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assurance of them? When you found a want of faith and love, have not you weakened them more, and so made them less discernible? Have you not fed your unbelief, and disputed for your doubtings, and taken satan's part against yourself; and (which is far worse) have you never, through these doubtings, entertained hard thoughts of God, and presented him to your soul, as unwilling to shew you mercy, and in an unlovely, dreadful, hideous shape, fitter to affright you from him, than to draw you to him and likelier to provoke your hatred than your love? If you have not done
? thus, I know too many troubled souls that have. And if you have, you have taken a very unlikely way to get assur
If you would have been certain that you loved God in sincerity, you should have laboured to love him more, till you had been certain ; and that you might do so, you should have kept better thoughts of God in your mind. You will hardly love him while you think of him as evil, or at least as hurtful to you. Never forget this rule which I laid you down in the beginning, that, He that will ever love God, must apprehend him to be good. And the more large and deep are our apprehensions of his goodness, the more will be our love. For such as God appears to be to men's fixed conceivings, such will their affections be to him. For the fixed, deep conceptions, or apprehensions of the mind, do lead about the soul, and guide the life.
I conclude therefore with this important and importunate request to you, that, Though it be a duty necessary in its time and place, to examine ourselves concerning our sincerity, in our several graces and duties to God; yet be sure that the first and far greater part of your time, and pains, and care, and inquiries, be for the getting and increasing of your grace, than for the discerning it; and to perform your duty rightly, than to discern your right performance. And when you confer with ministers, or others, that may teach you, see that you ask ten times at least, • How should I get or increase my faith, my love to Christ, and to his people ?' For once that you ask, “How shall I know that I believe or love? Yet so contrary hath been, and still is, the practice of most Christians among us in this point, that I have heard it twenty times asked, How shall I know that I truly love the brethren ? For once that I have heard it demanded, ! How should I bring my heart to
love them better? And the like I may say of love to Christ himself.
I should next have spoke of the second part of the Direction, How much our assurance and comfort will still depend on our actual obedience. But this will fall in in handling the two or three next following Directions.
Direct. XXIII. My next advice is this, ' Think not those doubts and troubles of mind, which are caused and continued by wilful disobedience, will ever be well healed but by the healing of that disobedience; or that the same means must be used, and will suffice to the cure of such troubles; which must be used, and will suffice to cure the troubles of a tender conscience, and of an obedient Christian, whose trouble is merely through mistakes of their condition.'
I will begin with the latter part of this Direction. He that is troubled upon mere mistakes, may be quieted upon the removal of them. If he understood not the universal extent of Christ's satisfaction, or of the covenant or conditional grant of Christ and life in him; and if upon this he be troubled, as thinking that he is not included, the convincing him of his error may suffice to the removal of his trouble. If he be troubled through his mistaking the nature of true faith, or true love, or other graces, and so think that he hath them not, when he hath them, the discovery of his error may be the quieting of his soul. The soul that is troubled upon such mistakes, must be tenderly dealt with.
. Much more they that are disquieted by groundless fears, or too deep apprehensions of the wrath or justice of God, of the evil of sin, and of their unworthiness, and for want of fuller apprehensions of the lovingkindness of God, and the tender, compassionate nature of Christ. We can scarce handle such souls too gently. God would have all to be tenderly dealt with, that are tender of displeasing and dishonouring him by sin. God's own language may teach all ministers what language we should use to such, Isa. lvii. 15--21. “Thus saith the high and lofty One, that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. For I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always wrath. . For the spirit should fail before me, and the souls which I have made, &c. But the
wicked are like the troubled sea when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.” Much more tender language may such expect from Christ in the Gospel, where is contained a fuller revelation of his grace. If Mary, a poor, sinful wo
. man, lie weeping at his feet, and washing them with her tears, he hath not the heart to spurn her away ; but openly proclaims the forgiveness of her many sins. As soon as ever the heart of a sinner is turned from his sins, the heart of Christ is turned to him. The very sum of all the Gospel is contained in those precious words, which fully express this: “ Come unto me all ye that labour, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light;" Matt. xi. 28–30. When the prodigal (Luke xi. 20.), doth once come home to his father, with sorrow and shame, confessing his unworthiness, yea, but resolved to confess it; his father preventeth him, and sees him afar off, and stays not his coming, but runs and meets him. And when he comes to him, he doth not upbraid him with his sins, nor say, Thou rebel, why hast thou forsaken me, and preferred harlots and luxury before me? Nay, he doth not so much as frown upon him, but compassionately falls on his neck and kisseth him. Alas, God knows that a poor sinner in this humbled, troubled case, hath burden enough on his back already, and indeed more than he is able of himself to bear. The sense of his own sinful folly and misery is burden enough. If God should add to this his frowns and terrors, and should spurn at a poor sinner that lies prostrate at his feet, in tears or terrors, who then should be able to stand before him, or to look him in the face? But he will not break the bruised reed; he will not make heavier the burden of a sinner. He calls them to come to him for ease and rest, and not to oppress them, or kill them with terrors. We have not a king like Rehoboam, that will multiply our pressures; but one whose office it is to break our yokes, and loose our bonds, and set us free. When he was a preacher himself on earth, you may gather what doctrine he preached by his text, which he chose at one of his first public sermons; which, as you may find in Luke iv. 18, 19. was this, " The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor;
he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted; to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised ; to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” O if a poor, bruised, wounded soul, had but heard this sermon from his Saviour's own mouth, what heart-meltings would it have caused? What pangs of love would it have raised in him? You would sure have believed then that the Lord is gracious, when “all (that heard him) bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words that proceeded out of his mouth;” Luke iv. 22. I would desire no more for the comfort of such a soul, than to see such a sight, and feel such a feeling as the poor penitent prodigal did, when he found himself in the arms of his father, and felt the kisses of his mouth, and was surprised so unexpectedly with such a torrent of love. The soul that hath once seen and felt this, would never sure have such hard and doubtful thoughts of God, except through ignorance they knew not whose arms they were that thus embraced them, or whose voice it was that thus bespoke them; or unless the remembrance of it were gone out of their minds. You see then what is God's own language to humbled penitents, and what is the method of his dealings with them; and such must be the language and dealing of his ministers : they must not wound when Christ would heal; nor make sad the heart that Christ would comfort, and would not have made sad ; Ezek, xiii. 22.
But will this means serve turn, or must the same course be taken to remove the sorrows of the wilfully disobedient? No: God takes another course himself, and prescribes another course to his ministers; and requires another course from the sinner himself. But still remember who it is that I speak of: it is not the ordinary, unavoidable infirmities of the saints that I speak of; such as they cannot be rid of, though they fain would; such as Paul speaks of, Rom. vii. 19. “The good that I would do, I do not:” and when I would do good, evil is present with me.” And Gal. v. 17. “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, &c. so that we cannot do the things that we would." A true Christian would love God more perfectly, and delight in him more abundantly, and bring every thought in subjection to his will, and subdue the very remnants of carnal concupiscence, that there should be no stirrings of lust or unjust anger, or worldly desires, or pride within him; and that no vain word might pass his lips: all this he would do, but he cannot. Striving against these unavoidable infirmities, is conquering.
But though we cannot keep under every motion of concupiscence, we can forbear the execution. Anger will stir upon provocations; but we may restrain it in degree, that it set us not in a flame, and do not much distemper or discompose our minds. And we can forbid our tongues all raging, furious, or abusive words in our anger ; all cursing, swearing, or reproachful speaking. If an envious thought against one brother do arise in our hearts, because he is preferred before us, we may hate it and repress it, and chide our hearts for it, and command our tongues to speak well of him, and no evil. Some pride and self-esteem will remain and be stirring in us, do what we can, it is a sin so deeply rooted in our corrupt natures. But yet we can detest it, and resist it, and meet with abhorrence of our self-conceited thoughts, and rejoicings in our own reputations and fame, and inward heart-risings against those that undervalue us, and stand in the way of our repute; and we may forbear our boasting language, and our contestings for our credit, and our excuses of our sins, and our backbitings and secret defaming of those that cross us in the way of credit. We may forbear our quarrels, and estrangements, and dividings from our brethren, and stiff insisting on our own conceits, and expecting that others should make our judgments their rule, and say and do as we would have them, and all dance after our pipe; all which are the effects of inward pride. We cannot, while we are on earth, be free from all inordinate love of the world, and the riches and honours of it; but we may so watch against it and repress it, as that it shall neither be preferred before God, nor draw us to unlawful ways of gain, by lying, deceit, and overreaching our brethren; by stealing, unjust or unmerciful dealings, oppressing the poor, and insulting over those that are in the way of our thriving, and crushing them that would hinder our aspiring designs, and treading them down that will not bow to us, and taking revenge of them that have crossed or disparaged us, or cruelly exacting all our rights and debts of the poor, and squeezing the purses of subjects or tenants, or those that we bargain with, like a sponge, as long as any thing will come ont. Yea, we may so far subdue our love of the world, as