The Possibility and Duty of Assurance of our Calling demonstrated: And the Reasons why some thinke a certain Assurance impossible; with Answers to the Objections brought a∣gainst it.
2 PET. 1. 10.
YOu have heard of the possibility, yea, and necessary duty, to endea∣vor after the certainty of our Calling and Election; as also, what are those means, in the diligent exercise whereof, we may expect this pri∣viledge: And for the clearer apprehension of this, I shall Answer one or two Objections, by the discussion whereof, the truth will be more illustrious, as the file getteth off the rust: For whereas there were two things in the Do∣ctrine, The possibility and duty of this holy certainty, we may first question the possibility of it, and then the duty. Now in these things I shall be brief, be∣cause the matter hath been formerly more largely handled: That therefore cer∣tainty is not possible; among other Objections, I shall pitch upon one that is most practical, and that which doth most usually obstruct assurance in the god∣ly; and that is,
The Hypocrisie and the deceitfulness of the heart.
For thus commonly the Christian that is tender about his condition towards God Objecteth:
Page 676 I know the promises are true and good, it is without all question, He that be∣lieveth and repenteth, he shall be saved; he that is born of God, and effectually * called, he may conclude, I am my Beloveds, and my Beloved is mine; but whe∣ther I do so or no, there is my perplexity: The heart is full of guile, and we read of Ahabs humiliation, of the foolish Virgins, of the stony and thorny ground, such who had some affections and delight in holy things, some sorrow and humiliation about sin; yet for all that, their own hearts deceived them, their gold proved dross, they took Iohn Baptist for Christ, some imperfect dis∣positions, for the compleat and effectual workings of grace; and why may not I delude my self? and the rather, because every one is apt to flatter himself: We see all people, that are indeed far enough from the Kingdom of heaven, between whom and godliness there is a great gulf; yet peremptorily conclude, All is well with them: So true is that of Solomon, Every mans way is pure in his own eyes; but then that which followeth should make all tremble, But God pon∣dereth the heart, Prov. 21. 2.
This is very specious, and so far this Objection hath strength, that no man * should easily and speedily perswade himself that all is well with him: That those duties of searching and trying the heart, and communing with our own selves privately, are again and again to be practised by us; but yet the Doctrine of the hypocrisie and desperate guile of the heart overthroweth not this Scripture-cer∣tainty. And before I give you the reason of that, I shall set down some argu∣ments briefly, out of Scripture and Reason, that prove the possibility, and then answer that; for let it once be manifested by Scripture, that such a thing may be, then we are not to regard a thousand Objections that may be made to the contrary.
Now the grounds for the possibility of it, may be taken from these general * heads:
First, The Scripture requiring this of us: God would not put us upon such a search, if to finde had been impossible; for besides this Text, which seems to speak this truth in the Sun beams, Give all diligence to make your calling sure; if certainty hereof had been impossible, might not any one stand up and say, This is to command one to give all diligence for that which cannot be? I may be as well required to touch the heavens with my hands, or to remove the earth from its center? Besides this (I say) I shal name you one impregnable place, which hath stood like a rock, that all the Popish Engins have not been able to stir, 2 Cor. 13. 5. Examine your selves, &c. where you have the duty required, To examine, to prove our selves, as the Artificer doth his mettal, to see whether it be coun∣terfeit or true, so the Greek word signifieth; and thus they are to do to them∣selves: And he ingeminates the duty, to shew his earnestness and affection therein. 2. There is the object matter of this duty, Whether ye be in the faith, whether Christ be in ye; that is, whether ye be effectually called or no; and he brings a reason from an absurdity, If you do not know Christ is in you, ye are re∣probates: As we use the English word, it may seem harsh, but the Greek word is no more then unskilful in minde, not able to discern: So that reprobate is not here taken for one that is not elected, but for one that is foolish, weak, unskilful, as the Scripture speaks of reprobate silver: see more of this in the first Sermon. So that you see the Apostle makes it an ignorant and weak unskilful∣ness in the ways of God, and in the work of grace, when we are not able thus to discern our selves. So then, let this Text put it out of all question; for when the Apostle commanded the Corinthians to make this proof and examination, had the thing been impossible to be found out: It would have been as absurd, as for a Physitian to come to a diseased person, and tell him, he cannot be cured, unless he eat of a Phenix, or use the Philosophers stone, which haply can never be found out.
