SHOWING WHAT ARE DISTINGUISHING SIGNS OF TRULY GRACIOUS AND HOLY AFFECTIONS
PART 3 / SECTION XII
Gracious and holy affections have their exercise and fruit in Christian practice.
I MEAN, they have that influence and power upon him who is the subject of them, that they cause that a practice, which is universally conformed to, and directed by Christian rules, should be the practice and business of his life.
This implies three things: 1. That his behavior or practice in the world be universally conformed to, and directed by Christian rules. 2. That he makes a business of such a holy practice above all things; that it be a business which he as chiefly engaged in, and devoted to, and pursues with highest earnestness and diligence: so that he may be said to make this practice of religion eminently his work and business. - And 3. That he persists in it to the end of life: so that it may be said, not only to be his business at certain seasons, the business of Sabbath days, or certain extraordinary times, or the business of a month, or a year, or of seven years, or his business under certain circumstances; but the business of his life; it being that business which he perseveres in through all changes, and under all trials, as long as he lives. The necessity of each of these, in all true Christians, is most clearly and fully taught in the Word of God.
1. It is necessary that men should be universally obedient: 1Jn_3:3 etc., “Every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure. - And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin. Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not; whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. He that doeth righteousness, is righteous even as he is righteous: he that committeth sin is of the devil.” Chap. 5:18, “We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not, but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.” Joh_15:14, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” Jam_2:10, “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” 1Co_6:9, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, etc. shall inherit the kingdom of God.” Gal_5:19-20. “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these, adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife have, envyings, murder, drunkenness, reveling, and such the like: of which I tell you before, as I have also told you in times past, that they that do such things, shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” Which is as much as to say, they that do any sort of wickedness. Job_31:3-7, “Is not destruction to the wicked? And a strange punishment to the workers of iniquity? Doth not he see my ways, and count all my steps? Let me be weighed in an even balance, that God may know mine integrity. If my step hath turned out of the way, and mine heart walked after mine eyes, and if any blot hath cleaved to my hands,” etc. Eze_33:15, “If he walk in the statutes of life, without committing iniquity, he shall surely live.”
If one member only be corrupt, and we do not cut it off, it will carry the whole body to hell, Mat_5:29-30. Saul was commanded to slay all God’s enemies, the Amalekites; and he slew all but Agag, and the saving him alive proved his ruin. Caleb and Joshua entered into God’s promised rest, because they wholly followed the Lord, Num_14:24, and chap. 32:11, 12; Deu_1:36; Jos_14:6; Jos_14:8-9; Jos_14:14. Naaman’s hypocrisy appeared in that, however ever he seemed to be greatly affected with gratitude to God for healing his leprosy, and engaged to serve him, yet in one thing he desired to be excused. And Herod, though he feared John, and observed him, and heard him gladly, and did many things; yet was condemned, in that in one thing he would not hearken to him, even in parting with his beloved Herodias. So that it is necessary that men should part with their dearest iniquities, which are as their right hand and right eyes, sins that most easily beset them, and which they are most exposed to by their natural inclinations, evil customs, or particular circumstances, as well as others. As Joseph would not make known himself to his brethren, who had sold him, until Benjamin the beloved child of the family, that was most hardly parted with, was delivered up; no more will Christ reveal his love to us, until we part with our dearest lusts, and until we are brought to comply with the most difficult duties, and those that we have the greatest aversion to.
And it is of importance that it should be observed that in order to man’s being truly said to be universally obedient, his obedience must not only consist in negatives, or in universally avoiding wicked practices, consisting in sins of commission, but he must also be universal in the positives of religion. Sins of omission are as much breaches of God’s commands as sins of commission. Christ, in Mat_25:1-46 represents those on the left hand as being condemned and cursed to everlasting fire for sins of omission. I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat, etc. A man, therefore, cannot be said to be universally obedient, and of a Christian conversation, only because he is no thief, nor oppressor, nor fraudulent person, nor drunkard, nor tavern haunter, nor whoremaster, nor rioter, nor night walker, nor unclean, nor profane in his language, nor slanderer, nor liar, nor furious, nor malicious, nor reviler. He is falsely said to be of a conversation that becomes the gospel, who goes thus far and no farther; but in order to this, it is necessary that he should also be of a serious, religious, devout, humble, meek, forgiving, peaceful, respectful, condescending, benevolent, merciful, charitable and beneficent walk and conversation. Without such things as these, he does not obey the laws of Christ, and laws that he and his apostles did abundantly insist on, as of the greatest importance and necessity.
