« Prev SECTION XI. Great confidence, is no certain sign. Next »

It is no sign that affections are right, or that they are wrong, that they make persons exceeding confident.

It is an argument with some, that persons are deluded if they pretend to be assured of their good estate, and to be carried beyond all doubting of the favour of God, supposing that there is no such thing to be expected, as a full and absolute assurance of hope; unless it be in some very extraordinary circumstances; as in the case of martyrdom. But this is contrary to the doctrine of protestants, which has been maintained by their most celebrated writers against the papists; and contrary to the plainest scripture evidence. It is manifest, that it was a common thing for the saints of whom we have a particular account in Scripture, to be assured. God, in the plainest and most positive manner, revealed and testified his special favour to Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Daniel, and others. Job often speaks of his sincerity and uprightness with the greatest imaginable confidence and assurance, often calling God to witness it; and says plainly, “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that I shall see him for myself, and not another,”. Job xix. 25,. &c. David throughout the book of Psalms, speaks without hesitancy, and in the most positive manner, of God as his God; glorying in him as his portion and heritage, his rock and confidence, his shield, salvation, high tower, and the like. Hezekiah appeals to God, as one that knew he had walked before him in truth, and with a perfect heart, 2 Kings xx. 3. Jesus Christ, in his dying discourse with his eleven disciples, John xiv-xvi. (which was as it were Christ’s last will and testament to his disciples and to his whole church,) often declares his special and everlasting love to them, in the plainest and most positive terms; and promises them a future participation with him in his glory, in the most absolute manner. And he tells them, at the same time, that he does so to this end, that their joy might be full; John xv. 11. “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” See also at the conclusion of his whole discourse, chap. xvi. 33. “These things have I spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” Christ was not afraid of speaking too plainly and positively to them; he did not desire to hold them in the least suspense. And he concluded that last discourse, with a prayer in their presence; wherein he speaks positively to his Father of those eleven disciples, as having savingly known him, believed in him, and received and kept his word. He declares, that they were not of the world; that for their sakes he sanctified himself; and that his will was, that they should be with him in his glory. And tells his Father, that he spake these things in his prayer, to the end, that his joy might be fulfilled in them, ver. 13. By these things it is evident, that it is agreeable to Christ’s designs, that there should be sufficient provision made, for his saints to have full assurance of their future glory.

The apostle Paul, through all his epistles, speaks in an assured strain; ever asserting his special relation to Christ, his Lord, Master, and Redeemer, with his interest in, and expectation of, the future reward. It would be endless to take notice of all places that might be enumerated; I shall mention but three or four: Gal. ii. 20. “Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Phil. i. 21. “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” 2 Tim. i. 12. “I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to keep that which 1 have committed unto him against that day.” 2 Tim. iv. 7, 8. “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me at that day.”

The nature of the covenant of grace, and God’s declared ends in the appointment and constitution of things in that covenant, plainly show it to be God’s design to make ample provision for the saints having an assured hope of eternal life, while living here upon earth. For so are all 257 things ordered in that covenant, that every thing might be made sure on God’s part. The covenant is ordered in all things and sure: the promises are most full, very often repeated, and various ways exhibited; there are many witnesses, and many seals; and God has confirmed his promises with an oath. God’s declared design in all this is, that the heirs of the promises might have an undoubting hope, and full joy, in an assurance of their future glory. Heb. vi. 17, 18. “Wherein God willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath: that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us.” But all this would be in vain, for any such purpose as the saints’ strong consolation, and their hope of obtaining future glory, if their interest in those sure promises in ordinary cases were not attainable. For God’s promises and oaths, let them be as sure as they will, cannot give strong hope and comfort to any particular person, any further than he can know that those promises are made to him. And in vain is provision made in Jesus Christ, that believers might be perfect, as pertaining to the conscience, Heb. ix. 9. if assurance of freedom from the guilt of sin is not attainable.

It further appears, that assurance is attainable in ordinary cases, in that all Christians are directed to give all diligence to make their calling and election sure, and are told now they may do it, 2 Pet. i. 5-8. And it is spoken of as a thing very unbecoming Christians, and an argument of something very blamable in them, not to know whether Christ be in them or no, 2 Cor. xiii. 5. “Know ye not your ownselves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” And it is implied, that it is a very blamable negligence in Christians, if they practise Christianity after such a manner as to remain uncertain of the reward, 1 Cor. ix. 26. “I therefore so run, as not uncertainly.” And, to add no more, it is manifest, that Christians knowing their interest in the saving benefits of Christianity, is a thing ordinarily attainable, because the apostles tell us by what means Christians (and not only apostles and martyrs) were wont to know this; 1 Cor. ii. 12. “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.” And 1 John ii. 3. “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.” And ver. 5. “Hereby know we that we are in him.” Chap. iii. 14. “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” Verse 19. “Hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.” Verse 24. “Hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.” (So chap. iv. 13. and chap. v. 2, 19.)

