Volume 1—Sermon 2
Resolving, Whether Hypocrites May Not Attain to Some Measure of Practical Knowledge in Matters of Religion?
“Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” (2 Corinthians 13:5).
I shall absolve this doctrine, in handling of one practical question, and that is, Whether hypocrites may not attain to some measure of practical knowledge in matters of religion? Can unregenerate men go no further than to mere knowledge and illumination? may not this oil poured upon their heads fall down upon the will and affections also. As they have imperfect knowledge, so may they not have inchoate [tentative; embryonic] affections about good things? and if they may, wherein shall we be able to give sound differences, or exact bounds and limits between the practical knowledge in the one and the other? This is a point of universal usefulness; And for the opening of this, consider there are three general sorts of men who go under the name and title of Christians, all pretending a right and interest to all the privileges of the covenant of grace,
The first is of those who have only the name and outward ordinances of the Christian religion, but have not the least influence of power from it, in works they deny him. These are like some apothecary boxes that may have the inscription of some cordial, but within is deadly poison; They are in names Christians, in actions heathens; and the prophet called the rulers of the Jews, for their wickedness, though circumcised, Princes of Sodom and Gomorrah. These are (as a father said) Sine Christo Christiani, yea contra Christum, Christians without Christ, yea against Christ. Howsoever in some respects they may be said to be better than heathens, in which sense Arnobius said, Mellor invenictur judicio Christianus fornicator, quam castissimus idololatra. A Christian even in fornication is better than a most chaste idolater; yet in other respects he is far worse; such as these are [they] have no real and saving benefit by Christ, for they being like dead corpses, that have sweet fragrant flowers strewn upon them, but yet are not in the least degree made more savory by them; and certainly it is an aggravation of the wickedness of such, that when moral philosophy, and the principles of reason have been able to cure the outside ungodliness of many men; the truths of Christianity, which have a power to regenerate, and to work a new nature, should not so much as change the skin of men. Yet if we cast our eye upon the greatest number of those who yet are baptized into the name of Christ, shall we not find them in the rank of those, who have only a name of Christianity, and nothing else, who derive not the least efficacy or power from Christ, but are as a dead hand, or a withered branch, whose lives are a continual blasphemy to the gospel of Christ?
2. Another sort is of those, who besides the name, have also some influence and operations of the Spirit of God upon them, and many of them are in such a way as an embryo to a child, only they prove abortive. In Matthew 13, the second and third kind of hearers were in this number; divines as they attribute to the former sort a mere historical faith, such as the devils have, though it may be thought they have no faith at all in any respect or notion, unless it be an human assent; so they give to these latter a temporary faith, which they make to differ from historical thus, because it is carried with some kind of affections, both in revelantem, the person revealing it, who is God, and in rem revelatam, the matter revealed, whereas historical faith is without any affections at all; now although these who are in this condition be in respect of their estate, carnal and unregenerate, yet they differ from the former, as much as copper from dung, and howsoever comparatively to the godly, they are but counterfeit and false, yet they are as pearls and stars respectively to profane men, for these have a practical experience of some power of divine truths upon them (and howsoever the Spirit of Christ doth not dwell in them, because they are not members of the body of Christ, and as the soul of a man works not as a form to any part that is not united to the body; so neither does the Spirit of Christ operate savingly, but to the body of Christ) yet the Spirit of God works as an outward efficient cause breathing upon them. The Spirit of God works not in them, ut in domicilio, but ut in organo, an instrument, which he useth for the good of the church; Now in this sort there is a great latitude, some having a greater measure of these workings than others, as the third kind of ground went beyond the second.
A third sort is of those who are indeed incorporated into Christ’s body, and so do receive vivifical [life giving] influence from him, that are in him, as a living branch in the vine, as a living member in the body, and so are animated by that spirit, though with an infinite disproportion, which Christ himself their head is; these are born of God, have an immortal seed in them, shall never perish, because Christ will not lose any of his mystical members; and these only have a proper, clear and full experimental knowledge of Christ’s sufferings and resurrection upon their soul; and these do differ from the former not gradually, as some thought, but specifically; a regenerate man though the lowest in that kind, differs from the hypocrite though the highest in his kind, as much as the heavens, which according to some philosophers is made of a fifth essence, from the sublunary bodies, and the works of God’s Spirit upon hypocrites, if increased never so high, would not come up to saving grace, as copper will never be gold. In the next place observe, that howsoever hypocrites, or temporary believers, do not attain to that which is indeed saving, yet great are the works of God’s Spirit upon them, and they have many experimental motions of the truths in religion wrought on them. I will choose out some material ones, to awaken you, and make you tremble, least you be not in a form above them, yea happily many have not come up so far as they.
