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.

SERMON XLVII.

That God gives Graces to the most indisposed.


EPHES. 2. 10.
For we are his workmanship created, &c.

THe first Proposition in this Text, (viz. We are his workmanship) hath been al∣ready handled; I now proceed to the further illustration of it in this present Verse; and there is observable;

  • First, the manner of this workmanship; Created.
  • Secondly, the meritorious cause; Through Jesus Christ.
  • Thirdly, the finall cause; To goodworks.

My businesse at this time will be to describe the manner of this workmanship, Created; And here I shall not touch upon what hath already been observed about this action, but consider it in another distinct notion, which is this;

As God at the Creation made the earth which was without form and void, and so Page  290 wholly indisposed, to bring forth fruit, by that word of command and blessing upon it, when he said, Let the earth bring forth grasse and fruit. Even thus of disorderly, wicked and most indisposed men to any godly actions, he doth by his grace make us prepared and fitted to every good work. Now that it might wholly appear to be of Gods blessing and power meerly, that the earth did bring forth fruit and grasse, observe Gods Providence herein; For he gives this command to the earth, before he had made a Sun, and before there was any rain, so that all must acknowledge this fruitfull and germinative power in the earth to be meerly of God. There was no more at first in the earth to bear fruit, than in any stones or dry wood. Even such an admirable work of God is this spirituall change which he makes upon men. For those who formerly were enemies, and adversaries unto all godlinesse, they become lovers and delighters in it. Oh how necessary and comfortable is it to preach of this mighty work of God? for hereby we hope, that God may create some such auditors, and make to himself a holy and godly people out of those who before were prophane and ungodly.

Such is the great and mighty work of God, that he makes those, who where altoge∣ther*unfit and averse from what is godly and holy, to imbrace and delight in it. Thus God is said to be able to raise up Children to Abraham out of stones.

Every time thou seest an ignorant prophane man made a believer and holy, then is a very stone made Abrahams childe; every time you behold a wicked and wretched sinner, praying, humbling himselfe, and reforming his life, you may then wonder and say; Behold how God makes Grapes to grow of Thorns, and Figs on Thistles; when God makes Matthew a Publican to leave his gainfull sinnes, and to follow him; when he causeth Mary Magdalen to bewaile and forsake her former lusts, God doth as he did at first Creation, out of a confused and unformed heap, make a glorious world. Therefore the Apostle useth that expression, God who worketh light out of darknesse, 2 Cor. 4. 6. implying that God did not once only at the Creation, work light of darknesse, but still he doth it daily. Even as often as he makes the Word of God to enter into mens hearts. So that we may say even of the worst and prophanest of people, as the Prophet did to God, when God asked him, Can these dry bones live? Ezek. 37. 3. So, Can such a people, so stupid, so carelesse, so rebellious, be prepared to every good work? O Lord thou knowest! that is, O Lord, its in thy power, thou canst do whatsoever thou pleasest! A Camel with his big bunch on his back hath no di∣sposition or fitnesse to enter a needles eye, yet God can make it do so. Though we deny there is any transubstantiation, God cannot (and Potentissimè non potest) or rather one substance cannot be changed into another, and they retain their pro∣per dimensions and qualities; Yet in every conversion of a sinner, there is a soul∣transmutation in respect of the qualities thereof, darknesse is made light, gall is made honey. This glorious conquest over mens hearts is prophesied of as the great glory of Christs Kingdom, Isa. 11. 6. The Wolf and the Lamb shall lie down toge∣ther, &c. That cursed enmity shall be removed, when God shall take away the poisonous nature of evil men. Thus Isai. 29. 18. The deaf shall hear, and the blinds shall see, and vers. 24. They that erred in spirit and murmured shall learn Doctrine, who more unlikely to hear then refractory and rebellious men? yet these shall un∣derstand.

