Laying open the Counterfeits of a new Birth.
JOHN 3. 3.
HAving in way of digression observed some remarkable particulars in this excellent Dialogue between Christ and Nicodemus: I do now re-assume this Text, wherein a new Birth is so vehemently and indispensably assert∣ed: And because we have already demonstrated the nature of it; the next thing to be insisted upon is the Counterfeit of it, that so no more any may deceive themselves, as if they had it, when they had it not. For who is there who hath heard the nature of it laid open, and the necessity of it pressed, doth not be∣lieve he hath it, although the work be so rare and supernatural? for a man would wonder, when Christ who is truth it self, presseth this upon every man, let him be never so self-righteous and self-holy, what men think of themselves; for cer∣tainly either they do not attend to, or believe these things, or else they make no reflexion upon themselves, saying, Am I such a man; or else they vainly delude themselves with hopes, concluding that to be the work of regeneration in them, which indeed is not.
Therefore to undeceive your souls herein, consider this great work may be * counterfeited in several respects. There may be much glistering, which yet is not this true gold; and because our Saviour expresseth this work metaphori∣cally, as a new Birth, we shall in allusion to that, discover the false wayes thereof.
And first, As in the new Birth the soul, as you heard, brings forth in sorrow, there are pangs and groans unutterable; so many men may be in great pain, fear and trouble about sinne, As if some excellent and beautiful childe of grace were to be born, and yet at last after all those pangs, there come forth some ugly Toad. Men after those troubles and torments about sinne, proving as loathsome, and as abominable as before; for men may be greatly afflicted in heart for sinne, and the Ministers of God may as Paul in another case, Rejoyce that they have made them sorrowfull; They cry out in the agonies of their soul, We have sinned grie∣vously,*what shall we do that we may be saved? And yet for all this travail the soul brings forth nothing but winde and emptiness.
For, 1. Men may be in great troubles of soul about sinne, while the apprehensions of danger and Gods judgements are upon them, but when these are removed, they pre∣sently settle on their lees again. The Israelites are a pregnant instance for this, while Gods hand was heavy on them, their sins also were an heavy burden, Is their affliction they sought God early, they humbled and mourned before him, Hose. 7. 14. but their hearts were not stedfast; when they had ease, and were delivered, Page 231 they soon forgat God, who helped them. Oh (Beloved) we have too many examples of such troubles for sinne in our dayes! Take some men in desperate sicknesses, when death the King of terrors is ready to seize on them, or while they are under some publick miseries which do so immediately burden them they know not what to do. In these extremities, what confessions, what resolutions have you? Do they not seem to be new creatures? You never heard them speak, purpose, pray to God so before; you never saw them so affected and wrought upon as they are for a season; but upon recovery and ease they presently forget all, and were they prophane, worldly, negligent, yea opposite to God and his way? the same they prove again? Do not thou therefore deceive thy own soul, saying, I remember the time since my sins have pained me at the very heart, since I roared on my bed because of mine iniquities, I had no comfort in my life, sinne made every thing so bitter: grant all this, but ask the Question, How comest thou to be quiet again? How are those windes and waves come to be appeased? Did Christ rebuke them and bid them be still, or hath time wore them out? or hath the removal of the judgement removed also thy trouble? Oh if this had been the true spiritual travail of thy soul, no outward comfort could have appeased thee! No freedom from external calamity could have pacified thee, till thou hadst in a godly manner obtained the light of Gods countenance, and be recon∣ciled with him. It was thus in David when wounded in heart for sinne, though Gods outward judgements were over, yea though Nathan told him, His sinne was forgiven, yet for all that his heart runs out like a fountain of water before God, Psalm. 51. And this, if rightly considered, doth break the pillar of many mens hopes.
