FIRST INTERVIEW WITH DAVID BRAINERD - SEPARATIONS FROM CHURCHES - LETTER TO REV. MR. WHITMAN - CORRESPONDENCE WITH MR. CLAP - CHARACTER OF THAT GENTLEMAN - SERMON AT THE ORDINATION OF MR. ABERCROMBIE - LETTER TO MR. M’CULLOCH - VIEWS OF THE PROPHECIES RELATIVE TO THE CHURCH - SERMON AT THE ORDINATION OF MR. BUELL.
In September, 1743, Mr. Edwards, while attending the public commencement at New-Haven, first became acquainted with David Brainerd, then a missionary at Kaunaumeek. Brainerd, when a sophomore in college, in consequence of some indiscreet remarks, uttered in the ardour of his religious zeal, respecting the opposition of two of the faculty to the preaching of Mr. Whitefield, but which a generous mind would have wholly disregarded, had been expelled from the college. As this was the commencement, at which his class were to receive the degree of A.B., he came to New-Haven to attempt a reconciliation with the faculty, and made to them a truly humble and christian acknowledgment of his fault. “I was witness,” says Mr. Edwards, “to the very christian spirit which Brainerd showed at that time; being then at New-Haven, and one whom he thought fit to consult on that occasion. There truly appeared in him a great degree of calmness and humility; without the least appearance of rising of spirit for any ill-treatment which he supposed he had suffered, or the least backwardness to abase himself before those, who, as he thought, had wronged him. What he did was without any objection or appearance of reluctance, even in private to his friends, to whom he freely opened himself. Earnest application was made on his behalf, that he might have his degree then given him; and particularly by the Rev. Mr. Burr of Newark, one of the correspondents of the Honourable Society in Scotland; he being sent from New Jersey to New-Haven, by the rest of the commissioners, for that end; and many arguments were used, but without success. He desired his degree, as he thought it would tend to his being more extensively useful; but still, when he was denied it, he manifested no disappointment nor resentment.”
I have already alluded to the numerous separations of individual members, from the churches to which they belonged, which occurred about this period, and usually for the alleged want of piety, either of the minister or of the church. As these commonly took place without a regular dismission, it became a practical question of some interest, how the withdrawing members should be treated. Mr. Edwards, having been consulted on this subject, with reference to some of the members of the second church in Hartford, who had thus withdrawn, addressed the following letter to the minister of that church.
“To the Rev. Elnathan Whitman, of Hartford, Connecticut.
Northampton, Feb. 9, 1744.
rev. and dear sir,
Mr. P - was here this week, and requested my opinion, with respect to the proper treatment of a number of persons, who have absented themselves from your meeting, and have since attended public worship in W - - . I declined giving any opinion, except a very general one, to him; but, on reflection, have concluded to express my thoughts to you, as a friend, leaving you to attach to them such weight as you may see cause.
“As to differences, among professing Christians, of opinion and practice, about things that appertain to religion, and the worship of God, I am ready to think that you and I are agreed, as to the general principles of liberty of conscience; and that men’s using methods with their neighbours, to oblige them to a conformity to their sentiments or way, is in nothing so unreasonable, as in the worship of God; because that is a business, in which each person acts for himself, with his Creator and Supreme Judge, as one concerned for his own acceptance with him; and on which depends his own, and not his neighbour’s, eternal happiness, and salvation from everlasting ruin. And it is an affair, wherein every man is infinitely more concerned with his Creator than he is with his neighbour. And so I suppose that it will be allowed, that every man ought to be left to his own conscience, in what he judges will be most acceptable to God, or what he supposes is the will of God, as to the kind, or manner, or means of worship, or the society of worshippers he should join with in worship. Not but that a great abuse may be made of this doctrine of liberty of conscience in the worship of God. I know that many are ready to justify every thing in their own conduct, from this doctrine, and I do not suppose that men’s pretence of conscience is always to be regarded, when made use of to justify their charging the society of worshippers they unite with, or the means of their worship, or indeed the kind or manner of their worship. Men may make this pretence at times under such circumstances, that they may, obviously, be worthy of no credit in what they pretend. It may be manifest from the nature and circumstances of the case, and their own manner of behaviour, that it is not conscience, but petulancy, and malice, and wilfulness, and obstinacy, that influence them. And, therefore, it seems to me evident, that, when such pleas are made, those that are especially concerned with them as persons that are peculiarly obliged to take care of their souls, have no other way to do, but to consider the nature and circumstances of the case, and from thence to judge whether the case be such as will admit of such a plea, or whether the nature of things will admit of such a supposition, that the men act conscientiously in what they do, considering all things that appertain to the case. And in this, I conceive, many things are to be considered and laid together, as - the nature of that thing is the subject of controversy, or wherein they differ from others, or have changed their own practice - the degree in which it is disputable, or how it may be supposed liable to diversity of opinion, one way or the other, as to its agreeableness to the word of God, and as to the importance of it, with regard to men’s salvation or the good of their souls - the degree of knowledge or ignorance of the persons, the advantages they had for information, or the disadvantages they have been under, and what has been in their circumstances that might mislead the judgment - the principles that have been instilled into them - the instructions they have received from those, of whose piety and wisdom they have had a high opinion, which might misguide the judgment of persons of real honesty, and sincerity, and tender conscience - the example of others - the diversity of opinion among ministers - the general state of things in the land - the character of the persons themselves - and the manner of their behaviour in the particular affair in debate.
Now, Sir, with regard to those persons that have gone from you, to W - however you may look upon their behaviour herein as very disorderly, yet, if you suppose (the case being considered with all its circumstances) that there was any room for charity, that it might be through infirmity, ignorance, and error of judgment, so that they might be truly conscientious in it; that is, might really believe it to be their duty, and what God required of them, to do as they have done; you would, I imagine, by no means think, that they ought to be proceeded with, in the use of such means as are proper to be used with contumacious offenders, or those that are stubborn and obstinate in scandalous vice and wilful wickedness; or that you would think it proper to proceed with persons, towards whom there is this room left for charity, that possibly they may be honest and truly conscientious, acting as persons afraid to offend God, so as to cut them off from the communion of the Lord, and cast them forth into the visible kingdom of Satan, to be as harlots and publicans.
Now, it may be well to examine, whether it can positively be determined, when all things are taken into consideration with respect to these persons, who have absented themselves from your assembly, that it is not possible in their case, that this might really be their honest judgment, that it was their duty to do so, and that God required it of them, and that they should greatly expose the welfare of their own souls, in attending no other public worship but that in your congregation. I suppose these persons are not much versed in casuistical divinity. They are of the common people, whose judgments, in all nations and ages, are exceedingly led and swayed. They are not very capable of viewing things in the extent of their consequences, and of estimating things in their true weight and importance. And you know, dear Sir, the state that things have been in, in the country. You know what opinions have lately prevailed, and have been maintained and propagated, by those that have been lifted up to heaven, in their reputation for piety and great knowledge in spiritual things, with a great part of the people of New England. I do not pretend to know what has influenced these people, in particular; but I think, under these circumstances, it would be no strange thing, if great numbers of the common people in the country, who are really conscientious, and concerned to be accepted with God, and to take the best course for the good of their souls, should really think in their hearts that God requires them to attend the ministry of those that are called New Light Ministers, and that it would be dangerous to their souls, and what God approved not of, ordinarily to attend the ministry of others; yea, I should think it strange if it were otherwise. It ought to be considered, how public controversy, and a great and general cry in matters of religion, strongly influences the conduct of multitudes of the common people, how it blinds their minds, and wonderfully misleads their judgments. And the rules of the gospel, and the example of the apostles, most certainly require that great allowances be made in such cases. And particularly the example of the apostle Paul, with regard to great numbers of professing Christians, in the church of Corinth; who, in a time of great and general confusion in that church, through the evil instructions of teachers whom they admired, who misled and blinded their judgments, ran into many and great disorders in their worship, and woeful schisms and divisions among themselves - particularly with regard to ministers, and even with regard to the apostle Paul himself, whom many of them seem for a time to have forsaken, to follow others who set up themselves in opposition to him; though, as he says, he had been their father who begat them through the gospel. Yet with how much gentleness does the apostle treat them, still acknowledging them as brethren; and though he required church censures to be used with regard to the incestuous person, yet there is no intimation of the apostle taking any such course, with those that had been misled by these false teachers, or with any that had been guilty of these disorders, except with the false teachers themselves. But as soon as they are brought off from following these false apostles any longer, he embraces them without further ado, with all the love and tenderness of a father; burying all their censoriousness, and schisms, and disorders, at the Lord’s supper, as well as their ill treatment of him, the extraordinary messenger of Christ to them. And, indeed, the apostle never so much as gave any direction for the suspension of any one member from the Lord’s supper, on account of these disorders, or from any other part of the public worship of God; but instead of this, gives them directions how they shall go on to attend the Lord’s supper, and other parts of worship, in a better manner. And he himself, without suspension or interruption, goes on to call and treat them as beloved brethren, Christians, sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints; and praises God in their behalf, for the grace that is given to them by Christ Jesus; and often and abundantly exhibits his charity towards them, in innumerable expressions which I might mention. And nothing is more apparent than that he does not treat them as persons, with respect to whom there lies a bar in the way of others treating them with the charity that belongs to saints, and good and honest members of the christian church, until the bar be removed by a church process. And, indeed, the insisting on a church process with every member that has behaved disorderly, in such a state of general confusion, is not a way to build up the church of God, (which is the end of church discipline,) but to pull it down. It will not be the way to cure a diseased member, but to bring a disease on the whole body.
I am not alone in these sentiments; but I have reason to think that Col. Stoddard, from the conversation I have had with him, is in the like way of thinking. There came hither, the last fall, two young men belonging to the church at New-Haven, who had been members of Mr. Noyes’s church, but had left it and joined the separate church, and entered into covenant with it, when that church was embodied. This was looked upon as a crime, that ought not to be passed over, by Mr. Noyes and the rector. They declared themselves willing to return to Mr. Noyes’s meeting; but a particular confession was required of them in the meeting-house. Accordingly, each of them had offered a confession, but it was not thought sufficient; but it was required that they should add some things, of which they thought hard; and they consulting me about it, I acquainted Col. Stoddard with the affair, and desired his thoughts. He said he looked upon it unreasonable to require any confession at all; and that, considering the general state of confusion that had existed, and the instructions and examples these young men had had, it might well be looked upon enough, that they were now willing to change their practice, and return again to Mr. Noyes’s meeting. Not that you, Rev. Sir, are obliged to think as Col. Stoddard does; yet I think, considering his character and relation, his judgment may well be of so much weight, as to engage you the more to attend to and weigh the reasons he gives.
The objections, that these persons may have had against ordinarily attending your meeting, may be very trivial; but yet I suppose that, through infirmity, the case may be so with truly honest Christians, that trivial things may have great weight in their consciences, so as to have fast hold of them, until they are better enlightened: as in the former times of the country, it was with respect to the controversy between presbyterians and congregationalists. It was, as I have heard, in those days real matter of question with some, whether a presbyterian, living and dying such, could be saved. Some presbyterians, that have lived with us, have desired baptism for their children, who yet lived in neglect of the ordinances of the Lord Jesus Christ, because of a difference in some trivial circumstances of the administration, from the method of the church of Scotland. This matter being discoursed of, it was thought by Col. Stoddard in particular, that their neglect ought to be borne with, and they ought to be looked upon as Christians, and their children received to baptism; because, however trivial the foundation of their scruples were, yet through ignorance they might be honest and conscientious in them.
As to the church covenant, that these persons have entered into, wherein they have obliged themselves ordinarily to join in the worship of that church; I suppose none interpret the promises of a church covenant in such a sense, as to exclude all reserves of liberty, in case of an alteration of the judgment, in the affairs of conscience and religion, in one respect or another. As if a person, after incorporating with a congregational church, should become a conscientious episcopalian, or anabaptist, or should, by any change of judgment, come to think the means or manner of worship unlawful; and so in other respects that might be mentioned.
And if it be so that these persons, in some of their conversation and behaviour, have manifested a contentious, froward spirit, at the time of their withdrawing from your church; I confess this gives greater ground of suspicion of the sincerity of their plea of conscience; yet, as to this, I humbly conceive allowances must be made. It must be considered, that it is possible that persons, in an affair of this nature, may, in the thing itself, be conscientious, and yet, in the course of the management of it, may be guilty of very corrupt mixtures of passion and every evil disposition; as indeed is commonly the case with men, in long controversies of whatever nature, and even with conscientious men. And therefore it appears to me, that if persons in such a case are not obstinate, in what is amiss in them in this respect, and don’t attempt to justify their frowardness and unchristian speeches, they notwithstanding may deserve credit, when they profess themselves conscientious in the affair in general.
Thus, dear Sir, I have freely communicated to you some of my thoughts, with regard to some of the concerns of this difficult day, which prove a trouble to you; not however with any aim at directing your conduct, but merely to comply with the request to which I have alluded. I am fully sensible, that I am not the pastor of the second church of Hartford; and I only desire you would impartially consider the reasons I have offered. Begging of Christ, our common Lord, that he would direct you in your theory and practice, to that which will be acceptable in his sight,
I remain, Rev. Sir,
Your friend and brother,
In May, 1743, Mr. Edwards went, as he often did, to Boston, to attend the convention of the clergy, which is held the day after the General Election. He was on horseback, and had his eldest daughter on a pillion behind him. At Brookfield, they fell in company with the Rev. Mr. Clap, rector of Yale College, his wife and son-in-law, also on horseback, with several others, all traveling in the same direction; and Mr. Edwards, joining the company, rode side by side with Mr. Clap, during a considerable part of the journey. At the commencement of Harvard college in the following year, 1744, Mr. Clap stated, before a large number of gentlemen, both at Boston and Cambridge, that, while riding through Leicester, in May of the year preceding, he was informed by Mr. Edwards, that Mr. Whitefield told him, “that he had the design of turning out of their places the greater part of the ministers of New England, and of supplying their pulpits with ministers from England, Scotland, and Ireland.” This statement surprised those who heard it; yet, coming from such a source, it was believed, and extensively circulated. Mr. Edwards heard of it with astonishment, and without hesitation denied that he had said so. Mr. Clap, hearing of this denial, addressed a letter to Mr. Edwards, dated Oct. 12, 1744, in which he stated anew the alleged conversation, in the same terms; but before the latter received it, he had forwarded a letter to Mr. Clap, dated Oct. 18, 1744, showing him his mistake, and calling on him to correct it. On Oct. 29th, he wrote a reply to Mr. Clap’s letter of the 12th; and receiving another, dated Oct. 28th, before he sent it, he replied to that also in the postscript, under date of Nov. 3d. Mr. Clap, finding that Mr. Edwards’s contradiction of his statement was believed; and having heard, though incorrectly, that Mr. Edwards was about to publish such a contradiction; incautiously published a letter to his friend in Boston, in which he not only re-asserted his former statement, but declared that Mr. Edwards, in his private correspondence with him on the subject, had made a declaration, equally full and strong, to the same point. Mr. Edwards published a reply, in a letter to his friend in Boston, dated Feb. 4, 1745; in which he gave his two letters of Oct. 18, and Oct. 29, with the postscript of Nov. 3; from which it appears that, instead of admitting the truth of Mr. Clap’s statement, he had most explicitly and solemnly denied it; and, in order to show how Mr. Clap might have been led into the mistake, acknowledged that he himself supposed that Mr. Whitefield was formerly of the opinion, that unconverted ministers ought not to be continued in the ministry; and that he himself supposed that Mr. Whitefield endeavoured to propagate this opinion, and a practice agreeable to it; and that all he had ever stated to any one was, his own opinion merely, and not any declared design of Mr. Whitefield. He also admitted, that Mr. Whitefield told him he intended to bring over a number of young men, to be ordained by the Messrs. Tennents, in New Jersey. He then asks, whether this is the same thing as Mr. Clap asserted, and suggests a variety of arguments, which seem absolutely conclusive, that he could never have made such a statement.
Mr. Clap, in reply to this, in a letter to Mr. Edwards, dated April 1, 1745, enters seriously upon the task of showing that Mr. Edwards’s assertion - “that Mr. Whitefield told him, that he intended to bring over a number of young men, to be ordained by the Messrs. Tennents, in New Jersey” - connected with the assertion - that Mr. Edwards himself supposed, that Mr. Whitefield was formerly of the opinion, that unconverted ministers ought not to be continued in the ministry, and that Mr. Edwards himself supposed that Mr. Whitefield endeavoured to propagate this opinion, and a practice agreeable to it - was equivalent to Mr. Edwards’s saying, that Mr. Whitefield told him, “that he had the design of turning out of their places the greater part of the ministers of New England, and of supplying their places with ministers from England, Scotland, and Ireland.”
Mr. Edwards, in a letter to Mr. Clap, of May 20, 1745, after exposing in a few words the desperate absurdity of this attempt, enters on the discussion of the question - Whether he ever made such a statement to Mr. Clap? - with as much calmness as he afterwards exhibited in examining the question of a self-determining power; and with such logical precision of argument, that probably no one of his readers ever had a doubt left upon his mind, with regard to it; - no, not even his antagonist himself; for he never thought proper to attempt a reply; and in the public protest of the faculty of Yale college, against Mr. Whitefield, he and his associates in office say, in alluding to this very conversation, “You told the Rev. Mr. Edwards of Northampton, that you intended to bring over a number of young men from England, to be ordained by the Tennents.” Those who have an opportunity of reading these communications, will find, in those of Mr. Edwards, an example of a personal controversy, conducted throughout, and to a very uncommon degree, in the spirit of the gentleman and the Christian.
This occurred at a period of great excitement, when many ministers had been removed, and many churches rent asunder; and when the minds of men were of course prepared beforehand to believe every thing that favoured their own side of the question. Mr. Clap was in this case obviously mistaken; still he was truly a man of respectability and worth. He had a powerful mind, rich in invention, and stored with knowledge, was profoundly versed in mathematics, physics, and astronomy, as well as the principles of law, and proved an able instructor and governor of the institution over which he presided. He was elected by a board of trustees, exclusively Arminian in sentiment, and all his associates in office held the same tenets. At the same time, though he entered warmly into the controversy relative to Mr. Whitefield, from a full conviction that it was his design to occasion the separation of churches, and to procure as far as possible the ejectment of all whom he regarded as unconverted ministers; and was doubtless happy in supposing himself able to prove that such was his avowed design, on the testimony of one of his warmest friends; yet he was far from taking the low ground of orthodoxy assumed by many on the same side, but always adhered to the doctrines of grace, and ultimately became their champion. Some time after this, he showed his magnanimity, by introducing the Essay on the Freedom of the Will, as a classic in the college.
