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to the want of spiritual sight and discerning, or both of them. And indeed, it is always owing to both these, if they may be considered as distinct things, which they really are not ; for they both go together, and are inseparable.* Holiness is itself, light and discerning; and the more there is of this in the heart, and the stronger and more constant the exercises of it are, the more the mind is illuminated, and sees spiritual things more clearly ; and with greater certainty discerns and distinguishes between true grace, and that which is not of that kind. Therefore, an increase of holiness magnifies the object, and renders it more visible, and easy to be seen by the spiritual eye, so as to be distinguished from eve. ry thing else ; and at the same time is the spiritual eye, and increases the spiritual sight and ability of discerning, so as more clearly and with greater certainty to see and distinguish truth from falsehood.
Therefore, in proportion to the degree of holiness exercised, other things being equal, there will be evidence to the mind, that such are the exercises of it, and consequently that they are connected with salvation ; and they may rise to such a degree, and holiness be acted out in such a measure and manner, as to be accompanied with great and well grounded assurance, that it is real holiness, which is by the promises of the covenant of grace connected with salvation. Therefore, this is the way which professing christians are exhorted to take, in order to have and maintain assurance of their salvation." And we desire, that every one of you do show the same diligence, to the full assurance of hope, unto the end. That ye be not slothful, but followers of them, who, through faith and patience, inherit the promises."t—The “ Assurance of Faith,” is mentioned in this Epistle, I by which is meant an assured belief of the truth of the gospel, which is expressed in the following words, by Peter.
“ We believe, and are sure, that thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” The assurance of hope is an assured hope
Though the exercise of holiness, and spiritual discerning, are several times mentioned distinctly, in this section, it is not intended that they should be understood as two really distinct things. Holiness, is spiritual light and discerning ; and spiritual light, is holiness. See the section on Divine Illumination. * Heb. vi. 11, 12.
Chap. I. 22.
S John vi. 69.
of salvation, which is the same with assurance of their salvation. And the way to obtain this, which is here proposed, is diligence and engagedness in the exercise and expression of love to Christ, and to his people, in opposition to sloth and negligence; which is the same with the strong and fruitful exercise of christian grace. Therefore,
6. The believer is wholly dependent on God for assurance of salvation. Believers are entirely dependent on God for the least degree of holiness, as it is his sovereign gift; but they have a special and peculiar favour from him, who are brought to such a degree of holy ex. ercise, and spiritual discerning, as to be assured that they are born of God, are his children, and shall inherit ever. lasting life. It is by the Spirit of God witnessing with their spirits, that they are brought to see and know, they are the children of God. This the scripture declares. “The Spirit himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God."* This is done, not by any immediate suggestion, revelation or testimony to the believer, that he is a child of God, as some have seemed to imagine ; but by forming the heart to that degree of holy affection, and spiritual discerning, that the be. liever is able to look on this work of the Spirit, and know that he is born of the Spirit. Thus the Spirit of God produces this evidence and witness in the heart of the believer, that he is born of God, and gives that discerning to him, that it becomes a witness to his spirit, that the Spirit of God is in him, and has formed hiin to holiness, by which he is become a child of God, and has the spirit of a child, disposing him to look to God, as his Almighty Friend and Father. What the Apostle John says amounts to the same thing, and may serve to illustrate these words of St. Paul.
Hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the spirit which he hath given us. Hereby know we, that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.”+
7. The assurance of salvation is not common to all christians ; many never attain to it, and few, or none of those who do, haye it constantly, without interruption.
* Rom. viii. 16. † 1 John iii. 24. iv. 13.-See President Edwards, op Religious Affec: ons. First Edition, p. 125-133.
