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.
Page  521

SERMON. LXXXVIII.

Holding forth Inducements to get this promised Heart of Flesh; Also shewing the Counter∣feit of it.


EZEK. 36. 26.
I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and give you an heart of flesh.

THe Doctrine about An heart of flesh, hath already been explained, and some practical use made of it: And the matter being so exceeding necessary; (for without this Heart of flesh, we preach in vain, you hear in vain, Gods mercies, and Gods chastisements are in vain;) I shall therefore adde another Use, by way of Exhortation, Not to have any rest or quiet in your souls, till God vouchsafe this mercy to you: God here promiseth it, as the main mercy, to qualifie and sanctifie all their temporal mercies; as if return∣ing from Captivity, injoying their own Countrey, their Liberties, Houses and Comforts again, were nothing, if this Heart of flesh was not also bestowed up∣on them. And to speak to our condition; though God hath brought us to∣gether, that by the last wars were scattered one from another; though many of those fears and terrors that did then overwhelm, are in some measure abated; yet if God give not this Heart of flesh, a worm will quickly arise and consume this gourd: Be therefore as importunate with God, as the Widow was with the unjust Judge; for God loveth importunity, he loveth seeking, knocking, fervent praying; and if the unjust Judge was overcome by importunity, how much rather will the bowels of a gracious God move towards thee? How graci∣ously did God reward that Petition of Solomons, because he did not ask for riches, long life, the life of his enemies, but wisdom to discharge his trust: So will God say to thee, Because thou hast not asked temporal mercies, nor earthly greatness, but a tender soft heart, be it according to thy desire. As David therefore resolved, He would give no sleep to his eyes, or slumber to his eye-lids, till he had settled the Ark: So do thou resolve to have no rest in thy minde, or to let God alone, but importune him day and night, till he hath made that heart of stone flesh within thee: Oh! why are you solicitous about earthly things! what you shall eat, what you shall drink, what you shall put on? and not in a godly manner enquiring, How may I pray, hear, live, dye, with this soft and tender heart? And if reason may be any motive to you, consider, how much may be spoke for this particular.

First, This heart of flesh will be a constant Antidote, and Preservative against*sin: This bitter potion will kill all those worms of temptation, that may crawl in thy breast; the Devil can never come and finde the room of thy heart swept and ready garnished for him; he is continually upon his Watch-Tower, that Page  522 hath an heart of flesh. Davids heart when it began to be stony and senseless, see how willfully he falls from one sin to another; whereas if his heart had been as tender as at other times, the very entrance and appearance of sin would have amazed him. As it is the nature of sin to harden, and to make obstinate, so of grace to mollifie and soften: Now there is always in every condition, in every occurrence of providence, something that would stiffen the heart against God, were not grace a continual thawer of the heart by the heat thereof: If there∣fore thou wouldst be preserved from those sad falls, and wretched backslidings, which others have been tumbled into, Keep up this heart of flesh; Oh it could never be that thou wouldst entertain such monstrous Doctrines, or do such unjustifiable practices, if thy heart were of flesh: No, it is of steel and iron, of a rock, or adamant, and that makes thee bold to commit such sins, which tender godly persons have their hearts ake at, and their ears tingle to hear.

Secondly, As this tender heart of flesh preserveth from sin; So from the con∣sequents,*and the woful effects of it; which are woes, wounds of conscience, hor∣ror of heart, darkness and gloominess of soul, sad tears, lest God hath for ever forsaken them; the loss of all their former sweet peace and communion they had with God: Oh! God of a gracious father, is now become a frowning ene∣my; their hearts are made like an hell, wherein legions of sad unbelieving thoughts do constantly lodge: This is the portion of those godly men, who by negligence, carelesness and hardness of heart, come to fall off from their former measure of holiness: Oh but a tender heart of flesh, as it prevents the cause of these, so the effects likewise; it will keep thee from this roaring Lyon: So that as soon as ever thou findest this soft heart abating in thee, do thou then fear some grievous storm may be coming on thee, if God prevent not.

