It is difficult to determine which of these is the greatest privilege of a Christian, -- that he is delivered from condemnation, or that he is made to walk according to the Spirit, and made a new creature; whether we owe more to Christ for our justification, or sanctification: for he is made both to us: but it is more necessary to conjoin them together, than to compare them with each other. The one is not more necessary -- to be delivered from wrath, than the other, to walk according to the Spirit. I think it were an argument of a soul escaped from condemnation, to have the great stream and current of its affections and endeavours towards sanctification, not that they may be accepted of God, but because they are accepted of God. It is not said, there is nothing condemnable in those that are in Christ, but there is no condemnation to them. There is, indeed, a body of death, and law of sin within them, a nature defiled with original pollution, and many streams flowing from it, which the sprinkling of the blood of Christ in justification doth not take away. If any man say there is no sin in him, he is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But here is the grace and mercy of God in Jesus Christ; that removes the curse where the sin is, -- that takes away the condemnation where all worthy of condemnation is. And thus the soul's justification is parallel to Christ's condemnation. There was in him nothing condemnable, no sin, no guile in his mouth; yet there was condemnation to him, because he was in stead and place of sinners. Our iniquities were laid on him, not in him; he who knew no sin was made a curse for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. So then, the soul that fleeth into Jesus Christ's righteousness, though it have in it all that deserveth condemnation, yet there is no condemnation to it, because his righteousness is laid upon it, and Christ hath taken away the curse. The innocent Son of God was condemned, therefore are guilty sinners absolved. The curse was applied unto him who had no sin, but only was made sin, or sin laid on him, and therefore the sentence of absolution from the curse is applied unto them who have no righteousness, but are made the righteousness of God by free and gracious imputation. This I speak, because of many unsavoury and unsound expressions in this loose generation, that there is no sin in the justified, that justification removes it close, as if it had never been at all. I say, as the condemnation of Jesus Christ did not blot out his innocency and holiness within him, but only justice considered him on that account as a transgressor, who yet was the holy and spotless Lamb of God in himself; so likewise the justification of a sinner before God, doth not remove or blot out the very corruption and defilement of our natures, but only scrapes out our names out of the roll of his debtors, as having satisfied in our cautioner, and considers us as righteous on that account before God. And this likewise I speak for your use, that ye may loathe and abhor yourselves, as much in yourselves, who are made clean by the blood of Jesus Christ, as if ye were not washen. Nay, so much the more ye ought to remember your own sins, which he doth not remember as debt any more; and to be ashamed and confounded because they are pardoned. It is ordinary for souls to look on themselves with an eye of more complacency in themselves, when they apprehend that God looks favourably on them. I do not think that any soul can duly consider the gracious aspect of God in Jesus Christ to them, but they will the more loathe themselves. But I find it ordinary, that slight and inconsiderate thoughts of pardon beget jolly conceits in men's hearts of themselves. And this is even the sin of God's children; something is abated of our self-abhorring, when we have peace and favour spoken unto us. But I beseech all who believe there is no condemnation for them, to consider there are all things worthy of it in them, yea, nothing but what deserves it; and therefore let that aspect of God beget self-loathing and self-detestation in you. The more you apprehend he is pleased with you, be ye the more displeased with yourselves, because it is not yourselves he is pleased with, but his own well-beloved Son. The day of redemption is coming, when there shall be no condemnation, and nothing condemnable either. In heaven you shall be so, but while ye are here, this is the most important duty ye are called to, -- to loathe yourselves, because of all your abominations, and because he is pacified towards you, Ezek. xvi. at the close; and chap. xxxvi.31; and xx.43, 44. There is a new and strange mortification now pleaded for by many,(160) whose highest advancement consisteth in not feeling, or knowing, or confessing sin, but in being dead to the sense and conviction of the same. Alas! whither are these reforming times gone? Is not this the spirit of Antichrist? I confess it is a mortification of godliness, a crucifying of repentance and holiness, a crucifying of the new man; but it is a quickening of the old man in the lusts thereof, a living to sin. This is a part of that new (but falsely so called) gospel that is preached by some; which, if an angel would bring from heaven, we ought not to believe it. "Other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid" already, upon which the prophets and apostles are builded, -- even Christ Jesus. Lord, give the Spirit to understand these mysteries already revealed; but save us from these new discoveries and lights. That which we have received is able to make us perfect to salvation.
