By John Flavel
John 1: 12.
But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God; even to then that believe on his name.
The nature and excellency of saving faith, together with its relation to justification, as an instrument in receiving Christ and his righteousness, having been discoursed doctrinally already; I now come to make application of it, according to the nature of this weighty and fruitful point.
And the uses I shall make of it will be for our,
2. Exhortation, and,
First Use of Information.
Use 1. And in the first, this point yields us many great and useful truths for our information: As,
Inference 1. Is the receiving of Christ the vital and saving act of faith, which gives the soul right to the person and privileges of Christ? Then it follows, That the rejecting of Christ by unbelief, must needs be the damning and soul-destroying sin, which cuts a man off from Christ, and all the benefits purchased by his blood. If there be life in receiving, there must needs be death in rejecting Christ.
There is no grace more excellent than faith; no sin more execrable and abominable than unbelief. Faith is the saving grace, and unbelief the damning sin, Mark 16: 16. "He that believeth not shall be damned." See John 3: 18, 36. and John 8: 24.
And the reason why this sin of unbelief is the damning sin is this, because, in the justification of a sinner, there must be a co-operation of all the con-causes that have a joint influence on that blessed effect. As there must be free grace for an impulsive cause, the blood of Christ as the meritorious cause, so, of necessity, there must be faith, the instrumental cause, to receive and apply what the free grace of God designed, and the blood of Christ purchased for us. For where there are many social causes, or con-causes to produce one effect, there the effect is not produced till the last cause be in act.
"To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name, whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins," Acts 10: 43. Faith in its place is as necessary as the blood of Christ in its place: "It is Christ in you the hope of glory," Col. 1: 27. Not Christ in the womb, not Christ in the grave, nor Christ in heaven, except he be also Christ in you.
Though Christ be come in the flesh; though he died and rose again from the dead; yet if you believe not, you must for all that die in your sins, John 8: 24. And what a dreadful thing is this! better die any death whatever than die in your sins. If you die in your sins, you will also rise in your sins, and stand at the bar of Christ in your sins: you can never receive remission, till first you have received Christ. O cursed unbelief, which damns the soul: dishonours God, 1 John 5: 10. slights Jesus Christ, the wisdom of God, as if that glorious design of redemption by his blood, the triumph and master-piece of divine wisdom, were mere foolishness, 1 Cor. 1: 23, 24. Frustrates the great design of the gospel, Gal. 4: 11. and consequently it must be the sin of sins, the worst and most dangerous of all sins; leaving a man under the guilt of all his other sins.
Infer. 2. If such a receiving of Christ, as has been described, be saving and justifying faith, when faith is a work of greater difficulty than most men understand it to be, and there are but few sound believers in the world.
Before Christ can be received, the heart must be emptied and opened: but most men's hearts are full of self-righteousness and vain confidence: this was the case of the Jews, Rom. 10: 3. "Being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God."
Man's righteousness was once in himself, and what liquor is first put into the vessel, it ever afterwards savours of it. It is with Adam's posterity as with bees, which have been accustomed to go to their own hive, and carry all thither; if the hive be removed to another place, they will still fly to the old place, hover up and down about it, and rather die there than go to a new place. So it is with most men. God has removed their righteousness from doing to believing; from themselves to Christ, but who shall prevail with them to forsake self? Nature will venture to be damned rather than do it: there is much submission in believing, and great self denial: a proud self-conceited heart will never stoop to live upon the stock of another's righteousness.
Besides, it is no easy thing to persuade men to receive Christ as their Lord in all things, and submit their necks to his strict and holy precepts, though it be a great truth that "Christ's yoke does not gall, but grace and adorn the neck that bears it;" that the truest and sweetest liberty is in our freedom from our lusts, not in our fulfilling them; yet who can persuade the carnal heart to believe this? And much less will men ever be prevailed withal, to forsake father, mother, wife, children, inheritance, and life it self, to follow Christ: and all this upon the account of spiritual and invisible things: and yet this must be done by all that receive the Lord Jesus Christ upon gospel terms; yea, and before the soul has any encouraging experience of its own, to balance the manifold discouragements of sense, and carnal reason, improved by the utmost craft of Satan to dismay it: for experience is the fruit and consequent of believing. So that it may well be placed among the great mysteries of godliness, that Christ is believed on in the world, 1 Tim. 3: 16.
Infer. 3. Hence it will follow, That there may be more true and sound believers in the world, than know, or dare conclude themselves to be such.
For, as many ruin their own souls by placing the essence of saving faith in naked assent, so some rob themselves of their own comfort, by placing it in full assurance. Faith, and sense of faith, are two distinct and separable mercies: you may have truly received Christ, and not receive the knowledge or assurance of it, Isa. 1. 10. Some there be that say, Thou art our God, of whom God never said, You are my people: these have no authority to be called the sons of God: others there are, of whom God saith, These are my people, yet dare not call God their God: these have authority to be called the sons of God, but know it not. They have received Christ, that is their safety, but they have not yet received the knowledge and assurance of it; that is their trouble: the Father owns his child in the cradle, who yet knows him not to be his Father.
Now there are two reasons why many believers, who might argue themselves into peace, do yet live without the comforts of their faith: and this may come to pass, either from,
First, The inevidence of the premises.
