By Thomas Brooks, 1669
II. Secondly, Where the constant, ordinary, standing, and abiding purpose, disposition, frame, and general bent of a man's heart, soul, spirit, desires, and endeavors—are fixed and set for God, for grace, for holiness in heart and life—there is a most sure and infallible work of God passed upon that man's soul.[Psalm 40:8, 39:1, 101:3; 2 Cor. 1:12; Psalm 119:4-5, 20; 2 Chron. 19:3, 30:18, 19; Neh. 1:11; Isaiah 26:8-9.]
The constant bent and the settled purpose of a true child of God, is for God, for grace, for holiness in heart and life. Psalm 119:112, "I have inclined my heart to keep your statutes always, even to the end." Verse 38, "Establish your word unto your servant, who is devoted to your fear." Verse 44, "So shall I keep your law continually forever and ever." Verse 45, "And I will walk at liberty: for I seek your precepts." Acts 24:16, "And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men." Heb. 13:18, "Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly."
Gracious souls do strongly affect that which they cannot easily effect: Psalm 119:57, "You are my portion, O Lord: I have said that I would keep your words." Some read this verse thus, "Lord, I have said, my portion shall be to keep your words." Holy David was fully determined and resolved in himself, to keep God's royal law, in spite of the world, the flesh, and the devil. And so Barnabas exhorted the disciples, that with full purpose of heart, they should cleave unto the Lord, Acts 11:23; as if all piety and truth of grace consisted in gracious purposes of heart.
Certainly when the bent of a man's mind, and the settled purpose of a man's soul, and the sincere desires of his heart, are for God, for grace, for holiness in heart, in life, then the state and condition of that man is eternally safe and happy. It is very observable that the great apostle Paul, in his spiritual conflict, lays a very great stress upon these things; witness Romans 7:16, "And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good." So verse 18, "For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out." So verse 19, "For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing." So verses 21-22, "So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law." So verse 25, "So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God."
Certainly, the truth, the life, and power of grace, of holiness, of regeneration, is not so much seen in our actions, as in the renewing and sanctifying of our minds and wills, according to that Romans 12:2, "Be transformed," or metamorphosed, as the Greek has it, "by the renewing of your mind." No man is to judge of the soundness or sincerity of his spirit by some particular acts—but by the constant frame and bent of his spirit, and by his general life in this world. If particular actions might determine whether a man had grace or no grace, whether he were in Christ or not in Christ, whether he were a saint or not a saint, whether he were sincere or unsound; we would many times conclude, that those had no grace—who indeed have; and that they were not in Christ—who indeed are; and that they are no saints—who indeed are; and that they are not sincere—who certainly are true Nathanaels. [Though the needle of the seaman's compass may jog this way and that way—yet the bent of the needle will still be northward. So though a Christian may have his particular sinful joggings this way or that way—yet the bent of his heart will still be God-wards.]
The best saints have had their various motions, and have very foully and sadly miscarried as to particular actions—even then when the constant course and bent of their spirits have been God-wards and Christ-wards, and holiness-wards and heaven-wards, etc. Witness David's murder and adultery, Noah's drunkenness, Lot's incest, Joseph's swearing, Job's cursing, Jonah's vexing, Peter's denying, and Thomas' not believing. Such twinklings do and will accompany the highest and fairest stars. He who walks most steadily—may sometimes trip. He who cannot endure to see a spot upon his clothes—may yet sometimes fall into a quagmire. So the holiest and exactest Christians—may sometimes be surprised with many infirmities and unevennesses, and sad miscarriages.
Certainly, particular sinnings are compatible with a gracious frame, though none are with a glorious condition. Though no darkness, no clouds can be mixed with the sun in heaven—yet both may be in the sky above. Our best estate on earth is mixed—and not absolutely pure. Glory annihilates all sinful practices—but grace only weakens them. The most sincere Christian is but an imperfect Christian—and has daily cause to mourn over his infirmities; as well as he has cause to bless God for his graces and mercies. Well, sirs! look—as every particular stain does not blemish the universal fineness of the cloth, so neither does this or that particular sin disprove and deny the general bent of the heart!
Particulars may not decide the estate either way. It is true, a man by a particular sinning is denominated guilty—but by no one particular sin, can a man's estate be challenged, either for good or bad. He who shall judge of a Christian's estate by particular acts—though notorious bad, will certainly "condemn the generation of the righteous." We must always distinguish between some single good actions—and a series of good actions. It is not this or that particular good action—but a continued course of holy actions, that denominates us holy. Certainly, as there is no man so holy—but sometimes he falls into this or that particular sin. Just so—there is no man so wicked—but sometimes he falls in with this or that particular duty. Witness Pharaoh, who in a fit desires Moses and Aaron to pray for him. And witness Balaam, who in a good mood desires to die the death of the righteous. And witness Saul, who under a pang of conscience, condemns himself, and justifies David. And so witness Ahab's humbling of himself, and Nineveh's repenting, and Felix's trembling, and Herod's hearing of John Baptist gladly. [Mere particular actions do not conclude, either way, the estate of the soul. A hypocrite may do some good act—an upright person may do some sinful act. A man must give in judgment for or against himself, according to the habitual purpose and temper of his heart and life, etc.]
