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 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 whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles
~ Matthew 10:14, Matthew 10:16-18
As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.
~ 2 Peter 3:16
Wrong Principles from Whence Have Arisen Errors in Conduct, by Jonathan Edwards. The following contains an excerpt from his work, “Thoughts on Revival of Religion in New England”. Boston: Printed in Queen-Street, 1742.
Isai. 40. 3.
Prepare ye the Way of the Lord, make strait in the Desert a high-Way for our God.
Another wrong Principle from whence have arisen Errors in Conduct, is, that whatsoever is found to be of present and immediate Benefit, may and ought to be practised, without looking forward to future Consequences. Some Persons seem to think that it sufficiently justifies any Thing that they say or do, that it is found to be for their present Edification, and the Edification of those that are with them; it assists and promotes their present Affection, and therefore they think they should not concern themselves about future Consequences, but leave them with GOD. Indeed in Things that are in themselves our Duty, being required by moral Rules, or absolute positive Commands of GOD, they must be done, and future Consequences must be left with GOD; our Election and Discretion takes no Place here: But in other Things we are to be governed by Discretion, and must not only look at the present Good, but our View must be extensive, and we must look at the Consequences of Things. ‘Tis the Duty of Ministers especially to exercise this Discretion: In Things wherein they are not determined by an absolute Rule, and that are not enjoin’d them by a Wisdom superior to their own, CHRIST has left them to their own Discretion, with that general Rule, that they should exercise the utmost Wisdom they can obtain, in pursuing that, which upon the best View of the Consequences of Things they can get, will tend most to the Advancement of his Kingdom. This is implied in those Words of CHRIST to his Disciples, when he sent ’em forth to preach the Gospel, Mat. 10. 16. Be ye wise as Serpents. The Scripture always represents the Work of a Gospel-Minister by those Employments that do especially require a wise Foresight of, and Provision for future Events and Consequences. So it is compared to the Business of a Steward, that is a Business that in an eminent Manner requires Forecast, and a wise laying in of Provision, for the Supply of the Needs of the Family, according to its future Necessities; and a good Minister is called a wise Steward: So ’tis compared to the Business of an Husbandman, that almost wholly consists in those Things that are done with a View to the future Fruits & Consequences of his Labour: The Husbandman’s Discretion and Forecast is eloquently set forth in Isa. 28. 24, 25, 26. Doth the Plowman plow all Day to sow? Doth he open and break the Clods of his Ground? When he hath made plain the Face thereof, doth he not cast abroad the Fitches, and scatter the Cummin, and cast in the principal Wheat, and the appointed Barly, and the Rye, in their Place? For his God doth instruct him to Discretion, and doth teach him. So the Work of the Ministry is compared to that of a wise Builder or Architect, who has a long Reach, and comprehensive View; and for whom it is necessary, that when he begins a Building, he should have at once a View of the whole Frame, and all the future Parts of the Structure, even to the Pinnacle, that all may fitly be fram’d together. So also it is compar’d to the Business of a Trader or Merchant, who is to gain by trading with the Money that he begins with: This also is a Business that exceedingly requires Forecast, and without it, is never like to be followed with any Success, for any long Time: So ’tis represented by the Business of a Fisherman, which depends on Craft and Subtilty: ‘Tis also compar’d to the Business of a Soldier that goes to War, which is a Business that perhaps, above any other secular Business, requires great Forefight, and a wise Provision for future Events and Consequences.
