O generation, see ye the word of the LORD. Have I been a wilderness unto Israel? a land of darkness? wherefore say my people, We are lords; we will come no more unto thee? Lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein; And when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied; Then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the LORD thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage;
~ Jeremiah 2:31, Deuteronomy 8:12-14
But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. They would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof.
~ Matthew 9:12, Proverbs 1:30
Is holiness more excellent than gold? Well then may the poorest Christian be content with the allotments of Providence. Ye who are destitute of this world’s goods, but rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which God hath promised; ye who feel tha rigours of temporal poverty, but who have treasures in heaven, think of your imperishable wealth, and neither thirst for an earthly portion nor murmur at temporary wants. Thousands, alas! who are pennyless, and thousands who have worldly wealth, are without Christ and without hope. ~ John Flavel
I will bless the LORD, who hath given me counsel: my reins also instruct me in the night seasons. And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness.
~ Psalm 16:7, Malachi 3:3
Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.
~ Revelation 16:15
The Touchstone of Sincerity: Or The Signs of Grace, and the Symptoms of Hyprocisy, by John Flavel.
Opened in a practical Treatise upon Revelation iii. 17, 18.
The following contains excerpts of the text.
Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.
~ Revelation 3:17-18
Elucidation of the Text.
1. That many professors of religion are under very great and dangerous mistakes in regard to their character.
2. That true holiness is exceedingly valuable, and greatly enriches the soul.
3. That we may safely account that only to be true holiness which will endure all the tests appointed for its examination.
The first observation naturally arises from the scope of the text, which is to awaken and convince unsound professors.
The second is suggested by the use which the Holy Ghost makes of the richest things in nature, to represent the unspeakable worth of Christian graces.
The third is derived from the very significant metaphor of gold tried in the fire; by which I understand a real work of grace, manifesting and proving itself to be such during the closest inspection, or under the severest trial. For whatever puts the reality of one’s holiness to the proof, whatever scrutinises and tries it, is to him what fire is to gold. Hence we read in Scripture: ” Thou hast tried us as silver is tried.” Again: ” I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and try them as gold is tried.”
What many professors of religion are under very great and dangerous mistakes in regard to their character.
All flattery, and especially self-flattery, is criminal and injurious; but self-flattery, in regard to the concerns of salvation, is to the last degree dangerous and destructive. To persuade ourselves, or endeavour to persuade others, that we possess goodness of which we are in reality destitute, is shameful and ruinous dissimulation. But of this, Laodiceans, and self-deceivers in every age, are guilty.
My present design is not to shake the well-founded hopes of any man, or to excite unreasonable apprehensions, hut to discover the radical and fatal defects in the basis of many men’s expectations of future happiness. Men must judge of their religion by examining its foundation; if that fail, the superstructure is perishable and worthless.
There is a laudable spirit of caution cherished by saints, which makes them sensible to the danger of self-deception, and renders them watchful and circumspect; there is also a culpable anxiety and fear, tending only to gloom and despondency, to which they sometimes give way: by the former they are guarded against evil; by the latter they deprive themselves of inward peace.
Sometimes good men, indulging groundless fears-of hypocrisy, are blind to the clearest evidences of their gracious state; but more frequently, the merely formal, regardless of consequences, close their eyes upon the proofs of their guilt and jeopardy This is an evil in regard to both, but less hazardous in one case than in the other. For he that sees not his own graces, and realises not his privileges, does but deprive himself of quiet and enjoyment for a short time; whereas he that shuts his eyes against the evidences of his sin and condemnation, procures the endless destruction of his soul*
♦ ” The want of distinguishing in things that appertain to experimental religion, is one of the chief miseries of the professing world. It is attended with very many most dismal consequences: multitudes of souls are fatally deluded about themselves, and their own state, and so are eternally undone; hypocrites are confirmed in their delusions, and exceedingly puffed up with pride; many sincere Christians are dreadfully perplexed, darkened, tempted, and drawn aside from the way cf duty; and sometimes sadly tainted with false religion, to the great dishonour of Christianity and hurt of their own souls. Some of the most dangerous and pernicious enemies of religion in the world (though they are called bright Christians) are encouraged and honoured, who ought to be discountenanced and shunned by every body; and prejudices are. I shall endeavor in this chapter to make it evident, that among professors of religion, many are deceived; to assign the causes of their deception; and to make such inferences and reflections as the subject suggests.
