Joseph Alleine wrote a wonderful book called “An Alarm to the Unconverted” back in 1671. It is available to read for free at Grace Gems website, and is now sold by Banner of Truth books under the title “A Sure Guide to Heaven”. You can purchase it for less than a $5 coffee at Starbucks from my favorite on-line bookstore, Westminster Bookstore, by clicking this text.
The snippet I am posting here is from chapter 4, entitled “The Marks of the Unconverted”. In this chapter, Alleine takes the reader through 10 marks of an “open” (or obvious) sinner, and then through 12 marks of a “secret” sinner (these sections are clearly marked at Grace Gems, but not in the book). I have thought often over the last couple years how much better it would be to know you doubt your salvation but be truly converted than to be lost but think that you’re saved. In the section on secret sins, Alleine helps the reader to really examine the heart for its bent.
In the opening of the chapter, Alleine writes on the deceitfulness of the heart in the unconverted person’s confident persuasion of their own right-standing before God:
This must be premised before we proceed, that it is most certain that men may have a confident persuasion that their hearts and states are good—while yet they are unsound. Hear the Truth Himself who shows, in Laodicea’s case, that men may be wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked—and yet not know it. Yes, they may be confident they are rich, and increased in grace (Rev 3:17). ‘There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes—and yet are not washed from their filthiness’ (Prov 30:12). Who better persuaded of his state than Paul, while he yet remained unconverted? (Rom 7:9). So that they are miserably deceived who take a strong confidence for a sufficient evidence. Those who have no better proof than barely a strong persuasion that they are converted—are certainly as yet strangers to conversion.
Toward the end of the chapter, Alleine warns the reader of the danger of false assurance, or as he calls it, “carnal security”:
Carnal security, or a presumptuous confidence that their condition is already good. Many cry, ‘Peace and safety’, when sudden destruction is coming upon them. This was that which kept the foolish virgins sleeping when they should have been working—upon their beds when they should have been at the markets. They did not perceive their lack of oil until the bridegroom was come; and while they went to buy, the door was shut! And oh that these foolish virgins had no successors! Where is the place, yes, where is the house almost, where these do not dwell? Men are willing to cherish in themselves, upon ever so slight grounds, a hope that their condition is good—and by these means perish in their sins. Are you at peace? Show me upon what grounds your peace is maintained. Is it Scripture peace? Can you show the distinguishing marks of a sound believer? Can you evidence that you have something more than any hypocrite in the world ever had? If not, fear this peace more than any trouble; and know that a carnal peace commonly proves the most mortal enemy of the soul, and while it smiles and kisses and speaks fairly—it fatally smites, as it were, under the fifth rib.
By this time I think I hear my readers crying out, with the disciples, ‘Who then shall be saved?’ [Matt 19:25; Mark 10:26; Luke 18:26] Set out from our congregations all those ten ranks of the profane on the one hand, and then take out all these twelve classes of self-deceiving hypocrites on the other hand—and tell me whether it is only a remnant that shall be saved. How few will be the sheep that shall be left, when all these shall be separated and set among the goats. For my part, of all my numerous hearers, I have no hope to see any of them in heaven that are to be found among these twenty-two classes that are here mentioned, except by sound conversion they are brought into another condition.
And now, conscience, do your work! Speak out, and speak home to him who hears or reads these lines. If you find any of these marks upon him, you must pronounce him utterly unclean. Do not take a lie into your mouth. Do not speak peace to him to whom God speaks no peace. Do not let self-love or carnal prejudice bribe or blind you. I summon you from the court of heaven to come and give evidence. As you will answer it at your peril, give a true report of the state and case of him who reads this book. Conscience, will you altogether be silent at such a time as this? I adjure you by the living God that you tell the truth. Is the man converted—or is he not? Does he allow himself in any way of wickedness—or does he not? Does he truly love, and please, and prize, and delight in God above all things—or not? Come, give a definite answer.
How long shall this soul live in uncertainty? O conscience, bring in your verdict. Is this man a new man—or is he not? How do you find it? Has there passed a thorough and mighty change upon him—or not? When was the time, where was the place—or what were the means by which this thorough change of the new birth was wrought in his soul? Speak, conscience; or if you cannot tell the time and place, can you show Scripture evidence that the work is done? Has the man ever been taken off from his false foundation, from the false hopes and false peace in which once he trusted? Has he been deeply convinced of sin, and of his lost and undone condition, and brought out of himself, and off from his sins—to give himself up entirely to Jesus Christ? Or do you not find him to this day under the power of ignorance—or in the mire of worldliness? Have you not found upon him the gains of unrighteousness? Do you not find him a stranger to prayer, a neglecter of the Word, a lover of this present world? Do you not sometimes catch him in a lie? Do you not find his heart fermented with malice—or burning with lust—or going after his covetousness? Speak plainly to all the forementioned particulars. Can you acquit this man, this woman, from being in any of the twenty-two classes here described? If he is found in any of them, set him aside; his portion is not with the saints. He must be converted and made a new creature—or he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
Beloved, do not be your own betrayers. Do not deceive your own hearts, nor set your hands to your own ruin by a willful blinding of yourselves. Set up a tribunal in your own breasts. Bring the Word and conscience together. ‘To the law and to the testimony.’ [Isa 8:20] Hear what the Word concludes of your state. Oh follow the search until you find how the case stands. Make a mistake here—and you perish! And, such is the treachery of the heart, the subtlety of the temper, and the deceitfulness of sin—all conspiring to flatter and deceive the poor soul; and so common and easy it is to make a mistake, that it is a thousand to one that you will be deceived, unless you are very careful and thorough and impartial i
n the inquiry into your spiritual condition.
Oh therefore be diligent in your work; go to the bottom, search with candles; weigh yourself in the balance, come to the standard of the sanctuary; bring your coin to the touchstone. Satan is a master of deceit; he can draw to the life; he is perfect in the trade; there is nothing which he cannot imitate. You cannot wish for any grace—but he can fit you with a counterfeit. Be jealous; trust not even your own heart. Go to God to search you and try you, to examine you and prove your thoughts. If other helps do not suffice to bring all to an issue—but you are still at a loss, consult some godly and faithful minister or Christian friend. Do not rest until you have put the business of your eternal welfare out of doubt.
‘O Searcher of hearts, set this soul searching, and help him in his search.’