(1.) Sanctification is a SUPERNATURAL thing; it is divinely infused.
(2.) Sanctification is an INTERNAL thing; it lies chiefly in the heart.
(3.) Sanctification is an EXTENSIVE thing: it spreads into the whole man.
(4.) Sanctification is an intense and ARDENT thing.
(5.) Sanctification is a BEAUTIFUL thing.
(6.) Sanctification is an ABIDING thing.
(7.) Sanctification is a PROGRESSIVE thing.
What are the COUNTERFEITS of sanctification?
Wherein appears the NECESSITY of sanctification?
What are the SIGNS of sanctification?
Use one: The main thing a Christian should look after, is sanctification.
Use two: What are the chief INDUCEMENTS to sanctification?
How may sanctification be ATTAINED?
Use three: Wear this jewel of sanctification with THANKFULNESS.
"For this is the will of God, even your sanctification." I Thess 4:3.
The word sanctification signifies to consecrate and set apart to a holy use: thus they are sanctified people who are separated from the world, and set apart for God's service. Sanctification has a privative and a positive part.
I. A privative part, which lies in the purging out of sin. Sin is compared to leaven, which sours; and to leprosy, which defiles. Sanctification purges out "the old leaven." Though it does not take away the life of sin—yet it takes away the love of sin.
II. A positive part, which is the spiritual refining of the soul; which in Scripture is called a "renewing of our mind," and a "partaking of the divine nature." The priests in the law were not only washed in the great laver—but adorned with glorious apparel. Exod 28:2. Just so, sanctification not only washes from sin—but adorns with purity.
What is the NATURE of sanctification?
It is a principle of grace savingly wrought, whereby the heart becomes holy, and is made after God's own heart. A sanctified person bears not only God's name—but his image. In opening the nature of sanctification, I shall lay down these seven positions:
(1.) Sanctification is a SUPERNATURAL thing; it is divinely infused.We are naturally polluted, and to cleanse, God takes to be his prerogative. "I am the Lord, who sanctifies you." Weeds grow by themselves. Flowers must be planted and cultivated. Sanctification is a flower of the Spirit's planting, therefore it is called, "The sanctification of the Spirit." 1 Pet 1:2.
(2.) Sanctification is an INTERNAL thing; it lies chiefly in the heart.It is called "the adorning the hidden man of the heart." 1 Pet 3:4. The dew wets the leaf—but the sap is hidden in the root. Just so, the religion of some consists only in externals—but sanctification is deeply rooted in the soul. "In the hidden part you shall make me to know wisdom." Psalm 51:6.
(3.) Sanctification is an EXTENSIVE thing: it spreads into the whole man."May the God of peace sanctify you wholly." As original corruption has depraved all the faculties—"the whole head is sick, the whole heart faint," no part sound, as if the whole volume of blood were corrupted; just so, sanctification goes over the whole soul. After the fall, there was ignorance in the mind; but in sanctification, we are "light in the Lord." After the fall, the will was depraved; there was not only impotence to good—but obstinacy. In sanctification, there is a blessed pliableness in the will, with the will of God. After the fall, the affections were misplaced on wrong objects; in sanctification, they are turned into a sweet order and harmony—the grief placed on sin, the love on God, the joy on heaven. Thus sanctification spreads itself as far as original corruption; it goes over the whole soul. "May God of peace sanctify you wholly." He is not a sanctified person who is good only in some part—but who is all over sanctified; therefore, in Scripture, grace is called a "new man," not a new eye or a new tongue—but a "new man." Col 3:10. A good Christian, though he is sanctified but in part—yet in every part.
(4.) Sanctification is an intense and ARDENT thing.Its properties burn within the believer. "Fervent in spirit." Rom 12:2. Sanctification is not a dead form—but it is inflamed into zeal. We call water hot, when it is so in the third or fourth degree. Just so, he is holy whose true religion is heated to some degree, and his heart boils over in love to God.
(5.) Sanctification is a BEAUTIFUL thing.It makes God and angels fall in love with us. "The beauties of holiness." Psalm 110:3. As the sun is to the world, so is sanctification to the soul, beautifying and bespangling it in God's eyes. That which makes God glorious must needs make us so. Holiness is the most sparkling jewel in the Godhead. "Glorious in holiness." Sanctification is the first fruit of the Spirit; it is heaven begun in the soul. Sanctification and glory differ only in degree. Sanctification is glory in the seed; and glory is sanctification in the flower. Holiness is the quintessence of happiness.
(6.) Sanctification is an ABIDING thing."His seed remains in him." He who is truly sanctified, cannot fall from that state. Indeed, mere seeming holiness may be lost—colors may wash off. Sanctification may suffer an eclipse. "You have left your first love." True sanctification is a blossom of eternity. "The anointing which you have received, abides in you." He who is truly sanctified can no more fall away, than the angels which are fixed in their heavenly orbs.
(7.) Sanctification is a PROGRESSIVE thing.It is growing; it is compared to seed which grows: first the blade springs up, then the ear, then the ripe corn in the ear. Such as are already sanctified may be more sanctified. Justification does not admit of degrees; a believer cannot be more elected or justified than he is—but he may be more sanctified than he is. Sanctification is still increasing, like the morning sun, which grows brighter to the full meridian. Knowledge is said to increase, and faith to increase. Col 1:10; 2 Cor 10:5. A Christian is continually adding an inch to his spiritual stature. It is not with us as it was with Christ, who received the Spirit without measure; for Christ could not be more holy than he was. We have the Spirit only in measure, and may be still augmenting our grace; as Apelles, when he had drawn a picture, would be still mending it with his pencil. The image of God is drawn but imperfectly in us, therefore we must be still mending it, and drawing it in more lively colors. Sanctification is progressive; if it does not grow—it is because it does not live. Thus you see the nature of sanctification.
What are the COUNTERFEITS of sanctification?
There are things which look like sanctification—but are not.