That many professors of religion are deceived, is evident,
1. From the fact that there are more professors than converts. There are many professors of religion who are Christians only by education; who have growai as it were up into the church, but* who have never been translated out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of Christ. Others have been induced by the influence of custom, by slavish fear, by ambition, or by more unworthy motives, to profess Christianity. Now all such deceive themselves, and while they accelerate their eternal ruin, they greatly increase its aggravations. Let them reflect, that to appear, in the view of men, like Christians, is one thing; to be Christians indeed, in the sight of God, is quite another; for except a man
begotten and confirmed, in vast multitudes, against every thing wherein the power and essence of godliness consists; and in the end, Deism and Atheism are promoted.”
— From the Life of Brainerd.
be born of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.
2. Many professors practise only an outward compliance with the commands of God. They know nothing of that inward, vital religion, which is seated in the affections of the heart, which subdues its sinful propensities and purifies its desires. But what will their external conformity avail? or what is it but a miserable imitation of that which lives in good men and prepares them for heaven? Surely it can have no better effect than to fit them at last to accuse and condemn themselves.* Certain it is, that there are many professors of this class who, like Jehu, take no heed to walk in the way of the Lord God of Israel with their heart; who deceive themselves, or endeavour to deceive others; and who will sooner or later receive the fearful reward of their doings.
3. That many professors are self-deluded, appears from the circumstance that, in severe trials, numbers
* ” If we be not in good earnest in religion, and our wills and inclinations be not strongly exercised, we are nothing. The things of religion are so great, that there can be no suitableness in the exercises of our hearts to their nature and importance, unless they be lively and powerful. In nothing is vigour in the actings of our inclinations so appropriate as in religion, and in nothing is lukewarmness so odious.”
fall away. They are removed from their steadfastness, as dry leaves are carried away by a tempest. ” They go out from us, that it may be made manifest that they were not of us.” ” When tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the Word, they are quickly offended.” Had they been told at first that I heir professions and zeal would terminate thus, probably their reply would have been like that of Hazael to the man of God: ” What, is thy servant a dog, that he should do this thing?” Alas, how unlike is their brilliant and hopeful morning to their dark and gloomy evening ! These professors have more of the moon than of the sun; they have little light, little heat, but many changes.*
* *’ It is with professors of religion, especially such as become so in a time of outpouring of the Spirit of God, as it is with blossoms in the spring; there are vast numbers of them upon the trees, which all look fair and promising, but yet many of them never come to any thing; and many of those that in a little time wither up, drop off, and rot under the trees, yet for a while look as beautiful and gay as others; and not only so, but smell sweet and send forth a pleasant odour, so that we cannot by any of our senses certainly distinguish those blossoms which have in them that secret virtue which will afterward appear in the fruit, and that inward solidity and strength which shall enable them to bear, and cause them to be perfected by the hot summer sun that will dry up the others.
They deceive many, yea, they deceive themselves, but cannot deceive God. During the calm what a flourish do they make ? And with what gallantry do they sail? By and by you may hear horrendas tempestates and soon after you may see (jlenda natifragia) dreadful shipwrecks after a furious storm ; and no wonder, for they wanted that ballast and establishment in themselves (1 Pet. iii. 17) that would have kept them tight and stable.
4. Another proof that there are numerous false professors is, that many secretly indulge some beloved lust, which, like a worm at the root, cripples and kills them. Such persons may have excellent gifts, and perform various and difficult duties; but pampering* one lust, or allowing one secret sin, will destroy them. To cut off a right hand, or pluck out a right eye; to deny themselves and forsake all for Christ, requires such heart-religion as they do not possess. They study to exhibit a becoming exterior deportment; they refrain from open impieties, and visibly conform to their profession; and hence they acquire great confidence, and display themselves with much assurance; but they secretly love and practice iniquity, they cherish some known sin, and thus flatter, and deceive, and ruin their souls.*
5. Those professors of religion who are unaccustomed to the daily practice of secret devotion, constitute not a small part of the multitude who are deceived. There are many who attend the public ordinances of religion, and who, either statedly or occasionally, engage in social worship with the family, but whose religion does not lead them to the closet, nor incline them to any unobserved intercourse with heaven. These people call themselves children of God, but their piety comprises nothing so personal, or particular, nothing which so much distinguishes them from the heedless world, which renders the hope of salvation so interesting, or the possibility of endless so horrible, as to give them a relish for prayer, devout meditation, and secret communion with God. They shrink from the idea of retiring by themselves and laying their hearts open to that invisible Being, that holy God, whom they profess to love and to worship; they contrive therefore to forget their secret, if not all their sins, to be unconscious of their wants, and no propriety or meaning. As little have they, in correspondence with the scripture descriptions of the feelings and language of real Christians, any idea of acquiring a relish, while on earth, for the worship and service of heaven. If the truth must be told, their notion is rather a confused idea of future gratification in heaven, in return for having put a force upon their inclinations, and endured so much religion while on earth.”
