C.H. Spurgeon (1834-1892): The Victory of Faith

The Victory of Faith
C.H. Spurgeon (1834-1892)
Copyright: Public Domain

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The Victory of Faith

A Sermon

(No. 14)

Delivered on Sabbath Morning, March 18, 1855,


At Exeter Hall, Strand.

For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world; and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.1 John 5:4.

THE epistles of John are perfumed with love. The word is continually occurring. While the Spirit enters into every sentence. Each letter is thoroughly soaked and impregnated with this heavenly honey. If he speaks of God, his name must be love; are the brethren mentioned, he loves them; and even of the world itself, he writes, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.” From the opening to the conclusion, love is the manner, love the matter, love the motive, and love the aim. We stand, therefore, not a little astonished, to find such martial words in so peaceful a writing; for I hear a sound of war. It is not the voice of love, surely, that says,” He that is born of God overcometh the world.” Lo, here are strife and battle. The word “overcometh” seems to have in it something of the sword and warfare; of strife and contention; of agony and wrestling; so unlike the love which is smooth and gentle, which hath no harsh words within its lips; whose mouth is lined with velvet; whose words are softer than butter; whose utterances are more easily flowing than oil. Here we have war—war to the knife; for I read “Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world;” strife until death; battle throughout life; fighting with a certainty of victory. How is it that the same gospel which always speaks of peace, here proclaims a warfare? How can it be? Simply because there is something in the world which is antagonistic to love; there are principles abroad which cannot bear light, and, therefore, before light can come, it must chase the darkness. Ere summer reigns, you know, it has to do battle with old winter, and to send it howling away in the winds of March, and shedding its tears in April showers. So also, before any great or good thing can have the mastery of this world, it must do battle for it. Satan has seated himself on his blood-stained throne, and who shall get him down, except by main force, and fight and war? Darkness broods o’er the nations; nor can the sun establish his empire of light until he has pierced night with the arrowy sunbeams, and made it flee away. Hence we read in the Bible that Christ did not come to send peace on earth, but a sword; he came to set “the father against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;” not intentionally, but as a means to an end; because there must always be a struggle ere truth and righteousness can reign. Alas! for that earth is the battle-field where good must combat with evil Angels look on and hold their breath, burning to mingle in the conflict, but the troops of the Captain of Salvation may be none but the soldiers of the cross; and that slender band must fight alone, and yet shall triumph gloriously. Enough shall they be for conquest, and the motto of their standard is ENOUGH. Enough by the arm of the helping Trinity.

As God shall help me, I shall speak to you of three things to be found in the text. First, the text speaks of a great victory: it says, “This is the victory.” Secondly, it mentions a great birth: “Whatsoever is born of God.” And, thirdly, it extols a great grace, whereby we overcome the world, “even our faith.”

I. First, the text speaks of a GREAT VICTORY—the victory of victories—the greatest of all. We know there have been great battles where nations have met in strife, and one has overcome the other; but who has read of a victory that overcame the world? Some will say that Alexander was its conqueror; but I answer, nay. He was himself the vanquished man, even when all things were in his possession. He fought for the world, and won it; and then mark how it mastered its master, conquered its conquerer, and lashed the monarch who had been its scourge. See the royal youth weeping, and stretching out his hands with idiotic cries, for another world which he might ravage. He seemed, in outward show, to have overcome old earth; but, in reality, within his inmost soul, the earth had conquered him, had overwhelmed him, had wrapped him in the dream of ambition, girdled him with the chains of covetousness, so that when he had all, he was still dissatisfied; and, like a poor slave, was dragged on at the chariot wheels of the world, crying, moaning, lamenting, because he could not win another. Who is the man that ever overcame the world? Let him stand forward: he is a Triton among the minnows; he shall outshine Cæsar; he shall outmatch even our own lately departed Wellington, if he can say he has overcome the world. It is so rare a thing, a victory so prodigious, a conquest so tremendous, that he who can claim to have won it may walk among his fellows, like Saul, with head and shoulders far above them. He shall command our respect; his very presence shall awe us into reverence; his speech shall persuade us to obedience; and, yielding honour to whom honour is due, we’ll say when we listen to his voice, ”‘Tis even as if an angel shook his wings.”

I shall now attempt to expand the idea I have suggested, showing you in what varied senses the Christian overcomes the world. A tough battle, sirs, I warrant you: not one which carpet knights might win: no easy skirmish that he might win, who dashed to battle on some sunshiny day, looked at the host, then turned his courser’s rein, and daintily dismounted at the door of his silken tent—not one which he shall gain, who, hut a raw recruit to-day, puts on his regimentals, and foolishly imagines that one week of service will ensure a crown of glory. Nay, sirs, it is a life-long war—a fight needing the power of all these muscles, and this strong heart; a contest which shall want all our strength, if we are to be triumphant; and if we do come off more than conquerors, it shall be said of us, as Hart said of Jesus Christ: “He had strength enough and none to spare;” a battle at which the stoutest heart might quail; a fight at which the braves might shake, if he did not remember that the Lord is on his side, and therefore, whom shall he fear? He is the strength of his life; of whom shall he be afraid? This fight with the world is not one of main force, or physical might; if it were, we might soon win it; but it is all the more dangerous from the fact that it is a strife of mind, a contest of heart, a struggle of the spirit, a strife of the soul. When we overcome the world in one fashion, we have not half done our work; for the world is a Proteus, changing its shape continually; like the chameleon, it hath all the colours of the rainbow; and when you have worsted the world in one shape, it will attack you in another. Until you die, you will always have fresh appearances of the world to wrestle with. Let me just mention some of the forms in which the Christian overcomes the world.

I. He overcomes the world when it sets up itself as a legislator, wishing to teach him customs. You know the world has its old massive law book of customs, and he who does not choose to go according to the fashion of the world, is under the ban of society. Most of you do just as everybody else does, and that is enough for you. If you see so-and-so do a dishonest thing in business, it is sufficient for you that everybody does it. If ye see that the majority of mankind have certain habits, ye succomb, ye yield. Ye think, I suppose, that to march to hell in crowds, will help to diminish the fierce heat of the burning of the bottomless pit, instead of remembering that the more faggots the fiercer will be the flame. Men usually swim with the stream like a dead fish; it is only the living fish that goes against it. It is only the Christian who despises customs, who does not care for conventionalisms, who only asks himself the question, “Is it right or is it wrong? If it is right, I will be singular. If there is not another man in this world who will do it, I will do it; should a universal hiss go up to heaven, I will do it still; should the very stories of earth fly up, arid stone me to death, I will do it still; though they bind me to the stake, yet I must do it; I will be singularly right; if the multitude will not follow me, I will go without them, I will be glad if they will all go and do right as well, but if not, I will despise their customs; I care not what others do; I shall not be weighed by other men; to my own Master I stand or fall. Thus I conquer and overcome the customs of the world.” Fair world! she dresseth herself in ermine, she putteth on the robes of a judge, and she solemnly telleth you, “Man, you are wrong. Look at your fellows; see how they do. Behold my laws. For hundreds of years have not men done so? Who are you, to set yourself up against me?” And she pulls out her worm-eaten law-book, and turning over the musty pages, says, “See, here is an act passed in the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, and here is another law enacted in the days of Pharaoh. These must be right, because antiquity has enrolled them among her standard authorities. Do you mean to set yourself up and stand against the opinions of the multitude?” Yes, we do; we take the law-book of the world, and we burn it, as the Ephesians did their magic rolls; we take her deeds, and make them into waste paper; we rend her proclamation from the walls; we care not what others do; custom to us is a cobweb; we count it folly to be singular; but when to be singular is to be right, we count it the proudest wisdom; we overcome the world; we trample on her customs; we walk as a distinct people, a separate race, a chosen generation, a peculiar people. The Christian behaves in his dealings not as the laughing infidel insinuates, when he sneeringly describes Maw worm, as saying, “Boy, have you sanded the sugar?” “Yes, sir.” “Have you put the sloe-leaves in the tea?” “Yes, sir.” “Have you put red lead in the pepper?” “Yes, sir.” “Then come to prayers.” Christians do not do so; they say, “We know better; we cannot conform to the customs of the world. If we pray, we will also act, or else we are hypocrites, confounded hypocrites. If we go to the house of God, and profess to love him, we love him every where; we take our religion with us into the shop, behind the counter; into our offices; we must have it everywhere, or else God knows it is not religion at all.” Ye must stand up, then, against the customs of mankind. Albeit, this may be a three-million peopled city, ye are to come out and be separate, if ye would overcome the world.

2. We rebel against the world’s customs. And if we do so, what is the conduct of our enemy? She changes her aspect. “That man is a heretic; that man is a fanatic; he is a cant, he is a hypocrite,” says the world directly. She grasps her sword, she putteth frowns upon her brow, she scowleth like a demon, she girdeth tempests round about her, and she saith, “The man dares defy my government; he will not do as others do. Now I will persecute him. Slander! come from the depths of hell and hiss at him. Envy! sharpen up thy tooth and bite him.” She fetches up all false things, arid she persecutes the man. If she can, she does it with the hand; if not, by the tongue. She afflicts him wherever he is. She tries to ruin him in business; or, if he standeth forth as the champion of the truth why then she laugheth, arid mocketh, and scorneth. She lets no stone be unturned whereby she may injure him. What is then the behaviour of the Lord’s warrior, when he sees the world take up arms against him, and when he sees all earth, like an army, coming to chase him, and utterly destroy him? Does he yield? Does he yield? Does he bend? Does he cringe? Oh, no! Like Luther, he writes “Cedo nulli” on his banner—“I yield to none;” and he goes to war against the world, if the world goes to war against him.

“Let earth be all in arms abroad,

He dwells in perfect peace.”

Ah! some of you, if you had a word spoken against you, would at once give up what religion you have; but the true-born child of God cares little for man’s opinion. “Ah,” says he, “let my bread fail me, let me be doomed to wander penniless the wide world o’er; yea, let me die: each drop of blood within these veins belongs to Christ, and I am ready to shed it for his name’s sake.” He counts all things but loss, that he may win Christ—that he may be found in him; and when the world’s thunders roars, he smiles at the uproar, while lie hums his pleasant tune:—

“Jerusalem my happy home,

Name ever dear to me;

When shall my labours have an end,

In joy, and peace, and thee?”

When her sword comes out, he looketh at it. “Ah,” saith he, “just as the lightning leapeth from its thunder lair, splitteth the clouds, and affrighteth the stars, but is powerless against the rock-covered mountaineer, who smiles at its grandeur, so now the world cannot hurt me, for in the time of trouble my Father hides me in his pavillion, in the secret of his tabernacle doth he hide me, and set me up upon a rock.” Thus, again, we conquer the world, by not caring for its frowns.

3. “Well,” saith the world, “I will try another style,” and this believe me, is the most dangerous of all. A smiling world is worse than a frowning one. She saith, “I cannot smite the man low with my repeated blows, I will take off my mailed glove, and showing him a fair white hand, I’ll bid him kiss it. I will tell him I love him: I will flatter him, I will speak good words to him.” John Bunyan well describes this Madam Bubble: she has a winning way with her; she drops a smile at the end of each of her sentences; she talks much of fair things, arid tries to win and woo. Oh, believe me, Christians are not so much in danger when they are persecuted as when they are admired. When we stand upon the pinnacle of popularity, we may well tremble and fear. It is not when we are hissed at, and hooted, that we have any cause to be alarmed; it is when we are dandled on the lap of fortune, and nursed upon the knees of the people; it is when all men speak well of us, that woe is unto us. It is not in the cold wintry wind that I take off my coat of righteousness, and throw it away; it is when the sun comes, when the weather is warm, and the air balmy, that I unguardedly strip off my robes, and become naked. Good God! how many a man has been made naked by the love of this world! The world has flattered and applauded him; he has drunk the flattery; it was an intoxicating draught; he has staggered, he has reeled, he has sinned, he has lost his reputation; and as a comet that erst flashed across the sky, doth wander far into space, arid is lost in darkness, so doth he; great as he was, he falls; mighty as he was, he wanders, and is lost. But the true child of God is never so; he is as safe when the world smiles, as when it frowns; he cares as little for her praise as for her dispraise. If he is praised, and it is true, he says, ”“My deeds deserves praise, but I refer all honor to my God.” Great souls know what they merit from their critic; to them it is nothing more than the giving of their daily income. Some men cannot live without a large amount of praise; and if they have no more than they deserve, let them have it. If they are children of God, they will be kept steady; they will not be ruined or spoiled; but they will stand with feet like hinds’ feet upon high places.—“This is the victory that overcometh the world.”

4. Sometimes, again, the world turns jailer to a Christian. God sends affliction and sorrow, until life is a prison-house, the world its jailer—and a wretched jailer too. Have you ever been in trials and troubles, my friends? and has the world never come to you and said, ”“Poor prisoner, I have a key that will let you out. You are in pecuniary difficulties; I will tell you how you may get free. Put that Mr. Conscience away. He asks you whether it is a dishonest act. Never mind about him; let him sleep; think about the honesty after you have got the money, and repent at your leisure.” So saith the world; but you say, “I cannot do the thing.” “Well,” says the world, “then groan and grumble: a good man like you locked up in this prison!” “No,” says the Christian, “my Father sent me into want, and in his own time he will fetch me out; but if I die here I will not use wrong means to escape. My Father put me here for my good, I will not grumble; if my bones must lie here—if my coffin is to be under these stones—if my tomb-stone shall be in the wall of my dungeon—here will I die, rather than so much as lift a finger to get out by unfair means.” “Ah,” says the world, “then thou art a fool.” The scorner laughs and passes on, saying, “The man has no brain, he will not do a bold thing; he hath no courage; he will not launch upon the sea; he wants to go in the old beaten track of morality.” Ay, so he does; for thus he overcomes the world.

Oh! I might tell you of some battles that have been fought. There has been many a poor maiden, who has worked, worked, worked, until her fingers were worn to the bone, to earn a scanty living out of the things which we wear upon us, knowing not that oft times we wear the blood, and bones, and sinews of poor girls. That poor girl has been tempted a thousand times, the evil one has tried to seduce her, but she has fought a valiant battle; stern in her integrity, in the midst of poverty she still stands upright, “Clear as the sun, fair as the moon, and terrible as an army with banners,” a heroine unconquered by the temptations and enticements of vice. In other cases: many a man has had the chance of being rich in an hour, affluent in a moment, if he would but clutch something which he dare not look at, because God within him said, “No.” The world said, “Be rich, be rich;” but the Holy Spirit said, “No! be honest; serve thy God.” Oh, the stern contest. and the manly combat carried on within the heart! But he said, “No; could I have the stars transmuted into worlds of gold, I would not for those globes of wealth belie my principles, and damage my soul :” thus he walks a conqueror. “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.”

II. But my text speaks of a GREAT BIRTH. A very kind friend has told me that while I was preaching in Exeter Hall I ought to pay deference to the varied opinions of my hearers; that albeit I may be a Calvinist and a Baptist, I should recollect that there are a variety of creeds here. Now, if I were to preach nothing but what would please the whole lot of you, what on earth should I do? I preach what I believe to be true; and if the omission of a single truth that I believe, would make me king of England throughout eternity, I would not leave it out. Those who do not like what I say have the option of leaving it. They come here, I suppose, to please themselves; and if the truth does not please them, they can leave it. I will never be afraid that an honest British audience will turn away from the man who does not stick, and stutter, and stammer in speaking the truth. Well, now, about this great birth. I am going to say perhaps a harsh thing, but I heard it said by Mr. Jay first of all. Some say a new birth takes place in an infant baptism, but I remember that venerable patriarch saying,” Popery is a lie, Puseyism is a lie, baptismal regeneration is a lie.” So it is. It is a lie so palpable that I can scarcely imagine the preachers of it have any brains in their heads at all. It is so absurd upon the very face of it, that a man who believes it put himself below the range of a common-sense man. Believe that every child by a drop of water is born again! Then that man that you see in the ring as a prize-fighter is born again, because those sanctified drops once fell upon his infant forehead! Another man swears—behold him drunk and reeling about the streets. He is born again! A pretty born again that is! I think he wants to be born again another time. Such a regeneration as that only fits him for the devil; and by its deluding effect, may even make him sevenfold more the child of hell. But the men who curse, and swear, and rob and steal, and those poor wretches who are hanged, have all been born again, according to the fiction of this beautiful Puseyite church. Out upon it! out upon it! Ah, God sends something better than that into men’s hearts, when he sends them a new birth.

However, the text speaks of a great birth. “Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world.” This new birth is the mysterious point in all religion. If you preach anything else except the new birth you will always get on well with your hearers; but if you insist that in order to enter heaven there must be a radical change, though this is the doctrine of the Scripture, it is so unpalatable to mankind in general that you will scarcely get them to listen. Ah! now ye turn away if I begin to tell you, that “except ye be born of water and of the Spirit, ye cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” If I tell you that there must be a regenerating influence exerted upon your minds by the power of the Holy Ghost then I know ye will say “it is enthusiasm.” Ah! but it is the enthusiasm of the Bible. There I stand; by this I will be judged. If the Bible does not say we must be born again, then I give it up; but if it does then, sirs, do not distrust that truth on which your salvation hangs.

What is it to be born again, then? Very briefly, to be born again is to undergo a change so mysterious, that human words cannot speak of it. As we cannot describe our first birth, so it is impossible for us to describe the second. “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh or whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” But while it is so mysterious, it is a change which is known and felt. People are not born again when they are in bed and asleep, so that they do not know it. They feel it; they experience it. Galvanism, or the power of electricity, may be mysterious; but they produce a feeling—a sensation. So does the new birth. At the time of the new birth the soul is in great agony—often drowned in seas of tears. Sometimes it drinks bitters, now and then mingled with sweet drops of hope. Whilst we are passing from death unto life, there is an experience which none but the child of God can really understand. It is a mysterious change; but, at the same time, it is a positive one. It is as much a change as if this heart were taken out of me, and the black drops of blood wrung from it, then washed and cleansed and put into my soul again. It is “a new heart and a right spirit:” a mysterious but yet an actual and real change!

Let me tell you, moreover, that this change is a supernatural one. It is not one that a man performs upon himself. It is not leaving off drinking and becoming sober; it is not turning from a Roman Catholic to a Protestant; it is not veering round from a Dissenter to a Churchman, or a Churchman to a Dissenter. It is a vast deal more than that. It is a new principle infused which works in the heart, enters the very soul, and moves the entire man. Not a change of my name, but a renewal of my nature, so that I am not the man I used to be, but a new man in Christ Jesus. It is a supernatural change—something which man cannot do, and which only God can effect; which the Bible itself cannot accomplish without the attendant Spirit of God; which no minister’s eloquence can bring about—something so mighty and wondrous, that it must be confessed to be the work of God, and God alone. Here is the place to observe that this new birth is an enduring change. Arminians tell us that people are born again, then fall into sin, pick themselves up again, and become Christians again—fall into sin, lose the grace of God, then come back again—fall into sin a hundred times in their lives, and so keep on losing grace and recovering it. Well, I suppose it is a new version of the Scripture where you read of that. But I read in my Bible that if true Christians could fall away, it would be impossible to renew them again unto repentance. I read, moreover, that wherever God has begun a good work he will carry it on even to the end; and that whom he once loves, he loves to the end. If I have simply been reformed, I may be a drunkard yet, or you may see me acting on the stage. But if I am really born again, with that real supernatural change, I shall never fall away, I may fall into a sin, but I shall not fall finally; I shall stand while life shall last, constantly secure; and when I die it shall be said—

“Servant of God, well done!

Rest from thy blest employ;

The battle’s fought, the victory’s won;

Enter thy rest of joy.”

Do not deceive yourselves, my beloved. If you imagine that you have been regenerated, and having gone away from God, will be once more born again, you do not know anything about the matter; for “he that is born of God sinneth not.” That is, he does not sin so much as to fall away from grace; “for he keepeth himself, that the evil one toucheth him not.” Happy is the man who is really and actually regenerate, and passed from death unto life!

III. To conclude. There IS A GREAT GRACE. Persons who are born again really do overcome the world. How is this brought about? The text says, “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” Christians do not triumph over the world by reason. Not at all. Reason is a very good thing, and nobody should find fault with it. Reason is a candle: but faith is a sun. Well, I prefer the sun, though I do not put out the candle. I use my reason as a Christian man; I exercise it constantly: but when I come to real warfare, reason is a wooden sword; it breaks, it snaps; while faith, that sword of true Jerusalem metal, cuts to the dividing of soul and body. My text says, “This is the victory which overcometh the world, even our faith.” Who are the men that do anything in the world? Are they not always men of faith? Take it even as natural faith. Who wins the battle? Why, the man who knows he will win it, and vows that he will be victor. Who never gets on in the world? The man who is always afraid to do a thing, for fear he cannot accomplish it. Who climbs the top of the Alps? The man who says, “I will do it, or I will die.” Let such a man make up his mind that he can do a thing. and he will do it, if it is within the range of possibility. Who have been the men who have lifted the standard, and grasping it with firm hand, have upheld it in the midst of stormy strife and battle? Why, men of faith. Who have done great things? Not men of fear and trembling, men who are afraid; but men of faith, who had bold fronts, and foreheads made of brass-men who never shook, and never trembled, but believing in God, lifted their eyes to the hills, whence cometh their strength.

“Never was a marvel done upon the earth, but it had sprung of faith; nothing noble, generous, or great, but faith was the root of the achievement; nothing comely, nothing famous, but its praise is faith. Leonidas fought in human faith as Joshua in divine. Xenophon trusted to his skill, and the sons of Matthias to their cause.” Faith is mightiest of the mighty. It is the monarch of the realms of the mind; there is no being superior to its strength, no creature which will not bow to its divine prowess. The want of faith makes a man despicable, it shrivels him up so small that he might live in a nutshell. Give him faith, and he is a leviathan that can dive into the depths of the sea; he is a war horse, that cries, aha! aha! in the battle; he is a giant who takes nations and crumbles them in his hand, who encounters hosts, and at a sword they vanish; he binds up sheaves of sceptres, and gathers up all the crowns at his own. There is nothing like faith, sirs. Faith makes you almost as omnipotent as God, by the borrowed might of its divinity. Give us faith and we can do all things.

I want to tell you how it is that faith helps Christians to overcome the world. It always does it homoeopathically. You say, “That is a singular idea.” So it may be. The principle is that, “like cures like.” So does faith overcome the world by curing like with like. How does faith trample upon the fear of the world? By the fear of God. “Now,” says the world, “if you do not do this I will take away your life. If you do not bow down before my false god, you shall be put in yon burning fiery furnace.” “But,” says the man of faith, “I fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell. True, I may dread you, but I have a greater fear than that, I fear lest I should displease God; I tremble lest I should offend my Sovereign.” So the one fear counterbalances the other. How does faith overthrow the world’s hopes? “There,” says the world, “I will give thee this, I will give thee that, if thou wilt be my disciple. There is a hope for you; you shall be rich, you shall be great.” But, faith says, “I have a hope laid up in heaven; a hope which fadeth not away, eternal, incorrupt, amaranthine hope, a golden hope, a crown of life;” and the hope of glory overcomes all the hopes of the world, “Ah!” says the world, “Why not follow the example of your fellows ?” “Because,” says faith, “I will follow the example of Christ.” If the world puts one example before us, faith puts another. “Oh, follow the example of such an one; he is wise, and great, and good,” says the world. Says faith, “I will follow Christ; he is the wisest, the greatest, and the best.” It overcomes example by example, “Well,” says the world, “since thou wilt not be conquered by all this, come, I will love thee; thou shalt be my friend.” Faith says, “He that is the friend of this world, cannot be the friend of God. God loves me.” So he puts love against love; fear against fear; hope against hope; dread against dread; and so faith overcomes the world by like curing like.

In closing my discourse, men and brethren, I am but a child; I have spoken to you as I could this morning. Another time, perhaps I might be able to launch more thunders, and to proclaim better the word of God; but this I am sure of—I tell you all I know, and speak right on. I am no orator; but just tell you what springs up from my heart. But before I have done, O that I may have a word with your souls. How many are there here who are born again? Some turn a deaf ear, and say, “It is all nonsense; we go to our place of worship regularly; put our hymn books and Bibles under our arm! and we are very religious sort of people.” Ah, soul! if I meet you at the bar of judgment, recollect I said—and said God’s word—“ Except ye be born again ye shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Others of you say, “We cannot believe that being born again is such a change as you speak of, I am a great deal better than I used to be; I do not swear now, and I am very much reformed.” Sirs, I tell you it is no little change. It is not mending the pitcher, but it is breaking it up and having a new one; it is not patching the heart, it is having a new heart and a right spirit. There is nothing but death unto sin, and life unto righteousness, that will save your souls.

I am preaching no new doctrine. Turn to the articles of the Church of England, and read it there. Church people come to me sometimes to unite with our church; I show them our doctrines in their prayer book, and they have said they never knew they were there. My dear hearers, why cannot you read your own articles of faith? Why, positively, you do not know what is in your own prayer book, Men, now-a-days, do not read their Bibles, and they have for the most part no religion. They have a religion, which is all outside show, but they do not think of searching to see what its meaning really is. Sirs, it is not the cloak of religion that will do for you; it is a vital godliness you need; it is not a religious Sunday, it is a religious Monday; it is not a pious church, it is a pious closet; it is not a sacred place to kneel in, it is a holy place to stand in all day long. There must be a change of heart, real, radical, vital, entire. And now, what say you? Has your faith overcome the world? Can you live above it? or do you love the world and the things thereof? If so, sirs, ye must go on your way and perish, each one of you, unless ye turn from that, and give your hearts to Christ. Oh! What say you, is Jesus worthy of your love? Are the things of eternity and heaven worth the things of time? Is it so sweet to be a worldling, that for that you can lie down in torment? Is it so good to be a sinner, that for this you can risk your soul’s eternal welfare? O, my friends, is it worth your while to run the risk of an eternity of woe for a hour of pleasure? Is a dance worth dancing in hell with howling fiends for ever? Is one dream, with a horrid waking, worth enjoying, when there are the glories of heaven for those who follow God? Oh! if my lips would let me speak to you, my heart would run over at my eyes, and I would weep myself away, until ye had pity on your own poor souls. I know I am, in a measure, accountable for your souls, If the watchmen warn them not, they shall perish, but their blood shall be required at the watchman’s hands, “Turn ye, turn ye, why will ye die, O house of Israel?” thus saith the Lord. Besotted, filled with your evil wills, inclined to evil; still the Holy Ghost speaks by me this morning, “If ye turn unto the Lord, with full purpose of heart, he will have mercy upon you, and to our God, he will abundantly pardon.” I cannot bring you; I cannot fetch you. My words are powerless, my thoughts are weak! Old Adam is too strong for this young child to draw or drag; but God speak to you, dear hearts; God send the truth home, and then we shall rejoice together, both he that soweth and he that reapeth, because God has given us the increase. God bless you! may you all be born again, and have that faith that overcometh the world!

“Have I that faith which looks to Christ,

O’er comes the world and sin—

Receives him Prophet, Priest, and King,

And makes the conscience clean?

“If I this precious grace possess,

All praise is due to thee;

If not, I seek it from thy hands;

Now grant it, Lord, to me.”


John Newton (1725-1807): Trust in the Providence of God

Trust in the Providence of God

and Benevolence to His Poor
John Newton (1725-1807)
Copyright: Public Domain

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On Trust in the Providence of God, and Benevolence to his Poor.

My Dear Friend,

THE more I think of the point you proposed to me, the more I am confirmed to renew the advice I then gave. There is doubtless such a thing as Christian prudence; but, my friend, beware of counterfeits. Self-love and the evil heart of unbelief, will endeavour to obtrude upon us a prudence, so called, which is as opposite to the former as darkness to light. I do not say, that, now you have a wife, and the prospect of a family, you are strictly bound io communicate with the poor in the same proportion as formerly. I say, you are not bound; for every thing of this sort should proceed from a willing mind. But if you should tell me, the Lord has given you such a zeal for his glory, such a concern for the honour of the Gospel, such a love to his members, such a grateful sense of his mercies, (especially by granting you, in this late instance of your marriage, the desire of your heart,) and such an affiance in his providence and promises, that you find yourself very unwilling to be one sixpence in the year less useful than you was before, I could not blame you or dissuade you from it. But I do not absolutely advise it; because I know not the state of your mind, or what measure of faith the Lord has given you. Only this I believe, that when the Lord gives such a confidence, he will not disappoint it.

When I look among the professors, yea, among the ministers of the Gospel, there are few tilings I see a more general want of, than such a trust in God as to temporals, and such a sense of the honour of being permitted to relieve the necessities of his people, as might dispose them to a more liberal distribution of what they have at present in their power, and to a reliance on him for a sufficient supply in future. Some exceptions there are. Some persons I have the happiness to know whose chief pleasure it seems to be, to devise liberal things. For the most part, we take care, first, to be well supplied, if possible, with all the necessaries, conveniencies, and not a few of the elegancies of life; then to have a snug fund laid up against a rainy day, as the phrase is, (if this is in an increasing way, so much the better) that when we look at children and near relatives, we may say to our hearts, “Now they are well provided for.” And when we have gotten all this and more, we are perhaps content, for the love of Christ, to bestow a pittance of our superfluities, a tenth or twentieth part of what we spend or hoard up for ourselves, upon the poor. But, alas! what do we herein more than others? Multitudes who know nothing of the love of Christ, will do thus much, yea, perhaps, greatly exceed us, from the mere feelings of humanity.

But it may be asked, would you show no regard to the possibility of leaving your wife or children unprovided for? Quite the reverse: I would have you attend to it very much; and behold, the Scriptures show you the more excellent way. If you had a little money to spare, would you not lend it to me, if I assured you it should be repaid when wanted I can point out to you better interest and better security than I could possibly give you: Prov. xix. 17. .. “He that hath pity upon the poor, lendeth unto the Lord: and that which he hath given, will he pay him again.” What think you of this text? Is it the word of God, or not? Is he worthy of belief, or not? Is he able to make good his word, or is he not? I dare stake all my interest in your friendship, (which I should be very loath to forfeit,) that if you act upon this maxim, in a spirit of prayer and faith, and with a single eye to his glory, you shall not be disappointed. Read over Matt. vi. 26—34. Shall we confine that reasoning and those promises to the primitive times? Say not, “If the Lord would make windows in heaven this thing might be.” He has more ways to bless and prosper those who trust in him, than we are able to point out to him. But I tell you, my friend, he will sooner make windows in heaven, turn stones into bread, yea, stop the sun in his course, than he will suffer those who conscientiously serve him, and depend upon him, to be destitute.

Some instances we have had of ministers who have seemed to transgress the bounds of strict prudence in their attention to the poor. But they have been men of faith, prayer, and zeal; if they did it, not from a caprice of humour, or a spirit of indolence, but from such motives as the Scripture suggests and recommends, I believe their families have seldom suffered for it. I wish you to consult upon this head, what Mrs. Alleine says, in the affecting account she has given of that honoured and faithful servant of God, her husband, Joseph Alleine. Besides, you know not what you may actually save in the course of years by this method. The apostle, speaking of some abuses that obtained in the church of Corinth, says, “For this cause many are sick among you.” If prudence should shut up the bowels of your compassion, (which I trust it never will,) the Lord might quarter an apothecary upon your family, which would perhaps cost you twice the money that would have sufficed to refresh his people, and to commend your ministry and character.

But if, after all, prudence will be heard, I counsel you to do these two things. First, Be very certain that you allow yourselves in nothing superfluous. You cannot, I trust, in conscience think of laying out one penny more than is barely decent; unless you have another penny to help the poor. Then, secondly. Let your friends who are in good circumstances, be plainly told, that, though you love them, prudence, and the necessary charge of a family, will not permit you to entertain them; no, not for a night. What! say you, shut my door against my friends? Yes, by all means, rather than against Christ. If the Lord Jesus was again upon earth in a state of humiliation, and he, and the best friend you have, standing at your door, and your provision so strait that you could not receive both, which would you entertain? Now, he says of the poor, “Inasmuch as ye did it to the least of these my brethren, ye did it unto me.” Your friends have houses of their own, and money to pay at an inn, if you do not lake them in; but the poor need relief One would almost think that passage, Luke xiv. 12—14. was not considered as a part of God’s word; at least I believe there is no one passage so generally neglected by his own people. I do not think it unlawful to entertain our friends; but if these words do not teach us, that it is in some respects our duty to give a preference to the poor, I am at a loss to understand them.

