Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.
~ Acts 17:16
Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.
~ Acts 17:22-23
And when the townclerk had appeased the people, he said, Ye men of Ephesus, what man is there that knoweth not how that the city of the Ephesians is a worshipper of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Jupiter?
~ Acts 19:35
And when he was come, the Jews which came down from Jerusalem stood round about, and laid many and grievous complaints against Paul, which they could not prove.
~ Acts 25:7
Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.
~ Jeremiah 10:2-4
If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself. But godliness with contentment is great gain.
~ 1 Timothy 5:3-6
That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
~ Ephesians 4:14
A drought is upon her waters; and they shall be dried up: for it is the land of graven images, and they are mad upon their idols.
~ Jeremiah 50:38
But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
~ Matthew 15:9
Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.
~ Colossians 2:8
Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances,
~ Colossians 2:20
And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat:
~ Luke 22:31
But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?
~ Matthew 15:3
Every Wind of Doctrine: Concerning Earthly Experiences and Traditions Added By Many Within Christendom, by Jonathan Edwards.
The following contains an excerpt from his work, Some Thoughts Concerning The Present Revival Of Religion In New England, And The Way In Which It Ought To Be Acknowledged And Promoted, Humbly Offered To The Public In A Treatise On That Subject.
Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a high way for our God.
~ Isaiah 40:3
Section III. A third cause of errors in conduct is being ignorant or unobservant of some things, by which the devil has special advantage.
And here I would particularly notice some things with respect to the inward experiences of Christians themselves. And something with regard to the external effects of experiences.
I. Inward experiences.
There are three things I would notice with regard to the experiences of Christians by which the devil has many advantages against us.
1. The first thing is the mixture there oftentimes is in the experiences of true Christians; whereby when they have truly gracious experiences and divine and spiritual discoveries and exercises, they have something else mixed with them besides what is spiritual. There is a mixture of that which is natural and that which is corrupt with that which is divine. The great imperfection of grace, the feebleness and infancy of the new nature, and the great remains of corruption together with our circumstances in this world where we are encompassed with what tends to pollute us expose to this. And indeed it is not to be supposed that Christians ever have any experiences in this world that are wholly pure, entirely spiritual, without any mixture of what is natural and carnal. The beam of light as it comes from the fountain of light upon our hearts is pure; but, as it is reflected thence, it is mixed. The seed as sent from heaven and planted in the heart is pure; but, as it springs up out of the heart, is impure: yea, there is commonly a much greater mixture than persons for the most part seem to imagine. I have often thought that the experiences of true Christians are very frequently as it is with some sorts of fruits which are enveloped in several coverings of thick shells or pods that are thrown away by him that gathers the fruit, and but a very small part of the whole bulk is the pure kernel that is good to eat.
The things of all which there is frequently some mixture with gracious experiences, yea, with very great and high experiences, are these three; human or natural affection and passions; impressions on the imagination; and a degree of self-righteousness or spiritual pride. There is very often with that which is spiritual a great mixture of that affection or passion which arises from natural principles; so that nature has a very great hand in those vehement motions and flights of the passions that appear. Hence the same degree of divine communications from heaven shall have vastly different effects, in what outwardly appears, in persons of different natural tempers. The great mixture of that which is natural with that which is spiritual is very manifest in the peculiar effects that divine influences have in some certain families or persons of such a blood in distinguishing the operations of the passions and affections and the manner of their outward expressions. I know some remarkable instances of this. The same is also evident by the different effects of divine communications on the same person at different times and in different circumstances. The novelty of things or the sudden transition from an opposite extreme and many other things that might be mentioned greatly contribute to the raising of the passions. And sometimes there is not only a mixture of that which is common and natural with gracious experience, but even that which is animal, what is in a great measure from the body, and is properly the result of the animal frame. In what true Christians feel of affections towards God, all is not always purely holy and divine; everything that is felt in the affections does not arise from spiritual principles, but common and natural principles have a very great hand; an improper self-love may have a great share in the effect: God is not loved for his own sake or for the excellency and beauty of his own perfections as he ought to be; nor have these things in any wise that proportion in the effect that they ought to have. So, in the love true Christians have to one another, very often there is a great mixture of what arises from common and natural principles with grace. Self-love has a great hand. The children of God are not loved purely for Christ’s sake, but there may be a great mixture of that natural love which many sects of heretics have boasted of who have been greatly united one to another because they were of their company, on their side, against the rest of the world; yea, there may be a mixture of natural love to the opposite sex with Christian and divine love. So there may be a great mixture in that sorrow for sin which the godly have, and also in their joys; natural principles may greatly contribute to what is felt a great many ways as might easily be shown. There is nothing that belongs to Christian experience more liable to a corrupt mixture than zeal. Though it be an excellent virtue, a heavenly flame, when it is pure; yet as it is exercised in those who are so little sanctified and so little humbled as we are in the present state, it is very apt to be mixed with human passion, yea, with corrupt, hateful affections, pride and uncharitable bitterness, and other things that are not from heaven but from hell.