In the first place, They have an experimental knowledge of the common gifts of God’s Spirit; They feel what it is to have assistance from God in those administrations. Thus in Matthew 7:22, Have not we prophesied and cast out devils in thy name? They did it by the power of Christ, and in virtue from him; and although we told you, this was not the whole scope of the Apostle here, to prove Christ was in them, by the miracles and wonderful works done among them, yet this was included as part: Thus Saul had another spirit, not in the way of sanctification, but political administration, whereby he had an experimental knowledge of God’s power and assistance in his place. And thus many a Christian may find great assistance in duties, in parts and abilities, and may find the power of the Lord going along with him; but this be nothing to his sanctification. And it is to be feared that in these times this is the furtherest practical experience of God’s help that most have; if it be not so, why is it that people do so abound in opinions, disputations, and are so little in mortification and vivification, they sprout out into suckers and leaves, not into fruit; and we see in the Corinthians, that naturally men are more prone to desire the gifts of God’s Spirit, which are for public administration, more than the graces of sanctification. But (alas) to be a good preacher, a good disputant, to be able to make good enlarged prayers, do argue only spiritism moventem [spiritually moving], not inhabitantem [inhabitation], the Spirit of God breathing on thee, not dwelling in thee; neither doth God bestow this on thee for any love to thy soul, but because of his church, as nurses to princes’ children feed on delicate fare, not for their own sake, but for the children’s sake to whom they give milk: Hence it is that they preach that gospel, that faith, that Christ to others, which they do not partake of, and so are like those posts in highways, with hands on them, directing to such or such a way, but they never stir out of the place they are in: Oh therefore that the ministers of God could become sons of thunder in this matter; you have had experience of God enabling, enlarging, increasing the common gifts of his Spirit, but what have you felt of God’s renewing, sanctifying, and healing of your lusts?
Secondly, They may have some practical experience of the bitterness of sin, and the terrors that come by it. We may not think that the terrors upon Cain and Judas were by a mere natural light of conscience, for such could quickly be extinguished, but there was also the Spirit of God convincing and setting sin home upon the conscience. Hence in Romans 8 the Spirit of God is called the spirit of bondage and fear, because it works such fear and trouble in the heart of a sinner, not the sinfulness of them, but the troublesome motions and stirrings of them in our souls: Thus we may not say, that those humiliations of Ahab and the Israelites, when they cried out to God because of their sins, were by the mere power of their natural freewill, but by the common work of the Spirit of God; and thus those many gripes and wounds of heart, which are inflicted upon many in the preaching of the word, whereby the memory of their sins is like wormwood and gall to them, flows from the Spirit of God; whatsoever is wrought instrumentally by the word, is efficiently from God’s Spirit; and this experience confirms that many men who yet are not made new creatures, have an hell sometimes in their hearts, their consciences can tell that it is a bitter thing to sin against God. Yea because the time has been, when they have had such wounds and blows, they therefore conclude, that they were in the new birth, and although they brought forth nothing but wind in all that pain, yet they rejoice as if a man-child, a new creature were born. It may not therefore be denied, but even one who is a wild olive, and not yet implanted in Christ, may have the inward feeling of God’s displeasure for sin, may be able to tell you the time has been they could not eat, or drink, or sleep, but cried out, oh their sins, sins, sins; but yet do not demonstrate Christ dwelling in them.
Thirdly, They may have practical experience of desires and longing affections after things that are good. They have sudden and confused apprehensions of the goodness of spiritual things, may have some such general affections and desires after them; In such a temper they cry out, (John 6:34), Lord give us evermore this bread; Christ told them, He was the manna and bread of life, and speaks of the benefits that come to such who eat and feed on him, it is bread not only that nourishes, but gives life (which no other bread does). Hereupon in a confused manner with some good affections, they cry, Give us evermore this bread; They were like Peter in a transfiguration, not knowing what they said; Thus Balaam he is in such a transfiguration, for he foreseeing the happiness of the people of God, wishes to die the death of the righteous; yea is affected with the spiritual ordinances and worship of God among them, How beautiful are thy tabernacles, O Israel? (says he) in those sudden flashes upon him; How often are people deluded in this, because in some fits they have good affections and desires.
Fourthly, They have a practical experience of some sweetness and joy in the ordinances of God, and some assurance of God’s favor flowing from thence. Thus (Matt. 13), “They received the word with joy;” and John’s hearers were said for a while to rejoice in his light; Ezekiel was to his hearers, As a pleasant song; And in Hebrews 6, those who had not things accompanying salvation, are said to taste of the word of God; They did taste it as Jonathan did a little honey, but had not the full of it. Whereas the people of God are said to eat his flesh, and drink his blood, yea rivers of living water are said to flow out of their belly; and from these experimental tastings arise some confidence of their condition, which is declared in the foolish virgins, who with much boldness, and without any suspicion of their want of oil, Go out to meet the bridegroom; Now this is thought a great matter, if so be their hearts have been at any time sweetened and mollified in the ordinances of God.
