A Cabinet of Choice Jewels, or,
A Box of Precious Ointment
By Thomas Brooks, 1669
Now in this fifth and last chapter, I shall lay down some propositions and directions, that so you may see what a sober use and improvement Christians ought to make of their evidences for heaven; and how, in the use of gracious evidences, they ought to live above their gracious evidences, and how to exalt and lift up Christ above all their graces, evidences, and performances.
[1.] First proposition. It is the wisdom, and ought to be the work of every Christian—to own the least measure of grace that is in him, though it be mixed and mingled with many weaknesses and infirmities.Sin is Satan's work, and grace is Christ's work; and therefore Christ's work ought to be eyed and owned, though it be mingled with much of Satan's work. [Though our graces, like Gideon's army, are but a handful in comparison of our sins, which, like the Midianites, are innumerable—yet a handful of grace is to be owned in the midst of a multitude of sins.] That Christian is much clouded and benighted who has two eyes to behold his sins—but never an eye to see his graces. Christ gets no glory, nor the soul gets no good, when a Christian is still a-poring upon his sins. How can that Christian prize a little grace, and bless God for a little grace, and improve a little grace—who won't own a little grace because it is mingled with many weaknesses? Shall the farmer own a little wheat when mingled with a great deal of chaff? Shall the goldsmith own the little filings of gold when mingled with a great deal of dust; and shall not a Christian own a little grace when mingled with a great many failings?
David had a great many infirmities, 1 Sam. 21:13-14—yet he owns his uprightness: Psalm 18:23, "I was upright before him." And Job had a great many weaknesses, Job 3—yet he owns his integrity: Job 27:5, "Until I die I will not remove my integrity from me." Verse 6, "My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go; my heart shall not reproach me so long as I live." The spouse was sensible of her blackness—yet owns her loveliness, Cant. 1:5, "I am black—but lovely." Likewise, Cant. 5:2, "I sleep—but my heart wakes." Jeremiah was a man of many failings—yet he owns his hope in God, Jer. 17:17: "You are my hope in the day of evil," Jer. 20:14, seq. The poor man in the Gospel was very sensible of the sad relics and remains of unbelief that were in him, and yet with a holy boldness and confidence he pleads his faith: Mark 9:24, "Lord, I believe, help my unbelief." Peter miscarried sadly, Mat 26:69, seq., and yet he owns his love to Christ: John 21:15, "Lord, you know that I love you." Verse 16, "Lord, you know that I love you." Verse 17, "Lord, you know all things, you know that I love you." Paul had his infirmities and weaknesses hanging upon him: witness that seventh of the Romans: and yet how frequently and boldly does he own the grace of God that was in him throughout his epistles. Nothing keeps grace more cast down, than men's not owning of a little grace because it is mingled with many infirmities. The best way to be greatly good, is to own a little, little grace—though in the midst of much evil. But,
[2.] The second proposition is this—It is your wisdom, and should be your work—to look upon all your graces and gracious evidences as favors given you from above—as gifts dropped out of heaven into your hearts—as flowers of paradise stuck in your bosoms by a divine hand.A man should never look upon his graces or his gracious evidences—but should be ready to say, "These are the jewels of glory with which God has bespangled my soul!" 1 Cor. 4:7, "What do you have—that you have not received?" What gift, what grace, what experience, what evidence do you have—that you have not received? [Of your own, says David, have we given you. 1 Chron, 29:4.] All the light, and all the life, and all the love, and all the joy, and all the fear, and all the faith, and all the hope, and all the patience, and all the humility, etc., that you have, with all the evidences that arise from the discovery of those graces, are all grace gifts, they are all from above. "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights," James 1:17.
Look! as all light flows from the sun, and all water from the sea, so all temporal, spiritual, and eternal good flows from heaven. All your graces, and the greatest excellencies which are in you, do as much depend upon God and Christ, as the light does upon the sun, or as the rivers do upon the sea, or as the branches do upon the root, John 15:1-5. 'All my springs are in you,' Psalm 87:7; all the springs of comfort that I have communicated to my soul, and all the springs of grace that I have to quicken me, and to evidence the goodness and happiness of my spiritual estate and condition to me—they are all from God. When a Christian looks upon his wisdom and knowledge, it concerns him to say, "Here is wisdom and knowledge, ay—but it is from above; here is some weak love working towards Christ—but it is from above; here is joy, and comfort, and peace, etc.—but these are all such flowers of paradise as never grew in nature's garden." Now, when a Christian looks thus upon all those costly diamonds of grace, of glory, with which his soul is bedecked, he keeps humble, though his graces and gracious evidences are high. Where this rule is neglected, the soul will be endangered of being swelled and puffed.
It was a great saying of a very worthy man who is now with God, namely, "That as he often got much good by his sins, so he often got much hurt by his graces." Dear hearts, when you look upon the stream, remember the fountain; when you look upon the flower, remember the root; when you look upon the stars, remember the sun; and whenever you look upon your graces, then be sure to remember Christ the fountain of grace, else Satan will certainly be too hard for you. Satan is so insidious, so artful, and so deceitful, that he can make your very graces to serve him against your graces, conquering joy by joy, sorrow by sorrow, humility by humility, fear by fear, and love by love—if you don't look upon all your graces as streams flowing from the fountain above, and as fruits growing upon the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God.
Therefore, when one of your eyes is fixed upon your graces, let the other be always fixed upon Christ the fountain of grace. "Indeed, we have all received grace after grace from His fullness." John 1:16. Here they eye their graces and the fountain of grace together. Likewise, Paul: "I live; yet not I—but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me," Gal. 2:20. Paul eyes Christ and his graces together; so Peter eyes Christ and his graces together: John 21:15, "Lord, you know that I love you." Likewise, those worthies of whom this world was not worthy; they eye Christ and their graces together: Heb. 12:2, "Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith."
Though grace be a new creature, 2 Cor. 5:17, a noble creature, a beautiful creature, an excellent creature—yet grace is but a creature, and such a creature that is strengthened, maintained, nourished, and upheld in your souls, Philip. 4:12, 13; Cant. 4, in life and power, in beauty and glory, by nothing below the spiritual, internal, and glorious operations of Christ. "And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience." Colossians 1:10-11
Now, whenever you look upon grace as a lovely, beautiful creature, oh then remember that might and glorious power of Christ by which this creature is preserved and strengthened. Christians, your graces are holy and heavenly plants of Christ's own planting and watering, and will you mind the plants more than that noble hand that set them? It is Christ alone who can cause the desires of his people to bud, and their graces to blossom, and their souls to be like a watered garden, green and flourishing, Isaiah 58:11, and 35:6-7; and therefore let the eye of your souls be firstly, mostly, and chiefly fixed upon Christ. But,
[3.] The third proposition is this—When you look upon your graces in the light of the Spirit, it highly concerns you to look narrowly to it, that you do not renounce and reject your graces as weak and worthless evidences of your interest in Christ, and of that eternal happiness and blessedness which comes by Christ.The works of grace which consists in those divine qualities of holiness and righteousness, etc., Gal. 5:22-23, is a sure mark, a blessed character, whereby men may know whose children they are, even as the Spartans or Lacedaemonians of old are said to know what stock and lineage they were of by a mark which was made upon their bodies by a lance.
I readily grant that you must not trust in your graces, nor make a Savior of your graces—but yet you ought to look upon your graces as so many signs and testimonies of the love and favor of God to your souls. What certainty can there be of election, remission of sin, justification, or glorification—if there is not a certainty of your sanctification and renovation? If that persuasion that is in you about your grace or sanctification is false—then that persuasion that is in you concerning remission of sin, predestination, justification, and eternal salvation is false. This highly concerns all to consider, who would not be miserable in both worlds.
I know many cry up revelations, impressions, visions, yes, the fabricated visions of their own hearts, and speak lightly and slightly of the graces of the Spirit, of sanctification, of holiness—as evidences of the goodness and happiness of a Christian's condition. There were some in James' time who cried up faith, and union and communion with Christ—but were destitute of good works, James 2:18. Well, what says the apostle? "Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works; for as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead," verse 26. Look! as the body without the spirit, or without breath—as the Greek word primarily signifies—is dead; so that faith which is without works, which are, as it were, the breathings of a living faith—is a dead faith. Though it be faith which justifies the man—yet it is works which justifies a man's faith to be right and real, saving and justifying.
Just so, there were some in John's time, namely, the Gnostics, who talked high of fellowship and communion with Christ, and yet walked in darkness; lived in all impurity, and yet would make the world believe that they were the only people who knew God, and had fellowship with God. But John tells us they were liars: "If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth. What fellowship has light with darkness?" 2 Cor. 6:14. Such walk in darkness, who promise to themselves the future vision of God's face, while they go on in the willful breach of God's royal law. Such who say they know him—and yet in the course of their lives walk contrary to him—such are liars: "He who says, I know him, and keeps not his commandments, is a liar," 1 John 2:4.
Sanctification and justification are both benefits of the covenant of grace, and therefore to evidence the one by the other can be no turning aside to the covenant of works, Jer. 33:8-9; Heb. 8:10, 12. You may run and read in the covenant of grace, that he who is justified is also sanctified, and that he who is sanctified is also justified. Therefore, why may not he who knows himself to be really sanctified, upon that very ground, safely and boldly conclude that he is certainly justified? O sirs! the same Spirit who witnesses to a Christian his justification, can shine upon his graces—and witness to him his sanctification as well as his justification; and without all controversy, it is as much the office of the Spirit to witness to a man his sanctification, as it is to witness to him his justification, 1 Cor. 2:12, 1 John 4:13-14.
But you will say, Sir, what should be the reasons why many men have, and why some do still cry down marks and signs, and deny sanctification to be an evidence of men's justification, etc., and speak disgracefully of this practice that is now under consideration? I conjecture the reasons may be such as follow:
First, Many professors take up in a great name, and in a great profession, and in great parts and gifts—though they have never found a thorough change, though they have never passed the pangs of the new birth, though they have never experienced what it is to be a new creature, a thorough Christian. [1 Thes. 5:23; John 3:3, 5; 2 Cor. 5:17; Acts 26:28.] And hence it comes to pass that they oppose this way of evidencing the goodness and happiness of a man's condition by inward gracious qualifications. Of all men these are most apt to outrun the truth, and to run from one extreme to another, and to be only constant in inconstancy. But,
Secondly, Many professors are given up to spiritual judgments, which are the sorest of all judgments, namely, lukewarmness, dead-heartedness, formality, indifference, apostasy, blindness, hardness, and to "strong delusions, that they should believe a lie, because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved," 2 Thes. 2:10-12. Now, is it any wonder to see such men quarrel, and wrangle, and rail against the way and method of evidencing the goodness and happiness of a man's spiritual condition, by inherent gracious qualifications? But,
Thirdly, In some this arises from their lusts, which they indulge and connive at, and which they have a mind to live quietly in. They are desirous to keep their peace, and yet unwilling to forsake their lusts; and hence they exclude this witness of sanctification to testify in the court of conscience, whether they are beloved of God, or whether they are sincere-hearted or not, or whether they have the root of the matter in them or not. For the lack of this witness, sanctification, is a clear and full witness against them—that they are yet in their sins, under wrath, and in the way to eternal ruin; and that they have nothing to do with peace, or comfort, or the promises, or Christ, or heaven, or to take God's name into their lips—seeing they secretly hate to be reformed, Isaiah 57:20, Psalm 50:16.
There are many fair professors who are foul sinners—who have much of God, and Christ, and heaven, and holiness in their lips—when they have nothing but sin and hell in their hearts and lives. These men's lives shame their profession; and therefore they cry out against sanctification as a sure and blessed evidence of a man's justification. Such sinners as live in a course of sin, who make a trade of sin, who indulge their sins, who take up arms in defense of sin, who make provision for sin, who make a sport of sin, who take pleasure in sin, and who have set their hearts upon their sin, 1 Thes. 11; such sinners cannot but look upon the witness of sanctification as the handwriting upon the wall, Daniel 5:5-6. But,
Fourthly, There are many who are great strangers to their own hearts and the blessed Scriptures—and are ignorant of what may be said from the blessed word to evidence the lawfulness of this practice which is under our present consideration. [It is sad to be a stranger at home, and to be least acquainted with one's own heart.—Aristotle.] And hence it comes to pass that they cry down marks and signs, and deny sanctification to be a sure and blessed evidence of men's justification.
Ignorance is the source of all sin, the very well-spring from which all wickedness does issue. Ignorance enslaves a soul to Satan; lets in sin by troops; locks them up in the heart; shuts out the means of recovery; and so plasters up a man's eyes that he cannot see the things which belong to his own internal or eternal peace. The Scripture sets ignorant people below the ox and the donkey. Did men either see the deformity of sin, or the beauty and excellency of holiness, they would never delight in the—one nor cry down the other, "The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s feeding-trough, but Israel does not know; My people do not understand." Isaiah 1:3.
