The Christian’s Great Interest
(The Trial of a Saving Interest in Christ)
William Guthrie (1620-1665)
Copyright: Public Domain
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THE CHRISTIAN’S GREAT INTEREST (P 1 of 3)
PART I. THE TRIAL OF A SAVING INTEREST IN CHRIST
SINCE there are so many people living under the ordinances, pretending, without ground, to a special interest in Christ, and to his favour and his salvation, as is stated by our Lord, “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name have cast out devils, and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from Me, ye that work iniquity.” “Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.”–“Strive to enter in at the strait gate; for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.” And since many who have good ground of claim to Christ are not established in the confidence of his favor, but remain in the dark, without comfort, hesitating concerning the reality of godliness in themselves, and speaking little in the commendation of religion to others, especially in the time of their straits, I shall speak a little respecting two things of the greatest concern: the one is, How a person shall know if he hath a true and special interest in Christ, and whether he doth lay just claim to God’s favour and salvation? The other is, In case a person fall short of assurance in this trial, what course he shall take for making sure God’s friendship and salvation to himself?
Quest. How shall a man know if he hath a true and special interest in Christ, and whether he hath, or may lay claim justly to God’s favour and salvation?
A Man’s Interest in Christ may be known.
SECT. I. It is a Matter of the highest Importance, and is to be determined by Scripture.
Before we speak directly to the question, we shall premise some things, to make way for the answer. First, That a man’s interest in Christ, or his gracious state, may be known, and that with more certainty than people conjecture; yea, and the knowledge of it may be more easily attained than many do imagine: for not only hath the Lord commanded men to know this interest in him, as a thing attainable: “Examine yourselves whether ye be in the faith,” &c. “Give diligence to make your calling and election sure,” &c. but many of the saints have attained unto the clear persuasion of their interest in Christ, and in God as their own God. How often do they call him their God and their Portion and how persuaded is Paul “that nothing can separate him from the love of God!” Therefore the knowledge of a man’s gracious state is attainable.
And this knowledge of it, which may be attained, is no fancy and mere conceit, but it is most sure: “Doubtless thou art our Father,” saith the prophet, in name of the church. It is clear from this:
1. That can be no fancy, but a very sure knowledge, which doth yield to a rational man comfort in most real straits; but so doth this: “When the people spake of stoning David, he encouraged himself in the Lord his God.” He saith, “He will not be afraid of ten thousands that rise against him.”
Compare these words with the following: “But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.”–“The Lord is my light, and my salvation, whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid? Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident.”
2. That is a sure knowledge of a thing which maketh a wise merchant sell all he hath that he may keep it sure; that maketh a man forego children, lands, life, and suffer the spoiling of all joyfully; but so doth this.
3. That must be a sure and certain knowledge, and no fancy, upon which a man voluntarily and freely doth adventure his soul when he is stepping into eternity, with this word in mouth, “This is all my desire:” but such a knowledge is this.
And again, not only may a godly man come to the sure knowledge of his gracious state, but it is more easily attainable than many apprehend: for supposing, what shall he afterwards proved, that a man may know the gracious work of God’s Spirit in himself; if he will but argue rationally from thence, he shall be forced to conclude his interest in Christ, unless he deny clear Scripture truths. I shall only make use of one here, because we are to speak more directly to this afterwards. A godly man may argue thus, Whosoever receive Christ are justly reputed the children of God: “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God;” but I have received Christ in all the ways which the word there can import; for I am pleased with the device of salvation by Christ, I agree to the terms, I welcome the offer of Christ in all his offices, as a King to rule over me, a Priest to offer sacrifice and intercede for me, a Prophet to teach me; I lay out my heart for him and towards him, resting on him as I am able. What else can be meant by the word receiving? Therefore may I say, and conclude plainly and warrantably, I am justly to reckon myself God’s child according to the above-quoted Scripture which cannot fail.
The Second thing to be premised is, That a man be savingly in covenant with God is a matter of the highest importance; “It is his life.” And yet very few have or seek after a saving interest in the covenant, and many foolishly think they have such a thing without any solid ground: “Few find, or walk, in the narrow way.” This should alarm people to be serious about the matter, since it is of so great consequence to be in Christ, and since there be but few that may lay just claim to him: and yet many do foolishly fancy an interest in him, who are deceived by a false confidence, as the foolish virgins do.
The Third thing to be premised is, Men must resolve to be determined by Scripture in this matter of their interest in Christ. The Spirit speaking in the Scripture is Judge of all controversies: “To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them;” and of this also, whether a man be savingly in covenant with God or not. Therefore do not mock God whilst you seem to search after such a thing. If we prove from Scripture, which is the uncontroverted rule, that you are gracious, and have made a covenant savingly with God, then resolve to grant so much, and to acquiesce in it: and if the contrary appear, let there be a determination of the controversy, else you do but mock the Lord, and so “your hands shall be made strong;” for “a jot of his word cannot fail.” Therefore seek eye-salve from Christ to judge of things according as the word of God shall discover them to be.
SECT. II. Reasons why so few come to the clear Knowledge of their Interest in Christ.
The fourth thing to be premised is, Although the matter of a man’s interest in Christ be of so great importance, and the way to attain to the knowledge of it so plainly held forth in the Scriptures, yet there be but few who reach the distinct knowledge of it. And that this may not discourage any person from attempting it, I shall hint some few reasons why so few come to the clear knowledge of it; which will also prepare the way for what is to be spoken afterwards.
The first thing which hinders many from the knowledge of their interest in Christ is their ignorance of some special principles of religion: as,
1. That it was free love in God’s bosom, and nothing in man, that moved him to send a Saviour to perfect the work of redemption: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.” Men are still seeking some ground for that work in themselves, which leads them away from suitable and high apprehensions of the first spring and rise of God’s covenant-favour to his people, which hath no reason, cause, or motive in us; and so they cannot come to the knowledge of their interest.
2. They are ignorant how that love effectually discovers itself to a man’s heart, so as he hath ground to lay claim to it, namely, That ordinarily it,
1st, Discovers his fallen state himself, because of sin and corruption defiling the whole man, and any thing in him that might be called a righteousness: “All these things are loss and dung.”
2dly, It discovers Christ as the full and satisfying treasure above all things: “The man finds a treasure, for which with joy he selleth all,” &c.
3dly, It determines the heart, and causeth it to approach unto a living God in the ordinances: “Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto thee, that he may dwell in thy courts,” and causeth the heart to wait upon him, and him alone. “My soul, wait thou only upon God.” Thus having dropped in the seed of God in the heart, and formed Christ there, the heart is changed and made new in the work: “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you.” And God’s law is so stamped upon the heart in that change, that the whole yoke of Christ is commended to the man without exception. The law is acknowledged “good, holy, just, and spiritual.”
Upon all which, from that new principle of life, there flow out acts of a new life; “faith worketh by love;” and the man becomes “a servant of righteousness unto God,” which doth especially appear in the spirituality of worship; men then “serve God in spirit and truth; and in the newness of the spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter;” and tenderness in all manner of conversation: the man then “exerciseth himself how to keep a conscience void of offence towards God” and towards men.” Now in this way doth the love of God discover itself unto man, and acteth on him, so as he hath ground of laying some good claim to it; that he may justly think that the love which sent a Saviour, had respect to such a man as hath found these things made out to him. Surely ignorance in this doth hinder many from the knowledge of their interest in Christ; for if a man know not how God worketh with a person, so that he may justly lay claim to his love, which was from eternity, he will wander in the dark, and not come to the knowledge of an interest in him.
3. Many are also ignorant of this, that God alone is the hope of his people: he is called “the Hope of Israel.” Although inherent qualifications are evidences of it, yet the staying of the heart upon him as a full blessing and satisfying portion is faith; “The faith and hope must be in God;” and the only proper condition which giveth right to the saving blessings of the covenant. “To him that worketh not, but believeth–faith is counted for righteousness.” Indeed, if any person take liberty here, and turn grace into licentiousness, there is, without doubt, in so far, a delusion; since there “is mercy with him upon condition that it conciliate fear to him.” Yea, hardly can any man who hath found the former-mentioned expressions of God’s love made out in him, make a cloak of the covenant for sinful liberty without some measure of a spiritual conflict: in this respect, “he that is born of God doth not sin;” and, “he who doth so sin hath not seen God.” I say, God is the hope of his people, and not their own holiness. If they intend honestly, and long seriously to be like unto him, many failings should not weaken their hope and confidence, for it is in him “who changeth not;”–“and if any man sin, he hath an advocate.” Now, when men place their hope in any other thing besides the Lord, it is no wonder they are kept in a staggering condition, according to the changes of the thing which they make the ground of their hope, since they give not to God the glory due to his name, and which he will not give to another. “They who know thy name will put their trust in thee.” “My glory will I not give to another; I am the Lord, that is my name.”
4. Many are ignorant of the different ways and degrees of God’s working with his people, and this doth much darken their knowledge, and reflex acts of their interest in him. This ignorance consists mainly of three things:
1. They are ignorant of the different degrees and ways of that work of the law which ordinarily dealeth with men, and of the different ways in which the Lord bringeth people at first to Christ. They consider not that the jailer is not kept an hour in bondage. Paul is kept in suspense three days, Zaccheus not one moment.
2. They are ignorant of, at least they do not consider, how different the degrees of sanctification are in the saints, and the honourable appearances thereof before men in some, and the sad blemishings thereof in others. Some are very blameless, and more free of gross outbreakings, adorning their profession much, as Job and Zacharias. These are said to be “perfect and upright, fearing God, and eschewing evil; righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless:” others were subject to very gross and sad evils, as Solomon, Asa, &c.
3. They are ignorant of the different communications of God’s face, and expressions of his presence. Some walk much in the light of God’s countenance, and are much in sensible fellowship with him, as David was; others are “all their days kept in bondage through fear of death.” Surely the ignorance of the different ways of God’s working and dealing with his people doth very much darken the knowledge of their interest in him, whilst they usually limit the Lord to one way of working, which he doth not keep, as we have shown in the former examples.
The second thing which darkens men about their interest in Christ is, there is one thing or other wherein their heart in some respect doth condemn them, as dealing deceitfully and guilefully with God. It is not to be expected that these can come to dearness about their interest, whose heart doth condemn them for keeping up some known transgression against the Lord, which they will not let go, neither are using the means which they know to be appointed by God for delivering them from it: neither can these come to clearness who know some positive duty commanded them in their stations, which they deceitfully shift and shun, not closing cheerfully with it, or not willing to be led into it: these are also, in some respect, condemned of their own heart, as the former sort are; and in that case it is difficult to come to a distinct knowledge of their state. “If our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence towards God.” It is supposed here, that a self-condemning heart maketh void a man’s confidence proportionally before God.
I do not deny but that men may, on good grounds, plead an interest in Christ in the case of prevailing iniquity: “Iniquities prevail against me; as for our transgressions thou shalt purge them away.” “I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.” But it is hard to be attained, if at all attainable, when the heart is dealing deceitfully; and entertaining known guile in any particular: therefore, let people clear themselves of the particular which they know too well. It is the thing which hinders them, marring their confidence and access in all their approaches unto God: “Yet ye have forsaken me, and served other gods: wherefore I will deliver you no more.” The idolatries of the people are cast up to them by the Lord, and their suit thereupon rejected. That which draws away the heart first in the morning, and last at night, like “an oven heated at night, and it burneth as a flaming fire in the morning,” spoken of the wicked; and taketh up their thoughts often on their bed: as it is said of some, “He deviseth mischief upon his bed,” &c. That which doth ordinarily lead away the heart in time of religious duty, and the remembrance of which hath power to enliven and quicken the spirits more than the remembrance of God, so as “their heart is after the heart of some detestable thing.” That which withstandeth men when they would lay hold on the promise, as God casteth up men’s sins to them who are meddling with his covenant: “What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldst take my covenant in thy mouth?” &c. that is the thing which doth hinder the knowledge of a gracious state; let it go, and it will be more easy to reach the knowledge of an interest in Christ.
The third thing which hindereth the knowledge of an interest in Christ in many, is, a spirit of sloth and careless negligence. They complain that they know not whether they be in Christ or not: but as few take pains to be in him, so take few pains to try if they be in him. It is a work and business which cannot be done sleeping: “Examine yourselves whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves: know ye not your own selves?” &c. The several words used there, namely, examine, prove, know–say that there is a labour in it: “Diligence must be used to make our calling and election sure.” It is a business above flesh and blood: the “holy anointing which teacheth all things,” must make us “know the things freely given to us of God.” “Shall the Lord impart a business of such great concern, and not so much as to be inquired after to do it for men?” Be ashamed, you who spend so much time in reading romances, in adorning your persons, in hawking and hunting, in consulting the law concerning your outward state in the world, and it may be in worse things than these; be ashamed you that spend so little time in the search of this, Whether ye be as heir of glory or not? whether you be in the way that leadeth to heaven, or that way which will land you in darkness for ever? You who judge this below you, and unworthy of your pains any part or minute of your time, it is probable, in God’s account, you have judged yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, so that you shall have no lot with God’s people in this matter.
The fourth thing that darkens the knowledge of an interest in Christ is, men do not condescend upon what would satisfy them. They complain that God will not show unto them what he is about to do with them, but yet cannot say they know what would satisfy concerning his purpose. This is a sad thing. Shall we think those are serious who have never as yet pitched on what would satisfy them, nor are making earnest inquiry after what should satisfy? If the Lord had left us in the dark in that matter, we were less inexcusable; but since the grounds of satisfaction, and the true marks of an interest in Christ, are so clear and frequent in Scripture, and so “many things written, that our joy may be full;” and “that those who believe may know that they have eternal life;” and since “he that believeth hath the witness of it in himself,” none can pretend excuse here. We shall not here insist to show what may and should satisfy concerning our interest, since we are to speak directly of it afterwards.
The fifth thing that helpeth much to keep men in the dark respecting their interest in Christ is, they pitch upon some mutable grounds, which are not so apposite proofs of the truth of an interest in Christ, as of the comfortable state of a triumphing soul sailing before the wind; and marks, which I grant are precious in themselves, and do make out an interest clearly where they are; yet they are such as without which an interest in Christ may be, and be known also in a good measure. We shall touch on a few of them.–
1st, Some think that all who have a true interest in him are above the prevailing power of every sin: but this is contrary to that of the Psalmist: “Iniquities prevail against me; as for our transgressions thou shalt purge them away:” where we find that holy man laying just claim to pardon, in the case of prevailing iniquity; and that of Paul, where he thanketh God through Christ, as freed from the condemnation of the law, even while a law in his members leadeth captive unto sin.
2nd, Some think that all true saints have constantly access unto God in prayer, and sensible returns of prayer at all times; but this is contrary to the many sad experiences of his people, complaining often that they are not heard nor regarded of God: “How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord? for ever? how long wilt thou hide thy face from me?” “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? O my God, I cry in the day-time, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.”
3rd, Some think that all who have any true interest in him have God witnessing it unto them, by a high operation of that witnessing Spirit of his, spoken of: “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God:” whereof afterwards: and so they still suspect their own interest in Christ, because of the want of this. But they do not remember that they must first believe and give credit to that “record which God hath given of his Son, that there is life enough in him” for men; and then look for the seal and witness of the Spirit: “In whom, after ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise,” &c. As long as people hold fast these principles, and the like, they can hardly come to the knowledge of their gracious state, which God hath warranted people to prove and clear up to themselves, other ways than by these foresaid things.
SECT. III. Some Mistakes concerning an Interest in Christ removed.
THE Fifth thing to be premised is, The removal of some mistakes into which people may readily run themselves, when they are about to prove their, interest in Christ.
1. It is a mistake to think that every one who is in Christ doth know that he is in him; for many are truly gracious, and have a good title to eternal life, who do not know so much, until it be made out afterwards: “These things are written to believers, that they may know they have a true title to eternal life;” that is, that they may know they are believers, and so it is supposed they knew it not before.
2. It is a mistake to think that all who come to the knowledge of their interest in Christ do attain an equal certainty about it. One may say, “He is persuaded nothing present, or to come, can separate him from the love of God;” another cometh but this length, “I believe, help my unbelief.”
3. It is a mistake to think that every one who attains a strong persuasion of his interest doth always hold there; for he who to-day may say of the Lord, “He is his refuge,” and “his portion,” will at an time say, “He is cut off;” and will ask, “If the truth of God’s promise doth fail for evermore?”
