Page images
[ocr errors][ocr errors]

Therefore it is manifest, from my text and doctrine, that no degree of speculative knowledge of religion is any certain sign of true piety. Whatever clear notions a man may have of the attributes of God, the doctrine of the Trinity, the nature of the two covenants, the economy of the persons of the Trinity, and the part which each person bas in the affair of man's redemption; if he can discourse never so excellently of the offices of Christ, and the way of salvation by him, and the admirable methods of divine wisdom, and the barmony of the various attributes of God in that way; if he can talk never so clearly and exactly of the method of the justification of a sinner, and of the nature of conversion, and the operations of the Spirit of God, in applying the redemption of Christ; giving good distinctions, happily solving dilliculties, and answering objections, in a manner tending greatly to enlighten the ignorant, to the edification of the church of God, and the conviction of gainsayers, and the great increase of light in the world : If he has more knowledge of this sort than hundreds of true saints of an ordinary education, and most divines; yet all is no certain evidence of any degree of saving grace in the heart.

It is true the scripture often speaks of knowledge of divine things, as what is peculiar to true saints; as in John xvii. 3. “ This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” Matt. xi. 27. “ No man knoweth the Son, but the Father: neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal bim.” Psal. ix. 10. “ They that know thy name will put their trust in thee." Philip. iii. 8. “I count all things but loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.” But then we must understand it of a different kind of knowledge from that speculative understanding which the devil has to so great a degree. It will he also allowed, that the spiritual saving knowledge of God and divine things, greatly promotes speculative knowledge, as it engages the mind in its search into things of this kind, and much assists to a distinct understanding of them; so that, other things being equal, they who have spiritual knowledge, are much more likely than others to have a good doctrinal acquaintance with things of religion ; but yet suclı acquaintance may be no distinguishing characteristic of true saints.

III. It may also be inferred from what has been observed, that for persons merely to yield a speculative assent to the doctrines of religion as true, is no certain evidence of a state of grace. My text tells us, that the devils believe; and as they believe that there is one God, so they believe the truth of

the doctrines of religion in general. The devil is orthodox in his faith; he believes the true scheme of doctrine; he is no Deist, Socinian, Arian, Pelagian, or Antinomian; the articles of his faith are all sound, and in them he is thoroughly established.

Therefore, for a person to believe the doctrines of Christianity merely from the force of arguments, as discerned only by speculation, is no evidence of

grace. It is probably a very rare thing for unregenerate men to have a strong persuasion of the truth of the doctrines of religion, especially such of them as are very mysterious, and much above the comprehension of reason. Yet if he be very confident of the truth of Christianity and its doctrines, and is able to argue most strongly for the proof of them, in this he goes nothing beyond the devil; who doubtless has a great knowledge of the rational arguments by wbich the truth of the Christian religion and its several principles are evinced.

And therefore when the scripture speaks of believing that Jesus is the Son of God, as a sure evidence of grace, as in I John y. I. and other places, it must be understood, not of a mere speculative assent, but of another kind and manner of believing, which is called the faith of God's elect, Titus i. 1. There is a spiritual conviction of the truth, which is a believing with the whole heart, peculiar to true saints; of which I shall speak more particularly.

IV. It may be inferred from the doctrine which has been insisted on, that it is no certain sign of persons being savingly converted, that they have been subjects of very great distress and terrors of mind, through apprehensions of God's wrath, and fears of damnation.

That the devils are the subjects of great terrors, througla apprehensions of God's wrath, and fears of its future effects, is implied in my text; which speaks not only of their believing, but trembling. It must be no small degree of terror which should make those principalities and powers, those mighty, proud, and sturdy beings, to tremble.

There are many terrors that some persons who are concerned for their salvation, are the subjects of, which are not from any proper awakenings of conscience, or apprehensions of truth, but from melancholy or frightful impressions on their imagination; or some groundless apprehensions, and the delusions and false suggestions of Satan. But if they have had never so great and long-continued terrors from real awakenings, and convictions of truth, and views of things as they are, this is no more than what is in the devils, and will be in all wicked men in another world. However stupid and senseless most ungodly men are now, all will be effectually awakened at last. There will be no such thing as slumbering in hell. There are many that cannot be awakened by the most solemn warnings and awful threatenings of the word of God-the most alarming discourses from the pulpit, and the most awakening and awful providences—but all will be thoroughly awakened by the sound of the last trumpet, and the appearance of Christ to judgment. All sorts will then be filled with most amazing terrors, from apprehensions of truth, and seeing things as they are; when “ the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, (such as were the most lofty and stout-hearted, most ready to treat the things of religion with contempt,) shall hide themselves in the dens, and in the rocks of the mountains; and say to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand ?" Rev. vi. 15-17. Therefore

persons have been first awakened, and afterwards have had comfort and joy, it is no certain sign that their comforts are of the right kind, because they were preceded by very great terrors.

V. It may be further inferred from the doctrine, That no work of the luw on men's hearts, in conviction of guilt, and just desert of punishment, is a sure argument that a person has been savingly converted.