Secondly, A second general ground is, From the peculiar office and work at∣tributed*Page 677to Gods spirit; and that is, to witness with our spirit, to seal unto us; Its the spirit of Adoption, subduing those tormenting and slavish fears about God, which make the soul suspect every thing, and to be •ossed up and down like the uncertain waves, 1 Cor. 2. 12. We have received the spirit of God, that we might know the things that are freely given us of God; especially that is clear, 1 John 3. 24. So then in th•s doubt, we must attend to a greater cause then our own hearts, we must consider, what great things that spirit of God can do in our souls: No man naturally can hate his sin, can deny himself, yet the spirit of God sanctifying, he is ready and willing in the work: So no man seeing the horrible depths of wickedness in his own heart, can ever come to be perswaded; but the spirit of God can rebuke these waves and tempests, and make all serene and clear in the soul.
The third general head is, From those places where the people of God have plain∣ly*declared their assurance: That therefore which the children of God have at∣tained unto, must needs be possible, and we ought to immitate them in. Heze∣kiah is without question in this point, 2 Kings 20. 3. Remember how I have walk∣ed before thee in truth, and with a perfect heart: He doth not speak this arrogant∣ly, but humbly, making use of his sincerity, as a testimony to confirm him in his prayer to God. Now Hezekiah could not make use of such an Argument as this, had he not been assured, that he was not deceived in what he uttered to God: And thus David is often in his Psalms, professing his love to God with his whole heart, and the uprightness of his heart, which had been a vain brag, and sinful ostentation, if he had not known it had been so. In the New Testa∣ment Paul is often speaking of his assurance and confidence; and lest it might be thought he had this by immediate revelation, he speaks as in the person of all believers, The spirit witnesseth with our spirit, Rom. 8. and so Iohn, We know that we know, 1 John 2. He doth not make this a peculiar priviledge vouchsafed to some favorites, but such a mercy as all Believers are capable of. So when our Sa∣viour asked some, If they did believe with their whole heart; it had been a vain question, to which no man could have returned any answer, if they could not be certain whether they did believe or no; and that man, who said, Lord I be∣lieve, help my unbelief: He shewed the certainty he had of his faith in the first place, as the weakness of it in the latter.
Lastly, The general head I shall end with is, the joy and thankfulness that*ought to be in the people of God: Now what joy can there be, where the soul knoweth not, or doubteth much of Gods love? How can the heart be inlarged to praise God, for those spiritual mercies, which findes them not in its self? For joy, the children of God are said To joy in the Holy Ghost, Rom. 14. 17. and its called Unspeakable joy, full of glory, 1 Pet. 1. 8. And can this be in a matter that we know not whether it be ours or no? Can we joy in the promise, and yet doubt whether it be ours? Can we rejoyce in Christ Jesus, and yet question whether he dyed for us? And so its for praise and thankfulness, Can any man bless God for translating him out of darkness into light, for working the fear of him in his soul, for the wonderful and mighty change he hath made on his heart? Can the soul bless and praise God, when he doth not think God hath indeed done these things for him? These general heads may suffice, to clear the possibility of it.
I shall give you also a Reason for it, which is this, Supernatural habits or prin∣ciples of grace, do vitally and evidently discover their actions and effects, as ration∣al and animal principles: As the principle of love to God, of repentance for sin, do in the acts thereof manifest themselves spiritually, as rational principles: So that as a rational man, he knoweth the arguments he hath, he discerneth his acts of reason, he can tell you he is of this judgement, and not of that: Thus it is with a spiritual man, he perceiveth the faith in him, the love of God that is within him: Can the Animal lover finde sensible love burning within? and Page 678 doth not the spiritual lover feel such fire in his bones? Doth not David cry, That his soul breatheth and longeth for God? Doth not the Church cry out, She is sick of love? So then, supernatural principles acting in the soul, are perceived spiritually, as rational acts are, or sensible acts are. As Austin said, He that be∣lieveth, findeth he doth believe; viz. Gods spirit assisting him; otherwise, like Hagar, there may be a pleasant fountain of refreshment hard by, and she not per∣ceive it, till her eyes be opened: What then should be the cause that men may think this certainty impossible? This may arise from three grounds:
First, When we take no effects of grace to be sure signs, unless they be perfect and*compleat: And this is very often a deceit, even to good and tender hearts; they do not love God, they are not so heavenly minded, so zealous; they have often failings, they have daily infirmities: And thus, because they have not perfect workings of grace, they doubt of any grace at all; but then Hezekiah, Paul, and all the worthies of God, who enjoyed this priviledge, should have been stripped of it, for at the same time they complain of the remainder of their corru∣ptions, they feel thorns and goads in their side: So great a matter is it to make a difference between truth of grace in the Essence, and perfection in the de∣grees.
