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A SOUND, CONFIRMED CHRISTIAN,
OF A WEAK CHRISTIAN,
OF A SEEMING CHRISTIAN.
OF THE DIRECTIONS FOR WEAK CHRISTIANS.
IN the explication of the text, which I made the ground of the foregoing discourse, I have shewed you that there is a degree of grace to be expected and sought after by all true Christians, which putteth the soul into a sound, confirmed, radicated state, in comparison of that weak, diseased, tottering condition, which most Christians now continue in. And I have shewed you how desirable a state that is, and what calamities follow the languishing, unhealthful state, even of such as may be saved. And indeed did we but rightly understand how deeply the errors and sins of many wellmeaning Christians have wounded the interest of religion in this age; and how heinously they have dishonoured God, and caused the enemies of holiness to blaspheme, and hardened thousands in popery and ungodliness, in probability to their perdition: had we well observed when God's judgments have begun, and understood what sins have caused our wars, and plagues, and flames, and worse than all these, our great heart-divisions, and church-distractions and convulsions; we should ere this have given over the flattering of ourselves and one another, in such a heaven-provoking state; and the ostentation of that little goodness, which
hath been eclipsed by such lamentable evils. And instead of these, we should have betaken ourselves to the exercise of such a serious, deep repentance as the quality of our sins, and the greatness of God's chastisements do require. It is a doleful case, to see how light many make of all the rest of their distempers, when once they think that they have so much grace and mortification, as is absolutely necessary to save their souls; and expect that preachers should say little to weak Christians, but words of comfort, setting forth their happiness. And yet if one of them, when he hath the gout, or stone, or cholic, or dropsy, doth send for a physician, he would think himself derided or abused, if his physician, instead of curing his disease, should only comfort him, by telling him, that he is not dead. What excellent disputations have Cicero and Seneca, the Platonists and Stoics, to prove that virtue is of itself sufficient to make man happy? And yet many Christians live as if holiness were but the way and means to their felicity, or at best but a small part of their felicity itself; or as if felicity itself grew burdensome, or were not desirable in this life; or a small degree of it were as good as a greater.
And too many mistake the will of God, and the nature of sanctification, and place their religion in the hot prosecution of those mistakes. They make a composition of error and passion, and an unyielding stiffness in them, and siding with the church or party which maintaineth them, and an uncharitable censuring those that are against them, and an unpeaceable contending for them; and this composition they mistake for godliness, especially if there be but a few drachms of godliness and truth in the composition, though corrupted and overpowered by the rest.
For these miscarriages of many well-meaning, zealous persons, the land mourneth, the churches groan; kingdoms are disturbed by them; families are disquieted by them; godliness is hindered, and much dishonoured by them; the wicked are hardened by them, and encouraged to hate, and blaspheme, and oppose religion; the glory of the Christian faith is obscured by them; and the infidel, Mahometan, and heathen world, are kept from faith in Jesus Christ, and many millions of souls destroyed by them. I mean by the miscarriages of the weaker sort of Christians, and by the wicked lives of those carnal hypocrites, who for custom or worldly
interest, do profess that Christianity which was never received by their hearts.
And all this is much promoted by their indiscretion, who are so intent upon the consolatory opening of the safety and happiness of believers, that they omit the due explication of their description, their dangers, and their duties.
One part of this too much neglected work I have endeavoured to perform in the foregoing treatise: another I shall attempt in this second part. There are five degrees or ranks of true Christians observable. 1. The weakest Christians, who have only the essentials of Christianity, or very little more as infants that are alive, but of little strength or use to others. 2. Those that are lapsed into some wounding sin, though not into a state of damnation; like men at age, who have lost the use of some one member for the present, though they are strong in other parts. 3. Those that have the integral parts of Christianity in a considerable measure, are in a sound and healthful state, though neither perfect, nor of the highest form or rank of Christians in this life, nor without such infirmities, as are the matter of their daily watchfulness and humiliation. 4. Those that are so strong as to attain extraordinary degrees of grace, who are therefore comparatively called perfect, as Matt. v.45. 5. Those that have an absolute perfection without sin; that is, the heavenly inhabitants.
