|RPM, Volume 13, Number 23, June 5 to June 11, 2011|
Assurance has amazing transforming powers.
It changes iron to gold, ignominies to crowns,
and all sufferings to delights!
I. The first impediment. Now the first impediment and hindrance to assurance that we shall instance in, is, Despairing thoughts of mercy. Oh! these imprison the soul, and make it always dark with the soul; these shut the windows of the soul, that no light can come in to cheer it. Despairing thoughts make a man fight against God with his own weapons; they make a man cast all the cordials of the Spirit to the ground, as things of no value; they make a man suck poison out of the sweetest promises; they make a man eminent in nothing unless it be in having hard thoughts of God, and in arguing against his own soul and happiness, and in turning his greatest advantages into disadvantages, his greatest helps into his greatest hindrances.
Despairing thoughts of mercy make a man below the beast which perishes. Pliny speaks of the scorpion, that there is not one minute wherein it does not put forth the sting, as being unwilling to lose any opportunity of doing mischief.
Such scorpions are despairing souls, they are still a-putting out their stings, a-wrangling with God, or Christ, or the Scripture, or the saints, or ordinances, or their own souls. A despairing soul is a terror to himself; it cannot rest—but, like Noah's ark, is always tossed here and there; it is troubled on every side, it is full of fears and fightings. A despairing soul is like the spider, which draws poison out of the sweetest flowers.
A despairing soul is a burden to others—but the greatest burden to itself. It is still a-vexing, terrifying, tormenting, condemning, and perplexing itself. Despair makes every sweet bitter, and every bitter exceeding bitter; it puts gall and wormwood into the sweetest wine, and it puts a sting, a cross, into every cross.
Now while the soul is under these despairing thoughts of mercy, how is it possible that it should attain to a well grounded assurance. Therefore for the helping of the soul out of this despairing condition, give me leave a little to expostulate with despairing souls. Tell me, O despairing souls, is not despair an exceeding vile and contemptible sin? Is it not a dishonor to God, a reproach to Christ, and a murderer of souls? Is it not a misrepresenting of God, a denying of Christ, and a crowning of Satan? It does without doubt proclaim the devil a conqueror, and lifts him up above Christ himself. Despair is Satan's masterpiece; it carries men headlong to hell; it makes a man twice-told a child of hell; it is a viper which has stinged many a man to death.
Despair is an evil that flows from the greatest evil in the world; it flows from unbelief, from ignorance, and misapprehensions of God and his grace, and from mistakes of Scripture, and from Satan, who, being forever cast out of paradise, labors with all his art and might to work poor souls to despair of ever entering into paradise. O despairing souls, let the greatness of this sin effectually awaken you, and provoke you to labor as for life, to come out of this condition, which is as sinful as it is doleful, and as much to be hated as to be lamented.
Again, tell me, O despairing souls, has not despairing Judas perished, whereas the murderers of Christ, believing on him, were saved? Did not Judas sin more heinously by despairing, than by betraying of Christ?
Despairing Spira is damned, when repenting Manasseh is saved. O despairing souls, the arms of mercy are open to receive a Manasseh, a monster, a devil incarnate; he caused that gospel prophet Isaiah to be sawed in half with a saw, as some Rabbis say; he turned aside from the Lord to commit idolatry, and caused his sons to pass through the fire, and dealt with bewitching spirits, and made the streets of Jerusalem to overflow with innocent blood, 2 Chron 33:1-15.
The soul of Mary Magdalene was full of devils; and yet Christ casts them out, and made her heart his house, his presence chamber, Luke 7:47. Why do you then say there is no hope for you, O despairing soul? Paul was full of rage against Christ and his people, and full of blasphemy and impiety, and yet behold, Paul is a chosen vessel, Paul is caught up into the heaven, and he is filled with the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit, Acts 8:1-2; Acts 9:1; Acts 26:11; 1 Tim 1:13,15-16.
Why should you then say there is for you no help, O despairing soul! Though the prodigal had run from his father, and spent and wasted all his estate in ways of vileness and wickedness, yet upon his resolution to return, his father meets him, and instead of killing him, he kisses him; instead of kicking him, he embraces him; instead of shutting the door upon him, he makes sumptuous provision for him, Luke 15:13-23. And how then do you dare to say, O despairing soul, that God will never cast an eye of love upon you, nor bestow a crumb of mercy on you! The apostle tells you of some monstrous miscreants who were unrighteous, fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, extortioners; and yet these monsters of mankind, through the infinite goodness and free grace of God, are washed from the filth and guilt of their sins, and justified by the righteousness of Christ, and sanctified by the Spirit of Christ, and decked and adorned with the precious graces of Christ, 1 Cor 6:9-11.
Therefore do not say, O despairing soul, that you shall die in your sins, and lie down at last in everlasting sorrow. O despairing souls, are you good at burning, that you have no mercy on yourselves—but to argue to your own undoing? Did it make for the honor and glory of his free grace to pardon them, and will it be a reproach to his free grace to pardon you? Could God be just in justifying such ungodly ones, and shall he be unjust in justifying of you? Did not their unworthiness and unfitness for mercy turn the stream of mercy from them? No! Why then, O despairing soul, should you fear that your unworthiness and unfitness for mercy will so stop and turn the stream of mercy, as that you must perish eternally for lack of one drop of special grace and mercy?
Again, tell me, O despairing soul, is not the grace of God free grace, is not man's salvation of free grace? "By grace you are saved," Eph 2:8. Every link of this golden chain is grace. It is free grace which chose us, Rom 11:5. Even so then at this present time also there is "a remnant according to the election of grace." It is free grace which chooses some to be jewels from all eternity, which chooses some to everlasting life, when others are left in darkness. Augustine, "The patrons of man's free will are enemies to God's free grace."
The Lord Jesus Christ is a gift of free grace. Christ is the greatest, the sweetest, the choicest, the chief gift which God ever gave; and yet this gift is given by a hand of love. "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son," etc., John 3:16; Isa 9:6; John 4:10. "God so loved the world;" so freely, so vehemently, so fully, so admirably, so inconceivably, "That he gave his only Son." His Son, not his servant, his begotten Son, not his adopted Son, yes, his only begotten Son!
I have read of parents who had four sons; and in a famine, sore oppressed with hunger, they resolved to sell one son; but then they considered with themselves which of the four they should sell. They said the eldest was the first of their strength, therefore reluctant were they to sell him. The second was the picture of their father, and therefore reluctant were they to part with him. The third was like the mother, and therefore they were not willing to part with him. The fourth, and youngest, was the child of their old age, their Benjamin, the dearly beloved of them both; and therefore they were resolved not to part with any of them, and so would rather allow themselves to perish than to part with any of their children. But God, O you despairing soul, is is all love, he will not stand upon giving his most lovely Son to most unlovely souls.
Oh! but God's heart is so strongly set upon sinners, that he freely gives Jesus Christ, who is his firstborn, who is his very picture, who is his beloved Benjamin, who is his chief joy, who is his greatest delight. As Solomon speaks: Prov 8:30, "Then I was by him as one brought up with him, and I was daily his delight" (in the Hebrew—his greatest delight), "rejoicing always before him," or sporting greatly before him, as little ones do before their parents. Why, then, O despairing soul! do you sit down sighing, and walk up and down mourning, and sadly concluding that there is no mercy for you? Hold up your head, O despairing soul! Jesus Christ himself is a gift of free grace! The consideration of his free, boundless, bottomless, and endless love, may afford you much matter of admiration and consolation—but none of desperation.
And as Jesus Christ is a gift of free grace, or a free-grace gift, so the precious covenant of grace is a gift of grace: Gen 17:2, "I will make my covenant between me and you;" but in the original it is, "I will give you my covenant." Here you see that the covenant of grace is a free gift of grace.
God gave the covenant of the priesthood unto Phinehas as a gift, Num 25:12. Just so, God gives the covenant of grace as a gift of favor and grace to all that he takes unto covenant with himself. From first to last—all is from free grace! God loves freely: "I will heal their backsliding; I will love them freely," etc., Hos 14:4.
