A Cabinet of Choice Jewels, or,
A Box of Precious Ointment
By Thomas Brooks, 1669
Chapter I. Containing eighteen special Maxims, Considerations, Rules, and Directions which are seriously to be minded and observed, in order to the clearing up of a man's saving interest in Christ; the saving work of God upon his own soul; and his title to all the glory of the eternal world.
1. The first maxim or consideration.Consider—some have made the internal witness of the Spirit to be the only mark or evidence of our saving interest in Christ, and deny all signs from the fruit of the Spirit—but this is to deny that the fruit growing upon the tree to be a sign that the tree is alive; whereas our Savior expressly tells us, that "the tree is known by his fruit," Mat. 12:33. Certainly it is one thing to judge by our graces, and another thing to rest on our graces, or to put trust in our graces, or to make a savior of our graces. There is a great deal of difference between declaring and deserving. Doubtless, Christians may look to their graces as evidences of their saving interest in Christ, justification and salvation; though not as causes of their saving interest in Christ, justification and salvation. O sirs! we must always carefully distinguish between the root and ground of our comfort; and between the testimonies or evidences of our saving interest in the root of our comfort.
Now it must be readily granted that Jesus Christ is the only root and ground of a Christian's comfort and triumph. And, therefore, says Paul, "God forbid that I should rejoice in anything—but in the cross of Christ," Gal. 6:14; and so in that, 2 Cor. 2:14, "Now thanks be unto God, who always causes us to triumph in Christ." So that, if at any time we behold this or that saving grace, or this or that part of holiness shining in our hearts or lives, we take comfort in it—not as the cause, or root, or ground of our comfort or triumph—but as in a testimony or evidence, because it does manifest our saving interest in him, who is our comfort, our peace, our joy, our salvation, our "all in all," Luke 2:25; Col. 3:11.
Look! as the rainbow is not a cause why God will not drown the world—but a sign that God will not drown the world. And as it is a sign that God will not drown the world, we may and ought to rejoice in it, and to take comfort from it, Gen. 9:13-14, 16. So here, etc. It is agreed on all hands, that sanctification is a precious benefit of the covenant of grace, as well as justification. And what crime can it then be to evidence one benefit of the covenant of grace, by another benefit of the same covenant? Jer. 33:8-9; Ezek. 36:25-26; Heb. 8:10, 12, etc. That he who is justified, is also sanctified, and that he who is sanctified is also justified, is so clear, so bright, so sparkling, and so full a truth contained in the covenant of grace, that no man or devil can deny.
Now what evil or error can it be for a man to assert, that he who is certainly sanctified, is certainly justified—it being the very language of the covenant of grace—and that therefore he who knows himself to be sanctified, may also know thereby that he is justified. Certainly, those people who shall deny sanctification to be a most sure, sweet, and comfortable evidence of man's justification, they must not only blot out, and abolish the epistles of James and John—but must also raze out and abolish all those evangelical promises of grace and mercy, of happiness and blessedness, which are made to such people as are invested, enriched, and bespangled with the several graces of the Holy Spirit. This might be made evident by many hundred scriptures—but take that one for all, Mat. 5 where our Savior himself, who was the most evangelical preacher who ever was in the world, makes eight or nine promises of mercy and blessedness to those very people who had the graces of the Spirit inherent in them—as poverty of spirit, mourning, meekness, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, etc.
O sirs! why should we be so frequently and earnestly called upon to try and examine ourselves, whether we are in the faith or not, 2 Cor. 13:5, if we were not to come to the knowledge of our faith, in a discursive way, arguing from the effect to the cause? Have not the saints of old come to assurance, and the knowledge of the goodness of their estates, this way? Ponder seriously on that: 2 Cor. 1:12, "For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, we have had our lives in the world." Mark, their joy was founded on the testimony of their conscience, and their conscience gave in this testimony from the sincerity of their lives in this world. So Paul in that, 2 Tim. 4:7-8, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth is laid up for me a crown of righteousness." How plainly, how fully, how with open mouth, as I may say, does he conclude his right to the crown of righteousness—so called, partly because it is purchased by the righteousness of Christ; and partly because he is righteous who has promised it; and partly because it is a just and righteous thing with God to crown them with glory at last, who have for the gospel sake, and his glory sake, been crowned with shame and reproach in this world; and partly, if not mainly, because it is a crown that can only be had or obtained in a way of righteousness and holiness, from his graces and gracious actings in this world. "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith."
Yes, it is further observable, that in the blessed Scripture, we are strongly pressed to do good works, that by them we may make our calling, election, and salvation sure: 2 Peter 1:10, "Therefore, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure—by good works." So say all the Latin copies, and so say some Greek copies, though not those which our English translators have been pleased to follow, and that is the reason why those words, "by good works," are not in our English Bibles. But he who shall seriously weigh the scope of the apostle in this place, he must of necessity grant, that good works are to be understood, though they are not expressed in the text; and that of the apostle in 1 Tim. 6:16-18, seems plainly and strongly to sound the same way.
2. The second maxim or consideration.Consider—that true, sound, solid marks, signs, and evidences, are the best way to prevent delusions. There is no such deceit in sound and solid evidences, as there is in flashy joys, and in high and strange raptures, by which many glistening professors have been sadly deceived and deluded. Young Samuel, being not acquainted with any extraordinary manifestations of the presence and power of God, took the voice of God from heaven to be the voice of old Eli, 1 Sam. 3:5. Ah! how many have there been in our days, who have taken the irregular motions of their own hearts, and the violent workings of their own distempered fancies, and imaginations, and Satanical delusions—to be the visions of God, celestial raptures, divine breathings, and the powerful impulses of the Spirit of God; and so have been stirred up to speak, write, and act such things that have been, not only contrary to the holy word of God—but also contrary to the very laws of nature and nations. Satan, by transforming of himself into an angel of light, has seduced and ruined many professors, against whom, as an angel of darkness, he could never prevail, 2 Cor. 11:14.
Gerson tells a remarkable story of Satan's appearing to a holy man, in a most glorious and beautiful manner, professing himself to be Christ; and because he, for his exemplary holiness was worthy to be honored above others, therefore he appeared unto him. But the good old man readily answered him, that he desired not to see his Savior in this wilderness; it would suffice him to see him hereafter in heaven; and withal added this pithy prayer, "Oh let your sight be my reward, Lord, in another life, and not in this;" and so he became victorious over Satan, though he had transformed himself into a glorious angel of light. But such a victorious crown has not been set upon everyone's head, to whom Satan has appeared as angel of glory. Certainly, those who stand so much, so mightily, for an immediate testimony, seem to open such a gap to enthusiasm, as will not be easily shut.
Yes, how will they be ever able to recognize these sad delusions? for how easy a thing it is for Satan—who is the father of lies, John 8:44; who is an old deceiver, Gen. 3:12; 1 Tim. 2:14; who is the grand deceiver, Rev. 12:9; 13:14; 19:20; 20:10; who has his devices, 2 Cor. 2:11; his wiles, Ephes. 6:11; his snares, 1 Tim. 3:7; his depths, Rev. 2:24—to find various artifices to counterfeit this immediate testimony, and bear witness in the Spirit's stead; so that, when poor souls think that they have the spirit of grace and truth to assure them that all is well, and shall be forever well with them, they have none but "the father of lies" to deceive them, they have none but the devil in Samuel's mantle, to put a soul-murdering cheat upon them.
I am not fond of advising any poor souls to lay the stress of their hopes in heaven and salvation merely upon immediate impressions, lest they should subject themselves to infinite delusions. O sirs! the way of immediate revelation is more fleeting and inconstant. Such actings of the Spirit are like those outward motions which came upon Samson, Judges 13:25. The Spirit came upon him at times. And so upon every withdrawment, new doubts and scruples arise. But the trial of a man's estate by grace is more constant and durable, saving grace being a continual pledge of God's love to us. Flashes of joy and comfort are only sweet and delightsome while they are felt—but grace is that immortal seed which abides forever, 1 John 3:9. But,
3. The third maxim or consideration.Consider—in propounding of evidences for men to try their spiritual and eternal estates by, there are two special rules forever to be minded and remembered:
1. That he who propounds evidences of grace, which are only proper to eminent Christians, as belonging to all true Christians, he will certainly grieve and sadden those precious lambs of Christ that he would not have grieved and saddened. Look! as there is a strong faith and a weak faith, so there are evidences which are proper to a strong faith, and evidences which are proper to a weak faith. Now, he who cannot find in himself the evidences of a strong faith—he must not conclude that he has no faith; for he may have in him the evidences of a weak faith when he has not the evidences of a strong faith. [Mat. 15:28, and chapter 8:26. It is one thing to show you the properties of a man, and another thing to show you the properties of a strong man, 1 Peter 2:3, 1 John 2:1, 12-14.] In Christ's school, house, church, there are several sorts and ranks of Christians—such as babes, children, young men, and old men. And accordingly ministers, in their preaching and writing, should sort their evidences that so babes and children may not be found bleeding, grieving, and weeping, when they should be found joying and rejoicing.
2. No man must make such characters, marks, or evidences of a child of God which may be found in a hypocrite, a formalist, etc. For this were to lay a stumbling-block before the blind, this were to delude poor souls, and to make them glad—whom God would not have made glad. Yes, this is the highway, the ready way, to make them miserable in both worlds, Ezek. 13:22. The rule or evidence that every Christian is to measure himself by must be neither too long nor too short—but adequate to the state of a Christian; that is, it must not be so long, on the one hand, as that all Christians cannot reach it, nor yet so short, on the other hand, as that it will not reach a true Christian. But the rule or evidence must be such as will suit and fit every sincere believer, and none else.
Some Christians are apt to judge of themselves, and to try themselves, by such rules or evidences as are competent only to those who are strong men in Christ, and who are grown to a high pitch of grace, of holiness, of communion with God, of spiritual enjoyments and heavenly attainments, and sweet and blessed ravishments of soul; and by this means they come to conclude against the works of the blessed Spirit in them, and to perplex and disquiet their own souls with needless fears, doubts, and jealousies. Others, on the other hand, are apt to judge of themselves, and to try themselves, by such things, rules, or evidences which are too short—and will certainly leave them short of heaven; as a fair, civil deportment among all sorts and ranks of men; a good nature, paying every man their due; charity to the poor; a good name or fame among men, yes, even among godly men; outward exercises of religion, such as hearing, praying, reading, fasting; or that they are good negative Christians, that is to say, that they are no drunkards, swearers, liars, adulterers, extortioners, oppressors, Sabbath-breakers, persecutors, etc., Mat. 23:4, seq., Luke 18:9-12, Isaiah 1:2-5.
Thus far Paul attained before his conversion—but if he had gone no further, he would have been a lost man forever, Philip. 3:4-6, Gal. 6:3, Isaiah 33:14. And by this means they flatter themselves into misery, and are still a-dreaming of going to heaven until they drop into hell, and awake with everlasting flames about their ears! And oh that all who preach or print, read or write, would seriously lay this to heart! Some, in describing the state of a Christian, show what it should be—rather than what indeed it is; they show what Christians ought to be—rather than what they find themselves to be; and so they become a double-edged sword to many Christians. But,
4. The fourth maxim or consideration.Consider—where there is any one grace in truth, there is every grace in truth, though every grace cannot be seen. Look! as a man may certainly know a wicked man by his living under the reign and dominion of any one sin, though he does not live under the power of other sins, because there is not any one sin mortified in that man who has any one sin reigning in him, and who does not set himself in good earnest against it as his greatest enemy. So when a Christian can but find any one grace in him, as love to the saints for grace sake, for godliness sake, he may safely conclude that there is in him all other graces. Where there is but one link of this golden chain, there are all the links of this golden chain.
John 13:35, "By this shall all men know you are my disciples, if you love one another." He does not say if you work miracles, if you raise the dead, if you give eyes to the blind, or ears to the deaf, or tongues to the dumb, or feet to the lame—but "if you love one another." [As they say of the cardinal virtues, The virtues are chained together; so we may say of the graces of the Spirit, etc. Mark, says Chrysostom, it is not working of miracles, casting out of devils—but love to our brethren, that is the infallible proof of being a disciple.] There have been many, yes, very many, precious Christians who have lived and died with a great deal of comfort and peace from the application of that text to their own souls: 1 John 3:14, "We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren." Sincere love to the brethren is a most evident sign of a Christian's being already passed or translated from death to life. Observe, the apostle does not say, we think we have passed from death to life—but we know we have passed from death to life. Nor he does not say, we conjecture we have passed from death to life—but we know we have passed from death to life. Nor he does not say, we hope we are passed from death to life—but we are assured that we are passed from death to life—that is, from a state of nature into a state of grace, "because we love the brethren." Forever remember this, when all other evidences have failed many gracious Christians, and all other texts of Scripture have afforded them no comfort, here they have anchored, here they have found rest for their distressed souls. And upon this one single plank, this one evidence, they have swam safely and comfortably unto the haven of eternal happiness.
Every real Christian has in some measure, every sanctifying grace in him. As a child so soon as it is born is a perfect man for integrity of parts and entireness of limbs, though not for bigness and bulk of body; so every regenerate person, at the very first hour of his conversion, he is in part renewed in all parts; all the habits of grace are infused into the soul by the Spirit at once. At first conversion the soul is bespangled with every grace, though every grace is not then grown up to its full proportion or perfection; so that where there is one grace in truth, there is every grace in truth. That soul who can truly and seriously conclude that he has any one grace in him—that soul ought to conclude that there is every grace in him. [1 Thes. 5:28; John 3:5-8, and chapter 1:16; Psalm 45:13. The new creature has all the parts and lineaments, as in the body there is a composition of all the elements, and a mixture of all the humours.]
Such as diligently search the Scripture shall find that true blessedness, happiness, and salvation is attributed to several signs: sometimes to the fear of God, sometimes to faith, sometimes to repentance, sometimes to love, sometimes to meekness, sometimes to humility, sometimes to patience, sometimes to poverty of spirit, sometimes to holy mourning, sometimes to hungering and thirsting after righteousness; so that if a godly man can find any one of these in himself, he may safely and groundedly conclude of his salvation and justification, though he cannot see all those signs in him. [Mat. 5:3-6, etc. Every child of God has all the graces of the Spirit in him really, though not fully developed.] There is no saint but may perceive one sign in him, when he cannot another. Now, he who can groundedly be persuaded of any one sign of grace, he may safely conclude he has all the rest, though for the present he can neither see them nor feel them in himself. But,
5. The fifth maxim or consideration.Consider—the promises of God are a Christian's magna charta, his chief evidences for heaven. Divine promises are God's deed of gift; they are the only assurance which the saints have to show for their right and title to Christ, to his blood, and to all the happiness and blessedness that comes by him. Look! as Tamar by pleading and bringing forth the signet, the bracelets, and the staff, saved her life, Gen. 38:18-27; so we by believing, pleading, and bringing forth the promises, must save our own souls. The promises are not only the food of faith—but also the very life and soul of faith; they are a mine of rich treasures, a garden full of the choicest and sweetest flowers; in them are enrapt up all celestial contentments and delights. And this is most certain, that all a Christian's conclusions of saving interest in any of those choice and precious privileges which flow from the blood of Jesus Christ ought to be bottomed, grounded, and founded upon the rich and free promises of grace and mercy.
Question.But how may a person come to know whether he has a real and saving interest in the promises, or not? Now, to this great question, I shall give these nine following answers:
[1.] First,A holy reliance, a holy resting, a holy staying of your soul upon the promises, makes the promises your own; yes, it makes all the good, and all the sweet, and all the happiness and blessedness that is wrapped up in the promises yours. Even as your staying, relying, and resting on Christ makes Christ yours, and all that is in him, and that comes by him, yours; so your staying and resting upon the promises makes them yours.
[2.] Secondly,If your heart ordinarily, habitually, lies under the word of command, then the word of promise does assuredly belong to your soul, Psalm 119:6; Acts 13:22; Luke 1:5-6. [It was a good saying of Augustine, Give what you command, and command what you will. To such a person the promises belong, Num. 13:28 to the end.] There is no soul under heaven who commonly lies under the commanding power of the word—but that soul that has a saving interest in the word of promise. Men who have no saving interest in the word of promise, commonly live in the neglect of the word of command. If the word of command commonly rules over your soul, then the word of promise, without all question, belongs to your soul.
Many deal with the commands of God as the heathens dealt with the commands of their gods; when their gods called for a man, they offered a candle; or as Hercules offered up a painted man, instead of a living man. Such as deal thus with the commands of God, they have no saving interest in the promises of God. Flesh and blood looks upon the commands of God as impossible to be obeyed, like the unbelieving spies; "Oh we cannot conquer the land;" but faith and love, like Caleb and Joshua, conclude the land may be conquered, the commands may be evangelically obeyed; and accordingly they readily undertake it. Now, to such a frame of heart the promises are entailed. But,
[3.] Thirdly,If in the face of all objections, discouragements, and difficulties, your soul is kept up in a waiting frame, for the fulfilling of the promises, as Abraham's was, Romans 4, then certainly the promises belong to you. [The longer, said the emperor's son, the cooks are preparing the food, the better I shall enjoy it. His meaning was, that the longer he staid for the empire, the better and greater it would be; so the longer the soul waits for a mercy, the better and greater it will be when it comes, etc.] There are some promises that relate to the subduing of sin, as that, Jer. 33:8; Ezek. 36:25-27; Micah 7:19; Psalm 65:3. And there are other precious promises that relate to a growth in grace, as that, Malachi 4:2; Job 17:9; Psalm 92:12-14; Proverbs 4:18; Hosea 14:5-7. Now, if your heart be kept up in a waiting frame for the accomplishment of these promises, then they do certainly belong to you. The same I may say of all other promises; the waiting soul shall be sure to speed, Psalm 40:1-3; Isaiah 40:29-31, 30:18; Heb. 6:12, etc. God never did, nor never will, frustrate the expectations of the patient waiter, etc. But,
 Fourthly,He who has those divine qualities or supernatural graces in him, to which the promises are made—such as faith, repentance, love, fear, hope, uprightness, patience, a waiting frame, etc., he has an undoubted saving interest in the promises. He may lay his hand upon any promise, and say, this promise is mine! And all the blessings, the benefits, the heavenly treasure which is laid up in it, is mine! But,
[5.] Fifthly,He who lives upon the promises as his daily food, he has an unquestionable saving interest in the promises. Wicked men may make use of promises like medicine, in some cases, as when they are under anguish of spirit, or gripes of conscience, or in fear of hell; or else when they are under some outward needs or straits, etc. But he who lives upon them as his daily food, he has a most assured saving interest in them. We do not live upon sweets, though now and then we may taste of them—but we live upon wholesome food. Just so here, no man lives upon the blessed promises as his appointed food—but he who has a real saving interest in the promises. Look! as there is a nourishment proper to every animal, spiders feed on flies, moles on worms, the horse on grass, the lion on flesh, etc.—so there is food, nourishment, that is proper for men's souls, namely, the precious promises and Christ's "flesh," which is food indeed, and his blood, which is drink indeed, John 6:53, seq.; and he who daily feeds on this food will be happy forever. But,
[6.] Sixthly,If you are united and married to Christ by faith, then you have a real, a saving interest in the promises: Gal. 3:29, "And if you are Christ's, then are you Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." Col. 4:28; Heb. 1:2; Rev. 21:7. Faith is the grace of graces, by which the soul gives both its assent and consent to take the Lord Jesus Christ, as he is offered and offered in the gospel, and is therefore called sometimes a receiving of Christ, John 1:12. The only way to enjoy the promise of Christ, is to be willing to marry the person of Christ. It is our marriage union with Christ that gives us a right and title to all the promises of Christ: 2 Cor. 1:20, "For all the promises of God in him are yes, and in him, Amen." All absolute and conditional promises, either of grace or unto grace, are made to us in Christ, and only enjoyed by our enjoying of Christ.