2. Men may be in great trouble of heart, and so seem to others and to themselves, as*if they were in this new Birth, but all provefalse, because they labour to quiet and con∣tent themselves with earthly advantages, and in a carnal manner labour to extinguish and to put out the sorrow they feel. These differ from the former, because they are like the Hart wounded, that labours to eat out the arrow; so these being trou∣bled for their sinne are fretted and discontented at it, and so use all the wayes they can to stupifie their conscience, and they labour that their sinne may not alwayes be before them. How great and terrible soever these mens estates may be, yet it will vanish like smoke. For where God doth graciously soften the heart, there is a tender melting, and a willing mourning for sinne, as Zech. 12. like a mother for her only childe; but in these men their hearts rage, and fret at the wounds, which God makes upon them, and so they are like the devils and damned in hell, who are full of horrour and gnawings of heart for their sin, but yet blaspheme God, because of their hatred against him; Such an one was Cain, who cried stubbornly, My sins are greater then I can bear; and therefore to ease himself, buildeth Cities and useth all means to divert his fears. Consider there∣fore, How hast thou been under terrible apprehensions of Gods wrath for sin? Hast thou desired the sanctification of them, that God would make a thorow and perfect change in thee? Or else hast thou desired to put out this fire, to bolt out this light? Hast thou judged those happy that live jollily in their sins, and finde no pangs upon them? All such tears are but like the waters of standing pools that breed Toads and other Vermine. Take heed therefore that thy sorrow be not a Cains sorrow.
3. Men may be in travel and bring forth nothing but winde, because in these trou∣bles*they apply themselves to false Prophets and false Teachers, who apply peace when there is no peace. As it was with the Israelites outward condition. The false Pro∣phets sleightly cured her wound, and cried Peace, sowing pillows under their elbows, Ezek. 13. 18. Thus it is also with false teachers about the inward estate of their people, they sooth up men in their evil waies; They bid them die comfortably, believe strongly, they bid them, Go and prosper, as he did to Ahab. This is dau∣bing Page 232 with untempered morter, which when a frost comes fals all to the ground again, and so when Gods terrible anger shall arise, all that false peace will tum∣ble to the ground; both the false teacher, and he that receives the false peace and comfort will fall into the pit together. And hence it is an heavy judgement to live under ungodly and prophane Ministers, who usually pour oil into all wounds, tell every man that is sick or dying, his condition is good; but what saith Paul, If I should please men, I were not the servant of Christ, Gal. 1. 10. that is, please men in a sinful way, give content to them in their sins; so that as in any outward sicknesse or losse it is a grievous sin to go to the Devil and to Wise men, as ye call them; The Prophet severely rebuked the King of Israel, and told him, his childe should die, and said, Is it not because there is no God in Israel? Its to deny the true God, and to make the Devil your God; so in soul-troubles to go to those loose teachers, who will proclaim peace to you, is to make all your sorrow, and all your travail for sinne in vain. Choose therefore a godly and wise Physician for thy soul in such case, and say, Give me one, not that will flatter me, but inform me impartially about my sins.
4. Men may be in trouble for sinne, yet miscarry, Because of inordinate dejection*and black despair. This is not so ordinary, men being for the most part presum∣ptuous, and there are few such sinners as the incestuous person, whom the Mini∣sters and people of God must comfort, lest they be overwhelmed with despair; yet Judas was thus undone. As Rachel died in bringing forth of children; so these are damned in those very sorrows and fears they have about sinne. God therefore who commands a soul to grieve for sinne, and to come out of the pit of iniquity, doth also command the same soul to believe and seek for ease in Christ. We must indeed despair utterly in our selves, but not of Christ, and the ignorance of the acceptablenesse of faith unto God, and how wel-pleasing it is for the humbled soul to rely on Christ, keeps many of Gods children longer in the dark womb then they would. Insomuch that it is a mercy of mercies in those spiritual a∣gonies, to be directed into the way of believing. Thus you see that all pain and trouble wrought in the womb of the soul, doth not necessarily in∣ferre, that there ought to be joy, because a man-childe of Grace is born in the heart.
A second sort, which miscarry in this new Birth, may be stiled Embryoes,*Such who have some initial and preparative workings upon their heart, but they die in the wildernesse ere they come to Canaan. And they may be reduced to these heads.
