|« Prev||SECTION XIII. Christian practice is the chief…||Next »|
Christian practice or holy life, is a manifestation and sign of the sincerity of a professing Christian, to the eye of his neighbours and brethren.
And that this is the chief sign of grace in this respect, is very evident from the word of God. Christ, who knew best how to give us rules to judge of others, has repeated, and inculcated the rule, that we should know them by their fruits; Matt. vii. 16. “Ye shall know them by their fruits.” And then after arguing the point, and giving clear reasons, why men’s fruits must be the chief evidence of what sort they are, in the following verses, he closes by repeating the assertion; ver. 20. “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” Again, chap. xii. 33. “Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt.”—As much as to say, it is a very absurd thing, for any to suppose that the tree is good, and yet the fruit bad; that the tree is of one sort, and the fruit of another; for the proper evidence of the nature of the tree is its fruit. Nothing else can be intended by that last clause in the verse, “For the tree is known by its fruit,” than that the tree is chiefly known by its fruit, that this is the main and most proper diagnostic by which one tree is distinguished from another. So “Every tree is known by his own fruit.” Christ no where says, Ye shall know the tree by its leaves or flowers; or ye shall know men by their talk, by the good story they tell of their experiences, by the manner and air of their speaking, or emphasis and pathos of expression; or ye shall know them by their speaking feelingly, or by abundance of talk, or by many tears and affectionate expressions, or by the affections ye feel in your hearts towards them: but by their fruits shall ye know them; the tree is known by its fruit; every tree is known by its own fruit. And as this is the evidence that Christ has directed us mainly to look at it in others, in judging of them, so it is the evidence that Christ has mainly directed us to give to others, whereby they may judge of us; Matt. v. 16. “Let your light so shine before men, that others seeing your good works, may glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Here Christ directs us to manifest our godliness to others. Godliness is as it were a light that shines in the soul: Christ directs that this light should not only shine within, but that it should shine out before men, that they may see it. But which way shall this be? It is by our good works. Christ doth not say, that others hearing your good words, your good story, or your pathetical expressions; but that others seeing your good works, may glorify your Father which is in heaven. Doubtless when Christ gives us a rule how to make our light shine, that others may have evidence of it, his rule is the best. And the apostles mention a christian practice, as the principal ground of their esteem of persons as true Christians. As the apostle Paul, in the Hebrews vi.6th chapter of Hebrews. There the apostle, in the beginning of the chapter, speaks of persons who have great common illuminations, who have been enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, who afterwards fall away, and are like barren ground, that is nigh unto cursing, whose end is to be burned: and then he immediately adds in the 9th verse, (expressing his charity for the christian Hebrews, as having that saving grace, which is better than all these common illuminations,) “But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation: though we thus speak.” And then in the next verse, he tells them what was the reason he had such good thoughts of them: he does not say, that it was because they had given him a good account of a work of God upon their souls, and talked very experimentally; but it was their work, and labour of love; “for God is not unrighteous, to forget your work, and labour of love, which ye have showed towards his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.” 531531 Heb. vi. 10. And the same apostle speaks of faithfully serving God in practice, as the proper proof to others of men’s loving Christ above all, and preferring his honour to their private interest, Phil. ii. 21, 22. “For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s: but ye know the proof of him, that as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the gospel.” So the apostle John expresses the same, as the ground of his good opinion of Gaius, 3 John 3-6. “for I rejoiced greatly when the brethren came and testified of the truth that is in thee.” But how did the brethren testify of the truth that was in Gaius? and how did the apostle judge of the truth that was in him? it was not because they testified that he had given them a good account of the steps of his experiences, and talked like one that felt what he said, and had the very language of a Christian: but they testified, “that he walked in the truth:” as it follows, 3 John 3-6.even as thou walkest in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in the truth. Beloved, thou dost faithfully whatsoever thou dost to the brethren, and to strangers: which have borne witness of thy charity before the church.” Thus the apostle explains what the brethren had borne witness of, when they came and testified of his walking in the truth. And the apostle seems in this same place, to give it as a rule to Gaius how he should judge of others. In verse 10. he mentions one Diotrephes, that did not conduct himself well, and led away others after him; and then in the 11th verse., he directs Gaius to beware of such, and not to follow them: and gives him a rule whereby he may know them, exactly agreeable to that rule Christ had given before, “by their fruits ye shall know them,” says the apostle, “Beloved, follow” not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doth good, is of God: but he that doth evil, hath not seen God.” And I would further observe, that the apostle James, expressly comparing that way of showing others our faith and Christianity by our practice or works, with other ways of showing our faith without works, or not by works, does plainly and abundantly prefer the former; Jam. ii. 18. “Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works.” A manifestation of our faith without works, or in a way diverse from works, is a manifestation of it in words, whereby a man professes faith. As the apostle says, ver. 14. “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith?”—Therefore here are two ways of manifesting to our neighbour what is in our hearts; one by what we say, and the other by what we do. But the apostle abundantly prefers the latter as the best evidence. Now certainly all accounts we give of ourselves in words, our saying that we have faith, and that we are converted; telling the manner how we came to have faith, the steps by which it was wrought, and the discoveries and experiences that accompanied it, are still but manifesting our faith by what we say; it is but showing our faith by our words; which the apostle speaks of as falling vastly short of manifesting of it by what we do, and showing our faith by our works.
