Anthony Burgess



Anthony Burgess

Volume 1—Sermon 7

Gifts and Parts in Matters of Religion, No Sign of Grace

"Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?" (Matthew 7:22).

Our Savior in this verse, and that going before, removeth two foundations that believers are apt to build their hopes upon.

The first is a bare name, and profession of Christianity, without the real power of it, whose insufficiency we have already discov­ered. Said Salvian, speaking to this purpose, Christianity in a pro­fane life is a jewel in a dunghill.

The second weak and rotten foundation is in my text, and that is, gifts, and eminent abilities bestowed upon Christians: and these seem to be a very strong pillar, and prop. But our Saviour's assertion about the unsoundness of it, is very terrible, and yet very necessary to these times: wherein men are like trees that spread out into many branches, but have little or no root.

  1. In the words you have the description of their confidence, in that phrase, Lord, Lord: which argues not only vehemency, but boldness, and as if accustomed familiarly to call on God as their God.

  2. There is the ground of their confidence, Have not we proph­esied in thy name, and in thy name cast out devils, and in thy name done many wonderful works? Those expositors that think they lied in saying thus, as if no wicked men were made partakers of such wonderful gifts of the Holy Ghost as here are specified, attend not to other places of Scripture: neither is that dispute necessary, whether they were true miracles that they wrought? or did indeed cast out devils? For seeing these gifts were given for the good of the church, and not of those that enjoyed them, there is no ground to deny the truth of their miracles. Only observe how they lay much upon this, that all they did was in God's name, which they thrice repeat: That is, at the command of God, having authority from him, and by his power administered unto them.

  1. This is aggravated by the number of those who shall be in this frustrated condition: Many, not one or two, but many shall say. Lastly, here is the time when the weakness of these foundations will be discovered, in that day, viz, at the great day of judgment, when all hidden things shall be discovered: Implying, that they lived and died with great confidence that God was theirs, but never were convinced of their deceit therein till it was too late. In the next place you have God's answer to them beyond all their expectation, illus­trated by the free and open declaration of it.

First, Then will I profess unto them: The word has several signifi­cations: here it denotes a public and solemn declaration.

Secondly, the matter declared, I never knew you. That is, ap­proved of you, and loved you: no, not all that while I gave you those abilities, and spiritual gifts.

Thirdly, there is the effect of this declaration: Depart from me, with the cause, ye workers of iniquity: because they wrought iniq­uity in the devil's name, as well as miracles in Christ's name; therefore they must depart.

Doctrine: Although Christians are very apt to rest upon parts, gifts, and great abilities in religion, as a sign of their interest in heaven, yet without a godly life they will prove broken reeds.

At the day of judgment when the fiery trial shall be, all this painting will melt away. For the opening of this point, let some things be considered by way of explication.

