Volume 1—Sermon 8
Fully Clearing That There May be Affections and Sweet Motions of Heart
in Holy Things,
Which Yet Evidence Not Grace, Nor Accompany Salvation
"But (beloved) we hope better things of you, and things that accompany salvation," (Hebrews 6:9).
The text has an adversative respect to the verses, preceding as the first word (But) plainly denotes: For it is put in by way of mollifying and softening, after those severe and terrible expressions the Apostle had used before. At the 4th verse there is an hypothetical proposition, containing beneficium Dei, the goodness and mercy of God: and maleficium hominis, the ingratitude of man, with the sentence or judgment upon him. I shall not now speak to that controversial matter, which is usually debated by the learned upon these words: you may briefly observe the mercies of God bestowed upon this supposed apostate reduced to two heads.
First, That which concerns his intellectuals, in that expression, enlightened.
Secondly, Those that relate to his affectionate part: and herein are most particulars, viz, tasting of the heavenly gift, partakers of the Holy Ghost, tasting of the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come. These things (God willing) shall be more distinctly handled when we shall discourse of the grace of conversion, and the counterfeit of it, (and when we shall vindicate the orthodox interpretation from all corrupt oppositions). In the second place, you have the ingratitude, or wickedness of the man abusing these mercies, which may be proved of an universal apostasy, not a fall in some particular gross sin: which mistake made the Novatians deny any church-reconciliation to lapsed sinners, and which made the Roman church delay the receiving of this epistle into the number of canonical. In the third place, there is the heavy doom of such, It is impossible to renew them again, the Greek word is in the active tense, and signifies there are no teachers, no doctors, no ministry, no sermons that can ever instrumentally reduce them to godliness: and the Apostle says, it is impossible, not absolutely to God, nor in that sense, as it is impossible for every man by nature of himself to recover out of his sins, seeing that it is common to every natural man: but here he speaks of a special impossibility. Therefore it's impossible from a special decree of God, whereby he doth threaten to such abusers, and condemners of his grace and mercy, a total subtraction of all his favors and goodness from them: even as a branch once grafted in and afterwards disjointed is hardly capable of a second coalition. Now this the Apostle
1. Aggravates from the cause, because they crucify the Son of God afresh, viz, as much as lies in them: if they be restored, there must be a new Christ, or a new oblation of Christ, those that fall in Adam: Christ repaireth, but if a man fall off from Christ, and reject him, there is no further remedy appointed by God, but such are in as hopeless a condition as the apostate angels.
2. He illustrates by the earth, drinking in rain, yet bringing forth thistles, which is near to cursing. Now having thus wounded them, and poured salt in their wounds, at last he pours oil to supple them, telling them that he does not think they are these apostates, partly because his judgment is they have better things than these, partly because God is just and faithful, and will therefore perfect the good work begun in them: My text is the first mollifying expression, wherein you have:
(1). The Apostle his charitable judgment expressed by pepeismetha [Greek for we are persuaded] which according to the subject matter is sometimes to be understood of such a divine faith [real faith] and hope that cannot be deceived, sometimes of such a certainty as we have by charitable construction and moral prudence, and in this sense it is taken here.
(2). There is the object of this charitable judgment, better things, that is, better things than those fore-mentioned benefits (though seemingly very glorious) which hypocrites may have, and at last fall away; better than to be merely enlightened, better than to have a taste only, and some sweet affections in holy things, and for better explication sake, he adds, and things that accompany salvation, says Austin, that cleave to salvation, that cannot be disjoined from it: such things as whosoever have, cannot but be saved; implying that those benefits though they were good things and gifts of God's Spirit, yet were not necessarily accompanying salvation.
That although affections and sweet motions of heart in holy things are much relied upon as evidences of grace and salvation, yet they are not indeed any true signs or infallible testimonies.
This point needs a powerful and a wary discovery: Therefore for explication sake, let us consider what religious affections and motions the Scripture declares to be in some, who yet are not truly regenerated. The known and famous instance is in Matthew 13:20 where the third kind of hearers is said to receive the word with joy.