Peter tells you of some that speak evil of the things that they understood not; they did reprehend that which they could not comprehend, 2 Peter 2:12. Ignorance is a breeding sin, a mother sin; all sins are seminally in ignorance. Ignorance is the mother of all the mistakes, and of all the misrule in the world. Christ told the Sadducees "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God," Mat 22:29. And so I may say, many error in crying down such signs and evidences of grace which are founded upon Scripture, because they are ignorant of what the Scripture says in the case. But,
Fifthly, The generality of Christians are but lambs, babes, and children in grace. The springs of grace runs low in them; their fears frequently overtop their faith; and their strong passions and corruptions do often raise such a dust and smoke in their souls, that if they might have all the world, yes, if their salvation depended upon it—they were not able to discern the least measure of grace in their own souls, Isaiah 40:11; 2 Peter 2:2-3; 1 John 2:1. A little grace is next to none. Small things are hardly discerned. He had need to have a clear light and good eyes—who is to discern a hair, a mote, or an atom. A little grace is not discoverable, but by a shining light from above. There are none so full of fears, and doubts, and questions, and disputes, about the truth of their faith in Christ, and the sincerity of their love to Christ—as those who least believe and least love.
The kingdom of God in most Christians is but as a grain of mustard-seed, which is the tiniest of all seeds; and therefore it is no wonder that they see it not, Mark 4:30-32. The root of the matter in most Christians is but small, and that small root is often covered over with many sinful infirmities and weaknesses; and therefore we are not to wonder if we see such Christians not sensible of the root of the matter that is in them.
Weak habits put forth such faint actions, and with so much interruption, that it is not an easy thing to discern whether they are the products of special or of common grace. Now, most Christians having but small measures of grace, holiness, and sanctification in them—and these small measures being much obscured and buried under the prevalence of fears, doubts, and unmortified lusts—can speak but weakly and darkly for them; and upon this ground they are not fond of bringing in this witness of sanctification to speak for them. In civil courts, men are not ambitious to bring such witnesses to the bar as can witness but weakly and faintly in their case. It is so here.
Sixthly, Satan is a grand enemy to the peace, joy, comfort, assurance, settlement, and satisfaction of every poor Christian; and therefore he will leave no stone unturned, nor any means unattempted, whereby he may keep them in a low, dark, unsettled, and uncomfortable condition, Psalm 77, 88. When once a poor soul is brought over to Christ—how does the devil bestir himself to keep such a soul so under fears, doubts, and bondage—so that it may not in the least have anything which may have a proper tendency to its comfort, joy, assurance, peace, or quiet. The devil will do all he can to furnish such as are "begotten again by the resurrection of Christ from the dead" with all sorts of deadly weapons out of his armory, to fight against those arguments and evidences which make for the peace and comfort of their own souls. He who shall look seriously and impartially upon the subtle, studious, strong, and rhetorical arguings of many distressed Christians—against the peace, rest, comfort, and settlement of their own souls—may safely conclude that a hand of Joab, a hand of Satan, yes, a strong hand of Satan, has been with them, 2 Sam. 14:19.
He who shall please to read the life of Francis Spira, though he be no great philosopher—yet he may easily discern with what subtlety and wonderful sophistry Satan helped him to argue against the pardonableness of his sins, and the possibility of his salvation. Satan knows how to transform himself into an angel of light, 2 Cor. 11:14. Satan does not always appear in one and the same fashion—but he appears in as many several shapes, fashions, and changes, as Proteus did among the poets. To deceive some, he has assumed a lightsome body, as if he were an angel of heaven, as if he had been a holy one clothed with the brightness of celestial glory; to deceive others, he has appeared as an angel of light, suggesting such things to them, and injecting such things into them, under fair and specious shows and pretenses of religion, piety, zeal, and holiness—which have had a direct tendency to the dishonor of God, the wounding of Christ, the grieving of the Spirit, the clouding or denying their evidences for heaven, the strangling of their hopes, and the death of all their comforts and joy. But,
Seventhly and lastly, Some Christians live under high enjoyments and singular manifestations of God's love to them; they have God every day a-shedding abroad of his love into their hearts by the Holy Spirit, Romans 5:5. God is every day a-filling their souls with life, light, love, glory, and liberty, Psalm 63:2-4. Christ every day takes them up into the mount, Mat. 17:4, and makes such discoveries of himself and his glory to them, that they are ready frequently to cry out, "It is good to be here!" Christ often whispers in their ear, "O man, O woman, greatly beloved," Dan. 9:22-23. Christ's "left hand is every day under their heads, and his right hand does embrace them," Cant. 2:6. "They sit down every day under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit is sweet unto their taste." He makes out every day such sweet and clear manifestations of his admirable favor to their hearts, that their souls are daily satisfied as with marrow and fatness, Psalm 63:2-5. There are some precious Christians—I say not all, I say not most—who live daily under singular glances of divine glory, and who are daily under the sensible embracements of God, and who daily lie in the bosom of the Father, and who every night have Christ as a bundle of myrrh lying between their breasts, Cant. 1:13.
Now these choice souls who live daily in the glorious manifestations of the Spirit, and enjoy a little heaven on this side heaven, these many times are so taken up with their high communion with God, with their spiritual enjoyments, and with their tastes of the glory of the eternal world—that they do not much mind such evidences as we have had under our consideration.
And thus much for the reasons why some cry down Scripture marks, signs, and evidences of grace, of holiness, of sanctification, and why others don't much mind them, or take any great notice of them. But,
[4.] The fourth proposition is this—If this way of trying our spiritual estates by holy and gracious qualifications, were not both lawful and useful, then certainly the Holy Spirit would never have prescribed it, nor ever have pressed men so earnestly upon it, as we find he has done in the blessed Scripture.Take a taste: 2 Cor. 13:5, "Examine yourselves, whether you be in the faith; prove your own selves." The precept is doubled, to teach us to redouble our diligence in this most needful but much neglected duty of self-examination. The final trial of our eternal estates does immediately and solely belong to the court of heaven—but the investigative part belongs to us. Here are two emphatical words in the Greek: first, "examine yourselves." The word in the general signifies to take an experimental knowledge of anything which is either uncertain, unknown, or hidden. Most men are great strangers to God, to Christ, to Scripture, and to themselves; and therefore says the apostle, "Examine yourselves." Now, if there were not sure marks and infallible signs whereby men may certainly know what their present estate is, and how it is likely to go with them in another world, the redoubled command of the apostle would be in vain.
The second Greek word is "prove yourselves." The original word signifies a severe and diligent inquisition into ourselves, so as to have a full experience of what is in us. Doubtless the apostle would never call again and again upon us, to try and examine ourselves whether we are in the faith—if it were not lawful to come to the knowledge of our faith, or of our being in the state of faithful Christians—in a discursive way, arguing from the effect to the cause.
Likewise, in 2 Peter 10, "Give all diligence to make your calling and election sure." The Greek word translated "give diligence," is very emphatic. It signifies to do a thing, not in an slovenly, lazy, careless way—but to do a thing with industry, vigilance, and unweariedness of spirit. Now, it is granted on all hands, that election cannot be made more sure in respect of God or itself—but only in respect of us—that we may be more persuaded of it. Election cannot be made more sure than it is already, for those whom God has elected shall be certainly glorified; but we must make it sure on our parts; that is, we must labor to have a real and grounded assurance that we are elected by God in his eternal decree, to obtain life and glory by Jesus Christ, Romans 8:29-30. There is a double certainty: (1.) There is a certainty of the object; so our election is sure with God, for with him both it and all things are unchangeable. (2.) There is the certainty of the subject; and so we must make our election sure to ourselves in our own hearts and consciences. Now, the means whereby we are to come to this assurance, is by adding grace to grace, and by causing those several graces to abound in us. This is the way of ways to make all sure to us.
Now, by these scriptures it is most evident that we stand engaged to make our election sure by holy signs and marks. But,
[5.] The fifth proposition is this—That other precious saints who are now triumphing in glory, have pleaded their interest in God's love, and their hopes of eternal life—from graces inherent.[Grace, in the working of it, is often compared to life. Now, look as natural life is discerned by the actions thereof, as by so many signs—so also is supernatural life.] I will only point at some of those scriptures among many others, that clearly speak out this truth: the first epistle of John; James 2:17, seq.; Job 23:10-12; and the whole 31st chapter of Job; Psalm 119:6; Isaiah 38:2-3; Neh. 1:1, seq., and 13:14, etc. Now, all these scriptures do evidently prove, that the precious servants of the Lord took their graces for precious signs and testimonies of God's love, of their interest in Christ—and thereby received much comfort, peace, and satisfaction.
To deny the fruit growing upon the tree to be an evidence that the tree is alive, is to me as unreasonable as it is absurd. Certainly, it is one thing to judge by our graces, and another thing to trust in our graces, to make a savior of our graces. They may doubtless look to their graces as evidences of their part in Christ and salvation—and the clearer and stronger they are, the greater will be their comfort and assurance—but not as causes.
No man advanced free grace like Paul; no man debased his own righteousness like Paul—he counted it but dung and dross, Philip. 3:6-9; and no man exalted the righteousness of Christ like Paul, and yet by this way of signs he gathered much comfort and assurance: 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 does he here conclude his right to the crown of life, from his fighting a good fight, his finishing his course, in a way of grace and holiness, and his keeping the faith. By this great instance you may clearly see, that a Christian may greatly exalt Christ, lift up free grace, tread upon his own righteousness, as to justification—and at the very same time take comfort in his graces, and in his gracious actings.
Likewise, in 2 Cor. 1:12, "Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God. We have done so not according to worldly wisdom but according to God's grace." [They boasted in the testimony of their consciences. Oh the quiet and tranquility that arises from the testimony of a man's sincerity, both in heart and life.] His joy was founded on the testimony of his conscience; but from what did his conscience testify? from his sincere conduct in the world.
Again, take that memorable instance of Job; God hid his face from him; the arrows of the almighty stuck fast in him; Satan was let loose upon him; the wife of his bosom proved a tempter to him, a tormentor of him; his most trusted acquaintances deserted him, reproached him, and condemned him as a hypocrite; God wrote bitter things against him, and made him "to possess the iniquities of his youth." All was clouded above him, and he stripped of all the outward comforts that once surrounded him, Job. 1:8, and 2:3, so that he had nothing left to stay him, to refresh him, to support him, and to be a comfort and joy to him—but the sense of his integrity, and the evidence he had of his own uprightness, his own righteousness: Job 27:6, "I will maintain my righteousness and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live." Job was under great afflictions, sore temptations, and deep desertions. Now that which was his cordial, his bulwark, in those sad times—was the sense and feeling of his own uprightness, his own righteousness. The sense and feeling of the grace of God in him—kept him from fainting and sinking under all his troubles.
Likewise, in 1 John 2:3, "Hereby we know that we know him—if we keep his commandments," etc. In these words two things are observable: First, that where there is a true knowledge of Christ; there is an observation of his commandments. Secondly, that by this observation of his royal law—we may know that our knowledge is sound and sincere. He speaks not of a legal obedience—but of an evangelical keeping of his commandments. A conscientious and serious endeavor to walk in a holy course of life, according to God's will revealed in his word—is a most certain mark or evidence that we have a saving knowledge of God, and that we are his children, and heirs of glory. Such who sincerely desire, and sincerely purpose, and firmly resolve, and faithfully endeavor—to keep the commandments of God—these do keep the commandments of God evangelically and acceptably in the eye of God—in the account of God.
Likewise, verse 6, "He who says he abides in him ought himself also so to walk even as he walked." Here you may observe two things: First, that by faith we are implanted into Christ; secondly, that we discover our implantation into Christ by our imitation of Christ. Such as plead for sanctification as an evidence of justification, do not make their graces causes of their implantation into Christ, or of their justification before the throne of Christ—but they make them evidences and witnesses to declare the truth of their real implantation into Christ, and of their being justified before the throne of Christ.
Likewise, 1 John 3:14, "We know we are translated from death to life—because we love the brethren." The apostle makes this a great sign of godliness—to love another godly man for godliness's sake, and the more godly he is, the more to love him, and to delight in him. Now mark, this love of our brethren is not a cause of our translation from death to life, for the very word translated supposes such a grace, such a favor of God as is without us—but a sign of our translation from death to life. But,
[6.] The sixth proposition is this—There are many scores of precious promises made over to those who believe, to those who trust in the Lord, to those who set him up as the great object of their fear, to those who love him, to those who delight in him, to those who obey him, to those who walk with him, to those who thirst after him, to those who suffer for him, to those who follow after him, etc.[The most ordinary and safe way of coming to assurance is the reasoning way in which a believer, from the fruits and effects of grace, infers he has the habit of grace; and from the habit concludes his justification and adoption. And as this is a way least subject to delusion, so it is also most suited to a rational creature, whose way of acting is by reasoning and argumentation.]
Now all these scores of promises are made for the support, comfort, and encouragement of all such Christians whose souls are bespangled with grace. But now if we may not lawfully come to the knowledge of our faith, love, fear, delight, obedience, etc., in a reasoning way, arguing from the effect to the cause—what support, what comfort, what advantage shall a sincere Christian have by all those scores of promissory verses of Scripture? Doubtless all those scores of promises would be as so many suns without light, as so many springs without water, as so many breasts without milk, and as so many bodies without souls, to all gracious Christians—were it not lawful for them to form up such a practical reasoning as this is—namely, the Scripture does plainly and fully declare that he who believes, fears, loves, obeys, etc., is blessed, and shall be happy forever; I am such a one who does believe, fear, love, obey, etc.; Therefore I am blessed, and shall be happy forever.
