ARGUMENT III.-Another argument, that holy practice, in the sense which has been explained, is the highest kind of evidence of the truth of grace to the consciences of Christians, is, that in practice, grace, in Scripture style, is said to be made perfect, or to be finished. So the Apostle James says, Jam_2:22, "Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect" (or finished, as the word in the original properly signifies)?" So the love of God is said to be made perfect, or finished, in keeping his commandments. 1Jn_2:4-5, "He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him: but, whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected." The commandment of Christ, which the apostle has especially respect to, when he here speaks of our keeping his commandments, is (as I observed before) that great commandment of his, which respects deeds of love to our brethren, as appears by the following verses. Again, the love of God is said to be perfected in the same sense, chapter 1Jn_4:12 : "If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us." Here, doubtless, the apostle has still respect to loving one another, in the same manner that he had explained in the preceding chapter, speaking of loving one another, as a sign of the love of God, 1Jn_4:17-18 : "Whoso hath this world's goods, and shutteth up his bowels, &c., how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed (or in work) and in truth." By thus loving in work, the apostle says, "The love of God is perfected in us." Grace is said to be perfected or finished in holy practice, as therein it is brought to its proper effect, and to that exercise which is the end of the principle; the tendency and design of grace herein is reached, and its operation completed and crowned. As the tree is made perfect in the fruit; it is not perfected in the seed's being planted in the ground; it is not perfected in the first quickening of the seed, and in its putting forth root and sprout; nor is it perfected when it comes up out of the ground; nor is it perfected in bringing forth leaves; nor yet in putting forth blossoms: but, when it has brought forth good ripe fruit, when it is perfected, therein it reaches its end, the design of the tree is finished: all that belongs to the tree is completed and brought to its proper effect in the fruit. So is grace in its practical exercises. Grace is said to be made perfect or finished in its work or fruit, in the same manner as it is said of sin, Jam_1:15, "When lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin; and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death." Here are three steps; first, sin in its principle or habit, in the being of lust in the heart; and nextly, here is its conceiving, consisting in the immanent exercises of it in the mind; and lastly, here is the fruit that was conceived, actually brought forth in the wicked work and practice. And this the apostle calls the finishing or perfecting of sin: for the word, in the original, is the same that is translated perfected in those forementioned places.
Now certainly, if it be so, if grace be in this manner made perfect in its fruit, if these practical exercises of grace are those exercises wherein grace is brought to its proper effect and end, and the exercises wherein whatsoever belongs to its design, tendency and operation, is completed and crowned; then these exercises must be the highest evidences of grace, above all other exercises. Certainly the proper nature and tendency of every principle must appear best and most fully in its most perfect exercises, or in those exercises wherein its nature is most completely exerted, and in its tendency most fully answered and crowned in its proper effect and end. If we would see the proper nature of anything whatsoever, and see it in its full distinction from other things; let us look upon it in the finishing of it. The Apostle James says, by works is faith made perfect; and introduces this as an argument to prove, that works are the chief evidence of faith, whereby the sincerity of the professors of faith is justified, Jam_2:1-26. And the Apostle John, after he had once and again told us that love was made perfect in keeping Christ's commandments, observes, 1Jn_4:18. That perfect love casteth out fear; meaning (at least in part) love made perfect in this sense; agreeable to what he had said in the foregoing chapter that, by loving in deed, or work, we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts, verses 18, 19.