In August, 1744, Mr. Edwards preached the sermon entitled, “The True Excellency of a Gospel Minister,” at the ordination of Mr. Robert Abercrombie, to the ministry of the gospel, at Pelham. This gentleman was from Scotland, having been made known to Mr. Edwards by his correspondents in that country; and through his kind offices was introduced to the people at Pelham. The sermon was immediately published.
The reader will probably recollect, that Mr. M’Culloch, in his letter of August 13, 1743, had expressed the opinion, that the church of God, previous to her ultimate extension and triumph, was destined to meet with “more extensive and formidable trials,” than she had ever before experienced. Mr. Edwards, from a minute investigation of the scriptural prophecies, having been convinced that this, which was at that time the commonly received opinion of the church, was erroneous; expresses his dissent from it in the following answer.
“To the Rev. Mr. M’Culloch.
Northampton, March 5, 1744.
rev. and dear sir,
I return you thanks for your most obliging, entertaining, and instructive letter, dated Aug. 13, 1743, which I received about the latter end of October: my answering which has been unhappily delayed, by reason of my distance from Boston, and not being able to find any opportunity to send thither, till the ship was gone that brought your letter; which I much regretted. My delaying to answer has been far from arising from any indifference with respect to this correspondence, by which I am sensible I am highly honoured and privileged.
“Tis probable that you have been informed, by other correspondents, before now, what the present state of things in New England is: it is, indeed, on many accounts very melancholy; there is a vast alteration within these two years; for about so long I think it is, since the Spirit of God began to withdraw, and this great work has been on the decline. Great numbers in the land, about two years ago, were raised to an exceedingly great height in joy and elevation of mind; and through want of watchfulness, and sensibleness of the danger and temptation that there is in such circumstances, many were greatly exposed, and the devil taking the advantage, multitudes were soon, and to themselves insensibly, led far away from God and their duty; God was provoked that he was not sanctified in this height of advancement, as he ought to have been; he saw our spiritual pride and self-confidence, and the polluted flames that arose of intemperate, unhallowed zeal; and he soon, in a great measure, withdrew from us; and the consequence has been, that the enemy has come in like a flood, in various respects, until the deluge has overwhelmed the whole land. There had from the beginning been a great mixture, especially in some places, of false experiences, and false religion with true; but from about this time, the mixture became much greater, many were led away with sad delusions; and this opened the door for the enemy to come in like a flood in another respect, it gave great advantages to these enemies and opposers of this work, furnished them with weapons and gave them new courage, and has laid the friends of the work under such disadvantage, that nothing that they could do would avail any thing to withstand their violence. And now it is come to that, that the work is put to a stop every where, and it is a day of the enemy’s triumph; but I believe also a day of God’s people’s humiliation, which will be better to them in the end than their elevations and raptures. The time has been amongst us when the sower went forth to sow, and we have seen the spring wherein the seed sprang up in different sorts of ground, appearing then fair and flourishing; but this spring is past, and we now see the summer, wherein the sun is up with a burning heat, that tries the sorts of ground; and now appears the difference, the seed in stony ground, where there was only a thin layer of earth on a rock, withers away, the moisture being dried out; and the hidden seeds and roots of thorns, in unsubdued ground, now spring up and choke the seed of the word. Many high professors are fallen, some into gross immoralities, some into a rooted spiritual pride, enthusiasm, and an incorrigible wildness of behaviour, some into a cold frame of mind, showing a great indifference to the things of religion. But there are many, and I hope those the greater part of those that were professed converts, who appear hitherto like the good ground, and notwithstanding the thick and dark clouds, that so soon follow that blessed sunshine that we have had; yet I cannot but stedfastly maintain a hope and persuasion that God will revive his work, and that what has been so great and very extraordinary, is a forerunner of a yet more glorious and extensive work. - It has been slanderously reported and printed concerning me, that I have often said, that the Millennium was already begun, and that it began at Northampton. A doctor of divinity in New England has ventured to publish this report to the world, from a single person, who is concealed and kept behind the curtain: but the report is very diverse from what I have ever said. Indeed I have often said, as I say now, that I looked upon the late wonderful revivals of religion as forerunners of those glorious times so often prophesied of in the Scripture, and that this was the first dawning of that light, and beginning of that work, which, in the progress and issue of it, would at last bring on the church’s latter-day glory; but there are many that know that I have from time to time added, that there would probably be many sore conflicts and terrible convulsions, and many changes, revivings, and intermissions, and returns of dark clouds, and threatening appearances, before this work shall have subdued the world, and Christ’s kingdom shall be every where established and settled in peace, which will be the lengthening of the Millennium or day of the church’s peace, rejoicing, and triumph on earth, so often spoken of. I was much entertained and delighted, dear Sir, with your thoughts on that text in Isa. lix. 19. which you signify in your letter, and so have many others been to whom I have communicated them; and as to what you say of some dreadful stroke or trial yet abiding, before the happy days of the promised peace and prosperity of the church, I so far agree with you, that I believe that, before the church of God shall have obtained the conquest, and the visible kingdom of Satan on earth shall receive its overthrow, and Christ’s kingdom of grace be every where established on its ruins, there shall be a great and mighty struggle between the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of Satan, attended with the greatest and most extensive convulsions and commotion, that ever were upon the face of the earth, wherein doubtless many particular Christians will suffer, and perhaps some parts of the church.
“But that the enemies of the church of God should ever gain such advantages against her any more, as they have done in times past, that the victory should ever any more be on their side, or that it shall ever be given to the beast again to make war with the saints, and to prevail against them, and overcome them, (as in Rev. xiii. 7. and Rev. xi. 7. and Dan. vii. 21.) to such a degree as has been heretofore, is otherwise than I hope. Though in this I would be far from setting up my own judgment, in opposition to others, who are more skilled in the prophecies of Scripture than I am. I think that what has mainly induced many divines to be of that opinion, is what is said in Rev. xi. chap. xi. concerning the slaying of the witnesses, Rev. xi. 7, 8.ver. 7, 8. ‘And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast, that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit, shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them. And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city,’ &c.
The event here spoken of, seems evidently to be that wherein the enemies of the church gain the greatest advantage against her that ever they have, and have the greatest conquest of her that ever they obtained, and bring the church nearest to a total extinction. For a long time the church is very small, represented by two witnesses, and they had been long in a very low state, prophesying in sackcloth; but now they are dead and their enemies triumph over them, as having gotten a complete victory, and look upon it that they are now past all possibility of recovery, there being less prospect of the church’s restoration than ever there was before. But are we to expect this, dear Sir, that Satan will ever find means to bring things to pass, that after all the increase of light that has been in the world, since the Reformation, there shall be a return of a more dark time than in the depth of the darkness of popery, before the Reformation, when the church of God shall be nearer to a total extinction, and have less of visibility, all true religion and light be more blotted out of the memories of mankind, Satan’s kingdom of darkness be more firmly established, all monuments of true religion be more abolished, and that the state of the world should be such, that it should appear further from any hope of a revival of true religion than it ever has done; is this conceivable or possible, as the state of things now is all over the world, even among papists themselves, without a miracle, a greater than any power short of divine can effect, without a long tract of time, gradually to bring it to pass, to introduce the grossest ignorance and extinguish all memory and monuments of truth; which was the case in that great extinction of true religion that was before the Reformation. And besides, if we suppose this war of the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit with the witnesses, wherein he overcomes them and kills them, to be that last war which the church shall have with the beast, that great and mighty conflict that shall be just before the final overthrow of antichrist, that we read of in the 16th chap. the 13th and following verses, and in the 19th chapter how shall we make them consist together? In the 11th chapter the church conflicts in sorrow, clothed in sackcloth, and in blood; in the 19th chap. the saints are not represented as fighting in sorrow and blood, though the battle be exceedingly great, but in strength, glory, and triumph. Their Captain goes forth to this battle, in great pomp and magnificence, on a white horse, and on his head many crowns, and on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, King of Kings and Lord of Lords; and the saints follow him, not in sackcloth, but coming forth on white horses, clothed in pure linen, clean and white, the raiment of triumph, the same raiment that the saints appear in, Rev. vii. 14. when they appear with palms in their hands, after they had washed their robes, that had been stained with their own blood, and made themselves white in the blood of the Lamb. In the conflict spoken of in chap. xi. the beast makes war with the witnesses, and overcomes them, and kills them: the same is foretold, Dan. vii. 21. and Rev. xiii. 7. But in that last great battle, just before the fall of antichrist, we find the reverse of this; the church shall obtain a glorious victory over the beast, and the beast is taken and cast into the lake of fire. Rev. xvii. 14. ‘These shall make war with the Lamb; and the Lamb shall overcome them; for he is Lord of Lords and King of Kings; and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful:’ compared with chap. xix. 16, to the end, and chap. xvi. 16, 17. In that conflict, chap. xi. the beast has war with the witnesses, and kills them, and their dead bodies lie unburied, as if it were to be meat for the beasts of the earth and fowls of heaven; but in that last conflict, Christ and his church shall slay their enemies, and give their dead bodies to be meat for the beasts of the earth and fowls of heaven, chap. xix. 17. &c. There is no manner of appearance in the descriptions that are given of that great battle, of any great advantages gained in it against the church, before the enemy is overcome, but all appearance of the contrary. The descriptions in the16th and 19th chapters of Rev. will by no means allow of such an advantage, as that of the overcoming and slaying of the church, or people of God, and their lying for some time unburied, that their dead bodies may be for their enemies to abuse and trample on, and make sport with. In the 16th chap. we have an account of their being gathered together into the place called Armageddon; and then the first thing we hear of after that, is the pouring out of the seventh vial of God’s wrath, and a voice saying, It is done; and so in chap. xix. we read of the beast, and the kings of the earth and their armies being gathered together, to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army; and then the next thing we hear of is the beast’s being taken, &c. The event of the conflict of the beast with the church, chap. xi. is the triumph of the church’s enemies, when they of the people, and kindred, and tongues, and nations, and they that dwell on the earth, shall see the dead bodies of the saints lying in the streets, and shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and send gifts one to another. But the event of that great and last battle, before the fall of antichrist, is quite the reverse of this, even the church’s triumphing over their enemies, as being utterly destroyed. Those events, that are consequent on the issue of the war with the witnesses, chap. xi. do in no wise answer to those, that are represented as consequent on that last conflict of antichrist with the church. ‘Tis said that when the witnesses ascended into heaven, the same hour there was an earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell; and in the earthquake were slain of men seven thousand! but this don’t seem at all to answer what is described, chap. xvi. and xix. The great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell; and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath; and every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. And it had been said before, that there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great. And in chap. xix. instead of slaying seven thousand men, it seems as if there was a general slaughter of all the enemies of the church, through the world. And besides, if we read this 11th chapter through, we shall see that the falling of the tenth part of the city and the rising of the witnesses, and their standing on their feet and ascending into heaven, are represented there as entirely distinct from the accomplishment of the church’s glory, after the fall of antichrist, and God’s judging and destroying the enemies of the church. The judgment here spoken of, as executed on God’s enemies, are under another woe, and the benefits bestowed on the church, are under another trumpet: for immediately after the account of the rising and ascending of the witnesses, and its consequences, follow these words, ver.14, 15. ‘The second woe is past, and behold the third woe cometh quickly. And the seventh angel sounded, and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever.’ And in the following verses, we have an account of the praises sung to God on the occasion; and in the last verse we have a brief hint of that same great earthquake, and the great hail, and those thunders, and lightnings, and voices, that we have an account of in the latter part of chap. xvi. so that the earthquake mentioned in the last verse of Rev. xi.chap. xi. seems to be the great earthquake, that attends the last great conflict of the church and her enemies, rather than that mentioned ver. 13.
The grand objection against all this is, that it is said, that the witnesses should prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth; and when they have finished their testimony, the beast should make war against them, and kill them, &c. and that it seems manifest that after this they are no longer in sackcloth; for henceforward they are in an exalted state in heaven: and that therefore, seeing the time of their wearing sackcloth is one thousand two hundred and sixty days, i.e. during the time of the continuance of antichrist; hence their being slain, and their rising again, must be at the conclusion of this period, at the end of antichrist’s reign.
In answer to which I would say, with submission to better judgments, that I humbly conceive that we can justly infer no more from this prophecy than this, viz. that the one thousand two hundred and sixty days is the proper time (as it were) of the church’s trouble and bondage, or being clothed in sackcloth, because it is the appointed time of the reign of antichrist; but this don’t hinder but that God, out of great compassion to his church, should, in some respect, shorten the days, and grant that his church should in some measure anticipate the appointed great deliverance that should be at an end of these days, as he has in fact done in the Reformation; whereby his church has had a great degree of restoration granted her, from the darkness, power, and dominion of antichrist, before their proper time of restoration, which is at the end of the one thousand two hundred and sixty days; and so the church, through the compassion of her Father and Redeemer, anticipates her deliverance from her sorrows; and has, in some respects, an end put to her testifying in sackcloth, as many parts of the church are henceforward brought out from under the dominion of the antichristian powers, into a state of liberty; though in other respects, the church may be said still to continue in her sackcloth, and in the wilderness, (as chap. xii. 14.) till the end of the days. And as to the witnesses standing on their feet, and ascending into heaven; I would propose that it may be considered, Whether any more can be understood by it, than the protestant church’s being now (at least as to many parts of it) able to stand on her own legs, and in her own defence, and being raised to such a state, that she henceforward is out of the reach of the Romish powers; that, let them do what they will, they shall never any more be able to get the church under their power, as they had before; as oftentimes in the Scriptures God’s people dwelling in safety, out of the reach of their enemies, is represented by their dwelling on high, or being set on high; Ps. lix. 1. Isa. xxxiii. 16. Ps. lxix. 29. and Ps. xci. 14. and Ps. cvii. 41. Prov. xxix. 25.; and the children of Israel, when brought out of Egypt, were said to be carried on eagle’s wings, that is lofty in its flight, flies away towards heaven where none of her enemies can reach her.
I might here observe, that we have other instances of God’s shortening the days of his church’s captivity and bondage, either at the beginning or latter end, in some measure parallel with this. Thus the proper time of the bondage of the posterity of Abraham, in a strange land, was four hundred years, Gen. xv. 13.; but yet God in mercy delayed their bondage, whereby the time was much shortened at the beginning. So the time wherein it was foretold, that the whole land of Israel should be a desolation and an astonishment, and the land should not enjoy her sabbaths, was seventy years, Jer. xxv. 11, 12.; and these seventy years are dated in 2 Chron. xxxvi. 20, 21.from Zedekiah’s captivity; and yet from that captivity to Cyrus’s decree was about fifty-two years, though it was indeed about seventy years before the temple was finished. So the proper time of the oppression of Antiochus Epiphanes, wherein both the sanctuary and the host should be trodden under-foot by him, was two thousand and three hundred days, Dan. vii. 13, 14. and yet God gave Israel a degree of deliverance by the Maccabees, and they were holpen with a little help, and the host ceased to be trodden under-foot before that time was expired. Dan. xi. 32, 34.
But in these things, dear Sir, I am by no means dogmatical; I do but humbly offer my thoughts on what you suggested in your letter, submitting them to your censure. ‘Tis pity that we should expect such a terrible devastation of the church, before her last and most glorious deliverance, if there be no such thing to be expected. It may be a temptation to some of the people of God, the less earnestly to wish and pray for the near approach of the church’s glorious day, and the less to rejoice in the signs of its approach.
But, let us go on what scheme we will, it is most apparent from the Scriptures, that there are mighty strugglings to be expected, between the church of God and her enemies, before her great victory; and there may be many lesser strugglings before that last, and greatest, and universal conflict. Experience seems to show that the church of God, according to God’s method of dealing with her, needs a great deal gradually to prepare her for that prosperity and glory that he has promised her on earth; as the growth of the earth, after winter, needs gradually to be prepared for the summer heat: I have known instances, wherein by the heat’s coming on suddenly in the spring, without intermissions of cold to check the growth, the branches, many of them, by a too hasty growth, have afterwards died. And perhaps God may bring on a spiritual spring as he does the natural, with now and then a pleasant sunshiny season, and then an interruption by clouds and stormy winds, till at length, by the sun more and more approaching, and the light increasing, the strength of the winter is broken. We are extremely apt to get out of the right way. A very great increase of comfort that is sudden, without time and experience, in many instances, has appeared to wound the soul, in some respects, though it seems to profit it in others. Sometimes, at the same time that the soul seems wonderfully delivered from those lusts, that are more carnal and earthly, there is an insensible increase of those that are more spiritual; as God told the children of Israel, that he would put out the former inhabitants of the land of Canaan, by little and little, and would not consume them at once, lest the beasts of the field should increase upon them. - We need much experience, to teach us the innumerable ways that we are liable to err, and to show us the evil and pernicious consequences of those errors. If it should please God, before many years, to grant another great revival of religion in New England, we should perhaps be much upon our guard against such errors as we have run into, and which have undone us this time, but yet might run insensibly into other errors that now we think not of.
You inquire of me, Rev. Sir, whether I reject all those for counterfeits that speak of visions and trances. I am far from doing of it: I am and always have been, in that matter, of the same opinion that Mr. Robe expresses, in some of those pamphlets Mr. M’Laurin sent me, that persons are neither to be rejected nor approved on such a foundation. I have expressed the same thing in my discourse on ‘the Marks of a Work of the True Spirit,’ and have not changed my mind.
I am afraid, dear Sir, that I have been too bold with you, in being so lengthy and tedious, and have been too impertinent and forward to express my opinion upon this and that; but I consider myself as writing to a candid, christian friend and brother, with whom I may be free and bold, and from whom I may promise myself excuse and forgiveness. Dear brother, asking your earnest prayers for me and for New England, I am your affectionate brother, and engaged friend and servant,
The opinion here expressed by Mr. Edwards, was not the result of a slight and cursory examination of the subject in discussion. He had a considerable time before examined, at great length, the prophecies of Daniel and John, with regard to this very point; and, as we shall soon have occasion to remark, had been convinced that the opinion, then commonly received, that the severest trials of the church were yet future, was erroneous.
