The Nature, Possibility, Duty and Means of the Assurance of ones Effectual Calling.
2 PET. 〈◊〉. 10.
THe Apostle at the fifth verse, mentioneth a chain of graces, which eve∣ry Christian must keep linked together: They are like so many flowers to make up a Garland that every believer is to wear; and to this purpose he suggests divers arguments. The first is, that then they will not be barren in the knowledge of Christ: Christianity without these graces is like the figtre• without fruit, it deserveth a perpetuall curse from Christ. Look not to leaves or blossoms, but to fruit. Secondly, He that hath the title of a Beleever, but wants these graces, he is blinde, and cannot see afar off. 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, some de∣rive it from 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 Mouls, or earth-mice, that can see nothing, though in the open light: Others from shutting the eye, and so purblinde men are said 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, who see things that are near, but not afar off. Though some say 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 is not lusciosus, but 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉. Thus wicked men have knowledge about the objects that are present to sense, but the matters of faith, which are more remote, they cannot discern. Now here may seem a contradiction by the Apostle, He is blinde and cannot see afar off: For if he be blinde he cannot see, neither near or afar off. Some therefore make these later words a correction to the former, He is blinde, at least he cannot see things that are afar; if he be not blinde, he hath a dimme sight. But without any straying, we may thus interpret the Apostle, He is blinde, viz. absolutely in respect of heavenly things, and although he can see those objects that are obvious to sense, viz. all earthly things, yet he hath no perceiving about heavenly things. And indeed its very sad to consider how ma∣ny are eagle-eyed in the matters of the world, and very blinde moles in heaven∣ly things. The third argument is from the ingratitude such men are guilty of: They have forgotten they were purged from their old sins; when they undertook the profession of faith in Christ, and were baptized, there was Sacramentally, at least, a cleansing from their former waies of wickednesse. Now it would be high ingratitude for any not to preserve themselves from such defilements still. Lastly, Here is another argument for abounding in all grace, which is laid down by way of exhortation: There cannot be any assurance had of our calling or ele∣ct on, unless we are fruitfull in these graces. This should greatly awaken, for it behoveth us above all things in the world to have some comfortable knowledge how it stands between God and our souls.
In the words then consider the duty injoyned, and the way how to accom∣plish it. The duty injoyned is to make your calling and election sure. Calling, viz. the graces of God we are called to in this life, justification, adoption, and Page 671 union with Christ, as also regeneration and sanctification of our natures, and ele∣ction that is the basis or the foundation of our calling. But how may we make these things sure? not in themselves, for the purpose of God stands firm in its own self. The foundation of the Lord stands sure, saith the Apostle, 2 Tim. 2. 19. And the gifts or calling of God are without repentance, Rom. 11. 29. But sure in respect of our selves, that we may be upon good grounds confirmed in our own hearts, that we are such whom God hath called or chosen. So that the holy Ghost doth here blame all those who put their comforts and hopes upon a ven∣ture; who maintain doubts and uncertainties in their own souls, about their e∣ternal condition, that will not seek out for comfortable evidences herein. 2. You have the manner how this glorious priviledge may be attained, by giving diligence: and the rather by giving diligence; which words do imply, that unless we set our main thoughts and strength about this matter; unlesse we care∣fully set our souls to distinguish between true and false, we shall never be per∣swaded upon good grounds. This text is much vexed in the controversie be∣tween Papists and Protestants: The Papists denying this certainty (unless some few) and the Protestants pleading strongly for it. And this text seems to be an impregnable place for assurance.
That its not only possible, but a duty in Christians, to indeavour after an assurance*of their effectuall calling and election.
They are not to bring an ill report, as they did about Canaan, such Giants and difficulties were in the way, that it could never be conquered; so this assurance or certainty can never be had, it will breed presumption, and eat out all humility and godly fear. It is not my intent to enter into the controversall part, I shall only lay down some materiall particulars; and then shew you what are those things that may beget this assurance, those effects that do necessarily argue such causes. And the rather, because formerly I treated more largely about the na∣ture of it.
