The Method of Grace

by John Flavel

Saving Faith


"But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the
sons of God; even to then that believe on his name." John 1:12 
     
    The nature and excellency of saving faith, together with its
relation to justification, as an instrument in receiving Christ and
his righteousness, having been discoursed doctrinally already; I now
come to make application of it, according to the nature of this
weighty and fruitful point.

    And the uses I shall make of it will be for our,
1. Information,   
2. Examination,      
3. Exhortation,
4. Direction.                 

First Use of Information.
     
    Use 1. And in the first, this point yields us many great and
useful truths for our information: As,
    Inference 1. Is the receiving of Christ the vital and saving
act of faith, which gives the soul right to the person and
privileges of Christ? Then it follows, That the rejecting of Christ
by unbelief, must needs be the damning and soul-destroying sin,
which cuts a man off from Christ, and all the benefits purchased by
his blood. If there be life in receiving, there must needs be death
in rejecting Christ.
    There is no grace more excellent than faith; no sin more
execrable and abominable than unbelief. Faith is the saving grace,
and unbelief the damning sin, Mark 16: 16. "He who believes not
shall be damned." See John 3: 18, 36. and John 8: 24.
    And the reason why this sin of unbelief is the damning sin is
this, because, in the justification of a sinner, there must be a
cooperation of all the con-causes that have a joint influence on
that blessed effect. As there must be free grace for an impulsive
cause, the blood of Christ as the meritorious cause, so, of
necessity, there must be faith, the instrumental cause, to receive
and apply what the free grace of God designed, and the blood of
Christ purchased for us. For where there are many social causes, or
con-causes to produce one effect, there the effect is not produced
until the last cause be in act.
    "To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name,
whoever believes in him shall receive remission of sins," Acts
10: 43. Faith in its place is as necessary as the blood of Christ in
its place: "It is Christ in you the hope of glory," Col. 1: 27. Not
Christ in the womb, not Christ in the grave, nor Christ in heaven,
except he be also Christ in you.
    Though Christ be come in the flesh; though he died and rose
again from the dead; yet if you believe not, you must for all that
die in your sins, John 8: 24. And what a dreadful thing is this!
better die any death whatever than die in your sins. If you die in
your sins, you will also rise in your sins, and stand at the bar of
Christ in your sins: you can never receive remission, until first you
have received Christ. O cursed unbelief, which damns the soul:
dishonors God, 1 John 5: 10. slights Jesus Christ, the wisdom of
God, as if that glorious design of redemption by his blood, the
triumph and master-piece of divine wisdom, were mere foolishness, 1
Cor. 1: 23, 24. Frustrates the great design of the gospel, Gal. 4:
11. and consequently it must be the sin of sins, the worst and most
dangerous of all sins; leaving a man under the guilt of all his
other sins.
    Inference. 2. If such a receiving of Christ, as has been described,
be saving and justifying faith, when faith is a work of greater
difficulty than most men understand it to be, and there are but few
sound believers in the world.
    Before Christ can be received, the heart must be emptied and
opened: but most men's hearts are full of self-righteousness and
vain confidence: this was the case of the Jews, Romans 10: 3. "Being
ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their
own righteousness have not submitted themselves to the righteousness
of God."
    Man's righteousness was once in himself, and what liquor is
first put into the vessel, it ever afterwards savors of it. It is
with Adam's posterity as with bees, which have been accustomed to go
to their own hive, and carry all there; if the hive be removed to
another place, they will still fly to the old place, hover up and
down about it, and rather die there than go to a new place. So it is
with most men. God has removed their righteousness from doing to
believing; from themselves to Christ, but who shall prevail with
them to forsake self? Nature will venture to be damned rather than
do it: there is much submission in believing, and great self denial:
a proud self-conceited heart will never stoop to live upon the stock
of another's righteousness.
    Besides, it is no easy thing to persuade men to receive Christ
as their Lord in all things, and submit their necks to his strict
and holy precepts, though it be a great truth that "Christ's yoke
does not gall, but grace and adorn the neck that bears it;" that the
truest and sweetest liberty is in our freedom from our lusts, not in
our fulfilling them; yet who can persuade the carnal heart to
believe this? And much less will men ever be prevailed withal, to
forsake father, mother, wife, children, inheritance, and life it
self, to follow Christ: and all this upon the account of spiritual
and invisible things: and yet this must be done by all that receive
the Lord Jesus Christ upon gospel terms; yes, and before the soul
has any encouraging experience of its own, to balance the manifold
discouragements of sense, and carnal reason, improved by the utmost
craft of Satan to dismay it: for experience is the fruit and
consequent of believing. So that it may well be placed among the
great mysteries of godliness, that Christ is believed on in the
world, 1 Tim. 3: 16.
    Inference. 3. Hence it will follow, That there may be more true and
sound believers in the world, than know, or dare conclude themselves
to be such.
    For, as many ruin their own souls by placing the essence of
saving faith in naked assent, so some rob themselves of their own
comfort, by placing it in full assurance. Faith, and sense of faith,
are two distinct and separable mercies: you may have truly received
Christ, and not receive the knowledge or assurance of it, Isaiah 1.
10. Some there be that say, You are our God, of whom God never
said, You are my people: these have no authority to be called the
sons of God: others there are, of whom God says, These are my
people, yet dare not call God their God: these have authority to be
called the sons of God, but know it not. They have received Christ,
that is their safety, but they have not yet received the knowledge
and assurance of it; that is their trouble: the Father owns his
child in the cradle, who yet knows him not to be his Father.
    Now there are two reasons why many believers, who might argue
themselves into peace, do yet live without the comforts of their
faith: and this may come to pass, either from,
    First, The inevidence of the premises.
    Secondly, Or the weighty importance of the conclusion.
    First, It may come to pass from the inevidence of the premises.
Assurance is a practical syllogism, and it proceeds thus:
    All that truly have received Christ Jesus, they are the
children of God.
    I have truly received Jesus Christ. Therefore am the child of
