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 XII.

Handling Obedience as a Sign of Grace.


1 JOHN 2. 3.
And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his Command∣ments.

I Have at large discussed the Doctrine and Usefulnesse of Signs, I shall now propound in so many distinct Sermons, several choice and select Signs, by which you may know how it is with you in reference to God. For if the Hea∣thens did so much admire that saying as an Oracle, Nosce teipsum, Know and be acquainted with thy own self, when yet they had neither true eyes, nor light to discover them∣selves by, how much rather doth this duty lie upon us, when by Gods grace we may have the seeing eye, and a sure light of Gods Word to guide us therein? And the first Sign shall be, An uni∣versal respect unto, and observation of Gods Commandments, out of the words read unto you, whereof the coherence is as followeth, The Apostle in the verses be∣fore, having comforted the children of God against their daily sins of infirmity, which cannot be avoided, he returneth again to his scope, which is to presse ho∣linesse of life; and certainly our faith ought to be as busie in embracing the pre∣cepts for holinesse, as the promises for comfort. The Argument for sanctity pressed by the Apostle, is from the profitable effect thereof, it will be a sure and comfortable sign to confirm us that we are in Christ: for to know God, to love him, to be in him, to dwell in him, to have Communion with him, are all one with this Apostle.

So that in the words you have two Propositions,

  • First, That the knowledge of God makes us to keep Gods Commandments.
  • Secondly, That this observation of Gods Commandments is a sign by way of an effect, to assure us that we know God, which is the cause.

In the first Proposition you have the Antecedent and the Consequent. The Antecedent is knowing of God; howsoever according to the Hebrew rule this Page  59 word Knowing signifieth Affectus & effectus consequentes: the affections and effects flowing from it, and so includeth love of God, and the like; yet it doth more properly signifie faith, according to that, This is eternal life, to know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent; for faith having several acts, know∣ledge, assent, fiducial application, the Scripture doth by a Synecdocke expresse the whole nature of faith by one act of it. Now because there is a three-fold know∣ledge, * The first perfect, which is only in Heaven; The second imperfect, but true and saving, which the godly only have; Hence Regeneration, Jer. 31. is expressed by this, They shall all know God, and be mught of God: A third knowledge which is imperfect and insincere, is that common gift of Gods Spirit upon temporary be∣lievers, whereby though they know the sense and meaning of divine truths, yet have not the saving effect and power of them upon their hearts, in which sense our Saviour making that open confession, and celebrating Gods power and sove∣raignty, saith, The things of God were hidden from the wise and prudent, Matth. 11. 25, 26. That is, the Scribes, Priests and Pharisees, who though very intelligent of the meaning of the Scripture, yet having not their eyes in a gracious manner en∣lightned, therefore had those divine things hid from them. A notable thing it is, and worthy all your consideration, and trembling at it, that the very things you know in Religion by parts and abilities, may yet be hid from you, in respect of any saving knowledge; Therefore to declare what kinde of Knowledge this is, observe the consequent, it is that which is operative and quickens us up to the Com∣mandments of God; for that proper and specifical difference, whereby saving faith is distinguished from the hypocrites, is in the cleansing and purifying nature of it, whereby it works by love; so that love is not the form of true faith, but to be operative and effective of love. Now according to the three-fold knowledge spo∣ken of, Zanchy doth well observe, there is a three-fold keeping of the Command∣ments; * for as our knowledge is, so is our holinesse. The first is, Perfect and com∣pleat, as Christ did, and the Saints in heaven do perfectly love God. The second is imperfect, but sincere, though the Scripture cals it perfect, because of the essential perfection, though it hath not a gradual. The third is external, with some internal affections, but altogether unsound. The Apostle as he meaneth the second kinde of knowledge, so the second kinde of observance of the Commandments, and how∣soever the translation be in the present tense, We know that we know him, yet in the original it is, We have known him, whereby it's plain, That good works doe not go before Faith or Justification, but follow it. The second Proposition is, that the keeping of Gods Commandments is a sign that we do know him, 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, by which he doth not mean a conjectural knowledge, as the Papists would put it off, but a sure and certain knowledge. Now although the Apostle speaks indefi∣nitely, when he saith, Keeping the Commandments of God, yet because it is in a necessary matter, the Assertion is equivalent to an universal.

