Third Sort. We come now to the third sort which yet remains to be spoken to, and they are doubting souls, who are indeed sincere, but dare not be persuaded to think so well of themselves. They come from the trial which they were desired to put themselves upon, and which brings them in ignorant, not knowing whether they be sincere or no. Now to these I would give these few words of counsel, and the Lord give his blessing with them.
- Counsel. Take heed Satan doth not draw you to conclude you are hypocrites because you are without the present evidence of your sincerity. To say so were to offend against the generation of God’s dear children, many of whom must, if this were a true inference from such premises, pass the same sentence upon themselves. For such precious souls there are, from whose eyes the truth of their grace and sincerity of their hearts is at this day hid, and yet are not without either. The patriarchs had their money all day bound up in their sacks as they travelled, though they did not know this, till they came to their inn and opened them. Thus there is a treasure of sincerity hid in many a soul, but the time to open the sack, and let the soul know its riches, is not come. Many are now in heaven—have shot the gulf, and are safely landed there—who were sadly tossed with fears all along their voyage about the truth of grace in them. Faith unfeigned puts a soul into the ark Christ; but it doth not hinder, but such a one may be seasick in the ship. It is Christ’s work, not grace’s, to evidence itself to our eye so demonstratively as to enable us to own it. Besides an organ fitly disposed, there is required a light to irradiate the medium; so, besides truth of grace, it is necessary that the spirit being another light, for want of which the soul is benighted in its thoughts, and must cry for another—and he no other than the Holy Spirit—to lead them into the light. This is the great messenger which alone is able ‘to show a man his uprightness.’ But, as the eye may be a seeing eye in the dark, when it doth not see anything, so there may be truth of grace, where there is not present sense of that truth. Yea, the creature may be passionately hunting from ordinance to ordinance, to get that sincerity which he already hath; as sometimes you may have seen one seek very earnestly all about the house for his hat, when at the same time he hath it on his head. Well, lay down this as a real truth in thy soul, ‘I may be upright, though at present I am not able to see it clearly.’ This, though it will not bring in a full comfort, yet it may be some support till that come, as a shore to thy weak house; though it does not mend it, yea it will underprop and keep it standing till the master workman comes—the Holy Spirit—who, with one kind word to thy soul, is able to set thee right in thy own thoughts, and make thee stand strong on the promise—the only true basis and foundation of solid comfort. Be not more cruel to thy soul, O Christian, than thou wouldst—to thy friend’s, shall I say? yea, to thine enemy’s body. Should one thou didst not much love lie sick in thy house, yea so sick that, if you should ask him whether he be alive, he could not tell you—his senses and speech being both at present gone—would you presently lay him out, and coffin him up for the grave, because you cannot have it from his own mouth that he is alive? Surely not. O how unreasonable and bloody then is Satan, who would presently have thee put thyself into the pit‑hole of despair, because thy grace is not so strong as to speak for itself at present!
- Counsel. Let me send thee back upon a melius inquirendum—a closer examination. Look once again more narrowly, whether Satan—that Joab —hath not the great hand in these questions and scruples started in thy bosom about thy sincerity, merely as his last design upon thee, that he may amuse and distract thee with false fears, when thou wilt not be flattered with false hopes. The time was thou wert really worse, and then, by his means, thou thoughtest thyself better than thou wert: and now, since thou hast changed thy way, disowned thy former confidence, been acquainted with Christ, and got some savour of his holy ways in thy spirit, so as to make thee strongly breathe after them, thou art affrighted with many apparitions of fears in thy sad thoughts, if not charging thee for a hypocrite, yet calling in question the truth of thy heart. It is worth, I say, the inquiring, whether it be not the same hand again—the devil—though knocking at another door. No player hath so many several dresses to come in upon the stage [with], as the devil hath forms of temptation, and this is a suit which he very ordinarily hath been known to wear. If it were thy case only, thou mightest have more suspicion lest these fears should be the just rebukes of thy own false heart; but when thou findest the complaints of many thy fellow-brethren—of whose sincerity thou darest not doubt, though thou savest not so much charity for thyself —so meet with thine, that no key though made on purpose, can fit all the wards of a lock, than their condition doth thine. This, I say, may well make thee set about another search, to find whether he be not come forth as a ‘lying spirit,’ to abuse thy tender spirit with such news as he knows worse cannot come to thy ears—that thou dost not love Jesus Christ as thou pretendest, and deceivest but thyself to think otherwise. Thus this foul spirit—like a brazen-faced harlot that lays her child at an honest person’s door—doth impudently charge many with that which they are little guilty of, knowing that so much of his bold accusation will likely stick to the poor Christian’s spirit, as shall keep the door open to let in another temptation, which he much desires to convey into his bosom, by the favour and under the shadow of this. And it is ordinarily this, viz. to scare the Christian from duty, and knock off the wheels of his chariot, which used so often to carry him into the presence of God in his ordinances, merely upon a suspicion that he is not sincere in them. And [it is] better [to] stay at home, without hearing or joining with God’s people in any other duty, than [to] go up and show the naughtiness of thy heart, saith the devil. Had the serpent a smoother skin and a fairer tale when he made Eve put forth her hand to the forbidden fruit, than he comes with in this temptation to persuade thee, poor Christian, not to touch or taste of that fruit which God hath commanded to be eaten —ordinances, I mean, to be enjoyed by thee? Yet, Christian, thou hast reason, if I mistake not, to bless God if he suffers thy enemy so far to open his mind, by which thou mayst have some light to discover the wickedness of his design in the other temptation of questioning thy sincerity. Dost thou not now perceive, poor soul, what made the loud cry of thy hypocrisy in thy fears? The devil did not like to see thee so busy with ordinances, nor thy acquaintance to grow so fast with God in them, and he knew no way but this to knock thee off. Bite at his other baits thou wouldst not. Sin, though never so well cooked and garnished, is not a dish for thy tooth, he sees; and therefore, either he must affright thee from these by troubling thy imagination with fears of thy hypocrisy in them, or else he may throw his cap at thee and give thee [up] for one got out of his reach. Dost thou think, poor soul, that if thy heart were so false and hypocritical in thy duties, that he would make all this bustle about them? He doth not use to misplace his batteries thus—to mount them where there is no enemy to offend him. Thy hypocritical prayers and hearing would hurt him no more than if [there were] none at all. Neither doth he use too be so kind as to tell hypocrites of the falseness of their hearts. This is the chain with which he hath them by the foot, and it is his great care to hide it from them, lest the rattling of it in their conscience awaken them to some endeavour to knock it off, and so they make an escape out of his prison. Be therefore of good comfort, poor soul. If thy conscience brings not Scripture proof to condemn thee for a hypocrite, fear not the devil’s charge. He shall not be on the bench when thou comest to be tried for thy life, nor his testimony of any value at that day; why then should his tongue be any slander to thee now?