Shewing the Lawfulness and Duty of proceeding by way of Signs, and proving that inherent gracious Qualifications within a man evidence his Justifi∣cation.
2 COR. 13. 5.
WE have laid down several Propositions tending to the clearer Discove∣ry of this truth about Signs or Marks of Grace. I now come to shew The Lawfulnesse, yea the Duty both of Ministers and People to proceed by this method. For although my proper work is onely to speak of the fruits of Grace, as they evidence a principle of Sanctification within, yet I shall in this grasp also that other Question Of evidencing our Justification by inherent gracious*Qualifications within us, this latter being expresly written and preached against; so that by this means godly Christians are plunged into several intanglements of conscience, and know not how to come out. I shall therefore (God assisting) bring Arguments to confirm us in this Duty: onely let us first understand, What the true practical Case and Question is. And first the Question is not, Whether a * Christian in his first act of Faith, whereby he closeth with Christ, applieth him, and is engraffed in him, ought to see inherent Qualifications in him, by way of Signs and Evidences? for this is not possible: we must first by faith be implanted in Christ, before there can be any fruits demonstrating this our insition in him. The Apostle John, 1 John 2. 5. maketh the observation of Gods Commandments a sign that we are in Christ, therefore we are in Christ before by faith; and thus in all the Promises, where a Christian loaden with sin is invited to Christ, there is not required a Knowledge or Certainty of what condition he is in, Whether his graces be true or no, but only out of the sense and feeling of his own unwor∣thiness to apprehend Christ It is therefore a falshood to preach thus, Thou maiest not relie upon Christ for Justification, till thou hast certainty and evidence in thy heart, whether grace be truly in thee or no? for the Scripture makes them blessed that hunger and thirst, that mourn, and cals those that are burdened, and they shall have ease, although they may not have certainty of the work of grace at that time. This therefore is diligently to be attended unto, because it cannot be denied but at this Rocke many a tender Christian splits himself.
Nor secondly is the Question, Whether a godly man in sad temptations, having no light at all, should then make search for the motions and workings of grace in his soul? for that would breed further fears and uncertainties. The soul in temptations being like the muddied water, where nothing can be clearly represented, and as in the night the imagination is prone to represent nothing but objects of fear and terrors; so is the heart apt to do in those desolations: Hence David in such exi∣gences Page 44 cals upon his soul to trust in God, and to wait on him as the only remedy. And indeed in such cases, the proper duty of a godly man is to throw himself boldly upon the promise, and as Peter ventured to go upon the waters, when Christ called him; so because of the Promise and gracious invitations, to go unto God, and relie upon him, in which sense Job said, Though he kill me, yet will I trust in him.
Thirdly, The Doubt is not, Whether a godly man should look for perfect Signs, such as will fully rise up to the obligation and perfection of the Law? for it is plain such Signs can never be found. Therefore it is but an odious mistake, when an Antino∣mian* argueth against universal Obedience as a sign, because no man can perform such, or if it should be limited to purpose of heart, yet none hath such a constant purpose, because of many corrupt suggestions and concussions within by lusts; for none do urge such Signs, and therefore the least grace discovered in the soul, that is sincere and upright, though it be not grace to satisfie the desire of a Chri∣stian, yet it ought to be a sign sure enough to confirm his judgement of his inter∣est in Christ.
Fourthly, The case is not, Whether inherent Qualifications of grace, be eviden∣ces of themselves without the lustre of Gods Spirit? For all say, this certainty ari∣seth efficiently from the Spirit of God; Therefore Ephes. 1. sealing is attributed to the Spirit of God; so that we must not oppose a godly life, or graces to the Spirit of God, but conjoyn them together; even as in the certainty we have about the Scripture, we do not oppose those Argumenta insita, imbred arguments that prove the Divinity of the Scripture, such as the style, majesty, purity, &c. to the Spirit of God: but we say, Gods Spirit doth perswade in, and by those Argu∣ments; so it is here, Gods Spirit doth seal unto us our interest in Christ by those graces which are wrought in us.
Fifthly, The scruple is not, Whether these works of Gods Spirit in us, be to be rested on as causes or merits of our Justification? This is such Pharisaical Popery as is just∣ly to be detested, we say not that a Christian finding such graces in him, should build the comfort of his Justification upon them, or rest on them in stead of Christ, but he is to make use of these, as Signs of Christs dwelling in him, where∣by as from an effect of Gods love he may rejoyce in, and be thankfull unto God.
Sixthly, I will not draw in that dispute neither, Whether this certainty Gods Spi∣rit works in the godly, in and through the graces of Sanctification, be the only witnes∣sing and sealing that is? or, Whether there be not an immediate testimony of Gods Spirit to the soul, either before or without those gracious fruits of holinesse? For my part, I think the former kinde of witnessing, viz. by fruits of holiness, the on∣ly safe and sure way, and which the Scripture doth for the most part commend. These things promised, I bring the grounds of this Duty, to proceed to certainty of Ju∣stification and regeneration, by the fruits of holinesse issuing therefrom.
