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  78

SERMON XV.

That for a man to be willing to have his Soul search∣ed by God, is a sign of Grace.


PSAL. 26. 2.
Examine me (O Lord) and prove me; try my reins and heart.

DAvid in the first verse of this Psalm, Prayeth for Gods preservation and de∣fence of him in the midst of all his adversaries, which he presseth from a two-fold consideration,

  • First, His Integrity and Sincerity, which is not to be limited unto the righte∣ousness of his cause onely, but the innoceny also of his whole life, as the Psalm e∣videnceth.
  • Secondly, His confidence and trust in God; for this is an ingaging argument with God, as it is with men.

Now as verse 3. He makes Gods Loving kindness the ground of his trust, so he manifesteth his sincerity,

  • First, By appealing unto God in my text. Examine me, and try me. And
  • Secondly, By the several effects of it, verse 4, 5, 6.

I shall consider that sign of his sincerity, wherein he desireth God would Try him, and search him: So that if there were any Hypocrisie, any false way, any un∣sound or imperfect principles he walked in, it was his hearty desire to have all discovered. And certainly there cannot be a greater argument of the truth of Grace, then a willingness to come to the light, and a readiness to be weighed in the balance; as on the other side you have not a surer character of an hypocrite, and an unsound Christian, then fear of the light, and unwillingness to be ransaked and searched into the very bowles by the word of God: But Davids hearty wil∣lingness in this particular appeareth, 1. In the several words he heaps up together in his Petition, Examine me; as Artificers doe, whether their gold be weight or no: try me by discovering whether I am inwardly sound or no: Prove me, (as the word signifieth) as when the Artificer melteth his silver in the fire, that separa∣teth the dross. 2. This doth appear in the object matter which he would have thus proved, and that is, His heart, his reins, which are the most inward and se∣cret motions of his soul, he would have a deeper searching into, and winnow∣ing of him then the world can do. Certainly David in this Petition doth disco∣ver great honesty, and faithfulness of Spirit. Now, here may be two doubts. 1. How God can be said to tempt, or try any man, seeing James 1. 13. God is said to tempt no man; and the divel is called 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, as if it were his work on∣ly. * The Answer is obvious, That there is a double Temptation: one evil, which is defective either in the principle, or means, or end of the Temptation. And thus the Divel and our own flesh Tempt. The other is a good Temptation, arising from a good principle, in a lawful way, to a good end; and thus God doth Tempt, that is, doth make a discovery what is in man; not as if he were ignorant Page  79 of it, but that hereby the person trusted may be better known to himself, and to o∣thers.

In the second place, we may doubt how David could lawfully pray to be Tem∣pted, seeing our Saviours rule is to pray, That God would not lead us (or cast us, for ne infer as, doth better Answer 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 then ne inducas) into temptation; But that is to be understood of the evil of temptation: so as God should withdraw his grace either, internal, subduing our corruptions, or external, repressing Satan and all outward power against us.

These things thus explained, observe, That it is a sure and comfortable sign of grace, when a man is willing to have his soul and all within searched by God. That which here David prayeth for, Psal. 17. 3. he there acknowledgeth what God had done, Thou hast proved my heart, thou hast tryed me, and hast found nothing; which is not to be understood as if David had no Dross in him, (for those words are taken from the Artificers that melt their gold and silver) seeing Psal. 19. He cryeth out, Who can understand his errors: cleanse me from secret sins. But of total and universal hypocrisie; neither doth David speak this arrogantly, as presuming of himself, but takes comfort from this in his grievous troubles, as a testimony that he belongs to God.

Job also in his cala mities hath his face and heart answering Davids, Job 23. 10. When he hath tryed me, I shall come out like Gold; so that from hence we may see, that a love and willingness to have our hearts searched by God, is such a testimony of the truth of Grace, that it is a great bulwark in times of sad afflictions: It is therefore worth the enquiry into the nature of this sign; for if the wiseman said even of these petty outward things, False weights are an abomination unto the Lord, how much more abominable must those false ballances be wherein men through blindness and self flatterry weigh themselves.