Every one pretends a claim and right to this privilege of Christians, to be pardoned and absolved from condemnation, who doth not put it out of question, though in the mean time their iniquities testify against them; and their transgressions say in the heart of a godly man, that "there is no fear of God before their eyes." Therefore the apostle describes the man that is in Jesus Christ, to be such an one, that walks "not after the flesh, but after the Spirit," -- not only to guard against the presumptuous fancy of those that live in their sins, that pretend to hope for heaven, but to stir up every justified soul to a new manner of conversation, since they are in Jesus Christ. We would speak a word of two things from this: First, That the Scripture gives marks and characters of justified and reconciled persons, that they may be known by, both to themselves and others. Next, That, the Christian having escaped condemnation, hath a new manner of walking, and is a new creature in Christ.
It might seem a strange thing, that this first were questioned in this generation, (if any the most clear and important truth could pass without scanning) the very tenor of the Scripture holds out so much of it. I wonder that any man that reads this chapter, or the epistles of James and John, should have any more doubt of it. "Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments." Is not this a conclusion of our state and condition, from the conformity of our walking to the will of God? What divine truth can we be sure of, if this be uncertain? When the beloved disciple, who knew how to preach Christ, asserts it in express terms, 1 John v.13, "These things have I written unto you that believe, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God." This very thing was the great scope and purpose of that evangelic and divine epistle.
I find that Antinomians(161) confound this question, that they may have the more advantage in their darkness. The question is not concerning the grounds of a man's believing in Christ, but concerning our assurance, or knowledge of our believing. There is a great mistake in Christians practice, in confounding these two. It makes Christians very unreasonable in their doubtings and exercises; therefore let us have this before our eyes, -- faith, in its first and pure acting, is rather an adherence and cleaving of a lost soul to Christ, than an evidence of its interest in him, or of his everlasting love. You know all, that it is one thing to know a thing, or love a thing, and another thing to reflect upon it, and know that I know and love it. John did write to believers, that they might know they did believe, and believe yet more. These things then are both separable, and the one is posterior to the other, -- "after that ye believed ye were sealed." The persuasion of God's love and our interest in Christ, is the Spirit's seal set upon the soul. There is a mutual sealing here. The soul, by believing and trusting in Jesus Christ, "sets to its seal that God is true," as John speaks, John iii.33. When God speaks in his law, the soul receives that testimony of his justice and holiness, subscribes to the equity and righteousness of the sentence, by condemning itself. And when Christ speaks in the gospel, the soul seals that doctrine of free salvation, by approving and consenting with all its heart to the offer, subscribes to the way of salvation in Christ, and the truth of his promises. And thus is the truth of God and Christ sealed, by the soul's believing. Then the Spirit of Jesus Christ afterward, when he pleaseth, irradiates and shines upon the soul, and discovers those things that are freely given, and witnesseth to the conscience of the believer, that he is a son of God. Thus the Spirit seals the believer, and gives his testimony to his truth.(162)
Now if we speak of the ground of the first, viz. of believing in Christ to salvation, I know none, but that which is common to sinners, and holden out in the gospel generally to all, -- our sin and misery, and absolute necessity, and Christ's invitation of all to come, and receive his full and perfect salvation. I think a man should seek nothing in himself, whereupon to build his coming to Christ. Though it be true, no man can come to a Saviour, till he be convinced of sin and misery, yet no man should seek convictions as a warrant to come to Christ for salvation. He that is in earnest about this question, how shall I be saved? -- I think he should not spend the time in reflecting on, and examination of himself, till he find something promising in himself; but from discovered sin and misery, pass straightway over to the grace and mercy of Christ, without any intervening search of something in himself to warrant him to come. There should be nothing before the eye of the soul but sin, and misery and absolute necessity, compared with superabounding grace and righteousness in Christ; and thus it singly devolves itself over upon Christ, and receives him as offered freely, "without money and without price." I know it is not possible that a soul can receive Christ till there be some preparatory convincing work of the law, to discover sin and misery. But I hold, that to look to any such preparation, and fetch an encouragement or motive therefrom, to believe in Christ is really to give him a price for his free waters and wine, -- it is to mix in together Christ and the law, in the point of our acceptation. And for souls to go about to seek preparations, -- for a time resolving not at all to consider the promise of the gospel, till they have found them, and