And as the Scripture plainly teaches, that practice is the best evidence of the sincerity of professing Christians; so reason teaches the same thing. Reason shows, that men’s deeds are better and more faithful interpreters of their minds, than their words. The common sense of all mankind, through all ages and nations, teaches them to judge of men’s hearts chiefly by their practice, in other matters: as, whether a man be a loyal subject, a true lover, a dutiful child, or a faithful servant. If a man professes a great deal of love and friendship to another, reason teaches all men, that such a profession is not so great an evidence of his being a real and hearty friend, as his appearing a friend in deeds; being faithful and constant to his friend, in prosperity and adversity, ready to lay out himself, and deny himself, and suffer in his personal interest, to do him a kindness. A wise man will trust to such evidences of the sincerity of friendship, further than a thousand earnest professions and solemn declarations, and most affectionate expressions of friendship in words. And there is equal reason, why practice should also be looked upon as the best evidence of friendship towards Christ. Reason says the same that Christ said, in John xiv. 21. “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me.” Thus if we see a man, who in the course of his life seems to follow and imitate Christ, and greatly to exert and deny himself for his honour, and to promote his kingdom and interest in the world; reason teaches, that this is an 322 evidence of love to Christ, more to be depended on, than if a man only says he has love to him, and tells of his inward experiences, what strong love he felt, and how his heart was drawn out in love at such and such a time; when it may be there appears but little imitation of Christ in his behaviour. He seems backward to do any great matter for him, or to put himself out of his way for the promoting of his kingdom, but seems to be apt to excuse himself whenever he is called to deny himself for Christ. So if a man, in declaring his experiences, tells how he found his heart weaned from the world, and saw the vanity of it, so that all looked as nothing to him at such and such times, and professes that he gives up all to God, and calls heaven and earth to witness to it: but yet in his practice is violent in pursuing the world, what he gets he keeps close, is exceeding loth to part with much of it to charitable and pious uses, it comes from him almost like his heart’s blood. But there is another professing Christian, that says not a great deal, yet in his behaviour appears ready at all times to forsake the world, whenever it stands in the way of his duty, and is free to part with it at any time, to promote religion and the good of his fellow-creatures. Reason teaches, that the latter gives far the most credible manifestation of a heart weaned from the world. And if a man appears to walk humbly before God and men, and to be of a conversation that savours of a broken heart, appearing patient and resigned to God under affliction, and meek in his behaviour amongst men; this is a better evidence of humiliation, than if a person only tells how great a sense he had of his own unworthiness—how he was brought to lie in the dust, quite emptied of himself, and to see himself all over filthy and abominable, &c. &c.—but yet acts as if he looked upon himself one of the first and best of saints, and by just right the head of all the Christians in the town. He is assuming, self-willed, and impatient of the least contradiction or opposition; we may be assured in such a case, that a man’s practice comes from a lower place in his heart, than his profession. So (to mention no more instances) if a professor of Christianity manifest in his behaviour a tender spirit towards others in calamity, ready to bear their burdens with them, willing to spend his substance for them, and to suffer many inconveniences in his worldly interest to promote the good of others’ souls and bodies; is not this a more credible manifestation of a spirit of love to men, than only a man’s telling what love he felt to others at certain times—how he pitied their souls, how his soul was in travail for them, and how he felt a hearty love and pity to his enemies—when in his behaviour he seems to be of a very selfish spirit, close and niggardly, all for himself, and none for his neighbours, and perhaps envious and contentious? Persons in a pang of affection may think they have a willingness of heart for great things, to do much and to suffer much, and so may profess it very earnestly and confidently, when really their hearts are far from it. Thus many in their affectionate pangs have thought themselves willing to be damned eternally for the glory of God. Passing affections easily produce words; and words are cheap; and godliness is more easily feigned in words than in actions. Christian practice is a costly laborious thing. The self-denial that is required of Christians, the narrowness of the way that leads to life, does not consist in words, but in practice. Hypocrites may much more easily be brought to talk like saints than to act like saints.