Secondly, Or the weighty importance of the conclusion.
First, It may come to pass from the inevidence of the premises. Assurance is a practical syllogism, and it proceeds thus:
All that truly have received Christ Jesus, they are the children of God.
I have truly received Jesus Christ. Therefore am the child of God.
The major proposition is found in the scripture, and there can be no doubt of that. The assumption depends upon experience, or internal sense; I have truly received Jesus Christ; here usually is the stumble: many great objections lie against it, which they cannot clearly answer: As,
Obj. 1. Light and knowledge are necessarily required to the right receiving of Christ, but I am dark and ignorant; many carnal, unregenerate persons know more than I do, and are more able to discourse of the mysteries of religion than I am.
Sol. But you ought to distinguish of the kinds and degrees of knowledge, and then you would see that your bewailed ignorance is no bar to your interest in Christ. There are two kinds of knowledge:
There is a natural knowledge, even of spiritual objects, a spark of nature blown up by an advantageous education; and though the objects of this knowledge be spiritual things, yet the light in which they are discerned is but a mere natural light.
And there is a spiritual knowledge of spiritual things, the teaching of the anointing, as it is called, 1 John 2: 27. i.e. the effect and fruit of the Spirit's sanctifying work upon our souls, when the experience of a man's own heart informs and teacheth his understanding, when by feeling the workings of grace in our own souls we come to understand its nature; this is spiritual knowledge. Now, a little of this knowledge is a better evidence of a man's interest in Christ, than the most raised and excellent degree of natural knowledge: As the philosopher truly observes; Praestat paucula de meliori scientia degustasse, quam de ignobilori multa: One dram of knowledge of the best and most excellent things, is better than much knowledge of common things. So it is here, a little spiritual knowledge of Jesus Christ, that has life and savour in it, is more than all the natural, sapless knowledge of the unregenerate, which leaves the heart dead, carnal, and barren: it is not the quantity, but the kind, not the measure, but the savour: If you know so much of the evil of sin, as renders it the most bitter and burdensome thing in the world to you, and so much of the necessity and excellency of Christ, as renders him the most sweet and desirable thing in the world to you, though you may be defective in many degrees of knowledge, yet this is enough to prove yours to be the fruit of the Spirit: you may have a sanctified heart, though you have an irregular or weak head: many that knew more than you are in hell: and some that once knew as little as you, are now in heaven: In absoluto et facili stat aeternitas: God has not prepared heaven only for clear and subtle heads. A little sanctified and effectual knowledge of Christ's person, offices, suitableness, and necessity, may bring thee thither, when others, with all their curious speculations and notions, may perish for ever.
Obj. 2. But you tell me, that assent to the truths of the gospel is necessarily included in saving faith, which, though it be not the justifying and saving act, yet it is pre-supposed and required to it. Now I have many staggering and doubtings about the certainty and reality of these things; many horrid atheistical thoughts, which shake the assenting act of faith in the very foundation, and hence I doubt I do not believe.
Sol. There may be, and often is, a true and sincere assent found in the soul, that is assaulted with violent atheistical suggestions from Satan; and thereupon questions the truth of it. And this is a very clear evidence of the reality of our assent, that whatever doubts, or contrary suggestions there be, yet we dare not in our practice contradict or slight those truths or duties which we are tempted to disbelieve, ex. gr. We are assaulted with atheistical thoughts, and tempted to slight and cast off all fears of sin, and practice of religious duties, yet when it comes to the point of practice, we dare not commit a known sin, the awe of God is upon us; we dare not omit a known duty, the tie of conscience is found strong enough to hold it close to it: in this case, it is plain we do really assent, when we think we do not. A man thinks he does not love his child, yet carefully provides for him in health, and is full of griefs and fears about him in sickness: why now, so long as I see all fatherly duties performed, and affections to his child's welfare manifested, let him say what he will as to the want of love to him, whilst I see this, he must excuse me if I do not believe him, when he saith he has no love for him. Just so is it in this case, a man saith I do not assent to the being, necessity, or excellency of Jesus Christ; yet, in the mean time, his soul is filled with cares and fears about securing his interest in him, he is found panting and thirsting for him with vehement desires, there is nothing in all the world would give him such joy, as to be well assured of an interest in him; while it is thus with any man, let him say or think what he will of his assent, it is manifest by this he does truly and heartily assent, and there can be no better proof of it than these real effects produced by it.
Secondly, But if these, and other objections were never so fully answered for the clearing of the assumption, yet it often falls out, that believers are afraid to draw the conclusion; and that fear partly arises from,
First, The weighty importance of this matter.
Secondly, The sense of the deceitfulness of their own hearts.
First, The conclusion is of infinite importance to them, it is the everlasting happiness of their souls, than which nothing is, or can be of greater weight upon their spirits: things in which we are most deeply concerned, are not lightly and hastily received by us: it seems so great and so good, that we are still apt (if there be any room for it) to suspect the truth and certainty thereof, as never being sure enough.
Thus when the women that were the first messengers and witnesses of Christ's resurrection, Luke 24: 10,11. came and told the disciples those wonderful and comfortable tidings, it is said, "That their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not." They thought it was too good to be true; too great to be hastily received; so it is in this case.
