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The hypocrite’s hope shall perish.
THERE is nothing in the world, though never so excellent, but it has its counterfeit; religion and grace itself are not exempted: so that in these matters, as well as in others, we often suffer a fallacy in our choice, by embracing resemblances instead of things. Sincerity and hypocrisy are the two great things about which the whole stress and business of the gospel is laid out; namely, to persuade and enforce the one, and to discover and detect the other. And here we have hypocrisy presented in its greatest and most flourishing enjoyment, which is hope; and in its greatest misery, which is utter frustration.
There are only two things that can require any explication, and the words will be very clear: first, what is meant by the hypocrite; and secondly, what by the hypocrite’s hope.
As for the first, all hypocrites in the world may be comprehended under these two sorts.
(1.) The first is the gross dissembler, who knowingly, and against his conscience, pursues some sinful course, endeavouring only to conceal it from the eyes of men: such an one was Gehazi, who concealed his sharking, covetous acts from his master Elisha, 2 Kings v. 25. Such an one also was Judas, while he plotted the betraying of his Lord; he could 441eat and converse with him, and yet carry on a design against him at the same time; he could bring the guest and the traitor to the same table. Such an one was the lewd woman, in Prov. xxx. 20, who took secresy for innocence; and, putting a fair face upon a foul fact, wiped her mouth, and said, she had done no wickedness. Such were also the scribes and pharisees, whom our Saviour upbraids so severely, Matth. xxiii. 27; for as they had the outward varnish, so they had also the inward rottenness of a noisome sepulchre. In short, this sort of hypocrites, the utmost of whose religion is to conceal, not to renounce their sins, comes within the number of those that are even stigmatized by the heathen, qui famam, non conscientiam verentur; such as prefer credit before conscience, an outward, lying, pompous appearance, before an inward, sincere reality.
(2.) The other sort is the formal, refined hypocrite, who deceives his own heart. he is many degrees above the other; for his conscience and his convictions will not let him take up in a course of professed dissimulation. And therefore he makes some advances into the practice of holiness; but not being sound at the heart, not being thoroughly divided from his sin, he takes that for grace which is not sincerity, and therefore much less grace; and being thus deceived, he misses of the power of godliness, and embraces only the form. Such an hypocrite we have described in Matth. vii. 26, 27; he raised a very fair building, but he laid the foundation of it in the sand. Now both these hypocrites agree in this, that they are deceivers; for deceit is the formal, constituent reason of hypocrisy: only the difference lies here, that one deceives the world, the other deceives 442himself; one resolvedly goes towards hell, the other sets forth for heaven, but misses of his way; one is a mere shadow, the other is a rotten substance.
I conceive the hypocrite here spoken of in the text is to be taken in the latter sense; for the gross, palpable dissembler neither does nor can rise so high, as to entertain any seeming, rational hope of a future felicity. For he who knows his present estate to be totally bad, and knowingly persists in it, can not with any colour of reason hope that his future condition should be good. And thus much for the first thing to be explained. As for the
Second, By the hypocrite’s hope is here meant those persuasions that a man has of the goodness and safety of his spiritual condition, whereby he strongly persuades himself that he is now in a state of grace, and consequently shall hereafter attain to a state of glory.
Yet, since it is not to be imagined that this hope is in the same proportion in all hypocrites, we may justly distinguish in it these two degrees.
1. A probable opinion. Now opinion, we know, is but the lowest degree of assent; nay, it is rather thought, than assent; it is the understanding, as it were, halting between doubt and belief; rather catching at, than embracing its object. So that if opinion at best be so weak, what is that that is commenced upon a false ground? that hangs upon the thin, rotten thread of a bare peradventure: for the voice of the hypocrite is generally but the same with that of the king of Nineveh, peradventure the Lord will be gracious.
2. The second degree is a peremptory persuasion. 443 This is its highest pitch and perfection; and it seems seldom to be entertained, but where hypocrisy is in conjunction with gross ignorance or judicial searedness. It is hope raised into confidence, and confidence, as it were, screwed up to a kind of plerophory; when a man is so confident of his future happiness, that nothing seems wanting but an actual possession.
These things premised briefly by way of explication, the words naturally cast themselves into these two propositions.
First, that an hypocrite may proceed so far, as to obtain an hope and expectation of a future blessedness.
Secondly, that all the hypocrite’s fairest expectations and hopes of such an happiness, will in the end vanish into miserable disappointment.
