How necessary and advantagious the Assurance of our being in the state of Grace is.
2 COR. 13. 5.
THe Church of Corinth, though it was a Garden immediat∣ly planted by the Apostles, yet quickly was filled with noisome weeds, whereupon the Apostle threatens it with severe Discipline, if they repent not; Ecclesiastical Di∣scipline being in the Church, as the Sword is in the Com∣monwealth. The Corinthians distaste this severity, and question his Apostolical power and authority: Love to mens lusts, and a desire of security in them, rather then any solid Arguments, make men question the Jus Divinum of Christs institu∣tions. The Apostle proveth his Calling by that spiritual success and power∣full efficacy which his Word had among them, and therefore instead of proving and examining him, he commands them to try their own selves. This very Argu∣ment may the faithfull Ministers of God in England use against many who now condemn their Calling.
In the words you have a Duty enjoyned. 2. The object matter of it, Which is illustrated from an absurd consequent, if this duty be neglected.
The Duty is set home in two emphatical words 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, Examine your selves, and 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, Prove your selves. The former word doth in the general signifie to take an experimental knowledge of any thing that is either uncertain, un∣known or hidden. Hence that knowledge which we have by general arguments and abstracted reasons, cannot be called 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 an experimental knowledge. Now because, besides the bare knowledge, there may be also a good end or bad pro∣pounded in examination, therefore in an ill sense the word is applied to the devil and his instruments, and in a good sense to God, and here in the Text to our selves. It is further to be observed, that these words do imply that men are great strangers to themselves, and that so much self-love doth blinde them, that they know not themselves. Again, These words also imply that there are cer∣tain Marks and Signs, whereby a man may come certainly to know what he is, Page [unnumbered]〈1 page duplicate〉Page 1〈1 page duplicate〉Page 2 otherwise this command would be in vain. To the same purpose is the word al∣so 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 implieth a severe and diligent inquisition into our selves, so as to have a full experience of what is in us; hence Rom. 5. 5. 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 is used for experience.
In the next place you have the object matter, Whether ye be in the faith. He doth not here speak of Fides quae creditur, the Doctrine of faith; but the saving grace of faith, as appeareth by the other particular, Know ye not that Christ is in you? The Apostle saith, Ye in the faith, rather then faith in you, to shew the large extent of faith, that we are Subjects who do not contain it wholly; as he useth contrary phrases to be in sinne, and in the flesh rather then sinne, and flesh to be in us; so some observe that, Enter thou into thy Masters joy, not thy Ma∣sters joy into thee; though that seem to be a fancy, and the true meaning is, Enter into the place of thy Masters joy, for so 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 is used in Esther. The Popish Commentators to elude this place when brought by the Orthodox, to prove, That a man may be certain of true grace in him, do answer, That the Apostle speaks not here of the saving works of the Spirit, but the miraculous works; This is made an Argument that they were the Apostles of the true Messias, be∣cause of the miracles wrought among them. And Gal. 3. 5. the Apostle proveth the true Doctrine of Christ to be among them, because of miracles done to them; we may adde also Math. 11. 5. when Iohns Disciples come to know, Whe∣ther he were the true Christ, Jesus returneth this answer, The blinde receive their sight, the lame walk, &c. As if he should have said, These wonderfull works demonstrate me to be the Messias. Now though it should be granted, that this were part of the meaning, when the Apostle cals them to an experimental proof of his Apostleship among them, yet this cannot be all, because Christ is not said to dwell in us, according to the Scripture phrase, or to be in us by a meer mi∣raculous faith only.
The consequent absurdity is in those words, Unlesse ye be reprobates. Pisca∣tor takes reprobates here as opposed to those that are predestinated; but I pre∣ferre Baza's judgement, who understands it of a corrupt and unsound minde, thus, They might easily discover the work of Christ to be in them, or among them, unlesse their understandings were in part depraved; for that he doth not suppose a totall unsoundnesse in them, appeareth by the Greek, 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, where 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 doth mitigate the speech; therefore it is rendred by some, Unlesse in something you be unsound. That a reprobate minde is a corrupted minde, appear∣eth 2 Tim. 3. 8. Men of corrupt minde, reprobate concerning the faith, and Tit. 1. 16. Although we do not take reprobates here as opposed to predestinated, yet I see not why we may not well translate it Reprobates, not as taking it for such who are out of hope of salvation; but as the Scripture cals Reprobate silver, Jer. 6. 30. which hath no worth or fitnesse in it for trade. Though the Apostle writeth here to the whole Church, yet the duty is to be observed respectively by every believer; Neither is that true of Estius, who to avoid the orthodox Arguments for Assurance of grace, saith, It may be easilier known, Christ is in such a Church or Congregation, then in the heart of a particular believer: for the Text speaks not of Christs being in his Doctrine and Ordinances among them, which in∣deed is easily discerned; but of his spiritual inhabitation by sanctifying grace in them.