And particularly Ministers ought not to be careless how much they discompose & ruftle the Minds of those that they esteem natural Men, or how great an Uproar they raise in the carnal World, and so lay Blocks in the Way of the Propagation of Religion. This certainly is not to follow the Example of that zealous Apostle Paul, who tho’ he would not depart from his enjoin’d Duty to please carnal Men, yet wherein he might with a good Conscience, did exceedingly lay out himself to please them, and if possible to avoid raising in the Multitude, Prejudices, Oppositions and Tumults against the Gospel; and look’d upon it that it was of great Consequence that it should be, if possible, avoided. 1 Cor. 10. 32, 33. Give none Offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the Church of God: Even as I please all Men, in all Things, not seeking mine own Profit, but the Profit of many, that they may be saved. Yea, he declares that he laid himself out so much for this, that he made himself a Kind of a Servant to all Sorts of Men, conforming to their Customs and various Humours, in every Thing wherein he might, even in Things that were very burdensom to him, that he might not fright Men away from Christianity, and cause them to stand as it were braced and armed against it, but on the contrary, if possible, might with Condescention and Friendship win and draw them to it; as you may see, 1 Cor. 9. 19, 20, 21, 22, 23. And agreable hereto, are the Directions he gives to others, both Ministers and People: So he directs the Christian Romans, not to please themselves, but every one please his Neighbour, for his Good, to Edification, Rom. 15. 1, 2. And to follow after the Things that make for Peace, Chap. 14. 19. And he presses it in Terms exceeding strong, Rom. 12. 18. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all Men. And he directs Ministers, to endeavour if possible, to gain Opposers by a meek condescending Treatment, avoiding all Appearance of Strife or Fierceness, 2 Tim. 2. 24, 25, 26. To the like Purpose, the same Apostle directs Christians to walk in Wisdom, towards them that are without, Eph. 4. 5. And to avoid giving Offence to others, if we can, that our Good mayn’t be evil spoken of, Rom. 14. 16. So that ’tis evident that the great and most zealous and most successful Propagator of vital Religion that ever was, looked upon it to be of great Consequence to endeavour, as much as possible, by all the Methods of lawful Meekness and Gentleness, to avoid raising the Prejudice and Opposition of the World against Religion.—When we have done our utmost there will be Opposition enough against vital Religion, against which the carnal Mind of Man has such an Enmity; (we should not therefore needlesly increase and raise that Enmity) as in the Apostles Days, tho’ he took so much Pains to please Men, yet because he was faithful and thorough in his Work, Persecution almost every where was raised against him.
A Fisherman is careful not needlessly to reffie and disturb the Water, least he should drive the Fish away from his Net; but he’ll rather endeavour if possible to draw them into it. Such a Fisherman was the Apostle. 2 Cor. 12. 15, 16. And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved. But be it so, I did not burden you, nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you with Guile.
The Necessity of suffering Persecution, in order to being a true Christian, has undoubtedly by some been carried to an Extreme, and the Doctrine has been abused. It has been look’d upon necessary to uphold a Man’s Credit amongst others as a Christian, that he should be persecuted. I have heard it made an Objection against the Sincerity of particular Persons, that they were no more hated and reproached. And the Manner of glorying in Persecution, or the Cross of CHRIST, has in some been very wrong, so as has had too much of an Appearance of lifting up themselves in it, that they were very much hated and reviled, more than most, as an Evidence of their excelling others, in being good Soldiers of JESUS CHRIST. Such an Improvement of the Doctrine of the Enmity between the Seed of the Woman & the Seed of the Serpent, and of the Necessity of Persecution, becoming credible and customary, has a direct Tendency to cause those that would be accounted true Christians, to behave themselves so towards those that are not well affected to Religion, as to provoke their Hatred, or at least to be but little careful to avoid it, and not very studiously and earnestly to strive, (after the Apostle’s Example and Precepts,) to please them to their Edification, and by Meekness & Gentleness to win them, and by all possible Means to live peaceably with them.
I believe that Saying of our Saviour, I came not to send Peace on Earth, but Division, has been abused; as tho’ when we see great Strife and Division arise about Religion, and violent Heats of Spirit against the truly pious, and a loud Clamour and Uproar against the Work of GOD, it was to be rejoiced in, because it is that which CHRIST came to send. It has almost been laid down as a Maxim by some, that the more Division and Strife, the better Sign; which naturally leads Persons to seek it and provoke it, or leads ’em to, and encourages ’em in such a Manner of Behaviour, such a Roughness and Sharpness, or such an affected Neglect, as has a natural Tendency to raise Prejudice and Opposition; instead of striving, as the Apostle did to his utmost, by all Meekness, Gentleness and Benevolence of Behaviour, to prevent or asswage it.—CHRIST came to send a Sword on Earth, and to cause Division, no otherwise than he came to send Damnation; for CHRIST that is set for the glorious Restoration of some, is set for the Fall of others, and to be a Stone of Stumbling and Rock of Offence to them, and an Occasion of their vastly more aggravated and terrible Damnation; and this is always the Consequence of a great Out-pouring of the Spirit and Revival of vital Religion, it is the Means of the Salvation of some, and the more aggravated Damnation of others. But certainly this is no just Argument that Men’s Exposedness to Damnation is not to be lamented, or that we should not exert our selves to our utmost, in all the Methods that we can devise, that others might be saved, & to avoid all such Behaviour towards ’em as tends to lead ’em down to Hell.
