SELF‑CONCEIT INCIDENT TO A MULTITUDE OF PROFESSORS; OR, THE IMAGINARY PURE GENERATION FOUND NOT WASHED FROM THEIR POLLUTION.
The Nature and Excellency of Purity Opened
[The Fifth Sermon on this Text]
“There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness.” Proverbs 30:2.
Many, by a fair profession, a false conviction, and a bastard conversion, seem half way to heaven, who yet will lodge forever in hell. He who sits down at half‑way, and rests there, will never come to the end of his journey, but is still afar off: O sirs, it is to be feared that the most part of you, that even come so near to Christ, in approaching to his house and ordinances; yet you are as far from him as light is from darkness, or darkness from light; and we need not go far to prove the charge; for, if you be not washed, you are far from God and Christ; yea, you have no part in him; “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part in me,” said our blessed Lord to Peter. If you be not washed from the guilt of sin in justification, and from the filth of sin in sanctification, you have no part in Christ, and so are far enough from him; and this is the state, not of a few, but of a multitude; “There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness.”
Having finished the doctrinal part of the subject, discussed so much of the application, we are now prosecuting an use of trial; but in regard we have treated the negative part of this use more largely than the positive, we shall offer some things farther upon the last of these: not with a view so much to multiply particular marks, as for offering general rules, by which you may examine this matter. As it hath already been tried by the root and by the fruit of it; it may be farther examined by the parts of it, by the perfection of it, by the means of it, and by the end of it.
3dly, We proceed then, in the third place, to try this gospel purity by the parts of it. This purity, holiness, or sanctification, is twofold, either habitual or actual.
1. There is habitual purity, which lies in the infusion of all the habits of grace. And this habitual holiness may be tried by these two special parts of it; viz. the illumination of the mind, and the renovation of the will.
(1.) There is here the illumination of the mind: this is a special part of purity and sanctification: “Ye have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge, after the image of him that created him,” (Col. 3:10). The mere natural man, that lies in his natural state, he neither doth nor can perceive the things of God, (1 Cor. 2:14). Here then is purity to clear the understanding. The pure and sanctified man is renewed in the spirit of his mind. We are a mass of darkness by nature; “We know nothing as we ought to know.” We are blind as moles, and can give no subjection of understanding to divine revelation; nor give a full assent to the truths of God, having no subjective persuasion thereof: yea, we know nothing as we ought to know. Though we may have a form of knowledge, yet, in seeing we see not, while we want the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of God. Sin, entering into the world, hath blindfolded us all: the devil, having got the victory over us, doth even throw glamour over our eyes, or beguile us with a false deception; and we are become fools: folly is bound up in the heart of every natural man.—And however some may seem to be exempted from this character, such as these who are called statesmen, and great wits, and politicians; yet, while in a natural state, their wisdom is but foolishness in God’s sight, (1 Cor: 1:20). The profound philosopher, and high pretender to reason, is but a fool in the sight of God: professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.
Now, when the Lord purifies a man, he takes this poor man, who is so ignorant of God, even as blind as a mole in the things of God, and as dark as a dungeon, and makes him light in the Lord: the light of the gospel shines in with evidence upon the man’s soul, so as he is made to give full credit to the truths of God, and to the God of truth. The high reasoning that was in his mind, against the gospel of Christ, even his vain imaginations, whereby he exalted himself against the knowledge of Christ, these are brought down by the weapons of the gospel warfare, the sword of the Spirit, in the hand of Christ. These reasonings that he had before are silenced: the man sees a glory in God’s perfections, in the face of Jesus Christ, that he saw not before: he sees a beauty in God’s dispensations which he saw not before: he sees a majesty in God’s ordinances which he did not see before, and could not perceive: he sees a loveliness in the precepts of God, nothing whereof could be perceived before: he sees a sweetness in the promises, which he thought very little of before: he sees an excellency in the saints whom he contemned before: he sees a reality in what was divinely revealed, which was but fancies to him before: he sees also a certainty in a life to come, and in a death and a wrath to come, which he never gave full credit to before: he knows now there is a God, whom before he only thought he knew, but was really ignorant of; he sees him to be a just and holy God, a good and gracious God, a God in Christ reconciling the world to himself.
Now, all sanctification and purity enters in at this door of illumination; and therefore you may try by this: for the grand difference between the saint and the hypocrite lies in this, the one is darkness, the other is light in the Lord. Let the hypocrite do what he will, profess what he will, he is still but a mass of darkness, and knows nothing of God. Whereas, let the saint, the believer, be at never such a low ebb, yet he is a person whose eyes God hath opened: though sometimes, indeed, he may be asleep, and so not actually beholding the light; yet this habitual change is wrought, the eyes of his understanding is enlightened.
