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Evidences that most men do not believe forgiveness.

That which should now ensue is the peculiar improvement of this truth, all along aimed at, — namely, to give exhortations and encouragements unto believing; but I can take few steps in this work, wherein methinks I do not hear some saying, “Surely all this is needless. Who is there that doth not believe all that you go about to prove? and so these pains are spent to little or no purpose.” I shall, therefore, before I persuade any unto it, endeavour to show that they do it not already. Many, I say, the most of men who live under the dispensation of the gospel, do wofully deceive their own souls in this matter. They do not believe what they profess themselves to believe, and what they think they believe. Men talk of “fundamental errors;” this is to me the most fundamental error that any can fall into, and the most pernicious. It is made up of these two parts:— 1. They do not indeed believe forgiveness. 2. They suppose they do believe it, which keeps them from seeking after the only remedy. Both these mistakes are in the foundation, and do ruin the souls of them that live and die in them. I shall, then, by a brief inquiry, put this matter to a trial. By some plain rules and principles may this important question, whether we do indeed believe forgiveness or no, be answered and decided. But to the resolution intended, I shall premise two observations —

1. Men in this case are very apt to deceive themselves. Self-love, vain hopes, liking of lust, common false principles, sloth, unwillingness unto self-examination, reputation with the world, and it may be in the church, all vigorously concur unto men’s self-deceivings in this matter. It is no easy thing for a soul to break through all these, and all self-reasonings that rise from them, to come unto a clear judgment of its own acting in dealing with God about forgiveness. Men also find a common presumption of this truth, and its being an easy relief against gripings of conscience and disturbing thoughts about sin, which they daily meet withal. Aiming, therefore, only at the removal of trouble, and finding their present imagination 506of it sufficient thereunto, they never bring their persuasion to the trial

2. As men are apt to do thus, so they actually do so; they do deceive themselves, and know not that they do so. The last day will make this evident, if men will no sooner be convinced of their folly. When our Saviour told his disciples that one of them twelve should betray him, though it were but one of twelve that was in danger, yet every one of the twelve made a particular inquiry about himself. I will not say that one in each twelve is here mistaken; but I am sure the Truth tells us that “many are called, but few are chosen.” They are but few who do really believe forgiveness. Is it not, then, incumbent on every one to be inquiring in what number he is likely to be found at the last day? Whilst men put this inquiry off from themselves, and think or say, “It may be the concernment of others, it is not mine,” they perish, and that without remedy. Remember what poor Jacob said when he had lost one child, and was afraid of the loss of another: Gen. xliii. 14, “If I be bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.” As if he should have said, “If I lose my children, I have no more to lose; they are my all. Nothing worse can befall me in this world. Comfort, joy, yea, life and all, go with them.” How much more may men say in this case, “If we are deceived here, we are deceived; all is lost. Hope, and life, and soul, all must perish, and that for ever!” There is no help or relief for them who deceive themselves in this matter. They have found out a way to go quietly down into the pit.

Now, these things are premised only that they may be incentives unto self-examination in this matter, and so render the ensuing considerations useful. Let us, then, address ourselves unto them;:—

1. In general, This is a gospel truth; yea, the great fundamental and most important truth of the gospel. It is the turning-point of the two covenants, as God himself declares, Heb. viii. 7–13. Now, a very easy consideration of the ways and walkings of men will satisfy us as to this inquiry, whether they do indeed believe the gospel, the covenant of grace, and the fundamental principles of it. Certainly their ignorance, darkness, blindness, their corrupt affections, and worldly conversations, their earthly-mindedness, and open disavowing of the spirit, ways, and yoke of Christ, speak no such language. Shall we think that proud, heady, worldly self-seekers, haters of the people of God and his ways, despisers of the Spirit of grace and his work, sacrificers to their own lusts, and such like, do believe the covenant of grace or remission of sins? God forbid we should entertain any one thought of so great dishonour to the gospel! Wherever that is received or believed it produceth other effects, 507Tit. ii. 11, 12; Isa. xi. 6–9. It “teacheth men to deny all ungodliness and worldly lusts.” It changeth their hearts, natures, and ways. It is not such a barren, impotent, and fruitless thing as such an apprehension would represent it.

