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2. From the hindrances which will be thrown in our way by Satan, sinners, our own hearts, and many other causes;
3. From considering how easy, common and dangerous it is to be mistaken; that trying will not be so painful as the neglect; that God will soon try us, and that to try ourselves will be profitable.
4. Directions how to try ourselves.
5. Marks for trial, particularly,
Do we make God our chief good? Do we heartily accept of Christ for our Lord and Savior?\parIS there such a glorious rest so near at hand and shall none enjoy it but the people of God? What mean most of the world, then, to live so contentedly without assurance of their interest in this rest, and neglect the trying of their title to it? When the Lord has so fully opened the blessedness of that kingdom which none but obedient believers shall possess; and so fully expressed those torments which the rest of the world must eternally suffer; methinks they that believe this to be certainly true, should never be at any quiet in themselves, till they are fully assured of their being heirs of the kingdom. Lord, what a strange madness is this, that men, who know they must presently enter upon unchangeable joy or pain, should yet live as uncertain what shall be their doom as if they had never heard of any such state; yea, and live as quietly and merrily in this uncertainty as if all were made sure, and there were no danger! Are these men alive, or dead? Are they awake, or asleep? What do they think on? Where are their hearts? If they have but a weighty suit at law, how careful are they to know whether it will go for or against them! If they were to be tried for their lives at an earthly bar, how careful would they be to know whether they should he saved or condemned, especially if their care might surely save them! If they be dangerously sick they will inquire of the physician, “What think you, sir; shall I escape, or not?” But in the business of their salvation they are content to be uncertain.
If you ask of most men “a reason of the hope that is in them,” they will say, “Because God is merciful, and Christ died for sinners,” and the like general reasons, which any man in the world may give as well as they, but put them to prove their interest in Christ and in the saving mercy of God, and they can say nothing to the purpose. If God or man should say to one of them, “Friend, what is the state of thy soul? Is it regenerate, sanctified and pardoned, or not?” He would say, as Cain of Abel, “I know not; am I my soul’s keeper? I hope well; I trust God with my soul; I shall speed as well as other men do; I thank God I never made any doubt of my salvation.”
Thou hast cause to doubt, because thou didst never doubt; and yet more, because thou hast been so careless in thy confidence. What do thy expressions discover but a willful neglect of thy own salvation? as a ship-master that should let his vessel alone, and say, “I will venture it among the rocks, and waves, and winds; I will trust God with it; it will speed as well as other vessels.” What horrible abuse of God is this, to pretend to trust God, to cloak their own willful negligence! If thou didst really trust God, thou wouldst also be ruled by him, and trust him in his own appointed way. He requires thee to give “diligence to make thy calling and election sure,” and so trust him. He hath marked out a way in scripture by which thou art charged to search and try thyself, and mayest arrive at certainty. Were he not a foolish traveler that would hold on his way when he does not know whether he be right or wrong; and say, “I hope I am right; I will go on, and trust in God?” Art thou not guilty of this folly in thy travel to eternity? not considering that a little serious inquiry whether thy way be right, might save thee a great deal of labor, which thou bestowest in vain, and must undo again, or else thou wilt miss of salvation and undo thyself.