ARGUMENT IV.-Another thing which makes it evident, that holy practice is the principal evidence that we ought to make use of in judging both of our own and others' sincerity, is, that this evidence is above all others insisted on in Scripture. A common acquaintance with the Scripture, together with a little attention and observation, will be sufficient to show to anyone that this is ten times more insisted on as a note of true piety, throughout the Scripture, from the beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelations, than anything else. And, in the New Testament, where Christ and his apostles do expressly, and of declared purpose, lay down signs of true godliness, this is almost wholly insisted on. It may be observed, that Christ, and his apostles, do not only often say those things, in their discoursing on the great doctrines of religion, which do show what the nature of true godliness must be, or from whence the nature and signs of it may be inferred by just consequence, and often occasionally mention many things which do appertain to godliness; but they do also often, of set purpose, give signs and marks for the trial of professors, putting them upon trying themselves by the signs they give, introducing what they say, with such like expressions as these: "By this you shall know, that you know God: by this are manifest the children of God, and the children of the devil: he that hath this, builds on a good foundation; he that hath it not, builds on the sand: hereby we shall assure our hearts: he is the man that loveth Christ," &c. But I can find no place, where either Christ or his apostles do, in this manner, give signs of godliness (though the places are many), but where Christian practice is almost the only thing insisted on. Indeed in many of these places, love to the brethren is spoken of as a sign of godliness; and, as I have observed before, there is no one virtuous affection, or disposition, so often expressly spoken of as a sign of true grace, as our having love one to another: but then the Scriptures explain themselves to intend chiefly this love as exercised and expressed in practice, or in deeds of love. So does the Apostle John, who, above all others, insists on love to the brethren as a sign of godliness, most expressly explain himself, in that 1Jn_3:14, &c, "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren: he that loveth not his brother, abideth in death. Whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us love, not in word, neither in tongue, but in deed (i.e., in deeds of love) and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him." So that when the Scripture so much insists on our loving one another, as a great sign of godliness, we are not thereby to understand the immanent workings of affection which men feel one to another, so much as the soul's practicing all the duties of the second table of the law; all which the New Testament tells us again and again, a true love one to another comprehends, Rom_13:8 and Rom_13:10, Gal_5:14, Mat_22:39-40 So that, really, there is no place in the New Testament where the declared design is to give signs of godliness, but that holy practice, and keeping Christ's commandments, is the mark chosen out from all others to be insisted on. Which is an invincible argument, that it is the chief of all the evidences of godliness: unless we suppose that when Christ and his apostles, on design, set themselves about this business of giving signs, by which professing Christians, in all ages, might determine their state; they did not know how to choose signs so well as we could have chosen for them. But, if we make the word of Christ our rule, then undoubtedly those marks which Christ and his apostles did chiefly lay down, and give to us, that we might try ourselves by them, those same marks we ought especially to receive, and chiefly to make use of, in the trial of ourselves.["It is a sure rule," says, Dr. Preston, "that, what the Scriptures bestow much words on, we should have much thoughts on: and what the Holy Ghost urgeth most, we should prize most." Church's Carriage.] And surely those things, which Christ and his apostles chiefly insisted on, in the rules they gave, ministers ought chiefly to insist on in the rules they give. To insist much on those things that the Scripture insists little on, and to insist very little on those things on which the Scripture insists much, is a dangerous thing; because it is going out of God's way, and is to judge ourselves, and guide others, in an unscriptural manner. God knew which way of leading and guiding souls was safest and best for them: he insisted so much on some things, because he knew it to be needful that they should be insisted on; and let other things more alone as a wise God, because he knew it was not best for us, so much to lay the weight of the trial there. As the Sabbath was made for man, so the Scriptures were made for man; and they are, by infinite wisdom, fitted for our use and benefit. We should, therefore, make them our guide in all things, in our thoughts of religion, and of ourselves. And for us to make that great which the Scripture makes little, and that little which the Scripture makes great, tends to give us a monstrous idea of religion; and (at least indirectly and gradually) to lead us wholly away from the right rule, and from a right opinion of ourselves, and to establish delusion and hypocrisy.