4. It is also a mistake to think that every one who attains a good knowledge of their gracious state, can formally answer all objections made, to the contrary; but yet they may hold fast the conclusion, and say, I “know whom I have believed.” There are few grounds of the Christian religion, of which many people are so persuaded, as that they are able to maintain them formally against all arguments brought to the contrary; and yet they may and will hold the conclusion steadfastly and justly: so it is in this case in hand.
5. It is no less a mistake to imagine, that the vain groundless confidence, which many profane ignorant Atheists maintain, is this knowledge of an interest in Christ which we plead for. Many do falsely avow him “to be their Father;” and many look for heaven who will, be beguiled with the “foolish virgins.” Yet we must not think, because of this, that all knowledge of an interest is a delusion and fancy, although these fools be deceived; for, whilst thousands are deluded, some can say on good and solid grounds, “We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lieth in wickedness,”
SECT. I. The Ways by which the Lord draweth some to Christ, without a sensible preparatory work of the Law.
Having premised these things, it now follows that we give some marks by which a man may know if he be savingly in covenant with God, and hath a special interest in Christ, so that he may warrantably lay claim to God’s favour and salvation. We shall only pitch upon two great and principal marks, not willing to trouble people with many.
But before we begin to these, we will speak of a preparatory work of the law, of which the Lord doth generally make use, to prepare his own way in men’s souls. This may have its own weight, as a mark, with some persons. It is called the Work of the Law, or, the Work of Humiliation. It hath some relation to that “spirit of bondage,” and now under the New Testament answers to it, and usually leads on to the “Spirit of adoption.”
Only, here, let it be remembered,
1. That we are not to speak of this preparatory work of the law as a negative mark of a true interest in Christ, as if none might lay claim to God’s favour who have not had this preparatory work, in the several steps, as we are to speak of it; for, as we shall see, the Lord doth not always take that way with men.
2. The great reason why we speak of it is, because the Lord deals with many, whom he effectually calls by some such preparatory work: and to those, who have been so dealt with, it may prove strengthening, and will confirm them in laying the more weight on the marks which follow.
3. It may help to encourage others, who are under such bondage of spirit, as a good indication of a gracious work to follow: for, as we shall explain it, it will be rarely found to miscarry and fail of a gracious issue.
4. Where God uses such a preparatory work, he does not keep one way or measure in it, as we shall see. For the more distinct handling of this preparatory work, we shall shortly hint the most ordinary ways by which the Lord leads people in to the covenant savingly, and draws them unto Christ.
I. There are some called from the womb, as John the Baptist was, or in their very early years, before they can be deeply engaged actively in Satan’s ways, as Timothy. It cannot be supposed that those have such a preparatory work as we are to speak of. And because some persons may pretend to this way of effectual calling, we offer these marks of it, whereby those who have been so called may be confirmed.
1. Such wont from their childhood to be kept free of ordinary pollutions with which children usually are defiled; as swearing, lying, mocking of religion and religious persons, &c. Those whom God calleth effectually, he sanctifieth them from the time of that effectual calling: “Sin cannot have dominion over them” as over others, “because they are under grace.”
2. Religion is, as it were, natural to them; I mean, they need not to be much pressed to religious duties, even when they are but children; they run willingly that way, because there is an inward principle of “love constraining them,” so that they “yield themselves, servants of righteousness,” without outward restraint.
3. Although such know not when they were first acquainted with God, yet they have afterwards such exercises of spirit befalling them, as the saints in Scripture speak of, of whose first conversion we hear not. They are shut out from God, upon some occasion, now and then, and are admitted to come nearer again to their apprehension; their heart is also further broken up by the ordinances, as is said of Lydia. And generally they remember when some special subject of religion and duty, or when some sin, of which they were not taking notice before, was discovered to them. They who can apply these things to themselves, have much to say for their effectual calling from their youth.
II. Some are brought into Christ in a sovereign gospel-way, when the Lord, by some few words of love swallowing up any work of the law, quickly taketh a person prisoner at the first, as he did Zaccheus, and others, who, upon a word spoken by Christ, did leave all and follow him; and we hear no noise of a work of the law dealing with them before they close with Christ Jesus.
And because some may pretend to this way of calling, we shall touch on some things most remarkable in that transaction with Zaccheus, for their clearing and confirmation.
1. He had some desire to see Christ, and such a desire as made him waive that which some would have judged prudence and discretion, whilst he climbeth up a tree that he might see him.
2. Christ spake to his heart, and that word took such hold upon him, that presently with joy he did accept of Christ’s offer, and closed with Christ as Lord, whilst few of any note were following him.
3. Upon this his heart opened to the poor, although it seems he was a covetous man before.
4. He had a due impression of his former ways, giving evidence of his respect to Moses’ law, and this he signified before all the company then present, not caring to shame himself in such things as probably were notorious to the world.
5. Upon all these things, Christ confirms and ratifies the bargain by his word; recommending to him that oneness of interest which behooved to be between him and the saints, and the thoughts of his own lost condition if Christ had not come and sought him, and found him.
We grant the Lord calleth some so, and if any can lay claim to the special things we have now hinted, they have a good confirmation of God’s dealing with them from Scripture; neither are they to vex themselves because of the want of a distinct preparatory work of the law, if their heart hath yielded unto Christ; for a work of the law is not desirable, except for this end. Therefore Christ doth offer himself directly in the Scripture, and people are invited to come to him: and although many will not come to him who is the surety, until the spirit of bondage distress them for their debt, yet if any, upon the knowledge of their lost estate, would flee and yield to Christ, none might warrantably press a work of the law upon them.
As for others, whom Christ persuaded by a word to follow him; whatsoever he did, or howsoever he spake to them, at his first meeting with them, we must rationally suppose that then he discovered so much of their own necessity, and his own fulness and excellency to them, as made them quit all, and run after him: and if he do so to any, we crave no more, since there is room enough there for the Physician.
So that from all this, as some may be confirmed and strengthened, with whom God hath so dealt, so there is no ground nor occasion for deluded souls to flatter themselves in their condition, who remain ignorant and senseless of their own miseries, and Christ’s all-sufficiency, and hold fast deceit.
III. There are some brought into Christ in a way yet more declarative of his free grace; and this is, when he effectually calls men at the hour of death. We find somewhat recorded of this way in that pregnant example of the “thief on the cross.” Although this seems not very pertinent for the purpose in hand, yet we shall speak a little of it, that on the one hand men may be sparing to judge and pass sentence upon either themselves or others before the last breath; and we shall so particularize it, that, on the other hand, none may dare to delay so great a business to the last hour of their life.
We find these things remarkable in that business between Christ and the thief.
1. The man falleth out with his former companion.
2. He dares not speak a wrong word of God, whose hand is on him, but justifies him in all that has befallen him.
3. He now sees Jesus Christ persecuted by the world without a cause, and most injuriously.
4. He discovers Christ to be a Lord and a King, whilst his enemies seem to have him under.
5. He believes a state of glory after death so really, that he prefers a portion of it to the present safety of his bodily life, which he knew Christ was able to grant him at that time, that he might have chosen that with the other thief.
6. Although he was much abased in himself,
and so humbled, that he pleaded but that Christ would remember him, yet he was nobly daring to throw himself upon the covenant, on life and death; and he had so much faith of Christ’s all-sufficiency, that he judged a simple remembrance from Christ would satisfyingly do his business.
7. He acquiesced sweetly in the word which, Christ spake to him for the ground of his comfort. All which are very clear in the case of that poor dying man, and do prove a very real work of God upon his heart.
As this example may encourage some to wait for good from God, who cannot as yet lay clear claim to any gracious work of his Spirit; so we earnestly entreat all, as they love their souls not to delay their soul-salvation, hoping for such assistance from Christ in the end, as too many do; this being a rare miracle of mercy, with the glory of which Christ did honourably triumph over the ignominy of his cross; a parallel of which we shall hardly find in all the Scripture besides. Yea, as there be but few at all saved: “Many be called, but few chosen;” and fewest saved this way; so the Lord hath peremptorily threatened to laugh at the calamity, and not to hear the cry of such as formerly mocked at his reproof, and would not hear when he called to them: “Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; but ye have set at nought all my counsel and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity, I will mock when your fear cometh.” Which Scripture, although it doth not shut the door of mercy upon any, who at the hour of death do sincerely judge themselves and flee to Christ, as this penitent thief did; yet it is certain, it implies that very few, who reject the offer until then, are honoured with repentance as he was; and so their cry, as not being sincere, and of the right stamp, shall not be heard.