So Moses: "The Lord," says he, "set his love upon you to take you into covenant with him: not because you were more in number than other people—but because he loved you, and chose your fathers," Deut 7:7-8.
The only ground of God's love is his grace. The ground of God's love is only and wholly in himself. There is neither portion nor proportion in us to draw his love. There is no love nor loveliness in us that should cause a beam of his love to shine upon us. There is that enmity, that filthiness, that treacherousness, that unfaithfulness, to be found in every man's bosom, which might justly put God upon glorifying himself in their eternal ruin, and to write their names in his black book in characters of blood and wrath. God will have all blessings and happiness to flow from free grace:
(1.) that the worst of sinners may have strong grounds for hope and comfort;
(2.) for the praise of his own glory;
(3.) that vain man may not boast;
(4.) that our mercies and blessings may be sure to us.
And as God loves freely, so God justifies us freely: Rom 3:24, "Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ." And as poor sinners are justified freely, so they are pardoned freely: Acts 5:31, "Him has God exalted," speaking of Christ, "with his right hand, to be a Prince and a Savior—to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins." And as they are pardoned freely, so they shall be saved freely: Rom 6:23, "For the wages of sin is death—but the gift of God is eternal life," etc. The gracious gift of God. Charisma signifies a gift flowing from the free grace and favor of God, John 10:28.
Thus you see, O despairing souls! that all is of free grace; from the lowest to the highest round of Jacob's ladder—all is of grace! Christ is a free gift, the covenant of grace is a free gift, pardon of sin is a free gift, heaven and salvation is a free gift. Why, then, O despairing souls! should you sit down sighing under such black, sad, and dismal apprehensions of God, and your own state and condition?
Truly, seeing all happiness and blessedness comes in a way of free grace, and not in a way of doing, not in a way of works, you should arise, O despairing souls! and cast off all despairing thoughts, and drink of the waters of life freely, Rev 21:6; Rev 22:18. What though your heart is dead, and hard, and sad; what though your sins be many, and your fears great; yet behold here is glorious grace, rich grace, wondrous grace, matchless and incomparable riches of free grace spread before you. Oh! let this fire warm you, let these waters refresh you, let these cordials strengthen you, that it may be day and no longer night with you, that your mourning may be turned into rejoicing, and that your beautiful garments may be put on, that so the rest of your days may be days of gladness and sweetness, and free grace may be an everlasting shade, shelter, and rest unto you, Isa 52:1.
Again, tell me, O despairing souls! do you understand, and most seriously and frequently ponder upon those particular scriptures that do most clearly, sweetly, and fully discover the mercies of God, the affections of God, the grace and favor of God to poor sinners, as that Psalm 86:5, "For you, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and plenteous in mercy, unto all who call upon you"? God's mercies are above all his works, and above all ours too. His mercy is without measures and rules. All the acts and attributes of God sit at the feet of mercy. The weapons of God's artillery are turned into the rainbow; a bow, indeed—but without an arrow, bent—but without a string. The rainbow is an emblem of mercy; it is a sign of grace and favor, and an assurance that God will remember his covenant. It is fresh and green, to note to us that God's mercy and grace to poor sinners is always fresh and green.
Again, tell me, O despairing souls! have you seriously pondered upon Neh 9:16-17, "But they and our fathers dealt proudly, and hardened their necks, and hearkened not to your commandments, and refused to obey; neither were they mindful of the wonders which you did among them—but hardened their necks, and in their rebellion appointed a captain to return to their bondage. But you are a God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and forsook them not"? "You are a God," says he, "ready to pardon," or rather as it is in the original, "And you a God of pardons." He will multiply to pardon, or he will increase his pardon, as the sinner increases his sins. There is a very great emphasis in this Hebraism, "a God of pardons." It shows us that mercy is essential unto God, and that he is incomparable in forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin. Here Nehemiah sets him forth as one made up all of pardoning grace and mercy. As a circle begins everywhere—but ends nowhere, so do the mercies of God, Mic 7:18.
When Alexander sat down before a city, he did use to set up a light, to give those within notice that if they came forth to him while the light lasted, they might have pardon; if otherwise, no mercy was to be expected. Oh! but such is the mercy and patience of God to sinners, that he sets up light after light, and waits year after year upon them. When they have done their worst against him, yet then he comes with his heart full of love, and his hands full of pardons, and makes a proclamation of grace, that if now at last they will accept of mercy, they shall have it, Luke 13:7; Jer 3:1-15. Why, then, O despairing soul! do you make your life a hell, by having such low and mean thoughts of God's mercy, and by measuring of the mercies and affections of God by the narrow quantity of your weak and dark understanding?
Again, tell me, O despairing souls! have you seriously pondered upon those words in Isa 55:7-9: "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man" (or rather as it is in the original, "the man of iniquity") "his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon," or as it is in the original, "He will multiply pardons." "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts"? Turn, O despairing souls! to these scriptures: Num 14:19-20; Exod 34:6-7; Mic 7:18-19; Isa 30:18-19; Psalm 78:34-40; Psalm 103:8-13; Jer 3:1-12; Luke 15:20-24; 1 Tim 1:13-17; and tell me whether you have seriously and frequently pondered upon them!
Oh! how can you look so much grace and so much love and favor, and such tender affections of compassion, in the face, as appears in these scriptures, and yet rack and tear your precious souls with despairing thoughts!
Oh! there is so much grace and goodness, so much love and favor, so much mercy and glory, sparkling and shining through these scriptures, as may allay the strongest fears, and scatter the thickest darkness, and cheer up the saddest spirits, etc.
Again, tell me, O despairing souls, do you not do infinite wrong to the precious blood of the Lord Jesus? Three things are called PRECIOUS in the Scripture: the blood of Christ is called "precious blood," 1 Pet 1:19; and faith is called "precious faith," 2 Pet 1:1; and the promises are called "precious promises," 2 Pet 1:4. Now, what a reproach is it to this precious blood, "which speaks better things than the blood of Abel," Heb 12:24, for you to faint and sink under the power of despair; what does this speak out? Oh! does it not proclaim to all the world that there is no such worth and virtue, no such power and efficacy in the blood of Christ, as indeed there is? Oh! how will you answer this to Christ in that day wherein his blood shall speak and plead, not only with the profane who have trodden it under their feet—but also with despairing souls who have undervalued the power, virtue, and merit of it? Heb 10:29. The blood of Christ is the key of heaven which has let in millions, Rev 7:9; Isa 66:8. Has not the blood of Jesus Christ washed away the sins of a world of notorious sinners; and is it not of virtue to wash away the sins of one sinner? Has it had that power in it as to bring many thousands to glory already, and is there not so much virtue left in it as to bring your soul to glory? 1 John 1:7-9. Has it actually delivered such a multitude from wrath to come as cannot be numbered, and is the virtue of it so far spent as that it cannot reach to your deliverance? Are there not yet millions of thousands that shall hereafter be actually saved and justified by this blood? Why, then, should you despair of being justified and saved from wrath to come by the virtue and power of this precious blood?
There were five people who were studying what was the best means to mortify sin. One said, to meditate on death; the second, to meditate on judgment; the third, to meditate on the joys of heaven; the fourth, to meditate on the torments of hell; the fifth, to meditate on the blood and sufferings of Jesus Christ: and certainly, the last is the choicest and strongest motive of all to the mortifying of sin.
