Holding forth more advantages to Assurance.
2 COR. 13. 5.
THere remain more advantages, which will accrew to a Christian, that be∣sides a general notion-knowledge hath a practical and experimental disco∣very of grace in his heart.
First, He will enjoy the sweetness and benefit of the Ordinances, which men of parts * and gifts only do not. How many are there who in our Church-administrations are like old Barzillai that had lost his taste and hearing, and so cared not for Davids feasts and musick? David, Psa. 19. preferreth Gods Word in sweetnesse above the honey and honey-comb, Psal. 84. is spent in admiring the loveliness and beauty of Gods Ordinances: Now (alas) a man without the experimental work of grace upon his soul, can no more be affected with these, then a blinde man with colours, Cant. 1. 4. Because of thy ointment poured forth, therefore the Page 7 virgins love thee; Christ in his Ordinances doth as Mary, Open a box of ointment, which diffeseth a spiritual savour in Church-Assemblies to the godly, and this only the experimental Christian feels. Chrysostom sometimes in his Sermons speak∣ing of the more hidden and choice principles of the Christian Religion, useth this phrase, Sciunt initiati quid dico, Those that are initiated or admitted into our mysteries know what I mean. Thus also may the Ministers of God, preach∣ing either of the bitterness of sinne, the sadness of spiritual desertions, or the fulness of Christ, the sweetness of his fellowship and communion, say, The practised, exercised Christian knoweth what I mean; formal customary Christi∣ans are strangers unto that vertue and efficacy which is communicated in spiritual Ordinances. Cant. 4. 12. The Church is compared to a garden shut up, a fountain sealed, which is to be understood not only in respect of the defence and protecti∣on God vouchsafeth his Church, that none can destroy her; but also, because strangers and wicked men are not able to drink of her delicacies, or smell of her sweetness. A spiritual Sermon is a Fountain sealed up, the spiritual administrati∣on of a Sacrament, is a Garden inclosed; formal notional Christians understand not, or perceive the full sweetness thereof. There were many people in a throng and croud about our Saviour, but the infirm woman onely, felt efficacy come from him: so many may attend the Ordinances, frequent the Assemblies, but some few only finde the inward power of Christ derived unto their souls: As therefore Thomas, though upon an ill ground, said, He would not believe Christ to be risen, unlesse he saw his wounds, and put his fingers into them: So neither do thou believe thy estate to be good and sound, unlesse thou mayest see and feel the efficacy of Christ in his Ordinances upon thee. Austin speaks * experimentally of this fatness and sweetness in Gods Ordinances, Aliquando in∣tromittis me Domine in affectum multum inusitntum introrsus, ad nescio quam dulce∣dinem, quae si perficiatur in me, nescio quid erit, quod vita ista non erit.
Secondly, By this practical knowledge and exercise thou wilt be taken off from*all needlesse and vain disputations in matters of Religion, and wilt be more solicitous at home in thy own heart. In former times when the people of God were busie about the touch stone and trial of grace in themselves, they did not launch out into such deep and unprofitable Questions, but now of late since believers have busied themselves in disputes and controversies, and new opinions, this practi∣cal knowledge of grace is much neglected, you shall finde men sooner disputing about faith then living by faith, talking of heavenly-mindednesse then being so indeed. Thus the trees in Gods garden sprout up into suckers and barren boughs, and bear •ittle fruit upon them, 1 Tim. 6. 4. The Apostle doth excellently describe such a temper, he cals it Doting about Questions, or as it is in the Greek, Sick and lan∣guishing; Even as much fretting and vexation consumeth the flesh of the body, so do proud and vain affectations of new opinions pine away the soul. What is this but to think that a stone may become bread, and a serpent fish? As it is a Mini∣sters duty to preach only those things that are profitable, The sower went out to sow good seed, not poison, or empty chaff; so it is also required of private Chri∣stians, that they do think, conferre of, and study those things only that may edifie and practically build up their souls. I would not hereby discourage an indeavour in Christians to grow in knowledge. The Apostle reproveth some for being babes, and that he could not speak unto them as spiritual but as carnal, only they must know, that faith hath efficacious purifying acts as well as know∣ing acts, and therefore our increase must be equal both quoad notitiam, and effi∣caciam, in respect of knowledge and efficacy also. A Christian may grow either Quoad amplitudinem scientiae or efficaciam scientiae, the inlargement of his know∣ledge both in respect of the matter, he may know more things then he did, as also in the manner, more clearly, evidently and firmly then he did, or else in the efficacy of his knowledg, though he do not more things then he did, yet he know∣eth them more practically, they have a greater influence upon his heart and af∣fections, Page 8 they move and inflame him more then ever they did; now though the former way of increase be necessary and pleasing to God, yet this is much more. Take heed then that we be not like Pharaohs lean Kine, that devour many Que∣stions, but yet are as starved and ill-favoured as before. When one came with a curious Question to our Saviour, asking him, Whether many should be saved? How pertinently doth our Saviour answer him, Strive to enter in at the strait gate. This therefore discovers the necessity of importunate pressing and urging practical knowledge upon people in these dayes, Ubi malunt homines disputare quàm vivere, they had rather argue then live. As little boyes in sport strive who shall strike most sparks out of their iron, not intending to kindle thereby for their use, so do Christians strive who shall strike out the most subtil and finest spun notions, not intending the profit of their souls therein.
