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  409

SERMON LXVII.

Divers Propositions or Considerations introductory to the Doctrine of Conversion.


EZEK. 33. 11.
Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that he turn from his way: Turn ye, turn ye from your evill wayes.

THis Text hath informed us how unpleasing the death of a wicked man is to God. We now proceed to the inference made from that proposition, There∣fore the wicked should turn from his evill wayes. Turn ye, turn ye. The inge∣mination denoteth the vehement affection and desire of God, as also our stupidity and love to our sins, when once calling will we not awaken, but we must over and over again be called upon. I am therefore now to treat on that famous and neces∣sary work, conversion or turning from sinne. As Satan and the Angel did once strive about Moses his body, So now the great controversie between God and his Angels, and the Devil and his instruments, is about a wicked man, whether he shall still be kept in the bonds or chains of sinne, or whether he shall be loosened from them, and set free to walk in Gods Commandements. I shall, because of the usefulnesse of this point, handle it doctrinally, and practically. And the foundation upon which we will build our discourse shall be this Doctrine, viz.

That conversion or turning, from our evill wayes, is necessarily required*to an happy and eternall life. The Text hath this in the affirmative and the contrary, Let the wicked man turn, that he may live. Turn ye, Why will ye dye? See how life is the necessary consequent of Conversion, and death the fruit of neglecting it. Life and death are the great Arguments in the world. What will not a man give for life? and death is the King of terrors. We use to say, such a man is so ear∣nest and busie in that matter, as if life and death depended on it. To be sure, such ought your cares, prayers, and endeavors to be about the avoiding of sin, and cleaving to that which is good; for life and death are in these things. Oh that men by faith and an effectual Meditation would apply these things more.

For Introduction into this matter, consider some particulars.

First, That the phrase in the Text, To be converted, or turn our selves, is a meta∣phor*taken from the outward situation or position of bodies, and is applyed sometimes to things, sometimes to persons. To hings; so God is said to turn joy into laugh∣ter, and to turn the captivity of Sion: unto Persons, and sometimes it is applyed to God, when of angry he becomes loving and propitious unto men, when they leave their lusts, and turn to him, both are comprized in this Text: Turn unto me, and I will turn unto you. Turn unto me by an holy change, and I will turn to you by a gracious change, though all the change be in man, not God. The Texts of Scripture which command and commend this conversion are so many, that it is end∣lesse Page  410 to name them; so then as bodies, are said to have such a locall posture, (as for example) a man may stand with this posture, as to have his back upon the Sun, and his face clean contrary to it; Thus it is with the soul, the affections of the soul are its feet, and when it turneth from God, the back is turned upon the Sun; and in that posture he continueth, till by faith and repentance he be turned again. Consi∣der therefore in what posture thy soul is, whether thou art not clean opposite to God and his way. As naturally we came into the world, with our faces towards hell, and our backs upon God; so it is with our souls.

Secondly, As by sinne we are thus turned from God, which is terminus a quo, so the Creature, and the lusts of sin are the terminus ad quem, to which they turn. Con∣version * is a motion; Now in all motions, there is the term from which, and the terme to which. Thus in the motion of the soul to sin: The term from which, is God; the term to which, is sin: and the contrary is, when we turn to God; so that if there were no other arguments, this might easily perswade us to come out of that custome and delight in sin, which we have been used unto; for how reasonable and happy is the change, to leave sinne, that hath guilt, torment, condemnation, and all curses in it, and to turn to God, the fountain of all happinesse and joy! Oh, we might think, that all the violent temptations of sinne, should never be able to hold us, but that we would quickly break all those bonds, and run to God.

Thirdly, This phrase of turning to God, and from sin, implyeth thus much, That while we live in sinne, we make sinne our Lord and Master; and therefore follow * that, turn up and down after that, as the Servant after his Master: but when we cast off these transgressions, then we follow the Lord our Master, and go after him; so that all men in the world are divided into those two ranks, either they are such as goe after their lusts, turn after them, as the shadow after the body, or else such as cleave unto the Lord, and as the herb Heliotropium, turneth up and down after the Motion of the Sun, so doe they in obedience and affections after the com∣mandments of God. Now this service and obedience to the lusts of the flesh, is a tedious and toilsome life indeed, though to the corrupt heart it may seem other∣wise: Come unto me all ye that labour, and are heavy laden, Matth. 11. 22. A man that turneth into the way of sin, is like a traveller that should turn into a way full of Quick-sands and Bogs, and dangerous Precipices, having also a sore and in∣tollerable burden on his back, pressing him down with exquisite pain.

