William Bradford Institute
for Study of the
Early Settlement of America

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Signs of Resting in Duties


by Thomas Shepard
The Sincere Convert


But because it is hard for to know when a man rests in duties, and few men find
themselves guilty of this sin, which ruins so many, I will show two things:
1. The signs of a man's resting in duties.

2. The insufficiency of all duties to save men; that so those that be found
guilty of this sin may not go on in it.

First. For the signs whereby a man may certainly know, when he rests in his
duties, which if he do, (as few professors especially but they do,) he will
perish eternally.

First. Those that yet never saw they rested in them, they that never found it a
hard matter to come out of their duties. For it is most natural for a man to
stick in them, because nature sets men upon duties; hence it is a hard matter to
come out of resting in duties. For two things keep a man from Christ:

1. Sin. 2. Self. Now, as a man is broken off from sin by seeing and feeling it,
and groaning under the power of it, so is a man broken from himself. For men had
rather do any thing than come unto Christ, there is such a great deal of self in
them. Therefore, if you have no experience, that at no time you have rested too
much in your duties, and then did groan to be delivered from these
entanglements, (I mean not from the doing of them,this is presumption and
profaneness,but from resting in the bare performance of them,) you indeed rely
upon your duties to this day.

These rest in duties, that prize the bare performance of duties wonderfully; for
those duties that carry you out of yourself unto Christ make you to prize
Christ. Now, tell me, do you glory in yourself? Now I am somebody. I was
ignorant, forgetful, hardhearted; now I understand, and remember better, and can
sorrow for my sins: if you do rest here, your duties never carried you farther
than yourself. Do you think, after that you have prayed with some life, Now I
have done very well, and now you verily think (meaning for your duties) the Lord
will save you, though you never come to Christ, and say, as he in another case,
"Now I hope the Lord will do good to me, seeing I have got a priest into my
house." (Judges 17:13) Do you enhance the price of duties thus, that you so dote
on them? Then I do pronounce from God, you are resting in them. "These things"
(says Paul) "I counted gain," (that is, before his conversion to Christ, he
prized them exceedingly,) but "now I account them loss." And this is the reason
why a child of God, commonly, after all his prayers, tears, and confessions,
doubts much of God's love toward him; whereas another man, that falls short of
him, never questions his estate; the first sees much rottenness and vileness in
his best duties, and so judges meanly of himself; the other, ignorant of the
vileness of them, prizes them, and esteems himself highly because of them; and
setting his corn at so high a price, he may keep them to himself; the Lord never
accepts them, nor buys them at so high a rate.

Thirdly. Those that never came to be sensible of their poverty and utter
emptiness of all good; for so long as a man has a penny in his purse, that is,
feels any good in himself, he will never come a-begging unto Jesus Christ, and
therefore rests in himself. Now, did you never feel yourself in this manner
poor? That is to say, I am as ignorant as any beast, as vile as any devil. O
Lord, what a nest and pile of sin and rebellion lurk in my heart! I once thought
at least my heart and desires were good, but now I feel no spiritual life. O
dead heart! I am the poorest, vilest, lowest, and blindest creature that ever
lived. If you do not thus feel yourself poor, you never came out of your duties;
for when the Lord brings any man to Christ, he brings him empty, that so he may
make him in debt to Christ for every farthing token.

Fourthly. Those that gain no evangelical righteousness by duties, that is to
sayresting in duties. I say, evangelical righteousness, that is more prizing of
acquaintance with, desire after, loving and delighting in union with the Lord
Jesus Christ; for a mortal man may grow in legal righteousness, (as the stony
and thorny ground seed sprang up, and increased much, and came near unto
maturity,) and yet rest in duties all this while. For as it is with tradesmen,
they rest in their buying and selling, though they make no gain of their
trading. Now Jesus Christ is a Christian's gain, (Phil. 1:21;) and hence a child
of God asks himself after sermon, after prayer, after sacrament, What have I
gained of Christ? Have I got more knowledge of Christ, more admiring of the Lord
Jesus? Now, a carnal heart, that rests in his duties, asks only what he has
done, as the Pharisee: "I thank God I am not as other men; I fast twice a week,
I give alms," and the like; and thinks indeed that he shall be saved, because he
prays, and because he hears, and because he reforms, and because he sorrows for
his sins; that is, not because of the gaining of Christ in a duty, but because
of his naked performance of the duty. And so they are like that man that I have
heard of, that thought truly he should be rich, because he had got a wallet to
beg: so men, because they perform duties, think verily they shall be saved. No
such matter: let a man have a bucket made of gold; does he think to get water
because he has a bucket? No, no; he must let it down into the well, and draw up
water with it: so must you let down all your duties into Christ, and draw light
and life from his fullness, otherwise, though your duties be golden duties, you
shall perish without Christ. When a man has bread in his wallet, and got water
in his bucket, he may boldly say, So long as these last, I shall not starve; so
you may say, when you has found and got Christ, in the performance of any duty,
So long as Christ's life lasts, I shall live; as long as he has any wisdom or
power, so long shall I be directed and enabled in well doing.

Fifthly. If your duties make you sin more boldly, you do then rest in duties;
for these duties, which carry a man out of himself unto Christ, ever fetch power
against sin; but duties that a man rests in arm him and fence him in his sin.
(Is. 1:14.) A cart that has no wheels to rest on can hardly be drawn into the
dirt; but one that has wheels comes loaded through it: so a child of God that
has no wheels, no duties, to rest upon, can not willingly be drawn into sin; but
another man, though he be loaded with sin, (even sometimes against his
conscience,) yet having duties to bear him up, goes merrily on in a sinful
course, and makes no bones of sin. When we see a beggarly man insult a great
prince, and strike him, we say, Surely, he dares not do it unless he had
somebody to bear him out in it, that he rests and trusts unto: so when we see
men sin against the great God, we conceive, certainly, they dare not do it, if
they had not some duties to bear them out in it, and to encourage them in their
way, that they trust unto.

For, take a profane man: what makes him drink, swear, cheat, game, whore? Is
there no God to punish? Is there no hell hot enough to torment? Are there no
plagues to confound him? Yes. Why does he sin so then? O, he prays to God for
forgiveness, and sorrows, and repents in secret, (as he says,) and this bears
him up in his lewd tricks.

Take a moral man: he knows he has his failings, and his sins, as the best have,
and is overtaken sometimes as the best are: why does he not remove these sins
then? He confesses them to God every morning when he awakens. Why is he not more
humbled under his sin then? The reason is, he constantly observes morning and
evening prayer, and then he craves forgiveness for his failings, by which course
he hopes he makes his peace with God; and hence he sins without fear, and rises
up out of his falls into sin without sorrow. And thus they see and maintain
their sins by their duties, and therefore rest in duties.

Sixthly. Those that see little of their vile hearts by duties, rest in their
duties; for if a man be brought nearer to Christ, and to the light, by duties,
he will notice more blemishes; for the more a man participates of Christ, his
health, and life, the more he feels the vileness and sickness of sin. As Paul
when he rested in duties before his conversion, before the law had humbled him,
he was alive; that is, he thought himself a sound man, because his duties
covered his sins, like fig leaves. Therefore ask your own heart if it be
troubled sometimes for sin, and if after your praying and sorrowing you grow
well, and think yourself safe, and feel not yourself more vile. If it be thus, I
tell you, your duties be but fig leaves to cover your nakedness, and the Lord
will find you out, and unmask you one day; and woe to you if you should perish
here.




 

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