The Works of
A PRACTICAL EXPOSITION UPON PSALM CXXX.;
Index of Fourth Verse
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If now the Lord shall be pleased to persuade your hearts and souls to enter upon the path marked out before you, and shall carry you on through the various exercises of it unto this closure of faith, God will have the glory, the gospel will be exalted, and your own souls shall reap the eternal benefit of this exhortation.
But now if, notwithstanding all that hath been spoken, all the invitations you have had, and encouragements that have been held out unto you, you shall continue to despise this so great salvation, you will live and die in the state and condition wherein you are. Why, then, as the prophet said to the wife of Jeroboam, "Come near, for I am sent to you with heavy tidings. " I say, then, --
(9.) If you resolve to continue in the neglect of this salvation, and shall do so accordingly, then cursed be you of the Lord, with all the curses that are written in the law, and all the curses that are denounced against despisers of the gospel. Yea, be you Anathema Maranatha, -- cursed in this world always, until the coming of the Lord; and when the Lord comes, be ye cursed from his presence into everlasting destruction. Yea, curse them, all ye holy angels of God, as the obstinate enemies of your king and head, the Lord Jesus Christ. Curse them, all ye churches of Christ, as despisers of that love and mercy which is your portion, your life, your inheritance. Let all the saints of God, all that love the Lord, curse them, and rejoice to see the Lord coming forth mightily and prevailing against them, to their everlasting ruin. Why should any one have a thought of compassion towards them who despise the compassion of God, or of mercy towards them who trample on the blood of Christ? Whilst there is yet hope, we desire to have continual sorrow for you, and to travail in soul for your conversion to God; but if you be hardened in your way, shall we join with you against him? shall we prefer you above his glory? shall we desire your salvation with the despoiling God of his honour? Nay, God forbid. We hope to rejoice in seeing all that vengeance and indignation that is in the right hand of God poured out unto eternity upon your souls, Prov. i 24-33.
Rules to be observed by them who would come to stability in obedience.
THAT which remaineth to be farther carried on, upon the principles laid down, is to persuade with souls more or less entangled in the depths of sin to close with this forgiveness by believing, unto their peace and consolation. And because such persons are full of pleas and objections against themselves, I shall chiefly, in what I have
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to say, endeavour to obviate these objections, so to encourage them unto believing and bring them unto settlement. And herein whatever I have to offer flows naturally from the doctrine at large laid down and asserted. Yet I shall not in all particulars apply myself thereunto, but in general fix on those things that may tend to the establishment and consolation of both distressed and doubting souls. And I shall do what I purpose these two ways --
FIRST, I shall lay clown such general rules as are necessary to be observed by all those who intend to come to gospel peace and comfort. And then, SECONDLY, shall consider some such objections as seem to be most comprehensive of those special reasonings wherewith distressed persons do usually entangle themselves.
I shall begin with general rules, which, through the grace of Christ and supplies of his Spirit, may be of use unto believers in the condition under consideration.
Christ the only infallible judge of our spiritual condition -- How he judgeth by his word and Spirit.
Be not judges of your own condition, but let Christ judge. You are invited to take the comfort of this gospel truth, that "there is forgiveness with God. " You say, not for you. So said Jacob, "My way is hid from the LORD, " Isa, xl. 27; and Zion said so too, chap. xlix. 14, "The LORD hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me. " But did they make a right judgment of themselves? We find in those places that God was otherwise minded. This false judgment, made by souls in their entanglements, of their own condition, is ofttimes a most unconquerable hinderance unto the bettering of it. They fill themselves with thoughts of their own about it, and on them they dwell, instead of looking out after a remedy. Misgiving thoughts of their distempers are commonly a great part of some men's sickness. Many diseases are apt to cloud the thoughts, and to cause misapprehensions concerning their own nature and danger. And these delusions are a real part of the person's sickness. Nature is no less impaired and weakened by them, the efficacy of remedies no less obstructed, than by any other real distemper. In such cases we persuade men to acquiesce in the judgment of their skilful physician; not always to be wasting themselves in and by their own tainted imaginations, and so despond upon their own mistakes, but to rest in what is informed them by him who is acquainted with the causes and tendency of their indisposition better than themselves. It is ofttimes
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one part of the soul's depths to have false apprehensions of its condition. Sin is a madness, Eccles. ix. 3; so far as any one is under the power of it, he is under the power of madness. Madness doth not sooner nor more effectually discover itself in any way or thing than in possessing them in whom it is with strange conceits and apprehensions of themselves. So doth this madness of sin, according unto its degrees and prevalency. Hence some cry, "Peace, peace, " when "sudden destruction is at hand, " 1 Thess. v. 3. It is that madness, under whose power they are, which gives them such groundless imaginations of themselves and their own condition. And some say they are lost for ever, when God is with them.
Do you, then, your duty, and let Christ . judge of your state. Your concernment is too great to make it a reasonable demand to commit the judgment of your condition to any other. When eternal welfare or woe are at the stake, for a man to renounce his own thoughts, to give up himself implicitly to the judgment of men fallible and liars like himself, is stupidity. But there is no danger of being deceived by the sentence of Christ. The truth is, whether we will or no, he will judge; and according as he determines, so shall things be found at the last day: John v. 22, "The Father judgeth no man" (that is, immediately and in his own person), "but hath committed all judgment unto the Son. " All judgment that respects eternity, whether it be to be passed in this world or in that to come, is committed unto him. Accordingly in that place he judgeth both of things and persons. Things he determines upon, verse 24, "He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. " Let men say what they please, this sentence shall stand; faith and eternal life are inseparably conjoined. And so of persons, verse 38, "Ye have not" (saith he to the Pharisees, who were much otherwise minded) "the word of God abiding in you."
Take not, then, the office and prerogative of Christ out of his hand, by making a judgment, upon your own reasonings and conclusions and deductions, of your estate and condition. You will find that he oftentimes, both on the one hand and on the other, determines quite contrary to what men judge of themselves, as also to what others judge of them. Some he judgeth to be in an evil condition, who are very confident that it is well with them, and who please themselves in the thoughts of many to the same purpose. And he judgeth the state of some to be good, who are diffident in themselves, and, it may be, despised by others. We may single out an example or two in each kind --
1. Laodicea's judgment of herself and her spiritual state we have,
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Rev. iii. 17: "I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing. " A fair state it seems, a blessed condition] She wants nothing that may contribute to her rest, peace, and reputation: she is orthodox, and numerous, and flourishing; makes a fair profession, and all is well within! So she believes, so she reports of herself; wherein there is a secret reflection also upon others whom she despiseth: "Let them shift as they list, I am thus as I say. " But was it so with her indeed? was that her true condition, whereof she was so persuaded as to profess it unto all? Let Jesus Christ be heard to speak in this cause, let him come and judge. "I will do so, " saith he: verse 14, "Thus saith the Amen, the faithful and true Witness. " Coming to give sentence in a case of this importance, he gives himself this title, that we may know his word is to be acquiesced in. "Every man, " saith he, "is a liar; their testimony is of no value, let them pronounce what they win of themselves or of one another, ' I am the Amen, ' and I will see whose word shall stand, mine or theirs. " What, then, saith he of Laodicea? "Thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. " Oh, woful and sad disappointment! Oh, dreadful surprisal! Ah! how many Laodicean churches have we in the world! how many professors are members of these churches! not to mention the generality of men that live under the means of grace; all which have good hopes of their eternal condition, whilst they are despised and abhorred by the only Judge. Among professors themselves, it is dreadful to think how many will be found light when they come to be weighed in this balance.
2. Again: he judgeth some to be in a good condition, be they themselves never so diffident. Rev. ii. 9, saith he to the church of Smyrna, "I know thy poverty. " Smyrna was complaining that she was a poor, contemptible congregation, not fit for him to take any notice of. "Well, " saith he, "fear not. ' I know thy poverty, ' whereof thou complainest; ' but thou art rich. ' That is my judgment, testimony, and sentence, concerning thee and thy condition. " Such will be his judgment at the last day, when both those on the one hand and on the other shall be surprised with his sentence, -- the one with joy at the riches of his grace, the other with terror at the severity of his justice, Matt. xxv. 37-40, 44, 45. This case is directly stated in both the places mentioned in the entrance of this discourse; as in that, for instance, Isa. xlix. 14, "Zion said, The LORD hath forsaken me. " That is Zion's judgment of herself, and her state and condition; a sad report and conclusion. But doth Christ agree with Zion in this sentence? The next verse gives us his resolution of this matter: "Can, " saith he, "a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. " The state of things, in
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truth, is as much otherwise as can possibly be thought or imagined.
To what purpose is it for men to be passing a judgment upon themselves, when there is no manner of certainty in their determinations, and when their proceeding thereon will probably lead them to farther entanglements, if not to eternal ruin? The judging of souls, as to their spiritual state and condition, is the work of Jesus Christ, especially as to the end now under inquiry. Men may, men do, take many ways to make a judgment of themselves. Some do it on slight and trivial conjectures; some on bold and wicked presumptions; some on desperate atheistical notions, as Deut. xxix. 19; some, with more sobriety and sense of eternity, lay down principles that may be good and true in themselves, from them they draw conclusions, arguing from one thing unto another, and in the end ofttimes either deceive themselves, or sit down no less in the dark than they were at the entrance of their self-debate and examination. A man's judgment upon his own reasonings is seldom true, more seldom permanent. I speak not of self-examination, with a due discussion of graces and actions, but of the final sentence as to state and condition, wherein the soul is to acquiesce. This belongs unto Christ.
