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When this deficiency and disproportion is great, as sometimes it is in real saints, it is not only a great deformity in it. self, but has many ill consequences; it gives the devil great advantage, and leaves a door open for corruption, and 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, and draw, and encourage us : By the one, he appears as an infinitely great, pure, holy, and heart searching judge ; by the other, as a gentle and gracious father and a lowing friend : By the one he is a pure, searching and burning flame; by the other, a sweet refreshing, light. These two kinds of attributes areas it were admirably tempered together in the revelation of the gospel: There is a proportionable manifestation of justice and mercy, holiness and grace, maj-esty and gentleness, authority and condescension. , God hath 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 much of a discovery of his love and grace, without a proportionable discovery of his awful majesty, and his holy and searching puority, would tend to spiritual pride, carnal confidence and presumption ; and a defect on the other hand, viz. Having much of 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 is perfect, but yet the actual light and communications wellave, are not perfect, but many ways exceeding imperfect and maimed, And experience plainly shews that Christians may have high experiences in some respects, and yet their circumstances may be unhappy in this regard, that their experiences and 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 desect; (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 that 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 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 of a light behavior. I believe, in many instances, such things have arisen from a good cause, as their causa sine gua mon, 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 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 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 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 33
it were balanced another, and caused a more happy sedate
ness 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 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 vehetment 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, - * - or * * * * * * -2. That are the least deficient and partial, in which the diverse things that appertain to Christian experience are proportionable one to another: And - * * * *Vol. HI. 2 M - - - - , , . . . . * *
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 behavior, 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, 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 manner of speech and behavior. But III. There is another thing concerning experiences of Christians, of which it is of yet greater importance that we should be aware, than either of the preceding, and that is the
degenerating of eafleriences. What I mean is something di
verse 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 partiai 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 affectiens and workings of the imagination, and a degree of selfrighteousness 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 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 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 selfconfidence, and persons being conceited of their own stock, without an humble, daily and continued 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, Exod.