I was enabled to set out upon the plan I recommend to you, at a time when my certain income was much too scanty for my own provision, and before I had the expectation or promise of assistance from any person upon earth. Only I knew that the Lord could provide me with whatever he saw needful; and I trusted, that if he kept me dependent upon himself, and desirous to live for his service only, he assuredly would do so. I have as yet seen no cause to repent it. I live upon his promise; for as to any present ways or means, every thing here below is so uncertain, that I consider myself in the same situation with the birds of the air, who have neither storehouse nor barn. To-day I have enough for myself, and something to impart to them that need; as to futurity, the Lord must provide; and for the most part I can believe he will. I can tell you, however, that now and then my heart is pinched; unbelief creeps in, and self would much rather choose a strong box, or what the world calls a certainty, than a life of absolute dependence upon the providence of God. However, in my composed hours I am well satisfied. Hitherto he has graciously taken care of me; therefore may my heart trust in him, and not be afraid.

Consider, my friend, the Lord has done well for you likewise. He has settled you peaceably in a good and honourable interest; he has now answered your prayers, in giving you a partner, with whom you may take sweet counsel, one that will help and strengthen you in your best desires. Beware, therefore, of that reasoning which might lead you to distrust the Lord your God, or to act as if you did. You complain that there is too much of an expensive taste among some persons in your congregation. If you set yourself to discountenance this, and should at the same time too closely shut up your hands, they will be ready to charge you with being governed by the same worldly spirit, though in another form. If you have been hitherto tender and bountiful to the poor, and should make too great and too sudden an alteration in this respect, if the blame should not fall upon you, it probably would upon your wife, who, I believe, would be far from deserving it. If the house which has been open to the poor in former times, should be shut against them now you live in it, would it not lead the people’s thoughts back? Would it not open the mouths of those who do not love your ministry, to say, That notwithstanding all your zeal about doctrines, you know how to take care of your own interest, as well as those whom you have thought indifferent and lukewarm in the cause of the Gospel? Would it not? But I forbear. I know you need not such arguments. Yet consider how many eyes are upon you, watching for your halting. Now, at your first setting out, is the proper time seriously to seek the Lord’s directions, that you may, from the beginning, adopt such a plan as may be most to your own comfort, the honour of your character as a minister, the glory of him who has called you, and the edification of your people. It is easier to begin well, than to make alterations afterwards. I trust the Lord will guide and bless you in your deliberations. And for my own part, I am not in the least afraid that you will ever have cause to blame me for the advice I have given, if you should be disposed to follow it.

I have given you my opinion freely, and perhaps with an appearance of more strictness than is necessary. But I would apply our Lord’s words in another case to this: “few men cannot receive this saying; he that is able to receive it, let him receive it.” If the Lord has given you this confidence in his word, you are happy. It is better than the possession of thousands by the year.

I am, &c.

AW Pink (1886-1952): Articles on Faith

Articles on Faith
AW Pink (1886-1952)
Copyright: Public Domain

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Studies in the Scriptures April 1932

“I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee” (Job 42:5). What did Job signify by this? Obviously, his words are not to be understood literally. No, by employing a common figure of speech, he meant that the mists of unbelief (occasioned by self-righteousness) had now been dispelled, and faith perceived the being of God as a glorious and living reality. “Mine eyes are ever toward the LORD” (Psa 25:15), by which is meant that his faith was constantly in exercise. Of Moses, it is said that, “He endured, as seeing him who is invisible” (Heb 11:27). That is, his heart was sustained through faith’s being occupied with the mighty God.

Faith is frequently represented in Scripture under the metaphor of bodily sight. Our Lord said of the great patriarch, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad” (Joh 8:56), meaning that his faith looked forward to the day of Christ’s humiliation and exaltation. Paul was commissioned unto the Gentiles to “open their eyes,…to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God” (Act 26:18), or, in other words, to be the divine instrument of their conversion through preaching to them the Word of faith. To some of his erring children, he wrote, “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently [plainly] set forth, crucified among you” (Gal 3:1).

Now, what we wish to point out in this article is that when Scripture speaks of faith, under the notion of bodily sight, its writers were doing something more than availing themselves of a pertinent and suitable figure of speech. The Author of Scripture is the One who first formed the eye—that marvelous organ of vision—and without a shadow of doubt, He so fashioned it as to strikingly adumbrate in the visible that which now plays so prominent a part in the Christian’s dealing with the invisible. Everything in the material

world shadows forth some great reality in the spiritual realm, as we should perceive had we but sufficient wisdom to discern the fact. A wide field is here opened for observation and meditation, but we shall now confine ourselves to a single example, namely, the eye of the body as it symbolizes the faith of the heart.

1. The eye is a passive organ. The eye does not send out a light from itself, nor does it give anything unto the objects it beholds—what can the eye communicate to the sun, moon, and stars when it gazes upon them! No, the eye merely receives the print or image of them into the mind (on the retina, which is then transmitted to the brain) without adding anything to them. Just so is it with faith. It gives nothing to God or to what it beholds in the Word of His grace. It simply receives or takes them into the heart as they are presented to the soul’s view in the light of the divine revelation. What did the bitten Israelites communicate unto the brazen serpent when they looked unto it and were healed? As little do we add unto Christ when we “look” unto Him and are saved (Isa 45:22).

2. The eye is a directing organ. The man that has the light of day and his eyes open can see his way, and is not so likely to stumble into ditches or fall into a precipice as a blind man, or one who walks at nighttime. So it is with faith. “The way of the wicked is as darkness: they know not at what they stumble,” but “The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day” (Pro 4:18-19). Of Christians, it is said that, “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2Co 5:7). By “looking off unto Jesus” (faith’s viewing our Exemplar), we are enabled to run the race which is set before us.

3. The eye is a very quick organ, taking up things at a great distance. Within a fraction of a moment, I can turn my gaze from things lying on the ground, and focus it upon the mountains which are many miles away. Nay, more, I can look away altogether from the things of earth and mount up among the stars, and in a second view the entire expanse of the heavens. What an optical marvel is that! Equally wonderful is the power of faith. It is indeed a quick-sighted grace, taking up things at a great distance, as the faith of the patriarchs did, who saw the things promised “afar off” (Heb 11:13). So too, in a moment, faith may look back to an eternity past and view the everlasting springs of electing love, active on its behalf before the foundations of the earth were laid, and then, in the same breath, it can turn itself towards an eternity yet to come, and take a view of the hidden glories of an invisible world within the vail.

4. The eye, though it be little, is a very capacious organ. The man that has the light of day, and has his eyes open, may see all that comes within the range of his vision. He may look around and see things behind and forward and view things ahead, downward upon the waters in a well or a stream at the bottom of a deep ravine, upwards and gaze upon the bodies in the distant heavens. So is it with faith. It extends itself unto everything that lies within the vast compass of God’s Word. It takes knowledge of things in the distant past. It also apprehends things that are yet to come. It looks into hell, and penetrates into heaven. It is able to discern the vanity of the world all around us.

It is true that there may be a genuine faith that takes in but little of the light of divine revelation at first. Yet, here again, the earthly adumbration accurately shadows forth this spiritual truth. The eye of an infant takes in the light and perceives external objects, but with a good deal of weakness and confusion, until, as it grows more, its vision extends further and further. So it is with the eye of faith. At first, the light of spiritual knowledge is but dim. The babe in Christ is unable to see afar off. But as faith grows, it takes in more of God, more of Christ, more of things above. It wades deeper and deeper into the divine mysteries, until it comes, at length, to be swallowed up in open vision (Joh 17:24).

5. The eye is a very assuring faculty. Of the five bodily senses, this is the most convincing. What are we more sure of than what we see with our eyes! Some fools may seek to persuade themselves that matter is a mental delusion, but no one in his right mind will believe them. If a man sees the sun shining in the heavens, he knows that it is day. In like manner, faith is a grace which carries in its very nature a great deal of certainty. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). Sceptics may deny the divine inspiration of the Scriptures, but when the eye of faith has gazed upon its supernatural beauties, the point is settled once for all. Others may regard the Christ of God as a pious myth, but once the saint has really beheld the Lamb of God, it can say, “I know that my Redeemer liveth.”

6. The eye is an impressing organ. What we see leaves an impression upon our minds. That is why we need to pray often, “Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity” (Psa 119:37). That is why the prophet declared, “Mine eye affecteth mine heart” (Lam 3:51). If a man looks steadily at the sun for a few moments, an impression of the sun is left in his eye, even though he turn his eyes away from it, or shut them. In like manner, real faith leaves an impression of the Sun of righteousness upon the heart, “They looked unto him, and were lightened” (Psa 34:5). Even more definite is 11 Corinthians 3:18, “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” As the mighty power of Christ will, in a coming day, transform the bodies of His people from mortality to life and from dishonour to glory, so also does the Holy Spirit now exert a moral transforming power on the character of those who are His, and that by calling faith into exercise, the activity of which more and more conforms the soul to the image of God’s Son.

7. The eye is a wondrous organ. Those, who are competent to express an opinion, affirm that this particular member is the most curious and remarkable of any part of the human body. There is much of the wisdom and power of the Creator to be discovered in the formation of the visive faculty. So too, faith is a grace that is curiously and wondrously wrought in the soul. There is more of the wisdom and power of the divine Workman discovered in the formation of the grace of faith than in any other part of the new creature. Thus, we read of the “work of faith with power” (2Th 1:11). Yea, that the same exceeding great and mighty power which was put forth by God in the raising of Christ from the dead is exerted upon and within them that believe (Eph 1:19).

8. The eye of the body is a very tender thing. It is soon hurt and easily damaged. A very tiny cinder will cause pain and make it weep—and it is very striking to note that that is the very way to recovery—it weeps out the dust or mote that gets into it. So too, faith is a most delicate grace, thriving best in a pure conscience. Hence, the apostle speaks of, “Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience” (1Ti 3:9). The lively actings of faith are soon marred by the dust of sin, or by the vanities of the world getting into the heart where it is seated. And where ever true faith is, if it be hurt by sin, it vents itself in a way of godly sorrow.

[For most of the above, we are indebted to a sermon preached by Ebenezer Erskine, 1680-1754].


Studies in the Scriptures June 1932

There are some who teach that those Christians who engage in spiritual fighting are living below their privileges. They insist that God is willing to do all our fighting for us. Their pet slogan is, “Let go, and let God.” They say that the Christian should turn the battle over to Christ. There is a half truth in this, yet only a half truth, and carried to extremes, it becomes error. The half truth is that the child of God has no inherent strength of his own. Says Christ to His disciples, “Without me, ye can do nothing” (Joh 15:5). Yet this does not mean that we are to be merely passive, or that the ideal state in this life is simply to be galvanized automatons. There is also a positive, an active, aggressive side to the Christian life, which calls for the putting forth of our utmost endeavours, the use of every faculty, a personal and intelligent co-operation with Christ.

There is not a little of what is known as “the victorious life” teaching which is virtually a denial of the Christian’s responsibility. It is lop-sided. While emphasizing one aspect of truth, it sadly ignores other aspects equally necessary and important to be kept before us. God’s Word declares that, “Every man shall bear his own burden” (Gal 6:5), which means that he must discharge his personal obligation. Saints are bidden to, “Cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit” (2Co 7:1), and to, “Keep himself unspotted from the world” (Jam 1:27). We are exhorted to, “Overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:21). The apostle Paul declared, “I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection” (1Co 9:27). Thus, to deny that a Christian is called upon to engage in a ceaseless warfare with the flesh, the world, and the devil, is to fly in the face of many plain Scriptures.

There is a very real two-foldness to the Christian life and every aspect of divine truth is balanced by its counterpart. Practical godliness is a mysterious paradox, which is incomprehensible to the natural man. The Christian is strongest when he is weakest, wealthiest when he is poorest, happiest when most wretched. Though unknown (1Jo 3:1), yet he is well known (2Ti 1:18). Though dying (1Co 15:31), yet, behold, he lives. Though having nothing, yet he possesses all things (2Co 6:10). Though persecuted, he is not forsaken. Cast down, he is not destroyed. He is called upon to “rejoice with trembling” (Psa 2:11), and is assured, “Blessed are ye that weep now” (Luk 6:21). Though the Lord maketh him to lie down in green pastures and leadeth him beside still waters, he is yet in the wilderness, and “in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is” (Psa 63:1). Though followers of the Prince of peace, Christians are to endure “hardness, as good soldiers of Jesus Christ” (2Ti 2:3), and though “more than conquerors” (Rom 8:37), they are often defeated.

“Fight the good fight of faith” (1Ti 6:12). We are called upon to engage in a ceaseless warfare. The Christian life is to be lived out on the battlefield. We may not like it, we may wish that it were otherwise, but so has God ordained. And our worst foe, our most dangerous enemy, is self, that “old man” which ever wants his way, which rebels against the “yoke” of Christ, which hates the “cross.” That “old man” which opposes every desire of the “new man,” which dislikes God’s Word and ever wants to substitute man’s word. But self has to be “denied” (Mat 16:24), his affections and lusts crucified (Gal 5:24). Yet that is by no means an easy task. O what a conflict is ever going on within the true Christian. True, there are times when the “old man” pretends to be asleep or dead, but soon he revives and is more vigorous than ever in opposing that “new man.” Then it is that the real Christian seriously asks, “If it be so (that I truly am a child of God) why am I thus?” Such was Rebekah’s puzzling problem when “the children struggled together within her” (Gen 25:22).

What a parable in action is set before us in the above Scripture! Do we need any interpreter? Does not the Christian have the key which explains that parable in the conflicting experiences of his own soul? Yes, and is not the sequel the same with you and me, as it was with poor Rebekah? “She went and inquired of the LORD” (Gen 25:22). Ah, her husband could not solve the mystery for her. No man could, nor did she lean unto her own understanding and try and reason it out. No, the struggle inside her was so great and fierce, she must have divine assurance. Nor did God disappoint her and leave her in darkness. “And the LORD said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger” (Gen 25:23). But the meaning of such a verse is hid from those who are, in their own conceits, “wise and prudent.” But, blessed be God, it is revealed to those who, taught of the Spirit, are made to realize they are babes, that is, who feel they are ignorant, weak, helpless—for that is what “babes” are.

And who were the two nations that “struggled together” inside Rebekah? Esau and Jacob, from whom two vastly different nations descended, namely, Edom and Israel. Now, observe closely what follows. “And the one people shall be stronger than the other.” Yes, Esau was so strong that Jacob was afraid of him and fled from him. So it is spiritually, the “old man” is stronger than the “new man.” How strange that it should be so! Would we not naturally conclude that that which is “born of the Spirit” is stronger than that which is “born of the flesh” (Joh 3:6)? Of course, we would naturally think so, for, “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God” (1Co 2:14). But consider the matter from the standpoint of spiritual discernment. Suppose the “new man” were stronger than the “old man”—then what? Why, the Christian would be self-sufficient, proud, haughty. But God, in His infinite wisdom, allows that “new man” in His children to be weaker than the “old man.” Why? That they may depend upon Him. But it is one thing to know the theory of this, and it is quite another to put it into practice. It is one thing to believe the “new man” (Jacob) is weaker than the “old man” (Esau, who was born first!), and it is quite another thing to daily seek and obtain from God the needed strength to “fight” against the “old man.” That is why it is called the “good fight of faith,” for faith treats with God.

“Fight the good fight of faith” (1Ti 6:12). Our circumstances are the battleground. The “flesh” is never long satisfied with the “circumstances” in which God places us, but always wants to change them, or get into another set than we are now in. Thus it was with Israel of old. The “circumstances” into which God had brought the children of Israel was the wilderness, and they murmured, and wished they were back in Egypt. And that is written as a warning for us! The tendency of circumstances is to bind our hearts to the earth. When prosperous, to make us satisfied with things. When adverse, to make us repine over or covet the things which we do not have. Nothing but the exercise of real faith can lift our hearts above circumstances, for faith looks away from all things seen, so that the heart delights itself and finds its peace and joy in the Lord (Psa 37:4). This is never easy to any of us. It is always a fight, and only divine grace (diligently sought) can give us the victory. Oftentimes we fail. When we do, this must be confessed to God (1Jo 1:9), and a fresh start made.

Nothing but faith can enable us to rise above “circumstances.” It did so in the case of the two apostles, who, with feet fast in the stocks, with backs bleeding and smarting, sang praises to God in Philippi’s dungeon. That was faith victorious over most unpleasant circumstances. We can almost imagine each reader saying, “Alas, my faith is so weak.” Ah, ponder again this word, “Fight the good fight of faith”—note the repetition! It is not easy for faith to rise above circumstances. No, it is not. It is difficult, at times, extremely difficult. So the writer has found it. But remember, a “fight” is not finished in a moment, by one blow. Oftentimes the victor receives many wounds and is sorely pounded before he finally knocks-out his enemy. So we have found it, and still find it. The great enemy, the “flesh” (self) gives the “new man” many a painful blow, often floors him, but, by grace, we keep on fighting. Sometimes the “new man” gets the victory, sometimes the “old man” does. “For a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again” (Pro 24:16).

Yes, dear reader, every real Christian has a “fight” on his hands. Self is the chief enemy which has to be conquered, and our circumstances, the battleground where the combat has to be waged. And each of us would very much like to change the battleground. There are unpleasant things which, at times, sorely try each of us, until we are tempted to cry with the afflicted Psalmist, “O that I had the wings like a dove! for then I would fly away” (Psa 55:6). Yes, sad to say, the writer has been guilty of the same thing. But, when he is in his right mind (spiritually), he is thankful for these very “circumstances.” Why? Because they afford an opportunity for faith to act and rise above them, and for us to find our peace, our joy, our satisfaction, not in pleasant surroundings, not in congenial friends, nor even in sweet fellowship with brethren and sisters in Christ. But—in God! He can satisfy the soul. He never fails those who truly trust Him. But it is a fight to do so. Yes, a real, long, hard fight. Yet, if we cry to God for help, for strength, for determination, He does not fail us, but makes us “more than conquerors.”

There is that in each of us which wants to play the coward, run away from the battlefield—our “circumstances.” This is what Abraham did (Gen 12:10), but he gained nothing by it. This is what Jacob did (Gen 28), and in consequence, his trials were multiplied. This is what Elijah did (1Ki 19:3), and the Lord rebuked him for it. And these instances are recorded “for our learning” (Rom 15:4), as warnings for us to take to heart. They tell us that we must steadfastly resist this evil inclination, and call to mind that exhortation, “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you [act] like men, be strong” (1Co 16:13).

“Fight the good fight of faith.” Nor does the Lord call upon us to do something from which He was exempted. O what a “fight” the Captain of our salvation endured! See Him yonder in the wilderness, “forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts” (Mar 1:13), and all that time without food (Mat 4:2). How fiercely the devil assaulted Him, renewing his attack again and yet again. And the Saviour met and conquered him on the ground of faith, using only the Word of God. See Him again in Gethsemane. There the fight was yet fiercer, and so intense were His agonies that He sweat great drops of blood. Nor was there any comfort from His disciples. They could not watch with Him one hour. Yet He triumphed and that on the ground of faith, “When he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared.” (Heb 5:7).

Those two instances are recorded for our instruction, and, as ever, their order is beautifully significant. They teach us how we are to “fight the good fight of faith.” Christ Himself has “left us an example”! And what do we learn from these solemn and sacred incidents? This—the only weapon we are to use is the sword of the Spirit, and victory is only to be obtained on our knees—“with strong crying and tears.” The Lord graciously enables us so to act. O that each of us may more earnestly seek grace to fight the good fight of faith. We shall have happy and peaceful fellowship together in heaven, but before we get there, the “fight” has to be fought, and won or we shall never get there at all (2Ti 4:6-8).


Studies in the Scriptures February 1933

“But without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Heb. 11:6); “But the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it” (Heb. 4:2). The linking together of these verses shows us the worthlessness of all religious activities where faith be lacking. The outward exercise may be performed diligently and correctly, but unless faith be in operation God is not honored and the soul is not profited. Faith draws out the heart unto God, and faith it is which receives from God;—not a mere intellectual assent to what is revealed in Holy Writ, but a supernatural principle of grace which lives upon the God of Scripture. This the natural man, no matter how religious or orthodox he be, has not; and no labors of his, no act of his will, can acquire it. It is the sovereign gift of God.

Faith must be operative in all the exercises of the Christian if God is to be glorified and he is to be edified. First, in the reading of the Word: “But these are written that ye might believe” (John 20:31). Second, in listening to the preaching of God’s servants: “The hearing of faith” (Gal. 3:2). Third, in praying: “Let him ask in faith, nothing wavering” (James 1:6). Fourth, in our daily life: “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7); “the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God” (Gal. 2:20). Fifth, in our exit from this world: “These all died in faith” (Heb. 11:13). What the breath is to the body, faith is to the soul; for one who is destitute of faith to seek to perform spiritual actions is like putting a spring within a wooden dummy and making it go through mechanical motions.

Now an unregenerate professor may read the Scriptures and yet have no spiritual faith. Just as the devout Hindu peruses the Upanishads and the Mohammedan his Koran, so many in “Christian” countries take up the study of the Bible, and yet have no more of the life of God in their souls than have their heathen brethren. Thousands in this land read the Bible, believe in its Divine authorship, and become more or less familiar with its contents. A mere professor may read several chapters every day, and yet never appropriate a single verse. But faith applies God’s Word: it applies His fearful threats and trembles before them; it applies His solemn warnings, and seeks to heed them; it applies His precepts, and cries unto Him for grace to walk in them.

It is the same in listening to the Word preached. A carnal professor will boast of having attended this conference and that, of having heard this famous teacher and that renowned preacher, and be no better off in his soul than if he had never heard any of them. He may listen to two sermons every Sunday, and fifty years hence be as dead spiritually as he is today. But the regenerated soul appropriates the message and measures himself by what he hears. He is often convicted of his sins and made to mourn over them. He tests himself by God’s standard, and feels that he comes so far short of what he ought to be, that he sincerely doubts the honesty of his own profession. The Word pierces him, like a two-edged sword, and causes him to cry “O wretched man that I am.”

So in prayer. The mere professor often makes the humble Christian feel ashamed of himself. The carnal religionist who has “the gift of the gab” is never at a loss for words: sentences flow from his lips as readily as do the waters of a babbling brook; verses of Scripture seem to run through his mind as freely as flour passes through a sieve. Whereas the poor burdened child of God is often unable to do any more than cry “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Ah, my friends, we need to distinguish sharply between a natural aptitude for “making” nice “prayers” and the spirit of true supplication: the one consists merely of words, the other of “groanings which cannot be uttered”; the one is acquired by religious education, the other is wrought in the soul by the Holy Spirit.

Thus it is too in conversing about the things of God. The frothy professor can talk glibly and often orthodoxly of “doctrines,” yes, and of worldly things, too: according to his mood, or according to his audience, so is his theme. But the child of God, while being swift to hear that which is unto edification, is “slow to speak.” Ah, my reader, beware of talkative people; a drum makes a lot of noise, but it is hollow inside! “Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness; but a faithful man who can find?” (Prov. 20:6). When a saint of God does open his lips about spiritual matters, it is to tell of what the Lord, in His infinite mercy, has done for him; but the carnal religionist is anxious for others to know what he is “doing for the Lord.”

The difference is just as real between the genuine Christian and the nominal Christian in connection with their daily lives: while the latter may appear outwardly righteous, yet within they are “full of hypocrisy, and iniquity” (Matt. 23:28). They will put on the skin of a real sheep, but in reality they are “wolves in sheep’s’ clothing.” But God’s children have the nature of sheep, and learn of Him who is “meek and lowly in heart,” and, as the elect of God, they put on “mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering” (Col. 3:12). They are in private what they appear in public. They worship God in spirit and in truth, and have been made to know wisdom in the hidden parts of the heart.

So it is on their passing out of this world. An empty professor may die as easily and as quietly as he lived—deserted by the Holy Spirit, undisturbed by the Devil; as the Psalmist says, “There are no bands in their death” (73:4). But this is very different from the end of one whose deeply-plowed and consciously-defiled conscience has been “sprinkled” with the precious blood of Christ: “Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace” (Psa. 37:37)—yes, a peace which “passeth all understanding”: having lived the life of the righteous, he dies “the death of the righteous” (Num. 23:10).

And what is it which distinguishes the one character from the other, wherein lies the difference between the genuine Christian and he who is one in name only? This: a Godgiven, Spirit-wrought faith in the heart. Not a mere head-knowledge and intellectual assent to the Truth, but a living, spiritual, vital principle in the heart—a faith which “purifies the heart” (Acts 15:9), which “worketh by love” (Gal. 5:6), which “overcometh the world” (1 John 5:4). Yes, a faith which is Divinely sustained amidst trials within and opposition without; a faith which exclaims “though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him” (Job 13:15).

True, this faith is not always in exercise, nor is it equally strong at all times. The favored possessor of it must be taught by painful experience that as he did not originate it neither can he command it; therefore does he turn unto its Author, and say, “Lord I believe, help Thou mine unbelief.” And then it is that, when reading the Word he is enabled to lay hold of its precious promises; that when bowing before the Throne of Grace, he is enabled to cast his burden upon the Lord; that when he rises to go about his temporal duties, he is enabled to lean upon the everlasting arms; and that when he is called upon to pass through the valley of the shadow of death, he triumphantly cries, “I will fear no evil for Thou art with me.” “Lord, increase our faith.” A.W.P.


Studies in the Scriptures May 1936

It is the bounden duty of all who hear the Gospel to savingly trust in Christ, otherwise their rejection of Him would be no sin. Many of our readers will be surprised to hear that this self-evident truth is denied by some who are, otherwise, sound in the Faith. They reason that it is “inconsistent” to call upon the spiritually dead to perform spiritual duties. A certain denomination in England have the following among their Articles of Faith: “We deny duty-faith and duty-repentance—these terms signifying that it is every man’s duty to spiritually and savingly repent and believe (Gen. 6:5; 8:21; Matt. 15:19; Jer. 17:9; John 6:44, 65). We deny also that there is any capability in man by nature to any spiritual good whatever. So that we reject the doctrine that men in a state of nature should be exhorted to believe in or turn to God (John 12:29, 40; Eph. 2:8; Rom. 8:7, 8; 1 Cor. 4:7).

Therefore, that for ministers in the present day to address unconverted persons, or indiscriminately all in a mixed congregation, calling upon them to savingly repent, believe, and receive Christ, or perform any other acts dependent upon the new creative power of the Holy Spirit, is, on the one hand, to imply creature power, and, on the other, to deny the doctrine of special redemption.”

As some of our readers have imbibed this error, we are anxious to be of help to them. We have therefore decided to follow the article by John Newton on “Ministerial Address to the Unconverted” in the March issue by first giving brief quotations from the writings of the Reformers and Puritans, to show how the framers of those Articles of Faith departed from the path and policy followed by so many eminent saints of God who preceded them.

“The mercy of God is offered equally to those who believe and to those who believe not, so that those who are not Divinely taught within are rendered inexcusable” (John Calvin—1552—”The Eternal Predestination of God” p. 95). “A slight acquaintance with Paul will enable anyone to understand, without tedious argument, how easily he reconciled things which they pretend to be repugnant to each other. Christ commands men to believe in Him, yet His limitation is neither false nor contrary to His command when He says ‘No man can come to Me except it were given him of My Father.’ Let preaching therefore have its force to bring men to faith” (Calvin’s “Institutes” Book 3, chap. 18, par. 13).

“The first part then of Christianity is the preaching of repentance, and the knowledge of ourselves . . . A man, therefore, is made a Christian not by working but by hearing; wherefore, he that will exercise himself to righteousness must first exercise himself in hearing the Gospel. Now, when he hath heard and received the Gospel, let him give himself to God with a joyful heart, and afterwards let him exercise himself in those good works which are commanded in the law” (Martin Luther—1540—on Galatians, pp. 104 and 185).

“When we meet with a precept, we should simply endeavour to obey it, without inquiring into God’s hidden purpose . . . . Notwithstanding God’s predestination is most certain and unalterable, so that no elect person can perish, nor any reprobate be saved, yet it does not follow from thence that all reproofs and exhortations on the part of God, or prayers on the part of men, are useless” (J. Zanchius—1562—”The Doctrine of Absolute Predestination,” pp. 49 and 120).

“With the promises there is joined an exhortation or command to believe, which is more general than the promise; because the promise is only made to believers; but the commandment is given to believers and unbelievers also. For the elect are mingled with the wicked in the same assemblies, and therefore the ministers of the Gospel ought indiscriminately to exhort all and every one to repent.” “In very truth, if thou goest forth of this world being no repentant sinner, thou goest damned to Hell: wherefore delay not one minute of an hour longer, but with all speed repent and turn unto God” (W. Perkins—1595—Vol. 1, p. 379; Vol. 2, p. 692).

“Let us be stirred up to repent immediately. Doth not God now warn you? Is it not dangerous living one hour in a state that we would not die in? May God justly strike us on the sudden? Do but purpose to live in sin one quarter of an hour; may we not be taken away in that quarter?” (R. Sibbes—1620—Vol. 6, p. 212).

“We are expressly commanded to believe, and that upon the highest promises, and under the greatest penalties. This command is that which makes believing formally a duty. Faith is a grace as it is freely wrought in us by the Holy Spirit, the root of all obedience and duties, as it is radically fixed in the heart. But as it is commanded it is a duty; and these commands, you know, are several ways expressed, by invitations, exhortations, propositions” (John Owen—1650—Vol. 14, p. 223).

“I say there is no simulation at all of God in this: that which He proposeth is but this; ‘Whosoever believeth shall be saved, and whosoever believeth not shall be damned.’ He sends His ministers to preach this, and to beseech them to believe, and to be reconciled unto God, yea, all they meet with.” “He commands them to preach promiscuously unto all, persuade all, exhort all, unto faith and repentance” (W. Twisse—1653—”The Riches of God’s Love” pp. 73 and 169).

“My counsel (to his unsaved hearers) is this: Stir up your souls to lay hold on the Lord Jesus and look up to Him, wait on Him from whom every good and perfect gift comes, and give Him no rest till He hath given thee that jewel faith” (Thomas Brooks—1653—Vol. 1, p. 144).

“This condition of faith and repentance is suited to the consciences of men. The law of nature teaches us that we are bound to believe every revelation from God when it is made known to us; and not only to assent to it as true, but embrace it as good.” “Our rejection of Christ, and the way of His appointing, is a high contempt of God . . . . It is a ‘making light’ of a rich feast of God’s providing” (S. Charnock—1660—Vol. 3, pp. 68 and 469).

John Bunyan (1675) in his “The Heavenly Footman”; or a “Description of the man that gets to Heaven,” which is addressed to “All the slothful and careless people,” being an exposition and application of “So run that ye may obtain” (1 Cor. 9:24), closes with, “If thou dost not know the way, inquire at the Word of God; if thou wantest company, cry for God’s Spirit; if thou wantest encouragement, entertain the promises. But be sure thou beginnest betimes; get into the way, run apace, and hold out to the end, and the Lord give thee a prosperous journey.”

“Preach the Gospel to every creature: yet this is not the Gospel to be preached—that God hath promised to save every creature; though upon promulgation of them, it becomes the duty of everyone to come to Christ, and a command is laid upon men to do it” (T. Goodwin—1680—Vol. 8, p.245).

“Fire burneth where it meeteth with matter combustible, but a reasonable creature needeth to be exhorted to perform acts agreeable to his principles” (T. Manton—1670—Vol. 19, p. 247).

“It is our duty to endeavour what is impossible by our own endeavours to attain—so sin has made it; to avoid all sin, to perform perfect obedience, to love with all the heart” (David Clarkson, associate pastor with John Owen—1682—Vol. 2, p. 131).

“But you will say, if unregenerate men be dead men, to what purpose is it to persuade them to arise and stand up? This difficulty is solved in this very text (Eph. 5:14): though the duty is ours, yet the power is God’s” (J. Flavell—1680—Vol. 2, p. 423).

“It is the known duty of a sinner under the Gospel to turn to God through Christ; and it is also declared in the same Gospel that none can of themselves turn to God and believe in His Son without the help of special efficacious grace; it must hereupon be a man’s duty also to pray for that grace which may enable him thereto” (J. Howe—1690—Vol. 2, p. 346).

“This (Gospel) call contains the command of faith by which all men without exception, to whom God vouchsafes the same, are enjoined to believe in Christ, in that way and manner which is revealed in the Gospel: ‘look unto Me and be ye saved all the ends of the earth’: Isaiah 45:22” (H. Witsuis—1690—Vol. 3, p. 353).

“Neither will this assertion make it a vain thing to preach the Gospel to natural people, and to exhort them to true repentance and faith in Christ for their conversion and salvation” (W. Marshall—1692—”The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification,” so highly commended by James Hervey, p. 121).

“And even not coming to Christ, and believing in Him in this spiritual manner, when He is revealed in the external ministry of the Word, as God’s way of salvation, is criminal and blameworthy, notwithstanding men’s want of both will and power” (John Gill—1735—”The Cause of God and Truth,” p. 87).

We could add quotations from others, but the above are from well known, representative, sound, Calvinistic divines; several of them high Calvinists. Yet their holding firmly to the spiritual inability of the natural man, to unconditional election, particular redemption, and the effectual call of the Spirit, did not tie their hands in preaching the Gospel freely, pressing upon their hearers their responsibility, and calling upon them to repent and believe.—A.W.P.


