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come to the very last grain, and then suddenly that end which was downward is turned upward. When you stand at a loss between two highways, not knowing which way to go, as long as you are deliberate, you stand still: all the reasons that come into
mind do not stir you; but the last reason which resolves you, setteth you in motion. So is it in
. the change of a sinner's heart and life; he is not changed (but preparing towards it) while he is but deliberating, whether he should choose Christ or the world? But the last reason that comes in and determineth his will to Christ, and makes him resolve and enter a firm covenant with Christ, and say,
• I will have Christ for better or worse ;' this maketh the greatest change that ever is made by any work in this world. For how can there be greater than the turning of a soul from the creature to the Creator ? So distant are the terms of this change. After this one turning act Christ hath that heart, and the main bent and endeavours of the life, which the world had before. The man hath a new end, a new rule and guide, and a new master. Before the flesh and the devil were his masters, and now Christ is his master. So that you must not think so meanly of the turning, determining, resolving act of grace, because it lieth but in a gradual difference naturally from common grace. If a prince should offer a condemned beggar to marry her, and to pardon her, and make her his queen, her deliberation may be the way to her consent, and one reason after another may bring her near to consenting. But it is that which turns her will to consent, resolve, covenant and deliver herself to him, which makes the great change in her state. Yet all the foregoing work of common grace hath a hand in the change, though only the turning resolution do effect it: it is the rest with this that doth it : as when the last grain turns the scales, the former do concur. I will conclude with Dr. Preston's words, in his “Golden Sceptre,” page 210: Object. • It seems then that the knowledge of a carnal man, and of a regenerate man, do differ but in degrees and not in kind.' Answ. The want of degrees here alters the kind, as in numbers, the addition of a degree alters the species and kind.' Read for this also, Dr. Jackson “ Of Saving Faith,” sect. iii. chap. iii. pp. 297, 298. and frequently in other places. So much for that observation.
Direct. XIV. Yet further I would have you to under
stand this : That as the least measure of saving grace is ordinarily undiscernible from the greatest measure of common grace, (notwithstanding the greatness of the change that it makes) so a measure somewhat greater is so hardly discernible, that it seldom brings assurance : and therefore it is only the stronger Christians that attain assurance ordinarily; even those who have a great degree of faith and love, and keep them much in exercise, and are very watchful and careful in obedience: and consequently (most Christians being of the weaker sort) it is but few that do attain to assurance of their justification and salvation.'
Here are two or three points which I would have you distinctly to observe, though I lay them all together for brevity. 1. That it is only a greater measure of grace that will ordinarily afford assurance. 2. That therefore it is only the stronger, and holier, and more obedient sort of Christians that usually reach to a certainty of salvation. 3. That few Christians do reach to a strong or high degree of grace. 4. And therefore it is but few Christians that reach to assurance.
For the two first of these it will evidently appear that they are true, by reviewing the reasons which I gave of the last point save one. He that will attain to a certainty of salvation, must, 1. Have a large measure of grace to be discerned. 2. He must have that grace much in action, and lively action ; for it is not mere habits that are discernible. 3. He must have a clear understanding to be acquainted with the nature of spiritual things; to know what is a sound evidence, and how to follow the search, and how to repel particular temptations. 4. He must have a good acquaintance and familiarity with his own heart, and to that end must be much at home, and be used sometimes to a diligent observation of his heart and ways. 5. He must be in a good measure acquainted with, and a conqueror of contradicting temptations. 6. He must have some competent cure of the deceitfulness of the heart, and it must be brought to an open, plain, ingenuous frame, willing to know the worst of itself. 7. He must have some cúre of that ordinary confusion and tumultuous disorder that is in the thought and affections of men, and get things into an order in his mind. 8. He must be a man of diligence, resolution, and unwearied patience, that will resolvedly set on the work of self-examination, and painfully watch in it, and constantly follow it
from time to time till he attain a certainty. 9. He must be one that is very fearful of sinning, and careful in close obedient walking with God, and much in sincere and spiritual duty, that he keep not conscience still in accusing and condemning him, and God still offended with him, and his wounds fresh bleeding, and his soul still smarting. 10. He must be a man of much fixedness and constancy of mind, and not of the ordinary mutability of mankind ; that so he may not by remitting his zeal and diligence, lose the sight of his evidences, nor by leaving open his soul to an alteration by every new intruding thought and temptation, let go his assurance as soon as he attaineth it. All these things in a good degree are necessary to the attaining of assurance of salvation.
