CHAP.  3.

A general Direction for avoiding the former Error.

I NOW return to rectify and tender a remedy against the first aberration, which I told you was this: When mercy, Christ, the promises, salvation, heaven, and all are applied hand over head, and falsely appropriated to unhumbled sinners, whose souls were never rightly enlightened with sight of sin and weight of God’s wrath, nor afflicted to any purpose with any legal wound or hearty compunction by the spirit of bondage; in whose hearts a sense of their spiritual misery and want hath not yet raised a restless and kindly thirst after Jesus Christ; in this case my advice is, that all those who deal with others about their spiritual states, and undertake to direct in that high and weighty affair of men’s salvation, either publicly or privately, in their ministry, visitations of the sick, or otherwise; that they would follow that course of which 1 largely discoursed a little before, taken by God himself, his prophets, his Son, the apostles, and all those men of God in all ages who have set themselves with sincerity, faithfulness, and all good conscience to seek God’s glory in the salvation of men’s souls, to discharge aright their dreadful charge, and “to keep themselves pure from the blood of all men; “ to wit, that they labour with all earnestness, in the first place, by the knowledge, power, and application of the law, to enlighten, convince, and [[113]] terrify those that they have to do with, concerning conversion, with a sensible, particular apprehension and acknowledgment of their wretchedness and miserable estate, by reason of their sinfulness and cursedness; to break their hearts, bruise their spirits, humble their souls, wound and awake their consciences; to bring them by all means to that legal astonishment, trouble of mind, and melting temper, which the ministry of John Baptist, Paul, and Peter wrought upon the hearts of their hearers (Luke iii, 10, 12, 14; Acts ii, 37; xvi, 30), that they may come crying feelingly and from the heart to those men of God who happily fastened those keen arrows of compunction and remorse in the sides of their consciences; and say, “Men and brethren, what shall we do? Sirs, what must we do to be saved?” As if they should have said, Alas we see now we have been in hell all this while; and if we had gone on a little longer, we had most certainly lain for ever in the fiery lake. The devil and our own lusts were carrying us hoodwinked and headlong towards endless perdition. Who would have thought we had been such abominable beasts and abhorred creatures as your ministry bath made us, and in so forlorn and woeful estate! Now, you blessed men of God, help us out of this gulf of spiritual confusion, or we are lost everlastingly. By your discovery of our present sinful and cursed estate, we feel our hearts torn in pieces with extreme and restless anguish, as though many fiery scorpions’ stings stuck fast in them. Either lead us to the sight of that blessed antitype of the brazen serpent to cool and allay the boiling rage of our guilty wounds, or we are utterly undone. Either bring us to the blood of that just and holy One, which with execrable villany we have spilt as water upon the ground, that it may bind up our broken hearts, or they will presently burst with despair and bleed to eternal death. Give us to drink of that sovereign fountain opened by the hand of mercy for all thirsty souls, or else we die. There is nothing you can prescribe and appoint, but we will most willingly do. We will with all our hearts “pluck out our right eyes, cut off our right hands;” we mean, part with our beloved lusts and dearest sinful pleasures; abominate and abandon them all for ever, from the heart root to the pit of hell. If we can be rid of the devil’s fetters, welcome shall be Christ’s sweet and easy yoke. In a word. we will sell all, even all our sins, to the last filthy rag of our heretofore doted-upon and darling delight, so that we may enjoy our blessed Jesus, whom you have told us, and we now believe, “God hath made both Lord and Christ.”

[[114]] Now, when we shall see and find in some measure the hearts of our hearers and spiritual patients thus prepared, both by legal dejections and terrors from the spirit of bondage, and also possessed with such melting and eager affections, wrought by the light of the gospel and offer of Christ; when their souls once begin to feel all sins, even their best beloved one, heavy and burthensome; to prize Jesus Christ far before all the world; to thirst for him infinitely more than for riches, pleasures, honours, or any earthly thing; to resolve to take him as their husband, and to obey him as their Lord for ever, and all this in truth; —I say, then and in this case we may have reason to minister comfort; then upon good ground we may go about our Master’s command, which man-pleasers many times pitifully abuse, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people:” I mean is respect of spiritual bondage. “Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned.” (Isa. xl, 1, 2). We may tell them with what a compassionate and tender address God himself labours to refresh them. “O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires” (Isa. liv, 11). We may assure them in the word of life and truth, that Jesus Christ is theirs, and they are his; and compel them, as it were, by a holy violence, not without a great deal of just indignation against their loathness to believe and holding off in this case, to take his person, his merit, his blood, all his spiritual riches, privileges, excellencies, and with him possession of all things, even of the most glorious Deity itself, blessed for ever. See 1 Cor. iii, 21, 22, 23; John xvii, 21.

