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Farther evidences of forgiveness with God — Testimonies that God was well pleased with some that were sinners — The patience of God towards the world an evidence of forgiveness — Experience of the saints of God to the same purpose.
IV. Let us, then, in the fourth place, as a fourth evidence of this truth, consider those, both under the Old Testament and the New, concerning whom we have the greatest assurance that God was well pleased with them, and that they are now in the enjoyment of him. And this argument unto this purpose the apostle insists upon, and presseth from sundry instances, Heb. xi. How many doth he there reckon up who of old “obtained a good report,” and “this testimony, that they pleased God!” verses 2, 5. “All these inherited the promises” through believing, — that is, obtained the “forgiveness of sins” for whereas “by nature they were children of wrath,” and “under the curse” as well as others, obtaining an infallible interest in the favour of God, and this testimony, “that they pleased him,” it could no otherwise be; for without this, on a just account, every one of them would have continued in the state wherein Adam was when he “heard the voice of God, and was afraid.” Wherefore, it being evident that some persons, in all generations, have enjoyed the friendship, love, and favour of God in this world, and at their departure 444out of it have entered into glory, it makes it evident that there is forgiveness of sin with him; without which these things could not be.
Let us, after the example of the apostle, mention some particular instances in this matter. Look unto Abraham: he was the “friend of God,” and walked with God. God made a solemn covenant with him, and takes it for his memorial throughout all generations that he is the “God of Abraham.” And he is doubtless now at rest with God. Our Saviour calls the place or condition whereinto blessed souls are gathered, “Abraham’s bosom.” He is at rest with whom others are at rest.
The condition was the same with Isaac and Jacob. They also are in heaven, being alive unto and with God. Our Saviour proves it from the tenor of the covenant: “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. God is not the God of the dead, but of the living,” Matt. xxii. 32. They are yet alive, alive unto God, and with him by virtue of the covenant; or, after their death, God would not be said to be their God. This is the force of our Saviour’s argument in that place, that after their death God was still their God. Then death had not reached their whole persons. They were still alive with God in heaven; and their bodies, by virtue of the same covenant, were to be recovered out of the dusk
The same is the state with David. He was a “man after God’s own heart,” that did his will and fulfilled all his pleasure. And although he died, and his body saw corruption, yet he is not lost; he is with God in heaven. Hence he ended his days triumphantly, in a full apprehension of eternal rest, beyond what could in this world be attained, and that by virtue of the covenant; for these are the last words of David, “Although my house be not so with God, yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant,” ascertaining unto him sure and eternal mercies, 2 Sam. xxiii. 5.
Peter also is in heaven. Christ prayed for him that his faith should not fail; and in his death he glorified God, John xxi. 19. So is Paul; he also is in heaven. He knew that when he was dissolved he should be with Christ.
Here, then, “we are compassed about with a cloud of witnesses;” for, —
1. It is most certain that they were all sinners. They were all so by nature; for therein there is no difference between any of the children of men. And personally they were sinners also. They confessed so of themselves, and some of the sins of all of them stand upon record. Yea, some of them were great sinners, or guilty of great and signal miscarriages; — some before their conversion, as Abraham, who was an idolater, Josh. xxiv. 2, 3, and Paul, who was 445a persecutor and a blasphemer; some after their conversion; some in sins of the flesh against their obedience, as David; and some in sins of profession against faith, as Peter. Nothing, then, is more evident than that no one of them came to rest with God but by forgiveness. Had they never been guilty of any one sin, but only what is left upon record concerning them in holy writ, yet they could be saved no other way; for he that transgresseth the law in any one point is guilty of the breach of the whole, James ii. 10.
What shall we now say? Do we think that God hath forgiveness only for this or that individual person? No man questions but that all these were pardoned. Was it by virtue of any especial personal privilege that was peculiar unto them? Whence should any such privilege arise, seeing by nature they were no better than others, nor would have been so personally had not they been delivered from sin, and prepared for obedience by grace, mercy, and pardon? Wherefore, they all obtained forgiveness by virtue of the covenant, from the forgiveness which is with God. And this is equally ready for others who come to God the same way that they did; that is, by faith and repentance.
2. Many of those concerning whom we have the assurance mentioned were not only sinners but great sinners, as was said; which must be also insisted on, to obviate another objection. For some may say, that although they were sinners, yet they were not such sinners as we are; and although they obtained forgiveness, yet this is no argument that we shall do so also, who are guilty of other sins than they were, and those attended with other aggravations than theirs were. To which I say, that I delight not in aggravating, no, nor yet in repeating, the sins and faults of the saints of God of old. Not only the grace of God, but the sins of men have by some been turned into lasciviousness, or been made a cloak for their lusts. But yet, for the ends and purposes for which they are recorded by the Holy Ghost, we may make mention of them. That they may warn us of our duty, that we take heed lest we also fall, that they may yield us a relief under our surprisals, are they written. So, then, where the mention of them tends to the advancement of sovereign grace and mercy, which is the case in hand, we may insist on them. I think, then, that, without mention of particulars, I may safely say that there is no sin, no degree of sin, no aggravating circumstance of sin, no kind of continuance in sin (the only sin excepted), but that there are those in heaven who have been guilty of them.
