How to Know if You are a True Believer - Part II
Adapted from a Sermon by Jonathan Edwards
(True Grace Distinguished from the Experience of Devils, Sept 28, 1752)
You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! James 2:19
How do you know if you belong to God?
Last week, we started by underlining a central principle of this verse which is this sobering truth that nothing in the mind of man, that devils may experience as well, is any sure sign of God's grace in our hearts.
From this we began listing some startling implications. We considered four things which cannot be sure signs of true grace in the soul. They were:
I. Theoretical religious knowledge
II. An Assent to the truth of Scripture
III. experiencing very great distress and terrors of mind and
IV. a conviction of guilt with respect to the law.
This morning we will consider three additional implications and close with an application to ourselves and a call to self examination.
“You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!”
We go on to a fifth thing which cannot be taken as a sure sign of grace in the soul.
V. It follows from our text, that it is no certain sign of grace, that persons have earnest desires and longings for salvation.
The devils, doubtless, long for deliverance from the misery they suffer, and from that greater misery which they expect. If they shudder through fear of it, they must, necessarily, earnestly desire to be delivered from it. Wicked men are, in Scripture, described as longing for the privileges of the righteous when the door is shut, and they are shut out from among them: they come to the door, and cry Lord, Lord, open to us.
Therefore, we are not to look on all desires that are very earnest and passionate, as certain evidences of a saved heart. There are earnest desires of a religious nature, which the saints have, that are the proper effects of a new nature, and distinguishing qualities of true saints: but there are also longings, which unregenerate men may have, which are often mistaken for marks of godliness. They think they hunger and thirst after righteousness, and have earnest desires after God and Christ, and long for heaven; when, indeed, it all comes down to self-love; and so it is a longing which arises from no higher principles than the earnest desires of the devils.
VI. In the sixth place, we can see from what has been observed, that persons who have no grace may have a great appreciation of the external glory in heavenly and godly things, and of whatsoever is external pertaining to religion.
If persons have impressed strongly on their minds ideas obtained by the external senses, whether by the ear, as any kind of sound, pleasant music, or moving words spoken of noble and excellent things; words of Scripture, suitable to their case, or particularly suited to their circumstances and present thoughts: or ideas obtained by the eye, as of a visible beauty and glory, a shining light, golden streets, gates of precious stone, a most magnificent throne surrounded by angels and saints in shining ranks: or anything external belonging to Jesus Christ, either in his humbled state, as hanging on the cross, with his crown of thorns, his wounds open, and blood dripping down; or in his glorified state, with awful majesty, or ravishing beauty and sweetness in his expression; his face shining above the brightness of the sun, and the like: these things are no certain signs of grace.
Multitudes that are now in hell, will have ideas of the external glory that relate to heavenly things, far beyond whatever any have in this world. They will see all that external glory and beauty, in which Christ will appear at the day of judgment, when the sun will be turned into darkness before him; which, doubtless, will be ten thousand times greater than ever was impressed on the imagination of either saints or sinners in this present state, or ever was conceived by any mortal man.
VII. Next, we can see from this teaching, that persons who have no grace may have a very great and moving sense of many divine things on their hearts.
The devil not only has a great theoretical knowledge, but he has a sense of many divine things, which deeply affects him, and is most strongly impressed on his heart. For instance,
1. First, the devils and damned souls have a great sense of the vast importance of the things of another world.
They are in the invisible world, and they see and know how great the things of that world are: their experience teaches them in the most persuasive manner. They have a great sense of the worth of salvation, and the worth of immortal souls, and the vast importance of those things that concern men’s eternal welfare.
The parable in of Luke chapter 16 teaches this, in describing the rich man in hell, as begging that Lazarus might be sent to his five brothers, to testify to them, for fear they should come to that place of torment. Those who are suffering the torments of hell no doubt have a most vivid and moving sense of the vastness of an endless eternity, and of the comparative fleeting nature of this life, and the vanity of the concerns and enjoyments of time.