2. In order to men’s being true Christians, it is necessary that they prosecute the business of religion, and the service of God with great earnestness and diligence, as the work which they devote themselves to, and make the main business of their lives. All Christ’s peculiar people not only do good works, but are zealous of good works, Tit_2:14. No man can do the service of two masters at once. They that are God’s true servants do give up themselves to his service, and make it as it were their whole work, therein employing their whole hearts, and the chief of their strength: Php_3:13, “This one thing I do.” Christians in their effectual calling, are not called to idleness, but to labor in God’s vineyard, and spend their day in doing a great and laborious service. All true Christians comply with this call (as is implied in its being an effectual call), and do the work of Christians; which is everywhere in the New Testament compared to those exercises wherein men are wont to exert their strength with the greatest earnestness, as running, wrestling, fighting. All true Christians are good and faithful soldiers of Jesus Christ, and fight the good fight of faith; for none but those who do so, do ever lay hold on eternal life. Those who fight as those that beat the air, never win the crown of victory. They that run in a race, run all, but one wins the prize, and they that are slack and negligent in their course, do not so run as that they may obtain. The kingdom of heaven is not to be taken but by violence. Without earnestness there is no getting along, in that narrow way that leads to life; and so no arriving at that state of glorious life and happiness which it leads to. Without earnest labor there is no ascending the steep and high hill of Zion, and so no arriving at the heavenly city on the top of it. Without a constant laboriousness there is no stemming the swift stream in which we swim, so as ever to come to that fountain of water of life that is at the head of it. There is need that we should watch and pray always, in order to our escaping those dreadful things that are coming on the ungodly, and our being counted worthy to stand before the Son of man. There is need of our putting on the whole armor of God, and doing all, to stand, in order to our avoiding a total overthrow, and being utterly destroyed by the fiery darts of the devil. There is need that we should forget the things that are behind, and be reaching forth to the things that are before, and pressing towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, in order to our obtaining that prize. Slothfulness in the service of God in his professed servants, is as damning as open rebellion; for the slothful servant is a wicked servant, and shall be cast into outer darkness, among God’s open enemies, Mat_25:26; Mat_25:30. They that are slothful are not followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises. Heb_6:11-12, “And we desire that everyone of you do show the same diligence, to the full assurance of hope unto the end; that ye be not slothful, but followers of them, who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” And all they who follow that cloud of witnesses that are gone before to heaven, do lay aside every weight, and the sin that easily besets them, and do run with patience the race that is set before them, Heb_12:1. That true faith, by which persons rely on the righteousness of Christ, and the work that he hath done for them, and do truly feed and live upon him, is evermore accompanied with such a spirit of earnestness in the Christian work and course. Which was typified of old, by the manner of the children of Israel’s feeding on the paschal lamb; who were directed to eat it, as those that were in haste, with their loins girded, their shoes on their feet, and their staff in their hand, Exodus 12:11. 3. Every true Christian perseveres in this way of universal obedience, and diligent and earnest service of God, through all the various kinds of trials that he meets with, to the end of life. That all true saints, all those that do obtain eternal life, do thus persevere in the practice of religion, and the service of God, is a doctrine so abundantly taught in the Scripture, that particularly to rehearse all the texts which imply it would be endless; I shall content myself with referring to some in the margin.
But that perseverance in obedience, which is chiefly insisted on in the Scripture, as a special note of the truth of grace, is the continuance of professors in the practice of their duty, and being steadfast in a holy walk, through the various trials that they meet with.
By trials here, I mean those things that occur, and that a professor meets with in his course, that do especially render his continuance in his duty and faithfulness to God, difficult to nature. These things are from time to time called in Scripture by the name of trials, or temptations (which are words of the same signification). These are of various kinds: there are many things that render persons’ continuance in the way of their duty difficult, by their tendency to cherish and foment, or to stir up and provoke their lusts and corruptions. Many things make it hard to continue in the way of their duty, by their being of an adhering nature, and having a tendency to entice persons to sin, or by their tendency to take off restraints, and embolden them in iniquity. Other things are trials of the soundness and steadfastness of professors, by their tendency to make their duty appear terrible to them, and so to affright and drive them from it; such as the sufferings which their duty will expose them to; pain, ill will, contempt, and reproach, or loss of outward possessions and comforts. If persons, after they have made a profession of religion, live any considerable time in this world, which is so full of changes, and so full of evil, it cannot be otherwise than that they should meet with many trials of their sincerity and steadfastness. And besides, it is God’s manner, in his providence, to bring trials on his professing friends and servants designedly, that he may manifest them, and may exhibit sufficient matter of conviction of the state which they are in, to then own consciences, and oftentimes to the world; as appears by innumerable Scriptures.