[7.] Seventhly,He who can clear his right to any one promise, he may safely and boldly conclude his saving interest in every promise. The promises are a golden chain, and he who has a right in one link of the chain, has a right in every link of the chain, 2 Peter 1:5-7; Eph. 5:22-23; 2 Peter 1:4. As there is a chain of graces, so there is a chain of promises. He who can lay his hand upon any one promise, and truly say, This is mine, he may safely lay his hand upon every promise, and say, These are mine! He who is an heir to any one promise, he is an heir to every promise. Hence it is they are called "heirs of promise," Heb. 6:17; not heirs of this promise or that—but of promise; that is, of every promise, or the covenant which comprehends all the precious promises of the gospel in it.
Though the promises may be distinguished one from another—yet they may not be severed one from another; he who has a right to any one promise, he may safely infer his right to every promise. The whole covenant, which is a bundle of promises, is certainly yours, if any one promise be yours. The promises by a divine hand are mutually tied and linked together; and that which God has joined together, no man may put asunder. The promises can be no more divided than Christ can be divided, or than heaven can be divided. The promises are not like loose and unstringed pearls—but as pearls made into one entire chain. He who can lay his hand upon that promise, Mat. 5:6, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be satisfied," and truly say, This promise is mine, he may safely lay his hand upon that promise, verse 8, "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God," and say, This promise is mine! And the same he may say of the rest of the precious promises which are specified in vers. 3- 5, 7, 9, 10-11 of that chapter.
He who can lay his hand upon any one promise that God has made to those who love him, and truly say, This promise is mine, he may safely lay his hand upon every promise that God has made to those who love him, and say, These are all mine! He who can lay his hand upon any one promise that God has made to those who fear him, and truly say, This promise is mine, he may assuredly lay his hand upon every promise that God has made to those who fear him, and say, These are all mine! He who can lay his hand upon any one promise that God has made to faith in Christ, to believing in Christ, and truly say, This promise is mine, he may safely lay his hand upon every promise that God has made to faith in Christ, to believing in Christ, and say, All these promises are mine! He who can lay his hand upon any one promise that God has made to the returning sinner, and truly say, This promise is mine, he may securely lay his hand upon every promise that God has made to the returning sinner, the repenting sinner, and say, All these are mine! He who can lay his hand upon any one promise that God has made to the waiting soul, and truly say, This promise is mine, he may without all perhaps lay his hand upon every promise that God has made to the waiting soul, and say, All these are mine! Prove but your right in one promise, and you may safely infer your right to all. But,
[8.] Eighthly,If in the times of your greatest outward and inward straits and trials, when you are most sadly and sorely put to it, you fly to the precious promises, as to your surest and choicest city of refuge, then certainly you have a saving interest in them. Thus Abraham did, Romans 4:17-22. And thus Jacob did, Gen. 32:6-12 compared. And thus Sarah did, Heb. 11:11. And thus Moses did, Num. 10:29. And thus Jehoshaphat did, 2 Chron. 20:1, 10 compared with the 7th, 8th, and 9th verses of that chapter. And this was David's common practice: Psalm 27:12-13, and Psalm 60:1-10, compared, and Psalm 119:49-50. Turn to these scriptures, and ponder upon them.
And so when a man is under the guilt of sin, he flies to promises of pardon and forgiveness, as to his surest and choicest city of refuge, Num. 14:19, Isaiah 55: 7; Jer. 33:8; Isaiah 40:1-2; chapter 43:25; Micah 7:18; Jer. 31:34; Exod. 34:7; Dan. 9:9. And so when a man is under the strength, power, and prevalency of sin, he runs to such promises wherein God has engaged himself to subdue the sins of his people, and to purge and cleanse away the sins of his people, Micah 7:19; Romans 6:14; Psalm 65:2; Isaiah 1:25; Mal. 3:3; Zech. 13:9; Isaiah 27:9; Mat. 3:12; Ezek. 36:25, 33; Jer. 33:8, as to his surest and choicest city of refuge. And so when a man is deserted by God, he runs to such promises as are proper to that state, as to his surest and choicest city of refuge, Micah 7:19; Isaiah 54:7-10; Psalm 5:12; Psalm 84:10; Psalm 97:11; Psalm 112: 4; Isaiah 49:14-16. And so when a man is tempted, he runs to such supporting and encouraging promises as are most suitable to that state, as to his surest and choicest city of refuge, 1 Cor. 10:13; Heb. 2:18; Romans 16:20; James 4:7.
Now certainly, such as in all their inward and outward straits run thus to the promises, as to their surest and choicest city of refuge, they have an unquestionable saving interest in the promises. The rich man's wealth is his strong city, Proverbs 10:15. Wealthy worldlings, in times of distress and danger, do run to their hoards and heaps of riches, as to a strong city that is able to outstand all sieges and assaults, and to be safety and security to them; so when once a man makes the precious promises to be his strong city, and runs to them in the day of his distress and dangers, as his only safety and security, then he has doubtless a saving interest in them. But,
[9.] Ninthlyand lastly, If you daily present a greater and a choicer good in the promises to your souls than any that this world affords—then certainly you have a saving interest in the promises. If when honors, or riches, or pleasures, or the applause of men do present themselves unto you, you can readily present to your own souls higher honors in the promise, 1 Sam. 2:30; Luke 12:32; Rev. 2:17, 26-27; chapter 3:5, 12, 21; chapter 5:10. And more durable riches in the promise, Proverbs 8:18; 1 Pet. 3:4; and sweeter and choicer pleasures in the promise, Psalm 16:11; Isaiah 12:3, chapter 35:2, 10; Jer. 33:9, 11; Psalm 132:16; and greater worth in the promise, Mat. 10:32, "Whoever, therefore, shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven;" ay, and before the angels too, Luke 12:8; Mat. 25:31-41; 1 Cor. 6:2-3; 2 Thes. 1:6-10; Rev. 3:9; Isaiah 60:12-14; then certainly you have a saving interest in the promise.
When a man can show his own heart daily, in the mirror of the promises, a greater worth, excellency, and glory, than all this world affords, without all controversy he has a saving interest in the promises. Thus those worthies, of whom this world was not worthy, Heb. 11, and the martyrs in all ages, did commonly present better, higher, and greater things to their own souls in the promises, than any their adversaries were able to propose to draw them off from Christ, their profession or principles, etc., and by this means they did very courageously and honorably maintain their ground in the face of all the mirthful and golden temptations that they met with. Your cruelty is our glory, said they in Tertullian; and the harder we are put to it, the greater shall be our reward in heaven. Basil will tell you, that the most cruel martyrdom is but a crafty trick to escape death, to pass from life to life, as he speaks. [Mat. 5:10-12. Burn my foot if you will, said that noble martyr Basil, that it may dance everlastingly with the angels in heaven.] It can be but a day's journey between the cross and paradise. Though the cross be bitter—yet it is but short. "A little storm," as one said of Julian's persecution, "and an eternal calm follows."
Adrianus, seeing the martyrs suffer cheerfully such grievous and dreadful things, asked, Why they would endure such misery, when they might, by retracting, free themselves. Upon which one of them alleged that text, "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for those who love him," 1 Cor. 2:9. The naming of the text, and seeing them suffer such hard things cheerfully, did, by a blessing from on high, so really and effectually convert him, that afterwards he became a martyr too. When we see poor, weak, feeble Christians defying their torments, conquering in the midst of sufferings, singing in prison, as Paul and Silas did, Acts 16:25; kissing the stake, as Henry Voes did; clapping their hands when they were half consumed with fire, as Hawkes did; blessing God that ever they were born to see that day, as John Noyes did; calling their execution day their wedding day, as Ridley did; we cannot but conclude that they had an eye to "the recompense of reward," and they saw such great, and sweet, and glorious things in the promises, that did so refresh, delight, and ravish their hearts, and transport their souls, that all their heavy afflictions seemed light, and their long afflictions short, and their most bitter afflictions sweet and easy to them. But,
6. The sixth maxim of consideration.Consider—that the least degree of grace—if it is true grace—is sufficient to salvation; for the promises of life and glory, of remission and salvation, of everlasting happiness and blessedness, are not made over to high degrees of grace—but to the reality and truth of grace; not to faith in triumph—but to faith in truth. Therefore the sense and evidence of the least grace, yes, of the least degree of the least grace, may afford some measure of assurance. Grace is the fruit of the Spirit, Gal. 5:22. And the tree is known by his fruit, Mat. 12:33; Mark 16:16; John 3:16, 36; Mat. 5:1, seq.; John 6:40. I do not say, that weak grace will afford a strong assurance, or a full assurance, for that rather arises from strength of grace than from truth of grace—but I do say, weak grace may afford some assurance. [An eminent minister, who was a famous instrument of converting many to God, was accustomed to say, that for his own part, he had no other evidence in himself of being in the state of grace, than that he was sensible of his spiritual deadness.] Oh, that all weak Christians would seriously lay this to heart, for it may serve to relieve them against many fears, doubts, discouragements, and jealousies, which do much disturb the peace and comfort of their precious souls.
Though the least measures of grace cannot satisfy a sincere Christian—yet they ought to quiet his conscience, and cheer his heart, and confirm his judgment of his saving interest in Christ. The least measure of grace is like a diamond, very little in bulk—but of high price and mighty value; and accordingly we are to improve it for our comfort and encouragement. A goldsmith makes reckoning of the least filings of gold, and so should we of the least measures of grace. A man may read the king's image upon a silver penny, as well as upon a larger piece of coin. The least grain of grace bears the image of God upon it; and why then should it not evidence the goodness and happiness of a Christian's estate? Slight not the lowest evidences of grace!
It is a true saying, that the assurance of an eternal life is the epitome of this temporal life. I have read that Mr. Jordain would ask professors, whether they had any assurance; which if they denied, he would tell them, that he was even ashamed of them. "In good earnest," says he, "I would study the promises, and go into my closet, and lock the door, and there plead them to God, and say, that I would not go forth until he gave me some sense of his love." He would often mention and try himself by these three marks:
First, a sincere desire to fear the name of God, which he grounded upon Neh. 1:11.
Secondly, a sincere desire to do the will of God in all things required, which he grounded upon Psalm 119:6.
Thirdly, a full purpose of heart to cleave to the Lord, which he grounded upon Acts 11:23.
These he would often press upon others, and these he frequently tried himself by, and from these he had much assurance and comfort.
[The discovery of grace in your heart, though but one grain, and that of mustard-seed, will assure you of your election and final salvation. Ford's "Spirit of Adoption."] Stephen Marshal, in a sermon of his on Isaiah 9:2, says, "Look and examine, whether you do not loathe yourself as a base creature; and do you make this nothing? Secondly, Do you not in your heart value and prize the poorest child of God more than the greatest man in the world, who has not the image of God, the image of grace and holiness stamped upon them? Many of God's people do not lack these evidences."
"If our souls," says another, "shall desire Christ for a suitor, when we find no other jointure but the cross, we may be sure we are Christians. A man may lack the feeling of his faith, and cry and call again and again for it, and feel nothing all this while, and yet nevertheless have true and sound faith; for the feeling of and mourning for the lack of faith, and the earnest and constant desire of it, is an infallible sign of faith. For this is a sure rule, that so long as one feels himself sick he is not dead. And the high estimation of faith, joined with a vehement desire of it, is a singular evidence that there is a sound and lively root of faith in our hearts."
"All the elect of God," says another, "shall have the sanctification of the Spirit unto obedience, and the sprinkling of the blood of Christ upon their hearts, more or less. I do not press the having of these things perfectly—but sincerely; an elect person may lack many a degree of grace—but if he have them in sincerity, though in the least measure, it is a sufficient evidence of his election."
Says Sibbes, "A spark of fire is but little—yet it is fire as well as the whole element of fire. And a drop of water is but little—yet it is water as well as the whole ocean. When a man is in a dark place, perhaps in a dungeon, if he has but a little light shining in to him from a little crevice, that little light discovers that the day is broke, that the sun is risen. If there is but one grape on a vine, it shows that it is a vine, and that the vine is not dead. If there is but the appearance of a little grace in a Christian, perhaps the Spirit of God appears but in one grace in him at that time—yet that one grace shows that we are vines, and not thistles, or thorns, or base plants, and it shows that there is life in the root."
That friend who writes the life and death of Mr. John Murcot, once preacher of the gospel at Dublin, says, "That in preparation for the supper ordinance, he would bring himself unto the test, and was very clear in the discovering and making out his own condition, being well acquainted with the way of God's dealing with the soul, and with the way of the soul's closing with Christ.
Upon search I find:
1. Myself an undone creature.
2. That the Lord Jesus sufficiently satisfied as mediator the law for sin.
3. That he is freely offered in the gospel.
4. So far as I know my own heart, I do through mercy heartily consent that he alone shall be my Savior; not my works or duties, which I do only in obedience to him.
5. If I know my heart, I would be ruled by his word and Spirit." "Behold, in a few words," says he who writes his life and death, "the sum and substance of the gospel." By these instances we may see that some of the precious servants of God have found a great deal of comfort, support, rest, contentment, and some measure of assurance, from a lower rank of evidences, than those who many strong Christians do reach unto, etc. But,
7. The seventh maxim or consideration.Consider—that all who are desirous to know how it will go with them in another world, they must peremptorily resolve to be determined by Scripture in the great matters of their saving interest in Christ. The blessed Scriptures are the great uncontroverted rule, and therefore if a person can prove from Scripture that his graces are true, or that he is in a gracious estate, or that he has a saving interest in Christ, or that he has savingly, graciously stricken covenant with God—then he must resolutely and peremptorily resolve to grant so much as unchangeably to acquiesce in it, to stick fast to it, and to hear nothing against it from the world, the flesh, or the devil.
God has plainly told us in his blessed word who shall be saved, and who shall be damned; though not by name—yet by the qualifications by which they are described in the Bible. These are the statute laws of heaven, and the standing rule by which all must be tried. Every man must stand or fall, be eternally blessed or eternally miserable, as his condition is consonant to or various from the infallible characters of saving grace contained in the holy Scripture. Witness that Isaiah 8:20, "To the law and to the testimony, if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." So John 12:48, "He who rejects me, and receives not my words, has one that judges him; the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day." Mat. 5:18, "For truly I say unto you, until heaven and earth pass, not one jot or one tittle shall pass from the law until all be fulfilled." So John 10:35, "And the Scripture cannot be broken," or violated, or made void.
But though this is an indispensable duty—yet certainly there is, especially in times of great afflictions, temptations, desertions, fears, and doubts, a very great aptness and proneness in Christians to expect strange means rather than right means; and new means rather than old means; and self-invented means rather than appointed means; and to build their faith upon something beside the word, or on that which is outside the compass of the word, rather than upon the plain and naked word itself; being in this very like to many weak, crazy, distempered, and diseased patients, who are more ready to employ every new medicine and new doctor they hear of, than to expect a recovery, by going through a course of remedy prescribed by the physician who best understands their diseases, and the most proper and effectual means for their recoveries.
You know when Naaman the Assyrian came to the prophet Elisha to be cured of his leprosy, he only sent out a messenger to him, who bid him go and wash seven times in Jordan, and his flesh would come again unto him, and he would be clean, 2 Kings 5:10. But Naaman's blood boils, and his heart swells, and he grows very angry. And all because he did not like the means prescribed by the prophet, and because he thought in his own heart that the prophet would have used more likely means to have wrought the cure, verses 11-12.
So many Christians, when they lie under great agonies and sore perplexities of soul, and are encouraged to act faith upon the promises, and to rest their weary souls upon the word of grace, they are ready to think and say that these things, these means, will never heal them, nor comfort them, nor be a relief or support unto them—unless the Lord does from heaven, by extraordinary revelations, visions, signs, and miracles, confirm his promises to them. And hereupon they make light of the blessed scriptures, which are the springs of life, and the only solid bottom upon which all our comforts, peace, and happiness is to be built; yes, they relinquish that more sure word of prophecy, which shines as a light in a dark place, 2 Peter 1:19.
Certainly the acting of faith on the precious promises, and the cleaving of the soul unto those blessed truths declared in the gospel of grace, is the most sure, ready, and compendious way of obtaining a blessed assurance, and a full establishment of heart, in all sound, solid, and abiding joy and peace, Eph. 1:13. And therefore Luther, though, as he confesses, he was often tempted to ask for signs, apparitions, and revelations from heaven to confirm him in his way—yet tells us how strongly he did withstand them. I have, says he, asked the Lord my God, that he would never send me dreams, visions, angels, for I am well contented with this gift, that I have the holy Scripture, which does abundantly teach and supply all necessaries for this life, and that also which is to come.
Certainly Austin hit the mark, when he prayed, "Lord, let your holy Scriptures be my pure delights, in which I can neither deceive, or ever be deceived."
Certainly the balance of the sanctuary should weigh all the oracles of God, decide all, and the rule of God's word be the rule and judge of all. Those who would take their parts in promised comforts, they must follow the voice of the word, and subscribe to the sentence of conscience, following that word. If the word approves of you, as sound and sincere with God, assuredly you are so, for that rule cannot err. If the word says that your heart is right with God, you must maintain that testimony against all disputes whatever. Never enter into dispute with Satan, or your own self, about your estate—but by taking and making the Scripture the judge of the controversy.
When fears rise high, you say you shall never have mercy! But does the word say so? The Lord never gave himself to me! But does the word say so? Never was any as bad as I am! But does the word say so? I cannot see, nor conceive, nor think, that the Lord has any love for me! But does the word say so? "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." Isaiah 55:8-9.
I have not that peace and joy that others have, therefore the Lord intends no good towards me! But does the word say so? Oh! but if my inside were but turned outward, godly men would loathe me, and wicked men would laugh at me! But does the word say so? Oh! but my heart was never right with God! But does the word say so? Oh! but that which I have taken all this while for saving grace is but common grace! But does the word say so? Oh! but the face of God is hidden from me, my sun is set in a cloud, and will never rise more! But does the word say so? Oh! but Satan is let loose upon me, and therefore God hates me! But does the word say so? Does not the word tell you, that those who have been most beloved of God—have been most tempted by Satan? Witness Christ, David, Job, Joshua, Peter, Paul, etc. Oh! but I am afflicted, so as never was any before me! But does the word say so?
Oh! let the word have the determinating voice—and not your own frail distempered reason. Oh! do not only hear what sin, and Satan, and your own deceitful heart can say against you—but hear also what the word of the Lord Jesus can say for you. Let the word of the Lord be judge on both sides, and then all will be well.
