The Works of
A PRACTICAL EXPOSITION UPON PSALM CXXX.;
Index of Fourth Verse
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Second general head of the application of the truth insisted on -- Grounds of spiritual disquietments considered -- The first, afflictions -- Ways and means of the aggravation of afflictions -- Rules about them.
THAT which now lieth before us is the SECOND part of the second general use educed from the truth insisted on. Our aim is, to lead on souls towards peace with God, through a gracious persuasion of their interest in that forgiveness which is with him; and it consists, as was declared, in a consideration of some of those disquietments which befall the minds of men, and keep them off from establishment in this matter.
And, FIRST, such disquietments and objections against the peace of the soul and its acceptance with God will arise from afflictions; they have done so of old, they do so in many at this day. Afflictions, I say, greatened unto the mind from their nature or by their concomitants, do ofttimes variously affect it, and sometimes prevail to darken it so far as to ingenerate thoughts that they are all messengers of wrath, all tokens of displeasure, and so, consequently, evidences that we are not pardoned or accepted with God.
Now, this is a time of great afflictions unto many, and those, some of them, such as have innumerable aggravating circumstances accompanying of them. Some have come with a dreadful surprisal in
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things not looked for, such as falls not out in the providence of God in many generations. Such is the condition of them who are reduced to the utmost extremity by the]ate consuming fire; some have had their whole families, all their posterity, taken from them. In a few days they have been suddenly bereaved, as in the plague. Some in their own persons, or in their relations, have had sore, long, and grievous trials from oppressions and persecutions. And these things have various effects on the minds of men. Some we find crying, with that wicked king, "This evil is of the LORD; why should we wait any longer for him?" and give up themselves to seek relief from their own lusts; -- some bear up under their troubles with a natural stoutness of spirit; -- some have received a sanctified use and improvement of their trials with joy in the Lord: but many we find to go heavily under their burdens, having their minds darkened with many misapprehensions of the love of God and of their own personal interest in his grace. It is not, therefore, unseasonable to speak a little to this head of trouble in our entrance. Outward troubles, I say, are oftentimes occasions, if not the causes, of great inward distresses. You know how the saints of old expressed their sense of them and conflicts with them. The complaints of David are familiar to all who attend unto any communion with God in these things; so are those of Job, Heman, Jonah, Jeremiah, and others: neither do they complain only of their troubles, but of the sense which they had of God's displeasure in and under them, and of his hiding of his face from them whilst they were so exercised.
It is not otherwise at present, as is known unto such as converse with many who are either surprised with unexpected troubles, or worn out with trials and disappointments of an expected end. They consider themselves both absolutely and with respect unto others, and upon both accounts are filled with dark thoughts and despondencies. Saith one, "I am rolled from one trial unto another. The clouds with me return still after the rain. All the billows and water-spouts of God go over me. In my person, it may be, pressed with sickness, pains, troubles; in my relations, with their sins, miscarriages, or death; in my outward state, in want, losses, disreputation. I am even as a withered branch. Surely if God had any especial regard unto my soul, it would not be thus with me, or some timely end would have been put unto these dispensations." On the other hand, they take a view of some other professors; they see that their sables are spread day by day, that the candle of the Lord shines continually on their tabernacle, and that in all things they have their hearts' desire, setting aside the common attendancies of human nature, and nothing befalls them grievous in the world. "Thus it is with them. And surely, had I an interest in his grace, in pardon,
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the God of Israel would not thus pursue a flea in the mountains, nor set himself in battle army against a leaf driven to and fro with the wind; he would spare me a little, and let me alone for a moment. But as things are with me, I fear ' my way is hidden from the LORD, and my judgment is passed over from my God. '" This kind of thoughts do perplex the minds of men, and keep them off from partaking of that strong consolation which God is abundantly willing they should receive, by a comfortable persuasion of a blessed interest in that forgiveness that is with him.
And this was the very case of David; or at least these outward troubles were a special part of those depths out of which he cried for relief, by a sense of pardon, grace, and redemption with God.
I answer to these complaints, first, that there are so many excellent things spoken concerning afflictions, their necessity, their usefulness, and the like, -- such blessed ends are assigned unto them, and in many have been compassed and fulfilled by them, -- that a man, unacquainted with the exercise wherewith they are attended, would think it impossible that any one should be shaken in mind as to the love and favour of God on their account. But as the apostle tells us that no afflictions are joyous at present, but grievous, so he who made, in the close of his trials, that solemn profession, that "it was good for him that he had been afflicted, " yet we know, as hath been declared, how he was distressed under them. There are, therefore, sundry accidental things which accompany great afflictions, that seem to exempt them from the common rule and the promise of love and grace; as, --
1. The remembrance of past and buried miscarriages and sins lies in the bosom of many afflictions. It was so with Job: "Thou makest me, " saith he, "to possess the iniquities of my youth. " See his plea to that purpose, chap. xiii. 23-27. In the midst of his troubles and distresses, God revived upon his spirit a sense of former sins, even the sins of his youth, and made him to possess them; he filled his soul and mind with thoughts of them and anxiety about them. This made him fear lest God was his enemy, and would continue to deal with him in all severity. So was it with Joseph's brethren in their distresses: Gen. xlii. 21, "They said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us;" and verse 22, "Behold, his blood is required. " Their distress revives a deep, perplexing sense of the guilt of sin many years past before, and that under all its aggravating circumstances; which spoiled them of all their reliefs and comforts, filling them with confusion and trouble, though absolutely innocent as to what was come on them. And the like appeared in the widow
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of Zarephath, with whom Elijah sojourned during the famine. Upon the death of her son, which, it seems, was somewhat extraordinary, she cried out unto the prophet, "What have I to do with thee, O thou man of God? art thou come to call my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son?" 1 Kings xvii. 18. It seems some great sin she had formerly contracted the guilt of, and now, upon her sore affliction in the death of her only child, the remembrance of it was recalled and revived upon her soul. Thus "deep calleth unto deep at the noise of God's water-spouts, " and then "all his waves and billows go over" a person, Ps. xlii. 7. The deep of afflictions calleth up the deep of the guilt of sin, and both in conjunction become as billows and waves passing over the soul. We see only the outside of men's afflictions; they usually complain only of what doth appear: and an easy thing it is supposed to be to apply relief and comfort unto those that are distressed. The rule in this matter is so clear, so often repeated and inculcated, the promises annexed unto this condition so many and precious, that every one hath in readiness what to apply unto them who are so exercised. But oftentimes we know nothing of the gall and wormwood that is in men's affliction; they keep that to themselves, and their souls feed upon them in secret, Lam. iii. 19. God hath stirred up the remembrance of some great sin or sins, and they look upon their afflictions as that wherein he is come or beginning to enter into judgment with them. And is it any wonder if they be in darkness, and filled with disconsolation?
2. There is in many afflictions something that seems new and peculiar, wherewith the soul is surprised, and cannot readily reduce its condition unto what is taught about afflictions in general. This perplexeth and entangleth it. It is not affliction it is troubled withal, but some one thing or other in it that appears with an especial dread unto the soul, so that he questioneth whether ever it were so with any other or no, and is thereby deprived of the supportment which from former examples it might receive. And, indeed, when God intendeth that which shall be a deep affliction, he will put an edge upon it, in matter, or manner, or circumstances, that shall make the soul feel its sharpness. He will not take up with our bounds and measures, and with which we think we could be contented; but he will put the impress of his own greatness and terror upon it, that he may be acknowledged and submitted unto. Such was the state with Naomi, when, from a full and plentiful condition, she went into a strange country with a husband and two sons, where they all died, leaving her destitute and poor. Hence, in her account of God's dealing with her, she says, "Call me not Naomi" (that is, pleasant), "call me Mara" (that is, bitter): "for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the LORD hath
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brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the LORD hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me?" Ruth i. 20, 21. So was it with Job, with the widow of Zarephath, and with her at Nain who was burying her only child. And still in many afflictions God is pleased to put in an entangling specialty, which perplexeth the soul, and darkens it in all its reasonings about the love of God towards it and its interest in pardon and grace.