Now, although it must be granted that the foundation of this proposition is Scripture—yet the assumption is from experience; and therefore a godly man, being assisted therein by the Holy Spirit, may safely draw the conclusion as undeniable. Oh that you would seriously consider how little would be the difference between a man and a beast, should you shut out this reasoning way of coming to conclusions. But,
[7.] The seventh proposition is this—That the Scripture gives many signs and symptoms of grace; so that if a man cannot find all—yet if he discover some, yes—but one, he may safely conclude that all the rest are there.He who truly has but one of the fore-mentioned characters in this book, has seminally all; he who has one link of the golden chain, has the whole chain. Look! as he who truly has one grace—has every grace, though he does not see every grace shining in his soul; so he who truly has any one evidence of grace in his soul, he has virtually all. And oh, that all weak, dark, doubting Christians would seriously and frequently ponder upon this proposition; for it may be a staff to uphold them, and a cordial to comfort them, under all their fears and faintings. But,
[8.] The eighth proposition is this—Without the light of the Holy Spirit, our graces are not manifest.Our graces are only the means by which our condition is known to us, Romans 9:2. The efficient cause of this knowledge is the Spirit illustrating our graces and making them visible, and so helping us to conclude from them, etc. 1 Cor. 2:12, "Now we have received not the spirit of the world—but the Spirit who is of God—that we might know the things which are freely given to us of God." Our graces, our sanctification, as well as our election, effectual calling, justification, and glorification, are freely given to us by God; and the Spirit of God is given to reveal these blessings to us. Mark, the things freely given us may be received by us, and yet the receipt of them not known to us; therefore the Spirit for our further consolation does, as it were, put his hand and seal to our receipts, whence he is said to "seal us up unto the day of redemption," Eph. 4:30.
The graces of the Spirit are a real "pledge" of the Spirit—yet they are not always an evidential pledge; therefore a pledge is often superadded to our graces. Forever remember these few hints:
(1.) that it is the work of the Spirit to plant grace in the soul;
(2.) that it is the work of the Spirit to act and exercise the graces that he has planted there;
(3.) that it is the work of the Spirit to shine upon those graces that he has planted in the soul, and to cause the soul to see and feel what he has planted;
(4.) that it is the work of the Spirit to raise springs of comfort and joy in the soul, upon the discovery of that grace which he has wrought in the soul.
O Christians! until the Spirit of the Lord shines upon your graces—you will still be in the dark! It is only God's own interpreter, who must show a man his righteousness, Job 33:23. When the Holy Spirit shines upon a Christian's graces, then a Christian finds the springs of comfort to rise in his soul, and then he finds the greatest serenity and calmness in his spirit. O sirs! no man can, by any natural light or evidence in him, come to be assured of the grace wrought in his soul. Look! as no man can see the sun but in the light of the sun, so no man can see the graces of the Spirit but in the light of the Spirit, 1 John 5:13.
A man may have grace and not see it; he may be in a state of grace and not know it; as the child lives in the womb but doesn't perceive that he is heir to a crown. Oh! until the Spirit shines upon his own work, a child of light may walk in darkness and see no light, Isaiah 50:10. Look! as no man can subdue his sins, but by the power of the Holy Spirit; so no man can see his graces but in the light of the Spirit, Romans 8:13. The confidence that a believer has of the truth of grace wrought in him—springs more from the Spirit's removing his slavish fears, and answering his doubts, and shining upon his graces, and supporting his soul—than it does from that excellency and beauty of grace which shines in him. A man may read the promises over and over a thousand times—and yet never be affected, delighted, or pleased with them, until the Spirit of the Lord sets them home upon his soul. And a man may read the threatenings over and over a thousand times—and yet never startle nor tremble, though he knows himself guilty of those very sins against which the threatenings are denounced, until the Spirit of the Lord sets home the threatenings in power upon his conscience; and then every threatening will be like the hand-writing upon the wall, which will cause his countenance to be changed, and his thoughts to be troubled, and his joints to be loosed, and his knees to be dashed one a against another, Dan. 5:6-7.
It is just so in the matter of our graces and gracious evidences; until the Holy Spirit shines upon them, until in the light of the Spirit we come to see them—they won't be witnessing, comforting, and refreshing to us. Therefore let not the pious reader think that, by the strength of his natural light, he shall ever attain to know the certainty of that grace which is in his soul; but let him rather beg hard of God, that the Holy Spirit may shine upon that good work which he has begun in him—that so he may be persuaded, assured, and comforted. Without the light of the Spirit, the work of the Spirit cannot be seen—any more than a book written in the clearest print can be seen without light to see it or read it by. But,
[9.] The ninth proposition is this—Sincere Christians may safely and groundedly rejoice, delight, and take comfort in those graces, or in those divine qualities, which in the light of the Spirit, they see and know are wrought in their souls.[Most Christians by experience find that their assurance and joy rises and falls—as grace and holiness—and as the evidences of grace and holiness rise and fall in their souls.] I do not say that a Christian should build the comfort of his justification upon his graces, or that he should rest on his graces, or trust to his graces, or make a savior of his graces; for this would be such a piece of pharisaical popery, as is justly to be detested and abhorred by all who love Christ, or are looking towards heaven.
But this I say—a Christian may make several uses of his graces. He may safely look upon his graces as so many evidences of Christ's dwelling in him, and he may look upon his graces as so many heavenly bracelets, or as so many love-tokens from God—in which he may safely rejoice. The gracious evidences that I have laid down in this treatise are blessed signs of salvation; and therefore to rejoice in them can be no transgression of any royal law of heaven. He who can experimentally subscribe to any of the gracious evidences which are laid down in this book, has such a fair certificate to show for heaven, which no wicked man or hypocrite under heaven has the like to show; and why such a man should not rejoice in such a certificate, I cannot at present see.
I may and ought to rejoice in the works of creation. Oh how much more then ought I to rejoice in the work of renovation, in the work of sanctification, which does so infinitely transcend the work of creation? I may and ought to rejoice in my natural life, health, strength, beauty; and why then should I not rejoice in grace and holiness, which is the life, health, strength, and beauty of my soul?
Christ delights in the graces of his people. "You have ravished my heart" (or you have behearted me, as the Hebrew runs), "my sister, my spouse; you have ravished my heart with one of your eyes" (or with one glance of your eyes, as some read it), "with one chain of your neck," Cant. 4:9. The eye of faith, say some; the eye of love, say others; the chain of obedience, say some; the chain of spiritual graces, say others, ravished Christ's heart. The one eye of faith, the one chain of obedience, unhearted Christ, wounded Christ; this one eye, this one chain, robbed Christ of his heart, and laid the spouse in the place of it. Now, shall Christ's heart be ravished with his children's graces, and shall not their hearts be ravished and delighted with those very graces that ravish Christ's own heart?
I may, yes, I ought to rejoice in the graces of others, and why then not in my own? I may, yes I ought to rejoice in others' outward mercies, and in my own outward mercies, 1 Thes. 1:2-5, 2 Thes. 1:3-4. Oh how much more then ought I to rejoice in the saving and distinguishing graces of the Spirit, especially when I consider, that the least grain of grace is more worth than ten thousand thousand worlds, as every awakened conscience will tell you when they come to die, Hab. 3:18, Gal. 6:14, Philip. 3:3.
Mark, firstly, mostly, and chiefly—a Christian is to rejoice in God and Christ; but secondarily and subordinately—he may rejoice in those graces, and in those gracious evidences which God has given into his soul. Firstly, mostly, and chiefly, a wife is to rejoice in the person of her husband; but secondarily, subordinately she may rejoice in the bracelets, in the earrings, in the jewels, in the gold chains which are given her by her husband. But,
[10.] The tenth proposition is this—That that assurance which the people of God may rise to, by a sight of their graces, and upon the sight of their gracious evidences in the light of the Spirit—is not so clear, and bright, and high, and full—as that it utterly excludes all fears, doubtings, conflicts, or spiritual agonies.1 Cor. 13:12; Philip. 3:12-14. Our knowledge of God, of Christ, of ourselves, and of the blessed Scripture, which is the rule of trial—is imperfect in this life. And how then can our assurance be perfect?
David, a man eminent in grace and holiness, had his up-hills and his down-hills, his summer days and his winter nights. Now you see him upon the mountain singing and saying, "The Lord is my portion!" Psalm 73:25. And shortly you see him in the valleys, sighing and saying, "Why are you cast down, O my soul; why are you disquieted within me?" Psalm 42:5, 11. The same is evident in Job, Heman, and Asaph, Job 3; Psalm 77; Psalm 88.
Such an assurance as shall exclude all fears, doubts, conflicts, agonies, is very desirable on earth—but shall never be obtained until we come to heaven. The grievous assaults of Satan, the power of unbelief, and the prevalency of other corruptions in a Christian's heart, may be such as may shake, I do not say overturn, that assurance which a Christian may gather from the sight and evidence of his graces in the light of the Spirit. "The flesh lusts as well against the Spirit," Gal. 5:17, as it is a Spirit of consolation, as it lusts against the Spirit as it is a Spirit of sanctification; and therefore such an assurance as shall exclude all sorts and degrees of fears and doubts, is not attainable in this life. [Doubting is not a virtue, as the papists would make us believe—but it is a fruit of the flesh, and a thing most contrary and opposite to the nature of faith, James 1:5; Mat. 21:21, and 13:31. And therefore Christians should pray hard to be rid of their doubts.]
While we are in this old world, we shall have—water with our wine, gall with our honey, and some clouds with our brightest sunshiny days, etc. Most Christians think, that as long as they have any doubtings they have no assurance; but they consider not, that there are many degrees of infallible certainty, which are below a perfect or an undoubting certainty. Doubtless some darkness, more or less, will overspread the face of every Christian's soul, and unbelief in one degree or another will be making headway against their faith; and hypocrisy in one degree or another will be making headway against sincerity; and pride in one degree or another will be making headway against humility; and passion in one degree or another will be making head against meekness; and earthly-mindedness in one degree or another will be making head against heavenly-mindedness, etc. Yet as long as a Christian has the sight of his graces or his gracious evidences, he may and ought to walk in much peace, comfort, and joy.
Such Christians as are resolved to lie down in sorrow, until they have attained to a perfect assurance—must resolve to lie down in sorrow until they come to lay down their heads in the dust. Our graces are imperfect, and therefore that assurance that arises from the sight and evidence of them must needs be imperfect. Perfect signs of grace can never spring from imperfect grace, 1 Thes. 3:10. Now, if this were seriously apprehended, studied, and minded by many weak Christians, they would not at every turn call their spiritual estates into question, as they do, because they find some seeds and stirrings of pride, hypocrisy, vain-glory, and other sinful humours and passions working in them. But,
[11.] The eleventh proposition is this—When all your signs and evidences of the happiness and blessedness of your condition fail you; and are so clouded, obscured, darkened and blotted that you cannot read them, that you cannot take any comfort from them—then it highly concerns you to keep high, and precious, and honorable thoughts of God, of Christ, of his word, and of his ways in your souls.Psalm 97:2, "Clouds and thick darkness surround Him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne."
When Christ was withdrawn from his spouse, Cant. 5:6-7, and when the watchmen that went about the city had smote her and wounded her, and when the keepers of the walls had took away her veil from her—yet then she keeps up in heart very high, precious, and honorable thoughts of Christ. Verse 10, "My beloved is white and ruddy, the chief among ten thousand." Verse 16, "His mouth is most sweet, and he is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, and this is my friend." That is, his mouth is sweetnesses, and he is altogether desirablenesses, or all of him is desires, or he is wholly desirable. Here she breaks off her praises in a general eulogy, which no words can express enough. Alas! says the spouse, I lack words to express how sweet, how lovely, how adorable, how desirable, how eminent, and how excellent Christ is in my eye, and to my soul! Christ is the desire of all nations, Hag. 2:8, and all that is perfect in heaven or earth is but a dim shadow of his excellency and glory. Where Christ is—there is heaven. Heaven itself, in the spouse's eyes, without Christ, would be but a poor little thing. The spouse looks upon Christ as the sparkling diamond in the ring of glory"
Just so, David, when he was woefully clouded and benighted, when all was dark within him, and dark about him, and dark over him, Psalm 73:13, "Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence." Verse 21, "My heart was grieved and my spirit embittered." Verse 22, "I was as a beast before you;" or I was as a great beast, or as many beasts in one, as the Hebrew word Behemoth imports. Verse 26, "My flesh and my heart fails;" that is, my outward man and my inward man fails me. And yet mark, at this very time, when the psalmist was thus overcast, he keeps up in him very high, precious, and honorable thoughts of God. Verse 1, "Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart." Verse 23, "Nevertheless, I am continually with you, you have held me by my right hand." Verse 24, "You shall guide me with your counsel, and afterward receive me to glory." Verse 25, "Whom have I in heaven but you? and there is none upon earth that I desire besides you." Verse 26, "God is the strength," or rock, "of my heart, and my portion forever." Verse 28, "It is good for me to draw near to God."