I know that the impenitent and unbelieving person, who lives and dies without grace in his heart, and a saving interest in Christ, shall as certainly be damned, as if I saw him this very moment under everlasting burnings; because God in the Scripture has said it, Mark 16:16; John 3:18-36; Rev. 21:8; Romans 2:4-5; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21; Heb. 12:14.
And I know that the holy, humble, true, penitent, believing, self-denying, and sin-mortifying Christian, shall be as certainly saved, as if at this very time I saw him in actual possession of glory; because God in the Scripture has said it, Mat. 5:3-12; Romans 8:1-13; Acts 10:43; John 3:15-16, 36; 6:37-40, etc.
O sirs! no man in his wits dares dispute against the authority of Scripture, or deny it, as false and erroneous. And therefore if the Scripture says a man has grace, he ought in conscience to subscribe to it against all objections or temptations to the contrary. Forever remember this—until a man comes to be willing to have his spiritual and eternal estate to be determined by Scripture, he will never enjoy any settled rest or quiet in his spirit. When once the goodness of a man's estate is cleared up to him by the word, he is never to regard what Satan or carnal reason objects against him. Satan is a liar and a deceiver of nearly six thousand years' standing; he is full of envy, and full of malice, and full of wiles, devices and tricks. Therefore give no credit to any of his reports against the report of the word—but stand by the testimony of the word, and the witness of your own consciences, against all Satan's cavils, temptations, objections and suggestions. And then, and not until then, will you find rest to your souls.
He who would hold on cheerfully and resolutely in a Christian course, and go merrily to his grave, and singing to heaven, he must maintain the testimony of the word against all the gainsayings of sense or carnal reason. He must hear nothing, nor believe anything against the word, nor against the goodness and happiness of his own estate or condition, which has been evidenced to him from the word. Men will not be easily baffled out of their estates. If some great man should come and lay claim to your estates, you will not presently give them up, though your title-deeds are not at hand, or though they are blotted, or though perhaps you cannot clearly make out your title—yet you will not tamely and quietly give up your estates. And yet how ready are many Christians, upon every clamor of Satan against their souls and spiritual estates, to give up all, and to conclude that they are hypocrites, and have no true grace and spiritual life in them! etc. But,
8. The eighth maxim or consideration.Consider—that a godly man may not only come to a sure knowledge of his gracious estate—but it is also more easily attainable than many—may I not say, than most—do think or believe; for if a gracious man will but argue rationally from Scripture, he shall be forced to conclude that he has grace, and that he has a saving interest in Christ, and that he shall be saved, unless he is resolved beforehand boldly to deny Scripture truths. Sirs! look in what way the spirit of bondage does ordinarily works fear, terror, and horror in the hearts of unconverted people, in the same way the Spirit of adoption does ordinarily work hope and assurance in the hearts of the saints, Romans 8:15; John 16:8. Now, the spirit of bondage commonly awakens secure sinners, and fills the heart and consciences of poor sinners with fear, horror, and amazement, by setting home upon their souls such practical syllogisms as these:
"Every liar shall have his portion in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone," Rev. 21:8.
I am a liar—therefore I shall have my portion in that lake that burns with fire and brimstone.
Or thus: "He who believes not is condemned already," John 3:18.
I believe not—therefore I am condemned already.
Or thus: "He who hates his brother is a murderer, and has not eternal life abiding in him," 1 John 3:15.
I hate my brother—therefore I am a murderer, and have not eternal life abiding in me.
Or thus: "Christ shall be revealed from heaven in flaming fire, to take vengeance on those who know not God, and that obey not the gospel of his Son," 2 Thes. 1:7-8.
I know not God, I obey not the gospel of his Son—therefore Christ shall be revealed from heaven in flaming fire, to take vengeance on me.
Or thus: "The wicked shall be turned into hell," Psalm 9:17.
I am wicked—therefore I shall be turned into hell.
Now in like manner the Spirit of adoption brings the "heirs of the promise," Heb. 6:17, to the assurance of hope, by setting home such practical syllogisms as these—
[1.] First,Whoever truly and heartily receives the Lord Jesus Christ, are truly and justly reputed to be the sons of God, John 1:12.
I have received Christ all the ways that the word there can import. I am heartily willing to receive the Lord Jesus Christ in all his offices, namely—as a king to rule me, a prophet to teach and instruct me, and a priest to offer himself in my place, and intercede for me. I am willing to receive him as a sanctifier, as well as a Savior. And to receive him as my Lord, as well as to receive him as my Redeemer; and to receive him upon his own terms, namely, of taking up his cross, denying myself and following of him. Therefore I may safely, boldly, plainly and warrantably conclude—that I am a son of God, and that I have a saving interest in God, according to the scripture last cited: which scripture cannot be broken, nor cannot fail, nor cannot be unbound or loosed, as the Greek word in John 10:35 imports, etc. [The word signifies authority. Such as receive the Lord Jesus, have authority to be called the sons of God. Others may call God Father, and themselves sons—but they have not that right and authority to do it as believers have, Mark 16:16; John 3:16, 18, 36; Mat. 3:2, 8; Luke 24:47; Acts 5:31, Acts 3:19; Luke 13:3.]
[2.] Secondly,A gracious soul may argue thus: All the great and precious promises concerning everlasting happiness and blessedness, are made over to faith and repentance, as the Scriptures do abundantly evidence.
Now, he who really finds faith and repentance wrought in his soul, so that he is able to say, I am a repenting and a believing sinner, he may truly and safely conclude that he shall be saved; for all the promises of eternal happiness and blessedness do run out with a full stream to faith and repentance.
I readily grant that a strong hope results from the clear evidence it has of both these. We read in Scripture of a threefold assurance: as, first, an assurance of understanding, Col. 2:2; secondly, an assurance of faith, Heb. 10:22; thirdly, an assurance of hope, Heb. 6:11. I do, says the Christian, assuredly know from the word, which cannot deceive me, that the believing and repenting sinner shall be saved; my conscience also tells me that I do sincerely believe and repent, therefore I do firmly hope that I shall, however vile and unworthy otherwise, be saved. Now mark, answerable to the evidence that a man has in his own soul, that faith and repentance is wrought in him, so will his hope and assurance be weaker or stronger, more or less. If a man's evidence for the truth of his faith and repentance is dark, and weak, and low, and uncertain, his hope and assurance, which are born from these parents, as I may say, must needs partake of its parent's weakness and infirmities—and be itself weak, and dark, and low, and wavering, and uncertain, as they are from which it results. Hope and assurance ebbs and flows, as the evidence of a man's faith and repentance ebbs and flows.
Assurance cannot be ordinarily had without a serious examination of our hearts; for assurance is the certain knowledge of the conclusion drawn from the premises, one out of scripture, the other by a reflecting act of the understanding or conscience, thus: He who believes and repents shall certainly be saved, that is the voice of the word of God; then by the search of a man's own heart, he must be able to say—I believe and repent. and from these two does result this assurance, that he may safely conclude, Therefore I shall be saved. And oh that all Christians were so wise, as seriously to ponder upon these things!
[3.] Thirdly,A godly man may argue thus: He who has respect unto all God's commands shall never be ashamed. Psalm 119:6, "Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all your commandments." [Shame is both the temporal and eternal fruit of sin, Romans 6:21; Dan. 12:2.] He who is so honest and faithful with God, as to do his best—shall find that God will be so gracious as to pardon his worst. And this gospel indulgence David does more than hint at in those words, "Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all your commandments, or, as the Hebrew has it, "Then shall I not blush when my eye is to all your commandments."
The traveler has his eye towards the place where he is going; and though he be yet short of it—yet he is pressing forward all he can, to reach it. Just so, when the eye of a saint is to all the commands of God, and he is still a-pressing forwards toward full obedience, such a soul shall never be put to shame; it shall never be put to the blush—but it shall be able, living and dying, boldly to appear in the presence of the Lord. Mark, the psalmist does not say, when I obey all your commandments—but "when I have respect to all your commandments." And that implies an inward awe and reverential eye towards every duty which God requires. To have respect unto a thing is this—when that thing sways us more than all other things—as when a master commands such a business, the servant will do it, because he respects him; and at his command he will go and come, though he will not at the command of any other. But I have respect unto all his commandments, therefore I shall never be ashamed.
[4.] Fourthly,A godly man may argue thus: He who loves the brethren is passed from death to life, and consequently is in saving union with Christ, 1 John 3:18-19. I love the brethren—therefore I am passed from death to life, and so consequently am in Christ.
[5.] Fifthly,A godly man may argue thus: He who confesses and forsakes his sin shall certainly find mercy, Proverbs 28:13. I confess and forsake my sins:
1, in respect of my sincere desires;
2, in respect of my gracious purposes;
3, in respect of my fixed resolutions;
4, in respect of my faithful and constant endeavors.
Therefore I shall certainly find mercy.
[6.] Sixthly,A godly man may argue thus: He who has the testimony of a good conscience, he may rejoice in that testimony, 2 Cor. 1:12; Isaiah 38:3. I have the testimony of a good conscience, therefore I may rejoice in that testimony.
[7.] Seventhly,A godly man may argue thus, He over whom presumptuous sins has not dominion is upright: Psalm 19:13, "Keep back your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me; then shall I be upright." Presumptuous sins do not have dominion over me; therefore I am upright. A sincere willingness to part with every sin, and to mortify every sin, is a sure sign of uprightness, a sure sign of saving grace. When a man is sincerely willing to leave every sin, and to indulge himself in none, no, not his darling sin, it is a most certain sign of his integrity and sincerity, as you may evidently see by comparing of these scriptures together, Psalm 17:1, 3-4; 119:1-3, 6; Job 1:8, 2:3.
Psalm 18:23. "I was upright before him." Oh! but how do you know that? how do you prove that? how are you assured of that? Why, by this—that "I have kept myself from sin." Doubtless there is as much of the power of God required, and as much strength of grace required, and as much of the presence and assistance of the Spirit required—to work a man off from his bosom sins, from his darling sins, from his beloved sins, as there is required to work him off from all other sins. A conquest here clearly speaks out uprightness of heart.
[8.] Eighthly,A godly man may argue thus: He whose heart does not condemn him—
1. does not give himself over to a voluntary serving of sin;
2. does not make a trade of sin;
3. does not allow of himself in any settled course or way of sin;
4. does not indulge, connive or wink at any known sin;
5. does not sin, as wicked men sin--who sin studiously, resolutely, ardently, delightfully, customarily, willfully. They sin with their whole will, and with the full consent and sway of their souls.
6. does not live in the daily neglect of any known positive duty against light and conscience, or of an ordinary shifting off of any known service that God requires of him in that place or station wherein God has set him.
Such a man may have confidence, boldness, liberty of speech towards God. He may use the liberty and freedom of a favorite of heaven. He may open his heart to God, as favorites do to their prince, namely, freely, familiarly, boldly. When Austin was converted, and his heart sincere with God, he could bless God that he could think of his former evil ways, which were very bad, without fear. Oh to what a height of holy boldness and familiarity with God had this man of God arrived to! But,
[9.] Ninthly,A godly man may argue thus, To such who are "poor in spirit, the kingdom of heaven belongs," Mat. 5:3. By poor in spirit is not meant poor in substance, that not being a thing praiseworthy in itself—but the broken and humble in heart, who has no high thoughts or conceits of himself—but is lowly in his own eyes, as a young child.
[There are some who are poor in estate, and others who are poor in spirit. And there are some who are poor-spirited in the cause of God, Christ, the gospel, and their own souls. And there are others who are poor in spirit. There are some who are spiritually poor, as all are who are destitute of grace, and others who are poor in spirit; there are some who are evangelically poor, and others who are superstitiously poor; as those papists who renounce their estates, and vow a voluntary poverty. The poverty that has blessedness annexed to it is only an evangelical poverty.]
"Blessed are the poor in spirit;" that is, who has no lofty or puffed up spirit. The poor in spirit are those who are lowly, being truly conscious of their own unworthiness. None are poor in spirit but the humble.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit;" that is, blessed are they whose spirits are brought into such an humble gracious frame, as willingly, quietly, and contentedly to lie down in a poor low condition, when it is the pleasure of the Lord to bring them into such a condition.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit;" that is, blessed are they who are truly and sincerely apprehensive and sensible of their spiritual needs, poverty, and misery. They see their need of God's free grace to pardon them. They see their need of Christ's righteousness to clothe them. They see their need of the Spirit of Christ to purge, change, and sanctify them. They see their need of more heavenly wisdom to counsel them. They see their need of more of the power of God to support them, and of the goodness of God to supply them, and of the mercy of God to comfort them, and of the presence of God to refresh them, and of the patience of God to bear with them, etc. They see their need of greater measures of faith to conquer their fears, and of greater measures of wisdom to walk holily, harmlessly, blamelessly, and exemplarily in the midst of temptations, snares, and dangers. They see their need of greater measures of patience to bear their burdens without fretting or fainting. They see their need of greater measures of zeal and courage to bear up bravely against all sorts of opposition, both from within and from without. They see their need of greater measures of love to cleave to the Lamb, and to follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They see their need of living in a continual dependence upon God and Christ, for fresh influences, incomes, and supplies of grace, of comfort, of strength, whereby they may be enabled to live for God, and walk with God, and glorify God, and bring forth fruit to God, and withstand all temptations that tend to lead the heart from God. They see nothing in themselves upon which they dare venture their everlasting estates, and therefore fly to the free, rich, sovereign, and glorious grace of God in Christ, as to their sure and only sanctuary! Luke 18:13, Philip. 3:9
"Blessed are the poor in spirit;" that is, blessed are those who are truly apprehensive and sensible of their spiritual poverty—who see themselves fallen in the first Adam from all their primitive purity, excellency, and glory. There are five things we lost in our fall:
1, our holy image—and became vile;
2, our sonship—and became slaves to sin and Satan;
3, our friendship—and became enemies to God;
4, our communion—and became strangers from God;
5, our glory—and became miserable.
And that see an utter inability and insufficiency in themselves, and in all other creatures, to deliver them out of their fallen estate.
I am poor in spirit—therefore the kingdom of heaven belongs to me.
[10.] Tenthly,A godly man may argue thus—Such as are true mourners are blessed, and shall be comforted, Mat. 5:4. That is, such as who mourn for sin with an exceeding great mourning. Blessed are those who mourn for sin with a funeral sorrow, as the word signifies. Blessed are those who mourn for sin as a man mourns for the loss of his only son, Zech. 12:10, or as Jacob mourned for Joseph, or as David mourned for Absalom, or as the people mourned for the loss of good Josiah, 2 Chron. 35:24-25. Blessed are those who mourn for secret sins as well as open sins. Blessed are those who mourn for sins against grace as well as for sins against the law. Blessed are those who mourn for sin as the greatest evil in the world. Blessed are those who mourn for his own sins, Ezek. 7:16; as David did, Psalm 51; or as Ephraim did, Jer. 31:18-19; or as Peter did, Mat. 26:75; or as Mary Magdalene did, Luke 7:38; and who mourns for the sins of others as well as for his own, as David did, Psalm 119:136, 158; or as Jeremiah did, Jer. 13:17; or as Lot did, 2 Peter 2:7-8; or as they did in that Ezek. 9:4.
Blessed are those who mourn under the sense of their spiritual needs. Blessed are those who mourn under the sense of their spiritual losses—such as loss of communion with God, loss of the favor of God, loss of the presence of God, loss of the exercise of grace, loss of the joys of the Spirit, loss of inward peace, etc. Blessed are those who mourn not only for their own afflictions and miseries—but also for the afflictions and miseries of other believers, as Nehemiah did, Neb. 1:2-4; or as Jeremiah did, Jer. 9:1-2; or as Christ did when he wept over Jerusalem, Luke 19:41-42. Blessed are those who mourn because they cannot mourn for these things; or who mourn because they can mourn no more; or who mourn because God has so little honor in their hearts, or in their house, or in their life, or in the world, or in the churches.
I am a true mourner, therefore I am blessed, and shall be comforted.
[Blessed are those who mourn. The way to paradise is through the valley of tears. Some report of Mary Magdalene, that she spent thirty years in Galba, weeping for her sins.]
[11.] Eleventhly,A godly man may argue thus: Those who truly "hunger and thirst after righteousness are blessed, and shall be filled," Mat. 5:6; or those who are hungering and thirsting, as the Greek runs, being the participle of the present tense, intimating, that wherever this is the present disposition of men's souls, they are blessed. [They are not therefore blessed because they hunger and thirst—but because they shall be filled. The blessedness is in the fullness—not in the hunger. But hunger must go before filling, that we may not loathe the loaves. Augustine] He who sees an absolute necessity of the righteousness of Christ to justify him, and to enable him to stand boldly before the throne of God; he who sees his own righteousness to be but as filthy rags, Isaiah 64:4; to be but as dross and dung, Philip. 3:7-8; he who sees the Lord Jesus Christ, with all his riches and righteousness, clearly and freely offered to poor sinners in the everlasting gospel; he who in the gospel-mirror sees Christ, who knew no sin, to be made sin for him, that that he may be made the righteousness of God in Christ, 2 Cor. 5:21; he who in the same mirror sees Christ to be made wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption, to all who are sincerely willing to make a venture of their immortal souls and eternal estates upon him and his righteousness. And he who sees the righteousness of Christ to be a most perfect, pure, complete, spotless, matchless, infinite righteousness. And under these apprehensions and persuasions is carried out in earnest and unsatisfied hungerings and thirstings, to be made a partaker of Christ's righteousness, and to be assured of his righteousness, and to put on his righteousness as a royal robe, Isaiah 61:10—he is the blessed soul!
And he who hungers and thirsts after the righteousness of Christ imparted, as well as after the righteousness of Christ imputed; after the righteousness of sanctification, as well as after the righteousness of justification—he is a blessed soul, and shall at last be filled. The righteousness of sanctification, or imparted righteousness, lies in the Spirit's infusing into the soul those holy principles, divine qualities, or supernatural graces, that the apostle mentions in that Gal. 5:22-23. These habits of grace, which are distinguished by the names of faith, love, hope, meekness, etc., are nothing else but the new nature or new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness, Eph. 4:24. He who hungers and thirsts after the righteousness of sanctification, out of a deep serious sense of his own unrighteousness; he who hungers and thirsts after the righteousness of sanctification, as earnestly as hungry men do for food, or as thirsty men do for drink, or as the innocent person that is falsely charged or accused longs to be cleared and righted, or as Rachel did for children, or as David did after the water of the well of Bethlehem, or as the hunted deer does after the water brooks; he who hungers and thirsts not after some righteousness only—but he who hungers and thirsts after all righteousness; he who hungers and thirsts not only after some grace—but all grace; not only after some holiness—but all holiness; he who hungers and thirsts after righteousness, out of love to righteousness; he who hungers and thirsts after righteousness, from a sight and sense of the loveliness and excellency that there is in righteousness, Philip. 3:10-15; he who hungers and thirsts after the highest degrees and measures of righteousness and holiness, Psalm 63:1, 8; he who primarily, chiefly, hungers and thirsts after righteousness and holiness, Jer. 15:16; he who industriously hungers and thirsts after righteousness and holiness; he who ordinarily, habitually, constantly, hungers and thirsts after righteousness and holiness: Psalm 119:20, "My soul breaks for the longing that it has unto your judgments at all times." By judgments we are to understand the statutes and commandments of God. Mark that word, "at all times."
