Home > Assurance, Self-examination > The necessity of marks and signs of grace

The necessity of marks and signs of grace

November 29, 2009

Wherefore, friend Antinomista, if either you, or any man else, shall, under a pretence of your being in Christ, exempt yourselves from being under the law of the ten commands, as they are the law of Christ, I tell you truly, it is a shrewd sign you are not yet in Christ; for if you were, then Christ were in you; and If Christ were in you, then would he govern you, and you would be subject unto him. I am sure the prophet Isaiah tell us, that the same Lord, who is our Saviour, “is also our King and Lawgiver,” (Isa 33:22); and, truly, he will not be Jesus a Saviour to any but only to those unto whom he is Christ a Lord; for the very truth is, wheresoever he is Jesus a Saviour, he is also Christ a Lord; and, therefore, I beseech you, examine yourself whether he be so to you or no.

Ant. Why then, sir, it seems that you stand upon marks and signs?

Evan. Yea, indeed, I stand so much upon marks and signs, that I say unto you in the words of the apostle John, (1 John 3:10), “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil; whosoever does not righteousness, is not of God.” For says Luther, “He that is truly baptized, is become a new man, and has a new nature, and is endowed with new dispositions; and loveth, liveth, speaketh, and does far otherwise than he was wont, or could before.” For says godly Tindal, “God worketh with his word, and in his word: and bringeth faith into the hearts of his elect, and looseth the heart from sin, and knitteth it to God, and giveth a man power to do that which was before impossible for him to do, and turneth him into a new nature.” [1] And, therefore, says Luther in another place, “Herein works are to be extolled and commended, in that they are fruits and signs of faith; and, therefore, he that hath no regard how he leadeth his life, that he may stop the mouths of all blamers and accusers, and clear himself before all, and testify the he has lived, spoken, and done well, is not yet a Christian.” How then, says Tindal again, “dare any man think that God’s favour is on him, and God’s Spirit within him, when he feels not the working of his Spirit, nor himself disposed to any good thing?” [2]

Evan. Indeed, I must needs confess with Mr. Bolton and Mr. Dyke, that in these times of Christianity, a reprobate may make a glorious profession of the gospel, and perform all the duties and exercises of religion, and that, in outward appearance, with as great spirit and zeal as a true believer; yea, he may be made partaker of some measure of inward illumination, and have a shadow of true regeneration; there being no grace effectually wrought in the faithful, a resemblance whereof may not be found in the unregenerate. And therefore, I say, if any man pitch upon the sign, without the thing signified by the sign, [3] that is, if he pitch upon his graces [or gifts rather] and duties, and conclude assurance from them, as they are in him, and come from him, without having reference to Jesus Christ, as the root and fountain of them; then are they deceitful marks and signs: [4] but if he look upon them with reference to Jesus Christ, then are they not deceitful, but true evidences and demonstrations of faith in Christ. And this a man does, when he looks upon his outward actions as flowing from the inward actions of his mind, and upon the inward actions of his mind as flowing from the habits of grace within him, and upon the habits of grace within him as flowing from his justification, and upon his justification as flowing from his faith, and upon his faith as given by and embracing Jesus Christ: thus, I say, if he rests not till he comes to Christ, his marks and signs are not deceitful, but true. [5]

Ant. But, sir, if an unbeliever may have a resemblance of every grace that is wrought in a believer, then it must be a hard matter to find out the difference: and therefore I conceive it is best for a man not to trouble himself at all about marks and signs.

Evan. Give me leave to deal plainly with you, in telling you, that although we cannot say, every one that hath a form of godliness hath also the power of godliness, yet we may truly say, that he who hath not the form of godliness, hath not the power of godliness; for though all be not gold that glitters, yet all gold doth glitter. And therefore, I tell you truly, if you have no regard to make the law of Christ your rule, by endeavouring to do what is required in the ten commandments, and to avoid what is there forbidden, it is a very evil sign: and, therefore, I pray you consider of it.


[1] That is, makes him a new man.

[2] Namely, habitually.

[3] Namely, Christ in the heart.

[4] Because all true grace and acceptable duty flow from Jesus Christ, dwelling in one’s heart by his Spirit; and whatsoever comes not that way, is but a show and semblance of these things, (Rom 8:9), “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.”—(John 15:5), “Without me ye can do nothing,”—(1:16), “And of his fullness have we all received, and grace for grace.”—(Gal 2:20), “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.”—”The cause of good works we confess to be, not our free-will, but the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, who, dwelling in our hearts, by true faith, bringeth forth such works as God has prepared for us to walk in.” Old Confess. art. 13—”So good works follow as effects of Christ in us possessed by faith.” Mr. John Davidson’s Cat. p. 30.