ARGUMENT V.-Christian practice is plainly spoken of in the word of God, as the main evidence of the truth of grace, not only to others, but to men's own consciences. It is not only more spoken of and insisted on than other signs, but in many places where it is spoken of, it is represented as the chief of all evidences. This is plain in the manner of expression from time to time. If God were now to speak from heaven to resolve our doubts concerning signs of godliness, and should give some particular sign, that by it all might know whether they were sincerely godly or not, with such emphatical expressions as these, the man that has such a qualification or mark, "that is the man that is a true saint, that is the very man, by this you may know, this is the thing by which it is manifest who are saints and who are sinners, such men as these are saints indeed;" should not we look upon it as a thing beyond doubt, that this was given, as a special, and eminently distinguishing note of true godliness? But this is the very case with respect to the sign of grace I am speaking of; God has again and again uttered himself in his word in this very manner, concerning Christian practice, as Joh_14:1-31, "he that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me." Thus Christ in this place gives to the disciples, not so much to guide them in judging of others, as to apply to themselves for their own comfort after his departure, as appears by every word of the context. And by the way I would observe, that not only the emphasis with which Christ utters himself is remarkable, but also his so much insisting on, and repeating the matter, as he does in the context: Joh_14:15, "If ye love me, keep my commandments." Joh_14:23, "If a man love me, he will keep my words." And Joh_14:24, "He that loveth me not, keepeth not my sayings." And in the next chapter over and over: Joh_15:2, "Every branch in me that beareth not fruit, he taketh away; and every branch that beareth fruit; he purgeth it." Joh_15:8. "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples." Joh_15:14, "Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you." We have this mark laid down with the same emphasis again, Joh_8:31 "If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed." And again 1Jn_2:3, "Hereby do we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments." And 1Jn_2:5, "Whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected; hereby know we, that we are in him" And 1Jn_3:18-19, "Let us love in deed, and in truth; hereby we know that we are of the truth." What is translated hereby would have been a little more emphatical if it had been rendered more literally from the original, by this we do know.-And how evidently is holy practice spoken of as the grand note of distinction between the children of God and the children of the devil, in 1Jn_3:10, of the same chapter? "In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil." Speaking of a holy, and a wicked practice, as may be seen in all the context; as 1Jn_3:3, "Every man that hath this hope in him, purifieth himself even as he is pure." 1Jn_3:6-10, "Whosoever abideth in him, sinneth not whosoever sinneth, hath not seen him, neither known him. Little children, let no man deceive you; he that doeth righteousness, is righteous, even as he is righteous: he that committeth sin is of the devil.-Whosoever is born of God sinneth not.-Whosoever doeth not righteousness, is not of God." So we have the like emphasis, 2Jn_1:6 : "This is love, that we walk after his commandments;" that is (as we must understand it), this is the proper evidence of love. Son_1:1-17 Joh_5:3, "This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments." So the Apostle James, speaking of the proper evidences of true and pure religion, says, Jam_1:27, "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father, is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." We have the like emphatical expressions used about the same thing in the Old Testament, Job_28:28 : "And unto man he said, Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding." Jer_22:15-16, "Did not thy father eat and drink, and do judgment and justice? He judged the cause of the poor and needy: was not this to know me? saith the Lord." Psa_34:11, &c. "Come, ye children, unto me, and I will teach you the fear of the Lord.-Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile; depart from evil, and do good; seek peace and pursue it." Psal. 15, at the beginning, "Who shall abide in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly," &c. Psa_24:3-4, "Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart," &c. Psa_119:1, "Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord." Verse 6, "Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect to all thy commandments.' Pro_8:13, "The fear of the Lord is to hate evil."
So the Scripture never uses such emphatical expressions concerning any other signs of hypocrisy, and unsoundness of heart, as concerning an unholy practice. So Gal_6:7, "Be not deceived; God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." 1Co_6:9-10, "Be not deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, &c., shall inherit the kingdom of God." Eph_5:5-6, "For this ye know, that no whoremonger nor unclean person, &c, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ, and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words." 1 Joh_3:7-8, "Little children, let no man deceive you; he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous; he that committeth sin is of the devil." 1Jn_2:4, "He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him." And 1Jn_1:6. "If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth." Jam_1:26, "If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain." Jam_3:14-15, "If ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish." Psa_125:5, "As for such as turn aside unto their crooked ways, the Lord shall lead them forth with the workers of iniquity." Isa_35:8, "A high way shall be there, and it shall be called the way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it." Rev_21:27, "And there shall in no noise enter into it, whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie." And in many places, "Depart from me, I know you not, ye that work iniquity."