They are effectively convinced, that all the things of this world, even those that seem greatest and most important to the inhabitants of the earth, are despicable trifles, in comparison of the things of the eternal world. They have a great sense of the preciousness of time, and of the means of grace, and the immeasurable value of the privileges which those who live under the gospel enjoy.
They are fully aware of the folly of those that go on in sin; neglect their opportunities; make light of the counsels and warnings of God; and bitterly lament their exceeding folly in their own sins, by which they have brought on themselves so great and a hopeless misery. When sinners, by woeful experience, know the dreadful outcome of their evil way, they will mourn at the last, saying, "How I hated discipline, and my heart despised reproof! I did not listen to the voice of my teachers or incline my ear to my instructors." (Prov 5:12-13)
Therefore, though true godliness must come with a great sense of the importance of divine things—and it is rare that men who have no grace maintain such a sense in any steady and persevering manner—yet it is plain that those things are no certain evidences of grace.
Unregenerate men may have a sense of the importance of eternity, and the vanity of time, the worth of immortal souls; the preciousness of time and the means of grace, and the folly of the way of allowed sin. They may have such a sense of those things, as may deeply affect them, and cause them to mourn for their own sins, and be much concerned for others; and yet it may still be that they do not have these things in the same way, and in all respects from the same principles and views, as godly men have them.
A second consideration that shows that the devil has not only a great theoretical knowledge, but he has a sense of many divine things, which deeply affects him is that
2. devils and damned men have a strong and most vivid sense of the awful greatness and majesty of God.
This we see from how God’s vengeance is poured out on his enemies. Paul writes to the Romans "what if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction." (Rom 9:22) The devils shudder before this great and terrible God, and under a strong sense of his awful majesty. To a great extent it is revealed to them and damned souls now; but it will be revealed in a larger extent, in that day when the Lord Jesus will appear from heaven in flaming fire, to take vengeance upon them; and when they will earnestly desire to escape, hide from the face of him that sits on the throne and when they will be punished with everlasting destruction, from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power. When Christ comes at the last day, in the glory of his Father, every eye will see him in that glory, and those also who pierced him. (Rev. 1:7) Both those devils, and wicked men, which tormented and insulted him when he appeared in lowliness and humiliation, will then see him in the glory of his Father.
It is evident, therefore, that a sense of God’s terrible majesty is no certain evidence of saving grace: for we see that wicked men and devils are capable of it; and many wicked men in this world have actually had it. This is a manifestation which God made of himself in the sight of that wicked congregation at mount Sinai, which they saw, and with which they were deeply affected, so that all the people in the camp trembled.
A third consideration that shows that the devil has not only a great theoretical knowledge, but he has a sense of many divine things, which deeply affects him is that
3. devils and damned men have some kind of conviction and sense of all attributes of God, both natural and moral, that is strong and very moving.
The devils know God’s almighty power: they saw a great demonstration of it, when they saw God lay the foundation of the earth. They have seen innumerable other great demonstrations of his power; as in the universal flood, the destruction of Sodom, the wonders of the Egyptian plagues, the crossing of the Red sea; causing the sun to stand still in Joshua’s time, and many others.—And they had a very vivid demonstration of God’s mighty power on themselves, in casting all their hosts down from heaven into hell; and have ongoing experiences of it, in God’s restraining them in strong chains of darkness, and in the strong pains they feel. They will in future have a far more moving experience of it, when they will be punished from the glory of God’s power, with that mighty destruction in anticipation of which they now shudder.
The devils also have a great knowledge of the wisdom of God: they have had unspeakably more opportunity to observe it in the work of creation, and also in the works of providence, than any mortal man has ever had; and have been themselves the subjects of innumerable striking manifestations of it, in God’s disappointing and confounding them in their most subtle plans, in wonderful and amazing ways.