God.
    The major proposition is found in the scripture, and there can
be no doubt of that. The assumption depends upon experience, or
internal sense; I have truly received Jesus Christ; here usually is
the stumble: many great objections lie against it, which they cannot
clearly answer: As,
    Obj. 1. Light and knowledge are necessarily required to the
right receiving of Christ, but I am dark and ignorant; many carnal,
unregenerate persons know more than I do, and are more able to
discourse of the mysteries of religion than I am.
    Sol. But you ought to distinguish of the kinds and degrees of
knowledge, and then you would see that your bewailed ignorance is no
bar to your interest in Christ. There are two kinds of knowledge:
                 1. Natural.     |    2. Spiritual.
    There is a natural knowledge, even of spiritual objects, a
spark of nature blown up by an advantageous education; and though
the objects of this knowledge be spiritual things, yet the light in
which they are discerned is but a mere natural light.
    And there is a spiritual knowledge of spiritual things, the
teaching of the anointing, as it is called, 1 John 2: 27. that is the
effect and fruit of the Spirit's sanctifying work upon our souls,
when the experience of a man's own heart informs and teaches his
understanding, when by feeling the workings of grace in our own
souls we come to understand its nature; this is spiritual knowledge.
Now, a little of this knowledge is a better evidence of a man's
interest in Christ, than the most raised and excellent degree of
natural knowledge: As the philosopher truly observes; Praestat
paucula de meliori scientia degustasse, quam de ignobilori multa:
One grain of knowledge of the best and most excellent things, is
better than much knowledge of common things. So it is here, a little
spiritual knowledge of Jesus Christ, that has life and savor in it,
is more than all the natural, sapless knowledge of the unregenerate,
which leaves the heart dead, carnal, and barren: it is not the
quantity, but the kind, not the measure, but the savor: If you know
so much of the evil of sin, as renders it the most bitter and
burdensome thing in the world to you, and so much of the necessity
and excellency of Christ, as renders him the most sweet and
desirable thing in the world to you, though you may be defective in
many degrees of knowledge, yet this is enough to prove yours to be
the fruit of the Spirit: you may have a sanctified heart, though you
have an irregular or weak head: many that knew more than you are in
hell: and some that once knew as little as you, are now in heaven:
In absoluto et facili stat aeternitas: God has not prepared heaven
only for clear and subtle heads. A little sanctified and effectual
knowledge of Christ's person, offices, suitableness, and necessity,
may bring you there, when others, with all their curious
speculations and notions, may perish forever.
    Obj. 2. But you tell me, that assent to the truths of the
gospel is necessarily included in saving faith, which, though it be
not the justifying and saving act, yet it is pre-supposed and
required to it. Now I have many staggering and doubtings about the
certainty and reality of these things; many horrid atheistical
thoughts, which shake the assenting act of faith in the very
foundation, and hence I doubt I do not believe.
    Sol. There may be, and often is, a true and sincere assent
found in the soul, that is assaulted with violent atheistical
suggestions from Satan; and thereupon questions the truth of it. And
this is a very clear evidence of the reality of our assent, that
whatever doubts, or contrary suggestions there be, yet we dare not
in our practice contradict or slight those truths or duties which we
are tempted to disbelieve, ex. gr. We are assaulted with atheistical
thoughts, and tempted to slight and cast off all fears of sin, and
practice of religious duties, yet when it comes to the point of
practice, we dare not commit a known sin, the awe of God is upon us;
we dare not omit a known duty, the tie of conscience is found strong
enough to hold it close to it: in this case, it is plain we do
really assent, when we think we do not. A man thinks he does not
love his child, yet carefully provides for him in health, and is
full of griefs and fears about him in sickness: why now, so long as
I see all fatherly duties performed, and affections to his child's
welfare manifested, let him say what he will as to the want of love
to him, while I see this, he must excuse me if I do not believe
him, when he says he has no love for him. Just so is it in this
case, a man says I do not assent to the being, necessity, or
excellency of Jesus Christ; yet, in the mean time, his soul is
filled with cares and fears about securing his interest in him, he
is found panting and thirsting for him with vehement desires, there
is nothing in all the world would give him such joy, as to be well
assured of an interest in him; while it is thus with any man, let
him say or think what he will of his assent, it is manifest by this
he does truly and heartily assent, and there can be no better proof
of it than these real effects produced by it.
    Secondly, But if these, and other objections were never so
fully answered for the clearing of the assumption, yet it often
falls out, that believers are afraid to draw the conclusion; and
that fear partly arises from,
    First, The weighty importance of this matter.
    Secondly, The sense of the deceitfulness of their own hearts.
    First, The conclusion is of infinite importance to them, it is
the everlasting happiness of their souls, than which nothing is, or
can be of greater weight upon their spirits: things in which we are
most deeply concerned, are not lightly and hastily received by us:
it seems so great and so good, that we are still apt (if there be
any room for it) to suspect the truth and certainty thereof, as
never being sure enough.
    Thus when the women that were the first messengers and
witnesses of Christ's resurrection, Luke 24: 10,11. came and told
the disciples those wonderful and comfortable tidings, it is said,
"That their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed
them not." They thought it was too good to be true; too great to be
hastily received; so it is in this case.
    Secondly, The sense they have of the deceitfulness of their own
hearts, and the daily workings of hypocrisy there, makes them afraid
to conclude in so great a point as this is.
    They know that very many daily cozen and cheat themselves in
this matter; they know also that their own hearts are full of
falseness and deceit; they find them so in their daily observations
of them; and what if they should prove so in this? Why then they are
lost forever! They also know there is not the like danger in their
fears and jealousies, that would be in their vain confidences and
presumptions; by the one, they are only deprived of their present
comfort, but by the other, they would be ruined forever: and
therefore choose rather to dwell with their own fears (though they
be uncomfortable companions) than run the danger of so great a
mistake, which would be infinitely more fatal. And this being the