3. In some, affections are very strong and importunate as fixed on lawful things, whereby their nature is made sensible and tender, and apt to receive very deep impressions from urgent afflictions. Now, although this in itself be a good natural frame, and helps to preserve the soul from that stout-heartedness which God abhors, yet if it be not watched over, it is apt to perplex the soul with many entangling temptations. The apostle intimates a double evil that we are obnoxious unto under trials and afflictions, Heb. xii. 5, "My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him. " Men may either, through a natural stoutness, despise and contemn their sufferings, and be obstinate under them, or faint and despond; and so come short of the end which God aims at for them, to be attained in a way of duty. Now, though the frame spoken of be not obnoxious unto the first extreme, yet it is greatly to the latter; which, if not watched against, is no less pernicious than the former. Affections in such persons being greatly moved, they cloud and darken the mind, and fill it with strange apprehensions concerning God and themselves. Every thing is presented unto them through a glass composed of fear, dread, terror, sorrow, and all sorts of disconsolations. This makes them faint and despond, unto very sad apprehensions of themselves and their conditions.
4. Afflictions find some entangled with very strong corruptions, -- as love of the world, or the pleasure of it, of name or reputation, of great contrivances for posterity, and the like; or it may be in things carnal or sensual. Now, when these unexpectedly meet together, -- great afflictions and strong corruptions, -- it is not conceivable what a combustion they will make in the soul As a strong medicine or potion meeting with a strong or tough distemper in the body, -- there is a violent contention in nature between them and about them, so that oftentimes the very life of the patient is endangered; so it is where a great trial, a smart stroke of the hand of God, falls upon a person in the midst of his pursuit of the effects of some corruptions, -- the soul is amazed even to distraction, and can scarce have any thought but that God is come to cut the person off in the midst of his sin. Every unmortified corruption fills the very fear and expectation of affliction with horror. And there is good reason that so it should do; for although God should be merciful unto men's ini-
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quities, yet if he should come to take vengeance of their inventions, their condition would be dark and sorrowful
5. Satan is never wanting in such occasions to attempt the compassing of his ends upon persons that are exercised under the hand of God. In the time of suffering it was that he fell upon the Head of the church, turning it into the very hour of the power of darkness. And he will not omit any appearing opportunities of advantage against his members. And this is that which he principally, in such seasons, attacks them withal, -- namely, that God regards them not, that they are fallen under his judgment and severity, as those who have no share in mercy, pardon, or forgiveness.
From these and the like reasons, I say, it is, that whereas afflictions in general are so testified unto, to be such pledges and tokens of God's love and care, to be designed unto blessed ends as conformity unto Christ, and a participation of the holiness of God; yet, by reason of these circumstances, they often prove means of casting the soul into depths, and of hindering it from a refreshing interest in the forgiveness that is with God. That this may prove no real or abiding ground of inward spiritual trouble unto the soul, the following rules and directions may be observed: --
1. Not only afflictions in general, but great and manifold afflictions, and those attended with all sorts of aggravating circumstances, are always consistent with the pardon of sin, after [often?] signal tokens and pledges of it, and of the love of God therein: Job vii. 17, 18, "What is man, that thou shouldest magnify him? and that thou shouldest set thine heart upon him? and that thou shouldest visit him every morning, and try him every moment?" What were the considerations that cast him into this admiration of the care and love of God is expressed, verses 12-16. There are no words of a more dismal import in the whole book than those here expressed: yet, when he recollected himself from his overwhelming distress, he acknowledgeth that all this proceeded from the love and care of God; yea, his fixing his heart upon a man to magnify him, to set him up and do him good. For this end doth he chasten a man every morning, and try him every moment; and that with such afflictions as are for the present so far from being joyous as that they give no rest, but even weary the soul of life, as he expresseth their effects on himself, verses 15, 16. And hence it is observed of this Job, that when none in the earth was like to him in trouble, God gave him three testimonies from heaven that there was none in the earth like unto him in grace. And although it may not be laid down as a general rule, yet for the most part in the providence of God, from the foundation of the world, those who have had most of afflictions have had most of grace and the most eminent testimonies of acceptance with God.
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Christ Jesus, the Son of God, the head of the church, had all afflictions gathered into a head in him, and yet the Father always loved him, and was always well pleased with him.
When God solemnly renewed his covenant with Abraham, and he had prepared the sacrifice whereby it was to be ratified and confirmed, God made a smoking furnace to pass between the pieces of the sacrifice, Gen. xv. 17. It was to let him know that there was a furnace of affliction attending the covenant of grace and peace. And so he tells Zion that he "chose her in the furnace of affliction, " Isa. xlviii. 10; -- that is, in Egyptian affliction; burning, flaming afflictions; "fiery trials, " as Peter calls them, 1 Pet. iv. 12. There can, then, no argument be drawn from affliction, from any kind of it, from any aggravating circumstance wherewith it may be attended, that should any way discourage the soul in the comforting, supporting persuasion of an interest in the love of God and forgiveness thereby.
2. No length or continuance of afflictions ought to be any impeachment of our spiritual consolation. Take for the confirmation hereof the great example of the Son of God. How long did his afflictions continue? what end or issue was put to them? No longer did they abide than until "he cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost. " To the moment of his death, from his manger to his cross, his afflictions still increased, and he ended his days in the midst of them. Now, he was the head of the church, and the great representative of it, unto a conformity with whom we are predestinated. And if God will have it so with us even in this particular, so as that we shall have no rest, no peace from our trials, until we lie down in the grave, that whatever condition we pass through they shall be shut out of none, but only from immortality and glory, what have we herein to complain of?
3. Where the remembrance and perplexing sense of past sins is revived by present afflictions, separate them in your minds and deal distinctly about them. So long as you carry on the consideration of them jointly, you will be rolled from one to another, and never obtain rest unto your souls. They will mutually aggravate each other. The sharpness of affliction will add to the bitterness of the sense of sin; and the sense of sin will give an edge to affliction, and cause it to pierce deeply into the soul, as we showed in the former instances. Deal, therefore, distinctly about them, and in their proper order. So doth the psalmist here. He had at present both upon him; and together they brought him into these depths, concerning which he so cries out for deliverance from them: see Ps. xxxii. 3-5. And what course doth he take? He applies himself in the first place to his sin and the guilt of it, and that distinctly and separately. And when he hath. got a discharge of sin, which he
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waited so earnestly for, his faith quickly arose above his outward trials, as appears in his blessed close of all: "' He shall redeem Israel out of all his trouble;' the whole Israel of God, and myself amongst them. " This do, then -- Single out the sin or sins that are revived in the sense of their guilt upon the conscience; use all diligence to come to an issue about them in the blood of Christ This God by your affliction calls you unto. This is the disease, whereof your trouble is but the symptom. This, therefore, in the cure you seek after, is first and principally to be attended unto; when that is once removed, the other, as to any prejudice unto your soul, will depart of itself. The root being once digged up, you shall not long feed on the bitter fruit that it hath brought forth; or if you do, the wormwood shall be taken out of it, and it shall be very pleasant unto you, as well as wholesome. How this is to be done, by an application unto God for forgiveness, hath been at large declared. But if men will deal with confused thoughts about their sins and their troubles, their wound will be incurable and their sorrow endless.
4. Remember that a time of affliction is a time of temptation. Satan, as we have showed, will not be wanting unto any appearing opportunity or advantage of setting upon the soul. When Pharaoh heard that the people were entangled in the wilderness, he pursued them; and when Satan sees a soul entangled with its distresses and troubles, he thinks it his time and hour to assault it. He seeks to winnow, and comes when the corn is under the flail. Reckon, therefore, that when trouble cometh, the prince of the world cometh also, that you may be provided for him. Now is the time to take the shield of faith, that we may be able to quench his fiery darts. If they be neglected, they will inflame the soul. Watch, therefore, and pray, that you enter not into temptation, that Satan do not represent God falsely unto you. He that durst represent Job falsely to the all-seeing God will with much boldness represent God falsely unto us, who see and know so little. Be not, then, ignorant of his devices, but every way set yourselves against his interposing between God and your souls in a matter which he hath nothing to do withal. Let not this make-bate by any means inflame the difference.
5. Learn to distinguish the effect of natural distempers from spiritual distresses. Some have sad, dark, and tenacious thoughts fixed on their minds from their natural distempers. These will not be cured by reasonings, nor utterly quelled by faith. Our design must be, to abate their efficacy and consequents by considering their occasions. And if men cannot do this in themselves, it is highly incumbent on those who make application of relief unto them to be careful to discern what is from such principles, whereof they are not to expect a speedy cure. And, --
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6. Take heed in times of peace and ease that you lay not up, by your negligence or careless walking, sad provision for a day of darkness, a time of afflictions. It is sin that imbitters troubles; the sins of peace are revived in time of distress. Fear of future affliction, of impendent troubles, should make us careful not to bring that into them which will make them hitter and sorrowful.