Another thing often mixed with what is spiritual in the experiences of Christians is an impression on the imagination; whereby godly persons, together with a spiritual understanding of divine things and conviction of their reality and certainty and a deep sense of their excellency or great importance upon their hearts, have strongly impressed on their minds external ideas or images of things. A degree of imagination in such a case is unavoidable and necessarily arises from human nature as constituted in the present state; and often is of great benefit; but, when it is in too great a degree, it becomes an impure mixture that is prejudicial. This mixture very often arises from the constitution of the body. It commonly greatly contributes to the other kind of mixture mentioned before, viz. of natural affections and passions; it helps to raise them to a great height.
Another thing that is often mixed with the experiences of true Christians, which is the worst mixture of all, is a degree of self-righteousness or spiritual pride. This is often mixed with the joys of Christians. Their joy is not purely the joy of faith or a rejoicing in Christ Jesus but is partly a rejoicing in themselves. There is oftentimes in their elevations a looking upon themselves and a viewing their own high attainments; they rejoice partly because they are taken with their own experiences and great discoveries which makes them in their own apprehensions so to excel; and this heightens all their passions and especially those effects that are more external. There is a much greater mixture of these things in the experiences of some Christians than others. In some the mixture is so great, as very much to obscure and hide the beauty of grace in them, like a thick smoke that hinders all the shining of the fire.
These things we ought to be well aware of that we may not take all for gold that glisters, and that we may know what to countenance and encourage and what to discourage; otherwise Satan will have a vast advantage against us for he works in the corrupt mixture. Sometimes, for want of persons distinguishing the ore from the pure metal, those experiences are most admired by the persons themselves and by others that are not the most excellent. The great external effects and vehemence of the passions and violent agitations of the animal spirits is sometimes much owing to the corrupt mixture (as is very apparent in some instances) though it be not always so. I have observed a great difference among those of high affections who seem disposed to be earnestly talking to those about them. Some insist much more in their talk on what they behold in God and Christ, the glory of the divine perfections, Christ’s beauty and excellency and wonderful condescension and grace and their own unworthiness and the great and infinite obligations that they themselves and others are under to love and serve God. Others insist almost wholly on their own high privileges, their assurance of God’s love and favor, and the weakness and wickedness of opposers and how much they are above their reach. The latter may have much of the presence of God, but their experiences do not appear to be so solid and unmixed as the former. And there is a great deal of difference in persons’ earnestness in their talk and behavior. In some it seems to come from the fullness of their hearts and from the great sense they have of truth. They have a deep sense of the certainty and infinite greatness, excellency, and importance of divine and eternal things attended with all appearances of great humility. In others their earnestness seems to arise from a great mixture of human passions and an undue and intemperate agitation of the spirits which appears by their earnestness and vehemence not being proportioned to the nature of the subject they insist on, but they are violent in everything they say as much when they are talking of things of smaller importance as when speaking of things of greater weight. I have seen it thus in an instance or two in which this vehemence at length issued in distraction. And there have been some few instances of a more extraordinary nature still, even of persons finding themselves disposed earnestly to talk and cry out, from an unaccountable kind of bodily pressure without any extraordinary view of anything in their minds or sense of anything upon their hearts; wherein probably there was the immediate hand of the devil.