Studies in the Scriptures August 1936

“We believe that it would be unsafe, from the brief records we have, of the way in which the Apostles, under the immediate direction of our Lord, addressed their hearers in certain special cases and circumstances, to derive absolute and universal rules for ministerial addresses in the present day under widely different circumstances. And we further believe that an assumption that others have been inspired as the Apostles were, has led to the grossest errors among both Romanists and Protestants. Therefore, that for ministers in this present day to address unconverted persons, or indiscriminately all in a mixed congregation, calling upon them to savingly repent, believe, and receive Christ, or perform any other acts dependent upon the new creative power of the Holy Ghost, is, on the one hand, to imply creature power, and on the other to deny the doctrine of special redemption.”

The above are two of the “articles of faith” (quoted by us in full) of an English denomination which still has considerable membership and influence. With almost all their other Articles of Faith we are in hearty accord, as with their marked separation from the world, and the simplicity of their worship. Nor have we one particle of sympathy with the delusive errors of creature ability or general redemption, rather do we unhesitatingly brand them both as lies of the Devil. In his unregenerate state, fallen and depraved man is so completely the slave of sin and the captive of Satan, that he is altogether unable to deliver himself or take one step toward that deliverance; yea, his heart is so corrupt and his mind so at enmity against God, that he has no desire to be brought out of darkness into His marvelous light. Not until the Holy Spirit performs a miracle of grace upon the soul, does its possessor have any spiritual appetite or aspirations; and that miracle He performs only in those for whom Christ died—God’s elect.

Now if we resort to human reasoning it will logically follow that it is quite useless to exhort the unregenerate to turn unto God or come unto Christ; yea, to exhort those who are utterly incompetent to respond, will appear to be most inconsistent and the height of absurdity. But, my reader, the things of God cannot be encompassed by human reason, and the moment we attempt to measure them by the line of our “logic,” we open the door for Satan to deceive by his subtleties. He will tell us that if the Lord our God be one Lord then He cannot be a plurality of Persons, and that if we hold to three Divine Persons we are most “inconsistent” in affirming the unity of God. Satan will tell us that if God be Love then He will never banish any of His creatures to everlasting woe, and that if we hold to eternal punishment of the wicked we are altogether “inconsistent” in believing in the Divine benevolence.

What, then are we to do? This: repudiate all reasoning upon spiritual things as utterly worthless, and believe with the simplicity of a child whatever God’s Word teaches. The Apostles held firmly the revealed truth of a glorious and victorious Messiah, and they could not “harmonize” with that fact a humiliated Messiah that would be crucified: the two things appeared to be altogether “inconsistent” and contradictory. But to them Christ said, “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25). That, my reader, should be a lasting warning to us of the utter inadequacy of human logic and philosophizing upon Divine things! We must turn from the vain reasonings of the Unitarian, and while holding fast to the Unity of the Divine nature, we must also believe there are three co-equal Persons in the Godhead. We must turn from the vain reasonings of the Universalist, and while holding fast to the love of God, we must also believe in the eternal punishment of His enemies. And why? Because Holy Scripture teaches both!

In like manner, we must turn from the vain reasonings (as in the above Articles of Faith) of the hyper-Calvinist, and while holding fast to the total depravity and the spiritual inability of the natural man, we must also believe in his moral responsibility and accountability to God. It is the bounden duty of God’s servants to tell the unregenerate that the reason why they cannot repent evangelically is because their hearts are so wedded to their lusts; that the reason why they cannot come to Christ is because their sins have fettered and chained them; that the reason why they hate the Light is because they love the darkness. But so far from this excusing them, it only adds to their guilt; that so far from rendering them objects of pity it exposes them as doubly deserving of damnation. It is the preacher’s business to show wherein spiritual inability consists: not in the lack of soul faculties, but in the absence of any love for Him who is infinitely lovely. Far be it from us to extenuate the wicked unbelief of the unregenerate!

The compilers of the above Articles of Faith were very largely influenced by a piece written by William Huntington in 1791, “Excommunication: and the Duty of all men to believe weighed in the balance.” We have space to quote only one paragraph: “When Peter said, ‘Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out’ (Acts 3:19), He that is exalted to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins, sent His Spirit and Grace with the Word to work repentance and conversion in His own elect. And though they spoke the Word, promiscuously to all, yet He only spake it to His own. It was sent with the power of the Spirit. It never was sent with the Spirit of Faith to any but His own: ‘When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the Word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed’ (Acts 13:48). This is the lifegiving commandment of the everlasting God, in the mouth of Zion’s King. But what effect has it, or what power attends it, from the mouth of Mr. Ryland or the mouth of Mr. Fuller, when they make it the rule of a dead man’s duty? Just as much as the adjuration of the sons of Sceva the Jew, when they abused the name of the Lord Jesus in commanding the spirit, who left the man and mastered them; and so these labour for the unconverted till they get into the gall of bitterness themselves . . . . Ye might just as well go to the gates of the grave and tell the sleeping dust it is their duty to come forth as Lazarus did. Mr. Ryland may just as well do the one as the other.”

What a confused jumble is that! Confounding the Word of Power (Heb. 1:3) on the lips of Christ, with the Word of Reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18, 19) in the mouths of His servants. What the Lord does, is none of our business. The commission He has given His servants is to preach the Gospel to every creature, and they certainly have not fully obeyed until they bid their hearers “Repent ye, and believe the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). Whom God quickens, is His own affair; ours is to faithfully warn the unsaved, to show wherein their sins consists (enmity against God), to bid them to throw down the weapons of their warfare against Him, to call upon them to repent (Acts 17:30), to proclaim the One who receives all who come to Him in faith. In allowing that Peter “spoke the Word promiscuously to all” Mr. Huntington pulled down what he laboured so hard to build up.

To affirm that the ministry of the Apostles (recorded in the Acts) furnishes no precedent for God’s servants today, is as foolish, as “inconsistent,” and unwarrantable, as it would be to say that Acts 6 supplies no present rule for deacons to be governed by! The physical condition of those in the cemetery is vastly different from the moral state of the unregenerate still upon the earth. The former cannot sin, cannot reject Christ; the latter can and do. The former cannot read their Bibles or call upon God for mercy; the latter should! It is because the natural man possesses the same faculties of soul as does the regenerate that he is an accountable creature, responsible to use them for God instead of against Him. —A.W.P.


Studies in the Scriptures June 1939

“It is required in stewards that a man be found faithful” (1 Cor. 4:2). From the preceding verse it is clear that the Apostle was having reference to the ministers of Christ, those whom He has appointed to act as officers in His churches. Other virtues are desirable, but fidelity is imperative. No matter how gifted a man may be, if he is untrue to this trust, he is an offense unto Christ and a stumblingblock to His people. Ministerial faithfulness includes loyalty to his Master, devotion to His interests, steadfast adherence to the preaching of His Word, dispensing the Truth unto those whose souls are committed to Him, not mixing it with speculations, much less substituting false doctrine. A far higher motive than the pleasing of his hearers must actuate and regulate ministerial service.

Those who have been much used of God have ever been men in whom this grace of faithfulness was outstandingly prominent. The father of all who believe is expressly designated “faithful Abraham” (Gal. 3:9). Concerning Moses the Lord testified, “who is faithful in all His house” (Num. 12:7). What a blessed witness is that borne to Daniel: “Then the presidents and princes sought to find occasion against Daniel concerning the kingdom, but they could find none occasion nor fault; forasmuch as he was faithful” (Dan. 6:4). Of himself Paul wrote, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry” (1 Tim. 1:12). Concerning Timothy he testified, “For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord” (1 Cor. 4:17). What is now being recorded in the Lord’s “book of remembrance” of you and me, fellow-minister?

Loyalty to God has always been a costly matter, but individual faithfulness has never involved more personal sacrifice than it does in this day of abounding disloyalty, hypocrisy and compromise. Faithful preaching will render the minister unpopular, and will empty, not “fill” churches. It will close doors against him, and if he be without a charge he will find his services are not wanted. It cost Joseph something to be faithful! It did Daniel; it did Paul; and it does every minister of Christ in this degenerate and adulterous age. How necessary it is then for the minister to strengthen his heart by laying hold of those promises which are specially given to faithfulness. Here is one of them: “the LORD preserveth the faithful” (Psa. 31:23)—from those rocks upon which so many self-seekers make shipwreck.

“He that hath My Word, let him speak My Word faithfully” (Jer. 23:28): no matter how unpalatable it may be to the flesh, how much of a weariness to those who wish to have their ears tickled with novelties, or how loud be the outcry against it. “A wicked messenger falleth into mischief; but a faithful ambassador is health” (Prov. 13:17): that is, he maintains his own soul in good health, and exerts a healing influence upon others. “A faithful witness will not lie” (Prov. 14:5): he who maintains a pure conscience before God will not dare to give forth a testimony which he knows to be untrue. Nor will he to obtain the good-will of men represent anything to be other than it is. Consequently, “He that speaketh truth showeth forth righteousness” (Prov. 12:17): that is, by making conscience of veracity and integrity, he makes it clear that he is governed by the principle of righteousness.

How much there is in Scripture to stimulate the minister unto fidelity! “A true (Hebrew, “faithful”) witness delivereth souls” (Prov. 14:25), and he is the only one who ever does so. Souls are caught fast in the meshes of Satan’s lies, and nothing but the sword of God’s Truth can cut them free. However unpopular he may be among men, the faithful witness is approved of and is pleasing to God. “As the cold of snow in the time of harvest, so is a faithful messenger to them that send him: for he refresheth the soul of his masters” (Prov. 25:13). Yes, such are “a sweet savour to God” (2 Cor. 2:15). What holy encouragement is there here for the hearts of the Lord’s servants! What rich compensation for the slights and sneers of men!

For there is no faithfulness in their mouths . . . . they flatter with their tongues” (Psa. 5:9). There is the identifying mark of the “hireling,” the false witness. He aims at pleasing his hearers, making them feel satisfied with themselves, ever patting them on the back. But what are the springs from which integrity and fidelity issue? First, faith. It is striking to note that both in the Hebrew and the Greek the same word does duty for both “faith” (the noun) and “faithfulness” (the adjective). Unbelief, then, is the root of unfaithfulness.

Second the fear of God: “I gave my brother Hanani, and Hananiah the ruler of the palace, charge over Jerusalem: for he was a faithful man, and feared God above many” (Neh. 7:2). There is nothing like the fear of God to deliver us from the fear of men. Third, love of God, for where that is warm there must be the desire to please Him at all costs.

But let not the reader suppose that this grace is something restricted to Christ’s ministers: not so, God requires it from all His people. This is clear from the opening verses of Ephesians, which is distinctly addressed to “the faithful in Christ Jesus.” Much of what has been said above applies with equal force to the rank and file of the saints. They, too, will find that loyalty to God and fidelity to His Word will cost them not a little in the world today, where there is so much pretence, sham, and double dealing. It will result in their receiving the “cold shoulder” even from many of those who profess to be fellow-Christians. But this must not deter them: “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Rev. 2:10), is the grand word to lay hold of.

Faithful people have always been in a marked minority. “Help, Lord, for the godly men ceaseth; for the faithful fail from among the children of men” (Psa. 12:1), cried David. Note how those two characteristics are conjoined, for piety and honesty are inseparable—compare “good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:23). So, too, Solomon exclaimed, “Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness: but a faithful man who can find” (Prov. 20:6). Why is this? Because it is the part of fallen human nature to take the line of least resistance and choose the path easiest to the flesh. But remember, my reader, whoever you be, “lying lips are abomination to the LORD; but they that deal truly (Hebrew, “faithfully”) are His delight” (Prov. 12:22). Here is another of the Divine promises specially addressed to the faithful: “A faithful man shall abound with blessings” (Prov. 28:20): the true way to be happy is to be holy and honest. He who is true to God and man will be blest of Him. O that it may be said of us, “Beloved, thou doest faithfully whatsoever thou doest to the brethren, and to strangers” (3 John 5).—A.W.P.


Studies in the Scriptures November 1943

“The Word of Faith that we preach” (Rom 10:8). We shall not here attempt an exposition of that interesting passage, but rather deal with this expression topically, suggesting different reasons why the Word of God is so termed.

First, because faith is the principal thing required by the Word. Being a Divine revelation nothing less than our hearty acceptance of it is its manifest due. Being the Word of Him that cannot lie it is fully entitled to our credence. It is not a mark of wisdom or superior mental acumen, but of spiritual imbecility, to discredit and disdain this celestial communication: “O fools and slow of heart to believe all that the Prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25). The Scriptures are “worthy of all acceptation.” Faith in its simplest form is receiving “the witness of God” (1 John 5:9). God has spoken, and faith cannot doubt or question what He has said. The soul that reverently and confidently accepts the Divine testimony “hath set to his seal that God is true” (John 3:33), and until he does so, his skepticism makes out God to be a liar (1 John 5:10). Faith, then, is its legitimate demand.

Second, because it is the foundation on which faith rests. However black may be my record, however vile I appear in my own eyes or those of my fellows, when faith appropriates that word “Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37,38) it has firm ground to stand upon. Faith rests upon the promise of the faithful and immutable God. Faith builds upon His sure Word, knowing that He will never alter one thing which has gone forth from His mouth. Said David, “And now, O Lord God, Thou art that God and Thy words be true, and Thou hast promised this goodness unto Thy servant” (2 Sam 7:28): he knew that such an One would neither deceive nor fail him. “Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be confounded” (Rom 9:33). When God has promised a thing it is infallibly certain of accomplishment, and we may rest thereon in the greatest perplexities and extremities. When faith “lays hold of the hope set before us” it becomes “as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast” (Heb 6:18,19).

Third, because it is the sphere in which faith operates. Faith has nothing to do with feelings, impulses, or the dictates of carnal reason: the Word of God is the realm in which it lives, moves, and has its being.

Faith soars high above the opinions of the world, or “the voice of the Church”: it moves within the circle of Divine revelation. It recognizes no duty except what Holy Writ enjoins. It cherishes no desires save those which the Divine Oracles inspire. It realizes that to act without an express “thus saith the Lord” is to act either presumptuously or in blind credulity. In prayer its language is “Remember the word unto Thy servant upon which Thou hast caused me to hope” (Psa 119:49): concerning which Matthew Henry pertinently said, “Those that make God’s promises their portion, may with humble boldness make them their plea.”

However opposed its dictates to human wisdom, the language of faith is “nevertheless at Thy word I will let down the net” (Luke 5:5). When God speaks that is enough; where He is silent, faith refuses to move.

Fourth, because it is the means by which faith is informed. Faith is not self-sufficient, but dependent. It is like a dutiful but ignorant child who desires to please his father, yet knows not how until his will is made known. If we had not the Word of God in our hand faith would be completely at a loss—like a mariner without chart or compass. This is not sufficiently realized. It is true that unless the Word be mixed with faith it profits us not; it is equally true that faith cannot function aright unless informed by the Word. Faith is the eye of the spirit: but something more than sight is needed—light is equally essential, for the keenest vision is useless in a darkened room. Hence the Psalmist declares “The entrance of Thy words giveth light: it giveth understanding unto the simple” (119:130), that is, to the one who receives them with childlike simplicity, which is exactly what faith does. The Scriptures, then, are the Word of Faith because they instruct it. “For the Commandment is a lamp and the Law is light” (Prov 6:23); “the Commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes” (Psa 19:8).

Fifth, because it is the food by which faith is nourished. Faith is a creature, or at any rate a part of the new creation, and like every other creature it stands in need of that which will minister to its maintenance. Since God be its Object, His words are what it feeds upon. Said one of the prophets, “Thy words were found, and I did eat them, and Thy Word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart” (Jer 15:16). That was not only the language of faith, but it describes both the means and the process by which faith is nourished. Faith makes a personal appropriation, taking unto itself what God has said. Faith proceeds to a mastication of what is placed before it. God’s Word is made up of words, and on them faith ruminates and meditates. Faith issues in assimilation, so that the Word is actually taken up into the soul, and strength and energy is supplied thereby. Thus will faith aver “I have esteemed the words of His mouth more than my necessary food” (Job 23:12). And thus also do we read of being “nourished up in the words of faith” (1 Tim 4:6).

Sixth, because it is the Rule by which it is directed. Though this approximates closely to what was considered under our fourth point, yet it is to be distinguished from it. The Word of God is more than informative: it is authoritative, and therefore is it designated “The Faith which was once [for all] delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3), which they are exhorted to “earnestly contend for.” The Word is the alone Rule which faith has to walk by. But is not the Christian also prompted and guided by the Spirit? Such a question betrays sad confusion of thought and much harm has been wrought among those giving place to it. How often we have heard different ones make the claim that the Spirit moved them to perform such and such an act—for example, a woman to preach to or lead in prayer before a mixed congregation, which is forbidden by 1 Timothy 2:12; 1 Corinthians 14:34. The Spirit quickens and empowers, but He never prompts to anything contrary to Scripture. “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” (Rev 2:7), i.e. as it is recorded in the alone Rule of Faith.

Seventh, because faith is the key which opens the Scriptures. Yet how little is this realized. The chief hindrance to our lack of perception of spiritual things is neither mental dullness nor lack of what the world terms “education.” Proof of that is seen in the fact that men endowed with the keenest of intellect and equipped by the highest standards of “modern scholarship” find the Word of God a sealed book to them.

Many an illiterate rustic possesses far more spiritual understanding of the things of God than do thousands of those who possess a M.A. or D.D. degree. It is unbelief which prevents admittance into the Temple of Truth. The Word of God obtains no entrance into minds which are closed by self-conceit and prejudice, nor into hearts blocked by indifference or distrust. “The entrance of Thy words giveth light,” and it is faith which opens the door to admit them. When faith receives the first three chapters of Genesis it has more light upon creation and the course of human history than all the pseudo scientists and false philosophers put together. The miracles which stumble the sceptic present no difficulty to the humble believer. “Lord, increase our faith” (Luke 17:5). —AWP


Studies in the Scriptures July 1945

In the last two issues, we sounded an alarm unto our brethren against the danger of so yielding to the active and hostile principle of unbelief―which is still within us, that it should obtain complete dominion over us; and then, we should only be described as those marked by “an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God” (Heb 3:12)―that is, as apostates. It is therefore fitting that we should now consider the grand remedy and preventative. “Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it” (Heb 4:1-2).

The exhortation begun at Hebrews 3:12 is not completed unto Hebrews 4:11. The connecting link between the two chapters is found in the words, “So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief” (Heb 3:19)―that was what gave point to the exhortation of 3:12, and that is also made the basis of the warning of Hebrews 4:1 and the injunction of 4:11. Israel had a promise of entering into Canaan, but it profited them not, because they did not mix faith with it (Heb 4:2). We, too, have a promise of entering the antitypical Canaan, but it will advantage us nothing if it be received with unbelief. The promise made to Israel is recorded in Exodus 6:6-8, yet the fact remains that―excepting only Caleb and Joshua―none of the adult Hebrews who were delivered from Egypt ever entered Canaan! Did then the promise of God fail of its accomplishment?

No. Why not? First, because that promise of Exodus 6 was made to Israel generally and collectively, as a people―it did not specify that all, or even any, of that particular generation were to enter in. Second, though no condition was expressly named, yet, as the event proved, it was necessarily implied: The promise must be “mixed with faith” (Heb 4:2)—as the threat of Jonah 3:4 could only be averted by repentance. Had an absolute and unconditional promise been made to that particular generation, it must have been performed. Instead, the fulfilment of that promise was suspended on their believing and acting accordingly. Thus, it was a promise addressed to human responsibility. God made no promise to Israel that He would bring them into Canaan―whether they believed and obeyed, or no. Nor did their unbelief make the promise of God of none effect. It was accomplished to the next generation, who believed God and obeyed the instructions of His servant―see Joshua 21:43.

God’s dealings with the Hebrews furnish an analogy of the principles which operate in connection with the promise of the Gospel, which is addressed to sinners as moral agents. The promise is indeed “sure to all the [chosen] seed” (Rom 4:16), for every one redeemed by Christ will verily enter the purchased possession. Yet, the Gospel itself does not testify directly to any individual that Christ so died for him in particu1ar, that it is certain he shall he saved by His death. Instead, it proclaims, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mar 16:16). It is only by my believing the Gospel that I am secured of eternal life, and it is only as I hold fast the Truth and am regulated by it, that I can legitimately enjoy the comfort of the Gospel. In other words, I can only spell out my election, as I put my trust in the atoning blood of Christ, and then serve Him.

The Gospel is addressed to human responsibility. It demands a believing acceptance from those who hear it. The proclamation that Christ is a Saviour for Hell-deserving sinners avails me nothing, until I make personal appropriation of it. It avails me nothing, until I regard the Gospel as being addressed to me individually. It avails me nothing until I mix faith (Heb 4:2) with it―that is, until I accept God’s verdict that I am a Law-condemned, lost, and bankrupt sinner, and come to Christ owning myself to be such, and put my trust in the sufficiency of His atoning sacrifice.

Then, it is that―on the authority of Him who says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Act 16:31)―I have Divine warrant to be assured that He is my own Saviour, and to say with Job, “I know that my redeemer liveth” (Job 19:25)―not because I deem myself of God’s elect, but because I have received the sinner’s Saviour.

God’s Word, whether it be the hearing or the reading of it, only profits the soul as it is “mixed with faith” (Heb 4:2). Faith is so many-sided, and its operations so diverse, that (in condescension to our weakness) it has pleased the Holy Spirit to use quite a number of varied figures to set forth its operations and acts. It is likened unto looking (Isa 45:22), unto setting to our “seal” (Joh 3:33), fleeing “for refuge” and laying “hold upon the hope set before us” (Heb 6:18), eating (Jer 15:16), drinking (Joh 7:37), and committing “unto him” (2Ti 1:12). In our text, the similitude of mixing faith (Heb 4:2) is taken from the mingling of the saliva with our food, which―through chewing it thoroughly and rolling it about in our mouth―is an aid unto digestion; and to the mixing of the juices of the stomach, so that the food is duly assimilated and becomes part of our bodies.

If our food be not properly chewed and mixed with our salvia, it will cause indigestion, and so far from being assimilated and nourishing the body, it will upset us. So it is with our hearing of the Gospel: If we mix not faith therewith, not only will the soul receive no profit, but it will add to our condemnation in the Day to come. We may listen to God’s servant and be duly impressed with his solemnity, or stirred by his earnestness, we may admire the logic of his arguments and the eloquence of his diction, we may be moved by the forcefulness of his illustrations and brought to tears by his descriptions of Christ’s sufferings―and yet, obtain no spiritual benefit therefrom. Why? Because we were occupied only with the preacher and his preaching, admiring a sermon. Because we failed to mix “with faith” the Word―and faith has to do solely with God.

Faith, my reader, brings in God. He is its sole Object. Faith has to do not with reasonings, feelings, or inward impressions and impulses―but with God and His Word. When a convicted sinner hears the Gospel and mixes faith with it, he realises that God is speaking through the minister, that God is speaking directly to him, that God is addressing his own immortal soul. It is now that he begins to realise the force of that Word, “he that hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Luk 8:8). “Let him hear” means “let him heed”: Let him take home to himself what he hears and be suitably affected thereby. It is the same if I am reading the Word. If we would “mix [it] with faith,” then I must regard that Word as God speaking through it, speaking directly and personally to me, speaking that which is true and for my good, and I must respond thereto and act accordingly.

The Feast is spread and the broad call is made, “Come; for all things are now ready” (Luk 14:17). That invitation is freely made to all who hear it, and there is a place assured at that Feast to every one who responds. In order to respond, I must mix faith with it―that is, I must thankfully recognise that invitation is made to me, utterly unworthy and unfit though I feel myself to be. I must believe that God means what He says, and promptly avail myself of His gracious overture. “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” (1Ti 1:15). It is not as one who has reason to believe his name is written in the Book of life, nor as one who feels a qualifying work of grace has begun in him, but simply as a sinner, I am to come to Christ for salvation. Receive that Truth into your heart as a little child, as addressed to you, and you have mixed faith with it, and masticated the Gospel.


Studies in the Scriptures August 1945

What we said in our last month’s issue under this title was designed chiefly for “seekers”―or awakened sinners―longing for peace of soul. For this occasion, it is to the young Christian we would more especially address our remarks―and to him, we would say, ‘The secret of success in the Christian life is to continue as you began. As you obtained the pardon of your sin in the first case by mixing faith (Heb 4:2) with the Gospel, so you will only grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by mixing faith with the Word of God. Only by so doing, will you become a fruitful branch of the Vine; only thus will you obtain strength for  he production of good works; only thus will you glorify God in your spirit and body which are His, adorn your profession, and be a real help to your fellows.

While we may not be able to fully analyse and understand the whole process of physical nutrition, yet there is no mystery about it―for it is regulated by certain laws of dietetics appointed by our Maker. The growth and development, the health and strength of the body is determined, in the first instance, by our regular partaking of food―wholesome food properly masticated. The analogy holds good spiritually. The food which God has provided for our souls is His own Word, the heavenly manna; and that Word does not act upon us magically, but according to fixed principles instituted by God―the first of which is that it must be received by faith. For that reason, it is called “the word of faith” (Rom 10:8)―it is the Word to which faith is due, the Word which profits us not until received by faith. For the same reason, we read of being “nourished up in the word of faith” (lTi 4:6)―that is, the Word broken up into words and “mixed with faith.” Seed which is cast into the earth brings forth no fruit, unless it incorporates the fructifying virtues of the soil. And the Word of God, as it falls on our ears, or beneath our eyes, will produce no fruit―unless it be mixed with faith. It is faith which admits the Word into our hearts and gives it a subsistence in the soul. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). That is not a definition of what faith is, but a description of what faith produces.

The Divine, spiritual heavenly and supernatural objects, which are presented to us in the Word, appear intangible and nebulous to the unbeliever―but faith gives them substance and reality. Though the things hoped for be invisible; yet future, faith makes them sure and solid and gives them a real subsistence in the soul. Faith does for us spiritually what fancy does for us naturally. Faith gives the things promised by God a present actuality in the heart, and makes Christ and Heaven more certain than if seen by the physical eye.

The material food that we eat only advantages us as it is duly mixed with our saliva, swallowed, and then digested by the juices of the stomach. When that food is masticated and assimilated, it becomes a means of strength within us, being made a part of our bodies. In like manner, when the Word is properly meditated upon, “mixed with faith” and assimilated, it is a means of spiritual energy within us and becomes a part of our lives. When Truth is really believed, it becomes so united to the faith which receives it, that it is incorporated with it, is realized in the soul, and is taken up into that new nature whereby we live unto God. Only as the words of God are personally appropriated and spiritually digested do they become a living principle within us, energizing unto obedience. Faith is not a mere assent to the truth of the things presented, but is such a reception thereof, as gives them a real being in the soul so that they produce their proper effects.

We are bidden to “lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word” (Jam 1:21). As a “graft” draws all the sap of the stock unto itself, so when the Word is “engrafted” into us, it causes the faculties of the soul―our thoughts, affections, energies and wills―to serve God. When Christ spoke of His disciples as branches of the Vine, He said, “the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine.” To which, He added, “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you” (Joh 15:4, 7)―not only do our persons need to be engrafted into Christ, but in order to fruitfulness, His words must be engrafted into bs.

By receiving the Word in faith and meekness, it becomes incorporated with the soul; and as the nature of the stock and graft become one common principle of fruit-bearing, so the Word received by faith into the soul becomes one common principle of obedience. We are also exhorted to “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col 3:16), and that can only be done by “mixing faith” with it. One great aid to that is to ruminate frequently upon some portion of Scripture. The word “ruminate” signifies to “chew the cud,” as all clean animals do―that is, those that were “clean” under the Mosaic law. But the counterpart in us is to muse upon what we have heard or read, which is the best aid there is for a weak memory. Meditation stands to reading, as mastication does to eating. If we are to “mix faith” with the words of God, we must fix the mind on them. That is the force of the contrast presented in James 1:23-25―the ideal and profitless hearer of the Word is likened “unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass,” but “straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.” “But whoso looketh [bows down and inquires] into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.”

As we meditate upon the Word and mix faith therewith (appropriate it to ourselves), it sets love a-work: “While I was musing the fire burned” (Psa 39:3)! As the Truth is believed, and its purity, its sweetness, its value, its suitability unto our case is realised in the soul―under such a consideration of it, love is drawn forth unto its Author, and obedience becomes easy. In this way, a delight for the things of God is increased within us, and we perceive them to be excellent and precious. Faith makes the soul in love with spiritual things, and love fills us with the desires after them. By the Word being incorporated into the soul, its natural operations are changed and moved to the production of spiritual effects; unto which, previously, it had no virtue, no desire, no strength. Finally, as faith is mixed with the Word of God, it transmutes it into earnest prayer. What has been pointed out above of the Word in general, pertains to each part of it in particular.

Take its doctrinal parts: They will profit you nothing, unless faith be mixed with them; that is, until carnal reasoning on them is completely set aside, and I receive them unhesitatingly as a part of Divine revelation unto me personally. So it is with its precepts. Said the Psalmist, “I have believed thy commandments” (Psa 119:66); that is, he regarded them as addressed to himself personally, as Divine laws which must regulate his life, and he applied them to his own walk. So with the promises: Where they are given in the plural number, faith puts in its claim and individualizes them; and for the personal pronouns, substitutes my own name. Equally so with the Divine warnings and threatenings: Not until I view them as meaning what they say, and as addressed to myself individually, do they have any effect upon me; but when I mix faith with them, I tremble at God’s Word (Isa 66:2).


Studies in the Scriptures September 1945

A shield is a weapon of defense, held in front of the person to prevent the missiles of the foe injuring the body. A “shield” then is a means of protection. In Scripture, it is used as a metaphor of that which affords security against the assaults of the Devil. Varied indeed are the shifts and shields which professing Christians employ. Some trust in the sufficiency of carnal reasoning to repel the attacks which Satan makes on their souls. Some shelter behind human traditions―and poor protection they give! Some seek refuge beneath the shield of fatalism, but get sorely wounded.

It is indeed blessedly true that whatsoever cometh to pass was eternally foreordained by God;

yet, that truth was not revealed in Scripture as a rule for us to walk by. Others attempt to hide behind an avowed inability to do anything to help themselves, though they act very differently when menaced by physical perils! Others take presumption for their shield: Heedless of warnings and reckless of dangers, they imagine themselves to be strong and proof against the attacks of Satan. Peter fell through self-confidence!

“Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked” (Eph 6:16). This is one of the seven pieces of the “armour of God,” which the Christian is bidden to “take unto” himself and “put on,” in order that he may be able to stand against the wiles of the Devil (Eph 6:11-17)―here likened unto “fiery darts” because his temptations are noiseless, swift, piercing, and dangerous, designed to enflame our lusts. And as we are exhorted to “resist stedfast in the faith” (1Pe 5:9), our Adversary the Devil, who “as a roaring  lion walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1Pe 5:8), so here, we are told “above all, [to be] taking the shield of faith” (Eph 6:16), for that is the only effectual “shield” which will stand the soul in good stead when the Enemy launches his attack upon us. The “above all” has a double force: First, it means over all the other pieces of armour, serving as a protecting roof above them. The shield of the ancients was made of light but hard metal, having a loop attached to the inner side, through which the hand was thrust to secure a firm hold; and then, the shield could be raised or lowered according as need required.

The different pieces of armour represent the various spiritual graces of the Christian, and the “above all” in our text signifies, second, pre-eminently, chiefly, supremely. It is an all-important and essential thing that we should take the shield of faith. First, because it is to guard the whole man. Satan assaults the head, seeking to deceive with subtle error and false doctrine, or by unsettling us with doubts. Nothing but faith will enable us to retain what we have received from the Word. When Satan calls that Word in question, faith will interpose with “It is written,” written by Him who “cannot lie” (Ti 1:2)―and that is an effectual shield. He assails the heart, seeking to get us to question the love of God in the day of adversity, or to draw out our affections world-ward in the day of prosperity; but faith declares, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15), and will esteem “the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt” (Heb 11:26).

Or he may direct his fiery darts at your knees, telling you it is vain to pray, for God will not hear you; but faith lays hold of one of the prayer promises and betakes itself to the throne of grace. But the “above all” signifies not only that “the shield of faith” is for guarding the whole man, but also that it is essential for the preservation of our other graces. As Spurgeon well said in his sermon on this verse, “The man of God is to put on the girdle and the breastplate, and he is also to be shod and wear his helmet. Though these are all armour, faith is an armour for his armour; it is not only a defence for him, but a defence for his defences.” In other words, unless faith be kept healthy and active, the other graces will languish and be helpless. As Charnock says, “Other graces may fail and the soul recover, but if faith failed, all would be lost.” Satan will attack our sincerity by attempting to sever the girdle of truth (Eph 6:14), and only faith in exercise will preserve our sincerity. He will attack our practical righteousness or holiness, seeking to batter in “the breastplate” (Eph 6:14); and only faith will enable us to say with Joseph, “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Gen 39:9)! All the Christian graces need Divine grace to preserve them, and that grace is given in response to the exercise of faith.

