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as there is a variety in the fairness and clearness of accounts per sons give of the manner and method of their experiences; but undoubtedly such a manifestation as has been described, of a Christian spirit in practice, is vastly beyond the fairest and brightest story of particular steps and passages of experience, that ever was told. And in general, a manifestation of the sincerity of a Christian profession in practice, is far better than a relation of experiences. But yet,
Thirdly, It must be noted agreeable to what was formerly observed, that no external appearances whatsoever, that are visible to the world, are infallible evidences of grace. The manifestations that have been mentioned, are the best that mankind can have; and they are such as oblige Christians entirely to embrace professors as saints, to love and rejoice in them as the children of God; and they are sufficient to give as great satisfaction concerning them as ever is needful to guide them in their conduct, or for any purpose that needs to be answered in this world. But nothing that appears to them in their neighbour, can be sufficient to beget an absolute certainty concerning the state of his soul. They see not his heart, nor can they see all his external behaviour; for much of it is in secret, and hid from the eye of the world: and it is impossible certainly to determine, how far a man may go in many external appearances and imitations of grace, from other principles. Though undoubtedly, if others could see so much of what belongs to men's practice, as their own consciences may know of it, it might be an infallible evidence of their state, as will appear from what follows.
Christian practice is a distinguishing and sure evidence of grace to persons' own consciences.
This is very plain in 1 John ii. 3. Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. And the testimony of our consciences, with respect to our good deeds, is spoken of as that which may give us assurance of our own godliness; 1 John iii. 18, 19. My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed, (in the original it is EPFO in work,) and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. And the apostle Paul, (Heb. vi.) speaks of the work and labour of love of the Christian Hebrews, as that which both gave him a persuasion that they had something above the highest common illuminations, and also as that evidence which tended to give them the highest assurance of hope concern
ing themselves; ver. 9, &c. But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak. For God is not unrighteous, to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed towards his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister. And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence, to the full assurance of hope unto the end. So the apostle directs the Galatians to examine their behaviour or practice, that they might have rejoicing in themselves, in their own happy state; Gal. vi. 4. Let every man prove his own work, so shall he have rejoicing in himself, and not in another. And the Psalmist says, Psal. cxix. 6. Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments; i. e. then shall I be bold, and assured, end stedfast in my hope. And in that of our Saviour, Matth. vii. 19, 20. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, is hewn down and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Though Christ gives this, first, as a rule by which we should judge of others, yet in the words that next follow, he plainly shews, that he intends it also as a rule by which we should judge ourselves; Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that DOTH THE WILL of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, &c.And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from me, YE THAT WORK INIQUITY. Therefore, whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and DOTH them, I will liken him unto a wise man which built his house upon a rock.- -And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and DOTH THEM NOT, shall be likened unto a foolish man which built his house upon the sand. I shall have occasion to mention other texts that shew the same thing, hereafter.
But for the greater clearness in this matter, I would first, shew how Christian practice, doing good works, or keeping Christ's commandments, is to be taken, when the scripture represents it as a sure sign to our own consciences, that we are real Christians. And, secondly, will prove, that this is the chief of all evidences that men can have of their own sincere godliness.
First, I would shew how Christian practice, or keeping Christ's commandments, is to be taken, when the scripture represents it as a sure evidence to our own consciences, that we are sincere Christians.
And here I would observe, that we cannot reasonably suppose, when the scripture in this case speaks of good works, good fruit, and keeping Christ's commandments, that it has respect merely to what is external, or the motion and action of the body, without including respect to any aim or intention of the agent, or any act of his understanding or will. For consider men's actions so, and
they are no more good works or acts of obedience, than the regular motions of a clock; nor are they considered as any human actions at all. The actions of the body, taken thus, are neither acts of obedience, nor disobedience; any more than the motions of the body in a convulsion. But the obedience and fruit that is spoken of, is the obedience and fruit of the man; and therefore not only the acts of the body, but the obedience of the soul, consisting in the acts and practice of the soul. Not that I suppose, that when the scripture speaks, in this case, of gracious works, fruit and practice, that in these expressions is included all inward piety and holiness of heart, both principle and exercise, both spirit and practice: because then, in these things being given as signs of a gracious principle in the heart, the same thing would be given as a sign of itself, and there would be no distinction between root and fruit. But only the gracious exercise, and holy act of the soul is meant, and given as the sign of the holy principle, and good estate. Neither is every kind of inward exercise of grace meant; but the practical exercise, that exercise of the soul, and exertion of inward holiness, which there is in an obediential act; or that exertion of the mind, and act of grace, which issues and terminates in what they call the imperate acts of the will; in which something is directed and commanded by the soul to be done, and brought to pass in practice.