Now, there are two ways whereby the Lord Jesus Christ gives forth his decretory sentence in this matter --
(1.) By his word. He determines, in the word of the gospel, of the state and condition of all men indefinitely. Each individual coming to that word receives his own sentence and doom. He told the Jews that Moses accused them, John v. 45. His law accused and condemned the transgressors of it. And so doth he acquit every one that is discharged by the word of the gospel And our self-judging is but our receiving by faith his sentence in the word. His process herein we have recorded: Job xxxiii. 22, 23, "His soul" (that is, of the sinner) "draweth near unto the grave, and his life to the destroyers. " This seems to be his state; it is so indeed: he is at the very brink of the grave and hell. What then? Why, if there be with him or stand over him. [--HEBREW--], the angel interpreting, or the angel of the covenant, who alone. [--HEBREW--], the "one of a thousand, " what shall he dot "He shall shew unto him his uprightness. " He shall give unto him a right determination of his interest in God, and of the state and frame of his heart towards God; whereupon God shall speak peace unto his soul, and deliver him from his entanglements, verse 24. Jesus Christ hath, in the word of the gospel, stated the condition of every man. He tells us that sinners, of what sort soever they are, that believe, are accepted with him, and shall receive forgiveness from God, -- that none shall be refused or cast off that
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come unto God by him. The soul of whom we are treating is now upon the work of coming unto God for forgiveness by Jesus Christ. Many and weighty objections it hath in and against itself why it should not come, why it shall not be accepted. Our Lord Jesus, the wisdom of God, foresaw all these objections, he foreknew what could be said in the case, and yet he hath determined the matter as hath been declared. In general, men's arguings against themselves arise from sin and the law. Christ knows what is in them both. He tried them to the uttermost, as to their penalties, and yet he hath so determined as we have showed. Their particular objections are from particular considerations of sin, their greatness, their number, their aggravations. Christ knows all these also, and yet stands to his former determination. Upon the whole matter, then, it is meet his word should stand. I know, when a soul brings itself to be judged by the word of the gospel, it doth not always in a like manner receive and rest in the sentence given. But when Christ is pleased to speak the word with power to men, they shall "hear the voice of the Son of God, " and be concluded by it. Let the soul, then, that is rising out of depths and pressing towards a sense of forgiveness, lay itself down before the word of Christ in the gospel. Let him attend to what he speaks; and if for a while it hath not power upon him to quiet his heart, let him wait a season, and light shall arise unto him out of darkness. Christ will give in his sentence into his conscience with that power and efficacy as he shall find rest and peace in it.
(2.) Christ also judgeth by his Spirit, not only in making this sentence of the gospel to be received effectually in the soul, but in and by peculiar actings of his upon the heart and soul of a believer: 1 Cor. ii 12, "We have received the Spirit which is of God, that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. " The Spirit of Christ acquaints the soul that this and that grace is from him, that this or that duty was performed in his strength. He brings to mind what at such and such times was wrought in men by himself, to give them supportment and relief in the times of depths and darkness. And when it hath been clearly discovered unto the soul at any time by the Holy Ghost, that any thing wrought in it or done by it hath been truly saving, the comfort of it will abide in the midst of many shakings and temptations.
3. He also by his Spirit bears witness with our spirits as to our state and condition. Of this I have spoken largely elsewhere, and therefore shall now pass it by.
This, then, is our first general rule and direction -- Self-determinations concerning men's spiritual state and condition, because their minds are usually influenced by their distempers, are seldom right and according to rule; mistakes in such determinations are exceed-
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ingly prejudicial to a soul seeking out after relief and sense of forgiveness: let Christ, then, be the judge in this case by his word and Spirit, as bath been directed.
Self-condemnation and abhorrency for sin consistent with gospel justification and peace -- The nature of gospel assurance -- What is consistent with it -- What are the effects of it.
Self-condemnation and abhorrency do very well consist with gospel justification and peace. Some men have no peace, because they have that without which it is impossible they should have peace. Because they cannot but condemn themselves, they cannot entertain a sense that God doth acquit them. But this is the mystery of the gospel, which unbelief is a stranger unto; nothing but faith can give a real subsistence unto these things in the same soul, at the same time. It is easy to learn the notion of it, but it is not easy to experience the power of it. For a man to have a sight of that within him which would condemn him, for which he is troubled, and at the same time to have a discovery of that without him which will justify him, and to rejoice therein, is that which be is not led unto but by faith in the mystery of the gospel. We are now under a law for justification which excludes all boasting, Rom. iii. 27; so that though we have joy enough in another, yet we may have, we always have, sufficient cause of humiliation in ourselves. The gospel will teach a man to feel sin and believe righteousness at the same time. Faith will carry heaven in one hand and hell in the other; showing the one deserved, the other purchased. A man may see enough of his own sin and folly to bring "gehennam e coelo, " -- a hell of wrath out of heaven; and yet see Christ bring "coelum ex inferno, " -- a heaven of blessedness out of a hell of punishment. And these must needs produce very divers, yea, contrary effects and operations in the soul; and be who knows not how to assign them their proper duties and seasons must needs be perplexed. The work of self-condemnation, then, which men in these depths cannot but abound with, is, in the disposition of the covenant of grace, no way inconsistent with nor unsuited unto justification and the enjoyment of peace in the sense of it. There may be a deep sense of sin on other considerations besides hell. David was never more humbled for sin than when Nathan told him it was forgiven. And there may be a view of hell as deserved, which yet the soul may know itself freed from as to the issue.
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To evidence our intendment in this discourse, I shall briefly consider what we intend by gospel assurance of forgiveness, that the soul may not be solicitous and perplexed about the utter want of that which, perhaps, it is already in some enjoyment of.
Some men seem to place gospel assurance in a high, unassaulted confidence of acceptance with God. They think it is in none but such as, if a man should go to them and ask them, "Are you certain you shall be saved?" have boldness, and confidence, and ostentation to answer presently, "Yea, they are certain they shall be saved. " But as the blessed truth of assurance hath been reproached in the world under such a notion of it, so such expressions become not them who know what it is to have to do with the holy God, who is "a consuming fire. " Hence some conclude that there are very few believers who have any assurance, because they have not this confidence, or are more free to mention the opposition they meet with than the supportment they enjoy. And thus it is rendered a matter not greatly to be desired, because it is so rarely to be obtained, most of the saints serving God and going to heaven well enough without it. But the matter is otherwise. The importance of it, not only as it is our life of comfort and joy, but also as it is the principal means of the flourishing of our life of holiness, hath been declared before, and might be farther manifested, were that our present business; yea, and in times of trial, which are the proper seasons for the effectual working and manifestation of assurance, it will and doth appear that many, yea, that most of the saints of God are made partakers of this grace and privilege.
I shall, then, in the pursuit of the rule laid down, do these two things -- 1. Show what things they are which are not only consistent with assurance, but are even necessary concommitants of it; which yet, if not duly weighed and considered, may seem so far to impeach a man's comfortable persuasion of his condition before God as to leave him beneath the assurance sought after. And, -- 2. I shall speak somewhat of its nature, especially as manifesting itself by its effects.
1. (1.) A deep sense of the evil of sin, of the guilt of man's own sin, is no way inconsistent with gospel assurance of acceptance with God through Christ, and of forgiveness in him. By a sense of the guilt of sin I understand two things -- First, A clear conviction of sin, by the Holy Ghost saying unto the soul, "Thou art the man;" and, Secondly, A sense of the displeasure of God, or the wrath due to sin, according to the sentence of the law. Both these David expresseth in that complaint, Ps. xxxi. 10, "My life is spent with grief, and my years with sighing: my strength faileth because of mine iniquity, and my bones are consumed. " His iniquity was before him, and a sense of it pressed him sore. But yet, notwithstanding all this, he
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had a comfortable persuasion that God was his God in covenant: verse 14, "I trusted in thee, O Loin): I said, Thou art my God. " And the tenor of the covenant, wherein alone God is the God of any person, is, that he will be merciful unto their sin and iniquity. To whom he is a God, he is so according to the tenor of that covenant; so that here these two are conjoined. Saith he, "Lord, I am pressed with the sense of the guilt of mine iniquities; and thou art my God, who forgivest them. " And the ground hereof is, that God by the gospel hath divided the work of the law, and taken part of it out of its hand. Its whole work and duty is, to condemn the sin and the sinner. The sinner is freed by the gospel, but its right lies against the sin still; that it condemns, and that justly. Now, though the sinner himself be freed, yet finding his sin laid hold of and condemned, it fills him with a deep sense of its guilt and of the displeasure of God against it; which yet hinders not but that, at the same time, he may have such an insight as faith gives into his personal interest in a gospel acquitment. A man, then, may have a deep sense of sin all his days, walk under the sense of it continually, abhor himself for his ingratitude, unbelief, and rebellion against God, without any impeachment of his assurance.