How canst thou think or speak of the great God without terror, as long as thou art uncertain whether he be thy father or thy enemy, and knowest not but all his perfections may be employed against thee? or of Jesus Christ, when thou knowest not whether his blood hath purged thy soul; whether he will condemn or acquit thee in judgment; or whether he be the foundation of thy happiness, or stone of stumbling to break thee and grind thee to powder? How canst thou open the Bible and read a chapter, but it should terrify thee? Methinks every leaf should be to thee as Belshazzar’s writing on the wall, except only that which draws thee to try and reform. If thou readest the promises, thou knowest not whether they shall be fulfilled to thee. If thou readest the threatenings, for any thing thou knowest, thou readest thy own sentence. No wonder thou art an enemy to plain preaching, and sayest of the minister, as Ahab of the prophet, “I hate him, for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil.” How canst thou without terror join in prayer? When thou receivest the Lord’s supper, thou knowest not whether it be thy bane or bliss. What comfort canst thou find in thy friends, and honors, and houses, and lands, till thou knowest thou hast the love of God with them, and shalt have rest with him when thou leavest them? Offer a prisoner, before he knows his sentence, either music, or clothes, or preferment; what are they to him, till he knows he shall escape with his life? for if he knows he must die the next day, it will be small comfort to die rich or honorable. Methinks it should be so with thee till thou knowest thy eternal state. When thou liest down to take thy rest, methinks the uncertainty of thy salvation should keep thee waking, or amaze thee in thy dreams and trouble thy sleep. Doth it not grieve thee to see the people of God so comfortable in their way to glory, when thou hast no good hope of ever enjoying it thyself? How canst thou think of thy dying hour? Thou knowest it is near, and there is no avoiding it, nor any remedy found out that can prevent it. If thou shouldst die this day, (and who knows “what a day may bring forth?”) thou art not certain whether thou shalt go to heaven or hell. And canst thou be merry till thou hast escaped from this dangerous state? What shift dost thou make to preserve thy heart from horror, when thou rememberest the great judgment-day, and everlasting flames? When thou hearest of it dost thou not tremble as Felix?
If the “keepers shook, and became as dead men, when they saw the angel come and roll back the stone from Christ’s sepulcher,” how canst thou think of living in hell with devils, till thou hast some well-grounded assurance that thou shalt escape it? Thy bed is very soft, or thy heart is very hard, if thou canst sleep soundly in this uncertain case.
If this general uncertainty of the world about their salvation were remediless, then must it be borne as other unavoidable miseries. But alas! the common cause is willful negligence. Men will not be persuaded to use the remedy. The great means to conquer this uncertainty is self-examination, or the serious and diligent trying of a man’s heart and state by the rule of Scripture. Either men understand not the nature and use of this duty, or else they will not be at the pains to try. Go through a congregation of a thousand men, and how few of them will you find that ever bestowed one hour in all their lives in a close examination of their title to heaven! Ask your own conscience, reader, when was the time, and where was the place, that ever you solemnly took your heart to task, as in he sight of God, and examined it by Scripture, whether it be renewed or not; whether it be holy or not; whether it be set most on God or the creatures, on heaven or earth? And when did you follow on this examination till you had discovered your condition, and pass sentence on yourself accordingly?
But since this is a work of so high importance, and so commonly neglected, I will show that it is possible, by trying, to come to a certainty; then show what hinders men from trying and knowing their state and then offer motives to examine, and directions, together with some marks out of Scripture, by which men may try, and certainly know, whether they are the people of God or not.
1. Scripture shows that the certainty of salvation may be attained, and ought to be labored for, when it tells us so frequently that the saints before us have known their justification and future salvation: when it declares, that “whosoever believeth in Christ shall not perish, but have everlasting life;” which it would be vain to declare, if we cannot know ourselves to be believers or not; when it makes such a wide difference between the children of God and the children of the devil; when it bids us “give diligence to make our calling and election sure;” and earnestly urges us to “examine, prove, know our own selves, whether we be in the faith, and whether Jesus Christ be in us, or we be reprobates;” also, when its precepts require us to rejoice alway, to call God our Father, to live in his praises, to love Christ’s appearing, to wish that he may come quickly, and to comfort ourselves with the mention of it. But who can do any of these heartily, that is not, in some measure, sure that he is the child of God?
2. Among the many hinderances which keep men from self-examination, we cannot doubt but Satan will do his part. If all the power he hath, or all the means and instruments he can employ, can do it, he will be sure, above all duties, to keep you from this. He is loth that the godly should have the joy, assurance, and advantage against corruption, which the faithful performance of self-examination would procure them. As for the ungodly, he knows, if they should once earnestly examine, they would find out his deceits and their own danger, and so be very likely to escape him. How could he get so many millions to hell willingly, if they knew they were going thither? And how could they avoid knowing it, if they did but thoroughly examine; having such a clear light and sure rule in the Scripture to discover it? If the snare be not hid, the bird will escape it. Satan knows how to angle for souls better than to show them the hook and line or fright them away with a noise, or with his own appearance. Therefore he labors to keep them from a searching ministry or to keep the minister from helping them to search or to take off the edge of the word, that it may not pierce and divide; or to turn away their thoughts; or to possess them with prejudice. Satan knows when the minister has provided a searching sermon, fitted to the state and necessity of a hearer; and therefore he will keep him away that day, if it be possible or cast him into a sleep or steal away the word by the cares and talk of the world, or some way prevent its operation.