O despairing souls, despairing souls! if ever you would cast off your despairing thoughts and get out of your present hell, then dwell much, muse much, and apply much this precious blood to your own souls. So shall "sorrow and mourning flee away, and everlasting joy shall rest upon you," and the Lord shall give you "an everlasting name," and be "everlasting light and glory to you," and "you shall be no more called Forsaken;" for "the Lord will rejoice over you," [Isa 55:11; Isa 56:5; Isa 60:19-20, and Isa 62:4-5; John 4:21,23] and be a wellspring of life unto you, and make his abode with you, and turn your sighing into singing, your trembling into rejoicing, and your prison into a paradise of pleasure. Just so, that your souls shall be able to stand up and say, Oh, blessed be God for Jesus Christ; blessed be God for that precious blood which has justified our persons, and quieted our consciences, and scattered our fears, and answered our doubts, and given us to triumph over sin, hell, and death. "Who is he who condemns? it is Christ that died," Rom 8:33-38.
The apostle, upon the account of Christ's death, of Christ's blood, cries out, Victory, victory; he looks upon all his enemies and sings it sweetly out, "Over all these we are more than conquerors," or "above conquerors!"
O despairing souls, to all your former sins do not add this—of making light and slight of the blood of Christ. As there is no blood which saves souls like the blood of Christ, so there is no blood which sinks souls like the blood of Christ. A drop of this blood upon a man's head at last will make him miserable forever; but a drop of it upon a man's heart at last will make him happy forever. In the day of vengeance, the destroying angel will spare you if this blood be found upon the doorposts of your hearts, otherwise you are lost forever, Exod 12:7.
Lastly, I can tell you, O despairing souls, that God has brought some out of the very gulf of despair, out of the very belly of hell; and therefore you may hope that your sins, which are your present burden, shall not be your future ruin. Does not Asaph resemble the despairing soul? "My soul refused to be comforted. I remembered God, and was troubled; I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed. I am so troubled that I cannot speak." "Will the Lord cast off forever? and will he be favorable no more? Is his mercy clean gone forever? and will his promise fail for evermore? Has God forgotten to be gracious? has he in anger shut up his tender mercies?" Psalm 77:2-9. Now, out of this gulf God delivers him: Psalm 77:10, "And I said, This is my infirmity;" or "this makes me sick," as it is in the original. Here Asaph checks himself for casting the cordials, the comforts of the Spirit to the ground, and for his having such hard, sad, and black thoughts of God.
And in Psalm 77:13, he speaks like one dropped out of heaven: "Your way, O God, is in the sanctuary: who is so great a God as our God?" Formerly, the thoughts of God troubled him and overwhelmed him; but now, at last, the thoughts of the greatness of God, and of his interest in God, is matter of admiration and consolation to him. So Heman sighs it out thus: "My soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near unto the grave." "You have laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps. Your wrath lies hard upon me, and you have afflicted me with all your waves." "Lord, why do you cast off my soul? why do you hide your face from me? I am afflicted, and ready to die from my youth up; while I suffer your terrors, I am distracted. Your fierce wrath goes over me; your terrors have cut me off," Psalm 88:3,6-7,14-16. All conclude that he was very holy, and his soul very happy, even while he was in this gulf of misery. And yet, for all this, Heman's state was good; his soul was safe and happy: he calls God in the same psalm "the God of his salvation," Psalm 88:1. So Jonah, when he was in the belly of hell, concludes, "that he was cast out of the sight of God," Jon 2:4. The sense of his sin, and of God's anger and wrath, was so eminent and transcendent upon him, that it even distracts him, and makes him speak like a despairing soul: "I am cast out from the presence of the Lord; I am expulsed out of God's sight," as Moses was expulsed out of Egypt. God has cast me out as one in whom he can take no pleasure nor delight, as a husband loth a wife that has been false and unfaithful to him; and yet God's heart and love is so set upon Jonah that he will save him by a miracle rather than he shall not be saved. Jonah was much in the heart of God, and God made his faith at last victorious.
To these I shall add some other famous instances. In king James' time there was one Mistress Honiwood of Kent, an ancient and pious gentlewoman, who lived many years in much horror and terror of conscience, for lack of assurance of the favor of God, and of her eternal well-being. She would very often cry out, "She was damned, she was damned." Several men of eminent piety and parts, left no means unattempted, whereby her doubts might be answered, her conscience pacified, and her soul satisfied and cheered; yet she being strongly under the power of despair, persisted in crying out, "Oh! she was damned, she was damned." When these gentlemen were about to depart, she called for a cup of wine for them, which being brought, she drank, and as soon as she had done, in an extreme passion she threw the Venice glass against the ground, saying, "As sure as this glass will break, so surely am I damned." The glass rebounded from the ground without any harm, which one of the ministers suddenly caught in his hand, and said, "Behold, a miracle from heaven to confute your unbelief, Oh! tempt God no more, tempt God no more." Both the gentlewoman and all the company were mightily amazed at this strange incident, and all glorified God for what was done; and the gentlewoman, by the grace and mercy of God, was delivered out of her hell of despair, and was filled with much comfort and joy, and lived and died full of peace and assurance.
Take another instance. There lived lately at Tilbury, in Essex, a gentleman who was a long time under such an eminent degree of despair, that he rejected all comfort that was offered to him by any hand, and would not allow any to pray with him; nay, he sent to the ministers and Christians who lived near him, and desired them, that as they would not increase his torments in hell, they would cease praying for him. He would not allow any religious service to be performed in his family, though formerly himself was much in the use of them; yet God gave him at last such inward refreshings, and by degrees filled him with such abundance of heavenly comforts, as he told all who came to him that it was impossible for any tongue to utter, or heart to imagine, who did not feel them. At last God gave him "the new name, and the white stone, which none knows but he who has it," Rev 2:17. He lived about three quarters of a year, enjoying heaven upon earth, and then breathed out his last in the bosom of Christ.
Poor I, that am but of yesterday, have known some who have been so deeply plunged in the gulf of despair, that they would throw all the spiritual cordials which have been offered to them, to the ground. They were strong in reasoning against their own souls, and resolved against everything that might be a comfort and support unto them.
They have been much set against all ordinances and pious services; they have cast off holy duties themselves, and peremptorily refused to join with others in them; yes, they have, out of a sense of sin and wrath, which has lain hard upon them, refused the necessary comforts of this life, even to the overthrow of natural life. And yet out of this horrible pit, this hell upon earth, has God delivered their souls, and given them such manifestations of his grace and favor, that they would not exchange them for a thousand worlds.
O despairing souls, despairing souls, you see that others, whose conditions have been as bad, if not worse than yours, have obtained mercy. God has turned their hell into a heaven; he has remembered them in their low estate; he has pacified their raging consciences, and quieted their distracted souls; he has wiped all tears from their eyes; and he has been a well-spring of life unto their hearts. Therefore be not discouraged, O despairing souls—but look up to the mercy-seat; remember who is your rest, and kick no more, by despair, against the affections of divine love.
II. The second impediment to assurance is, men's entering into the lists of dispute with Satan about those things that are above their reach, as about the decrees and counsel of God. Oh by this Satan keeps many precious souls off from assurance. Since God has cast him out of paradise, and bound him in chains of darkness, he will make use of all his skill, power and experience, to draw men into the same misery with himself; and if he cannot prevent their entering at last into paradise above, he will labor might and main to make their life a wilderness here below; and to this purpose he will busy their thoughts and hearts about the decrees of God, and about their particular elections; as, whether God has decreed them to eternal happiness, or chosen them to everlasting blessedness, etc., that so by this means he may keep them from that desirable assurance that may yield believers two heavens, a heaven of joy and comfort here, and a heaven of felicity and glory hereafter.
It is said of Marcellus, the Roman general, that he could not be quiet, neither conquered, nor conqueror. Such a one is Satan: if he be conquered by faith, yet he will be tempting; if he conquers, yet he will be roaring and triumphing. Satan's great design is eternally to ruin souls; and where he cannot do that, there he will endeavor to discomfit souls by busying them about the secret decrees and counsels of God. If the soul breaks through his temptations, as David's worthies did break through the armies of the Philistines, 1 Sam 23:16, and snap his snares in sunder, as Samson did his cords, Judg 15:13-14, then his next shift is to engage them in such debates and disputes that neither men nor angels can certainly and infallibly determine, that so he may spoil their comforts, when he cannot take away their crown.