7. Labour to grow better under all your afflictions, lest your afflictions grow worse, lest God mingle them with more darkness, bitterness, and terror. As Joab said unto David, if he ceased not his scandalous lamentation on the death of Absalom, all the people would leave him, and he then should find himself in a far worse condition than that which he bemoaned, or any thing that befell him from his youth; -- the same may be said unto persons under their afflictions. If they are not managed and improved in a due manner, that which is worse may, nay, in all probability will, befall them. Wherever God takes this way, and engageth in afflicting, he doth commonly pursue his work until he hath prevailed, and his design towards the afflicted party be accomplished. He will not cease to thresh and break the bread-corn until it be meet for his use. Lay down, then, the weapons of thy warfare against him; give up yourselves to his will; let go every thing about which he contends with you; follow after that which he calls you unto; and you will find light arising unto you in the midst of darkness. Hath he a cup of affliction in one hand.? -- lift up your eyes, and you will see a cup of consolation in another. And if all stars withdraw their light whilst you are in the way of God, assure yourselves that the sun is ready to rise.
8. According to the tenor of the covenant of grace, a man may be sensible of the respect of affliction unto sin, yea, unto this or that sin in particular, and yet have a comfortable persuasion of the forgiveness of sin. Thus it was in general in God's dealing with his people. He "forgave them, " but he "took vengeance of their inventions, " Ps. xcix. 8. Whatever they suffered under the vengeance that fell upon their inventions (and that is as hard a word as is applied anywhere unto God's dealing with his people), yet, at the same time, he assured them of the pardon of their sin. So, you know, was the case of David. His greatest trial and affliction, and that which befell him on the account of a particular sin, and wherein God took vengeance on his invention, was ushered in with a word of grace, -- that God had done away or pardoned his sin, and that he should not die. This is expressed in the tenor of the covenant with the seed of Christ, Ps. lxxxix. 31-34.
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Objections against believing from things internal -- The person knows not whether he be regenerate or no -- State of regeneration asserted -- Difference of saving and common grace -- This difference discernible -- Men may know themselves to he regenerate -- The objection answered.
ANOTHER head of objections and despondencies ariseth from things internal, -- things that are required in the soul, that it may have an interest in the forgiveness that is with God, some whereof we shall speak unto. And these respect, first, the state of the soul; and, secondly, some actings in the soul.
First, As to the state. Say some, "Unless a man be regenerate and born again, he is not, he cannot be made partaker of mercy and pardon. Now, all things here are in the dark unto us; for, first, we know not well what this regeneration is, and it is variously disputed amongst men. Some would place it only in the outward signs of our initiation into Christ, and some otherwise express it. Again, it is uncertain whether those that are regenerate do or may know that they are so, or whether this may be in any measure known unto others with whom they may treat about it. And if it may not be known, we must be uncertain in this also. And then, it may be, for their parts, they neither know the time when, nor the manner how, any such work was wrought in them; and yet, without this, seeing it is wrought by means, and springs from certain causes, they can have no establishment in a not-failing persuasion of their acceptance with God by the pardon of their sins in the blood of Christ. " This is the head and sum of most of the objections which perplexed souls do manage against themselves as to their state and condition. Hence, indeed, they draw forth reasonings with great variety, according as they are suggested by their particular occasions and temptations. And many proofs, taken from their sins, miscarriages, and fears, do they enforce their objections withal. My purpose is, to lay down some general rules and principles, which may be applied unto particular occasions and emergencies; and this shall be done in answer to the several parts of the general objection mentioned before. I say, then, --
1. It is most certain that there are two estates and conditions that divide all mankind, and every one that lives in the world doth completely and absolutely belong unto one of them. These are, the state of nature and the state of grace, -- of sin and of righteousness by Christ. Every man in the world belongs unto one of these states or conditions. This the Scripture so abounds in that it seems to be the first principal thing that we are taught in it. It is as clear that there are two different states in this world as that there are so in
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that to come. Yea, all our faith and obedience depend on this truth; and not only so, but the covenant of God, the mediation of Christ, and all the promises and threats of the law and gospel, are built on this supposition. And this lays naked unto a spiritual eye. that abounding atheism that is in the world. Men are not only, like Nicodemus, ignorant of these things, and wonder how they can be, but they scorn them, despise them, scoff at them. To make mention of being regenerate is exposed to reproach in the world. But whether men will or no, unto one of these conditions they must belong.
2. As these two estates differ morally in themselves, and physically in the causes constitutive of that difference, so there is a specifical difference between the things that place men in the one condition and in the other. Whatever there is of goodness, virtue, duty, grace, in an unregenerate person, there is in him that is regenerate somewhat of another kind that is not in the other at all. For the difference of these states themselves, it is plain in Scripture; -- the one is a state of death, the other of life; the one of darkness, the other of light; the one of enmity against God, the other of reconciliation with him. And that the one state is constituted by that of grace, which is of a peculiar kind, and which is not in the other, I shall briefly declare --
(1.) The grace of regeneration proceedeth from an especial spring and fountain, which emptieth much of its living waters into it, no one drop whereof falls on them that are not regenerate. This is electing love; it is given out in the pursuit of the decree of election: "God hath chosen us that we should be holy, " Eph. i. 4. Our holiness, whose only spring is our regeneration, is an effect of our election, -- that which God works in our souls, in the pursuit of his eternal purpose of love and good-will towards us. So again saith the apostle, 2 Thess. ii. 13, "God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit. " God having designed us unto salvation as the end, hath also appointed the sanctification of the Spirit to be the means to bring us orderly unto the attainment of that end. But the best of common grace or gifts that may be in men unregenerate are but products of the providence of God, ordering all things in general unto his own glory and the good of them that shall be heirs of salvation. They are not fruits of electing eternal love, nor designed means for the infallible attaining of eternal salvation.
(2.) The graces of those that are regenerate have a manifold respect or relation to the Lord Christ, that the common graces of others have not. I shall name one or two of these respects: -- First, They have an especial moral relation to the mediatory acts of Christ
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in his oblation and intercession. Especial grace is an especial part of the purchase of Christ by his death and blood-shedding. He made a double purchase of his elect; -- of their persons, to be his; of especial grace, to be theirs: "He gave himself for the church, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it unto himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish, " Eph. v. 25-27. The design of Christ in giving himself for his church was, to procure for it that especial grace whereby, through the use of means, it might be regenerate, sanctified, and purified: so Tit. ii. 14, "He gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. " Real purification in grace and holiness hath this especial relation unto the death of Christ, that he designed therein to procure it for them for whom he died; and in the pursuit of his purchase or acquisition of it, his purpose was really to bestow it upon them, or effectually to work it in them. Moreover, it hath an especial relation unto his intercession, and that in a distinguishing manner from any other gifts or common graces that other men may receive. Giving us the rule and pattern of his intercession, John xvii., he tells us that he so prays not for the world, but for his elect, those which the Father had given him; because they were his, verse 9. And what is it that he prays for them, in distinction from all other men whatever? Amongst others this is one principal thing that he insists on, verse 17, "Sanctify them through thy truth. " Their sanctification and holiness is granted upon that prayer and intercession of Christ; which is peculiar unto them, with an exclusion of all others: "I pray for them; I pray not for the world. " Now, the common grace of unregenerate persons, whereby they are distinguished from other men, whatever it be, it hath not this especial relation to the oblation and intercession of Christ. Common grace is not the procurement of especial intercession.
Secondly, They have a real relation unto Christ, as he is the living, quickening head of the church; for he is so, even the living spiritual fountain of the spiritual life of it, and of all vital acts whatever: "Christ is our life; and our life is hid with him in God, " Col. iii. 2, 3. That eternal life which consists in the knowledge of the Father and the Son, John xvii. 3, is in him as the cause, head, spring, and fountain of it. In him it is in its fulness, and from thence it is derived unto all that believe, who receive from his fulness "grace for grace, " John i. 16. All true, saving, sanctifying grace, all spiritual life, and every thing that belongs thereunto, is derived directly from Christ, as the living head of his church and fountain of all spiritual life unto them. This the apostle expresseth,
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Eph. iv. 15, 16, "Speaking the truth in love, grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love. " To the same purpose he again expresseth the same matter, Col. ii. 19. All grace in the whole body comes from the head, Christ Jesus; and there is no growth or furtherance of it but by his effectual working in every part, to bring it unto the measure designed unto it. Nothing, then, no, not the least of this grace, can be obtained but by virtue of our union unto Christ as our head; because it consists in a vital, effectual influence from him and his fulness. And this kind of relation unto Christ, all grace that is or may be in unregenerate men is incapable of.