Another great hinderance to self-examination arises from wicked men.
Their example; their merry company and discourse; their continually insisting on worldly concerns; their raillery and scoffs at godly persons: also their persuasions, allurements, and threats, are all of them exceedingly great temptations to security. God doth scarcely ever open the eyes of a poor sinner to see that his way is wrong, but presently there is a multitude of Satan’s apostles ready to deceive and settle him again in the quiet possession of his former master. “What!” say they, “do you make a doubt of your salvation, who have lived so well, and done nobody any harm? God is merciful and if such as you shall not be saved, God help a great many! What do you think of all your forefathers? And what will become of all your friends and neighbors that live as you do? Will they all be damned?
Come, come, if you hearken to these preachers, they will drive you out of your senses. Are not all men sinners? and did not Christ die to save sinners? Never trouble your head with these thoughts, and you shall do well.”
O, how many thousands have such charms kept asleep in deceit and security till death and hell have awakened them! The Lord calls to the sinner, and tells him, “The gate is strait, the way is narrow, and few find it; try and examine yourself; give diligence to make sure.” The world cries, “Never doubt, never trouble yourself with these thoughts.” In this strait, sinner, consider, it is Christ, and not your forefathers, or neighbors, or friends, that must judge you at last: and, if Christ condemn you, these cannot save you; therefore common reason may tell you that it is not from the words of ignorant men, but from the word of God you must gain your hope of salvation. When Ahab would inquire among the multitude of flattering prophets, it was his death. They can flatter men into the snare, but they cannot tell how to bring them out. “Let no man deceive you with vain words for, because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience; be not ye therefore partakers with them.”
But the greatest hinderances are in men’s own hearts. Some are so ignorant that they know not what self-examination is, nor what a minister means when he persuades them to try themselves or they know not that there is any necessity for it, but think every man is bound to believe that his sins are pardoned, whether it be true or false, and that it is a great fault to make any question of it; or they do not think that assurance can be attained; or that there is any great difference between one man and another, but that we are all Christians, and therefore need not trouble ourselves any further; or at least they know not wherein the difference lies. They have as gross an idea of regeneration as Nicodemus had. Some will not believe that God will ever make such a difference betwixt men in the life to come, and therefore will not search themselves whether they differ here. Some are so stupefied, say what we can to them, that they lay it not to heart, but give us the hearing, and there is the end. Some are so possessed with self-love and pride, that they will not so much as suspect they are in danger; like a proud tradesman, who scorns the prudent advice of casting up his books; or like fond parents who will not believe or hear any evil of their children. Some are so guilty that they dare not try themselves, and yet they dare venture on a more dreadful trial. Some are so in love with sin, and so dislike the way of God, that they dare not try their ways, lest they be forced from the course they love to that which they loathe. Some are so resolved never to change their present state, that they neglect examination as a useless thing.
Before they will seek a new way, when they have lived so long and gone so far, they will put their eternal state to hazard, come of it what will. Many men are so busy in the world that they cannot set themselves to the trying of their title to heaven. Others are so clogged with slothfulness of spirit that they will not be at the pains of an hour’s examination of their own hearts. But the most common and dangerous impediment is that false faith and hope, commonly called presumption, which bears up the hearts of the greatest part of the world, and so keeps them from suspecting their danger.
And if a man should break through all these hinderances, and set upon the duty of self-examination, yet assurance is not presently attained. Too many deceive themselves in their inquiries after it, through one or other of the following causes: there is such confusion and darkness in the soul of man, especially of an unregenerate man, that he can scarcely tell what he does, or what is in him. As in a house where nothing is in its proper place, it will be difficult to find what is wanted, so it is in the heart where all things are in disorder. Most men accustom themselves to be strangers at home, and too little observe the temper and motions of their own hearts. Many are resolved what to judge before they try; like a bribed judge, who examines as if he would judge uprightly, when he is previously resolved which way the cause shall go. Men are partial in their own cause; ready to think their great sins small, and their small sins none; their gifts of nature to be the work of grace, and to say, “All these have I kept from my youth;” “I am rich, and increased in goods, and have need of nothing.” Most men search but by the halves. If it will not easily and quickly be done, they are discouraged, and leave off. They try themselves by false marks and rules, not knowing wherein the truth of Christianity consists; some looking beyond, and some short of the Scripture standard. And frequently they fail in this work by attempting it in their own strength. As some expect the Spirit should do it without them, so others attempt it themselves, without seeking or expecting the help of the Spirit. Both these will certainly fail of assurance.
Some other hinderances keep even true Christians from comfortable certainty. As, for instance, the weakness of grace. Small things are hardly discerned. Most Christians content themselves with a small measure of grace, and do not follow on to spiritual strength and manhood. The chief remedy for such would be to follow on in duty till their graces be increased. Wait upon God in the use of his prescribed means, and he will undoubtedly bless you with increase. O that Christians would bestow most of that time in getting more grace, which they bestow in anxious doubtings whether they have any or none; and lay out those serious affections in praying for more grace, which they bestow in fruitless complaints! I beseech thee, Christian, take this advice as from God; and then, when thou believest strongly, and lovest fervently, thou canst no more doubt of thy faith and love, than a man that is very hot can doubt of his warmth, or a man that is strong and vigorous can doubt of his being alive.
Christians hinder their own comfort by looking more at signs which tell them what they are, than at precepts which tell them what they should do; as if their present must needs be their everlasting state; and if they be now unpardoned, there were no remedy. Were he not mad that would lie weeping because he is not pardoned, when his prince stands by all the while, offering him a pardon, and persuading him to accept of it? Justifying faith, Christian, is not thy persuasion of God’s special love to thee, but thy accepting Christ to make thee lovely. It is far better to accept Christ as offered, than spend so much time in doubting whether we have Christ or not.
Another cause of distress to Christians is their mistaking assurance for the joy that sometimes accompanies it; as if a child should think himself a son no longer than while he sees the smiles of his father’s face, or hears the comfortable expressions of his mouth; and as if the father ceased to be a father whenever he ceased those smiles and speeches.
The trouble of souls is also increased by their not knowing the ordinary way of God’s conveying comfort. They think they have nothing to do but to wait when God will bestow it. But they must know that the matter of their comfort is in the promises, and thence they must draw it as often as they expect it, by daily and diligently meditating upon the promises; and in this way they may expect the Spirit will communicate comfort to their souls. The joy of the promises and the joy of the Holy Ghost are one: add to this, their expecting a greater measure of assurance than God usually bestows. As long as they have any doubting, they think they have no assurance. They consider not that there are many degrees of certainty.
While they are here, they shall “know but in part.” Add also their deriving their comfort at first from insufficient grounds. This may be the case of a gracious soul, who hath better grounds but doth not see them. As an infant hath life before he knoweth it, and many misapprehensions of himself and other things, yet it will not follow that he hath no life. So when Christians find a flaw in their first comforts, they are not to judge it a flaw in their safety.
Many continue doubting, through the exceeding weakness of their natural powers. Many honest hearts have weak heads, and know not how to perform the work of self-trial. They will acknowledge the promises, and yet deny the apparent conclusion. If God do not some other way supply the defect of their reason, I see not how they should have clear and settled peace.
One great and too common cause of distress is the secret maintaining of some known sin. This abates the degree of our graces, and so makes them more undiscernible. It obscures that which it destroys not; for it bears such sway that grace is not in action, nor seems to stir, nor is scarce heard speak, for the noise of this corruption. It puts out or dims the eye of the soul, and stupifies it, that it can neither see nor feel its own condition. But especially it provokes God to withdraw himself, his comforts, and the assistance of his Spirit, without which we may search long enough before we have assurance. God hath made a separation between sin and peace. As long as thou dost cherish thy pride, thy love of the world, the desires of the flesh, or any unchristian practice, thou expectest comfort in vain. If a man “setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumbling-block of his iniquity before his face, and cometh” to a minister, or to God, “to inquire” for comfort, — instead of comforting him, God “will answer him that cometh, according to the multitude of his idols.”