Thus it is plain, that christian practice is the best sign or manifestation of the true godliness of a professing Christian, to the eye of his neighbours. But then, the following things should be well observed, that this matter may be rightly understood:
First, It must be observed, that when the Scripture speaks of christian practice, as the best evidence to others of sincerity and truth of grace, a profession of Christ trinity is not excluded, but supposed. The rules mentioned, were rules given to the followers of Christ, to guide them in their thoughts of professing Christians, and those that offered themselves as some of their society, whereby they might judge of the truth of their pretences, and the sincerity of the profession they made; and not for the trial of heathens, or those who made no pretence to Christianity, and with whom Christians had nothing to do. This is as plain as possible in that great rule which Christ gives in the 7th of Matthew, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” He there gives a rule how to judge of professed Christians, yea those who made a very high profession, false prophets, who come in sheep’s clothing,” as ver. 15. So that passage of the apostle James ii. 18. “Show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works.” It is evident, that both these sorts of persons, offering to give these diverse evidences of their faith, are professors of faith; this is implied in each offering to give evidences of the faith professed. And it is evident by the preceding verses, that the apostle is speaking of professors of faith in Jesus Christ. So it is very plain that the apostle John, in those passages observed in his third epistle, is speaking of professing Christians. Though in these rules, the christian practice, of professors be spoken of as the greatest and most distinguishing sign of their sincerity, much more evidential than their profession itself; yet a profession of Christianity is plainly pre-supposed. It is not the main thing in the evidence, nor any thing distinguishing; yet it is a thing requisite and necessary in it. As having an animal body, is not any thing distinguishing of a man from other creatures, and is not the main thing in the evidence of human nature; yet it is a thing requisite and necessary in the evidence. So that if any man should say plainly that he was not a Christian, and did not believe that Jesus was the Son of God, or a person sent of God; these rules of Christ and his apostles do not at all oblige us to look upon him as a sincere Christian, let his visible practice and virtues be what they will. And not only do these rules take no place with respect to a man that explicitly denies Christianity, and is a professed deist, Jew, heathen, or open infidel; but also with respect to a man that only forbears to make a profession of Christianity: because these rules were given us only to judge of professing Christians; fruits must be joined with open flowers; bells and pomegranates go together.
But here will naturally arise this inquiry, viz. When a man may be said to profess Christianity? or, what profession may properly be called a profession of Christianity? I answer in two things:
1. In order to a man’s being properly said to make a profession of Christianity, there must undoubtedly be a profession of all that is necessary to his being a Christian, or of so much as belongs to the essence of Christianity. Whatsoever is essential in Christianity itself, the profession of that is essential in the profession of Christianity. The profession must be of the thing professed. For a man to profess Christianity, is for him to declare that he has it. And therefore so much as belongs to the true denomination of a thing; so much is essential to a true declaration of that thing. If we take only a part of Christianity, and leave out a part which is essential to it, what we take is not Christianity; because something of the essence of it is wanting. So if we profess only a part, and leave out a part that is essential, that which we profess is not Christianity. Thus in order to a profession of Christianity, we must profess that we believe that Jesus is the Messiah; for this reason, because such a belief is essential to Christianity. And so we must profess, either expressly or implicitly, that Jesus satisfied for our sins, and other essential doctrines of the gospel, because a belief of these things also are essential to Christianity. But there are other things as essential to religion, as an orthodox belief; which it is therefore as necessary that we should profess, in order to our being truly said to profess Christianity. Thus it is essential to Christianity that we repent of our sins, that we be convinced of our own sinfulness, that we are sensible we have justly exposed ourselves to God’s wrath; that our hearts renounce all sin, that we do with our whole hearts embrace Christ as our only Saviour, that we love him above all, are willing for his sake to forsake all, and that we give up ourselves to be entirely and for ever his, &c. Such things as these as much belong to the essence of Christianity, as the belief of any of the doctrines of the gospel; and therefore the profession of them as much belongs to a christian profession. Not that in order to persons being professing Christians, it is necessary that