Page images
PDF
EPUB

deal of religion ; more than the most, and full as much as the best; yea, more than any in all the country ; yea, or in all the whole world; for, in Jehu's time, there was not perhaps, for a while, one like him upon the face of the earth. A man, therefore, cannot know that he is a good man, by the degree of his religion, but only from the special nature of it. And wherein true religion specifically differs from all counterfeits, I have already shown. 3. Since grace is, in its own nature, perceptible and specifically different from all counterfeits, there is no need of the immediate witness of the spirit, in order to a full assurance. If the spirit of God does but give us a good degree of grace, and enlighten our minds to understand the scriptures, and so to know the nature of true grace, we may then perceive that we have grace; and the more grace we have, the more perceptible will it be, and its difference from all counterfeits will be the more plain. And if a believer may know and be certain that he has grace, without the immediate witness of the the spirit, then such a witness is altogether needless, and would be of no advantage : but God never grants his spirit to believers, to do things needless and to no advantage; and therefore there is no such thing as the immediate witness of the spirit in this affair. And besides, it is plain the scriptures every where direct us to look into ourselves, to see whether we love God and keep his commands; to see whether Christ, in his holy nature, be formed in us; to see whether the spirit, as an enlightener and sanctifier, dwells in us, and influences and governs us; but never once directs us to look for the immediate witness of the spirit, in order to know whether we have grace. OBJ. But the text says expressly, The spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God; Rom. viii. 16. ANs. But the text does not in the least intimate that the spirit witnesses immediately. The spirit bears witness; but how : The spirit makes it evident that we are the children of God; but in what way by immediate revelation ? No: the scripture no where tells us to look for such revelations, or lays down any marks whereby we may know which come from God, and which from the devil. How then does the spirit make it evident that we are the children of God, and by what witness does he make it appear Not by telling us that we are children, the devil may tell hypocrites so; but by making us children in the very temper of our hearts; by giving to us much of a child-like frame of spirit towards God; a thing the devil cannot do, and so a thing by which we may certainly know. This holy, divine, child-like frame and temper of heart, whereby we bear the very image of our heavenly father, is God's mark, which more or less conspicuously, he sets upon all the lambs of his flock. This is the seal of the spirit. (Eph. i. 13.) For this is the earnest of our inheritance, (verse 14.) It is etermal life begun in the soul, (John xvii. 3.) This is called the witness of the spirit, because it is what the spirit works in our hearts, and that by which he makes it evident that we are the children of God; the design of witnesses being to make things evident. And, indeed, this is the only distinguishing mark that God puts upon his children, and the only thing wherein they differ from all hypocrites; and is the only evidence the scripture directs them to look for and expect, and without which all other evidences are just good for nothing. Mat. vii. 24–27. John xv. 2. 1 John ii. 3, 4. iii. 6—10. And this being the case, we may see how much out of the way those are, who think and say that it is a sin for them to doubt the goodness of their state, because of their badness, and because they can see no grace in their hearts. “For,” say they, “ that would be to call God’s truth and faithfulness into -question; who has by his spirit, immediately assured me of his love and my salvation; just as if the immutability of his purpose depended upon my good frames: No ; I must do as Abraham did, who, against hope, believed in hope; so, though I see no grace in my heart, or signs of any, yet I must believe my state is good, and that I shall be saved. It is not my duty to look so much into my own heart; I shall never be the

better for that; but I must look to Christ, and believe, and

never doubt; for the spirit of God did, at such a time, assure me of Christ's love to me; and I knew I was not deceived; and it would now be a great sin in me to doubt; it would be giving the lie to Christ and to the Holy Spirit.”

[ocr errors]

How sad a delusion are such poor sinners under, who dare not believe the holy scriptures, for fear they shall sin, which every where assure us, that unless we are holy in heart and life, our faith is vain, and we in a state of condemnation; and teach us that we ought to be no more confident of our good state, than in proportion as our sanctification is evident How sad it is that they should attribute all their doubts to carnal reason or the devil, which, indeed, are but the secret dictates of their own consciences, and are so agreeable to the word of God! What a dreadful spirit is this that thus leads them off from the word of God, and so blinds their minds that they cannot understand it, nor dare believe it ! Surely it can be no other than Satan transformed into an angel of light*.

