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  352

SERMON LVII.

Demonstratingthat Naturall Piety, Honesty and Sobriety, which is in Heathens or any others, is not Grace.


ROM. 2. 15.
Which declare the Law of God written in their hearts, &c.

THis Text (as you heard) was fruitfull in bringing forth twins, two pra∣cticall observations. The first, That God hath implanted in mens hearts na∣turally some principles about a God, and the approbation of what is good, and also the rejection of what is evil., hath at large been handled. We come to the second, which is, That all the worth and excellency which men by these naturall prin∣ciples, though improved to the utmost, can attain unto, is not grace. The Scripture re∣quiring Regeneration, and a new Creation, doth still intend a further, excellency than naturall honesty, or naturall devotion can carry us unto; for as we told you, though men are here said by nature to have Gods Law written in their hearts; yet that is far different from that gracious promise in Jeremiah, where God is said to write his Law, and put his fear into their hearts, Jer. 31. For that is a writing of the Law, after the naturall stoninesse is taken away, and a tender fleshly plyable heart given unto them; so that should God write no more graciously in us, than what is at first naturally ingraven in us, it would argue no more that we had grace, than that the Devils and damned in hell have grace; for you must know these Dictates about God, and a Conscience about evill, is so inseparably ingraven in our hearts, that it is not taken out, no not from the damned in hell; but the great cause of all their torment and misery is, because that work of conscience is so quick and sensible in them, that being the gnawing worm which never dyeth: so then how∣soever the last day, you heard the Heathens described in their glory, and many ad∣mirable things done by them; yet now you shall hear their glory stained, their Sun in an Eclipse, many dead flies that doe wholly marre their Box of oyntments. In∣deed as Austin observeth, A man that reads what excellent things they have done, cannot but have a kind of pity of them, and a secret desire that they might be sa∣ved, which (no question) were the grounds that made some positively assert their salvation; but in matters of Religion, not humane pity or affections, but divine Authority must be the star to guide us, and where we are unable to find out the justice, or mercy of God, there yet to adore them, it being as impossible for us to comprehend the wise and deep things of God, as a worm to understand the councells, and wise purposes of men: Come we therefore to prove and illustrate our Doctrine, viz.

That whatsoever goodnesse, devotion or honesty, a man by naturall principles obtai∣neth, it is not Grace.*

Page  353 The work of godlinesse in a man, is of an higher sphere, and there is as great a difference between them, as between true Pearls and counterfeit. Onely I must re∣move one Objection, before I proceed to the point: for you may readily demand, *What is all this Doctrine to us? What doth it concern us, to hear that Heathens may, or have done such righteous things? Are we Pagans, and Gentiles? We are Baptized, and have given up our names to Christ, and therefore doubt not, but that our condition is far better than theirs: we believe in Christ, we est on him for salvation, we receive the Sacraments. Therefore this discourse about naturall light, and naturall power, seemeth altogether impertinent to us; the least dwarf in Christianity being higher than the tallest Giant in Heathenism: What do you tell us of nature, who live under grace?

To answer this, First, it may be charitably and justly asserted, that there are many*who have the titles of Christians, that yet in knowledge and lives differ nothing at all from Heathens. They know no more than a very Pagan doth, and their lives are far worse than many Gentiles. There are men among us that seldome or never fre∣quent Church-Assemblies, that if they be questioned about God, or Christ, or the Holy Ghost, can give no better account, than if they had lived among the Indians, onely they have heard of a Christ; but what he is, and to what purpose appointed by God, they know not the least iota or tittle of it: Its not any knowledge or faith they have about the Christian Religion, rather than any other in the World, but onely the Kingdome wherein they live, and the Authority under which they are, enjoyneth such things to be received, with the example of other their neighbours, especially the imitation of their parents, and this is all that moveth them to the owning of Christ. Certainly, the faithfull Ministers of God, may, or ought to say, Rivers of water runne down our eyes, because many understand not the very foun∣dation and first principles of Religion. They are but mock-Christians, they have a name and a badge of Christianity upon them, but their ignorance and sottishnesse is so great, that it would make a man to be amazed at it. Do not therefore say, What is this to us? Oh it is too much to too many, who have scarce learned, whe∣ther there be a Christ, or an holy Ghost, or no.