“Above all, taking the shield of faith” (Eph 6:16). The faith which God has given to His child is to be made use of. It is to perform varied duties and is fitted to accomplish many useful ends. Itis not only the instrument by which the soul feeds on God’s Word, but it is also the grand defensive weapon for protecting the soul against Satan’s temptations. Since the Christian’s faith was imparted by God, it turns to God as its Object. Such a faith is not grounded on fancies and feelings, dreams and visions, but is based upon and built up by the Word. Faith credits the testimony of Holy Writ: It does not regard the Devil as a fiction, but as a solemn reality; and views sin not as a trifle, but as that “abominable thing” which God hates (Jer 44:4). It does not look upon the warnings and threatenings of Scripture as mere bogies, but as danger-signals, which we disregard at our peril. And therefore, as the Psalmist declared, “His truth shall be thy shield and buckler” (Psa 91:4). If the saint be “girt about with truth” (Eph 6:14), his soul would will be more secure against the fiercest assault of Satan than was the body of the knight of old who went forth into battle clad in this coat of mail.

Now, as the best of shields is of no value to the soldier in the day of battle, unless he uses it, so faith is of no avail to the Christian when tempted by the Devil, unless he has it in exercise. There is a sacred art in being able to handle the shield of faith, and that art consists of having God’s Word stored in our hearts, and then drawing promptly upon the same in the hour of need.

Let us be very simple and practical. If tempted to covetousness, I must use that Word, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth” (Mat 6:19). If solicited by evil companions, I must heed that injunction, “If sinners entice thee, consent thou not” (Pro 1:10), and that will prove an effectual shield. If the Devil seeks to enkindle anger or bitterness against a brother or sister, and I lay hold of the precept, “Be kindly affectioned one to another” (Rom 12:10), his fiery darts will be quenched. It is because the details of Scripture have so little place in our meditations that Satan trips us so frequently. How pertinent was the Saviour’s responses to the wiles of Satan! Without modification, could He say, “By the word of thy lips I have kept me from the paths of the destroyer” (Psa 17:4).

But faith is not only to deliver from Satan’s solicitations to evil, but also from his temptations to fears and frights, despondency and despair; and therefore, it must make use of the Divine promises, as well as precepts. There must be full confidence in God’s faithfulness and power to make good His pledges. The Devil will tell you, ‘Things will be so bad after the war is over, and the coffers of the government so empty, that you will starve;’ but faith will repel his dart with, “My God shall supply all your need” (Phi 4:19). He may argue, ‘Things will come to such a pass that no servant of Christ will be allowed to minister unto the saints;’ but faith will quench that dart with the grand promise, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Heb 13:5). He may  answer,

‘But your corruptions will prove too strong for you;’ ‘No,’ replies faith, “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phi 1:6). ‘But,’ continues Satan, ‘you are weak, and I shall yet destroy you!’ ‘No,’ says faith, ‘Christ gives to the feeblest of His sheep eternal life, and none shall pluck them out of His hand’ (Joh 10:28-29). That is what  we understand by using faith as a shield.

Some may be inclined to object unto what is said above, by pointing out that the implication throughout is that the Christian has it in his own unaided power to make use of faith whenever he pleases; whereas, in fact, he is as much dependent upon God for the motions of his faith, as he was for the original impartation of it. That is not disputed; but is it relevant? We are not discussing the Christian’s ability or his inability, but rather, are pressing one phase of his accountability; nd in so doing, we are but emulating the apostle. After telling the saints they were opposed by the whole of the organized forces of Satan, he bade them, “Take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day” (Eph 6:13); and then, specified the use they were to make of each particular part of their armour. Therein, he was enforcing the Christian’s responsibility, and he did not weaken―or rather, annul the same―by adding, ‘though of yourselves, ye are incapable of so doing.’ Not so did the Divinely-inspired teacher act!

While it is true that the Christian is wholly dependent upon God; yet, it is not true that he is wholly impotent as the non-Christian―to insist that he is, is to deny that regeneration has effected any radical change in him, that there is an essential difference between those who have been made new creatures in Christ, and those who are dead in trespasses and sins. If the Christian’s faith be weak and sickly, the fault is entirely his own. The way to obtain more faith is to exercise that which we already have―see Luke 8:18. The best way to exercise the faith we have is to expectantly ask the Lord for an increase of it―Luke 17:5. “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phi 4:13).


Studies in the Scriptures October 1945

“For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (1Jo 5:4). Four questions call for answer: Why “whatsoever” rather than “whosoever”? What is “the world” which is to be overcome? How does faith overcome it? What is the extent of its victory? The persons spoken of are the regenerate, and “whatsoever” is used because it takes in whatever may be their station or situation in this life. Whosoever is born of God, no matter what his rank or situation, “overcometh the world.” Regeneration is wrought equal and alike in all, and it produces the same fruits and effects in all, as it respects the essentials of godliness. It is not drawn forth into exercise and act in all alike, for there are particular duties to be performed and particular graces to be exercised―according to such times and places as are personal, but not universal―as, for example, one called to endure martyrdom. But whatsoever [person] is born of God [no matter how distinguished from others by His providence] overcometh the world.”

The “world” is a term which is used in Scripture with many shades of meaning. Sometimes it means the earth; at others, the Church of Christ; at others, empty professors. When used in an ethical or religious sense, it denotes that system over which Satan presides as “prince” (Joh 14:30) or as “god” (2Co 4:4)―the supreme director of all false religions. Since there is nothing which the Devil hates so much as the Gospel, his main activities are engaged in the corrupting of it, in deceiving souls by plausible counterfeits. But that “faith” in Christ and His salvation―as results from a Scriptural knowledge of Him, imparted to the spiritual mind by the light and teaching of the Holy Spirit―sees through Satan’s imitations. Only by a believing reception of the Truth can error be overcome. One of the fruits of the new birth, then, is a faith which not only enables its possessor to overcome the sensual and sinful customs, and the carnal maxims and policies by which the profane world is regulated, but also the lying delusions and errors by which the professing world is fatally deceived.

1 John 5:4 opens with “For,” which intimates the reason why that to the regenerate the commandments of God “are not grievous” (1Jo 5:3); so in this verse, “the world” signifies whatever has the effect of rendering the Divine precepts distasteful to men. The “world” is in direct antagonism to God and His people, and we may detect its presence and identify it with certainty by perceiving the effect it produces on our hearts in this way: The world is that which ministers to the carnal nature―be it persons or things―and which tends to render obedience to God irksome and unpleasant. Any one or any thing which draws your heart away from God and His authority is for you “the world.” Whatever lessens your estimate of Christ and heavenly things, and hinders practical piety is, for you, “the world”―be it the cares of this life, riches, receiving honour from men, social prestige and pomp, the fear of man lest you be dubbed “peculiar” or “fanatical” is, for you, “the world”―and either you overcome it, or it will fatally overcome you.

Now, the only thing which will or can “overcome the world” is a God-given, but self-exercised faith. And faith does so, first, by receiving into the heart God’s infallible testimony of the same. He declares that “the world” is a corrupt, evanescent, hostile thing, which shall yet be destroyed by Him. His Holy Word teaches that the world is “evil” (Gal 1:4), that “all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1Jo 2:16), that “the whole world lieth in wickedness” (1Jo 5:19) and shall yet be “burned up” (2Pe 3:10). As faith accepts God’s verdict of it, the mind is spiritually enlightened; and its possessor views it as a worthless, dangerous, and detestable thing. Second, by obeying the Divine commands concerning it, God has bidden us, “Be not conformed to this world” (Rom 12:2), “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world” (1Jo 2:15), and warns us that “whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (Jam 4:4). By heeding the Divine precepts, its spell over the heart is broken.

Third, by occupying the soul with more glorious, soul-delighting and satisfying objects. We often hear and see 2 Corinthians 4:16 or 17 quoted, but rarely the explanatory words which  follow.

The daily renewing of the inner man and our afflictions working for us an eternal weight of glory are qualified by: “While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2Co 4:18). The more the substance of the world to come engages the heart, the less hold will the shadows of this world have upon it. Thus, faith wrought in the saints of old: “For ye…took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance” (Heb 10:34). “By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb 11:9-0).

Fourth, by drawing out the heart unto Christ. As it was, by fleeing to Him for refuge that the soul was first delivered from the power and thraldom of this world, so it is throughout the Christian life. The more we cultivate real communion with Christ, the less attraction will the baubles of this world have for us. The strength of temptation lies entirely in the bent of our affections, “for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Mat 6:21). While Christ is beheld as “the chiefest among ten thousand” (Song 5:10) as “altogether lovely” (Song 5:16), the things which charm the poor worldling will repel us. Moreover, as faith beholds in the mirror of the Word, the “glory of the Lord,” the soul itself is “changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2Co 3:18). The world gains the victory over the unregenerate by captivating their affections and capturing their wills; but the saint overcomes the world, because his affections are set upon Christ and his will yielded to Him.

What is the extent of the Christian’s victory? Through temporary weakness of faith, he may neglect the means of grace and fall into sin, yet his soul will be so wretched that he will return to Christ for cleansing and fresh supplies of grace. “Though the conflict of grace with corrupt nature, and the attractions and terrors of the world, is often very sharp, and though regenerate men may be baffled, cast down, and appear slain in the battle; yet the Divine life within him, being invigorated by the Holy Spirit, will again excite him to arise and renew the conflict with redoubled fortitude and resolution; so that at length, the victory will be his decidedly” (Thomas Scott, 1747-1821). The life of faith is a “fight” (1Ti 6:12), a warfare in which there are no furloughs or “leaves,” and our success therein depends upon renouncing our own strength and counting solely on the sufficiency of Christ’s grace.

Here, then, we have a sure criterion by which we may determine our Christian progress or spiritual growth. If the things of this world have a decreasing power over me, then my faith is becoming stronger. If I am holding more lightly the things most prized by the ungodly, then I must be increasing in an experimental and soul-satisfying knowledge of Christ. If I be less cast down when some of the riches and comforts of this world be taken from me, then that is evidence they have less hold upon me. If I find the company of the most cultured and charming worldlings have a dampening effect upon my spirit, and I am happy when relieved of their presence, then my faith is overcoming the world. Yet the tense of the verb must not be overlooked: Faith which “overcometh the world” (1Jo 5:4)―not which “has overcome.” So far from being an immediate achievement, it is a lifelong business, a prolonged and continuous strife.

“O may my heart be occupied,

So wholly, Lord, with Thee,

That with Thy beauty satisfied,

I elsewhere none may see.”

Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910): Psalm 105:19

Commentary on Psalm 105:19


Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910)

Copyright Public Domain



I do not think I shall be mistaken if I affirm that these words do not convey any very clear idea to most readers. They were spoken with reference to Joseph, during the period of his imprisonment. For the understanding of them I think we must observe that there is a contrast drawn between two ‘words,’ ‘his’ (i.e. Joseph’s) and God’s. If we lay firm hold of that clue, I think it will lead us into clear daylight, and it will be obvious that Joseph’s word, which delayed its coming, or fulfilment, was either his boyish narrative of the dreams that foreshadowed his exaltation, or less probably, his words to his fellow-prisoners in the interpretation of their dreams. In either case, the terminus ad quem, the point to which our attention is directed, is the period when that word came to be fulfilled, and what my text says is that during that long season of unfulfilled hope, the ‘word of God,’ which was revealed in Joseph’s dream, and was the ground on which his own ‘word’ rested-did what? Encouraged, heartened, strengthened him? No, that unfulfilled promise might encourage or discourage him; but the Psalmist fixes our thoughts on another effect which, whether it encouraged or discouraged, it certainly had, namely, that it tested him, and found out what stuff he was made of, and whether there was staying power enough in him to hold on, in unconquerable faith, to a promise made long since, communicated by no more reliable method than a dream, and of the fulfilment of which not the faintest sign had, for all these weary years, appeared. His circumstances, judged by appearances, shattered his early visions, and bade him believe them to be no more than the boyish aspirations which grown men dismiss or find melt away of themselves when life’s realities wake the dreamer. We might either say that the non-fulfilment of the promise tested Joseph, or that the promise, by its non-fulfilment, tested him. The Psalmist chooses the latter more forcible and half paradoxical mode of speech. It proved the depth and vitality of his faith, and his ability to see things that are not as though they were. Will this man be able continually through years of poverty and imprisonment to keep his eye on the light beyond, to see his star through clouds? Will he despise the ‘light affliction,’ in the potent and immovable belief that it is ‘but for a moment?’ Thus, for all these years the great blessed word, or the hope that was built upon it, tested Joseph in the very depths of his soul. And is not that just what our anticipations, built upon God’s assurances, whether they are in regard to earthly matters that seem long in coming, or whether they, as they ought to do, travel beyond the bounds of the material, to grasp the hope which is the promise, ‘the hope of eternal life,’ ought to do for us, test us and find out what sort of people we are? And they do!

Let us go back to the man in our text. According to some commentators, he was imprisoned for something like ten years. We do not know how long his Egyptian bondage had lasted, nor how long before that his endurance of the active ill-will of his surly brothers had gone on. But at all events his chrysalis stage was very long, and one would not have wondered if he had said to himself, down in that desert pit or in that Egyptian dungeon, ‘Ah, yes! they were dreams, and only dreams,’ or if he had, as so many of us do, turned his back on his youthful visions, and gained the sad power of being able to smile at his old hopes and ambitions. Brethren! especially you young men and women, cherish your youthful dreams. They are often the prophecies of capacities and possibilities, signs of what God means you to make yourselves. But that is apart from my subject. Suppose we had clear before us, with unwavering confidence in its reality, the great promise which God has given us, do you not think that its presence would purify our souls, and give power and dignity to our lives?

The promise was a test, says my text. The word which it employs to designate the manner of testing or trying, is one drawn from the smelting operations of the goldsmith, by which, heat being applied, the mass is made fluid and the dross is run off, and as the result of the trial, there flows out gold refined by fire.

‘Having these promises, dearly beloved! let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit.’ ‘Every man who hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure.’ The result of the great promise of eternal life and of the hope that it kindles is meant to be that it shall purge our spirits from meanness, from sense, from undue dependence upon the miserable trivialities of to-day, that it shall emancipate us from slavery to the moment, and lead us into the liberty of the eternities, ‘while we look not at the things that are seen, but at the things which are not seen.’ Oh! if we would only see clearly and habitually before us-for we could if we would-what God’s heart inclines Him to do for us, and what He certainly will do for us, in the far-off future, if we will only let Him, do you not think that these trifles that put us off our equanimity this morning would have been borne with a little more composure? Do you not think that the things that looked so huge when we were down abreast of them would, by the laws of perspective, diminish in their proportions as we rose steadily above them, until all the hubbub in the valley was unheard on the mountain peak, and the great trees that waved their giant branches below and shut out the sky from our eyes while we were among them would dwindle to a green smear on the plain, and all the foes ‘show scarce so gross as beetles,’ from the height from which we look down upon them? Get up beside God’s promise, if you would take the true dimensions of cares and tasks, and burdens and sorrows. Then, brother! you will learn the truth of the paradox, ‘light . . . but for a moment’; though often they all but crush the burden-bearing shoulder and seem to last through slow years.

‘The word of the Lord tried him,’ and because it tried him, it purified him. If we give credence, as we ought to, to that word, it will purify us, and it will test of what contexture our faith is. The further away the object of any hope is, the more noble the cherishing of it makes a life. The trivial, short-lived anticipations which do not look beyond the end of next week are far less operative in making strong and noble characters than are those, of whatever kind they may be otherwise, which look far ahead and need years for their realisation. It is a blessing to have the mark far, far away, because that means that the arm that pulls the bow must draw more strongly, and the eye that sees the goal must gaze more intently. Be thankful for the promise that cannot be fulfilled in this world because it lifts us above the low levels, and already makes us feel as if we were endowed with immortality.

The word will test our patience, and it will test our willingness, though we be heirs of the kingdom, to do humble tasks. Christian men in this world are sons of a King, and look forward to a royal inheritance, but in the meantime they have, as it were, to keep a little huckster’s shop in a back alley. But if we adequately realised the promise of our inheritance, the meanness of our surroundings and the triviality of our occupations would not make us mean or trivial, but our souls would be ‘like stars’ and ‘dwell apart’ while we travelled ‘on life’s common way in cheerful godliness,’ and did small duties in such a manner as to make them great.

Because Joseph was sure that God’s long-lingering word would be fulfilled, he did not mind though he had to be the lackey of his brothers, the Midianites’ chattel, Potiphar’s slave, Pharaoh’s prisoner, and a servant of servants in his dungeon. So with us, the measure of our willing acceptance of our present tasks, burdens, humiliations, and limitations is the measure of our firm faith in the promise that tarries.

‘If we hope for what we see not, then do we with patience wait for it,’ says the Apostle, though most of us would have said exactly the opposite. We generally suppose that the more ardent the hope, the more is it impatient of delay. Paul had learned better. The more certain the assurance, the better we can tolerate the procrastination of its fulfilment.

So, brethren! God’s greatest gift to us, like all His other gifts, has in it the quality of testing us; and we can come to a pretty fair approximation to an estimate of what sort of Christian people we are, by observing how we deal with God’s promises of help according to our need here and of heaven hereafter. How do we deal with them? Why, a sadly large number of us never think about them at all; and a large proportion of the others would a great deal rather stay working in the huckster’s shop in the back alley, than go home to the King. I am quite sure that if the inmost sentiments of the bulk of professing Christians about a future life were dragged into light, these would be a revelation of a faith all honeycombed with insincerity. God tests us, and it is a sharp test if we submit ourselves to it; He tests us by His promises. ‘Child, wilt thou believe?’ is the first testing question put to us by these. ‘Wilt thou keep them hid in thy heart?’ is the next. ‘Wilt thou go out towards them in desire?’ is the next. ‘Wilt thou live worthy of them?’ is the last. ‘The word of the Lord tried him.’

So let us be thankful for the delays of love, for the wide gap between promise and realisation. It was for Joseph’s sake that the slow years were multiplied between the first gleam of his future and the full sunshine of his exaltation. And it is for our sakes that God in like manner protracts the period of anticipation and non-fulfilment. ‘If the vision tarry, wait for it.’ ‘Jesus loved Mary and Martha and Lazarus their brother’ very dearly. ‘When He heard, therefore, that he was sick, He abode still two days’-to give time for Lazarus to die-’in the same place where He was.’ Ay, and when each sister came to Him with her most natural and yet most faithless ‘Lord! if Thou hadst been here my brother had not died,’ He only said, ‘If thou wouldst believe thou shouldst see the glory of God.’ Was not Lazarus dearer, restored from the grave, than he would have been, raised from his sickbed? Is not the delaying of the blessing a means of increase of the blessing? And shall not we be sure that however long ‘He that shall come’ may seem to tarry ere He comes, when He has come they who have waited for His coming more than they that watch for the morning and have sometimes been ready to cry out: ‘Hath the Lord forgotten? Doth His promise fail for ever more?’ will be ashamed of their impatient moments and will humbly and thankfully exclaim: ‘He came at the very right time and did not tarry.’ ‘Until the time that his word came, the word of the Lord tried him,’ and the coming of that word was all the more blessed for every heavy-laden hour of hope deferred, which, by God’s grace, did not make the heart sick, but prepared it for fuller possession of the blessings enhanced by the delays of love.

CH Spurgeon (1834–1892):Casting all your care upon him; for He careth for you

Casting all your care upon him; for He careth for you.


C.H. Spurgeon (1834–1892)

Copyright: Public Domain

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1 Peter 5:7

It is a happy way of soothing sorrow when we can feel—“HE careth for me.” Christian! do not dishonour religion by always wearing a brow of care; come, cast your burden upon your Lord. You are staggering beneath a weight which your Father would not feel. What seems to you a crushing burden, would be to him but as the small dust of the balance. Nothing is so sweet as to “Lie passive in God’s hands, And know no will but his.”

O child of suffering, be thou patient; God has not passed thee over in his providence. He who is the feeder of sparrows, will also furnish you with what you need. Sit not down in despair; hope on, hope ever. Take up the arms of faith against a sea of trouble, and your opposition shall yet end your distresses. There is One who careth for you. His eye is fixed on you, his heart beats with pity for your woe, and his hand omnipotent shall yet bring you the needed help. The darkest cloud shall scatter itself in showers of mercy. The blackest gloom shall give place to the morning. He, if thou art one of his family, will bind up thy wounds, and heal thy broken heart. Doubt not his grace because of thy tribulation, but believe that he loveth thee as much in seasons of trouble as in times of happiness. What a serene and quiet life might you lead if you would leave providing to the God of providence! With a little oil in the cruse, and a handful of meal in the barrel, Elijah outlived the famine, and you will do the same. If God cares for you, why need you care too? Can you trust him for your soul, and not for your body? He has never refused to bear your burdens, he has never fainted under their weight. Come, then, soul! have done with fretful care, and leave all thy concerns in the hand of a gracious God.

CH Spurgeon (1834-1892): The Immutability of Christ

The Immutability of Christ


C.H. Spurgeon (1834-1892)

Copyright: Public Domain

External links are for reader convenience only, neither the linked web sites, its advertising content or its comments are endorsed by Late Night Watch. Be Berean (Acts 17:11) – Use the Internet with discernment.

The Immutability of Christ (Sermon No. 170)

Delivered on Sabbath Morning, January 3, 1858, at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens.

“Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.”Hebrews 13:8.

It is well that there is one person who is the same. It is well that there is one stable rock amidst the changing billows of this sea of life; for how many and how grievous have been the changes of this year? How many of you who commenced in affluence, have by the panic, which has shaken nations, been reduced almost to poverty? How many of you, who in strong health marched into this place on the first Sabbath of last year, have had to come tottering here, feeling that the breath of man is in his nostrils, and wherein is he to be accounted of? Many of you came to this hall with a numerous family, leaning upon the arm of a choice and much loved friend. Alas! for love, if thou wert all and naught beside, O earth! For ye have buried those ye loved the best. Some of you have come here childless, or widows, or fatherless, still weeping your recent affliction. Changes have taken place in your estate that have made your heart full of misery. Your cups of sweetness have been dashed with draughts of gall; your golden harvests have had tares cast into the midst of them, and you have had to reap the noxious weed along with the precious grain. Your much fine gold has become dim, and your glory has departed; the sweet frames at the commencement of last year became bitter ones at the end. Your raptures and your ecstasies were turned into depression and forebodings. Alas! for our changes, and hallelujah to him that hath no change.

But greater things have changed than we; for kingdoms have trembled in the balances. We have seen a peninsula deluged with blood, and mutiny raising its bloody war whoop. Nay, the whole world hath changed; earth hath doffed its green, and put on its somber garment of Autumn, and soon expects to wear its ermine robe of snow. All things have changed. We believe that not only in appearance but in reality, the world is growing old. The sun itself must soon grow dim with age; the folding up of the worn-out vesture has commenced; the changing of the heavens and the earth has certainly begun. They shall perish; they all shall wax old as doth a garment; but for ever blessed be him who is the same, and of whose years there is no end. The satisfaction that the mariner feels, when, after having been tossed about for many a day, he puts his foot upon the solid shore, is just the satisfaction of a Christian when, amidst all the changes of this troublous life, he plants the foot of his faith upon such a text as this—“the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.” The same stability that the anchor gives the ship, when it hath at last got the grip of some immovable rock, that same stability doth our hope give to our spirits, when, like an anchor, it fixes itself in a truth so glorious as this—“Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.”

I shall first try this morning to open the text by a little explanation; then I shall try to answer a few objections, which our wicked unbelief will be quite sure to raise against it; and afterward I shall try to draw a few useful, consoling, and practical lessons from the great truth of the immutability of Jesus Christ.

I. First, then, we open the text by a little explanation—“Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.” He is the same in his person. We change perpetually; the bloom of youth gives place to the strength of manhood, and the maturity of manhood fades away into the weakness of old age. But “Thou hast the dew of thy youth.” Christ Jesus, whom we adore, thou art as young as ever! We came into this world with the ignorance of infancy; we grow up searching, studying, and learning with the diligence of youth; we attain to some little knowledge in our riper years; and then in our old age we totter back to the imbecility of our childhood. But O, our Master! thou didst perfectly foreknow all mortal or eternal things from before the foundations of the world, and thou knowest all things now, and for ever thou shalt be the same in thine omniscience. We are one day strong, and the next day weak—one day resolved, and the next day wavering—one hour constant, and the next hour unstable as water. We are one moment holy, kept by the power of God; we are the next moment sinning, led astray by our own lusts; but our Master is for ever the same; pure and never spotted; firm, and never changing—everlastingly Omnipotent, unchangeably Omniscient. From him no attribute doth pass away; to him no parallax, no tropic, ever comes; without variableness or shadow of a turning, he abideth fast and firm. Did Solomon sing concerning his best beloved, “His head is as the most fine gold: his locks are bushy and black as a raven. His eyes are as the eyes of doves by the rivers of waters, washed with milk, and fitly set. His cheeks are as a bed of spices, as sweet flowers: his lips like lilies, dropping sweet smelling myrrh. His hands are as gold rings set with the beryl: his belly is as bright ivory overlaid with sapphires. His legs are as pillars of marble, set upon sockets of fine gold: his countenance is as Lebanon, excellent as the cedar?” Surely we can even now conclude the description from our own experience of him; and while we endorse every word which went before, we can end the description by saying, “His mouth is most sweet, yea he is altogether lovely. His matchless beauty is unimpaired; he is still ‘the chief among ten thousand’—fairest of the sons of men.” Did the divine John talk of him when he said—“His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; and his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters. And he had in his right hand seven stars; and out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword; and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.” He is the same; upon his brow there is ne’er a furrow; his locks are gray with reverence, but not with age; his feet stand as firm as when they trod the everlasting mountains in the years before the world was made—his eyes as piercing when, for the first time he looked upon a new-born world. Christ’s person never changes. Should he come on earth to visit us again, as sure he will, we should find him the same Jesus; as loving, as approachable, as generous, as kind, and though arrayed in nobler garments than he wore when first he visited earth, though no more the Man of Sorrows and griefs acquaintance, yet he would be the same person, unchanged by all his glories, his triumphs, and his joys. We bless Christ that amid his heavenly splendors his person is just the same, and his nature unaffected. “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and for ever.”

Again: Jesus Christ is the same with regard to his Father as ever. He was his Father’s well-beloved Son before all worlds; he was his well-beloved in the stream of baptism; he was his well-beloved on the cross; he was his well-beloved when he led captivity captive, and he is not less the object of his Father’s infinite affection now than he was then. Yesterday he lay in Jehovah’s bosom, God, having all power with his Father—to-day he stands on earth, man, with us, but still the same, for ever—he ascends on high, and still he is his Father’s son—still by inheritance, having a more excellent name than angels—still sitting far above all principalities and powers, and every name that is named. O Christian, give him thy cause to plead; the Father will answer him as well now as he did aforetime. Doubt not the Father’s grace. Go to thine Advocate. He is as near to Jehovah’s heart as ever—as prevalent in his intercession. Trust him, then, and in trusting him thou mayest be sure of the Father’s love to thee.

But now there is a yet sweeter thought. Jesus Christ is the same to his people as ever. We have delighted, in our happier moments, in days that have rolled away, to think of him that loved us when we had no being; we have often sung with rapture of him that loved us when we loved not him.

“Jesus sought me when a stranger,

Wandering from the fold of God;

He to save my soul from danger

Interposed his precious blood.”

We have looked back, too, upon the years of our troubles and our trials; and we can bear our solemn though humble witness that he has been true to us in all our exigencies, and has never failed us once. Come, then, let us comfort ourselves with this thought—that though to-day he may distress us with a sense of sin, yet his heart is just the same to us as ever. Christ may wear masks that look black to his people, but his face is always the same; Christ may sometimes take a rod in his hand instead of a golden scepter, but the name of his saint is as much engraved upon the hand that grasps the rod as upon the palm that clasps the scepter. And oh, sweet thought that now bursts upon our mind! Beloved, can you concede how much Christ will love you when you are in heaven? Have you ever tried to fathom that bottomless sea of affection in which you shall swim, when you shall bathe yourself in seas of heavenly rest? Did you ever think of the love which Christ will manifest to you, when he shall present you without spot, or blemish, or any such thing before his Father’s throne? Well, pause and remember that he loves you at this hour as much as he will love you then; for he will be the same for ever as he is to-day, and he is the same to-day as he will be for ever. This one thing I know: if Jesus’ heart is set on me he will not love me one atom better when this head wears a crown, and when this hand shall, with joyous fingers, touch the strings of golden harps, than he does now, amid all my sin and care and woe. I believe that saying which is written—“As the Father hath loved me, even so have I loved you;” and a higher degree of love we can not imagine. The Father loves his Son infinitely, and even so to-day, believer, doth the Son of God love thee. All his heart flows out to thee. All his life is thine; all his person is thine. He can not love thee more; he will not love thee less. The same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.

But let us here recollect that Jesus Christ is the same to sinners to-day as he was yesterday. It is now eight years ago since I first went to Jesus Christ. Come the sixth of this month, I shall then be eight years old in the gospel of the grace of Jesus; a child, a little child therein as yet. I recall that hour when I heard that exhortation—“Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am God, and beside me there is none else.” And I remember, how with much trembling and with a little faith I ventured to approach the Saviour’s feet. I thought he would spurn me from him. “Sure,” said my heart, “if thou shouldst presume to put thy trust in him as thy Saviour, it would be a presumption more damnable than all thy sins put together. Go not to him; he will spurn thee.” However, I put the rope about my neck, feeling that if God destroyed me for ever, he would be just. I cast the ashes on my head, and with many a sigh I did confess my sin; and then, when I ventured to draw nigh to him, when I expected that he would frown, he stretched out his hand and said, “I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.” I came like the prodigal, because I was forced to come. I was starved out of that foreign country where, in riotous living I had spent my substance, and I saw my Father’s house a great way off; little did I know that my Father’s heart was beating high with love to me. O rapturous hour, when Jesus whispered I was his, and when my soul could say, “Jesus Christ is my salvation.” And now I would refresh my own memory by reminding myself that what my Master was to me yesterday that he is to-day; and if I know that as a sinner I went to him then and he received me, if I have never so many doubts about my saintship I can not doubt but what I am a sinner; so to thy cross, O Jesus, I go again, and if thou didst receive me then, thou wilt receive me now; and believing that to be true, I turn round to my fellow immortals, and I say, “He that received me, he that received Manasseh, he that received the thief upon the cross, is the same to-day as he was then. Oh! come and try him! Come and try him! Oh! ye that know your need of him, come ye to him; ye that have sold for nought your heritage above may have it back unbought, the gift of Jesus’ love. Ye that are empty, Christ is as full today as ever. Come! fill yourselves here. Ye that are thirsty, the stream is flowing; ye that are black, the fountain still can purify; ye that are naked, the wardrobe is not empty.

“Come, guilty souls, and flee away,

To Christ, and heal your wounds;

Still ‘tis the gospel’s gracious day,

And now free grace abounds”

I can not pretend to enter into the fullness of my text as I could desire, but one more thought. Jesus Christ is the same to-day as he was yesterday in the teachings of his Word. They tell us in these times that the improvements of the age require improvements in theology. Why, I have heard it said that the way Luther preached would not suit this age. We are too polite! The style of preaching, they say, that did in John Bunyan’s day, is not the style now. True, they honor these men; they are like the Pharisees; they build the sepulchers of the prophets that their fathers slew, and so they do confess that they are their father’s own sons, and like their parents. And men that stand up to preach as those men did, with honest tongues, and know not how to use polished courtly phrases, are as much condemned now as those men were in their time; because, say they, the world is marching on, and the gospel must march on too. No, sirs, the old gospel is the same; not one of her stakes must be removed, not one of her cords must be loosened. “Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.” Theology hath nothing new in it except that which is false. The preaching of Paul must be the preaching of the minister to-day. There is no advancement here. We may advance in our knowledge of it; but it stands the same, for this good reason, that it is perfect, and perfection can not be any better. The old truth that Calvin preached, that Chrysostom preached, that Paul preached, is the truth that I must preach to-day, or else be a liar to my conscience and my God. I can not shape the truth. I know of no such thing as the paring off the rough edges of a doctrine. John Knox’s gospel is my gospel. That which thundered through Scotland must thunder through England again. The great mass of our ministers are sound enough in the faith, but not sound enough in the way they preach it. Election is not mentioned once in the year in many a pulpit; final perseverance is kept back; the great things of God’s law are forgotten, and a kind of mongrel mixture of Arminianism and Calvinism is the delight of the present age. And hence the Lord hath forsaken many of his tabernacles and left the house of his covenant; and he will leave it till again the trumpet gives a certain sound. For wherever there is not the old gospel we shall find “Ichabod” written upon the church walls ere long. The old truth of the Covenanters, the old truth of the Puritans, the old truth of the Apostles, is the only truth that will stand the test of time, and never need to be altered to suit a wicked and ungodly generation. Christ Jesus preaches to-day the same as when he preached upon the mount; he hath not changed his doctrines; men may ridicule and laugh, but still they stand the same—semper idem written upon every one of them. They shall not be removed or altered.

