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Causes of Self-Deception. If a man, however, breaks through all these impediments, and sets about the duty, yet does he not always attain a correct knowledge of his own state and character. Of those few who do inquire after marks of grace, and bestow some pains to learn the difference between the sound and the unsound Christian, many are deceived, and miscarry, through the following causes.
I. There is such darkness and confusion in the soul of man, especially of an unregenerate man, that he can scarcely tell what he does, or what is in him; for the heart of the sinner is like an obscure cave or dungeon, where there is but a little crevice of light, that a man must rather grope than see. No wonder if men mistake in searching such a heart, and so miscarry in judging of their state.
II. Most men are strangers to themselves, and are little taken up with observing the temper and motions of their own hearts. All their studies are employed without them, and they are no where less acquainted than in their own breasts.
III. Many engage in the work, forestalling the conclusion. They are resolved what to judge before they try. They use the duty but to strengthen their present opinion of themselves, and not to find out their true condition. Like a bribed judge, who examines each party as if he would judge uprightly, when he is resolved beforehand which way the cause shall go ; so do men examine their hearts.
IV. Most men are partial in their own cause. They are ready to think their great sins small, and their small sins to be none at all; their gifts of nature to be the work of grace, and their gifts of common grace to be the special grace of the saints. The first common excellency which they meet with in themselves, so
dazzles their eyes, that they are at once satisfied that all is well, and look no further.
V. Most men search but by halves. If the inquiry is not easily and quickly finished, they are discouraged, and leave it off. Few set to it, and follow it, as beseems them in a work of such moment.
He must “ give all diligence" that means to know whether he has made his “ calling and election sure.”
VI. Men often try themselves by false marks, not knowing wherein the truth of Christian grace consists; some looking beyond, and some short of the Scripture standard.
Lastly, Men frequently miscarry in this work, by setting about 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 miscarry in their inquiry.
PART III. Causes of Doubting among Christians. Because the comfort of a Christian so much consists in his assurance of God's special love, I will here proceed a little further in opening to you some other hindrances, which prevent true Christians from attaining comfortable certainty as to their state and character.
I. One common and great cause of doubting and uncertainty is, the weakness and small measure of our grace.
Most Christians content themselves with a small measure of grace, and do not follow on to spiritual strength and manhood. They believe so weakly, and love God so little, that they can scarcely discover whether they believe and love at all, like a man in a swoon, whose pulse and breathing are so weak and obscure, that it can hardly be perceived, whether they move at all, and consequently whether the man be alive or dead.
II. Christians look more at the causes of their present comfort or discomfort, than at their future happiness, and the way to attain it. They look after signs which may tell them what they are, more than at precepts which tell them what they should do. They are very desirous to know whether or not they are justified; but they do not think what course they should take to be justified, if they be not; as if their present case must needs be their everlasting case, and as if they be now unpardoned, there were no remedy.
III. Christians often mistake or confound assurance with the joy that sometimes accompanies it. When, therefore, they want the joy of assurance, they are as much cast down as if they wanted assurance itself. Dr. Sibbs says well, that as we cannot have grace, but by the work of the Spirit, so must there be a further act to make us know that we have that grace; and when we know we have grace, yet must there be a further act of the Spirit to give us comfort in that knowledge. Some knowledge or assurance of our regenerate and justified state the Spirit gives more ordinarily; but that sensible joy is more seldom and extraordinary. This these complaining souls understand not; and therefore though they cannot deny their willingness to have Christ, nor many other similar graces, which are signs of their justification and adoption, yet because they do not feel their spirits replenished with comforts, they throw away all, as if they had nothing.
IV. The trouble of poor souls is further increased, because they know not God's ordinary way of conveying assurance. When they hear that it is the free gift of the Spirit, they conceive themselves to be merely passive therein, and that they have nothing to do but to wait until God bestow it; not understanding, that though these comforts are spiritual, yet they are rational, and result from an apprehension of the excellency of God our chief good, and of our interest in him, and from keeping him in our frequent meditations. Now, these mistaken Christians lie waiting till the Spirit shall cast in these comforts into their hearts, while they sit still, and labour not to excite their own affections; nay, while they reason against the comforts which they wait for. Now, they must be taught to know, that the matter of their comfort is in the promises, and thence they must draw it as oft as they expect it; and that if they set themselves daily and diligently to meditate on the truth of the promises, and on the excellency contained in them, and on their own title thereto, they may, in this way, expect the Spirit's assistance for the raising of holy comfort in their souls.
V. Another cause of the trouble of many souls is, their expecting a greater measure of assurance than God usually bestows upon his people. Most think as long as they have any doubting, they have no assurance; they consider not that there are many degrees of evidence below perfect and infallible evidence. They should know, that, while they are here, they shall know but in part. They shall be imperfect in the knowledge of Scripture, which is their rule in trying; and imperfect in the knowledge of their own dark deceitful hearts. Some strangeness to God and themselves will still remain; some darkness will overspread their souls; some unbelief will be making head against their faith ; and some of their grievings of the Spirit will be grieving to themselves, and make
a breach in their peace and joy. Yet, as long as their faith is prevailing, and their assurance subdues their doubtings, though not quite expels them, they may walk in peace and comfort. But as long as they are resolved to lie down in sorrow till their assurance is perfect, their days on earth will be days of sorrow.
VI. Many are long in trouble, in consequence of taking up their comforts in the beginning upon unsound or uncertain grourds. This may be the case of a gracious soul, which has better grounds, and does not see them; and, when they grow to more ripeness of understanding, and come to find out the insufficiency of their former grounds of comfort, they cast away their comfort wholly, when they should only cast away their rotten props of it, and search for better with which to support it. It follows not that a man is unregenerate, because he judged himself regenerate upon wrong grounds; for perhaps he might have better grounds and not know them. Safety and comfort stand not always on the same bottom. Bad grounds do prove the assurance bad which was built upon them, but they do not always prove the state bad. Just as I have seen persons turn from truth to errors or heresies. They took up the truth in the beginning upon false or doubtful grounds; and then, when their grounds are overthrown or shaken, they think the doctrine is also overthrown; and so they let go both together; as if none had solid arguments, because they had not; or none could manage them better than they did.
VII. Another great and common cause of doubting nd discomfort, is, the secret indulgence of some known sin. When a man lives in some unwarrantable practice, and God has often touched him for it, and conscience is galled, and yet he perseveres in it,-it is no wonder if he be destitute of both assurance and comfort. One would think that a soul that lies under the fears of wrath, and is so tender as to tremble and complain, should be as tender of sinning, and scarcely adventure upon the appearance of evil; and yet sad experience tells us that it is frequently otherwise. I have known too many such, that would complain and yet sin ; and accuse themselves, and yet sin still; yea, and despair, and yet proceed in sinning: and all arguments and means could not keep them from the wilful committing of that sin again and again, which yet they themselves thought would prove their destruction.
This cherishing of sin hinders assurance in these four ways :
1. It abates the degree of our graces, and so makes them more indiscernible.
2. It obscures that which it destroys not; for it bears such sway, that grace is not in action, nor seen to stir, nor scarcely heard to speak for the noise of this corruption.
3. It puts out or dims the eye of the soul, that it