Just so, the church in that Micah 7, when God had hidden his face from her; verse 7, when she sat in darkness; verse 8, when she was under the indignation of the Lord; verse 9, when the righteous man was perished, and there was none upright among men; verse 2, and when her enemies rejoiced, insulted and triumphed over her; vers. 8 and 10—yet now, even now, she keeps up in her soul very high, precious, and honorable thoughts of the Lord. Verse 7, "My God will hear me." Verse 8, "When I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me." Verse 9, "He will bring me forth to the light, and I shall behold his righteousness."
I might give you twenty more instances—but enough is as good as a feast. Dear Christians, when your graces are not transparent, when your evidences for heaven are blotted, and when the face of God is clouded—oh then, keep up in your hearts high, precious, and honorable thoughts of God and Christ, and of his word and ways, etc. When your sun of righteousness is set in a cloud, when great darkness is upon your spirits, when all moonlight and starlight of your graces and gracious evidences fail you, Acts 27:20—yet then say with David, "You are holy, O you who inhabits the praises of Israel," Psalm 22:3; and with Ezra, "You have punished me less than my iniquities deserve," Ezra 9:13; and with Nehemiah, "Howbeit, you are just in all that is brought upon us, for you have done right—but we have done wickedly;" and with the church, "The Lord is righteous," Neh. 9:33.
In the darkest night, and under your deepest soul-distresses, say, "Well, if I perish, if I should miscarry forever—yet I will maintain and keep up in my heart, high, and precious, and honorable thoughts of God and Christ, Lam. 1:18. Say, Well, though my graces are obscured, and my evidences for heaven are blurred and soiled—yet I shall to my last breath say the Lord is good, and his word is good, and his ways are good; yes, though he should slay me—yet I will trust in him, and entertain noble and glorious thoughts of him," Job 13:15. This is the way of ways to have your graces cleared and strengthened, your evidences brightened, your comforts restored, and your assurance confirmed. But,
[12.] The twelfth proposition is this—That it is the great duty and concernment of Christians to keep the evidences of their gracious condition, always bright and shining.Christians should be scrupulous of not blurring and disfiguring the golden characters of grace in their souls. The least character of grace in the soul, is more worth than all the gold of Ophir, yes, more worth than ten thousand thousand worlds; and therefore every gracious Christian should be scrupulously careful, that he does not by willful omissions or sinful commissions— cloud, dim, or darken the least character of grace, Eph. 4:30, Psalm 51:11-12. Such as blot or lose their evidences for heaven, they lose the comfort of their lives in this world.
Satan's masterpiece is first to work Christians to blot and blur their evidences for glory, by committing this or that heinous sin; and then his next work is to rob them of their evidences for glory, that so though at the long run they may get safely to heaven, that yet Jacob-like they may go halting and mourning to their graves. Satan knows, that while a Christian's evidences are bright and shining, a Christian is temptation-proof. Satan may tempt him—but he cannot conquer him; he may assault him—but he cannot vanquish him. Satan knows, that while a Christian's evidences for heaven are bright and shining, no afflictions can sink him, nor any opposition shake him, nor any persecution discourage him, nor any outward needs perplex him; and therefore he will use all his power and policy, all his arts, crafts, and parts—to draw poor Christians to blot and blur their evidences for glory.
Satan knows, that a man may lose one friend—and easily get another; lose his trade in one place—and soon get a trade in another place; lose his health—and afterwards regain it; lose an estate—and afterwards get an estate, etc. But if he loses his evidences for heaven, he knows it will cost him many a prayer, and many a sigh, and many a groan, and many a tear, and many a sad complaint, before he recovers his lost evidences; and therefore his grand design is to plunder a Christian of his evidences for heaven.
O sirs! keep but your evidences for heaven always bright and shining, and then heavy afflictions will be light, and long afflictions will be short, and bitter afflictions will be sweet, 2 Cor. 4:16-18; and then every evidence fairly written in your hearts will be a living comfort to you in a dying hour. When the tokens of death are upon your bodies, and you shall see the lively characters of grace shining in your souls, you will then cry out with old Simeon, "Lord, now let your servant depart in peace," Luke 2:29; and with the spouse, "Make haste, my beloved, and be like to a roe, or to a young deer upon the mountains of spices," Cant. 8:14; and with the bride, "Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly," Rev. 22:20; and with Paul, "I desire to depart and to be with Christ," Philip. 1:23.
When a man's evidences for heaven are either lost or blotted and blurred, then he will be ready to cry out with David, "Oh spare me yet a little, that I may recover strength before I go hence and be seen no more," Psalm 39:13; and with Hezekiah, to turn his face to the wall and weep, Isaiah 38:3. There are four things that above all others a Christian should labor to keep—
(2) his own heart;
(3) the word;
(4) his evidences for heaven, bright and shining.
[13.] The thirteenth proposition is this—It is the high concernment of every Christian, either when he is in the dark, or when his graces shine brightest, and when his evidences for heaven are clearest, and his springs of comfort rise highest—then to have his heart and the eye of his faith most firmly fixed upon these three royal forts, or these three cities of refuge.It must be granted, that though our graces are our best jewels—yet they are imperfect, and do not give out their full luster; they are like the moon, which when it shines brightest—has her dark spots; and therefore a Christian had need have his eye, his heart fixed upon the three following royal forts. You know in time of war there are the outworks, and there are the royal forts. Now, when the soldiers are beaten out of their outworks, they retire to the royal forts, and there they are safe; and then they cast up their caps and bid defiance to their proudest enemies. Now, our graces and our gracious evidences, they are our outworks; and from these we may be beaten in a day of desertion and temptation, etc. Now if we make our retreat to the three following royal forts, we may in a holy sense cast up our caps, and bid defiance to an army of devils, yes, to all the powers of darkness. But,
Question—But, sir, please let us know what are these royal forts.
Answer—They are these three that follow.
1. The first isthe free, rich, infinite, sovereign, and glorious grace of God. [Gen. 6:8; Exod. 19:5; Eph. 1:5-7; 1 Tim. 1:13-16. "The grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant." The original word is over-full, redundant, more than enough, more than might serve the turn for him who was the greatest of sinners.] By free grace you are to understand the gracious good will or favor of God, whereby he is pleased, of his own free love—to choose and accept of some in Christ for his own. This we call first grace, because it is the fountain of all other grace, and the spring from whence they flow; and it is therefore called grace, because it makes a man gracious with God.
Now mark, there have been many Christians who have had no assurance of the love of God, no sight of their interest in Christ, no sealing of the Spirit, nor any one clear evidence of grace, that they dared rest the weight of their souls upon; nor no one promise in the whole book of God that they dared apply or rest upon—who yet daily casting or rolling themselves, their souls, and their everlasting concernments, upon the infinite, free, rich, and sovereign grace of God in Christ—have found some tolerable peace, comfort, and refreshment in such a practice all their days. A Christian may lose the sight of his graces, and the evidences of his gracious estate; he may be so much in the dark, he may be so much benighted and bewildered in his spirit, that there may be no way under heaven left to him to enjoy peace, comfort, rest, quiet, settlement, or contentment—but by casting or rolling of his soul upon the free, rich, infinite, and sovereign grace of God in Christ. And here casting anchor, the poor bewildered, deserted, tempted, tossed soul may be safe and at rest, Isaiah 50:10.
The free love and favor of God will be a lamp to the soul in the darkest night; it will be a sweet lump of sugar which will sweeten the bitterest cup; it will be a refreshing cordial against all faintings; it will be armor against all temptations; it will be an everlasting arm to you under all afflictions; it will be a sun and a shield to you in every condition, Psalm 4:6; Psalm 80:3. "Cause your face to shine, and we shall be saved." Divine favor is that pearl of great price which is most desirable [Socrates prized the king's countenance above his coin. What is then the countenance of God to a gracious soul?]
Dan. 9:17, "The Lord make his face to shine upon his sanctuary that is desolate, for the Lord's sake." Num. 6:24, "The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you." Psalm 67:1, "God be merciful to you, and bless you, and cause his face to shine upon you." Life is a very desirable thing; "skin for skin, yes, all that a man has will he give for his life," Job 2:4; and yet the loving-kindness of God is better than life: Psalm 63:3, "Your loving-kindness is better than life." The Hebrew word is lives; to note that the loving-kindness of God is better than many lives, yes, than all lives. Put many lives together, put all lives together; and yet there is more excellency in the least discovery of divine love—than in them all. Many a man has been weary of his life—but who have ever been weary of divine love?
Dear Christians, are your graces or gracious evidences shining or sparkling? Oh then solace yourselves mostly in the free love and favor of God; for in his free favor lies the life of your souls, the life of your graces, the life of your comforts, yes, in his free favor your all is bound up. If your graces or evidences are so clouded and darkened, that you are in a stormy day beat out of your outworks, oh now run to the free grace and favor of God, as to your royal fort, as to your strong tower, as to your city of refuge—where you may be safe and happy forever.
In such a day ponder much upon these scriptures, Hosea 14:4, "I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely." God's love is a free love, having no motive or foundation but within itself. All the links of the golden chain of salvation are made up of free grace. The people of God are freely loved, Deut. 7:6-8; and freely chosen, John 15:16-19, Eph. 1:4; and freely accepted, Eph. 1:6; and freely adopted, Eph. 1:5, Gal. 4:5-6; and freely reconciled, 2 Cor. 5:18-20; and freely justified, Romans 3:24, "Being justified freely by his grace;" and freely saved, Eph. 2:5; "By grace you are saved," verse 8, "For by grace you are saved;" Tit. 5, "Not by works of righteousness which we have done—but according to his mercy he saved us." Thus you see that all the golden rounds in Jacob's ladder—which reaches from heaven to earth, are all made up of free grace. Free grace is the foundation of all spiritual and eternal mercies; free grace is the solid bottom and foundation of all a Christian's comfort in this world. Were we to measure the love of God to us by our fruitfulness, our holiness, our humbleness, our spiritualness, our heavenly-mindedness, or our gracious behavior towards him—how would our hope, our confidence every hour, yes, every moment in every hour, be staggered, if not vanquished! Romans 4:16. But all is of grace, of free grace, that the promise might be sure, and that our salvation might be safe. O sirs! it is free grace which will strengthen you in all your duties, and which will sweeten all your mercies, Romans 8:33-36, and which will support you under all your changes, and which will arm you against all temptations, and answer all objections, and take off all Satan's accusations, that may be cast in to disturb the peace and quiet of your soul. Therefore, whether your graces or gracious evidences do shine or are clouded—yet still have your recourse to the free grace of God, as to your first royal fort, your first city of refuge; and still cry out, Grace, grace! When your gracious evidences are clearest and fullest, then it concerns you to look upon free grace as your choicest and safest city of refuge. But,
2. The second royal fort that Christians should have their eyes, their hearts fixed upon, whether their graces or gracious evidences sparkle and shine, or are clouded and obscured—isthe mediatorial righteousness of Christ. [Imputed righteousness seems to be prefigured by the skins with which the Lord after the fall clothed our first parents. The bodies of the beasts were for sacrifice; and the skins put them in mind that their own righteousness was, like the fig-leaves, imperfect, and that therefore they must be justified another way.]
Beloved, there is a twofold righteousness in Christ. First, there is his essential and personal righteousness as God. Now, this essential personal righteousness cannot be imputed to us. But then there is, secondly, his mediatorial righteousness, that is, that righteousness which he wrought for us as mediator, whereby he did subject himself to the precepts, to the penalties, commands, and curses, answering both God's vindictive and rewarding justice. This is communicated to us and made ours—by virtue of which, we stand justified in God's sight. The mediatorial righteousness of Christ is the matter of our justification.
Now, this mediatorial righteousness of Christ includes, first, the habitual holiness of his person in the absence of all sin, and in the rich and plentiful presence of all holy and requisite qualities; secondly, the actual holiness of his life and death by obedience. By his active obedience he perfectly fulfilled the commands of the law, and by his passive obedience, his voluntary sufferings, he satisfied the penalty of the law for transgressions.
Mark, that perfect satisfaction to divine justice in whatever it requires, either in way of punishing for sin, or obedience to the law, made by the Lord Jesus Christ, God and man, the mediator of the new covenant, as a common head representing all those whom the Father has given to him, and made over unto those who believe in him: this is that righteousness which is imputed to us in justification. No other righteousness can justify us before the throne of God. Look! as Christ was made sin for us only by imputation, so we are made righteous only by the imputation of his righteousness to us, as the Scripture clearly evidences: 2 Cor. 5:21, "He has made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." Jer. 23:6, "The Lord our righteousness." A soul truly sensible of his own unrighteousness, would not have this sentence, "The Lord our righteousness," blotted out of the Bible for ten thousand thousand worlds. 1 Cor. 1:30, "Christ Jesus is made unto us of God, wisdom, righteousness," etc.
How is Christ made righteousness to the believer? Not by way of infusion—but imputation; not by putting righteousness into him—but by putting a righteousness upon him, even his own righteousness; by the imputing his merit, his satisfaction, his obedience unto them, through which they are accepted as righteous unto eternal life: Romans 5:19, "As by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous." Christ's righteousness is his in respect of inherence—but it is ours in respect of imputation; his righteousness is his personally—but ours meritoriously. Look! as there is a true and real union between us and Christ, so there is a real imputation of Christ's righteousness to us. And a gracious soul triumphs more in the righteousness of Christ imputed—than he would have done if he could have stood in the righteousness in which he was created. This is the crowning comfort to a sensible and understanding soul—that he stands righteous before a judgment-seat in that full, exact, perfect, complete, matchless, spotless, peerless, and most acceptable righteousness of Christ, which is imputed to him.
The righteousness of Christ is therefore called "the righteousness of God," Romans 3:21-22; 10:3; Philip. 3:9, because it is that which God has designed, and which God does accept for us in our justification, and for and in which he does acquit and pronounce us righteous before his seat of justice. That we are freely justified by the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, is the very basis and foundation of the Christian religion, whereby it is distinguished from all other religions whatever. Jews, Turks, pagans, and papists explode this imputed righteousness; yes, papists jeer it, calling it a putative righteousness. [Luther's great fear was, that when he was dead this glorious doctrine of free justification by the righteousness of Christ, would be sent packing out of the world.]
Well, sirs, remember this once for all, namely, that the mediatorial righteousness of Christ is the life of your souls, and will afford you these most admirable comforts—
[1.] First, In this mediatorial righteousness, there is enough to satisfy the justice of God to the utmost farthing. The mediatorial righteousness of Christ is so perfect, so full, so exact, so complete, and so fully satisfactory to the justice of God—that divine justice cries out, "I have enough, and I require no more; I have found a ransom, and I am fully pacified towards you!" Ezek. 16:62-63. But,
[2.] Secondly, This mediatorial righteousness of Christ takes away all our unrighteousness; it cancels every bond, it takes away all iniquity, and answers for all our sins, Isaiah 53; Col. 2:12-15. Lord, here are my sins of omission, and here are my sins of commission; but the righteousness of Christ has answered for them all. Here are my sins against the law, and here are my sins against the gospel, and here are my sins against the offers of grace, the strivings of grace, the affections of grace; but the righteousness of Christ has answered for them all. When a cordial was offered to one who was sick, "Oh," said he, "the cordial of cordials which I daily take is this: 'The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all our sins!'" 1 John 1:7.
O sirs! it would be high blasphemy for any to imagine that there should be more demerit in sin, in any sin, in all sin, to condemn a believer—than there is merit in Christ's righteousness to absolve him, to justify him, Romans 8:1, 33-35. But,
[3.] Thirdly, This mediatorial righteousness of Christ presents us perfectly righteous in the sight of God. It is that pure, fine, white linen garment whereby our nakedness is covered before the face of God: "And to her was granted" (that is, to the Lamb's wife) "that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints," Rev. 19:8; or the righteousnesses or justifications of saints, for the Greek is plural. Some by righteousnesses understand the righteousness of Christ imputed, and the righteousness of Christ imparted; but I rather agree with those who say it is an Hebraism; the plural righteousnesses noting that most perfect, complete, absolute righteousness which Christ is pleased to put upon his people, Eph. 5:27. Upon the account of this righteousness of Christ, the church is said to be without spot or wrinkle, and to be all lovely: "You are all beautiful, my love; there is no spot in you," Cant. 4:7; and to be complete: "And you are complete in him," Col. 2:10; and to be without fault: "They are without fault before the throne of God," Rev. 14:5. And so Col. 1:21, "And to present us holy, and unblamably, and unreproveable, in the sight of God." But,
[4.] Fourthly, This mediatorial righteousness of Christ will answer to all the fears, doubts, and objections of your souls. How shall I look up to God? The answer is—In the righteousness of Christ. How shall I have any communion with a holy God in this world? The answer is—In the righteousness of Christ. How shall I find acceptance with God? The answer is—In the righteousness of Christ. How shall I die? The answer is—In the righteousness of Christ. How shall I stand before the judgment seat? The answer is—"In the righteousness of Christ." Your sure and only way under all temptations, fears, conflicts, doubts, and disputes, is by faith to remember Christ, and the sufferings of Christ, as your mediator and surety, and say, "O Christ! you are my sin—in being made sin for me; and you are my curse—in being made a curse for me. Or rather, I am your sin—and you are my righteousness; I am your curse—and you are my blessing; I am your death—and you are my life; I am the wrath of God to you—and you are the love of God to me; I am your hell—and you are my heaven."
O sirs! if you think of your sins—and of God's wrath; if you think of your guiltiness—and of God's justice, your hearts will fail you, and sink into despair, if you don't think of Christ, if you don't rest and stay your souls upon the mediatorial righteousness of Christ. [That was a rare speech of Luther: Let him see to it where my soul shall rest, who took so much care for it as that he laid down his life for it.] But,
[5.] Fifthly and lastly, The mediatorial righteousness of Christ is the best title that you have to show for that kingdom which cannot be destroyed, for those incorruptable riches, for that everlasting inheritance, and for that eternal house not made with hands. [Heb. 12:28; 1 Peter 1:3-6; 2 Cor. 5:1-4.] The righteousness of Christ is your life, your joy, your comfort, your crown, your confidence, your heaven—your all. And therefore whether your graces or gracious evidences do sparkle and shine, or are clouded or blotted—yet still keep a fixed eye and an awakened heart upon the mediatorial righteousness of Jesus Christ; for that is the righteousness by which you may happily live, comfortably die, and boldly appear before the judgment-seat. But,
3. The third royal fort, that Christians should have their eyes, their hearts fixed upon, whether their graces or gracious evidences sparkle and shine, or are obscured and clouded, isthe covenant of grace. [Deut. 4:25; Isaiah 55:3, and 54:7-10; Jer. 31:31; Psalm 50:5, etc.; Hosea 14:4; Tit. 3:6; Eph. 1:5-7, chapter 2:6-8; Romans 9:18, 23; Jer. 32:38-41; Ezek. 36:25-27.] The covenant of grace is a new compact or agreement which God has made with sinful man out of his own free mercy and grace, wherein he undertakes both for himself and for fallen man, and wherein he engages himself to make fallen man everlastingly happy.
All mankind would have been eternally lost, and God had lost all the glory of his mercy forever—had he not of his own free grace and mercy made such an agreement with sinful man. This covenant is called a covenant of grace, because it flows from the mere grace and mercy of God. There was nothing outside of God, nor anything in God—but his free mercy and grace—which moved him to enter into covenant with poor sinners.
In the covenant of grace there are two things considerable:
First, The covenant which God makes for himself to us, which consists of these branches:
(1.) that he will be our God;
(2.) that he will give us a new heart, a new spirit;
(3.) that he will not turn away his face from us from doing of us good;
(4.) that he will put his fear into our hearts;
(5.) that he will cleanse us from all our filthiness, and from all our idols;
(6.) that he will rejoice over us to do us good.
Secondly, Here is the covenant which God does make for us to himself, which consists in these things:
(1.) that we shall be his people;
(2.) that we shall fear him forever;
(3.) that we shall walk in his statutes, keep his judgments and do them;
(4.) that we shall not depart from him.
Upon many accounts I may not enlarge on these things; but by these short hints it is evident that the covenant of grace is an entire covenant made by God, both for himself and for us. O sirs! in the covenant of grace, God stands engaged to give whatever he requires.
[1.] First, He requires us to know him—and he has engaged himself that we shall know him: 1 Chron. 28:9, Jer. 24:7, "I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord;" and Jer. 31:34, They shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them," Heb. 8:11. But,
[2.] Secondly, The Lord frequently requires his people to trust in him, Psalm 62:8; Isaiah 26:4; 2 Chron. 20:20. And he has engaged himself that his people shall trust in him: Zeph. 3:12, "I will leave in the midst of you an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the Lord." But,
[3.] Thirdly, The Lord frequently commands his people to fear him, Deut. 6:13, chapter 8:6. And he has engaged himself that they shall fear him: Jer. 32:40, "I will put my fear into their hearts, that they shall not depart from me." Hosea 3:5, "They shall fear the Lord and his goodness." But,
[4.] Fourthly, The Lord frequently commands his people to love him: Deut. 11:1, Psalm 31:23, "O love the Lord, all you his saints!" And he has promised and engaged himself that his people shall love him: Deut. 30:6, "The Lord your God will cleanse your heart and the hearts of all your descendants so that you will love him with all your heart and soul, and so you may live!." But,
[5.] Fifthly, The Lord frequently commands his people to call upon him, and to pray unto him, Psalm 50:15, 1 Thes. 5:17, etc.; and he has promised and engaged himself to pour upon them a spirit of prayer: Zech. 12:10, "I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and supplications." But,
[6.] Sixthly, The Lord frequently commands his people to repent and to turn from their evil ways, Hosea 14:1, Ezek. 14:6, 18:30, Acts 17:30, 26:20; and he has promised and engaged himself that they shall repent and turn from their evil ways, Acts 5:30, 11:18, 2 Tim. 2:25, Isaiah 30:22, Jer. 24:7. But,
[7.] Seventhly, The Lord has commanded his people to obey him, and to walk in his statutes, Jer. 24:7; and he has promised and engaged himself that his people shall obey him and walk in his statutes: Ezek. 36:27, "And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you shall keep my commandments and do them." Likewise, Ezek. 11:19-20; 37:23-24. But,
[8.] Eighthly, The Lord commands his people to mourn for their sins, Isaiah 22:12, Joel 2:12, James 4:10; and he has promised and engaged himself to give them a mourning frame: Zech. 12:10, "They shall look upon him whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him as one that mourns for an only son;" Ezek. 7:16, "The few who survive and escape to the mountains will moan like doves, weeping for their sins." But,
[9.] Ninthly, The Lord commands his people to grow in grace, 2 Peter 3:18, etc.; and he has promised and engaged himself that they shall grow in grace: Psalm 92:12-14, "The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree" (which is always green and flourishing); "he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon." The cedar of all trees is most durable, and shoots up highest. "Those that are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God; they shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing." See Hosea 14:5-7; Mal. 4:2, etc. But,
[10.] Tenthly, The Lord commands his people not to allow sin to reign in them: Romans 6:12, "Let not sin reign in your mortal body;" and he has promised and engaged himself that sin shall not reign in them: Romans 6:14, "Sin shall not have dominion over you;" Jer. 33:8, "And I will cleanse them from all their iniquity;" Ezek. 36:25, "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your filthiness; and from all your idols will I cleanse you;" Micah 7:19, "He will subdue our iniquities." But,
[11.] Eleventhly, He has commanded his people to loathe their sins, and to loathe themselves for their sins: Psalm 97:10, "You who love the Lord hate evil; Romans 12:9, "Abhor that which is evil." And the Lord has promised and engaged himself to give them such a frame of spirit: Ezek. 36:13, "Then shall you remember your own evil ways, and your doings that were not good, and shall loathe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities, and for your abominations." Ezek. 6:9, "They will loathe themselves for the evil they have done and for all their detestable practices." Ezek. 20:43, "And there shall you remember your ways and all your doings wherein you have been defiled, and you shall loathe yourselves in your own sight, for all your evils that you have committed." But,
[12.] Twelfthly and lastly, for enough is as good as a feast, God has commanded us to hold out, to persevere to the end, 1 Cor. 15:58, Rev. 2:10, Luke 18:1; and the Lord has promised and engaged himself that they shall persevere: Job 17:9, "The righteous shall hold on his way, and he who has clean hands shall be stronger and stronger;" Isaiah 40:31, "Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint."
Thus you see by an induction of twelve particulars that whatever God requires of his people, he stands engaged by the covenant of grace to give to his people, to do for his people.
Now mark, the covenant of grace is confirmed to us in the surest and most glorious way that can be imagined, Gen. 17:7; Heb. 13:20; Psalm 89:28; 2 Sam. 23:5. The covenant of grace is so strongly ratified that there can be no nulling of it. For,
[1.] First, It is confirmed to us by his word. "I will be your God, and you shall be my people," Jer. 33:38. "Now, all the promises of God in Christ are yes, and in him amen, unto the glory of God by us," 2 Cor. 1:20; that is, they are stable and firm, as the Hebrew word signifies. They will eat their way over all Alps of opposition. In the new covenant God neither makes nor fulfils any promises of salvation—but in Christ and by Christ.
[2.] Secondly, God has ratified the covenant of grace by his oath, Gen. 22:16, Heb. 6:19. His promise is enough—but surely his oath must put all out of question. There is no room for unbelief now that God has sworn to it. Had there been a greater God, he would have sworn by him. But,
[3.] Thirdly, God has ratified it by the death of his Son, Gal. 3:15, Heb. 9:15-16. A man's last will and testament, as soon as he is dead, is in force, and cannot then be disannulled. The covenant of grace is a testamentary covenant, which, by the death of the testator, is so settled that there is no altering of it. But,
[4.] Fourthly and lastly, The covenant of grace is ratified by the seals which God has annexed to it. What was sealed by the king's ring could not be altered, Esther 8. God has set his seals to the covenant of grace, his broad seal in the sacraments, and his secret seal in the witness of his Spirit, and therefore it is sure, and cannot be reversed, etc.
Now, whenever you look upon your graces or gracious evidences with one eye—be sure you look upon the covenant of grace, your last royal fort, with the other eye. The whole hinge of a man's eternal comfort and happiness hangs upon the covenant of grace. The covenant of grace is the saint's original title to heaven; it is a saint's best and brightest evidence for life and salvation. There was an eternal design, an eternal plot, if I may so speak, between God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ; a bargain, a covenant made between the Father and the Son, for the salvation of his chosen ones; and by covenant of grace all saints have title to heaven, etc.
Dear Christians, many times your gracious evidences are so blotted and blurred that you cannot read them. Oh then, turn to the covenant of grace! When other evidences fail you, the covenant of grace will be a glorious standing evidence to you. It is upon the score of the covenant, that you must challenge an interest in all the glory of the heavenly world. The covenant of grace is the great charter, the magna charta, of all your spiritual privileges and blessings. Luke 1:5-6.
In this great charter the Lord has declared that he judges his people by their sincerity and the general bent and frame of their hearts—and not by what they are under some pangs of passion, or in an hour of temptation, Acts 13:22. In this great charter the Lord declares that his eye is more upon his people's inward disposition, than it is upon their outward actions, 2 Chron. 30:18-20; and that his eye is more upon their will than it is upon their work, 2 Cor. 8:12, Philip. 2:13. In this great charter, the covenant of grace, the Lord has declared that he will not forsake his people, nor cast off his people, because of those failings and weaknesses that may, and do, attend them: 1 Sam. 12:22, "For the Lord will not forsake his people for his great name's sake: because it has pleased the Lord to make you his people." Ponder much upon Jer. 31:31-38. He chose you for his love, and he still loves you for his choice. God will rather pity his people under their weakness, than he will reject them for their weakness.
The covenant of grace that God has made with his people is as the covenant that a man makes with his wife. "I will take you to be My wife forever. I will take you to be My wife in righteousness, justice, love, and compassion. I will take you to be My wife in faithfulness, and you will know the Lord." Hosea 2:19-20. Jer. 3:13. Now, a man will never reject his wife; he will never cast off his wife for those common weaknesses and infirmities that daily attends her; no more will the Lord cast off his people because of the infirmities that daily hang upon them. In this great charter—the covenant of grace—the Lord declares that he will require no more than he gives, and that he will give what he requires, and that he will accept what he gives; and what can a God say more? and what can a gracious soul desire more?
O sirs! when all is cloudy overhead, and all dark within the heart; when a Christian's graces are not transparent, when his evidences for heaven are soiled and blotted, and when neither heart nor life are as they should be—it is good then to turn to the covenant of grace, and to dwell upon the covenant of grace. Thus David did: 2 Sam. 23:5, "Although my house is not right with God; yet he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure: for this is all my salvation, and all my desire, although he make it not to grow." Let me give a little light into the words.
"Although my house is not right with God." Though David in the main had a good heart—yet he had but a wicked house. Absalom had slain his brother, rebelled against his father, and lay with his father's concubines; and Amnon had deflowered his sister, etc. Now David, under a deep sense of all this wickedness, and of his own personal unworthiness, sadly sighs it out, "Although my house is not right with God," etc.; though I have not walked so exactly and perfectly as I should have done, though neither I nor my house have walked answerable to those great mercies and singular kindnesses of God that have been extended to us—"Yet he has made with me an everlasting covenant."
The word everlasting has two acceptations. It does denote, (1.) Sometimes a long duration, in which respect the old covenant, clothed with figures and ceremonies, is called everlasting, because it was to endure, and did endure a long time. (2.) Sometimes it denotes a perpetual duration, a duration which shall last forever. In this respect the covenant of grace is everlasting. It shall never cease, never be broken, nor never be altered. [Isaiah 55:3; Gen. 17:7; Psalm 105:9-10; Isaiah 61:8; Heb. 3:20.] Now, the covenant of grace is an everlasting covenant in a twofold respect:
First, In respect of God, who will never break covenant with his people; but is their God, and will be their God forever and ever: Psalm 48:14, "For this God is our God forever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death." Ay, and after death too; for this is not to be taken exclusive. He will never leave his people, nor forsake his people, Heb. 13:5-6. "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."
Secondly, In respect of the people of God, who are brought into covenant, and shall continue in covenant forever and ever. You have both these expressed in that excellent scripture, "And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me." Jeremiah 32:40. Seriously dwell upon this. It shows that the covenant is everlasting on God's part, and also on our part. On God's part, "I will never stop doing good to them;" and on our part, "they shall never depart from me." How so? "I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me" (even that fear spoken of in verse 39, "that they may fear me forever").
"Ordered in all things." Oh what head can conceive, or what tongue can express that infinite counsel, wisdom, love, care and tenderness, that the blessed God has expressed in ordering the covenant of grace, so as it may most and best suit to all the needs, and straits, and necessities, and miseries, and desires, and longings of poor sinners' souls. The covenant of grace is so well ordered by the unsearchable wisdom of God, that you may find in it remedies to cure all your diseases, and cordials to comfort you against all your faintings, and a spiritual armory to arm you against all your enemies, namely, the world, the flesh, and the devil, Isaiah 40:28, and Psalm 147:5. Do you, O distressed sinner, need a loving God, a compassionate God, a reconciled God, a sin-pardoning God? Here you may find him, in the covenant of grace. Do you need a Christ to counsel you by his wisdom, and to clothe you with his righteousness, and to adorn you with his grace? Here you may find him in a covenant of grace. Do you need the Spirit to enlighten you, to teach you, to convince you, to awaken you, to lead you, to cleanse you, to cheer you, and to seal you up to the day of redemption? Eph. 1:13. Here you may find him in a covenant of grace. Do you need grace, or peace, or rest, or quiet, or contentment, or comfort, or satisfaction? Here you may find it in a covenant of grace. God has laid into the covenant of grace, as into a common store, all those things that sinners or saints can either beg or need.
Look! as that is a well-ordered commonwealth where there are no wholesome laws lacking to govern a people, and where there are no wholesome remedies lacking to relieve a people; so that must needs be a well-ordered covenant, where there is nothing lacking to govern poor souls, or to relieve poor souls, or to save poor souls—and such a covenant is the covenant of grace.
And surely the covenant of grace is a sure covenant: Deut. 7:9, "The Lord your God he is God, the faithful God—who keeps covenant with those who love him." Psalm 89:33-34, "But I will not withdraw My faithful love from him or betray My faithfulness. I will not violate My covenant or change what My lips have said." [Jer. 31:31, 33, 35-37; Psalm 19:7; Rev. 3:14; Isaiah 54:10.] All God's precepts, all God's predictions, all God's menaces, and all God's promises, are the issue of a most just, faithful, and righteous will. God can neither die nor lie: Titus 1:2, "In hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised before the world began." There are three things that God cannot do:
(1.) He cannot die;
(2.) he cannot lie;
(3.) he cannot deny himself.
Joshua 23:14, "And behold, this day I am going the way of all the earth; and you know in all your hearts, and in all your souls, that not one thing has failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spoke concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, and not one thing has failed thereof." O sirs! the covenant of grace is founded upon God's everlasting love, upon God's unchangeable love, upon God's free love. John 13:1, "Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end." Whom God loves once—he loves forever: "I have loved you with an everlasting love," Jer. 31:3. God can as well cease to be, as he can cease to love those whom he has taken into covenant with himself.
And as the covenant of grace is founded upon God's everlasting love, so it is founded upon God's immutable counsel: "God willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath," Heb. 6:17. And as the covenant of grace is founded upon the immutable counsel of God, so it is founded upon the free purpose of God: 2 Tim. 2:19, "The foundation of God stands sure;" that is, the decree and purpose of God's election stands firm and sure. Now the purpose of God's election is compared to a foundation, because it is that upon which all our happiness and blessedness is built and founded, and because, as a foundation, it abides firm and sure.
And as the covenant of grace is founded upon the free purpose of God, so it is founded upon the glorious power of God, Isaiah 33:11, 41:2; Mal. 4:1; 1 Cor. 1:25. The power of God is an infinite power, it is a supreme power, a power which overtops the power of all mortals. What is the stubble compared to the flames, the chaff compared to the whirlwind? No more is all created power to the power of God. The weakness of God is stronger than men; and did not Pharaoh find it so? and Haman find it so? and Sennacherib find it so? and Nebuchadnezzar find it so? and Belshazzar find it so? and Herod find it so? In all the ages of the world the power of God has trampled down all before it. The power of God is an independent power, a matchless power, an incomparable power, an enduring power, an eternal power.
And as the covenant of grace is founded upon the power of God, so it is founded upon the oath of God: Luke 1:72, "To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant." Verse 73, "The oath which he swore to our father Abraham." Heb. 6:17-18; Psalm 89:34-35. To think that God will break his oath, or be perjured, is an intolerable blasphemy.
Once more give me permission to say, the covenant of grace is founded not only upon the oath of God—but also upon the precious blood of Christ. The blood of Christ is called "the blood of the everlasting covenant," Heb. 13:20, Mat. 26:28. "This is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins," Heb. 9:15. "For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant." Verse 17, "A testament is valid only when people die, since it is never in force while the testator is living." It is called a covenant and a testament. (1.) A covenant in respect of God, and a testament in respect of Christ. (2.) A covenant in respect of the manner of agreement, and a testament in respect of the manner of confirming. Jesus Christ died as a testator, and by his death confirmed the testamentary gift before made of life and salvation. Now, the covenant of grace being thus gloriously founded as you see, it must roundly and undeniably follow, that the covenant of grace is a sure covenant.
"For this is all my salvation and all my desire;" that is this is the great ground of all my hope concerning my salvation, and of all the happiness and blessedness which I look for in another world. This everlasting covenant, this sure covenant, is the great charter of charters that I have to show for eternal bliss. David was drawing near to his eternal home, and whether his graces and gracious evidences for heaven's happiness were bright and shining, or blotted and clouded, I shall not at this time stand to inquire. It is enough that he stays his soul upon the covenant of grace, and that he comforts and solaces his soul in the covenant of grace. And oh that all Christians, when their graces and gracious evidences are either clouded or blotted, or else sparkling and shining, that they would frequently eye these three royal forts, namely,
(1.) the free grace and favor of God;
(2.) the mediatorial righteousness of Christ;
(3.) the covenant of grace.
Now, that I may the more effectually prevail with you to look upon these royal forts, and to delight in these royal forts, and to prize these royal forts, and to improve these royal forts—give me permission to offer these three things briefly to your consideration:
First, Our best graces and performances are not commensurate and square payment in the eyes of pure justice. All of them as inherent in us, and acted by us—are but imperfect excellencies. No man has so much grace and holiness as is required, nor does he do so much as he is obliged to do. Every particular grace, though it be of a heavenly and divine original—yet it is like the stars twinkling, though placed in the heavens; so that if God should enter into judgment with the most righteous person, even the righteousness that is in him would not be safety and defense unto him, Psalm 143:2, Job 14:3-4, Romans 3:20.
There is pride mixed with all our humility! There is passion mixed with all our meekness! There is hypocrisy mixed with all our sincerity! There is earthly-mindedness mixed with all our heavenly-mindedness! There is unbelief mixed with all our faith!
O sirs! in the great business of your access to God, and of your acceptance with God, and of your reconciliation to God, and of your justification before God—it is infinitely best, safest, and noblest to found your faith, hope, and expectation rather upon Christ's imputed righteousness, than your inherent righteousness; upon what Christ has done for you—than upon what he has done in you, Romans 3:20-27, Philip. 3:8-10. Our inherent righteousness is stained, imperfect, impure; but Christ's imputed righteousness is pure and perfect. If there were any stain or any imperfection in that, it could not justify us, it could not save us, it could not secure us from wrath to come.
Such evidences as are not fetched from anything in us, nor from any things done by us—but are fetched by faith from our free justification, and from Christ's full satisfaction which he has wrought for us—will be found the most full, the most sweet, the most refreshing, the most comforting, and the most satisfying evidences. Christ is all lovely, all perfect, all pure; therefore let him be most in your eye and most upon your hearts.
But here take heed that you do not look upon your graces, or your gracious evidences—as poor, low, weak, contemptible things, as too many do; for the least of them is more worth than heaven and earth, and they may yield you much comfort, much support, much refreshing, and much satisfaction; though they cannot yield you that full comfort nor that full satisfaction as Christ himself can yield, as Christ's satisfaction can yield, as free justification can yield. Though children and friends cannot yield to a wife that full comfort, contentment, delight, and satisfaction as her husband does—yet they may yield her much comfort, much contentment, much delight, much satisfaction. The application is easy. But,
Secondly, Consider, that Christian who has free grace, who has free justification, who has the mediatorial righteousness of Christ, who has the satisfaction of Christ, who has the covenant of grace most constantly in his sight, and most frequently warm upon his heart—that Christian, of all Christians in the world, is most free from a world of fears, and doubts, and scruples—which do sadden, sink, perplex, and press down a world of other Christians, who daily eye more what Christ is a-doing in them, and what they are a-doing for Christ—than they do eye either his active or passive obedience. Christ has done great things for his people, and he has suffered great things for his people, and he has purchased great things for his people, and he has prepared great things for his people; yet many of his own dear people are so taken up with their own hearts, and with their own duties and graces, that Christ is little eyed by them or minded by them! What is this, but to be more pleased with the streams—than with the fountain? with the leaves—than with the tree itself? with the bracelets, ear-rings, and gold chains—than with the husband himself? with the nobles who wait—than with the king who is waited on? And this is the great reason why so many Christians, who will certainly go to heaven—do walk in darkness, and lie down in sorrow. But,
Thirdly, Trusting in our own duties, and resting on our own righteousness, and not on Christ's solely—is a close, secret, spiritual, dangerous, and unperceivable sin, which the nature of man is exceedingly prone unto, Isaiah 7-3; Zech. 7:5-6. The pharisees were greatly given up to trust in their own righteousness, to rest on their own righteousness, and to boast and glory in their own righteousness, Mat. 23, Luke 18; and this proved their mortal disease, their damning sin. Trusting in their own righteousness had so besotted and benumbed them, that they had no mind, no heart to open the gates of their souls, that the King of glory might enter in. And this was that which undid the Jews, Romans 10:3, "For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God."
