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Gracious affections soften the heart, and are attended with a christian tenderness of spirit.
False affections, however persons may seem to be melted by them while they are new, have a tendency in the end to harden the heart. A disposition to some kind of passions may be established; such as imply self-seeking, self-exaltation, and opposition to others. But false affections, with the delusion that attends them, finally tend to stupify the mind, and shut it up against those affections wherein tenderness of heart consists. The effect of them at last is, that persons in the settled frame of their minds, become less affected with their present and past sins, and less conscientious with respect to future sins; less moved with the warnings and cautions of God’s word, or chastisements in his providence; more careless of the frame of their hearts, and the manner and tendency of their behaviour; less quick-sighted to discern what is sinful, and less afraid of the appearance of evil, than they were while under legal awakenings and fears of hell. Now they have been the subjects of impressions and affections, have a high opinion of themselves, and look on their state to be safe, they can be much more easy than before, though living in the neglect of duties that are troublesome and inconvenient.—They are much more slow and partial in complying with difficult commands; and are not alarmed at the appearance of their own defects and transgressions. They are emboldened to favour themselves more, with respect to the labour and painful exactness in their walk, and more easily yield to temptations, and the solicitations of their lusts; and have far less care of their behaviour, when they come into the holy presence of God, in the time of public or private worship. Formerly it may be, under legal convictions, they took much pains in religion, and denied themselves in many things: but now, thinking themselves out of the danger of hell, they very much put off the burden of the cross, and save themselves the trouble of difficult duties, allowing themselves more of the enjoyment of their ease and lusts.
Such persons as these, instead of embracing Christ as their Saviour from sin, trust in him as the saviour of their sins; instead of flying to him as their refuge from their spiritual enemies, they make use of him as the defence of their spiritual enemies, from God, and to strengthen them against him. They make Christ the minister of sin, the great officer and vicegerent of the devil, to strengthen his interest, and make him above all things in the world strong against jehovah; so that they may sin against him with good courage, and without any fear, being effectually secured from restraints by his most solemn warnings” and most awful threatenings. They trust in Christ to preserve to them the quiet enjoyment of their sins, and to be their shield to defend them from God’s displeasure; while they come close to him, even to his bosom, the place of his children, to fight against him, with their mortal weapons, hid under their skirts. 511511 “These are hypocrites that believe, but fail in regard of the use of the gospel, and of the Lord Jesus. And these we read of, Jude 3. viz. of some men that did turn grace into wantonness. For therein appears the exceeding evil of a man’s heart, that not only the law, but also the glorious gospel of the Lord Jesus, works in him all manner of unrighteousness. And it is too common for men at the first work of conversion. On then to cry for grace and Christ, and afterwards grow licentious, live and lie in the breach of the law, and take their warrant for their course from the gospel.”— Shepard’s Parable, Part I. p. 126. Again, p. 232. Mr. Shepard speaks of such hypocrites as those, “who, like strange eggs being put into the same nest, where honest men have lived, they have been hatched up; and when they are young, keep their nest, and live by crying and opening their mouths wide after the Lord, and the food of his word; but when their wings are grown, and they have got some affections, some knowledge, some hope of mercy, are hardened thereby to fly from God.” And adds, “Can that man be good, whom God’s grace makes worse?” Again. Part II. p. 167. “When men fly to Christ in times of peace, that so they may preserve their sins with greater peace of conscience; so that sin makes them fly to Christ, as well as misery; not that they may destroy and abolish sin, but they may be preserved in their sins with peace; then men may be said to apprehend Christ only by a seeming faith.—Many an heart secretly saith this. If I can have my sin, and peace, and conscience quiet for the present, and God merciful to pardon it afterward; hence he doth rely (as be saith) only on the mercy of God in Christ: and now this hardens and blinds him, and makes him secure, and his faith is sermon proof, nothing stirs him—And were it not for their faith they should despair, but this keeps them up. And now they think if they have any trouble of mind, the devil troubles them; and so make Christ and faith protectors of sin, not purifiers from sin: which is most dreadful; turning grace to wantonness. as they did sacrifice. So these would sin under the shadow of Christ, because the shadow is good and sweet, Mic. iii. 11. They had subtle sly ends in good duties; for therein may lie a man’s sin: yet they lean upon the Lord.— When money-changers came into the temple. You have made it a den of thieves. Thieves when hunted fly to their den or cave, and there they are secure against all searchers, and hue and cries: so here. But Christ whipped them out. So when men are pursued with cries and fears of conscience, away to Christ they go as to their den: not as saints, to pray and lament out the life of their sin there; but to preserve their sins. This is vile; will the Lord receive such?” However, some of these, at the same time, make a great profession of love to God, and assurance of his favour, and great joy in tasting the sweetness of his love.
After this manner they trusted in Christ, of whom the apostle Jude speaks, who crept in among the saints unknown; but were really “ungodly men, turning the grace of God into lasciviousness,”. Jude 4. These are they 308 that trust in their being righteous; and because God has promised that the righteous shall surely live, or certainly be saved, are therefore emboldened to commit iniquity, whom God threatens in Ezek. xxxiii. 13. “When I shall say to the righteous, that he shall surely live: if he trust to his own righteousness, and commit iniquity; all his righteousness shall not be remembered, but for his iniquity that he hath committed, he shall die for it.”