Secondly, The sense they have of the deceitfulness of their own hearts, and the daily workings of hypocrisy there, makes them afraid to conclude in so great a point as this is.
They know that very many daily cozen and cheat themselves in this matter; they know also that their own hearts are full of falseness and deceit; they find them so in their daily observations of them; and what if they should prove so in this? Why then they are lost for ever! They also know there is not the like danger in their fears and jealousies, that would be in their vain confidences and presumptions; by the one, they are only deprived of their present comfort, but by the other, they would be ruined for ever: and therefore choose rather to dwell with their own fears (though they be uncomfortable companions) than run the danger of so great a mistake, which would be infinitely more fatal. And this being the common case of most Christians, it follows that there must be many more believers in the world than do think, or dare conclude themselves to be such.
Infer. 4. If the right receiving of Jesus Christ, be true, saving, and justifying faith, then those that have the least, and lowest degree and measure of saving faith, have cause for ever to admire the bounty and riches of the grace of God to then therein.
If you have received never so little of his bounty by the hand of providence, in the good things of this life, yet if he have given you any measure of true saving faith, he has dealt bountifully in deed with you: this mercy alone is enough to balance all other wants and inconveniences of this life, "poor in the world, rich in faith, James 2: 5. O, let your hearts take in the full sense of this bounty of God to you; say with the apostle, Eph. 1: 3. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus", and you will in this one mercy, find matter enough of praise and thanksgiving, wonder and admiration to your dying day, yea, to all eternity: for, do but consider,
First, The smallest measure of saving faith which is found in any of the people of God, receives Jesus Christ; and in receiving him, what mercy is there which the believing soul does not receive in him, and with him? Rom. 8: 32.
O believer, though the arms of thy faith be small and weak, yet they embrace a great Christ, and receive the richest gift that ever God bestowed upon the world: no sooner art thou become a believer, but Christ is in thee the hope of glory; and thou hast authority to become a son or daughter of God; thou hast the broad seal of heaven to confirm thy title and claim to the privileges of adoption, for "to as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God." [To as many] be they strong, or be they weak, provided they really receive Christ by faith; there is authority or power given, so that it is no act of presumption in them to say, God is our Father, heaven is our inheritance. O precious faith! the treasures of ten thousand worlds cannot purchase such privileges as these: all the crowns and sceptres of the earth, sold at full value, are no price for such mercies.
Secondly, The least degree of saving faith brings the soul into a state of perfect and full justification. For if it receives Jesus Christ, it must needs therefore in him, and with him, receive a free, full, and final pardon of sin: the least measure of faith receives remission for the greatest sins. "By him all that believe are justified from all things," Acts 13: 39. It unites thy soul with Christ, and then, as the necessary consequent of that union, there is no condemnation, Rom. 8: 1. "ouden katakrima", not one condemnation, how many soever our sins have been.
Thirdly, The least measure or degree of saving faith, is a greater mercy than God has bestowed, or ever will bestow upon many that are far above you in outward respects: All men have not faith: nay, it is but a remnant among men that believe. Few of the nobles and potentates of the world have such a gift as this: they have houses and lands, yea, crowns and sceptres, but no faith, no Christ, no pardon; they have authority to rule over men, but no authority to become the sons of God, 1 Cor. 1: 26, 27.
Say therefore in thy most debased, straitened, afflicted condition, "Return to thy rest, O my soul, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with thee."
Fourthly, The least degree of saving faith is more than all the power of nature can produce. There must be a special revelation of the arm of the Lord in that work, Isa. 53: 1. Believers are not born of the flesh, nor of blood, nor of the will of man, but of God," John 1: 12,13. A11 believing motions towards Christ, are the effects of the Father's drawing, John 6: 44. A glorious and irresistible power goes forth from God to produce it, whence it is called "the faith of the operation of God," Col. 2: 12.
So then, let not believers despise the day of small things, or overlook that great and infinite mercy which is wrapt up in the least degree of saving faith.
Infer. 5. Learn hence the impossibility of their salvation, who neither know the nature, nor enjoy the means of saving faith.
My soul pities and mourns over the infidel world. Ah! What will become of the millions of poor unbelievers! there is but one door of salvation, viz. Christ; and but one key of faith to open that floor: and as that key was never given to the Heathen world: so it is laid aside, or taken away from the people by their cruel guides, all over the Popish world; were you among them, you should hear nothing else pressed as necessary to your salvation but a blind, implicit faith, to believe as the church believes; that is, to believe they know not what.
To believe as the pope believes; that is as an infidel believes, for so they confess he may be, and though there be such a thing as an explict faith sometimes spoken of among them, yet it is very sparingly discoursed, very falsely described, and exceedingly slighted by them as the merest trifle in the world.
First, It is but sparingly discoursed of: they love not to accustom the people's ears to such a doctrine; one of themselves confesses that there is so deep a silence of explicit, particular faith in the Romish church, that you may find many every where, that believe no more of these things than Heathen philosophers.
Secondly, When it is preached or written of, it is falsely described: for they place the whole nature and essence of justifying and saving faith in a naked assent, which the devils have as well as men, James 2: 19. No more than this is pressed upon the people at any time, as necessary to their salvation.
