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  224

SERMON XXXVII.

Of the unexpressibleness of this new life.


JOHN 3. 8.
The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, or whither it goeth, &c.

OUr Saviour in these words doth further clear the Mystery of Regeneration unto Nicodemus, that so at last the scales may fall from his eyes; because this spiritual nativity was not visible, as that of the body is, Nicodemus would not believe any such thing. Now our Saviour instanceth in a very fit similitude. The wind bloweth where it listeth, thou hearest the sound of it, but thou seest it not with thy eyes, neither art thou able to tell from whence it cometh: So that this speech of our Saviour doth denote the difficulty of understanding this spiritual birth, not onely to the corrupt understanding, but also to the renewed: for this in the Text ari∣seth not from the imbecillity of the power or faculty to perceive, but the subtile and pure nature of the object to be understood: It is therefore the intent of our Savi∣our to expresse this spiritual birth, by a plain similitude. Some there are that take the greek word 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, for the spirit of God: upon this rule, wheresoever it is with the greek article, there the spirit of God is understood; but that is not uni∣versal, & then it would be most improper: for it could be no illustration to manifest a thing by it self, which our Saviour should do if we take it so. Maldonate takes spi∣rit, or breath, for the soul of a man, and makes the sense thus; As we do not know the nature of the soul, how it is infused, whence it cometh, or, whither it goeth, only we perceive the strong operations of it; so it is in the work of Grace. But there is no just reason to recede from our Translation in making it to signifie the wind, and so every thing will excellently agree.

First, The Air is necessary, so that there is no living, or breathing without it: This work of Gods Spirit, is wholly necessary for this new birth.

Secondly, Thou hearest the voice of this onely, but thou seest not the winde it self: so the godly hear the voice of Gods spirit speaking to them to live, and as to Lazarus, to come forth out of the grave; so do the Children of God.

Thirdly, As we cannot tell the begining of the winds, for although the Philo∣sophers dispute much, some making it the flux of the Air, others exhalations from the earth, yet there is no certainty; so it is in this work of grace. The world seeth men by the word of God new changed, new enlivened; they wonder and admire to see this alteration: men are divided in their thoughts about it: some say, they are of God, others of the divel, even as they differed in their thoughts about Christ.

And then here is the liberty of Gods Spirit in Regenerating, He bloweth where Page  225 he list: To whom he will he manifests himself, so that all is to be ascribed to the power of Gods spirit, not to mans ability.

Obs. The work and Grace of Regeneration, is rather felt and perceived by him that*hath it, then that which can be expressed, or made known to a mans self or others, it being a wonderful hidden, and secret life.

The wind we feel and perceive in the motions of it; but the Originals of it, we are not able exactly to describe: so it is in this great work: What the wiseman speaks about the framing of the child, We are not able to describe how the bones, and all other parts of the infant are composed, Eccles. 11. 5. which made David say, He was fearfully, and wonderfully made. The like doth God do about our new birth, We are fearfully and wonderfully made again; so that the difficulty to perceive aright of this work, may arise partly from that corruption which is inbred in every one, and partly the unsearchablenesse of the thing it self; and to this latter Christ relateth: so that he onely who hath the inward power of it upon his own soul, can best discern of it: and we may say of this grace, as well as that of the Gospel, Eye hath not seen, or ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, to conceive what the work of God is herein.

For the better discovery of this, consider these things. *

First, That the understanding of a man is not onely corrupted with sin, but natu∣rally weakned, so that it is not able to finde out natural truths, much less supernatural. The forms of things are hidden to us: Vitrum lambimus, pultem non attingimus; the fire, the water, a stone, none can have essential definitions of them: we cannot tell wherein the form or essence almost of any thing consists, onely we describe things by their effects, properties, and common accidents, and we have but the shell, not the kernel. If then the work of God in nature be so abstruse to us, and we know not what to say of it, How much rather the work of God in Grace? Basil saith, Divers questions may be made about a very fly, which no Philosopher is ever able to answer, How much rather then in the hidden operations of Gods spirit? So that although it was Nicodemus his sin, that he did not know, or believe the necessity of this new birth, yet it was a natural impotency, rather then a moral, that he could not tell how this wind did blow upon him.

