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intimacy of the most facred kind, and such an union of spirit as none can know, but those who know it by happy experience. It is then, and not till then that we become acquainted with the purer charms of religious fociety, and with the real endearments which subsist among the children of God.
5. Mutual communion is further recommended by its being a most powerful preservative to all young professors, against a relapse into any of their former sins. . And indeed, the far greater part of those who have resolved to quit their vain and wicked course, and to dedicate the subsequent part of their life to God, have found upon trial that their feeble resolutions were, at first, unequal to the force of temptation. Their vows in the morning were violated in the evening, because they were not the offspring of virtuous habits, but the result of chagrin and fear, or of remorse for recent guilt. Seldom, therefore, did they survive the assault of repeated temptation. And even the strongest of those who stand alone, and are indifferent as to the counsel and communion of saints, seem to be ftrangely insensible of the dangers to which they are exposed. Were any pleasing or lucrative vice to present itself, they are destitute of all restraint and admonition from the church of God. And as their relapse would be supported by innumerable examples in the world, they are the more easily beguiled by that fatal sophism of fleshly wisdom, “ I may fin to-day and rea pent to-morrow.” So then they fall in heart before they have the opportunity to enjoy either the emollument or pleasure of their favourite vice : they fall alone, and they have none to lift them up. Now, it is impossible for these men to make much progress in religion, while they keep at a distance from God's people, and hide the corruptions of their heart, as a secret disease.Moreover, by concealing their good desires, they take the most effectual method to extinguish them; but by making them known, they acquire considerable strength and vigour. A religious connection would support them by the happiest arguments and brightest examples of faith and virtue, and be a moft valuable substitute for the coolness or loss of their carnal friends. If they be really desirous of a change of heart, they cannot be premature in securing a change of company ; nor should the confideration of their weakness and past inconstancy, deter them from asking advice, and joining the people; for God is able to keep them from falling and to preserve them blameless unto his second coming. · The eye of a spiritual leader, the affectionate care of their biethren, and the consideration, that they have disclosed their case to the faithful, and openly espoused their cause before the world, would be pows erful motives against their besetting fins, and strengthen themi against the force of future temptations. · So very animating is the influence of religious society upon all its members, that the powers of darkness have manifeftly adopied and pursued the inaxim, first to divide, and then devour. Eve was deceived in her husa band's absence; Joalh departed to [dolatry after the death of
Jescata; and Peter denied his matter while warming himself with the wicked.
6 As mutual communion tends, on the one hand, to preserve the inconitant from going afty; so it ends, on the other, to purify the church from the daily advances of lukewarmness and formaliy, Were it the distingui hing chara&eriftic of a chriftian, merely to hear the word, to receive the sacrament, and to talk largely of the history and doétrines of Chritia its, then the for, mai: it might fill up his place to advantage and credit; he might dispiay his talents, and dictate to the simple : but when he is de, fired to favour us with some account of the progress which his fou is making in the divine life, he feels a painful emotion, and mostly replies in a negative or evasive manner. Finding, at length, ibat he cannot diftinguish himself among a people who with him io tell them what he is, rather than what he knows, he will be obliged, as well as inclined, to repress his liiga pictensions io experimental knowledge, and to content himself as a bare hesrer of the word, instead of coming forward as an active and judicious member of the church of God.
