Handling the Adjuncts of Assurance, viz. The Possibility, Excellency, Difficulty and Ne∣cessity of having it.
2 COR. 13. 5.
THis Text (as is proved) is a sure foundation of that profitable and necessary Doctrine, viz. The Certainty that a godly man may have of that Grace which is wrought in him, I come to adde two more Propositions, which may further declare the nature of this Truth,
As first, There are three things when we speak of Certainty, that are confounded by some Divines, and accurately distinguished by others; and they are Fides, Fiducia,* and Certitudo, Faith, Affiance or Confidence, and Assurance. In the writings of many Authors these are spoken of promiscuously, as the same thing; yea Faith is by many learned men defined to be a full perswasion of the heart, &c. which definition though it was maintained by them out of a good intent against all Po∣pish doubtings, yet it is not a Truth in the thing; for many have Faith, yea ju∣stifying Faith, who have none of this Assurance; and this definition hath plun∣ged many tender Consciences into sad Labyrinths, as if they had no Faith at all, because no Assurance at all: But of this more hereafter. Others therefore speak more distinctly, and also consonantly to that place of Scripture, Ephes. 3. 11. where Faith in Christ is said to have three effects, 1. Affiance or Confidence. 2. Boldness or Assurance, and both these come from Faith. 3. 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, Readi∣ness of accesse to call upon God in times of adversities, so that a believer is made Gods favourite, and it is not against Law (as Esthers was) to go in and speak to this great King. Now whether Faith, Confidence and Assurance differ onely as so many degrees; as a Childe, a Youth and a Man; or whether they differ as se∣veral kinds, is to subtil a dispute. This is certain, That unlesse our Faith go so far as in a special manner to apply Christ to us, it cannot justifie us, or do us any good: Others were in the croud besides the woman that had the bloudy flux, but she touching of him did partake of vertue from him. Though an Israelite had look∣ed upon all other Objects as well as the brazen Serpent, yet beholding that only did cure him; So though our Faith be carried out to the whole Word of God, yet it is the applying and resting upon Christ that doth justifie us: Let not then a gracious heart despair as if it had no interest in Christ, because it hath not yet attained to Assurance, God that hath begun to make thee desire Christ, that hath supported thee under thy fears and guilt, will at last give thee Assurance; for God bestoweth these mercies by degrees, even as Boaz did to Ruth; he first gave her gleanings, then her meals, and lastly his own self. God may come unto thee in mighty rushing winds before he come in a still quiet voice, Nil tam cer∣tum, quam quod ex dubio certum, nothing is so certain, as that which is so after doubting. The shaking of the Trees by mighty windes, doth make the root Page 23 more firm, and so may these temptations be a foundation of greater joy and boldness.
Secondly, The Assurance Gods people have of their estate of grace, is not so high*and full as that it excludes all doubting, for there is nothing Perfect in us in this life, whether it be Duty or Consolation, but as the Flesh lusteth against the Spirit in regard of Sanctification, so it doth also in respect of Consolation; We see Da∣vid subject to many Convulsion-fits, his Psalms sometimes discover Confidence and Assurance, sometimes again Dejection and great Diffidence, so that Samson with his Hair grown, and his Hair cut, doth not more differ from himself in strength and weakness, then David doth. We do not therefore maintain or plead for such an Assurance that excludeth all Doubting, all Conflicts and Agonies, such as the glorified Saints in Heaven have, but such a certainty as is grievously assault∣ed by Satan the Prince of darkness, and by the unbelief of our own hearts; and although we make Doubting as a grievous sin, yet we say it cannot be avoided, because of that remainder of corruption which is still in us, insomuch that it's a received Maxim in Practical Divinity, grounded also upon Scripture, That he which never Doubted never Believed; as he that will say he is never Proud, it is a sign he was never Humble; now the ground of this Truth is from that foun∣tain of sinne that is still in every man; so that he can neither do any Duty, or partake of any Comfort without the dregs of corruption; there is the leaven of sinne that doth sowr both. There is some Gall in all our Honey; and by this means godly Assurance (as is to be shewed) doth differ from all that carnal confidence and presumption which is in wicked men; and we may justly say to them that which Isaac did to Jacob, when he brought his counterfeit Venison, How comest thou by it so soon? This Land of Canaan is not so easily possessed, yea as the Aegyptians did most oppresse the Israelites when they were getting out of their power, so doth the Devil most buffet and assault those who have escaped his snares: And as the Trees that are fullest of fruit have their boughes most bro∣ken; so the people of God that carry about with them the richest Treasures of Gods Grace, have the greatest encounters from Satan. We read the Devil tem∣pting Christ upon this very Point, Whether he were the Son of God. It is no wonder then if he do frequently try thy strength and comfort. Besides, the failing in our Duties is a ground of coming short in our Comforts. Hence commonly the most active Christian hath the greatest Comfort, and he that walketh loosly and la∣zily, is fullest of Doubts; as the waters that runne swiftly breed no vermine, no croaking Frogs, but those that are sluggish, and are constagnated in a Pool.