Now look, as every sin which a godly man falls into, through infirmity, does not presently denominate him ungodly; so neither will a few good actions done by a wicked man prove him godly. It is what the course and tenor of the life is—which must be most diligently and wisely observed—for every man is—as his course and bent of life is. If his course be holy—the man is so. If his course be wicked—the man is wicked. There is a maxim in logic, namely—that no general rule can be established upon a particular instance. And there is another maxim in logic, namely—that no particular instance can overthrow a general rule.
So here, as no man can safely and groundedly conclude from no better premises than from some few particular actions, though in themselves materially and substantially good—that his heart is therefore sincere; so on the contrary, no man ought to conclude, because of some gross particular sinful actions, and sinful motions—that his heart is unsound.
O sirs! we are not to make a judgment of our states and conditions, by some particular actions, whether they are good or evil. But we are to make a judgment of our estates and conditions by the general frame, bent, and disposition of our hearts—and by the constant tenor of our lives. [It is not an occasional pang of the soul, nor a rare mood—but his habitual purpose, resolution, and inclination to godliness—which evidences the man to be really godly. Psalm 119:10, "My soul breaks for the longing that it has unto your judgments at all times," etc. A sheep may slip into a slough, as soon as a swine. But the sheep loves not to wallow in the mire, as the swine does. An apple tree may have a period of barrenness. And though the apple tree is barren one year—yet it brings forth fruit the next.]
It is certain, that God accounts every wicked man guilty of all those sins, wickednesses, and vanities, which the settled purpose, desire, bent, bias, and frame of his soul inclined him to—though he does not actually commit them! Mat. 5:28, "He who looks on a woman to lust after her, has committed adultery already with her in his heart." A man may commit adultery, and yet not touch a woman. There are many thousands that die of the wound in the eye.
Just so in 1 John 3:15, "Whoever hates his brother is a murderer." A man may commit murder—and yet not kill a man; yes, he may commit murder—and yet not touch a man. Proverbs 23:7, "For as he thinks in his heart—so is he." The man is as the mind is. God esteems of wicked men according to their hearts, and not according to their words. So it is as certain that the Lord accounts every godly man to do all that good—which the settled purpose, frame, bent, bias, and sincere desires of the soul inclines him to. 2 Cor. 8:12, "If there be first a willing mind, it is accepted."
Just so in Hebrews 11:17, "By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he who had received the promises offered up his only son;" that is, Abraham offered his son—in disposition and full purpose of heart, and willingness of mind—which God accepted for the deed. A true intent is in God's account—as a real act. So David had a purpose, a mind, a will to build God a house—and for this God commends him: 1 Kings 8:18, "Since it was your desire to build a temple for My name, you have done well to have this desire." Yes, God rewards him for it, as if he had actually done it.
Just so, when that servant who owed his master ten thousand talents had showed his readiness, and willingness, and resolvedness to pay all: "Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you all!" Mat 18:26, a thing as impossible for him to do, as it is for us to keep the whole law, and not to fail in one point. But his desires, his mind, his will, his purposes was to do it. Well, and what does his master do? Why, his master had compassion on him, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt, verse 27. His master took the servant's willingness—for full and current payment; he accepted of the will for the deed.
Just so, when Zaccheus had sincerely professed his purpose and willingness to make restitution, Christ presently replies, "This day has salvation come to your house," Luke 19:9. Certainly the Lord accounts that soul a true believer, and a blessed soul—who sincerely desires to believe. Witness Matthew 5:6, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled." And it is as certain that the Lord accounts that sinner a true penitent, who does sincerely desire, purpose, and resolve to repent, to break off his sins, and to turn to the Lord—as you may see in that great instance of the prodigal. Luke 15:18-20, "I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him." As soon as ever the prodigal did but purpose and resolve to repent, and return to his father, the compassions of his father are kindled and turned towards him, and he does not walk—but runs and falls on his neck! And instead of kicking and killing, there is nothing but kissing and embracing a returning prodigal.
God always sets a higher value upon our dispositions than upon our actions; and in our best services he esteems more of our wills than he does of our deeds, as is evident by these scriptures. [2 Cor. 8:10; 1 Cor. 9:17; 1 Peter 5:2; Exod. 25:2; Philem. 14.]
Every godly man is as good in the eye and account of God—as the ordinary frame and bent of his spirit speaks him to be. Every man is as holy, as humble, as heavenly, as spiritual, as gracious, as serious, as sincere, as fruitful, as faithful, as watchful, etc.—as the settled purposes, desires, resolutions, and endeavors of his soul speaks him to be. Hence Noah is said to be a just man, and perfect or upright in his generation, Gen. 6:9. And hence Job is said to be a perfect and an upright man, one who feared God and eschewed evil, Job 1:1-8. And hence David is said to be a man after God's own heart, 1 Sam. 13:14; and "who shall fulfill all God's will," Acts 13:22. Here the Greek word is wills, to note the universality and sincerity of his obedience.
And hence Zacharias and Elizabeth are said to be both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of God blameless, Luke 1:5-6. Hence the church is said to be all fair: Cant. 4:7, "You are all fair, my love, and there is no spot in you." And hence those hundred forty and four thousand saints who had their Father's name written in their foreheads, Rev. 14:1, are said to be without fault: verse 5, "No falsehood can be charged against them; they are blameless." God in the covenant of grace, and upon the credit of his Son's blood, and for the glory of his free grace and favor, is graciously pleased to accept of his people, and to approve of his people, and to delight in his people, and to interpret his people—according to the common bent, frame, disposition, resolution, sincere desires, and constant endeavors of their souls.