But now in the meantime, until sense of spiritual misery and poverty raise an hunger and thirst after Jesus Christ, before such like preparations and precedent affections as have been spoken of be wrought in the hearts of men by pressing the law and proclaiming the gospel, and that in sincerity (for the degree and measure we leave it to God, as a most free agent, in some they may be stronger, in some weaker), the preaching or promising of mercy, as already belonging unto them, is far more unseasonable and unseemly than snow in summer, rain in harvest, or honour for a fool. It is, in short, the very sealing them up with the spirit of delusion, that they may never so much as think of taking the right course to be converted. What sottish and sacrilegious audaciousness then is it in any dauber to thrust his profane hand into the treasury of God’s mercy, and there carelessly, without any allowance from his highest Lord, to [[115]] scatter his dearest and most orient pearls amongst swine! To warrant salvation to any unhumbled sinner! “To strengthen the hands of the wicked,” who never yet took sin to heart to any purpose and thirst far more (such true Gadarenes are they) after gold, satisfying their own lusts and perking above their brethren, than for the blood of Christ, by promising them life! To assure mere civil men, and pharisees, who are so far from the sense of any spiritual poverty, that they are already swoln as full as the skin will hold with a self-conceit of their own rotten righteousness. that they shall be saved as well as the most strict disciple of Christ! Especially since there is such a cloud of witnesses to the contrary, as you have heard before. Besides all which, upon this occasion take two or three more. Hear a most faithful and fruitful workman in the Lord’s harvest, of great skill, experience, and success in the most glorious art of converting souls, which makes me more willing to urge his authority, and esteem his judgment in points of this nature[1]. “None,” saith he, “can prove or show precedent, that faith was wrought in an instant at first, without any preparation going before. Nor can it be conceived how a man should believe in Christ for salvation, that felt not himself before in a miserable estate, and wearied with it, and desired to get out of it into a better. As the needle goes before to pierce the cloth, and makes way for the thread to sew it, so is it in this case.” Afterward he tells us how and in what manner and order these predispositions and preparative acts, required for the plantation of faith and so securing us of the right season, and a comfortable calling to assure men of spiritual safety, are wrought in such as God is drawing unto Jesus Christ. He requires from the law, first, illumination; secondly, conviction; thirdly, legal terror. From the gospel, by the help of the Spirit: first, revealing the remedy; secondly, belief of it in general; thirdly, present support from sinking under the burthen and falling into despair; fourthly, contrition, which is attended with some kind of, first, desire; secondly, request; thirdly, care; fourthly, hope; fifthly, joy; sixthly, hungering and thirsting after mercy and after Christ; seventhly, resolution to sell all, to wit, all sins, not to leave a hoof behind, &c. “And thus,” saith he, “God brings along the man that he purposeth to make his; and when he is at this pass, God seals it up to him and enables him to believe; and saith, Since thou wilt have no nay, be it unto thee according to thy desire; and God seals him up by the [[116]] Spirit of promise, as surely as any writing is made sure by sealing of it. Then he believes the word of God, and rests and casts himself upon it. And thus he finds himself discharged of all woe, made partaker of all good, at peace in himself, and fitted and in tune to do God service. This is to some sooner, to some later, according to the helps and means they have, and wise handling they meet withal, and as God gives power. It is hard to say at what instant faith is wrought, whether not till a man feels that he apprehends the promises, or even in his earnest desires, hungering and thirsting; for even these are pronounced blessed.”

But here (for I desire and endeavour as much as I can possibly in every passage to prevent all matter both of scruple in the upright-hearted, and of cavil in the contrary minded) let no truly humbled sinner be discouraged, because he cannot find in himself these several workings, or other graces, in that degree and height, which he desires and bath perhaps seen, heard, or read of in some others. If lie have them in truth, and truly thirsts and labours for their increase, lie may go on with comfort. Neither let any be disheartened, though he did not observe so distinctly the order of the precedent acts, nor could discern so punctually their several operations in his soul; yet, if in substance and effect they have been wrought in him, and made way for Jesus Christ, lie need not complain.

