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it but only for that present time, you will never then have a settled peace in your soul : besides, the great wrong you do to God, by necessitating him to be so often renewing such discoveries, and repeating the same words to you so often
If your child offend you, would you have him when he is pardoned, no longer to believe it, than you are telling it him? Should he be still asking you over and over every day, “Father, am I forgiven, or no ?' Should not one answer serve his turn? Will you not believe that your money is in your purse or chest any longer than you are looking on it? Or that your corn is growing on your land, or your cattle in your grounds, any longer than you are looking on them? By this course a rich man should have no more content than a beggar, longer than he is looking on his money, , or goods, or lands; and when he is looking on one, he should again lose the comfort of all the rest. What hath God given you a memory for, but to lay up former apprehensions, and discoveries, and experiences, and make use of them on all meet occasions afterwards ? Let me therefore persuade you to this great and necessary work. When God hath once resolved your doubts, and shewed you the truth of your faith, love or obedience, write it down, if you can, in your book, (as I have advised you in my Treatise of Rest,) 'Such a day, upon serious perusal of my heart, I found it thus and thus with myself.' Or at least, write it deep in your memory; and do not suffer any fancies, or fears, or light surmises to cause you to question this again, as long as you fall not from the obedience or faith which you then discovered. Alas! man's apprehension is a most mutable thing! If you leave your soul open to every new apprehension, you will never be settled: you may think two contrary things of yourself in an hour. You have not always the same opportunity for right discerning, nor the same clearness of apprehension, nor the same outward means to help you, nor the same inward assistance of the Holy Ghost. When you have these, therefore, make use of them, and fix your wavering soul, and take your question and doubt as resolved, and do not tempt God, by calling him to new answers again and again, as if he had given you no answer before. You will never want some occasion of jealousy and fears as long as you have corruption in your heart, and sin in your life, and a tempter to be troubling
you ; but if you will suffer any such wind to shake your peace and comforts, you will be always shaking and fluctuating, as a wave of the sea. And you must labour to apprehend not only the uncomfortableness, but the sinfulness also of this course. For though the questioning your own sincerity on every small occasion, be not near so great a sin as the questioning of God's merciful nature, or the truth of his promise, or his readiness to shew mercy to the penitent soul, or the freeness and fulness of the covenant of grace ; yet even this is no contemptible sin. For, 1. You are doing satan's work, in denying God's graces, and accusing yourself falsely, and so pleasing the devil in disquieting yourself. 2. You slander God's Spirit as well as your own soul, in saying, he hath not renewed and sanctified you, when he hath. 3. This will necessitate you to further unthankfulness, for who can be thankful for a mercy, that thinks he never received it? 4. This will shut against all those praises of God, and that heavenly, joyful commemoration of his great, unspeakable love to your soul, which should be the blessed work of your life. 5. This will much abate your love to God, and your sense of the love of Christ in dying for you, and all the rest of your graces, while you are still questioning your interest in God's love. 6. It will lay such a discouragement on your soul, as will both destroy the sweetness of all duties to you (which is a great evil), and thereby make you backward to them, and heartless in them : you will have no mind of praying, meditation, or other duties, because all will seem dark to you, and you will think that every thing makes against you. 7. You rob all about you of that cheerful, encouraging example and
, persuasion which they should have from you, and by which you might win many souls to God. And contrarily you are a discouragement and hindrance to them. I could mention many more sinful aggravations of your denying God's graces in you on every small occasion, which methinks should
make you be very tender of it, if not to avoid unnecessary trouble to yourself, yet at least to avoid sin against God.
And what I have said of evidences and assurance, I would have you understand also of your experiences. You must not make use only at the present of your experiences, but lay'them up for the time to come.
Nor must you tempt God so far as to expect new experiences upon every new
scruple or doubt of yours, as the Israelites expected new miracles in the wilderness, still forgetting the old. If a scholar should in his studies forget all that he hath read and learned, and all the resolutions of his doubts which in study he hath attained, and leave his understanding still as an unwritten paper, as a receptive of every mutation and new apprehension, and contrary conceit, as if he had never studied the point before, he will make but a poor proficiency, and have but a fluctuated, unsettled brain. A scholar should make all the studies of his life to compose one entire image of truth in his soul, as a painter makes every line he draws to compose one entire picture of a man; and as a weaver makes every thread to compose one web; so should you make all former examinations, discoveries, evidences, and experiences, compose one full discovery of your condition, that so you may have a settled peace of soul: and see that you tie both ends together, and neither look on your present troubled state without your former, lest you be unthankful, , and unjustly discouraged ; nor on your former state without observance of your present frame of heart and life, lest you deceive yourself, or grow secure. O that you could well observe this Direction! How much would it help you to escape extremes, and conduce to the settling of a wellgrounded peace, and at once to the well ordering of your whole conversation !