Thirdly, Without a tender heart of flesh, a man cannot perform any Religious*duty, in an acceptable manner to God: Prayer without this heart of flesh, is like a dry unsavory herb; hearing of the word, if it come not from an heart thus softned, is but desperate boldness against God, and so an immediate provocati∣on of his anger. Hence a broken heart is preferred above all sacrifices, Psal. 51. above all outward worship; they are the body, this is the soul; they must not be neglected, but this is the Benjamin, without whom, we must not see Gods face: Oh then as thou darest not but pray, and hear, and come to Church, so also be as much afraid, lest those duties be done without an heart of flesh.

Fourthly, A tender heart of flesh is accompanied with patience, under the sorest*afflictions, and thankfulness under the least mercies: What a sudden tempest and whirlwind of afflictions fell upon Iob; and yet in all that he did not charge God foolishly, Job 1. ult. but reproved his impatient wife with this saying, Shall we receive good, and not evil from the Lord? And as for thankfulness under the least mercies, see how the Church in the Lamentations can taste a little honey in an ocean of gall; Its of the Lords mercy that we are not consumed, Lam. 3. 22. and so the woman of Canaan, acknowledgeth her self a dog, and is glad of the crums that fall from the table, Mat. 15. 27. Now what a lovely and comely sight is this; to see a Christian patient under the greatest trouble, and thankful under the least mercies! and there is nothing will bring the heart to this admirable tem∣per, but the fulfilling of this promise.

Lastly, This tender heart of flesh, is the onely fit soil, wherein the word of God sown, will grow up, and bring a plentiful crop: For as they say of the soul, Animae*fabricat sibi domicilium, The soul fashioneth and prepareth the body, for it self to dwell in; as the Spider makes her own web, wherein she resides: Thus the word of God at first makes the heart of hard and stony, fleshy and soft, which when done, then is the heart ever afterwards a fit room to receive this spiritual guest: So that the word never thriveth or prospers, in respect of the progress Page  523 and increase of godliness, but where it meeteth with a tender heart. Lydia's heart is said to be opened to attend to the words of Paul, Acts 16. 14. Thus naturally mens spirits are bolted, the word findes a gate of brass upon it, till it be made tender, and after that its careful to lose nothing: Oh then that we could say of our hearers, what Paul of the Corinthians, The word is written in their fleshy tables of the heart, 2 Cor. 2. Now for the better clearing of these things, it may be demanded:

Whether all tenderness and softness of heart, be this work of grace here promised?*may not the soul be deceived about tenderness of heart?

Yes, very easily; for there is a twofold soft heart of flesh, which yet is not the heart in the Text.

There is a natural softness or aptness to relent, and to be pitifully affected; such as Austin speaks of in himself, when he read the History of Dido, Lord (saith he) I could not but weep when I read that, and yet at the same time I could not weep for my sins. That tender heart of Ioseph, whereby he dissolved into tears concerning his brethren, was not so much an act of grace, as of na∣tural tenderness: And it should seem he was a tender father to all Egypt, as some expound that name they gave Ioseph, when they blessed him, and cal∣led him Abrech, Tender Father.

Again, There is another tenderness or softness, whereby men are so melted under*the consideration of sin, as they refuse, like Rachel, to be comforted: It seemeth Mary Magdalene was too tender, by that remedy our Saviour applyed, when he bid her Be of good comfort, her sins were forgiven, Luke 7. 48. To be sure the Incestuous person was too soft this way, insomuch that he was even swallowed up with sorrow, 2 Cor. 2. 7. For as the string of the instrument, if it be too wet, can make no melodious sound; so neither can an heart overwhelmed with sor∣row, set forth the praise of God with faith and thankfulness.

It will be therefore worth the while, to discover this Counterfeit heart of*flesh, from a gracious one: And let us examine the first, which if put to the Touch-stone, will be thus discovered:

First, Natural tenderness ariseth from the bodily constitution, or natural tempera∣ment of a man; whereas this gracious sofness is the work of God in a superna∣tural way: Thus in the Text, I will give the heart of flesh: God as the Author of grace makes this; so Zach. 12. I will pour upon them the spirit of prayer, and they shall mourn for their sin, Rom. 8. Those groans unutterable, which came from an heart of flesh, are wholly attributed to the spirit of God; so that the tender heart of the one, is like Egypt, that is not made fruitful by rain from heaven; whereas the other comes onely from above: If then you go to the fountains from whence these streams flow, they are as far distant as heaven and earth; and if ye see them both melting and dissolving into tears, under the chastisements and judgements of God upon them; the one hath a spring from under the earth, the other from heaven above: Do not therefore presently con∣clude grace is there, when you see a tender, soft, yielding disposition, for this may come from nature, as well as grace; it may be a natural complexion, not a principle of Sanctification within.

