- False Ground. ‘I fear,’ saith the poor soul, ‘I am a hypocrite, because I have such a divided heart in the duties I perform. I cannot, for my life, enjoy any privacy with God in duty, but some base lust will be crowding into my thoughts when I am at prayer, hearing of the word, or meditating. Now I am lift up with a self-applauding thought, anon cast down to the earth with a worldly thought. What with one and another, little respite have I from such a company. And do such vermin breed anywhere but in the dunghill of a false hypocritical heart?’
Answer. Woe were it to the best of saints, if the mere rising and stirring of such thoughts as these, or worse than these, did prove the heart unsound; take heed thou concludest not thy state therefore, from the presence of these in thee, but from the comportment and behaviour of thy heart towards them. Answer therefore to these few interrogatories, and possibly thou mayest see thy sincerity through the mist these have raised in the soul.
(1.) Interrogatory. What friendly welcome have such thoughts with thee, when they present themselves to thee in duty? Are these the guests thou hast expected and trimmed thy room for? Didst thou go to duty to meet those friends, or do they unmannerly break in upon thee, and forcibly carry thee—as Christ foretold of Peter in another case—whither thou wouldst not? If so, why shouldst thou bring thy sincerity into dispute? Dost thou not know the devil is a bold intruder, and dares come where he knows there is none will bid him sit down? And that soul alone he can call his own house, where he finds rest, Luke 11:24. Suppose in your family, as you are kneeling down to prayer, a company of roisters should stand under your window, and all the while you are praying, they should be roaring and hallooing, this could not but much disturb you; but would you from the disturbance they make, fall to question your sincerity in the duty? Truly, it is all one whether the disturbance be in the room, or in the bosom, so the soul likes the one no more than he doth the other.
(2.) Interrogatory. Dost thou sit contented with this company, or use all the means thou canst to get rid of them, as soon as may be? Sincerity cannot sit still to see such doings in the soul; but, as a faithful servant when thieves break into his master’s house, though [so] overpowered with their strength and multitude, that he cannot with his own hands thrust them out of doors, yet he will send out secretly for help, and raise the town upon them. Prayer is the sincere soul’s messenger. It posts to heaven with full speed in this case; counting itself to be no other than in the belly of hell with Jonah, while it is yoked with such thoughts, and as glad when aid comes to rescue him out of their hands, as Lot was when Abraham recovered him from the kings that had carried him away prisoner.
Objection. But may be thou wilt say, though thou darest not deny that thy cry is sent to heaven against them, yet thou hearest no news of thy prayer, but continuest still pestered with them as before, which increaseth thy fear that thy heart is naught, or else thy prayer would have been answered, and thou delivered from these inmates.
Answer. Paul might as well have said so when he besought the Lord thrice, but could not have thorn in the flesh plucked out, II Cor. 12:8. He doth not by this show thee to be a hypocrite, but gives thee a fair advantage of proving thyself sincere—not much unlike his dealing with the Israelites, before whom he did not, as they expected, hastily drive out the nations, but left them as thorns in their sides. And why? Hear the reason from God’s own mouth, ‘That through them I may prove Israel, whether they will keep the way of the Lord to walk therein, as their fathers did keep it, or not,’ Judges 2:22. Thus God leaves these corruptions in thee, to prove whether thou wilt at last fall in and be friends with them, or maintain the conflict with them, and continue praying against them; by which perseverance thou wilt prove thyself to be indeed upright. A false heart will never do this. He is soon answered that doth not cordially desire the thing he asks. The hypocrite, when he prays against his corruption, goes of his conscience’s errand, not his will’s; just as a servant that doth not like the message his master sends him about, but dares not displease him, and therefore goes, and may be knocks at the man’s door whither he is sent, yet very faintly—loath he should hear him. All that he doth is that he may but bring a fair tale to his master, by saying he was there. Even so prays the hypocrite, only to stop the mouth of his conscience with his flam, that he hath prayed against his lust. Glad he is when it is over, and more glad that he returns re infectâ—the matter being unaccomplished. Observe therefore the behaviour of thy heart in prayer, and judge thyself sincere, or not sincere, by that, not by the present success it hath. God can take it kindly that thou askest what at present he thinks it better to deny than give. Thou wouldst have all thy corruptions knocked down at one blow, and thy heart in a posture to do the work of thy God, without any stop or rub from lust within, or the devil without; wouldst thou not? God highly approves of your zeal, as he did of David’s, who had a mind to build him a temple; but as he thought not fit that the house should in David’s time be reared—reserving it for the peaceful reign of Solomon—so neither doth he, that this thy request should be granted in this life, having reserved this immunity as an especial part of the charter of the city that is above, which none but glorified saints, who are inhabitants there, enjoy. He hath indeed taught us to pray, let thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven; but we must expect the full answer to it when we come there. But learn therefore, poor soul, to take this denial as David did his. Because God would not let him build the house in his days, he did not therefore question the love and favour of God, neither did he desist from preparing materials for it, but did what he might towards it, though he might not what he would. Far be it from thee also, that thou shouldst for this either cast away thy confidence on God, or lay aside thy endeavour for God, in mortifying thy corruptions, and adding to the store thou hast at present of his graces, which, though now imperfect and unpolished, he will make use of in the heavenly building which he intends thee for, where all the broken pieces, as I may so say, of our weak graces shall be so improved by the power and wisdom of God, that they shall make up one glorious structure of perfect holiness, more to be admired by angels in heaven, for the rare workmanship of it, than Solomon’s temple was on earth by men when in its full glory.
- False Ground. ‘Oh but,’ saith the tempted soul, ‘I have sometimes inward checks from my own conscience that this duty I did hypocritically, and that, in that action, much falseness of heart discovered itself. And if my heart condemn me, how can it be otherwise but I must needs be a hypocrite?’
Answer. I shall help to resolve this by laying down two distinctions, and applying them to the case in hand. (1.) We must distinguish between conscience proceeding by a right rule in its judgment, and conscience proceeding by a false rule. (2.) We must distinguish between a conscience that goes by a right rule, and is also rightly informed how to use it; and a conscience that judgeth by a right rule, but is not rightly informed in its use.