Upon Perching a Piece of Cloth
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Upon the Perching of a Piece of Cloth
by William Spurstowe (1666)
Laws, signally good, oft times derive their birth according to the common saying, from evil manners, springing like 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 of seeing into the particular defects of commodities, have been occasioned from the multiplicity of deceits, which have risen either from natural semblances, or corrupt practices.
The skillful lapidary has, by his observation, learned to know a false stone from a true, which the common eye cannot distinguish. The herbalists 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 adulterated coin for true, makes an artificial touchstone of his senses. He bends it, he rings it, he 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 setting it between the light and himself draws it leisurely over; and so discovers not only the rents and holes that are in it, but the inequality of the threads, the unevenness of its spinning, the spots and stains that are in it, and what not, that may make it either to be rejected for its defects, or approved 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 with 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 so the one may discover, and the other may judge what their rectitude or pravity is? And this is best done when every parcel of the conversation is looked into, and scanned, as the cloth that is drawn over the perch; then it is that I find the unevenness of my duties, the distractions of my thoughts, and the unbelief of my heart, which runs as a continued thread from one end of the duty unto the other. Then it is that I espy those secret stains of hypocrisy which discolor my services, and blemish them to God, when they seem fair to the eye of man. Then it is that convinced of my filthiness, I cry out. My person wants a priest, which is deformed with infinite guilt, that without him cannot be covered. My nature wants a priest, which is deformed with infinite guilt, that without him cannot be covered. My nature wants a priest, which is overrun with a universal leprosy, that without him cannot be cured. My sins want 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 a priest, which are defiled with the daily eruptions of sin and folly, that without him can never be accepted.
And who is it, who thus views himself by this perfect law of liberty, yet is not thus affected? What said Paul of himself?: “I was alive without the law once, but when the commandment came sin revived, and I died” (Rom. 7: 9). Who was once more full of conceited abilities to perform the righteousness of the law without blame? Who was 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 suddenly did all those mis-persuasions of his righteousness vanish into nothing? He then lost his confidence of being saved by his obedience to the law; and by the light of it discovered those inward lustings, and desires to be sinful, and such as subjected him to death, which before were wholly neglected and unseen.
As I would therefore incite Christians to an exact discussion of their ways, so would I also direct them to look upon them through no other medium than the light of the Word: “Wherewith” (said David) “shall a young man cleanse his ways,” (or as the original imports, make clear as crystal) “by taking heed thereto according to thy Word?” (Ps. 119:9). The heathen were not altogether aliens to this duty of self-examination. It was Sextius’s custom, as Seneca reports it, when he betook himself to his night’s rest, to question his soul, “What malady hast thou this day cured? What vice hast thou withstood?” It was also Pythagoras his counsel to his scholars, that each man should demand of himself, “Wherein have I offended? What good have I done?” But alas! How confused and indistinct was that light by which they made this search? How little can the candlelight of nature discover of the evil of sin, whose rules and principles do so much fall in, and suit with the wills of the flesh? What carnal sins did the very best of them swallow down, without the least straining at them? What swarms are there of sins, which Christians complain of, that the natural man is totally ignorant of, and can no more discover, without the aid of the Word, than the eye can discern its own bloodshed 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’” (Rom. 7:7). 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 ye sincere and upright ones. When you go about this work, fear not its purity, but love it. Shrink not at its searching power, but yield up yourselves to a free and voluntary admission of its light. Yea, rejoice and be exceeding glad, that by the light of the Word, you can trace sin home to its receptacle, and can both judge it and mortify it in the seed and root of it, which is the surest and best way of destroying it. He is amongst the first-born of Christians, who communes most with his own heart, and looks most often into the books of conscience, which writes 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 by any wicked way in me, and lead me I the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23-24).
This article is taken from: Spurstowe, William. The Spiritual Chymist: or, Six Decads of Divine Meditations on Several Subjects. London: Philip Chetwind, 1666. A PDF file of this book can be downloaded, free of charge, at http://www.ClassicChristianLibrary.com