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fully dead; when as yet their soul hath been in them, though unable to exert those faculties which might evince her hidden presence. Such thou mayest be, at the worst yea, wert thou but in charity with thyself, thou wouldst be found in a much better con
There is the same reason of the natural life and the spiritual. Life, where it is, is discerned by Breathing, Sense, Motion.
Where there is the Breath of life, there must be a life that sends it forth. If, then, the soul breathes forth holy desires, doubtless there is a life whence they proceed. Now deny, if thou canst, that thou hast these spiritual breathings of holy desires within thee. Dost thou not many a time sigh, for thine own insensateness? is not thy heart troubled with the thoughts of thy want of grace? dost thou not truly desire, that God would renew a right spirit within thee? Take comfort to thyself: this is the work of the inward principle of God's Spirit within thee. As well may a man breathe without life, as thou couldst be thus affected without grace.
Sense is a quick descrier of life: pinch or wound a dead man, he feels nothing; but the living perceiveth the easiest touch. When thou hast heard the fearful judgments of God denounced against sinners, and laid home to the conscience, hast thou not found thy heart pierced with them? hast thou not shrunk inward; and secretly thought, "How shall I decline this dreadful damnation ?" When thou hast heard the sweet mercies of God laid forth to penitent sinners, hath not thy heart silently said, "Oh, that I had my share in them!" When thou hast heard the name of Christ blasphemed, hast thou not felt a secret horror in thy bosom? All these argue a true spiritual life within thee.
Motion is the most perfect discoverer of life. He, that can stir his limbs, is surely not dead. The feet of the soul are the affections. Hast thou not found in thyself a hate and detestation of that sin, whereinto thou hast been miscarried? hast thou not found in thyself a true grief of heart, for thy wretched indisposition to all good things? hast thou not found a secret love to and complacency in those, whom thou hast thought truly godly and conscionable? Without a true life of grace, these things could never have been. Are not thine and hands eyes times lifted up, in an many imploration of mercy? Canst thou deny, that thou hast a true, though but weak, appetite to the means, and further degrees of grace? What can this be, but that hunger and thirst after righ teousness, to which our Saviour hath pronounced blessedness?
Discomfort not thyself too much, my son, with the present disappearance of grace, during the hour of thy temptation. It is no otherwise with thee, than with a tree in winter season, whose sap is run down to the root; wherein there is no more shew of the life of vegetation by any buds or blossoms that it might put forth, than if it were stark dead: yet, when the sun returns, and sends forth his comfortable beams in the spring, it burgens out afresh'; and bewrays that vital juice, which lay long hidden in the earth. No otherwise,
than with the hearth of some good housewife, which is, towards night, swept up; and hideth the fire, under the heap of her ashes: a stranger would think it were quite out here is no appearance of light, or heat, or smoke; but, by that time she hath stirred it up a little, the bright gleeds shew themselves, and are soon raised to a flame. Stay but till the spring, when the Sun of Righteousness shall call up thy moisture into thy branches; stay but till the morning, when the fire of grace which was raked up in the ashes shall be drawn forth and quickened; and thou shalt find cause to say of thy heart, as Jacob said of his hard lodging, Surely, the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not; Gen. xxviii. 16. Only do thou, not neglecting the means, wait patiently upon God's leisure: stay quietly upon the bank of this Bethesda, till the angel descend and move the water.
Complaint of the insensibleness of the time and means of conversion answered.
"I COULD gladly," thou sayest, "attend with patience upon God, in this great and happy work of the excitation of grace, were I but sure I had it could I be but persuaded of the truth of my conversion. But it is my great misery, that here I am at a sad and uncomfortable loss. For I have been taught, that every true convert can design the time, the place, the means, the manner of his conversion: and can shew, how near he was brought to the gates of death, how close to the very verge of hell, when God, by a mighty and out-stretched arm, snatched him away, in his own sensible apprehension, from the pit; and suddenly rescued him from that damnation; and put him into a new state of spiritual life, and undefeasible salvation. All which I cannot do not finding in myself any such sudden and vehement concussion and heart-breaking; any such forcible and irresistible operation of God's Spirit within me: not being able to design the sermon, that converted me; or those particular approaches, that my soul made towards a hardlyrecovered desperation."
My son, it is not safe for any man, to take upon him to set limits to the ways of the Almighty; or to prescribe certain rules to the proceedings of that Infinite Wisdom. That most Free and Allwise Agent will not be tied to walk always in one path; but varies his courses, according to the pleasure of his own will.
One man, he calls suddenly; another, by leisure: one, by a kind of holy violence, as he did St. Paul; another, by sweet solicitations, as Philip, Nathanael, Andrew, Peter, Matthew, and the rest of the Apostles: one man, he draws to heaven with gracious invitations; another, he drives thither by a strong hand.
We have known those, who, having mispent their younger times in notoriously lewd and debauched courses, living as without God,
yea, against him, have been suddenly heart-stricken with some powerful denunciation of judgment, which hath so wrought upon them, that it hath brought them within sight of hell; who, after long and deep humiliation, have been raised up, through God's mercy, to a comfortable sense of the divine favour; and have proceeded to a very high degree of regeneration, and lived and died Saints. But this is not every man's case.
Those, who, having from their infancy been brought up in the nurture and fear of the Lord, Eph. vi. 4. and from their youth have been trained up under a godly and conscionable ministry; where they have been continually plied with the effectual means of grace; Precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little and there a little; Isa. xxviii. 10. and have, by an insensible conveyance, received the gracious inoperations of the Spirit of God, (though not without many inward strifes with temptations and sad fits of humiliation for their particular failings) framing them to a holy obedience these cannot expect to find so sensible alterations in theinselves. As well may the child know when he was naturally born, as these may know the instant of their spiritual regeneration; and as well may they see the grass to grow, as they can perceive their insensible increase of grace. It is enough, that the child, attaining to the use of reason, now knows that he was born; and that when we see the grass higher than we left it, we know that it is grown.
Let it then suffice thee, my son to know that the thing is done, though thou canst not define the time and manner of doing it. Be not curious in matter of particular perceptions, while thou mayest be assured of the reality and truth of the grace wrought in thee. Thou seest the skilful chirurgeon, when he will make a fontinell in the body of his patient, he can do it either by a sudden incision or by a leisurely corrosive: both sort to one end, and equally tend towards health. Trust God with thyself; and let him alone, with his own work what is it to thee, which way he thinks best to bring about thy salvation?
Complaint of irresolution and uncertainty, in matter of our election, answered.
"ALL were safe," thou sayest, "if only I could be ascertained of mine election to life: I could be patient, so I might be sure: but, wretched man that I am, here, here I stick! I see others walk confidently and comfortably, as if they were in heaven already: whereas, I droop under a continual diffidence; raising unto myself daily new arguments of my distrust: could my heart be settled in this assurance, nothing could ever make me other than happy."
It is true, my son, that, as all other mercies flow from this of our
election; so, the securing of this one involves all other favours, that concern the well being of our souls.
It is no less true, that our election may be assured: else the Holy Ghost had never laid so deep a charge upon us, to do our utmost endeavour to ascertain it and we shall be much wanting to ourselves, if, hearing so excellent a blessing may be attained by our diligence, we shall slacken our hand; and not stretch it forth to the height, to reach that crown, which is held out to us.
But, withal, it is true, that if there were not difficulty more than ordinary in this work, the Apostle had not so earnestly called for the utmost of our endeavour to effect it *.
Shortly, the truth is, in all Christianity there is no path, wherein there is more need of treading warily, than in this on each side, is danger, and death. Security lies on the one hand; presumption, on the other: the miscarriage, either way, is deadly.
Look about thee, and see the miserable examples of both kinds. Some walk carelessly, as if there were no heaven; or, if there were such a place, yet as if it nothing concerned them: their hearts are taken up with earth; neither care nor wish to be other, than this world can make them: The God of this world hath blinded their minds that believe not; 2 Cor. iv. 4. Some others walk proudly; being vainly puft up with their own ungrounded imaginations; as if they were already invested with their glory; as if, being rapt up with the Chosen Vessel into the third heaven, they had there seen their names recorded in the Book of Life: whereas, this is nothing but an illusion of that Lying Spirit, who knows the way to keep them for ever out of heaven, is to make them believe they are there.
It must be thy main care, to walk even, in a just equidistance from both these extremes; and so to compose thyself, that thou mayest be resolute without presumption, and careful without diffidence.
And first, I advise thee to abandon those false teachers, whose trade is to improve their wits for the discomfort of souls, in broaching the sad doctrines of uncertainty and distrust. Be sure, our Saviour had never bidden his disciples to rejoice that their names are written in heaven; (Luke x. 20.) if there had not been a particular enrolment of them; or if that record had been alterable; or if the same disciples could never have attained to the notice of such inscription.
Neither is this a mercy peculiar to his domestic followers alone; but universal to all, that shall believe through their word. Even thou and I are spoken to, in them. So sure as we have names, we may know them registered in those eternal records above.
Not that we should take an Acesius's ladder, and climb up into heaven, and turn over the book of God's secret counsels, and read ourselves designed to glory: but, that, as we by experience see
that we can by reflections see and read those letters, which directly we cannot; so we may do here, in this highest of spiritual objects. The same Apostle, that give us our charge, gives us, withal, our direction: Wherefore, saith he, brethren, give all diligence to make your calling and election sure : διὰ τῶν καλῶν ἔργων, as divers copies read it; by good works. For, if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: for so an entrance shall be ministered to you abundantly, into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ; 2 Pet. i. 10, 11.
Lo, first, our calling; then, our election. Not that we should begin with heaven, and thence descend to the earth: it is enough for the angels on that celestial ladder of Jacob, to both descend and ascend: but that we should from earth ascend to heaven; from our calling, to our election; as knowing, that God shews what he hath done for us above, by that which he hath wrought in us here below.
Our Calling, therefore, first: not outward and formal; but inward and effectual. The Spirit of God hath a voice, and our soul hath an ear. That voice of the Spirit speaks inwardly and effectually to the ear of the soul, calling us out of the state of corrupt nature, into the state of grace; out of darkness, into his marvellous light.
By thy calling, therefore, mayest thou judge of thine Election. God never works in vain : neither doth he ever cast away his saving graces; whatever become of the common. But, whom he did predestinate, them also he called; and whom he called, them he justified; and whom he justified, them also he glorified; Rom. viii. 30.
"This, doubtless," thou sayest," is sure in itself; but how is it assured to me?" Resp. That, which the Apostle adds, as it is read in some copies, By good works, if therein we also comprehend the acts of believing and repenting, is a notable evidence of our election. But, not to urge that clause, which, though read in the Vulgate, is found wanting in our editions; the clear words of the text evince no less: For, if ye do these things, ye shall never fall. Here is our negative certainty. And, for our positive: So an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly, into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Lo, if we shall never fall, if we shall undoubtedly enter into the kingdom of Christ, what possible scruple can be made of the blessed accomplishment of our election?
What then are these things, which must be done by us? Cast your eyes upon that precious chain of graces, which you shall find stringed up in the foregoing words. If you add to your faith, virtue; and to virtue, knowledge; and to knowledge, temperance; and to temperance, patience; and to patience, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, charity; 2 Pet. i. 5, 6, 7. If you would know what God hath written concerning you in heaven, look into your own bosom: see what graces he