In the first place. Let us consider how God doth try, that so we may perceive * our willingness therein. And the first way is by his word, Eph. 5. 13. Whatsoever doth manifest, and so reprove evil, is light. Now the Scriptures are like the Sun, into which God put all light, and other things shine with light borrowed from thence. David commends Gods word for a light and lanthorn to his feet; and that by which he was forewarned from sin; and for this profit coming by them, he commends them for preciousness and sweetness above fine Gold, and the hony combe: See here a true touchstone of Grace; thou lovest the word of God above any treasures in the world, not onely for the promissary part of it, but the discovering part of it: It acquainteth thee with all the evil of thy heart, and thy wayes: It speaks bitter things against pride, lusts, lasiness, immoderate love of the world: It makes me an undone man; it will give me no comfort in any evil way, and therefore I can read it, and meditate on it with hearty delight, Heb. 4. The word of God is quick, and powerful, discerning the Intima, and the Minima, most deep things of man, and the least sins in him.

As by the light of the Sun beams we see the little motes, and flyes in the air, so by Gods word shining into our hearts, we come to see many things sinful and un∣lawful, which we did not perceive before: Oh then consider your selves herein; do you love the word of God because it finds out thy sins, never speaks any good to thy corrupt wayes? dost thou pray, O Lord, let thy word still enter with more light and power upon me? this is a comfortable sign; but on the other side, if thou art in a continual fear of the light, darest not look into the Bible because it speaks against such and such sins thou art guilty of, be afraid thou art not right. Tertullian called Hereticks Lucifugae Scripturarum, they were like Bats and Owls, they could not endure the light of the Sun: And our Saviour saith, The theif hates the light, because his deeds are evil. Oh then take heed you who have a leprosie of sin plainly appearing upon you: doth not the word of God meet thy drunken∣ness, thy lusts, thy oaths, thy pride, as a Bear robbed of her whelps: Oh thy soul must needs hate the word of God, because it is so contrary to thee.

Page  80 A second Way whereby God proveth, (and the sincere rejoyce therein) is a*powerfull and soul searching Ministry, which like thunder and lightening, makes the mountains to melt like wax, and the Hindes to calve in the fields, I mean the stoutest and obstinatest sinner, to finde his soul thereby in a spiritual travel and agonie longing to be delivered. A gracious heart loveth that Ministry which like the word of God is a two edged sword in his heart, of which he can say as the woman, of Christ, It hath told me all that ever I did. That shaking of heaven and earth which the Prophet Haggai speaketh of, is the Ministry of the Apostles, and in the Hebrew is the word, from whence Bonarges cometh. Then are ye like the Eagles young ones, 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, when ye can look upon the sun beams: when light is not offensive to your sore eyes. It was a speech infal∣lible betraying Ahabs rotten heart, when he said of the Prophet Michaiah, I hate him, because he alwaies speaks evil to me. You have just cause to suspect the sound∣ness of your hearts, when you delight onely in a lazy, formal, general, and dull mi∣nistry: when you would have Prophets that should sing onely Pleasant songs, daub with untempered morter; encourage you, notwithstanding your sins you are in. And if this be a symptome of an unsound heart, may we not say Hypocrisie hath fallen upon the hearts of most in England, who rejoyce not in those Ministers and Prophets that rouse their consciencies, that trouble them for their sins, that would reform them from their superstitions and prophanies? do not the faithful Ministers of God meet with the same hatred and opposition as the prophets did by Jerusa∣lem? and why is all this? That of our Saviour will answer it, The thief hates the light, because his deeds are evil. Therefore is thy heart afraid, and unwilling to have a Ministry that shall discover thy sins, because thy Conscience is full of Ulcers and sores: whereas now if thou didest love to be reformed, how wouldest thou re∣joyce in the light of the Ministry. The more spiritual, powerful, operative, thou didest finde it in thy heart, thou wouldest bless God the more: thou wouldest cry out with thankfulness, O Lord I bless thee that light shineth in every dark corner of my heart: Oh let it still be a ministry, as if to me onely, to mind me of my sins, to bring my iniquites to remembrance. O Lord, my heart doth not rage, nor rise against this light; it doth not hate, or rebel against it, but I set open the Gates of my soul to receive more in.

