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that I am, to be always exposed to the
power and guilt of moral corruptions! Such a conflict between nature and grace the Apostle experienced in his own breast; and such a conflict: he represents as common to all christians; for he says to believers in general, “The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other; so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.”
If this be a just description of the mutual opposition between perfectly holy and totally sinful affections in the hearts of saints, then it may properly be called a warfare. For it obliges them to be always on their guard, and to keep their hearts with all diligence, in order to repel the assaults and intrusion of sinful motions and affections. While they are in the exercise of grace, they habitually dread the approaching enemy, and watch his appearances, lest they should be taken by surprise. Such watching and guarding is essential to the christian warfare, in which victory consists in keeping the ground. As soon as sinful affections take place in the hearts of christians, they are actually conquered. Indeed, that train of affections, whether good or bad, which exists in their hearts, is the conqueror for the time being. If good and bad affections could both exist in the mind at the same instant, and oppose each other ever so powerfully, it does not appear, that either could ever gain the ascendency, . But if sin and holiness cannot exist at the same instant in the same mind, then either the one or the other must gain the victory, by taking possession of the ground. The only way, therefore, in which believers can keep out of spiritual bondage, is to keep themselves in the love of God. But since they are dependent upon a divine influence to do this, and since
that influence may be withdrawn, they are always in danger of being surprized into sin. This renders the christian warfare extremely painful and extremely dangerous. Saints are soldiers for life, and nothing but death can discharge them from their spiritual warfare.
INFERENCE 7.-If the imperfection of true believers be otving to the inconstancy of their gracious exercises; then they are able to attain a full assurance of their good estate, notwithstanding all their remaining corruptions. They are required to make their calling and election sure. It is their duty to know the true state of their minds. They ought to be thankful to God for his special grace, and perform all the peculiar duties, which he has enjoined upon his children. But many seem to think it is out of their power to attain assurance, and plead the deceitfulness and corruption of their hearts, as an excuse for not knowing whether they are really the friends or enemies of God. And did moral imperfection consist in the mere weakness of holy affections, or in their being mixed with moral impurity, it seems as though weak christians, at least, could not determine their own true character, For, there is no rule in the word of God, by which they can ascertain the point, whether their holy exercises are sufficiently strong and vigorous, to denominate them real saints. But if moral imperfection consists in the inconstancy of perfectly holy affections, then they may certainly determine, that they are the subjects of special grace. For, every holy affection they have, is totally distinct from every sinful affection, and affords an infallible evidence of a renovation of heart. Whoever has true love, or true repentance, or true faith, or true submission, is born again, and has the witness within himself, that he is a true child of God. Though these affections may be interrupted by contra
ry exercises, yet they still remain an infallible evidence of a saving change. And, as this evidence exists in every real saint, so every real saint may discover it. For, since perfectly holy exercises are entirely distinct from perfectly sinful exercises, and since these two kinds of affection are diametrically opposite in their nature; the conscience is able to distinguish the least holy affec. tion from any sinful exercise. Hence the weakest christian may discover that infallible evidence of grace, which actually exists in his own heart, and which may give him assurance of his gracious state. Though he may feel and lament great moral corruption, and though his sinful exercises may very often interrupt his holy affections; yet still he may discover that train of holy exercises, which is an infallible evidence of a renovation of heart.
This is the way in which good men in all ages have attained assurance. Paul spake the language of assurance, when he sincerely declared, “I delight in the law of God after the inward man." This was as much as to say, though I often fall short of my duty, though I am often in bondage, sold under sin, and though I am prone to break my best resolutions; yet I know, that I sometimes love the law of God, and that I sometimes heartily delight to do his will. And these exercises afford me full assurance, that I am a true penitent and sound believer. Peter offended grievously, and discovered great corruption of heart; but yet when the train of holy exercises was renewed he could appeal to Christ and say, “Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee.” Job was fully assured of his good estate, while his friends accused him of hypocrisy. He knew that he loved God for what he was in himself, because he could heartily bless him for his frowns as well as for his smiles. Nor
did his cursing the day of his birth destroy his assurance; for this could not invalidate the evidence in his favor, arising from the perfectly holy affections, which he had often been conscious of feeling and expressing.
If we now look into the New Testament, we shall there find, that the primitive christians attained to full assurance, by a consciousness of having pure and holy affections. The Apostle John dwells largely upon this subject in his first Epistle. In the third chapter he says, “Hereby do we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.” Again he says, “We know that we have passed from death unto life; because we love the brethren.” He goes on and says, “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the spirit which he hath given us." He pursues the subject further and asserts, “If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. Hereby we know that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his spirit
. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him.” To give an emphasis to these declarations, the Apostle expressly says, that he wrote this Epistle on purpose to teach christians how to attain assurance of their title to heaven. “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God, that ye may know that ye have eternal life.
Thus it appears, that it is the reality of holy affections, and not the constancy of them, which affords true believers an infallible evidence of their being born of God. Whenever they discover truly benevolent
exercises, they discover certain evidence of a change of heart. For holiness in every degree of it is the fruit of the Spirit. And this evidence cannot be invalidated by moral imperfection, because it is agreeable to the character of saints in this life, that they should have the remains of moral corruption, or that their holy exercises should be sometimes interrupted by positively sinful affections. Though a single, solitary holy exercise might be more easily overlooked, yet a succession of holy exercises may be readily and clearly discerned. Hence a succession of holy exercises, which always take place in every regenerate person, may afford every real saint full assurance of his good estate. Let all professors of religion, and especially those that are in doubt of their sincerity, follow the Apostle's direction. “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves, how that Christ is in you,” that is, his spirit, "except ye be reprobates."
INFERENCE 8. Since the imperfection of saints consists in the inconstancy of their holy affections, they need to be much in prayer for divine influence and assistance. They find that their hearts are extremely deceitful and prone to go astray. They find, that all the objects around them are apt to divert their attention and their affections from heavenly and divine things. They find, that after they have had the nearest approaches to God, and the most intimate communion with him, their hearts are bent upon backsliding, and ready to pursue every object of vanity. They are weak, dependent, inconstant, inconsistent creatures. They perpetually need divine influence, to keep their hearts, to maintain uniformity of affections, and to give them that peace of mind, which the world cannot give. - In this view, Seneca, a heathen philos