Therefore it must needs be very unreasonable to determine, that persons are hypocrites, and their affections wrong, because they seem to be out of doubt respecting their own salvation, and their affections seem to banish all fears of hell.

On the other hand, it is no sufficient reason to determine that men are saints, and their affections gracious, because they are attended with confidence that their state is good, and their affections divine. 452452    “O professor, look carefully to your foundation: be not high-minded, but fear. You have, it may be, done and suffered many things in and for religion; you have excellent gifts and sweet comforts; a warm zeal for God, and high confidence of your integrity: all this may be right, for ought that I, or (it may be) you know: but yet, it is possible it may be false also. You have sometimes judged yourselves, and pronounced yourselves upright; but remember your final sentence is not yet pronounced by your Judge. And what if God weigh you over again, in his more equal balance, and should say, Mene, Tekel, Thou art weighed in the balance, and art found wanting? What a confounded man wilt thou be, under such a sentence! Quae resplendent in conspectu hominis, sordent in conspectu Judicis; Things that are highly esteemed of men, are an abomination in the sight of God: he seeth not as men seeth. Thy heart may be false, and thou not know it: yea, it may be false, and thou strongly confident of its integrity.”—Flavel’s Touchstone of Sincerity, chap. ii. sect. 5. “Some hypocrites are a great deal more confident than many saints.”— Stoddard’s Discourse on the way to know Sincerity and Hypocrisy. p. 128. Nothing can be certainly argued from their confidence, how great and strong soever it be. A man may boldly call God his Father, and commonly speak in the most bold, familiar, and appropriating language in prayer, My Father, my dear Redeemer, my sweet Saviour, my beloved, and the like. He may use the most confident expressions before men, about the goodness of his state; such as, “I know certainly that God is my Father: I know so surely as there is a God in heaven, that he is my God; I know I shall go to heaven, as well as if I were there; I know that God is now manifesting himself to my soul, and is now smiling upon me.” He may seem to have done for ever with any inquiry or examination into his state, as a thing sufficiently known, and out of doubt, and to contemn all that so much as intimate that there is reason to doubt whether all is right. Yet such things are no signs at all that it is indeed what he is confident it is. 453453    “Doth the work of faith in some believers, bear upon its top-branches, the full ripe fruits of a blessed assurance? Lo, what strong confidence, and high-built persuasions of an interest in God, have sometimes been found in unsanctified ones! Yea, so strong may this false assurance be, that they dare boldly venture to go to the judgment-seat of God, and there defend it Doth the Spirit of God fill the heart of the assured believer with joy unshakable, and full of glory, giving them, through faith, a prelibation or foretaste of heaven itself, in those first-fruits of it? How near to this comes what the apostle supposes may be found in apostates!” Flavel’s Husbandry Spiritualized, chap. xii. —Such an over-bearing, high-handed, and violent sort of confidence as this, affecting to declare itself with a most glaring show in the sight of men, has not the countenance of a true christian assurance. It savours more of the spirit of the Pharisees, who never doubted but that they were saints, the most eminent of saints, and were bold to thank God for the great distinction he had made between them and other men. And when Christ intimated that they were blind and graceless, they despised the suggestion; John ix. 40. “And some of the Pharisees which were with him, heard these words, and said unto him, Are we blind also?” If they had more of the spirit of the publican—who, in a sense of his exceeding unworthiness, stood afar off, and durst not so much as lift up his eyes to heaven, but smote on his breast, condemning himself as a sinner—their confidence would have more resembled one who humbly trusts and hopes in Christ, and has no confidence in himself.

If we do but consider what the hearts of natural men are, what principles they are under, what blindness and deceit, what self-flattery, self-exaltation, and self-confidence reigns there, we need not at all wonder that their high opinion of themselves, and confidence of their happy circumstances, are as high and strong as mountains, and as violent as a tempest. For what should hinder, when once conscience is blinded, convictions are killed, false affections high, and those forementioned principles let loose? When, moreover, these principles are prompted by false joys and comforts, excited by some pleasing imaginations impressed by Satan, transforming himself into an angel of light?