To attend the ordinances of God in the seasons of them, they know ; to pray in their families at the stated hours thereof, thev know ; but to retire from all the world into their closets, and there to pour out their hearts before the Lord, they know not.
To feel somewhat within, paining them like an empty, hungry stomach, until they have eaten that hidden manna, that bread in secret I mean refreshed their souls with real communion with the Lord there ; this is a mystery locked up from the acquaintance of many that call themselves Christians; and yet this is made a characteristical note of a sincere Christian by Christ himself, in Matth. vi. 6.
O reader ! if thy heart were right with God, and thou didst not cheat thyself with a vain profession, thou wouldst have frequent business with God, which thou wouldst be loth thy dearest friend, or the wife of thy bosom should be privy to patent ; religion doth not lay all open to the eyes of men. Observed duties maintain our credit, but secret duties maintain our life. It was the saying of an heathen about his secret correspondence with his friends, what need the world be acquainted with it? “Thou and I are theatre enough to each other/’ There are enclosed pleasures in religion which none but renewed souls do feelingly understand.
…to impose on themselves by substituting casual outward formality for that godliness which has the promise of the life to come. Reader, if thy heart were right with God, and thou didst not cheat thyself with a vain profession, thou wouldst have frequent occasions for the peculiar duties of the closet, which thou wouldst conceal from thy familiar friend. ” Charity vaunteth not itself” True piety can by no means entirely lay itself open to the eyes of men; public actions and appearance may support its credit, but secret exercises must maintain its life, and supply its purest enjoyment.
6. There are many professors who never made religion their chief concern, and who, therefore, though they have a name to live, are dead in sin. While there are those who ‘ give themselves to the Lord;’ ‘ whose conversation and treasure is in heaven;’ ‘the end of whose life is Christ;’ who give religion the precedence both in their affections and their time; and who are constant and unwearied in the service of God: there are also professors whose religion engrosses not their attention, and occupies little of their time; so far from being the chief object of their solicitude, it is treated as if any thing else was more important; and when they pretend to engage in it, their thoughts and hearts are somewhere else. It is not their decision, in attend in of to the duties of religion, to honour or to have fellowship with God, to become conformed to his law, to have their unholy propensities subdued, or the fineness of their piety tried; they pray as if they prayed not, and hear as if they heard not; and if they derive no benefit from ordinances, if they acquire no animation from their discharge of duties, they are not disappointed, for they anticipated no such effects. From these considerations it is sufficiently manifest that many professors of religion deceive themselves in regard to their real character.
There are four principal causes of the delusion and dissimulation of false professors.
1. The deceitfulness of the heart. The hearts of such men, and of all the impenitent, “are deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” They are so full of sophistry and guile, so changeful and illusive in their operations, and so incurably and perversely inclined to evil, that they will be found at last to have been a sufficient cause of men’s ruin. The wicked, when finally cast away, will be sensible that the shame and the blame of their perdition is ascribable wholly to themselves. They will see that the self-adulation, the hypocrisy, the unbelief, the contempt of vital piety, and the bold indifference to the invitations and threatenings of God’s word, which they have practised, were suited to prepare them for endless wo. Verily, ” he that trusteth ill his own heart is a fool.”
2. False professors are eminently exposed to the diabolical arts and influence of the great adversary; they lay themselves open to his foul suggestions, and by their love of error and sensuality they both invite and ensure success to his artifices. Hence it is not to be wondered that he takes them captive at his will. He is the god of this world, that blinds the minds of them that believe not, and decoys the thoughtless into hell; they of all men are most ready to close with his devices and yield to his impostures. With reference to them, Basil represents this apostate spirit as thus insolently addressing Christ: ” I have them ! I have them ! In spite of all thy blood and miracles, thy wooings and beseechings, thy knockings and strivings, I have cozened thee of them at the very gates of heaven.”
3. The effects wrought in many unregenerate professors, the excitements of feeling, the raptures of fancy, the bliss of ideal safety, the pleasure of living as they list, without obscuring their prospects or disturbing their consciences, greatly increase and confirm their delusions. They do not distinguish between the operations and fruits of the Spirit of God in the sanctification of men, and the effects of error, of ignorance, of stupidity, of enthusiasm, or of diabolical influence. Their own experience is the standard by which they judge of themselves; and that not unfrequently is such as to dazzle and infatuate them. They are ready to say, ” I am rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing.” Among those who are deceived in this way, some assume the office of religious teachers. Let them consider the words of Him by whom teachers must be judged: ” Many will say unto me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name done many wonderful works?” To whom the Judge will say, ” Depart from me, I never knew you.”