True saints may be guilty of some kinds and degrees of backsliding, and may be foiled by particular temptations, and may fall into sin, yea great sins; but they never can fall away so as to grow weary of religion, and the service of God, and habitually to dislike it and neglect it, either on its own account, or on account of the difficulties that attend it; as is evident by Gal_6:9; Rom_2:7; Heb_10:36; Isa_43:22; Mal_1:13. They can never backslide, so as to continue no longer in a way of universal obedience; or so, that it shall cease to be their manner to observe all the rules of Christianity, and do all duties required, even in the most difficult circumstances. This is abundantly manifest by the things that have been observed already. Nor can they ever fall away so as habitually to be more engaged in other things than in the business of religion; or so that it should become their way and manner to serve something else more than God; or so as statedly to cease to serve God, with such earnestness and diligence, as still to be habitually devoted and given up to the business of religion; unless those words of Christ can fall to the ground, Ye cannot serve two masters, and those of the apostle, He that will be a friend of the world, is the enemy of God; and unless a saint can change his God, and yet be a true saint. Nor can a true saint ever fall away so, that it shall come to this, that ordinarily there shall be no remarkable difference in his walk and behavior since his conversion, from what was before. They that are truly converted are new men, new creatures; new not only within, but without; they are sanctified throughout, in spirit, soul and body; old things are passed away, all things are become new; they have new hearts, and new eyes, new ears, new tongues, new hands, new feet; i.e., a new conversation and practice; and they walk in newness of life, and continue to do so to the end of life. And they that fall away, and cease visibly to do so, it is a sign they never were risen with Christ. And especially when men’s opinion of their being converted, and so in a safe estate, is the very cause of their coming to this, it is a most evident sign of their hypocrisy. And that, whether their falling away be into their former sins, or into some new kind of wickedness, having the corruption of nature only turned into a new channel, instead of its being mortified. As when persons that think themselves converted, though they do not return to former profaneness and lewdness; yet from the high opinion they have of their experiences, graces, and privileges, gradually settle more and more in a self-righteous and spiritually proud temper of mind, and in such a manner of behavior as naturally arises therefrom. When it is thus with men, however far they may seem to be from their former evil practices, this alone is enough to condemn them, and may render their last state far worse than the first. For this seems to be the very case of the Jews of that generation that Christ speaks of, Mat_12:43-45, who being awakened by John the Baptist’s preaching, and brought to a reformation of their former licentious courses, whereby the unclean Spirit was as it were turned out, and the house swept and garnished; yet, being empty of God and of grace, became full of themselves, and were exalted in an exceeding high opinion of their own righteousness and eminent holiness, and became habituated to an answerably self-exalting behavior; so changing the sins of publicans and harlots, for those of the Pharisees; and in issue, had seven devils, worse than the first.
Thus I have explained what exercise and fruit I mean, when I say, that gracious affections have their exercise and fruit in Christian practice. The reason why gracious affections have such a tendency and effect appears from many things that have already been observed, in the preceding parts of this discourse.