To explain this Doctrine, let us view the truth of it in particulars. As *

First, God in this spiritual change makes a people unfit, unpolished, and every wayes indisposed, sutable, and enclining to what is holy. Every man naturally lies like a rude stone in the quarry, it must be polished and come under much sawing and cutting ere it can be put into the building. Hence an upright heart sometimes is called by a word that signifieth a polished heart, the roughnesse and ruggednesse of it is taken away. Thus the work of renovation is expressed by taking away an heart of stone, and giving an heart of flesh. Take a stone and you can make no impression upon it, whereas flesh is pliable and tender. Now this ruggednesse Page  291 and unpreparednesse of people to become godly, how universal is it? Though many John Baptists, are A voice crying, Prepare a way for the Lord, yet the Mountains are not made low, or the valleys exalted to make an even and plain way, till God prepare all. That Orphaeus so much celebrated by the Heathens for his musical Harp, thereby taming the wilde and savage Creatures, as also making Trees and Bushes to runne after him as ravished with his Musick, is nothing but a wise Magistrate, by wholsome and good Laws making a barbarous people, ci∣vil and righteous. But how much rather may the Word of God be called that Harp which changeth Beasts into Angels, and makes rude and sottish people holy? And certainly all people generally are such a barren wildernesse, that if we do look to mans power meerly, we should despair of ever seeing them made pleasant Gardens. And as all new Plantations finding a people uncivilized, and the ground unhusbanded, need a world of pains and diligence to bring them into good order; so the several Dispensations of Gods Word, in divers places, which are like spiritual Plantations, need much labour, preaching, instruction and exhortations, ere they are fitted for heavenly operations. Let us therefore make you look up unto Heaven, imploring that omnipotent power of God; Oh say, Lord, bid these dry bones live! These crooked Trees to become straight: say, Lord, I have no fitnesse in me to pray, to hear, to do what is godly: O do thou prepare and sit the heart!

Secondly, Of a people wholly impotent and unable, God in this spiritual Renovatior, he makes able and strong in some measure to do things pleasing to him. That womb of * the soul which was so barren that no humane power could open it, God makes fruitful. Our impotency is supposed in that we are dead in sinne, and not able of our selves to think one good thought; What can be lesse then this, we are not able of our selves to entertain the least good thought how we may be sa∣ved, how we may leave and forsake our sins. Neither doth this discovery of our impotency excuse us, and make us the lesse sinful, or to be the lesse pitied; for it with us, as with a man, who had a great stock given him, and he hath prodi∣gally spent all. This voluntary inability of his doth not excuse him from paying his debts, but makes him more faulty, who might have done well and would not. Thus God gave us a rich and plentiful portion, and we quickly spent all; and now the Law of God cals upon us for good actions, as so many debts we owe, and we are not able to discharge any. But when this renewing grace of God is vouchsafed to us, then the lame can walk, the blinde can see, the dead Lazarus can come out of the grave, and have the grave cloaths untied, in which he was bound; So that we Ministers in preaching, and you people in hearing are to call upon God fervently and earnestly, that he would take away all our ina∣bility and insufficiency. Oh pray that he would give thee good thoughts, good affections, and so good operations! say, Oh that God who made so many Ro∣mans, Corinthians, Ephesians, of weeds to become flowers, that he would vouchsafe the like gracious power to us! say, Oh Lord, thy arm is not shorten∣ed, our hearts are no more too strong for thee, then theirs were.

Thirdly, In this spiritual change, God of a froward, contrary and irreconcilable*people, makes a loving and willing people to what is good. Take all men till fashion∣ed by grace, they are enemies to God and godlinesse. The wisdome of the flesh is not subject to God, neither can it be. As the Wolf cannot love the Lamb, nor the Hawk the Dove; so neither can wicked men love those things that are holy. What a wofull experience have all the wicked men in the world in their several ages, given of their cursed venom, and cankered malice against godlinesse, in all the oppositions they have raised against the faithful Messengers of God, reproving them for sinne, and informing them of duty! Oh but when God makes these waters to go back, when he toucheth these mountains and they melt like wax, then what imbracing and loving is there of that which once Page  292 they could not endure. Thus Psal. 110. Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power; Oh then that we could see God making such a wonderful change up∣on us. The time hath been, thou wast an enemy to all godly waies, a professed opposer and scorner of them. No Toad so odious in thy eyes as one who lived strictly and laboured to fear God in all his waies; but now God hath made such a change that they are only thy delight upon the earth. Thy righteous soul is now like Lots, grieved and tormented to see and hear the evil doings of wicked men: if thus, thou art then one created to good works.

