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Jesus unto good works. Particular attention should here be paid to what have been your feelings, and thoughts, and actions, under the various trials and changes through which you have been called to pass : under the merciful and afflictive dispensations of Providence, and the kindnesses and ill treatment received from your fellow-men.
But self-examination alone, however frequent and particular, will not be enough to give all true believ. ers full assurance of their godly sincerity. Many such may examine themselves, and pore upon their experiences, for months and years; and yet, after all, be as full of perplexity and doubts as ever.
I add, therefore,
2. Giving diligence to get a more accurate and thorough understanding of the various doctrines and precepts of the gospel, is altogether necessary. Per. sons may have that degree of knowledge in divine things which is absolutely required in order to saving faith ; and yet not know enough to be able to obtain a full assurance, upon rational grounds, that they are true believers. They may not have those determi. nate and correct ideas of the perfections of God, of the character of Jesus Christ, of the essence of holiness, and of the nature of heavenly happiness, that will render it possible, without an immediate revelation, to be quite certain that their good feelings toward these objects of religious desire and love, may not proceed from some misapprehensions concerning them. The only ordinary way, or at least one necessary way, to have this put beyond all reasonable doubt, is to give attention to reading, to meditation, to doctrine. This is a way divinely prescribed and encouraged. It is written; “ Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord.” It is written; “ If thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; so that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding ;
yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding ; if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.” But,
3. In connection with this, there must be growth in grace. It is said, 2 Pet. i. 5, 6, 7, “Giving all diligence, add to your faith, virtue ; and to virtue, knowledge ; and to knowledge, temperance ; and to temperance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness ; and to brotherly kindness, charity.” And to see that these things be in you, and abound, is the diligence which christians are there exhorted to give, that they may make their calling and election
“ For he that lacketh these things,” says the apostle, meaning he who has but a low degree of them, “ is blind and cannot see far off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins ;” that is, he must be uncertain of his pardon and begun sanctification.
It is hardly supposable that christians, when they have but little grace, can have good reason to be confident of their having any. Nor is it desirable that they should have this confidence, under these circumstances. When love is very low, fear is not likely to be cast out, except by delusion : and fear is then very necassary, as a stimulus to christians to work out their salvation with due earnestness and diligence.
4. In order to the full assurance of hope unto the end, there must be patient continuance in welldoing. Those who have believed in God, and in Christ, must be careful to maintain good works. To this the apostle has particular reference in our text. Having spoken of his being persuaded better things of the Hebrew christians, and things which accompany salvation, because of their work and labor of
love, in ministering to the saints, he desires them universally to go on in like works of liberality, that they might have, and retain to the last, the full comfort of the gospel hope.
Though external good works alone, are not an infallible evidence of internal holiness ; yet they are a necessary evidence. If the tree be good, the fruit will certainly be so, in some good measure.
It is indeed hard to say how much of unchristian conduct may possibly be found in one who has been made partaker of a christian temper, and has received the grace of God in truth. But it is easy to see, that while christians are not eminently holy in their conversation, they are not likely to have a well-grounded hope that they have any holiness of heart at all. Our Saviour insisted often on this evidence. See Matt. vii. 24, “ Whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, that built his house upon a rock.”! John viii. 31, 32, “ If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed: and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” And John xv. 8, “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall
be my disciples.”
The present discourse will now be concluded with an application, in a few brief inferences.
1. It may be seen from what has been said, that if real christians walk in darkness, and have little comfort respecting their future state, the fault must be in themselves. Their want of even the full assurance of hope, is not because of any want of gospel promises sufficient to give them full consolation; nor because of any want of marks of grace, in the holy scriptures, sufficiently plain, and easy to be understood. It can be only because they have not those marks legible enough, in their own hearts and lives; or because they are blind, and cannot discern things spiritual, with necessary clearness and discrimination. And their want of more manifest evidences in themselves, or better discernment, is because they have not given due diligence to grow in grace, and in religious knowledge.
2. Hence, have not many supposed converts, too much reason to call in question the truth of their conversion ? Is not the subsequent course of many who have made a hopeful beginning, very different from that desired of christians by the apostle in our text? While under awakenings and legal convictions, how eagerly engaged were they to hear the word and attend the worship of God, in season and out of season! but since they have obtained a hope, do they continue to show the same diligence ? There are many, undoubtedly, who rest in what they once experienced, to whom the description given of Ephraim, and of the stony ground hearers, is too applicable. Their goodness was as a morning cloud, and the early dew: they received the word with joy; but their religion having no root, soon withered.
3. According to our subject, what shall we think of those who never found any occasion for diligence in this matter? who, since they first got a hope, have had no doubt concerning their salvation ?
We should think, perhaps, that they may be real christians : but their being always so certain of it, cannot rationally be thought any thing in their favor. Whatever may be their
actual condition, we have great reason to suspect that their assurance of hope is not well founded : more especially, if they appear to be children in understanding; as is commonly the case, with such confident professors.
4. From what has been said we may infer, on the other hand, that for persons to be doubtful of their good estate, who once had a comfortable assurance
of it, is no such dark symptom, as hath sometimes been supposed.
Some have considered the assurance of hope, as being essential to saving faith ; and some, perhaps without fully imbibing that opinion, have been exceedingly troubled with the words of the apostle, Heb. iii. 14, “For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence, steadfast unto the end.” But I take the meaning of these words to be ; if we retain our confidence in the truth of the gospel, and the steadfastness of our adherence to Christ and his ways; not the confidence of our being true christians. It is evident, however, I apprehend, from the preceding discourse, and even from our text itself, that the assurance of hope is not of the essence of saving faith ; and, consequently, that all doubting of one's own title to eternal life, is not the damning sin of unbelief; nor any certain evidence that one may not be a true believer. Yet,
5. Let doubting christians, and christians in gencral, be hence exhorted to diligence, in all proper ways, that they may have the full assurance of hope unto the end. For this
purpose, be frequent in serious self-examination. For this
very attentive to improve the divinely instituted means of instruction in religion and growth in grace. For this purpose, be careful to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously and godly, as the grace of God that bringeth salvation teacheth. For this purpose, be fervent in supplication for the sanctifying and enlightening influence of the Holy Spirit. It was the prayer of David, and it should be the prayer of every saint : “Uphold me according to thy word, that I may live ; and let me not be ashamed of my hope. Search me, O God, and know my heart ; try me and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”