The reason of it appears from this, that gracious affections do arise from those operations and influences which are spiritual, and that the inward principle from whence they flow, is something divine, a communication of God, a participation of the divine nature, Christ living in the heart, the Holy Spirit dwelling there, in union with the faculties of the soul, as an internal vital principle, exerting his own proper nature, in the exercise of those faculties. This is sufficient to show us why true grace should have such activity, power, and efficacy. No wonder that which is divine, is powerful and effectual; for it has omnipotence on its side. If God dwells in the heart, and be vitally united to it, he will show that he is a God, by the efficacy of his operation. Christ is not in the heart of a saint, as in a sepulcher, or as a dead savior, that does nothing; but as in his temple, and as one that is alive from the dead. For in the heart where Christ savingly is, there he lives, and exerts himself after the power of that endless life that he received at his resurrection. Thus every saint that is a subject of the benefit of Christ’s sufferings, is made to know and experience the power of his resurrection. The Spirit of Christ, which is the immediate spring of grace in the heart, is all life, all power, all act: 1Co_2:4, “In demonstration of the Spirit, and of power.” 1Th_1:5, “Our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost.” 1Co_4:20, “The kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.” Hence saving affections, though oftentimes they do not make so great a noise and show as others, yet have in them a secret solidity, life, and strength, whereby they take hold of, and carry away the heart, leading it into a kind of captivity, 2Co_10:5, gaining a full and steadfast determination of the will for God and holiness. Psa_110:3, “Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power.” And thus it is that holy affections have a governing power in the course of a man’s life. A statue may look very much like a real man, and a beautiful man; yea, it may have, in its appearance to the eye, the resemblance of a very lively, strong, and active man; but yet an inward principle of life and strength is wanting; and therefore it does nothing, it brings nothing to pass, there is no action or operation to answer the show. False discoveries and affections do not go deep enough to reach and govern the spring of men’s actions and practice. The seed in stony ground had not deepness of earth, and the root did not go deep enough to bring forth fruit. But gracious affections go to the very bottom of the heart and take hold of the very inmost springs of life and activity.
Herein chiefly appears the power of true godliness, viz., in its being effectual practice. And the efficacy of godliness in this respect, is what the apostle has respect to, when he speaks of the power of godliness, 2Ti_3:5, as is very plain; for he there is particularly declaring, how some professors of religion would notoriously fail in the practice of it, and then in the 5th verse observes, that in being thus of an unholy practice, they deny the power of godliness, though they have the form of it. Indeed the power of godliness is exerted in the first place within the soul, in the sensible, lively exercise of gracious affections there. Yet the principal evidence of this power of godliness, is in those exercises of holy affections that are practical, and in their being practical; in conquering the will, and conquering the lusts and corruptions of men, and carrying men on in the way of holiness, through all temptations, difficulty, and opposition.
Again, the reason why gracious affections have their exercise and effect in Christian practice, appears from this (which has also been before observed), that the first objective around of gracious affections, is the transcendently excellent and amiable nature of divine things, as they are in themselves, and not any conceived relation they bear to self, or self-interest. This shows why holy affection will cause men to be holy in their practice universally. What makes men partial in religion is, that they seek themselves, and not God, in their religion; and close with religion, not for its own excellent nature, but only to serve a turn. He that closes with religion only to serve a turn, will close with no more of it than he imagines serves that turn; but he that closes with religion for its own excellent and lovely nature, closes with all that has that nature: he that embraces religion for its own sake, embraces the whole of religion. This also shows why gracious affections will cause men to practice religion perseveringly, and at all times. Religion may alter greatly in process of time, as to its consistence with men’s private interest, in many respects; and therefore he that complies with it only for selfish views, is liable, in chance of times, to forsake it; but the excellent nature of religion, as it is in itself, is invariable; it is always the same, at all times, and through all changes; it never alters in any respect.
The reason why gracious affections issue in holy practice, also further appears from the kind of excellency of divine things, that it has been observed is the foundation of all holy affections, viz., their moral excellency, or the beauty of their holiness. No wonder that a love to holiness, for holiness’ sake, inclines persons to practice holiness, and to practice everything that is holy. Seeing holiness is the main thing that excites, draws, and governs all gracious affections, no wonder that all such affections tend to holiness. That which men love, they desire to have and to be united to, and possessed of. That beauty which men delight in, they desire to be adorned with. Those acts which men delight in, they necessarily incline to do.
And what has been observed of that divine teaching and leading of the Spirit of God, which there is in gracious affections, shows the reason of this tendency of such affections to a universally holy practice. For, as has been observed, the Spirit of God in this his divine teaching and leading gives the soul a natural relish of the sweetness of that which is holy, and of everything that is holy, so far as it comes in view and excites a disrelish and disgust of everything that is unholy.
The same also appears from what has been observed of the nature of that spiritual knowledge, which is the foundation of all holy affection, as consisting in a sense and view of that excellence in divine things, which is supreme and transcendent. For hereby these things appear above all others, worthy to be chosen and adhered to. By the sight of the transcendent glory of Christ, true Christians see him worthy to be followed; and so are powerfully drawn after him; they see him worthy that they should forsake all for him: by the sight of that superlative amiableness, they are thoroughly disposed to be subject to him, and engaged to labor with earnestness and activity in his service, and made willing to no through all difficulties for his sake. And it is the discovery of this divine excellency of Christ, that makes them constant to him: for it makes a deep impression upon their minds, that they cannot forget him; and they will follow him whithersoever he goes, and it is in vain for any to endeavor to draw them away from him.