[5] Here is a chain, serving to lead a child of God unto assurance, that he is in the state of grace; wherein duties and graces, being run up unto their true spring, do so shine after trial of them, as one may conclude assurance from them, as the author phrases it. And here it is to be observed, that these words, “outward actions—actions of the mind—habits of grace—justification—faith —embracing of Christ,” are, in the progress of the trial, to be taken in their general notion, agreeing both to what is true, and what is false, in each particular; as faith feigned and unfeigned, justification real and imaginary, grace common and saving, &c. For the special nature of these is still supposed to be undetermined to the person under trial, until he come to the end of trial. This is evident from the nature of the thing: and from the author’s words too, in the sentence immediately preceding, where he says, “If he pitch upon his graces, or gifts rather”; the which correction he makes, because the former word is ordinarily restricted to saving grace, the latter not so. And hence it appears that the author was far from imagining that a man must have the assurance he speaks of, before he can conclude it from his graces or duties.

The links of this chain are five. The first, Outward actions, or works materially good, flowing from the inward actions of the mind: otherwise they are but pieces of gross dissimulation, as was the respect and honour put upon Christ by the Herodians and others, when they asked him, if it was lawful to give tribute unto Caesar. (Matt 22:16-18) The second, These actions of the mind, flowing from the habits of grace, within the man; otherwise they are but fair flowers, which, “because they have no root, wither away,” (Matt 13:6); like the Israelites, their seeking, returning, inquiring after, and remembering God, when he slew them, (Psa 78:34-37). The third, Those habits of grace within the man, flowing from his justification; otherwise they are but the habits of common grace, or of mere moral virtues, to be found in hypocritical professors, and sober heathens. The fourth, The man’s justification flowing from his faith; otherwise it is but as the imaginary justification of Pharisees, Papists and legalists, who are they which justify themselves. (Luke 16:15) The fifth, His faith given by Christ, and embracing Christ: otherwise it is but feigned faith, which never knits the soul to Christ, but leaves the man in the case of the fruitless branch, which is to be “taken away,” (John 15:2).

This chain is not of our author’s framing, but is a Scriptural one. (1 Tim 1:5), “Now (1.) the end of the commandment is charity, (2.) out of a pure heart, (3.) and of a good conscience, (4.) and of faith, (5.) unfeigned.”—”Wherein the apostle teacheth, that the obedience of the law must flow from love, and love from a pure heart, and a pure heart from a good conscience, and a good conscience from faith unfeigned; thus he maketh the only right channel of good works.” Practical Use of Saving Knowledge; tit. “The third thing requisite to evidence true faith, is, that obedience to the law run in the right channel, that is through faith in Christ.”

If one examines himself by this infallible rule, he cannot safely take his obedience for a mark or evidence of his being in the state of grace, until he run it up unto his faith, embracing Christ. But then finding that his faith made him a good conscience, and his good conscience a pure heart, and his pure heart produced love, from whence his obedience followed; in that case, his obedience is a true mark of the unfeignedness of his faith; from whence he may assuredly conclude, that he is in the state of grace. Our author’s method being a copy of this, the objections against it must affect both.

Let us suppose two men to put themselves on a trial of their state, according to this method, and to pitch upon some external duties of theirs, or some graces which they seem to discern in themselves, as to the substance thereof; though, as yet, they know not the specific nature of the same, namely, whether they be true or false.

The one finds, that his eternal duties proceeded not from the inward actions of his mind; or if they did, that yet these actions of his mind did not proceed from habits of grace in him; or if they did proceed from these, yet these flowed not from his justification, or, which is the same, followed not upon the purging of his conscience; or if they did, that yet his justification, or good conscience, such as they are, proceeded not from his faith; or if they did proceed from it, that yet that faith of his did not embrace Christ, and consequently was not of the special operation of God, or given him by Christ in him, by his Spirit. In all, or any of these cases, it is plain that the external duties, or the [so called] graces, which he pitched upon, can be no true marks from which he may conclude himself to be in a state of grace.

The other finds that his external duties did indeed flow from the inward actions of his mind, and these from habits of grace in him, and these again from his justification or good conscience, and that from his faith, and that his faith embraced Christ. Here two things are observable: (1.) That neither the duties nor graces pitched upon, could be sure marks to him, before he came to the last point; in regard of the flaw that possibly might still be found in the immediate or mediate springs of them. And therefore the looking, mentioned by the author, is indeed a progressive knowledge and discovery, but still unclear and uncertain, till one comes to the end, and the whole evidence is put together; even as it is in searching out some abstruse point, by observation of the dependence and connection things have one with another. Wherefore our author does by no means suppose, that I must know certainly that I am in Christ and justified, and that my faith is given me by Christ, before these duties or graces can be true marks or evidences to me. (2.) That the man perceiving his embracing of Christ, as to the substance of the action, is assured of the saving nature of it, [namely, that it is a faith uniting him to Christ, and given him by Christ in him] by the train of effects he sees to have followed it, according to the established order in the covenant of grace: (1 Tim 1:5). From which effects of his faith embracing Christ, that which might have deceived him, was all along gradually removed in the progress. Thus he is indeed sent back to the fruits of his faith, for true marks and evidences of it; but he is sent back to them, as standing clear now in his regress, though they were not so in his progress. And at this rate he is not left to run in a circle, but has a comfortable end of his self-examination, being assured by his duties and graces, the fruits of his faith, that his faith is unfeigned, and himself in the state of grace.

Source: The marrow of modern divinity, by Edward Fisher

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