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know what it is that hath this promise, I will tell you, 1. As to the object. 2. The act. 3. The degree or modifieation of the act. For all these three must be inquired after if you will get assurance. 1. The object is principally God, and the Redeemer Christ. And secondarily the benefits given by Christ; and under that, the means to attain the principal benefits, &c. -2. The act hath many names drawn from respective and moral differences in the object, as faith, desire, love, choosing, accepting, receiving, consenting, &c. But properly all are comprised in one word, ' willing.' The understanding's high estimation of God, and Christ, and grace, is a principal part of true saving grace; but yet it is difficult, and scarce possible to judge of yourself by it rightly, but only as it discovers itself by prevailing with the will. 3. The degree of this act must be such, as ordinarily prevaileth against its contrary; I mean, both the contrary object, and the contrary act to the same object. But because I doubt school-terms do obscure my meaning to you (though they are necessary for exactness), I will express the nature of saving grace in two or three marks as plain as I can.
1. Are you heartily willing to take God for your portion? And had you rather live with him in glory in his favour and fullest love, with a soul perfectly cleansed from all sin, and never more to offend him, rejoicing with his saints in his everlasting praises, than to enjoy the delights of the flesh on earth, in a way of sin and without the favour of God?
2: Are you heartily, willing to take Jesus Christ as he is offered in the Gospel ? that is, to be your only Saviour, and Lord, to give you pardon by his bloodshed, and to sanctify you by his word and Spirit, and to govern you by his laws ?
(Because this general containeth and implieth several particulars, I will express them distinctly.)
. Here it is supposed that you know this much following of the nature of his laws. For to be willing to be ruled by his laws in general, and ntterly unwilling when it comes to particulars, is no true willingness or subjection. 1. You must know that his laws reach both to heart and outward actions. 2. That they command a holy, spiritual, heavenly life: 3. That they command things so cross and unpleasing to the flesh, that the flesh will be still murmuring and striving against obedience. Particularly, 1. They command
things quite cross to the inclinations of the flesh; as to forgive wrongs, to love enemies, to forbear malice and revenge, to restrain and mortify lust and passion, to abhor and mortify pride, and be low in our own eyes, and humble and meek in spirit. 2. They command things that cross the interest of the flesh and its inclination both together; I mean which will deprive it of its enjoyments, and bring it to some suffering? As to perform duties even when they lay us open to disgrace and shame, and reproach in the world; and to deny our credit, rather than forsake Christ or our duty. To obey Christ in doing what he commandeth us, though it would hazard or certainly lose our wealth, friends, liberty and life itself; forsaking all rather than to forsake him; to give to the poor, and other good uses, and that liberally, according to our abilities. To deny the flesh all forbidden pleasures, and make not provisions to satisfy its lusts, but to crucify the flesh, with the affections and lusts thereof; and in this combat to hold on to the end, and to
These are the laws of Christ, which you must know, before you can determine whether you are indeed unfeignedly willing to obey them. Put therefore these further questions to yourself
, for the trial of your willingness to be ruled by Christ according to his laws.
3. Are you heartily willing to live in the performance of those holy and spiritual duties of heart and life, which God hath absolutely commanded you? And are you heartily sorry that you perform them no better? With no more cheerfulness, delight, success, and constancy?
4. Are you so thoroughly convinced of the worth of everlasting happiness, and the intolerableness of everlasting misery, and the truth of both; and of the sovereignty of God the Father, and Christ the Redeemer, and your many engagements to him ; and of the necessity and good of obeying, and the evil of sinning, that you are truly willing ; that is, have a settled resolution to cleave to Christ, and obey him in the dearest, most disgraceful, painful, hazardous, flesh-displeasing duties ; even though it should cost you the loss of all your worldly enjoyments, and your life?
5. Doth this willingness or resolution already so far prevail in your heart and life, against all the interest and temptations of the world, the devil, and your flesh, that you do ordinarily practise the most strict and holy, the most selfdenying, costly, and hazardous duties that you know God requireth of you, and do heartily strive against all known sin, and overcome all gross sins; and when you fall under any prevailing temptation, do rise again by repentance, and begging pardon of God, through the blood of Christ, do resolve to watch and resist more carefully for the time to come ?
In these five marks is expressed the Gospel-description of a true Christian.
Having laid down these marks, I must needs add a few words for the explaining of some things in them, lest you mistake the meaning, and so lose the benefit of them.
1. Observe that it is your willingness, which is the very point to be tried. And therefore, 1. Judge not by your bare knowledge. 2. Judge not by the stirring or passionate workings of your affections. I pray you forget not this rule in any of your self-examinings. It is the heart that God requireth. “My son, give me thy heart;" Prov. xxiii. 26. If he hath the will, he hath the heart. He may have much of our knowledge, and not our heart. But when we know him so thoroughly as to will him unfeignedly, then he hath our heart.