Let the Christian remember that this is equally true of the promises. Let the sinner remember this is just as true of the threatenings. Let us each recollect that not one word can be added to this Sacred Book, nor one letter taken away from it; for as Christ Jesus is yet the same, so is his Gospel, the same yesterday, to-day and for ever.

I have thus briefly opened the text, not in its fullest meanings, but still enough to enable the Christian at his own leisure to see into that depth without a bottom—the immutability of Christ Jesus the Lord.

II. And now comes in one of crooked gait, with hideous aspect—one that hath as many lives as a cat, and that can not be killed any how, though many a great gun hath been shot against him. His name is old Mr. Incredulity—unbelief; and he begins his miserable oration by declaring, “How can that be true? ‘Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to-day, and forever.’ Why, yesterday Christ was all sunshine to me—to-day I am in distress!” Stop, Mr. Unbelief, I beg you to remember that Christ is not changed. You have changed yourself; for you have said in your very accusation that yesterday you rejoiced, but to-day you are in distress. All that may happen, and yet there may be no change in Christ. The sun may be the same always, though one hour may be cloudy and the next bright with golden light; yet there is no proof that the sun has changed. ‘Tis even so with Christ.

“If today he deigns to bless us

With a sense of pardoned sin,

He to-morrow may distress us,

Make us feel the plague within.

All to make us,

Sick of self and fond of him.”

There is no change in him.

“Immutable his will,

Though dark may be my frame,

His loving heart is still

Unchangeably the same.

My soul through many changes goes,

His love no variation knows.”

Your frames are no proof that Christ changes: they are only proof that you change.

But saith old Unbelief again—“Surely God has changed if you look at the old saints of ancient times. What happy men they were! How highly favored of their God! How well God provided for them! But now, sir, when I am hungry, no ravens come and bring me bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening. When I am thirsty, no water leaps out of the rock to supply my thirst. It is said of the children of Israel that their clothes waxed not old; but I have a hole in my coat today, and where I shall get another garment I know not. When they marched through the desert he suffered no man to hurt them; but, sir, I am continually beset by enemies. It is true of me as it says in the Scriptures, ‘And the Ammonites distressed Israel at the coming in of the year;’ for they are distressing me. Why, sir, I see my friends die in clouds; there are no fiery chariots to carry God’s Elijahs to heaven now. I lost my son; no prophet lay upon him and gave him life again; no Jesus met me at the city gates, to give me back my son from the gloomy grave. No sir, these are evil times; the light of Jesus Christ has become dim; if he walks among the golden candlesticks, yet, still it is not as he used to do. And worse than that, sir, I have heard my father talk of the great men that were in the age gone by: I have heard the names of Romaine, and Toplady, and Scott; I have heard of Whitfields and of Bunyans; and even but a few years ago I heard talk of such men as Joseph Irons—solemn and earnest preachers of a full gospel. But where are those men now? Sir, we have fallen upon an age of drivelings; men have died out, and we have only a few dwarfs left us; there are none that walk with the giant tramp and the colossal tread of the mighty fathers, like Owen, and Howe, and Baxter, and Charnock. We are all little men. Jesus Christ is not dealing with us as he did with our fathers. Stop, Unbelief, a minute: let me remind thee that the ancient people of God had their trials too. Know ye not what the apostle Paul says? “For thy sake we are killed all the day long.” Now, if there be any change it is a change for the better; for you have not yet “resisted unto blood, striving against sin.”

But remember that does not affect Christ; for neither nakedness, nor famine, nor sword, has separated us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. It is true that you have no fiery chariot; but then the angels carry you to Jesus’ bosom, and that is as well. It is true no ravens bring you food; it is quite as true you get your food somehow or other. It is quite certain that no rock gushes out with water; but still your water has been sure. It is true your child has not been raised from the dead; but you remember that David had a child that was not raised any more than yours. You have the same consolation that he had: “I shall go to him; he shall not return to me.” You say that you have more heart-rendings than the saints had of old. It is your ignorance that makes you say so. Holy men of old said, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? Why art thou disquieted within me?” Even prophets had to say—“Thou hast made me drunken with wormwood, and broken my teeth with gravel stones.” O, you are mistaken: your days are not more full of trouble than the days of Job; you are not more vexed by the wicked than was Lot of old, you have not more temptations to make you angry than had Moses; and certainly your way is not half so rough as the way of your blessed Lord. The very fact that you have troubles is a proof of his faithfulness; for you have got one half of his legacy, and you will have the other half. You know that Christ’s last will and testament has two portions in it. “In the world ye shall have tribulation:” you have got that. The next clause is—“In me ye shall have peace.” You have that too. “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” That is yours also.

And then you say that you have fallen upon a bad age with regard to ministers. It maybe so; but remember, the promise is true still. “Though I take away from thee bread and water, yet will I never take away thy pastors.” You have still such as you have—still some that are faithful to God and to his covenant, and who do not forsake the truth, and though the day may be dark, yet it is not so dark as days have been; and besides remember, what you say to-day is just what your forefathers said. Men in the days of Toplady looked back to the days of Whitfield; men in the days of Whitfield looked back to the days of Bunyan; men in the days of Bunyan wept because of the days of Wycliffe, and Calvin, and Luther; and men then wept for the days of Augustine and Chrysostom. Men in those days wept for the days of the Apostles; and doubtless men in the days of the Apostles wept for the days of Jesus Christ; and no doubt some in the days of Jesus Christ were so blind as to wish to return to the days of prophesy, and thought more of the days of Elijah than they did of the most glorious day of Christ. Some men look more to the past than the present. Rest assured, that Jesus Christ is the same to-day as he was yesterday, and he will be the same for ever.

Mourner, be glad! I have heard of a little girl who, when her father died, saw her mother weeping immoderately. Day after day, and week after week, her mother refused to be comforted; and the little girl stepped up to her mother, and putting her little hand inside her mothers hand, looked up in her face, and said. “Mamma is God dead? Is God dead, mamma?” And her mother thought, “Surely, no.” The child seemed to say, “Thy maker is thy husband; the Lord of hosts is his name. So you may dry your tears, I have a father in heaven, and you have a husband still.” O! ye saints that have lost your gold and your silver; ye have got treasure in heaven, where no moth nor rust doth corrupt, where no thieves break through and steal! Ye that are sick to-day, ye that have lost health, remember the day is coming when all that shall be made up to you, and when ye shall find that the flame has not hurt you, it has but consumed your dross and refined your gold. Remember, Jesus Christ is “the same today, yesterday, and for ever.”

III. And now I must be brief in drawing one or two sweet conclusions from that part of the text.

First, then, if he be the same to-day as yesterday, my soul, set not thine affections upon these changing things, but set thine heart upon him. O my heart, build not thine house upon the sandy pillars of a world that soon must pass away, but build thy hopes upon this rock, which, when the rain descends, and floods shall come, shall stand immovably secure. O my soul, I charge thee, lay up thy treasure in this secure granary. O my heart, I bid thee now put thy treasure where thou canst never lose it. Put it in Christ; put all thine affections in his person, all thy hope in his glory, all thy trust in his efficacious blood, all thy joy in his presence, and then thou wilt have put thyself and put thine all where thou canst never lose anything, because it is secure. Remember, O my heart, that the time is coming when all things must fade, and when thou must part with all. Death’s gloomy night must soon put out thy sunshine; the dark flood must soon roll between thee and all thou hast. Then put thine heart with him who will never leave thee; trust thyself with him who will go with thee through the black and surging current of death’s stream, and who will walk with thee up the steep hills of heaven and make thee sit together with him in heavenly places for ever. Go, tell thy secrets to that friend that sticketh closer than a brother. My heart, I charge thee, trust all thy concerns with him who never can be taken from thee, who will never leave thee, and who will never let thee leave him, even “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.” That is one lesson.

Well, then, the next. If Jesus Christ be always the same, then, my soul, endeavor to imitate him. Be thou the same, too. Remember that if thou hadst more faith, thou wouldst be as happy in the furnace, as on the mountain of enjoyment. Thou wouldst be as glad in famine, as in plenty; thou wouldst rejoice in the Lord when the olive yielded no oil, as well as when the vat was bursting and overflowing its brim. If thou hadst more confidence in thy God, thou wouldst have far less of tossings up and down; and if thou hadst greater nearness to Christ thou wouldst have less vacillation. Yesterday thou couldst pray with all the power of prayer; perhaps if thou didst always live near thy Master, thou mightest always have the same power on thy knees. One time thou canst bid defiance to the rage of Satan, and thou canst face a frowning world; to-morrow thou wilt run away like a craven. But if thou didst always remember him who endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, thou mightest always be firm and stedfast in thy mind. Beware of being like a weathercock. Seek of God, that his law may be written on your hearts as if it were written on stone, and not as if it were written in sand. Seek, that his grace may come to you like a river, and not like a brook that fails. Seek, that you may keep your conversation always holy; that your course may be like the shining light that tarries not, but that burneth brighter and brighter, until the fullness of the day. Be ye like Christ—ever the same.

Again: if Christ be always the same, Christian, rejoice! Come what may, thou art secure.

“Let mountains from their seats be hurled

Down to the deeps, and buried there;

Convulsions shake the solid world;

Our faith shall never need to fear.”

If kingdoms should go to rack, the Christian need not tremble! Just for a minute imagine a scene like this. Suppose for the next three days the sun should not rise; suppose the moon should be turned into a clot of blood, and shine no more upon the world; imagine that a darkness that might be felt, brooded over all men; imagine, next, that all the world did tremble in an earthquake, till every tower, and house, and hut fell down: imagine, next, that the sea forgot its place, and leaped upon the earth; and that the mountains ceased to stand, and began to tremble from their pedestals; conceive after that, that a blazing comet streamed across the sky—that the thunder bellowed incessantly—that the lightnings, without a moment’s pause, followed one the other; conceive, then, that thou didst behold divers terrible sights, fiendish ghosts, and grim spirits; imagine, next, that a trumpet, waxing exceeding loud, did blow; that there were heard the shrieks of men dying and perishing; imagine, that in the midst of all this confusion, there were to be a found a saint. My friend, “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and for every, would keep him as secure amidst all these horrors, as we are to-day. Oh! rejoice! I have pictured the worst that can come. Then you would be secure. Come what may then, you are safe, while Jesus Christ is the same.

And now, last of all, if Jesus Christ be “the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever,” what sad work this is for the ungodly! Ah! sinner, when he was on earth, he said, “Their worm dieth not, and their fire is not quenched.” When he stood upon the mount, he said, “It were better to enter life halt or maimed, than having two hands, and two eyes to be cast into hellfire.” As a man on earth, he said that the goats should be on the left, and that he would say to them, “Depart, ye cursed.” Sinner, he will be as good as his word. He has said, “He that believeth not shall be damned.” He will damn you if you believe not, depend upon it. He has never broken a promise yet; he will never break a threatening. That same truth which makes us confident to-day that the righteous shall go away into everlasting life, should make you quite as confident that unbelievers shall go into eternal misery. If he had broken his promise, he might break his threatening; but as he has kept one, he will keep the other. Do not hope that he will change, for change he will not. Think not that the fire which he said was unquenchable, will, after all, be extinguished. No, within a few more years, my hearer, if thou dost not repent, thou wilt find that every jot and every letter of the threatenings of Jesus will be fulfilled; and, mark thee, fulfilled in thee. Liar, he said, “All liars shall have their portion in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone.” He will not deceive you. Drunkard, he has said, “Ye know that no drunkard hath eternal life.” He will not belie his word. You shall not have eternal life. He has said, “The nations that forget God shall be cast into hell.”

All ye that forget religion, moral people you may be, he will keep his word to you; he will cast you into hell. O “kiss the Son lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little; blessed are all they that put their trust in him. Come, sinner, bow thy knee; confess thy sin and leave it; and then come to him; ask him to have mercy upon thee. He will not forget his promise—“Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out.” Come and try him. With all your sins about you, come to him now. “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved;” for this is my Master’s gospel, and I now declare it—“He that believeth and is immersed [baptized] shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be damned. God grant you grace to believe, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

John Owen (1616-1683): Gospel Grounds and Evidences of the Faith of God’s Elect

Gospel Grounds and Evidences of the Faith of God’s Elect


John Owen (1616-1683)

Copyright: Public Domain

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Gospel Grounds and Evidences of the Faith of God’s Elect;


I. The nature of true saving faith, in securing of the spiritual comfort of believers in this life, is of the highest importance.

II. The way wherein true faith does evidence itself in the souls and consciences of believers, unto their supportment and comfort, under all their conflicts with sin, in all their trials and temptations.

III. Faith will evidence itself by a diligent, constant endeavour to keep itself and all grace in due exercise, in all ordinances of divine worship, private and public.

IV. A peculiar way whereby true faith will evidence itself, by bringing the soul into a state of repentance.

“Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” — 2 Cor. 13.5

Prefatory Note

This treatise, entitled “Gospel Grounds and Evidences of the Faith of God’s Elect,” was given to the world in 1695. The remainder of the title is scarcely applicable as a correct designation of the leading divisions of the work, and may, perhaps, have been added by those who had the charge of publishing it. In the preface by Isaac Chauncey, the reader is assured that the treatise is the production of Dr. Owen. It bears internal evidence of the fact, and that he wrote it, with a view to publication. When he waives the formal discussion of some topics connected with his subject, on the ground that he had attempted the discussion of them “in other writings,” it seems a just inference that it had been his intention to publish the treatise, though no explanation has transpired why it was withheld from the press for a period of twelve years after his death. The circumstance is of some moment, as showing that the work, though posthumous, may be held to contain the deliberate and matured judgment of the author on the question of which it treats.

His object is not to illustrate the common evidences of genuine religion, or the grounds on which we may conclude a man to be sincere in his religious profession. It is an inquiry rather into the evidences on which the elect of God, in any process of self-scrutiny, may ascertain the reality of their own faith. Ascribing to faith all the importance which is due to it as the instrumental cause of justification, the author suspends the entire question of the genuineness of conversion upon the existence of a fourfold development or operation of that gracious principle in the hearts of all who may be anxious to discover whether they have been really quickened and born of God.

After stating the nature of saving faith, and after a brief exhibition of the gospel as the divine method for the salvation of sinners through the merits of Christ, he proceeds to “the trial of faith,” as the main object of the treatise. In the first place, he shows that faith, if genuine, includes or denotes implicit approbation of “God’s way of saving sinners,” in opposition to all schemes of merely human invention for our spiritual deliverance. This approbation of the divine plan for our redemption, in which he holds that the very essence and life of faith consist, is founded on the conviction, — first, That the salvation revealed in the gospel is in harmony with the perfections and majesty of the divine character; secondly, That it is suited to the views, desires, and aspirations of a soul enlightened by grace; and, thirdly, That it as effectually honours the moral law as if it had been completely fulfilled in the personal obedience of the saints.

Secondly, Faith is shown to imply an approbation of the will of God in requiring of us holiness and obedience, to the full measure of the perfection and spirituality demanded of us in the moral law. He appeals, in illustration of the obedience required, to the light of nature, and to the knowledge of good and evil which men enjoy through the law; but proves that without the light of saving faith there can be no adequate conception of the holiness required by the divine will, urging an acute distinction, which might rank as a separate contribution to the doctrine of conscience, and according to which its authority in determining the moral character of an action by no means implies the love of what is good, and the hatred of what is evil. The function of conscience he views is exclusively judicial, and shows that the motive which prompts to action must spring from other considerations. Two grounds are assigned on which faith approves of the holiness required of us:– the consistency of such a demand with the perfection of the divine nature; and its fitness, when full compliance is yielded with it, to advance us to the utmost perfection of which our own nature is capable.

Thirdly, Evidence of genuine faith is also afforded when the mind endeavours to keep itself in the due exercise of the grace of faith, in the public and private ordinances of divine worship. If faith is not cultivated in the worship of God, all devotion is corrupted into the empty forms of superstition, as in the ritual of Popery; or becomes the mere wildfire of fanaticism, or degenerates into the rationalism which ignores all worship instituted by the authority of revelation. Judicious directions follow as to the best method of preserving faith in vivid exercise while we are engaged in the various acts of devotion.

Fourthly, The last evidence specified of true faith is the evangelical repentance which it produces. Weanedness from the world, the lively remembrance of sin, a becoming intensity of godly sorrow on account of it, and other spiritual duties, are described as essential elements in the penitential feelings and exercises of those who really believe unto salvation.

The treatise indicates an acquaintance with the true philosophy of human nature, thorough knowledge of the world, and of man individually, as he takes the hue of his character from surrounding objects and social influences, and that depth of Christian experience in which our author has perhaps been rarely excelled. He shines in the anatomy of human motives; and while he goes deeply into the subjective workings of faith, he is always keenly alive to the objective realities of evangelical truth. The Christian reader will find this treatise an  admirable manual for self-examination. — Ed.

To the reader

As faith is the first vital act that every true Christian puts forth, and the life which he lives is by the faith of the Son of God, so it is his next and great concern to know that he does believe, and that believing he has eternal life; that his faith is the faith of God’s elect, and of the operation of God: without some distinct believing knowledge of which he cannot so comfortably assure his heart before God concerning his calling and election, so far as to carry him forth in all the ways of holiness, in doing and suffering the will of God with necessary resolution and cheerfulness; the doing of which in a right manner, according to the tenor of the gospel, is no small part of spiritual skill; whereunto two things are highly requisite: first, That he be well acquainted with the doctrine of Christ, and know how to distinguish the gospel from the law; and, secondly, That he be very conversant with his own heart, that so by comparing his faith, and the fruits thereof, with the said doctrine of Christ, he may come to see that, as he has received Christ, so he walks in him: all his reasonings concerning himself being taken up from the word of God, so that what judgment he passes upon himself may be a judgment of faith, and answer of a good conscience towards God; for all the trials of faith must at last be resolved into a judgment of faith, before which is made, the soul still labours under staggerings and uncertainties.

The design of this ensuing treatise is to resolve this great question, whether the faith we profess unto be true or no? — the resolution of which, upon an impartial inquiry, must needs be very grateful and advantageous to every one that has but tasted that the Lord is gracious. That the late reverend, learned, and pious Dr. Owen was the author there needs be no doubt; not only because good assurance is given by such as were entrusted with his writings, but also in that the style and spirit running through the other of his practical writings is here very manifest; and, accordingly, with them is recommended to the serious perusal of every diligent inquirer into the truth of his spiritual estate and condition.

Isaac Chauncey [1]

[1] Isaac Chauncey, M.A. and M.D., was pastor of Bury Street congregation, London, from 1687 to 1702. It was the congregation of which Dr. Owen had the charge in 1683, when he died. Dr. Chauncey was the son of Mr. Chauncey, President of Harvard College, New England, and had been ejected from the living of Woodborough, Wiltshire, at the time of the Restoration. On demitting the charge of his congregation in 1687, he was succeeded by the celebrated Dr. I. Watts. He was subsequently appointed tutor to a new academical institution at Homerton, London, — the same institution which has acquired wide-spread celebrity under the able and honoured presidency of the Rev. John Pye Smith, D.D. — Ed.

Evidences of the faith of God’s elect

The securing of the spiritual comforts of believers in this life is a matter of the highest importance unto the glory of God, and their own advantage by the gospel. For God is abundantly willing that all the heirs of promise should receive strong consolation, and he has provided ways and means for the communication of it to them; and their participation of it is their principal interest in this world, and is so esteemed by them. But their effectual refreshing enjoyment of these comforts is variously opposed by the power of the remainders of sin, in conjunction with other temptations. Hence, notwithstanding their right and title unto them by the gospel, they are oft times actually destitute of a gracious sense of them, and, consequently, of that relief which they are suited to afford in all their duties, trials, and afflictions. Now, the root whereon all real comforts do grow, whence they spring and arise, is true and saving faith, — the faith of God’s elect. Wherefore they do ordinarily answer unto, and hold proportion with, the evidences which any have of that faith in themselves; at least, they cannot be maintained without such evidences. Wherefore, that we may be a little useful unto the establishment or recovery of that consolation which God is so abundantly willing that all the heirs of promise should enjoy, I shall inquire, What are the principal acts and operations of faith, whereby it will evidence its truth and sincerity in the midst of all temptations and storms that may befall believers in this world? and I shall insist on such alone as will bear the severest scrutiny by Scripture and experience. And, —

The principal genuine acting of saving faith in us, inseparable from it, yea, essential to such acting, consists in the choosing, embracing, and approbation of God’s way of saving sinners, by the mediation of Jesus Christ, relying thereon, with a renunciation of all other ways and means pretending unto the same end of salvation.

This is that which we are to explain and prove.

Saving faith is our “believing the record that God has given us of his Son,” 1 John 5.10, “And this is the record, that God has given to us eternal life; and this life is in his Son,” verse 11. This is the testimony which God gives, that great and sacred truth which he himself bears witness unto, — namely, that he has freely prepared eternal life for them that believe, or provided a way of salvation for them. And what God so prepares he is said to give, because of the certainty of its communication. So grace was promised and given to the elect in Christ Jesus before the world began, 2 Tim. 1.9; Tit. 1.2. And that is so to be communicated unto them, in and by the mediation of his Son Jesus Christ, that it is the only way whereby God will give eternal life unto any; which is therefore wholly in him, and by him to be obtained, and from him to be received. Upon our acquiescence in this testimony, on our approbation of this way of saving sinners, or our refusal of it, our eternal safety or ruin does absolutely depend. And it is reasonable that it should be so: for, in our receiving of this testimony of God, we “set to our seal that God is true,” John 3.33; we ascribe unto him the glory of his truth, and therein of all the other holy properties of his nature, — the most eminent duty whereof we are capable in this world; and by a refusal of it, what lies in us, we make him a liar, as in this place, 1 John 5.10, which is virtually to renounce his being.

And the solemnity wherewith this testimony is entered is very remarkable, verse 7, “There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one.” The trinity of divine persons, acting distinctly in the unity of the same divine nature, do give this testimony: and they do so by those distinct operations whereby they act in this way and work of God’s saving sinners by Jesus Christ; which are at large declared in the gospel. And there is added hereunto a testimony that is immediately applicatory unto the souls of believers, of this sovereign testimony of the holy Trinity; and this is the witness of grace and all sacred ordinances: “There are three that bear witness in earth, the spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one,” verse 8. They are not at essentially the same in one and the same nature, as are the Father, Word, and Holy Ghost, yet they all absolutely agree in the same testimony; and they do it by that especial efficacy which they have on the souls of believers to assure them of this truth. In this record, so solemnly, so gloriously given and proposed, life and death are set before us. The receiving and embracing of this testimony, with an approbation of the way of salvation testified unto, is that work of faith which secures us of eternal life. On these terms there is reconciliation and agreement made and established between God and men; without which men must perish for ever.

So our blessed Saviour affirms, “This is life eternal, that they may know thee” (the Father) “the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent,” John 17.3. To know the Father as the only true God, to know him as he has sent Jesus Christ to be the only way and means of the salvation of sinners, and to know Jesus Christ as sent by him for that end, is that grace and duty which instates us in a right to eternal life, and initiates us in the possession of it: and this includes that choice and approbation of the way of God for the saving of sinners whereof we speak.

But these things must be more distinctly opened:–

1. The great fundamental difference in religion is concerning the way and means whereby sinners may be saved. From men’s different apprehensions hereof arise all other differences about religion; and the first thing that engages men really into any concernment in religion, is an inquiry in their minds how sinners may be saved, or what they shall do themselves to be saved: “What shall we do? what shall we do to be saved?” “What is the way of acceptance with God?” is that inquiry which gives men their first initiation into religion. See Acts 2.37, 16.30; Micah 6.6-8.

This question being once raised in the conscience, an answer must be returned unto it. “I will consider,” says the prophet, “what I shall answer when I am reproved,” Hab. 2.1. And there is all the reason in the world that men consider well of a good answer hereunto, without which they must perish for ever; for if they cannot answer themselves here, how do they hope to answer God hereafter? Wherefore, without a sufficient answer always in readiness unto this inquiry, no man can have any hopes of a blessed eternity.

Now, the real answer which men return unto themselves is according to the influence which their minds are under from one or other of the two divine covenants, — that of works or that of grace. And these two covenants, taken absolutely, are inconsistent, and give answers in this case that are directly contradictory to one another: so the apostle declares, Rom. 10.5-9. The one says, “The man that does the works of the law shall live by them; this is the only way whereby you may be saved:” the other wholly waives this return, and puts it all on faith in Christ Jesus. Hence there is great difference and great variety in the answers which men return to themselves on this inquiry; for their consciences will neither hear nor speak any thing but what complies with the covenant whereunto they do belong. These things are reconciled only in the blood of Christ; and how, the apostle declared, Rom. 8.3. The greatest part of convinced sinners seem to adhere to the testimony of the covenant of works; and so perish for ever. Nothing will stand us instead in this matter, nothing will save us, “but the answer of a good conscience towards God, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” 1 Pet. 3.21.

2. The way that God has prepared for the saving of sinners is a fruit and product of infinite wisdom, and powerfully efficacious unto its end. As such it is to be received, or it is rejected. It is not enough that we admit of the notions of it as declared, unless we are sensible of divine wisdom and power in it, so as that it may be safely trusted unto. Hereon, upon the proposal of it, falls out the eternally distinguishing difference among men. Some look upon it and embrace it as the power and wisdom of God; others really reject it as a thing foolish and weak, not meet to be trusted unto. Hereof the apostle gives an account at large, 1 Cor. 1.18-24. And this is mysterious in religion:– the same divine truth is by the same way and means, at the same time, proposed unto sundry persons, all in the same condition, under the same circumstances, all equally concerned in that which is proposed therein: some of them hereon do receive it, embrace it, approve of it, and trust unto it for life and salvation; others despise it, reject it, value it not, trust not unto it. To the one it is the wisdom of God, and the power of God; to the other, weakness and foolishness: as it must of necessity be the one or the other, — it is not capable of a middle state or consideration. It is not a good way unless it be the only way; it is not a safe, it is not the best way, if there be any other; for it is eternally inconsistent with any other. It is the wisdom of God, or it is downright folly. And here, after all our disputes, we must resort unto eternal sovereign grace, making a distinction among them unto whom the gospel is proposed, and the almighty power of actual grace in curing that unbelief which blinds the minds of men, that they can see nothing but folly and weakness in God’s way of the saving of sinners. And this unbelief works yet in the most of them unto whom this way of God is proposed in the gospel; they receive it not as an effect of infinite wisdom, and as powerfully efficacious unto its proper end. Some are profligate in the service of their lusts, and regard it not; unto whom may be applied that [saying] of the prophet, “Hear, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish.” Some are under the power of darkness and ignorance, so as that they apprehend not, they understand not the mystery of it; for “the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not.” Some are blinded by Satan, as he is the god of this world, by filling their minds with prejudice, and their hearts with the love of present things, that the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, cannot shine into them. Some would mix with it their own works, ways, and duties, as they belong unto the first covenant; which are eternally irreconcilable unto this way of God, as the apostle teaches, Rom. 10.3-4. Hereby does unbelief eternally ruin the souls of men. They do not, they cannot, approve of the way of God for saving sinners proposed in the gospel, as an effect of infinite wisdom and power, which they may safely trust unto, in opposition unto all other ways and means, pretending to be useful unto the same end; and this will give us light into the nature and acting of saving faith, which we inquire after.

3. The whole Scripture, and all divine institutions from the beginning, do testify, in general, that this way of God for the saving of sinners is by commutation, substitution, atonement, satisfaction, and imputation. This is the language of the first promise, and all the sacrifices of the law founded thereon; this is the language of the Scripture: “There is a way whereby sinners may be saved, — a way that God has found out and appointed.” Now, it being the law wherein sinners are concerned, the rule of all things between God and them should seem to be by what they can do or suffer with respect unto that law. “No,” says the Scripture, “it cannot be so; for by the deeds of the law no man living shall be justified in the sight of God.’?” Ps. 143.2; Rom. 3.20; Gal. 2.16. Neither shall it be by their personal answering of the penalty of the law which they have broken; for they cannot do so, but they must perish eternally: for, “If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?” Ps. 130.3. There must therefore be, there is another way, of a different nature and kind from these, for the saving of sinners, or there is no due revelation made of the mind of God in the Scripture. But that there is so, and what it is, is the main design of it to declare: and this is by the substitution of a mediator instead of the sinners that shall be saved, who shall both bear the penalty of the law which they had incurred and fulfill that righteousness which they could not attain unto.

This in general is God’s way of saving sinners, whether men like it or no: “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh; that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us,” Rom. 8.3-4. See also Heb. 10.5-10. “He made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him,” 2 Cor. 5.21.

Here unbelief has prevailed with many in this latter age to reject the glory of God herein; but we have vindicated the truth against them sufficiently elsewhere.

4. There are sundry things previously required to give us a clear view of the glory of God in this way of saving sinners: such are, a due consideration of the nature of the fall of our first parents, and of our apostasy from God thereby. I may not stay here to show the nature or aggravations of them; neither can we conceive them aright, much less express them. I only say, that unless we have due apprehensions of the dread and terror of them, of the invasion made on the glory of God, and the confusion brought on the creation by them, we can never discern the reason and glory of rejecting the way of personal righteousness, and the establishing this way of a mediator for the saving of sinners. A due sense of our present infinite distance from God, and the impossibility that there is in ourselves of making any approaches unto him, is of the same consideration; so likewise is that of our utter disability to do any thing that may answer the law, or the holiness and righteousness of God therein, — of our universal unconformity in our natures, hearts, and their acting, unto the nature, holiness, and will of God. Unless, I say, we have a sense of these things in our minds and upon our consciences, we cannot believe aright, we cannot comprehend the glory of this new way of salvation. And whereas mankind has had a general notion, though no distinct apprehension, of these things, or of some of them, many amongst them have apprehended that there is a necessity of some kind of satisfaction or atonement to be made, that sinners may be freed from the displeasure of God; but when God’s way of it was proposed unto them, it was, and is, generally rejected, because “the carnal mind is enmity against God.” But when these things are fixed on the soul by sharp and durable convictions, they will enlighten it with due apprehensions of the glory and beauty of God’s way of saving sinners.

5. This is the gospel, this is the work of it, — namely, a divine declaration of the way of God for the saving of sinners, through the person, mediation, blood, righteousness, and intercession of Christ. This is that which it reveals, declares, proposes, and tenders unto sinners, — there is a way for their salvation. As this is contained in the first promise, so the truth of every word in the Scripture depends on the supposition of it. Without this, there could be no more intercourse between God and us than is between him and devils. Again, it declares that this way is not by the law or its works, — by the first covenant, or its conditions, — by our own doing or suffering; but it is a new way, found out in and proceeding from infinite wisdom, love, grace, and goodness, — namely, by the incarnation of the eternal Son of God, his susception of the office of a mediator, doing and suffering in the discharge of it whatever was needful for the justification and salvation of sinners, unto his own eternal glory. See Rom. 3.24-27, 8.3-4; 2 Cor. 5.19-21, etc.

Moreover, the gospel adds, that the only way of obtaining an interest in this blessed contrivance of saving sinners by the substitution of Christ, as the surety of the covenant, and thereon the imputation of our sins to him, and of his righteousness unto us, is by faith in him.

Here comes in that trial of faith which we inquire after. This way of saving sinners being proposed, offered, and tendered unto us in the gospel, true and saving faith receives it, approves of it, rests in it, renounces all other hopes and expectations, reposing its whole confidence therein.

For it is not proposed unto us merely as a notion of truth, to be assented to or denied, in which sense all believe the gospel that are called Christians, — they do not esteem it a fable; but it is proposed unto us as that which we ought practically to close withal, for ourselves to trust alone unto it for life and salvation. And I shall speak briefly unto two things:– I. How does saving faith approve of this way; on what accounts, and unto what ends? II. How it does evidence and manifest itself hereby unto the comfort of believers.

I. How does saving faith approve of this way; on what accounts, and unto what ends?

First, It approves of it, as that which every way becomes God to find out, to grant, and propose: so speaks the apostle, Heb. 2.10, “It became him, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” That becomes God, is worthy of him, is to be owned concerning him, which answers unto his infinite wisdom, goodness, grace, holiness, and righteousness, and nothing else. This faith discerns, judges, and determines concerning this way, — namely, that it is every way worthy of God, and answers all the holy properties of his nature. This is called “The light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” 2 Cor. 4.6.