Before we come to the practical Questions about this Assurance of Grace, we * will consider these Adjuncts of it. 1. The Possibility of it. 2. The Excellency of it. 3. The Difficulty of it. 4. The Necessity of it.
First, The Possibility of it is seen, in that the people of God have enjoyed it. When David doth so often call God his God and his Portion, acknowledging with joy and thankfulnesse that he had forgiven his sins, doth not this suppose a Certain∣ty? When that man said, O Lord, I believe, Did he speak he knew not what? And Paul, how often doth he manifest such an Assurance! and lest it should be thought he had it by some special Revelation, he doth Rom. 8. inferre this Assu∣rance from those grounds, which are common to all the people of God, do not therefore think it impossible, saying, Who will go up to Heaven and bring a Re∣velation for me, that God is my God? for thou hast the same wayes to obtain it, as the people of God have had heretofore.
Again secondly, The Possibility of it is seen in that a man may be assured of his*dogmatical Faith; That is, a man may be assured that he doth believe such Prin∣ciples of Religion upon a divine ground; and if so, why not also that he loveth God and his children upon true Motives; as also that his Repentance hath all Page 24 true Ingredients into it. And indeed if a man could not tell whether he did be∣lieve upon supernatural grounds, he could not truly but upon a bold venture say, he did believe in God in deed, that there is a Church of God, or a Resurrection of our bodies.
Thirdly, The Possibility of it appeareth from the Institution of Sacraments, as Signs and Seals particularly to witnesse Gods love to us; So that as the appointing * of Seals among men doth argue an intent of making bargains and contracts sure: Thus God appointing Sacraments in a visible particular Application, doth here∣by declare his Will, that his Children should be sure; so that to overthrow As∣surance is to take away the Sacraments; As a man doth prize that wax which is made up in a seal to confirm his inheritance to him, more then all the wax in the world; so do Christians look upon bread and wine consecrated and set apart for that use of signification and obsignation of the benefits of Christ, more then all other bread and wine.
Lastly, If Assurance were not possible, the defect would be either in the Object, or in the Means to attain it, or in the Subject. In the Object there can be no defect, * as all say, for Gods Promises are in Christ Yea and Amen; and no iota or tittle of Gods Word in the promising part of it, can any more passe away, then in the preceptive or threatning part of it. Then there can be no defect in the means to obtain it; for there is the Spirit of God efficiently to work it; There are the Sacraments appointed on purpose to confirm us; There are Ministers to instruct and inform about it. Neither is there any defect in the subject, for although the heart of a man be naturally deceitfull and full of crafty wickedness, so that the Scripture cals him a fool who trusteth in it; yet being now renewed by Gods Spirit, that guile and hypocrisie is in a great measure removed, and he doth not see and discern by his own strength meerly, but by the Spirit of God enabling and guiding of him; So that as Gods Spirit working by the Law, doth convince a man in particular of his sins, filleth him with despair of himself and every thing he doth, makes him to see he is an undone and a lost man; so the same Spi∣rit through the Promise of the Gospel, doth perswade us of Gods love, revealing it outwardly in the Word, and shedding it abroad inwardly in our hearts.
