Saturday, April 04, 2009
J.H. Williams III
Friday, April 03, 2009
What To Read
Every believer interested in making discerning judgments about spiritual experiences ought to read Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections. It is a balanced, careful, and mature work by the man known as America’s greatest theologian. Edwards had defended the Great Awakening against its detractors, and then he had watched abuses and weirdness spread and had warned enthusiasts about the dangers of delusion. In The Religious Affections, having watched both extremes, Edwards stakes out a position of integrity from which he can provoke the frozen chosen and reject the flaming crazies.As I read those introductory words I was struck by my literary education - one in which I was presented with Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God as the "definitive" Edwards writing - painting him as a "flaming crazy."
I enable ("lead" would be far too strong a word) a group of very recent or impending college grads. The variety of institutions these young people have attended is astounding - from the very liberal and secular to the very conservative and religious. Their reading lists are also quite divergent and they often characterize the same author in quite different ways. It truly makes me wonder if they have all really read the authors they discuss. In some cases it is the selected works thing, in others they have been told what the guy wrote instead of actually reading it, and in others what they read has just been so heavily filtered through some preconceived issue as to not rise to the level of "reading" at all.
The question is - what are you reading? Are you reading diversely and thoroughly? Are you reading for what the author had to say, or are you reading to discover ammunition? Are you even reading?
Have you ever read closely the New Testament and how chock full it is of literary reference of what came before? In a largely illiterate society, Jesus and the apostles were still able to rely on people to be basically literate about what had come before.
Can we say the same thing about today? I don't think so.
So what should we do about it?
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Thursday, April 02, 2009
I have really come to think that there should be a clear authority structure in the church.He then goes on to talk about what authority is given to pastors and what kind of people should have such authority. An excellent discussion. What he does not do is talk about what kind of authority should not be exercised by pastors.
Very early in the work of the church, the handling of money was separated from the ministry of the Word.
Acts 6:2-6 - And the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, "It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. "But select from among you, brethren, seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. "But we will devote ourselves to prayer, and to the ministry of the word." And the statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them.If we look at what was going on here, we find that the apostolic authority flowed from doing the ministry of the Word, not from controlling the budget. And yet, in the modern church, things break down most frequently when "authority" is viewed to stem from budgetary control.
It could be argued that making the primary focus of the authoritative bodies of the congregation the management of the budget is a form of idolatry. If we take our authority from other than our God, are we not worshiping at the wrong altar?
Greg opens his post by a discussion of the signs of papal authority that overwhelm Rome. They are everywhere, in some cases overbearing, in others ostentatious, and in many cases self-defeating. The clear attempt to establish authority by the display of wealth did, to my protestant mind, rob the papal office of some of its authenticity. Certainly the pope "ruled," but none of it answered my questions concerning his ministry - those were answered elsewhere in his writings and speeches and work.
If you are involved in pastoral ministry - you might want to examine how you exercise your authority. If it is through the budget, you might want to think that through a bit.
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Wednesday, April 01, 2009
My pray is for David's full and complete recovery and for the peace which passes all understanding for his family. My knowledgable certainty is that what has appeared on his blog since his diagnosis of cancer will continue to bring God's grace to people for decades to come.
Recently I saw a church’s website where instead of finding “Pastors” or “Staff” it listed “Personalities.” A click-through revealed the “personalities” of these personalities, or at least the “personalities” these people wanted others to see. I don’t recall all the details, but I read things about what they ate for breakfast and what they’d do if they weren’t doing their church jobs. It went on and on, but I had had enough so I clicked the red X at the top and went to my favorite chair and just wondered awhile.OK, I think Scot is over-reacting a bit here, but not too much. There is definitely a movement for the pastor to be "the coolest guy in the room" amongst many. That is a huge problem. Christ does not call us to be cool, he calls us to be better.
I wondered about the way I was nurtured that led me to be offended and shocked by any pastor permitting himself to be displayed this way on the church’s website. My upbringing had taught me certain things about a pastor:
First, it is a sacred calling to be yanked from sin into the place of not only receiving grace but dispensing it. [...]
Second, it is a noble calling to be a leader of God’s people in this world. [...]