This discovery of the glory of God in this way is made unto faith alone, and by it alone it is embraced. The not discerning of it, and thereon the want of an acquiescence in it, is that unbelief which ruins the souls of men. The reason why men do not embrace the way of salvation tendered in the gospel, is because they do not see nor understand how full it is of divine glory, how it becomes God, is worthy of him, and answers all the perfections of his nature. Their minds are blinded, that the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, does not shine unto them, 2 Cor. 4.4. And so they deal with this way of God as if it were weakness and folly.

Herein consists the essence and life of faith:– It sees, discerns, and determines, that the way of salvation of sinners by Jesus Christ proposed in the gospel, is such as becomes God and all his divine excellencies to find out, appoint, and propose unto us. And herein does it properly give glory to God, which is its peculiar work and excellency, Rom. 4.20; herein it rests and refreshes itself.

In particular, faith herein rejoices in the manifestation of the infinite wisdom of God. A view of the wisdom of God acting itself by his power in the works of creation (for in wisdom he made them all), is the sole reason of ascribing glory unto him in all natural worship, whereby we glorify him as God; and a due apprehension of the infinite wisdom of God in the new creation, in the way of saving sinners by Jesus Christ, is the foundation of all spiritual, evangelical ascription of glory to God.

It was the design of God, in a peculiar way, to manifest and glorify his wisdom in this work. Christ crucified is the “power of God, and the wisdom of God,” 1 Cor. 1.24; and “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hid in him,” Col. 2.3. All the treasures of divine wisdom are laid up in Christ, and laid out about him, as to be manifested unto faith in and by the gospel. He designed herein to make known his “manifold wisdom,” Eph. 3.9-10.

Wherefore, according to our apprehension and admiration of the wisdom of God in the constitution of this way of salvation is our faith, and no otherwise; where that does not appear unto us, where our minds are not affected with it, there is no faith at all.

I cannot stay here to reckon up the especial instances of divine wisdom herein. Somewhat I have attempted towards it in other writings; and I shall only say at present, that the foundation of this whole work and way, in the incarnation of the eternal Son of God, is so glorious an effect of infinite wisdom, as the whole blessed creation will admire to eternity. This of itself bespeaks this way and work divine. Herein the glory of God shines in the face of Jesus Christ. This is of God alone; this is that which becomes him; that which nothing but infinite wisdom could extend unto. Whilst faith lives in a due apprehension of the wisdom of God in this, and the whole superstruction of this way, on this foundation it is safe.

Goodness, love, grace, and mercy, are other properties of the divine nature, wherein it is gloriously amiable. “God is love;” there is none God but he. Grace and mercy are among the principal titles which he everywhere assumes to himself; and it was his design to manifest them all to the utmost in this work and way of saving sinners by Christ, as is everywhere declared in the Scripture. And all these lie open to the eye of faith herein: it sees infinite goodness, love, and grace, in this way, such as becomes God, such as can reside in none but him; which it therefore rests and rejoices in, 1 Pet. 1.8. In adherence unto, and approbation of, this way of salvation, as expressive of these perfections of the divine nature, does faith act itself continually.

Where unbelief prevails, the mind has no view of the glory that is in this way of salvation, in that it is so becoming of God and all his holy properties, as the apostle declares, 2 Cor. 4.4. And where it is so, whatever is pretended, men cannot cordially receive it and embrace it; for they know not the reason for which it ought to be so embraced: they see no form nor comeliness in Christ, who is the life and centre of this way, “no beauty for which he should be desired,” Isa. 53.2. Hence, in the first preaching of it, it was “unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness;” for by reason of their unbelief they could not see it to be, what it is, “the power of God, and the wisdom of God;” and so it must be esteemed, or be accounted folly.

Yea, from the same unbelief it is that at this day the very notion of the truth herein is rejected by many, even all those who are called Socinians, and all that adhere unto them in the disbelief of supernatural mysteries. They cannot see a suitableness in this way of salvation unto the glory of God, — as no unbeliever can; and therefore those of them who do not oppose directly the doctrine of it, yet do make no use of it unto its proper end. Very few of them, comparatively, who profess the truth of the gospel, have an experience of the power of it unto their own salvation.

But here true faith stands invincibly, — hereby it will evidence its truth and sincerity in the midst of all temptations, and the most dismal conflicts it has with them; yea, against the perplexing power and charge of sin thence arising. From this stronghold it will not be driven; whilst the soul can exercise faith herein, — namely, in steadily choosing, embracing, and approving of God’s way of saving sinners by Jesus Christ, as that wherein he will be eternally glorified, because it is suited unto, and answers all the perfections of, his nature, is that which every way becomes him, — it will have wherewith to relieve itself in all its trials. For this is faith, this is saving faith, which will not fail us. That faith which works in the soul a gracious persuasion of the excellency of this way, by a sight of the glory of the wisdom, power, grace, love, and goodness of God in it, so as to be satisfied with it, as the best, the only way of coming unto God, with a renunciation of all other ways and means unto that end, will at all times evidence its nature and sincerity.

And this is that which gives the soul rest and satisfaction, as unto its entrance into glory, upon its departure out of this world. It is a great thing, to apprehend in a due manner that a poor soul that has been guilty of many sins, leaving the body, it may be, under great pain, distress, and anguish, it may be by outward violence, should be immediately admitted and received into the glorious presence of God, with all the holy attendants of his throne, there to enjoy rest and blessedness for evermore. But here also faith discerns and approves of this great, of this ineffable, divine operation, as that which becomes the infinite greatness of that wisdom and grace which first designed it, the glorious efficacy of the mediation of Christ, and the excellency of the sanctification of the Holy Spirit, without any expectation from any thing in itself, as a cause meritorious of an admission into this glory. Neither did ever any man know what it is, or desire it in a due manner, who looked for any desert of it in himself, or conceived any proportion between it and what he is or has done in this world. Hence some of those who have not this faith have invented another state, after men are gone out of this world, to make them meet for heaven, which they call purgatory; for on what grounds a man should expect an entrance into glory, on his departure out of this world, they understand not.

Let them who are exercised with temptations and dejections bring their faith unto this trial; and this is the case, in various degrees, of us all:– First, then, examine strictly by the word whether this be a true description of the nature and acting of saving faith. Sundry things are supposed or asserted in it; as, — 1. That the way of saving sinners by Jesus Christ is the principal effect of divine wisdom, power, goodness, love, and grace. 2. That the design of the gospel is to manifest, declare, and testify that so it is, and so to make known the glory of God therein. 3. That saving faith is that act, duty, and work of the soul, whereby we receive the record of God concerning these things, [and] do ascribe the glory of them all unto him, as discovering it in the way of life proposed unto us. 4. That hereon it proceeds unto a renunciation of all other ways, means, hopes, reliefs, in opposition unto this way, or in conjunction with it, as unto acceptance with God in life and salvation. I say, in the first place, examine these things strictly by the word; and if they appear to be (as they are) sacred, evangelical, fundamental truths, be not moved from them, be not shaken in them, by any temptation whatever.

And, in the next place, bring your faith to the trial on these principles: What do you judge concerning God’s way of saving sinners by Jesus Christ, as proposed in the gospel? Are you satisfied in it, that it is such as becomes God, and answers all the glorious attributes of his nature? Would you have any other way proposed in the room of it? Can you, will you, commit the eternal welfare of your souls unto the grace and faithfulness of God in this way, so as that you have no desire to be saved any other way? Does the glory of God in any measure shine forth unto you in the face of Jesus Christ? Do you find a secret joy in your hearts upon the satisfaction you take in the proposal of this way unto you by the gospel? Do you, in all your fears and temptations, in all approaches of death, renounce all other reserves and reliefs, and betake your whole confidence unto this way alone, and the representation of God made therein? Herein lies that faith, and its exercise, which will be an anchor unto your souls in all their trials.

And this is the first and principal ground, or reason, whereon faith, divine and saving, does accept, embrace, and approve of the way of God’s saving sinners by Jesus Christ, — namely, because it is such as does become him, and every way answer unto all the holy properties of his nature, which are manifested and glorified therein. And where faith does approve of it on this ground and reason, it does evidence itself to be truly evangelical, unto the supportment and comfort of them in whom it is.

Secondly, It does so approve of this way as that which it finds suited unto the whole design and all the desires of an enlightened soul. So when our Lord Jesus Christ compares the kingdom of God (which is this way of salvation) unto a treasure and a precious pearl, he affirms that those who found them had great joy and the highest satisfaction, as having attained that which suited their desires, and gave rest unto their minds.

A soul enlightened with the knowledge of the truth, and made sensible of its own condition by spiritual conviction, has two predominant desires and aims, whereby it is wholly regulated, — the one is, that God may be gloried; and the other, that itself may be eternally saved. Nor can it forego either of these desires, nor are they separable in any enlightened soul. It can never cease in either of these desires, and that to the highest degree. The whole world cannot dispossess an enlightened mind of either of them. Profligate sinners have no concernment in the former; no, nor yet those who are under legal convictions, if they have wherewithal received no spiritual light. They would be saved; but for the glory of God therein, he may look to that himself, — they are not concerned in it: for that which they mean by salvation is nothing but a freedom from external misery. This they would have, whether God be [glorified] or no; of what is salvation truly they have no desire.

But the first beam of spiritual light and grace instates an indefatigable desire of the glory of God in the minds and souls of them in whom it is. Without this the soul knows not how to desire its own salvation. I may say, it would not be saved in a way wherein God should not be glorified; for without that, whatever its state should be, it would not be that which we call salvation. The exaltation of the glory of God belongs essentially thereunto; it consists in the beholding and enjoyment of that glory. This desire, therefore, is immovably fixed in the mind and soul of every enlightened person; he can admit of no proposal of eternal things that is inconsistent with it.

But, moreover, in every such person there is a ruling desire of his own salvation. It is natural unto him, as a creature made for eternity; it is inseparable from him, as he is a convinced sinner. And the clearer the light of any one is in the nature of this salvation, the more is this desire heightened and confirmed in him.

Here, then, lies the inquiry, — namely, how these two prevalent desires may be reconciled and satisfied in the same mind? For, as we are sinners, there seems to be an inconsistency between them. The glory of God, in his justice and holiness, requires that sinners should die and perish eternally. So speaks the law; this is the language of conscience, and the voice of all our fears: wherefore, for a sinner to desire, in the first place, that God may be glorified is to desire that himself may be damned.

Which of these desires shall the sinner cleave unto? unto whether of them shall he give the pre-eminence? Shall he cast off all hopes and desires of his own salvation, and be content to perish forever? This he cannot do; God does not require it of him, — he has given him the contrary in charge whilst he is in this world. Shall he, then, desire  that God may part with and lose his glory, so as that, one way or other, he may be saved? bring himself unto an unconcernment what becomes of it? This can be no more in an enlightened mind than it can cease to desire its own salvation. But how to reconcile these things in himself a sinner finds not.

Here, therefore, the glory of this way represents itself unto the faith of every believer. It not only brings these desires into a perfect consistency and harmony, but makes them to increase and promote one another. The desire of God’s glory increases the desire of our own salvation; and the desire of our own salvation enlarges and inflames the desire of glorifying God therein and thereby. These things are brought into a perfect consistency and mutual subserviency in the blood of Christ, Rom. 3.24-26; for this way is that which God has found out, in infinite wisdom, to glorify himself in the salvation of sinners. There is not any thing wherein the glory of God does or may consist, but in this way is reconciled unto, and consistent with, the salvation of the chiefest of sinners. There is no property of his nature but is gloriously exalted in and by it. An answer is given in it unto all the objections of the law against the consistency of the glory of God and the salvation of sinners. It pleads his truth in his threatenings, in the sanction of the law, with the curse annexed; — it pleads his righteousness, holiness, and severity, all engaged to destroy sinners; — it pleads the instance of God’s dealing with the angels that sinned, and calls in the witness of conscience to testify the truth of all its allegations: but there is a full and satisfactory answer given unto this whole plea of the law in this way of salvation. God declares in it, and by it, how he has provided for the satisfaction of all these things, and the exaltation of his glory in them; as we shall see immediately.

Here true faith will fix itself in all its distresses. “Whatever,” says the soul, “be my state and condition, whatever be my fears and perplexities, whatever oppositions I meet withal, yet I see in Jesus Christ, in the glass of the gospel, that there is no inconsistency between the glory of God and my salvation. That otherwise insuperable difficulty laid by the law in the way of my life and comfort, is utterly removed.” Whilst faith keeps this hold in the soul, with a constant approbation of this way of salvation by Christ, as that which gives [such] a consistency unto both its governing desires, that it shall not need forego either of them, — so as to be contented to be damned that God may be glorified, as some have spoken, or to desire salvation without a due regard unto the glory of God, — it will be an anchor to stay the soul in all its storms and distresses. Some benefit which will certainly ensue hereon we may briefly mention.

1. The soul will be hereby preserved from ruining despair, in all the distresses that may befall it. Despair is nothing but a prevalent apprehension of [the] mind that the glory of God and a man’s salvation are inconsistent; — that God cannot be just, true, holy, or righteous, if he in whom that apprehension is may be saved. Such a person does conclude that his salvation is impossible, because, one way or other, it is inconsistent with the glory of God; for nothing else can render it impossible. Hence arises in the mind an utter dislike of God, with revengeful thoughts against him for being what he is. This cuts off all endeavours of reconciliation, yea, begets an abhorrence of all the means of it, as those which are weak, foolish, and insufficient. Such are Christ and his cross unto men under such apprehensions; they judge them unable to reconcile the glory of God and their salvation. Then is a soul in an open entrance into hell. From this cursed frame and ruin the soul is safely preserved by faith’s maintaining in the mind and heart a due persuasion of the consistency and harmony that is between the glory of God and its own salvation. Whilst this persuasion is prevalent in it, although it cannot attain any comfortable assurance of an especial interest in it, yet it cannot but love, honour, value, and cleave unto this way, adoring the wisdom and grace of God in it; which is an act and evidence of saving faith. See Ps. 130.3-4. Yea, —

2. It will preserve the soul from heartless despondencies. Many in their temptations, darknesses, fears, surprisals by sin, although they fall [not] into ruining desperation, yet they fall under such desponding fears and various discouragements, as keep them off from a vigorous endeavour after a recovery: and hereon, for want of the due exercise of grace, they grow weaker and darker every day, and are in danger to pine away in their sins. But where faith keeps the soul constant unto the approbation of God’s way of saving sinners, as that wherein the glory of God and its own salvation are not only fully reconciled but made inseparable, it will stir up all graces unto a due exercise, and the diligent performance of all duties, whereby it may obtain a refreshing sense of a personal interest in it.

3. It will keep the heart full of kindness towards God; whence love and gracious hope will spring. It is impossible but that a soul overwhelmed with a sense of sin, and thereon filled with self-condemnation, but if it has a view of the consistency of the glory of God with its deliverance and salvation, through a free contrivance of infinite wisdom and grace, it must have such kindness for him, such gracious thoughts of him, as will beget and kindle in it both love and hope, as Mic. 7.18-20; Ps. 85.8; 1 Tim. 1.15.

4. A steady continuance in the approbation of God’s way of salvation, on the reason mentioned, will lead the mind into that exercise of faith which both declares its nature and is the spring of all the saving benefits which we receive by it. Now, this is such a spiritual light into, and discovery of, the revelation and declaration made in the gospel of the wisdom, love, grace, and mercy of God in Christ Jesus, and the way of the communication of the effect of them unto sinners by him, as that the soul finds them suited unto and able for the pardon of its own sins, its righteousness and salvation; so as that it places its whole trust and confidence for these ends therein.

This being the very life of faith, that act and exercise of it whereby we are justified and saved, and whereby it evidences its truth and sincerity against all temptations, I shall insist a little on the explanation of the description of it now given. And there are three things in it, or required unto it:–

(1.) A spiritual light into, and discovery of, the revelation and declaration made in the gospel of the wisdom, love, grace, and mercy of God in Christ Jesus. It is not a mere assent unto the truth of the revelation or authority of the revealer; — this, indeed, is supposed and included in it; but it adds thereunto a spiritual discerning, perception, and understanding of the things themselves revealed and declared; without which, a bare assent unto the truth of the revelation is of no advantage. This is called “The light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” 2 Cor. 4.6; the increase whereof in all believers the apostle does earnestly pray for, Eph. 1.15-20. So we discern spiritual things in a spiritual manner; and hence arises “the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ,” Col. 2.2; or a spiritual sense of the power, glory, and beauty of the things contained in this mystery: so to know Christ as to know “the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings,” Phil. 3.10.

Faith affects the mind with an ineffable sense, taste, experience, and acknowledgment of the greatness, the glory, the power, the beauty of the things revealed and proposed in this way of salvation. The soul in it is enabled to see and understand that all the things belonging unto it are such as become God, his wisdom, goodness, and love; as was before declared. And a spiritual light enabling hereunto is of the essence of saving faith; unless this be in us, we do not, we cannot, give glory to God in any assent unto the truth. And faith is that grace which God has prepared, fitted, and suited, to give unto him the glory that is his due in the work of our redemption and salvation.

(2.) Upon this spiritual light into this revelation of God and his glory, in this way of saving sinners, the mind by faith finds and sees that all things in it are suited unto its own justification and salvation in particular, and that the power of God is in them to make them effectual unto that end. This is that act and work of faith whereon the whole blessed event does depend. It will not avail a man to see all sorts of viands and provisions, if they be no way suited unto his appetite, nor meet for his nourishment; nor will it be unto a man’s spiritual advantage to take a view of the excellencies of the gospel, unless he find them suited unto his condition. And this is the hardest task and work that faith has to go through with.

Faith is not an especial assurance of a man’s own justification and salvation by Christ; that it will produce, but not until another step or two in its progress be over: but faith is a satisfactory persuasion that the way of God proposed in the gospel is fitted, suited, and able to save the soul in particular that does believe, — not only that it is a blessed way to save sinners in general, but that it is such a way to save him in particular. So is this matter stated by the apostle, 1 Tim. 1.15, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation,” or approbation, “that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” His faith does not abide here, nor confine itself unto this, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, — that this is the holy and blessed way of God for the salvation of sinners in general; but he puts in for his own particular interest in that way: “It is God’s way, fitted, and suited, and able to save me, who am the chiefest of sinners.”

And this, as was said, is the greatest and the most difficult work of faith; for we suppose, concerning the person who is to believe, —

[1.] That he is really and effectually convinced of the sin of [our] nature, of our apostasy from God therein, the loss of his image, and the direful effects that ensue thereon. [2.] That he has due apprehensions of the holiness and severity of God, of the sanction and curse of the law, with a right understanding of the nature of sin and its demerit. [3.] That he have a full conviction of his own actual sins, with all their aggravations, from their greatness, their number, and all sorts of circumstances. [4.] That he has a sense of the guilt of secret or unknown sins, which have been multiplied by that continual proneness unto sin which he finds working in him. [5.] That he seriously consider what it is to appear before the judgment-seat of God, to receive a sentence for eternity, with all other things of the like nature, inseparable from him as a sinner.

When it is really thus with any man, he shall find it the hardest thing in the world, and clogged with the most difficulties, for him to believe that the way of salvation proposed unto him is suited, fitted, and every way able to save him in particular, — to apprehend it such as none of his objections can rise up against, or stand before. But this is that, in the second place, that the faith of God’s elect will do: it will enable the soul to discern and satisfy itself that there is in this way of God every thing that is needful unto its own salvation. And this it will do on a spiritual understanding and due consideration of, — [1.] The infiniteness of that wisdom, love, grace, and mercy, which is the original or sovereign cause of the whole way, with the ample declaration and confirmation made of them in the gospel. [2.] Of the unspeakably glorious way and means for the procuring and communicating unto us of all the effects of that wisdom, grace, and mercy, — namely, the incarnation and mediation of the Son of God, in his oblation and intercession. [3.] Of the great multitude and variety of precious promises, engaging the truth, faithfulness, and power of God, for the communication of righteousness and salvation from those springs, by that means. I say, on the just consideration of these things, with all other encouragements wherewith they are accompanied, the soul concludes by faith that there is salvation for itself in particular, to be attained in that way.

(3.) The last act of faith, in the order of nature, is the soul’s acquiescence in, and trust unto, this way of salvation for itself and its own eternal condition, with a renunciation of all other ways and means for that end. And because Jesus Christ, in his person, mediation, and righteousness, is the life and centre of this way, as he in whom alone God will glorify his wisdom, love, grace, and mercy, — as he who has purchased, procured, and wrought all this salvation for us, — whose righteousness is imputed unto us for our justification, and who in the discharge of his office does actually bestow it upon us, — he is the proper and immediate object of faith, in this act of trust and affiance. This is that which is called in the Scripture believing in Christ, — namely, the trusting unto him alone for life and salvation, as the whole of divine wisdom and grace is administered by him unto these ends. For this we come unto him, we receive him, we believe in him, we trust him, we abide in him; with all those other ways whereby our faith in him is expressed.

And this is the second ground or reason whereon faith does close with, embrace, and approve of God’s way of saving sinners; whereby it will evidence itself, unto the comfort of them in whom it is, in the midst of all their trials and temptations.

Thirdly, Faith approves of this way, as that which makes the glory of God, in the giving and the sanction of the law, to be as eminently conspicuous as if it had been perfectly fulfilled by every one of us in our own persons. The law was a just representation of the righteousness and holiness of God; and the end for which it was given was, that it might be the means and instrument of the eternal exaltation of his glory in these holy properties of his nature. Let no man imagine that God has laid aside this law, as a thing of no more use; or that he will bear a diminution of that glory, or any part of it, which he designed in the giving of it. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but no jot or tittle of the law shall do so. No believer can desire, or be pleased with, his own salvation, unless the glory of God designed by the law be secured. He cannot desire that God should forego any part of his glory that he might be saved. Yea, this is that on the account whereof he principally rejoices in his own salvation, — namely, that it is that wherein God will be absolutely, universally, and eternally glorified.

Now, in this way of saving sinners by Jesus Christ, by mercy, pardon, and the righteousness of another (of all which the law knows nothing), faith does see and understand how all that glory which God designed in the giving of the law is eternally secured and preserved entire, without eclipse or diminution. The way whereby this is done is declared in the gospel. See Rom. 3.24-26; 8.2-4; 10.3-4. Hereby faith is enabled to answer all the challenges and charges of the law, with all its pleas for the vindication of divine justice, truth and holiness; it has that to offer which gives it the utmost satisfaction in all its pleas for God: so is this answer managed, Rom. 8.32-34.

And this is the first way whereby the faith of God’s elect does  evidence itself in the minds and consciences of them that do believe, in the midst of all their contests with sin, their trials and temptations, to their relief and comfort, — namely, the closing with, and approbation of, God’s way of saving sinners by Jesus Christ, on the grounds and reasons which have been declared.

II. The second evidence of the faith of God’s elect

The second way whereby true faith does evidence itself in the souls and consciences of believers, unto their supportment and comfort under all their conflicts with sin, in all their trials and temptations, is by a constant approbation of the revelation of the will of God in the Scripture concerning our holiness, and the obedience unto himself which he requires of us. This faith will never forego, whatever trials it may undergo, whatever darkness the mind may fall into; this it will abide by in all extremities. And that it may appear to be a peculiar effect or work of saving faith, some things are to be premised and considered:–

1. There is in all men by nature a light enabling them to judge of the difference that is between what is morally good and what is evil, especially in things of more than ordinary importance. This light is not attained or acquired by us; we are not taught it, we do not learn it: it is born with us, and inseparable from us; it prevents [exists previously to] consideration and reflection, working naturally, and in a sort necessarily, in the first acting of our souls.

And the discerning power of this light, as to the moral nature of men’s actions, is accompanied inseparably with a judgment that they make concerning themselves as unto what they do of the one kind or other and that with respect unto the superior judgment of God about the same things. This the apostle expressly ascribes unto the Gentiles, who had not the law, Rom. 2.14-15: “The Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another.” This is a most exact description of a natural conscience, in both the powers of it; it discerns that good and evil which is commanded and forbidden in the law, and it passes an acquitting or condemning judgment and sentence, according to what men have done.

Wherefore, this approbation of duties in things moral is common unto all men. The light whereby it is guided may be variously improved, as it was in some of the Gentiles; and it may be stifled in some, until it seem to be quite extinguished, until they become like the beasts that perish. And where the discerning power of this light remains, yet, through a continual practice of sin and obduracy therein, the judging power of it as unto all its efficacy may be lost: so the apostle declares concerning them who are judicially hardened and given up unto sin, Rom. 1.32, “These, knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.” They still discern what is evil and sinful, and know what is the judgment of God conceding such things; but yet the love of sin and custom in sinning do so far prevail in them, as to contemn both their own light and God’s judgment, so as to delight in what is contrary unto them. These the apostle describes, Eph. 4.19, “Being past feeling” (all sense of convictions), “they have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness;” such as the world is filled withal at this day.

This is not that approbation of obedience which we inquire after; it is, in some measure, in the worst of men, nor has it any likeness unto that duty of faith which we treat of, as will immediately appear.

2. There is a farther knowledge of good and evil by the law, and this is also accompanied with a judgment acquitting or condemning; for the law has the same judging power and authority over men that their own consciences have, — namely, the authority of God himself. The law is to sinners as the tree of knowledge of good and evil, — it opens their eyes to see the nature of what they have done; for “by the law is the knowledge of sin,” Rom. 3.20: and so is the knowledge of duty also; for it is the adequate rule of all duty. There is, I say, a knowledge and conviction of duty and sin communicated unto men by the law, and those far more clear and distinct than what is or can be found in men from the mere light of nature; for it extends to more instances, that being generally lost where it is alone, as unto many important duties and sins; and it declares the nature of every sin and duty far more clearly than natural light of itself can do.

And this knowledge of good and evil by the law may be so improved in the minds of men as to press them unto a performance of all known duties, and an abstinence from all known sins, with a judgment on them all. But yet herein does not consist that approbation of holiness and obedience which faith will produce; for, —

(1.) As unto approbation or condemnation of good or evil: that which is by the law is particular, or has respect unto particular duties and sins, according as occasion does present them; and extends not unto the whole law absolutely, and all that is required in it. I do not say it is always partial; there is a legal sincerity that may have respect unto all known duties and sins, though it be very rare. Hardly shall we find a person merely under the power of the law, who does not evidence an indulgence unto some sin, and a neglect of some duties: but such a thing there may be; it was in Paul, in his pharisaism, — he was, “touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless,” Phil. 3.6. He allowed not himself in any known sin, nor in the neglect of any known duty; nor could others charge him with any defect therein, — he was blameless. But where this is, still this approbation or condemnation is particular, — that is, they do respect particular duties and sins as they do occur; there is not a respect in them unto the whole righteousness and holiness of the law, as we shall see. Wherefore, a man may approve of every duty in its season as it is offered unto him, or when at any time he thinks of it by an act of his fixed judgment; and so, on the contrary, as unto sin; and yet come short of that approbation of holiness and righteousness which we inquire after.

(2.) It is not accompanied with a love of the things themselves that are good, as they are so, and a hatred of the contrary; for the persons in whom it is do not, cannot, “delight in the law of God after the inward man,” as Rom. 7.22, so as to approve of it, and all that is contained in it, cleaving to them with love and delight. They may have a love for this or that duty, and a hatred of the contrary, but it is on various considerations, suited unto their convictions and circumstances; but it is not on the account of its formal nature, as good or evil. Wherefore, —

(3.) No man, without the light of saving faith, can constantly and universally approve of the revelation of the will of God, as unto our holiness and obedience.

To make this evident, which is the foundation of our present discovery of the acting of saving faith, we must consider, — [1.] What it is that is to be approved. [2.] What this approbation is, or wherein it does consist:–

[1.] That which is to be approved is the holiness and obedience which God requires in us, our natures, and actions, and accepts from us, or accepts in us. It is not particular duties as they occur unto us, taken alone and by themselves, but the universal correspondence of our natures and actions unto the will of God. The Scripture gives us various descriptions of it, because of the variety of graces and gracious operations which concur therein. We may here mention some of its principal concerns, having handled the nature of it at large elsewhere; for it may he considered, —

1st. As unto its foundation, spring, and causes: and this is the universal renovation of our natures into the image of God, Eph. 4.24; or the change of our whole souls, in all their faculties and powers, into his likeness, whereby we become new creatures, or the workmanship of God created in Christ Jesus unto good works, 2 Cor. 5.17, Eph. 2.10; wherein we are originally and formally sanctified throughout, in our “whole spirit, and soul, and body,” 1 Thess. 5.23. It is the whole law of God written in our hearts, transforming them into the image of the divine holiness, represented therein. And this, next unto the blood of Christ and his righteousness, is the principal spring of peace, rest, and complacency, in and unto the souls of believers: it is their joy and satisfaction to find themselves restored unto a likeness and conformity unto God, as we shall see farther immediately. And where there is not some gracious sense and experience hereof, there is nothing but disorder and confusion in the soul; nothing can give it a sweet composure, a satisfaction in itself, a complacency with what it is, but a spiritual sense of this renovation of the image of God in it.

2nd. It may be considered as unto its permanent principle in the mind and affections; and this, because of its near relation unto Christ, its conjunction with him, and derivation from him, is sometimes said to be Christ himself. Hence we live, yet not so much we as Christ lives in us, Gal. 2.20; for “without him we can do nothing,” John 15.5; for “he is our life,” Col. 3.4. As it resides in believers, it is a permanent principle of spiritual life, light, love, and power, acting in the whole soul and all the faculties of the mind, enabling them to cleave unto God with purpose of heart, and to live unto him in all the acts and duties of spiritual life: this is that whereby the Holy Ghost is “in them a well of water, springing up into everlasting life,” John 4.14. It is the spirit that is born of the Spirit; it is the divine nature, whereof we are made partakers by the promises; it is a principle of victorious faith and love, with all graces any way requisite unto duties of holy obedience; as to the matter or manner of their performance, enabling the soul unto all the acts of the life of God, with delight, joy, and complacency.

This it is in its nature. However, as unto degrees of its operation and manifestation, it may be very low and weak in some true believers, at least for a season; but there are none who are really so, but there is in them a spiritually vital principle of obedience, or of living unto God, that is participant of the nature of that which we have described; and if it be attended unto, it will evidence itself in its power and operations unto the gracious refreshment and satisfaction of the soul wherein it is. And there are few who are so destitute of those evidences but that they are able to say, “Whereas I was blind, now I see, though I know not how my eyes were opened; whereas I was dead, I find motions of a new life in me, in breathing after grace, in hungering and thirsting after righteousness, though I know not how I was quickened.”

3rd. It may be considered as unto its disposition, inclinations, and motions. These are the first actings of a vital principle; as the first actings of sin are called “the motions of sin” working in our members, Rom. 7.5. Such motions and inclinations unto obedience do work in the minds of believers, from this principle of holiness; it produces in them a constant, invariable disposition unto all duties of the life of God. It is a new nature, and a nature cannot be without suitable inclinations and motions; and this new spiritual disposition consists in a constant complacency of mind in that which is good and according to the will of God, in an adherence by love unto it, in a readiness and fixedness of mind with respect unto particular duties. In brief, it is that which David describes in the 119th Psalm throughout, and that which is figuratively foretold concerning the efficacy of the grace of the gospel in changing the natures and dispositions of those that are partakers of it, Isa. 11.6-8.

This every believer may ordinarily find in himself; for although this disposition may be variously weakened, opposed, interrupted by indwelling sin, and the power of temptation; though it may be impaired by a neglect of the stirring up and exercise of the principle of spiritual life, in all requisite graces, on all occasions; yet it will still be working in them, and will fill the mind with a constant displicency with itself, when it is not observed, followed, improved. No believer shall ever have peace in his own mind, who has not some experience of a universal disposition unto all holiness and godliness in his mind and soul: herein consists that love of the law, of which it is said those in whom it is have “great peace, and nothing shall offend them,” Ps. 119.165; it is that wherein their souls find much complacency.

4th. It may be considered with respect unto all the acts, duties, and works, internal and external, wherein our actual obedience does consist. Being, on the principles mentioned, made free from sin, and becoming the servants of God, believers herein have their “fruit unto holiness,” whereof “the end is everlasting life,” Rom. 6.22. This I need not stay to describe. Sincerity in every duty, and universality with respect unto all duties, are the properties of it.

“This is the will of God, even your sanctification,” 1 Thess. 4.3; that “holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord,” Heb. 12.14; “that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God” which we are to approve, Rom. 12.2.

[2.] Our next inquiry is, what is that approbation of this way of holiness which we place as an evidence of saving faith? And I say, it is such as arises from experience, and is accompanied with choice, delight, and acquiescence; it is the acting of the soul in a delightful adherence unto the whole will of God; it is a resolved judgment of the beauty and excellency of that holiness and obedience which the gospel reveals and requires, and that on the grounds which shall be immediately declared, and the nature thereof therein more fully opened.