ARGUMENT VI.-Another thing which makes it evident, that holy practice is the chief of all the signs of the sincerity of professors, not only to the world, but to their own consciences, is, that this is the grand evidence which will hereafter be made use of, before the judgment seat of God; according to which his judgment will be regulated, and the state of every professor of religion unalterably determined. In the future judgment, there will be an open trial of professors, and evidences will be made use of in the judgment. For God's future judging of men, in order to their eternal retribution, will not be his trying, and finding out, and passing a judgment upon the state of men's hearts, in his own mind; but it will be, a declarative judgment; and the end of it will be, not God's forming a judgment within himself, but the manifestation of his judgment, and the righteousness of it, to men's own consciences, and to the world. And therefore the day of judgment is called the day of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God, Rom_2:6. And the end of God's future trial and judgment of men, as to the part that each one in particular is to have in the judgment, will be especially the clear manifestation of God's righteous judgment, with respect to him, to his conscience; as is manifest by Mat_18:31, to the end; Mat_20:8-15, Mat_22:11-13, Mat_25:19-30, and Mat_25:35, to the end, Luk_19:16-23. And therefore, though God needs no medium whereby to make the truth evident to himself, yet evidences will be made use of in his future judging of men. And doubtless the evidences that will be made use of in their trial, will be such as will be best fitted to serve the ends of the judgment; viz., the manifestation of the righteous judgment of God, not only to the world, but to men's own consciences. But the Scriptures do abundantly teach us, that the grand evidences which the Judge will make use of in the trial, for these ends, according to which the judgment of everyone shall be regulated, and the irreversible sentence passed, will be men's works, or practice, here in this world: Rev_20:12, "And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened;-and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works." So Rev_20:13, "And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged every man according to their works." 2Co_5:10, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that everyone may receive the things done in his body, whether it be good or bad." So men's practice is the only evidence that Christ represents the future judgment as regulated by, in that most particular description of the day of judgment, which we have in the Holy Bible, Mat_25:1-46 at the latter end. See also Rom_2:6, Rom_2:13, Jer_17:10, Job_34:11, Pro_24:12, Jer_32:19, Rev_22:12, Mat_16:27, Rev_2:23, Eze_33:20, 1Pe_1:17. The Judge, at the day of judgment, will not (for the conviction of men's own consciences, and to manifest them to the world) go about to examine men, as to the method of their experiences, or set every man to tell his story of the manner of his conversion; but his works will be brought forth, as evidences of what he is; what he has done in darkness and in light: Ecc_12:14, "For God will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil." In the trial that professors shall be the subjects of, in the future judgment, God will make use of the same evidences, to manifest them to themselves and to the world, which he makes use of to manifest them, in the temptations or trials of his providence here, viz., their practice, in cases wherein Christ and other things come into actual and immediate competition. At the day of judgment, God, for the manifestation of his righteous judgment, will weigh professors in a balance that is visible. And the balance will be the same that he weighs men in now, which has been already described.
Hence we may undoubtedly infer, that men's works (taken in the sense that has been explained) are the highest evidences by which they ought to try themselves. Certainly that which our supreme Judge will chiefly make use of to judge us by, when we come to stand before him, we should chiefly make use of, to judge ourselves by.["That which God maketh a rule of his own judgment, as that by which he judgeth of every man, that is a sure rule for every man to judge himself by. That which we shall be judged by at the last day, is a sure rule to apply to ourselves for the present. Now by our obedience and works he judgeth us. 'He will give to every man according to his works.'" Dr. Preston's Church's Carriage.] If it had not been revealed in what manner, and by what evidence the Judge would proceed with us hereafter, how natural would it be for one to say, "O that I knew what token God will chiefly look for and insist upon in the last and decisive judgment, and which he expects that all should be able to produce, who would then be accepted of him, and according to which sentence shall be passed; that I might know what token or evidence especially to look at and seek after now, as I would be sure not to fail then." And seeing God has so plainly and abundantly revealed what this token or evidence is, surely, if we act wisely, we shall regard it as of the greatest importance.
