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Christian practice is a distinguishing and sure evidence of grace to persons’ own consciences.
This is very plain in 1 John ii. 3. “Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.” And the testimony of our consciences, with respect to our good deeds, is spoken of as that which may give us assurance of our own godliness; 1 John iii. 18, 19. “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed (in the original it is ΕΡΓΩ in work) and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.” And the apostle Paul, (Heb. vi.) speaks of the work find labour of love of the christian Hebrews, as that which both gave him a persuasion 325 that they had something above the highest common illuminations, and also as that evidence which tended to give them the highest assurance of hope concealing themselves; .ver. 9, &c. “But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak. 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. And we desire that every one of you do show the same diligence, to the full assurance of hope unto the end.” So the apostle directs the Galatians to examine their behaviour or practice, that they might have rejoicing in themselves, in their own happy state; Gal. vi. 4. “Let every man prove his own work, so shall he have rejoicing in himself, and not in another.” And the psalmist says, Psal. cxix. 61. “Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments;” i. e. then shall I be bold, and assured, and stedfast in my hope. And in that of our Saviour, Matt. vii. 19, 20. “Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, is hewn down and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” Though Christ gives this, first, as a rule by which we should judge of others, yet in the words that next follow, he plainly shows, that he intends it also as a rule by which we should judge ourselves; “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, &c.—And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. Therefore, whosoever beareth these sayings of mine, and doth them, I will liken him unto a wise man which built his house upon a rock.—And every one that beareth these savings of mine, and doth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man which built his house upon the sand.” I shall have occasion to mention other texts that show the same thing, hereafter.
But for the greater clearness in this matter, I would, .first, show how christian practice, doing good works, or keeping Christ’s commandments, is to be taken, when the Scripture represents it as a sure sign to our own consciences, that we are real Christians. And. secondly, will prove, that this is the chief of all evidences that men can have of their own sincere godliness.
First, I would show how christian practice, or keeping Christ’s commandments, is to be taken, when the Scripture represents it as a sure evidence to our own consciences, that we are sincere Christians.
And here I would observe, that we cannot reasonably suppose, when the Scripture in this case speaks of good works, good fruit, and keeping Christ’s commandments, that it has respect merely to what is external, or the motion and action of the body, without including respect to any aim or intention of the agent, or any act of his understanding or will. For consider men’s actions so, and they are no more good works or acts of obedience, than the regular motions of a clock; nor are they considered as any human actions at all. The actions of the body, taken thus, are neither acts of obedience, nor disobedience; any more than the motions of the body in a convulsion. But the obedience and fruit that is spoken of, is the obedience and fruit of the man; and therefore not only the acts of the body, but the obedience of the soul, consisting in the acts and practice of the soul. Not that I suppose, that when the Scripture speaks, in this case, of gracious works, fruit, and practice, that in these expressions is included all inward piety and holiness of heart, both principle and exercise, both spirit and practice: because then, in these things being given as signs of a gracious principle in the heart, the same thing would be given as a sign of itself, and there would be no distinction between root and fruit. But only the gracious exercise and holy act of the soul is meant, and given as the sign of the holy principle, and good estate. Neither is every kind of inward exercise of grace meant; but the practical exercise, that exercise of the soul, and exertion of inward holiness, which there is in an obediential act; or that exertion of the mind, and act of grace, which issues and terminates in what they call the imperate acts of the will; in which something is directed and commanded by the soul to be done, and brought to pass in practice.
Here, for a clearer understanding, I would observe, that there are two kinds of exercises of grace. 1. There are what some call immanent acts; that is, those exercises of grace that remain within the soul, that begin and are terminated there, without any immediate relation to any thing to be done outwardly, or to be brought to pass in practice. Such are the exercises of grace, which the saints often have in contemplation; when the exercise in the heart does not directly proceed to, or terminate in, any thing beyond the thoughts of the mind: however they may tend to practice (as all exercises of grace do) more remotely. 2. There are acts of grace, that are more strictly called practical, or effective exercises; because they immediately respect something to be done. They are the exertions of grace in the commanding acts of the will, directing the outward actions. As when a saint gives a cup of cold water to a disciple, in and from the exercise of the grace of charity; or voluntarily endures persecution, in the way of his duty, immediately from the exercise of a supreme love to Christ. Here is the exertion of grace producing its effect in outward actions. These exercises of grace are practical and productive of good works, not only because they are of a productive nature, (for so are all exercises of true grace,) but they are the producing acts. This is properly the exercise of grace in the act of the will; and this is properly the practice of the soul. And the soul is the immediate actor of no other practice but this: the motions of the body follow from the laws of union between the soul and body, which God, and not the soul, has fixed, and does maintain. The act of the soul, and the exercise of grace, exerted in the performance of a good work, is the good work itself, so far as the soul is concerned in it, or so far as it is the soul’s good work. The determinations of the will, are indeed our very actions, so far as they are properly ours, as Dr. Doddridge observes. 532532 Scripture-doctrine of Salvation, Sermon I. p. 11. In this practice of the soul, is included the aim and intention of the soul which is the agent. For not only should we not look on the motions of a statue, doing justice or distributing alms by clock-work, as any acts of obedience to Christ in that statue; but neither would any body call the voluntary actions of a man, externally and materially agreeable to a command of Christ, by the name of obedience to Christ, if he had never heard of Christ, or any of his commands, or had no thought of his commands in what he did.—If the acts of obedience and good fruits spoken of, be looked upon, not as mere motions of the body, but as acts of the soul; the whole exercise of the spirit of the mind, in the action, must be taken in, with the end acted for, and the respect the soul then has to God, &c. otherwise they are no acts of denial of ourselves, or obedience to God, or service done to him, but something else. Such effective exercises of grace as these, many of the martyrs have experienced in a high degree. And all true saints live a life of such acts of grace as these, as they all live a life of gracious works, of which these operative exertions of grace are the life and soul. And this is the obedience and fruit that God mainly looks at, as he looks at the soul, more than the body; as much as the soul, in the constitution of human nature, is the superior part. As God looks at the obedience and practice of the man, he looks at the practice of the soul; for the soul is the man in God’s sight, “For the Lord seeth not as man seeth, for he looketh on the heart.”
And thus it is, that obedience, good works, and good fruit, are to be taken, when given in Scripture as a sure evidence to our own consciences of a true principle of grace; even as including the obedience and practice of the soul, as preceding and governing the actions of the body. When practice is given in Scripture as the main evidence of our true Christianity to others, then is meant that in our practice which is visible to them, even our outward actions: but when practice is given as a sure evidence of our real Christianity to our own consciences, then is meant that in our practice which is visible to our own consciences; which is not only the motion of our 326 bodies, but the exertion and exercise of the soul, which directs and commands that motion; which is more directly and immediately under the view of our own consciences, than the act of the body. And that this is the intent of Scripture, not only does the nature and reason of the thing show, but it is plain by the Scripture itself. Thus it is evident that when Christ at the conclusion of his sermon on the mount, speaks of doing or practising those sayings of his, as the grand sign of professors being true disciples; without which he likens them to a man that built his house upon the sand; and with which, to a man that built his house upon a rock; he has respect, not only to the outward behaviour, but to the inward exercise of the mind in that behaviour. This is evident by observing what those preceding sayings of his are; “Blessed are the poor in spirit; blessed are they that mourn; blessed are the meek; blessed are they that do hunger and thirst after righteousness; blessed are the merciful; blessed are the pure in heart; whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause, &c.; whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her, &c.; love your enemies; take no thought for your life,” and others of the like nature, which imply inward exercises: and when Christ says, John xiv. 21. “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me;” he has evidently a special respect to that command several times repeated in the same discourse, (which he calls, by way of eminence, his commandment,) that they should love one another, as he had loved them. (See chap. xiii. 34, 35.. and chap. xv. 10, 12, 13, 14.) But this command respects chiefly an exercise of the mind or heart, though exerted in practice. So when the apostle John says, 1 John ii. 3. “Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments;” he has plainly a principal respect to the same command, as appears by what follows, ver. 7-11. and ver. 5, 6.. and when we are told in Scripture that men shall at the last day be judged according to their works, and all shall receive according to the things done in the body; it is not to be understood only of outward acts; for if so, why is God so often spoken of as searching the hearts and trying the reins, that he may render to every one according to his works? as Rev. ii. 23. “And all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one according to his works.”. Jer. xvii. 10. “I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.” But if by his ways, and the fruit of his doings, is meant only the actions of his body, what need of searching the heart and reins, in order to know them? Hezekiah in his sickness pleads his practice as an evidence of his title to God’s favour, as including not only his outward actions, but what was in his heart, Isa. xxxviii. 3. “Remember now, O Lord, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth, and with a perfect heart.”
