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I had by this time embraced the christian religion, and made profetion of it. But my belief of scripture was merely general; I had many doubts ftill left concerning a variety of doctrines of the lat importance, such as the tricity, original fin, the incarna. tion and satisfactiou of Jesus Christ, the operations of the Holy Spirit, &0. Sometimes the Calviniitic opinions pleased me most, and fometimes I inclined core to thoie of the Pelagians and even to Socinianin. To attain to any settled perfuafon was not in my power. Ia prelence of such of my friends as I accounted trúl, pious—I was mute, but to others declared myself without Teierve, and we endeavoured mutually to confirm each other in such pernicious errors as were most suited to our carnal wisdom.
A few months before my conversion I wrote a small differta, tion
in which I seem to have expressed the sentiments of a mind seriouly affecied with a sense of the infinite importance of religion. It contains some phrases at which I have since much wondered. I consulted no books, but wrote rapidly my thoughts as they arose, so that I still wonder by what means it happened that I stumbled on several ideas found there. Among other mat. ters I reprehended and earnestly exhorted those who deny the effe&tual operations of the Holy Spirit; gravely expressing a wish that they may soon learn the reality of them from their own undoubted experience. Such was my wish for them, and, wretched creature that I was, I had neither the least knowledge or experience of that blessing myself, nor any care to acquire it.
During all this time the Lord rescued me occasionally from the most imminent dangers. One day, when I walked with Mr. L. on the ice, we bad many narrow escapes—the Lord spared us. The next day Mr. L. going on the ice alone, fell into the water and was drowned. His deplorable death, when the news reached me, affected me with a variety of very sensible emotions, yet not proportioned to the occasion, or in fact of any use to me. To certain of my friends I observed that Mr. L. had suddenly become much wiser than we, and that I should be heartily glad to know what he knew, &c. Thus I remarked on the tragical occasion, and soon forgot it. Some time after, the ice breaking under me, I fell, myself, into the stream of a rapid river. The danger of a terrible death then threatened me indeed, chiefly on account of the swiftness of the current beneath, and there was no help at hand, Hopeless of escape I yet struggled, and, by the good providence of God, emerged. . About two months before my conversion, I manifested my extreme enmity against the pious ministers of the gospel, against the people of God, and against the gospel itself, in an anonymous publication ; not indeed with a design to do the former any real mischief, but merely to make them ridiculous and to hold them up to the laughter of the world. Yet, such was the long-sufferag compassion of God toward me, that at this very season he
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graciously screened me from the melancholy consequences of some violent quarrels in which I had involved myself, interposing by his kind providence to save me from such formidable effects of them, as, had they taken their course, would probably have given a different cast and complexion to my whole condition. Though I treated him as if with scorn, and, hardening my heart still more and more, provoked his vengeance by accumulated offences, he yet dealt graciously with me. He not only spared but prea served me; and in a short time with a mighty hand delivered me from the dominion of Satan, conducting me to the chief of all distinctions and of all pleasures, the honour and happiness of knowing and of loving him, who is the fountain of all and of all manner of blessing, and exalted-oh to what a height ! above all creatures,
[To be continued.].
The COMMUNION of SAINTS. THE most wise and benevolent Author af NATURE, has
1 formed all his creatures propitious to the social life. This is obvious in the whole scale of beings, from the minute insect, to the most enormous animal. The sportive shoals in the deep, the cheerful tribes of the air, the peaceful flocks in the field, and the voracious beasts of the forest, are all sensible to the delighiful charms of Society, and the happiness and pleasure it affords through every stage of life. The human species, whether in a savage or civilized ftate, impressed by instinct, and impelled by necessity, have formed themselves into political, commercial, or benevolent associations; each member contributing its part, has added to the happiness of the whole. Society, however, is no where so advantageously experienced as in the Church of God. Here it is less incommoded with moral evil; and here it is replete with virtue, and secured by ties of eternal moment. Each of it's members are called to be one with Christ, as he is one with the Father; and being members of his mystical body, they have fel, lowship one with another: and, therefore, of all blessings, next to the enjoyment of God, the communion of saints is to be preferred. Its origin is from heaven, and its obligations divine. That it is not of human institution, is apparent from the earliest pages of the gospel history. Here we see the Redeemer diftin. guishing by baptism, the sincere and the penitent, from the crowd. ing niultitudes; we see him delegating the apostles to teach and baptize all nations; and we see the apostles every where forming societies, and finally delegating their authority to Elders, that the discipline and order of Christ might be preserved to posterity in its original form.
As it is solely of the mutual communion of these churches, which I propose to consider in the following pages; and, as the
communion here contended for, was never maintained but by christians of real fimplicity and genuine experience; I would wish to remove the idea of novelty from the reader, by adducing fome fpecimens of its history, and to conciliate his affe&tions by the fan£tion of ages. .
With regard to the instituting and promoting of mutual commu. nion, it is with the utmost satisfaction, we review the assiduity of the original founders of Chriftianily. They were not contented with instructing the multitude in public; but made the most affectionate enquiries concerning the faith and piety of their more immediate followers. The penitent Jews, who were admitted to the baptism of John, confessed their fins, and each received advice as his cafe required. To some, who applied to the Lord Jesus for corporeal relief, it was said ; " Believe ye that I am able to do this ? " To another, “ Dost thou believe on the Son of man ?" and to the apostles, “ Whom say ye that I am ?" The case of Peter is peculiarly to our purpose : three times he had denied his Master, and three times it was repeated, “ Simon son of Jonas, Jovest thou me?"