Secondly, Men who have not the inward sense of this work upon their hearts, may yet be able to give the description of it. This they have either by learning, or read∣ing of books, or hear-say; so that if you ask many, What regeneration is? They can tell you it is a change of the whole man from that state of corruption we are born in, to the state of holiness: or it is the renewing of the image of God in us by degrees, which we have lost: This account they are able to give; yea, a man may be able by way of dispute and scholership to say more, and dispute more about it, then that man who is regenerated; so that many an Orthodox man is able to prove the necessity of regeneration, and to clear it in its nature, better then one not so perfect: but there is a Theological knowledge, and a practical experimen∣tal knowledge; no question but an unregenerate man, may in a Theological way maintain Divine truths better then a regenerate man, that hath not such abilities: a Godly man doth believe, when he is not able to answer all those doubts and obje∣ctions that are made about any definition of faith, that is usually given: and it is observed that many times those that have the greatest learning and parts, do most disdain the practical plain things of regeneration: Surgunt indocti, & rapiunt cae∣lum, It was the old speech of Austins, Ideots and unlearned men take the kingdom of heaven by violence, when learned men are shut out. Bradwardin, a great scholer called Doctor Profundus, the profound Doctor, speaks of himself how offended he was at the reading of Pauls Epistles, because he had not Metaphysicum ingenium, a Metaphysical head: and we see by miserable experience, what affectations men have to speak, and hear sublime Ministers, and aerial notions, accounting those things that make for our spiritual edification, and inward renovation, to be but plain sim∣plicities; Page  226 but this will prove to be gold and silver, when the other will be only hay and stubble.

Thirdly, Although this life be a secret hidden life, yet many things about it are to*be demonstrated. Even as about the windes, although there be several opinions a∣bout the Original of them, and we may in the general say, they arise out of the East, or West, &c. But the punctual particular Original of them we cannot: so it is in the work of regeneration; The cause from whence it is, is God, Unless a man be born of the spirit, &c. So the Orthodox declare the manner in the general, that its irresistably wrought in us by an insuperable efficacy of Gods spirit, and although it be hard to shew the particular manner how the grace of God determineth the wil, and changeth the heart, yet that this is done is very apparent, and the Scripture makes it very clear; and the consideration of this may bridle our understandings, and make us sober, that we do not curiously pry into things; for if upon the utmost enquiry we cannot tell our natural conception and making, much less may we ap∣prehend this spiritual making. We come therefore in the next place to shew where∣in * this life is so unexpressible; for we conceive this assertion of our Saviours, like that, Our life is hid with Christ in God, Col. 3. 3. The work of grace though it be admirable and wonderful, yet it doth not incur into the senses: and this is that which makes many so Atheistical, and scornful about the work of Gods spirit in us. They either deny there is such a thing, or they judge these things delusions and fan∣cies, or the complexion of mens bodies: but as we do believe we have a soul, though we cannot see it; that there is a wind, though our eyes perceive it not; that there is a God, though no man hath seen him at any time: so it may certainly be demon∣strated that there is such a work of regeneration, though we perceive it not with our bodily eyes: and this is necessarily to be pressed; for the more we are assured that there is such a thing, and that every one who would be saved, must have it, then we shall make the greater enquiry into this, whether we have it or no. The secretness therefore of this new life is seen,

First, In those travels, and agonies of soul which commonly it goeth through with*er'e grace be formed. The spirit of God doth convince of sin, and causeth bondage in the heart: we hear some crying out, What shall we do to be saved? For although a man be in this work of regeneration altogether passive, yea obstinate and rebelli∣ous, therefore compared unto a stone, and a dead man; yet in other respects God works in us sutably to reasonable men, by enlightning our understanding, by open∣ing our eyes to see our misery that we are under; as Dives when his eyes was open∣ed, saw he was in hell, which made him cry out for ease: so these perceive them∣selves even dropping irrecoverably therein, and thereupon they cry out, What shall we do to be saved? When there is this discovery in the heart, then there are commo∣tions, and Earth-quakes in the soul.

Now come to any natural man, speak of these pangs and troubles of the soul, he knoweth not what they mean, he understands not the meaning of them: as Job said to his miserable comforters, Would your souls were in my souls stead, then you would feel what that wormwood and bitterness is, which I do undergo: so had thy soul been ever in those depths of God, then thou wouldst have known what it is to be in a spiritual travel. The Apostle speaking of the groans which Gods spirit worketh in his children, he calls them groans unutterable, Rom. 8. so are these sighs unuttera∣ble, bitterness, and pangs unutterable. It is true, these commotions of the soul are not so remarkable in some, as in others, neither are these things felt alike in all. But there is in every one a sense and feeling of his undone estate, and hunger and thirst after righteousness: now in all these things he is a man in a mystery to the natural man: these things are transacted secretly in a mans heart: examine therefore thy self: Hast thou ever been a man thus affected, thus exercised? hath the spirit of God convinced thee of sin? hath thy heart been loaded with sin? hath the Law discovered sin? hath every thing been as if turned into blood? As Stephen saw hea∣ven opening to receive him, so hast thou as it were hell opened to devour thee, here Page  227 are the beginings of a new birth; not as if regeneration lay in these, no, How ma∣ny have felt sorrow, terror, yet have proved abortives? but in many of Gods chil∣dren, this is introductory, and when happily compleated, these fears and troubles are mingled with much faith and confidence: God hath said to thy soul, as well as of the womans travel, In sorrow shalt thou conceive and bring forth.

