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no not by God himself, whose conscience almost is burdened with this as a sin, that he doth not as he ought, believe the forgiveness of his sins. And this is merely because men judge it not their duty so to do. For a nonperformance of a duty apprehended to be such, will reflect on the conscience a sense of the guilt of sin. But now what can be required to make any thing a duty unto us, that is wanting in this matter? For,
1. There is forgiveness with God, and this manifested, revealed, declared. This manifestation of it is that which makes it the object of our faith. We believe things to be in God, and with him, not merely and formally because they are so, but because he hath manifested and revealed them so to be, 1 John i. 2. What he so declares, it is our duty to believe, or we frustrate the end of his revelation.
2. We are expressly commanded to believe, and that upon the highest promises, and under the greatest penalties. This command is that which makes believing formally a duty. Faith is a grace as it is freely wrought in us by the Holy Ghost, the root of all obedience and duties, as it is radically fixed in the heart. But as it is commanded, it is a duty; and these commands, you know, are several ways expressed, by invitations, exhortations, propositions, which all have in them the nature of commands, which take up a great part of the books of the New Testament.
3. It is a duty, as we have shewed, of the greatest concernment unto the glory of God.
4. Of the greatest importance unto our souls, here and hereafter. And these things were necessary to be added, to bottom our ensuing exhortations upon.
Evidences that most men do not believe forgiveness. That which should now ensue, is the peculiar improvement of this truth all along aimed at; namely, to give exhortations and encouragements unto believing. But I can take few steps in this work, wherein methinks I do hear some saying, Surely all this is needless; who is there that doth not believe all that you go about to prove ? And so these pains are spent to little or no purpose. I shall therefore before I persuade any unto it, endeavour to shew that they do it not already. Many, I say, the most of men who live under the dispensation of the gospel, do wofully deceive their own souls in this matter. They do not believe what they profess themselves to believe, and what they think they believe. Men talk of fundamental errors; this is to me the most fundamental error that any can fall into, and the most pernicious. It is made up of these two parts. 1. They do not indeed believe forgiveness. 2. They suppose they do believe it, which keeps them from seeking after the only remedy. Both these mistakes are in the foundation, and do ruin the souls of them that live and die in them. I shall then, by a brief inquiry, put this matter to a trial. By some plain rules and principles may this important question, whether we do indeed believe forgiveness or no, be answered and decided. But to the resolution intended, I shall premise two observations.
1. Men in this case, are very apt to deceive themselves. Self love, vain hopes, liking of lust, common false principles, sloth, unwillingness unto self-examination, reputation with the world, and it may be in the church, all vigorously concur unto men's self-deceivings in this matter. It is no easy thing for a soul to break through all these, and all selfreasonings that rise from them, to come unto a clear judgment of its own acting in dealing with God about forgiveness. Men also find a common presumption of this truth, and its being an easy relief against gripings of conscience, and disturbing thoughts about sin; which they daily meet withal. Aiming therefore only at the removal of trouble, and finding their present imagination of it, sufficient thereunto, they never bring their persuasion to the trial.
As men are apt to do thus, so they actually do so, they do deceive themselves, and know not that they do so. The last day will make this evident, if men will no sooner be convinced of their folly. When our Saviour told his disciples, that one of them twelve should betray him; though it were but one of twelve that was in danger, yet every one of the twelve made a particular inquiry about himself. I will not say, that one in each twelve is here mistaken; but I am sure the truth tells us, that many are called, and but few are
chosen; they are but few, who do really believe forgiveness. Is it not then incumbent on every one to be inquiring in what number he is likely to be found at the last day? Whilst men put this inquiry off from themselves, and think or say, It may be the concernment of others, it is not mine; they perish, and that without remedy. Remember what poor Jacob said, when he had lost one child, and was afraid of the loss of another, Gen. xliii. 14. If I be bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.' As if he should have said, If I lose my children, I have no more to lose, they are my all. Nothing worse can befall me in this world. Comfort, joy, yea, life and all go with them. How much more may men say in this case, If we are deceived here, we are deceived ; all is lost; hope, and life, and soul, all must perish, and that
There is no help or relief for them who deceive themselves in this matter. They have found out a way to go quietly down into the pit.
Now these things are premised, only that they may be incentives unto self-examination in this matter, and so render the ensuing considerations useful. Let us then address ourselves unto them.
