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  142

SERMON XXV.

Shewing that, and whence men have such strong Perswasions of their exact keeping of Gods Law.


MAT. 19. 20.
The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: What lack I yet?

THis Text is a remarkable History, wherein many excellent practicall do∣ctrines are contained. The whole scope being to represent a man that hath good affections and desires for heaven, yet because of some strong corru∣ption and temptation violently detained from it; for in the close of the History he goeth away, not reviling and raging at Christ, as the Pharisees used to do, but 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, exceeding sorrowfull, and as Mark hath it 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, as sadly affected, as the sky seemeth to be, when it's black with clouds, and threatens rain; so that in this posture with Christ he is like the Poets Medea, or like Aristotles incontinent person, who hath great conviction, but strong corruption.

In the History observe the Person and his Question propounded: The person, as appeareth by the Harmony of three Evangelists was a rich man, a great man in pow∣er and place, and a young man: All which three were sore temptations to prejudice him against Christ and his way: Yet by his Question it seemed he was not altoge∣ther prophane and worldly, for his desire is to know What he might do to have eter∣nall life. In which Question although we may perceive a Pharisaicall leaven in him, thinking by works to be saved, yet there appeareth for the main a good desire in him. Our Saviour intending to beat down his Pharisaicall confidence, which is as great an enemy to Christ as Publican sinnes, first reproveth him for his compel∣lation, and then answereth his Question. His reproof is, Why callest thou me good, there is none good but God? Christ refused this title, partly because he cal∣led him good in no other sense, then as some eminent and singular Prophet, not as indeed the Son of God: but especially to teach the young man that he was whol∣ly corrupted, and therefore whatsoever good is in us, is to be acknowledged, as coming from God; it is his gift, it is none of our work.

In the next place our Saviour directs him to keep the Commandements, instan∣cing not in the Ceremoniall, but the morall, nor in the morall duties that relate to God, but that belong to our neighbour, which were most vulgar, that hereby he might teach this Pharisaicall man, that he never yet performed any one Com∣mandment aright. Therefore the ignorance and the arrogance of this young man in the text is remarkable; All these have I kept from my youth up; he thought he had kept not some but all, and that from his youth up, as soon as ever he could act with reason; some Expositors think, that he grosly lyed against his own consci∣ence in saying so: but that is not likely because Mark saith Christ loved him, upon this speech, and that could not be if he were such a dissembler; and if you take Page  143 the word love, for to praise or kindely to speak to a man; as the Septuagint some∣times do, Caut. 1. 1, 4. 2 Chron. 18. it will argue that he was no hypocrite, and hereby we see, that it is a Ministers duty to love and encourage those men, who though they have not the truth of grace, yet have a fair, civill, honest life, and have generall desires for heaven. He did not therefore lie against his conscience, but yet he spake that which was false, for he had not kept one of those Commande∣ments perfectly, as appeareth by that tryall or exploratory precept Christ puts him upon: only he knew no better: He was brought up in ignorance about the spi∣rituall latitude and extent of the Law, and so thought a meer negative, or not do∣ing grosse wickednesse, to be a positive keeping of the Law.

Obs. It is a very difficult thing to drive an unregenerate man out of this false sign*of his good estate, viz. that he keeps the Commandements of God. This was the 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉. In this was the fundamentall miscarriage of this great man, that he had a confident perswasion of his good estate, because he did no murder, he com∣mitted no Adultery, he bore no false witnesse against his neighbour, Now falsly jud∣ging this to be all the Law required, he concludeth that unlesse Christ hath some new and extraordinary way about this, these matters are so low and easie, that he observed them along while ago. Upon this point was our Saviours greatest con∣troversie with the Pharisees, who like Serpents, though they had a fine skin and colour, yet inwardly were full of poyson: and the great work that the Ministers of God have to do in their Congregations in these times, Is it not to shew to men the pure glasse of the Law, that they looking therein, may see their defor∣mities, and be wonderfully out of love with themselves? Doth not every man walk with this self-damning principle, that his heart is good? What would you have him to do more then he doth? Is he any Drunkard, Whoremonger? and thus he pleaseth himself with an externall righteousnesse, being altogether igno∣rant of the pure and excellent work of regeneration, and from hence it is, that our auditors are filled with so much stupidity and security, that it is a wonder to hear of a man or woman, with fear and trembling, expostulating after this man∣ner: The Law is so spirituall, and I am so carnall; regeneration and a new nature is so necessary, but I am so plunged in that sinfull estate and corruption I was born in, That I fear my self, I quake at my condition, Oh for the Lords sake, help ye Ministers by your praiers and directions, that I may be put in a safe way.

