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lurking places of my heart, bring it to light; if there be any flaw in my evidences, let me see it before it be too late; I am too apt, through self-love, to judge the best, but do thou declare my state and my frame as it is: thou that must be my judge shalt be my witness. "My witness is in heaven, and my record is on high," Job xvi. 19. Here is a soul usually comforted in his integrity, and such a one is meet for heaven.
(4.) Praying to God for the illumination and sealing of his Spirit. For indeed let all these means be used, yet evidence will not appear unless God be pleased to shine upon his own grace in the soul. "My conscience,” saith Paul, “bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost," Rom. ix. 1, and Rom. viii. 16, "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God." This indeed is sun-light assurance. This alone scatters all mists, answers all objections, banishes all doubts and fears; and O what an honour and satisfaction is it to a child of God, that the third person of the sacred Trinity should come down and give his infallible testimony at the bar of a believer's conscience! This is like the Son of God coming down to assume our nature, and to die for us. O transcendent condescension! O unparalleled privilege of God's children! Yet this is purchased by Christ, and promised to believers, not only to be a witness, but a seal.* This is often, yea ordinarily given after believing; and when it comes, it brings its own evidence along with it; so that the perplexed child of God, after many sore conflicts, strugglings, efforts, and sad thoughts of heart, comes at last to some stability, so as to expel cares, fears, and doubts, and now at last is brought to this, that he no more questions God's love than his faithfulness; and this usually
* 2 Cor. i. 22. v. 5. Eph. i. 13.
takes place after some extraordinary wrestlings at the throne of grace in prayer, according to that John xvi. 24,"Hitherto ye have asked nothing in my name:" that is, very little comparatively. "Ask and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full." God will have his children to beg when he designs to give, to exercise our obedience, and to honour his own ordinance. Then he gives assurance, and the joy of his salvation; and now the believer is meet to be translated into the joy of his Lord.
But you will say, are none meet for heaven but such as have assurance? Then what shall a poor doubting soul say of itself, when dark, and much discouraged as many are?
Answ. (1.) A title to this inheritance is necessary, but knowledge of this title is not absolutely necessary. Many have died safely, though under clouds. Our Lord himself cried, in his dying moments, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" There was relation, my God, yet in some sense he was forsaken.
(2.) There are degrees of assurance; accordingly one said, "Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief." Few enjoy a full assurance, and those that have it, yet have it not at all times. Mr. Paul Bains said, dying, "Sustentation I have, but suavities spiritual I do not feel."
(3.) What God doth in a sovereign way, when he suspends the comforts of his Spirit from the best of his saints, is one thing; and what may be, and usually is, the effect of man's sloth and negligence, and which is too commonly our case, is another; as Mr. Dodd answered him that complained of want of assurance, "why, man, assurance may be had, and what have you been doing all this while?"
(4.) Yet this will hold good, that a clear evidence of
our title is a great meetness and readiness for death; for though assurance be not necessary [ad esse] to the being of a Christian; yet it is necessary [ad bene esse] to his well-being, or comfortable passage through, or departure out of this world; for if we must draw near to God in duty with full assurance of faith, Heb. x. 22, much more at death.
O what a vast difference there is between a soul carried upon the wing of faith, in an ecstacy of joy, and the poor doubting, heartless, disconsolate soul! The former is like some high mountains, that are above storms and clouds, as they say Olympus is clear and beautiful. O the calmness and serenity of the well assured Christian! He hath a double heaven, well at present, better presently; it is but shooting this gulf, crossing this Jordan, passing this stile, as Dr. Taylor said, "and I shall be in my Father's house." Death itself, as terrible as it is in itself and to others, is a stingless serpent, my friend and father's servant sent to fetch me home; angels shall guard me, my Lord will bid me welcome, my christian friends gone before will make heaven ring with shouts of joy at my landing safe, and my soul shall ever be with the Lord. But alas, the poor doubting soul, whose evidences are not clear, cries out, alas, die I must, and die I dare not, I dare not say, God is my God, Christ is my Saviour, the Spirit my sanctifier, promises forming the charter that conveys an inheritance to others I cannot apply; whither I am going I know not; God conducts himself strangely towards me; I remember God and am troubled, guilt stares me in the face, I am conscious to myself of thousands of sins, and though I have been long trying to exercise faith and repentance, yet I am not sure they are sincere and saving, or whether God will receive my mournful departing soul: as a
great man said, I have lived under fears, I die under doubts, and God knows what will become of me, I may however thank myself; alas, this is the fruit of my sloth, my security, my slipping into sin, backslidings from God, intermissions of duty, careless and heartless performances; woe is me, what will become of me! These are the overwhelming thoughts of a poor doubtful, dying soul. And is this man meet for heaven? He may be right for the main, but he cannot make death welcome.
MEETNESS FOR HEAVEN CONSISTING IN THE DISCHARGE OF WHAT IS INCUMBENT UPON US.
3. THE next thing wherein our meetness for this blessed inheritance doth consist, is in despatching the main work which God sent us to do in the world; whatever that is, God expects that we should be performing it, and get it done; this we must all apply ourselves cheerfully to do, and be very diligent in doing it, Eccl. ix. 10, "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might." This only is the time of working, the future, beyond the grave, is a day of retribution; and when the child of God hath wrought his day's work, he goes to sleep in the dust: thus our dear Lord tells his father, John xvii. 4, 5, "I have finished the work that thou gavest me to do; and now O, Father, glorify me with thy own self."
* Anxius vixi, dubius morior.
But you may say, What work is it that God sets before men to perform?
I answer, There is a fourfold work upon a Christian's hands in this world.
(1.) Personal, spiritual work, soul work, wherein God is more immediately concerned; which is the glorifying of God, and saving of the soul; God hath combined these, they are inseparable, and it is a mighty business. Our Lord saith, "I have glorified thee on the earth;" this in our measure is required of us, and the sincere Christian makes it his design. Thou knowest, O my dear Lord, what that is which hath lain nearest my heart ever since thou openedst mine eyes: the earnest desire of my soul hath been to be nothing in mine own eyes, that God alone may have all the glory; I will confess and give glory to God; I resolve to do this, and through grace have desired, to make it my business to give glory to God by believing, repenting, obeying, fruit-bearing; yea, in eating, drinking, and whatsoever I do in natural, moral or civil actions. This, this is the mark I have in view, my highest aim, "that God in all things may be glorified, through Jesus Christ;" and my business is in order thereto, to study how to please God, and to abound more and more;" to obey God's commandments, and to do those things that are pleasing in his sight;* and O that my person and prayers might be accepted in Christ! The salvation
of my soul is more dear and precious than this poor, perishing frame. My grand inquiry is, what must I do to be saved? this is the one thing needful, other things are bye the bye. O that I could work out my own salvation! I appeal to thee, Lord, how many griefs and groans, tears and prayers, pains and fears, this main concern hath cost me: I know there is much * 1 Pet. iv. 11. 1 Thess. iv. 1. 1 John iii. 22.