SHOWING WHAT ARE DISTINGUISHING SIGNS OF TRULY GRACIOUS AND HOLY AFFECTIONS
PART 3 / SECTION XIV
Christian practice is a distinguishing and sure evidence of grace to persons’ own
THIS is very plain in 1Jn_2:3, “Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.” And the testimony of our consciences, with respect to our good deeds, is spoken of as that which may give us assurance of our own godliness, 1Jn_3:18-19, “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed (in the original it is åñãù, in work) and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.” And the Apostle Paul, in Heb_6:1-20, speaks of the work and labor of love, of the Christian Hebrews, as that which both gave him a persuasion that they had something above the highest common illuminations, and also as that evidence which tended to give them the highest assurance of hope concerning themselves, Heb_6:9, etc.: “But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak. For God is not unrighteous, to forget your work and labor of love, which ye have showed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to his saints, and do minister. And we desire that everyone of you do show the same diligence, to the full assurance of hope unto the end.” So the apostle directs the Galatians to examine their behavior or practice, that they might have rejoicing in themselves in their own happy state, Gal_6:4, “Let every man prove his own work, so shall he have rejoicing in himself, and not in another.” And the psalmist says, Psa_119:6, “Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments;” i.e., then I shall be bold, and assured, and steadfast in my hope. And in that of our Savior, Mat_7:19-20, “Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, is hewn down and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” Though Christ gives this, firstly, as a rule by which we should judge of others, yet in the words that next follow he plainly shows, that he intends it also as a rule by which we would judge ourselves: “Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall Enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, etc. - And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. Therefore, whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock. - And everyone that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand.” I shall have occasion to mention other texts to show the same thing, hereafter.
But for the greater clearness in this matter, I would, first, show how Christian practice, doing good works, or keeping Christ’s commandments, is to be taken, when the Scripture represents it as a sure sign to our own consciences, that we are real Christians. And secondly, will prove, that this is the chief of all evidences that men can have of their own sincere godliness.
First, I would show how Christian practice, or keeping Christ’s commandments, is to be taken, when the Scripture represents it as a sure evidence to our own consciences, that we are sincere Christians.
And here I would observe, that we cannot reasonably suppose, that when the Scripture in this case speaks of good works, good fruit, and keeping Christ’s commandments, it has respect merely to what is external, or the motion and action of the body without including anything else, having no respect to any aim or intention of the agent, or any act of his understanding or will. For consider men’s actions so, and they are no more good works or acts of obedience, than the regular motions of a clock; nor are they considered as the actions of the man, nor any human actions at all. The actions of the body, taken thus, are neither acts of obedience nor disobedience, any more than the motions of the body in a convulsion. But the obedience and fruit that is spoken of, is the obedience and fruit of the man; and therefore not only the acts of the body, but the obedience of the soul, consisting in the acts and practice of the soul. Not that I suppose, that when the Scripture speaks, in this case, of gracious works, and fruit and practice, that in these expressions are included all inward piety and holiness of heart, both principle and exercise, both spirit and practice: because then, in these things being given as signs of a gracious principle in the heart, the same thing would be given as a sign of itself, and there would be no distinction between root and fruit. But only the gracious exercise, and holy act of the soul is meant, and given as the sign of the holy principle and good estate. Neither is every kind of inward exercise of grace meant; but the practical exercise, that exercise of the soul, and exertion of inward holiness, which there is in an obediential act; or that exertion of the mind, and act of grace which issues and terminates in what they call the imperate acts of the will; in which something is directed
and commanded by the soul to be done, and brought to pass in practice.