They also see and find the infinite purity and holiness of the nature of God, in the most striking manner, as this appears in his infinite hatred of sin, in what they feel of the dreadful effects of that hatred. They know already by what they suffer, and will know in the future to a greater extent, and far more affecting way, that such is the opposition of God’s nature to sin, that it is like a consuming fire, which burns with infinite intensity against it.
They also will see the holiness of God, as exercised in his love towards righteousness and holiness, in the glory of Christ and his church; which will also greatly impress devils and wicked men. And the exact justice of God will be shown to them in the clearest and strongest, most convincing and impressive light, at the day of judgment; when they will also see great and stirring demonstrations of the riches of his grace, in the marvelous fruits of his love to the vessels of mercy; when they will see them at the right hand of Christ, shining as the sun in the kingdom of their Father, and will hear the blessed sentence pronounced on them; and will be deeply impressed with it, as seems naturally implied in Luke 13 where we read of “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Luke 13:28)
The devils know God’s truth, and therefore they believe his threatenings, and shudder in the expectation of their accomplishment. And wicked men that now doubt his truth, and dare not trust his word, will, in the future, in the most convincing, impressive way, find his word to be true in all that he has threatened, and will see that he is faithful to his promises in the rewards of his saints. Devils and damned men know that God is eternal and unchangeable; and therefore they despair of there ever being an end to their misery.
Therefore it is clear, that persons merely having a moving sense of some, or even of all God’s attributes, is no certain sign that they have the true grace of God in their hearts.
II. And now we come the second part of this sermon, in the light of all that has been said: the need for self-examination.
May the things which have been observed bring each of us to examining ourselves, and to carefully look into whether we have any better evidences of saving grace, than those that have been mentioned.
We see how the infallible Spirit of God, in the text, plainly shows that the things of which the devils are the subjects, as no sure signs of grace. And we have observed how far the devils and damned men go, and will go, in their experience, their knowledge of divine things, their belief of truth, their awakenings and terrors of conscience, their conviction of guilt, and of the justice of God in their eternal dreadful damnation, their longings after salvation, their sight of the external glory of Christ and heavenly things, their sense of the vast importance of the things of religion, and another world; their sense of the awful greatness and terrible majesty of God, indeed, of all God’s attributes.
Well may these things lead us to serious self-examination, as to whether we have any good evidence of being saved, beyond what the devils have. Christ said to his disciples, "unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven," (Matt 5:20) in the same way the Spirit of Christ, in his apostle James, says in effect, in our text, unless what you experience in your souls exceeds the experiences of the devils, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Here, it may be, that some will be ready to say, I have something besides all these things; something that the devils do not have: love and joy.
But consider this: you may have something besides the experiences of devils, and yet have nothing beyond them. Though the experience may be different, yet it may not be the result of any different principle, but only the different circumstances under which these principles are exercised.
The principles from which all that has been mentioned with respect to things in devils and damned men come from, are these two, natural understanding and self-love.
It is from these principles of natural understanding and self-love, working themselves out in their own dispositions and actions, and God as their judge, that they have natural conscience, and have such convictions of conscience as have been spoken of.
It is from these principles that they have such a sense of the importance of the things of religion, and the eternal world, and such longings after salvation. It is from the joint exercise of these two principles that they are so sensible of the awful majesty of God, and of all the attributes of the divine nature, and so greatly affected with them.
And it is from these principles, along with what they see and hear and feel, that the wicked, at the day of judgment, will have so great an fearful anticipation of, and will be so greatly affected by, the external glory of Christ and his saints.
And that you have a kind of love or gratitude and joy, which devils and damned men do not have, may possibly not come from any other principles in your heart different from these two, but only from these principles as exercised in different circumstances. As for instance, your being a subject of the restraining grace of God, and under circumstances of hope.
The natural understanding and self-love of devils possibly might affect them in the same way if they were in the same circumstances. If your love to God is rooted in nothing else than a supposed direct inner conviction, or any other supposed evidence, that Christ died for you in particular, and that God loves you; it comes from no higher principles than self-love; which is a principle that reigns in the hearts of devils.