3. The work of Conscience within us, that also doth prove us. God hath set up a light within us, and when this is enlightened by the word, then it makes a mans * brest full of light. Now a faithful godly man, he loveth this should be tender, a∣ctive, speaking out of Gods word for every duty, and against every sin. You see the quickness of it in David, when it's said, His heart smote him: and 1 John 3. If thy heart condemn thee, God is greater then thy heart. Alas, if thou within thy own self judgest thy self to sin thus and thus, God doth much more. Try thy integrity: art thou willing to have a tender conscience, and an informed conscience? Dost thou love to hear what that speaks out of Gods word? whether peace or Duty, this is comfortable. But on the other side, if thou art a man that rebelest against the light of it; wouldst sain put out the sting of it; wouldst be glad to feel no such living thing in thy breast, then thou hast cause to suspect thy self: Oh it is to be feared that there are many that give themselves to lusts, and carnal pleasures, that so they may put a foggy mist between this sin and them. Others digg into the world, labouring to become senceless, that so there may be an eclipse of this light by the interpositi∣on of the earth. Others run to damnable Heresies, denying Scriptures, God, Hea∣ven, Hell; pleading for an universal salvation of all: What are these but refuges of guilty consciences. It is true, we must distinguish between our carnal concupi∣sence, and conscience; between deluded imaginations, and conscience; between an erronious, and scrupulous conscience, and a well grounded, and truly informed conscience; and when we have done so, we must follow conscience as far as that follows the word.

4. God tryeth us by the illuminations of his Spirit, and strong convictions thereby.Page  81 Thus God proveth us, and makes us to know what we are, and wherein we fail. John 16. The spirit of God convinceth of sin, and of righteousness; and we are for∣bidden to quench the spirit: a metaphor (as some say) from the fire in the Temple that was not to be put out. And again it is the character of the stiffnecked Jewes, as fitted for destruction, that they alwaies resisted the spirit of God. If therefore thou wouldest have comfort from this sign, consider how the illuminations and motions of Gods Spirit are cherished, and nourished by thee. As soon as the cock croweth, doest thou go out and weep bitterly? Is not the Spirit of God grieved, and imbittered by thee? Oh, though they be dear, and pleasant, or profitable sins, yet the Spirit of God convinceth thee of them, makes thee forsake them: and doest thou rejoyce under this work of Gods Spirit upon thee? Doest not thou resist and rise up against it? Oh, (beloved) deeply weigh this. Though it may be there are some so swinish and beastly, that the spirit of God never moveth or worketh in them: Yet there are others who are not yet forsaken by God, but in the ministrie he stands at the dore, and knocks; he beckens unto thee to come unto him. Oh, now is God proving thee, examining thee. Now is he trying thee, if truth be in thee thou wilt be glad in this work of God upon thee, and desire still more and more burning, and shining light within thee.

5. God tryeth, when by his Providence we are put upon many duties and com∣mands, which it may be at other times did not concern us. Thus God examined A∣braham by a command to offer up his onely son Isaak. Thus God tryed the young man, who had great confidence in himself, by that personal com∣mand, to go and sell all he had and to follow him. Now times of persecution, are com∣monly such times of tryal: Whether then we love Father or mother, houses or chil∣dren, or lives themselves, better then him? Thus the second kind of Ground, that had an hopeful sprouting, was quickly discerned to have no root when the sun arose.