Secondly, The Necessity of it appeareth, 1. From the Nature of Faith. It * is of an establishing and setling Nature. It is a Pillar and an Anchor to the soul, and although Assurance is a separable effect from it, yet the Scripture makes Doubting and Fear to be opposite to believing. Hence is trusting in God compa∣red to rolling our selves upon him, to staying the minde, to resting of the heart, &c. So that by strong and customary Acts of believing on Christ, and patiently waiting, we come at last to be assured.
2. There is a Necessity from Gods Glory. It is not enough that God doth work Grace in us, and sanctifie us; but we are to know this, that we may praise and * blesse God for it: Can a man in his sleep, or in a swound, when his senses are stu∣pified, praise God that he liveth? no more can a Christian staggering with un∣certainties, and lying in all darknesse of minde: how therefore should this quicken us up to obtain this Mercy! How much Glory doth God lose by thy fears! As David argued, Doe the dead praise thee? So doe thou say, O Lord, Do they in darknesse and that have no light, glorifie thee for thy good∣ness to them!
3. Hereby we shall have more Joy and Peace in our hearts: Oh what an Hell must every mans heart be that hath not some little light at least of this in * his Soul? What Legions of tormenting Doubts must needs possesse him, till he have some support this way? How can a man be sick, be in dan∣gers, be under the stroke of death, who hath no knowledge of any Good that God hath wrought in him? See how this supported Hezekiah in his Page 25 sicknesse, Remember, O Lord, how I have walked before thee with a true heart. And thus Paul is animated to look Death in the face, because he knew He had fought a good fight: and is not this the complaint of many languishing on their death-beds? Oh if they had Assurance, how willingly could they de∣part out of this world!
4. In the Usefulnesse of it, hereby we shall be enlarged and quickned up to all*holy Duties. He that hath this Hope purifieth himself, even as God is pure, 1 John 3. 3. And Having these Promises, saith the Apostle, viz. of God being our God, and we his people, Let us cleanse our selves from all filthinesse of flesh and spirit, 2 Cor. 7. 1. We believe, therefore we speak; and therefore it is an opinion against manifest Experience, that Assurance of Gods Love will beget Presum∣ption and carnal Security, whereas indeed this will be like fire in our bowels, wings to our Souls: Doth not the Childes Knowledge and Assurance that his Father loves him, beget all willingnesse, and readinesse of Obedience? And is not the Rule, Si vis amari, ama, Love if thou wouldst be loved? When there∣fore the Soul shall be perswaded that God in great Love hath wrought such mercies for him, Will not this make him seven times more enflamed to God?
In the third place, We have the Difficulty, few do attain unto it, and that from * these grounds,
First, Where the sense and feeling of the guilt of sinne is, there we present∣ly look upon God as an Enemy, think of him as of a Man that cannot for∣give, but will certainly avenge. Thus Cain and Judas, how prone were they to despair! And therefore the word to Assure, 1 John 3. 19. signifieth Per∣swade, implying that our Hearts have many froward and peevish Ob∣jections; and we are many times as Rachel mourning, and would not be com∣forted.
Secondly, It ariseth from the desperate Hypocrisie and falsenesse of our Hearts.* This is urged by the Papists too farre, as if it were such a Deep, that the Spi∣rit of God also could not assure us what we are; but thus farre it manifesteth, That Comfort or Assurance is not a Flower that groweth in our Garden, but if the Spirit of God should not both work Grace in us, and give us eyes to discern it, we should remain in a dark Chaos.
