Assurance of an Interest in Christ
Copyright © 1997 Naphtali Press
Of an assurance of an interest in Christ by the marks and fruits of sanctification, and, namely, by love to the brethren; also how this agrees with, or differs from, assurance by the testimony of the Spirit? And whether there can be any well grounded assurance without marks of grace?
It is a right, a safe, a sure way to seek after and to enjoy assurance of our interest in Christ, and in the covenant of grace, by the marks and fruits of sanctification: Which (before I come to the proof of it), that it may not be mistaken, but understood aright, take these three cautions:
1. Our best marks can contribute nothing to our justification, but only to our consolation; cannot avail to peace with God, but to peace with ourselves. Gracious marks can prove our justification and peace with God, but cannot be instrumental towards it; that is proper to faith. Faith cannot lodge in the soul alone, and without other graces; yet faith alone justifies before God.
2. Beware that marks of grace do not lead us from Christ, or make us look upon ourselves as anything at all out of Christ. Thou barest not the root, but the root bears thee. Christ is made of God unto us sanctification as well as righteousness. Your very inherent grace and sanctification is in Christ, as light in the sun, as water in the fountain, as sap in the root, as money in the treasury. It is thine only by irradiation, affluence, diffusion, and disbursement from Jesus Christ. It is Christ’s by propriety, thine only by participation. It is your union with Christ which conveys the habits of grace to your soul. It is your communion with Christ which stirs up, actuates, and puts forth those habits into holy duties and operations. It is no acceptable duty, no good fruit, which flows not from the inward acting and exercising of grace in the soul. It is no right acting of grace in the soul which flows not from habitual grace and a new nature. It is no new nature which flows not from Christ.
3. All your marks will leave you in the dark if the Spirit of grace does not open your eyes that you may know the things which are freely given you of God. Hagar could not see the well, though she was beside it, till her eyes were opened. Marks of grace are useless, indiscernible, unsatisfactory to the deserted and overclouded soul.
These cautions being in our eye, that we may not separate our marks, either from the free grace of God, or from Christ, or from the Spirit, I proceed to the proof of that point which I propounded in the beginning.
1. It may be abundantly proved form these texts, Ps. 17:3; 119:6; 2 Cor. 1:12; 1 John 1:6-7, 2:3, 3:9-10, 14.
2. Our passing from the state of nature and wrath into the state of grace, and to be in Christ, is compared in Scripture to such things as are most discernible and perceptible by their proper marks.1 It is called a passing from death to life, from darkness to light, from being far off to being near, etc., all which things are known by manifest and certain evidences. The Spirit of grace is compared to fire, water, wind, which are known by sensible signs. Conversion is a returning of one who had turned away, and is not returning discernible by certain tokens? The new creature is a good tree, and is not a good tree known by good fruits (Matt. 7:17-18)?
3. Both in philosophy and divinity, yea, in common sense, it is allowed to reason from the effects to the causes: Here is burning, therefore here is fire; here is the blossoming of trees and flowers, therefore it is spring, and the sun is turning again in his course; here is perfect daylight, therefore the sun is risen; here is good fruit growing, therefore here is a good tree. It is a consequence no less sure and infallible, here is unfeigned love to the brethren, therefore here is regeneration; here are spiritual motions, affections, desires, acts and operations, therefore here is spiritual life.
4. The marks of grace have so much evidence in them as forms in others of the saints and servants of God a well grounded judgment, yea, persuasion of charity, that those in whom they behold these marks are in the state of grace and regeneration. If they could see into the hearts of others, to be sure of the sincerity and soundness of their graces, they could have a judgment of certainty concerning them; but his they cannot, for who knows the things of a man save the spirit of a man which is in him? Sure[ly] a saint may know more of himself that another saint can know of him, for he is conscious to the sincerity of his own heart in those things whereof another saint sees but the outside; and unless one will say, that a saint can know no more of himself by marks than another saint can know of him by the same marks, it must needs be yielded, that a saint may certainly and assuredly know himself by the marks of grace which are in him.
5. Without a trial by marks we cannot distinguish between a well-grounded and an ill-grounded assurance, between a true and a false peace, between the consolation of the Spirit of God and a delusion. How many times does a soul take Satan for Samuel, and how shall the soul in such a case be undeceived without a trial by marks? But it may be objected that this remedy may prove, and does often prove, no remedy; for may not Satan deceive the soul in the way of marks, as well as without it? Can he not deceive the soul syllogistically by false reasonings, as well as positively by false suggestions? I answer, no doubt he can, and often does, yet the mistaking of marks may be rectified in the children of God. Wisdom is justified of her children; but the rejecting and slighting of all marks cannot be rectified, but is a certain and unavoidable snare to the soul. If marks of grace become snares to the reprobate, that proves nothing against the use of marks. The word of God is a snare and a gin2 to the reprobate, that they may go and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken, yet the word is in itself the power of God to salvation; so the way of marks is a sure and safe way in itself, and to every well-informed conscience. When any conscience, through error or presumption, mistakes the mark, that is the fault of the person, not of the way of marks, and the personal error may be helped by personal light and information, if the party will receive it. Whereas, to make no trial by marks, and to trust an inward testimony, under the notion of the Holy Ghost’s testimony, when it is without the least evidence of any true gracious mark, this way (of its own nature, and intrinsically, or in itself) is a deluding and ensnaring of the conscience.
QUESTION. But it may be asked, and it is a question worthy to be looked into (though I must confess I have not read it, nor heard it handled before), “How does this assurance by marks agree with, or differ from assurance by the testimony of the Holy Ghost?” “May the soul have assurance either way, or must there be a concurrence of both (for I suppose they are not one and the same thing) to make up the assurance?”