Here, for a clearer understanding, I would observe, that there are two kinds of exercises of grace. 1. There are those that some call immanent acts, that is, those exercises of grace that remain within the soul, that begin and are terminated there, without any immediate relation to anything to be done outwardly, or to be brought to pass in practice. Such are the exercises of grace, which the saints often have in contemplation; when the exercise that is in the heart does not directly proceed to, or terminate in anything beyond the thoughts of the mind; however they may tend to practice (as all exercises of grace do) more remotely. 2. There is another kind of acts of grace, that are more strictly called practical, or effective exercises, because they immediately respect something to be done. They are the exertions of grace in the commanding acts of the will, directing the outward actions. As when a saint gives a cup of cold water to a disciple, in and from the exercise of the grace of charity; or voluntarily endures persecution in the way of his duty; immediately from the exercise of a supreme love to Christ. Here is the exertion of grace producing its effect in outward actions. These exercises of grace are practical and productive of good works, not only in this
sense, that they are of a productive nature (for so are all exercises of true grace), but they are the producing acts. This is properly the exercise of grace in the act of the will; and this is properly the practice of the soul. And the soul is the immediate actor of no other practice but this; the motions of the body follow from the laws of union between the soul and body, which God, and not the soul, has fixed and does maintain. The act of the soul and the exercise of grace, that is exerted in the performance of a good work, is the good work itself, so far as the soul is concerned in it, or so far as it is the soul’s good work. The determinations of the will are indeed our very actions, so far as they are properly ours, as Dr. Doddridge observes. In this practice of the soul is included the aim and intention of the soul, which is the agent. For not only should we not look on the motions of a statue, doing justice or distributing alms by clockwork, as any acts of obedience to Christ in that statue; but neither would anybody call the voluntary actions of a man, externally and materially agreeable to a command of Christ, by the name of obedience to Christ, if he had never heard of Christ, or any of his commands, or had no thought of his commands in what he did. If the acts of obedience and good fruit spoken of, be looked upon, not as mere motions of the body, but as acts of the soul; the whole exercise of the spirit of the mind in the action must be taken in, with the end acted for, and the respect the soul then has to God, etc., otherwise they are no acts of denial of ourselves, or obedience to God, or service done to him, but something else. Such effective exercises of grace as these that I have now described, many of the Martyrs have experienced in a high degree. And all true saints live a life of such acts of grace as these; as they all live a life of gracious works, of which these operative exertions of grace are the life and soul. And this is the obedience and fruit that God mainly looks at, as he looks at the soul more than the body; as much as the soul, in the constitution of the human nature, is the superior part. As God looks at the obedience and practice of the man, he looks at the
practice of the soul; for the soul is the man in God’s sight, “for the Lord seeth not as man seeth, for he looketh on the heart.”
And thus it is that obedience, good works, good fruits, are to be taken, when given in Scripture as a sure evidence to our own consciences of a true principle of grace: even as including the obedience and practice of the soul, as preceding and governing the actions of the body. When practice is given in Scripture as the main evidence to others of our true Christianity, then is meant that in our practice which is visible to them, even our outward actions: but when practice is given as a sure evidence of our real Christianity to our own consciences, then is meant that in our practice which is visible to our own consciences; which is not only the motion of our bodies, but the exertion of the soul, which directs and commands that motion; which is more directly and immediately under the view of our own consciences, than the act of the body. And that this is the intent of the Scripture, not only does the nature and reason of the thing show, but it is plain by the Scripture itself. Thus it is evident that when Christ, at the conclusion of his sermon on the mount, speaks of doing or practicing those sayings of his, as the grand sign of professors being true disciples, without which he likens them to a man that built his house upon the sand, and with which, to a man that built his house upon a rock; he has a respect, not only to the outward behavior, but to the inward exercise of the mind in that behavior: as is evident by observing what those preceding sayings of his are that he refers to, when he speaks of our doing or practicing them; and we shall find they are such as these: “Blessed are the poor in spirit; blessed are they that mourn; blessed are the meek; blessed are they that do hunger and thirst after righteousness; blessed are the merciful; blessed are the pure in heart; whosoever is angry with his brother without a
cause, etc.; whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her, etc.; love your enemies; take no thought for your life,” and others of the like nature, which imply inward exercises: and when Christ says, Joh_14:21, “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me;” he has evidently a special respect to that command several times repeated in the same discourse (which he calls, by way of eminence, his commandment), that they should love one another as he had loved them (see Joh_13:34, and chap. 15:10-14). But this command respects chiefly an exercise of the mind or heart, though exerted in practice. So when the Apostle John says, 1Jn_2:3, “Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments;” he has plainly a principal respect to the same command, as appears by what follows, verse 7-11, and 2d Epistle verse 5, 6; and when we are told in Scripture that men shall at the last day be judged according to their works, and all shall receive according to the things done in the body, it is not to be understood only of outward acts; for if so, why is God so often spoken of as searching the hearts and trying the reins, that he may render to everyone according to his works? As Rev_2:23, “And all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts; and I will give unto everyone according to his works.” Jer_17:10, “I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.” But if by his ways, and the fruit of his doings, is meant only the actions of his body, what need of searching the heart and reins in order to know them? Hezekiah in his sickness pleads his practice as an evidence of his title to God’s favor, as including not only his outward actions, but what was in his heart: Isa_38:3, “Remember now, O Lord, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth, and with a perfect heart.”
