« PreviousContinue »
and love to you, and power to help you, and to breed in you more loving, honorable and thankful thoughts of him. Lose this benefit, and you
lose all. You may thus use one and the same mercy an hundred times : though it be gone as to the body, it is still fresh in a believing, thankful, careful soul. You may make as good use of it at your very death, as the first hour. But O, the sad forgetsulness, mutability and unbelief of these hearts of ours! What a number of these choice experiences do we all receive! When we forget one, God giveth another, and we forget that too. When unbelief doth blasphemously suggest to us, Such a thing may come once or twice by chance. God addeth one experience to another, till it even shame us out of our unbelief, as Christ shamed Thomas, and we cry out, “ My Lord and my God.” Hath it not been thus oft with you? Have not mercies come so seasonably, so unexpectedly, either by small means, or the means themselves unexpectedly raised up; without your designing or effecting; and plainly in answer to prayers, that they have brought conviction along with them; and you have seen the name of God engraven on them? Sure it is so with us, when through our sinful negligence we are hardly drawn to open our eyes, and see what God is doing. Much more might we have seen, if we had but observed the workings of Providence for us; especially they that are in an afflicted state, and have more sensibly daily use for God, and are awakened to seek him, and regard his dealings. I know a mercy to the body is no certain evidence of God's love to the soul.
But yet from such experiences a Christian may have very strong probabilities. When we find God hearing prayers, it is a hopeful sign that we have some interest in him. We may say as Manoah's wife said to him, “ If the Lord had meant to destroy us, he would not have received a sacrifice at our hands, nor have done all this for us ;" Judges xiii. 23. To have God se near to us in all that we call upon him for, and so ready to relieve us, as if he could not deny an earnest prayer, and could not endure to stop his ears against our cries and groans, these are hopeful signs that he meaneth us good. I know special grace is the only certain evidence of special love : but yet these kind of experiences are many times more effectual to refresh a drooping, doubting soul, than the first evidences : for evidences may be unseen, and require a great deal of holy skill and diligence to try them, which few have; but these experiences are near us, even in our bodies, and shew themselves; they make all our bones say, “ Lord, who is like unto thee?” And it is a great advantage to have the help of sense itself for our consolation. I hope you yet remember the choice particular providences, by which God hath manifested to you his goodness, even from your youth till now : especially bis frequent answering of your prayers ! Methinks these should do something to the dispelling of those black, distrustful thoughts of God. I could wish you would write them down, and oft review them : and when temptations next come, remember with David, who helped you against the lion and the bear, and, therefore, fear not the uncircumcised Philistine.
2. And you may make great use also of the experiences of others. Is it not a great satisfaction to hear twenty, or forty, or an hundred christians, of the most godly lives, to make the very same complaints as you do yourself? The very same complaints have I heard from as many. By this you may see your case is not singular, but the ordinary case of the tenderest consciences, and of many that walk uprightly with God. And also is it not a great help to you, to hear other christians tell how they have come into those troubles, and how they have got out of them? What hurt them? And what helped them? And how God dealt with them, while they lay under them? How desirous are diseased persons to talk with others that have had the same disease? And to hear them tell how it took them, and how it held them, and especially what cured them? Besides, it will give you much stronger hopes of cure and recovery to peace of conscience, when you hear of so many that have been cured of the same disease. Moreover, is it not a reviving thing, to hear christians open the goodness of the Lord? And that in particular, as upon experience they have found him to their own souls? To hear them tell you of such notable discoveries of God's special providence and care of his people, as may repel all temptations to atheism and unbelief? To hear them give you their frequent and full experiences of God's hearing and answering their prayers, and helping them in their distresses? Though the carnal part of the mercy were only theirs, yet by improvement, the spirit
ual part may be yours : you may have your faith, and love, and joy, confirmed by the experience of David, Job, Paul, which are past so long ago; and by the experiences of all your godly acquaintance, as if they were your own. This is the benefit of the unity of the church ; the blessings of one member of the body are blessings to the rest; and if one rejoice the rest may rejoice with them, not only for their sakes, but also for their own. Such as God is to the rest of his children,such is he and will be to you. He is as ready to pity you as them, and to hear your complaints and moans as theirs. And lest we should think that none of them were so bad as we, he hath left us the examples of his mercies to worse than ever we were. You never were guilty of witchcraft, and open idolatry, as Manasses was, and that for a long time, and drawing the whole nation, and chief part of the visible church on earth, into idolatry with him. You never had your hand in the blood of a saint, and even of the first martyr (Stephen) as Paul had. You never hunted after the blood of the saints, and persecuted them from city to city as he did; and yet God did not only forgive him, but was found of him when he never sought him, yea, when he was persecuting him in his members, and kicking against the pricks; yea, and made him a chosen vessel to bear about his name, and a noble instrument of the propagation of his gospel, as if he had never been guilty of any such crimes, that he might be an encouraging example to the unworthiest sinners, and in him might appear to the riches of his mercy; 1 Tim. iï. 13. 