As this man of God in experimental divinity, so our renowned and invincible champions in their polemical discourses upon other occasions speak to the same purpose, telling us also of some antecedent acts humbling and preparing the soul for conversion. “There are,” say they, “certain internal effects going before conversion or regeneration, which by virtue of the word and Spirit are wrought in the hearts of those which are not yet justified; such as, illumination of the mind and conscience with the knowledge of the word and will of God for that purpose; sense of sin; fear of punishment, or legal terror; advising and casting about for enlargement from such a miserable estate; some hope of pardon[2],” &c. Let me but add one other, and he also of excellent learning, and then I have done. “Such is the nature of man,” saith he[3], “that before he can receive a true justifying faith, he must, as it were, be broken in pieces by the law (Jer. xxiii, 29). We are to be led from the fear of slaves through the fear of penitents to the fear of sons; and indeed one of these makes way for [[117]] another, and the perfect love thrusts out fear; yet must fear bring in that perfect love, as a needle or bristle draws in the thread after it; or as the potion brings health. In the preparation and fitting us for our being in Christ, he requireth two things: First, the cutting us off as it were from the wild olive-tree: by which he meaneth two things: 1st, a violent pulling of us out of the corruption of nature, or a cutting, as it were, by the knife of the law, of an unregenerate man from his security, &c. 2dly, a violent attraction to Christ for ease; man at the first plainly refusing it. The hunted beast flies to his den, the pursued malefactor to the horns of the altar, or city of refuge. Paul’s misery drives him to God’s mercy (Rom. vii, 24). The Israelites are driven into their chambers by the destroying angel; Balaam is made to lean back by the naked sword; Agur to run to Ithiel and Ucal, that is, Christ, when he is confounded with his own brutishness (Prov. xxx, 1, 2, 3). God must let loose his law, sin, conscience, and Satan to bait us, and kindle hell fire in our souls, before we shall be driven to seek to Christ. Secondly, a paring and trimming of us for our putting into Christ by our humiliation for sin, which is thus wrought. God giveth the sinner to see by the law his sin and the punishment of it, the detection whereof drives him to compunction and a pricking of heart, which is greater or lesser, and carries with it divers symptoms and sensible passions of grief; and works a sequestration from his former courses, and makes him loathe himself,” &c.

And yet by the way take this caution and forewarning: If any should think of these precedent acts, these preparative workings of the law and gospel, which make way for the infusion of faith, as any meritorious means to draw on Christ, it were a most false, rotten, foolish, execrable, popish, absurd, Luciferian misconceit, and might justly merit never to obtain mercy at God’s bountiful hands, nor part in the merits of Christ. I speak thus to fright every one for ever from any such abhorred thought. God the Father offers his Son most freely. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John iii, 16). “Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given” (Isa. ix, 6). “If thou knewest the gift of God,” saith Christ unto the woman of Samaria, “and who it is that saith to thee, give me to drink.” (John iv, 10). “Much more they, which receive abundance of grace, and of the gift of righteousness,” &c. (Rom. v, 17). Christ calleth himself a “gift,” and it is called the “gift of righteousness;” and nothing so free as gift. And therefore those [[118]] divines speak not unfitly who say, “It is given unto us, as fathers give lands and inheritance to their children; as kings give pardons to their subjects, having merited death. They give them, because they will, out of the freeness of their minds.” All those who would come unto Christ, and desire to take him as their wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, must be utterly unbottomed of themselves, and built only on the rich and free mercy of God revealed in the gospel. They must be emptied first of all conceit of any righteousness or worth in themselves at all. Secondly, of all hope of any ability or possibility to help themselves. Nay, filled, thirdly, with sense of their own unworthiness, naughtiness, nothingness. Fourthly, and with such a thirst after that water of life, that they are most willing to sell all for it, and cry heartily, Give me drink, or else I die. And then when they are thus most nothing in themselves, and do so long for the “rivers of living water,” they are certainly most welcome unto Jesus Christ, and may take him most freely. Hear how sweetly be calls them: “Ho! every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come ye, buy, and eat; yea come, buy wine and milk, without money, and without price” (Isa. lv, 1). “In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood, and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture bath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (John vii, 37, 38). “It is done: I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst, of the fountain of the water of life freely” (Rev. xxi, 6). “And let him that is athirst come, and whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev xxii, 17). We must therefore by no means conceive of the forenamed preparative humiliations and precedent works of the law and gospel as of any meritorious qualifications to draw on Christ (for he is given most freely), but as of needful predispositions to drive us unto Christ. For a man must feel himself in misery before he will go about to find a remedy; be sick before he will seek the physician be in prison before he will sue for a pardon; be wounded before he will prize a plaister and precious balsam. A sinner must be weary of his former wicked ways, and tired with legal terror, before he will have recourse to Jesus Christ for refreshing, and lay down his bleeding soul in his blessed bosom. He must be sensible of his spiritual poverty, beggary, and slavery under the devil, before he thirst for heavenly righteousness, and willingly take up Christ’s sweet and easy yoke. Ile must be cast down, [[119]] confounded, condemned, a cast-away, and lost in himself, before he will look about for a Saviour. He must cry heartily, “I am unclean, I am unclean,” before he will long and labour to wash in that most sovereign and soul-saving fountain, opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness” (Zech. xiii, 1). He must sell all, before he will be willing and eager to buy the treasure hid in the field.

[1] Rogers of Dedham, in his Doctrine of Faith.

[2] Suffrag. Colleg. Theologonno Magma Britauniæ.

[3] Yates, in his Model of Divinity, book ii, chap. xxvi.