(1.) The first counterfeit of sanctification is MORAL VIRTUE.To be just, to be temperate, to have a kind demeanor; not to have one's escutcheon blotted with ignominious scandal, is good—but not enough; it is not sanctification. A field-flower differs from a garden-flower. Many heathen have attained to morality; as Cato, Socrates, and Aristides have. Civility is but nature refined; there is nothing of Christ there, and the heart may be foul and impure. Under these beautiful leaves of civility the worm of unbelief may be hidden! A moral person has a secret antipathy against grace: he hates vice, and he hates grace as much as vice. The snake has a beautiful color—but a sting. A person adorned and cultivated with moral virtue, has a secret spleen against sanctity. The Stoics who were the chief of the moralized heathens, were the bitterest enemies Paul had. Acts 17:18.
(2.) The second counterfeit of sanctification is SUPERSTITIOUS DEVOTION.This abounds in Popery; adorations, images, altars, vestments, and holy water—are far from sanctification. This religious frenzy does not put any intrinsic goodness into a man, it does not make a man better. If the legal purifications and washings, which were of God's own appointing, did not make those who used them more holy; and the priests, who wore holy garments, and had holy oil poured on them—were not more holy without the anointing of the Spirit; then surely those superstitious innovations in religion, which God never appointed, cannot contribute any holiness to men. A superstitious holiness costs no great labor; there is nothing of the heart in it. If to count over a few beads, or bow to an idol, or sprinkle themselves with holy water were sanctification, and all that is required of those who should be saved—then hell would be empty, none would go there!
(3.) The third counterfeit of sanctification is HYPOCRISY; when men make a pretense of that holiness which they have not.As a comet may shine like a star—a luster may shine from their profession, which dazzles the eyes of the beholders. "Having a form of godliness—but denying the power." These are lamps without oil; whited sepulchers, like the Egyptian temples, which had beautiful outsides—but within were filled with spiders and vermin. The apostle speaks of true holiness, Eph 4:24; implying that there is holiness which is spurious and sham. "You have a name to live—but are dead;" like pictures and statues which are destitute of a vital principle. "Clouds without water." They pretend to be full of the Spirit—but are empty clouds.
This show of sanctification is a self-delusion. He who takes copper instead of gold, wrongs himself; the most counterfeit professor deceives others while he lives—but deceives himself when he dies! To pretend to holiness when there is none, is a vain thing. What were the foolish virgins the better, for their fine lamps, when they lacked oil? What is the lamp of profession, without the oil of saving grace? What comfort will a show of holiness yield at last? Will painted gold enrich? Will painted wine refresh him who is thirsty? Will painted holiness be a cordial at the hour of death? A pretense of sanctification is not to be rested in. Many ships, that have had the name of 'the Hope', 'the Safeguard', 'the Triumph', have been dashed and destroyed upon rocks. Just so, many who have had the name of saints—have been cast into hell.
(4.) The fourth counterfeit of sanctification is RESTRAINING grace—when men forbear vice, though they do not hate it.This may be the sinner's motto, "Gladly I would—but I dare not." The dog has a mind to the bone—but is afraid of the cudgel. Just so, men have a mind to lust—but conscience stands as the angel, with a flaming sword, and affrights them. They have a mind to revenge—but the fear of hell is a curb-bit to check them. There is no change of heart; sin is curbed—but not cured. A lion may be in chains—but is a lion still.
(5.) The fifth counterfeit of sanctification is COMMON grace—which is a slight, transient work of the Spirit—but does not amount to conversion.There is some light in the judgement—but it is not humbling. There are some checks in the conscience—but they are not awakening. This looks like sanctification—but is not. Men have convictions wrought in them—but they break loose from them again, like the deer, which, being shot, shakes out the arrow. After conviction, men go into the house of mirth, and take the harp to drive away the spirit of sadness—and so all dies and comes to nothing.
Wherein appears the NECESSITY of sanctification?In six things:
(1.) God has called us to it."His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness." 2 Peter 1:3. We are called to goodness, as well as glory. "God has not called us to uncleanness—but unto holiness." We have no call to sin; we may have a temptation—but no call to sin; no call to be proud, or unclean; but we have a call to be holy.
(2.) Without sanctification, there is no evidencing our justification.Justification and sanctification go together. "But you are sanctified—but you are justified." "Pardoning iniquity," Micah 7:18; there is justification. "He will subdue our iniquities," 5:19; there is sanctification. "Out of Christ's side came blood and water;" blood for justification; water for sanctification. Such as have not the water out of Christ's side to cleanse them, shall never have the blood out of his side to save them.
(3.) Without sanctification we have no title to the new covenant.The covenant of grace is our charter for heaven. The condition of the covenant is, "That God will be our God." But who are savingly interested in the covenant, and may plead the benefit of it? Sanctified people only. "A new heart will I give you, and I will put my Spirit within you, and I will be your God." If a man makes a will, none but such people as are named in the will, can lay claim to the will. Just so, God makes a will and testament—but it is limited to such as are sanctified; and it is high presumption for anyone else to lay claim to the will.
(4.) There is no going to heaven without sanctification."Without holiness no man shall see the Lord." God is a holy God, and he will allow no unholy creature to come near him. A king will not allow a man with plague-sores to approach into his presence. Heaven is not like Noah's ark—where the clean beasts and the unclean entered. No unclean beasts come into the heavenly ark; for though God allows the wicked to live awhile on the earth, he will never allow heaven to be pestered with such vermin! Are they fit to see God—who wallow in wickedness? Will God ever lay such vipers in his bosom? "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord." It must be a clear eye that sees a bright object: only a holy heart can see God in his glory. Sinners may see God as an enemy—but not as a friend! They will have an affrighting vision of him—but not a beatific vision! They will see the flaming sword—but not the mercy-seat! Oh then, what need is there of sanctification!