(2.) Another special part of this habitual purity and sanctification, is the renovation of the will and affections. The natural man is rebellion against the will of God; his will by no means will stoop to the will of God; and here is the work of sanctification in the will, that it makes it flexible, bends and inclines it to obedience to God’s will: “he that is of God, and purified by him, he heareth God’s word: and ye, therefore, hear them not, because ye are not of God,” (John 8:47). Man’s will is totally depraved, and desperately wicked: by nature it is inclined to everything that is bad, and averse from everything that is good: it is the greatest enemy that God hath out of hell, and as great an enemy as he hath in hell; for every man that hath an unrenewed will, he hath a devil in his breast. The will unrenewed is the very picture of Satan; the man is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be: and whatever he may pretend of kindness to God, and the people of God, yet he hates God, and everything that hath God’s image upon it.—His affections are totally vitiated, his desires being toward that which is dishonorable to God, and hurtful to himself: his delights are placed upon a thing of naught. His sorrows are especially because he cannot get his will; and his will is neither for God’s glory, nor his own good. His greatest grief is because he cannot get his wicked will gratified, or his carnal affections satisfied.
But know, when the Lord purifies the man, and sanctifies him, he takes away the heart of stone, and gives the heart of flesh. This wicked will, is called the heart of stone, because it is inflexible, it will neither bow nor bend; you may sooner break the man than bow him; while this corrupt will remains, there is no possibility of the man’s inclining to that which is spiritually good. Now, when the will is changed, the faculty remains, but the quality is changed; the cursed quality, whereby it was wholly inclined to evil: whereby it was so inclined to wickedness, that there was no drawing the man off from his own ways; yet God takes this away in sanctification, so that now, the man is inclined to good, as before he was inclined to evil.—The will is now subject to the will of God, and to the law of God, and made to say, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” Let my will be submissive to thine; let it be as a weather‑cock, to turn about with every blast of the breath of thy mouth; with every signification of thy will in the word. The man is now inclined to seek the Lord, and to serve him: yea he hath a natural and native inclination to that which is good; and a native aversion from that which is evil, though his will be but in part renewed, and when he would do good, evil is present with him: there is flesh lusting against the spirit, yet he is really renewed, so as it is the habitual frame and disposition of his soul, to serve the Lord in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of his life. His affections are renewed: he now is made to desire God as the chief good; to delight in him as the only portion; to love him as his best friend; to hate sin as his greatest enemy; to be sorrowful for that more than for any other thing; to be angry at sin in himself and in others; and to be well pleased and satisfied with the revelation and device of salvation, through grace, by the righteousness of Christ: and that Christ should be made of God to him wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.
And thus you see the parts of habitual purity: this is the habit of grace, though it be not always exercised and discerned, as it is in acquired habits; e.g.—A musician hath the habit of music, or playing melodiously, though he hath not always the instrument or harp in his hand: so it is infused habits; a man hath the habit of grace, habitual purity, though it be not always drawn forth into actual exercise. And therefore,
2. There is actual purity, by which we ought to try ourselves. And this actual purity hath these two parts, viz. a dying daily to sin, and a living daily to God and righteousness.
(1.) In actual purity there is a dying daily to sin; and that is called mortification; he that is in Christ hath crucified the flesh, with the lusts and affections. Now, this dying to sin, is when one doth daily more and more fall out of conceit with sin; when he is actually fighting against it, hating it, and endeavoring the crucifixion of it; when his aversion from it, is more strengthened, and his inclination to it is more and more weakened. But perhaps one may say, How shall I know true mortification? Why, it is universal, opposing all sin; and it levels at the very root thereof in original sin: “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death!” It levels even at secret sins, as well as open; “O cleanse thou me from secret faults.” It strikes at beloved sins; it is a cutting off the right hand, and plucking out the right eye. It is also evangelical, flowing from a principle of love to God in Christ; and acted in the virtue, and by the faith of the death and crucifixion of the Son of God; and hence a man is said to be crucified with Christ, (Gal. 2:20).