The Rev. Samuel Buell, whom I have already mentioned, as having preached at Northampton during the absence of Mr. Edwards, in January, 1742, with uncommon fervour and success, continued his labours, as an evangelist among the churches, upwards of four years; and at length accepted of an invitation from the people of East Hampton, a village in the S. E. corner of Long Island, to become their minister. At his request, Mr. Edwards went to East Hampton, and there preached his installation sermon, on the 19th of September, 1746, from Isaiah lxii. 4, 5..
ARRIVAL OF DAVID BRAINERD AT NORTHAMPTON - HIS SICKNESS AND DEATH AT THE HOUSE OF MR. EDWARDS - HIS PAPERS - DEATH OF JERUSHA, THE SECOND DAUGHTER OF MR. E. - HER CHARACTER - CORRESPONDENCE OF MR. E. WITH REV. JOHN ERSKINE - ABSTRACT OF MR. E. ‘S FIRST LETTER TO MR. ERSKINE - PLAN CONCEIVED OF THE FREEDOM OF THE WILL - DEATH OF COL. STODDARD - KINDNESS OF MR. ERSKINE - LETTER OF MR. E. TO HIM - SECOND LETTER FROM MR. GILLESPIE - LETTER TO MR. M’CULLOCH - LETTER TO MR. ERSKINE - LETTER FROM MR. WILLISON - LIFE AND DIARY OF BRAINERD - LETTERS TO MESSRS. ERSKINE, M’CULLOCH, AND ROBE - ORDINATION OF REV. JOB STRONG - ANECDOTE OF REV. MR. MOODY - LETTER OF MR. E. TO HIS DAUGHTER MARY - SECOND LETTER TO MR. GILLESPIE.
The reader will recollect, that while Mr. Edwards was at New - Haven, in September, 1743, he formed an acquaintance with david brainerd, then a missionary to the Indians at Kaunaumeek, and became his counsellor at a most interesting period of his life. In March 1747, Brainerd, in consequence of extreme ill health, took leave of his Indians in New Jersey, and in April came into New England; when he was invited by Mr. Edwards to take up his abode in his own house. He came there on the 28th of May, apparently very much improved in health, cheerful in his spirits, and free from melancholy, yet at that time probably in a confirmed consumption. Mr. Edwards had now an opportunity of becoming most intimately acquainted with him, and regarded his residence under his roof as a peculiar blessing to himself and his family. “We enjoyed,” he observes, “not only the benefit of his conversation, but had the comfort and advantage of having him pray in the family from time to time.” He was at this time very feeble in health; but in consequence of the advice of his physician, he left Northampton for Boston, on the 9th of June, in company with the second daughter of Mr. Edwards. They arrived on the evening of the 12th, among the family relatives of Mr. Edwards in Boston, and for a few days the health of Brainerd appeared much amended; but a relapse on the 18th convinced his friends that his recovery was hopeless. Contrary to their expectations, however, he so far revived, that on the 20th of July they were able to leave Boston, in company with his brother, Mr. Israel Brainerd, and on the 25th they reached Northampton. Here his health continued gradually to decline, until early in October it was obvious that he would not long survive. “On the morning of Lord’s day, Oct. 4,” says Mr. Edwards, “as my daughter Jerusha, who chiefly attended him, came into the room, he looked on her very pleasantly, and said, ‘Dear Jerusha, are you willing to part with me? - I am quite willing to part with you: I am willing to part with all my friends: though if I thought I should not see you and be happy with you in another world, I could not bear to part with you. But we shall spend a happy eternity together.” He died on Friday, Oct. 9, 1747, and on the Monday following, Mr. Edwards preached the sermon at his funeral, from 2 Cor. v. 8. entitled, “True Saints when absent from the Body are present with the Lord;” which was published in the December following.
Brainerd, after destroying the early part of his Diary, left the residue in the hands of Mr. Edwards, to dispose of as he thought best. Mr. Edwards concluded to publish it, in connexion with a brief Memoir of his life.
In the ensuing February, Jerusha, the second daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Edwards, was removed by death. Her father, in a note to the Memoirs of Brainerd, thus alludes to this distressing event. “Since this, it has pleased a holy and sovereign God, to take away this my dear child by death, on the 14th of February, next following, after a short illness of five days, in the 18th year of her age. She was a person of much the same spirit with Brainerd. She had constantly taken care of and attended him in his sickness, for nineteen weeks before his death; devoting herself to it with great delight, because she looked on him as an eminent servant of Jesus Christ. In this time, he had much conversation with her on the things of religion; and, in his dying state, often expressed to us, her parents, his great satisfaction concerning her true piety, and his confidence that he should meet her in heaven, and his high opinion of her not only as a real Christian, but as a very eminent saint: one whose soul was uncommonly fed and entertained with things which pertain to the most spiritual, experimental, and distinguishing parts of religion: and one, who, by the temper of her mind, was fitted to deny herself for God, and to do good, beyond any young woman whatsoever whom he knew. She had manifested a heart uncommonly devoted to God in the course of her life, many years before her death; and said on her death - bed, that she had not seen one minute, for several years, wherein she desired to live one minute longer, for the sake of any other good in life, but doing good, living to God, and doing what might be for his glory.“
In the course of the year 1747, an epistolary correspondence was commenced between Mr. Edwards and the Rev. John Erskine of Kirkintilloch, afterwards the Rev. Dr. Erskine of Edinburgh, which was continued to the close of Mr. Edwards’s life. This gentleman, possessing superior talents, and having every advantage of birth, fortune, and education, made choice of the clerical profession, in opposition to the prevailing wishes of his family; and in May, 1744, took charge of the parish of Kirkintilloch near Glasgow. In 1753, he was translated to a parish in the borough of Culross, and, in the autumn of 1758, to one of the parishes in Edinburgh. Distinguished alike for his learning and piety, for his honourable and munificent spirit, and for his firm attachment to evangelical religion, he adorned every station which he filled by a faithful and conscientious discharge of its various duties - private, social, and public; - enjoyed the high respect of the wise and good, not only in Great Britain, but extensively in both continents; and died in 1803, in his 82d year, having been the correspondent, successively, of President Edwards, of his son Dr. Edwards, president of Union College, and of his grandson President Dwight, for the period of fifty - six years.
Mr. Erskine began the correspondence with Mr. Edwards early in 1747, through the intervention of Mr. M’Laurin of Glasgow, by sending him the “Remains of Mr. Hall” - a memoir, written by himself, of a most respectable and beloved fellow - student in theology, a young gentleman of uncommon promise. I have none of the letters of Mr. Erskine to Mr. Edwards, and not having been able to procure the first letter of Mr. Edwards to Mr. Erskine, written in the summer of 1747, must be indebted for the following account of it to the “Life of Dr. Erskine,” by the Hon. and Rev. Sir H. M. Wellwood. - “On this occasion Mr. Edwards expressed, with great tenderness and delicacy, his sympathy with one, who had lost his most intimate and estimable friend in the prime of life, the companion of his youth, and, for a considerable time before his death, the delightful and affectionate associate of his studies and of his piety.
“In a postscript to this letter, he mentioned his book on Religious Affections, then just published, and at the same time sent his correspondent a copy of it in a book of which it is not too much to say, that it is not only worthy of the talents and sincerity of its author, but that while it shows that he was neither forward nor rash in estimating striking or sudden impressions of religion, it contains more sound instruction on its particular subject, and lays down more intelligible and definite rules to distinguish true from false religion, and to ascertain by distinct characters the genuine spirit of vital piety, separated from all fanatical delusions, than any other book which has yet been given to the world.
“In the same postscript to Mr. Edwards’s first letter to Dr. Erskine, he gave him a general sketch of a plan which he had then formed, and which he afterwards executed with so much ability in his book on the Freedom of the Will; - a book which, whether his opinions be questioned or adopted, has certainly given him an eminent station both among philosophers and divines. ‘I have thought,’ he says, ‘of writing something particularly and largely on the Arminian controversy in distinct discourses on the various points in dispute, to be published successively, beginning first with a discourse concerning the Freedom of the Will, and Moral Agency; endeavouring fully and thoroughly to state and discuss those points of liberty and necessity, moral and physical inability, efficacious grace, and the ground of virtue and vice, reward and punishment, blame and praise, with regard to the dispositions and actions of reasonable creatures.’
“Such was the first idea of a work from which Mr. Edwards afterwards derived his chief celebrity as an author; but a considerable time intervened before he found it possible to make any progress in his design.”
The death of Col. Stoddard, which occurred at Boston, on the 19th of June this year, was a loss severely felt, not only by Mr. Edwards and the people of Northampton, but by the county and the province at large. He was eminently distinguished for his strength of understanding and energy of character, and had for a long period unrivalled influence in the council of the province. He was also a man of decided piety, and a uniform friend and supporter of sound morals and evangelical religion. Mr. Edwards preached a sermon on his death from Ezek. xix. 12. which was immediately published.
Early in the next year Mr. Edwards received from Mr. Erskine a number of books which he valued very highly, as containing the ablest exhibition and defence of the system of doctrines usually styled Arminianism, which had at that time appeared before the public. In the following letter he acknowledges the kindness of his correspondent, and at the same time alludes to the decease of his daughter.
“To the Rev. John Erskine
Northampton, Aug. 31, 1748.
rev. and dear sir,
I, this summer, received your kind letter of Feb. 9, 1748, with your most acceptable present of Taylor on Original Sin, and his Key to the Apostolic Writings, with his Paraphrase on the Epistle to the Romans; together with your Sermons and Answer to Doct. Campbell. I had your Sermons before, sent either by you or Mr. M’Laurin. I am exceedingly glad of those two books of Taylor’s. I had before borrowed and read Taylor on Original Sin; but am very glad to have one of my own; if you had not sent it, I intended to have sought opportunity to buy it. The other book, his Paraphrase, &c. I had not heard of; if I had I should not have been easy till I had seen it, and been possessed of it. These books, if I should live, may probably be of great use to me. Such kindness from you was unexpected. I hoped to receive a letter from you, which alone I should have received as a special favour.
I have for the present been diverted from the design I hinted to you, of publishing something against some of the Arminian tenets, by something else that Divine Providence unexpectedly laid in my way, and seemed to render unavoidable, viz. publishing Mr. Brainerd’s Life, of which the enclosed paper of proposals give some account.
It might be of particular advantage to me, here in this remote part of the world, to be better informed what books there are that are published on the other side of the Atlantic; and especially if there be anything that comes out that is very remarkable. I have seen many notable things that have been written in this country against the truth, but nothing very notable on our side of the controversies of the present day, at least of the Arminian controversy. You would much oblige me, if you would inform me what are the best books that have lately been written in defence of Calvinism.
I have herewith sent the two books of Mr. Stoddard’s you desired. The lesser of the two was my own; and though I have no other, yet you have laid me under such obligations that I am glad I have it to send to you. The other I procured of one of my neighbours.
I have lately heard some things that have excited hope in me, that God was about to cause there to be a turn in England, with regard to the state of religion there for the better; particularly what we have heard, that one Mr. West, a clerk of the privy council, has written in defence of Christianity, though once a notorious deist; and also what Mr. Littleton, a member of the house of commons, has written. I should be glad if you would inform me more particularly in your next concerning this affair, and what the present state of infidelity in Great Britain is.
It has pleased God, since I wrote my last to you, sorely to afflict this family, by taking away by death, the last February, my second daughter, in the eighteenth year of her age; a very pleasant and useful member of this family, and one that was esteemed the flower of the family. Herein we have a great loss; but the remembrance of the remarkable appearances of piety in her, from her childhood, in life, and also at her death, are very comfortable to us, and give us great reason to mingle thanksgiving with our mourning. I desire your prayers, dear Sir, that God would make up our great loss to us in himself.
Please to accept of one of my sermons on Mr. Brainerd’s death, and also one of my sermons on Mr. Buell’s instalment. I desire that for the future your letters to me may be directed to be left with Mr. Edward Bromfield, merchant in Boston. My wife joins with me in respectful and affectionate salutations to you and Mrs. Erskine. Desiring that we may meet often at the throne of grace in supplications for each other,
I am, dear brother, your obliged friend,
Fellow labourer, and humble servant,
P.S. I desired Mr. Prince to send to you one of my books on the subject of the concert for prayer for a general revival of religion the last year; and he engaged to do it; but I perceive he forgot it, and it was long neglected. But I have since taken some further care to have the book conveyed; so that I hope that ere this time you have received it.
In the conclusion of your letter of Feb. 9, you mention a design of writing to me again by a ship that was to sail the next month for Boston. That letter I have not received.”
Mr. Gillespie, imagining that the difficulties which he had stated in his former letter, were not satisfactorily cleared up in the answer of Mr. Edwards, addressed to him the following reply.
Letter from Mr. Gillespie.
“Sept. 19, 1748.
rev. and dear sir,
I had the favour of yours in spring last, for which I heartily thank you. I did not want inclination to make you a return long ago, as I prize your correspondence, but some things concurred that effectually prevented me, which has given me concern.
It was my desire to be informed, and my inclination to make you understand, how some passages in your book on Religious Affections did appear to me and some others, your real friends and well - wishers in this country, that determined me to presume to offer you some few remarks on the passages mentioned in my former letter; and desire of further information engages me now, with all respect, to make some observations upon some things in your letter. I hope you will pardon my freedom, and bear with me in it, and set me right wherein you may find me to misapprehend your meaning, or to mistake in any other respect.
You say, ‘You conceive that there is a great difference between these two things, viz. its being a man’s duty, who is without spiritual light or sight, to believe; and its being his duty to believe without spiritual light or sight, or to believe while he yet remains without spiritual light or sight: it is not proper to say, it is a man’s duty to believe without faith,’ &c. Now, dear Sir, the difference here, I am not able to conceive; for all are bound to believe the divine testimony and to trust in Christ, which you acknowledge; and the want of spiritual light or sight does not loose from the obligation one is laid under by the divine command to believe instantly on Christ, and at all season, as his circumstances shall require, nor does it excuse him in any degree for not believing. I own that a person who has no spiritual light or sight cannot eventually believe, if by light or sight is meant the influence or grace of the Spirit, by which one’s mind is irradiated to take up the object and grounds of faith, so as to be made to have a spiritual sight of Christ, and to act that grace; yet still, even when one, wants this, it is his duty, and he is bound to believe, for we know it is a maxim, ’ability is not the rule of duty.’ I also acknowledge, that no person who is, and always has been, without spiritual light or sight, is bound, nor is it his duty, to believe that he has actually believed, or to conclude he is really a partaker of the faith of God’s elect. I have some apprehension this is all you meant by the expressions I have noticed, and the reasoning in consequence of them; or else certainly different ideas are affixed to words with you and among us. There is indeed a great deal of difference betwixt its being one’s duty to believe, or to act faith, and its being his duty to believe he has believed, or has acted divine faith; i.e. you say you apply the particle without, respecting spiritual light or sight, to the act of believing, by which I suppose you intend, ‘all should believe, though none do really believe, without spiritual light or sight;’ in which I entirely agree with you. The word duty indeed, which you use when treating that matter, is ordinarily supposed to signify the obligation the person is under by the divine authority to believe, as applied to the matter of faith, and not to the act of faith put forth in consequence of such obligation. Had I not supposed you plainly meant by the expressions I quoted from the book, the duty or obligation to believe, and not an act of faith exerted, I should have made no remarks on them. It is indeed as absurd for one to conclude he has really believed without spiritual light or sight, as to say one should believe he had believed, without those things that are essentially implied in faith. But I must differ from you in thinking it is not very proper to say, it is a man’s duty to believe without faith, i.e. while he yet remains without spiritual light or sight, or to put forth an act of faith on the Saviour, however void of spiritual light or sight; for if this was not the truth, the finally impenitent sinner could not be condemned for unbelief, as the Holy Ghost declares he will be, John iii. 19, 20, 24. . and that notwithstanding the power of the Spirit of faith must make him believe. I should be glad to know the precise idea you affix to the words faith and believing. I do not remember a person’s reflecting on his act of faith, anywhere in Scripture termed believing. You remark, ‘That I seem to suppose that a person’s doubting of his good estate is the proper opposite of faith;’ and I own, as it is a believer’s duty to expect salvation through Christ, which, in other words, is to believe his good estate, Acts. xv. ll. Gal. ii. 20. Eph. ii. 4. Job xix. 25. doubting of it must be his sin, an effect of unbelief, a part of it, and thus the proper opposite of faith, considered in its full compass and latitude. Thus once doubting of his good estate by a true believer, and unbelief in one branch of it, or one part and manner of its acting, are the same thing. Faith and unbelief are opposed in Scripture, and what is the opposite of one ingredient in unbelief must be faith in one part of it, - one thing that belongs to its exercise. A person’s believing is owned to be his indispensable duty, and this comprehends or supposes his being confident of his good estate, and is properly divine faith, because it has the divine testimony now cited, on which it bottoms, Jer. iii. 19. The Lord says, ‘Thou shalt call me, My father, and shalt not turn away from me;’ which is evidently faith, and no less manifestly belief of one’s good estate, or being confident of it, because the expression must denote the continued exercise of faith, in not turning away from the Lord. Crying Abba Father, Rom. viii. 15. is faith in the Lord as one’s father, which must have a being confident of one’s good estate inseparable from it, or rather enwrapped in it. I suppose what I have mentioned is very consistent with what you say, ‘That faith, and persons believing that they have faith, are not the same;’ for one’s believing that he has faith, simply and by itself, has for its object the man’s inward frame, or the actings and exercises of his spirit, and not a divine testimony. This is not divine faith; but, as I have laid the matter, a being confident of one’s good estate has for its foundation the word of God, Heb. xiii. 5. , &c. ultimately, - at least; to be sure this is one way in which faith is acted, or one thing in its exercise. I am far from thinking unbelief, or being without faith, and doubting whether they have faith, to be the same thing in an unconverted sinner, whom your words, ’being without faith,’ must mean, and therein we entirely agree. But I must think, as to the believer, his doubting whether or not he has faith, is sinful, because it is belying the Holy Ghost, denying his work in him, so there is no sin to which that doubting can so properly be reduced as unbelief. You know, dear Sir, doubting and believing are opposed in Scripture, Matt. xiv. 31. Matt. xxi. 21. Mark xi. 23. and I cannot exclude from the idea of doubting, a questioning the truth and reality of a work of grace on one’s soul; for the Holy Ghost requires us to believe the reality of his work in us, in all its parts, just as it is, and never would allow us, much less call us to sin, or to believe a falsehood, that one is void of grace, when he has it, that good might come of it, i.e. that the person might be awakened from security, &c. 1 John iii. 3. ‘Every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, as he is pure;’ I think intimates, that in proportion to the degree of one’s hope, that the Lord is his Father, will be his aim after sanctification, and his attainment of it; if so, to renounce this hope, to throw it up at any season, on any account, must be unlawful; whence I infer, for the believer to doubt of his gracious state, to call it in question for any reason whatever, so as to raze it, it is simply sinful, 1 John ii. 12, 15. ‘I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you, viz. Love not the world.’ Here forgiveness of sin is used as a motive or incitement not to love the world; and this reasoning of the apostle would lose all its force, were it incumbent on a believer, at some seasons, to think he was not within the bond of the new covenant, - he is bound ever to hold that conclusion fixed. The exhortation, not to cast away one’s confidence, certainly comprehends a call to persevere in believing in our interest in the Lord, and to practise it at all seasons, Heb. x. 35. Job’s friends endeavoured to make him question, whether the root of the matter was in him, and to conclude that he was a hypocrite. He resolved, though the Lord should slay him, he would trust in him, chap. xiii. 15 being confident of his own good estate, chap. xxvii. 3, 5. ‘All the while my breath is in me;’ and ver. 5. ‘Till I die, I will not remove my integrity from me;’ and we see, from the whole tenor of his book, what there he resolved, he actually did practise; he never entertained the thought of supposing the Lord was not his God, notwithstanding the grievous eruptions of iniquity in him, in quarrelling with the sovereignty of God, &c. And in the end, the Lord condemned his friends for speaking of him ‘the things that were not right,’ and pronounced that Job, his servant, had said of him the thing ‘that is right,’ Job iv. 1. ; from which, it is to be presumed, he was approved in guarding against razing his state . Also, 2 Cor. i. 12. what the apostle terms there, ‘his rejoicing,’ was what supposed his being confident of his good estate, that he was participant of a principle of grace, which made him capable of acting, as he did, with godly sincerity. All which, with other considerations, do satisfy me, that a believer never should raze his state on any account whatever; and that, as has been mentioned, doubting of his gracious state is sinful, one way of unbelief, its acting in him, though not the direct and immediate opposite of that acting of faith by which a person renounces his own righteousness and closes with Christ, yet the opposite of the posterior exercise of faith in him, and upon the promise, in certain respects. Your book is now lent, and therefore I cannot take notice, as you wish and I incline, of what you say on this head, p. 80, 81. more particularly than I have done. However, I have, I think, touched the precise point in difference between us.
