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own weakness makes it necessary.' Your doubting sheweth that you are not sufficient to dispatch it satisfactorily yourselves : the question then is, what help a wiser man can give you? Why, he can more clearly open to you the true nature of grace, and the marks that are infallible, and the extent of the grace and tenor of the covenant; and he can help you how to trace your hearts, and observe the discoveries of good or evil in them; he can shew you your mistakes, and help you in the application, and tell you much of his own and others' experiences; and he can pass a strong conjecture upon your own case in particular, if he be one that knoweth the course of your lives, and is intimately acquainted with you; for sin and grace are both expressive, operative things, like life that ordinarily will stir, or fire that will be seen ; though their judgment cannot be infallible of you, and though for a while hypocrisy may hide you from the knowledge of another, yet ‘ficta non diu, &c.' ordinarily nature will be seen, and that which is within
you will shew itself; so that your familiar acquaintance that see your lives in private and in public, may pass a very strong conjecture at your state, whether you set yourselves indeed to please in sincerity God or no. Therefore, if possible, choose such a man to help you, as is 1. Able. 2. Faithful ; and 3. Well acquainted with you; and undervalue not his judgment.
Direct. viii. When you cannot attain to a certainty of your case, undervalue not and neglect not the comforts which a bare probability may afford you.' I know that a certainty in so weighty a case, should be earnestly desired, and endeavoured to the uttermost. But yet it is no small comfort which a likelihood or hopefulness may yield you. Husband and wife are uncertain every day, whether one of them may kill the other; and yet they can live comfortably together, because it is an unlikely thing; and though it be possible, it is not much to be feared; all the comforts of Christians dependeth not on their assurance; it is but few Christians in the world that reach to clear assurance ; all the Papists, Lutherans, and Arminians are without any certainty of their salvation; because they think it cannot be had ; and all those Jansenists, or Protestants that are of Augustine's judgment are without assurance of salvation,
for though they may have assurance of their justification and sanctification ; because their judgment is that the justified and sanctified (though not the elect) may fall away, And of those that hold the doctrine of perseverance, how few do we find, that can say, they are certain of their sincerity and salvation. Alas, not one of very many, And yet many thousands of these do live in some peace of conscience, and quietness, and comfort, in the hopefulness, and probabilities to which they have attained,
Direct, ix, “Resolve to be much in the great, delightful duties of thanksgiving and the praise of God; and to spend a considerable part (ordinarily) of all your prayers herein; especially to spend the Lord's day principally in these.' And thus you will have three great advantages ; 1. The very actings of love, and thanks, and joy, will help you to comfort in a nearer way, than arguments and self-examination will do ; even in a way of feeling, as the fire maketh you warm. 2. The custom of exercising those sweetest graces, will habituate your souls to it, and in time wear out the sadder impression. 3. God will most own you in those highest duties,
Direct. x. 'Mark well how far your doubtings do help or hinder you in your sanctification : So far as they turn your heart from God, and from the love and sweetness of a holy life, and unfit you for thankfulness and cheerful obedience; so far you may be sure, that satan is gratified by them, and God displeased, and therefore they should be resisted: but so far, as they keep you humble and obedient, and make you more tenderly afraid of sin, and quicken your desires of Christ and grace, so far God useth them for your benefit.' And therefore be not too impatient under them, but wait on God in the use of his means, and he will give his comforts in the fittest season. Many an one hath sweet assurance at his death, or in his sufferings for Christ when he needed it most, that was fain to ļive long before without it. Especially take care, 1. That you miss not of assurance, through your own neglect, 2. And that your doubtings work no ill effects, in turning away your hearts from God, or discouraging you in his service, and then you may take them as a trial of your patience, and they will certainly have a happy end.
Directions for Deelining or Backsliding Christians: and about
The case of Backsliders is so terrible, and yet the mistakes of many Christians so common in thinking unjustly, that they are backsliders, that this subject must be handled with the greater care. And when I have first given some Directions for the cure, I shall next give some to others for prevention, of so sad a state.
Direct. 1. · Understand well wherein backsliding doth consist, the sorts, and the degrees of it, that so you may the more certainly and exactly discern, whether it be indeed your case, or not. To this end, I shall here open to you, I. The several sorts of backsliders. II. The several steps or degrees of backsliding. III. The signs of it.