Secondly, This Discourse is pertinent, because though there may be many amongst us, who have the knowledge of Christ, and understand the true Religion; yet they have not powerfull efficacy, or operation upon their hearts or lives. The Word of God doth not direct, correct, or mold their lives, they attend not to that, but what good they doe, or evill they avoid, is wholly from those Reliques and remnants which God hath left in them. This is a chief point in Christianity, to consider, whether it be a naturall principle onely that carryeth thee to what is good, or a supernaturall; whether it be the Law written in us by God the Author of nature, or the Law written in us by God the Author of grace. The Apostle speaketh of the acknowledgement of the truth after Godlinesse, Titus 1. 1. the know∣ing of truths as they are in Christ Jesus, Ephesians 4 and Colossians 1. 6. The knowing of the grace of God in truth. All which is, when men living under the Gospel, are by the power of it so changed and altered, that whatever good they doe, or evill they avoid, they are in all inabled by a supernatural strength vouchsafed unto them. Now it's too apparent, that most mens Religion, Affecti∣ons, Conversations, are wholly built upon a naturall Devotion, and a naturall righteousnesse: they would have been such devout men and so just men, if they had never heard of Christ; if they lived among the Heathens they would have been no better or worse. I entreat you therefore to consider what divine impres∣sions the Christian Religion hath made upon you. Art thou any more in all the du∣ties thou dost, than what thy mother-Piety, (as we say mother-wit) or thy mother-Righteousnesse inableth thee to. Thou worshippest God and Christ with the same humane affections and devotions as the Romans their Jupiter, or the Ephe∣sians their Diana, onely thou hast the true object of worship, and they have not. When our Savior preached, that he was the true bread which came down from hea∣ven, Page  354 presently some hearers cryed out, Lord give us evermore of this bread, John 6. 34. Here were humane affections, and a naturall devotion; they did not under∣stand, or graciously discern, what this bread of life was. It may be justly feared, that the Gospel or Word of God hath little power over mens lives, onely an hu∣mane, or naturall piety leads on men to doe what they doe; For if they were san∣ctified and moulded by the word, then that would carry them to all Gods com∣mandements, they would have a respect to every duty; besides they would in a spi∣rituall and heavenly manner be affected, and in a constant persevering manner: Whereas naturall Piety is seen only in some straits and extraordinary difficulties; as the Heathens, who carried Jonas in their Ship, sought all to their gods, when they were in extream danger by a violent tempest. Therefore neither Sun or Water is so necessary (as they say) as this truth is; for this will only teach thee the true Cha∣racteristical difference between that which is humane and divine in thee. This will discover Sibboleth or Shibboleth.

Thirdly, We have just cause to preach of this even to Christians, because they are out-stripped in many things by the heathens. They observed their Idols and false Gods with more fear and care, than thou dost the true. What a wonderfull speech was that of Antoninus Pius, and Eugenius, who being very clement, and excessive in forgiving those enemies that made warre against him, and being admonished that this clemency of his would undoe him, and imbolden adversaries the more a∣gainst him, we read this Answer, Nos non sic colimus Deos, &c. We doe not so serve or worship the gods, that our enemies should overcome us. Alas, what Christians may truely say so? How many times have the Barbarians, the savage and fierce na∣tions of the world overcome the Church, and destroyed Christians, because they have served God loosly and negligently, Vitis nostris barbari fiunt fortes: Our wickednesse and sinnes made the adversaries strong; so that here is great cause to hear these things with attention, knowing we have too much Heathenism in us, we have little of the Gospel mould in us.

These things laid down, we come to demonstate that no naturall excellency de∣serves to be called grace; and for the more orderly proceeding; as the Apostle di∣videth * the whole work of a man in reference to salvation, into these three parts, Tit. 2. To live righteously, in respect of others; soberly. in regard of our selves; and Godly, in respect of God, I shall first detect the insufficiency of Naturall piety, then Naturall Honesty, and lastly, Naturall Sobriety and temperance: wherein we shall wholly reject that position of some, making a three-fold Piety, Judaica, of the Jewes, Ethnica, of the Heathens, and Christiana, of the Christians; for as Extra Ecclesiam non est salus; so it must needs follow, non est Pietas, without faith, it being impossible to please God, Hebr. 11. For their Piety and Devotion to God.

