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these may be called sinful, as they come from sin, yet more nearly and in themselves considered, on supposition of our present estate, they are all duties, and great duties necessary to our salvation. You may say to a thief that begs for pardon, 'If thou hadst not stolen, thou hadst not need to have begged pardon.' Yet supposing that he hath stolen, it may be his duty to beg pardon. And so you may say to a poor, fearing soul, that fears damnation and God's wrath, 'Thou needst not fear if thou hadst not sinned.' But when he hath once by sin obscured his evidences, and necessitated doubting, then is fear, and sorrow, and praying for justification and pardon, his duty, and indeed not fitly to be called sin, but rather a fruit of sin in one respect (and so hath some participation in it) but a fruit of the Spirit, and of Christ's command in another respect, and so a necessary duty. For else we should say, that it is a sin to repent and believe in Christ, and to love him as our Redeemer ; for you may say to any sinner, 'Thou needst not to have repented, believed in a Redeemer, &c. but for thy sin;' yet I hope none will say, that so doing is properly a sin, though doing them defectively is. God doth not will and approve of it, that any soul that can see no signs of grace and sincerity in itself should yet be as confident, and merry, and careless, as if they were certain that all were well. God would not have men doubt of his love, and yet make light of it. This is a contempt of him. Else what should poor, carnal sinners do that find themselves unsanctified. No, nor doth God expect that any man should judge of himself better than he hath evidence to warrant such a judgment. But that every man should "prove his own work, that so he may have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For he that thinketh he is something when he is nothing, deceiveth himself;" Gal. vi. 3—6. And no man should be a self-deceiver, especially in a case of such inexpressible consequence. It is therefore a most desperate doctrine of the Antinomians (as most of theirs are) that all men ought to believe God's special love to them, and their own justification. And that they are justified by believing that they were justified before, and that no man ought to question his faith (saith Saltmarsh, any more than to question Christ.) And that all fears of our damnaion, or not being justified after this believing, are sin; and those
that persuade to them, are preachers of the law. (How punctually do the most profane, ungodly people, hold most points of the Antinomian belief, though they never knew that sect by name!) God commandeth no man to believe more than is true, nor immediately to cast away their doubts and fears, but to overcome them in an orderly methodical way; that is, using God's means till their graces become more discernible, and their understandings more clear and fit to discern them, that so we may have assurance of their sincerity, and thereby of our justification, adoption, and right to glorification. "Let us therefore fear, lest a promise being left of entering into his rest any of us should seem to come short of it;" Heb. iv. 1. "Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice before him in trembling; kiss the Son lest he be angry, and ye perish ;" Psal. ii. 11. "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling;" Phil. ii. 12. Not only, 1. A reverent fear of God's majesty. 2. And a filial fear of offending him. 3. And an awful fear of his judgments, when we see them executed on others, and hear them threatened. 4. And a filial fear of temporal chastisements are lawful and our duty; but also, 5. A fear of damnation exciting to most careful importunity to escape it; whenever we have so far obscured our evidences, as to see no strong probability of our sincerity in the faith, and so of our salvation. The sum of my speech therefore is this: Do not think that all your fears of God's wrath are your sins; much of them is your great duty. Do you not feel that God made these fears at your first conversion, the first and a principal means of your recovery? To drive you to a serious consideration of your state and ways, and to look after Christ with more longing and estimation? And to use the means with more resolution and diligence? Have not these fears been chief preservers of your diligence and integrity ever since? I know love should do more than it doth with us all. But if we had not daily use for both (love and fear) God would not, 1. Have planted them both in our natures. 2. And have renewed them both by regenerating grace. 3. And have put into his word the objects to move both, (viz. threatenings as well as promises.) That fear of God which is the beginning of wisdom, includeth the fear of his threatened wrath. I could say abundance more to prove this, that I know as
to you it is needless for conviction of it; but remember the use of it. Do not put the name of unbelief upon all your fears of God's displeasure. Much less should you presently conclude that you have no faith, and that you cannot believe, because of these fears. You may have much faith in the midst of these fears; and God may make them preservers of your faith, by quickening you up to those means that must maintain it, and by keeping you from those evils that would be as a worm at the root of it, and eat out its precious strength and life. Security is no friend to faith, but a more deadly enemy than fear itself.
Object. Then Cain and Judas sinned not by despairing, or at least not damnably.'
