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Spirit, nor opinionatively receive them without a common illumination of the Spirit, yet he may have this opinionative conviction and an answerable reformation, by the common grace of the Spirit, without the special grace. An unsanctified man may have something more than nature in him; and every unregenerate man is not merely, or only natural. Many are far convinced, that are far from being savingly converted. I can make you know that you shall die; that you must part with all your wealth, and fleshly pleasures, and divers such truths, whether you will or not. And one of these truths doth let in many more that depend upon them. So that as dark as the minds of natural men are, they yet lie open to many wholesome truths.
And as the understanding is thus far open to conviction, so the will itself, which is the heart of the old man, will far sooner yield to the changing of your opinions than to the saving change of heart, and life. It is not the bare opinion that your fleshly interest doth fight against, but the power and practice of godliness is it; and opinions, as they lead to these. It is one thing to be of opinion, that conversion is necessary, that sin must be forsaken, and God preferred before all the world, and it is another thing to be indeed converted, and to forsake sin, and to prefer God before the world. It is a far easier matter to convince a worldling that he should not love the world, than to cure him of his worldly love: and to convince a drunkard that he should leave his drunkenness, and the whoremonger that he should abhor his lusts, than to bring them to do these things, which they are convinced of. It will cost them dear (as the flesh accounts it) to deny themselves, and cast away the sin; but it costeth not so dear to take up the opinion that these things should be done. It will cost them dear to be downright for God, and practically religious ; but they can take up an opinion that godliness is the best and necessary course at a cheaper rate. Strict practices pinch the flesh, but strict opinions may stand with its liberty. O what abundance of our poor neighbours would go to heaven, that are now in the way
to hell, if an opinion that godliness is the wisest course, would serve the turn. If instead of conversion God would take
up with an opinion that they ought to turn; and if, instead of a holy, heavenly life, God would accept of an opinion, that such are the happiest men that live such a life; and if, instead of temperance, and meekness, and self-denial, and forgiving wrongs, God would accept of an opinion, and confession, that they should be temperate and meek, and self-denying, and should forbear others, and forgive them; then O what abundance would be saved, that are now in little hope of salvation! If instead of a diligent life of holiness, and good works, it would serve turn to lie still, and be of a good opinion, that men should strive, and labour for salvation, and lay out all they have for God, how happy then were our towns, and countries, in comparison of what they are !
I am afraid this deceit will be the undoing of many, that they take a change of their opinions for a true conversion. Have not some of you been formerly of the mind, that the best way is to eat and drink, and be merry, and venture your souls, and follow your worldly business, and never trouble yourselves with any deep and searching thoughts about your spiritual state, or your salvation ? Have you not thought that this diligent godliness is but a needless strictness, and preciseness ? and have you not since been convinced of your error, and perceived, that this is the wisest course, which you before thought to be needless, and thereupon have betaken you to the company of the godly, and set upon a course of outward duties? and now you thiuk that you are made new creatures, and that this is regeneration, and the work is done. I fear lest this be all the conversion that many forward professors are acquainted with! but woe to them that have no more.
And because the face of our present times, doth plainly shew the commonness and prevalency of this disease, and because it is a matter of so great concernment to you,
I shall here give you (but as briefly as I well can) some signs by which a true conversion may be known from this mere opinionative change.
1. The true convert is brought to an unfeigned hatred of the whole body of sin; and especially of those secret or beloved sins, that did most powerfully captivate him before ; 1 Cor. vi. 11. Tit. iii. 3.5. Col. v. 3.5. 7,8. But the opinionative convert is still carnal, and unmortified, and inwardly at the heart, the interest of the flesh is habitually predominant. He is not brought to an unreconcilable hatred to the great master sins that ruled him, and lay deep
est; but only hath eased the top of his stomach, and cropt off some of the branches of the tree of death. The thorns of worldly desires and cares are still rooted in his heart; and, therefore, no wonder if they choak the seed of wholesome truth, and there be a greater harvest for the devil than for God; Gal. v. 24. vi. 4.8. Rom. viii. 5. Mat. xiii. 22.
2. Another sign that follows upon this, is, that the sound convert doth carry on the course of his obedience, in a way of self-denial, as living in a continual conflict with his own flesh, and expecting his comfort and salvation to come in upon the conquest. And, therefore, he can suffer for Christ, as well as be found in cheaper obedience, and he dare not, ordinarily, refuse the most costly service. For the spoils of his fleshly desires are his prey, and crown of glorying in the Lord; Luke xiv. 27.33. Gal. v. 17.24. 1 Cor, ix. 27. Luke ix. 23, 24. 2 Cor. xii. 9. Gal. vi. 14.