First, How farre soever it may carry a man, yet it is accompanied with great blindnesse, ignorance, and confusion of mind; that whatsoever reverence, or affections*they have towards God, yet such a darknesse is upon a man, that he can doe nothing ac∣ceptably. The Apostle Paul doth notably confirm this, by that Discourse he had, when at Athens, Acts 17. 22. &c. I found an Altar with this Inscription, To the un∣known God: whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him I declare unto you. They did ignorantly worship God, even those Athenians, that were renowned for learning, and intellectuall abilities; and verse 27. That they should seek after the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him. Its a full expression, to shew that all men naturally are like the Egyptians in a thick darknesse, that are forced to grope and feel with their hands, not knowing what to doe: and thus it is with every man, though a Christian, if he order not his steps according to the supernaturall light of the Word; he doth but grope, and is in great confusion about God, and Christ; not onely upon the Heathens Altars, but upon some Christians solemn worship may be this Inscription, To the unknown God. Thou prayest to an unknown Christ; it is an unknown Holy Ghost unto thee: Regeneration is an unknown pri∣viledge; Page  355 faith is an unknown Grace; so that this naturall light about a God, is so confused, so darkned, that thereby he cannot any wayes expedite himself, or direct his wayes to please God.

Secondly, This naturall piety and devotion, is exceedingly stained and beblurred by carnall and vain imaginations, whereby they have been guilty of horrible and gross * Idolatry; so that their Piety hath been the greatest abomination, and that com∣monly wherein men naturally judge themselves most holy and religious in serving of God, there they have most dishonoured him. Thus the Apostle, Rom. 1. sheweth of the wise Grecians, that they became vain in their imaginations turning the glory of the incorruptible and immortall God into an image of an Ox that eateth hay. The Egyptians, that were most famous for knowledge and learning, were the most abo∣minable in their religious worships; so that all the Idol worship in the world came from that confused darknesse in mens thoughts about a God. And the same corrup∣ted principle in Popery, yea, and in common Christians, is still most vigorous to have images and some corporall resemblances of him we do worship. Thus we judge of God like a man, like our selves, and therefore attribute that to him, which we see is pleasing to our fancies. Therefore know thou, that all that desire which is in thee after a carnall and sensible worship of God by images and such repre∣sentations, is but Heathenism in thee: Such kind of worship was brought in at first from the custome of the Heathens; and the best pretence the introducers had for it, was, that thereby they might win the Gentiles the more easily to them. Oh then think not, this Sermon belongs to those who live in the remote places of the world, who worship the Sunne and Moon and Stars. No, it is very proper for many a∣mong us still, who delight in, and love all outward pompous and sensible Ceremo∣nies, whereby the Heathens were wont to worship their gods.

Thirdly, This light and devotion men had in them by nature, was so farre from be∣ing*gracious, that none were so bitter and malicious against the pure and spirituall Worshippers of God and Christ, as they were. Thus there are certain devout Jews, so called, yet they stirred up persecution against Paul, Acts 13. 50. 17. 17. They were exceedingly affectionate and devout in their traditionall worship they had of God; and so none greater enemies to spirituall worship than they: So true is that of the Apostle; The wisdome of the flesh is enmity to God; and it is not, nor can be subject to him, Rom. 8. 7. No greater adversary in the world to the pure worship of God, than a mans natural reason, and carnal apprehensions, destitute of Scripture-directi∣ons; all the false & superstitious worship which ever came into the Church (and she was scarce ever free) did flow from this Fountain, a carnal and humane judgment, what was fit and orderly, what was pleasing to God, and what was displeasing. Austin observed this long agoe; and certainly, the simplicity, and pure spirituall worship of God is very offensive and troublesome to carnal apprehensions. When therefore thou art to judge, what is the best worship pleasing to God, and wherein he doth most delight, doe not consult with thy own Methinks, or what Custome and Education hath ingaged thee too, but to what the Scripture informs therein. The manner of Gods worship in publick we see, hath become the matter of sad contentions for a long while. The Protestants calling that Reformation which the Papists abhorred, as deformation. Now certainly, if men would, as Constantine did in the Councell of Nice, cause the Bible to be the judge of the Controversies, and not to goe beyond, or on this side that direction, laying aside all carnall pre∣judices and suggestions, &c. the spirituall worship of God would be readily imbra∣ced. Austin admired Socrates his Speech, that God must be worshipped onely that way, which he hath appointed. Oh therefore labour to subdue that remnant of Heathenism in thee, which is to adore God and worship him by carnal imagina∣tions, light of reason, and not supernatural Revelation of Gods will: for still we see how bitter naturall devotion is to true piety: none so cruel and bloudy as they who are carryed out against the true worshippers of God: witnesse the Antichristi∣an party, who like Wolves have accounted the Sheeps bloud sweetest.

