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Directions for Holy Conference of Fellow-servants or others.
BECAUSE this is a duty so frequently to be performed; and therefore the peace and edification of Christians is very much concerned in it, I shall give a few brief Directions about it.
Direct. I. 'Labour most for a full and lively heart, which hath the feeling of those things which your tongues should speak of.' For 1. Such a heart will be like a spring which is always running, and will continually feed the streams. Forced and feigned things are of short continuance; the hy pocrites affected, forced speech, is exercised but among those where it may serve his pride and carnal ends at other times, and in other company, he hath another tongue like other men. It is like a land-flood that is quickly gone! or like the bending of a bow, which returneth to its place, as soon as it is loosed. 2. And that which cometh from your hearts, will be serious and hearty, and likeliest to do good to others for words do their work upon us, not only by signifying the matter which is spoken, but also by signifying the affections of the speaker. And that which will work affections, must express affection ordinarily. If it come not from the heart of the speaker, it is not so like to go to the hearts of the hearers. A hearty preacher, and a hearty, feeling discourse of holy things, do pierce heart-deep, and do that good, which better composed words that are heartless do not.
Direct. 11. Yet for all that, when your hearts are cold, and dull, and barren, do not think that your tongues must therefore neglect their duty, and be silent from all good, till your hearts be better, but force your tongues to do their duty, if they will not do it freely without constraint.' For 1. Duty is duty whether you be well-disposed to it or not: if all duty should cease when men are ill-disposed to it, no wicked man would be bound to any thing that is truly holy. 2. And if heart and tongue be both obliged, it is worse to omit both than one. 3. And there may be sincerity in a duty, when the heart is cold and dull. 4. And beginning to
do your duty as well as you can, is the way to overcome your dullness and unfitness; when you force your tongues at first to speak of that which is good, the words which you speak or hear, may help to bring you into a better frame. Many a man hath begun to pray with coldness, that hath got him heat before he had done; and many a man hath gone unwillingly to hear a sermon, that hath come home a converted soul. 5. And when you set yourselves in the way of duty, you are in the way of promised grace.
Object. But is not this to play the hypocrite, to let my tongue go before my heart? And speak the things which my heart is not affected with?'
Answ. If you speak falsely and dissemblingly, you play the hypocrite: but you may force yourselves to speak of good, without any falsehood or hypocrisy. Words signify as I told you, the matter spoken, and the speaker's mind. Now your speaking of the things of God doth tell no more of your mind but this, that you take them to be true, and that you desire those that you speak to, to regard them: and all this is so; and therefore there is no hypocrisy in it. Indeed if you told the hearers, that you are deeply affected with these things yourselves, when it is not so, this were hypocrisy. But a man may exhort another to be good, without professing himself to be good; yea, though he confess himself to be bad. Therefore all the good discourses of a wicked man are not hypocrisy: much less the good discourse of a sincere Christian, that is dull and cold in that discourse. And if a duty had some hypocrisy in it, it is not the duty but the hypocrisy that God disliketh, and you must forsake as if there be coldness in a duty, it is the coldness, and not the duty that is to be blamed and forborne. And wholly to omit the duty, is worse than to do it with some coldness or hypocrisy, which is not the predominate complexion of the duty.
Object. But if it be not the fruit of the Spirit, it is not acceptable to God; and that which I force my tongue to, is none of the fruits of the Spirit. Therefore I must stay till the Spirit move me.'
Answ. 1. There are many duties done by reason, and the common assistances of God, that are better than the total omission of them is. Else no unsanctified man should hear VOL. IV.
the Word, or pray, or relieve the poor, or obey his prince or governors, or do any duty towards children or neighbours, because whatsoever is not the fruit of the special grace of the Spirit, is sin; and without faith it is impossible to please God; and all men have not faith. 2. It is a distracted conceit of the Quakers and other fanatics, to think that reason and the Spirit of God are not conjunct principles in the same act. Doth the Spirit work on a man as on a beast or a stone? and cause you to speak as a clock that striketh it knoweth not what; or play on man's soul, as on an instrument of music that hath neither knowledge of the melody, nor any pleasure in it? No, the Spirit of God supposeth nature, and worketh on man as man; by exciting your own understanding and will to do their parts. So that when, against all the remnant of dullness and backwardness that is in you, you can force yourselves to do your duty, it is because the Spirit of God assisteth you to take that resolution, and use that force. For thus the Spirit striveth against the flesh. Though it is confessed, that there is more of the Spirit, where there is no backwardness, or resistance, or need of forcing.