(2.) A living daily to God, and to righteousness, is another part of actual purity, by which we ought to try our sanctity; and it is usually termed vivification. This way of living, is when a man is so far alive to God, as that he is actually delighting in the Lord, and in his company more and more; desiring to have more communion with God in Christ; and when the Lord’s service becomes still more the man’s recreation and element; and when not only the house of Saul is growing weaker and weaker, but the house of David is growing stronger and stronger, by the man’s growing in grace, and in the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and living by the faith of the Son of God.—Now, in true vivification, the man not only hath life, but is lively; not only engrafted into the true vine, but drawing sap and virtue from the same; not only married to Christ, but bringing forth fruit to him.
Now, these are the parts of purity and sanctification, by which we should examine ourselves: and, I fear the opening thereof may discover the total want of purity in the most, and the partial want of it in the best of folk; even the great want that believers themselves labor under, with respect to these things. But, however, though believers themselves may see their great want hereof, yet they may be in case to draw a comfortable conclusion therefrom, and it may be this, namely, “What I hear the minister tell me of these parts of sanctification, I know I have sometime‑a‑day understood it to my blessed experience, and therefore have good ground to expect that I shall know more of it, in the Lord’s time and way; for, he that hath begun the good work, will perfect it; and therefore I will quietly wait his return.”
4thly, Let us not only thus try our purity by the parts, but also by the perfection of it. I do not mean a perfection of degrees, which will not take place till the believer be in heaven; but the gospel perfection, which even takes place on earth, and by which the believer, in scripture language, is sometimes said to be a perfect and upright man. And this perfection of purity, I think in general, lies in this, When a man is pure in God’s sight. This seems to be especially pointed at in the text, as the reverse of that self‑conceited purity therein held forth: “There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness.” They are pure in their own sight, but not pure in the sight of God; intimating, that the gospel perfection of purity lies in a man’s being pure in God’s sight. Of this purity the apostle speaks, (Col. 1:22), where Christ is said to present his people holy, and unblameable, and unreproveable in his Father’s sight.
Question. What is it to be pure in God’s sight, so as we may examine this purity by the gospel perfection of it?
Answer 1. This gospel perfection is that purity in God’s sight, which implies internal heart‑uprightness, evidencing itself in faith, and love, which can act in the sight and presence of God, as being the product of his blessed Spirit.
I call it a heart‑uprightness, or heart purity, because the man that is thus pure, is not only pure outwardly, in the sight of mans but pure in heart and spirit, in the sight of God, who is a spirit. Many pretend to holiness, but, like the Pharisees, they make clean only the outside of the platter: but the truly pious and holy soul is most careful to have the heart right with God, and solicitous how to be cleansed from all filthiness of the spirit as well as the flesh. He indeed finds much heart impurity; but the soul of him is grieved at it, and he most ardently desires to be cleansed: “Wash me, and I shall be clean. Create in me a clean heart.” He is exercised about the heart, crying to heaven for more and more purity, and daily flying to the fountain opened for sin and uncleanness. They are much in secret, crying for purity; and even when they win not to a secret chamber; yea, perhaps when they are in the midst of company, they will, now and then, be darting up some stolen look to heaven, and their hearts praying, “O for holiness! O for conformity to the Lord! O to have heart enemies destroyed, and strong corruptions broken!”
Again, I said this purity in God’s sight, evidences itself in faith; it acts in a way of believing, trusting to the faithfulness of God in the promise, and the power of God to accomplish the same; looking for help no other way but in and through our Lord Jesus Christ; receiving the word of faith, and putting to the seal that God is true; casting the burden of the soul upon the Lord by faith: also, the man believes as in the sight of God. It is not enough to be called and accounted a believer, and to reckon yourself such; but to be a believer in the sight of God is the main business: when the person, through faith, sees an excellency in Christ, so as to count all things but loss and dung for him: and when the poor soul can say, as in the sight of God, “Lord, thou knowest I have no other refuge to run to but thyself; and though thou shouldest kill me, yet will I trust in thee, for all the good things in the covenant, which is all my salvation, and all my desire; here will I rest, and here will I stay myself.”
