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mariners may be unable to discern whether they make any way, while, perhaps, they are carried on with success and speed. In such cases, grace is engaged chiefly in opposition to its enemy, and so its thriving in other respects is not discernible. If it be asked, How may we know that grace thrives in opposition to corruptions and temptations? I say that as great winds sometimes contribute to the fruit-bearing of trees, so do corruptions and temptations to the fruitfulness of grace. The wind comes with violence on the tree, ruffles its boughs, beats off its buds, shakes its root, and threatens to destroy the whole; but by this means the earth is loosed about it, and the tree gets deeper rooted, which renders it more fruitful, though it bring not forth fruit visibly till a good while after. In the assaults of temptation and corruption the soul is wofully ruffled; but in the mean time it secretly casts out its roots of humility and self-abasement in constant labouring of faith and love, after that grace whereby holiness really increases, and way is made for future visible fruitfulness; for God, who in infinite wisdom manages the whole life of grace by his Spirit, so changes the operations of it, that we cannot easily trace his paths. The work of grace, perhaps, has greatly evinced itself in the affections; hence persons experience great readiness to, and great delight in holy duties; for affections are generally vigorous in the youth of profession; but the Lord may see good to turn the streams of grace into another channel. He sees that the exercise of humility, godly sorrow, diligent conflicting with temptations, are more needful : he will therefore so order his dispensations, by afflictions, temptations, or occasions of life, that they shall have new work to do, and their grace be turned into a new exercise. Hereon, it may be, they find not the same sensible vigour in their affections as formerly; and hence are ready to conclude that grace is decayed, but yet the real work of sanctification is thriving and effectually carried on.
(3.) It is admitted that there are in many persons great decays in grace and holiness, and that for a long
season. This the Scripture abundantly testifies, and the experience of our day sufficiently confirms. Shall we say then that there is no real holiness where such decays are found? God forbid! but we must examine how this comes to pass, seeing it is so contrary to the gradual progress of holiness, which we have asserted. Observe then, that these decays are occasional and preter-natural; they are diseases in our spiritual state, which it must not be measured by. Are you dead and cold in duties, backward to good works, careless of your hearts, addicted to the world? These things belong not to the state of sanctification, but sicknesses and diseases in your spiritual constitution; and though our growth in holiness be a work of the Holy Spirit, as the efficient cause of it, yet it is our own work also in a way of duty. He has prescribed to us what he expects from us, that the work may be regularly carried on to perfection, the omission of which will obstruct its progress; but if we indulge any actings of sin, especially when known and grown frequent, there will be an universal decay. A disease in any vital part of the body, weakens not that part alone, but vitiates the whole constitution; so any particular lust indulged, vitiates the whole spiritual health, and weakens the soul in all the duties of obedience. Besides, there are some things required of us, that holiness may thrive; such are the constant use of means and ordinances appointed to that end; a due observance of commanded duties in their season; with a readiness for the exercise of every special grace in its proper circumstances: now, if we neglect these things, attending neither to means nor duties, nor to the exercise of grace, we are not to wonder if we find ourselves decaying, yea, "ready to die." Having vindicated this assertion, I shall add a short improvement of it.
If the work of holiness be such a progressive thriving work in its own nature; if the design of the Holy Spirit in the use of means be to increase it more and more, then is our diligence still to be continued to the same end and purpose. It is required that we give "all diligence" to the increase of grace (2 Pet. i.);
and not only so, but that we shew "the same diligence even to the end." Heb. vi. 11. If we grow slack, or give over as to our duty, the work of sanctification will not be carried on in a way of grace. There are three grounds on which some neglect this duty.
1. A presumption that they are already perfect. This some pretend to in a proud and foolish conceit, destructive of the whole nature and duty of evangelical holiness, which on our part consists in our willing compliance with the work of grace gradually carried on to the measure appointed for us. If this be already attained, there is an end of all evangelical obedience, and men return again to the law to their ruin. (See Phil. iii. 12, 13, 14.) It is an excellent description of the nature of our obedience which the apostle gives us in that place. All absolute perfection in this life is rejected as unattainable. The end proposed is blessedness and glory: and the way to it is by a continual following after, pressing towards, reaching out:-a constant progress by our utmost diligence.