You observe, I seem to intimate, ‘A person’s being confident of his own good estate is the way to be delivered from darkness, deadness, backsliding, and prevailing iniquity.’ And you add, that ‘you think whoever supposes this to be God’s method of delivering his saints, when sunk into an evil, careless, carnal, and unchristian frame, first to assure them of their good estate and his favour, while they yet remain in such a frame, and so to make thatthe means of their deliverance, does surely mistake God’s method of dealing with such persons.’ Here I think you represent the case too strong; for the words in my letter to which you refer, were, ‘I have heard it taught that the believer was bound to trust in the Lord in the very worst frame he could be in, and that the exercise of faith was the way to be delivered from darkness, deadness, backsliding,’ &c. And afterwards, I said, when questioning whether the believer should ever doubt of his estate on any account whatever, ‘I know the opposite has been prescribed; when the saint is plunged in the mire of prevailing iniquity.’ Now, as a believer may be thus plunged, and yet sin at that instant be his grief and burden, Rom. vii. 24. and he may have the hope and expectation of being relieved from it even then, Psalm lxv. 3. I do not think my words convey the idea you affix to them. Also you will observe, I do not say, ‘that a person’s being confident of his own good estate is the way to be delivered from,’ &c. but ‘that the believer was bound to trust the Lord in the worst frame,’ &c. This I mention, precisely to state my words, and they are, I think, very defensible; for the believer is called ‘to trust in the Lord for ever,’ Isa. xxvi. 4. . If so, when in the situation mentioned; for this is a trusting in the Lord as one’s God. The woman with the issue of blood, her touching Christ, and the success, is, I suppose, a call and encouragement to touch him by faith, for having the worst soul - maladies healed, Mark v. 25. . Trusting in the Lord for needful blessings, in the situation mentioned, gives him the glory of his faithfulness, and engages him to act in the believer’s behalf; thus to do, it is both duty and interest. Jonah, when in a course of grievous rebellion, and under awful chastisement for it, when perhaps he had actually disclaimed interest in the Lord, or was in danger of it, said, ‘he would look again toward the Lord’s holy temple,’ chap. ii. 4. evidently in exercise of faith in the Lord as his God, the Lord assuring him of his good estate and his favour, by the operation of the Spirit causing him so to act, and to be conscious of it; and, verse 7. ‘when my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple.’ Here is my assertion exemplified in practice, by a believer, I may venture to say, in an evil frame, when the Spirit breathed upon him. Though a prophet, he deliberately disobeyed the express instructions of his Lord, chap. i. 2, 3. and in a careless frame, for he slept securely in the sides of the ship, during a tempest raised for his sake, and when the heathen mariners everyone called upon his god, chap. i. 5, 6. So far was he from dreading, as he had reason to do, that the Lord would plead a controversy with him for the part he acted, that dismal security, awful carelessness, and a carnal frame had seized him; for he declared to the Lord, that he said to him in his country, he would repent of the evil he had said he would do to the Ninevites, if they turned from their evil way, and assigned that for the reason why he fled to Tarshish, chap. iv. 2. ; and thus would rather that the Lord should want the honour, that would redound to his name by the repentance, though only outward, of the Ninevites, than that the whole city should be destroyed, one of the largest the sun shone upon, and the most populous, and that himself should lose the honour and comfort of being the instrument of its preservation, than that he should fall under the imputation of being a false prophet, for which there would yet have been no foundation. Horrid carnality this! for as it was dreadful selfishness, it may, in that view, be termed carnality, - astonishing pride! this ‘filthiness of the spirit’ is worse than that of the flesh; and, all circumstances of his conduct considered, he was not only in an ungodly frame, but in an inhumane one, and he sinned presumptuously in one of the highest degrees, we may suppose, in which it is possible for a believer so to act; notwithstanding it appears the happy turn was begun in him, under the influence of the Spirit, by renewing his faith in the Lord as his God, and being confident of his good estate; upon which he prayed, as already mentioned, and was heard by his God, see verses 7, 8. was delivered out of his then dismal and dangerous circumstances, chap. ii. 12. - Thus I have done more than I was bound to do, and have proved the point, not only in the manner in which I have expressed it, but in the strong light your words, a comment on mine, had set it; for one plain scripture instance, such certainly as that I have given, is sufficient, as agreed, to prove any thing. It is so far from being a mistaking of God’s method of dealing with such persons, as you suggest, (pardon me, dear Sir,) to say, that it is ‘the Lord’s method of delivering his saints when in a backsliding condition, first to assure them of their good estate and his favour, and so to make that the means of their deliverance;’ that I give you the words of the Holy Ghost for it is as express and full as anything possibly can be, Jer. iii. 12, 13, 14. ; verse 14. ‘Turn, O backsliding children, saith the Lord, for I am married unto you.’ This was, to be sure, the Lord’s intimating the new covenant relation in which he stood to the spiritual Israel among them; and verse 22 of that chapter, the Lord says, ‘Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings;’ and in the close of the verse, we have the Lord’s thus assuring them of their good estate and his favour, shown to be the effectual mean of the backsliding being healed: ‘Behold, we come unto thee; for thou art the Lord our God.’ Hos. xiv. 4. ‘O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity.’ Here the first words of the Lord’s message to his spiritual Israel, are, that ’the Lord was their God,’ and the expression, ‘fallen by iniquity,’ conveys a very strong idea, when applied to a believer, perhaps as strong, as is comprehended in your words, ’evil, &c. frame;’ and I must think this verse is so expressed to work on holy ingenuousness in them, for its revival when under the ashes of corruption. It would perhaps be no difficult matter to multiply scripture testimonies of such kind; but these adduced are, I think, full proof of the point, for confirmation of which they are brought. The love of Christ constrains the believer to return from folly, as well as to other things in other respects, 2 Cor. v. 14. . I might argue here from the efficacy of the love of God apprehended, the genius of the new creature, and nature in believers, and a variety of other topics, but choose, without expatiating, to confine myself to precise scripture testimonies. As to what you say, that ‘among all the multitudes you have had opportunity to observe, you never knew one dealt with in this manner, but have known many brought back from great declensions, that appeared to be true saints, but it was in a very diverse way from this: first conscience awakened; they brought into great fear of the wrath of God; his favour hid; the subjects of a kind of new work of humiliation; brought to great sense of deserving God’s wrath, while they yet feared it, before God had delivered them from apprehension of it, and comforted with a renewed sense of his favour.’ All I observe upon this is, that the way I have laid down, is obviously that which the Lord declares in his word, he takes, for bringing back his people from declensions, and thus that in it mercy is to be expected, whatever the Lord may be pleased to do in sovereignty, and he will not be limited; also, persons do not perceive everything that passes within them, far less are they capable to give a full distinct account of everything of each kind. Experiences of Christians are to be brought to the touch - stone of the infallible bar, and to stand or fall by it; the Bible is not to be brought to their test, and judged of by them. I own we may mistake the sense of Scripture, but it is so obvious in the passages I have quoted, that I cannot see how it can be misapprehended.
I cannot say anything now, about the other remarks I made on your book, touched on in your letter, because I have not now the book to look into. I understand the passages about prevalence of sin, so as to denominate a person not in a gracious state, better, by what you have wrote; and, if any difficulty shall remain after comparing your book and letter, I may come to propose it to you afterwards.
What you wrote about the case of temptation was very agreeable, and I thank you for it. I shall now state the case more plainly, because I want much your further thoughts upon it. It is precisely this. A person finds himself beset by evil angels, what if I remember right Voetius terms obsessio, and one in that situation obsessus; they incessantly break into his body and mind, sometimes by vain, at other seasons by vile thoughts, now by the thoughts of a business neglected, which was a seasonable thing to be done, then by a scripture text, or an engaging thought of some spiritual truth, when entrance is not to be had another way, and by a variety of other methods. They do all they can, perpetually to teaze, defile, and discourage; he is conscious of the whole transaction, and finds his spirit broken by it, and goes not about to reason with Satan, knows the expediency of this course, is aware Satan wants no better, than that he pray much and long against his temptations, and so wont pray himself out of breath, by his instigation; is convinced the remedy is to get them kept out of body and mind; trusts, in dependence on the Lord, to the use of medical, moral, and religious means for that end, because experience shows all of them are expedient and advantageous in their place; but all is in vain, no relief for him, relish of divine things wore off the mind, no comfort, is rendered callous by cruel constant buffetings, he cries, but the Lord hears not. By what I understand, this is a just representation of the case, and will lead you to the knowledge of other circumstances in it. What would you advise such a person to do? How shall he recover savour of spiritual truths and objects?
I wondered you said nothing in your letter, about what I mentioned in mine, respecting supposed immediate revelations of facts and future events, as special favours conferred on some special favourites of heaven. I give in to your sentiments on that point, expressed in the three treatises you have published, and greatly like what Mr. Brainerd said on the subject, as mentioned, I think, by you, in the funeral sermon on him, which I perused with a great deal of pleasure; and shall now mention some things, said in favour of that principle, of which people are very tenacious, that I may have your answers to them, which will be a singular favour done me, for certain reasons: for example, John xvi. 13. is affirmed to be an express promise of such a thing: - it is urged, the thing is not contrary to Scripture, and therefore, may be; - it is urged, John xiii. 24 - 27. is an example of it, an intimation what the Lord will do in such kind when it pleaseth him, till the end of time. It is pretended, and indeed this is the strength of the cause, that the thing is a matter of fact, has nothing to do with the Bible, therefore nothing about it is to be expected in Scripture, and simply to deny it in all cases, is daringly to limit the power of God. The Lord has not said he will not grant it, and how dare any say it cannot be? It is reasoned, there are numbers of well attested instances of the thing in different ages and places, facts are stubborn things, and to deny them all is shocking, an overturning of all moral evidence. It is insisted on, that the thing has been formerly; it is confessed, and why may it not be now? We are told, a considerable time before a thing happened, that it has been impressed on the mind in all its circumstances, which exactly happened in every point; if when asked, what one can say to this, he says, perhaps it was from Satan, to this it is answered, does he know future contingent events? The reply is at hand, it is not above him to figure a thing on the fancy long before, which he is resolved by some means to bring about; but to all this it is answered by advocates for immediate revelations, such reasoning tends to sap one of the main pillars of evidence of the divinity of the scripture prophecies.
I have, by what I remember, given you the force of the argument, to establish what has had, I too well know, very bad effects, as commonly managed, in Britain, as well as in New England; a history of instances of them would not be without its use, and materials for it are not wanting. I will long much to see what you say in way of reply to all this. I am sure you cannot employ time better than in framing it. I should have mentioned that the authority of eminent divines is brought to bear upon them, whose stomachs stand at swallowing things, like additions to the Bible, - Mr. Fleming, in the Fulfilling of the Scriptures, Dr. Goodwin, &c. But on this, it has been pleasantly observed, that the authority of the worthies in the eleventh of the Hebrews, would have done a good deal better. I have some apprehension this is a point of truth, which the Lord is to clear up in this age.
I have read your Humble Attempt, and with much satisfaction; was charmed with the scriptures of the latter day of glory set in one point of light. I do think humbly your observations on Lowman have great strength of reason. The killing of the witnesses, as yet to come, has been to me a grievous temptation; for which reason, I peruse with peculiar pleasure what you say on this subject; but if you answer the objection, ‘It would appear that the seventh trumpet is to sound soon after the resurrection of the witnesses, and the kingdoms of the world, &c. but that has not happened, therefore the witnesses are not killed;’ I say, if this you answer, I have forgot.
I should have also mentioned, that it seems evident, the doctrine of immediate revelations must be simply denied as unscriptural, and thus well - founded in no case; or it must be allowed in its full compass, and latitude, let the consequences of it be what they will, for if the thing is allowed possible, reasonings about its effects will not conclude nor avail; I can see no middle way between the two things. That principle taken for granted by almost all, in all times past, is, as I mentioned in my last letter, to me a surprising thing.
Mr. Whitefield arrived at Edinburgh Wednesday last, and was to preach on Thursday evening; but as I am fifteen miles from that city, of which two miles by sea, I have not yet heard of the effects of his preaching, or the number of the audiences; I wish they may be as frequent as when he was last here. May Divine power specially attend his ministrations! We need it much, as we are generally fallen under great deadness. I believe he will find use for all his prudence and patience in dealing with us, for different reasons. With great pleasure, friends to vital religion, and to him, are informed he is to make no collections at this time! I was glad to hear you write, that he laboured with success in New England, in rectifying mistakes he had favoured, about intimations made by the Lord to his people, &c. and heartily wish he may be directed to apply an antidote here, where it is also needed.
I have tired you with a long epistle, and shall therefore now break off. What you was pleased to favour me with, upon the difficulty started from Rom. viii. 28. was very acceptable, and I thank you much for it. I will expect a letter from you the first opportunity after this comes to hand; and in it all the news of New England, particularly some account of the state of religion with you. It gives me pleasure to think, I may write you my sentiments upon every thing without reserve. Please make my affectionate compliments to my friend Mr. Abercrombie, when you see him, or write to him, and tell him, I remember I am in his debt for a letter. I hope the ship I am informed of, for carrying this, is not sailed, and therefore it will not be so long in coming to your hand, after being writ, as my last.
I am, &c.”
Letter to Mr. M’CULLOCH.
“To the Rev. Mr. M’CULLOCH.
Northampton, Oct. 7, 1748.
rev. and dear sir,
I thank you for your letter of Feb. 19, 1748, which I received the week before last. I had also, long before that, received the letter you speak of, which you wrote the spring before, dated March 12, 1747, which I wrote an answer to, and sent it to Mr. Prince of Boston, and committed it to his care; and am very sorry that you never received it. I am far from being weary of our correspondence. I ever looked on myself as greatly honoured and obliged by you, in your beginning this correspondence; and have found it pleasant and profitable; and particularly your last letter, that I have but now received, has been very agreeable and entertaining; especially on account of the good news it contains. I cannot but think many things mentioned in your letter, and the letters of my other correspondents in Scotland, which came with yours, are great things, worthy to be greatly taken notice of, and to be an occasion of much rejoicing and praise to all that love Zion: viz. The remarkable change in one of the clerks of the privy council; God’s stirring up him and Mr. Littleton to write in defence of Christianity; the good effect of this among men of figure and character; the good disposition of the king, and the Prince and Princess of Wales; the late awakening of two of the princesses, Amelia and Caroline, and the hopeful conversion of one or both of them; the hopeful, real piety of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and his good disposition towards experimental religion and the dissenters; several of the clergy of the church of England lately appearing to preach the doctrines of grace; several of the magistrates, in various towns in England, exerting themselves with uncommon zeal to put the laws in execution against vice; and the eminent piety of the Prince of Orange, now the stadtholder of the Seven United Provinces. These things (at least some of them) are great in themselves, and are of that nature that they have a most promising aspect on the interests of Zion, and appear to be happy presages and forerunners of yet better and greater things that are coming. They look as if the tide was turning, and glorious things approaching, by the revolution of the wheel of God’s providence. I think we, and all others, who have lately united by explicit agreement in extraordinary prayer for a general revival of religion and the coming of Christ’s kingdom, may, without presumption, be greatly encouraged and animated in the duty we have engaged in, by the appearance of such a dawning of light from such great darkness; and should be ungrateful if we did not acknowledge God’s great goodness in these things, and faithfulness in fulfilling the promises of his word; such as these in particular, ‘If any two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything you shall ask, it shall be done of my Father which is in heaven;’ and, ‘Before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.’ I have already communicated these things to some belonging to this town, and other places; some have appeared much affected with them; and one that belongs to another town, has taken extracts of these passages. I design, God willing, to communicate these things to my congregation, before the next quarterly day for prayer, and also to the neighbouring ministers, who, according to our stated agreement, will be met together on that day, to spend the former part of the day in prayer among ourselves, and the latter part in public services in one of our congregations; and shall also probably communicate these things to some of my correspondents in New Jersey and elsewhere, and I cannot but think they will tend to do a great deal of good, in various respects; and particularly will tend to promote the Concert for Prayer, in these parts of the world. I desired Mr. Prince of Boston to send you one of my books on the Concert, soon after it was published; who engaged to do it; but long forgot it, as I perceived afterwards to my surprise; but since that more thorough care has been taken about that matter; and I hope you, and each of my other correspondents in Scotland, have before now received one of those books.
