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galis knew that “the prudent are crowned with knowledge;" and that crown we must not give up: "Hold fast that which thou hast, that no man take thy crown," says the Saviour.
Ahimaaz. Those souls that are kept in their youth from an open course of wickedness, have not such cutting and bitter reflections, when brought under convictions, that the vile and vicious have: yet I have often observed that their former legality has stuck as close to their souls, to keep them in bondage, as the bad practices of others do to bring them into sin. I myself was kept very upright and moral through all the days of my natural state, to outward appearance: but, alas, God "sees not as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but God looketh on the heart,” i Sam. xvi. 7. And so I found it; for my self-sufficiency, self-righteousness, and legal pridethese heart sins—were as detestable in the eyes of the Lord as the open profanity even of Prodigalis himself. And, although his arraignment and trial were dreadful to pass through, yet his wonderful deliverance afforded as strong a consolation as the other did a grievous affliction.
Besides, my brother, you know that none but the elect are called: “Whom he did predestinate, these he also called.” And the elect are all known of God: “Whom he did foreknow, them he did predestinate.” This being the case, the bounds of their habitation, the place and time of their conversion, yea, the manner how, and even the mouth made choice of, (Acts xv. 7) in order to convey the word of life to their conversion, are all fore-appointed, and immutably fixed in the eternal decree. Therefore, whether their
life, in their unconverted state, be openly wicked, or legally upright, it is according to divine permission.
The apostle Paul was a chosen vessel, although he went such a singular length in persecuting the saints even unto death. God permitted him to go thus far, that in the conversion of such a man it might be proclaimed to the world what free and irresistible grace could do: “Howbeit, for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting,” i Tim. i. 16.
Cushi. All those things are true; yet, for my part, I would rather have been kept from open vice in my natural state than have been permitted to fall into it. Our Lord takes notice of this in Peter, who, according to his own account, had “ walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries,” i Pet. iv. 3. I say
the Lord takes notice of this; and well he might: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee [Peter], when thou wast young thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest; but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not,” John xxi. 18. Such poor miserable sinners, as Peter, Prodigalis, and myself, have a deal to suffer; and, though God doth“ abundantly pardon,” (Isa. lv. 7) yet such cannot forgive themselves: the thoughts of their wretched wicked life, and of the abuse of God's longsuffering mercy, are cause of much mourning in secret. But eternal election to life sweetens all. For such can often look back and see that the afflicting hand of God hath often been upon them, and his preventing or
delivering hand hath often been with them, even from the cradle: “ I led Ephraim (said God) but he knew it not. I girded thee [Cyrus] though thou hast not known me,” Isa. xlv. 5. In short, all the elect may say, with the Psalmist, “ Thou hast been with me from my mother's womb:” or, with Jacob, “God hath fed me all my life long unto this day.
Ahimaaz. I am sure I can say the same. notwithstanding my outward shew of religion, I felt perpetually the accusations of a guilty
guilty conscience; and I knew that I indulged myself in many secret sins which both God and conscience were privy to. Thus I can see that God gave me many a check, even in my blind state. In short, both the pharisee and the publican are dead in soul until quickened by grace. The painted sepulchre and the sow in the mire are both of a piece, and both on a level, under the law, in unbelief, and consequently in a state of condemnation. And this God often made me feel by many secret lashes of conscience; for I knew that I was not that man in heart which I appeared to be in life: and as a confounded and abashed hypocrite, I have often stood at the bar of my own conscience: for I knew that all my works and shew of religion were only to be seen of men: “How can ye believe which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?" John v. 44. The best of men in a state of nature, when once God begins to work on their souls, are like the antediluvians, between two floods—the inundations of guilt and the floodgates of wrath.
But pray tell me how Prodigalis went on after his last trial.
Cushi. For some time his communion with his
Lord was close and sweet; and while this was enjoyed his discourses were both heavenly and rapturous; insomuch that poor distressed and doubting souls could get nothing under him; he was too high for them, and too much filled with the joys of heaven, to come down to their disagreeable feelings; for you know it is "out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaketh.” Therefore the poor weaklings of the flock could only bear witness to the light of his countenance, and envy him his happiness. He preached up holiness likewise to a very high pitch; insomuch that you would have thought at times he had been perfect.
Ahimaaz. If that was the case, poor brokenhearted sinners, and those buffeted by the devil, could get but little sympathy from him. For tempted souls, that are labouring under the plague of their own heart, think themselves as far from holiness as Satan himself; while at the same time it is the quickening and illuminating power of the Holy Ghost that makes them feel and see the evil of their hearts. I have heard men preach as if divine holiness were to be produced and put in practice by flesh and blood. They call for heart holiness, family holiness, life holiness, ipsomuch that I have gone groaning home, and crying out, I have no holiness at all.
Cushi. Yes; and there are many double refined Pharisees in the world, who are destitute of the spirit of God, and yet appear in all that outward garb of holiness that such call for. I have heard people preach up holiness in that way: but, unless a man tells me where holiness is to be got, and how holiness has operated on his own heart, I generally conclude that he knows but little of the matter.
The Bible informs me that Jehovah is the holy One: “There is none holy as the Lord; for there is none besides thee,” i Sam. ii. 2. God is the only fountain of holiness, and the elect have their holiness from him: “We have had fathers of our flesh, which corrected' us, and we gave them reverence. Shall we not rather be in subjection to the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure, but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness,” Heb. xii. 9, 10.
The sanctification of a believer is, first, in Christ his Head; “Who of God is made unto us sanctification and redemption," i Cor. i. 30. In Christ the believer's sanctification is complete: “Ye are complete in him," Col. ii. 10. Christ
“Thou art all fair, my love, there is no spot in thee,” Song iv. 7.
Secondly, The believer's sanctification is also by the Spirit of God: “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ,” 1 Pet. i. 2.
Thus you see the believer is complete in Christ his Head, and sanctified in part by the Holy Ghost, though he be not thereby made perfect in this life: for "if we we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." This is all the holiness that the Bible speaks of; and this is the holiness that every real believer partakes of: and it is called, by way of eminence and distinction, true holiness, in opposition to that which is false and feigned, and only makes a noise and an outward shew in the world. Wherever this holiness is found, it is the workmanship