(9.) Deep sorrow for sin, is consistent with assurance of forgiveness; yea, it is a great means of preservation of it. Godly sorrow, mourning, humiliation, contriteness of spirit, are no less gospel graces and fruits of the Holy Ghost than faith itself, and so are consistent with the highest flourishings of faith whatever. It is the work of heaven itself, and not of the assurance of it, to wipe all tears from our eyes. Yea, these graces have the most eminent promises annexed to them, as Isa. lvii. 15, lxvi. 2, with blessedness itself, Matt. v. 4; yea, they are themselves the matter of many gracious gospel promises, Zech. xii. 10: so that they are assuredly consistent with any other grace or privilege that we may be made partakers of, or [any that] are promised unto us. Some, finding the weight and burden of their sins, and being called to mourning and humiliation on that account, are so taken up with it as to lose the sense of forgiveness, which, rightly improved, would promote their sorrow, as their sorrow seems directly to sweeten their sense of forgiveness. Sorrow, absolutely exclusive of the faith of forgiveness, is legal, and tendeth unto death; assurance, absolutely exclusive of godly sorrow, is presumption, and not a persuasion from Him that calleth us: but gospel sorrow and gospel assurance may well dwell in the same breast at the same time. Indeed, as in all worldly joys there is a secret wound, so in all godly sorrow and mourning, considered in itself, there is a secret joy and refreshment; hence it doth not wither and dry up, but rather enlarge, open, and sweeten the heart. I am per-
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suaded that, generally, they mourn most who have most assurance. And all true gospel mourners will be found to have the root of assurance so grafted in them, that in its proper season, -- a time of trouble, -- it will undoubtedly flourish.
(3.) A deep sense of the indwelling power of sin is consistent with gospel assurance. Sense of indwelling sin will cause manifold perplexities in the soul. Trouble, disquietments, sorrow and anguish of heart, expressing themselves in sighs, mourning, groaning for deliverance, always attend it. To what purpose do you speak to a soul highly sensible of the restless power of indwelling sin concerning assurance? "Alas, " saith he, "I am ready to perish every moment. My lusts are strong, active, restless, yea, outrageous; they give me no rest, no liberty, and but little success do I obtain. Assurance is for conquerors, for them that live at rest and peace. I lie grovelling on the ground all my days, and must needs be uncertain what will be the issue. " But when such a one hath done all he can, he will not be able to make more woful complaints of this matter than Paul hath done before him, Rom. vii.; and yet he closeth the discourse of it with as high an expression of assurance as any person needs to seek after, verse 25, and chap. viii. 1. It is not assurance but enjoyment that excludes this sense and trouble. But if men will think they can have no assurance because they have that without which it is impossible they should have any, it is hard to give them relief. A little cruse of salt of the gospel cast into these bitter waters will make them sweet and wholesome. Sense of the guilt of sin may consist with faith of its pardon and forgiveness in the blood of Christ. Godly sorrow may dwell in the same heart, at the same time, with joy in the Holy Ghost, and groaning after deliverance from the power of sin with a gracious persuasion that "sin shall not have dominion over us, because we are not under the law, but under grace."
(4.) Doubtings, fears, temptations, if not ordinarily prevailing, are consistent with gospel assurance. Though the devil's power be limited in reference unto the saints, yet his hands are not tied; though he cannot prevail against them, yet he can assault them. And although there be not "an evil heart of unbelief" in believers, yet there will still be unbelief in their hearts. Such an evidence, conviction, and persuasion of acceptance with God as are exclusive of all contrary reasonings, that suffer the soul to hear nothing of objections, that free and quiet it from all assaults, are neither mentioned in the Scripture, nor consistent with that state wherein we walk before God, nor possible on the account of Satan's will and ability to tempt, or of our own remaining unbelief. Assurance encourageth us in our combat; it delivereth us not from it. We may have peace with God when we have none from the assaults of Satan.
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NOW, unless a man do duly consider the tenor of the covenant wherein we walk with God, and the nature of that gospel obedience which he requires at our hands, with the state and condition which is our lot and portion whilst we live in this world, the daily sense of these things, with the trouble that must be undergone on their account, may keep him in the dark unto himself, and hinder him from that establishment in believing which otherwise he might attain unto. On this account, some as holy persons as any in this world, being wholly taken up with the consideration of these home-bred perplexities, and not clearly acquainted with the way and tenor of assuring their souls before God according to the rule of the covenant of grace, have passed away their days in a bondage-frame of spirit, and unacquaintance with that strong consolation which God is abundantly willing that all the heirs of promise should receive.
2. Evangelical assurance is not a thing that consisteth in any point, and so incapable of variation. It may be higher or lower, greater or less, obscure or attended with more evidence. It is not quite lost when it is not quite at its highest. God sometimes marvellously raiseth the souls of his saints with some close and near approaches unto them, -- gives them a sense of his eternal love, a taste of the embraces of his Son and the inhabitation of the Spirit, without the least intervening disturbance; then this is their assurance. But this life is not a season to be always taking wages in; our work is not yet done; we are not always to abide in this mount; we must down again into the battle, -- fight again, cry again, complain again. Shah the soul be thought now to have lost its assurance? Not at all. It had before assurance with joy, triumph, and exultation; it hath it now, or may have, with wrestling, cries, tears, and supplications. And a man's assurance may be as good, as true, when he lies on the earth with a sense of sin, as when he is carried up to the third heaven with a sense of love and foretaste of glory. In brief, this assurance of salvation is such a gracious, evangelical persuasion of acceptance with God in Christ, and of an interest in the premises of preservation unto the end, wrought in believers by the Holy Ghost, in and through the exercise of faith, as for the most part produceth these effects following: --
(1.) It gives delight in obedience, and draws out love in the duties that unto God we do perform. So much assurance of a comfortable issue of their obedience, of a blessed end of their labours and duties, of their purifying their hearts, and pressing after universal renovation of mind and life, as may make them cheerful in them, as may give love and delight in the pursuit of what they are engaged in, is needful for the saints, and they do not often go without it; and where this is, there is gospel assurance. To run as men uncertain, to fight
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as those that beat the air, to travel as not any way persuaded of a comfortable entertainment or refreshment at the journey's end, is a state and condition that God doth not frequently leave his people unto; and when he doth, it is a season wherein he receives very little of glory from them, and they very little increase of grace in themselves. Many things, as hath been showed, do interpose, -- many doubts arise and entangling perplexities; but still there is a comfortable persuasion kept alive that there is a rest provided, which makes them willing unto, and cheerful in, their most 'difficult duties. This prevaileth in them, that their labour in the Lord, their watchings, praying, suffering, alms, mortification, fighting against temptation, crucifying the flesh with the lusts thereof, shall not be in vain. This gives them such a delight in their most difficult duties as men have in a hard journey towards a desirable home or a place of rest.
(2.) It casts out fear, tormenting fear, such as fills the soul with perplexing uncertainties, hard thoughts of God, and dreadful apprehensions of wrath to come. There are three things spoken concerning that fear which is inconsistent with the assurance of forgiveness -- First, With respect unto its principle, it is from a "spirit of bondage:" Rom. viii. 15, "We have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear. " It is not such a fear as makes an occasional incursion upon the mind or soul, such as is excited and occasioned by incident darkness and temptation, such as the best, and persons of the highest assurance, are liable and obnoxious unto; but it is such as hath a complete abiding principle in the soul, even a "spirit of bondage, " -- a prevailing frame constantly inclining it to fear, or dreadful apprehensions of God and its own condition. Secondly, That it tends to bondage. It brings the soul into bondage: Heb. ii. 14, 15, he died "to deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. " Fear of death as penal, as it lies in the curse, which is that fear that proceeds from a" spirit of bondage, " brings the persons in whom it is into bondage; that is, it adds weariness, trouble, and anxiety of mind unto fear, and puts them upon all ways and means imaginable, unduly and disorderly, to seek for a remedy or relief. Thirdly, It hath torment: "Fear hath torment, " 1 John iv. 18. It gives no rest, no quietness, unto the mind. Now, this is so cast out by gospel assurance of forgiveness, that, though it may assault the soul, it shall not possess it; though it make incursions upon it, it shall not dwell, abide, and prevail in it.
(3.) It gives the soul a hope and expectation of "the glory that shall be revealed, " and secretly stirs it up and enlivens it unto a supportment in sufferings, trials, and temptations. This is the "hope which maketh not ashamed, " Rom. v. 5, and that because it will never expose the soul unto disappointment. Wherever there is the root of
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assurance, there will be this fruit of hope. The proper object of it is things absent, invisible, eternal, -- the promised reward, in all the notions, respects, and concernments of it. This hope goes out unto, in distresses, temptations, failings, and under a sense of the guilt and power of sire Hence ariseth a spring of secret relief in the soul, something that calms the heart and quiets the spirit in the midst of many a storm. Now, as, wherever assurance is, there will be this hope; so wherever this secret relieving hope is, it grows on no other root but a living persuasion of a personal interest in the things hoped for.