It may be, yet some will say that they have considered the sins and falls of Lot, David, Peter, Paul, and the thief himself on the cross, and yet they find not their own condition exemplified, so as to conclude that they shall have the same success with them.
446Ans. 1. I am not showing that this or that man shall be pardoned, but only demonstrating that there is forgiveness with God, and that for all sorts of sins and sinners; which these instances do assuredly confirm. And, moreover, they manifest that if other men are not pardoned, it is merely because they make not that application for forgiveness which they did.
2. Yet by the way, to take off this objection also, consider what the apostle says in particular concerning the several sorts of sinners that obtained mercy: I Cor. vi. 9–11, “Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified.” Hell can scarce, in no more words, yield us a sadder catalogue. Yet some of all these sorts were justified and pardoned.
3. Suppose this enumeration of sins doth not reach the condition of the soul, because of some especial aggravation of its sin not expressed; — let such a one add that of our Saviour: Matt. xii. 31, “I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men, but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost.” They are not, they shall not be, all actually remitted and pardoned unto all men; but they are all pardonable unto those that seek to obtain pardon for them according unto the gospel. There is with God forgiveness for them all. Now, certainly there is no sin, but only that excepted, but it comes within the compass of” All manner of sin and blasphemy;” and so, consequently, some that have been guilty of it are now in heaven.
We take it for a good token and evidence of a virtuous healing water, when, without fraud or pretence, we see the crutches of cured cripples and impotent persons hung about it as a memorial of its efficacy. And it is a great demonstration of the skill and ability of a physician, when many come to a sick person and tell him “We had the same distemper with you, — it had the same symptoms, the same effects; and by his skill and care we are cured.” “Oh!” saith the sick man, “bring him unto me, I will venture my life in his band.” Now, all the saints of heaven stand about a sin-sick soul; for in this matter “we are compassed about with a cloud of witnesses,” Heb. xii. 1. And what do they bear witness unto? what say they unto a poor guilty sinner? “As thou art, so were we; so guilty, so perplexed, so obnoxious to wrath, so fearing destruction from God.” “And what way did you steer, what course did you take, to obtain the blessed condition wherein now you are?” Say they, “We went all to God through Christ for forgiveness; and found plenty of grace, 447mercy, and pardon in him for us all.” The rich man in the parable thought it would be a great means of conversion if one should “rise from the dead” and preach; but here we see that all the saints departed and now in glory do jointly preach this fundamental truth, that “there is forgiveness with God.”
Poor souls are apt to think that all those whom they read or hear of to be gone to heaven, went thither because they were so good and so holy. It is true many of them were eminently and exemplarily so in their generations, all of them were so according to their degrees and measures; for “without holiness no man can see God,” — and it is our duty to labour to be like unto them in holiness, if ever we intend to be so in happiness and glory; — but yet not one of them, not any one that is now in heaven, Jesus Christ alone excepted, did ever come thither any other way but by forgiveness of sin; and that will also bring us thither, though we come short of many of them in holiness and grace.
And this evidence of forgiveness! the rather urge, because I find the apostle Paul doing of it eminently in his own person: 1 Tim. i. 12–16, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.” “A great sinner,” saith he, “the chiefest of sinners I was;” which he manifests by some notable instances of his sin. “I was,” saith he, “a blasphemer,” — the highest sin against God; “a persecutor,” — the highest sin against the saints; “injurious,” — the highest wickedness towards mankind. “But,” saith he, “I obtained mercy, I am pardoned;” — and that with a blessed effect; first, that he should after all this be so accounted faithful as to be put into the ministry; and then that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in him and towards him was exceeding abundant. And what was the reason, what was the cause, that he was thus dealt withal? Why, it was that he might be a pattern, an evidence, an argument, that there was grace, mercy, forgiveness, to be had for all sorts of sinners that would believe to life everlasting.
To conclude, then, this evidence — Every one who is now in heaven hath his pardon sealed in the blood of Christ. All these pardons are, as it were, hanged up in the gospel; they are all enrolled in the 448promises thereof, for the encouragement of them that stand in need of forgiveness to come and sue out theirs also. Fear not, then, the guilt of sin, but the love of it and the power of it. If we love and like sin better than forgiveness, we shall assuredly go without it. If we had but rather be pardoned in God’s way than perish, our condition is secure.