First, there are parts and abilities of two sorts: The one human and natural, the other divine and spiritual. Natural parts are all those excellent abilities acquired by industry, and through the disci­pline of others, though even those natural gifts come from God also. In this kind the heathens have wonderfully excelled, and many of the fathers converted to Christianity, were before their conversion, admirable to human learning. He that called Peter an illiterate fisherman, called Cyprian also a great rhetorician. Thus Tertullian, Origen, Austin, Hierom, and others, came into Canaan, the church of God, loaded with Egyptian gold, I mean filled with human learning: so that, that foolish assertion by some in these days, that God never sanctifies human learning, expunges at once all those glorious lights out of the heavenly firmament. It is true indeed take these natural endowments in the heart, while carnal, they work a sinful pride, and tumor, against the simplicity of God's ways. Hence Austin spake of himself, dedignabar esse parvulus, I scorned to become like a little child [again], and to admire the Scriptures. Thus also Bradwardine, called the profound doctor, usque ad stuporem, even to amazement, professes of himself, that when he heard Paul's Epistles read, he was much displeased, because Paul had not metaphysicum ingenium, [a metaphysical wit]. And certainly when natural parts come like Hagar, to quarrel with Sarah, God's truth, then threw her out of doors; otherwise if subordinated, they are great helps. But secondly, there are spiritual gifts, such as the Spirit of God doth more immediately work in his church, of which the Apostle speaks largely, (1 Cor. 12). Now the Spirit of God is the author of two kind of gifts; the one sanctifying and saving, such as faith, hope, love, repentance: The other gifts of ministration, because they are wholly for the service of the church: the schoolmen by division call the former graces, Gratos nos faciontes, mak­ing us acceptable to God; and the other graces, Gratis data, freely given. But this distinction is first absurd, because coincident; for those graces which (they say) make us acceptable to God, are also freely given: And secondly it's false; for true grace is called grace, not because it makes us gracious and acceptable to God, but because it flows from the grace of God. Now these gifts of service in the apostles' time were more immediately vouchsafed by the Spirit, and more universally, insomuch that it's made a promise, (Mark 16:16-17). Even to every believer, that great signs and wonders should follow him: Thus the Church of Corinth, (1 Cor. 14), by reason of her eminent and various gifts, seemeth to be like the queen's daughter, all in gold and curious needle work. In these latter days God also doth bestow upon men, not immediately, but mediately in the way of study and use of means, many spiritual gifts, such as the gift of prayer, the gift of preaching, great assistance in the exercise of these, with enlargement of affections therein: and these are much admired as arguments of their holiness and piety: but the Apostle told the Corinthians, he had a more excellent way to show them than that of gifts, which was the way of grace.

Secondly, the end of all these spiritual abilities is to profit the church with them. They are not for vain ostentation, disputes, and applause in the world, but merely to edify others, The gift is given to every one to profit with (1 Cor. 12:7). So then these gifts must not be put under a bushel; these talents must not be hidden in the earth, or wrapped up in a napkin, as if it were a dead thing. It is ingeniously observed by Theophylact, That when men were dead, they covered their faces with a napkin, and laid them in the grave: Thus they did to Christ, and to Lazarus: and thus the unprofitable servant did to his talent, as if it were a dead thing and buried, he would make no improvement of it at all. And well did Austin call idleness, the burial of a man while alive: Paul, even then when he foretells his death shortly, that he must be a sacrifice for the truth, he yet sends for his parchments, employing that little time he had in study. Now when I say gifts must be improved, I mean the gifts of private men in a private way out of charity; of public men, by office in a public way out of authority: for that gifts are not enough to entitle to a public office, appears by the examples and commands in the epistles, and in the Acts of the Apostles, where all that publicly employed their gifts, besides their own qualification, had also au­thority, and office given them by superiors, whereby they were sent to do their work: And as they are not to be negligent, so neither to use them for applause, or to get esteem, to make parties. It is a sad corruption in us that we affect gifts more than graces, as you see the Corinthians did, for which Paul reproves them, because by their gifts they were more admired and applauded: Hereupon they also had many followers, and truly this city of London is become much like Corinth: as she gloried in light and knowledge, as she abounded in schisms, and parties, one for one, and another for another: as her public meetings were come to great confusions and disorders, and as they minded disputes, but neglected the true power of grace, thus is it with London at this day.

In the next place let us consider, why believers are so ready to lean upon these? To take gifts for graces, enlargements and assis­tance for sanctification.

First, Because these do exceed the common way, and ordinary course of Christians. Men so qualified and furnished, seem to be as much above ordinary Christians, as the tall cedars above the low shrubs: the Pharisees, how scornfully did they speak, this people which know not the Law, are cursed. How apt is a man, because he can pray excellently, discourse upon many controversies in religion, to undervalue those that cannot: Seeing therefore that these are in an higher form of Christ's school, and to the name of title in knowledge of Christianity, they have super added many other talents, is it any wonder they are confident of their good estate? We may read that in Austin's time, it was a general received opinion, that every Chris­tian, though he lived wickedly, should at last be saved. This doctrine was so universal, that Austin was forced to oppose it with a great deal of fear and modesty. They did not hold with Origen, that the very devils themselves should be restored, nor with others mollifying Origen's opinion, that all men whether Christians or infidels, nor as a third, that all Christians, how damnably soever erring in matter of faith, shall be saved; but thought it most reason­able, that all right believing Christians should find mercy whatso­ever their wickedness was. And if the name and profession of Christianity may sway so much, what then may these more excel­lent and unusual workings of God's Spirit upon men? Wonder not therefore if you see a man that has better gifts than another, more knowledge than another, have also more confidence in God than another. Not that indeed he has grounds, for it's better to speak one word with grace, than five hundred with mere parts and abilities; but only self-love does blind our eyes, and deceive our hearts, so that we do not judge Scripture-judgment.