2. They that really believe forgiveness in God do thereby obtain forgiveness. Believing gives an interest in it; it brings it home to the soul concerned. This is the inviolable law of the gospel. Believing and forgiveness are inseparably conjoined. Among the evidences that we may have of any one being interested in forgiveness, I shall only name one, — they prize and value it above all the world. Let us inquire what esteem and valuation many of those have of forgiveness, who put it out of all question that they do believe it. Do they look upon it as their treasure, their jewel, their pearl of price? Are they solicitous about it? Do they often look and examine whether it continues safe in their possession or no? Suppose a man have a precious jewel laid up in some place in his house; suppose it be unto him as the poor widow’s two mites, all her substance or living; — will he not carefully ponder on it? will he not frequently satisfy himself that it is safe? We may know that such a house, such fields or lands, do not belong unto a man, when he passeth By them daily and taketh little or no notice of them. Now, how do most men look upon forgiveness? what is their common deportment in reference unto it? Are their hearts continually filled with thoughts about it? Are they solicitous concerning their interest in it? Do they reckon that whilst that is safe all is safe with them? When it is, as it were, laid out of the way by sin and unbelief, do they give themselves no rest until it be afresh discovered unto them? Is this the frame of the most of men? The Lord knows it is not. They talk of forgiveness, but esteem it not, prize it not, make no particular inquiries after it. They put it to an ungrounded venture whether ever they be partakers of it or no. For a relief against some pangs of conscience it is called upon, or else scarce thought of at all.

Let not any so minded flatter themselves that they have any acquaintance with the mystery of gospel forgiveness.

3. Let it be inquired of them who pretend unto this persuasion how they came by it, that we may know whether it be of Him who calleth us or no; that we may try whether they have broken through the difficulties, in the entertaining of it, which we have manifested abundantly to lie in the way of it.

When Peter confessed our Saviour to be “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” he told him that “flesh and blood did not reveal that unto him, but his Father who is in heaven,” Matt. xvi. 17. It is so with them who indeed believe forgiveness in God: “flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto them;” — it hath not been furthered 508by any thing within them or without them, but all lies in opposition unto it. “This is the work of God, that we believe,” John vi. 29; — a great work, the greatest work that God requireth of us. It is not only a great thing in itself (the grace of believing is a great thing), but it is great in respect of its object, or what we have to believe, or forgiveness itself. The great honour of Abraham’s faith lay in this, that deaths and difficulties lay in the way of it, Rom. iv. 18–20. But what is a dead body and a dead womb to an accusing conscience, a killing law, and apprehensions of a God terrible as a consuming fire? all which, as was showed, oppose themselves unto a soul called to believe forgiveness.

What, now, have the most of men, who are confident in the profession of this faith, to say unto this thing? Let them speak clearly, and they must say that indeed they never found the least difficulty in this matter; they never doubted of it, they never questioned it, nor do know any reason why they should do so. It is a thing which they have so taken for granted as that it never cost them an hour’s labour, prayer, or meditation about it. Have they had secret reasonings and contendings in their hearts about it? No. Have they considered how the objections that lie against it may be removed. Not at all. But is it so, indeed, that this persuasion is thus bred in you, you know not how? Are the corrupted natures of men and the gospel so suited, so complying? Is the new covenant grown so connatural to flesh and blood? Is the greatest secret that ever was revealed from the bosom of the Father become so familiar and easy to the wisdom of the flesh? Is that which was folly to the wise Greeks, and a stumbling-block to the wonder-gazing Jews, become, on a sudden, wisdom and a plain path to the same principles that were in them? But the truth of this matter is, that such men have a general, useless, barren notion of pardon, which Satan, presumption, tradition, common reports, and the customary hearing of the word, have furnished them withal; but for that gospel discovery of forgiveness whereof we have been speaking, they are utterly ignorant of it and unacquainted with it. To convince such poor creatures of the folly of their presumption, I would but desire them to go to some real believers that are or may be known unto them. Let them be asked whether they came so easily by their faith and apprehensions of forgiveness or no. “Alas!” saith one, “these twenty years have I been following after God, and yet I have not arrived unto an abiding cheering persuasion of it.” “I know what it cost me, what trials, difficulties, temptations I wrestled with, and went through withal, before I obtained it,” saith another. “What I have attained unto hath been of unspeakable mercy; and it is my daily prayer that I may be preserved in it by the exceeding greatness of the 509power of God, for I continually wrestle with storms that are ready to drive me from my anchor.” A little of this discourse may be sufficient to convince poor, dark, carnal creatures of the folly and vanity of their confidence.