Again, This purity in the sight of God, evidences itself in love; and this is love in the sight of God, when a man can say before God, The desire of my soul is to thy name, even to the name of Christ. The man loves so as that the name of Christ is to him as ointment poured forth: he loves so, as to long for more fellowship with God in Christ: he loves so, as wherever he sees the image of God, he loves it: they love his image that shines in his precept, in his promise, in his people. They love the Lord, so as to hold him: and they do not let him go; and to such a degree, as to break their heart when he goes away, saying, O! ten thousand worlds cannot fill his room! Many are the pretensions of love: O! whom should we love, but sweet Christ? will some say. But all is mere flattery; they care not whether he be absent or present. They pretend love to him; but they take other things in his room. They will say, “He hideth his face;” but withal they can say also, with the whore in the Proverbs, “The husband is away, come let us take our fill of loves.” They can take pleasure in idols; they can take pleasure in other things, in the want of Christ. They are not like the blessed Psalmist, who said, “I remembered God, and was troubled; I refused to be comforted.” Nay, but true love in the sight of God will make a man take no comfort or satisfaction in anything, while the beloved is gone. And again, it makes a man have common friends and foes with him; and it makes his cause their cause: yea, it makes them more troubled at any dishonor done to him, than any affront offered to themselves. If they see Christ honored, their heart rejoices; and if otherwise, their hearts are sore afflicted.
Further, I said on this head, that this purity acts in the sight and presence of God: the man sets God before him, acknowledging him in all his ways; desiring to do nothing without his counsel, and to do everything by the direction and conduct of his blessed Spirit.
Finally, I affirmed upon this head, that this purity acts in the sight and presence of God, as being the product of his Holy Spirit. This is true purity in God’s sight, that is the production of his Holy Spirit, in his gracious saving influences. Nothing passes current in heaven, but what is coined there, and comes out of it. The things that you do yourself, man, woman, it wants the king’s stamp upon it: Whose superscription hath it? It is but the product of your own heart. But that only which is the fruit of the Spirit of God, is good and pure in his sight. If you bring false coin to a king, that you coined yourself, or if it be discovered that you have done it, you put yourself in hazard of death thereby; even so, your duties, that have not the right stamp, and wherein you have not been influenced by the spirit and grace of God, instead of saving you, they put you in hazard of death and damnation.
2. This purity in God’s sight, which is its gospel‑perfection, implies a man’s having all the members of the new creature. The child new born, if it hath all its members, it is a perfect child, though it is far from being perfect in all respects; it is far from having perfect wit, perfect strength, perfect knowledge, perfect prudence, &c.; but it is perfect, in respect that it hath all the needful parts of the body. So this gospel‑perfection of purity, is, when a man hath all the habits of grace: and when faith, love, hope, humility, zeal, and all the fruits of the Spirit are planted in the soul: when all these members, which make up the new man, are perfect, then is a man pure in the sight of God. A man may have a great deal of fair outward show before the world, and yet have not one of these members of the new creature at all; not one fruit of the spirit planted in the soul; not one habit of grace: he acts from a natural conscience, and from a common conviction of sin and duty; and though it be by common grace that he is enabled to do anything, yet the strength of nature is still more than any strength of grace receiving, and so it turns all to itself. As when you cast clean water into a puddle, it becomes all puddle: so here, all is turned to self; and the man acts from self as his principle, and for self as his end. The believer is perfect in this respect, as to the perfection of parts, in opposition to the unbeliever. And some believers, in this respect, are more perfect than others, even as to the perfection of parts: for, though all unbelievers have the habit of all graces, yet it may be such, as they have not the exercise of some graces; like children that are born with their hands and legs indeed, but they are lame from the womb, have not the exercise of them; and they continue so still. This imperfection even some believers may labor under. Here is one that hath strong faith, lively hope, fervent zeal, and some good works that discovers it: but it may be they are defective in point of humility, meekness, sobriety, brotherly-kindness, and the like. There is another, perhaps a gracious person, that hath much love, meekness, sobriety, brotherly‑kindness, and the like. There is another, perhaps a gracious person, that hath much love, meekness, sweetness of temper, brotherly‑kindness; but extremely defective in zeal for the declarative glory of God, so as he doth not valiantly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints. But, when one hath all these habits, and, together with the habit, the exercise of them all, then that person may be said to have an evangelical perfection, and to be pure in God’s sight.—Let this be another rule and help to try yourselves by.
3. This gospel‑perfection implies a person’s having all the spiritual senses of the new creature, and the lively exercise of them; “Strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those, who, by reason of use, have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil,” (Heb. 6:14). You may go to some places, and you will see very lively pictures, and as comely to behold as ever man or woman, with an excellent ruddiness in their face: and at a distance, you would think they have life: Well, but they have no senses: and far less have they any exercise of senses: “They have eyes, but see not; ears, but hear not; noses, but smell not:” they have no sense, no feeling. Here is a sad blemish and defect. Thus many idol Christians there are, that are merely painted images, and exactly drawn. Look to them, and compare them with some real Christians, you would think them far superior to, and beyond them. O! there is no comparison between that poor silly creature and this man, who is so much extolled for his wit, reading, gravity, sobriety, and the like. Yet the omniscient eye of Jehovah may see his blemishes and defects, and want of spiritual senses, which he only hath the appearance of before men; but the other hath in reality before God; yet this man, who is pure in the sight of God, may seem to be nothing in comparison of the other, that casts such a dash, and cuts such a figure. If one who hath many blemishes and defects in his body, stand beside a lively well done picture, what a base creature doth he appear beside that lively, well‑proportioned image! yet notwithstanding he hath that perfection of life and sense, which the image wants; so, here is one that you would think he hath faith, love, knowledge, and all the members of the new creature; but, alas! the great matter is, the want of spiritual life and senses.
