Errors to Avoid

In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
~ Matthew 3:1-3

And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein.
~ Isaiah 35:8

And shall say, Cast ye up, cast ye up, prepare the way, take up the stumblingblock out of the way of my people.
~ Isaiah 57:14

Go through, go through the gates; prepare ye the way of the people; cast up, cast up the highway; gather out the stones; lift up a standard for the people. Behold, the LORD hath proclaimed unto the end of the world, Say ye to the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy salvation cometh; behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him.
~ Isaiah 62:10-11

Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts.
~ Malachi 3:1

And the LORD shall utterly destroy the tongue of the Egyptian sea; and with his mighty wind shall he shake his hand over the river, and shall smite it in the seven streams, and make men go over dryshod.
16 And there shall be an highway for the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria; like as it was to Israel in the day that he came up out of the land of Egypt.
~ Isaiah 11:15-16

And the LORD shall utterly destroy the tongue of the Egyptian sea; and with his mighty wind shall he shake his hand over the river, and shall smite it in the seven streams, and make men go over dryshod. And there shall be an highway for the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria; like as it was to Israel in the day that he came up out of the land of Egypt.
~ Isaiah 11:15-16

And I will make all my mountains a way, and my highways shall be exalted
~ Isaiah 49:11

Sing unto God, sing praises to his name: extol him that rideth upon the heavens by his name JAH, and rejoice before him.
~ Psalm 68:4

Shewing what Things Are to be Corrected or Avoided, in Promoting this Work, or In our Behaviour Under It, by Jonathan Edwards. The following contains an excerpt from Part Four of his work, “Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England and the Qay in Which It Ought to be Acknowledged and Promoted, Humbly Offered to the Publick, in a Treatise on that Subject, in Five Parts”. 1742.

Isai. 40. 3. Prepare ye the Way of the Lord, make strait in the Desert a high-Way for our God.

Behaviour becomes indeed very absurd. These Things Experience proves.

Thus I have taken Notice of the more general Causes whence the Errors that have attended this great Revival of Religion have risen, & under each Head have observed some particular Errors that have flowed from these Fountains. I now proceed as I proposed in the

Second Place, to take Notice of some particular Errors that have risen from several of these Causes: in some perhaps they have been chiefly owing to one, and in others to another, and in others to the Influence of several, or all conjunctly. And here the

1st Thing I would take Notice of is censuring others that are professing Christians, in good Standing in the visible Church, as unconverted. I need not repeat what I have elsewhere said to shew this to be against the plain and frequent and strict Prohibitions of the Word of GOD: It is the worst Disease that has attended this Work, most contrary to the Spirit and Rules of Christianity, & of worst Consequences. There is a most unhappy Tincture that the Minds of many, both Ministers & People, have received that Way. The Manner of many has been, when they first enter into Conversation with any Person, that seems to have any Shew or make any Pretences to Religion, to discern him, or to fix a Judgment of him, from his Manner of talking of Things of Religion, whether he be converted, or experimentally acquainted with vital Piety or not, and then to treat him accordingly, & freely to express their Thoughts of him to others, especially those that they have a good Opinion of as true Christians, and accepted as Brethren and Companions in CHRIST; or if they don’t declare their Minds expresly, yet by their Manner of speaking of them, at least to their Friends, they’ll show plainly what their Thoughts are. So when they have heard any Minister pray or preach, their first Work had been to observe him on a Design of discerning him, whether he be a converted Man or no; whether he prays like one that feels the saving Power of GOD’s Spirit in his Heart, & whether he preaches like one that knows what he says. It has been so much the Way in some Places, that many new Converts don’t know but it is their Duty to do so, they know no other Way. And when once Persons yield to such a Notion, and give in to such a Humour, they’ll quickly grow very discerning in their own Apprehension, they think they can easily tell a Hypocrite: And when once they have pass’d their Censure, every Thing seems to confirm it, they see more and more in the Person that they have censured, that seems to them to shew plainly that he is an unconverted Man. And then, if the Person censured be a Minister, every Thing in his publick Performances seems dead and sapless, and to do them no Good at all, but on the contrary to be of deadning Influence, and poisonous to the Soul; yea it seems worse and worse to them, his Preaching grows more & more intolerable: which is owing to a secret, strong Prejudice, that steals in more and more upon the Mind, as Experience plainly and certainly shows. When the Spirit of GOD was wonderfully poured out in this Place, more than seven Years ago, and near thirty Souls in a Week, take one with another, for five or six Weeks together, were to Appearance bro’t Home to CHRIST, and all the Town seem’d to be alive and full of GOD, there was no such Notion or Humour prevailing here; when Ministers preached here, as very many did at that Time, young and old, our People did not go about to discern whether they were Men of Experience or not: They did not know that they must: Mr. Stoddard never brought ’em up in that Way; it did not seem natural to ’em to go about any Thing of that Nature, nor did any such Thing enter into their Hearts; but when any Minister preached, the Business of every one was to listen and attend to what he said, and apply it to his own Heart, and make the utmost Improvement of it. And ’tis remarkable, that never did there appear such a Disposition in the People, to relish, approve of, and admire Ministers preaching as at that Time: Such Expressions as these were frequent in the Mouths of one and another, on Occasion of the preaching of Strangers here, viz. That they rejoyced that there were so many such eminent Ministers in the Country; and they wonder’d they never heard the Fame of ’em before: They were thankful that other Towns had so good Means; and the like. And scarcely ever did any Minister preach here, but his preaching did some remarkable Service; as I had good Opportunity to know, because at that Time I had particular Acquaintance, with most of the Persons in the Town, in their Soul Concerns. That it has been so much otherwise of late in many Places in the Land, is another Instance of the secret and powerful Influence of Custom and Example.

