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this, but that holiness may be gradually progressive in your souls, till it come to perfection?
It may be said by some, that they neither find in them-selves, nor observe in others, that the work of sanctification is constantly progressive; they have found grace more vigorous in former days than of late. Hence the complaints among many of their leanness, deadness, and barrenness: O that it were with us as in our former days, in the days of our youth! I shall so far consider and remove this objection, as that the truth we have asserted may not suffer from it, nor those remain discouraged who do not come up to a full compliance with it. Observe then,
(1.) What grace in its own nature tends to, and what is the Spirit's ordinary procedure in sanctification, is one thing; but what may fall out by indisposition, irregularity, or any other obstruction in the subjects of this work, is another. Under the first consideration, the work is thriving and progressive; in the latter, the rule is liable to exceptions. A child who has a good constitution and proper food, will grow and thrive; but one who has inward obstructions and diseases, or falls and bruises, may be weak and thriftless. When we are regenerate, we are as new-born babes; and generally, if we have the sincere milk of the word,' we shall grow thereby:"" but if we give way to temptations, corruptions, negligence, or conformity to the world, is it any wonder that we are lifeless and thriftless? It suffices to confirm the truth asserted, that if the work of sanctification be not gradually carried on in every one where it is begun, it is generally from his own sinful negligence, indulgence to carnal lusts, or love of this present evil world.
(2.) It is one thing to have holiness really thriving in any soul, another for that soul to know it; and these may be separated.
But before I name the reasons hereof, I must premise a necessary caution, which is, That as this rule is proposed for the relief of such as are at a loss about their condition, those persons have no concern in it who may at any time, if they please, find how it is with them: for if they indulge any predominant lust, if they live in the neglect of any known duty, or the practice of any way of deceit; if they suffer the world to devour the choicest
increase of their souls, or formality to eat out the life of their duties, I have nothing to offer to them, to manifest that holiness may thrive though they discern it not; for undoubtedly it does not, but will decay more and more. Such are to be awakened with violence, like men falling into a deadly lethargy; to be snatched as brands out of the fire, lest their end should be darkness and sorrow for evermore.
But as to those who walk with God humbly and sincerely, several reasons may be given, to shew that holiness may be thriving in them, and yet be undiscerned by themselves; for it being the subject of so many gospel-promises, it is a proper object of faith, or a thing to be believed. The promises are God's explanation of the Covenant; and their accomplishment depends on God's faithfulness, and not on our sense of it. Where therefore we do not openly lay an obstruction against it, we may and ought to believe that they are fulfilled to us, though we are not continually sensible thereof. Again: It is our duty to grow in holiness; and what God requires of us, we are to believe that he will help us in, and does so, whatever be our present apprehension. And he who, on these grounds, can believe the growth of holiness in himself, though he have no sensible experience thereof, is, in my judgment, in as good, and perhaps in a more safe condition, than he who through the vigorous working of spiritual affections is most sensible of it; for it is certain that such a one does not wilfully obstruct the growth of holiness; nor is he in danger of a vain elation of mind, and carelessness thereon, as others may be; for when we live by faith, and not at all by sense, we shall be humble, and fear always such a one not finding in himself the evidence of what he most desires, will be continually careful that he drive it not further from him.
One reason of this difficulty is, that the work itself is secret and mysterious, as we said before; and therefore, as in some there is the reality and essence of holiness, who yet can find nothing of it in themselves, so it may in the same secret manner thrive, as to its degrees, in them who perceive it not. And hence, as it is in the growth of plants, though we plainly perceive that the thriving ones bave grown, yet we cannot discern their growing: and as the apostle tells us, that as the outward man perisheth,
so the inward man is renewed day by day. The perishing of the outward man, is by those natural decays whereby it continually tends to dissolution; yet those decays are sometimes almost insensible; we rather know that we are So is the inward enfeebled, than perceive when or how. man renewed by grace; it is by such secret means that its growth or decay is with difficulty perceived: and yet he who is negligent in this enquiry, walks at all peradventures with God; knows not whereabout he is in his way, whether he be nearer or further off from his journey's end than before. Write that man a fruitless and a thriftless Christian, who calls not himself to an account about his increase or decay in grace.
