Second. I will lay down the grounds of the weak Christian’s fear for his being a hypocrite, and the weakness of them; in other words, the false grounds from which sincere souls do many times go about to prove themselves hypocrites, yea, for a while conclude they are such.
- False Ground. ‘Sure I am a hypocrite,’ saith the poor soul, ‘or else I should not be as I am. God would not thus follow me on with one blow after another, and suffer Satan also to use me as he doth.’ This was the grand battery Job’s friends had against his sincerity, and sometimes Satan so far prevails as to make the sincere soul set it against his own breast, saying, much like him, ‘If God be with us, why is all this befallen us?’—if God be in us by his grace, why appears he against us?
Answer. This fire into which God casts thee, proves thou hast dross, and if, because thou art held long in the furnace, thou shouldst say thou hadst much dross, I would not oppose; but how thou shouldst spell ‘hypocrite’ out of thy afflictions and troubles, I marvel. The wicked indeed make much use of this argument to clap ‘hypocrite’ on them; but the Christian, methinks, should not use it against himself. Though the barbarians presently gave their verdict upon sight of the viper on Paul’s hand, that he was ‘a murderer,’ yet Paul thought not worse of himself for it. Christian, give but the same counsel to thyself, when in affliction and temptation, that thou usest to do to thy fellow-brethren in the same condition, and thou wilt get out of this snare. Darest thou think thy neighbour a hypocrite merely from the hand of God upon him? No, I warrant thee, thou rather pitiest him, and helpest him to answer the doubts that arise in his spirit from this very argument. It would make one smile to see how handsomely and roundly a Christian can untie the knots and scruples of another, who afterward, when brought into the like condition, is gravelled with the same himself. He that helped his friend over the stile is now unable to stride it himself. God so orders things that we should need one another. She that is midwife to others cannot well do that office to herself; nor he that is the messenger to bring peace to the spirit of another, able to speak it to his own. The case is clear, Christian. Affliction cannot prove thee a hypocrite, which wert thou without altogether, thou mightest safer think thou wert a bastard. The case, I say, is clear, but thy eyes are held for some further end God hath to bring about by thy affliction. But may be thou wilt say, it is not simply the affliction makes thee think thus of thyself; but because thou art so long afflicted, and in the dark also, as to any sense of God’s love in thy soul. Thou hast no smiles from God’s sweet countenance to alleviate thy affliction, and if all were right, and thou a sincere child of God, would thy heavenly Father let thee lie groaning, and never look upon thee to lighten thy affliction with his sweet presence? As to the first of these—the length of thy affliction. I know no standard God hath set for to measure the length of his saints’ crosses by, and it becomes not us to make one ourselves. This we do, when we thus limit his chastisements to time, that if they exceed the day we have writ down in our own thoughts—which is like to be short enough, if our hasty hearts may appoint—then we are hypocrites. For the other; thou must know that God can, without any impeachment to his love, hide it for a while. And truly he may take it very ill that his children, who have security given them for his loving them—besides the sensible manifestation of it to their souls—should call this in question, for not coming to visit them, and take them up in his arms when they would have him. In a word, may be thy affliction comes in the nature of purging physic. God may intend to evacuate some corruption by it, which endangers thy spiritual health and hinder thy thriving in godliness. Now the manifestation of his love God may reserve, as physicians do their cordials, to be given when the physic is over.
- False Ground. ‘I fear I am a hypocrite,’ saith the tempted soul; ‘why else are there such decays and declensions to be found in me? It is the character of the upright that he goes from strength to strength, but I go backward from strength to weakness.’ Some Christians—they are like those that we call close men in the world—if they lose anything in their trade, and all goes not as they would have it, we are sure to hear of that over and over again. They speak of their losses in every company; but when they make a good market, and gains come in apace, they keep this to themselves—not forward to speak of them. If Christians would be ingenuous, they should tell what they get as [well as] what they lose. But to take it for granted that thou dost find a decay, and to direct our answer to it.
Answer 1. I grant it as true that the sincere soul grows stronger and stronger—but how?—even as the tree grows higher and bigger, which we know meets with a fall of the leaf, and winter, that for a while intermits its growth. Thus the sincere soul may be put to a present stand by some temptation—as Peter, who was far from growing stronger when he fell from professing to denying Christ, from denying to swearing and cursing if he knew him. Yet as the tree, when spring comes, revives and gains more in the summer than it loseth in the winter, so doth the sincere soul. Just as we see in Peter, whose grace that squatted in for a while came forth with such a force, shaking temptations, that no cruelty from men could drive it in ever after; [so will the sincere soul ever] end in settlement, according to the apostle’s prayer, ‘The God of all grace,…after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, established, strengthen, settle you,’ I Peter 5:10.
Answer 2. There is a great difference between the decay of a sincere soul and of a hypocrite. The hypocrite declines out of an inward dislike of the ways of God. Hence they are called ‘backsliders in heart,’ Prov. 14:14. So long as they served his lust, and contributed any help to the obtaining his worldly interest, so long he had a seeming zeal; but the argument taken away, he begins to remit by degrees, till he comes to be key-cold, yea, as heartily sick of his profession as Ammon of Tamar. When the hypocrite begins to fall, he goes apace. Like a stone down the hill he knows no ground but the bottom. Now speak freely, poor soul. Darest thou say there is an inward dislike to the ways of God. May be thou dost pray not with that heat and fervency which thou hast; but is it because thou dost not like the duty as formerly? Thou dost not hear the word with such joy; but dost thou not therefore hear it with more sorrow? In a word, canst thou not say with the spouse, when thou sleepest thy ‘heart waketh,’ Song. 5:2; that is, thou art not pleased with thy present declining state, but heartily wishest thou wert out of it—as one that hath a great desire to rise and be at his work—his heart is awake—but is not able at present to shake off that sleep which binds him down. This will clear thee from being a hypocrite.