“It is not uncommon to hear certain persons pouring out the bitterest invectives in pulpit and conversation against others, as enemies to morality, as turning the grace of God into licentiousness, as not only neglecting, but even opposing the obligation of his law. In the meanwhile, if you hear the first, you shall rarely meet with anything but what is quite loose and general, a declamation on the beauty of virtue, and the necessity of holiness, or a very imperfect sketch of the offices due from man to man in the common intercourse of social life. And, if you hear the other, it is probable you may hear many of the hard sayings of the gospel, not only the necessity of doing justice, and loving mercy, with the certain damnation of those who hold unjust gain without restitution; but the necessity of loving God above all created comforts, habitually directing every part of our conduct to his glory, and being sincerely and without reserve, submissive to his providence. You may also, probably, hear the duties of every relation descended to with a particularity, and the neglect or breach of them reproved with a severity, that is nowhere else to be found. Now, I desire to know which of these are the greatest friends to morality. So strong is the deception, that I have known several of the hearers of the most boasted moral preachers, who could not avoid betraying, by their discourse, that they considered the exercises of piety, as no part of morality, and very consistently, indeed, with these principles, treated them with the most absolute neglect.
“I have little hope of the conviction, but would gladly, if possible, stop the mouths of gainsayers on this subject. Is it not usual to mark out the friends of salvation by grace, under the title of extraordinary strict, and eminent professors; generally, indeed, with a view to challenge the sincerity of that profession, and load it with obloquy and reproach? But consider, I pray you, with what propriety you give them the name of professors? what is it that they profess? it is, that they are nothing in themselves and deserve nothing at the hand of God but wrath for their sins; that they have no hope of acceptance, but by the free grace of God through the redemption that is in Christ; that they can do nothing of themselves, that is good, but by the grace of God, are what they are; so that there is no room left for them to glory. Is not this their faith and persuasion? Why are they then called professors? You are the professors, who make your boast of the law, and glory in the excellence and perfection of human virtue. Shew us then your faith by your works; justify your profession by your practice; boasting will bring you little credit. But let us see who have the most sober, honest, holy, heavenly lives; these are certainly actuated by the best principles.
“But, I must, in part, retract what I have said; for, after all, the servants of Christ are indeed professors. They have taken on the holy profession of the gospel: and, in fact, any instance of irregular conduct in them is more observed, more deeply reproached, and gives greater offence than the very same in persons of a different character. When they depart from their duty, and from strictness of conversation, I give them freely up to the censures of their enemies; they have richly deserved them, and therefore they ought to bear them. In the meantime, let me put those in mind, who, in the midst of their triumph, stigmatise them with the name of professors, that they do them, or rather their profession, more honor than they are aware of; for they show that they themselves are sensible that such principles ought to have produced holiness in the conversation. So far as they reproach the sinner, or the detected hypocrite, they do what is right, and it can scarcely be overdone. But, when they take occasion to bring a reproach on the profession itself, their very success is a condemnation of themselves; for that the gross crimes of their own admirers, are less offensive, is just because their profession is less holy. Nothing would give me greater pain, than to understand that my doctrine were to the taste of midnight rioters, swearers, and Sabbath breakers; and, if any such are found among the admirers of moral preaching, their teachers could not do themselves a greater honor, than by renouncing the connexion.”
John Witherspoon, Ministerial Fidelity in Declaring the Whole Counsel of God. Works: Volume 2