The apostles, in acquiring a thorough knowledge of the spiri. tual state of all their disciples, imitated the benevolent example of their Lord, and followed the directions of the Holy Spirit, Philip said to the noble Eunuch, “ Understandest thou what thou readert?" And, when the discourse had so far convinced his judgment, that he proposed himself as a candidate for baptism ; Philip said again, “ If thou believest with all thy heart, thou mayest ?" So, likewise, to the twelve whom Paul found at Ephesus, who had received the baptism of John, it was his first enquiry, “ Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed ?" In this city he bestowed a larger proportion of his labours than in any other; one while teaching in public, and another, from house to 'house. And, as our blessed Lord had many things to disclose to his disciples in private, which neither the understanding nor the heart of the multitudes were prepared to receive, so the apostle had families to instruct in private ; he had the tempted and dis. tressed to support and comfort; he had the offenders to admonish; and he had to learn the spiritual state of all the church, by conversing with them in convenient parties. These happy toils and focial delights, were so endearing to him, that they seem to have been the principal enjoyment he promised himself, from his intended visit to the saints at Rome, whose faith and piety were celebrated throughout the world. “I long to see you, says he, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end you may be established; that is, that I may be comforted together with you, by the mutual faith both of you and me."
As the apostle was active to establish mutual communion in all the churches while present; so he was importunate in his letters, that they should preserve it in his absence. He impresses it on the Hebrews as the safest way to avoid the evils of sin, and the
much cheanner of fomeing the allemowoke unto lovers
terrors of punishment, “ Take heed, brethren, left there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called To-day; left any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of fin. Let us consider one another, to provoke unto love, and to do good-works; not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another : and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” It is as a preservative against the same evils, that mutual communion is recommended to the Thessalonians. “Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.” The most effectual method of doing it, is more particularly expressed in the epiftle to the Colossians, “ Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” So also in St. Jude : “ But ye, beloved, building up yourselves in your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost : keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.”
Since the apostolic age, whenever there has been a revival of pure religion, there has also been a revival of mutual communion; and wherever there has been a declension of religion, mutual communion has declined in proportion. But being a private exercise of devotion, which the faithful cultivated among them. selves, less has been said of it in writings intended for the public eye.
From the numerous instances of mutual communion, promoted by our English parochial clergy, before the act of uniformity, a fpecimen is selected from the Media of Mr. Isaac Ambrofe, some. time miniler of Preston in Lancashire. “ Christians," says this judicious divine, “must drive an open and a free trade; they must teach one another the mysteries of godliness. Tell your experience; and tell your conflikts; and tell your comforts. As iron sharpeneth iron, as rubbing of the hands maketh both warm, and as live coals make the rest to burn; so let the fruit of society be mutually sharpening, warming, and influencing. Chriftians should also bewail their failings, infirmities, deadness, coldness, narrowness, and unprofitableness, one to another; to see whether others have been in the same case; what course they took; and what remedy they procured. Many souls may perish through too much modesty and reserve. In the prophets' time, when proud scorners talked vainly, and did what they lift, then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another. No doubt, they spake of God, of his counsels, and of his works and ways; of his providence and goodness, and of the baseness of atheistical thoughts. Would christians thus meet and exchange words and notions, they might build up one another ; they might heat and inflame one another; and they might strengthen and encourage one another as the brethren did St. Paul. And have we not an
express command for this duty of conference ? « Thus shall ye fay every one to his neighbour, What hath the Lord answered : And, What hath he spoken," Jer. xxiii. 35.
About the year 1677, the awakening fermons of Dr. Horneck, and Dr. Woodward, together with the morning lectures of Mr. Smithies at Cornhill, were eminently owned in the conversion of many young men. “ These,” fays Dr. Woodward, * " soon found the benefit of their conferences one with another, by which (as some of them told me with joy) they better discovered their own corruptions, the devil's temptations, and how to coun. termine his subtle devices, as to which each person communicated his experiences to the rest."
It is worthy of remark, that in most revivals of religion, there has seldom been'much persecution, till the wicked recovered from their amazement, and saw their neighbour's reproving them by instruction and example. So it happened to these Societies. Early in the reign of James the II. when the court was crowded with' papifts; through the misrepresentations of fome suspicious persons, or false brethren ; they so far were exposed to its jealousy as to be obliged to substitute the name of club for that of society; and to remove from their beloved retirement to a room in a Coffee-house. Thus, while they employed the wisdom of the ferpent, they retained the innocence of the dove. A second storm also fell upon them from the bishop of London ; but when his lordship became better informed, he spake of them in very favourable terms: so also did the archbishop Tillotson.
Instead of scattering them, these persecutions served only to invigorate their faith, to unite their hearts, and to purify them from the lukewarm and less affected members. They survived every assault, till the death of their worthy pastors : But when the fhepherds were removed, their sheep were scattered.
The second of these Societies was formed by the late venerable Mr. Wesley. In 1738, he returned from Georgia, and preached in moft of the churches of London, what were then called new doctrines ; viz. the forgiveness of sins, and justification by faith. Many were awakened, and classes were formed almost in a similar manner to Dr. Horneck's. None of these worthy men had any previous design of doing this; but were led step by step, accord. ing to the providence of God. The latter, was intending to return to his fellowship at Oxford; but while he was detained to preach in town, several persons who had been awakened by his sermons, came to him for advice and comfort. At length, he judged it inost convenient for himself, and profitable for them, 1o defire them to call together on Thursday evening. The first night he was met by twelve perfons ; and after singing and prayer, he enquired into the state of their minds, and gave them advice one by one. This is the simple form of a methodift class, which has continued invariably the same to the present day. After this
of a mnd gave and pra
* Account of the Religious Societies in London, ch. i.