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Page  356 Fourthly, Although naturall light hath attributed unto God, a Government in this world, punishing the wicked, and absolving the righteous, yet they have done this*with many doubtings, and much weaknesse, often speaking of Fortune and Chance, which they thought moderated every thing in the world. That God hath a revenge∣full eye upon sinners, see how the Barbarians did acknowledge, Acts 28. For when Paul had a Viper fastned on his hand, they concluded after this manner, No doubt this man is a murderer, whom though he hath escaped the Sea, yet vengeance suffers not to live. And so Jonas Mariners, when they were in extream danger of Shipwrack, they thought it was, because some hainous Offender was among them, with whom God was angry. Thus it was implanted in them, that there was a God who did behold and take notice of wicked men, and would accordingly bring them to judg∣ment. Though they were thus at sometimes, yet at other times they spake much of a goddesse Fortune, to whom they gave the reins of the government of the World; and therefore the Emperors had a golden Ball, which was Fortune, that was kept successively, as if the keeping of that would preserve their Empire: and they sacrificed to Fortunae Viscosae, Fortune Bird-limed, that she might not leave them, but make them always prosperous. Now this corrupt opinion, that Chance ordered all things, could not but strike out all true fear of God, and obedience to him.

Lastly, Their Religion was nothing but Superstition, their 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 was 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, a sinfull and wicked fear, after a slavish manner about God. God would be wor∣shipped * as a Father, in a Filiall fear, John 4. not like a Tyrant, after a slavish man∣ner: As some Heathens sacrificed to the Devils, Ut ne noceant, That they should not hurt them. The Prophet Jeremiah, Chap. 10. excellently describeth this su∣perstition, Learn not the way of the Heathen, nor be dismayed at the Signs of Hea∣ven, for the customes of the people are vain. We have many Heathenish fears still among us, as the meeting of an Hare, the falling of Salt, &c. all which were cu∣stomes among Pagans, yet among ignorant people retained with a superstitious fear.

The second thing is their naturall honesty and righteousnesse, which was indeed the chiefest flower in their Garden, wherein they seemed in their greatest glory. Si∣verus* the Emperor did most admire that rule, which he said he learned from Chri∣stians, That which thou wouldest not have done to thy self, doe not to another. An excellent particular rule in all commerce between man and man: And although many of them did walk up to this rule, yet this natural righteousness was not grace, because the end of all their actions was not the glory of God, and the salvation of their souls, but either vain-glory, or at best onely the publick good, or comfort and ease in their Consciences, which unjust acts would disquiet: and therefore as the light of the Moon and the Stars is not able to dispell the night, but the light of the Sun onely; so neither is the power of nature able to rectifie that crookednesse and perversenesse which is in all our wayes; its the proper work of Grace onely to doe that: And the like we may say of all their actions of frugality, temperance, and sobriety; these all, like their acts of righteousnesse, had but humane ends, the aim they shot at, was far lower than heaven; and therefore were not grace, because that doth lift us up to God, aiming at, and beholding his Glory in all that we doe. But because the next thing I shall speak of, is, their morall vertues, a step higher than those naturall Dictates remaining in us, and am there to shew their insufficiency, I shall desist, and come to the Use, which is of Exami∣nation.

Is it so, that Heathens have done thus gloriously, though their glory be much stay∣ned? * then try, whether we be not out-stripped by them, or no: Doe not they serve their false gods more than we the true? Because we are Christians, is there∣fore all Paganism banished from us? No, for there are these Heathenish things among us; First, prophane and stupid ignorance: How many people worship they know not what, believe they know not what? having minds as blind Page  357 about any Religious things, as Bats and Owls: Who can bewail this darkness enough.

Secondly, If thou livest in prophaneness, in unjust and unrighteous ways, here thou art worse then an Heathen, they will rise up and condemn thee; neither will the priviledge of Baptism or the title of Christianity be a protection to thee, from that wrath which is due to thy enormous ways.

Thirdly, Our Savior speaks of some Heathens, that if the Gospel were preach∣ed to them, they would be more affected, and testifie better signs of their love of it, and reverence to it, then those who enjoy the means of Grace: If the things had been done in Tyre and Sidon, saith our Savior, which were Heathenish places, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes, Mat. 11. 10. O it is a dreadful and terrible thing to consider, that even Pagans and Gentiles would manifest better affections, and more real respects to the word preached, then many of those do, who yet have the clear day of the Gospel! O that God should deny it to them, and vouchsafe it to thee, who makest no better use of it.