Epistles of Faith

Letter II

William Huntington (1745-1813)


Dear Friend,

I AM not fond of offering my thoughts, in a public pulpit, upon every text of scripture that is sent to me. I am in no sense master of the scriptures. I can neither seal nor unseal God's book. Christ is the storehouse, and the Holy Ghost is the key but I can neither bring treasure from the one, nor command the other: they do their own pleasure, and act in a sovereign way. The words of the wise are as nails, which are given forth from one shepherd; and, if any good is done, they are fastened by the master of assemblies. To him I am commanded to look for help, and a supply for the pulpit, who hath promised a mouth and wisdom, that all our adversaries shall never be able to gainsay or resist. I doubt not but it is in the power of a praying people to put a text into the pastor's mouth by faithful prayer, and to obtain from God by him both understanding and satisfaction. Persons who go thus to God, instead of the preacher; who acquaint him with the secret, but keep the minister in the dark about it; know for themselves, when the work is done, that the hand of God was in it; and it serves to convince them that the Lord has sent the workman, and that he works with him. Not but what I have sometimes had a text sent me, into which the Lord hath given me light; and, if it has come when I have been unfurnished, and no other has been sent to displace it from my mind, I have judged it to be of him, and the freedom experienced in the delivery of it has served to confirm it. But I do not like to confine my mind to preach to a whole congregation from a text that may, at such a time only, concern an individual. Nor could I ever endure any person to tell me, that a sinner of such a complexion, or an erroneous person of such a sect, was coming, or come, to hear me. Just as if I should leave my subject, neglect feeding the household, and go to casting pearls before swine. The arrow always flies best, and does most execution, when the bow is drawn at a venture. Besides, personal dealings are perceptible to a discerning flock, and often set them to inquiring who the preacher was scolding at. Such informers airs very troublesome and disgustful to ministers: they betray great weakness and ignorance; and make too free with the ark, forgetting that the excellency and the power are of him who Oakes a man know what are his thoughts. If God has any thing to say to a sinner, he will be sure to speak to him either in a way of judgment, or in a way of mercy, without the preacher's knowledge of those who are present; and then it appears plainly to be of him, and not of man.

However, I have no objection to give my judgment on a text of scripture, either in private conference, or in answer to a Letter, it the point be essential, and the inquiry be modest. The passage you mention, "Judge not, that ye be not judged," is in the mouth of legions; and is generally used by them to stop the tenth of a faithful messenger, or an honest reprover: both which re highly commended in scripture.

By that text, the Lord doth not mean that I am not to make me of my judgment in trying those whom I bear, for I am commanded to take heed how I hear. I am to try the spirits, whether they are of God. The first ministers tried them that said they 'were apostles, and proved them liars; and their judgment was right, and they were commended for so doing. Yea, Wisdom herself, in her own ambassadors, permits herself to be cited at the Judgment of her family, and is justified of her children.

"By their fruits," saith the Saviour, "you shall know them." Not by their outward life and walk only, for the Pharisees deceived the greatest part of the Jewish nation by appearing outwardly righteous before men, who were inwardly ravening wolves and, by this their deception, gained and made many proselytes; who, when made, were twofold more the children of bell than themselves. The fruits, therefore, by which we are to know them, are

First, The fruits of the spirit; love, joy; peace, patience, goodness, faith, &c. &c. For, if I am to try the spirits, whether they be of God; I am to judge whether the person I hear be a spiritual man, or a sensual one having not the spirit; and likewise, whether the spirit of truth be manifested in him, or the spirit of error.

Secondly, I am to try the fruit of his lips, and to form my judgment of the treasure and soundness of his heart by the soundness of his doctrine, for, if he brings not the apostolic doctrine, I am not to receive him into my house, nor bid him God speed, on peril of being a partaker of his evil deeds. My judgment, therefore, of him, must be according to truth; which is plainly this: "Whosoever abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God: he that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son," 2 John 9.

Thirdly, I may demand of him, if I am doubtful about him, a reason of his hope, and he is commanded to give it; and, if he does, he must inform me of the powerful operations of the Holy Ghost upon him at his conversion. A change of heart by the Spirit is a gospel experience; and it is experience that worketh hope. Thus I am to know, not only the speech of him, but the power; "For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power." 1 Cor. iv. 19.