The first sort of Arguments shall be from those places of Scripture, which are de∣scriptive*and characteristical of true grace from counterfeit; For therefore are those differences so diligently pressed, that every man may take heed, and discern the one from the other: Matth. 13. how copious is our Saviour in that Parable to give exact differences between the several grounds that received the seed, that is, the several workings upon mens hearts by the preaching of the Word, wherein some go very farre beyond others, yet only the good and honest heart was indeed ac∣cepted. Now upon this our Saviour saith, He that hath ears to hear let him hear, as if he should say, This matter doth deeply concern you, Examine your selves in what rank you are, how farre the word of God hath prevailed over you. If therefore the auditor could not have told when he was good ground, and when thorny, such descriptions had been to no purpose; so John 10. 4, 5. there you have a description of Christs sheep, They hear his voice, a stranger they will not follow, but flee from him; where it is good to observe, that as in other places it is Page 45 made a mark of grace to take heed of sin, and to love holinesse; so here it is made a sign of Christs sheep, to take heed of errors and false teachers; They are afraid of false doctrines, as well as wicked waies: Oh how necessary is this sign of grace to be pressed in these times, to a people afraid of being led aside from the true faith by any deceitfull pretexts whatsoever. Col. 3. 12. there you have a catalogue of several graces, which flow from Election; Put on (as the elect of God) bowels of mercies, &c. and generally wheresoever you finde descriptions of the properties of godliness, there ought we to parallel our lives with those precedents, and see whether we express them or no.
A second sort is From exhortatory places, where we are commanded to make*this search, Whether grace be truly in us or no? Now if such a trial were not law∣full and usefull, who dare say, the holy Spirit would prescribe it? The Text I am upon, how clear is it, Examine, prove your selves, whether ye be in the Faith? Now if any one should reply against the Apostle, This is such a duty it cannot be done, its derogatory to Christ, it will make us rest in our selves: how unsufferable had such gain-saying been, Gal. 6. 4. But let every man prove his own work, &c. where you have the duty of examining and searching the works we do, in the nature, ground, and intentions of them; and this is commanded as a remedy against arro∣gancy and pride, as appeareth vers. 3. and this is also commended from the profi∣table effect thereof; he shall have rejoycing in himself alone, that is, his excellen∣cy shall not be apprehended by comparing himself with others that are worse, or because he is reputed godly in the judgement of others, but his comfort will be from within: and observe, in some sense a rejoycing in a mans self is lawfull, viz. as it is accompanied with a thankfull acknowledgment of the grace of God bestowed on a man. But if we speak in respect of Justification, then all matter of rejoycing or boasting is excluded. In 1 Pet. 1. 10. you have a text that putteth this duty out of all question, Wherefore the rather brethren, give all diligence to make your calling and election sure; You will all grant election cannot be made more sure in respect of God or it self, but only in respect of us, that we may be more perswaded of it. And how is that? he shewed in the verses before, by adding grace to grace, and causing those things to abound in them. This was the way to make all sure, so that to proceed by way of Signes and Marks, is plainly enjoyned out of Scri∣pture.
A third rank is From those places of Scripture which by way of example and in∣stance,*do prove, that the godly took their graces for signs and testimonies of Gods love, and thereby received much comfort; Yea, urged these, as an argument in praier for mercy, not by way of merit or causality, but as the effects of Gods grace, and so a further engagement for God to perfect his own work, 2 King. 20. 3. Hezekiah after he had laboured in a further Reformation, then any ever did before him, be∣ing the true Hercules that purged the Augaean stable, is stricken with a mortal dis∣ease from God, and now in what exigencies is he plunged! a great Army against him, no visible successour in his Throne, all his Reformation is like to goe back∣wards! In the midst of all this darknesse see with what he supports himself, Re∣member, O Lord, how I have walked before thee with an upright and perfect heart, &c. Thus he used his graces for a sign to confirm. The like did Nehemiah, Chap. 13. several times, especially see his expression vers. 14. Remember me, O my God, and wipe not out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God. This place pro∣veth no Popery, as if Nehemiah thought his good deeds perfect, and so a cause of mercy, for mark his expression vers. 22. Remember me, O my God, and spare me ac∣cording to the greatnesse of thy mercy. Those good deeds needed mercy and pardon, yea greatness of mercy; As it goeth not so high to establish perfection or merit of works, yet it doth fully confirm this truth, That a godly man may take comfort from his graces as signs and testimonies of Gods love to him. And whereas Gro∣tius upon that passage of Hezekiahs maketh such a narration of graces by the god∣ly, peculiar only to the Old Testament; it is like many other of his notions, false Page 46 and rotten; for Paul who was a continuall Trumpet of the grace of God, who counted all his own righteousnesse dung and drosse to set up Christ, yet he proceed∣eth also by way of signs, 2 Tim. 4. 5. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, hence forth is laid up for me a crown of glory; 2 Cor. 1. 12. Our rejoycing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in godly sincerity, we have had our conversa∣tion in the world, &c. So that by this of Paul, you may see, that a Christian may at the same time exalt Christ and his grace, going out of his own righteousnesse for Justification, yet take comfort also from it. The History of Job doth also abun∣dantly confirm this truth, for when in the opinion of others God had cast him off as an hypocrite, yet he would not part with the comfort of his integrity till death. In this case Job had no immediate consolations from God, The arrows of the Al∣mighty stuck deep in him, he possessed the sins of his youth, and there was nothing which did stay him, but the comfort of his upright heart; so that a godly mans sense and feeling of Gods grace within him, is a great bulwark in time of tempta∣tions: Neither is that of the Papists able to weaken this Assertion, when they say, These experimental suavities which are felt in religious duties, do only beget a con∣jectural knowledge not an assurance of faith, because the object thereof is not re∣vealed in Scripture; for it may well be granted that this sense of believing is not an act of faith, and that a man doth not properly believe he doth believe, but in∣wardly perceiveth and feeleth he doth believe, and so love God, &c. Yet this sense is not fallacious, because it is from a supernaturall principle within.