Ungodly men have their good moods, as godly men have their bad moods. An ungodly man may, under gripes of conscience, a smarting rod, the approaches of death, or the fears of hell, or when he is pricked with a sermon—cry out to the Lord for grace, for righteousness, for holiness. But he is the only blessed man, who hungers and thirsts after righteousness at all times, and who hungers and thirsts after righteousness, according to the other fore-mentioned short hints. He is certainly a blessed man, heaven is for that man, and that man is for heaven, who hungers and thirsts in a right manner after the righteousness of justification, and after the righteousness of sanctification.
I do truly hunger and thirst after righteousness; therefore I am blessed, and shall be filled, etc.
[Some take hungering and thirsting here literally, comparing of it with Luke 6:21. Others understand the words morally; by hungering and thirsting they understand a moral hunger and thirst, which is, when men hunger and thirst for justice and judgment to be rightly executed. Psalm 119:5, 10, 20, 131; Judges 15:18; 1 Chron. 11:18 Psalm 42:1-2.]
[12.] Twelfthly,A godly man may argue thus: Such as are truly and graciously "merciful, are blessed, and shall obtain mercy," Mat. 5:7. Mercy is a commiserating of another man's misery in our hearts, or a sorrow for another man's distress, or a heart-grieving for another man's grief, arising out of an sincere love unto the party afflicted. [Micah 6:8; Luke 6:36] Or more plainly thus: mercy is a pitying of another man's misery, with a desire and endeavor to help him to the uttermost of our ability. The Hebrew for godly, signifies gracious, merciful. The more godly any man is, the more merciful that man will be.
"Blessed are the merciful," that is, blessed are those who show mercy to others, out of a deep sense of the mercy of God to them in Christ. Blessed are such who show mercy—out of love to mercy, out of a delight in mercy; blessed are such as show mercy out of love and obedience to the God of mercy; blessed are such as show mercy to men in misery, upon the account of the image of God, the glory of God that is stamped upon them; blessed are such as extend their piety and mercy, not only to men's bodies—but also to their precious and immortal souls. Soul-mercy is the chief of mercies. The soul is the most precious jewel in all the world; it is a vessel of honor, it is a spark of glory, it is a bud of eternity, it is the price of blood, it is beautified with the image of God, it is adorned with the grace of God, and it is clothed with the righteousness of God.
Such are blessed as show mercy to others, from gracious motives and considerations, namely—it is God's free mercy which every day keeps hell and my soul asunder; it is mercy which daily pardons my sins; it is mercy which supplies all my inward and outward wants; it is mercy which preserves, and feeds, and clothes my outward man. And it is mercy which renews, strengthens, and prospers my inward man; it is mercy which has kept me many times from committing such and such sins; it is mercy which has kept me many a time from falling before such and such temptations; it is mercy which has many a time preserved me from being swallowed up by such and such inward and outward afflictions.
Such as show mercy out of a design to exalt and glorify the God of mercy; such who show most mercy to those to whom God shows most mercy: these are blessed, and shall obtain mercy. Now mark, to such who are thus graciously, thus spiritually, thus divinely merciful—do these precious promises belong: Psalm 41:1, "Blessed is the man who considers the poor and needy." Proverbs 22:9, "He who has a bountiful eye shall be blessed; for he gives of his bread to the poor." Proverbs 14:21, "He who despises his neighbor sins: but he who has mercy on the poor, happy is he." Proverbs 11:25, "The liberal soul shall be made fat; and he who waters shall be watered also himself."
2 Cor. 9:8 is very remarkable: "And God is able to make all grace abound towards you; that you, always having all-sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work." Behold, how words are here heaped up to make grace, and all grace, to abound; and who is it to? Unto the liberal man, the merciful man; Job 29:13, "The blessing of him who was ready to perish came upon me: and I caused the widow's heart to sing for joy." Luke 6:38, "Give, and it shall be given unto you, good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom." Behold and wonder at the height of these expressions that you have in this text. We account it good measure when it is heaped up. But when it is heaped up and pressed down, that is more. But when it is heaped up and pressed down, and then heaped up and running over again—this is as much as possible can be made, this is as much as heart can wish.
O sirs! those who are of merciful spirits, they shall have mercy heaped up, pressed down, and running over. Certainly that man must needs be in a happy and blessed condition, who can be in no condition wherein he shall not have mercy, yes, mercy heaped up and running over, to supply all his necessities: Mat. 25:35, "Come, you who are blessed by my Father, receive the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world." Come, you who are blessed—that is their estate; receive the kingdom—that is the outcome and reward. And why so? "I was hungry, and you gave me food; I was thirsty, and you gave me drink," etc.
I am truly and graciously merciful; therefore I am blessed, and shall obtain mercy, etc. But,
[13.] Thirteenthly,A godly man may argue thus: Those who are "pure in heart are blessed, and shall see God," that is, enjoy him, and live forever with him, Mat. 5:8. I am pure in heart; therefore I am blessed, and shall see God.
By the pure in heart, here in the text, we may safely understand the sincere and single-hearted Christian, in opposition to the double-minded professor, as you may easily perceive by comparing these scriptures together—1 Tim. 1:5; James 1:8; 1 Peter 1:22; Proverbs 20:6; Eccles. 2:21; 1 John 1:8; John 3:2; Luke 1:5-6.
Purity is twofold:
First, simple and absolute. And in this sense no man is pure in this life, no not one.
Secondly, respective and in part, and that is the purity here meant. A pure heart is a plain, simple heart, without fraud or deceit—like Nathaniel, in whom there was no deceit. It is a heart that is evangelically blameless and sincere.
But, secondly, purity is opposed to mixture; purity consists in the unmixedness of anything inferior. That metal we account pure metal, which has not any baser than itself mixed with it. If you mix gold with tin, the gold is made impure by the mixture of tin. Remember once for all, namely, that a pure heart is such a one as has cast off and cast out the love and allowance of every known sin, and mingles not with it, though ever so small; such a heart as has renounced every known way of sin. Though there is corruption remaining in it; yet it can solemnly and seriously appeal to God—that there is no known way of sin—but it hates, and abhors, and strives against, and will upon no terms allow it. This heart, in the language of the gospel, is a pure heart; yes, it is such a heart as dares venture upon the trial of God himself. Psalm 139:23-24, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me," or any way of pain, or of grief, or of provocation, as the Hebrew has it, or any course of sin that is grievous to God or man.
A gracious heart, a pure heart, can neither allow of any way of wickedness, nor wallow in any way of wickedness, nor make a trade of any way of wickedness, nor give up itself to any way of wickedness. Though sin may cleave to a pure heart, as dross does to silver—yet a pure heart will not mix nor mingle with sin.
"And lead me in the way everlasting," or in the way of eternity, or in the way of antiquity, as the Hebrew has it; that is—that good old way which leads to peace and rest, to heaven and happiness, Jer. 6:16.
Evangelical purity of heart lies in this, that it will not admit any known sin to mingle with the bent and purpose of the heart. A pure heart, like a pure fountain, will still be a-working and a-casting out the mud and filth that is in it. Though sin may cleave to a regenerate man, as dross does to the silver—yet it mingles not with the regenerate part, nor the regenerate part mingles not with it, no more than oil mingles with the water, or water mingles with the oil. Now you know, though the water and the oil touch one another—yet they do not mingle one with another; so though grace and sin, in a regenerate man, may as it were touch one another—yet they do not mingle one with another.
Dear hearts! look, as we truly say, that gold is pure gold that is dug out of the rock, though much dross may hang about it. And as we truly say, that such and such an air is pure air, though at times there be many fogs and mists within it. And as we truly say, that such and such springs are pure springs, though mud, and dirt, and filth may be lying at the bottom of those springs. And as we truly say, that face is a fair face, though it has some freckles in it; so we may as truly say, that such and such a heart is a "pure heart," though there may be much sinful dross and filth cleaving to it.
The Jews report, that when Noah sent forth his sons to populate the world, he delivered to everyone of them some relics of old Adam. It may be fabulous for the history—but it is true in the morality; the relics of his sinful corruptions cleaves close to us all.
Beloved! the best, the wisest, the holiest, and the most mortified Christians on earth, do carry about with them a body of sin and death, Romans 7:22-23; they have in them a fountain of original corruption, and from this fountain sin will still be arising, a-bubbling and a-boiling up as the scum in a pot over the fire. But mark, as in wine, or honey, or water, though scum and filth may arise—yet the wine, the honey, the water, will be still a-purging and purifying itself, and a-working and casting it out; so though sin, though corruption, though spiritual filth may, and too often does, arise in a gracious heart—yet there is a spring of grace, a spring of living water in him, there is a holy cleansing and purifying disposition in a regenerate person, which will still be a-working and casting it out.
But now mark, in men of impure hearts and lives, the scum does not only arise—but it seethes and boils in. Ezek. 24:12, "She wearied herself with lies, and her great scum went not forth out of her;" notwithstanding all the threatenings of God, and all the judgments of God upon her—yet her scum and filthiness boiled in. Though God boiled Jerusalem in the pot of his judgments—yet her scum and filth stuck to every side of her. Wicked men's scum and filth does not only arise—but it also seethes and boils in, and mingles together with their spirits. But so does not the scum and filth which rises in a gracious heart. A sheep may fall into the mire—but a swine delights to wallow in the mire. [John 4:14. All resistance of sin in a Scripture phrase is called conquest; for in the resistance of it, there is as much love showed to God as in the conquest of it, though there be not so much power seen.] But,
[14.] Fourteenthly,A godly man may argue thus: Such as sin has not a dominion over me, therefore I am not not under the law—but under grace. Romans 6:14. Sin may dwell in a saint—but it shall never reign in a saint. Look! as those beasts, in that Dan. 7:12, had their dominion taken away, though their lives were spared and prolonged for a season and a time; so when Christ and grace enters into the soul, they take away the dominion of sin, though they do for a time spare the life of sin. To prevent mistakes, premise with me briefly these few things:
First, that in every regenerate man, there are two men—an old man and a new man; or if you please, flesh and spirit, Romans 7.
Secondly, The old man, the fleshly part, will incline the soul, and bias the soul, as well to sins against the gospel, as to sins against the law, and to great sins as well as small sins; witness Noah's drunkenness, Lot's incest, Asa's oppression, David's murder and adultery, Solomon's idolatry, and Peter's blasphemy.
Thirdly, The old man, the fleshly part, is as much in the will as in any other part of the regenerate man. And therefore, when he falls into heinous sins, he may fall into them with consent, delight, and willingness, so far as his will is unrenewed. Though a real Christian be changed in every part, 1 Thes. 5:23—yet it is but in part and imperfect.
Fourthly, The old man, the fleshly part, is in a regenerate man's members, as well as in his will, and therefore they may be exercised and employed in and about those sins they have consented unto.
Fifthly, High sinnings injure and wound the conscience of a regenerate man, and lay him open to the sore rebukes of God, and call for great repentance, and fresh and frequent applications of the blood of Christ.
These things being premised, a question may be propounded, namely:
Question.What does the dominion of sin import, and wherein does it consist? Now to this considerable question, I shall give these eight following answers:
[1.] First, Sin is in dominion, when it has the universal and sovereign command of the soul, when it has an absolute power, when it has such an authority in the soul to command it as a king does his subjects, or as the centurion did his servants: Mat. 8:9, "For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this man, Go, and he goes; and to another, Come, and he comes; and to my servant, Do this, and he does it." Now when sin has such a universal and easy authority and command over the whole man, body and soul, as that it can use them in the service of sin, when and where and how it pleases, then sin is in dominion. Where there is a peaceable, uncontrolled, willing, universal subjection of the whole man unto the commands of sin, there sin reigns, Eph. 2:2-3. But,
[2.] Secondly, Sin is in dominion, when in a course, when ordinarily, there is a quiet, free, willing, and total yielding of subjection to the authority, law, and command of sin. Mark, it is a full possession, a complete delight, and a constant contentment in sin, that speaks out the reign and dominion of sin, Romans 6:13-16. Dominion of sin imports a complete and universal resignation of the whole will and man to the obedience of it. That man who is wholly addicted and devoted to the ways of sin, that man is under the reign of sin—that man whose whole heart is universally married to his lusts—that man is under the dominion of his lusts. When a man does as freely, cheerfully, universally, and readily obey his lusts, as a child does his father—then sin is in dominion. When a man sins with greediness, when with Ahab he "sells himself to work wickedness," 1 Kings 21:25, when he commits "wickedness with both hands," Micah 7:3, when he gives himself up or over "to all uncleanness and filthiness," Eph. 2:3, when he freely and voluntarily resigns and surrenders up his body and soul to the obedience of sin—then sin reigns, then it keeps the throne.
Where the dominion of sin is erected, there it sits in the heart, as a king in his throne, and gives forth its laws and commands to the soul and body, and those commands are listened to, and consented to, approved and delighted in, etc. [A man may be subject, as a captive, in this or that particular tyranny of sin, who is not obedient as a servant to all the government of sin; for that takes in the whole will, and an adequate submission thereof to the peaceable and uncontrolled power of sin, Romans 7:16, 19, 23.] A subject cannot in a course more freely, willingly, universally, and cheerfully obey the commands of his prince, than a sinner does in a course freely, willingly, universally, and cheerfully obey the commands of his lusts. And wherever this sad temper of spirit is—there is sin in dominion.
But now mark, a regenerate man's will rises against his sin, even then when he is worsted by sin and led captive by sin. A tyrant is obeyed unwillingly; the wills of his subjects rise up against his commands, and if his power were not superior to their wills, they would never obey him. Sin is no king—but a tyrant in the souls of the saints, and therefore their wills, so far as they are renewed, cannot but rise against it. [The apostle, as Chrysostom and Theodoret observes, on Romans 6:12, does not say, Let not sin tyrannize, for that is sin's own work, and not ours. But he says, Let it not reign in you; for when a king reigns, the subjects do, as it were, actively obey and embrace his command, whereas they are rather patients than agents in a tyranny.]
O sirs! remember this forever, that the molesting, vexing, and tempting power of sin, does not speak out its dominion; for sin may molest, and vex, and tempt as an enemy—where it does not rule and reign as a king. As you see this day in many nations of the earth, there are many enemies that do molest, vex, and tempt the subjects of those nations, who yet are far enough off from having any rule or dominion over them.
But sin is in dominion, when it commands in the heart as a king in his throne, or as a Lord in his house, or as a general in his army—freely, boldly, universally, cheerfully; and when the soul does as freely, boldly, universally, and cheerfully subject itself to sin's commands. Where men commonly yield up their wills and affections to the commands of sin, there sin reigns. And this is the case of every unregenerate man.
But where the will does commonly make a stout opposition to sin, there it reigns not; now this is the case of every regenerate man. That prince cannot truly be said to reign in that kingdom, where commonly he meets with stout opposition; so it is here. A sincere Christian makes it the great business and work of his life, above all other things—to make all the opposition he can against his lusts, and is thoroughly resolved to die fighting against his sins—as Pietro Candiano, one of the Dukes of Venice, died fighting against the Nauritines—with the weapons in his hand. As Caesar said in a battle he fought against one of Pompey's sons, "At other times I fought for honor—but now I fight for my life!" So a sincere Christian fights against his sins—as for his life.
Castellio's opinion was vain, namely—that Christians have no combat between flesh and spirit, which is quite contrary to Scripture, Romans 7:14-24, Gal. 5:17, etc., and contrary to the experience of all saints, in all the ages of the world. But,
[3.] Thirdly, When a man is usually insistent in his sinnings, in the face of all reprehensions and arguments which tend to dissuade him from sin—then sin is in dominion, Proverbs 29. 1; Jer. 5:3-4; and 44:15-17. When the constant bent of the heart is inflamed towards sin, and when the desires of the soul are insatiably carried after sin, and when the resolutions of the soul are strongly and habitually set upon sin—then sin is in the throne, and then it reigns as a king. When God hedges up the sinner's way with thorns—yet the sinner will break through all to his sin, Hosea 2:6-7; when life and death, heaven and hell, glory and misery, are set before the sinner—yet the sinner will be insistent in his sinnings, though he loses his life, his soul, and all the glory of another world, then sin reigns, Deut. 30:15-19, and 11:26-29. But,
[4.] Fourthly, When men ordinarily, habitually, commonly are very careful, studious, and laborious to make provision for sin, then sin reigns: Romans 13:14, "Make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof;" or, as the Greek has it, "Make no projects for the flesh," or "cater not for the flesh." When a man's head and heart is full of projects how to gratify this lust, and how to satisfy that lust, and how to fulfill the other lust, then sin reigns, then it is in its throne. James 4:3, "You ask and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you may consume it upon your lusts." [David, in an hour of temptation, once made provision for his lusts, 2 Sam. 11:14-15. But this was not his course, his trade, etc.]
Both the law of God and nature requires me to make provision of shelter, food, clothing, and health for my body, and for theirs who are under my charge. But it may cost me my life, my estate, yes, my very soul, to make provision for my lusts. Such as ask amiss shall be sure to ask and miss. He who would make God a servant to his lusts, may ask long enough before God will answer. Of all affronts there is none to this—of making God a servant to our lusts. And where this frame of spirit is, there sin is in dominion, Hosea 2:8. He who abuses mercies to serve his lusts, fights against God with his own weapons, as David did against Goliath, and as Benhadad did against Ahab, with that very life that he had newly given him; such a soul, like the waters of Jordan, will at last certainly drop into the dead lake. "But,
[5.] Fifthly, When sin is commonly, habitually sweet, and the soul takes a daily pleasure and delight in it, then it reigns; as you may see by comparing these scriptures. [Job 20:12-13; Proverbs 2:14; Amos 6:13; Zeph. 3:11; 2 Thes. 2:12-3 Plutarch.] When a man daily takes as joyful contentment and satisfaction in his lusts, and in walking after the ways of his own heart, as he does in his highest outward enjoyments, or in his nearest and dearest relations, then certainly sin is in dominion. Such men as can go constantly on in a way of wickedness, merely to delight and please the flesh—such men are certainly under the power and reign of sin.
Many of the heathens, who knew what rational delights were, scorned sensual delights as inferior to them. These will one day rise in judgment against many of the professors in our days. I know there is no real pleasure or delight in sin. If intemperance could afford more pleasure than temperance, then Heliogabalus would have been more happy than Adam in paradise; yes, if there were the least real delight in sin, there could be no perfect hell, where men shall most completely sin, and most completely be tormented with their sins.
What sin is so sweet or profitable, that is worth burning in hell for—or worth being shut out of heaven for? etc. But,
[6.] Sixthly, When men commonly take part with sin, when they take up arms in the defense of sin, and in defiance of the commands of God, the motions of the Spirit, and the checks of conscience—then sin is in dominion. He who readily, resolvedly, and habitually fights sin's battles—is sin's servant, and without all question under the reign and dominion of sin. Look! as we groundedly conclude, that such men are under the reign and dominion of that king, that they readily, resolvedly, and habitually take up arms to fight for him; so when the inward faculties of the soul, and the outward members of the body, do readily resolve, and habitually take up arms to fight for sin, then and there sin is in dominion, as you may plainly see by consulting these scriptures. [Romans 6:19-20; Eph. 2:2-3; Titus 3:3.]