(5.) Without sanctification all our holy things are defiled."Unto those who are defiled, is nothing pure." Under the law, "If one of you is carrying a holy sacrifice in his robes and happens to brush against some bread or stew, wine or oil, or any other kind of food—will it also become holy?" No, the holy sacrifice would not purify the other things—but it would be polluted by those things. Hag 2:12, 13. This is an emblem of a sinner's polluting his holy offering. A foul stomach turns the best food into ill humours. Just so, an unsanctified heart pollutes prayers, alms, and sacraments. This evinces the necessity of sanctification. Sanctification makes our holy things accepted. A holy heart is the altar, which sanctifies the offering; if not to our satisfaction, yet to God's acceptance.
(6.) Without sanctification we can show no sign of our election.2 Thess 2:13. Election is the cause of our salvation, sanctification is our evidence. Sanctification is the ear-mark of Christ's elect sheep.
What are the SIGNS of sanctification?
First, such as are sanctified, can remember a time when they were unsanctified."Once we too were foolish and disobedient. We were misled by others and became slaves to many wicked desires and evil pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy. We hated others, and they hated us. But then God our Savior showed us his kindness and love. He saved us, not because of the good things we did, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins and gave us a new life through the Holy Spirit." Titus 3:3-5. We were in our blood, and then God washed us with water, and anointed us with oil. Ezek 16:9. Those trees of righteousness which blossom and bear almonds, can remember when they were like Aaron's dry rod—not one blossom of holiness growing. A sanctified soul can remember when it was estranged from God through ignorance and vanity—and when free grace planted this flower of holiness in it.
A second sign of sanctification is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit."The Holy Spirit which dwells in us." An unclean spirit dwells in the wicked and carries them to pride, lust, revenge; the devil enters into these swine! But the Spirit of God dwells in the elect, as their guide and comforter. The Spirit possesses the saints. God's Spirit sanctifies the imagination, causing it to mint holy thoughts; and sanctifies the will by putting a new bias upon it, whereby it is inclined to godliness. He who is sanctified, has the influence of the Spirit, though not the essence of the Spirit.
A third sign of sanctification is an antipathy against sin."I hate every wrong path." Psalm 119:104. A hypocrite may leave sin—yet love it; as a serpent casts its coat—but keeps its sting! But a sanctified person can say he not only leaves sin—but loathes it. In a sanctified soul, there is a holy antipathy against sin; and antipathies can never be reconciled. Because a man has an antipathy against sin—he cannot but oppose it, and seek the destruction of it.
A fourth sign of sanctification is the spiritual performance of duties, with the heart, and from a principle of love.The sanctified soul prays out of a love to prayer. A man may have gifts to admiration; he may speak as an angel dropped out of heaven—yet he may be carnal in spiritual things; his services may not come from a renewed principle, nor be carried upon the wings of delight in duty. A sanctified soul worships God in the Spirit. "You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." 1 Peter 2:5. God judges not of our duties by their length—but by the love from which they spring.
A fifth sign is a holy life."But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do." 1 Peter 1:15. Where the heart is sanctified, the life will be holy. The temple had gold without, as well as within. A coin has the king's image and superscription stamped on it. Just so, where there is sanctification, there is not only God's image in the heart—but a superscription of holiness written in the life. Some say they have good hearts—but their lives are wicked. "There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness." If the water is foul in the bucket, it cannot be clean in the well. "The king's daughter is all glorious within." Psalm 45:13. There is holiness of heart. "Her clothing is of wrought gold." There is holiness of life. Grace is most beautiful, when its light so shines that others may see it; this adorns true religion, and makes proselytes to the faith.
A sixth sign is steadfast resolution.He is resolved never to part with his holiness. Let others reproach it—he loves it the more. Let water be sprinkled on the fire—it burns the more. He says, as David, when Michal reproached him for dancing before the ark, "If this is to be vile—I will yet be more vile!" Let others persecute him for his holiness, he says as Paul, "None of these things move me!" He prefers sanctity before safety; and had rather keep his conscience pure than his skin whole. He says as Job, "My integrity I will hold fast, and not let it go!" He will rather part with his life, than his conscience.
Use one: The main thing a Christian should look after, is sanctification.This is "the one thing needful." Sanctification gives us a pure complexion, it makes us as the heavens, bespangled with stars. Sanctification is our nobility, by it we are born of God, and partake of the divine nature. Sanctification is our riches, therefore compared to rows of jewels, and chains of gold. Canticles 1:10. Sanctification is our best certificate for heaven. What evidence have we else to show? Have we knowledge? So has the devil. Do we profess religion? Satan often appears in Samuel's mantle, and transforms himself into an angel of light. But our certificate for heaven is sanctification. Sanctification is the first fruits of the Spirit; the only coin that will pass current in the other world. Sanctification is the evidence of God's love. We cannot know God's saving love by his giving us health, riches, or success; but only by the drawing his image of sanctification on us, by the pencil of the Holy Spirit—it is known.
Oh the misery of such as are destitute of a principle of sanctification! They are spiritually dead. Eph 2:1. Though they breathe—yet they do not live. The greatest part of the world remains unsanctified. "The world lies in wickedness." That is, the major part of the world. Many call themselves Christians—but blot out the word 'saints'. You may as well call him a man—who lacks reason; as him a Christian—who lacks grace.
Some are buoyed up to such a height of wickedness, that they hate and deride sanctification. They hate it. It is bad to lack holiness—it is worse to hate it. They embrace the form of religion—but hate the power. As the vulture hates sweet smells—so they hate the the perfume of holiness. They say in derision, 'These are your holy ones!' To deride sanctification argues a high degree of atheism, and is a black brand of reprobation. Scoffing Ishmael was cast out of Abraham's family; and such as scoff at holiness shall be cast out of heaven!
Use two: Above all things pursue after sanctification.Seek grace more than gold. "Keep her, for she is your life!"
What are the chief INDUCEMENTS to sanctification?
(1.) It is the will of God that we should be holy."This is the will of God—your sanctification." As God's Word must be the rule, so his will must be the reason of our actions. This is the will of God—our sanctification. Perhaps it is not the will of God we should be rich—but it is his will that we should be holy. God's will is our warrant.
