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.

SERMON LXXXV.

Displayeth Gods Soveraignty and Dominion over the hearts of men.


EZEK. 32. 26.

the latter part.

I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.

AT Verse 21. in this Chapter, God begins to open the trea∣sures of his mercies. We may say, This latter part of the Chapter is like the Land of Canaan, a Land of Promise, flowing with spiritual milk and honey; for here is the pro∣mise of reduction from their miserable Captivity, Verse 24. But because outward mercies are nothing, without spiri∣tual, therefore there is 1. The promise of the pardon of their sins: It was not enough to be delivered from the power and rage of their Enemies, unless also they were saved from the guilt of their sins; this is promised Verse 25. But if men have pardon of sin, and not saved from the power of it, they will every moment make themselves obnoxious to their former misery; therefore Verse 26. there is a promise of Conversion and San∣ctification, with the consequent effects of it, in the 27. Verse: So that this Text, if opened, is like a Box of precious Ointment; or like the Tree in the Revela∣tion, not onely the fruit, but the very leafs, every particular word hath its efficacy. And for the better method, consider, 1. The Author and Efficient cause of the mercy promised, I will take away, I will give: See here Gods So∣veraignty, and immediate power over mens hearts. No King or Emperor in Page  506 the world is able to say so, I will give men other hearts. 2. The mercy promised, and that is 1. By removing the obstruction or contrary, I will take away the stony heart. 2. By the position of the good vouchsafed, and that is set down, 1. In the root. in the habit or fountain, A heart of flesh. 2. In the fruit, stream or actual operations, I will cause them to walk in my statutes, &c. 3. There is observable, 1. The manner of Gods vouchsasing this, it is by way of promise, I will do thus and thus; an absolute promise, not suspended upon mans merits or pre-requisites. 2. The manner of the working of this, its irresistably, insupera∣bly, omnipotently: So that the heart of a man is a subject meerly patient to re∣ceive it; not a free Agent to co-operate with this mighty grace In all these particulars, we shall finde what Sampson did in the Lyons carcass, many honey combs of spiritual honey: And let us begin with the first, The sole efficient cause, who hath the dominion over mens hearts: I will take away the heart of stone; he that by his omnipotent word could say, Let there be light, and there was light; doth also here say, Let the stony heart become soft; let the hard heart become tender, and it presently yields, it doth not withstand God; as if God had said, I know your hearts are too hard for you, you cannot master them, you cannot change them, but I can do it: Whence observe.

That God hath an immediate dominion and power over men hearts.*

This is the sole prerogative of God, he can raise what terror and horror he pleaseth there, and all the world cannot asswage it: He also can give peace and comfort, and all the Devils in hell cannot take it away: If they were so affect∣ed, as to cry out, What manner of person is this, whom the winds and seas obey? how much rather may we cry out, What is that God, how great and wonderful, who works in the hearts of men what he pleaseth? Thus Psalm 33. 15. an ex∣cellent Psalm against Atheism, wherein the Psalmist giveth several arguments to prove the providence of God, that things are not carried in this world, as mens lusts and counsels would have it, but as God orders it, either in mercy or justice: This, I say, the Psalmist would have men believe; for when we see things done in the world, contrary to that we judge righteousness, and yet no judgements immediately following, we are ready to be tempted about our faith. As Pompey, when he was overcome by Caesar, fled to Athens, and there disputed there was no providence, because he thought he was deserted in a just cause: But this is to be ignorant of God, and not to be able to plough with his heifer, to understand the Scripture, by which all those Divine Riddles may be opened. Now among other arguments, he brings one that confirms my Doctrine, He fashoneth their heart alike: The Argument is this, He that makes the heart know∣eth every thing in the heart, and can make it think, will and love, as he pleaseth. As the Artificer that makes a clock, he knoweth all things about the clock, and makes it strike when and where he pleaseth: And the words are Emphatical, He fashioneth; the same word is used of Gods fashioning mans body out of the dust at first: So that God can as easily form and fashion the souls of men, as he can their bodies; he can as easily strike them with fear, as the body with diseases. Again, He fashioneth them alike; in the Hebrew 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉Simul; that is, as some expound, all mens hearts, there is not one mans excepted; or else as others, totally and wholly, there is nothing can arise in the heart, not the least thought, or the least motion, but it comes by Gods providence. Hence Prov. 21. 1. the Kings heart is said to be in the hand of the Lord: A Kings heart, the greatest of men, and whose counsels and purposes seem to be most hidden, and most potent to be effected; And its in the hand of the Lord: A notable expression, to shew how easily he can govern and turn as he pleaseth; and then he useth an excellent similitude, He turneth it as the Rivers of waters: That as a stream of water running down the torrent, can easily by the husbandman be stopt and turned down another course, either to refresh his ground, or annoy it: Thus the Lord turneth the hearts of those that rule in the world, either for mercy or Page  507 judgement, as he pleaseth. Now the better to clear this truth, we will am∣plifie this Soveraign Dominion of God over mens hearts, in three particu∣lars: * 1. As in the way of his general Providence. 2. In the way of his Justice 3. In the way of his Grace: And in all these three particulars God is admirable.