4. The practice of comparing themselves with others, is a cause of deception among many. Thus the Pharisees, by trusting in themselves that they were righteous, and despising others, kept up a high opinion of their own merit. They elevated themselves by depressing those over whom they affected a superiority. Some false professors mentioned by St. Paul, ” measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves,” proved that they were as deluded as they were foolish. Instead of making one man, or one set of men, a test for the trial of another, God has established his word as the only standard of character, and by this those who are saints indeed form an opinion of themselves. But many false professors want a more lax and indefinite rule; they choose to compare themselves with characters that are in some respect subject to reproach. They are sharp-sighted to observe other men’s faults as they are their own supposed excellencies; they contemplate the failings of others with pity or derision, and their own doings with admiration. They bless themselves when they behold the impieties of the wicked: ” God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are.” A Christian may and ought to praise God that he has been made by grace to differ from some other men, but he cannot rake together the enormities of the worst characters, or the infirmities of the best, in order to justify and applaud himself, as these pharisaical deceivers do.*
Such are some of the causes of that general delusion and imposture under which so many bow down and perish.
* President Edwards, referring to spiritual pride, says, “He that is under the influence of this distemper is apt to think highly of his attainments in religion, as comparing himself with others. It is natural for him to fall into that thought of himself, that he is an eminent saint, that he is very high among the saints, and has distinguishingly good and great experiences.” ” Hence such are apt to put themselves forward among God’s people,” &c. ” But he whose heart is under the power of Christian humility la of a contrary disposition.”
1. let me caution you to beware of inferring from what has been said, that all professors of religion are deceivers, and that there is no truth or integrity in any man; this would be, with intolerable arrogance, to affect the prerogative of God; and with desperate severity to judge the hearts of men.
Some men are as apt to conclude that those are hypocrites whose hearts they measure by their own, as others are to decide that themselves are saints, by comparing their fancied virtues with the vices and crimes of the most abandoned. But, blessed be God, there is some grain amidst the heaps of chaff and rubbish; the devil hath not the entire piece; a remnant is really and peculiarly the Lord’s.
2. Let none imagine because so many are deceived, that assurance is unattainable. It is indeed a difficult acquisition, but is far from impracticable: hence all are commanded to “give diligence to make their calling and election sure.” *
* “Assurance is not to be obtained so much by self-examination as by action.
3. I warn you not to conceal the truths of God or the graces of his Spirit, nor to be deterred from openly professing them, because many deceive themselves and others by a vain profession. Ought you to hide what you have, because another pretends to what he has not? The possession of holiness in your own soul is indeed what secures you from perdition; but the profession of it is what honours God, edifies the saints, and sometimes awakens sinners. Ostentation is sinful, but a serious and humble profession is an unquestionable duty.
Having guarded what has been said from abuse, I hasten to a more direct and special improvement of the subject. And surely I cannot better accomplish this, than by warning you to see to it, that you he not of the number who deceive themselves. Suffer me then to press that great apostolical caution, “Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.” O look carefully to your foundation ! ” Be not high-minded, but fear.” You may have done and suffered many things for religion’s sake; you may have excellent gifts and great comforts, much zeal for God, and high confidence of your integrity, and all this may be right; but possibly it may be counterfeit and vain. Perhaps you have sometimes, upon examination, pronounced yourself upright; but remember that the Searcher of hearts has not yet delivered his final sentence; if he weigh you in the balance of truth and find you wanting, how will you be confounded and dismayed ! Saints may look upon you with approbation, but they see not as God seeth; you may have a name to live while dead.
You know the fate of the apostate professors mentioned in the Gospel. Do they not all, as it were, cry to you with one voice, ‘ If you would not come where w^e are, flatter not yourselves as we did; if you expect a better portion, be sure that you get better hearts: had we been more self-suspicious, we had been more safe.’*
I would not frighten you with groundless alarms,
*Mr. Bunyan gives the following description of apostasy and despair, in the dialogue between Christian and the man in an iron cage:
“Then said Christian to the man, What art thou 7
” The man answered, I am what I was not once.
” Chr. What wast thou once?
“Man. I was once a fair and flourishing professor, both in mine own eyes and also in the eyes of others: I was once, but would gladly prevent fatal mistakes. Do you not find your heart deceitful in many things? Do you not shuffle over secret duties? Do you not condemn, in others, evils which you scarce reprove in yourself? Are there not many selfish ends in your performances? Do you not find that you are far less affected with a great deal of service done for God by others, than with a little done by yourself? Is it not hard for you to look without envy upon the excellencies of other men, or without pride upon your own? Are you not troubled by a busy devil, as well as by a bad heart? Has not he that circuits the whole world observed you 1 Has he not studied your constitutional failings, and discovered the sin that most easily besets you? Has he less malice toward your soul than toward those around you? Surely you are in the very thicket of temptations; as I thought, fair for the celestial city, and bad then even joy at the thoughts that I should get thither.
