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  161

SERMON XXVIII.

Externall Obedience to the Law of God no sure evi∣dence for Heaven.


MAT. 5. 20.
For I say unto you, that except your righteousnesse exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.

I shall take that doctrine for granted which the Orthodox prove against Papists and Socinians, viz. that in this Chapter our Saviour doth not as a Law-giver impose new commands, and duties, which were not obligatory in the Old Te∣stament; but doth only vindicate the Law of God from corrupt glosses and in∣terpretations; so that although his doctrine and interpretation was new, through the default of those corrupt traditionall Expositions, which the Pharisees had de∣livered, yet it was not new indeed, for the same duties had alwaies been com∣manded. Our Saviour doth as the Painter, which doth not draw a new image or picture, only varnisheth it over, where the colour and beauty was lost; He doth not dig up new fountains, but cleanseth away that earth and mudd which these Pharisees had thrown in. The Lord Christ in this Chapter teacheth excellent and admirable purity and holinesse, transcendent not only to Pharisaicall glosses, but to all the corrupt opinions and judgements of men, pressing upon us heart-du∣ties above external obedience, and prohibiting inward and soul-sinnes above out∣ward filthinesse. And in the Text, he doth by a vehement asseveration, remove all that reputed righteousnesse, which dazeled the eyes of the world in those daies.

So that in the words you have a necessary qualification for out entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven.

The qualification is in an exceptive expression; Unlesse your righteousnesse, &c. By righteousnesse is not meant that Evangelicall righteousnesse imputed to us, but inherent wrought by Gods grace, and therefore called your righteousnesse, because subjected in us: our holinesse is called righteousnesse, not because we are justified or accounted righteous before God because of it: but because there are all the essen∣tiall parts of righteousnesse commanded by the Law, though defective in the gra∣duall intentions thereof.

In the next place there is the necessary requisite to our righteousnesse, viz. that it doth exceed, abound, as the greek word, or encrease and be greater then that [of the Scribes and Pharises] Scribes are named because of their learning, and Pharisees because of their pretended exactnesse in piety. He doth not say, unlesse your righte∣ousnesse be more then Publicans and Harlots, for that would easily be granted, but more then Scribes and Pharisees. Nor, unlesse it be like and equall to that of the Pharisees, but unlesse it exceed. This was extreamly offensive and paradoxall, and it is, saith Musculus, as if in the time of Popery a Preacher had said, Unlesse your righteousnesse exceed that of the Minorites and Carthusians, you cannot be saved; Now the generall ground why the Pharisees obedience was insufficient; was because it consisted in an externall conformity to the Law, without any in∣ward Page  162 change or renovation of the heart, as Paul speaketh of himself, that he knew not inward lusts to be sins.

That externall morall obedience unto the Law of God, though it be much relyed up∣on*by men; yet it is no sure evidence for heaven.

To open this consider these particulars.

First, That by externall obedience we mean an innocency or freedom from all grosse vices. No drunkard, no whoremonger, no prodigall, &c. For the Pharisees made clean the outside, howsoever inwardly their hearts were dens of theevish Iusts: Now although this innocency be no symptome of grace; yet how many such noi∣some and filthy weeds grow in Christs garden! how many such beastly swine are in Christs sheepfold, sins that should not be named among Christians, are yet pra∣ctised and boasted of among them. What comfort and hopes caost thou have in thy conscience, who carriest about with thee such evident plague-tokens of Gods wrath? What do such Crows among Christs Doves? What do such Brambles a∣mong his pleasant plants? Depart ye workers of iniquity from Christian assemblies for these know you not: God called you not to uncleannesse but unto holinesse. Oh that these spots and reproaches of Christianity were once purged away from us.