V. The same is evident from the patience of God towards the world, and the end of it For the clearing hereof we may observe, —
1. That upon the first entrance of sin and breach of that covenant which God had made with mankind in Adam, he might immediately have executed the threatened curse, and have brought eternal death upon them that sinned. Justice required that it should be so, and there was nothing in the whole creation to interpose so much as for a reprieve or a respite of vengeance. And had God then sent sinning man, with the apostate angels that induced him into sin, immediately into eternal destruction, he would have been glorified in his righteousness and severity by and among the angels that sinned not. Or he could have created a new race of innocent creatures to have worshipped him and glorified him for his righteous judgment, even as the elect at the last day shall do for the destruction of ungodly men.
2. God hath not taken this course. He hath continued the race of mankind for a long season on the earth; he hath watched over them with his providence, and exercised exceeding patience, forbearance, and long-suffering towards them. Thus the apostle Paul at large discourseth on, Acts xiv. 15–17, xvii. 24–30, as also Rom. ii. 4. And it is open and manifest in their event. The whole world is every day filled with tokens of the power and patience of God; every nation, every city, every family is filled with them.
3. That there is a common abuse of this patience of God visible in the world in all generations. So it was of old: God saw it to be so, and complained of it, Gen. vi. 5, 6. All the evil, sin, wickedness, that hath been in the world, which no heart can conceive, no tongue can express, hath been all an abuse of this patience of God. This, with the most, is the consequent of God’s patience and forbearance. Men count it a season to fulfil all the abominations that their evil hearts can suggest unto them, or Satan draw them into a combination with himself in. This the state of things in the world proclaims, and every one’s experience confirms.
4. Let us, therefore, consider what is the true and proper end of this patience of God towards the world, enduring it in sin and wickedness for so long a season, and suffering one generation to be multiplied after another. Shall we think that God hath no ether design in all this patience towards mankind, in all generations, but 449merely to suffer them, all and every one, without exception, to sin against him, dishonour him, provoke him, that so he may at length everlastingly destroy them all? It is confessed that this is the consequent, the event of it with the most, through their perverse wickedness, with their love of sin and pleasure. But is this the design of God, — his only design? Hath he no other purpose but merely to forbear them a while in their folly, and then to avenge himself upon them? Is this his intendment, not only towards those who are obstinate in their darkness, ignorance, and rebellion against him, whose “damnation is just, and sleepeth not,” but also towards those whom he stirs up by his grace to seek after a remedy and deliverance from the state of sin and death? God forbid; yea, such an apprehension would be contrary to all those notions of the infinite wisdom and goodness of God which are ingrafted upon our hearts by nature, and which all his works manifest and declare. Whatever, therefore, it be, this cannot be the design of God in his patience towards the world. It cannot be but that he must long since have cut off the whole race of mankind, if he had no other thoughts and purposes towards them.
5. If this patience of God hath any other intention towards any, any other effect upon some, upon any, that is to be reckoned the principal end of it, and for the sake whereof it is evidently extended unto some others, consequentially unto all. For those concerning whom God hath an especial design in his patience, being to be brought forth in the world after the ordinary way of mankind, and that in all ages during the continuance of the world, from the beginning unto the end thereof, the patience which is extended unto them must also of necessity reach unto all in that variety wherein God is pleased to exercise it. The whole world, therefore, is continued under the patience of God and the fruits of it, for the sake of some that are in it.
6. Let us, therefore, see what is the end of this patience, and what it teacheth us. Now, it can have no end possible but only that before rejected, unless there be forgiveness of sins with God. Unless God be ready and willing to forgive the sins of them that come to him according unto his appointment, his patience is merely subservient unto a design of wrath, anger, severity, and a resolution to destroy. Now, this is an abomination once to suppose, and would reflect unspeakable dishonour upon the holy God. Let a man but deal thus, and it is a token of as evil an habit of mind, and perverse, as any can befall him. Let him bear with those that are in his power in their faults, for no other end or with no other design but that he may take advantage to bring a greater punishment and revenge upon them; and what more vile affection, what more 450wretched corruption of heart and mind, can he manifest? And shall we think that this is the whole design of the patience of God? God forbid.
It may be objected “That this argument is not cogent, because of the instance that lies against it in God’s dealing with the angels that sinned. It is evident that they fell into their transgression and apostasy before mankind did so, for they led and seduced our first parents into sin; and yet God bears with them, and exerciseth patience towards them, to this very day, and will do so unto the consummation of all things, when they shall be east into the fire ‘prepared for the devil and his angels;’ and yet it is granted that there is no forgiveness in God for them: so that it cloth not necessarily follow that there is so for man, because of his patience towards them.”
