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of the Gospel. Gen. A. replied, that such a discourse would be highly pleasing to him, and added, though I think it probable that my religious profession differs, in some particulars from yours; yet I feel myself in no danger of unjust severity ; and as far as I shall take a part in the conversation, it will be my aim to speak for edification and not for ridicule
I am not insensible, however, how difficult it is to speak of the creeds and forms of those from whom we differ, without deviating from the law of charity,
There has lately been, (said the landlord,) a religious move among the people in this vicinity, and from strict examination, there is no doubt but souls have been really brought to God. But there are some things I do not understand, or they are not according to holy writ. Preachers and people seem guided too much by their feelings, and are too ready to take impressions to be from the spirit of God, without sufficient reference to the word. I by no means doubt the influence of the spirit; it is the agent which changes and sanctifies the souls of believers; it becomes a witness in their souls, of their adoption; it is their comforter, it impresses duty on their minds, and helps, by enlightening the understanding, to a right knowledge of the gospel. But as there are many spirits gone out into the world, and as it is a duty to try the spirits, to see whether they be of God, it appears to me there is no other rule of trial but the gospel. If then, under religious impressions, suitable regard is not paid to the gospel, there is great probability of being deceived. Satan may transform himself into an angel of light, or our own imaginations may hurry us into acts of imprudence, and all be supposed to be the teachings of the spirit, unless we judge concerning our impressions, by what we are taught in the great rule of faith and practice. It is certain, that the spirit never teaches differently, from what it taught prophets and apostles to write; hence, what is contrary thereto, cannot be from God.
I have had occasion to notice several instances, in which I could not but think some were hurried on by what they considered impressions to duty, to the no small injury of the cause of religion. I have heard some, who professed a call to preach, who not only were destitute of all ability to explain and enforce the gospel, but destitute of common decency in their manner of address. They felt the impressions they spake of, no doubt, but I am inclined to think if they had considered the gifts and graces of a christian minister, as taught
'in the gospel, they must have been convinced that the impression was not from God. For it is an unquestionable truth, God will not call a man to any work, for which he has Do qualifications, and on whom he will not bestow them.
Private members, under the profession of immediate inspiration, have flatly contradicted each other, and even their minister, on points of doctrine ; and some of them have flatly contradicted the plainest doctrines of the gospel. Is it possible, that the spirit of truth could teach them such contradictions ? And to these may be added, that they sometimes will arise in meeting, and predict things which are never fulfilled, and pretend to the gift of discerning spirits.
This is not the character of all, but instances of this kind occur with individuals. But when I put all circumstances together, and compare the whole with the standard of truil, I must say, that being wholly guided by the feelings or impressions of the mind is dangerous, leads to error and impiety. Evil-eyed unbelievers notice these inconsistencies, and represent religion full of contradictions and absurdities, and are themselves hardened in iniquity. It is in vain to endeav-,' or to correct their false notions, for the moment it is attempted, you are charged with fighting the power of God. Such seem to have laid aside scripture and reason both; hence, they feel no argument, nor the plainest precept of the gospel.
One would think, (said the General,) that the knowu tasure of the predictions, and repeated mistakes, in what has been taken to be religious feelings, could not fail to correct such faults. By what means they support themselves in the belief that their inconsistent and misguided notions are all from the holy ghost, is utterly beyond my power to conceive. I have, however, heard it alledged, that the happiness enjoyed under an indulgence of such impressions, is a proof they were from God. But I sbould say that happiness is doubtful, which is indebted for its existence to predictions never accomplished, and to impressions which contradict each other and the scriptures.
I have observed, also, that numbers speak and pray together;
and when this is the case, no one can be edified, because no one can understand. What scripture can be fairly brought to support the practice, I do not know ; certain it is, that Paul to the Corinthians speaks against it; therefore it is equally certain, that no other inspired writer can speak in its favor.
I am equally stumbled with the encouragement given to private members of no ability, to interrupt their public speakers, by rising and speaking at all times during the public Ciscourse. I am not a stranger to the reasons offered in vindicuiion of this practice ; but they have always appeared to me without force or propriety. That the spirit of God should inspire a man to preach, and at the same time inspire an old woman, or an inexperienced boy or girl to prevent him, by delivering a set of rhapsodies, often contradictory to themselves, sometimes predicting what never comes to pass, without sense or argument,' and not unfrequently with the most unbecoming gestures ; is too obviously an error, to need any formal arguments to prove it so. The scripture, which says, 'If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth hy, let the first hold his peace,' I take to be directly opposite to this practice, though usually brought in favor of it. The apostle was addressing himself principally to the public teachers, and not to private members ; and he directs that they should Speak one by one ; and not two three at a time.