For the clearing of the Doctrine consider, *

First, Whence it ariseth that men have such a strong perswasion of their good lives, as satisfactory to Gods Law. Why is it that though a man by nature be indeed like a Job, or Lazarus full of wounds and sores: yee he judgeth himself like Absolom, altogether fair, without any blemish at all?

And the first ground is ignorance about the totall deep, and universal pollution of our*natures, whereby this Leprosie hath made all we are and all we do unclean: and in this sense our Saviour faith, we may call none good, for can we call any spiders, any serpents, any toads sweet? so neither can we call any man good or holy. There∣fore the Scripture that it may lay a foundation for our prizing of Christ, and open our eyes to see the necessity of regeneration, is very diligent and copious in aggra∣vating this naturall defilement. Paul is a cleer instance in this, Rom. 7. his heart was like a dungeon full of noisome and crawling vermine, but because no light was in his heart, therefore he did not see, or beleeve this. Let me therefore expostulate with thee, who pleasest thy self in thy good estate: Is thy life as free from sin as the childe new born? may no more iniquity be laid to thy charge now, then could be to thee, when thou suckedst at thy mothers breast? yet, if no more, thou ought∣est not to take any content or delight in thy self, but to tremble and earnestly to importune to be translated from that darknesse into light: lay aside then thy high, and self-flattering thoughts; say no more, thy good heart, thy good meaning, thy good life, but cry out unclean and unclean. Wo, wo unto me, for I am polluted in Page  144 my blood, and God might not say unto me in my bloud, live, as he did to the Church, but to die, and be damned: Wouldest thou therefore no longer be sick of this dan∣gerous surfet and fullnesse? study more, and meditate more of originall corrupti∣on, how universall and diffusive it is, how contagious and infecting of every thing that we do, so that although we could speak with the tongue of Angels, and work with the hands of Angels, yet we being in our naturall condition, all that would be abominable: Without faith it is impossible to please God, and the tree must be good before the fruit; To the defiled, all things are defiled. What therefore is ex∣ternall righteousnesse, morall justice, formall piety, as long as we abide in that old bitter stock of nature? Pray therefore, Lord give me to understand what I am by nature, make me to know how sinfull and lothsome it is, and let not this be a ge∣nerall, speculative, barren knowledge, but let it be a close, particular applicative, and practicall knowledge, whereby the whole heart may be set on fire, and pow∣erfully wrought upon, even to bid all creatures, all comforts, all businesses stand aloof till thou be redeemed from this thraldome.