The vessels soundness is tryed in the fire: The Mariners skill in a storm: The trees in a windy tempest. In winnowing all the chaff flyeth a way. There is a com∣fortable place to the Godly, Zach. 13. 9. God promiseth he will refine them as Gold by their afflictions, they shall only lose their dross.

6. And this is the sixt way of Tryal, viz. When God brings us under his chastise∣ments. This manifesteth what mettal we are of. 1 Pet. 1. 7. The tryal of the God∣ly by those troubles, is said to be more excellent then that of the gold in the fire, be∣cause that is perishing, and this abideth for ever. Hence afflictions are onely called Temptations, and not Mercies, though they many times discover what we are. Now indeed, we are not to pray to God that God would afflict us, that he would bring us into the fire; but when he doth it, we are to make this advantage, The Lord doth it to humble us, and try us, to see what is in our hearts; whether we will remain constant and faithful unto him: Therefore we do not despise the af∣fliction, or murmur against God; but rejoyce that this purging of us, makes us to bring forth more fruit.

As God useth these several waies to prove us, and the soul of a Godly man is rea∣dy * herein, so in these three cases especially doth a Godly man give up himself to be examined.

First, In matters of Doctrine: Although Heresie may be meerly in matter of Con∣science and Opinion, yet for the most part, carnal principles and motives are inter∣woven therewith: now a Godly man having a right understanding how obnoxi∣ous he is to Erors, and subject to blindness in every thing; and how deceiptfull his heart also is, pretending for God, when indeed it is for nothing but self, is therefore more ready to hearken to all light and reproof: As the spirit of God doth lead into Truth, so it doth also at the same time affect with much modesty and humility. It is good to observe the excellent temperament of Paul, 1 Cor. 7. in determining that case of conscience about marriage to the Corinthians: His expressions are, Yet not I, but the Lord; and I think I have the spirit of God. The same candor and in∣genuity Page  82 doth he work in his children: If therefore a Godly man doth err any dan∣gerous error, it is with him as in other sins; he doth not flatter himself; his heart is apt to smite him. Errare possum Haereticus esse nolo, he will not be obstinate; he is earnest to have all things searched and tryed; whereas it is the nature of Hypo∣crisie to maintain those positions which are for profit, and self-interest, against all light. Are not the Pharisees a sad instance for this, who though they had no just ground to oppose our Saviour, yet because Christs way was destructive to their ap∣plause and credit; when they could not fairly answer, they would fouly blas∣pheme: Whereupon our Saviour chargeth them with blasphemy against the Holy Ghost.

2. In matter of received worship, and traditional service of God. Although it be worship that can plead custom from prescription many years, commendation of the universality of learned men; yet an heart truly sincere, desireth to have all things examined and proved out of Gods word: Christ said he was truth, not cu∣stome, as the Father observed well; and Christ dyed not onely to deliver us from our sinful waies, but the Tradition of our Fathers, John 4. You may observe the carnal disposition of all men about an accustomed way in serving of God, in that woman of Samaria; she presseth the argument that all silly and ignorant people do now for any Superstition, Our fathers worshipped, &c. but our Saviour instructeth her of a Worshipping God in spirit and truth, which she before was wholy ignorant of. Therefore in this matter a man may discover much integrity of his heart, where∣as if any be thus affected, I care not what Scriptures you bring, I hearken not to what Arguments are fetched out of Gods word, it is plain this man carnally adhe∣reth to his own imagination, and is not willing to be searched: As that Papist, Cornelius Massus said, If a thousand Austins and Chrysostomes said thus and thus, he cared not, he would believe what the Pope said.