2. A foolish supposition, that being in a state of grace, we need not now be so solicitous about exact holiness as we formerly were, when in suspense respecting our condition. But if this persuasion prevails in any person, and influences him, he has cause deeply to question whether he has yet any grace at all. "This persuasion is not of him who hath called us." There is not a more effectual engine in the hands of Satan to keep us off from holiness, nor can any thought arise in the human heart more opposite to the nature of grace; for which reason the apostle rejects it with detestation Rom. vi. 1, 2.
3. Weariness and despondency arising from opposition. Some find so much difficulty in, and opposition to holiness, from corruptions, temptations, and the affairs of the world, that they are ready to faint and give it up. But the Scripture so abounds with encouragements to such persons, that we need not here insist upon them.
Believers the only Object of Sanctification, and Subject of Holiness.
THAT which we are next to enquire into, is the personal subject of this work of sanctification, or what sort of persons are made holy. Now these are all believers and believers only. All who unfeignedly believe in God through Jesus Christ, are sanctified, and no other. It is for them, and them only, that our Saviour prays for this grace, "Sanctify them by thy truth" (John xvii. 17.) and it is also his promise to them "He that believeth on me, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. This spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive." John vii. 38, 39.
1. "Without faith it is impossible to please God." Heb. xi. 6. Now holiness, wherever it is, pleases God; and therefore without faith it is impossible we should have any interest in it. All that pleases God in us is our holiness, or some part of it; and it principally consists in an opposition to all that displeases him. That which he commands pleases him, and all that which he forbids displeases him; and our holiness consists in a compliance with the one, and an opposition to the other. Wherefore, that any others but believers should have any thing that really belongs to this holiness, the apostle declares it to be impossible.
2. Jesus Christ affirms that men are sanctified by the faith that is in him: "That they may receive forgiveness of sins, and an inheritance among them that are sanctified by the faith that is in me." Acts xxvi. 18. If there were any other way or means whereby men might be sanctified, or made holy, he would not have confined it to the faith that is in him.
3. Faith is the instrumental cause of our sanctification. "God purifies our hearts by faith," (Acts xv. 9.) and not otherwise; and where the heart is not purified, there is no holiness. All the duties in the world will not denominate him holy whose heart is not purified;
nor will any such duties be holy themselves; for to "the unclean all things are unclean." All the obedience that is accepted of God, is "the obedience of faith;" thence it springs, and thereby it is animated. So it is expressed" You who by Christ do believe in God, and have purified your souls in obeying the truth, through the Spirit." 1 Pet. i. 21.
4. All grace is originally entrusted in and with Jesus Christ. The image of God being lost in Adam, whatever was prepared for the renovation of it, was treasured up in him, as the second Adam. "It pleased the Father that in him all fulness should dwell, that of his fulness we might receive grace for grace;" and we receive nothing from him but by virtue of relation to him, or union with him. "As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine,-no more can we, except we abide in him." Now our being and abiding in Christ is by faith; without which we can derive nothing from him, and consequently never be partakers of holiness in the least degree. It is therefore undeniably evident, that believers only are sanctified and holy.
And hence we may detect many pernicious mistakes about this matter, both notional and practical; for there are some who would carry holiness beyond the bounds of a special relation to Christ, or that relation beyond the only bond of it, which is faith; for they would have it to be no more than moral honesty, or virtue, and so cannot with any modesty deny it to those heathens who endeavoured after it according to the light of nature; and what need then is there of Jesus Christ? I commend moral virtues as much as any man ought to do, and am sure there is no grace where they are not; yet to make any thing to be our holiness that is not derived from Christ, I know not what I more abhor. Such an imagination dethrones Christ from his glory, and overthrows the Gospel.
Others proceed much further. They have notions of good and evil by the light of nature; these are improved by convictions from the law, and produce great effects; for where the soul is once effectually convinced