Now from all that has been said, I think it to be abundantly manifest, that Christian practice is the most proper evidence of the gracious sincerity of professors, to themselves and others; and the chief of all the marks of grace, the sign of signs, and evidence of evidences, that which seals and crowns all other signs.-I had rather have the testimony of my conscience, that I have such a saying of my Supreme Judge on my side, as that, Joh_14:21, "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me;" than the judgment and fullest approbation of all the wise, sound, and experienced divines, that have lived this thousand years, on the most exact and critical examination of my experiences, as to the manner of my conversion. Not that there are no other good evidences of a state of grace but this. There may be other exercises of grace besides these efficient exercises, which the saints may have in contemplation, that may be very satisfying to them, but yet this is the chief and most proper evidence. There may be several good evidences that a tree is a fig tree; but the highest and most proper evidence of it is, that it actually bears figs. It is possible, that a man may have a good assurance of a state of grace, at his first conversion, before he has had opportunity to gain assurance, by this great evidence I am speaking of.-If a man hears that a great treasure is offered him, in a distant place, on condition that he will prize it so much, as to be willing to leave what he possesses at home, and go a journey for it, over the rocks and mountains that are in the way, to the place where it is; it is possible the man may be well assured, that he values the treasure to the degree spoken of, as soon as the offer is made him: he may feel within him, a willingness to go for the treasure, beyond all doubt; but yet, this does not hinder but that his actual doing for it, is the highest and most proper evidence of his being willing, not only to others, but to himself. But then as an evidence to himself, his outward actions, and the motions of his body in his journey, are not considered alone, exclusive of the action of his mind, and a consciousness within himself, of the thing that moves him, and the end he goes for; otherwise his bodily motion is no evidence to him of his prizing the treasure. In such a manner is Christian practice the most proper evidence of a saving value of the pearl of great price, and treasure hid in the field.
Christian practice is the sign of signs, in this sense, that it is the great evidence, which confirms and crowns all other signs of godliness. There is no one grace of the Spirit of God, but that Christian practice is the most proper evidence of the truth of it. As it is with the members of our bodies, and all our utensils, the proper proof of the soundness and goodness of them, is in the use of them: so it is with our graces (which are given to be used in practice, as much as our hands and feet, or the tools with which we work, or the arms with which we fight), the proper trial and proof of them is in their exercise in practice. Most of the things we use are serviceable to us, and so have their serviceableness proved, in some pressure, straining, agitation, or collision. So it is with a bow, a sword, an axe, a saw, a cord, a chain, a staff, a foot, a tooth, &c. And they that are so weak, as not to bear the strain or pressure we need to put them to, are good for nothing. So it is with all the virtues of the mind. The proper trial and proof of them, is in being exercised under those temptations and trials that God brings us under, in the course of his providence, and in being put to such service as strains hard upon the principles of nature.
Practice is the proper proof of the true and saving knowledge of God; as appears by that of the apostle already mentioned, "hereby do we know that we know him, that we keep his commandments." It is in vain for us to profess that we know God, if in works we deny him, Tit_1:16. And if we know God, but glorify him not as God; our knowledge will only condemn us, and not save us, Rom_1:21. The great note of that knowledge which saves and makes happy, is, that it is practical: Joh_13:17, "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them." Job_28:28, "To depart from evil is understanding."
Holy practice is the proper evidence of repentance. When the Jews professed repentance, when they came confessing their sins, to John, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins; he directed them to the right way of getting and exhibiting proper evidences of the truth of their repentance, when he said to them, "Bring forth fruits meet for repentance," Mat_3:8. Which was agreeable to the practice of the Apostle Paul; see Act_26:20. Pardon and mercy are from time to time promised to him who has this evidence of true repentance, that he forsakes his sin, Pro_28:13, and Isa_55:7, and many other places.
Holy practice is the proper evidence of a saving faith. It is evident that the Apostle James speaks of works, as what do eminently justify faith, or (which is the same thing) justify the professors of faith, and vindicate and manifest the sincerity of their profession, not only to the world, but to their own consciences; as is evident by the instance he gives of Abraham, Jam_2:21-24. And in Jam_2:20 and Jam_2:26, he speaks of the practical and working nature of faith, as the very life and soul of it; in the same manner that the active nature and substance, which is in the body of a man, is the life and soul of that. And if so, doubtless practice is the proper evidence of the life and soul of true faith by which it is distinguished from a dead faith. For doubtless, practice is the most proper evidence of a practical nature, and operation the most proper evidence of an operative nature.
Practice is the best evidence of a saving belief of the truth. That is spoken of as the proper evidence of the truth's being in a professing Christian, that he walks in the truth, 3Jn_1:3 : "I rejoiced greatly when the brethren came and testified of the truth that is in thee, even as thou walkest in the truth."