Though in this great evidence of sincerity that the Scripture gives us, what is inward is of greatest importance; yet what is outward is included and intended, as connected with the practical exertion of grace in the will, directing and commanding the actions of the body. And hereby are effectually cut off all pretensions that any man can have to evidences of godliness, who externally lives wickedly; because the great evidence lies in that inward exercise and practice of the soul, which consists in the acts of the will, commanding outward acts. But it is known, that these commanding acts of the will are not one way and the actions of the bodily organs another: for the unalterable law of nature is, that they should be united as long as soul and body are united, and the organs are not so destroyed as to be incapable of those motions that the soul commands. Thus it would be ridiculous for a man to plead, that the commanding act of his will was to go to the public worship, while his feet carry him to a tavern or brothel-house; or that the commanding act of his will was to give such a piece of money he had in his hand to a poor beggar, while his hand at the same instant kept it back, and held it fast.
Secondly, I proceed to show, that Christian practice, taken in the sense that has been explained, is the chief of all the evidences of a saving sincerity in religion, to the consciences of the professors of it; much to be preferred to the method of the first convictions, enlightenings, and comforts in conversion, or any immanent discoveries or exercises of grace whatsoever, that begin and end in contemplation. The evidence of this appears by the following arguments.
ARGUMENT I. - Reason plainly shows, that those things which put it to the proof what men will actually cleave to and prefer in their practice, when left to follow their own choice and inclinations, are the proper trial what they do really prefer in their hearts. Sincerity in religion, as has been observed already, consists in setting God highest in the heart, in choosing him before other things, in having a heart to sell all for Christ, etc. But a man’s actions are the proper trial what a man’s heart prefers. As for instance, when it is so that God and other things come to stand in competition, God is as it were set before a man on one hand, and his worldly interest or pleasure on the other (as it often is so in the course of a man’s life); his behavior in such case, in actually cleaving to the one and forsaking the other, is the proper trial which he prefers. Sincerity consists in forsaking all for Christ in heart; but to forsake all for Christ in heart, is the very same thing as to have a heart to forsake all for Christ; but certainly the proper trial whether a man has a heart to forsake all for Christ is his being actually put to it, the having Christ and other things coming in competition, that he must actually or practically cleave to one and forsake the other. To forsake all for Christ in heart, is the same thing as to have a heart to forsake all for Christ when called to it: but the highest proof to ourselves and others, that we have a heart to forsake all for Christ when called to it, is actually doing it when called to it, or so far as called to it. To follow Christ in heart is to have a heart to follow him. To deny ourselves in heart for Christ, is the same thing as to have a heart to deny ourselves for him in fact. The main and most proper proof of a man’s having a heart to anything, concerning which he is at liberty to follow his own inclinations, and either to do or not to do as he pleases, is his doing of it. When a man is at liberty whether to speak or keep silence, the most proper evidence of his having a heart to speak, is his speaking. When a man is at liberty whether to walk or sit still, the proper proof of his having a heart to walk, is his walking. Godliness consists not in a heart to intend to do the will of God, but in a heart to do it. The children of Israel in the wilderness had the former, of whom we read, Deu_5:27-29, “Go thou near, and hear all that the Lord our God shall say; and speak thou unto us all that the Lord our God shall speak unto thee, and we will hear it, and do it. And the Lord heard the voice of your words, when ye spake unto me; and the Lord said unto me, I have heard the voice of the words of this people, which they have spoken unto thee; they have well said all that they have spoken. O that there were such a heart in them, that they would fear me and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children forever!” The people manifested that they had a heart to INTEND to keep God’s commandments, and to be very forward in those intentions; but God manifests, that this was far from being the thing that he desired, wherein true godliness consists, even a heart actually to keep them.