common case of most Christians, it follows that there must be many
more believers in the world than do think, or dare conclude
themselves to be such.
    Inference. 4. If the right receiving of Jesus Christ, be true,
saving, and justifying faith, then those that have the least, and
lowest degree and measure of saving faith, have cause forever to
admire the bounty and riches of the grace of God to then therein.
    If you have received never so little of his bounty by the hand
of providence, in the good things of this life, yet if he have given
you any measure of true saving faith, he has dealt bountifully in
deed with you: this mercy alone is enough to balance all other wants
and inconveniences of this life, "poor in the world, rich in faith,
James 2: 5. O, let your hearts take in the full sense of this bounty
of God to you; say with the apostle, Eph. 1: 3. "Blessed be the God
and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all
spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus", and you
will in this one mercy, find matter enough of praise and
thanksgiving, wonder and admiration to your dying day, yes, to all
eternity: for, do but consider,
    First, The smallest measure of saving faith which is found in
any of the people of God, receives Jesus Christ; and in receiving
him, what mercy is there which the believing soul does not receive
in him, and with him? Romans 8: 32.
    O believer, though the arms of your faith be small and weak, yet
they embrace a great Christ, and receive the richest gift that ever
God bestowed upon the world: no sooner are you become a believer,
but Christ is in you the hope of glory; and you have authority to
become a son or daughter of God; you have the broad seal of heaven
to confirm your title and claim to the privileges of adoption, for
"to as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the
sons of God." [To as many] be they strong, or be they weak, provided
they really receive Christ by faith; there is authority or power
given, so that it is no act of presumption in them to say, God is
our Father, heaven is our inheritance. O precious faith! the
treasures of ten thousand worlds cannot purchase such privileges as
these: all the crowns and scepters of the earth, sold at full value,
are no price for such mercies.
    Secondly, The least degree of saving faith brings the soul into
a state of perfect and full justification. For if it receives Jesus
Christ, it must needs therefore in him, and with him, receive a
free, full, and final pardon of sin: the least measure of faith
receives remission for the greatest sins. "By him all that believe
are justified from all things," Acts 13: 39. It unites your soul with
Christ, and then, as the necessary consequent of that union, there
is no condemnation, Romans 8: 1. "ouden katakrima", not one
condemnation, however many our sins have been.
    Thirdly, The least measure or degree of saving faith, is a
greater mercy than God has bestowed, or ever will bestow upon many
that are far above you in outward respects: All men have not faith:
nay, it is but a remnant among men that believe. Few of the nobles
and potentates of the world have such a gift as this: they have
houses and lands, yes, crowns and scepters, but no faith, no Christ,
no pardon; they have authority to rule over men, but no authority to
become the sons of God, 1 Cor. 1: 26, 27.
    Say therefore in your most debased, straitened, afflicted
condition, "Return to your rest, O my soul, for the Lord has dealt
bountifully with you."
    Fourthly, The least degree of saving faith is more than all the
power of nature can produce. There must be a special revelation of
the arm of the Lord in that work, Isaiah 53: 1. Believers are not born
of the flesh, nor of blood, nor of the will of man, but of God,"
John 1: 12,13. A11 believing motions towards Christ, are the effects
of the Father's drawing, John 6: 44. A glorious and irresistible
power goes forth from God to produce it, whence it is called "the
faith of the operation of God," Col. 2: 12.
    So then, let not believers despise the day of small things, or
overlook that great and infinite mercy which is enrapt up in the
least degree of saving faith.
    Infer. 5. Learn hence the impossibility of their salvation, who
neither know the nature, nor enjoy the means of saving faith.
    My soul pities and mourns over the infidel world. Ah! What will
become of the millions of poor unbelievers! there is but one door of
salvation, namely, Christ; and but one key of faith to open that floor:
and as that key was never given to the Heathen world: so it is laid
aside, or taken away from the people by their cruel guides, all over
the Popish world; were you among them, you should hear nothing else
pressed as necessary to your salvation but a blind, implicit faith,
to believe as the church believes; that is, to believe they know not
what.
    To believe as the pope believes; that is as an infidel
believes, for so they confess he may be, and though there be such a
thing as an explicit faith sometimes spoken of among them, yet it is
very sparingly discoursed, very falsely described, and exceedingly
slighted by them as the merest trifle in the world.
    First, It is but sparingly discoursed of: they love not to
accustom the people's ears to such a doctrine; one of themselves
confesses that there is so deep a silence of explicit, particular
faith in the Romish church, that you may find many everywhere, that
believe no more of these things than Heathen philosophers.
    Secondly, When it is preached or written of, it is falsely
described: for they place the whole nature and essence of justifying
and saving faith in a naked assent, which the devils have as well as
men, James 2: 19. No more than this is pressed upon the people at
any time, as necessary to their salvation.
    Thirdly, And even this particular explicit faith, when it is
spoken or written of, is exceedingly slighted. I think if the devil
himself were in the pulpit, he could hardly tell how to bring men to
a more low and slight esteem of faith; to represent it more as a
very trifle, or a quite needless thing, than these his agents have
done. Some say if a man believe with a particular explicit faith,
that is if he actually assent to the scripture-truths once in a year,
it is enough. Yes, and others think it too much to oblige people to
believe once in twelve months; and, for their ease, tell them, if
they believe once in twelve years it is sufficient; and, lest this
should be too great a task, others affirm, that if it be done but
once in their whole life, and that at the point of death too, it is
enough, especially for the crude and common people. Good God! what a
doctrine is here! It was a saying long ago of Gregory (as I
remember,) Malus minister est nisius diaboli: A wicked minister is
the devil's goshawk, that goes a birding for hell; and O what game
leave these hawks of hell among such numerous flocks of people! O,
bless God while you live for your deliverance from popery; and see
that you prize the gospel, and means of grace you enjoy at an higher
rate, lest God bring you once more under that yoke, which neither
you nor your fathers could bear.
     
