Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

evil.” Prov. xvi. 6, " By the fear of the Lord, men depart from evil.” Job i. 8, “ Hast thou considered my servant Job-a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil ?" Chap. q. 3, “ Hast thou considered my servant Job-a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? And still he holdeth fast his integrity, although thou movedst me against him." Psal. xxxvi. 1, “ The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart, There is no fear of God before his eyes.”

So practice, in rendering again according to benefits received, is the proper evidence of true thankfulness. Psal. cxvi. 12,“ What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits towards me ?2 Cor. xxxii. 25, “ But Hezekiah rendered not again according to the benefit done unto him.” Paying our vows unto God, and ordering our conversation aright, seem to be spoken of as the proper expression an: evidence of true thankfulness, in the 50th Psalm, ver. 14: “Offer unto God thanksgiving, and pay thy vows unto the Most High.” Verse 22,“ Whoso offereth praise, glorifieth me: and to him that ordereth his conversation aright, will I show the salvation of God.”

So the proper evidence of gracious desires and longings, and that which distinguishes them from those that are false and vain, is, that they are not idle wishes and wouldings like Balaam's; but effectual in practice, to stir up persons earnestly and thoroughly to seek the things they long for. Psalm xxvii. 4, “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after.” Psal. lxiii. 1, 2,"O God, thou art my God, early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is, to see thy power and thy glory.” Verse 8, “My soul followeth hard after thee.” Cant. i. 4,“ Draw me we will run after thee."

Practice is the proper evidence of a gracious hope : 1 John iii. 3,“ Every man that hath this hope in him, purifieth himself even as he is pure." Patient continuance in well-doing, through the difficulties and trials of the Christian course, is often mentioned as the proper expression and fruit of a Christian hope. 1 Thess. i. 3, “ Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope. 1 Pet. i. 13, 14,“ Wherefore, gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end, for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ, as obedient children,” &c. Psal. cxix. 166,“ Lord, I have hoped in thy salvation, and done thy commandments." Psal. lxxviii. 7,“ That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of the Lord, but keep his commandments.”

A cheerful practice of our duty, and doing the will of God, is the proper evidence of a truly holy joy. Isa. Ixiv. 5, " Thou meetest him that rejoiceth, and worketh righteousness.” Psal. cxix. 111, 112, " Thy testimonies have I taken for my heritage for ever ; for they are the rejoicing of my heart. I have inclined mine heart to perform thy statutes alway, even to the end." Verse 14, “ I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies as much as in all riches." 1 Cor. xiii. 6,“ Charity rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth.” 2 Cor. viii

. 2, “ The abundance of their joy abounded unto the riches of their liberality.”

Practice also is the proper evidence of Christian fortitude. The trial of a good soldier is not in his chimney corner, but in the field of battle, 1 Cor. ix. 25, 26, 2 Tim. ii. 3, 4, 5.

And, as the fruit of holy practice is the chief evidence of the truth of grace, so the degree in which experiences have influence on a person's practice, is the surest evidence of the degree of that which is spiritual and divine in his experi

Whatever pretences persons may make to great discoveries, great love

ences.

be

and joys, they are no further to be regarded than they have influence on their practice. Not but that allowances must be made for the natural temper. But that does not hinder, but that the degree of grace is justly measured, by the degree of the effect in practice. For the effect of grace is as great, and the alterution as remarkable, in a very ill natural temper, as another. Although a person of such a temper will not behave himself so well, with the same degree of grace as another, the diversity from what was before conversion, may be as great; because a person of a good natural temper did not behave hiinselt so ill before conversion.

Thus I have endeavored to represent the evidence there is, that Christian practice is the chief of all the signs of saving grace. And, before I conclude this discourse, I would say something briefly in answer to two objections that may possibly be made by some against what has been said upon this head. OBJECTION 1.- Some

nay

ready to say, this seems to be contrary to that opinion, so much received among good people; that professors should judge of their state, chiefly by their inward experience, and that spiritual experiences are the main evidences of true grace.

I answer, it is doubtless a true opinion, and justly much received among good people, that professors should chiefly judge of their state by their experience. But it is a great mistake, that what has been said is at all contrary to that opinion. The chief sign of grace to the consciences of Christians, being Christian practice, in the sense that has been explained, and according to what has been shown to be the true notion of Christian practice, is not at all inconsistent with Christian experience, being the chief evidence of grace. Christian or holy practice is spiritual practice; and that is not the motion of a body that knows not how, nor when, nor wherefore it moves : but spiritual practice in man is the practice of a spirit and body jointly, or the practice of a spirit animating, commanding, and actuating a body to which it is united, and over which it has power given it by the Creator. And, therefore, the main thing, in this holy practice, is the holy action of the mind, directing and governing the motions of the body. And the motions of the body are to be looked upon as belonging to Christian practice, only secondarily, and as they are dependent and consequent on the acts of the soul. The exercises of grace that Christians find, or are conscious to within themselves, are what they experience within themselves; and herein therefore lies Christian experience: and this Christian experience consists as much in those operative exercises of grace in the will, that are immediately concerned in the management of the behavior of the body, as in other exercises. These inward exercises are not the less a part of Christian experience, because they have outward behavior immediately connected with them. A strong act of love to God, is not the less a part of spiritual experience, hecause it is the act that immediately produces and effects some self-denying and expensive outward action, which is much to the honor and glory of God.