Thirdly, And even this particular explicit faith, when it is spoken or written of, is exceedingly slighted. I think if the devil himself were in the pulpit, he could hardly tell how to bring men to a more low and slight esteem of faith; to represent it more as a very trifle, or a quite needless thing, than these his agents have done. Some say if a man believe with a particular explicit faith, i.e. if he actually assent to the scripture-truths once in a year, it is enough. Yea, and others think it too much to oblige people to believe once in twelve months; and, for their ease, tell them, if they believe once in twelve years it is sufficient; and, lest this should be too great a task, others affirm, that if it be done but once in their whole life, and that at the point of death too, it is enough, especially for the rude and common people. Good God! what a doctrine is here! It was a saying long ago of Gregory (as I remember,) Malus minister est nisius diaboli: A wicked minister is the devil's goshawk, that goes a birding for hell; and O what game leave these hawks of hell among such numerous flocks of people! O, bless God while you live for your deliverance from popery; and see that you prize the gospel, and means of grace you enjoy at an higher rate, lest God bring you once more under that yoke, which neither you nor your fathers could bear.
Second use for examination.
Does saving faith consist in a due and right receiving of the Lord Jesus Christ? Then let me persuade you to examine yourselves in this great point of faith. Reflect solemnly upon the transactions that have been betwixt Christ and your souls; think close on this subject of meditation.
If all you were worth in the world lay in one precious stone, and that stone were to be tried by the skilful Lapidary, whether it were true or false, whether it would fly or endure under the smart stroke of his hammer, sure your thoughts could not be unconcerned about the issue. Why all that you are worth in both worlds depends upon the truth of your faith which is now to be tried.
Therefore read not these lines with a running, careless eye, but seriously ponder the matter before you. You would be loth to put to sea, though it were but to cross the channel, in a rotten leaky bottom: And will you dare to venture into the ocean of eternity in a false rotten faith! God forbid. You know the Lord is coming to try every man's faith as by fire, and that we must stand or fall for ever with the sincerity or hypocrisy of our faith. Surely, you can never be too exact and careful about that, on which your whole estate depends, and that for ever.
Now there are three things upon which we should have a very tender and watchful eye, for the discovery of the sincerity of our faith, and they are,
The Concomitants of Faith.
As these are, so we must judge and reckon our faith to be. And, accordingly they furnish us with three general marks or trials of faith.
First, If you would discern the sincerity of your faith, examine whether those antecedents, and preparative works of the spirit, were ever found in your souls, which use to introduce and usher it into the souls of God's elect: Such are illumination, conviction, self-despair, and earnest cries to God.
First, Illumination is a necessary antecedent to faith: You can not believe till God has opened your eyes to see your sin, your misery by sin, and your remedy in Jesus Christ alone: You find this act of the Spirit to be the first in order both of nature and time, and introductive to all the rest, Acts 26: 18. "To turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God." As faith without works (which must be a consequent to it) is dead, so faith without light, which must be an antecedent to it, is blind: Faith is the hand by which Christ is received, but knowledge is the eye by which that hand is directed.
Well then, has God opened your eyes to see sin and misery in another manner than ever you saw them before? For certainly, if God has opened your eyes by saving illuminations, you will find as great a difference betwixt your former and present apprehensions of sin and danger, as betwixt the painted lion upon the wall or a sign-post, and the real living lion that meets you roaring in the way.
Secondly, Conviction is an antecedent to believing: Where this goes not before, no faith can follow after: The Spirit first convinces of sin, then of righteousness John 16: 8. So Mark 1: 15. "Repent ye, and believe the gospel". Believe it, O man! that breast of thine must be wounded, that vain and frothy heart of thine must be pierced and stung with conviction, sense, and sorrow for sin: Thou must have some sick days, and restless sights for sin, if ever thou rightly close with Christ by faith. It is true, there is much difference found in the strength, depth, and continuance of conviction, and spiritual troubles in converts; but sure it is, the child of faith is not ordinarily born without some pangs. Conviction is the application of that light which God makes to shine in our minds, to our particular case and condition by the conscience; and sure, when men come to see their miserable and sad estate by a true light, it cannot but wound them, and that to the very heart.
Thirdly, Self-despair, or a total and absolute loss in ourselves about deliverance, and the way of escape, either by ourselves, or any other mere creature, does, and must go before faith.
So it was with those believers, Acts 2: 37. "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" They are the words of men at a total loss: It is the voice of poor distressed souls, that saw themselves in misery, but knew not, saw not, nor could devise any way of escape from it, by any thing they could do for themselves, or any other creature for them: And hence the apostle uses that emphatical word, Gal. 3: 23. "sungkekleisminoi", i.e. shut up to the faith, i.e. as men besieged and distressed in a garrison in a time of storm, when the enemy pours in upon them through the breaches, and overpowers them: There is but one sally-port or gate, at which they can escape, and to that they all throng, as despairing of life, if they take any other course. Just so do men's convictions besiege them, distress them, beat them off from all their holds and entrenchments, and bring them to a pinching distress in themselves, shutting them up to Christ as the only way to escape. Duties cannot save me, reformation cannot save me; nor angels, nor men can save me; there is no way but one, Christ, or condemnation for ever.