Third, it requires a commitment to reverence both before God and about the task of pastoring. [...]
Fourth, above all pastors are to be examples of the mortification of the self and the flesh.
But the movement is largely reactionary - reacting to pastors that have hidden behind the veil of their office, that have acted in an unearned, authoritarian fashion, and that have failed to model the cycle of sin, confession, and grace that we all are called to live under. The buzz word would be "authentic."
The problem is we confuse "authentic" with "cool" and "forgiven" with "attractive."
Young Life suffers from this personality driven stuff quite a bit - at least it did in my day. It can be a huge problem. It can leave the "uncool" on the outs - it models a faith walk of cultural conformity instead of grace-filled forgiveness. But it has the distinct advantage of making a walk with Christ something that I can experience in other than abstraction.
The key is to find a way to take the attributes McKnight proclaims, and live with them amongst instead of apart.
Tall order indeed - it calls for much prayer and humility.
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Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Truth be told. Ted Haggard makes me angry. So do Ingrid, Ken, KJV man, Mike Murdoch and a slew of others. In fact, many (if not most) Christians make me angry at times. And I'm sure I spread a lot of those feelings in others. But when is it time to show some righteous anger, and when should you just shut up? That's a fine line for me.Nothing upsets me more than people harming God's name by acting unGodly, in God's name. There are those that would tell us anger is sin - I could not disagree more. Unjust anger is sin, and most anger is probably unjust, springing from our own pride instead of a sense of God's justice. But as Christ demonstrated when he turned over the moneychanger's tables - there is just anger and it is appropriate to express it.
The first answer to Todd's question lies in self-examination. Humility is the key. If we seek first to be humble and yet anger remains, then there is likely some reflection of God's justice in your anger. That is easy to say and so hard to do. Setting aside our pride is perhaps the hardest thing that any of us is ever called to do.
The second answer is to always express love before anger. God reaches out first with the redemptive hand and then only when rejected does His anger come forth. And here again, humility remains a key. It is quite possible to express inordinate self-righteousness while reaching out "a redemptive hand." Such is self defeating.
But when love, offered in true humility has been offered and rejected, and the unGodly behavior continues - then indeed anger is a just an appropriate response. But even then that anger must not be given full reign - it must remain tempered by the desire for redemption and an avoidance of condemnation.
If all these condition are met, there remain strategic questions. How best to express the anger - and when? There are questions of building allies - for only Christ could trust His righteousness enough to act on anger alone. I personally seek to use such questions in a way that removes the violence from the anger. I think that even when He did turn over the tables, Christ used violence demonstratively, not expressively. It was an attention gathering device, not and expression of His desire to cause harm.
These are incomplete answers to Todd's inquiry. Dealing with anger is a work in progress for me, but it is what I have learned so far.
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Monday, March 30, 2009
So where is all this leading? I want to suggest that one of the key problems with internet friendships, with texting, with blogs etc. is the lack of the body in the means of communication and relationship. The elimination of bodily interaction on the web is not just significant in the realm of sex and pornography. Think about it: virtual relationships of all kinds, not simply the sexual, inevitably lack depth and nuance. When I speak to my wife, or one of my friends, the tone of voice, the look on my face, the touch of my hand, the million and one unconscious physical `tells' communicate to the person as much, if not more, than the words I speak. Mature, deep, meaningful friendships involve the ability of both parties to read and understand each other in ways that enrich and often transcend the words that are spoken. Even the telephone allows for some nuance, but the web/text medium, reducing bodily input to the mere tapping of a keyboard, allows little or none, especially given the poor grasp of prose style that most web warriors exhibit.Of course, I have written about this and many others as well, but something struck me as I read Trueman's discussing of the role of the body in all this that had never dawned on me before. That has to do with the necessity of the sacramental in our relationship with Jesus Christ.
What lies at the heart of the one Christian sacrament on which ALL expressions of Christianity agree?
Matt 26:26 - And while they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is My body."In establishing the sacrament of communion - Christ placed His physical presence at the center. And whether we believe the elements to be symbolic or transubstaniated, we all believe that the sacrament brings us into Christ's presence.