Practice is the most proper evidence of a true coming to Christ, and accepting of, and closing with him. A true and saving coming to Christ, is (as Christ often teaches) a coming so as to forsake all for him. And, as was observed before, to forsake all for Christ in heart, is the same thing as to have a heart actually to forsake all; but the proper evidence of having a heart actually to forsake all, is, indeed, actually to forsake all so far as called to it. If a prince make suit to a woman in a far country, that she would forsake her own people, and father's house, and come to him to be his bride; the proper evidence of the compliance of her heart with the king's suit, is her actually forsaking her own people and father's house, and coming to him.-By this her compliance with the king's suit is made perfect, in the same sense that the Apostle James says, By works is faith made perfect.["Our real taking Christ appears in our actions and works: Isa_1:19. 'If ye consent and obey, ye shall eat the good things of the land.' That is, if ye will consent to take JEHOVAH for your Lord and King: if ye give consent, there is the first thing; but that is not enough, but if ye also obey. The consent that standeth in the inward act of the mind, the truth of it will be seen in your obedience, in the acts of your lives. 'If ye consent and obey, ye shall eat the good things of the land;' that is, you shall take of all that he hath that is convenient for you; for then you are married to him in truth, and have an interest in all his good." Dr. Preston's Church's Carriage.] Christ promises us eternal life, on condition of our coming to him: but it is such a coming as he directed the young man to, who came to inquire what he should do that he might have eternal life; Christ bade him go and sell all that he had, and come to him, and follow him. If he had consented in his heart to the proposal, and had therein come to Christ in his heart, the proper evidence of it would have been his doing of it; and therein his coming to Christ would have been made perfect. When Christ called Levi the publican, when sitting at the receipt of custom, and in the midst of his worldly gains; the closing of Levi's heart with this invitation of his Savior to come to him, was manifested, and made perfect by his actually rising up, leaving all, and following him, Luk_5:27-28. Christ, and other things, are set before us together, for us particularly to cleave to one, and forsake the other; in such a case, a practical cleaving to Christ is a practical acceptance of Christ; as much as a beggar's reaching out his hand and taking a gift that is offered, is his practical acceptance of the gift. Yea, that act of the soul that is in cleaving to Christ in practice is itself the most perfect coming of the soul to Christ.
Practice is the most proper evidence of trusting in Christ for salvation. The proper signification of the word trust, according to the more ordinary use of it, both in common speech and in the Holy Scriptures, is the emboldening and encouragement of a person's mind, to run some venture in practice, or in something that he does on the credit of another's sufficiency and faithfulness. And, therefore, the proper evidence of his trusting, is the venture he runs in what he does. He is not properly said to run any venture, in a dependence on any thing, that does nothing on that dependence, or whose practice is no otherwise than if he had no dependence. For a man to run a venture on a dependence on another, is for him to do something from that dependence by which he seems to expose himself, and which he would not do, were it not for that dependence. And, therefore, it is in complying with the difficulties, and seeming dangers of Christian practice, in a dependence on Christ's sufficiency and faithfulness to bestow eternal life, that persons are said to venture themselves upon Christ, and trust in him for happiness and life. They depend on such promises as that, Mat_10:39, "He that loseth his life for my sake, shall, find it." And so they part with all, and venture their all, in a dependence on Christ's sufficiency and truth. And this is the Scripture notion of trusting in Christ, in the exercise of a saving faith in him. Thus Abraham, the father of believers, trusted in Christ, and by faith forsook his own country, in a reliance on the covenant of grace God established with him, Heb_11:8-9. Thus also, "Moses, by faith refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season," Heb_11:23, &c. So by faith, others exposed themselves to be stoned and sawn asunder, or slain with the sword; "endured the trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, bonds and imprisonments, and wandered about in sheep skins, and goat skins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented." And in this sense the Apostle Paul, by faith trusted in Christ, and committed himself to him, venturing himself, and his whole interest, in a dependence on the ability and faithfulness of his Redeemer, under great persecutions, and in suffering the loss of all things: 2Ti_1:12, "For the which cause I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded, that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day."