Hence the Doctrine is,

That an universal respect to, and keeping of Gods Commandments, is a sure signe*and infallible of our being in the state of Grace.

Thus Chap. 3. 22. he makes this to assure us in our prayer, because we keep his Commandment, and do that which is well-pleasing in his sight.

The Doctrine is to be opened in many particulars:

First, There are some considerations in which it is impossible to keep the Com∣mandments * of God, not absolutely and inse, as it is for a man to flie, for so it would be blasphemy to say, He commands impossible things, to do so cannot stand with his Justice, Wisdom and holinesse: but only it's impossible by accident through our corruption, who as the Saints in heaven have Felix necessitas, as Augustin called it an happy necessity of obeying God alway, so have we infelix necessitas an unhappy necessity of disobedience continually. Now this impossibility is two wayes.

First, In respect of every unregenerate man, who is dead in sinne, not sick or dis∣eased, but dead in sinne, and God justly doth require of us under pain of condem∣nation Page  63 to obey his Law, though we have lost the power. Neither is this as the Ar∣minians say, as if a Judge should sentence a mans eyes to be put out for a former fault, and then afterwards hang him, because he cannot see, for it lieth not as a mortal duty upon a man to see; nor hath any Magistrate such supream power over a man, as God hath over us. And by these commands of God is demonstrated our duty only, not our ability: hence God makes it his Promise, To give us a new heart, and to make us to walk in all his statutes; and although Arminians think it an absurdity to make the same thing Requisitum and Promissum, a conditi∣on required and yet a gift promised; there is nothing more ordinary in Scripture.

A second impossibility of keeping the Commandments is, In respect of the Re∣generate,*to whom God giveth not such a measure of grace, as that they are able to keep them according to the perfect obligation of it. Rom. 8. 3, 4. We keep Gods Com∣mandments in truth, not in perfection, not but that God is able to give us perfect grace, but he hath thought good to exalt imputed righteousnesse, rather then inhe∣rent in this life.

A third impossibility of keeping the Commandments of God, is not only Colle∣ctively,* that we are not able to keep them all, but fail in some, but distributively, there being not one Commandment we are at any time able to keep in any duty perfectly. And although it be easier to bring Arguments to prove we sin sometimes, and do not keep all the Commandments we should, then to prove we sin in every good duty, yet Rom. 7. 19. Gal. 5. 17. do strongly confirm, that because of the in∣nate corruption still abiding in us, we are not able to do any thing so perfectly as the Law requireth: in the most holy men there are both Defectus privantes, and Affectus obstantes, defects depriving us of the inward purity that ought to be in us, and affections contrarily withstanding the obligation of the Law.

In the next place we will shew the possibility of it, and that is, first, By a sin∣cere*inchoate Obedience, whereby we know God in part, love him in part, though not to such a full degree. This is affirmed of the godly, therefore it is possible, Luk. 1. 6. Thus Zachary and Elizabeth are said to be Righteous before God, walking in all his Commandments. David saith, Psal. 119. He shall not be confounded when he hath respect to all his Commandments. As the people of God have done this, so God hath promised this, I will circumcise their hearts to love me with all their heart and min••. So Jer. 31. and this is the universal keeping of Gods Commandments spoken of in the Text, and much pressed in several places; for there is the truth of all Obedience, though not the gradual perfection. It is no wonder that the peo∣ple of God are said to keep the Law of God, seeing they endeavour after it, and it's usual in Philosophy to call motions from the terminus to which they tend: Rege∣neration is the writing of the Law in their inward parts, whereby the Law is not a burden, but pleasing and matter of delight to them, as Paul professeth it was to him, Rom. 7. And by this means the Apostle saith, We do not abolish the Law, but establish it, because the grace of God giveth such ability and strength, that in some measure we are able to obey it: So that the act of Faith ad intra, which is recei∣ving of Christ, must not be opposed to, but conjoyned with that act of faith ad ex∣tra, whereby we walk in all the Commandments of God.