It is a duty of special concernment for the people of God to be assured of such a true*and saving work of grace in them, as thereby they shall be differenced from unsound hypocrites.
There are certain Notes and Sign• of grace, whereby a man may discern what he is.*
A Practical and Experimental knowledge of Grace doth farre transcend a meer Notional and Theoretical: There is a great difference between him that hath heard Honey is sweet, and him that hath tasted it. It is a rule among the Hebrews, That Verba notitiae, quandoque significaut Page 3 affectum & effectum. Words of knowledge do sometimes signifie the affections in the heart, and the effects thereof in life, how well were it if they did always so signifie among Christians. In former times Christians did much labour after an experimental knowledge, now they luxuriate into a meer brain-knowledge; howsoever in physick we call that man by way of contempt an Emperick, who goeth by experience only, and hath no knowledge of the nature of things, yet to be an Emperick in Christianity may have a good sense. In legendis libris non quaeramus scientiam, sed saporem, said Bernard, In reading books let us not so much look for science, as a savouriness of the truth upon our hearts. Now when the Apostle commands us to prove and try our selves, it is to endeavour to feel that in actu secundo, as they say, in actual working, which we perswade our selves is in us actu primo, or habitually. As for example, Every man thinketh he is a believer, he is regenerated; To prove or try our selves, is to apply those notes and marks which the Scripture makes of such, and thereby to have an ex∣perimental feeling of the actual exercise of these things. The Scripture Phil. 1. 9. cals this 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉sense or feeling, where the Apostle distinguisheth it from 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉; knowledge and judgement, making it to be the inward savoury sense and feeling of divine things upon their hearts.
Now that this practical experimental work of grace in our selves, whereby we are able to discern what is true, and what is imperfect and counterfeit, is very ne∣cessary, will be made manifest from several grounds. As
First, Our Saviour did in his Sermons much presse this point upon his hearers. If * that be true which the Heathen said, Quando sapiens loquitur, aulaea animi ape∣rit, when a wise man speaks he openeth the rich treasures and wardrobe as it were of his minde; This is much more true of Christ, in whom are the trea∣sures of wisdom. And of all practical points in Divinity our Saviour is most fre∣quently on this, That which is conceived his first Parable, Matth. 13. it is main∣ly to shew the difference of true grace from that which is like it only, and as be∣ing a matter of great concernment; it is said Luke 8. 8. after the Parable was ended, Jesus cried, He that hath ears to hear let him hear. Now that crying is ne∣ver attributed unto Christs speech, but when his affections were very earnest, and the matter of great importance. It is also to be considered that this he speaks to a multitude that thronged after him with great attention, yet to such he de∣clareth, That few have a good and honest heart to receive the Word. When therefore our Saviour himself shall thus preach, that you may in the use of the Ordinances finde much alteration made in your selves, you may have joy, faith, some kinde of reformation, and yet not be the good and right soil: what a pro∣vocation should this be to us never to leave, till we be truly qualified: Our Sa∣viour also spends another Parable to this purpose, Matth. 25. of the ten Virgins, where all are Virgins, that is, such who had preserved themselves from the Ido∣latries and grosse vices of the world; They both had lamps, they both go with confidence to meet the Bridegroom, and there is no differencing of one from the other, till the Bridegroom come: so that by this Parable it should seem, that a Professour having no more then a false imperfect or counterfeit work of grace, may live and die with a great deal of comfort and confidence, as if his condi∣tion were exceeding good, and not finde it otherwise till it be too late.
Again Matth. 7. 24, 25, 26, By two kinde of builders, one upon the sand, the other upon the rock; What is represented, but two kinde of believers, one that hath the outward profession and way of Christianity, and he is also truly rooted upon Christ; but there is another who builds upon the sand, who diggeth not deep enough; and this is the greatest part of Christians: thy faith, thy repentance, thy joy are not deep enough, now mark the consequence, The fall thereof was great. Thy damnation will be so much the more terrible, when all thy religious duties, all thy external profession shall fall to the ground. And it is a fall by way of rending, as the word signifieth, Oh how wofull to be rent from God, and Page 4 those duties which thou trustedst in. Therefore our Saviour at ver. 22. saith, Many will call to him at that day, Have not we prophesied in thy Name, eat and drunk in thy presence? that is, offered Sacrifices and received Sacraments? but for all that Christ knoweth them not. By all this you see, how necessary it is we be not deceived about the work of grace, and that we ought to have both our eyes in our head, least we take an whole spirituall estate in counterfeit coyn.