Gracious affections are of a quite contrary tendency; they turn a heart of stone more and more into a heart of flesh. Holy love and hope are principles vastly more efficacious upon the heart, to make it tender, and to fill it with a dread of sin, or whatever might displease and offend God; and to engage it to watchfulness, and care, and strictness, than a slavish fear of hell. Gracious affections, as was observed before, flow out of a contrite heart, or (as the word signifies) a bruised heart, bruised and broken with godly sorrow; which makes the heart tender, as bruised flesh is tender, and easily hurt. Godly sorrow has much greater influence to make the heart tender, than mere legal sorrow from selfish principles.
The tenderness of the heart of a true Christian, is elegantly signified by our Saviour, in his comparing such a one to a little child. The flesh of a little child is very tender: so is the heart of one that is new-born. This is also represented in what we are told of Naaman’s cure of his leprosy, by his washing in Jordan, by the direction of the prophet; which was undoubtedly a type of the renewing of the soul, by washing in the laver of regeneration. We are told, 2 Kings v. 14. that “he went down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child.” Not only is the flesh of a little child tender, but his mind is tender. A little child has his heart easily moved, wrought upon, and bowed: so is a Christian in spiritual things. A little child is apt to be affected with sympathy, to weep with them that weep, and cannot well bear to see others in distress: so it is with a Christian; John xi. 35. Rom. xii. 15. 1 Cor. xii. 26. A little child is easily won by kindness: so is a Christian. A little child is easily affected with grief at temporal evils, his heart is melted, and he falls a-weeping; thus tender is the heart of a Christian, with regard to the evil of sin. A little child, is easily affrighted at the appearance of outward evils, or any thing that threatens its hurt: so is a Christian apt to be alarmed at the appearance of moral evil, and any thing that threatens the hurt of the soul. A little child when it meets enemies, or fierce beasts, is not apt to trust its own strength, but flies to its parents: for refuge so a saint is not self-confident in engaging spiritual enemies, but flies to Christ. A little child is apt to be suspicious of evil in places of danger, afraid in the dark, afraid when left solitary, or far from home: so is a saint apt to be sensible of his spiritual dangers, jealous of himself, full of fear when he cannot see his way plain before him, afraid to be left alone, and to be at a distance from God; Prov. xxviii. 14. “Happy is the man that feareth alway; but he that hardeneth his heart, shall fall into mischief.” A little child is apt to be afraid of superiors, and to dread their anger, and tremble at their frowns and threatenings: so is a true saint with respect to God; Psal. cxix. 120. “My flesh trembleth for fear of thee, and I am afraid of thy judgments.” Isa. lxvi. 2. “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor, and trembleth at my word.” Ver. 5. “Hear ye the word of the Lord, ye that tremble at his word.” Ezra ix 4. “Then were assembled unto me every one that trembled at the words of the God of Israel.” Chap. x. 3. “According to the counsel of my lord, and of those that tremble at the commandment of our God.” A little child approaches superiors with awe: so do the saints approach God with holy awe and reverence; Job xiii. 11. “Shall not his excellency make you afraid? and his dread fall upon you?” Holy fear is so much the nature of true godliness, that it is called in Scripture by no other name more frequently, than the fear of God.
Hence gracious affections do not tend to make men bold, forward, noisy, and boisterous; but rather to speak trembling; Hos. xiii. 1. “When Ephraim spake trembling, he exalted himself in Israel; but when he offended in Baal, he died.” It tends to clothe them with a kind of holy fear in all their behaviour towards God and man; agreeable to Psal. ii. 11. 1 Pet. iii. 15. 2 Cor. vii. 15. Eph. vi. 5. 1 Pet. iii. 2. Rom. xi. 20.
