1. Shew what this distemper is.2. Shew whence it proceedeth, and how the soul cometh to fall into it.3. Shew how Christ, as the Life, bringeth about a recovery of it 4. Shew how the soul is to be exercised, that it may obtain a recovery; and, 5. Answer some questions or objections.
As to the first, Believers many times may be so dead, as not only not to see and know that they have an interest in Christ, and to be uncertain what to judge of themselves, but also be so carried away with prejudices and mistakes, as that they will judge no otherwise of themselves than that their case is naught; yea, and not only will deny or miscall the good that God hath wrought in them by his Spirit, but also reason themselves to be out of the state of grace, and a stranger to faith, and to the workings of the Spirit: and hereupon will come to call all delusions, which sometime they had felt and seen in themselves, which is a sad distemper, and which grace in life would free the soul from.
This proceedeth (which is the second particular) partly from God's hiding of his face, and changing his dispensations about them, and compassing them with clouds, and partly from themselves and their own mistakes: as,
1. Judging their state, not by the unchangeable rule of truth, but by the outward dispensations of God, which change upon the best.
2. Judging their state by the observable measure of grace within them, and so concluding their state bad, because they observe corruption prevailing now and then, and grace decaying, and they perceive no victory over temptations, nor growth in grace, &c.
3. Judging also their state by others; and so they suppose that they cannot be believers, because they are so unlike to others, whom they judge true believers. This is also to judge by a wrong rule.
4. Judging themselves by themselves, that is, because they look so unlike to what sometimes they were themselves, they conclude that their state cannot be good, which is also a wrong rule to judge their state by.
5. Beginning to try and examine their case and state, and coming to no close or issue, so that when they have done, they are as unclear and uncertain what to judge of themselves, as when they began; or,
6. Taking little or no pains to try themselves seriously, as in the sight of God, but resting satisfied with a superficial trial, which can come to no good issue.
7. Trying and examining, but through the sleight of Satan, and because pitching upon wrong marks, coming to no good issue, but condemning themselves without ground.
8. There is another thing which occasioneth this misjudging, to wit, the want of distinctness and clearness in covenanting with Christ, and the ignorance of the nature of true saving faith.
As to the third particular, how Christ is Life to the believer in this case,
I answer, Christ manifesteth himself to be life to the soul in this case:
1. By sending the Spirit of life, that enlighteneth, informeth, persuadeth, and sealeth.
2. By actuating grace so in the soul, that it manifesteth itself, and evidenceth itself to be there; as the heat and burning of a fire will discover itself without other tokens.
The fourth particular, to wit, how the soul should be exercised, or how it should employ Christ, for an outgate from this, hath been abundantly cleared above, where we shewed, that believers in this case should,
1. Be frequent in gripping Christ and closing with him as their all-sufficient Mediator; and faith thus frequently acting on him may discover itself at length.
2. Look to Christ that hath eye-salve, and is given for a witness.
3. Keep grips fast of him, though they be in the dark; and walk on gripping to him.
4. Keep love toward him and his working, and in exercise.
5. Beg of him to clear up their state, by his Spirit explaining the true marks of grace, and discovering the working of grace in the soul.
But it will be said, and so I come to the last particular, what, if after all this, I remain as formerly, as unable to judge aright of my state as ever?
Answer. Yet thou shouldst continue gripping Christ, loving him, looking to him, casting a lost, dead soul with all thy wants upon him, and mind this as thy constant work. Yea, thou shouldst labour to be growing in these direct acts of faith; and learn to submit to God herein, knowing that those reflect acts are not absolutely necessary; and that thou shouldst think it much if he bring thee to heaven at length, though covered with a cloud all thy days.
Obj. 2. But others get much more clearness.
Ans. I grant that; yet know, that every one getteth not clearness, and such as have it, have it not in the same measure. And must God give thee as much as he giveth to another? What if thou could not make that use of it that others do, but wax proud thereby, and forget thyself? Therefore it will be best to give God liberty to dispense his favours as he will, and that thou be about thy commanded duty, the exercise of faith, love, fear, patience, &c.
Obj. 3. But if at any time I got a sight of my case, it would be some peace and satisfaction to me.
Ans. I grant that, and what knowest thou; but thou mayest also get that favour ere thou die. Why then wilt thou not wait his leisure?
Obj. 4. But the want of it in the mean time maketh me go heartlessly and discouragedly about commanded duties, and maketh that I cannot apply things distinctly to myself.
Ans. Yet the word of command is the same, the offer is the same, and the encouragement is the same. Why then should thou not be going on, leaning to Christ in the wilderness, even though thou want that comfortable sight?
Obj. 5. But it is one thing to want a clear sight of my state, it is another thing to judge myself, to be yet in the state of nature; and this is my case.
Ans. I grant, this is the worst of the two; yet, what if thou misjudge thyself without ground; should thou not suffer for thy own folly; and whom can thou blame but thyself? And if thou judge so, thou cannot but know that it is thy duty to do the thing that thou supposeth is not yet done, that is, run away to Christ for life and salvation, and rest on him and abide there; and if this were frequently renewed, the grounds of thy former mistake might be easily removed.
Yet further, I would add these few things:
1. Take no pleasure in debating against your own soul; for that is but to serve Satan's design.
2. Be not too rash or ready to drink in prejudices against the work of God in your own souls; for that is to conclude with Satan against yourselves.
3. Make much of any little light he is pleased to give, were it but of one mark, and be not ill to please; for one scriptural mark, as love to the brethren, may sufficiently evidence the thing.
4. See how thy soul would like the condition of such as are carnal, profane, careless in the matters of God; and if thy soul doth really abhor that, and thou would not upon any account choose to be in such a case, thou may gather something from that to thy comfort. But enough of this case here.