(4.) As it will do many other things, so, that I may give one comprehensive instance, it will carry them out, in whom it is, to die for Christ. Death, unto men who saw not one step beyond it, was esteemed of all things most terrible. The way and means of its approach add unto its terror. But this is nothing in comparison of what it is unto them who look through it as a passage into ensuing eternity. For a man, then, to choose death rather than life, in the most terrible manner of its approach, expecting an eternity to ensue, it argues a comfortable persuasion of a good state and condition after death. Now, I am persuaded that there are hundreds who, upon gospel, saving accounts, would embrace a stake for the testimony of Jesus, who yet know not at all that they have the assurance we speak of; and yet nothing else would enable them thereunto. But these things being beside the main of my intendment, I shall pursue them no farther; only, the rule is of use -- Let the soul be sure to be well acquainted with the nature of that which it seeks after, and confesseth a sense of the want of.
Continuance in waiting necessary unto peace and consolation.
Whatever your condition be, and your apprehension of it, yet continue waiting for a better issue, and give not over through weariness or impatience. This rule contains the sum of the great example given us in this psalm. Forgiveness in God being discovered, though no sense of a particular interest therein as yet obtained, that which the soul applies itself unto is diligent, careful, constant, persevering waiting; which is variously expressed in the fifth and sixth verses. The Holy Ghost tells us that "light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart, " Ps. xcvii. 11. Light
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and gladness are the things now inquired after. Deliverance from darkness, misapprehensions of God, hard and misgiving thoughts of his own condition, is that which a soul in its depths reacheth towards. Now, saith the Holy Ghost, "These things are sown for the righteous. " Doth the husbandman, after he casts his seed into the earth, immediately the next day, the next week, expect that it will be harvest? doth he think to reap so soon as he hath sown? or doth he immediately say, "I have laboured in vain, here is no return; I will pull up the hedge of this field and lay it waste?" or, "I see a little grass in the blade, but no corn; I will give it to the beasts to devour it?" No; "his God, " as the prophet speaks, "doth instruct him to discretion, and doth teach him," -- namely, what he must do, and how he must look for things in their season. And shall not we be instructed by him? "Behold, the husbandman, " saith James, "waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain, " James v. 7. And is light sown for them that are in darkness, and shall they stifle the seed under the clods, or spoil the tender blade that is springing up, or refuse to wait for the watering of the Spirit, that may bring it forth to perfection? Waiting is the only way to establishment and assurance; we cannot speed by our haste; yea, nothing puts the end so far away as making too much haste and speed in our journey. The ground hereof is, that a sense of a special interest in forgiveness and acceptance is given in to the soul by a mere act of sovereignty. It is not, it will not be, obtained by or upon any rational conclusions or deductions that we can make. All that we can do is but to apply ourselves to the removal of hinderances, for the peace and rest sought for come from mere prerogative: "When he giveth quietness, who then can make trouble? and when he hideth his face, who then can behold him?" Job xxxiv. 29. Now, what is the way to receive that which comes from mere sovereignty and prerogative? Doth not the nature of the thing require humble waiting? If, then, either impatience cast the soul into frowardness, or weariness make it slothful (which are the two ways whereby waiting is ruined), let not such a one expect any comfortable issue of his contending for deliverance out of his depths. And let not any think to make out their difficulties any other way: their own reasonings will not bring them to any establishing conclusion; for they may lay down propositions, and have no considerable objections to lie against either of them, and yet be far enough from that sweet consolation, joy, and assurance which is the product of the conclusion, when God is not pleased to give it in. Yea, a man may sometimes gather up consolation to himself upon such terms, but it will not abide. So did David, Ps. xxx. 6, 7. He thus argues with himself: "He whose mountain is made strong, to whom God is
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a defence, he shall never be moved nor be shaken; but I am thus settled of God: therefore I shall not be moved. " And therein he rejoiceth. It is an expression of exultation that he useth; but what is the issue of it? In the midst of these pleasing thoughts of his, "God hides his face, " and "he is troubled;" he cannot any longer draw out the sweetness of the conclusion mentioned. It was in him before from the shinings of God's countenance, and not from any arguings of his own.
No disappointment, then, no tediousness or weariness, should make the soul leave waiting on God, if it intend to attain consolation and establishment. So dealeth the church, Lam. iii. 21, "This I recall to mind, therefore have I hope. " What is that she calls to mind? This, that "it is of the LORD'S mercy that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not, " verse 22; -- " I will yet hope, I will yet continue in my expectation upon the account of never-failing compassion, of endless mercies in him, whatever my present condition be. " And thence she makes a blessed conclusion, verse 26, "It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD. " And this is our third rule: -- It is good to hope and wait, whatever our present condition be, and not to give over, if we would not be sure to fall; whereunto I speak no more, because the close of this psalm insists wholly on this duty, which must be farther spoken unto.
Remove the hinderances of believing by a searching out of sin -- Rules and directions for that duty.
Seeing, in the course of 'our believing and obedience, that which is chiefly incumbent on us, for our coming up to establishment and consolation, is spiritual diligence in the removal of the hinderances thereof, let the soul that would attain thereunto make thorough work in the search of sin, even to the sins of youth, that all scores on that account may clearly be wiped out. If there be much rubbish left in the foundation of the building, no wonder if it always shake and totter. Men's leaving of any sin unsearched to the bottom will poison all their consolation. David knew this when, in dealing with God in his distresses, he prays that he would not" remember the sins and transgressions of his youth, " Ps. xxv. 7. Youth is oftentimes a time of great vanity and unmindfulness of God; many stains and spots are therein usually brought upon the con-
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sciences of men. "Childhood and youth are vanity, " Eccles. xi. 10; not because they soon pass away, but because they are usually spent in vanity, as the following advice of chap. xii. 1, to remember God in those days, doth manifest The way of many is to wear such things out of mind, and not to walk in a sense of their folly and madness, -- never to make thorough work with God about them. I speak of the saints themselves; for with others that live under the means of grace, whom God intends any way to make useful and industrious in their generation, this is the usual course -- by convictions, restraining grace, afflictions, love of employment and repute, God gives them another heart than they had for a season; another heart, but not a new heart. Hence, another course of life, another profession, other actions than formerly, do flow. With this change they do content themselves; they look on what is past perhaps with delight, or as things fit enough for those days, but not for those they have attained unto. Here they rest; and therefore never come to rest,
But I speak of the saints themselves, who make not such thorough, full, close work in this kind as they ought. An after-reckoning may come in on this hand to their own disturbance, and an unconquerable hinderance of their peace and settlement be brought in, on this account. So was it with Job, chap. xiii. 26, "He maketh me to possess the iniquities of my youth. " God filled his heart, his thoughts, his mind, with these sins, -- made them abide with him, so that he possessed them; they were always present. with him. He made the sins of his youth the sufferings of his age. And it is a sad thing, as one speaks, when young sins and old bones meet together; as Zophar, chap. xx. 11, "His bones are full of the sins of his youth. " The joyous frame of some men's youth makes way for sad work in their age. Take heed, young ones! you are doing that which will abide with you to age, if not to eternity. This possessing of the sins of youth, Job calls the "writing of bitter things against him;" as, indeed, it is impossible but that sin should be bitter one time or other. God calls it "a root that beareth gall and wormwood, " Deut. xxix. 18; "a root of bitterness springing up into defilement, " Heb. xii. 15. This, then, is to be searched out to the bottom. Israel will not have success nor peace whilst there is an Achan in the camp. Neither success in temptation nor consolation in believing is to be expected, whilst any Achan, any sin unreckoned for, lies on the conscience.
Now, for them who would seriously accomplish a diligent search in this matter, which is of such importance unto them, let them take these two directions --
1. Let them go over the consideration of those sins, and others
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of the like nature, which may be reduced unto the same general heads with them, which we laid down before as the sins which generally cast men into depths and entanglements. And if they find they have contracted the guilt of any of them, let them not think it strange that they are yet bewildered in their condition, and do come short of a refreshing sense of peace with God or an interest in forgiveness. Rather let them admire the riches of patience, grace, and forbearance, that they are not cast utterly out of all hopes of a recovery. This will speed an end unto their trouble, according to the direction given.
2. Let them cast the course of their times under such heads and seasons as may give them the more clear and distinct view and apprehension of the passages in them between God and their souls which may have been provoking unto him.
As, first, for the state of their inward man, let them consider, --
(1.) The unregenerate part of their lives, that which was confessedly so, before they had any real work of God upon their hearts; and therein inquire after two things -- First, If there were then any great and signal eruptions of sins against God; for of such God requires that a deep sense be kept on our souls all our days. How often do we find Paul calling over the sins of his life and ways before his conversion! "I was, " saith he, "injurious, and a blasphemer. " Such reflections ought persons to have on any great provoking occasions of sin, that may keep them humble, and necessitate them constantly to look for a fresh sense of pardon through the blood of Christ. If such sins lie neglected, and not considered according to their importance, they will weaken the soul in its comforts whilst it lives in this world. Secondly, If there were any signal intimations made of the good-will and love of God to the soul, which it broke off from through the power of its corruption and temptation, they require a due humbling consideration all our days. But this hath been before spoken unto.