Though in this great evidence of sincerity that the Scripture gives us, what is inward is of greatest importance; yet what is outward is included and intended, as connected with the practical exertion of grace in the will, directing and commanding the actions of the body. And hereby are effectually cut off all pretensions that any man can have to evidences of godliness, who externally lives wickedly; because the great evidence lies in that inward exercise and practice of the soul, which consists in the act of the will, commanding outward acts. But it is known, that these commanding acts of the will are not one way, and the actions of the bodily organs another: for the unalterable law of nature is, that they should be united, as long as soul and body are united, and the organs are not so destroyed as to be incapable of those motions that the soul commands. Thus it would be ridiculous for a man to plead, that the commanding act of his will was to go to the public worship, while his feet carry him to a tavern or brothel-house; or that the commanding act of his will was to give such a piece of money he had in his hand to a poor beggar, while is hand at the same instant kept it back, and held it fast. Secondly, I proceed to show, that christian practice, taken in the sense explained, is the chief of all the evidences of a saving sincerity in religion, to the consciences of the professors of it; much to be preferred to the method of the first convictions, enlightenings, and comforts in conversion; or any immanent discoveries or exercises of grace whatsoever, that begin and end in contemplation. 533533 “Look upon John. Christ’s beloved disciple and bosom companion; he had received the anointing to know him that is true, and he knew that he knew him, 1 John ii. 3. But how did he know that? He might be deceived; (as it is strange to see what a melancholy fancy will do, and the effects of it; as honest men are reputed to have weak brains, and never saw the depths of the secrets of God:) what is his last proof? Because we keep his commandments” Shepard’s Parable, Part I. p. 131. “A man may know his present union to the Lord Jesus, by a work; 1 John ii. 4. He that saith, I know him, and keeps not his commandments, is a liar.—Yes, that is true negatively; but may a man, ought a man, to see or know his union positively by this? Ans. ver. 5. Many said they did know and love the Lord, but he that keeps his words.—O they are sweet! It is heaven to cleave to him in every command: it is death to depart from any command: hereby know we that we are in him. If it were possible to ask of angels, how they know they are not devils, they would answer, the Lord’s will is ours.” Shepard’s Parable, Part I. p. 134. “If the question be, Whom doth the Lord Jesus love? you need not go to heaven for it, the word is nigh thee. Those that love Christ. Who are those? Those that keep his commandments.” Shepard’s Parable, Part I. p. 138. “Will you have Christ to sit in heaven, and not look that he subdue your lusts by the work of his grace, and so sway your hearts? You despise his kingdom then. Do you seek for pardon in the blood of Christ, and never look for the virtue and end of that blood to wash you and make you without spot, &c.? You despise his priesthood and blood then. Do you look for Christ to do work for you, and you not do Christ’s work, and bring forth fruit to him? You despise his honour then. John xv. 8. If I were to discover a hypocrite, or a false heart, this I would say, It is he that shall set up Christ, but loathe his work.” Shepard’s Parable, Part I. p. 140. The evidence of this appears by the following arguments.
Argument I. Reason plainly shows, that those things which put it to the proof, what men will actually cleave to in their practice, when left to follow their own choice and inclinations, are the proper trial what they do really prefer in their hearts. Sincerity in religion, as observed already, consists in setting God highest in the heart, in choosing him before other things, in having a heart to sell all for Christ, &c.—But a man’s actions are the proper trial what a man’s heart prefers. As for instance, when God and other things come to stand in competition, God is as it were set before a man on one hand, and his worldly interest or pleasure on the other; his behaviour in such case, in actually cleaving to the one and forsaking the other, is the proper trial which he prefers. Sincerity consists in forsaking all for Christ in heart; but to forsake all for Christ in heart, is the very same thing as to have a heart to forsake all for Christ. The proper trial whether a man has a heart to forsake all for Christ, is his being actually put to it, Christ and other things coming in competition, that he must practically cleave to one and forsake the other. To forsake all for Christ in heart, is the same thing as to have a heart to forsake all for Christ when called to it: but the highest proof to ourselves and others, that we have a heart to forsake all for Christ when called to it, is actually doing it when or so far as called to it. To follow Christ in heart, is to have a heart to follow him. To deny ourselves in heart for Christ, is the same thing as to have a heart to deny ourselves for him in fact. The main and most proper proof of a man having a heart to any thing, concerning which he is at liberty to follow his own inclinations, is his doing it. When a man is at liberty whether to speak or keep silence, the most proper evidence of his having a heart to speak, is his speaking. When a man is at liberty whether to walk or sit still, the proper proof of his having a heart to walk, is his walking. Godliness consists not in a heart to intend to do the will of God, but in a heart to do it. The children of Israel in the wilderness had the former, of whom we read, Deut. v. 27-29. “Go thou near, and hear all that the Lord our God shall say; and speak thou unto us all that the Lord our God shall speak unto thee, and we will hear it, and do it. And the Lord heard the voice of your words, when ye spake unto me; and the Lord said unto me, I have heard the voice of the words of this people, which they have spoken unto thee: they have well said all that they have spoken. O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!” The people manifested that they had a heart to intend to keep God’s commandments, and to be very forward in those intentions; but God manifests, that this was far from being the thing he desired, wherein true godliness consists, even a heart actually to keep them.
It is therefore exceedingly absurd, and even ridiculous, 327 for any to pretend that they have a good heart, while they live a wicked life, or do not bring forth the fruit of universal holiness in their practice. For it is proved in fact, that such men do not love God above all. It is foolish to dispute against plain fact and experience. Men that live in ways of sin, and yet flatter themselves that they shall go to heaven, or expect to be received hereafter as holy persons, without a holy life and practice, act as though they expected to make a fool of their Judge. Which is implied in what the apostle says, Gal. vi. 7. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” As much as to say, “Do not deceive yourselves with an expectation of reaping life everlasting hereafter, if you sow not to the Spirit here; it is in vain to think that God will be made a fool of by you, that he will be imposed upon with shadows instead of substance, and with vain pretences, instead of that good fruit which he expects; when the contrary to what you pretend appears plainly in your life, before his face.” In this manner the word mock is sometimes used in Scripture. Thus Delilah says to Samson, Behold, thou hast mocked me, and told me lies, . Judges xvi. 10, 13. i. e. “Thou hast baffled me, intending to make a fool of me, as if I might be easily turned off with any vain pretence, instead of the truth.” So it is said that Lot, when he told his sons-in-law that God would destroy that place, he seemed as one that mocked to his sons-in-law, Gen. xix. 14. i. e. he seemed as one that would make a game of them, as though they were credulous fools. But the great Judge, whose eyes are as a flame of fire, will not be mocked or baffled with any pretences, without a holy life. If in his name men have prophesied and wrought miracles, and have had faith so that they could remove mountains, and cast out devils, and however high their religious affections have been, however great resemblances they have had of grace, and though their hiding-place has been so dark and deep, that no human skill nor search could find them out; yet if they are workers or practisers of iniquity, they cannot hide their hypocrisy from their Judge; Job xxxiv. 22. “There is no darkness, nor shadow of death, where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves.” Would a wise prince suffer himself to be mocked by a subject, who should pretend that he was loyal, and should tell his prince that he had an entire affection for him, and that at such and such a time he had experience of it, and felt his affections strongly working towards him, and should come expecting to be accepted and rewarded by his prince, as one of his best friends on that account, though he lived in rebellion against him, following some pretender to his crown, and from time to time stirring up sedition against him? Or, would a master suffer himself to be shammed and gulled by a servant, that should pretend to great experiences of love and honour towards him in his heart, and a great sense of his worthiness and kindness, when at the same time he refused to obey and serve him?
Argument II. As reason shows, that those things which occur in the course of life, which put it to the proof whether men will prefer God to other things in practice, are the proper trial of the sincerity of their hearts; so the same are represented as the proper trial of the sincerity of professors, in the Scripture. There we find that such things are called by that very name, trials or temptations, both words of the same signification.—The things that put it to the proof, whether men will prefer God to other things in practice, are the difficulties of religion, or those things which occur that make the practice of duty difficult, and cross to other principles besides the love of God; because in them, God and other things are both set before men together, for their actual and practical choice; and it comes to this, that we cannot hold to both, but one or the other must be forsaken. And these things are all over the Scripture called by the name of trials or proofs.* And they are called by this name, because hereby professors are tried and proved of what sort they be, whether they be really what they profess and appear to be; and because in them the reality of the supreme love of God is brought to the test of experiment and fact; they are the proper proofs, in which it is truly determined by experience, whether men have a thorough disposition of heart to cleave to God or no; Deut. viii. 2. “And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, whether thou wouldst keep his commandments, or no.” Judg. ii. 21, 22. “I also will not henceforth drive out any from before them, of the nations which Joshua left when he died: that through them I may prove Israel, whether they will keep the way of the Lord.” So chap. iii. 1, 4. and Exod. xvi. 4. And the Scripture, when it calls these difficulties of religion by the name of temptations or trials, explains itself to mean thereby, the trial or experiment of their faith, James i. 2, 3. “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.” 1 Pet. i. 6, 70. “Now for a season—ye are in heaviness, through manifold temptations; that the trial of your faith being much more precious than of gold,” &c. So the apostle Paul speaks of that expensive duty of parting with our substance to the poor, as the proof of the sincerity of the love of Christians, 2 Cor. viii. 8. And the difficulties of religion are often represented in Scripture as being the trial of professors, in the same manner that the furnace is the proper trial of gold and silver; Psal. lxvi. 10, 11. “Thou, O God, hast proved us: thou hast tried us, as silver is tried: thou broughtest us into the net, thou laidest affliction upon our loins.” Zech. xii. 9. “And I will bring the third part of them through the fire; and I will refine them as silver is refined: and I will try them as gold is tried.” That which has the colour and appearance of gold, is put into the furnace to try whether it be what it seems to be, real gold or no. So the difficulties of religion are called trials, because they try those that have the profession and appearance of saints, whether they are what they appear to be, real saints. If we put true gold into the furnace, we shall find its great value and preciousness; so the truth and inestimable value of the virtues of a true Christian appear, when under these trials; 1 Pet. i. 7. “That the trial of your faith being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, might be found unto praise, and honour, and glory.” True and pure gold will come out of the furnace in full weight: so true saints when tried come forth as gold, Job xxiii. 