I answer, that this must be more fully spoken unto when we come to remove that great objection against this whole truth which was mentioned before, taken from God’s dealing with the sinning angels, whom he spared not. At present two or three observations will remove it out of our way; for, —
(1.) The case is not the same with the sinning angels and the race of mankind in all generations. There are no other angels in this condition, but only those individuals who first sinned in their own persons. They are not, in the providence and patience of God, multiplied and increased in ensuing times and seasons, but they continue the same individual persons who first sinned, and no more; so that immediate execution of the whole punishment due unto their sin would not have prevented any increase of them. But now with man it is otherwise; for God continues his patience towards them to the production of millions of other persons, who were not actually in the first sin. Had not God so continued his forbearance, their being, and consequently their sin and misery, had been prevented; so that the case is not the same with sinning angels and men.
(2.) Indeed God exerciseth no patience toward the angels that sinned, and that because he had no forgiveness for them. So Peter tells us, 2 Epist. ii. 4, “God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness.” Immediately upon their sin they were cast out of the presence of God, whose vision and enjoyment they were made for, and which they received some experience of; and they were cast into hell, as the place of their ordinary retention and of their present anguish, under the sense of God’s curse and displeasure. And although they may some of them be permitted to compass the earth, and to walk to and fro therein, to serve the ends of God’s holy, wise providence, and so to be out of their prison, yet they are still in their 451chains; for they were delivered unto chains of darkness, to be kept unto the last judgment. And in these things they lie actually under the execution of the curse of God, so that there is indeed no patience exercised towards them. If a notorious malefactor or murderer be committed unto a dungeon, and kept bound with iron chains to prevent his escape, until the appointed day of his solemn judgment and execution, without the least intention to spare him, none will say there is patience exercised towards him, things being disposed only so as that his punishment may be secure and severe. And such is the case, such is the condition of the angels that sinned; who are not, therefore, to be esteemed objects of God’s patience.
(3.) The reason why the full and final punishment of these angels is reserved and respited unto the appointed season is not for their own sakes, their good, benefit, or advantage at all, but merely that the end of God’s patience towards mankind might be accomplished. When this is once brought about they shall not be spared a day, an hour, a moment. So that God’s dispensation towards them is nothing but a mere withholding the infliction of the utmost of their punishment, until he hath accomplished the blessed ends of his patience towards mankind.
But you will say, secondly, “Is it not said that God, ‘willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endures with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction?’ Rom. ix. 22; so that it seems that the end of God’s endurance and long-suffering, to some at least, is only their fitting unto destruction.”
Ans. 1. It is one thing to endure with much long-suffering, another thing to exercise and declare patience. The former only intimates God’s withholding for a season of that destruction which he might justly inflict, which we speak not of; the other denotes an acting in a way of goodness and kindness for some especial end.
2. The next verse declares the great end of God’s patience, and answers this objection: “That he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory,” verse 23. This is the great end of God’s patience, which whilst he is in the pursuit of towards the vessels of mercy, he endureth others with much long-suffering and forbearance. This, then, is fully evident, that there could be no sufficient reason assigned of the patience of God towards sinners, but that there is forgiveness prepared for them that come to him by Christ.
And this the Scripture clearly testifies unto, 2 Pet. iii. 9. The question is, What is the reason why God forbears the execution of his judgment upon wicked and ungodly men? Some would have it that God is slack, that is, regardless of the sins of men, and takes no notice of them. “No,” saith the apostle; “God hath another 452design in his patience and long-suffering.” What is this? “It is to manifest that he is not willing we should perish.” That is it which we have proved; for our freedom from destruction is by repentance, which necessarily infers the forgiveness of sin. So Paul tells us that in the gospel is declared what is the end of God’s patience and forbearance: “It is,” saith he, “the remission of sins,” Rom. iii. 25.
Let us, therefore, also mind this evidence in the application of ourselves to God for pardon. It is certain that God might have taken us from the womb, and have cast us into utter darkness; and in the course of our lives we have been guilty of such provocations as God might justly have taken the advantage of to glorify his justice and severity in our ruin; but yet we have lived thus long, in the patience and forbearance of God. And to what end hath he thus spared us, and let pass those advantages for our destruction that we have put into his hand? Is it not that he might by his patience give us leave and space to get an interest in that forgiveness which he thus testifies to be in himself? Let us, then, be encouraged by it to use it unto the end and purpose for which it is exercised towards us. You that are yet in doubt of your condition, consider that the patience of God was extended unto you this day, this very day, that you might use it for the obtaining of the remission of your sins. Lose not this day, nor one day more, as you love your souls; for woful will be their condition who shall perish for despising or abusing the patience of God.