It is therefore exceedingly absurd, and even ridiculous, for any to pretend that they have a good heart, while they live a wicked life, or do not bring forth the fruit of universal holiness in their practice. For it is proved in fact, that such men do not love God above all. It is foolish to dispute against plain fact and experience. Men that live in ways of sin, and yet flatter themselves that they shall go to heaven, or expect to be received hereafter as holy persons, without a holy practice, act as though they expected to make a fool of their Judge. Which is implied in what the apostle says (speaking of men’s doing good works and living a holy life, thereby exhibiting evidence of their title to everlasting life), Gal_6:7, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” As much as to say, “Do not deceive yourselves with an expectation of reaping life everlasting hereafter, if you do not sow to the Spirit here; it is in vain to think that God will be made a fool of by you, that he will be shammed and baffled with shadows instead of substances, and with vain pretense, instead of that good fruit which he expects, when the contrary to what you pretend appears plainly in your life, before his face.” In this manner the word mock is sometimes used in Scripture. Thus Delilah says to Sampson, behold thou hast mocked me, and told me lies. Jdg_16:10; Jdg_16:13; i.e., “Thou hast baffled me, as though you would have made a fool of me, as if I might be easily turned off with any vain pretense, instead of the truth.” So it is said that Lot, when he told his sons in law that God would destroy that place, he seemed as one that mocked, to his sons in law, Gen_19:14; i.e., he seemed as one that would make a game of them, as though they were such credulous fools as to regard such bugbears. But the great Judge, whose eyes are as a flame of fire, will not be mocked or baffled with any pretenses, without a holy life. If in his name men have prophesied and wrought miracles, and have had faith, so that they could remove mountains, and cast out devils, and however high their religious affections have been, however great resemblances they have had of grace, and though their hiding-place has been so dark and deep, that no human skill nor search could find them out, yet if they are workers or practicers of iniquity, they cannot hide their hypocrisy from their Judge: Job_34:22, there is no darkness, nor shadow of death, where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves.” Would a wise prince suffer himself to be fooled and baffled by a subject, who should pretend that he was a loyal subject, and should tell his prince that he had an entire affection to him, and that at such and such a time he had experience of it, and felt his affections strongly working towards him, and should come expecting to be accepted and rewarded by his prince, as one of his best friends on that account, though he lived in rebellion against him, following some pretender to his crown, and from time to time stirring up sedition against him? Or would a master suffer himself to be shammed and gulled by a servant, that should pretend to great experiences of love and honor towards him in his heart, and a great sense of his worthiness and kindness to him, when at the same time he refused to obey him, and he could get no service done by him?