(3.) The grace of regeneration and the fruits of it are administered in and by the covenant. This is the promise of the covenant, that God will write his law in our hearts, and put his fear in our inward parts, that we shall not depart from him, Jer. xxxi. This is that grace whereof we speak, whatever it be, or of what kind soever. It is bestowed on none but those who are taken into covenant with God; for unto them alone it is promised, and by virtue thereof is it wrought in and upon their souls. Now, all unregenerate men are strangers from the covenant, and are not made partakers of that grace which is peculiarly and only promised thereby and exhibited therein.
(4.) The least spark of saving, regenerating grace is wrought in the soul by the Holy Ghost, as given unto men to dwell in them and to abide with them. He is the water given by Jesus Christ unto believers, which is in them "a well of water springing up into everlasting life, " John iv. 14. First they receive the water, the spring itself, that is, the Holy Spirit, -- and from thence living waters do arise up in them; they are wrought, effected, produced by the Spirit, which is given unto them. Now, although the common gifts and graces of men unregenerate are effects of the power of the Holy Ghost wrought in them and bestowed on them, as are all other works of God's providence, yet it doth not work in them, as received by them, to dwell in them and abide with them, as a never-failing spring of spiritual life; for our Saviour says expressly that the world, or unbelievers, do not know the Spirit, nor can receive him, or have him abiding in them; -- all which, in a contradistinction unto all unregenerate persons, are affirmed of all them that do believe.
(5.) The least of saving grace, such as is peculiar unto them that are regenerate, is spirit: John iii. 6, "That which is born of the Spirit is spirit. " Whatever it is that is so born, it is spirit; it hath a spiritual being, and it is not educible by any means out of the principles of
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nature. So it is said to be a "new creature, " 2 Cor. v. 17. Be it never so little or so great, however it may differ in degrees in one and in another, yet the nature of it is the same in all, -- it is a "new creature. " As the least worm of the earth, in the order of the old creation, is no less a creature than the sun, yea, or the most glorious angel in heaven; so, in the order of the new creation, the least spark or dram of true grace that is from the sanctifying Spirit is a new creature, no less than the highest faith or love that ever was in the chiefest of the apostles. Now, that which is spirit, and that which is not spirit, -- that which hath a new spiritual being, and that which hath none, -- whatever appearance of agreement there may be among them, do yet differ specifically from one another. And thus it is with the saving grace that is in a regenerate, and those common graces that are in others which are not so. So that as these are divers states, so they are eminently different and distinct the one from the other. And this answers the second thing laid down in the objections taken from the uncertainty of these states and of regeneration itself, and the real difference of it from the contrary state, which is exclusive of an interest in forgiveness.
3. This is laid down in the inquiry, " Whether this state may be known unto him who is really partaker of it or translated into it, or unto others that may be concerned therein?" To which I say, The difference that is between these two states, and the constitutive causes of them, as it is real, so it is discernible. It may be known by themselves who are in those states, and others. It may be known who are born of God, and who are yet children of the devil, -- who are quickened by Christ, and who are yet "dead in trespasses and sins. " But here also observe, --
(1.) That I do not say this is always known to the persons themselves concerned in this distribution. Many cry, "Peace, peace, " when sudden destruction is at hand. These either think themselves regenerate when they are not, or else wilfully despise the consideration of what is required in them that they may have peace, and so delude their own souls unto their ruin. And many that are truly born of God yet know it not; they may for a season walk in darkness, and have no light. Nor, --
(2.) That this is always known to others. It is not known unto unregenerate men in respect of them that are so; for they know not really and substantially what it is to be so. Natural men perceive not the things of God; that is, spiritually, in their own light and nature, 1 Cor. ii. And as they cannot aright discern the things which put men into that condition (for they are foolishness unto them), so they cannot judge aright of their persons in whom they are. And if they do at any time judge aright notionally concerning any things or
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persons, yet they do not judge so upon right grounds, nor with any evidence in or unto themselves of what they do judge. Wherefore generally they judge amiss of such persons; and because they make profession of somewhat which they find not in themselves, they judge them hypocrites, and false pretenders unto what is not: for those things which evince their union with Christ, and which evidence their being born of God, they savour them not, nor can receive them. Nor is this always known unto or discerned by them that are regenerate. They may sometimes, with Peter, think Simon Magus to be a true believer, or, with Eli, an Hannah to be a daughter of Belial. Many hypocrites are set forth with gifts, common graces, light, and profession, so that they pass amongst all believers for such as are born of God; and many poor saints may be so disguised, under darkness, temptation, sin, as to be looked on as strangers from that family whereunto indeed they do belong. The judgment of man may fail, but the judgment of God is according unto righteousness. Wherefore, --
(3.) This is that we say, It may be known, in the sedulous use of means appointed for that end, to a man's self and others, which of the conditions mentioned he doth belong unto, that is, whether he be regenerate or no, -- so far as his or their concernment lies therein. This, I say, may be known, and that infallibly and assuredly, with reference unto any duty wherein from hence we are concerned. The discharge of some duties in ourselves and towards others depends on this knowledge; and therefore we may attain it so far as it is necessary for the discharge of such duties unto the glory of God. Now, because it is not directly in our way, yet having been mentioned, I shall briefly, in our passage, touch upon the latter, or what duties do depend upon our judging of others to be regenerate, and the way or principles whereby such a judgment may be made --
[1.] There are many duties incumbent on us to be performed with and towards professors, which, without admitting a judgment to be made of their state and condition, cannot be performed in faith. And in reference unto these duties alone it is that we are called to judge the state of others; for we are not giving countenance unto a rash, uncharitable censuring of men's spiritual conditions, nor unto any judging of any men, any other than what our own duty towards them doth indispensably require. Thus, if we are to "lay down our lives for the brethren, " it is very meet we should so far know them so to be as that we may hazard our lives in faith when we are called thereunto. We are also to join with them in those ordinances wherein we make a solemn profession that we are members of the same body with them, that we have the same Head, the same Spirit, faith, and love. We must love them because they are begotten of God,
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children of our heavenly Father; and therefore must on some good ground believe them so to be. In a word, the due performance of all principal mutual gospel duties, to the glory of God and our own edification, depends on this supposition, that we may have such a satisfying persuasion concerning the spiritual condition of others as that from thence we may take our aim in what we do.
[2.] For the grounds hereof I shall mention one only, which all others do lean upon. This is pressed, 1 Cor. xii. 12, 13, "As the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. " They are all united unto and hold of one head; for as are the members of the body natural, under one head, so is Christ mystical, that is, all believers, under Christ their head. And this union they have by the inhabitation of the same quickening Spirit which is in Christ their head; and by him they are brought all into the same spiritual state and frame, -- they are made to drink into one and the same Spirit: for this same Spirit produceth the same effects in them all, -- the same in kind, though differing in degrees, -- as the apostle fully declares, Eph. iv. 3-6. And this Spirit is in them, and not in the world, John xvi. And as this gives them a naturalness in their duties one towards another, or in mutual caring for, rejoicing or sorrowing with, one another, as members one of another, 1 Cor. xii. 25, 26; so it reveals and discovers them to each other so far as is necessary for the performance of the duties mentioned, in such a manner as becomes members of the same body. There is on this account a spiritually natural answering of one to another, as face answereth face in the water. They can see and discern that in others whereof they have experience in themselves, -- they can taste and relish that in others which they feed upon in themselves, and wherein the lives of their souls do consist; the same Spirit of life being in them, they have the same spiritual taste and savour. And unless their palates are distempered by temptations, or false opinions, or prejudices, they can in their communion taste of that Spirit in each other which they are all made to drink into. This gives them the same likeness and image in the inward man, the same heavenly light in their minds, the same affections; and being thus prepared and enabled to judge and discern of the state of each other, in reference unto their mutual duties, they have, moreover, the true rule of the word to judge of all spirits and spiritual effects by. And this is the ground of all that love without dissimulation and real communion that is among the saints of God in this world. But here two cautions must be allowed: --
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(1st.) That we would not judge the state and condition of any men in the world, -- no farther than we are called thereunto in a way of duty; and we are so called only with reference unto the duties that we are to perform towards them. What have we to do to judge them that are without, -- that is, any one that we have not a call to consider in reference unto our own duty? Herein that great rule takes place, "Judge not, that ye be not judged. " Let us leave all men, the worst of men, unless where evident duty requires other actings, to the judgment-seat of God. They are the servants of another, and they stand or fall unto their own master. There have been great miscarriages amongst us in this matter; some have been ready to condemn all that go not along with them in every principle, yea, opinion or practice. And every day slight occasions and provocations are made the grounds and reasons of severe censures; but nothing is more contrary to the conduct of the meek and holy spirit of Christ. This is our rule -- Are we called to act towards any as saints, as living members of the body of Christ, and that in such duties as we cannot perform in faith unless we are persuaded that so they are? -- then are we, on the grounds and by the ways before mentioned, to satisfy ourselves in one another.
