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Objections against believing from things internal — The person knows not whether he be regenerate or no — State of regeneration asserted — Difference of saving and common grace — This difference discernible — Men may know themselves to he regenerate — The objection answered.
Another head of objections and despondencies ariseth from things internal, — things that are required in the soul, that it may have an interest in the forgiveness that is with God, some whereof we shall speak unto. And these respect, first, the state of the soul; and, secondly, some actings in the soul.
First, As to the state. Say some, “Unless a man be regenerate and born again, he is not, he cannot be made partaker of mercy and pardon. Now, all things here are in the dark unto us; for, first, we know not well what this regeneration is, and it is variously disputed amongst men. Some would place it only in the outward signs of our initiation into Christ, and some otherwise express it. Again, it is uncertain whether those that are regenerate do or may know that they are so, or whether this may be in any measure known unto others with whom they may treat about it. And if it may not be known, we must be uncertain in this also. And then, it may be, for their parts, they neither know the time when, nor the manner how, any such work was wrought in them; and yet, without this, seeing it is wrought by means, and springs from certain causes, they can have no establishment in a not-failing persuasion of their acceptance with God by the pardon of their sins in the blood of Christ.” This is the head and sum of most of the objections which perplexed souls do manage against themselves as to their state and condition. Hence, indeed, they draw forth reasonings with great variety, according as they are suggested by their particular occasions and temptations. And many proofs, taken from their sins, miscarriages, and fears, do they enforce their objections withal. My purpose is, to lay down some general rules and principles, which may be applied unto particular occasions and emergencies; and this shall be done in answer to the several parts of the general objection mentioned before. I say, then, —
1. It is most certain that there are two estates and conditions that divide all mankind, and every one that lives in the world doth completely and absolutely belong unto one of them. These are, the state of nature and the state of grace, — of sin and of righteousness by Christ. Every man in the world belongs unto one of these states or conditions. This the Scripture so abounds in that it seems to be the first principal thing that we are taught in it. It is as clear that there are two different states in this world as that there are so in 585that to come. Yea, all our faith and obedience depend on this truth; and not only so, but the covenant of God, the mediation of Christ, and all the promises and threats of the law and gospel, are built on this supposition. And this lays naked unto a spiritual eye that abounding atheism that is in the world. Men are not only, like Nicodemus, ignorant of these things, and wonder how they can be, but they scorn them, despise them, scoff at them. To make mention of being regenerate is exposed to reproach in the world. But whether men will or no, unto one of these conditions they must belong.
2. As these two estates differ morally in themselves, and physically in the causes constitutive of that difference, so there is a specifical difference between the things that place men in the one condition and in the other. Whatever there is of goodness, virtue, duty, grace, in an unregenerate person, there is in him that is regenerate somewhat of another kind that is not in the other at all. For the difference of these states themselves, it is plain in Scripture; — the one is a state of death, the other of life; the one of darkness, the other of light; the one of enmity against God, the other of reconciliation with him. And that the one state is constituted by that of grace, which is of a peculiar kind, and which is not in the other, I shall briefly declare —
(1.) The grace of regeneration proceedeth from an especial spring and fountain, which emptieth much of its living waters into it, no one drop whereof falls on them that are not regenerate. This is electing love; it is given out in the pursuit of the decree of election: “God hath chosen us that we should be holy,” Eph. i. 4. Our holiness, whose only spring is our regeneration, is an effect of our election, — that which God works in our souls, in the pursuit of his eternal purpose of love and good-will towards us. So again saith the apostle, 2 Thess. ii. 13, “God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit.” God having designed us unto salvation as the end, hath also appointed the sanctification of the Spirit to be the means to bring us orderly unto the attainment of that end. But the best of common grace or gifts that may be in men unregenerate are but products of the providence of God, ordering all things in general unto his own glory and the good of them that shall be heirs of salvation. They are not fruits of electing eternal love, nor designed means for the infallible attaining of eternal salvation.
