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  110

SERMON XX.

Gifts and Parts in matters of Religion, no sign of Grace.


MAT. 7. 22.
Many will say unto me in that day, Lord, Lord, &c.

OUr Saviour in this verse, and that going before, removeth two foundations that believers are apt to build their hopes upon,

The First is a bare name, and profession of Christianity, without the real power of it, whose insufficiencie we have already discovered. Nomen sine actu & officio, nihil est, said Salvian, speaking to this purpose, Christianity in a prophane life, is ornamentum in luto, a jewes in a dunghil.

The Second weak and rotten foundation is in my Text, and that is, Gifts, and e∣minent abilities bestowed upon Christians: and these seem to be a very strong Pillar, and Prop. But our Saviours assertion about the unsoundness of it, is very terrible, and yet very necessary to these times: wherein men are like trees that spread out into many branches, but have little or no root.

1. In the words you have the description of their confidence, in that phrase, Lord, Lord: which argueth not onely vehemency, but boldness, and as if accustomed fa∣miliarly to call on God as their God.

2. There is the ground of their confidence, Have not we Prophesied in thy name, and in thy name cast out Divels, and in thy name done many wonderful works? Those Expositors that think they lyed in saying thus, as if no wicked men were made par∣takers of such wonderful gifts of the Holy Ghost as here are specified, attend not to other places of Scripture: neither is that dispute necessary, whether they were true miracles that they wrought? or did indeed cast out Divels? For seeing these Gifts were given for the good of the Church, and not of those that enjoyed them, there is no ground to deny the truth of their miracles. Only observe how they lay much upon this, That all they did was in Gods name, which they thrice repeat: That is, at the command of God, having authority from him, and by his power administred unto them.

3. This is aggravated by the number of those who shall be in this frustrated con∣dition: Many, not One or Two, but Many shall say. Lastly, Here is the time when the weakness of these foundations will be discovered, In that day, viz. at the great day of judgement, when all hidden things shall be discovered: Implying, that they li∣ved and died with great confidence that God was theirs, but never were convin∣ced of their deceit therein till it was too late. In the next place you have Gods an∣swer to them beyond all their expectation, illustrated by the free and open decla∣ration of it.

  • First, Then will I proess unto them: The word hath several significations: here it denoteth a publick and solemn declaration.
  • Secondly, The matter declared, I never knew you. That is, approved of you, Page  111 and loved you: no, not all that while I gave you those abilities, and spirituall Gifts.
  • Thirdly, There is the effect of this declaration: Depart from me, with the cause, Ye workers of iniquity: because they wrought iniquity in the Divels name, as well as miracles in Christs name; therefore they must depart.

Doct. Although Christians are very apt to rest upon Parts, Gifts, and great abi∣lities in Religion, as a sign of their interest in Heaven, yet without a godly life they*will prove broken reeds.

At the day of judgement when the fiery trial shall be, all this painting will melt away. For the opening of this point, let some things be considered by way of Ex∣plication.