Again: Perplexing temptations or strong corruptions may so disturb the soul, that it may not be able to form a right judgment of its progress. A ship at sea may be so tossed by a storm, that the most skilful mariners may be unable to discern whether they make any way, while, perhaps, they are carried on with success and speed. In such cases, grace is engaged chiefly in opposition to its enemy, and so its thriving in other respects is not discernible. If it be asked, How may we know that grace thrives in opposition to corruptions and temptations? I say, That as great winds sometimes contribute to the fruitbearing of trees, so do corruptions and temptations to the fruitfulness of grace. The wind comes with violence on the tree, ruffles its boughs, beats off its buds, shakes its root, and threatens to destroy the whole but by this means the earth is loosed about it, and the tree gets deeper rooted, which renders it more fruitful, though it bring not forth fruit visibly till a good while after. In the assaults of temptation and corruption the soul is woefully ruffled; but in the mean time it secretly casts out its roots of humility and self-abasement in constant labouring of faith and love, after that grace whereby holiness really increases, and way is made for future visible fruitfulness; for God, who in infinite wisdom manages the whole life of grace by his Spirit, so changes the operations of it, that we cannot easily trace his paths. The work of grace, perhaps, has greatly evidenced itself in the affections; hence persons experience great readiness to, and great delight in holy duties; for affections are generally vigorous. in the youth of profession; but the Lord may see good
to turn the streams of grace into another channel. sees that the exercise of humility, godly sorrow, diligent conflicting with temptations, are more needful: he will therefore so order his dispensations, by afflictions, temptations, or occasions of life, that they shall have new work to do, and their grace be turned into a new exercise. Hereon, it may be, they find not the same sensible vigour in their affections as formerly; and hence are ready to conclude that grace is decayed, but yet the real work of sanctification is thriving and effectually carried on.
(3.) It is admitted that there are in many persons great decays in grace and holiness, and that for a long season. This the Scripture abundantly testifies, and the experience of our day sufficiently confirms. Shall we say then that there is no real holiness where such decays are found? God forbid! but we must examine how this comes to pass, seeing it is so contrary to the gradual progress of holiness, which we have asserted. Observe then, that these decays are occasional and preter-natural; they are diseases in our spiritual state, which it must not be measured by. Are you dead and cold in duties, backward to good works, careless of your hearts, addicted to the world? These things belong not to the state of sanctification, but sicknesses and diseases in your spiritual constitution; and though our growth in holiness be a work of the Holy Spirit, as the efficient cause of it, yet it is our own work also in a way of duty. He has prescribed to us what he expects from us, that the work may be regularly carried on to perfection, the omission of which will obstruct its progress; for if we indulge any actings of sin, especially when known and grown frequent, there will be an universal decay. A disease in any vital part of the body, weakens not that part alone, but vitiates the whole constitution; so any particular lust indulged, vitiates the whole spiritual health, and weakens the soul in all the duties of obedience. Besides, there are some things required of us, that holiness may thrive; such are the constant use of means and ordinances appointed to that end; a due observance of commanded duties in their season; with a readiness for the exercise of every special grace in its proper circumstances: now if we neglect these things, attending neither to means nor duties, nor to the
exercise of grace, we are not to wonder if we find ourselves decaying, yea, 'ready to die.'
Having vindicated this assertion, I shall add a short improvement of it.
If the work of holiness be such a progressive thriving work in its own nature; if the design of the Holy Spirit in the use of means be to increase it more and more, then is our diligence still to be continued to the same end and purpose. It is required that we give all diligence' to the increase of grace (2 Pet. i.);, and not only so, but that we shew the same diligence even to the end.' Heb. vi. 11. If we grow slack, or give over as to our duty, the work of sanctification will not be carried on in a way of grace. There are three grounds on which some neglect this duty.
1. A presumption that they are already perfect. This some pretend to in a proud and foolish conceit, destructive of the whole nature and duty of evangelical holiness, which on our part consists in our willing compliance with the work of grace gradually carried on to the measure appointed for us. If this be already attained, there is an end of all evangelical obedience, and men return again to the law to their ruin. (See Phil. iii. 12, 13, 14.) It is an excellent description of the nature of our obedience, which the apostle gives us in that place. All absolute perfection in this life is rejected as unattainable. The end proposed is blessedness and glory; and the way to it is by a continual following after, pressing towards, reaching out a constant progress by our utmost diligence.
2. A foolish supposition, that being in a state of grace, we need not now be so solicitous about exact holiness as we formerly were, when in suspense respecting our condition. But if this persuasion prevails in any person, and influences him, he has cause deeply to question whether he has yet any grace at all. This persuasion is not of him who hath called us." There is not a more effectual engine in the hand of Satan to keep us off from holiness, nor can any thought arise in the human heart more opposite to the nature of grace: for which reason the apostle rejects it with detestation. Rom. vi. 1, 2.
3. Weariness and despondency arising from opposition. Some find so much difficulty in, and opposition to holi-,