ANSWER. For answer whereunto I shall first of all distinguish a twofold certainty, even in reference to the mind of man, or in his conscience (for I speak not here de certitudine entis, but mentis):3 the one may be called asphalia, when the conscience is in tuto [in safety], may be secure; needs not fear and be troubled. The Grecians have used the word asphalia when they were speaking of giving security and assurance by safe conducts, or by pledges, or by sureties, or the like.4 The other is Plerophoria, a full persuasion, when the soul does not only steer a right and safe course, and needs not fear danger, but sails before the wind, and with all its sails full. So there is answerably a double uncertainty, the one may be called aporia when a man is in himself perplexed and difficulted, and not without cause, having no grounds of assurance; when a man does doubt and hesitate concerning a conclusion, because he has no reasons nor arguments to prove it; when a man is in a wilderness where he can have no way, or shut up where he can have no safe escaping. The other is epoxi, which is a doubting that arises not from want of arguments, or from the inextricable difficulty of the grounds, but from a disease of the mind, which makes it suspend or retain its assent, even when it has sufficient grounds upon which it may be assured. Now it is the evidence of signs of marks of grace which gives that first kind of certainty, but it is the testimony of the Spirit of the Lord which gives the second kind of certainty, and removes the second kind of uncertainty. Take two or three similes for illustration.
The Scripture is known to be indeed the word of God, by the beams of divine authority which it has in itself, and by certain distinguishing characters, which do infallibly prove it to be the word of God; such as the heavenliness of the matter; the majesty of the style; the irresistible power over the conscience; the general scope, to abase man and to exalt God; nothing driven at but God’s glory and man’s salvation; the extraordinary holiness of the penmen of the Holy Ghost, without respect to any particular interests of their own, or of others of their nearest relations (which is manifest by their writings); the supernatural mysteries revealed therein, which could never have entered into the reason of men; the marvelous consent of all parts and passages (though written by divers and several penmen), even where there is some appearance of difference; the fulfilling of prophecies; the miracles wrought by Christ, by the prophets and apostles; the conservation of the Scriptures against the malice of Satan and fury of persecutors; these, and the like, are characters and marks which evidence the Scriptures to be the word of God; yet all these cannot beget in the soul a full persuasion of faith that the Scriptures are the word of God; this persuasion is from the Holy Ghost in our hearts. And it has been the common resolution of sound protestant writers (though now called in question by the sceptics of this age)5 that these arguments and infallible characters in the Scripture itself, which most certainly prove it to be the word of God, cannot produce a certainty of persuasion in our hearts, but this is done by the Spirit of God with us, according to these scriptures, 1 Cor. 2:10-15; 1 Thess. 1:5; 1 John 2:27; 5:6-8, 10; John 6:45.
In like manner a scholar, or a young disputant, may argue and dispute (be it in philosophy or divinity) upon very right and sure principles, yet peradventure not without great fear and doubting in his own thoughts, till he be put out of that fear by the approbation and testimony of his learned master who presides in the dispute. The evidence of good marks, while it is opened unto us, may make our hearts to burn within us, as those disciples said who were going to Emmaus, but yet our eyes are held (as it was with them) that we do not know Christ in us, or talking with us, until our eyes are opened by the Spirit. No doubt they had much light breaking in upon their understandings while Christ expounded unto them the Scriptures by the way, and this light was with life and heat in their hearts; but after they knew Christ in braking of bread, then, and not till then, came the fulness of persuasion, and then they could say, The Lord is risen indeed (Luke 24). Our inward evidence of graces, or use of signs, may bring the children to the birth (I mean in point of assurance), but it is the evidence of the Spirit of God which gives strength to come fourth. Without this evidence of the Spirit of God the soul does but grope after a full assurance, as it were in the dark; but when the Holy Ghost comes to do the office of a comforter, then there is light and liberty.
Our assurance of justification, adoption, grace and salvation, is virtually in a syllogistical way: Whoever believes on the Son of God shall not perish, but have life everlasting. But I believe on the Son of God; therefore, etc. Whoever judge themselves shall not be judged of the Lord. But I judge myself; therefore, etc. Whosoever loves the brethren has passed from death to life. But I love the brethren; therefore, etc. In these or the like proofs it is the Spirit of grace which gives us the right understanding and firm belief to the proposition. As for the assumption which has in it the evidence of graces, it is made good by a twofold testimony; the testimony of our consciences,(2 Cor. 1:12; 1 John 3:19-21), and the testimony of the Spirit itself bearing witness together with our consciences. And although both propositions are made good, yet we are so slow of heart to believe, that we cannot, without the special help of the Comforter, the Holy Ghost, freely, boldly, joyfully, and with a firm persuasion, infer the conclusion as a most certain truth. So that, in the business of assurance and full persuasion, the evidence of graces, and the testimony of the Spirit, are two concurrent causes or helps, both of them necessary without the evidence of graces. It is not a safe nor a well-grounded assurance without the testimony of the Spirit; it is not a plerophory of full assurance.
There were two evidences of purchase in use among the Jews, one sealed, another open (Jer. 32:11). Which custom, Jerome says, was continued till his time. The evidence of the Spirit is like that which was sealed; the evidence of marks like that which was open. Therefore let no man divide the things which God has joined together. See them joined in three texts of Scripture: Rom. 8:16 Neither our spirit alone, nor the Spirit of the Lord alone, bears witness that we are the children of God, but both these together bear witness of this thing: The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit. 1 Cor. 2:10,12, we read that the Spirit reveals unto us, and makes us to know the things which are freely given to us of God. But withal (v. 13), there is a comparing spiritual things with spiritual, and so among other things compared together, there is a comparing of spiritual marks with a spiritual state, of spiritual fruit with a spiritual tree, etc. 1 John :6 The Spirit’s witnessing is joined with the witnessing of the water and blood, that is, with the evidence of grace, the evidence of justification, and a pacified conscience, sprinkled with the blood of Christ and purged from the guilt of sin; also the evidence of sanctification and a pure conscience, purged from the inherent filth and stain of corruption; the former of these is the testimony of the blood, the latter is the testimony of the water, and both these not enough (as to the point of assurance) without the testimony of the Spirit, nor is it enough without them.
In the next place, let us take a trial of this way of assurance so far as concerns the evidence of graces, so much opposed by the Antinomians. Let us take the notable evidence (1 John 3:14). And now hear the Antinomian objections against this assurance from the evidence of love to the brethren.
It is objected,6 that a soul must be exceedingly puzzled with this mark of love to the brethren, before it can clear the case that it belongs to Christ; for if you will try yourself by this mark, you must know, first, what it is to love the brethren; secondly, that they are the brethren whom you love. The nature of love is described, 1 cor. 13:4-7: Charity (or love) suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up. Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Come, now, and bring your hearts to these particulars in your examination: Is there not envying in me at all towards the brethren? Is there no thinking evil of any of the brethren? Is there no seeking of myself, or my own good, in my love to them? Is there a bearing all things for their sakes? Is there no being puffed up, or vaunting above the brethren? Is there no thinking better of myself than of them? So that a soul must attain to a mighty high measure of sanctification and victory over a man’s self, before it can reach to this, to say, I love the brethren.
But suppose you find all this love in yourselves, do you know they are the brethren you love? You know the brotherhood consists in being united unto Christ, that is an invisible thing, none can know it but God only; no man can say such an one is a brother. And if you say, though I am not certain that he is a brother, yet I love him under the notion of a brother, to this it is replied, “Take all the sects in the world, they will love their own sects as brethren:” and, after a description of the Antinomians, it is added, “These are the brethren, do you love these men? Oh, there are many that go by signs and marks that cannot endure the brethren; they go with them under the name of libertines.”
I have now the objection before me, as full and strong as one of the best gifted Antinomians of this age could make it. For answer whereunto I will demonstrate these three things: I. That this objection destroys as much, and more, their own exposition of this text in 1 John 3:14. II. That the Antinomian way of removing scruples and doubts of conscience, and settling a soul in peace and assurance, is a most inextricable labyrinth, and lays knots faster upon the conscience, instead of loosing them. III. That this way of assurance, by the mark of love to the brethren, is a sure and safe way, and has no such inextricableness in it as is here objected.
I. I say, their objection militates as strongly, yea much more strongly, against their own interpretation of my text; for the same Antinomian, in that same sermon, and others of that way, understand the scope of this text to be for comforting the brethren against the disesteem the world had of them. The world hates them, (v. 13); but we know, says he, that we are translated from death to life, because we love the brethren; that is, whatever the world judges of us, we perceive and know one another by this mark, that we love the brethren. In short, they say, “This seems rather to be a mark how my brother may know me, than that by which I should know myself,” which interpretation, how ill-grounded it is, and how inconsistent with verses 18-21, who sees not. Only I now observe, that they cast down what [they] themselves build; for if I cannot know myself by the inside of love, much less can my brother know me by the outside of love; and if I cannot have any solid or safe comfort from this, that I love the brethren, how much less can this comfort me, that others judge me to be a lover of the brethren? And how do I know them to be the brethren who judge so of me? For (by their rule) no man can say such an one is a brother, so that they do but tie themselves with their own knots, and must therefore either quit their sense of the text and take ours, or else hold that this text has no comfort at all in it; which yet is most full of comfort, and sweet as the honey and the honeycomb.
II. But, will you see these men falling yet more foully in the ditch they have digged for others? While they object so much against a believer’s examining or assuring his conscience by fruits of sanctification, sincerity of heart, hatred of sin, respect to all the commandments, love to the brethren; while they tell us that none of these can be sure evidences to the soul; and while they pretend to show other soul-satisfying evidences, which can resolve, quiet, comfort, and assure the conscience, they do but more and more lead the soul into as labyrinth, and make the spirits of men to wander from mountain to hill, and to forget their resting-place.7
I might here take notice of the six remedies against doubting, which one of them offers as an antidote and preservative against all objections whatsoever, yet all the six put together cannot resolve nor clear the conscience in the point of a personal or particular interest in Christ. I hear much (will the perplexed soul say) of the nature of faith, of free justification, of the things sealed in baptism, etc.; but I cannot see that I have any interest for my part in these things. Not to insist upon these six remedies, which are indeed most insufficient as to this point, my present work shall be to speak unto those personal and particular evidences of an interest in Christ, which are held forth by their chief writers. Do but observe their way, and you shall see that either they fall in at last into our way of gracious marks and qualifications, or otherwise leave the conscience much more perplexed and unsatisfied than they found it.
They tell us of two evidences, a revealing evidence and a receiving evidence; that by the Spirit’s testimony, this by faith:8 The revealing evidence of interest in the privileges of Christ, which will put an end to all objections, is the voice of the Spirit of God to a man’s own spirit; This is the great evidence indeed, and the evidence which at last does determine the question, and put an end to all objections. Well, but does the Spirit of God give testimony to the soul any otherwise than according to the word of God? No, says the same writer,9 by no means; for it is most certainly true, that every voice in man speaking peace, being contrary to the word of grace, that voice is not the voice of the Spirit of the Lord, it is the voice of the spirit of delusion. Immediately he moves this doubt: But how shall I know that this voice, though it be according to the word of grace, is indeed the voice of the Spirit of the Lord, and be satisfied that it is so? He might have moved this doubt, which is greater, How shall I know that this voice or this testimony does indeed speak according to the word, or whether it speak contrary to the word, and so be the voice of the spirit of delusion? Peradventure he had found it difficult, and even impossible, to answer this doubt, without making use of and having recourse unto the way of signs or marks, such as the word holds forth: and this agrees to that twofold joint witnessing, (Rom. 8:16).
The Spirit of God is not simply martur, a witness, but summartur, qui simul testimonium dicit, he bears witness not only to, but with our spirit; that is, with our conscience. So that if the witness of our conscience is blank, and can testify nothing of sincerity, hatred of sin, love to the brethren, or the like, then the Spirit of God witnesses no peace nor comfort to that soul; and the voice which speaks peace to a person who has no gracious mark of qualification in him, does not speak according to the word, but contrary to the word, and is therefore a spirit of delusion. I shall not contend about the precedence or order between these two testimonies in the soul, so that we hold them together, and do not separate them in our assuring or comforting of our hearts before God.
And here I must take notice of another passage, where he whose principles I now examine, says, I do not determine peremptorily that a man cannot, by way of evidence, receive any comfort from his sanctification,10 which he thus clears: The Spirit of the Lord must first reveal the gracious mind of the Lord to our spirits, and give to us faith to receive that testimony of the Spirit, and to sit down as satisfied with his testimony, before ever any work of sanctification can possibly give any evidence; but when the testimony of the Spirit of the Lord is received by faith, and the soul sits down satisfied with that testimony of the Lord, then also all the gifts of God’s Spirit do bear witness together with the Spirit of the Lord, and the faith of a believer. Surely such a testimony or voice in the soul, as the soul sits down satisfied with, before ever any work of sanctification can possibly give any evidence, is not an evidence according to the word, but contrary to the word, and therefore not the revealing evidence of the Spirit of God; so that, in this, I must needs dissent from him, for he casts the soul upon a most dangerous precipice; neither is the danger helped, but rather increased, by that posterior evidence, or after-comfort of sanctification, which he speaks of; for the soul being before set down, satisfied with the testimony of the Spirit of the Lord, and faith receiving that testimony (so he supposes), it cannot now examine whether its sanctification is sound or not sound, whether its graces are common or special, seeming or real. It implies a contradiction if I say that I am assured, by the evidence of the Spirit of God, and by the evidence of faith, that I am in Christ and in covenant with God, and that notwithstanding I sit down satisfied with this assurance, yet I am not sure of the soundness of my sanctification; therefore, to put the soul upon a looking after the evidence of graces; and the comfort of sanctification, when the soul is beforehand fully assured and satisfied against all objections and doubtings, is not only to lay no weight at all upon these marks of sanctification, in the point of resolving or clearing the conscience, but it is much worse than doing so, it is a confirming or strengthening of the soul in such a testimony or assurance, as it has settled upon contrary to the Scripture. And here is a great difference between these Antinomian principles and ours. We hold the assurance or evidence of marks to be privative, they yield no more but that it is at most cumulative to the evidence of the Spirit of God and of faith. For my part, I dare not think otherwise, but that person is deluded who thinks himself fully assured of his interest in Christ by the voice of the Spirit of the Lord, and by the evidenced of faith, when, in the meantime, his conscience cannot bear him witness of the least mark of true grace or sanctification in him; and I must needs hold, that whatsoever voice in man, speaking peace to him, is antecedent unto, and separated or disjoined from, all or any evidence of the marks of true (although very imperfect) sanctification, is not the voice of the Spirit of the Lord, neither speaks according, but contrary, to the written word of God.
I heartily yield that the Spirit of the Lord is a Spirit of revelation, and it is by the Spirit of God that we know the things which are freely given us of God, so that without the Comforter, the Holy Ghost himself, bearing witness with our spirit, all our marks cannot give us a plerophory or comfortable assurance; but this I say, that which we have seen described by the Antinomians as the testimony of the Spirit of the Lord, is a very unsafe and unsure evidence, and speaks beside, yea, contrary, to the written word. The word speaks no peace to the wicked, to the ungodly, to hypocrites, to moral Christians, to the presumptuous, to the self-confident, to the unmortified carnal professors, to temporary believers. Christ and his benefits are indeed offered and held forth unto all that are in the church, and all called upon to come unto Christ, that they may have life in him, and whosoever comes shall not be cast out; this is certain. But yet the word speaks no peace nor assurance, save to the humble and contrite; to those that tremble at his word; to those that are convinced of sin; to those that do not regard iniquity in their hearts; but hate sin with sincere hatred; to those that believe on the Son of God, that love the brethren, etc. Now, therefore, the Spirit of the Lord, which speaks not to the soul but according to the word of grace (as is confessed), does not speak comfort or assurance to any others but these only; and if a man would know certainly whether the voice or testimony which speaks to his spirit is a delusion or not, he must [go] to the law and the testimony, and search whether it speaks according to this word. It is granted to us, that if the voice which speaks peace in man, is not according to the written word of God, it is not the Spirit of the Lord; but withal it is cautiously declined by these men, that the voice which speaks in the soul be tried by the written word.
They tell us:11 It is not the written word that makes us believe the Spirit, but it is the Spirit that makes us give credit to the word: That as, in all arts and sciences, there are some principles beyond which there must be no inquiry, so also in divine things. Is there anything in the word of better credit, or that may rather be believed with men than the Spirit himself? Nay, can any believe but by this Spirit? If not, then nothing else is able satisfyingly to bear witness to the Spirit but itself. This is as if we should receive the testimony of the Spirit upon the credit of some other thing.
1. Whereunto I answer, it is to be remembered the question is not, whether the word of the Lord can satisfy or pacify a sinner’s conscience without the Spirit; for we say plainly, that as the best marks of grace, so the richest and sweetest promises and comforts of the word, cannot make the soul sit down satisfied, till the Spirit of the Lord himself speak peace and comfort within us. Whence it was that after Nathan had said to David, in the name of the Lord, “The Lord has put away thy sin, thou shall not die,” yet even then David prayed: Make me to have joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free Spirit (Ps. 51:8,12, with 2 Sam. 12:13). But it is another which is here in question, for clearing whereof observe, that the efficient cause, or revealing evidence, which makes us believe and be assured, is one thing, the objectum formale fidei, or that for which we believe and are assured, is another thing. In human sciences, a teacher is necessary to a young student, yet the student does not believe the conclusions because his teacher teaches him so, but because these conclusions follow necessarily from the known and received principles of the sciences; and although he had never understood either the principles or the conclusions without the help of a teacher, yet he were an ill scholar who cannot give an account of his knowledge from demonstration, but only from this, that he was taught so.
In seeking a legal assurance or security we consult our lawyers, who peradventure will give us light and knowledge of that which we little imagined; yet a man cannot build a well-grounded assurance, nor be secure, because of the testimony of lawyers, but because of the deeds themselves, charters, contracts, or the like. So we cannot be assured of our interest in Christ without the work of the Holy Ghost, and his revealing evidence in our hearts; yet the ground and reason of our assurance, or that for which we are assured, is not his act of revealing, but the truth of the thing itself which he does reveal unto us from the word of God.
2. This is not to receive the testimony of the Spirit upon the credit of some other thing, for the Spirit that speaks in the word is not another thing from the Spirit that speaks in our hearts, and says we are the children of God. When we receive the testimony or evidence in our hearts upon the credit of the word, we receive it upon the Holy Ghost’s own credit, comparing spiritual things with spiritual, as the Apostle says. The holy Scripture is called a more sure word than that voice of God which came from heaven concerning his well-beloved Son (2 Pet. 1:17-19), and so by parity of reason, if not a fortiori, the written word of God is surer than any voice which can speak in the soul of a man, and an inward testimony may sooner deceive us than the written word can; which being so, we may and ought to try the voice which speaks in the soul by the voice of the Lord which speaks in the Scripture. If it agree not, then we have not lost, but have made a right discovery, and found out a depth of Satan, and so gained by the trial. If it do agree, so likewise we are gainers, being confirmed in the assurance, not upon the testimony of another, but upon the surest and best-known testimony, of the holy Ghost himself.
3. If these things are not admitted, and if the Antinomian argument, which now I speak to, stands good, then it shall be easy for any deluded person to repel the most searching convictions which can be offered to him from Scripture; for he shall still think within himself (thought unhumbled and unregenerate), “It is the voice of the Spirit of the Lord which speaks peace to my soul, and this voice I know is according to the word, because I am assured by the same Spirit that it is indeed according to the word; and other evidence I will not look after, because I am to receive the testimony of the Spirit upon his own credit, and not upon the credit of some other thing. The voice of the Spirit which speaks in my soul is that beyond which there must be no inquiry.” I ask now, how shall the Antinomians convince such an one from Scripture? Nay, how can they choose but (according to their principles) confirm him in his delusory, imaginary assurance?
4. The very same Antinomian author, who speaks of the testimony of the Spirit of God in the soul, as that beyond which there must be no inquiry, and which puts an end to all objections, even he himself does, by and by, tell us of aliquid ultra, and put the soul upon a further inquiry, which, as I said before, shall either resolve into our way of assurance by marks, or otherwise leave the soul overclouded and more in the dark than at the beginning.
And so I come to his second evidence, which he calls the receiving evidence: Though the Spirit of the Lord (says he12 ) do reveal the mind of the Lord to men, yet they are not fully resolved concerning this mind of the Lord to their own spirits till, by faith, they do receive it. Now, till men do receive this testimony, and believe it, they are never resolved; but when men do receive it and believe it, that it is a true testimony, then they sit down satisfied. Again,13 Faith in an evidence, as it does take possession of that which the Spirit of the Lord reveals, and manifests and gives to a person. The Spirit, indeed, makes the title good, but faith makes good the entry and possession, and so clears the title to us, though good in itself before. Is there a voice behind thee, or within thee, saying particularly to thee in thyself, Thy sins are forgiven thee? Do you see this voice agree with the word of grace? If you do receive the testimony of the Spirit according to that word; if you do indeed receive it, here is your evidence.
Thereafter he moves this objection; But you will say, if there be not fruits of faith following, that faith is a dead faith, and therefore there must be something to evidence with it.14 For answer whereunto, first, he reflects this as a great indignity to faith. If faith be not able of itself to give testimony, or must not be credited when it does give testimony, except something will come and testify for it, to give credit unto it.
Next he answers thus: That which has the whole essence of faith is not a dead, but a living faith. Now the whole essence of faith is nothing else but the echo of the heart answering the foregoing voice of the Spirit and word of grace; Thy sins are forgiven thee, saith the Spirit and word of grace; My sins are forgiven me, saith faith; If, therefore, the echo to the voice of the Spirit and word of grace be the essence, nay, be the whole essence of believing, this is certain, where there is receiving or believing there cannot be a dead faith.
Now, behold him at a loss, all resolves into this issue, no assurance by the testimony of the Spirit and word of grace unless this testimony be received by faith, no entry and possession, no clearing of the title to the soul, no resolution or satisfaction to the conscience till it believes. But then, while the soul examines itself, whether it have a true lively faith, or only a dead faith, he dare not admit the trial of faith by the fruits of it; as if it were an indignity to the tree to be known by the fruit, or to the fire to be known by the heat. Faith purifies the heart, says the Scripture. Faith works by love. Faith shows itself by works. This Antinomian durst not adventure upon this trial by the Scripture marks of faith; yea, to avoid this, he runs into a great and dangerous error, that the whole essence of faith is nothing else but the echo of the heart answering the voice of the Spirit and saying, My sins are forgiven me; as if there were no faith where there is no assurance of the forgiveness of sins, and as if faith were quite lost as often and as long as the soul cannot say with assurance, My sins are forgiven me.
Again, may there not be a false echo in the heart? May not a temporary believer, who receives the word of grace with joy, say within himself, My sins are forgiven me? Where is the clearing of the conscience now? Is it in that last word, Where there is receiving or believing there cannot be a dead faith? But how shall I know that there is indeed a receiving and believing?
The essence of faith is the receiving of Christ in the word of grace, and a resting upon him for righteousness and life. Now another Antinomian tells us,15 that to receive Christ and his benefits truly, does necessarily include these four particular points: 1. To know our lost state by the least sin, our misery without Christ, and what need we have of him. 2. To see the excellency and worth of Christ and his benefits. 3. A taking and having of Christ and his benefits to one’s own self in particular. 4. To be filled with great joy and thankful zeal.
If these things be so, then, I am sure, many do imagine they have received Christ and his benefits by faith who have not truly and really received him; so that the soul (searching itself in this point, whether have I any more than a dead faith, or a counterfeit faith?) dare not acquiesce nor sit down satisfied with that resolution, Where there is receiving or believing there cannot be a dead faith. For the soul must still inquire, “Whether is my receiving or believing true, real, sound, lively, and such as cannot agree to a dead faith?” The same author whom I last cited, where he puts a difference between a counterfeit faith and a true faith, says,16 that the counterfeit faith neither renews nor changes the heart; it makes not a new man, but leaves him in the vanity of his former opinion and conversation. Whence I infer that he who will thoroughly and rightly examine himself in this particular, “Have I true faith, yea or no?” must needs (before he have a solid resolution) be put upon this further inquiry, “Is there any heart-renewing or heart-changing work in me? or am I still in the vanity of may former opinion and conversation, yea or no?”
I shall now, after all this, appeal to any tender conscience, which is sadly and seriously searching itself, whether it be in the faith, whether Christ be in the soul and the soul in Christ. Let any poor wearied soul, which is longing and seeking after rest, refreshment, ease, peace, comfort and assurance, judge and say whether it can possibly, or dare, sit down satisfied with the Antinomian way of assurance, before largely declared, which yet has been held forth by those of that stamp as the only way to satisfy and assure the conscience, and to put an end to all objections. I begin to hear, as it were sounding in mine ears, the sad lamentation of a poor soul, which has gone along with their way of comfort and assurance, and has followed it to the utmost, as far as it will go: “Oh (saith the soul) I have applied myself to search and find out, and to be clearly resolved in this great and tender point, whether I be in Christ or not? Whether I have passed from death to life, from the state of nature into the state of grace, or not? Whether I be acquit from the curse and condemnation of the law, and my sins pardoned, or not? When, O when shall I be truly, clearly, and certainly resolved in this thing? It is as darkness and death to me to be unresolved and unsatisfied in it. I refused to be comforted without this comfort.”
“I said, Go to now, and prove and see this Antinomian way. And when I had proved it, I communed with my own heart, and my spirit made diligent search. Then said I of it, Thou art madness and folly. Their doctrine pretends to drop as the honeycomb, yet at the last it bites like a serpent, and stings like an adder. I find their words at first to be soft as oil and butter, yet I find them at last as swords and spears to my perplexed heart. I am forbidden to try my spiritual condition, or to seek after assurance of my interest in Christ by any mark of fruit of sanctification, be it sincerity of heart, hatred of sin, love to the brethren, or be what it will be. I am told it is unsafe and dangerous for me to adventure upon any such marks; I do not mean as causes, conditions, or any way instrumental in my justification (for in that consideration I have ever disclaimed my graces), nay, I do not mean of any comfort or assurance by my sanctification as well as righteousness. But I am told by these Antinomians, that even in the point of consolation and assurance it is not safe for me to reason and conclude from the fruit to the tree, from the light to the sun, from the heat to the fire, from the effect to the cause: I love the brethren with true and unfeigned love, therefore I have passed from death to life. They say I dare not, I cannot have any true comfort or assurance grounded upon this or any such mark. They promised me a shorter, an easier, a surer, a sweeter way to come by the assurance which I so much long after. They put me upon the revealing evidence of testimony of the Holy Ghost, which I know indeed to be so necessary that without it all my marks will leave me in the dark; but, as they open and explain it unto me, I must not try by the written word whether the voice of testimony that speaks in my heart is indeed the voice of the Spirit of the Lord, yet they themselves tell me, that every voice in man which speaks peace to him, but not according to the word of grace, is a spirit of delusion.”
“Again, they tell me this testimony of the Spirit of the Lord will put an end to all objections, and is that beyond which there must be no inquiry, yet by and by they tell me there must be more than this, there must be a receiving evidence of faith, and, till I believe, I do not possess Christ or his benefits, neither can sit down satisfied and assured. Oh then, said I, How shall I know that I have true faith? Shall I try faith by the fruits of faith? No, say they, by no means, but try it by the echo in the heart, which answers the voice of the Spirit as face answers to face in water. But what if there be no such echo in my heart? What if I cannot say with assurance, My sins are forgiven me? Must I then conclude I have no faith? And what if there be such an echo in my heart? How shall I know whether it be the voice of a true faith, or whether it is a delusion? Has every one a true faith whose heart suggests and sings, My sins are forgiven me?”
“But where there is a receiving and believing, said they, there cannot be a dead faith. Alas, said I, they leave me where I was. How shall I know whether there be a believing or receiving? Do not they themselves tell me17 there is a great difference between a true faith and a counterfeit faith? Are not these miserable comforters who tell me that true faith has fruits, and yet will not give me leave to try it by its fruits?”
“They teach me18 that justification is like the fire, so that he that is not zealous in holiness and righteousness by sanctification, it is to be feared that he never had the fire of justification. Another of them says, does not love manifested as truly and infallibly kindle love again as fire kindles fire? Sure[ly], then, if I do not love God and his children, the echo in my heart, which says my sins are forgiven me, is but a delusion. Oh how have these men been charming and cheating me out of the right way! They have unsettled me, and frightened me out of all my marks of grace, or fruits of faith, and when they have promised me a clear resolution, behold they leave me much more unsatisfied. They have deceived me, and I was deceived. When all comes to all in their way, I must either conclude (which I dare not) that I have true faith, because my heart suggests, and says, My sins are forgiven me, without any trial of faith by the fruits thereof, or otherwise I am left in a labyrinth. Believe I must, and they will allow me not marks to know whether I believe or not; wherefore I will not come into their secret, I will come out of their paths, which lead down to the chambers of death, I will return to the good old way, the Scripture way, Christ’s way, the apostles’ way, in which I shall find rest to my soul.”
III. The third point now remains, viz., that there is no such inextricable difficulty, darkness or mist in this mark, the love of the brethren; but that the children of God may, and sometimes do, clearly and safely assure their hearts by this mark that they have passed from death to life. Which, that it may appear, I shall speak first to the object, the brethren, then to the act, which is love.
1. Touching the object, let four things be observed: (1.) This we certainly know, that there are saints on earth, we believe, the holy universal church. Now all who have passed from death to life, those, and none but those, have a true and sincere love to the saints in general, praying heartily for them, sympathizing with their suffering, and rejoicing at their felicity. None but a saint can say in truth, and with a sincere self-denying affection, If I forget the, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy (Ps. 137:5-6). The Apostle commends praying for all saints (Eph. 6:18); and love to all the saints (Col 1:4). I conceive he means, not only all the saints known to us, but the whole invisible church of saints on earth. That prayer and protestation (Ps. 122:7-8), when uttered in spirit and truth, can proceed from no other but a gracious renewed heart; “Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces; for my brethren and companions’ sakes, I will now say, Peace be within thee.” This very love to the saints in general, as to the excellent and precious ones of the earth, is a fruit of sanctification, and a mark of a renewed and gracious estate; even as, contrariwise, they that have no love to the saints in their species or kind, that love and esteem men only for some earthly respect and consideration, the rich, the honorable, the mighty, etc., or for some particular human relation, parents, wives, children, kindred, friends, benefactors, etc., much more they that delight in the company and fellowship of the profane and ungodly, prove themselves to be such as have not yet passed from death to life.