Secondly, As these groans after God and his favours are hidden, so the principles from whence they are enabled, are wholly invisible, and that not onely to the bodily eye, but to the mental eye of a natural man. A carnal man cannot think that any man doth any thing in reference to God, but upon carnal and worldly self-principles: Thus the Pharisees, they charged Christ with vain glory, and his own kindred would have him do his miracles more publickly, that he might be externally advanced: they judged of Christ like themselves: John 7. 3. 4. They did all things from world∣ly principles, and so they conceived Christ. The Apostle calls this work of Grace, The inner man. The glory of a Christian is within; he prayeth outwardly, but his glory is within; he heareth with the outward ear, but his glory is within: It is the inner man, which is the root and the fountain of all his external actions: now as the root of the tree is hidden, and the spring-head hard to be found out; so it is here, from what inward principle it is that thou art carried out to do the things God commandeth is wholly to be sought into. The Pharisees did against their own con∣sciences blasphemously make it a doubt, by what power he did those wonderful things: but we may upon good ground ask, By whom dost thou pray? dost thou hear? Is it from Gods holy spirit, acting and enabling of thee? Or is it from thy own corrupt principles and suggestions; and this is that which comforts a godly man against all those accusations of Hypocrisie, which the world casteth upon them.

Thirdly, As their principles, so the scope and intention of the whole man in their con∣versation, is very hidden and secret, they being carried out towards God, because of his excellency, and glorious fulness. David, how often doth he profess his joy in, and love of God? How doth Paul profess his delight in the Law of God in the inward man, and that because it is spiritual? The Pharisees lose the acceptance of all their performances, because what they did, they did to be seen of men. It is true, Hypocri∣sie is hidden also, and the corrupt intentions of wicked men are also secret: There is the hidden darkness of wickedness in a mans heart; but these sincere inten∣tions are secret and admirable in a further sense, because the heart of a natural man, cannot do any thing upon such pure grounds: his eye is dark, and therefore his whole body is dark also. As the earth cannot ascend upwards, because of its dense and heavy nature; so neither can the heart of a man ascend so high, as to do things for God, unless regenerated. Now until a man do things upon these pure motives, he can have no true demonstration of grace in his soul.

Fourthly, The joyes and consolations which aregenerated man obtaineth in his course of a spiritual life, are such as a natural man also understandeth not. Thou hast put more gladness into my heart, saith David, then they have had when their wine and oylencreaseth, Psalm. 4. It is called therefore unspeakable joy. Thus groans are unutterable, and joy is unspeakable; a stranger intermedleth not with their joy: What an hidden and secret thing is this, That they should take the spoyling of their goods joyfully, That they should in the midst of the most furious and violent deaths, tryumph with joy. How unconceiveable are these things to flesh and blood? As therefore Christ said, I have other meat to eat of, then ye know; so they have other comfort and delight to take, then a natural man perceiveth of: were it not thus, How could it venture through all those discouragements that are in the way to hea∣ven? How could it endure in the wilderness, if this Manna were not provided for him? As poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing all things. The supply and provision which God treasureth up in his soul, is that which makes him wonderful: Oh therefore what enemies are all natural men unto their own peace and happiness? It is not a life of Grace to have riches, honours, or great suc∣cess in this world, but to have the favour of God, and his love shed abroad in Page  228 their hearts: See what a glorious triumph Paul is lifted up into, challenging all opposition in the world or hell against him. And thus Austin did much bewail, Se∣rò te a••avi Domine, O Lord, it was very late e're I began to love thee. How long doth a man feed upon husks, and is miserable in the Creatures, till he come to eat of the fatted calfe in Gods house? Say unto thy self, This is not all the sweetness, joy, and comfort, that I might be made partaker of.

Fifthly, Their course and constant way of their life, is also hidden. The life that*I now live, is by faith in the Son of God, saith Paul, Gal. 2. 20. What is the matter, cryeth Chrysostom? Doth not Paul live as other men? Doth he not live on food? Doth he not breath in the Air, as others do? It is true, but this is not Pauls life pro∣perly; but as the child in the womb lives an hidden life by sucking nourishment from its mother, so doth Paul live an hidden life by deriving efficacy from Christ: we walk by faith, and not by sense. Thus Habakkuk lived a Mysterious life; though the Figg treé did not blossom, though the Olive tree failed, yet he rejoyced in the salvation of the Lord, Hab. 3. 17. To live by faith is not a visible known life to the world: The world hath no other oyl to supply their lamps with, but from the creatures, and when these decay, their hopes are at an end: but it is not thus with the Godly, Their life is hid in Christ, and therefore not to be taken away by any outward power: As the Parents lay up the treasures of their children, that they may not lose them; so that faith liveth, while all other things dye.