When once a hypocrite is thus established in a false hope, he has not those things to cause him to call his hope in question, that oftentimes are the occasion of doubting to true saints; as, first, he has not that cautious spirit, that great sense of the vast importance of a sure foundation, and that dread of being deceived. The comforts of the true saints increase awakening and caution, and a lively sense how great a thing it is to appear before an infinitely holy, just, and omniscient Judge. But false comforts put an end to these things, and dreadfully stupify the mind. Secondly, The hypocrite has not the knowledge of his own blindness, and the deceitfulness of his own heart, and that mean opinion of his own understanding, that the true saint has. Those that are deluded with false discoveries and affections, are evermore highly conceited of their light and understanding. Thirdly, The devil does not assault the hope of the hypocrite, as he does the hope of a true saint. The devil is a great enemy to a true Christian’s hope, not only because it tends greatly to his comfort, but also because it is of a holy, heavenly nature, greatly tending to promote and cherish grace in the heart, and a great incentive to strictness and diligence in the Christian life. But he is no enemy to the hope of a hypocrite, which above all things establishes his interest in him. A hypocrite may retain his hope without opposition, as long as he lives, the devil never attempting to disturb it. But there is perhaps no true Christian but what has his hope assaulted by him. Satan assaulted Christ himself, upon this, whether he were the Son of God or no: and the servant is not above his Master, nor 258 the disciple above his Lord. It is enough for the disciple, who is most privileged in this world, to be as his Master. Fourthly, He who has a false hope, has not that sight of his own corruptions which the saint has. A true Christian has ten times so much to do with his heart and its corruptions, as a hypocrite. The sins of his heart and practice appear to him in their awful blackness; they look dreadful: and it often appears a very mysterious thing, that any grace can be consistent with such corruption, or should be in such a heart. But a false hope hides corruption, covers it all over, and the hypocrite looks clean and bright in his own eyes.

There are two sorts of hypocrites: one such as are deceived with their outward morality and external religion; many of whom are professed Arminians, in the doctrine of justification: and the other, such as are deceived with false discoveries and elevations. These last often cry down works and men’s own righteousness, and talk much of free grace; but at the same time make a righteousness of their discoveries and humiliation, and exalt themselves to heaven with them. These two kinds of hypocrites Mr. Shepard, in his exposition of the Parable of the Ten Virgins, distinguishes by the names of legal and evangelical hypocrites; and often speaks of the latter as the worst. And it is evident, that the latter are commonly by far the most confident in their hope, and are with the most difficulty brought off from it. I have scarcely known an instance of such an one that has been undeceived. The chief grounds of the confidence of many of them, are impulses and supposed revelations, (sometimes with texts of Scripture, and sometimes without,) like what many of late have had concerning future events. These impulses about their good estate they call the witness of the Spirit; entirely misunderstanding the nature of the witness of the Spirit, as I shall show hereafter. Those who have had visions and impulses about other things, have generally had such things as they are desirous and fond of, revealed to them: and no wonder that persons who give heed to such things, have the same sort of visions or impressions about their own eternal salvation. Why may they not suppose a revelation made to them, that their sins are forgiven them, that their names are written in the book of life, that they are in high favour with God, &c. and especially when they earnestly seek, expect, and wait for evidence of their election and salvation this way, as the surest and most glorious evidence of it? Neither is it any wonder, that when they have such a supposed revelation of their good estate, it raises in them the highest degree of confidence of it. It is found by abundant experience, that those who are led away by impulses and imagined revelations, are extremely confident. They suppose, that the great JEHOVAH has declared these and those things to them; and having his immediate testimony, a strong confidence is the highest virtue. Hence they are bold to say, I know this or that; —I know certainly;—I am as sure as that I have a being, and the like: and they despise all argument and inquiry into the case. And it is easy to be accounted for, that impressions and impulses about that which is so pleasing, so suiting their self-love and pride, as their being the dear children of God, should make them strongly confident: especially when, with their impulses and revelations, they have high affections, which they take to be the most eminent exercises of grace. I have known several persons, who have had a fond desire of something of a temporal nature, through a violent passion that has possessed them; they have earnestly wished it should come to pass, and have met with many discouragements in it; but at last have had an impression, or supposed revelation, that they should obtain what they sought. They have looked upon this as a sure promise from the Most High, which has made them most ridiculously confident, against all manner of reason to convince them to the contrary, and all events working against them. And nothing hinders, but that persons who are seeking their salvation may be deceived by the like delusive impressions, and be made confident the same way.

