themselves to heaven with them. These two kinds of hypocrites Mr. Shepherd, in his exposition of the Parable of the Ten Virgins, distinguishes by the names of legal and evangelical hypocrites; and often speaks of the latter as the worst.

And it is evident, that the latter are commonly by far the most confident in their hope, and are with the most difficulty brought off from it. I have scarcely known an instance of such an one that has been undeceived. The chief grounds of the confidence of many of them, are impulses and supposed revelations, (sometimes with texts of scripture, and sometimes without) like what many of late have had concerning future events. These impulses about their good estate they call the witness of the Spirit; entirely misunderstanding the nature of the witness of the Spirit, as I shall shew hereafter. Those who have had visions and impulses about other things, have generally had such things as they are desirous and fond of, revealed to them: and no wonder that persons who give heed to such things, have the same sort of visions or impressions about their own eternal salvation. Why may they not suppose a revelation made to them that their sins are forgiven them, that their names are written in the book of life, that they are in high favour with God, &c. and especially when they earnestly seek, expect, and wait for evidence of their election and salvation this way, as the surest and most glorious evidence of it? Neither is it any wonder, that when they have such a supposed revelation of their good estate, it raises in them the highest degree of confidence of it. It is found by abundant experience, that those who are led away by impulses and imagined revelations, are extremely confident. They suppose that the great JEHOVAN has declared these and those things to them; and having his immediate

1 testimony, a strong confidence is the highest virtue. Hence they are bold to say, I know this or that ;-I know certainly, -I am as sure as that I have a being, and the like: and they despise all argument and inquiry into the case. And it is easy to be accounted for, that impressions and impulses about that which is so pleasing, so suiting their self-love and pride, as their being the dear children of God, should make them strongly confident : especially when, with their impulses and revelations, they have high affections, which they take to be the most eminent exercises of grace. I have known several persons, who have had a fond desire of something of a temporal nature, through a violent passion that has possessed them; they have earnestly wished it should come to pass, and have met with many discouragements in it; but at last have had an impression, or supposed revelation that they should obtain what they sought. They have looked upon this as a sure promise from the Most High, which has made them most ridiculously confident, against all manner of reason to con


vince them to the contrary, and all events working against them. And nothing hinders, but that persons who are seeking their salvation may be deceived by the like delusive impressions, and be made confident the same way.

The confidence of many of this sort, whom that Mr. Shepard calls evangelical hypocrites, is like the confidence of some mad men, who think they are kings: they will maintain it against all manner of reason and evidence. And in one sense, it is much more immoveable than a truly gracious assurance; a true assurance is not upheld, but by the soul being kept in a holy frame, and grace maintained in lively exercise. If the actings of grace do much decay in the Christian, and he falls into a lifeless frame, he loses his assurance: but this confidence of hypocrites will not be shaken by sin; they (at least some of them) will maintain their boldness in their hope, in the most corrupt frames and wicked ways; which is a sure evidence of their delusiont.

And here I cannot but observe, that there are certain doctrines often preached to the people, which need to be delivered with more caution and explanation than they frequently are ; for as they are by many understood, they tend greatly to establish this delusion and false confidence of hypocrites. The doctrines I speak of are those of Christians living by faith, not by sight : their giving glory to God, by trusting him in the dark; living upon Christ, and not upon experiences; not making their good frames the foundation of their faith. These are excellent and important doctrines indeed, rightly understood, but corrupt and destructive, as many understand them. The scripture speaks of our living or walking by faith, and not by sight, in no other way than these, viz. When we are governed by a respect to eternal things, which are the objects of faith, and are not seen, and not by a respect to temporal things, 'which are seen ; when we believe things revealed, that we never saw with bodily eyes; and also exercise faith in the promise of future things, without yet seeing or enjoying the things promised, or knowing the way how they can be fulfilled. This will be easily evident to any one that looks over the scriptures, which speak of faith in opposition

+ Mr. Shepard speaks of it “ as a presumptuous peace, that is not interrupted and broke by evil works." And says, that “ the spirit will sigh, and not sing in that bosom, whence corrupt dispositions and passions break oui.' And that “though men in such frames may seem to maintain the consolation of the Spirit, and not suspect their hypocrisy, under pretence of trusting the Lord's mercy; yet they cannot avoid the “condemnation of the world.” (Parable of the Ten Virgins, Part I. p. 139 )

Dr. Ames speaks of it as a thing by which the peace of a wicked man may be distinguished from the peace of a godly man, “that the peace of a wicked man continues, whether he performs the duties of piety and righteousness or no ; provided those crimes are avoided that appear horrid to nature itsell,” (Cases of Conscience, lib. III. ch. vii.)


[ocr errors]

to sight*. But this doctrine, as it is understood by many, is, that Christians ought firmly to believe and trust in Christ, without spiritual light; even although they are in a dark, dead frame, and for the present, have no spiritual experiences or discoveries. It is truly the duty of those who are thus in darkness to come out of darkness into light, and to believe. But that they should confidently believe and trust, while they yet remain without spiritual light or sight, is an ani-scriptural and absurd doctrine. The scripture is ignorant of any such faith in Christ of the

operation of God, that is not founded in a spiritual sight of Christ. That believing on Christ, which accompanies a title to everlasting lise, is a seeing the Son, and believing on him, John vi. 40. True faith in Christ is never exercised, any further than persons behold as in a glass the glory of the Lord, and have the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, 2 Cor. iii. 18. and iv. 6. They into whose minds the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, does not shine, they believe not, 2 Cor. iv. 4. That faith, which is without spiritual light, is not the faith of the children of the light and of the day; but the presumption of the children of darkness. And therefore to press and urge them to believe, without any spiritual light or sight, tends greatly to help forward the delusions of the prince of darkness. Men not only cannot exercise faith without some spiritual light, but they can exercise faith only just in such proportion as they have spiritual light. Men will trust in God no further than they know him: and they cannot be in the exercise of faith in him, further than they have a sight of his fulness and faithfulness in exercise. Nor can they have the exercise of trust in God, any further than they are in a gracious frame. They that are in a dead carnal frame, doubtless ought to trust in God; because that would be the same thing as coming out of their bad frame, and turning to God: but to exhort men confidently to trust in God, and so hold up their hope and peace, though they are not in a gracious frame, and continue still to be so, is the same thing, in effect, as to exhort them confidently to trust in God, but not with a gracious trust: and what is that but a wicked presumption? It is just as impossible for men to have a strong or lively trust in God, when they have no lively exercises of grace, or sensible Christian experiences, as it is for them to be in the lively exercises of grace, without the exercises of grace!

It is true, that it is the duty of God's people to trust in him when in darkness, even though they remain still in darkness, in one sense, viz. when the aspects of his providence are dark, and

* As 2 Cor. iv. 18. and v. 7. Heb. xi. 1, 8, 13, 17, 27, 29. Rom. viii. 24. John ax, 29.

look as though God had forsaken them, and did not hear their prayers. Many clouds gather, many enemies surround them, with a formidable aspect, threatening to swallow them up, and all events of providence seem to be against them. All circumstances seem to render the promises of God difficult to be fulfilled, but he must be trusted out of sight, i. e. when we cannot see which way it is possible for him to fulfil his word. Every thing but God's mere word makes it look unlikely, so that if persons believe, they must hope against hope. Thus the ancient Patriarchs, and thus the Psalmist, Jeremiah, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego, and the apostle Paul, gave glory to God by trusting him in darkness.

We have many instances of such a glorious, victorious faith in the eleventh of the Hebrews. But how different a thing is this, from trusting in God, without spiritual sight, and being at the same time in a dead and carnal frame!