Secondly, A second reason of carnal confidence herein, is, be­cause it is very difficult to know when our duties are performed by assistance merely, and when by sanctification also. In prayer it is hard to discern when it's the gift of prayer only, and when it's the grace of prayer also; for these things are judged by the spiritual man only; he is said to judge all things. But now an unregenerate man, though abounding in these gifts of God's Spirit, yet because he is altogether carnal he cannot make any spiritual discerning of these things: but as sensual brutish men, they argue God loveth them, and that they are in the favor of God because he blesseth them with wealth, and outward prosperity. Thus men of parts and abilities in religious things argue if God did not love them, if he intended to damn them, he would never give them such knowledge, he would never give such assistance, but this is a mere delusion. Oh there is as vast a difference between your duties performed through assistance merely, and through sanctification, as is between sweet grapes and wild grapes.

Thirdly, Therefore we do take these for sure signs, because hereby is demonstrated God's power in us, and we are ready to take his presence by power, for his presence of grace. When we perceive in ourselves a greater strength than our own, we argue that God is with us, not only providentially, but graciously, whereas these two are separable one from another: God was with Saul by way of assistance and power, when he gave him another spirit, but not by way of gracious inhabitation. There is no question but Christ's power was with Judas in his miracles, as well as with the other apostles; but with Judas was only a presence of power, with the other apostles, a presence of power and gracious sanctification: so then, God may be much seen by his assistance in your duties, in your prayers, in your preaching: but his presence in mortification of sin, and vivification to righteousness is far more admirable. It is true, the times of the gospel, and of its truth is in Scripture, proved by this argument, because many wonders and signs were done amongst them; for so it was promised, that miracles should abound in the time of the Messiah: but these are no sure demonstrations of the Spirit dwelling graciously among us. So then diligently consider thus, you find God much with you: you feel you could not do such things as you do; but here is no solid ground of comfort, unless you discover a further power work of his Spirit, which is in giving you an holy, humble, believing, and self-denying spirit. Oh it's far more comfortable to find God's power melting thy heart for sin, quicken­ing thee up to holiness, than to find ten thousand enlargements in holy performances: It is better to see and feel God in thy conversa­tion in the ways of mortification, than in any solemn religious duty.

Fourthly, Therefore we rest on these, because we distinguish not between that which is spiritual in the object, or matter we do, and that which is spiritual in the manner how we do it. As for example, the Pharisees, many things they did were spiritual for the object matter: Thus their prayers, their reading and expounding the Scrip­tures, were spiritual employments, but take them for the manner how they did it, which was to be seen of men, to advantage worldly interests; and no publicans, or harlots were more carnal than they, so that the proper stream and channel, wherein all their spiritual defile­ment did empty itself, was in their religious duties, so that they were most carnal, when they seemed most spiritual. Jehu also is a clear instance, if you respect the outward matter; his reformation from idolatry, his establishing the worship of God, all this was wonderful spiritual; but with all consider, that his aims were mere state-policy in all he did, and so he was very carnal: consider therefore of this more than you have done: it may be you were never more sinful; corruption did never more discover itself than in your spiritual abilities and employments. Paul says of some, That they preached Christ out of envy, and others may do it out of worldly ends: now because the duties are spiritual, shall we say these men are spiritual men? No, they are sensual, corrupt, and worldly: and this is certain, when the devil cannot persuade men to corruptions in vicious and profane courses, then he becomes like an angel of light, and seduces them to carnal distempers in spiritual duties.