Among all these, it is the third sort or degree which I have here characterised, and upon the bye, the first sort, and the hypocrite. I meddle not now with the lapsed Christian as such, nor with those giants in holiness of extraordinary strength; nor with the perfect, blessed souls in heaven. But it is the Christian who hath attained that confirmation in grace, and composed, quiet, fruitful state, which we might ordinarily expect, if we were industrious, whose image and character I shall now present you with. I call him ofttimes a Christian indeed, in allusion to Christ's description of Nathaniel (John i. 47.), and as we commonly use that word, for one that answereth his own profession without any notable dishonour or defect; as we say such a man is a scholar indeed; and not as signifying his mere sincerity. I mean one whose heart and life are so conformed to the principles, the rule, and the hopes of Christianity, that to the honour of Christ, the true nature of our religion is discern
ible in his conversation; Matt. v. 16. In whom an impartial infidel might perceive the true nature of the Christian faith and godliness. If the world were fuller of such living images of Christ, who, like true regenerate children, represent their heavenly Father, Christianity would not have met with so much prejudice, nor had so many enemies in the world, nor would so many millions have been kept in the darkness of heathenism and infidelity, by flying from Christians, as a sort of people that are common and unclean.
Among Christians, there are babes, that must be fed with milk, and not with strong meat, that are "unskilful in the word of righteousness;" (1 John ii. 2. 12—14. Heb. v. 12-14.) and novices, who are unsettled, and in an overthrow; 1 Tim. iii. 6. John xv. 3.5. &c. In these the nature and excellency of Christianity, is little more apparent than reason in a little child. And there are strong, confirmed Christians, who, by "reason of use, have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil," (Heb. v. 13, 14.) and who shew forth the glory of him that hath called them out of darkness into his marvellous light; of whom God himself may say to satan and their malicious enemies, as once of Job, "Hast thou not seen my servant Job," &c. This Christian indeed I shall now describe to you, both to confute the infidel's slanders of Christianity, and to unteach men those false descriptions which have caused the presumption of the profane, and the irregularities of erroneous sectaries; and to tell you what manner of persons they be, that God is honoured by; and what you must be, if you will understand your own religion. Be Christians indeed, and you will have the comforts indeed of Christianity; and will find that its fruits and joys are not dreams, and shadows, and imaginations, if you content not yourselves with an imagination, dream, and shadow of Christianity, or with some clouded spark, or buried seed.
1. A Christian indeed (by which I still mean, a sound, confirmed Christian), is one that contenteth not himself to have a seed, or habit of faith, but he liveth by faith, as the sensualist by sight or sense. Not putting out the eye of sense, nor living as if he had no body, or lived not in a world of
sensible objects; but as he is a reasonable creature, which exalteth him above the sensitive nature, so faith is the true information of his reason, about those high and excellent things, which must take him up above things sensible. He hath so firm a belief of the life to come, as procured by Christ, and promised in the Gospel, as that it serveth him for the government of his soul, as his bodily sight doth for the conduct of his body. I say not, that he is assaulted with no temptations, nor that his faith is perfect in degree, nor that believing moveth him as passionately as sight or sense would do: but it doth effectually move him through the course and tenour of his life, to do those things for the life to come, which he would do if he saw the glory of heaven; and to shun those things for the avoiding of damnation, which he would shun if he saw the flames of hell. Whether he do these things so fervently or not, his belief is powerful, effectual, and victorious. Let sight and sense invite him to their objects, and entice him to sin, and forsake his God, the objects of faith shall prevail against them, in the bent of an even, a constant, and resolved life. It is things unseen which he taketh for his treasure, and which have his heart and hope, and chiefest labours. All things else which he hath to do, are but subservient to his faith and heavenly interest, as his sensitive faculties are ruled by his reason. His faith is not only his opinion, which teacheth him to choose what church or party he will be of; but it is his intellectual light, by which he liveth, and in the confidence and comfort of which he dieth. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We groan to be clothed upon with our heavenly house. Wherefore we labour, that whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him ;" 2 Cor. v. 7-9. Now the just shall live by faith;" Heb. x. 3. "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen;" Heb. xi. 1. Most of the examples in Heb. xi. do shew you this truth, that true Christians live and govern their actions, by the firm belief of the promise of God, and of another life when this is ended. "By faith Noah being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark, to the saving of his house, by which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith;" ver. 7. "Abraham looked for a city which had foundations, whose builder and ma