Therefore, if you ask, How can wicked men be thus merry, jocund, secure and presumpucus, when they are in such a dangerous estate? The Answer is easie. *

First, They are ignorant and foolish; their eyes are put out; and mad men can∣not apprehend the danger they are in.

Secondly, sin is a connatural and sutable object to their depraved affections; and so they swallow down sin, which is like honey in the mouth, though it prove Gravel in the belly. Oh then that all wicked men would have those repenting re∣solutions, as the Prodigal, I will leave my Husks and Swine, and rise, and return to my fathers house. I will leave these new lovers, and new Husbands, and go to my old, as the Church purposed, Hos. 2. 7.

Fourthly, This Conversion unto God, as it implyeth sin putting us into an aversion from him; so also it supposeth slight and contempt, which every wicked man puts upon God. For to turn the back on a man is an action of scorn, and disdain. Thus God complaineth, They turned the back upon him, and not the face, Jer. 32. 33. All sin hath in it a contempt of God; for it is the turning the back on God. And al∣though every sin doth not formally, and expressely intend such a disdain and con∣tempt of God; yet interpretatively, and in truth it doth so. Aristotle saith, that contempt and contumely doe more provoke an ingenuous man than reall oppositi∣ons. When God would aggravate Davids sin, he calleth it, A Despising of him. Oh then that wicked men would lay this more to heart! Thy ungodlinesse and wickednesse thou livest in is so much scorn and contempt offered unto God, its tur∣ning the back on him. Now for thee a poor sinful Creature, who hast all thy mer∣cies Page  411 from God to put contempt on him, how unsufferable is it? and the greater the contempt is, by how much base and more ignoble thy lusts, are to which thou turnest. To prefer the Devill before God, to regard his temptations more than Gods Promises; What arrogancy, and impudency is this? Did the Devill creat, thee, doth he preserve thee, did he dye, or was crucified for thee? Then if thou art so many wayes obliged, and ingaged unto God; yet for thee to prefer the Creature, yea the Devill before God; how unjustifiable is it?

Fifthly, Because by sinne we are thus averse from God. The further we go on in sinne, and the more progresse we make in those wayes, the farther off still we are from*God, and our turning back to him will be a more difficult thing. The Prodigal went into a far Countrey, spiritually as well as corporally: He went far from God, and therefore his return would cost him dearer: so that this should make every man stop betimes in the way of his sinning; this should make him without any delay return to God: for every day thou goest farther, and still farther from him; when∣ever thou shalt return to him, thy task will be the harder. Oh it is seldome seen, that a man who hath all his life time been in motion and travell from God, should at last bethink himself, and resolve to go back to God, from whence he fell. As Austin said of the Heathens noble and admirable actions of morality, which he called glittering sins, That the faster they learn, the more they were out of the way; This is true of all wicked men, the greater haste they make in this world, and the more dayes they live, the farther off are they from God: thou art farther off from salvation, than thou wast many years agoe. A sad thing it is to consider, that the longer thou livest, the lesse hope of thy Conversion; the more time thou hast spent in this world, the further off from happinesse. Be not then worse than the Horse, or the Mule, for a Bridle in their mouth will stop them, and turn them out of the way: But though the Scripture put many Bridles in thy mouth, give thee many curbs to keep thee from sin, yet thou wilt violently rush on. The A∣postle could say of some, Their salvation was nearer than at first, Rom. 18. but we may of many, Their damnation is nearer.

Sixtly, This Conversion, and turning unto God, is in Scripture spoken sometimes as*our work, and sometimes as Gods work. Thus in the Text, Turn ye, turn ye. And again, Make ye a new heart, and a new spirit: But in other places, its made the peculiar gift of God alone. Thus God saith, He will take away the heart of stone, and give an heart of flesh, Jer. 31. Ezek. 32. So, He will circumcise their hearts, He will give them a new heart, &c. Now how can these be reconciled? If God doe it, how can man? If man, how can God? Can it be Gods gift and our work too? Now there is returned this answer by erroneous Teachers, that (say they) from those pla∣ces its plain, our Conversion is partly from Free-will, and partly from Free grace, though Gods grace be acknowledged to be the principall: The one teacheth Gods operation, the other our co-operation. Thus they do not exclude God totally, yet they make him onely a co-partner with us in this work of conversion: But this is quickly dispelled, by those places that describe man dead in sinne; and so can be no synergist with God: as also by those Texts which give the praise and glory of Con∣version totally and solely to God, not dividing this glory between him and the Creature, no more than divine worship, of which God is so jealous, that he will have it alone.