But the opinionative convert still liveth to his carnal-self. And, therefore, secretly, at least, seeks himself, and layeth hold on present things, as the true convert layeth hold on eternal life. The truths of God being received but into his opinion, do not go deep enough to conquer self, and to take down his great idol, nor make him go through fire and water, and to serve God with the best, and honour him with his substance much less with his sufferings and death. He hath something that he cannot spare for God; Matt. xiii. 21. Luke xviii. 22-24..
3. The sound convert hath taken God for his portion, and heaven for that sure and full felicity, which he is resolved to venture upon. That is it that he hath set his heart and hopes upon, and thither tends the drift of his life; Col. iii. 1-4. Matt. vi. 20, 21.
But he that is changed only in his opinions,had never such sure apprehensions of the life to come ; nor so full a confidence in the promises of God, as to set his heart unfeignedly upon God, and make him truly heavenly-minded He may have a heavenly tongue, but he hath an earthly heart. A bare opinion, be it never so true, will not raise men's hearts so high, as to make their affections, and the very design and business of their lives to be heavenly ; Phil. iii. 18-20. Rom. xvi. 17, 18. viii. 5.
4. The sound convert hath seen the vileness of himself, in the sinfulness of his heart and life, and the misery thereby deserved; and so is a sincerely humbled self-accusing man.
But the opinionist is commonly unhumbled, and wellconceited of himself, and a self-justifying Pharisee ; unless it be that self-accusing will cost him no disgrace, and he take it up as a custom, or that which may bring him into the repute of being humbled and sincere. For his opinion will not search, and pierce his heart, nor batter down his selfexalting thoughts, nor root up the master-sin of pride. These are two great works for an opinionist to perform. And, therefore, you shall hear him more in the excusing of his sin, the magnifying of himself, or the stiff maintaining of his own conceits, than in unfeigned self-abasing ; Rom. xii. 16. 1 Cor. i. 19, 20. iii. 18. 2 Cor. x. 12. Luke xvi. 15.
5. The sound convertis so acquainted with the defects, and sins, and necessities of his own soul, that he is much taken up at home, in his studies, and cares, and censures, and his daily work. The acting and strengthening of grace, the subduing of corruption, and his daily walk with God, are much of his employments. Above all keeping, he keeps his heart, as knowing that thence are the issues of life. He cannot have while to spy out the faults of others, and meddle with their affairs, where duty binds him not, as others can do ; because he hath so much to do at home; Gal. vi. 3,4. Prov. iv. 23.
But the opinionist is most employed abroad, and about mere notions, and opinions; but he is little employed in such heart-searching, or heart-observing work. His light doth not pierce so deep as to shew him his heart, and the work that is there to be necessarily done. . As the change is little upon his heart, so his employment is little there. He is little in bewailing his secret defects and corruptions, and little in keeping his soul's accounts; and little in secret striving with his heart to work it into communion with God, and into a spiritual, lively, fruitful frame. He is forward to aggravate others, and oft-times severe enough in censuring them. But he is a very gentle censurer of himself, and a patient man with his own corruptions, and puts the best construction upon all that is his own. He hath much labour, perhaps, in shaping his opinions, but little for the humbling and sanctifying his heart, by the power of the truth.
6. And as the difference lieth thus constantly in the heart, so it is usually manifested by the tongue; Matt. xii. 34. The sound convert is most desirous to discourse of those great and saving truths, which his very heart hath taken in, and which he hath found to be the seed of God for his regeneration, and the instruments of that holy and happy change, that is made upon him. He feeleth most favour and life in these great and most necessary points, which formed the image of God upon him. And upon these he daily feeds and lives. Read John xvii. 3. 1 Cor. xv. 1-6. ii. 2. Phil. iii. 8—11. Tim. iii. 16. Acts xvi. 22, 23. In these Scriptures, you may find what points they were that the greatest saints did study and live upon.
But the opinionist is most forward to discourse of mere opinions, and to feed upon the air of notions, and controversies of lesser moment. For one hour's holy, heavenly,experimental, heart-searching discourse, that you shall have from him, you shall have many and many hours' discourse of his opinions. I mean it indifferently of all his opinions. I mean it, I say, of all his opinions whether true or false. For though falsehoods cannot be fit food for the soul, yet truths as themselves, also may be made of little service to them. A man may be a mere opinionist that hath true opinions, as well as he that hath false. Almost all the free and zealous discourses of these men, on matters of religion, is about their several sides, and parties, and opinions. If they be set upon a point, especially wherein they seem to themselves to be wiser than others, they have a fire of zeal for it in their breasts, that makes them desirous to be propagating it to others. About the orders and ceremonies of the church ; about the forms of prayer, and the accidents of worship; about infant baptism, or other such controversies in religion, is the freest of their discourse.
Yea, you may perceive much of the difference, even in the very manner of their conference. A serious Christian, even when he is necessitated to speak of lower controverted points, yet doth it in a spiritual manner, as one that more savoureth higher truths, and makes a holy and heavenly life his end, even in these lower matters; and deals about such controversies in a practical manner, and in order to the growth of holiness.