« PreviousContinue »
be willing of Christ, as Christ is of you, and so become a true believer. And here I would not leave you at that loss as some do, as if there were nothing for you to do for the getting of faith ; for certainly God hath prescribed you means for that end. “Faith cometh by hearing, and bearing by the word of God preached;" Rom. x. 17. i. Therefore see that you wait diligently on this ordinance of God. Read the Scriptures daily, and search them to see whether you may not there find that holiness is better than sin. ii. And however some seducers may tell you, that wicked men ought not to pray, yet be sure that you lie on your knees before God, and importunately beg that he would open your eyes, and change your heart, and shew you so far the evil of sin, and the want and worth of Christ and holiness, that you may be unfeignedly glad to accept bis offer.
Object. • But the prayers of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord.'
Answ. (1.) You must distinguish between wicked men, as actually wicked, and going on in the prosecution of their wickedness; and wicked men, as they have some good in them, or are doing some good, or are attempting a return to God. (2.) You must distinguish between real prayer and seeming prayer. (3.) You must distinguish between full acceptance of prayer, when God delighteth in them, and an acceptance only to some particular end, not intimating the acceptance of the person with his prayer : and between acceptance fully promised (as certain) and acceptance but half promised (as probable). And upon these distinctions I shall answer your objections in the conclusion.
1. When wicked men pray to God to prosper them in their wickedness, yea, or to pardon them while they intend to go on in it, and so to give them an indulgence in sin ; or when they think with a few prayers for some good, which they can endure, to put by that holiness which they cannot endure, and so to make a cloak for their rebellion, these prayers are all an abomination to the Lord.
2. When men use the words of a prayer, without the desire of the thing asked, this is no prayer, but equivocally so called, as a carcase is a man; and therefore no wonder if God abhor that prayer, which is truly no prayer. Vol. ).
3. God hath not made a full promise, ascertaining any wicked man, while wicked, that he will hear his prayer; for all such promises are made to believers.
4. God doth never so hear an unbeliever's prayer, as to accept his person with his prayer, or to take a complacency in them. So much for the negative.
Nor for the affirmative, I add ; 1. Prayer is a duty wbich God enjoined even wicked men (I could prove it by an hundred Scripture texts.)
2. There may be some good desires in unbelievers, which they may express in prayer, and these God may so far hear as to grant them, as he did in part to Ahab.
3. An unbeliever may lie under preparing grace, and be on his way in returning towards God, though yet he be not come to saving faith ; and in this state he may have many good desires, and such prayers as God will hear.
4. Though God have not flatly engaged himself to unbelievers, so as to give them a certainty of hearing their prayers, and giving them true grace on the improvement of their naturals, yet he hath not only appointed them this and other means to get grace, but also given them half promises, or strong probabilities of speeding, so much as may be a sufficient encouragement to any such sinner to call on God, and use his means. For as he appointeth not any vain means to man, so no man can name that man who did improve his naturals to the utmost, and in particular, sought God in prayer, so far as a natural man may do, who yet missed of grace, and was rejected (this is the true mean between Pelagianism and Antinomianism in this point).
5. When God calls unbelievers to prayer, he withal calls them to believe. And when he works their heart to prayer by that call, he usually withal works them to believe, or at least towards believe ing. If he that was unwilling to have Christ, do pray God to make him willing, it is a beginning of willingness already, and the way to get more willingness. In prayer God useth to give in the thing prayed for, of this kind.
6. Prayer is the soul's motion God-ward : and to say an unbeliever should not pray, is to say he should not turn to God; who yet saith to the wicked, “Seek the Lord while he may be found, and call upon
while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way ;' &c. Isaiah lv. 6, 7.
7. Prayer hath two parts ; desire is the soul of it, and expression is the body. The soul can live separated from the body, but so cannot the body separated from the soul. So can desire without expression, but not expression without desire. When our blind Antinomians (the great subverters of the Gospel, more than the law) do rail against ministers for persuading wicked men to pray, they are against us for persuading men to desire that they pray for : ; prayer having desire for its soul. And do not those men deserve to be exterminated the churches and societies of the saints, who dare say to a wicked unbeliever, Desire not faith? Desire not to leave thy wickedness ? Desire not grace? or Christ? or God? And that will proclaim abroad the word (as I have oft heard of them with zealous reproaches) that our ministers are legalists, seducers, ignorant of the mysteries of the Gospel, because they persuade poor sinners to pray for faith, grace, and Christ; that is to desire these, and to express their desires ; which in effect is to persuade them to repent, believe, and turn to God. Indeed, if these blind seducers had ever heard our ministers persuading wicked men to dissemble and lie to God, and ask faith, grace and Christ with their tongues, but not desire them in their hearts, then had they sufficient grounds for their reviling language. But I have been too long on this. I may therefore boldly conclude, that they that find themselves unbelievers, that is, unwilling to have Christ to deliver them from sin, must use this second means to get faith, even earnest frequent prayer for it to God.