Secondly, By this morall obedience we mean a fair externall conformity*both unto the duties of the first and second Table: so that they have the out∣ward lineaments both of piety and righteousnesse. For thus the Pharisees they were carefull about the externall worship of God, how zealous about the Sabbath, charging the pollution thereof upon Christ! and as for morall du∣ties among men, had they not excelled therein, they could not have enjoyed such admiration and applause of men. It is true, our Saviour made them the worst of men, pulling off their vizards and discovering their pride and cove∣tous ends in all they did: but though they were inwardly ravening wolves, yet out∣wardly they seemed innocent sheep. Hence our Saviour called them hypocrites se∣verall times together; If therefore you have a man that is carefull in duties to man, faithfull in his word, just in his dealings, but neglective of Gods worship, a prophane despiser of the Sabbath; this man is not to be accounted so much as a morall righteous man, Again, if you see a man strict about the worship of God, in keeping of the Sabbath, in writing and repeating of Sermons, yet unjust and deceitfull in his doings, this man riseth not so high as this Pharisaicall righteous∣nesse. That which must be exceeded is an universall, generall conformity unto all the Commandements of God.

Therefore thirdly, That wherein this morall obedience to all the Commandments*of God is defective in, is, that it is a body without a soul, a shell without a kernell, a picture without life, there is nothing but an outward shape of righteousnesse; as for a principle of regeneration, and a new life within, that is wholly absent. Now this was the fundamentall miscarriage of the Pharisees, as appeareth by Nicodemus, they were wholly ignorant of originall corruption. They beleeved not that all was carnall and defiled within them, and thereupon saw no necessity of being born again, of having a new nature infused into us, and so become new creatures. And this is the rock upon which thousands split their immortall souls still. They please themselves thus, I live honestly, I do justly to every one, I frequent the Church, and receive the Ordinances of God, what further thing is there to be done? I thank God no man can accuse me, nor doth my conscience accuse me. But in the mean while, are miserable seduced men, and are at that very time, in the state of gall and wormwood; Paul though he walked with a good conscience, and concerning the righteousnesse of the Law unblameable: yet when God inlightned his soul, what a heavy doom did he passe upon himself, and called all that dung, which he judged gold once! Therefore herein is the danger of meer morall obe∣dience, that it is like a glorious house without any foundation, a fair apple with a rotten kore, a comely beautifull face with impostumed vitals.

Page  163 4. This morall obedient man though he comes so far short of heaven, yet is the worlds*Saint, and admired by them: for he having only the lineaments and form of god∣linesse, without the power and activity of it, hence it is that he is the more be∣loved of the world; Whereas if he had the vigorous life of grace, and were zea∣lous for the glory of God, and active to pull down the kingdom of sin and Satan, then all the rage and hated of the world would be derived on him. Look upon Christ and his conversation, there was more righteousnesse, holinesse, patience, meeknesse, and all lovelinesse in him, then in the strictest Pharisee: Yet the peo∣ple generally preferred a Pharisee before him, because the one had but the picture of godlinesse, and the other the lively expression of it, which is very offensive and troublesome to a carnall heart. Hence the world saith, give me an honest, quiet, peaceable man, that troubleth us not for our drunkennesse, wickednesse, and de∣bauched courses; but as for these strict, precise, zealous men, what have we to do with them?

5. Although external obedience and outward actions of piety are not to be rested*on, yet this external obedience is necessary.

First, Because outward actions are a complement and a perfection of the in∣ward habits of grace; God hath put all the internal habits of grace in the heart, that they might produce externall operations in our lives, and when they do so, they attain their ultimate perfection. Aristotle placed happinesse in the actions of the soul, not in habits and faculties, because they are not most excellent: It is not therefore enough for a man to please himself with contemplative good af∣fections, but he is also to demonstrate his grace in the powerfull operations thereof.

Secondly, Outward acts of obedience are necessary because the commands of God do especially oblige to these. Thus thou shalt love the Lord thy God, and * this is his commandment to beleeve on him: Howsoever therefore that actions are not sufficient, unlesse they flow from supernaturall principles within, and an inward rectitude of the frame of the heart; yet the commands of God do binde to these, as those whereby God is most glorified, it being not the having of a thing so much as the exercising of it, which makes us acceptable to him that imployeth us therein.