SECT. II. The Work of the Law, by which the Lord prepares his way unto Men’s Souls; which is either more violent and sudden, or more calm and gradual.
IV. The fourth and most ordinary way by which many are brought to Christ, is by a clear and discernible work of the law, and humiliation; which we generally call “the spirit of bondage,” as was hinted before. We do not mean that every one, whose conscience is wakened with sin and fear of wrath, does really close with Christ; the contrary appears in Cain, Saul, Judas, &c. But there is a conviction of sin, an awakening of conscience, and work of humiliation, which, as we shall particularize it, doth rarely miscarry or fail of a gracious issue, but ordinarily resolves into the “Spirit of adoption,” and a gracious work of God’s Spirit. And because the Lord dealeth with many sinners this way, and we find that many are much puzzled about the giving judgment of this work of the law, we shall speak of it particularly.
This work is either more violently and suddenly despatched, or it is more soberly and easily protracted through a greater length of time, and so as the steps of it are very discernible. It is more violent in some, as in the jailer, Paul, and some other converts in the book of the Acts of the Apostles, on whom Christ did break in at an instant, and fell on them as with fire and sword, and led them captive terribly. And because some great legal awakenings are deceitful, and turn to nothing, if not worse, we shall point at some things remarkable in these converts spoken of before, which proves the work of the law on them to have had a gracious issue and result.
1. Some word of truth, or dispensation, puts the person to a dreadful stand, with a great stir in the soul; “some are pricked in heart,” “some fall on trembling.” And this is such a stir, that the person is brought to his wit’s end: “What wilt thou have me to do?” saith Paul; “What must I do to be saved?” saith the jailer.
2. The person is content to have salvation and God’s friendship on any terms, as the question does import, “What shall I do?” As if he had said, What would I not do? what would I not forego? what would I not undergo?
3. The person accepts the condition offered by Christ and his servants, as is clear in the forecited Scriptures.
4. The person presently becomes of one interest with the saints, joining himself with that persecuted society, putting respect on those whom he had formerly persecuted, joining and continuing with them in the profession of Christ at all hazards. Those with whom the Lord hath so dealt, have much to say for a gracious work of God’s Spirit in them; and it is probable, many of them can date their work from such a particular time and word, or dispensation, and can give some account of what passed between God and them, and of a sensible change following in them from that time forward; as Paul giveth a good account of the work and way of God with him afterwards.
Again, the Lord sometimes carries on this work more calmly, softly, and easily, protracting it so, as the several steps of men’s exercise under it are very discernible. It would draw us to a great length to enlarge on every step of it; we shall touch on the most observable things in it.
1. The Lord lays siege to men, who, it may be, have often refused to yield to him, when he offered himself in his ordinances; and by some word preached, read, or borne in on the mind, or by some providence leading in the word, he doth assault the house kept peaceably by the strong man, the devil; and thus Christ, who is the stronger man, cometh upon him, and, by the Spirit of truth, fastens the word on the man, in which God’s curse is denounced against such and such sins, of which the man knows himself guilty. The Spirit convinces the man, and binds it upon him, that he is the same person against whom the word of God doth speak, because he is guilty of such sins; and from some sins the man is led on to see more, until usually he comes to see the sins of his youth, sins of omission, &c. yea, he is led on, until he see himself guilty almost of the breach of the whole law; he sees “innumerable evils compassing him,” as David speaketh in a fit of exercise. A man sometimes will see awful sights of sin in this case, and is sharp-sighted to reckon a relation almost to every sin. Thus “the Spirit cometh and convinceth of sin.”
2. The Lord shaketh a special strong-hold in the garrison, a refuge of lies, to which the man betakes himself when his sins are thus discovered to him. The poor man pretendeth to faith in Christ, by which he thinks his burden is taken off him, as the Pharisees said, “We have one Father, even God:” they pretend to a special relation to God as a common Lord. The Spirit of God drives the man from this by the truth of the Scriptures, proving that he hath no true faith, and so no interest in Christ, nor any true saving grace; showing clearly the difference between true grace and the counterfeit fancies which the man hath in him; and between him and the truly godly, as Christ laboureth to do to the Jews “If God were your Father, ye would love me. Ye are of the devil, for ye do the lusts of such a father.” So, “fear surpriseth the hypocrite in heart,” especially when the Lord discovereth to him conditions, in many of these promises in which be trusted most, not easily attainable: he now seeth grace and faith to be another thing than once he judged them to be. We may, in some respect, apply that word here, “The Spirit convinceth him of sin, because he hath not believed on the Son:” he is particularly convinced of unbelief—he seeth now an immense distance between himself and the godly, who he thought before outstripped him only in some unnecessary, proud, hateful preciseness–he now sees himself deluded, and in the broad way with the perishing multitude; and so, in this sight of his misery, lies down under his own burden, which, before this time, he thought Christ did bear for him: he now begins to scar at the promises, because of that and such other words, “What hast thou to do to take my covenant in thy mouth?” &c.
3. The man becomes careful about his salvation, and begins to take it to heart, as the one thing necessary; he is brought to this with the jailer, “What shall I do to be saved?” His salvation becomes the leading thing with him. It was least in his thoughts before, but now it prevaileth, and other things are much disregarded by him. Since his soul is ready to perish, “what shall it profit him to gain the world, if he lose his soul?” Some here are much puzzled with the thoughts of an irrevocable decree to their prejudice, and with the fears of uncertain death, which may attack them before they get matters brought to an issue; and some are vexed with apprehensions that they are guilty of the sin against the Holy Ghost, which is unpardonable, and so are driven to a dangerous length; Satan still upbraiding them with many sad examples of people who have woefully put an end to their own existence: but they are in the hand of one who “knoweth how to succour them that are tempted.”
4. When a man is thus in hazard of miscarrying, the Lord useth a work of preventing mercy towards him, quietly and under-hand, supporting him; and this is by bearing in upon his mind the possibility of his salvation, leading the man to the remembrance of numerous proofs of God’s free and rich grace, pardoning gross transgressors, such as Manasseh, who was a bloody idolatrous man, and had correspondence with the devil, and yet obtained mercy; and other Scriptures bearing offers of grace and favour indifferently to all who will yield to Christ, whatsoever they have been formerly: so that the man is brought again to this, “What shall I do to be saved?” which doth suppose that he apprehends a possibility of being saved, else he mould not propound the question. He applies that or the like word to himself; “It may be ye shall be hid in the day of the Lord’s anger.” He finds nothing excluding him from mercy now, if he have a heart for the thing. Although, here it may be, the man does not perceive that it is the Lord who upholds, yet afterwards he can say, that “when his foot was slipping, God’s mercy held him up;” as the Psalmist speaketh in another case. And he will afterwards say, when he “was as a beast, and a fool, in many respects, God held him by the hand.”
5. After this discovery of a possibility of being saved, there is a work of desire quickened in the soul; which is obvious from that same expression, “What shall I do to be saved?” But sometimes this desire is directed amiss, whilst it goes out thus, “What shall I do that I may work the works of God?” In which case the man, formerly perplexed with fear and care about his salvation, would be at some work of his own to extricate himself; and here he suddenly resolves to do all that is commanded, and to forego every evil way, (yet much mistaking Christ Jesus,) and so begins to take some courage to himself again, “establishing his own righteousness; but not submitting unto the righteousness of God,” upon which the Lord maketh a new assault on him, with the view of discovering to him his absolutely fallen state in himself, that so room may be made for the surety; as Joshua did to the people, when he found them so bold in their undertakings: “Ye cannot serve the Lord,” saith he, “for he is a holy God, a jealous God,” &c. In this new assault the Lord,
1. Sets up against the man the spirituality of the law; the commandment comes with a new charge in the spiritual meaning of it. “The law came,” saith Paul, that is, in the spiritual meaning of it: Paul had never seen such a view of the law before.
2. God most holily doth loose the restraining bonds which he had laid upon the man’s corruption, and suffers it not only to work and swell within, but to threaten to break out in all the outward members. Thus sin grows bold, and spurneth at the law, becoming exceedingly sinful: “But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. For I was alive without the law once; but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. Was then that which is good made death unto me! God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.”
3. The Lord discovers to the man, more now than ever before, the uncleanness of his righteousness, and what spots are in his best things. These things kill the man, and he dies to his own self-righteousness, and despairs of relief in himself, if it come not from another quarter.