(2dly.) Do we endeavour mutually to discern the condition of one another in reference unto such ends? -- let us be sure to look unto and pursue those ends when we have attained our satisfaction. What these ends are hath been showed. It is, that we may love them without dissimulation, as members of the same mystical body with us; that we may naturally take care of them, and for them; that we may delight sincerely in them; that we may minister unto their wants, temporal and spiritual; that we may watch over them with pity and compassion. These and the like are the only ends for which we are at any time called to the consideration of the spiritual condition of one another; if these be neglected, the other is useless. And here lies a great aggravation of that neglect, in that such a way is made for the avoidance of it. Here lies the life or death of all church society. All church society and relation is built on this supposition, that the members of it are all regenerate. Some lay this foundation in baptism only, professing that all that are baptized are regenerate; others require a farther satisfaction, in the real work itself; but all build on the same foundation, that all church members are to be regenerate. And to what end is this? Namely, that they may all mutually perform those duties one towards another which are incumbent mutually on regenerate persona If these are omitted, there is an end of all profitable use of church society. Churches without this are but mere husks and shells of churches, carcases without souls; for as there is no real union unto Christ without faith, so there is
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no real union among the members of any church without love, and that acting itself in all the duties mentioned. Let not this ordinance be in vain.
But we must return from this digression to that which lies before us, which is concerning what a man may discern concerning his own being regenerate or born again. I say, then, --
Secondly, Men may come to an assured, satisfactory persuasion that themselves are regenerate, and that such as is so far infallible as that it will not deceive them when it is brought to the trial. For there are many duties whose performance in faith, unto the glory of God and the edification of our own souls, doth depend on this persuasion and conviction; as, --
1. A due sense of our relation unto God, and an answerable comportment of our spirits and hearts towards him. He that is born again is born of God; he is begotten of God by the immortal seed of the word. Without a persuasion hereof, how can a man on grounds of faith carry himself towards God as his Father? And how great a part of our obedience towards him and communion with him depends hereon, we all know. If men fluctuate all their days in this matter, if they come to no settlement in it, no comfortable persuasion of it, they scarce ever act any genuine childlike acts of love or delight towards God, which exceedingly impeacheth their whole obedience.
2. Thankfulness for grace received is one of the principal duties that is incumbent on believers in this world. Now, how can a man in faith bless God for that which he is utterly uncertain whether he have received it from him or no? I know some men run on in a rote in this matter. They will bless God in a formal way for regeneration, sanctification, justification, and the like; but if you ask them whether themselves are regenerate or no, they will be ready to scoff at it, or at least to profess that they know no such thing. What is this but to mock God, and in a presumptuous manner to take his name in vain? But if we will praise God as we ought for his grace, as we are guided and directed in the Scripture, as the nature of the matter requires, with such a frame of heart as may influence our whole obedience, surely it cannot but be our duty to know the grace that we have received.
3. Again: the main of our spiritual watch and diligence consisteth in the cherishing, improving, and increasing of the grace that we have received, the strengthening of the new creature that is wrought in us. Herein consists principally the life of faith, and the exercise of that spiritual wisdom which faith furnisheth the soul withal. Now, how can any man apply himself hereunto whilst he is altogether uncertain whether he hath received any principle of
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living, saving grace, or no? Whereas, therefore, God requires our utmost diligence, watchfulness, and care in this matter it is certain that he requires also of us, and grants unto us, that which is the foundation of all these duties, which lies in an acquaintance with that state and condition whereunto we do belong. In brief, there is nothing we have to do, in reference unto eternity, but one way or other it hath a respect unto our light and convictions, as to our state and condition in this world; and those who are negligent in the trial' and examination thereof do leave all things between God and their souls at absolute uncertainties and dubious hazards, which is not to lead the life of faith.
We shall now, upon these premises, return unto that part of the objection which is under consideration. Say some, "We know not whether we are regenerate or no, and are therefore altogether uncertain whether we have an interest in that forgiveness that is with God; nor dare we, on that account, admit of the consolation that is tendered on the truth insisted on."
Supposing what hath been spoken in general, I shall lay down the grounds of resolving this perplexing doubt in the ensuing rules: --
See that the persuasion and assurance hereof which you look after and desire be regular, and not such as is suited merely unto your own imaginations. Our second and third general rules about the nature of all spiritual assurance, and what is consistent therewithal, are here to be taken into consideration. If you look to have such an evidence, light into, and absolute conviction of, this matter, as shall admit of no doubts, fears, questionings, just occasions and causes of new trials, teachings, and self-examinations, you will be greatly deceived. Regeneration induceth a new principle into the soul, but it doth not utterly expel the old; some would have security, not assurance. The principle of sin and unbelief will still abide in us, and still work in us. Their abiding and their acting must needs put the soul upon a severe inquiry, whether they are not prevalent in it beyond what the condition of regeneration will admit. The constant conflicts we must have with sin will not suffer us to have always so clear an evidence of our condition as we would desire. Such a persuasion as is prevalent against strong objections to the contrary, keeping up the heart to a due performance of those duties in faith which belong unto the state of regeneration, is the substance of what in this kind you are to look after.
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If you are doubtful concerning your state and condition, do not expect an extraordinary determination of it by an immediate testimony of the Spirit of God. I do grant that God doth sometimes, by this means, bring in peace and satisfaction unto the soul. He gives his own Spirit immediately "to bear witness with ours that we are the children of God," both upon the account of regeneration and adoption. He doth so; but, as far as we can observe, in a way of sovereignty, when and to whom he pleaseth. Besides, that men may content and satisfy themselves with his ordinary teachings, consolations, and communications of his grace, he hath left the nature of that peculiar testimony of the Spirit very dark and difficult to be found out, few agreeing wherein it doth consist or what is the nature of it. No one man's experience is a rule unto others, and an undue apprehension of it is a matter of great danger. Yet it is certain that humble souls in extraordinary cases may have recourse unto it with benefit and relief thereby. This, then, you may desire, you may pray for, but not with such a frame of spirit as to refuse that other satisfaction which in the ways of truth and peace you may find. This is the putting of the hand into the side of Christ; but "blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed."