The reason of this practical tendency and issue of gracious affections, further appears from what has been observed of such affections being attended as with a thorough conviction of the judgment of the reality and certainty of divine things.” No wonder that they who were never thoroughly convinced that there is any reality in the things of religion, will never be at the labor and trouble of such an earnest, universal, and persevering practice of religion, through all difficulties, self-denials, and sufferings in a dependence on that, which they are not convinced of. But on the other hand, they who are thoroughly convinced of the certain truth of those things, must needs be governed by them in their practice; for the things revealed in the Word of God are so great, and so infinitely more important than all other things, that it is inconsistent with the human nature, that a man should fully believe the truth of them, and not he influenced by them above all things in his practice.
Again, the reason of this expression and effect of holy affections in the practice, appears in what has been observed of a change of nature, accompanying such affections. Without a change of nature, men’s practice will not be thoroughly changed. Until the tree be made good, the fruit will not be good. Men do not gather grapes of thorns, nor figs of thistles. The swine may be washed and appear clean for a little while, but yet, without a change of nature, he will still wallow in the mire. Nature is a more powerful principle of action, than anything that opposes it: though it may be violently restrained for a while, it will finally overcome that which restrains it: it is like the stream of a river, it may be stopped a while with a dam, but if nothing be done to dry the fountain, it will not be stopped always; it will have a course, either in its old channel, or a new one. Nature is a thing more constant and permanent, than any of those things that are the foundation of carnal men’s reformation and righteousness. When a natural man denies his lust, and lives a strict, religious life, and seems humble, painful, and earnest in religion, it is not natural; it is all a force against nature; as when a stone is violently thrown upwards; but that force will be gradually spent; yet nature will remain in its full strength, and so prevails again, and the stone returns downwards. As long as corrupt nature is not mortified, but the principle left whole in a man, it is a vain thing to expect that it should not govern. But if the old nature be indeed mortified, and a new and heavenly nature infused, then may it well be expected, that men will walk in newness of life, and continue to do so to the end of their days.
The reason of this practical exercise and effect of holy affections, may also be partly seen, from what has been said of that spirit of humility which attends them. Humility is that wherein a spirit of obedience does much consist. A proud spirit is a rebellious spirit, but a humble spirit is a yieldable, subject, obediential spirit. We see among men, that the servant who is of a haughty spirit is not apt in everything to be submissive and obedient to the will of his master; but it is otherwise with that servant who is of a lowly spirit.
And that lamb-like, dove-like spirit, that has been spoken of, which accompanies all gracious affections, fulfills (as the apostle observes, Rom_13:8-10, and Gal_5:14) all the duties of the second table of the law; wherein Christian practice does very much consist, and wherein the external practice of Christianity chiefly consists.
And the reason why gracious affections are attended with that strict, universal and constant obedience which has been spoken of, further appears, from what has been observed of that tenderness of spirit, which accompanies the affections of true saints, causing in them so quick and lively a sense of pain through the presence of moral evil, and such a dread of the appearance of evil.
And one great reason why the Christian practice which flows from gracious affections, is universal, and constant, and persevering, appears from That has been observed of those affections themselves, from whence this practice flows, being universal and constant, in all kinds of holy exercises, and towards all objects, and in all circumstances and at all seasons in a beautiful symmetry and proportion.
And much of the reason why holy affections are expressed and manifested in such an earnestness, activity, and engagedness and perseverance in holy practice, as has been spoken of, appears from what has been observed, of the spiritual appetite and longing after further attainments in religion, which evermore attends true affection, and does not decay, but increases as those affections increase. Thus we see how the tendency of holy affections to such a Christian practice as has been explained, appears from each of those characteristics of holy affection that have been before spoken of.