But, is there no such thing as a holy boldness in prayer, and the duties of divine worship? There is doubtless such a thing; and it is chiefly to be found in eminent saints, persons of great degrees of faith and love. But this holy boldness is not in the least opposite to reverence; though it be to disunion and servility. It abolishes or lessens that disposition which arises from moral distance or alienation; and also distance of relation, as that of a slave: but not at all, that which becomes the natural distance, whereby we are infinitely inferior. No boldness in poor sinful worms of the dust, who have a right view of God and themselves, will prompt them to approach God with less fear and reverence, than spotless and glorious angels in heaven, who cover their faces before his throne, Isa. vi. 1,. &c. Rebecca, (who in her marriage with Isaac, in almost all its circumstances, was manifestly a great type of the church, the spouse of Christ,) when she meets Isaac, alights from her camel, takes a vail, and covers herself; although she was brought to him as his bride, to be with him, in the nearest relation, and most intimate union. 512512 Dr. Ames, in his Cases of Conscience, Book III. chap. iv. speaks of a holy modesty in the worship of God, is one sign of true humility. Elijah, that great prophet, who had so much holy familiarity with God, at a time of special nearness to him, even when he conversed with him in the mount, wrapped his face in his mantle. Which was not because he was terrified with any servile fear, by the terrible wind, and earthquake, and fire; but after these were all over, and God spake to him as a friend, in a still small voice; 1 Kings xix. 12, 13. “And after the fire, a still small voice; and it was so, when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle.” And Moses, with whom God spake face to face, as a man speaks with his friend, and who was distinguished above all the prophets, in the familiarity with God to which he was admitted—at a time when he was brought nearest of all, when God showed him his glory in that same mount, where he afterwards spake to Elijah—“made haste, and bowed his head towards the earth, and worshipped,”. Exod. xxxiv. 8. There is in some persons a most unsuitable and unsufferable boldness, in their addresses to the great jehovah—an affectation of holy boldness, and ostentation of eminent nearness and familiarity—the very thoughts of which would make them shrink into nothing, with horror and confusion, if they saw the distance that is between God and them. They are like the Pharisee, that boldly drew near, in confidence of his own eminence in holiness. Whereas, if they saw their vileness, they would be more like the publican, that “stood afar off, and durst not so much as lift up his eyes to heaven: but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.” It becomes such sinful creatures as we, to approach a holy God (although with faith, and without terror, yet) with contrition, penitent shame, and confusion of face. It is foretold that this should be the disposition of the church, at the time of her highest privileges on earth, in her latter day of glory, when God should remarkably comfort her, by revealing to her his covenant-mercy; Ezek. xvi. 60,. &c. “I will establish unto thee an everlasting covenant. Then thou shalt remember thy ways, and be ashamed. And I will establish my covenant with thee, and thou shalt know that I am the Lord: that thou mayest remember and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more because of thy shame, when I am pacified toward thee for all that thou hast done, saith the Lord God.” The woman we read of in the 7th chapter of Luke., who was an eminent saint and had much of that true love which casts out fear, (by Christ’s own testimony, ver. 47.) approached Christ in an acceptable manner when she came with humble modesty, reverence, and shame. She stood at his feet, weeping behind him, as not being fit to appear before his face, and washed his feet with her tears.
One reason why gracious affections are attended with this tenderness of spirit, is, that true grace tends to promote 309 convictions of conscience. Persons are wont to have some convictions of conscience before they have any grace: and if afterwards they are truly converted, have true repentance, joy, and peace in believing; this has a tendency to put an end to terrors, but has no tendency to put an end to convictions of sin; it rather increases them. Grace does not stupify a man’s, conscience; but makes it more sensible, more easily and thoroughly to discern the sinfulness of that which is sinful, and to receive a greater conviction of the heinous and dreadful nature of sin. The conscience becomes susceptive of a quicker and deeper sense of sin, and the man is more convinced of his own sinfulness, and the wickedness of his heart; consequently grace has a tendency to make him more jealous of his heart. Grace tends to give the soul a further and better conviction of the same things concerning sin, that it was convinced of under a legal work of the Spirit; viz. its great contrariety to the will, and law, and honour of God, the greatness of God’s hatred of it, and displeasure against it, and the dreadful punishment it exposes to and deserves. And not only so, but it convinces the soul of something further concerning sin, of which it saw nothing, while only under legal convictions; and that is, the infinitely hateful nature of sin, and its dreadfulness upon that account. And this makes the heart tender with respect to sin; like David’s heart, that smote him when he had cut off Saul’s skirt. The heart of a true penitent is like a burnt child that dreads the fire. Whereas, on the contrary, he that has had a counterfeit repentance, and false comforts and joys, is like iron that has been suddenly heated and quenched; it becomes much harder than before. A false conversion puts an end to convictions of conscience; and so, either takes away or much diminishes that conscientiousness which was manifested under a work of the law.
All gracious affections have a tendency to promote this christian tenderness of heart. Not only godly sorrow, but even a gracious joy does this. Psal. ii. 11. “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.” As also a gracious hope; Psal. xxxiii. 18. “Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him; upon them that hope in his mercy.” And Psal. cxlvii. 11. “The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy.” Yea, the most confident and assured hope, that is truly gracious, has this tendency. The higher a holy hope is raised, the more there is of this christian tenderness. The banishing of servile fear by a holy assurance, is attended with a proportionable increase of a reverential fear. The diminishing of the fear of God’s displeasure in future punishment, is attended with a proportionable increase of fear of his displeasure itself; a diminished fear of hell, with an increase of the fear of sin. The vanishing of jealousies concerning the person’s state, is attended with a proportionable increase of jealousy of his heart, in a distrust of its strength, wisdom, stability, faithfulness, &c. The less apt he is to be afraid of natural evil—having his heart fixed, trusting in God, and so, not afraid of evil tidings—the more apt is he to be alarmed with the appearance of moral evil, or the evil of sin. As he has more holy boldness, so he has less of self-confidence, or a forward assuming boldness, and more modesty. As he is more sure than others of deliverance from hell, so he has a greater sense of its desert. He is less apt than others to be shaken in faith; but more apt to be moved with solemn warnings, with God’s frowns, and with the calamities of others. He has the firmest comfort, but the softest heart: richer than others, but poorest of all in spirit. He is the tallest and strongest saint, but the least and tenderest child among them.+
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