” Chr. Well, but what art thou now?
” Man. I am now a man of despair, and am shut up in it as in this iron cage. I cannot get out. O no I cannot !
” Chr. But how earnest thou in this condition?
”Man. I left off to watch and be sober; Iaid the reins upon the neck of my lusts; I sinned against the light of the word and the goodness of God; I have grieved the Spirit, and he is gone; I tempted the devil, and he is come to me; I have provoked God to anger, and he has left me; I have so hardened my heart that I cannot repent.”
thousands of snares are on every side. Alas ! how few of the professing and expecting world win heaven at last ! With what difficulty are even the righteous saved! Therefore search your heart; and may this caution penetrate your inmost soul: ” Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he i’all.” Away with such uncharitable censuring of others, and be more just and severe in rebuking yourself. Away with unprofitable controversies: spend your thoughts rather upon this momentous question, “Am I sound, or am I rotten at heart?” “Am I a new creature, or the old disguised in borrowed clothing.” Let it be your prayer that you may not be deceived. Pray and labour that you may not be given up to a heedless and vain spirit, and then have religious duties for a show to beguile and hush your conscience.*
♦ Of the falling away of hypocrites, Mr. Bunyan says, “they draw off their thoughts, all that they may, from the remembrance of God, death, and judgment to come: then they cast off, by degrees, private duties, as closet prayer, curbing their lusls, watching, sorrow for sin, and the like: then they shun the company of lively and warm Christians: after that tluey grow cold to public duty, as hearing, reading, godly conference, and the like: then they begin to pick holes, as we say, in the coats of some of the godly, that they may have a seeming color to throw religion (for the sake of some infirmity they have spied in them) behind their backs: then they begin to adhere to and associate themselves with carnal men: then they give loose to carnal and wanton discourses in secret; and glad are they if they can see such things in any that are counted honest, that they may the more boldly do it through their example. After this, they begin to play with little sins openly: and then, being hardened, they show themselves as they are. Thus being launched again into the gulf of misery, unless a miracle of grace prevent it, they everlastingly perish io their own deceivings.” –Pilgrim’s Progress.
Surely that groundwork upon which your hope for eternal life is built cannot be too safely laid. I dare promise you, that when you come to die, you will not regret having devoted much time and attention to this matter. Whilst others then are panting after the dust of the earth, and crying who will show us any good? do you endeavour after the full assurance of the love of God.
Deceive not yourself with names and notions; they cannot change your heart. If you are still impenitent, if you have not been renewed and sanctified by the Spirit of God, it matters little by what name you are called, or how warmly you advocate the distinguishing doctrines of the Gospel; you are in the sight of God a guilty, perishing sinner.
Once more, then, I warn you to examine the foundation upon which you rest: deceive not yourself; behold, the Judge who knows your works standeth at the door.
To conclude: If, as we have reason to believe, a great man}^ professors of religion, and others whose hopes are not less sanguine, are fatally deceived then it becomes those who have good reason to believe that they are indeed the children of God, to ‘praise and, glorify him for his mercy as long as they live. There are doubtless many real Christians who do not themselves perceive such evidence of their gracious state as fully to satisfy them; but let them not be discouraged; let them resolutely persevere, and constantly live as the grace of God teacheth. And let such as have daily unequivocal evidence of their sanctification, freely enjoy the elevated happiness and the transporting anticipations
peculiar to their state of mind.
Showing that holiness, or saving grace, 23 exceedingly valuable, and greatly enriches its possessor.
We may easily satisfy ourselves from several considerations that the value of saving grace is not to be described or conceived.
1. If we consider it in respect to its cause, we shall find that it is a peculiar work or fruit of the divine Spirit; who on this account is called ” the Spirit of grace,” and “the Spirit of holiness.” All the rules of morality, with all possible human diligence and effort, alone, can never produce one gracious act, or one holy exercise. Such, indeed, is the incomparable worth of efficacious grace, that all other gifts of the Spirit are represented in Scripture to be comparatively worthless.
2. The nature of saving grace implies its unspeakable value. It is that by which the saints are made to resemble God in moral beauty and goodness; that which renders them objects of the divine complacency, and fits them to glorify and enjoy their Creator and Redeemer for ever.
3. It appears peculiarly excellent, if we reflect that it is bestowed only upon those whom God has chosen to everlasting life. It is not, like many other gifts, made common to all.
