Of the Order and Method that God takes in our Conversion; First, Working in us inward Prin∣ciples, and then causing us to walk in his Sta∣tutes, opposite to the Doctrine of Pelagians, Pa∣pists, Arminians, and Moral Philosophy; Also signes to discover whether our outward Duties proceed from Grace within, or from Hu∣mane respects.
EZEK. 36. 27.
THe precious and great mercy of conversion promised in this Text under se∣veral Titles and Notions, hath been fully considered of and improved. There remain several other particulars, which are not without their great weight and moment. As in the first place, The Order and Method of the promise is to be taken notice of; for he worketh in the same method as he promiseth: the Method is this: First, He promiseth to give the inward root, then the fruit; first the foun∣tain, then the streams: He first promiseth the inward principles, and habit of grace, a new heart, a new spirit, and then he will cause them to walk in his command∣ments. God is both the Author of Nature, and the Author of grace; now as the Author of Nature, he first worketh the principles of life, he giveth the principles of Motions, and all vital Actions, and afterwards the exercise. So it is here, God doth in the way of grace bestow a supernatural principle upon men, and then be∣ing * First made good Trees, then they bring forth good fruit. The Obser∣vation.
That God doth first work the foundations and principles of holinesse, and from them men walk and live holily. Thus the Apostle saith, We are his workmanship, created to every good work, Eph 2. 10. We do not first do good works, and so become Gods workmanship; but we are first his workmanship, and then we exercise our selves in good and holy works.
This Doctrine hath its great use, both in matter of information, and exhortation; and there is more consequence in it, then an ordinary apprehension will at first con∣ceive. Therefore to clear this, we will first illustrate this Truth, by the opposite of it, or contrary opinions.
And first, Grace doth not come at first into the heart, as sin came into the world; for Adam was not made a bad tree, and so brought forth bad fruit; his person was not made wicked, and his nature, and then that infected his Actions; but God made Page 539 him after his own image, in righteousnesse and true holinesse: So that his soul be∣ing furnished with all graces, as the heavens are adorned with several stars, he might have continued in all holy actions sutable to his original perfection. Adams sinful disobedience, did not as outs, flow from a polluted unclean nature, but from the meer liberty of his will: and when he had thus actually transgressed, then that act∣uall sin infected, and poisoned his whole nature. Thus you see the actions of sinne were before the habits, and principles of sin: there was a branch before a root; there was a sweet fountain, and yet a bitter stream• but God in converting and changing of us, doth take the contrary course; he first sanctifieth our Natures, all the faculties of the soul; layeth a spiritual life as a foundation, and then being thus inwardly enlivened and established, we are carried out to all holy actions: So that all the glorious outward actions of religion, that are visible to the eyes of the world; if they be built without this inward foundation they will prove but a Babel: They are but like Sodoms apples, glorious for shew, but indeed dust and Ashes. It is good to observe, How that God in the Creation of the world, both in vegetative, and sensitive creatures, still created the principles first, and that in perfection, Semina∣tive, able to beget and propagate others; and thus it is also in conversion, he work∣eth these holy and excellent principles, which afterwards are operative and vigo∣rous.
Secondly, God working thus a new Nature, and thereby enabling to new acti∣ons, *takes a far other course to make holy, then Moral Philosophy teacheth: For if we read all the Moral Philosophers, perswading us to be temperate, just, or prudent, if you ask them, How shall we come to have the habits of these things? They will tell you, by frequent actions, justa agendo sumus justi, by doing many righteous actions frequently, so we come to have habits. Thus they know no other way, and there is no better Divinity in most people; for they think by doing godly actions, they are made godly: and so they think by walking in Gods commandments, to get a new spirit, which is the clear inverted order to the Text; for God first giveth this New spirit, and then causeth to walk in his Law; we indeed are commanded to be diligent in the use of the means; we must attend to the Ordinances of grace; but till this spiritual life be infused, there is not one good action done by us in a good manner: All that thou dost till this new principle be put in thee, hath but the body of a good action, not the soul of it. Nothing thou dost is pleasing to God, Heb. 11. 6. God is angry with thee all the day long, All things are become polluted, and unclean to thee, Ti•. 1. 15. Oh were not men hardened in their sins, and led ca∣ptive by the D•vel according to his pleasure: they could never eat, or drink, or take any rest till they got out of that damnable estate, wherein all the day long they were treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath. Belshazzar saw but one hand-writing in the wall against him, and he knew not what it was; yet it strook him with terror and trembling: But now thou hast many hand-writings, and Or∣dinances against thee, even the whole word of God; and thou canst not but know what they are, yet thou art not affected with fear. What was written of Belshaz∣zar, Thou art weighed, and found too light; The same Gods word saith of all thy Duties, performances, and seeming religion, It is weighed, and it is found too light: And the reason is, because all thy religious duties are like leaves fallen from the tree dried, and without s•p or moysture.