To speak of Christian experience and practice, as if they were two things, properly and entirely distinct, is to make a distinction without consideration or reason. Indeed, all Christian experience is not properly called practice, but all Christian practice is properly experience. And the distinction that is made between them, is not only an unreasonable, but an unscriptural distinction. Holy practice is one kind or part of Christian experience; and both reason and Scripture represent it as the chief, and most important and most distinguishing part of it. So it is represented in Jer. xxii. 15, 16 : “ Did not thy father eat and drink, and do justice and judgment? He judged the cause of the poor and

needy-Was not this to know me, saith the Lord ?" Our inward acquaintance with God surely belongs to the head of experimental religion : but this, God represents as consisting chiefly in that experience which there is in holy practice. So the exercises of those graces of the love of God, and the fear of God, are a part of experimental religion : but these the Scripture represents as consisting chiefly in practice, in those forementioned texts: 1 John v. 3,“ This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” 2 John 6, “ This is love, that we walk after his commandments." Psal. xxxiv. 11, &c., “ Come, ye children, and I will teach you the fear of the Lord: depart from evil, and do good.” Such experiences as these Hezekiah took comfort in, chiefly on his sick bed, when he said, “Remember, O Lord, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth, and with a perfect heart.” And such experiences as these, the Psalmist chiefly insists upon, in the 119th Psalm, and elsewhere.

Such experiences as these the Apostle Paul mainly insists upon, when he speaks of his experiences in his epistles; as, Rom. i. 9, “ God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son.” 2 Cor. i. 12, “ For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that--by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world." Chap. iv. 13, “ We, having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I have believed, and therefore have I spoken ; we also believe, and therefore speak.” Chap. v. 7, “We walk by faith, not by sight.” Ver. 14, “ The love of Christ constraineth us." Chap. vi. 4—7," In all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in aillictions, in necessities, in distresses, in labors, in watchings, in fastings. By pureness, by knowledge, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned; by the power of God.” Gal. ii. 20," I am crucified with Christ : nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life, which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God.” Phil. iii. 7, 8, “ But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, and do count them but dung that I may win Christ.” Col. i. 29, “ Whereunto I also labor, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.” 1 Thess. ii. 2, “ We were bold in our God, to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention.” Ver. 8, 9, 10,“ Being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us. For ye remember, brethren, our labor and travel, laboring night and day. Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily, and justly, and unblamably, we behaved ourselves among you.” And such experiences as these they were, that this blessed apostle chiefly comforted himself in the consideration of, when he was going to martyrdom : 2 Tim. iv. 6,7," For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”

And not only does the most important and distinguishing part of Christian experience lie in spiritual practice; but such is the nature of that sort of exercises of grace, wherein spiritual practice consists, that nothing is so properly called by the name of experimental religion. For, that experience, which is in these exercises of grace, that are found and prove effectual at the very point of trial, wherein God proves, which we will actually cleave to, whether Christ or our lusts, is, as has been shown already, the proper experiment of the truth and power of our godliness; wherein its victorious power and efficacy, in producing its proper effect, and reaching its end, is found by experience. This is properly Christian sxperience, wherein the saints have opportunity to see, by actual experience and trial, whether they have a heart to do the will of God, and to forsake other things for Christ, or no. As that is called experimental philosophy which brings opinions and notions to the test of fact, so is that properly called experimental religion, which brings religious affections and intentions to the like test.

There is a sort of external religious practice, wherein is no inward experience, which no account is made of in the sight of God, but it is esteemed good for nothing. And there is what is called experience, that is without practice, being neither accompanied nor followed with a Christian behavior; and this is worse than nothing. Many persons seem to have very wrong notions of Christian experience and spiritual light and discoveries. Whenever a person finds within him a heart to treat God as God, at the time that he has the trial, and finds his disposition effectual in the experiment, that is the most proper, and most distinguishing experience. And to have, at such a time, that sense of divine things, that apprehension of the truth, importance and excellency of the things of religion, which then sways and prevails, and governs his heart and hands; this is the most excellent spiritual light, and these are the most distinguishing discoveries. Religion consists much in holy affection ; but those exercises of affection which are most distinguishing of true religion, are these practical exercises. Friendship between earthly friends consists much in affection; but yet, those strong exercises of affection, that actually carry them through fire and water for each other, are the highest evidences of true friendship.