This approbation cannot be in any unregenerate person, who is not under the conduct of saving faith, who is destitute of the light of it. So the apostle assures us, Rom.8.7, “The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” Whatever work it may have wrought in it, or upon it, yet, whilst it is carnal or unrenewed, it has a radical enmity unto the law of God; which is the frame of heart which stands in direct opposition unto this approbation. It may think well of this or that duty, from its convictions and other considerations, and so attend unto their performance; but the law itself, in the universal holiness which it requires, it does utterly dislike: those in whom it is are “alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them,” Eph. 4.18. This life of God is that holiness and obedience which he requires of us in their principles and duties; and to be alienated from it is to dislike and disapprove of it: and such is the frame of mind in all unregenerate persons.

Having thus prepared the way, I return unto the declaration and confirmation of the assertion, namely, —

That true and saving faith, in all storms and temptations, in all darknesses and distresses, will evidence itself unto the comfort and supportment of them in whom it is, by a constant, universal approbation of the whole will of God, concerning our holiness and obedience, both in general and in every particular instance of it.

We may a little explain it:–

1. Faith will not suffer the mind, on any occasion or temptation, to entertain the least dislike of this way of holiness, or of any thing that belongs unto it. The mind may sometimes, through temptations, fall under apprehensions that one shall be eternally ruined for want of a due compliance with it; this makes it displeased with itself, but not with the obedience required. Rom. 7.10, 12, “The commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death; but the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.” “However it be with me, whatever becomes of me, though I die and perish, yet the law is holy, just, and good.” It dislikes nothing in the will of God, though it cannot attain unto a compliance with it. Sometimes the conscience is under perplexities and rebukes for sin; sometimes the mind is burdened by the tergiversation of the flesh unto duties that are cross unto its inclinations and interests; sometimes the world threatens the utmost dangers unto the performance of some duties of religion: but none of these are able to provoke the soul that is under the conduct of faith to dislike, to think hard of, any of those ways and duties whence these difficulties arise. And, —

2. As it will not dislike any thing in this way of holiness, so it will not desire on any occasion that there should be any alteration in it, or any abatement of it, or of any thing required in it. Naaman the Syrian liked well of the worship of the true God in general; but he would have an abatement of duty as to one instance, in compliance with his earthly interest, which discovered his hypocrisy. Such imaginations may befall the minds of men, that if they might be excused, in this or that instance, unto duties that are dangerous and troublesome (like profession in the times of persecution), or might be indulged in this or that sin, which either their inclinations are very prone unto, or their secular interest do call for, they should do well enough with all other things. Accordingly, the practice of many does answer their inclination and desire. They will profess religion and obedience unto God, but will keep back part of the price; — will hide a wedge in their tents, through indulgence unto some corruption, or dislike of some duties in their circumstances: they would give unto themselves the measure of their obedience. And according as men’s practice is, so do they desire that things indeed should be, — that that practice should please God which pleased them. This faith abhors; the soul that is under the conduct of it is not capable of any one desire that any thing were otherwise than it is in the will of God concerning our holiness and obedience, no more than it can desire that God should not be what he is. No; though any imagination should arise in it, that by some change and abatement in some instances it might be saved, which now is uncertain whether that be so or no, it will admit of no such composition, but will choose to stand or fall unto the entire will of God.

We shall therefore, in the next place, proceed to inquire on what grounds it is that faith does thus approve of the whole will of God, as unto our holiness and obedience; as also, how it evidences itself so to do. And these grounds are two:– the one respecting God; the other, our own souls.

First, Faith looks on the holiness required of us as that which is suited unto the holiness of God himself, — as that which it is meet for him to require, on the account of his own nature, and the infinite perfections thereof. The rule is, “Be ye holy, for I the Lord your God am holy;” — “I require that of you which becomes and answers my own holiness; because I am holy, it is necessary that you should be so; if you are mine in a peculiar manner, your holiness is that which becomes my holiness to require.”

We have before declared what this gospel holiness is, wherein it does consist, and what is required thereunto; — and they may be all considered either as they are in us, inherent in us, and performed by us; or as they are in themselves, in their own nature, and in the will of God. In the first way, I acknowledge that, by reason of our weaknesses, imperfections, and partial renovation only, as to degrees, in this life, with our manifold defects and sins, they make not a clear representation of the holiness of God; however, they are the best image of it, even as in the meanest of believers, that this world can afford. But in themselves, and their own nature, as it lies in the will of God, they make up the most glorious representation of himself that God ever did or will grant in this world; especially if we comprise therein the exemplification of it in the human nature of Christ himself: for the holiness that is in believers is of the same nature and kind with that which was and is in Jesus Christ, though his exceed theirs inconceivably in degrees of perfection.

Wherefore we are required to be holy, as the Lord our God is holy; and perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect: which we could not be, but that in our holiness and perfection there is a resemblance and answerableness unto the holiness and perfection of God. And if a due sense hereof were continually upon our hearts, it would influence us unto greater care and diligence in all instances of duty and sin than, for the most part, we do attain unto and preserve. If we did on all occasions sincerely and severely call ourselves to an account whether our frames, ways, and actions bear a due resemblance unto the holiness and perfections of God, it would be a spiritual preservative on all occasions.

Faith, I say, then, discerns the likeness of God in this holiness, and every part of it, — sees it as that which becomes him to require; and thereon approves of it, reverencing God in it all: and it does so in all the parts of it, in all that belongs unto it.

1. It does so principally in the inward form of it, which we before described, — in the new creature, the new nature, the reparation of the image of God that is in it: in the beauty hereof it continually beholds the likeness and glory of God. For it is created kata Theon, — according unto God, after him, or in his image, — “in righteousness and true holiness,” Eph. 4.24. “The new man is renewed after the image of him that created him,” Col. 3.10.

When God first created all things, the heavens and the earth, with all that is contained in them, he left such footsteps and impressions of his infinite wisdom, goodness, and power, on them, that they might signify and declare his perfection, — his eternal power and Godhead; yet did he not, he is not said to have created them in his own image. And this was because they were only a passive representation of him in the light of others, and not in themselves; nor did they represent at all that wherein God will be principally glorified among his creatures, — namely, the universal rectitude of his nature in righteousness and holiness. But of man it is said, peculiarly and only, that he was made in the image and likeness of God: and this was because, in the rectitude of his nature, he represented the holiness and righteousness of God; which is the only use of an image. This was lost by sin. Man in his fallen condition does no more represent God; there is nothing in him that has any thing of the likeness or image of God in it; all is dead, dark, perverse, and confused. This new nature, whereof we speak, is created of God for this very end, that it may be a blessed image and representation of the holiness and righteousness of God. Hence it is called the “divine nature,” whereof we are partakers, 2 Pet. 1.4. And he that cannot see a representation of God in it, has not the light of faith and life in him.

Hereon, I say, faith does approve of the form and principle of this holiness, as the renovation of the image of God in us; it looks upon it as that which becomes God to bestow and require, and therefore that which has an incomparable excellency and desirableness in it. Yea, when the soul is ready to faint under an apprehension that it is not partaker of this holy nature, because of the power of sin in it and temptations on it, it knows not whether itself be born of God or no (as is the case with many); — yet where this faith is, it will discern the beauty and glory of the new creation in some measure, as that which bears the image of God; and thereon does it preserve in the soul a longing after it, or a farther participation of it.

By this work or act of it does faith discover its sincerity; which is that which we inquire after. Whilst it has an eye open to behold the glory of God in the new creature, whilst it looks on it as that wherein there is a representation made of the holiness of God himself, as that which becomes him to require in us, and thereon approves of it as excellent and desirable, it will be an anchor unto the soul in its greatest storms; for this is a work beyond what a mere enlightened conscience can arise unto. That can approve or disapprove of all the acts and effects of obedience and disobedience, as unto their consequents; but to discern the spiritual nature of the new creature, as representing the holiness of God himself, and thereon constantly to approve of it, is the work [of faith] alone.

2. It does the same with respect unto the internal acts and effects of this new creature, or principle of new obedience. The first thing it produces in us is a frame of mind spiritual and heavenly; they that are after the Spirit are “spiritually-minded,” Rom. 8.5-6. It looks on the opposite frame, namely, of being carnally-minded, as vile and loathsome; it consisting in a readiness and disposition of mind to actuate the lusts of the flesh. But this spiritual frame of mind, in a just constellation of all the graces of the Spirit, influencing, disposing, and making ready the soul for the exercise of them on all occasions, and in all duties of obedience, — this is the inward glory of the “King’s daughter,” which faith sees and approves of, as that which becomes God to require in us; whatever is contrary hereunto, as a sensual, carnal, worldly frame of mind, it looks on as vile and base, unworthy of God, or of those who design the enjoyment of him.

3. It does the same with respect unto all particular duties, internal and external, when they are enlivened and filled up with grace. In them consists our “walking worthy of God,” Col. 1.10; 1 Thess. 2.12, — such a walk as is meet for God to accept; that whereby and wherein he is glorified. The contrary hereunto, in the neglect of the duties of holiness, or the performance of them without the due exercise of grace, faith looks on as unworthy of God, unworthy of our high and holy calling, unworthy of our profession, and therefore does constantly condemn and abhor.

All this, as we observed before, faith will continue to do constantly, under temptations and desertions. There are seasons wherein the soul may be very weak, as unto the powers, effects, and duties of this spiritual life; such the psalmist oftentimes complains of in his own case, and it is evident in the experience of most. Few there are who have not found, at one time or another, great weakness, decays, and much deadness in their spiritual condition. And sometimes true believers may be at a loss as unto any refreshing experience of it in its operations. They may not be able to determine in the contest whether sin or grace have the dominion in them. Yet even in all these seasons faith will keep up the soul unto a constant high approbation of this way of holiness and obedience, in its root and fruits, in its principle and effects, in its nature, disposition, and duties. For when they cannot see the beauty of these things in themselves, they can see it in the promises of the covenant, in the truth of the gospel, wherein it is declared, and in the effects of it in others.

And great advantage is to be obtained by the due exercise of faith herein. For, —

(1.) It will never suffer the heart to be at rest in any sinful way, or under any such spiritual decays as shall estrange it from the pursuit of this holiness. The sight, the conviction of its excellency, the approbation of it, as that which in us and our measure answers the holiness of God, will keep up the mind unto endeavours after it, will rebuke the soul in all its neglects of it; nor will it allow any quiet or peace within, without an endeavour after a comfortable assurance of it. That soul is desperately sick which has lost an abiding sense of the excellency of this holiness, in its answerableness unto the holiness and will of God. Fears and checks of conscience are the whole of its security against the worst of sins; and they are a guard not to be trusted unto in the room of the peace of God. This is one great difference between believers and those that have not faith. Fear of the consequents of sin, with an apprehension of some advantages which are to be obtained by a sober life and the profession of religion, do steer and regulate the minds of unbelievers, in all they do towards God or for eternity; but the minds of believers are influenced by a view of the glory of the image and likeness of God in that holiness, and all the parts of it, which they are called unto. This gives them love unto it, delight and complacency in it, enabling them to look upon it as its own reward. And without these affections none will ever abide in the ways of obedience unto the end.

(2.) Where faith is in this exercise, it will evidence itself, unto the relief of the soul, in all its darkness and temptations. The mind can never conclude that it wholly is without God and his grace, whilst it constantly approves of the holiness required of us. This is not of ourselves; by nature we are ignorant of it. This “life is hid with Christ in God,” Col. 3.3, where we can see nothing of it; hereon we are alienated from it, and do dislike it: “Alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in us,” Eph. 4.18. And most men live all their days in a contempt of the principal evidences and duties of this life of God, and of the principle of it, which they look on as a fable. Wherefore, the mind may have great satisfaction in a sight of the beauty and approbation of this holiness, as that which nothing can produce but sincere and saving faith.

Secondly, Faith approves of this way of holiness and obedience, as that which gives that rectitude and perfection unto our nature whereof it is capable in this world. It is the only rule and measure of them; and whatever is contrary thereunto is perverse, crooked, vile, and base. Some men think that their nature is capable of no other perfection but what consists in the satisfaction of their lusts; they know no other blessedness, nothing that is suitable to their desires, but the swing of nature, in the pursuit of its corrupt lusts and pleasures. So are they described by the apostle, Eph. 4.19. The business of their lives is to make provision for the flesh, to fulfill it in the lusts thereof; they walk in the lusts of the flesh, “fulfilling” (so far as they are able) “the desires of the flesh and of the mind,” Eph. 2.3. They neither know nor understand what a hell of confusion, disorder, and base degeneracy from the original constitution, their minds are filled withal. This perfection is nothing but the next disposition unto hell; and it does manifest its own vileness unto every one who has the least ray of spiritual light.

Some among the heathen placed the rectitude of nature in moral virtues and operations, according unto them; and this was the utmost that natural light could ever rise up unto: but the uncertainty and weakness hereof are discovered by the light of the gospel.

It is faith alone that discovers what is good for us, in us, and unto us, whilst we are in this world. It is in the renovation of the image of God in us, — in the change and transformation of our nature into his likeness, — in acting from a gracious principle of a divine life, — in duties and operations suited thereunto, — in the participation of the divine nature by the promises, — that the good, the perfection, the order, the present blessedness of our nature do consist.

Hereby are the faculties of our souls exalted, elevated, and enabled to act primigenial powers, with respect unto God and our enjoyment of him; which is our utmost end and blessedness. Hereby are our affections placed on their proper objects (such as they were created meet for, and in closing wherewith their satisfaction, order, and rest do consist), — namely, God and his goodness, or God as revealed in Jesus Christ by the gospel. Hereby all the powers of our souls are brought into a blessed frame and harmony in all their operations, — whatever is dark, perverse, unquiet, vile, and base, being cast out of them. But these things must be a little more distinctly explained.

1. There is in this gospel holiness, as the spring and principle of it, a spiritual, saving light, enabling the mind and understanding to know God in Christ, and to discern spiritual things in a spiritual, saving manner; for herein “God shines into our hearts, to give us the knowledge of his glory in the face of Jesus Christ,” 2 Cor. 4.6. Without this, in some degree, whatever pretence there may be or appearance of holiness in any, there is nothing in them of what is really so, and thereon accepted with God. Blind devotion, — that is, an inclination of mind unto religious duties, destitute of this light, — will put men on a multiplication of duties, especially such as are of their own invention, in “a show of wisdom in will-worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body,” as the apostle speaks, Col. 2.23; wherein there is nothing of gospel holiness.

“The new man is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him,” Col. 3.10. That this saving light and knowledge is the spring and principle of all real evangelical holiness and obedience, the apostle declares in that description which he gives us of the whole of it, both in its beginning and progress, Col. 1.9-11, “We desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and long suffering with joyfulness.” It is a blessed account that is here given us of that gospel holiness which we inquire after, in its nature, original, spring, progress, fruits, and effects; and a serious consideration of it as here proposed, — a view of it in the light of faith, — will evidence how distant and different it is from those schemes of moral virtues which some would substitute in its room. It has a glory in it which no unenlightened mind can behold or comprehend; the foundation of it is laid in the knowledge of the will of God, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. This is that spiritual, saving light whereof we speak; the increase hereof is prayed for in believers by the apostle, Eph. 1.17-18, even “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, would give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints;” which here is called “increasing in the knowledge of God,” verse 10. The singular glory of this saving light, in its original, its causes, use, and effects, is most illustriously here declared: and this light is in every true believer, and is the only immediate spring of all gospel holiness and obedience; for “the new man is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him,” Col. 3.10.

This light, this wisdom, this spiritual understanding, thus communicated unto believers, is the rectitude and perfection of their minds in this world. It is that which gives them order, and peace, and power, enabling them to act all their faculties in a due manner, with respect unto their being and end. It is that which gives beauty and glory to the inward man, and which constitutes a believer an inhabitant of the kingdom of light, — whereby we are “delivered from the power of darkness, and translated into the kingdom of the Son of God’s love,” Col. 1.13; or “out of darkness into his marvellous light,” 1 Pet. 2.9.

That which is contrary hereunto, is that ignorance, darkness, blindness, and vanity, which the Scripture declares to be in the minds of all unregenerate persons; and they are really so, where they are not cured by the glorious working of the power and grace of God before mentioned.

Now, faith discerns these things, as the spiritual man discerns all things, 1 Cor. 2.15. It sees the beauty of this heavenly light, and judges that it is that which gives order and rectitude unto the mind; as also, that that which is contrary unto it is vile, base, horrid, and to be ashamed of. As for those who “love darkness more than light, because their deeds are evil,” — it knows them to be strangers unto Christ and his gospel.

2. Again: there is required unto this holiness, a principle of spiritual life and love unto God. This guides, acts, and rules in the soul, in all its obedience; and it gives the soul its proper order in all its operations: that which is contrary hereunto is death, and enmity against God. Faith judges between these two principles and their operations: the former in all its actings it approves of as lovely, beautiful, desirable, as that which is the rectitude and perfection of the will: and the other it looks on as deformed, froward, and perverse.

3. The like may be said of its nature and operations in the affections, as also of all those duties of obedience which proceed from it, as it is described in the place before mentioned.

It remains only that we show by what acts, ways, and means, faith does evidence this its approbation of gospel holiness, as that which is lovely and desirable in itself, and which gives all that rectitude and perfection unto our minds which they are capable of in this world. And it does so, —

1. By that self-displicency and abasement which it works in the mind on all instances and occasions where it comes short of this holiness. This is the chief principle and cause of that holy shame which befalls believers on every sin and miscarriage, wherein they come short of what is required in it: Rom. 6.21, “Those things whereof ye are now ashamed.” Now when, by the light of faith, you see how vile it is, and unworthy of you, what a debasement of your souls there is in it, you are ashamed of it. It is true, the principal cause of this holy shame is a sense of the unsuitableness that is in sin unto the holiness of God, and the horrible ingratitude and disingenuity that there is in sinning against him; but it is greatly promoted by this consideration, that it is a thing unworthy of us, and that wherein our natures are exceedingly debased. So it is said of provoking sinners, that they “debase themselves even unto hell,” Isa. 57.9; or make themselves as vile as hell itself, by ways unworthy the nature of men. And this is one ground of all those severe self-reflections which accompany godly sorrow for sin, 2 Cor. 7.11.

And hereby does faith evidence itself and its own sincerity, whilst a man is ashamed of, and abased in, himself for every sin, for every thing of sin, wherein it comes short of the holiness required of us, as that which is base and unworthy of our nature, in its present constitution and renovation; though it be that which no eye sees but God’s and his own, he has that in him which will grow on no root but sincere believing. Wherefore, whatever may be the disquieting conflicts of sin in and against our souls, whatever decays we may fall into, — which be the two principles of darkness and fears in believers, — whilst this inward holy shame and self-abasement, on account of the vileness of sin, is preserved, faith leaves not itself without an evidence in us.

2. It does the same by a spiritual satisfaction, which it gives the soul in every experience of the transforming power of this holiness, rendering it more and more like unto God. There is a secret joy and spiritual refreshment rising in the soul from a sense of its renovation into the image of God; and all the actings and increases of the life of God in it augment this joy. Herein consists its gradual return unto its primitive order and rectitude, with a blessed addition of supernatural light and grace by Christ Jesus; it finds itself herein coming home to God from its old apostasy, in the way of approaching to eternal rest and blessedness: and there is no satisfaction like unto that which it receives therein.

This is the second way wherein faith will abide firm and constant, and does evidence itself in the soul of every believer. However low and mean its attainments be in this spiritual life and the fruits of it, though it be overwhelmed with darkness and a sense of the guilt of sin, though it be surprised and perplexed with the deceit and violence thereof, yet faith will continue here firm and unshaken. It sees that glory and excellency in the holiness and obedience that God requires of us, — as it is a representation of his own glorious excellencies, the renovation of his image, and the perfection of our natures thereby, — as that it constantly approves of it, even in the deepest trials which the soul can be exercised withal; and whilst this anchor holds firm and stable we are safe.

III. The third evidence of the faith of God’s elect

Thirdly, Faith will evidence itself by a diligent, constant endeavour to keep itself and all grace in due exercise in all ordinances of divine worship, private and public.

This is the touchstone of faith and spiritual obedience, the most intimate and difficult part of this exercise; where this is not, there is no life in the soul. There are two things whereby men do or may deceive themselves herein:– 1. Abounding in the outward performance of duties or a multiplication of them. Hereby hypocrites have in all ages deceived themselves, Isa. 58.2-3. And it was the covering that the church of Rome provided for their apostasy from the gospel: an endless multiplication of religious duties was that which they trusted to and boasted in. And we may find those daily that pretend a conscience as unto the constant observation of outward duties, and yet will abstain from no sin that comes in the way of their lusts. And men may and do oft times abide constantly in them, especially in their families and in public, yea, multiply them beyond the ordinary measure, hoping to countenance themselves in other lusts and neglects thereby. 2. Assistance of gifts in the performance of them; but as this may be where there is not one dram of grace, saving grace, so when rested in, it is a most powerful engine to keep the soul in formality, to ruin all beginning of grace, and to bring an incurable hardness on the whole soul.

Wherever faith is in sincerity, it will constantly labour, endeavour, and strive to fill up all duties of divine worship with the living, real, heart acting of grace; and where it does not so, where this is not attained, it will never suffer the soul to take any rest or satisfaction in such duties, but will cast them away as a defiled garment. He that can pass through such duties without a sensible endeavour for the real exercise of grace in them, and without self-abasement on the performance of them, will hardly find any other clear evidence of saving faith in himself.

There are three evils that have followed the ignorance, or neglect, or weariness of this exercise of faith, which have proved the ruin of multitudes:–

1. This has been the occasion and original of all false worship in the world, with the invention of those superstitious rites and ceremonies wherein it consists. For men having lost the exercise of faith in the ordinances of worship that are of divine institution, they found the whole of it to be useless and burdensome unto them; for without this constant exercise of faith there is no life in it, nor satisfaction to be obtained by it. They must, therefore, have something in it, or accompanying of it, which may entertain their minds, and engage their affections unto it. If this had not been done, it would have been utterly deserted by the most. Hereon were invented forms of prayer in great diversity, with continual diversions and avocations of the mind from what is proposed; because it cannot abide in the pursuit of any thing spiritual without the exercise of faith. This gives it some entertainment by the mere performance, and makes it think there is something where indeed is nothing. Hereunto are added outward ceremonies of vestments, postures, and gestures of veneration, unto the same end. There is no other design in them all but to entertain the mind and affections with some complacency and satisfaction in outward worship, upon the loss or want of that exercise of faith which is the life and soul of it in believers. And as any persons do decay herein, they shall find themselves insensibly sinking down into the use of these lifeless forms, or that exercise of their natural faculties and memory which is not one jot better; yea, by this means, some, from an eminency in spiritual gifts, and the performance of duties by virtue of them, have sunk into an Ave Maria or a Credo, as the best of their devotion.

2. This has caused many to turn aside, to fall off from and forsake the solemn ordinances of divine worship, and to betake themselves unto vain imaginations for relief, in trembling, enthusiastical singing and feigned raptures; from hence have so many forsaken their own mercies to follow after lying vanities. They kept for a while unto the observance of the divine institutions of worship; but not having faith to exercise in them, by which alone they are life and power, they became useless and burdensome unto them: they could find neither sweetness, satisfaction, nor benefit in them. It is not possible that so many in our days, if ever they had tasted of the old wine, should so go after new; — if ever they had experience of that savour, power, and life, which is in the ordinances of divine worship, when acted and enlivened by the exercise of faith, should forsake them for that which is nothing: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.” “Had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” This, therefore, is the true reason why so many in our days, after they have for a season abode under, and in the observation of, the gospel ordinances of worship, have fallen off from them, — namely, not having faith to exercise in them, nor endeavouring after it, they did really find no life in them, nor benefit by them.

3. Some, on the same ground, fall into profaneness, pretending to take up with a natural religion, without any instituted worship at all. Of this sort of persons we have multitudes in the days wherein we live; having nothing of the light of faith, they can see no form or comeliness in Christ, nor in any thing that belongs unto him. By these means are souls every day precipitated into ruin.

Herein, therefore, I say, true faith will evidence itself in all darknesses and distress whatsoever: it will always endeavour to keep itself, and all other graces, in a due and constant exercise in all duties of worship, private and public. It may sometimes be weakened in its acting and operations, it may be under decays, it may be as a sleep, and that not only as unto particular duties and seasons, but as unto the inward habitual frame of the mind; but where it is true and genuine, it will shake itself out of this dust, cast off the sin that does so easily beset us, and stir up itself, with all might and contention, unto its duty. And there is no more dangerous state for a soul than when it is sinking down into formality, and neglect of the exercise of faith, in a multitude of duties; then is it assuredly ready to die, if it be not dead already.

If we are wise, therefore, we will watch, and take care that we lose not this evidence of faith; it will stand us instead when, it may be, all other things seem to be against us. Some have been relieved by the remembrance of this exercise of faith, when they have been at the door of desperation:– such or such a season they had experience of the work of faith in prayer, has been their relief. An experience hereof is a jewel, which may be of no great use whilst it lies by you locked up in a cabinet, but which you will know the worth of if ever you come to need bread for your lives.

It is, therefore, worthwhile to inquire what we ought to do, or what means we ought to use, that we may keep up faith unto its due exercise in all the parts of divine worship, so as that it may give us a comforting evidence of itself in times of temptation and darkness? And unto this end the ensuing directions may be of use:–

1. Labour to have your hearts always affected with a due sense of the infinite perfections of the divine nature in all our approaches unto him, especially of his sovereign power, holiness, immensity, and omnipresence; and this will produce in us also a sense of infinite distance from him. As this is necessary, from the nature of the things themselves, so the Scripture gives us such descriptions of God as are suited to in generate this frame in us. This is that which Joshua aimed to bring the people unto, when he designed to engage them in the service of God in a due manner, Josh. 24.19-22; and that which the apostle requires in us, Heb. 12.28-29. And unto the same end glorious descriptions and appearances of God are multiplied in Scripture. If we fail herein, if we do not on all occasions fill our minds with reverential thoughts of God, his greatness and his holiness, faith has no foundation to stand upon in its exercise in the duties of worship. This is the only inlet into the due exercise of grace: where it is wanting, all holy thoughts and affections are shut out of our minds; and where it is present, it is impossible but that there will be some gracious working of heart in all our duties. If we are empty hereof in our entrance of duties, we shall be sure to be filled with other things, which will be clogs and hindrances unto us; but reverential thoughts of God, in our approaches unto him, will cast out all superfluity of naughtiness, and dissipate all carnal, formal frames, which will vitiate all our duties. Keep your hearts, therefore, under this charge in all your accesses unto God, and it will constantly open a door unto that exercise of faith which we inquire after.

Hereon and herewith we shall be affected with a sense of our infinite distance from him; which is another means to stir up faith unto its due exercise in reverence and godly fear. So Abraham was affected, Gen. 18.27. [This is that] which the wise man directs us unto, Eccles. 5.2.

Carnal boldness in the want of these things ruins the souls of men, rendering all their duties of worship unacceptable unto God, and unprofitable unto themselves.

2. Affect your hearts with a due sense of the unsuitableness of our best duties unto his holiness and majesty, and of his infinite condescension in the acceptance of them. Suppose there is in any of our duties the best and the most lively exercise of grace that we can attain unto, the most fervency in prayer, with the most diligent attendance of our minds the most humility and contrite trembling in hearing the word, the most devout affection of our minds in other parts of worship; alas! what is all this to God? how little does it answer his infinite holiness! See Job 4.18-19, 15.15-16. Our goodness extends not unto him, Ps. 16.2. There are no measures, there is no proportion, between the holiness of God and our best duties. There is iniquity in our holy things; they have need of mercy and pardon, of cleansing and justification, by the blood of Christ, no less than our persons: and an infinite condescension it is in God to take any notice of us or them; yea, it is that which we must live in all holy admiration of all our days.

Now if it be thus with our best duties, in our best frames, what an outrage of sloth and negligence is it, if we bring the carcase of duties unto God, for want of stirring up faith unto its due exercise in them! how great is this folly, how unspeakable is the guilt of this negligence! Let us, therefore, keep a sense hereof upon our hearts, that we may always stir up ourselves unto our best in duties of religious worship. For, —

3. A negligence herein, or the want of stirring up faith unto a due exercise in all duties of worship, is the highest affront we can put upon God, arguing a great regardlessness of him. Whilst it is so with us, we have not, we cannot have, a due sense of any of the divine perfections, of the divine nature; we turn God what lies in us into an idol, supposing that he may be put off with the outside and appearance of things. This the apostle cautions us against, Heb. 4.12-13, and [is that] which God detests, Isa. 29.13; and he pronounces him a deceiver, and cursed, who offers unto him the lame and blind while he has a male in the flock, Mal. 1.14. Yet thus is it with us, in some degree, whenever we are negligent in stirring up faith into its proper exercise in holy duties: that alone renders them the male of the flock; without it they are lame and blind, — a corrupt thing.

It is a sad thing for men to lose their duties, to be at charge and trouble in the multiplication of them, and attendance unto them to no purpose. Oh, how much more sad is it when they are all provocations of God’s glory! when they tend to increase the formality and hardness of their hearts, towards the ruin of their souls!

“Stand in awe,” therefore, “and sin not; commune with your own hearts;” — cease not, until on all occasions you bring them into that exercise of faith wherein you may glorify God as God, and not deal with him as an idol.

4. Unto the same end, keep your souls always deeply affected with a sense of the things about which you are to treat with God in all the duties of his worship. They are referred unto two heads:– (1.) Those which concern his glory; (2.) Those which concern our own souls. Without a constant due sense of these things on our hearts, faith will not act itself aright in any of our duties. Without this intimate concern and deep sense, we know not whether we need faith in our prayers, or have an exercise of it; formality will drown all. The best of our prayers is but an expression unto God of what sense we have of these things. If we have none, we pray not at all, whatever we say or do; but when these things dwell in our minds, when we think on them continually, when our hearts cleave unto them, faith will be at work in all our approaches to God. Can you not pray? Charge your hearts with these things, and you will learn so to do.

5. Watch diligently against those things which ye find by experience are apt to obstruct your fervency in duties. Such are indispositions through the flesh, or weariness of the flesh, distracting, foolish imaginations, the occasions of life revolving in our minds, and the like. If such impediments as these be not removed, if they be not watched against, they will influence the mind, and suffocate the exercise of faith therein.

6. Above all, the principal rule herein is, that we would always carefully remember the concernment of Christ in these duties, with respect unto his office. He is the high priest over the house of God; through him, and under his conduct, are we always to draw nigh to God; and his work it is to present the prayers and supplications of the church to God. Now, we have no way to come unto Christ, for his assistance in the discharge of his office on our behalf, but by faith; and in all our duties of holy worship we make a profession of our doing so, — of our coming unto God by him as our high priest. If we endeavour not therein to have faith in exercise, how do we mock, or make a show to him of doing that which indeed we endeavour not to do! There can be no greater contempt of Christ in his office, nor greater undervaluation of his love. But a due consideration hereof, — namely, of the concernment of Christ in all our duties, with respect unto the office which he discharges for us in heaven, — is that which directly leads faith into its proper exercise. For through him, and that in discharge of his office, we believe in God. And when the mind is exercised with due thoughts of him, if there be any thing of true saving faith in the heart, it will act itself unto a blessed experience.

These things may be of use to stir us up, and guide us unto that exercise of faith in all holy duties, an experience whereof abiding in the soul will evidence the truth of it, unto our supportment and comfort in all temptations and distresses.

Some, it may be, will say that their gift in prayer is mean and weak, — that they cannot express themselves with earnestness and fervency; and so know not whether there be any faith in exercise in their prayers or no. I answer, There is nothing at all herein; for grace may be very high where gifts are very low, and that frequently.

And it may be others will complain of the meanness of their gifts on whom they attend in prayer, which is such as they cannot accompany them in the exercise of any grace. I answer, — 1. There is no doubt but that there is a great difference in the spiritual gifts of men in this matter, some being much more effectual unto edification than others. 2. Take care that you are called in providence and duty to join with them whom you intend; that you do not first voluntarily choose that which is unto your disadvantage, and then complain of it. 3. Be their gifts never so mean, if grace in their own hearts be exercised by it, so it may be in ours: where there is no evidence thereof, I confess the case is hard. 4. Let the mind be still fixed on the matter or things uttered in prayer, so as to close with, and act faith about, what is a real object of it, and it will find its proper work in that duty.

IV. The fourth evidence of the faith of God’s elect

I come, in the next place, to instance in a peculiar way whereby true faith will evidence itself, — not always, but on some occasions: and this is by bringing the soul into a state of repentance. And three things must be spoken unto, — 1. In general, what I intend by this state of repentance. 2. What are the times and occasions, or who are the persons, wherein faith will act itself unto this end. 3. What are the duties required unto such a state.