If a man should have word brought him from the king of a distant island, that he intended to make him his heir, if, upon receiving the tidings, he immediately leaves his native land and friends, and all that he has in the world, to go to that country, in a dependence on what he hears, then he may be said to venture himself, and all that he has in the world upon it. But, if he only sits still, and hopes for the promised benefit, inwardly pleasing himself with the thoughts of it; he cannot properly be said to venture himself upon it; he runs no venture in the case; he does nothing, otherwise than he would do, if he had received no such tidings, by which he would be exposed to any suffering in case all should fail. So he that, on the credit of what he hears of a future world, and, in a dependence on the report of the gospel, concerning life and immortality, forsakes all, or does so at least, so far as there is occasion, making everything entirely give place to his eternal interest; he, and he only, may properly be said to venture himself on the report of the gospel. And this is the proper evidence of a true trust in Christ for salvation.
Practice is the proper evidence of a gracious love, both to God and men. The texts that plainly teach this, have been so often mentioned already, that it is needless to repeat them.
Practice is the proper evidence of humility. That expression, and manifestation of humility of heart, which God speaks of, as the great expression of it, that he insists on; that we should look upon as the proper expression and manifestation of it: but this is walking humbly. Mic_6:8, "He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?"
This is also the proper evidence of the true fear of God: Pro_8:13, "The fear of the Lord is to hate evil." Psa_34:11, &c., "Come, ye children, hearken unto me, and I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile: depart from evil, and do good; seek peace and pursue it." Pro_3:7, "Fear the Lord, and depart from evil." Pro_16:6, "By the fear of the Lord, men depart from evil." Job_1:8, "Hast thou considered my servant Job-a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?" Job_2:3, "Hast thou considered my servant Job-a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? And still he holdeth fast his integrity, although thou movedst me against him." Psa_36:1, "The transgression of the wicked saith within thy heart, There is no fear of God before his eyes."
So practice, in rendering again according to benefits received, is the proper evidence of true thankfulness. Psa_116:12, "What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits towards me?" 2Ch_32:25, "But Hezekiah rendered not again according to the benefit done unto him." Paying our vows unto God, and ordering our conversation aright, seem to be spoken of as the proper expression and evidence of true thankfulness, in the 50th Psalm, Psa_50:14 : "Offer unto God thanksgiving, and pay thy vows unto the Most High." Psa_50:23, &c; Whoso offereth praise, glorifieth me: and to him that ordereth his conversation aright, will I show the salvation of God."
So the proper evidence of gracious desires and longings, and that which distinguishes them from those that are false and vain, is, that they are not idle wishes and wouldings like Balaam's; but effectual in practice, to stir up persons earnestly and thoroughly to seek the things they long for. Psa_27:4 "One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after." Psa_63:1-2, "O God, thou art my God, early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is, to see thy power and thy glory." Psa_63:8, "My soul followeth hard after thee." Son_1:4, "Draw me, we will run after thee."
Practice is the proper evidence of a gracious hope: 1Jn_3:3, "Every man that hath this hope in him, purifieth himself even as he is pure." Patient continuance in well-doing, through the difficulties and trials of the Christian course, is often mentioned as the proper expression and fruit of a Christian hope. 1Th_1:3, "Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope." 1Pe_1:13-14, "Wherefore, gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end, for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ, as obedient children," &c. Psa_119:166, "Lord, I have hoped in thy salvation, and done thy commandments." Psa_78:7, "That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of the Lord, but keep his commandments."
A cheerful practice of our duty, and doing the will of God, is the proper evidence of a truly holy joy. Isa_64:5, "Thou meetest him that rejoiceth, and worketh righteousness." Psa_119:111-112, "Thy testimonies have I taken for my heritage forever; for they are the rejoicing of my heart. I have inclined mine heart to perform thy statutes alway, even to the end." Psa_119:14, "I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies as much as in all riches." 1Co_13:6, "Charity rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth." 2Co_8:2, "The abundance of their joy abounded unto the riches of their liberality.
Practice also is the proper evidence of Christian fortitude. The trial of a good soldier is not in his chimney corner, but in the field of battle, 1Co_9:25-26, 2Ti_2:3-4, 2 Timothy 6.