Look! as there is nothing more pleasing to Christ than the renouncing of all confidence in our own duties and righteousness; so there is nothing more provoking to Christ, than the setting up of our own duties and righteousness. This is a sin which kills thousands. It was the saying of a precious saint, that "he was more afraid of his duties than of his sins, for his duties often made him proud--but his sins always made him humble." It was good counsel Luther gave, "We must take heed not only of our sins--but of our good works." Duties can never have too much diligence used about them--nor too little confidence placed in them. They are good helps--but bad saviors. It is necessary we do them--but it is dangerous to rely upon them. If the devil cannot dissuade us from performing pious duties, then his next work will be to persuade us to rely upon them, to make saviors of them, because this will as certainly ruin our souls, as if we had wholly neglected them.
O man! your own righteousness rested in, will as certainly and eternally undo you—as the greatest and foulest atrocities! This soul-sickness is that spiritual idolatry that will undo you, for you make yourself a Savior, and your duties a Savior, and say of your duties as they did of the golden calf, "These are the gods that brought you out of the land of Egypt." Open wickedness, open idolatry, slays her thousands—but secret idolatry, a secret resting upon duties, slays her ten thousands! Multitudes bleed inward by this disease, and die forever. Open profaneness is the broad dirty way that leads to hell; but trusting in pious duties is as sure a way, though a cleaner way to hell. Ungodly people and formal professors shall meet at last in the same hell.
Ah, Christians! don't make religious duties your money, lest you and your money perish together. The phoenix gathers sweet odoriferous sticks in Arabia together, and then blows them with her wings and burns with them; so do many shining professors burn themselves with their own duties and services. You know in Noah's flood, all that were not in the ark, though they climbed up the tallest trees, and the highest mountains and hills—yet were drowned: so let men climb up to the highest duties—yet if they be not housed in Christ, and in his righteousness, they will be as certainly damned, as the men in the old world were certainly drowned.
Adam and all his posterity were to be saved by doing; "Do this and live." And hence it is natural to all the sons and daughters of Adam to rest on duties, and to look for life and happiness in a way of doing; but if salvation were to be had by doing, what need of a Savior? Well, remember this once for all, such as rest on duties, such as rest on their own righteousness, or on anything on this side Christ—such shall find them to be useless. They cannot heal them, they cannot cure them of their wounds. When Ephraim saw his sickness, and Judah saw his wound, then went Ephraim to the Assyrian, and sent to king Jareb—yet could they not heal him, nor cure him of his wound, Hosea 5:13. Duties are to Satan as the ark of God was to the Philistines; he trembles to see a soul diligent in the use of them, and yet not daring to rely on them but on Christ; but when he can draw poor souls to confide in their duties, and to rest on their duties, then he has his design, then he claps his hands for joy, then he cries out, "Ah! ah! so would I have it!"
There is no sin that does so formally and immediately oppose Christ, and reject Christ, and provoke Christ, as this of resting upon self-righteousness; and therefore above all, pray against this, and watch against this, and weep over this. There is no Christian in his wits, who will dare to adventure the everlasting safety of his soul upon the leaking vessels of his own holiness or services. O sirs! your duties cannot satisfy the justice of God; they cannot satisfy the law of God; your present duties cannot satisfy for your former sins. A man who pays his rent honestly every year, does not thereby satisfy for the old rent not paid in ten or twenty years before. Your new obedience, O Christian, is too weak to satisfy for old debts, and therefore roll yourself on Christ, and Christ alone, for life and for salvation. Bellarmine could say, after all his works, "The safest way is to rely on Jesus Christ."
Now, let all these things work you to renounce your own righteousness, and to take sanctuary alone in the pure, perfect, and most glorious righteousness of Jesus Christ, and in the free grace of God. Paul is called by Augustine, "the best child of grace in the world; for whatever he was, or had, or did, he ascribes all to free grace," Eph. 3:8. He was the chief of the apostles—and yet less than the least of all saints; he was very eminent in grace—and yet what he was, he was by grace. "By the grace of God I am what I am," 1 Cor. 15:10. He lived, "yet not he—but Christ lived in him," Gal. 2:20. He "labored more abundantly than they all—yet not he—but the grace of God which was with him," 1 Cor. 15:10. He was able to do all things—but still "through Christ who strengthened him," Philip. 4:13. Oh that these three last things might work you to be more in love with free grace than ever, and to be more in love with the righteousness of Christ than ever, and to be more in love with the covenant of grace than ever. But,
[14.] The fourteenth proposition is this—The more grace, the more holiness, the more any man has of the Spirit of sanctification—the more clear, the more fair, the more full, the more sweet will his evidences be for heaven, for salvation; and the more comfort, and the more assurance, and the more settlement, and the more of the witness of the spirit of adoption, such a person will certainly attain unto.That Spirit who is the pledge of our inheritance, and which seals us up to a holy assurance, is a Holy Spirit, Eph. 1:13-14; he is frequently called the Holy Spirit. "Cast me not away from your presence; and take not your Holy Spirit from me," Psalm 51:11. "But they rebelled and vexed his Holy Spirit," Isaiah 63:10. "And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby you are sealed unto the day of redemption," Eph. 4:30. "He therefore who despises, despises not man—but God, who has also given unto us his Holy Spirit," 1 Thes. 4:8. To make a man holy, is more than to create a world; it is a work too high and too hard for angels or men; it can be done by none, but by the Holy Spirit.
Sanctification is the Spirit's personal operation; it is the great work of the Spirit to shape, form, and fashion the new-creature holiness in all the vessels of glory, 2 Thes. 2:13, 1 Peter 1:2. The Spirit is the root of all holiness; and therefore the several parts of holiness are called the fruits of the Spirit. Holiness is the very picture of God; and certainly no hand can carve that excellent picture but the Spirit of God. Holiness is the divine nature, and none can impart that to man but the Spirit; the Spirit is the great principle of holiness. Now, the more grace, the more holiness any man has, the more he is the delight of the Spirit; and the more the Spirit will delight to witness his sonship, his saintship, and his heirship unto him.
Scripture and experience will tell you—that commonly men of greatest holiness have been men of greatest assurance. This is certain—the more holiness the more assurance; for so the precious promises runs, Isaiah 32:17. "The work of righteousness shall be peace," that is—peace of conscience, Romans 5:1; "and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever." Inherent righteousness, for of that he speaks, as is evident by the 15th and 16th verses of the same chapter, is the highway to assurance and peace.
Likewise, Psalm 50:23, "To him who orders his life aright, will I show the salvation of God;" that is, "declare myself to be his Savior," say some. Say others, "I will give him a prospect of heaven here, and a full fruition of heaven hereafter," Say others, "I will cause him to see and know that he shall be saved."
Likewise, John 14:21, "He who has my commandments, and keeps them, he it is that loves me; and he who loves me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and manifest myself unto him." Verse 23, "If any man loves me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him and make our abode with him." Holy Christians shall have most of the spiritual presence of Christ, and of the singular manifestations of the love of Christ to their souls. The great reason of reasons, why the springs of comfort, of joy, of inward peace, and of assurance, rise no higher in many Christians' souls—is because the springs of grace and holiness rise no higher in their souls. Had Christians more grace, and more holiness in their hearts and lives—God would quickly bring down more of heaven and assurance into their souls.
There is a blessed assurance, which arises from the discovery of grace in the soul. Now, the more ample, large and full our graces are—the more ample, large and full must our assurance be. The connection of these four verses in Titus 2:11-14, shows this; when "grace that appears to us, teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts," etc. See what follows; then we are most likely to "look for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." And that prayer of the apostle for his Ephesians speaks as loudly in the case, Eph. 16-18, that God would grant them to be strengthened by the Spirit, etc., to be rooted and grounded in love. And what then? That "you may comprehend with all saints, the length and breadth of the love of God."
Suppose in health or sickness, living or dying—a man should labor to support, comfort and cheer up his spirit—in the thoughts or meditations of his eternal election and free justification; and suppose that at that very time the Spirit of God, his own conscience, a faithful minister, or an experienced Christian should tell him, that if he is really justified, he will be really sanctified, 2 Thes. 2:13-14. Now, if this man should say, "What do you tell me of sanctification? I don't know whether I am sanctified or not. I look not to sanctification, I mind not holiness, I regard not the fruits of the Spirit." Will not the Holy Spirit, will not an enlightened conscience, will not a faithful minister, will not an experienced Christian reply, "Then certainly you are not elected, you are not justified, for it is a truth as clear as the sun, a truth which will admit of no dispute, namely—that none are eternally elected and freely justified—but those who are sanctified, Romans 8:1, 13, 19, 30. And that those who are not sanctified—are not justified."
Mark, there is a close connection of sanctification with justification in the promises of the covenant. Sanctification and justification go hand in hand; they come forth like twins out of the womb of free grace, as you may see in these remarkable Scriptures: Jer. 33:8, "I will cleanse them from all their iniquity whereby they have sinned against me, and I will pardon all their iniquities whereby they have sinned, and whereby they have transgressed against me." Here you see them both expressed together in the same deed, "I will cleanse them from all their iniquity;" there is our sanctification promised. "And I will pardon all their iniquities;" there is justification promised.
Likewise, Micah 7:19, "He will subdue our iniquities, and will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea." Here you find justification and sanctification again in the promise. "He will subdue our iniquities;" this is sanctification. "He will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea;" this is justification.
Hebrews 8:10, "I will put my laws into their minds, and write them in their hearts;" there is the promise of sanctification. Verse 12. "And I will be merciful to their unrighteousness and their sins, and their iniquities will I remember no more;" there is the promise of justification.
1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins;" there is our justification promised; "and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness;" there is the promise of sanctification.
Ezekiel 36:25, "From all your filthiness, and from all your idols will I cleanse you;" there is the promise of sanctification. Verse 29, "I will also save you from all your uncleannesses;" there is the promise of justification.
1 Cor. 6:11, "But you are washed—but you are sanctified—but you are justified." Justification and sanctification are inseparable companions. Distinguished they must be—but divided they can never be. Wherever sin is pardoned—the gift of sanctity is still conferred. It is weakness, it is wickedness, for a man to conclude that he is in an elected and justified estate—when he has nothing, when he has not the least thing to evidence himself to be in a sanctified estate!
Both justification and sanctification have a necessary respect to the salvation of all those who shall go to heaven. He who will go to heaven must be justified; and he who will go to heaven must be sanctified. No man can go to heaven without both. No man can go to heaven unless he is justified: Romans 8:30, "Whom he called, them also he justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified." None are justified but such as are called, and none are glorified but such as are justified. And as no man can go to heaven but he who is justified—so no man can go to heaven but he who is sanctified: John 3:5, "Jesus answered and said unto him, Truly, truly, I say unto you, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Verse 5, "Jesus answered, Truly, truly, I say unto you, except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God;" Heb. 12:14, "Holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord."
By these scriptures, it is evident that there is an absolute necessity both of sanctification and justification in reference to salvation. Now as sanctification and justification are linked together; so the more clear, the more full, the more evident, and the more eminent a man's sanctification is—the more clear, the more full, the more evident, and the more eminent—will the evidences of his justification be. The greatest evidences of our sanctification carries with them the greatest assurance of our justification and of our salvation. But,
[15.] The fifteenth proposition is this—When your graces are strongest, and your evidences for heaven are clearest, and your comforts rise highest upon the sight of your graces or gracious evidences—then in a special manner it concerns you to make it your great business and work to act faith afresh, to act faith with a greater strength, upon the free, rich, and glorious grace of God, and upon the Lord Jesus Christ.It is reported of the crystal, that it has such a virtue in it, that the very touching of it quickens other stones, and puts a luster and beauty upon them. This is most true of faith. Faith is a grace which gives strength and efficacy to all other graces; it is like a silver thread that runs through a chain of pearl; it has an influence upon all other graces which are in the soul. Faith is as the spring in the watch—which moves the wheels; not a grace stirs until faith sets it at work. What is said of Solomon's virtuous woman, namely, that she sets all her maidens to work, Proverbs 31:15, 27, is most true of faith: faith sets all the graces in the soul at work. We love as we believe, and we obey as we believe, and we hope as we believe, and we joy as we believe, and we mourn as we believe, and we repent as we believe. All graces keep time and pace with faith, [Heb. 11; Romans 4:3, and 8:24; Zech. 12:10.] etc.