I thank you, dear Sir, for sending me your thoughts on some things in the prophecies of the Revelation of St. John, and for being at so much trouble as to send it twice (supposing the first letter had miscarried.) This I take as a particular mark of respect, for which I am obliged to you. I received, as I said before, your former letter, (which contained the same observations,) and sent an answer to it, wherein I gave you my thoughts, such as they were, on those subjects. But if you have received my book on United Prayer, &c. therein you have seen more fully my thoughts on some things in the Revelation, that have a near relation to the same matter that you write about; the substance of which I before had written to you in a large letter, desiring your opinion of what I wrote.
The letter I think you received, by some intimations contained in yours of March 12, 1747. But you was not pleased to favour me with anything at all of your thoughts of what I had so largely communicated to you, to that end, that I might have your opinion. But I am not the less willing again to communicate my thoughts on your remarks.
As to what you observe concerning the number six hundred and sixty - six, and that number being found in the name of the present king of France; it is indeed something remarkable, that that number should be found both in his Latin and French names, as you observe; and I do not know but that the omniscient Spirit of God (who doubtless in his predictions has sometimes his eye on several things in which he knows they will be fulfilled) might have some respect to his name in the prophecy; but I can hardly think that this individual king of France, or any other particular prince in Europe, is what is chiefly intended by the beast, so largely described in the 13th chapter of Revelation, whose number is said to be six hundred and sixty - six. Of all the conjectures concerning the number of the beast, that I have lit on in my small reading, that of Mr. Potter’s seems to me the most ingenious, who supposes the true meaning is to be found by extracting the root of the number. But after all, I have ever suspected that the thing chiefly aimed at by the Holy Spirit, was never yet found out, and that the discovery is reserved for later times. Yet one reason why Mr. Potter’s conjecture does not fully satisfy me, is, the difficulty without adjusting the fractions in the root, when extracted. With respect to your very ingenious conjectures, concerning the period of forty - two months, or one thousand two hundred and sixty days, of the outer court and holy city’s being trodden under - foot of the Gentiles; you know, Sir, that that forty - two months, or one thousand two hundred and sixty days, spoken of Rev. xi. 2. has been universally understood, as being the very same period with the 1260 days of the witnesses prophesying in sackcloth, spoken of in the next verse; and the one thousand two hundred and sixty days of the woman’s being led in the wilderness, chap. xiii. 6. and the time, times, and half a time, of her being nourished in the wilderness from the face of the serpent, ver. 14. and the forty - two months of the continuance of the beast, chap. xiii. 5. But it does not appear to me probable that these forty - two months of the continuance of the beast, means the sum of the diverse periods in which the plat of ground, whereon the ancient literal Jerusalem stood, was under the dominion of the Romans, Saracens, Persians, and Turks; but the space of time during which the reign of antichrist or the popish hierarchy continues; and as to the particular time of the downfall of antichrist, you see my reasons in the forementioned pamphlet, why I think it certain that it will not be known till it be accomplished: I cannot but think that the Scripture is plain in that matter, and that it does, in effect, require us to rest satisfied in ignorance till the time of the end comes.
However, I should be very foolish, if I were dogmatical in my thoughts concerning the interpretation of the prophecies: especially in opposition to those who have had so much more opportunity to be well acquainted with things of this nature. But since you have insisted on my thoughts, I conclude you will not be displeased that I have mentioned them, though not altogether agreeable to yours. I am nevertheless greatly obliged to you for your condescension in communicating your thoughts to me. If we do not exactly agree in our thoughts about these things, yet in our prayers for the accomplishment of these glorious events in God’s time, and for God’s gracious presence with us, and his assistance in endeavours to promote his kingdom and interests, in the mean time, we may be entirely agreed and united. That we may be so, is the earnest desire of, dear Sir,
Your affectionate brother and servant,
in our common Lord,
In perusing the following letter, while the reader will deeply regret the loss of that from Mr. Erskine to which it is an answer, he will feel a lively interest in the mass of religious intelligence which it contains, as well as in the interesting development which it gives of the character of Governor Belcher.
“To the Rev. Mr. Erskine.
Northampton, Oct. 14, 1748.
rev. and dear sir,
A little while ago I wrote a letter to you, wherein I acknowledged the receipt of your letter, and the books that came with it, viz. Taylor on Original Sin; and on the Romans: with your sermons, and Answer to Mr. Campbell; for which most acceptable presents I would most heartily and renewedly thank you.
I sent my letter to Boston, together with one of Mr. Stoddard’s Benefit of the Gospel to the Wounded in Spirit, and his Nature of Saving Conversion, with a sermon on Mr. Brainerd’s death, and some account of a history of his life now in the press, to be sent to Scotland by the first opportunity; whether there has been any opportunity or no, I cannot tell. I have very lately received another letter from you, dated April 4, 1748, which was indeed exceedingly acceptable, by reason of the remarkable and joyful accounts it contains of things, that have a blessed aspect on the interests of Christ’s kingdom in the world: such as the good effects of the writings of Mr. West and Mr. Littleton on some at court, and the religious concern in Mr. Randy’s and Mr. Gray’s parishes, the hopeful true piety of the Archbishop of Canterbury; this and the king’s disposition, not only to tolerate but comprehend the dissenters; and their indifference with respect to the liturgy, ceremonies, and episcopal ordination; the piety of the prince who is now advanced to the stadtholdership, and has it established in his family for ever; the awakening of the Princess Caroline; and the good disposition of the Princess of Wales. I think it very fit that those, who have lately entered into an union of extraordinary prayer for the coming of Christ’s kingdom and the prosperity of Zion, should inform one another of things which they know of, that pertain to the prosperity of Zion, and whereby their prayers are in some degree answered; that they may be united in joy and thanksgiving, as well as in supplication; and that they may be encouraged and animated in their prayers for the future, and engaged to continue instant therein with all perseverance. I think these things forementioned, which you have sent me an account of, are worthy greatly to be observed, by those that are united in the Concert for Prayer, for their comfort, praise, and encouragement. I intend to communicate these things to my own people, before the next quarterly season for prayer, and to the neighbouring ministers, who are united in this affair; and also to my correspondents in this province, and other provinces of America. I doubt not but they will have a happy tendency and influence in many respects. I hope, dear Sir, you will continue still to give me particular information of things that appear, relative to the state of Zion and the interests of religion, in Great Britain or other parts of Europe. In so doing, you will not only inform me, but I shall industriously communicate any important informations of that kind, and spread them amongst God’s people in this part of the world; and shall endeavour to my utmost to make such a use of them, as shall tend most to promote the interest of religion. And among other things I should be glad to be informed of any books that come out, remarkably tending either to the illustration or defence of that truth, or the promoting the power of godliness, or in any respect peculiarly tending to advance true religion.
I have given an account of some things, which have a favourable aspect on the interests of religion, in these American parts of the world, in my letters to Mr. Robe, and Mr. M’Laurin, sent with this; which you will have opportunity to see.
In your last letter you desired to be particularly informed of the present state of New Jersey college, and of things remarkable of a religious nature respecting the Indians. As to the former, viz. the state of New Jersey college: by the last accounts I had, it was in somewhat of an unsettled state. Governor Belcher had a mind to give them a new charter, that he thought would be more for the benefit of the society. Accordingly a draft of a new charter was drawn; wherein it was proposed to make considerable alteration in the corporation of trustees; to leave out some of the former trustees; and that the governor, for the time being, should be a trustee, and three or four of the council of that province. Those two things made considerable uneasiness, viz. leaving out some of the former trustees, and making it a part of the constitution that the governor and so many of the council should be members of the corporation. Some feared that this would not be for the health of the society; because the men in chief authority in that province have, for the most part been men of no religion, and many of them open and professed contemners of it. How this matter has been settled, or whether these difficulties are got over, I have not been informed. As to Governor Belcher himself, he appears thoroughly engaged to promote virtue and vital religion in those parts, which already has had some good effects; vice and open profaneness, by the means, is become less fashionable among the great men, and virtue and religion more creditable. The disposition of Governor Belcher may in some measure be seen, by the following extract of a letter from him, in answer to one I wrote to him on a special occasion.
’Burlington, New Jersey, Feb. 5, 1748.
You will, Sir, be sure of me as a friend and father to the missionaries this way, and of all my might and encouragement for spreading the everlasting gospel of God our Saviour, in all parts and places where God shall honour me with any power or influence.
As to myself, Sir, it is impossible to express the warm sentiments of my heart, for the mercies without number with which I have been loaded, by the God who has fed me all my life long to this day; and my reflection upon his goodness covers me with shame and blushing, for I know my utter unworthiness, and that I am less than the least of all his mercies. I would therefore abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes. You are sensible, my good friend, that governors stand in a glaring light, and their conduct is narrowly watched by friends and enemies: the one often unreasonably applaud them, while the other perhaps too justly censure them. Yet in this I am not anxious; but to approve myself to the Searcher of hearts, from whose mouth I must hear pronounced, at the great and general audit, those joyful words, Enter thou, &c. - or that terrible sentence, Depart from me, &c. Join with me then in thankfulness to God, for all the blessings and talents he has intrusted me with, and in prayer that I may employ them to his honour and glory, to the good of the people over whom he hath placed me, and so to the comfort of my own soul: that I may always remember that he ruleth over men, must be just, ruling in the fear of God.’
In another letter which I have received, dated Burlington, N. J. May 31, 1748, he says as follows.
’I will prostrate myself before my God and Saviour, and on the bended knees of my soul, (abhorring myself in every view,) I will beg for a measure of divine grace and wisdom; that so I may be honoured, in being an instrument of advancing the kingdom of the blessed Jesus in this world, and in that way be bringing forth fruit in old age 30 . I bless God, my heavenly Father, that I am not ashamed of the cross of Christ; and I humbly ask the assistance of sovereign grace, that, in times of temptation, I may never be a shame to it, I mean that my conversation may always be such as becometh the gospel of Christ. And I tell you again, that all such as minister at the altar, and in the course of their ministry approve themselves faithful to the great Head of the church, will not only find my countenance and protection, but my love and esteem.
’As to our embryo college, it is a noble design; and if God pleases, may prove an extensive blessing. I have adopted it for a daughter, and hope it may in time become an Alma Mater, to this and the neighbouring provinces. I am getting the best advice and assistance I can in the draught of a charter, which I intend to give to our infant college, and I thank you, Sir, for all the kind hints you have given me, for the service of this excellent undertaking: and as St. Luke says of Mary, She kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart; so you may depend, what you have said about the college will not be lost with me; but, as far as God shall enable me, I shall exert and lay out myself in every way to bring it to maturity, and then to advance its future welfare and prosperity; for this I believe will be acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; a relish for true religion and piety, being great strangers to this part of America. The accounts I receive from time to time, give me too much reason to fear that Arminianism, Arianism, and even Socinianism, in destruction to the doctrines of free grace, are daily propagated in the New England colleges. How horribly and how wickedly, are these poisonous notions rooting out those noble pious principles, on which our excellent ancestors founded those seminaries! and how base a return is it of the present generation, to that God, who is constantly surrounding them with goodness and mercy! and how offensive is it in the eyes of that God, who is jealous of his glory, and will take vengeance on his adversaries, and reserveth wrath for his enemies! And from these things I am led to thank you for your book, wrote in consequence of the Memorial from Scotland, for promoting a Concert in Prayer. I am much pleased with this proposal and imitation to all good Christians, and with your arguments to encourage and corroborate the design. The two missionaries you mention, Messrs. Spencer and Strong, I am told are present at Boston. I have once and again desired Mr. Brainerd to assure them of my kindness and respect. But their affairs have not yet led them this way. I rejoice in their being appointed to carry the gospel, in its purity, to the Six Nations; and when Mr. Brainerd and they proceed to Susquehannah, they shall have all my assistance and encouragement; by letters to the king’s governors where they may pass, and my letters to the sachem or chief of those Indians.’
With regard to the missionaries, Governor Belcher mentions: ‘The commissioners in Boston, of the corporation in London, for the propagation of the gospel among the Indians in New England and parts adjacent, a little before Mr. David Brainerd went to Boston, the summer before his death, had received a sum of money from the estate left by the famous Dr. Williams, for the maintenance of two missionaries among the Six Nations: and having entertained a very great esteem of Mr. Brainerd, from the opportunity they had of acquaintance with him while in Boston, the committee intrusted to him the affair of finding and recommending the persons proper to be employed in this business.’ Accordingly he, after much deliberation, recommended one Mr. Spencer, belonging to Haddam, his native town; and Mr. Strong, belonging to this town, Northampton; who are undoubtedly well qualified persons, of good abilities and learning, and of pious dispositions. The commissioners, on his recommendation, accepted these persons; and after Mr. Brainerd’s death, sent to them; and they went down to Boston, and accepted the mission. But the commissioners did not think proper immediately to send them forth among the Six Nations; but ordered them to go and live, during the winter, in New Jersey with Mr. John Brainerd, among the christian Indians, there to follow their studies, and get acquaintance with the manners and customs of Indians; and in the spring to go with Mr. Brainerd to Susquehannah, to instruct the Indians on that river, before they went to the Six Nations. Accordingly they went and lived in New Jersey; but were discouraged as to their intended journey to Susquehannah; for they understood that the Susquehannah Indians greatly objected against entertaining missionaries, without the consent of the Six Nations, (to whom they are subject, and of whom they stand it seems in great fear,) and insisted that the missionaries should go to the Six Nations first. Therefore, in the spring, Messrs. Spencer and Strong returned to Boston, for new orders from the commissioners; who saw cause to order them to come and live at my house, till the time of an appointed interview of the governors of Boston and New York with the chiefs of the Six Nations, at Albany, in the latter part of the summer; when it was proposed that some, that should go to Albany with Gov. Shirley, should, on the behalf of the commissioners, treat with the Six Nations concerning their receiving missionaries. Messrs. Spencer and Strong did accordingly; they lived with me in the summer, and went to Albany at the time of the treaty; and the nation of the Oneidas, in particular, were dealt with concerning receiving these missionaries; who appeared free and forward in the matter. Messrs. Spencer and Strong, at that time, got some acquaintance with the chiefs of the tribe; who appeared fond of them, and very desirous of their going with them. But the grand difficulty then in the way, was the want of an interpreter; which occasioned their not going with the Indians at that time, but returning again to New England. Mr. Strong, also, was taken much out of health, which discouraged him from entertaining any thoughts of throwing himself into the fatigues and hardships of their undertaking, till the next spring. But the difficulty of the want of an interpreter is now got over; a very good one has been found; and Mr. Spencer was ordained on the 14th of the last month, and is gone with the interpreter, to go to the country of the Oneidas, about 170 miles beyond Albany, and about 130 miles distant from all settlements of the white people.
It is a thing, that has a favourable aspect on the design of propagating the gospel among the Indians, that many of late have been remarkably spirited to promote it, and liberally to open their hands in order to it. Mr. Brainerd’s going to Boston before his death, and people there having some acquaintance with him, and with his labours and success among the Indians, gave occasion to a considerable number in Boston, men of good substance and of the best character, and some of them principal men in the town, to form themselves into a charitable society, that by their joint endeavours and contributions, they might promote the instruction and spiritual good of the Indians; who have done some very liberal things for the Indians in New Jersey, and also for the Six Nations. The people of Northampton have also had their hearts remarkably opened, to contribute to the maintenance of Mr. Spencer’s interpreter; and one individual at Springfield, has been moved to devote a considerable part of his estate, to promote the propagation of the gospel among the Six Nations.
As to my writing against Arminianism; I have hitherto been remarkably hindered; so that probably it will be a considerable time before I shall have anything ready for the press; but do intend, God allowing and assisting, to prosecute that design: and I desire your prayers for the Divine assistance in it. The books you sent me, will be a great help to me; I would on no account have been without them.
I condole with you and Mrs. Erskine, on the loss of your noble and excellent father; which is doubtless a great loss to the church of God. But the glorious King of Zion, who was dead, is alive, and lives for evermore, and can raise up others in exalted stations to favour Zion; and seems to be so doing at this day, by things you give an account of in your letter. I have been the subject of an afflictive dispensation of late, tending to teach me how to sympathize with the afflicted; which I think I mentioned in my last letter to you, viz. the death of my second daughter, the last February.
Please to present my most affectionate and respectful salutations to your dear consort. That I and mine may be remembered in your and her prayers, is the request of
Your affectionate and obliged
Friend and brother,
Letter from Mr. Willison to Mr. Edwards.
“To the Rev. Mr. Edwards.