Another ground may be, Because men for the most part keep at a remote distance*from God: They are not diligent and constant in spiritual duties and approaches to God: Thus because they draw not nigh to God, God draweth not nigh to them; because they are estranged from God, God is also from them: If there∣fore we did take the Scriptures counsel, To walk with God, and to acquaint our selves with God, which is done by lively meditation, and quickned duties of Religion, we should then finde that from God, which we thought impossi∣ble: You see the effects of all acts are thought impossible, to those that have no skill therein: And thus it is here Assurance is a mystery, and impossibility to thee, because thou hast no familiar acquaintance with God; thou comest not into his presence often, thou delightest not to draw nigh to him.
Thirdly, One main cause of this uncertainty, is also, A nourishing a servile sla∣vish*fear about God; not praying for the spirit of Adoption, and a filial Evangeli∣cal frame of heart: This is greatly to be attended unto by timorated consciences, such as are shaken with fear and terror for sin; Nunquam satis cavent etiam cum cavent, they distinguish not between Timor solicitudinis, and Timor anxietatis, A fear of godly care and diligence, and a fear of perplexing anxieties: Oh this ma∣ny times is a labyrinth that good people are in; their hearts are not directed into the way of believing, as the Apostle speaks 2 Thess. 3. 5. they fear God as an austere Master, watching the opportunity to damn them; they have not the reveren∣tial fear of a father, which is accompanied with faith and love of God: Thus Cain and Iudas, they did split their souls upon this rock, they were terrified a∣bout their sins, horror had taken hold of them, because of the wretched con∣dition they were in; but they had not faith in God as a father, which would have been the clue of thred to have helped them out of their distress: Oh then do not delight in thy bondage disposition; do not look upon God with a slavish fear; this will breed hatred at last, Odirunt dum metuunt, and hatred blasphe∣ming despair: These things dispatched, I come to Answer the first Obje∣ction:
The heart of man is deceitful, its such a deep we cannot fathom: Who can under∣stand*his errors? saith David, Cleanse me from secret sins, Psal. 19. 13. There may be a great deal of unknown wickedness in me, such pride, such earthliness, such unbelief, that I never can understand.
To this I Answer, That though a man may be deceived in his judgement about himself, yet it doth not follow, that he is always defacto deceived: We say, Gene∣ral * Councels may erre, yet they did not always defacto crie, so it may fall out, that a man in judging about himself may be deceived, but that he is in every Page 679 act deceived, this would bring grosse Scepticism into the world; no man could tell his own thoughts, his own affections, and there could not be such a thing as Truth in the world. Now the Scripture speaks the contrary, 1 Cor. 2. 11. What man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of a man within him? So that you see, a man may know the things of his own spirit. Again, if this were so, then no man could discern his Dogmatical faith, as well as his saving faith; no man could tell whether he were a Protestant or a Papist, or a So∣cinian; for the heart being deceitful, as is objected, I may think I believe such a point, and such a point, when indeed I do not; and so the Acade∣mical doubting shall come in, Nothing is known, and nothing is be∣lieved.
But the second and full Answer is, That indeed the heart is naturally deceitful,*full of guile and hypocrisie, but when its sanctified and converted, its made sincere and upright: Its no longer as those pictures that represent at a distance such and such different Forms, but as a glass, sincerely representing the form of the visage, if deformed, deformed, if comely, comely: Thus Nathaniel is said to be a man, in whom was no guile; and, Blessed is the man, Psal. 32. to whom the Lord imputeth no sin, and in whose heart there is no guile: Hence its called An upright heart, A sincere heart, and, Truth in the inward parts: Although therefore there are some reliques of guile and hypocrisie in the godly, as of all other sins, yet for the main they are made sincere; and so all that self flat∣tery, and self-love, is for the main crucified: And this indeed is the full An∣swer to that Objection.