(2.) The graces of those that are regenerate have a manifold respect or relation to the Lord Christ, that the common graces of others have not. I shall name one or two of these respects:— First, They have an especial moral relation to the mediatory acts of Christ 586in his oblation and intercession. Especial grace is an especial part of the purchase of Christ by his death and blood-shedding. He made a double purchase of his elect; — of their persons, to be his; of especial grace, to be theirs: “He gave himself for the church, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it unto himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish,” Eph. v. 25–27. The design of Christ in giving himself for his church was, to procure for it that especial grace whereby, through the use of means, it might be regenerate, sanctified, and purified: so Tit. ii. 14, “He gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” Real purification in grace and holiness hath this especial relation unto the death of Christ, that he designed therein to procure it for them for whom he died; and in the pursuit of his purchase or acquisition of it, his purpose was really to bestow it upon them, or effectually to work it in them. Moreover, it hath an especial relation unto his intercession, and that in a distinguishing manner from any other gifts or common graces that other men may receive. Giving us the rule and pattern of his intercession, John xvii., he tells us that he so prays not for the world, but for his elect, those which the Father had given him; because they were his, verse 9. And what is it that he prays for them, in distinction from all other men whatever? Amongst others this is one principal thing that he insists on, verse 17, “Sanctify them through thy truth.” Their sanctification and holiness is granted upon that prayer and intercession of Christ; which is peculiar unto them, with an exclusion of all others: “I pray for them; I pray not for the world.” Now, the common grace of unregenerate persons, whereby they are distinguished from other men, whatever it be, it hath not this especial relation to the oblation and intercession of Christ. Common grace is not the procurement of especial intercession.
Secondly, They have a real relation unto Christ, as he is the living, quickening head of the church; for he is so, even the living spiritual fountain of the spiritual life of it, and of all vital acts whatever: “Christ is our life; and our life is hid with him in God,” Col. iii. 2, 3. That eternal life which consists in the knowledge of the Father and the Son, John xvii. 3, is in him as the cause, head, spring, and fountain of it. In him it is in its fulness, and from thence it is derived unto all that believe, who receive from his fulness “grace for grace,” John i. 16. All true, saving, sanctifying grace, all spiritual life, and every thing that belongs thereunto, is derived directly from Christ, as the living head of his church and fountain of all spiritual life unto them. This the apostle expresseth, 587Eph. iv. 15, 16, “Speaking the truth in love, grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” To the same purpose he again expresseth the same matter, Col. ii. 19. All grace in the whole body comes from the head, Christ Jesus; and there is no growth or furtherance of it but by his effectual working in every part, to bring it unto the measure designed unto it. Nothing, then, no, not the least of this grace, can be obtained but by virtue of our union unto Christ as our head; because it consists in a vital, effectual influence from him and his fulness. And this kind of relation unto Christ, all grace that is or may be in unregenerate men is incapable of.
(3.) The grace of regeneration and the fruits of it are administered in and by the covenant. This is the promise of the covenant, that God will write his law in our hearts, and put his fear in our inward parts, that we shall not depart from him, Jer. xxxi. This is that grace whereof we speak, whatever it be, or of what kind soever. It is bestowed on none but those who are taken into covenant with God; for unto them alone it is promised, and by virtue thereof is it wrought in and upon their souls. Now, all unregenerate men are strangers from the covenant, and are not made partakers of that grace which is peculiarly and only promised thereby and exhibited therein.
(4.) The least spark of saving, regenerating grace is wrought in the soul by the Holy Ghost, as given unto men to dwell in them and to abide with them. He is the water given by Jesus Christ unto believers, which is in them “a well of water springing up into everlasting life,” John iv. 14. First they receive the water, the spring itself, that is, the Holy Spirit, — and from thence living waters do arise up in them; they are wrought, effected, produced by the Spirit, which is given unto them. Now, although the common gifts and graces of men unregenerate are effects of the power of the Holy Ghost wrought in them and bestowed on them, as are all other works of God’s providence, yet it doth not work in them, as received by them, to dwell in them and abide with them, as a never-failing spring of spiritual life; for our Saviour says expressly that the world, or unbelievers, do not know the Spirit, nor can receive him, or have him abiding in them; — all which, in a contradistinction unto all unregenerate persons, are affirmed of all them that do believe.
(5.) The least of saving grace, such as is peculiar unto them that are regenerate, is spirit: John iii. 6, “That which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Whatever it is that is so born, it is spirit; it hath a spiritual being, and it is not educible by any means out of the principles of 588nature. So it is said to be a “new creature,” 2 Cor. v. 17. Be it never so little or so great, however it may differ in degrees in one and in another, yet the nature of it is the same in all, — it is a “new creature.” As the least worm of the earth, in the order of the old creation, is no less a creature than the sun, yea, or the most glorious angel in heaven; so, in the order of the new creation, the least spark or dram of true grace that is from the sanctifying Spirit is a new creature, no less than the highest faith or love that ever was in the chiefest of the apostles. Now, that which is spirit, and that which is not spirit, — that which hath a new spiritual being, and that which hath none, — whatever appearance of agreement there may be among them, do yet differ specifically from one another. And thus it is with the saving grace that is in a regenerate, and those common graces that are in others which are not so. So that as these are divers states, so they are eminently different and distinct the one from the other. And this answers the second thing laid down in the objections taken from the uncertainty of these states and of regeneration itself, and the real difference of it from the contrary state, which is exclusive of an interest in forgiveness.
3. This is laid down in the inquiry, “Whether this state may be known unto him who is really partaker of it or translated into it, or unto others that may be concerned therein?” To which I say, The difference that is between these two states, and the constitutive causes of them, as it is real, so it is discernible. It may be known by themselves who are in those states, and others. It may be known who are born of God, and who are yet children of the devil, — who are quickened by Christ, and who are yet “dead in trespasses and sins.” But here also observe, —
(1.) That I do not say this is always known to the persons themselves concerned in this distribution. Many cry, “Peace, peace,” when sudden destruction is at hand. These either think themselves regenerate when they are not, or else wilfully despise the consideration of what is required in them that they may have peace, and so delude their own souls unto their ruin. And many that are truly born of God yet know it not; they may for a season walk in darkness, and have no light. Nor, —
(2.) That this is always known to others. It is not known unto unregenerate men in respect of them that are so; for they know not really and substantially what it is to be so. Natural men perceive not the things of God; that is, spiritually, in their own light and nature, 1 Cor. ii. And as they cannot aright discern the things which put men into that condition (for they are foolishness unto them), so they cannot judge aright of their persons in whom they are. And if they do at any time judge aright notionally concerning any things or 589persons, yet they do not judge so upon right grounds, nor with any evidence in or unto themselves of what they do judge. Wherefore generally they judge amiss of such persons; and because they make profession of somewhat which they find not in themselves, they judge them hypocrites, and false pretenders unto what is not: for those things which evince their union with Christ, and which evidence their being born of God, they savour them not, nor can receive them. Nor is this always known unto or discerned by them that are regenerate. They may sometimes, with Peter, think Simon Magus to be a true believer, or, with Eli, an Hannah to be a daughter of Belial. Many hypocrites are set forth with gifts, common graces, light, and profession, so that they pass amongst all believers for such as are born of God; and many poor saints may be so disguised, under darkness, temptation, sin, as to be looked on as strangers from that family whereunto indeed they do belong. The judgment of man may fail, but the judgment of God is according unto righteousness. Wherefore, —
(3.) This is that we say, It may be known, in the sedulous use of means appointed for that end, to a man’s self and others, which of the conditions mentioned he doth belong unto, — that is, whether he be regenerate or no, — so far as his or their concernment lies therein. This, I say, may be known, and that infallibly and assuredly, with reference unto any duty wherein from hence we are concerned. The discharge of some duties in ourselves and towards others depends on this knowledge; and therefore we may attain it so far as it is necessary for the discharge of such duties unto the glory of God. Now, because it is not directly in our way, yet having been mentioned, I shall briefly, in our passage, touch upon the latter, or what duties do depend upon our judging of others to be regenerate, and the way or principles whereby such a judgment may be made —
[1.] There are many duties incumbent on us to be performed with and towards professors, which, without admitting a judgment to be made of their state and condition, cannot be performed in faith. And in reference unto these duties alone it is that we are called to judge the state of others; for we are not giving countenance unto a rash, uncharitable censuring of men’s spiritual conditions, nor unto any judging of any men, any other than what our own duty towards them doth indispensably require. Thus, if we are to “lay down our lives for the brethren,” it is very meet we should so far know them so to be as that we may hazard our lives in faith when we are called thereunto. We are also to join with them in those ordinances wherein we make a solemn profession that we are members of the same body with them, that we have the same Head, the same Spirit, faith, and love. We must love them because they are begotten of God, 590children of our heavenly Father; and therefore must on some good ground believe them so to be. In a word, the due performance of all principal mutual gospel duties, to the glory of God and our own edification, depends on this supposition, that we may have such a satisfying persuasion concerning the spiritual condition of others as that from thence we may take our aim in what we do.