                     Second use for examination.
     
    Does saving faith consist in a due and right receiving of the
Lord Jesus Christ? Then let me persuade you to examine yourselves in
this great point of faith. Reflect solemnly upon the transactions
that have been between Christ and your souls; think close on this
subject of meditation.
    If all you were worth in the world lay in one precious stone,
and that stone were to be tried by the skillful Lapidary, whether it
were true or false, whether it would fly or endure under the smart
stroke of his hammer, sure your thoughts could not be unconcerned
about the issue. Why all that you are worth in both worlds depends
upon the truth of your faith which is now to be tried.
    Therefore read not these lines with a running, careless eye,
but seriously ponder the matter before you. You would be loth to put
to sea, though it were but to cross the channel, in a rotten leaky
bottom: And will you dare to venture into the ocean of eternity in a
false rotten faith! God forbid. You know the Lord is coming to try
every man's faith as by fire, and that we must stand or fall for
ever with the sincerity or hypocrisy of our faith. Surely, you can
never be too exact and careful about that, on which your whole
estate depends, and that forever.
    Now there are three things upon which we should have a very
tender and watchful eye, for the discovery of the sincerity of our
faith, and they are,
        
    The Antecedents, Concomitants, Consequences of Faith.
       
    As these are, so we must judge and reckon our faith to be. And,
accordingly they furnish us with three general marks or trials of
faith.
    First, If you would discern the sincerity of your faith,
examine whether those antecedents, and preparative works of the
spirit, were ever found in your souls, which use to introduce and
usher it into the souls of God's elect: Such are illumination,
conviction, self-despair, and earnest cries to God.
    First, Illumination is a necessary antecedent to faith: You can
not believe until God has opened your eyes to see your sin, your
misery by sin, and your remedy in Jesus Christ alone: You find this
act of the Spirit to be the first in order both of nature and time,
and introductive to all the rest, Acts 26: 18. "To turn them from
darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God." As faith
without works (which must be a consequent to it) is dead, so faith
without light, which must be an antecedent to it, is blind: Faith is
the hand by which Christ is received, but knowledge is the eye by
which that hand is directed.
    Well then, has God opened your eyes to see sin and misery in
another manner than ever you saw them before? For certainly, if God
has opened your eyes by saving illuminations, you will find as great
a difference between your former and present apprehensions of sin
and danger, as between the painted lion upon the wall or a
sign-post, and the real living lion that meets you roaring in the
way.
    Secondly, Conviction is an antecedent to believing: Where this
goes not before, no faith can follow after: The Spirit first
convinces of sin, then of righteousness John 16: 8. So Mark 1: 15.
"Repent you, and believe the gospel". Believe it, O man! that bosom
of your must be wounded, that vain and frothy heart of your must
be pierced and stung with conviction, sense, and sorrow for sin:
You must have some sick days, and restless sights for sin, if ever
you rightly close with Christ by faith. It is true, there is much
difference found in the strength, depth, and continuance of
conviction, and spiritual troubles in converts; but sure it is, the
child of faith is not ordinarily born without some pangs. Conviction
is the application of that light which God makes to shine in our
minds, to our particular case and condition by the conscience; and
sure, when men come to see their miserable and sad estate by a true
light, it cannot but wound them, and that to the very heart.
    Thirdly, Self-despair, or a total and absolute loss in
ourselves about deliverance, and the way of escape, either by
ourselves, or any other mere creature, does, and must go before
faith.
    So it was with those believers, Acts 2: 37. "Men and brethren,
what shall we do?" They are the words of men at a total loss: It is
the voice of poor distressed souls, that saw themselves in misery,
but knew not, saw not, nor could devise any way of escape from it,
by anything they could do for themselves, or any other creature for
them: And hence the apostle uses that emphatical word, Gal. 3: 23.
"sungkekleisminoi", that is shut up to the faith, that is as men besieged
and distressed in a garrison in a time of storm, when the enemy
pours in upon them through the breaches, and overpowers them: There
is but one sally-port or gate, at which they can escape, and to that
they all throng, as despairing of life, if they take any other
course. Just so do men's convictions besiege them, distress them,
beat them off from all their holds and entrenchments, and bring them
to a pinching distress in themselves, shutting them up to Christ as
the only way to escape. Duties cannot save me, reformation cannot
save me; nor angels, nor men can save me; there is no way but one,
Christ, or condemnation forever.
    I thought once, that a little repentance, reformation,
restitution, and a stricter life, might be a way to escape the wrath
to come; but I find the bed is too short, and the covering too
narrow: All is but loss, dung, dross, in comparisons with Jesus
Christ; if I trust to those Egyptian reeds, they will not only fail
me, but pierce and wound me too: I see no hope within the whole
Horizon of sense.
    Fourthly, Hence come vehement and earnest cries to God for
faith, for Christ, for help from heaven, to transport the soul out
of this dangerous condition, to that strong rock of salvation; to
bring it out of this furious, stormy sea of trouble, where it is
ready to wreck every moment, into that safe and quiet harbor,
Christ.
    O when a man shall see his misery and danger, and no way to
escape but Christ, and that he has no ability himself to come to
Christ, to open his heart thus to receive him, but that this work of
faith is wholly supernatural, the operations of God; how will the
soul return again, and again upon God, with such cries as in Mark 9:
24. "Lord, help my unbelief?" "Lord, enable me to come to Christ,
give me Christ or I perish forever; What profit is there in my
blood? Why should I die in the sight and presence of a Savior? O
Lord, it is your own work, a most glorious work: Reveal your arm
in this work upon my soul, I pray you; give me Christ, if you deny
me bread? give me faith, if you deny me breath. It is more
necessary that I believe, than that I live."
    O Reader, reflect upon the days and nights that are past, the
places where you have been conversant: where are the bed-sides, or
the secret corners where you have besieged heaven with such cries?
If God have thus enlightened, convinced, distressed your soul, and
thus set you a mourning after Christ, it will be one good sign that
faith is come into your soul; for here are certainly the harbingers
and forerunners of it, that ordinarily make way for faith into the
souls of men.
    Secondly, If you would be satisfied of the sincerity and truth
of your faith, then examine what concomitants it is attended with in
your souls. I mean, what frames and tempers your souls were in, at
that time when you think you received Christ. For certainly, in
those that receive Christ, (excepting those into whose hearts God
has in a more still and insensible way infused faith betides, by his
blessing upon pious education) such concomitant frames of spirit may
be remarked as these following.
    First, The heart is deeply serious, and as much in earnest in
this matter, as ever it was, or can be, about anything in the
world. This you see in that example of the jailer, Acts 16: 29. "He