In the way of his Providence, his power over hearts is manifested:

First, In a suddain changing and raising up of their hearts by his mighty work for such imployments, that they were no ways able for before: That which * all the men in the world could not give; That which all the Angels in heaven could not, that God doth immediately. Thus Saul, when he was appointed to be King over Israel, he was of the meanest Tribe, the mean∣est Family in the Tribe, an ordinary man; and yet it is said, God gave him another heart; and when he had that, with what courage and boldness did he take the Government upon him: That other spirit, was not a spirit of Grace and Godliness, as the Arminians would have it, but of Government, and Political Abilities; in token whereof, Samuel at the Sacrifice, gave him a shoulder of it; to shew the Government upon his shoulders, and how he must bear the people: And as this was wonderful for God to make such a change in him, so on the people also to receive him for their King: All those followed him, whose hearts God had touched, saith the Text, 1 Sam. 10. 26. God did but touch their hearts, as the Musician doth the strings of his instrument, and they sound what he would have them: Such a spirit of Government, those seventy Elders had, that were to assist Moses; God took of Moses his spirit, and bestowed on them: Thus the Judges that God raised up in Israel, when they were in so many extremities, especially Joshua, whom some say, was the Heathens Hercules: These all felt the mighty work of God upon their hearts.

Secondly, Gods power over mens hearts in a general way, is seen, In the*abating and asswaging those fierce affections, and angry resolutions that men have one against another: God in a moment can command those waves and winds to be still. We have two famous examples for this; the former, in Esau and Jacob; what resolved malitious intentions were in Esau, after the mourning for his father was over to kill Jacob? and now there was a full opportunity put into his hand; Jacob had no power to withstand him, and of a sudden Esaus affections are wholly changed to him, Gen. 33. 20. How cometh this black cloud to blow away so immediately? was it not because God wrought, and moved upon his heart. The latter instance, is of Laban and Jacob, he goeth out also in a great fury against Jacob; but what saith God to him? See thou doest not speak any word to Jacob, Gen. 31. 24. and this presently softned his heart: We might adde to this, the meltings of Sauls heart towards David some∣times, when otherways he was full of poyson and venom: Thus also Joseph found favor in the eyes of Pharaoh: And a notable instance there is, 2 Chron. 18. 31. where the Army of the Syrians surprizing Iehoshaphat, and thinking to destroy him, he cryed out, and God helped him; But how? the Text saith, God moved them to depart from him. So that we see, all our applications should be to God. Men have not their hearts in their own power; men can∣not think hurt to thee, yea, they cannot but think and purpose good to thee, wherefore God moves the hearts of men thereto: Thus he saith to these waves, Hitherto thou shalt go, and no further; he bindes up these clouds in the air.

Thirdly, Gods Providential working on mens hears, is seen in the inclination*and determination of them (when they are indifferent in themselves) to such ways, as whereby he will bring honor and glory to himself: In nothing under the heavens is Gods Soveraignity so much seen, as here: For the hearts of men, are those great instruments, by which he produceth so many notable ef∣fects in the world: Nebuchadnezzar is remarkable herein; the Prophet de∣scribeth Page  508 him as standing at two ways, Ezek. 21. 21, 22. either to fight against Israel, or another Nation: Now it was all one to him, which way he went, yet God so ordered, that he should go against them. Thus as God is said to ponder and weigh mens hearts in one sense; so in this sense also, he layeth mens hearts in a ballance, and they easily incline this way or that way, and God he puts in something that inclineth their hearts rather this way then that way. Hence the great Monarchs of the world, the Babylouian and Persian, they are compared to Hatchets, to Hammers, to Bees, over which God hath a command. The whole world is his Host, and God is the Emperor or Com∣mander; and he bids this go, and he goeth, that come, and he cometh; as the Centurion did his men under him: What a wonderful work was that up∣on Cyrus his heart, and his Successors, to let the Jews build their Temple un∣to God again; yea, what a strange passage was that of good to Mordechai, when the King could not sleep, that he should call for a Book to read, ra∣ther then for sports or pleasures; and that of all Books, the History or Chronicles of memorable things done in the Kingdome; and in that Histo∣ry, he should pitch on the good service Mordechai had done, and was not rewarded. Its remarkable also, that when God intended to punish Abimi∣lech and the Sechemites, Iudges 9. its said, God sent an evill spirit between them, and that was their ruine at last: Oh then how much is this God to be feared, to be obeyed, who doth in Heaven and Earth what he wills! Its not as Great men, as Mighty men, as Wise men will; but the counsel of the Lord that shall stand.