satisfaction in them, is nothing else but to go about to establish their own righteousness, being ignorant of the righteousness of Christ. And therefore many do corrupt the simplicity of the gospel, by rigid exactions of preparations, and measures of them, and by making them conditions or restrictions of gospel commands and promises; as in this, "Come ye that are wearied." And from thence they seem to exclude persons not so qualified, from having a warrant to believe. Alas! it is a great mistake of these and such words. Certainly these are not set down on purpose to exclude any who will come, -- for, "whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely," but rather to encourage such wearied and broken souls as conceive themselves to be the only persons excluded, and to declare unto us in some measure, the nature of true faith, that a soul must be beaten out of itself, ere it can come to Christ. Therefore, I conclude, that not only is it a ridiculous and foolish conceit of many Christians that use to object against believing, -- if I were as such and such a person, if I did love God, if I had these fruits of the Spirit, if I walked according to the Spirit, then I might believe. Alas! how directly opposite is this to the terms of the gospel! I say, if thou place satisfaction in these, and from that ground come to Jesus Christ, then thou dost not come really, -- thou dost indeed establish thine own righteousness. Doth any saint, though ever so holy, consider himself under such notions of grace, when he comes to be justified? No indeed; but as an ungodly man rather, he must deny all that, though he had it. And besides, it is most unreasonable and incongruous, to seek the fruits before the tree be planted, and to refuse to plant the tree, till you can behold the fruits of it. But also, it is contrary to the free and comfortable doctrine of the gospel, for a soul to seek the discovery of any thing in itself but sin, before it apply to Jesus Christ. I say, there must be some sense of sin, otherwise it hath not rightly discovered sin, but a soul should not be at the pains to discover that sense of sin, and find it out, so as to make it a motive of believing in Christ. He ought to go straight forward, and not return as he goes. He must indeed examine himself, -- not to find himself a sensible humble sinner, that so he may have ground of believing, but that he may find himself a lost perishing sinner, void of all grace and goodness, that he may find the more necessity of Jesus Christ. And thus I think the many contentions about preparations of conditions preparatory to believing, may be reconciled.
Now if the question be, as it is indeed, about the grounds of our assurance, and knowledge of our own faith, certainly it is clear as the noonday, that as the good tree is known by the fruits thereof, and the fire by the heat thereof, so the indwelling of faith in the heart is known by its purifying of the heart and working by love. It makes a man a new creature, so that he and others may see the difference. Neither is this any derogation to the free grace of Christ, or any establishing of our own righteousness, except men be so afraid to establish their own righteousness, that they will have no holiness at all, but abandon it quite, for fear of trusting in it, which is a remedy worse than the disease, because I make it not a ground of my acceptation before God, but only a naked evidence of my believing in Christ, and being accepted of God. It being known that these have a necessary connection together in the Scriptures, and it being also known that the one is more obvious and easy to be discerned than the other. Sure I am, the Lamb's book of life is a great mystery, and unless this be granted, I see not but every man's regeneration and change shall be as dark and hidden, as the hidden and secret decrees of God's election; for the Spirit may immediately reveal both the one and the other. Is it any derogation to the grace of Christ, to know what is freely given us? Doth it not rather commend his grace, when a soul looks upon itself, beautified with his comeliness, and adorned with his graces, and loathes itself in itself, and ascribes all the honour and praise to him? Is it not more injury to the fountain and fulness of grace in Christ, not to see the streams of it at all nor to consider them, than to behold the streams of grace that flow out of this fountain, as coming out of it? I think Christians may be ready to idolize their graces, and make them mediators, when they are known, but is this a good remedy of that evil, to abandon all sight and knowledge of the things freely given us of God? Shall we not speak of the freeness of grace, because men's corruptions turn grace into carnal liberty and wantonness? If these graces be in us, sure I am, it is no virtue to be ignorant of them, but rather a weakness and darkness. It must then be the light and grace of God to know them, and from thence to conclude(163) that assurance of faith, which is not a forced, ungrounded persuasion, and strong fancy, without any discovered reason of it. Sure I am, the apostles counsel is, to make our election sure, by making our calling sure. How shall any venture to look into those secrets of the Lamb's book of life, and read their name there? Undoubtedly they belong not to us, -- they are a light inaccessible, that will but confound and darken us more. Therefore, whoever would know their election, according to the Scriptures, must read the transcript and copy of the book of life, which is written in the hearts and souls of the elect.
