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The fruits of the Spirit of God are good, and I hope there are none that have the blasphemy to say otherwise. And therefore it is good that this custom should be removed; for this is plainly one of the effects of the Spirit of God. And if so, it is because the custom is bad, either in its nature or tendency; otherwise there would be no good in its being removed. The Spirit of God abolished this custom for this reason, because if it had been kept up in the town, it would have had a direct tendency to hinder that work that the Spirit was about to do amongst us. This was undeniably the reason.
Supposing such a custom had been begun and set up by the young people all over the town, in the midst of the time of the late oupouring of the Spirit, al of a sudden, would any wise persons, that have truly the cause of religion at heart, rejoice at it? Would not every one at first thought have concluded, without any hesitation, that it was a thing that looked darkly upon the interest of religion, and there was great danger that it would take off people's minds from religion, and make them vain; and so put an end to the flourishing of religion? Would not every considerate person in this town have thought thus of it? And if such a custom would have had an ill tendency then so it will now.
Objection. The town is not in such circumstances now as it was then. And though it might have done hurt then, by putting an end to the great concern; yet now it may do no hurt : for there is now no such great concern to be put an end to by it.
Answer. Though the town is not in such circumstances now as it was then, yet it ought to be; there ought to be as much engagedness of mind about religion; as much concern among sinners, and as much engagedness among the godly, as then : and it is to our shame that there is not. And if such a practice would have tended to destroy such a religious concern then, it certainly tends to prevent it now. It is a rule that will hold, that that which has a tendency to destroy a thing when it is, tends to prevent it when it is not. And are we not praying from Sabbath to Sabbath, and from day to day, for such a concern again? And do not those of you that pretend to be converted, that have lately set up this custom, pray for the same ? Are you a convert, a saint, and yet not desire that here should be any more pouring out of the Spirit of God? The town has cause to be ashamed of such converts, if it has any such And if ye do, why do you do what tends to prevent it?
Again, Let this practice be tried by the effect that a general decay of religion has with respect to it. Now we have a trial; it is now a time that religion is greatly decayed amongst us; and the effect is that this custom comes in with this decay. Young people begin again to set up their old custom of frolicking, and spending great part of the night in it, to the violation of family order. What is the reason, if this custom is not bad, either in its nature or tendency, that it did not come in before, when religion was lively? Why does it stay till it can take the advantage of the withdrawment of religion?' This is a sign that it is a custom that shuns a spirit of lively religion, as darkness shuns the light, and never comes in until light withdraws.
And here again, I would send persons to their own experience. How did this practice come in with you in particular: you that two or three years ago, seemed to be engaged in religion ? Did it not come in, did you not begin to practise it, as the sense of religion wore off? And what is the matter ? Why did not you set up the practice then, when your heart was taken up about reading, meditation, and secret prayer to God ? ' If this do not at all stand in the way of them, and is no hinderance to them, why was you not engaged in both together? What account can you give of it? Why did you leave off this prac
tice and custom, or abstain from it? To what pnrpose is this changing ? One while it must be avoided as evil, and another while practised and pleaded for as good. The making such an alteration does not look well, nor will it be for the honor of religion in the eye of the world. For whether the practice be lawful or not, yet such a thing will surely be improved to our disadvantage. For your avoiding of it then, has this appearance, in the eye of the country, that then you condemned it; and therefore your now returning to it will appear to them as backsliding in you. Such changelings are evermore in the eye of the world, greatly to the dishonor of the profession they are of, let it be what it will.
Indeed this custoin, as it was practised, does not only tend to sin, but is in itself very disorderly, sinful, and shameful. For it is attended late in the night, and in the dead of the night, to the neglect of family prayer, and violating all family order, which is disorder and profaneness. Is it lawful to rob God of his ordinary sacrifices, for the sake of your pleasure, diversion, and jollity ? Are you of that mind that it is a decent thing, that the stated worship of the great God should give way to your mirth, and your diversions? Is this the way of God's holy children, to talk after this manner? Those works that are commonly done in the dead of the night, seem to have a black mark set upon them by the apostle, and Christians are exhorted to avoid them : Rom. xii. 12, 13, “Let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness; not in chambering and wantonness.' The word here rendered rioting, is of far different signification from the term as used in our laws: for the forcible doing an unlawful thing, by three or more persons assembled together for that purpose. Words, as they are terms in the law, are often used very much beside their common signification. But the word here properly signifies, a disorderly convention of persons to spend their time together in pleasure and jollity. So the word is commonly used in Scripture: Prov. xxiii. 20, “ Be not amongst riotous eaters of flesh.” Prov. xxvii. 7, “ He that is a companion of riotous men, shameth his father.” Luke xv. 13,“ Wasted his substance with riotous living."