10. Christ distinguishes true grace from counterfeit by this, that it is gold tried in the fire, Rev. iii. 17, 18. So that it is evident that these things are called trials in Scripture, principally as they try or prove the sincerity of professors. And from what has been now observed, it is evident that they are the most proper trial or proof of their sincerity; inasmuch as the very meaning of the word trial, as it is ordinarily used in Scripture, is the difficulty occurring in the way of a professor’s duty, as an experiment of his sincerity. If trial of sincerity be the proper name of these difficulties of religion, then doubtless these difficulties of religion are properly and eminently the trial of sincerity; for they are doubtless eminently what they are called by the Holy Ghost: God gives things their name from that which is eminently their nature. And if it be so, that these things are the proper and eminent trial, proof, or experiment of the sincerity of professors; then certainly the result of the trial or experiment (that is, persons’ behaviour or practice under such trials) is the proper and eminent evidence of their sincerity. For they are called trials or proofs only with regard to the result, and because the effect is eminently the proof, or evidence. And this is the most proper proof and evidence to the conscience of those that are the subjects of these trials. For when God is said by these things to try men, and prove them, to see what is in their hearts, and whether they will keep his commandments or no: we are not to understand, that it is for his own information, or that he may obtain evidence himself of their sincerity; (for he needs no trials for his information;) but chiefly for their conviction, and to exhibit evidence to their consciences. 534534 “I am persuaded, as Calvin is, that all the several trials of men, are to show them to themselves, and to the world, that they be but counterfeits; and to make saints known to themselves the better.—Rom. v. 5. Tribulation works trial, and that hope. Prov. xvii. 3. If you will know whether it will hold weight, the trial will tell you.—Shepard’s Parable, Part I. p. 191. Thus when God is said to prove Israel by the difficulties they met with in the wilderness, and by the 328 difficulties they met with from their enemies in Canaan, to know what was in their hearts, whether they would keep his commandments, or no; it must be understood, that it was to discover them to themselves, that they might know what was in their own hearts. So when God tempted or tried Abraham with that difficult command of offering up his son, it was not for his satisfaction, whether he feared God or no, but for Abraham’s own greater satisfaction and comfort, and the more clear manifestation of the favour of God to him. When Abraham had proved faithful under this trial, God says to him, Now 1 know that thou fearest God, seeing that thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me. Which plainly implies, that in this practical exercise of Abraham’s grace under this trial, was a clearer evidence of the truth of his grace, than ever was before; and the greatest evidence to Abraham’s conscience; because God himself gives it to Abraham as such, for his comfort and rejoicing; and speaks of it to him, as what might be the greatest evidence to his conscience of his being upright in the sight of his Judge. Which proves what I say, that holy practice under trials, is the highest evidence of the sincerity of professors to their own consciences. And we find that Christ frequently took the same method to convince the consciences of those that pretended friendship to him, and to show them what they were. This was the method he took with the rich young man, Matt. xix. 16,. &c. He seemed to show a great respect to Christ; he came kneeling to him, and called him good master, and made a great profession of obedience to the commandments; but Christ tried him by bidding him go and sell all that he had, and give to the poor, and come and take up his cross, and follow him; telling him, that then, he should have treasure in heaven. So he tried another, Matt. viii. 20. He made a great profession of respect to Christ: says he, Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. Christ immediately puts his friendship to the proof, by telling him that the foxes had holes, and the birds of the air had nests, but that the Son of man had not where to lay his head. And thus Christ is wont still to try professed disciples in general, in the course of his providence. So the seed sown in every kind of ground, stony ground, thorny ground, and good ground, which in all appears alike, when it first springs up; yet is tried, and the difference is made to appear by the burning heat of the sun.
Seeing therefore that these are the things which God employs to try us, it is undoubtedly the surest way, in order to pass a right judgment, to try ourselves by the same things. These trials are not for his information, but for ours; therefore we ought to receive our information from thence. The surest way to know our gold, is to examine it in God’s furnace, where he tries it for that very end, that we may see what it is. If we have a mind to know whether a building stands strong or no, we must look upon it when the wind blows. If we would know whether that which appears in the form of wheat, has the real substance of wheat, or be only chaff, we must observe it when it is winnowed. If we would know whether a staff be strong, or a rotten broken reed, we must observe it when it is leaned on, when weight is borne upon it. If we would weigh ourselves justly, it must be in God’s appointed scales. 535535 Dr. Sibbs, in his Bruised Reed, says, “When Christ’s will cometh in competition with any worldly loss or gain, yet if then, in that particular case, the heart will stoop to Christ, it is a true sign. For the truest trial of the power of grace, is in such particular cases as touch us nearest; for there our corruption maketh the greatest head. When Christ came home to the young man in the gospel, he lost a disciple of him.” Mr. Flavel speaks of a holy practice under trials, as the greatest evidence of grace. “No man (says he) can say what he is, whether his grace be true or false, until they be tried, and examined by those things, which are to them as fire is to gold.” Touchstone of Sincerity, chap. iv. sect. 1. Again, speaking of great difficulties and sufferings in the way of duty, wherein a person must actually part with what is dearest of a worldly nature, or with his duty; he says, “That such sufferings as these will discover the falseness and rottenness of men’s hearts, cannot be doubted; if you consider, that this is the fire designed by God for this very use and purpose, to separate the gold from the dross. So you will find it, 1 Pet. iv. 12.—Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial that is to try you, i. e. The very design and aim of Providence in permitting and ordering them, is to try you. Upon this account you find the hour of persecution (in a suitable notion) called the hour of temptation or probation. Rev. iii. 10. For then, professors are sifted to the very bran, searched to the very bottom principles. This is ‘the day that burns as an oven; all that do wickedly shall be as stubble,’ Mal. iv. i. For in that day the predominant interest must appear and be discovered, it can be concealed no longer. ’ No man can serve two masters,’ saith Christ, Luke xvi. 13. A man may serve many masters, if they all command the same thing, or things subordinate to each other: but he cannot serve two masters, if their commands clash and interfere with each other; and such are the commands of Christ and the flesh in a suffering hour:-thus the two interests come in full opposition. And now have but patience and wait a little, and you will discern which is predominant. A dog follows two men, while they both walk one way, and you know not which of the two is his master: stay but a little, until their path parts, and then you shall quickly see who is his master: so it is in this case.” Ibid, chap viii. § 3. And in another chapter he says. “Great numbers of persons are deceived and destroyed by trusting to seeming untried grace. This was the miserable condition of the Laodicean professors; they reckoned themselves rich, but were really poor: all is not gold that glisters: their gold (as they accounted it) was never tried in the fire. If a man’s whole estate lay in some precious stone, suppose a rich diamond, how is he concerned to have it thoroughly tried, to see whether it will bear a smart stroke with the hammer, or fly like a Bristol diamond!” ibid. chap. x. § 3. Again, in the same place, “The promises of salvation are made over to tried grace, and that only as will endure the trial.” “The Lord will try you. God hath his trying times; and they were never sent, but to discover who were dross, who were gold. And the main end of all God’s trials, is to discover this truth that I now am pressing upon you. Some have a thorough work; and now the trial discovers the truth, as in Abraham, Heb. xi. 17. Some have a superficial work, and they fall in trial, as in Saul; and it doth discover it was but an overly work. For this is the question God makes. Is it thorough, or no? Ay, saith the carnal heart; Yes. saith a gracious heart. Hence it is strange to see what men will do when a trial comes.” Shepard’s Parable, Part I. p. 219. “There is an hour of temptation which tries men, which will discover men indeed.” Shepard’s Parable, Part II. p. 60. These trials in the course of our practice, are as it were the balances in which our hearts are weighed, or in which Christ and the world, or Christ and his competitors, as to the esteem and regard they have in our hearts, are weighed, or are put into opposites scales, by which there is opportunity to see which preponderates. When a man is brought to the dividing of paths, the one of which leads to Christ, and the other to the objects of his lusts, to see which way he will go; when set as it were between Christ and the world, Christ on the right hand, and the world on the left, so that if he goes to one he must leave the other: this is just the same thing as laying Christ and the world in two opposite scales; and his going to the one, and leaving the other, is just the same thing, as the sinking of one scale, and rising of the other. A man’s practice, therefore, under the trials of God’s providence, is as much the proper experiment and evidence of the superior inclination of his heart, as the motion of the balance, with different weights in opposite scales, is the proper experiment of the superior weight. Argument III. Another argument, that holy practice, in the sense which has been explained, is the highest kind of evidence of the truth of grace to the consciences of Christians, is, that in practice, grace in scripture style is said to be made perfect, or to be finished. So the apostle James says, Jam. ii. 22. “Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect,” or finished? So the love of God is said to be made perfect, or finished, in keeping his commandments; 1 John ii. 4, 5. “He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar; and the truth is not in him: but whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected.” The commandment of Christ which the apostle has a special respect to, is that which respects deeds of love to our brethren; as appears by the following verses. Again, the love of God is said to be perfected, in the same sense, chap. iv. 12. “If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.” Here doubtless the apostle has still respect to loving one another, in the same manner that he had explained in the preceding chapter, speaking of loving one another as a sign of the love of God, ver. 17, 18. “Whoso hath this world’s good, and shutteth up his bowels, &c. how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed, (or in work,) and in truth.” By thus loving in work, the apostle says the love of God is perfected in us. Grace is said to be perfected or finished in holy practice, as therein it is brought to its proper effect, and to that exercise which is the end of the principle; the tendency and design of trace herein is reached, and its operation completed and crowned. The tree is not perfected in the seed being planted in the ground; in the first quickening of the seed, and in its putting forth root and sprout; nor is it perfected when it comes up out of the ground; in bringing forth leaves; nor yet in putting forth blossoms: but when it has brought forth good ripe fruit, then it is perfected, therein it reaches its end, the design is finished: all that belongs to the tree is completed and brought to its proper effect in the fruit. So is grace in its practical exercises. Grace is said to be made perfect or finished in its work or fruit, in the same manner as it is said of sin, Jam. i. 15. “When lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin; and sin when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” Here are three steps; first, sin in its principle or habit, the being of lust in the heart; and nextly, here is its conceiving, consisting in the immanent exercises of it in the mind; and lastly, here is the fruit that was conceived actually brought forth, in the wicked work and practice. And this the apostle calls the finishing or perfecting of sin: for the word in the original is the same that is translated perfected in those forementioned places.
