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and say, 'Just so many bits a man must eat before he be a glutton; or just so much he must drink before he be a drunkard? or by such a sign the turning point may be certainly known ? We may have signs by which we may be tried at the bar of man; but these are none of them taken from that smallest degree, which specifieth and denominates the sin before God. If we avoid the foresaid opinion that one such sin doth bring us into the state of damnation, yet is the difficulty never the less; for it is certain, that "he that commits sin is of the devil ;" 1 John iii. 8. and " there are spots, which are not the spots of God's children ; and all true faith will mortify the world to us, and us to it, (Gal. vi. 14.), and " he that is in Christ hath crucified the flesh, with the affections and lusts thereof,” (chap. v. 24.); and that “if we live after the flesh we shall die;" Rom. viii. 13. And “ his servants we are to whom we obey, whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness ;" chap. vi. 16. And if we delight in iniquity, or regard it, God will not hear our prayers ;" Psal. lxvi. 18. And that " he that nameth the name of Christ must depart from iniquity;" 1 Tim. ii. 19. And that “God will judge all men according to their works,” and bid the workers of iniquity depart from him ; Matt. vii. 23. Now can any man on earth tell us just how great, or how often sinning will stand with true grace, and how much will not? Who can find those punctual bounds in the word of God? I conclude, therefore, that no minister, or at least, none who is no wiser than I am, can give a true, discernible difference between the worst of saints, and the best of the unsanctified, or the weakest degree of true grace, and the highest of common grace; and so to help such weak Christians to true assurance of their salvation.
2. But as this is impossible to be declared by the teachers, so much more is it impossible to be discerned by the persons themselves, yea, though it could possibly be declared to him; and that for these reasons.
1. From the nature of the thing. Small things are hardly discerned. A little is next to none.
2. From the great darkness of man's understanding, and his unacquaintedness with himself (both the nature, faculties, and motions of his soul, naturally considered, and the moral state, dispositions, and motions of it), and is it likely that so blind an
eye can discern the smallest thing, and that in so strange and dark a place ? Every purblind man cannot see an atom, or a pin, especially in the dark. 3. The heart is deceitful above all things, as well as dark; full of seemings, counterfeits, and false pretences. And a child in grace
is not able to discover its jugglings, and understand a book, where almost every word is equivocal or mysterious. 4. The heart is most confused, as well as dark and deceitful; it is like a house, or shop of tools, where all things are thrown together on a heap, and nothing keeps its own place. There are such multiplicity of cogitations, fancies, and passions, and such irregular thronging in of them, and such a confused reception, and operation of objects and conceptions, that it is a wonderful difficult thing for the best Christian to discern clearly the bent and actions, and so the state of his own soul. For in such a crowd of cogitations and passions, we are like men in a fair or crowd of people, where a confused noise may be heard, but you cannot well perceive what any of them say, except either some one near you that speaks much louder than all the rest, or else except you single out some one from the rest, and go close to him to confer with him of purpose. Our intellect and passions are like the lakes of water in the common roads, where the frequent passage of horses doth so muddy it, that you can see nothing in it, especially that it is near the bottom; when in pure untroubled waters you may see a small hing. In such a confusion and tumult as is usually in men's souls, for a poor weak Christian to seek for the discovery of his sincerity, is according to the proverb, to seek for a needle in a bottle of hay. 5. Besides all this, the corrupt heart of man is so exceeding backward to the work of self-examination, and the use of other means, by which the soul should be familiarly acquainted with itself, that in a case of such difficulty it will hardly ever overcome them, if it were a thing that might be done. In the best, a great deal of resolvedness, diligence, and unwearied constancy in searching into the state of the soul, is necessary to the attainment of a settled assurance and
peace. How much more in them that have so small, and almost undiscernible measure of grace to discover. 6. Yet further, the conceptions, apprehensions, and consequently the sensible motions of the will, and especially the passions, are all naturally
exceeding mutable; and while the mobile, agile spirits are any way the instruments, it will be so; especially where the impression which is made in the understanding is so small and weak. Naturally man's mind and will is exceeding mutable, and turned into a hundred shapes in a few days, according as objects are presented to us, and the tempera ture of the body disposeth, helps, or hinders the mind. Let us hear one man reason the case, and we think he makes all as clear as the light; let us hear another solve all his arguments, and dispute for the contrary, and then we see that our apprehensions were abused. Let us hear him reply and confute all again, and confirm his cause, and then we think him in the right again. Nothing more changeable. than the conceivings and mind of man, till he be thoroughly resolved and habituated. Now in this case, how shall those that have but little grace, be able to discern it? It will not keep the mind from fluctuating. If they seem resolved for obedience to Christ to-day, to-morrow they are so shaken by some enticing object, and force of the same temptation, that their resolution is undiscernible; nay, actually they prefer sin at that time before ubedience. It