I have had, said the landlord, the same thoughts, and have noticed, also, with no small astonishment, the zeal with which they decry all creeds, and printed forms of church government. Though this is done by a majority, the more sober and sensible part, see and lament the evil. One of them, in conversation a short time since, said, he could not agree with his brethren in this thing. Some of my brethren, suid he, speak of all creeds and forms of church government with the greatest contempt, calling them human inventions, woodin walls, the shackles of the church, &c. ; boasting they have no creed or discipline but the New Testament. Indeed, I believe, that every article of faith and practice should le drawn from the scriptures; but why the collection and explanation of those scriptures, which relate to the government of the church, if put in print, are any more the work of men, or human invention, than printed sermons, or many other religious books, I am unable to see; nor if one is decried and disused as human, why the other should not be al
And yet my brethren will print, and read printed sermons, as pure gospel.
In all public discourses which are not printed, the human mind is employed to explain the text taken, as well as in the explanation of scripture or discipline ; and if the latter constitutes it a human invention, why should not the same labor
of mind in the former case, give their spoken sermons the same character ? Can writing and priating, so change the character, as to make that human, which if only spoken, would be divine ?
It is also a fact, that in all our church labors with offending members, we not only quote the scriptures on discipline, but explain them also; and I have had many queries, whether there was not as much of human invention in our explanation, as in the explanation of those who print what they judge a right method of understanding and applying them.
My brethren profess to be guided by the spirit, and they think what is done under its influence, cannot be a human invention; whether it be a sermon, or the use of what they consider the discipline of the New Testament. But I still quere, by what fair argument it can be proved, that men may not be under as high inspiration in writing and printing, as in speaking; and if they may, whether there may not be printed disciplines or forms of government, as evangelical as our method of governing the church.
It has also happened in our church meetings, that different brethren have given very different explanations concerning the same scriptures on the subject of discipline; and yet each supposed himself under the immediate guidance of the spirit; of this I could not conceive, because the spirit's influence is always uniform and consistent. We have also found it
very difficult to reconcile the different opinions, and to fix on any method for trying an accused member; hence, myself and others have lamented the want of some established and known method, to prevent these divisious.
This conversation, (said the landlord,) met my views completely. His remarks appeared so just, and he spake with so much candor, that I had a strong hope he might become the means of doing away their irregularities ; of making them a consistent and sober people. But when I have considered other circumstances, my hope has nearly vanished; for I find that too many among them treat this man, and all like him, as formalists, and accuse them of being enemies to the power of religion. But this charge is certainly without foundation, for we rarely meet with a more consistent christian.
Do you think, (said Charles,) he will continne his membership with them? I am not able to answer this question, (said the landlord ;) he has never given any intimation con
cerning it. When he joined them, they were not so irregular as at present; and it is probable that he continues among them from a sense of duty; hoping to be able to do away what is wrong, and to reduce them to the order of the gospel.
This is certainly laudable, (said Charles,) and his conduct ought to find more imitators. There is, perhaps, no christian denomination, but may have some inconsistent mem'sers, who need checks and advice from the experienced and wise.
Having set at table sometime after tea was ended, they now returned thanks for the mercy received, and retired to the setting room, for further conversation.
I have often reflected, (said the General, in reply to Charles,) how difficult it is to find even a single parish church, where all the members agree exactly in every thing, which relates to religion. Though all experienced christians seem to agree in the great saring points of christianity; yet those of the same denomination, sometimes disagree in matters of lesser importance, as well as those who are called by different names; and among them may be also found such as can hardly be ranked among real christians ; so widely do they differ concerning the most important subjects of bible experience and practice. This should teach us not, improperly, to cover up the failings of our own profession; and with an uncharitable hand, uncover the failings of all such as do not adopt our forms and name.
I have been a member of a christian church many years, and though I have often felt myself totally unworthy of so great a privilege, yet I trust, in the great subject of experimental godliness, I have not been deceived. We have an evangelical ministry, and a goodly number who keep the unity of the spirit in the bonds of peace. But there have been among us, from time to time, some persons whose belief and walk were very inconsistent with gospel rules. Such lave occasioned much pain and uneasiness in the church, and though they are chiefly expelled or withdrawn, yet even now, there are remaining members who are rather hindrances than helps to the people of God. They have frequently been labored with, but to no effect; and are likely to remain in their present opinion and practice.
Previous to the ministry of Mr. Goodman, who is himself an old man, the minister of our parish held that all persons should join the church as soon as they entered the married state; this brought many into it who were strangers to