Answ. 1. They despaired not only of themselves, and of the event of their salvation, but also of God; of his power or goodness, and promise, and the sufficiency of any satisfaction of Christ. Their infidelity was the root of their despair. 2. Far it is from me to say or think that you should despair of the event, or that it is no sin; yea, or that you should cherish causeless and excessive jealousies and fears. Take heed of all fears that drive you from God, or that distract or weaken your spirit, or disable you from duty, or drown your love to God, and delight in him, and destroy your apprehensions of God's loveliness and compassion, and raise black, and hard, and unworthy thoughts of God in your mind. Again, I entreat you, avoid and abhor all such fears. But if you find in you the fears of godly jealousy of your own heart, and such moderated fears of the wrath of God, which banish security, presumption, and boldness in sinning, and are (as Dr. Sibbs calls them) the aweband of your soul; and make you fly to the merits and bosom of the Lord Jesus, as the affrighted child to the lap of the mother, and as the man-slayer under the law to the city of refuge, and as a man pursued by a lion, to his sanctuary or hold; do not think you have no faith, because you have these fears, but moderate them by faith and love, and then thank God for them. Indeed perfect love (which will be in heaven when all is perfected) will cast out this fear; and so it will do sorrow and care, and prayer and means. But see you lay not these by till perfect love cast them out. See Jer. v. 22, 23. Heb. xii. two last verses. "Wherefore we VOL. I.
receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire."
I am sensible that I am too large on these foregoing heads; I will purposely shorten the rest, lest I weary you.
Direct. XIX. Further understand, That those few who do attain to assurance, have it not either perfectly or constantly (for the most part) but mixed with imperfection, and oft clouded and interrupted.'
That the highest assurance on earth is imperfect, I have showed you elsewhere. If we be imperfect, and our faith imperfect, and the knowledge of our own hearts imperfect, and all our evidences and graces imperfect; then our assurance must needs be imperfect also. To dream of perfection on earth, is to dream of heaven on earth. And if assurance may be here perfect, why not all our graces? Even when all doubtings are overcome, yet is assurance far short of the highest degree.
Besides, that measure of assurance which godly men do partake of, hath here its many sad interruptions, in the most. Upon the prevalency of temptations, and the hidings of God's face, their souls are oft left in a state of sadness, that were but lately in the arms of Christ. How fully might this be proved from the examples of Job, David, Jeremy, and others in Scripture? And much more abundantly by the daily complaints and examples of the best of God's people now living among us. As there is no perfect evenness to be expected in our obedience while we are on earth, so neither will there be any constant or perfect evenness in our comforts. He that hath life in one duty, is cold in the next. And therefore he that hath much joy in one duty, hath little in the next. Yea, perhaps duty may but occasion the renewal of his sorrows; that the soul who before felt not its own burden at a sermon, or in prayer, or holy meditation, which were wont to revive him, now seems to feel his miseries to be multiplied. The time was once with David, when thoughts of God were sweet to him, and he could say, the multitude of my thoughts within me, thy comforts delight my soul." And yet he saw the time also when he remembered God and was troubled; he complained, and his spirit was overwhelmed,
God so held his eyes waking, that he was troubled and could not speak. He considered the days of old, and the years of ancient time; he called to remembrance his song in the night, he communed with his own heart, and his spirit made diligent search. "Will the Lord (saith he) cast off forever? And will he be favorable no more? Is his mercy clean gone forever? Doth his promise fail for evermore? Hath God forgotten to be gracious? Hath he in anger shut up his tender mercy?" Was not this a low ebb, and a sad case that David was in? Till at last he saw, this was his infirmity; Psal. lxxii. 1-10. Had David no former experiences to remind? No arguments of comfort to consider of? Yes, but there is at such a season an incapacity to improve them. There is not only a want of comfort, but a kind of averseness from it. The soul bendeth itself to break its own peace, and to put away comfort far from it. So saith he in ver. 2. "My soul refuseth to be comforted." In such cases men are witty to argue themselves into distress; that it is hard for one that would comfort them to answer them; and they are witty in repelling all the arguments of comfort that you can offer them; so that it is hard to fasten any thing on them. They have a weak wilfulness against their own consolations. Seeing then that best have such storms and sad interruptions, do not you wonder or think your case strange if it be so with you? Would you speed better than the best? Long for heaven then, where only is joy without sorrow, and everlasting rest without interruption.
Direct. XX. Let me also give you this warning, 'That you must never expect so much assurance on earth, as shall set you above the possibility of the loss of heaven; or above all apprehensions of real danger of your miscarrying.'
I conceive this advertisement to be of great necessity. must first tell you the meaning, and then the reasons of it. I am sorry that I know not how to express it fully, but in schoolterms, which are not so familiar to you. That which shall certainly come to pass, we call a thing future. That which may and can be done we call possible. All things are not future which are possible. God can do more than he hath done or will do. He could have made more worlds, and so more were possible than