But where the soul readily, resolvedly, and habitually strives against sin, conflicts with it, and makes war against it—there it is not in dominion, there it reigns not, as you may see by comparing these scriptures. [Romans 7:23-24; Gal. 5:17; Romans 8:13.] That man who can truly appeal to God, and say, Lord! you who know all hearts and things, you know that there is nothing under the whole heavens that I am so desirous and ambitious of as this—that my sins may be subdued, that my strongest lusts may be mortified, and that those very corruptions that my nature, constitution, and complexion are most inclined to, may be brought to an under control—that man who can appeal to God, and say, O Lord! whatever becomes of me, I will never be reconciled to any known sin; yes, Lord, though I should perish for ever—yet I am resolved to fight against my sins forever; let God do what he will against me, I will do all I can against my sins, and to honor my God—that man is not under the reign and dominion of sin. But,
 Seventhly, When sin commonly rises by opposition, then it reigns. Look! as grace, when it is in the throne, it rises by opposition: 2 Sam. 6:22, "I will yet be more vile;" Mark 10:47-48, "And many charged him who he should hold his peace: but he cried the more a great deal, O Son of David, have mercy on me"; [ Acts 4:6-34, 5:40-42.] So when sin is in the throne, it rises higher and higher by opposition. As the more water you cast upon lime, the more fiercely it burns; so when sin is in its reign and dominion, it flames out the more by opposition. Witness the Jews' malice and envy against Christ, which, when it received but a little easy, gentle check by Pilate, they cried out so much the more, "Crucify him! crucify him!" Mark 15:12-14.
A man who is under the reign and dominion of sin, is like the rainbow; the rainbow is never on that side of the world that the sun is—but wherever it appears, it is in opposition against the sun: if the sun be in the east, the rainbow is in the west, etc. Where sin has the throne, it will still rise higher and higher by opposition. Reprove a swearer for swearing, and he will swear so much the more; yes, many times he will swear that he did not swear, when indeed he did. And so it holds in all other vices that the sinner is given up to. It is said of Catiline, that he was a compound and bundle of warring lusts and vices; the same may be said of all others, where sin is in dominion. But,
[8.] Eighthly, and lastly, If the Lord Jesus Christ has not dominion over you, then sin has certainly dominion over you, Romans 6:17-18. Christ has no dominion over that soul, which sin has dominion over, and sin has no dominion over that soul, which Christ has dominion over. Christ and sin cannot have dominion over the same soul at one and the same time; Christ's dominion is destructive to sin, and inconsistent with sin's dominion, etc.
Question. "But how shall I know whether the Lord Jesus Christ has dominion over my soul or not? How shall I know whether the Lord Jesus Christ is my Lord or not? For if I can but groundedly conclude that Christ is my Lord, then I may very boldly, safely, and undoubtedly conclude—that sin is not my Lord. But if Christ be not my Lord, I may more than fear that sin is certainly my Lord.
Answer. Can you truly say, in the presence of the great and glorious God, who is the trier and searcher of all hearts—that you have given up your heart and life to the rule, authority, and government of Jesus Christ; and that you have chosen him to be your sovereign Lord and King, and are truly willing to submit to his dominion, as the only precious and righteous, holy and heavenly, sweet and pleasant, profitable and comfortable, safe and best dominion in all the world; and to resign up your heart, your will, your affections, your life, your all—really to Christ, wholly to Christ, and only to Christ? [Psalm 139:23-24, 26:2; Jar. 11:20, 17:10; Proverbs 17:3; 1 Thes. 2:4.] Can you truly say, O dear Lord Jesus! other lords, namely—the world, the flesh, and the devil—have too long had dominion over me. But now these lords I utterly renounce, I forever renounce, and do give up myself to you, as my only Lord, beseeching you to rule and reign over me forever and ever, Isaiah 26:13; O Lord, though sin rages, and Satan roars, and the world sometimes frowns, and sometimes fawns—yet I am resolved to own you as my only Lord, and to serve you as my only Lord, Joshua 24:5. My greatest fear is of offending you, and my chief care shall be to please you, and my only joy shall be to be praise and honor you. O Lord, I can appeal to you in the sincerity of my heart, that though I have many invincible weaknesses and infirmities which hang upon me, and though I am often worsted by my sins and overcome in an hour of temptation—yet you who know all thoughts and hearts—you know that I have given up my heart to the obedience of Jesus Christ, and do daily give it up to his rule and government. You know that it is the earnest desire of my soul, above all things in this worldhat Jesus Christ may set up his laws in my heart, and exercise his dominion over me.
Now, doubtless there is not the weakest Christian in the world—but can venture himself upon such an appeal to God as this is. And without all question, where such a frame and temper of spirit is, there the dominion of Jesus Christ is set up. And where the dominion of Christ is set up, there sin has no dominion. But where the dominion of Christ is not set up, there sin is in full dominion. Christ's dominion cannot exist with sin's dominion, nor can sin's dominion exist with Christ's dominion, Mat. 6:24.
Now by these eight things, if men are not resolved beforehand to put a cheat upon their own souls, they may know whether their sins have dominion over them or not, and so accordingly conclude for or against themselves. "But,
[15.] Fifteenthly,and lastly, A godly man may argue thus: There is no condemnation to those who do not walk after the flesh—but after the Spirit, Romans 8:1. I do not walk after the flesh—but after the Spirit; therefore there is no condemnation to me. [Walking, in Scripture, signifies to hold on a course of life, Gen. 5:22, and 18:1.] Walking after the flesh notes a course of sin. Walking after the Spirit notes a course of godliness. Now, to such as keep off from a course of sin, and that keep on in a course of godliness—there is no condemnation. There is not one condemnation; for God the Father won't condemn such a person; nor will Jesus Christ condemn such a person; nor will the Holy Spirit condemn such a person; nor will the word of grace condemn such a person; nor is there any commandment or threatening which will condemn such a person; no, nor will such a man's own heart or conscience, if it is rightly informed, condemn him. And therefore well may the Holy Spirit say to such a one, There is no condemnation to such a one; there is not one condemnation! etc.
Now thus you see, "by comparing spiritual things with spiritual things," and by a rational arguing from Scripture, a man may attain unto a comfortable certainty of his gracious state, and safely and groundedly conclude his saving interest in Christ. Now this assurance of God's favor, "by the witnessing of our own spirits," is more easily attained than most Christians imagine; for let a gracious man but clear himself of heart-condemning sins, and rationally argue as before has been hinted, and he will speedily reach to some comfortable, supporting, soul-satisfying and soul-quieting assurance, there being an infallible connection between the fore-mentioned graces and future glory, 1 John 3:20-21. These fifteen arguments may well be looked upon as fifteen sure and infallible evidences of the goodness and happiness of a Christian's estate.
Oh that you would often, every day, think on this, namely—that the undoubted verity of God's promises proves an inseparable connection between true faith and eternal glory: "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." John 3:14-16. "Truly, truly"—these serious asseverations or protestations amount almost to an oath—"I say unto you, He who hears my words, and believes on him who sent me, has everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation. But has passed from death to life." John 5:24. "He who believes on the Son has everlasting life." John 3:36. He has it in the promise, he has it in the first-fruits, Romans 8:23; he has it in the pledge, Eph. 1:13-14; and he has it in Christ his head, Eph. 2:6. "He who believes, and is baptized, shall be saved; he who believes not shall be damned." Mark 16:16. "Behold, I lay in Zion a chief corner-stone, elect, precious: and he who believes on him shall not be confounded." 1 Peter 2:6. "For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." John 6:40. Verse 47, "Truly, truly, I say unto you, He who believes on me has everlasting life."
John 11:25, "Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection and the life: he who believes in me, though he were dead—yet shall he live." Verse 26, "And whoever lives, and believes in me, shall never die." John 20:31, "But these are written, that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you might have life through his name." Look! as certainly as the unbeliever shall be cast into outer darkness, so certainly shall the believer be partaker of the glorious inheritance of the saints in light; for certainly the promises are as true as the threatenings.
Acts 16:30-31, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ—and you shall be saved." The apostle speaks not doubtingly, Perhaps you shall be saved; nor they do not say, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and it may be you may go to heaven. But they speak boldly, confidently, peremptorily, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved." Joshua 23:14, 21:45. O my soul! what greater certainty and security can any man have than the infallible promise of that God who is truth itself, who will not, who cannot, deny his word? But the same love and free grace that moved him to infuse grace into his children's souls, will move him also to keep the word which has gone out of his mouth, and to make good whatever he has promised. Thus you evidently see that the promises prove an inseparable connection between grace and glory, between faith and everlasting life; so that, let me but prove that I have a saving faith, and the scriptures last cited prove infallibly that I shall be saved.
Oh, labor as for life, daily to give a firm and fixed assent to the truth of those blessed promises last cited, and hold it as an indisputable and inviolable principle, that whoever believes on the Lord Jesus Christ, or whoever has received Christ as his Lord and Savior, shall be certainly saved. [1 Tim. 1:15; 1 John 1:9; Heb. 6:17-18; Ezek. 32:11, 18:32; 1 John 5:10-14; James 2:19.] This is the person that has the word, the promise, the covenant, the oath of that God who cannot possibly lie, or die—for the pardon of his sin, and for the salvation of his soul. Now,
O my soul, what more security could you ask, than that which the great Jehovah, the faithful God, of his own accord, has given to you, namely, his word and his oath? Now not to believe God upon his promise and oath, is to make him a liar, yes, the worst of liars; yes, it is to do worse than the devils, for they "believe and tremble." Though the word of the Lord deserves the greatest credit that any mortals can give unto it, he being truth itself who has said it, though it has no oath nor no asseverations to be its surety—yet God, in his infinite condescending love to poor sinners, that he may sink the truth of what he says deeper into the hearts and minds of his people, and leave the fairer and fuller print in our assents to the same, he sets on the word of promise with the weight of asseverations and oaths; yes, and to all these he has annexed his broad seal, the Lord's supper, and the privy seal of his Spirit. Oh unreasonable unbelief! shall not the oath of God silence all disputes? A man would never desire of any honest man, so much as God has condescended to, for the confirmation of our faith. Witness his promises, his covenant, his oath, and his seals; and therefore let us give glory to him by believing, and quietly rest upon his faithfulness.
O sirs! that soul who dares not take his sanctification as an evidence, yes, as a choice and sure evidence of his saving interest in Christ, and of the Lord's precious love to him, according to the promises of his favor and grace, several of which has been but now under consideration, that soul ought to acknowledge it as his sin, yes, as his great sin, for which he deserves to be smartly rebuked, as making God a great liar. O my friends! it is a spiritual peevishness and sinful crossness that keeps many godly men and women long in a sad, dark, doubting, perplexed, and disconsolate condition. And certainly it is no small sin to set light by any work of the blessed Spirit, and the joy, comfort, and peace that we might have by it. Ah, how many are there who fear the Lord—who quench, grieve, vex, and provoke the Holy Spirit, by denying his work, and by quarreling against themselves, and the blessed work of the Spirit in them! Certainly it is the duty of every Christian to hear as well what can be said for him, as what can be said against him.
Many poor, weak, and yet sincere Christians, are often apt to be too sour, rigid and bitter against their own souls; they love to practice a merciless severity against themselves; they do not objectively, impartially consider how the case stands between God and their own souls. [Psalm 72:2, Psalm 88; Job. 15:11, Job 16:8-9.] It is in this case, as Solomon speaks in another: "One man pretends to be rich, yet has nothing; another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth," Proverbs 13:7. That is, there be those in the world who pretend they are rich, and make a show before men as if they were men of great estates, whereas indeed they are exceeding poor and needy. [Ever since man ceased to be what he should be, he strives to seem to be what he is not. It is not the outward show, which shows what things are.]
There are not a few that stretch their wing beyond their nest; that bear a port beyond their estates; that dress up themselves with other men's plumes, laying it on above measure in clothes, in high entertainments, in stately buildings, in great attendance, etc., when not worth one groat in all the world. And there are others again who are exceeding rich and wealthy, and yet look upon themselves to be very poor and needy. To apply this spiritually, it is the damning sin of the self-flattering hypocrite, to make himself rich, to make himself significant, to make his condition better than it is, Rev. 3:17. And it is the vanity, the folly of some sincere Christians to make their condition worse than indeed it is, to make themselves more miserable and unhappy than indeed they are. Ah, Christians! it is sad with you, it is night with you, when you read over the evidences of God's love to your souls, as a man does a book which he intends to confute. Is it not sad when Christians shall study hard to find evasions to wheel off all those comforts, refreshings, cheerings, and supports, which are offered to them, which are due to them, and that they may upon gospel grounds justly claim as their portion, as their inheritance? And oh that all such Christians would seriously and frequently lay to heart these eight things.
[1.] First, That they highly dishonor the blessed God, and the work of his grace, by denying that which he has done for them and wrought in them.
[2.] Secondly, They are spiritual murderers, they are self-murderers, they are soul-murderers; for by this means they stab and wound their own precious souls and consciences through and through with many a deadly dart. Now is there any murder like to spiritual murder, to self-murder, to soul-murder? Surely not. "But,
[3.] Thirdly, They are thieves; for by this means they rob their own precious souls of that joy, peace, comfort, rest, content, assurance, and satisfaction which otherwise they might enjoy. Now there is no theft to spiritual theft; and of all spiritual theft, there is none to that which reaches the precious and immortal soul. Even the godly man will walk uncomfortably so long as he concludes and strongly fears that his estate is sinful; for sensible comfort rises or falls, comes on or goes off, according to the strength of our judgment and present apprehensions. Observe, it is not what indeed our estate is—but what we judge of it, which breeds in us sensible comfort or discomfort. A sound sincere heart be very heavy and disconsolate upon an unsound misconstruction and judging of its true condition. But,
[4.] Fourthly, They bear false witness against Christ, his Spirit, their own souls, and the work of grace that is wrought in them. Oh how many dark, doubting, drooping Christians are there, who, if you would give them ten thousand worlds—yet would never be brought to bear false witness against their poorest neighbor, brother, or friend—and that out of conscience, because of that command, "You shall not bear false witness," etc., who yet make no conscience, no bones of it, frequently to bear witness against the Lord Jesus Christ, and his gracious works upon their own hearts! But,
[5.] Fifthly, They join with Satan and his work and his suggestions, and with that strong party he has in them, against the Lord Jesus Christ and his work, and his weak party in them. Sin is Satan's work, and grace is Christ's work. Now, how sad is it to see a Christian fall in with Satan's work in him, against the work of Christ that is in him. Satan has a strong party in their souls, and Christ has but a weak party. Now, how unjust is it for them to help the strong against the weak, when they should upon many accounts be a-helping the weak against the strong, a-helping the Lord against the mighty, a-helping weak grace against strong and mighty corruptions. Ah, how skillful and careful are many weak Christians to make headway against the work of Christ in their own souls, and to plead hard for Satan and his works in them, as if they had received a fee from him to plead against Christ and their own souls.
O Christians! that you would be wise at last, and let Baal plead for Baal, let Satan plead for himself—but you plead for Christ and that seed of God that is in you. Well, remember this—that as fire is often hidden under the embers, so grace is often hid under many foul distempers. And as a little fire is fire, though it be even smothered under the embers, so a little grace is grace, though it be even smothered under much corruption, 1 John 3:9.
Now, by these short hints you may easily perceive how many royal commands these poor Christians transgress who deny and belie the blessed work of the Lord in them. But,
[6.] Sixthly, They rob the Spirit of all the honor and glory that is due unto him for that blessed work of grace and holiness that he has formed up in their hearts. Oh what a grief and dishonor must it be to the Holy Spirit, that when he has put forth a power in men's hearts equivalent to that by which the world was created, and by which Christ was raised from the dead, we find it overlooked, and not at all acknowledged, Romans 8:11. The Holy Spirit is very tender. But do these poor doubting souls behave tenderly to him? Surely not.
Dear Christians, the standing law of heaven is, "Quench not the Spirit," 1 Thes. 5:19. You must remember that you may grieve and quench the Spirit:
(1.) not only by your enormities, Isaiah 63:10;
(2.) not only by refusing the cordials and comforts that he brings to your doors, yes, which he puts to your mouths, Psalm 77:2;
(3.) not only slighting and despising his gracious actings in others, Acts 2:13;
(4.) nor only by fathering those sins and vanities upon him who are only the brats and fruits of Satan and your own hearts. But also,
(5.) in the fifth place, by misjudging and miscalling the precious grace that he has wrought in your souls, as by judging and calling your faith fancy, your sincerity hypocrisy, your wisdom folly, your light darkness, your zeal wild-fire, etc.
Now, O sirs! will you make conscience, yes, much conscience, of quenching the Spirit in the four first respects, and will you make no conscience of quenching the Spirit in this fifth and last respect? Oh, how can this be? Oh, why should this be? But,
[7.] Seventhly, They hinder grace greatly; for how can grace spring, and thrive, and flourish, and increase in the soul, when the soul is full of daily fears and doubts that the root of the matter is not in it, Job 19:28; or that the root is still unsound; or that the work that is passed upon it is not a work of God's saving power, 1 Thes. 1:5; or that it is not a special and peculiar work—but some common work of the Spirit, which a man may have and go to hell? But,
[8.] Eighthly, and lastly, They very much discourage, dishearten, and disanimate many poor, weak Christians, who observing of them, of whom they have had very high and honorable thoughts for the grace of God that they have judged to be in them, to be still a-questioning of their integrity, and still a-doubting of the graciousness and goodness of their conditions, do begin to question their own estates and conditions; yes, and many times peremptorily to conclude that surely they have no grace, they have no saving interest in Christ, and that all this while they have but put a cheat upon their own souls.
Now, oh that all poor, weak, dark, doubting Christians would never leave praying over these eight things, and pondering upon these eight things, until they are perfectly cured of that spiritual malady that they have been long laboring under, and which has been very prejudicial to the peace and comfort of their own souls.
Dear hearts, a gracious soul may safely, boldly, constantly, and groundedly say that which the word of the Lord says. Now, the word of the Lord says, that "the poor in spirit are blessed, and that those who mourn are blessed, and that those who hunger and thirst after righteousness are blessed, and that those who are pure in heart are blessed," Mat. 5:3-4, 6, 8—and therefore he is blessed. And assuredly he who cannot embrace and seal to these as true and blessed evidences of a safe and happy condition, is greatly to lament and mourn over his unbelief, and earnestly to seek the Lord to persuade his heart and to satisfy and overpower his soul in this thing, as the poor man in the Gospel did: Mark 9:24, "And straightway the father of the child cried out with tears, Lord, I believe; help my unbelief."
