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again: not of water only; so we are all sacramentally regenerated; but of the Holy Ghost. If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; 2 Cor. v. 17. We must not be the men we were. And how shall that be effected? In Christ Jesus I have begotten you, through the Gospel; saith the Apostle, 1 Cor. iv. 15. He hath begotten us by the word of truth; Jaines i. 18. This word is that immortal seed, whereby we are begotten to God. Let this word, therefore, have its perfect work in us: let it renew us in the inner man; mortifying all our evil and corrupt affections, and raising us up to a new life of grace and obedience. Then God will not shame to own us for his; and we shall not presume, in claiming this glorious title of the Sons of God. But, if we be still our old selves; no changelings at all; the same men, that we came into the world, without defalcation of our corruptions, without addition of grace and sanctification: surely, we must seek us another father; we are not yet the Sons of God.
II. But, methinks, ere I was aware, I am falling to anticipate my discourse; and, while I am teaching how we come to be the sons of God, am showing how we may know that we are so: which is the drift of this scripture, in the QUALIFICATION here mentioned; So many as are led by the Spirit of God, are the Sons of God.
It is not enough for us, my Beloved, to be the sons and daugh. ters of God, unless we know ourselves to be so: for, certainly, he cannot be truly happy, that doth not know himseif happy.
1. HOW SHALL WE, therefore, KNOW OURSELVES TO BE THE SONS OF GOD? Surely, there may be many signs and proofs of it, besides this mentioned in my Text; or, rather, many specialties under this general. As,
(1.) Every child of God is like his Father.
It is not so in carnal generation : we have seen many children, that have not so much as one lineament of their parents; and as contrary to their dispositions, as if they had been strangers to their loins and womb. In the spiritual sonship it is not so: every child of God carries the true resemblance of his Heaverly Father: A's he, that hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation ; because it is written, Be ye holy for I ann holy; 1 Pet. i. 15, 16. Well then, my Brethren, try yourselves by this rule. Our Heavenly Father is merciful: are we cruel? Our Father is righttous in all his ways: are we unjust? Our Heavenly Father is slow to anger: are we furious, upon every slight occasion? Our Heavenly Father abhors all manner of evil: do we take pleasure in any kind of wickedness ? Certainly, we have nothing of God in us; nei ther can we claim any kindred with heaven.
(2.) Every child, that is not utterly degenerate, bears a filial love to his parents; answering, in some measure, that natural affection, which the parent bears towards him.
We cannot but know, that the love of God, our Heavenly Father, toward us, is no less than infinite; Psalm ciii. 13. What returu do we make of love to hitn again? We can, perhaps, talk largely of our love to God; but where is the proof of it? Did we
love our Father in Heaven as children, could we estrange ourselves from his interest? could we endure to see him wronged in all his concernments ? to hear his sacred and dread name blasphemed? to see his ordinances trampled upon; his messengers contemptuously used; his house and his day profaned? Would we not spit at that son, that would put up with such indignities offered to his cainal father? And why will we lay claim to a sonship of God, if we can swallow such spiritual affronts put upon our God?
(3.) Every not ill-natured and ungracious son (as God hath none such) bears a kind of awful respect to his Father; both in what he doth, and in what he suffers.
For his actions, he dares not to do any thing wilfully that may work his Father's displeasure: and, even those things which he would not stick to do before a stranger, yet before his Father he reverentially forbears to do; If I be a Father, there is my honour ? Mal. i. 6. If then we be not awfully affected to the presence of God; if we dare boldly sin God in the face: it argues strongly, that we have no filial relation to him.
For his sufferings: a child will receive that correction from the hand of a father, which he would never abide from a stranger. He, that would be ready to repay blows to another man, takes stripes from a father, and answers them only with tears. Thus, if we be the Sons of God, we do submissly undergo from his hand, what fatherly chastisement he shall be pleased to lay upon us; but, if we be ready to struggle, and groaningly repine at his correction, it shews we do not acknowledge him for our Father.
(4.) A son, as he is wholly at his parent's disposing, so he de. pends upon
his father's provision; expecting such patrimony, as his father shall bestow upon him; and waiting with patience for such child's-part, as he can have no hope of from a stranger.
If we do so to our Heavenly Father; leading the life of faith with him; casting ourselves upon his gracious providence for all good things of either world; and fixing our eyes upon that glorious inheritanice, which he hath purchased for us above: we do evidently show ourselves to be the Sons of God.
