Sunday, February 19, 2012

A taste of the Marrow: Nomista's testimony

I am currently reading The Marrow of Modern Divinity by Edward Fisher. It is a theological treatise written as a dialogue. This is a speech given by the character Nomista. The book raises the question of whether this person can be considered a Christian. What do you think, dear reader? I'd be very interested in your comments. I realise this quotation is rather long, but it is important to get the speech in full.

Sir, I having been born and brought up in a country where there was very little preaching, the Lord knoweth I lived a great while in ignorance and blindness ; and yet, because I did often repeat the Lord's prayer, the apostles' creed, and the ten commandments, and in that I came sometimes to divine service, as they call it, and at Easter received the communion, I thought my condition to be good. But at last, by means of hearing a zealous and godly minister in this city, not long after my coming hither, I was convinced that my present condition was not good, and therefore I went to the same minister, and told him what I thought of myself; so he told me that I must frequent the hearing of sermons, and keep the Sabbath very strictly, and leave off swearing by my faith and troth, and such like oaths, and beware of lying, and all idle words and communication ; yea, and said he, you must get good books to read on, as Mr. Dodd on the Commandments, Mr. Bolton's Directions for Comfortable Walking with God, Mr. Brinsley's True Watch, and such like ; and many similar exhortations and directions he gave me, the which I liked very well, and therefore endeavoured myself to follow them. So I fell to the hearing of the most godly, zealous, and powerful preachers that were in the city, and wrote their sermons after them ; and when God gave me a family, I prayed with them, and instructed them, and repeated sermons to them, and spent the Lord's day in public and private exercises, and left off my swearing, and lying, and idle talking ; and, according to exhortation, in few words, I did so reform myself and my life, that whereas before I had been only careful to perform the duties of the second table of the law, and that to the end I might gain favour and respect from civil, honest men, and to avoid the penalties of man's law, or temporal punishment, now I was also careful to perform the duties required in the first table of the law, and that to gain favour and respect from religious, honest men, and to avoid the penalty of God's law, even eternal torments in hell. Now, when professors of religion observed this change in me, they came to my house, and gave unto me the right hand of fellowship, and counted me one of that number : and then I invited godly ministers to my table, and made much of them ; and then, with that same Micah mentioned in the book of Judges, I was persuaded the Lord would be merciful unto me, because I had gotten a Levite to be my priest, Judges xvii. 13. In a word, I did now yield such an outward obedience and conformity to both tables of the law, that all godly ministers and religious, honest men who knew me, did think very well of me, counting me to be a very honest man, and a good christian ; and indeed I thought so of myself, especially because I had their approbation. And thus I went on bravely a great while, even until I read in Mr. Bolton's works, that the outward righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees was famous in those times ; for, be- sides their forbearing and protesting against gross sins, as murder, theft, adultery, idolatry, and the like, they were frequent and constant in prayer, fasting, and alms-deeds, so that, without question, many of them were persuaded that their doing would purchase heaven and happiness. Whereupon I concluded, that I had as yet done no more than they ; and withal I considered, that our Saviour says, " Except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye cannot enter into the kingdom of God," Matt. v. 20; yea, and I also considered that the apostle says, "He is not a Jew that is one outwardly ; but he that is one inwardly, whose praise is not of men, but of God," Rom. ii. 28 29. Then did I conclude that I was not yet a true Christian ; for, Said I in my heart, I have contented myself with the praise of men, and so have lost all my labour and pains in performing duties ; for they have been no better than outside performances, and, therefore, they must all fall down in a moment. I have not served God with all my heart ; and, therefore, I see I must either go further, or else I shall never be happy. Whereupon I set about the keeping of the law in good earnest, and laboured to perform duties, not only outwardly, but also inwardly from my heart ; I heard, and read, and prayed, and laboured, to bring my heart, and forced my soul to every duty ; I called upon the Lord in good earnest, and told him, that whatsoever he would have me to do, I would do it with all my heart, if he would but save my soul. And then I also took notice of the inward corruptions of my heart, the which I had not formerly done, and was careful to govern my thoughts, to moderate my passions, and to suppress the motions and risings of lust, to banish pride and speculative wantonness, and all vain and sinful desires