4. The influence and fruits of saving grace in tlie souls of saints, proclaim its unspeakable worth.
It elevates and ennobles, adorns and beautifies the soul; it raises the affections to heaven, employs them upon divine objects, and transforms the heart into the image of God: it preserves the saints from known and allowed iniquity; it establishes them in faith and peace on the Rock of Ages; it is the root of all the fruit which they bring forth unto God — of every gracious word in their lips, and every gracious work in their hands; be the matter of their good thoughts, their heavenly discourses, and holy prayers never so excellent, grace is the root and source of them.
5. Its exceeding value will appear if we consider its properties. The most expressive epithets are employed to describe it. It is unfailing and immortal; it is as ” a well of water, springing up unto everlasting life;” it will not fail and perish with your mortal body, but with the soul, from which it is inseparable, will ascend to glory. You may outlive your friends, your estate, and whatever else you now possess, but if you have true holiness, it will endure as long as you exist.
6. Nor is its value less conspicuous in the design with which it is wrought in us by the Holy Spirit, to purify us from all iniquity, to free us from imperfection, and to render us meet for the heavenly inheritance, for the service and enjoyment of God above.
7. The means adopted to procure the dispensation of grace to men, and those employed in producing and preserving holiness in the saints, are conclusive evidence of its infinite worth. The incarnation, the sufferings, and the intercession of Jesus Christ, were necessary to prepare the way; the special agency of the Holy Spirit is necessary to produce the effect. The ordinances and institutions of the Gospel were first appointed, and have been continued, in order that holiness might be produced and preserved in the hearts of saints; nay, the ordinary dispensations of Providence are designed in some way to subserve this purpose.
8. The peculiar regard vouchsafed by the Most High God to every degree, every exercise, and every fruit of holiness in his people, demonstrates its unspeakable importance and worth: he who made the jewel best knows its value.
9. That holiness is most excellent and desirable, is shown by the hypocritical pretences made to it all over the professing world. If it did not confer some singular advantage, why should men pant for the reputation of possessing it? But so it is, that the devil himself conceals many of his lures and hooks of temptation with a show of grace; knowing, as he does, that sin has nothing beautiful or winning in itself by which to entice, he disguises it under a pretence of goodness. Let hypocrites and self-deceivers consider what they shall answer at last, when it is demanded: ” If grace were evil, why did you so affect the reputation of it? if good, why did you content yourself with the empty name of it?”
10. In a word, the incomparable value of saving grace is manifested by the esteem which all good men have for it Holiness is the sum of their prayers, the scope of their endeavours, the substance of their joys, the relief of their afflictions and sufferings; it constitutes their riches and their glory.
1. Is saving grace thus valuable and precious? Beware, ye who possess it, lest your hearts should be elated with spiritual pride. You have need often to reflect on your former state of sin and condemnation, and on your present ill-desert and imperfection; to consider how and by whom you have been made to differ from them that perish; to ask what you have that you have not received; to feel your weakness, your dependence, and your obligations; and to remember that it is the nature of holiness to render men humble and lowly in heart and life.*
2. Is holiness more excellent than gold? Well then may the poorest Christian be content with the allotments of Providence. Ye who are destitute of this world’s goods, but rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which God hath promised; ye who feel tha rigours of temporal poverty, but who have treasures in heaven, think of your imperishable wealth, and neither thirst for an earthly portion nor murmur at temporary wants. Thousands, alas! who are pennyless, and thousands who have worldly wealth, are without Christ and without hope.
* ” An infallible sign of spiritual pride is persons being apt to think highly of their humility. False experiences are commonly attended with a counterfeit humility; and it is the very nature of a counterfeit humility to be highly conceited of itself. False religious affections have generally a tendency, especially when raised to a great height, to make persons think that their humility is great, and accordingly to take much notice of their great attainments in this respect, and admire them. But eminently gracious affections (I scruple not to say it) are evermore of a contrary tendency, and have universally a contrary effect in those that have them. They indeed make them very sensible what reason there is that they should be deeply humbled, and cause them earnestly to thirst and long after it; but they make their present humility, or that which they have already attained to, appear small, and their remaining pride great, and exceedingly abominable.”
3. If holiness is thus valuable, then those Christians who suffer it to decline, or who do not grow in grace, incur such loss as all this world’s goods are not sufficient to repair.
4. If holiness is of such worth and importance, then the ordinances and institutions of religion, and all the means adapted to preserve and increase it, ought to be highly esteemed and diligently employed.