The thoughts of God are written in his works upon the spirits of men. His election hath a seal upon it, -- "The Lord knoweth them that are his;" and who can break up this seal? "Who hath known the mind of the Lord?" None can, until the Lord write over his thoughts in some characters of his Spirit, and of the new creature, in some lineaments and draughts of his own image, that it may be known they are the epistle of Christ, not written with ink and paper, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tables of stone, but in fleshly tables of the heart, 2 Cor. iii.3. Christ writes his everlasting thoughts of love and good-will to us in this epistle; and that we may not think this doth extol the creature, and abase Christ, it is added, ver.5, -- "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves, -- but our sufficiency is of God." The seeing of grace in ourselves doth not prejudge the grace of God, unless we see it independent of the fountain, and behold not the true rise of it, that we may have no matter to glory of. It is not a safe way of beholding the sun, to look straight on it. It is too dazzling to our weak eyes, -- you shall not well take it up so. But the best way is to look on it in water; then we shall more steadfastly behold it. God's everlasting love, and the redemption of Jesus Christ, is too glorious an object to behold with the eyes of flesh. Such objects certainly must astonish and strike the spirits of men with their transcendent brightness. Therefore we must look on the beams of this sun, as they are reflected in our hearts; and so behold the conformity of our souls, wrought by his Spirit, unto his will; and then we shall know the thoughts of his soul to us. If men shall at the first flight climb so high, as to be persuaded of God's eternal love, and Christ's purchase for them in particular, they can do no more, but scorch their wings, and melt the wax of them, till they fall down from that heaven of their ungrounded persuasion, into a pit of desperation. The Scripture way is to go downward once, that ye may go up. First go down in yourselves, and make your calling sure, and then you may rise up to God, and make your election sure. You must come by this circle; there is no passing by a direct line, and straight through, unless by the immediate revelation of the Spirit, which is not ordinary and constant, and so not to be pretended unto.
I confess, that sometimes the Spirit may intimate to the soul God's thoughts towards it, and its own state and condition, by an immediate overpowering testimony, that puts to silence all doubts and objections, that needs no other work or mark to evidence the sincerity and reality of it. That light of the Spirit shall be seen in its own light, and needs not that any witness of it. The Spirit of God sometimes may speak to a soul, -- "Son, be of good comfort, thy sins are forgiven thee." This may break into the soul as a beam darted from heaven, without reference to any work of the Spirit upon the heart, or word of Scripture, as a mids(164) or mean to apply it. But this is more extraordinary. The ordinary testimony of the Spirit is certainly conjoined with the testimony of our own consciences, Rom. viii.16. And our consciences bear witness of the work of the Spirit in us, which the Spirit discovers to be according to the word. The Spirit makes known to us things that are freely given; but, by "comparing spiritual things with spiritual," 1 Cor. ii.10, 13. The fruit and special work of the Holy Ghost in us is the medium, and the Spirit's light irradiates and shines upon it, and makes the heart to see them clearly. For, though we be the children of light, yet our light hath so much darkness, as there must be a supervenient and accessory light of the Spirit, to discover that light unto us. Now what is all this to us? I fear that there be many ungrounded persuasions among us, -- that many build on a sandy foundation, even a strong opinion that it is well with them, without any examination of their souls and conversations according to the word; and this certainly, when the tempest blows, cannot stand. Some teach, that no man should question whether he believe or not, but presently believe. I think none can believe too suddenly; it is always in season, nunquam sera est fides nec paenitentia, -- it is never late in respect of the promise; and it is never too early in respect of a man's case. But I cannot think any man can believe, till the Spirit have convinced him of his unbelief; and therefore I would think the most part of men nearer faith in Jesus Christ, if they knew they wanted faith. Nay, it is a part of faith, and believing God in his word, and setting to our seal that God is true, for a man to take with his unbelief, and his natural inability, yea, averseness to it. I would think that those who could not believe in Christ, because they sought honour one of another, and went about to kill him, they had done well to have taken with that challenge of Christ's; and if men ought to take