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Rules to be observed by them who would come to stability in obedience. The first rule. Christ the only infallible judge of our spiritual condition. How he judgeth, by his word and Spirit.
That which remaineth to be farther carried on, upon the principles laid down, is to persuade with souls more or less entangled in the depths of sin, to close with this forgiveness by believing, unto their peace and consolation. And because such persons are full of pleas and objections against themselves, I shall chiefly in what I have to say, endeavour to obviate these objections, so to encourage them unto believing, and bring them unto settlement. And herein whatever I have to offer flows naturally from the doctrine at large laid down and asserted. Yet I shall not in all particulars apply myself thereunto, but in general fix on those things that may tend to the establishment and consolation of both distressed and doubting souls. And I shall do what I purpose these two ways. First, I shall lay down such general rules as are necessary to be observed by all those who intend to come to gospel peace and comfort. And then, secondly, shall consider some such objections as seem to be most comprehensive of those special reasonings wherewith distressed persons do usually entangle themselves. I shall begin with general rules, which through the grace of Christ, and supples of his Spirit, may be of use unto believers in the condition under consideration.
Be not judges of your own condition, but let Christ judge. You are invited to take the comfort of this gospel truth, that “there is forgiveness with God.’ You say not for you; so said Jacob, “My way is hid from the Lord; Isa. xl. 47. and Sion said so too, chap. xlix. 14. ‘The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.” But did they make a right judgment of themselves? We find in those places that God was otherwise minded. This false judgment made by souls in their entanglements, of their own condition, is ofttimes a most unconquerable hinderance unto
the bettering of it. They fill themselves with thoughts of their own about it, and on them they dwell, instead of looking out after a remedy. Misgiving thoughts of their distempers, are commonly a great part of some men's sickness. Many diseases are apt to cloud the thoughts, and to cause misapprehensions concerning their own nature and danger. And these delusions are a real part of the person's sickness. Nature is no less impaired and weakened by them, the efficacy of remedies no less obstructed, than by any other real distemper. In such cases we persuade men to acquiesce in the judgment of their skilful physician, not always to 'be wasting themselves in and by their own tainted imaginations, and so despond upon their own mistakes; but to rest in what is informed them by him, who is acquainted with the causes and tendency of their indisposition better than themselves. It is ofttimes one part of the soul's depths to have false apprehensions of its condition. Sin is a madness, Eccles. ix. 3. so far as any one is under the power of it, he is under the power
of madness. Madness doth not sooner, nor more effectually discover itself in any way or thing, than in possessing them in whom it is, with strange conceits and apprehensions of themselves. So doth this madness of sin, according unto its degrees and prevalency. Hence some cry' Peace, peace, when sudden destruction is at hand;' 1 Thess. v. 3. It is that madness, under whose power they are, which gives them such groundless imaginations of themselves and their own condition. And some say they are lost for ever, when God is with them.
Do you then your duty, and let Christ judge of your state. Your concernment is too great to make it a reasonable demand, to commit the judgment of your condition to any other. When eternal welfare or woe are at the stake, for a man to renounce his own thoughts, to give up himself implicitly to the judgment of men fallible and liars like himself, is stupidity; but there is no danger of being deceived by the sentence of Christ. The truth is, whether we will or no, he will judge; and according as he determines so shall things be found at the last day. John v. 22. • The Father judgeth no man' (that is, immediately and in his own person) but hath committed all judgment unto the Son.' All judgment that respects eternity, whether it be to be passed in this world or,
in that to come, is committed unto him. Accordingly in that place he judgeth both of things and persons; things he determines upon, ver. 24. ·He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.' Let men say what they please, this sentence shall stand; faith and eternal life are inseparably conjoined. And so of persons, ver. 38. “You have not' (saith he to the Pharisees, who were much otherwise minded) * the word of God abiding in you.'
Take not then the office and prerogative of Christ out of his hand, by making a judgment upon your own reasonings and conclusions, and deductions of your estate and condition. You will find that he oftentimes, both on the one hand and on the other, determines quite contrary to what men judge of themselves; as also to what others judge of them. Some he judgeth to be in an evil condition, who are very confident that it is well with them, and who please themselves in the thoughts of many to the same purpose. And he judgeth the state of some to be good, who are diffident in themselves, and it may be despised by others. We may single out an example or two in each kind.