Thirdly, Outward acts of obedience are necessary, because these do corrobo∣rate * and strengthen grace within. The frequent exercise of outward duties do greatly confirm the inward principle of grace. Even as it is in sinne, the outward acting and daily committing of sinne doth encrease and inhance the power of sinne within. Hence sins we have been long practised in, become like an old Oak, that is hardly removed out of its place: Such devils as possesse us from the youth up, are not cast out without praier and fasting. Thus it is also in the works of grace, and outward obedience, the more diligent and frequent we are in them, the more doth our inward man grow stronger and stronger.

4. They are necessary in respect of others, Let your light so shine before men, that they may glorifie your Father which is in heaven: We ought by our outward con∣versation * to draw on others to godlinesse, and to give good examples in our exter∣nals, that men may not learn from thee to curse, drink, •••ff at godlinesse, but to pray and fear Gods Name. Thus you see, that howsoever outward obedience be not foundation sure enough to build thy hopes of heaven upon, yet it is ne∣cessary in its kinde, and therefore the want of this doth discover two kinde of hy∣pocrites.

1. Those that are called Nicodemites, who think it enough to keep their heart for God, although they pollute their bodies with any corrupt worship. There have been some who have much pleaded for this, and it's very pleasing to flesh and bloud, for hereby we shall alwaies save our selves, and martyrdome will be a foolish and unlawfull prodigality of a mans life: but that place doth wholly cut the sinews of such an opinion, With the heart we beleeve, and with the mouth con∣fession*Page  164is made unto salvation. The heart without the mouth is not enough for salvation.

The second sort of hypocrites discovered by externall obedience, is professedly disputed against by James. There were some who thought it enough to beleeve the doctrine of Christ, although no good works flowed from this faith: Now the A∣postle doth by many arguments demonstrate the absurdity of such a conceit, and makes this saith no better then that of devils. Shew me thy faith by thy works: saith the Apostle. So that it's a a vain confidence in any man to presume of salva∣tion without externall obedience, and good works issuing from faith: for saith and holinesse is inseparable, and faith hath a twofold operation, which can be no more disjoyned then light and heat in the fire, the one relating 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, within, to Christ laying hold on him, the other 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, without, bringing forth godly fruits to eternall life. Though therefore you cannot by the presence of outward obe∣dience necessarily conclude eternall life, yet by the absence of them you may in∣ferre eternall death. These things are considerable by way of exposition.

In the next place, consider the sad effect upon that mans soul who deceiveth * himself with ths sign, thinking all that God requireth lyeth in such an outward conformiy.

First, He will never see the necessary of being a new creature; He sindes no necessi∣ty of change but in the outward man only: Whereas the main and principall work of grace is that which reacheth to the heart of a man: yea, God beginneth the work of grace first upon the inward principles and affections of the soul, 1 Th. 5. 23. I pray God sanctifie you throughout, your whole spirit, soul and body: first spi∣rit, then soul, then body: and thus our Saviour pleadeth that the tree must be made good before the fruit can. When the Prophet intended to make the bitter waters sweet, he threw his salt into the Spring as the fountain and cause, which if once sweetned, would make the streams so. It is therefore a wofull condition to live a man ignorant of the heart-change that should be in thee. Thou hast been pre∣phane, but now thy life is changed; Thou didst commit such and such sinnes, but now thou hast left them, This is well, but if a greater change and alterati∣on hath not been made in thy soul, thou art yet in a state of sinne and wrath, 〈◊〉 therefore look about the, and fear lest God have not wrought such a glorious work within thee as is necessary.

A second sad consequent is the neglect of Christ and all his offices; for as a man * is trained up in this externall obedience, and thinketh the Law requireth no more, he seeth no need of Christ; He findes not the heavy and weighty curses of the law hanging over him, but is secure and quiet, as if all were safe and well; Come unto me ye that are heavy laden, and I will ease you. Till a man finde a load upon his soul, he desireth no ease: Ye are they that justifie your selves, saith our Saviour: hence they sought to establish their own righteousnesse, and would not submit to the righteousnesse of Christ: so that what Atheisn doth in respect of God as he is go∣vernour of the world, exclude and shut him quite out; the same doth a morall righteousnesse to Christ, as he is a Mediatour, and cloathed with righteousnesse for us; such being full of themselves, they are as if there had been no Christ, as if he had never died for us. These make Christ in vain, his life and death in vain, and all the glorious riches of Gods wisedom and grace in the Gospel a meer figment.