The confidence of many of this sort, whom that Mr. Shepard calls evangelical hypocrites, is like the confidence of some mad men, who think they are kings: they will maintain it against all manner of reason and evidence. And in one sense, it is much more immovable than a truly gracious assurance; a true assurance is not upheld, but by the soul being kept in a holy frame, and grace maintained in lively exercise. If the actings of grace do much decay in the Christian, and he falls into a lifeless frame, he loses his assurance: but this confidence of hypocrites will not be shaken by sin; they (at least some of them) will maintain their boldness in their hope, in the most corrupt frames and wicked ways; which is a sure evidence of their delusion. 454454    • Mr. Shepard speaks of it. “as a presumptuous peace, that is not interrupted and broke by evil works.” And says, that “the spirit will sigh, and not sing, in that bosom, whence corrupt dispositions and passions break out.” And that, “though men in such frames may seem to maintain the consolation of the Spirit, and not suspect their hypocrisy, under pretence of trusting the Lord’s mercy; yet they cannot avoid the ’ condemnation of the world.’” Parable of the Ten Virgins, Part I. p. 139. Dr. Ames speaks of it as a thing, by which the peace of a wicked man may be distinguished from the peace of a godly man, “that the peace of a wicked man continues, whether be performs the duties of piety and righteousness or no; provided those crimes are avoided that appear horrid to nature itself.” Cases of Conscience, lib. 111. chap. vii.

And here I cannot but observe, that there are certain doctrines often preached to the people, which need to be delivered with more caution and explanation than they frequently are; for as they are by many understood, they tend greatly to establish this delusion and false confidence of hypocrites. The doctrines I speak of are those of Christians living by faith, not by sight: their giving glory to God, by trusting him in the dark; living upon Christ, and not upon experiences; not making their good frames the foundation of their faith. These are excellent and important doctrines indeed, rightly understood, but corrupt and destructive, as many understand them. The Scripture speaks of our living or walking by faith, and not by sight, in no other way than these, viz. When we are governed by a respect to eternal things, which are the objects of faith, and are not seen, and not by a respect to temporal things, which are seen; when we believe things revealed, that we never saw with bodily eyes; and also exercise faith in the promise of future things, without yet seeing or enjoying the things promised, or knowing the way how they can be fulfilled. This will be easily evident to any one that looks over the Scriptures, which speak of faith in opposition to sight. 455455    As 2 Cor. iv. 18. and v. 7. Heb. xi. 1, 8, 13, 17, 27, 29. Rom. viii. 24. John xx. 29. But this doctrine, as it is understood by many, is, that Christians ought firmly to believe and trust in Christ, without spiritual light; even although they are in a dark, dead frame, and for the present, have no spiritual experiences or discoveries. It is truly the duty of those who are thus in darkness to come out of darkness into light, and to believe. But that they should confidently believe and trust, while they yet remain without spiritual light or sight, is an antiscriptural and absurd doctrine.

The Scripture is ignorant of any such faith in Christ of the operation of God, that is not founded in a spiritual sight of Christ. That believing on Christ, which accompanies a title to everlasting life, is a seeing the Son, and believing on him, John vi. 40. True faith in Christ is never exercised, any further than persons behold as in a glass the glory of the Lord, and have the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, 2 Cor. iii. 18. and iv. 6. They into whose minds the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, does not shine, they believe not, 2 Cor. iv. 4. That faith, which is without spiritual light, is not the faith of the children of the light and of the day; but the presumption of the children of darkness. And therefore to press and urge them to believe, without any spiritual light or sight, tends greatly to help forward the delusions of the prince of darkness. Men not only cannot exercise faith without some spiritual light, but they can exercise faith only just in such proportion as they have spiritual light. Men will trust in God no further than they know him: and they cannot be in the exercise of faith in him, further than they have a sight of his fulness and faithfulness in exercise. Nor can they have the exercise of trust in God, any further than they are in a gracious frame. They that are in a dead carnal frame, doubtless ought to trust in God; because that would be the same thing as coming out of their bad frame, and turning to God: but to exhort men confidently to trust in God, and so hold up their hope and 259 peace, though they are not in a gracious frame, and continue still to be so, is the same thing, in effect, as to exhort them confidently to trust in God, but not with a gracious trust: and what is that but a wicked presumption? It is just as impossible for men to have a strong or lively trust in God, when they have no lively exercises of grace, or sensible christian experiences, as it is for them to be in the lively exercises of grace, without the exercises of grace!

