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The irregular heats and extravagancies of some late pretenders to extraordinary attainments in religion; their imaginary divine impulses, and ecstatic raptures, with other effects of their disordered fancies, have cast such a blemish upon the Christian profession in the eyes of unsettled and unthinking people, that it is well if too many are not in danger of calling Christianity itself into question, from the manifestly false pretences, and enthusiastic flights of some, who have put in a claim to so eminent experience in the divine life.
It is therefore thought needful, as well as seasonable at this time, that a brief and plain confirmation of the Christian religion be sent abroad among our people, to establish them in the foundation of our eternal hope. This has been my special motive to the publication of some of the first of the ensuing Letters.
On the other hand, whether for want of duly distinguishing between delusive appearances, and the genuine effects of an effusion of the Holy SpiRIT, or from whatever cause, such has been the violent opposition of some to the late revival of religion in the land, that the doctrines of special grace, and of experimental piety, seem now, by too many, not only rejected and opposed, but even treated with contempt, under the opprobrious character of new light; as if they had never before been heard of, or professed among us.
This I take to be one of the
darkest symptoms, upon this land, that we have ever yet seen.
It must, on that account, be not unseasonable to represent to our people, in a clear and distinct view, the experiences of vital religion, which are necessary to constitute them Christians indeed. This is aimed at in the publication of most of the following Letters.
The danger we are in of prevailing Antinomianism, and the actual prevalence that it has already obtaived in some parts of the country, is a sufficient justification of the attempt I have made to set the foundation-error of the Antinomians in a true light, and to discover its dangerous tendency.
If any are inclined to censure me for troubling the world with new discourses upon such subjects as I had publicly treated on before, particularly the evidences of Christianity, the sovereignty of divine grace, faith and justification, they may consider, that these are most important points, and deserve the most particular illustration; that there is at this time a special call to remove the objections against them out of the way; and that this is now attempted in a different manner from my former discourses on these subjects, and, I trust, with some additional evidence to the truth.
readers are so curious as to inquire to whom these Letters were directed, it is sufficient answer, that they are now, by the press, directed to them; and if they can improve them to their spiritual advantage, it will answer the end of their publication. May the blessing of GoD attend them to this purpose !
VARIETY OF RELIGIOUS SUBJECTS.
THE DANGER OF INFIDELITY BRIEFLY REPRE
SIR, I HEARTILY rejoice to hear from you, that you are at last come to a “ resolution, immediately to enter upon a serious and impartial examination of the Christian religion.” What you observe is certainly true, that “this is an affair of too great consequence to be carelessly neglected, to be decided at the club, or to be rejected by wholesale, with the too common arguments of mirth and raillery, sneer and banter.” -I should, therefore, be inexcusable, should I refuse compliance with your request, to “maintain a correspondence with you by letter; and assist you, what I can, in your inquiries into the truth of Christianity, the nature of the Christian institution, and the character and qualifications of those who are entitled to the rewards therein promised.” But
what can a gentleman of your capacities expect from me?
And has not this cause been clearly and fully handled, especially of late, by a variety of authors ? Has it not triumphed over all opposition ? Have not its poor deluded opposers been covered with shame and confusion, in all their feeble attempts to subvert our faith, and to destroy the blessed hope of our future happiness? And are not these books in
Read them, Sir, with that attention which such an awful and important affair demands of you; and I think you cannot fail of obtaining conviction and satisfaction.
To your inquiry, “ How shall I first enter upon a proper disquisition of this cause?” I answer, in a few words: Consider the importance of it; consider, I entreat you, that it is an eternal concern. Were this duly considered, it would be impossible for you to content yourself in such a state, wherein there is so much as a peradventure as to the dreadful and astonishing consequences of a disappointment.
You may, perhaps, have hitherto concluded all revealed religion to be but a mere cheat and imposture. You
may have borne your part in the conversation at taverns or coffee-houses, against priestcraft, cant, and enthusiasm.
You may have ridiculed all pretences to vital piety; and exploded all the Gospel doctrines respecting future rewards and punishments, as unreasonable, or unintelligible dreams and fictions. Well ! supposing you were in the right, what happiness, what comfort or satisfaction would your infidelity afford you ? What rational man would envy you the consolation, of imagining yourself upon a level with the beasts, and of ex
pecting that death will terminate all your hopes and fears? What believer would part with the glorious hope of eternal and inexpressible happiness and joy, for the gloomy prospect of annihilation ?
It is certain, upon this supposition, the believer can be in no danger; he has nothing to lose, or to fear; but has every way the advantage of you. He has the present satisfaction of being a favourite of heaven. He has a continual source of support and comfort, amidst the darkest scenes of Providence, from the gracious promises of the Gospel. He can overcome the miseries of life, and the terrors of death, with the ravishing view of a blessed immortality. And it is certain, if mistaken, he will never
ment his disappointment; but sleep as quietly in a state of non-existence as you can do.
But perhaps I have mistaken your sentiments. You may possibly have given into an opinion of a future existence, though you have called the truth of the Gospel into question. Be it so. this supposition also, the believer has vastly the advantage of you. He has all the happiness in this life which Christianity affords; and this you must be a stranger to. He can live in comfort, and die in peace. His religion deprives him of nothing, which can any way contribute to his rational happiness and delight; but every way tends to subserve and
And certainly (even upon your own principles) he may have as fair a claim to sincerity, in his endeavours to approve himself to the glorious Author of our being, as you can have; and consequently as good a prospect of future blessedness. So that, upon the whole, it is evident that he has