Now your wisdom and your work, O doubting soul, lies not in disputing—but in believing, praying, and waiting on God. No way to heaven, no way to assurance, like this. Adam disputes with Satan, and falls, and loses paradise; Job believes, and resists Satan, and stands, and conquers upon the ash-heap. When Satan, O trembling soul, would engage you in disputes about this or that, say to him, "Satan, revealed things belong to me," but "secret things belong to the Lord," Deut 29:29. It is dangerous to be curious in prying into hidden matters, and careless and negligent in observing known laws; say to him, Satan, you have been "a liar and a murderer from the beginning," John 8:44; you are a professed enemy to the saints' confidence and assurance, to their consolation and salvation. If you have anything to say, say it to my Christ; he is my comfort and crown, my joy and strength, my redeemer and intercessor, and he shall plead for me. Ah, Christians! if you would but leave disputing, and be much in believing and obeying, assurance would attend you; and you should "lie down in peace, and take your rest, and none should make you afraid," Job 11:13-20.
III. The third impediment that keeps poor souls from assurance, is, The lack of a thorough search and examination of their own souls, and of what God has done and is a-doing in them. Some there are, who can read better in other men's books than in their own, and some there are, who are more critical and curious in observing and studying other men's tempers, hearts, words, works, and ways—than their own. This is a sad evil, and causes many souls to sit down in darkness, even days without number. He who will not seriously and frequently observe the internal motions and actings of God, in and upon his noble part, his immortal soul, may talk of assurance, and complain of the lack of assurance—but it will be long before he shall obtain assurance. O you staggering, wavering souls, you tossed and disquieted souls, know for a certain, that you will never come to experience the sweetness of assurance, until your eyes are turned inward, until you live more at home than abroad, until you dig and search for the mines that are in your own hearts, until you come to discern between a work of nature and a work of grace, until you come to put a difference between the precious and the vile, between God's work and Satan's work. When this is done, you will find the clouds to scatter, and the Sun of righteousness to shine upon you, and the daystar of assurance to rise in you.
Doubting, trembling souls, do not deceive yourselves; it is not a careless, slight, slender searching into your own hearts, which will enable you to see the deep, the secret, the curious, the mysterious work of God upon you. If you do not "seek as for silver," and search for Christ and grace "as for hidden treasures," you will not find them, Prov 2:3-5. Your richest metals lie lowest, your choicest gems are in the affections of the earth, and those who will have them, must search diligently, and dig deep, or else they must go without them. Doubting souls, you must search, and dig again and again, and you must work and sweat, and sweat and work, if ever you will find those spiritual treasures, those pearls of great price, which are hidden under the ashes of corruption, which lie low in the very recesses of your souls.
Tell me, O doubting souls, has that sweet word of the apostle been ever made to stick in power upon you: 2 Cor 13:5, "Examine yourselves, whether you be in the faith;" or, whether faith be in you, "prove yourselves," etc. The precept is here doubled, to show the necessity, excellency, and difficulty of the work; to show that it is not a superficial—but a thorough, serious, substantial examination that must enable a man to know whether he has precious faith or not; whether he is Christ's spouse or the devil's strumpet. All is not gold which glitters; all is not faith that men call faith; therefore, he who would not prove a cheat to his own soul, must take some pains to search and examine how all is within. We are to prove and try, as goldsmiths try their metal by the fire and the touchstone. God brings not a pair of scales to weigh our grace—but a touchstone to try our graces. If our gold be true, though it be never so little, it will pass current with him. He will not quench the smoking flax," etc. [Matt 12:20.]
Ah! how few are there in these days who keep a diary of God's mercies and their own infirmities, of spiritual experiences and the inward operations of heavenly graces! Seneca reports of a heathen man who every night asked himself these three questions: first, What evil have you healed this day? secondly, What vice have you stood against this day? thirdly, In what part are you bettered this day? And shall not Christians take pains with their own hearts, and search day and night to find out what God has done, and is a-doing there? God has his doing hand, his working hand in every man's heart; either he is a-working there in ways of mercy or of wrath; either he is building up or a-plucking down; either he is a-making all glorious within, or else he is a-turning all into a hell.
Well! doubting souls, remember this, that the soundest joy, the strongest consolation, flow from a thorough examination of things within. This is the way to know how it is with you for the present, and how it is likely to go with you for the future. This is the way to put an end to all the wranglings of your hearts, and to put you into a possession of heaven on this side heaven.
IV. The fourth impediment that keeps many precious souls from assurance is, Their mistakes about the work of grace. Look! as many hypocrites do take a good nature for grace, and those common gifts and graces which may be in a Saul, a Jehu, a Judas, for a special distinguishing grace, etc., so the dear saints of God are very apt to take grace for a good nature, to take pearls of great price for stones of no value, to take special grace for common grace. Many trembling souls are apt to call their faith unbelief, with the man in the Gospel, Mark 9:24, and their confidence presumption, and their zeal passion, etc.; and by this means many are kept off from assurance. Now, the way to remove this impediment is, wisely and seriously to distinguish between renewing grace and restraining grace, between common grace and special grace, between temporary grace and sanctifying grace. Now, the difference between the one and the other I have showed in ten particulars in my treatise called "Precious Remedies against Satan's Devices,"; and to that I refer you for full and complete satisfaction.
If you will cast your eye upon the particulars, I doubt not but you will find that profit and content which will recompense you for your pains. And this I thought more convenient to hint to you, than to write over the same things that there you will find to your delight and settlement.
V. The fifth impediment to assurance is, Their grieving and vexing the Spirit of grace by not hearkening to his voice, by refusing his counsel, by stopping the ear, by throwing water upon that fire he kindles in their souls, and by attributing that to the Spirit, what is to be attributed to men's own passions and distempers, and to the prince of darkness and his demons. Nothing can come from the Holy Spirit but that which is holy. By these and such like ways, they sadden that precious Spirit who alone can gladden them, they set him a-mourning who alone can set them a-rejoicing, they set him a-grieving who alone can set them a-singing; and therefore it is that they sigh it out with Jeremiah, Lam 1:16, "Behold, he who should comfort our souls, stands afar off." Smoke drives away bees, and a foul smell drives away doves. Sin is such a smoke, such an ill-savor, as drives away this dove-like Spirit.
Ah, doubting souls! if ever you would have assurance, you must observe the motions of the Spirit, and give up yourselves to his guidance; you must live by his laws, and tread in his steps; you must live in the Spirit, and walk in the Spirit; you must let him be chief in your souls. This is the way to have him to be a sealing Spirit, a witnessing Spirit to your hearts. Believe it, souls, if this be not done, you will be far off from quietness and settlement. The word that in 1 John 3:19 is rendered "assure," signifies to persuade: to note to us that our hearts are forward and peevish, and apt to wrangle and raise objections against God, against Christ, against the Scripture, against our own and others' experiences, and against the sweet hints and joyings of the Spirit; and this they will do, especially when we omit what the Spirit persuades us to. The soul will not quite stop wrangling, until it is quieted in the bosom of Christ. Omissions raise fears and doubts, and makes work for hell, or for the Spirit and physician of souls. Or else, when we do that which the Spirit dissuades us from. If you are kind and obedient to the Spirit, it will not long be night with your souls; but if you rebel and vex him, he will make your life a hell, by withholding his ordinary influences, by denying to seal you to the day of redemption, and by giving you up to conflict with horrors and terrors, etc., Isa 63:10. Therefore, be at the Spirit's beck and check, and assurance and joy will before long attend you.