16. See also Titus iii. 3—7. Is there no ground of comfort in these examples of the saints? The same we may say of the experiences of God's people still; and doubtless it were well if experimental christians did more fully and frequently open to one another their experiences; it were the way to make private particular mercies to be more public and common mercies; and to give others a part in our blessings, without any diminution of them to ourselves. Not that I would have this openly and rashly done (by those, who through their disability to express their minds, do make the works and language of the Spirit seem ridiculous to carnal ears,) as I perceive some in a very formality would have it (as if it must be one of their church custoins, to satisfy the society of the fitness of each member before they will receive them :) but I would have christians that are fit to express their minds, to do it in season and with wisdom; especially those to whom God hath given any more eminent and notable experiments, which may be of public, use. Doubtless, God hath lost very much of the honor due to his name, and poor christians much of the benefit which they might have received, (and may challenge by the mutual interest of fellow members) for want of the public communication of the extraordinary and more notable experiences of some men, Those that write the lives of the boliest men when they are dead, can give you but the outside and carcase of their memorials; the most observable passages are usually secret, known only to God and their own souls, which none but themselves are able to communicate. For my own part, I do soberly and seriously profess to you, that the experiences I have had of God's special providences, and fatherly care, and specially of his hearing prayers, have been so strange, and great, and exceeding numerous, that they have done very much to the quieting of my spirit, and the persuading of my soul of God's love to me, and the silencing and shaming of my unbelieving heart, and especially for the conquering of all temptatations that lead to atheism or infidelity, to the denying of special providence, or of the verity of the gospel, or of the necessity of holy prayer and worshipping of God. Yea, those passages that in the bulk of the thing seem to have no great matter in them, yet have come at such seasons, in such a manner, in evident answer to prayers, that they have done much to my confirmation. O happy afflictions and distresses ! Sufferings and danger force us to pray, and force the cold and customary petitioner to seriousness and importunity. Importunate prayers bring evident returns; such returns give us sensible experiences; such experiences raise faith, love and thankfulness, kill unbelief and atheism, and encourage the soul in all distresses, go the same way as when it sped so well. I often pity the poor seduced infidels of this age, that deny scripture and Christ himself, and doubt of the usefulness of prayer and holy worship; and I wish that they had but the experiences that I have had. O how much more might it do than all their studies and disputes! Truly I have once or twice had motions in my mind, to have publicly and freely communicated my experiences in a rela
tion of the more observable passages of my life; but I found that I was not able to do it to God's praise, as was meet, without a shew of ostentation or vanity, and therefore I forbore.
Direct. XVII. Next, that you may yét further understand the true nature of assurance, faith, doubting and desperation, I would have
you observe this, "That God doth not command every man, nor properly any man, ordinarily, by his word, to believe that his sins are forgiven, and himself is justified, adopted, and shall be saved. But he hath prescribed a way by which they may attain to assurance of these, in which way it is men's duty to seek it: so that our assurance is not properly that which is called a certainty of belief.'
I have said enough for the proof of this proposition in the third part of my Book of Rest, chap. ii. whither I must refer you. But there is more to be said yet for the application of it. But first I must briefly tell you the meaning of the words. 1. God commandeth us all to believe (wicked and godly,) that our sins are made pardonable by the sufficient satisfaction of Christ for them; and that God is very merciful and ready to forgive; and that he hath conditionally forgiven us all in the new covenant, making a deed of gist of Christ, and pardon, and life in bim, to all, on condition they believe in him, and accept what is given. 2. But no man is commanded to believe that he is actually forgiven. 3. Therefore I say our assurance is not strictly to be called belief, or a certainty of belief; for it is only our certain belief of those things which we take on the mere credit of the witnesser or revealer, which we call certainty of faith. Indeed, we commonly in English use the word belief,' to express any confident, but uncertain, opinion or persuasion ; and if any will so take it, then I deny not but our assurance is a belief. But it is commonly taken by divines for an assent to any thing on the credit of the word of the revealer, and so is distinguised both from the sensible apprehension of things, and from principles that are known by the mere light and help of nature; and from the knowledge of conclusions, which by reasoning we gather from those principles. Though yet one and the same thing may be known, as revealed in nature, and believed as revealed immediately or supernaturally; and so we both know and believe that VOL. 1.