It is true, that it is the duty of God’s people to trust in him when in darkness, even though they remain still in darkness, in one sense, viz. when the aspects of his providence are dark, and look as though God had forsaken them, and did not hear their prayers. Many clouds gather, many enemies surround them with a formidable aspect, threatening to swallow them up, and all events of providence seem to be against them. All circumstances seem to render the promise of God difficult to be fulfilled, but he must be trusted out of sight, i. e. when we cannot see which way it is possible for him to fulfil his word. Every thing but God’s mere word makes it look unlikely, so that if persons believe, they must hope against hope. Thus the ancient patriarchs, and thus the psalmist, Jeremiah, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego, and the apostle Paul, gave glory to God by trusting him in darkness. We have many instances of such a glorious, victorious faith in the eleventh of the Hebrews. But how different a thing is this, from trusting in God, without spiritual sight, and being at the same time in a dead and carnal frame!

Spiritual light may be let into the soul in one way, when it is not in another; and so there is such a thing as the saints trusting in God, and also knowing their good estate, when they are destitute of some kinds of experience. For instance, they may have clear views of God’s all-sufficiency and faithfulness, and so may confidently trust in him, and know that they are his children; and” yet not have those clear and swept ideas of his love, as at other times. Thus it was with Christ himself in his last passion. They may also have views of God’s sovereignty, holiness, and all-sufficiency, enabling them quietly to submit to him, and to exercise a sweet and most encouraging hope in his fulness, when they are not satisfied of their own good estate. But how different things are these, from confidently trusting in God, without spiritual light or experience!

Those who thus insist on persons’ living by faith, when they have no experience, and are in very bad frames, are also very absurd in their notions of faith. What they mean by faith is, believing that they are in a good estate. Hence they count it a dreadful sin for them to doubt of their state, whatever frames they are in, and whatever wicked things they do, because it is the great and heinous sin of unbelief; and he is the best man, and puts most honour upon God, that maintains his hope of his good estate the most confidently and immovably, when he has the least light or experience; that is to say, when he is in the worst frame and way; because forsooth, that it is a sign that he is strong in faith, giving glory to God, and against hope believes in hope. But from what Bible do they learn this notion of faith, that it is a man’s confidently believing that he is in a good estate? 456456    “Men do not know that they are godly, by believing that they are godly. We know many things by faith, Heb. xi. 3. By faith we understand that the worlds were made by the word of God. Faith is the evidence of things not seen. Heb. xi. 1. Thus men know the Trinity of persons of the Godhead; that Jesus Christ is the Son of God; that he that believes in him will have eternal life: the resurrection of the dead. And if God should tell a saint that he has grace, he might know it by believing the word of God. But it is not this way, that godly men do know that they have grace. It is not revealed in the word, and the Spirit of God doth not testify it to particular persons.” Stoddards Nature of Saving Conversions. p. 83, 84. If this be faith, the Pharisees had faith in an eminent degree; some of whom Christ teaches, committed the unpardonable sin against the Holy Ghost. The Scripture represents faith, as that by which men are brought into a good estate; and therefore it cannot be the same thing, as believing that they are already in a good estate. To suppose that faith consists in persons’ believing that they are in a good estate, is in effect the same thing, as to suppose that faith consists in a person’s believing that he has faith, or in believing that he believes!

Indeed persons’ doubting of their good estate, may in several respects arise from unbelief. It may be from unbelief, or because they have so little faith, that they have so little evidence of their good estate. If they had more experience of the actings of faith, and so more experience of the exercise of grace, they would have clearer evidence that their state was good; and so their doubts would be removed. And their doubting of their state may be from unbelief thus, when though there be many things that are good evidences of a work of grace in them, yet they doubt very much whether they are really in a state of favour with God, because it is they, those that are so unworthy, and have done so much to provoke God to anger against them. Their doubts in such a case arise from unbelief, as they arise from want of a sufficient sense of, and reliance on, the infinite riches of God’s grace, and the sufficiency of Christ for the chief of sinners. They may also be from unbelief, when they doubt of their state, because of the mystery of God’s dealings with them. They are not able to reconcile such dispensations with God’s favour to them. Some doubt whether they have any interest in the promises, because from the aspect of providence, they appear so unlikely to be fulfilled; the difficulties in the way are so many and great. Such doubting arises from want of dependence upon God’s almighty power, and his knowledge and wisdom, as infinitely above theirs. But yet, in such persons their unbelief, and their doubting of their state, are not the same thing; though one arises from the other.