(2.) In that part of our lives which, upon the call of God, we have given up unto him, there are two sorts of sins that do effectually impeach our future peace and comfort; which ought therefore to be frequently reviewed and issued in the blood of Christ -- First, Such as, by reason of any aggravating circumstances, have been accompanied with some especial unkindness towards God. Such are sins after warnings, communications of a sense of love, after particular engagements against them, relapses, omissions of great opportunities and advantages for the furtherance of the glory of God in the world. These kinds of sins have much unkindness attending them, and will be searched out if we cover them. Secondly, Sins attended with scandal towards fewer or more, or any one single person who is or
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may be concerned in us. The aggravations of these kinds of sins are commonly known.
(3.) The various outward states and conditions which we have passed through, as of prosperity and afflictions, should in like manner fall under this search and consideration. It is but seldom that we fill up our duty or answer the mind of God in any dispensation of providence, and if our neglect herein be not managed aright, they will undoubtedly hinder and interrupt our peace.
The fifth rule -- Distinction between unbelief and jealousy. Learn to distinguish between unbelief and jealousy.
There is a twofold unbelief: -- 1. That which is universal and privative, such as is in all unregenerate persons; they have no faith at all, -- that is, they are dead men, and have no principles of spiritual life. This I speak not of; it is easily distinguished from any grace, being the utter enemy and privation as it were of them all. 2. There is an unbelief partial and negative, consisting in a staggering at or questioning of the promises. This is displeasing to God, a sin which is attended with unknown aggravations, though men usually indulge it in themselves It is well expressed, Ps. lxxviii. 19, 20. God had promised his presence to the people in the wilderness to feed, sustain, and preserve them. How did they entertain these promises of God? "Can he, " say they, "give bread? can he provide flesh for his people?" verse 20. What great sin, crime, or offence is in this inquiry? Why, verse 19, this is called speaking against God: "They spake against God; they said, Can he furnish a table in the wilderness?" Unbelief in question of the promises is a "speaking against God;" a "limiting of the Holy One of Israel, " as it is called, verse 41; an assigning of bounds to his goodness, power, kindness, and grace, according to what we find in ourselves, which he abhors. By this unbelief we make God like ourselves; that is, our limiting of him, expecting no more from him than either we can do, or see how it may be done. This, you will say, was a great sin in the Israelites, because they had no reason to doubt or question the promises of God. It is well we think so now; but when they were so many thousand families, that had not one bit of bread nor drop of water aforehand for themselves and their little ones, there is no doubt but they thought themselves to have as good reason to question the promises as any one of you can think that you have. We are ready to suppose that we have all the reasons
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in the world: every one supposeth he hath those that are more cogent than any other hath to question the promises of grace, pardon, and forgiveness; and therefore the questioning of them is not their sin, but their duty. But pretend what we will, this is speaking against God, limiting of him; and that which is our keeping off from steadfastness and comfort.
But now there may be a jealousy in a gracious heart concerning the love of Christ, which is acceptable unto him, at least which he is tender towards, that may be mistaken for this questioning of the promises by unbelief, and so help to keep the soul in darkness and disconsolation. This the spouse expresseth in herself: Cant. viii. 6, "Love is strong as death; jealousy is hard as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame. " Love is the foundation, the root; but yet it bears that fruit which is bitter, although it be wholesome, -- that which fills the soul with great perplexities, and makes it cry out for a nearer and more secure admission into the presence of Christ. "Set me, " saith the spouse, "as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for jealousy is cruel as the grave;" -- " I cannot bear this distance from thee, these fears of my being disregarded by thee. ' Set me as a seal upon thine heart. '"
Now, this spiritual jealousy is the solicitousness of the mind of a believer, who hath a sincere love for Christ, about the heart, affection, and good-will of Christ towards it, arising from a consciousness of its own unworthiness to be beloved by him or accepted with him. All causeless jealousy ariseth from a secret sense and conviction of unworthiness in the person in whom it is, and a high esteem of him that is the object of it, or concerning whose love and affection any one is jealous. So it is with this spiritual jealousy. The root of it is love, sincere love, that cannot be "quenched by waters" nor "drowned by floods, " verse 7, -- which nothing can utterly prevail against or overcome. This gives the soul high thoughts of the glorious excellencies of Christ, fills it with admiration of him; these are mixed with a due sense of its own baseness, vileness, and unworthiness to be owned by him or accepted with him. Now, if these thoughts, on the one hand and on the other, be not directed, guided, and managed aright by faith, -- which alone can show the soul how the glory of Christ consisteth principally in this, that he, being so excellent and glorious, is pleased to love us with love inexpressible who are vile and sinful, -- questionings about the love of Christ, and those attended with much anxiety and trouble of mind, will arise. Now, this frame may some -- times be taken for a questioning of the promises of God, and that to be a defect in faith which is an excess of love, or at most such an irregular acting of it as the Lord Christ will be very tender towards, and which is consistent with peace and a due sense of the forgiveness
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of sins. Mistake not, then, these one for another, lest much causeless unquietness ensue in the judgment which you are to make of yourselves.
But you will say, "How shall we distinguish between these two, so as not causelessly to he disquieted and perplexed?" I answer briefly, --
1. Unbelief, working in and by the questioning of the promises of God, is a weakening, disheartening, dispiriting thing. It takes off the edge of the soul from spiritual duties, and weakens it both as unto delight and strength. The more any one questions the promises of God, the less life, power, joy, and delight in obedience he hath; for faith is the spring and root of all other graces, and according as that thriveth or goeth backwards so do they all. Men think sometimes that their uncertainty of the love of God, and of acceptance with him by the forgiveness of sin, doth put them upon the performance of many duties; and they can have no rest or peace in the omission of them. It may be it is so; yea, this is the state and condition with many. But what are these duties? and how are they performed? and what is their acceptance with God? The duties themselves are legal; which denomination ariseth not from the nature, substance, or matter of them, for they may be the same that are required and enjoined in the gospel, but from the principle from whence they proceed and the end to which they are used. Now these in this case are both legal; their principle is legal fear, and their end is legal righteousness, -- the whole attendance unto them a "seeking of righteousness as it were by the works of the law. " And how are they performed? Plainly, with a bondage-frame of spirit, without love, joy, liberty, or delight. To quiet conscience, to pacify God, are the things in them aimed at, all in opposition to the blood and righteousness of Christ. And are they accepted with God? Let them be multiplied never so much, he everywhere testifieth that they are abhorred by him. This, then, unbelief mixed with convictions will do. It is the proper way of venting and exercising itself where the soul is brought under the power of conviction. But as unto gospel obedience, in all the duties of it, to he carried on in communion with God by Christ and delight in him, all questioning of the promises weakens and discourageth the soul, and makes them all wearisome and burdensome unto it.
But the jealousy that is exercised about the person and love of Christ unto the soul is quite of another nature, and produceth other effects. It cheers, enlivens, and enlargeth the soul, stirs up to activity, earnestness, and industry in its inquiries and desires after Christ. "Jealousy, " saith the spouse, "' is hard as the grave;' therefore, ' set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm. '" It makes the soul restlessly pant after nearer, more sensible, and more
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assured communion with Christ; it stirs up vigorous and active spirits in all duties Every doubt and fear that it ingenerates concerning the love of Christ stirs up the soul unto more earnestness after him, delight in him, and sedulous watching against every thing that may keep it at a distance from him, or occasion him to hide, withdraw, or absent himself from it.
2. Unbelief, that works by questioning of the promises, is universally selfish; it begins and ends in self Self-love, in desires after freedom from guilt, danger, and punishment, is the life and soul of it. May this end be attained, it hath no delight in God; nor doth it care what way it be attained, so it may be attained. May such persons have any persuasions that they shall be freed from death and hell, be it by the works of the law or by the observance of any inventions of their own, whether any glory ariseth unto God from his grace and faithfulness or no, they are not solicitous.
The jealousy we speak of hath the person of Christ and his excellency for its constant object. These it fills the mind with in many and various thoughts, still representing him more and more amiable and more desirable unto the soul: so doth the spouse upon the like occasion, as you may see at large, Cant. v. 9-16. Being at some loss for his presence, for he had withdrawn himself, not finding her wonted communion and intercourse with him, fearing that, upon her provocation, she might forfeit her interest in his love, she falls upon the consideration of all his excellencies; and thereby the more inflames herself into desires after his company and enjoyment. All these diverse things may be thus distinguished and discerned.
Distinction between faith and spiritual sense.
Learn to distinguish between faith and spiritual sense.
This rule the apostle gives us, 2 Cor. v. 7, "We walk by faith, and not by sight. " It is the sight of glory that is especially here intended. But faith and sense in any kind are clearly distinguished. That may be believed which is not felt; yea, it is the will and command of God that faith should stand and do its work where all sense fails, Isa. l. 10. And it is with spiritual sense in this matter as it is with natural. Thomas would not believe unless he saw the object of his faith with his eyes, or felt it with his hand. But saith our Saviour, "Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet believe,"
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-- who believe upon the testimony of God, without the help of their own sense or reason. And if we will believe no more of God, of his love, of his grace, of our acceptance with him, than we have a spiritual affecting sense of, we shall be many times at a loss. Sensible impressions from God's love are great springs of joy; but they are not absolutely necessary unto peace, nor unto an evidence that we do believe.
