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not to help his people to do their duty in some instances, because he cannot do it without being a spirit of falsehood. But surely God is so far a sovereign, that he may enable us to do our duty when he pleases, and on what occasion he pleases. When persons think others are his children, God may have other ends in causing their exceedingly endeared love to flow out to them, besides revealing to them whether their opinion of them be right or no. May he not have that merciful end in it, to enable them to do their duty, and to keep them from that dreadful, infinite evil, sin? And will they say, God shall not shew them that mercy in such a case? If I am at a distance from home, and hear, that in my absence my house is burnt, but my family have, in some extraordinary manner, all escaped the flames; and every thing in the circumstances of the story, as I hear it, makes it appear very credible; would it not be sin in me, in such a case, not to feel a very great degree of gratitude to God, though the story in fact be not true! And is not God so sovereign, that he may, if he please, on that occasion, enable me to do my duty in a much further degree than I used to do it, and yet not incur the charge of deceitfulness, in confirming a falsehood?
It is exceeding manifest, that a mistake may be the occasion of a gracious exercise, and consequently a gracious influence of the Spirit of God, by Rom. xiv. 6. He that eateth to the Lord, he eateth, and giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not to the Lord, he eateth not, and giveth God thanks. The apostle is speaking of those who, through erroneous and needless scruples, avoided eating legally unclean meats.-By this it is very evident, that there may be true exercises of grace, a true respect to the Lord, and particularly a true thankfulness, which may be occasioned by an erroneous judgment and practice. And consequenly, an error may be the occasion of those truly holy exercises that are from the infallible Spirit of God. And if so, it is certainly too much for us to determine, to how great a degree the Spirit of God may give this holy exercise on such an occasion.
This notion, of certainly discerning another's state by love flowing out, is not only not founded on reason or scripture, but it is anti-scriptural, against the rules of scripture; which-without saying a word of any such way of judging the state of others as this direct us to judge chiefly by the fruits that are seen in them. The doctrines of scripture plainly teach us, that the state of others, towards God, cannot be known by us, as in Rev. ii. 17. To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth, saving that he receiveth it. And Rom. ii. 29. He is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter, whose 12
praise is not of men, but of God. By this last expression, whose praise is not of men, but of God, the apostle has respect to the insufficiency of men to judge concerning him, whether he be inwardly a Jew or no. They could easily see by outward marks, whether men were outwardly Jews, but it belongs to God alone to give a determining voice, respecting their inward state. This is confirmed by the same apostle's use of the phrase in 1 Cor. iv. 5. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God. The apostle, in the two foregoing verses, says, But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing by myself, yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. It is further confirmed, because the apostle, in this second chapter to the Romans, directs his speech especially to those who had a high conceit of their own holiness, made their boast of God, were confident of their own power of discerning, that they knew God's will, and approved the things which were excellent, or tried the things that differ (as in the margin, v. 18.) They were confident that they were guides of the blind, and a light to them which are in darkness, instructors of the foolish, teachers of babes: and so took upon them to judge others. (See ver. 1. and 17-20.)
And how arrogant must their notion be, who imagine they can certainly know others' godliness, when that great apostle Peter pretends not to say any more concerning Sylvanus, than that he was a faithful brother, as he supposed? 1 Pet. v. 12. Though this Sylvanus appears to have been a very eminent minister of Christ, an evangelist, a famous light in God's church at that day, and an intimate companion of the apostles. (See 2 Cor. i. 19. 1 Thess, i. 1. and 2 Thess. i. 1.)
SHEWING WHAT ARE DISTINGUISHING SIGNS OF TRULY GRACIOUS AND HOLY AFFECTIONS.
I COME now to take notice of some things, wherein those affections that are spiritual and gracious, differ from those that are not so. But before I proceed directly to the distinguishing characters, I would previously mention some things which I desire may be observed, concerning the marks I shall lay down.
1. I am far from undertaking to give such signs of gracious affections, as shall be sufficient to enable any certainly to distinguish true affections from false in others; or to determine positively which of their neighbours are true professors, and which are hypocrites. In so doing, I should be guilty of that arrogance which I have been condemning. It is plain that Christ has given rules to all Christians, to enable them to judge of those professors of religion, with whom they are concerned so far as is necessary for their own safety, and to prevent their being led into a snare by false teachers, and false pretenders to religion. It is also beyond doubt, that the scriptures abound with rules, which may be very serviceable to ministers, in counselling and conducting souls committed to their care, in things appertaining to their spiritual and eternal state. Yet it is also evident, that it was never God's design to give us any rules, by which we may certainly know, who of our fellow-professors are his, and to make a full and clear separation between sheep and goats. On the contrary, it was God's design to reserve this to himself, as his prerogative. And therefore no such distinguishing signs as shall enable Christians or ministers to do this, are ever to be expected to the world's end; for no more is ever to be expected from any signs found in the word of God, or gathered from it, than Christ designed them for.