Self-love is sufficient, without grace, to cause men to love those that love them; "If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them," (Luke 6:32) says our Lord in the Gospel of Luke. And would not the hearts of devils be filled with great joy, if they, by any means, should become persuaded that God had pardoned them, and had become their friend, and that they should be delivered from that wrath of which they are now so fearful?
If the devils go so far as you have heard, even in their circumstances, being totally cast off, and given up to unrestrained wickedness, being without hope, knowing that God is and ever will be their enemy, and that they will suffer his wrath without mercy: how far may we reasonably suppose they might go, in imitation of grace and pious experience, if they had the same degree of knowledge, as clear views, and as strong conviction, under circumstances of hope, and offers of mercy; and being the subjects of common grace, restraining their corruptions, and assisting and exciting the natural principles of reason and conscience!
Such things, or anything like them, in the heart of a sinner in this world; at the same time that he, from some strong impression on his imagination, has suddenly, after great terrors, become confident, that now this great God is his Friend and Father, has released him from all the misery he feared, and has promised him eternal happiness: such things would, doubtless, give him great joy, and make him naturally grateful (that principle from which sinners love those that love them), and would be the source of a great imitation of many things of true graces. Is it any wonder then that multitudes under such a sort of affection are deceived? Especially when they have devils to help them in this delusion, whose great subtlety has been mainly applied in deceiving mankind through all past generations.
At this point some may possibly be ready to ask, if there are so many things which men may experience from no higher principles than are in the minds and hearts of devils; what are those exercises and affections that are of a higher nature, which I must find in my heart, and which I may justly look upon as sure signs of the saving grace of God’s Spirit?
In answer, those experiences and affections which are good evidences of grace, are different from all that the devils have, and all that can arise from such principles as are in their hearts, in two things, that is: their foundation and their tendency.
1. They have a very different foundation.
Those experiences and affections which are good evidences of grace are founded on a deep appreciation of the supreme holy beauty and attractiveness of divine things, as they are in themselves, or in their own nature.
Of this the devils and damned in hell are, and will forever know nothing of. This the devils once had, while they stood in their integrity; but they lost it completely when they fell. And this is the only thing that can be mentioned with respect to the devil’s understanding and sense of God, that he did lose. There is nothing else belonging to the knowledge of God, that can be thought of, of which he is destitute.
It can be said that there is no one attribute of the divine nature that he does not know with a strong and very moving conviction. This seems evident and undeniable. But to the supreme beauty of the divine nature he is altogether blind. He sees no more of it, than a man born perfectly blind can see color.
The great sight he has of the attributes of God gives him an idea and strong sense of his awful majesty, but no idea of his beauty and attractiveness. Though he has seen so much of God’s wonderful works of power, wisdom, holiness, justice, and truth, and his wonderful works of grace to mankind, of so many thousand years, and has had the opportunity to observe them with the strongest attention; yet all serves not to give him the least sense of his divine beauty.
And though the devils should attempt to do this with all their power and might; yet they never will see this. So far is their type of knowledge of God from this, that the more they know him the more they hate him. And things in which the beauty of the nature of God does most essentially consist, that is, his holiness, or moral excellency, appears in their eyes furthest from beauty. It is on those very qualities that he mainly appears hateful to them.
The more holiness they see in him, the more hateful he appears: the greater their sight is of his holiness, the higher is raised their hatred of him. And because of their hatred of his holiness, they hate him the more, the more they see of his other attributes. They would hate a holy Being, whatever his other attributes were; but they hate such a holy Being the worse, for his being infinitely wise, and infinitely powerful, more than they would do, if they saw him in less power and less wisdom.
The wicked, at the day of judgment, will see everything else in Christ, but his beauty and loveliness. All these qualities or properties of his person will be set before them in the strongest light at that day.