Now certainly, if grace be in this manner made perfect in its fruit, if these practical exercises of grace are those wherein grace is brought to its proper effect and end, and the exercises wherein whatsoever belongs to its design, tendency, and operation, is completed and crowned; then these exercises must be the highest evidences of grace, above all other exercises. Certainly the proper nature and tendency, of every principle, must appear best and most fully, in its most perfect exercises, or in those wherein its nature is most completely exerted, and its tendency most fully answered and crowned, in its proper effect and end. If we would see the proper nature of any thing whatsoever, and see it in its full distinction from other things, let us look upon it in the finishing of it. The apostle James says, by works it faith made perfect; and introduces this as an argument to prove that works are the chief evidence of faith, whereby the sincerity of the professors of faith is justified, Jam. ii. And the apostle John, after he had once and again told us, that love was made perfect in keeping Christ’s commandments, observes, 1 John iv. 18. “That perfect love casteth out fear;” meaning (at least in part) love made perfect in this sense; agreeable to what he had said in the foregoing chapter, “That by love in deed, or work, we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts,” ver. 18, 19.
Argument IV. Another thing which makes it evident, that holy practice is the principal evidence that we ought to use in judging both of our own and others’ sincerity, is, that this evidence is above all others insisted on in Scripture. A common acquaintance with the Scripture, together with a little attention and observation, will be sufficient to show to any one, that this is ten times more insisted on as a note of true piety, throughout the Scripture, from the beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelations, than any thing else. And in the New Testament, where Christ and his apostles do expressly, and of declared purpose, lay down signs of true godliness, this is almost wholly insisted on. It may be observed, that Christ and his apostles do not only often say those things, in discoursing on the great doctrines of religion, which do show what the nature of true godliness must be, or from whence the nature and signs of it may be inferred by just consequence—and often occasionally mention many things which appertain to godliness—but they also often of set purpose give signs and marks for the trial of professors, putting them upon trying themselves by the signs they give, introducing what they say with such like expressions as these; “By this you shall know that you know God: By this are manifest the children of God, and the children of the devil: He that hath this, builds on a good foundation; he that hath it not, builds on the sand: Hereby we shall assure our hearts: He is the man that loveth Christ,” &c. But I can find no place, where either Christ or his apostles in this manner give signs of godliness, (though the places are many) but where christian practice is almost the only thing insisted on. Indeed in many of these places, love to the brethren is spoken of as a sign of godliness: and (as I have observed before) there is no one virtuous affection or disposition so often expressly spoken of as a sign of true grace, as our having love one to another: but then the Scriptures explain themselves to intend chiefly this love as exercised and expressed in practice, or in deeds of love. So does the apostle John (who above all others insists on love to the brethren as a sign of godliness) most expressly explain himself, in that 1 John iii. 14-19. &c. “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren: he that loveth not his brother, abideth in death.—Whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us love, not in word, neither in tongue, but in deed (i. e. in deeds of love) and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.” So that when the Scripture so much insists on our loving one another, as a great sign of godliness, we are not thereby to understand the immanent workings of affection which men feel one to another, so much as the soul’s practising all the duties of the second table of the law; all which the New Testament tells us again and again, a true love one to another comprehends; Rom. xiii. 8, 10. Gal. v. 14. Matt. xxii. 39, 40. So that really, there is no place in the New Testament, where the declared design is to give signs of godliness, but that holy practice, or keeping Christ’s commandments, is the mark insisted on. Which is an invincible argument, that it is the chief of all the evidences of godliness: unless we suppose, that Christ and his apostles did not know how to choose signs so well as we could have chosen for them. But if we make the word of Christ our rule, then undoubtedly those marks which Christ and his apostles chiefly lay down, that we might try ourselves by them, those same marks we ought especially to receive, and chiefly to use, in the trial of ourselves. 536536 “It is a sure rule, (says Dr. Preston,) that what the Scriptures bestow much words on, we should have much thought on; and what the Holy Ghost urgeth most, we should prize most.”—Church’s Carriage. And surely those things which Christ and his apostles chiefly insisted on in the rules they gave, ministers ought chiefly to insist on in the rules they give. To insist much on those things on which the Scripture insists little, and to insist very little on those things on which the Scripture insists much, is a dangerous thing; because it is going out of God’s way, and is to judge ourselves, and guide others, in an unscriptural manner. God knew which way of leading and guiding souls was safest and best for them; he insisted so much on some things, because he knew it to be needful that they should be insisted on; and let other things more alone, as a wise God, because he knew it was not best for us, so much to lay the weight of the trial there. As the Sabbath was made for man, so the Scriptures were made for man; and they are by infinite wisdom fitted for our use and benefit. We should therefore make them our guide in all things, in our thoughts of religion, and of ourselves. And for us to make that great which the Scripture makes little, and that little which the Scripture makes great, tends to give us a monstrous idea of religion; and (at least indirectly and gradually) to lead us wholly away from the right rule, and from a right opinion of ourselves, and to establish delusion and hypocrisy.
Argument V. Christian practice is plainly spoken of in the word of God, as the main evidence of the truth of grace, not only to others, but to men’s own consciences. It is only more spoken of and insisted on than other signs, but in many places where it is spoken of, it is represented as the chief of all evidences. This is plain in the manner of expression from time to time. If God were now to speak from heaven to resolve our doubts concerning signs of godliness, and should give some particular sign, that by it all might know whether they were sincerely godly or not, with such emphatical expressions as these, The man who hath such a qualification or mark, that is the man who is a true saint; that is the very man; by this you may know; this is the thing by which it is manifest who are saints and who are sinners; such men as these are saints indeed: should not we look upon, it as a thing beyond doubt, that this was given as a special, and eminently distinguishing, note of true godliness? But this is the very case with respect to the sign of grace I am speaking of; God has again and again uttered himself in his word in this very manner, concerning christian practice, as John xiv. 21. “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me.” This Christ gives to the disciples, not so much to guide them in judging others, but to apply to themselves for their own comfort after his departure, as appears by every word of the context. And by the way I would observe, that not only the emphasis with which Christ utters himself is remarkable, but also his so much insisting on, and repeating the matter, as he does in the context; ver. 15. “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” Ver. 23. “If a man love me, he will keep my words.” 330 And ver.24. “He that loveth me not, keepeth not my sayings.” And in the next chapter over and over; ver. 2. “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit, he taketh away; and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it.” Ver. 8. “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit, so shall ye be my disciples.” Ver. 14. “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” We have this mark laid down with the same emphasis again, John viii. 31. “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed.” And again, 1 John ii. 3. ”Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.” And ver. 5. “Whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.” And chap. iii. 18, 19. “Let us love in deed, and in truth: hereby we know that we are of the truth.” What is translated hereby, would have been a little more emphatical, if it had been rendered more literally from the original, by this we do know.—And how evidently is holy practice spoken of as the grand note of distinction between the children of God and the children of the devil, in ver. 10. of the same chapter? “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil.” Speaking of a holy and a wicked practice, as may be seen in all the context: as ver. 3. “Every man that hath this hope in him, purifieth himself, even as he is pure.” Ver. 6-10. “Whosoever abideth in him, sinneth not: whosoever sinneth, hath not seen him, neither known him. Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doth righteousness, is righteous, even as he is righteous: he that committeth sin is of the devil.—Whosoever is born of God sinneth not.—Whosoever doth not righteousness, is not of God.” So we have the like emphasis, 2 John 6. ”This is love, that we walk after his commandments:” that is, (as we must understand it,) This is the proper evidence of love. So 1 John v. 3. ”This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” So the apostle James speaking of the proper evidences of true and pure religion, says, Jam. i. 27. “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father, is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” We have the like emphatical expressions used about the same thing in the Old Testament: Job xxviii. 28. “And unto man he said, Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding.” Jer. xxii. 15, 16. “Did not thy father eat and drink, and do judgment and justice?—He judged the cause of the poor and needy; was not this to know me? saith the Lord.” Psal. xxxiv. 11,. &c. “Come, ye children, unto me, and I will teach you the fear of the Lord.—Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile: depart from evil, and do good: seek peace and pursue it.” Psal. xv. at the beginning, “Who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly,” &c. Psal. xxiv. 3, 4. “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? and who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart,” &c. Psal. cxix. 1. “Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord.” Ver. 6. “Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect to all thy commandments.” Prov. viii. 13. “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil.”
The Scripture never uses such emphatical expressions concerning any other signs of hypocrisy, and unsoundness of heart, as concerning an unholy practice. So Gal. vi. 7. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” 1 Cor. vi. 9, 10. “Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, &c. shall inherit the kingdom of God.” Eph. v. 5, 6. “For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, &c. hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ, and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words.” 1 John iii. 7, 8. “Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doth righteousness, is righteous, even as he is righteous: he that committeth sin, is of the devil.” Chap. ii. 4. “He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” And chap, i. 6. “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth.” James i. 26. “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.” Chap. iii. 14, 15. “If ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.” Psal. cxxv. 5. “As for such as turn aside unto their crooked ways, the Lord shall lead them forth with the workers of iniquity.” Isa. xxxv. 8. “An high-way shall be there, and it shall be called the way of holiness: the unclean shall not pass over it.” Rev. xxi. 27. “And there shall in no wise enter into it, whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie.” And in many places, “Depart from me, I know you not, ye that work iniquity.”