And this I think strikes at the heart of the embrace by the church of social networking technology. If it substitutes for the physical presence - it is being used wrongly. As an enhancement to that presence, it is a powerful tool, but like the chain saw that can maim as easily as it can aid - it must be used with great caution.
For if we model friendship with each other without the presence, how can we be expected to understand a real, deep, and abiding relationship with Jesus? And if we agree with that, how can we continue the trend to lessen to place of the sacramental in our worship life?
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Sunday, March 29, 2009
Sermons and Lessons
2 Pet. 1:10 - Brethren give diligence to make your Calling and Election sure.
John 21:17 - Simon son of Jonas, lovest thou Me?
The falls of the People of God do darken their sincerity: they are as a Cloud covering their uprightness: they do make their sincerity questionable unto others: some that take notice of their falls are ready to suspect, and others are ready to deny their sincerity; slanders by are apt to impute their falls to their Hypocrisy and the reigning power oft; as if they had now proved themselves to be Hypocrites. They are ready to say of them, as David said of Doeg, Lo this is the man that made not God his trust. And their falls make their sincerity questionable to themselves: if they have seen something of uprightness in themselves before, now they fear, they were mistaken: they think if there had been any Grace, that would have preserved them from falling: their falls wound their Consciences and disturb their Peace. They think if God had loved them, he would not have suffered them to fall into such sin: it seems to them to be the fruit of Gods hatred: they are apt to think that their sins have turned away the heart of God from them, and that he cannot delight in them: they think moreover that if they had loved God, they could not have been drawn to sin so against him. Satan is wont to improve their falls unto their discouragement and raises such mists, that day is turned into night unto them. Upon this occasion Christ puts this question to Peter: the Disciples might be unsatisfied with him, because of his fall; and he might be dissatisfied with himself but hereby Christ is leading of him into the Exami¬nation of his own sincerity. You may conceive Christ’s meaning thus: Peter you have made a Profession many years; but in the time of my affliction, you shamefully denied me, you for¬merly professed that you would dye with me, before you would deny me, but as soon as the Temptation came; you presently denied me: and as if it were not enough to do it once, you did it a second and a third time: and as if plain denying had not been enough, you did it with Cursing and Swearing: is there any love in your heart unto me? you shewed some affection but now, in throwing your self into the Sea, but is it real love? have I your heart? am I the object of your love? you professed more love than other Disciples; but do you indeed love me?
DOCTRINE. If a man do’s not certainly know, that he has performed one act of Saving Grace, he cannot be certain of his Sincerity from his Walk.
The Tryal of sincerity is a great and weighty work. Min¬isters had need be careful in giving Rules of Tryal; and People had need be careful in applying Rules of Tryal: the Doctrine is propounded to prevent mistakes in this matter. Godly men are described in the Scripture to be men that walk in the law of the Lord; men that walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit: but it is impossible for any man to evidence his sincerity from hence; unless he certainly knows that he has performed some act or acts of saving Grace. A man may have a probable knowledge of his sincerity, though he do not certainly know that he has performed any act of saving Grace: but this is all that he can attain to by his walk; he do not know that he has performed any one act of saving Grace. There be many acts of saving Grace; as to believe in Christ, to love God and Christ, to hate sin, to make the Glory of God one’s end: and if a man don’t certainly know any such thing by himself: he will never be able from his walk to prove himself to be a Saint. If a thing shine like fire in the night, yet you cannot know it to be fire from thence; unless you see in it some property of fire. If a thing acts as if it had life, yet you cannot know from thence, that it has life, unless you know some action to be a Vital action. You cannot know that a man do’s miracles, unless you know some one action to be miraculous: So here.
In order to the clearing of this, I shall first premise three things.
1. They that walk in a way of holiness are sincere: all that walk in a way of obedience are upright. Walking in Gods ways is the Character of a Saint. Ps. 119:1 Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord. An holy life is a certain sign of a holy heart. A life of obedience shows a principal of Grace: they that live a life of humility, love and faith are real Saints; they are such indeed as they do profess them¬selves to be: though they have many infirmities and corruptions, yet they are sincere Saints. An holy life is more than any Hypocrite can attain unto: he may counterfeit Holiness and have the image of it; but falls utterly short of an holy life: an holy life is a life of sincerity and flows from a principle of sincerity: other principles may make a man live a moral and religious life: Prudence, Pride and slavish fear may produce much out-ward conformity, and many inward affections: but only a principle of Grace can inable a man to live an holy life: all that live holily are regenerate men. Eph. 2:10 Created in Christ Jesus unto good works.