Direct. 111. By all means labour to be furnished with understanding in the matters of God.' For, 1. An understanding person hath a mine of holy matter in himself, and never is quite void of matter for good discourse: he is the good scribe, that is "instructed to the kingdom of God, that bringeth out of his treasury things new and old.” 2. And an understanding person will speak discreetly, and so will much further the success of his discourse, and not make it ridiculous, contemptuous or ineffectual through his indiscretion. But yet if you are ignorant and wanting in understanding, do not therefore be silent: for though your ability is least, your necessity is greatest. Let necessity therefore constrain you to ask instruction, as it constraineth the needy to beg for what they want. But spare no pains to increase your knowledge.
Direct. IV. If your own understandings and hearts do not furnish you with matter, have recourse to those manifold helps that God vouchsafeth you.' As 1. You may discourse of the last sermon that you heard, or some one lately a Heb. xi. 6. Thess. iii. 2.
b Gal. v. 17. Roin. vii. 16-18.
preached that nearly touched you. 2. Or of something in the last book you read. 3. Or of some text of Scripture obvious to your thoughts. 4. Or of some notable (yea, or ordinary) providence which did lately occur, 5. Or of some examples of good or evil that are fresh before you. 6. Or of the right doing of the duty that you are about, or any such like helps.
Direct. v. Talk not of vain, unprofitable controversies, nor often of small circumstantial matters that make but little to edification.' For there may be idle talking about matters of religion, as well as about other smaller things. Especially see that the quarrels of the times engage not your thoughts and speeches too far, into a course of unprofitableness and contention.
Direct. vi. Furnish yourselves beforehand with matter for the most edifying discourse, and never go abroad empty." And let the matter be usually, 1. Things of weight, and not small matters. 2. Things of certainty, and not uncertain things. Particularly the fittest subjects for your ordinary discourse are these: 1. God himself, with his attributes, relations and works. 2. The great mystery of man's redemption by Christ; his person, office, sufferings, doctrine, example and work; his resurrection, ascension, glory, intercession and all the privileges of his saints. 3. The covenant of grace, the promises, the duties, the conditions and the threatenings. 4. The workings of the Spirit of Christ upon the soul, and every grace of the Spirit in us; with all the signs, and helps, and hindrances of it, 5. The ways and wiles of satan, and all our spiritual enemies; the particular temptations which we are in danger of; what they are, and how to avoid them, and what are the most powerful helps against them. 6. The corruption and deceitfulness of the heart; the nature and workings, effects and signs of ignorance, unbelief, hypocrisy, pride, sensuality, worldliness, impiety, injustice, intemperance, uncharitableness and every other sin; with all the helps against them all. 7. The many duties to God and man which we have to perform; both internal and external, and how to do them, and what are the chiefest hindrances and helps. (As in reading, hearing, meditating, prayer, giving alms, &c.) And the duties of our relations, and several places, with the contrary sins. 8. The
vanity of the world, and deceitfulness of all earthly things. 9. The powerful reasons used by Christ to draw us to holiness, and the unreasonable madness of all that is brought against it, by the devil or by wicked men. 10. Of the sufferings which we must expect and be prepared for. 11. Of death, and the preparations that will then be found necessary; and how to make ready for so great a change. 12. Of the day of judgment, and who will be then justified, and who condemned. 13. Of the joys of heaven, the employment, the company, the nature and duration. 14. Of the miseries of the damned, and the thoughts that then they will have of their former life on earth. 15. Of the state of the church on earth, and what we ought to do in our places for its welfare. Is there not matter enough in all these great and weighty points, for your hourly meditation and conference?
Direct. VII. Take heed of proud self-conceitedness in your conference.' Speak not with supercilious, censorious confidence. Let not the weak take on them to be wiser
than they are. Be readier to speak by way of question as learners, than as teachers of others, unless you are sure that they have much more need to be taught by you, than you by them. It is ordinary for novices in religion to cast all their discourse into a teaching strain, or to make themselves preachers before they understand. It is a most loathsome and pitiful hearing (and yet too ordinary) to hear a raw, self-conceited, ungrounded, unexperienced person, to prate magisterially, and censure confidently the doctrine, or practices, or persons of those that are much better and wiser than themselves. If you meet with this proud, censorious spirit, rebuke it first, and read to them James iii.; and if they go on, turn away from them, and avoid them, for they know not what manner of spirit they are of: they serve not the Lord Jesus, whatever they pretend to think themselves, but are proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions, and making divisions in the church of God, and ready to fall into the condemnation of the devil.
Direct. VIII. Let the wisest in the company, and not the weakest, have most of the discourse: but yet if any one that is of an abler tongue than the rest, do make any deter
e 1 Tim. iii, 6. vi. 3-5. Rom. xvi. 17. Luke ix. 55.