Sixthly, Their temptations and exercises are also secret. Look upon David in his *Temptations, How spiritual and hidden are they about the losse of Gods favour, and the light of his countenance? Why art thou cast down, O my soul? still trust in God: There are Temptations which wicked men are obnoxious unto; and there are again spiritual exercises, which the Godly are onely acquainted with; so that the nature of our Temptations will as much discover our supernatural life, as any thing else. Every state and condition hath its excercises sutable thereunto: The worldly man, worldly; the heavenly man, heavenly: and therefore it is necessary in a Master of Israel to know experimentally this kinde of life, otherwise as Eli charged mournful Hanna with drunkenness, when it was a spirituall distress upon her; so will they charge poor tempted Christians with madness and folly, if they know not the nature of these exercises: They will quickly break the bruised reed, and quench the smoaking flax, being no wayes able to pour oyl into the wounded soul, till they have been thus wounded themselves.

Seventhly, Their priviledges are admirable, but unknown. It doth not yet appear * what we are: as Christ in respect of his outward humiliation did not appear the Son of God. The priviledges of Gods Children are justification, adoption, free accesse unto the Throne of Grace, and fellowship with the Father; now all these things are hidden. Who would judge, looking upon the afflictions, troubles, and miseries of Gods Church, that they had such priviledges? Should we not say of them, as was of Christ? They are forsaken and hated of God. But though others do not know what they are heirs unto, yet they themselves do. This justification is cal∣led a white stone, which none knoweth but he that hath it, Rev. 2. 17. so that as the Tabernacle had a rough hairy covering without, but there was the pot of Manna within; Thus, though Gods people lie in an outward, rough, persecuted, or affli∣cted estate, yet they have Manna within: and in the sense and full perswsiion of this, they encounter with all difficulties, they triumph in streights; so that if a na∣tural mans eye were open, they would see how much is for them, though much a∣gainst them.

Eighthly, Their encrease and growth is also hidden, and that by wonderful means.* Our Saviour instanceth in the seed sown, that it groweth up, but the husband∣man knoweth not how, onely he knoweth and seeth it grown: Thus the Godly man cannot perceive the growth of his faith, and other graces, onely he seeth that whereas he was a babe once, now he is a man: His light is clearer, his faith firm, his zeal hotter; so that as in natural growth of the body, a man doth not per∣ceive Page  229 he is growing, onely he findes a difference in his stature at last. Thus it is here, onely here is this difference, that the spiritual motions and encrease of grace are more imperceptible then those of the body. Therefore a Christian should not be in∣ordinately dejected under Temptations about its proficiency: Oh he is affraid he never groweth, he still moveth on the same hinge: for if the rational workings of the heart be so hardly discernable, to feel that a man understands, and wills such an object, much more the motions of the spirit: and as the growth it self is hidden, so the manner of it; it encreaseth by opposition, it gaineth by losses, it lives by death, it riseth by falls, by sins, by stumblings it gets ground.

Use 1. Of instruction, Why wicked men are carried out to censure, and condemn Godliness. It is because they know not what it is: Hence also they think it strange, * that they run not into the same excess of riot with them. The wicked are ama∣zed to see why they are not as voluptuous, as excessive in all carnal delights, as well as they: and all is because they know not this spiritual life. All life hath its proper motions and actions, as also delights which keep it up. Therefore this supernatu∣ral life hath its proper motions and joy: Therefore we may say as the Psalmist, Come and tast how good it is: Come and tast what this regeneration is: feel the powerful life of it in your own souls, and then you will be otherwise affected then you are. The Pharisees spake evil of Christ, because they did not believe God was in him, and with him: Thus thou harshly judgest that for Melancholy, and hypo∣crisie, which is the work of God, because thou believest no such thing as a new birth. As it is a great sin to attribute that which cometh from the Divel, to the work of God, so it is a great sin to make that which is of God, to come from the flesh or Divel.

Use 2. How thankful they ought to be unto God, who have had this winde blow up∣on them. How many have lived and dyed in their natural condition? But God hath * redeemed thee out of this state of darkness. The Psalmist makes it a great mercy concerning the plague to a Godly man, That many thousands should fall on the right hand and on the left, yet it shall not touch him: but here is greater, many thou∣sands shall fall into hell on the right hand, and on the left, yet thou art preserved. Our Saviour speaks of two in a bed, one taken, and another left: Oh how great is Gods goodness? Two in a family, the one regenerated, the other not: two in a seat, the one born anew, the other not. How mercifull is the Lord to thee? How was Christ affected in this dispensation? Even so Father, for so it pleaseth thee, and the Son revealeth the Father to whom he will, Mat. 11. There are many great men, many rich men, many wise men, and it may be God passeth over them, and makes known this grace to thee. What? shall we so bless God for preservation from na∣tural death, that he recovereth from the grave, and not much rather from eternall death?