(1.) They have not their seeing; they have no true faith or spiritual discerning; “They have eyes, but see not:” they have eyes; that is, they have an image of faith, a form of knowledge; but, in seeing, they see not:” for they want the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of God.
(2.) They want their hearing; they are deaf to the things of God: “they have ears, but bear not:” they have ears; that is, they have an uptaking of words; but, in hearing, they hear not. If you say to them, Did you hear? Yea, says the man, I am not deaf. Well, did you understand? Yea, perhaps better than yourself, say they. Yet, after all, they do not hear the voice of God in the law, so as to awaken their conscience; nor the voice of God in the gospel, so as to quicken their souls; they hear not his voice in the rod, so as to humble them: nor in his mercies, so as to melt them, and engage them to himself.
(3.) They want their feeling; they feel not their sins that are sinking them down to the pit. Though, perhaps, they are called men of sense; yet they have no sense this way: they feel neither the sin of their nature, nor the plagues of their heart: they have no feeling, either of the guilt of sin, or the power of sin. They do not feel sin in the fact of it, the fault of its the filth of its the folly of its the fountain of it, the fruits of it.
(4.) They want smelling; they find no sweet smelling savor in divine things: “they have noses, but smell not.” They, are all nose, as to other things; they smell what is most for their profit, credit, and honor: but they never find the ill smell that is upon error and sin. They can stay in the places where God’s name is profaned, his truths wounded, and his people mocked, and not be affected with the ill‑smell thereof. And, on the other hand, they can hear Christ tendered, grace proclaimed, and the gospel promulgated, and yet never be ravished with the sweet savor thereof.
(5.) They want their tasting; they see not the bitterness of sin, on the one hand, so as to see it to be an evil and bitter thing; nor the sweetness of the word of grace, on the other hand, so as to prize it more than their necessary food.
Now, if we try our purity by this rule, it will difference some believers from other believers, and all believers from unbelievers.
It will, in the first place, difference some believers from other believers: yea, the most of believers may find themselves defective, with respect to this piece of gospel‑perfection, in purity and holiness. Here is a believer, I shall suppose, that hath got his eyes open; but, alas! he hath not a good discerning; he wants a quick understanding, so as to discern either between precious and vile, or between good and evil, truth and error; yea, he is readier to choose that which is wrong, than that which is right: his senses are vitiated; he hath not, so to speak, the taste of his mouth. Like a person under some disease, or indisposition, that calls every bit of meat that he makes use of bitter; and everything he eats tasteless: even so, some that are believers may be so indisposed, and have their senses vitiated, that in the best of preaching, they find no good; in the soundest of sermons, they find no sweetness; in the most pleasant gospel‑truths, they find no relish, especially in a day of controversy about truth. The discerning of some believers is so small, that they know not truth from error; but halt between two opinions, and, may be, suspect every word that is said, and walk in darkness; and, perhaps, side with error rather than with the truth. But then it is, that gospel perfection takes place, when all the spiritual senses are present, and in a lively vivid exercise. Many, even believers, have their senses vitiated, by reason of spiritual indisposition, and want of spiritual health, which weakens every sense, and every member and limb of the new creature. Some believers, at some times, labor under a disease of the conscience, a disease of the understanding, a disease of the judgment, even about necessary truth; lameness in hands and feet, and tongue, so as they are out of capacity to speak for God, work for God, and walk after God; and this lameness and indisposition is sometimes observable by men: so Paul saw Peter walking with a crooked foot, when he symbolized with the Jews, and dissembled, insomuch that Barnabas was carried away with their dissimulation; whereupon he reproved him, and withstood him to the face, because he saw that he walked not uprightly, (Gal. 2:11-4). But whether it be discernible to men or not, yet God sees and observes all the failures, in point of gospel perfection, in holiness and purity.