Again, a black mark seems to be set on such in Scripture, as in 1 Thess. V 5—8, “ Ye are all children of the light, and children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep, sleep in the night; and they that be drunk, are drunken in the night.
Many of you that have lately set up this practice of frolicking and jollity, profess to be children of the light and of the day; and not to be the children of darkness. Therefore walk as in the day; and do not those works of darkness that are commonly done at unseasonable hours of the night. Such things are not only condemned by the apostle,
but are looked upon as infamous through the world in all ages among sober sort of people ; and all past writings show it. Therefore it is a thing of bad report, and so forbidden, Phil. iv. 8:" Whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, any praise, think on these things.” Object. 1. But the wise man allows of this practice, when he
Eccles. iii. 4, “ There is a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”
Answer. This is nothing to the purpose ; for the utmost that any can pretend that it proves, is denying it to be lawful, and allowing it may be used under some circumstances; but not at all, that dancing and other things used by our young people in their frolicks are lawful in those circumstances, any more than what is said in the same chapter, verse 3, “there is a time to kill,” proves that it is lawful for a man to commit murder.
To deny that dancing, under any circumstances whatever, was lawful, would be absurd : for there was a religious dancing in the Jewish church, that was a way of expressing their spiritual mirth. So David danced before the Lord. And he calls upon others to praise God in the dance. So there may be other circumstances wherein dancing may not be unlawful. But all this makes nothing to the present purpose; to prove that this particular custom, that we have been speaking of among our young people, is not of a bad tendency. And besides, when the wise man says, there is a time to dance, that does not prove, that the dead of the night is the time for it. The same wise man doth not justify carnal mirth, but condemns it: Eccles. ii. 2, “I said of laughter, It is mad; and of mirth, What doeth it?”
Object. 2. If we avoid all such things, it will be the way for our young people to be ignorant how to behave theinselves in company.
Answer. But consider what this objection comes to. It certainly comes to this, viz., that the pouring out of the Spirit of God upon a people, tenda to banish all good conduct, good breeding, and decent behavior from among them; and to sink them down into clownishness and barbarity. And if such a pouring out of the Spirit of God, as has been amongst us, should be continued, it would tend to have this effect; for that we have seen by experience. The Spirit of God did actually put an end to this practice among us.
But who is it amongst us that is not ashamed to make such an objection ? Will any of our young converts talk thus? Will you that think you were converted by the late pouring out of the Spirit of God, and are made holy persons, heirs of eternal life, talk so blasphemously of it?
If our young people are resolute still to go on, notwithstanding all that has been said, I hope that those of them that call themselves converted, will first find out some rational, satisfying answer to the arguments that have been used against it. This at least may be reasonably expected of them, seeing they make such a profession. You have this day been partaking of the sacrament of the Lord's supper, and therein solemnly renewed your profession.
If after such light set before you, and such mercy given, you will go on, be it known to you, that your eating now, and at other times, will prove only an eating and drinking judgment to yourselves.
And I desire heads of families, if they have any government over their children, or any command of their own houses, would not tolerate their children in such practices, nor suffer such conventions in their houses.
I do not desire that young people should be abridged of any lawful and proper liberties.—But this custom can be of no benefit or service in the world; it tends only to mischief.
Satan doubtless would be glad to have such an interest amongst us as he used to have; and is therefore striving to steal in, while we are sleeping; but let us rouse up ourselves, and vigorously oppose his encroachments.
I shall repeat those words of the apostle, Rom. xiii. 12—14, and leave them to the serious consideration of all persons, old and young : “ The night is far spent, the day is at hand ; let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk honestly as in the day, not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof."
THE SIN OF THEFT AND OF INJUSTICE.
Exodus xx. 15.- Thou shalt not steal.
This you all know is one of the ten commandments which constitute a summary of man's duty, as revealed by God. God made many revelations to the children of Israel in the wilderness by Moses : but this made in the ten commandments is the chief. Most of those other revelations, which God made to that people, contained ceremonial or judicial laws; but this contains the moral law. The most of those other laws respected the Jewish nation; but here is a summary of the law's that are binding on all mankind. Those were to last till Christ should come, and have set up the Christian church; these are of perpetual obligation, and last to the end of the world. God everywhere, by Moses and the prophets, manifests a far greater regard to the duties of these commands, than to any of the rites of the ceremonial law.