For the prosecution of the first of these, I shall do these three things.
I. I shall prove that the hypocrites have such hopes.
II. I shall shew how and by what ways these hopes are first produced in the hypocrite’s mind. And,
III. I shall shew how they are cherished and preserved there.
I. And first for the first of these; to wit, that the hypocrites have and do obtain such hopes, may be evinced by these two arguments.
(1.) The first of which shall be taken from the nature and constitution of man’s mind, which is vehement and restless in its pursuit after some suitable good. Now the happiness of man is not from within, from himself, but from without. And all the good 444he takes in from thence is conveyed, and, as it were, drained through the apprehensions of his mind: and the mind, or reason, not only apprehending its present state, but also caring for the future, it is accordingly put to seek out for a good that may bear proportion to both these conditions, that is, both a present and a future; and a present good it takes in and enjoys by actual possession, and a future only by its hope. Now it is natural for every man, both in his desires and designs, to build chiefly upon the future; and that, I suppose, for this reason, because he looks upon the future only as his life. For so much of our life as is past is gone, and to be reckoned with that which is not; and the present we know is a narrow, indivisible point, enjoyed and spent in an instant; so that all our treasure and reserve is wrapt up in the future.
And that men’s desires chiefly run out after things future is clear, because the most ardent and natural of all desires, which is that of knowledge, chiefly catches at and pries into futurities. Man naturally looks forward: the eye of the soul is like that of the body, though it passes through things immediately before it, yet it always terminates in something distant. When a man is dejected upon the sight and consideration of what he is at present, he is naturally apt to relieve himself with the hope and expectation of what he shall or may be hereafter; and it is not to be questioned, but that all the world live more by hope than by fruition. Whence it is, that a person condemned, or mortally wounded, will say that he is a dead man; because he dates his death, not from the expiration of his life, but of his hopes. And this is so evident, that though in things of a most different 445nature, yet the truth is still the same. For as in temporals no man looks upon himself as rich or happy in the present possession of lands, unless they are secured, and made over to him for ever; so in spirituals, a man that is acted but by his bare reason, finds no relish or satisfaction in any thing at present, but as it is seasoned and set oil with an expectation of a future blessedness.
Every man naturally carries on some particular design, upon the event of which he builds his satisfaction; and the spring that moves these designs is hope. Hopes of the future are the causes of present action: for that the hypocrite performs some duties, wades through some afflictions, and that he makes some imperfect essays of obedience, it is all from the strength and activity of his hope: this first excites and quickens him to the work, and then animates and upholds him in it. Otherwise, the natural weakness of his mind would quickly cause him to quit the field, and put an end to such uncomfortable labours; for when the sight and expectation of good fails, it is natural for endeavour to cease. Hope is that which antedates and prepossesses a future good; that sets it in the view of the will, which alone puts all the faculties in motion. From hence therefore it follows, that the hypocrite has his hope, for he has his course, and his way, according to which he acts; and without hope there can be no action.
(2.) The other argument, proving that hypocrites have their hopes, shall be taken from that peace and comfort that even hypocrites enjoy; which are the certain effects, and therefore the infallible signs of some hope abiding in the mind. We may take a view of the profound peace and security enjoyed by 446hypocrites in several instances: and first, we have the old world, though polluted with a general corruption, yet enjoying a general peace before the flood, so that, in Matt. xxiv. 38, 39, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, and knew not till the flood came, and took them all away. Strange was the security of conscience that had seized upon these sinners; it was so great, that though death and destruction were even at the door, yet they ruffled it in the highest actions of jollity that human life was capable of. And in the 25th of Matthew we have the foolish virgins at so firm a peace with their own conscience, that they could even sleep securely; shutting both heart and eyes against all thought of danger. And in Amos vi. 3, 4, we have some putting far away from them the evil day, lying upon beds of ivory, and stretching themselves upon their couches: free from all thought or care; unless possibly how to make their visits, or to contrive some revel, or to prepare and dress themselves for some ball or lewd meeting. Also in Zech. i. 11, we have the angel of God giving an account of the state and posture of an unsanctified world. Behold, says he, the whole earth sitteth still, and at rest. To all which scriptures we may add, by way of overplus, the verdict of our daily experience and observation. For who so much at ease and quiet, who so jocund and free from anxious distracting cares, as those that are visibly strangers to the sincerity of religion, apparently unacquainted with the ways of God? From which temper and state of mind, we may undeniably collect and argue, that they have their hopes. For where there is comfort, there must be hope: 447since it is built upon this foundation, it grows out of this stock, as it is in Job viii. 11, Can the rush grow up without mire? or can the flag grow with out water? The hypocrite’s hope is indeed both a water that will fail, and a mire that will defile him; yet it is this alone, that for a while gives growth and greenness to his comforts. If the heart of man were not pitched upon some bottom, it would of necessity be continually sinking. Now hope is the great and only bottom of an hypocrite’s tranquillity. It is this alone that feeds all his contents, that gives continual supplies to all his satisfactions. And if hope did not (as it were by main force) stand and guard the heart, a deluge of despairing thoughts would immediately and irresistibly break in upon it. For if sinners were assured of wrath, and had certain presumptions of future vengeance, despair and rage would waste the world, and men would sin with an high hand, that they might not only merit, but, as it were, even revenge their future sufferings.
Whence it is, that though God’s decree concerning the final estate of every impenitent sinner be certain, yet it is also secret, to prevent despair. And because God may intend even those that stand sentenced by it the transitory reprieve of a little worldly comfort, he keeps them in ignorance of it; and so long, they keep themselves in hope. How ever, every reprobate is in this respect before God, like a condemned person with a veil drawn before his eyes. For if a man did really apprehend his case utterly hopeless, he could not master the apprehensions of common humanity so far, as to admit of the least comfort. For did we ever see a condemned 448person (if in his wits) dancing and ranting the day before his execution? Certainly that man must needs be far overgrown with stupid ignorance or epicurism, who could eat and drink heartily to-day, when he knew that to-morrow he should die. Assuredly if it were not for hope, the heart of the merriest and most secure hypocrite in the world would break.
Other reasons of the point might be assigned; but I think these two sufficiently prove, that hypocrisy and hope may dwell together, that danger and confidence of safety are consistent, and that a man’s persuasions both may be and often are much better than his condition. I come now to the
Second general thing proposed, which is to shew by what ways and means the hypocrite comes first to attain this hope.
I shall instance in four.
(1.) The first is by misapprehending God. The first foundation of this hope is laid in ignorance: for as hereafter it must end, so here it begins, in darkness. Caution, experience, and accurate meditation are apt to check hope; because they lay open the difficulties of the thing we hope for. But the persons here spoken of fetch their hope not from their judgment, but their fancy. The sum of the hypocrites creed and hope may be delivered in that of Tacitus, fingunt creduntque; they first feign things, then believe them. And their grand, leading mistake, which draws after it all the rest, is about God.
It is indeed our unhappiness in this state of weakness and mortality, that the most advanced in knowledge and improved in piety have yet but 449very lame and imperfect conceptions of the great God. And the reason of it is manifest; because we are forced to understand that which is infinite, after a finite manner. For philosophy teaches, that intelllgere est pati, et pati est recipere. And one thing receives another, not according to the full latitude of the object, but according to the scanty model of its own capacity. If we let down a vessel into the sea, we shall bring up, not what the sea can afford, but what the vessel can hold: and just so it is in our understanding of God. Besides, it is the proper quality of the intellect in apprehending, naturally to assimilate the thing apprehended to itself. And these are the true grounds of the natural, unavoidable imperfection of our apprehensions of God.
However, God is pleased to bear with our apprehensions of him, though imperfect, so long as they are not impious and absurd; and to accept of them, though below him, so long as they are not contrary to him. But the hypocrite frames to himself such notions of a god, as have no foundation either in his nature or his word. He does (as it were) create to himself a deity, and sets up a god according to the model of his own senseless imaginations. I know nothing that does so lively characterize and express those gross, carnal, groveling conceptions that hypocrites entertain of God, as that signal place in Psalm l. 21, Thou thoughtest, says God, that I was altogether such an one as thyself. That is, he took the measure of God’s thoughts of sin by his own; he rated God’s esteem of duty by his own indifference. Every man, through the native pride of his heart and the deceitfulness of sin, is naturally 450very prone rather to bring down God to his thoughts, than to raise up his thoughts to God.
Now the soul in its course and practice of religion, having immediate intercourse with God, according to those thoughts it takes in concerning him, it is suitably affected either with fear or hope, comfort or distraction: and when it has once got this cursed, fallacious way of misrepresenting God to the conscience, there is nothing in him from whence it will not draw an argument of hope. It will suck poison out of every attribute, strain every perfection to make it subservient to the interest of its hypocrisy.
And first for that sin-devouring attribute of God’s justice, which one would think should rout the hypocrite out of all his satisfactions; yet even this at tribute, (which carries in it nothing but fire and brimstone, speaks nothing but lightning and claps of thunder to the secure sinners,) as it is qualified, and allayed by the shifts and evasions of a treacherous heart, shall not at all disturb his quiet, or entrench upon his hope. The hypocrite indeed does and must acknowledge that God hates sin, and that his jealousy burns against the sinner; that his law is violated, and his justice provoked: but then he has this evasion, that justice is God’s strange work, that he does not afflict willingly, nor take any delight in the exercise of that severe attribute; and that if at any time he does think fit to exercise it, it is only upon gross, scandalous sinners, such as wallow in the enormities and pollutions of the world; such whose damnation is visibly writ upon their present lives, as swearers, atheists, whoremongers, 451and such like modish fashionable sinners. But as for those who are civilized in their manners, and stand guilty of no such clamorous sins, who carry a fair profession, and keep the church constantly, though perhaps it is chiefly to see and to be seen; to such the hypocrite concludes that there is no condemnation.
But now, if after all these debates and reasonings conscience is still unsatisfied, and God’s justice appears terrible, and his power grim and dreadful, yet then the thoughts of mercy shall come in, and clear off all. So that if conscience and sins unrepented of begin to cry out, mercy shall cry louder: if vengeance seems ready to strike, mercy shall divert the stroke. Whatsoever objections the hypocrite can make against himself from God’s justice, he will answer from the topic of his mercy.
But then here the fallacy lies: the hypocrite considers God’s justice appeased and his mercy enlarged; but he does not consider the qualifications of those persons to whom these attributes bear such a gracious aspect. It is confessed, God’s justice is satisfied and his anger is disarmed; but it is so, to those only whose sins are remitted, and whose persons justified; and whose burden is entirely transferred, and cast upon the person of Christ their great surety, whose satisfaction wards off the sin-revenging justice of God, only from the penitent and truly pious. But what is this to the hypocrite, who was never translated and implanted into Christ by a true and lively faith?
And then for that other attribute of mercy: it is indeed infinite and boundless in its outgoings; it covers all sins, keeps off the law, and evacuates the 452curse. But it does these great things only for such as are true believers and regenerate; and to be so is an harder matter than the world generally takes it for. But this the hypocrite does not consider, and therefore he retains his confidence; he catches at the mercy, but overlooks the condition; and so no wonder, if he has hope, where he has no interest. And thus much for the first way, by which the hypocrite raises his false hope, namely, by his misapprehensions of God, and particularly in respect of those two great attributes, his justice and his mercy.
(2.) The second way by which he raises the same false hope is by his misunderstanding of sin. Sin, one way or other, is the true cause of all the trouble, anguish, and despair, that is incident to the mind of man. Every tear springs from this fountain. Every thought of terror and distrust issues from sin, as from its first occasion and original. But now these troubles and despairs about the main issues of a man’s future happiness being very irksome, and contrary to the heart’s content, a man is willing to gratify his heart so far, as to endeavour their removal, by winking at sin that is their cause. Hence it is, that men hold fast their confidence of life, though they walk in the ways of death: for they studiously cast a mist before their own eyes, that they may go on securely, and not be forced to see that, which, being seen, would certainly constrain them to lay down their hopes. Sin rightly apprehended would quickly confound all their comforts, dash their peace and security, and lay their fairest confidence in the dust.
Wherefore the hypocrite, to establish his heart in hope, labours with all his might, and casts about, 453to relieve his conscience with such easy conceptions of sin, as may not at all grate or fall foul upon his comforts. He cannot persuade himself, that that can be so heinous and dreadful, that is committed with so much facility. Many are apt to look upon actual, as some do upon original sin, not as the error, but as the condition of their nature. Love to sin naturally covers all its deformities.
And first for the nature of sin in general, as stript of all its circumstances and particularities. The hypocrite does not look upon it in its native filth, as contrary to the infinite purity of God’s nature and his law, as leaving an everlasting, indelible stain upon the conscience; no, nor yet in its dangerous effects, as dooming the sinner to all the curses that an infinite wrath can inflict: but because punishment is only threatened while pleasure is presented, the colour of the serpent covers his poison, the danger is overlooked, and the proffer accepted, and so the pardon of sin is counted as easy as the commission.
