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having made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure, which he hath purposed in himself: that in the dispensation of the fulness of times, he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth, even in him."
I COME now, as was proposed, in the third place, to answer and obviate some objections, which some may be ready to make against what has been proposed to us.
Such Agreement superstitious, Answered.
Some may be ready to say, that for christians in such a manner to set apart certain seasons, every week and every quarter, to be religiously observed and kept for the purposes proposed, from year to year, would be in effect to establish certain periodical times of human invention and appointment, to be kept holy to God; and so to do the very thing that has ever been objected against, by a very great part of the most eminent christians and divines among protestants, as what men have no right to do; it being for them to add to God's institutions, and introduce their own inventions and establishments into the stated worship of God, and lay unwarrantable bonds on men's consciences, and do what naturally tends to superstition.
To this I would say, there can be no justice in such an objection against this proposal, as made to us in the forementioned memorial. Indeed, that caution appears in the project itself, and in the manner in which it is proposed to us, that there is not so much as any colour for the objection. The proposal is such, and so well guarded, that there seems to be no room for the weakest christian who well observes it, to understand those things to be implied in it, which have indeed been objected against by many eminent christians and divines
among Protestants, as entangling men's consciences, and adding to divine institutions, &c.-Here is no pretence of establishing any thing by authority; no appearance of any claim of power in the proposers, or right to have any regard paid to their determinations or proposals, by virtue of any deference due to them, in any respect. So far from that, they expressly propose what they have thought of to others for their amendments and improvements, declaring that they choose rather to receive and spread the directions and proposals of others, than to be the first authors of any.
No times, not sanctified by God's own institution, are proposed to be observed more than others, under any notion of such times being in any respect more holy, or more honourable, or worthy of any preference or distinguishing regard; either as being sanctified or made honourable, by authority or by any great events of divine providence, or any relation to any holy persons or things; but only as circumstantially convenient, helpful to memory, especially free from worldly business, near to the times of the administration of public ordinances, &c. None attempts to lay any bonds on others, with respect to this matter; or to desire that they should lay any bonds on themselves; or look on themselves as under any obligations, either by power or promise; or so much as come into any absolute determination in their own minds to set apart any stated days from secular affairs; or even to fix on any part of such days, without liberty to alter circumstances, as shall be found expedient; and also liberty left to a future alteration of judgment as to expediency, on future trial and consideration. All that is proposed is, that such as fall in with what is proposed in their judgments and inclinations, while they do so should strengthen, assist and encourage their brethren that are of the same mind, by visibly consenting and joining with them in the affair. Is here any thing like making laws in matters of conscience and religion, or adding men's institutions to God's; or any shew of imposition, or superstitious esteeming and preferring one day above another, or any possible ground of entanglement of any one's conscience?
For men to go about by law to establish and limit circumstances of worship, not established or limited by any law of God, such as precise time, place, and order, may be in many respects of dangerous tendency. But surely it cannot be unlawful or improper for christians to come into some agreement, with regard to these circumstances: for it is impossible to carry on any social worship without it. There is no institution of scripture requiring any people to meet together to worship God in such a spot of ground, or at such an hour of the day; but yet these must be determined by agreement; or else there will be no social worship in any place, or any hour. So we
are not determined by institution, what the precise order of the different parts of worship shall be; what shall precede, and what shall follow; whether praying or singing shall be first, and what shall be next, and what shall conclude: but yet some order must be agreed on by the congregation that unite in worship; otherwise they cannot jointly carry on divine worship, in any way of method at all. If a congregation of christians agree to begin their public worship with prayer, next to sing, then to attend on the preaching of the word, and to conclude with prayer; and do by consent carry on their wor ship in this order from year to year; though this order is not appointed in scripture, none will call it superstition. And if a great number of congregations, through a whole land or more lands than one, do by common consent keep the same method of public worship, none will pretend to find fault with it. But yet for any to go about to bind all to such a method, would be usurpation and imposition. And if such a precise order should be regarded as sacred, as though no other could be acceptable to God, this would be superstition. If a particular number of christians shall agree, that besides the stated public worship of the sabbath, they will, when their circumstances allow, meet together to carry on some religious exercises, on a sabbath-day night, for their mutual edification; or if several societies agree to meet together in different places at that time; this is no superstition; though there be no institution for it. If people in different congregations voluntarily agree to take turns to meet together in the house of God, to worship him and hear a public lecture once a month, or once in six weeks, it is not unlawful; though there be no institution for it but yet, to do this as a thing sacred, indispensable, and binding on men's consciences, would be superstition. If christians of several neighbouring congregations, instead of a lecture, agree on some special occasion to keep a circular fast, each congrega tion taking its turn in a certain time and order, fixed on by consent; or if, instead of keeping fast by turns on different days, one on one week and one on another, they shall all agree to keep a fast on the same day, and to do this either once or frequently, according as they shall judge their own circumstances, or the dispensations of the divine providence, or the importance of the mercy they seek, require; is there any more superstition in this?