Affectionate workings of the soul to God in Christ, are sweet things, and high and noble duties and such as all Christians should strive for. But they are not the safest marks to try our states by. 1. Because there may be a solid, sincere intention and choice in and of the will, where there is little stirring perceived in the affections. 2. Because the will is the master-commanding faculty of the rational soul; and so if it be right, that man is upright and safe. 3. Because the passions and affections are so mutable and uncertain. The will can command them but imperfectly; it cannot perfectly restrain them from vanities; much less can it perfectly raise them to that height, as is suitable to the excellency of our heavenly objects. But the object itself, with its sensible manner of apprehension, moves them more than all the command of the will. And so we find by experience, that a godly man, when with his utmost private endeavour, he cannot command one stirring pang of divine love or joy in his soul, yet upon the hearing of some moving sermon, or the sudden receiving of some extraordinary mer
cy, or the reading of some quickening book, he shall feel perhaps some stirring of that affection. So when we cannot weep in private one tear for sin, yet at a stirring sermon, or when we give vent to our sorrows, and ease our troubled hearts into the bosom of some faithful friend, then we can find tears. 4. Because passions and affections depend so much on the temperature of the body. To one they are easy, familiar, and at command; to another (as honest) they are difficult and scarce stirred at all. With most women, and persons of weaker tempers, they are easier than
Some cannot weep at the death of a friend, though never so dear, no, nor perhaps feel very, sensible, inward grief; and yet perhaps would have redeemed his life at a far dearer rate (had it been possible) than those that can grieve and weep more abundantly. 5. Because worldly things have so great an advantage on our passions and affections. 1. They are sensible and near us, and our knowledge of them is clear. But God is not to be seen, heard, or felt by our senses, he is far from us, though locally present with us; we are capable of knowing but little, very little of him. 2. Earthly things are always before our eyes, their advantage is continual. 3. Earthly things being still the objects of our senses, do force our passions, whether we will or not, though they cannot force our wills. 6. Because affections and passions rise and fall, and neither are nor can be in any even and constant frame, and therefore are unfit to be the constant or certain evidence of our state ; but the will's resolution, and choice may be more constant. So that I advise you rather to try yourself by your will, than by your passionate stirrings of love or longing, of joy or
Object. “But doth not the Scripture lay as much on love, as on any grace? And doth not Christ say, That except we love him above all, we cannot be his disciples ?' Answ. It is all
true. But consider, love hath two parts; the one in the will, which is commonly called a faculty of the soul, as rational; and this is the same thing that I call willing, accepting, choosing, or consenting. This complacency is true love to Christ; and this is the sure, standing mark. The other is the passionate part, commonly said to be in the soul, as sensitive; and this, though most commonly called love, yet is less certain and
constant, and so unfitter to try your state by though a great duty, so far as we can reach it.
2. You must understand and well remember, that it is not every willingness that will prove your sincerity : for wicked men may have slight apprehensions of spiritual things, which may produce some slight desires and wishes which yet are so feeble and heartless, that every lust and carnal desire ovetcomes them; and it will not so much as enable them to deny the grossest sin. But it must be the prevalent part of your will that God must have. I mean a great share, a deeper and larger room than any thing in the world ; that is, you must have a higher estimation of God, and everlasting happiness, and Christ, and a holy life, than of any thing in the world; and also your will must be so disposed hereby,and inclined to God, that if God and glory, to be obtained through Christ by a holy, self-denying life, were set before you on the one hand, and the pleasure, profits, and honours of the world to be enjoyed in a way of sin, on the other hand, you would resolvedly take the former, and refuse the latter. Indeed they are thus set before you, and upon your choice dependeth your salvation or damnation, though that choice must come from the grace of God.
3. Yet must you well remember, that this willingness and choice is still imperfect, and therefore when I mention a hearty willingness, I mean not a perfect willingness. There may be, and is in the most gracious souls on earth, much indisposedness, backwardness, and withdrawing of heart, which is too great a measure of unwillingness to duty; especially to those duties which the flesh is most averse from, and which require most of God and his Spirit to the right performance of them.
Among all duties, I think the soul is naturally most backward to these following. 1. To secret prayer, because it is spiritual, and requires great reverence, and hath nothing of external pomp or form to take us up with, and consisteth not much in the exercise of common gifts, but in the exercise of special grace, and the breathings of the Spirit, and searchings, pantings, and strivings, of a gracious soul towards God. (I do not speak of the heartless repeating of bare words, learned by rote, and either not understood, or not uttered from the feeling of the soul.) 2. To serious