There has been an unhappy Disposition in some Ministers toward their Brethren in the Ministry in this Respect, which has encouraged and greatly promoted such a Spirit among some of their People. A wrong Improvement has been made of CHRIST’s scourging the Buyers and Sellers out of the Temple; it has been expected by some, that CHRIST was now about thus to purge his House of unconverted Ministers, and this has made it more natural to them to think that they should do CHRIST Service, and act as Co-workers with him, to put to their Hand, and endeavour by all Means to cashier those Ministers that they thought to be unconverted. Indeed it appears to me probable that the Time is coming, when awful Judgments will be executed on unfaithful Ministers, and that no Sort of Men in the World will be so much exposed to divine Judgments; but then we should leave that Work to CHRIST, who is the Searcher of Hearts, and to whom Vengeance belongs; and not without Warrant, take the Scourge out of his Hand into our own. There has been too much of a Disposition in some, as it were to give Ministers over as Reprobates, that have been look’d upon as Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing; which has tended to promote and encourage a Spirit of Bitterness towards them, and to make it natural to treat them too much as if they knew GOD hated them. If GOD’s Children knew that others were Reprobates, it would not be required of them to love them; we may hate those that we know GOD hates; as ’tis lawful to hate the Devil, and as the Saints at the Day of Judgment will hate the Wicked.—Some have been too apt to look for Fire from Heaven upon particular Ministers; and this has naturally excited that Disposition to call for it, that CHRIST rebuked in his Disciples at Samaria. For my Part, tho’ I believe no Sort of Men on Earth are so exposed to spiritual Judgments as wicked Ministers, yet I feel no Disposition to treat any Minister as if I supposed that he was finally rejected of GOD; for I can’t but hope that there is coming a Day of such great Grace, a Time so appointed for the magnifying the Riches and Sovereignty of divine Mercy, beyond what ever was, that a great Number of unconverted Ministers will obtain Mercy. There was no Sort of Persons in CHRIST’s Time that were so guilty, and so harden’d, and towards whom CHRIST manifested such great Indignation, as the Priests and Scribes, and there were no such Persecutors of CHRIST and his Disciples as they; and yet in that great Out-pouring of the Spirit that began on the Day of Pentecost, tho’ it began with the common People, yet in the Progress of the Work, after a-while, a great Company of Priests in Jerusalem were obedient to the Faith, Act. 6. 7. And Saul, one of the most violent of all the persecuting Pharisees, became afterwards the greatest Promoter of the Work of GOD that ever was. I hope we shall yet see in many Instances a Fulfilment of that in Isa. 29. 24. They also that erred in Spirit shall come to Understanding, and they that murmured shall learn Doctrine.