I thought once, that a little repentance, reformation, restitution, and a stricter life, might be a way to escape the wrath to come; but I find the bed is too short, and the covering too narrow: All is but loss, dung, dross, in comparisons with Jesus Christ; if I trust to those Egyptian reeds, they will not only fail me, but pierce and wound me too: I see no hope within the whole Horizon of sense.
Fourthly, Hence come vehement and earnest cries to God for faith, for Christ, for help from heaven, to transport the soul out of this dangerous condition, to that strong rock of salvation; to bring it out of this furious, stormy sea of trouble, where it is ready to wreck every moment, into that safe and quiet harbour, Christ.
O when a man shall see his misery and danger, and no way to escape but Christ, and that he has no ability himself to come to Christ, to open his heart thus to receive him, but that this work of faith is wholly supernatural, the operations of God; how will the soul return again, and again upon God, with such cries as in Mark 9: 24. "Lord, help my unbelief?" "Lord, enable me to come to Christ, give me Christ or I perish for ever; What profit is there in my blood? Why should I die in the sight and presence of a Saviour? O Lord, it is thine own work, a most glorious work: Reveal thine arm in this work upon my soul, I pray thee; give me Christ, if thou deny me bread? give me faith, if thou deny me breath. It is more necessary that I believe, than that I live."
O Reader, reflect upon the days and nights that are past, the places where thou hast been conversant: where are the bed-sides, or the secret corners where thou hast besieged heaven with such cries? If God have thus enlightened, convinced, distressed thy soul, and thus set thee a mourning after Christ, it will be one good sign that faith is come into thy soul; for here are certainly the harbingers and forerunners of it, that ordinarily make way for faith into the souls of men.
Secondly, If you would be satisfied of the sincerity and truth of your faith, then examine what concomitants it is attended with in your souls. I mean, what frames and tempers your souls were in, at that time when you think you received Christ. For certainly, in those that receive Christ, (excepting those into whose hearts God has in a more still and insensible way infused faith betides, by his blessing upon pious education) such concomitant frames of spirit may be remarked as these following.
First, The heart is deeply serious, and as much in earnest in this matter, as ever it was, or can be, about any thing in the world. This you see in that example of the gaoler, Acts 16: 29. "He came in trembling and astonished". It is the most solemn and important matter that ever the soul had before it in this world, or ever shall, or can have: How much are the hearts of men affected in their outward straits and distresses, about the concernments of the body? Their hearts are not a little concerned in such questions as these, "What shall I eat? what shall I drink?" wherewithal shall I and mine be fed and clothed? but certainly the straits that souls are in about salvation, must be allowed to be greater than these; and such questions as that of the gaoler's, "Sirs! what must I do to be saved?" make deeper impressions upon the heart, than what shall I eat or drink? Some indeed have their thoughts sinking deeper into these things than others: These thoughts lie with different degrees of weight upon men: but all are most solemnly and awfully concerned about their condition: All frothiness and frolics are gone, and the heart settles itself in the deepest earnest about its eternal state.
Secondly, The heart that receives Jesus Christ is in a frame of deep humiliation and self-abasement O, when a man begins to apprehend the first approaches of grace, pardon, and mercy by Jesus Christ to his soul: when a soul is convinced of its utter unworthiness and desert of hell; and can scarce expect any thing else from the just and holy God but damnation, how do the first dawnings of mercy melt and humble them! "O Lord, what am I that thou shouldst feed me, and preserve me! that thou shouldst but for a few years spare me and forbear me! but that ever Jesus Christ should love me, and give himself for me; that such a wretched sinner as I should obtain union with his person, pardon, peace, and salvation by his blood! Lord, whence is this to such a worm as I? and will Christ indeed bestow himself upon me? shall so great a blessing as Christ ever come within the arms of such a soul as mine? will God in very deed be reconciled to me in his Son? what, to me! to such an enemy as I have been! shall my sins which are so many, so horrid, so much aggravated, beyond the sins of most men, be forgiven? O what am I, vile dust? base wretch, that ever God should do this for me!" And how is that scripture fulfilled and made good, Ezek 16: 63 "That thou mayest remember, and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more, because of thy shame, when I am pacified towards thee for all that thou hast done, saith the Lord God." Thus, that poor broken-hearted believer stood behind Christ weeping, and washing his feet with tears, as one quite melted down, and overcome with the sense of mercy to such a vile sinner, Luke 7: 38.
Thirdly, The soul that receives Jesus Christ is in a weary condition, restless, and full of disquietness, neither able to bear the burden of sin, nor knowing how to be discharged from it, except Christ will give it ease, Mat. 11: 28, "Come unto me," that is, believe in me, "you that are weary and heavy laden:" If they do not look into their own souls, they know there is no safety, and if they do, there is no comfort. O! the burdensome sense of sin overweighs them; they are ready to fall, to sink under it.
Fourthly, The soul that rightly receives Christ, is not only in a weary, but in a longing condition: never did the hart pant more earnestly for the water-brooks: never did the hireling desire the shadow: never did a condemned person long for a pardon, more than the soul longs after Jesus Christ. O, said David, that one would give me of the water of the well of Bethlehem to drink. O, saith the poor humbled sinner, that one would give me of the opened fountain of the blood of Christ to drink! O for one drop of that precious blood! O for one encouraging smile from Christ! O now were ten thousand worlds at my command, and Christ to be bought, how freely would I lay them all down to purchase him! but he is the gift of God. O that God would give me Christ, if I should go in rags, and hunger and thirst all my days in this world!