VI. The faith and experience of the saints in this world give in testimony unto this truth; and we know that their record in this matter is true. Let us, then, ask of them what they believe, what they have found, what they have experience of, as to the forgiveness of sin. This God himself directs and leads us unto by appealing unto our own experience, whence he shows us that we may take relief and supportment in our distresses: Isa. xl. 28, “Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard?” — “Hast not thou thyself, who now criest out that thou art lost and undone because God hath forsaken thee, found and known by experience the contrary, from his former dealings with thee?” And if our own experiences may confirm us against the workings of our unbelief, so may those of others also. And this is that which Eliphaz directs Job unto, chap. v. 1, “Call now, if there be any that will answer thee; and to which of the saints wilt thou look?” It is not a supplication to them for help that is intended, but an inquiry after their experience in the case in hand, wherein he wrongfully thought they could not justify Job. וְאֶל־מִי מִקְּדשִׁים תִּפְנֶה, “To which of the saints, on the right hand or left, wilt thou have regard in this matter?” Some would foolishly hence seek to confirm the invocation of the saints departed; when, indeed, if 453they were intended, it is rather forbidden and discountenanced than directed unto. But the קְדשִׁים here are the קְדוֹשִׁים אֲשֶר בָאָרֶץ, Ps. xvi. 2, “The saints that are in the earth,” whose experiences Job is directed to inquire into and after. David makes it a great encouragement unto waiting upon God, as a God hearing prayer, that others had done so and found success: Ps. xxxiv. 6, “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.” If he did so, and had that blessed issue, why should not we do so also? The experiences of one axe often proposed for the confirmation and establishment of others. So the same David: “Come,” saith he, “and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul.” He contents not himself to mind them of the word, promises, and providence of God, which he doth most frequently; but he will give them the encouragement and supportment also of his own experience. So Paul tells us that he “was comforted of God in all his tribulation, that he might be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith he himself was comforted of God,” 2 Cor. i. 4; that is, that he might be able to communicate unto them his own experience of God’s dealing with him, and the satisfaction and assurance that he found therein. So also he proposeth the example of God’s dealing with him in the pardon of his sins as a great motive unto others to believe, 1 Tim. i. 18–16. And this mutual communication of satisfying experiences in the things of God, or of our spiritual sense and evidence of the power, efficacy, and reality of gospel truths, being rightly managed, is of singular use to all sorts of believers. So the same great apostle acquaints us in his own example, Rom. i. 11, 12, “I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established; that is, that I may be comforted together with you, by the mutual faith both of you and me.” He longed not only to be instructing of them, in the pursuit of the work of the ministry committed unto him, but to confer also with them about their mutual faith, and what experiences of the peace of God in believing they had attained.
We have in our case called in the testimony of the saints in heaven, with whom those on earth do make up one family, even that one family in heaven and earth which is called after the name of the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Eph. iii. 14, 15. And they all agree in their testimony, as becomes the family and children of God. But those below we may deal personally with; whereas we gather the witness of the other only from what is left upon record concerning them. And for the clearing of this evidence sundry things are to be observed; as, —
1. Men living under the profession of religion, and not experiencing 454the power, virtue, and efficacy of it in their hearts, are, whatever they profess, very near to atheism, or at least exposed to great temptations thereunto. If “they profess they know God, but in works deny him,” they are “abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate,” Tit. i. 16. Let such men lay aside tradition and custom, let them give up themselves to a free and a rational consideration of things, and they will quickly find that all their profession is but a miserable self-deceiving, and that, indeed, they believe not one word of the religion which they profess: for of what their religion affirms to be in themselves they find not any thing true or real; and what reason have they, then, to believe that the things which it speaks of that are without them are one jot better? If they have no experience of what it affirms to be within them, what confidence can they have of the reality of what it reveals to be without them? John tells us that “he who saith he loves God whom he hath not seen, and doth not love his brother whom he hath seen, is a liar.” Men who do not things of an equal concernment unto them wherein they may be tried, are not to be believed in what they profess about greater things, whereof no trial can be had. So he that believes not, who experienceth not, the power of that which the religion he professeth affirms to be in him, if he says that he doth believe other things which he can have no experience of, he is a liar. For instance, he that professeth the gospel avows that the death of Christ doth crucify sin; that faith purifieth the heart; that the Holy Ghost quickens and enables the soul unto duty; that God is good and gracious unto all that come unto him; that there is precious communion to be obtained with him by Christ; that there is great joy in believing. These things are plainly, openly, frequently insisted on in the gospel Hence the apostle presseth men unto obedience on the account of them; and, as it were, leaves them at liberty from it if they were not so, Phil. ii. 1, 2. Now, if men have lived long in the profession of these things, saying that they are so, but indeed find nothing of truth, reality, or power in them, have no experience of the effects of them in their own hearts or souls, what stable ground have they of believing any thing else in the gospel whereof they cannot have experience? A man professeth that the death of Christ will mortify sin and subdue corruption; why doth he believe it? Because it is so affirmed in the gospel. How, then, doth he find it to be so? hath it this effect upon his soul, in his own heart? Not at all; he finds no such thing in him. How, then, can this man believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God because it is affirmed in the gospel, seeing that he finds no real truth of that which it affirms to be in himself? So our Saviour argues, John iii. 12, “If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how will ye believe 455if I tell you heavenly things?” — “If you believe not the doctrine of regeneration, which you ought to have experience of, as a thing that is wrought in the hearts of men on the earth, how can you assent unto those heavenly mysteries of the gospel which at first are to be received by a pure act of faith, without any present sense or experience?”