First, Those who by fear are kept in their duty, and because they are afraid of Gods judgement, therefore they forbear sinne, and perform the duties required of them. This Rom. 8. is called, The spirit of bondage. The Spirit of God worketh such a disposition in them, though not the sinfulnesse of it, that they are kept from sin, as the Wolf or Lion are kept from their prey, who otherwise would greedily de∣vour it. This is called by Divines servile fear, and although a man while he go∣eth no further is but an hypocrite, yet Augustine compareth this fear to the Needle that draweth in the threed, it is introductory sometimes by the blessing of God, of a more excellent way; and in this respect there is a necessity of the Ma∣gistrate and the sword to represse evil men, If thou dost ill, be afraid, for he bear∣eth not the sword in vain, Rom. 13. for howsoever this external force doth not sweeten and alter the nature, yet by outward restraining of them, they may at last become sensible of sinne, and in stead of leaving it for fear, afterwards for∣sake it for love; As Paul rejoyced the Gospel was preached, whether for love or out of envy; So the Ministers of God are to blesse God, men are restrained from out∣ward wickednesse, whether it be from fear or love, although it will not be com∣fortable or soul-saving to those, who do it only from servile and slavish fear. Let not men therefore think they have a sure sign of this new Birth within them, if Page 233 they finde this external change wrought in them; they dare not runne in the same excesse of riot, as they have done; they will set a watch before their mouths, that they curse and swear no more; for if all this come not from a principle of love and delight within, in that which is good, here is no new Birth.
Secondly, Those may be said to have some preparatory work, who have some resoluti∣ons*and purposes to take up Christs yoke, who are not in flat opposition and contradiction to his wayes, but shew much general willingnesse to imbrace his way. Of this sort was that young man, whom Christ is said to love, because he was not farre from the Kingdom of Heaven. And there are many who declare good affections, shew a willing compliance with those things that are good, but they move alwaies up∣on this hinge. They never obtain any further degree in the waies of God; Oh what pity is it, that such persons, who come so near the haven should yet suffer shipwrack, that they should with Moses as it were see the Land of Promise, and yet not enter into it! We tell such they are not farre from true Repentance, they are not farre from this new Birth. Thy good affections and compliances with good men and good things, but going no further, make the Minister of God hope well of thee, and yet to be afraid of thee also. They hope well, trusting God will give thee more knowledge, work more inward power in thy heart, to break thorow all temptations, and to set upon the waies of godlinesse, whatsoe∣ver it cost thee, and yet they are afraid also, because where the fire of grace is, there it will burn sometimes or other; where this life of grace is, there it will be growing sometime or other. Thy good affections are more then leaves upon the tree, they are buds, only they continue buds, they never blossome; we cannot say thou art dead, and yet we cannot say, thou art alive, we do not perceive the breath of the life of grace breathing from thee. Oh therefore that this Sermon might be like a fiery nail (as Ecclesiastes speaks) fastned by Christ in the heart of such! If thy affections and dispositions be real for God, it's not enough to stay there, Come out of Aegypt, do not be as Ephraim is called A cake half baked, the upper part towards heaven all dough, but the lower part baked. If God and Heaven be to be sought for in the first place, if the Kingdom of Heaven must be got by violence, know thy good inclinations and sweet affections will not be enough.
Thirdly, They are Embryoes, who by instruction and good education of others, are trained in a way of godlinesse, and in the constant practice of duties, but in time dis∣cover*they never had the power of these things. Thus we read of King Joah, all the while Jehoiada the Priest was alive, 2 King. 12. 2. who had the tuition and educa∣tion of him, He walked in the wayes of God, but when he died, then he turned aside to do wickedly; and many such there are also now adaies, who having godly pa∣rents are so accustomed unto the wayes of Religion, that they can pronounce Shibboleth, I mean, speak and exercise the whole form of piety; but this is not a new nature wrought in them by God; it is their old nature painted and varnish∣ed over with good education. It is true such instructions are a mercy; and the Wiseman saith, The way a childe is trained up in, he will not leave. As on the con∣trary it is a woful curse to be born of wicked parents from whom the children learn only to curse, swear, lie, and to be prophane opposers of God and godli∣nesse; but yet this excellent education is but the external moulding of a man, not the internal renovation of his heart. It's like the midwifes bowing or ordering the limbs, it's not giving the limbs themselves. Be not therefore deceived in this great work, Hath God moulded thy heart as well as parents thy life? Thy Father and Mother they have taught thus, and thou sawest them live thus, but hath God also taught thee the power of these things in thy own soul.