Here, for a clearer understanding, I would observe, that there are two kinds of exercises of grace. 1. There are what some call immanent acts; that is, those exercises of grace that remain within the soul, that begin and are terminated there, without any immediate relation to any thing to be done outwardly, or to be brought to pass in practice. Such are the exercises of grace, which the saints often have in contemplation: when the exercise in the heart, does not directly proceed to, or terminate in any thing beyond the thoughts of the mind: however they may tend to practice (as all exercises of graces do) more remotely. 2. There are acts of grace, that are more strictly called practical, or effective exercises; because they immediately respect something to be done. They are the exertions of grace in the commanding acts of the will, directing the outward actions. As when a saint gives a cup of cold water to a disciple, in and from the exercise of the grace of charity; or voluntarily endures persecution, in the way of his duty, immediately from the exercise of a supreme love to Christ. Here is the exertion of grace producing its effect in outward actions. These exercises of grace are practical and productive of good works, not only because they are of a productive nature, (for so are all exercises of true grace,) but they are the producing acts. This is properly the exercise of grace in the act of the will; and this is properly the practice of the soul. And the soul is the im
mediate actor of no other practice but this: the motions of the body follow from the laws of union between the soul and body, which God, and not the soul, has fixed, and does maintain. The act of the soul, and the exercise of grace, exerted in the performance of a good work, is the good work itself, so far as the soul is concerned in it, or so far as it is the soul's good work. The determinations of the will, are indeed our very actions, so far as they are properly ours, as Dr. DODDRIDGE observes*. In this practice of the soul, is included the aim and intention of the soul which is the agent. For not only should we not look on the motions of a statue, doing justice or distributing alms by clock-work, as any acts of obedience to Christ in that statue; but neither would any body call the voluntary actions of a man, externally and materially agreeable to a command of Christ, by the name of obedience to Christ, if he had never heard of Christ, or any of his commands, or had no thought of his commands in what he did. If the acts of obedience and good fruits spoken of, be looked upon, not as mere motions of the body, but as acts of the soul, the whole exercise of the spirit of the mind, in the action, must be taken in, with the end acted for, and the respect the soul then has to God, &c. otherwise they are no acts of denial of ourselves, or obedience to God, or service done to him, but something else. Such effective exercises of grace as these, many of the martyrs have experienced in a high degree. And all true saints live a life of such acts of grace as these; as they all live a life of gracious works, of which these operative exertions of grace are the life and soul. And this is the obedience and fruit that God mainly looks at, as he looks at the soul, more than the body; as much as the soul, in the constitution of human nature, is the superior part. As God looks at the obedience and practice of the man, he looks at the practice of the soul; for the soul is the man in God's sight, For the Lord seeth not as man seeth, for he looketh on the heart.
And thus it is, that obedience, good works, and good fruit, are to be taken, when given in scripture, as a sure evidence to our own consciences of a true principle of grace; even as including the obedience and practice of the soul, as preceding and governing the actions of the body. When practice is given in scripture as the main evidence of our true Christianity to others, then is meant that in our practice which is visible to them, even our outward actions: but when practice is given as a sure evidence of our real Christianity to our own consciences, then is meant that in our practice which is visible to our own consciences; which is not only the motion of our bodies, but the exertion and exercise
* Scripture-doctrine of Salvation, Sermon I. p. 11.
of the soul, which directs and commands that motion; which is more directly and immediately under the view of our own consciences, than the act of the body. And that this is the intent of scripture, not only does the nature and reason of the thing shew, but it is plain by the scripture itself. Thus it is evident that when Christ at the conclusion of his sermon on the mount, speaks of doing, or practising those sayings of his, as the grand sign of professors being true disciples; without which he likens. them to a man that built his house upon the sand; and with which, to a man that built his house upon a rock; he has respect, not only to the outward behaviour, but to the inward exercise of the mind in that behaviour. This is evident by observing what those preceding sayings of his are; Blessed are the poor in spirit ; blessed are they that mourn; blessed are the meek; blessed are they that do hunger and thirst after righteousness: blessed are the merciful; blessed are the pure in heart: whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause, &c.; whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her, &c.; love your enemies; take no thought for your life, and others of the like nature, which imply inward exercises: and when Christ says, John xiv. 21. He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me; he has evidently a special respect to that command several times repeated in the same discourse, (which he calls, by way of eminence, his commandment), that they should love one another, as he had loved them. (See chap. xiii. 34, 35, and chap. xv. 10, 12, 13, 14.) But this cominand respects chiefly an exercise of the mind or heart, though exerted in practice. So when the apostle John says, 1 John ii. 3. Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments; he has plainly a principal respect to the same command, as appears by what follows, ver. 7-11, and 2d Epist. ver. 5, 6: and when we are told in scripture that men shall at the last day be judged according to their works, and all shall receive according to the things done in the body; it is not to be understood only of outward acts; for if so, why is God so often spoken of as searching the hearts and trying the reins, that he may render to every one according to his works? as Rev. ii. 23. And all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one according to his works. Jer. xvii. 3, 10. I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings. But if by his ways, and the fruit of his doings, is meant only the actions of his body, what need of searching the heart and reins, in order to know them? Hezekiah in his sickness pleads his practice as an evidence of his title to God's favour, as including not only his outward actions, but what was in his heart, Is. xxxviii. 3. Remember now, O Lord, I