Of all dangers, therefore, in profession, let professors take heed of this, — namely, of a customary, traditional, or doctrinal owning such truths as ought to have their effects and accomplishment in themselves, whilst they have no experience of the reality and efficacy of them. This is plainly to have a form of godliness, and to deny the power thereof. And of this sort of men do we see many turning atheists, scoffers, and open apostates. They find in themselves that their profession was a lie, and that in truth they had none of those things which they talked of; and to what end should they continue longer in the avowing of that which is not? Besides, finding those things which they have professed to be in them not to be so, they think that what they have believed of the things that are without them are of no other nature; and so reject them altogether.
You will say, then, “What shall a man do who cannot find or obtain an experience in himself of what is affirmed in the word? He cannot find the death of Christ crucifying sin in him, and he cannot find the Holy Ghost sanctifying his nature, or obtain joy in believing; what shall he, then, do? shall he not believe or profess those things to be so, because he cannot obtain a blessed experience of them?” I answer, our Saviour hath perfectly given direction in this case: John vii. 17, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” Continue in following after the things revealed in the doctrine of the gospel, and you shall have a satisfactory experience that they are true, and that they are of God. Cease not to act faith on them, and you shall find their effects; for “then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord,” Hos. vi. 3. Experience will ensue upon permanency in faith and obedience; yea, the first act of sincere believing will be accompanied with such a taste, will give the soul so much experience, as to produce a firm adherence unto the things believed. And this is the way to “prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God,” which is revealed unto us, Rom. xii. 2.
2. Where there is an inward, spiritual experience of the power, reality, and efficacy of any supernatural truth, it gives great satisfaction, stability, and assurance unto the soul. It puts the soul out of danger or suspicion of being deceived, and gives it to have the testimony of God in itself. So the apostle tells us, “He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself,” 1 John v. 10. 456He had discoursed of the manifold testimony that is given in heaven by all the holy persons of the Trinity, and on earth by grace and ordinances, unto the forgiveness of sin and eternal life to be obtained by Jesus Christ. And this record is true, firm, and stable, an abiding foundation for souls to rest upon, that will never deceive them. But yet all this while it is without us, — it is that which we have no experience of in ourselves; only we rest upon it because of the authority and faithfulness of them that gave it. But now he that actually believeth, he hath the testimony in himself; he hath by experience a real evidence and assurance of the filings testified unto, — namely, “That God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son,” verse 11. Let us, then, a little consider wherein this evidence consisteth, and from whence this assurance ariseth. To this end some few things must be considered; as, —
(1.) That there is a great answerableness and correspondency between the heart of a believer and the truth that he doth believe. As the word is in the gospel, so is grace in the heart; yea, they are the same thing variously expressed: Rom. vi. 1 7, “Ye have obeyed from the heart,” εἰς ὅν παρεδόθητε τύπον διδαχῆς, “that form of doctrine which was delivered you.” As our translation doth not, so I know not how in so few words to express that which is emphatically here insinuated by the Holy Ghost. The meaning is, that the doctrine of the gospel begets the form, figure, image, or likeness of itself in the hearts of them that believe, so they are cast into the mould of it. As is the one, so is the other. The principle of grace in the heart and that in the word are as children of the same parent, completely resembling and representing one another. Grace is a living word, and the word is figured, limned grace. As is regeneration, so is a regenerate heart; as is the doctrine of faith, so is a believer. And this gives great evidence unto and assurance of the things that are believed: “As we have heard, so we have seen and found it.” Such a soul can produce the duplicate of the word, and so adjust all things thereby.
