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are not directed first to secure their souls 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 closing 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 objections that arise from particular sins, from aggravations of sin by their greatness or circumstances, or relapses into them. The way that the consideration of these things prevail upon the mind unto fears, 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 shewed that in this matter, there are many things whereon we may regularly found a judgment concerning ourselves; and it is great folly to wave 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 evi
dence that he is so, that he was born again, though he knew 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.
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,
First, This is the proper place to put in execution our seventh rule, to take heed of heartless complaints, when vigorous actings of grace are expected at our hands. If it be thus indeed, why lay 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. Thatknown 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
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 discernable 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 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. xlvi. 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 reHects with trouble on an awakened conscience, but by the close adhering power of indwelling sin, tempting, se ducing, 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 to the nothingness, the selfishness of duty ; I say,
1. 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 man is, the more he sees of his unspiritualness in his spiritual duties. An outside performance will satisfy an outside Christian. Job ab, horred 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 in