Secondly, The Possibility of keeping them is in an evangelical sense, that is, when * whatsoever we fail in, is pardoned unto us, for so it is through the Covenant of grace, that when we have sincerely applied our selves to the obedience of the whole Law, and falling short of our duty in many respects. God through Christ doth forgive us, and so our righteousnesse consists more in the remission of what is im∣perfect, then in doing what is perfect. In this sense Rom. 8. 3, 4. Christ is said to come in the flesh, that the righteousnesse of the Law may be fulfilled in us: and Rom. 10. Christ is the end of the Law for righteousnesse to the believer, not to the worker, so that in all exercises of sanctification we are to have a greater respect to what God doth forgive, then what we do, which hath made some say, Our perfection is to acknowledge our imperfection.

Page  64 Thirdly, We may be said to fulfill the Law, when although through daily infirmities we fail of the strict obligation, yet we do not by any grosse sin break it. In this sense * we keep it sine crimine, though not sine vitio, as Augustine sometimes, that is, without a crime, though not without sin. And although they are but few that do so, yet sometimes God gives some of his children to walk in such harmlesse and spotlesse lives. Thus Luk. 1. 6. Zachary and Elizabeth are said to be blamelesse. Phil. 2. 15. That ye may be blamelesse and harmlesse, the sons of God in the midst of a crooked generatiou: So it's required in a Bishop that he be blamelesse, that is, not without sinne, but without crime, for which he may justly be censured, in which sense the Apostle, 1 Cor. 13. praieth, that the Corinthians may do no evil, that is, no such crime, for which the Apostle should inflict a Church-censure, as formerly we asserted. Thus you have heard in what sense we are said to keep the Command∣ments, the former and the later being pertinent to our scope.

In the next place, let us consider how it is a sign, for even when signs are agreed on, yet there may be much deceit about the explication of the sign, cutting it too short, or stretching it out too long.

Therefore in the first place, This universal observance is seen, when our Obedi∣ence*is internal and spiritual as well as external. Could a man answer all the affir∣mative and negative precepts in the outward conversation, yet if not spiritual in all these, they were as a body without a soul. And herein the Pharisees hypocrisie was discovered, they rested wholly upon the outward obedience of the Law, when their hearts were Dens of thievish lusts; Hence our Saviour did so often presse them to make clean and wash the inward man: The Law is spiritual, saith Paul, and God is a Spirit, saith our Saviour, seeking them that worship in spirit and truth. Hence Matth. 5. our Saviour spends many words to convince the Pharisees that they were horrible violaters of Gods Law, wretched Adulterers and Murderers, though guil∣ty of no such outward crimes. Oh what a piercing and discovering signe must this be. This makes the moral, yea and religious man, whose piety is only in the out∣ward exercises of grace, to be without any hope. Alas all these externals are nothing if there be not an inward spiritual rectitude of the whole man. Hence Paul excel∣lently, Rom. 7. I delight in the Law of God, in the inward man.

The Antinomian pleads, That this universal Obedience cannot be a sign of grace, because Paul while unregenerated performed it, as appeareth Act. 13. 1. Act. 24. 16. *where Paul saith, He lived with a good conscience void of offence both towards God and man; Here (say they) Paul lived in an universal Obedience unblameably, and kept entirely to his conscience, yet was not in Christ.

But to answer this, A good conscience may be called good in a two-fold respect, * either when a man liveth not against the dictates of his conscience, or doth any thing against that as those Christians did, whom Paul compelled through fear of death to blaspheme: and thus Paul had a good conscience, because he verily thought he was bound to do as he did: in this sense a Papist, a Jew, any Heretick may be said to have a good conscience. Or else a conscience is said good, when renewed by Gods Spirit, and rightly informed and regulated by Gods word; and thus Paul had a very evil conscience, in which respect he called himself a Persecutor, and the greatest of all sinners, and so by the way you may see it's no argument of comfort for those who broach any damnable heresies, to excuse the matter, saying, Are they not conscientious men? Are they not to be pitied rather then punished? Is it not according to their light? All this might have been said for Paul, yet for all this his conscience was a very evil and wicked conscience, partly because it was not renewed, partly because it was not informed out of Gods word.