Thirdly, By this practical experience, a Christian shall attain to the end of all*knowledge, which is to do. If ye know these things, blessed are you if ye do them. It was said of some people that they had money only to tell it, they made no other use of it; it is as vain when we have knowledge in matters of religion only to know, Tit. 1. it is called, The acknowledging of the truth after godlinesse; inso∣much that in the Scripture phrase, They who have not the practical power of know∣ledge, are denied to have any knowledge at all. Hence are wicked men so often cal∣led fools, and said not to know God. By this means a private Christian may be said to know more of God, then a learned Doctor that hath nothing but orthodoxy; for you may have an orthodox learned man write and preach admirably about justifying faith, conversion, &c. yet in regard of the practical knowledge of these things no wayes comparable to some private man or woman, who feel the power of these things upon their own hearts: It is disputed, Whether Divinity be speculative or practical, and it is resolved by many upon good grounds, that it is practical, there being nothing in all Religion but what is to be improved for for practice one way or other, 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉. It is well done that orthodoxy and true Doctrine be defended by books, disputations and Sermons; but above all things we are to indeavour that our life answer our Christian profession. When Christ looked upon the fig-tree that had only leaves on it, he cursed it. To him that knoweth how to do good, and doth it not, there is the greater sinne; as if he should have said, saith Bernard, Sumenti cibum, & non digerenti, perniciosum est ei; to him that takes meat, and doth not digest it, it is very dangerous. There must be true Doctrine, and a godly life joyned toge∣ther. Cyril considering Abrahams servant, who gave to Rebecca ear-rings and bracelets, applieth it to Christ and his Church, who vouchsafeth to her both true faith that cometh by hearing, and a godly life the practice or work of our hands.
Fourthly, By this experimental knowledge a man will be setled in the truth, and endure all persecution rather then forsake it. He will believe no fallacies or so∣phisms, * he will not be frighted out of it by any dangers. Its called tasting of God and his Word, and the rule is, Non est disputandum de gustu, there is no di∣sputing against taste. The sense of taste and feeling do herein differ from the other senses, that they are joyned really to the objects themselves, whereas see∣ing and hearing do receive only the intentional species, and therefore cannot make such a real and powerfull impression, as is in tasting or feeling. Pauls ex∣perimental knowing whom he did believe, made him boldly to speak: what makes men have a monethly or yearly faith, change their opinions as often as their garments, but because they have not felt the power of truth upon their own soul? The Schoolmen speak of a gift of the holy Ghost, which they call Sapi∣ence,* which they define to be Quoddam lumen divinorum, sub quo videntur & gu∣stantur divina per experimentum, A certain light of divine things, whereby they are seen and tasted by experience: or others describe it, A contemplation of God out of love, with a certain experimental sweetness in the affections. But what∣soever Page 9 their conceit is about this, it is certain the Apostle Heb. 5. 14 would have us by use to have our senses exercised to discern both good and evil. Where the Apo∣stle attributeth to the minde 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, which are properly the Organs of sense in the body, but he applieth it to the soul, because of the intuitive and experi∣mental knowledge the soul ought to have in good things; and therefore he speaks of use and custom which the people of God have in this spiritual discern∣ing: No wonder then that faith is called Heb. 11. 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, The real subsistance of things believed in the soul. (Aristotle cals the thick cloud that by the reper∣cussion of the Sunne beams makes the Rainbow 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, and the Rainbow 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉,) and 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 an undeniable conviction of the minde of man, because where this grace is operatively upon the soul, it makes a real impression. Hence also the whole work and way of grace is compared to life, Gal. 2. ult. because it is most real, it is not in imagination and fancy. That is notable Heb. 13. 9. Be not carried about with divers doctrines, for it is good to have the heart established with grace; Where the Apostle makes grace and godliness to stablish and settle the heart; and therefore men that are led aside into errors, are said to be carried about with them, a Metaphor from chaff and straw, which because of its em∣ptiness and lightness is blown this way and that way. Thus a man that is empty of grace, and not consolidated by the power of it upon his heart, he runneth from one opinion to another, without any stay at all. Therefore a savoury in∣ward knowledge of divine truths, would be an excellent ballast in the soul. And as it would thus keep the heart firm to the truth, so it would unite the heart to holy things as the best and sweetest, without hypocrisie, double-mindedness and inconstancy, and this is much to be considered, thy heart is one while for good things, another while as vehemently for the world, thy heart is divided between the Creator and the creature, how cometh this about? for want of real and experimental knowledge of the goodness of God, He that drinketh of this water (saith Christ) shall never thirst more, that is, Siti totalis indigentiae, with a thirst of total want. Now how great a mercy it is to be kept from that double-mindedness the Apostle speaks of, To be like a wave that is sometimes tossed up high to the heavens, and then presently sinks down low in the sea; or like the Grashoppers that leap up towards heaven, but immediatly fall down to the ground: When temptations of profit and pleasure come, how easily can they be repulsed by an heart who feels better things? So that till you have an inward feeling and joy about the things of God, you are not able to withstand other temptations, but you will alwayes be striving to make possible that which our Saviour hath pronounced so impossible, To serve God and Mammon.