They will see him coming in the clouds of heaven, “with power and great glory,” (Luke 21:27) “in the glory of his Father." (Matt 16:27) They will have that view of his external glory, which is vastly beyond what we can imagine; and they will have the strongest and most convincing demonstrations of all his attributes and perfections.
They will have a sense of his great majesty, that will be, as it were, infinitely moving to them. They will be made to know effectually, that he is the Lord. They shall see what he is, and what he does; his nature and works will appear in the most striking way: but his infinite beauty and amiableness, which is all in all, and without which every other property is nothing, and worse than nothing, they will not see.
Therefore in a sight or sense of this, his infinite beauty and amiableness, fundamentally consists the difference between the saving grace of God’s Spirit, and the experiences of the devils and damned souls.
This is the foundation of everything else that is particular to true Christian experience. This is the foundation of the faith of God’s elect. This gives the mind a saving belief of the truth of divine things. It is seeing the excellency of the gospel, or having a sense of the divine beauty and amiableness of the scheme of doctrine that it contains, that savingly convinces the mind that it is indeed divine or of God.
We see this in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians were he says “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor 4:3-4) And then, in verse 6, "For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."
The Apostle is making clear in these verses that a saving belief of the gospel comes from seeing the divine glory or beauty of the things it highlights. It is in seeing this that the soul of a true convert is enabled savingly to see the sufficiency of Christ for his salvation. He that has his eyes opened to behold the divine unique beauty and loveliness of Jesus Christ, is convinced of his sufficiency to stand as a Mediator between him, a guilty hell-deserving wretch, and an infinitely holy God, in an exceeding different manner than ever he can be convinced by the arguments of authors or preachers, however good these may be.
When he once comes to see Christ’s divine loveliness, he stops wondering how God the Father could accept his sacrifice as atonement for the vilest sinner. Now it is not difficult for him to see how the blood of Christ can be esteemed by God so precious as to be worthy to be accepted as a compensation for the greatest sins. The soul now properly sees the preciousness of Christ, and so does properly see and understand the very ground and reason of his acceptableness to God, and the value God sets on his blood, obedience, and intercession.
This satisfies the poor guilty soul, and gives it rest, when the finest and most elaborate sermons about the sufficiency of Christ, and suitableness of the way of salvation, would not do it. When a man comes to see the proper foundation of faith and assurance with his own eyes, then he believes savingly. And "everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life." (John 6:40) When Christ manifests God’s name to men in this way, then they believe that all things whatsoever God has given to Christ are of him, and believe that Christ was sent of God, (John 17:6, 8) And as the Psalmist writes concerning God, "those who know your name put their trust in you." (Psalm 9:10)
And it is this sight of the divine beauty of Christ, that bows the wills, and draws the hearts of men. A sight of the greatness of God in his attributes, may overwhelm men, and be more than they can endure; but the hatred and opposition of the heart may remain in its full strength, and the will remain inflexible. Whereas one glimpse of the moral and spiritual glory of God, and the supreme amiableness of Jesus Christ shining into the heart, overcomes and abolishes this opposition, and inclines the soul to Christ, as it were, by an omnipotent power. So that now, not only the understanding, but the will and the whole soul, receives and embraces the Savior.
This is most certainly the very thing which is the first internal foundation of a real saving faith in Christ in the soul of the true convert, this, and not a persuasion or feeling suggested by others or even inwardly felt, that Christ loves him, or that he died for him in particular, and is his Savior; which bring with it confidence and joy, and seeming love to Christ, because he loves him. By such a faith and conversion which can easily and sadly be shown to the false, multitudes have been deluded.
The sight of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ, works true supreme love to God. This is a sight of the proper foundation of supreme love to God, that is, the supreme loveliness of his nature; and a love to him on this ground is truly above anything that can come from a mere principle of self-love, which is in the hearts of devils as well as men. And this brings about true spiritual and holy joy in the soul, which is indeed joy in God, and glorying in him, and not rejoicing in ourselves.