Lastly, God in the Old Testament had a notable way of bringing about the hearts of men for his great and mighty works by Dreams.*

There are three kindes of Dreams, Natural, Diabolical, by way of delu∣sion: or Supernatural, immediately raised in men by God. In such a way God * formerly did inform men sometimes: Thus Iacob laying his head on a stone, had a dream; and Ioseph a dream about his Superiority over his Brethren, Gen. 48. 12. yea, Pilates wife had a dream, which she told Pilate, that he should have nothing to do with that just man, to shed his innocent blood, Mat. 27. 19. But that is disputed, whether the Devil did not put that dream into her, because he would not have Christ crucified, knowing that by Christs death, his Kingdom would be dissolved; But how doth that agree with Satans entring into Iudas heart, tempting him to betray his Master. There were two great Kings, and Heathens, such as had no knowledge of God, and yet God did visit them by dreams, of things to come; as Pharaoh by seven years of barren∣ness, and seven of fruitfulness; Nebuchadnezzar of the change of his King∣dom, and the mighty alienation of it in time: But these did not understand them, till Ioseph, and Daniel, revealed the mystery to them.

Secondly, In the next place, Gods power over the hearts of men, in a way of*Iustice, is also admirable: And that in two respects:

First, In infatuating the counsels and thoughts of wise men: He strikes the great ones of the world, when he is angry, with the spirit of madness and gid∣diness, Isa. 24. 45. Thus David prayed, That God would turn Achitophels coun∣sel into folly, onely God could do it: And the Princes of Zoan and Egypt, that thought they were wise, and none like them, God stroke them with folly and giddiness: So true is that old observation, Quos Deus vult perdere, prius dor∣mentat, When God intends to destroy and ruine man, he first beginneth with their understanding, inflicting giddiness upon that: The eyes of a man first dye, theu say, and so men perish first in their counsels, thoughts and designs, after∣wards in other things: Thus God is said To catch the crafty in their own wis∣dom, and he knoweth that the thoughts of the wise they are vain, 1 Cor. 3.

Secondly, Gods Iustice upon mens hearts is, in the spiritual blinding and harden∣ing*of them: Thus God is said to harden Pharaohs heart; and Elys sons would Page  509 not heaken to good counsel, because it was of the Lord to destroy them: Whom he will, he hardens, saith the Apostle, Rom. 9. But this is a tender point, Divines are large about it; onely know, that God doth not infuse hardness of heart, nor any evil disposition in men, for he cannot be the author of that of which he is the Avenger; but it is by withdrawing and denying his mollifying Grace: And then as the withdrawing of fire from the water, makes it presently cold, and return to its native temperament; so it is here, God forsaking the heart by denying his mollifying and softning oparations, it cannot but grow stiff and obdurate against God.

Thirdly, In the last place, Let us view the glorious power of God, over the hearts of*men in a gracious way; and that is properly intended in the Text: I will give an heart of flesh. Now Gods work on the heart, when he changeth it, in these particulars:

First, He convinceth and enlightens the minde with such a glorious light, that*the person converted stands amazed at it: That we should shew forth his praise who hath translated us out of darkness, into his marvellous light, 1 Pet. 2. 9 And you that were darkness, are now made light, Ephes. 4. This is the seeing eye that God vouchsafeth to some men: Now then, if to restore eyes to the blinde, was so won∣derful a work, how wonderful is it to give a man new light? God gives a man new abilities to see; he doth not onely bring the object, and the medium, but the ability also; and till this be done, its impossible men should ever love or de∣sire what is good: Oh look up then to this! you are apt to be wise in your own eyes, you are apt to say, as the Pharisees did, We see: But pray earnestly to God for this spirit of illumination; thou wilt then finde as much difference in thy self, as one in a dark close dungeon; and another, that is come out into the open Sun-shine.

