It is true, this time is short, and so short that scarce can similitudes or comparisons be had to shadow it out unto us. It is a dream, a moment, a vapour, a flood, a flower, and whatsoever can be more fading or perishing; and therefore it is not in itself very considerable, yet in another respect it is of all things the most precious, and worthy of the deepest attention and most serious consideration; and that is, because it is linked unto eternity; and there is an indissolvable knot between them, that no power or art can break or loose. The beginning of eternity is continually united to the end of time; and you know all the infinite extension of eternity is uniform, it admits of no change in it from better to worse, or worse to better; and therefore the beginning of our eternity, whether it be happiness or misery, is but one perpetuated and eternized moment, so to speak. Seeing then we are in the body, and sent unto the world for this end, that we may pass through into an unchangeable eternal estate; truly, of all things it is most concerning and weighty, what way we choose to this journey's end. Seeing the time is short, in which we have to walk, and it is uncertain too, we ought, as the apostle Peter speaks, to "give all diligence;" as long as the day remains, we should drive the harder, lest that eternal night overtake us. The shortness and uncertainty of time should constrain us to take the present opportunity, and not to let it slip over as we do; seeing it is not at all in our hand, either what is past, or what is to come, the one cannot be recalled, the other is not in our power to call and bring forward, therefore the present moment that God hath given us, should be catched, held on, and redeemed, as the apostle speaks, Eph. v.16. We should buy it at the dearest rate of pains and expenses, from all those vain, impertinent, and trifling diversions that take it up, that we may employ it as it becomes suitable to eternity that is posting on. And then, as the shortness of it makes it the more precious and considerable, in regard of the end of it, -- eternity; as the scantiness of a thing increases the rate of it, so that same consideration should make all worldly things, that are confined either in their being or use, within it, to be inconsiderable, as Paul, (1 Cor. vii.29-31), shows. Seeing the time is short, it remaineth, that we should rejoice, as not rejoicing; weep, as not weeping; buy, as if we possessed not; use the world, as not abusing it. Seeing all its worth is to be esteemed from the end of it, eternity, never ending; then certainly whatsoever in time doth not reach that end, and hath no connection with it, we should give it but such entertainment, as a passing bird, that is pleasant to the eye, gets of a beholder, while it is in its flight. The shortness of the day should make us double our diligence, and push on the harder in our walk or race, that so we may come in time to our place of rest; and that same should make the passenger give an overly(180) and passing look to all things that are by the way, and which he must of necessity leave behind him. Seeing these things, then, are so important, let us draw our hearts together to consider what the Lord speaks to us in this word; for in it you have two ways and two ends, opposite and contrary ways and walks, and as contrary ends; the ways are, walking "after the flesh," and walking "after the Spirit;" the ends to which they lead, are death and life. We spoke something of the ways, and the wide difference that is between them, what excellency is in the one beyond the other; but truly it is hard to persuade to leave off your accustomed ways and walks, because your inward sense and the inclination of your hearts are wholly perverted and corrupted by nature. You know the moving faculty is subordinate in its operations unto the knowing, feeling, and apprehending faculties: the locomotive power is given for a subsidiary and help to the apprehensive and appetitive powers, because things are convenient and disconvenient, good or evil, to the nature of the living creature, without it; and it could not by mere knowledge, or desire, or hatred of things, either come into possession of them, or eschew them. Therefore God hath given them a faculty of moving themselves to the prosecution and attainment of any apprehended good, or to the eschewing and aversion of any conceived evil. Thus, when beasts savour or smell that food which is fit for them, their appetite stirs them up to motion after it to obtain it. Now, I say, if this inward sense be corrupted, then things that are destructive will be conceived good, because they are suitable to that corrupt humour or quality that possesses the senses; and thus all the motion and walk will be disordered. The truth is, my beloved, our spirits and minds are infected with a poisonable humour, fleshly passions and lusts are predominant naturally; and, as in them that are in a fever, their organs being distempered with a bitter unsavoury humour, the pleasantest things seem unsavoury, because not suitable to that predominant humour, even so it is with you by nature. That which puts all upon motion is out of course, since the first distemper of man. Your spirits and minds are fleshly and carnal; they have a strong and deep impression of all the lusts that are in the body, and are accordingly affected; and therefore you cannot fitly judge what is good or evil for you, but according to these, (Isa. v.20,) -- you must call evil good, and good evil; bitter sweet, and sweet bitter, because you are already prepossessed thus. And therefore the ways of the flesh, those paths that lead to destruction, you cannot but look on them as pleasant, because they suit and please your corrupted sense or spirit; and so this disordered savour or smell of some fragrant perfume in the ways of the flesh, puts you upon walking in these ways; and being thus possessed and engaged, you cannot but stop your ears to all contrary persuasions. You think it against your sense and reason, to tell you that these are loathsome and unsavoury, and that the other ways of wisdom and spirit are pleasantness and peace. I say, you cannot believe this, till your hearts and spirits lie purged, and your taste be pure and uncorrupted. It is certainly upon this ground that our Saviour puts such characters on the way to heaven and hell, to life and death. The one is strait and narrow, and few walk in it; the other broad and easy, and many walk in it, Matt. vii.13. Certainly, it is not the way in itself simply, that admits of such a motion, to speak properly, as the thing is; the way to life, by the guiding of the Spirit, is easiest, plainest, shortest, and broadest. It hath all the properties