O sirs! the condition of the promises last cited being fulfilled, the promises themselves must certainly and infallibly be fulfilled, else the great and blessed God would lie, be unrighteous, unfaithful, and deny himself; [Joshua 21:45, 23:14-15; 1 John 5:10-12.] which is as impossible as for God to die, or to send another Savior, or to give his glory to graven images. Assuredly the too hard, the too harsh, the too severe, the too jealous thoughts and conjectures; and the too humble, if I may so speak, censures and surmises that many weak, doubting Christians have of themselves, or of the goodness or graciousness of their estates, by reason of the weakness of their graces, or depth of melancholy, or the present prevalency of some unmortified lusts, or the subtlety of Satan—shall never make void the faithfulness of God, or the promises of God, which in Christ Jesus are all yes and amen, 2 Cor. 1:20.
Doubtless God will never shut any poor, weak, doubting Christian out of heaven, because through bashfulness, or an excess of modesty, or the present darkness that is upon his understanding, or through the ungroundedness of some strong fears of an eternal miscarriage, he cannot entertain such good thoughts, such honest thoughts, such gracious thoughts of himself, or of the goodness or happiness of his condition, as he should entertain, and as he would entertain, if once he could but be too hard for the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Oh that you would remember this forever, namely—that the Lord never makes any promises to support, comfort, cheer, and encourage his people against their sadness, darkness, doubts, and droppings—but they shall support, comfort, cheer, and encourage his poor people in that condition; for otherwise the Lord should provide means for an end, out of his infinite wisdom, love, and tender care and compassion towards his people, and yet they should never attain that end. But thus to imagine is no small folly; yes, it is little less than blasphemy. Well, sirs! this is to be forever remembered, namely, that whatever gift or grace of God in man brings him within the compass of God's promises of eternal favors and mercies, that gift, that grace, must needs be an infallible sign or evidence of salvation. But such are the gifts and graces specified in the fifteen particulars but now cited, and therefore that soul that really finds those gifts and graces in himself, or any of them, shall certainly be saved. But,
9. The ninth maxim or consideration.Consider this—That in different men there are different degrees of assurance. And in one and the same gracious soul there are different degrees of assurance at different times—but there is in no man at any time in this life perfection of degrees; for our understanding and knowledge in this life is imperfect both as to the faculty and its acts. 1 Cor. 13:12, "For now we see through a mirror darkly (Gr., in a riddle)—but then face to face. Now I know in part—but then shall I know even [Look! as God knows me after a manner agreeable to his infinite excellency, so shall I know God according to my capacity, not obscurely—but perfectly, as it were face to face.] as also I am known." A clear, distinct, immediate, full, and perfect knowledge of God is desirable on earth—but we shall never attain to it until we come to heaven. This well is deep, and for the most part we lack a bucket to draw with. The best of men can better tell what God is not—than what he is; the most acute and judicious people in divine knowledge have and must acknowledge their ignorance. Witness that great apostle Paul, who learned his divinity among the angels, and had the Holy Spirit for his immediate tutor—yet he confesses that he knew but in part.
Certainly there is no man under heaven who has such a perfect, complete, and full assurance of his salvation—as that one degree cannot be added to the former. Neither is there any repugnancy in asserting an infallible assurance and denying a perfect assurance; for I infallibly know that there is a God, and that this God is holy, just, and true, and yet I have no perfect knowledge of a deity, nor of the holiness, justice, and truth of God, for in this life the most knowing man knows but in part.
Dear friends! in the church of Christ there are believers of several growths: there are fathers, young men, children, and babes, 1 John 1:13-14; 1 Peter 2:2. And as in most families there are commonly more children and babes than grown men, so in the church of Christ there are commonly more weak, staggering, doubting Christians than there are strong ones, grown up to a full assurance. Some think that as soon as they are assured, they must needs be void of all fears, and filled with all joy in believing—but this is a real mistake; for glorious and ravishing joy is a separable thing from assurance; nor yet does assurance exclude all doubts and fears—but only such doubts and fears as arises from infidelity and reigning hypocrisy. But,
10. The tenth maxim or consideration.Consider, We have no ground from Scripture to expect that God should, either by a voice from heaven, or by sending an angel from about his throne, or by any glorious apparitions or strong impressions, or by any extraordinary way of revelations—assure us that we do believe, or that our grace is true, or that our saving interest in God and Christ is certain, or that our pardon is sealed in heaven, or that we are in a justified state, and that we shall be at last undoubtedly saved. Oh no! But we are to use all those blessed helps and means which are appointed by God, and common to all believers, for the obtaining of a particular assurance that we are believers, and that our state is good, and that we have a special propriety in Christ and in all the fundamental good that comes by him.
Mark—he who will receive no establishment, no comfort, no peace, no assurance, except it be administered by the hand of an angel, and witnessed to by some voice from heaven, etc., will certainly live and die without establishment, comfort, peace, or assurance. Gregory tells us of a religious lady, who, being much troubled about her salvation, did write unto him, that she "would never cease importuning of him until he had sent her word that he had received a revelation from heaven that her sins were pardoned, and that she was saved." To whom he returned this answer, "That it was a hard and altogether a useless matter which she required of him; it was difficult for him to obtain, as being unworthy to have the secret counsels of God to be imparted to him, and it was as unprofitable for her to know: and that, first, because such a revelation might make her too secure. And secondly, because it was impossible for him to demonstrate and make known unto her or any other the truth and infallibility of the revelation which he had received to be from God, so that, should she afterwards call into question the truth of it, as well she might, her troubles and doubtings concerning her salvation would have been as great as they were before."
Oh therefore, let all believers that would have sure establishment, sound comfort, lasting peace, and true and sweet assurance of the love of God, and of their saving interest in Christ, etc., take heed of flying unto revelations, visions or voices from heaven—to assure them of their salvation, and of the love of God, and of their saving interest in Christ, etc. If you who are advantaged to consult church history, you will find upon record that where one has been mistaken about searching his own heart, and trying his ways, and observing the frame and temper of his own spirit—many hundreds have been eternally deceived and deluded by voices, visions, apparitions, revelations, and strange impulses and strong impressions, especially among the Romanists, 2 Thes. 2:9-12. And within these few years, have not many hundreds in this nation fallen under the same woeful delusions, who are all for crying up a light within, and a Christ within? etc. And this you are seriously and conscientiously to observe in opposition to the papists, who boldly and stoutly affirm that assurance of a man's salvation can be had by no other means than by extraordinary revelation. Witness the council of Trent, who have long since said, "That if any man says that he knows he shall certainly persevere, or infallibly be assured of his election, except he has this by special revelation, let him be Anathema." Without all question, God will one day cross and curse such a wicked council, which curses his people for asserting and maintaining that that may certainly be obtained in this life, as I have sufficiently proved by ten arguments in my treatise called Heaven on Earth, from page 1 to page 26.
I think there is a great truth in that Confession of Faith, which says that "infallible assurance does not so belong to the essence of faith—but that a true believer may wait long and conflict with many difficulties before he is partaker of it. Yet, being enabled by the Spirit to know the things which are freely given him of God, he may without any extraordinary revelation, in the right use of ordinary means, attain thereunto. And therefore it is the duty of everyone to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure." [1 John 5:13; Isaiah 50:10; Mark 9:24; 1 Cor. 2:12; 1 John 4:13-14; Heb. 6:11-12; Eph. 3:17-19; 2 Peter 1:10] But,
11. The eleventh maxim or consideration.Consider that probabilities of grace, of sincerity, of a saving interest in Christ, and of salvation—may be a very great help, and a singular support, and a special cordial and comfort to many precious Christians who lack that sweet and blessed assurance that their souls do earnestly breathe and long after. There are doubtless many thousands of "the precious sons and daughters of Zion comparable to fine gold," Lam. 4:2, who have not a clear and full assurance of their saving interest in Christ, nor of the saving work of God upon their souls, who yet have many evidences of grace, and of a saving interest in Christ. Now doubtless evidences of grace and of a saving interest in Christ may serve to keep off fears and doubts, and darkness and sadness, and all rash and peremptory conclusions against a man's own soul, and his everlasting welfare, and may contribute very much to the keeping up of a great deal of peace, comfort, and quietness in his soul. The probable grounds that you have grace, and that God has begun to work powerfully and savingly upon you, are mercies more worth than ten thousand worlds. Will you please seriously and frequently to dwell upon these ten particulars.
[1.] First,That though many weak gracious souls do not enjoy communion with God in joy and delight—yet they do enjoy communion with God in sorrow and tears, Hos. 12:4; Isaiah 38:3; Psalm 51:17. A man may have communion with God in a heart-humbling, a heart-melting, and a heart-abasing way, when he has not communion with God in a heart-reviving, a heart-cheering, and a heart-comforting way. It is a very great mistake among many weak, tender-spirited Christians, to think that they have no communion with God in duties, except they meet with God embracing and kissing, cheering and comforting up their souls. And oh that all Christians would remember this once for all, namely—that a Christian may have as real communion with God in a heart-humbling way, as he can have in a heart-comforting way, John 20:11-19. A Christian may have as choice communion with God when his eyes are full of tears, as he can have when his heart is full of joy. When a godly man upon his dying bed was asked which were his most joyful days, either those before his conversion or those since his conversion, upon which he cried out, "Oh give me my mourning days again, give me my mourning days again, for they were my most joyful days." Many times a poor Christian has never more joy in his heart than when his eyes are full of tears. But,
[2.] Secondly,Though many poor, weak, doubting, trembling Christians dare not say that they do love the Lord Jesus Christ—yet they dare say that they would love the Lord Jesus Christ with all their hearts, and with all their souls, and they dare say, that if it were in their power, they would even shed tears of blood because they cannot love Christ both as they would and as they should. [It was a famous saying of Austin's, he loves not Christ at all—who loves not Christ above all.] Blessed Bradford would sit and weep at dinner until the tears fell on his plate, because he could love God no more. So the poor, doubting, trembling Christian mourns and laments because he can love Christ no more. "A man may love gold, and yet not have it—but no man loves God but he is sure to have God," says Augustine. A godly man once cried out, "I had rather have one Christ, than a thousand worlds."
[3.] Thirdly,Though many poor, weak, doubting, trembling Christians dare not say that they have grace—yet they dare say that they prize the least grain of grace above all the gold and silver of the Indies. Were all the world a lump of gold, and in their hands to dispose of it, they would give it for grace, yes, for a little grace. Now certainly no man can thus highly prize grace but he who has grace. No man sees the worth and luster of grace, no man sees a beauty and excellency in grace, no man can value grace above the gold of Ophir—but he whose heart has been changed, and whose eyes has been opened by the spirit of grace. But,
[4.] Fourthly,Though many poor, doubting, trembling Christians dare not say that their condition is good, that their condition is safe and happy—yet they dare say that they would not for ten thousand worlds change their conditions with the vain and debauched men of the world—who delight in sin, who wallow in sin, who make a sport of sin, and who live under the reign and dominion of sin. They had rather, with Lazarus, be full of sores and full of needs, and live and die in rags, and after all be carried by angels into Abraham's bosom, than with Dives, every day to fare sumptuously, and be clothed gloriously, and perish eternally, Luke 16. Though they are poor—and wicked men are rich; though they are debased—and wicked men are exalted; though they are empty—and wicked men are full; though they are low—and wicked men are high; though they enjoy nothing—and wicked men enjoy everything. Yet they would not for as many worlds as there be men in the world change conditions with them. But,
[5.] Fifthly,Though poor, doubting, staggering, trembling Christians dare not say that they do not sin, because there is not a just man upon the earth, who does good and sins not: Eccles. 7:20, "And because no man can say I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin;" Proverbs 20:9, "And because in many things we offend all;" James 3:2, And because "if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us;" 1 John 1:8, chapter 3:6, 8- 10. Yet they dare say that they would not willingly, willfully, wickedly, resolutely, maliciously, and habitually sin against the Lord to gain the whole world. Though they dare not say they do not sin—yet they dare say, if they might have their choice, they would never dishonor God more, nor crucify the Lord of glory more, nor grieve the Spirit of grace more, nor wound conscience more, nor cloud the face of God more, nor darken their evidences for heaven more, nor interrupt their communion with God more, etc. But,
[6.] Sixthly,Though poor, doubting, staggering, trembling Christians dare not say that God is their God, or that Christ is their Redeemer, or that the Spirit is their Comforter. Yet they dare say, that if God, and Christ, and the Spirit, and grace and glory, and holiness and happiness, were offered to them on the one hand—and all the honors, pleasures, profits, delights, and carnal joys of the world were offered them on the other hand—they had ten thousand times rather, they had infinitely rather, choose God, and Christ, and the Spirit, and grace and holiness, and everlasting happiness, than the contrary. Cant. 5:10; Deut. 26:17; Psalm 73:25; Philip. 3:6-8. Look! as Rachel cried out, "Give me children, or I die," Gen. 30:1; so these poor hearts are still crying out, "O Lord, give me yourself, or I die; give me your Christ, or I die; give me your Spirit and grace, or I die; give me pardon of sin, or I die; lift up the light of your countenance upon me, or I die; bring me under the bond of the covenant, or I die. O Lord, let all these things be done, or I am undone, and that forever; Lord, let the men of this world take the world, and divide it among themselves; let me but enjoy yourself, your Christ, your love, and I shall say, "My lot is fallen to me in a pleasant place, and truly I have a goodly heritage," Psalm 16:5, 6. But,
[7.] Seventhly,Though poor, doubting, staggering, trembling Christians dare not say that they have grace in their own hearts—yet they dare say that they dearly love, and highly honor, and greatly prize the graces of the Spirit which they see sparkling and shining in the hearts and lives and lips of other saints. [Acts 11:23; Psalm 15:4; Psalm 16:3; Lam. 4:2; 1 You. 1:2-3; Heb. 11:38.] And they dare say that there are no men in all the world who are so precious, so lovely, so worthy, and so honorable in their eyes, or so high in their esteem—as those who have the image of God, of Christ, of holiness, most clearly, fairly and fully stamped upon them. But,
[8.] Eighthly,Though poor, doubting, trembling Christians dare not say that they have such strength and power against their sins as they would have, or as they should have, or as many of the dear saints of God have, who often lead captivity captive. Yet they dare say, that when the Lord is pleased, now and then, by his Spirit, power, word, grace, etc., to help them, though it be but a little, against their sins, to help them in any measure to subdue their sins, or to assist them to bring any one sin or another to an under, or to arm them against any temptations, occasions, or provocations to sin—there are no such times or seasons of joy, comfort, delight, refreshing, and contentment to their souls as these are. Psalm 65:3, Gal. 5:14. The language of their souls in such a day as this is, is this: Oh that it might be always thus with us! Oh that every day we might lead captivity captive! Oh that every day we might have our lusts at an under! Oh that every day we might triumph over the old man! Oh that every day one lust or another might fall before the power, the Spirit, the presence, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. But,
[9.] Ninthly,Though poor, doubting, staggering, trembling Christians dare not say that they make so much advantage, so much earnings of the sermons they hear, or of the prayers they make, or of the scriptures they read, or of the communion of saints that they enjoy, as others do. Yet they dare say that they would not for all the world cast off praying, or hearing, or reading, or the communion of saints, and give up themselves to the ways of sin and Satan, and the world. Psalm 4:3; 66:19-20; 138:8; Lam. 3:55-58. But,
[10.] Tenthlyand lastly, Though poor, doubting, staggering, trembling Christians dare not say that Christ is their Savior—yet they dare say that they desire and endeavor to honor Christ as their Lord, though they cannot see Christ bestowing himself on them as their Redeemer, John 20:28—yet they are willing to make a resignation of themselves up to him as their king; they are willing to resign up their hearts and lives to the government of Jesus Christ. Though they cannot find comfort—yet they will oppose sin; though they cannot comprehend Christ—yet they will not willingly offend Christ; though they cannot see their own propriety in Christ—yet they desire nothing more than that Christ may claim a propriety in them; though they cannot see Christ as a friend—yet they can look upon sin as an enemy; though they cannot close with the promises—yet they will close with the precepts; though they cannot close with the privileges of a Christian—yet they will close with the services of a Christian; though they cannot share in the comforts of a Christian—yet they will side with the duties of a Christian; though they cannot clear up their saving interest in Christ—yet they are willing to yield subjection to Christ; though they lack strength to throw themselves into the arms of Christ to save them—yet they will cast themselves at the feet of Christ to serve him; though they lack the light of comfort and consolation—yet they will walk in the light of God's commands and directions, Isaiah 50:10.
All men will grant that these ten things are strong probabilities of grace. But give me leave to say that they are, without all controversy, most sure, sound, solid, and infallible evidences of true grace, and of a saving interest in Christ and salvation. And therefore all those poor doubting, staggering, and trembling Christians who find all these, or any of these ten things in their own souls—they ought forever to bless the Lord, and speak well of his name upon these accounts. And therefore, O my soul! be much in adoring and admiring of free and infinite grace, which has wrought all these things in you and for you.
But now, dear hearts, that this eleventh particular concerning probabilities of grace may the better stick upon you, and be the more seriously minded and weighed by you, I beseech you often to ponder upon these six following things:
[1.] First,That you have deserved hell, and therefore for you to have but a probability of going to heaven—is infinite grace and mercy. You have deserved to be shut up in chains of darkness with devils and damned spirits to all eternity, Jude 6, and therefore for you to have a probability of enjoying forever the presence of God, Christ, the glorious angels, and "the spirits of just men made perfect in heaven," Heb. 12:22-24—is a mercy more worth than ten thousand worlds. You have deserved to dwell with a "devouring fire," Isaiah 33:14, and to lie forever under those flames and torments which are easeless, endless, and remediless. And therefore for you to have a probability of satiating and delighting your souls in that fullness of joy, and in these "everlasting pleasures that are at God's right hand," Psalm 16:11—is grace, yes, glorious grace upon the throne, etc. But,
[2.] Secondly, Consider that if you cast up a true and faithful account, you will certainly find that the comfort, the peace, the joy, the quiet, the rest, the satisfaction, the contentment that the generality of saints do enjoy, is more from probabilities of grace, than it is from any certainty or assurance that they have of grace being in their souls; it is more from probabilities of a saving interest in Christ, than from any assurance of a saving interest in Christ; it is more from probabilities of being saved, than it is from any special persuasions that they shall be saved; it is more from probabilities of going to heaven, than it is from any raised fixed confidence that they shall go to heaven. And therefore the people of God have very great cause to bow before the Lord, and to adore his grace, and forever to speak well of his name, for the very probabilities of grace, and of a saving interest in Christ, and of being saved and glorified.
[3.] Thirdly,Consider that there have been very many under such dreadful horrors and terrors of conscience, and under such wrath and displeasure of an angry God, and who have lain trembling upon their dying beds, and who have been even ready to be swallowed up in the gulf of despair—who would have given all the world, had it been in their power, for the very probabilities of grace. Spira, being in a deep despair for renouncing of those doctrines of the gospel which he had once stoutly professed, said, "That he would willingly suffer the most intense tortures of hell-fire for the space of ten thousand years, upon condition he might be well assured to be released afterward." He died desperately, with this desperate saying in his mouth, Farewell, life and hope together. Despair is Satan's masterpiece; it carries men headlong to hell, as the devils did the herd of swine into the deep. He further added, in that hellish and horrible fit, that his dear wife and children, for whose sake principally he turned away from the gospel, to embrace this present world, appeared now to him as hangmen and torturers.