That such Agreement is whimsical and pharisaical, answered.
Some may be ready to say, there seems to be something whimsical in its being insisted on that God's people in different places should put up their prayers for this mercy at the same time as though their prayers would be more forcible on that account; and as if God would not be so likely to hear prayers offered up by many, though they happened not to pray at the same time, as he would if he heard them all at the same mo
To this I would say if such an objection be made, it must be through misunderstanding. It is not signified or implied in any thing said in the proposal, or in any arguments made use of to enforce it, that I have seen, that the prayers of a great number in different places will be more forcible, merely because of that circumstance, of their being put up at the same time. It is indeed supposed, that it will be very expedient, that certain times for united prayer should be agreed on: which it may be, without implying the thing supposed in the objection, on the following accounts.
1. This seems to be a proper expedient for promoting and maintaining an union among christians of distant places, in extraordinary prayer for such a mercy. It appears from what was before observed, that there ought to be extraordinary prayers among christians for this mercy; and that it is fit, God's people should agree and unite in it. Though there be no reason to suppose that prayers will be more prevalent, merely from the circumstance that different persons pray exactly at the same time; yet there will be more reason to hope that prayers for such mercy will be prevalent, when God's people are very much in prayer for it, and when many of them are united in it. If therefore agreeing on certain times for united and extraordinary prayer, be a likely means to promote an union of many in extraordinary prayer, then there is more reason to hope that there will be prevalent prayer for such a mercy, on occasion of certain times for extraordinary prayer being agreed on. But that agreeing on certain times for united extraordinary prayer, is a likely and proper means to promote and maintain such prayer, I think will be easily evident to any one that considers the matter. If there should be only a loose agreement or consent to it as a duty, or a thing fit and proper, that christians should be much in prayer for the revival of religion, and much more in it than they used to be, without agreeing on particular times, how liable would such a lax
agreement be to be soon forgotten, and that extraordinary prayerfulness, which is fixed to no certain times, to be totally neglected? To be sure, distant parts of the church of Christ could have no confidence in one another, that this would not be the case. If these ministers in Scotland, for instance, instead of the proposal they have made, had sent abroad only a general proposal, that God's people should for the time to come be much in more prayer for the advancement of Christ's kingdom, than had been common among christians heretofore; and they should hear their proposals were generally allowed to be good; and that ministers and people, in one place and another, owned that it was a very proper thing; could they, from this only, have the like grounds of dependence, that God's people, in various parts of the christian world, would indeed henceforward act unitedly in maintaining extraordinary prayer for this mercy? and how much more promising would it be, if they should not only hear that the duty in general was approved of, but also that particular times were actually fixed on for the purpose, and an agreement and joint resolution was come into, that they would, unless extraordinarily hindered, set apart such particular seasons to be spent in this duty, from time to time, maintaining this practice for a certain number of years?
2. For God's people in distant places to agree on certain times for extraordinary prayer, wherein they will unitedly put up their requests to God, is a means fit and proper to be used, in order to the visibility of their union in such prayer. Union among God's people in prayer is truly beautiful, as before shewn; it is beautiful in the eyes of Christ, and it is justly beautiful and amiable in the eyes of christians. And if so, then it must needs be desirable to christians that such union should be visible. If it would be a lovely sight in the eyes of the church of Christ, and much to their comfort, to behold various and different parts of the church united in extraordinary prayer for the general outpouring of the Spirit, then it must be desirable to them that such an union should be visible, that they may behold it. But the agreement and union of a multitude in their worship becomes visible, by an agreement in some external visible circumstances. Worship itself becomes visible worship, by something external and visible belonging to the worship, and no other way; therefore, union and agreement of many in worship becomes visible no other way, but by union and agreement in the external and visible acts and circumstances of the worship. Such union and agreement becomes visible, particularly by an agreement in those two visible circumstances, time and place. When a number of Christians live near together, and their number and situation is convenient, and they have a desire visibly to unite in any acts of