This is tasting the good word of God, finding some sweetness and power in the ordinances, yet that this hearer was not hereby regenerate is plain, partly because he is said to have no root, partly because he is opposed to the good ground, that is, the good and honest heart (what is said by Arminians to these things, hereafter shall be discussed). In John 5:35 you have a plain instance of some that had light and heat in them, yet not godly. Ye did for a season rejoice in John's light and ministry, so that men who shall at last be thrown in utter darkness, may yet for a while rejoice in the light of God's word: thus Herod puts it also out of all question, (Mark 6:20), for he heard John gladly, and the motive was religion, for it's said he feared or reverenced him, because he was a just man. I look upon this point as fundamental in practice; and which is true, may strike like an arrow into our hearts, and therefore have brought undeniable places of Scripture to alert this truth; Affections in holy administrations with delight and joy, may be in those who yet have no true grace: I will instance only in another affection, and that is sorrow and grief about sin, even this may be in a man unseasoned with grace, in Matthew 27:3 it is expressly said of Judas, he repented himself and confessed I have sinned in betraying the innocent blood metamelētheis [Greek for having regretted], the word is properly used of that sorrow, grief, and care, which is in the affectionate part of a man: Ahab's humiliation in 1 Kings 21 is so great, that God taketh notice of it; Seest thou how Ahab humbleth himself? How often were the Israelites in their humiliations and mournings for sin? though these loud floods were dried up again, insomuch that Gregory did well compare them to the grasshoppers which make sudden leaps from the earth, as if they would fly to heaven, but presently fall down upon the ground again. Take one place for many; They sought him and they returned, and they enquired early after God (Ps. 78:34): Great expressions! Do you not think God like that father in the parable will presently kiss them, put robes upon them, prepare a fatted calf for them? No, verse 36 mars all: Nevertheless their hearts were not steadfast within them. Now it's remarkable, as the Scripture calls these actions, repentance, humiliation, returning and seeking after God, giving the name of grace to them, because they have the outward lineaments of grace, so also the Scripture attributes pardon of sin and forgiveness unto them, (v. 38), He being full of compassion forgave their iniquities, and in Numbers 14:20 God upon Moses' prayer saith he had pardoned their iniquity: now this cannot be a true and proper pardon of sin, for Hebrews 3 is plain, All these perished because of their unbelief. Therefore when the Scripture says, that upon such humiliation and repentance God doth pardon sin, especially speaking of an whole body of people, it's to be understood in a particular sense thus, for not punishing them at that time, but either quite taking away, or at least differing the temporal affliction, but is still abiding them, for no unconverted man, truly and properly ever has any sin pardoned him: so that as to a godly man repenting, God taketh away eternal punishment, but lets a temporal chastisement sometimes abide, so to the unconverted repenting, God doth sometimes take away the temporal, but causes the eternal punishment to continue. By all this you see the Scripture speaking of some, as rejoicing in that which is good, and mourning for that which is evil, whereupon their sins are said to be forgiven, that yet all this while are men whose hearts are not right within them: and this is no wonder, seeing they are said to believe, (Matt. 12), they believe for a season, yea, (John 2:23), unconverted men are said to believe in the name (which some make the highest expression of believing) now according to the collustration [collusion ?] of their understandings by faith, suitable are the motions of their affections in their heart. As they believe, so they rejoice, mourn, desire, and delight in things believed.
(3). These affections we may for distinction's sake call temporary affections in holy things. As our Saviour calls it a temporary faith, so may we a temporary joy, a temporary mourning, a temporary delight in good things; Not as it were of the essence of these affections to apostatize at last. It is true, faith is called temporary, because when hot persecutions arose it presently withered, but had no such storms or tempests come, an house that is built upon the sand only, will not fall. It is the opinion of a learned man, (Conradus Bergius, praxis Cathol. pag 105) that it is not likely that any one dies a mere temporary believer, but that at last when he comes to die, seeing he must part with worldly comforts, which he always loved more than God, he then frets and murmurs against God, and so extinguishes that temporary faith and affections to God; or else resigns himself up unto God, and of a temporary faith there is suddenly by the grace of God a saving faith; let the author see to the making of this good: We call it not temporary, as if it were necessary there should be apostasy from these. Certainly the foolish virgins were such Christians as did live and die with temporary faith and affections to God, that had a lamp and shining, and so some oil, else their lamp could not shine, but not such store as would hold out: so then, these affections and motions of your heart, may be all the pillar you lean upon, when yet many damned in hell have gone as far.
3. Christians with these temporary affections do not constitute a third kind of a believers between converted and unconverted, but are in the state of unregenerate persons. And the work upon the godly and those temporaries differ not only gradually or in duration, but essentially and specifically. They are then foolish virgins, They are those that build upon the sand; They are the thorny ground: notwithstanding these great promising hopes: So we say, that we can neither call them regenerate nor unregenerate, nor yet make them a third kind, but that they are like the embryo, proving abortive, which we cannot call either a man or a beast, nor yet make it a third kind, for it's only an inchoate, imperfect being: but by the Scripture we may surely enough place them in the rank of those who are not members of Christ, and not being united to him cannot be said to partake of the divine nature, and therefore must be in a carnal, sinful temper, and are not like a tree rooted that sprouts and flourishes, but like some branch of a tree put into the ground, that may sprout for a season.