1. Laodicea's judgment of herself, and her spiritual state, we have, Rev. ii. 17. I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing.' A fair state it seems, blessed condition. She wants nothing that may contribute to her rest, peace, and reputation ; she is orthodox, and numerous, and flourishing; makes a fair profession, and all is well within. So she believes, so she reports of herself; wherein there is a secret reflection also upon others whom she despiseth. Let them shift as they list, I am thus as I say. But was it so with her indeed ? was that her true condition whereof she was so persuaded, as to professit unto all? Let Jesus Christ be heard to speak in this cause, let him come and judge. I will do so, saith he, ver. 14, • Thus saith the Amen, the faithful' and true Witness.' Coming to give sentence in a case of this importance, he gives himself this title, that we may know his word is to be acquiesced in. Every man, saith he, is a liar; their testimony is of no value, let them pronounce what they will of themselves, or of one another; I am the Amen,' and I will see
whose word shall stand, mine or theirs. What then saith he of Laodicea ? Thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.? O woful and sad disappointment! O dreadful surprisal! Ah, how many Laodicean churches have we in the world! How many professors are members of these churches ! Not to mention the generality of men that live under the means of grace, all which have good hopes of their eternal condition, whilst they are despised and abhorred by the only judge. Among professors themselves it is dreadful to think how many will be found light when they come to be weighed in this balance.
2. Again, he judgeth some to be in a good condition, be they themselves never so diffident; Rev. ii. 9. saith he to the church of Smyrna, • I know thy poverty.' Smyrna'was complaining that she was a poor, contemptible congregation, not fit for him to take any notice of. Well, saith he, fear not; I know thy poverty, whereof thou complainest; but thou art rich; that is my judgment, testimony, and sentence, concerning thee and thy condition. Such will be his judgment at the last day, when both those, on the one hand and the other, shall be surprised with his sentence : the one with joy at the riches of his grace; the other with terror at the severity of his justice, Matt. xxv. 37–39. 44, 45. This case is directly stated in both the places mentioned in the entrance of this discourse; as in that, for instance, Isa. xlix. 14, . Zion said, The Lord hath forsaken me.' That is Zion's judgment of herself, and her state and condition ; a sad report and conclusion. But doth Christ agree with Zion in this sentence? The next verse gives us his resolution of this matter : 'Can,' saith he, 'a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, she may forget, yet will not I forget thee.' The state of things, in truth, is as much otherwise as can possibly be thought or imagined.
To what purpose is it for men to be passing a judgment upon themselves, when there is no manner of certainty in their determinations; and when their proceeding thereon, will probably lead them to farther entanglements, if not to eternal ruin? The judging of souls, as to their spiritual state and condition, is the work of Jesus Christ; especially as to the end now under inquiry. Men may, men do, take many
ways to make a judgment of themselves. Some do it on slight and trivial conjectures; some on bold and wicked presumptions; some on desperate atheistical notions, as Deut. xxix. 17. some, with more sobriety and sense of eternity, lay down principles that may be good and true in themselves, from them they draw conclusions, arguing from one thing unto another, and in the end ofttimes either deceive themselves, or sit down no less in the dark, than they were at the entrance of their self-debate and examination. A man's judgment upon his own reasonings is seldom true, more seldom permanent. I speak not of selfexamination, with a due discussion of graces and actions, but of the final sentence as to state and condition, wherein the soul is to acquiesce. This belongs unto Christ.
Now, there are two ways whereby the Lord Jesus Christ gives forth his decretory sentence in this matter.
1. By his word. He determines, in the word of the gospel, of the state and condition of all men indefinitely. Each individual coming to that word, receives his own sentence and doom. He told the Jews that Moses accused them, John v. 45. His law accused and condemned the transgressors of it. And so doth he acquit every one that is discharged by the word of the gospel. And our selfjudging is but our receiving by faith his sentence in the word. His process herein we have recorded, Job xxxiii. 22, 23. His soul' (that is of the sinner). draweth near to the grave, and his life to the destroyers. This seems to be his state; it is so indeed, he is at the very brink of the grave and hell. What then? why, if there be with him or stand over him, 33312 78309 the angel interpreting, or the angel ,
one of a thousand,' what shall he do? He shall shew unto him his uprightness.' He shall give unto him a right determination of his interest in God, and of the state and frame of his heart towards God; whereupon God shall speak peace unto his soul, and deliver him from his entanglements, ver. 24. Jesus Christ hath in the word of the gospel stated the condition of every man. He tells us, that sinners, of what sort soever they are, that believe, are accepted with him, and shall receive forgiveness from God, that none shall be refused or cast off that come unto God by him. The soul of
the אחד מני אלפ of the covenant