2. Another thing by which the devil has great advantage is the unheeded defects there sometimes are in the experiences of true Christians connected with those high affections wherein there is much that is truly good. I do not mean that defect or imperfection of degree which is in every holy disposition and exercise in this life in the best of the saints; but I aim at experiences being especially defective in some particular thing that ought to be in them; which, though it be not an essential defect or such as is in the experiences of hypocrites which renders them utterly vain, monstrous, and altogether abominable to God, is such as maims and deforms the experience. The essence of truly Christian experiences is not wanting, but that is wanting which is very needful in order to the proper beauty of the image of Christ in such a person’s experiences. Things are very much out of a due proportion. There is indeed much of some things, but at the same time there is so little of some other things that should bear a proportion, that the defect very much deforms the Christian and is truly odious in the sight of God. What I observed before was something too much, something mixed, not belonging to the Christian as such; what I speak of now is something not enough, something wanting that does belong to the Christian as such. The one deforms the Christian as a monstrous excrescence; by the other the new creature is maimed, some member in a great measure is wanting or so small and withering as to be very much out of due proportion. This is another spiritual calamity that the saints are liable to through the great imperfection of grace in this life. Thus the chicken in the egg, in the beginning of its formation, has indeed the rudiments or lineaments of all the parts; yet some few parts only are plainly seen, when others are hid, so that without a microscope it appears very monstrous. When this deficiency and disproportion is great, as sometimes it is in real saints, it is not only a great deformity in itself but has many ill consequences. It gives the devil great advantage, leaves a door open for corruption, exposes to very deformed and unlovely actions, and issues oftentimes in the great wounding of the soul.
For the better understanding of this matter, we may observe that God, in the revelation that he has made of himself to the world by Jesus Christ, has taken care to give a proportionable manifestation of two kinds of excellencies or perfections of his nature, viz. those that especially tend to possess us with awe and reverence and to search and humble us; and those that tend to win, to draw, and encourage us. By the one he appears as an infinitely great, pure, holy, and heart-searching and burning flame; by the other a sweet, refreshing light. These two kinds of attributes are as it were admirably tempered together in the revelation of the gospel. There is a proportionable manifestation of justice and mercy, holiness and grace, majesty and gentleness, authority and condescension. God has thus ordered that his diverse excellencies, as he reveals himself in the face of Jesus Christ, should have a proportionable manifestation, herein providing for our necessities. He knew it to be of great consequence that our apprehensions of these diverse perfections of his nature should be duly proportioned one to another. A defect on the one hand, viz. having a discovery of his love and grace without a proportionable discovery of his awful majesty, his holy and searching purity, would tend to spiritual pride, carnal confidence and presumption; and a defect on the other hand, viz. having a discovery of his holy majesty without a proportionable discovery of his grace, tends to unbelief, a sinful fearfulness and spirit of bondage. And therefore herein chiefly consists that deficiency of experiences that I am now speaking of. The revelation God has made of himself in his Word and the provision made for our spiritual welfare in the gospel are perfect; but the actual light and communications we have are many ways exceeding imperfect and maimed. And experience plainly shows that Christians may have high manifestations in some respects, and yet their circumstances may be unhappy in this regard, that their discoveries are no more general. There is a great difference among Christians in this respect; some have much more general discoveries than others who are upon many accounts the most amiable Christians. Christians may have experiences that are very high, and yet there may be very much of this deficiency and disproportion. Their high experiences are truly from the Spirit of God, but sin comes in by the defect (as indeed all sin is originally from a defective, privative cause) and in such a case high discoveries, at the same time that they are enjoyed, may be and sometimes are the occasion or causa sine qua non of sin. Sin may come in at the back door, the gap that is left open; as spiritual pride often does. And many times the Spirit of God is quenched by this means, and God punishes the pride and presumption that rises by bringing such darkness and suffering such awful consequences and horrid temptations as are enough to make one’s hair stand on end to hear them. — Christians therefore should diligently observe their own hearts as to this matter and should pray to God that he would give them 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 which have been pretty common among true Christians of late, though 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 light behavior. I believe in many instances such things have arisen from a good cause, as their causa sine qua non. 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 unsuitable boldness; a disposition to speak with authority, intemperate zeal, and many other things that sometimes appear under great religious affections. And sometimes the vehemence of the motion of the animal spirits, under great affections, is owing in considerable measure to experiences being thus partial. I 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 great emotion; but in the midst of it they have had such a deep sense of the awful, holy majesty of God as at once composed them and quieted animal nature without diminishing their comfort, but only has made 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 sedateness and composure of body and mind.
