[illustration] THE GREAT IMPORTANCE OF SPEAKING, IN THE MOST INTELLIGIBLE MAN|NER IN THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH.
1 CORINTHIANS, XIV. 19TH.
Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an un|known Tongue.
_AS the Apostles of our Lord JESUS CHRIST, and many other primi|tive ministers of the Gospel, were sent forth with an exten|sive commission, to teach all nations, and gather them into the Christian church, so they were endowed with power from on high, suited to the design of their Page 4 mission. They were not only sanctified to an eminent degree by the special grace of GOD; but also furnished with various extraordinary, and miraculous powers: among these was the gift of Tongues; which was an ability to speak with ease, and propriety various languages, which they had not learned in the ordinary way of gaining the knowledge of them. Hereby two impor|tant ends were answered; one was this, that hereby they were enabled to teach and instruct the different nations, to which they were sent, by speaking to them intelligibly in their own native tongue—the other; that such an incon|testable miracle afforded strong proof of their ex|traordinary mission, so that they might be justly regarded, as true messengers of the LORD OF HOSTS.
This gift of tongues appears to have been an abiding, permanent endowment, when once be|stowed: otherwise 'tis inconceivable how they could have been able to abuse it, as many in the Corinthian church evidently did. They were unduly elated with this, and other miraculous gifts, and thence disposed to make a vain osten|tation of it, by exercising it needlessly in their worshiping assemblies, where there was no oc|casion for working a miracle, by speaking in an unknown tongue, whereby the hearers received no instruction or edification.
Page 5For this the apostle very justly reproves them in this chapter, shewing them the unprofitable|ness, the great impropriety, and even absurdity of such a practice; observing to them, that the gift of tongues was intended to be a sign to them that believe not, as other miracles were: and not to be used with those, who had already believed, and professed the Christian Faith, and only need|ed farther instruction in the truths of the Gos|pel, which they had embraced upon sufficient evidence.
He leads them to consider, that while any of them spake in the church, in a language not un|derstood by the assembly, either in praying, sing|ing or preaching, it was impossible they should profit, or edify their hearers, who could not, under these circumstances, bear any part in the worship, or say, Amen to their prayers, or thanks|giving, however just and pertinent they might otherwise be. Indeed the case was very plain. The apostle therefore declares to them, that al|tho' he had reason to acknowledge with grati|tude to GOD, the gift of tongues, and his ability to speak divers languages, more than all of them, answerable to his extensive commission, as the apostle of the Gentiles, yet he was far from an inclination to spend his time in a worshiping as|sembly of professing Christians, in displaying these his gifts, without any advantage to the hear|ers; Page 6 and affirms, under inspiration, that in the church he had rather speak five words with his understanding, that is, intelligibly, or in a known tongue, than ten thousand words of gibberish, in an unknown language.
It is plain from the text, as well as several o|ther passages in this chapter, that speaking with the understanding intends speaking intelligibly, or so as to be understood by the hearers, in di|rect opposition to speaking in an unknown tongue. This is very evident from the reason here assign|ed by the apostle, viz. that by his voice he might teach others also, which he could not do by ut|tering ever so many pompous, unintelligible sounds. The text clearly teaches us this
This is very forcibly expressed by the apostle's comparison of five intelligible words, with ten thousand unmeaning sounds, or words of doubtful signification, and his giving the preference to the former. So that taking the expression in literal ex|actness, it is above two thousand times better to speak intelligibly, than in an unknown tongue.
We may briefly consider what is required in speaking with the understanding, or intelligibly:— Page 7 and offer a few considerations to shew the im|portance of it in the church.
I. We may briefly consider, what is required in speaking with the understanding, or intelligibly.
Now as this is directly opposed to speaking in an unknown tongue; and as persons may use a language unknown either to themselves, or their hearers, or to both, in order to avoid each of these, it is necessary,
1. That those who speak in the church should themselves have as clear ideas, as may be, af|fixed to the words they use. I say, as clear ide|as as may be, because there are some sublime Mysteries asserted in the sacred Oracles, of which we can have but very imperfect and inadequate conceptions in the present state—Such are the doctrines of the Trinity, the Union of the hu|man and Divine Nature in the Person of the one MEDIATOR. Here we may have clear ideas of the truths asserted; altho' when we would at|tempt to illustrate the manner, in which these assertions are true, our conceptions must be very imperfect, by reason of the incomprehensibleness of the subject, or our not having any thing in the sensible world, that bears any near resemblance to it. But where the nature of subjects is such, as bears any considerable proportion to the measure of our scanty intellectual capacities, we should be care|ful to get the clearest ideas of them, when we Page 8 attempt to speak about them; and not deal out meer empty, unmeaning sounds, without knowing what we intend. When persons in speaking thus, use words without any clear ideas affixed to them, they are chargeable with using an unknown tongue in a double sense: for if they know not what they mean themselves, 'tis certain their hearers cannot understand what their meaning is. This great abuse of language is extremely common among the less thinking part of mankind, especially when they converse about things of a religious or moral nature. How common is it to hear them prattle out the words they have learnt, as Parrots do, without any clear, fixed meaning to them in their own minds? So that a more difficult question can't be put to them, than to ask them, what they mean. And it would be well, if there were less of this to be found in the discourses of those, who are under advantages for knowledge and learning, and make pretensions to it.
This great mischief in the use of language, arises very much from learning first the words used to convey the more complex ideas of moral and religious subjects, and resting in the bare words, without taking due care and pains to get clear and determinate ideas annexed to them in their minds.
This is to be carefully avoided by all those who speak in the christian church.
Page 92. They should speak with propriety, or use words in the plain, generally received sense, which established custom hath affixed to them.
Altho' words are mere arbitrary signs of our ideas, yet custom fixes and determines their mean|ing. And he that would talk to others in a known tongue, must use them in the sense, in which they are generally used and understood in that language; otherwise he is guilty of the gross impropriety of calling darkness light, and light darkness. He may not affix to them a new and different sense, and use them to signify this new meaning, unless he gives suitable notice of it, by defining the meaning of the terms he uses. This is so plainly requisite to speaking intelligibly, that 'tis needless to enlarge upon it.
3. It is necessary, that those who speak in the christian church, should adapt their language and discourses to the understanding and capacity of their hearers in general.
There will indeed be some in every christian assembly of so low attainments in knowledge, as not to understand even plain discourses. These are to be taught and instructed more privately; as it is highly improper that the public teaching should be brought down so low, as to be adapt|ed, and as it were confined to a few such, to the neglect and injury of a much greater number. The observation only intends, that all public Page 10 teaching or instruction in the church should be suited to the understanding and conception of the generality of the hearers, which may be done in our assemblies, without descending to a very low, groveling or puerile manner of diction. This great master of language, the apostle Paul, who also had the gift of divers tongues, commends himself to the Corinthians, as having used great plainness of speech with them in his instructions, 2 Cor. iii. 12. This is highly necessary in all teaching, as it is the first and principal design of all speaking, to communicate our ideas clearly to those with whom we converse. If therefore any persons in public teaching indulge themselves in the use of such a sublime stile, abounding with lengthy intricate periods, or frequently introduce abundance of such hard words or lofty expressi|ons, as are unintelligible to their hearers, they are guilty of a very unpardonable fault, and miss the great end of edifying their hearers. For so far as the language used is unintelligible to them, it is an unknown tongue; and then it matters not, as to the important purpose of their instruc|tion, whether it be English, or Hebrew. If any public teachers practise thus under the notion of excellency of language, or goodness and elegance of stile, they greatly miss-judge as to the most essential quality of a good stile, which is intelli|gibleness, or perspecuity. And if there be any, Page 11 who affect the use of such hard words, and scho|lastic phrases with a view to gain the reputation of profound learning, among the common people, they are herein profoundly silly, and ridiculously vain. Such language thus used justly deserves the title of high swelling words of vanity.
4. That they avoid, as much as possible, the use of ambiguous words, or those of a double and doubtful meaning. There is a vast number of words in every copious language, to which men have annexed more meanings than one; and so they are used, and may be understood, in dif|ferent senses. And hence a person's using such words doth not clearly determine, or satisfy the hearers, what the speaker means by them, be|cause they are of doubtful signification. They are, as the apostle observes in the context, like a trumpet that gives an uncertain sound, and so doth not certify the army, whether they are cal|led to prepare for battle, or to retreat from the enemy. They are words not easy to be under|stood—they dont give such a distinction in the sound, i. e. do not convey such a certain deter|minate meaning, as that it can be known, what is spoken, or intended by the speaker. This is a defect, and imperfection necessarily attending human language in some measure; and there|fore ought not to be increased and promoted; but to be avoided and remedied, as much as pos|sible. Page 12 This is justly complained of, as a fruit|ful source of much confusion in discourses, of great misunderstandings and disputes in the world. And to affect this ambiguity of expres|sion in speaking, is to affect one of the greatest im|perfections of language. This must be utterly unbecoming the character of a philosopher, and much more beneath the character of a gospel minister, a messenger of the Lord of Hosts. And therefore those who would speak in the church with the understanding, should carefully avoid it, as much as they can, and never use any expressions of a doubtful meaning in matters of religion, while they can find others more free from ambiguity, and which will more precisely and determinately convey the sentiments of their minds, and make known to their hearers the mes|sages they bring from GOD. And the designed use of such ambiguous expressions, when speak|ing in the church, either in praying, preaching, or any other way of declaring to the church our sentiments upon religious subjects, is evident|ly affecting to speak in an unknown tongue, which is so plainly condemned by the Holy Ghost in the text. It would be very shocking indeed, to suppose that any minister, speaking in the name of GOD, uses such doubtful ambiguous language, on design to conceal what he really takes to be the truth of GOD, revealed in his Page 13 word. To suppose this, without strong evidence, would be grossly uncharitable; while it is the pro|fessed design of the gospel ministry clearly to lay open, and explain the great truths of the gospel, and declare the whole counsel of GOD.
But if this be a defect so necessarily attending all languages, how can it be avoided in speaking? I answer,
5. By using great care in defining and explain|ing our words, where there is any danger of a misunderstanding. For altho' this may not al|ways absolutely answer the desired end, yet it is the most natural, and indeed the only possible re|medy for this imperfection of language, as is ve|ry judiciously pointed out by Mr. Locke, and many others upon this subject. And if proper care be taken in this matter, we may considerably remedy this defect of language, convey our ideas with clearness, avoid the inconveniency, and ab|surdity of speaking in an unknown tongue. Nor will it be ordinarily necessary to spend much time in defining our words: it may therefore be easily done, and ought always to be carefully practised, when we apprehend there is any danger of being misunderstood; or whenever they that hear us desire an explanation of the words we use. This is the great end, and advantage of all expositions on the scriptures by preaching or printing. The only pertinent design of all this must be to point out and explain the true sense and meaning of Page 14 scripture-expressions, which meaning is the Scrip|ture itself, the object of faith, the word and truth of GOD, which liveth and abideth forever. This hath also been ever regarded, and aimed at, as one great end of those human composures, called Confessions of Faith. They are only an open, plain, honest definition of what a church or per|son means by scripture-expressions; and their as|sent to them is only a declaration of their belief of the word of GOD, i. e. of the truths or pro|positions revealed in the word of GOD. And all this with a design to avoid the irrational practice of speaking in the church in an unknown tongue. For in however plain and determinate language the holy Scriptures were first delivered, it is un|deniably evident in fact they are got to be am|biguous, and of doubtful meaning in the mouths of professing christians: so that by the same scripture-expression one will understand and mean one thing, and another will mean quite a diffe|rent thing. This is not owing to any defect of the sacred Scriptures, properly speaking: but partly to the unavoidable imperfection of human language, which is the channel, wherein divine truths are conveyed to us, and more especially to the perverseness of men, who have been labour|ing from age to age to wrest them from their true genuine meaning, as they were first given by Inspiration of GOD. The expressions of Scrip|ture Page 15 having been monstrously tortured and wrest|ed by various sects of nominal christians for se|venteen hundred years, it is not in the least strange, that they are become ambiguous, by rea|son of the various different, and contrary senses affixed to them by the many different sects in the christian world. Notwithstanding this, the Scriptures indeed in the mouth of God, and as they are his language to us, are sufficiently clear, plain and determinate in their meaning; so that by comparing scripture with scripture, the true sense thereof may be discovered and determined in all important points by them that are honestly de|sirous to know the truth, as it is in JESUS. So that this ambiguity of scripture-expressions doth not properly belong to the scriptures, considered as the word of God to us; but as these same ex|pressions are used by men of contrary sentiments, they are evidently become of uncertain, doubt|ful meaning in their mouths. And that this is true in fact, is demonstrably evident from hence, that both Protestants and Papists will readily give their assent fully and plumply to the sacred scrip|tures, while they differ as widely in their real be|lief concerning the true sense of scripture, even in very essential points, as Heaven from Hell, or Light from Darkness. In what intelligible sense can it be said, that both these believe the scrip|tures, i. e. the truths which GOD hath revealed, Page 16 concerning those important points, wherein they so widely differ? The utmost that can be ratio|nally understood, from their declaring their be|lief of the holy scriptures to be the word of GOD, is simply this, that they believe there is some sense or other, which may be put upon these scripture-expressions, which sense they believe to be true, and designedly revealed from GOD. What hath been here observed concerning Pa|pists and Protestants, is well known to be true with regard to all the different sects of christians in the known world, however monstrously erro|neous, or diametrically contrary to each other, their religious sentiments may be.
I mention these things to shew, that the expres|sions of scripture, both in the original languages, altho' they are words taught by the Holy Ghost, and also in our translation of the Bible, however judiciously chosen by the translators, are in fact come to be of a doubtful, uncertain meaning, in the mouths of men, and are therefore in a great measure an unknown tongue; or, to use the apos|tle's simile, are like a trumpet that gives an uncer|tain sound. And certainly those must be endow|ed with a very extraordinary discernment, who can be fully satisfied of the soundness of a per|son's Faith, by a declaration of his belief of the holy scriptures; or understand with clearness what a person means, when he speaks in an un|known Page 17 tongue. This is truly a very peculiar sa|gacity, which is far from being common to men.
After what hath been here said, it may seem the less strange, that such an ambiguity, or un|certainty of meaning should have happened to the sacred scriptures, as they are used by men, when we consider a very notorious fact of a similar na|ture, respecting the doctrinal articles of the church of England, which are very intelligibly expressed, and have been compiled but a few years, comparatively speaking; and yet they are become so very ambiguous, and of such uncer|tain meaning, by the dexterity and subtlety of learned expositors, that they are now understood by thousands to mean almost any thing, or no|thing, and are readily assented to, and subscribed by huge multitudes of the Episcopal Clergy, who no more believe them in the true, natural, genu|ine sense of the Compilers of them, than they believe the doctrine of Transubstantiation, or the Infalibility of his burlesque Holiness, the Bishop of Rome. And when ever this comes to be e|vidently the case with a translation of the Bible, or any other composition, used in speaking in, or to the church, common sense teaches the neces|sity of finding out words and expressions of a more certain, determinate signification, whereby we may intelligibly communicate our ideas, in Page 18 order to avoid the absurd conduct of speaking in an unknown tongue.
To make this further evident, I proceed,
II. To offer a few considerations, shewing the importance of speaking intelligibly in the christi|an church, in opposition to the using of an un|known tongue.
It is the plain design and spirit of the text, to|gether with the context, to assert and illustrate the preferableness, and so the importance of this Matter. The inspired apostle was directed to write particularly to the Corinthian church upon this subject, and to reprove the public teachers therein for so gross an error, as that of speaking unintelligibly in the church, although they here|in made use of a language miraculously given them of GOD, which might seem to furnish them with some plausible excuse for the using of it in the church. And yet the practice was utterly to be condemned: the Apostle insisted upon plainness and intelligibleness of speech; that they should utter words easy to be understood; and not of a doubtful, ambiguous meaning, like the trum|pet that gives an uncertain sound. The expres|sion in the text to this purpose, is very forcible: as if the apostle had said, You had almost as good be silent in the church, as to speak in this un|profitable, trifling manner. The fewest intelli|gible words, that can form a proposition, upon Page 19 any important subject of religion, are more ad|vantageous, and convey more instruction to the church, than ten thousand words of an unknown, or uncertain meaning. I will briefly observe,
1. The importance of it appears from hence, that the great end and design of all speaking, is the communicating of our ideas, or the convey|ing of truth to others. When this end is not answered, or properly aimed at, speaking is vain; and this noble gift of language, whereby GOD hath so much distinguished, and raised the hu|man race above the brutal creation, is ungrateful|ly perverted and abused, and prostituted to a ve|ry low and trifling purpose.
2. It is the only way, in which there can be any such thing, as teaching or instruction in the christian church.
The great design of the gospel ministry, and of all speaking in the church, is the edification of the body. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations. But what teaching or edification can there be, with|out the conveyance of knowledge or truth to the mind? Or how can these be conveyed by meer unmeaning, unintelligible, or uncertain sounds? Some indeed may be so weak, as to feel very de|voutly affected, and perhaps imagine themselves extremely edified, only by the sound of words, without any ideas or meaning to them; or only by a peculiarly modulated, sanctimonious tone of Page 20 the voice. And there is just reason to fear, that a great deal of those high religious affections, visible in some worshiping assemblies, hath its rise from no better cause, than meer sound and noise, with|out the clear perception of any important, affect|ing truths presented to the view of the mind. But all such devotion, or supposed edification is just as worthless, and as far from any thing truly spi|ritual, as those emotions of animal nature which are raised by the blast of a trumpet, the thunder of a drum, or the sound of a violin. And the ir|rational practice of speaking in the church, in an unknown tongue, or the dealing in sounds, to the neglect of sense, without any clear, determinate meaning, hath a powerful tendency to promote this kind of animal devotion, in which there is no religion at all. The apostle despises, and con|demns all such speaking, as being destitute of any real instruction. He chose on the contrary, to speak with the understanding, for this important purpose, that by his voice he might teach others; not divert or amuse them with empty noise. The sincere milk of the word, i. e. pure gospel truths, is the only food or nourishment, whereby Chris|tians can grow in grace, be truly edified, and make advances in a life of faith and holiness. And if any persons can be satisfied with meer uncertain sounds, 'tis evident they feed upon the wind, al|most in a literal sense; and surely no solid growth Page 21 can be expected from such slender airy aliment.
3. The speaking in an unknown tongue, or in ambiguous, doubtful terms, is a gross affront to common sense, and a manifest imposition upon those whom we pretend to teach.
It would certainly be taken so in the common, and civil affairs of life, to have an answer return|ed to a proper, pertinent question, in an unknown language, or in words of such uncertain significa|tion, as leave just room to doubt the true mean|ing of him that answers. If a person, pretend|ing to give a serious answer to a plain question, does it in such a manner, as doth not amount to a real answer, or a plain declaration of his mean|ing, we are obliged to look upon it as a meer eva|sion, and imposition: and if he refuses to explain his meaning clearly, 'tis just the same as refusing to give an answer. And if this would be justly resented in the common affairs of life, it surely ought to be greatly disliked, and avoided in the more weighty concerns of religion.
4. Speaking intelligibly in the church, is plainly required by that great principle of christian mora|lity, the doing to others, as we would have them do to us.
When we are spoken to, or addressed by others, especially in matters of any considerable impor|tance, we always choose to have it done in such a manner, as that we may clearly understand Page 22 what they intend. And if, while they make a shew of informing us by speaking, they discover a design to conceal their true meaning from us, we directly judge, they really abuse and mock us. And therefore, as we should justly look upon this abusive in others, we ought to avoid it in our dealings with them, and endeavour to let them know our meaning clearly and plainly, when we make a pretension to it. Hence,
5. This is absolutely requisite to the character of Integrity and Uprightness.
Without uprightness and godly sincerity there can be no true religion. Without this moral ho|nesty, and integrity of heart, all pretensions to it are vain. Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle, who shall abide in thy holy hill? He that walketh up|rightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart. Psal. xv. 1.2. Whenever there|fore in preaching, or in any other method of speaking in the church, we make a profession of declaring the truth, or delivering our sentiments upon the great subjects of religion, if we design|edly endeavour to conceal our real sentiments, or what we take to be the truth, by speaking in an unknown tongue, or by using doubtful ambigu|ous expressions on design, we must be guilty of gross dishonesty; we do not uprightly speak the truth in our hearts, i. e. the true meaning and re|al sentiments of our hearts. Such a conduct can|not Page 23 be reconciled with moral honesty; 'tis plain, wilful deception; and would be justly stigmatized with the name of knavery, in bargains, civil con|tracts, or commerce. And why it should be any better in matters of religion, when we are pro|fessedly declaring the truth, as witnesses for GOD, is very hard to conceive.
6. Speaking in the church unintelligibly, or in an unknown tongue, is acting the part of a child, of a Barbarian, and even of a madman.
Children are very apt to use words without ide|as, to be pleased with their own unintelligible prattle. And such the Apostle plainly intimates this conduct of the Corinthian teachers to be, in the verse following the text: Brethren, be not children in understanding; howbeit, in malice be ye children; but in understanding be men. And in ver. 11, the Apostle plainly declares it to be act|ing the part of a barbarian; Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice,—he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me; i. e. it will be much the same, as if he should talk Indian to an Eng|lish auditory. There needs nothing said to dis|play the ridiculous absurdity of such a piece of conduct. Nay the Apostle proceeds farther, and represents it as acting the madman, ver. 23. If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they Page 24 not say that ye are mad? that is, will they not have just reason to look upon you in that light, and to say you act like madmen?
7. Speaking intelligibly in the christian church is of great importance, as it tends to promote bro|therly Love and Union, and preserve the Liberty of the churches of CHRIST.
The time will not allow me to dwell upon the great importance, and excellency of brotherly love, or display, how good, and how pleasant a thing it is for brethren to dwell together in Unity: nei|ther need I do it; they are by the consent of all confessedly so excellent and desirable, and the want of them so uncomfortable and destructive to religion and the wellfare of the church of CHRIST. Now the Practice of speaking very in|telligibly and unreservedly upon religious subjects hath the greatest tendency to promote this bro|therly love among Christians: Whereas suspicions, jealousies, and misunderstandings are frequently occasioned, and abundantly strengthened by shye|ness, reservedness, and apparent reluctance to unbosom ourselves, and speak our minds freely to one another upon all religious subjects. I am ve|rily persuaded, that many unhappy, misunder|standings, and wide divisions, which have terri|bly rent the churches of CHRIST, might have been prevented, or speedily healed by such an o|pen, honest, ingenuous proceedure. Such an up|right, Page 25 christian-like conduct in persons, who might not intirely agree in sentiments with their brethren in all points, would be the likeliest way to their receiving light, if they were in an error; or enable them to administer conviction to their brethren, if the error should be on their side. At the same time such an open, honest behavi|our would very powerfully invite to mutual con|descention, even where they could not after all fully agree in lesser, circumstantial matters. Whereas a contrary conduct unavoidably gives just occasion for distrust and jealousies. There is just reason to suspect a person, who is not wil|ling to use the greatest freedom, openness, and plainness of speech in declaring his religious senti|ments. In all such cases, common sense will dictate, that there is just ground for suspicion. Nor will it be at all strange, if, under these circumstances, persons should be suspected of holding worse, and more erroneous tenets, than they really do. And if this should happen to be the case, they can justly blame no-body but themselves, and ought in justice to impute it to their own culpable unwil|lingness to speak plainly in a known tongue, with|out affecting the covert of ambiguity. And then farther, there is something so inexpressibly charm|ing, engaging & winning in right down openness, and honest, plain dealing in these matters, that it cannot fail to conciliate respect and esteem, and Page 26 mightily promote Love and Union among chris|tian brethren.
And then the important Liberty of the church|es, wherewith CHRIST hath made them free, can't be too solicitously, and tenderly regarded by us, when rightly understood. Now this Liber|ty of the churches is essentially the same with the right of private Judgment in Individuals, and in|cludes the same things; as for instance, the churches Right and Liberty to think and judge for themselves; to worship GOD according to their own Consciences, to choose their own mi|nisters, and to determine for themselves, what form of church discipline they judge to be most agreeable to the word of GOD; and with what churches and ministers they will choose to walk in stated Union and Communion, and with whom they will not, as judging it not consistent with their purity and safety, or not conducive to their Edification, according to the word of God. §
Page 27Now I apprehend, that speaking plainly, in|telligibly, and unreservedly in the church, and upon all subjects relative thereto, is very condu|cive, and highly necessary to the preservation of this important liberty. Hereby suspicions and jealousies will likely be either prevented, or re|moved; professing Christians be able to see how far they are agreed in the great principles of reli|gion, and so be enabled to comply with the a|postle's direction, Phil. i. 27. Stand fast in one Spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith Page 28 of the gospel. Chap. ii. 2. Fulfil ye my joy that ye be like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind:—and iii. 16. Whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing. By such freedom and Openness, Christians will readily see, whether they are so far agreed, in what they judge to be the great essential doctrines of the christian reli|gion, and the necessary rules of church-govern|ment, as that they can safely walk together in close union and communion; or whether they differ so widely in matters of religion, as that 'tis necessary for them to be seperate, each one peace|ably enjoying his own sentiments, worship and discipline. And such a knowledge of each o|thers belief, and religious sentiments, as can be obtained only by speaking plainly, and intelligi|bly, is absolutely necessary to their walking toge|ther consistently in the Fellowship of the Gospel. And this is what every one hath an undoubted right to know, and be satisfied about, with re|spect to all those, who desire to enjoy communi|on with him, or to be united with him in the same plan or form of ecclesiastical discipline. For it would be a most evident and gross Insring|ment upon christian Liberty, for a person, or a church to be obliged to hold communion, and walk in strict Union with those, concerning whose qualifications for such communion they can have no clear and rational satisfaction. But I am sen|sible, Page 29 there is one grand objection may be raised against speaking thus freely and intelligibly in a known tongue, to the following purpose. Sup|pose I am concerned with a church, or a number of churches and ministers, of whom a great ma|ny, or even the greater part, labour under unhap|py prejudices and mistakes; perhaps they are narrow, contracted and bigotted in their senti|ments, and lay a mighty stress upon some meer circumstantials, in which I cannot agree with them; and if I should open my mind freely up|on all religious subjects, they would reject me, and not hold communion with me; may I not in that case keep upon the reserve, or deal a lit|tle in doubtful, ambiguous expressions, which I apprehend they will understand in a sense diffe|rent from what I really intend, in both which senses the words will well bear to be understood? May I not prudently do this with an honest view and design to instruct them better, and gradually bring them off from their unreasonable prejudi|ces, as I shall find they will be able to bear it? And is there not a degree of christian condescen|tion and forbearance to be used in such cases?
To which I will answer freely, with great plainness of speach, without a designed reference to any particular case, person, or persons what|ever, and with a disposition to be thankful to the kind friend that will correct me wherein I may be wrong.
Page 30I doubt not, but that there have been, and still may be cases very similar to this which is here supposed: I also readily allow, that in this dark, imperfect state there ever will be great room, and abundant occasion for much condescention and forbearance in reference to the mistakes and pre|judices of our fellow-christians, and a dispositi|on to practise this, as far as may be safely done, consistent with adhering to plain important truth and duty, is a very amiable and necessary part of the christian temper. But then the necessity of practising this mutual condescention and forbear|ance is a very substantial reason, why we should use the greatest freedom and intelligibleness in speaking in the church, so that when we have opened our minds, and sentiments freely, then all con|cerned may be able to exercise their undoubted right of judging for themselves, how far we are agreed, and whether there is any such material difference in sentiments between us, as may for|bid our walking together in the strictest union and fellowship, in all the important concerns of religion and the church. But without this free|dom and openness, what possible room can there be for condescention? What gospel precept, or principle of reason can dictate such a preposte|rous condescention, as to be satisfied with persons talking in Arabic, or any other unknown tongue, upon the momentous subjects of religion; and to believe at the same time, that they mean very Page 31 right, or, to besure, nothing materially wrong? This would be a very odd sort of christian for|bearance, to which the gospel is an utter stranger!
But perhaps it will be urged, that after all this plainness of speech, those with whom I am con|cerned, and with whom I want to be connected, and have communion, are so wrong-headed, whimsical, and such scrupulous bigots, that they not only embrace a great many errors in things circumstantial, and less material; but also hold several of these wrong notions to be of great im|portance, or almost essential to religion; and if they knew I did not almost intirely agree with them herein, they would immediately reject me. I say then, that all attempts to croud myself up|on them by concealing and disguising my real sentiments, would be a gross tyrannical infringment upon their christian Liberty. It is true, they may err, and hold those things to be of great im|portance, or even essential, which I believe, or know to be otherwise; and for this they must answer to GOD another day: and I shall act a very christian part, in labouring to convince them of their mistakes, and inspiring them with more just and generous sentiments, if I can. But then after all, they have as good a right to judge for themselves, as I have to judge for myself; and to determine for themselves, what truths are of high importance, or essential in religion, as I have to determine for myself in these matters. And Page 32 if herein they grossly err, they are accountable to GOD for it; not to me. And if I presume to make my judgment a rule for them, I encroach upon their Liberty, and deny them that right of judging for themselves, which I claim to my|self, which does not very much breathe the true spirit of Liberty and Freedom.
Let us suppose there to be a number of Roman-catholic churches in any particular place, who firmly believed the Infallibility of the Pope, the doctrines of Purgatory and Transubstantiation to be so essential in religion, that they could not in conscience receive any minister or member, who could not profess his belief of the same; I con|ceive they have a clear and indisputable right, in the sight of men, to believe and judge for them|selves concerning the truth and importance of these points; and no men upon earth have any right to hinder them from practising conforma|bly to these erroneous sentiments, provided they be otherwise peaceable, orderly members of Soci|ety. They may be justly blamed for holding such absurd tonets, contrary to the gospel; but they cannot be justly accused of invading the rights, or of doing any thing against the liberty of other persons or churches, while they readily allow to others the same right of judging and acting for themselves. And if I, being a protes|tant, should endeavour to get into the communi|on or ministry, in these churches, by concealing Page 33 or disguising my true principles upon these points, I should be a criminal invader of their liberty: because they have a clear right, in consequence of their principles, to reject me from their com|munion, and I must worship by myself, which is the only liberty and privilege they claim to them|selves. And if I should call their conduct in this matter, tyranny, or an arbitrary infringment up|on my liberty, I should be guilty of as gross im|propriety of speech, as if I termed it murder, a|dultery, or high treason. I ought to pity them for their ignorance, superstition and errors; and may justly blame them for departing from the truths of divine revelation: but cannot, with a|ny propriety, accuse them of violating the prin|ciples of christian liberty, and shall be guilty of the greatest Impertinency in bringing such a charge against them. 'Tis true, their mistakes and errors will be attended with prejudicial ef|fects and consequences to me; just as any person's imprudent disposal, or wrong application of his own private property will always be consequenti|ally detrimental to the welfare of the community.
On the other hand, should I endeavour to get into the communion, or ministry in one of these churches, even with the most disinterested de|sign to reclaim them from their errors, and should succeed in my attempt, by concealing my real tho' true sentiments from them, they would have Page 34 very just reason to complain of me, as invading their liberty, and doing the same thing in effect, as if, having it in my power, I had forced a member, or minister upon them contrary to their mind, judgment and choice. They might just|ly complain of me, as injuriously disturbing them in the enjoyment of their undoubted right, and liberties, and treat me as a false brother, crept in privily, unawares to them, to spy out their liberty, in order to destroy it, and bring them into bondage. And I may venture to affirm, that the destructi|on of liberty, both in church and state, is much oftner effected by such clandestine, delusive mea|sures, than by the open exertions of power. And therefore the true liberty of the churches is in the greatest danger from this quarter. And speak|ing in the most plain, open, intelligible manner upon all religious subjects, according to the be|lief, and real sentiments of our Hearts, is evident|ly necessary to the preservation of this desirable and important Liberty; and is the most effectual guard against ecclesiastical Tyranny.
8. Speaking in an unknown tongue in the church is symbolizing with the Papists, in one in|stance of their conduct, justly condemned by all Protestants.
The Papists say their public prayers in the church, in a language unknown to the common people. A most absurd ridiculous practice. For Page 35 however well they may pray in the spirit, 'tis cer|tain that those who hear, cannot safely say, Amen, to their prayers, or join in the worship. But all designedly unintelligible speaking in the church partakes of the very nature and effence of this ab|surdity, and is so far a verging towards popery.
9. The infinite importance of religious subjects is a weighty reason, why we should speak upon them in the most plain, intelligible manner.
This consideration gives force to all the pre|ceeding reasons. In matters of small concern|ment there may be some allowance for trifling. But to trifle in the church of GOD, with religion, with the gospel, is very horrible, and absolutely in|tolerable. Here the Glory of GOD, the liberty and welfare of the church, which he hath pur|chased with his own blood; here the endless hap|piness or misery of immortal souls is very nearly concerned. Certainly where such infinitely weighty consequences are depending, the greatest plainness of speech is highly important. That which is of importance enough to be spoken in the church, ought to be clearly understood. And indeed the most of subjects, proper to be treated upon in the church, are so interesting in their na|ture, and practical consequences, that 'tis of high concernment they be clearly and rightly under|stood. Such as the doctrines concerning the Per|son, Natures, and Offices of CHRIST: the doc|trines Page 36 of faith, repentance, &c. How can the ho|nest Arian, who believes our Saviour to be only a meer creature, persist in applying the name and titles of GOD to him, without ever clearly inform|ing his hearers, that he is only a God, in a lower sense, as angels and civil rulers are stiled Gods in scripture?—how can he let them go on de|ceived, as they must be, in his opinion, in the very Object of their Worship, paying divine homage and honours to one, who is not by nature true e|ternal GOD, and be thereby assisting to their ido|latry? And I may say in general, that 'tis utterly inconsistent with integrity, and is a violation of one of the most sacred trusts, ever committed to mortals, to neglect declaring in the most plain, intelligible language, what we take to be the truths of GOD revealed in his word. Since there|fore the subjects treated on are so important; since GOD speaks plainly in his word, and the Spirit speaks plainly, and the grand design of all speak|ing, is to be clearly understood, those that speak in the church should use great plainness of speech, that all who hear may rightly understand the things that belong to their everlasting peace.
I. We hence infer it to be very necessary, that all who speak, as public teachers in the church, should have clear ideas of divine things, and be well acquainted with language.
Page 37It is a very just observation, that the having of clear ideas is very conducive, and highly necessary to speaking clearly and intelligibly upon any sub|ject. And the reason is very obvious; for if the conceptions of the mind are confused, this con|fusion of thinking will unavoidably run into a per|son's discourse, and leave a visible tincture of it|self in his Speaking. Language is the picture of the mind's thoughts; and will therefore natural|ly bear a resemblance thereto, in point of clear|ness or confusion. How then can he be sup|posed to speak clearly, whose mind is always be|clouded with the thick fogs of confusedly float|ing vague ideas? In order to avoid this mischief, it is highly necessary, that ministers should be much devoted, not only to reading, but also to meditation, close thinking, and writing too; and not content themselves with uncertain, fashiona|ble sounds, in stead of clear, determinate ideas. And then in order to be apt to teach, it is plainly requisite, that a person be well skilled in the lan|guage he uses in teaching. Indeed the know|ledge of the original languages, in which the scriptures were written, which are the words the Holy Ghost hath taught, is for many weighty rea|sons highly advantageous; that so persons may be able to go to those sacred Fountains of divine knowledge, & see, and judge for themselves, com|paring scripture with scripture. For the best Page 38 translation is, in a sort, an human performance, and partakes of the general nature of the trans|lators confession of their faith, or a declaration of what they take to be the true meaning of the words used here and there, in the sacred Origi|nal. Indeed our translation of the Bible is so confessedly just, that it may be safely regarded and relied upon, as a true declaration of the mind and will of GOD in all material points; and ought to be very thankfully prized, as a most invaluable Blessing, whereby GOD speaks to us in a known tongue, if we will be at the pains to study the scriptures, and compare one place with ano|ther. And certainly the study of the English language, so as to be accurately acquainted with the true import, and precise meaning of the words especially as they are used in the scriptures, is exceedingly requisite for those who speak in the church of GOD, or preach the gospel. With|out this, we shall be in great danger of mis|leading and misguiding those that hear us.
II. We should, as much as possible, avoid all ambiguous expressions, or words of a double, doubtful meaning, in speaking in the church.
Words are said to be an unknown tongue, for this reason only, that their meaning is unknown, or cannot be determined by the hearer. And when this is the case, it makes no material diffe|rence, whether the words be English, Greek, or Page 39 Hebrew. And this is evidently the case with all ambiguous words: for as they are frequently used in different, or perhaps contrary senses, the hearer cannot know in what sense the speak|er intends them, unless he defines them by other words, to shew their meaning. They answer exactly to the Apostle's description of, words not easy to be understood; by which it cannot be known, what is spoken. Hence they are so fitly repre|sented by a trumpet that gives an uncertain sound.
It is true indeed, the hearers may themselves have right ideas annexed to these words: but then it is also very probable they may have wrong ones. And in that case, we shall be all the while teaching them error, and not the truths of GOD, if we dont carefully define, and explain the mean|ing of our words. Should any, for instance, get to conceive, that the title of GOD, when applied to our REDEEMER, intends only a God by Office; and that notwithstanding this, he is only an ex|alted creature: our calling him GOD ever so of|ten, without clearly defining what we mean by the term, would only serve to confirm them in this their false opinion, and serve to uphold, and strength|en them in denying the only LORD that bought them. The same might be observed concerning the words, faith, repentance, grace, justification, &c. Where the frequent use of the words, with|out a clear, precise definition of what we mean by them, will give no instruction, and may be as like|ly Page 40 to lead into error, as to convey the know|ledge of the truth. Since therefore such is the imperfection of human language, the careful ex|plaining of our meaning is an incumbent duty of high importance, and the neglect of it is an un|pardonable with-holding of instruction and knowledge from the church of GOD, which we are appointed to teach and feed: Yea, 'tis a prac|tical declaring in the Name of GOD, that we will not explain to them what the scripture saith, and what GOD hath revealed in his word con|cerning these things. Must not this approach near to the sin of perjury, in those who have bound themselves by solemn vowes to be witnesses to the truth. Let us then, as faithful witnesses for GOD, use great plainness of speech, while we are professedly endeavouring to make known the whole counsel of GOD, in the knowledge of which the salvation of those immortal souls, for which CHRIST died, is very nearly concerned. To this we are most sacredly bound, as we desire to save the souls that hear us;—as we would pro|mote brotherly love, that great christian duty, and distinguishing badge of CHRIST's disci|ples, and as we would preserve, and perpetuate the important Liberty of the churches.
But I must conclude with a few words, by way of address.
FIRST, to him who is now about to take the Page 41 pastoral charge of this church, and feed this part of the flock of CHRIST.
Reverend and dear Sir,
We have not the least suspicion, but that you will faithfully endeavour to speak with the un|derstanding in the church, and declare the whole counsel of GOD plainly, that you may be free from the blood of all men. We trust you will in all respects study to shew yourself approved of GOD, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, watching diligently for these souls, now to be committed to your care and charge, as one that must give an account of your stewardship very soon. You know, that the more you care for your own soul, the more you will care, and pray and labour for the souls of your hearers. We hope you will therefore make that religion, which you preach to others, the grand business of your life, and diligently keep your own vineyard. O, with what affecting, impressive weight should those solemn words of the Apostle lie upon the minds of all of us, who are ministers of the gospel, Lest that by any means when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway!
As you have been several years in the ministry, we hope you have greatly improved and profited by study and experience; and that you are now furnished with a large stock of knowledge, wis|dom, and ministerial prudence, so as to know Page 42 well, how thou oughtest to behave in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, with all that christian harmlessness, and inoffensiveness, which may consist with faithfulness to your solemn trust. We heartily wish you, Sir, all needed Grace to be faithful, and the great happiness to be successful, to the saving your own soul, and the souls, even of all them that hear you. And may we all duly bear in mind the exceeding short|ness of the time, which we shall any of us be al|lowed to serve as stewards in the house of GOD, and the solemn account we must soon render to him, who hath appointed us.
SECONDLY. To the church and congregation in this place.
We desire to rejoice with you this day, that after long difficulties, and repeated disappointments, you are like to have the gospel ministry settled among you in so great peace and quietness. We can't but hope it is a kind token for good to you: and that you will yet know by happy experience, how good and pleasant it is, for brethren to dwell together in unity, while each one studies the things that make for peace, and mutual edifica|tion, exercising all that christian forbearance and condescention, which may be consistent with a steady adherence to plain truth and duty.
Let me just observe, that you will not be so Page 43 unreasonable, as to expect your minister to save your souls, and the souls of your families, while you yourselves carelessly neglect them. At most he can be only an helper to you in this impor|tant concern. Remember there is much incum|bent on you, to co-operate, and be helpers toge|ther with him; and particularly by good family government, and family religion; by duly re|straining, instructing and training up the rising generation, under your care, in the nurture and admonition of the LORD. Otherwise there is reason to fear, the ministry will be unsuccessful to you and them, or only serve to enhanse your guilt, and aggravate your condemnation, proving a sa|vour of death unto death to you, which may GOD of his infinite mercy prevent. Brethren, we wish you all the Blessing of GOD out of Zion.
Let me just observe to this assembly in general, that GOD speaks plainly and intelligibly to all in his word. Life and immortality, and the way there|to, are clearly brought to light under the gospel, and the great things of our peace are set before our eyes, as in the meridian light of noon-day. We cannot therefore, under our circumstances, plead any want of light, as an excuse for our continuance in a state of sin, impenitency and rejection of the great salvation. With whatever vain pleas we may now endeavour to quiet our|selves in sin, the day is just at hand, when it will Page 44 appear with irresistable conviction, that the grand reason, why we continue in sin to our destructi|on, is a criminal aversion to religion at heart, and a real unwillingness to be saved in a way of holiness; an inexcusable dislike of CHRIST in the character of Jesus, as one appointed to save us from our sins:—and that this aversion is so obstinate, that if we can resist the light we now enjoy, and carelessly disregard all that GOD says to us, we should be equally unpersuadable, tho' one should rise from the dead, and come a messen|ger to us. And if this be the case, consider se|riously, how utterly inexcusable we shall be, when sentenced by GOD, at the great day, to endless punishment, at the same time fully self-condemned, conscience loudly ecchoing to the justice, and even necessity of the dreadful sen|tence of condemnation. Let him that hath an ear, hear what the Spirit saith to the churches.