[2.] For the grounds hereof I shall mention one only, which all others do lean upon. This is pressed, 1 Cor. xii. 12, 13, “As the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” They are all united unto and hold of one head; for as are the members of the body natural, under one head, so is Christ mystical, that is, all believers, under Christ their head. And this union they have by the inhabitation of the same quickening Spirit which is in Christ their head; and by him they are brought all into the same spiritual state and frame, — they are made to drink into one and the same Spirit: for this same Spirit produceth the same effects in them all, — the same in kind, though differing in degrees, — as the apostle fully declares, Eph. iv. 3–6. And this Spirit is in them, and not in the world, John xvi. And as this gives them a naturalness in their duties one towards another, or in mutual caring for, rejoicing or sorrowing with, one another, as members one of another, 1 Cor. xii. 25, 26; so it reveals and discovers them to each other so far as is necessary for the performance of the duties mentioned, in such a manner as becomes members of the same body. There is on this account a spiritually natural answering of one to another, as face answereth face in the water. They can see and discern that in others whereof they have experience in themselves, — they can taste and relish that in others which they feed upon in themselves, and wherein the lives of their souls do consist; the same Spirit of life being in them, they have the same spiritual taste and savour. And unless their palates are distempered by temptations, or false opinions, or prejudices, they can in their communion taste of that Spirit in each other which they are all made to drink into. This gives them the same likeness and image in the inward man, the same heavenly light in their minds, the same affections; and being thus prepared and enabled to judge and discern of the state of each other, in reference unto their mutual duties, they have, moreover, the true rule of the word to judge of all spirits and spiritual effects by. And this is the ground of all that love without dissimulation and real communion that is among the saints of God in this world. But here two cautions must be allowed:—
591(1st.) That we would not judge the state and condition of any men in the world, — no farther than we are called thereunto in a way of duty; and we are so called only with reference unto the duties that we are to perform towards them. What have we to do to judge them that are without, — that is, any one that we have not a call to consider in reference unto our own duty? Herein that great rule takes place, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” Let us leave all men, the worst of men, unless where evident duty requires other actings, to the judgment-seat of God. They are the servants of another, and they stand or fall unto their own master. There have been great miscarriages amongst us in this matter; some have been ready to condemn all that go not along with them in every principle, yea, opinion or practice. And every day slight occasions and provocations are made the grounds and reasons of severe censures; but nothing is more contrary to the conduct of the meek and holy spirit of Christ. This is our rule — Are we called to act towards any as saints, as living members of the body of Christ, and that in such duties as we cannot perform in faith unless we are persuaded that so they are? — then are we, on the grounds and by the ways before mentioned, to satisfy ourselves in one another.
(2dly.) Do we endeavour mutually to discern the condition of one another in reference unto such ends? — let us be sure to look unto and pursue those ends when we have attained our satisfaction. What these ends are hath been showed. It is, that we may love them without dissimulation, as members of the same mystical body with us; that we may naturally take care of them, and for them; that we may delight sincerely in them; that we may minister unto their wants, temporal and spiritual; that we may watch over them with pity and compassion. These and the like are the only ends for which we are at any time called to the consideration of the spiritual condition of one another; if these be neglected, the other is useless. And here lies a great aggravation of that neglect, in that such a way is made for the avoidance of it. Here lies the life or death of all church society. All church society and relation is built on this supposition, that the members of it are all regenerate. Some lay this foundation in baptism only, professing that all that are baptized are regenerate; others require a farther satisfaction, in the real work itself; but all build on the same foundation, that all church members are to be regenerate. And to what end is this? Namely, that they may all mutually perform those duties one towards another which are incumbent mutually on regenerate persona If these are omitted, there is an end of all profitable use of church society. Churches without this are but mere husks and shells of churches, carcases without souls; for as there is no real union unto Christ without faith, so there is 592no real union among the members of any church without love, and that acting itself in all the duties mentioned. Let not this ordinance be in vain.
But we must return from this digression to that which lies before us, which is concerning what a man may discern concerning his own being regenerate or born again. I say, then, —
Secondly, Men may come to an assured, satisfactory persuasion that themselves are regenerate, and that such as is so far infallible as that it will not deceive them when it is brought to the trial. For there are many duties whose performance in faith, unto the glory of God and the edification of our own souls, doth depend on this persuasion and conviction; as, —
1. A due sense of our relation unto God, and an answerable comportment of our spirits and hearts towards him. He that is born again is born of God; he is begotten of God by the immortal seed of the word. Without a persuasion hereof, how can a man on grounds of faith carry himself towards God as his Father? And how great a part of our obedience towards him and communion with him depends hereon, we all know. If men fluctuate all their days in this matter, if they come to no settlement in it, no comfortable persuasion of it, they scarce ever act any genuine childlike acts of love or delight towards God, which exceedingly impeacheth their whole obedience.
2. Thankfulness for grace received is one of the principal duties that is incumbent on believers in this world. Now, how can a man in faith bless God for that which he is utterly uncertain whether he have received it from him or no? I know some men run on in a rote in this matter. They will bless God in a formal way for regeneration, sanctification, justification, and the like; but if you ask them whether themselves are regenerate or no, they will be ready to scoff at it, or at least to profess that they know no such thing. What is this but to mock God, and in a presumptuous manner to take his name in vain? But if we will praise God as we ought for his grace, as we are guided and directed in the Scripture, as the nature of the matter requires, with such a frame of heart as may influence our whole obedience, surely it cannot but be our duty to know the grace that we have received.
3. Again: the main of our spiritual watch and diligence consisteth in the cherishing, improving, and increasing of the grace that we have received, the strengthening of the new creature that is wrought in us. Herein consists principally the life of faith, and the exercise of that spiritual wisdom which faith furnisheth the soul withal. Now, how can any man apply himself hereunto whilst he is altogether uncertain whether he hath received any principle of 593living, saving grace, or no? Whereas, therefore, God requires our utmost diligence, watchfulness, and care in this matter it is certain that he requires also of us, and grants unto us, that which is the foundation of all these duties, which lies in an acquaintance with that state and condition whereunto we do belong. In brief, there is nothing we have to do, in reference unto eternity, but one way or other it hath a respect unto our light and convictions, as to our state and condition in this world; and those who are negligent in the trial’ and examination thereof do leave all things between God and their souls at absolute uncertainties and dubious hazards, which is not to lead the life of faith.
We shall now, upon these premises, return unto that part of the objection which is under consideration. Say some, “We know not whether we are regenerate or no, and are therefore altogether uncertain whether we have an interest in that forgiveness that is with God; nor dare we, on that account, admit of the consolation that is tendered on the truth insisted on.”
Supposing what hath been spoken in general, I shall lay down the grounds of resolving this perplexing doubt in the ensuing rules:—
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