there should be an explicit profession of every individual 323 thing that belongs to christian grace or virtue: but certainly, there must be a profession, either express or implicit, of what is of the essence of religion. And as to those things that Christians should express in their profession, we ought to be guided by the precepts of God’s word, or by scripture-examples of public professions of religion, which God’s people have made from time to time. Thus they ought to profess their repentance of sin: as of old, when persons were initiated as professors, they came, confessing their sins, manifesting their humiliation for sin, Matt. iii. 6. And the baptism they were baptized with, was called the baptism of repentance, Mark i. 3. And John, when he had baptized them, exhorted them to “bring forth fruits meet for repentance,”. Matt. iii. 8. i. e. agreeable to that repentance which they had professed; ecouraging them, that if they did so, they should escape the wrath to come, and be gathered as wheat into God’s garner, Matt. iii. 7, 8-10, 12. So the apostle Peter says to the Jews, Acts ii. 38. “Repent, and be baptized:” which shows, that repentance is a qualification that must be visible, in order to baptism; and therefore ought to be publicly professed. So when the Jews that returned from captivity, entered publicly into covenant, it was with confession, or public profession of repentance of their sins, Neh. ix. 2. This profession of repentance should include or imply a profession of conviction, that God would be just in our damnation: (see Neh. ix. 33-35. and chap. x.) They should profess their faith in Jesus Christ, that they embrace Christ, rely upon him as their Saviour with their whole hearts, and joyfully entertain his gospel. Thus Philip, in order to his baptizing the eunuch, required him to profess, that he believed with all his heart. They who were received as visible Christians, at that great out-pouring of the Spirit, which began at the day of Pentecost, appeared gladly to receive the gospel: Acts ii. 41. “Then they that gladly received the word, were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.” They should profess that they rely only on Christ’s righteousness and strength, that they are devoted to him as their only Lord and Saviour, and that they rejoice in him as their only righteousness and portion. It is foretold, that all nations should be brought publicly to make this profession, Isa. xlv. 22,. &c. “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else. I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, that unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear. Surely, shall one say, In the Lord have I righteousness and strength: even unto him shall men come, and all that are incensed against him shall be ashamed. In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory.” They should profess to give up themselves entirely to Christ, and to God through him; as the children of Israel, when they publicly recognised their covenant with God; Deut. xxvi. 17. “Thou hast avouched the Lord this day to be thy God, and to walk in his ways, and to keep his statutes, and his commandments, and his judgments, and to hearken unto his voice.” They ought to profess a willingness of heart to embrace religion with all its difficulties, and to walk in a way of obedience to God universally and perseveringly; (Exod. xix. 8. and xxiv. 3, 7. Deut. xxvi. 16-18. 2 Kings xxiii. 3. Neh. x. 28, 29. Ps. cxix. 57, 106.) They ought to profess, that all their hearts and souls are in these engagements to be the Lord’s, and for ever to serve him; 2 Chron. xv. 12-14. God’s people swearing by his name, or to his name, as it might be rendered, (by which seems to be signified their solemnly giving up themselves to him in covenant, and vowing to receive him as their God, and to be entirely his, to obey and serve him,) is spoken of as a duty to be performed by all God’s visible Israel; (Deut. vi. 13. and x. 20. Ps. lxiii. 11. Isa. xix. 18. chap. xlv. 23, 24. compared with Rom. xiv. 11. and Phil. ii. 10, 11. Isa. xlviii. 1, 2. and lxv. 15, 16. Jer. iv. 2. and and v. 7. xii. 16. Hos. iv. 15. and x. 4.) Therefore, in order to persons being entitled to full esteem and charity, with their neighbours, as being sincere professors of Christianity; by those fore-mentioned rules of Christ and his apostles, there must be a visibly holy life, with a profession, either expressing, or plainly implying, such things as those which have been now mentioned. We are to know them by their fruits: that is, we are by their fruits to know whether they be what they profess to be; not that we are to know by their fruits, that they have something in them, to which they do not so much as pretend. Moreover,
2. That profession of these things, which is properly called a christian profession, and which must be joined with christian practice, in order to persons being entitled to the benefit of those rules, must be made (as to what appears) understandingly: that is, they must be persons that appear to have been so far instructed in the principles of religion, as to be in an ordinary capacity to understand the proper import of what is expressed in their profession. For sounds are no significations or declarations of any thing, any further than men understand the meaning of their own sounds.