Thirdly, This work of grace is in a far other manner then Pelagians of old, or*Papists, and Arminians of late, do confidently aver, for they attend not to this Or∣der in the Text. But they say, that man by the power of Free-will, doth joyn with the grace of God, and co-operate with that; and so partly from free-will, part∣ly from Gods grace, comes this new spirit, this new grace. But this doth directly contradict many places of Scripture, which makes Regeneration and a New-birth necessarily to go before all holy actions; and if a man cannot make himself a man, much lesse like God, as grace doth: But say they, Ezek. 18. 31. there the Scripture saith, Make ye a new heart, a new spirit; Therefore we by our working Page 540 obtain a new heart; But this is answered thus, That the same thing may be both our Duty and Gods Gift: when the Scripture saith, Make ye•a new spi∣rit, there it declareth our Duty, what we ought to do: but when God saith, I will give it you, that shews our Impotency, we are not able to make new hearts; and therefore God graciously worketh it for us. Augustine did admi∣rably and orthodoxly defend this truth, That we were not made holy by doing holy Actions, through Grace and Free-will; but God first made us holy; as saith Augustine, The Wheel runs round, not to make it self round, but be∣cause it is round, therefore it runneth round. Indeed our Saviour saith, Make the Tree good (Matth. 12. 33.) and then the fruit will be good; but he doth not there describe our power, but that excellent order all should look unto in Religion; the Pharisees, like most people in our dayes, they looked to the outward Actions, did not dare to omit them, They washed the outside of the Cup; but saith our Saviour, not the outside but the inside must be first cleansed: The Tree must be first made good ere the fruit can. Oh there is no Doctrine more necessary then this. Who looketh to good insides! Many dare not neglect the outward Obedience unto Gods Commandments, but who mindes the new heart, the new spirit within; and hence they set most prepo∣sterously upon the work of Conversion; they think by good Deeds, by out∣ward Duties to obtain a new spirit from God, not considering this is to build the top of an House before a Foundation be laid, Non per opera venitur ad fidem, sed per fidem ad opera; We do not come to Faith by Works, but to Works by Faith; Oh then be affected with this excellent Order and Method that God takes in our Conversion, beginne where God beginneth. What the Apostle said about his Preaching, As a wise Builder (1 Cor. 3. 10.) I lay a good Foundation: So do thou as a wise Builder for Heaven lay a good Foun∣dation; Tempests and Stormes will arise; God will have his windes and waves to assault you, so that unlesse you be built on a Rock, you cannot continue im∣moveable.
These things premised, let us consider the Reasons why God takes this * order, first giving a new heart and spirit, then causing us to walk in his wayes, and
First, Otherwise our Duties would be dead Duties, there would be no Life in*them. If a Ball or Wheel move, this Motion is not a vital Action, because its not from a Principle within, it comes wholly from without; so all thy Obe∣dience to Gods Commandments is but a dead Obedience, a dead Work, if this new Heart be not first in thee. God in the Old Testament accepted of dead Sacrifices to be offered to him, but now we must give up our selves, as li∣ving Sacrifices, Rom. 12. 1. The Scripture delights to call the Work of Grace, a Life, and the Graces of Gods Spirit are compared to living Waters. And thus indeed it is, Every Prayer must be a living Prayer, thy Obedience living, or lively Obedience, but this cannot be till God beginne in the inward man first. As therefore thou canst not delight in a dead Wife, dead Children; so neither doth God in thy dead Religion. We Ministers while preaching of these things, may say our Hearts are inditing of good things, and our Mouths drop like the Honey-comb; for how glad shouldst thou be to hear of a way that may put life into all thy dead Duties. If those that lived in Christs time, did so exceedingly rejoyce to receive their Friends from the dead; what joy should it be to have all thy Duties arise as it were from the dead? How necessary is this for such who live in a meer formall customary way of Duties! We read of the Aegyptian Plague, that the first-born in every Family was dead; and thereupon in the Morning there were great out-cryes in every Family for a dead son. Oh how should this truth make many Families mourn for their dead Du∣ties, their dead Religion! There is no life in any thing thou dost, till God be∣gin within and so cure thee outwardly.