Nothing has been gain’d by this Practice. The End that some have aim’d at in it has not been obtain’d, nor is ever like to be. Possibly some have openly censured Ministers, and encouraged their People’s Uneasiness under them, in Hopes that it would soon come to That, that the Uneasiness would be so general, and so great, that unconverted Ministers in general would be cast off, and that then Things would go on happily: but there is no Likelihood of it. The Devil indeed has obtain’d his End; this Practice has bred a great deal of Unhappiness among Ministers and People, has spoil’d Christians Enjoyment of Sabbaths, and made ’em their most uneasy, uncomfortable and unprofitable Days, and has stir’d up great Contention, and set all in a Flame; and in one Place & another where there was a glorious Work of GOD’s Spirit begun, it has in a great Measure knock’d all in the Head, and their Ministers hold their Places. Some have aim’d at a better End in censuring Ministers; they have supposed it to be a likely Means to awaken them: Whereas indeed, there is no one Thing has had so great a Tendency to prevent the Awakening of disaffected Ministers in general: And no one Thing has actually had such Influence to lock up the Minds of Ministers against any good Effect of this great Work of GOD in the Land, upon their Minds, in this Respect: I have known Instances of some that seem’d to be much moved by the first Appearance of this Work, but since have seem’d to be greatly deaden’d by what has appear’d of this Nature. And if there be one or two Instances of Ministers that have been awaken’d by it, there are ten to one on whom it has had a contrary Influence. The worst Enemies of this Work have been inwardly eased by this Practice; they have made a Shield of it to defend their Consciences, and have been glad that it has been carried to so great a Length; at the same Time that they have look’d upon it, and improv’d it, as a Door open’d for ’em to be more bold in opposing the Work in general.

There is no such dreadful Danger of natural Men’s being undone by our forbearing thus to censure them, and carrying it towards them as visible Christians; it will be no bloody, Hell-peopling Charity, as some seem to suppose, when it is known that we don’t treat ’em as Christians, because we have taken it upon us to pass a Judgment on their State, on any Trial, or Exercise of our Skill in examining and discerning them, but only as allowing them to be worthy of a publick Charity, on their Profession and good external Behaviour; any more than Judas was in Danger of being deceived, by CHRIST’s treating him a long Time as a Disciple, and sending him forth as an Apostle, (because he did not then take it upon him to act as the Judge and Searcher of Hearts, but only as the Head of the visible Church.) Indeed such a Charity as this may be abused by some, as every Thing is, and will be, that is in its own Nature proper, and of never so good Tendency. I say nothing against dealing thoroughly with Conscience, by the most convincing & searching Dispensation of the Word of GOD: I don’t desire that that Sword should be sheath’d, or gently handled by Ministers; but let it be used as a two-edged Sword, to pierce, even to the dividing asunder Soul and Spirit, Joints and Marrow; let Conscience be dealt with, without any Complements; let Ministers handle it in flaming Fire, without having any more Mercy on it, than the Furnace has on those Metals that are tried in it. But let us let Men’s Persons alone: Let the Word of GOD judge them, but don’t let us take it upon us ’till we have Warrant for it.

Some have been ready to censure Ministers because they seem, in Comparison of some other Ministers, to be very cold and lifeless in their ministerial Performances. But then it should be considered that for ought we know, GOD may hereafter raise up Ministers of so much more excellent and heavenly Qualifications, and so much more spiritual & divine in their Performances, that there may appear as great a Difference between them, and those that now seem the most lively, as there is now between them, and others that are called dead and sapless; and those that are now called lively Ministers may appear to their Hearers, when they compare them with others that shall excel them, as wretchedly mean, and their Performances poor, dead, dry Things; and many may be ready to be prejudiced against them, as accounting them good for nothing, and it may be calling them Soul-Murderers. What a poor Figure may we suppose, the most lively of us, and those that are most admired by the People, do make in the Eyes of one of the Saints of Heaven, any otherwise than as their Deadness, Deformity &Rottenness is hid by the Veil of Christ’s Righteousness?