6. After many ups and downs here, generally the man resolves on retirement; he desires to be alone, he cannot keep company as before. Like those in a besieged thy, who, when they see they cannot hold out, and would be glad of any good condition from the besieging enemy, go to a council, that they may resolve on something; so the man here retires, that he may speak with himself. This is like that “communing with our own heart.” Thus God leadeth to the wilderness, that he may speak to the heart. When the person is retired, the thoughts of his heart, which were scattered in former steps of the exercise, do more observably throng in here. We shall reduce them to this method:–
1. The man thinks of his unhappy folly in bearing arms against God; and here there are numerous thoughts of former ways, with a blushing countenance and self-loathing: “Then shall ye remember your own evil ways, and your doings that were not good, and shall loathe yourselves in your own sight,” &c. like the Psalmist: “His sin is ever before him.”
2. Then, he remembers how many fair opportunities of yielding to God he has basely lost: his spirit is like to faint when he remembers that, as is said in another case, “When I remember these things I pour out my soul in me.–O my God, my soul is cast down within me.–Deep calleth unto deep: all thy waves are gone over me.”
3. He now thinks of many Christians whom he mocked and despised in his heart, persuading himself now that they are happy, as having chosen the better part; he thinks of the condition of those who wait on Christ, as the Queen of Sheba did of Solomon’s servants: “Happy are thy servants,” saith she, “who stand continually before thee, and that hear thy wisdom:” “Blessed are they that dwell in thy house,” &c. He wishes to be one of the meanest who have any relation to God: as the prodigal son doth speak, he would be as “one of his Father’s hired servants.”
4. Then he calls to mind the good report that is gone abroad of God, according to that testimony of the prophet, who knew that God was a gracious “God and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness,” &c. The free and large promises and offers of grace come in here; and the glorious dealings which have past upon sinners of all sorts, according to the account of God in Scripture.
5. He thinks with himself, Why hath God spared me so long? and why have I got such a sight of my sin? and why hath he kept me from destroying myself with my own hand, in choosing some unhappy relief? why hath he made this strange change on me? It may be it is in his heart to do me good: O that it may be so!–Although all these thoughts be not in the preparatory work of every one, yet they are with many, and very promising where they are.
7. Upon all these thoughts and meditations the man, more seriously than ever before, resolves to pray, and to make some attempt with God, upon life and death; he concludes, “It can be no worse with him; for if he sit still he perisheth;” as the lepers speak. He considers, with the perishing prodigal son, “that there is bread enough in his. Father’s house and to spare, whilst he perisheth for want:” so, he goes to God, for he knows not what, else to make of his condition, as the prodigal son Both. And, it may be, he resolves what to speak; but things readily vary when he is sisted before God, as the prodigal son forgot some of his premeditated prayers: “I will arise and go to my father, and, will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against Heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son; make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose and came unto his father, and said unto him, Father, I have sinned against Heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.”
And now, when he comes before God, more observably than ever before,
1. He begins, with the Publican, afar off; with many thorough confessions and self-condemnations, of which he is very liberal: “I have sinned against Heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy,” &c.
2. Now his thoughts are occupied concerning the hearing of his prayer, which he was not wont to question much: he now knows what those expressions of the saints, concerning the bearing of their prayers, do import.
3. It is observable in this address, that there are many broken sentences, like that of the Psalmist, “But thou, O Lord, how long?” supplied with sighs and “groanings which cannot be uttered;” and earnest looking upward, thereby speaking more than can be well expressed by words.
4. There is usually some interruptions, and, as it were, diversions; the man speaking sometimes to the enemy, sometimes to his own heart, sometimes to the multitude in the world, as David doth in other cases, “O thou enemy, destructions are come to a perpetual end.” “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance.” “O ye sons of men, how long will ye turn my glory into shame?”
5. It is observable here, that sometimes the man will stop, and be silent, to hear some indistinct whispering of a joyful sound glancing on the mind, or some news in some broken word of Scripture, which, it may be, the man scarcely knows to be Scripture, or whether it is come from God, or whether an insinuation from Satan to delude him; yet this he hath resolved, only to “hear what God the Lord will speak,” as upon another occasion.
6. More distinct promises come into the man’s mind, upon which he attempteth to lay hold, but is beaten off with objections, as in another case the Psalmist is: “But thou art holy–but I am a worm.” Now it is about the dawning of the day with the man, and faith will stir as soon as the Lord imparteth “the joyful sound.” This is the substance of the covenant, which may be shortly summed up in these words: “Christ Jesus is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye him.”
We can speak no further of the man’s exercise as a preparatory work; for what follows is more than preparatory; yet, that the exercise may appear complete and full, we shall add here, that after all these things, the Lord, it may be, after many answers of divers sorts, powerfully conveys the knowledge of his covenant into the heart, and determines the heart to close with it; and God now draweth the heart so to Christ, and so layeth out the heart for him, that the work cannot miscarry; for now the heart is so enlarged for him, as that less cannot satisfy, and more is not desired; like that of the Psalmist, “Whom have I in heaven but thee? or whom have I desired on earth beside thee?” The soul now resolves to die if he command so, yet at his door, and facing towards him.
We have narrated this preparatory work at some length, not tying any man to such a work so particularized; only we say, the Lord deals so with some; and where he so convinces of sin, corruption, and self-emptiness, and makes a man take salvation to heart as the one thing necessary, and sets him to work in the use of the means which God hath appointed for relief; I say, such a work rarely shall be found to fail of a good issue and gracious result.
SECT. III.–The Difference betwixt that preparatory work of the Law which hath a gracious issue, and the Convictions of Hypocrites.
Object. Hypocrites and reprobates have great stirrings of conscience, and deep convictions about sin, setting them to work sometimes, and I do suspect any preparatory work of the law I ever had to be but such as they have.
Ans. It will be hard to give sure essential distinctions between the preparatory work in those in whom afterwards Christ is formed, and those legal stirrings which are sometimes in reprobates. If there were not some gracious result of these convictions and wakenings of conscience in the Lord’s people, and other marks, of which we shall speak afterwards, it were hard to determine upon any difference that is clear in these legal stirrings. Yet, for answer to the objection, I shall offer some things, which rarely will be found in the stirrings of reprobates, and which are usually found in that work of the law which hath a gracious issue.
1. The convictions of hypocrites and reprobates are usually confined to some few very gross transgressions. Saul grants no more but the “persecuting of David.” Judas grants only the “betraying of innocent blood;” but usually those convictions, by which the Lord prepares his own way in the soul, although they may begin at one or more gross particular transgressions, yet they stop not; but the man is led on to see many violations of the law, and “innumerable evils compassing him,” as David speaketh in the sight of his sin. And withal, that universal conviction, if may call it so, is not general, as usually we hear senseless men saying, “that in all things they sin;” but it is particular and condescending, as Paul afterwards spake of himself; he not only is the “chief of sinners,” but particularly, he was a “blasphemer, a persecutor.”
2. The convictions which hypocrites have, do seldom reach their corruption, and that body of death, which works an aversion to what is good, and strongly inclines to what is evil. Generally where we find hypocrites speaking of themselves in Scripture, they speak loftily, and with some self-conceit, as to their freedom from corruption. The Pharisees say to the poor man, “Thou wast altogether born in sin, and dost thou teach us?” as if they themselves were not as corrupt by nature as he: they speak of great sins; as Hazael did, “Am I a dog, that I should do this great thing?” and also in their undertakings of duty, as that scribe spake, “Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.” See how the people do speak: “Then they said to Jeremiah, The Lord be a true and faithful witness between us, if we do not even according to all things for the which the Lord thy God shall send thee to us. Whether it be good, or whether it be evil, we will obey the voice of the Lord our God, to whom we send thee; that it may be well with us when we obey the voice of the Lord our God.” They undertake to do all that God will command them; so that they still “go about,” in any case, “to establish their own righteousness not submitting unto the righteousness of God.” But I may say, that convictions and exercise about corruption, and that body of death, inclining them to evil, and disenabling them for good, is not the least part of the work where the Lord is preparing his own way. They use to judge themselves very wretched because of a body of sin, and are at their wits end how to be delivered, as Paul speaketh, when he is under the exercise of it afterwards: “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”
3. It will generally be found, that the convictions which are in hypocrites either are not so serious, as that some other business will not put them out of mind before any satisfaction is gotten; as in Cain, who went and built a city, and we hear no more of his convictions. Felix went away until a more convenient time, and we hear no more of his trembling. Or, if that work become very serious, then it runs to the other extremity, and despair of relief, leaving no room for escape. So we find Judas very serious in his convictions, yet he grew desperate, and hanged himself. But where the Lord prepares his own way, the work is both so serious as the person cannot be put of it, until he find some satisfaction, and yet under that very seriousness he lies open for relief: both which are clear from the jailer’s words, “What must I do to be saved?” This serious inquiry after relief is a very observable thing in the preparatory work which leadeth on to Christ. Yet we desire none to lay too much weight on these things, since God hath allowed clear differences between the precious and the vile.
