As a lively, solemn sense of divine things on the minds of young persons may gradually decay, so there will be danger that an ill improvement of these