5. If saving grace be so excellent, it becomes saints to he peculiarly watchful and circumspect in times of degeneracy and temptation. We have read of Christians who resisted unto blood, striving against sin, who chose to part with their lives rather than relax in their piety: if we would endure unto the end, we must follow their example. We live in an age of deception and temptation. Many seeming Christians have fallen and lost all; and many real Christians have lost so much, that instead of again enjoying the comforts of piety in this world, they are likely to go to the grave repeating the lamentation of Job: “O that it were with me as in months past!”
6. Let me urge and entreat you to make it the great business of your life, the chief concern of every day, to grow in grace — to perfect holiness in the fear of God, and to do his will in all things. Cultivate every advantage of time and place; improve the society of God’s people, and let your closet testify that your love of holiness is stronger than death.
It has pleased God to place all his people in this world in a state of trial; he first tries, then crowns them. James, 1:12. No man can determine whether his graces are true or false until they are examined by something which, to them, shall be what fire is to gold. The Laodiceans imagined themselves to be rich in grace, but they proved to be wretchedly poor; wherefore Christ counsels them to buy of him gold tried in the fire — true holiness, which should endure the severest scrutiny.
The Scriptures plainly recognise a trial of men’s opinions, as well as of their graces; but of the former I shall have occasion to say little. Doubtless men may endanger and obstruct their salvation by unscriptural sentiments; yet if they have holiness of heart, notwithstanding some false opinions, ” they shall be saved, though it be as by fire ,” but if they are devoid of holiness, the most correct speculation will avail them nothing; they must perish, and perish without remedy.
The trial of a man’s graces, or religious affections, is all-important; as they are, so is his safety and happiness, and so his prospect for eternity.
This trial may be considered in two respects:
1. As it is to be performed by ourselves. “Examine yourselves whether ye be in the faith, prove your own selves;” scrutinize your hearts in the light of divine truth; ascertain and demonstrate whether your affections are holy.
2. As it is executed by Him ” who searcheth the heart, and judgeth according to truth.”
With a view to both these kinds of trial, but especially the former, I propose in this treatise,
I. To show what tries the genuineness of Christian graces as fire tries gold.
II. To exhibit the ends for which God appoints such trials of the holiness of his people in this world.
III. To prove that such only is true holiness as will bear these trials.
IV. To improve and apply the whole.
Before I enter into particulars, it seems needful to observe that the subject to which we are approaching is full of difficulties. Without much cautious discrimination and solicitude with regard to the various and dissimilar capacities and attainments and circumstances of different Christians, one could hope to do little else but confuse and mislead. Nor is less care necessary in the application of tests or signs; they should be well examined and approved before we try ourselves or others by them.*
Signs or tests of character are by some distinguished as exclusive, inclusive, and positive. Exclusive marks serve to shut out bold pretenders, by showing them that they are utterly devoid of a sav-
‘ * “It is strange how hardly men are brought to be contented with the rules and directions Christ has given them, but they must needs go by other rules of their own inventing, that seem lo them wiser and better. I know of no directions or counsels which Christ ever delivered more plainly than the rules he has given us (o guide us in our judging of others’ sincerity, viz. that we should judge of the tree chiefly by the fruit. But yet this will not do; other ways are found out which are imagined to be more distinguishing and certain. And woful have been the mischievous consequences of this arrogant setting up men’s wisdom above the wisdom of Christ. ” Edwards
ing work of grace. They are commonly taken from some indispensable ordinary duty, as praying or hearing; which men may indeed perform, and yet have no degree of holiness; but the neglect of which demonstrates the total absence of any work of grace.
Inclusive marks serve to discover the degree rather than the existence of holiness, and are intended for comfort rather than conviction. If we perceive them in ourselves, we shall find not only real but eminent piety; as they arise from the higher exercises of grace in con firmed and mature Christians.
Between these there are marks or evidences called positive, which are always found in those, and those only, who have been regenerated. In the application of these great care is requisite, since they relate as well to the feeblest as to the most advanced Christian. It is especially necessary to be aware of representing the particular exercises or experience of those who are esteemed eminent in knowledge and grace, as a rule for those whose attainments are small. This practice is justly reprobated for its absurdity and its injurious effects.
These things being premised, I will now proceed to show what things in particular try the temper and state of our souls: *’ What tries the genuineness of Christian graces as fire tries gold.”
It is true that all the circumstances of our life, every event which has relation to us, may make some discovery of our hearts; but some must be prescribed to this treatise: I shall therefore show, in the following order, what trials are made of our graces by prosperity and adversity, by our inward corruptions, our active duties, and lastly, by our sufferings on account of religion.
Prosperity, worldly success, outward enjoyments, riches, honours, try men’s hearts and reveal their thoughts. Some may fancy the fire of prosperity to be designed rather for comfort than for trial; rather to refresh than to search us; but scarcely any thing more clearly demonstrates the falseness or soundness of religion; it is to grace what fire is to gold. Particularly, it occasions an exhibition of the self-flattery and delusion of those who have had a name to live while dead; and of the unequivocal evidences of religion in real saints.
