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is of that nature, that the more a person has of it, with remaining corruption, the less does his goodness and holiness appear, in proportion to his deformity; and not only to his past, but to his present deformity, in the sin that now appears in his heart, and in the abominable defects of his highest and best affections, and brightest experiences.
The nature of many high religious affections, and great discoveries (as they are called) in many persons I have been acquainted with, is to hide the corruption of their hearts, and to make it seem to them as if all their sin was gone, and to leave them without complaints of any hateful evil left in them, (though it may be they cry out much of their past unworthiness); a sure and certain evidence that their discoveries are darkness and not light. It is darkness that hides men's pollution and deformity; but light let into the heart discovers it, searches it out in its secret corners, and makes it plainly to appear; especially that penetrating, all-searching light of God's holiness and glory. It is true, that saving discoveries may for the present hide corruption in one sense; they restrain the positive exercises of it ; such as malice, envy, covetousness, lasciviousness, murmuring, &c. but they bring corruption to light, in that which is privative, viz. that there is no more love, no more humility, nor more thankfulness. Which defects appear most hateful, in the eyes of those who have the most eminent exercises of grace; and are very burdensome, and cause the saints to complain of their leanness, odious pride and ingratitude. And whatever positive exercises of corruption at any time arise, and mingle themselves with eminent actings of grace, grace will exceedingly magnify the view of them, and render their appearance far more heinous and horrible.
The more eminent saints are, and the more they have of the light of heaven in their souls, the more do they appear to themsevles, as the most eminent saints in this world do to the saints and angels in heaven. How can we rationally suppose the most eminent saints on earth appear to them, if beheld any otherwise than covered with the righteousness of Christ, and their deformities swallowed up and hid in the coruscation of the beams of his abundant glory and love? how can we suppose our most ardent love and praises appear to them, who behold the beauty and glory of God without a veil ? how does our highest thankfulness for the dying love of Christ appear to them, who see Christ as he is, who know as they are koown, and see the glory of the person of him that died, and the wonders of his dying love, without cloud or darkness and how do they look on the deepest reverence and humility, with which worms of the dust on earth approach that infinite Majesty, which they behold? do they appear great to them, or so inuch as worthy of the name of reverence and humility, in those whom they behold at such an infinite distance from that great and holy God, in whose glorious presence they are? The reason why the highest attainments of the saints on earth appear so mean to them, is that they dwell in the light of God's glory, and see him as he is. And it is in this respect with the saints on earth, as it is with those in heaven, in proportion as they are more eminent in grace.
I would not be understood, that the saints on earth have, in all respects, the worst opinion of themselves, when they have most of the exercise of grace. In many respects it is otherwise. With respect to the positive exercises of corruption, they may appear to themselves freest and best when grace is most in exercise, and worst when the actings of grace are lowest. And when they compare themselves with themselves, at different times they may know, when grace is in lively exercise, that it is better with them than it was before, (though before, at the time, they did not see so much evil as they see now); and when afterwards they sink again in the frame of their minds, they may know that they sink, and have a new argument of their great remaining corruption, and a rational conviction of a greater vileness than they saw before ; and may have a sense of guilt, and a legal sense of their sinfulness, far greater than when in the lively exercise of grace. But yet it is true, and demonstrable from the forementioned considerations, that the children of God never have such a sensible and spiritual conviction of their deformity, and so great, quick, and abasing sense of their present vileness and odiousness, as when they are highest in the exercise of true grace; and never are they so much disposed to set themselves low among Christians as then. And thus he that is the greatest in the kingdom, or most eminent in the church of Christ, is he that humbles himself, as the least infant among them ; Matt. xviii. 4.
A true saint may know that he has some true grace: and the more grace there is, the more easily is it known; as was observed and proved before. But yet it does not follow, that an eminent saint is easily sensible that he is an eminent saint, when compared with others. I will not deny that it is possible, that he who has much grace, and is an eminent saint, may know it. But he will not be apt to know it; it will not be obvious to him. That he is better than others, and has higher experiences and attainments, is not a foremost thought, nor does it readily offer itself. It is not in his way, but lies far out of sight; he must take pains to convince himself of it ; there will be need of a great command of reason, and a high degree of strictness and care in arguing, to convince himself. And if he be rationally convinced, by a very strict consideration of his own experiences, compared with the great appearances of low degrees of grace in some other saints, it will hardly seem real to him, that he has more grace than they. He will be apt even to lose the conviction he has by pains obtained; nor will it seem at all natural to him to act upon that supposition. And this may be laid down as an infallible thing. That the person who is apt to think that he, as compared with others, is a very eminent saint, much distinguished in Christian experience, in whom this is a first thought, that rises of itself, and naturally offers itself; he is certainly mistaken; he is no eminent saint; but under the great prevailings of a proud and self-righteous spirit.
And if this be habitual with the man, and is statedly the prevailing temper of his mind, he is no saint at all ; he has not the least degree of any true Christian experience; so surely as the word of God is true.
Experiences of that tendency, and found to have this effect, viz. to elevate the subject of them with a great conceit of those experiences, are certainly vain and delusive.