This is not promised to all believers in the covenant of grace, as perseverance is; but is given, or withheld as is most agreeable to infinite wisdom and goodness, and so as to answer the best ends, and be most for the glory of God, the best good of his church, and of the individual members of it. Assurance is most common among them who are called to distinguished and emi. nent service and sufferings in the cause of Christ, as they seem to stand in most need of it, to support and animate them, in the midst of the greatest trials, dangers, and worldly evils. Thus, assurance of the love of God, and eternal salvation, seem to have been enjoyed, not only by the apostles, but by christians in general, in their day, as they were called to suffering in a peculiar manner and degree, in consequence of their becoming christians. And those christians who have been called to the greatest labours and sufferings, in all ages since, have appeared to have, and express the greatest assurance of their own salvation. It has been common for martyrs, to go to the stake, or to other most cruel deaths, in the joyful assurance, that they were going to heaven ; as ecclesiastical history abundantly informs us. And in the times of the greatest sufferings of the church of Christ, christians have appeared to be more generally assured of their interest in the covenant of
grace. And this can be accounted for, from what has been said above ; for they who are called to extraordinary labour and suffering in the cause of Christ, not only need this support more than others; but their circumstances are suited to awaken their graces, and excite them to a higher and stronger degree of exercise, than common; by which they have clear evidence, that they have true grace : and God grants his Spirit to such, in uncommon degrees, which is a witness within them, to their spirit, that they are the children of God. And often, when christians are on a dying bed, and called to encounter the king of terrors, and feel themselves going into the invisible world, they have a greater measure of the holy Spirit, and their faith, and every grace, are in a stronger and more sensible exercise ; and they are assured that Christ is their Saviour, and that they are passing into a state of perfect holiness, happiness and glory.
There are different degrees of assurance, which different persons may have, or the same person, at different times. In this imperfect state, none, perhaps, may be properly said to be perfectly sure of their own salvation, so that there can be no addition to their assurance. They are not so sure of salvation, as they will be, when they actually arrive to heaven, and find themselves in possession of it; or as they are, who are now in heaven. And one christian may properly be said to have a stronger assurance than another, and the same believer may have a higher or greater degree of assurance, at one time, than at another, when he may be said to be sure. The disciples of Christ, say to him, upon a particular occasion, “Now are we sure that thou knowest all things, and needest not that any one should ask thee: By this we believe that thou camest forth from God."* Ther believed this before, and were sure that he knew all things; but now their faith and assurance were stronger, and increased.
Christians who are not assured of their being in a state of grace, but entertain a hope of it, may, and actually do, have a stronger hope, or more hope, at one time, than at another, according to the different degrees in which their graces are in exercise, and as different feelings and exercises, in different circumstances, and on different occasions, take place. Sometimes their hope is assaulted with great and overbearing doubts and fears, and they hardly know, whether they have any hope or not; and are ready to conclude against themselves, that all is wrong, with respect to them, and they are really in a graceless state.
At other times their hope revives, and is stronger, and their doubts, in a great measure, subside. And one christian differs very much, in this respect, from another. The hope of one is more strong and constant ; and he has not so many doubts and fears, respecting his state: Another is generally full of doubts, and his hope is weak, and attended with great diffidence, and does not often rise, so as to expel his fears.
This difference, is doubtless owing in many instances to the stronger and more constant exercise of christian holiness in the former ; he having more grace, and with
• John xvi. 30.
greater fervency of spirit, lives a watchful, prayerful life, and with more engagedness and constancy attends on all the duties of christianity, than the latter.
But it is not always owing to the different degrees of holiness, that persons thus differ, in their hopes and confidence, respecting their own christian character: But two persons, who have an equal degree of holiness, may greatly differ, as to their hope and confidence, of their being real christians. This may arise partly from their natural temper and disposition; partly from other causes, such as the manner of their education, and the instructions under which they have lived; the habitual way of thinking, to which they have been led, by those with whom they associate ; or the mistakes into which, or the other has fallen, about the nature and operation of true holiness : The strong, habitual propensity of one, to look on the dark side, and view and attend most to the corruption and evil propensity of the heart, and less to any contrary exercises ; being inclined to conclude against, rather than in favour of himself: The other is of a contrary disposition, and looks more on the favourable side, and makes the best of what he sees in himself, and is not so much disposed to give way to doubts and fears, and suggestions against himself. These and other things, and circumstances, may take place and be the cause of the difference mentioned, in two persons equally holy ; yea, he who doubts the most of his being a real christian, may have more grace than the other, who doubts less, supposing they are both christians, as this difference does not arise always from their different degrees of holiness, but from other causes, some of which have been mentioned.
If he may be called an assured christian, who rises above all doubts or fear, with respect to his being a real christian, perhaps every believer has this assuranc., at some seasons in his life, either at his first conversion, or at other times. At least, his mind is so attentive to the truths of the gospel, and he is so pleased and delighted with them, or with some particular truths ; and he is so entertained with the divine character, and that of the Redeemer, that he has no doubts or fears about his own state ; and perhaps, for a while, thinks little or nothing