The true Answer therefore lyeth in this; That the former kind of places of our duty and obligation, what we ought to doe; They are not a measure of our pow∣er what we can do. When the Prophet saith, Turn ye, turn ye; He doth not here declare what we are able to do, but what we ought to do; and yet this is not in vain, because by this we are convinced of our impotency, and are humbled under our in∣firmity; and withall God makes this a practical command to turn us: Even as that word at first, Let there be light; or that of Christ to Luzarus, Lazarus come forth; and the latter kind of places they argue the work of Conversion to be wholly of God, in which we are subjects receiving; not agents co-working. This is to be Page  412 understood in respect of the initiall working of Grace; for this phrase, Turn ye, doth also imply that we act and work; being first acted and wrought upon by God; Actiagmus, & hoc bene agimus, quod a bono agamur. So that to speak properly, turning to God, or conversion, is not so much that work of grace infused in us, which we receive, as Adam had the breath of life breathed into him; but its the actual motion and turning of the soul, which floweth from the fom••: So that this is rectus secundus, the other is actus primus, as they say. Hence a man is not said to turn to God, because he hath the habits and principles of grace, but because they are actuated, and by them the soul doth move to God, as is more largely to be shewed. Thus then you see how those places are consistent together.

Seventhly, This Conversion or turning to God, is either the first Conversion, or the latter. The first Conversion I call that, when we are at first translated from the * state of darkness to glorious light; when at first we are taken off the bitter root we were in, and ingreffed into the swet Olive-tree. The latter conversion is that when upon fals, or sins committed, we have in some measure turned from God again, but afterwards return. Thus Peters recovery is called a conversion, Luke 22. 32. When thou art converted strengthen thy brother. And thus when the Disciples fell into p••d and contention, our Saviour saith, Except ye be converted, and become like little children, ye cannot enter into the Kingdome of Heaven, Mat. 18. So that although there be but one main fundamental conversion, or turning to God, yet seing every sin, especially those that are more foul, do turn remarkably from God; therefore even converted persons need dayly to be further converted. Do not therefore rest in this, that thou art once converted, thou canst remember the time and instru∣ment of it; but consider, there is a daily conversion, and turning to God requisite; Thou art to be converted from thy daily pride, daily hypocrisie, daily guile of soul, diffidence in the Promises. Some think, because of that great work, and remark∣able change God once made upon them, that therefore they may say, Soul take thy ease, for thou hast much good laid up for thee, and think to be cloathed in all glory, like the L〈…〉es, that neither labour, or spin; but the word of God tels us, that there are daily corruptions remaining, from which we must constantly turn away.

Eightly, There is a two fold Conversion. The one from Heathenism and Paga∣nism or Heresies, to the true Faith and Doctrine of Christ: The other not oly from*that, but also from ungodlinesse and impiety in our lives. Now though the one be much admited, yet the latter is the chief of all. We see by the preaching of the A∣postles many thousands were converted; but many of these were Hypocrites, and loved the world and their lusts still. Therefore they were onely converted to re∣ceive the faith of Christ, not to obey his holy laws and commands. Thus some are said to Turn from their Idols to the living God, 1 Thes. 1. 9. But if they did not leave their sins, and their carnal confidences, which were as so many Idols, they found no advantage. Therefore diligently mark this; Its a light matter to be con∣verted from Heathenism, Heresie and Popery, so as to come to acknowledge the Truth; but art thou also converted in thy heart and affections, to submit to, and willingly obey the Lawes of Jesus Christ? This is all in all.

Ninthly; Therefore in the last place; As every part and faculty of the soul and body hath been averse from God, so Conversion must be in them all. The mind must * turn from its vain, ignorant, blinde, and unbelieving thoughts and imaginations: The will must turn from its obstinacy, perversnesse and disobedience: The heart and affections from their unlawfull objects they were placed upon; and from all this excesse, violence and immoderacy: for want of these comes that partiall and im∣perfect Conversion to God so often condemned in the Israelites. Oh then sit down and think, Lord, every thing within me is averse to thee, there is nothing but is turned from hee Oh then vouchsafe thy Grace, which will make all within me turn to thee; minde, heart, affections, and all my might: you will find that true Conver•• are very rare, half Converts and partial conversion is often; but this true, solid, and universall Conversion is in a few onely.