Lastly, Those may be called Embryoes, who have many desires and wishes that they*might be in this happy state of life, but then they have so many temptations, so many Page 234 obstructions and pull-backs in the way, that they presently give over. Balaam (though we do not conceive of him, as in a preparatory way to grace, yet) he wisheth he might die the death of the righteous; and thus some cried to Christ, Lord evermore give us of this bread out of a confused appetite; these are like the slug∣gard that desireth, but yet pulleth not his hand out of his bosom, therefore his desire is said to kill him. In this rank also you may have many who have inward wishes and desires, Oh that they were such in whom God delighteth! Oh that they might not only die the death, but live the life of a righteous man. Thus they desire, but sometimes carnal friends, husbands, neighbours, they throw water on these little sparks, and presently put out all, or else their worldly imploi∣ments, and earthly businesses they freeze the heart, and make it senslesse, or else their own sluggishnesse and dulnesse choaketh that good seed in them. Therefore do not think all is sure, because thou sayest, though I be thus and thus, yet I desire to do otherwise. Oh here may be a dangerous delusion! Thy desires may be thy ruine; for if thou only desirest, and there is no further pro∣gresse, thou restest in thy desires, and these produce no reall operations, they will prove but cobwebs to thee in time of danger. There is indeed a position of Divines, That the desire of Grace is Grace; as hunger and thirst argue a man is alive, and the promise of being satisfied is made to the hungry and thirsty, but those desires are spiritual, strong, constant, efficacious, and produce migh∣ty operations; compared therefore to hunger, which will break stone wals to get some food. Do not therefore tumble in this pit of destruction, many have suffered shipwrack at this Rock, saying, They desire to goe to Heaven, They desire to please God; but if thy desire were earnest and powerfull, it would put thee upon the use of all the means, that lead thee to such a bles∣sed end. Notwithstanding the sluggards desire to eat, yet his field was growne over with thorns and thistles, and so though thou desirest Heaven, yet thy life is the broad way to Hell.
A third sort of those who miscarry in this new Birth, are Abortives, such*who come not to their maturity. Now although it be true, That in the true life of Grace there cannot be properly any Abortive, and where the life of Grace hath once been, though in the least degree, that is an immortal and incorru∣ptible life, yet we may call them Abortives, because seemingly in their own judgement, and to all others they had the life of Grace, but yet it comes to no true ripenesse in them; Their Profession, their Duties; are wilde Grapes. These are denoted in the third kinde of hearers, in whom the seed came up, and there was Fruit, but saith the Text they did not 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, They did not bring that fruit to perfection, to ripenesse. Thus Christ tels the Church, He did not finde her works perfect, Revel. 2. There was much outward appear∣ing goodnesse, but they were not solid, perfect works. Thy Duties are ripe, when all that sour juyce and bitternesse is excocted, when they are not done out of Formality, Customarinesse, Hypocrisie, when they are done from right Principles, in an holy manner, and to holy ends. So that thy Profession, thy Family Duties, and all thy externall Demonstrations of Grace, do not prove any thing, unlesse they be ripe, and unlesse Grace be predominant in them, though they cannot be done without all drosse. But hath not God in his Providence shewed 〈◊〉 our Humiliations and Professions have been to him, in the very fruit of the Trees, and the Corne of the Ground, nothing kindely ripes, but waterish, and so not ma∣king wholesome or pleasant food for the sustenance of man. Truely even such hath our Righteousnesse, our Reformation been, and that under his Judge∣ments. Our Prayers, our Family Duties, our solemne Assemblies have been full of corrupt bitternesse within. As that Body cannot be sound, though it may appear never so well that hath inward vitall Diseases; so let thy outward Page 235 Conversation be never so unblameable and pious, yet if there be not a sound constitution within, it will not endure; Know then this consideration goeth deep∣er then the former, this happily may shake the foundation of all thy Hopes and Comforts thou hast had a long while.
The last way of Miscarriage in this new Birth, is, When it proves a Mon∣ster;* For so the Soul that sometimes hath been in great travail and trou∣ble, at last brings out a Monster in stead of a lovely Childe; and as S•ptalius the Physician on Aristotle observeth, That of all Creatures, Monsters in man-kinde are the most terrible and deformed, which he attributeth partly to Gods wrath and revenge upon men for their sinnes, or to presage some terrible Events in the world; so Monsters in Grace in this new Birth are the most terri∣ble of all.