A despairing soul is a terror to himself; his heart a hell of horror, his conscience an Aceldama, a field of black blood. So that as Augustine describes such a one flying from the field to the city, from the city to his house, from his house to his chamber, from his chamber to his bed, etc., so that he can rest nowhere—but is as if infernal devils in fearful shapes were still following of him, and still terrifying and tormenting his distressed and perplexed soul. Now, doubtless such poor souls would have given ten thousand worlds, had they so many in their hands to give, and that for the very probabilities of grace. And how many tempted, deserted, clouded, wounded, and benighted souls are there, who would think it a heaven on this side heaven, if they could but see probabilities of grace in their souls! Oh, therefore, let not the probabilities of grace be a small thing in your eyes—but bow the knee, and let the high praises of God be found in your mouths, even for probabilities of grace! But,
[4.] Fourthly,Consider that Satan is a very deadly enemy to the least probabilities of grace, and will do all he can to cloud, darken, and obscure probabilities of grace, since divine vengeance has cut him off from the least hopes, from the least probabilities of ever obtaining the least grain of grace or mercy. [Let not any think, says Luther, the devil is now dead, nor even asleep; for as he who "keeps Israel," so he who hates Israel "never slumbers or sleeps."] Oh how does he storm and fight against every probability of grace and mercy that God gives to his people for their comfort and encouragement! Satan is an old experienced enemy, almost of six thousand years' standing, and he very well knows that probabilities of grace will certainly arm a Christian against many temptations, and sweetly support him under many afflictions, and exceedingly heighten and raise his resolutions. He knows that probabilities of grace will turn crosses into crowns, storms into calms, and winter nights into summer days. Satan knows that probabilities of grace will make every bitter sweet, and every sweet seven times more sweet. And therefore his spirit rises and swells against every probability of grace. Now the greater Satan's rage is against the probabilities of grace, the more thankful we should be for the probabilities of grace. It is good to move and act cross to him, who in all his actings loves to act cross to the glory of God and the good of our souls. But,
[5.] Fifthly,Consider that from probabilities in outward things, men commonly gather a great deal of comfort, support, quietness, and satisfaction. When the physician tells the patient that it is probable, yes, very probable that he will recover, live and do well, oh what a support, comfort, and refreshing is this to the languishing patient! When there is but a probability of a good market, how does the market-man smile; when there is but a probability of good trading, how does the tradesman cheer up; when there is but a probability of a good voyage, how does the merchants' and the mariners' spirits rise; when there is but a probability of a good harvest, how does the farmer sing; when there is but some hopes, some probability of a pardon for a condemned man, how does his spirits revive, and how does his heart even leap and dance for joy. And so when a Christian has but some hopes, some probabilities of grace, of a saving interest in Christ, and of being saved—he may well cheer up and maintain his ground against all fears and doubts, objections and temptations. But,
[6.] Sixthlyand lastly, Consider there is a great deal of grace and mercy in Scripture peradventures, as you may easily see by comparing these scriptures together. [Exod. 32:30; 1 Sam. 9:6; 1 Kings 20:21; 2 Tim. 2:25.] Scripture peradventures ought to keep down despair, and raise our hopes and our hearts. To know that God is favorable, and that sin is pardonable, and that mercy is attainable, and that hell is avoidable—is no small comfort to a poor doubting trembling Christian. And as there is a great deal of grace and mercy in Scripture peradventures, so there is a great deal of grace and favor in Scripture maybes, as you may see by comparing these scriptures together. [1 Sam. 14:6; 2 Sam. 16:12; 2 Kings 19:4; Asa. 37:4; Ezek. 14:11; Amos 5:15; Zeph. 2:3; Dan. 4:27.]
Now, if Scripture peradventures and Scripture maybes afford so much support, relief, and comfort to your souls, as indeed they do—then surely probabilities of grace, of a saving interest in Christ, of going to heaven, and of being saved, ought very much to support, relieve, cheer, and comfort the hearts of all those who have such probabilities. A gracious soul may say when he is lowest and weakest, Well, though I dare not say that I have grace—yet I have a possibility for it. And though I dare not, I cannot say I have a saving interest in Christ—yet if I have a possibility for it, I ought to bear up bravely and comfortably against all fears and doubts. Yes, and to take the comfort and the sweet of all those blessed probabilities of grace, of a saving interest in Christ, and of being saved, and of all the perhapses and maybes which are scattered up and down in the book of God; and with Hannah to walk up and down with a cheerful countenance, 1 Sam. 1:18.
12. The twelfth maxim or consideration.Consider, that it is a Christian's greatest wisdom and highest concernment, to take the most commodious time for the casting up of his spiritual accounts. If I would know what I am worth for another world, and what I have to show for "the inheritance of the saints in light," then I am to take my heart when it is at best, and when I am most divinely prepared and fitted for this great service, then to enter upon it. It is no wisdom for a man to go to see his face in troubled waters, or to look for a pearl in a puddle. There are some particular times and seasons in which it is no way safe nor convenient for a Christian to enter upon the trial of his spiritual estate:
1. As when the body is greatly distempered.
2. When the soul is greatly tempted by Satan, or sadly deserted by God.
3. When the conscience is so deeply wounded by some great falls, as that the soul is filled with exceeding great fear, terror, and horror. [Times of desertion and temptation are rather times and seasons for mourning, watching, resting, and seeking of God—than for judging and determining of our conditions.] It is with many poor Christians in this case, as it has been with some who have been so struck with the fear and horror of death before the judge, that though they were good scholars, and able to read anything—yet fear and horror has so surprised them, that when their lives have been at stake, and the book has been given them to read, they have not been able to read one line, one word. So many of the precious servants of Christ, when they have been under wounds of conscience, and when they have been filled with fears, terrors, and horrors, they have not been able to look up to heaven, nor read their evidences, nor turn to the breasts of the promises, nor call to mind their former experiences, nor behold the least glimpse of heaven's glories, Psalm 40:12, 72, 88; Job 23:8-9.
No man in his wits, if he were to weigh gold, would weigh it in the midst of high winds, great storms, and horrible tempests, which would so agitate the balance up and down, this way and that, that it would be impossible for him to weigh his gold exactly. Now the trial of our spiritual estates is like the weighing of gold, for we are all to weigh ourselves by the balance of the sanctuary, Job. 31:6; Dan. 5:27. God himself will one day weigh us by that balance, and if we hold weight when he comes to weigh us, we are safe and happy forever.
But when he comes to weigh us in the balance of the sanctuary—if we shall then be found too light—it would have been better for us, if we had never been born! When Belshazzar saw the handwriting upon the wall, his countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled, and the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another, verses 5-6. But what was all this to an everlasting separation from God, and to those endless, ceaseless, and remediless torments that such must endure, who, when they are weighed in the balance, shall be found too light? 2 Thes. 1:7-10.
A man who would weigh grains of gold, must weigh it in a quiet still place. And so a man who would make an exact trial of his spiritual estate, he must take his soul when it is most serious, quiet, still, and composed; he must take his heart when it is in the best frame, and most disposed to solemn and weighty work. There are some times which are very unapt for a gracious person to sit as judge upon his spiritual estate, and to pass sentence upon his own soul. [Sin indulged in the conscience, is like Jonah in the ship, which causes such a tempest, that the conscience is like a troubled sea, whose waters cannot rest; or it is like a mote in the eye, which causes a perpetual trouble while it is there.]
The best Christians under heaven do meet with divers inward and outward changes; sometimes the light shines so clear that they can see things as they are—but at other times all is dark and cloudy, and tempestuous, and then they are apt to judge themselves by feelings, and not according to the truth. O sirs! remember this once for all—that times of inward or outward distresses are best for praying, and worst for judging. If a man will at such times pass sentence on himself or his estate as a judge, he will certainly judge improperly, for then the soul is not itself, and is very apt and prone to take Satan's work for his own, and to side with him against itself, yes, and then usually it will see nothing, it will think of nothing, it will dwell upon nothing—but what makes against itself.
4. When God exercises a man with some exceeding severe and unusual providences, when God steps out of his ordinary way of dispensations in his dealings with a man; when God sets a man up before all the world as a mark to shoot at, as he did Job, Job 7:20, 16:12. Now a poor Christian is ready to doubt and conclude, Surely the Lord has no regard of me, he has no love for me, his heart is certainly not towards me—seeing all these sore trials make so much against me. But here the poor Christian is mistaken, as Jacob once was: Gen. 42:36, "And Jacob their father said unto them, I am bereaved of my children: Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and you will take Benjamin away. All these things are against me!" But Jacob was wrong, for all those things were for him, and for the preservation of the visible church of God in the world, Gen. 45:5-9.
Certainly all the afflictions which befall the people of God, are but his love-tokens. "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten," Rev. 3:19, Heb. 12:5-6, and therefore those Christians are miserably mistaken, who take them for testimonies of his wrath, and effects of his disfavor. O sirs! what can be more absurd, displeasing, and provoking, than for a Christian to make that an argument of God's hatred—which God intends for an instance of his love? And yet Christians are apt thus to act. It is observable the apostle reckons affliction among God's honoraries and tokens of respect, "For to you it is given," says he, "not only to believe—but also to suffer," Philip. 1:29, "which," says Latimer, "is the greatest promotion that God gives in this world." Job, when he was himself, could not but admire at it, Job 7:17-18, that God should take such an account of man, and that he should so magnify him, and dignify him—as to think him worthy of a rod, a whipping; as to think him worth a trying every morning, yes, every moment.
It is certain that great prosperity and worldly glory are no sure tokens of God's love, Proverbs 1:32, Psalm 73:5, Eccles. 9:1-2. And it is certain that great troubles and afflictions are no sure marks of God's hatred. And yet many poor Christians, when the waters of affliction rise high, and are ready to overflow them, oh how apt are they to conclude that God hates them, and will revenge himself upon them, and that they have nothing of God or Christ, or the Spirit, or grace in them! Or,
5. When the Spirit, the Comforter, stands afar off, Lam. 1:16, and withholds those special influences, without which, in a common ordinary way, a Christian cannot divinely, candidly, clearly and impartially transact with God in order to his own peace, comfort and settlement. Or,
6. When either a Christian's evidences are not at hand, or else they are so soiled, darkened, blotted and obscured, as that he is not able to read them. Or
7. When a Christian is extremely oppressed with melancholy. Melancholy is a dark and dusky humor, which disturbs both soul and body, and the cure of it belongs rather to the physician than to the divine. It is a most pestilent humor where it abounds; one calls it the devil's bath; it is a humor that unfits a man for all sorts of services—but especially these that concern his soul, his spiritual estate, his everlasting condition. [Psalm 88; Job 33:10. In the German proverb—the melancholy head is the devil's bathing place.] The melancholy person tries the physician, grieves the minister, wounds relations, and makes sport for the devil. There are five kinds of people whom the devil makes his donkey to ride in triumph upon, namely—the ignorant person, the unbelieving person, the proud person, the hypocritical person, and the melancholy person.
Melancholy is a disease which works strange passions, strange imaginations, and strange conclusions. It unmans a man, it makes a man call good evil, and evil good; sweet bitter, and bitter sweet; light darkness, and darkness light. The distemper of the body oftentimes causes distemper of soul, for the soul follows the temper of the body. A melancholy spirit is a dumb spirit—you can get nothing out of him; and a deaf spirit—you can get nothing into him. Mat. 9:28-29. It is no more wonder to see a melancholy man doubt and question his spiritual condition, than it is to see a child cry when he is beaten, or to hear a sick man groan, or to hear a drowning man call out for help. You may silence a melancholy man, when you are not able to comfort him. While Nebuchadnezzar was under the power of a deep melancholy, he could not tell whether he was a man or a beast. Melancholy is the mother of fears, doubts, disputes, and discomforts.
Now of all the evil spirits we read of in the Gospel, the dumb and the deaf were the worst. Darkness, sadness, solitariness, heaviness, mourning, etc., are the only desirable companions of melancholy people. Melancholy makes every sweet bitter, and every bitter seven times more bitter. The melancholy person is amazingly prone to bid sleep farewell, and joy farewell, and food farewell, and friends farewell, and ordinances farewell, and duties farewell, and promises farewell, and ministers farewell, and his employment farewell; and it is well if he is not even ready to bid God farewell too. Melancholy people are like idols—they have eyes but see not, and tongues but speak not, and ears but hear not. Melancholy turns truths into fables, and fables into truths; it turns fancies into realities, and realities into fancies. Melancholy is a fire which burns inwards and is hard to quench.
Now if a Christian is under the power of physical or emotional melancholy, his work is not now to be a-trying his estate, or a-casting up of his accounts to see what he is worth for the eternal world—but to use all such ways and means as God has prepared in a natural way for the cure of melancholy; for as the soul is not cured by natural remedies—so the body is not cured by spiritual remedies.
Now in the seven cases last mentioned, a Christian's work lies rather in mourning, self-judging, self-loathing, self-abhorring, and in repenting and reforming; and in fresh and frequent exercises of faith on the Lord Jesus, on his blood, on his promises, and on his free rich sovereign and glorious grace—which is displayed and offered in the gospel; and in a patient waiting upon the Lord in the use of all holy and heavenly helps for deliverance out of his present straits, trials and exercises—than in falling upon that great work of casting up his spiritual accounts, and of searching into the records of glory, to see whether or not his name be registered in the book of life. O sirs! when poor Christians are bewildered, their proper work is to cast themselves upon the promises, to trust in the name of the Lord, and to stay themselves upon their God, Isaiah 50:10. Job, in a cloudy stormy day, resolves to trust in the Lord, though he should slay him, Job 13:15; and so must you. And oh that this rule were more seriously minded, and effectually observed by all doubting, trembling, and staggering Christians. But,
13. The thirteenth maxim or consideration.Consider—you must never judge yourselves unsound, or hypocrites, by those things which the Scripture never makes a character of an unsound Christian, or of a hypocrite, or of hypocrisy. [The grand rule by which we must try and judge of our spiritual and eternal estates, is the word of God, Isaiah 8:20. In this scripture the prophet plainly shows where we must go with our doubts, fears, scruples, questions—and with whom we must consult—and of whom we must take advice; and that is "the law and the testimony."]
Mark, as you are to receive no comfort—but what is backed with clear scripture, nor are you to receive any evidences for the goodness and happiness of your spiritual estate and condition—but such as are backed with clear scriptures; in like manner, you are to receive, you are to admit of no arguments, nor pleas, nor reasonings, to prove yourself a hypocrite, or unsound, or that you have no grace, or that your spiritual estate and condition is not good—but such arguments, pleas, and reasonings, as are backed with clear scriptures.
Now tell me, O weak, doubting, staggering, trembling Christian—if you can—where are those clear scriptures which prove that wandering thoughts in duty, or which prove that narrowness or straitness of spirit in a duty—to be characters of a hypocrite, or of hypocrisy, or of one who is unsound?
Tell me, O sighing Christian, if you can, where are those clear scriptures which prove that the lack of a good memory for holy things, or the lack of those gifts or abilities that many Christians have, to pray, to speak, to discourse, to open Scripture, or to dispute for the concerns of Christ and his kingdom—to be characters of a hypocrite or of hypocrisy, or of one who is unsound?
Tell me, O distressed Christian, if you can, where are those clear scriptures which will justify you to conclude that you are a hypocrite, because you are without the present evidence of your sincerity? Are there not many of the precious sons and daughters of Zion, comparable to fine gold, Lam. 4:2, who have true grace and sincerity in their hearts, though for the present it is hidden from their eyes? Isaiah 50:10, 1 John 5:13. Joseph's brethren had their money in their sacks, though they did not see it, nor did they know it until they came to their inn and opened them, Gen. 44. Just so, many of the dear children of God have sincerity in their hearts, though for the present they do not see it nor know it.
O sirs! it is Christ's work to evidence itself so clearly and fully to our eyes, as to enable us to own it. It is one thing for the Spirit of God to work grace in the soul, and another thing for the Spirit to shine upon his own work. Now, until the Spirit shines upon his own work, the soul is in the dark. The graces of the Spirit are best seen in the light of the Spirit, as we see the sun best by his own light, 1 Cor. 2:12. It is good for doubting Christians when they are in the dark, to hold fast this conclusion, namely—that they may be upright, though at present they are not able to see their uprightness. Now, though this will not bring in a full tide of comfort into their souls—yet it will keep them from despair, and it will support and uphold their hearts, until the Spirit, shall show them their uprightness.
Tell me, O mourning Christian, if you can, where are those clear scriptures which prove that deadness, dullness, and indisposedness in duty—though it be sadly lamented, bewailed, and mourned over, and much striven against, yes, though it be the great grief and burden of the soul—to be characters of hypocrites, or of hypocrisy, or of one who is unsound?
Tell me, O disquieted Christian, if you can, where are those clear scriptures which prove that the lack of those enlargements, ravishments, joys, comforts, peace, or assurance which some others have, to be characters of hypocrites or hypocrisy, or of one that is unsound? And yet, upon the account of the above mentioned things on the one hand, and under a sensible lack of the things last cited on the other hand—how exceeding apt and prone are many poor weak, doubting, trembling Christians, confidently and insistently to conclude themselves to be hypocrites, and to be unsound, and that they have not a grain of grace, nor any saving saving interest in Christ at all!
O sirs! remember this once for all, that as you must never admit of any arguments, pleas, or reasonings, for the comfort, peace, and refreshment of your souls—but such as are attended with the evidence of clear Scripture—but such as are backed with pregnant scriptures; in like manner, you must never admit of any pleas, arguments, or reasonings, to trouble, vex, perplex, and disquiet the peace of your souls—but such as are attended with clear Scripture evidence—but such as are well backed with Scripture.
[In all soul cases, God expects we should consult his word, and cleave to his word, without warping or turning aside either to the right hand or to the left. John 12:45. That book which shall try you at last, and which shall save you or damn you in the great day—is the only book by which you must make a judgment of your present and future estates. Clemens of Alexandria, speaking of the word, says, it is the touchstone of truth and falsehood.]
Now if this choice rule were but wisely observed, and carefully, frequently, and conscientiously practiced by many weak, doubting, trembling Christians—how would it set them at liberty from their fears, doubts, and misgivings of heart! How would it knock off all their chains, and wipe all tears from their eyes, and remove that sadness which lies like a load upon their hearts, and how soon would it bring them into a condition of peace, comfort, quietness, and settlement.
O sirs! every working and appearance of hypocrisy does not presently prove the person in whom it is to be a hypocrite. A man may be hypocritical, either:
1. Really; or,
2. In their own opinion and imagination.
Many of the dear children of God are very apt and prone many times both to suspect and falsely charge the true estate of their souls. A child in a distemper may question the inheritance which is entailed on him, etc. But, remember this—if your heart be upright, all comfort is your portion; for as our distrustful fears do not alter the reality of the state of grace—so our frequent suspicions that we are hypocrites, does not cut us off from the title and right of promised comforts.