A fourth rank shall be From those comparative expressions the Scripture useth, when it speaks of Grace. Thus they are called fruits, Luk. 3. 8. Gal. 6. 2 Cor. 9. 10. * Now our Saviour laieth down an undeniable Maxim, Matth. 12. 33. The tree is known by its fruit, a good tree by its good fruit: Hence a good heart is also called a good treasury from whence good things flow; now although trees because without reason and sense, know not themselves by their fruit, but others only do: yet the chil∣dren of God are by their good fruit both known to themselves and others, yea more to themselves then others, Because no man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of a man: Grace also in the workings thereof is often compared to life, Gal. 2. 22. Now as a natural life is discerned by the actions thereof, as by so many signs, so also is supernatural life: but as in some diseases the party affected percei∣veth not any life; so neither do the godly in some sad temptations.
The fifth rank of Arguments may be From all those promissory places of Scripture, which speak comfort and encouragement to those that have such and such exercises of*grace: now these Promises would afford no comfort at all, if a Christian could not by way of signs gather when he had them. The Scripture in several places attributes Blessednesse to him that feareth alwayes, To him that keeps the Law of God, To him that is undefiled therein, To him that endureth persecution for a good cause, To him that is pure and me•k in spirit. Now what encouragement could any godly man have, if he could not have this practical syllogisme, The Scripture makes him that feareth, believeth, &c. Blessed: but I am such an one that doth fear, believe, &c. therefore I am blessed; now although the major of this Proposition be Scripture, yet the Assumption is from experience, a godly man being assisted therein by the holy Ghost, and therefore the conclusion is undeniable.
Sixthly, Another rank of Arguments may be From all those places of Scripture that are indicative, or estensive of this truth; And for this, let us take John in his * first Epistle, who is most expresse in this way, as if he would on purpose destroy the contrary errour, 1 John 2. 3, 4, 5, Hereby we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments, &c. The Apostle compareth our imperfect or hypocritical know∣ledge with a true knowledge of Christ. The true knowledge is operative, and bringeth obedience: The hypocrites knowledge is light only, and no heat at all. Now the Apostle laieth down two Propositions, first, That where there is a true knowledge of Christ, there is an observation of his Commandments; Secondly, Page 47 That by this observation of his Law, we may know that our knowledge is good. To the same purpose also he speaketh in the two following verses; first, For our faith, that it must not only be carried to Christ as a propitiation for sinne, but also to him as an example whom we are to imitate, he ought to walk as Christ walked, and by this imitation of Christ (saith the Apostle) we know we are in him, where observe two things; First, That by saith we come to be implanted in Christ. Se∣condly, That we discover this our being in him by an holy walking; None there∣fore that plead for Sanctification as an evidence of Justification, make our graces to be those things that put us into Christ, and by which we are justified; but these are testimonies and witnesses to declare the truth of our real being in Christ. Pro∣ceed we to the third Chapter, vers. 10. In this the children of God, and the chil∣dren of the devil are manifest, 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 in this, that relateth to the axioms going before, He that is born of God sinneth not, which is thus to be understood, viz. He sinneth not, from such a full and habitual purpose of will, so as that his sin extingui∣sheth the seed of grace within him; now howsoever this manifestation of the chil∣dren of God and of the devil to others be but conjectural, yet to the godly man, whose heart by regeneration is cured in part of that innate guile which cleaveth to it, it is clear without any deceit. At v. 13. the Apostle exhorteth the godly not to won∣der, if the world hate them; and to amplifie their consolation herein he addeth v. 14. We know we are translated from death to life, because we love the brethren. This is the great sign of godliness, to love another godly man, because he is godly, and the more any is godly, the more to love him: as on the other side, to hate another because his waies are good, and thine evil (which is too ordinary) is a demonstration thou art of the devil; now this love of our brethren is not a cause of our translation from death to life, for the very word [translated] supposeth it a grace of God from without us, but it is a sign only. Now although a Papist loveth a Papist, a Jew a Jew, thinking them more godly, when they are deceived