came in trembling and astonished". It is the most solemn and
important matter that ever the soul had before it in this world, or
ever shall, or can have: How much are the hearts of men affected in
their outward straits and distresses, about the concernments of the
body? Their hearts are not a little concerned in such questions as
these, "What shall I eat? what shall I drink?" wherewithal shall I
and mine be fed and clothed? but certainly the straits that souls
are in about salvation, must be allowed to be greater than these;
and such questions as that of the jailer's, "Sirs! what must I do to
be saved?" make deeper impressions upon the heart, than what shall I
eat or drink? Some indeed have their thoughts sinking deeper into
these things than others: These thoughts lie with different degrees
of weight upon men: but all are most solemnly and awfully concerned
about their condition: All frothiness and frolics are gone, and the
heart settles itself in the deepest earnest about its eternal state.
    Secondly, The heart that receives Jesus Christ is in a frame of
deep humiliation and self-abasement O, when a man begins to
apprehend the first approaches of grace, pardon, and mercy by Jesus
Christ to his soul: when a soul is convinced of its utter
unworthiness and desert of hell; and can scarce expect anything
else from the just and holy God but damnation, how do the first
dawnings of mercy melt and humble them! "O Lord, what am I that you
should feed me, and preserve me! that you should but for a few
years spare me and forbear me! but that ever Jesus Christ should
love me, and give himself for me; that such a wretched sinner as I
should obtain union with his person, pardon, peace, and salvation by
his blood! Lord, whence is this to such a worm as I? and will Christ
indeed bestow himself upon me? shall so great a blessing as Christ
ever come within the arms of such a soul as mine? will God in very
deed be reconciled to me in his Son? what, to me! to such an enemy
as I have been! shall my sins which are so many, so horrid, so much
aggravated, beyond the sins of most men, be forgiven? O what am I,
vile dust? base wretch, that ever God should do this for me!" And
how is that scripture fulfilled and made good, Ezek 16: 63 "That
you may remember, and be confounded, and never open your mouth
any more, because of your shame, when I am pacified towards you for
all that you have done, says the Lord God." Thus, that poor
broken-hearted believer stood behind Christ weeping, and washing his
feet with tears, as one quite melted down, and overcome with the
sense of mercy to such a vile sinner, Luke 7: 38.
    Thirdly, The soul that receives Jesus Christ is in a weary
condition, restless, and full of disquietness, neither able to bear
the burden of sin, nor knowing how to be discharged from it, except
Christ will give it ease, Mat. 11: 28, "Come unto me," that is,
believe in me, "you that are weary and heavy laden:" If they do not
look into their own souls, they know there is no safety, and if they
do, there is no comfort. O! the burdensome sense of sin overweighs
them; they are ready to fall, to sink under it.
    Fourthly, The soul that rightly receives Christ, is not only in
a weary, but in a longing condition: never did the deer pant more
earnestly for the water-brooks: never did the hireling desire the
shadow: never did a condemned person long for a pardon, more than
the soul longs after Jesus Christ. O, said David, that one would
give me of the water of the well of Bethlehem to drink. O, says the
poor humbled sinner, that one would give me of the opened fountain
of the blood of Christ to drink! O for one drop of that precious
blood! O for one encouraging smile from Christ! O now were ten
thousand worlds at my command, and Christ to be bought, how freely
would I lay them all down to purchase him! but he is the gift of
God. O that God would give me Christ, if I should go in rags, and
hunger and thirst all my days in this world!
    Fifthly, The soul in the time of its closing with, or receiving
Christ, is in a state of conflict: It hangs between hopes and fears,
encouragements and discouragements, which occasions many a sad stand
and pause in the way of Christ; sometimes the number and nature of
its sins discourage it, then the riches and freeness of the grace of
Christ erects his hopes again: there is little hope, says unbelief;
nay, it is utterly impossible, says Satan, that ever such a wretch
as you should find mercy; now the hands hang down. O but then
there is a necessity, an absolute necessity, I have not the choice
of two, but am shut up to one way of deliverance; others have found
mercy and the invitation is to all that are weary, and to all that
are athirst he says, him that comes to him, he will in no wise cast
out: now new hopes inspire the soul, and the hands that did hang
down are strengthened.
    These are the concomitant frames that accompany faith.
    3. Mark. Lastly, Examine the consequents and effects of faith,
if you would be satisfied of the truth and sincerity of it: and such
are,
    First, Evangelical meltings, and ingenuous thawings of the
heart under the apprehensions of grace and mercy: Zech. 12: 10.
"They shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and shall mourn."
    Secondly, Love to Christ, his ways and people, Gal. 5: 6. Faith
works by love, I. e. represents the love of God, and then makes
use of the sweetness of it by way of argument, to constrain the soul
to all acts of obedience, where it may testify the reality of its
love to God and Christ.
    Thirdly, Heart-purity, Acts 15: 9. "Purifying the hearts by
faith:" It does not only cleanse the lands but the heart. No
principle in man, besides faith, can do this: morality may hide
corruption, but faith only purifies the heart from it.
    Fourthly, Obedience to the commands of Christ, Romans 16: 26. The
very name of faith is called upon obedience: for it accepts Christ
as Lord, and urges upon the soul the most powerful arguments in the
world to draw it to obedience.
    In a word, let the poor doubting believer, that questions his
faith, reflect upon those things that are unquestionable in his own
experience, which being well considered, will greatly tend to his
satisfaction in this point.
    It is very doubtful to you whether you believe, but yet in the
mean time, it may be past doubt, (being a matter of clear
experience) that you have been deeply convinced of sin, struck off
from all carnal props and refuges, made willing to accept Jesus
Christ upon what terms soever van might enjoy him. You doubt whether
Christ be yours, but it is past doubt that you have a most high and
precious esteem of Christ, that you heartily long for him, that you
prize and love all, whether persons or things, that bear his image:
that nothing in the world would please your hearts like a
transformation into his likeness: that you had rather your souls
should be filled with his Spirit, than your houses with gold and
silver. It is doubtful whether Christ be yours, but it is past doubt
that one smile from Christ, one token of his love would do you more
good than all the honors and smiles of the world; and no thing so
grieves you, as your grieving him by sin does. You dare not say that
you have received him, nor can you deny but that you have had many
sick days and nights for him; that you have gone into many secret
places with yearning affections after him. Whether he be yours or not,
you cannot tell; but that you are resolved to be his, that you can
tell. Whether he will save you is but a doubt, but that you resolve
to lie at his feet, and wait only on him, and never go to another
for salvation, is no doubt.
    Well, well; poor pensive soul, if it be so, arise, lift up your
dejected head, take your own Christ into your arms. These are
undoubted signs of a real closure with Christ, you makes yourself
poor, and yet have great riches: Such things as these are not found
in them that despise and reject Christ by unbelief.
     
