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there is one only God, who made and preserveth all things: 4. But our assurance is an act of knowledge, participating of faith and internal sense or knowledge reflect. For divine faith saith, "He that believeth is justified, and shall be saved." Internal sense and knowledge of ourselves saith, But I believe.' Reason, or discursive knowledge saith, "Therefore I am justified and shall be saved.'
Only I must advise you, that you be not troubled when you meet with that which is contrary to this in any great divines: for it is only our former divines, whose judgments were partly hurt by hot disputations with the Papists herein, and partly not come to that maturity as others since then have had opportunity to do. And therefore in their expositions of the creed, and such like passages in the text, they eagerly insist on it, that when we say, 'We bebelieve the forgiveness of sin, and life everlasting,' every man is to profess that he believeth that his own sins are forgiven, and he shall have life everlasting himself. But our later divines, and especially the English, and most especially those that deal most in practicals, do see the mistake, and lay down the same doctrine which I teach you here; God bids us not believe as from him, more than he hath revealed. But only one of the propositions is revealed by God's testimony, "He that believeth shall be saved." But it is no where written that you do believe, nor that you shall be saved; nor any thing equivalent. And therefore you are not commanded to believe either of these. How the Spirit revealeth these, I have fully told you already. In our creed therefore we do profess to believe remission of sins to be purchased by Christ's death, and in his power to give, and given in his Gospel to all, on condition of believing in Christ himself for remission: but not to believe that our own sins are actually and fully pardoned.
My end in telling you this again (which I have told you elsewhere) is this, That you may not think (as I find abundance of poor troubled souls do) that faith (much less justifying faith) is a believing that you have true grace, and shall be saved; and so fall a condemning yourself unjustly every time that you doubt of your own sincerity, and think that so much as you doubt of this, so much unbelief you have: and so many poor souls complain that they have
no faith, or but little, and that they cannot helieve, because they believe not their own faith to be sincere: and when they wholly judge themselves unsanctified, then they call that desperation, which they think to a sin inconsistent with true grace. These are dangerous errors, all arising from that one error which the heat of contention did carry some good men to, that faith is a belief that our sins are forgiven by Christ. Indeed all men are bound to apply Christ and the promise to themselves. But that application consisteth in a belief that this promise is true, as belonging to all, and so to me, and then in acceptance of Christ and his benefits as an offered gift; and after this, in trusting on him for the full performance of this promise. Hence therefore you may best see what unbelief and desperation are, and how far men may charge themselves with them. When you doubt whether the promise be true, or when you refuse to accept Christ and his benefits offered in it, and consequently to trust him as one that is able and willing to save you, if you do assent to his truth, and accept him, this is unbelief. But if you do believe the truth of the Gospel, and are heartily willing to accept Christ as offered in it, and only doubt whether your belief and acceptance of him be sincere, and so whether you shall be saved; this is not unbelief, but ignorance of your own sincerity and its consequents. Nay, and though that affiance be wanting, which is a part of faith, yet it is but an hindering of the exercise of it, for want of a necessary concomitant condition; for the grace of affiance is in the habit, and virtually is there, so that it is not formally distrust or unbelief any more, than your not trusting God in your sleep is distrust. If a friend do promise to give you an hundred pounds, on condition that you thankfully accept it if you now do believe him, and do thankfully accept it; but yet through some vain scruple shall think, my thankfulness is so small, that it is not sincere, and therefore I doubt I do not perform his condition, and so shall never have the gift; in this case now you do believe your friend, and you do not distrust him properly; but you distrust yourself, that you perform not the condition; and this hindereth the exercise of that confidence or affiance in your friend which is habitually and virtually in you. Just so is it in our present case.