(5.) But what need we any other evidence of this blessed condition, than what is here expressly laid down to our hands in my Text? So many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the Sons
2. WHAT IS IT, then, TO BE LED BY THE SPIRIT OF GOD?
The original is ö yovies; a word, which every gramınarian knows to signify both ugi and duci; to be led or driven. So, where it is said by one Evangelist, that Christ was led into the wilderness, to be tempted; Matth. iv. 1: of another, it is read, that he was drhen; Mark i. 12. And, though the Vulgate reads it here qui aguntur; yet our Rheinists turn it, Those that are led: noting in the margin, out of St. Augustin's true explication, that God's children are not violently compelled against their wills; but sweetly drawn, moved, and induced to do good;
So as this word then implies; both an act of God's Spirit working
in us, and our complying with that act in an obedient and ready conformity thereunto. For, wherever the Spirit of God is, it is not idle and ineffectual; but it is still directing and inclining unto good: and, whosoever is led by that Spirit yields himself to the motions and guidance: Acti agimus; as the old word is.
In all leading therefore, and so in this, there must be a hand to guide, and a foot to follow: good motions, on God's part; and inotions in good, on ours: both these must go together; else, there is no leading by the Spirit of God. It is not enough, that good thoughts are injected into us by the Holy Spirit: yea; it is so far from availing us, as that a man is so much the worse for those good motions he entertains not, as the motions are more excellent and divine. But those good injections must be received, embraced, delighted in, and followed home in a constant and habitual practice; with a resolute rejection and detestation of the contrary.
Besides that spirit of our mind, Eph. iv. 23. which lodgeth in every breast, every man is led by some spirit or other. One is led by a spirit of error, 1 Tim. iv. 1. and seduction, in matter of understanding: another, by the spirit of giddiness; Isaiah xix. 14. into wild fancies, and brain-sick imaginations: another is led by the spirit of bondage, to slavish fears and afflictive horrors; as in the next verse to my Text: another, by the spirit of the worlu; 1 Cor. ii. 12: another, and indeed all these, by the unclean spirit, as he is usually stiled in the Gospel: others, which are all the regeno rate, are led by the Spirit of God. When our Saviour said to his too-fiery disciples, Ye knoo not of what spirit ye are, he implies, that' of some spirit they must needs be. Now there are those that pretend to be led by the Spirit of God, and are not. St. Paul could, upon good warrant, say, I irust I have the Spirit of God: that trust was, however he modestly expresses it, no less than a certain knowledge; but a Zidkijah, on the other side, in a false presumption, can say, Which way went the Spirit of God from me, to speak to thee?
I remember, in the History of the Anabaptists of Munster, one of those illuminated companions of John Becold and Cnipperdoling is-said to have kilied his own natural brother in the face of his parents; and professed to do it, upon a revelation from the Spirit, the night before. And what heresies and prodigious opinions have been set on foot, and maintained to the death, under pretence of the dictation and warrant of God's Spirit, who can be ignorant? Let us therefore enquire, how a man may know, whether he be truly led by the Spirit of God.
(1.) The Spirit of God leads no man but in a Right Way: and what is that, but the way of God's commandments? All other ways are ways of our own, oblique and crooked, as deviating from the straight line of righteousness. In them, either we lead ourselves, or Satan leads us: If any man be tempted, let him not say, that he is tempted of God: God moves to holy duties, to just and charitable actions; and none but them: for he cannot be contrary to himself. Is there any of us therefore, that is carried on in a
course of uncleanness, excess, disobedience, oppression, or any other sin whatsoever? Alas! we are led by a contrary spirit, in the dark ways, that lead to death and hell. It were blasphemy, to father these sinful mis-leadings upon the Holy Spirit of God.
(2.) God's Spirit leads no man but by a Just Rule. That rule is the word of truth. In all matter of judgment, that must direct us. Uncertain and variable traditions, private and ungrounded re. velations, which are any way cross to this recorded will of God, are the deceitful guides of the spirit of error. If, then, any frantic or superstitious person shall pretend any other direction, than God hath given us in his revealed will; well may I say of him, as St. Paul dares say of an angel from heaven, if any such could be guilty of that offence, Let him be Anathema.