Dundee, March 17, 1749.
rev. and dear brother,
I thank you for yours of October last, with your two sermons, which Mr. M’Laurin sent me; which two sermons give me cause to sing of mercy as well as of judgment, that as on shining and successful youth is laid aside from labouring in the gospel, another is sent forth to it. Indeed, worthy Mr. Brainerd was one among a thousand, for carrying the gospel among the heathen, as appears by the account you give of him in your sermon, and by his Journals which have been published here, and prefaced by Dr. Doddridge, and dedicated by him to the Society at Edinburgh. We must be silent; seeing He who hath removed him is holy, just, and wise. We must also lay our hands on our mouths, with respect to the loss of our great and eminent men, such as Dr. Watts, Dr. Colman, Mr. Cowper, and others. But O, it is no loss to be absent from the body, to them who are present with the Lord. Great need have we to cry to the Lord of the vineyard, to send forth others in their room: it is easy for him to do it, from places we little expect. These are hopeful and promising accounts, which you have from your correspondents in Scotland, mentioned in your letter. May they all hold true, and be the forerunners of greater things, and the dawnings of the glory of the latter days. I may add to them, the rising of a burning and shining light of a church of England minister, in Dr. Doddridge’s neighbourhood, viz. Mr. Hervey; for he dates his writings from Weston Favel, near Northampton. He has lately published two volumes of Meditations on all kinds of subjects, in a most orthodox, Calvinistic, and evangelical strain, in which he takes all kinds of occasions of exalting and commending his glorious Master, Christ, in a most rhetorical way, and in a style I think inimitable, and in the most moving expressions, so that it is not easy to read him without tears. He freely taxes his brethren of that church, for departing from the doctrines of grace, and of justification by imputed righteousness, &c. which were taught by the Reformers, and their own articles and homilies. And notwithstanding this uncommon freedom, which he uses with his brethren, great men, &c. never had any books such a run in England, as his; for in a year and a half’s time, or thereabouts, there are five editions of them published at London, and still they are greedily bought and read, especially by persons of distinction; the style being a little too high and poetical for the vulgar. His name is James Hervey, A. B. Some say he is of noble descent, from the Earl of Bristol; but I am not sure of this. It is thought he is the man that Dr. Doddridge points at, in the life of Col. Gardiner, pages 37, 38. It looks well, that so many in England should become fond of sound evangelical writings. No doubt the books may have reached Boston by this time. Let us therefore still wait and pray in hope. I should be glad to do anything in my power, for promoting the Concert for United Prayer, and oh that it were spread both far and near; it would be a token of a general revival of religion to be fast approaching. I know nothing that hath a greater tendency to promote the aforesaid happy Concert, than the book you lately published about it (a copy whereof you sent me, for which I humbly thank you.) I wish it were universally spread, for I both love and admire the performance upon subjects so uncommon. I approve your remarks on Mr. Lowman. His reason for beginning the antichrist’s reign so late as the year 756, is weak, viz. because then King Pepin invested the pope in his temporal dominion over that province in Italy, called St. Peter’s Patrimony - when it is evident that the pope had usurped his tyrannical dominion over Christ’s church long before, which is the main ground of his being called antichrist; yea, the pope’s usurped power was greater before King Pepin’s time, than it is at this day - as for instance, in Pope Symmachus’ time, anno 501; in Pope Hormisdas’ time, anno 516; in Pope Boniface 3d’s time, anno 606; in Pope Constantine’s time, anno 713. Yea, Mr. Lowman himself gives a dreadful instance of the pope’s tyranny and usurpation, both over the church and the emperor, in page 97 of his book, which happened anno 726, thirty years before he begins antichrist’s reign; when Pope Gregory 2d excommunicated the Emperor Leo, for ordering images to be removed out of the churches, and forbad obedience or paying of taxes to him. Was not antichrist’s reign far advanced by that time? And we have several instances of the pope’s tyranny, similar to this, recorded by historians, before that which Mr. Lowman mentions; which more directly denominate him antichrist, than his temporal doings in Italy. We see how easy it is for the best writers to slip into mistakes and wrong schemes. I agree with you, that antichrist’s fall will be gradual, in the way you explain it.
I am sorry to hear of Arminianism growing in New England. But I rejoice to hear of Gov. Belcher’s zeal for religion in New Jersey; may the Lord spare him and bless him. As also I am glad to hear of the hopeful prospect of the gospel’s growing among the Six Nations of Indians; and of such a youth as Mr. Spencer being sent among them: may the Lord prosper him as he did Mr. Brainerd. I sympathize with you under that affliction of your daughter’s death; but it is comfortable she was helped so to live and die, as to afford such grounds of hope concerning her. And though she was the flower of your family, yet the remembering of the gracious hand, that painted the flower, will engage your worthy spouse and you to a becoming silence, like Aaron. As he will do what he will, let us join and say always, Let his will be done. I would fain be at this in my own case: may the Lord help me to more of christian submission and resignation. I am now entered into the 69th year of my age, and fallen under several distresses, whereby I have been shaken over the grave these many months past, and am laid aside from preaching. May the Lord assist me in my preparation for the dissolution of this tabernacle. I find it no easy matter to die, and to die in faith, and to die like Simeon with Jesus in his arms. I very much need your prayers for me. I am glad to hear, dear brother, that your parents are both alive, and that they hold the abilities of both body and mind so remarkably at so great an age; and particularly that your father, at seventy - nine years of age, and now near eighty, performs the whole of his ministerial work so constantly, without feeling it burdensome, and was able to travel forty miles to see you: his is indeed a wonder of his age, and would be reckoned so in this country, where few ministers come near to that age and vigour. May the Lord still spare him, with your mother, and make them still flourishing in old age; may they be blessed with much of God’s precious presence, and with the consolations and fruits of the Spirit, in their aged and declining days. I still kindly remember your worthy spouse and children remaining, and pray they may long be continued for comforts to you, and you continued for a blessing to them, to your flock, and to many others, as you already have been.
I remain, Rev. and dear brother,
Your most affectionate brother, and serv’t
In our Lord,
“P.S. The Rev. Mr. Whitefield came to Scotland in September last, and preached about two months in and about Edinburgh and Glasgow. But some brethren who employed him, being challenged for it in synods and presbyteries, and debates arising thereupon, Mr. Whitefield returned to London. To give a view of the substance of these debates, and what passed thereupon in the synod of Glasgow, I have sent you herewith a printed pamphlet containing the same, with two other books, as a small acknowledgment of your favours.”
The three following letters went in the same packet to Scotland. The religious intelligence, which they communicated, will be found highly interesting at the present day. In the first of the three, is the earliest allusion, on the part of Mr. Edwards, which I have met with, to a most painful subject; the mention of which I have purposely forborne, that all which relates to it may be presented together.
Letter to Mr. Erskine.
“Northampton, May 20, 1749.
rev. and dear sir,
The day before yesterday, I received your letter of February 14th, with a pacquet, containing the pamphlets you mention in your letter; for which I am greatly obliged to you. I have not yet had opportunity to read these books, but promise myself much entertainment by them, from the occasions on which they were written, and the subject they are upon. The last letter I received from you before this, was dated April 6, 1748, so that I suppose the two letters you say you wrote to me, since those which I acknowledge the receipt of, have miscarried, which I much regret, as I much value what comes from your hand.
In one of your last letters which came to hand, you desire to be particularly informed concerning the state of religion, in these parts of the world, and particularly concerning the mission to the Indians, and the infant college in New Jersey. As to the affair of preaching the gospel to the Indians, Mr. Spencer went, the last fall, far into the western wilderness; to the Oneidas, one of the tribes of Indians called the Six Nations, living on Susquehannah river, towards the head of the river; to a place called by the Indians Onohohquauga, about 180 miles south - west from Albany on Hudson’s river, where he continued through the winter; and went through many difficulties and hardships, with little or no success, through the failing of his interpreter; who was a woman that had formerly been a captive among the Caghnawauga Indians in Canady, who speak the same language with those Oneidas, excepting some small variation of dialect. She went with her husband, an Englishman, and is one of the people we here call Separatists; who showed the spirit he was of there in that wilderness, beyond what was known before. He differed with and opposed Mr. Spencer in his measures, and had an ill influence on his wife; who I fear was very unfaithful, refusing to interpret for Mr. Spencer more than one discourse in a week, a sermon upon the Sabbath; and utterly declined assisting him in discoursing and conversing with the Indians in the week time. And her interpretations on the Sabbath were performed very unfaithfully, as at last appeared. So that Mr. Spencer came away in discouragement in the spring, and returned to Boston, and gave the corporation there, who employed him, an account of his unexpected difficulties and disappointments; and became obliged to them to wait three months, to see if they could procure a fellow missionary, and another interpreter, to go with him to the Indians; which I believe is not much expected. If these are not obtained within the limited time, Mr. Spencer is free from any further engagements to them. Mr. Spencer is now preaching at Elizabeth - town in New Jersey, in the pulpit of the late Mr. Dickinson; and I believe is likely to settle there. He is a person of very promising qualifications: and will hopefully in some measure make up the great loss that people have sustained by the death of their former pastor.
As to the mission in New Jersey, we have from time to time had comfortable accounts of it; and Mr. John Brainerd, who has the care of the congregation of christian Indians there, was about three weeks ago at my house; and informed me of the increase of his congregation, and of their being added to from time to time by the coming of Indians from distant places, and settling in the Indian town at Cranberry, for the sake of hearing the gospel; and of something of a work of awakening being all along carried on among the Indians to this day; and of some of the new comers being awakened; and of there being instances, from time to time, of hopeful conversion among them; and of a general good and pious behaviour of the professing Indians. But he gave an account also of some trouble the Indians meet with, from some of the white people; and particularly from Mr. Maurice, the chief justice of the province, a professed deist; who is sueing them for their lands under pretext of a will, made by their former king; which was undoubtedly forged. However, he is a man of such craft and influence, that it is not known how the matter will issue.
I have heard nothing new that is very remarkable concerning the college in New Jersey. It is in its infancy; there has been considerable difficulty about settling their charter. Gov. Belcher, who gave the charter, is willing to encourage and promote the college to his utmost; but differs in his opinion concerning the constitution, which will tend most to its prosperity, from some of the principal ministers that have been concerned in founding the society. He insists upon it that the governor, for the time being, and four of his Majesty’s council for the province, should always be of the corporation of trustees; and that the governor should always be the president of the corporation. The ministers are all very willing that the present governor, who is a religious man, should be in this standing; but their difficulty is with respect to future governors, who they suppose are as likely to be men of no religion, and deists, as otherwise. However, so the matter is settled, to the great uneasiness of Mr. Gilbert Tennent in particular, who it is feared will have no further concern with the college on this account. Mr. Burr, the president of the college, is a man of religion and singular learning, and I hope the college will flourish under his care.
I have taken a great deal of pains in communicating to others, in various parts, the pleasing accounts you and my other correspondents in Scotland gave me last year of things of promising aspect on the interest of religion, on your side of the ocean: which have been very affecting to pious ministers and people in New England, and also in the provinces of New York and New Jersey; and hope some considerable good has been done by such tidings; particularly in animating many in the duty of extraordinary united prayer for a general revival of religion, and promoting the Concert for Prayer proposed from Scotland; which prevails more and more in these parts of the world; which, together with some other things in some places, are cause of thankfulness, and bode well to the interests of Zion, (of which I have given a more particular account in my letters to Mr. M’Laurin, Mr. Robe, and Mr. M’Culloch, sent with this,) though it be in general a very dead time as to religion, and a time of the prevailing of all manner of iniquity.
I shall send orders to Boston, that one of my books on Mr. Brainerd’s life may be sent to you with this letter; if any of them are ready, as I hope they are, or will be very speedily.
I have nothing very comfortable to inform you of concerning the present state of religion in this place. A very great difficulty has arisen between my people, relating to qualifications for communion at the Lord’s table. My honoured grandfather Stoddard, my predecessor in the ministry over this church, strenuously maintained the Lord’s supper to be a converting ordinance; and urged all to come, who were not of scandalous life, though they knew themselves to be unconverted. I formerly conformed to his practice; but I have had difficulties with respect to it, which have been long increasing; till I dared no longer to proceed in the former way; which has occasioned great uneasiness among my people, and has filled all the country with noise, which has obliged me to write something on the subject, which is now in the press. I know not but this affair will issue in a separation between me and my people. I desire your prayers, that God would guide me in every step of this affair. My wife joins with me in respectful salutations to you and your consort.
I am, dear Sir, your obliged and affectionate
Brother and servant,
Letter to Mr. M’Culloch
“Northampton, May 23, 1749.
rev. and dear brother,
The last letter I received from you was dated Feb. 10, 1748, to which I wrote an answer the latter end of last summer; which I suppose you received, because I perceive by letters sent me this spring, by some others of my correspondents, your neighbours, they had received letters I sent to them at the same time, and in the same packet. Your letters to me have been very acceptable; I should be glad to receive them oftener.
The letter I last received from you, and others that came with it, were peculiarly agreeable, on account of the good news they contained concerning Messrs. West and Littleton, the Archbishop of Canterbury, some in the royal family, the stadtholder, &c. These things I have taken a great deal of pains to communicate to others; and they have been very entertaining, and I hope profitable to many. I was at the pains to extract from all the letters I received at that time, those things which appeared with a favourable aspect on the interest of religion in the world, and to draw various copies to send to different parts, to such as I supposed would be most likely to be entertained and improved by them, and to do good with them; and I believe they have been of great benefit, particularly to excite and encourage God’s people, in the great duty of praying for the coming of Christ’s kingdom, and to promote extraordinary united prayer, in the method proposed in the Memorial from Scotland. I read these articles of good news to my own congregation, and also to the association of ministers to which I belong, when met on one of the quarterly seasons for prayer; and read them occasionally to many others; and sent a copy of one of the aforementioned abstracts to Connecticut, which was carried into various parts of that government, and shown to several ministers there. I sent one to Mr. Hall of Sutton, a pious minister about the middle of this province; who, according to my desire, communicated it to other ministers, and I suppose to his people. I sent a copy to Mr. Rogers of Kittery, I suppose about seventy miles to the eastward of Boston; who in reply wrote to me, and in his letter says as follows: ‘Yours of the 22d Dec. came not to my hand till the 19th of this; with which I was well pleased, and had some sweet sense of the sovereign free grace of God in the instances you mentioned, with some going forth of heart after further displays of it, in the mighty and noble of our nation, and the great ones of our own country; and indeed, that the kingdom of our exalted Redeemer might prevail in all the world. And, dear Sir, I am full in the belief, that so many of the Lord’s people agreeing upon a time to unite in prayer for the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, and the coming of the Redeemer’s kingdom, is from the Lord; and cannot but hope the day draws near, when he will pour out water upon the thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground; as also, that all his ministers and people, who are engaged in so delightful a work, for so noble an end, will give him no rest, till he shall make his Jerusalem a quiet habitation, a name and a praise in the earth.’
I sent another copy into New Jersey to Mr. John Brainerd, missionary to the Indians there, with a desire that he would communicate it to others as he thought would be most serviceable.
He writes in answer, March 4, 1748, as follows: ‘I received yours of Jan. 12, on Sabbath morning Feb. 5, and desire to acknowledge your kindness with much thankfulness and gratitude. It was a great resuscitant, as well as encouragement, to me; and I trust, has been so to many others, in these parts, who are concerned for the prosperity of Zion. The next Tuesday after, (as perhaps, Sir, you may remember,) was the quarterly day appointed for extraordinary prayer; upon which I called my people together, and gave them information of the most notable things contained in your letter. And since I have endeavoured to communicate the same to several of my neighbouring ministers, and sundry private Christians, as I had opportunity. I have also thought it my duty to send an extract, or rather a copy of it, to Gov. Belcher. I have likewise (for want of time to transcribe) sent the original to Philadelphia by a careful hand, that the Rev. Mr. Gilbert Tennent might have the perusal of it; where a copy was taken, and the original safely returned to me again. I cannot but hope that this letter, as it contains many things wherein the power and goodness of God do appear in a most conspicuous manner, will be greatly serviceable in stirring up the people of God in these parts, and encouraging their hearts to seek his face and favour, and to cry mightily to him, for the further outpouring of a gracious Spirit upon his church in the world. For my part, I think the remarkable things which your letter contains, might be sufficient to put new life into anyone who is not past feeling; and as a means to excite a spirit of prayer and praise, in all those who are not buried in ignorance, or under the power of a lethargic stupor. And it is looked upon, by those whom I have had opportunity to converse with, whether ministers or private Christians, that what God has done is matter of great thankfulness and praise, and might well encourage his people to lift up the hand of prayer, and be instant therein.’
Mr. Davenport, minister of a church in Elizabeth - town in New Jersey, writes thus upon it, in a letter dated April 1, 1749: ‘I thank you for sending your letter to our Brainerd open, that I might see it, which I took a copy of; and have found it again and again refreshing and animating. I read it to the ministers who met at my house for prayer, on the first Tuesday of February, and sent it afterwards to Long Island: Mr. Rivel took a copy of it, and read it in his congregation on the Island.’
I hope, dear Sir, these things will encourage you to continue your correspondence, and to go on to give me information of whatever appears in your parts of the world favourable to the interests of the kingdom of Christ. It will not only be entertaining to me; but I shall endeavour, whenever I receive such tidings, to communicate it for the entertainment and profit of God’s people, as I have opportunity. I must refer you, dear Sir, to my letters to other correspondents in your neighbourhood, for other particulars relating to the state of religion in these parts of the world. And hope, when you are before the throne of grace, you will not forget
Your very affectionate friend,
And brother and servant,
Letter to Mr. Robe.
“Northampton, May 23, 1749.
rev. and dear sir,
Mr. M’Laurin, in a letter I received from him the last week, dated March 10th, 1749, informs me of a letter you had written to me, sent to him; which he had taken care of. This letter, by some means or other, has failed, and has never reached me. I intend to make inquiry after it, to see if it has not been left at Boston, and forgotten to be sent. I have reason to hope (though I have not received your letter) that you and your family are well, because Mr. M’Laurin and Mr. Erskine (the only correspondents from whom I have received letters this time) inform me of nothing to the contrary.
As to the present state of religion in these parts of the world, it is in the general very dark and melancholy. But yet there are some things which appear comfortable and hopeful; particularly, the Concert for extraordinary Prayer for the coming of Christ’s kingdom, is spreading and prevailing - and we hear of awakenings and revivals of religion in some places. We have had accounts, from time to time, of religion’s being in a flourishing state, in the Indian congregation in New Jersey, under the care of Mr. John Brainerd; of the congregation’s increasing, by the access of Indians from distant parts; of a work of awakening carried on among the unconverted, and additions made to the number of the hopefully converted, and the Christian behaviour of professors there. Mr. Brainerd was at my house a little while ago, and represented this to be the present state of things in that congregation. I had a letter from Mr. Davenport, (who is settled now as a minister over a congregation belonging to Elizabeth - town, in New Jersey,) dated April 1, 1749, wherein he says as follows: ‘Mr. Lewis told me, that there has been a remarkable work of conviction prevailing in his place, ever since last December. I think he spoke of about forty under soul concern, a considerable number of them under strong convictions, and some hopefully converted. I heard lately a credible account of a remarkable work of conviction and conversion, among whites and negroes, at Hanover in Virginia, under the ministry of Mr. Davies, who is lately settled there, and has the character of a very ingenious and pious young man; whose support, in his preparation for service, Mr. Robinson contributed much, if not mostly to; and on his death - bed gave him his books, &c.
Mr. Buell, of East Hampton, on Long Island, was here last week, and gave me an account of a very considerable work of awakening at this time in his congregation, especially among the young people; and also of a yet greater work at Bridgehampton, under the ministry of one Mr. Brown, a very pious and prudent young man, lately settled there. These congregations are both pretty large. He also gave an account of religion’s continuing in a very prosperous state at a part of Huntington, another town on Long Island, where there was a great and general awakening, last year.
An association of ministers, between this and Boston, seem of late to have applied themselves somewhat earnestly, to invent means for promoting religion. The following is a copy of something they have agreed upon for this end, as it was sent to me, by a minister that lives that way.
“The sum and substance of the answers, given by the association, to this question, What things shall be done by us, for preventing the awful threatening degeneracy and backsliding in religion, in the present day?
These, we apprehend, may be reduced to the following heads, viz. Those that respect ourselves personally; those which concern the association, as such; and those which relate to our people, in our respective churches and congregations.