Argument VI. Another thing which makes it evident, that holy practice is the chief of all the signs of the sincerity of professors, not only to the world, but to their own consciences, is, that this is the grand evidence which will hereafter be made use of, before the judgment-seat of God; according to which his judgment will be regulated, and the state of every professor of religion unalterably determined. In the future judgment, there will be an open trial of professors; and evidences will be made use of in the judgment. For God’s future judging of men, in order to their eternal retribution, will not be his trying and finding out, and passing a judgment upon, the state of men’s hearts, in his own mind; but it will be a declarative judgment: and the end of it will be, not God’s forming a judgment within himself, but the manifestation of his judgment, and the righteousness of it, to men’s own consciences and to the world. And therefore the day of judgment is called the day of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God, Rom. ii. 5. And the end of God’s future trial and judgment of men, as to the part that each one in particular is to have in the judgment, will be especially the clear manifestation of God’s righteous judgment to his conscience.” 537537 As is manifest by Matt. xviii. 31. to the end. Chap. xx. 8-15. Chap. xxii. 11, 12, 13. Chap. xxv. 19-30. and ver. 35, to the end. Luke xix. 15-23. And therefore though God needs no medium, whereby to make the truth evident to himself, yet evidences will be exhibited in his future judging of men. And doubtless the evidences used in their trial, will be such as are best fitted to serve the ends of the judgment; viz. the manifestation of the righteous judgment of God, not only to the world, but to men’s own consciences. But the Scriptures abundantly teach us, that the grand evidences which the Judge will make use of in the trial, for these ends, according to which the judgment of every one shall be regulated, and the irreversible sentence passed, will be men’s works, or practice, in this world: Rev. xx. 12. “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God: and the books were opened: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.” So ver. 13. “And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell gave up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.” 2 Cor. v. 10. “For we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, whether it be good or bad.” So men’s practice is the only evidence that Christ represents the future judgment as regulated by, in that most particular description of the day of judgment, which we have in the Holy Bible. 538538 Sec Matt. xxv. at the latter end. See also Rom. ii. 6-13. Jer. xvii. 10. Job xxxiv. 11. Prov. xxiv. 12. Jer. xxxii. 19. Rev. xxii. 12. Matt. xvi. 27. Rev. ii. 23. Ezek. xxxiii. 20. 1 Pet. i. 17. The Judge, then, will not examine men as to the method of their experiences, or set every man to tell his story of the manner of his conversion; but his works will be brought forth, as evidences of what he is, what he has done in darkness and in light; Eccl. xii. 14. “For God will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” In the trial of professors at the future judgment, God will call in the same evidences, to manifest them to themselves and to the world, which he makes use of to manifest them, in the temptations or trials of his providence here, viz. their practice, in cases wherein Christ and other things come into actual and immediate competition. God, then, for the manifestation of his righteous judgment, will weigh professors in a balance that is visible; the same that he weighs men in now; which has been already described.
Hence we may undoubtedly infer, that men’s works 331 (taken in the sense explained) are the highest evidences by which they ought to try themselves. Certainly that which our Supreme Judge will chiefly use, when we come to stand before him, we should chiefly adopt, in order to judge ourselves by. 539539 “That which God maketh a rule of his own judgment, as that by which he judgeth of every man, that is a sure rule for every man to judge himself by. That which we shall be judged by at the last day is a sure rule to apply to ourselves for the present. Now by our obedience and works he judgeth us. He will give to every man according to his works.” Dr. Preston’s Church’s Carriage. If it had not been revealed in what manner and by what evidence the Judge would proceed with us hereafter, how natural would it be for one to say, “O that I knew what token God will chiefly look for, and insist upon, in the last and decisive judgment; and which he expects that all should be able to produce, who would, then be accepted of him, and according to which sentence shall be passed; that I might know what evidence especially to seek after now, as I would be sure not to foil then.” And seeing God has so plainly and abundantly revealed what this evidence is, surely, if we act wisely, we shall regard it as of the greatest importance.
Now from all that has been said, I think it abundantly manifest, that christian practice is the most proper evidence of the gracious sincerity of professors, to themselves and others; and the chief of all the marks of grace, the sign of signs, and evidence of evidences, that which seals and crowns all other signs.—I had rather have the testimony of my conscience, that I have such a saying of my Supreme Judge on my side, as that, John xiv. 21. “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me;” than the judgment and fullest approbation of all the wise, sound, and experienced divines, that have lived this thousand years, on the most exact and critical examination of my experiences, as to the manner of my conversion. Not that there are no other good evidences of a state of grace but this. There may be other exercises of grace, besides these efficient exercises, which the saints may have in contemplation, that may be very satisfying to them: but yet this is the chief and most proper evidence. There may be several good evidences that a tree is a fig-tree; but the highest and most proper evidence of it is, that it actually bears figs. It is possible, that a man may have a good assurance of a state of grace, at his first conversion, before he has had opportunity to gain assurance by this great evidence I am speaking of.—If a man hears that a great treasure is offered him, in a distant place, on condition that he will prize it so much, as to be willing to leave what he possesses at home, and go a journey for it, over the rocks and mountains that are in the way, to the place where it is; it is possible the man may be well assured, that he values the treasure to the degree spoken of, as soon as the offer is made him; he may feel a willingness to go for the treasure, beyond all doubt: but yet, this does not hinder but that his actual going for it, is the highest and most proper evidence of his being willing, not only to others, but to himself. But then as an evidence to himself, his outward actions, and the motions of his body in his journey, are not considered alone, exclusive of the action of his mind, and a consciousness within himself, of the thing that moves him, and the end he goes for; otherwise his bodily motion is no evidence to him, of his prizing the treasure. In such a manner is christian practice the most proper evidence of a saving value of the pearl of great price, and treasure hid in the field.
Christian practice is the sign of signs, in this sense, that it is the great evidence which confirms and crowns all other signs of godliness. There is no one grace of the Spirit of God, but that christian practice is the most proper evidence of the truth of it. As it is with the members of our bodies, and all our utensils, the proper proof of their soundness and goodness is in the use of them; so it is with our graces, (which are given to be used in practice, as much as our hands and feet, or the tools with which we work, the proper trial and proof of them is in their exercise in practice. Most of the things we use are serviceable to us, and so have their serviceableness proved, in some pressure, straining, agitation, or collision. So it is with a bow, a sword, an axe, a saw, a cord, a chain, a staff, a foot, a tooth, &c. And those which are so weak, as not to bear the strain or pressure we need, to which we put them, are good for nothing. So it is with all the virtues of the mind. The proper trial and proof of them, is in their being exercised under those temptations and trials that God brings us under, in the course of his providence, and in being put to such service as strains hard upon the principles of nature.
Practice is the proper proof of the true and saving knowledge of God: as appears by that of the apostle already mentioned, “Hereby we know that we know him, that we keep his commandments.” It is in vain for us to “profess that we know God, if in works we deny him,.” Tit. i. 16. And if we “know God, but glorify him not as God;” our knowledge will only condemn, and not save us, .Rom. i. 21. The great note of that knowledge which saves and makes happy, is, that it is practical; John xiii. 17. “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.” Job xxviii. 28. “To depart from evil is understanding.”
Holy practice is the proper evidence of repentance. When the Jews professed repentance, when they came confessing their sins to John, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins; he directed them to the right way of getting and exhibiting proper evidences of the truth of their repentance when he said to them, “Bring forth fruits meet for repentance,”. Matt. iii. 8. Which was agreeable to the practice of the apostle Paul; see Acts xxvi. 20. Pardon and mercy are constantly promised to him who has this evidence of true repentance, that he forsakes his sin; Prov. xxviii. 13. and Isa. lv. 7. and many other places.
Holy practice is the proper evidence of a saving faith. It is evident that the apostle James speaks of works, as what eminently justifies faith, or (which is the same thing) justifies the professors of faith, and vindicate and manifest the sincerity of their profession, not only to the world, but to their own consciences: as is evident by the instance he gives of Abraham, James ii. 21-24. And in ver. 20. and 26. he speaks of the practical and working nature of faith, as the very life and soul of it; in the same manner, that the active nature and substance, which is in the body of a man, is the life and soul of it. And if so, practice is the proper evidence of the life and soul of true faith, by which it is distinguished from a dead faith. For doubtless, practice is the most proper evidence of a practical nature, and operation the most proper evidence of an operative nature.
Practice is the best evidence of a saving belief of the truth. That is spoken of as the proper evidence of the truth being in a professing Christian, that he walks in the truth, 3 John 3. “I rejoiced greatly when the brethren came and testified of the truth that is in thee, even as thou walkest in the truth.”
Practice is the most proper evidence of a true coming to Christ, and accepting of and closing with him. A true and saving coming to Christ, is (as Christ often teaches) a coming so as to forsake all for him. And, as observed before, to forsake all for Christ in heart, is the same thing as to have a heart actually to forsake all; but the proper evidence of having a heart actually to forsake all, is indeed actually to forsake all when called to it. If a prince make suit to a woman in a far country, that she would forsake her own people, and father’s house, and come to him, in order to be his bride; the proper evidence of the compliance of her heart with the king’s suit, is her actually forsaking her own people, and father’s house, and coming to him. By this, her compliance with the king’s suit is made perfect, in the same sense that the apostle James says, by works is faith made perfect. 540540 “Our real taking of Christ, appears in our actions and works: Isa. i. 19. ‘If ye consent and obey, ye shall eat the good things of the land.’ That is, If ye will consent to take JEHOVAH for your Lord and King: if ye give consent; there is the first thing; but that is not enough: but if ye also obey. The consent that standeth in the inward act of the mind, the truth of it will be seen in your obedience, in the acts of your lives. If ye consent and obey, ye shall eat the good things of the land; that is, you shall take of all that he hath that is convenient for you: for then you are married to him in truth, and have an interest in all his goods.” Dr. Preston’s Church’s Carriage. Christ promises eternal life, on condition of our coming to him: but it is such a coming as he directed the young man to, who came to inquire, “what he shall do, that he might have eternal life:” Christ bid him “go and sell all that he had, and come to him, and follow him.” If he had consented in his heart to the proposal, (and had therein come to Christ in his heart,) 332 the proper evidence of it would have been his doing of it: and therein his coming to Christ would have been made perfect. When Christ called Levi the publican, when sitting at the receipt of custom, and in the midst of his worldly gains; the closing of Levi’s heart with this invitation of his Saviour to come to him, was manifested, and made perfect, by his actually rising up, leaving all, and following him, Luke v. 27, 28. Christ and other things are set before us together, for us practically to cleave to one, and forsake the other: in such a case, a practical cleaving to Christ, is a practical acceptance of Christ; as much as a beggar’s reaching out his hand, and taking a gift offered, is his practical acceptance of the gift. Yea, that act of the soul which cleaves to Christ in practice, is itself the most perfect coming of the soul to Christ.