Among the proofs thus exhibited of dissimulation and deceit, are the following:
1. Prosperity occasions in some men a stupid forgetfulness of God and neglect of the duties of religion. They fall asleep in the lap of abundance, and dream not that there is a God to be served and a soul to be saved. Their carnal pleasures and enjoyments, and the care of their earthly affairs, leave no time for prayer, or for reflections concerning death and futurity. Like Herod, they are lifted up with conceits of their own greatness and importance; and like him, they mock the supremacy of Jehovah, or contemn his authority, instead of obeying his commands. They are so busied in serving and gratifying themselves, that usually they lose the faint appearance of piety which, in other circumstances, they might have exhibited.
2. Prosperity, meeting with one who is graceless, engrosses his thoughts and affections, and makes him wholly sensual. Earthly things have a tendency to transform men’s hearts into their own similitude — to assimilate them to their nature; and upon those whose religion is mere pretence, they produce their full effect. Such in times of prosperity, when temptations are presented and the means of indulgence within reach, will abandon themselves to sensual gratifications, and show to the world the depravity of their hearts and dissoluteness of their character. It is true that prosperity may have a very unhappy influence on the minds of good men, but it can never produce in them such effects as have been mentioned; the allurements of forbidden objects and the enticements of sin will be counteracted by the principles, the habits, and feelings of genuine piety. Some indeed, confessedly destitute of true religion, and surrounded by all the facilities and incitements to sensuality which prosperity can confer, are yet, in their exterior deportment, strictly moderate and regular. Perhaps those men who in ordinary circumstances had made a false show of religion, are, when prosperity suddenly attends them, most likely to be carried by it down the stream of sensuality; but all who are affected in this way by prosperous circumstances, are evidently graceless.
3. Mere pretenders to religion, self-deceivers, and dissemblers, are apt, when prosperity surrounds them, not only to lose all concern for their own salvation, but to harden themselves against the .judgments of God and the calamities and suffering which his people endure. Instances of this kind are but too common; and they designate characters which cannot be mistaken. Such are some of the ways in which prosperity operates upon those who have not true religion.
I proceed to show the influence of prosperity on the people of God. That the saints sometimes fall into temptation, cannot be denied; and doubtless the trial of prosperity often discovers in them the workings of sin; but its general influence upon God’s children is such as to render their graces more conspicuous, and their uprightness more certain.
1. A real saint, when prosperity and abundant flow around him, will earnestly endeavour to suppress any workings of pride, and to preserve humility and lowliness in heart and life. I do not say that every child of God under prosperity will at all times feel and manifest the same degree of humility; but I am sure that there is that in every one of them, when thus tried, which will check and allay the risings of vanity and ambition.* God’s people have seen, and still see, too much of their own hearts, too much of this world, and too much of the divine excellence and loveliness of heavenly objects to be easily elated or long satisfied with worldly prosperity; they consider the temptations and dangers accompanying it, as well as the obligations and responsibility which it occasions, and feel the motives thus furnished to humility and self-abasement. They consider themselves as stewards of God, to whose care much has been committed, and from whom, therefore, much will be required.
2. Prosperity excites the love and gratitude of the saints to God, the author of their mercies: while it
♦”The comforts of the true saints increase awakening and caution, and a lively sense how great a thing it is to appeal before an infinitely holy, just, and omniscient Judge.”
inflames the sinner’s lusts, it fills the good man’s heart with benevolent and grateful affections. Not that these outward things are the primary reasons or motives of his love to God; far from it: he loves =him when he takes them away, as well as when he bestows them; but God sanctifies prosperity to his people, makes it conducive to their spiritual welfare and subservient to their usefulness in the world.
3. The smiles of Providence usually render holy men increasingly watchful against sin. Thus they reflect: ‘ Hath God favoured and prospered me? then I am under the greater obligation to obey and please him.’ They cannot sin because grace hath abounded, as they would not dare to sin that grace might abound.
4. A child of God will not be satisfied with all the prosperity and outward comforts in the world as his ‘portion. When Providence became more than ordinarity bountiful of temporal things to Luther, he became anxious, and earnestly protested against being put off with them. A lukewarm self-deceiver will eagerly take earthly things for his chief good: if his selfish projects are not frustrated, if he can make sure of the world, he will easily forget God, and leave heaven and hell at hazard. But the Lord is ever the portion of the saints; they have chosen him for their eternal inheritance, and no earthly thing can occupy his place in their affections.