I shall in the next place shew you what impediments and destructive principles * there are to hinder us in this experimental proof, which we are to make of our selves. For this duty here pressed of examining and proving of our selves is like the compound that the high-Priest was to make, consisting of choice materials; Now one dangerous principle is, when we go to prove and examine our selves, being prepossessed with self-love and carnal confidence, and where this founda∣tion is laid, its impossible to make any good superstruction. Hence all the pier∣cing and discovering Sermons which the Prophets and Christ made upon the Jews and Pharisees, could make no battery, give no shaking to their rotten foundation, and all because they had carnal confidence, and vain trust in them∣selves. Therefore when thou settest upon this duty, thou must say,
A second dangerous principle is, When we conclude that action to be done well,*which is for the matter good, whatsoever the principles, ends, motives or manner be. This destroyeth many thousands, Jehu did that which was according to Gods will, and this made him bold to say he is zealous for God, Come see my zeal, saith he; but though his actions were very great, and of high concernment to the Church of God, yet God would be avenged on him for these, Hos. 1. 4. Who would think God would be avenged on Jehu for dispossessing Jeroboam, killing Baals Priests, making so great a Reformation as he did? But because he himself did not do these things with an upright heart, therefore he is threatned. The Pharisees had an external righteousness, but there was a great gulf between them and true godliness. Hence they are called Vipers, which though they have a glorious skin, yet are full of poison; and how holy soever they appeared, yet like the Serpent they eat of the dust of the earth, live upon earthly advantages. A man therefore had need be Eagle-eyed, or like Ezekiels living creatures full of eyes, that would see into the bottom of his wayes: Thy profession, thy fa∣mily-duties, thy religious performances are plainly visible, every one that run∣neth may read them; but the ends and motives are secret and latent, the foun∣dations and roots of things lie under ground; The first letters in the book are garnished with many gaies, and we can hardly tell what they are. This made Paul distinguish between a Jew outwardly, and a Jew inwardly, circumcision of the flesh and circumcision of the heart; Especially the end, and motive that doth specifie and distinguish moral actions; Two may be in a family, both pray, both mourn for sinne, yet because one is done upon a pure motive and principle from God and to God, therefore it is right; and the other, because its defective in one of these, is rejected: who then is sufficient and prepared for so great a duty as this is?
A third way of misguidance is, When we try our selves by false Rules, when we weigh with false weights; This duty of examining and proving supposeth there is * some sure standard, which if we go by, we are sure not to be deceived, now that rule is the word of God; but as in matter of Doctrine men have left the Scriptures the sure rule, and taken up antiquity, universality, tradition, and the like for their guide, and by this means have fallen into the ditch; so in mat∣ter of godliness, when we should try our selves according to the characters and Page 11 signs that the Scripture deciphers, we take up principles in the world, the ap∣plause of others, the conversation of most in the world; And thus it is with us, as men in an Hospital, because every one is either wound∣ed or lame, or some way diseased, therefore none are offensive to each other.
The fourth and last dangerous way to miscarriage, is, When we mistake*about the object matter which is to be discovered, when we mistake what godlinesse is, and so think it to be in us, when it is not; And in this is the grand imposture; men take a good nature, morality, civility, the common graces of Gods Spirit for godliness, and when they see they have these, they conclude all is well. This is as if a man digging for gold should take lead or copper for it, and think him∣self rich, because he hath these. He therefore that would not be deceived in this great matter, must consider what the Scripture makes the nature and properties of godliness, and must conclude godliness is no lesse or inferiour a thing then the Scripture makes it. If a man shall not reach up to those Scripture directions, he is but a Glow-worm though he seem to be the Sun; but more of these things hereafter.
Let the Use be, to set us with all diligence, fear and trembling about this * work: How much better is it to eat and drink, to pray and hear with fear and trembling of heart, then to sit down secure when there is no cause? Believe not your hearts in times of danger, or fears of death, or any sudden fits; You see Pharaoh and Ahab can cry out of sinne under the judgements of God, but attend to pure motives only; In the civil law no credit is given to a testi∣mony that is given by one upon the wrack, because it is supposed, the torture and pain will make him say any thing to be eased. And thus in times of trouble and fear even a false and unsound heart will say any thing, hoping for some relief. Howsoever in this life we may satisfie our selves and others with a profession and external diligence in holy duties, yet at the day of Judgement we shall be astonished and silent before God. In the Parable, the man that was at the feast without a wedding Garment, when expostulated with, was presently speechlesse, he pretended not poverty, or difficulty to get a wed∣ding Garment, but was immediately speechlesse, even as if he had had a muzzle put on his mouth, as the word signifieth. At that day all the crooked and subtile windings, all the false pretexts of thy own heart, will be so discovered, that thou canst not but see it, and acknow∣ledge it.