To clear the doctrine consider, First, That when we say a believer may and * ought to be assured of his calling and election, we do not mean as if of his own self he could have this divine perswasion. For then many of Gods own children would never have lain in such uncomfortable desertions and dark dungeons as they have done, having no light; crying out, they have no certainty, no assurance, oh they cannot believe, they cannot finde any comfort, but their hearts are like a barren heath, or a black hell! They cannot, I say, of themselves come to this sure perswasion, but it is the gift of the Spirit of God, Rom. 8. 16. The Spirit it self beareth witnesse with our spirit that we are the sons of God. So that Divines use to say, this certainty lieth in a practicall syllogisme, thus, Whosoever believeth, repenteth, is heavenly minded, is tender about all sin, These are called and ele∣cted; But I do so, saith the gracious heart, inlightned and inabled by Gods Spirit, Therefore I am called and elected. Now this Assumption, I do so, the heart being blinde or deceitfull, could never truly make, without the help of Gods Spirit. Hence it is called the Spirit of Adoption sent into our hearts, whereby we cry Abbafather. Oh then, till Gods Spirit thus Evangelizeth, as it were, and puts a filiall frame in us, we are afraid of God, our thoughts are slavish and despairing, and we desire to hide our selves from him; but this Spirit of Adoption casteth out all tormenting fears, and doth inlighten the minde, that we may see the good things God hath wrought in us. Hence is that exhortati∣on, not to grieve the Spirit of God, because it sealeth us to the day of redemption, Ephes. 4. 30. So then, as it is with the colours that are the object of the sight, though they be never so good, and visible, yet if there be no light, the eye can∣not see them: Thus it is here; though there be never such excellent graces, and though God hath wrought a wonderfull change in thee, yet thou art not able to see it, till the Spirit of God inable thee.
Secondly, You are to know, the soul of a man being a rational and spirituall sub∣stance,*Page 670〈1 page duplicate〉Page 671〈1 page duplicate〉Page 672hath two kinde of acts. There are first the direct acts of the soul, whereby it is carried out immediatly and directly to some object. And there are secondly reflex acts, whereby the soul considers and takes notice of what acts it doth. It's as if the eye were turned inward to see it self. The Apostle John expresseth it fully, We know that we know, 1 John 2. 3. So that when we believe in God, that is a direct act of the soul; when we repent of sin, because God is dishonoured, that is a direct act; but when we know that we do believe, and that we do re∣pent, this is a reflex act: Now whether this certainty or assurance be a certainty of faith, or of sense, or rather mixed of both, I shall not dispute: To be sure, it is more then those probable conjectures and meer humane certainty which the Papists plead for.
Thirdly, I say, This assurance is a priviledge may be had, and it is our sin if we breath not after it, or do any thing that may justly fill our hearts with doubts and diffi∣dence.* Yet it is not of absolute necessity to salvation: Its not a necessary effect of our calling and election at all times, as heat is an inseparable effect of fire, and light of the sun. We see David and Christ himself in such spiritual desertions, though there was unbelief in David, but not any sin in Christ. Faith of adhe∣rence is many times where this faith of evidence is not. Although therefore it be our great sin to do those things which may grieve the spirit of God, and chase away our assurance; yet many times the people of God may walk without this comfortable perswasion: Yea they may be greatly assaulted, as if God had cast them offfor ever. They may be as Pauls fellow-passengers in the Ship, who had seen no sun for many daies together. Let not therefore any argue they are not called, not elected, because this is not yet made sure to them; for many times God works the greatest certainty out of the most perplexing doubts, and the shakings of the soul make the root faster.
Fourthly; Neither yet is this assurance the Apostle presseth us unto, such as ad∣mits of no doubts, no temptations or oppositions by Satan. No, as he cried out, Lord*I believe, help my unbelief, so, Lord I am assured, yet give me more certainty. When Nathan told David his sins were done away, yet he still praieth for par∣don, Psal. 51. because guilt and doubts in his soul were ready to obscure and darken his faith: And therefore the Apostle John, 1 John 3. cals this assurance, perswading of the heart: That doth excellently imply the heart sensible of sin, is full of arguments and cavils, bringeth many strong contradictions against the promise. Hence the great word that is used often to comfort, 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, is al∣so for exhortation, because to the grieved and troubled heart for sin, comfort will not be received but by frequent exhortation. That opinion therefore of having such an assurance as to have no doubt, is much to be suspected, as not being of the Spirit of God. For the flesh lusteth against the spirit, in all the actions of it. And the devil doth diligently assault our comfort and assurance. If therefore it be of God, if it be spirituall and heavenly, it cannot be but that the heart of a man, and the devil will oppose it; presumption indeed being a sin of a mans self-flattering heart meets with no contradiction; so true is that saying of a so∣lid Divine, Nulli sunt magis desperati, quam qui minus sunt desperantes, None are more desperate, then those that are least despairing, viz. in their own selves, though not of the grace of God.