ARGUMENT II. As reason shows, that those things which occur in the course of life, that put it to the proof whether men will prefer God to other things in practice, are the proper trial of the uprightness and sincerity of their hearts; so the same are represented as the proper trial of the sincerity of professors in the Scripture. There we find that such things are called by that very name, trials or temptations (which I before observed are both words of the same signification). The things that put it to the proof, whether men will prefer God to other things in practice, are the difficulties of religion, or those things which occur, that make the practice of duty difficult and cross to other principles beside the love of God; because in them, God and other things are both set before men together, for their actual and practical choice; and it comes to this, that we cannot hold to both, but one or the other must be forsaken. And these things are all over the Scripture called by the name of trials or proofs. And they are called by this name, because hereby professors are tried and proved of what sort they be, whether they be really what they profess and appear to be; and because in them, the reality of a supreme love to God is brought to the test of experiment and fact; they are the proper proofs in which it is truly determined by experience, whether men have a thorough disposition of heart to cleave to God or no: Deu_8:2, “And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments or no:” Jdg_2:21-22, “I also will not henceforth drive out any from before them, of the nations which Joshua left when he died; that through them I may prove Israel, whether they will keep the way of the Lord.” So Jdg_3:1; Jdg_3:4, and Exo_16:4.
The Scripture, when it calls these difficulties of religion by the name of temptations or trials, explains itself to mean thereby the trial or experiment of their faith: Jam_1:2-3, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience:” 1Pe_1:6-7, “Now, for a season ye are in heaviness, through manifold temptations; that the trial of your faith being much more precious than of gold,” etc. So the Apostle Paul speaks of that expensive duty of parting with our substance to the poor, as the proof of the sincerity of the love of Christians: 2Co_8:8. And the difficulties of religion are often represented in Scripture, as being the trial of professors, in the same manner that the furnace is the proper trial of gold and silver: Psa_66:10-11, “Thou, O God, hast proved us: thou has tried us as silver is tried: thou broughtest us into the net, thou laidest affliction upon our loins.” Zec_13:9, “And I will bring the third part of them through the fire; and I will refine them as silver is refined; and I will try them as gold is tried.” That which has the color and appearance of gold, is put into the furnace to try whether it be what it seems to be, real gold or no. So the difficulties of religion are called trials, because they try those that have the profession and appearance of saints, whether they are what they appear to be, real saints.
If we put true gold into the furnace, we shall find its great value and preciousness: so the truth and inestimable value of the virtues of a true Christian appear when under these trials: 1Pe_1:7, “That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, might be found unto praise, and honor, and glory.” True and pure gold will come out of the furnace in full weight, so true saints, when tried, come forth as gold, Job_23:10. Christ distinguishes true grace from counterfeit by this, that it is gold tried in the fire, Rev_3:17-18. So that it is evident, that these things are called trials in Scripture, principally as they try or prove the sincerity of professors. And, from what has now been observed, it is evident that they are the most proper trial or proof of their sincerity; inasmuch as the very meaning of the word trial, as it is ordinarily used in Scripture, is the difficulty occurring in the way of a professor’s duty, as the trial or experiment of his sincerity. If trial of sincerity be the proper name of these difficulties of religion, then, doubtless, these difficulties of religion are properly and eminently the trial of sincerity; for they are doubtless eminently what they are called by the Holy Ghost: God gives things their name from that which is eminently their nature. And, if it be so, that these things are the proper and eminent trial, proof, or experiment of the sincerity of professors, then certainly the result of the trial or experiment (that is, persons’ behavior or practice under such trials) is the proper and eminent evidence of their sincerity; for they are called trials or proofs, only with regard to the result, and because the effect is eminently the proof or evidence. And this is the most proper proof and evidence to the conscience of those that are the subjects of these trials. For when God is said by these things to try men, and prove them, to see what is in their hearts, and whether they will keep his commandments or no; we are not to understand, that it is for his own information, or that he may obtain evidence himself of their sincerity (for he needs no trials for his information); but chiefly for their conviction, and to exhibit evidence to their consciences.