(2.) It is neither necessary nor possible that we have a certain and infallible knowledge of the true saintship and regeneration of those particular persons whom we love, under the notion of brethren and saints. The apostles themselves did once look upon and love some as saints who were no saints, Judas, Simon Magus, Ananias and Sapphira, and others of that kind. It is God’s own prerogative to know certainly the hearts of men. To require a certain knowledge of the saintship of others before we can say we love the brethren does not only strike at the mark of love, but at the duty of love, and makes the yoke of Christ heavy, yea, unsupportable, and the very evangelical commandment of love to be most grievous, yea, impossible. And, if the Antinomian objection hold good, no man on earth can perform acceptably this duty of love, except he knows the hearts of those whom he loves under the notion of saints. If it be replied that the commandment of Christ is acceptably performed before, when, to my best knowledge and observation, and according to the best trial which one Christian is allowed by Christ to take of another, they are saints whom I love under that notion, and that it is not necessary to the acceptable performance of the duty of love that I know infallibly such a one to be a true saint; then it will follow, by the like rule, and by parity of reason, that comfort and assurance may be had from this mark, “I love the brethren,” although I cannot certainly and infallibly say those whom I love are true saints. For if I can be clear in point of the duty, and that my obedience to the new commandment of Christ, “Love one another,” is acceptable to God, then may I also be clear in point of the mark or sign: this proposition, “I love the brethren,” being a necessary consequent from that proposition, “I have, through the grace of Christ, so far performed the duty of love, as that it is acceptable to God in point of new obedience.” And this leads me to a third answer.
(3.) Particular or individual saints may be so far known by their fruits, and are so far discernible and visible, as that our love to them under that notion may be known to be an acceptable service to God, and so a comfortable mark or evidence to ourselves: which plainly appears from what Christ says (Matt. 10:41-42), He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only, in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward. Before (v. 11.), Into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, inquire who in it is worthy, and there abide till ye go thence. (Heb. 6:10), For God is not unrighteous, to forget your work and labor of love which ye have showed towards his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister. These believing Hebrews did not infallibly know that they were saints to whom they ministered, yet the Apostle tells them their work was acceptable to God, and made himself to be persuaded of them things that accompany salvation. They to whom he writes, being conscience to themselves of the truth and sincerity of their love, might much more be persuaded of themselves things that accompany salvation from this mark of love, although they could not know infallibly the hearts of those whom they love as saints. We may, without either revelation or infallibility of judgment, by the marks which the word gives us for judging and discerning of others, so far be persuaded, in a judgment of charity, that this or that person is a saint, a brother, a sister, one in Christ, as that our love to the person under that notion is according to the rules of Christ, flows from faith which works by love, and is acceptable to God as a part of our new obedience. If it were not so, this absurdity would also follow, there could be no communion of saints one with another, at least no such thing done in faith. Do not believers act in faith, and not doubtingly, when they have communion one with another, when they exhort and comfort one another, when they pray one with another, when they sympathize one with another? If they do not act these things in faith they sin; for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.
(4.) It is to be observed, that he who objects to others, they cannot know whether this or that man be a brother, even he himself takes upon him to judge who are the brethren. He makes a description of the Antinomians, under fair and plausible expressions, and then concludes, These are the brethren, do you love these men? It seems, if it had been condescended upon that the Antinomians are the brethren, there had been an end of his objection. But is not this popish, Donatistical, pharisaical, to appropriate to themselves the name of the brethren, the godly party, the true church, excluding many thousands of those who are truly godly and dear to Jesus Christ, although different in opinion from them? And what if one should fancy that the Antinomians are only the brethren, yet how should one know that this or that Antinomian is a brother? Does not his own objection fall upon him: The brotherhood consists in being united unto Christ, that is an invisible thing; none can know it but God only; no man can say such an one is a brother? So much of the certainty of the object — the brethren, now to the certainty of the act, which is love.
2. The nature of love was described out of 1 Cor. 13:4-7, then, to fright the soul from examining itself by this mark, it was added, Is there no envying at all towards the brethren? Is there no thinking evil of any of the brethren? Is there no seeking myself or my own good, in my love to them,19 etc. Who is the legal preacher now? Here is a racking of the conscience with necessity of legal perfection in our sanctification and evangelical graces? Do not themselves say that our “justification is perfect, but our sanctification imperfect.” Why, then, will they not suffer the soul to take any comfort from the fruits of sanctification, except they be perfect? When John says, Hereby we know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren, I ask, does he mean perfect love, which is every way what it ought to be? If so, then they put a false sense upon the text; for there neither is now, nor was then, any such love in the world. Does he mean of true, unfeigned, sound love, although imperfect? Then there is no place for this objection. For a true believer has in himself a true love to the brethren, which love puts fourth and exercises itself in a sincere and conscionable endeavor of all those duties which are reckoned forth (1 Cor. 13), as effects or (if you will) acts of love. This soundness and sincerity of love may be a sure mark to the soul, although, I confess, without this sincerity the very work and labor of love is no sure mark to the conscience to examine itself by; for, as the Apostle there teaches us, a man may give all his goods to the poor, and yet not have true love. O, but how shall I know, says the doubting Christian, that my love to the brethren is a true, sincere, sound love? To that I say, you may know it by these tokens:
(1.) If you love the saints because they are saints; not for their excellent gifts or parts so much as for their graces; not for any relation to yourself so much as for relation to Christ. It is true repentance when we sorrow for sin as sin: It is true love when we love the saints as saints; that is, for this cause and consideration chiefly, because the image of God appears in them. Papists pretend that with one act of adoration they worship Christ and his image; but we say, with more truth and reason, with one affecting and one act of love we love both Christ himself and those who bear his image, both God and his children; I mean, it is Christ himself whom we love in his saints.