Object. I still fear I have not had so thorough a sight of my sin and misery as the Lord gives to many whom he effectually calls, especially to great transgressors, such as I am.
Answ. It is true, the Lord discovers to some, strong impressions of their sin and misery, and they are thereby put under great legal terrors; but as all are not brought in by that sensible preparatory work of the law, as we showed before, so even those who are dealt with after that way are very differently and variously exercised, in regard of the degrees of terror, and of the continuance of that work. The jailer had a violent work, of very short continuance; Paul had a work continuing three days; some persons are “in bondage, through fear of death, all their days.” So that we must not limit the Lord to one way of working here. The main thing we are to look to, in these legal awakenings and convictions of sin and misery, is, if the Lord reach those ends in us, for which usually these stirrings and convictions are sent into the soul; and if those ends are reached, it is well; we are not to vex ourselves about any preparatory work further. Now, those ends which God seeks to accomplish with sinners, by these legal terrors and awakenings of conscience, are four.
First, The Lord discovers a sight of men’s sin and misery to them, to drive them out of themselves, and to put them out of conceit with their own righteousness. Men naturally have high thoughts of themselves, and do incline much to the covenant of works; the Lord therefore discovers to them so much of their sin and corruption, even in their best things, that they are made to loathe themselves, and to despair of relief in them selves; and so they are forced to flee out of themselves, and from the covenant of works, to seek refuge elsewhere: “They become dead to themselves and the law,” as to the point of justification. Then “have they no more confidence in the flesh.” This is supposed in the offers of Christ, “coming to seek and save that which is lost,” and “to be a physician to those who are sick.”
The second great end is, to commend Christ Jesus to men’s hearts above all things, that so they may fall in love with him, and betake themselves to that treasure and jewel which only enricheth, and, by so doing, may serve the Lord’s design in the contrivance of the gospel, which was the manifestation of his free grace through Christ Jesus in the salvation of men. The view of a man’s own misery and perishing condition by nature is a ready way to make him prize Christ highly, who alone can set such a wretch at liberty: yea, it not only leads a man to a high esteem of Christ, but also of all things that relate to that way of salvation, as grace, the new covenant, faith, &c. and makes him carefully gather and treasure up his Michtams or golden Scriptures, for the confirmation of his interest in these things.
The third great end is, to deter and scare people from sin, and to make them quarrel with it, and consent to put their neck under all his yoke. God kindles some sparks of hell in men’s bosoms by the discovery of their sin, as a ready means to make them henceforth stand in awe, knowing “how bitter a thing it is to depart from the Lord.” So we find rest offered to the weary, upon condition they will take on Christ’s yoke: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” And God offereth to own men as their God and Father, upon condition they will allow no peaceable abode to Belial: “What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you, and will be a father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.”
The fourth great end is, to work up men to a patient and thankful submission to all the Master’s pleasure. This is a singular piece of work: “Then shalt thou remember, and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more, because of thy shame, when I am pacified towards thee, for all that thou hut done, saith the Lord.” The sight of a man’s own vileness and deserving makes him silent, and to lay his hand on his mouth, whatsoever God does unto him: “I was dumb, and opened not my mouth, because thou didst it.” “God hath punished us less than our iniquities.” “I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned.” The man careth not what God doth to him, or how he deal with him, if he save him from the deserved wrath to come: also, any mercy is a great mercy, to him who hath seen such a view of himself; he is “less than the least of mercies;” “any crumb falling from the Master’s table, is welcome;” he thinks it rich “mercy that he is not consumed.” This is the thing that marvellously maketh God’s poor afflicted people so silent under, and satisfied with, their lot; nay, they think he deserves hell, who opens his mouth at any thing God does to him, since he hath pardoned his transgressions.
So, then, for satisfying the objection, I say, if the Lord hath driven thee out of thyself, and commended Christ to thy heart above all things, and made thee resolve, in his strength, to wage war with every known transgression, and thou art in some measure as a weaned child, acquiescing in what he doth to thee, desiring to lay thy hand on thy mouth thankfully; then thy convictions of sin and misery, and whatsoever thou dost plead as a preparatory work, is sufficient, and thou art to debate no more concerning it. Only be advised so to study new discoveries of the sense of thy lost condition every day, because of thy old and new sins; and also to seek fresh help in Christ, who is a priest for ever to make intercession; and to have the work of sanctification and patience, with thankfulness, renewed and quickened often; for somewhat of that work which abaseth thee, exalteth Christ, and conforms to his will, must accompany thee throughout all thy lifetime in this world.
WE come now to speak of some more clear and sure marks, by which men may discover their gracious state and interest in Christ. The first thing by which men may know it is, their closing with Christ in the gospel, wherein he is held forth. This is believing, or faith, which is the condition of the covenant: “It is of faith, that it might be by grace.” “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” Now, although, in propriety of speech, it is hard to prove an interest by faith, it being our very interest in him; yet the heart’s closing with Christ Jesus, is so discernible in itself, that we may well place it amongst the marks of a gracious state: and if a man can make out this, that he believeth on and in Christ Jesus, he thereby proves a very true interest in him.
Many do scare at this as a mark, upon one of these three grounds:–
1. Some conceive faith to be a difficult mysterious thing, hardly attainable. To these I say, Do not mistake; faith is not so difficult as many apprehend it to be. I grant true faith, in the least degree, is the gift of God, and above the power of flesh and blood; for God must draw men to Christ.” “No man can come to me, except the Father, who hath sent me, draw him.” “Unto you it is given, in the behalf of Christ, to believe on him.” Yet it were a reflection upon Christ, and all he hath done, to say it were a matter of insuperable difficulty; as is clear: “The righteousness which is of faith, speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? that is, to bring Christ down from above; or, Who shall descend into the deep? that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead. But what with it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart; that is, the word of faith which we preach. That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart, that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved: for with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture saith, “Whosoever believeth on him, shall not be ashamed.” It were, according to that scripture, as much upon the matter as to say, Christ came not from heaven, is not risen from the dead, nor ascended victorious to heaven. I say, he hath made the way to heaven most easy; and faith, which is the condition required on our part, more easy than men do imagine. For the better understanding of this, consider, that justifying faith is not to believe that I am elected, or to believe that God loveth me, or that Christ died for me, or the like: these things are indeed very difficult, and almost impossible at the first to be got at by those who are serious; whilst natural Atheists and deluded hypocrites find no difficulty in asserting all those things. I say, true justifying faith is not any of these things; neither is it simply the believing of any sentence that is written, or that can be thought upon. I grant, he that believeth on Christ Jesus, believeth what God hath said concerning man’s sinful miserable condition by nature; and he believeth that to be true, that “there is life in the Son, who was slain, and is risen again from the dead,” &c. But none of these, nor the believing of many such truths, do speak out justifying faith, or that believing on the Son of God spoken of in Scripture: for then it were simply an act of the understanding: but true justifying faith, which we now seek after, as a good mark of an interest in Christ, is chiefly and principally an act or work of the heart and will; having presupposed several things about truth in the understanding: “With the heart it is believed unto righteousness,” Rom. x. 10. And although it seem, ver. 9. of that chapter, that a man is saved upon condition that he believes this truth, “God raised Christ from the dead,” yet we must understand another thing there, and ver. 10. than the believing the truth of that proposition: for besides that all devils have that faith, whereby they believe that God raised Christ from the dead, so the Scripture hath clearly resolved justifying faith into a receiving of Christ: “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” The receiving of Christ, is there explained to be the believing on his name. It is still called a staying on the Lord, a trusting in God, often mentioned in the Psalms, and the word is a leaning on him. It is a believing on Christ: “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent; and often so expressed in the New Testament.