First, There are parts and abilities of two sorts: The one Humane and Natural,* the other Divine and Spiritual. Natural parts, are all those excellent abilities ac∣quired by industrie, and through the discipline of others, though even those Natu∣ral gifts come from God also. In this kind the Heathens have wonderfully excelled, and many of the Fathers converted to Christianity, were before their conversion, admirable in humane learning. Qui dedit Petrum Piscatorem, dedit & Cyprianum Rhetorem. He that called Peter an illiterate Fisherman, called Cyprian also a great Rhetorician. Thus Tertullian, Origen, Austin, Hierom, and others, came into Ca∣naan, the Church of God, loaded with Egyptian gold, I mean filled with humane learning: so that, that foolish assertion by some in these daies, that God never sanctifieth humane learning, expungeth at once all those glorious Lights out of the heavenly Firmament. It is true indeed, take these natural endowments in the heart, while carnal, they work a sinful pride, and tumour, against the simplicity of Gods waies. Hence Austin spake of himself, Dedignabar esse PARVULUS, I scorned to become like a little Child, and to admire the Scriptures. Thus also Bradwardine, called the profound Doctor, usque ad stuporem, even to amazement, professeth of himself, That when he heard Pauls Epistles read, he was much disspleased, because Paul had not Metaphysicum ingenium, a Metaphisical wit. And certainly when Na∣tural parts come like Hagar, to quarrel with Sarah, Gods Truth, then throw her out of dores; otherwise if subordinated, they are great helps. But secondly, there are spiritual Gifts, such as the Spirit of God doth more immediately work in his Church, of which the Apostle speaketh largely, 1 Cor. 12. Now the Spirit of God is the Author of two kind of gifts; the one Sanctificantia, Sanctifying and saving, such as Faith, Hope, Love, Repentance: The other Ministrantia, or Gifts of Ministration, because they are wholly for the service of the Church: The for∣mer are called 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, the latter 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, though the Scripture doth not alwaies fully distinguish these two words: the Schoolmen by Division call the former Graces, Gratos nos facientes, making us acceptable to God; and the other Graces, Gratis datae, freely given. But this distinction is first absurd, because coincident; for those graces which (they say) make us acceptable to God, are also freely given: And se∣condly its false; for true Grace is called Grace, not because it maketh us gracious and acceptable to God, but because it floweth from the grace of God. Now these gifts of servcie in the Apostles time, were more immediately vouchsafed by the Spirit, and more universally, insomuch that its made a promise, Mark 16. 16. 17. Even to every believer, that great signs and wonders should follow him: Thus the Church of Corinth, 1 Cor. 14. by reason of her eminent and various Gifts, seemeth to be like the Queens daughter, all in gold and curious needle-work. In these latter daies God also doth bestow upon men, not immediately, but mediately in the way of study and use of means, many spiritual Gifts, such as the gift of Prayer, the gift of Preaching, great assistance in the exercise of these, with inlargement of af∣fections therein: and these are much admired as arguments of their holiness and piety: but the Apostle told the Corinthians, he had a more excellent way to shew them then that of Gifts, which was the way of Grace.

Secondly, The end of all these spirituall abilities, is to profit the Church with them.*Page  112 They are not for vain ostentation, disputes, and applause in the world, but merely to edifie others. 1 Cor. 12. 7. The gift is given to every one,〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, to profit with. So then these gifts must not be put under a bushel; these Talents must not be Hid in the earth, or wrapt up in a napkin, as if it were a dead thing. It is ingeniously observed by Theophylact, That when men were dead, they covered their faces with a napkin, and laid them in the grave: Thus they did to Christ, and to La∣zarus: and thus the unprofitable servant did to his Talent, as if it were a dead thing and buried, he would make no improvement of it at all. And well did Au∣stin call idleness, the burial of a man while alive: Paul, even then when he foretels his death shortly, That he must be a Sacrifice for the truth, he yet sends for his Parchments, imploying that little time he hath in study. Now when I say gifts must be improved, I mean the gifts of private men in a private way out of chari∣ty; of publick men, by office in a publick way out of Authority: for that gifts are not enough to entitle to a publick office, appeareth by the examples and commands in the Epistles, and in the Acts of the Apostles, where all that publickly imployed their gifts, besides their own qualification, had also authority, and office given them by Superiours, whereby they were sent to do their work: And as they are not to be negligent, so neither to use them for applause, or to get esteem, or make parties. It is a sad corruption in us that we affect gifts more then graces, as you see the Corinthians did, for which Paul reproveth them, because by their gifts they were more admired and applauded: Hereupon they also had many followers, and truely this City of London is become much like Corinth: as she gloried in light and knowledge, as she abounded in schisms, and parties, one for one, and ano∣ther for another: as her publick meetings were come to great confusions and dis∣orders, and as they minded disputes, but neglected the true power of Grace, thus is it with London at this day.

In the next place let us consider, Why Believers are so ready to lean upon these? To take Gifts for Graces, Enlargements and Assistances for San∣ctification.