                       3. Use of Exhortation.
     
    This point is likewise very improveable by way of
      exhortation, and that both to Unbelievers and Believers.
    First, To unbelievers, who from hence must be pressed, as ever
they expect to see the face of God in peace, to receive Jesus Christ
as he is now offered to them in the gospel. This is the very scope
of the gospel; I shall therefore press it by three great
considerations, namely,
    First, that is in Christ whom you are to receive.
    Secondly, What is in the offer of Christ by the gospel.
    Thirdly, What is in the rejecting of that offer.
     
                            First Motive.
     
    First, Consider well what is in Christ, whom I persuade you
this day to receive: Did you know what is in Christ, you would never
neglect or reject him as you do: For,
    First, "God is in Christ," 2 Cor. 5: 19. the Deity has chosen
to dwell in his flesh; he is "God manifest in flesh," 1 Tim. 3: 16.
a Godhead dwelling in flesh is the world's wonder; so that in
receiving Christ, you receive God himself.
    Secondly, The authority of God is in Christ, Exod. 23: 21. "My
name is in him: Him has God the Father sealed," John 6: 27. he has
the commission, the great seal of heaven to redeem and save you. All
power in heaven and earth is given to him, Matthew. 28: 18. he comes
in his Father's name to you, as well as in his own name.
    Thirdly, The wisdom of God is in Christ, 1 Cor. 1: 24. "Christ
the wisdom of God," yes, "in him are hid all the treasures of wisdom
and knowledge," Col. 2: 3. Never did the wisdom of God display
itself before the eyes of angels and men as it has done in Christ.
The "angels desire to look into it," 1 Pet. 1: 12. yet they are not
so much concerned in the project and design of this wisdom in
redemption as you are.
    Fourthly, The fullness of the Spirit is in Christ, yes, it fills
him so as it never did, nor will fill any creature, John 3: 34. "God
gives not the Spirit by measure to him: all others have their
limits, stints, and measures; some more, some less; but the Spirit
is in Christ without measure. O how lovely and desirable are those
men that have a large measure of the Spirit in them! but he is
anointed with the Spirit of holiness above all his fellows, Psalm.
45: 2, 7. Whatever grace is found in all the saints, which makes
them desirable and lovely, wisdom in one, faith in another, patience
in a third; they all center in Christ as the rivers do in the sea.
    Fifthly, The righteousness of God is in Christ, by which only a
poor guilty sinner can be justified before God, 2 Cor. 5: 21. we are
"made the righteousness of God in him:" he is "Adonai Tsidkenu",
"the Lord our righteousness," Jer. 23: 6. "the author of our
righteousness", or the Lord who justifies us, by that name he will
be known, and called by his people, than which none can be sweeter.
    Sixthly, The love of God is in Christ, yes, the very yearning
affections of divine love are in him: What is Christ, but the love of
God enrapt up in flesh and blood? 1 John 4: 9, 10. "In this was
manifested the love of God towards us:" and herein is love, that God
sent his Son; this is the highest flight that ever divine love made;
and higher than this it cannot mount. O love, unparalleled and
admirable!
    Seventhly, The mercies and compassions of God are all in
Christ, Jude, ver. 21. Mercy is the thing that poor sinners want, it
is that they cry for at the last gasp; it is the only thing that can
do them good. O what would they give to find mercy in that great
day? Why, if you receive Christ, you shall with him receive mercy;
but out of him there is no mercy to be expected from the hands of
God; for God will never exercise mercy to the prejudice of his
justice; and it is in Christ that justice and mercy meet and embrace
each other.
    Eighthly, To conclude, The salvation of God is in Christ, Acts
4: 12. "Neither is there salvation in any other." Christ is the door
of salvation, and faith is the key that opens that door to men. If
you therefore believe not, that is if you so receive not Jesus Christ,
as God has offered him, you exclude yourselves from all hopes of
salvation. The devils have as much ground to expect salvation as
you. You see what is in Christ to induce you to receive him.
     
                              Motive 2.
     