From these things we may learn how to judge of experiences and to estimate their goodness. Those are not always the best which are attended with the most violent affections and most vehement motions of the animal spirits or have the greatest effects on the body. Nor are they always the best that 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 they are raised if they are qualified as before mentioned, the higher the better. Experiences, thus qualified, will be attended with the most amiable behavior, will bring forth the most solid and sweet fruits, 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 all-sufficient God that they shall not have so great an effect in proportion on the body and will be less oppressive to nature. 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 steadfastly on him saw 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 the manner of speech and behavior. — But,
3. There is another thing concerning the experiences of Christians of which it is of yet greater importance that we should be aware than of the preceding, and that is the degeneration 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; viz. 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. This I have seen in very many instances, and great are the mischiefs that have risen 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, 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 by laying great weight on the natural and imaginary part, yielding to it and indulging it, whereby 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. At length the experiences of some persons, who began well, come to little else but violent motions of carnal affections with great heats of the imagination, a great degree 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 unwholesome. It appears to me 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 enthusiastic notions and practices began at first by this means, that it was such a degenerating of experiences which first gave rise to them or at least led the way to them. — Nothing in the world so much exposes to this as an unheeded spiritual pride and self-confidence and persons being conceited of their own stock without an humble, daily, and continual dependence on God. 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 (Exo. 16:20). Pride above all things promotes this degeneracy of experiences because it grieves and quenches the Spirit of the Lamb of God; and so it kills the spiritual part, cherishes the natural part, inflames the carnal affections, and heats the imagination. — The unhappy subject of such a degeneracy, for the most part, is not sensible of his own calamity; but because he finds himself still violently moved, has 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. 3:3), “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 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 become little else but joy in self, joy in a person’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 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 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, till 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 christened 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 solemn 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 meetings may gradually prevail; if not in any unsuitable behavior while together in the meeting, yet when they break up to go home, they may naturally consort together in couples for other than religious purposes; and it may at last so terminate that young persons may go to such meetings chiefly for the sake of such an opportunity for company-keeping.
The defect there sometimes is in the experiences of Christians exposes them to degenerate as well as the mixture that they have. Deficient maimed experiences do sometimes become more and more so. The mind being wholly intent upon those things that are in view and those that are most wanting being neglected, there is less and less of them and so the gap for corruption to come in grows wider and wider. And commonly both these causes operate together. — We had need to be jealous over ourselves with a godly jealousy as the apostle was over the Christian Corinthians, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so our minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. God indeed will never suffer his true saints totally and finally to fall away, but yet may punish their pride and self- confidence by suffering them to be long led into a dreadful wilderness by the subtle serpent to the great wounding of their own souls and the interest of religion.
Before I dismiss this head of the degenerating of experiences, I would mention one thing more that tends to it; and that is persons aiming in their experience to go beyond the rule of God’s Word, i.e. aiming at that which is indeed, in some respect, beyond the rule. Thus some persons have endeavored utterly to root out and abolish all natural affection or any special affection or respect to their near relations, under a notion that no other love ought to be allowed but spiritual love and that all other love is to be abolished as carnal and that it becomes Christians to love none upon the account of anything else but the image of God; and that therefore love should go out to one and another only in that proportion in which the image of God is seen in them. They might as well argue that a man ought utterly to disallow of, and endeavor to abolish, all love or appetite to his daily food under a notion that it is a carnal appetite and that no other appetite should be tolerated but spiritual appetites. Why should the saints strive after that, as a high attainment in holiness, which the apostle in Rom. 1:31 mentions as one instance wherein the heathen had got to the most horrid pass in wickedness, viz. being without natural affection? Some have doubted whether they might pray for the conversion and salvation of the souls of their children any more than for the souls of others; because the salvation of the souls of others would be as much to God’s glory as the salvation of their children; and they have supposed that to pray most for their own would show a selfish disposition. So they have been afraid to tolerate a compassionate grief and concern for their nearest friends for fear it would be an argument of want of resignation to God. — It is true there is great danger of persons setting their hearts too much upon their earthly friends; our love to earthly friends ought to be under the government of the love of God and should be attended with a spirit of submission and resignation to his will, and everything should be subordinated to his glory. But that is no argument that these affections should be entirely abolished. The Creator of the world has put them in us for the good of mankind and because he saw they would be needful for them, as they must be united in society in the present state and are of great use when kept in their proper place; and to endeavor totally to root them out would be to reproach and oppose the wisdom of the Creator. Nor is the being of these natural inclinations, if well regulated, inconsistent with any part of our duty to God or any argument of a sinful selfishness any more than our natural abhorrence of pain, and the natural inclination to ease that was in the man Christ Jesus himself.