First, Because these do exceed the common way, and ordinary course of Christians. Men so qualified and furnished, seem to be as much above ordinary Christians, as * the call Cedars above the low shrubs: The Pharisees, how scornfully did they speak, This people which know not the Law, are cursed. How apt is a man, be∣cause he can pray excellently, discourse upon many controversies in religion, to un∣dervalue those that cannot: Seeing therefore that these are in an higher form of Christs school, and to the name and Title in knowledge of Christianity, they have su∣peradded many other Talents, is it any wonder they are confident of their good estate? We may read that in Austines time, it was a general received opinion, That every Christian, though he lived wickedly, should at last be saved. This Doctrine was so universal, that Austin was forced to oppose it with a great deal of fear and modesty. They did not hold with Origen, That the very Divels themselves should be restored, nor with others mollifying Origens opinion, That all men whether Christians or Infidels; nor as a third, That all Christians, how damnably soever erring in matter of Faith, shall be saved; but thought it most reasonable, That all right be∣lieving Christians should find mercy whatsoever their wickedness was. Austin, En∣chir. ad Sanc. saith, those that hold so, Humanâ quadam benevolentiâ sibi falli videri. And if the name and profession of Christianity may sway so much, what then may these more excellent and unusual workings of Gods Spirit upon men? wonder not therefore if you see a man that hath better gifts then another, more knowledge then another, have also more confidence in God then another. Not that indeed he hath grounds, for its better to speak one word with Grace, then five hundred with meer Parts and abilities; but onely self-love doth blind our Eyes, and deceive our Hearts, so that we do not judge Scripture-judge∣ment.

Secondly, A second reason of carnal confidence herein, is, because it is, very diffi∣cult Page  113 to know when our duties are performed by assistance meerly, and when by Sanctifi∣cation also. In prayer it is hard to discern when its the Gift of prayer onely, and when its the Grace of prayer also; for these things are judged by the Spiritual man onely; he is said to judge all things. But now an unregenerate man, though a∣bounding in these gifts of Gods Spirit, yet because he is altogether carnal, he can∣not make any spiritual discerning of these things: but as sensual bruitish men, they argue God loveth them, and that they are in the favor of God because he blesseth them with wealth, and outward prosperity. Thus men of parts and abili∣ties in religious things argue; if God did not love them, if he intended to damn them, he would never give them such knowledge, he would never give such assist∣ance, but this is a meer delusion. Oh there is as vast a difference between thy Du∣ties performed through assistance meerly, and through Sanctification, as is between sweet Grapes and wilde Grapes.

Thirdly, Therefore we do take these for sure signs, because hereby is demonstrated Gods power in us, and we are ready to take his presence by power, for his presence of Grace.* When we perceive in our selves a greater strength then our own, we argue that God is with us, not onely providentially, but graciously, whereas these two are separable one from another: God was with Saul by way of assistance & power, when he gave him another spirit, but not by way of gracious inhabitation. There is no question but Christs power was with Judas in his miracles, as well as with the other Apostles; but with Judas was onely a presence of power, with the other Apostles, a presence of power and gracious Sanctification: so then, God may be much seen by his as∣sistance in thy Duties, in thy Prayers, in thy Preaching: but his presence in morti∣fication of sin, and vivification to righteousness is far more admirable. It is true, the times of the Gospel, and of its Truth is in Scripture, proved by this argument, because many wonders and signs were done amongst them; for so it was promised, That Miracles should abound in the time of the Messiah: but these are no sure de∣monstrations of the Spirit dwelling graciously among us. So then diligently consi∣der thus, Thou findest God much with thee: thou feelest thou couldst not do such things as thou dost; but here is no solid ground of comfort, unless thou discover∣est a further powerful work of his Spirit, which is in giving thee an holy, humble, believing, and self-denying spirit. Oh its far more comfortable to find Gods power melting thy heart for sin, quickening thee up to holiness, then to finde ten thousand enlargements in holy performances: It is better to see and feel God in thy conversation in the waies of mortification, then in any solemn Religious duty.

Fourthly, Therefore we rest on these, because we distinguish not between that*which is Spiritual in the object, or matter we do, and that which is Spiritual in the manner how we do it. As for Example, The Pharisees, many things they did were Spiritual for the object matter: Thus their prayers, their reading and expounding the Scriptures, were spiritual imploiments, but take them for the manner how they did it, which was to be seen of men, to advantage worldly interests; and no Publi∣cans, or Harlots were more carnal then they, so that the proper stream and chan∣nel, wherein all their spiritual defilement did empty it self, was in their religious duties, so that they were most carnal, when they seemed most Spiritual. Jehu also is a clear instance, if you respect the outward matter; his reformation from I dola∣try, his establishing the worship of God, all this was wonderful Spiritual; but withall consider, that his aims were meer State-Policy in all he did, and so he was very carnal: consider therefore of this more then thou hast done: it may be thou wast never more sinful; corruption did never more discover it self then in thy Spi∣ritual abilities and imployments. Paul saith of some, That they preached Christ out of envy, and others may do it out of worldly ends: now because the Duties are Spiritual, shall we say these men are Spiritual men: No, they are sensual, corrupt, and worldly: and this is certain, when the Divel cannot perswade men to corrup∣tions in vicious and prophane courses, then he becomes like an Angel of light, Page  114 and seduceth them to carnal distempers in spiritual duties.

Fiftly, Therefore are we prone to rely on these, because they breed esteem in the hearts*of others. Many times Disciples that are followers, they set up a Doctor or Tea∣cher as if he were an Angel: they place him among the Cherubims and Seraphims: they say by his gifts and abilities, their souls have got a world of good: they have cause to bless God that ever they saw him, or heard him: Now these solemn ac∣clamations from others, do work great confidence in such a mans heart. I make no question but a man of abilities may do good by them, although he himself be naught; otherwise the Apostle would not have rejoyced that some preached Christ out of envy: neither would Christ have remitted his Disciples to the Scribes and Pharisees Ministry as he did, when he bid them hear them as long as they sate in Mo∣ses his chair, deliver true Doctrine from the Scriptures. Now this being so, it is hard to perswade our selves that when we have been a means to bring in some Elect ones, we our selves should be as Reprobates: hence it is that the Apostle, Gal. 4. presseth men so to walk, That they may have approbation from God and their own consciences, rather then from others, when it is said, That those who convert others to righteousness, shall shine like the stars in heaven, that is to be understood taking in other places of Scripture, viz. If they be Godly, and walk in all the waies of God themselves, as well as teach others so to do.

Thus you see the reasons why people are apt to take all their evidences for Heaven from these uncertain grounds; now let us demonstrate the insuffi∣ciency of these to give any sollid support: and this will appear severall waies.

1. In that all these glorious abilities are, and may be consistent in the same sub∣ject at the same time, with prophane and ungodly waies of iniquity. Now can you call that light which agreeth with darkness? Can that be righteousness, which may consist with unrighteousness? You heard, He that is born of God sinneth not, be∣cause of that seed in him. Then certainly this is not that Spiritual seed, if we have, or may have at the same time an habitual inclination to evil. It is true indeed, sancti∣fying grace is in the same subject with the reliques of co rruption; and a Godly man hath darkness in him as well as light: and we know in Philosophy, that Con∣traria possunt simulesse in gradu remisso, ac dum sunt in pugna, contraries may be together in a remiss degree, and while they are in conflict: But in these spirituall abilities and gifts, sin may be in its dominion and prevalencie with full quietness and case. Hence our Saviour calls these Prophets, these wonder-workers, Work∣ers of iniquity. They were so at that very time while they did all these: alas, it was no advantage to cast the Divel out of other mens bodies, while he had full possession in their own hearts. Know then if these abilities were Grace, they would expel at least in some degree, all those lusts and exorbitances that are in thy life. Experience telleth us, that it is no new thing for men to pray zealously, to perform duties admirably, and yet to go from these duties to the committing of sin against the light of nature, as well as of the Scriptures. Did not Judas practise secret the every and injustice, notwithstanding his publick ministry? It is true, ma∣ny times God in a just judgement, when men live prophanely, doth at last take away their Talents: they cannot pray, they cannot preach as they have done; but they become very sots: even as in the black Coal-mine there sometimes arise such damp vapours that put out all the light, yea, and the breath of those men that are in it; but for a great while they may keep their Talent, and it not be taken a∣way.

2. These cannot be a sure testimony for our comfort, because they are not proper and immediate effects of election, which is the first round in that ladder of all spiritual mercies. If I have justifying faith, I may have sure confidence, because this is a fruit of our ordination and appointment to eternal life. But we cannot say thus of these parts and abilities; for the Text saith, Many shall say, have not we prophesied in thy name, yet Christ shall reply, I never know you: but there shall not one godly man Page  115 say at the day of judgement, Lord, was not I elected? was not I converted? Did not I repent, believe, mortifie sin, &c? And Christ say again, Depart, I know you not. If therefore our calling and election might be made sure by these gifts and a∣bilities, there might be some hope, but that cannot be; therefore how fully doth our Saviour speak to this purpose, when the Disciples came rejoycing to Christ, telling him, That the Divels were subject to them, and they could work all kinde of wonders, he replyeth, Rejoyce not in this, but that your names are written in heaven: where you see how prone we are to rejoyce in that which affords no good ground of comfort, and withall, That if we had the parts and abilities of men and Angels, yet if we had not our names written in heaven, we were in a miserable condition. Oh then say, This is but the fruit of the Common Love of God: the sons of the Concubine may have this, as well as the sons of the true wife: Abraham gave Ish∣mael some gifts, but they were not such as Isaak had; therefore pray that God would give thee tokens of such a love which is vouchsafed unto his own people in a peculiar manner.

Thirdly, These cannot demonstrate certainly The faith of the Elect Paul calls it, our good estate, because God in the bestowing of these gifts, doth not at all look to the good of him that hath them, but to the good of the Church. There is this difference between saving Gifts, and Gifts of service: saving Gifts, such as Faith, Repentance, &c. are intentionally given to the good of him that hath them; and although a man by these may edifie others, yet that is not looked at primarily; but now in these gifts of service, ability to pray, preach, and confer or dispute, these are given not primarily for the good of him that hath them, but of the Church in general. As a nurse to a great mans child liveth upon dainty fare, not for her own sake, but the childs sake: Now then thou shouldest thus argue, Is God much in assisting of thee in praier, in any duties with others? say, Surely the Lord did thus assist me, not out of any respect to me, but he had some child of his there to be refreshed, to be enflamed, or quickened by me: Hence for want of a godly life, many that have helped others to Heaven, they themselves are thrown into Hell; they are Torches, which while they give light to others, they themselves are con∣sumed.

Fourthly, That cannot be the true and proper good which may be turned into evil. Bonum est, quo nemo male uti potest, Grace and godliness cannot be used to an e∣vil end, because its part of Godlinesse to rectifie the end, the shew of Godli∣nesse indeed may. But now all these abilities are so indifferent in their nature, that they may be used well or ill: As Austin said of riches, That God doth some∣times bestow them upon wicked men, to shew they are not good in their own nature; a∣gain sometimes on good men, to declare they are not bad in their nature. Thus it is of all parts and abilities, they sometimes are bestowed upon good men, sometimes upon bad men, to teach us, That as the subjects are in whom these be, so may they be imployed: But we cannot say so of Grace: no wicked man hath any true saving Grace in him: Why then do you encourage your selves with that which a Judas may have? one roaring in hell may have? And certainly these abilities and Gifts are in more persons made a snare to evil, then an occasion to good. Satan is more busie to Tempt such: when the Divel first assaulted Eve, it was by the Serpent, as an instrument that was more subtile then all the beasts of the field: Thus afterwards he worked, when Satan seduced others by Ter∣tullian, and Origen, he was a Divel in the Serpent. When thy Liquor boyleth, then look to take off the Scumme: and so when thy Abilities and Enlargements are efficacious and fervent, then take heed of froth and vanity. Ornari abs te Diabolus quaerit, said Austin to a great scholar yet unconverted to Christ. The Apostle in 1 Cor. 13. and 14. speaks of other carnal effects of spiritual abilities, as to puffe up and inflate, to make divisions and severall parties in Gods Church, to bring all into confusion and disorder, therefore these cannot be grace.

Lastly, The Apostle maketh a man that hath all these abilities, yet if without Page  116 grace, to be no more then a tinkling Cymball, that may make a pleasant noise for the while to the ear, but presently passeth away, 1 Cor. 13. 1. And thus are all men of parts and gifts, they may be like a pleasant Song to others, but they them∣selves have no benefit: Men may preach well, expound Scriptures, write excel∣lent Comments, yet for all this, be but like Harps or Viols, that give a melodi∣ous sound to others, but perceive none of it themselves; Whereas true grace is pro∣fitable to him that hath it, it watereth his heart in whom it is, and makes it fruitfull: It beginneth an heaven in this life, yea, strangers and others, are not able to enter into his joy.

Use of Exhortation, Not any longer to look upon these gifts and abilities, as the most excellent things, but be perswaded there is a better way, and desire that. This assistance is like the rain that God vouchsafeth to the bad, as well as to the good: Only thy condemnation will be the more terrible, by how much thou wert the moresecure of heaven, and yet didst miss it: those men urged they had prophesied and wrought miracles in Christs name: but alas, the prophane and ungodly man, what will he say? We have been drunk in thy Name, unclean in thy Name: how absurd and blaspheming would this be? Therefore minde the things of mortifi∣cation more then of parts and assistance; say now, I know God will and doth love me indeed, when he makes me fruitfull in all holinesse.