2. No such signs are to be expected, that shall be sufficient to enable those saints certainly to discern their own good estate, who are very low in grace, or are such as have much departed from God, and are fallen into a dead, carnal and unchristian frame. It is not agreeable to God's design, (as already observed) that such should know their good estate: nor is it desirable that they should; but on the contrary, it is every way best that they should not. We have reason to bless God, that he has made no provision that such should certainly know the state they are in, any other way, than by first coming out of their ill frame and way.
Indeed it is not properly through the defect of the signs given in the word of God, that every saint living, whether strong or weak, and those who are in a bad frame, as well as others, cannot certainly know their good estate by them. For the rules in themselves are certain and infallible, and every saint has, or has had those things in himself, which are sure evidences of grace; for every, even the least act of grace is so. But the difficulty comes through his defect to whom the signs are given. There is a twofold defect in that saint who is very low in grace, or in an ill frame, which makes it impossible for him to know certainly that he has true grace, by the best signs and rules which can be given him.
First, A defect in the object, or the qualification to be viewed and examined. I do not mean an essential defect; because I suppose the person to be a real saint: but a defect in degree: grace being very small, cannot be clearly and certainly discerned and distinguished. Things that are very small we cannot clearly discern, as to their form, or distinguish them one from another; though as they are in themselves, their form may be very different. There is doubtless a great difference between the body of man, and the bodies of other animals, in the first conception in the womb: but yet, if we should view the different embryos, it might not be possible for us to discern the difference, by reason of the imperfect state of the object; but as it comes to greater perfection, the difference becomes very plain. The difference between creatures of very contrary qualities, is not so plainly to be seen while they are very young, even after they are actually brought forth, as in their more perfect state. The difference between doves and ravens, or doves and vultures, when they first come out of the egg, is not so evident; but as they grow to their perfection, it is exceeding great and manifest. The grace of those I am speaking of is mingled with so much corruption, which clouds and hides it, as makes it impossible to be known with certainty. Though different things before us, may have in themselves many marks thoroughly distinguishing them one from another; yet if we see them only in a thick smoke, it may never
theless be impossible to distinguish them. A fixed star is easily distinguishable from a comet, in a clear sky; but if we view them through a cloud, it may be impossible to see the difference. When true Christians are in an ill frame, guilt lies on the conscience; which will bring fear, and so prevent the peace and joy of an assured hope.
Secondly, There is in such a case a defect in the eye. As the feebleness of grace and the prevalence of corruption, obscures the object; so it enfeebles the sight. Corruption in the soul darkens the sight as to all spiritual objects, of which grace is one. Sin is like some distempers of the eyes, that make things to appear of different colours from those which properly belong to them; or, like other distempers that put the mouth out of taste, so as to disable it from distinguishing good and wholesome food from bad, but every thing tastes bitter. Men in a corrupt and carnal frame, have their spiritual senses in but a poor plight for judging and distinguishing spiritual things.
For these reasons, no signs that can be given will actually satisfy persons in such a case. Let the signs given be never so good and infallible, and clearly laid down, they will not serve them. It is like giving a man rules how to distinguish visible objects in the dark the things themselves may be very different, and their dif ference may be very well and distinctly described to him; yet all is insufficient to enable him to distinguish them, because he is in the dark. And therefore many persons in such a case spend time in a fruitless labour, in poring on past experiences, and examining themselves by signs which they hear laid down from the pulpit, or read in books. There is other work for them to do, which, while they neglect, all their self-examinations are like to be in vain, if they should spend never so much time in them. The accursed thing is to be destroyed from their camp, and Achan to be slain; and until this be done they will be in trouble. It is not God's design that men should obtain assurance in any other way, than by mortifying corruption, increasing in grace, and obtaining the lively exercises of it. And although self-examination be a duty of great use and importance, and by no means to be neglected; yet it is not the principal means, by which the saints do get satisfaction of their good estate. Assurance is not to be obtained so much by self-examination, as by action. The apostle Paul sought assurance chiefly this way, even by forgetting the things that were behind, and reaching forth unto those things that were before, pressing towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus; if by any means he might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. And it was by this means chiefly that he obtained assurance, 1 Cor. ix. 26. I therefore so run, as not uncertainly. He obtained assurance of winning the prize more by run