4. There are certain means whereby the revelation and discovery of this mystery is made unto the souls of men. By these they do obtain it, or they obtain it not. The mystery itself was a secret, hidden in the counsel of God from eternity; nor was there any way whereby it might be revealed but by the Son of God, and that is done in the word of the gospel. If, then, you say you know it, let us inquire how you came so to do, and by what means it hath been declared unto you. Hath this been done by a word of truth, — by the promise of the gospel? Was it by preaching of the word unto you, or by reading of it, or meditating upon it? or did you receive it from and by some seasonable word of or from the Scriptures spoken unto you? or hath it insensibly gotten ground upon your hearts and minds, upon the strivings and conflicts of your souls about sin, from the truth wherein you had been instructed in general? or by what other ways or means have you come to that acquaintance with it whereof you boast? You can tell how you came by your wealth, your gold and silver; you know how you became learned, or obtained the knowledge of the mystery of your trade, who taught you in it, and how you came by it. There is not any thing wherein you are concerned but you can answer these inquiries in a reference unto it. Think it, then, no great matter if you are put to answer this question also — By what way or means came you to the knowledge of forgiveness which you boast of? Was it by any of those before mentioned, or some other? If you cannot answer distinctly to these things, only you say you have heard it and believed it ever since you can remember (so those said that went before you, so they say with whom you do converse; you never met with any one that called it into question, nor heard of any, unless it were one or two despairing wretches), it will be justly questioned whether you have any portion in this matter or no. If uncertain rumours, reports, general notions, lie at the bottom of your persuasion, do not suppose that you have any communion with Christ therein.

5. Of them who profess to believe forgiveness, how few are there who indeed know what it is! They believe, they say; but as the Samaritans worshipped, — they “know not what.” With some, a bold presumption, and crying “Peace, peace,” goes for the belief of forgiveness. A general apprehension of impunity from God, and that they are sinners, yet they shall not be punished, passeth with others at the same rate. Some think they shall prevail with God by their prayers and desires to let them alone, and not cast them into hell. 510One way or other to escape the vengeance of hell, not to be punished in another world, is that which men fix their minds upon. But is this that forgiveness which is revealed in the gospel? that which we have been treating about? The rise and spring of our forgiveness is in the heart and gracious nature of God, declared by his name. Have you inquired seriously into this? Have you stood at the shore of that infinite ocean of goodness and love? Have your souls found supportment and relief from that consideration? and have your hearts leaped within you with the thoughts of it? Or, if you have never been affected in an especial manner herewithal, have you bowed down your souls under the consideration of that sovereign act of the will of God that is the next spring of forgiveness; that glorious acting of free grace, that when all might justly have perished, all having sinned and come short of his glow, God would yet have mercy on some? Have you given up yourselves to this grace? Is this any thing of that you do believe? Suppose you are strangers to this also; what communion with God have you had about it in the blood of Christ? We have showed how forgiveness relates thereunto; how way is made thereby for the exercise of mercy, in a consistency with the glory and honour of the justice of God and of his law; how pardon is procured and purchased thereby; with the mysterious reconciliation of love and law, and the new disposal of conscience in its work and duty by it. What have you to say to these things? Have you seen pardon flowing from the heart of the Father through the blood of the Son? Have you looked upon it as the price of his life and the purchase of his blood? Or have you general thoughts that Christ died for sinners, and that on one account or other forgiveness relates unto him, but are strangers to the mystery of this great work? Suppose this also; let us go a little farther, and inquire whether you know any thing that yet remains of the like importance in this matter? Forgiveness, as we have showed, is manifested, tendered, exhibited in the covenant of grace and promises of the gospel. The rule of the efficacy of these is, that they be “mixed with faith,” Heb. iv. 2. It is well if you are grown up hereunto; but you that are strangers to the things before mentioned are no less to this also. Upon the matter, you know not, then, what forgiveness is, nor wherein it consists, nor whence it comes, nor how it is procured, nor by what means given out unto sinners. It is to no purpose for such persons to pretend that they believe that whereunto, either notionally or practically, or both, they are such utter strangers.

6. Another inquiry into this matter regards the state and condition wherein souls must be before it be possible for them to believe forgiveness. If there be such an estate, and it can be evinced that 511very many of the pretenders concerning whom we deal were never brought into it, it is then evident that they neither do nor can believe forgiveness, however they do and may delude their own souls.

It hath been showed that the first discovery that was made of pardoning grace was unto Adam, presently after the fall. What was then his state and condition? how was he prepared for the reception of this great mystery in its first discovery? That seems to be a considerable rule of proceeding in the same matter. That which is first in any kind is a rule to all that follows. Now, what was Adam’s condition when the revelation of forgiveness was first made to him? It is known from the story. Convinced of sin, afraid of punishment, he lay trembling at the foot of God: then was forgiveness revealed unto him. So the psalmist states it, Ps. cxxx. 3, “If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?” Full of thoughts he is of the desert of sin, and of inevitable and eternal ruin, in case God should deal with him according to the exigence of the law. In that state is the great support of forgiveness with God suggested unto him by the Holy Ghost. We know what work our Saviour had with the Pharisees on this account. “Are we,” say they, “blind also?” “No,” saith he; “you say you see, ‘therefore your sin remaineth,’ ” John ix. 40, 41; — “It is to no purpose to talk of forgiveness to such persons as you are; you must of necessity abide in your sins. I came not to call such righteous persons as you are, but sinners to repentance; who not only are so, as you are also, and that to the purpose, but are sensible of their being so, and of their undone condition thereby. ‘The whole have no need of the physician, but the sick.’ Whilst you are seeming righteous and whole, it is to no end to tell you of forgiveness; you cannot understand it nor receive it.” It is impossible, then, that any one should, in a due manner, believe forgiveness in God, unless in a due manner he be convinced of sin in himself. If the fallow ground be not broken up, it is to no purpose to sow the seed of the gospel. There is neither life, power, nor sweetness in this truth, unless a door be opened for its entrance by conviction of sin.

Let us, then, on this ground also, continue our inquiry upon the ordinary boasters of their skill in this mystery. You believe there is forgiveness with God? Yes. But have you been convinced of sin? Yes. You know that you are sinners well enough. Answer, then, but once more as to the nature of this conviction of sin which you have. Is it not made up of these two ingredients; — 1. A general notion that you are sinners, as all men also are; 2. Particular troublesome reflections upon yourselves, when on any eruption of sin conscience accuses, rebukes, condemns? You will say, “Yes; what would you require more?” This is not the conviction we are 512inquiring after: that is a work of the Spirit by the word; this you speak of, a mere natural work, which you can no more be without than you can cease to be men. This will give no assistance unto the receiving of forgiveness. But, it may be, you will say you have proceeded farther than so, and these things have had an improvement in you. Let us, then, a little try whether your process has been according to the mind of God, and so whether this invincible bar in your way be removed or no; for although every convinced person do not believe forgiveness, yet no one who is not convinced doth so. Have you, then, been made sensible of your condition by nature, what it is to be alienated from the life of God, and to be obnoxious to his wrath? Have you been convinced of the universal enmity that is in your hearts to the mind of God, and what it is to be at enmity against God.? Hath the unspeakable multitude of the sins of your lives been set in order by the law before you? And have you considered what it is for sinners as you are to have to deal with a righteous and a holy God? Hath the Holy Ghost wrought a serious recognition in your hearts of all these things, and caused them to abide with you and upon you? If you will answer truly, you must say, many of you, that indeed you have not been so exercised. You have heard of these things many times, but to say that you have gone through with this work, and have had experience of them, that you cannot do. Then, I say, you are strangers to forgiveness, because you are strangers unto sin. But and if you shall say that you have had thoughts to this purpose, and are persuaded that you have been thoroughly convinced of sin, I shall yet ask you one question more: What effects hath your conviction produced in your hearts and lives? Have you been filled with perplexities and consternation of spirit thereupon? have you had fears, dreads, or terrors, to wrestle withal? It may be you will say, “No;” nor will I insist upon that inquiry. But this I deal with you in: Hath it filled you with self-loathing and abhorrency, with self-condemnation and abasement? If it will do any thing, this it will do. If you come short here, it is justly to be feared that all your other pretences are of no value. Now, where there is no work of conviction there is no faith of forgiveness, whatever is pretended. And how many vain boasters this sword will cut off is evident.

7. We have yet a greater evidence than all these. Men live in sin, and therefore they do not believe forgiveness of sin. Faith in general “purifies the heart,” Acts xv. 9; our “souls are purified in obeying the truth,” 1 Pet. i. 22. And the life is made fruitful by it: James ii. 22, “Faith worketh by works,” and makes itself perfect by them. And the doctrine concerning forgiveness hath a special influence into all holiness: Tit. ii. 11, 12, “The grace of God 513that bringeth salvation, teacheth us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.” And that is the grace whereof we speak. No man can, then, believe forgiveness of sin without a detestation and relinquishment of it. The ground of this might be farther manifested, and the way of the efficacy of faith of forgiveness unto a forsaking of sin, if need were; but all that own the gospel must acknowledge this principle. The real belief of the pardon of sin is prevalent with men not to live longer in sin.