2. They that walk in a way of unholiness are not sincere: they that lead an unholy life are not upright: a principle of Grace will keep a man from ways of sin. I John 3:9 He that is born of God, doth not commit sin, for his seed remaineth in him, and he cannot sin, because he is born of God: he has so much fear that he can’t live a life of sin, he hates sin so that he cannot live a life of sin: Some that are sincere have a less degree of sincerity than others; but the least degree of sincerity will preserve a man from an unholy life. Ps 18:23 I was also upright before him and I kept my self from mine iniquity. An unholy life shews the reigning power of sin. John 8:3 He that committeth sin, is the servant of sin. They that are serving any Lust are not serving of the Lord: if men make great pretensions of sincerity, yet lead unholy lives, there is no sincerity in them: if they have great affections and hopes, yet they have no sincerity: they profess one thing and practice an¬other. If men serve their Pride or their Coveteousness, or their Voluptuousness, they are not sincere, they are utterly destitute of a principle of Grace: if they have shews of Grace, yet they are but Hypocrites, and will be damned at the last day. Luke 13:27 Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.
3. Many men seem to themselves to walk in a way of Holiness, yet don’t certainly know that ever they did perform an act of saving grace; though all that make an high profession don’t seem to themselves to lead an holy life, yet abun¬dance of them do: they are consciencious of all their ways, have many religious affections; mourn for sin, rejoice in Sabbaths, are thankful for mercies; are afflicted under the Tokens of Gods Anger, are desirous of the Conversion of others: it seems to them, that they live in some degree as Saints of old did: they think they walk holily, yet many of these persons don’t certainly know that ever they did perform one act of saving grace, several of them never did perform one act of saving grace, therefore they cannot know that they have: and some that have done it, are in the dark about it; they are under doubts and uncertainties about it: the Question is, Whether such persons can know from their Walk, that they are sincere. This the Doctrine does deny, and it may thus be cleared up.
Argument 1. It is the acting of Grace that makes and shews the Walk to be holy: it is not the orderliness of men's walk that shews it to be holy; nor the affectionateness of men's hearts in Religion, that shews their walk to be holy; nor the long continuance of good carriages, nor a good behaviour in a day of temptation; not a savoury spirit; these things may all be, yet the walk not be holy: if there be the acting of love, faith and repentance, then the walk is holy: but all that men do is done in hypocrisy, if there he not the acting of grace: if there be no grace in their prayers, in their fastings, in their discourses; all is in hypocrisy: conscienciousness don’t prove their walk to be sincere: the young man in the Gospel was conscientious: Matt. 19:20 all these things have I done from my youth. Zeal don’t prove it, a man may be zealous, yet not upright: Rom. 10:2 they be the actings of grace that make and shew the walk to be holy; if it be not a life of faith and love, it is not a holy life: Gal. 2. 20 the life that I live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God: therefore he that don’t know that he has performed an act of grace, can’t know that he has an holy walk: he that don’t know that he has that which is the life of an holy walk, and essential to it, can’t know that his walk is holy
2. It is harder to know an holy walk than one act of grace: it is harder for any man to discern that he leads an holy life, then that he performs a gracious act: for an holy life does con¬sist of many gracious actions; and it is harder to discern that a man has done many, then that he has done one: it is harder to find out many profitable herbs in the field than one; harder to discern many grains of Wheat among the Chaff than one: it is harder to find many Evidences of a good Estate than one; to the discerning of many acts of grace, there is required more observation and examination, then to the discerning of one act of grace; if it be difficult to find one, it will be more difficult to find two, ten, an hundred: therefore he that don’t know that he has performed one act of grace, does not know that he leads an holy life. I may allude to that, Jer. 12:5 if thou hast run with the footmen and they have wearied thee, how wilt thou contend with horses.