Secondly, The instrument by which this softness and tenderness of heart is pro∣duced, is far different from the other: For the natural softness is wrought, by see∣ing the objects of pity and compassion; but this gracious softness is by hear∣ing, and by the word preached: So that the instrument by which a man comes to be thus changed from his obstinacy, is wholly by the word of God; that received by faith, hath been the furnace or coals of fire to the iron, that doth make it flexible for every shape; whereas the former is onely by a natural sym∣pathy between the eye and the heart: The eye affects the heart, Lam. 3. 51. and hereupon tenderness is wrought; its not a work of faith, which as it purifieth the heart, so it makes the heart tender. By faith Noah was moved with fear,Page  524 Heb. 11. and by faith we finde the rockiness of our heart subdued, and we readily yielding unto God.

Thirdly, The motive, Which is the very same thing in Morals, that the specifi∣cal form is in naturals; in this there is a great gulf between one and another: For the * onely motive of this natural tenderness, is outward evil and misery, not sin, or the displeasure of God: There are hundreds of people, that for the loss of dear friends, or outward comforts, can weep till they are able to weep no more, but are as a rock, and as hard as a stone, in respect of any consideration about sin; yet sin is the greatest evil, and that which depriveth the soul of the most excellent good: Thou art therefore very prone to sigh, to be troubled, thy heart is like a fountain of water; But what is the reason? outward discon∣tents, want of such mercies as thou doest propound to thy self: Alas, this is not an heart of flesh, in the sense of the Text; indeed it is too much an heart of flesh in another sense; for it is wholly carnal, and is carried out upon carnal con∣siderations: If therefore thy tenderness and softness of heart, be in the want of Gods favor, and the apprehension of his displeasure, as Davids so of∣ten was; no doubt but thou hast then felt the power of this promise to thee.

Fourthly, A natural softness and tenderness, is flexible to any evil; it will receive any impression of sin: But this gracious softness, though it be flesh to what is * good, it doth easily receive that; yet its a stone and an adamant to what is e∣vil; and this is a remarkable difference: you have many soft and flexible hearts, and that is their fault, for none so insnared as they; they are like wax, that receive the stamp of any seal upon them; they are like the reed that is shaken up and down with every wind; now this is a great sin. It was Reubens curse, To be unstable like water: To be for good in good company, and for evil in evil company; to be such a Chamelion according to every company, is contrary to those many commands, To be stedfast and unmoveable in the work of the Lord, 1 Cor. 15. 58. And to confess Christ and his truth, in the midst of a crooked and per∣verse generation, Luke 12. 8. Their yea should be yea, and their nay, nay: Oh do not judge this the gracious heart of flesh; for he that hath this grace, though he be like a Lamb, and all sweetness of carriage be in him; yet he is also like a Lyon, in respect of courage and boldness for what is good: So then consider, that as the work of grace is in one sense making man tender; so in another sense it doth establish and settle upon a rock.

Lastly, This natural tenderness can, and often doth consist, without any trouble and grief for the dishonor of God, wrought by other mens sins. Now you have * heard, that a gracious heart of flesh was easily wounded and torn asunder in pain, for the wickedness of others: You heard, David had rivers of waters running down his eyes, because men kept not the Law of God; but how many may ye see of tender soft spirits, that are very senseless stones of the blasphe∣mies and impieties that others are guilty of! They have such in their families, they have such in their company, and in their delight; How can he be cal∣led a godly man, to whom a wicked ungodly man is not a torment and a bur∣then: Horror hath taken hold on me, saith David, because of the wicked, Psal. 119. 53. Oh if thy heart were sensible of Gods glory, horror and trembling would surprise thee, to see or hear others commit iniquity, even as if thou didst see them falling into the fire, or deep waters.

