« PrejšnjaNaprej »
the Pharisees had faith in an eminent degree; some of whom Christ teaches, committed the unpardonable sin against the Holy Ghost. The scripture represents faith, as that by which men are brought into a good estate; and therefore it cannot be the same thing, as believing that they are already in a good estate. To suppose that faith consists in persons believing that they are in a good estate, is in effect the same thing, as to suppose that faith consists in a person's believing that he has faith, or in believing that he believes!
Indeed persons doubting of their good estate, may in several respects arise from unbelief. It may be from unbelief, or because they have so little faith, that they have so little evidence of their good estate. If they had more experience of the actings of faith, and so more experience of the exercise of grace, they would have clearer evidence that their state was good; and so their doubts would be removed. And their doubting of their state may be from unbelief thus, when though there be many things that are good evidences of a work of grace in them, yet they doubt very much whether they are really in a state of favour with God, because it is they, those that are so unworthy, and have done so much to provoke God to anger against them. Their doubts in such a case arise from unbelief, as they arise from want of a sufficient sense of, and reliance on, the infinite riches of God's grace, and the sufficiency of Christ for the chief of sinners. They may also be from unbelief, when they doubt of their state, because of the mystery of God's dealings with them. They are not able to reconcile such dispensations with God's favour to them. Some doubt whether they have any interest in the promises, because from the aspect of providence, they appear so unlikely to be fulfilled; the difficulties in the way are so many and great. Such doubting arises from want of dependence upon God's almighty power, and his knowledge and wisdom, as infinitely above theirs. But yet, in such persons their unbelief, and their doubting of their state, are not the same thing; though one arises from the other.
Persons may be greatly to blame for doubting of their state, on such grounds as these; and they may be to blame, that they have no more grace, and no more of its present exercises, to be an evidence to them of the goodness of their state. Men are doubtless to blame for being in a dead, carnal frame; but when they are in such a frame, and have no sensible experience of the exer
were made by the word of God.' Faith is the evidence of things not seen, Heb. xi. 1. Thus men know the Trinity of persons of the Godhead; that Jesus Christ is the Son of God; that he that believes in him will have eternal life; the resurrection of the dead. And if God should tell a saint that he has grace, he might know it by believing the word of God. But it is not this way, that godly men do know that they have grace. It is not revealed in the word, and the Spirit of God doth not testify it to particular persons." (Stoddard's Nature of Saving Conversion,' p. 83, 84.)
cises of grace, but on the contrary, are very much under the prevalence of their lusts, and an unchristian spirit, they are not to blame for doubting of their state. It is as impossible, in the nature of things, that a holy and Christian hope should be kept alive in its clearness and strength, in such circumstances, as it is to keep the light in the room, when the candle that gives it is put out; or to maintain the bright sunshine in the air, when the sun is gone down. Distant experiences, when darkened by present prevailing lust and corruption, will never keep alive a gracious confidence and assurance. If the one prevail, the other sickens and decays upon it. Does any one attempt to nourish and strengthen a little child by repeated blows on the head with a hammer? Nor is it at all to be lamented, that persons doubt of their state in such circumstances; but on the contrary, it is desirable and every way best that they should. It is agreeable to that wise and merciful constitution of things which God hath established. For so hath God constituted things, in his dispensations towards his own people, that when their love decays, and the exercises of it become weak, fear should arise. They need fear then to restrain them from sin, to excite them to care for the good of their souls, and so to stir them up to watchfulness and diligence in religion. But God hath so ordered, that when love rises, and is in vigorous exercise, then fear should vanish, and be driven away; for then they need it not, having a higher and more excellent principle in exercise, to restrain them from sin, and stir them up to duty. No other principles will ever make men conscientious, but one of these two, fear or love: and therefore, if one of these should not prevail as the other decayed, God's people when fallen into dead and carnal frames, when love is asleep, would be lamentably exposed indeed. Hence, God has wisely ordained, that these two opposite principles of love and fear, should rise and fall, like the two opposite scales of a balance; when one rises the other sinks. Light and darkness unavoidably succeed each other; if light prevail, so much does darkness cease, and no more; and if light decay, so much does darkness prevail. So it is in the heart of a child of God; if divine love decay and fall asleep, and lust prevail, the light and joy of hope goes out, and dark fear arises; and if, on the contrary, divine love prevail, and come into lively exercise, this brings in the brightness of hope, and drives away black lust and fear with it. Love is the spirit of adoption, or the childlike principle; if that slumbers, men fall under fear, which is the spirit of bondage, or the servile principle; and so on the contrary. And if love, or the spirit of adoption, be carried to a great height, it quite drives away all fear, and gives full assurance; 1 John iv. 18. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casteth out fear. These two oppo
site principles of lust and holy love, bring fear or hope into the hearts of God's children, just in proportion as they prevail; that is, when left to their own natural influence, without something adventitious, or accidental intervening; as the distemper of melancholy, doctrinal ignorance, prejudices of education, wrong instruction, false principles, peculiar temptations, &c.
Fear is cast out by the Spirit of God, no other way than by the prevailing of love: nor is it ever maintained by his Spirit, but when love is asleep. At such a time, in vain is all the saint's self-examinations, and poring on past experience, in order to establish his peace, and get assurance. For it is contrary to the nature of things, as God hath constituted them, that he should have assurance at such a time.
They therefore directly thwart God's wise and gracious constitution of things, who exhort others to be confident in their hope, when in dead frames; under a notion of living by faith and not by sight, and trusting God in the dark, and living upon Christ, and not upon experiences; and who warn them not to doubt of their good estate, lest they should be guilty of the dreadful sin of unbelief. It has a direct tendency to establish the most presumptuous hypocrites, and to prevent their ever calling their state in question, how much soever wickedness rages-reigns in their hearts, and prevails in their lives-under a notion of honouring God, by hoping against hope, and confidently trusting in God, when things look very dark. And, doubtless, vast has been the mischief that has been done this way.