Secondly, Whereas it is said to be a duty, to this it may be Objected: *
That this Assurance would prove a dangerous temptation, men would grow secure, and carnally confident; therefore as God keeps the hour of death, and the day of judgement, to maks us always prepared; so by the same Reason, he should keep the knowledge of our condition from our eyes, that so we might al∣ways fear.
To Answer this practical Objection (for I avoid all speculative and meer con∣troversal ones.) *
First, If the truth of God and the Scripture is not to be maintained or asserted, because the corruption of men will abuse it, we must preach no divine truth at all; E vero non nisi verum, E bono non nisi bonum, No good or sound truth doth pro∣duce as its genuine effect, any other then what is good; but by accident, and by reason of the poysonous disposition in some men, they will turn the sweetest flowers into poyson: Paul did frequently preach the grace of God in the Go∣spel, and some hearers turned this into wantonness, shall therefore no mention be made of this grace? if therefore some men, through Satans delusions, think they have grace, when they have not, shall not he that hath true grace be perswaded of it? if a man in a dream do verily think he hath such riches, such honors; shall we conclude, that a man awake can have no certainty whether he be in a dream or no? And further, by this reason no man should contend earn∣estly for the true Doctrine of faith; no man should inseparably adhere to the truth of God even unto death, because an Heretique who pertinaciously main∣taineth a damnable heresie, he may be as confident as the Orthodox man: Should not the Israelites make a good use of the Manna, because he that abused it, found it corrupted to worms.
But Secondly, This Doctrine from its own nature, cannot bread any arro∣gance, or neglect of God and godliness for many Reasons:
First, Its onely maintained and kept up by humility and holy fear: So that when a man ceaseth to be humble, to have an holy fear of God, his certainty likewise ceaseth, even as the lamp goeth out when the oyl is taken away: The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him, saith the Psalmist, Psalm 25. 14.
Page 680 Secondly, It cannot breed arrogancy, for these exercises of grace, are onely signs and testimonies of Election or Salvation, they are no causes of it, or me∣rit; wherein then can the soul be puffed up. And
Thirdly, These gracious effects that are signs, they are not of our working, by our free-will and power of nature: We are his workmanship created to good works, Ephes. 10. So that the discovery of these effects, may indeed inlarge the soul much to praise and glorifie God, but to stir up pride in us, there is no con∣sequence at all. And
Fourthly, These very effects of grace, though not wrought by us, but by God, they are not purely good and perfect, there is much dross, and many im∣perfections in them: So that the godly heart doth at the same time rejoyce and debase its self; it rejoyceth to see the love of God in the soul, but that this love is so weak, so languid and fainting, it doth also grieve: It discovers grace indeed, and therefore is assured; but it discovers also thousands of failings and imperfections, and therefore is laid low: And yet further, though they be in the heart, yet of our selves we have not eyes to discern what God hath wrought for us, till he inable us; so that its Gods gift to be assured: How many dear children of God walk in darkness, and would give a whole world if they had it, but to have this clear evidence of Gods love to them, though for a day.
Use of further Exhortation, to prove and examine your selves, whether those * visible characters of Christ be in thee, or the marks of the Devil: See what fruit ye bring forth, and then you may judge whether you are trees for eternal burn∣ing or no: Oh its a sign all is not well, when thou art unwilling to put thy self upon the touchstone; its an argument there is guilt within, thou shalt finde thy self to be such an one as thou art afraid to think of; thou thinkest, If certainty be onely had in the use of such means; then farewell my hopes, my evidence for heaven. Oh! who sayeth as David, Prove me, O Lord, and examine me, if there be any evil in me. And to all the former means, we may adde one main one, which is a sign that never faileth, If we love the brethren, if we love and delight in those that are godly; as Davids delight was in the Saints of the earth: He that is not godly himself, cannot heartily love one that is godly, because similitude is both a cause and an effect of love; and this is, when god∣liness is the cause of love, not his riches, his parts, his love to thee, but the holy image of God appearing in him.