Page 541 Secondly, As there is no life in thy Duties, so there is no worth, no excellency, up*solidity in them, if first Gods Law be not written in our inward parts. We reade in the Canticles of large commendations that Christ gives the Church, viz. every godly soul, and how her graces are commended for the lovelinesse, sweetnesse and fragrancy in them; whereas if she had only paintings, a meer outside with∣out the inward substance of Grace, there might have been some glittering but no true worth. What worth is there in an Image of clay and dirt, though co∣vered over with gold? Godlinesse is aurea not deaurata; the Churches Glory was within: What worth is there in straws or flowers, when their juyce and moisture is dried up? The hypocrite is compared in his fastings to a Bulrush, and such a Bulrush is every mans Godlinesse without this inward foundation; its empty and light. Therefore weigh your Duties in the balance of the Sanctuary, do not judge that godlinesse and holinesse which the Scripture rejects as refuse. As the Prophet speaks of the Israelites, Reprobate Silver shall men call them, Jer. 6. 10. So reprobate Duties, a reprobate Godlinesse, shall both men and God call these. As God by the Prophet complains of his defective and deformed Sa∣crifices, Go and offer such to your Governours and Rulers; so we may say in this case, Go to men and serve them without an inward heart, without inward affections, and will they thank you or reward such service?
Thirdly, As there is no worth, so there is no sutablenesse in such Duties to God;* for God is a Spirit, and he searcheth and trieth the hearts of men, our Saviour from this consideration inferred, that those who worship him must worship him in spirit and truth, John 4. Now then if God have not begun this foundation in thee of a new heart, a new spirit; here is no congruity between God and thy worship. Oh how remote are these things from the common understanding of most men, who know no further in Religion then a bodily praying, or a bodily hearing! Sursum corda, was the ancient acclamation at the administration of the Sacrament, to take them off from the Elements of Bread and Wine; and this should be a daily Memento, Lift up your hearts on high in every Duty you go about. But men that would be thus elevated in their hearts, and fasten upon God himself, must go out of all their low and bodily apprehensions. As God bad Abraham come out of his Tabernacle, and then to look up to Heaven to number the Stars if he could; thou must be drawn out of the Tabernacle of thy bodily affections, before thou canst set thy heart upon God himself. Oh then consider that as long as this new spirit is not in thee, there is no more proportion between God and thy soul for any holy Duty, which is nothing but a familiar communion with God, then is between Earth and Heaven.
Fourthly, Therefore God begins here before the outward man be sanctified, because*the greatest power and strength of corruption lieth in the inward parts. As the Law of God is in the inward parts of the godly; so the Law of sinne, as the Apostle calleth it, is reigning in the members of every wicked man; so that the godly have a good Law in their inward parts, and the wicked, the Law of sinne. If therefore God should only inable us to outward Obedience without this new spirit, his greatest work of Grace would be left undone; for its not the body so much as the soul that the Devil possesseth, and taketh for his own. The great∣est part of wickedness lieth there, where most men do neither perceive or feel it. Though sickness when it come to the heart be presently felt, yet sinne when it cometh to the heart, and lieth at the heart, is not felt as a burden till Gods Spirit convince a man; seeing therefore that this converting Grace is vouchsa∣fed as an healing, and a medicinal cure, it is necessary that the greatest operati∣on of it should be upon the vital parts within. So that as in unregenerate men, the imaginations of the thoughts of their hearts are only evil, and that conti∣nually; so the imagination of their thoughts should be godly and heavenly. As the wicked swallow down iniquity like water, so rivers of living water should flow out of their bowels. As in the wicked no man can bring the clean out of an Page 542 unclean, so it should be hard to bring an unclean from a clean. In these things lieth the marrow and quintessence of Religion, men are but in the porch, and never enter into the Holy of Holies till they be experimentally acquainted with these things: O that all our Congregations were understanding of these things. If Ministers preach against outward grosse impieties, such as the light of nature condemneth, with that you can go along; but concerning this new spirit and new heart, or the old heart and old man; which the Scripture so much speaks of, you know nothing of it.