I know there is naturally a great Enmity in the Heart of Man against vital Religion; and I believe there would have been a great of Opposition against this glorious Work of GOD in New-England if the Subjects & Promoters of it had behaved themselves never so agreeably to Christian Rules; and I believe if this Work goes on and spreads much in the World, so as to begin to shake Kingdoms and Nations, it will dreadfully stir up the Rage of Earth & Hell, and will put the World into the greatest Uproar that ever it was in since it stood; I believe Satan’s dying Struggles will be the most violent: But yet I believe a great deal might be done to restrain this Opposition, by a good Conformity to that of the Apostle James, Jam. 3. 13. Who is a wise Man, and endued with Knowledge? Let him shew out of a good Conversation, his Works, with Meekness of Wisdom. And I also believe that if the Rules of Christian Charity, Meekness, Gentleness and Prudence had been duly observed by the Generality of the zealous Promoters of this Work, it would have made three Times the Progress that it has; i. e. if it had pleased GOD in such a Case, to give a Blessing to Means in Proportion as he has done.
Under this Head of Carelesness of the future Consequences of Things, it may be proper to say something of introducing Things new & strange, and that have a Tendency by their Novelty to shock and surprize People. Nothing can be more evident from the New-Testament, than that such Things ought to be done with great Caution and Moderation, to avoid the Offence that may be thereby given, and the Prejudices that might be railed, to clog & hinder the Progress of Religion: Yea, that it ought to be thus in Things that are in themselves good and excellent, and of great Weight, provided they are not Things that are of the Nature of absolute Duty, which tho’ they may appear to be Innovations, yet can’t be neglected without Immorality or Disobedience to the Commands of GOD. What great Caution and Moderation did the Apostles use in introducing Things that were new, and abolishing Things that were old in their Day? How gradually were the Ceremonial Performances of the Law of Moses removed and abolished among the Christian Jews? And how long did even the Apostle Paul himself conform to those Ceremonies which he calls weak and beggarly Elements? Yea even to the Rite of Circumcision, (Acts 16. 3.) that he speaks so much in his Epistles of the Worthlesness of, that he might not prejudice the Jews against Christianity? So it seems to have been very gradually that the Jewish Sabbath was abolished, and the Christian Sabbath introduced, for the same Reason. And the Apostles avoided teaching the Christians in those early Days, at least for a great while, some high and excellent divine Truths, because they could not bear ’em yet. 1 Cor. 3. 11. 2. Heb. 5. 11. to the End. Thus strictly did the Apostles observe the Rule that their blessed Master gave them, of not putting new Wine into old Bottles, left they should burst the Bottles, and lose the Wine. And how did CHRIST himself, while on Earth, forbear so plainly to teach his Disciples the great Doctrines of Christianity, concerning his Satisfaction, and the Nature and Manner of a Sinner’s Justification & Reconciliation with God, and the particular Benefits of his Death, Resurrection & Ascension, because in that infant State the Disciples were then in, their Minds were not prepared for such Instructions; and therefore the more clear and full Revelation of these Things was reserved for the Time when their Minds should be further enlighten’d and strengthen’d by the Out-pouring of the Spirit after his Ascension. Joh. 16. 12, 13. I have yet many Things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now: Howbeit, when he, the Spirit of Truth is come, he will guide you into all Truth. And Mark. 4. 33. And with many such Parables spake he the Word unto them, as they were able to bear it.—These Things might be enough to convince any one, that don’t think himself wiser than CHRIST and his Apostles, that great Prudence and Caution should he used in introducing Things into the Church of GOD, that are very uncommon, tho’ in themselves they may be very excellent, least by our Rashness & imprudent Haste we hinder Religion, much more than we help it.