But in order to persons making a proper profession of Christianity, such as the Scripture directs, and such as the followers of Christ should require, in order to the acceptance of professors, with full charity, as of their society; it is not necessary they should give an account of the particular steps and method, by which the Holy Spirit, sensibly to them, wrought those great essentials of Christianity in their hearts. There is no footstep in the Scripture of any such way of the apostles, or primitive ministers and Christians, requiring any such relation, in order to their receiving and treating others as their christian brethren; or of their first examining them concerning the particular method and order of their experiences. They required of them a profession of the things wrought; but no account of the manner of working was required of them. Nor is there the least shadow in the Scripture of any such custom in the church of God, from Adam to the death of the apostle John.
I am far from saying, that it is not requisite that persons should give any sort of account of their experiences to their brethren. For persons to profess those things wherein the essence of Christianity lies, is the same thing as to profess that they experience those things. Thus for persons solemnly to profess, that, in a sense and full conviction of their own utter sinfulness, misery, and impotence, and totally undone state as in themselves—their just desert of God’s utter rejection and eternal wrath, without mercy, and the utter insufficiency of their own righteousness, or any thing in them, to satisfy divine justice, or recommend them to God’s favour—they do only and entirely depend on the Lord Jesus Christ, and his satisfaction and righteousness; it is the same thing as to profess, that they experience those particulars. When any profess, that they do with all their hearts believe the truth of the gospel of Christ; and that, in a full conviction and sense of his sufficiency and perfect excellency as a Saviour, as exhibited in the gospel, they do with their whole souls cleave to him, and acquiesce in him, as the refuge and rest of their souls, and the fountain of their comfort; that they repent of their sins, and utterly renounce all sin, and give up themselves wholly to Christ, willingly subjecting themselves to him as their King; that they give him their hearts and their whole man; and are willing and resolved to have God for their whole and everlasting portion; what is it but saying, that they experience those things? Again, if any profess, in a dependence on God’s promises of a future eternal enjoyment of him in heaven, to renounce all the enjoyments of this vain world, selling all for this great treasure and future inheritance, and to comply with every command of God, even the most difficult and self-denying, and devote their whole lives to God’s service; what is it but a declaration of so much experience? Once more, when any profess, that, in the forgiveness of those who have injured them, and a general benevolence to mankind, their hearts are united to the people of Jesus Christ as their people, cleave to them and love them as their brethren, and worship and serve God, and follow Christ, in union and fellowship with them, being willing and resolved to perform all incumbent duties, as members of the same family of God and mystical body of Christ; I say, for persons solemnly to profess such things as these, as in the presence of God, is the same thing, as to profess that they are conscious to, or do experience, such things in their hearts.
324 Nor do I suppose, that persons giving an account of their experience of particular exercises of grace, with the times and circumstances, gives no advantage to others in forming a judgment of their state; or that persons may not fitly be inquired of concerning these, especially in cases of great importance, where all possible satisfaction is to be desired and sought after, as in the case of ordination or approbation of a minister. It may give advantage in forming a judgment, in several respects; and among others in this, that hereby we may be better satisfied, that the professor speaks honestly and understandingly, in what he professes; and that he does not make the profession in mere formality. In order to a profession of Christianity being accepted to any purpose, there ought to be good reason, from the circumstances of the profession, to think, that the professor does not make such a profession out of a mere customary compliance with a prescribed form, using words without any distinct meaning, or in a very lax and ambiguous manner, as confessions of faith are often subscribed; but that the professor understandingly and honestly signifies what he is conscious of in his own heart; otherwise his profession can be of no significance, and no more to be regarded than the sound of things without life. But indeed (whatever advantage an account of particular exercises may give in judging of this) it must be owned, that the professor having been previously thoroughly instructed by his teachers, and giving good proof of his sufficient knowledge, together with a practice agreeable to his profession, is the best evidence of this.
Nor do I suppose, but that, if a person—who is inquired of about particular passages, times, and circumstances of his christian experience—seems to be able to give a distinct account of the manner of his first conversion, in such a method as has been frequently observable in true conversion, so that things seem sensibly and distinctly to follow one another in the order of time, according to the order of nature: it is an illustrating circumstance which, among other things, adds lustre to the evidence he gives his brethren of the truth of his experiences.