In the next place let us consider, What are the Signs that may discover when we*perform holy Duties from this new Spirit within, and not rather as most do from Edu∣cation, Custom or carnal Respects to the good or ill will of man. For this is certain, All men perform holy Duties, either from inward principles of Grace, or out∣ward principles of humane respects; now how shall we know when a man doth them from this inward new Spirit?
First, He that doth them from an inward principle; is constant, and uniform, and immoveable in them, for this is made a divine Nature in him. Now as all na∣tural * principles in the creatures do carry them on in a constant setled way; The fire doth alwayes ascend upwards, the stone descend downwards; so the wicked man he is constant to his principles of sinne, you shall never finde him check∣ing or stopping himself, but by some extraordinary power; Thus the godly man, his heart and soul doth carry him on to the things of Godliness, and if he be at any time stopped in it, or hindered, it is, as they say the disease is to the body, Praeter Naturam, besides the nature and inclination of a godly man. Hence Paul makes such a miserable complaint of those lusts that did stirre, and move in him, as those that had led him away Captive against his will, Rom. 7. Look to this then you who are inconstant, and are for holy Duties in some fits, in some sad moods. So that it is accidental, and wholly inexpected, if thou set upon any religious Duty, we may by way of wonder cry out, is they did, Is Saul also among the Prophets? What makes thee pray, come to Church? What putteth thee in this fit? What good Disposition art thou in so sud∣denly?
Secondly, Men that perform outward Obedience from inward principles, they do*it with delight and joy. There is nothing so pleasing and connatural to them. All principles have a kinde of delight in their connatural actions and objects. Thus the voluptuous principle is for the pleasures of the flesh, the ambitious prin∣ciple for honours and earthly greatness, and the godly principle is for holinesse and godliness. David how often doth he profess his delights, and even ravish∣ments in the Ordinances of God, and the enjoying of him! Christ called it His meat and drink to do the will of his Father; and why? because the Law of God was written within his heart. Indeed the godly sometimes finde dulnesse, list∣lesness, and even a wearisomness upon them in the wayes of God. But yet their main and chief delight of soul is in God and the Ordinances that lead to him, ra∣ther then in any thing else; Thou hast put more gladnesse into my heart, then they have had, when their wine and oyl increaseth, Psal. 4.
Thirdly, Where inward Principles are, they will carry to the Obedience of Gods Commands, though there be no outward Encouragements to allure and draw on.* The Father and Mother love their Children, though they have no outward ad∣vantages by them, because it is a natural principle. You do not hire and intreat an hungry man to eat his meat, or a wearied man to take his rest. Natural appe∣tite cals for these things. Thus he that hath the new heart and spirit within him, he is godly, and liveth holily, though there be no favour, no encouragement, no honour to such men.
Yea fourthly, Where inward Principles of Grace are, They grow the more pow∣fuller and active, by how much the more they are opposed. Thus the water that is * stopt doth swell the higher. The colder the weather is, the hotter the fire burn∣neth Page 543 by an opposition; And so the people of God have been most holy in times of Troubles, and Oppositions: They have born the best fruit, and loo∣ked most green in the Winter time: whereas when men have not inward prin∣ciples of grace, then they presently wither as soon as the Sunne riseth; because they have no root. The godly are Stars, that shine most in the night, in dark times.
Use of Exhortation, Still and still to look from whence all thy externall Obedience comes. Whence is thy Hearing, thy Praying, thy Family Du∣ties? * Yea, what advantage is it to set up Dagon? he will fall down again and again; as long as he hath no inward life in him, and it will be no profit to thee, or Comfort at thy Death, or at the day of Judgement, to say, I have prayed, I have heard, I have been diligent to come to Church; if first this new Spirit have not been put in thee. But Oh! How long shall those things be dark Parables, and hidden Mysteries to most men? Who will give you un∣derstanding in these things? Remember your inwards of Nature decay every day, and your outward body; lay up then some enduring Treasure.