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tery, or steal, or forswear himself, and yet be a true Christian and be saved ! Or just so far a man may go, in neglecting duty to God and man, and in cherishing his flesh, hiding, his sin, &c., and yet be a true believer and be saved. This would, 1. Embolden men in sinning, and make them think, I may yet venture, for I stand on safe ground. 2. And it would hinder repentance. Indeed it would be the way to rob God of his honour, and multiply provocations against him, and keep his children in disobedience, and hinder their growth in holiness, and cause a deformity in Christ's body, and a shame to his religion and sacred name. As for those that say, assurance never encourageth men in sin, but tends to destroy it; I answer, it is true of God's assurance, seasonably given to those that are fit for it, and used by them accordingly. But if God should have told all the world, just how far they may sin, and yet be certain of salvation, this would have bred assurance in those that were unfit for it; and it would have been but the putting of new wine into old cracked bottles; or a new piece into an old garment, that would break them, or make worse the rent. I must therefore freely tell these objectors (I am sorry that so many of my old acquaintance now harp so much on this Antinomian string), that ignorance or error hath so blinded them, that they have forgotten, or know not, 1. What an imperfect piece the best is in this life, much more the worst true Christian. 2. Nor what a subtle devil we have to tempt us. 3. Nor what an active thing corruption is, and what advantage it will take on unseasonable assurance. 4. Nor what the nature of grace and sanctification is ; and how much of it lies in a godly jealousy of ourselves, and apprehension of our danger, and that “the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom :” see Heb. iv. 1. Nay, 5. They have forgotten what a man is, and how inseparable from his nature is the principle of self-preservation, and how necessary the apprehension of danger, and the fear of evil to himself, is to the avoiding of that evil, and so to his preservation. 6. Yea, if they knew but what a commonwealth or a family is, they would know that fear of evil, and desire of self-preservation, is the very motive to associations, and the groundwork of all laws and government, and a great part of the life of all obedience.
And thus I have fully proved to you, that the smallest
grace cannot help men to assurance in God's ordinary way.
Perhaps you will say, 'What comfort is there in this to a poor weak Christian ?' This is rather the way to put him quite out of heart and hope. I answer, No such matter. I shall shew the uses of this observation in the following Directions. In the mean time I will say but this, The expectations of unseasonable assurance, and out of God's way, is a very great cause of keeping many in languishing and distress, and of causing others to turn Antinomians, and snatch at comforts which God never gave them, and to feign and frame an assurance of their own making, or build upon the delusions of the great deceiver, transforming himself into an angel of light.
Direct. XIII. From the last mentioned observation, there is one plain consectary arising, which I think you may do well to note by the way, viz. “That according to God's ordinary way of giving grace, it cannot be expected that Christians should be able to know the very time of their first receiving or acting true saving grace, or just when they were pardoned, justified, adopted, and put into a state of salvation.'
This must needs be undeniable, (if you grant the former point, That the least measure of grace yieldeth not assurance of its sincerity, which is proved); and withal, if you grant this plain truth, That it is God's ordinary way, to give a small measure of grace at the first. This I
thus : 1. Christ likeneth God's kingdom of grace to a grain of mustard-seed, which is at the first, the least of all seeds, but after cometh to a tree; and to a little leaven, which leaveneth the whole lump. I will not deny, but this may be applied to the visible progress of the Gospel, and increase of the church. But it is plainly applicable also to the kingdom of Christ within us. 2. The Scripture oft calleth such young beginners, babes, children, novices, &c. 3. We are all commanded still to grow in grace ; which implieth, that we have our smallest, measure at the first. 4. Heb. v. 12. sheweth, that strength of grace should be according to time and means. 5. Common experience is an invincible argument for this. Men are at a distance from Christ, when he first calleth them to come to him ; and
many steps they have toward him before they reach to him. We are first so far enlightened as to see our sin and misery, and the meaning and truth of the Gospel, and so roused out of our security, and made to look about us, and see that we have souls to save or lose, and that it is no jesting matter to be a Christian. And so we come to understand the tenor of the covenant, and Christ's terms of saving men. But, alas, how long is it usually after this, before we come sincerely to yield to his terms, and take him as he is offered, and renounce the world, flesh, and the devil, and give up ourselves to him in a faithful covenant! We are long deliberating, before we can get our backward hearts to resolve. How then should a man know just when he was past the highest step of common or preparative grace, and arrived at the first step of special grace ?
Yet mark, that I here speak only of God's ordinary way of giving grace; for I doubt not, but in some God may give a higher degree of grace at the first day of their conversion, than some others do attain in many years. And those may know the time of their true conversion, both because the effect was so discernible, and because the suddenness makes the change more sensible and observable.