VI. The sixth impediment to assurance is, Doubting souls making their sense, reason, and feeling the judges of their spiritual conditions. Now so long as they take this course, they will never reach to assurance. Reason's arm is too short to reach this jewel, assurance. This pearl of price is put in no hand but that hand of faith which reaches from earth to heaven. What tongue can express or heart conceive the fears, the doubts, the clouds, the darkness, the perplexities which will arise from the soul's reasoning thus—"I find that the countenance of God is not towards me as before, Gen 31:5; therefore, surely my condition is bad; I feel not those quickenings, those cheerings, those meltings as before; I am not sensible of those secret stirrings and actings of the Spirit and grace in my soul as before; I do not hear such good news from heaven as before; therefore certainly God is not my God, I am not beloved, I am not in the state of grace, I have but deceived myself and others; and therefore the issue will be that I shall die in my sins."
To make sense and feeling the judges of our spiritual conditions, what is it but to make ourselves happy and miserable, righteous and unrighteous, saved and damned in one day, ay, in one hour, when sense and reason sit as judges upon the bench? Has God made sense and feeling the judges of your conditions? No! Why, then, will you? Is your reason Scripture? Is your sense Scripture? Is your feeling Scripture? No! Why, then, will you make them judges of your spiritual estate? Is not the word the judge, by which all men and their actions shall be judged at last? "The word that I have spoken," says Christ, "shall judge you in the last day," John 12:48. "To the law and to the testimony, if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light, or no morning in them," Isa 8:20.
Why, then, O doubting souls, will you make your sense and feeling the judge, not only of your condition—but of the truth itself? What is this but to dethrone God, and to make a God of your sense and feeling? What is this—but to limit and bind up the Holy One of Israel? What is this but to toss the soul to and fro, and to expose it to a labyrinth of fears and scruples? What is this but to cast a reproach upon Christ, to gratify Satan, and to keep yourselves upon the rack? Well! doubting souls, the counsel that I shall give you is this, be much in believing, and make only the Scripture the judge of your condition; maintain the judgment of the word against the judgment of sense and feeling; and if upon a serious, sincere, and impartial comparing of your heart and the word together, of your ways and the word together, the word speaks you out to be sincere, to be a Nathanael, to be a new creature, to be born again, to have an immortal seed in you, etc., cleave to the testimony of the word, rejoice in it, rest upon it, and give no more way to fears and doubts. Let your countenance be no more sad; for nothing can speak or make that soul miserable, that the word speaks out to be happy, Psalm 119:24. God has bowed down the Scriptures to the capacity even of babes and sucklings.
Constantine would have all differences and disputes in the Nicene Council ended by the Bible. O doubting souls, look cheerfully to this, that all differences and controversies that arise in your hearts be ended by the word. There is danger in looking outside the Scripture, or beyond the Scripture, or short of the Scripture, or upon sense and feeling, so much as upon the Scripture; therefore let the word be always the man of your counsel. No way to assurance and joy, to settlement and establishment, like this. If you are resolved to make sense and feeling the judge of your conditions, you must resolve to live in fears, and lie down in tears.
VII. The seventh impediment to assurance is, Men's remissness, carelessness, and laziness in religious services, and in the exercise of their graces. Ah, how active and lively are men in pursuing after the world! but how lifeless and unactive in the ways of grace and holiness! Ah, doubting Christians! remember this, that the promise of assurance and comfort is made over, not to lazy but laborious Christians; not to idle but to active Christians; not to negligent but to diligent Christians: John 14:21-23, "He who has my commandments, and keeps them, he it is that loves me; and he who loves me shall be loved by my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him." Now "Judas said unto him (not Iscariot), Lord! how is it that you will manifest yourself unto us, and not unto the world? Jesus answered and said unto him, If any man loves me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him." So 2 Pet 1:10-11, "Therefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if you do these things, you shall never fall: for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
A lazy Christian shall always lack four things, namely, comfort, contentment, confidence, and assurance. God has made a separation between joy and idleness, between assurance and laziness; and therefore it is impossible for you to bring these together, which God has put so far asunder. Assurance and joy are choice gifts which Christ gives only to laborious Christians. The lazy Christian has his mouth full of complaints, when the active Christian has his heart full of comforts. God would have the hearts of his children to be hot in pious services. "Be fervent" (or seething hot, as it is in the original) "in spirit, serving the Lord," Rom 12:11.
That service which has not heavenly heat, which has not divine fire in it, is no service, it is lost service. A lazy spirit is always a losing spirit. Oh! remember, lazy Christians, that God is a pure action, therefore he loves activeness in pious services. Remember the angels, those princes of glory, are full of life and activity, and they always behold the Father's face in glory, Matt 18:10. Remember, he who will find rich minerals must dig deep, he who will be rich must sweat for it, he that will taste the kernel must crack the shell, he who will have the marrow must break the bone, he who will wear the garland must run the race, he who will ride in triumph must get the victory. Just so, he who will get assurance must be active and lively in duty, Prov 2:4-6. It is only fervent prayer which is effectual prayer, it is only the working prayer which works wonders in heaven, and which brings down wonderful assurance into the heart.
Cold prayers shall never have any warm answers; God will suit his returns to our requests; lifeless services shall have lifeless answers; when men are dull, God will be dumb. Elijah prayed earnestly, or as it is in the Greek, "He prayed in prayer," and God answered him. (Most men have more heat in their brains, than in their hearts and services; and therefore it is that they walk in darkness, that they lack assurance.) Many there are who pray—but they do not pray in prayer, they are not lively and earnest with God in prayer; and therefore justice shuts out their prayers. When one desired to know what kind of man Basil was, there was, says the history, presented to him in a dream, a pillar of fire with this motto, 'Basil is such a one, all on a-light fire for God.' Ah! lazy, doubting Christians, were you all on fire—in hearing, in praying, etc.; it would not be long before the windows of heaven would be open, before God would rain down manna, before he would drop down assurance into your bosoms.
My advice to you, lazy Christians, is this, cease complaining of the lack of assurance, and be no more formal, slight, and superficial in pious services—but stir up yourselves, and put out all your might and strength in holy actions, and you shall experimentally find that it will not be long before you shall have such good news from heaven, as will fill you with joy unspeakable, and full of glory.
VIII. The eighth impediment to assurance is, Men's living in the neglect of some ordinance, or in the omission of some pious duties. Omission of diet breeds diseases, and makes the life uncomfortable, yes, sometimes a burden to a man. So the omission of holy duties and services breeds many fears, doubts, and questions in the soul, about its own sincerity, about its interest in Christ, about its finding audience and acceptance with God; and so makes the life of a Christian very uncomfortable, yes, a burden to him.
They seek Christ in some of his ways—but not in all; they wait upon him in this and that ordinance—but not in every ordinance. Are there not many doubting souls who wait upon God, in hearing the word of life; and yet neglect, and make light of waiting upon Christ, in breaking the bread of life? Are there not many who are very careful daily to perform family duties, and yet are very rarely found in closet services? Some there are, who are all ear, all for hearing; and others there are, who are all tongue, all for speaking and praying; and others there are, who are all eye, all for believing, all for searching, all for inquiring into this and that; and others there are, who are all hand, all for receiving the Lord's supper, etc. And seriously, when I consider these things, I cease wondering that so many lack assurance, and do rather wonder that any obtain assurance, considering how few there are, who are conscientious and ingenuous in waiting upon God in every way and service wherein he is pleased to manifest his grace and favor to poor souls.
Well! doubting souls, remember this, God will have you may seek his face in all. God loves as well that you should wait on him, as that you should wrestle with him. He who will not give God the honor of attending him in every duty, in every ordinance, may long enough complain of the lack of assurance, before God will give him the white stone and the new name, which none knows but he who has it, Rev 2:17. Many of the precious sons of Zion have found God giving assurance in one ordinance, others have found him giving assurance in another ordinance. God speaks peace to some in such and such services, and comfort to others in such and such duties. Therefore, as you would have assurance, O doubting souls, seek the Lord in every way and service, wherein he is pleased to make known his glory and goodness. In hearing, Christ opens his box of ointments to some, and in praying and breaking of bread, he lets his sweet myrrh fall upon the hearts of others. Some have seen the glory of the Lord in the sanctuary, who have been clouded in their closets; others have heard a sweet still voice in their closets, who have sat long trembling in the sanctuary. Remember, doubting souls, Moab and Ammon were banished to the sanctuary to the tenth generation, for a mere omission, because they met not God's Israel in the wilderness with bread and water, Deut 23:3-4. And I truly believe, that God does banish, as I may say, many from his favorable presence, as Absalom did David, for their sinful omissions, for their non-attendance upon him in all his ways. Here the proverb is most false which says, 'a little hurts not.' Ah! this or that little omission, as you call it, may expose men to a great deal of wrath, Matt 25:41-46. They did not rob the saints—but omitted the relieving of them, which was their ruin.