(2.) Jesus Christ has died for our sanctification.Christ shed his blood to wash off our impurity. The cross was both an altar and a laver. "Our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good." Titus 2:13-14. If we could be saved without holiness, Christ needed not have died. Christ died, not only to save us from wrath—but from sin!
(3.) Sanctification makes us resemble God.It was Adam's sin—that he aspired to be like God in omniscience; but we must endeavor to be like him in sanctity. It is a clear glass—in which we can see a face; it is a holy heart—in which something of God can be seen. Nothing of God can be seen in an unsanctified man—but you may see Satan's picture in him. Envy is the devil's eye, hypocrisy his cloven foot; but nothing of God's image can be seen in him. "Just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written--Be holy, because I am holy." 1 Peter 1:15-16.
(4.) Sanctification is that which God bears a great love to.God is not drawn to any person's outward beauty, great abilities, noble blood, or worldly grandeur. But he is drawn to a heart embellished with holiness! Christ never admired anything but the beauty of holiness. He slighted the glorious buildings of the temple—but admired the woman's faith, and said, "O woman, great is your faith." As a king delights to see his image upon a piece of coin; so where God sees his likeness—he gives his love. The Lord has two heavens to dwell in—and the holy heart is one of them!
(5.) Sanctification is the only thing which makes us differ from the wicked.God's people have his seal upon them. "The foundation of God stands sure, having this seal—The Lord knows those who are his. And, Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity." 2 Tim 2:19. The godly are sealed with a double seal—a seal of election, "The Lord knows who are his;" and a seal of sanctification, "Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity." This is the name by which God's people are known, "The people of your holiness." Isa 63:18. As chastity distinguishes a virtuous woman from a harlot, so sanctification distinguishes God's people from others. "You have received an anointing from the Holy One." I John 2:20.
(6.) It is as great a shame to have the name of a Christian—yet lack sanctity—as to have the name of a steward and lack fidelity; or the name of a virgin, and lack chastity. It exposes true religion to reproach—to be baptized into the name of Christ while unholy, and to have eyes full of tears on a sabbath, and on a week-day eyes full of adultery! To be so devout at the Lord's table, as if they were stepping into heaven; and so profane the day after, as if they came out of hell! To have the name of 'Christian' while living unholy, is a scandal to true religion, and makes the ways of God to be evil spoken of.
(7.) Sanctification fits for heaven."Who has called us to glory and virtue." Glory is the throne, and sanctification is the step by which we ascend to it. As you first cleanse the vessel, and then pour in the wine; just so, God first cleanses us by sanctification, and then pours in the wine of glory. Solomon was first anointed with oil, and then was a king. First God anoints us with the holy oil of his Spirit, and then sets the crown of happiness upon our head. Pureness of heart and seeing God are linked together. Matt 5:8.
How may sanctification be ATTAINED?
(1.) Be conversant in the word of God."Sanctify them through your truth." John 17:17. The Word is both a mirror to show us the spots of our soul, and a laver to wash them away. The Word has a transforming virtue in it; it irradiates the mind, and consecrates the heart.
(2.) Get faith in Christ's blood."Having purified their hearts by faith." She in the gospel, who touched the hem of Christ's garment, was healed. A touch of faith purifies! Nothing can have a greater force upon the heart, to sanctify it, than faith. If I believe Christ and his merits are mine—how can I sin against him? Justifying faith does that in a spiritual sense, which miraculous faith does—it removes mountains, the mountains of pride, lust, envy. True faith, and the love of sin, are inconsistent.
(3.) Breathe after the Spirit."The sanctification of the Spirit." The Spirit sanctifies the heart, as the storm purifies the air, and as fire refines metals. The Spirit at work, generates his own likeness. The Spirit stamps the impression of its own sanctity upon the heart, as the seal prints its likeness upon the wax. The Spirit of God in a man perfumes him with holiness, and makes his heart a picture of heaven.
(4.) Associate with sanctified people.They may, by their counsel, prayers, and holy example, be a means to make you holy. As the communion of saints is in our creed, so it should be our company. "He who walks with the wise shall be wise." Association begets assimilation.
(5.) Pray for sanctification.Job propounds a question. "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?" God can do it! Out of an unholy heart—he can produce grace! Oh! make David's prayer your own, "Create in me a clean heart, O God." Lay your heart before the Lord, and say, "Lord, my unsanctified heart pollutes all it touches. I am not fit to live with such a heart, for I cannot honor you; nor die with such a heart, for I cannot see you. Oh create in me a new heart! Lord, consecrate my heart, and make it your temple, and your praises shall be sung there forever!"
Use three: Has God brought a clean thing out of an unclean? Has he sanctified you? Wear this jewel of sanctification with THANKFULNESS."Always thanking the Father, who has enabled you to share the inheritance that belongs to God's holy people, who live in the light." Colossians 1:12. Christian, you could defile yourself—but you could not sanctify yourself. But God has done it—he has not only chained up sin—but changed your nature—and made you as a king's daughter—all glorious within! He has put upon you the breastplate of holiness, which, though it may be shot at, can never be shot through.
Are there any here who are sanctified? God has done more for you than for millions, who may have many temporal blessings—but are not sanctified. He has done more for you than if he had made you an earthly king! Are you sanctified? Heaven is begun in you—for happiness is nothing but the quintessence of holiness. Oh, how thankful should you be to God! Do as that blind man in the gospel did after he had received his sight, who "followed Christ, glorifying God." Make heaven ring with God's praises!
Question 36: What are the BENEFITS which flow from Sanctification?
Answer: Assurance of God's love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Spirit, increase of grace, and perseverance therein to the end.
1. The first benefit flowing from sanctification, is assurance of God's love.
"Give diligence to make your calling and election sure." Sanctification is the seed; assurance is the flower which grows out of it. Assurance is an outcome of sanctification. The saints of old had it. "We know that we know him." 1 John 2:3. "I know whom I have believed." 2 Tim 1:12. "Christ loved me and gave himself for me." Gal 2:20. Here is faith flourishing into assurance. Aecolampadius, when sick, pointed to his heart, saying, "Here I have light enough," meaning comfort and assurance.
Have all sanctified people assurance?
They have a right to it, and I incline to believe that all have it in some degree, before their last expiring; though their comfort may be so feeble, and their spiritual vitality so weak, that they cannot express what they feel. But I dare not positively affirm that all have assurance in the first moment of their sanctification. A letter may be written, when it is not sealed. Just so, grace may be written in the heart, and the Spirit may not set the seal of assurance to it. God is a free agent, and may give or suspend assurance as he pleases. Where there is the sanctifying work of the Spirit, he may withhold the sealing work, partly to keep the soul humble; partly to punish our careless walking. As when we neglect our spiritual watch, grow remiss in duty, and walk under a cloud—we quench the graces of the Spirit, and God withholds the comforts. And God may withold assurance partly, to put a difference between earth and heaven. This I speak, to bear up the hearts of God's people, who are dejected because they have no assurance. You may have the water of the Spirit poured on you in sanctification, though not the oil of gladness in assurance. There may be the saving faith of reliance upon Christ—and not the strong faith of assurance. There may be life in the root—when there is no fruit in the branches to be seen. There may be faith in the heart, when no fruit of assurance.
What is assurance?
It is not any vocal or audible voice, or brought to us by the help of an angel or revelation. The Word of God is the major factor in assurance, conscience is the minor factor, and the Spirit of God, the moving cause. The Word says, "He who fears and loves God is loved of God;" there is the major proposition; then conscience makes the minor proposition, "I fear and love God;" then the Spirit makes the conclusion, "Therefore you are loved of God;" and this is what the apostle calls "The witnessing of the Spirit with our spirits, that we are his children."
Has a sanctified soul such an assurance as excludes all doubting?
He has that which bears up his heart from sinking, he has such a pledge of the Spirit, that he would not part with it for the richest prize. But his assurance, though infallible, is not perfect. There will be sometimes a trepidation—but he is safe amidst fears and doubts; as a ship lies safe at anchor, though shaken by the wind. If a Christian had no doubts, there would be no unbelief in him; had he no doubts, there would be no difference between grace militant and grace triumphant. Had not David sometimes his ebbings as well as flowings? Like the mariner, who sometimes cries out, "I see a star," and then cries that the star is out of sight. Sometimes we hear David say, "Your loving-kindness is before my eyes." At another time he is at a loss: "Lord, where are your former lovingkindnesses?" An eclipse in a Christian's assurance may occur, to put him upon longing after heaven—where there shall not be the least doubting; where the banner of God's love shall be always displayed upon the soul; where the light of God's face shall be without clouds, and have no sun-setting; and where the saints shall have an uninterrupted assurance, and be forever with the Lord.
What are the differences between true assurance and presumption?
(1.) They differ in the method or manner of working.Divine assurance flows from humiliation for sin; I speak not of the measure of humiliation—but the truth. There are in Palermo, reeds growing, in which there is a sugared juice; a soul humbled for sin is the bruised reed, in which grows this sweet assurance. God's Spirit is a spirit of bondage, before it is a spirit of adoption. On the contrary, presumption arises without any humbling word of the Spirit. "How did you find it so quickly, my son?" Genesis 27:20, The plough goes before the seed is sown; the heart must be ploughed up by humiliation and repentance, before God sows the seed of assurance.
(2.) He who has a real assurance will take heed of that which will weaken and darken his assurance.He is fearful of the forbidden fruit. He knows, though he cannot sin away his soul—yet he may sin away his assurance. But he who has the false light of presumption, does not fear defiling his garments—he is bold in sin. "Yet you say to Me, 'Father, you have been my guide since the days of my youth. Surely you won't be angry about such a little thing! Surely you can forget it!' So you talk, and keep right on doing all the evil you can." Jeremiah 3:4-5. Balaam said, "My God," yet was a sorcerer. It is a sign he has no money with him, who fears not to travel all hours in the night. It is a sign he has not the jewel of assurance, who fears not the works of darkness.
(3.) True assurance is built upon a Scripture basis.The Word says, "The effect of righteousness shall be quietness and assurance forever." Isa 32:17. A Christian's assurance is built upon this Scripture. God has sown the seed of righteousness in his soul, and this seed has brought forth the harvest of assurance. But presumption is a spurious thing; it has not Scripture to show for its warrant; it is like a will without seal and witnesses, which is null and void in law. Presumption lacks both the witness of the Word, and the seal of the Spirit.
(4.) Assurance flowing from sanctification, always keeps the heart in a lowly posture."Lord," says the soul, "what am I, that, passing by so many, the golden beams of your love should shine upon me?" Paul had assurance. Is he proud of this jewel? No! "To me who am less than the least of all saints." The more love a Christian receives from God, the more he sees himself a debtor to free grace, and the sense of his debt keeps his heart humble; but presumption is bred of pride. He who presumes disdains; he thinks himself better than others. "The proud Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else, especially like that tax collector over there! For I never cheat, I don't sin, I don't commit adultery, I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income." Luke 18:11-12. Feathers fly up—but gold descends! Just so, the heart of him who has this golden assurance, descends in humility.
What may excite us to look after assurance?
To consider how sweet it is, and the noble and excellent effects it produces.
(1.) Consider how sweet it is.Assurance is—the manna in the golden pot; the white stone, the wine of paradise which cheers the heart. How comfortable is God's smile! The sun is more refreshing when it shines, than when it is hidden in a cloud. Assurance is a foretaste of glory, it puts a man in heaven before he actually gets there. None can know how delicious and ravishing assurance is—but such as have felt it; as none can know how sweet honey is—but those who have tasted it.
(2.) Consider the noble and excellent effects it produces.