Secondly, Gods work on the heart, is to raise up such affections as may make the*yoke of Christ easie: That may make thee with delight and joy, to imbrace what is good: for here is the great obstruction against conversion, men have carnal and earthly hearts, they delight in what is evil, they imbrace the dunghill, they love the mire, like swine. hence all heavenly and spiritual objects are grievous and burthensom to them: Now then God he can turn this clod of earth, in∣to a star in the sky; he can change this heavy lumpish temper, into a gracious spiritual disposition: And when he doth thus, then what was once tedious and grievous, now becomes pleasant and joyful.

Thirdly, He doth make the heart tender and melting: And this is the great mer∣cy * here promised: for naturally the heart is a stone in spiritual things; it hath o apprehension, no joy, no sense; lay all the wrath of God before it, and you cannot move it, you cannot make it mourn and grieve; but when God puts forth this power, then a dry wilderness is turned into a pool of water; then the mountains melt like wax before him; then rocks are turned into streams of water: O then admire, and pray for this mighty work of God! doest thou complain thy heart is like the neather milstone? Oh it will not melt, it will not change, it will not yield to God! go to this heart maker, and he will be an heart breaker.

Fouthly, That which is the most admirable operation upon the heart, is the bow∣ing*and bending of it, so as to make it of unwilling willing: Thus this expression of the Text, I will give an heart of flesh, doth denote the efficacy and in∣timateness of his power; and so the Apostle saith, God worketh in us to will; and in this very point, upon this hinge hangs that great and special truth, which the Orthodox maintain against Arminians and Papists: They will grant an ir∣resistable work of light upon the understanding, they will grant a potent work upon the affections, but this they will not yield, that God makes the will to will, that he so boweth and changeth the heart, that it readily imbraceth, what once it abhorred; yet in all that are converted, this power so efficacious, must Page  510 be needs put forth; for will not experience witness, that every mans will, be∣fore converting grace came, was as opposite to God, as averse to all holiness, as any natural mans in the world? did he not dispute, argue, refuse, and shew all unwillingness, till God broke open the gate of the soul; he comes into the heart while the doors of it are shut: Thus he is said to open the heart of Lydia, Acts 16. and Paul, was he willing to receive Christ? did not he oppose, persecute and violently pursue the Church of God; and while he was in these furious out∣rages, did not God in a moment bow his heart, that he cryeth out, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do: But of this more in the manner of Gods conversion.

Lastly, The soveraignty of Gods power, is to be adored, that he can comfort the*heart with heavenly joy, or wound it with sad and heavy temptations and desertions when he pleaseth! Our hearts are calm and tempestuous, even as he speaks the word, Job 34. 29. who can give trouble, if he speak quietness, whether to a per∣son or a nation. God struck the heart of great Nebuchadnezzar, and made him like a beast; and he can strike the heart of a wicked man, and make him roar like one damned in hell: Thus we see David sometimes complaineth of the great terrors that he was even distracted with; and at another time, his heart over-floweth with joy: This ebbing and flowing is according to the presence or ab∣sence of Gods favor.

This point is worthy of all practical improvement: And *

First, It sheweth what poor, weak and empty shadows all the great, wise, powerful and mighty men of the world are: They are not the masters of their own hearts, they cannot tell what they shall think, what they shall purpose, much less, do, the next day. Well doth the Psalmist say, They are lighter then dust orvanity: What a folly then is it to put confidence in such, to trust in any arm of flesh: You see a shadow is not able to move it self, but is this way or that way, as the body stirreth; so is all earthly and humane power: God useth these Rods, these Axes, which way he pleaseth: Oh then say, nothing is great but God, hope in nothing, trust in nothing but in God. An hill or an high mountain may be something, if compared with the low valleys; but if with the heavens its but a pins point: So earthly power and greatness, may be a terrible thing to those that are weaker. Gyants are tall things to Grashoppers, but compare them with God, and they are nothing, yea less then nothing.

Use 2, Is God thus powerful over the heart, then let the godly be comfort∣ed, * who finde their hearts too strong for them; O their proud heart, their hard heart, their unbelieving heart, their earthly heart, what shall they do? Its true, shouldst thou pray the Potentates of the world, yea the Angels of heaven, to give thee a better heart, they could do nothing: O but God he is gracions, ready, willing and able.

Lastly, Of terror to wicked men, how easily can he raise terrors and horrors * in that jolly heart of thine: If Iudas and Cain would have given all the world for a quiet heart, they could not have purchased it: Do not then presume too long; do not still venture to offend him; he can send thee home with a roar∣ing, restless heart, he can make thee cry out, There is no help for me, O for a drop of ease.