This sight of the beauty of divine things will excite true desires and longings of soul after those things: not like the longings of devils, but natural free desires; the desires of appetite, the thirstings of a new nature, like a newborn for his mother’s milk; and as a hungry man longs for some pleasant food he thinks of; or as the thirsty deer pants after the cool and clear stream.
This sense of divine beauty is the first thing in the actual change made in the soul in true conversion, and is the foundation of everything else belonging to that change; as is evident by those words of the apostle, "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit." (2 Cor 3:18)
2. In the second place, truly gracious affections and exercises of mind differ from such as are counterfeit, which come about from no higher principles than are in the hearts of devils, in their tendency; and that in these two respects.
(1.) First, they are of a tendency and influence very contrary to that which was especially the devil’s sin, that is, pride.
That pride was in a peculiar manner the devil’s sin, is shown in 1 Timothy 3 verse 6: "He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil." (1 Tim 3:6) False and delusive experiences have a great tendency to do this, though very often under the disguise of great and extraordinary humility.
Spiritual pride is the dominant attitude and general character of hypocrites, deluded with false views and affections.—They are in general of a disposition directly contrary to those two things belonging to the Christian character, directed to by the apostle; the one in Romans chapter 12 "Never be wise in your own sight," (Rom 12:16) and the other in Philippians 2:3. "count others more significant than yourselves." (Phil 2:3)
False experience is conceited in itself, and stirred up with itself. And so, he that has false humility is much stirred up to think how he is abased before God. He that has false love is stirred up, when he thinks of the greatness of his love. The very food and nourishment of false experience is to view itself, and take much notice of itself; and its very breath and life is to be in some way showing itself.
Whereas truly gracious views and affections are of a quite contrary tendency. They nourish no self-conceit; no exalting notion of the man’s own righteousness, experience, or privileges; no high estimation of his humiliations. They tend to no showiness, nor self-exaltation, in any way whatsoever. But that sense of the supreme, holy beauty and glory of God and Christ, which is the foundation of them, mortifies pride, and truly humbles the soul. It not only cuts off some of the outermost branches, but it strikes at the very root of pride; it alters the very nature and disposition of the heart. The light of God’s beauty, and that alone, truly shows the soul its own deformity, and effectually inclines it to exalt God and abase itself.
(2.) Second, these gracious exercises and affections differ from the other in their tendency to destroy Satan’s cause in the world; and that in two respects:
a. First, in the person himself. They cause the soul to hate every evil and false way, and to produce universal holiness of heart and life, disposing him to make the service of God, the promotion of his glory and the good of mankind, the very business of his life.
On the contrary those false notions and affections do not have this effect. There may indeed be a great zeal, and a great deal of what is called religion; but it is not a truly Christian zeal: it is not being zealous for good works. Their religion is not the service of God; Not the seeking to truly obey all his commandments; it is not seeking and serving God; but indeed seeking and serving themselves.
Though there may be a change of life, it is not a change from every wicked way to a uniform Christian life and practice, but only turning the stream of corruption from one channel to another. Thus the apostle James distinguishes, in our context, a true faith from the faith of devils; "You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? " (James 2:19,20) And in the same way the apostle John distinguishes true communion with God in his first epistle; "If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin." (1 John 1:6,7)
By this he distinguishes true spiritual knowledge: "And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him." (1 John 2:3,4) And hereby the same apostle distinguishes true love a little later: "let us not love in word or talk but in deed (in work, as the word implies) and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him." (1 John 3:18,19)
b. Second, truly gracious experiences have a tendency to destroy Satan’s cause in the world.