    Next, I beseech you, consider what there is in the offer of
Christ to sinners, to induce you to receive him. Consider well to
whom and how Christ is offered in the gospel.
    First, To whom is he offered; not to the fallen angels, but to
you; they lie in chains of darkness, Jude, ver. 6. as he took not
their nature, so he designs not their recovery, and therefore will
have no treaty at all with them: but he is offered to you, creatures
of an inferior rank and order by nature; nor is he offered to the
damned, the treaty of peace is ended with them: Christ will never
make then another tender of salvation; nor is he offered to millions
as good as you, now living in the world. The sound of Christ and
salvation is not come to their ears, but he is offered to you by the
special favor and bounty of heaven; and will you not receive him?
Oh! then how will the devils, the damned, an the heathen upbraid
your folly! and say, had we had one such tender of mercy, of which
you have had thousands, we would never have been now in this place
of torments.
    Secondly, Consider how Christ is offered to you, and you shall
find that he is offered,
    1. Freely, as the gift of God, to your souls; you are not to
purchase him, but only to receive him, Isaiah 55: 1 "Ho, everyone
that thirsts, come you to the waters, and you that has no money,
let him come," &c.
    2. Christ is offered importunately, by repeated entreaties, 2
Cor. 5: 20. "As though God did beseech you, we pray you in Christ's
name, be you reconciled to God." O! what amazing condescension is
here in the God of mercy! God now beseeches you, will you not yield
to the entreaties of your God? O then what will you say for
yourself, when God will not hear you, when you shall entreat and
cry for mercy? Which brings us to
    Motive 3. Consider the sin and danger that there is in refusing
or neglecting the present offers of Christ in the gospel, and surely
there is much sin in it; the very malignity of sin, and the sum of
all misery lies here; for in refusing Christ,
    1. You put the greatest contempt and slight upon all the
attributes of God that is possible for a creature to do: God has
made his justice, his mercy, his wisdom, and all his attributes to
shine in their brightest glory in Christ. Never was there such a
display of the glory of God made to the world in any other way.
    O then, what is it to reject and despise Jesus Christ, but to
offer the greatest affront to the glory of God that it is possible
for men to put upon it?
    2. You hereby frustrate and evacuate the very design and
importance of the gospel to yourselves; you "receive the grace of
God in vain," 2 Cor. 6: 1. As good, yes, better has it been for you,
that Christ had never cone into the world, or, if he had, that your
lot had fallen in the dark places of the earth, where you had never
heard his name; yes, good had it been for that man if he had never
been born.
    3. Hereby a man murders his own soul. "I said therefore unto
you, that you shall die in your sins; for if you believe not that I
am he, you shall die in your sins," John 8: 24. Unbelief is
self-murder; you are guilty of the blood of your own souls: life and
salvation were offered you, and you rejected them. Yes;
    4. The refusing of Christ by unbelief will aggravate your
damnation above all others that perish in ignorance of Christ. O, it
will be more tolerable for heathens than for you; the greatest
measures of wrath are reserved to punish the worst of sinners; and
among sinners, none will be found worse than unbelievers.
    Secondly, To believers, this point is very useful to persuade
them to divers excellent duties; among which, I shall singly out two
principal ones, namely,
    1. To bring up their faith of acceptance, to the faith of
assurance.
    2. To bring up their conversations to the principles and rules
of faith.
    1. You that have received Jesus Christ truly, give yourselves
no rest until you are fully satisfied that you have done so;
acceptance brings you to heaven hereafter, but assurance will bring
heaven into your souls now. O, what a life of delight and pleasure
does the assured believer live! What pleasure is it to him to look
back and consider where he once was, and where he now is? To look
forward, and consider where he now is, and where shortly he shall
be! I was in my sins, I am now in Christ. I am in Christ now, I
shall be with Christ, and that forever, after a few days. I was
upon the brink of hell, I am now upon the very borders of heaven; I
shall be in a very little while among the innumerable company of
angels and glorified saints, bearing part with them in the song of
Moses, and of the Lamb, for evermore.
    And why may not you that have received Christ, receive the
comfort of your union with him? There be all the grounds and helps
of assurance furnished to your hand, there is a real union between
Christ and your souls, which is the very ground-work of assurance.
You have the scriptures before you which contain the signs of faith,
and the very things within you that answer those signs in the word.
So you read, and so, just so, you might feel it in your own hearts,
would you attend to your own experience. The Spirit of God is ready
to seal you, it is his office and his delight so to do. O therefore,