iii. Let such also see that they avoid wicked seducing company and occasions of sin; and be sure that they keep company with men fearing God, especially joining with them in their holy duties.
iv. Lastly, let such be sure that they use that reason which God hath given them, to consider frequently, retiredly, seriously, of the vanity of all those things that steal away their hearts from Christ; and of the excellency of holiness, and how blessed a state it is to have nothing in us of heart or life that is displeasing to God, but to
be such as he taketh full delight in ; also of the certainty of the damnation of unbelievers, and the intolerableness of their torments; and of the certainty and inconceivable greatness of believers' everlasting happiness. If wicked unbelievers would but do what they can in daily, serious, deep considering of these things, and the like, they would have no cause to despair of obtaining faith and sanctification. Believing is a rational act. God bids you not to believe any thing without reason, nor to accept or consent to any thing without full reason to cause you to consent. Think then often and soberly of those reasons that should move you to consent, and of the vanity of these that hinder you from consenting, and this is God's
way for you to obtain faith or consent. Remember then, that when you have understood and improved general grounds of comfort (nay before you can come to any full improvement of them) your next business is to believe ; to consent to the match with Christ, and to take him for your Lord and Savjour. And this duty must be looked to and performed, before you look after special comfort. But I said somewhat of this before under the sixth head, and therefore will say no more now.
Direct. X. When you have gone thus far, your soul is safe, and you are past your greatest dangers, though yet you are not past your fears; your next work therefore for peace and comfort is this ; To review and take notice of your own faith, and thence to gather assurance of the certainty of your justification, and adoption, and right to glory.
The sum of this direction lieth in these things :
1. See that you do not content yourself with the forementioned general comforts, without looking after assurance and special comforts. The folly of this I have manifested in the third part of my Book of Rest, about Self-examination.
2. See that you dream not of finding assurance and special comfort from mere general grounds. This is the delusion of many Antinomians, and most of our profane people (who I find are commonly of the Antinomian faith naturally, without teaching.) For men to conclude that they shall certainly be saved, merely because God is merciful, or Christ is tender-hearted to sinners, and would not that any should perishi, bụt all should come to repentance; or because God delights not in the death of him that dieth, but rather that he repent and live ; or because Christ died for them ; or because God hath given Christ and life in the Gospel to all, on condition of believing ; these are all but mere delusions. Much comfort, as I have shewed you, may be gathered from these generals ; but no certainty of salvation, or special comfort can be gathered from them alone.
3. See that you reject the Antinomian doctrine or dotage, which would teach you to reject the trial and judging of your state by signs of grace in yourself, and tell you that it is only the Spirit that must assure, by witnessing your adoption ; I will further explain this caution when I have added the rest.
4. And on the other extreme, do not run to marks unseasonably, but in the order here laid down.
5. Nor trust to unsafe marks.
6. And therefore do not look at too many ; for the true ones are but few. I do but name these things to you, because I have more fully handled them in my Book of Rest, whither I must refer you. And so I return to the third caution.
I have in the forementioned book told you, what the office of the Spirit is in assuring us, and what the use of marks are. The Spirit witnesseth first objectively, and so the Spirit and marks are all
For it is the Spirit dwelling in us that is the witness or proof that we are God's sons; for he that hath not his Spirit is none of his. And the Spirit is not discerned by us in its essence, but in its workings; and therefore to discern these workings, is to discern the Spirit, and these workings are marks that we speak of: so that the Spirit witnesseth our sonship, as a reasonable soul witnesseth that you are a man and not a beast. You find by the acts of reason, that you have a reasonable soul, and then you know, that having a reasonable soul, you certainly are a man. So you find by the works or fruits of the Spirit, that you have the Spirit (that is, by marks; and Paul enumerates the fruits of the Spirit to that end) and then by finding that you have the Spirit you may certainly know that you are the child of God. Also, as the reasonable soul is its own discerner by the help of the body (while it is in it) and so witnesseth our humanity effectively as well as objectively