Fourthly, If I am to know the power, as well as the speech, of a preacher, I am to inquire into the fruits of his ministry; whether God owns it, and blesses it, by clothing his word with power to the conversion of souls; which is bringing forth fruit unto God. Converts are called a kind of first-fruits of his creatures. And, if conversion and establishing work goes on in his hands, and his converts are proper children, born of the Holy Ghost, of a savoury experience, and sound in faith, God has set his seal to his mission and commission; it is clear that he stands in God's counsel, and causes sinners to hear the word from his mouth, because he turns them from the error of their way, and the evil of their doings, and that God works with the workman: and my judgment must be, that be belongs to the Lord's fig-tree, and bears good ripe figs, and is in union with the living Vine; for men, at conversion, do not gather grapes from thorns, nor figs from thistles. But, if he be a stranger to the power of God on his own soul, and has no power with God by faith and prayer, and no power has attended his ministry; it is clear that God has neither sealed his soul, nor set his seal to his ministry. He is an impostor, and a preacher of the Letter: he is neither a saint of God, nor a servant of God; and his unprofitableness is a proof to me that he was never sent by him. The judgment, therefore, to direct me, is this: "He ran, and I have not sent him," saith the Lord; "therefore he shall not profit this people at all."

By these fruits I am to know them, and not by an external re-formation only; and am to judge and speak according to the oracles of God, my own experience, and the testimony of my conscience, so that I may neither justify the wicked, nor condemn the just; and then I act agreeably to the Saviour's positive command, "Judge not according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment," John vii. 24. I am to judge of his life and walk also; that his conversation be as becometh the gospel of Christ; that he lets his light shine before men, that they behold his good works, and that he glorifies his Father which is in heaven. By these fruits we are to know him, and of these things we are to judge, and not to judge him in meats, nor in drinks, nor in respect of an holy day; nor yet to judge his doubtful thoughts. "Let no man judge you in these things," saith Paul. But of the aforementioned things we are to judge and to speak according to the scriptures and our own conscience, without partiality, and without hypocrisy: and not like those hypocrites who could discern the face of the sky, and of the earth, but could not discern the signs of the times, nor even of themselves judge what was right, Luke ii. 56, 57.

The above right of judgment is a divine grant to every child of 'God, let the preacher call himself what he may; Bishop or Pastor; Dean or Doctor. Our teachers are not to be hid in a corner any more; our eyes are to see them. "Let the prophets speak, two or three; and let the others judge," 1 Cor. xlv. 29; whether he speaks as the oracles of God or not; and his word is to be received or rejected according to that rule, without any regard paid to his age, learning, or dignity; for there are accursed sinners an hundred years old, and many Letter-learned fools and seducers; and there have been false apostles. The preacher who rejects this, and would dispute us out of this right, or reprove us for using it, ought to be suspected of being destitute of the Spirit, for the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets, 1 Cor. xiv. 32. Thus are we to judge of the preacher's experience, doctrine, power, usefulness, conversation, life, and walk; for, "He that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man," 1 Cor. ii. 15. Paul himself submitted to this: "I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say," 1 Cor. x. 15.

We are to judge likewise of the conversion, the soundness in faith, and the reformation, of every one that offers himself, or herself, as a member of the church, and receive or reject them according to the rule of God's word, and the best of our judgment; and we are to judge them also after they are in the church. "What have I to do to judge them also that are without [the pale of the church? do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without, God judgeth," 1 Cor. v. 12, 13.

We should likewise form a private judgment of those whom we visit or associate with, that we do not herd with infidels. "If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord," says Lydia to Paul, "come into my house, and abide there," Acts xvi. 15.

Hence it appears, that pastors are to be sufficiently proved, not hastily called; and the judgment of a plurality of ministers is to be called in, as an addition to the judgment of the church nor are hands to be laid suddenly on any man; nor is a raw, green disciple, or a novice to be set up at all, nor a fool to be heard at all. Thus far, according to the best of my judgment, a child of God may warrantably judge. It remains, therefore, that neither of the above are the senses of the Lord in the text, for one text never contradicts another.