Thirdly, It ariseth from our pronenesse to walk negligently and carelesly. We * are beaten down with many Temptations, and therefore do quickly lose our hopes; for this Assurance is preserved in the continual exercise of Grace. Hence the Apostle useth two words 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, The rather give all Diligence to make your Calling and Election sure, 2 Pet. 1. 10. Implying that if we walk not carefully in the use of all the means of Grace, which God hath appointed, we cannot obtain it; but now, how are we in coldness, lukewarmness, earthliness, &c. often, and so grieve that Spirit of God which would seal us?
Fourthly, It is Difficult from outward Causes, as first from Satan, who hath fiery*Darts, is a Manslayer from the beginning, and endeavours to keep in doubts and fears, that so at last we may be even wearied out, and rage against God. When the Devil cannot hinder us in our Duties, he doth it in our Comforts and Conso∣lations; as the Spirit of God is the Comforter, because of that special benefit it brings to the people of God; So the Devil is the Tempter, and watcheth the opportunity to throw bitter wormwood into every condition we are in: As the Pirates do beset and wait for those ships that are fullest of gold, and other trea∣sures; yea therefore never are wicked men cast down with those fears and trou∣bles as the godly are; They know not the meaning of spiritual Temptations, nor what it is to have the light of Gods countenance denied them.
2. On Gods part, he makes it difficult, That hereby his favour may be the more prized. The Church that had carelesly put off her Beloved, afterwards makes Page 26 great and vehement enquiry after him, and cannot finde him. Though it arise not from the Doctrine of Assurance, to make us careless and negligent; yet sometimes this may be abused through our corruption.
Lastly, Here is the Excellency of this Priviledge several wayes;
First, This keeps up excellent Fellowship and Acquaintance with God. The Church * that could say, I am my welbeloveds, and my welbeloved is mine, did abound in spi∣ritual Society with Christ: Hence the Church glorieth in this expression four or five times; whereas fears and doubts keep us aloof off, and make us slavishly trembling about him.
Secondly, It will work a Filial and an Evangelical frame of heart. The Spi∣rit * of Adoption enabling us to call God Father, makes us also have the humble disposition of Sons; Hereby we are carried out to do him service for pure intenti∣ons and motives.
Thirdly, It will support, although there be nothing but outward misery and trouble. In those times when we cannot be assured of any thing, such as these are, not as∣sured * of our estates, safety or lives; yet if assured of the grace of God wrought in our souls, this will be like a wall of Marble that cannot be beaten down. Thus Rom. 8. Paul triumpheth over all difficulties upon this ground.
Fourthly, It will much enflame in Prayer, when we are assured of Gods love. This * kindles Desires, encreaseth Hopes to speed, and so makes the Soul more importu∣nate; and in this respect David doth encourage himself in prayer many times: If Experience breeds Hope, much more will Assurance.
Fifthly, It makes a man walk with much tendernesse against sinne; As being that only evil, which would put him out of the heaven he is in, for having now the * Experience how sweet the Lord is, and how greatly his favour is to be prized, he will take heed that he do not rob himself of so great a treasure as that is. How do men fear to displease those who can if they will, keep all their earthly Evidences from them? and shall we not much rather God, who can deny us our heavenly Evidence?
Sixthly, His heart will be impatient and earnest till the coming of Christ. When he shall have a full possession and accomplishment of all Glory, I desire to depart,* saith Paul, and to be with Christ. If the beginnings be thus wonderful and excel∣lent, What will Heaven it self be, when all fears shall be abandoned! If Seneca said of his wise man, Majore parte illic est, unde descendit, He is more in Heaven then in Earth; this is much more true of the godly.
Seventhly, A full acquiescency and resting in God and Christ, as sufficient for eve∣ry kinde of want, so as They desire nothing in Heaven but him, and nothing in Earth*besides him, and hereby having drunk of this water they thirst no more, but all their happiness is in him. Blessed is the man that is partaker of such a priviledge, and happy is he who in this manner hath God for his God, and Christ for his Christ.