Spiritual light may be let into the soul in one way, when it is not in another; and so there is such a thing as the saints trusting in God, and also knowing their good estate, when they are destitute of some kinds of experience. For instance, they may have clear views of God's all-sufficiency and faithfulness, and so may confidently trust in him, and know that they are his children; and yet not have those clear and sweet ideas of his love, as at other times. Thus it was with Christ himself in his last passion. They may also have views of God's sovereignty, holiness, and all-sufficiency, enabling them quietly to submit to him, and to exercise a sweet and most encouraging hope in his fulness, when they are not satisfied of their own good estate. But how different things are these, from confidently trusting in God, without spiritual light or experience!

Those who thus insist on persons living by faith, when they have no experience, and are in very bad frames, are also very absurd in their notions of faith. What they mean by faith is, believing that they are in a good estate. Hence they count it a dreadful sin for them to doubt of their state, whatever frames they are in, and whatever wicked things they do, because it is the great and heinous sin of unbelief; and he is the best man, and puts most honour upon God, that maintains his hope of his good estate the most confidently and immoveably, when he has the least light or experience; that is to say, when he is in the worst frame and way; because forsooth, that it is a sign that he is strong in faith, giving glory to God, and against hope believes in hope. But from what bible do they learn this notion of faith, that it is a man's confidently believing that he is in a good estate*? If this be faith

*“ Men do not know that they are godly, by believing that they are godly. We know many things by faith, Heb. xi. 3. By faith we understand that the worlds



the Pharisees had faith in an eminent degree ; some of whom Christ teaches, committed the unpardonable sin against the Holy Ghost. The scripture represents faith, as that by which men are brought into a good estate; and therefore it cannot be the same thing, as believing that they are alrearly in a good estate. To suppose that faith consists in persons believing that they are in a good estate, is in effect the same thing, as to suppose that faith consists in a person's believing that he has faith, or in believing that he believes !

Indeed persons doubting of their good estate, may in several respects arise from unbelief. It may be from unbelief, or because they have so little faith, that they have so little evidence of their good estate. If they had more experience of the actings of faith, and so more experience of the exercise of grace, they would have clearer evidence that their state was good; and so their doubts would be removed. And their doubting of their state may be from unbelief thus, when though there be many things that are good evidences of a work of grace in them, yet they doubt very much whether they are really in a state of favour with God, because it is they, those that are so unworthy, and have done so much to provoke God to anger against them. Their doubts in such a case arise from unbelief, as they arise from want of a sufficient sense of, and reliance on the infinite riches of God's grace, and the sufficiency of Christ for the chief of sinners. They may also be from unbelief, when they doubt of their state, because of the mystery of God's dealings with them. They are not able to reconcile such dispensations with God's favour to them. Some doubt whether they have any interest in the promises, because from the aspect of providence, they appear so unlikely to be fulfilled; the difficulties in the way are so many


great. Such doubting arises from want of dependence upon God's almighty power, and his knowledge and wisdom, as infinitely above theirs. But yet, in such persons their unbelief, and their doubting of their state, are not the same thing; though one arises from the other.

Persons may be greatly to blame for doubting of their state, on such grounds as these; and they may be to blame, that they have no more grace, and no more of its present exercises, to be an evidence to them of the goodness of their state. Men are doubtless to blame for being in a dead, carnal frame; but when they are in such a frame, and have no sensible experience of the exer

were made by the word of God.' Faith is the evidence of things not seen, Heb. xi. 1. Thus men know the Trinity of persons of the Godhead; that Jesus Christ is the Son of God; that he that believes in him will have eternal life; the resurrection of the dead. And if God should tell a saint that he has grace, he might know it by believing the word of God. But it is not this way, that godly men do know that they have grace. It is not revealed in the word, and the Spirit of God doth not tes. tify it to particular persons.” (Stoddard's Nature of Saving Conversion,' p. 83, 84.)

« ElőzőTovább »