Page  413 In the next place, let us consider, what goeth to the m〈…〉g up of this Conver∣sion, or turning to God. And first,

There must be a true and sound understanding out of Gods Word, that the way we*are in is a wrong way: That if we turn not at la〈…〉 the end of those 〈◊〉 is in hell and damnation. A blind man, or he that walketh in the darknesse can see no necessity to turn out of the way he is in. Therefore if this Text may do any good to thee, pray for illumination of mind: Say, Lord, open my eyes, that 〈◊〉 may s•• the cragg••, and slippery, and dangerous places I walk upon. Thus Esay 6. Lst they hear with their eares, and understand, and be converted. That understanding is antecedent to con∣version; so that ignorant, sottish and brutish people, who know nothing of God, or of their own corruption, are very remote from conversion: till thou come to know & understand the danger thou art in, thou wilt not be willing to go out of the way.

Secondly, The wayes of sin must administer sme wear〈…〉ss and trouble; else the * soul will never think of returning: Come to me ye that are heavy lden. When the Prodigal is almost farnished, then he thinketh of going to his Father. When Is∣raels way is hedged in with thorns, then she will go back to her first husband, Hos. 3. So that if thou wouldst ever turn to God, pray thou maist feel the weight, and burden of sin in some measure, not to break thee, but to drive thee out of the way thou wast in, when thou believest lyons and all curses to be in thy way, then thou wilt quickly go back; whereas wicked men that live in ollity and prosperity, that have no trouble, no exercises, nor crosses in their sins, they are far from Conversion; they never think of going out of that broad way as long as they find it so sweet and pleasant: and hence God in mercy afflicts, grieveth, and con∣tinually troubleth that sinner whom he intends to convertr.

This Conversion cannot be, till God hath first infused a supernaturall life in a man;* for seeing this turning is a spiritual motion of the soul, there cannot be any motion, if there be not life first: and in this respect, no man in the world hath any active fitnesse, or worthinesse in him to be converted, no more than thorns have to become grapes, or stones children. The first step that must be taken towards heaven, must be after Christ hath said unto thee, Arise and walk. Iter ad gratiam est per gratiam, per{que} ipsam venitur ad ipsam, Prosp.

Fourthly, Its not enough to have this life infused, but there must be the actuating*of it. For to turn is an action, is a motion; and therefore though a man be renewed passively by God, yet till actively he move unto God again, he is not said to turn to him: so that this conversion doth denote more than regeneration, or a new crea∣tion; for in them its enough if God hath wrought a spiritual change; but here he doth not onely work to will, giving the ability and power, but to doe also, giving the exercise of this power.

Fiftly, This turning unto God is to be looked for in the constant and diligent atten∣dance*upon the preaching of Gods Word; for that is instituted as an instrument to change and turn us. You have many examples of the great and glorious conversions, that have been upon the most indisposed and unlikely subjects. And how so? By the plain and powerful preaching of Gods Word. Its not humane Oratory, or arti∣ficial eloquence hath done this, so much as the autoritative and spiritual explication and application of Gods Word; and therefore all those who carelesly neglect, or despise the Ministry appointed for this end, no wonder they reject the good counsell of God; and its no wonder why Satan doth so rage and set against the Ministry of Jesus Christ; for this is the only Engine and Battery that destroyeth his Kingdome and rescueth poor captives that were taken in his snares.

Use of Instruction. See and understand now the necessity of thy conversion. It is * that which undoeth most; you live the same, come to Church, and go home the same, and you never think of a turn & a change that ought to be upon you. Doth not God say to thee, Turn from this and that evil way of sinning, why wilt thou dye and be damned in it? but thou like the Serpent stoppest thy eare, if there were no other Motive to make thee turn than this, that thou livest in an age, where many turnings Page  414 and changings of things have been, this might prevail. God hath turned peace into war, quietness into trouble; why then shouldst not thou turn prophaneness into holiness; security, into godly fear and trembling? Oh turn from sin, before God turn thee into hell; and the longer and further thou hast gone on in wicked ways, know it is the higher time thou shouldst return. He goeth far that never turneth (we say) and why then is it thy obstinacy to do so?