3. This is eminently discovered in matter of practise. Although a man hath been addicted to sinful waies of pleasure, profit, or any advantage whatsoever, yet all those things that he accounted gain, afterwards he will judge loss for Christs sake. Paul though much engaged in a way against Christianitie, yet when once wrought upon, He consulteth not with flesh and blood, Gal. 1. He considers not any carnal reasoning, but applieth immediately, and that without any limitation, to Gods commands, Lord what wilt thou have me to do? (saith he:) He giveth up his heart as a blank, let God write down what he pleaseth. Thus Elihu, supposing upon a false ground Job to be an Hypocrite, doth give him excellent counsel, Job 34. 31, 32. Surely it is meet to be said unto God, I have born chastisement, I will offend no more. That which I see not, teach thou me; and if I have done iniquity, I will do so no more. Therefore herein mayst thou see the truth of thine heart: canst thou heartily say, that which I see not, teach thou me, Neither profit, pleasure, or any consultation with flesh and blood shall hinder me from my dutie. Whereas if you observe the half-conversi∣ons of any to God, the Israelites, Jehu, many in the New Testament, you shall find they all flew back upon this ground, They consulted with flesh and blood.

In the next place let us consider what are the effects of such a gracious temper in the heart. And

1. Where this is, it doth not excuse or mitigate sin, but takes in with God a∣gainst its own self. The Apostle speaking of the Corinthians repentance, acknow∣ledgeth their zeal, fear, and indignation, and revenge against them selves. See 1 Cor. 11. If we would judge our selves, we should not be judged of the Lord.

2. Not resting upon generals, but particularly applying matters of Duty. The Pro∣phet Jeremiah complaineth, no man saith? What have I done? The young man comforted himself well enough in the general, till our Saviour in particular tryed him, and then he went away sorrowful: particular applications and discharge of duty, will try, as the jealousie water did the suspected woman. A man may speak and preach for godliness in the general, but when it comes to particulars, he cannot Page  83 abide it. The Pharisees, they commended the Prophets that lived before them; but Christ, and those that lived at that time who reproved them for their sins, they could not abide. Therefore it is a good rule of the Ancient, When, saith he, you hear a man commending those ancient doctors that went before: see how he is affected to his present Teachers. That opposition which wicked men shew to those present men alive that discover God to them, they would do to Peter and Paul; to Austin and Chrysostom, if they were alive. But when a thing is general, or afar off, it doth not move at all: particular present things, do discover what men are, and a sincere heart loveth those best.

3. A sincere heart loveth a Godly reproof, and those that give it. See it in David; Let the righteous smite me, and it shall be better then oyl: Whereas a man of a false and Hypocritical heart, he rageth and flyeth in the face of those that reprove him, though it be done with all prudence and compassion. Therefore try how thou canst bear a reproof. Doth it work Humilitie, Love, Reformation in thee? this is good.

To all this which hath been delivered, this caution must be remembred, which holdeth also in all other signs. We must not expect a punctual perfection herein, for even those who are truely sanctified, have yet discovered much falshood and hypocrisie. Take David for an instance in that gross guilfull way of the Murther of Uriah: could he then say, Examine mee, prove me? Was not there dross e∣nough to be found in him? Therefore though David desired such an inward searching of him, yet that he had no confidence in himself, appeareth by that u∣niversal principle he layeth down in another place: If thou (O Lord) be strict to mark what is done amiss, no flesh shall be justified in thy sight. Thus Asa, though he was a godly man, yet when reproved by the Prophet for his sin, how did corrup∣tion stirre within him, in so much that he threw the good Prophet into prison for doing his duty!

Use of Examination: Here is a touchstone and trial for your selves. Is there love of the Light, or fear of the Light: are you afraid of the word of God, a soul-searching Ministrie, close and particular applications? then suspect all is not sound within thee. But if thou rejoicest in that thy sores are discovered, thou art glad when thy Hypocrisie is made known to thy self, and thou criest out, More Light, Lord, more searching of my inward man, here is a good comfortable sign. Hence David, Psal. 19. when he had said, Who can understand his Errors? he prayeth, Cleanse me from secret sins. Doest thou so? Lord I fear much secret, and unknown cor∣ruption in me: I know not how bad I am; a great deal of filthiness lieth undisco∣vered in me; Oh let me be tried and proved by thee.