Of lukewarm and degenerate professors, it may be remarked, that they cease to love their class, in proportion as they cease to love their God. Afier losing their spiritual life and comfort; after cleaving to riches, pleasure, and living from day to day without repentance in the light of God, it becomes a very painful talk to speak to others of their state and experience ; because they are filled with pride and self.eneem, in proportion as they dege. nerate in humility and the love of their Maker. Indtead, there. fore, of meeting their brethren with joy, they are looking every where for an excuse, and as much with a view to pacify their con. science, as to apologize for their abfence. They say it is hurry of business, engagements with company, or unexpeded occur. rences, which prevent their meeting. This is their falfhood and diflimulation; when at the same time, it is not these outward things, but their own heart which is the greatest impediment. So they continue till their brethren despair of doing them good, and are obliged, with the utinost reluctance to discontinue their names, If this severe, but necessary branch of discipline, were not en. forced, there would be no diftinction between the precious and the vile; and our societies would soon degenerate into the ordi. nary state of mere parish christians! But if we adhere to the true and original design of these social means; if we comfort the feeble, restore the fallen, and chase from among us the formal and the vain, we shall retain our piety and zeal, and be preserved blameless and devoted, till the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. . 7. It is finally observed, that mutual communion is infinitely advantageous to our public ministry, by giving us every necessary information concerning the people's state and experience. We are not endowed with the powers of omniscience; we cannot, as
the blessed Jesus, reply to the secret cases and thoughts of our auditors; but by frequently meeting the classes, and visiting from honfe to house, we shall be enabled to make a proper selection of fubjects, and to apply the promises, or direct the threatnings, as their cafes may require. It is solely by the use of these social means, that the spiritual paftor can learn the various effeéts and fuccelles of his word : and it must afford him the utmost satisfaction io hear how believers were edified and comforted, and the feeble ftrengthened and confirmed; how the tempted were supported and relieved, and finners awakened and converted. His soul will be fo encouraged, and his hopes so revived, as to return to his labours with renewed vigour. He will row in hope, and reap in joy. Here it is worthy of remark, that a minister, whose abilities are coltivated by hearing experience, and advifing in cases of conscience ; by removing objections and supporting the tempted, acquires a habit of preaching much more pertinent and useful, than one who improves them merely by the efforts of reading and study. The latter may judiciously explain and beautifully illustrate the sacred writings; he may instruct and edify the ignorant, and acquire much applause as an orthodox and popular speaker ; but the former opens and exposes the conscience, and addresses the finner in the striking language of his own heart. His auditors stand amazed, and not unfrequently suppose him to have received previous information of all their state, and to have chosen the discourse peculiarly on their account. He gives to all their portion of meat in due season ; and the general silence which reign's through the assembly, proclaims the truth and power of his word' to be felt and acknowledged by all.
Thus, my brethren, is our mutual communion productive of good in every form. It unveils to our view the largest scale of regeneration and holiness, it lays open the devices of Satan, and enriches the mind with an abundant store of knowledge which would not otherwise be known. It refines our sympathy and addis to our mutual regard ; it fortifies our faith, confirms our hope, and gives ftrength and luftre to the whole of our virtues. Above all, it enlarges our views of the social happinefs of the celestial "world, and it increases our communion with God, which is the highest of all human felicity, and the completion of our utmott wish.
In order that the weekly classes may be edifying and profitable, it is essentially requisi'e that the people speak their experience with the utmost freedom and fimplicity: Where this method is a:tended to, the utility of these meetings is found to exceed every thing that can be said in their favour. We must acknowledge, indeed, that when people are defective in either of these virtues, and discover an unwillingness to open their state, the true end of thefe focial means is subverted, and the devotion rendered both tedious and unprofitable. When the Leader defires them to speak, *and they reply for the most part negligently and evasively, inftead
of giving a plain and clear account. It is because they find their minds dull and heavy; and they are not making that progress in religion which they ought to do. It were greatly to be wished, that all who find their evidence beclouded, or their comforts withdrawn, would be more diligent to enquire into the several causes, and more ingenuous and honest in discovering them for our mutual good. Should the Holy Spirit withdraw his comforts, it is for some apparent cause. We must have grieved him, either by unbelieving reasonings and fears, which bring darkness and disquietude on the mind; by wicked and evil tempers, which are ever attended with shame and remorse; or by vain and wandering thoughts, which deprive us of all communion with God, and debase our hearts to be the common sink of all imaginary folly and vice. It evidences a very large degree of sacred wisdom, when we are able to trace diftin&tly the several causes of our delertion; and a much larger degree of real humility, when we are willing to communicate them for the good of others.