I. As to what respects ourselves personally.
1. We ought surely to get a deep and affecting sense of this: Whether there is not in ourselves defection, and great danger of further degeneracy; for otherwise, we shall with little heartiness undertake, or earnestness endeavour after, reformation.
2. We are not to think it amiss, that we ourselves be excited to look, with a proper attention and concern, into our own estate, into our own experiences in the divine life, and into what little proficiency we make, or declension we fall into, ourselves.
3. We must by all means see to it, that we be sound and clear in the great doctrines of the gospel, which are the life of our holy religion; (we here intend, those doctrines which are exhibited in our excellent Westminster Catechism and Confession of Faith;) and that we all boldly and impartially appear in the defence thereof: at the same time we must take heed and beware of the dangerous errors which many have run into; particularly the Arminian and Neonomian on the one hand, and the Antinomian and Enthusiastical on the other.
4. We must be very faithful in every part of our ministerial works, and make conscience to magnify our office. In a particular manner, we must take good heed to our preaching; that it be not only sound, but instructive, savoury, spiritual, very awakening and searching, well adapted to the times and seasons which pass over us; labouring earnestly herein. We must therefore dwell much upon the doctrines of repentance and conversion, the nature, necessity, and evidence thereof; and much urge the duty of self - examination, and open the deceits of the heart; bringing the unconverted under the work of the law, that they may be prepared to embrace the offer of the gospel. Moral duties must be treated of in an evangelical strain; and we must give unto everyone his portion, and not shrink from it, under the notion of prudence; particularly, in the important duty of reproving sinners of all sorts, be they who they will. Again, we must not be slighty in our private conference with souls, and examining candidates for the communion, or other special privileges; and we must carefully and wisely suit our endeavours to the several ages and conditions of persons, the elder and younger; and in a very particular manner, we must set ourselves to promote religion among our young people. And, in a word, we must see whether we are animated to all these things by the grace of God in us.
5. We are impartially to see what evils are to be found among ourselves, and remove them. Let us be seriously thoughtful, whether (among our defects) we have not been, in some respect or other, the blameable means of discouragement to those who have been under religious concern; or whether we have not given strength and boldness to the ungodly, when we have been testifying against the extravagances and disorders of the late times.
6. We must be conscientiously exemplary in our whole behaviour and conversation. It is necessary that we be serious and grave, as what highly becomes gospel bishops. And especially, we must be very watchful over our frame and conduct on the Lord’s day. We must therefore look well to our sabbatizing, both at home and abroad, both before our own and other people. Our example is of vast consequence, in magnifying our office before recommended.
7. We ought to stir up the gifts which are in us, and to grow more and more, according to the sacred injunction, 2 Tim. i. 6.
8. We should follow all our endeavours with fervent prayer to God; especially our labours in preaching and teaching: the seed of the word is to be steeped in tears.
II. As to what concerns the association as such.
1. We must lay aside disgusts one with another, and study brotherly love, that it may revive and continue; we must endeavour to be as near as we can of one mind, and go on harmoniously; and then we shall be the more strongly united in all, but especially in our present proceedings. There must be respectful treatment one of another, of the persons and character of one another; and we must be careful of ministerial character; which is of greater consequence than at first sight may appear. And when we have occasion to dispute, let it be under a very strict guard, avoiding all censuring reflections.
2. That we manifest our approbation of the Westminster Assembly’s Catechism, as containing an excellent system of divinity; and we purpose to preach agreeably to the doctrines of the Bible exhibited therein.
3. As we must be very careful of our conversation in general as above said; so especially must we be respecting our conduct while together in association.
4. It is proposed that a course of our association be turned into fasts, upon this great account.
5. We agree to be more especially fervent, in continual prayer for the advancement of the kingdom of Christ.
6. Some special, new, and prudent care must be taken to guard our pulpits.
7. It is proposed, that we agree to endeavour to introduce the public reading of the Holy Scriptures. The manner and time to be left to discretion.
III. With regard to what may be done among the people we stand related to.
1. We conceive that whatever public exercises are to be agreed on, or whatever concerns the public, the people are to be informed and acquainted with our design.
2. That it be earnestly recommended to the people, to consider the worth of their privileges, and the danger of being deprived of them; which there is, partly by the spreading of evil doctrines among them, and partly by the conduct of too many people towards their ministers.
3. Let pragmatical, factious spirits, fomenting division, be duly frowned upon.
4. We must guard them against the temptations of their several employments, and the special seasons wherein they are most exposed.
5. We must consider what evils there are to be found among them, which do especially need reforming; as the profanation of the Lord’s day, which is enough to destroy all religion; tavern - haunting, company - keeping, chambering, uncleanness, profaneness, &c.; and we ought loudly to testify against them. And that what we do may be effectual, let us endeavour to convince their consciences of the evil of sin, and of these sins. - We are not to fail to warn people solemnly against the dreadful guilt of unthankfulness under God’s signal mercies, and of incorrigibleness under heavy and sore judgments. Could we in wisdom do it, we should also warn them against their oppressing the Lord’s ministers in their maintenance.
6. Let us endeavour to revive good customs and practices among them; particularly, the ancient good practice of catechising, family order, worship, and government, religious societies under good regulation, godly conference and conversation among Christians; and in brief, whatever is laudable and of good tendency.
7. Church discipline should be revived; brotherly watchfulness, and admonition; nor are we to forget to take special care of the children and youths of the flock.
8. We may do well to engage, as far as we are able, all persons of distinction and influence to unite with us in this work of reformation; e.g. justices, school - masters, candidates for the ministry; and especially to assist us by their example.
9. Solemn renewal of covenant hath been advised to, as very useful upon this occasion; (vid. Synod, 1679, for Reformation;) but we leave this to each one’s discretion.
Finally, in these things we should think ourselves bound to exert ourselves, and use uncommon fervency, to preserve what remains of religion, and prevent further decay.
Thus far this association.
The members of this association, as their names were sent to me, are as follows:
The Rev. Messrs. Loring, of Sudbury; Cushing, of Shrewsbury; Parkman, of Westborough; Gardiner, of Stow; Martyn, of Westborough; Stone, of Southborough; Seecomb, of Harvard; Morse, of Shrewsbury; Smith, of Marlborough; Goss, of Boston; Buckminster, of Rutland; Davis, of Holden.
I must refer you, dear Sir, for other particulars relating to the state of religion, in these parts of the world, to my letters to my other correspondents in your neighbourhood.
My wife and family join with me in very affectionate and respectful salutations to you and yours. Desiring an interest in your prayers for us all, and for this part of the Zion of God,
I remain, dear Sir,
Your affectionate brother,
And obliged friend and servant,
In the Memoirs of Brainerd, under the date of Sept. 13, 1747, the reader will find mention of a Mr. Job Strong, a candidate for the ministry, whom Brainerd, immediately before his death, recommended to the commissioners in Boston, as a missionary to the Indians; and in the 4th Reflection on those Memoirs, an interesting letter of his, giving an account of the Indian mission at Bethel, in New Jersey, in Jan. 1748. This young gentleman, having ultimately declined that appointment, accepted proposals of settlement in the ministry, the following year, from a church in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and invited Mr. Edwards to preach the sermon at his ordination, which was appointed for the 28th of June. Mary, the fourth daughter of Mr. Edwards, then a young lady of fifteen, went before her father to Portsmouth, to visit some of the friends of the family in that place. From her I learned the following anecdote. - The Rev. Mr. Moody, of York, a gentleman of unquestioned talents and piety, but perfectly unique in his manners, had agreed, in case of Mr. Edwards’s failure, to be his substitute in preaching the sermon. On the morning of the appointed day, Mr. Edwards not having arrived, the council delayed the ordination as long as they well could, and then proceeded to the church; where Mr. Moody had been regularly appointed to make the introductory prayer, which is the prayer immediately before the sermon. That gentleman, knowing that a numerous and highly respectable audience had been drawn together by a strong desire to hear Mr. Edwards, rose up to pray under the not very pleasant impression, that he must stand in his place; and offered a prayer, which was wholly characteristic of himself, and in some degree also of the times in which he lived. In that part of it, in which it was proper for him to allude to the exercises of the day, he besought the Lord, that they might be suitably humbled under the frown of his providence, in not being permitted to hear on that occasion, a discourse, as they had all fondly expected, from “that eminent servant of God, the Rev. Mr. Edwards, of Northampton;” and proceeded to thank God, for having raised him up, to be such a burning and shining light, for his uncommon piety, for his great excellence as a preacher, for the remarkable success which had attended his ministry, in other congregations as well as his own, for the superior talents and wisdom with which he was endowed as a writer, and for the great amount of good which his works had already done, and still promised to do, to the church and to the world. He then prayed that God would spare his life, and endow him with still higher gifts and graces, and render him still more eminent and useful than he had been; and concluded this part of his prayer, by supplicating the divine blessing on the daughter of Mr. Edwards, (then in the house,) who, though a very worthy and amiable young lady, was still, as they had reason to believe, without the grace of God, and in an unconverted state; that God would bring her to repentance, and forgive her sins, and not suffer the peculiar privileges which she enjoyed to be the means of a more aggravated condemnation. Mr. Edwards, who travelled on horseback, and had been unexpectedly detained on the road, arrived at the church a short time after the commencement of the exercises, and entered the door just after Mr. Moody began his prayer. Being remarkably still in all his movements, and particularly in the house of God, he ascended the stairs, and entered the pulpit so silently, that Mr. Moody did not hear him; and of course was necessitated, before a very numerous audience, to listen to the very high character given of himself by Mr. Moody. As soon as the prayer was closed, Mr. Moody turned round, and saw Mr. Edwards behind him; and, without leaving his place, gave him his right hand, and addressed him as follows: “Brother Edwards, we are all of us much rejoiced to see you here to - day, and nobody, probably, as much so as myself; but I wish that you might have got in a little sooner, or a little later, or else that I might have heard you when you came in, and known that you were here. I didn’t intend to flatter you to your face; but there’s one thing I’ll tell you: They say that your wife is a going to heaven by a shorter road than yourself.” Mr. Edwards bowed, and after reading the Psalm, went on with the sermon. His text was John xiii. 15, 16. and his subject, “Christ the Example of Ministers.” It was soon after published.
To his daughter, who prolonged her visit some time after the return of her father, he addressed, during her visit at Portsmouth, the following letter.
“To Miss Mary Edwards , at Portsmouth.
Northampton, July 26, 1749.
my dear child,
You may well think it is natural for a parent to be concerned for a child at so great a distance, so far out of view, and so far out of the reach of communication; where, if you should be taken with any dangerous sickness, that should issue in death, you might probably be in your grave before we could hear of your danger. But yet, my greatest concern is not for your health, or temporal welfare, but for the good of your soul. Though you are at so great a distance from us, yet God is everywhere. You are much out of the reach of our care, but you are every moment in His hands. We have not the comfort of seeing you, but He sees you. His eye is always upon you. And if you may but live sensibly near to God, and have his gracious presence, it is no matter if you are far distant from us. I had rather you should remain hundreds of miles distant from us, and have God near to you by his Spirit, than to have you always with us, and live at a distance from God. And if the next news we should hear of you, should be of your death, though that would be very melancholy; yet, if at the same time we should receive such intelligence concerning you, as should give us the best grounds to hope, that you had died in the Lord, how much more comfortable would this be, though we should have no opportunity to see you, or to take our leave of you in your sickness, than if we should be with you during all its progress, and have much opportunity to attend upon you, and converse and pray with you, and take an affectionate leave of you, and after all have reason to apprehend, that you died without the grace and favour of God! It is comfortable to have the presence of earthly friends, especially in sickness, and on a death - bed; but the great thing is to have God our friend, and to be united to Christ, who can never die any more, and from whom our own death cannot separate us.
My desire and daily prayer is, that you may, if it may consist with the holy will of God, meet with God where you are, and have much of his divine influences on your heart, wherever you may be; and that, in God’s due time, you may be returned to us again, in all respects under the smiles of Heaven, and especially, in prosperous circumstances in your soul, and that you may find us all alive and well. But that is uncertain; for you know what a dying time it has been with us in this town, about this season of the year, in years past. There is not much sickness prevailing among us as yet, but we fear whether mortal sickness is not now commencing. Yesterday, the only remaining son of Mr. C-- died of a fever, and is to be buried to - day. May God fit us all for his will!
I hope that you will maintain a strict and constant watch over yourself, against all temptations, that you do not forsake and forget God, and particularly, that you do not grow slack in secret religion. Retire often from this vain world, from all its bubbles and empty shadows, and vain amusements, and converse with God alone; and seek effectually for that divine grace and comfort, the least drop of which is worth more than all the riches, gaiety, pleasures, and entertainments of the whole world.
If Mrs. S - - , of Boston, or any of that family, should send to you, to invite you to come and remain there, on your return from Portsmouth, until there is opportunity for you to come home, I would have you accept the invitation. I think it probable they will invite you. But if otherwise, I would have you go to Mr. Bromfield’s. He and Mrs. B. both told me you should be welcome. After you are come to Boston, I would have you send us word of it by the first opportunity, that we may send for you without delay.
We are all, through the Divine goodness, in a tolerable state of health. The ferment in the town runs very high, concerning my opinion about the sacrament; but I am no more able to foretell the issue, than when I last saw you. But the whole family has indeed much to put us in mind, and make us sensible, of our dependence on the care and kindness of God, and of the vanity of all human dependences; and we are very loudly called upon to seek his face, to trust in him, and walk closely with him. Commending you to the care and special favour of our heavenly Father, I am
Your very affectionate father,
Your mother and all the family give their love to you.”
The following letter of Mr. Edwards to Mr. Gillespie, is in reply to the second letter of that gentleman, written in the autumn of 1748.
“Northampton, April 2, 1750.
rev. and dear sir,
I received your favour of September 19, 1748, the last summer, and would now heartily thank you for it. I suppose it may have come in the same ship with letters I had from my other correspondents in Scotland, which I answered the last summer; but it did not come to hand till a long time after most of the others, and after I had finished and sent away my answers to them, and that opportunity for answering was past. I have had no leisure or opportunity to write any letters to Scotland, from that time till now, by reason of my peculiar and very extraordinary circumstances, on account of the controversy which has arisen between me and my people, concerning the profession which ought to be made by persons who come to Christian sacraments; which is likely speedily to issue in a separation between me and my congregation. This controversy, in the progress of it, has proved not only a controversy between me and my people, but between me and a great part of New England; there being many far and near who are warmly engaged in it. This affair has unavoidably engaged my mind, and filled up my time, and taken me off from other things. I need the prayers of my friends, that God would be with me, and direct and assist me in such a time of trial, and mercifully order the issue.
As to the epistolary controversy, dear Sir, between you and me, about faith and doubting, I am sorry it should seem to be greater than it is, through misunderstanding of one another’s meaning, and that the real difference between us is so great as it is, in some part of the controversy.
As to the dispute about believing without spiritual light or sight, I thought I expressed my meaning in my last letter very plainly; but I kept no copy, and it might perhaps be owing to my dullness that I thought so. However, I perceive I was not understood. I cannot find out by anything you say to me on this head, that we really differ in sentiments, but only in words. I acknowledge with you that ‘all are bound to believe the divine testimony, and trust in Christ; and that want of spiritual light or sight does not loose from the obligation one is laid under by the divine command, to believe instantly on Christ, and at all seasons, nor excuse him, in any degree, for not believing. Even when one wants the influence and grace of the Spirit, still he is bound to believe.’ I think the obligation to believe, lies on a person who is remaining without spiritual light or sight, or even in darkness. No darkness, no blindness, no carnality or stupidity, excuses him a moment for not having as strong and lively a faith and love, as ever was exercised by the apostle Paul, or rather renders it not sinful in him, that he is at that same moment without such a faith and love; - and yet I believe it is absurd, and of a very hurtful consequence, to urge persons to believe in the dark, in the manner, and in the sense, in which many hundreds have done in America, who plainly intend, a believing with such a sort of strong faith or confidence, as is consistent with continuing still, even in the time of these strong acts of faith, without spiritual light, carnal, stupid, careless, and senseless. Their doctrine evidently comes to this, both in sense and effect, that it is a man’s duty strongly to believe with a lightless and sightless faith; or to have a confident, although a blind, dark, and stupid faith. Such a faith has indeed been promoted exceedingly by their doctrine, and has prevailed with its dreadful effects, answerable to the nature of the cause. We have had, and have to this day, multitudes of such firm believers whose bold, presumptuous confidence, attended with a very wicked behaviour, has given the greatest wound to the cause of truth and vital religion, which it has ever suffered in America.
As to what follows in your letter, that a person’s believing himself to be in a good estate is properly of the nature of faith; in this there seems to be some real difference between us. But perhaps there would be none, if distinctness were well observed in the use of words. If by a man’s believing that he is in a good estate, be meant no more than his believing that he does believe in Christ, does love God, &c. I think there is nothing of the nature of faith in it; because knowing it or believing it, depends on our own immediate sensation or consciousness, and not on divine testimony. True believers, in the hope they entertain of salvation, make use of the following syllogism: Whosoever believes shall be saved: I believe: Therefore, I shall be saved. Assenting to the major proposition, - Whosoever believes shall be saved, - is properly of the nature of faith; because the ground of my assent to that, is divine testimony; but my assent to the minor proposition, - I believe, - is, as I humbly conceive, not of the nature of faith, because that is not grounded on the divine testimony, but on my own consciousness. The testimony, which is the proper ground of faith, is in the word of God, Romans x. 17. ‘Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.’ There is a testimony given us in the word of God, that ’he that believeth shall be saved.’ But there is no testimony in the word of God, that a given individual, in such a town in Scotland, or New England, believes. There is such a proposition in the Scriptures, as that Christ loves those that love him; and this, therefore, everyone is bound to believe and affirm: and believing this, on the divine testimony, is properly of the nature of faith, while for anyone to doubt it, is properly the heinous sin of unbelief. But there is no such proposition in the Scriptures, nor is it any part of the gospel of Christ, that such an individual person in Northampton loves Christ. If I know that I have complacency in Christ, I know it the same way that I know I have complacency in my wife and children, viz. by the testimony of my own heart, or my inward consciousness. Evangelical faith has the gospel of Christ for its foundation; but the proposition, that I love Christ, is a proposition not contained in the gospel of Christ.