* Oh J. But the scripture forbids doubting. Mat. xiv. 31. Othou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? ANs. In that text, Christ does not blame Peter for doubting his state, but for doubting he should be drowned. Ob J. But Christ upbraided then with their unbelief. Mark xvi. 14. ANs. He did not blame them for not believing they were in a good state, but for not believing that he was risen from the dead. Ob J. But Abraham is commended, in that against hope he believed in hope. Joom. iv. 18. - ANs. But the thing to be believed, and hoped for, was that he should have a son, which he had good grounds to expect. So this is nothing to the purpose. Ob J. But St. Paul says, we walk by faith and not by sight. 2 Cor. v. 7. ANs. That is, in all their conduct, they were governed by a realizing belief of unseen things, and not by things seen and temporal. 2 Cor. iv. 18. It was not Paul's way to lie dead whole months and years together, nor was he ever driven to such a strait, as to be forced to believe himself to be in a good state, without sufficient evidence. Ob J. But, what is not of faith is sin. Rom. xiv. 23. But doubts arise from unbelief. ANs. 1. If any man does not believe that it is lawful for him to do some particular act, and yet ventures to do it, he sins; he acts against his own conscience. This is the plain sense of the text, and so this text is nothing to the purpose. 2. An hypocrite's doubts are wont to arise from unbelief, i. e. from his not steadfastly believing the immediate revelations which he had from the devil, that his sins are pardoned. The devil tries to keep him quiet, but sometimes his conscience is a little awakened, and then he fears and doubts he is deluded; and now the devil tries to make him believe that it is a sin to doubt. The devil would fain make him believe all is well, i.e. believe at a venture, without a thorough search and trial, and without sufficient evidence.

Alas! alas! How does the God of this world blind the minds of them that believe not! Some firmly believe that there is no such thing as a good man's knowing that he has grace; and so they contentedly live along, not knowing what world they are hastening unto; to heaven or to hell; but they hope their state is good, and hope their hope is well grounded, but know not but that their hope is that of the hypocrite: yea, they are not willing to believe there is any such thing as knowing; for that would make them suspect that they are wrong, and that true religion is something they never had; which if it be the case yet they are not willing to know it. They hide themselves in the dark | They say there is no light! And will not believe that a good man may know that He has passed from death to life. While others, from the very same principle, viz. because they hate the light, firmly believe that it is a sin to doubt; and so will never, dare, never call their state into question, and thoroughly look through the matter: both are equally rotten at heart, and so equally hate the light, although they take different methods to keep from it; and the devil does his utmost to keep both fast bound where they are. Happy the true believer, who is made impartial by divine grace! It is a recovery to God and holiness that he is after: a confidence that his sins are pardoned, without this, would be but a poor thing. If he obtain this, he gets what he wants; and if not, he feels himself undone: nor can he flatter himself that he has obtained it, when he has not: and this he makes his only evidence of God's eternal love, and of his title to eternal glory; and believes his state to be good, no further than this goes. Mat. vii. 21–27.

3. It is a sin for a true believer to live so as not to have his evidences clear; but it is no sin for him to be so honest and impartial, as to doubt, when in fact, his evidences are not clear. It is a sin to darken his evidences; but it is no sin to see that they are darkened. It is a sin for a man, by rioting and drunkenness, to make himself sick; but it is no sin to feel that he is sick; or, if there be grounds for it, to doubt he shall die. We may bring calamities upon ourselves by our sins, both outward and inward, and our calamaties may arise from our sins; and yet our calamities have not the nature of sins, but are rather of the nature of punishments. It is sin, in believers, which lays the foundation for doubts: it is sin which is the occasion of their doubts; but their doubts are not sins any the more for this. Some seem to suppose that every thing which is occasioned by sin, is sin; but there is no truth in their supposition. It is not a sin for unconverted people to think themselves to be unconverted; and yet that thought of themselves is occasioned by sin—for their being unconverted is their sin.

QB J. But believers are eachorted to hold fast their confidence. Heb. iii. 6. ...And it is said, verse 14. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidenee steadfast unto the end.

ANs. That is, their confidence that Jesus is the Christ, together with a true faith in him, as is manifest from the whole context. Nor is any thing more absurd than to say, that men shall be made partakers of Christ, if they hold fast their confidence of their good state, which is what many a hypocrite does, and that to the very last. JMatt. vii. 22. Luke xiii. 25, 26, 27.

Thus I have gone through the first use, the use of instruction: and thus we see how a right understanding of the law will set many of the important doctrines of religion in a clear and easy, in a scriptural and rational light. By the law we may learn the primitive state of man, and how low we are fallen, and to what we must be recovered ; and so, by consequence, how averse we are to a recovery: what grace we need to recover us; and so, by consequence, that we must be saved by sovereign grace, or not at all: whence the reasonableness of the saints' perseverance appears; and, from the whole, the nature of the christian conflict and the attainableness of assurance are discovered. And I will conclude this use with two remarks :

REMARK 1. If the law requires what, I think, I have proved it does, and a conformity to it consists in what I have before described, then all the other particulars do necessarily and most inevitably follow. Such was the image of God in which Adam was created, and such is our natural depravity, and such are the best duties of the unregenerate, and such is the nature of conversion, and our aversion to it, &c. so that, if my first principles are true, then the whole scheme is, beyond dispute, true also. And what are my first principles: Why, that to love God with all our hearts, and our neighbours as ourselves, is originally the very essence of religion; and that the grounds upon which God requires us so to do, are to be the motives of our obedience. He requires us to love him supremely, &c. because he is supremely, glorious and amiable, and because our additional obligations to him are what they are. He requires us to love our neighbours as ourselves, because they are what they are, and stand in such relations to

« PreviousContinue »