Thirdly, Here is this evill effect also, that purity and holinesse of heart which God*doth especilly look at, is quite laid aside; for how can men bewail the inward defile∣ments and foulnesse of their heart, when they fell them not? how can they desire the purifying and cleansing of the soul, when they see no necessity thereof? Hence all this obedience is but a work of nature, not of the holy Ghost, and so come far short of the excellent frame God requireth.

In the third place let us examine the grounds, why it is no safety to rest upon such outward obedience. *

And the first is, From those many causes which may produce this outward righte∣teousnesse Page  165 that come short of a true ground: As first, this externall freedom from sin * may arise only from the restraining providence of God, which as it hath put bounds and limits to the sea, that it overflow not the earth, so also doth stint the corru∣ption of man, that he doth not sin so much as his corrupt nature would carry him to. That every man is not a Cain, a Judas, an Absalom, comes from the mercy of God determining and ordering mens sinnes. As on the other side, it was from God that so many Romans were endowed with morall vertues in a glorious man∣ner. Abimelech was ready to fall into whoredome, not knowing any thing, and God by his providence meerly prevented him. Do not therefore presently build thy hopes, because thy life is a good and an honest life. Thou hast not those ble∣mishes and spots upon thee which others have, whence comes all this? is it from grace restraining or grace sanctifying? Is it from the love of God checking thy corruptions, or changing thy heart?

Secondly, If thy righteousnesse come not thus, then it may be from the sole power of naturall conscience and humane strength: for although it be true that * by the strength of nature we are not able to do any thing supernaturally good, but there must be antecedent to such an action spirituall illumination of the minde, and a powerfull alteration of the heart: yet those things that are good in a civill, or politicall sense, and so, good for the matter, may be done by the naturall dictates of conscience, such implantations are made in man, that he beleeveth There is a God, That parents are to be honoured and succoured in necessity. Now according to that natural light we have about God and a conscience perswading to it, there may also be a natural prosecution of the same good; But all this is wholly within the sphere of nature, not above it. Art thou then a man doing all the works of moral righteousnesse? Consider from what stock this groweth, from what foun∣tain this streameth, Doth it arise from any other principle, but meerly that of a naturall conscience? and if so, this cannot be a plaister to any soar, or a balm to any wound. As good Saints as these grow of themselves in the heathenish parts of the world.

Thirdly, This outward innocency and righteousnesse may be meerly for want of a temptation. The heart is ready enough to conceive such monsters, but these * want objects to cause this. We see in Scripture such sinnes latitant in our breasts, which will break forth by the midwifry of opportunities, that a man before would abhorre the very thoughts of them, as in Hazael and Peter. Hence the Disciples were warned by Christ to take heed of drunkennesse, a sinne that proba∣bly the disciples were far remote from, yet for all that occasions might kindle such lust in their hearts; It is not therefore presently to be concluded that all is well, because our lives are unblameable, for it's not from any goodnesse within, but from defect of matter without. We see the hedges and springs of wood are free from snakes and venimous creatures in the winter time, but it is not because they are not a fit bosome to nourish them, but there wants the Sun-beams to warm and revive them. As godly men many times would do good, but they cannot because they want the objects and opportunities thereof: so also wicked men many times have hearts prepared to do a great deal of evil, but these mad men have not those swords ready whereby they would destroy themselves and others.

Lastly, Therefore may thy conversation be so laudable, because the fear of hu∣mane laws and punishments, or else Gods judgements are like a fiery sword to * keep thee off, Rom. 13. Magistrates are a terrour to those that do evill, so that ma∣ny men are not so unclean, unjust, as they would be, because the Magistrates sword affrights them: and truly it's a great mercy, when in a kingdom men are necessi∣tated to do things that are good and righteous; The end of all civill punishments is, that others may see and be afraid, and do no such thing: so that many a mans externall conformity to good things is from the laws of the kingdom, wherein he liveth: or if these do not curb him, sometimes the heavy judgements of God im∣pending over him make him, to do his duty. Thus Ahab, when he feared no humane Page  166 laws to punish him, yet he humbled himself and mourned before God, because of Gods judgements that were almost devouring him; if then a mans outward Obe∣dience may arise from so many various grounds, and they all rotten and corrupt, What comfort can a man take from it? Therefore unlesse beyond and above all these, there be an heavenly and supernatural principle within thee, moulding and forming thy outward conversation, thou art not to live quietly in such an estate, but seek out for a redresse.