(1:) Assurance will make us love God, and praise him. Love is the soul of true religion—the fat of the sacrifice; and who can love God as he who has assurance? The sun reflecting its beams on a magnifying-glass makes the glass burn that which is near it. Just so, assurance (which is the reflection of God's love upon the soul) makes it burn in love to God. Paul was assured of Christ's love to him, "Who has loved me!" And how was his heart fired with love! He valued and admired nothing but Christ. "Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the priceless gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I may have Christ!" Philippians 3:8. As Christ was fastened to the cross—so he was fastened to Paul's heart. Praise is the rent we pay to the crown of heaven. Who but he who has assurance of his justification, can bless God, and give him the glory of what he has done for him? Can a man in a swoon or asleep praise God that he is alive? Can a Christian, staggering with fears about his spiritual condition, praise God that he is elected and justified? No! "The living, the living, he shall praise you." Such as are enlivened with assurance, are the fittest people to sound forth God's praise.
(2:) Assurance will drop sweetness into all our creature enjoyments; it will be as sugar to wine. Guilt embitters our comforts; it is like drinking out of a wormwood cup; but assurance sweetens all temporal blessings. The assurances of God's love are sweet riches, and with the assurance of an eternal kingdom, are delectable. A dinner of green herbs, with the assurance of God's love, is princely fare!
(3:) Assurance will make us active and lively in God's service; it will excite prayer, and quicken obedience. As diligence begets assurance, so assurance begets diligence. Assurance will not (as the Papists say) breed carnal-security—but will foster industry. Doubting discourages us in God's service—but the assurance of his favor breeds joy. "The joy of the Lord is our strength." Neh 8:10. Assurance makes us mount up to heaven, as eagles, in holy duties; it is like the Spirit in Ezekiel's wheels, that moved them, and lifted them up. Faith will make us walk—but assurance will make us run; we shall never think we can do enough for God. Assurance will be as wings to the bird, as weights to the clock—to set all the wheels of obedience running!
(4:) Assurance will be a golden shield to beat back temptation, and will triumph over it. There are two sorts of temptations which Satan uses.
(1.) He tempts to draw us to sin. But we being assured of our justification, will make this temptation vanish. "What, Satan! shall I sin against him who has loved me, and washed me in his blood? Shall I return to folly after God has spoken peace? Shall I weaken my assurance, wound my conscience, grieve my Comforter? Avaunt, Satan! Tempt no more!"
(2.) Satan would make us question our interest in God, by telling us we are hypocrites, and God does not love us. Now there is no such shield against this temptation as assurance. "What, Satan! have I a real work of grace in my heart, and the seal of the Spirit to witness it, and do you tell me God does not love me? Now I know you are an impostor, who go about to disprove what I sensibly feel." If faith resists the devil, assurance will put him to flight!
(5:) Assurance will make us contented, though we have but little in the world. He who has enough. is content. He who has sunlight is content, though he is without torchlight. A man who has assurance has enough. He has the riches of Christ's merit, the experience of his love, a pledge of his glory; he is filled with the fullness of God. Here is enough, and having enough he is content. "The Lord is the portion of my inheritance; surely I have a delightful inheritance." Assurance will rock the heart quiet. The reason for discontent is either because men have no interest in God, or do not know their interest. Paul says, "I know whom I have believed." There was the assurance of his interest. And, "Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything." There was his contentment.
Get but assurance, and you will be left off of the list of murmurers; you will be discontented no more. Nothing can come amiss to him who has assurance. God is his. Has he lost a friend? His Father lives. Has he lost his only child? God has given him his only Son. Has he scarcity of bread? God has given him the finest of the wheat, the bread of life. Are his comforts gone? He has the Comforter. Does he meet with storms on the sea? He knows where to put in for harbor; God is his portion, and heaven is his haven. This assurance gives sweet contentment in every condition.
(6:) Assurance will bear up the heart in sufferings, it will make a Christian endure troubles with patience and cheerfulness. "You have need of patience." There are some foods which are hard of digestion, and only a good stomach will digest them. Just so, affliction is a hard food to digest. But patience, like a good stomach, will be able to digest it. And whence comes patience, but from assurance? "Tribulation works patience, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts' with cheerfulness. Assurance is like the mariner's lantern on the deck, which gives light in a dark night. Assurance gives the light of comfort in affliction. "You joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions." There was assurance. He who has assurance, can rejoice in tribulation; he can gather grapes of thorns, and honey out of the lion's carcass. Latimer said, "When I sit alone, and can have a settled assurance of the state of my soul, and know that God is mine, I can laugh at all troubles, and nothing can daunt me."
(7:) Assurance will pacify a troubled conscience. He who has a disturbed vexatious conscience, carries a little hell about him! but assurance cures the agony of conscience, and allays the fury of conscience. Conscience, which before was turned into a serpent, is now like a bee that has honey in its mouth—it speaks peace. When God is pacified towards us, then conscience is pacified. If the heavens are quiet, and there are no winds stirring, the sea is quiet and calm. Just so, if there is no anger in God's heart, if the tempest of his wrath does not blow—conscience is quiet and serene.
(8:) Assurance will strengthen us against the fears of death. Such as lack assurance, cannot die with comfort; they hang in a doubtful suspense as to what shall become of them after death. But he who has assurance, has a happy and joyful passage out of the world; he knows he has passed from death to life; he is carried full sail to heaven! Though he cannot resist death, he overcomes it!
What those who do not have assurance, do to gain it?
(1.) Let such labor to find grace.When the sun denies light to the earth, it may give forth its influence. Just so, when God denies the light of his countenance, he may give the influence of his grace.
How shall we know we have a real work of grace, and have a right to assurance? If we can resolve two queries:
(1:) Have we high appreciations of Jesus Christ? "To you who believe—he is precious." Christ is all made up of beauties and delights; our praises fall short of his worth, and is like spreading canvas upon a cloth of gold. How precious is his blood and incense! The one pacifies our conscience, the other perfumes our prayers. Can we say we have endearing thoughts of Christ? Do we esteem him our pearl of great price, our bright morning-star? Do we count all our earthly enjoyments but as rubbish—in comparison of Christ? Do we prefer the worst things of Christ—before the best things of the world? Do we prefer the reproaches of Christ—before the world's embraces? Heb 11:26.