We will deal thus with the vilest person living, -- we will believe him whilst we have the certainty of our sense to secure us. And if we deal so with God, what's there in our so doing praiseworthy? The prophet tells us what it is to believe in respect of providence, Hab. iii. 17. When there is nothing left outward and visible to support us, then to rest quietly on God, that is to believe: so Ps. lxxiii. 26. And the apostle, in the example of Abraham, shows us what it is to believe with respect unto a special promise: Rom. iv. 18, "Against hope, he believed in hope. " When he saw not any outward ordinary means for the accomplishment of the promise, when innumerable objections arose against any such hope as might have respect unto such means, yet he resolved all his thoughts into the faithfulness of God in the promise, and therein raised a new hope in its accomplishment; so in hope believing against hope.
To clear this matter, you must observe what I intend by this spiritual sense, which you must learn to distinguish faith from, and to know that true faith interesting the soul in forgiveness may be without it; that so you may not conclude unto a real want of pardon from the want of the refreshing sense of it.
Grace in general may be referred unto two heads -- 1. Our acceptation with God through Christ, the same upon the matter with the forgiveness of sin that we are treating of; and, 2. Grace of sanctification from God in Christ. Of each of these there is a spiritual sense or experience to be obtained, in both distinguished from faith that gives us a real interest in forgiveness
1. Of the first, or the spiritual sense that we have of acceptance with God, there are sundry parts or degrees; as, first, hereunto belongs peace with God: Rom. v. 1, "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God. " This peace is the rest and composure of the soul emerging out of troubles, upon the account of the reconciliation and friendship made for it by the blood of Christ. And it hath, as all peace hath, two parts, -- first, a freedom from war, trouble, and distress; and, secondly, rest, satisfaction, and contentment in the condition attained; -- and this, at least the second part of it, belongs unto the spiritual sense that we inquire after. Again: there is in it "joy in the Holy Ghost, " called "joy unspeakable, and full of glory, " 1 Pet. i. 8; as also "glorying in the Lord" upon the account of his grace, Isa, xlv. 9. 5;
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with many the like effects, proceeding from a "shedding abroad of the love of God in our hearts, " Rom. v. 5.
Yea, you say, these are the things you aim at; these are the things you would attain, and be filled withal. It is this peace, this joy, this glorying in the Lord, that you would always be in the possession of. I say, you do well to desire them, to seek and labour after them, -- they are purchased by Christ for believers; but you will do well to consider under what notion you do desire them. If you look on these things as belonging to the essence of faith, without which you can have no real interest in forgiveness or acceptance with God, you greatly deceive your own souls, and put yourselves out of the way of obtaining of them. These things are not believing, nor adequate effects of it, so as immediately to be produced wherever faith is; but they are such consequents of it as may or may not ensue upon it, according to the will of God. Faith is a seed that contains them virtually, and out of which they may be in due time educed by the working of the word and Spirit; and the way for any soul to be made partaker of them is to wait on the sovereignty of God's grace, who createth peace in the exercise of faith upon the promises. He, then, that would place believing in these things, and will not be persuaded that he doth believe until he is possessed of them, he doth both lose the benefit, advantage, and comfort of what he hath, and, neglecting the due acting of faith, puts himself out of the way of attaining what he aimeth at.
These things, therefore, are not needful to give you a real saving interest in forgiveness, as it is tendered in the promise of the gospel by the blood of Christ. And it may be it is not the will of God that ever you should be intrusted with them. It may be it would not be for your good and advantage so to be. Some servants that are ill husbands must have their wages kept for them to the year's end, or it will do them no good. It may be, some would be such spendthrifts of satisfying peace and joy, and be so diverted by them from attending unto some necessary duties, -- as of humiliation, mortification, and self-abasement, without which their souls cannot live, -- that it would not be much to their advantage to be intrusted with them. It is from the same care and love that peace and joy are detained from some believers, and granted unto others.
You are therefore to receive forgiveness by a pure act of believing, in the way and manner before at large described. And do not think that it is not in you unless you have constantly a spiritual sense of it in your hearts. See, in the meantime, that your faith bringeth forth obedience, and God in due time will cause it to bring forth peace.
2. The like may be said concerning the other head of grace, though
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it be not so direct unto our purpose, yet tending also to the relief of the soul in its depths. This is the grace that we have from God in Christ for our sanctification. When the soul cannot find this in himself; when he hath not a spiritual sense and experience of its inbeing and power; when it cannot evidently distinguish it from that which is not fight or genuine, -- it is filled with fears and perplexities, and thinks it is yet in its sin. He is so, indeed, who hath no grace in him; but not he always who can find none in him. But these are different things. A man may have grace, and yet not have it at sometimes much acting; he may have grace for life, when he hath it not for fruitfulness and comfort, though it be his duty so to have it, Rev. iii. 2; 2 Tim. i. 6. And a man may have grace acting in him, and yet not know, not be sensible, that he hath acting grace. We see persons frequently under great temptations of apprehension that they have no grace at all, and yet at the same time, to the clearest conviction of all who are able to discern spiritual things, sweetly and genuinely to act faith, love, submission unto God, and that in a high and eminent manner. Ps. lxxxviii., Heman complains that he was "free among the dead, "" a man of no strength, " verses 4, 5, -- as one that had no spiritual life, no grace. This afflicted his mind, and almost distracted him, verse 15; and yet there can be no greater expressions of faith and love to God than are mixed with his complaints.
These things, I say then, are not to be judged of by spiritual sense, but we are to live by faith about them. And no soul ought to conclude, that because it hath not the one it hath not the other, -- that because it hath not joy and peace, it hath no interest in pardon and forgiveness.
The seventh rule -- Mix not foundation and building work together. Mix not too much foundation and building work together. Our foundation in dealing with God is Christ alone, mere grace and pardon in him.
Our building is in and by holiness and obedience, as the fruits of that faith by which we have received the atonement. And great mistakes there are in this matter, which bring great entanglements on the souls of men. Some are all their days laying of the foundation, and are never able to build upon it unto any comfort to them-
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selves or usefulness unto others; and the reason is, because they will be mixing with the foundation stones that are fit only for the following building. They will be bringing their obedience, duties, mortification of sin, and the like, unto the foundation. These are precious stones to build with, but unmeet to be first laid, to bear upon them the whole weight of the building. The foundation is to be laid, as was said, in mere grace, mercy, pardon in the blood of Christ. This the soul is to accept of and to rest in merely as it is grace, without the consideration of any thing in itself, but that it is sinful and obnoxious unto ruin. This it finds a difficulty in, and would gladly have something of its own to mix with it. It cannot tell how to fix these foundation-stones without some cement of its own endeavours and duty; and because these things will not mix, they spend a fruitless labour about it all their days. But if the foundation be of grace, it is not at all of works; for "otherwise grace is no more grace. " If any thing of our own be mixed with grace in this matter, it utterly destroys the nature of grace; which if it be not alone, it is not at all. But doth this not tend to licentiousness? doth not this render obedience, holiness, duties, mortification of sin, and good works needless? God forbid; yea, this is the only way to order them aright unto the glory of God. Have we nothing to do but to lay the foundation? Yes; all our days we are to build upon it, when it is surely and firmly laid. And these are the means and ways of our edification. This, then, is the soul to do who would come to peace and settlement -- Let it let go all former endeavours, if it have been engaged unto any of that kind, and let it alone receive, admit of, and adhere to, mere grace, mercy, and pardon, with a full sense that in itself it hath nothing for which it should have an interest in them, but that all is of mere grace through Jesus Christ: "Other foundation can no man lay. " Depart not hence until this work be well over. Surcease not an earnest endeavour with your own hearts to acquiesce in this righteousness of God, and to bring your souls unto a comfortable persuasion that "God for Christ's sake hath freely forgiven you all your sins. " Stir not hence until this be effected. If you have been engaged in another way, -- that is, to seek for an interest in the pardon of sin by some endeavours of your own, -- it is not unlikely but that you are filled with the fruit of your own doings; that is, that you go on with all kinds of uncertainties, and without any kind of constant peace. Return, then, again hither; bring this foundation-work to a blessed issue in the blood of Christ; and when that is done, up and be doing.
You know how fatal and ruinous it is for souls to abuse the grace of God and the apprehension of the pardon of sins in the course of their obedience, -- to countenance themselves in sin or the negligence
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of any duty; this is to turn the grace of God into wantonness, as we have elsewhere at large declared. And it is no less pernicious to bring the duties of our obedience, any reserves for them, any hopes about them, into the matter of pardon and forgiveness, as we are to receive them from God. But these things, as they are distinct in themselves, so they must be distinctly managed in the soul; and the confounding of them is that which disturbs the peace and weakens the obedience of many. In a confused manner they labour to keep up a life of grace and duty; which will be in their places conjoined, but not mixed or compounded.
First, to take up mercy, pardon, and forgiveness absolutely on the account of Christ, and then to yield all obedience in the strength of Christ and for the love of Christ, is the life of a believer, Eph. ii. 8-10.
The eighth rule -- Spend not time in heartless complaints, Take heed of spending time in complaints when vigorous actings of grace are your duty.