Hence, that we may not dispute in the dark, it is necessary, that we should explain what we mean by a person’s believing that he is in a good estate. If thereby we mean only believing the minor of the foregoing syllogism, or similar syllogisms, - I believe; or, I love God; - it is not of the nature of faith. But if by a man’s believing himself to be in a good estate, be understood his believing not only the minor but the consequence, therefore I shall be saved, or, therefore God will never leave me nor forsake me; then a man’s believing his good estate, partakes of the nature of faith; for these consequences depend on divine testimony in the word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Yea, I would observe further, that a man’s judging of the faith or love which he actually finds in himself, whether it is that sort of faith or love which he finds to be saving, may depend on his reliance on scripture rules and marks, which are divine testimonies, on which he may be tempted not to rely, from the consideration of his great unworthiness. But his judging that he has those individual inward acts of understanding, and exercises of heart, depends on inward sensations, and not on any testimony of the word of God. The knowing of his present acts depends on immediate consciousness, and the knowing of his past acts depends on memory. Hence the fulness of my satisfaction, that I now have such an inward act or exercise of mind, depends on the strength of the sensation; and my satisfaction, that I have had them heretofore, depends on the clearness of my memory, and not on the strength of my reliance on any divine testimony. So likewise, my doubting whether I have, or have had, such individual inward acts, is not of itself of the nature of unbelief, though it may arise from unbelief indirectly; because, if I had had more faith, the actings of it would have been more sensible, and the memory of them more clear, and so I should have been better satisfied that I had them.
God appears to have given Abraham’s servant a revelation, that the damsel in whom he found certain marks, - her coming to draw water with a pitcher to that well, and her readiness to give him and his camels drink, - should be Isaac’s wife; and therefore his assenting to this, was of the nature of faith, having divine testimony for its foundation. But his believing that Rebekah was the damsel who had these individual marks, his knowing that she came to draw water, and that she let down her pitcher, was not of the nature of faith. His knowing this was not from divine testimony, but from the testimony of his own senses. (Vide Gen. xxiv. )
You speak of ‘a saint’s doubting of his good estate, as a part of unbelief, and the opposite of faith, considered in its full compass and latitude, as one branch of unbelief, one ingredient in unbelief; and of assurance of a man’s good estate, as one thing that belongs to the exercise of faith.’ I do not know whether I take your meaning in these expressions. If you mean, that a person’s believing himself to be in a good estate, is one thing which appertains to the essence of saving faith, or that saving faith, in all that belongs to its essence, yea its perfection, cannot be without implying it, I must humbly ask leave to differ from you. That my believing that I am in a good estate, is no part or ingredient in the essence of saving faith, is evident from this, that the essence of saving faith must be complete in me, before it can be true that I am in a good estate. If I have not as yet acted faith, yea if there be anything wanting in me to make up the essence of saving faith, then I am not as yet in a state of salvation, and therefore can have no ground to believe that I am so. Anything that belongs to the essence of saving faith is prior, in the order of nature, to a man’s being in a state of salvation, because it is saving faith which brings him into such a state. And therefore believing that he is in such a state, cannot be one thing which is essential or necessary, in order to his being in such a state; for that would imply a contradiction. It would be to suppose a man’s believing that he is in a good estate, to be prior, in the order of nature, to his being in a good estate. But a thing cannot be both prior and posterior, antecedent and consequent, with respect to the very same thing. The real truth of a proposition is in the order of nature first, before its being believed to be true. But, till a man has already all that belongs to the essence of saving faith, that proposition, that he is in a good estate, is not as yet true. All the propositions contained in the gospel, all divine testimonies that we have in God’s word, are true already, are already laid for a foundation for faith, and were laid long ago. But that proposition, I am in a good estate, not being one of them, is not true till I have first believed; and therefore this proposition, as it is not true, cannot be believed to be true, till saving faith be first complete. Therefore the completeness of the act of saving faith will not make it take in a belief of this proposition, nor will the strength or perfection of the act cause it to imply this. If a man, in his first act of faith, has ever so full a conviction of God’s sufficiency and faithfulness, and ever so strong and perfect a reliance on the divine testimony; all will have no tendency to make him believe that this proposition, I am in a good estate, is true, until it is true; which is not the fact, till the first act of faith is complete, and has made it true. A belief of divine testimony, in the first act of faith, may be to an assignable degree of strength and perfection, without believing the proposition, for there is no such divine testimony then extant, nor is there any such truth extant, but in consequence of the first act of faith. Therefore, (as I said,) saving faith may exist, with all that belongs to its essence, and that in the highest perfection, without implying a belief of my own good estate. I do not say that it can exist without having this immediate effect. But it is rather the effect of faith, than a part, branch, or ingredient of faith. So I do not dispute whether a man’s doubting of his good estate, may be a consequence of unbelief, and I doubt not but it is in those who are in a good estate; because, if men had the exercise of faith in such a degree as they ought to have, it could not but be very sensible and plain that they had it. But yet I think this doubting of one’s good estate, is entirely a different thing from the sin of unbelief itself, and has nothing of the nature of unbelief in it, i.e. if we take doubting one’s good estate in the sense in which I have before explained it, viz. doubting whether I have such individual principles and acts in my soul. Take it in a complex sense, and it may have the sin of unbelief in it; e.g. If, although I doubt not that I have such and such qualifications, I yet doubt of those consequences. for which I have divine testimony or promise; as when a person doubts not that he loves Christ, yet doubts whether he shall receive a crown of life. The doubting of this consequence is properly the sin of unbelief.
You say, dear Sir, ‘the Holy Ghost requires us to believe the reality of its works in us in all its parts just as it is;’ and a little before, ‘the believer’s doubting whether or not he has faith, is sinful; because it is belying the Holy Ghost, denying his work in him, so there is no sin to which that doubting can so properly be reduced as unbelief.’
Here I would ask leave thus to express my thoughts, in a diversity from yours. I think, if it be allowed to be sinful for a believer to doubt whether he has faith, that this doubting is not the sin of unbelief on any such account as you mention, viz. as belying or denying any testimony of the Holy Ghost. There is a difference between doubting of the being of some work of the Holy Ghost, and denying the testimony of the Holy Ghost; as there is a difference between doubting concerning some other works of God, and denying the testimony of God. It is the work of God to give a man great natural abilities; and if we suppose that God requires a man thus endowed to believe the reality of his work in all its parts just as it is, and therefore, that it is sinful for him at all to doubt of his natural abilities being just as good as they are; yet this is no belying any testimony of God, though it be doubting of a work of God, and so is diverse from the sin of unbelief. So, if we suppose that a very eminent Christian is to blame, in doubting whether he has so much holiness as he really has; he indeed does not believe the reality of God’s work in him, in all its parts just as it is, yet he is not therein guilty of the sin of unbelief, against any testimony of God, any more than the other.
I acknowledge, that for a true saint, in a carnal and careless frame, to doubt of his good state, is sinful, more indirectly, as the cause of it is sinful, viz. the lowness and insensibility of the actings of grace in him, and the prevalence of carnality and stupidity. ‘Tis sinful to be without assurance, or, (as we say,) it is his own fault; he sinfully deprives himself of it, or foregoes it; as a servant’s being without his tools is his sin, when he has carelessly lost them, or as it is his sin to be without strength of body, or without the sight of his eyes, when he has deprived himself of these by intemperance. Not that weakness or blindness of body, in their own nature, are sin, for they are qualities of the body, and not of mind, the subject in which sin is inherent. It is indirectly the duty of a true saint always to rejoice in the light of God’s countenance, because sin is the cause of his being without this joy at any time; and therefore it was indirectly David’s sin that he was not rejoicing in the light of God’s countenance, at that very time when he was committing the great iniquities of adultery and murder. But yet it is not directly a believer’s duty to rejoice in the light of God’s countenance, when God hides his face. But it rather then becomes him to be troubled and to mourn. So there are, perhaps, many other privileges of saints that are their duty indirectly, and the want of them is sinful, not simply, but complexly considered. Of this kind I take the want of assurance of my good estate to be.
I think no words of mine, either in my book or letter, implied that a person’s deliverance from a bad frame, does not begin with renewed acts of faith or trusting in God. If they did, they implied what I never intended. Doubtless if a saint comes out of an ill frame, wherein grace is asleep and inactive, it must be by renewed actings of grace. It is very plainly impossible, that grace should begin to cease to be inactive, in any other way than by its beginning to be active. It must begin with the renewed actings of some grace or other; and I know nothing that I have said to the contrary, but that the grace which shall first begin sensibly to revive shall be faith, and that this shall lead the way to the renewed acting of all other graces, and to the further acting of faith itself. But a person’s coming out of a carnal, careless, dead frame, by, or in the reviving of, grace in his soul, is quite another thing from a saint’s having a strong exercise of faith, or strong hope, or strong exercise of any grace, while yet remaining in a carnal, careless, dead frame; or, in other words, in a frame wherein grace is so far from being in strong exercise, that it is asleep, and in a great measure without exercise.
There is a holy hope, a truly christian hope, of which the Scriptures speak, that is reckoned among the graces of the Spirit. And I think I should never desire or seek any other hope but such an one; for I believe no other hope, has any holy or good tendency. Therefore this hope, this grace of hope alone, can properly be called a duty. But it is just as absurd to talk of the exercises of this holy hope, the strong exercise of this grace of the Spirit, in a carnal, stupid, careless frame, such a frame yet remaining, as it would be to talk of the strong exercises of love to God, or heavenly - mindedness, or any other grace, while remaining in such a frame. It is doubtless proper, earnestly to exhort those who are in such a frame to come out of it, in and by the strong exercise of every grace; but I should not think it proper to press a man earnestly to maintain strong hope, notwithstanding the prevailing and continuance of great carnality and stupidity, which is plainly the case of the people I opposed. For this is plainly to press people to an unholy hope, to a strong hope which is no christian grace, but strong and wicked presumption; and the promoting of this has most evidently been the effect of such a method of dealing with souls in innumerable multitudes of awful instances.
You seem, Sir, to suppose, that God’s manner of dealing with his people, while in a secure and careless frame, is first to give assurance of their good state while they remain in such a frame, and to make use of that assurance as a mean to bring them out of such a frame. Here, again, I must beg leave to differ from you, and to think, that none of the instances or texts you adduce from Scripture, do at all prove the point. I think it is his manner, first to awaken their consciences, to bring them to reflect upon themselves, to feel their own calamity which they have brought upon themselves by so departing from God, by which an end is put to their carelessness and security, and again earnestly and carefully to seek God’s face before they find him, and before God restores the comfortable and joyful sense of his favour; and I think this is abundantly evident both from Scripture and experience. You much insist on the case of Jonah as a clear instance of the thing you lay down. You observe that he says, chap. ii. ‘I said I am cast out of thy sight, yet I will look again towards thy holy temple.’ Ver. 5, 7. ‘When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came in unto thee, even into thine holy temple.’ You speak of these words as expressing an assurance of his good state and of God’s favour; (I will not now dispute whether they do or not;) and you speak of this exercise of assurance, as his practice in an evil frame and in a careless frame; for he slept securely in the sides of the ship, manifesting dismal security, awful carelessness in a carnal frame. That Jonah was in a careless secure frame when he was asleep in the sides of the ship, I do not deny. But, my dear Sir, does that prove that he remained still in a careless secure frame, when in his heart he said these things in the belly of the fish; does it prove that he remained careless after he was awakened, and saw the furious storm, and owned it was the fruit of God’s anger towards him for his sins; and does it prove, that he still remained careless after the whale had swallowed him, when he seemed to himself to be in the belly of hell, when the water compassed him about, even to the soul, and, as he says, all God’s waters and billows passed over him, and he was ready to despair when he went down to the bottoms of the mountains, was ready to think God had cast him out of his sight, and confined him in a prison, that he could never escape, when the earth with her bars was about him for ever, and his soul fainted within him? He was brought into this condition after his sleeping securely in the sides of the ship, before he said, ‘I will look again towards thine holy temple,’ &c. He was evidently first awakened out of carelessness and security, and brought into distress, before he was comforted.
The other place you also must insist on, concerning the people of Israel, is very similar. Before God comforted them with the testimonies of his favour after their backslidings, he first, by severe chastisements, together with the awakening influences of his Spirit, brought them out of their carelessness and carnal security. It appears by many passages of Scripture, that this was God’s way of dealing with that people. In Hos. chap. ii. . we are told that God first ‘hedged up her ways with thorns, and made a wall that she could not find her paths. And took away her corn and wine, and wool and flax, destroyed her vines and fig - trees, and caused her mirth to cease.’ By this means, he roused her from her security, carelessness, and deep sleep, and brought her to herself, very much as the prodigal son was brought to himself: thus God ‘brought her first into the wilderness, before he spake comfortably to her, and opened to her a door of hope.’ By her distress he first led her to say, ‘I will go and return to my first husband;’ and then when God spake comfortably to her, she called him ’Ishi, my husband;’ and God did as it were renewedly betroth her unto him. This passage is parallel with Jer. iii. . They illustrate and explain each other, and show that it was God’s way of dealing with his people Israel, after their apostacy, first to awaken them, and under a sense of their sense and misery, to bring them solicitously to seek his face, before he gave them sensible evidence of his favour; and not first to manifest his favour to them, in order to awaken them out of their security 34 .
In Jer. iii. the prophecy is not concerning the recovery of backsliding saints, or the mystical church, which, though she had corrupted herself, still continued to be figuratively God’s wife. It is concerning apostate Israel, who had forsaken and renounced her husband, and gone after other lovers, and whom God had renounced, put away, and given her a bill of divorce; (verse 8. ) so that her recovery could not be, by giving her assurance of her good estate as still remaining his wife, and that God was already married unto her, for that was not true, and is not consistent with the context. And whereas it is said, verse 14. Jer. iii. 14. ‘Return, O backsliding children, saith the Lord; for I am married unto you, and I will take you one of a city;’ I am married, in the Hebrew, is in the preterperfect tense; but you know, Sir, that in the language of prophecy, the preter tense is very commonly put for the future. And whereas it is said, verse 19. ‘How shall I put thee among the children? And I said, Thou shalt call me My father;’ I acknowledge this expression here, My Father, and in Rom. viii. 15. is the language of faith. It is so two ways: 1st. It is such a language of the soul, as is the immediate effect of a lively faith. I acknowledge that the lively exercises of faith do naturally produce satisfaction of a good state, as their immediate effect. 2d. It is a language which, in another sense, does properly and naturally express the very act of faith itself, yea, the first act of faith in a sinner, before which he never was in a good state. As thus, supposing a man in distress, pursued by his enemies that sought his life, should have the gates of several fortresses set open before him, and should be called to from each of them to fly thither for refuge; and viewing them all, and one appearing strong and safe, but the rest insufficient, he should accept the invitation to that one, and fly thither with this language, ‘This is my fortress, this is my refuge. In vain is salvation looked for from others. Behold I come to thee; this is my sure defence.’ Not that he means that he is already within the fortress, and so in a good estate. But, this is my chosen fortress, in the strength of which I trust, and to which I betake myself for safety. So if a woman were solicited by many lovers, to give herself to them in marriage, and beholding the superiority of one to all the rest, should betake herself to him, with this language, ‘This is my husband, behold I come unto thee, thou art my spouse;’ not that she means that she is already married to him, but that he is her chosen husband, &c. Thus God offers himself to sinners as their Saviour, their God and Father; and the language of the heart of him who accepts the offer by faith, is, ‘Thou art my Saviour; in vain is salvation hoped for from others: thou art my God and Father.’ Not that he is already his child, but he chooses him, and comes to him, that he may be one of his children; as in Jer. iii. 19. Israel calls God his Father, as the way to be put among the children, and to be one of them, and not as being one already; and in verses 21, 22, 23. she is not brought out of a careless and secure state, by knowing that the Lord is her God, but she is first brought to consideration and sense of her sin and misery, weeping and supplications for mercy, and conviction of the vanity of other saviours and refuges, not only before she has the assurance of her good estate, but before she is brought to fly to God for refuge, that she may be in a good estate.
As to the instance of Job, I would only observe, that while in his state of sore affliction, though he had some painful exercises of infirmity and impatience under his extreme trials, yet he was very far from being in such a frame as I intended, when I spoke of a secure, careless, carnal frame. I doubt not, nor did I ever question it, that the saints’ hope and knowledge of their good estate, is in many cases of great use to help them against temptation, and the exercises of corruption.
With regard to the case of extraordinary temptations and buffetings of Satan, which you mention, I do not very well know what to say further. I have often found my own insufficiency as a counsellor in cases where melancholy and bodily distemper have so much influence, and give Satan so great advantage, as appears to me in the case you mention. If the Lord do not help, whence should we help? If some christian friends of such afflicted and (as it were) possessed persons, would, from time to time, pray and fast for them, it might be a proper exercise of christian charity, and the likeliest way I know for relief. I kept no copy of my former letter to you, and so do not remember fully what I have already said concerning this case. But this I have often found with such melancholy people, that the greatest difficulty does not lie in giving them good advice, but in persuading them to take it. One thing I think of great importance, which is, that such persons should go on in a steady course of performance of all duties, both of their general and particular calling, without suffering themselves to be diverted from it by any violence of Satan, or specious pretence of his whatsoever, properly ordering, proportioning, and timing, all sorts of duties, duties to God, public, private, and secret, and duties to man, relative duties of business and conversation, family duties, duties of friendship and good neighbourhood, duly proportioning labour and rest, intentness and relaxation, without suffering one duty to crowd out or intrench upon another. If such persons could be persuaded to this, I think in this way they would be best guarded against the devil, and he would soonest be discouraged, and a good state of body would be most likely to be gained, and persons would act most as if they trusted and rested in God, and would be most in the way of his help and blessing.
With regard to what you write concerning immediate revelations, I have thought of it, and I find I cannot say anything to purpose, without drawing out this letter to a very extraordinary length, and I am already got to such length, that I had need to ask your excuse. I have written enough to tire your patience.
It has indeed been with great difficulty that I have found time to write much. If you knew my extraordinary circumstances, I doubt not you would excuse my not writing any more. I acknowledge the subject you mention is very important. Probably if God spares my life, and gives me opportunity, I may write largely upon it. I know not how Providence will dispose of me; I am going to be cast on the wide world, with my large family of ten children. - I humbly request your prayers for me under my difficulties and trials.
As to the state of religion in this place and this land, it is at present very sorrowful and dark. But I must, for a more particular account of things, refer you to my letter to Mr. M’Laurin of Glasgow, and Mr. Robe. So, asking a remembrance in your prayers, I must conclude by subscribing myself, with much esteem and respect,
Your obliged brother and servant,