And, as the fruit of holy practice is the chief evidence of the truth of grace, so the degree in which experiences have influence on a person's practice, is the surest evidence of the degree of that which is spiritual and divine in his experiences. Whatever pretenses persons may make to great discoveries, great love and joys, they are no further to be regarded than they have influence on their practice. Not but that allowances must be made for the natural temper. But that does not hinder, but that the degree of grace is justly measured, by the degree of the effect in practice. For the effect of grace is as great, and the alteration as remarkable, in a very ill natural temper, as another. Although a person of such a temper will not behave himself so well, with the same degree of grace as another, the diversity from what was before conversion, may be as great; because a person of a good natural temper did not behave himself so in before conversion.
Thus I have endeavored to represent the evidence there is, that Christian practice is the chief of all the signs of saving grace. And, before I conclude this discourse, I would say something briefly in answer to two objections that may possibly be made by some against what has been said upon this head.
Objection I.-Some may be ready to says this seems to be contrary to that opinion, so much received among good people; that professors should judge of their state, chiefly by their inward experience, and that spiritual experiences are the main evidences of true grace.
I answer, it is doubtless a true opinion, and justly much received among good people, that professors should chiefly judge of their state by their experience. But it is a great mistake, that what has been said is at all contrary to that opinion. The chief sign of grace to the consciences of Christians being Christian practice, in the sense that has been explained, and according to what has been shown to be the true notion of Christian practice, is not at all inconsistent with Christian experience, being the chief evidence of grace. Christian or holy practice is spiritual practice; and that is not the motion of a body that knows not how, nor when, nor wherefore it moves: but spiritual practice in man is the practice of a spirit and body jointly, or the practice of a spirit animating, commanding, and actuating a body to which it is united, and over which it has power given it by the Creator. And, therefore, the main thing, in this holy practice, is the holy action of the mind, directing and governing the motions of the body. And the motions of the body are to be looked upon as belonging to Christian practices only secondarily, and as they are dependent and consequent on the acts of the soul. The exercises of grace that Christians find, or are conscious to within themselves, are what they experience within themselves; and herein therefore lies Christian experience: and this Christian experience consists as much in those operative exercises of grace in the will, that are immediately concerned in the management of the behavior of the body, as in other exercises. These inward exercises are not the less a part of Christian experience, because they have outward behavior immediately connected with them. A strong act of love to God, is not the less a part of spiritual experience, because it is the act that immediately produces and effects some self-denying and expensive outward action, which is much to the honor and glory of God.
To speak of Christian experience and practice, as if they were two things, properly and entirely distinct, is to make a distinction without consideration or reason. Indeed, all Christian experience is not properly called practice, but all Christian practice is properly experience. And the distinction that is made between them, is not only an unreasonable, but an unscriptural distinction. Holy practice is one kind or part of Christian experience; and both reason and Scripture represent it as the chief, and most important and most distinguishing part of it. So it is represented in Jer_22:15-16 : "Did not thy father eat and drink, and do justice and judgment? He judged the cause of the poor and needy-Was not this to know me, saith the Lord?" Our inward acquaintance with God surely belongs to the head of experimental religion: but this, God represents as consisting chiefly in that experience which there is in holy practice. So the exercises of those graces of the love of God, and the fear of God are a part of experimental religion: but these the Scripture represents as consisting chiefly in practice, in those forementioned texts: 1Jn_5:3, "This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments." 2Jn_1:6, "This is love, that we walk after his commandments." Psa_34:11, &c., "Come, ye children, and I will teach you the fear of the Lord: depart from evil, and do good." Such experiences as these Hezekiah took comfort in, chiefly on his sick bed, when he said, "Remember, O Lord, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth, and with a perfect heart." And such experiences as these, the Psalmist chiefly insists upon, in the 119th Psalm, and elsewhere.
Such experiences as these the Apostle Paul mainly insists upon, when he speaks of his experiences in his epistles; as, Rom_1:9, "God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son." 2Co_1:12, "For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that-by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world." 2Co_4:13, "We, having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I have believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak." 2Co_5:7, "We walk by faith, not by sight." 2Co_5:14