4. The affections and motions that such may have in holy duties may be upon several grounds;
(1). As in the first place, The novelty and the strangeness of the doctrine may much affect and delight: And this may be the reason why they rejoiced in John the Baptist's ministry: What went you out for to see (saith our Saviour): some strange, new sight; and thus while the doctrine of the gospel is new, it has many admirers. Commonly in the work of the ministry, a new minister is much delighted in, while his parts, his abilities are new, men hear with joy: but through custom, their affections do abate: and such kind of hearers I fear London has many: We may say unto many, What go you out to see rather than to hear. Therefore by the way take notice of what a frail ground many go upon; who say, since they left our congregations, our ministers; have gone into new ways of doctrine, they say, they have found more comfort, more sweet affections than ever; What argument is this? All novel things will affect thus, and after use and custom in those ways they are in, and they go further into more new ways, upon new changes, they will find new affections.
(2). Men may be affected with the doctrine and truths of Christ, as it is comfortable or sad matter; without any respect to a spiritual operation. The gospel is called glad tidings, or good news, now a man may be affected in hearing this gracious counsel of God to save sinners discovered, as he would be about any state or commonwealth good news wherein he is much concerned, and all this is but knowing Christ after the flesh; or else the sadness of the matter, the very history of Christ recorded by the evangelists, may abundantly make a man mourn to see how the innocent and righteous one was put to death, merely to satisfy the lusts of proud and carnal men; and thus as Austin says of himself, when he read the story of Dido, he could weep over her dead, when he could not weep for himself dead in sin; so you may be affected about Christ's death, as it was a sad passion, and never be affected with those Scripture-arguments that are propounded. In this sense, Christ forbade those women, weep not for me ye daughters of Jerusalem, but weep for yourselves.
(3). The bearer's affections may be much moved, or stirred at the minister's abilities, because of his parts, eloquence, elocution, affectionate utterance. These things may much delight you, and you think this is a sign of grace. The prophet Ezekiel was like a pleasant and sweet-tuned instrument unto his hearers, whereupon God saith, they come in troops, and sat as his people, but yet were not reformed. Austin while a Manichee was wonderfully affected with Ambrose's preaching, because of his eloquence: and certainly rhetorical elocution, especially that which is about the affections of men may much prevail: Insomuch that one country made Hercules who was so famous for strength, the god of eloquence, implying thereby how strong that is, to turn and change man; Therefore examine your hearts in the grounds of your affections: the learning of the man may please your intellectuals; The powerful utterance may satisfy your affections, but all this while you are no more wrought upon in a spiritual way, than the Roman auditors were, when they heard Tullies Orations, veritas Christianorum pulchrior est Helena Graecorum. The truth of Christianity is fairer than the Grecian's Helena: we may love a choice truth, as a man may be enamored with a fair face; fine head notions may produce some affectionate heart-motions: but what symptom of grace is in all this?
(4). Even corrupt lusts in men, such as pride, ambition, self-seeking, may produce great affections in holy duties, especially in public administrations, where others may admire and applaud; Thus the Pharisees in their public expositions of the Law, and teachings in the synagogue, as also in their prayers, might be much affected from those carnal motives provoking of them; many times the more excellent a sermon is, the more carnal the heart of a preacher may be: Thus a private Christian in prayers with others, the stronger his invention may be, the weaker his grace may be, and those expressions which seem excellent to others come from a root very bitter to God; Even as in a meadow full of grass and pleasant flowers, if you dig to the bottom of them, there is nothing by noisome earth; so if you go to the fountain from whence all these expressions, vehement expostulations, that are used in prayer, do flow, you may see it's a poisoned fountain. As on the other side, an heart contrite, and full of grace before God may not be so admirable in expressions: As they say, the ground full of mines of gold is very barren for grass. Do not then go away rejoicing from a duty, because of your affections merely in an holy duty. Let not this comfort you, that your soul was heated within, but consider whether the ground upon which all these are built, be solid and enduring.
(5). Lastly, A man's affections may be inflamed not only from such base and unworthy considerations, but even from the goodness and excellency of spiritual things; yet because not radiated, not thoroughly changed in the bottom of the soul, all these affections be insufficient: and this was the cause of that joy and delight in those we instanced in viz. The sweetness and excellency of holy things; They tasted the good word of God, not the good worldly aims and respects by the word of God, yet all this is in a vanishing unsettled way. They are affected with the world as well as with God, and thereby it is they miscarry: so that all affections in holy things, and that because of their excellency, is not presently a certain note of one who shall inherit glory unless deeply rooted.
The grounds why Christians are apt to rely upon these are,
1. First, Because hereby we seem to have attained the end of all knowledge and abilities in religion. For seeing all supernatural revelation and heavenly truths is for practice and operation: if we find some love and joy and affection both to the revealer who is God, and the matter revealed, we are prone to think we are now arrived as far as we ought to be. Indeed it will be easily granted, for a man to hear, pray, or believe the word of God without some inward affections thereupon, that he may be judged a cloud without water, a tree without fruit: but when this oil runs from the head to the inferior parts, then may we not say all is well. But Balaam's consideration of the good estate of the righteous, wrought in him affections to have such an end as they have.