When false religion, consisting in the counterfeits of the operations of the Spirit of God, and in high pretenses and great appearances of inward experimental religion, gains the upper ground among a people—though at the time it may surprise many, and may lead to the alarming and awakening of some sinners—it has a strong tendency to greatly wound and weaken the cause of true religion, and to strengthen the interest of Satan, desperately to harden the hearts of sinners, exceedingly to fill the world with prejudice against the power of godliness, to promote infidelity and immoral principles and practices, to build up and make strong the devil’s kingdom in the world, more than open vice, profaneness, or professed atheism, or public persecution, and perhaps more than anything else whatsoever.
But it is not so with true religion in its genuine beauty.—That, if it takes hold in great power, will doubtless excite the rage of the devil, and many other enemies of religion. However, it gives great help to its friends, and exceedingly strengthens their cause, and tends to convince or confound their enemies.
True religion is a divine light in the souls of the saints; and as it shines out in conversation before men, it tends to induce others to glorify God. There is nothing like it (as to means) to awaken the consciences of men, to convince infidels, and to stop the mouths of opponents.—Though men naturally hate the power of godliness, yet when they see the fruits of it, there is a witness in their consciences in its favor. "Whoever thus serves Christ,” in “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,” “is acceptable to God and approved by men." (Rom 14:17-18) This type of true religion ever tends to its honor in the world, though it commonly brings about great persecution.
It is a sure thing, the more it appears and is demonstrated in the view of the world, the more will its honor, and the honor of its author, be advanced. The Apostle Paul expresses this in these words to the Philippians whom he prays will be "filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God." (Phil 1:11)
III. And now we come to a final use we may make of the teaching of our text and that is one of exhortation; Exhortation to seek those distinguishing qualifications and dispositions of soul which neither the devil, nor any unholy being, has or can have.
How excellent is that inward virtue and religion which consists in those! In these consist the most excellent experiences of saints and angels in heaven. In these consist the best experience of the man Christ Jesus, whether in his humbled or glorified state. In these consist the image of God.
Indeed, in Scripture, this is spoken of as a communication of something of God’s own beauty and excellency. A participation of the divine nature, (2 Peter 1:4). A sharing of his holiness, (Heb 12:10). A partaking of Christ’s fullness, (John 1:16.) In this the saints are filled with all the fullness of God. (Eph. 3:18-19) In this they have fellowship with both the Father and the Son, (1 John 1:3) that is, they communicate with them in their happiness. Indeed, by means of this divine virtue, there is a mutual indwelling of God and the saints; "God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him." (1 John 4:16)
This qualification must make the person that has it excellent and truly happy, and it is without doubt the highest dignity and blessedness of any creature. This is the peculiar gift of God, which he bestows only on his special favorites. As to silver, gold, and diamonds, earthly riches, crowns and kingdoms, he often throws them out to those whom he esteems as dogs and swine; but this is the peculiar blessing of his dear children. This is what flesh and blood cannot give. God alone can bestow it. This was the special benefit which Christ died to obtain for his elect, the most excellent token of his everlasting love; the chief fruit of his great labors, and the most precious purchase of his blood.
By this, above all other things, do men glorify God. By this, above all other things, do the saints shine as lights in the world, and are blessings to mankind. And this, above all things, tends to their own comfort; from this arises that "peace which surpasses all understanding," (Phil 4:7) and that "joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory." (1 Peter 1:8)
And this is that which will most certainly lead to the eternal salvation of those who have it. It is impossible that the soul possessing it should sink and perish. It is an immortal seed; it is eternal life begun; and therefore they that have it can never die. It is the dawning of the light of glory. It is the day-star risen in the heart, that is a sure forerunner of that sun’s rising which will bring on an everlasting day.
This is that water which Christ gives, which is in him that drinks it a "spring of water welling up to eternal life." (John 4:14) It is something from heaven, of a heavenly nature, and tends to heaven. And those that have it, however they may now wander in a wilderness, or be tossed to and fro on a tempestuous ocean, shall certainly arrive in heaven at last, where this heavenly spark shall be increased and perfected, and the souls of the saints all be transformed into a bright and pure flame, and where they will shine on like the sun in the blessed kingdom of their Father.