If you have at any time formerly received any especial or immediate pledge or testimony of God, given unto your souls as unto their sincerity, and consequently their regeneration, labour to recover it, and to revive a sense of it upon your spirits now in your darkness and trouble. I am persuaded there are but few believers, but that God doth, at one time or other, in one duty or other, entering into or coming out of one temptation or another, give some singular testimony unto their own souls and consciences concerning their sincerity and his acceptance of them. Sometimes he doth this in a duty, wherein he hath enabled the soul to make so near an approach unto him as that it hath been warmed, enlivened, sweetened, satisfied with the presence, the gracious presence, of God, and which God hath made unto him as a token of his uprightness; -- sometimes, when a man is entering into any great temptation, trial, difficult or dangerous duty, that death itself is feared in it, God comes in, by one means or other, by a secret intimation of his love, which he
Ver. 4.] RULES FOR JUDGING AS TO INHERENT GRACE. 595
gives him to take along with him for his furniture and provision in his way, and thereby testifies to him his sincerity; and this serves, like the food of Elijah, for forty days in a wilderness condition; -- sometimes he is pleased to shine immediately into the soul in the midst of its darkness and sorrow; wherewith it is surprised, as not looking for any such expression of kindness, and is thereby relieved against its own pressing self-condemnation; -- and sometimes the Lord is pleased to give these tokens of love unto the soul as its refreshment, when it is coming off from the storm of temptations wherewith it has been tossed. And many other times and seasons there are wherein God is pleased to give unto believers some especial testimony in their consciences unto their own integrity. But now these are all wrought by a transient operation of the Spirit, exciting and enabling the heart unto a spiritual, sensible apprehension and receiving of God's expressing kindness towards it. These things abide not in their sense and in their power which they have upon our affections, but immediately pass away. They are, therefore, to be treasured up in the mind and judgment, to be improved and made use of by faith, as occasion shall require. But we are apt to lose them. Most know no other use of them but whilst they feel them; yea, through ignorance in our duty to improve them, they prove like a sudden light brought into a dark place and again removed, which seems to increase, and really aggravates, our sense of the darkness. The true use of them is, to lay them up and ponder them in our hearts, that they may be supportments and testimonies unto us in a time of need. Have you, then, who are now in the dark as to your state or condition, whether you are regenerate or no, ever received any such refreshing and cheering testimony from God given unto your integrity, and your acceptance with him thereupon? Call it over again, and make use of it against those discouragements which arise from your present darkness in this matter, and which keep you off from sharing in the consolation tendered unto you in this word of grace.
A due spiritual consideration of the causes and effects of regeneration is the ordinary way and means whereby the souls of believers come to be satisfied concerning that work of God in them and upon them. The principle or causes of this work are, the Spirit and the word. He that is born again, "is born of the Spirit, " John iii. 6; and of the word, "Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth,"
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James i. 18; "We are born again by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever, " 1 Pet. i. 23. Wherever, then, a man is regenerate, there hath been an effectual work of the Spirit and of the word upon the soul. This is to be inquired into and after. Ordinarily it will discover itself. Such impressions will be made in it upon the soul, such a change will be wrought and produced in it, as will not escape a spiritual diligent search and inquiry. And this is much of the duty of such as are in the dark, and uncertain concerning the accomplishment of this work in themselves. Let them call to mind what have been the actings of the Spirit by the word upon their souls; what light thereby hath been communicated unto their minds; what discoveries of the Lord Christ and way of salvation have been made to them; what sense and detestation of sin have been wrought in them; what satisfaction hath been given unto the soul, to choose, accept, and acquiesce in the righteousness of Christ; what resignation of the heart unto God, according to the tenor of the covenant of grace, it hath been wrought unto. Call to mind what transactions there have been between God and your souls about these things; how far they have been carried on; whether you have broken off the treaty with God, and refused his terms, or if not, where the stay is between you; and what is the reason, since God hath graciously begun to deal thus with you, that you are not yet. come to a thorough close with him in the work and design of his grace? The defect must of necessity lie on your parts God doth nothing in vain. Had he not been willing to receive you, he would not have dealt with you so far as he hath done. There is nothing, then, remains to firm your condition but a resolved act of your own wills in answering the mind and will of God. And by this search may the soul come to satisfaction in this matter, or at least find out and discover where the stick is whence their uncertainty doth arise, and what is wanting to complete their desire.
Again: this work may be discovered by its effects. There is something that is produced by it in the soul, which may also be considered either with respect unto its being and existence, or unto its actings and operations In the first regard it is spirit: John iii. 6, "That which is born of the Spirit, " which is produced by the effectual operation of the Spirit of God, it "is spirit, " -- " a new creature, " 2 Cor. v 17. He that is in Christ Jesus, who is born again, is a new creature, a, new life, a spiritual life, Gal. ii. 20; Eph. ii. 1. In brief, it is an habitual furnishment of all the faculties of the soul with new spiritual, vital principles, enabling a person in all instances of obedience to lead a spiritual life unto God. This principle is by this work produced in the soul. And in respect of its actings, it consists in all the gracious operations of the mind, will, heart, or affec-
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tions, in the duties of obedience which God hath required of us This is that which gives life unto our duties (without which the best of our works are but dead works), and renders them acceptable unto the living God. It is not my business at large to pursue and declare these things; I only mention them, that persons who are kept back from a participation of the consolation tendered from the forgiveness that is with God, because they cannot comfortably conclude that they are born again, as knowing that it is such persons alone unto whom these consolations do truly and really belong, may know how to make a right judgment of themselves. Let such persons, then, not fluctuate up and down in generals and uncertainties, with heartless complaints, which is the ruin of the peace of their souls; but let them really put things to the trial, by the examination of the causes and effects of the work they inquire after. It is by the use of such means whereby God will be' pleased to give them all the assurance and establishment concerning their state and condition which is needful for them, and which may give them encouragement in their course of obedience.
But supposing all that hath been spoken, what if a man, by the utmost search and inquiry that he is able to make, cannot attain any satisfactory persuasion that indeed this great work of God's grace hath passed upon his soul; is this a sufficient ground to keep him off from accepting of supportment and consolation from this truth, that there is forgiveness with God? which is the design of the objection laid down before. I say therefore farther, that, --
1. Regeneration doth not in order of time precede the soul's interest in the forgiveness that is with God, or its being made partaker of the pardon of sin. I say no more but that it doth not precede it in order of time, not determining which hath precedency in order of nature. That, I confess, which the method of the gospel leads unto is, that absolution, acquitment, or the pardon of sin, is the foundation of the communication of all saving grace unto the soul, and so precedeth all grace in the sinner whatever. But because this absolution or pardon of sin is to be received by faith, whereby the soul is really made partaker of it and all the benefits belonging thereunto, and that faith is the radical grace which we receive in our regeneration, -- for it is by faith that our hearts are purified, as an instrument in the hand of the great purifier, the Spirit of God, -- I place these two together, and shall not dispute as to their priority in nature; but in time the one doth not precede the other.
2. It is hence evident, that an assurance of being regenerate is no way previously necessary unto the believing of an interest in forgiveness; so that although a man have not the former, it is, or may be, his duty to endeavour the latter. When convinced persons
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cried out, "What shall we do to be saved?" the answer was, "Believe, and ye shall be so. " "Believe in Christ, and in the remission of sin by his blood, " is the first thing that convinced sinners are called unto. They are not directed first to secure their souls that they are born again, and then afterward to believe; but they are first to believe that the remission of sin is tendered unto them in the blood of Christ, and that "by him they may be justified from all things from which they could not be justified by the law. " Nor upon this proposition is it the duty of men to question whether they have faith or no, but actually to believe. And faith in its operation will evidence itself. See Acts xiii. 38, 39. Suppose, then, that you do not know that you are regenerate, that you are born of God, -- that you have no prevailing, refreshing, constant evidence or persuasion thereof, -- should this hinder you? should this discourage you from believing forgiveness, from dosing with the promises, and thereby obtaining in yourselves an interest in that forgiveness that is with God? Not at all; nay, this ought exceedingly to excite and stir you up unto your duty herein: for, --
(1.) Suppose that it is otherwise, -- that, indeed, you are yet in the state of sin, and are only brought under the power of light and conviction, -- this is the way for a translation into an estate of spiritual life and grace. If you will forbear the acting of faith upon and for forgiveness until you are regenerate, you may, and probably you will, come short both of forgiveness and regeneration also. Here lay your foundation, and then your building will go on. This will open the door unto you, and give you an entrance into the kingdom of God. Christ is the door; do not think to climb up over the wall; enter by him, or you will be kept out.
(2.) Suppose that you are born again, but yet know it not, -- as is the condition of many, -- this is a way whereby you may receive an evidence thereof. It is good, the embracing of all signs, tokens, and pledges of our spiritual condition, and it is so to improve them; but the best course is, to follow the genuine natural actings of faith, which will lead us into the most settled apprehensions concerning our relation unto God and acceptance with him. Believe first the forgiveness of sin as the effect of mere grace and mercy in Christ. Let the faith hereof be nourished and strengthened in your souls. This will insensibly influence your hearts into a comforting gospel persuasion of your state and condition towards God; which will be accompanied with assured rest and peace.