of my heart ; and then I thought myself not only an outside Christian, but also an inside Christian, and therefore a true Christian indeed. And so I went on comfortably a good while, till I considered that the law of God requires passive obedience as well as active : and therefore I must be a sufferer as well as a doer, or else I could not be a Christian indeed ; whereupon I began to be troubled at my impatience under God's correcting hand, and at those inward murmurings and discontents which I found in my spirit in time of any outward calamity that befel me ; and then I laboured to bridle my passions, and to submit myself quietly to the will of God in every condition ; and then did I also, as it were, begin to take penance upon myself, by abstinence, fasting, and afflicting my soul ; and made pitiful lamentations in my prayers, which were sometimes also accompanied with tears, the which I was persuaded the Lord did take notice of, and would reward me for it ; and then I was persuaded that I did keep the law, in yielding obedience both actively and passively. And then was I confident I was a true Christian, until I considered, that those Jews, of whom the Lord complains, Isa. Iviii. did as much as I ; and that caused me to fear that all was not right with me as yet. Whereupon I went to another minister, and told him that though I had done thus and thus, and suffered thus and thus; yet was I persuaded, that I. was in no better condition than those Jews, O-yes! said he ; you are in a better condition than they : for they were hypocrites, and served not God with all their hearts as you do. Then I went home contentedly, and so went on in my wonted course of doing and suffering, and thought all was well with me, until I bethought myself, that before the time of my conversion, I had been a transgressor from the womb ; yea, in the womb, in that I was guilty of Adam's transgression : so that I considered that although I kept even with God for the time present and to come, yet that would not free me from the guiltiness of that which was done before ; whereupon I was much troubled and disquieted in my mind. Then I went to a third minister of God's holy word, and told how the case stood with me, and what I thought of my state and condition. He cheered me up, bidding me be of good comfort: for how- ever my obedience since my conversion would not satisfy for my former sins ; yet, inasmuch as, at my conversion, I had confessed, lamented, deplored, bewailed, and forsaken them, God, according to his rich mercy and gracious promise, had mercifully pardoned and forgiven them. Then I returned home to my house again, and went to God by earnest prayer and supplication, and besought him to give me assurance of the pardon and forgiveness of my guiltiness of Adam's sin, and all my actual transgressions before my conversion ; and as I had endeavoured myself to be a good servant before, so I would still continue in doing my duty most exactly ; and so, being assured that the Lord had granted this my request, I fell to my business according to my promise ; I heard, I read, I prayed, I fasted, I mourned, I sighed, and groaned ; and watched over my heart, my tongue, and ways, in all my doings, actions, and dealings, both with God and man. But after a while, I growing better acquainted with the spiritualness of the law, and the inward corruptions of my own heart, I perceived that I had deceived myself, in thinking that I had kept the law perfectly ; for, do what I could, I found many imperfections in my obedience ; for I had been, and was still subject to sleepiness, drowsiness, and heaviness, in prayers and hearing, and so in other duties; I failed in the manner of performance of them, and in the end why I performed them, seeking myself in everything I did: and my conscience told me I failed in my duty to God in this, in my duty to my neighbour in that. And then I was much troubled again : for I considered that the law of God requires, and is not satisfied without, an exact and perfect obedience. And then I Went to the same minister again, and told him how I had purposed, promised, striven, and endeavoured, as much as possibly I could, to keep the law of God perfectly ; and yet by woful experience I had found, that I had, and did still transgress in many ways ; and therefore I feared hell and damnation. " Oh ! but," said he, " do not fear ; for the best of Christians have their failings, and no man keepeth the law of God perfectly ; and therefore go on, and do as you have done, in striving to keep the law perfectly ; and in what you cannot do, God will accept the will for the deed; and wherein you come short, Christ will help you out." And this satisfied and contented me very much. So I returned home again, and fell to prayer, and told the Lord that now I saw I could not yield perfect obedience to his law, and yet I would not despair, because I did believe that what I could not do Christ had done for me : and then I did certainly conclude, that I was now a Christian indeed, though I was not so before : and so have I been persuaded ever since. And thus, sir, you see I have declared unto you, both how it hath been with me formerly, and how it is with me for the present ; wherefore I would entreat you to tell me plainly and truly what you think of my condition.