And this point may be further illustrated and confirmed, if it be considered, that the Holy Scriptures do abundantly place sincerity and soundness in religion, in making a full choice of God as our only Lord and portion, forsaking all for him, and in a full determination of the will for God and Christ, on counting the cost; in our heart’s closing and complying with the religion of Jesus Christ, with all that belongs to it, embracing it with all its difficulties, as it were hating our dearest earthly enjoyments, and even our own lives, for Christ, giving up ourselves, with all that we have, wholly and forever, unto Christ, without keeping back anything, or making any reserve; or, in one word, in the great duty of self-denial for Christ; or in denying, i.e., as it were, disowning and renouncing ourselves for him, making ourselves nothing that he may be all. See the texts to this purpose referred to in the margin. Now surely having a heart to forsake all for Christ, tends to actually forsaking all for hire, so far as there is occasion, and we have the trial. A having a heart to deny ourselves for Christ, tends to a denying ourselves indeed, when Christ and self-interest stand in competition. A giving up of ourselves, with all that we have, in our hearts, without making any reserve there, tends to our behaving ourselves universally as his, as subject to his will, and devoted to his ends. Our heart’s entirely closing with the religion of Jesus, with all that belongs to it, and as attended with all its difficulties, upon a deliberate counting the cost, tends to a universal closing with the same in act and deed, and actually going through all the difficulties that we meet with in the way of religion, and so holding out with patience and perseverance.
The tendency of grace in the heart to holy practice, is very direct, and the connection most natural, close, and necessary. True grace is not an unactive thing; there is nothing in heaven or earth of a more active nature, for it is life itself, and the most active kind of life, even spiritual and divine life. It is no barren thing; there is nothing in the universe that in its nature has a greater tendency to fruit. Godliness in the heart has as direct a relation to practice, as a fountain has to a stream, or as the luminous nature of the sun has to beams sent forth, or as life has to breathing, or the beating of the pulse, or any other vital act; or as a habit or principle of action has to action; for it is the very nature and notion of grace, that it is a principle of holy action or practice. Regeneration which is that work of God in which grace is infused, has a direct relation to practice; for it is the very end of it, as with a view to which the whole work is wrought; all is calculated and framed, in this mighty and manifold change wrought in the soul, so as directly to tend to this end. Eph_2:10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works. Yea, it is the very end of the redemption of Christ: Tit_2:14, “Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” 2Co_5:15, “He died for all, that they which live, should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him who died for them, and rose again.” Heb_9:14, “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit, offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” Col_1:21-22, “And you that were sometimes alienated, and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled, in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblamable, and unreprovable in his sight.” 1Pe_1:18, “For as much as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation.” Luk_1:74-75, “That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.” God often speaks of holy practice, as the end of that great typical redemption, the redemption from Egyptian bondage; as Exo_4:23, “Let my son go, that he may serve me.” So Exo_4:23; Exo_7:16, and Exo_8:1; Exo_8:20; Exo_9:1; Exo_9:13, and Exo_10:3. And this is also declared to be the end of election, Joh_15:16, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that you should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain.” Eph_1:4, “According as he hath chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy, and with out blame before him in love.” Chap. 2:10, “Created unto good works, which God hath foreordained that we should walk in them.” Holy practice is as much the end of all that God does about his saints, as fruit is the end of all the husbandman does about the growth of his field or vineyard; as the matter is often represented in Scripture, Mat_3:10, chapter 13:8, 23-30, 38, chapter 21:19, 33, 34; Luk_13:6; Joh_15:1-2; Joh_15:4-6; Joh_15:8; 1Co_3:9; Heb_6:7-8; Isa_5:1-8; Son_8:11-12; Isa_27:2-3. And therefore everything in a true Christian is calculated to reach this end. This fruit of holy practice is what every grace, and every discovery, and every individual thing which belongs to Christian experience, has a direct tendency to.