Another very great and common cause of the want of comfort is, that grace is not kept in constant and lively exercise. The way of painful duty is the way of fullest comfort. Peace and comfort are Christ’s great encouragements to faithfulness and obedience; and therefore, though our obedience does not merit them, yet they usually rise and fall with our diligence in duty. As prayer must have faith and fervency to procure it success, besides the blood and intercession of Christ, so must all other parts of our obedience. If thou growest seldom, and formal, and cold in duty, especially in thy secret prayers to God, and yet findest no abatement in thy joys, I cannot but fear thy joys are either carnal or diabolical.
Besides, grace is never apparent and sensible to the soul but while it is in action; therefore want of action must cause want of assurance. And the action of the soul upon such excellent objects naturally bringeth consolation with it. The very act of loving God, in Christ, is inexpressibly sweet. The soul that is best furnished with grace, when it is not in action, is like a lute well stringed and tuned, which, while it lieth still, maketh no more music than a common piece of wood; but when it is handled by a skillful musician the melody is delightful. Some degree of comfort follows every good action, as heat accompanies fire, and as beams and influence issue from the sun. A man that is cold should labor till heat be excited; so he that wants assurance must not stand still, but exercise his graces till his doubts vanish.
The want of consolation in the soul is also very commonly owing to bodily melancholy. It is no more strange for a conscientious man, under melancholy, to doubt, and fear, and despair, than for a sick man to groan, or a child to cry when it is chastised. Without the physician in this case, the labors of the divine are usually in vain. You may silence, but you cannot comfort such persons. You may make them confess they have some grace, and yet cannot bring them to the comfortable conclusion. All the good thoughts of their state, which you can possibly help them to, are seldom above a day or two old. They cry out of sin and the wrath of God, when the chief cause is in their bodily disease.
3. As motives to the duty of self-examination, I entreat you to consider the following:
To be deceived about your title to heaven is very easy. Many are now in hell that never suspected any falsehood in their hearts, that excelled in worldly wisdom, that lived in the clear light of the Gospel, and even preached against the negligence of others. To be mistaken in this great point is also very common. It is the case of most in the world. In the old world, and in Sodom, we find none that were in any fear of judgment.
Almost all men among us verily expect to be saved; yet Christ tells us, “there be few that find the strait gate and narrow way which leadeth unto life.” And if such multitudes are deceived, should we not search the more diligently, lest we should be deceived as well as they? Nothing is more dangerous than to be thus mistaken. If the godly judge their state worse than it is, the consequences of this mistake will be sorrowful; but the mischief flowing from the mistake of the ungodly is unspeakable. It will exceedingly confirm them in the service of Satan. It will render ineffectual the means that should do them good. It will keep a man from compassionating his own soul. It is a case of the greatest moment, where everlasting salvation or damnation is to be determined. And if you mistake till death, you are undone for ever. Seeing, then, the danger is so great, what wise man would not follow the search of his heart both day and night till he were assured of his safety? Consider how small the labor of this duty in comparison of that sorrow which follows its neglect. You can endure to toil and sweat from year to year, to prevent poverty and why not spend a little time in self-examination, to prevent eternal misery? By neglecting this duty you can scarce do Satan a greater pleasure, or yourself a greater injury. It is the grand design of the devil, in all his temptations, to deceive you, and keep you ignorant of your danger till you feel the everlasting flames; and will you join with him to deceive yourself? If you do this for him, you do the greatest part of his work. And hath he deserved so well of you, that you should assist him in such a design as your damnation? The time is nigh when God will search you. If it be but in this life by affliction, it will make you wish that you had tried and judged yourself, that you might have escaped the judgment of God. It was a terrible voice to Adam, “Where art thou? Hast thou eaten of the tree?” And to Cain, “Where is thy brother?” Men “consider not in their hearts that,” saith the Lord, “remember all their wickedness; now their own doings have beset them about; they are before my face.”
Consider also what would be the sweet effects of this self-examination. If thou be upright and godly, it will lead thee straight toward assurance of God’s love; if thou be not, though it will trouble thee at the present, yet it will tend to thy happiness, and at length lead thee to the assurance of that happiness. Is it not a desirable thing to know what shall befall us hereafter; especially what shall befall our souls and what place and state we must be in for ever? And as the very knowledge itself is desirable, how much greater will the comfort be of that certainty of salvation! What sweet thoughts wilt thou have of God! All that greatness and justice which is the terror of others, will be thy joy. How sweet may be thy thoughts of Christ, and the blood he hath shed, and the benefits he hath procured! How welcome will the word of God be to thee, and “how beautiful the very feet of those that bring it!” How sweet will be the promises when thou art sure they are thine own! The very threatenings will occasion thy comfort, to remember that thou hast escaped them. What boldness and comfort mayest thou then have in prayer, when thou canst say “Our Father” in full assurance? It will make the Lord’s supper a refreshing feast to thy soul. It will multiply the sweetness of every common mercy. How comfortably mayest thou then undergo all afflictions! How will it sweeten thy forethought’s of death and judgment, of heaven and hell! How lively will it make thee in the work of the Lord, and how profitable to all around thee!
What vigor will it infuse into all thy graces and affections! How will it kindle thy repentance, inflame thy love, quicken thy desires, and confirm thy faith; be a fountain of continual rejoicing, overflow thy heart with thankfulness, raise thee high in the delightful work of praise, help thee to be heavenly-minded, and render thee persevering in all! All these sweet effects of assurance would make thy life a heaven upon earth.
Though I am certain these motives have weight of reason in them, yet I am jealous, reader, lest you lay aside the book as if you had no more to do, and never set yourself to the practice of the duty. The case in hand is of the greatest moment — whether thou shalt everlastingly live in heaven or hell.
I here request thee, in behalf of thy soul; nay, I charge thee, in the name of the Lord, that thou defer no longer, but take thy heart to task in good earnest, and think with thyself, “Is it so easy, so common and so dangerous to be mistaken? Are there so many wrong ways? Is the heart so deceitful?
But perhaps you will say, “I know not how to do it.” In that I am now to give thee directions; but, alas! it will be in vain, if thou art not resolved to practice them. Wilt thou, therefore, before thou goest any further, here promise, before the Lord, to set thyself upon the speedy performance of the duty, according to the directions I shall lay down from the word of God? I demand nothing unreasonable or impossible: it is but to bestow a few hours to know what shall become of thee for ever. If a neighbor, or a friend, desired but an hour’s time of thee, in conversation, or business, or any thing in which thou mayest be of service, surely thou wouldst not deny it; how much less shouldst thou deny this to thyself in so great a matter! I pray thee to take from me this request, as if; in the name of Christ, I presented it to thee on my knees; and I will betake me on my knees to Christ again, to beg that he will persuade thy heart to the duty.
4. The directions how to examine thyself are such as these: Empty thy mind of all other cares and thoughts, that they may not distract or divide thy mind. This work itself will be enough without joining others with it. Then fall down before God in hearty prayer, desiring the assistance of his Spirit to discover to thee the plain truth of thy condition, and to enlighten thee in the whole progress of this work. Make choice of the most convenient time and place. Let the place be the most private, and the time when you have nothing to interrupt you; and, if possible, let it be the present time. Have in readiness, either in memory or writing, some scriptures, containing the descriptions of the saints and the Gospel terms of salvation and convince thyself thoroughly of their infallible truth. Proceed then to put the question to thyself. Let it not be, whether there be any good in thee at all; nor whether thou hast such or such a degree and measure of grace; but whether such or such a saving grace be in thee in sincerity or not. If thy heart draw back from the work, force it on. Lay thy command upon it. Let reason interpose, and use its authority. Yea, lay the command of God upon it, and charge it to obey upon the pain of his displeasure. Let conscience also do its office, till thy heart be excited to the work. Nor let thy heart trifle away the time, when it should be diligently at the work. Do as the psalmist “My spirit made diligent search.” He that can prevail with his own heart shall also prevail with God. If, after all thy pains, thou art still in doubt, then seek out for help. Go to one that is godly, experienced, able, and faithful, and tell him thy case, and desire his best advice. Use the judgment of such a one as that of a physician for thy body: though this can afford thee no full certainty, yet it may be a great help to stay and direct thee. But do not make it a pretense to put off thy own self-examination.