Secondly, External Obedience cannot be ground sure enough to stand upon, because it is not such which doth answer the command of God. There is a two-fold * Obedience to the Law accepted of by God; The one is perfect without any de∣fect at all; and thus the Law of God is not satisfied by any; The other is true and sincere, but being imperfect the defects are pardoned by Christ. But exter∣nal Obedience meerly, is not that true Obedience required by the Law; I doe not say, the Perfect, but the True; and the reason is, because the Law is spiri∣tual, and so reacheth primarily to the hearts and spirits of men; and God calleth for them, yea he rejects all external addresses to him without this; and therefore being this Obedience, this Righteousnesse, this Piety, is not such as the Law would have; therefore think not to put off thy brasse for gold; God is not like old Isaac, that takes Jacob for Esau, he regards not the garments thou hast on, but looketh into thy heart.

Thirdly, Meer outward morality will not afford any comfort, because this is consi∣stent with a professed hatred of, and enmity to the practical power of Godlinesse.* Therefore it's not godlinesse, for like would never hate like. Yea it's an argu∣ment that all that righteousnesse is but a carnal, earthly, fleshly righteousnesse, because so opposite unto that which is true godlinesse; Now experience will abundantly confirm this, that none commonly are such enemies and bitter ad∣versaries to the waies and life of godlinesse, as those that are meer civil righteous men: What needeth all this zeal, all this forwardnesse, all this exactnesse (say they?) Hence they can no more abide a powerfull and soul-searching Mini∣stery, then prophane wicked men; yea Christ and his Apostles had not such op∣position and persecution from prophane Publicans, as from those righteous Pha∣risees.

Fourthly, It is not true Righteousnesse, and therefore he that thinks himself happy, be∣cause*of this, is as if a man should judge himself rich, because of a coffer of brasse Coun∣ters. It is not true, partly because its but the outside only, the external lineaments, There is not the inward soul and life of godlinesse, partly because this is not the image of God, which properly is true holines, for the image of God consisteth not in bo∣dily actions, but in the actions of the Spirit after a godly and holy manner. There∣fore as in all your earthly commodities you buy, you examine whether it be the right and true commodity indeed, you would not have that which is sophisticate: so do here. Here are in the world many pretences to righteousnesse; some judge this godlinesse, some judge that, others think this is enough, others that it is not enough. Let me therefore make a diligent search hereinto. For the word of God that onely is the standard to discover what is true, and what is coun∣terfeit.

Fifthly, This is not true grace, because all this external Obedience is done with ease and facility: There is no strugling or wrastling by the contrary corruption, * whereas in all godly actions, The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, so that we cannot do the things we would. It is in matters of good to be done, as in truths to be believed; if a man assent to a conclusion in Religi∣on, drawn by the meer power of reason, there is no difficulty to believe it, be∣cause this is sutable to our nature, but if he do it, because of Gods word, then he findes difficulty, for here is a supernatural motive; so if a man do that which is good upon humane motives, here is no contrariety in him, but if car∣ried out upon heavenly considerations, then the unregenerate part gain-sayes.

Page  167 Use of Instruction, Upon what a weak prop many lean for their everlasting * hopes! The Scripture signs and symptoms of grace they have none at all, onely they please themselves with false evidences of their own; and as counterfeit pearls do many times glister more then true ones, so false signs of grace many times make a greater dazeling then true ones. We are to blesse God that he restraineth mens corruptions, that men are of honest, civil, righteous deportment, other∣wise Commonwealths would become robberies, and men would be wolves to one another. Only this is not enough for Heaven; we may say even to such a man, as well as to a prophane man, Unlesse thou beest born again, ye cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven: And unlesse your righteousnesse be a better then this, there is no salvation for thee.