Fifthly, The soul in the time of its closing with, or receiving Christ, is in a state of conflict: It hangs between hopes and fears, encouragements and discouragements, which occasions many a sad stand and pause in the way of Christ; sometimes the number and nature of its sins discourage it, then the riches and freeness of the grace of Christ erects his hopes again: there is little hope, saith unbelief; nay, it is utterly impossible, saith Satan, that ever such a wretch as thou shouldst find mercy; now the hands hang down. O but then there is a necessity, an absolute necessity, I have not the choice of two, but am shut up to one way of deliverance; others have found mercy and the invitation is to all that are weary, and to all that are athirst he saith, him that comes to him, he will in no wise cast out: now new hopes inspire the soul, and the hands that did hang down are strengthened.
These are the concomitant frames that accompany faith.
3. Mark. Lastly, Examine the consequents and effects of faith, if you would be satisfied of the truth and sincerity of it: and such are,
First, Evangelical meltings, and ingenuous thawings of the heart under the apprehensions of grace and mercy: Zech. 12: 10. "They shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and shall mourn."
Secondly, Love to Christ, his ways and people, Gal. 5: 6. Faith worketh by love, i. e. represents the love of God, and then makes use of the sweetness of it by way of argument, to constrain the soul to all acts of obedience, where it may testify the reality of its love to God and Christ.
Thirdly, Heart-purity, Acts 15: 9. "Purifying the hearts by faith:" It does not only cleanse the lands but the heart. No principle in man, besides faith, can do this: morality may hide corruption, but faith only purifies the heart from it.
Fourthly, Obedience to the commands of Christ, Rom. 16: 26. The very name of faith is called upon obedience: for it accepts Christ as Lord, and urges upon the soul the most powerful arguments in the world to draw it to obedience.
In a word, let the poor doubting believer, that questions his faith, reflect upon those things that are unquestionable in his own experience, which being well considered, will greatly tend to his satisfaction in this point.
It is very doubtful to you whether you believe, but yet in the mean time, it may be past doubt, (being a matter of clear experience) that you have been deeply convinced of sin, struck off from all carnal props and refuges, made willing to accept Jesus Christ upon what terms soever van might enjoy him. You doubt whether Christ be yours, but it is past doubt that you have a most high and precious esteem of Christ, that you heartily long for him, that you prize and love all, whether persons or things, that bear his image: that nothing in the world would please your hearts like a transformation into his likeness: that you had rather your souls should be filled with his Spirit, than your houses with gold and silver. It is doubtful whether Christ be yours, but it is past doubt that one smile from Christ, one token of his love would do you more good than all the honours and smiles of the world; and no thing so grieves you, as your grieving him by sin does. You dare not say that you have received him, nor can you deny but that you have had many sick days and nights for him; that you have gone into many secret places with yearning bowels after him. Whether he be yours or not, you cannot tell; but that you are resolved to be his, that you can tell. Whether he will save you is but a doubt, but that you resolve to lie at his feet, and wait only on him, and never go to another for salvation, is no doubt.
Well, well; poor pensive soul, if it be so, arise, lift up thy dejected head, take thine own Christ into thine arms. These are undoubted signs of a real closure with Christ, thou makes thyself poor, and yet hast great riches: Such things as these are not found in them that despise and reject Christ by unbelief.
3. Use of Exhortation.
3. Use. This point is likewise very improveable by way of exhortation, and that both to
Unbelievers and Believers.
First, To unbelievers, who from hence must be pressed, as ever they expect to see the face of God in peace, to receive Jesus Christ as he is now offered to them in the gospel. This is the very scope of the gospel; I shall therefore press it by three great considerations, viz.
First, that is in Christ whom you are to receive.
Secondly, What is in the offer of Christ by the gospel.
Thirdly, What is in the rejecting of that offer.
First, Consider well what is in Christ, whom I persuade you this day to receive: Did you know what is in Christ, you would never neglect or reject him as you do: For,
First, "God is in Christ," 2 Cor. 5: 19. the Deity has chosen to dwell in his flesh; he is "God manifest in flesh," 1 Tim. 3: 16. a Godhead dwelling in flesh is the world's wonder; so that in receiving Christ, you receive God himself.
Secondly, The authority of God is in Christ, Exod. 23: 21. "My name is in him: Him has God the Father sealed," John 6: 27. he has the commission, the great seal of heaven to redeem and save you. All power in heaven and earth is given to him, Matth. 28: 18. he comes in his Father's name to you, as well as in his own name.
Thirdly, The wisdom of God is in Christ, 1 Cor. 1: 24. "Christ the wisdom of God," yea, "in him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge," Col. 2: 3. Never did the wisdom of God display itself before the eyes of angels and men as it has done in Christ. The "angels desire to look into it," 1 Pet. 1: 12. yet they are not so much concerned in the project and design of this wisdom in redemption as you are.