Now as in Nature, so here in Grace, they come two wayes: *
First, Through Defect, when there is want of due matter; and thus in Grace men grow monstrous through defect,
First, When there is onely the outward Lineaments and Shape of Christiani∣ty,*but no inward supernatural life at all. When men have the outward Ex∣pression and Profession of Religion, but in their lives there is nothing but un∣godlinesse. Thus a man that prayeth, cometh to Church, takes upon him Christianity, and yet lives in prophane courses, this man is a spirituall Monster, and ought to breed horrour and terrour in all those that behold his wayes Or suppose his life be outwardly clean, and there be no inward change; this is a monster through defect, Thou hast a name that thou livest, but thou art dead, saith Christ to the Church, Revel. 3. 1. He is a Jew that is one inwardly, and circumcisi∣on is that of the Spirit.
Secondly, A Miscarriage through defect is, When there are some inward*Affections and Workings of God upon the heart, but they come to no Perfe∣ction. Such a monster was Agrippa, Thou hast almost perswaded me to be a Christian, Acts 26. 28. If therefore the Lord at any time cause trouble and fear to rise in thy soul about sinne, pray that thou maiest not miscarry: Oh Lord, say, I fear all this pain may give over again; we see nothing more ordinary then such miscarriages; What is become of those Troubles, Resolutions and strong Purposes that were once in thy heart? Are they not all vanished? But this was touched upon before.
Thirdly, A third Miscarriage is, Want of Perseverance, when men for a great while have gone on with much Fervency and Delight in Gods wayes; Who seemed more Zealous then they, more Religious then they? but afterwards prove wretched Apostates, and return to their old vomit again: Oh these are terrible and dreadfull monsters! The Apostle chargeth some, That began in the Spirit, but ended in the flesh. Is not this to make the Poets monster, Hu∣mano capiti, &c. To adde a Serpents body to a mans head, &c? A godly man •e groweth up further and further into a full stature. Paul thought himself not to have apprehended yet. As a man on the bottome of an high hill, thinks if he were on the top, he were then able to touch the Heavens, but when he comes up he seeth himself infinite short still. Thus it is in the way of Grace. A natural man thinketh, if he could doe thus and thus, he then should be compleat, but if once God change his heart, and he come to such a stature, he seeth so farre into the way of Grace, and so much more is still to be done, that he judgeth himself even at the highest, but to beginne to be a Chri∣stian.
Or secondly, A Monster may be by Excesse. Now although it be true, That a man cannot exceed in Godlinesse, and that of the Father be true, Mo∣dus diligendi Deum est sine modo, The measure of loving God is without mea∣sure; yet as we say, Superstition is an Excesse in Worship, because it run∣neth Page 236 out in the practice of many Externall things God never commanded. So it is here. Thus many have been troubled for sinne, found great burdens up∣on them, and what have they done? Betook themselves to some Monastery, afflicted themselves with many penitentiall Chastisements, lying on the Ground, feeding on Herbes, &c. This was to miscarry in the Excesse; God hath not required such things, and we are to manifest our Humiliation, our Re∣pentance only in such wayes, and after such a manner as God himself hath com∣manded.
Use. Of Exhortation unto all those who make any pretence to Religion, that*they would take heed of such Soul-Miscarriages. As they say of bodily Mis∣carriages, They may endanger ever having a perfect Childe afterwards: So the Soul that hath been often in pangs and trouble for sinne, yet hath come out again, without any Reformation, and this done severall times, it falleth out very rarely that ever such come to any maturity in Godlinesse; Consider whether thy Miscarriages are not in the Defect, for so the most are. Doth the Word, though it convince thy judgement, yet make thy Conversation holy? Thou hast the Name of a Christian, but the life of an Heathen, or a Pagan; What a monstrous Composition is this? If there should be a soul of a beast in the body of a man, to informe it, the outward linea∣ments of the body would not make him a man; for it's the soul that giveth the Specification, and Denomination. Thus it is here, Thou hast the body of a Christian, when thy outward life is conformable to his Law, but the soul as it were of a Beast, when thy heart is fastened to any sinne, and thy Affe∣ctions glewed to pleasures. Especially look to this, you who have at any time found great pangs and troubles of Conscience for sinne. Oh thy heart hath been in such fears, terrours, that thou needest Minister after Minister to pour Oyl in thy wounds! Oh where are all these? What is become of them? Why hast thou begunne in the Spirit, and ended in the flesh? As thou art a Monster indeed, so thou shouldst be in thy own apprehension, and to thy own self. O Lord, I am ashamed to look on my self, to think on my self, I am so mis-shapen, I am so foul a Beast!