But, in the next place, it will, notwithstanding, difference all believers from unbelievers: for, though believers have their blemishes by sin, yet they are not under the power of sin, as unbelievers are; and though they have their senses many times vitiated, yet they are not altogether destitute of spiritual senses, as unbelievers are. The graceless man may have his natural senses, his rational senses, and common senses; but not gracious spiritual senses. The man hears, but he is a senseless hearer. It may be, indeed, when the Lord is much with the speaker, at certain times, the word may have such impressions, that the natural conscience may be roused, and the natural affections raised: but to have spiritual senses, and spiritual graces exercised, that he cannot have, being destitute of them; and so, at best, is but the senseless hearer. Spiritual sleep, and deep security prevails mightily: so that, like a man in a sound sleep, he may be jogged up a little, and so open his eyes, as it were a little: yet he is incapable of discerning duty, for he falls over again. The man prays; but his prayers are senseless prayers: he is senseless as to every spiritual exercise. The man sings in the family, or with the congregation, by raising the voice; but he hath not sense to make melody with his heart to the Lord, Try your gospel purity and perfection by these things.
4. This gospel perfection imports a constant advancement from the perfection of parts to the perfection of degrees; a pressing towards the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus! a longing for a state of perfection, without being satisfied till we arrive at the height of it; “Let us go on to perfection,” (Heb. 6:1). The believer, the pure and holy man, he aims at perfect light, perfect knowledge of God, perfect delight in him, and perfect love to men; this is what his soul aspires after: and the Lord reckons this man according to what he would be at, rather than what he is. He would be at perfection; and God reckons him according to what he so ardently desires after. Legal perfection he hath not, in himself, but in his head, Christ, who is the Lord our righteousness: but this gospel perfection he hath from his glorious head, according to the measure of the communication of the Spirit, making him aspire after perfect sanctification. For, as his justification is perfect already, so shall his sanctification be perfect in glory, where all impurity and imperfection shall be done away, and where the image of Christ shall be visible in every saint; for, they shall be like him, because they shall see him as he is. Now, towards this gospel perfection do all believers natively incline: whereas, unbelievers have no such high aim. By these things you may try gospel purity, as to the perfection of it.
5thly, This gospel purity may be tried also by the means of it. Besides what I said concerning the root of purity, examine your purity likewise by the means whereby the Lord brings it about, and in what mood. I shall here but name these two or three things, that may be grounds for your trial and examination. The Lord brings about this gospel purity, by these and the like means.
1. By discovering the man’s impurity to him. Whoever are made pure in the eye of God, are first made impure in their own eyes. The text supposes, that those who are pure in their own eyes are impure in the sight of God: and it says, that when God washes them from their filthiness, they are not pure in their own eyes. A clear conviction of impurity, of sin, and uncleanness, is both a piece of purity, and also a mean thereof. It is a part of holiness to have eyes to see our own vileness and wickedness; and the sight thereof is a mean of making the creature restless and uneasy till he be washed. The Lord, when he hath a mind to purify a person, lets him sees what a devil he is; and what a hell of wickedness, and what a black hoard of abomination is within. And,
2. He doth it by discovering his grace and mercy to him. The Lord purifies and sanctifies by the revelation of his grace and truth; and indeed, grace and truth comes by Jesus Christ; as a priest, he purchases this grace; as a prophet, he reveals it; and as a king, he applies it. And this revelation of grace brings sanctification; “The grace of God, that bringeth salvation, hath appeared to all men, teaching us, that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world,” (Titus 1:11,12). “Sanctify them through thy truth, thy word is truth,” (John 17:17). In this revelation of the grace of God in Christ, the fountain opened is seen; even the fountain opened for sin and uncleanness, (Zech. 13:1). The merciful government of God in Christ is discovered. The soul looks on this King of Israel as a merciful king. “And Benhadad’s servants said unto him, Behold, now, we have heard that the kings of Israel are merciful kings: let us, I pray thee, put sackcloth upon our loins, and ropes upon our heads, and go out to the king of Israel, peradventure he will save thy life” (1 Kings 20:31). The soul now counts these subjects happy, that stand before such a king; “Happy are thy men, happy are these thy servants which stand continually before thee, and that hear thy wisdom,” (1 Kings 10:8). Now the soul laments his bondage to other lords, (Isa. 26:13), and ardently desires to be the subject of this gracious and glorious king. And so thus the Lord brings to this sanctity.