Persons that are influenced by an indiscreet Zeal are always in too much Haste; they are impatient of Delays, and therefore are for jumping to the uppermost Step first, before they have taken the preceeding Steps; whereby they expose themselves to fall and break their Bones: It is a Thing very taking with them to see the Building rise very high, and all their Endeavour and Strength is employed in advancing the Building in Height, without taking Care withal proportionably to enlarge the Bottom; whereby the whole is in Danger of coming to the Ground; or they are for putting on the Cupola and Pinnacle before they are come to it, or before the lower Parts of the Building are done; which tends at once to put a Stop to the Building, and hinder its ever being a compleat Structure. Many that are thus imprudent and hasty with their Zeal, have a real eager Appetite for that which is good; but are like Children, that are impatient to wait for the Fruit ’till the proper Season of it, and therefore snatch it before it is ripe: Oftentimes in their Haste they overshoot their Mark, and frustrate their own End; they put that which they would obtain further out of Reach than it was before, and establish and confirm that which they would remove. Things must have Time to ripen: The prudent Husbandman waits ’till he has received the former and the latter Rain, and ’till the Harvest is ripe, before he reaps. We are now just as it were beginning to recover out of a dreadful Disease that we have been long under; and to feed a Man recovering from a Fever with strong Meat at once, is the ready Way to kill him. The Reformation from Popery was much hinder’d by this hasty Zeal: Many were for immediately rectifying all Disorders by Force, which were condemned by Luther, and were a great Trouble to him. See Sleiden’s Hist, of the Reformation, pag. 52. &c. and Book V. throughout. It is a vain Prejudice that some have lately imbibed against such Rules of Prudence and Moderation: They will be forced to come to ’em at last; they’ll find themselves that they are not able to maintain their Cause without ’em; and if they won’t hearken before, Experience will convince ’em at last, when it will be too late for them to rectify their Mistake.
Another Error, that is of the Nature of an erroneous Principle, that some have gone upon, is a wrong Notion that they have of an Attestation of divine Providence to Persons or Things. We go too far when we look upon the Success that GOD gives to some Persons, in making them the Instruments of doing much Good, as a Testimony of GOD’s Approbation of those Persons and all the Courses they take. It is a main Argument that has been made Use of to defend the Conduct of some of those Ministers, that have been blamed as imprudent & irregular, that GOD has smiled upon them and blessed them, and given them great Success, and that however Men charge them as guilty of many wrong Things, yet ’tis evident that GOD is with them, and then who can be against them? And probably some of those Ministers themselves, by this very Means, have had their Ears stopp’d against all that has been said to convince ’em of their Misconduct. But there are innumerable Ways that Persons may be misled, in forming a Judgment of the Mind and Will of GOD, from the Events of Providence. If a Person’s Success be a Reward of something that GOD sees in him, that he approves of, yet ’tis no Argument that he approves of every Thing in him. Who can tell how far the divine Grace may go in greatly rewarding some small Good that he sees in a Person, a good Meaning, something good in his Disposition, while he at the same Time, in sovereign Mercy, hides his Eyes from a great deal that is bad, that ’tis his Pleasure to forgive, and not to mark against the Person, tho’ in it self it be very ill? GOD has not told us after what Manner he will proceed in this Matter, and we go upon most uncertain Grounds when we undertake to determine. It is an exceeding difficult Thing to know how far Love or Hatred are exercised towards Persons or Actions, by all that is before us. GOD was pleased in his Sovereignty to give such Success to Jacob in that, which from Beginning to End, was a deceitful, lying Contrivance and Proceeding of his, that in that Way, he obtain’d that Blessing that was worth infinitely more than the Fatness of the Earth, and the Dew of Heaven, that was given to Esau, in his Blessing, yea worth more than all that the World can afford. GOD was for a while with Judas, so that he by GOD’s Power accompanying him, wrought Miracles and cast out Devils; but this could not justly be interpreted as GOD’s Approbation of his Person, or his Thievery, that he lived in at the same Time.
The Dispensations and Events of Providence, with their Reasons, are too little understood by us, to be improved by us as our Rule, instead of GOD’s Word; God has his Way in the Sea, and his Path in the mighty Waters, and his Footsteps are not known, and he gives us no Account of any of his Matters; and therefore we can’t safely take the Events of his Providence as a Revelation of his Mind concerning a Person’s Conduct and Behaviour, we have no Warrant so to do, GOD has never appointed those Things, but something else to be our Rule; we have but one Rule to go by, and that is his holy Word, and when we join any Thing else with it as having the Force of a Rule, we are guilty of that which is strictly forbidden, Deut. 4. 2. Prov. 30. 6. & Rev. 22. 18. They who make what they imagine is pointed forth to ’em in Providence, their Rule of Behaviour, do err, as well as those that follow Impulses and Impressions: We should put nothing in the Room of the Word of GOD. It is to be feared that some have been greatly confirmed and emboldened by the great Success that GOD has given them, in some Things that have really been contrary to the Rules of GOD’s holy Word. If it has been so, they have been guilty of Presumption, and abusing God’s Kindness to them, and the great Honour he has put upon them: They have seen that God was with them, and made them victorious in their Preaching; and this it is to be feared has been abused by some to a Degree of Self-confidence; it has much taken off all Jealousy of themselves; they have been bold therefore to go great Lengths, in a Presumption that GOD was with them, and would defend them, & finally bastle all that found Fault with them.