Secondly, In the next place, let us consider the other sinful tenderness, and * that is, When the heart is indeed godly for the main, but there is a degeneration: This tenderness doth go beyond its bounds: God indeed by his grace doth wound the heart, but then it bleeds too much, and so groweth the weaker thereby: Now the sinfulness of this softness will appear thus:

First, When it hinders a man from those other gracious duties that God doth re∣quire: All grace is consonant, and one grace is to be added to another, and they Page  525 are to cooperate one with another, even those that seem to be at the greatest distance; thus Joy and trembling, faith and fear, are to accompany one ano∣ther: Now there are some graces, that it is very hard to have co operate with this heart of flesh; and therefore we must take heed that our gold become not dross, that we do not take even sin for grace: This is worse then to take Iohn Baptist for Christ, this is to take a false Christ for the true one: And this is done first, when they cast both their eyes upon their sins onely, not at all eying Christ; as if the Israelite wounded by a Serpent, should always have cryed out of his pain and rosting, but never look up to the exalted Serpent: This the incestuous person was blamed for, he was ready to be swallowed up with sor∣row: When thy soul is so dejected, that it refuseth the comfort of the Go∣spel, will suffer no oil to be poured in its wounds, this is a sinful softness; this is as wetted paper, the moisture of it hinders any writing upon it; and so the softness of thy heart makes the glorious promise of the Gospel not to be writ on thy soul; for as God writes the Law of obedience in the hearts of the godly, so also the Gospel of comfort in their souls: And as hardness of heart hinders the former writing, so too much softness and moisture the latter: Know then, that all tenderness and softness, which keeps off from Christ, which re∣jects the promise of grace, is sinful, and is not of God.

Secondly, If thy tenderness and softness make thee more unable and unfit for any*service unto God: If it weaken thee, that thou canst not pray, do or suffer for God, this is also sinful; when it makes thee have feeble hands and knees, as the childrens bones and joynts are so soft at first, that they cannot go, this is sinful. The trees that have not their sap and juice excocted out, are not able to bear up any building; and so the soul that is inordinately tender, and sin∣fully softned, it cannot go through with the work of the Lord: See there∣fore that thy tenderness makes thee not less serviceable.

Lastly, If this tenderness makes thee slavishly and ignorantly scrupulous, that thou*canst not enjoy the Liberty of the Gospel, and the freedom of the spirit, which Christ hath purchased for thee: Though this may seem wonderful tenderness, yet it is not so indeed: Its true indeed, as we told you, the godly through their ten∣derness, abstain from all appearances of evil, and they fear sin may be, where it is not; yet they do not incourage a slavish, scrupulous disposition; but they labor for a sound minde, and a filial frame wrought by the spirit of adoption: So that although there are too too few in the world, that need the regulating or moderating of their tenderness; yet some there are, and this may be a word of season to them, Do not take that doubtful, fearful spirit of thine, for this heart of flesh; let not the water overflow the banks, for then it presently gets soil, and is turned into mud.

Let the conclusion be by way of Information, concerning the cursed and miserable estate of those, who have not this promised mercy of An heart of flesh. As Ezekiels Scrol had woe and lamentation written within and without; so hath such a wicked man the inward and outward curses of Gods word be∣longing to him: Oh thou rock and stone! that art neither by the instructi∣ons, exhortations or reproofs of the word, softned; nor yet by his mercies or judgements mollified: How could thy heart indure against all those ways God hath used to melt thee. Consider, that thy heart is naturally an heart of flesh, in respect of the frailty and weakness of it; Why then should it not be an heart of flesh in a gracious sense? Were thy heart of brass, and iron; were it immortal, and such as could not dye; then thou mightest go on with bold∣ness in thy sin, and say, Who shall contradict? but it being an heart of flesh, fainting, miserable, and always dying: Oh why should not this stir thee up to be partaker of this inestimable mercy! Oh cry out, and say, Lord, my weak frail flesh, cryeth out for that tender heavenly flesh; and further, thy heart being naturally of flesh, how unable is it to combate with the wrath of God, Page  526 who is an infinite spirit? Thy heart cannot keep off those sharp arrows, which he shall shoot into thy heart of flesh; Why then doest thou not take that coun∣sel, to agree with thy adversary in the way; with God, who for the present is thy enemy, while thou art in the way, before death come, and then there be no ransom: Oh that you would meditate of the terror of God, how easi∣ly he can fill that heart of flesh with hellish horror; how spedily he can make the Devils take thee by the throat, and hale thee to damnation; and if so, there is no remedy, but to cry out, Lord make good this promise to me: Oh it is this I want, this would make me happy.