Fifthly, They have such an experimental working, as that it has influence upon their lives and conversations, it makes some alteration and change there. In 2 Peter 2:10 those apostles who returned to their own vomit, and so never had true grace, are said to escape the pollutions of the world, through the knowledge of Christ, and therefore they are called virgins, (Matt. 25), though foolish ones, because they were kept from the profaneness of others; Now, a man would think this were all in all, what would you have more? Those that stole steal no more, those that were drunk are so no more, those that are filthy are so no more; but yet as the swine are swine for their natures, though washed from their mire; thus are they unregenerate and filthy still, though outwardly cleansed: By these instances you see, that even men who are not in the faith after a sanctifying and saving manner, may yet have many seeming works of grace on their soul.
But yet there is a difference many ways, I shall but briefly and generally touch at the differences, because they will come in more properly in the counterfeits.
In the first place, There is a difference in the very nature of them. That which is in the godly differs from that in the most refined hypocrite, as much as gold from dross, or true pearls from counterfeits; Hence in Matthew 13 the fourth ground, or kind of hearers, are only said to have an honest and good heart. So that the soil of one ground differs essentially from the other, and this may be abundantly cleared, in that the promises of justification and eternal life are not made to any kind of faith that an hypocrite has, but they are made to the faith of a godly man, though it be in the least degree; so that a little infant in true grace, may by the hand of faith receive Christ, when a giant-like hypocrite, cannot take him: but more of this in time.
A second difference is in clearness and evidence; That which they do know about the things of God is in a more confused manner, because that light in them is but by way of flash, and a sudden enlightening, not as permanent and abiding light in them; a little sip or taste of heavenly things cannot enable a man exactly to comprehend the excellency and worth of them. Therefore they see these things, as the man not perfectly cured of his blindness, That saw men walking by like trees. It is true the holiest that are do but see in part; and David prays, That his eyes may be opened to see the wonderful things in God’s Law. Thus Paul also prays for the Ephesians, who yet were light in the Lord, that their eyes might be opened, and they have the spirit of wisdom and revelation: but yet is not like the purblind hypocrite, who does by a question rather judge of godly things, than any way else.
A third difference is in the operation, for the experience of the godly, inclines them spiritually, makes them more holy, carries them out of themselves, whereas all that is done upon the unsound Christian ends in carnal effects, it makes him puffed up, vainly confident in himself. Thus the Pharisees, though they did abound in the duties of the Law, yet their greatest corruptions did run out there. Hence a Pharisee praying, a Pharisee giving alms, was a Pharisee in all the power of his corruption, (John 3), He that is not born of the Spirit, is flesh; and this flesh does extend not only to his sins and corruptions, but also to his duties. Therefore observe whether the duties that for the matter of them be spiritual, are also spiritual in the effect, that they leave you more humble, outed [emerged] of yourself, more depending upon Christ and his grace, more mortified to the world, and the temptations thereof. It may fall out that a man’s religious duties be the stage upon which all a man’s lusts do eminently act, as the Pharisees who did all things to be seen of men.
We might be larger in giving you symptomatical differences, but because they will fall in upon the several particulars, or in the next doctrine about the signs and characters of grace, I forbear, concluding with a Use of Exhortation, not to be too credulous and facile in believing ourselves to be good and right. Woeful may the cosenings and supplantations of your own heart be. What may you not be? What may you not do, and yet be unsound? Oh how burdensome will it be when men shall say, Lord, Have we not been enlarged in thy service? Lord, have we not mourned in thy presence? Have we not rejoiced in the good word that hath been preached to us? and yet God to return this, inasmuch as you did it not upon sound and sincere grounds, you did it not to me, depart ye workers of iniquity. Draw off all your thoughts, disputes, meditations from other points, and mind this one necessary thing. You dispute, whether there be a true church, a true ministry, true ordinances, Oh consider, whether there be true grace in your heart. The Pharisees kept the feast of purifications, or cleansing of the temple, but were foul and unclean in their own souls. As God declared his invisible attributes of wisdom, power and goodness by the visible works he did in the creation of the world, so do you manifest that secret and hidden efficacy of Christ in thee, by a powerful and vigorous life of godliness; These are miracles that will confirm you to come from God. Good is that of Austin, when pride tickles you and would puff you up, say ovem te putas, hircum forte novit te detts, Thou thinkest thyself a sheep, but it may be God knoweth thee to be a goat; and again, when despair and unbelief assaults you, say, Hircum te putas, ovem te forte Deus novit. Thou thinkest thyself a goat, but God knoweth thee to be a sheep it may be. Not as if we persuaded you to doubting, or commended uncertainty, as the Papists do, but an holy fear and trembling to make our calling and election sure, which the Apostle Peter does.