Fruitless and heartless complaints, bemoanings of themselves and their condition, is the substance of the profession that some make. If they can object against themselves, and form complaints out of their conditions, they suppose they have done their duty. I have known some who have spent a good part of their time in going up and down from one to another with their objections and complaints. These things are contrary to the life of faith. It is good, indeed, in our spiritual distresses, to apply ourselves unto them who are furnished with the tongue of the learned, to know how to speak a word in season unto him that is weary; but for persons to fill their minds and imaginations with their own objections and complaints, not endeavouring to mix the words that are spoken for their relief and direction with faith, but going on still in their own way, this is of no use or advantage. And yet some, I fear, may please themselves in such course, as if it had somewhat of eminency in religion in it.
Others, it may be, drive the same trade in their thoughts, although they make not outwardly such complaints. They are conversant, for the most part, with heartless despondings. And in some they are multiplied by their natural constitutions or distempers. Examples of this kind occur unto us every day. Now, what is the advantage
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of these things? What did Zion get when she cried, "The LORD hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me?" or Jacob, when he said, "My way is hid from the LORD, and my judgment is passed over from my God?" Doubtless they did prejudice themselves. How doth David rouse up himself when he found his mind inclinable unto such a frame? for having said, "Why dost thou cast me off? why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?" he quickly rebukes and recollects himself, saying, "Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope in God, " Ps. xliii. 2, 5.
We must say, then, unto such heartless complainers, as God did to Joshua, "Get you up; why lie you thus upon your faces?" Do you think to mend your condition by wishing it better, or complaining it is so bad? Are your complaints of want of an interest in forgiveness a sanctified means to obtain it? Not at all; you will not deal so with yourselves in things natural or civil. In such things you will take an industrious course for a remedy or for relief. In things of the smallest importance in this world and unto this life, you will not content yourselves with wishing and complaining; as though industry in the use of natural means, for the attaining of natural ends, were the ordinance of God, and diligence in the use of spiritual means, for the obtaining of spiritual ends, were not.
Do not consult your own hearts only. What is it that the Scripture calls for in your condition? Is it not industry and activity of spirit? And what doth the nature of the thing require? Distress that is yet hoped to be conquered evidently calls for industry and diligence in the use of means for deliverance. If you are past hope, it avails not to complain; if you are not, why do you give up yourselves to despondencies? Our Saviour tells us that "the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force, " Matt. xi. 12. It is not of the outward violence of its enemies seeking to destroy it that our Saviour speaks, but of that spiritual fervency and ardency of mind that is in those who intend to be partakers of it; for. [--GREEK--], "is taken by force, " Luke xvi. 16, is no more but. [--GREEK--], "is preached;" -- "The kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it. " Pressing into it, and taking it by force, are the same thing. There is, then, a violence, a restless activity and vigour of spirit, to be used and exercised for an interest in this kingdom. Apply this to your condition. Are you in depths and doubts, staggering and uncertain, not knowing what is your condition, nor whether you have any interest in the forgiveness that is with God Are you tossed up and down between hopes and fears? [Do you] want peace, consolation, and establishment? Why lie you upon your faces? Get up, watch, pray, fast, meditate, offer violence to your
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lusts and corruptions; fear not, startle not at their crying or importunities to be spared; press unto the throne of grace by prayers, supplications, importunities, restless requests. This is the way to take the kingdom of heaven. These things are not peace, they are not assurance; but they are part of the means that God hath appointed for the attainment of them.
What, then, is the peculiar instruction that is proper for souls in this condition? That, plainly, of the apostle, 9. Pet. i. 10, "Give diligence to make your calling and election sure. " "Alas!" saith the soul, "I am at no certainty, but rather am afflicted and tossed, and not comforted. My heart will come to no stability. I have no assurance, know not whether I am chosen or called; yea, fear that my latter end will be darkness and sorrow. There is, I confess, forgiveness with God, but [I] justly fear I shall never be made partaker of it. " What is the usual course that is taken in such complaints by them to whom they are made? Mostly, they have a good opinion of them that come with these complaints; they judge them to be godly and holy, though much in the dark. If they knew them not before, yet upon these complaints they begin to be well persuaded of them. Hereupon, they are moved with pity and compassion, and troubled to see them in their perplexities, and set themselves to tender relief unto them: they mind them of the gracious promises of the gospel; it may be, fix upon some one or more of them in particular, which they explain to them; thence they mind them of the abundant grace and tender love of the Father, of the merciful care of our High Priest, his readiness and ability to save, his communications of such favours unto them as they perceive not. By such ways and means, by such applications, do they seek to relieve them in the state and condition wherein they are. But what is the issue? Doth not this relief prove, for the most part, like the morning cloud, and as the early dew? A little refreshment it may be it yields for a season, but is quickly again dried up, and the soul left in its heartless, withering condition.
You will say, then, "Do you condemn this manner of proceeding with the souls of men in their doubts, fears, and distresses? or would you have them pine away under the sense of their condition, or abide in this uncertainty all their days?" I answer, No; I condemn not the way; I would not have any left comfortless in their depths. But yet I would give these two cautions --
1. That spiritual wisdom and prudence is greatly required in this matter, in the administration of consolation to distressed souls. If in any thing, the tongue of the spiritually learned is required herein, -- namely, in speaking a word in season to them that are weary. A promiscuous drawing out of gospel consolations, without a previous
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right judgment concerning the true state and condition of the souls applied unto, is seldom useful, ofttimes pernicious. And let men take care how they commit their souls and consciences unto such who have good words in readiness for all comers.
2. If counsel and consolation of this kind be given, special and distinct from the advice we are upon of watchfulness, diligence, spiritual violence in a way of duty, it is exceeding dangerous, and will assuredly prove useless; for let us see what counsel the Holy Ghost gives in this condition unto them who would make their "calling and election sure, " who would be freed from their present fears and uncertainties, who complain of their darkness and dangers. Why, saith he, "Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, " and so on, 2 Pet. i. 5-7;'" for, " saith he, "if ye do these things ye shall never fall: for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, " verse 11. You who are now in the skirts of it, who know not whether you belong to it or no, you shall have an entrance into the kingdom of Christ, and all the joy, comforts, consolations, and glory of it shall be richly administered unto you. This is the advice that the Holy Ghost gives in this case; and this is the blessed promise annexed unto the following of this advice; and this the former compassionate course of administering consolation is not to be separated from.
But you will, it may be, here say, "We are so dead and dull, so chained under the power of corruptions and temptations, that we are not able thus to put forth the fruit of a spiritual life in adding one grace unto another. " But do you use diligence, study, endeavours, all diligence, diligence at all times, in all ways by God appointed, all manner of diligence within and without, in private and public, to this end and purpose? Do you study, meditate, pray, watch, fast, neglect no opportunity, keep your hearts, search, try, examine yourselves, flee temptations and occasions of cooling, deadening, and stifling grace? Do these things abound in you? Alas! you cannot do thus, you are so weak, so indisposed. But, alas! you will not, you will not part with your ease, you will not crucify your lusts, you will not use all diligence; but must come to it, or be contented to spend all your days in darkness, and to lie down in sorrow.
Thus do men frequently miscarry. Is it any news, for persons to bewail the folly of their nature and ways in the morning and evening, and yet scarce stand upon their watch any part of the day, or in any occasion of the day? Is this "giving all diligence?" Is this "working out our salvation with fear and trembling?" And may we not see professors even indulging themselves in ways of vanity, folly, wrath, envy, sloth, and the like, and yet complain at what a loss they are, how unquiet, how uncertain? God forbid it should be
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otherwise with you, or that we should endeavour to speak peace unto you in any such a frame. To hear of a person that he walks slothfully, carelessly, or indulgeth his corruptions, and to find him complaining that he is at a loss whether he have any interest in pardon or no; to give or tender comfort to such mourners, without a due admonition of their duty to use diligence in the use of means, for to help on their delivery out of the condition wherein they are, is to tender poison unto them.
To this, then, the soul must come that is in depths, if it intend to be delivered. Heartless complaints, with excuses to keep it from vigorous, spiritual diligence, must be laid aside; if not, ordinarily, peace, rest, and stability will not be obtained. A great example hereof we have in the spouse, Cant, v. 2-8. She is drowsy and indisposed unto communion with Christ, whereunto she is invited, verse 2; this puts her upon making excuses, from the unfitness of the time, and her present indisposition and unpreparedness as to the duty whereunto she was called, verse 3. Hereupon Christ withdraws his presence from her, and leaves her at a loss as to her former comforts, verse 6. What course doth she now take? Doth she now lie down again in her former slumber? doth she make use of her former excuses and pretences why she should not engage into the duties she was called unto? No such thing; but now, with all earnestness, diligence, sedulity, and importunity, she engageth in all manner of duties, whereby she may recover her former comforts, as you may see in the text. And this must be the course of others who would obtain the same success. Spiritual peace and sloth will never dwell together in the same soul and conscience.
The ninth rule -- Take heed of undue expressions concerning God and his ways in distress.
Take heed, in doubts, distresses, and perplexities, of hard thoughts of God, hasty unweighed expressions concerning him or his ways, or of secret resolves that it were as good give over waiting as continue in the state wherein you are, seeing your condition is remediless.