1. By this state of repentance I do not understand merely the grace and duty of evangelical repentance; for this is absolutely inseparable from true faith, and no less necessary unto salvation than itself. He that does not truly and really repent of sin, whatever he profess himself to believe, he is no true believer. But I intend now somewhat that is peculiar, that is not common unto all, whereby on some occasions faith does evidence its power and sincerity.

Neither yet do I mean a grace, duty, or state, that is of another kind or nature from that of gospel repentance, which is common to all believers. There are not two kinds of true repentance, nor two different states of them that are truly penitent; all that I intend is an eminent degree of gospel repentance, in the habit or root, and in all the fruits and effects of it. There are various degrees in the power and exercise of gospel graces, and some may be more eminent in one, and some in another: as Abraham and Peter in faith, David and John in love. And there may be causes and occasions for the greater and higher exercise of some graces and duties at one time than at another; for we are to attend unto duties according unto our circumstances, so as we may glorify God in them, and advantage our own souls. So the apostle James directs us, chap. 5.13, “Is any afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.” Several states, and various circumstances in them, call for the peculiar exercise of several graces, and the diligent performance of several duties. And this is that which is here intended, — namely, a peculiar, constant, prevalent exercise of the grace and duties of repentance in a singular manner. What is required hereunto shall be afterwards declared.

2. As unto the persons in whom this is required, and in whom faith will evidence itself by it, they are of various sorts:–

(1.) Such as have been, by the power of their corruptions and temptations, surprised into great sins. That some true believers may be so, we have precedents both in the Old Testament and in the New; — such, I mean, as uncleanness, drunkenness, gluttony, theft, premeditated lying, oppression in dealing, and failing in profession in the time of persecution; this latter in the primitive church was never thought recoverable but by faith acting itself in a state of repentance. Such sins will have great sorrows; as we see in Peter, and the incestuous Corinthian, who was in danger to be “swallowed up with overmuch sorrow,” 2 Cor. 2.7. Where it has been thus with any, true faith will immediately work for a recovery, by a thorough humiliation and repentance, as it did in Peter; and in case that any of them shall lie longer under the power of sin, through want of effectual convictions, it will cost them dear in the issue, as it did David. But in this case, for the most part, faith will not rest in the mere jointing again the bone that was broken, or with such a recovery as gives them peace with God and their own consciences; but by a just and due remembrance of the nature of their sin, its circumstances and aggravations, the shameful unkindness towards God that was in it, the grief of the Holy Spirit, and dishonour of Christ by it, it will incline and dispose the soul to a humble, contrite frame, to a mournful walking, and the universal exercise of repentance all its days.

And, indeed, where it does not so, men’s recovery from great sins is justly to be questioned as unto their sincerity. For want hereof it is that we have so many palliated cures of great sins, followed with fearful and dangerous relapses. If a man subject to great corruptions and temptations, has by them been surprised into great actual sins, and been seemingly recovered through humiliation and repentance, if he again break the yoke of this stated repentance whereof we speak, he will quickly again be overcome, and perhaps irrecoverably. Herein, he alone that walks softly, walks safely.

(2.) It is necessary for such as have given scandal and offence by their miscarriages; this will stick very close unto any who has the least spark of saving faith. It is that which God is in a peculiar manner provoked with in the sins of his people; as in the case of David, 2 Sam. 12.14. So also Ezek. 36.20; Rom. 2.24. This keeps alive the remembrance of sin, and sets it before men continually, and is a spring, in a gracious soul, of all acts and duties of repentance. It was so in David all his days; and probably in Mary Magdalene also. Where it has been thus with any, faith will keep the soul in an humble and contrite frame, watchful against pride, elation of mind, carelessness, and sloth: it will recover godly sorrow and shame, with revenge, or self-reflection, in great abasement of mind; all which things belong to the state of repentance intended. They that can easily shake off a sense of scandal given by them, have very little of Christian ingenuity in their minds.

(3.) It is so unto such as have perplexing lusts and corruptions, which they cannot so subdue but that they will be perplexing and defiling of them; for where there are such, they will, in conjunction with temptations, frequently disquiet, wound, and defile the soul. This brings upon it weariness and outcries for deliverance, Rom. 7.24. In this state faith will put the soul on prayer, watchfulness, diligence, in opposition unto the deceit and violence of sin. But this is not all; it will not rest here, but it will give the mind such a sense of its distressed, dangerous condition, as shall fill it constantly with godly sorrow, self-abasement, and all duties of repentance. No man can hold out in such a conflict, nor maintain his peace on right grounds, who does not live in the constant exercise of repentance, — indeed, who does not endeavour in some measure to come up unto that state of it which we shall afterwards describe. For men who have unnameable corruptions working continually in their minds, by imaginations, thoughts, and affections, to think to carry it in a general way of duties and profession, they will be mistaken if they look either for victory or peace; this sort of men are, of all others, most peculiarly called unto this state and duty.

(4.) Such as would be found mourners for the sins of the age, place, and time wherein they live, with the consequents of them, in the dishonour of God, and the judgments which will ensue thereon. There are times wherein this is an especial and eminent duty, which God does highly approve of. Such are they wherein the visible church is greatly corrupted, and open abominations are found amongst men of all sorts; even as it is at this day. Then does the Lord declare how much he values the performance of this duty, — as he testifies, Ezek. 9.4, they alone shall be under his especial care in a day of public distress and calamity, — a duty wherein it is to be feared that we are most of us very defective. Now, the frame of heart required hereunto cannot be attained, nor the duty rightly performed, without that state of repentance and humiliation which we inquire into. Without it we may have transient thoughts of these things, but such as will very little affect our minds; but where the soul is kept in a constant spiritual frame, it will be ready for this duty on all occasions.

(5.) It becomes them who, having passed through the greatest part of their lives, do find all outward things to issue in vanity and vexation of spirit, as it was with Solomon when he wrote his Ecclesiastes. When a man recounts the various scenes and appearances of things which he has passed through in his life, and the various conditions he has been in, he may possibly find that there is nothing steady but sorrow and trouble. It may be so with some, I say, with some good men, with some of the best men, as it was with Jacob. Others may have received more satisfaction in their course; but if they also will look back, they shall find how little there has been in the best of their transient comforts; they will see enough to make them say, “There is nothing in these things; it is high time to take off all expectations from them.” Such persons seem to be called unto this especial exercise of repentance and mourning for the remainder of their lives.

(6.) Such as whose hearts are really wounded and deeply affected with the love of Christ, so as that they can hardly bear any longer absence from him, nor delight in the things wherein they are detained and kept out of his presence. This frame the apostle describes, 2 Cor. 5.2-4, 6, 8. They live in a groaning condition, thoroughly sensible of all the evils that accompany them in this absence of the Bridegroom; and they cannot but continually reflect upon the sins and follies which their lives have been and are filled withal, in this their distance from Christ. Whereas, therefore, their hearts are filled with inflamed affections towards him, they cannot but walk humbly and mournfully until they come unto him. It may be said that those who have experience of such affection unto the Lord Jesus cannot but have continual matter of joy in themselves; and so of all men have least need of such a state of constant humiliation and repentance. I say it is so indeed, they have such matter of joy; and therewith Christ will be formed in them more and more every day. But I say also, there is no inconsistency between spiritual joy in Christ and godly sorrow for sin; yea, no man in this life shall ever be able to maintain solid joy in his heart, without the continual working of godly sorrow also; yea, there is a secret joy and refreshment in godly sorrow, equal unto the chiefest of our joys, and a great spiritual satisfaction.

These several sorts of persons, I say, are peculiarly called unto that exercise of faith in repentance which we inquire after.

Before I proceed to show wherein this state I intend does consist, and what is required thereunto (which is the last thing proposed), I shall premise some rules for the right judging of ourselves with respect unto them. As, —

1. Faith will evidence its truth (which is that we inquire after) in its sincere endeavour after the things intended, though its attainments as unto some of them be but mean and low; yea, a sense of its coming short in a full answering of them or compliance with them, is a great ingredient in that state called unto. If, therefore, faith keep up this design in the soul, with a sincere pursuit of it, though it fail in many things, and is not sensible of any great progress it makes, it will therein evidence its sincerity.

2. Whereas there are sundry things, as we shall see, required hereunto, it is not necessary that they should be found all equally in all who design this state and frame. Some may be more eminent in one of them, some in another; some may have great helps and furtherance unto some of them in a peculiar manner, and some great obstructions in the exercise of some of them. But it is required that they be all radically in the heart, and be put forth in exercise sometimes, on their proper occasions.

3. This state, in the description of it, will sufficiently distinguish itself from that discontent of mind whereon some withdraw themselves from the occasions of life, rather condemning others than themselves, on mere weariness of the disappointments of the world, which has cast some into crooked paths.

1. The first thing required hereunto is weanedness from the world. The rule of most men is, that all things are well enough with them, with respect unto the world, whilst they keep themselves from known particular sins in the use of the things of it. Whilst they do so in their own apprehensions, they care not how much they cleave unto it, — are even swallowed up in the businesses and occasions of it. Yea, some will pretend unto and make an appearance of a course of life more than ordinarily strict, whilst their hearts and affections cleave visibly to this world and the things of it. But the foundation of the work of faith we inquire into must be laid in mortification and weanedness from the world.

In ancient times, sundry persons designed a strict course of mortification and penitence, and they always laid the foundation of it in a renunciation of the world; but they fell most of them into a threefold mistake, which ruined the whole undertaking. For, —

(1.) They fell into a neglect of such natural and moral duties as were indispensably required of them: they forsook all care of duties belonging unto them in their relations as fathers, children, husbands, wives, and the like, betaking themselves into solitudes; and hereby also they lost all that political and Christian usefulness which the principles of human society and of our religion do oblige us unto. They took themselves unto a course of life rendering the most important Christian duties, such as respect other men of all sorts, in all fruits of love, utterly impossible unto them. They could be no more useful nor helpful in the places and circumstances wherein they were set by divine Providence: which was a way wherein they could not expect any blessing from God. No such thing is required unto that renunciation of the world which we design; with nothing that should render men useless unto all men do Christian duties interfere. We are still to use the world whilst we are in it, but not abuse it; as we have opportunity, we must still do good unto all. Yea, none will be so ready to the duties of life as those who are most mortified to the world. Thoughts of retirement from usefulness, unless [under] a great decay of outward strength, are but temptations.

(2.) They engaged themselves into a number of observances nowhere required of them: such were their outward austerities, fastings, choice of meats, times of prayer; whereunto, at length, self-maceration and disciplines were added. In a scrupulous, superstitious observance of these things their whole design at length issued, giving rise and occasion unto innumerable evils. Faith directs to no such thing; it guides to no duty but according to the rule of the word.

(3.) At length they began to engage themselves by vow into such peculiar orders and rules of a pretended religious life as were by some of their leaders presented unto them; and this ruined the whole.

However, the original design was good, — namely, such a renunciation of the world as might keep it and all the things of it from being a hindrance unto us in an humble walk before God, or any thing that belongs thereunto. We are to be crucified unto the world, and the world unto us, by the cross of Christ; we are to be so in a peculiar manner, if we are under the conduct of faith, in a way of humiliation and repentance. And the things ensuing are required hereunto:–

(1.) The mortification of our affections unto the desirable things of this life: they are naturally keen and sharp-set upon them, and do tenaciously adhere unto them; especially they are so when things have an inlet into them by nearness of relation, as husbands, wives, children, and the like. Persons are apt to think they can never love them enough, never do enough for them (and it is granted they are to be preferred above all other earthly things); but where they fill and possess the heart, where they weaken and obtund the affections unto things spiritual, heavenly, and eternal, unless we are mortified unto them, the heart will never be in a good frame, nor is capable of that degree in the grace of repentance which we seek. It is so with the most, as unto all other useful things in this world, — as wealth, estates, and peace: whilst they are conversant about them, as they suppose in a lawful manner, they think they can never overvalue them, nor cleave too close unto them.

But here we must begin, if we intend to take any one step into this holy retirement. The edge of our affections and desires must be taken off from these things: and hereunto three things are necessary:–

[1.] A constant, clear view and judgment of their uncertainty, emptiness, and disability to give any rest or satisfaction. Uncertain riches, uncertain enjoyments, perishing things, passing away, yea, snares, burdens, hindrances, the Scripture represents them to be; — and so they are. If the mind were continually charged home with this consideration of them, it would daily abate its delight and satisfaction in them.

[2.] A constant endeavour for conformity unto Christ crucified. It is the cross of Christ whereby we are crucified unto the world and all things in it. When the mind is much taken up with thoughts of Christ, as dying, how and for what he died, if it has any spark of saving faith in it, it will turn away the eyes from looking on the desirable things of this world with any delightful, friendly aspect. Things will appear unto it as dead and discoloured.

[3.] The fixing of them steadily on things spiritual and eternal; whereof I have discoursed at large elsewhere. The whole of this advice is given us by the apostle, Col. 3.1-5.

Herein faith begins its work, this is the first lesson it takes out of the gospel, — namely, that of self-denial, whereof this mortification is a principal part. Herein it labours to cast off every burden, and the sin that does so easily beset us. Unless some good degree be attained here, all farther attempts in this great duty will be fruitless. Do you, then, any of you, judge yourselves under any of those qualifications before mentioned, which render this duty and work of faith necessary unto you? Sit down here at the threshold, and reckon with yourselves that unless you can take your hearts more off from the world, — unless your affections and desires be mortified and crucified, and dead in you, in a sensible degree and measure, — unless you endeavour every day to promote the same frame in your minds, — you will live and die strangers to this duty.

(2.) This mortification of our affections towards these things, our love, desire, and delight, will produce a moderation of passions about them, as fear, anger, sorrow, and the like; such will men be stirred up unto in those changes, losses, crosses, which these things are subject unto. They are apt to be tender and soft in those things; they take every thing to heart; every affliction and disappointment is aggravated, as if none almost had such things befall them as themselves; every thing puts them into a commotion. Hence are they often surprised with anger about trifles, influenced by fear in all changes, with other turbulent passions. Hence are men morose, peevish, froward, apt to be displeased and take offence on all occasions. The subduing of this frame, the casting out of these dispositions and perverse inclinations, is part of the work of faith. When the mind is weaned from the world and the things of it, it will be sedate, quiet, composed, not easily moved with the occurrences and occasions of life: it is dead unto them, and in a great measure unconcerned in them. This is that “moderation” of mind wherein the apostle would have us excel, Phil. 4.5; for he would have it so eminent as that it might appear unto “all men,” — that is, who are concerned in us, as relations, families, and other societies. This is that which principally renders us useful and exemplary in this world; and for the want whereof many professors fill themselves and others with disquietments, and give offence unto the world itself. This is required of all believers; but they will be eminent in it in whom faith works this weanedness from the world, in order unto a peculiar exercise of repentance.

(3.) There is required hereunto an unsolicitousness about present affairs and future events. There is nothing given us in more strict charge in the Scripture, than that we should be careful in nothing, solicitous about nothing, take no thought for tomorrow, but to commit all things unto the sovereign disposal of our God and Father, who has taken all these things into his own care. But so it is come to pass, through the vanity of the minds of men, that what should be nothing unto them is almost their all. Care about things present, and solicitousness about things to come, in private and public concerns, take up most of their thoughts and contrivances. But this also will faith subdue on this occasion, where it tends unto the promotion of repentance, by weanedness from the world. It will bring the soul into a constant, steady, universal resignation of itself unto the pleasure of God, and satisfaction in his will. Hereon it will use the world as if it used it not, with an absolute unconcernment in it as unto what shall fall out. This is that which our Saviour presses so at large, and with so many divine reasonings, Matt. 6.25-34.

(4.) A constant preference of the duties of religion before and above the duties and occasions of life. These things will continually interfere if a diligent watch be not kept over them, and they will contend for preference; and their success is according to the interest and estimation which the things themselves have in our minds. If the interest of the world be there prevalent, the occasions of it will be preferred before religious duties; and they shall, for the most part, be put off unto such seasons wherein we have nothing else to do, and it may be fit for little else. But where the interest of spiritual things prevail it will be otherwise, according to the rule given us by our blessed Saviour, “Seek first the kingdom of God and the righteousness thereof,” etc., Matt. 6.33.

I confess this rule is not absolute as unto all seasons and occasions: there may be a time wherein the observation of the Sabbath must give place to the pulling an ox or an ass out of a pit; and on all such occasions the rule is, that mercy is to be preferred before sacrifice. But, in the ordinary course of our walking before God, faith will take care that a due attendance unto all duties of religion be preferred to all the occasions of this life; they shall not be shuffled off on trifling pretences, nor cast into such unseasonable seasons as otherwise they will be. There also belongs unto that weanedness from this world, which is necessary unto an eminency in degrees of humiliation and repentance, watching unto prayer.

(5.) Willingness and readiness to part with all for Christ and the gospel. This is the animating principle of the great duty of taking up the cross, and self-denial therein. Without some measure of it in sincerity, we cannot be Christ’s disciples; but in the present case there is an eminent degree, which Christ calls the hating of all things in comparison of him, that is required, — such a readiness as rejects with contempt all arguing against it, — such as renders the world no burden unto it in any part of our race, — such as establishes a determinate resolution in the mind, that as God calls, the world and all the concernments of it should be forsaken for Christ and the gospel. Our countenances and discourses in difficulties do not argue that this resolution is prevalent in us; but so it is required in that work of faith which we are in the consideration of.

2. A second thing that belongs hereunto is a peculiar remembrance of sin, and converse about it in our minds, with self-displicency and abhorrence. God has promised in his covenant that he “will remember our sins no more,” — that is, to punish them; but it does not thence follow that we should no more remember them, to be humbled for them. Repentance respects sin always; wherever, therefore, that is, there will be a continual calling sin to remembrance. Says the psalmist, “My sin is ever before me.”

There is a threefold calling our past sins unto remembrance:–

(1.) With delight and contentment. Thus is it with profligate sinners, whose bodies are grown unserviceable unto their youthful lusts. They call over their former sins, roll them over in their minds, express their delight in them by their words, and have no greater trouble but that, for the want of strength or opportunity, they cannot still live in the practice of them: this is to be old in wickedness, and to have their bones filled with the sins of their youth. So do many in this age delight in filthy communication, unclean society, and all incentives of lust, — a fearful sign of being given over unto a reprobate mind, a heart that cannot repent.

(2.) There is a remembrance of sin unto disquietment, terror, and despair. Where men’s consciences are not seared with a hot iron, sin will visit their minds ever and anon with a troublesome remembrance of itself, with its aggravating circumstances. For the most part men hide themselves from this visitor, — they are not at home, not at leisure to converse with it, but shift it off, like insolvent debtors, from day to day, with a few transient thoughts and words. But sometimes it will not be so put off, — it will come with an arrest or a warrant from the law of God, that shall make them stand and give an account of themselves. Hereon they are filled with disquietments, and some with horror and despair; which they seek to pacify and divert themselves from by farther emerging [immersing?] themselves in the pursuit of their lusts. The case of Cain, Gen. 4.13, 16, 17.

(3.) There is a calling former sins to remembrance as a furtherance of repentance; and so they are a threefold glass unto the soul, wherein it has a treble object:–

[1.] It sees in them the depravation of its nature, the evil quality of that root which has brought forth such fruit; and they see in it their own folly, how they were cheated by sin and Satan; they see the unthankfulness and unkindness towards God wherewith they were accompanied. This fills them with holy shame, Rom. 6.21. This is useful and necessary unto repentance. Perhaps if men did more call over their former sins and miscarriages than they do, they would walk more humbly and warily than they do for the most part. So David in his age prays for a renewed sense of the pardon of the sins of his youth, Ps. 25.7.

[2.] The soul sees in them a representation of the grace, patience, and pardoning mercy of God. “Thus and thus was it with me: God might justly have cast me off for ever; he might have cut me off in the midst of these sins, so as that I should have had no leisure to have cried for mercy; and perhaps some of them were sins long continued in. O the infinite patience of God, that spared me! The infinite grace and mercy of God, that forgave unto me these provoking iniquities!” This frame is expressed, Ps. 103.3-4.

[3.] The soul sees herein the efficacy of the mediation and blood of Christ, 1 John 2.2. “Whence is it that I have deliverance from the guilt of these sins that way was made for the advancing of grace in the pardon of them? Whence is it that my soul and conscience are purged from the stain and filth of them?” Here the whole glory of the love and grace of Christ in his mediation, with the worth of the atonement that he made, and the ransom that he paid, with the efficacy of his blood to purge us from all our sins, is represented unto the mind of the believer. So “out of the eater comes forth meat;” and thereby a reconciliation is made between the deepest humiliation and a refreshing sense of the love of God and peace with him.

This, therefore, a soul which is engaged into the paths of repentance will constantly apply itself unto; and it is faith alone whereunto we are beholding for the views of these things in sin. In no other light will they be seen therein. Their aspect in any other is horrid and terrifying, suited only to fill the soul with dread and horror, and thoughts of fleeing from God. But this view of them is suited to stir up all graces unto a holy exercise.

3. Hereon godly sorrow will ensue: this, indeed, is the very life and soul of repentance; so the apostle declares it, 2 Cor. 7.9-11. And it comprises all that is spoken in the Scripture about a broken heart and a contrite spirit, which expresses itself by sighs, tears, mourning, yea, watering our beds with tears, and the like. David gives so great an instance in himself hereof, and that so frequently repeated, as that we need no other exemplification of it. I shall not at large insist upon it, but only show, — (1.) What it does respect; and, (2.) Wherein it does consist, — how faith works it in the soul.

(1.) What it does respect; and it has a twofold object:–

[1.] Such past sins as, by reason of their own nature or their aggravations, have left the greatest impression on the conscience. It respects, indeed, in general, all past and known sins that can be called to remembrance; but usually, in the course of men’s lives, there have been some sins whose wounds, on various accounts, have been most deep and sensible: these are the especial objects of this godly sorrow. So was it with David; in the whole course of his life, after his great fall, he still bewailed his miscarriage therein; the like respect he had unto the other sins of his youth. And none have been so preserved but they may fix on some such provocation as may be a just cause of this sorrow all their days.

[2.] It respects the daily incursions of infirmities, in failings, negligence in our frames or actions, — such as the best are subject to. These are a matter of continual sorrow and mourning to a gracious soul that is engaged in this duty and way of repentance.

(2.) Wherein it does consist; and the things following do concur therein:–

[1.] Self-judging. This is the ground and spring of all godly sorrow, and thereon of repentance, turning away the displeasure of God, 1 Cor. 11.31. This the soul does continually with reference unto the sins mentioned; it passes sentence on itself every day. This cannot be done without grief and sorrow; for although the soul finds it a necessary duty, and is thereon well pleased with it, yet all such self-reflections are like afflictions, not joyous, but grievous.

[2.] The immediate effect hereof is constant humiliation. He that so judges himself knows what frame of mind and spirit becomes him thereon. This takes away the ground from all pride, elation of mind, self-pleasing: where this self-judging is constant they can have no place. This is that frame of mind which God approves so highly, and has made such promises unto; the humble are everywhere proposed as the especial object of his own care; his respect is to them that are of a broken heart, and of a contrite spirit: and this will grow on no other root. No man, by his utmost diligence, on any argument or consideration, shall be able to bring himself into that humble frame wherein God is delighted, unless he lay the foundation of it in continual self-judging on the account of former and present sins. Men may put on a fashion, frame, and garb of humility; but really humble they are not. Where this is wanting, pride is in the throne, in the heart, though humility be in the countenance and deportment. And herein does this godly sorrow much consist.

[3.] There is in it a real trouble and disquietment of mind: for sorrow is an afflictive passion; it is contrary to that composure which the mind would constantly be at. Howbeit, this trouble is not such as is opposed unto spiritual peace and refreshment; for it is an effect of faith, and faith will produce nothing that is really inconsistent with peace with God, or that shall impeach it: but it is opposite unto other comforts. It is a trouble that all earthly things cannot take off and remove. This trouble of his mind, in his sorrow for sin, David on all occasions expresses unto God; and sometimes it rises to a great and dreadful height, as it is expressed, Ps. 88, throughout. Hereby the soul is sometimes overwhelmed; yet so as to relieve itself by pouring out its complaint before the Lord, Ps. 102.1.

[4.] This inward frame of trouble, mourning, and contriteness, will express itself on all just occasions by the outward signs of sighs, tears, and mournful complaints, Ps. 31.10. So David continually mentions his tears on the like account; and Peter, on the review of his sin, wept bitterly; and Mary washed the feet of Christ with her tears; — as we should all do. A soul filled with sorrow will run over and express its inward frame by these outward signs. I speak not of those self-whole, jolly professors which these days abound with; but such as faith engages in this duty will on all occasions abound in these things. I fear there is amongst us too great a pretence that men’s natural tempers and constitutions are incompliant with these things. Where God makes the heart soft, and godly sorrow does not only sometimes visit it, but dwell in it, it will not be wholly wanting in these expressions of it; and what it comes short of one way it may make up in another. Whatever the case be as to tears, it is certain that to multiply sighs and groans for sin is contrary to no man’s constitution, but only to sin ingrafted in his constitution.

[5.] This godly sorrow will constantly incite the mind unto all duties, acts, and fruits of repentance whatever; it is never barren nor heartless, but being both a grace and a duty, it will stir up the soul unto the exercise of all graces, and the performance of all duties that are of the same kind. This the apostle declares fully, 2 Cor. 7.11.

This, therefore, is another thing which belongs unto that state of repentance which faith will bring the soul unto, and whereby it will evidence itself on the occasions before mentioned; and indeed, if this sorrow be constant and operative, there is no clearer evidence in us of saving faith. They are blessed who thus mourn. I had almost said, it is worth all other evidences, as that without which they are none at all; where this frame is not in some good measure, the soul can have no pregnant evidence of its good estate.

4. Another thing that belongs to this state, is outward observances becoming it; such as abstinence, unto the due mortification of the flesh, — not in such things or ways as are hurtful unto nature, and really obstructive of greater duties. There have been great mistakes in this matter; most men have fallen into extremes about it, as is usual with the most in like cases. They did retain in the Papacy, from the beginning of the apostasy of the church from the rule of the Scripture, an opinion of the necessity of mortification unto a penitent state; but they mistook the nature of it, and placed it for the most part in that which the apostle calls the “doctrine of devils,” when he foretold believers of that hypocritical apostasy, 1 Tim. 4.1-3. Forbidding to marry, engaging one sort of men by vows against the use of that ordinance of God for all men, and enjoining abstinence from meats in various laws and rules, under pretence of great austerity, was the substance of their mortification. Hereunto they added habits, fasting disciplines, rough garments, and the like pretended self-macerations innumerable. But the vanity of this hypocrisy has been long since detected. But therewithal most men are fallen into the other extreme. Men do generally judge that they are at their full liberty in and for the use of the things esteemed refreshments of nature; yea, they judge themselves not to be obliged unto any retrenchment in garments, diet, with the free use of all things in themselves lawful, when they are under the greatest necessity of godly sorrow and express repentance. But there is here a no less pernicious mistake than in the former excess; and it is that which our Lord Jesus Christ gives us in charge to watch against, Luke 21.34-36.

This, therefore, I say, is required unto the state we inquire after: Those things which restrain the satisfaction of the appetite, with an aversation of the joyous enticements of the world, walking heavily and mournfully, expressing an humble and afflicted frame of spirit, are necessary in such a season. The mourners in Zion are not to be ashamed of their lot and state, but to profess it in all suitable outward demonstration of it; — not in fantastical habits and gestures, like sundry orders of the monks; not in affected forms of speech, and uncouth deportments, like some among ourselves; but in such ways as naturally express the inward frame of mind inquired after.

5. There is required hereunto a firm watch over solitudes and retirements of the night and day, with a continual readiness to conflict temptations in their first appearance, that the soul be not surprised by them. The great design, in the exercise of this grace, is to keep and preserve the soul constantly in an humble and contrite frame; if that be lost at any time, the whole design is for that season disappointed. Wherefore, faith engages the mind to watch against two things:– (1.) The times wherein we may lose this frame; (2.) The means whereby. And, —

(1.) For the times. There are none to be so diligently watched over as our solitudes and retirements by night or by day. What we are in them, that we are indeed, and no more. They are either the best or the worst of our times, wherein the principle that is predominant in us will show and act itself. Hence some are said “to devise evil on their beds, and when the morning is light they practice it,” Mic. 2.1. Their solitude in the night serves them to think on, contrive, and delight in, all that iniquity which they intend by day to practice, according to their power. And on the other side, the work of a gracious soul in such seasons is to be seeking after Christ, Cant. 3.1, — to be meditating of God, as the psalmist often expresses it. This, therefore, the humble soul is diligently watchful in, that at such seasons vain imaginations, which are apt to obtrude themselves on the mind, do not carry it away, and cause it to lose its frame, though but for a season; yea, these are the times which it principally lays hold on for its improvement: then does it call over all those considerations of sin and grace, which are meet to affect it and abase it.

(2.) For the means of the loss of an humble frame. They are temptations; these labour to possess the mind either by sudden surprisals or continued solicitations. A soul engaged by faith in this duty is aware always of their deceit and violence; it knows that if they enter into it, and do entangle it, though but for a season, they will quite cast out or deface that humble, contrite, broken frame, which it is its duty to preserve. And there is none who has the least grain of spiritual wisdom, but may understand of what sort these temptations are which he is obnoxious unto. Here, then, faith sets the soul on its watch and guard continually, and makes it ready to combat every temptation on its first appearance, for then it is weakest and most easily to be subdued; it will suffer them to get neither time, nor ground, nor strength: so it preserves an humble frame, — delivers it frequently from the jaws of this devourer.

6. Although the soul finds satisfaction in this condition, though it be never sinfully weary of it, nor impatient under it, yea, though it labour to grow and thrive in the spirit and power of it, yet it is constantly accompanied with deep sighs and groanings for its deliverance. And these groanings respect both what it would be delivered from and what it would attain unto; between which there is an interposition of some sighs and groans of nature, for a continuance in its present state.

(1.) That which this groaning respects deliverance from is the remaining power of sin; this is that which gives the soul its distress and disquietment. Occasionally, indeed, its humility, mourning, and self-abasement are increased by it; but this is through the efficacy of the grace of Christ Jesus, — in its own nature it tends to hurt and ruin. This the apostle emphatically expresses in his own person, as bearing the place and state of other believers, Rom. 7.24.

And this constant groaning for deliverance from the power of sin excites the soul to pursue it unto its destruction. No effect of faith, such as this is, is heartless or fruitless; it will be operative towards what it aims at, — and that in this case is the not-being of sin: this the soul groans after, and therefore contends for. This is the work of faith, and “faith without works is dead:” wherefore it will continually pursue sin unto all its retirements and reserves. As it can have no rest from it, so it will give neither rest nor peace unto it; yea, a constant design after the not-being of sin, is a blessed evidence of a saving faith.

(2.) That which it looks after is the full enjoyment of glory, Rom. 8.23. This, indeed, is the grace and duty of all believers, of all who have received the first-fruits of the Spirit; they all in their measure groan that their very bodies may be delivered from being the subject and seat of sin, — that they may be redeemed out of that bondage. It is a bondage to the very body of a believer, to be instrumental unto sin. This we long for its perfect deliverance from, which shall complete the grace of adoption in the whole person. But it is most eminent in those who excel in a state of humiliation and repentance. They, if any, groan earnestly, — this they sigh, breathe, and pant after continually; and their views of the glory that shall be revealed give them refreshment in their deepest sorrows; they wait for the Lord herein more than they that wait for the morning. Do not blame a truly penitent soul if he longs to be dissolved; the greatness and excellency of the change which he shall have thereby is his present life and relief.

(3.) But there is a weight on this desire, by the interposition of nature for the continuation of its present being, which is inseparable from it. But faith makes a reconciliation of these repugnant inclinations, keeping the soul from weariness and impatience. And this it does by reducing the mind unto its proper rock: it lets it know that it ought not absolutely to be under the conduct of either of these desires. First, it keeps them from excess, by teaching the soul to regulate them both by the word of God: this it makes the rule of such desires and inclinations; which whilst they are regulated by, we shall not offend in them. And it mixes a grace with them both that makes them useful, — namely, constant submission to the will of God. “This grace would have, and this nature would have; but,” says the soul, “the will and sovereign pleasure of God is my rule: Not my will, holy Father, but thy will be done.” We have the example of Christ himself in this matter.

7. The last thing I shall mention, as that which completes the state described, is abounding in contemplations of things heavenly, invisible, and eternal. None have more holy and humble thoughts than truly penitent souls, none more high and heavenly contemplations. You would take them to be all sighs, all mourning, all dejection of spirit; but none are more above, — none more near the high and lofty One. As he dwells with them, Isa. 57.15, so they dwell with him in a peculiar manner, by these heavenly contemplations. Those who have lowest thoughts of themselves, and are most filled with self-abasement, have the clearest views of divine glory. The bottom of a pit or well gives the best prospect of the heavenly luminaries; and the soul in its deepest humiliations has for the most part the clearest views of things within the vail.