Secondly, Though Paul walked with a good Conscience, and that towards God as well as man, yet that was for externals only, he was not acquainted with all the sinfull motions of his heart, how much diffidence, ignorance, lukewarmnesse, love to the world, his credit and glory was in him more then of God, he did not per∣ceive. Now Gods Law requireth that internal good frame above all. That PaulPage  65 was thus at that time, appeareth evidently Rom. 7. where the Apostle mentioning that former time of his life, said, He knew not lust to be sinne till the Law said thus against it, and that he was alive till then, had good confidence and perswasion in himself, but afterwards he died, he was quite out of love with himself, and loa∣thed all that was in him: so that by this you see, how unblameable soever his lise appeared, yet it was farre from being in a right way. Oh therefore be per∣swaded to consider your selves you that live unblameable lives, diligent in the duties that relate to God and man, though thy outside be thus painted, thy in∣wards may be a noisome sepulchre! how uncomely is it for a man to have his porch and out-rooms very clean, but his chambers and in-rooms full of noisome filth? This is thy case, look in thy life, no irreligion or impiety to God, no in∣justice or oppression to men, yet thou art destitute of the Spirit, and void of all supernatural life.

2. As our obedience must be thus internal, as well as external; so it must be ex∣ternal * as well as internal; We must not please our selves with contemplative Me∣ditations or pretended Revelations, neglecting an active industrious life for God in our places and relations. In Popery there is the contemplative life, and the active life; the one they compare to Mary, the other to Martha; and they say, that contemplative life, like Mary hath chosen the better part, but this is to hide our talents in a napkin; and as Tacitus speaks of some men, That they were Solâ socordiâ innocentes, because of their sloathfulnesse, they did not come in harms∣way, as others did. It was not wisdom or justice, but meer sluggishnesse kept them from medling in dangerous matters; so we may say these are Solâ socordiâ pii, godly only by sloathfulnesse; To these we may adde some that pretend now adaies to live upon immediate Revelation, crying down all the Ordinances, Mi∣nistry, Sacraments and Sabbath, as empty forms: But how doth this stand with that universall Obedience unto all the injunctions of God made to his Church?

3. Universal Obedience is a sign when it doth carry us out equally to the duties of*the first table concerning God, and the second our neighbour. To pretend much de∣votion in matters of God, and to shew no conscience or equity in matters with man, is horrible hypocrisie. The Pharisees were notorious in this, who had their long prayers, and yet devoured widows houses, who taught that neither fa∣ther or mother might be relieved by their children of any thing they had, if it were Corban, that is, a gift consecrated to God. Those that are skilfull in the Jew∣ish customs tell us, That the Pharisees taught any man might vow the goods he hath to God, absolutely, or only in respect of this or that singular person, so that he shall have no benefit by it, and then when this vow was made they thought they might relieve no body, no though their Parents, and that in extream neces∣sity; but notwithstanding all this seeming Religion to God, how corrupt and carnal in their carriages to men? Fides est copulativa, and so must our Obedience be copulative. Thy Religion to God is no sign of grace, if there be unconsciona∣ble dealing towards men. Again, if thou beest carefull in duties to men, and neg∣ligent in the religious service of God, hence thy rottennesse of heart is manife∣sted, thou dost with all thy heart love a civil, just and righteous man, but thou canst not abide a forward religious man, thou lovest not strict keeping of the Sabbath, diligent and powerful Family-duties, Oh, what little hope is here of true grace in such a mans heart! It is ordinary with Scripture to describe all Reli∣gion and Piety by one duty sometimes, and sometimes by another, sometimes by praying to God, sometimes by keeping his Sabbaths, sometimes by fearing of an oath, because where one duty is graciously performed, there all the others will be also.

