Upon a Perching of a Piece of Cloth
Laws signally good oft time derive their birth according to the comment saying, from evil manners springing like a fair and beautiful flowers from a black and deformed root. And so likewise the many and ingenuous explorations of finding out the difference between things of worth and their counterfeits; and so seeing into the particular defects of commodities have been occasioned from the multiplicity of deceits, which ever is an either from natural semblances or corrupt practices.
The skillful lapidary has, by his observation, learned to know a false stone from a true, which common eye cannot distinguish. The herbalist do difference plants sometimes by the root, sometimes by the taste, when the likeness of the leaf is perfectly the same. The cautious receiver, that he be not cozened by the adulterated coin for the true, makes an artificial touchstone of his senses, he bends it, he rings it, he will rubs it, and smells to it, that thereby he may find out what it is. The circumspect merchant contents not himself with the seeing and feeling of his cloth as it lies made-up, but he puts it upon the perch and draws it leisurely over; and so discovers not only the rents and holes that are in it, but the inequality of threads and the unevenness of spinning, the spots and stains that are in it, and what not, that may make it either to be rejected for its defects for its goodness.
O how impartial a judge is light, which neither flatters friends, Nor wrongs enemies; which manifests the good as well as the evil to whatever it is applied. This kind of trial hints to me the best manner of doing that work, which every Christian ought to perform at the greatest care, the searching and examining of his own ways. I may learn from what is done to the cloth to do the same spiritually to myself, by setting my actions between the light of the Word, and the discerning power of conscience, that’s so the one may discover and the other may judge what there will rectitude or pravity [depravity] is. And this is best done when every parcel of the conversation [conduct, manner of life] is looked into and scanned, as the cloth that is drawn over the perch. Then it is that I find the on evenness of my duties, the distraction of my thoughts, and the unbelief of my heart, which runs as a continuing thread from one to end of the duty onto the other. Then it is that I espy those secret stains of hypocrisy which discolor my services and blemish them onto God, when they seem fair to the eye of man. Then it is that convinced of my filthiness I cry out, My person wants the priest, which is the form with infinite guilt, It without him cannot be discovered. My nature wants a priest, which is overrun with the universal leprosy, that without him cannot be cured. My send wants a priest, which are for their number as the sands, and for their greatness as the mountains, that without him can never be pardoned. My holy things want to priest, which are defile with the daily eruptions of sin in folly, that without him can never be accepted. And who is it that thus views himself by this perfect law of liberty, that is not thus affected?
What’s says Paul of himself? I was alive without the Law once, but when the Commandment came sin revived and I died. Who was wants more full of conceited abilities to perform the righteousness of the law without blame? Who is more presumptuous in self-justifications and elated thoughts of his perfection, than the Apostle while he was without the law? That is, not without the letter but without the spiritual sense and penetrative power of it. But when the commandment came in its vigor and life, how’s suddenly did those mist persuasions of his own righteousness vanish into nothing? He then lost his confidence of being saved by his obedience to the law. And by the light of it discover those inward lustings and desires to be sinful, and such as subjected him on to death, which before were wholly neglected and unseen.
As I would therefore incite Christians to an exact discussion of their ways, so what I also direct them to look up on them through no other medium than the light of the Word: Wherewith (as David says) shall a young man cleanse his way (or, as the original imports, make clear as crystal) by taking heed thereto according to thy Word?
The Heathen we’re not altogether aliens to the studio self-examination; it was Sextius his custom, as Seneca reports, when he betook his night’s rest to question his soul, Quod hodie malum tuum sanasti? cui vitio obstetisti? What malady have you this day cured? What vice have you withstood? It was also Pythagoras his counsel to his scholars the each man should demand of himself, Wherein have I offended? What good have I done?
But alas! How confused and indistinct was that light which they made to search. How little can the candle light of nature discover of the evil of sin, Whose rules and principles do so much falling and suit with the wills of the flesh? What camel sins did the very best of them swallow down, without straining at them? What swarms are there sins, which Christians complaint of, but the natural man is totally ignorant of an can no more discover without the aid of the Word, than the eye can discern of its own blood shed without the help of a glass?
We have Paul’s own confession in this particular, I had not known lust, except the Law had said, thou shalt not covet. Before he only saw some sins that were as beams for their magnitude, but now he is sensible of the smallest motes. To the law then, and to the testimony do you betake yourselves, O you sincere an upright ones when you go about this work! Fear not its purity, but love it; shrink not added searching power, but you up your selves to a free and voluntary admission of its light; yes rejoice and be exceeding glad, the by the Light of the Word you can trace in home onto its receptacle, and can both judge it and mortify it in the seed and root of it, which is the sheerest and best way of destroying it. He is among the first born of Christians, who communes most often with his own heart and looks most often into the books of conscience, which rights journals and not annals, and is most likely to obtain a double portion both of peace and grace; but when he has done all, let him make David’s prayer the close:
Search me, O Lord, and know my heart;
Try me, and know my thoughts,
And see if there be any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting.