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Amos 3:3---"Can two walk together except they be agreed?"
In the holy scriptures, we often find a negative thrown into the form of an interrogation. The text is an instance of this kind: so that we are to understand the prophet as affirming that two cannot walk together except they be agree.
For two to be agree, implies something more than to be agreed in theory, or in understanding: for we often see persons who agree in theory, but who differ vastly in feeling and practice. Their understandings may embrace the same truth, while their hearts and practice will be very differently affected by them. Saints and sinners often embrace in theory the same religious creed, while it is plain that they differ widely in feeling and practice.
We have reason to believe that holy angels and devils apprehend and embrace intellectually the same truths, and yet how very differently are they affected by them!
These different effects, produced in different minds by the same truths, are owing to the different state of the heart or affections of the different individuals. Or, in other words, the difference in the effect consists in the different manner in which the person receives these truths, or feels and acts in view of them. It is to be observed also, that the same things and truths will affect the same mind very differently at different times. This too is owing to the different state of the affections at these times. Or rather this difference consists in the different manner in which the mind acts at these times. All pleasure and pain---all happiness and misery--- all sin and holiness---have their seat in, and belong to, the heartor affections. All the satisfaction or dissatisfaction, pain or pleasure, depends entirely upon the state of our affections at the time, and consists in these affections. If it fall in with, and excite, and feed pleasurable affections, we are pleased of course; for in these pleasurable affections our pleasure or happiness consists. The higher, therefore, these affections are elevated by the presentation of any thing or any truth to our minds, the greater our pleasure is. But if the thing or truth do not fall in with our affections it cannot please us; if it be aside from our present state of feeling, and we refuse to change the course of our feelings, we shall either view it with indifference, our affections being otherwise engaged, or if it press upon us we shall turn from and resist it. If it be not only aside from the subject that now engages our affections, but opposed to it, we shall and must(our affections remaining the same) resist and oppose it.
We not only feel uninterested or displeased and disgusted when a subject different from that which at present engages our affections is introduced and crowded upon us, but if any thing even upon the same subject that is far above or below our tone of feeling is presented, and if our affections remain the same, and we refuse to be enlisted and brought to that point, we must feel uninterested, and perhaps grieved and offended. If the subject be exhibited in a light that is below our present tone of feeling, we cannot be interested until it come up to our feelings; and if the subject in this cooling and to us degraded point of view is held up before our mind, and we struggle to maintain these high affections, we feel displeased because our affections are not fed but opposed. If the subject be presented in a manner that strikes far above our tone of feeling, and our affections grovel and refuse to arise, it does not fall in with and feed our affections, therefore we cannot be interested; it is enthusiasm to us; we are displeased with the warmth in which we do not choose to participate, and the farther it is above our temperature the more we are disgusted.
These are truths to which the experience of every man will testify, as they hold good upon every subject, and under all circumstances; and are founded upon principles incorporated with the very nature of man. Present to the ardent politician his favorite subject in his favorite light, and when it has engaged his affections touch it with the fire of eloquence, cause it to burn and blaze before his mind, and you delight him greatly. But change your style and tone---let down your fire and feeling---turn the subject over---present it in a drier light---he at once loses nearly all his interest, and becomes uneasy at the descent. Now change the subject---introduce death and solemn judgment---he is shocked and stunned; press him with them, he is disgusted and offended.
Now, this loss of interest in his favorite subject is the natural consequence of taking away from before the mind that burning view of it that poured fire through his affections; this disgust that he feels at the change of the subject, is the natural consequence of presenting something that was at the time directly opposed to the state of his feelings. Unless he chooses to turn his mind as you change the subject he cannot but be displeased.
A refined musician is listening almost in rapture to the skilful execution of a fine piece of harmony---throw in discords upon him; he is in pain in a moment. Increase and prolong the dissonance, and he leaves the room in disgust. You are fond of music; but you are at present low-spirited---you are in great affliction---you are inclined to weep---the plaintive tones of an Eolian harp softly upon your ear, and melt around the heart---your tears flow fast---but now the din of trumpets, drums, and cymbals, and the piercing fife in mirthful quicksteps breaks upon your ear, and drowns the soft breathings of the harp---you feel distressed--- you turn away and stop your ears. The plaintive harp touched you in a tender point, it fell in with your feelings; therefore you were gratified. The martial music opposed your state of feeling, you were too low-spirited to have your affections elevated and enlivened by it; it therefore necessarily distressed you.
Your heart is glowing with religious feelings---you are not only averse to the introduction of any other subject at this time, but are uninterested with any thing upon the same subject that is far below the tone of your affections. Suppose you hear a cold man preachor pray; while he remains cold and you are warm with feeling you are not interested, for your affections are not fed and cherished unless he comes up to your tone; if this foes not happen you are distressed and perhaps disgusted with his coldness. This is a thing of course. Suppose, like Paul, "you have great heaviness and continual sorrow in your heart" for dying sinners; that "the Spirit helpeth your infirmities, making intercessions for you, according to the will of God, with groanings that cannot be uttered; "in this state of mind you hear a person pray who does not mention sinners---you hear a minister preach who says but little to them, and that in a heartless, unmeaning manner; you are not interested, you cannot be, feeling as you do, but you are grieved and distressed. Suppose you are lukewarm, and carnal, and earthly in your affections; you hear one exhort, or pray, or preach, who is highly spiritual, and fervent, and affectionate; if you cling to your sins, and your affections will not rise; if through prejudice, or pride, or the earthly and sensual state of your affections, you refuse to kindle and to grasp the subject, although you admit every word he says, yet you are not pleased. He is above your temperature, you are annoyed with the manner, and fire, and spirit of the man. The higher he rises, if your affections grovel, the farther apart you are, and the more you are displeased. While your heart is wrong the nearer right he is, the more he burns upon you; if your heart will not enkindle, the more you are disgusted.
Now, in both these cases, they, whose affections stand at or near the same point with him who speaks or prays, will not feel disturbed but pleased. Those that are lukewarm will listen to the dull man, and say, "'Tis pretty well." Their pleasure will be small, because their affections are low; but upon the whole they are pleased. Those who have no affections at the time will of course not feel at all. All who have much feeling will listen with grief and pain. These would listen to the ardent man with great interest. Let him glow and blaze and they are in a repture. But the carnal and cold-hearted, while they refuse to rise, are necessarily disturbed and offended with his fire.
From these remarks we may learn,
First, why persons differing in theory upon doctrinal points in religion, and belonging to different denomination, will often, for a time, walk together in great harmony and affection. It is because they feel deeply, and feel alike. Their differences are in a great measure lost or forgotten while they fall in with each other's state of feeling; they will walk together while in heartthey are agreed.
Again---We see why young converts love to associate with each other, and with those other older saints who have most religious feeling; these walk together because they feel alike.
Again---We see why lukewarm professors and unrepentant sinners have the same difficulties with means in revivals of religion. We often hear them complain of the manner of preaching and praying. Their objections are the same, they find fault with the same things, and use the same arguments in support of their objections. The reason is, that at that time their affections are nearly the same; it is the fire and the spirit that disturbs their frosty hearts. For the time being they walk together, for in feeling they are agreed.
Again---We see why ministers and Christians visiting revivals, often, at first, raise objections to the means used, and cavil, and sometimes takes sides with the wicked. The fact is, coming, as they often do, from regions where there are no religious revivals at the time, they frequently feel reproved and annoyed by the warmth and spirit which they witness. The praying, preaching, and conservation, are above their present temperature. Sometimes, prejudice on account of its being amongst a different denomination from them, or prejudice against the preacher or people, or perhaps pride or envy or worldliness, or something of the kind, chains down their affections that they do not enter into the spirit of the work. Now, while their hearts remain wrong, they will, of course, cavil; and the nearer right any thing is, the more spiritual and holy, so much the more it mustdisplease them, while their affections grovel. (We do not mean to justify anything that is wrong and unscriptural in the use of means to promote revivals of religion. Nor do we pretend that everythingis right, that may, and often does, give offence. We know that many things may exist, and while human nature remains as it is, will exist in revivals, that are to be mourned, and ought, as carefully as possible, to be corrected. But we do hold it as a certain truth, that while any heart is wrong, any thing that falls in with it, and pleases it, must be wrong also, as certainly as that one false weightcan be balanced only be another just as false: and while a heart in this state, the best things will be the most certain to offend. And if this heart, remaining wrong, could be brought in view of a state of things as perfect as heaven, it would blaspheme, and be filled with the torments of hell. The only remedy is to call upon him to "repent and make to him a new heart," and when he has done this, right things will please him, and not before.)
Again---We see why ministers and private Christians differ about prudential measures. The man who sees and feels the infinitely solemn things of eternity, will necessarily judge very differently of what is prudent or imprudent, in the use of means, from one whose spiritual eye is almost closed. The man whose heart is breaking for perishing sinners, will, of course, deem it prudent, and right, and necessary, to "use great plainness of speech," and to deal with them in a very earnest and affectionate manner. He would deem a contrary course highly imprudent, and dangerous, and criminal. While he who feels but little for them, and sees but little of their danger, will satisfy himself with using very different means, or using them in a very different manner, and will, of course, entertain very different notions of what is prudent. Hence we see the same person having very different notions of prudence, and consequently practising very differently, at different times. Indeed, a man's notions of what is prudent as to means and measures in revivals of religion, will depend, and, in a great measure, ought to depend, on the state of his own affections, and the state of feeling with which he is surrounded. For, what would be prudent under some circumstances, would be highly imprudent in others. What would be prudent for a man in a certain state of his affections, and under certain circumstances, would be the height of imprudence, in the same person, in a different state of feeling, and under other circumstances. It is, in most cases, extremely difficult to form, and often very wrong publicly to express, an opinion condemning a measure as imprudent, (which is not condemned by the word of God,) without being in a situation to enter into the feelings and circumstances of the individual and people at the time the measure was adopted. If Christians and ministers would keep these things in mind, a great many uncharitable and censorious speeches would be avoided, and much injury to the cause of truth and righteousness would be prevented.
Again---We see why lukewarm Christians and sinners are not disturbed by dull preaching or praying. It does not take hold on their feelings at all, and therefore does not distress nor offend them. Hence we see that if, in a revival of religion, when cold and wicked hearts are disturbed with plain and pungent dealing, a dull minister is called upon, and preaches to the people, the wicked and cold-hearted will praise his preaching. This shows why, in seasons of revival, we often hear sinners and lukewarm Christians wish that their minister would preach as he used to; that he would be himself again. The reason of this is plain; he did not use to move them, but now his fire, and spirit, and pungency annoy them, and disturb their carnal slumbers.
Again---We may here learn how to estimate the opinions of ministers and Christians, and our own opinions, when our affections are in a bad state. How does such a man approve of what was said or done? What is his opinion as to means and measures?etc.. are questions often asked, and answered, and the answer depended upon as high authority, without any regard to the state of that man's affections at the time. Now, in most cases, we do utterly wrong to place much confidence in our own opinions, or in the opinions of others, as to prudential measures, unless we have evidence of the right state of our or their affections; for it is almost certain, that should our affections alter, we should view things in a different light, and consequently change our opinion. Christians would do well to remember and adopt the resolution of President Edwards, "that he would always act as he saw to be most proper when he had the clearest views of the things of religion."