give diligence to this work, attend the study of the scriptures and
of your own hearts more, and grieve not the holy Spirit of God, and
you may arrive to the very desire of your hearts.
    2. Bring up your conversations to the excellent principles and
rules of faith; "As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk
in him," Cor. 2: 6. Live as you believe; you received Christ
sincerely in your first close with him, O maintain the like
seriousness and sincerity in all your ways, to the end of your
lives: you received him entirely and undividedly at first, let there
be no exceptions against any of his commands afterward. You received
him exclusively to all others, see that you watch against all self-
righteousness and self-conceitedness now, and mingle nothing of your
own with his blood, whatever gifts or enlargements in duty God shall
give you afterwards.
    You received him advisedly at first, weighing and considering
the self-denying terms upon which he was offered to you; O show that
it was real, and that you see no cause to repent the bargain,
whatever you shall meet with in the ways of Christ and duty
afterwards: convince the world of your constancy and cheerfulness in
all your sufferings for Christ, that you are still of the same mind
you were, and that Christ, with his cross, Christ, with a prison,
Christ, with the greatest afflictions, is worthy of all acceptance:
"As you have received him, so walk you in him." Let him be as sweet,
as lovely, as precious to you now, as he was in the first moment you
received him; yes, let your love to him, delights in him, and
self-denial for him, increase with your acquaintance with him, day
by day.
                          Use of direction.
    Use: Lastly, I will close all with a few words of direction to
all that are made willing to receive the Lord Jesus Christ; and sure
it is but needful that help were given to poor Christians: in this
matter, it is a time of trouble, fear, and great temptation;
mistakes are easily made of dangerous consequence; attend heedfully,
therefore, to a few directions.
    Direction 1. First, In your receiving Christ, Beware you do not
mistake the means for the end. Many do so, but see you do not.
Prayer, sermons, reformations, are means to bring you to Christ, but
they are not Christ; to close with those duties is one thing, and to
close with Christ is another thing. If I go into a boat, my design
is not to dwell there, but to be carried to the place whereon I
desire to be landed: so it must be in this case, all your duties
must land you upon Christ; they are means to bring you to Christ.
    Direct. 2. Secondly, See that you receive not Christ for a
present help, but for your everlasting portion. Many do so; they
will enquire after Christ, pray for Christ, cast themselves (in
their way) upon Christ, and the satisfaction of his blood, when the
efficacy and terror of conscience is upon them, and they feel the
sting of guilt within them; but as soon as the storm is over, and
the rod that conscience shaked over them laid by, there is no more
talk of Christ then: alas! it was not Christ, but quietness that
they sought; beware of mistaking peace for Christ.
    Direct. 3. Thirdly, In receiving, Christ, come empty-handed
unto him: "believing on him who justifies the ungodly," Romans 4: 5.
and know that the deepest sense of your own vileness, emptiness, and
unworthiness, is the best frame of heart that can accompany you to
Christ. Many persons stand off from Christ for want of fit
qualifications; they are not prepared for Christ as they should be,
I. e. they would not come naked and empty, but have something to
commend them to the Lord Jesus for acceptance. O! this is the pride
of men's hearts, and the snare of the devil. Let him that has no
money come: you are not to come to Christ because you are qualified,
but that you may be qualified with whatever you want; and the best
qualification you can bring with your is a deep sense that you have
no worth nor excellency at all in you.
    Direct. 4. Fourthly, In receiving Christ, beware of dangerous
delays. O follow on that work until it be finished. You read of some
that are almost persuaded, and of others not far from the kingdom of
God; O take heed of what the prophet says, Hosea 13: 13. Delays here
are full of danger, life is uncertain, so are means of grace too.
The man-slayer needed no motives to quicken his flight to the city
of refuge.
    Direct. 5. Fifthly, See that you receive all Christ, with all
your heart. To receive all Christ, is to receive his person clothed
with all his offices; and to receive him with all your heart, is to
receive him into your understanding, will, and affections, Acts 8:
37. As there is nothing in Christ that may be refused, so there is
nothing in you from which he must be excluded.
    Direct. 6. Lastly, Understand that the opening of your hearts
to receive the Lord Jesus Christ, is not a work done by any power of
your own, but the arm of the Lord is revealed therein, Isaiah 53: 1.
It is therefore your duty and interest to be daily at the feet of
God, pouring out your souls to him in secret, for abilities to
believe. And so much, as to our actual reception of Christ.
     
                 Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ.