Having shown how a poor soul, lying under the burden of sin and wrath, is to make use of Jesus Christ for righteousness and justification, and so to make use of him, go out to him, and apply him, as |he is made of God to us righteousness,| 1 Cor. i.30, and that but briefly. This whole great business being more fully and satisfactorily handled, in that forementioned great, though small treatise, viz. |The Christian's Great Interest,| we shall now come and show, how a believer or a justified soul shall further make use of Christ for sanctification, this being a particular about which they are oftentimes much exercised and perplexed.
That we may therefore, in some weak measure, through the help of this light and grace, propose some things to clear up this great and necessary truth, we shall first speak a little to it in the general, and then come to clear up the matter more particularly.
Before we speak of the matter in general, it would be remembered, 1. That the person who only is in case to make use of Christ for sanctification, is one that hath made use of him already for righteousness and justification. For one who is a stranger to Christ, and is living in nature, hath no access to Christ for sanctification. He must be a believer, and within the covenant, ere he can make use of the grounds of sanctification laid down in the covenant. One must first be united to Christ, and justified by faith in him, before he can draw any virtue from him for perfecting holiness. He must first be in him, before he can grow up in him, or bring forth fruit in him. And therefore the first thing that souls would go about, should be to get an union made up with Christ, and be clothed with his righteousness by faith; and then they have a right to all his benefits. First, they should labour to get their state changed from enmity to peace and reconciliation with God, through faith in Jesus.
Yet, next, it would be observed, that when it is said, that one must be a believer before he can go to Christ, and make use of him for holiness and sanctification, it is not so understood and said, that one must know, that indeed he is justified by faith, before he can make any use of Christ for sanctification. One may be justified, and a believer, yea, and growing in grace through Jesus Christ, and so actually improving the grounds of sanctification, and making use of Christ for this end, and allowed thereunto, and yet win to no certainty of his union with Christ, of his justification through faith in him, nor of his faith.
But, thirdly, if it be said, How can a soul with confidence approach to Christ, for use-making of him, in reference to sanctification, that is, still doubting of his state and regeneration?
I answer, It is true, a clear sight of our interest in Christ by faith, would be a great encouragement to our confident approaching to, and use-making of him, in all things; and this consideration should move all to a more earnest search and study of the marks and evidences of their interest; a good help whereunto they will find in the forementioned book. I shall only say this here, That if the soul have an earnest desire to be sanctified wholly, and to have on the image of God, that he may glorify him, and panteth after holiness as for life, that he may look like him that is holy, and maketh this his work and study; sorrowing at nothing more than at his shortcoming; crying out and longing for the day when he shall be delivered from a body of death, and have the old man wholly crucified; he needeth not question his interest in Christ, and warrant to make use of him for every part of sanctification; for this longing desire after conformity to God's law, and panting after this spiritual life, to the end God may be exalted, Christ glorified, and others edified, will not be readily found in one that is yet in nature. It is true, I grant, some who design to establish their own righteousness, and to be justified by their own works and inherent holiness, may wish that they may be more holy and less guilty; and for some other corrupt ends, they may desire to be free of the power of some lust, which they find noxious and troublesome; and yet retain with love and desire, some other beloved lusts, and so have a heart still cleaving to the heart of some detestable thing or other. But gracious souls, as they have respect to all the commands of God, so they have not that design of being justified before God by their works; nor do they study mortification, and sanctification for any such end; nay, they no sooner discover any bias of their false deceitful hearts unto any such end, but as soon they disown it, and abhor it. So that hence believers may get some discovery of the reality of their faith and interest in Christ, and of their warrant, yea, and duty to make use of Christ for sanctification.
This premised, we come to speak something, in the general, of believer's use-making of Christ, as made of God to us sanctification. And for this end, we shall only speak a little to two things. First, We shall show upon what account it is that Christ is called our sanctification, or, |made of God to us sanctification,| as the apostle's phrase is, 1 Cor. i.30; or, what Christ hath done as Mediator, to begin, and carry on to perfection the work of sanctification in the soul. And, secondly, How the soul is to demean itself in this matter, or how the soul is to make use of, and improve what Christ hath done, for this end, that it may grow in grace, and perfect holiness in the fear of God.
As to the first, we would know, that though the work of sanctification be formally ours, yet it is wrought by another hand, as the principal efficient cause, even by the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The Father is said to purge the branches, that they may bring forth more fruit, John xv.1. Hence we are said to be sanctified by God the Father, Jude 1. The Son is also called the Sanctifier, Heb. ii.21. He sanctifieth and cleanseth the Church with the washing of water by the word, Eph. v.26. The Spirit is also said to sanctify, 2 Thes. ii.13.1 Pet. i.2. Rom. xv.16. Hence we are said to be washed and sanctified by the Spirit of God, 1 Cor. vi.11.
But more particularly, we are said to be sanctified in Christ, 1 Cor. i.2; and |he is made of God to us sanctification,| 1 Cor. i.30. Let us then see in what sense this may be true. And,
1. He hath by his death and blood procured that this work of sanctification shall be wrought and carried on. For |he suffered without the gate, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood,| Heb. xiii.12. |We are saved by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which he shed on us abundantly, through Jesus Christ our Saviour,| Titus iii.5, 6. |He gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works,| Tit. ii.14. Thus our sanctification is the fruit of his death, and purchased by his blood. |He gave himself for his church, that he might sanctify it,| Eph. v.25, 26.
2. He dying as a cautioner and public person, believers are accounted in law to be dead to sin in him. Hence the apostle tells us, Rom. vi.3-6, that as many of us as are baptised into Jesus Christ, were baptized into his death; and that therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death; and are planted together in the likeness of his death; yea, and that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. Whence believers are warranted and commanded, verse 11, to reckon themselves |to be dead indeed unto sin;| and therefore sin should |not reign in their mortal bodies to fulfil the lusts thereof,| verse 12. This is a sure ground of hope and comfort for believers, that Christ died thus as a public person; and that by virtue thereof, being now united to Christ by faith, they are dead to sin by law; and sin cannot challenge a dominion over them, as before their conversion it might have done, and did; for the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth, but no longer. Wherefore believing brethren |becoming dead to the law by the body of Christ, are married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that they should bring forth fruit unto God,| Rom. vii.1-4.
3. Hence it followeth, that our |old man is crucified with Christ, that the body of sin might be destroyed,| Rom. vi.6. So that this old tyrant that oppresseth the people of God, hath got his death wounds, in the crucifixion of Christ, and shall never recover his former vigour and activity, to oppress and bear down the people of God, as he did. He is now virtually, through the death of Jesus, killed and crucified, being in Christ nailed to the cross.
4. His resurrection is a pawn and pledge of this sanctification. For as he died as a public person, so he rose again as a public person. |We are buried with him by baptism, that like as Christ was raised up from the dead, by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life,| Rom. vi.4; and believers are said to be |planted together with him, in the likeness of his resurrection,| verse 5; |and they shall live with him,| verse 8; |and therefore they are to reckon themselves alive unto God, through Jesus Christ our Lord,| verse 11. |We are raised up together,| Eph. ii.6.
5. This sanctification is an article of the covenant of redemption betwixt the Father and the Son, Isa. lii.15, |So shall he sprinkle many nations.| Chap. liii.10, |He shall see his seed, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.| Christ, then, having this promised to him, must see to the accomplishment thereof, and will have it granted to him; seeing he hath fulfilled all that was engaged to by him -- having made his soul an offering for sin.
6. This sanctification is promised in the covenant of grace, Jer. xxxiii.8. |And I will cleanse them from all their iniquity.| Ezek. xxxvii.23, |And I will cleanse them.| So chap. xxxvi.25, |Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean; from all your filthiness, and from all your idols will I cleanse you.| Now all the promises of the covenant of grace are confirmed to us in the Mediator. For, |in him all the promises of the covenant are yea and amen,| 2 Cor. i.20.
7. He hath purchased and made sure to his own, the new nature, and the heart of flesh, which is also promised, Ezek. xxxvi.26, and xi.19. Jer. xxxii.39. This is the new and lively principle of grace, the spring of sanctification, which cannot be idle in the soul; but must be emitting vital acts natively.
Yea, through him, are believers made partakers of the divine nature, which is a growing thing, -- young glory in the soul, 2 Pet. i.3,4, |According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue, whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, that by these we might be made partakers of the divine nature,| &c.
8. The Spirit is promised, to cause us walk in his statutes, Ezek. xlvi.27. Now all these promises are made good to us in Christ, who is the cautioner of the covenant; yea, he hath gotten now the dispensing and giving out of the rich promises of the covenant, committed unto him; so as he is the great and glorious custodier of all purchased blessings.
9. There are new waterings, breathings, and gales of the Spirit, given in Christ, Isa. xxvii.3. He must water his garden or vineyard every moment. This is the north wind and the south wind that bloweth upon the garden, Cant. iv.16. He must be as the dew unto Israel, Hos. xiv.5.
10. Through Christ is the believer brought into such a covenant state, as giveth great ground of hope of certain victory. He is not now under the law, but under grace; and hence inferreth the apostle, Rom. vi.14, |That sin shall not have dominion over them.| Being now under that dispensation of grace, whereby all their stock is in the Mediator's hand, and at his disposal; and not in their own hand and power, as under the covenant of works, there is a sure ground laid down for constant supply and furniture in all necessities.
11. Christ hath prayed for this, John xvii.17, |Sanctify them through thy truth;| where the Lord is praying, that his disciples might be more and more sanctified, and so fitted and qualified for the work of the ministry they were to be employed in. And what he prayed for them, was not for them alone, but also for the elect, proportionably, who are opposed to the world, for which he did not pray, verse 9.
12. He standeth to believers in relation of a vine, or a root, in which they grow as branches, so that by abiding in him, living by faith in him, and drawing sap from him, they bring forth fruit in him, John xv.1, 2, 4, 5. Their stock of grace is in him, the root; and he communicateth sap and life unto his branches, whereby they grow, flourish, and bring forth fruit to the glory of God.
13. Christ hath taken on him the office of a prophet and teacher, to instruct us in the way wherein we ought to go; for he is that great prophet whom the Lord promised to raise up, and who was to be heard and obeyed in all things, Deut. xviii.15. Acts iii.22, and vii.37. |He is given for a witness, and a leader,| Isa. lv.4; and we are commanded to hear him, Matt, xvii.5. Mark x.7.
14. He hath also taken on him the office of a king, Psal. ii.6. Matt, xxviii.5. Isa. ix.7. Phil. ii.8-11. and thereby standeth engaged to subdue all their spiritual enemies, Satan and corruption, Psal. cx. He is given for a leader and commander, Isa. lv.5, and so can cause his people walk in his ways.
15. When we defile ourselves with new transgressions and failings, he hath provided a fountain for us to wash in; |a fountain opened to the house of David, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness,| Zech. xiii.1; and this fountain is his blood, which cleanseth from all sin, Heb. ix.14.1 John i.7. Rev. i.5.
16. He is set before us as a copy and pattern, that we |should walk even as he walked,| 1 John ii.6. |He left us an example that we should follow his steps,| 1 Pet. ii.21. But we should beware to separate this consideration from the preceding, as antichristian Socinians do, who will have Christ only to be a copy.
17. He hath overcome Satan, our arch enemy, and hath destroyed his works, 1 John iii.8. He came to destroy the works of the devil; and in particular, his works of wickedness in the soul. Thus he is a conqueror and the captain of our salvation.
18. As he hath purchased, so hath he appointed ordinances, for the laying of the foundation, and carrying on this work of sanctification; both word and sacraments are appointed for that; the word to convert and to confirm, John xvii.17. |Sanctify them through thy truth, thy word is truth,| said Christ. The word is given as the rule; and also through the means thereof is life and strength conveyed to the soul, |to perfect holiness in the fear of God,| 1 Pet. ii.2. And the sacraments are given to strengthen and confirm the soul in the ways of God.
19. As he hath laid down strong encouragements to his followers, to hold on in the way of holiness, many great and precious promises, by which they may be made partakers of the divine nature, 2 Pet. i.4; and by which they are encouraged to cleanse themselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, 2 Cor. vii.1; and many motives to hold on and continue; so hath he rolled difficulties out of the way, whether they be within us, or without us, and thereby made the way easy and pleasant to such as walk in it; so as they may now run the way of his commandments, and walk and not weary, and run and not be faint.
Nay, 20. We would remember for our encouragement and confidence, that in carrying on of this work lieth the satisfaction of the soul, and the pleasure of the Lord that must prosper in his hand, and thus he seeth his seed, and hath of the travail of his soul, and is satisfied.
These particulars, rightly considered, will discover unto us, what a noble ground for sanctification is in Christ laid down for believers, which they may, and must by faith grip to, that they may grow in grace, and grow up in Christ, and perfect holiness; and what a wonderful contrivance of grace this is, wherein all things are made so sure for believers, Christ becoming all things to them, and paving a royal and sure way for them; sure for them, and glorious to himself!
As to the second particular, that is, how believers are to carry in this matter, or how they are to make use of Christ, and of those grounds of sanctification in Christ, which we have mentioned:
First, There are some things which they should beware of, and guard against; as,
1. They should beware of an heartless despondency, and giving way to discouragement, and hearkening to the language of unbelief, or to the suggestion of Satan, whereby he will labour to persuade them of the impossibility of getting the work of sanctification throughed, or any progress made therein to purpose. Satan and a deceitful heart can soon muster up many difficulties, and allege that there are many lions, many insuperable difficulties in the way, to discourage them from venturing forward; and if Satan prevail here, he hath gained a great point. Therefore the believer should keep up his head in hope, and beware of multiplying discouragements to himself, or of concluding the matter impossible; for then shall he neither have heart nor hand for the work, but sit down and wring his hands as overcome with discouragement and despondency of spirit.
2. They should beware of wilfully rejecting their own mercies, and forbearing to make use of the grounds of hope, of strength and progress in the matter of sanctification, which Christ hath allowed them to make use of. There is such an evil among God's children, that they scar at that which Christ out of great love hath provided for them, and dare not with confidence make use of, nor apply to themselves the great and comfortable promises, to the end they might be encouraged; they will not take their allowance, as thinking themselves unworthy; and that it would be presumption in them to challenge a right to such great things; and they think it commendable humility in them, to stand a-back, and so wilfully refuse the advantages and helps, that make so much for their growth in grace.
3. They should beware of a careless neglect of the means appointed for advancing in holiness; for, though the means do not work the effect, yet it is by the means that God hath chosen to work the work of sanctification. Here that is to be seen, |that the hand of the diligent maketh rich; and the field of the slothful is soon grown over with thorns and nettles; so that poverty cometh as one that travaileth, and want as an armed man,| Prov. xxiv.30. It is a sinful tempting of God, to think to be sanctified another way than God hath in his deep wisdom condescended upon.
4. Yet they should beware of laying too much weight on the means and ordinances, as if they could effectuate the business. Though the Lord hath thought fit to work in and by the means, yet he himself must do the work. Means are but means, and not the principal cause; nor can they work, but as the principal agent is pleased to make use of them, and to work by them. When we lean to the means and to instruments, we prejudge ourselves, by disobliging of God, and provoking him to leave us, that we may wrestle with the ordinances alone, and find no advantage. Therefore the soul should guard against this.
5. Albeit the means can do nothing unless he breathe, yet we should beware not only of neglecting, as we said before, but also of a slighting way of performing them, without that earnestness and diligence that is required, -- |cursed is he who doth the work of the Lord negligently,| Jer. xlviii.10. Here then is the special art of Christianity apparent, to be as diligent, earnest and serious in the use of the means, as if they could effectuate the matter we were seeking; and yet to be as much abstracted from them, in our hopes and expectation, and to be as much leaning on the Lord alone, and depending on him for the blessing, as if we were using no means at all.
6. They should beware of slighting and neglecting the motions of the Spirit; for thereby they may lose the best opportunity. They should be always on the wing, ready to embrace the least motion; and they should stand always ready, waiting for the breathings of his Spirit, and open at his call; lest afterward, they be put to call and seek, and not attain what they would be at, as we see in the spouse, Cant. v.2, 3, 4, &c.
7. They should also guard against the quenching of the Spirit, 1 Thess. v.12; or grieving of the Spirit, Eph. iv.30, by their unchristian and unsuitable carriage; for this will much mar their sanctification. It is by the Spirit that the work of sanctification is carried on in the soul; and when this Spirit is disturbed, and put from his work, how can the work go on? When the motions of this indwelling Spirit are extinguished, his work is marred and retarded; and when he is grieved, he is hindered in his work. Therefore souls must guard against unbelief, despondency, unsuitable and unchristian carriage.
8. Especially they should beware of wasting sins, Psal. li.10. Sins against light and conscience, such as David called presumptuous sins, Psal. xix.13. They should beware also of savouring any unknown corruption, or any thing of that kind, that may hinder the work of sanctification.
Secondly, It were useful, and of great advantage for such as would grow in grace, and advance in the way of holiness, to be living in the constant conviction,
1. Of the necessity of holiness, |without which no man shall see God,| Heb. xii.14. |Nothing entering into the New Jerusalem that defileth,| Rev. xxi.7.
2. Of their own inability to do any one act right; how they are not sufficient of themselves to think any thing as of themselves, 2 Cor. iii.5; and that without Christ they can do nothing, John xv.5.
3. Of the insufficiency of any human help, or means, or way which they might think good to choose, to mortify aright one corruption, or to give strength for the discharge of any one duty; for our sufficiency is of God, 2 Cor. iii. and it is |through the Spirit that we must mortify the deeds of the body,| Rom. viii.13.
4. And of the treachery and deceitfulness of the heart, which is bent to follow by-ways, being not only |deceitful above all things, but also desperately wicked,| Jer. xvii.9.
That by this means, the soul may be jealous of itself, and despair of doing any thing in its own strength, and so be fortified against that main evil, which is an enemy to all true sanctification, viz. confidence in the flesh.
Thirdly, The soul will keep its eye fixed on those things:
1. On Christ's all-sufficiency to help; in all cases that |he is able to save to the uttermost,| Heb. vii.25.
2. On his compassionateness to such as are out of the way; and readiness to help poor sinners with his grace and strength; and this will keep up the soul from fainting and despairing.
3. On the commands of holiness; such as those, |cleanse your hand, and purify your hearts,| James iv.8, and, |be ye holy, for I am holy,| 1 Pet. i.15, 16, and the like; that the authority of God and conscience to command may set the soul a-work.
4. On the great recompense of reward that is appointed for such as wrestle on, and endure to the end; and on the great promises of great things to such as are sanctified, whereof the scriptures are full; that the soul may be encouraged to run through difficulties, to ride out storms, to endure hardness, as a good soldier, and to persevere in duty.
5. On the other hand, on the many sad threatenings and denunciations of wrath, against such as transgress his laws, and on all the sad things that such as shake off the fear of God and the study of holiness have to look for, of which the scripture is full; that by this means the soul may be kept in awe, and spurred forward unto duty, and made the more willing to shake off laziness.
6. On the rule, the word of God, by which alone we must regulate all our actions; and this ought to be our meditation day and night, and all our study, as we see it was David's, and other holy men of God, their daily work, see Psal. i. and cxix.
Fourthly, In all this study of holiness, and aiming at an higher measure of grace, the believer would level at a right end, and so would not design holiness for this end, that he might be justified thereby, or that he might thereby procure and purchase to himself heaven and God's favour; for the weight of all that must lie on Jesus Christ, who is our righteousness; and our holiness must not dethrone him, nor rob him of his glory, which he will not give to another; but would study holiness, to the end he might glorify God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and please him who calleth to holiness, and thereby be |meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light,| Col. i.10, 12; and be made a meet bride for such a holy bridegroom, and a member to such an holy head; that hereby others might be edified, Matt. v.16.1 Pet. ii.12, and iii.1, 2; that the soul may look like a temple of the Holy Ghost, and like a servant of Christ's bought with a price, 1 Cor. vi.17-20; and have a clear evidence of his regeneration and justification, and also that he may express his thankfulness to God for all his favours and benefits.
Fifthly, The soul should by faith lay hold on, and grip fast to the ground of sanctification; that is to say, (1.) To what Christ hath purchased for his people. (2.) To what as a public person he hath done for them; and so by faith,
1. Challenge a right to, and lay hold on the promises of grace, strength, victory, and thorough bearing, in their combating with corruption within, and Satan and a wicked world without.
2. |Reckon themselves dead unto sin, through the death of Christ; and alive unto God through his resurrection,| Rom. vi.4, 11. |And that the old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed,| verse 6. |And that they are now not under the law, but under grace,| verse 14.
That by this means they may be encouraged to continue fighting against a vanquished enemy, and not give over, notwithstanding of disappointments, discouragements, prevailings of corruption, &c. and the believer may know upon what ground he standeth, and what is the ground of his hope and expectation of victory in the end; and so he |may run, not as uncertainly; and so fight, not as one that beateth the air,| 1 Cor. ix.26.
Sixthly, In this work of sanctification, the believer should be much in the lively exercise of faith; fight by faith; advance by faith, grow up, and bring forth fruit by faith; and so,
1. The believer would be oft renewing his grips of Christ, holding him fast by faith; and so abiding in him, that he may bring forth fruit, John xv.4,5.
2. Not only would he be keeping his union fast with Christ, but he would also be eyeing Christ by faith, as his store-house, and general Lord dispensator of all the purchased blessings of the covenant, which he standeth in need of, and looking on Christ, as standing engaged by office to complete his work of salvation, and to present him with the rest to himself holy, without blemish, yea, and without spot and wrinkle, or any such thing, Eph. v.27.
3. He would by faith grip to the promises, both of the general stock of grace, the new heart, and heart of flesh, and the spirit to cause us walk in his statutes, Ezek. xxxvi.26,27; and of the several particular acts of grace that be standeth in need of, such as that, Jer. xxx.8, |I will cleanse them from all their iniquities,| &c. So Ezek. xxxvi.25. Jer. xxxi.19. As the church doth, Micah vii.9. |He will subdue our iniquities,| &c. And so having, or gripping these promises, we are to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, |and perfect holiness in the fear of God,| 2 Cor. vii.1.
4. As the believer would by faith draw out of Christ, through the conduit of the promises, which are all |yea and amen in him,| 2 Cor. i.20. grace, strength, knowledge, courage, or whatever his fight in this warfare calleth for, to the end he may be strong in |the Lord, and in the power of his might,| Eph. vi.10; so he would by faith roll the weight of the whole work upon Christ; and thus cast himself, and his care and burden on him who careth for him, 1 Pet. v.7. Psal. xxxvii.5, and lv.22; and so go on in duty, without anxiety, knowing who beareth the weight of all, and who hath undertaken to work both to will and to do, according to his good pleasure. Thus should the work be easy and safe, when by faith we roll the burden on him, who is the chosen one fitted for that work, and leave it on him, who is our strength, patiently waiting for the outgate, in hope.
Thus the believer makes use of Christ, as made of God sanctification, when in the use of means appointed, eyeing the covenant of grace, and the promises thereof, and what Christ hath done to sanctify and cleanse his people, he rolleth the matter on him, and expecteth help, salvation, and victory through him.
But lest some should be discouraged, and think all this in vain, because they perceive no progress nor growth in grace for all this, but rather corruption as strong and troublesome as ever, I would say a few things to them.
1. Let them search and try, whether their shortcoming and disappointment doth not much proceed from this, that the matter is not so cleanly cast over on Christ as it should be; is it not too oft found, that they go forth to the battle in their own strength, lippening to their own stock of grace, to their own knowledge, or to their duties, or the like? How then can they prosper?
2. Let them mourn as they get any discovery of this, and guard against that corrupt bias of the heart, which is still inclining them to an engagement without the Captain of their salvation, and a fighting without the armour of God.
3. Let them try and see, if, in studying holiness, they be not led by corrupt ends; and do not more labour after sanctification, that they may be more worthy and the better accepted of God, and that they may have quietness and peace as to their acceptance with God, as if this were any cause, matter, or condition of their righteousness and justification before God, than that they may shew their obedience to the command of God, 1 Thes. iv.3. Eph. ii.10. John xv.16; and express their thankfulness to him, and glorify God, Mal. i.6. Matt. iii.16. John xvii.10. Eph. iv.30; and if so, they ought to acknowledge God's goodness in that disappointment, seeing thereby they see more and more a necessity of laying aside their own righteousness, and of betaking themselves to the righteousness of Christ, and of resting on that alone for peace and acceptance with God.
4. They should try and see, if their negligence and carelessness in watching, and in the discharge of duties, do not occasion their disappointments and shortcoming. God sometimes thinks fit to suffer a lion of corruption to set on them, that they may look about them, and stand more vigilantly upon their watch-tower, knowing that they have to do with a vigilant adversary, the devil, who, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour, I Pet. v.8. and that |they fight not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world; against spiritual wickedness in high places,| Eph. vi.12. It is not for nought that we are so often commanded to watch, Matt. xxiv.42, and xxv.13, and xxvi.41, and xiv.38. Luke xxi.36. Mark xiii.33-37.1 Cor. xvi.13.1 Thes. v.6.1 Pet. iv.7. Col. iv.2. Through the want of this, we know what befel David and Peter.