Fourthly, The fulness of the Spirit is in Christ, yea, it fills him so as it never did, nor will fill any creature, John 3: 34. "God giveth not the Spirit by measure to him: all others have their limits, stints, and measures; some more, some less; but the Spirit is in Christ without measure. O how lovely and desirable are those men that have a large measure of the Spirit in them! but he is anointed with the Spirit of holiness above all his fellows, Psal. 45: 2, 7. Whatever grace is found in all the saints, which makes them desirable and lovely, wisdom in one, faith in another, patience in a third; they all centre in Christ as the rivers do in the sea, quae faciunt divisa beatum, in hoc mixta fluunt.
Fifthly, The righteousness of God is in Christ, by which only a poor guilty sinner can be justified before God, 2 Cor. 5: 21. we are "made the righteousness of God in him:" he is "Adonai Tsidkenu", "the Lord our righteousness," Jer. 23: 6. "the author of our righteousness", or the Lord who justifies us, by that name he will be known, and called by his people, than which none can be sweeter.
Sixthly, The love of God is in Christ, yea, the very yearning bowels of divine love are in him: What is Christ, but the love of God wrapt up in flesh and blood? 1 John 4: 9, 10. "In this was manifested the love of God towards us:" and herein is love, that God sent his Son; this is the highest flight that ever divine love made; and higher than this it cannot mount. O love, unparalleled and admirable!
Seventhly, The mercies and compassions of God are all in Christ, Jude, ver. 21. Mercy is the thing that poor sinners want, it is that they cry for at the last gasp; it is the only thing that can do them good. O what would they give to find mercy in that great day? Why, if you receive Christ, you shall with him receive mercy; but out of him there is no mercy to be expected from the hands of God; for God will never exercise mercy to the prejudice of his justice; and it is in Christ that justice and mercy meet and embrace each other.
Eighthly, To conclude, The salvation of God is in Christ, Acts 4: 12. "Neither is there salvation in any other." Christ is the door of salvation, and faith is the key that opens that door to men. If you therefore believe not, i.e. if you so receive not Jesus Christ, as God has offered him, you exclude yourselves from all hopes of salvation. The devils have as much ground to expect salvation as you. You see what is in Christ to induce you to receive him.
Next, I beseech you, consider what there is in the offer of Christ to sinners, to induce you to receive him. Consider well to whom and how Christ is offered in the gospel.
First, To whom is he offered; not to the fallen angels, but to you; they lie in chains of darkness, Jude, ver. 6. as he took not their nature, so he designs not their recovery, and therefore will have no treaty at all with them: but he is offered to you, creatures of an inferior rank and order by nature; nor is he offered to the damned, the treaty of peace is ended with them: Christ will never make then another tender of salvation; nor is he offered to millions as good as you, now living in the world. The sound of Christ and salvation is not come to their ears, but he is offered to you by the special favour and bounty of heaven; and will you not receive him? Oh! then how will the devils, the damned, an the heathen upbraid your folly! and say, had we had one such tender of mercy, of which you have had thousands, we would never have been now in this place of torments.
Secondly, Consider how Christ is offered to you, and you shall find that he is offered,
1. Freely, as the gift of God, to your souls; you are not to purchase him, but only to receive him, Isa. 55: 1 "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and you that has no money, let him come," &c.
2. Christ is offered importunately, by repeated intreaties, 2 Cor. 5: 20. "As though God did beseech you, we pray you in Christ's name, be ye reconciled to God." O! what amazing condescension is here in the God of mercy! God now beseeches you, will you not yield to the entreaties of your God? O then what wilt thou say for thyself, when God will not hear thee, when thou shalt entreat and cry for mercy? Which brings us to
Motive 3. Consider the sin and danger that there is in refusing or neglecting the present offers of Christ in the gospel, and surely there is much sin in it; the very malignity of sin, and the sum of all misery lies here; for in refusing Christ,
1. You put the greatest contempt and slight upon all the attributes of God that is possible for a creature to do: God has made his justice, his mercy, his wisdom, and all his attributes to shine in their brightest glory in Christ. Never was there such a display of the glory of God made to the world in any other way.
O then, what is it to reject and despise Jesus Christ, but to offer the greatest affront to the glory of God that it is possible for men to put upon it?
2. You hereby frustrate and evacuate the very design and importance of the gospel to yourselves; you "receive the grace of God in vain," 2 Cor. 6: 1. As good, yea, better has it been for you, that Christ had never cone into the world, or, if he had, that your lot had fallen in the dark places of the earth, where you had never heard his name; yea, good had it been for that man if he had never been born.
3. Hereby a man murders his own soul. "I said therefore unto you, that you shall die in your sins; for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins," John 8: 24. Unbelief is self-murder; you are guilty of the blood of your own souls: life and salvation were offered you, and you rejected them. Yea;
4. The refusing of Christ by unbelief will aggravate your damnation above all others that perish in ignorance of Christ. O, it will be more tolerable for heathens than for you; the greatest measures of wrath are reserved to punish the worst of sinners; and among sinners, none will be found worse than unbelievers.
Secondly, To believers, this point is very useful to persuade them to divers excellent duties; among which, I shall singly out two principal ones, viz.