(2:) Have we the indwelling of the Spirit? "The Holy Spirit who lives in us." 2 Tim 1:14. How may we know that we have the indwelling presence of the Spirit?
Not by having sometimes good motions stirred up in us by the Spirit; for he may work in us—but not dwell in us. But by the sanctifying power of the Spirit in our heart, the Spirit infuses a divine nature! He stamps his own impress and image on the soul—making the constitution of it holy. The Spirit ennobles and raises the heart above the world. When Nebuchadnezzar had his understanding given him, he grazed no longer among the beasts—but returned to his throne, and minded the affairs of his kingdom. Just so, when the Spirit of God dwells in a man, it carries his heart above the visible orbs; it makes him pant after heavenly things, and thirst after Christ and glory. If we can find this, then we have grace, and so have a right to assurance.
(2.) If you lack assurance, wait for it.If the figures are engraved on the dial, it is but waiting a while, and the sun will shine on it. Just so, when grace is engraved in the heart, it is but waiting a while, and we shall have the sunshine of assurance. "The one who believes will not make haste." Isa 28:16. He will wait upon God's leisure. Say not, God has forsaken you, he will never lift up the light of his countenance; but rather say, as the church, "I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face. I will put my trust in him." Isa 8:17.
(1.) Has God waited for your conversion—and will you not wait for his consolation? How long did he come wooing you by his Spirit? He waited until his head was filled with dew; he cried, "How long will you be unclean?" Jer 13:27. Christian, did God wait for your love—and can you not wait for his?
(2:) Assurance is so sweet and precious, that it is worth waiting for; the price of it is above rubies, it cannot be valued with the gold of Ophir. Assurance of God's love is a pledge of election, it is the angels' banquet: what other joy have they? When God assures the soul of his eternal purposes of love, what has he more to give? Whom God kisses—he crowns! Assurance is the first fruits of paradise. One smile of God's face, one glance of his eye, one crumb of the hidden manna is so sweet and delicious—that it deserves our waiting.
(3:) God has given a promise that we shall not wait in vain. "They shall not be ashamed, that wait for me." Perhaps God reserves this cordial of assurance for a fainting time. He sometimes keeps his best wine, until last. Assurance shall be reserved as a honeyed ingredient, to sweeten the bitter cup of death.
How may deserted souls be comforted—who are cast down for lack of assurance?
(1.) Lack of assurance shall not hinder the success of the saint's prayers.Sin lived in—makes a barricade to our prayer; but lack of assurance does not hinder prayer; we may go to God still in an humble, trustful manner. A Christian perhaps may think, because he does not see God's smiling face—that God will not hear him. This is a mistake. "In my alarm I said, 'I am cut off from your sight!' Yet you heard my cry for mercy when I called to you for help." Psalm 31:22. If we pour out sighs to heaven, God will hear every groan; and though he does not show us his face—he will lend us his ear.
(2.) Faith may be strongest, when assurance is weakest.The woman of Canaan had no assurance—but a glorious faith. "O woman, great is your faith." Rachel was more lovely—but Leah was more fruitful. Assurance is more fair and lovely to look upon—but a fruitful faith, God sees to be better for us. "Blessed are those who have not seen—and yet have believed."
(3.) When God is out of sight, he is not out of covenant."My covenant shall stand fast." Though a wife does not see her husband's face for many years—yet the marriage-relation holds, and he will come again to her after a long voyage. God may be gone from the soul in desertion—but the covenant stands fast. "Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed—says the Lord, who has compassion on you." Isaiah 54:10. But this promise was made to the Jews, and does not belong to us! Yes it does, for says ver 17, "These benefits are enjoyed by the servants of the Lord." This is true of all the servants of God, those who are now living, as well as those who lived in the time of the Jews.
What shall we do to get assurance?
(1.) Keep a pure conscience.Let no unrepented guilt lie upon the conscience. God seals no pardon before repentance. He will not pour the wine of assurance, into a foul vessel. "Let us draw near in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience!" Guilt clips the wings of comfort! He who is conscious of secret sins, cannot draw near to God in full assurance; he cannot call God father—but judge. Guard your conscience as carefully as you guard your eye—that no dust of sin can fall into it!
(2.) If you would have assurance, be much in the exercise of grace."Exercise yourself unto godliness." Men grow rich by trading; so by trading in grace—we grow rich in assurance. "Make your election sure." How? "Add to your faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge." Keep grace upon the wing; it is lively faith, which flourishes into assurance. No man will set up a great sail in a small boat—but in a large vessel. Just so, God sets up the sail of assurance, in a heart enlarged with grace.
(3.) If you would have assurance, cherish the Holy Spirit of God.When David would have assurance, he prayed, "Don't take your Holy Spirit from me!" Psalm 51:11. He knew that it was the Spirit alone, who could make him hear the voice of joy. The Spirit is the Comforter, that seals up assurance. 2 Cor 1:22. Therefore make much of the Spirit—do not grieve him. As Noah opened the ark to receive the dove—so should we open our hearts to receive the Spirit, which is the blessed dove who brings an olive branch of assurance in its mouth.
(4.) Let us lie at the pool of the ordinances, and frequent the word and sacrament."He brought me to the banqueting-house, and his banner over me was love." The blessed ordinances are the banqueting-house, where God displays the banner of assurance. The sacrament is a sealing ordinance. Christ made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread. In the holy supper, in the breaking of bread—God makes himself known to us, to be our God and portion.
How should they who have assurance conduct themselves?