Practice is the most proper evidence of trusting in Christ for salvation. The proper signification of the word trust, according to the more ordinary use of it, both in common speech and in the Holy Scriptures, is the emboldening and encouragement of a person’s mind, to run some venture in practice, or in something that he does, on the credit of another’s sufficiency and faithfulness. And therefore the proper evidence of his trusting, is the venture he runs in what he does. He is not properly said to run any venture in a dependence on any thing, who does nothing on that dependence, or whose practice is no otherwise than if he had no dependence. For a man to run a venture in dependence on another, is for him to do some thing from that dependence, by which he seems to expose himself, and which he would not do were it not for that dependence. And therefore it is in complying with the difficulties and seeming dangers of christian practice, in a dependence on Christ’s sufficiency and faithfulness to bestow eternal life, that persons are said to venture themselves upon Christ, and trust in him for happiness and life. They depend on such promises as that, Matt. x. 39. “He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” And so they part with all, and venture their all, in a dependence on Christ’s sufficiency and truth. And this is the scripture notion of trusting in Christ, in the exercise of a saving faith in him. Thus Abraham, the father of believers, trusted in Christ, and by faith forsook his own country, in a reliance on the covenant of grace which God established with him, Heb. xi. 8, 9. Thus also “Moses, by faith refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season,”. Heb. xi. 23, &c. So by faith others exposed themselves to be stoned, and sawn in sunder, or slain with the sword; endured the trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, bonds and imprisonments, and wandered about in sheep-skins and goat-skins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented. And in this sense the apostle Paul trusted in Christ, and committed himself to him, venturing himself, and his whole interest, in a dependence on the ability and faithfulness of his Redeemer, under great persecutions, and in suffering the loss of all things; 2 Tim. i. 12. “For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.”
If a man should have word brought him from the king of a distant land, that he intended to make him his heir, if upon receiving the tidings he immediately leaves his native land and friends, and all he has in the world, to go to that country, in a dependence on what he hears; then he may be said to venture himself and all he has in the world upon it. But if he only sits still, and hopes for the promised benefit, inwardly pleasing himself with the thoughts of it; he cannot properly be said to venture himself upon it; he runs no venture in the case; he does nothing, otherwise than he would do, if he had received no such tidings, by which he would be exposed to any suffering, in case all should fail. So he that on the credit of what he hears of a future world, and in dependence on the report of the gospel, concerning life and immortality, forsakes all, or does so at least so far as there is occasion, making every thing entirely give place to his eternal interest; he, and he only, may properly be said to venture himself on the report of the gospel. And this is the proper evidence of a true trust in Christ for salvation.
Practice is the proper evidence of a gracious love, both to God and men. The texts that plainly teach this, have been so often mentioned already, that it is needless to repeat them.
Practice is the proper evidence of humility. That expression and manifestation of humility of heart which God insists on, we should regard as the proper expression and manifestation of it: but this is walking humbly: Micah vi. 8. “He hath showed thee, O man, what is good, and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”
This is also the proper evidence of the true fear of God. Prov. viii. 13. “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil.” Psal. xxxiv. 11,. &c. “Come, ye children, hearken unto me, and I will teach you the fear of the Lord.—Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile: depart from evil, and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” Prov. iii. 7. “Fear the Lord, and depart from evil.” Prov. xvi. 6. “By the fear of the Lord, men depart from evil.” Job i. 8. “Hast thou considered my servant Job,—a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?” Chap. ii. 3. “Hast thou considered my servant Job,—a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? and still he holdeth fast his integrity, although thou movedst me against him.” Psal. xxxvi. 1. “The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart, there is no fear of God before his eyes.”
So practice, in rendering again according to benefits received, is the proper evidence of true thankfulness. Psal. cxvi. 12. “What shall I render to the Lord, for all his benefits towards me?” 2 Chron. xxxii. 25. “But Hezekiah rendered not again, according to the benefit done unto him.” Paying our vows unto God, and ordering our conversation aright, seem to be spoken of, as the proper expression and evidence of true thankfulness in the 50th Psalm, ver. 14. “Offer unto God thanksgiving, and pay thy vows to the Most High.” Ver. 23. “Whoso offereth praise, glorifieth me: and to him that ordereth his conversation aright, will I show the salvation of God.”
The proper evidence of gracious desires and longings, and what distinguishes them from those that are false and vain, is, that they are not idle wishes, like Balaam’s; but effectual in practice, stirring up persons earnestly and thoroughly to seek the things they look for. Psal. xxvii.
4. “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after. O God, thou art my God, early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is, to see thy power and thy glory.” 541541 Psal. lxiii. 1, 2. Ver. 8. “My soul followeth hard after thee.” Cant. i. 4. “Draw me, we will run after thee.” Practice is the proper evidence of a gracious hope. 1 John iii. 3. “Every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.” Patient continuance in well-doing, through the difficulties and trials of the christian course, is often mentioned as the proper expression and fruit of a christian hope; 1 Thess. i. 3. “Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope.” 1 Pet. i. 13, 14. “Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end, for the grace that is to be brought unto you, at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children,” &c. Psal. cxix. 166. “Lord, I have hoped in thy salvation, and done thy commandments.” Psal. lxxviii. 7. “That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of the Lord: but keep his commandments.”
A cheerful practice of our duty, or doing the will of God, is the proper evidence of a truly holy joy. Isa lxiv.
5. 542542 Psal. cxix. 111, 112. “Thou meetest him that rejoiceth, and worketh righteousness. Thy testimonies have I taken for my heritage for ever; for they are the rejoicing of my heart. I have inclined mine heart to perform thy statutes alway, even unto the end.” Ver. 14. “I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches.” 1 Cor. xiii. 6. “Charity rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth.” 2 Cor. viii. 2. “The abundance of their joy, abounded unto the riches of their liberality.”
And as the fruit of holy practice is the chief evidence of the truth of grace; so the degree in which experiences have influence on a person’s practice, is the surest evidence of the degree of that which is spiritual and divine in his experiences. Whatever pretences persons may make to great discoveries, great love and joys, they are no further to be regarded, than they have influence on their practice. Not but that allowances must be made for the natural temper. But that does not hinder, but that the degree of grace is justly measured, by the degree of the effect in practice. For the effect of grace is as great, and the alteration as remarkable, in a person of a very ill natural temper, as another. Although a person of such a temper, will not behave himself so well, with the same degree of grace, as another; the diversity from what was before conversion, may be as great: because a person of a good natural temper did not behave himself so ill, before conversion.
Thus I have endeavoured to represent the evidence there is, that christian practice is the chief of all the signs of saving grace. And before I conclude this discourse, I would say something briefly, in answer to two objections, that may possibly be made by some, against what has been said upon this head.
Object. 1. Some may be ready to say, this seems to be contrary to an opinion much received among good people; that professors should judge of their state chiefly by their inward experience, and that spiritual experiences are the main evidences of true grace.
I answer, It is doubtless a true opinion, and justly much received among good people, that professors should chiefly judge of their state by their experience. But it is a great mistake, that what has been said is at all contrary to that opinion. The chief sign of grace to the consciences of Christians being christian practice, in the sense explained, and according to what has been shown to be the true notion of christian practice, is not at all inconsistent with christian experience being the chief evidence of grace. Christian or holy practice is spiritual practice; and that is not the motion of a body, that knows not how, nor when, nor wherefore it moves: but spiritual practice in man, is the practice of a spirit and body jointly; or the practice of a spirit, animating, commanding, and actuating a body to which it is united, and over which it has power given it by the Creator. And therefore the main thing in this holy practice is the holy acts of the mind, directing and governing the motions of the body. And the motions of the body are to be looked upon as belonging to christian practice, only secondarily, and as they are dependent and consequent on the acts of the soul. The exercises of grace which Christians are conscious of, are what they experience within themselves; and herein therefore lies christian experience: and this christian experience consists as much in those operative exercises of grace in the will, immediately concerned in the management of the behaviour of the body, as in other exercises. These inward exercises are not the less a part of christian experience, because they have outward behaviour immediately connected with them. A strong act of love to God is not the less a part of spiritual experience, because it is the act that immediately produces and effects some self-denying and expensive outward action, which is much to the honour and glory of God.
To speak of christian experience and practice, as if they were two things, properly and entirely distinct, is to make a distinction without consideration or reason. Indeed all christian experience is not properly called practice; but all christian practice is properly experience. And the distinction that is made between them, is not only an unreasonable, but an unscriptural distinction. Holy practice is one kind or part of christian experience; and both reason and Scripture represent it as the chief, and most important, and most distinguishing part of it. So it is represented in Jer. xxii. 15, 16. “Did not thy father eat and drink, and do justice and judgment?—He judged the cause of the poor and needy:—was not this to know me? saith the Lord.” Our inward acquaintance with God, surely belongs to the head of experimental religion; but this God represents as consisting chiefly in that experience which there is in holy practice. So the exercises of those graces of the love of God, and the fear of God, are a part of experimental religion; but these the Scripture represents as consisting chiefly in practice, in those fore-mentioned texts.—1 John v. 3. “This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” 2 John 6. “This is love, that we walk after his commandment.” Psal. xxxiv. 11,. &c. “Come, ye children, and I will teach you the fear of the Lord:—Depart from evil, and do good.” Such experiences as these Hezekiah took comfort in chiefly, on his sick-bed; when he said, 543543 2 King xx. 3. “Remember, O Lord, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth, and with a perfect heart.” And such experiences as these the psalmist chiefly insists upon, in the 119th Psalm, and elsewhere. Such experiences as these the apostle Paul mainly insists upon, as Rom. i. 9. “God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son.”