And from this undervaluing of the nature of sin in general, he quickly passes into a cursed extenuation of particulars. Some indeed hold and maintain a distinction of sins into mortal and venial; calling those mortal, that for their greatness and enormity deserve death; and those venial, that for their smallness naturally deserve pardon: which distinction as some assert in doctrine, so all hypocrites own in practice, and it is the inward language of all their hearts. For though perhaps they may strain at camels, yet they can easily swallow gnats; though blasphemies, thefts, and murders may be shunned, yet sinful, impure thoughts, words, and desires are passed over by the hypocrite, not only without remorse, 454but without notice, as things below his sorrow, and not deserving repentance, much less condemnation. Gross external acts of sin, he knows, are visible, and therefore no ways for his advantage; so that no wonder if the hypocrite avoids these: but this is not his penitence, but his prudence; not because he hates the nature of sin, but because he fears the circumstance.
And thus I have shewn the two first ways by which the hypocrite gains his hope, namely, by misapprehending God, and misunderstanding sin. And when he has wrong apprehensions of that which deserves punishment, and of him who is alone able to inflict it, I suppose it will be no hard matter to conclude, that he may easily shuffle himself into hopes of an escape.
(3.) The third way by which the hypocrite first attains this false and spurious hope, is by mistakes about the spiritual rigour and strictness of the gospel. God at first gave man a righteous law, and entered with him into a covenant of works. According to the tenor of which covenant, the law required exact obedience, universal holiness, and perfection; and this in the greatest rigour, not admitting any grains of allowance for the least defect or deviation. But man having sinned, and thereby broke this covenant, the law became weak through sin; that is, weak and unable to justify, and powerful only to condemn: so that now all legal dispensations are dispensations of terror; and to tell sinners of the law, is only in another word to tell them of the curse. Hereupon God was pleased to introduce a new covenant, and instead of works to establish our salvation upon a law of faith, as it is in Rom. iii. 27. So that 455no breach of the law whatsoever should be able to condemn him that believes.
Now the hypocrite seeing this, and reflecting upon the former unsupportable severity of the law, he naturally dashes upon the other extreme, and thinks that if the law were all justice, then certainly the gospel must be all mercy, without justice. Thus making it so the law of liberty, as not of duty; and getting a full liberty, or rather licentiousness of conscience, together with a plentiful stock of faith, without good works, he looks upon himself as perfect and evangelical: and henceforward in the business of justification, but to think any more of an holy life, he calls it (as the phrase of some is) a returning to Egypt. And therefore as for duty, obedience, and such other legal things, they must belong only to moral men, who are not acquainted with this sublime mystery of the gospel.
Hereupon, having made so fair a progress, he proceeds further, and proposes to himself the gospel, as it is held forth in the most lax and favourable expressions, in some scriptures, which he first misunderstands, and then draws to his own purpose.
As for instance, that in 2 Corinth. viii. 12, where God is said to accept the will for the deed. From whence, though he lives in a continual omission of known duties, and a frequent commission of known sins; yet he will comfort himself in this, that his heart is good, that he means well, that his will is upright; and God accepts of this as well as the strictest obedience. But to rectify so perverse a mistake, such an one must know that God never accepts the will for the deed, where he puts it into a man’s power to do as well as to will: but this holds 456only where a man is disabled from the performance of his duty, in which case the inward sincerity of the will supplies the want of the outward action. As for instance, it is a man’s duty both to frequent the public worship of God, and to worship him in private with the humblest postures of body, as kneeling and the like; but if God casts him upon his bed of sickness, and the man is not able to stir an hand or a foot, there is no doubt but God accepts of his desire to do these outward acts of reverence as much as if he actually did them. And if a man would receive the blessed sacrament, but is in a place where he cannot have it administered to him, it is as little to be questioned but that God accepts the devout pantings and breathings of his soul after that heavenly ordinance, as much as if he were really a partaker of it in the outward elements. But what is this to the hypocrite’s case, who pretends will in contradiction to practice, when both are in his power? thus deluding himself and abusing the grace of God, and withal not considering, that such kind of expressions as this, that God accepts the will for the deed, and the like, are not proposed to us as the standing rules of our obedience in our ordinary Christian course, but as special arguments of comfort in cases of extraordinary distress; not as our spiritual diet to feed and to sustain, but as cordials to recover us.