Thus, when God is said to prove Israel by the difficulties they met with in the wilderness, and by the difficulties they met with from their enemies in Canaan, to know what was in their hearts, whether they would keep his commandments or no; it must be understood, that it was to discover them to themselves, that they might know what was in their own hearts. So when God tempted or tried Abraham with that difficult command of offering up his son, it was not for his satisfaction, whether he feared God or no, but for Abraham’s own greater satisfaction and comfort, and the more clear manifestation of the favor of God to him. When Abraham had proved faithful under this trial, God says to him, Now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from me. Which plainly implies, that in this practical exercise of Abraham’s grace under this trial, was a clearer evidence of the truth of his grace, than ever was before; and the greatest evidence to Abraham’s conscience; because God himself gives it to Abraham as such, for his comfort and rejoicing; and speaks of it to him as what might be the greatest evidence to his conscience of his being upright in the sight of his Judge. Which proves what I say, that holy practice, under trials, is the highest evidence of the sincerity of professors to their own consciences. And we find that Christ, from time to time, took the same method to convince the consciences of those that pretended friendship to him, and to show them what they were. This was the method he took with the rich young man, Mat_19:16, etc. He seemed to show a great respect to Christ; he came kneeling to high and called him good Master, and made a great profession of obedience to the commandments; but Christ tried him, by bidding him go and sell all that he had, and give to the poor, and come and take up his cross and follow him, telling him that then he should have treasure in heaven. So he tried another that we read of, Mat_8:19-20. He made a great profession of respect to Christ: says he, Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. Christ immediately puts his friendship to the proof, by telling him, that the foxes had holes, and the birds of the air had nests, but that the Son of Man had not where to lay his head. And thus Christ is wont still to try professed disciples in general, in his providence. So the seed sown, in every kind of ground, stony ground, thorny ground, and good ground, which, in all appears alike, when it first springs up; yet is tried, and the difference made to appear, by the burning heat of the sun.
Seeing therefore, that these are the things that God makes use of to try us, it is undoubtedly the surest way for us to pass a right judgment on ourselves, to try ourselves by the same things. These trials of his are not for his information but for ours; therefore we ought to receive our information from thence. The surest way to know our gold, is to look upon it and examine it in God’s furnace, where he tries it for that end, that we may see what it is. If we have a mind to know whether a building stands strong or no, we must look upon it when the wind blows. If we would know whether that which appears in the form of wheat, has the real substance of wheat, or be only chaff, we must observe it when it is winnowed. If we would know whether a staff be strong, or a rotten broken reed, we must observe it when it is leaned on, and weight is borne upon it. If we would weigh ourselves justly, we must weigh ourselves in God’s scales that he makes use of to weigh us. These trials, in the course of our practice, are as it were the balances in which our hearts are weighed, or in which Christ and the world, or Christ and his competitors, as to the esteem and regard they have in our hearts are weighed, or are put into opposite scales, by which there is opportunity to see which preponderates. When a man is brought to the dividing of paths, the one of which leads to Christ, and the other to the object of his lusts, to see which way he will go, or is brought, and as it were set between Christ and the world, Christ on the right hand, and the world on the left, so that, if he goes to one, he must leave the other, to see which his heart inclines most to, or which preponderates in his heart; this is just the same thing as laying Christ and the world in two opposite scales; and his going to the one, and leaving the other, is just the same thing as the sinking of one scale, and rising of the other. A man’s practice, therefore, under the trials of God’s providence, is as much the proper evidence of the superior inclination of his heart as the motion of the balance, with different weights, in opposite scales, is the proper experiment of the superior weight.
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, 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, verses 17-18, “Whoso hath this world’s goods, and shutteth up his bowels, etc., 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,” 1Jn_3:18-19.
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,” etc. 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, etc. “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; 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. 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.” Verse 23, “If a man love me, he will keep my words.” And verse 24, “He that loveth me not, keepeth not my sayings.” And in the next chapter over and over: verse 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.” Verse 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 verse 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 verse 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.” Verses 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. So 1Jn_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, etc. “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.” Psa_15:1-5, at the beginning, “Who shall abide in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly,” etc. 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,” etc. 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, etc., shall inherit the kingdom of God.” Eph_5:5-6, “For this ye know, that no whoremonger nor unclean person, etc. hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ, and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words.” 1Jn_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.” Chap. 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.” Chap. 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_2:5. 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; chap. 22:11-13; Mat_25:19-30, and verse 35, to the end; Luk_19:15-23. 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 verse 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_2:6-13; 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. 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.