Fifthly, Therefore we are prone to rely on these, because they breed esteem in the hearts of others. Many times disciples that are followers, they set up a doctor or teacher as if he were an angel: they place him among the cherubims and seraphims: they say by his gifts and abilities, their souls have got a world of good: they have cause to bless God that ever they saw him, or heard him: Now these solemn acclamations from others, do work great confidence in such a man's heart. I make no question but a man of abilities may do good by them, although he himself be naught; otherwise the Apostle would not have rejoiced that some preached Christ out of envy: neither would Christ have remitted his disciples to the Scribes' and Pharisees' ministry as he did, when he bid them hear them as long as they sat in Moses' chair, deliver true doctrine from the Scriptures. Now this being so, it is hard to persuade ourselves that when we have been a means to bring in some elect ones, we ourselves should be as reprobates: hence it is that the Apostle in Galatians 4, presses men so to walk, that they may have approba­tion from God and their own conscience, rather than from others, when it is said, that those who convert others to righteousness, shall shine like the stars in heaven, that is to be understood taking in other places of Scripture, viz. If they be godly, and walk in all the ways of God themselves, as well as teach others so to do.

Thus you see the reasons why people are apt to take all their evidences for heaven from these uncertain grounds; now let us demonstrate the insufficiency of these to give any solid support: and this will appear several ways.

1. In that all these glorious abilities are, and may be consistent in the same subject at the same time, with profane and ungodly ways of iniquity. Now can you call that light which agrees with darkness? Can that be righteousness, which may consist with unrighteousness? You heard, he that is born of God sinneth not, because of that seed in him. Then certainly this is not that spiritual seed, if we have, or may have at the same time an habitual inclination to evil. It is true indeed, sanctifying grace is in the same subject with the relics of corruption; and a godly man has darkness in him as well as light: and we know in philosophy, that contraries may be together in a remiss degree, and while they are in conflict: But in these spiritual abilities and gifts, sin may be in its dominion and prevalence with full quietness and ease. Hence our Saviour calls these prophets, these wonder-workers, workers of iniquity. They were so at that very time while they did all these: alas, it was no advantage to cast the devil out of other men's bodies, while he had full possession in their own hearts. Know then if these abilities were grace, they would expel at least in some degree, all those lusts and exorbitances that are in your life. Experience tells us, that it is no new thing for men to pray zealously, to perform duties admirably and yet to go from these duties to the committing of sin against the light of nature, as well as of the Scriptures. Did not Judas practice secret thievery and injustice, not withstanding his public ministry? It is true, many times God in a just judgment, when men live profanely, doth at last take away their talents: they cannot pray, they cannot preach as they have done; but they become very sots: even as in the black coalmine there sometimes arise such damp vapors that put out all the light, yea, and the breath of those men that are in it; but for a great while they may keep their talent, and it not be taken away.

2. These cannot be a sure testimony for our comfort, because they are not proper and immediate effects of election, which is the first round in that ladder of all spiritual mercies. If I have justifying faith, I may have sure confidence, because this is a fruit of our ordination and appointment to eternal life. But we cannot say thus of these parts and abilities; for the text says, many shall say, have not we prophesied thy name, yet Christ shall reply, I never knew you: but there shall not one godly man say at the day of judgment, Lord, was not I elected? Was not I converted? Did not I repent, believe, mortify sin, etc? And Christ say again, Depart, I know you not. If therefore our calling and election might be made sure by these gifts and abilities, there might be some hope, but that cannot be; therefore how fully doth our Saviour speak to this purpose, when the disciples came rejoicing to Christ, telling him, that the devils were subject to them, and they could work all kinds of wonders, he replied, rejoice not in this, but that your names are written in heaven: where you see how prone we are to rejoice in that which affords no good ground of comfort, and with all, that if we had the parts and abilities of men and angels, yet if we had not our names written in heaven, we were in a miserable condition. Oh then say, this is but the fruit of the common love of God: the sons of the concubine may have this, as well as the sons of the true wife: Abraham gave Ishmael some gifts, but they were not such as Isaac had; therefore pray that God would give thee tokens of such a love which is vouchsafed unto his own people in a peculiar manner.

