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And so it was in most of the conversions of particular persons recorded in the history of the New Testament: they were not affected in that silent, secret, gradual, and insensible manner, which is now insisted on; but with those manifest evidences of a supernatural power, wonderfully and suddenly causing a great change, which in these days are looked upon as certain signs of delusion and enthusiasm.
The apostle in Eph. i. 18, 19. speaks of God enlightening the minds of Christians, and so bringing them to believe in Christ, to the end that they might know the exceeding greatness of his power to them who believe. The words are, The eyes of your understanding being enlightened: that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, &c. Now when the apostle speaks of their being thus the subjects of his power, in their enlightening and effectual calling, to the end that they might know what his mighty power was to them who believe, he can mean nothing else, than that they might know by experience. But if the saints know this power by experience, then they feel it, discern it, and are conscious of it; as sensibly distinguishable from the natural operations of their own minds. But this is not agreeable to a notion of God operating so secretly, and undiscernibly, that it cannot be known they are the subjects of any extrinsic influence at all, otherwise than as they may argue it from scripture assertions; which is a different thing from knowing it by experience. So that it is very unreasonable and unscriptural, to determine that affections are not from the gracious operations of God's Spirit, because they are sensibly not from the persons themselves who are the subjects of them.
On the other hand, it is no evidence that affections are gracious, that they are not purposely produced by those who are the the subjects of them, or that they arise in their minds in a manner which they cannot account for.
There are some who make this an argument in their own favour, when speaking of what they have experienced: "I am sure I did not make it myself: it was a fruit of no contrivance or endeavour of mine; it came when I thought nothing of it; if I might have the world for it, I cannot make it again when I please." And hence they determine, that what they have experienced, must be from the mighty influence of the Spirit of God, and is of a saving nature; but very ignorantly, and without grounds. What they have experienced, may indeed not be from themselves directly, but may be from the operation of an invisible agent, some spirit besides their own: but it does not thence fol
low, that it was from the Spirit of God. There are other spirits who have influence on the minds of men, besides the Holy Ghost. We are directed not to believe every spirit, but to try the spirits, whether they be of God. There are many false spirits, exceeding busy with men, who often transform themselves into angels of light, and in many wonderful ways, with great subtlety and power, mimic the operations of the Spirit of God. And there are many of satan's operations, which are very distinguishable from the voluntary exercises of men's own minds. They are so, in those dreadful and horrid suggestions, and blasphemous injections with which he follows many persons; also, in vain and fruitless frights and terrors, of which he is the author. And the power of satan may be as immediate, and as evident in false comforts and joys, as in terrors and horrid suggestions; and oftentimes is so in fact. It is not in men's power to put themselves into such raptures as those of the Anabaptists in Germany, and many other raving enthusiasts like them.
Besides, it is to be considered, that persons may have impressions on their minds, which may not be of their own producing, nor from an evil spirit, but from a common influence of the Spirit of God: and the subjects of such impressions, may be of the number of those we read of, Heb. vi. 4, 5. that are once enlightened, and taste of the heavenly gift, and are made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and taste the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come; and yet may be wholly unacquainted with those better things that accompany salvation. And where neither a good nor evil spirit have any immediate hand, persons, especially such as are of a weak and vapoury habit of body, and the brain easily susceptive of impressions, may have strange apprehensions and imaginations, and strong affections attending them, unaccountably arising, which are not voluntarily produced by themselves. We see that such persons are liable to such impressions, about temporal things; and there is equal reason, why they should about spiritual things. As a person asleep has dreams, of which he is not the voluntary author; so may such persons, in like manner, be the subjects of involuntary impressions, when they are awake.
It is no sign that religious affections are truly holy and spiritual, or that they are not, that they come to the mind in a remarkable manner with texts of scripture.
It is no sign that affections are not gracious, that they are occasioned by scriptures so coming to mind; provided it be the scripture itself-or the truth which the scripture so brought contains and teaches-that is the foundation of the affection, and not merely or mainly the sudden and unusual manner of its coming to the mind.
But on the other hand, neither is it any sign that affections are gracious, that they arise on occasion of scriptures brought suddenly and wonderfully to the mind; whether those affections be fear or hope, joy or sorrow, or any other. Some seem to look upon this as a good evidence that their affections are saving, especially if the affections excited are hope or joy, or any other which are pleasing and delightful. They will mention it as an evidence that all is right, that their experience came with the word, and will say, "There were such and such sweet promises brought to my mind: they came suddenly, as if they were spoke to me: I had no hand in bringing such a text to my own mind; I was not thinking of any thing leading to it; it came all at once, so that I was surprised. I had not thought of it a long time before; I did not know at first that it was scripture; I did not remember that ever I had read it." And it may be they will add, "One scripture came flowing in after another, and so texts all over the Bible, the most sweet and pleasant, and the most apt and suitable, which could be devised; and filled me full as I could hold: I could not but stand and admire the tears flowed; I was full of joy, and could not doubt any longer." And thus they think they have undoubted evidence, that their affections must be from God, and of the right kind, and their state good: but without any good grounds. How come they by any such rule, as that if any affections or experiences arise with promises, and comfortable texts of scripture, unaccountably brought to mind, without their recollection, or if a great number of sweet texts follow one another in a chain, that this is a certain evidence their experiences are saving? Where is any such rule to be found in the Bible, the great and only sure directory in things of this nature?