Christians must carefully distinguish between the presence of hypocrisy and the predominancy of hypocrisy. In the most upright hearts, there is more or less hypocrisy remaining in them. All the saints that ever were in the world have found more or less of this root of bitterness springing up in them, Romans 7:22-23, Heb. 12:15. It is not the presence of hypocrisy—but the reign of hypocrisy which damns the soul. That hypocrisy which is discerned, resisted, opposed, and mourned over—will never damn a Christian. Where the usual temper and general bent of a man's heart is upright, there the presence of hypocrisy cannot denominate a man a hypocrite. All men must stand and fall forever according to the usual temper and general bent of their hearts. If the usual temper and general bent of their hearts is sincere—they are happy forever. But if the usual temper and general bent of their hearts be hypocritical—they are miserable forever. But,
14. The fourteenth maxim or consideration.Consider—you must never judge yourselves unsound, or hypocrites, for such things, or from such considerations, or by such arguments or reasonings, which being admitted and granted to be true—will necessarily and unavoidably prove the whole generation of the faithful, the whole body of those who fear the Lord, to be unsound, and to be a pack of notorious hypocrites, Psalm 73:15. He who shall judge himself unsound, or a hypocrite, because his thoughts and imaginations are that he is not sincere, or because he is thus and thus tempted; or because he is at particular times, and in particular cases, thus and thus worsted and captivated by sin, Isaiah 55:7-9, notwithstanding all the resistance that he is able to make against it, and notwithstanding his hatred of it, and his loathing and judging of himself for it; or because he is thus and thus afflicted in his family, or in his relations, or in his own person; or because he is thus and thus distracted in prayer, and straitened in prayer; or because he is sometimes troubled with sad, hard, hideous, and blasphemous thoughts of God; he does in so judging judge and condemn the whole generation of the righteous, for there are none of them but more or less, have been exercised even as he is, or as he has been exercised. [Jacob, Joseph, Job, David, Heman, Paul, and those worthies in the 11th of the Hebrews, have been as much afflicted as you have been. Now for you to conclude that you are not beloved by God, because you have been thus afflicted, this is to conclude against all those worthies, of whom this world was not worthy, Heb. 11:38.]
Who dare judge his neighbor, his brother, his friend—to be a hypocrite, because the hand of the Lord has been various ways lifted up against him, or because Satan has been let loose to play with his grand battery upon him? Now if you dare not judge your neighbor a hypocrite upon these accounts, how dare you to judge yourself a hypocrite upon the very same accounts? When your neighbor, your brother, your friend is thus and thus afflicted, tempted, distressed, etc., you can tell them that this has been the common lot of the people of God in all the ages of the world; you can tell them that no man knows God's love or hatred by these things, and that all things come alike to all; you can tell them that the choicest saints have been most afflicted, tempted, clouded, and distressed; you can tell them that all shall end well, that all shall outcome well. [Eccles. 9:1-3; Asa. 1:25, 27:9; Heb. 12:10-11; James 5:10-11.]
Remember the patience of Job, and consider the end that the Lord made with him. You can tell them that you have got that good by afflictions, temptations, cloudings, distresses—which you would not exchange for ten thousand worlds.
Now if Christians, when they are afflicted, tempted, clouded, distressed, would be but as kind, favorable, and merciful to themselves as they are to others in the same condition, how well would it be with them, how soon would they get out of the snare! O sirs! if this rule were but prudently considered, and seriously practiced, how would the fears, doubts, and darknesses of many poor weak, doubting, staggering, and trembling Christians vanish, and what peace, comfort, and settlement would they quickly find. O sirs! we must never stand to that judgment which we pass upon our spiritual estates, which is irrational, or without sufficient ground from Scripture, or which would be to condemn the generation of the just. We may safely appeal from that sentence of our judgment, which acts itself in times of passion or violent temptation. We must not unjustly vex our own hearts, and dash out our integrity, when the sentence that we pass upon ourselves is rather of imagination, than of reason.
When a man thinks, and thinks again and again that his heart is not sincere with God, though many, if not all, evidences of sincerity appear in him, and when he cannot produce any one inherently distinguishing ground of a hypocrite in himself, why this is but an imaginary judgment, and utterly unreasonable, for this is to condemn the innocent without cause. O sirs! that soul will never be settled in peace and comfort, which gives way to his own imaginations and passions, and which has a conceit that every sinful thought, or violent temptation, or conflict with an inward corruption, or the resurrection of some old sin, or frequent distractions in pious duties, or particular falls or slips into this or that sin—cannot be compatible with a state of grace, cannot be compatible with uprightness, cannot be compatible with singleness and soundness of heart. But,
15. The fifteenth maxim or consideration.Consider—in judging of yourselves and your spiritual estates and conditions, you must always have an eye to your natural tempers, complexions, constitutions, and inclinations, and the sins and temptations that these lay you most open to, and remember that as in some tempers a little grace makes a very great show, so in other tempers a great deal of grace makes but a very little show. A little water in a long narrow-mouthed glass seems to be a great deal, when ten times, yes, twenty times as much in a large cistern is hardly discernible; the application is easy. [A little gold ring upon an alabaster hand makes a more glorious show than a very great ring upon a leprous hand; the application is easy.] A little sugar will serve well enough for sweet wines—but much more is requisite to sweeten that wine that is sour and harsh. A little grace will make a very glorious show in such men and women whose very natural tempers are sweet, soft, gentle, meek, affable, courteous; when a great deal of grace is hardly discernible in those men and women whose very natural tempers are cross, crooked, choleric, fierce, passionate, rough, and unhewn.
As a godly man said of an eminent saint now in heaven, "That he had grace enough for ten men—but scarce enough for himself," his natural temper was so bad, which he would himself often lament and bewail, saying to his friends, "That he had such a cross, crooked nature, that if God had not given him grace, none would have been able to have lived one day quietly with him." A sincere Christian may have more roughness of nature, and more sturdiness of passions—than is in many a moral man. He who has more Christianity may have less morality, as there is more perfection of animal and sensitive faculties in some brutes than in some men. It is an old experienced truth, that those sins are with the greatest pains, labor, travail, and difficulty subdued and mortified, which our natural tempers, complexions, and constitutions do most strongly incline and dispose us to; and were but those lusts subdued and brought under control, it would be no difficult thing to bring all other things to under control.
When Goliath was slain, the Philistines fled, 1 Sam. 17:51-52; when a general in an army falls, the common soldiers are quickly routed. So it is here; get but the sins of your natural tempers, complexions, and constitutions under your feet—and you will quickly ride in a holy triumph over the rest. When justice is effectually done upon your constitution-sins, other sins will not be long lived; thrust but a dart through the heart of Absalom, and a complete conquest will follow, 2 Sam. 18:14, seq.
Now before I close up this particular, let me advise you frequently to consider, that you can never make a true, a right, a serious judgment of yourselves, or of your spiritual estates and conditions, without a prudent eye upon your natural tempers, complexions, and constitutions; granting to yourselves such allowance upon the account of your natural tempers, as will stand with sincerity and the covenant of grace. But,
16. The sixteenth maxim or consideration.Consider, if you cannot, if you dare not say that you have grace—yet do not say that you have no grace, for the being of grace in the soul is one thing—and the seeing of grace in the soul is another thing. Mark 4:26-28: A man may have grace—and yet not know that he has grace; he may have a seed of God in him—and yet not see it. 1 John 5:13, He may believe—and yet not believe that he does believe; the child lives before it knows that it lives. If you cannot say that your graces are true—yet do not say they are counterfeit, lest you bear false witness against the real work of the Spirit in you. There are none so apt to question the truth of their grace—as those are who are truly gracious. Though Satan cannot hinder the Holy Spirit from working true grace in the soul—yet he will do all he can to fill the soul with fears and doubts and jealousies about the truth of that grace that the Holy Spirit has wrought in it, 1 John 4:4; Psalm 77. When did you ever know the devil to tempt a hypocrite to believe that his graces were not true, and that certainly he had not the root of the matter in him?
If you cannot say that you have a saving interest in Christ—yet do not say that you have no saving interest in Christ; for a man may have a saving interest in Christ, and yet not see his saving interest in Christ, not know his saving interest in Christ. There are many precious Christians who walk in darkness—who yet have a saving interest in that Jesus that is all light, life, and love, Isaiah 50:10. If you cannot say that your pardon is sealed in the court of your own conscience—yet do not say that it is not sealed in the court of heaven; for many a Christian has his pardon sealed in the court of heaven, before it is sealed in the court of his own conscience, Psalm 51. A pardon sealed in the court of conscience, is that new name and white stone which God does not give to everyone at first conversion, Rev. 2:17. God will take his own time to seal up every Christian's pardon in his bosom.
If you cannot say that your name is written in the book of life—yet do not say that it is not written in the book of life. The disciples' names were first written in heaven before Christ bid them rejoice because their names were written in heaven, Luke 10:20. A man may have his name written in heaven, and yet it may be a long while before God may tell him, that his name is written in heaven. You cannot say that the precious promises are yours—yet do not say that they are children's bread, and such dainties that your soul shall never taste of. It is not every precious Christian, that has a saving interest in the promises—who can run and read his saving interest in the promises, Psalm 77, 88; 1 Pet. 1:4. If you cannot say that the heavenly inheritance is yours—yet do not say that it is not yours. A Christian may have a good title to the heavenly inheritance, and yet not be able to make good his title, to clear up his title; as a child in the cradle may be heir to a crown, a kingdom—and yet he is not able to make good his title. If you cannot say that you have assurance—yet do not say that you shall never have assurance, for a man may lack assurance one year, and have it the next; one month, and have it another; one week, and have it another; one day, and have it another; yes, one hour, and have it another, Luke 19:1-10; Acts 16:29-35; Romans 11:33. If you cannot say that you shall certainly go to heaven—yet do not say that you shall undoubtedly go to hell; for who made you one of the privy-councilors of heaven? Who acquainted you with the secret decrees of God? etc. Now were this rule but thoroughly minded, and conscientiously practiced, oh how well would it go with many tempted, troubled, bewildered, and clouded Christians! Oh how would Satan be disappointed, and poor souls quieted, composed, and refreshed. But,
17. The seventeenth maxim or consideration.Whenever you cast your eye upon your gracious evidences, it highly concerns you seriously to remember that you have to deal with God in a covenant of grace, and not in a covenant of works. Every breach of peace with God is not a breach of covenant with God. Though the wife has many weaknesses and infirmities hanging upon her, and though she may often grieve, provoke, and displease her husband—yet as long as she remains faithful, and truly loving, and in the main obedient to him, though he may alter his demeanor towards her—yet he will not withdraw his love from her, or deny his relation to her. No more will God towards his weak, failing ones, as you may evidently see by comparing these scriptures. [Jer. 3:12, 14, 22; Hosea. 14:4; Isaiah 63:22-26; 57:16-18.]
Doubtless there are many dear Christians whose troubles of conscience about their spiritual and eternal estates arise from their looking upon God and dealing with God in a covenant of works. [Everything which is a ground of grief or sorrow to the people of God, is not a sufficient ground of questioning their integrity, or the goodness and happiness of their spiritual estates and conditions. If, upon every slip, failing, and infirmity, a Christian should question all that ever was wrought in him, and done by God upon him—his life will certainly be made up of fears and doubts, and he will never attain to any settled peace, comfort, or assurance, or be able to live that life of joy, praise, and thankfulness that the gospel calls for.]
Are there not many precious Christians, who, when they fall before temptations, and are worsted by their corruptions, who are ready to question all, and throw up all as lost and instantly to conclude against their own souls, that all is bad, very bad—and that they are hypocrites, and that God will never own such as they are, nor ever accept of such as they are, nor ever delight in such as they are, nor ever have anything to do with such as they are. And all this because they do not aright understand the covenant of grace, and think that they have to deal with God in a covenant of works. Though many Christians do freely and readily acknowledge that there is a covenant of grace—yet upon the least stirring of any corruption, or the least conquest that is made upon them by the violence of any temptation, they are so full of fears, faintings, reasonings, diffidences, and despondencies, etc., and they behave so weakly and unworthily towards the Lord, as if there were no covenant of grace at all, or as if they had wholly and only to deal with God in a covenant of works.
Now what a high dishonor is this to the free, rich, infinite, sovereign, and glorious grace of God, which so sparkles and shines in the covenant of grace, and which tells us that our eternal estates shall never be judged by a covenant of works, and that the lack of an absolute perfection shall never damn a believing soul, and that the obedience that God requires at our hands is not a legal obedience—but an evangelical obedience! Oh that all those dear Christians who are so apt to be dejected and overwhelmed upon the account of the prevalency of such and such corruptions, and because they fail in keeping covenant with God, and in walking in a covenant-relation with God; I say, oh that all these would frequently and seriously consider of these three things.
[1.] First,That so long as a Christian does not renounce his covenant with God, so long as he does not willfully and wickedly break the bond of the covenant, the substance of the covenant is not yet broken, though some articles of the covenant may be violated, Psalm 89:30-35, 2 Sam. 23:5. While Christ lies at the bottom of the covenant, it cannot be utterly broken. As among men there be some trespasses against some particular clauses in covenants, which, though they be violated—yet the whole covenant is not forfeited; it is so here. Every jar, every miscarriage does not break the marriage covenant; no more does every sin, every miscarriage break the covenant between God and the soul. But,
[2.] Secondly,Seriously consider that many weak Christians are much mistaken about the terms and condition of the covenant of grace; they think that the condition of the covenant is perfect and unsinning obedience, whereas it is only sincere obedience. Mark, that man sincerely obeys and sincerely walks in covenant with God, who sincerely, who heartily, who ordinarily desires, labors, and endeavors to obey the law of God, the will of God, and to walk in covenant with God. [Isaiah 54; 7:8-10; Jer. 31:33-37.] Mark, particular actions do not denominate any estate; it is the course of actions which does denominate a man's walking in covenant with God, or his not walking in covenant with God. If his course of actions be sinful, he walks not in covenant with God. But if his course of actions be holy and gracious, he walks in covenant with God. Though the needle of the seaman's compass may jog this way and that way—yet the bent of the needle will still be northward; so though a Christian in covenant with God may have his particular sinful joggings this way or that way—yet the bent of his heart will still be to walk in covenant with God. But,
[3.] Thirdly,Consider that infirmities, aberrations of weakness, do not nullify or void our covenant with God; nor hinder our walking in covenant with God; for if they should, then no man could possibly keep covenant with God, or walk in covenant with God. God passes by and pardons the infirmities of his children, and will never put them into the account, and therefore they cannot hinder our walking in covenant with God. Breaches made in the first covenant were irreparable—but breaches made in the covenant of grace are not so, because this covenant is established in Christ, who is still a-making up all breaches.
Mark, there are five things which show that the deviations of God's people are only infirmities and not enormities, weaknesses and not wickednesses. And the first is this, namely,
(1.) That they do frequently and principally arise from the subtlety and sudden power of Satan's temptations. 1 Chron. 21:1.
(2.) That the bent of their lives and hearts is against the evil that they do, Romans 7:15-16, 19, 23-24.
(3.) Their daily cries, tears, and complaints, speak it out to be an infirmity. They are in this particular like a lost sheep, or a lost child, or a lost friend.
(4.) Though they fall—yet they rise again; though they step or wander out of the way—yet they do return into the right way again.
(5.) When they do fall, there is a vast difference, a mighty difference between their falls, and the falls of wicked men who are not in covenant with God, and that
[1.] first, in respect of willingness;
[2.] in respect of choice;
[3.] in respect of desire;
[4.] in respect of course;
[5.] in respect of quietness;
[6.] in respect of continuance.
Mark, when wicked men fall, when men out of covenant with God fall, then they fall willingly, they fall out of choice, they fall out of desire to fall, they fall in a course, they fall, and they are quiet under their falls; they fall, and continue to fall, "tomorrow shall be as today," Isaiah 56:12.
But people in covenant with God, though they do fall—yet they do not fall, nor cannot fall, as they do who are out of covenant with God. For
[1.] first, there is in all such people a habitual purpose to keep covenant with God;
[2.] a habitual desire to keep covenant with God;
[3.] a habitual resolution to keep covenant with God;
[4.] a habitual endeavor to keep covenant with God.
Now, where it is thus, that man is certainly in covenant with God, and that man walks in covenant with God; he is under a covenant of grace; his sins are pardoned, and therefore they shall never be his ruin. Doubtless many precious Christians have charged and condemned themselves for those things that the great God will never charge them with, nor condemn them for, Isaiah 63:17. Blessed Bradford wrote himself a hypocrite, a painted sepulcher. But doubtless God will never bring in such a charge against him. O sirs! the stirrings of sin, and the workings of sin, and the prevalency of sin for particular acts will stand with the covenant of grace, though not with the covenant of works. You may not by any means conclude that you are not in a covenant of grace, because such and such corruptions stirs in you, or because such or such weaknesses now and then breaks forth and discovers themselves, either in your lips or lives. Did Christians but study the covenant of grace more, and understand better than they do the difference between the covenant of grace and the covenant of works, how would their fears and doubts about their spiritual and eternal estates vanish, as the clouds before the sun when it shines in its greatest strength and glory! etc.
It was the saying of an eminent minister on his deathbed, that he had much peace and quietness, not so much from a greater measure of grace than other Christians had, or from any immediate witness of the Spirit—but because he had a more clear understanding of the covenant of grace than many others, having studied it and preached it so many years as he had done. Doubtless, had Christians a more clear and a more full understanding of the covenant of grace, they would live more holily, serviceably, humbly, fruitfully, comfortably, and sweetly than they do. And they would die more willingly, readily, and cheerfully than many (may I not say than most?) Christians use to do. But,
18. The eighteenth maxim or consideration.Consider—that trouble, grief, and sorrow for sin, which drives a man from God, is sinful, and must one day be repented of and wept over. All true trouble, grief and sorrow, drives to God, as is evident by these scriptures. [Hosea 5:14-15. 6:1-3; Jer. 31:18-20; Psalm 51; Hosea 14:1-2; Psalm 25:11.] Suppose you have so and so sinned—yet it is a false inference that therefore you should be discouraged, and let your hopes sink, and your heart faint, as if there were no help, no hope, no comfort for you in your God.
Question.But when is a man's trouble or sorrow for sin, sinful?
[1.] When it keeps Christ and the soul asunder.
[2.] When it keeps the soul and the promises asunder.
[3.] When it unfits a man for the duties of his place and calling, wherein the providence of God has placed him.
[4.] When it unfits a man for the duties of religion, either private or public.
[5.] When it takes off the sweet and comfort of all outward comforts and enjoyments, and renders all our mercies like the white of an egg, which has no taste or savor in it.
[6.] When it weakens, wastes, or destroys the outward man; all godly sorrow is a friend to the soul, and not an enemy to the body.
And thus much for these divine maxims, considerations, and rules which are seriously to be minded and observed in order to the clearing up a man's saving interest in Christ, and his title to all the glory of the eternal world. Certainly these eighteen maxims, considerations, or rules—if God shall please powerfully to set in with them—are of singular use for the clearing up of the saving work of God upon poor souls. And therefore it highly concerns Christians seriously to ponder upon them, as Mary did upon the sayings of the angel in her heart, Luke 2:19.
Now these things being premised, I shall come in the next chapter to lay down some infallible evidences of saving grace.