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order of nature ; it is an illustrating circumstance, that among other things adds lustre to the evidence he gives his brethren of the truth of his experiences.
But the thing that I speak of as unscriptural, is the insisting on a particular account of the distinct method and steps, wherein the Spirit of God did sensibly proceed, in first bringing the soul into a state of salvation, as a thing requisite in order to receiving a professor into full charity as a real Christ. ian ; or so, as for the want of such relation, to disregard other things in the evidence persons give to their neighbors of their Christianity, that are vastly more important and essential
Secondly, That we may rightly understand how Christian practice is the greatest evidence that others can have of the sincerity of a professing Christian, it is needful that what was said before, shewing what Christian practice is, should be borne in mind; and that it should be considered how far this may be visible to others. Merely that a professor of Christ. ianity is what is commonly called an honest man, and a moral man, (i. e. we have no special transgression or iniquity to charge him with, that might bring a blot on his character) is no great evidence of the sincerity of his profession. This is not making his light shine before men. This is not that work and labor of love shewed towards Christ's name, which gave the apostle such persuasion of the sincerity of the professing Hebrews, Heb. vi. 9, 10. It may be so, that we may sce nothing in a man, but that he may be a good man, there may appear nothing in his life and conversation inconsistent with his being godly, and yet neither may there be any great positive evidence that he is so. But there may be great positive appearance of holiness in men's visible behavior. Their life may appear to be a life of the service of God: They may appear to follow the example of Jesus Christ, and come up in a great measure to those excellent rules in the 5th, 6th, and 7th chapters of Matthew, and 12th of Romans, and
many other parts of the New Testament : There may be a great appearance of their being universal in their obedience to Christ's commands and the rules of the gospel. They
may appear to be universal in the performance of the duties of the first table, manifesting the fear and love of God; and also universal in fulfilling rules of love to men, love to saints, and love to enemics : Rules of meekness and forgiveness, rules of mercy and charity, and looking not only at our own things but also at the things of others; rules of doing good to men's souls and bodies, to particular persons and to the public ; rules of temperance and mortification, and of an humble conversation ; rules of bridling the tongue, and improving it to glorify God and bless men, shewing that in their tongues is the law of kindness. They may appear to walk as Christians, in all places, and at ail seasons, in the house of God, and in their families, and among their neighbors, on Sabbath days and every day, in business and in conversation, towards friends and enemies, towards superiors, inferiors, and equals. Persons in their visible walk may appear to be very earnestly engaged in the service of God and mankind, much to labor and lay out themselves in this work of a Christian, and to be very constant and stedfast in it, under all circumstances and temptations. There may be great manifestations of a spirit to deny themselves, and suffer for God and Christ, and the interest of religion, and the benefit of their brethren. There may be great appearances in a man's walk, of a disposition to forsake any thing, rather than to forsake Christ, and to make every thing give place to his honor. There may be great manifestations in a man's behavior of such religion as this, being his element, and of his placing the delight and happiness of his life in it; and his conversation may be such, that he may carry with him a sweet odor of Christian graces and heavenly dispositions, wherever he goes. And when it is thus in the professors of Christianity, here is an evidence to others of their sincerity in their profession, to which all other manifestations are not worthy to be compared.
There is doubtless a great variety in the degrees of evidence that professors do exhibit of their sincerity, in their life and practice ; as there is a variety in the fairness and clearness of accounts persons give of the manner and method of their experiences : But undoubtedly such a manifestation as
has been described, of a Christian spirit in practice, is vastly beyond the fairest and brightest story of particular steps and passages of experience that ever was told. And in general, a manifestation of the sincerity of a Christian profession in practice, is far better than a relation of experiences. But yet,
Thirdly, it must be noted, agreeable to what was formerly observed, that no external manifestations and outward appearances whatsoever, that are visible to the world, are in falli. ble evidences of grace. These manifestations that have been mentioned, are the best that mankind can have ; and they are such as do oblige Christians entirely to embrace professors as saints, and love them and rejoice in them as the children of God, and are sufficient to give them as great satisfaction concerning them, as ever is needful to guide them in their conduct, or for any purpose that needs to be answered in this world. , But nothing that appears to them in their neighbor, can be sufficient to beget an absolute certainty concerning the state of his soul : For they see not his heart, nor can they see all his external behavior ; for much of it is in secret, and hid from the eye of the world ; and it is impossible certainly to determine how far a man may go in many external appearances and imitations of grace, from other principles. Though undoubtedly, if others could see so much of what belongs to men's practice, as their own consciences may see of it, it might be an infallible evidence of their state, as will appear from what follows.
Having thus considered Christian practice as the best evidence of the sincerity of professors to others, I now proceed,
2. To observe, that the scripture also speaks of Christian practice as a distinguishing and sure evidence of grace to persons' own consciences. This is very plain in 1 John ii. 3. “ Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.” And the testimony of our consciences, with respect to our good deeds, is spoken of as that which may give us assurance of our own godliness, 1 John iii. 18, 19. My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in decit, and in truth. And hereby we know Vol. IV.
that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him." And the Apostle Paul, in Heb. vi. speaks of the work and labor of love, of the Christian Hebrews, as that which both gave him a persuasion that they had something above the highest common illuminations, and also as that evidence which tended to give them the highest assurance of hope concerning themselves, verse ', &c. “ But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak. For God is not unrighteous, to forget your work and labor of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to his saints, and do minister. And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence, to the full assurance of hope unto the end.” So the apostle directs the Galatians to examine their behavior or practice, that they might have rejoicing in themselves in their own happy state, Gal. vi. 4. “ Let every man prove his own work, so shall he have rejoicing in himself, and not in another.” And the psalmist says, Psal. cxix. 6, “ Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments ;" i. e. then I shall be bold, and assured, and stedfast in my hope. And in that of our Saviour, Matth. vii. 19, 20. “Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, is hewn down and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” Though Christ gives this, firstly, as a rule by which we should judge of others, yet in the words that next follow he plainly shews, that he intends it also as a rule by which we should judge ourselves ; “ Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven ; but he that doth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, &c. And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you : Depart from me, ye that work iniquity. Therefore, whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doth them, I will liken him unto a wise man which built his house upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man which built his house
upon the sand.” I shall have occasion to mention other texts that shew the same thing, hereafter.
But for the greater clearness in this matter, I would, first, shew how Christian practice, doing good works, or keeping Christ's commandments, is to be taken, when the scripture represents it as a sure sign to our own consciences, that we are real Christians. And, secondly, will prove, that this is the chief of all evidences that men can have of their own sincere godliness.
First, I would shew how Christian practice, or keeping Christ's commandments, is to be taken, when the scripture represents it as a sure evidence to our own consciences, that we are sincere Christians.
And here I would observe, that we cannot reasonably suppose, that when the scripture in this case speaks of good works, good fruit, and keeping Christ's commandments, it has respect merely to what is external, or the motion and action of the body without including any thing else, having no respect to any aim or intention of the agent, or any act of his understanding or will. For consider men's actions so, and they are no more good works or acts of obedience, than the regular motions of a clock ; nor are they considered as the actions of the man, nor any human actions at all. The actions of the body, taken thus, are neither acts of obedience nor disobedience, any more than the motions of the body in a conyulsion. But the obedience and fruit that is spoken of, is the obedience and fruit of the man; and therefore not only the acts of the body, but the obedience of the soul, consisting in the acts and practice of the soul. Not that I suppose, that when the scripture speaks, in this case, of gracious works, and fruit and practice, that in these expressions are included all inward piety and holiness of heart, both principle and exercise, both spirit and practice : Because then, in these things being given as signs of a gracious principle in the heart, the same thing would be given as a sign of itself, and there would be no distinction between root and fruit. But only the gracious exercise, and holy act of the soul is meant, and given as the sign of the holy principle and good estate.