Object. Atheists and hypocrites may have great changes and renovations wrought upon them, and in them, and I fear mine may be such.
Ans. I grant that Atheists and hypocrites have many things in them which do look like the new creature.
I. In regard of the parts of the man, they may,
1. Come to much knowledge – they are enlightened.
2. There may be a stir amongst their affections: “They receive the word with joy, as he that received the seed into stony places.”
3. They may reach a great deal of outward reformation in the outward man, both concerning freedom from sin, and engagement to positive duty, as the Pharisee did: “God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this Publican; I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.” Yea,
4. In regard of their practical understanding, they may judge some things of God to be excellent – the officers said, that “never man spake as Christ.”
II. Hypocrites may have a great deal of professions.
1. They may talk of the law and gospel, and of the covenant, as the wicked do – “What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth?”
2. They may confess sin openly to their own shame, as King Saul did: “Then said Saul, I have sinned: return, my son David; for I will no more do thee harm, because my soul was precious in thine eyes this day: behold, I have played the fool, and have erred exceedingly.”
3. They may humble themselves in sackcloth with Ahab: “And it came to pass, when Ahab heard those words, that he rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his flesh, and fasted, and lay in sack-cloth, and went softly.”
4. They may inquire busily after duty, and come cheerfully to receive it: “Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask me of the ordinances of justice: they take delight in approaching to God.”
5. They may join with God’s interest in a hard and difficult time, as Demas and other hypocrites, in the book of the Acts of the Apostles, who afterwards fell off.
6. They may give much of their goods to God and to the saints, as Ananias, if not all their goods: “Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” Yea,
7. It is not impossible for some such, being straitly engaged in their credit, to “give their bodies to be burned,” as in the last cited place.
III. Hypocrites may advance far in the common and ordinary steps of a Christian work; such as the elect have when God leads them captive. As,
1. They may be under great convictions of sin, as Judas was: “Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said. What is that to us? see thou to that. And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.” So was King Saul often.
2. They may tremble at the word of God, and be under much terror, as Felix was: “And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season I will call for thee.”
3. They may “rejoice in receiving of the truth, as he that received the seed into stony places.”
4. They may be in some peace and quiet, in expectation of salvation by Christ, as the foolish virgins were.
5. All this may be backed and followed with some good measure of reformation, as the Pharisee: “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.” “The unclean spirit may go out of them.”
6. This work may seem to be confirmed by some special experiences and “tastings of the good word of God.”
IV. Hypocrites may have some things very like the saving graces of the Spirit; as,
1. They may have a sort of faith with Simon Magus: “Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptised, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.”
2. They may have a sort of repentance, and may walk mournfully: “What profit is it that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts?”
3. They may have a great fear of God, such as Balaam had, who, for a house-full of gold, would not go with the messengers of Balak, without leave asked of God, and given.
4. They have a sort of hope: “The hypocrite’s hope shall perish.”
5. They have some love, so had Herod to John: “And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath’s sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her.”
I need not to insist, it is out of all question they have counterfeits of all saving graces.
V. They have somewhat like the special communications of God, and the witnessing of his Spirit, and somewhat like “the powers of the world to come,” powerfully on them, with some flashes of joy arising thence. “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance.” Notwithstanding of all which, they are but “almost persuaded, with Agrippa, to be Christians.”
It were tedious to speak particularly to each of these things, and to clear it up, that they are all false and unsound: I shall condescend upon some few things, in which a truly renewed man, who is in Christ, doth differ from hypocrites and reprobates.
1. Whatever change be in hypocrites, yet their heart is not changed and made new. The new heart is only given to the elect, when they are converted and brought under the bond of the covenant: “I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me for ever.” “A
new heart will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.”
Hypocrites never apprehended Christ as the only satisfying good in all the world, for which with joy they would quit all; for then the kingdom of God were entered into them: “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.” The truly renewed man dare, and can upon good ground say, and hath a testimony of it from on high, that his heart hath been changed in taking up with Christ, and hath been led out after him, as the only enriching treasure, in whom “to be found he accounteth all things else loss and
2. Whatever reformation or profession hypocrites do attain to, as it cometh not from a new heart, and pure principle of zeal for God, so it is always for some wicked and by-end, as, “to be seen of men,” or to evade and shun some outward strait, to be free of God’s wrath, and the trouble of their own conscience: “Wherefore have we fasted, say they and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge?” “What profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts?” In testimony of this, they never have respect to all known commands, else they should “never be ashamed;” nor do they, without approven guile in their own heart, resolve against every known iniquity, else they were freed of heart-condemnings, and so might justly have “confidence before God.” If in never so small a degree they did, from a principle of love unto, and of zeal for Christ, and for a right end, confess and profess him, Christ were obliged by his own word “to confess them before his Father.”
3. Whatever length hypocrites advance in that work, by which people are led in unto Christ, yet, they never “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” “The one thing that is necessary,” namely, Christ’s friendship and fellowship, is never their “one thing,” and heart-satisfying choice, else that “better part would never be taken from it.”