3. He purifies by reconciling the heart unto God, from the sense of God’s being reconciled to us. The faith of God’s love and goodness makes the soul submit, in a loving way, and lay down the weapons of defiance. As a traitor, having found the gracious favor of his prince, in pardoning his treason; his naughty heart, that before was full of treachery, is overcome with this undeserved favor; and his hatred is turned into love: so it is here; when the sinner, the traitor, comes to perceive the love of God, in pardoning such a traitor and rebel as he, his wicked heart is overcome with that kindness, the faith of the love of God venting itself in the death of Christ: and so the faith of the blood of atonement purifies the heart, and frees it from the natural enmity.
4. He purifies by continual supply of grace, and strengthening the soul to wage war against sin, and strengthening it against corruption. There are several ways whereby he strengthens the soul. I presuppose, that, by this time, the man is in Christ, and being in Christ, strength and virtue comes from the glorious Head; and that by these and the like means.—Sometimes he strengthens by making the soul look again and again to Christ, as having all fulness of grace, and a fulness to be communicated: and as being exalted of God for this end, to communicate gifts, and graces, and the spirit of grace, (Acts 5:31). Sometimes he strengthens the soul, by helping it to plead the promise of sanctification. The believer sees, that as he is ready to distribute of his fulness, so he is faithful to accomplish his promise; and the promises of sanctification are manifold. At these breasts the man sucks by faith: and as the child is strengthened and nourished by sucking the breast; so the believer, by the prayer of faith, sucks from the promise of grace, e.g. the promise of the Lord pardoning iniquity, transgression, and sin; and so derives strength. Sometimes he strengthens by giving the soul some joy and comfort, and so encouraging it for giving battle to the enemies: Believing, we rejoice; and rejoicing we are strong: for the joy of the Lord is our strength. The more heaviness, the more weakness; but the more joy, the more strength, so the more purity—Sometimes he strengthens by giving the Spirit of prayer, and helping to wrestle with him for the blessing: “I will not let thee go, till thou bless me,” said the patriarch Jacob. Thus the Spirit helps our infirmities, and maketh intercession for us, with groanings which cannot be uttered. The psalmist experienced both the energy of the Spirit, and the effect thereof: “In the day that I cried, thou answeredst me, and strengthenedst me with strength in my soul,” (Ps. 138:3).—Sometimes he strengthens, by showing his name and office: by showing that his name is Jesus, because he saves his people from their sins; and that it is his office, his work, his business, to save by his grace, and sanctify by his spirit, and purify by his blood.—In a word, sometimes he strengthens, and so carries on the begun work of purity and sanctification, by restoring the soul, and granting manifold recoveries after falls; by bringing the man out of this and the other horrible pit into which he hath fallen by his iniquity: for this work of purity is carried on through many vicissitudes and changes: through many cross winds, and many a severe battle, and sad victory obtained by enemies: through many fears and faintings. Sometimes the man falls down, and then he gets up again: sometimes he is plunged, as it were, into the bottom of hell, in respect of the power of sin, and the blackness of the pollution, in which he sees himself so mired as that he cannot get out; and at other times he is lifted up to the mountain top, and his feet set upon the high places of Jacob. Sometimes he is ready to give clean over: at length hope doth revive again; for the Lord encourages the man to hope, by speaking into the heart, or sounding into the soul such a word as that, There is hope in Israel for all this: or such a word as that, “Fear not; for the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it hath pleased the Lord to make them his people,” (1 Sam. 12:20‑22).—By these, and the like means, the Lord encourages the soul to return, after his lowest falls; and raises him up, as Peter was raised from his shameful downfall. The Lord looks toward the man with a tender, merciful, and compassionate eye; and then he is strengthened to lament his sin, to weep bitterly, to look up to the Lord for grace and forgiveness.
Now, by these, and the like means, doth the Lord purify the soul, and carry on the work; and so here is another large field, wherein you may roam, to try and examine whether you know these things to your experience, or not; whether the Lord be working them, in a saving manner, in your soul; if he hath purified, and is purifying you, by discovering your impurity, viz. by the revelation of his grace, by killing your enmity with his love, and by strengthening your soul, in the manner I have shown.
6thly, Let us now examine this gospel‑purity by the end of it. As we have already tried this point by the root, the fruit, the parts, the perfection, and the means of it; we may now examine this gospel‑purity by the gospel end of it. I shall not enlarge upon this here, but rather refer it to be more fully spoken to in a motive upon the use of exhortation. Only, in so many words, the true end of gospel purity and sanctification, is not to pacify conscience, nor to satisfy justice, nor to purchase heaven, nor to work out a righteousness for our justification: all these ends are legal, and the proposing of them is no end of purity, or mark of holiness: But the true end of gospel purity, and sanctification is, to glorify God, to edify our neighbor, to testify our gratitude to God, and to evidence our justification.—Let me touch a little at this point.