2. We are prone to make these all in all, because affections are sensible and we feel them moving of us: Now we are affected and confirmed most by things of sense. The reason why a godly man finds it so hard to live by faith is because we have so much of sense in us, and it is no mean work not to judge according to what we feel. Therefore that man who is in a false way, whether of doctrine, worship, or life, and yet finds comfort and consolation therein, is in a very sad and dangerous condition. The devil transforming himself into an angel of light, of joy and comfort, does the most incurably destroy. It is no good argument I have comfort in this way, therefore it is of God, but let it be first discovered to be of God, and this will breed sound comfort.
3. Lastly, Therefore are we apt to rely on this most, because this does look most like grace; Of all false signs these do come nearest. Temporaries are affected almost with the same feeling as the truly godly are, insomuch that some have thought (though falsely) the difference is only in degrees: so that it is easier to convince men of the unsoundness and weakness of all signs rather than of this, although men have therefore the greater cause to fear herein, rather than anywhere else.
Therefore in the next place consider, Why these affections are not to be looked upon as such an ark that will save, when the deluge shall overflow.
And first, These motions argue only God's Spirit, working in thee, not dwelling in thee. Now the godly, they are the temples of the Holy Ghost, and being members of Christ they are animated with the Spirit of Christ not only assisting but informing. The Spirit of God in a temporary is like an angel appearing in some outward shape or body; there was an eating, a drinking, but the angel was only a form assisting not informing that body: therefore the bodies they assumed did not live, neither were they nourished, or could grow by all the food they took, but the Spirit of God is in a godly man like the soul in the body. I do not speak of a personal union, as if they made up one, as the soul and body do one man, but of a moral union, or a union mystical by faith, with a constant inhabitation. A woman may have many expressions of love from a man, but yet not presently such as give a conjugal affection, Therefore you cannot draw comfort from those things only which argue the Spirit's inhabitation, not the Spirit's motion or operation.
Secondly, A second ground is in the text, There are better things in the way of heaven than these. Now we can take comfort in nothing but that which is the best work for its kind, of Christ in us. There are better things than praying, hearing, with some affections; and that is a renovation of the heart, a deep radiation of grace in your soul; whereas now if we speak of the saving graces in the godly, it would be absurd to say we hope better things, than truly to believe in Christ, really to mortify sin. It is true there may be a gradual bettering of them, but not a specifical.
Lastly, (because more of this in another place) They are not things that accompany salvation: If a man had the highest degree of temporary faith, temporary joy, yet no promise of justification or salvation is made to such a person: There are great promises made to the believer, to him that rejoices in the word of God, but they are not to be understood of a temporary faith, or a temporary joy: he that goes no further than these, has no promise in all the Scripture to comfort himself by: whereas the least degree of true faith and sincere joy, may with all boldness apply the promise.
Use of Instruction, How remote they are from all hopes of salvation, who go on in a road, or round of the duties of religion, without the least savory affection in them! You whose hearts never thought of sin, and were troubled, of whom God cannot say at any time as he did of Ahab, Seest thou how this man humbleth himself? You, who pray, hear, and find no more relish in these things than in the white of an egg, as Job speaks, Oh what a gulf is there between mercy and you, that neither mercy can come to you, or you to mercy! We have removed our idols out of our glass windows, but there are still too many Christian idols, in our pews and congregations, who have eyes and see not, hearts and understand not, nor rejoice in anything that is good. Oh how inexcusable is it, that your soul has found a sweetness, a savoriness in the world, in lusts, and none in God! what is it because God is a wilderness, and the creature a pleasant fountain?
Use of Exhortation, To take more diligent heed to yourself than ever: It maybe you have no better evidences for heaven, than what the third kind of hearers, than what the foolish virgins have had: Oh how terrible will it be, when God shall say to you, I looked for better things, than that joy, that sorrow, that faith. I know not how lately we are all become frozen and very barren; many inchoate and imperfect workings there are upon men's hearts, but few have a solid, and thorough change wrought upon them. It's the opinion of Bergius before-cited, that the greater part of Christians are but temporaries, and it is to be feared that this opinion is too true: for if you do regard what little rooting grace has in men's hearts, how weak their pulse beats that way, how strong their affections are to the world, and the things thereof; we ministers may fear that the greatest part of our seed is sown upon thorny ground. Oh therefore that this sermon might be blessed by God to make some embryo to become a perfect man, some that are almost true believers, true rejoicers in good things, even altogether such: Oh this sluggishness and laziness, whereby people rest contented with some flashes of joy and sorrow, in the matters of God, will devour like a roaring lion.