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good grounds, of the pardoning mercy of God, and of an infallible title to immortal glory, that it seems needless to say much concerning the importance of it; and it is difficult to say any thing on so common a subject, which has not often been said. I shall, however, suggest a few thoughts, of which it is necessary that professors should be frequently reminded.
(1.) Consider the great danger there is of resting in a false hope. Many do so, undoubtedly. We read much, in the holy scriptures, not only of hypocrites, but of their hope and confidence. the parable of the ten virgins, the five foolish, it seems, expected to go in with the wise when the bridegroom should come; and did not know that their lamps were gone out, until it was too late to replenish them with oil. In another parable, our Saviour represents the hope of many false professors as being so strong, that they would not easily give it up, even at the last day. Matt. vii. 28, " Many will say unto me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?" But he adds, "And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you." So again, Luke xiii. 25, 26, 27, "When once the Master or the house be risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us: and he shall answer and say unto you, I know not whence ye are. Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drank in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity." We are not indeed to understand this so literally, as to suppose that hypocrites will not know what their state is before they come to judgment, and receive their final sentence,
after the resurrection. But we are to understand these sayings of our Saviour and Judge, as being designed to teach us, that many self-deceivers are exceedingly confident of their good estate; and hold fast this confidence to their dying hour.
(2.) Let it be considered how terrible a thing it must be to entertain a false hope, till it is too late to rectify mistakes; and to go away into everlasting punishment, when one was in full expectation of going to life eternal. In the next verse after the last quoted passage, it is said, "There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out." Job says, "What is the hope of the hypocrite, though he hath gained, when God taketh away
(3.) To show the importance of having the full assurance of hope, I may observe, that it must needs give much uneasiness to pious persons, when they seriously think of it, to feel any considerable uncertainty in their own minds, whether they shall be happy or miserable to all eternity. The apostle to the Hebrews, speaks of them who, "through fear of death, were all their life-time subject to bondage." And this must be the case with true believers, if all their life-time, they have only a doubtful hope of escaping everlasting destruction. The thoughts of dying, while this is their condition, must be exceedingly terrifying to them.
(4.) Consider, on the other hand, how happy and safe at all times, those may well feel who have such good evidence of being in a state of grace, as puts the matter beyond all reasonable apprehension of being deceived.
Provision is made in the covenant of grace, for this full comfort of the assured believer." God,
willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel," it is said, "confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge, to lay hold upon the hope set before us.” The apostle adds, "Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the vail." Every true believer in Christ experiences something of the comforts of this hope, which is set before all but the christian's comfort must be far more strong and perfect, when he is sure of his title to the promises of grace and glory, than it can possibly be while he has doubts and fears that his heart may deceive him, and that he hath no part nor lot in that everlasting covenant which is ordered in all things, and sure.
A well-grounded, full assurance of hope, will not only bear one above the fears of death, but will make the thoughts of it a powerful support under all the ills of life. Well may those take joyfully the spoiling of their earthly goods, who know in themselves that they have in heaven a better and an enduring substance. When wicked men revile and persecute them, and say all manner of evil against them falsely for Christ's sake, well may they rejoice and be exceeding glad, if they can be certain that they are christians indeed: for then their reward will be great, and so much the greater, in the kingdom of heaven. Well might we consider the heaviest bereavements, and the most lasting temporal pains and afflictions, light, and for a moment, were we fully assured that they will work for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. Well may those who have this assurance, persevere with patience in well-doing, however hard and difficult the duties to which they are called, and whatever discouragements they may have to encounter. Well may they "be steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in
the work of the Lord," when they "know that their labor is not in vain in the Lord."
But it is time we proceed, as was proposed,
III. To consider wherein, or in what ways, christians must show diligence, that they may get this full assurance of hope, and retain it firm unto the end.
1. It will readily occur to every one, that they must be diligent, thorough and careful, in the business of self-examination.
If the time be known when they thought themselves first converted, they should examine this conversion with carefulness, again and again, to be satisfied that it could not be the effect of fear and hope only, operating upon the natural principle of self-love; but that a new heart must have been giv. en them, and a new spirit put within them. A heart to love God, not merely for his apprehended singular goodness to them; but for his own sake, and for what he is in himself. A heart to repent of all their sins against him, with godly sorrow; to submit to, and rejoice in, his supreme dominion and absolute sovereignty; to choose him as the portion of their soul, and to make the advancement of his interest and declarative glory their ultimate and chief end. A heart to love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, and to receive him cordially, as their prophet, priest and king. And a heart to love good men with complacency, and all mankind with a pure and fervent charity. Whether they had then such a temper of mind given them, as Christ exhibited, and as the gospel requires.
But whether you can date the time of your supposed conversion or not; you should examine the past and present exercises of your heart, and your general course of life; and see if in these you can find clear evidences of having been created in Christ.
Jesus unto good works. Particular attention should here be paid to what have been your feelings, and thoughts, and actions, under the various trials and changes through which you have been called to pass : under the merciful and afflictive dispensations of Providence, and the kindnesses and ill treatment received from your fellow-men.
But self-examination alone, however frequent and particular, will not be enough to give all true believers full assurance of their godly sincerity. Many such may examine themselves, and pore upon their experiences, for months and years; and yet, after all, be as full of perplexity and doubts as ever. I add, therefore,
2. Giving diligence to get a more accurate and thorough understanding of the various doctrines and precepts of the gospel, is altogether necessary. Persons may have that degree of knowledge in divine things which is absolutely required in order to saving faith; and yet not know enough to be able to obtain a full assurance, upon rational grounds, that they are true believers. They may not have those determinate and correct ideas of the perfections of God, of the character of Jesus Christ, of the essence of holiness, and of the nature of heavenly happiness, that will render it possible, without an immediate revelation, to be quite certain that their good feelings toward these objects of religious desire and love, may not proceed from some misapprehensions concerning them. The only ordinary way, or at least one necessary way, to have this put beyond all reasonable doubt, is to give attention to reading, to meditation, to doctrine. This is a way divinely prescribed and encouraged. It is written; "Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord." It is written; "If thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; so that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding;