Spiritual refining: or A treatise of grace and assurance Wherein are handled, the doctrine of assurance. The use of signs in self-examination. How true graces may be distinguished from counterfeit. Several true signs of grace, and many false ones. The nature of grace under divers Scripture notions or titles, as regeneration, the new-creature, the heart of flesh, vocation, sanctification, &c. Many chief questions (occasionally) controverted between the orthodox and the Arminians. As also many cases of conscience. Tending to comfort and confirm saints. Undeceive and convert sinners. Being CXX sermons preached and now published by Anthony Burgess sometime fellow of Emanuel Colledge in Cambridge, and now pastor of the church of Sutton-Coldfield in Warwickshire.
Burgess, Anthony, d. 1664.
Page  55

SERMON XI.

Shewing how many wayes men may miscarry in the work of Self-examination by Signs.


2 COR. 13. 5.
Examine your selves, prove your own selves, &c.

I Shall now close up this Text, finishing also that Discourse about the signes of Grace. The work that remaineth at this time, is to advertise you against those many rocks you may split at, while you proceed by signs; for although this method (as you have heard) be lawfull, and a duty, yet there is required much art and skill to mannage this work, insomuch that herein he ought to have his senses exercised to discern between good and evil.

Now the miscarriages about Signs may be divers waies: As

First, About the Signs themselves; and that either on the right hand, or left; * on the right-hand, By prescribing to our selves such Signs as are impossible to be at∣tained in this life. Thus there is an Anabaptistical and a Popish perfection, where∣by men are taught to finde such a perfect mark of grace, a that no sin shall be in them, at least for some space of time: but it is no marvel if the soul be perpetual∣ly tormented that seeketh for such a ground of comfort within it own self. John who 1 Joh. 3. makes the keeping of Gods Commandments a signe whereby we are of the truth, doth yet Chap. 1. 8. say, That if we say we have no sinne, we de∣ceive our selves; yet herein Gods children make many sad wounds for themselves, not distinguishing between the truth and essence of grace, and the degrees of it. Whereas the Scripture makes them blessed that hunger and thirst, yea it doth often describe the godly by their desires, and seeking of his face; now this error is the more fastened upon them, because when they reade in books, or hear Ministers preach about the nature and properties of any grace, they are not able to finde it in such a vigorous and powerfull manner in themselves, whereas they ought to know, it is one thing to speak of grace in Idea in se, in its own nature and definition, another thing to speak of it, as in subjecto, as the Subject partakes of it. When the Ministers of God presse any grace upon you, they commonly do it in the ab∣stracted nature of it, as it hath its perfectest lineaments and shape, but as this grace is received in the subject, so it is much debilitated.

But as some torture themselves by seeking that in themselves which cannot be found, So there are more that turn to the left side, making many things signs of grace,*which are not proper characters. Thus the Sacraments, outward Ordinances, mat∣ter of Opinion and Judgement, great Abilities in religious Duties, but all these may be in an heart unregenerated, as appeareth in those, who said, Have not we prophesied in thy name? Hence the Apostle saith, That neither circumcision, or uncircumcision availeth any thing, but a new creature. They therefore that de∣scribe godliness by these common Marks, do as Socrates (if I mistake not) that defined a man to be animal bipes implume; and Diogenes brought a Cock plucked of his feathers, to shew this was Socrates his man. As a man is to be defined by that only which is essential, so must a godly man be notified by that only which Page  56 notifieth godlinesse. Therefore those many Symptoms, by which many impro∣priate grace and godlinesse to themselves, as outward Ordinances, a different way of Church-Government, great inward enlargements of it, are no infallible tokens; Therefore to drive people out of their holds, I shall in time select the choisest false signs, and make distinct Sermons upon them; for as the false Pro∣phets and Antichrist shall come with false signs, which shall be so specious that the very elect will be in danger to be deceived; so the hypocrisie and guile of our own hearts is so exceeding great that we many times take our copper graces for gold. Know then that whatsoever signs are taken up by thee, if they be not such as are essential, from which there is a necessary inference of the state of grace, thou venturest thy soul upon uncertain reeds.

Secondly, There is a danger about marks of grace, when we try not our graces by*a true touchstone. When the Apostle commands us to examine and prove our selves, it supposeth there is a sure Canon and Rule to go by, which is to measure and re∣gulate those things we doubt of. And that is the word of God, which David cals the light and lanthorn to his feet; and Paul commends them as those that are able to make us wise to Salvation; So that as when we are commanded to try the Spirits, and Doctrines of men, there is implied a recourse to the Scriptures, which is the only Starre to lead us, insomuch that the whole building of our faith must be cut out of this Mountain, and from this brook are all Davids to fetch their stones, which they shall sling in the head of every Goliah (I mean every heretick) insomuch that in matters of Doctrine, a man doth truly say, Non credo, quia non lego, I do not believe it, because I do not read it. Thus it is also in those injunctions, which are to search and try our hearts, for those do sup∣pose the Scripture to be the true Standard, and whatsoever is too light or faulty, must be discovered by this; for as God is the Principium essendi, the beginning or cause of the being of grace; so Gods word is the Principium cognoscendi, the principle by which we know what is true grace; now from this it is that most men do so easily perswade themselves of their being in a good estate, because they judge of godlinesse, by the principles of the world and humane grounds, not by Scripture-directions; Scripture-godlinesse is as different from the moral mans godlinesse as the Sunne is from a Glow-worm. Though this hath a little lustre in a dark night, yet indeed it is nothing but a slimy, earthy worm, insomuch that we may truly say of all the civil, moral and refined lives of men in Christianity, who have not the power of Regeneration in them. What Erasmus said of Se∣neca, Si ispicias illum ut Paganus, Christianè scripsit, si ut Christianus, Paganicè. If you look as an Heathen upon him, then he seemeth to you to write as if he were a Christian; but if you look upon him as a Christian, then he seemeth to write as an Heathen. Thus it is here, look upon many mens lives, they are so full of ingenuity, righteousnesse and justice in their dealings, so much sweetness and candour in their spirits, that if as an Heathen you would look upon them, you would call them divine and holy men, but then look upon them as a Christi∣an instructed out of the Scripture, and observe how unacquainted they are with a broken and contrite heart, how ignorant of Faith and the inward work of Re∣generation, then you will say, they are only baptized Heathens, for even among them we can shew such men. If therefore you would not precipitate your soul into a gulf, take up the right rule, before you go to measure your selves. Thou maiest be admired and much applauded by others for thy goodness and piety (as the Pharisees were) and yet be abominable before God.

Thirdly, Then do we miscarry about Signs, when we make use of them in a preju∣dicial way to those direct and immediate acts of Faith, whereby we receive and apply*Christ to our souls. For the great work of a Christian is out of the sense and feeling of its own want and spiritual poverty, to roll himself, and rest only upon Christ for Atonement and Reconciliation, that is that faith 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, (a phrase not known to humane Authours, which the Scripture so often requireth and com∣mands: Page  57 This is that whereby we are justified; this is that whereby we set up Christ, and give glory unto God. Now it many times fals out, that while a godly man is poring and digging into his own heart to finde grace there, he for∣gets to exercise applicative acts of Faith, so as thereby to close with Christ. Alas, though the sight of thy graces be comfortable, yet that of Christ ought to be much more. These graces are but the handmaids and servants that wait upon Christ, they are but tokens from him, they are not himself: A man is not only to go out of his sins, but also out of his graces unto Christ. See Paul, Phil. 3. how excellently doth he debase all his own graces to be found in Christ. Let not therefore the desire after inherent righteousnesse make thee forget imputed righ∣teousnesse; This is to take the friend of the Bridegroom for the Bridegroom it self; and for this end (without doubt) it is that the people of God are so often in darknesse and have no light, see no comfortable sign or token of Gods love unto them, that so they may stay themselves upon God. This trusting in God and in Christ, when we feel nothing but guilt and destruction in our selves, is the greatest honour we can give God, and therefore though the living by signes be more comfortable to us, yet the living by faith is greater honour to God. Hence it is that the life of a godly man, is called a life of faith, because though God may many times encourage him with those sensible evidences, yet he doth morefre∣quently call them to combate and conflict with sense & reason. Do not therefore be unacquainted with this way of relying on Christ in the midst of all darkness, for God many times will cause an eclipse of thy signs, thou shalt many times look into thy heart, and find no comfort at all, see nothing but barrennes, hypocrisy, and every thing that may make thee tremble and be astonished at thy self, and then the im∣mediate depending upon, and adhering unto a promise, will be thy only refuge.

4. We miscarry about Signs, when we make them more then Signs, even grounds and*causes of our comfort and hope, thus making them in Christs stead. The fear of this hath made many so hot against signs; but these things may well be composed; comfort by signs & recumbency only upon Christ, & when we go further to take pride in them, or put carnal confidence in them, this is woful wronging our souls. It is worthy our observation, when Peter in the name of the Apostles Mat. 8. 24. had professed they had left all and followed Christ, with some kind of pride and carnal confidence, there∣upon asking, what should they have? our Saviour to humble them, and to keep them low in theirown eies, speaks a Parable to infer this truth, That many which are first shall be last, and many that are last shall be first, which whether you expound in this sens (as some do) many that were first, both in order of time and zeal of affection to do God service, yet wanting the truth of grace and inward humility; Shall be last, that is none at all in the Kingdom of heaven, or if you explain it (as others) Ma∣ny that are first, that is, who have been exceeding forward and active for God, and that with truth of grace, yet being puft up with pride, and trusting in themselves, as the Apostles at that present were; Shall be last, that is, shall have lesse glory and ho∣nour in heaven. Whether (I say) of these Expositions you take, they are both terri∣ble, and sufficient to take us from pride and security. when we discover Gods gra∣ces in us, the discovery of grace in thee, is to make thee walk more comfortably and thankfully unto God, not to cause any tumors or swellings in thy own self.

5. When we try our selves by Signs, we shall deceive our own selves, if we cast not*out two cursed corrupt principles out of us; the former is Self-love, and Self-flatte∣ry, whereby we perswade our selves of grace, when there is no such matter. Hence the Scripture bids us, Commune with our own hearts, and search and try our wayes, which supposeth that without diligent scrutiny, we shall alwayes be strangers to what is in our own souls. Thus many deceive their own souls, saying, They do repent, they do believe, they do love God with all their heart, when (alas) they know not the power of these things upon their own souls, thy heart is na∣turally a liar, and therefore believe it not. Thus the Pharisees did not know their own hearts, when they prayed, fasted and gave alms: Thus the Jews did Page  58 not know their own hearts, when they cried The Temple of the Lord, and aboun∣ded in Sacrifices. This knowing of our own hearts is a supernatural lesson, taught only by the Spirit of God. Oh this self-flattery, how doth it damn its thousands, men making it no question, but they do repent and love God, when yet Christ hath said, Many are called, but few are chosen, that is, of those many that are called by God to the enjoyment of Church-Ordinances and Priviledges, few have those true works of grace, which are proper to the elect only! O how should this terrible sentence spoken by Christ himself, make thee question again and again, yea a thousand times again, whether thou art called only, and no more, not chosen at all! for they are few.

The other sinfull principle to be ejected, is unbelief and suspitious jealousie over our selves, not giving credit to what we see and feel in our own souls, but argue and cavil against it. For as while a man is in the state of unregeneration, he is al∣waies in love with himself, and cannot be brought to loath and dislike himself, as you see in Paul while unconverted; so when the Spirit of God hath throughly humbled us, made us see our beastlinesse and filthinesse, then we run into ano∣ther extream, not taking notice of, but even denying the work of God upon our hearts; Their hearts did once so deceive them, that now they know not how to trust them any more. Hence the people of God are subject to no temptation so much as this, Whether they be sincere and upright, they look only to the evil they finde in themselves, not the good God hath wrought in them; whereas it is their duty to take notice of all the good God hath vouchsafed to them: for how shall they be thankfull unto God, and acknowledge him, if they be igno∣rant herein?

Sixthly, When they do not take the fit season, then they also are in danger of miscar∣riage. Now then it is unseasonable, when they are full of dark, and black tem∣ptations, * for then are they in a mist, and not able to see things aright, while He∣man is distracted with Gods terrors upon him, that doth eclipse his judgement; How often doth David in sad exigents think God hath forsaken him? When the looking-glasse is broke in several pieces, it doth represent the face of a man much deformed; The muddied water is not fit to give the true shape of the face, and thus it is here, the heart full of temptations within, and sollicited with Satans injections from without, putteth the soul upon an amazement. The incestuous person, though truly repenting of his sin, yet takes no comfort, but is even swal∣lowed up by Satan, Signs thereof from within do not at such times affect, and no marvel when Gods signs without, the Sacraments that are seals of his love, do not perswade him.

Seventhly, When they apprehend no Sign sufficient, unlesse they have had an actu∣al perseverance to the end. Now although it be true, that the good ground dif∣fered * from the bad, in that it held out to the end, yet that was not the only, nor the principal difference, but this perseverance was an effect flowing from the nature of the good soul. Although therefore afflictions and persecutions do detect the false∣ness of many, as appeareth Matth. 13. yet it doth not follow, that therefore none can have Assurance, but such who are come to their journies end. The Ar∣minians indeed much presse this, and therefore they hold, There is no absolute and peremptory Election, but upon perseverance in faith and obedience. Hence they joyn with that of the Poet, Ante obitum, No man is happy before his death, be∣cause they may decline and apostatize from what they had. It cannot be denied but the revolt and degeneration of those who have seemed pillars in the Church of God, hath much affrighted the godly, making them also fear, as if one day or other, in one temptation or other they should fall away: but they are to con∣sider, That wheresoever grace is already truly wrought in a mans heart, there God hath made a promise to keep us till the end, so that we may be assured of perseverance as well as of our present righteousnesse, for God who beginneth a good work in us, will also make an end; and we have a gracious promise of Gods care to Page  62 us in 〈◊〉 Prophet Isaiah, That as he gave us being at first, and bore us in his arms, so he wilso carry us on to old-age it self; as Gods grace hath planted, so he will water it, 〈◊〉 give encrease to it. *

Eighthly, When in the searching for evidence by Signs, we do not above all pray to God for his Spirit, so to enlighten our eyes, that in and through these Marks we may come to be perswaded. For the Spirit of God is the efficient cause of all this Cer∣tainty; Even as its in matter of Doctrine, though a man reade the Scripture again and again, though 〈◊〉 diligently peruse all Authors that are diligent in wri∣ting of Arguments for the truth, yet all these do not move him, till the Spirit of God set it home upon him; So likewise about sin, though a man read the threat∣nings over and over, though he know himself guilty of those sins the word of God condemneth, yet all this doth not touch his heart, to make it bleed, till Gods Spirit doth convince him: After this manner t is in matter of evidence. Al∣though those godly exercises of grace be plentifull and copious in thee, yet thy heart is not perswaded of this, till Gods Spirit establish and confirm thy heart. Do not therefore think that by the strength of thy natural light, thou canst attain to this certainty.

Ninthly, When we think it a duty not to lay hold on Christ at all, till we have this*Certainty by Signs. Believers are very prone to think, that the first work they have to do, when called to God, is to see whether they have true qualifications in them; and upon the Certainty of this, then to apply Christ for Justification. But this is not the Scripture method, for that cals the hungry, the thirsty, the loaded and burdened; and where this need and desire of Christ is, such are called to come unto him; Therefore certainly that we have truth of grace is not an antecedent to justifying faith, but a consequent fruit of it. Hence that received opinion, That faith is a fiducial or strong perswasion that my sins are pardoned, hath justly caused many doubts, for this is not justifying faith, but a fruit of it. Hence Ephes. 3. we are said To have boldnesse and accesse to him through faith. And when the Apostle, Gal. 2. saith, The life he liveth is by faith in Christ, who gave himself for me, and loved me; he was not justified by this believing, but this did rather suppose him justified before, and united to Christ by a precedent act of faith.

If therefore a Christian should not come into Gods presence, or lay hold on a promise, till he have this Assurance of his inward qualifications, he may be debarred all his life; and the truth is, the soul in time of straights, is like Esther to go into the Kings presence though it perceive not the Scepter held out. We must not be assured and then lay hold upon Christ, but by laying hold on Christ we come to be assured: Christ many times doth that for a godly man, which in another case he said to Peter, Thou knowest not yet what I do to thee, but thou shalt know.

Lastly, We miscarry about Signs, when we compose not our selves, and put our*selves in a disposed and prepared way to receive this evidence of Grace; For we must not expect that God will assure us, whether we will or no. We by our unbelief and peevishnesse may refuse those good consolations the Spirit doth offer; So that although this sealing of Gods Spirit be efficiently from him, as conversion also is, yet we may in the former as well as in the later resist the Spirit of God: And it is a great sin to rebell against Gods Spirit, whether convincing of sin and duty, or comforting against doubts and distrusts: yea this is a greater sinne, for though the Spirit of God do convince, reprove, yet it hath a denomination from this operation especially, that it is a Spirit of Adoption enabling us to call Abba Father: Therefore when we do peevishly refuse the Spirits work herein, we do in a most eminent manner oppose it in that wherein its greatest glory is.