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xvi. 20. Pride, above all things promotes this degeneracy of experiences, because it grieves and quenches the Spirit of the Lamb of God, and so kills the spiritual part; and it cherishes the natural part, it inflames the carnal affections, and heats the imagination.
The unhappy person that is the subject of such a degeneracy of experiences, for the most part, is not sensible of his own calamity ; but because he finds himself still riolently moved, and 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. iii. 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 the foundation of 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 him, self. So the joy of Christians, by reason of the mixture there is with spiritual joy, is liable to degenerate, and to come to that at last, as to be but 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 through the mixture there is, 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 but little else but fondness, and zeal for a party ; yea, through a mixture of a natural love to the oppo: site sex, may degenerate more and more, until 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 10 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 solemnized 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 come to that, 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 of the degenerating of experiences operate together.
We had need to be jealous over ourselves with a godly jeallousy, 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 selfconfidence, 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.
And 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 endeav. ored 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 any thing 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 tolerat. ed but spiritual appetites. Why should the saints strive after that, as an high attainment in holiness, which the apostle in Rom. i.31, mentions as one instance wherein the Heathen had got to the most horrid pass in wickedness, viz. A 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 shew 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.
And 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 every thing should be subordinated to his glory: But that is no argument that these affections
should be entirely abolished, which the Creator of the world has put within mankind, 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 the natural abhorrence that there is in the human nature of pain, and 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 much 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 and 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, vi. 14. Christ did not frown upon a special affection and compassion for near friends, but countenanced and encouraged it, from time to time, in those that in the exercise of such an affection and compassion, applied to him for relief for their friends; as in the instance of the woman of Canaan, Jairus, Mary and Martha, the centurion, the widow of Nain, and many others. The Apostle Paul, though a man as much resigned and devoted to God, and under the power of his love, perhaps as any mere man that ever lived, yet 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.
There are many things that are proper for the saints in heaven, that are not suitable to the state God has set us in, 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 a being righteous overmuch, and has a tendency to open a door for Satan, and to cause religious affections to degenerate into something very unbecoming of 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 in the
2d. Place, to take notice of something with regard to the external effects of experiences, which also gives Satan an advantage. What I have respect to, is the secret and unac. countable 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 any thing 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 insensibly habituated to, by example and custom ; and also in the same place, at different times, according to the conduct