Gospel grounds and evidences of the faith of God's elect
by John Owen
"Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves.
Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye
be reprobates?"--2 Cor.13:5
Evidences of the faith of God's elect
The securing of the spiritual comforts of believers in this life is a
matter of the highest importance unto the glory of God, and their own
advantage by the gospel. For God is abundantly willing that all the heirs
of promise should receive strong consolation, and he has provided ways
and means for the communication of it to them; and their participation of
it is their principal interest in this world, and is so esteemed by them.
But their effectual refreshing enjoyment of these comforts is variously
opposed by the power of the remainders of sin, in conjunction with other
temptations. Hence, notwithstanding their right and title unto them by
the gospel, they are ofttimes actually destitute of a gracious sense of
them, and, consequently, of that relief which they are suited to afford
in all their duties, trials, and afflictions. Now, the root whereon all
real comforts do grow, whence they spring and arise, is true and saving
faith,--the faith of God's elect. Wherefore they do ordinarily answer
unto, and hold proportion with, the evidences which any have of that
faith in themselves; at least, they cannot be maintained without such
evidences. Wherefore, that we may be a little useful unto the
establishment or recovery of that consolation which God is so abundantly
willing that all the heirs of promise should enjoy, I shall inquire,
What are the principal acts and operations of faith, whereby it will
evidence its truth and sincerity in the midst of all temptations and
storms that may befall believers in this world?
And I shall insist on such alone as will bear the severest scrutiny by
Scripture and experience. And,--
The principal genuine acting of saving faith in us, inseparable from
it, yea, essential to such acting, consists in the:
choosing, embracing, and approbation of God's way of saving sinners, by
the mediation of Jesus Christ, relying thereon, with a renunciation of
all other ways and means pretending unto the same end of salvation.
This is that which we are to explain and prove.
Saving faith is our "believing the record that God has given us of his
Son," 1 John 5:10, "And this is the record, that God has given to us
eternal life; and this life is in his Son," verse 11. This is the
testimony which God gives, that great and sacred truth which he himself
bears witness unto,--namely, that he has freely prepared eternal life for
them that believe, or provided a way of salvation for them. And what God
so prepares he is said to give, because of the certainty of its
communication. So grace was promised and given to the elect in Christ
Jesus before the world began, 2 Tim.1:9; Tit.1:2. And that is so to be
communicated unto them, in and by the mediation of his Son Jesus Christ,
that it is the only way whereby God will give eternal life unto any;
which is therefore wholly in him, and by him to be obtained, and from him
to be received. Upon our acquiescence in this testimony, on our
approbation of this way of saving sinners, or our refusal of it, our
eternal safety or ruin does absolutely depend. And it is reasonable that
it should be so: for, in our receiving of this testimony of God, we "set
to our seal that God is true," John 3:33; we ascribe unto him the glory
of his truth, and therein of all the other holy properties of his
nature,--the most eminent duty whereof we are capable in this world; and
by a refusal of it, what lies in us, we make him a liar, as in this
place, 1 John 5:10, which is virtually to renounce his being.
And the solemnity wherewith this testimony is entered is very
remarkable, verse 7, "There are three that bear record in heaven, the
Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one." The
trinity of divine persons, acting distinctly in the unity of the same
divine nature, do give this testimony: and they do so by those distinct
operations whereby they act in this way and work of God's saving sinners
by Jesus Christ; which are at large declared in the gospel. And there is
added hereunto a testimony that is immediately applicatory unto the souls
of believers, of this sovereign testimony of the holy Trinity; and this
is the witness of grace and all sacred ordinances: "There are three that
bear witness in earth, the spirit, and the water, and the blood: and
these three agree in one," verse 8. They are not at essentially the same
in one and the same nature, as are the Father, Word, and Holy Ghost, yet
they all absolutely agree in the same testimony; and they do it by that
especial efficacy which they have on the souls of believer s to assure
them of this truth. In this record, so solemnly, so gloriously given and
proposed, life and death are set before us. The receiving and embracing
of this testimony, with an approbation of the way of salvation testified
unto, is that work of faith which secures us of eternal life. On these
terms there is reconciliation and agreement made and established between
God and men; without which men must perish for ever.
So our blessed Saviour affirms, "This is life eternal, that they may
know thee" (the Father) "the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou
hast sent," John 17:3. To know the Father as the only true God, to know
him as he has sent Jesus Christ to be the only way and means of the
salvation of sinners, and to know Jesus Christ as sent by him for that
end, is that grace and duty which instates us in a right to eternal life,
and initiates us in the possession of it: and this includes that choice
and approbation of the way of God for the saving of sinners whereof we
But these things must be more distinctly opened:--
1. The great fundamental difference in religion is concerning the way
and means whereby sinners may be saved. From men's different
apprehensions hereof arise all other differences about religion; and the
first thing that engages men really into any concernment in religion, is
an inquiry in their minds how sinners may be saved, or what they shall do
themselves to be saved: "What shall we do? what shall we do to be saved?"
"What is the way of acceptance with God?" is that inquiry which gives men
their first initiation into religion. See Acts 2:37; 16:30; Micah 6:6-8.
This question being once raised in the conscience, an answer must be
returned unto it. "I will consider," says the prophet, "what I shall
answer when I am reproved," Hab.2:1. And there is all the reason in the
world that men consider well of a good answer hereunto, without which
they must perish for ever; for if they cannot answer themselves here, how
do they hope to answer God hereafter? Wherefore, without a sufficient
answer always in readiness unto this inquiry, no man can have any hopes
of a blessed eternity.
Now, the real answer which men return unto themselves is according to
the influence which their minds are under from one or other of the two
divine covenants,--that of works or that of grace. And these two
covenants, taken absolutely, are inconsistent, and give answers in this
case that are directly contradictory to one another: so the apostle
declares, Rom.10:5-9. The one says, "The man that does the works of the
law shall live by them; this is the only way whereby you may be saved:"
the other wholly waives this return, and puts it all on faith in Christ
Jesus. Hence there is great difference and great variety in the answers
which men return to themselves on this inquiry; for their consciences
will neither hear nor speak any thing but what complies with the covenant
whereunto they do belong. These things are reconciled only in the blood
of Christ; and how, the apostle declared, Rom.8:3. The greatest part of
convinced sinners seem to adhere to the testimony of the covenant of
works; and so perish for ever. Nothing will stand us in stead in this
matter, nothing will save us, "but the answer of a good conscience
towards God, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ," 1 Pet.3:21.
2. The way that God has prepared for the saving of sinners is a fruit
and product of infinite wisdom, and powerfully efficacious unto its end.
As such it is to be received, or it is rejected. It is not enough that we
admit of the notions of it as declared, unless we are sensible of divine
wisdom and power in it, so as that it may be safely trusted unto. Hereon,
upon the proposal of it, falls out the eternally distinguishing
difference among men. Some look upon it and embrace it as the power and
wisdom of God; others really reject it as a thing foolish and weak, not
meet to be trusted unto. Hereof the apostle gives an account at large, 1
Cor.1:18-24. And this is mysterious in religion:--the same divine truth
is by the same way and means, at the same time, proposed unto sundry
persons, all in the same condition, under the same circumstances, all
equally concerned in that which is proposed therein: some of them hereon
do receive it, embrace it, approve of it, and trust unto it for life and
salvation; others despise it, reject it, value it not, trust not unto it.
To the one it is the wisdom of God, and the power of God; to the other,
weakness and foolishness: as it must of necessity be the one or the
other,--it is not capable of a middle state or consideration. It is not a
good way unless it be the only way; it is not a safe, it is not the best
way, if there be any other; for it is eternally inconsistent with any
other. It is the wisdom of God, or it is downright folly. And here, after
all our disputes, we must resort unto eternal sovereign grace, making a
distinction among them unto whom the gospel is proposed, and the almighty
power of actual grace in curing that unbelief which blinds the minds of
men, that they can see nothing but folly and weakness in God's way of the
saving of sinners. And this unbelief works yet in the most of them unto
whom this way of God is proposed in the gospel; they receive it not as an
effect of infinite wisdom, and as powerfully efficacious unto its proper
end. Some are profligate in the service of their lusts, and regard it
not; unto whom may be applied that [saying] of the prophet, "Hear, ye
despisers, and wonder, and perish." Some are under the power of darkness
and ignorance, so as that they apprehend not, they understand not the
mystery of it; for "the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness
comprehendeth it not." Some are blinded by Satan, as he is the god of
this world, by filling their minds with prejudice, and their hearts with
the love of present things, that the light of the glorious gospel of
Christ, who is the image of God, cannot shine into them. Some would mix
with it their own works, ways, and duties, as they belong unto the first
covenant; which are eternally irreconcilable unto this way of God, as the
apostle teaches, Rom.10:3,4. Hereby does unbelief eternally ruin the
souls of men. They do not, they cannot, approve of the way of God for
saving sinners proposed in the gospel, as an effect of infinite wisdom
and power, which they may safely trust unto, in opposition unto all other
ways and means, pretending to be useful unto the same end; and this will
give us light into the nature and acting of saving faith, which we
inquire after.
3. The whole Scripture, and all divine institutions from the beginning,
do testify, in general, that this way of God for the saving of sinners is
by commutation, substitution, atonement, satisfaction, and imputation.
This is the language of the first promise, and all the sacrifices of the
law founded thereon; this is the language of the Scripture: "There is a
way whereby sinners may be saved,--a way that God has found out and
appointed." Now, it being the law wherein sinners are concerned, the rule
of all things between God and them should seem to be by what they can do
or suffer with respect unto that law. "No," says the Scripture, "it
cannot be so; 'for by the deeds of the law no man living shall be
justified in the sight of God.'" Ps.143:2; Rom.3:20; Gal.2:16. Neither
shall it be by their personal answering of the penalty of the law which
they have broken; for they cannot do so, but they must perish eternally:
for, "If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, 0 Lord, who shall stand?"
Ps.130:3. There must therefore be, there is another way, of a different
nature and kind from these, for the saving of sinners, or there is no due
revelation made of the mind of God in the Scripture. But that there is
so, and what it is, is the main design of it to declare: and this is by
the substitution of a mediator instead of the sinners that shall be
saved, who shall both bear the penalty of the law which they had incurred
and fulfill that righteousness which they could not attain unto.
This in general is God's way of saving sinners, whether men like it or
no: "For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the
flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for
sin, condemned sin in the flesh; that the righteousness of the law might
be fulfilled in us," Rom.8:3,4. See also Heb.10:5-10. "He made him to be
sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of
God in him," 2 Cor.5:21.
Here unbelief has prevailed with many in this latter age to reject the
glory of God herein; but we have vindicated the truth against them
sufficiently elsewhere.
4. There are sundry things previously required to give us a clear view
of the glory of God in this way of saving sinners: such are, a due
consideration of the nature of the fall of our first parents, and of our
apostasy from God thereby. I may not stay here to show the nature or
aggravations of them; neither can we conceive them aright, much less
express them. I only say, that unless we have due apprehensions of the
dread and terror of them, of the invasion made on the glory of God, and
the confusion brought on the creation by them, we can never discern the
reason and glory of rejecting the way of personal righteousness, and the
establishing this way of a mediator for the saving of sinners. A due
sense of our present infinite distance from God, and the impossibility
that there is in ourselves of making any approaches unto him, is of the
same consideration; so likewise is that of our utter disability to do any
thing that may answer the law, or the holiness and righteousness of God
therein,--of our universal unconformity in our natures, hearts, and their
acting, unto the nature, holiness, and will of God. Unless, I say, we
have a sense of these things in our minds and upon our consciences, we
cannot believe aright, we cannot comprehend the glory of this new way of
salvation. And whereas mankind has had a general notion, though no
distinct apprehension, of these things, or of some of them, many amongst
them have apprehended that there is a necessity of some kind of
satisfaction or atonement to be made, that sinners may be freed from the
displeasure of God; but when God's way of it was proposed unto them, it
was, and is, generally rejected, because "the carnal mind is enmity
against God." But when these things are fixed on the soul by sharp and
durable convictions, they will enlighten it with due apprehensions of the
glory and beauty of God's way of saving sinners.
5. This is the gospel, this is the work of it,--namely, a divine
declaration of the way of God for the saving of sinners, through the
person, mediation, blood, righteousness, and intercession of Christ. This
is that which it reveals, declares, proposes, and tenders unto sinners,--
there is a way for their salvation. As this is contained in the first
promise, so the truth of every word in the Scripture depends on the
supposition of it. Without this, there could be no more intercourse
between God and us than is between him and devils. Again, it declares
that this way is not by the law or its works,--by the first covenant, or
its conditions,--by our own doing or suffering; but it is a new way,
found out in and proceeding from infinite wisdom, love, grace, and
goodness,--namely, by the incarnation of the eternal Son of God, his
susception of the office of a mediator, doing and suffering in the
discharge of it whatever was needful for the justification and salvation
of sinners, unto his own eternal glory. See Rom.3:24-27; 8:3,4; 2
Cor.5:19-21, etc.
Moreover, the gospel adds, that the only way of obtaining an interest
in this blessed contrivance of saving sinners by the substitution of
Christ, as the surety of the covenant, and thereon the imputation of our
sins to him, and of his righteousness unto us, is by faith in him.
Here comes in that trial of faith which we inquire after. This way of
saving sinners being proposed, offered, and tendered unto us in the
gospel, true and saving faith receives it, approves of it, rests in it,
renounces all other hopes and expectations, reposing its whole confidence
For it is not proposed unto us merely as a notion of truth, to be
assented to or denied, in which sense all believe the gospel that are
called Christians,--they do not esteem it a fable; but it is proposed
unto us as that which we ought practically to close withal, for ourselves
to trust alone unto it for life and salvation. And I shall speak briefly
unto two things:--I. How does saving faith approve of this way? on what
accounts, and unto what ends? II. How it does evidence and manifest
itself hereby unto the comfort of believers.
How does saving faith approve of this way? on what accounts,
and unto what ends?
First, It approves of it, as that which every way becomes God to find
out, to grant, and propose: so speaks the apostle, Heb.2:10, "It became
him, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Captain of their
salvation perfect through sufferings." That becomes God, is worthy of
him, is to be owned concerning him, which answers unto his infinite
wisdom, goodness, grace, holiness, and righteousness, and nothing else.
This faith discerns, judges, and determines concerning this way,--namely,
that it is every way worthy of God, and answers all the holy properties
of his nature. This is called "The light of the knowledge of the glory of
God in the face of Jesus Christ," 2 Cor.4:6.
This discovery of the glory of God in this way is made unto faith
alone, and by it alone it is embraced. The not discerning of it, and
thereon the want of an acquiescence in it, is that unbelief which ruins
the souls of men. The reason why men do not embrace the way of salvation
tendered in the gospel, is because they do not see nor understand how
full it is of divine glory, how it becomes God, is worthy of him, and
answers all the perfections of his nature. Their minds are blinded, that
the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, does
not shine unto them, 2 Cor.4:4. And so they deal with this way of God as
if it were weakness and folly.