To wind up this discourse -- Remember that that which hath been spoken with reference unto the state of regeneration in general may be applied unto every particular objection or cause of fear and discouragement that may be reduced to that head. Such are all ob-
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jections that arise from particular sins, from aggravations of sins by their greatness or circumstances, or relapses into them. The way that the consideration of these things prevails upon the mind unto fear, is by begetting an apprehension in men that they are not regenerate; for if they were, they suppose they could not be so overtaken or entangled. The rules thereof laid down are suited to the straits of the souls of sinners in all such particular cases.
Lastly, There was somewhat in particular added in the close of the objection, which, although it be not directly in our way nor of any great importance in itself, yet having been mentioned, it is not unmeet to remove it out of the way, that it may not leave entanglement upon the minds of any. Now this is, that some know not nor can give an account of the time of their conversion unto God, and therefore cannot be satisfied that the saving work of his grace hath passed upon them. This is usually and ordinarily spoken unto; and I shall therefore briefly give an account concerning it: --
1. It hath been showed that, in this matter, there are many things whereon we may regularly found a judgment concerning ourselves, and it is great folly to waive them all, and put the issue of the matter upon one circumstance. If a man have a trial at law, wherein he hath many evidences speaking for him, only one circumstance is dubious and in question, he will not cast the weight of his cause on that disputed circumstance, but will plead those evidences that are more clear and testify more fully in his behalf. I will not deny but that this matter of the time of conversion is ofttimes an important circumstance, -- in the affirmative, when it is known, it is of great use, tending to stability and consolation; -- but yet it is still but a circumstance, such as that the being of the thing itself doth not depend upon. He that is alive may know that he was born, though he know neither the place where nor the time when he was so; and so may he that is spiritually alive, and hath ground of evidence that he is so, that he was born again, though he know neither when, nor where, nor how. And this case is usual in persons of quiet natural tempers, who have had the advantage of education under means of light and grace. God ofttimes, in such persons, begins and carries on the work of his grace insensibly, so that they come to good growth and maturity before they know that they are alive. Such persons come at length to be satisfied in saying, with the blind man in the gospel, "How our eyes were opened we know not; only one thing we know, whereas we were blind by nature, now we see."
2. Even in this matter also, we must, it may be, be content to live by faith, and to believe as well what God hath done in us, if it be the matter and subject of his promises, as what he hath done for us; the ground whereof also is the promise, and nothing else.
600 AN EXPOSITION UPON PSALM CXXX. [Ver. 4.
Objections from the present state and condition of the soul -- Weakness and imperfection of duty -- Opposition from indwelling sin.
THIRDLY. There is another head of objections against the soul's receiving consolation from an interest in forgiveness, arising from the consideration of its present state and condition as to actual holiness, duties, and sins. Souls complain, when in darkness and under temptations, that they cannot find that holiness, nor those fruits of it in themselves, which they suppose an interest in pardoning mercy will produce. Their hearts they find are weak, and all their duties worthless. If they were weighed in the balance, they would be all found too light. In the best of them there is such a mixture of self, hypocrisy, unbelief, vain-glory, that they are even ashamed and confounded with the remembrance of them. These things fill them with discouragements, so that they refuse to be comforted or to entertain any refreshing persuasion from the truth insisted on, but rather conclude that. they are utter strangers from that forgiveness that is with God, and so continue helpless in their depths.
According unto the method proposed, and hitherto pursued, I shall only lay down some such general rules as may support a soul under the despondencies that are apt in such a condition to befall it, that none of these things may weaken it in its endeavour to lay hold of forgiveness. And, --
1. This is the proper place to put in execution our eighth rule, to take heed of heartless complaints when vigorous actings of grace are expected at our hands. If it be thus, indeed, why lie you on your faces? why do you not rise and put out yourselves to the utmost, giving all diligence to add one grace to another, until you find yourselves in a better frame? Supposing, then, the putting of that rule into practice, I add, --
(1.) That known holiness is apt to degenerate into self-righteousness. What God gives us on the account of sanctification we are ready enough to reckon on the score of justification. It is a hard thing to feel grace, and to believe as if there were none. We have so much of the Pharisee in us by nature, that it is sometimes well that our good is hid from us. We are ready to take our corn and wine and bestow them on other lovers. Were there not in our hearts a spiritually sensible principle of corruption, and in our duties a discernible mixture of self, it would be impossible we should walk so humbly as is required of them who hold communion with God in a covenant of grace and pardoning mercy. It is a good life which is attended with a faith of righteousness and a sense of corruption. Whilst I know Christ's righteousness, I shall the less care to know
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my own holiness. To be holy is necessary; to know it, sometimes a temptation
(2.) Even duties of God's appointment, when turned into self-righteousness, are God's great abhorrency, Isa. lxvi. 2, 3. What hath a good original may be vitiated by a bad end.
(3.) Oftentimes holiness in the heart is more known by the opposition that is made there to it, than by its own prevalent working. The Spirit's operation is known by the flesh's opposition. We find a man's strength by the burdens he carries, and not the pace that he goes. "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" is a better evidence of grace and holiness than "God, I thank thee I am not as other men. " A heart pressed, grieved, burdened, not by the guilt of sin only, which reflects with trouble on an awakened conscience, but by the close, adhering power of indwelling sin, tempting, seducing, soliciting, hindering, captivating, conceiving, restlessly disquieting, may from thence have as clear an evidence of holiness as from a delightful fruit-bearing. What is it that is troubled and grieved in thee? what is it that seems to be almost killed and destroyed; that cries out, complains, longs for deliverance? Is it not the new creature? is it not the principle of spiritual life, whereof thou art partaker? I speak not of troubles and disquietments for sin committed; nor of fears and perturbations of mind lest sin should break forth to loss, shame, ruin, dishonour; nor of the contending of a convinced conscience lest damnation should ensue; -- but of the striving of the Spirit against sin, out of a hatred and a loathing of it, upon all the mixed considerations of love, grace, mercy, fear, the beauty of holiness, excellency of communion with God, that are proposed in the gospel. If thou seemest to thyself to be only passive in these things, to do nothing but to endure the assaults of sin; yet if thou art sensible, and standest under the stroke of it as under the stroke of an enemy, there is the root of the matter. And as it is thus as to the substance and being of holiness, so it is also as to the degrees of it. Degrees of holiness are to be measured more by opposition than self-operation. He may have more grace than another who brings not forth so much fruit as the other, because he hath more opposition, more temptation, Isa. xli. 17. And sense of the want of all is a great sign of somewhat in the soul.
2. As to what was alleged as to the nothingness, the selfishness of duty, I say, it is certain, whilst we are in the flesh, our duties will taste of the vessel whence they proceed. Weakness, defilements, treachery, hypocrisy, will attend them. To this purpose, whatever some pretend to the contrary, is the complaint of the church, Isa. lxiv. 6. The chaff oftentimes is so mixed with the wheat that corn can scarce be discerned. And this know, that the more spiritual any
602 AN EXPOSITION UPON PSALM CXXX. [Ver. 4.
man is, the more he sees of his unspiritualness in his spiritual duties. An outside performance will satisfy an outside Christian. Job abhorred himself most when he knew himself best. The clearer discoveries we have had of God, the viler will every thing of self appear. Nay, farther, duties and performances are oftentimes very ill measured by us; and those seem to be first which indeed are last, and those to be last which indeed are first. I do not doubt but a man, when he hath had distractions to wrestle withal, no outward advantage to farther him, no extraordinary provocation of hope, fear, or sorrow, on a natural account in his duty, may rise from his knees with thoughts that he hath done nothing in his duty but provoked God; when there hath been more workings of grace, in contending with the deadness cast on the soul by the condition that it is in, than when, by a concurrence of moved natural affections and outward provocations, a frame hath been raised that hath, to the party himself, seemed to reach to heaven: so that it may be this perplexity about duties is nothing but what is common to the people of God, and which ought to be no obstruction to peace and settlement.