And then do I need to say any more to the confirmation of the third point, That few Christians reach this measure of grace? O that it were not as clear as the light, and as discernible as the earth under our feet, that most true Christians are weaklings, and of the lower forms in the school of Christ? Alas, how ignorant are most of the best, how little love, or faith, or zeal, or heavenlymindedness, or delight in God have they? How unacquainted with a frequent exercise of these graces ? How unacquainted with the way of self-examination ? And how backward to it? And how dull and careless in it? Doing it by the halves as Laban searched Rachel's tent? How easily put off with an excuse ? How little acquainted with their own hearts ? Or with satan's temptations and ways of deceiving? How much deceitfulness remaineth in their hearts? How confused are their minds? And what distractions and tumults are there in their thoughts? How bold are they in sinning ? And how little tenderness of conscience, and care of obeying have they? How frequently do they wound conscience, provoke God, and obscure their evidences ? And how mutable their apprehensions ? And how soon do they lose that assurance which they once attained? And upon every occasion quite lose the sight of their evidences ? Yea, and re, mit their actual resolutions, and so lose much of the evidence itself? Is not this the common case of godly people?
O that we could truly deny it: let their lives be witness, let the visible neglects, worldliness, pride, impatiency of plain reproof, remissness of zeal, dulness and customariness in duty, strangeness to God, unwillingness to secret prayer and meditation, unacquaintedness with the Spirit's operations and joys, their unpeaceableness one with another, and their too frequent blemishing the glory of their holy profession by the unevenness of their walking, let all these witness, whether the school of Christ have not most children in it; and how few of them ever go to the university of riper knowledge : and how few of those are fit to begin here the works of their priestly office, which they must live in for ever, in the high and joyful praises of God, and of the Lamb, who hath redeemed them by his blood, and made them kings and priests to God, that they may reign with him for ever. I am content to stand to the judgment of all humble, self-knowing Christians, whether this be not true of most of themselves ; and for those that deny it, I will stand to the judgment of their godly neighbours, who perhaps know them better than they know themselves.
And then this being all so, the fourth point is undeniable, That it is but very few Christians that reach to assurance of salvation. If any think (as intemperate hot-spirited men are like enough to charge me) that in all this I countenance the popish doctrine of doubting and uncertainty, and cantradict the common doctrine of the reformed divines that write against them; I answer, 1. That I do contradict both the Papists that deny assurance, and many foreign writers; who make it far more easy, common, and necessary than it is (much more than them and the Antinomists, who place justifying faith in it). But I stand in the midst between both extremes; and I think I have the company of most English divines. 2. I come not to be of this mind merely by reading books, but mainly by reading my own heart, and consulting my own experience, and the experience of a very great number of godly people of all sorts, who have opened their hearts to me, for almost twenty years time. 3. I would entreat the gainsayers to study their own hearts better for some considerable time, and to be more in hearing the case and complaints of godly people; and by that time they may happily come to be of my mind. 4. See whether all those divines that have been very practical and successful in the work of God, and much acquainted with the way of recovery of lost souls, be not all of the same judgment as myself in this point, (such as T. Hooker, Jo. Rogers, Preston,
Sibbs, Bolton, Dod, Culverwell, &c.) And whether the most confident men for the contrary be not those that study books more than hearts, and spend their days in disputing, and not in winning souls to God from the world.
Lastly, Let me add to what is said, these two proofs of this fourth point here asserted.
1. The constant experience of the greatest part of believers tells us, that certainty of salvation is very rare. Even of those that live comfortably and in peace of conscience, yet very few of them do attain to a certainty. For my part, it is known that God in undeserved mercy hath given me long the society of a great number of godly people, and great interest in them, and privacy with them, and opportunity to know their minds, and this in many places (my station by providence having been oft removed), and I must needs profess, that of all these I have met with few, yea, very few indeed, that if I seriously and privately asked them, ' Are you certain that you are a true believer, and so are justified, and shall be saved,' durst say to me, 'I am certain of it.' But some in great doubts and fears : most too secure and neglective of their states without assurance, and some in so good hopes (to speak in their own language) as calmeth their spirits, that they can comfortably cast themselves on God in Christ. And those few that have gone so far beyond all the rest, as to say, "They were certain of their sincerity and salvation,' were the professors, whose state I suspected more than any of the rest, as being the most proud, self-conceited, censorious, passionate, unpeaceable sort of professors; and some of them living scandalously, and some fallen since to more scandalous ways than ever; and the most of their humble, godly acquaintance of neighbours suspected them as well as I. Or else some very few of them that said they were certain were honest, godly people (most women) of small judgment and strong affections, who depended most on that which is commonly called, “The sense or feeling of God's love ;' and were the lowest at some times as they were the highest at other times ;
and they that were one month certain to be saved, perhaps the next month were almost ready to say, they should certainly be damned. So that taking out all these sorts of persons, the sober, solid, judicious believers that could groundedly and ordinarily say, I am certain that I