Persons cannot be said to forsake Christ, and live on their experiences, merely because they use them as evidences of grace; for there are no other evidences that they can take. But then may persons be said to live upon their experiences, when they make a righteousness of them; and when, instead of keeping their eye on God's glory, and Christ's excellency, they turn it on themselves. They entertain their minds by viewing their own attainments, their high experiences, and the great things they have met with, which are bright and beautiful in their own eyes. They are rich and increase with goods in their own apprehensions, and think that God has as admiring an esteem of them, on the same account, as they have of themselves. This is living on experiences, and not on Christ; and is more abominable in the sight of God, than the gross immoralities of those who make no pretences to religion. But this is a far different thing from improving experiences as evidences of an interest in a glorious Redeemer.
Nothing can be certainly concluded concerning the nature of religious affections, that the relations persons give of them, are very affecting.
The true saints have not such a spirit of discerning, that they can certainly determine who are godly, and who are not. For though they know experimentally what true religion is, in the internal exercises of it; yet these are what they can neither feel nor see, in the heart of another*. There is nothing in others that comes within their view, but outward manifestations and appearances; but the scripture plainly intimates, that this way of judging what is in men by outward appearances is at best uncertain, and liable to deceit; 1 Sam. xvi. 7. The Lord seeth not as man sceth ; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart. Is. xi. 3. Is. xi. 3. He shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his earst. They commonly are but poor judges, and dangerous counsellors in soul cases, who are quick and peremptory in determining persons' states, vaunting themselves in their extraordinary faculty of discerning and distinguishing, in these great affairs; as though all was open and clear to them. They betray one of these three things; either that they have had but little experience; or are persons of a weak judgment; or that they have a great degree of pride and self-confidence, and so ignorance of themselves. Wise and experienced men will proceed with great caution in such an affair.
When there are many probable appearances of piety in others, it is the duty of the saints to receive them cordially into their charity, to love, and rejoice in them, as their brethren in Christ Jesus. But yet the best of men may be deceived, when the appearances seem to them exceeding fair and bright, even so as en
"Men may have the knowledge of their own conversion: the knowledge that other men have of it is uncertain; because no man can look into the heart of another, and see the workings of grace there. (Stoddard's Nature of Saving Conversion, chap. xv. at the beginning.)
+ Mr. Stoddard observes, That "all visible signs are common to converted and unconverted men; and a relation of experiences, among the rest." (Appeal to the Learned, p. 75.)
"O how hard it is for the eye of man to discern betwixt chaff and wheat! and how many upright hearts are now censured, whom God will clear! how many false hearts are now approved, whom God will condemn! Men ordinarily have no convictive proofs, but only probable symptoms; which at most beget but a conjectural knowledge of another's state. And they that shall peremptorily judge either way, may possibly wrong the generation of the upright, or on the other side, absolve and justify the wicked. And truly. considering what hath been said, it is no wonder that dangerous mistakes are so frequently made in this matter." (Flavel's Husbandry Spiritualized, chap. xii.)
tirely to gain their charity, and conquer their hearts. It has been a common thing in the Church of God, for bright professors, received as eminent among the saints, to fall away and come to nothing. And this we need not wonder at, if we consider the things already observed; things which may appear in men who are altogether graceless. Nothing hinders but that all these things may meet together in men, and yet they be without a spark of grace in their hearts. They may have religious affections of many kinds together; they may have a sort of affection towards God that bears a great resemblance of real love to him. They may have a kind of love to the brethren, great appearances of admiration of God's perfections and works, sorrow for sin, reverence, submission, self-abasement, gratitude, joy, religious longings, and zeal for the interest of religion and the good of souls. These affections may come after great awakenings and convictions of conscience; and there may be great appearances of a work of humiliation. Counterfeit love and joy, and other affections, may seem to follow one another, just in the same order that is commonly observable in the holy affections of true converts. And these religious affections may be carried to a great height, may cause abundance of tears, yea, may overcome the nature of those who are the subjects of them, and may make them affectionate, fervent, and fluent in speaking of the things of God, and dispose them to be abundant in it. They may have many sweet texts of scripture, and precious promises, brought with great impression on their minds; and their affections may dispose them, with their mouths, to praise and glorify God in a very ardent manner, and fervently to call upon others to praise him, exclaiming against their unworthiness, and extolling free grace. They may, moreover, dispose them to abound in the external duties of religion, such as prayer, hearing the word preached, singing and religious conference; and these things attended with a great resemblance of Christian assurance in its greatest height, when the saints mount on eagles' wings,
"Be not offended, if you see great cedars fall, stars fall from heaven, great professors die and decay: do not think they be all such: do not think that the elect shall fall. Truly, some are such that when they fall, one would think a man truly sancti fied might fall away, as the Arminians think; 1 John ii. 19. They were not of us. I speak this, because the Lord is shaking; and I look for great apostacies: for God is trying all his friends, through all the Christian world. In Germany what pro. fession was there! who would have thought it? The Lord who delights to manifest that openly, which was hid secretly, sends a sword and they fall." (Shepard's Parab. Part. 1. p. 118, 119.)
"The saints may approve thee, and God condemns thee; Rev. iii. 1. Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Men may say, there is a true Nathaniel; and God may say, there is a self cozening Pharisee. Reader, thou hast heard of Judas and Demas, of Ananias and Sapphira, of Hymeneus and Philetus, once renowned and famous professors, and thou hast heard how they proved at last." (Flavel's Touchstone of Sincerity, chap. ii, sect. 5.)