Not only are no awakenings and terrors any certain evi. dence of this, but no mere legal work whatsoever, though carried to the utmost extent. Nothing wherein there is no grace or spiritual light, but only the mere conviction of natural conscience, and those acts and operations of the mind which are the result of this—and so are, as it were, merely forced by the clear light of conscience, without the concurrence of the heart and inclination with that light—is any certain sign of the saving grace of God, or that a person was ever sayingly converted.

The evidence of this, from my text and doctrine, is demonstrative; because the devils are the subjects of these things; and all wicked men that shall finally perish, will be the subjects of the same. Natural conscience is not extinguished in the damned in hell; but, on the contrary, remains there in its greatest strength, and is brought to its most perfect exercise ; most fully to do its proper office as God's vicegerent in the soul, to condemn those rebels against the King of heaven and earth, and manifest God's just wrath and ven. geance, and by that means to torment them, and be as a neverdying worm within them. Wretched men find means in this world to blind the eyes and stop the mouth of this vicegerent of a sin-revenging God; but they shall not be able to do it always. In another world, the eyes and mouth of conscience will be fully opened. God will hereafter make wicked men to see and know these things from which now they industriously hide their eyes, Isa. xxvi. 10, 11. • Let favour be shewed to the wicked, yet will he not learn righteousness : in the land of uprightness will be deal unjustly, and will not behold the majesty of the Lord. Lord, when thy hand is lifted up, they

. will not see: But they shall see, and be ashamed for their envy at the people, yea, the fire of thine enemies shall devour them.” We have this expression often annexed to God's threatenings of wrath to his enemies; “ And they shall know that I am the Lord :" This shall be accomplished by their woeful experience, and clear light in their consciences, whereby they shall be made to know, whether they will or not, how great and terrible, holy and righteous a God Jehovah is, whose authority they have despised : and they shall know that he is righteous and holy in their destruction. This all the ungodly will be convinced of at the day of judgment, by the bringing to light of all their wickedness of heart and practice; and setting all their sins, with all their aggravations, in order, not only in the view of others, even of the whole world, but in the view of their own consciences. This is threatened, Psalm 1. 21. “ These things thou hast done, and I kept silence: Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself: But I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine

Compare this with the four first verscs of the psalm. The design of the day of judgment is not to find out what is just, as it is with human judgments; but it is to manifest what is just ; to make known God's justice in the judgment which he will execute, to men's own consciences, and to the world. And therefore that day is called “ the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God,” Rom. ii. 5. Now sinners often cavil against the justice of God's dispensations, and particularly the punishment which he threatens for their sins; excusing themselves, and condemning him : But when God comes to manifest their wickedness in the light of that day, and to call them to an account, they will be speechless ; Matth. xxii, 11, 12 “ And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a weddinggarment : And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither, not having a wedding-garment? And he was speechless." When the King of heaven and earth comes to judgment, their consciences will be so perfectly enlightened and convinced by the all-searching Light they shall then stand in, that their mouths will be effectually stopped, as to all excuses for themselves, all pleading of their own righteousness to excuse or justify them, and all objections against the justice of their


[ocr errors]


Judge, that their conscience will condemn them only, and not God.

Therefore it follows from the doctrine, That it can be no certain sign of grace, that persons have had great convictions of sin. Suppose they have had their sins of life, with their aggravations, remarkably set before them, so as greatly to affect and terrify them; and withal, have had a great sight of

; the wickedness of their hearts, the greatness of the sin of unbelief, and of the unexcuseableness and heinousness of their most secret spiritual iniquities. Perhaps they have been convinced of the utter insufficiency of their own righteousness, and they despair of being recommended to God by it; have been convinced that they are wholly without excuse before God, and deserve damnation ; and that God would be just in executing the threatened punishment upon them, though it be so dreadful. All these things will be in the ungodly at the day of judgment, when they sball stand with devils, at the left hand, and shall be doomed as accursed to everlasting fire with them.

Indeed there will be no submission in them. Their conscience will be convinced that God is just in their condemnation; but yet their wills will not be bowed to God's justice. There will be no acquiescence of mind in that divine attribute; no yielding of the soul to God's sovereignty, but the highest degree of enmity and opposition. A true submission of the heart and will to the justice and sovereignty of God, is therefore allowed to be something peculiar to true converts, being something which the devils and damned souls are and ever will be far from; and to which a mere work of the law, and convictions of conscience, however great and clear, will never bring men.

When sinners are the subjects of great convictions of conscience, and a remarkable work of the law, it is only transacting the business of the day of judgment in the conscience before-hand. God sits enthroned in the conscience, as at the last day he will sit enthroned in the clouds of heaven; the sinner is arraigned as it were at God's bar: and God appears in his awful greatness, as a just and holy, sin-bating, and sinrevenging God, as he will then. The sinner's iniquities are brought to light; his sins set in order before him; the hidden things of darkness, and the counsels of the heart are made manifest, as it will be then. Many witnesses do as it were rise up against the sinner under convictions of conscience, as they will against the wicked at the day of judgment; and the books are opened, particularly the book of God's strict and holy law is opened in the conscience, and its rules applied for the condemnation of the sinner; which is the book that will be opened at the day of judgment, as the grand rule to all such


« PreviousContinue »