Another Thing that has been supposed to be sufficient Warrant for openly censuring Ministers as unconverted, is their opposing this Work of GOD that has lately been carried on in the Land. And there can be no Doubt with me but that Opposition against this Work may be such, as to render either Ministers or People, truly scandalous, and expose ’em to publick Ecclesiastical Censure; and that Ministers hereby may utterly defeat the Design of their Ministry, (as I observed before;) and so give their People just Cause of Uneasiness: I should not think that any Person had Power to oblige me, constantly to attend the Ministry of one, who did from Time to Time, plainly pray and preach against this Work, or speak reproachfully of it frequently in his publick Performances, after all Christian Methods had been used for a Remedy, and to no Purpose.

But as to determining how far opposing this Work is consistent with a State of Grace, or how far, and for how long Time, some Persons of good Experience in their own Souls, through Prejudices they have receiv’d from the Errors that have been mix’d with this Work, or through some peculiar Disadvantages they are under to behold Things in a right View of them, by Reason of the Persons they converse with, or their own cold and dead Frames, is, as Experience shows, a very difficult Thing; I have seen that which abundantly convinces me that the Business is too high for me; I am glad the: GOD has not committed such a difficult Affair to me; I can joyfully leave it wholly in his Hands, who is infinitely fit for it, without meddling at all with it my self.—We may represent it as exceeding dangerous to opposed is Work, for this we have good Warrant in the Word of GOD; but I know of no Necessity we are under to determine whether it be possible for these that are guilty of it to be in a State of Grace or no.

GOD seems so strictly to have forbidden this Practice, of our judging our Brethren in the visible Church, not only because he knew that we were too much of Babes, infinitely too weak, fallible and blind, to be well capacitated for it, but also because he knew that it was not a Work suited to our proud Hearts; that it would be setting us vastly too high, and making us too much of Lords over our Fellow-Creatures. Judging our Brethren and passing a condemnatory Sentence upon them, seems to carry in it an Act of Authority, especially in so great a Case, to sentence them with respect to that State of their Hearts, on which depends their Liableness to eternal Damnation; as is evident by such Interrogations as those, (to hear which from GOD’s Mouth, is enough to make us shrink into Nothing with Shame and Confusion, and Sense of our own Blindness and Worthlesness) Rom. 14. 4. Who art thou that judgest another Man’s Servant? To his own Master he standeth or falleth. And Jam. 4. 12. There is one Law giver that is able to save and to destroy; who art thou that judgest another? Our wise and merciful Shepherd has graciously taken Care not to lay in our Way such a Temptation to Pride; he has cut up all such Poison out of our Pasture; and therefore we should not desire to have it restored. Blessed be his Name, that he has not laid such a Temptation in the Way of my Pride! I know that in order to be fit for this Business, I must not only be vastly more knowing, but more humble than I am.

Tho’ I believe some of GOD’s own Children have of late been very guilty in this Matter, yet by what is said of it in the Scripture, it appears to me very likely, that before these Things which GOD has lately begun, have an End, GOD will awfully rebuke that Practice; may it in sovereign and infinite Mercy be prevented, by the deep and open Humiliation of those that have openly practised it.

As this Practice ought to be avoided, so should all such open, visible Marks of Distinction & Separation that imply it; as particularly, distinguishing such as we have judged to be in a converted State with the Compellations of Brother or Sister; any further than there is a visible Ecclesiastical Distinction. In those Places where it is the Manner to receive such, and such only to the Communion of the visible Church, as recommend themselves by giving a satisfying Account of their inward Experiences, there Christians may openly distinguish such Persons, in their Speech and ordinary Behaviour, with a visible Separation, without being inconsistent with themselves: And I don’t now pretend to meddle with that Controversy, whether such an Account of Experience be requisite to Church-Fellowship: But certainly, to admit Persons to Communion with us as Brethren in the visible Church, & then visibly to reject them, and to make an open Distinction between them and others, by different Names or Appellations, is to be inconsistent with our selves; ’tis to make a visible Church within a visible Church, and visibly to divide between Sheep and Goats, setting one on the right Hand, and the other on the left.