(2.) That the first original expression of divine truth is not in the word, no, not as given out from the infinite abyss of divine wisdom and veracity, but it is first hid, laid up, and expressed in the person of Christ. He is the ἀρχέτυπος, the first pattern of truth, which from him is expressed in the word, and from and by the word impressed in the hearts of believers: so that as it hath pleased God that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge should be in him, dwell in him, have their principal residence in him, Col. ii. 3; so the whole word is but a revelation of the truth in Christ, or an expression of his image and likeness to the sons of men. Thus we are said to learn “the truth as it is in Jesus,” Eph. iv. 21. It is in Jesus 457originally and really; and from him it is communicated unto us by the word. We are thereby taught and do learn it, for thereby, as the apostle proceeds, “we are renewed in the spirit of our mind, and do put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness,” verses 23, 24. First, the truth is in Jesus, then it is expressed in the word; this word learned and believed becomes grace in the heart, every way answering unto the Lord Christ his image, from whom this transforming truth did thus proceed. Nay, this is carried by the apostle yet higher, namely, unto God the Father himself, whose image Christ is, and believers his through the word: 2 Cor. iii. 18, “We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord;” whereunto add chap. iv. 6, “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” The first pattern or example of all truth and holiness is God himself; hereof “Christ is the image,” verse 4. Christ is the image of God, “The brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person,” Heb. i. 8; “The image of the invisible God,” Col. i. 15. Hence we are said to “see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ;” because he being his image, the love, grace, and truth of the Father are represented and made conspicuous in him: for we are said to “behold it in his face,” because of the open and illustrious manifestation of the glory of God in him. And how do we behold this glory? In a glass, — “As in a glass;” that is, in the gospel, which hath the image and likeness of Christ, who is the image of God, reflected upon it and communicated unto it. So have we traced truth and grace from the person of the Father unto the Son as a mediator, and thence transfused into the word. In the Father it is essentially; in Jesus Christ originally and exemplarily; and in the word as in a transcript or copy. But doth it abide there? No; God by the word of the gospel “shines in our hearts,” 2 Cor. iv. 6. He irradiates our minds with a saving light into it and apprehension of it. And what thence ensues? The soul of a believer is “changed into the same image” by the effectual working of the Holy Ghost, chap. iii. 18; that is, the likeness of Christ implanted on the word is impressed on the soul itself, whereby it is renewed into the image of God, whereunto it was at first created. This brings all into a perfect harmony. There is not, where gospel truth is effectually received and experienced in the soul, only a consonancy merely between the soul and the word, but between the soul and Christ by the word, and the soul and God by Christ. And this gives assured establishment unto the soul in the things that it doth believe. Divine truth so conveyed unto us is firm, stable, and immovable; and we can say of it in a spiritual sense,” ‘That which 458we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life,’ we know to be true.” Yea, a believer is a testimony to the certainty of truth in what he is, much beyond what he is in all that he saith. Words may be pretended; real effects have their testimony inseparably annexed unto them.
(3.) Hence it appears that there must needs be great assurance of those truths which are thus received and believed; for hereby are “the senses exercised to discern both good and evil,” Heb. v. 14. Where there is a spiritual sense of truth, of the good and evil that is in doctrines, from an inward experience of what is so good, and from thence an aversation unto the contrary, and this obtained διὰ τὴν ἕξιν, by reason of a habit or an habitual frame of heart, there is strength, there is steadfastness and assurance. This is the teaching of the unction, which will not, which cannot, deceive. Hence many of old and of late that could not dispute could yet die for the truth. He that came to another, and went about to prove by sophistical reasonings that there was no such thing as motion, had only this return from him, who either was not able to answer his cavilling or unwilling to put himself to trouble about it, — he arose, and, walking up and down, gave him a real confutation of his sophistry. It is so in this case. When a soul hath a real experience of the grace of God, of the pardon of sins, of the virtue and efficacy of the death of Christ, of justification by his blood, and peace with God by believing; let men, or devils, or angels from heaven, oppose these things, if it cannot answer their sophisms, yet he can rise up and walk, — he can, with all holy confidence and assurance, oppose his own satisfying experience unto all their arguings and suggestions. A man will not be disputed out of what he sees and feels; and a believer will abide as firmly by his spiritual sense as any man can by his natural.
This is the meaning of that prayer of the apostle, Col. ii. 2, “That your hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ.” Understanding in the mysteries of the gospel they had; but he prays that, by a farther experience of it, they might come to the “assurance of understanding.” To be true, is the property of the doctrine itself; to be certain or assured, is the property of our minds. Now, this experience doth so unite the mind and truth, that we say, “Such a truth is most certain;” whereas certainty is indeed the property of our minds or their knowledge, and not of the truth known. It is certain unto us; that is, we have an assured knowledge of it by the experience we have of it. This is the assurance of understanding here mentioned. And he farther prays that we may come to the “riches” of this assurance, 459 — that is, to an abundant, plentiful assurance; and that εἰς ἐπίγνωσιν, “to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God,” owning it from a sense and experience of its excellency and worth.