Lastly, Howsoever in practicall divinity it be disputed, whether there be not an assurance by the immediate testimony of the Spirit, viz. whether the Spirit of * God doth not by immediate revelation perswade the soul of its good condition and interest in God; yet I shall not touch upon that, but only speak to that me∣diate assurance, viz. which the Spirit of God works, by the arguing from the effects to the cause, from the fruits of grace to the root, and this is not subject to such dangerous delusions, as the former is: for this goeth upon a sure ground, the fruits of mortification, and vivification; and the Apostle plainly meaneth this assurance, viz. by adding one grace to another, and by abounding in the fruits of Page 673 holinesse, so they shall make their calling and election sure.
In the next place let us consider what are those effects of grace, which if a man walk in, he may be partaker of this priviledge: not but that God by his absolute soveraignty, and for holy ends, may leave the most exact and circumspect Chri∣stians in darknesse, without any light; as it was in Job: And the Prophet inti∣mateth, Who is among you that seareth God, and hath no light, walking in darkness? Isa. 50. 10. One that feareth God, and is precious to God, may walk in dark∣nesse, having no light, and all that he can do is to stay his soul on God by a meer act of recumbency, not of any assurance at all. This God may do; but yet there are particular waies, which if walked in, God may give thee this white stone, as it is called, Revel. 2. 17. Thou shalt walk as one acquitted from thy sin, and no man can tell what it is thou feelest, but thy self only.
And first, We must give all diligence and heed to the obtaining of this priviledge.* We must make it our businesse, it must be importunately begged for in praier. Thus the text, The rather give all diligence; neglect not this, whatsoever thou passest by. Now it is no wonder that naturall men they look on it as a matter not to be regarded; because they have never been wounded with sin, they have alwaies had a self-fulness, a self-righteousness, and by this means have not breath∣ed and thirsted after this assurance; Qui nil dubitat, nil discit; he that never doubts will never learn: And so he that hath not been in the depths of Gods displeasure for sin, he that hath not felt his frowns and his anger, he never comes to think, oh what a blessed and happy thing it is to be truly assured of the grace of God! that I am such an one to whom the Covenant of grace belongs! a childe to whom the bread of the promise appertaineth, and not a dog! Hence therefore it is that men sit down without this priviledge, they do not look at it as a great mercy; they do not prize it above all other things; and therefore they do not, because they were never sensible of the want of it. They never lay wounded with sin, they never were amazed at the hypocrisie and unsoundness of their hearts; They never felt themselves dropping as it were into hell; and hereupon they give no diligence for this assurance. You see in earthly things, how carefull men are to make all their bargains sure; in all purchases to make their evidences sure: Poor men think they are undone, if they lose their evidences about an earthly inheri∣tance, and never think themselves miserable, though they have no true ground or evidence for their spirituall condition.
Secondly, The way to obtain this assurance is a fruitfull, fervent and active walk∣ing in all the waies of holinesse. If these things be in you and abound, saith the A∣postle. * The sparks that are ready to go out, do hardly evidence there is any fire. We doubt of life when we feel scarce any breath; and thus it is here; The more remiss, and negligent, and lazy thou art in the waies of godlinesse, the lesse cer∣tainty must needs be in thee: And the reason is plain; for if graces exercised be the sign or seal, then the more these appear, the more thriving and flourishing they are, the surer testimonies there will be of thy calling and election. When the Church was lazy and negligent, she lost the comfortable presence and in∣joyment of Christ. The standing pools, and sluggish waters, they beget the croking frogs: And thus he who prayeth, as if he praied not; believeth, as if he believed not; this man takes the way to have wounds and blows; and all man∣ner of tormenting fears in his heart. Though grace exercised be not the cause or merit of thy salvation, yet it is an infallible sign of thy salvation; As the Rain∣bow is not a cause but a sign that God will never drown the world. Hence Paul argueth from his fervency in grace to assurance, I have fought a good fight; hence∣forth is laid up for me a crown of glory, 2 Tim. 49, 10. I have fought a good fight: Christianity was a real combate with sin; with the world, and all opposition; and he had not been idle or cowardly, but alwaies upon his watch, and there∣fore he had this comfortable perswasion. So that nothing will darken thy soul, more then dull, lazy and negligent walking. When thou abatest or decaiest in Page 674 thy graces, these tend to make a sad division between God and thy soul.