These commands were the first commands that were given forth at Mount Sinai, before any of the precepts of the ceremonial or judicial laws. They were delivered by a great voice out of the midst of fire, which made all the people in the camp tremble, and afterwards were engraven on the tables of stone, and laid up in the ark: the first table containing the four first commandments, which teach our duty to God; the second table containing the six last, which teach our duty to man. The sum of the duties of the first table is contained in that which Christ says is the first and great commandment of the law: Matt. xxii. 37, “ Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” The sum of what is required in the second table, is what Christ calls the second command, like unto the first : verse 39, “ The second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”
Of the commands of this second table of the law, the first, which is the fifth of the ten, refers to that respect and honor which is due to our neighbor ; the second respects his life; the third his chastity; the fourth his estate; the fifth his good name; the sixth and last respects his possessions and enjoyments in general. It is that command which respects our neighbor's estate, and which is the fourth command of the second table, and the eighth of the whole decalogue, on which I am to insist at this time.
Here I shall not raise any doctrine from the words, as the subject of my discourse, but shall make the command itself, as the words of it lie before us in the decalogue, my subject. And that I may treat of this command in a manner as brief as may be, I shall not stand to show, first, what duties are required by the command, and then what sins are forbidden in it: but as the words of the commandment are in the form of a prohibition, forbidding a certain kind of sin; so I shall handle them, by considering particularly what it is that this command forbids. The sin that is forbidden in this command, is called stealing; yet we cannot reasonably understand it only of that act, which in the more ordinary and strict sense of the word, is called stealing.
But the iniquity which this command forbids, may be summarily expressed thus :
An unjust usurping of our neighbor's property, without his consent.
more than is implied in the ordinary use of the word, stealing ; which is only a secret taking of that which is another's, from his possession, without either his consent or knowledge. But the ten commands are not to be limited to the strictest sense of the words, but are to be understood in such a latitude, as to include all things that are of that nature or kind. Hence Christ reproves the Pharisees' interpretation of the sixth command, Matt. v. 21, 22; and also their interpretation of the seventh command; see ver. 27, 28; by which it appears that the commands are not to be understood as forbidding only these individual sins, which are expressly mentioned, in the strictest sense of the expressions; but all other things of the same nature or kind.
Therefore undoubtedly what is forbidden in this command is not only that private robbing of our neighbor, which is called stealing in the strictest sense of the expression ; but all unjust usurpation of our neighbor's property. Here it may be observed, that an unjust usurpation of our neighbor's property is twofold; it may be,
(1.) Either by withholding what is our neighbor's, or, (2.) By taking it from him.
First, It consists in an unjust withholding of what is our neighbor's. There are many ways in which persons may unjustly usurp their neighbor's property, by withholding what is his due ; but I shall particularize at this time only two things.
1. The unfaithfulness of men in not fulfilling their engagements. Ordinarily when men promise any thing to their neighbor, or enter into engagements by undertaking any business with which their neighbor intrusts them, their engagements invest their neighbor with a right to that which is engaged; so that if they withhold it, they usurp that which belongs to their neighbor. So it is, when men break their promises, because they find them to be inconvenient, and they cannot fulfil them without difficulty and trouble; or merely because they have altered their minds since they promised. They think they have not consulted their own interest in the promise which they have made, and that if they had considered the matter as much before they promised as they have since, they should not have promised. Therefore they take the liberty to set their own promises aside. Besides, soinetimes persons violate this command, by neglecting to fulfil their engagements, through a careless, negligent spirit.
They violate this command, in withholding what belongs to their neighbor, when they are not faithful in any business which they have undertaken to do for their neighbor. If their neighbor have hired them to labor for him for a certain time, and they be not careful well to husband the time; if they be hired to day's labor, and be not careful to improve the day, as they have reason to think that he who hired them justly expected of them; or if they be hired to accomplish such a piece of work, and be not careful to do it well, but do it slightly, do it not as if it were for themselves, or as they would have others do for them, when they in like manner betrust them with any business of theirs; or if they be intrusted with any particular affair, which they undertake, but use not that care, contrivance, and diligence, to manage it so as will be to the advantage of him who intrusts them, and as they would manage it, or would insist that it should be managed, if the affair were their own: in all these cases they unjustly withhold what belongs to their neighbor.
2. Another way in which men unjustly withhold what is their neighbor's, is, in neglecting to pay their debts. Sometimes this happens, because they run so far into debt that they cannot reasonably hope to be able to pay their debts; and this they do, either through pride and affectation of living above their cir