The constant and indissoluble connection that there is between a Christian principle and profession in the true saints, and the fruit of holy practice in their lives, was typified of old in the frame of the golden candlestick in the temple. It is beyond doubt that that golden candlestick, with its seven branches and seven lamps, was a type of the church of Christ. The Holy Ghost himself has been pleased to put that matter out of doubt, by representing his church by such a golden candlestick, with seven lamps, in the fourth chapter of Zechariah, and representing the seven churches of Asia by seven golden candlesticks, in the first chapter of the Revelation. That golden candlestick in the temple was everywhere, throughout its whole frame, made with knops and flowers: Exo_25:31, to the end, and chapter 37:17-24. The word translated knop, in the original, signifies apple or pomegranate. There was a knop and a flower, a knop and a flower: wherever there was a flower, there was an apple or pomegranate with it: the flower and the fruit were constantly connected, without fail. The flower contained the principle of the fruit, and a beautiful promising appearance of it; and it never was a deceitful appearance; the principle or show of fruit, had evermore real fruit attending it, or succeeding it. So it is in the church of Christ: there is the principle of fruit in grace in the heart; and there is an amiable profession, signified by the open flowers of the candlestick; and there is answerable fruit, in holy practice, constantly attending this principle and profession. Every branch of the golden candlestick, thus composed of golden apples and flowers, was crowned with a burning, shining lamp on the top of it. For it is by this means that the saints shine as lights in the world, by making a fair and good profession of religion, and having their profession evermore joined with answerable fruit in practice: agreeable to that of our Savior, Mat_5:15-16, “Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick, and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” A fair and beautiful profession, and golden fruits accompanying one another, are the amiable ornaments of the true church of Christ. Therefore we find that apples and flowers were not only the ornaments of the candlesticks in the temple, but of the temple itself, which is a type of the church; which the apostle tells us is the temple of the living God. See 1Ki_6:18, “And the cedar of the house within was carved with knops, and open flowers.” The ornaments and crown of the pillars, at the entrance of the temple, were of the same sort: they were lilies and pomegranates, or flowers and fruits mixed together, 1Ki_7:18-19. So it is with all those that are as pillars in the temple of God, who shall go no more out, or never be ejected as intruders; as it is with all true saints: Rev_3:12, “Him that overcometh, will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out.”
Much the same thing seems to be signified by the ornaments on the skirt of the ephod, the garment of Aaron, the high priest; which were golden bells and pomegranates. - That these skirts of Aaron’s garment represent the church, or the saints (that are as it were the garment of Christ), is manifest; for they are evidently so spoken of, Psa_133:1-2, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard, that went down to the skirts of his garments.” That ephod of Aaron signified the same with the seamless coat of Christ our great High Priest. As Christ’s coat had no seam, but was woven from the top throughout, so it was with the ephod, Exo_39:22. As God took care in his providence, that Christ’s coat should not be rent; so God took special care that the ephod should not be rent, Exo_28:32, and chap. 39:23. The golden bells on this ephod, by their precious matter and pleasant sound, do well represent the good profession that the saints make; and the pomegranates, the fruit they bring forth. And as in the hem of the ephod, bells and pomegranates were constantly connected, as is once and again observed, there was a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, Exo_28:34, and chap. 39:26, so it is in the true saints; their good profession and their good fruit, do constantly accompany one another: the fruit they bring forth in life, evermore answers the pleasant sound of their profession.
Again, the very same thing is represented by Christ, in his description of his spouse, Son_7:2, “Thy belly is like a heap of wheat, set about with lilies.” Here again are beautiful flowers, and good fruit, accompanying one another. The lilies were fair and beautiful flowers, and the wheat was good fruit.
As this fruit of Christian practice is evermore found in true saints, according as they have opportunity and trial, so it is found in them only; none but true Christians do live such an obedient life, so universally devoted to their duty, and given up to the business of a Christian, as has been explained. All unsanctified men are workers of iniquity: they are of their father the devil, and the lusts of their father they will do. There is no hypocrite that will go through with the business of religion, and both begin and finish the tour: they will not endure the trials God is wont to bring on the professors of religion, but will turn aside to their crooked ways: they will not be thoroughly faithful to Christ in their practice, and follow him whithersoever he goes. Whatever lengths they may go in religion in some instances, and though they may appear exceeding strict, and mightily engaged in the service of God for a season; yet they are servants to sin; the chains of their old taskmasters are not broken: their lusts have yet a reigning power in their hearts; and therefore to these masters they will bow down again. Dan_12:10, “Many shall be purified and made white, and tried: but the wicked will do wickedly, and none of the wicked shall understand.” Isa_26:10, “Let favor be showed to the wicked, yet will he not learn righteousness; in the land of uprightness will he deal unjustly.” Isa_35:8, “And a highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called the way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. Hos_14:9, “The ways of the Lord are right, and the just shall walk in them: but the transgressors shall fall therein.” Job_27:8-10, “What is the hope of the hypocrite? Will he delight himself in the Almighty? Will he always call upon God?” An unsanctified man may hide his sin, and may in many things, and for a season refrain from sin; but he will not be brought finally to renounce his sin, and give it a bill of divorce; sin is too dear to him, for him to be willing for that: “Wickedness is sweet in his mouth; and therefore he hides it under his tongue he spares it, and forsakes it not; but keeps it still within his mouth,” Job_20:12-13. Herein chiefly consists the straitness of the gate, and the narrowness of the way that leads to life; upon the account of which, carnal men will not go in thereat, viz., that it is a way of utterly denying and finally renouncing all ungodliness, and so a way of self-denial or self-renunciation.