3. Universal Obedience is a sign, when we are carried thereby to receive the Cre∣denda, *as well as the Agenda, the things to be believed, as well as to be practised. Hence it's called, The obedience of faith; and this Apostle, 1 Joh. 3. 23. divideth the Page  66 Commandments of God in two parts, 1. Those things that concern faith in Christ. 2. Those things that relate to our love of others; therefore Gods Commandments must not only be limited to the prohibition of wicked lives, but must also be ex∣tended to false doctrines; therefore observe the Apostles in all their Epistles, they are as vehement and zealous against false teachers, as wicked livers, and therefore presse with an equal necessity true faith, and a good conscience; Therefore thy heart is then sincere, when its set against heresies, as well as prophaneness, and pro∣phaneness as well as heresies: If you have a man hot and vehement against ungod∣liness, but indifferent about false doctrines, that man may justly suspect his heart. Again, if a man cry out of heresies and the tolleration of them, yet can abide pro∣phaneness, can tolerate that in his family, or else where, this man also ought to fear himself. Whatsoever the Scripture speaks of impiety as destructive to salva∣tion, the same it also applieth to false doctrine. Is that the fruit or work of the flesh? so are heresies: Is that damnable? so are heresies: Is that to be cast out of the Church? so is false doctrine: Are wicked men prepared of old to destruction? so are false doctors: Are the sheep of Christ meek and innocent in their conversation? so they will flee from a stranger, and not hear the voice of a stranger. So that if thou wouldst try thy sincerity, mark whether thou desirest more liberty in matters of faith, then in matters of life. No doctrine revealed in Scripture to be believed, may be any more dispensed with, then the precepts declared in Gods word for practice.

4. Universal Obedience is a sign, when it comprehends not only general Duties, but*particulars of relation, not as a Christian absolutely only, but as a Magistrate, Mi∣nister, Husband, Wife, Childe or Servant; if a man discharge not the commands of these Relations, though his general conversation as a Christian be never so admi∣rable, yet he hath cause to suspect himself; relative and domestical graces do more demonstrate piety and true godliness then publick, general duties; for a mans pride, self-ends, may put him upon these, as we see in the Pharisees, according to that rule, Ambitio scenam desiderat, but it argueth truth of grace, to be dili∣gent in fulfilling of those relations we are ingaged in. Hence it is observable, how diligent the Apostle is in the close of his Epistles to declare the duties of relations, and to be large in the motives for them.

The Use is of Exhortation, to judge your selves by this sign. Art thou univer∣sal in thy Obedience, for all the waies and duties required by God, then thou * maiest take comfort; otherwise know, if thou hast not respect to all these, thou wilt be confounded, though with Ahab, Herod, ye do many things, yet if not all things, confusion will be upon thee. Oh then how few are they, who may claim a right to grace! Many men have an external Obedience only, and no internal, but most have a partial and not entire compleat Obedience, therefore it is, That many are called and few are chosen. Consider that terrible expression of James, Jam. 2. 10, 11. where the Apostle informeth believers, that if they be guilty but of that one sin, viz. Accepting of persons, they are transgressors of the Law in the ge∣neral, which he further urgeth by this Assertion, He that keepeth all, and offends in one, is guilty of all, not distributively with a guilt of every particular sinne, but in respect of the authority of the Law-giver, and the obligation of the Law, according to that, Cursed is every one that continueth not in every thing commanded by the Law; seeing therefore God in regeneration doth write his Law in our hearts, which doth seminally contain the exercise of all holy actions; so that there cannot be an instance of any godly duty, of which God doth not infuse a principle in us; and seeing that glorification will be universal of soul and body, in all parts and faculties, how necessary is it that Sanctification should be universal. Take heed therefore that the works of grace in thee be not abortive, or monstrous, wanting essentiall and necessary parts. Let not thy ship be drowned by any one leak, dwell upon this, universality is a sure rule of sincerity.