Again, when the hypocrite reads in Rom. x. 9 that whosoever shall confess with his mouth, and believe with his heart, that God hath raised Christ from the dead, shall be saved; he finds that it is no hard matter to own such a belief and profession, to carry the name and wear the colours of Christ, 457and so long he concludes that this scripture warrants his salvation. And again, 1 John ii. 1, If any one sin, we have an advocate with the Father. Hence with much confidence he can cast all his sins upon Christ’s intercession; and though he continues to sin, yet as long as Christ continues to intercede, he doubts not but the interest of his soul stands sure. Now these scriptures, with many others, being improved by a subtle, crafty, self-deceiving head, and a wicked, unsanctified heart, lay the foundation of all the hypocrite’s hope. But if he would undeceive himself, and consider that obedience is still necessary, and that Christ came not to destroy, but to establish the law, as the rule of that obedience; that he came not to give any new law, (as Socinus and his school would have it,) but to vindicate and clear the old in its just purity and extent; I say, the thought of this would make him begin to question the soundness of his hope, and try the foundation before he finished the superstructure.
Christ’s yoke is indeed easy, but it is still a yoke; and his burden is light, but it is still a burden, and will be so as long as we carry flesh and blood, and a body of sin about us. That one gospel-precept of self-denial seriously considered, how difficult it is to our corrupt nature, how contrary to our most native inclinations, would make the hypocrite confess, that notwithstanding all these gracious concessions and abatements of legal rigour, that shine forth upon mankind in the gospel, he must yet be forced to purchase heaven and happiness at a far higher rate than he did imagine.
(4.) The fourth and last way that I shall mention, by which the hypocrite attains his false hope, is by 458his mistakes about repentance, faith, and conversion. And it is not to be questioned, but that mistakes about these have been the deplorable cause of the ruin of many thousands: for, as Quintilian says of eloquence, Multi ad eloquentiam pervenire potuissent, nisi se jam pervenisse putassent; so many, in all probability, might have attained to repentance, but that they thought they had repented already: many might have believed and been converted, had they not preferred speed before certainty, and too erroneously and hastily presumed upon these works, before they were ever thoroughly wrought upon them.
The carnal hypocrite is apt to think every fit of sorrow for sin, every grumbling of natural conscience, to be repentance; and therefore here he rests, thinking his sorrow to have atoned his sin, and his tears to have washed away his impurities: not considering the great and vast difference that is between μεταμελέσθαι and μετανοεῖν; between a bare regret and anguish for sin, causing the soul to wish only that it had not been committed, and between such a sorrow as is attended with a total change and renovation of the heart. The first may proceed from the principles of nature awakened, and so is common to those that finally perish, and prove castaways; the latter is a product of the special working of God’s Spirit infusing grace into the soul, and therefore peculiar only to believers. Now, if the hypocrite would warily observe, whether the sorrow he so much trusts in did ever yet cleanse his heart, so as to turn the full bent and propensity of it to the commands of God, he would find little cause for hope, and see that his very repentance was to be repented 459of; and that all his penitential showers were like the rain upon the streets, that does not cleanse, but foul the ways.
Also for conversion: if the hypocrite can strain his heart so high as to relinquish some sins, to make some confession, and to engage in some brittle, uncertain promises of future amendment, he imagines now that the great work has passed upon him, and that he is taken from the portion of sinners to the privilege of saints. But if he would impartially read his own case in the examples of others, and see Judas confessing his sin, and that with much bitterness, and yet for all that a son of perdition; if he would view Herod doing many things upon John’s preaching, and yet continuing an unconverted, bloody Herod still; if he would consider Agrippa in the very borders of conversion, and almost become a Christian, and yet for all that never converted, nor made a Christian; he would find just cause to change his hopes into fears; and instead of being confident of this work, with much humility and trembling to seek after it.
And then, lastly, for that grand, deciding work of faith: because the hypocrite, by a blind, irrational boldness, is confident that Christ will save him, and redeem him from God’s wrath; therefore he thinks that he believes, and that he relies and depends upon Christ. But if he would examine his faith by these interrogatories; as, 1st, Whether or no he has over come the world? for every believer does so; 1 John v. 4. He triumphs over Satan, he conquers his corruptions, and repels temptations. And 2dly, Whether he can say, not only that he does not sin, but that he cannot sin? Not that he cannot commit, 460but that he cannot approve or delight in sin; and that he never sins with such a full consent of will, but that it is still with some secret reluctancy and remorse of the renewed principle: every true believer is able to say so, as is evident from 1 John iii. 9, Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. It is as impossible for the spiritual man to relish sin, as it is for the natural man to feed upon stones or dirt. Now, I say, if the hypocrite would bring his faith to the test of these questions, and let his conscience truly and fairly return an answer, he would find that there is as great a difference between a well-grounded gospel-hope and his hope, as there is between believing and presuming.
This therefore is the fourth way, by which the hypocrite procures his hope. He reads, that those who repent, believe, and are converted, shall be saved; and hereupon he remembers, that he has been sometimes troubled about sin, and this he calls repentance. Also he finds himself full of confidence, that Christ will undertake for his salvation, and this he persuades himself is faith. And lastly, he finds that there is some outward change made in his life; some duties performed that were before neglected, and some sins avoided that were before committed; and this he styles conversion. And herein is the whole stock upon which the hypocrite trades, to secure himself some hope of eternal happiness.
And now, to make some use and improvement of what has hitherto been delivered: if in this grand business of salvation the hypocrite may and does 461entertain an hope, then let none, from the confidence of their hopes, conclude that they are not hypocrites; but consider at least, if not suspect the safety of their condition. It is indeed the custom of some to put the superstructure in the room of the foundation, and first of all to urge assurance: but such persons measure their safety by their confidence, and so may very fitly have that speech of Solomon applied to them in a spiritual sense, in Prov. xiv. 16, The fool rageth, and is confident: for certainly where the venture is of eternity, the greatest caution is the best security. The apostle indeed says, in Rom. xiv. 23, that he that doubteth is damned: but this is quite upon another occasion; and I am afraid that it will one day be found, that many have been and shall be damned, because they never doubted. For since there are so many ways for a man to delude himself about his spiritual estate, since hypocrisy is so connatural to us, and the heart not only easy, but willing, and not only willing, but also industrious to cheat itself into such a vain hope; can there be any thing more seasonable and rational, than to caution such as think they stand, to beware lest they fall, and still to fear that that hope is scarce sure enough, that can never be too sure?
And thus to persuade doubting is not to persuade scepticism in religious matters; for scepticism is properly a doubting of the truth of universals, and of the articles of religion; but the doubting here spoken of is concerning the safety of a man’s own particular condition: nay, this doubting presupposes a certain assent to the former; for if a man were not persuaded of the general truth of religion, 462he would never doubt, or be solicitous about his own personal concern in it. This doubting therefore is so far from weakening, that it does indeed establish our hope: for as it is said of knowledge, Firmissimam esse scientiam quae oritur ex dubitatione; so the same may be said of our hopes of future happiness, that those are the most sure and rational, that were first ushered in with doubting and distrust. I say distrust, not of God, but of ourselves; for this kind of doubting causes trial, and trial produces knowledge, and knowledge brings assurance, and assurance so obtained maketh not ashamed.
He that shall observe what the scripture says of the deep, unconceivable treachery of man’s heart, will have sufficient warrant from thence to bid the most holy in appearance suspect his condition. Let none say that he was converted so many years since, and that therefore, though he knows himself under the present power of some sin, yet his hopes of heaven stand sure and good, in the strength of that his former conversion: but let him consider rather, how easy it is for a man to think that he is converted, when he is yet in the very gall of bitterness, and the bonds of iniquity; and to take that for assurance, that is only self-flattery; and to think that he has a lively faith and a lasting hope, which yet, being spurious and unsound, will one day miserably deceive him; and, having raised him up to heaven, leave him in the lowest regions of hell: much like the flattering disappointment of the hungry man’s dream in Isaiah xxix. 8, The hungry man dreameth, and behold he eateth; but he awaketh, and his soul is empty. This know for certain, that the only 463way for a man to make his hopes sure and lasting is to be sincere; and the next way to attain sincerity, is first thoroughly to know and understand his hypocrisy.
And thus much concerning the second thing proposed, which was to shew by what means the hypocrite takes his first rise, and how he gets and obtains this hope. The third and last will be to shew, how he maintains and preserves it.464
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