But this is not the ordinary course. Ordinarily convictions lie long on the soul before they come to a true conversion. Conscience is wounded, and smarting long. and long grudging against our sinful and negligent courses, and telling us of the necessity of Christ and a holy life, before we sincerely obey conscience, and give up ourselves to Christ. We seldom yield to the first conviction or persuasion. The flesh hath usually too long time given it to plead its own cause, and to say to the soul, · Wilt thou forsake all thy pleasure and merry company and courses ? Wilt thou beggar thyself? or make thyself a scorn or mocking-stock to the world ? Art thou ever able to hold out in so strict a course? and to be undone and to forsake all, and lay down thy life for Christ? Is it not better to venture thyself in the same way as thou bast gone in, as well as others do, and as so many of thy forefathers have done before thee? Under such sinful deliberations as these we usually continue long before we fully resolve ; and many demurs and delays we make before we conclude to take Christ on the terms that he is offered to us. Now I make no doubt but most or many Christians can remember how and wben
God stirred their consciences, and wakened them from their security, and made them look about them, and roused them out of their natural lethargy. Some can tell what sermon first did it; others can remember by what degrees and steps God was doing it long. The ordinary way appointed by God for the doing of it first, is the instruction of parents.
And (as I have more fully manifested in my Book of Infant Baptism) if parents would do their duties, they would find that the word publicly preached was not appointed to be the first ordinary means of conversion and sanctification; but commonly, grace would be received in childhood; I speak not of baptismal relative grace, consisting in the pardon of original sin, nor yet any infusion of habits before they have the use of reason (because I suppose it is hid from us, what God doth in that), but I speak of actual conversion; and I prove that this should be the first ordinary way and time of conversion to the children of true Christians, because it is the first means that God hath appointed to be used with them ; Deut. vi. 6-8. Eph. vi. 4. Parents are commanded to teach their children the law of God urgently at home, and 'as they walk abroad, lying down, and rising up; and to bring them up in the admonition and nurture of the Lord, and to train the way he should go and when they are old they will not depart from it;" Prov. xxii. 6. And children are commanded to "remember their Creator in the days of their youth ; " Eccles. xii. 1. And if this be God's first great means, then doubtless he will ordinarily bless his own means here, as well as in the preaching of the word.
From all this I would have you learn this lesson, That you ought not to trouble yourself with fears and doubts, lest you are not truly regenerate, because you know not the sermon or the very time and manner of your conversion ; but find that you have grace, and then, though you know not just the time or manner of your receiving of it, yet you may nevertheless be assured of salvation by it. Search therefore what you are, and how your will is disposed and resolved, and how your life is ordered, rather than to know how you became such. I know the workings of the Spirit on the soul may be discerned, because they stir up discernible actings in our own spirits. The soul's convictions, considerations, resolutions and affections, are no insensible things,
up a child in
But yet the work of grace usually begins in common grace, and so proceeds by degrees till it come to special saving grace, even as the work of nature doth, first producing the matter, and then introducing the form ; first producing the embryo, before it introduce a rational soul. And as no child knows the time or manner of its own formation, vivification or reception of that soul, so I think few true believers can say, just such a day, or at such a sermon I became a true justified, sanctified man. That was the hour of your true conversion and justification, when you first preferred God and Christ, and grace before all things in this world, and deliberately and seriously resolved to take Christ for your Saviour and Governor, and give up yourself to him to be saved, taught and governed, and to obey him faithfully to the death against all temptations, whatsoever you shall lose or suffer by it. Now I would but ask those very Christians that think they do know the very sermon that converted them ; Did that sermon bring you to this resolution ? Or was it not only some troubling rousing preparation hereto? I think some desperate sickness or the like affliction is a very usual means to bring resolutions to be downright and fixed, with many souls that long delayed and fluctuated in unresolvedness, and lay under mere ineffectual convictions.
Object. • But this runs on your own grounds, that saving grace and common grace do differ but in degrees.'
Answ. I think most will confess, that as to the acts of grace, and that is it that we are now inquiring after; and that is all the means that we have of discerning the habits. Yet remember that I still tell you, . That there is a special moral difference, though grounded but in a gradual natural difference.' Yea, and that one grain of the Spirit's working, which turns the will in a prevalent measure for Christ, (together with the illumination necessary thereto) deserves all those eulogies and high titles that are given it in the word; so great a change doth it make in the soul! Well may it be called . The new creature :' .'Born of the Spirit :' The workmanship of God : • The new life: Yea, 'The image of God,' and The Divine Nature.' (If that text be not meant of the Divine Nature in Christ which we are relatively made partakers of in our union with him). When you are weighing things in the balance, you may add grain after grain, and it makes no turning or motion at all, till you