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Objections from the present state and condition of the soul — Weakness and imperfection of duty — Opposition from indwelling sin.

Thirdly. There is another head of objections against the soul’s receiving consolation from an interest in forgiveness, arising from the consideration of its present state and condition as to actual holiness, duties, and sins. Souls complain, when in darkness and under temptations, that they cannot find that holiness, nor those fruits of it in themselves, which they suppose an interest in pardoning mercy will produce. Their hearts they find are weak, and all their duties worthless. If they were weighed in the balance, they would be all found too light. In the best of them there is such a mixture of self, hypocrisy, unbelief, vain-glory, that they are even ashamed and confounded with the remembrance of them. These things fill them with discouragements, so that they refuse to be comforted or to entertain any refreshing persuasion from the truth insisted on, but rather conclude that they are utter strangers from that forgiveness that is with God, and so continue helpless in their depths.

According unto the method proposed, and hitherto pursued, I shall only lay down some such general rules as may support a soul under the despondencies that are apt in such a condition to befall it, that none of these things may weaken it in its endeavour to lay hold of forgiveness. And, —

1. This is the proper place to put in execution our eighth rule, to take heed of heartless complaints when vigorous actings of grace are expected at our hands. If it be thus, indeed, why lie you on your faces? why do you not rise and put out yourselves to the utmost, giving all diligence to add one grace to another, until you find yourselves in a better frame? Supposing, then, the putting of that rule into practice, I add, —

(1.) That known holiness is apt to degenerate into self-righteousness. What God gives us on the account of sanctification we are ready enough to reckon on the score of justification. It is a hard thing to feel grace, and to believe as if there were none. We have so much of the Pharisee in us by nature, that it is sometimes well that our good is hid from us. We are ready to take our corn and wine and bestow them on other lovers. Were there not in our hearts a spiritually sensible principle of corruption, and in our duties a discernible mixture of self, it would be impossible we should walk so humbly as is required of them who hold communion with God in a covenant of grace and pardoning mercy. It is a good life which is attended with a faith of righteousness and a sense of corruption. Whilst I know Christ’s righteousness, I shall the less care to know 601my own holiness. To be holy is necessary; to know it, sometimes a temptation

(2.) Even duties of God’s appointment, when turned into self-righteousness, are God’s great abhorrency, Isa. lxvi. 2, 3. What hath a good original may be vitiated by a bad end.

(3.) Oftentimes holiness in the heart is more known by the opposition that is made there to it, than by its own prevalent working. The Spirit’s operation is known by the flesh’s opposition. We find a man’s strength by the burdens he carries, and not the pace that he goes. “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” is a better evidence of grace and holiness than “God, I thank thee I am not as other men.” A heart pressed, grieved, burdened, not by the guilt of sin only, which reflects with trouble on an awakened conscience, but by the close, adhering power of indwelling sin, tempting, seducing, soliciting, hindering, captivating, conceiving, restlessly disquieting, may from thence have as clear an evidence of holiness as from a delightful fruit-bearing. What is it that is troubled and grieved in thee? what is it that seems to be almost killed and destroyed; that cries out, complains, longs for deliverance? Is it not the new creature? is it not the principle of spiritual life, whereof thou art partaker? I speak not of troubles and disquietments for sin committed; nor of fears and perturbations of mind lest sin should break forth to loss, shame, ruin, dishonour; nor of the contending of a convinced conscience lest damnation should ensue; — but of the striving of the Spirit against sin, out of a hatred and a loathing of it, upon all the mixed considerations of love, grace, mercy, fear, the beauty of holiness, excellency of communion with God, that are proposed in the gospel. If thou seemest to thyself to be only passive in these things, to do nothing but to endure the assaults of sin; yet if thou art sensible, and standest under the stroke of it as under the stroke of an enemy, there is the root of the matter. And as it is thus as to the substance and being of holiness, so it is also as to the degrees of it. Degrees of holiness are to be measured more by opposition than self-operation. He may have more grace than another who brings not forth so much fruit as the other, because he hath more opposition, more temptation, Isa. xli. 17. And sense of the want of all is a great sign of somewhat in the soul.

2. As to what was alleged as to the nothingness, the selfishness of duty, I say, it is certain, whilst we are in the flesh, our duties will taste of the vessel whence they proceed. Weakness, defilements, treachery, hypocrisy, will attend them. To this purpose, whatever some pretend to the contrary, is the complaint of the church, Isa. lxiv. 6. The chaff oftentimes is so mixed with the wheat that corn can scarce be discerned. And this know, that the more spiritual any 602man is, the more he sees of his unspiritualness in his spiritual duties. An outside performance will satisfy an outside Christian. Job abhorred himself most when he knew himself best. The clearer discoveries we have had of God, the viler will every thing of self appear. Nay, farther, duties and performances are oftentimes very ill measured by us; and those seem to be first which indeed are last, and those to be last which indeed are first. I do not doubt but a man, when he hath had distractions to wrestle withal, no outward advantage to farther him, no extraordinary provocation of hope, fear, or sorrow, on a natural account in his duty, may rise from his knees with thoughts that he hath done nothing in his duty but provoked God; when there hath been more workings of grace, in contending with the deadness cast on the soul by the condition that it is in, than when, by a concurrence of moved natural affections and outward provocations, a frame hath been raised that hath, to the party himself, seemed to reach to heaven: so that it may be this perplexity about duties is nothing but what is common to the people of God, and which ought to be no obstruction to peace and settlement.

3. As to the pretence of hypocrisy, you know what is usually answered. It is one thing to do a thing in hypocrisy, another not to do it without a mixture of hypocrisy. Hypocrisy, in its long extent, is every thing that, for matter or manner, comes short of sincerity. Now, our sincerity is no more perfect than our other graces; so that in its measure it abides with us and adheres to all we do. In like manner, it is one thing to do a thing for vain-glory and to be seen of men, another not to be able wholly to keep off the subtle insinuations of self and vain-glory. He that doth a thing in hypocrisy and for vain-glory is satisfied with some corrupt end obtained, though he be sensible that he sought such an end. He that doth a thing with a mixture of hypocrisy, — that is, with some breaches upon the degrees of his sincerity, with some insensible advancements in performance on outward considerations, — is not satisfied with a self-end obtained, and is dissatisfied with the defect of his sincerity. In a word, wouldst thou yet be sincere, and dost endeavour so to be in private duties, and in public performances, — in praying, hearing, giving alms, zealous actings for God’s glory and the love of the saints; though these duties are not, it may be, sometimes done without sensible hypocrisy, — I mean, as traced to its most subtle insinuations of self and vain-glory, — yet are they not done in hypocrisy, nor do they denominate the persons by whom they are performed hypocrites. Yet I say of this, as of all that is spoken before, it is of use to relieve us under a troubled condition, — of none to support us or encourage us unto an abode in it.

4. Know that God despiseth not small things. He takes notice of the least breathings of our hearts after him, when we ourselves can 603see nor perceive no such thing. He knows the mind of the Spirit in those workings which are never formed to that height that we can reflect upon them with our observation. Every thing that is of him is noted in his book, though not in ours. He took notice that, when Sarah was acting unbelief towards him, yet that she showed respect and regard to her husband, calling him “lord,” Gen. xviii. 12; 1 Pet. iii. 6. And even whilst his people are sinning, he can find something in their hearts, words, or ways, that pleaseth him; much more in their duties. He is a skilful refiner, that can find much gold in that ore where we see nothing but lead or clay. He remembers the duties which we forget, and forgets the sins which we remember. He justifies our persons, though ungodly; and will also our duties, though not perfectly godly.

5. To give a little farther support in reference unto our wretched, miserable duties, and to them that are in perplexities on that account, know that Jesus Christ takes whatever is evil and unsavoury out of them, and makes them acceptable. When an unskilful servant gathers many herbs, flowers, and weeds in a garden, you gather them out that are useful, and cast the rest out of sight. Christ deals so with our performances. All the ingredients of self that are in them on any account he takes away, and adds incense to what remains, and presents it to God, Exod. xxx. 36. This is the cause that the saints at the last day, when they meet their own duties and performances, they know them not, they are so changed from what they were when they went out of their hand. “Lord, when saw we thee naked or hungry?” So that God accepts a little, and Christ makes our little a great deal.

6. Is this an argument to keep thee from believing? The reason why thou art no more holy is because thou hast no more faith. If thou hast no holiness, it is because thou hast no faith. Holiness is the purifying of the heart by faith, or our obedience unto the truth. And the reason why thou art no more in duty is, because thou art no more in believing. The reason why thy duties are weak and imperfect is, because thy faith is weak and imperfect. Hast thou no holiness? — believe, that thou mayst have. Hast thou but a little, or that which is imperceptible? — be steadfast in believing, that thou mayst abound in obedience. Do not resolve not to eat thy meat until thou art strong, when thou hast no means of being strong but by eating thy bread, which strengthens the heart of man.

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