Now, when Satan has tempted us to any particular fin, or overcome us by any of the aforesaid evils, he tempts us also to conceal it; because he is well aware, that the works of darkness are unable to bear the light, and that speaking of our temptations is the surest way to subdue them. He suggests that our distrelles are the more deplorable, and our fins more heinous, than those of other men. He suggests, again, that if we discover the whole of our unfaithe fulness and depravity, we shall be considered as the pefts of religious fociety, and as the vilest of human characters. And, as every man is better acquainted, with the corruption of his own heart, than with any other, we are but too apt to believe bim. It is partly, therefore, through temptation, and partly through the prevalence of haughty reason, that many of our brethren, are so frequently induced to give us a very unfair and partial account of their experience. They speak freely enough of the goodness and mercy of God; but they hide, or only hint in an obscure manner whatever is disagreeable and worthy of blame; and their testimony amounts to no more than an illusive fragment, instead of a plain and just account.
, It is of the utmost consequence, that these people be better in. farmed of the nature of religious society, and of the duties which we owe to the church of God. If we are desirous to have any connection whatever with that blessed community, it must be as children of the same father, and as branches of the fame family. If we be members of the body of Christ, we must, of course be members one of another : and the harmony which subfifts between the members of the natural body, is instructive to us of the har. mony which subsists between the members of the spiritual body: especially where they endeavour to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace, and to be all with one accord in one place. In a christian society, it is true, we cannot be intimate and acquainted with all, but as the Lord Jesus had a selection of dilciples
and friends, who were witnesses of all his words and works; so 'We may chufe a class, and associate with those to whom we are most attached. It is further remarked, that as the conversation is confined to the ftate of the foul, and no one allowed to divulge it elsewhere; as nothing is said with regard to private, or family concerns, there can be no just cause for our restraint and want of freedom. If we suffer from delicate circumstances, we may speak of being tried without entering into particulars, and the brethren will feelingly pray for our deliverance and comfort. But if we have backflidden in heart, if we are templed by Satan, or tried by our corruptions, we ought to communicate it without evasion and without reserve. It is of consequence that the ignorant be inItructed in the truths of the gospel, and it is of consequence also that the chriftian warrier be informed of the nature, and strengih of his enemies. We wish to hear of the depravity of the old man as well as the grace of the new. As the voice of nature and truth is known when it is heard, and as little children win their parents' affection by their artless tales ; so are we always delighted when we hear a real and original account of a brother's experie ence. Never, therefore, let us entertain the thought, that we ihall be despised for telling the truth; for, however wile and holy those may now be to whom we speak, their minds were once as ignorant, and their hearts as much depraved as our own; and the numerous conflicts they have had in obtaining the victory, have taught them to be the more compassionate towards the weak.
It is not intended here, to give any formal directions for speak: ing experience, but only to point out what is conceived to be the happiest method, And, it is certain, that those succeed best who are much in prayer, and diligent in communication with God; who are frequent and faithful in the du'y of self-examination, and who are accurate in observing the work of grace upon their own Soul. By living in the divine presence, they acquire a calmness and composure of mind, which raises them above the fear of man, and above that hurry and flatter which the timid often find in speaking. They relate the seasons they have had in public or pri. vate devotion ; and they speak of their temptations and trials, their faults and comforts, with all that case and freedom which mark a humble and devout mind. They never make the meeting tedious and dull, by a repetition of the same things from week to week; by using litile else but common place terms; or by affecting the style and manner of others. To do so, is sure to produce an unpleasant effect; and it indicates the foul to be in a slothful and lukewarm state : or, that what they say is not their own, but borrowed from fome other person. Their experience is always interesting, origina', and new ; because it is impossible that the Lord should forget them for a whole week, or, even for a single moment: and the reputation and respect they acquire from others, is, that of fathers and pillars in the church of God. VOL. XIX. April 1796.