therein, yet that doth not hinder a true godly man from loving another that is godly, and he have solid comfort therein: but more of this hereafter. The Apostle having made love of the brethren a sign, he further explicates what this love is, not a complemental feign∣ed love, but real and operative, for love is like fire, Si non operatur, non est, if it do not work it is an argument it is not at all, whereupon he maketh this again a sign, by that expression peculiar to the Apostle, hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him, perswade our hearts, as it is in the Greek, which implieth, That though the heart be full of doubts and unbelief, yet the discovery of such grace within us, is able to satisfie our hearts, hereupon vers. 10. he saith, If our hearts condemn us not, we have confidence towards God: Now here are two doubts; first, Whose heart doth not condemn him of much pride, va∣nity, neglect, &c. therefore none can have confidence: But the Apostle speaks of such a condemning, as is for total and reigning hypocrisie, not for partiall corru∣ption which is in the most godly. A second doubt may be of those who persecute the truth and the people of God, as the Jews and Paul did, whose hearts did not condemn them, but rather they thought they did God good service; but the A∣postle speaketh of Christians endued with the true Doctrine and Knowledge of Christ out of his Word, and as for such, if their hearts reprove them not for hy∣pocrisie, they have boldness with God. This Apostle is very frequent in urging the fruits of godliness by way of signs; but these may suffice to confirme the Do∣ctrine.
The last Argument to prove this method by way of signs, may be thus urged, If * a Christian may not gather the grace of Justification and Sanctification, by the fruits thereof, it would be for one of these grounds, either first the impossibility of it, as the Papists urge, it would not be possible for a man to know when grace is in him: but that is false, for howsoever a mans heart is naturally deceitfull, yet when regenerated, God takes away that guile in it, and so farre as it is spiritual it is sincere and cannot lie; Or secondly, This would be uselesse, having Assurance Page 48 by Gods Spirit, what needs evidences by inherent graces; This is to light a candle when the Sunne shineth; but the testimony of the Spirit, and the evidence of gra∣ces make up one compleat witnesse, and therefore are not to be dis-joyned, much lesse opposed, as is further to be cleared. Thirdly, It may be thought prejudiciall, and that two waies, either to Christ and his righteousness, as if the comfort from these would take us from relying wholly upon Christ; but we told you Paul, who did so omnifie and exalt Christ and his righteousnesse, yet took comfort from his graces wrought in him; or else it may be thought the discovery of grace in us may make us proud and secure; but neither will this follow, because hereby the graci∣ous heart is stirred up to more thankfulness, watchfulness, least we lose such a trea∣sure, and to fruitfulness.
Let the Use be to try our selves by this way of marks and signes which the Scri∣pture giveth, and certainly there was never a time, wherein marks of grace may be more urged then now: how many place Religion in Opinions, in Disputations, in Revelations! and the true power of Godlinesse and Mortification is altogether neglected; This made the Apostle James in his Epistle, and Paul frequently in his to speak against the Gnosticks, a sect risen up in their time, that planted Religion in Knowledge, and arrogated that to themselves only, for which reason the Apo∣stles so much pressed a godly and holy life: Therefore that thou maiest not deceive thy own self, study the Scripture-characters of grace, it may be all those signes by which thou comfortest thy self, such as abilities in duties, great enlargements, main∣taining a different Church-government from others, are not in Scripture any marks of holinesse, especially consider it's the property of Christs sheep, not to hear strangers, to flie from errours. Certainly our Saviour Joh. 15. describing the branches that are in him, takes no notice of their leaves, their blossoms, but their fruit: Oh be afraid lest Christs coming to thee be like that of his to the fig-tree, he saw leaves on it, but no fruit; whereupon he pronounced that curse, Never fruit grow on thee more: So Christ finde opinions, disputations, many abilities and out∣ward duties, but no true holinesse, and therefore he curse thee, saying, Never fruit grow on thee, Shoot forth into leaves and branches, but never bear fruit. It is to be feared many live with such a visible curse upon them; Holiness of life must bejoined to the abilities of the head, Quae bona opera Christianus facit, tot aureos annulos in digitos miserit, As many good and holy actions thou dost, so many rings thou hast upon thy hand; These adorn thee more then gold or silver.