4. Whatever counterfeits of grace are in hypocrites, yet they are all formed there, without any saving work of the Spirit of Christ; and it is enough to exclude them from the benefit of this mark, that they are never denied to these things, nor emptied of them, but still do rest on them as their saviour, so that “they submit not unto the righteousness of God;” and that is enough to keep them at a distance from Christ, who will never mend that old garment of hypocrites with his fine new linen, nor “put his new wine into these old bottles.”
5. We may say, Let hypocrites, reprobates, or Atheists, have what they can, they want the three great essentials of religion and true Christianity.
1. They are not broken in their hearts, and emptied even of their righteousness, the length of self-loathing, yet lying open for relief. Such “lost ones Christ came to seek and save.”
2. They never took up Christ Jesus as the only treasure and jewel that can only enrich, and should satisfy; and therefore have never cordially agreed to God’s device in the covenant, and so are not worthy of him; neither hath the kingdom of God savingly entered into their heart: “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.”
3. They never in earnest do close with Christ’s whole yoke without exception, judging all his “will just and good, holy and spiritual;” and therefore no rest followed on them by Christ: “Take my yoke upon you, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”
Therefore, whosoever thou art, who can lay clear and just claim to these three mentioned things, thou art beyond the reach of all Atheists, hypocrites, and reprobates, in the world, as having answered the great ends and intents of the law and gospel.
Object I am clear sometimes, I think, to lay claim to that mark of the new creature; yet at other times sin doth so prevail over me, that I am made to question all the work within me.
Answ, It is much to be lamented, that people professing his name, should be so abused and enslaved by transgression, as many are. Yet, in answer to the objection, if it be seriously proposed, we say, The saints are found in Scripture justly laying claim to God and his covenant, when iniquity did prevail over them; as we find: “Iniquities prevail against me; as for our transgressions, thou shalt purge them away.” Paul “thanks God through Christ,” though he acknowledges “a law in his members leads him captive unto sin.”
But, for the better understanding, and safe application, of such truths, we must make a difference between gross outbreakings, and ordinary infirmities or heart-evils, or sins that come unawares upon a man, without forethought or any deliberation.
As for the former sort, it is hard for a man, whilst he is under the power of them, to see his gracious change, although it be in him; and very hard to draw any comfort from it, until the man be in some measure recovered, and begin seriously to resent such sins, and to resolve against them. We find David calling himself God’s servant, quickly after his numbering of God’s people; but he was then under the serious resentment of his sin: “And David’s heart smote him after that he had numbered the people. And David said unto the Lord, I have sinned greatly in that I have done: and now, I beseech thee, O Lord, take away the iniquity of thy servant, for I have done very foolishly.” Jonah layeth claim to God as his master under his rebellion; but he is then repenting it, and in a spirit of revenge against himself for his sin.
Next, as for these sins of infirmity, and daily incursion of heart-evils, it is like they were such as those whereof Paul doth complain. We shall draw out some things from the seventh chapter to the Romans, upon which Paul maintains his interest in Christ; and if you can apply them, it is well.
1. When Paul finds that he doth much fail, and cannot reach conformity to God’s law, he doth not blame the law as being too strict, so that men cannot keep it, as hypocrites use to speak; but he blames himself as being carnal, and he saith of the law, “That it is good, holy, and spiritual.”
2. He can say, he failed of a good which he intended, and did outshoot himself, and he had often honestly resolved against the evil which he fell into: “For that which I do, I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good, I find not. For the good that I would, I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do.”
3. He saith, that the prevailing of sin over him is his exercise, so that he judges himself wretched, because of such a body of death, from which he longs to be delivered.
4. He says, that whilst he is under the power and law of sin, there is somewhat in the bottom of his heart opposing it, although over-mastered by it, which would be another way; and when that gets the upper hand, it is a delightsome thing (Rom 7:22-25).
Upon these things he “thanks God in Christ that there is no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”
Now, then, look if you can lay claim to these things.
1. If you do blame yourself, and approve the law, whilst you fail.
2. If you can say, that you do often resolve against sin honestly, and without known guile; and do so resolve the contrary good, before the evil break in upon you.
3. If you can say, that you are so far exercised with your failings, as to judge yourself wretched because of such things, and a body of death, which is the root and fountain of such things.
4. If you can say, that there is a party within you opposing these evils, which would be at the right way, and, as it were, is in its element when it is in God’s way, it is well: only be advised not to take rest, until in some good measure you be rid of the ground of this objection, or, at least, until you can very clearly say, you are waging war with these things.
Now, a good help against the prevailing power of sin, is to cleave close to Christ Jesus, by faith, which, as it is a desirable part of sanctification, and a high degree of conformity to God’s will, and most subservient unto his design in the gospel: “The life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” I do not frustrate the grace of God; and so should be much endeavoured after by people, as a work pleasing unto God: “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent:” so it is the ready way to draw life and nourishment from Christ the blessed root, for fruitfulness in all cases: “Abide in me, and I in you: as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine, no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit; for without me, ye can do nothing.”