Only use it as one of the last remedies, when thy own endeavors will not serve. When thou hast discovered thy true state, pass sentence on thyself accordingly; either that thou art a true Christian, or that thou art not. Pass not this sentence rashly, nor with self-flattery nor with melancholy terrors; but deliberately, truly, and according to thy conscience, convinced by Scripture and reason. Labor to get thy heart affected with its condition, according to the sentence passed on it. If graceless, think of thy misery; if renewed and sanctified, think what a blessed state the Lord hath brought thee into. Pursue these thoughts till they have left their impression on thy heart. Write this sentence at least in thy memory: “At such a time, upon thorough examination, I found my state to be thus, or thus.” Such a record will be very useful to thee hereafter. Trust not to this one discovery, so as to try no more; nor let it hinder thee in the daily search of thy ways; neither be discouraged if the trial must be often repeated. Especially take heed, if unregenerate, not to conclude of thy future state by the present. Do not say, “Because I am ungodly, I shall die so; because I am a hypocrite, I shall continue so.” Do not despair. Nothing but thy unwillingness can keep thee from Christ, though thou hast hitherto abused him and dissembled with him.
5. Now let me add some marks by which thou may try your title to the saints’ rest. I will only mention these two: taking God for thy chief good, and heartily accepting Christ for thy only Savior and Lord.
Every soul that hath a title to this rest places his chief happiness in God.
This rest consists in the full and glorious enjoyment of God. He that makes not God his chief good and ultimate end, is in heart a pagan and a vile idolater. Let me ask, then, dost thou truly account it thy chief happiness to enjoy the Lord in glory, or dost thou not? Canst thou say, “The Lord is my portion? Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire besides thee?” If thou be an heir of rest, it is thus with thee.
Though the flesh will be pleading for its own delights, and the world will be creeping into thine affections, yet in thy ordinary, settled, prevailing judgment and affections, thou preferrest God before all things in the world.
Thou makest him the very end of thy desires and endeavors. The very reason why thou hearest, and prayest, and desirest to live on earth, is chiefly this, that thou mayest seek the Lord, and make sure of thy rest.
Though thou dost not seek it so zealously as thou shouldst, yet it hath the chief of thy desires and endeavors, so that nothing else is desired or preferred before it. Thou wilt think no labor or suffering too great to obtain it. And though the flesh may sometimes shrink, yet thou art resolved and ready to go through all. Thy esteem for it will also be so high, and thy affection to it so great, that thou wouldst not exchange thy title to it, and hopes of it, for any worldly good whatsoever. If God should set before thee an eternity of earthly pleasure on the one hand, and the saints’ rest on the other, and bid thee take thy choice, thou wouldst refuse the world and choose this rest. But if thou art yet unsanctified, then thou dost in thy heart prefer thy worldly happiness before God; and though thy tongue may say that God is thy chief good, yet thy heart doth not so esteem him. For the world is the chief end of thy desires and endeavors. Thy very heart is set upon it. Thy greatest care and labor is to maintain thy credit or fleshly delights. But the life to come hath little of thy care or labor. Thou didst never perceive so much excellency in the unseen glory of another world, as to draw thy heart after it, and bring thee to labor heartily for it. The little pains thou bestowest for it is but a secondary effort. God hath but the world’s leavings: only that time and labor which thou canst spare from the world, or those few cold and careless thoughts which follow thy constant, earnest, and delightful thoughts of earthly things. Neither wouldst thou do any thing at all for heaven, if thou knewest how to keep the world. But lest thou shouldst be turned into hell when thou canst keep the world no longer, therefore thou wilt do something. For the same reason thou thinkest the way of God too strict, and wilt not be persuaded to the constant labor of walking according to the Gospel rule; and when it comes to the trial, that thou must forsake Christ or thy worldly happiness, then thou wilt venture heaven rather than earth, and so willfully deny thy obedience to God. And certainly, if God would but give thee leave to live in health and wealth for ever on earth, thou wouldst think it a better state than the rest of heaven — let them seek for heaven that would, thou wouldst think this thy chief happiness. This is thy case, if thou art yet an unregenerate person, and hast no title to the saints’ rest.