1. In general. This is a gospel truth; yea, the great fundamental, and most important truth of the gospel. It is the turning point of the two covenants, as God himself declares, Heb. vii. 7-13. Now a very easy consideration of the ways and walkings of men will satisfy us as to this inquiry, whether they do indeed believe the gospel, the covenant of grace, and the fundamental principles of it. Certainly their ignorance, darkness, blindness, their corrupt affections, and worldly conversations, their earthly-mindedness, and open disavowing of the spirit, ways, and yoke of Christ, speak no such language. Shall we think, that proud, heady, worldly, self-seekers, haters of the people of God, and his ways, despisers of the Spirit of grace and his work, sacrificers to their own lusts, and such-like, do believe the covenant of grace, or remission of sins ? God forbid we should entertain any one thought of so great dishonour to the gospel. Wherever that is received or believed, it produceth other effects ; Tit. ii. 11, 12. Isa. xi. 6–9. It teacheth men to deny all ‘ungodliness and worldly lusts. It changeth their hearts, natures, and ways. It is not such a barren, impotent, VOL. XIV.
and fruitless thing, as such an apprehension would represent it.
2. They that really believe forgiveness in God, do thereby obtain forgiveness. Believing gives an interest in it; it brings it home to the soul concerned. This is the inviolable law of the gospel. Believing and forgiveness are inseparably conjoined. Among the evidences that we may have of any one being interested in forgiveness, I shall only name one. They prize and value it above all the world. Let us inquire what esteem and valuation many of those have of forgiveness, who put it out of all question that they do believe it. Do they look upon it as their treasure, their jewel, their pearl of price? Are they solicitous about it? Do they often look and examine whether it continues safe in their possession or no? Suppose a man have a precious jewel, laid up in some place in his house; suppose it be unto him as the poor widow's two mites, all her substance or living; will he not carefully ponder on it? Will he not frequently satisfy himself that it is safe? We may know that such a house, such fields or lands do not belong unto a man when he passeth by them daily, and taketh little or no notice of them. Now how do most men look upon forgiveness? What is their common deportment in reference unto it? Are their hearts continually filled with thoughts about it? Are they solicitous concerning their interest in it? Do they reckon, that whilst that is safe, all is safe with them? When it is, as it were, laid out of the way by sin and unbelief, do they give themselves no rest, until it be afresh discovered unto them? Is this the frame of the most of men ? The Lord knows it is not. They talk of forgiveness, but esteem it not, prize it not, make no particular inquiries after it. They put it to an ungrounded venture, whether ever they be partakers of it or no; for a relief against some pangs of conscience it is called upon, or else scarce thought of at all.
Let not any so minded flatter themselves that they have any acquaintance with the mystery of gospel forgiveness.
3. Let it be inquired of them who pretend unto this persuasion, how they came by it; that we may know whether it be of him who calleth us, or no; that we may try whether they have broken through the difficulties in the entertaining of it, which we have manifested abundantly to lie in the way of it. When Peter confessed our Saviour to be the Christ the Son of the living God;' he told him that'Alesh and blood did not reveal that unto him, but his father who his in heaven;' Matt. xvi. 17. It is so with them who indeed believe forgiveness in God: 'Alesh and blood hath not revealed it unto them.' It hath not been furthered by any thing within them or without them, but all lies in opposition unto it. This is the work of God that we believe;' John vi. 29. A great work, the greatest work that God requireth of us. It is not only a great thing in itself (the grace of believing is a great thing), but it is great in respect of its object, or what we have to believe, or forgiveness itself. The great honour of Abraham's faith lay in this, that deaths and difficulties lay in the way of it; Rom. iv. 18—20. But what is a dead body, and a dead womb, to an accusing conscience, a killing law, and apprehensions of a God terrible as a consuming fire? all which as was shewed, oppose themselves unto a soul called to believe forgiveness.
What now have the most of men, who are confident in the profession of this faith, to say unto this thing ? let them speak clearly, and they must say, that indeed they never found the least difficulty in this matter; they never doubted of it; they never questioned it, nor do know any reason why they should do so. It is a thing which they have so taken for granted, as that it never cost them an hour's labour, prayer or meditation about it. Have they had secret reasonings, and contendings in their hearts about it? No. Have they considered how the objections that lie against it may be removed ? Not at all. But is it so indeed, that this persuasion is thus bred in you, you know not how? Are the corrupted natures of men, and the gospel so suited, só complying? Is the new covenant grown so connatural to flesh and blood ? Is the greatest secret that ever was revealed from the bosom of the Father, become so familiar and
easy to the wisdom of the flesh? Is that which was folly to the wise Greeks, and a stumbling-block to the wonder-gazing Jews, become on a sudden wisdom, and a plain path to the same principles that were in them? But the truth of this matter is, that such men have a general, useless, barren notion of pardon, which Satan, presumption, tradition, common reports, and the customary hearing of the word have fur