(1.) If you have assurance of your justification—do not abuse it.It is abusing assurance when we grow more remiss in duty; as the musician, having money thrown him, leaves off playing. By remissness, or intermitting the exercises of piety, we grieve the Spirit—and that is the way to have an embargo laid upon our spiritual comforts. We abuse assurance when we grow presumptuous, and less fearful of sin. What! because a father gives his son an assurance of his love, and tells him he will bestow his land upon him—shall the son be wasteful and dissolute? This would be the way to lose his father's affection, and make him cut off the gift. It was an aggravation of Solomon's sin, that his heart was turned away from the Lord, after he had appeared to him twice. I Kings 11:9. It is bad to sin when one lacks assurance—but it is worse to sin when one has it. Has the Lord sealed his love with a kiss? Has he left a pledge of heaven in your hand—and do you thus requite the Lord? Will you sin with manna in your mouth? Does God give you the sweet clusters of assurance to feed on, and will you return wild grapes to him? It much pleases Satan, either to see us lack assurance, or abuse it. We abuse assurance when the pulse of our souls beats faster in sin, and slower in holy duties.
(2.) If you have assurance—admire his stupendous mercy.You deserved that God should give you gall and vinegar to drink—and has he made the honeycomb of his love to drop upon you? Oh, fall down and adore his goodness! Say, "Lord, how is it that you should manifest yourself to me, and not to other believers! for many whom you love as the apple of your eye, you hold in suspense, and give them no assurance of your love; though you have given them the new name—yet not the white stone; though they have the seed of grace—yet not the oil of gladness; though they have the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier—yet not the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. Lord, why is it that you should manifest yourself to me—and make your golden beams of assurance to shine upon my soul? Oh, adore God on this account! such will be the work of heaven.
(3.) If you have assurance—let your hearts be endeared in love to God.If God gives his people correction—they must love him. How much more, when he gives them assurance! "O love the Lord, all you his saints." Has God brought you to the borders of Canaan, given you the luscious grapes of Eschol, crowned you with loving-kindness, confirmed your pardon under the broad seal of heaven? How can you be frozen—at such a fire? How you should be turned into seraphim, burning in divine love! Say as Augustine, "I would hate my own soul, if I did not find it loving God." Give God the cream and quintessence of your love—and show your love by being willing to lose all for his sake.
(4.) If you have assurance—improve it for God's glory.
(1:) Improve assurance—by encouraging such as are yet unconverted. Tell them how sweet this hidden manna is; tell them what a good master you serve; what heavenly gales you have had; tell them God has carried you to the hill of myrrh, to the mountains of spices; he has given you not only a sight of heaven—but a pledge of heaven. Oh, persuade sinners, by all the love and mercy of God, that they would enroll their names in his family, and cast themselves upon him for salvation. Tell them God has met with you and unlocked the secrets of free grace, and assured you of a land flowing with those infinite delights, which eye has not seen. Thus, by telling others what God has done for your soul, you may make them fall in love with the ways of God, and cause them to turn proselytes to true religion.
(2:) Improve assurance—by comforting such as lack it. Be as the good Samaritan, and pour wine and oil into their wounds. You who have assurance, are arrived as it were at the haven—you are sure of your happiness; but do you not see others who are struggling with the waves of temptation and desertion, and are ready to sink? Oh, now sympathize with them, and do what you can to comfort them while they are in this deep ocean. "If we are comforted—it is for your consolation." The comfortable experience of one Christian being communicated to another, much revives and bears up his fainting heart. "Our comfort," says the apostle, "is for your consolation."
(3:) Improve assurance—by walking more heavenly. You should scorn the things below; you who have a pledge of heaven, should not be too earnest for the things of earth. You have angels' food; it does not befit you, with the serpent, to lick the dust. The wicked are all for corn, wine and oil; but you have that which is better. God has lifted up the light of his countenance upon you—and will you hanker after the world, when you have been feeding upon the grapes and pomegranates of the holy land? Do you now lust after the garlics and onions of Egypt? When you are clothed with the sun, will you set the moon and the stars above you? Oh let them scramble for the world—who have nothing else but husks to feed on! Have you assurance of heaven, and is not that enough? Will not a kingdom satisfy you? Such as are high in assurance, should live above the world!
(4:) Improve assurance—by a cheerful walking. It is for condemned people, to live with their heads hanging down. But have you your absolution? Does your God smile on you? Cheer up! "Why should the son of a king, look so dejected morning after morning?" 2 Sam 13:4. Are you the king's son? Has God assured you of your adoption—and are you sad? Assurance should be an antidote against all trouble. What though the world hates you? You are assured that you are one of God's favorites. What though there is but little oil in the cruse, and you are low in the world? You are high in assurance. Oh, then rejoice! How musical is the bird! How does it chirp and sing, though it knows not where to pick up the next crumb! And shall they be sad and discontented, who have God's bond to assure them of their daily bread, and his love to assure them of heaven? Certainly those who have assurance, should be of an optimistic disposition.
(5.) If you have an assurance of salvation—let it make you long after a glorified state. He who has a pledge in his hand—desires the whole sum to be paid. The soul that has tasted how sweet the Lord is—should long for a fuller enjoyment of him in heaven. Has Christ put the ring of assurance on your hand, and so espoused you to himself? How should you long for the marriage-supper of the Lamb! Rev 19:9. O Christian, think with yourself, "if a glimpse of heaven, if a smile of God's face is so sweet; what will it be—to be ever sunning yourself in the light of God's countenance!" Certainly, you who have an assurance of your title to heaven, cannot but desire possession of heaven. Be content to live—but willing to die.
(6.) If you have assurance—be careful that you do not lose it. Keep it, for it is your life—the comfort of your life. Keep assurance.
First. By prayer. "O continue your loving-kindness." "Lord, continue assurance; do not take this special seal away from me!"
Secondly. Keep assurance by humility. Pride estranges God from the soul. When you are near in assurance, be low in humility. Paul had assurance, and he baptized himself with the name, "Chief of sinners." The jewel of assurance is best kept—in the cabinet of an humble heart!