Therefore, if ever you would have assurance, seek the Lord, not only while he may be found—but also in every gracious dispensation where he may be found. "Then shall the joy of the Lord be your strength," and his "glory shall rest upon you." "The days of your mourning shall be ended," and "you shall lie down in peace, and none shall make you afraid." [Neh 8:9; Isa 60:20; Lev 26:6]
I would earnestly desire you, O doubting souls, seriously to consider, that all the ways of Christ are ways of pleasantness; as Solomon speaks, Prov 3:17, not only this way or that way—but every way of Christ is a way of pleasantness; every way is strewed with roses, every way is paved with gold, every way is attended with comfort and refreshing. So the psalmist, "Your paths drop fatness," Psalm 65:11-12; not only this or that path—but all the paths of God drops fatness. Oh then, walk in every way, tread in every path of God, as you would have your souls filled with marrow and fatness, Psalm 63:5; and never forget that choice saying of the prophet Isaiah, "You meet him who rejoices, and works righteousness, who remembers you in your ways," Isa 64:5. God ran and meet the soul, as the father of the prodigal ran and met him afar off with affections of love and pity. Those who would have God to meet with them in a way of peace and reconciliation, in a way of grace and favor, must remember God in all his ways; not only in this or that particular way—but in every way wherein he is pleased to cause his glory to shine. Therefore, doubting souls, cease complaining, and be more conscientious and ingenuous in waiting upon God in all his appointments, and it will not long be night with you.
IX The ninth impediment that keeps Christians from assurance is an immoderate love of the world. Many are miserable by loving hurtful things—but are more miserable by having them. Their thoughts and hearts are so busied about getting the world and keeping the world, that they neither seek assurance as they should, nor prize assurance as they should, nor lament the lack of assurance as they should, nor study the worth and excellency of assurance as they should; and therefore it is no wonder, that such are without assurance. As it is very hard for a rich man to enter into heaven, Matt 19:23-24, so it is very hard for a worldly Christian to get assurance of heaven. The "thick clay," Hab 2:6, of this world does so affect him, and capture him, so satisfy him, and sink him—that he is not able to pursue after assurance, with that life and love, with that fervency and frequency, as those must do, who will obtain it. It is said, Gen 13:2, "That Abraham was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold;" according to the Hebrew, Abraham was very heavy in cattle, in silver, and in gold; to show, says one, that riches are a heavy burden—and a hindrance many times to a Christian's comfort and confidence, to his happiness and assurance.
Rich men's wealth proves a hindrance to their happiness. Solomon got more hurt by his wealth, than he got good by his wisdom. Such a fire rose out of his worldly enjoyments, as did even consume and burn up his choicest graces and his noblest virtues; under all his royal robes, he had but a threadbare soul. Sicily, says one, is so full of sweet flowers, that dogs cannot hunt there, the scent of the sweet flowers diverts their smell. And ah! what do all the sweet delights and pleasures of this world do—but make men lose the scent of heaven—but divert men from hunting after assurance, and from running after Christ, in the sweetness of his ointments.
The creature is all shadow—and vanity of vanities. Vanity is the very quintessence of the creature, and all that can possibly be extracted out of it. It is like Jonah's gourd. A man may sit under its shadow for a while—but it soon decays and dies. "Why should you set your heart upon that which is not?" Prov 23:5. Were ever riches true to those who trusted them? As the bird hops from twig to twig, so do riches hop from man to man, etc. Worldly Christians, cease complaining of the lack of assurance, and sincerely humble and abase your souls before the Lord; for that you have so eagerly pursued after lying vanities; for that you have in so great a measure forsaken the fountain of living waters; for with Martha you have been busied about many things; when Christ and assurance, the two things necessary, have been so much neglected and disregarded by you.
Get this world, this moon, under your feet; take no rest until you have broken through this silken net, until you have got off these golden fetters. A heart which is full of the world, is a heart full of lacks. Ah! the joy, the peace, the comfort, the confidence, the assurance—which such hearts lack. The stars which have least circuit, are nearest the pole; and men whose hearts are least entangled with the world, are always nearest to God, and to the assurance of his favor. Worldly Christians, remember this—you and the world must part, or else assurance and your souls will never meet. When a worldly Christian is saved, he is saved as by fire; and before ever he shall be assured of his salvation, he must cry out, "all human consolations are but desolations!" God will not give the sweets of heaven, to those who are gorged and surfeited with the delicacies of the earth. The hen upon the ash-heap prefers a barley-corn above the choicest pearl; such ash-heap Christians prefer a little barley-corn above this pearl of price, assurance.
Those who, with Esau, prefer a morsel of meat before this blessing of blessings; who prefer Paris above Paradise; who prefer God's coin above his countenance—may at last with Esau seek, and seek with tears, this heavenly jewel, assurance; and yet, as he, be rejected and repulsed, Heb 12:16-17. "The world is a carcass, and those who hunt after it are dogs." This proverb makes a great many of our glistening professors to be but dogs.
X. The tenth impediment that keeps Christians from assurance, is, The secret cherishing and running out of their hearts, to some bosom, darling sin. It is dark night with the soul, when the soul will cast a desiring eye upon this or that bosom sin, and secretly say, "Is it not a little one?" Gen 19:20, though God and conscience have formerly checked and whipped the soul for so doing. Ah! how many are there who dally and play with sin—even after they have put up many prayers and complaints against sin—and after they have lamented and bitterly mourned over their sins. Many there are who complain of their deadness, barrenness, frowardness, conceitedness, censoriousness, and other sins; and yet are ready at every turn to gratify, if not to justify, those very sins that they complain against! No wonder that such lack assurance!
After the Israelites ate manna in the wilderness, and drank "water out of the rock," after God had been to them a "cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night," after he had led them by the hand, and kept them as the apple of his eye, after he had made them spectators of his wonders—they hankered after the fleshpots of Egypt! So when, after God has given a man a new name and a white stone, after he has made a report of his love to the soul, after he has taken a man up into paradise, after he has set a man upon his knee, and carried him in his bosom, after he has spoken peace and pardon to the soul, Psalm 85:8—for the soul to return to folly, oh! this cannot but prove a woeful hindrance to assurance, this will provoke God to change his countenance, and to behave not as a friend—but as an enemy!
When God's love is abused, his justice takes up the iron rod. God will strike hard and heavy, when men kick against his love and mercy. God has made an everlasting separation between sin and peace, between sin and joy, and between sin and assurance. God will be out with that man—who is in with his sin. If sin and the soul are one, God and the soul must needs be two. He who is resolved to dally with any sin—he must resolve to live in many fears. Never forget this—he who savors any one sin, though he foregoes many others, does but as Benadab, recover from one disease, and die of another. Yes, he takes pains to plunge himself into two hells—a hell here, and a hell hereafter. Therefore, as ever you would have assurance, offer up your Isaac, part with your Benjamin, pull out your right eye, cut off your right hand; otherwise assurance and joy will not be your portion.
Now that I may remove this impediment, which is of such dangerous consequence to Christians' souls, and keep Christians forever from smiling upon any bosom sin, I shall first lay down a few considerations to provoke them to dally and play no more with sin—but to put off that sin which does so easily beset them, which sticks so close unto them, Heb 12:1; and then in the second place, I shall propound some means which may contribute to the bringing of bosom sins under control, that so it may be no longer night with the soul.