On three occasions are such thoughts and resolves apt to befall the' minds of men; which sometimes break forth into unwarrantable expressions concerning God himself and his ways --
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1. In deep perplexities of mind, by reason of some pressing terror from the Lord.
2. On the long wearisome continuance of some tempting distress; and hereof we have many examples, some whereof shall be mentioned.
3. In spiritual disappointments, through the strength of lust or temptation. When a person hath, it may be, recovered himself, through grace, from a perplexing sense of the guilt of some sin, or it may be from a course, shorter or longer, lesser or greater, of backsliding and negligent walking with God, and therein goes on cheerfully for a season in the course of his obedience; if this person, through the power of temptation, subtilty of lusts, neglect of watchfulness, by one means or other, is surprised in the sins or ways that he had relinquished, or is turned aside from the vigour of that course wherein he was engaged, he may be exposed not only to great despondencies, but also be overtaken with secret resolves to give over contending, seeing it is to no more purpose, nay, to no purpose, and that God regards him not at all.
Take an instance or two in each kind: --
The first we have in Job, in the extremity of his trials and terrors from the Lord. See, among other places, chap. x. 3: "Is it, " saith he to God, "good unto thee that thou shouldest oppress, that thou shouldest despise the work of thine hands?" All! poor worms, with whom have we to do? "Who shall say unto a king, Thou art wicked? and to princes, Ye are ungodly? And will ye speak to Him who respecteth not the person of princes, nor regardeth them more than the poorest in the earth?" And see what conclusions from such thoughts as these he doth infer: chap. xiv. 16, 17, "Thou numberest my steps: dost thou not watch over my sin? My transgression is sealed up in a bag, and thou sewest up mine iniquity. " He chargeth God to be his enemy, one that watched for all opportunities and advantages against him, that seemed to be glad at his halting, and take care that none of his sins should be missing when he intended to deal with him. Had this indeed been the case with him, he had perished unto eternity, as elsewhere he acknowledged.
Of the other we have an instance in the church: Lam. iii. 18, "I said, My strength and my hope is perished from the LORD. " Present grace in spiritual strength and future expectation of mercy are all gone. And what is got by this? Secret hard thoughts of God himself are hereby ingenerated: as verse 8, "When I cry and shout, he shutteth out my prayer;" verse 44, "Thou hast covered thyself with a cloud, that our prayer should not pass through. " These things are grievous unto God to bear, and no way useful to the soul in its condition; yea, they more and more unfit it for every duty that may lie in a tendency to its relief and deliverance.
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So was it with Jonah: chap. ii. 4, "I said, I am east out of thy sight;" -- " All is lost and gone with me; as good give over as contend; I do but labour in vain. Perish I must, as one cast out of the sight of God. " The like complaints fell also from Heman in his distress, Ps. lxxxviii.
The general who heard one of his soldiers cry out, upon a fresh onset of the enemy, "Now we are undone, now we are ruined, " called him a traitor, and told him it was not so whilst he could wield his sword. It is not for every private soldier on every danger to make judgment of the battle; that is the work of the genera]. Jesus Christ is "the captain of our salvation;" he hath undertaken the leading and conduct of our souls through all our difficulties. Our duty is to fight and contend; his work is to take care of the event, and to him it is to be committed.
That, then, you make a due use of this rule, keep always in your minds these two considerations --
1. That it is not for you to take the judgment of Christ out of his hand, and to be passing sentence upon your own souls. Judgment as to the state and condition of men is committed unto Christ, and to him it is to be left. This we were directed unto in our first rule, and it is of special use in the case under consideration. Self-judging in reference unto sin and the demerit of it is our duty. The judging of our state and condition in relation unto the remedy provided is the office and work of Jesus Christ, with whom it is to be left.
2. Consider that hard thoughts of what God will do with you, and harsh desponding sentences pronounced against yourselves, will insensibly alienate your hearts from God. It may be when men's perplexities are at the height, and the most sad expressions are as it were wrested from them, they yet think they must justify God, and that they do so accordingly. But yet such thoughts as those mentioned are very apt to infect the mind with other inclinations: for after a while they will prevail with the soul to look on God as an enemy, as one that hath no delight in it; and what will be the consequence thereof is easily discernible. None will continue to love long where they expect no returns. Suffer not, then, your minds to be tainted with such thoughts; and let not God be dishonoured by any such expressions as reflect on that infinite grace and compassion which he is exercising towards you.
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The tenth rule -- Duly improve the least appearances of God in a way of grace or pardon.
If you would come to stability, and a comforting persuasion of an interest in forgiveness by the blood of Christ, improve the least appearances of him unto your souls, and the least intimations of his love in pardon, that are made unto you in the way of God. The spouse takes notice of her Husband, and rejoiceth in him, when he stands behind the wall, when he doth but look forth at the window and show himself at the lattice, -- when she could have no clear sight of him, Cant. ii. 9. She lays hold on the least appearance of him to support her heart withal, and to stir up her affections towards him. Men in dangers do not sit still to watt until something presents itself unto them that will give assured deliverance; but they close with that which first presents itself unto them, that is of the same kind and nature with what they look after. And thus God doth in many places express such supportments as give the soul little more than a possibility of attaining the end aimed at: as Zeph. ii 3, "It may be ye shall be hid in the day of the LORD'S anger;" and Joel ii. 14, "Who knoweth but he will return and leave a blessing?" -- " It maybe we shall be hid; it may be we shall have a blessing. " And this was the best ground that Jonathan had for the great undertaking against the enemies of God: 1 Sam. xiv. 6, "It may be that the LORD will work for us. " And to what end doth God at any time make these seemingly dubious intimations of grace and mercy? Is it that we should, by the difficulty included in them, be discouraged and kept from him? Not at all; he speaks nothing to deter sinners, especially distressed sinners, from trusting in him. But his end is, that we should close with, and lay hold upon and improve, the least appearances of grace, which this kind of expressions doth give unto us. When men are in a voyage at sea, and meet with a storm or a tempest which abides upon them, and they fear will at last prevail against them, if they make so far a discovery of land as that they can say, "It may be there is land, it may be it is such a place where there is a safe harbour, " none can positively say it is not; there lies no demonstration against it. In this condition, especially if there be no other way of escape, delivery, or safety proposed to them, this is enough to make them to follow on that discovery, and with all diligence to steer their course that way, until they have made a trial of it unto the utmost. The soul of which we speak is afflicted and tossed, and not comforted. There is in the
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intimation of grace and pardon intended a remote discovery made of some relief. This may be Christ; it may be forgiveness. This it is convinced of; it cannot deny but at such or such a time, under such ordinances, or in such duties, it was persuaded that yet there might be mercy and pardon for it. This is enough to carry it to steer its course constantly that way, -- to press forward unto that harbour which will give it rest. How little was it that David had to bring his soul unto a composure in his great distress! 2 Sam. xv. 25, 26: "If, " saith he, "I shall find favour in the eyes of the LORD, he will bring me again, and shew me the ark, and his habitation: but if he thus say, I have no delight in thee; behold, here am I, let him do to me as seemeth good unto him. " He hath nothing but sovereign grace to rest upon, and that he gives himself up unto.
Faith is indeed the soul's venture for eternity. Something it is to venture on as to its eternal condition. It must either adhere unto itself or its own vain hopes of a righteousness of its own; or it must give over all expectation and lie down in darkness; or it must shut out all dreadful apprehensions of eternity, by the power and activity of its lusts and carnal affections; or it must, whatever its discouragements be, cast itself upon pardon in the blood of Jesus Christ. Now, if all the former ways be detestable and pernicious, if the best of them be a direct opposition unto the gospel, what hath the soul that inquires after these things to do but to adhere unto the last, and to improve every encouragement, even the least, to that purpose?
Consider where lies the hinderance to peace.
As a close unto these general rules, I shall only add this last direction: -- Consider in particular where the stress and hinderance lies that keeps you off from peace, through an established persuasion of an interest in evangelical pardon. Do not always fluctuate up and down in generals and uncertainties; but drive things unto a particular issue, that it may be tried whether it be of sufficient efficacy to keep you in your present entanglements and despondencies. Search out your wound, that it may be tried whether it be curable or no.
Now, in this case, we cannot expect that persons should suggest their own particular concerns, that so they might be considered and
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be brought unto the rule; But we must ourselves reduce such distresses as may or do in this matter Befall the minds of men unto some general heads, and give a judgment concerning them according to the word of truth. Indeed, particular cases, as varied by circumstances, are endless, nor can they be spoken unto in this way of instruction and direction; but they must be left to occasional considerations of them, as they are represented unto them who are intrusted to dispense the mysteries of God. Besides, many have laboured already in this matter, and their endeavours are in and of general use; although it must be said, as was before observed, that special cases are so varied By their circumstances, that it is very rare that any resolutions of them are every way adequate and suited unto the apprehensions of them that are exercised with them. I shall therefore call things unto some general heads, whereunto most of the objections that distressed sinners make against their own peace may be reduced, and leave the light of them to be applied in particular unto the relief of the souls of men, as God shall be pleased to make them effectual.
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