When God maketh men believe savingly, he is said to draw them unto Christ; and when the Lord inviteth them to believe, he calleth them to come to him: “All that the Father giveth me, shall come to me; and him that cometh to me, I will in nowise cast out. No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.” The kingdom of heaven is like a man finding a jewel, with which he falleth in love: “The kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof, goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant-man seeking goodly pearls; who, when he had found one pearl of great prices went and sold all that he had, and bought it.” Now, I say, this acting of the heart on Christ Jesus, is not so difficult a thing as is conceived. Shall that be judged a mysterious difficult thing; which doth consist much in desire? If men have but an appetite, they have it; for they are “blessed that hunger after righteousness.” If you will, you are welcome. Is it a matter of such intricacy and insuperable difficulty, earnestly to look to that exalted Saviour? “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.” And to receive a thing that is offered, held forth, and declared to be mine, if I will but accept and take it, and in a manner “open my mouth,” and give way to it? “Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.” Such a thing is faith, if not less. Oh, if I could persuade people what is justifying faith, which appropriateth Christ to me! We often scare people from their just rest and quiet, by making them to apprehend faith to be some deep mysterious thing, and by moving unnecessary doubts about it, whereby it is needlessly darkened.
2. Some make no use of this mark, as judging it a high presumptuous crime to pretend to so excellent a thing as is the very condition of the new covenant. To these I say, You need not startle so much at it, as if it were high pride to pretend to it: for whatsoever true faith be, men must resolve to have it, or nothing at all; all other marks are in vain without it; a thousand things besides will not do the business: “Unless a man believe, he abideth in the state of condemnation:” “He that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. He that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.”
3. Others do not meddle with this noble mark of faith, because they judge it a work of the greatest difficulty to find out faith where it is. To these I say, It is not so difficult to find it out, since “he that believeth hath the witness in himself.” It is a thing which by some serious search may be known. Not only may we do much to find it out by the preparatory work going before it in many, as the apprehending and believing of a man’s lost estate, and that he cannot work out his own salvation, and that there is satisfying fulness in Christ, very desirable if he could overtake it; a serious minding of this, with a heart laid open for relief; as also by the ordinary companions and concomitants of it, that is, the liking of Christ’s dominion, his kingly and prophetical office, a desire to resign myself wholly up to him, to be at his disposing; as also by the native consequences of it, that is, the acquitting of the word, the acquitting of my own conscience according to the word, a heart-purifying work, a working by love, &c. I say, not only may we know faith by these things, but it is discernible by itself and of its own nature. Although I deny not but there must be some help of God’s Spirit, “by which we know what is freely given unto us of God;” as also, that God hath allowed many evidences and marks as precious helps, whereby men may clear up faith more fully to themselves: “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;” yet I still say, that faith, or believing, which is some acting of the heart upon Christ in the gospel, and the transacting with him there, is discernible of itself, and by itself, to a judicious understanding person, with an ordinary influence of the Spirit; unless the Lord, for reasons known to himself, overcloud a man’s reflex light, by which he should take up and perceive what is in him.
This justifying faith, which we assert to be so discernible, is, in the Lord’s deep wisdom and gracious condescension, variously expressed in Scripture, according to the different actings of it upon God, and outgoings after him; so that every one who hath it, may find and take it up in his own mould. It sometimes acteth by a desire of union with him in Christ; this is that looking to him in Isaiah: “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.” This seems to be a weak act of faith, and far below other actings of it at other times perhaps in that same person. Men will look to what they dare not approach, to their apprehension which they dare not touch or embrace; they may look to one to whom they dare not speak; yet God hath made the promise to faith in that acting, as the forementioned Scripture doth show; and this he hath done mercifully and wisely; for this sometimes is the only discernible way of the acting of faith of some persons. Such are the actings or outgoings of faith expressed in Scripture by “hungering and thirsting after righteousness;” and that expressed by willing, “and whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”
Again, this faith goes out sometimes in the act of recumbency, or leaning on the Lord, the soul taking up Christ then as a resting-stone, and God hath so held him out, although he be a stumbling-stone to others. This acting of it is hinted in the expressions of trusting and staying on God, so often mentioned in Scripture; and precious promises are made to this acting of faith: “God will keep them in perfect peace whose minds are stayed on him; because such do trust in him. Trust in the Lord; for with him is everlasting strength.” “They that trust in the Lord shall be as Mount Zion, which abideth for ever.” I say, the Lord hath made promises to this way of faith’s acting, as knowing it will often go out after him in this way with many persons; and this way of its acting will be most discernible to them.
It goes out after God sometimes by an act of waiting; when the soul hath somewhat depending before God, and hath not got out his mind satisfyingly concerning that thing, then faith doth wait; and so it hath the promise, “They shall not be ashamed that wait for me.” Sometimes it acteth in a wilful way upon the Lord, when the soul apprehends God thrusting it away, and threatening its ruin: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” The faith of that poor woman of Canaan, so highly commended by Christ, went out in this way of willful acting over difficulties; and the Lord speaketh much good of it, and to it, because some will sometimes be put to it to exercise faith that way, and so they have that for their encouragement. It were tedious to instance all the several ways of the acting of faith upon, and its exercise about, and outgoing after Christ: I may say, according to the various conditions of man. And accordingly faith, which God hath appointed to traffic and travel between Christ and man, as the instrument of conveyance of his fulness to man, and of maintaining union and communion with him, acts variously and differently upon God in Christ: for faith is the very laying out of a man’s heart according to God’s device of salvation by Christ Jesus, “in whom it pleased the Father that all fulness should dwell;” so that, let Christ turn what way he will, faith turneth and pointeth that way. Now he turns all ways in which he can be useful to poor man; and therefore faith acts accordingly on him for drawing out of that fulness, according to a man’s case and condition. As for example, The soul is naked, destitute of a covering to keep it from the storm of God’s wrath; Christ is fine raiment: then accordingly faith’s work here is to “put on the Lord Jesus.” The soul is hungry and thirsty after somewhat that may everlastingly satisfy; Christ Jesus, is “milk, wine, water, the bread of life, and the true manna.” He is, “the feast of fat things, and of wine refined;” then the work and exercise of faith is to “go, buy, eat and drink abundantly.” The soul is pursued with guilt more or less, and is not able to answer the charge; Christ Jesus is the city of refuge, and the high priest there, during whose priesthood, that is for ever, the poor man who gets thither is safe; therefore the work and exercise of faith is “to flee thither for refuge, to lay hold on the hope set before us.” In a word, whatever way he may benefit poor man, he declares himself able to do. And in whatever way he holdeth out himself in the Scriptures, so faith doth point towards him. If he be a Bridegroom, faith will go out in a marriage relation; if he be a Father, faith pleadeth the man to be a child; if he be a Shepherd, faith pleads the man may be one of his sheep: if he be a Lord, faith calleth him so, which none can do but by the Spirit of Jesus; if he be dead, and risen again for our justification, faith “believeth God hath raised him” on that amount. Wheresoever he be, there would faith be; and whatsoever he is, faith would be somewhat like him; for by faith the heart is laid out in breadth and length for him; yea, when the fame and report of him goeth abroad in his truth, although faith seeth not much, yet it “believeth on his name,” upon the very fame he hath sent abroad of himself.
But here, for avoiding mistakes, consider,
1. That although justifying faith acts so variously, yet every believer who hath a good title to Christ Jesus, hath not all these various workings and exercises of faith: for his condition requires them not; and also the Master is pleased, at some times, not to lead out the faith of some persons in all these ways, for reasons known to himself, even when their necessity (to their apprehension) calls for such working of faith. Surely, every one dare not say, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” Many would not have gone up with the woman of Canaan, I spake of, but would have been discouraged, and would have quit the pursuit. It is on this account that Christ highly commends the faith of some beyond the faith of others–of the centurion–of the woman of Canaan. Many good people are much disquieted concerning their faith, because it goeth not out in all those ways we find recorded in Scripture; but there is hardly any man will be found, whose faith has wrought all these ways.
2. Many of these workings of faith are much intended and remitted. They are sometimes strong and vigorous, and discernible; and sometimes they fail, and unbelief prevails; so it were an uncertain thing to judge of a man’s state by those. We find the saints sometimes very different from themselves, in regard of the workings of faith, as we showed before.
3. Each one of these workings of faith speaks good to the person in whom it is, and hath promises annexed to it, as we have said.