Direct. XXVIII. · Be very careful that you create not perplexities and terrors to your own soul, by rash misinterpretations of any passages either of Scripture, of God's providence, or of the sermons or private speeches of ministers : but resolve with patience, yea, with gladness, to suffer preachers to deal with their congregations in the most searching, serious and awakening manner, lest your weakness should be a wrong to the whole assembly, and possibly the undoing of many a sensual, drowsy or obstinate soul, who will not be convinced and awakened by a comforting way of preaching, or by any smoother or gentler means.'
Here are three dangerous enemies to your peace, which (for brevity) I warn you of together.
1. Rash misinterpretations and misapplications of Scripture. Some weak-headed, troubled Christians can scarce read a chapter, or hear one read, but they will find something which they think doth condemn them. If they read
of God's wrath and judgment, they think it is meant against them. If they read, “Our God is a consuming fire,” they think presently it is themselves that must be the fuel ; whereas justice and mercy have each their proper objects; the burning fire will not waste the gold, nor is water the fuel of it; but combustible matter it will presently con
A humble soul that lies prostrate at Christ's feet, confessing its unworthiness, and bewailing its sinfulness, this is not the object of revenging justice ; such a soul bringing Christ's mercies, and pleading them with God, is so far from being the fuel of this consuming fire, that he bringeth that water which will undoubtedly quench it. Yet this Scripture expression of our God, may subdue carnal security even in the best, but not dismay them or discourage them in their hopes. Another reads in Psalm l. “I will set thy sins in order before thee;" and he thinks, certainly God will deal thus by him, not considering that God chargeth only their sins upon them that charge them not by true repentance on themselves, and accept not of Christ who hath discharged them by his blood. It is the excusers, and mincers, and defenders of sin, that love not those that reprove them, and that will not avoid them, or the occasions of them, that would not be reformed, and will not be persuaded, in whose souls iniquity hath dominion, and that delight in it, it is these on whom God chargeth their sin : “For this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men love darkness rather than light; and come not to the light, lest their deeds should be reproved ;" John iii. 20,21. But for the soul that trembleth at God's word, and comes home to God with shame and sorrow, resolving to return no more to wickedness, God is so far from charging his sins upon him, that he never mentioneth them, as I told you, is evident in the case of the prodigal. He makes not a poor sinner's burden more heavy by hitting him in the teeth with his sins, but makes it the office of his Son to ease him by disburdening him.
Many more texts might be named (and perhaps it would not be lost labour) which troubled souls do misunderstand and misapply; but it would make this writing tedious, which is already swelled so far beyond my first intention.
2. The second enemy of your peace here mentioned, is, Misunderstanding and misapplying passages of providence.
Nothing more common with troubled souls, than upon every new cross and affliction that befals them, presently to think, God takes them for hypocrites; and to question their sincerity! As if David and Job had not left them a full warning against this temptation. Do you lose your goods ? So did Job. Do you lose your children? So did Job; and that in no very comfortable way. Do you lose your health?
Ꭰ So did Job. What if your godly friends should come about you in this case, and bend all their wits and speeches to persuade you that you are but a hypocrite, as Job's friends did by him, would not this put you harder to it? Yet could Job resolve, “ I will not let go mine integrity till I die." I know God's chastisements are all paternal punishments; and that Christians should search and try their hearts and ways at such times ; but not conclude that they are graceless ever the more for being afflicted, seeing God chasteneth every son whom he receiveth ; Heb. xii. 6, 7. And in "searching after sin itself in your afflictions, be sure that you make the word, and not your sufferings, the rule to discover how far you have sinned; and let afflictions only quicken you to try by the word. How many a soul have I known that by misinterpreting providences, have in a blind jealousy, been turned quite from truth and duty, supposing it had been error and sin; and all because of their afflictions. As a foolish man in his sickness accuseth the last meat that he eat before he fell sick, though it might be the wholesomest that ever he eat, and the disease may
many causes which he is ignorant of. One man being sick, a busy seducing Papist comes to him (for it is their use to take such opportunities) and tells him, 'It is God's hand upon you for forsaking or straying from the Roman Catholic Church, and God hath sent this affliction to bring you home. All your ancestors lived and died in this church, and so must you if ever you will be saved.' The poor, jealous, affrighted sinner hearing this, and through his ignorance being unable to answer him, thinks it is even true, and presently turns Papist. In the same manner do most other sects. How many have the Antinomians and Anabaptists thus seduced! Finding a poor silly woman (for it is most common with them) to be under sad doubts and distress of soul, one tells her, ' It is God's hand on you to convince you of error, and to bring you to submit to the ordi