Indeed there is a Voice of GOD in his Providence, that may be interpreted and well understood by the Rule of his Word; and Providence may to our dark Minds and weak Faith, confirm the Word of GOD, as it fulfils it: But to improve divine Providence thus, is quite a different Thing from making a Rule of Providence. There is a good Use may be made of the Events of Providence, of our own Observation and Experience, and human Histories, and the Opinion of the Fathers, & other eminent Men; but finally all must be brought to one Rule, viz. the Word of GOD, and that must be regarded as our only Rule.
Nor do I think that they go upon sure Ground, that conclude that they have not been in an Error in their Conduct, because that at the Time of their doing a Thing, for which they have been blamed and reproached by others, they were favour’d with special Comforts of GOD’s Spirit. GOD’s bestowing special spiritual Mercies on a Person at such a Time, is no Sign that he approves of every Thing that he sees in him at that Time. David had very much of the Presence of GOD while he lived in Polygamy: And Solomon had some very high Favours, and peculiar Smiles of Heaven, and particularly at the Dedication of the Temple, while he greatly multiplied Wives to himself, and Horses, and Silver and Gold; all contrary to the most express Command of GOD to the King, in the Law of Moses, Deut. 17. 16, 17. We can’t tell how far GOD may hide his Eyes from beholding Iniquity in Jacob, and seeing Perverseness in Israel. We can’t tell what are the Reasons of GOD’s Actions any further than he interprets for himself. GOD sometimes gave some of the primitive Christians, the extraordinary Influence of his Spirit, when they were out of the Way of their Duty; and continued it, while they were abusing it; as is plainly implied, 1 Cor. 14. 31, 32, 33.
Yea, if a Person has done a Thing for which he is reproached, and that Reproach be an Occasion of his feeling sweet Exercises of Grace in his Soul, and that from Time to Time, I don’t think that is a certain Evidence that GOD approves of the Thing he is blamed for. For undoubtedly a Mistake may be the Occasion of stirring up the Exercise of Grace, in a Man that has Grace. If a Person, through Mistake, thinks he has received some particular great Mercy, that Mistake may be the Occasion of stirring up the sweet Exercises of Love to GOD, and true Thankfulness and Joy in GOD. As for Instance, if one that is full of Love to GOD should hear credible Tidings, concerning a remarkable Deliverance of a Child, or other dear Friend, or of some glorious Thing done for the City of GOD, no Wonder if, on such an Occasion, the sweet Actings of Love to GOD, and Delight in GOD should be excited, tho’ indeed afterwards it should prove a false Report that he heard. So if one that loves GOD, is much maligned and reproached for doing that which he thinks GOD required and approves, no Wonder that it is sweet to such an one to think that GOD is his Friend, tho’ Men are his Enemies; no Wonder at all, that this is an Occasion of his, as it were, leaving the World, and sweetly betaking himself to GOD, as his sure Friend, and finding sweet Compiacence in GOD; tho’ he be indeed in a Mistake, concerning that which he thought was agreeable to GOD’s Will. As I have before shewn that the Exercise of a truly good Affection, may be the Occasion of Error, and may indirectly incline a Person to do that which is wrong; so on the other Hand, Error, or a doing that which is wrong, may be an Occasion of the Exercise of a truly good Affection. The Reason of it is this, that however all Exercises of Grace be from the Spirit of GOD, yet the Spirit of GOD dwells and acts in the Hearts of the Saints, in some Measure after the Manner of a vital, natural Principle, a Principle of new Nature in them; whose Exercises are excited by Means, in some Measure as other natural Principles are. Tho’ Grace ben’t in the Saints, as a meer natural Principle, but as a sovereign Agent, and so its Exercises are not tied to Means, by an immutable Law of Nature, as in meet natural Principles; yet GOD has so constituted, that Grace should dwell so in the Hearts of the Saints, that its Exercises should have some Degree of Connection with Means, after the Manner of a Principle of Nature.