The same may be said of desperation, which is a privation of
hope; when we have believed the truth of the Gospel, and accepted Christ offered, we are then bound to hope that God will give us the benefits promised: so hope is nothing but a desirous expectation of the good so promised and believed. Now if you begin to distrust whether God will make good his promise or no, either thinking that it is not true, or he is not able, or hath changed his mind since the making of it, and on these grounds you let go your hopes, this is despair. If because that Christ seems to delay his coming, we should say, I have waited in hope till now, but now I am out of hope that ever Christ will come to judge the world, and glorify believers, I will expect it no longer; this is despair. And it hath its several degrees more or less as unbelief hath. Indeed the schoolmen say that affiance is nothing but strengthened hope. Affiance in the properest sense is the same in substance as hope; only it more expresseth a respect to the promise and promiser, and indeed is faith and hope expressed in one word. So that what I said before of distrust is true of despair. If you do continue to believe the truth of the Gospel, and particularly of Christ's coming and glorifying his saints, and yet you think he will not glorify you, because you think that you are not a true believer or saint; this is not desperation in the proper sense. For desperation is the privation of hope, where the formal cause, the heart and life of it, is wanting. But you have here hope in the habit, and virtually do hope in Christ; but the act of it, as to your own particular salvation is hindered, upon an accidental mistake. In the foremention. ed example, if your friend promise to give you an hundred pounds on condition of your thankful acceptance, and promiseth to come at such an hour and bring it you: if now you stay till the hour be almost come, and then say, I am out of hope of his coming now; he hath broke his word;' this is properly a despair in your friend. But if you only think that you have overstaid the time, and that it is past, and therefore you shall not have the gift, this may be called a despair of the event, and a despair in yourself, but not properly a despair of your friend; only the act of hoping in God is hindered, as is said. So it is in our present case. Men may be said to despair of their salvation, and to despair in themselves, but not to despair in God, except the formal cause of such
despair were there present; and except they are drawn to it, by not believing his truth and faithfulness. The true nature of despair is expressed in that of the apostles, Luke xxiv. 21. "We trusted that that was he that should redeem Israel ;" only it was but imperfect despair, else it had been damnable. Their hopes were shaken. And for my part, I am persuaded that it is only this proper despair in God, which is the damnable desperation, which is threatened in the Scripture, and not the former. And that if a poor soul should go out of this world without any actual hope of his own salvation, merely because he thinks that he is no true believer, that this soul may be saved, and prove a true believer for all this. Alas! the great sin that God threateneth is our distrust of his faithfulness, and not the doubting of our own sincerity and distrust of ourselves. We have great reason to be very jealous of our own hearts, as knowing them to be deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can know them? But we have no reason to be jealous of God. Where find you in Scripture that any is condemned for hard thoughts of themselves, or for not knowing themselves to have true grace, and for thinking they had none? It is true, unbelief in God's promise is that men are condemned for, even that sin which is an aversion of the soul from God. But perhaps you will ask, Is doubting of our own sincerity and salvation no sin? I answer, doubting is either taken in opposition to believing, or in opposition to knowing, or to conjecturing.
1. Doubting as it signifieth only a not believing that our sins are pardoned, and we shall be saved, is no sin, (still remember that I take believing in the strict, proper sense of the crediting of a divine testimony or assertion.) For God hath no where commanded us ordinarily to believe either of these. I say ordinarily (as I did in the proposition before) because when Christ was on earth he told a man personally, "Thy sins are forgiven thee;" (whether he meant only as to the present disease inflicted for them, or also all punishment temporal and eternal, I will not now discuss) so Nathan from God told David, his sin was forgiven. But these were privileges only to these persons, and not common to all. God hath no where said, either that all men's sins are actually forgiven; or that yours or mine by name are forgiven: but only that all that be
lieve are forgiven, which supposeth them to believe before they are forgiven, and that they may be forgiven, and therefore it is not true that they are forgiven; before they believe. And therefore this faith is not a believing that they are forgiven, but a believing on Christ for forgiveness. Else men must believe an untruth, to make it become true by their believing it.
2. But now doubting, as it is opposed to the knowledge of our remission and justification, in those that are justified is a sin. For it can be no sin for an unjustified person to know that he is unjustified. But then I pray you mark how far it is a sin in the godly, and what manner of sin it is. 1. It is a sin, as it is part of our natural ignorance, and original depravedness of our understandings, or a fruit hereof, and of our strangeness to our own hearts, and of their deep deceitfulness, confusion, mutability, or negligence. 2. And further, as all these are increased by long custom in sinning, and so the discerning of our states is become more difficult, it is yet a greater sin. 3. It is a sin as it is the fruit of any particular sin by which we have obscured our own graces, and provoked God to hide his face from us. And so all ignorance of any truth which we ought to know, is a sin; so the ignorance of our own regeneration and sincerity is a sin, because we ought to know it. But this is so far from being the great condemning sin of unbelief which Christ threateneth in his new law, that it is none of the greatest or most heinous sort of sins, but the infirmity in some measure of every Christian.
And let me further acquaint you with this difference between these doubtings, and your fears and sorrows that follow thereupon. Though the doubtings itself be your sin, yet I suppose that the fears, and sorrows, and cares that follow it may be your duty. Yet respectively, and by remote participation, even these also must be acknowledged sinful; even as our prayers for that pardon which we have received and knew it not, may by remote participation be called sinful; because if we had not sinned we should not have been ignorant of our own hearts. And if we had not been ignorant, we should not have doubted of the least true grace we have. And if we had not so doubted, we should not have feared, or sorrowed, or prayed for that remission in that sense. But yet, though