Fourthly, Where this powerfull Renovation is, There God of a people that were*weary of his service, and repining at it, as a burden, do now delight and rejoyce in it, as the greatest happinesse they are capable of. Thus Isa. 4. The Nations shall flow to the mountains of the Lord. Though it be against their nature and custome, and former advantages of profit and pleasure, yet they overcome all these tem∣ptations, and account nothing so dear, as the opportunities of enjoying God in his Ordinances. See in what an heavenly manner Davids affections are en∣flamed, who could live alwayes in the Courts of the Lords house, and envied the very Sparrows that came so near the Altar. And certainly if the carnal and worldly heart can rejoice so much in those advantages, where their lusts are satisfied, how much rather must a spiritual heart in the midst of all these spiritual applica∣tions, because spiritual good things are unmixed, and have no gall in them at all, as the good things of the world have?

Fifthly, Of a people inconstant and unsetled in the wayes of God, by this new change*he makes fixed and rooted upon a sure Rock. Observe the people of Israel, they often cried unto the Lord in their extremities, but their hearts were not stedfast within them, and so they quickly revolted again, Psal. 18. 31. But the people of God are said to be like Mount Sion, that cannot be removed, Psal. 133. 3. The gates of hell cannot prevail against them. They are an house built upon a Rock, and so when the winds and tempests arise, they stand fast. As God is a God that changeth not, so they are holy, believing, and change not. Israels righteous∣nesse is like a morning Dew, Hos. 13. 2. it quickly drieth up, the Dew fals as Ari∣stotle observeth, when the Mornings are neither too hot or cold; Thus an heart that is lukewarm, and hath no real, inward efficacy of grace, sets upon Duties, but when the Sunne ariseth and scorcheth, presently the grasse withereth. Oh its a great Argument of this New Creation, to be stedfast and immovable in the work of the Lord. Not to change with the times and seasons; To be one while for the truths and waies of God, and another while to be against them. Those things that are from a principle of nature are constant, and alwaies alike, but those things which come about by accident, and as it happens; they are vari∣ous and incertain. See then thou art, as it is said of Christ, The same Yester∣day, and to day, and for ever. As great storms and tempests discover what root∣ing the Tree hath, so variety of conditions doth manifest what mettall we are made of. As therefore David praied, That God would alwaies keep up that willingnesse in the mens hearts, who then offered to God; so doe thou desire that God alwaies would keep thy soul in that tendernesse, love and strong affe∣ctions which sometimes are kindled in thee. Johns hearers did 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, for an hour, a short season 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, Rejoyce exceedingly, as in triumph, but when his Ministry began to touch them close for their particular sins, then they said, He had a Devil: Now certainly God is alwaies the same, that which is good is alwaies as lovely, that which is sinne is alwayes as abominable; Therefore thy affections should be alwayes in the same manner carri∣ed out towards them. I might in many other particulars shew you, how God doth create a people unto that which is good? The term from which, and the term to which, Happy are the people who finde such a change. What wondering was there when the Apostles were filled with the holy Ghost; so Page  293that they all spake with strange Tongues; No lesse is it here. Thy tongue prai∣sing of, and praying to God, speaks in a strange tongue to what it did once, when lying and cursing came as so many sparks of hell out of thy mouth. Oh when will God appear thus in his power, when will he bow the Heavens and come down?