(2.) Your love, when you love all saints (Col. 1:4; Phil. 5). And this follows necessarily from the first mark; for a quatenus ad omne [from specific to general]: If as saints, then all saints. Love you all the saints in general, praying for them all? Love you all the saints in particular whom you know; that is, you dare not confine or limit this love to those saints only who are altogether of your opinion (which, it appears from the objection before mentioned, the Antinomians have dared to do), or who have some intimacy of friendship with you, nay, nor to those who never wronged you, never strove with you, who never spake evil of you, but all whom you have reason to judge to be saints, you love them, wish well to them, are ready to do them good according to you power, and if you be at variance or difference with any of them, you pray God to make them and yourself of one heart and of one mind, and it is an affliction of spirit to you to be at variance with any that are Christ’s. Can you thus clear yourself in you conscience, and dare you say these things before the Searcher of hearts? Then is your love a true love.
(3.) You are a sincere lover of the brethren when you love them in all their different estates and conditions. The poor as well as the rich; them of low degree as well as them of high degree; the persecuted as well as the prospering; the reproached as well as the commended. This is also a necessary consectary [consequence] upon the first mark; for if you love saints as saints, the variation of difference of their outward condition will not make your love towards them to cease. Obadiah was a sincere lover of the brethren, and he gave this good testimony of it, he was kind friend to the prophets of the Lord when they were persecuted by Ahab and Jezebel.
(4.) Your love to the brethren is true and sincere when it puts forth itself in all your relations. When a man desires to choose a wife that fears God, and a woman desires to marry none who is not godly; when a master seeks godly servants, and a servant seeks a godly master; when a people choose godly ministers and godly magistrates, godly commanders and officers of armies, etc., and again, magistrates, commanders, ministers, love, countenance, encourage and strengthen the hands of such under their charge as are godly; when a man, if he be to choose a friend to consult with, yea, if he were but to choose a lodging where he is a sojourner, he desires and seeks after a godly friend, a godly family, etc.
(5.) Love is true and sincere when the action of love is not without the affection of love (1 Cor. 13:3), and when the affection of love is not without the action of love (1 John 3:17); when love opens both the heart and the hand, both the bowels and the bosom.
I do not mean that all or any of these marks can be found in any saint on earth without some mixture of the contrary corruptions; for we must not look that an imperfect grace (such as love to the brethren is in this world) must needs be proved by such marks as have no imperfection in them. If the marks be true then is the grace true, and that is enough to the point which I now assert. But as the grace is not perfect, no more are the marks of it perfect. And as there is no faith here without some unbelief, no repentance without some impenitency, no watchfulness without some security, no contrition without some hardness, no self-denial without some self-seeking, so no love to the brethren without some want of love to the brethren, no marks of true love without some imperfection and falling short; and no marvel, because no spirit without flesh, no grace without corruption. Feel you then those contrary corruptions, those roots of bitterness in your heart? If you war against them through the strength of Jesus Christ, and endeavor to have your love every way such as has been described, then God looks upon you, and would have you to look upon yourself, as a lover of the brethren. As long as you are in this world you shall have cause to walk humbly with your God, because of the great imperfection of all your graces, and of your love to the brethren among the rest, and still you shall have flesh and corruption to war against all the powers, parts and acts of your inward man. Let there be but a reciprocal warring of the spirit against the flesh (Gal. 5:17), so shall you pass in Christ’s account for a spiritual, and not for a carnal person. Neither do I say that you must always find a perpetual conflict or battle between the flesh and the spirit, or otherwise no ground of assurance. The Apostle speaks of warring, not of conflicting or fighting; there is always bellum
[war], though not always Praelium [battle], between the flesh and the spirit. The new man dare not make peace with the old man, nay, nor agree to a cessation of arms with him, dare not allow or approve corruption, nor allow the neglect of means and endeavors; yet the new man is sometimes taken napping and sleeping, sometimes assaulted and spoiled, and bond hand and foot. He may be carried away as a poor prisoner; but Christ will again relieve his own prisoner, and set him in a fresh military posture against Satan and sin.
I hope I have now so far scattered those mists and clouds cast by Antinomians, and so far extricated a poor soul out of those doubtings into which they would drive it, as that a believer may knowingly, confidently say, I love the brethren sincerely, unfeignedly, and hereby I know that I have passed from death to life; which is a good and sure argument, whether we consult Scripture or the experience of saints.
- Isi. de Hispal. de Differ. Spirit., diff. 32: Dilectio in Deum origo est dilectionis in proximum; et dilectio in proximum, cognitio est dilectionis in Deum. [Isidore of Seville, Differences, difference 32: Love of God is the origin of love of one’s neighbor; and love of one’s neighbor is closely related to love of God. ] [↩]
- Gin: a trap or device for catching game. [↩]
- Latin: (for I speak not here of certainty of being, but of mind). [↩]
- H. Steph. in Thes. Ling. Gr., tom. 3, p. 1173. [↩]
- Mr. J. Godwin in his Hagiomastix. [↩]
- Dr. Crisp’s Sermons, Vol. 2, Sermon 15. [↩]
- John Eaton’s Honey-Comb of Free Justification, ch. 9. [↩]
- Dr. Crisp’s Sermons, Vol. 2, Sermon 16. [↩]
- Ibid., p. 483, 484. [↩]
- Dr. Crisp, Vol. 2., Sermon 17, p. 497. [↩]
- Ibid., Sermon 16, pp. 482-486. [↩]
- Ibid., Sermon 17, p. 504 [↩]
- Ibid., p. 514-416. [↩]
- Ibid., p. 518-520. [↩]
- Eaton, Honey-Comb. chap. 9. [↩]
- Ibid., chap. 16, pp. 481, 482. [↩]
- Ibid., p. 475.[ [↩]
- Robert Lancaster’s preface to Dr. Crisp’s Sermons. [↩]
- Honey-comb, chap. 6, p. 459. [↩]