3. If the holiness of men’s actions can’t be discerned severally, it can’t be discerned in conjunction: if a man looks upon his actions severally, and cannot say that this or that or any one was an holy action; he cannot say concerning any action, that it was an act of saving faith, or saving love; how can he when he looks upon his carriages together, say they are holy, if there be no one action that he can say is sincere; how can he say that his walk is sincere: if a man sees an heap of corn, how can he say, it is an heap of wheat, when he does not know, that there is one grain of wheat there: the sincerity of his walk depends upon the sincerity of particular actions; and if that be hidden from him, how can he say his walk is sincere: if for ought he knows every prayer and duty be done in hypocrisy then for ought he knows, his whole life is a life of hypocrisy; if he can instance in no action that is certainly otherwise, it may be so for ought that he knows; if he can’t answer to this question. John 21:17 Lovest thou me? or to that, John 9:35 dost thou believe on the Son of God? or some such like; he cannot tell that he lives an holy life: therefore such a man can’t prove his sincerity from his walk. No walk can be evidential, but what is made up of acts of grace; therefore if he feel none, he can have no evidence from his walk.
4. If there be no act of grace, there is no sincerity; therefore if he sees no act of grace, he sees no sincerity; when there is no act of grace, there is no principle of grace: though a man walk in print, yet there is no sincerity; many carry themselves very fairly; but if there be no grace, there is no uprightness in them, John 5:42 I know you, that you have not the love of God in you; it is all counterfeit walk: they are like men upon the Stage, that personate other kind of men; so these men walk like Saints, and talk like Saints; but if there be no act of grace, they are no Saints, they want that which does constitute a Saint; therefore if a man do not know any act of grace in himself, he can’t know himself to be a Saint, though he walk like an Angel.
5. The multiplication of such acts as are common to Saints and hypocrites, don’t shew him to be sincere; prayer is common to Saints and hypocrites. Ps. 78:34 When he slew them, then they fought him, they returned and enquired early after God; therefore if a man do this a thousand times, ft don’t prove him to be a Saint; so morality is common to Saints and hypocrites. Matt. 19:20 and if a man carries morally, twenty years together, it don’t shew him to be a Saint; so zeal, so delight in Sabbaths; if an hypocrite may do these things, then the multiplication of them, and walking in such a way is no evidence; that which is common, let ft be multiplied never so often, don’t become saving: multiply cyphers, and they make no number therefore there can be no evidence of a good estate from a man’s walk, unless he knew some act of grace; if he can’t discern some act of saving grace, he must be at a loss about his sincerity.
USE I. See the reason why many Professors are unsatisfied about their sincerity; though they have a pretty good conversation, are conscientious, affectionate, zealous, yet they are full of fears, they are often perplexed, and don’t know what to make of themselves; ft seems to them that their walk is pretty much according to rule, but they do not know that ever they did perform any act of saving grace; they can’t answer to such questions, Lovest thou me? John 21:17 Or dost thou believe on the Son of God? John 9:35 this does create a deal of perplexity to them; and they are afraid what will become of themselves, after all their profession. And there are three sorts of them.
1. Some Professors never did see any act of grace in them¬selves: they never had any: and therefore could not see any: they have had affection, but no love; sorrow, but not godly sorrow; encouragement, but no faith. There be many Professors that are utterly destitute of gracious carriages, they have the resemblance of them, but they never had any exercise of grace; they are spiritually dead, and never did perform any act of spiritual life; thus it was with Saul, Doeg, Achisophel, Judas and Demas, they were only the pictures of Saints, and imitated the actions of Spiritual life, but did not perform them; an evil tree can’t bring forth good fruit men can’t gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles Matt 7:16,18 they can’t see acts of grace: men cannot see that which is not.
2. Some Professors never did certainly know that they have performed any act of saving grace; they have discovered the workings of grace sometimes in themselves, but not so plainly, as to be able to speak roundly up to it, as Peter did, Lord, thou knows all things thou knows that line thee? John 21:17 they understand that there is a great deal that does resemble grace, that is not grace; and so they doubt whether it be of the right kind: they know that there is a temporary faith, Luke 8:13 some believe for a time, and then fall away; and there may be strong desires and delight, where there is no sincere love; here may be great pangs of affection, without any uprightness, and the acts of grace were not so clear, as some others do speak of; hence they are not fully satisfied; as when one sees a man at a great distance, he is at some loss whether ft be a man.
3. Some have certainly seen the workings of grace, but through temptations since, they have lost the certainty of that knowledge; at the time they knew they did believe in Christ, and that they loved God, and could say as David, Ps. 116:1 I love the Lord, and as, Ps. 46:1 The Lord is my strength and refuge but afterwards they have not so full and clear a remembrance of it: and God brings them into affliction, and unbelief prevails, and now they are suspicious that they were mistaken; besides, God don’t hear their prayers, they have sought him many a time for such & such a mercy, and he has denied them at last: besides, they find a dead heart, corruption strong, and have had no such plain working of Grace a pretty while, accordingly they are full of fears whether they are not mistaken: they say, if there were no deceit in it, how comes ft to be so and so with me?
USE II. Others cannot be certain of a man's sincerity from his Conversation: if others see men carry well, they presently say, they are good men: but they don’t know ft from thence; there is indeed ground enough for Charity; but not for Assurance: for whatever men’s Conversation be, if they don’t see the actings of Grace, they cannot be assured that the man is a Godly man. It is not good to depend upon the judgment of others, for they do not know, whether a man be sincere or not. All the external acts of Charity; Piety, Justice and Sobriety, may be performed by a man that has no Grace; Prudence and Conscience may produce them all: and one that has no Grace may carry as well in the eye of the world, as he that has it. Peter does but suppose Silvanus to be faithful. I Peter 5:12.
Consider 1. The inward actings of Grace are invisible to others. A man may look into his own heart, and see the actings and workings that are there; but he can’t look into the hearts of others; men can’t tell what actings there be in their under¬standings and wills: men can’t see when they act, nor what they act, nor what they act upon; nor how they act: men can’t tell whether they choose or refuse. Jer 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, who can know it?
2. Men cannot by words or actions make the actings of grace so visible to others, that they can distinguish them: if a man talk graciously and walk graciously, he can’t make an-other certain that he does so: another that sees the external action, can’t certainly distinguish it from a formal action; if he satisfy another, yet he can’t assure another, that it is a gracious action; a man may speak like an Angel, yet not have charity; he may give all his goods to feed the poor, and his body to be burned, and yet not have charity, I Cor 3: 1,2, 13.
USE III. Of Warning, That you be not confident of your sincerity from your walk, without the certain knowledge that you have performed any act of saving grace: some men will be confident that they are in a good estate, though they do not know that ever they believed in Christ, or have exercised any true love to God: all that they have to say for themselves is, that they have a consciencious care to do their duty, and are many times affected in a religious way, and hope, they do trust in Christ and make the glory of God their end; and they find affection to the people of God: but this you may be sure of; you can’t conclude your sincerity from your walk, unless you know that you have performed some act or acts of saving grace: if you do know that, then you have reason to conclude your walk to be holy: where there is one act of saving grace, there will be more: there is the principle, but without this you cannot conclude it.
Consider 1. If you be sincere, this confidence is mere flattery; good men sometimes think they are good upon such foundations as will not hold: as because God does the things that they have prayed for; because he smiles upon them in his Providence; because others think they are Saints: so this is one way of flattery: if you be upright, yet you can’t tell ft from your walk, if you do not know that you exercise grace: for ought any thing that you know, your life is a life of hypocrisy: men may do all that you know you do, and yet be hypocrites; your walk can’t be evidential to you, if you do not see the acts of grace, your confidence is presumption; men must go upon a sure bottom, 2 Cor 13:5 Examine yourselves, prove your own selves & this flattering & sleep that you are fallen into does you much hurt: this makes you neglect a good confidence, and exposes you to live a careless life, without any great matter of the life of religion.
2. If you be not sincere, it may prove your ruin; some men that take notice of their conscientiousness do conclude themselves godly, when they are ungodly: and fall short of a principle of grace: they are destitute of faith and love, John 5:42 I know you, that you have not the love God in you: but because they imagine that they are sincere, they rest in their present attainments, John 9:41 because you say we see therefore your sin remaineth when they are stirred up to get sincerity, they hope they have it already, they hope others will take the warning, and that their children will hearken, but they think themselves are out of danger: counsels and warnings are lost upon them, they bless themselves in their present estate, they think their disease is cured, and so give over the use of means; they think they are provided for Eternity, and so they are at rest: they are under some endeavours to get more knowledge and more grace, but not to be Converted: hence this work is neglected; when once they have taken up such a conceit that they are godly, they have got their deaths wound, if mercy do not prevent: they live carelessly and when they come to dye, they will be shut out of the Kingdom of God: there will be no room for them in heaven, Matt 25:12 Depart from me I know you not. Is 50:11 all you that kindle afire and compass your selves about with sparks; walk in the light of your fire and in the sparks which you have kindled, this shall ye have of mine hand, ye shall lie down in sorrow.
USE IV. Of Direction: To Saints how to get the knowledge of your sincerity; by getting such visible actings of grace, that you may know them certainly to be the acts of saving grace: it is a great exercise to some Saints, whether they be sincere Saints, they labour in ft for many years; and one Minister gives signs, and they try themselves by them, and another gives signs, and they try themselves them; and sometimes they think they see the signs of Saints, and sometimes the sign of hypocrites: and they don’t know what to make of themselves: the best way is to get such exercise of grace, that you may know it to be grace; don’t let grace lie in a withering condition: let ft flourish, that ft may act visibly: that you may certainly know it your walk without this, will never clear up your good condition.
Consider 1. There is good use of signs provided they be true signs warranted by right interpretation of the Scripture; though many signs that men give are very fallible: but if the signs be good, there is very good use to be made of them; though a man may ask signs of signs endlessly; yet they are of good advantage to beget a probable knowledge of a mans good estate; many persons are encouraged and supported by them. I John 3:14 Hereby we know that we are passed from death to lift, because we love the brethren: and they are a further confirmation to those that have had Assurances of their sincerity: when they find Scripture signs falling in with those evidences, which they have formerly received, they are further established thereby.
2. But the visible actings of Grace will satisfy all sorts of Christians. We may distinguish Christians into two sorts; some are persons of great understanding and knowledge, they have a deep insight into those ways of deceit and hypocrisy that the heart is subject to: and they are apt to be puzzled with questions and doubts, that fly over the heads of others; they are afraid of such deceits as other men don’t suspect: but when they have plain visible workings of Grace, that they know to be Grace, this fully satisfies them: Thou knowest that I love thee. John 21:17 Others are weak and ignorant and can’t give many signs of true Grace, nor distinctly take them up, when they are laid down: yet when they plainly see the visible actings of saving Grace, the thing is put beyond question. A weak woman is as well satisfied that she loves her child as the wisest man in the land, though she can’t make a large discourse upon ft, nor prove ft by infallible signs, because she feels her love: so ft is in this case.
3. Though the visible actings of Grace may be counterfeited, yet they that have them, may know that they have them. There is nothing but may be counterfeited, men may counterfeit themselves to be great men and holy men: Gold and Silver, and Jewels may be counterfeited. So these visible actings of Grace; men may have very strong affections; where there is no love or godly sorrow Matt 8:19 Master I will follow thee whither never thou goest. I Sam. 24:16 Saul lift up his voice and wept Men may say Hosanna to day, and Crucify to morrow Yet those that have the visible actings of Grace know ft. He that dreams thinks he is awake, but he that is awake, knows he is awake: though there be counterfeits, yet the visible actings may be known at the time.
4. If men have such visible actings of Grace but now and then, they will be of great use to them as long as they live: though they may be after that Exposed to great Temptations, yet these actings of Grace that they have seen, will be a stay to them: they will work on abiding hope in the heart they will often have occasion to call to mind the years of the right hand of the most high, and their Song in the night. If a man should live many years after, he will not forget this. Ps. 63:2 That I may see thy power and glory so as I have seen thee in the Sanctuary. If he has great Temptations from deadness and from Gods withdrawings; this will come to mind, and so he will have hope: and the more such acts are repeated, the more advantage he is under to have a settled Assurance of his sincerity