with their sin, they ought to search and try their sin, that they may find it out, to take with it. I wonder, since Antinomians make unbelief the only sin in the world, that they cannot endure the discovery and confession of it. It seems they do not think it so heinous a sin. I confess, no man should of purpose abstain from believing in Christ, till he find out whether he hath believed or not; but whatever hath been, he is bound presently to act faith in Jesus Christ; to flee unto him as a lost sinner, to a saving Mediator. But that every man is bound to persuade himself at the first, that God hath loved him, and Christ redeemed him, is the hope of the hypocrite, -- like a spider's web, which, when leaned to, shall not stand. That man's expectation shall perish; he hath kindled sparks of his own, -- a wild-fire, and walketh not in the true light of the word, and so must lie down in sorrow. Many of you deceive yourselves, and none can persuade you that ye do deceive yourselves, such is the strength of that delusion and dream. It is the great part of the heart's deceitfulness, to flatter itself in its own eyes: to make a man conceive well of himself and his heart. I beseech you, do not venture your soul's salvation on such groundless opinions; never to question the matter, is to leave it always uncertain. If you would judge yourselves according to the Scriptures, many of you have the marks and characters of those who are kept without the city, and are to have their part in the lake of fire. Is there no condemnation for you, who have never condemned yourselves? Certainly the more you are averse to condemn yourselves, this sticks the closer to you. You are not all in Christ; "they are not all Israel which are of Israel." Many (nay the most part) are but said Christians; have no real union with Christ, or principle of life from him. The love you carry to yourselves, makes you easily believe well of yourselves; know, that self-love can blind the eyes, and make you apprehend that God loves you also. Nay, every one readily fancies that to be, which he desires to be. I beseech you, consider if you have any ground for your hopes and confidences, but such as those that will not bear out always. It would be no disadvantage to you, to have your hope shaken, that instead of a vain presumption, you may have the anchor of hope, which shall be fixed within the vail. I think one thing keeps men far from the kingdom of God, -- because they know not that they believe not in him. We had gained much ground on you by the word, if we could persuade you that ye believe not, and have not believed from the womb. We might then say to you, as Christ to his disciples, "Ye believe in God, believe also in me." Ye have given credit to God the judge and lawgiver, pronouncing a curse on you, and a sentence that ye have hearts desperately wicked, -- now, believe also in me, the Redeemer. Ye have believed God in the law, in as far as ye have judged yourselves under sin and wrath; now, believe me in the gospel, that brings a ransom from wrath, and a remedy for sin. It is this very unbelief, that is the original of the world's perishing, -- unbelief of the law. Ye do not consider ye are under the condemnation of it. Ye do not believe that ye have not yet fled to Jesus Christ to escape it; and these two keep souls in a deep sleep, till judgment awake them.
But unto every one of you, I would give this direction: Let not examination of what you are, hinder you from that which is your chief duty, and his chief commandment, -- to believe in him. I know many Christians are puzzled in the matter of their interest, and always wavering, because they are more taken up with that which is but a matter of comfort and joy, than that which is his greatest honour and glory. I say, to consider the precious promises; to believe the excellency and virtue of Jesus Christ, and love him in your souls, and delight in him, is the weightiest matter of the gospel. To go out of yourselves daily into his fulness, to endeavour new discoveries of your own naughtiness and his grace, this is the new and great commandment of the gospel. The obedience of it is the most essential part of a Christian walk. Now, again, to know that ye do believe, and to discern your interest in Christ, this is but a matter of comfort and of second concernment. Therefore, I say, whenever ye cannot be clear in this, ye should be always exercised in the first. For it is that we are first called to; and if souls were more exercised that way, in the consideration and belief of the very general truths and promises of the gospel, I doubt not, but the light of these would clear up their particular interest in due time. "These ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone." It is still safest to waive such a question of interest, when it is plunging,(165) because it puts you off your special duty, and this is Satan's intent in it. It were better if ye do question, presently to believe and abide in him, till it were put out of question.