But now, what are the greatest number of those who pretend to receive this truth? Are their hearts purified by it? Are their consciences purged? Are their lives changed? Do they “deny ungodliness and worldly lusts?” Doth forgiveness teach them so to do? Have they found it effectual to these purposes? Whence is it, then, that there is such a bleating and bellowing to the contrary amongst them?

Some of you are drunkards, some of you swearers, some of you unclean persons, some of you liars, some of you worldly, some of you haters of all the ways of Christ, and all his concernments upon the earth; proud, covetous, boasters, self-seekers, envious, wrathful, back-biters, malicious, praters, slanderers, and the like. And shall we think that such as these believe forgiveness of sin? God forbid. Again; some of you are dark, ignorant, blind, utterly unacquainted with the mystery of the gospel, nor do at all make it your business to inquire into it. Either you hear it not at all, or negligently, slothfully, customarily, to no purpose. Let not such persons deceive their own souls; to live in sin and yet to believe the forgiveness of sin is utterly impossible. Christ will not be a minister of sin, nor give his gospel to be a doctrine of licentiousness for your sakes; nor shall you be forgiven that you may be delivered to do more abominations, God forbid.

If any shall say that they thank God they are no such publicans as those mentioned, they are no drunkards, no swearers, no unclean persons, nor the like, so that they are not concerned in this consideration (their lives and their duties give another account of them), then yet consider farther, that the Pharisees were all that you say of yourselves, and yet the greatest despisers of forgiveness that ever were in the world; and that because they hated the light, on this account, that their deeds were evil. And for your duties you mention, what, I pray, is the root and spring of them? Are they influenced from this faith of forgiveness you boast of or no? May it not be feared that it is utterly otherwise? You do not perform them because you love the gospel, but because you fear the law. If the truth were known, I doubt it would appear that you get nothing by 514your believing of pardon but an encouragement unto sin. Your goodness, such as it is, springs from another root. It may be, also, that you ward yourselves by it against the strokes of conscience or the guilt of particular sins; this is as bad as the other. It is as good be encouraged unto sin to commit it, as be encouraged under sin so as to be kept from humiliation for it. None under heaven are more remote from the belief of grace and pardon than such persons are; all their righteousness is from the law, and their sin in a great measure from the gospel.

8. They that believe forgiveness in a due manner, believe it for the ends and purposes for which it is revealed of God. This will farther improve and carry on the former consideration. If God reveals any thing for one end and purpose, and men use it quite unto another, they do not receive the word of God, nor believe the thing revealed, but steal the word and delude their own souls.

Let us, then, weigh to what ends and purposes this forgiveness was first revealed by God, for which also its manifestation is still continued in the gospel. We have showed before who it was to whom this revelation was first made, and what condition he was in when it was so made unto him. A lost, wretched creature, without hope or help he was; how he should come to obtain acceptance with God he knew not. God reveals forgiveness unto him by Christ to be his all. The intention of God in it was, that a sinner’s all should be of grace, Rom. xi. 6. If any thing be added unto it for the same end and purpose, then “grace is no more grace.” Again; God intended it as a new foundation of obedience, of love, and thankfulness. That men should love because forgiven, and be holy because pardoned, as I have showed before, — that it might be the righteousness of a sinner, and a spring of new obedience in him, all to the praise of grace, — were God’s ends in its revelation.

Our inquiry, then, is, Whether men do receive this revelation as unto these ends, and use it for these purposes, and these only? I might evince the contrary, by passing through the general abuses of the doctrine of grace which are mentioned in the Scripture and common in the world; but it will not be needful. Instead of believing, the most of men seem to put a studied despite on the gospel. They either proclaim it to be an unholy and polluted way, by turning its grace into lasciviousness, or a weak and insufficient way, by striving to twist it in with their own righteousness; both which are an abomination unto the Lord.

From these and such other considerations of the like importance as might be added, it is evident that our word is not in vain, nor the exhortation which is to be built upon it. It appears that notwithstanding the great noise and pretences to this purpose that are in 515the world, they are but few who seriously receive this fundamental truth of the gospel, — namely, that there is forgiveness with God. Poor creatures sport themselves with their own deceivings, and perish by their own delusions.

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