5. They should try and see, whether there be not too much self-confidence, which occasioned Peter's foul fall. God may, in justice and mercy, suffer corruption to break loose upon such, at a time, and tread them under foot, to learn them afterward to carry more soberly; and to |work their salvation with fear and trembling,| Phil. ii.12, remembering what a jealous, holy God he is, with whom they have to do; what an adversary they have against them; and how weak their own strength is.
6. This should be remembered, that one may be growing in grace, and advancing in holiness, when, to his apprehension, he is not going forward from strength to strength, but rather going backward. It is one thing to have grace, and another thing to see that we have grace; so it is one thing to be growing in grace, and another thing to see that we are growing in grace. Many may question their growth in grace, when their very questioning of it may evince the contrary. For they may conclude no growth, but rather a back-going, because they perceive more and more violent, and strong corruptions, and hidden works of darkness and wickedness, within their soul, than ever they did before; while as that great discovery sheweth the increase of their spiritual knowledge, and an increase in this is an increase in grace; so they may question and doubt of their growth, upon mistakes, as thinking corruption always strongest when it makes the greatest stir and noise; or their complaints may flow from a vehement desire they have to have much more sanctification, which may cause them overlook many degrees they have advanced. Or some such thing may occasion their darkness and complaints; yea, God may think it fittest for them, to the end they may be kept humble and diligent, to be in the dark as to their progress; whereas if they saw what advancement and progress they had made in Christianity, they might grow wanton, secure, and careless, and so occasion some sad dispensation to humble them again.
7. It should be remembered, that perfect victory is not to be had here. It is true, in respect of justification through the imputation of the perfect righteousness of Christ, and in respect of their sincerity and gospel simplicity, and in respect also of the parts of the new man, believers are said to be perfect; such an one was Noah, Gen. vi.9, and Job, chap. i.1, 8. See also Psalm xxxvii.37, and lxiv.4.1 Cor. ii.6. Heb. v.14. James iii.2. And it is true, we are to aim at perfection, and to pray for it, as Matt. v.48.2 Cor. xiii.11. Col. iv.12. Heb. xiii.21. James i.4.1 Pet. v.10. Heb. vi.1. Yet as to the degrees of holiness and sanctification, and in respect of the remnant of corruption within, there is no full perfection here, Jer. ix.20, 21. Phil. iii.12. For even he who is washed, and, as to justification, is clean every whit, yet needeth to wash his feet, because contracting filth in his conversation, Job xiii.10. So that if the Lord should mark iniquity, no man should stand, Psalm cxxx.3, and cxliii.2. There will still be in the best something, more or less, of that battle, that Paul speaketh of, Rom. vii.15-23. So that they will still have occasion to cry out with him, verse 24, |O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death!| And the flesh will still lust against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh, so that they shall not be able to do what they would, Gal. v.17. The place of perfection is above, where all tears are wiped away, and the weary wrestler is at rest.
8. Let them not mistake and think, that every stirring of corruption in the soul, argueth its dominion and prevailing power. Corruption may stir and make a great deal ado, where it cannot get leave to reign; and be as a violent and cruel invader, seeking the throne, putting the whole kingdom in a combustion, who is resisted with force of arms.
Corruption may be more quiet and still, when indeed it hath the throne of the soul; as a conqueror may be more quiet and still, when he hath overcome and is in peaceable possession of the kingdom, than when he was but fighting for it. When the strong man keeps the house, and is master, then all is quiet and at rest, till a stronger come and thrust him out, and dispossess him.
9. Sanctification doth not always consist in a man's freedom from some corruptions. For there may be some corruptions that one hath no natural inclination to, but, on the contrary, a great aversion for; as some world's wretches may have no inclination to prodigality and ranting, or such like vices, which are contrary to their humour, or to their constant education; and Satan may never tempt some man to such evils, knowing he will get more advantage by plying his temper and genius, and so carrying him away to the other contrary evil; and so, though this man know not so much, as what it is once to be tempted to those vices, yet that will not say, that he is a sanctified man; far less will it say, that he hath more grace than another man, whose predominant that evil is, and against which he is daily fighting and wrestling. Whence it appeareth that wrestling and protesting against even an overcoming corruption, may evidence more of grace, than freedom from some evils, to which some are not so much tempted, and to which they are naturally less inclined.