(3.) God's Spirit leads his Sweetly and Gently: disponit omnia suaviter ; not in a blustering and hurrying violence, but by a leisurely and gracious inclination. So, in Elijah's vision, there was fire, wind, earthquake; but God was in none of them: these were fit preparatives for his appearance; but it was the still soft voice, wherein God would be revealed; 1 Kings xix. 12. Those, that are carried with a heady and furious impetuousness and vehemence of passion in all their proceedings, which are all rigour and extremity, are not led by that Good Spirit; which would be stiled the Spirit of Meekness: who was pleased to descend, not in the form of an eagle, or any other fowl of prey ; but in the form of a meek and innocent dove.
(4.) God's Spirit leads on in a Constant Way of Progression from grace to grace, from virtue to virtue; like as the sun arises, by degrees, to his full meridian: whereas passion goes by sudden flashes, like lightning; whereof the interruptions are as speedy and momentary, as the eruptions. The very word of leading implies a continuance; neither can they be said to be led on, that make no proceedings in their way: if either, therefore, we go backward or stand still in goodness, if we promove not from strength to strength, we have no ground to think we are led by the Spirit of God.
(5.) Flesh and Spirit are ever opposite one to the other; and go still contrary ways, and lead to contrary ends: If ye walk after ihe Hesh, ye shull die; saith our Apostle. Nature and Grace, which have their hands in this manuduction both ways, stand in perpetual opposition to each other. If, therefore, we be led by our sensual appetite, to do and affect that, which is pleasing to corrupt natyre, we are led by that blind guide, the flesh; and if the blind lead the blind, it is no marvei if both of them fall into the pit of perdition: but, if we mortify our evil and corrupt affections, crossing and curbing our exorbitant and sinful desires, and bringing thenr forcibly under the subjection of God's Spirit; now, we may be assured to be led by the Spirit of God.
Other particulars of discovery might be urged, whereby we might easily judge of our own condition: but these are enow, whereby we may try ourselves, our guides, and ways. It is clear then, to sum up these proofs of our estate, that only they, who walk in the
ways of God's commandments; who are directed by the revealed will and word of God; who are sweetly inclined by the gracious motions of his Spirit; who go on in a constant fashion through all the degrees of grace and obedience; who restrain their own natural desires and affections, submitting themselves wholly to the government of the Holy Ghost: only they, I say, are led by the Spirit of God.
Five sorts of men there are, therefore, who, what challenge so ever they may pretend to make, are not led by the Spirit of God.
(1.) Those, that go on in a Known Evil Way. Lead me, o Lord, in the ways of thy righteousness ; saith the Psalınist. Lo, they are only the paths of righteousness, in which God leads us: the rest are false ways, as the Psalmist justly calls them; which every good heart, and much more the Holy God, utterly abhors. Woe is me, that I have lived to see those days, wherein any, that looks with the face of a Christian, should maintain, that sins are no sins to the faithful; and that he is the holiest man, that can sin the boldlyest, and with the greatest freedom from reluctancy! Did ever any man look for heaven in hell, before? Did ever any seek for the greatest good, in the worst of evils? This is not heresy, but mere devilism; wherewith yet, it seems, some ungrounded souls are woefully tainted. God be merciful to them; and reclaim them, ere it be too late, from so damnable an impiety!
(2.) Those, that are led by their own Vain Imaginations and Illusive Dreams, in the ways of error; raising unto themselves new and wild opinions and practices, without any warrant from the written word of God.
(3.) Those, that are carried by Passion and Distemper, though even in good ways; turning a religious heat into fury and unchari
(4.) I'hose, that make No Progress at all in good; but either de cay in grace, or thrive not.
(5.) Those, that Humour, and Sooth up Corrupt Nature; caring only to fulfil the lusts of their own flesh.
All these, whereof God knows there are too many in the world, yea in the Church of God making a fair flourish of Christianity, are nothing less than led by the Spirit of God; and, therefore, can lay po claim to the state or title of the Sons of God.
III. Which is inferred, in the CONNEXION OF THIS QUALIFICATION WITH THE PRIVILEGE; being the third head of our Discourse: So many as are led by the Spirit of God, are the Sons of God.
The Spirit of God, is God: neither is mention made here of the Spirit only, as by way of exclusion of the other persons. No; what pue doth, all do; according to the old maxim. All the external works of the Trinity are indivisible. It is good reason then, that God should lead his own; and so he doth.
But here it will be fit for us to enquire, How far this leading of God's Spirit will argue and evince this sonship; and whether every conduct thereof will do it.