Persons may be greatly to blame for doubting of their state, on such grounds as these; and they may be to blame, that they have no more grace, and no more of its present exercises, to be an evidence to them of the goodness of their state. Men are doubtless to blame for being in a dead, carnal frame; but when they are in such a frame, and have no sensible experience of the exercises of grace, but on the contrary, are very much under the prevalence of their lusts, and an unchristian spirit, they are not to blame for doubting of their state. It is as impossible, in the nature of things, that a holy and christian hope should be kept alive in its clearness and strength, in such circumstances, as it is to keep the light in the room, when the candle that gives it is put out; or to maintain the bright sunshine in the air, when the sun is gone down. Distant experiences, when darkened by present prevailing lust and corruption, will never keep alive a gracious confidence and assurance. If the one prevail, the other sickens and decays upon it. Does any one attempt to nourish and strengthen a little child by repeated blows on the head with a hammer? Nor is it at all to be lamented, that persons doubt of their state in such circumstances; but on the contrary, it is desirable and every way best that they should. It is agreeable to that wise and merciful constitution of things which God hath established. For so hath God constituted things, in his dispensations towards his own people, that when their lore decays, and the exercises of it become weak, fear should arise. They need fear then to restrain them from sin, to excite them to care for the good of their souls, and so to stir them up to watchfulness and diligence in religion. But God hath so ordered, that when love rises, and is in vigorous exercise, then fear should vanish, and be driven away; for then they need it not, having a higher and more excellent principle in exercise, to restrain them from sin, and stir them up to duty. No other principles will ever make men conscientious, but one of these two, fear or love: and therefore, if one of these should not prevail as the other decayed, God’s people when fallen into dead and carnal frames, when love is asleep, would be lamentably exposed indeed. Hence, God has wisely ordained, that these two opposite principles of love and fear, should rise and fall, like the two opposite scales of a balance; when one rises the other sinks. Light and darkness unavoidably succeed each other; if light prevail so much does darkness cease, and no more; and if light decay, so much does darkness prevail. So it is in the heart of a child of God; if divine love decay and fall asleep, and lust prevail, the light and joy of hope goes out, and dark fear arises; and if, on the contrary, divine love prevail, and come into lively exercise, 260 this brings in the brightness of hope, and drives away black lust and fear with it Love is the spirit of adoption, or the childlike principle, if that slumbers, men fell under fear, which is the spirit of bondage, or the servile principle and so on the contrary And if love, or the spirit of adoption, be earned to a great height, it quite drives away all fear, and gives full assurance, 1 John iv. 18. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casteth out fear.” These two opposite principles of lust and holy love, bring fear or hope into the hearts of God’s children, just in proportion as they prevail, that is, when left to their own natural influence, without something adventitious or accidental intervening, as the distemper of melancholy, doctrinal ignorance, prejudices of education, wrong instruction, false principles, peculiar temptations, &c

Fear is cast out by the Spirit of God, no other way than by the prevailing of love nor is it ever maintained by his Sprint, but when love is asleep. At such a time, in vain is all the saint’s self-examinations, and poring on past experience, in order to establish his peace, and get assurance for it is contrary to the nature of things, as God hath constituted them, that he should have assurance at such a time

They therefore directly thwart God’s wise and gracious constitution of things, who exhort others to be confident in their hope, when in dead frames, under a notion of living by faith, and not by light, and hunting God in the dark, and living upon Christ, and not upon experiences, and who warn them not to doubt of their good estate lest they should be guilty of the dreadful sin of unbelief. It has a direct tendency to establish the most presumptuous hypocrites, and to prevent their ever calling their state in question, how much soever wickedness rages—reigns in their hearts, and prevails in their lives—under a notion of honouring God, by hoping against hope, and confidently trusting in God, when things look very dark And, doubtless, vast has been the mischief that has been done this way.

Persons cannot be said to forsake Christ, and live on their experiences, merely because they use them as evidences of grace, for there are no other evidences that they can take. But then may persons be said to live upon their experiences, when they make a righteousness of them, and when, instead of keeping their eye on God’s glory, and Christ’s excellency, they turn it on themselves. They entertain their minds by viewing their own attainments, their high experiences, and the great things they have met with, which are bright and beautiful in their own eyes They are rich and increased with goods in their own apprehensions, and think that God has as admiring an esteem of them, on the same account, as they have of themselves. This is living on experiences, and not on Christ, and is more abominable in the sight of God, than the gross immoralities of those who make no pretences to religion. But this is a far different thing from improving experiences as evidences of an interest in a glorious Redeemer.

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