1. The first motive to provoke you to put out all your strength and might against bosom sins—which you are so apt to play with, is seriously to consider, that this will be a strong and choice demonstration and evidence of the sincerity and uprightness of your hearts: Psalm 18:23, "I was also upright with him, and I kept myself from my iniquity." I kept a strict and diligent watch upon that particular sin which I found myself most inclined unto. And this, says David, is a clear evidence to me of the uprightness of my heart with God. The truth is, there is no hypocrite in the world, but does dandle and dally with some bosom sin or other; and though at times, and for carnal reasons, they seem to be very zealous against this and that sin; yet at the very same time their hearts stand strongly and affectionately engaged to some bosom sin, as might be showed in Saul, Judas, and Herod. "Though evil is sweet in his mouth and he hides it under his tongue, though he cannot bear to let it go and keeps it in his mouth, yet his food will turn sour in his stomach; it will become the venom of serpents within him. He will spit out the riches he swallowed; God will make his stomach vomit them up. He will suck the poison of serpents; the fangs of an adder will kill him." Job 20:12-16.
Therefore, as ever you would have a sure argument of your uprightness, trample upon your Delilahs! This very evidence of your uprightness and sincerity may yield you more comfort and refreshing in a day of trouble and darkness, than for the present you do apprehend, or have faith to believe. Some there are, who can tell you, that neither the joy of the bridegroom, nor the joy of the harvest, is to be compared to that joy which arises in the soul from the sense and evidence of a man's own uprightness, 2 Cor 1:12. Sincerity is the very queen of virtues; she holds the throne, and will be sure to keep it. Yes, the very sight of it in the soul makes a man sit cheerful and thankful, Noah-like, in the midst of all tempests and storms. Look! as the playing with a bosom sin speaks out hypocrisy, so the mortifying of a bosom sin speaks out sincerity of soul!
2. The second motive to provoke doubting souls to trample upon their bosom sins, is solemnly to consider, that the conquest of their darling sins will render the conquests of other sins easy.
When Goliath was slain, the rest of the Philistines fled, 1 Sam 17:51-52. When a general in an army is cut off, the common soldiers are easily routed and destroyed. Ah! complaining, doubting souls—did you but take the courage and resolution to fall with all your might and spiritual strength upon those particular sins which stick so close unto you, and which so easily captivate you; you would find, that the great mountains which are before you would soon be made a plain, Zech 4:7. Other sins will not be long-lived, when justice is done upon your bosom sins. Thrust but a dart through the heart of Absalom, and a complete conquest will follow, 2 Sam 18:14.
3. The third motive to provoke you to crucify your bosom sins, be they what they will, is, seriously to consider the very great damage that your souls have already sustained by your bosom sins.
Saul, by casting an amorous eye upon Agag, lost his crown and kingdom. Samson, by dallying with his Delilah, lost his strength, sight, light, liberty, and life. But what are these losses to your loss of spiritual strength, to your loss of communion with God, to your loss of the Spirit of light, life, liberty, and glory; to your loss of joy unspeakable, and peace which passes all understanding; and to your loss of those fresh and sparkling hopes of glory, which were once sparkling in your bosom? Some there are, who had rather lose their souls than their sins: these shall be chronicled in hell for fools and madmen!
Mark Antony was so far bewitched with his Cleopatra, that in the heat of the battle of Actium, when the empire of the world, his life, and all lay at stake, that he fled to pursue her, to the ruin and loss of all. There are many, who are so bewitched to some Cleopatra, to some darling sin or other—that they pursue the enjoyment of them to the loss of God, Christ, heaven, and their souls forever!
Ah! Christians, that the sense of what you have formerly lost, and of what you daily lose by your playing with sin, might provoke you to set upon some effectual course for the mortifying of them!
It was a blasphemous speech of Henry the Second, who said, when Mentz, his city, was taken, "That he would never love God any more, who allowed a city so dear to him to be taken from him." But it will be a blessed and happy thing for you, in uprightness to say, "Oh, we will never more love, we will never more favor, we will never more dally with our bosom sins; for they have damnified us in our spiritual enjoyments, and in our spiritual returns from heaven. Shall the sense of outward losses by this and that instrument, work us out of love with them? And shall not the sense of our spiritual losses by bosom sins—work us much more out with them. Ah, Lord! of what iron mettle is that heart, which can look upon those sad losses which have attended playing with bosom sins—and yet still dally with those Delilahs?
4. The fourth motive to provoke you to the mortifying of your darling sins, is, solemnly to consider, that the conquest and effectual mortifying of one bosom sin, will yield a Christian more glorious joy, comfort, and peace—than ever he has found in the gratifying and committing of all other sins. The pleasure and sweetness which follows victory over sin, is a thousand times beyond that seeming sweetness which is in the gratifying of sin. The joy which attends the subduing of sin—is a noble joy, a pure joy, a special joy, an increasing joy, and a lasting joy. But that joy which attends the committing of sin—is an ignoble joy, a corrupt joy, a decreasing joy, a dying joy. The truth is--if there were the least real joy in sin, there could be no hell-torments, where men shall most totally sin, and be most totally tormented with their sin.
The heathens, as many Christian professors now, had not the right art of mortifying sin. All their attempts are to hide a lust, not to quench it; therefore their joy was like the crackling of thorns under a pot.
Ah! doubting Christians, as ever you would have good days, as ever you would walk in the light, as ever you would, like the angels, have always harps in your hands, and hallelujahs in your mouths—be restless, until in the spirit and power of Jesus, you have brought under control, that sin which sticks so close unto you. Remember this, nothing below the conquest of bosom sins can make a jubilee in the heart. It is not a man's whining and complaining over sin—but his mortifying of sin, which will make his life a paradise of pleasure.
If, notwithstanding all that has been said, you are still resolved to dally with sin, then you must resolve to live as a stranger to God, and as a stranger to assurance and peace; you must expect sad trials without, and sore troubles within; you must expect to find Satan playing his part both as a lion and as a serpent, both as a devil and as an angel of light. You must expect either no news from heaven, or but bad news from heaven; and you must expect that conscience will play the part both of a scolding wife and of a lion that wants his prey; and this shall be your just wages for playing with sin. If you like the wages, then take your course, and dally with sin still; if otherwise, then sacrifice your Isaac!
The leper under the law was still to keep his hair shaved, Lev 14:5. So should we be still a-cutting and shaving, that though the roots of sin remain, yet they may not grow and sprout.
5. The fifth motive to work you to trample upon your bosom sins is, wisely to consider, that it is your duty and glory to do that every day—which you would willingly do upon a dying day. Ah! how would you live and love upon a dying day? How would you admire God, rest upon God, delight in God, long for God, and walk with God upon a dying day? How would you hate, loathe, and abhor your bosom sins upon a dying day? How would you complain of your bosom sins, and pray against your bosom sins, and mourn over your bosom sins, and watch against your bosom sins, and fly from all occasions which would tend to draw you to close with your bosom sins upon a dying day?
Ah! doubting souls, you would not for all the world gratify your bosom sins upon a dying day; and will you gratify them on other days, which, for anything you know to the contrary, may prove your dying day? Thrice happy is that soul who labors with all his might to do that at first, which he would gladly do at last; who does that on every day; which he would give a thousand worlds to do on a dying day. No way to assurance like this; no way to joy and comfort like this; no way to rest and peace like this; no way to the kingdom, to the crown, like this!
I earnestly beseech you, trembling souls, when you find your hearts running out to bosom sins, that you would lay your hands upon them, and thus expostulate the case: "O my soul—would you thus dally and play with sin upon a dying day? Would you thus stroke and hug sin upon a dying day? would you not rather, show all the dislike and hatred that is imaginable against it? Would you not tremble at sin more than at hell? and abhor the very occasions of sin more than the most venomous serpent in all the world? Would you not rather suffer the worst and greatest punishments, than to smile upon a darling sin upon a dying day? Yes! oh would you gladly do this upon a dying day? Why not then every day? Why not then every day, O my soul?"