is impossible then but the soul should stagger and be at a loss; for it will judge of itself as it finds itself, and it cannot discern the habitual prevalency of Christ's interest, when they feel the actual prevalency of the flesh's interest. For the act is the only discoverer of the habit. And if Peter himself should have fallen to the examination of his heart, whether he preferred Christ before his life, at the same time when he was denying and forswearing Christ to save his life, do you think he could have discerned it? And yet even then Christ's interest was greatest in him habitually. If David should have gone to search, whether he preferred obedience to God, before his fleshly pleasure, when he was committing adultery; or before his credit, when he was plotting the death of Uriah, what discovery do you think he would have made? 7. Add to all these, that as these several distempers, were they but in the same measure in a weak Christian, as they are in the best or in most, would yet make the smallest measure of grace undiscernible (if we might suppose the smallest grace to be consistent with such a frame); so it is certain, that whoever be be that hath the least measure of grace to discover
in himself, he hath proportionably the least measure of abilities and helps to discover it, and the greatest measure of all the forementioned hindrances. He that hath but a very little repentance, faith, love, and obedience sincere, when he goeth to find it out, he hath in the same measure, a darker understanding to discern it than others have ; and a greater strangeness and disacquaintance with himself; and more deceitfulness in his heart, and a greater confusion and hurly-burly in his thoughts and affections, and all more out of order and to seek. Also he hath a greater backwardness to the work of self-examination, and can hardly get his heart to it, and more hardly to do it thoroughly, and search to the quick, and most hardly to hold on against all withdrawing temptations, till he have made a clearer discovery. And lastly, his soul is more mutable than stronger Christians are; and therefore when cross actings are so frequent, he cannot discern the sinallest prevailing habit. If (when you are weighing gold) the scales be turned but with one grain, every little jog, or wind, or unsteadfast holding, will actually lift up the heavier end; and its preponderation is with great wavering and mobility. 8. Yet further, consider, that those that have least grace, have most sin, habitual and actual; and they are so frequent in transgressing, that their failings are still in their eye, and thereby the prevalency of Christ's interest is made more doubtful and obscure. For when he asketh his own conscience, • Do I will or love most the world and my fleshly delights, or Christ and his ways?' Presently conscience remembereth him at such a time, and such a time thou didst choose thy fleshly pleasures, profits, or credit, and refuse obedience. And it is so oft, and so foully, that the soul is utterly at a loss, and cannot discern the habitual prevalent bent and resolution of the will. 9. Besides, conscience is a judge in man's soul, and will be accusing and condemning men so far as they are guilty. Now, they that make work for the most frequent and terrible accusations of conscience that will stand with true grace, are unlikely to have assur
For assurance quiets the soul, and easeth it; and a galled conscience works the contrary way. They that keep open the wound, and daily fret off the skin more, and are still grating on the galled part, are unlikely to have assur
10. Again, these weakest Christians being least in
duty, and most in sinning (of any in whom sin reigneth not), they are consequently most in provoking and displeasing God. And they that do so shall find that God will shew them his displeasure, and will displease them again. They must not look to enjoy assurance, or see the pleased face of God, till they are more careful to please him, and are more sparing, and seldom in offending him. As God's universal justice in governing the world, will make as great a difference between the sincerely obedient, and disobedient, as there is between heaven and hell, so God's paternal justice in governing his family, will make as wide a difference between the more obedient children, and the less obedient, as is between his dreadful frowns, and his joyous, reviving smiles; or between his smarting rod, or his encouraging rewards. 11. If God should give assurance and the sinning and least obedient believers, he should not fit his providential disposals to their good. It is not that which their state requires, nor would it tend to their cure any more than a healing plaister to a sore that is rotten in the bottom, or á cordial to the removal of a cacochymy, or the purging out of corrupt, redundant humours. They are so inclined to the lethargy of security, that they have need of continual pinching, striking, or loud calling on, to keep them waking ; (still remember that by this weak Christian, I mean not every doubting, distressed soul that is weak in their own apprehension, and little in their own eyes, and poor in spirit; but I mean those that have the least measure of sincere love to Christ, and desire after him, and tenderness of conscience, and care to please God, and the greatest measure of security, worldliness, pride, flesh-pleasing, and boldness in sinning, which is consistent with sincerity in the faith. I believe there is no father or mother, that hath children to govern, but they know by experience, that there is a necessity of frowns and rods for the more disobedient; and that rewards and smiles are no cure for stubbornness or contempt. 12. Lastly, Do but well consider, what a solecism in government it would be, and what desperate inconveniences it would have brought into the world, if God should have set such a punctual land-mark between his kingdom and the kingdom of satan, as we are ready to dream of. If God should have said in his word, just so oft a man may be drunk, or may murder, or commit adul