Thirdly, These cannot demonstrate certainly the faith of the elect, Paul calls it, our good estate, because God in the bestowing of these gifts, doth not at all look to the good of him that has them, but to the good of the church. There is this difference between saving gifts, and gifts of service: saving gifts, such as faith, repentance, etc. are intentionally given to the good of him that has them; and although a man by these may edify others, yet that is not looked at primarily; but now in these gifts of service, ability to pray, preach, and confer or dispute, these are given not primarily for the good of him that has them, but of the church in general. As a nurse to a great man's child lives upon dainty fare, not for her own sake, but the child's sake: Now then you should thus argue, is God much in assisting of you in prayer, in any duties with others? say, Surely the Lord did thus assist me, not out of any respect to me, but he had some child of his there to be refreshed, to be inflamed, or quickened by me: Hence for want of a godly life, many that have helped others to heaven, they them­selves are thrown into hell; they are torches, which while they give light to others, they themselves are consumed.

Fourthly, That cannot be the true and proper good which may be turned into evil. Bonun est, quo nemo male uti potest, grace and godliness cannot be used to an evil end, because it's part of godli­ness to rectify the end, the show of godliness indeed may. But now all these abilities are so indifferent in their nature, that they may be used well or ill: As Austin said of riches, That God doth sometimes bestow them upon wicked men, to show they are not good in their own nature; again sometimes on good men, to declare they are not bad in their nature. Thus it is of all parts and abilities, they some­times are bestowed upon good men, sometimes upon bad men, to teach us, that as the subjects are in whom these be, so may they be employed: But we cannot say so of grace: no wicked man has any true saving grace in him: Why then do you encourage yourselves with that which a Judas may have? one roaring in hell may have? And certainly these abilities and gifts are in more persons made a snare to evil, than an occasion to good. Satan is busier to tempt such: when the devil first assaulted Eve, it was by the serpent, as an instrument that was more subtle than all the beasts of the field: Thus afterwards he worked, when Satan seduced others by Tertullian, and Origen, he was a devil in the serpent. When your liquor boils, then look to take off the scum: and so when your abilities and enlarge­ments are efficacious and fervent, then take heed of froth and vanity. The Apostle in 1 Corinthians 13 and 14 speaks of other carnal effects of spiritual abilities, as to puff up and inflate, to make divisions and several parties in God's church, to bring all into confusion and disorder, therefore these cannot be grace.

Lastly, the Apostle makes a man that has all these abilities, yet if without grace, to be no more than a tinkling cymbal that may make a pleasant noise for awhile to the ear, but presently passes away, (1 Cor. 13:1). And thus are all men of parts and gifts, they may be like a pleasant song to others, but they themselves have no benefit: Men may preach well, expound Scriptures, write excellent comments, yet for all this, be but like harps or viols, that give a melodious sound to others, but perceive none of it themselves; whereas true grace is profitable to him that has it, it waters his heart in whom it is, and makes it fruitful: It begins an heaven in this life, yea, strangers, and others, are not able to enter into his joy.

Use of Exhortation, Not any longer to look upon these gifts and abilities, as the most excellent things, but be persuaded there is a better way, and desire that. This assistance is like the rain that God vouchsafes to the bad, as well as to the good: Only your condemna­tion will be the more terrible, by how much you were the more secure of heaven, and yet did miss it: those men urged they had prophesied and wrought miracles in Christ's name: but alas, the profane and ungodly man, what will he say? We have been drunk in your name, unclean in your name: how absurd and blaspheming would this be? Therefore mind the things of mortification more than of parts and assistance; say now, I know God will and doth love me indeed, when he makes me fruitful in all holiness.

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