6. The sixth motive to provoke you to fall with all your might upon bosom sins is, seriously to consider, that until this is done, fears and doubts will still haunt the soul; the soul will still be fearing that surely all is naught, and that that work which is wrought upon it is not a real but a counterfeit work; that it is not a spiritual and special work—but a common work, which a man may have and perish. Until this is done, the soul can never be able to see grace in his own native beauty and glory. One flaw in the diamond does not only take away the beauty, glory and price of it—but it puts men into questioning whether it is a real diamond.
The hugging of sin in a corner, will raise such a dust in the soul, that it will not be able to see these pearls of glory sparkling and shining. Until this is done, doubting souls, you will be but spiritual babes and dwarfs. The hankering of the soul after sin, is the casting of water upon the Spirit; it is the laming of grace, it is the clipping the wings of faith and prayer. Just so, that the soul can neither be confident, nor fervent, frequent nor constant in pious services. Just so, it will unavoidably follow—that such souls will be like Pharaoh's lean cows, poor and starveling. Gideon had seventy sons, and but one bastard son; and yet that one bastard son destroyed all the rest! You may easily apply it. [Judg 8]
Look! as many men are kept low in their outward estates, by having a back door to some Herodias; so many doubting souls are kept low in spirituals, by their hankering after some particular sins.
Remember, Christians, sin is the soul's sickness, the soul's weakness. If the body is weak and diseased, it grows not. Sin is poison which turns all nourishment into corruption, and so hinders the growth of the soul in grace and holiness. Ah! Christians, as ever you would be rid of your fears and doubts, as ever you would see the beauty and glory of grace, as ever you would be eminent and excellent in grace and holiness—see that effectual justice be done upon that Achan, that Jonah, that darling sin, which has occasioned storms within and tempests without!
It was a grievous vexation to King Lysimachus, that his staying to drink one draught of water lost him his kingdom. Ah! Christians, it will grievously vex you, when you come to yourselves, and when you come to taste of the admirable pleasure which attends the conquest of sin—to consider that your hankering after this or that particular sin, has been the loss of that joy and comfort, that peace and assurance, which is infinitely more worth than all the kingdoms of the world! If there is but one crack in the honey-jar, there the wasp will be buzzing; and where there is but some one sin favored, there Satan will be tempting and upbraiding.
QUESTION. But you may say to me, Oh we would gladly have our bosom-sins subdued, we desire above all, that they may be effectually mortified. These sons of Zeruiah we would choose to have slain! But what course must we take to bring under our darling sins, to get off our golden fetters, to get out of these silken snares? To this question I shall give these answers:
1. The first means. If ever you would have mastery over this or that bosom sin—then engage all your power and might against your bosom sin, draw up your spiritual forces, and engage them wholly against that sin which does so easily beset you. As the king of Syria said to his captains, "Fight neither with small nor great, but only with the king of Israel," 2 Chron 18:30. Just so, say I, your wisdom and your work, O doubting souls, lies not in skirmishing with this or that lesser sin—but in coming up to a close sharp fight with the king sin—with that darling sin, which has a kingly interest in you, and a kingly power over you.
When there is no hope of curing, men must fall a-cutting. Believe it, souls, you must fall a-cutting your bosom sins in pieces by the sword of the Spirit, as Samuel cut Agag in pieces in Gilgal before the Lord, or else you will never obtain a perfect cure, 1 Sam 15:33. Slight skirmishes will not do it; you must pursue your bosom sins to the death—or they will be the death of your souls!
2. The second means to bring under a bosom sin, is, to labor to be most eminent and excellent in that particular grace, which is most opposite to a man's bosom sin. (As when one bucket of a well goes up—the other goes down. Just so, when grace gets up—sin goes down; when grace flourishes—sin withers.) As it is a Christian's glory to be eminent in every grace, so it is a Christian's special duty to excel in that particular grace which is most contrary to his darling sins. Is it pride, is it the world, is it hypocrisy, etc., which is your bosom sin, which is the chief favorite in your soul? Oh then, labor above all to be clothed with humility, to abound in heavenly-mindedness, to transcend in sincerity, etc., I know no surer, no choicer, no sweeter way, effectually to crucify a bosom sin, than this. He who comes up to this counsel, will not be long held in sin's golden fetters; it will not be long before such a soul cries out, Victory, victory!
3. The third means to help us to trample upon bosom sins, is, to look upon bosom sins now, as they will appear to us at last; to look upon them in the time of health—as they will appear to us in times of sickness; to look upon them in the youth time of our life—as they will appear to us in the day of our death. Ah! souls, of all unpardoned sins, your bosom sins will be presented by God, conscience, and Satan at last—as the most filthy and ugly, as the most terrible and dreadful. Your bosom sins at last will appear to be those monsters, those fiends of hell—which have most provoked God against you, which have shut up Christ's affections of love and compassion from you, which have armed conscience against you, which have barred the gates of glory against you, which have prepared the hottest place in hell for you, and which have given Satan the greatest advantage eternally to triumph over you! Many there are, who have found these things by woeful experience. Woe, woe, to that soul which shall put it to the trial.
Ah! souls, at last your bosom sins will more press and oppress you, more sadden and sink you, more terrify and amaze you—than all your other transgressions! Those sins which seem most sweet in life—will prove most bitter in death, Job 20:11-29. Those pleasant morsels will prove your greatest hell, when there is but a short step between your soul and eternity. Ah! Christians, never look upon bosom sins—but with that eye which within a few hours you must behold them; and this, you will find by experience, will be a singular means to bring under control your bosom sins.
4. The fourth means to subdue bosom sins is, to apply yourselves to extraordinary means, as fasting and prayer, etc. Ordinary medicines will not remove extraordinary distempers; nor will ordinary duties remove bosom sins, which, by long and familiar acquaintance with the soul, are exceedingly strengthened and advantaged. You read of some devils in the Gospel which could not be cast out but by prayer and fasting, Matt 17:14-22. So bosom sins are those white devils which will not, which cannot be cast out but by fervent and constant prayer, joined with fasting and humiliation. Souls who are serious and conscientious in observing of this rule will find such a divine power to attend their endeavors as will enable them to triumph over those white devils within, as Christ triumphed over principalities and powers upon the cross, Col 2:14-15.
5. The fifth means. As you would have victory over bosom sins, keep away from all those occasions which tend to lead you to the gratifying of them. He who shuns not the occasions of sin, tempts two at once—Satan and his own heart! He tempts Satan to tempt him to taste of forbidden fruit, and he tempts his own heart to feed upon forbidden fruit. "Abstain from all appearance of evil," 1 Thess 5:22; "hate the garment spotted by the flesh," Jude 23. Whatever carries with it a shadow of suspicion—that abstain from, that you may neither wound God nor the gospel, nor your own consciences. If there is any fuel to feed your bosom sin in your house, remove it; or before your eye, remove it; or in your hand, remove it, put it far away! Your soul cannot be safe, it cannot be secure, so long as the occasions of sin are your companions.
Would you have a clear evidence of the truth of your grace—then shun the occasions of sin. Would you imitate the choicest saints—then shun the occasions of sin. Would you stand in shaking times—then keep far off from the occasions of sin. Would you keep always peace with God, and peace with conscience—then keep far off from the occasions of sin. Would you frustrate Satan's greatest designs, and countermine him in his deepest plots—then keep far off from the occasions of sin. Would you keep your bones from breaking, and your heart from bleeding—then keep far off from the occasions of sin. Would you keep down fears and doubts, and keep up faith and hope—then keep far off from the occasions of sin. Would you have assurance in life, and joy and peace in death—then keep far off from the occasions of sin. Do this, and you do all. If you do not do this, you do nothing at all. [Gen 39:10; Job 31:1; Psalm 26:4-6]
And thus I am done with the impediments which hinder souls from assurance; as also with the means to remove those impediments.
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