And this is in the nature of all gospel truths, — they are fitted and suited to be experienced by a believing soul. There is nothing in them so sublime and high, nothing so mysterious, nothing so seemingly low and outwardly contemptible, but that a gracious soul hath experience of an excellency, reality, power, and efficacy in it all. For instance, look on that which concerns the order and worship of the gospel. This seems to many to be a mere external thing, whereof a soul can have no inward sense or relish. Notions there are many about it, and endless contentions, but what more? Why, let a gracious soul, in simplicity and sincerity of spirit, give up himself to walk with Christ according to his appointment, and he shall quickly find such a taste and relish in the fellowship of the gospel, in the communion of saints, and of Christ amongst them, as that he shall come up to such riches of assurance in the understanding and acknowledgment of the ways of the Lord, as others by their disputing can never attain unto. What is so high, glorious, and mysterious as the doctrine of the ever-blessed Trinity? Some wise men have thought meet to keep it vailed from ordinary Christians, and some have delivered it in such terms as that they can understand nothing by them. But take a believer who hath tasted how gracious the Lord is, in the eternal love of the Father, the great undertaking of the Son in the work of mediation and redemption, with the almighty work of the Spirit creating grace and comfort in the soul; and hath had an experience of the love, holiness, and power of God in them all; and he will with more firm confidence adhere to this mysterious truth, being led into it and confirmed in it by some few plain testimonies of the word, than a thousand disputers shall do who only have the notion of it in their minds. Let a real trial come, and this will appear. Few will be found to sacrifice their lives on bare speculations. Experience will give assurance and stability.
We have thus cleared the credit of the testimony now to be improved. It is evident, on these grounds, that there is a great certainty in those truths whereof believers have experience. Where they communicate their power unto the heart, they give an unquestionable assurance of their truth; and when that is once realized in the soul, all disputes about it are put to silence.
These things being so, let us inquire into the faith and experience of the saints on the earth as to what they know of the truth proposed unto confirmation, namely, that there is forgiveness with God. Let us go to some poor soul that now walks comfortably under the light of God’s countenance, and say unto him, “Did we not know 460you some while since to be full of sadness and great anxiety of spirit; yea, sorrowful almost to death, and bitter in soul?” — Ans. “Yes,” saith he, “so it was, indeed. My days were consumed with mourning, and my life with sorrow; and I walked heavily, in fear and bitterness of spirit, all the day long.”
“Why, what ailed you, what was the matter with you, seeing as to outward things you were in peace?” — Ans. “The law of God had laid hold upon me and slain me. I found myself thereby a woful sinner, yea, overwhelmed with the guilt of sin. Every moment I expected tribulation and wrath from the hand of God; my sore ran in the night and ceased not, and my soul refused comfort.”
“How is it, then, that you are thus delivered, that you are no more sad? Where have you found ease and peace? Have you been by any means delivered, or did your trouble wear off and depart of its own accord?” — Ans. “Alas, no! had I not met with an effectual remedy, I had sunk and everlastingly perished.”
“What course did you take?” — Ans. “I went unto Him by Jesus Christ against whom I have sinned, and have found him better unto me than I could expect or ever should have believed, had not he overpowered my heart by his Spirit. Instead of wrath, which I feared, and that justly, because I had deserved it, he said unto me in Christ, ‘Fury is not in me.’ For a long time I thought it impossible that there should be mercy and pardon for me, or such a one as I. But he still supported me, sometimes by one means, sometimes by another; until, taking my soul near to himself, he caused me to see the folly of my unbelieving heart, and the vileness of the hard thoughts I had of him, and that, indeed, there is with him forgiveness and plenteous redemption. This hath taken away all my sorrows, and given me quietness, with rest and assurance.”
“But are you sure, now, that this is so? May you not possibly be deceived?” — Ans. Says the soul, “I have not the least suspicion of any such matter; and if at any time aught doth arise to that purpose, it is quickly overcome.”
“But how are you confirmed in this persuasion?” — Ans. “That sense of it which I have in my heart; that sweetness and rest which I have experience of; that influence it hath upon my soul; that obligation I find laid upon me by it unto all thankful obedience; that relief, supportment, and consolation that it hath afforded me in trials and troubles, in the mouth of the grave and entrances of eternity, — all answering what is declared concerning these things in the word, — will not suffer me to be deceived. I could not, indeed, receive it until God was pleased to speak it unto me; but now let Satan do his utmost, I shall never cease to bear this testimony, that there is mercy and forgiveness with him.”
461How many thousands may we find of these in the world, who have had such a seal of this truth in their hearts, as they can not only securely lay down their lives in the confirmation of it, if called thereunto, but also do cheerfully and triumphantly venture their eternal concernments upon it! yea, this is the rise of all that peace, serenity of mind, and strong consolation, which in this world they are made partakers of.
Now this is to me, on the principles before laid down, an evidence great and important. God hath not manifested this truth unto the saints, thus copied it out of his word, and exemplified it in their souls, to leave them under any possibility of being deceived.
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