2 Cor. i. 12. “For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that, by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world. Chap. iv. 13. We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I have believed, and therefore have I spoken: we also believe, and therefore speak. Chap. v. 7. We walk by faith, not by sight. Ver. 14. The love of Christ constraineth us. Chap. vi. 4-7. In all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses,—in labours, in watchings, in fastings. By pureness, by knowledge, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned,—by the power of God.” Gal. ii. 20. “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live: yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God.” Phil. iii. 7, 8. “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, and do count them but dung that I may win Christ.” Col. i. 29. “Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.” 1 Thess. ii. 2. “We were bold in our God, to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention. Ver. 8-10. “Being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us. For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail, labouring night and day.—Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily, and justly, and unblamably we behaved ourselves among you.” And with such experiences as these this blessed apostle chiefly comforted himself, when he was going to martyrdom, 2 Tim. iv. 6, 7. “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”
And not only does the most important and distinguishing part of christian experience, lie in spiritual practice; but such is the nature of that sort of exercises of grace, wherein spiritual practice consists, that nothing is so properly called by the name of experimental religion. For that experience, which exercises of grace prove effectual at the very point of trial—wherein God proves which we will actually cleave to, Christ or our lusts—is the proper experiment of the truth and power of our godliness; wherein its victorious power and efficacy in producing its proper effect, and reaching its end, is found by experience. This is properly christian experience, wherein the saints have opportunity to see, by actual experience and trial, whether they have a heart to do the will of God, and to forsake other things for Christ, or no. As that is called experimental philosophy, which brings opinions and notions to the test of fact; so is that properly called experimental religion, which brings religious affections and intentions to the like test.
There is a sort of external religious practice, without inward experience; which in the sight of God is esteemed good for nothing. And there is what is called experience, without practice, being neither accompanied nor followed with a christian behaviour; and this is worse than nothing. Many persons seem to have very wrong notions of christian experience, and spiritual discoveries. Whenever a person finds a heart to treat God as God, at the time he 334 has the trial, and finds his disposition effectual in the experiment, that is the most proper and most distinguishing experience. And to have at such a time that sense of divine things, that apprehension of the truth, importance and excellency of the things of religion, which then sways and prevails, and governs his heart and hands; this is the most excellent spiritual light, and these are the most distinguishing discoveries. Religion consists much in holy affection; but those exercises of affection which are most distinguishing of true religion, are these practical exercises. Friendship between earthly friends consists much in affection; but yet those strong exercises of affection, that actually carry them through fire and water for each other, are the highest evidences of true friendship.
There is nothing in what has been said, contrary to what is asserted by some sound divines; when they say, that there are no sure evidences of grace, but the acts of grace. For that doth not hinder but that these operative productive acts, those exercises of grace, which are effectual in practice, may be the highest evidences. Nor does it hinder but that, when there are many of these acts and exercises, following one another in a course, under various trials of every kind, the evidence is still heightened; as one act confirms another. A man by once seeing his neighbour, may have good evidence of his presence; but by seeing him from day to day, and conversing with him in a course, in various circumstances, the evidence is established. The disciples, when they first saw Christ after his resurrection, had good evidence that he was alive: but by conversing with him for forty days, and his showing himself to them alive, by many infallible proofs, they had yet higher evidence. 544544 “The more these visible exercises of grace are renewed, the more certain you will be. The more frequently these actings are renewed, the more abiding and confirmed your assurance will be. A man that has been assured of such visible exercises of grace, may quickly after be in doubt, whether he was not mistaken. But when such actings are renewed again and again, he grows more settled and established about his good estate. If a man see a thing once, that makes him sure; but if afterwards he fear he was deceived, when he comes to see it again, he is more sure he was not mistaken. If a man read such passages in a book, he is sure it is so. Some months after, some may bear him down, that he was mistaken, so as to make him question it himself: but when he looks, and reads it again, he is abundantly confirmed. The more men’s grace is multiplied, the more their peace is multiplied; 2 Pet i. 2. “Grace and peace be multiplied unto you, through the knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord.” Stoddard’s Way to know Sincerity and Hypocrisy.
The witness or seal of the Spirit consists in the effect of the Spirit of God in the heart, in the implantation and exercises of grace there, and so consists in experience. And it is beyond doubt, that this seal of the Spirit is the highest kind of evidence of the saints’ adoption, that ever they obtain. But in these exercises of grace in practice, God gives witness, and sets to his seal, in the most conspicuous, eminent, and evident manner. It has been abundantly found to be true in fact, by the experience of the christian church, that Christ commonly gives by his Spirit the greatest and most joyful evidences to his saints of their sonship, in those effectual exercises of grace under trials, of which we have spoken; as is manifest in the full assurance and unspeakable joys of many of the martyrs. Agreeable to 1 Pet. iv. 14. “If ye are reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you.” And Rom. v. 2, 3. “We rejoice in hope of the glory of God, and glory in tribulations.” And agreeable to what the apostle Paul often declares of what he experienced in his trials. When the apostle Peter, in my text, speaks of the joy unspeakable, and full of glory, which the Christians to whom he wrote experienced; He has respect to what they found under persecution, as appears by the context. Christ thus manifesting himself, as the mend and saviour of his saints cleaving to him under trials, seems to have been represented of old by his coming and manifesting himself to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, in the furnace. And when the apostle speaks of the witness of the Spirit, in Rom. viii. 15-17. he has a more immediate respect to what the Christians experienced in their exercises of love to God, while suffering persecution; as is plain by the context. He is, in the foregoing verses, encouraging the christian Romans under their sufferings, that though their bodies be dead because of sin, yet they should be raised to life again. But it is more especially plain by the verse immediately following, ver. 18. “For I reckon, that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us.” So the apostle has evidently respect to their persecutions, in all that he says to the end of the chapter. So when the apostle speaks of the earnest of the Spirit, which God had given to him, 2 Cor. v. 5. the context shows plainly that he has respect to what was given him in his great trials and sufferings. And in that promise of “the white stone, and new name, to him that overcomes,”. Rev. ii. 17. it is evident Christ has a special respect to a benefit that Christians should obtain by overcoming, when tried, in that day of persecution. This appears by ver. 13. and many other passages in this epistle to the seven churches of Asia.
Object. 2. Some also may be ready to object against what has been said of christian practice being the chief evidence of the truth of grace, that this is a legal doctrine; and that this making practice a thing of such great importance in religion, magnifies works, and tends to lead men to make too much of their own doings, to the diminution of the glory of free grace, and does not seem well to consist with that great gospel-doctrine of justification by faith alone.
But this objection is altogether without reason. Which way is it inconsistent with the freeness of God’s grace, that holy practice should be a sign of God’s grace? It is our works being the price of God’s favour, and not their being the sign of it, that is the thing which is inconsistent with the freeness of that favour. Surely the beggar’s looking on the money he has in his hands, as a sign of the kindness of him who gave it to him, is in no respect inconsistent with the freeness of that kindness. It is his having money in his hand as the price of a benefit, that is the thing which is inconsistent with the free kindness of the giver. The notion of the freeness of the grace of God to sinners, as that is revealed and taught in the gospel, is not, that no holy and amiable qualifications or actions in us shall be a fruit, and so a sign, of that grace; but that it is not the worthiness or loveliness of any qualification or action of ours which recommends us to that grace. Free grace implies, that kindness is shown to the unworthy and unlovely; that there is great excellency in the benefit bestowed, and no excellency in the subject as the price of it; that goodness goes forth, and flows out, from the fulness of God’s nature, the fulness of the fountain of good, without any amiableness in the object to draw it. And this is the notion of justification without works, (as this doctrine is taught in the Scripture,) that it is not the worthiness or loveliness of our works, or any thing in us, which is in any wise accepted with God, as a balance for the guilt of sin, or a recommendation of sinners to his acceptance as heirs of life. Thus we are justified only by the righteousness of Christ, and not by our righteousness. And when works are opposed to faith in this affair, and it is said that we are justified by faith and not by works; thereby is meant, that it is not the worthiness or amiableness of our works, or any thing in us, which recommends us to an interest in Christ and his benefits; but that we have this interest only by faith, or by our souls receiving Christ, or adhering to and closing with him. But that the worthiness or amiableness of nothing in us recommends and brings us to an interest in Christ, is no argument that nothing in us is a sign of an interest in Christ.