This bitter Root of Censoriousness must be totally rooted out, as we would prepare the Way of the Lord. It has nourished and upheld many other Things contrary to the Humility, Meekness and Love of the Gospel. The Minds of many have receiv’d an unhappy Turn, in some Respects, with their Religion: There is a certain Point or Sharpness, a Disposition to a Kind of Warmth, that does not favour of that meek, Lamb-like, sweet Disposition that becomes Christians: Many have now been so long habituated to it, that they don’t know how to get out of it; but we must get out of it; the Point & Sharpness must be blunted, and we must learn another Way of manifesting our Zeal for GOD.

There is a Way of reflecting on others, and censuring them in open Prayer, that some have; which tho’ it has a fair Shew of Love, yet is indeed the boldest Way of reproaching others imaginable, because there is implied in it an Appeal to the most high GOD, concerning the Truth of their Censures and Reflections.

And here I would also observe by the Way, that some have a Way of joining a Sort of Imprecations with their Petitions for others, tho’ but conditional ones, that appear to me wholly needless and improper: They pray that others may either be converted or removed. I never heard nor read of any such Thing practiced in the Church of GOD ’till now, unless it be with Respect to some of the most visibly and notoriously abandon’d Enemies of the Church of GOD. This is a Sort of cursing Men in our Prayers, adding a Curse with our Blessing; whereas the Rule is Bless and curse not. To pray that GOD would kill another, is to curse him with the like Curse wherewith Elisha cursed the Children that came out of Bethel. And the Case must be very great and extraordinary indeed to warrant it, unless we were Prophets, and did not speak our own Words, but Words indited by the immediate Inspiration of the Spirit of GOD. ‘Tis pleaded that if GOD has no Design of converting others, ’tis best for them, as well as best for others, that they should be immediately taken away and sent to Hell before they have contracted more Guilt. To which I would say, that so it was best that those Children that met Elisha, seeing GOD has no Design of converting them, should die immediately as they did; but yet Elisha’s imprecating that sudden Death upon them, was cursing them; and therefore would not have been lawful for one that did not speak in the Name of the LORD as a Prophet.

And then if we give Way to such Things as these, where shall we stop? A Child that suspects he has an unconverted Father and Mother, may pray openly that his Father and Mother may either be converted, or taken away and sent to Hell now quickly, before their Guilt is greater. (For unconverted Parents are as likely to poison the Souls of their Family in their Manner of training them up, as unconverted Ministers are to poison their People.) And so it might come to That, that it might be a common Thing all over the Country, for Children to pray after this Manner concerning their Parents, and Brethren and Sisters concerning one another, & Husbands concerning their Wives, and Wives concerning Husbands; and so for Persons to pray concerning all their unconverted Friends and Neighbours; and not only so, but we may also pray concerning all those Saints that are not lively Christians, that they may either be enliven’d or taken away; if that be true that is often said by some at this Day, that these cold dead Saints do more Hurt than natural Men, and lead more Souls to Hell, and that it would be well for Mankind if they were all dead.

How needless are such Petitions or Imprecations as these? What Benefit is there of them? Why is it not sufficient for us to pray that GOD would provide for his Church, and the Good of Souls, and take Care of his own Flock, and give it needful Means and Advantages for its spiritual Prosperity? Does GOD need to be directed by us in what Way he shall do it? What need we ask of GOD to do it by killing such and such Persons, if he don’t convert them? Unless we delight in the Thoughts of GOD’s answering us in such terrible Ways, and with such awful Manifestations of his Wrath to our Fellow-Creatures.

And why don’t Ministers direct Sinners to pray for themselves, that GOD would either convert them or kill them, and send them to Hell now, before their Guilt is greater? In this Way we should lead Persons in the next Place to Self-Murther: For many probably would soon begin to think that That which they may pray for, they may seek, and use the Means of.

Some with whom I have discoursed about this Way of praying, have said, that the Spirit of GOD, as it were, forces them to utter themselves thus, as it were forces out such Words from their Mouths, when otherwise they should not dare to utter them. But such a Kind of Impulse don’t look like the Influence of the Spirit of GOD. The Spirit of GOD sometimes strongly inclines Men to utter Words; but not by putting Expressions into the Mouth, and urging to utter them; but by filling the Heart with a Sense of divine Things, and holy Affections; and those Affections and that Sense inclines the Mouth to speak. That other Way of Men’s being urged to use certain Expressions, by an unaccountable Force, is very probably from the Influence of the Spirit of the Devil.