2. Another cause of this bold perswasion is, An ignorance of the spirituall ex∣actnesse*and obligation of the Law. It was the received opinion of the Jews, and the Pharisees they so explained it, as appeareth, Mat. 5. that the Law command∣ed only externall acts, and that we satisfied it, if we did keep it in the outward man. Therefore our Saviour seemed to bring new doctrine into the world, when he explained the Law of heart-sins, and shewed that men might be adulterers, murderers, &c. though they never committed those externall acts. This was so pa∣radoxall to the received doctrine at that time, that men were amazed at it. Now howsoever (it may be) people will acknowledge the doctrine true, yet in pra∣ctice they are as gresse and secure as ever Jews and Pharisees were. Neither did they ever make their works a refuge, and a bulwark, more then people now adaies do. And no wonder, for Paul so great a proficient in the knowledge of the Law of God, yet confesseth his great blindenesse and mistake herein, Rom. 7. insomuch that when he cometh to understand how spirituall the law is, and how carnall he is, he cryeth out of himself as most miserable. The Law is spirituall, saith Paul, that is, it reacheth to the sinnes of the spirit, it forbiddeth all inordinate motions there, it prohioits all their secret irregularities: so that as God is the father of spirits, thus the Law is the Law of spirits, and thou maiest become an horid transgressour of this in thy heart when thy outward I so seemeth pare and innocent; The Law is compared by James to a glasse; now it's no won∣der that a man never abhorreth the foulnesse of spots and dirt upon his face, as long as he looketh not in there. No man can bewail the obliquity and crooked∣nesse of his actions, that doth not diligently apply them to the straightnesse of the rule, Oh then say, This justice, this honesty, this freedome from grosse sinne is highly esteemed among men: but what is it to Gods Law? how foul a transgres∣sor shall I be convinced to be, if I compare my self with that rule! Hence there∣fore ariseth all that self-righteousnesse, in that men do no more understand how holy and exact that rule is by which they ought to walk. There is a world of unseen, and unknown filthinesse in thee, and if thy eyes were opened to behold it thou couldst no longer abide thy self. But it is no wonder, that unregenerate men who have no life at all in them, feel none of these distempers, when the godly themselves as appeareth, Psal. 19. cry cut, Who can understand his errours, cleanse me from secret sins: By that David implyeth, that there is more corruption in his heart then he is aware of. Much unknown pride, hypocrisie, earthliness dwels in their hearts, and they perceive it not. If therefore it be thus with the godly, that they are not able to understand how lothsome and wretched they are, is it any wonder if men dead wholly in sinne, feel not any burthen, though mountains lie upon them? Soon therefore wouldest thou depose those lofty imaginations, if so be thou wouldest on purpose consider how exact the Law is, forbidding the root, as well as the branches of sinne, making every inordinate motion, (thousands of Page  145 which rise howerly in thy soul) a Transgression of the Law.

3. Therefore are they so confidently perswaded, because they attend only to the*negative Commandements, Thou shalt do no murder; Thou shalt not steal; Thou shalt not forswear thy self, &c. And so suppose that the whole duty required by God of us, is swallowed up in those negatives. This made the young man no doubt so bold; from his youth up, he had been preserved from such foul, grosse sins. Indeed he speaks arrogantly when he saith, I have kept these; as if he by his own power had restrained that sea of corruption from overflowing the banks; for what evill hath been committed by any man, which he might not also have done, had not God bounded and limited his wickednesse? Well but howsoever though he be thus spotlesse in his life: yet that is not all God requireth, God hath positive commands, as well as negatives; and the same authority which saith, Do not steal, do not kill, saith also, Keep the Sabbath holy, and sanctifie the Name of God. Now although this be a very small matter to build a mans salva∣tion upon, yet we may wonder to see that all the covering many men have for their nakednesse, is only these fig-leaves: That they are no drunkards, no whore∣mongers, no thieves; A meer negative godlinesse, what pity is it, that a people instructed out of Gods Word, living under the means of salvation, should appre∣hend no better in matters of God?

4. Another cause of false perswasion is, that although they may minde affirma∣tive*precepts, as well as negatives, yet they understand them not in their comprehensive sense, and so think they have attained to what the Law requireth, when indeed they fall exceeding short. As for example, this command Thou shalt do no murder, doth not only forbid that sin, but command the contrary duty, and not only so, but all the means, occasions, and circumstances that tend thereunto; and so in eve∣ry commandment. Now if a man consider seriously how many occasions and cir∣cumstances, and causes there are of all sinnes; as on the contrary, how many oc∣casions, motives and causes there are of holy duties, he will stand amazed to see himself so much guilty in millions of sinnes, which he thought could never have been laid to his charge; so then as the Gospel hath a mystery of grace, and origi∣nall sin a mystery of sin, so that we are never able to go to the depth and breadth of these: So the Law is a mystery of duties: and as the Logicians say, The ten predicaments do contain every created being that is in the world; so do these ten Commandements all the duties required of us; It is therefore of great conse∣quence if ever men would be driven out of these golden dreams, and foolish Para∣dises they fancy to themselves, to study, and understand the comprehensive sense of every precept.

5. Another stupifying and benumming principle, is the totall neglect of that*necessary duty, self-reflection and self-examination; Whereby a man liveth fourty or threescore years, and is a meer stranger to his own self. Hence are those duties so frequently pressed, to commune with our own hearts, to sweep them, as some tran∣slate, to dig into them, as others; and this duty is to be done with much stillnesse and quietnesse of spirit, and at those times when we are most free from distur∣bances, according to that rule, anima sedendo, & quiescendo fit sapiens. In other Texts, it is called searching our hearts, and trying our reins; which duties imply, that our hearts are not presently what they outwardly appear: Gold may be in the surface, and iron or stone in the bottom; you know how impossible Hazael thought that should be in his heart, and done by him, which the Prophet foretold. Man in that he is rationall, can only reflect upon himself, beasts cannot, and it is a great obstruction to salvation, that men use this no more, no man saith accord∣ing to the Prophet, What have I done? Therefore deal with your selves as an ene∣my would do. The Hebrew word for an enemy is an Observer, because he watch∣eth and lyeth at the carch to see what haltings and failings there be; Do thou thus become an enemy to thy self, and that is to be a friend to thy self; Say, O Lord I arraign my self at thy barre, I would be winnowed that my chaff may ap∣pear, Page  146 I would be filed, that my rust come off. It is strange to consider what sinnes men may live in, and yet not attend to the consideration of such. The making of a practicall Syllogism would be very introductory to our full conversion unto God, in this manner: The Scripture in severall places speaketh terrible threatnings to such and such sins. But I live in such and such sins. Therefore all those threatnings belong to me: oh how can the soul put off this conviction? how can it extinguish this light shining upon it? what have I to do but to repent and turn to God! There is no other course can be taken by me.

6. Therefore are men thus senselesse, because of that abominable self-love, and*self-flattery, which cleaveth to every man. This ruined the Pharisees, our Saviour tels them plainly of it; You are they that justifie your selves, but that which is high∣ly esteemed amongst men is〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, an abomination before God. Wonder not at this in wicked men: see David a godly man, through self love, how did he favour himself in his grosse sins, and applyeth nothing till Nathan say, Thou art the man. And this lay at the bottom in this rich mans heart, an over-weaning of a mans self, and an immoderate love, whereby we judge every thing we do well done: Many times a godly man through pusillanimity of spirit, and an holy fear, doth bear false witnesse against himself, he will not own or acknowledge those good things Gods Spirit inableth him to do, and thereby he walketh both unthankful∣ly, and uncomfortably. But the unregenerate man he is in the other extremity, he presumeth of good to be in him, when it is not; a full instance of this is, the Church of Laodicea, who said, she was full, and wanted nothing, as if she were God himself, for he only is allsufficient, yet she boasteth, she wanteth nothing, not a God, or Christ, or his grace, when at the same time, she was miserable, and wanted all things. Here was a great difference between Gods judgement about them, and their own; and it is a poor small thing to be acquitted by our selves, when God doth condemn us: Therefore say, It is thy folly, it is thy madnesse, it is thy self-love, makes thee conclude thy self in a good estate: Doth God say so? Do the Scriptures say so? It is a sinne to call good evill, and evill good, in our selves as well as in others.

7. Fear of guilt, that also makes us hoodwink our eyes that we will neither * look into the Law, nor into our hearts: so that it is with us as with Bankrupts, that are loth to cast up their accounts, because thereby they shall see how undone they are. As it argueth guilt in heretiques that they are lucifugae scrīpturarum, they are such Owls that cannot abide the day, such thieves that love not the light: so it ar∣gueth our guilt in our own hearts, when we are walking without any disquisi∣tion to perswade our selves of the good in us. Oh we are afraid to be troubled, we think we shall finde that which may disquiet us, and so by this means, we rest in generals; thereby to deceive our own souls. But as it is folly in a wounded man to fear the searching of his soar, for if that be not discovered he can never be made whole: No lesse wickednesse is it in a man not to search out the worst by him∣self, and to know the greatest danger he is in, that thereby he may indeed come to be healed.

8. Therefore are men thus well conceited of themselves, because they are ig∣norant of regeneration, they know not the necessity of being born again: yea, they * blesse themselves they are no changelings. They have found no manifest alteration of themselves from the beginning. We see Nicodemus a man much conversant in the law of God, yet altogether to learn about this great point. If therefore a Master of Israel knoweth not these things, is it any wonder that an ordinary disciple doth not? Therefore take most men, they do as grosly mistake about godlinesse and re∣generation, and know no more of it, then a blinde man of colours. If therefore thou didst know the nature and necessity of regeneration, thou couldest take no more delight in thy self, or any thing thou dost. Thou wouldest say, I am but a weed and no flower in Gods garden, I am a thistle and no branch of the true Vine. And in this case thou wouldst cry more bitterly then the blinde or lame did; for thou needest life it self.

Page  147 9. There is an extrinsecall cause which addeth to all this, and that is, the de∣vil,*he reigneth in the heart of every one by nature, he hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their hearts. Now our Saviour tels us, that while the strong man keeps the house, all things are quiet: There is no trouble or contest. Even as Pha∣raoh let the people alone, till he saw them desirous to go out of his power. Won∣der not therefore to see morall, civill men, with such great peace and quietnesse in their conscience, never fearing of their condition, never doubting of their estate, for all this calmnesse comes in part from the devil, who keeps every thing quiet, and hardeneth in presumption more and more: blesse not God then for every peace and quietnesse thou feelest in thy self: The body may feel no pain from rom rottennesse as well as soundnesse, and it may be thy condition were far bet∣ter if thou couldest neither eat or drink, or sleep for fear of thy condition: Blessed are they that mourn, and wo to those that laugh.

10. The last and main reason is, because every man naturally is destitute of the*spirit, without which we are all devoid of light and life. The Spirit of God Joh. 16. is that which convinceth the world of sinne; so that a man can never vigorously and powerfully be affected with his wretched estate, till these Sunne-beams shine into him, which will discover the least motes; The spirituall man judgeth all things. Hence it is that godly men though great proficients in grace, have lower thoughts of themselves then unregenerate men, only because the spirit of God is alwaies con∣vincing them of sinne, as well as sanctifying, and comforting of them against it, Paul never had such debased and humble expressions about himself before his con∣version, as after: Would he ever have said all his righteousnesse was dung and dross? That he had not yet attained what he desired? Would he ever have acknowledged himself the greatest of all sinners in his former daies? No: The people of God are more debased for their imperfect duties, then wicked men are for their greatest sins, and whence is all this, but because of Gods Spirit dwelling in them, and in∣lightning of them? But wicked men being without this light, are not able to judge any thing about themselves.

The Use is, To take heed of this self-conceit and self love, desire Gods Word * may be a two-edged sword in you, dividing between marrow and joynts: I am afraid this Laodicean fullnesse is the sinne of most now adaies, and this is as desperate an enemy to Christ and his grace, as grosse prophanesse, yea, in some particulars worse. More Publicans and Harlots were brought to repentance, and so to the kingdome of heaven, then Pharisees. Oh then fear, lest that which thou judgest thy blessednesse and happinesse, be not thy greatest danger and misery. Thou thinkest it well that all is at peace and ease within thy soul: O pray rather that God would convince and trouble thy soul more effectually, and so give thee true peace.