Many natural men, under the means that are used with them, and God’s strivings with them to bring them to forsake their sins, do by their sins as Pharaoh did by his pride and covetousness, which he gratified by keeping the children of Israel in bondage, when God strove with him, to bring him to let the people go. When God’s hand pressed Pharaoh sore, and he was exercised with fears of God’s future wrath, he entertains some thoughts of letting the people go, and promised he would do it; but from time to time he broke his promises, when he saw there was respite. When God filled Egypt with thunder and lightning, and the fire ran along the ground, then Pharaoh is brought to confess his sin with seeming humility, and to have a great resolution to let the people go. Exo_9:27-28, “And Pharaoh sent, and called for Moses and Aaron, and said unto them, I have sinned this time: the Lord is righteous, and I and my people are wicked: entreat the Lord (for it is enough) that there be no more mighty thunderings and hail; and I will let you go, and ye shall stay no longer.” So sinners are sometimes, by thunders and lightnings and great terrors of the law, brought to a seeming work of humiliation, and to appearance to part with their sins; but are no more thoroughly brought to a disposition to dismiss them, than Pharaoh was to let the people go. Pharaoh, in the struggle that was between his conscience and his lusts, was for contriving that God might be served, and he enjoy his lusts that were gratified by the slavery of the people. Moses insisted that Israel’s God should be served and sacrificed to: Pharaoh was willing to consent to that; but would have it done without his parting with the people: “Go sacrifice to your God in the land,” says he, Exo_8:25. So, many sinners are for contriving to serve God, and enjoy their lusts too. Moses objected against complying with Pharaoh’s proposal, that serving God, and yet continuing in Egypt under their taskmasters, did not agree together, and were inconsistent one with another (there is no serving God, and continuing slaves to such enemies of God at the same time). After this Pharaoh consented to let the people go, provided they would not go far away: he was not willing to part with them finally, and therefore would have them within reach. So do many hypocrites with respect to their sins. - Afterwards Pharaoh consented to let the men go, if they would leave the women and children, Exo_10:8-10. And then after that, when God’s hand was yet harder upon him, he consented that they should go, even women and children, as well as men, provided they would leave their cattle behind! But he was not willing to let them go, and all that they had, Exo_10:24. So it oftentimes is with sinners; they are willing to part with some of their sins, but not all; they are brought to part with the more gross acts of sin, but not to part with their lusts, in lesser indulgencies of them. Whereas we must part with all our sins, little and great; and all that belongs to them, men, women, children, and cattle; they must be let go, with their young, and with their old, with their sons, and with their daughters, with their flocks, and with their herds, there must not be a hoof left behind; as Moses told Pharaoh, with respect to the children of Israel. At last, when it came to extremity, Pharaoh consented to let the people all go, and all that they had; but he was not steadfastly of that mind, he soon repented and pursued after them again, and the reason was, that those lusts of pride and covetousness that were gratified by Pharaoh’s dominion over the people, and the gains of their service, were never really mortified in him, but only violently restrained. And thus, being guilty of backsliding, after his seeming compliance with God’s commands, he was destroyed without remedy. Thus there may be a forced parting with ways of disobedience to the commands of God, that may seem to be universal, as to what appears for a little season; but because it is a mere force, without the mortification of the inward principle of sin, they will not persevere in it; but will return as the dog to his vomit; and so bring on themselves dreadful and remediless destruction. There were many false disciples in Christ’s time, that followed him for a while; but none of them followed him to the end; but some on one occasion, and some on another, went back and walked no more with him.
From what has been said, it is manifest, that Christian practice, or a holy life, is a great and distinguishing sign of true and saving grace. But I may go farther, and assert, that it is the chief of all the signs of grace, both as an evidence of the sincerity of professors UNTO OTHERS, and also to their OWN CONSCIENCES.
But then it is necessary that this be rightly taken, and that it be well understood and observed, in what sense and manner Christian practice is the greatest sign of grace. Therefore to set this matter in a clear light, I will endeavor particularly and distinctly to prove, that Christian practice is the principal sign by which Christians are to judge, both of their own and others’ sincerity of godliness; withal observing some things that are needful to be particularly noted, in order to a right understanding of this matter.