The great end, I say, of purity and sanctification, is not to be a ground or cause of justification; but to be a fruit and evidence thereof. The gross ignorance of this point of doctrine, in the present generation, makes it necessary to inculcate and establish it.
1. The great end of gospel purity, or sanctification, is not to be a ground or cause of justification. They who think to be justified, pardoned, accepted, or admitted to God’s favor, by any purity, goodness, righteousness, or holiness, whether done by them, by the strength of nature, or wrought in them, by the strength of grace, they overturn the gospel, and discover themselves to be strangers to the nature of true purity, which doth not work a righteousness for justification; but flows from justification, as streams from a fountain. If men could fly to heaven, by the wings of their own works; or get up there, by the ladder of their own righteousness, what need was there that God should set up another ladder to heaven for us? If we consult Genesis 28:12, we will find that Jacob gets a discovery of a ladder, the foot whereof did stand on the earth, and the top of it did reach heaven. Which pointed out both the person of Christ, being God‑man, who was both to stand on earth and reach to heaven, in his human and divine natures united: and also the office of Christ, that, as Mediator, was to reconcile God and man, by the sacrifice of himself: and so join heaven and earth together, the most distant extremes, by the blood of his cross. Heaven is accessible only by ascending up this ladder, viz. Christ, the Lord our righteousness. O sirs, it is a great word, Jehovah our righteousness! and it may give us honorable thoughts of the alone ground of justification. The merit and righteousness of Christ, which is the alone ground of justification, is infinite merit; because of the eminency of the person, being God‑man, Jehovah in our nature, fulfilling the law by his obedience to the death. The law, violated, was but a creature; but he that is made subject to it, is the Creator. The holiness of the obeyer, in this case, exceeds the holiness of the law. What a noble ground of justification is here? The transgressor of the law is but a man: but the satisfier is God-man, whose obedience brings in more honor to the law, than if men and angels had obeyed forever. Hence the justification of believers is perfect; as perfect in time as ever it shall be in glory; because the righteousness of Christ, which is the matter of our justification, is the same forever: and perfect in every true believer, whether his faith be weak or strong; even as a thousand pound received by a palsified hand, is a thousand pound, as well as a thousand pound received by a healthful hand. O the security, unchangeableness, and perfection of justification! Indeed, the sense of justification is according to the degree and exercise of faith; but the truth of it is according to the truth of faith.
Now, this righteousness
of Christ, and no purity, no obedience, no grace, no holiness of ours, is the
ground and cause of justification. And if you have gospel purity indeed, you
will never, if you be in your right senses, propose this as the end of it,
namely, that you may be justified; for that belongs only to the righteousness of
Christ: “In him shall all the seed of
2. This purity is the
fruit and evidence of justification: and as we know a tree by its fruit; so may
we know justification by sanctification: “Shew me thy faith by thy works,” (
I sum up all this use of examination with these questions. If you be washed from your filthiness, I ask you, Was you ever shaken out of your refuges of lies, your old rotten natural faith and good works? Have you ever been brought in to Christ, and made to close with him for wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption? Have you ever been begotten again to a new and lively hope, through faith of him? Have you ever known what it is to have Christ dwelling in your heart, and reigning in your soul, by his word and Spirit? Have you ever known what it is to have faith working by love? And this love discovering itself by a love and respect to all the commandments of God, and by a hatred to every false way? If you can, in the sight of God, answer Yea to these questions, then I can say, you have been washed from your filthiness, and made partakers of gospel purity: but if you be in a doubt about it, and at a loss what to say, O live not contentedly in a doubtful state, but seek that the Lord would resolve your doubt, and that you may find the matter resolved to you by the Lord himself. If you never found any of these things, and are an absolute stranger thereto, O man, woman, who are in that case, however pure you are in your own eyes, yet you are not washed from your filthiness; and, while the filth of sin remains, the guilt remains also; and, while the guilt remains, the wrath of God abideth upon you; and, therefore, as you regard the glory of God, and your eternal salvation, fly for your life out of that state; take no rest there, but go immediately to God, and cry earnestly to him, “That he may pity you, and purge you, and wash you for his name’s sake.” Tell him, “Lord, what will all things avail me, if I live and die in my sins, and perish for ever?”—May the Lord himself direct you.