This experimental knowledge is of consequence, because of the easinesse and prone∣nesse in us to mistake. What Austin said of the Doctrine of the Trinity, in ni∣hilo*facilius & periculosius erratur, in nothing is the errour more easie and more dangerous; the same is applicable to this matter; for the words of examining and proving do imply the deceitfulness of our heart, that there are many false shapes and forms upon it. Hence are those phrases of searching our hearts and communing with our hearts; all which argue the difficulty of being fully acquain∣ted with what is in it. The Papists indeed presse this too farre, as if therefore none could ever tell when they did truly love God, or had a sincere heart; but the falsnesse of this is in time to be shewed, only there is much truth in this, that there is so much self-love and carnal confidence in us, that we easily perswade our selvs that we are indeed such as we ought to be. Ask every man one after another, who is not confident that he is regenerated, that he hath an interest in Christ, that his heart is good? and why are they so? but because they do not faithfullycompare the notes and characters of true grace, and diligently apply them to their own selvs. The Jews and Pharisees could never be beaten out of those vain hopes and car∣nal confidences. Hence the Apostle useth an emphatical word of a Jew, Rom. 2. 17. Thou restest in the law,〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, Thou art secure in the law, as in some admirable priviledge and signal testimony of Gods love; That which Christ promised, viz. Rest to their souls, they found in the law, so that no load of sinne could burden them, because they had rest here. As it is thus of a Jew, so we may say of a Christian, he resteth in the Doctrine of the Gospel, and the outward use of Or∣dinances, not feeling the weight of sinne. Insomuch that it were farre better to see people pray with fear, and eat their bread with trembling and astonishment, lest they have gone no farther yet then hypocrites, then to be so carnally and falsly perswaded of their good condition as they are. How many are indeed but Glow-worms, or white rotten trees, of base materials, though some shining there be in their conversation! Therefore this Text might be fastned upon the gates of the whole world, upon every door, every post, Examine, prove your selves.
Thirdly, It is very dangerous to miscarry in this matter. Oh the confusion that fell upon the foolish Virgins when their want of oil was discovered. How wary * are you to take clipt silver, or counterfeit coyn? but it is great danger to take counterfeit Repentance for true Repentance, counterfeit Faith for true Faith. If that praying, professing of thine, be not good and sound, thou art undone for ever. When the Apostle, Heb. 6. had reckoned up several particulars, which many among us do not attain unto, They were enlightned, they tasted of the good word of God, they were partakers of the holy Ghost, yet, saith he, I hope better things of you, and things that accompany salvation. What thunder and lightnings is here? better things then illumination, then participation of the holy things, better things then tasting of the good word of God? what, are not these things that do accompany salvation? May we not cry out with the Disciples in another case, This is an hard saying, who then can be saved? Yet so it is, we Ministers of Gods word may say, Except your righteousness exceed that of outward profes∣sion, of repeating of Sermons, of Family-duties, of common works of Gods Spirit, which are in temporary believers, you can never enter into the kingdom of heaven; and therefore we hope and pray for better things of you, even such as will surely accompany salvation.
Page 5 Fourthly, This practical discerning is of consequence, because of the difficulty to*finde out the true differences between true grace and its counterfeit. It is hard doctri∣nally to lay down the bounds, wherein they differ, insomuch that some Divines make the work of grace in the temporary believer to differ from that of the re∣generated person, gradually only, not specifically, but that is false. If then it be thus hard by way of Doctrine to set the bounds, how much more is it diffi∣cult for Christians in their practice to mark out the right way? The hypocrite feels a joy, feels a sorrow, feeleth a sweetness in the Ordinances, and so doth the godly, but to shew how one is sure he is not deceived, and the other is, this is hard, though indeed they do differ as much as one in a dream, or madness, that is really perswaded of, and affected with such great advantages, doth from him that is truly awake, and knoweth he is not in a dream. Therefore the words to try and prove, do suppose that a man must have knowledge of the rule: and the characters which do describe such a grace, he must also have skilfulness in mana∣ging by way of application these notes to himself, and this must be done out of a temptation, with much attending and persevering thereunto. For as in doctri∣nal controversies, that is the great Question, Which is the true Church, and that which doth not erre? as also, What are the essential marks that do consti∣tute a Church? So in practicals, This is the great doubt, What is the truth of grace? Whether I be the man that have it? And what are the notes to decipher it? And as for the former Question, we would fain have some visible infallible Judge to determine it that there might be no more dispute: So here, we would de∣sire such a peculiar revelation from heaven that should by name say unto us, we are those Christians in whom are no guile.
Fifthly, It is of concernment, because of the manifold advantages that will*come to us, when we have attained to such an experimentall knowledge of our selves. As
First, We shall account all our former knowledge of divine things, and all our parts though never so admirable, to have been but like a tinkling cymbal. When thou comest to have this inward feeling of holy things upon thy heart, thou wilt bewail all thy duties, and conferences, and religious performances done by thee, as a Parrat that had no understanding of these things. If a man reade in a book, or see in a map such and such countreys, he hath indeed some confused knowledge, but if he travel himself into those countreys, and see the Towns and buildings, he will say his former apprehension of them was but lame to what he hath now, or as the Queen of Sheba, who had heard rumours of Solomons wisdom, when she came to have an experimental knowledge of it, then she was astonish∣ed, and said, All that she had heard was nothing to that which she saw; So it is in matter of grace, if God work these savoury inward experiments in thee, thou wilt be astonished to see the difference between thy self now and once; all that thou hast heard, read or preached, is nothing to that thou feelest; But how is it to be feared, that many have seen godliness but in the Map only, they never had experience of the thing it self. How many are there that talk of conversion or repentance, as men do of bringing forth a childe, who never had the experi∣ence of the throbs and pains that then are endured. Paul, what a long time did he live in a road of religious duties, but when he came to have an experimental work upon him, he died, whereas he was alive before, that is, he became sensible of the damnable and dangerous estate he was in, whereas he had great confi∣dence of his good life and salvation before. And thus it is with every man that hath gotten experimental knowledge; Alas (saith he) I was alive once, I thought my self some body, when I could pray, write Sermons, dispute so understand∣ingly, but now I see I did not know what that faith was, or godliness was, that I did argue so much about, I never knew any thing of God, or of his gracious works till now, will that soul say.
Secondly, Where there is this experimental knowledge, that mans heart is as it *Page 6 were the Bibles counterpane. The Scripture is the original, and his heart is the copy of it, he can read over the Promises, the Threatnings, and can say, Pro∣batum est. David in his Psalms, Paul in his Epistles, speak that mans heart, feel that mans temptations, make that mans objections. Hence you have an ex∣cellent expression, John 3. 33. He that receiveth his testimony, setteth to his seal, that God is true. The Scripture speaketh of Gods sealing to us, and our sealing to him. In this place it is a Metaphor from their civil contracts which were con∣firmed and solemnly declared to be good by seals, Jer. 32. 10. So he that doth in∣deed receive the testimony of the Scripture, he doth solemnly declare by his life and conversation, that God is true; Therefore all those who in the general say, they believe, yet shew not a practical conversation accordingly, they set not their seal that God is true.
Thirdly, Where this is, it will powerfully dead the heart to all humane ex∣cellencies; * That as in man the Philosophers say, the vegetative and sensitive life is swallowed up in the rational; so in a Christian his natural and animal life is in great measure turned to his supernatural life. In the thorny ground there did the corn and thorns come up together, but where the life of grace is in the pra∣ctical exercise of it, all such suckers will be cut off. It is not head-notions, but heart-feelings that will exclude immoderacy of affections to other things. A man that a long while tasted of the wine of brain-knowledge, when he comes to taste of this experimental knowledge, he will say The new is best. Hence Gal. 2. 20. Paul denieth he liveth, but Christ liveth in him. Omnis vita est propter de∣lectationem, All life is for delight. Till therefore thou canst take delight and ex∣perimental sweetness in holy things, thy tongue indeed may be often about good things, but thy heart can never be in them. Love of the world may stand with the former kinde of knowledge, but not with the later. Aristotle obser∣veth, that dogs cannot hunt where the sent of sweet flowers is, because that di∣verteth the smell; so neither can we runne after Christ in the sweetness of his ointments, when the smell of worldly delights and earthly refreshments do in∣terpose.