4. Although these workings of faith have promises annexed to them, they are not, on that account, the condition of the new covenant; for then every one behooved to have each one of them, which is not true, as we said before. A promise is made to him who overcometh; but perseverance is not the condition of the new covenant, though it doth suppose it. There are promises made to the exercise of all graces in Scripture; but faith only is the condition of the covenant. I say then these promises are made to these workings of faith, not as such, but as they do suppose justifying faith, which is the condition of the covenant. All these are workings of faith, but not as it is justifying. Therefore,
5. There is something common to all gracious persons, which may be supposed by all the abovementioned workings of faith, wherein the nature and essence of justifying faith consist. And this is the heart’s satisfaction concerning God’s plan of salvation by Christ; when man is pleased with God’s method of satisfaction to justice, through Christ Jesus, in whom all fulness doth now dwell by the Father’s pleasure; when the soul and heart of man acquiesce in that, then it believeth unto salvation, As at first the Lord made man suitable to the covenant of works, by creating him perfect, and so putting him in a capacity to perform his will in that covenant; so, under the new covenant, when God giveth the new heart to man, he putteth the idea and stamp of all his device in the new covenant upon the man, so as there is a consonance to God’s will there: thus he beareth the image of the second Adam, Christ Jesus, on him. This is a great part of the new heart, and is most opposed to works; since now the man absolutely falleth from works, “becoming dead to the law,” as to the point of justification “by the body of Christ.” Man perceiving that God hath devised a way of satisfying divine justice, and recovering lost man by the incarnation of Christ, he thinks this so good and sure, a way, that he absolutely gives up with the law, as I said before, and closes with this device; and this is believing, or faith, very opposite to works, and all resting thereupon. This cannot fail to be in all gracious persons, in whom many of the workings of faith are not to be found. This clearly supposes known distress in a man, without all relief in himself; this supposes known fulness in Christ, as the alone sufficient relief: this imports a sort, of appropriation; for the heart, being pleased with that device, in so far swayeth towards it. This is a thing clearly supposed in all the workings of faith spoken of before. He that greedily hungereth, hath this; and he that leaneth, hath this; and he that puts on Christ, hath this, &c. This is to esteem “Christ the wisdom and power of God” to salvation: so is he said to be to all that believe. They esteem that device wise and sure, and beseeming God; and that is to believe. On this account, “Christ, who is the rejected stone to many, is precious to them who believe;” a fit stone to recover, fortify, and beautify the tottering building and fabric of lost man. “To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. Wherefore also it is contained in the Scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief Corner-stone, elect, precious; and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Unto you, therefore, which believe, he is precious; but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, and a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient; whereunto also they were appointed.” “The kingdom of God is like a man finding a treasure, for which with joy he selleth all.” These words hold out the very way of believing; namely, salvation is discovered in the gospel to be by Christ; the heart valueth that method as satisfying. This is to believe on the Son of God lifted up; which is compared with the looking to the brazen serpent. It was man’s approbation of that device, which made it effectual for his healing; so is it here: “He that so believeth, setteth to his seal that God is true.” True! Wherein? In that record he hath borne, that God hath provided life for men, and placed it all in Christ: “He that believeth not, maketh God a liar.” Wherein? In his saying that Christ is a safe and sure way to heaven. This is being pleased and acquiescing in that device; and it is consonant to all I know spoken of justifying faith in Scripture. This is the believing on Christ and on his name, the receiving of him, and resting on him for salvation, in our Catechism; the believing that Jesus is the Christ, that is, the anointed One, whom the Father hath sealed and set apart, and qualified for the work of reconciling man unto God; and “he that believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God.” This is to “believe with the heart, that God hath raised Christ from the dead.” The man believeth Christ died, and is raised as a satisfaction for man’s transgression. Devils may believe that; nay; but the man I speak of, “believeth it with the heart,” which no natural man doth, until a new heart be given him; that is, he cordially is pleased and satisfied with, and acquiesceth in, this glorious method. And thus faith lays out itself now and then in its actings, outgoings, and exercise, according to all the covenant-relations under which Christ is held forth in the Scripture.
Now, I say, this faith is discernible, many times, not only in these actings; a man may know if his heart doth hunger after Christ, and flee for refuge to him, when pursued; and if he doth commit himself unto God, &c. but also in its very nature; as it is justifying, it is discernible, and may be known. A man may clearly know, if from known distress in himself, upon the report and fame of Christ’s fulness, his heart is pleased with God’s device in the new covenant; if it goes out after Christ in that invention, and pleases him as Lord of the life of men, terminating and resting there, and no where else; acquiescing in that contrivance with desire and complacency. This is a discernible thing: therefore I exhort men impartially to examine themselves; and if they find that their heart has closed so with that device of salvation, and is gone out after him as precious, that thereupon they conclude a sure and true interest in Christ Jesus, and a good claim and title to the crown, since “he that believeth shall never perish, but have everlasting life.”
SECT. II.–The difference between the Faith of Hypocrites, and true saving justifying Faith.
Object. Hypocrites and reprobates have a sort of faith, and are said to believe: “Many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did. But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men.” “Then Simon the sorcerer himself believed also;” and could not choose but go out after Christ, and that device of salvation, when they hear of it; and they profess they do so, yet are deluded, and so may I be.
Answ. To say nothing of that thought of your heart, by which you wonder that any man should not be pleased with the device of salvation by Christ, and led out towards him, as a very promising thing, and declaring justifying faith to be in your bosom; and, to say nothing in contradiction to that which you think, a natural man, whilst such, and before he get a new heart, can be pleased with that device, and affectionately believe with his heart, and that which perfectly overthroweth the covenant of works, and abaseth man in the point of self-righteousness already attained, or that can be got at by him, which is inconsistent with many scriptural truths; I offer these distinctions between the faith of all hypocrites or reprobates, and that true saving justifying faith of which we have spoken.
1. They never close with Christ Jesus in that device, and him alone, as a sufficient covering of the eyes, as is said of Abraham to Sarah; they still hold fast something of their own, at least to help to procure God’s favour and salvation; their heart doth still speak, as that young man’s speech doth insinuate: “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Besides that, they do still retain their former lovers, and will not break their covenants with hell and death, imagining they may have Christ with these things equally sharing in their heart, contrary to that: “A man cannot serve two masters.” Either Christ must be judged absolute Lord, and worthy to be so, or nothing at all; and so it is clear their heart is not laid out for that device of salvation by Christ, whom God hath alone made Lord here, in whom all fulness shall dwell. But where justifying faith is, the soul of a man and his heart doth close with Christ, and him alone, “having no confidence in the flesh,” he trusteth only in God. Also the man here giveth up with other lovers; as they compete with Christ, he resolves “not to be for another.” He calls him Lord, “which a man can only do by the Spirit of Christ.”
2. As hypocrites and reprobates never close with Christ alone, so they never close with Christ fully, as he is anointed to be a King, to rule over a man in all things; a Priest, to procure pardon and to make peace for man upon all occasions; a Prophet, to be wisdom, and a teacher and counsellor in all cases to man: so they do not receive Christ, especially in the first and third office. But where true justifying faith is, a man closes with Christ wholly in all his offices, judging all his will “good, holy, just, and spiritual,” and “right concerning all things,” “making mention of his righteousness only.
The man also giveth up himself to be taught of him: “Learn of me.” So that “Christ is made,” to the true believer, with his own consent, “wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and complete redemption.” And although he has not all these things formally in exercise when his heart goes out after Christ, yet, upon search and trial, it will be found with him as I have said.
3. Hypocrites and reprobates never close with Christ, and all the inconveniences that may follow him; they stick at that, with the Scribe, “And a certain Scribe came and said unto him, Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” But where true justifying faith is, a man closes with him on all hazards; he resolves to forego all; rather than to forego Christ: “We have left all, and have followed thee.” “He reckoneth all to be loss and dung, for the excellency of Christ Jesus, as his Lord, and to be found in him.”
We might give other distinctions also; as that true faith is operative, “purifying the heart,” “working by love;” whilst “hypocrites only cleanse the outside of the platter,” and “do all to be seen of men,” “not seeking the honour that is of God only, and so cannot believe.” We might also show, that true faith is never alone in a man, but attended with other saving graces. But because these things will coincide with what follows, and as we are showing here that a man may take up his gracious state by his faith, and the acting thereof on Christ, we at present pass these things.