It is the duty of parents to be more concerned and to pray more for the salvation of their children than for the children of their neighbors; as it is the duty of a minister to be more concerned for the salvation of the souls of his flock and to pray more for them than those of other congregations because they are committed to his care. So our near friends are more committed to our care than others, and our near neighbors than those that live at a great distance; and the people of our land nation are more, in some sense, committed to our care than the people of China, and we ought to pray more for them and to be more concerned that the kingdom of Christ should flourish among them than in another country where it would be as much, and no more, for the glory of God. Compassion ought to be especially exercised towards friends, Job 6:14. Christ did not frown upon a special affection and compassion for near friends; but rather countenanced and encouraged it from time to time in those who, in the exercise of such an affection and compassion, applied to him for relief for their friends; as in the instances of the woman of Canaan, Jairus, Mary and Martha, the centurion, the widow of Nain, and many others. The apostle Paul, though as much resigned and devoted to God and under the power of his love perhaps as any mere man that ever lived, had a peculiar concern for his countrymen the Jews, the rather on that account that they were his brethren and kinsmen according to the flesh. He had a very high degree of compassionate grief for them, insomuch that he tells us he had great heaviness and continual sorrow of heart for them and could wish himself accursed from Christ for them. — Many things are proper for the saints in heaven which are not suitable in our state in this world: and for Christians, in these and other instances, to affect to go beyond the present state of mankind and what God has appointed as fit for it, is an instance of that which the wise man calls being righteous overmuch and has a tendency to open a door for Satan and to cause religious affections to degenerate into something very unbecoming Christians. — Thus I have, as I proposed, taken notice of some things with regard to the inward experiences of Christians by which Satan has an advantage.
I now proceed,
II. To take notice of something with regard to the external effects of experiences which also gives
Satan an advantage. What I refer to is the secret and unaccountable influence that custom has upon persons with respect to the external effects and manifestations of the inward affections of the mind. By custom I mean both a person’s being accustomed to a thing in himself, in his own common, allowed, and indulged practice; and also the countenance and approbation of others amongst whom he dwells by their general voice and practice. It is well known and appears sufficiently by what I have said already in this treatise and elsewhere, that I am far from ascribing all the late uncommon effects and outward manifestations of inward experiences to custom and fashion as some do. I know it to be otherwise, if it be possible for me to know anything of this nature by the most critical observation, under all manner of opportunities of observing. But yet this also is exceeding evident by experience that custom has a strange influence in these things. I know it by the different manners and degrees of external effects and manifestations of great affections and high discoveries in different towns according to what persons are gradually led into and to which they are insensibly habituated by example and custom; and also in the same place, at different times, according to their conduct. If some person conducts them that much countenances and encourages such kind of outward manifestations of great affections, they naturally and insensibly prevail and grow by degrees unavoidable; but, when afterwards they come under another kind of conduct, the manner of external appearances will strangely alter. And yet it seems to be without any proper design or contrivance of those in whom there is this alteration. It is not properly affected by them, but the influence of example and custom is secret and insensible to the persons themselves. These things have a vast influence in the manner of persons manifesting their joys, whether with smiles and an air of lightness or whether with more solemnity and reverence; and so they have a great influence as to the dispositions persons have under high affections to abound in talk; and also as to the manner of their speaking, the loudness and vehemence of their speech. It would, however, be exceeding unjust and against all the evidence of fact and experience and the reason of things to ascribe to custom all dispositions to be much in speaking to others and to speak in a very earnest manner. It is manifest that example and custom has some way or other a secret and unsearchable influence on those actions that are involuntary, in different places, and in the same places at different times.
It would be very unreasonable and prejudicial to the interest of religion to frown upon all these extraordinary external effects and manifestations of great religious affections. — A measure of them is natural, necessary, and beautiful and the effect in no wise disproportioned to the spiritual cause and is of great benefit to promote religion. Yet I think they greatly err who suppose that these things should be wholly unlimited and that all should be encouraged in going to the utmost length that they feel themselves inclined to. There ought to be a gentle restraint upon these things, and there should be a prudent care taken of persons in such extraordinary circumstances. They should be moderately advised at proper seasons not to make more ado than there is need of but rather to hold restraint upon their inclinations; otherwise extraordinary outward effects will grow upon them, they will be more and more natural and unavoidable, and the extraordinary outward show will increase without any increase of the internal cause. Persons will find themselves under a kind of necessity of making a great ado with less and less affection of soul, till at length almost any slight emotion will set them going; and they will be more and more violent and boisterous and will grow louder and louder till their actions and behavior become 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 arisen and under each head have observed some particular errors that have flowed from these fountains.