Thirdly, Another way to preserve or obtain this assurance, is, humility and meeknesse, going out of our selves, avoiding all presumption, all self-righteousnesse.* Thus the Apostle, Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, Phil. 2. 12. That is, with exceeding great humility and debasement of your selves. So that true assurance is so far from nourishing carnall presumption and sinfull confi∣dence, that it is built upon the clean contrary, holy fear and trembling; for al∣though they be assured of grace in them, yet they do not trust in this grace. These two things differ as much as heaven and hell. Paul who was so highly assured that nothing could separate him from the love of God, Rom. 8. And speaking of Christ, he saith, Who loved me, and gave himself for me, Gal. 3. yet this Paul would not be found in his own righteousnesse, but in that of Christs by faith. So then the godly rejoyce to see such testimonies and arguments of grace in themselves, but they put no confidence in them: They repent with an holy fear and trembling: They pray, they hear with an holy fear and trem∣bling.
Fourthly, This assurance is obtained and preserved by a tender watchfulnesse a∣gainst all known sin. For it being sin only that separates between God and the soul, * this only raiseth up the great gulf; therefore all witting and willing allowing of this, is a direct destroier of all assurance: And herein this holy certainty is expresly distinguished from all carnall presumption, which makes a man have confidence and boldnesse, though in the constant custom of all grosse and foul sins. They can live in all uncleannesse, in all lusts of the flesh, in all contempt and neglect of God and his worship, and yet have as vehement perswasions that their hearts are good, and that Christ will save them, as if they committed no such sin; oh therefore that way might be made for Christ by throwing away all such dangerous conclusions! If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me, saith David. And the Apostle saith expresly, If our hearts condemn us not, we have boldnesse with God, 1 John 3. There is no mans heart, but it con∣demneth him for many defects, and severall failings; but he speaks of a condem∣ning for the willing practice of known sins. No marvell then, if thou com∣plainest thou hast no assurance, thou hast no certainty; for as long as there are these desperate venturings upon sin, it cannot be but continuall quakings should be upon thee. If Cain carry about with him guilt in his conscience, no won∣der if he fear every thing will destroy him. David could have no peace in his bones, while any sin lay unconfessed and unforsaken.
Fifthly, Another way to obtain this is, To take heed of grieving the Spirit of God or quenching the motions of it. For seeing it's the Spirit of God that * witnesseth, and it is the Spirit that sealeth, If we would have assurance, we are to nourish it, to do nothing that may resist and repell it. His office is to com∣fort and to bring gladnesse into the heart. Now if thou either by rebelling a∣gainst the motions of it, or by despairing thoughts, reject this Comforter; thou takest the ready way to make thy self an undone man. Know then that as you are to hearken to Gods Spirit convincing of sin, and sanctifying the nature, so also sealing and witnessing unto them the love of God. Though the Spirit of God moved upon the waters at first, and still doth on godly sorrow, yet not on sorrow unbelieving, despairing, and accompanied with hard thoughts of him.
Sixtly, If thou wouldst attain to this assurance, Acquaint thy self well with the Covenant of the Gospel, with the precious promises revealed there, with the gracious*condescentions of Gods love in Christ. Many of the children of God are kept in a doubtfull and perplexed estate, because they consider not the riches of Christs grace revealed in the Gospel; They judge unbelief and doubting even a kinde of a duty, and that to do otherwise were arrogance. As Luther said, His soul hated that word Repent all the while he was a Papist, because he thought there Page 675 was nothing in it, but bitter sorrow and terror about sin; whereas when he under∣stood the Evangelical nature of it, and that it was to be accompanied with faith 〈◊〉 Christ; and that nothing was more acceptable unto God, then believing in him, and to have good thoughts of him as a father; then the word he did run from, as Moses from the serpent, he took up and imbraced.
Use of severe Reproof, of that horrible, prophane, and supine negligence of * most men in this point: Who giveth all diligence to make their calling and sal∣vation sure in their own consciences? who doth not put it upon a venture? who doth not trust all upon miserable uncertainties? They that in matters of estate by the Law, or in matters of their health by physick, will be sure to go upon good ground: In the matters of Religion they never enquire, they never seek to search out things; Oh we would think, that Religion and a godly fear should make thee of no rest in thy bones, till thou knowest in what condition thy soul stands in towards God: Hast thou never heard, That the heart is deceitful above all things; it will tell thee, thou doest repent, when thou doest not; that thou lovest God, when thou doest not; And wilt thou still put off all to this, If I be saved, I be saved, if damned, I am damned.