What deceives many of the less knowing and considerate sort of people, in this matter, seems to be this; that the scripture is the word of God, and has nothing in it which is wrong, but is pure and perfect: and therefore, those experiences which come
from the scripture must be right. But then it should be considered, affections may arise on occasion of the scripture, and not properly come from, as the genuine fruit of the scripture, but from an abuse of it. All that can be argued from the purity and perfection of the word of God, with respect to experiences, is this, that those experiences which are agreeable to the word of God, are right, and cannot be otherwise; and not that those affections must be right, which arise on occasion of the word of God coming to the mind.
What evidence is there that the devil cannot bring texts of scripture to the mind, and misapply them, to deceive persons?— There seems to be nothing in this which exceeds the power of Satan. It is no work of such mighty power, to bring sounds or letters to persons' minds. If Satan has power to bring any words or sounds at all to persons' minds, he may have power to bring words contained in the Bible. There is no higher sort of power required in men, to make the sounds which express the words of a text of scripture, than to make the sounds which express the words of an idle story or song. And so the same power in Satan which is sufficient to renew one of those in the mind, is sufficient to renew the other: the different signification, which depends wholly on custom, alters not the case, as to ability to make or revive the sounds or letters. Or will any suppose, that texts of scripture are such sacred things, that the devil durst not abuse them, nor touch them? In this also they are mistaken. He who was bold enough to lay hold on Christ himself, and carry him hither and thither into the wilderness, into an high mountain, and to a pinnacle of the temple, is not afraid to touch the scripture, and abuse that for his own purposes. For, at the same time that he was so bold with Christ, he brought one scripture and another to deceive and tempt him. And if Satan did presume, and was permitted to put Christ himself in mind of texts of scripture, to tempt him, what reason have we to determine, that he dare not, or will not be permitted, to put wicked men in mind of texts of scripture, to tempt and deceive them? And if Satan may thus abuse one text of scripture, so he may another. Its being a very excellent place of scripture, a comfortable and precious promise, alters not the case, as to his courage or ability. And if he can bring one comfortable text to the mind, so he may a thousand; and may choose out such scriptures as tend most to serve his purpose. He may heap up scripture promises, tending, according to the perverse application he makes of them, wonderfully to remove the rising doubts, and to confirm the false joy and confidence of a poor deluded sinner.
We know the devil's instruments, corrupt and heretical teachers, can and do pervert the scripture, to their own and others
damnation, 2 Pet. iii. 16. We see they have the free use of scripture, in every part of it; there is no text so precious and sacred, but they are permitted to abuse it, to the eternal ruin of souls; and there are no weapons they use, with which they do more execution. There is no manner of reason to determine, that the devil is not permitted thus to abuse the scripture, as well as his instruments. For when the latter do it, they do it as his instruments, through his instigation and influence: and doubtless the devil's servants do but follow their master, and do the same work that he does himself.
And as the devil can abuse the scripture, to deceive and destroy men, so may men's own folly and corruptions. Men's own hearts are deceitful like the devil, and use the same means to deceive. So that it is evident, that persons may have high affections of hope and joy, arising on occasion of texts of scripture, yea precious promises coming suddenly and remarkably to their minds, as though they were spoken to them, yea a great multitude of such texts following one another in a wonderful manner; and yet all this be no argument that these affections are divine, or that they are any other than the effects of Satan's delusions.
I would further observe, that persons may have raised and joyful affectious, which may come with the word of God, and not only so, but from the word, and those affections not be from Satan, nor yet properly from the corruptions of their own hearts, but from some influence of the Spirit of God with the word, and yet have nothing of the nature of true and saving religion in them. Thus the stony ground hearers had great joy from the word; yea, arising from the word, as growth from a seed; and their affections had, in their appearance, a very great and exact resemblance with those represented by the growth on the good ground -the difference not appearing, until it was discovered by the consequences in a time of trial-and yet there was no saving religion in these affections.
It is no evidence that religious Affections are saving, or that they are otherwise, that there is an appearance of love in them. There are no professing Christians who pretend, that this is an argument against the truth and saving nature of religious affec
|| Mr. STODDARD, in his "Guide to Christ," speaks of it as a common thing, for persons while in a natural condition, and before they have ever truly accepted of Christ, to have scripture promises come to them, with a great deal of refreshing; which they take as tokens of God's love, and hope that God has accepted them; and 80 are confident of their good estate, p. 8, 9. Impression anno 1735.