10. Nor should they think, that corruption is always master of the soul, and possessing the throne as a full conqueror, when it prevaileth and carrieth the soul headlong at a time, for corruption may sometimes come in upon the soul as an inundation with irresistible violence, and, for a time, carry all before it, so that the soul cannot make any sensible resistance; as when a sudden, violent, and unexpected temptation setteth on, so as the poor man is overwhelmed, and scarce knoweth where he is, or what he is doing, till he be laid on his back. At that time it will be a great matter, if the soul dare quietly enter a protest against and dissent from what is done, and if there be an honest protestation against the violent and tyrannical invasion of corruption, we cannot say, that corruption is in peaceable possession of the throne. If the spirit be lusting against the flesh, levying all the forces he can against the invader, by prayer and supplication to God, and calling in all the supply of divine help he can get, and, when he can do no more, is fighting and groaning under that unjust invasion, resolving never to pay homage to the usurper, nor to obey his laws, nor so much as parley with him, or make peace, we cannot say, that the soul doth consent fully unto this usurpation. Nay, if the soul shall do this much, at such a time when Satan sets on with all his force, it will be a greater evidence of the strength of grace in the soul, than if the soul should do the same or a little more, at a time when the temptation is not so strong.
11. It is not good for them to say, that grace is not growing in them, because they advance not so far as some do; and because they come not to the pitch of grace that they see some advanced to. That is not a sure rule to measure their growth in grace by. Some may have a better natural temper, whereby they are less inclined to several vices which these find a strong propension to; they may have the advantage of a better education, and the like; so that they should rather try themselves this year by what they were the last year, and that in reference to the lusts to which they have been most subject all their days.
12. We must not think that every believer will attain to the same measure of grace. There is a measure appointed for every member or joint of this body; and every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, Eph. iv.16. God hath more ado with some than with others; there is more strength required in an arm or leg than in a finger or toe; and every one should be content with his measure, so far as not to fret or repine against God and his dispensations, that makes them but a finger, and not an arm of the body; and do their duty in their station, fighting against sin, according to the measure or grace dispensed to them of the Lord, and that faithfully and constantly; and not quarrel with God, that he maketh us not as free of temptations and corruptions as some others. For the captain must not he blamed for commanding some of his soldiers to this post where they never once see the enemy, and others to that post where they must continually fight. The soldier is here under command, and therefore must be quiet, and take his lot; so must the Christian reverence the Lord's dispensations, in ordering matters, so as they shall never have one hour's quietness, while, as others have more rest and peace, and stand at their post fighting, resolving never to yield, but rather to cover the ground with their dead bodies, till the commander-in-chief think good to relieve them. Sure I am, as the only wise God hath distributed to every member of the body, as he hath thought good, so it is the duty of every member to endeavour this holy submission to him, as to the measure of grace, considered as his free gift bestowed on them; and to be humbled for the grudgings of his heart, because God hath not given him more talents. And sure I am, though this submission make no great noise in the world; yet really this is one of the highest degrees of grace attainable here, and such an ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, as is in the sight of God of great price. So that whoever hath attained to this, have the very grace they seem to want, and more. Yet, lest this should be abused, let me add a word or two of caution, to qualify this submission. (1.) There must be with it a high prizing even of that degree of grace which they want. (2) There must be a panting after grace, as it is God's image, and a conformity to him, and with so much singleness, as they may be in case to say, without the reproachings of their heart, they do not so much love holiness for heaven, as heaven for holiness. (3.) There must be an unceasingness in using all means, whereby the growth of grace may be promoved to this end, that they may be conformed to his image, rather than that they may be comforted. (4.) There must be also a deep humiliation for the want of that degree of grace they would have, as it importeth the want of so much conformity to him to whose image they are predestinated to be conformed, which will very well consist with this submission we are speaking of.
13. It would be remembered, that there may be a great progress, even when it is not observed; when, (1.) Hereby the man is made to lie in the dust, to loath himself, and cry, behold I am vile! (2.) Hereby his indignation against the body of death is the more increased. (3.) Hereby his esteem of a Saviour and of the blessed contrivance of salvation is the more heightened, that he seeth he is thereby brought to make mention of his righteousness, even of his only. (4.) Hereby his longing after immediate fruition is increased, where all these complaints shall cease. (5.) And hereby he is put to essay that much slighted duty of holding fast the rejoicing of his hope firm unto the end, looking and longing for the grace that shall be brought unto him at the revelation of Jesus Christ, when he shall be presented without spot, and be made meet to be a partaker of the inheritance of the saints in light.