Rash judgment seems rather to be intended, touching the final Mate of a person, delivered in an angry manner, without being properly guarded with ifs, buts, unless, except, and peradventure. God only is the judge of quick and dead; and to him alone it belongs to justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked.

False, or wrong judgment, must also be intended. He that says to a wicked man, "Thou art righteous, him shall the people curse; nations shall abhor him," Prov. xxiv. 24. This is justifying the wicked, which is an abomination to the Lord.

Judging according to an external show, without any regard to a change of heart, or soundness in the truth, is intended also. Judge not according to appearance." saith the Lord.

Judging a sinner's state to be good because of his adherence to human traditions, and the commandments of men; or to judge a saint in meats, drinks, holy days, feasts, and fasts, is forbidden in the book of God also.

Giving way to natural affections; being zealously affected by a person, but not well, so as to let the feelings of nature sway a person from truth and conscience; is called judging after the flesh, John viii. 15.

But that which is chiefly intended in the text, appears to me to be, the wicked judging the righteous; which they have ever been forward to do: as the Jews, who called Christ Beelzebub, who excommunicated the confessors of him, and declared them accursed, and ignorant of the law, that followed him. Such person judge after the flesh, and in the malice of Satan. They cursed those whom the Lord had blessed; judged those that were spiritual, who could not be judged of any; and condemned them whom the Lord had justified. These must be an abomination to God; and with what measure such mete, it shall be measured to them; and with what judgment they judge, they shall be judged. The curse of the law is a divine sentence in the lips of the King, whose mouth transgresseth not in judgment. But this sentence ill becomes the lips of fools. And, as for the children of God, they are commanded to bless, and curse not. The Judge of all the earth hath done, and will do, that himself; and tells us, that they who are of the works of the law are under the curse; and those who preach any other doctrine than Paul preached, are already cursed; and those who curse the saints, the Lord himself will curse. The above seem to me to be the senses of the scriptures touching such judgment as is strictly forbidden.

But, to form a private judgment, or speak my judgment, of a preacher, whether he be sent of God, or unsent; and of his spirit, whether it be the spirit of truth, or a spirit of error; and of his doctrine, whether it be of Christ, or of men; whether it be a true messenger, or an impostor; a minister of the Spirit, or of the Letter; a sound teacher, or a seducer; a gatherer, or a scatterer; a saint, or a sinner; a child of God, or of Satan, is a divine grant to every disciple of Christ, that he may not be deceived, nor seduced from the simplicity that is in Christ, nor from the truth of the gospel. And to this end is the Holy Ghost to guide us into all truth, that we may not be deceived. "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world."

Take heed that no prejudice or hatred be secretly indulged against a minister, or professor; and thou speaks to the wounding his reputation through hatred, without any regard either to truth or conscience; for no christian, nor character, can stand before envy. Nor are we to make a man an offender for a word; much less, lie in wait for, or hate, them that reprove us in the gate. A man may err in speech, who errs not in judgment. A sound speech may sometimes be dropped from an erroneous man. We are not to condemn the former for a word, nor to justify the latter for his speech. Aaron spoke wrong, when he told Israel, the golden calf brought them out of Egypt; and Satan spoke the truth, when he called Christ the Holy One of God. Yet Aaron was a saint, and the devil a liar. But Satan's speech is not to be rejected, nor are Aaron's words to be credited. The terror of Christ extorted truth from Satan, and the fear of a tumultuous multitude drew a falsity from the mouth of Aaron.

Furthermore: remember every real minister of Christ in your prayers, and esteem them in love for their works' sake. Nor be puffed up for one, against the other: this is commanded, and commended. And, on the other hand, receive no man into your affections, nor into your house, who brings not the doctrine of Christ, nor bid him God speed: for they who do, are co-sharers in all the iniquity and mischief that he commits. Be not a partaker of other men's sins. Keep thyself pure.


Thine to serve,

In the gospel of Christ,

W. H.

William Huntington