There is nothing in what has been said, contrary to what is asserted by some sound divines; when they say, that there are no sure evidences of grace, but the acts of grace. For that doth not hinder, but that these operative, productive acts, those exercises of grace that are effectual in practice, may be the highest evidences above all other kinds of acts of grace. Nor does it hinder, but that, when there are many of these acts and exercises, following one another in a course, under various trials of every kind, the evidence is still heightened; as one act confirms another. A man, once by seeing his neighbor, may have good evidence of his presence; but by seeing him from day to day, and conversing with him in a course, in various circumstances, the evidence is established. The disciples when they first saw Christ, after his resurrection, had good evidence that he was alive; but, by conversing with him for forty days, and his showing himself to them alive by many infallible proofs, they had yet higher evidence.*

The witness or seal of the Spirit that we read of, doubtless consists in the eliect of the Spirit of God on the heart, in the implantation and exercises of grace there, and so consists in experience. And it is also beyond doubt, that this seal of the Spirit, is the highest kind of evidence of the saints' adoption, that ever they obtain.

But in these exercises of grace in practice, that have been spoken of, God gives witness, and sets to his seal, in the most conspicuous, eminent,

The more these visible exercises of grace are renewed, the more certain you will be. The more frequently these actings are renewed, the more abiding and confirmed your assurance will be.

Aman huikias been assured of such visible exercises of grace, may quickly after be in doubt whether he was ni misiaken. But when such actings are renewed again and again, he grows more settled and established about his good estate. If a man see a thing once, that makes him sure; but, if afterwards, he fear he was deceived, when he comes to see it again, he is more sure he was not mistaken. If a man read such passages in a book, he is sure it is so. Some months after, some may bear him down, that he was misaken, so as to make him question it himself; but, when he looks, and reads it again, he is abundantly confirmed. The more men's grace is multiplied, the more their peace is multiplied " 2 Pet. i. 2, “ Grace and peace be multiplied unto you, through the knowledge of God, and Jesus our Lord.” Stoddard's Ilay

nopileno? Ilipocrisy.

and evident manner. It has been abundantly found to be true in fact, by the experience of the Christian church, that Christ commonly gives, by his Spirit

, the greatest and most joylul evidences to his saints of their sonship, in those effectual exercises of grace under trials, which have been spoken of; as is mani fest in the full assurance, and unspeakable joys of many of the martyrs. Agreeable to that, 1 Pet. iv. 14,“ If ye are reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the Spirit of glory, and of God resteth upon you.” And that in Rom. v. 2, 3,“ We rejoice in hope of the glory of God, and glory in tribulations.” And agreeable to what the Apostle Paul often declares of what he experienced in his trials. And when the Apostle Peter, in my text, speaks of the joy unspeakable, and full of glory, which the Christians to whom he wrote, experienced; he has respect to what they found under persecution, as appears by the context.

Christ's thus manifesting himself, as the friend and saviour of his saints, cleaving to him under trials seems to have been represented of old, by bis corning anu manifesting himself, to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, in the furnace. And when the apostle speaks of the witness of the Spirit, in Rom. viii. 15, 16, 17, he has a more immediate respect to what the Christians experienced, in their exercises of love to God, in suffering persecution; as is plain by the context. He is, in the foregoing verses, encouraging the Christian Romans under their sufferings, that though their bodies be dead, because of sin, yet they should be raised to life again. But it is more especially plain by the verse inmediately following, verse 18," For I reckon, that the sufferings of this present time, are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us.” So the apostle has evidently respect to their persecutions, in all that he says to the end of the chapter. So when the apostle speaks of the earnest of the Spirit, which God had given to him, in 2 Cor. v. 5, the context shows plainly that he has respect to what was given him in his great trials and sufferings. And in that promise of the white stone and new name, to him that overcomes, Rev. ii. 17, it is evident Christ has a special respect to a benefit that Christians should obtain, by overcoming, in the trial they had, in that day of persecution. This appears by verse 13, and many other passages in this epistle, to the seven churches of Asia.

OBJECTION II.—Some also may be ready to object against what has been said of Christian practice being the chief evidence of the truth of grace, that this is a legal doctrine; and that this making practice a thing of such great importance in religion, magnifies works, and tends to lead men to make too much of their own doings, to the diminution of the glory of free grace, and does not seem well to consist with the great gospel doctrine of justification by faith alone.

But this objection is altogether without reason. Which way is it inconsistent with the freeness of God's grace, that holy practice should be a sign of God's grace? It is our works being the price of God's favor, and not their being the sign of it, that is the thing which is inconsistent with the freeness of that favor. Surely the beggar's looking on the money he has in his hands, as a sign of the kindness of him who gave it to him, is in no respect inconsistent with the freeness of that kindness. It is his having money in his hands as the price of a benefit, that is the thing which is inconsistent with the free kindness of the giver. The notion of the freeness of the grace of God to sinners, as that is revealed and taught in the gospel, is not that no holy and amiable qualifications or actions in us shall be a fruit, and so a sign of that grace; but that it is not the worthiness or loveliness of any qualification or action of ours which recommends us to that grace; that kindness is shown to the unworthy and un

« FöregåendeFortsätt »