3. As to the pretence of hypocrisy, you know what is usually answered. It is one thing to do a thing in hypocrisy, another not to do it without a mixture of hypocrisy. Hypocrisy, in its long extent, is every thing that, for matter or manner, comes short of sincerity. Now, our sincerity is no more perfect than our other graces; so that in its measure it abides with us and adheres to all we do. In like manner, it is one thing to do a thing for vain-glory and to be seen of men, another not to be able wholly to keep off the subtle insinuations of self and vain-glory. He that doth a thing in hypocrisy and for vain-glory is satisfied with some corrupt end obtained, though he be sensible that he sought such an end. He that doth a thing with a mixture of hypocrisy, -- that is, with some breaches upon the degrees of his sincerity, with some insensible advancements in performance on outward considerations, -- is not satisfied with a self-end obtained, and is dissatisfied with the defect of his sincerity. In a word, wouldst thou yet be sincere, and dost endeavour so to be in private duties, and in public performances, -- in praying, hearing, giving alms, zealous actings for God's glory and the love of the saints; though these duties are not, it may be, sometimes done without sensible hypocrisy, -- I mean, as traced to its most subtle insinuations of self and vain-glory, -- yet are they not done in hypocrisy, nor do they denominate the persons by whom they are performed hypocrites. Yet I say of this, as of all that is spoken before, it is of use to relieve us under a troubled condition, -- of none to support us or encourage us unto an abode in it.
4. Know that God despiseth not small things. He takes notice of the least breathings of our hearts after him, when we ourselves can
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see nor perceive no such thing. He knows the mind of the Spirit in those workings which are never formed to that height that we can reflect upon them with our observation. Every thing that is of him is noted in his book, though not in ours. He took notice that, when Sarah was acting unbelief towards him, yet that she showed respect and regard to her husband, calling him "lord, " Gen. xviii. 12; 1 Pet. iii. 6. And even whilst his people are sinning, he can find something in their hearts, words, or ways, that pleaseth him; much more in their duties. He is a skilful refiner, that can find much gold in that ore where we see nothing but lead or clay. He remembers the duties which we forget, and forgets the sins which we remember. He justifies our persons, though ungodly; and will also our duties, though not perfectly godly.
5. To give a little farther support in reference unto our wretched, miserable duties, and to them that are in perplexities on that account, know that Jesus Christ takes whatever is evil and unsavoury out of them, and makes them acceptable. When an unskilful servant gathers many herbs, flowers, and weeds in a garden, you gather them out that are useful, and cast the rest out of sight. Christ deals so with our performances. All the ingredients of self that are in them on any account he takes away, and adds incense to what remains, and presents it to God, Exod. xxx. 36. This is the cause that the saints at the last day, when they meet their own duties and performances, they know them not, they are so changed from what they were when they went out of their hand. "Lord, when saw we thee naked or hungry?" So that God accepts a little, and Christ makes our little a great deal.
6. Is this an argument to keep thee from believing? The reason why thou art no more holy is because thou hast no more faith. If thou hast no holiness, it is because thou hast no faith. Holiness is the purifying of the heart by faith, or our obedience unto the truth. And the reason why thou art no more in duty is, because thou art no more in believing. The reason why thy duties are weak and imperfect is, because thy faith is weak and imperfect. Hast thou no holiness? -- believe, that thou mayst have. Hast thou but a little, or that which is imperceptible? -- be steadfast in believing, that thou mayst abound in obedience. Do not resolve not to eat thy meat until thou art strong, when thou hast no means of being strong but by eating thy bread, which strengthens the heart of man.
OBJECTION FOURTH. The powerful tumultuating of indwelling sin or corruption is another cause of the same kind of trouble and despondency. "' They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the lusts thereof. ' But we find, " say some, "several corruptions work-
604 AN EXPOSITION UPON PSALM CXXX. [Ver. 4.
ing effectually in our hearts, carrying us captive to the law of sin. They disquiet with their power as well as with their guilt. Had we been made partakers of the law of the Spirit of life, we had, ere this, been more set free from the law of sin and death. Had sin been pardoned fully, it would have been subdued more effectually. "
There are three considerations which make the actings of indwelling sin to be so perplexing to the soul --
1. Because they are unexpected. The soul looks not for them upon the first great conquest made of sin, and universal engagement of the heart unto God. When it first says, "I have sworn, and am steadfastly purposed to keep thy righteous judgments, " commonly there is peace, at least for a season, from the disturbing vigorous actings of sin. There are many reasons why so it should be. "Old things are then passed away, all things are become new;" and the soul, under the power of that universal change, is utterly turned away from those things that should foment, stir up, provoke, or cherish, any lust or temptation. Now, when some of these advantages are past, and sin begins to stir and act again, the soul is surprised, and thinks the work that he hath passed through was not true and effectual, but temporary only; yea, he thinks, perhaps, that sin hath more strength than it had before, because he is more sensible than he was before. As one that hath a dead arm or limb, whilst it is mortified, endures deep cuts and lancings, and feels them not; so when spirits and sense are brought into the place again, he feels the least cut, and may think the instruments sharper than they were before, when all the difference is, that he hath got a quickness of sense, which before he had not. It may be so with a person in this case: he may think lust more powerful than it was before, because he is more sensible than he was before. Yea, sin in the heart is like a snake or serpent: you may pull out the sting of it, and cut it into many pieces; though it can sting mortally no more, nor move its whole body at once, yet it will move in all its parts, and make an appearance of a greater motion than formerly. So it is with lust: when it hath received its death's wound, and is cut to pieces, yet it moves in so many parts as it were in the soul, that it amazes him that hath to do with it; and thus coming unexpectedly, fills the spirit oftentimes with disconsolation.
2 It hath also in its actings a universality. This also surpriseth. There is a universality in the actings of sin, even in believers. There is no evil that it will not move to; there is no good that it will not attempt to hinder; no duty that it will not defile. And the reason of this is, because we are sanctified but in part; not in any part wholly, though savingly and truly in every part. There is sin remaining in every faculty, in all the affections, and so may be acting
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in and towards any sin that the nature of man is liable unto. Degrees of sin there are that all regenerate persons are exempted from; but unto solicitations to all kinds of sin they are exposed: and this helps on the temptation.
3. It is endless and restless, never quiet, conquering nor conquered; it gives not over, but rebels being overcome, or assaults afresh having prevailed. Ofttimes after a victory obtained and an opposition subdued, the soul is in expectation of rest and peace from its enemies: but this holds not; it works and rebels again and again, and will do so whilst we live in this world, so that no issue will be put to our conflict but by death. This is at large handled elsewhere, in a treatise lately published on this peculiar subject. 1
These and the like considerations attending the actings of indwelling sin, do oftentimes entangle the soul in making a judgment of itself, and leave it in the dark as to its state and condition.
A few things shall be offered unto this objection also: --
1. The sensible powerful actings of indwelling sin are not inconsistent with a state of grace, Gal. v. 17. There are in the same person contrary principles, -- " the flesh and the Spirit;" these are contrary. And there are contrary actings from these principles, -- " the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh;" and these actings are described to be greatly vigorous in other places. Lust wars against our souls, James iv. 1; 1 Pet. ii. 11. Now, to war is not to make faint or gentle opposition, to be slighted and contemned; but it is to go out with great strength, to use craft, subtlety, and force, so as to put the whole issue to a hazard. So these lusts war; such are their actings in and against the soul. And therefore, saith the apostle, "Ye cannot do the things that ye would. " See Rom. vii. 14-17. In this conflict, indeed, the understanding is left unconquered, -- it condemns and disapproves of the evil led auto; and the will is not subdued, -- it would not do the evil that is pressed upon it; and there is a hatred or aversion remaining in the affections unto sin: but yet, notwithstanding, sin rebels, fights, tumultuates, and leads captive. This objection, then, may receive this speedy answer -- Powerful actings and workings, universal, endless strugglings of indwelling sin, seducing to all that is evil, putting itself forth to the disturbance and dissettlement of all that is good, are not sufficient ground to conclude a state of alienation from God. See for this the other treatise before mentioned at large.
2. Your state is not at all to be measured by the opposition that sin makes to you, but by the opposition you make to it. Be that never so great, if this be good, -- be that never so restless and powerful, if this be sincere, -- you may be disquieted, you can have no reason to despond.
1 The author refers to his treatise on "Indwelling Sin, " p. 158 of this volume.
606a AN EXPOSITION UPON PSALM CXXX. [Ver. 4.
I have mentioned these things only to give a specimen of the objections which men usually raise up against an actual closing with the truth insisted on to their consolation. And we have also given in upon them some rules of truth for their relief; not intending in them absolute satisfaction as to the whole of the cases mentioned, but only to remove the darkness raised by them so out of the way, as that it might not hinder any from mixing the word with faith that hath been dispensed from this blessed testimony, that "there is forgiveness with God, that he may be feared. "
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