1. There are in general three sorts of backsliders. 1. Such as deeline from the truth by the error of their nnderstanding. 2. Such as turn from the goodness of God and holiness, by the corruption of their will and affections. 3. Such as turn from the obedience of God, and an upright conversation, by the sinfulness of their lives.
The first sort containeth in it, 1. Such as decline to infidelity from faith; and doubt of the truth of the Word of God. 2. Such as decline only to error, about the meaning of the Scriptures, though they doubt not of the truth of them. This corrupted judgment will presently corrupt both heart and life.
The second sort (backsliders in heart) containeth, 1. Such as only lose their affections to good; their complacency and desire; and lose their averseness and zeal against sin. 2. And such as lose the very resolution of the will also, and grow unresolved what to do, „if not resolved to do evil, and to omit that which is good.
The third sort (backsliders in life) comprehendeth, 1. Those that fall from duty, towards God or man.
2, And those that fall into positive sins, and turn to sensuality, in voluptuousness, worldliness, or pride.
II. Backsliders in judgment, do sometimes fall by slow degrees, and sometimes suddenly at once. Those that fall by degrees, do some of them begin in the failing of the_understanding; but most of them, begin at the failing or falseness of the heart, and the corrupted will corrupteth the understanding.
1. Those that fall by degrees through the failing of the understanding, are those simple souls that never were well grounded in the truth: and some of them reason themselves into error or unbelief; and others of them (which is most usual) are led into it by the cunning and diligence of sedu
And for the degrees, they grow first to doubt of some arguments which formerly seemed valid to them; and then they doubt of the truth itself; or else they hear some argument from a seducer, which, through their own weakness, they are unable to answer; and then they yield to it, as thinking that it is right, because they see not what is to be said against it; and know not what others know to the contrary, nor how easily another can confute it. And when once they are brought into a suspicion of one point, which they formerly held, they quickly suspect all the rest; and grow into a suspicion and disaffection to the persons whom they did before most highly value. And then they grow into a high esteem of the persons and party that seduced them; and think that they that are wiser in one thing, are wiser in the rest : and so are prepared to receive all the errors which follow that one, which they first received: and next they embody with the sect that seduced them; and separate from the sober, united part of the church : and so they grow to a zealous importunity for the increase of their party, and to lose their charity to those that are against their way; and to corrupt their morals, in thinking all dishonesty lawful, which seemeth necessary to promote the interest of their sect, which they think is the interest of the truth and of God. And at last, it is like they will grow weary of that sect, and hearken to another, and another; till in the end, they come to one of these periods; either to settle in Popery, as the easiest religion: and being taken with their pretence of antiquity, stability, unity, and universality; or else to turn to atheism or infidelity, and take all religion for a mere deceit; or else, (if they retained an ho
nest heart in their former wanderings) God sheweth them their folly, and bringeth them back to unity and charity, and maketh them see the vanity of those reasonings which before seduced them, and which once they thought were some spiritual, celestial light. This is the common course of error; when the understanding is the most notable
But sometimes a deceiver prevaileth with them on a sudden, by such false appearances of truth which they are unable to confute. But still an ill-prepared, unfurnished mind is the chiefest cause.
2. But those whose judgments are conquered by the perverse inclination of their wills, are usually carnal, worldly hypocrites, who never conquered the fleshly mind and interest, nor overcame the world, nor ever were acquainted with the heavenly nature and life, nor with the power of divine love; and these having made a change of their profession, through the mere conviction of their understandings, and benefit of education or government, or the advantages of religion in the country where they live, without a renewed, holy heart, the bias of their hearts doth easily prevail against the light of their understandings: and because they would fain have those doctrines to be true, which save them from sufferings, or give them liberty for a fleshly, ambitious, worldly life, therefore they do by degrees prevail with their understandings to receive them.
11. Backsliders in heart, do fall by divers degrees and means : for satan's methods are not always the same. Some of them fall through the corruption of their judgments; for every error hath much influence on the heart. Some are tempted suddenly into some gross or sensual sin; and so the errors of their lives call away their hearts from God. Not but that some sin of the heart or will, doth still go first, but yet the extraordinary declension and pravity of the heart, may sometimes be caused by the errors of the judgment, or the life. But sometimes the beginning and progress is almost observable in the appetite and will itself: and here the inclining to evil, (that is, to sensual or carnal good) and the declining from true, spiritual good, do almost always go together. And it is most usually by this method, and by these degrees.
1. The devil usually beginneth with the fantasy and ap