Herein consists the essence and life of faith:--It sees, discerns, and
determines, that the way of salvation of sinners by Jesus Christ proposed
in the gospel, is such as becomes God and all his divine excellencies to
find out, appoint, and propose unto us. And herein does it properly give
glory to God, which is its peculiar work and excellency, Rom.4:20; herein
it rests and refreshes itself.
In particular, faith herein rejoices in the manifestation of the
infinite wisdom of God. A view of the wisdom of God acting itself by his
power in the works of creation (for in wisdom he made them all), is the
sole reason of ascribing glory unto him in all natural worship, whereby
we glorify him as God; and a due apprehension of the infinite wisdom of
God in the new creation, in the way of saving sinners by Jesus Christ, is
the foundation of all spiritual, evangelical ascription of glory to God.
It was the design of God, in a peculiar way, to manifest and glorify
his wisdom in this work. Christ crucified is the "power of God, and the
wisdom of God," 1 Cor.1:24; and "all the treasures of wisdom and
knowledge are hid in him," Col.2:3. All the treasures of divine wisdom
are laid up in Christ, and laid out about him, as to be manifested unto
faith in and by the gospels He designed herein to make known his
"manifold wisdom," Eph.3:9,10.
Wherefore, according to our apprehension and admiration of the wisdom
of God in the constitution of this way of salvation is our faith, and no
otherwise; where that does not appear unto us, where our minds are not
affected with it, there is no faith at all.
I cannot stay here to reckon up the especial instances of divine wisdom
herein. Somewhat I have attempted towards it in other writings; and I
shall only say at present, that the foundation of this whole work and
way, in the incarnation of the eternal Son of God, is so glorious an
effect of infinite wisdom, as the whole blessed creation will admire to
eternity. This of itself bespeaks this way and work divine. Herein the
glory of God shines in the face of Jesus Christ. This is of God alone;
this is that which becomes him; that which nothing but infinite wisdom
could extend unto. Whilst faith lives in a due apprehension of the wisdom
of God in this, and the whole superstruction of this way, on this
foundation it is safe.
Goodness, love, grace, and mercy, are other properties of the divine
nature, wherein it is gloriously amiable. "God is love;" there is none
God but he. Grace and mercy are among the principal titles which he
everywhere assumes to himself; and it was his design to manifest them all
to the utmost in this work and way of saving sinners by Christ, as is
everywhere declared in the Scripture. And all these lie open to the eye
of faith herein: it sees infinite goodness, love, and grace, in this way,
such as becomes God, such as can reside in none but him; which it
therefore rests and rejoices in, 1 Pet.1:8. In adherence unto, and
approbation of, this way of salvation, as expressive of these perfections
of the divine nature, does faith act itself continually.
Where unbelief prevails, the mind has no view of the glory that is in
this way of salvation, in that it is so becoming of God and all his holy
properties, as the apostle declares, 2 Cor.4:4. And where it is so,
whatever is pretended, men cannot cordially receive it and embrace it;
for they know not the reason for which it ought to be so embraced: they
see no form nor comeliness in Christ, who is the life and centre of this
way, "no beauty for which he should be desired," Isa.53:2. Hence, in the
first preaching of it, it was "unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto
the Greeks foolishness;" for by reason of their unbelief they could not
see it to be, what it is, "the power of God, and the wisdom of God;" and
so it must be esteemed, or be accounted folly.
Yea, from the same unbelief it is that at this day the very notion of
the truth herein is rejected by many, even all those who are called
Socinians, and all that adhere unto them in the disbelief of supernatural
mysteries. They cannot see a suitableness in this way of salvation unto
the glory of God,--as no unbeliever can; and therefore those of them who
do not oppose directly the doctrine of it, yet do make no use of it unto
its proper end. Very few of them, comparatively, who profess the truth of
the gospel, have an experience of the power of it unto their own
But here true faith stands invincibly,--hereby it will evidence its
truth and sincerity in the midst of all temptations, and the most dismal
conflicts it has with them; yea, against the perplexing power and charge
of sin thence arising. From this stronghold it will not be driven; whilst
the soul can exercise faith herein,--namely, in steadily choosing,
embracing, and approving of God's way of saving sinners by Jesus Christ,
as that wherein he will be eternally glorified, because it is suited
unto, and answers all the perfections of, his nature, is that which every
way becomes him,--it will have wherewith to relieve itself in all its
trials. For this is faith, this is saving faith, which will not fail us.
That faith which works in the soul a gracious persuasion of the
excellency of this way, by a sight of the glory of the wisdom, power,
grace, love, and goodness of God in it, so as to be satisfied with it, as
the best, the only way of coming unto God, with a renunciation of all
other ways and means unto that end, will at all times evidence its nature
and sincerity.
And this is that which gives the soul rest and satisfaction, as unto
its entrance into glory, upon its departure out of this world. It is a
great thing, to apprehend in a due manner that a poor soul that has been
guilty of many sins, leaving the body, it may be, under great pain,
distress, and anguish, it may be by outward violence, should be
immediately admitted and received into the glorious presence of God, with
all the holy attendants of his throne, there to enjoy rest and
blessedness for evermore. But here also faith discerns and approves of
this great, of this ineffable, divine operation, as that which becomes
the infinite greatness of that wisdom and grace which first designed it,
the glorious efficacy of the mediation of Christ, and the excellency of
the sanctification of the Holy Spirit, without any expectation from any
thing in itself, as a cause meritorious of an admission into this glory.
Neither did ever any man know what it is, or desire it in a due manner,
who looked for any desert of it in himself, or conceived any proportion
between it and what he is or has done in this world. Hence some of those
who have not this faith have invented another state, after men are gone
out of this world, to make them meet for heaven, which they call
purgatory; for on what grounds a man should expect an entrance into
glory, on his departure out of this world, they understand not.
Let them who are exercised with temptations and dejections bring their
faith unto this trial; and this is the case, in various degrees, of us
all:--First, then, examine strictly by the word whether this be a true
description of the nature and acting of saving faith. Sundry things are
supposed or asserted in it; as,--1. That the way of saving sinners by
Jesus Christ is the principal effect of divine wisdom, power, goodness,
love, and grace. 2. That the design of the gospel is to manifest,
declare, and testify that so it is, and so to make known the glory of God
therein. 3. That saving faith is that act, duty, and work of the soul,
whereby we receive the record of God concerning these things, [and] do
ascribe the glory of them all unto him, as discovering it in the way of
life proposed unto us. 4. That hereon it proceeds unto a renunciation of
all other ways, means, hopes, reliefs, in opposition unto this way, or in
conjunction with it, as unto acceptance with God in life and salvation. I
say, in the first place, examine these things strictly by the word; and
if they appear to be (as they are) sacred, evangelical, fundamental
truths, be not moved from them, be not shaken in them, by any temptation
And, in the next place, bring your faith to the trial on these
principles: What do you judge concerning God's way of saving sinners by
Jesus Christ, as proposed in the gospel? Are you satisfied in it, that it
is such as becomes God, and answers all the glorious attributes of his
nature? Would you have any other way proposed in the room of it? Can you,
will you, commit the eternal welfare of your souls unto the grace and
faithfulness of God in this way, so as that you have no desire to be
saved any other way? Does the glory of God in any measure shine forth
unto you in the face of Jesus Christ? Do you find a secret joy in your
hearts upon the sstisfaction you take in the proposal of this way unto
you by the gospel? Do you, in all your fears and temptations, in all
approaches of death, renounce all other reserves and reliefs, and retake
your whole confidence unto this way alone, and the representation of God
made therein? Herein lies that faith, and its exercise, which will be an
anchor unto your souls in all their trials.
And this is the first and principal ground, or reason, whereon faith,
divine and saving, does accept, embrace, and approve of the way of God's
saving sinners by Jesus Christ,--namely, because it is such as does
become him, and every way answer unto all the holy properties of his
nature, which are manifested and glorified therein. And where faith does
approve of it on this ground and reason, it does evidence itself to be
truly evangelical, unto the supportment and comfort of them in whom it
Secondly, It does so approve of this way as that which it finds suited
unto the whole design and all the desires of an enlightened soul. So when
our Lord Jesus Christ compares the kingdom of God (which is this way of
salvation) unto a treasure and a precious pearl, he affirms that those
who found them had great joy and the highest satisfaction, as having
attained that which suited their desires, and gave rest unto their minds.
A soul enlightened with the knowledge of the truth, and made sensible
of its own condition by spiritual conviction, has two predominant desires
and aims, whereby it is wholly regulated,--the one is, that God may be
gloried; and the other, that itself may be eternally saved. Nor can it
forego either of these desires, nor are they separable in any enlightened
soul. It can never cease in either of these desires, and that to the
highest degree. The whole world cannot dispossess an enlightened mind of
either of them. Profligate sinners have no concernment in the former; no,
nor yet those who are under legal convictions, if they have wherewithal
received no spiritual light. They would be saved; but for the glory of
God therein, he may look to that himself,--they are not concerned in it:
for that which they mean by salvation is nothing but a freedom from
external misery. This they would have, whether God be [glorified] or no;
of what is salvation truly they have no desire.
But the first beam of spiritual light and grace instates an
indefatigable desire of the glory of God in the minds and souls of them
in whom it is. Without this the soul knows not how to desire its own
salvation. I may say, it would not be saved in a way wherein God should
not be glorified; for without that, whatever its state should be, it
would not be that which we call salvation. The exaltation of the glory of
God belongs essentially thereunto; it consists in the beholding and
enjoyment of that glory. This desire, therefore, is immovably fixed in
the mind and soul of every enlightened person; he can admit of no
proposal of eternal things that is inconsistent with it.
But, moreover, in every such person there is a ruling desire of his own
salvation. It is natural unto him, as a creature made for eternity; it is
inseparable from him, as he is a convinced sinner. And the clearer the
light of any one is in the nature of this salvation, the more is this
desire heightened and confirmed in him.
Here, then, lies the inquiry,--namely, how these two prevalent desires
may be reconciled and satisfied in the same mind? For, as we are sinners,
there seems to be an inconsistency between them. The glory of God, in his
justice and holiness, requires that sinners should die and perish
eternally. So speaks the law; this is the language of conscience, and the
voice of all our fears: wherefore, for a sinner to desire, in the first
place, that God may be glorified is to desire that himself may be damned.
Which of these desires shall the sinner cleave unto? Unto whether of
them shall he give the preeminence? Shall he cast off all hopes and
desires of his own salvation, and be content to perish forever? This he
cannot do; God does not require it of him,--he has given him the contrary
in charge whilst he is in this world. Shall he, then, desire that God may
part with and lose his glory, so as that, one way or other, he may be
saved? Bring himself unto an unconcernment what becomes of it? This can
be no more in an enlightened mind than it can cease to desire its own
salvation. But how to reconcile these things in himself a sinner finds
Here, therefore, the glory of this way represents itself unto the faith
of every believer. It not only brings these desires into a perfect
consistency and harmony, but makes them to increase and promote one
another. The desire of God's glory increases the desire of our own
salvation; and the desire of our own salvation enlarges and inflames the
desire of glorifying God therein and thereby. These things are brought
into a perfect consistency and mutual subserviency in the blood of
Christ, Rom.3:24-26; for this way is that which God has found out, in
infinite wisdom, to glorify himself in the salvation of sinners. There is
not any thing wherein the glory of God does or may consist, but in this
way is reconciled unto, and consistent with, the salvation of the
chiefest of sinners. There is no property of his nature but is gloriously
exalted in and by it. An answer is given in it unto all the objections of
the law against the consistency of the glory of God and the salvation of
sinners. It pleads his truth in his threatening, in the sanction of the
law, with the curse annexed;--it pleads his righteousness, holiness, and
severity, all engaged to destroy sinners;--it pleads the instance of
God's dealing with the angels that sinned, and calls in the witness of
conscience to testify the truth of all its allegations: but there is a
full and satisfactory answer given unto this whole plea of the law in
this way of salvation. God declares in it, and by it, how he has provided
for the satisfaction of all these things, and the exaltation of his glory
in them; as we shall see immediately.
Here true faith will fix itself in all its distresses. "Whatever," says
the soul, "be my state and condition, whatever be my fears and
perplexities, whatever oppositions I meet withal, yet I see in Jesus
Christ, in the glass of the gospel, that there is no inconsistency
between the glory of God and my salvation. That otherwise insuperable
difficulty laid by the law in the way of my life and comfort, is utterly
removed." Whilst faith keeps this hold in the soul, with a constant
approbation of this way of salvation by Christ, as that which gives
[such] a consistency unto both its governing desires, that it shall not
need forego either of them,--so as to be contented to be damned that God
may be glorified, as some have spoken, or to desire salvation without a
due regard unto the glory of God,--it will be an anchor to stay the soul
in all its storms and distresses. Some benefit which will certainly ensue
hereon we may briefly mention.
1. The soul will be hereby preserved from ruining despair, in all the
distresses that may befall it. Despair is nothing but a prevalent
apprehension of [the] mind that the glory of God and a man's salvation
are inconsistent;--that God cannot be just, true, holy, or righteous, if
he in whom that apprehension is may be saved. Such a person does conclude
that his salvation is impossible, because, one way or other, it is
inconsistent with the glory of God; for nothing else can render it
impossible. Hence arises in the mind an utter dislike of God, with
revengeful thoughts against him for being what he is. This cuts off all
endeavours of reconciliation, yea, begets an abhorrence of all the means
of it, as those which are weak, foolish, and insufficient. Such are
Christ and his cross unto men under such apprehensions; they judge them
unable to reconcile the glory of God and their salvation. Then is a soul
in an open entrance into hell. From this cursed frame and ruin the soul
is safely preserved by faith's maintaining in the mind and heart a due
persuasion of the consistency and harmony that is between the glory of
God and its own salvation. Whilst this persuasion is prevalent in it,
although it cannot attain any comfortable assurance of an especial
interest in it, yet it cannot but love, honour, value, and cleave unto
this way, adoring the wisdom and grace of God in it; which is an act and
evidence of saving faith. See Ps.130:3,4. Yea,--
2. It will preserve the soul from heartless despondencies. Many in
their temptations, darknesses, fears, surprisals by sin, although they
fall [not] into ruining desperation, yet they fall under such desponding
fears and various discouragements, as keep them off from a vigorous
endeavour after a recovery: and hereon, for want of the due exercise of
grace, they grow weaker and darker every day, and are in danger to pine
away in their sins. But where faith keeps the soul constant unto the
approbation of God's way of saving sinners, as that wherein the glory of
God and its own salvation are not only fully reconciled but made
inseparable, it will stir up all graces unto a due exercise, and the
diligent performance of all duties, whereby it may obtain a refreshing
sense of a personal interest in it.
3. It will keep the heart full of kindness towards God; whence love and
gracious hope will spring. It is impossible but that a soul overwhelmed
with a sense of sin, and thereon filled with self-condemnation, but if it
has a view of the consistency of the glory of God with its deliverance
and salvation, through a free contrivance of infinite wisdom and grace,
it must have such kindness for him, such gracious thoughts of him, as
will beget and kindle in it both love and hope, as Mic.7:18-20; Ps.85:8;
1 Tim.1:15.
4. A steady continuance in the approbation of God's way of salvation,
on the reason mentioned, will lead the mind into that exercise of faith
which both declares its nature and is the spring of all the saving
benefits which we receive by it. Now, this is such a spiritual light
into, and discovery of, the revelation and declaration made in the gospel
of the wisdom, love, grace, and mercy of God in Christ Jesus, and the way
of the communication of the effect of them unto sinners by him, as that
the soul finds them suited unto and able for the pardon of its own sins,
its righteousness and salvation; so as that it places its whole trust and
confidence for these ends therein.
This being the very life of faith, that act and exercise of it whereby
we are justified and saved, and whereby it evidences its truth and
sincerity against all temptations, I shall insist a little on the
explanation of the description of it now given. And there are three
things in it, or required unto it:--
(1.) A spiritual light into, and discovery of, the revelation and
declaration made in the gospel of the wisdom, love, grace, and mercy of
God in Christ Jesus. It is not a mere assent unto the truth of the
revelation or authority of the revealer;--this, indeed, is supposed and
included in it; but it adds thereunto a spiritual discerning, perception,
and understanding of the things themselves revealed and declared; without
which, a bare assent unto the truth of the revelation is of no advantage.
This is called "The light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the
face of Jesus Christ," 2 Cor.4:6; the increase whereof in all believers
the apostle does earnestly pray for, Eph.1:15-20. So we discern spiritual
things in a spiritual manner; and hence arises "the full assurance of
understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the
Father, and of Christ," Col.2:2; or a spiritual sense of the power,
glory, and beauty of the things contained in this mystery: so to know
Christ as to know "the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of
his sufferings," Phil.3:10.
Faith affects the mind with an ineffable sense, taste, experience, and
acknowledgment of the greatness, the glory, the power, the beauty of the
things revealed and proposed in this way of salvation. The soul in it is
enabled to see and understand that all the things belonging unto it are
such as become God, his wisdom, goodness, and love; as was before
declared. And a spiritual light enabling hereunto is of the essence of
saving faith; unless this be in us, we do not, we cannot, give glory to
God in any assent unto the truth. And faith is that grace which God has
prepared, fitted, and suited, to give unto him the glory that is his due
in the work of our redemption and salvation.
(2.) Upon this spiritual light into this revelation of God and his
glory, in this way of saving sinners, the mind by faith finds and sees
that all things in it are suited unto its own justification and salvation
in particular, and that the power of God is in them to make them
effectual unto that end. This is that act and work of faith whereon the
whole blessed event does depend. It will not avail a man to see all sorts
of viands and provisions, if they be no way suited unto his appetite, nor
meet for his nourishment; nor will it be unto a man's spiritual advantage
to take a view of the excellencies of the gospel, unless he find them
suited unto his condition. And this is the hardest task and work that
faith has to go through with.
Faith is not an especial assurance of a man's own justification and
salvation by Christ; that it will produce, but not until another step or
two in its progress be over: but faith is a satisfactory persuasion that
the way of God proposed in the gospel is fitted, suited, and able to save
the soul in particular that does believe,--not only that it is a blessed
way to save sinners in general, but that it is such a way to save him in
particular. So is this matter stated by the apostle, 1 Tim.1:15, "This is
a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation," or approbation, "that
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief."
His faith does not abide here, nor confine itself unto this, that Christ
Jesus came into the world to save sinners, that this is the holy and
blessed way of God for the salvation of sinners in general; but he puts
in for his own particular interest in that way: "It is God's way, fitted,
and suited, and able to save me, who am the chiefest of sinners."
And this, as was said, is the greatest and the most difficult work of
faith; for we suppose, concerning the person who is to believe,--
[1.] That he is really and effectually convinced of the sin of [our]
nature, of our apostasy from God therein, the loss of his image, and the
direful effects that ensue thereon. [2.] That he has due apprehensions of
the holiness and severity of God, of the sanction and curse of the law,
with a right understanding of the nature of sin and its demerit. [3.]
That he have a full conviction of his own actual sins, with all their
aggravations, from their greatness, their number, and all sorts of
circumstances. [4.] That he has a sense of the guilt of secret or unknown
sins, which have been multiplied by that continual proneness unto sin
which he finds working in him. [5.] That he seriously consider what it is
to appear before the judgment-seat of God, to receive a sentence for
eternity, with all other things of the like nature, inseparable from him
as a sinner.
When it is really thus with any man, he shall find it the hardest thing
in the world, and clogged with the most difficulties, for him to believe
that the way of salvation proposed unto him is suited, fitted, and every
way able to save him in particular,--to apprehend it such as none of his
objections can rise up against, or stand before. But this is that, in the
second place, that the faith of God's elect will do: it will enable the
soul to discern and satisfy itself that there is in this way of God every
thing that is needful unto its own salvation. And this it will do on a
spiritual understanding and due consideration of,--[1.] The infiniteness
of that wisdom, love, grace, and mercy, which is the original or
sovereign cause of the whole way, with the ample declaration and
confirmation made of them in the gospel. [2.] Of the unspeakably glorious
way and means for the procuring and communicating unto us of all the
effects of that wisdom, grace, and mercy,--namely, the incarnation and
mediation of the Son of God, in his oblation and intercession. [3.] Of
the great multitude and variety of precious promises, engaging the truth,
faithfulness, and power of God, for the communication of righteousness
and salvation from those springs, by that means. I say, on the just
consideration of these things, with all other encouragements wherewith
they are accompanied, the soul concludes by faith that there is salvation
for itself in particular, to be attained in that way.
(3.) The last act of faith, in the order of nature, is the soul's
acquiescence in, and trust unto, this way of salvation for itself and its
own eternal condition, with a renunciation of all other ways and means
for that end. And because Jesus Christ, in his person, mediation, and
righteousness, is the life and centre of this way, as he in whom alone
God will glorify his wisdom, love, grace, and mercy,--as he who has
purchased, procured, and wrought all this salvation for us,--whose
righteousness is imputed unto us for our justification, and who in the
discharge of his office does actually bestow it upon us,--he is the
proper and immediate object of faith, in this act of trust and affiance.
This is that which is called in the Scripture believing in Christ,--
namely, the trusting unto him alone for life and salvation, as the whole
of divine wisdom and grace is administered by him unto these ends. For
this we come unto him, we receive him, we believe in him, we trust him,
we abide in him; with all those other ways whereby our faith in him is
And this is the second ground or reason whereon faith does close with,
embrace, and approve of God's way of saving sinners; whereby it will
evidence itself, unto the comfort of them in whom it is, in the midst of
all their trials and temptations.
Thirdly, Faith approves of this way, as that which makes the glory of
God, in the giving and the sanction of the law, to be as eminently
conspicuous as if it had been perfectly fulfilled by every one of us in
our own persons. The law was a just representation of the righteousness
and holiness of God; and the end for which it was given was, that it
might be the means and instrument of the eternal exaltation of his glory
in these holy properties of his nature. Let no man imagine that God has
laid aside this law, as a thing of no more use; or that he will bear a
diminution of that glory, or any part of it, which he designed in the
giving of it. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but no jot or little of
the law shall do so. No believer can desire, or be pleased with, his own
salvation, unless the glory of God designed by the law be secured. He
cannot desire that God should forego any part of his glory that he might
be saved. Yea, this is that on the account whereof he principally
rejoices in his own salvation,--namely, that it is that wherein God will
be absolutely, universally, and eternally glorified.
Now, in this way of saving sinners by Jesus Christ, by mercy, pardon,
and the righteousness of another (of all which the law knows nothing),
faith does see and understand how all that glory which God designed in
the giving of the law is eternally secured and preserved entire, without
eclipse or diminution. The way whereby this is done is declared in the
gospel. See Rom.3:24-26l 8:2-4; 10:3,4. Hereby faith is enabled to answer
all the challenges and charges of the law, with all its pleas for the
vindication of divine justice, truth and holiness; it has that to offer
which gives it the utmost satisfaction in all its pleas for God: so is
this answer managed, Rom.8:32-34.
And this is the first way whereby the faith of God's elect does
evidence itself in the minds and consciences of them that do believe, in
the midst of all their contests with sin, their trials and temptations,
to their relief and comfort,--namely, the closing with, and approbation
of, God's way of saving sinners by Jesus Christ, on the grounds and
reasons which have been declared.
The second evidence of the faith of God's elect
The second way whereby true faith does evidence itself in the souls and
consciences of believers, unto their supportment and comfort under all
their conflicts with sin, in all their trials and temptations, is by a
constant approbation of the revelation of the will of God in the
Scripture concerning our holiness, and the obedience unto himself which
he requires of us. This faith will never forego, whatever trials it may
undergo, whatever darkness the mind may fall into; this it will abide by
in all extremities. And that it may appear to be a peculiar effect or
work of saving faith, some things are to be premised and considered:--
1. There is in all men by nature a light enabling them to judge of the
difference that is between what is morally good and what is evil,
especially in things of more than ordinary importance. This light is not
attained or acquired by us; we are not taught it, we do not learn it: it
is born with us, and inseparable from us; it prevents [exists previously
to] consideration and reflection, working naturally, and in a sort
necessarily, in the first acting of our souls.
And the discerning power of this light, as to the moral nature of men's
actions, is accompanied inseparably with a judgment that they make
concerning themselves as unto what they do of the one kind or other, and
that with respect unto the superior judgment of God about the same
things. This the apostle expressly ascribes unto the Gentiles, who had
not the law, Rom.2:14,15: "The Gentiles, which have not the law, do by
nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a
law unto themselves: which show the work of the law written in their
hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts the
meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another." This is a most exact
description of a natural conscience, in both the powers of it; it
discerns that good and evil which is commanded and forbidden in the law,
and it passes an acquitting or condemning judgment and sentence,
according to what men have done.
Wherefore, this approbation of duties in things moral is common unto
all men. The light whereby it is guided may be variously improved, as it
was in some of the Gentiles; and it may be stifled in some, until it seem
to be quite extinguished, until they become like the beasts that perish.
And where the discerning power of this light remains, yet, through a
continual practice of sin and obduracy therein, the judging power of it
as unto all its efficacy may be lost: so the apostle declares concerning
them who are judicially hardened and given up unto sin, Rom.1:32, "These,
knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are
worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do
them." They still discern what is evil and sinful, and know what is the
judgment of God conceding such things; but yet the love of sin and custom
in sinning do so far prevail in them, as to contemn both their own light
and God's judgment, so as to delight in what is contrary unto them. These
the apostle describes, Eph.4:19, "Being past feeling" (all sense of
convictions), "they have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to
work all uncleanness with greediness;" such as the world is filled withal
at this day.
This is not that approbation of obedience which we inquire after; it
is, in some measure, in the worst of men, nor has it any likeness unto
that duty of faith which we treat of, as will immediately appear.
2. There is a farther knowledge of good and evil by the law, and this
is also accompanied with a judgment acquitting or condemning; for the law
has the same judging power and authority over men that their own
consciences have,--namely, the authority of God himself. The law is to
sinners as the tree of knowledge of good and evil,--it opens their eyes
to see the nature of what they have done; for "by the law is the
knowledge of sin," Rom.3:20: and so is the knowledge of duty also; for it
is the adequate rule of all duty. There is, I say, a knowledge and
conviction of duty and sin communicated unto men by the law, and those
far more clear and distinct than what is or can be found in men from the
mere light of nature; for it extends to more instances, that being
generally lost where it is alone, as unto many important duties and sins;
and it declares the nature of every sin and duty far more clearly than
natural light of itself can do.
And this knowledge of good and evil by the law may be so improved in
the minds of men as to press them unto a performance of all known duties,
and an abstinence from all known sins, with a judgment on them all. But
yet herein does not consist that approbation of holiness and obedience
which faith will produce; for,--
(1.) As unto approbation or condemnation of good or evil: that which is
by the law is particular, or has respect unto particular duties and sins,
according as occasion does present them; and extends not unto the whole
law absolutely, and all that is required in it. I do not say it is always
partial; there is a legal sincerity that may have respect unto all known
duties and sins, though it be very rare. Hardly shall we find a person
merely under the power of the law, who does not evidence an indulgence
unto some sin, and a neglect of some duties: but such a thing there may
be; it was in Paul, in his pharisaism,--he was, "touching the
righteousness which is in the law, blameless," Phil.3:6. He allowed not
himself in any known sin, nor in the neglect of any known duty; nor could
others charge him with any defect therein,--he was blameless. But where
this is, still this approbation or condemnation is particular,--that is,
they do respect particular duties and sins as they do occur; there is not
a respect in them unto the whole righteousness and holiness of the law,
as we shall see. Wherefore, a man may approve of every duty in its season
as it is offered unto him, or when at any time he thinks of it by an act
of his fixed judgment; and so, on the contrary, as unto sin; and yet come
short of that approbation of holiness and righteousness which we inquire
(2.) It is not accompanied with a love of the things themselves that
are good, as they are so, and a hatred of the contrary; for the persons
in whom it is do not, cannot, "delight in the law of God after the inward
man," as Rom.7:22, so as to approve of it, and all that is contained in
it, cleaving to them with love and delight. They may have a love for this
or that duty, and a hatred of the contrary, but it is on various
considerations, suited unto their convictions and circumstances; but it
is not on the account of its formal nature, as good or evil. Wherefore,--
(3.) No man, without the light of saving faith, can constantly and
universally approve of the revelation of the will of God, as unto our
holiness and obedience.
To make this evident, which is the foundation of our present discovery
of the acting of saving faith, we must consider,--[1.] What it is that is
to be approved. [2.] What this approbation is, or wherein it does
[1.] That which is to be approved is the holiness and obedience which
God requires in us, our natures, and actions, and accepts from us, or
accepts in ups. It is not particular duties as they occur unto us, taken
alone and by themselves, but the universal correspondence of our natures
and actions unto the will of God. The Scripture gives us various
descriptions of it, because of the variety of graces and gracious
operations which concur therein. We may here mention some of its
principal concerns, having handled the nature of it at large elsewhere;
for it may he considered,--1st. As unto its foundation, spring, and
causes: and this is the universal renovation of our natures into the
image of God, Eph.4:24; or the change of our whole souls, in all their
faculties and powers, into his likeness, whereby we become new creatures,
or the workmanship of God created in Christ Jesus unto good works, 2
Cor.5:17, Eph.2:10; wherein we are originally and formally sanctified
throughout, in our "whole spirit, and soul, and body," 1 Thess.5:23. It
is the whole law of God written in our hearts, transforming them into the
image of the divine holiness, represented therein. And this, next unto
the blood of Christ and his righteousness, is the principal spring of
peace, rest, and complacency, in and unto the souls of believers: it is
their joy and satisfaction to find themselves restored unto a likeness
and conformity unto God, as we shall see farther immediately. And where
there is not some gracious sense and experience hereof, there is nothing
but disorder and confusion in the soul; nothing can give it a sweet
composure, a satisfaction in itself, a complacency with what it is, but a
spiritual sense of this renovation of the image of God in it.
2dly. It may be considered as unto its permanent principle in the mind
and affections; and this, because of its near relation unto Christ, its
conjunction with him, and derivation from him, is sometimes said to be
Christ himself. Hence we live, yet not so much we as Christ lives in us,
Gal.2:20; for "without him we can do nothing," John 15:5; for "he is our
life," Col.3:4. As it resides in believers, it is a permanent principle
of spiritual life, light, love, and power, acting in the whole soul and
all the faculties of the mind, enabling them to cleave unto God with
purpose of heart, and to live unto him in all the acts and duties of
spiritual life: this is that whereby the Holy Ghost is "in them a well of
water, springing up into everlasting life," John 4:14. It is the spirit
that is born of the Spirit; it is the divine nature, whereof we are made
partakers by the promises; it is a principle of victorious faith and
love, with all graces any way requisite unto duties of holy obedience; as
to the matter or manner of their performance, enabling the soul unto all
the acts of the life of God, with delight, joy, and complacency.
This it is in its nature. However, as unto degrees of its operation and
manifestation, it may be very low and weak in some true believers, at
least for a season; but there are none who are really so, but there is in
them a spiritually vital principle of obedience, or of living unto God,
that is participant of the nature of that which we have described; and if
it be attended unto, it will evidence itself in its power and operations
unto the gracious refreshment and satisfaction of the soul wherein it is.
And there are few who are so destitute of those evidences but that they
are able to say, "Whereas I was blind, now I see, though I know not how
my eyes were opened; whereas I was dead, I find motions of a new life in
me, in breathing after grace, in hungering and thirsting after
righteousness, though I know not how I was quickened."
3dly. It may be considered as unto its disposition, inclinations, and
motions. These are the first acting of a vital principle; as the first
acting of sin are called "the motions of sin" working in our members,
Rom.7:5. Such motions and inclinations unto obedience do work in the
minds of believers, from this principle of holiness; it produces in them
a constant, invariable disposition unto all duties of the life of God. It
is a new nature, and a nature cannot be without suitable inclinations and
motions; and this new spiritual disposition consists in a constant
complacency of mind in that which is good and according to the will of
God, in an adherence by love unto it, in a readiness and fixedness of
mind with respect unto particular duties. In brief, it is that which
David describes in the 119th Psalm throughout, and that which is
figuratively foretold concerning the efficacy of the grace of the gospel
in changing the natures and dispositions of those that are partakers of
it, Isa.11:6-8.
This every believer may ordinarily find in himself; for although this
disposition may be variously weakened, opposed, interrupted by indwelling
sin, and the power of temptation; though it may be impaired by a neglect
of the stirring up and exercise of the principle of spiritual life, in
all requisite graces, on all occasions; yet it will still be working in
them, and will fill the mind with a constant displicency with itself,
when it is not observed, followed, improved. No believer shall ever have
peace in his own mind, who has not some experience of a universal
disposition unto all holiness and godliness in his mind and soul: herein
consists that love of the law, of which it is said those in whom it is
have "great peace, and nothing shall offend them," Ps.119:165; it is that
wherein their souls find much complacency.
4thly. It may be considered with respect unto all the acts, duties, and
works, internal and external, wherein our actual obedience does consist.
Being, on the principles mentioned, made free from sin, and becoming the
servants of God, believers herein have their "fruit unto holiness,"
whereof "the end is everlasting life," Rom.6:22. This I need not stay to
describe. Sincerity in every duty, and universality with respect unto all
duties, are the properties of it.
"This is the will of God, even your sanctification," 1 Thess.4:3; that
"holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord," Heb.12:14; "that
good, and acceptable, and perfect will of Cod" which we are to approve,
[2.] Our next inquiry is, what is that approbation of this way of
holiness which we place as an evidence of saving faith? And I say, it is
such as arises from experience, and is accompanied with choice, delight,
and acquiescence; it is the acting of the soul in a delightful adherence
unto the whole will of God; it is a resolved judgment of the beauty and
excellency of that holiness and obedience which the gospel reveals and
requires, and that on the grounds which shall be immediately declared,
and the nature thereof therein more fully opened.
This approbation cannot be in any unregenerate person, who is not under
the conduct of saving faith, who is destitute of the light of it. So the
apostle assures us, Rom.8:7, "The carnal mind is enmity against God: for
it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." Whatever
work it may have wrought in it, or upon it, yet, whilst it is carnal or
unrenewed, it has a radical enmity unto the law of God; which is the
frame of heart which stands in direct opposition unto this approbation.
It may think well of this or that duty, from its convictions and other
considerations, and so attend unto their performance; but the law itself,
in the universal holiness which it requires, it does utterly dislike:
those in whom it is are "alienated from the life of God through the
ignorance that is in them," Eph.4:18. This life of God is that holiness
and obedience which he requires of us in their principles and duties; and
to be alienated from it is to dislike and disapprove of it: and such is
the frame of mind in all unregenerate persons.
Having thus prepared the way, I return unto the declaration and
confirmation of the assertion, namely,--
Treat true and saving faith, in all storms and temptations, in all
darknesses and distresses, will evidence itself unto the comfort and
supportment of them in whom it is, by a constant, universal approbation
of the whole will of God, concerning our holiness and obedience, both in
general and in every particular instance of it.
We may a little explain it:--
1. Faith will not suffer the mind, on any occasion or temptation, to
entertain the least dislike of this way of holiness, or of any thing that
belongs unto it. The mind may sometimes, through temptations, fall under
apprehensions that one shall be eternally ruined for want of a due
compliance with it; this makes it displeased with itself, but not with
the obedience required. Rom.7:10,12, "The commandment, which was ordained
to life, I found to be unto death; but the law is holy, and the
commandment holy, and just, and good." "However it be with me, whatever
becomes of me, though I die and perish, yet the law is holy, just, and
good." It dislikes nothing in the will of God, though it cannot attain
unto a compliance with it. Sometimes the conscience is under perplexities
and rebukes for sin; sometimes the mind is burdened by the tergiversation
of the flesh unto duties that are cross unto its inclinations and
interests; sometimes the world threatens the utmost dangers unto the
performance of some duties of religion: but none of these are able to
provoke the soul that is under the conduct of faith to dislike, to think
hard of, any of those ways and duties whence these difficulties arise.
2. As it will not dislike any thing in this way of holiness, so it will
not desire on any occasion that there should be any alteration in it, or
any abatement of it, or of any thing required in it. Naaman the Syrian
liked well of the worship of the true God in general; but he would have
an abatement of duty as to one instance, in compliance with his earthly
interest, which discovered his hypocrisy. Such imaginations may befall
the minds of men, that if they might be excused, in this or that
instance, unto duties that are dangerous and troublesome (like profession
in the times of persecution), or might be indulged in this or that sin,
which either their inclinations are very prone unto, or their secular
interest do call for, they should do well enough with all other things.
Accordingly, the practice of many does answer their inclination and
desire. They will profess religion and obedience unto God, but will keep
back part of the price;--will hide a wedge in their tents, through
indulgence unto some corruption, or dislike of some duties in their
circumstances: they would give unto themselves the measure of their
obedience. And according as men's practice is, so do they desire that
things indeed should be, that that practice should please God which
pleased them. This faith abhors; the soul that is under the conduct of it
is not capable of any one desire that any thing were otherwise than it is
in the will of God concerning our holiness and obedience, no more than it
can desire that God should not be what he is. No; though any imagination
should arise in it, that by some change and abatement in some instances
it might be saved, which now is uncertain whether that be so or no, it
will admit of no such composition, but will choose to stand or fall unto
the entire will of God.
We shall therefore, in the next place, proceed to inquire on what
grounds it is that faith does thus approve of the whole will of God, as
unto our holiness and obedience; as also, how it evidences itself so to
do. And these grounds are two:--the one respecting God; the other, our
own souls.
First, Faith looks on the holiness required of us as that which is
suited unto the holiness of God himself,--as that which it is meet for
him to require, on the account of his own nature, and the infinite
perfections thereof. The rule is, "Be ye holy, for I the LORD your God am
holy;"--"I require that of you which becomes and answers my own holiness;
because I am holy, it is necessary that you should be so; if you are mine
in a peculiar manner, your holiness is that which becomes my holiness to
We have before declared what this gospel holiness is, wherein it does
consist, and what is required thereunto;--and they may be all considered
either as they are in us, inherent in us, and performed by us; or as they
are in themselves, in their own nature, and in the will of God. In the
first way, I acknowledge that, by reason of our weaknesses,
imperfections, and partial renovation only, as to degrees, in this life,
with our manifold defects and sins, they make not a clear representation
of the holiness of God; however, they are the best image of it, even as
in the meanest of believers, that this world can afford. But in
themselves, and their own nature, as it lies in the will of God, they
make up the most glorious representation of himself that God ever did or
will grant in this world; especially if we comprise therein the
exemplification of it in the human nature of Christ himself: for the
holiness that is in believers is of the same nature and kind with that
which was and is in Jesus Christ, though his exceed theirs inconceivably
in degrees of perfection.
Wherefore we are required to be holy, as the Lord our God is holy; and
perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect: which we could not be, but
that in our holiness and perfection there is a resemblance and
answerableness unto the holiness and perfection of God. And if a due
sense hereof were continually upon our hearts, it would influence us unto
greater care and diligence in all instances of duty and sin than, for the
most part, we do attain unto and preserve. If we did on all occasions
sincerely and severely call ourselves to an account whether our frames,
ways, and actions bear a due resemblance unto the holiness and
perfections of God, it would be a spiritual preservative on all
Faith, I say, then, discerns the likeness of God in this holiness, and
every part of it,--sees it as that which becomes him to require; and
thereon approves of it, reverencing God in it all: and it does so in all
the parts of it, in all that belongs unto it.
1. It does so principally in the inward form of it, which we before
described,--in the new creature, the new nature, the reparation of the
image of God that is in it: in the beauty hereof it continually beholds
the likeness and glory of God. For it is created "kata Theon",--according
unto God, after him, or in his image,--"in righteousness and true
holiness," Eph.4:24. "The new man is renewed after the image of him that
created him," Col.3:10.
When God first created all things, the heavens and the earth, with all
that is contained in them, he left such footsteps and impressions of his
infinite wisdom, goodness, and power, on them, that they might signify
and declare his perfection,--his eternal power and Godhead; yet did he
not, he is not said to have created them in his own image. And this was
because they were only a passive representation of him in the light of
others, and not in themselves; nor did they represent at all that wherein
God will be principally glorified among his creatures,--namely, the
universal rectitude of his nature in righteousness and holiness. But of
man it is said, peculiarly and only, that he was made in the image and
likeness of God: and this was because, in the rectitude of his nature, he
represented the holiness and righteousness of God; which is the only use
of an image. This was lost by sin. Man in his fallen condition does no
more represent God; there is nothing in him that has any thing of the
likeness or image of God in it; all is dead, dark, perverse, and
confused. This new nature, whereof we speak, is created of God for this
very end, that it may be a blessed image and representation of the
holiness and righteousness of God. Hence it is called the "divine
nature," whereof we are partakers, 2 Pet.1:4. And he that cannot see a
representation of God in it, has not the light of faith and life in him.
Hereon, I say, faith does approve of the form and principle of this
holiness, as the renovation of the image of God in us; it looks upon it
as that which becomes God to bestow and require, and therefore that which
has an incomparable excellency and desirableness in it. Yea, when the
soul is ready to faint under an apprehension that it is not partaker of
this holy nature, because of the power of sin in it and temptations on
it, it knows not whether itself be born of God or no (as is the case with
many);--yet where this faith is, it will discern the beauty and glory of
the new creation in some measure, as that which bears the image of God;
and thereon does it preserve in the soul a longing after it, or a farther
participation of it.
By this work or act of it does faith discover its sincerity; which is
that which we inquire after. Whilst it has an eye open to behold the
glory of God in the new creature, whilst it looks on it as that wherein
there is a representation made of the holiness of God himself, as that
which becomes him to require in us, and thereon approves of it as
excellent and desirable, it will be an anchor unto the soul in its
greatest storms; for this is a work beyond what a mere enlightened
conscience can arise unto. That can approve or disapprove of all the acts
and effects of obedience and disobedience, as unto their consequent; but
to discern the spiritual nature of the new creature, as representing the
holiness of God himself, and thereon constantly to approve of it, is the
work [of faith] alone.
2. It does the same with respect unto the internal acts and effects of
this new creature, or principle of new obedience. The first thing it
produces in us is a frame of mind spiritual and heavenly; they that are
after the Spirit are "spiritually-minded," Rom.8:5,6. It looks on the
opposite frame, namely, of being carnally-minded, as vile and loathsome;
it consisting in a readiness and disposition of mind to actuate the lusts
of the flesh. But this spiritual frame of mind, in a just constellation
of all the graces of the Spirit, influencing, disposing, and making ready
the soul for the exercise of them on all occasions, and in all duties of
obedience,--this is the inward glory of the "King's daughter," which
faith sees and approves of, as that which becomes God to require in us;
whatever is contrary hereunto, as a sensual, carnal, worldly frame of
mind, it looks on as vile and base, unworthy of God, or of those who
design the enjoyment of him.
3. It does the same with respect unto all particular duties, internal
and external, when they are enlivened and filled up with grace. In them
consists our "walking worthy at God," Col.1:10; 1 Thess.2:12, such a walk
as is meet for God to accept; that whereby and wherein he is glorified.
The contrary hereunto, in the neglect of the duties of holiness, or the
performance of them without the due exercise of grace, faith looks on as
unworthy of God, unworthy of our high and holy calling, unworthy of our
profession, and therefore does constantly condemn and abhor.
All this, as we observed before, faith will continue to do constantly,
under temptations and desertions. There are seasons wherein the soul may
be very weak, as unto the powers, effects, and duties of this spiritual
life; such the psalmist oftentimes complains of in his own case, and it
is evident in the experience of most. Few there are who have not found,
at one time or another, great weakness, decays, and much deadness in
their spiritual condition. And sometimes true believers may be at a loss
as unto any refreshing experience of it in its operations. They may not
be able to determine in the contest whether sin or grace have the
dominion in them. Yet even in all these seasons faith will keep up the
soul unto a constant high approbation of this way of holiness and
obedience, in its root and fruits, in its principle and effects, in its
nature, disposition, and duties. For when they cannot see the beauty of
these things in themselves, they can see it in the promises of the
covenant, in the truth of the gospel, wherein it is declared, and in the
effects of it in others.
And great advantage is to be obtained by the due exercise of faith
herein. For,--
(1.) It will never suffer the heart to be at rest in any sinful way, or
under any such spiritual decays as shall estrange it from the pursuit of
this holiness. The sight, the conviction of its excellency, the
approbation of it, as that which in us and our measure answers the
holiness of God, will keep up the mind unto endeavours after it, will
rebuke the soul in all its neglects of it; nor will it allow any quiet or
peace within, without an endeavour after a comfortable assurance of it.
That soul is desperately sick which has lost an abiding sense of the
excellency of this holiness, in its answerableness unto the holiness and
will of God. Fears and checks of conscience are the whole of its security
against the worst of sins; and they are a guard not to be trusted unto in
the room of the peace of God. This is one great difference between
believers and those that have not faith. Fear of the consequent of sin,
with an apprehension of some advantages which are to be obtained by a
sober life and the profession of religion, do steer and regulate the
minds of unbelievers, in all they do towards God or for eternity; but the
minds of believers are influenced by a view of the glory of the image and
likeness of God in that holiness, and all the parts of it, which they are
called unto. This gives them love unto it, delight and complacency in it,
enabling them to look upon it as its own reward. And without these
affections none will ever abide in the ways of obedience unto the end.
(2.) Where faith is in this exercise, it will evidence itself, unto the
relief of the soul, in all its darkness and temptations. The mind can
never conclude that it wholly is without God and his grace, whilst it
constantly approves of the holiness required of us. This is not of
ourselves; by nature we are ignorant of it. This "life is hid with Christ
in God," Col.3:3, where we can see nothing of it; hereon we are alienated
from it, and do dislike it: "Alienated from the life of God through the
ignorance that is in us," Eph.4:18. And most men live all their days in a
contempt of the principal evidences and duties of this life of God, and
of the principle of it, which they look on as a fable. Wherefore, the
mind may have great satisfaction in a sight of the beauty and approbation
of this holiness, as that which nothing can produce but sincere and
saving faith.
Secondly, Faith approves of this way of holiness and obedience, as that
which gives that rectitude and perfection unto our nature whereof it is
capable in this world. It is the only rule and measure of them; and
whatever is contrary thereunto is perverse, crooked, vile, and base. Some
men think that their nature is capable of no other perfection but what
consists in the satisfaction of their lusts; they know no other
blessedness, nothing that is suitable to their desires, but the saving of
nature, in the pursuit of its corrupt lusts and pleasures. So are they
described by the apostle, Eph.4:19. The business of their lives is to
make provision for the flesh, to fulfill it in the lusts thereof; they
walk in the lusts of the flesh, "fulfilling" (so far as they are able)
"the desires of the flesh and of the mind," Eph.2:3. They neither know
nor understand what a hell of confusion, disorder, and base degeneracy
from the original constitution, their minds are filled withal. This
perfection is nothing but the next disposition unto hell; and it does
manifest its own vileness unto every one who has the least ray of
spiritual light.
Some among the heathen placed the rectitude of nature in moral virtues
and operations, according unto them; and this was the utmost that natural
light could ever rise up unto: but the uncertainty and weakness hereof
are discovered by the light of the gospel.
It is faith alone that discovers what is good for us, in us, and unto
us, whilst we are in this world. It is in the renovation of the image of
God in us,--in the change and transformation of our nature into his
likeness,--in acting from a gracious principle of a divine life,-- in
duties and operations suited thereunto,--in the participation of the
divine nature by the promises,--that the good, the perfection, the order,
the present blessedness of our nature do consist.
Hereby are the faculties of our souls exalted, elevated, and enabled to
act primigenial powers, with respect unto God and our enjoyment of him;
which is our utmost end and blessedness. Hereby are our affections placed
on their proper objects (such as they were created meet for, and in
closing wherewith their satisfaction, order, and rest do consist),--
namely, God and his goodness, or God as revealed in Jesus Christ by the
gospel. Hereby all the powers of our souls are brought into a blessed
frame and harmony in all their operations,--whatever is dark, perverse,
unquiet, vile, and base, being cast out of them. But these things must be
a little more distinctly explained.
1. There is in this gospel holiness, as the spring and principle of it,
a spiritual, saving light, enabling the mind and understanding to know
God in Christ, and to discern spiritual things in a spiritual, saving
manner; for herein "God shines into our hearts, to give us the knowledge
of his glory in the face of Jesus Christ," 2 Cor.4:6. Without this, in
some degree, whatever pretence there may be or appearance of holiness in
any, there is nothing in them of what is really so, and thereon accepted
with God. Blind devotion,--that is, an inclination of mind unto religious
duties, destitute of this light,--will put men on a multiplication of
duties, especially such as are of their own invention, in "a show of
wisdom in will-worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body," as the
apostle speaks, Col.2:23; wherein there is nothing of gospel holiness.
"The new man is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that
created him," Col.3:10. That this saving light and knowledge is the
spring and principle of all real evangelical holiness and obedience, the
apostle declares in that description which he gives us of the whole of
it, both in its beginning and progress, Col.1:9-11, "We desire that ye
might be filled with the knowledge of his will, in all wisdom and
spiritual understanding; that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all
pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the
knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to his glorious
power, unto all patience and long suffering with joyfulness." It is a
blessed account that is here given us of that gospel holiness which we
inquire after, in its nature, original, spring, progress, fruits, and
effects; and a serious consideration of it as here proposed,--a view of
it in the light of faith,--will evidence how distant and different it is
from those schemes of moral virtues which some would substitute in its
room. It has a glory in it which no unenlightened mind can behold or
comprehend; the foundation of it is laid in the knowledge of the will of
God, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. This is that spiritual,
saving light whereof we speak; the increase hereof is prayed for in
believers by the apostle, Heb.1:17,18, even "that the God of our Lord
Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, would give unto you the spirit of
wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: the eyes of your
understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his
calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the
saints;" which here is called "increasing in the knowledge of God," verse
10. The singular glory of this saving light, in its original, its causes,
use, and effects, is most illustriously here declared: and this light is
in every true believer, and is the only immediate spring of all gospel
holiness and obedience; for "the new man is renewed in knowledge after
the image of him that created him," Col.3:10.
This light, this wisdom, this spiritual understanding, thus
communicated unto believers, is the rectitude and perfection of their
minds in this world. It is that which gives them order, and peace, and
power, enabling them to act all their faculties in a due manner, with
respect unto their being and end. It is that which gives beauty and glory
to the inward man, and which constitutes a believer an inhabitant of the
kingdom of light,--whereby we are "delivered from the power of darkness,
and translated into the kingdom of the Son of God's love," Col.1:13; or
"out of darkness into his marvelous light," 1 Pet.2:9.
That which is contrary hereunto, is that ignorance, darkness,
blindness, and vanity, which the Scripture declares to be in the minds of
all unregenerate persons; and they are really so, where they are not
cured by the glorious working of the power and grace of God before
Now, faith discerns these things, as the spiritual man discerns all
things, 1 Cor.2:15. It sees the beauty of this heavenly light, and judges
that it is that which gives order and rectitude unto the mind; as also,
that that which is contrary unto it is vile, base, horrid, and to be
ashamed of. As for those who "love darkness more than light, because
their deeds are evil,"--it knows them to be strangers unto Christ and his
2. Again: there is required unto this holiness, a principle of
spiritual life and love unto God. This guides, acts, and rules in the
soul, in all its obedience; and it gives the soul its proper order in all
its operations: that which is contrary hereunto is death, and enmity
against God. Faith judges between these two principles and their
operations: the former in all its acting it approves of as lovely,
beautiful, desirable, as that which is the rectitude and perfection of
the will: and the other it looks on as deformed, froward, and perverse.
3. The like may be said of its nature and operations in the affections,
as also of all those duties of obedience which proceed from it, as it is
described in the place before mentioned.
It remains only that we show by what acts, ways, and means, faith does
evidence this its approbation of gospel holiness, as that which is lovely
and desirable in itself, and which gives all that rectitude and
perfection unto our minds which they are capable of in this world. And it
does so,--
1. By that self-displicency and abasement which it works in the mind on
all instances and occasions where it comes short of this holiness. This
is the chief principle and cause of that holy shame which befalls
believers on every sin and miscarriage, wherein they come short of what
is required in it: Rom.6:21, "Those things whereof ye are now ashamed."
Now when, by the light of faith, you see how vile it is, and unworthy of
you, what a debasement of your souls there is in it, you are ashamed of
it. It is true, the principal cause of this holy shame is a sense of the
unsuitableness that is in sin unto the holiness of God, and the horrible
ingratitude and disingenuity that there is in sinning against him; but it
is greatly promoted by this consideration, that it is a thing unworthy of
us, and that wherein our natures are exceedingly debased. So it is said
of provoking sinners, that they "debase themselves even unto hell,"
Isa.57:9; or make themselves as vile as hell itself, by ways unworthy the
nature of men. And this is one ground of all those severe self
reflections which accompany godly sorrow for sin, 2 Cor.7:11.
And hereby does faith evidence itself and its own sincerity, whilst a
man is ashamed of, and abased in, himself for every sin, for every thing
of sin, wherein it comes short of the holiness required of us, as that
which is base and unworthy of our nature, in its present constitution and
renovation; though it be that which no eye sees but God's and his own, he
has that in him which will grow on no root but sincere believing.
Wherefore, whatever may be the disquieting conflicts of sin in and
against our souls, whatever decays we may fall into,--which be the two
principles of darkness and fears in believers, whilst this inward holy
shame and self-abasement, on account of the vileness of sin, is
preserved, faith leaves not itself without an evidence in us.
2. It does the same by a spiritual satisfaction, which it gives the
soul in every experience of the transforming power of this holiness,
rendering it more and more like unto God. There is a secret joy and
spiritual refreshment rising in the soul from a sense of its renovation
into the image of God; and all the acting and increases of the life of
God in it augment this joy. Herein consists its gradual return unto its
primitive order and rectitude, with a blessed addition of supernatural
light and grace by Christ Jesus; it finds itself herein coming home to
God from its old apostasy, in the way of approaching to eternal rest and
blessedness: and there is no satisfaction like unto that which it
receives therein.
This is the second way wherein faith will abide firm and constant, and
does evidence itself in the soul of every believer. However low and mean
its attainments be in this spiritual life and the fruits of it, though it
be overwhelmed with darkness and a sense of the guilt of sin, though it
be surprised and perplexed with the deceit and violence thereof, yet
faith will continue here firm and unshaken. It sees that glory and
excellency in the holiness and obedience that God requires of us,--as it
is a representation of his own glorious excellencies, the renovation of
his image, and the perfection of our natures thereby,--as that it
constantly approves of it, even in the deepest trials which the soul can
be exercised withal; and whilst this anchor holds firm and stable we are
The third evidence of the faith of God's elect
Thirdly, Faith will evidence itself by a diligent, constant endeavour to
keep itself and all grace in due exercise in all ordinances of divine
worship, private and public.
This is the touchstone of faith and spiritual obedience, the most
intimate and difficult part of this exercise; where this is not, there is
no life in the soul. There are two things whereby men do or may deceive
themselves herein:--1. Abounding in the outward performance of duties or
a multiplication of them. Hereby hypocrites have in all ages deceived
themselves, Isa.58:2,3. And it was the covering that the church of Rome
provided for their apostasy from the gospel: an endless multiplication of
religious duties was that which they trusted to and boasted in. And we
may find those daily that pretend a conscience as unto the constant
observation of outward duties, and yet will abstain from no sin that
comes in the way of their lusts. And men may and do ofttimes abide
constantly in them, especially in their families and in public, yea,
multiply them beyond the ordinary measure, hoping to countenance
themselves in other lusts and neglects thereby. 2. Assistance of gifts in
the performance of them; but as this may be where there is not one dram
of grace, saving grace, so when rested in, it is a most powerful engine
to keep the soul in formality, to ruin all beginning of grace, and to
bring an incurable hardness on the whole soul.
Wherever faith is in sincerity, it will constantly labour, endeavour,
and strive to fill up all duties of divine worship with the living, real,
heart acting of grace; and where it does not so, where this is not
attained, it will never suffer the soul to take any rest or satisfaction
in such duties, but will cast them away as a defiled garment. He that can
pass through such duties without a sensible endeavour for the real
exercise of grace in them, and without self-abasement on the performance
of them, will hardly find any other clear evidence of saving faith in
There are three evils that have followed the ignorance, or neglect, or
weariness of this exercise of faith, which have proved the ruin of
1. This has been the occasion and original of all false worship in the
world, with the invention of those superstitious rites and ceremonies
wherein it consists. For men having lost the exercise of faith in the
ordinances of worship that are of divine institution, they found the
whole of it to be useless and burdensome unto them; for without this
constant exercise of faith there is no life in it, nor satisfaction to be
obtained by it. They must, therefore, have something in it, or
accompanying of it, which may entertain their minds, and engage their
affections unto it. If this had not been done, it would have been utterly
deserted by the most. Hereon were invented forms of prayer in great
diversity, with continual diversions and avocations of the mind from what
is proposed; because it cannot abide in the pursuit of any thing
spiritual without the exercise of faith. This gives it some entertainment
by the mere performance, and makes it think there is something where
indeed is nothing. Hereunto are added outward ceremonies of vestments,
postures, and gestures of veneration, unto the same end. There is no
other design in them all but to entertain the mind and affections with
some complacency and satisfaction in outward worship, upon the loss or
want of that exercise of faith which is the life and soul of it in
believers. And as any persons do decay herein, they shall find themselves
insensibly sinking down into the use of these lifeless forms, or that
exercise of their natural faculties and memory which is not one jot
better; yea, by this means, some, from an eminency in spiritual gifts,
and the performance of duties by virtue of them, have sunk into an Ave
Maria or a Credo, as the best of their devotion.
2. This has caused many to turn aside, to fall off from and forsake the
solemn ordinances of divine worship, and to retake themselves unto vain
imaginations for relief, in trembling, enthusiastical singing and feigned
raptures; from hence have so many forsaken their own mercies to follow
after lying vanities. They kept for a while unto the observance of the
divine institutions of worship; but not having faith to exercise in them,
by which alone they are life and power, they became useless and
burdensome unto them: they could find neither sweetness, satisfaction,
nor benefit in them. It is not possible that so many in our days, if ever
they had tasted of the old wine, should so go after new;--if ever they
had experience of that savour, power, and life, which is in the
ordinances of divine worship, when acted and enlivened by the exercise of
faith, should forsake them for that which is nothing: "They went out from
us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have
continued with us." "Had they known it, they would not have crucified the
Lord of glory." This, therefore, is the true reason why so many in our
days, after they have for a season abode under, and in the observation
of, the gospel ordinances of worship, have fallen off from them, namely,
not having faith to exercise in them, nor endeavouring after it, they did
really find no life in them, nor benefit by them.
3. Some, on the same ground, fall into profaneness, pretending to take
up with a natural religion, without any instituted worship at all. Of
this sort of persons we have multitudes in the days wherein we live;
having nothing of the light of faith, they can see no form or comeliness
in Christ, nor in any thing that belongs unto him. By these means are
souls every day precipitated into ruin.
Herein, therefore, I say, true faith will evidence itself in all
darknesses and distress whatsoever: it will always endeavour to keep
itself, and all other graces, in a due and constant exercise in all
duties of worship, private and public. It may sometimes be weakened in
its acting and operations, it may be under decays, it may be as a sleep,
and that not only as unto particular duties and seasons, but as unto the
inward habitual frame of the mind; but where it is true and genuine, it
will shake itself out of this dust, cast off the sin that does so easily
beset us, and stir up itself, with all might and contention, unto its
duty. And there is no more dangerous state for a soul than when it is
sinking down into formality, and neglect of the exercise of faith, in a
multitude of duties; then is it assuredly ready to die, if it be not dead
If we are wise, therefore, we will watch, and take care that we lose
not this evidence of faith; it will stand us instead when, it may be, all
other things seem to be against us. Some have been relieved by the
remembrance of this exercise of faith, when they have been at the door of
desperation:--such or such a season they had experience of the work of
faith in prayer, has been their relief. An experience hereof is a jewel,
which may be of no great use whilst it lies by you locked up in a
cabinet, but which you will know the worth of if ever you come to need
bread for your lives.
It is, therefore, worthwhile to inquire what we ought to do, or what
means we ought to use, that we may keep up faith unto its due exercise in
all the parts of divine worship, so as that it may give us a comforting
evidence of itself in times of temptation and darkness? And unto this end
the ensuing directions may be of use:--
1. Labour to have your hearts always affected with a due sense of the
infinite perfections of the divine nature in all our approaches unto him,
especially of his sovereign power, holiness, immensity, and omnipresence;
and this will produce in us also a sense of infinite distance from him.
As this is necessary, from the nature of the things themselves, so the
Scripture gives us such descriptions of God as are suited to in generate
this frame in us. This is that which Joshua aimed to bring the people
unto, when he designed to engage them in the service of God in a due
manner, Josh.24:19-22; and that which the apostle requires in us,
Heb.12:28,29. And unto the same end glorious descriptions and appearances
of God are multiplied in Scripture. If we fail herein, if we do not on
all occasions fill our minds with reverential thoughts of God, his
greatness and his holiness, faith has no foundation to stand upon in its
exercise in the duties of worship. This is the only inlet into the due
exercise of grace: where it is wanting, all holy thoughts and affections
are shut out of our minds; and where it is present, it is impossible but
that there will be some gracious working of heart in all our duties. If
we are empty hereof in our entrance of duties, we shall be sure to be
filled with other things, which will be clogs and hindrances unto us; but
reverential thoughts of God, in our approaches unto him, will cast out
all superfluity of naughtiness, and dissipate all carnal, formal frames,
which will vitiate all our duties. Keep your hearts, therefore, under
this charge in all your accesses unto God, and it will constantly open a
door unto that exercise of faith which we inquire after.
Hereon and herewith we shall be affected with a sense of our infinite
distance from him; which is another means to stir up faith unto its due
exercise in reverence and godly fear. So Abraham was affected, Gen.18:27.
[This is that] which the wise man directs us unto, Eccles.5:2.
Carnal boldness in the want of these things ruins the souls of men,
rendering all their duties of worship unacceptable unto God, and
unprofitable unto themselves.
2. Affect your hearts with a due sense of the unsuitableness of our
best duties unto his holiness and majesty, and of his infinite
condescension in the acceptance of them. Suppose there is in any of our
duties the best and the most lively exercise of grace that we can attain
unto, the most fervency in prayer, with the most diligent attendance of
our minds the most humility and contrite trembling in hearing the word,
the most devout affection of our minds in other parts of worship; alas!
what is all this to God? How little does it answer his infinite holiness!
See Job 4:18,19; 15:15,16. Our goodness extends not unto him, Ps.16:2.
There are no measures, there is no proportion, between the holiness of
God and our best duties. There is iniquity in our holy things; they have
need of mercy and pardon, of cleansing and justification, by the blood of
Christ, no less than our persons: and an infinite condescension it is in
God to take any notice of us or them; yea, it is that which we must live
in all holy admiration of all our days.
Now if it be thus with our best duties, in our best frames, what an
outrage of sloth and negligence is it, if we bring the carcass of duties
unto God, for want of stirring up faith unto its due exercise in them!
How great is this folly, how unspeakable is the guilt of this negligence!
Let us, therefore, keep a sense hereof upon our hearts, that we may
always stir up ourselves unto our best in duties of religious worship.
3. A negligence herein, or the want of stirring up faith unto a due
exercise in all duties of worship, is the highest affront we can put upon
God, arguing a great regardlessness of him. Whilst it is so with us, we
have not, we cannot have, a due sense of any of the divine perfections,
of the divine nature; we turn God what lies in us into an idol, supposing
that he may be put off with the outside and appearance of things. This
the apostle cautions us against, Heb.4:12,13, and [is that] which God
detests, Isa.29:13; and he pronounces him a deceiver, and cursed, who
offers unto him the lame and blind while he has a male in the flock,
Mal.1:14. Yet thus is it with us, in some degree, whenever we are
negligent in stirring up faith into its proper exercise in holy duties:
that alone renders them the male of the flock; without it they are lame
and blind,--a corrupt thing.
It is a sad thing for men to lose their duties, to be at charge and
trouble in the multiplication of them, and attendance unto them to no
purpose. Oh, how much more sad is it when they are all provocations of
God's glory! when they tend to increase the formality and hardness of
their hearts, towards the ruin of their souls!
"Stand in awe," therefore, "and sin not; commune with your own hearts;"
cease not, until on all occasions you bring them into that exercise of
faith wherein you may glorify God as God, and not deal with him as an
4. Unto the same end, keep your souls always deeply affected with a
sense of the things about which you are to treat with God in all the
duties of his worship. They are referred unto two heads:-- (1.) Those
which concern his glory; (2.) Those which concern our own souls. Without
a constant due sense of these things on our hearts, faith will not act
itself aright in any of our duties. Without this intimate concern and
deep sense, we know not whether we need faith in our prayers, or have an
exercise of it; formality will drown all. The best of our prayers is but
an expression unto God of what sense we have of these things. If we have
none, we pray not at all, whatever we say or do; but when these things
dwell in our minds, when we think on them continually, when our hearts
cleave unto them, faith will be at work in all our approaches to God. Can
you not pray? Charge your hearts with these things, and you will learn so
to do.
5. Watch diligently against those things which ye find by experience
are apt to obstruct your fervency in duties. Such are indispositions
through the flesh, or weariness of the flesh, distracting, foolish
imaginations, the occasions of life revolving in our minds, and the like.
If such impediments as these be not removed, if they be not watched
against, they will influence the mind, and suffocate the exercise of
faith therein.
6. Above all, the principal rule herein is, that we would always
carefully remember the concernment of Christ in these duties, with
respect unto his office. He is the high priest over the house of God;
through him, and under his conduct, are we always to draw nigh to God;
and his work it is to present the prayers and supplications of the church
to God. Now, we have no way to come unto Christ, for his assistance in
the discharge of his office on our behalf, but by faith; and in all our
duties of holy worship we make a profession of our doing so,--of our
coming unto God by him as our high priest. If we endeavour not therein to
have faith in exercise, how do we mock, or make a show to him of doing
that which indeed we endeavour not to do! There can be no greater
contempt of Christ in his office, nor greater undervaluation of his love.
But a due consideration hereof, namely, of the concernment of Christ in
all our duties, with respect unto the office which he discharges for us
in heaven,--is that which directly leads faith into its proper exercise.
For through him, and that in discharge of his office, we believe in God.
And when the mind is exercised with due thoughts of him, if there be any
thing of true saving faith in the heart, it will act itself unto a
blessed experience.
These things may be of use to stir us up, and guide us unto that
exercise of faith in all holy duties, an experience whereof abiding in
the soul will evidence the truth of it, unto our supportment and comfort
in all temptations and distresses.
Some, it may be, will say that their gift in prayer is mean and weak,--
that they cannot express themselves with earnestness and fervency; and so
know not whether there be any faith in exercise in their prayers or no. I
answer, There is nothing at all herein; for grace may be very high where
gifts are very low, and that frequently.
And it may be others will complain of the meanness of their gifts on
whom they attend in prayer, which is such as they cannot accompany them
in the exercise of any grace. I answer,--1. There is no doubt but that
there is a great difference in the spiritual gifts of men in this matter,
some being much more effectual unto edification than others. 2. Take care
that you are called in providence and duty to join with them whom you
intend; that you do not first voluntarily choose that which is unto your
disadvantage, and then complain of it. 3. Be their gifts never so mean,
if grace in their own hearts be exercised by it, so it may be in ours:
where there is no evidence thereof, I confess the case is hard. 4. Let
the mind be still fixed on the matter or things uttered in prayer, so as
to close with, and act faith about, what is real object of it, and it
will find its proper work in that duty.
The fourth evidence of the faith of God's elect
I come, in the next place, to instance in a peculiar way whereby true
faith will evidence itself,--not always, but on some occasions: and this
is by bringing the soul into a state of repentance. And three things must
be spoken unto,--1. In general, what I intend by this state of
repentance. 2. What are the times and occasions, or who are the persons,
wherein faith will act itself unto this end. 3. What are the duties
required unto such a state.
1. By this state of repentance I do not understand merely the grace and
duty of evangelical repentance; for this is absolutely inseparable from
true faith, and no less necessary unto salvation than itself. He that
does not truly and really repent of sin, whatever he profess himself to
believe, he is no true believer. But I intend now somewhat that is
peculiar, that is not common unto all, whereby on some occasions faith
does evidence its power and sincerity.
Neither yet do I mean a grace, duty, or state, that is of another kind
or nature from that of gospel repentance, which is common to all
believers. There are not two kinds of true repentance, nor two different
states of them that are truly penitent; all that I intend is an eminent
degree of gospel repentance, in the habit or root, and in all the fruits
and effects of it. There are various degrees in the power and exercise of
gospel graces, and some may be more eminent in one, and some in another:
as Abraham and Peter in faith, David and John in love. And there may be
causes and occasions for the greater and higher exercise of some graces
and duties at one time than at another; for we are to attend unto duties
according unto our circumstances, so as we may glorify God in them, and
advantage our own souls. So the apostle James directs us, chap.5:13, "Is
any afflicted? Let him pray. Is any merry? Let him sing psalms." Several
states, and various circumstances in them, call for the peculiar exercise
of several graces, and the diligent performance of several duties. And
this is that which is here intended,--namely, a peculiar, constant,
prevalent exercise of the grace and duties of repentance in a singular
manner. What is required hereunto shall be afterwards declared.
2. As unto the persons in whom this is required, and in whom faith will
evidence itself by it, they are of various sorts:--
(1.) Such as have been, by the power of their corruptions and
temptations, surprised into great sins. That some true believers may be
so, we have precedents both in the Old Testament and in the New;-- such,
I mean, as uncleanness, drunkenness, gluttony, theft, premeditated lying,
oppression in dealing, and failing in profession in the time of
persecution; this latter in the primitive church was never thought
recoverable but by faith acting itself in a state of repentance. Such
sins will have great sorrows; as we see in Peter, and the incestuous
Corinthian, who was in danger to be "swallowed up with overmuch sorrow,"
2 Cor.2:7. Where it has been thus with any, true faith will immediately
work for a recovery, by a thorough humiliation and repentance, as it did
in Peter; and in case that any of them shall lie longer under the power
of sin, through want of effectual convictions, it will cost them dear in
the issue, as it did David. But in this case, for the most part, faith
will not rest in the mere jointing again the bone that was broken, or
with such a recovery as gives them peace with God and their own
consciences; but by a just and due remembrance of the nature of their
sin, its circumstances and aggravations, the shameful unkindness towards
God that was in it, the grief of the Holy Spirit, and dishonour of Christ
by it, it will incline and dispose the soul to a humble, contrite frame,
to a mournful walking, and the universal exercise of repentance all its
And, indeed, where it does not so, men's recovery from great sins is
justly to be questioned as unto their sincerity. For want hereof it is
that we have so many palliated cures of great sins, followed with fearful
and dangerous relapses. If a man subject to great corruptions and
temptations, has by them been surprised into great actual sins, and been
seemingly recovered through humiliation and repentance, if he again break
the yoke of this stated repentance whereof we speak, he will quickly
again be overcome, and perhaps irrecoverably. Herein, he alone that walks
softly, walks safely.
(2.) It is necessary for such as have given scandal and offense by
their miscarriages; this will stick very close unto any who has the least
spark of saving faith. It is that which God is in a peculiar manner
provoked with in the sins of his people; as in the case of David, 2
Sam.12:14. So also Ezek.36:20; Rom.2:24. This keeps alive the remembrance
of sin, and sets it before men continually, and is a spring, in a
gracious soul, of all acts and duties of repentance. It was so in David
all his days; and probably in Mary Magdalene also. Where it has been thus
with any, faith will keep the soul in an humble and contrite frame,
watchful against pride, elation of mind, carelessness, and sloth: it will
recover godly sorrow and shame, with revenge, or self-reflection, in
great abasement of mind; all which things belong to the state of
repentance intended. They that can easily shake off a sense of scandal
given by them, have very little of Christian ingenuity in their minds.
(3.) It is so unto such as have perplexing lusts and corruptions, which
they cannot so subdue but that they will be perplexing and defiling of
them; for where there are such, they will, in conjunction with
temptations, frequently disquiet, wound, and defile the soul. This brings
upon it weariness and outcries for deliverance, Rom.7:24. In this state
faith will put the soul on prayer, watchfulness, diligence, in opposition
unto the deceit and violence of sin. But this is not all; it will not
rest here, but it will give the mind such a sense of its distressed,
dangerous condition, as shall fill it constantly with godly sorrow,
self-abasement, and all duties of repentance. No man can hold out in such
a conflict, nor maintain his peace on right grounds, who does not live in
the constant exercise of repentance,--indeed, who does not endeavour in
some measure to come up unto that state of it which we shall afterwards
describe. For men who have unnameable corruptions working continually in
their minds, by imaginations, thoughts, and affections, to think to carry
it in a general way of duties and profession, they will be mistaken if
they look either for victory or peace; this sort of men are, of all
others, most peculiarly called unto this stats and duty.
(4.) Such as would be found mourners for the sins of the age, place,
and time wherein they live, with the consequent of them, in the dishonour
of God, and the judgments which will ensue thereon. There are times
wherein this is an especial and eminent duty, which God does highly
approve of. Such are they wherein the visible church is greatly
corrupted, and open abominations are found amongst men of all sorts; even
as it is at this day. Then does the Lord declare how much he values the
performance of this duty,--as he testifies, Ezek.9:4, they alone shall be
under his especial care in a day of public distress and calamity,--a duty
wherein it is to be feared that we are most of us very defective. Now,
the frame of heart required hereunto cannot be attained, nor the duty
rightly performed, without that state of repentance and humiliation which
we inquire into. Without it we may have transient thoughts of these
things, but such as will very little affect our minds; but where the soul
is kept in a constant spiritual frame, it will be ready for this duty on
all occasions.
(5.) It becomes them who, having passed through the greatest part of
their lives, do find all outward things to issue in vanity and vexation
of spirit, as it was with Solomon when he wrote his Ecclesiastes. When a
man recounts the various scenes and appearances of things which he has
passed through in his life, and the various conditions he has been in, he
may possibly find that there is nothing steady but sorrow and trouble. It
may be so with some, I say, with some good men, with some of the best
men, as it was with Jacob. Others may have received more satisfaction in
their course; but if they also will look back, they shall find how little
there has been in the best of their transient comforts; they will see
enough to make them say, "There is nothing in these things; it is high
time to take off all expectations from them." Such persons seem to be
called unto this especial exercise of repentance and mourning for the
remainder of their lives.
(6.) Such as whose hearts are really wounded and deeply affected with
the love of Christ, so as that they can hardly bear any longer absence
from him, nor delight in the things wherein they are detained and kept
out of his presence. This frame the apostle describes, 2 Cor.5:2,4,6,8.
They live in a groaning condition, thoroughly sensible of all the evils
that accompany them in this absence of the Bridegroom; and they cannot
but continually reflect upon the sins and follies which their lives have
been and are filled withal, in this their distance from Christ. Whereas,
therefore, their hearts are filled with inflamed affections towards him,
they cannot but walk humbly and mournfully until they come unto him. It
may be said that those who have experience of such affection unto the
Lord Jesus cannot but have continual matter of joy in themselves; and so
of all men have least need of such a state of constant humiliation and
repentance. I say it is so indeed, they have such matter of joy; and
therewith Christ will be formed in them more and more every day. But I
say also, there is no inconsistency between spiritual joy in Christ and
godly sorrow for sin; yea, no man in this life shall ever be able to
maintain solid joy in his heart, without the continual working of godly
sorrow also; yea, there is a secret joy and refreshment in godly sorrow,
equal unto the chiefest of our joys, and a great spiritual satisfaction.
These several sorts of persons, I say, are peculiarly called unto that
exercise of faith in repentance which we inquire after.
Before I proceed to show wherein this state I intend does consist, and
what is required thereunto (which is the last thing proposed), I shall
premise some rules for the right judging of ourselves with respect unto
them. As,--
1. Faith will evidence its truth (which is that we inquire after) in
its sincere endeavour after the things intended, though its attainments
as unto some of them be but mean and low; yea, a sense of its coming
short in a full answering of them or compliance with them, is a great
ingredient in that state called unto. If, therefore, faith keep up this
design in the soul, with a sincere pursuit of it, though it fail in many
things, and is not sensible of any great progress it makes, it will
therein evidence its sincerity.
2. Whereas there are sundry things, as we shall see, required hereunto,
it is not necessary that they should be found all equally in all who
design this state and frame. Some may be more eminent in one of them,
some in another; some may have great helps and furtherance unto some of
them in a peculiar manner, and some great obstructions in the exercise of
some of them. But it is required that they be all radically in the heart,
and be put forth in exercise sometimes, on their proper occasions.
3. This state, in the description of it, will sufficiently distinguish
itself from that discontent of mind whereon some withdraw themselves from
the occasions of life, rather condemning others than themselves, on mere
weariness of the disappointments of the world, which has cast some into
crooked paths.
1. The first thing required hereunto is weanedness from the world. The
rule of most men is, that all things are well enough with them, with
respect unto the world, whilst they keep themselves from known particular
sins in the use of the things of it. Whilst they do so in their own
apprehensions, they care not how much they cleave unto it,--are even
swallowed up in the businesses and occasions of it. Yea, some will
pretend unto and make an appearance of a course of life more than
ordinarily strict, whilst their hearts and affections cleave visibly to
this world and the things of it. But the foundation of the work of faith
we inquire into must be laid in mortification and weanedness from the
In ancient times, sundry persons designed a strict course of
mortification and penitence, and they always laid the foundation of it in
a renunciation of the world; but they fell most of them into a threefold
mistake, which ruined the whole undertaking. For,--
(1.) They fell into a neglect of such natural and moral duties as were
indispensably required of them: they forsook all care of duties belonging
unto them in their relations as fathers, children, husbands, wives, and
the like, retaking themselves into solitudes; and hereby also they lost
all that political and Christian usefulness which the principles of human
society and of our religion do oblige us unto. They took themselves unto
a course of life rendering the most important Christian duties, such as
respect other men of all sorts, in all fruits of love, utterly impossible
unto them. They could be no more useful nor helpful in the places and
circumstances wherein they were set by divine Providence: which was a way
wherein they could not expect any blessing from God. No such thing is
required unto that renunciation of the world which we design; with
nothing that should render men useless unto all men do Christian duties
interfere. We are still to use the world whilst we are in it, but not
abuse it; as we have opportunity, we must still do good unto all. Yea,
none will be so ready to the duties of life as those who are most
mortified to the world. Thoughts of retirement from usefulness, unless
[under] a great decay of outward strength, are but temptations.
(2.) They engaged themselves into a number of observances nowhere
required of them: such were their outward austerities, fastings, choice
of meats, times of prayer; whereunto, at length, self-maceration and
disciplines were added. In a scrupulous, superstitious observance of
these things their whole design at length issued, giving rise and
occasion unto innumerable evils. Faith directs to no such thing; it
guides to no duty but according to the rule of the word.
(3.) At length they began to engage themselves by vow into such
peculiar orders and rules of a pretended religious life as were by some
of their leaders presented unto them; and this ruined the whole.
However, the original design was good,--namely, such a renunciation of
the world as might keep it and all the things of it from being a
hindrance unto us in an humble walk before God, or any thing that belongs
thereunto. We are to be crucified unto the world, and the world unto us,
by the cross of Christ; we are to be so in a peculiar manner, if we are
under the conduct of faith, in a way of humiliation and repentance. And
the things ensuing are required hereunto:--
(1.) The mortification of our affections unto the desirable things of
this life: they are naturally keen and sharp-set upon them, and do
tenaciously adhere unto them; especially they are so when things have an
inlet into them by nearness of relation, as husbands, wives, children,
and the like. Persons are apt to think they can never love them enough,
never do enough for them (and it is granted they are to be preferred
above all other earthly things); but where they fill and possess the
heart, where they weaken and obtund the affections unto things spiritual,
heavenly, and eternal, unless we are mortified unto them, the heart will
never be in a good frame, nor is capable of that degree in the grace of
repentance which we seek. It is so with the most, as unto all other
useful things in this world,--as wealth, estates, and peace: whilst they
are conversant about them, as they suppose in a lawful manner, they think
they can never overvalue them, nor cleave too close unto them.
But here we must begin, if we intend to take any one step into this
holy retirement. The edge of our affections and desires must be taken off
from these things: and hereunto three things are necessary:--
[1.] A constant, clear view and judgment of their uncertainty,
emptiness, and disability to give any rest or satisfaction. Uncertain
riches, uncertain enjoyments, perishing things, passing away, yea,
snares, burdens, hindrances, the Scripture represents them to be;--and so
they are. If the mind were continually charged home with this
consideration of them, it would daily abate its delight and satisfaction
in them.
[2.] A constant endeavour for conformity unto Christ crucified. It is
the cross of Christ whereby we are crucified unto the world and all
things in it. When the mind is much taken up with thoughts of Christ, as
dying, how and for what he died, if it has any spark of saving faith in
it, it will turn away the eyes from looking on the desirable things of
this world with any delightful, friendly aspect. Things will appear unto
it as dead and discoloured.
[3.] The fixing of them steadily on things spiritual and eternal;
whereof I have discoursed at large elsewhere. The whole of this advice is
given us by the apostle, Col.3:1-5.
Herein faith begins its work, this is the first lesson it takes out of
the gospel,--namely, that of self-denial, whereof this mortification is a
principal part. Herein it labours to cast off every burden, and the sin
that does so easily beset us. Unless some good degree be attained here,
all farther attempts in this great duty will be fruitless. Do you, then,
any of you, judge yourselves under any of those qualifications before
mentioned, which render this duty and work of faith necessary unto you?
Sit down here at the threshold, and reckon with yourselves that unless
you can take your hearts more off from the world,--unless your affections
and desires be mortified and crucified, and dead in you, in a sensible
degree and measure,--unless you endeavour every day to promote the same
frame in your minds,-- you will live and die strangers to this duty.
(2.) This mortification of our affections towards these things, our
love, desire, and delight, will produce a moderation of passions about
them, as fear, anger, sorrow, and the like; such will men be stirred up
unto in those changes, losses, crosses, which these things are subject
unto. They are apt to be tender and soft in those things; they take every
thing to heart; every affliction and disappointment is aggravated, as if
none almost had such things befall them as themselves; every thing puts
them into a commotion. Hence are they often surprised with anger about
trifles, influenced by fear in all changes, with other turbulent
passions. Hence are men morose, peevish, froward, apt to be displeased
and take offense on all occasions. The subduing of this frame, the
casting out of these dispositions and perverse inclinations, is part of
the work of faith. When the mind is weaned from the world and the things
of it, it will be sedate, quiet, composed, not easily moved with the
occurrences and occasions of life: it is dead unto them, and in a great
measure unconcerned in them. This is that "moderation" of mind wherein
the apostle would have us excel, Phil.4:5; for he would have it so
eminent as that it might appear unto "all men," that is, who are
concerned in us, as relations, families, and other societies. This is
that which principally renders us useful and exemplary in this world; and
for the want whereof many professors fill themselves and others with
disquietments, and give offense unto the world itself. This is required
of all believers; but they will be eminent in it in whom faith works this
weanedness from the world, in order unto a peculiar exercise of
(3.) There is required hereunto an unsolicitousness about present
affairs and future events. There is nothing given us in more strict
charge in the Scripture, than that we should be careful in nothing,
solicitous about nothing, take no thought for tomorrow, but to commit all
things unto the sovereign disposal of our God and Father, who has taken
all these things into his own care. But so it is come to pass, through
the vanity of the minds of men, that what should be nothing unto them is
almost their all. Care about things present, and solicitousness about
things to come, in private and public concerns, take up most of their
thoughts and contrivances. But this also will faith subdue on this
occasion, where it tends unto the promotion of repentance, by weanedness
from the world. It will bring the soul into a constant, steady, universal
resignation of itself unto the pleasure of God, and satisfaction in his
will. Hereon it will use the world as if it used it not, with an absolute
unconcernment in it as unto what shall fall out. This is that which our
Saviour presses so at large, and with so many divine seasonings,
(4.) A constant preference of the duties of religion before and above
the duties and occasions of life. These things will continually interfere
if a diligent watch be not kept over them, and they will contend for
preference; and their success is according to the in interest and
estimation which the things themselves have in our minds. If the interest
of the world be there prevalent, the occasions of it will be preferred
before religious duties; and they shall, for the most part, be put off
unto such seasons wherein we have nothing else to do, and it may be fit
for little else. But where the interest of spiritual things prevail it
will be otherwise, according to the rule given us by our blessed Saviour,
"Seek first the kingdom of God and the righteousness thereof," etc.,
I confess this rule is not absolute as unto all seasons and occasions:
there may be a time wherein the observation of the Sabbath must give
place to the pulling an ox or an ass out of a pit; and on all such
occasions the rule is, that mercy is to be preferred before sacrifice.
But, in the ordinary course of our walking before God, faith will take
care that a due attendance unto all duties of religion be preferred to
all the occasions of this life; they shall not be shuffled off on
trifling pretences, nor cast into such unseasonable seasons as otherwise
they will be. There also belongs unto that weanedness from this world,
which is necessary unto an eminency in degrees of humiliation and
repentance, watching unto prayer.
(5.) Willingness and readiness to part with all for Christ and the
gospel. This is the animating principle of the great duty of taking up
the cross, and self-denial therein. Without some measure of it in
sincerity, we cannot be Christ's disciples; but in the present case there
is an eminent degree, which Christ calls the hating of all things in
comparison of him, that is required,--such a readiness as rejects with
contempt all arguing against it,--such as renders the world no burden
unto it in any part of our race,--such as establishes a determinate
resolution in the mind, that as God calls, the world and all the
concernments of it should be forsaken for Christ and the gospel. Our
countenances and discourses in difficulties do not argue that this
resolution is prevalent in us; but so it is required in that work of
faith which we are in the consideration of.
2. A second thing that belongs hereunto is a peculiar remembrance of
sin, and converse about it in our minds, with self-displicency and
abhorrence. God has promised in his covenant that he "will remember our
sins no more," that is, to punish them; but it does not thence follow
that we should no more remember them, to be humbled for them. Repentance
respects sin always; wherever, therefore, that is, there will be a
continual calling sin to remembrance. Says the psalmist, "My sin is ever
before me."
There is a threefold calling our past sins unto remembrance:--
(1.) With delight and contentment. Thus is it with profligate sinners,
whose bodies are grown unserviceable unto their youthful lusts. They call
over their former sins, roll them over in their minds, express their
delight in them by their words, and have no greater trouble but that, for
the want of strength or opportunity, they cannot still live in the
practice of them: this is to be old in wickedness, and to have their
bones filled with the sins of their youth. So do many in this age delight
in filthy communication, unclean society, and all incentives of lust,--a
fearful sign of being given over unto a reprobate mind, a heart that
cannot repent.
(2.) There is a remembrance of sin unto disquietment, terror, and
despair. Where men's consciences are not seared with a hot iron, sin will
visit their minds ever and anon with a troublesome remembrance of itself,
with its aggravating circumstances. For the most part men hide themselves
from this visitor,--they are not at home, not at leisure to converse with
it, but shift it off, like insolvent debtors, from day to day, with a few
transient thoughts and words. But sometimes it will not be so put off,--
it will come with an arrest or a warrant from the law of God, that shall
make them stand and give an account of themselves. Hereon they are filled
with disquietments, and some with horror and despair; which they seek to
pacify and divert themselves from by farther emerging [immersing?]
themselves in the pursuit of their lusts. The case of Cain,
(3.) There is a calling former sins to remembrance as a furtherance of
repentance; and so they are a threefold glass unto the souls wherein it
has a treble object:--
[1.] It sees in them the depravation of its nature, the evil quality of
that root which has brought forth such fruit; and they see in it their
own folly, how they were cheated by sin and Satan; they see the
unthankfulness and unkindness towards God wherewith they were
accompanied. This fills them with holy shame, Rom.6:21. This is useful
and necessary unto repentance. Perhaps if men did more call over their
former sins and miscarriages than they do, they would walk more humbly
and warily than they do for the most part. So David in his age prays for
a renewed sense of the pardon of the sins of his youth, Ps.25:7.
[2.] The soul sees in them a representation of the grace, patience, and
pardoning mercy of God. "Thus and thus was it with me: God might justly
have cast me off for ever; he might have cut me off in the midst of these
sins, so as that I should have had no leisure to have cried for mercy;
and perhaps some of them were sins long continued in. 0 the infinite
patience of God, that spared me! The infinite grace and mercy of God,
that forgave unto me these provoking iniquities!" This frame is
expressed, Ps.103:3,4.
[3.] The soul sees herein the efficacy of the mediation and blood of
Christ, 1 John 2:2. "Whence is it that I have deliverance from the guilt
of these sins that way was made for the advancing of grace in the pardon
of them? Whence is it that my soul and conscience are purged from the
stain and filth of them?" Here the whole glory of the love and grace of
Christ in his mediation, with the worth of the atonement that he made,
and the ransom that he paid, with the efficacy of his blood to purge us
from all our sins, is represented unto the mind of the believer. So "out
of the eater comes forth meat;" and thereby a reconciliation is made
between the deepest humiliation and a refreshing sense of the love of God
and peace with him.
This, therefore, a soul which is engaged into the paths of repentance
will constantly apply itself unto; and it is faith alone whereunto we are
beholding for the views of these things in sin. In no other light will
they be seen therein. Their aspect in any other is horrid and terrifying,
suited only to fill the soul with dread and horror, and thoughts of
fleeing from God. But this view of them is suited to stir up all graces
unto a holy exercise.
3. Hereon godly sorrow will ensue: this, indeed, is the very life and
soul of repentance; so the apostle declares it, 2 Cor.7:9-11. And it
comprises all that is spoken in the Scripture about a broken heart and a
contrite spirit, which expresses itself by sighs, tears, mourning, yea,
watering our beds with tears, and the like. David gives so great an
instance in himself hereof, and that so frequently repeated, as that we
need no other exemplification of it. I shall not at large insist upon it,
but only show,--(1.) What it does respect; and, (2.) Wherein it does
consist,--how faith works it in the soul.
(1.) What it does respect; and it has a twofold object:--
[1.] Such past sins as, by reason of their own nature or their
aggravations, have left the greatest impression on the conscience. It
respects, indeed, in general, all past and known sins that can be called
to remembrance; but usually, in the course of men's lives, there have
been some sins whose wounds, on various accounts, have been most deep and
sensible: these are the especial objects of this godly sorrow. So was it
with David; in the whole course of his life, after his great fall, he
still bewailed his miscarriage therein; the like respect he had unto the
other sins of his youth. And none have been so preserved but they may fix
on some such provocation as may be a just cause of this sorrow all their
[2.] It respects the daily incursions of infirmities, in failings,
negligence in our frames or actions,--such as the best are subject to.
These are a matter of continual sorrow and mourning to a gracious soul
that is engaged in this duty and way of repentance.
(2.) Wherein it does consist; and the things following do concur
[1.] Self judging. This is the ground and spring of all godly sorrow,
and thereon of repentance, turning away the displeasure of God, 1
Cor.11:31. This the soul does continually with reference unto the sins
mentioned; it passes sentence on itself every day. This cannot be done
without grief and sorrow; for although the soul finds it a necessary
duty, and is thereon well pleased with it, yet all such self-reflections
are like afflictions, not joyous, but grievous.
[2.] The immediate effect hereof is constant humiliation. He that so
judges himself knows what frame of mind and spirit becomes him thereon.
This takes away the ground from all pride, elation of mind,
self-pleasing: where this self judging is constant they can have no
place. This is that frame of mind which God approves so highly, and has
made such promises unto; the humble are everywhere proposed as the
especial object of his own care; his respect is to them that are of a
broken heart, and of a contrite spirit: and this will grow on no other
root. No man, by his utmost diligence, on any argument or consideration,
shall be able to bring himself into that humble frame wherein God is
delighted, unless he lay the foundation of it in continual self-judging
on the account of former and present sins. Men may put on a fashion,
frame, and garb of humility; but really humble they are not. Where this
is wanting, pride is in the throne, in the heart, though humility be in
the countenance and deportment. And herein does this godly sorrow much
[3.] There is in it a real trouble and disquietment of mind: for sorrow
is an afflictive passion; it is contrary to that composure which the mind
would constantly be at. Howbeit, this trouble is not such as is opposed
unto spiritual peace and refreshment; for it is an effect of faith, and
faith will produce nothing that is really inconsistent with peace with
God, or that shall impeach it: but it is opposite unto other comforts. It
is a trouble that all earthly things cannot take off and remove. This
trouble of his mind, in his sorrow for sin, David on all occasions
expresses unto God; and sometimes it rises to a great and dreadful
height, as it is expressed, Ps.88 throughout. Hereby the soul is
sometimes overwhelmed; yet so as to relieve itself by pouring out its
complaint before the Lord, Ps.102:1.
[4.] This inward frame of trouble, mourning, and contriteness, will
express itself on all just occasions by the outward signs of sighs,
tears, and mournful complaints, Ps.31:10. So David continually mentions
his tears on the like account; and Peter, on the review of his sin, wept
bitterly; and Mary washed the feet of Christ with her tears;--as we
should all do. A soul filled with sorrow will run over and express its
inward frame by these outward signs. I speak not of those self-whole,
jolly professors which these days abound with; but such as faith engages
in this duty will on all occasions abound in these things. I fear there
is amongst us too great a pretence that men's natural tempers and
constitutions are uncompliant with these things. Where God makes the
heart soft, and godly sorrow does not only sometimes visit it, but dwell
in it, it will not be wholly wanting in these expressions of it; and what
it comes short of one way it may make up in another. Whatever the case be
as to tears, it is certain that to multiply sighs and groans for sin is
contrary to no man's constitution, but only to sin ingrafted in his
[5.] This godly sorrow will constantly incite the mind unto all duties,
acts, and fruits of repentance whatever; it is never barren nor
heartless, but being both a grace and a duty, it will stir up the soul
unto the exercise of all graces, and the performance of all duties that
are of the same kind. This the apostle declares fully, 2 Cor.7:11.
This, therefore, is another thing which belongs unto that state of
repentance which faith will bring the soul unto, and whereby it will
evidence itself on the occasions before mentioned; and indeed, if this
sorrow be constant and operative, there is no clearer evidence in us of
saving faith. They are blessed who thus mourn. I had almost said, it is
worth all other evidences, as that without which they are none at all;
where this frame is not in some good measure, the soul can have no
pregnant evidence of its good estate.
4. Another thing that belongs to this state, is outward observances
becoming it; such as abstinence, unto the due mortification of the
flesh,--not in such things or ways as are hurtful unto nature, and really
obstructive of greater duties. There have been great mistakes in this
matter; most men have fallen into extremes about it, as is usual with the
most in like cases. They did retain in the Papacy, from the beginning of
the apostasy of the church from the rule of the Scripture, an opinion of
the necessity of mortification unto a penitent state; but they mistook
the nature of it, and placed it for the most part in that which the
apostle calls the "doctrine of devils," when he foretold believers of
that hypocritical apostasy, 1 Tim.4:1-3. Forbidding to marry, engaging
one sort of men by vows against the use of that ordinance of God for all
men, and enjoining abstinence from meats in various laws and rules, under
pretence of great austerity, was the substance of their mortification.
Hereunto they added habits, fasting disciplines, rough garments, and the
like pretended self-macerations innumerable. But the vanity of this
hypocrisy has been long since detected. But therewithal most men are
fallen into the other extreme. Men do generally judge that they are at
their full liberty in and for the use of the things esteemed refreshments
of nature; yea, they judge themselves not to be obliged unto any
retrenchment in garments, diet, with the free use of all things in
themselves lawful, when they are under the greatest necessity of godly
sorrow and express repentance. But there is here a no less pernicious
mistake than in the former excess; and it is that which our Lord Jesus
Christ gives us in charge to watch against, Luke 21:34-36.
This, therefore, I say, is required unto the state we inquire after:
Those things which restrain the satisfaction of the appetite, with an
aversation of the joyous enticements of the world, walking heavily and
mournfully, expressing an humble and afflicted frame of spirit, are
necessary in such a season. The mourners in Zion are not to be ashamed of
their lot and state, but to profess it in all suitable outward
demonstration of it;--not in fantastical habits and gestures, like sundry
orders of the monks; not in affected forms of speech, and uncouth
deportments, like some among ourselves; but in such ways as naturally
express the inward frame of mind inquired after.
5. There is required hereunto a firm watch over solitudes and
retirements of the night and day, with a continual readiness to conflict
temptations in their first appearance, that the soul be not surprised by
them. The great design, in the exercise of this grace, is to keep and
preserve the soul constantly in an humble and contrite frame; if that be
lost at any time, the whole design is for that season disappointed.
Wherefore, faith engages the mind to watch against two things:--(1.) The
times wherein we may lose this frame; (2.) The means whereby. And,--
(1.) For the times. There are none to be so diligently watched over as
our solitudes and retirements by night or by day. What we are in them,
that we are indeed, and no more. They are either the best or the worst of
our times, wherein the principle that is predominant in us will show and
act itself. Hence some are said "to devise evil on their beds, and when
the morning is light they practice it," Mic.2:1. Their solitude in the
night serves them to think on, contrive, and delight in, all that
iniquity which they intend by day to practice, according to their power.
And on the other side, the work of a gracious soul in such seasons is to
be seeking after Christ, Cant.3:1,--to be meditating of God, as the
psalmist often expresses it. This, therefore, the humble soul is
diligently watchful in, that at such seasons vain imaginations, which are
apt to obtrude themselves on the mind, do not carry it away, and cause it
to lose its frame, though but for a season; yea, these are the times
which it principally lays hold on for its improvement: then does it call
over all those considerations of sin and grace, which are meet to affect
it and abase it.
(2.) For the means of the loss of an humble frame. They are
temptations; these labour to possess the mind either by sudden surprisals
or continued solicitations. A soul engaged by faith in this duty is aware
always of their deceit and violence; it knows that if they enter into it,
and do entangle it, though but for a season, they will quite cast out or
deface that humble, contrite, broken frame, which it is its duty to
preserve. And there is none who has the least grain of spiritual wisdom,
but may understand of what sort these temptations are which he is
obnoxious unto. Here, then, faith sets the soul on its watch and guard
continually, and makes it ready to combat every temptation on its first
appearance, for then it is weakest and most easily to be subdued; it will
suffer them to get neither time, nor ground, nor strength: so it
preserves an humble frame,--delivers it frequently from the jaws of this
6. Although the soul finds satisfaction in this condition, though it be
never sinfully weary of it, nor impatient under it, yea, though it labour
to grow and thrive in the spirit and power of it, yet it is constantly
accompanied with deep sighs and greenings for its deliverance. And these
greenings respect both what it would be delivered from and what it would
attain unto; between which there is an interposition of some sighs and
groans of nature, for a continuance in its present state.
(1.) That which this groaning respects deliverance from is the
remaining power of sin; this is that which gives the soul its distress
and disquietment. Occasionally, indeed, its humility, mourning, and
self-abasement are increased by it; but this is through the efficacy of
the grace of Christ Jesus,--in its own nature it tends to hurt and ruin.
This the apostle emphatically expresses in his own person, as bearing the
place and state of other believers, Rom.7:24.
And this constant groaning for deliverance from the power of sin
excites the soul to pursue it unto its destruction. No effect of faith,
such as this is, is heartless or fruitless; it will be operative towards
what it aims at,--and that in this case is the not-being of sin: this the
soul groans after, and therefore contends for. This is the work of faith,
and "faith without works is dead:" wherefore it will continually pursue
sin unto all its retirements and reserves. As it can have no rest from
it, so it will give neither rest nor peace unto it; yea, a constant
design after the not-being of sin, is a blessed evidence of a saving
(2.) That which it looks after is the full enjoyment of glory,
Rom.8:23. This, indeed, is the grace and duty of all believers, of all
who have received the first-fruits of the Spirit; they all in their
measure groan that their very bodies may be delivered from being the
subject and seat of sin,--that they may be redeemed out of that bondage.
It is a bondage to the very body of a believer, to be instrumental unto
sin. This we long for its perfect deliverance from, which shall complete
the grace of adoption in the whole person. But it is most eminent in
those who excel in a state of humiliation and repentance. They, if any,
groan earnestly,--this they sigh, breathe, and pant after continually;
and their views of the glory that shall be revealed give them refreshment
in their deepest sorrows; they wait for the Lord herein more than they
that wait for the morning. Do not blame a truly penitent soul if he longs
to be dissolved; the greatness and excellency of the change which he
shall have thereby is his present life and relief.
(3.) But there is a weight on this desire, by the interposition of
nature for the continuation of its present being, which is inseparable
from it. But faith makes a reconciliation of these repugnant
inclinations, keeping the soul from weariness and impatience. And this it
does by reducing the mind unto its proper rock: it lets it know that it
ought not absolutely to be under the conduct of either of these desires.
First, it keeps them from excess, by teaching the soul to regulate them
both by the word of God: this it makes the rule of such desires and
inclinations; which whilst they are regulated by, we shall not offend in
them. And it mixes a grace with them both that makes them useful,--
namely, constant submission to the will of God. "This grace would have,
and this nature would have; but," says the soul, "the will and sovereign
pleasure of God is my rule: 'Not my will, holy Father, but thy will be
done.'" We have the example of Christ himself in this matter.
7. The last thing I shall mention, as that which completes the state
described, is abounding in contemplations of things heavenly, invisible,
and sternal. None have more holy and humble thoughts than truly penitent
souls, none more high and heavenly contemplations. You would take them to
be all sighs, all mourning, all dejection of spirit; but none are more
above,--none more near the high and lofty One. As he dwells with them,
Isa.57:15, so they dwell with him in a peculiar manner, by these heavenly
contemplations. Those who have lowest thoughts of themselves, and are
most filled with self-abasement, have the clearest views of divine glory.
The bottom of a pit or well gives the best prospect of the heavenly
luminaries; and the soul in its deepest humiliations has for the most
part the clearest views of things within the vail.