But what I speak of as unscriptural, is insisting on a particular account of the distinct method and steps, wherein the Spirit of God did sensibly proceed, in first bringing the soul into a state of salvation, as a thing requisite in order to receiving a professor into full charity as a real Christian; so as, for the want of such relation to disregard other things, in the evidence which persons give to their neighbours of their Christianity, that are vastly more important and essential.
Secondly, That we may rightly understand how christian practice is the greatest evidence that others can have of the sincerity of a professing Christian, it is needful that what was said before, showing what christian practice is, should be borne in mind; and that it should be considered how far this may be visible to others. Merely that a professor of Christianity is, what is commonly called, an honest, moral man, (i. e. having no special transgression or iniquity that might bring a blot on his character,) is no great evidence of the sincerity of his profession. This is not making his light shine before men. This is not that work and labour of love showed towards Christ’s name, which gave the apostle such persuasion of the sincerity of the professing Hebrews, (Heb. vi. 9, 10.) We may see nothing in a man, but that he may be a good man; there may appear nothing in his life and conversation inconsistent with his being godly, and yet neither any great positive evidence that he is so. But there may be great positive appearances of holiness in men’s visible behaviour; their life devoted to the service of God. They may appear to follow the example of Jesus Christ, and come up in a great measure to those excellent rules in the 5th, 6th, and 7th chapters of Matthew, and 12th of Romans, and many other parts of the New Testament. There may be a great appearance of their being universal in their obedience to Christ’s commands and the rules of the gospel; in the performance of the duties of the first table, manifesting the fear and love of God; and also universal in fulfilling rules of love to men, love to saints, and love to enemies; rules of meekness and forgiveness, rules of mercy and charity, and looking not only at our own things, but also at the things of others; rules of doing good to men’s souls and bodies, to particular persons and to the public; rules of temperance and mortification, and of an humble conversation; rules of bridling the tongue, and improving it to glorify God and bless men, showing that in their tongues is the law of kindness. They may appear to walk as Christians, in all places, and at all seasons; in the house of God, and in their families, among their neighbours, on Sabbath-days, and every day, in business and in conversation, towards friends and enemies, towards superiors, inferiors, and equals. Persons in their visible walk may appear to be very earnestly engaged in the service of God and mankind, much to labour and lay out themselves in this work of a Christian, and to be very constant and stedfast in it, under all circumstances and temptations. There may be great manifestations of a spirit to deny themselves, and suffer for God and Christ, the interest of religion, and the benefit of their brethren. There may be great appearances in a man’s walk, of a disposition to forsake any thing, rather than to forsake Christ, and to make every thing give place to his honour. There may be great manifestations in a man’s behaviour of such religion as this being his element, and of his placing the delight and happiness of his life in it; and his conversation may be such, as to carry with him a sweet odour of christian graces and heavenly dispositions, wherever he goes. And when it is thus in the professors of Christianity, here is an evidence to others of their sincerity in their profession, to which all other manifestations are not worthy to be compared.
There is doubtless a great variety in the degrees of evidence that professors exhibit of their sincerity, in their life and practice; as there is a variety in the fairness and clearness of accounts persons give of the manner and method of their experiences: but undoubtedly such a manifestation as has been described, of a christian spirit in practice, is vastly beyond the fairest and brightest story of particular steps and passages of experience, that ever was told. And in general, a manifestation of the sincerity of a christian profession in practice, is far better than a relation of experiences—But yet,
Thirdly, It must be noted, agreeable to what was formerly observed, that no external appearances whatsoever, that are visible to the world, are infallible evidences of grace. The manifestations that have been mentioned, are the best that mankind can have; and they are such as oblige Christians entirely to embrace professors as saints, to love and rejoice in them as the children of God; and they are sufficient to give as great satisfaction concerning them as ever is needful to guide them in their conduct, or for any purpose that needs to be answered in this world. But nothing that appears to them in their neighbour, can be sufficient to beget an absolute certainty concerning the state of his soul. They see not his heart, nor can they see all his external behaviour; for much of it is in secret, and hid from the eye of the world: and it is impossible certainly to determine, how far a man may go in many external appearances and imitations of grace, from other principles. Though undoubtedly, if others could see so much of what belongs to men’s practice, as their own consciences may know of it, it might be an infallible evidence of their state, as will appear from what follows.
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