If the doctrines of free grace and justification by faith alone, be inconsistent with the importance of holy practice as a sign of grace; then they are equally inconsistent with the importance of any thing whatsoever in us as a sign of grace; and holiness, or any grace in us, or any experiences; for it is as contrary to the doctrines of free grace and justification by faith alone, that any of these should be the righteousness which we are justified by, as that holy practice should be so. It is with holy works, as it is with holy qualifications: it is inconsistent with the freeness of gospel-grace, that a title to salvation should be given to men for the loveliness of any of their holy qualifications, as much as that it should be given for the holiness of their works. It is inconsistent with the gospel-doctrine of free grace, that an interest in Christ and his benefits should be given for the loveliness of a man’s true holiness; the amiableness of his renewed, sanctified, heavenly heart; his 335 love to God, his experience of joy in the Holy Ghost, self-emptiness, a spirit to exalt Christ above all, and to give all glory to him, and a heart devoted unto him. I say, it is inconsistent with the gospel-doctrine of free grace, that a title to Christ’s benefits should be given out of regard to the loveliness of any of these, or that any of these should be our righteousness in the affair of justification. And yet this does not hinder the importance of these things as evidences of an interest in Christ. Just so it is with respect to holy actions and works. To make light of works because we are not justified by them, is the same thing in effect as to make light of all religion, all grace and holiness, yea, true evangelical holiness, and all gracious experience: for all is included, when the Scripture says, we are not justified by works. By works in this case is meant all our own righteousness, religion, or holiness, and every thing that is in us; all the good we do, and are conscious of; all external acts, all internal exercises of grace, all experiences, and all those holy and heavenly things wherein the life, power, and very essence of religion consist; all those great things which Christ and his apostles mainly insisted on in their preaching, and endeavoured to promote, as of the greatest consequence in the hearts and lives of men, and all good dispositions, exercises, and qualifications of every kind whatsoever; and even faith itself, considered as a part of our holiness. For we are justified by none of these things: if we were, we should, in a scripture sense, be justified by works. And therefore if it be not legal. and contrary to the evangelical doctrine of justification without works, to insist on any of these, as of great importance in evidence of an interest in Christ; then no more is it thus, to insist on the importance of holy practice. It would be legal to suppose, that holy practice justifies by entitling us to Christ’s benefits; but it is not legal to suppose, that holy practice justifies the sincerity of a believer, as the proper evidence of it. The apostle James did not think it legal to say, that Abraham our father was justified by works, in this sense. The Spirit that indited the Scripture, did not think the great importance and absolute necessity of holy practice, in this respect, to be inconsistent with the freeness of grace; for it commonly teaches them both together; as in Rev. xxi. 6, 7. God says, ’‘I will give unto him that is athirst, of the fountain of the water of life freely;” and then adds in the very next words, “He that overcometh shall inherit all things;’’ as though behaving well in the christian race and warfare, were the condition of the promise. So in the next chapter, the 14th and 15th verses, Christ says, “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and enter in through the gates into the city and then declares, 15th ver. how they that are of a wicked practice shall be excluded. Yet in the two following verses, with very great solemnity, Christ invites all to come, and take of the water of life freely; “I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright and morning star.—And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth, say, Come. And let him that is athirst, come: and whosoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely.” 545545 Rev. xxii. 16, 17. So chap. iii. 20, 21. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock: If any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and sup with him, and he with me.” But then it is added in the next words, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne.” And in that great invitation, Matt. xi. “Come unto me, all ye that labour, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest;” Christ adds in the next words, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls: for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light:” as though taking the burden of Christ’s service, and imitating his example, were necessary in order to the promised rest. So in that great invitation to sinners to accept of free grace; Isa. lv. 1 “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money: come ye, buy and eat, yea, come, buy wine and milk without money, and without price:” even there, in the continuation of the same invitation, the sinner’s forsaking his wicked practice is spoken of as necessary to the obtaining of mercy; ver. 7. “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” So the riches of divine grace in the justification of sinners, is set forth with the necessity of holy practice, Isa. i. 16,. &c. “Wash ye, make you clean, put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes, cease to do evil, learn to do well, seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” And in that most solemn invitation of wisdom, Prov. ix. after it is represented what great provision is made; and how all things were ready, the house built, the beasts killed, the wine mingled, the table furnished, and the messengers sent forth to invite the guests; then we have the free invitation, ver. 4-6. “Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither: as for him that wanteth understanding, (i.e. has no righteousness,) she saith to him, Come, eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled.” But then in the next breath it follows,” Forsake the foolish, and live; and go in the way of understanding:” as though forsaking sin, and going in the way of holiness, were necessary in order to life. So that the freeness of grace, and the necessity of holy practice, which are thus joined together in Scripture, are not inconsistent. Nor does it at all diminish the honour and importance of faith, that its exercises and effects in practice should be esteemed its chief signs, any more than it lessens the importance of life, that action and motion are esteemed its chief signs.
So that in what has been said of the importance of holy practice as the main sign of sincerity, there is nothing legal; nothing derogatory to the freedom and sovereignty of gospel-grace; nothing in the least clashing with the gospel-doctrine of justification by faith alone without the works of the law; nothing in the least tending to lessen the glory of the Mediator and our dependence on his righteousness; nothing infringing on the special prerogatives of faith in the affair of our salvation; nothing in any wise detracting from the glory of God and his mercy, exalting man, or diminishing his dependence and obligation. So that if any are against the importance of holy practice as explained, it must be only from a senseless aversion to the letters and sound of the word works; when there is no reason in the world to be given for it, but what may be given with equal force, why they should have an aversion to the words holiness, godliness, grace, religion, experience, and even faith itself: for to make a righteousness of any of these, is as legal. and as inconsistent with the way of the new covenant, as to make a righteousness of holy practice. 546546 “You say you know Christ, and the love and good-will of Christ towards you, and that he is the propitiation for your sins. How do you know this? ‘He that saith I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar,’ 1 John ii. 4. True, might some reply, he that keeps not the commands of Christ, hath thereby a sure evidence that he knows him not, and that he is not united to him: but is this any evidence that we do know him, and that we are united to him, if we do keep his commandments? Yes, verily, saith the apostle, “Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.” And again, ver. 5. “Hereby know we that we are in him.” What can be more plain? What a vanity is it to say, that this is running upon a covenant of works?—O beloved, it is a sad thing to hear such questions and such cold answers also, that sanctification possibly may be an evidence. May be? Is it not certain? Assuredly, to deny it, is as bad as to affirm that God’s own promises of favour are not sure evidences thereof, and consequently that they are lies and untruths.—Our Saviour, who was no legal preacher, pronounceth, and consequently evidenceth, blessedness, by eight or nine promises, expressly made to such persons, as had inherent graces, Matt. v. 3, 4, &c.’’—Shepard’s Sound Believer p. 221, 222, 223.
It is greatly to the hurt of religion, for persons to insist little on those things which the Scripture insists most upon, as of most importance in the evidence of our interest in Christ, under a notion that to lay weight on these things is legal. and an old covenant-way. To neglect the exercises and effectual operations of grace in practice, and insist almost wholly on discoveries, and the method of the immanent exercises of conscience and grace in contemplation—depending on an ability to make nice distinctions in these matters, and a faculty of accurate discerning in them, from philosophy or experience—is highly injurious. It is in vain to seek for any better or any further signs, than those which the Scriptures have most expressly mentioned, and most frequently insisted on, as signs of godliness. They who pretend to a greater accuracy in giving signs—or, by their extraordinary experience, or insight into the nature of things, to give more distinguishing marks, which 336 shall more thoroughly search out and detect the hypocrite—are but subtle to darken their own minds, and the minds of others; their refinings, and nice discerning, are in God’s sight but refined foolishness, and sagacious delusion. Here are applicable those words of Agur, Prov. xxx. 5, 6. “Every word of God is pure; he is a shield to them that put their trust in him: add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.” Our wisdom and discerning, with regard to the hearts of men, is not much to be trusted. We can see but a little way into the nature of the soul, and the depths of man’s heart. The ways are many whereby persons’ affections may be moved without any supernatural influence; the natural springs of the affections are various and secret. Many things have oftentimes a joint influence on the affections; the imagination, natural temper, education, the common influences of the Spirit of God; a surprising concourse of affecting circumstances, an extraordinary coincidence of things in the course of men’s thoughts, together with the subtle management of invisible malicious spirits. No philosophy or experience will ever be sufficient to guide us safely through this labyrinth and maze, without our closely following the clue which God has given us in his word. God knows his own reasons, why he insists on some things, and plainly sets them forth as what we should try ourselves by, rather than others. It may be it is because he knows that these things are attended with less perplexity, and that we are less liable to be deceived by them than others. He best knows our nature, and the nature and manner of his own operations; and he best knows the way of our safety. He knows what allowances to make for different states of his church, different tempers of particular persons, and varieties in the manner of his own operations; how far nature may resemble grace, and how far nature may be mixed with grace; what affections may rise from imagination, and how far imagination may be mixed with spiritual illumination. And therefore it is our wisdom not to take his work out of his hands; but to follow him, and lay the stress of the judgment of ourselves there, where he has directed us. If we do otherwise, no wonder if we are bewildered, confounded, and fatally deluded. But if we had got into the way of looking chiefly at those things which Christ, his apostles, and prophets chiefly insisted on—while judging of ourselves and others, chiefly regarding practical exercises and effects of grace, not neglecting other things—it would have been of manifold happy consequence. This would above all things tend to the conviction of deluded hypocrites, and to prevent the delusion of those whose hearts were never brought to a thorough compliance with the strait and narrow way which leads to life. It would tend to deliver us from innumerable perplexities, arising from various inconsistent schemes about methods and steps of experience; it would greatly tend to prevent professors neglecting strictness of life, and tend to promote their engagedness and earnestness in their christian walk; and it would become fashionable for men to show their Christianity, more by an amiable distinguished behaviour, than by an abundant and excessive declaring of their experiences. We should then get into the way of appearing lively in religion, more by being lively in the service of God and our generation, than by the forwardness of our tongues, and making a business of proclaiming on the house-tops the holy and eminent acts and exercises of our own hearts. Then Christians who are intimate friends, would talk together of their experiences and comforts, in a manner better becoming christian humility and modesty, and more to each other’s profit; their tongues not running before their hands and feet, after the prudent example of the blessed apostle, 2 Cor. xii. 6. Many occasions of spiritual pride would be cut off, and so a great door shut against the devil; and a great many of the main stumbling-blocks against experimental and powerful religion would be removed. Religion would be declared and manifested in such a way as—instead of hardening spectators, and exceedingly promoting infidelity and atheism—would above all things tend to convince men that there is a reality in religion, and greatly awaken them, and win them, by convincing their consciences of the importance and excellency of religion. Thus the light of professors would so shine before men, that others seeing their good works, would glorify their Father which is in heaven!
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