Now when your graces are most shining, and your evidences for heaven are most sparkling, oh then give faith elbow-room, give faith full scope to exercise itself upon the Lord Jesus. Adam's obedience in innocency was not more pleasing and delightful to God, than the exercise of your faith on the Lord Jesus will be at such a time pleasing and delightful to him. You are to look upon all your graces and gracious evidences as your highest encouragement to a lively, cheerful, and resolute acting of faith upon the person of Christ, the righteousness of Christ, 1 John 5:13; Romans 1:17, etc. All a Christian's graces, and all his gracious evidences, should be but as a golden bridge, or as Joseph's waggons, Gen. 45:19, 21, 27, a means to pass his soul over to Christ afresh by a renewed exercise of faith. When your graces and gracious evidences are most splendent, then be sure that Christ be found lying as a bundle of myrrh between your breasts—and all is well, and will be well, Cant. 1:12.
Dear Christians, when your eyes are fixed upon inherent righteousness, and upon your gracious evidences—then let your hearts be firmly fixed upon the Lord Jesus Christ and his imputed righteousness.
Plutarch tells us of a certain noble woman of Ionia, who showed another woman all the rich jewels and precious stones she had. She answered her back, "All my riches and jewels are my husband." This is more applicable to Christ, etc. The precious stone opalum is said to have the virtue of all stones—the brightness of the diamond, the purple color of the amethyst, the lovely greenness of the emerald; but what are all these to Christ?
Paul's eye was fixed upon his grace, upon his better part: Romans 7:22, "I delight in the law of God after the inward man;" verse 25, "And with my mind I serve the law of God." And yet at the very same time his heart was set upon Christ, and taken up with Christ. Verse 26, "I thank God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Though Paul had an eye to his noble part, his better part, his regenerate part—yet at the same time his heart was taken up with the Lord Jesus Christ, as freeing of him from the curse of the law, the dominion of sin, the damnatory power of sin, and as translating of him into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. "I thank God through our Lord Jesus Christ."
Likewise, in Col. 2:2-3, you have their eyes fixed upon grace, and at the same time their hearts fixed upon Christ. "That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." Their eyes were upon grace—but their hearts were taken up with Christ.
Likewise, in Philip. 3:8, the apostle had his eye upon the excellent knowledge of Christ. But, verse 9, his heart is taken up with the righteousness of Christ. "That I might be found in him, not having my own righteousness, which is of the law—but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith." Though Paul had his eye upon grace, upon inherent righteousness; yet in the very presence of his grace—his heart was taken up with Christ, and with his imputed righteousness, as is evident in the text. This is your glory, Christians, in the presence and sight of all your graces and gracious evidences—to see the free grace of Christ, and his infinite, spotless, matchless, and glorious righteousness to be your surest, sweetest, highest, and choicest comfort and refuge.
Look! as Rebekah was more pleased with the person of Isaac than she was with his ear-rings, bracelets, jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, Gen. 24:30, 52, 64-67: so it befits a Christian, in the presence of his graces and gracious evidences, which are Christ's ear-rings, bracelets, and jewels—to be more taken up with Christ than with them. Christ, and his mediatorial righteousness, should be more in a Christian's eye, and always lie nearer to a Christian's heart, than inherent righteousness. Grace is a ring of gold—and Christ is the sparkling diamond in that ring. Now, what is the ring, compared to the sparkling diamond? It is not safe to pore more upon inherent righteousness than upon imputed righteousness. [He who holds not wholly with Christ, does very shamefully neglect Christ.—Gregory Nazian.]
It is not wisdom to have our thoughts and hearts more taken up with our gracious dispositions and gracious actings—than with the person of Christ, the righteousness of Christ, the life of Christ, the death of Christ, the satisfaction of Christ, etc. Dear Christians—was it Christ—or was it your graces, or your gracious evidences, or your gracious dispositions, or your gracious actings—that trod the wine-press of your Father's wrath, that satisfied divine justice, that pacified divine anger, that bore the curse, that fulfilled the law, that brought in an everlasting righteousness, that discharged your debts, that procured your pardon, that made your peace, and that brought you into a state of favor and friendship with God? If you answer, as you must, "None but Christ! None but Christ!" oh then, let your thoughts and hearts be firstly, mostly, chiefly, and lastly—taken up with the Lord Jesus!
Though inherent grace be a glorious creature—yet it is but a creature. Now, when your thoughts and hearts are more taken up with inherent grace, than they are with Christ, the spring and fountain of all grace; you make an idol of inherent grace, and reflect dishonor upon the Lord Jesus, John 1:16; Col. 2:2-3. A Christian may lawfully look upon his graces and his gracious evidences—and a Christian ought to be much in blessing and praising of God for his graces and gracious evidences; and a Christian may safely take comfort in his graces and gracious evidences, as they are the fruits of God's eternal and unchangeable love—but still his work should be to live upon Christ, and to lift up Christ above all, Isaiah 38:3, 2 Cor. 1:12. It is Christ, it is his mediatorial righteousness, it is free grace—which a Christian ought to make the chief and only ground and bottom of his hope and comforts.
Though good old Jacob did really rejoice in the chariots and wagons which Joseph had sent to bring him down to Egypt—yet he did more abundantly rejoice in this—that Joseph was alive, and that shortly he would see and enjoy Joseph himself, Gen. 45:26-28. Though a Christian may really rejoice in his graces and gracious evidences—yet above all he ought to rejoice in Christ Jesus, to triumph in Christ Jesus, and to take up in Christ Jesus as in his great all, Gal. 6:14, Philip. 3:3, 2 Cor. 2:14, Col. 3:11.
There is a great aptness and proneness in many (may I not say in most?) gracious Christians, to gaze so much and so long upon their graces, upon their gracious dispositions, upon their gracious evidences, and upon their gracious actings—that too often they neglect the exercise of faith upon Christ, upon the promises. They gaze so much and so long upon what is wrought in them, and done by them—that they forget their grand work, which is immediate closing with Christ, immediate embracing of Christ, immediate relying upon Christ, immediate staying, rolling, and resting upon Christ, for justification and salvation.
Now, from these frequent miscarriages of Christians, some have taken the liberty and boldness very hotly and insistently to cry down the total use of all evidences, signs, and marks—the evil of which I have formerly pointed at, and therefore let this touch suffice here.
Grace is excellent, yes, very excellent—but Christ is infinitely more excellent than all your graces, and therefore above all let Christ still have the pre-eminence, Col. 1:8. Now, though it must be granted that a Christian may lawfully make use of his graces and gracious evidences—in order to his support, comfort, and encouragement—yet it cannot be denied but that the noblest, purest, highest, and most excellent acts and exercises of faith—are when a Christian closes with Christ, embraces Christ, hangs upon Christ, and stays himself upon Christ, and upon free and precious promises—when sense and feeling fails, when joy and comfort fails, and when his gracious evidences for heaven fail. [Cant. 8:5; Job 13:15; Psalm 42:5, 11; Isaiah 50:10; Micah 7:7-10; John 20:27-29.] Oh now—to turn to Christ, and to turn to the breasts of a promise, and to live upon Christ, and to hang upon a promise—is the way of ways to exalt Christ, and to glorify Christ.
There is nothing which pleases Christ, or which delights Christ, or which is such an honor to Christ—as these pure actings of faith are. Signs and evidences are most sweet, comfortable, and pleasing to us; but the pure actings of faith are most eyed and valued by Christ; and therefore many times Christ draws a curtain between him and the soul, and causes a Christian's sun to set at noon, and damps his joy, and mars his peace, and clouds his evidences for heaven—on purpose to train up his children in the pure actings of faith, Cant. 3:1-5, and 5:3-6. It is sad when Christians make such immoderate use of their signs, marks, evidences—as damps and hinders those direct and immediate acts of faith, whereby they should receive Christ, and apply Christ, and rest upon Christ alone for pardon, peace, reconciliation, justification, and salvation. He who pores so long and so much upon his graces or gracious evidences as shall hinder him from the fresh and frequent actings of faith upon Christ—he casts contempt upon Christ. [Christ is an incomparable cordial, he is worthily called the consolation of Israel, Luke 2:25.] Though the sight of a Christian's graces and gracious evidences are very comfortable and delightful to him—yet the sight of Christ should be ten thousand times more comfortable and delightful to him.
O sirs! what are the favorites—compared to the king himself? What are the servants—compared to the Lord they wait on? What are the friends of the bridegroom—compared to the bridegroom himself? What are all the bracelets and jewels—compared to the husband who gives them? No more are all a Christian's graces or gracious evidences—compared to the Lord Jesus himself. A Christian should say to all his gifts, graces, evidences, and services, "Stand aside—make room for Christ, make room for Christ! Oh, none but Christ! Oh, none to Christ!"
Living by signs is most natural, pleasing and comfortable to us—but living by faith is most honorable to Christ. It is said, "the just shall live by his faith," not by his evidences, Hab. 2:4, Heb. 10:38. When men pride themselves in their evidences; and when men secretly lean upon their evidences instead of leaning upon Christ; and when men found their hopes and comforts upon their signs and evidences—when they should he founding of all their hopes and comforts upon Christ; suddenly Christ withdraws, and the soul is immediately filled with clouds, fears, doubts, darkness; and all a man's graces and gracious evidences are eclipsed, and he can see nothing, nor feel nothing—but deadness, hardness, barrenness, hypocrisy, unbelief, self-love, guilt, etc., which makes him a terror to himself.
Now the design of Christ in all this is to train up his people in a life of faith, and to teach them, in the lack of their signs and evidences—how to live above their signs and evidences, upon himself, who is their life, their hope, their heaven, their happiness, their all, Col. 3:3-4, 1:27. Now, Christians, the best way to prevent these sore soul distresses, is in the moderate use of your signs and evidences, to live much in the fresh and frequent actings of faith upon the Lord Jesus, and in so doing, you will neither grieve Christ, nor provoke Christ—nor wrong your own precious and immortal souls. But,
[16.] The sixteenth and last proposition that I shall lay down is this—Whenever any fresh doubts or fears rise in your hearts upon the stirrings of corruptions, or debility of graces, or failing in duties, etc.—then keep close to these two rules:
First, have recourse to any of the former evidences which are laid down in this book; and while you find any of them shining in your souls, nay, though it were but one, never pass any judgment against the happiness and blessedness of your spiritual or eternal estates.
Secondly, turn yourselves to such particular promises, and plead such particular promises, and rest and stay your trembling souls upon such particular promises, and cling fast to such particular promises—which have been comforts, cordials, and supports to many weak, doubting, trembling Christians, who have been always afraid to say they had grace, or to say that God was their Father, or Christ their Redeemer, or the Spirit their sanctifier, or heaven their inheritance, etc.
I have read of a woman who was much disquieted in conscience, even to despair, endeavoring to be her own executioner—but was comforted by that blessed promise, Isaiah 57:15, "For thus says the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of an humble and contrite spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones." And I have read of another man, who being ready to die, "Lord," says he, "I challenge you by that promise—Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest," and so was comforted. And I have read of some others who were comforted with that promise, John 10:29, "None shall pluck them out of my Father's hand." And I have read of another who, having deeply wounded his conscience by subscribing to popish errors, was much comforted by that blessed scripture: 1 Tim. 1:15, "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptance, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief." And I have read of Bilney the martyr, who was much comforted under sore distresses by that promise: Isaiah 26:3, "You will keep him in perfect peace" (or as the Hebrew runs, shalom, shalom, peace, peace) whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you."
"A broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." This promise was a cordial to Bernard on his dying bed; he died with this promise in his mouth. And Austin found so much sweetness in the same promise, that he caused it to be written on the wall over against his bed where he lay sick and died. And many have gone to heaven triumphantly by the refreshing and comfort that they have found in these following scriptures: John 6:37, "All who the Father gives me shall come to me; and him who comes to me I will never cast out;" Isaiah 55:1, "Ho everyone who thirsts—come to the waters; and he who has no money—come, buy and eat; yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price;" verse 3, "Incline your ear and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David." And so Rev. 22:17, "And the Spirit and the bride say, Come; and let him who hears say, Come; and let him who is athirst come; and whoever wills, let him take the water of life freely."
Likewise, Hosea 14:4, "I will heal their backslidings—and love them freely." Likewise, Isaiah 43:25, "I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and will not remember your sins." Isaiah 57:18, "I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will lead him and comfort him and his mourners."
Oh, these have been comforting promises, and upholding promises, and refreshing promises to many, doubting, drooping souls. [The promises are the food of faith, and the soul of faith.] It is impossible that such a soul should ever drop into hell—who can cling fast to any of these promises—who can hang upon any of these promises—who can rest and lay the weight of their souls upon Christ in any of these promises. Reliance upon Christ in these precious promises—has ferried many poor, doubting, trembling souls to heaven! The promise is the golden cabinet—and Christ is the costly jewel which is laid up in it. The promise is the field—and Christ is the treasure which is hidden in it. All the promises point to Christ—lead to Christ—hang upon Christ. All the promises of God are yes, and amen in Christ," 2 Cor. 1:20. In the new covenant God neither makes any promises, nor fulfils any promises of salvation—but in Christ and through Christ.
Now, when any fears, or darkness, or doubts, or disputes, arise in your souls about your spiritual estates, oh, then—run to Christ in the promise, and plead the promise, and hang upon the breasts of the promise, and let your souls cleave close to the promise; for this is the way of ways to have your evidences cleared, your comforts restored, your peace maintained, your graces strengthened, and your assurance raised and confirmed.