1. To bring up their faith of acceptance, to the faith of assurance.
2. To bring up their conversations to the principles and rules of faith.
1. You that have received Jesus Christ truly, give yourselves no rest till you are fully satisfied that you have done so; acceptance brings you to heaven hereafter, but assurance will bring heaven into your souls now. O, what a life of delight and pleasure does the assured believer live! What pleasure is it to him to look back and consider where he once was, and where he now is? To look forward, and consider where he now is, and where shortly he shall be! I was in my sins, I am now in Christ. I am in Christ now, I shall be with Christ, and that for ever, after a few days. I was upon the brink of hell, I am now upon the very borders of heaven; I shall be in a very little while among the innumerable company of angels and glorified saints, bearing part with them in the song of Moses, and of the Lamb, for evermore.
And why may not you that have received Christ, receive the comfort of your union with him? There be all the grounds and helps of assurance furnished to your hand, there is a real union betwixt Christ and your souls, which is the very ground-work of assurance. You have the scriptures before you which contain the signs of faith, and the very things within you that answer those signs in the word. So you read, and so, just so, you might feel it in your own hearts, would you attend to your own experience. The Spirit of God is ready to seal you, it is his office and his delight so to do. O therefore, give diligence to this work, attend the study of the scriptures and of your own hearts more, and grieve not the holy Spirit of God, and you may arrive to the very desire of your hearts.
2. Bring up your conversations to the excellent principles and rules of faith; "As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him," Cor. 2: 6. Live as you believe; you received Christ sincerely in your first close with him, O maintain the like seriousness and sincerity in all your ways, to the end of your lives: you received him entirely and undividedly at first, let there be no exceptions against any of his commands afterward. You received him exclusively to all others, see that you watch against all self- righteousness and self-conceitedness now, and mingle nothing of your own with his blood, whatever gifts or enlargements in duty God shall give you afterwards.
You received him advisedly at first, weighing and considering the self-denying terms upon which he was offered to you; O show that it was real, and that you see no cause to repent the bargain, whatever you shall meet with in the ways of Christ and duty afterwards: convince the world of your constancy and cheerfulness in all your sufferings for Christ, that you are still of the same mind you were, and that Christ, with his cross, Christ, with a prison, Christ, with the greatest afflictions, is worthy of all acceptation: "As ye have received him, so walk ye in him." Let him be as sweet, as lovely, as precious to you now, as he was in the first moment you received him; yea, let your love to him, delights in him, and self-denial for him, increase with your acquaintance with him, day by day.
Use of direction.
Use: Lastly, I will close all with a few words of direction to all that are made willing to receive the Lord Jesus Christ; and sure it is but needful that help were given to poor Christians: in this matter, it is a time of trouble, fear, and great temptation; mistakes are easily made of dangerous consequence; attend heedfully, therefore, to a few directions.
Direction 1. First, In your receiving Christ, Beware you do not mistake the means for the end. Many do so, but see you do not. Prayer, sermons, reformations, are means to bring you to Christ, but they are not Christ; to close with those duties is one thing, and to close with Christ is another thing. If I go into a boat, my design is not to dwell there, but to be carried to the place whereon I desire to be landed: so it must be in this case, all your duties must land you upon Christ; they are means to bring you to Christ.
Direction 2. Secondly, See that you receive not Christ for a present help, but for your everlasting portion. Many do so; they will enquire after Christ, pray for Christ, cast themselves (in their way) upon Christ, and the satisfaction of his blood, when the efficacy and terror of conscience is upon them, and they feel the sting of guilt within them; but as soon as the storm is over, and the rod that conscience shaked over them laid by, there is no more talk of Christ then: alas! it was not Christ, but quietness that they sought; beware of mistaking peace for Christ.
Direction 3. Thirdly, In receiving, Christ, come empty-handed unto him: "believing on him who justifies the ungodly," Rom. 4: 5. and know that the deepest sense of your own vileness, emptiness, and unworthiness, is the best frame of heart that can accompany you to Christ. Many persons stand off from Christ for want of fit qualifications; they are not prepared for Christ as they should be, i. e. they would not come naked and empty, but have something to commend them to the Lord Jesus for acceptance. O! this is the pride of men's hearts, and the snare of the devil. Let him that has no money come: you are not to come to Christ because you are qualified, but that you may be qualified with whatever you want; and the best qualification you can bring with your is a deep sense that you have no worth nor excellency at all in you.
Direction 4. Fourthly, In receiving Christ, beware of dangerous delays. O follow on that work till it be finished. You read of some that are almost persuaded, and of others not far from the kingdom of God; O take heed of what the prophet says, Hosea 13: 13. Delays here are full of danger, life is uncertain, so are means of grace too. The man-slayer needed no motives to quicken his flight to the city of refuge.
Direction 5. Fifthly, See that you receive all Christ, with all your heart. To receive all Christ, is to receive his person clothed with all his offices; and to receive him with all your heart, is to receive him into your understanding, will, and affections, Acts 8: 37. As there is nothing in Christ that may be refused, so there is nothing in you from which he must be excluded.
Direction 6. Lastly, Understand that the opening of your hearts to receive the Lord Jesus Christ, is not a work done by any power of your own, but the arm of the Lord is revealed therein, Isa. 53: 1. It is therefore your duty and interest to be daily at the feet of God, pouring out your souls to him in secret, for abilities to believe. And so much, as to our actual reception of Christ.
Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ.