« PreviousContinue »
Direct. XVI. The next thing which I would have you learn is this, " That there are several grounds of the great probability of our salvation, besides the general grounds mentioned in the beginning : and by the knowledge of these, without any further assurance, a Christian may live in much peace and comfort, and in delightful, desirous thoughts of the glory to come. And therefore the next work which you have to do, is to discover those probabilities of your sincerity and your salvation, and then to receive the peace and comsort which they may afford you, before you can expect assurance in itsell.
I shall here open to you the several parts of this proposition and direction distinctly. 1. I told you in the beginning of the four grounds of probability which all may have in general; from 1. The nature of God. 2. And of the Mediator and his office. 3. And the universal sufficiency of Christ's satisfaction. 4. And the general tenor of the promise, and offer of pardon and salvation. Now I add, that besides all these, there are many grounds of strong prob. ability, which you may have of your own sincerity, and so of your particular interest in Christ and salvation, when you cannot reach to a certainty.
1. Some kind of probability you may gather by comparing yourself with others. Though this way be but delusory to unregenerate men, whose confidence is plainly contradicted by the Scriptures, yet may it be lawful and useful to an humble soul that is willing to obey and wait on God: I mean to consider, that is such as you should perish how few people would God have in the world? Consider first in how narrow a compass the church was confined before Christ's coming in the flesh; how carnal and corrupt even that visible church then was; and even at this day, the most learned do compute, that if you divide the world into thirty parts, nineteen of them are heathenish idolators, six of them are Mahometans, and only five of them are Christians. And of these five that are Chris. tians, how great a part are of the Ethiopian, Greek, and Popish churches ? So ignorant, rude, and superstitious, and erroneous, that salvation cannot be imagined to be near so easy or ordinary with them as with us : and of the reformed churches, commonly called Protestants, how small is the number? And even among
these, what a number are grossly ignorant and profane? And of those that profess more knowledge and zeal, how many are grossly erroneous, schismatical and scandalous? How exceeding small a nuinber is left then that are such as you? I know this is no assuring argument, but I know withal that Christ died not in vain, but he will see the fruit of his sulerings to the satisfaction of his soul ; and the God of Mercy, who is a lover of mankind, will have a multitude innumerable of his saved ones in the earth.
2. But your strongest probabilities are from the consideration of the work of God upon your souls, and the present frame and inclination of your soul to God. You may know that you have workings above nature in you; and that they have been kept alive and carried on these many years against all opposition of the flesh and the world; it haih not been a mere flash of conviction which hath been extinguished by sensuality, and left you in the darkness of security and profaneness as others are. You dare not give up your hopes of heaven for all the world. You would not part with Christ, and say, 'Let him go,' for all the pleasures of sin, or treasures of the earth. If you had (as you have) an offer of God, Christ, grace, and glory on one side, and worldly prosperity in sin on the other side, you would choose God, and let go the other. You dare not, you would not give over praying, hearing, reading and Christian company, and give up yourself to worldly, fleshly pleasures; yet you are not assured of salvation, because you find not that delight and life in duty, and that witness of the Spirit, and that communion with God, nor that tenderness of heart as you
desire. It is well that you desire them; but though you be not certain of salvation, do you not see a great likelihood, a probability in all this? Is not your heart raised to a hope, that yet God is merciful to you, and means you good ? Doubtless, this you might easily discern.
The second thing that I am to show you, is, that there may much spiritual comfort and peace of conscience be enjoyed, without any certainty of salvation, even upon these forementioned probabilities. Which I prove thus, 1. No doubt but Adam in innonency, bad peace of conscience, and comfort, and communion with God, and yet he had no assurance of salvation ; I mean, either of Vol. I.
continuing in paradise, or being translated to glory. For if he had, either he was sure to persevere in innocency, and so to be glorified, (but that was not true,) or else he must foreknow both that he should fall and be raised again, and saved by Christ. But this he knew not at all. 2. Experience tells us, that the greatest part of Christians on earth do enjoy that peace and comfort which they have, without any certainty of their salvation. 3. The nature of the thing telleth us, that a likelihood of so great a mercy as everlasting glory, must needs be a ground of great comfort. If a poor condemned prisoner do but hear that there is hopes of a pardon, especially is very probable, it will glad his heart. Indeed, if an angel from heaven were brought into this state, it would be sad to him; but if a devil or condemned sinner have such hope, it must needs be glad news to them. The devils have it not, but we have.
Let me next, therefore, entreat you to take the comfort of your probabilities of grace and salvation. Your horse or dog know not how you will use them certainly; yet will they lovingly follow you, and put their heads to your hand, and trust you with their lives without fear, and love to be in your company, because they have found you kind to them, and have tried that you do them no hurt, but good : yea, though you do strike them sometimes, yet they find that they have their food from you, and your favor doth sustain them. Yea, your little children have no certainty how you will use them, and yet finding that you have always used them kindly, and expressed love to them, though you whip them sometimes, yet are glad of your company, and desire to be in your lap, and can trust themselves in your hands, without tormenting themselves with such doubts as these, 'I am uncertain how my mother will use me, whether she will wound me, or kill me, or turn me out of doors, and let me perish.' Nature persuades us not to be too distrustful of those that have always befriended us, and especially whose nature is merciful and compassionate ; nor to be too suspicious of evil from them that have always done us good. Every man knows that the good will do good, and the evil will do you evil; and accordingly we expect that they should do to us. Naturally we all fear a toad, a serpent, an adder, a mad dog, a wicked man, a madman, a cruel, blood-thirsty tyrant, and the devil. But no one fears a dove, a lamb, a good man, a merciful, compassionate governor, except only the rebels or notorious offenders that know he is bound in justice to destroy or punish them. And none should fear distrustfully the wrath of a gracious God, but they who will not submit to his mercy, and will not have Christ to reign over them, and therefore may know that he is bound in justice, if they come not in, to destroy them. But for you that would be obedient and reformed, and are troubled that you are no better, and beg of God to make you better, and have no sin, but what you would be glad to be rid of, may not you, at least, see a strong probability that it shall go well with you? O make use therefore of this probability; and if you have but hopes that God will do you good, rejoice in those hopes till you can come to rejoice in assurance.
And here let me tell you, that probabilities are of divers degrees, according to their divers grounds. Where men have but little probability of their sincerity, and a greater probability that they are not sincere in the faith, these men may be somewhat borne up, but it behoves them presently to search in fear, and to amend that which is the cause of their fear. Those that have more probability of the sincerity of their hearts than of the contrary, may well have more peace than trouble of mind. Those that have yet a higher degree of probability, may live in more joy, and so according to the degree of probability may their comforts still arise.
And observe also, that it is but the highest degree of this probability here which we call a certainty : for it is a moral certainty, and not that which is called a certainty of divine faith, nor that which is called a certainty of evidence in the strictest sense, though yet evidence there is for it. But it is the same evidences materially, which are the ground of probability and of certainty; only sometimes they differ gradually (one having more grace and another less,) and sometimes not so neither ; for he that hath more grace, may discern but a probability in it, (through some other defect,) no more than he that hath less. But when one man discerns his graces and sincerity but darkly, he hath but a probability of salvation manifested by them; and when another discerneth them more clearly, he hath a stronger probability; and he that discerneth them most clearly (if other necessaries concur) hath that which We call a certainty:
Now I am persuaded that you frequently see a strong probability of your sincerity ; and may not that be a very great stay and comfort to your soul? Nay, may it not draw out your heart in love, delight and thanksulness? Suppose that your name were written in a
put among a hundred, or fifty, or but twenty other like papers into a lottery, and you were certain that you should be the owner of this whole land, except your name were drawn the first time, and if it were drawn you should die, would your joy or your sorrow for this be the greater? Nay, if it were but ten to one, or but two to one odds on your side, it would keep you from drooping and discouragement; and why should it not do so in the present case ?
Direct. XVII. My next advice to you is this, 'For the strengthening your apprehensions of the probability of your salvation, gather up, and improve all your choicest experiences of God's good will and mercy to you; and observe also the experiments of others in the same kind.'
We do God and ourselves a great deal of wrong by forgetting, neglecting, and not improving our experiences. How doth God charge it on the Israelites, especially in the wilderness, that they forgot the works of God, by which he had so often manifested his power and goodness! Psalm lxxviii. cvii. See cv. cvi. When God had by one miracle silenced their unbelief, they had forgotten it in the next distress. It was a sign the disciples' hearts were hardened, when they forgot the miracles of the loaves, and presently after were distrustful and afraid ; Mark vi. 52. God doth not give us his mercies only for the present use, but for the future: nor only for the body, but for the soul. I would this truth were well learned by believers. You are in sickness, and troubles, and dangers, and pinching straits, in fears and anguish of mind : in this case you cry to God for help, and he doth in such a manner deliver you as silenceth your distrust, and convinceth you of his love ; at least, of his readiness to do you good. What a wrong is it now to God and yourself, to forget this presently, and in the next temptation to receive no strengthening by the consideration of it? Doth God so much regard this dirty flesh, that he should do all this merely for its ease and relief? No, he doth it to kill your unbelief, and convince you of his special providence, his care of you,