Now the grounds why God takes such untoward and indisposed materi∣als * to any thing that is good, and makes them complying with, and imbracing of his holinesse, are

First, To shew forth the Glory of his Power and Grace. That which Paul speaks concerning himself, whom he makes a monster of men, and stileth him∣self, The chiefest of all sinners: Now (saith he) God converted him, that the exceeding riches of his grace might be made manifest to the ages to come. Gods Power and Goodnesse is wonderfully revealed in this: His Power that he can subdue the hearts of men so averse, and so oppositely bent: And his goodnesse, that he will do it to such enemies to him. That he should surprize Paul in his journey to persecute the people of God, with so much melting Grace, when he might have struck him into Hell with the Thunder-bolt of his anger, This was unspeakable Goodnesse; so that upon this ground, the Ministers of God may earnestly importune God that he would turn their people from darknesse to light, O Lord, thou dost all things for thy Glory! Now the more unwil∣ling, unable and opposite men are to their own Salvation, the greater will thy glory be in helping of them; As David useth this as an Argument, that God would have mercy on him for his sins are very great. Some indeed translate it (Although) Thus we may urge, O Lord, Pity them and shew compassion to them, for they are a people cruel to their own souls; and therefore God hath many times chosen the worst of men, that so his Goodnesse may be the more remarkable. Thus (some say) the Jewes were the most brutish and blockish people in the world, yet God chose them rather then any other to be his people. So the Corinthians, they were noted to a Proverb for wickednesse and uncleannesse: They had a Temple dedicated to Venus, and many Virgins were dedicated to her yearly to make Whores; And Coty's the Heathen god for uncleannesse, was there worshipped, yet God turneth these Beasts into Saints, and sweet Herbs come up where Brambles and Thorns did grow.

Secondly, God hath this end in this spiritual Creation, to shew his absolute Do∣minion,*and free Liberty in exercising his gracious Power upon what Subjects he pleaseth. He doth not many times vouchsafe his Grace to those that are civil and of a lovely conversation, nor to men alwaies of wisdom and parts, as our Saviour acknowledgeth with the admiration of Gods wisdome herein; Thou hast hid those things from the wise, and revealed them to Babes. The Apostle Paul, Rom. 11. doth professedly dispute Gods Dominion herein, Whom he will he chooseth, and whom he will he hardeneth: And who are thou, O man, that disputest with God? Gods Dispensation herein is wholly Arbitrary, and none may say unto God, Why doest thou so? Thus while the Apostles were preaching, it is said, As many as were ordained to eternal life, believed, Act. 1. 48. And the Electi∣on hath obtained, Rom. 11. Hereupon it is that the Apostle doth so often put the godly in minde of their election, that hereby their hearts might be stirred up to all Thankfulnesse; for what an overwhelming consideration would this be to the gracious heart, to consider of those many thousands lying in a lump of sin, God should choose thee among others, and leave the rest in a perishing con∣dition!

A third end, Hereby God will for ever keep his New Creatures in Humility and*self-emptinesse. For when we know, that Justification and Regeneration are Priviledges vouchsafed unto us, not for any Works we have done, for we were enemies to God; This keeps us in daily humble and low thoughts about our Page  294 selves: God hath ordained that way to Heaven, wherein he shall have all the Glory, and man take only shame and confusion to himself. How can Pride and Vain-glory ever lodge in our hearts, when God onely makes us to differ from others, and we have nothing but what we have received? Hence the Apostle doth so often put the converted Saints in minde, what they were once, how they walked in all their grosse waies of sins and hainous crimes, as others did, till God had mercy on them, and this he doth to return all into grace. The remembrance of what thou wert once, how full of sin, what an enemy to that which is good, may make thee cry out, Not unto us Lord, not unto us, but unto thy Name belongs all glory.

The fourth end, Why God makes such a glorious change upon his people, is to ingage them to more Service and Obedience. That as they have yeelded themselves * servants to sinne, now servants to Righteousnesse: Men of great sins, when converted, become men of great services. Thus David, who sinned above others, how active is he for Gods glory above others? Paul who persecuted the Church more then all, when converted labours more then they all. This is a sharp good to be more then an ordinary Saint, when a man hath been more then an ordinary sinner. Peter that three times denied Christ, is three times called upon to feed Christs sheep. The ground that was fruitful of weeds, when well ordered, becomes excellent for corn.