And as thou takest God for thy chief good, so thou dost heartily accept of Christ for thy only Savior and Lord, to bring thee to this rest. The former mark was the sum of the first and great command of the law, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart.” The second mark is the sum of the command of the Gospel, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” And the performance of these two is the whole of godliness and Christianity. This mark is but the definition of faith. Dost thou heartily consent that Christ alone shall be thy Savior, and no further trust to thy duties and works than as means appointed in subordination to him; not looking at them as in the least measure able to satisfy the curse of the law, or as a legal righteousness, or any part of it but consent to trust thy salvation on the redemption made by Christ? Art thou also content to take him for thy only Lord and King, to govern and guide thee by his laws and Spirit, and to obey him even when he commandeth the hardest duties, and those which most cross the desires of the flesh? Is it thy sorrow when thou breakest thy resolution herein; and thy joy when thou keepest closest in obedience to him? Wouldst thou not change thy Lord and Master for all the world? Thus is it with every true Christian. But if thou be a hypocrite, it is far otherwise. Thou mayest call Christ thy Lord and thy Savior, but thou never foundest thyself so lost without him as to drive thee to seek him, and trust him, and lay thy salvation on him alone; at least, thou didst never heartily consent that he should govern thee as thy Lord, nor resign thy soul and life to be ruled by him, nor take his word for the law of thy thoughts and actions. Doubtless thou art willing to be saved from hell by Christ when thou diest; but, in the meantime, he must command thee no further than will consist with thy credit, or pleasure, or other worldly ends!
And if he would give thee leave, thou hadst far rather live after the world and the flesh, than after the Word and the Spirit. And though thou mayest now and then have a motion or purpose to the contrary, yet this that I have mentioned is the ordinary desire and choice of thy heart. Thou art therefore no true believer in Christ; for though thou confess him in words, yet in works thou dost deny him, “being abominable and disobedient, an unto every good work reprobate.” This is the case of those that shall be shut out of the saints’ rest.
Observe, it is the consent of the heart, or will, which I especially lay down to be inquired after. I do not ask whether thou be assured of salvation, nor whether thou canst believe that thy sins are pardoned, and that thou art beloved of God in Christ. These are no parts of justifying faith, but excellent fruits of it, and they that receive them are comforted by them; but perhaps thou mayst ever receive them while thou livest, and mayst yet be a true heir of rest. Do not say then, “I cannot believe that my sins are pardoned, or that I am in God’s favor; and therefore I am no true believer.”
This is a most mistaken conclusion. The question is, whether thou dost heartily accept of Christ, that thou mayst be pardoned, reconciled to God, and so saved. Dost thou consent that He shall be thy Lord who hath bought thee, and that he shall bring thee to heaven in his own way? This is justifying, saving faith, and the mark by which thou must try thyself. Yet still observe that all this consent must be hearty and real, not feigned or with reservations. It is not like that of the dissembling son, who said, “I go, sir; and went not.” If any have more of the government of thee than Christ, thou art not his disciple. I am sure these two marks are such as every Christian hath, and none but sincere Christians. O that the Lord would now persuade thee to the close performance of this self-trial! that thou mayst not tremble with horror of soul when the Judge of the world shall try thee; but be able so to prove thy title to rest, that the prospect and approach of death and judgment may raise thy spirits and fill thee with joy.
On the whole, if Christians would have comforts that will not deceive them, let them make it the great labor of their lives to grow in grace, to strengthen and advance the interest of Christ in their souls, and to weaken and subdue the interest of the flesh. Deceive not yourselves with a persuasion that Christ hath done all, and left you nothing to do. To overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil, and, in order to that, to stand always armed upon our watch, and valiantly and patiently to fight it out, is of great importance to our assurance and salvation. Indeed, it is so great a part of our baptismal obligations, that he who performeth it not is no more than a nominal Christian. Not to every one that presumptuously believeth, but “to him that overcometh, will Christ give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth, saving he that receiveth it; he shall eat of the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God, and shall not be hurt of the second death. Christ will confess his name before his Father, and before his angels, and make him a pillar in the temple of God, and he shall go no more out; and will write upon him the name of his God, and the name of the city of his God, which is New Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from his God, and will write upon him his new name.” Yea, “He will grant to him to sit with him on his throne, even as he also overcame, and is set down with his Father on his throne. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”