Those supposed discoveries that naturally blow up the person with an admiration of the eminency of his discoveries, and fill him with conceit, that now he has seen, and knows more than most other Christians, have nothing of the nature of true spiritual light in them. All true spiritual knowledge is of that nature, that the more a person has of it, the more is he sensible of his own ignorance; 1 Cor. viii. 2. He that thinketh he knoweth any thing, knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know. Agur, when he had a great discovery of God, the wonderful height of his glory and his marvellous works, acknowledging his greatness and incomprehensibleness, had, at the same time, the deepest sense of his brutish ignorance. He looked upon himself as the most ignorant of all the saints; Prov. xxx. 2, 3, 4. Surely I am more brutish than any man, and have not the understanding of a man. I neither learned wisdom, nor have the knowledge of the holy. Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended? who hath gathered the wind in his fists? who hath bound the waters in a garment ? who hath established all the ends of the earth? what is his name, and what is his Son's name, if thou canst tell?
For a man to be highly conceited of his spiritual knowledge, is for him to be wise in his own eyes, if any thing is. And therefore it comes under those prohibitions, Prov. iii. 7. Be not wise in thine own eyes : Rom. xii. 16. Be not wise in your own conceits : and brings men under that wo, Is. v. 21. Wo unto them that are wise in their own cyes, and prudent in their own sight. Those who are thus wise, are some of the least likely to get good of any in the world. Experience shews this truth, Prov. xxvi. 12. Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit? there is more hope of a fool than of him.
To this some may object, that the Psalmist, when we must suppose that he was in a holy frame, speaks of his knowledge as eminently great, and far greater than that of other saints, Psal. cxix. 99, 100. I have more understanding than all my teachers : for thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy precepts. To this I answer two things:
(1.) There is no restraint to be laid upon the Spirit of God, as to what he shall reveal to a prophet, for the benefit of bis church, who is speaking or writing under immediate inspiration. The Spirit of God may reveal to such an one, and dictate to him to declare to others, secret things, that otherwise would be hard, yea impossible for him to find out. As he may reveal to him mysteries, which otherwise would be above his reason; or things in a distant place, that he cannot see; or future events, which it would be impossible for him to know and declare, if they were not extraordinarily revealed to him: so the Spirit of God might reveal to David this distinguishing benefit, which he had received by conversing much with God's testimonies; and use him as his instrument to record it for the benefit of others, to excite them to the like duty, and to use the same means to gain knowledge.Nothing can be gathered concerning the natural tendency of the ordinary gracious influences of the Spirit of God, from what David declares of his distinguishing knowledge under the extraordinary influences of God's Spirit, immediately dictating to him what he pleased for the benefit of his church; any more than we can reasonably argue, that it is the natural tendency of grace to incline men to wish the most dreadful misery to others, because David under inspiration, often prays that such misery may come
(2.) It is not certain that the knowledge David here speaks of, is spiritual knowledge, wherein holiness fundamentally consists. But it may be that greater revelation which God made to him of the Messiah and his future kingdom, and the far more clear and extensive knowledge of the mysteries and doctrines of the gospel, than others; as a reward for his keeping God's testimonies. In this, it is apparent by the book of Psalms, that David far exceeded all who had gone before him.
Secondly, Another 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. They indeed make their possessors very sensible 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.
The reason why a proud person is apt to think his humility great, and a very humble person his humility small, may be easily seen, if it be considered, that it is natural for persons, in judging of the degree of their own humiliation, to take their measure from that which they esteem their proper height, or the dignity wherein they properly stand. That may be great humiliation in one, which is no humiliation at all in another; because the degree of honourableness or considerableness, wherein each properly stands is very different. For some great man to stoop to loose the latchet of the shoes of another great man, bis equal, or to wash his feet, would be taken notice of as an act of great abasement in him; and he being sensible of his own digoity, would look upon it so himself. But if a poor slave is seen stooping to unloose the shoes of a great prince, nobody will take notice of this, as an act of humiliation in him, or token of any great degree of humility; nor would the slave himself, unless he be horribly proud, and ridiculously conceited: and if after he had done it, he should, in his talk and behaviour, shew that he thought his abasement great in it, and had his mind much upon it, as an evidence of his being very humble, would not every body cry out, “ Who do you think yourself to be, that you should think this a mark of deep humiliation?” This would make it plain to a demonstration, that the slave was swollen with a high degree of pride and vanity of mind, as much as if he declared in plain terms, I think myself to be some great one. And the matter is no Jess plain and certain, when worthless, vile, and loathsome worms of the dust, are apt to put such a construction on their acts of abasement before God, and to think it a token of great humility in them, that they acknowledge themselves to be mean and unworthy, and behave themselves as those who are so inferior.The very reason why such outward acts, and such inward exercises, look like great abasement in such a person is, that he has a high conceit of himself. Whereas if he thought of himself more justly, these things would appear nothing to him, and his humility in them worthy of no regard; but he would rather be astonished at his pride, that one so infinitely despicable and vile, is brought no lower before God. When he says in his heart, “ This is a great act of humiliation; it is certainly a sign of great