A fifth end is, Hereby God would provoke others to godlinesse; For when we see that by Gods grace men of desperate lives, and hopelesse conversations, are be∣come * lovers of God and Godlinesse, then what a shame will this be to others, who did not seem farre from the Kingdome of Heaven! Thus God is said to provoke the people of Israel to jealousie, for when they saw the Gentiles, who knew not God, and lived in all darknesse and wickednesse, to become imbracers of Gods Worship; This was enough to stirre up Jealousie in them. Thus also the Pharisees might have blushed to see the Publicans and Harlots entring the Kingdom of Heaven before them. Oh what a provocation should this be to men, when they see men who were formerly averse and contrary to what is good, now to rejoyce in it! When a Mary Magdalen forsaketh her lusts, and cleaveth to Christ, what Harlots then will any longer stand out? When Paul an enemy makes much of that way he so hated once, How might this turn all the Pharisees? When therefore you see God working such great things upon any man, say, The Lord doth this to provoke me, Shall such repent and not I? Shall such amend their waies, and I stand out still?

Having thus explained the Doctrine, let us consider what use may be made of this,

And first, Is it thus usual with God, To raise stones to be children to Abraham,*to make a barren wildernesse a pleasant garden? then what Encouragement may the Ministers of God have, where they see the greatest opposition and averse∣nesse? Alas God doth not finde men with a natural propensity to good things, but he creates them. God doth not find men Lambs, but he makes Wolves Lambs; sometimes where Paul had a minde to goe, hoping to doe good, the Spirit of God did prohibit him to goe, and at other times he is sent to a people, that was not likely. This made the Prophet say, He was found of those that sought him not. We are with Abraham not to look to the dead womb of the Creatures, but to the mighty Power of God, who calleth things that are not, as if they were. It was Moses his sinne of unbelief, and for which only he was hindered from entring in Canaan, that when God bad him strike the Rock, to have wa∣ter gush out, he was unwilling, and doubted whether God could doe it or no. Let not the Ministers of God sinne through unbelief, as if to God, the conver∣sion of men were not possible, because its impossible to men. When the Dis∣ciples had been sishing all night, and catched nothing, Christ afterwards bids Page  295 them throw in their nets, and it was so full of fish that the net was in danger of breaking. So then let us be encouraged in our work, for all those who are or∣dained to life in a Parish, they will believe, they will be converted at one time or other. And because the Ministers of God know not the secret counsels of God, therefore are we to preach to all, to wait patiently upon all, as if every one were to be saved. Therefore the Apostle exhorts us to instruct in patience and meekness, even those that gainsay, if peradventure God may give them repentance, 2 Tim. 2. 25. Though they are not sure their instruction will do any good, there be a difficulty in it, yet they must not give over.

Use 2. To humble us under all the works of grace God vouchsafeth to us, * for we made not our selves New Creatures: Oh take heed of all those proud Doctrines that debase Grace, and set up mans Will, as also of all inward pride of Heart, glorying in any thing thou hast. Did God revenge himself so up∣on Belshazzar, because in the pride of his heart, he boasted, That that was great Babel which he had built; How much rather, if a man should say, This is the Heaven I have merited, This is the eternal Glory I have purchased: A∣las look into thy by-past life, and what was there to move God to shew mercy unto thee? In stead of having God call thee so graciously to him, he might have pronounced that curse, To depart into everlasting fire. Pauls for∣mer wickednesse made him for ever humble and ashamed in himself. And this is the main reason, why the good Works the godly do cannot justifie them, because though they were for the present perfect, yet they could never absolve from the guilt of our former sinnes, we committed in ignorance of God.

Use 3. What cause a people loaden with grievous sins, and rooted in them, * have to cry mightily unto God, for his omnipotent power, for nothing can se∣parate thee and thy lusts, but that strong arm of God which made Heaven and Earth, and raised Christ from the dead. In natural necessities there they apply themselves to God, thinking nothing but his power can give rain, can stay the pestilence, can sheathe the sword; and why then do you not also say, Oh its God only that can soften this heart of mine! that can humble this proud sto∣mack of mine! Oh therefore pray unto God! saying, O Lord, Thy arm is not shortned! Art not thou he, who didst turn Manasses his heart? Art not thou he who didst convert so many thousands at one Sermon? Oh put forth the same power, Draw us and we will run after thee, roll this stone away, and we shall praise thee!