of a good way, none so pleasant and plain; -- how sweet and pleasant sights all the way! It is an alley of delight, -- the way of his commandments; it wants not accommodation in it to refresh the traveller. The most delightful company is here; the Father and the Son, who sought no other company from all eternity, but were abundantly satisfied and rejoiced in one another. This fellowship the Christian hath to solace himself with, and he is admitted to be partaker of that joy. There is nothing that doth disburden the soul so of care and anxiety, nothing doth rid a man of so many perplexities and troubles, as this way. But the way of sin in itself is most laborious, most difficult. It hath infinite by-ways that it leads a man into, and he must turn and return, and run in a circle all the day, all his time, to satisfy the infinite lusts and insatiable desires of sin. O how painful and laborious is it to fulfil the lusts of the flesh! How much service doth it impose! How serious attention! What perplexing cares and tormenting thoughts! How many sorrows and griefs are in every step of this way! Do you not perceive what drudges and slaves sin makes you, -- how much labour you have to satisfy your lusts? And you are always to begin, as near that which you seek in the end of your years, as in the beginning. How thorny, how miry is the way of covetousness! Are you not always out of one thorn into another, and cut asunder, or pierced through with many sorrows? 1 Tim. vi.10; Matt. xiii.22. Is that a pleasant and easy way, I pray you, that makes all your sorrow and your travail grief, and suffers not your heart to take rest in the night? Eccl. ii.22, 23. What pains of body! What plotting of mind! What labour and vexation of both must a sinner have as his constant attendance in this way! The way is intricate, deep, unpassable, that leads to that satisfaction you desire to your lusts. Your desires are impotent and impatient, the means to carry you on are weak and lame, nowise accommodated or fit for such a journey, and this puts you always, as it were, on the rack, tormented between the impatience of your lusts, and the impotency of means, and impossibility to fulfil them. Desires and disappointments, hopes and fears, divide your souls between them. Such is the way after the flesh, an endless labyrinth of woes and miseries, of pains and cares, ever while here.
But these ways receive such names from the common opinion and apprehension of men, because of our flesh, which is predominant. The way after the flesh being suitable to it, though in itself infinitely more toilsome, seems easy and plain, but the way after the Spirit seems strait, narrow, toilsome, and laborious. Though there be infinitely more room in the way to life, because it leads to that immense universal good, it expatiates towards the All fulness of God, yet to the flesh how narrow and strait is it, because it cannot admit of these inordinate lusts, that have swelled so immeasurably towards narrow and scanty things! The true latitude of the way of the flesh is not great, for it is all enclosed within poor, lean, narrow, created objects, but because the imagination of men supplies what is wanting really, and fancies an infinite or boundless extent of goodness in these things, therefore the sinner walks easily, without straitening to his flesh, -- it is not pinched in this way of fleshly lusts. But, alas! the spirit is wofully straitened, fettered, and imprisoned, though it be not sensibly bound.
What is the reason, then, that so many walk in the way to death but because their flesh finds no straitening, no pressure in it? It is an easy way to their natures, because suitable to the corruption that is in them, therefore men walk on without consideration of what follows. It is like a descent or going down a hill, and so easy to our flesh. On the other hand, the way of life, after the Spirit, is an ascent upward, and it is very difficult to our earthly and lumpish flesh. Our spirits by communion with and subjection to the flesh, are made of an earthly quality, near the element of the flesh, and so they bow naturally downward, but if once they were purified and purged, and unfettered by the spirit of God and restored to their native purity, they would more easily and willingly move upward, as you see the flame doth, and till this be done in you, we cannot expect that you will willingly and pleasantly walk in these pleasant walks after the Spirit; your walk will never be free and unconstrained in the paths of godliness. You may, from some external motives and impulses, move upward for a season, in some particular duties of religion, as a stone cast up, but as that impression is not from an inward principle so it will not be constant and durable, but you will fall down to your old bias in other things, and move quite contrary, when the external impression of fear or favour, of custom or education, or such like, wears out. But the true Christian hath a spirit within him, the root of the matter in him; this carries him upward in the ways of obedience, after the motions and directions of God's Spirit. At the beginning, indeed, it is strait and uneasy to his flesh, but the difficulty is overcome if once you begin well, the beginning (as you used to say) is the half of the whole. Truly to be well entered is half progress; afterward the bulksome and burdensome lusts of the flesh are stript off, at least in a greater measure, and then the spirit moves easily and willingly; this walk becomes a recreation, that at first was a labour. Now delight and desire are as wings to mount the soul aloft. Now it is the good pleasure of the soul to walk to all well pleasing. Indeed the way of this world is dirty and filthy, and therefore a Christian had need to watch continually, and to gird up his loins, that his thoughts and affections hang not down to the earth, else they will take up much filth, and cannot but clog and burden the spirit, and make it drive heavily and slowly, as Pharaoh did his chariots when the wheels were off. We had need to fly aloft above the ground, and not to come down too low near it, thinking withal to double out our journey, for we shall find, that because of the remnants of flesh within us, that this world hath a magnetical attractive virtue to draw us down to it, if we be within the sphere of its activity. It is not good coming near fire with flax, we should endeavour to keep our hearts at much distance, and disengage them from our lower consolations. This world is like the pestiferous lake of Sodom, that kills all that fly over it, and makes them fall down into it.(181) If we fly low upon the surface of it, we cannot think but that the spiritual life will be much extinguished. But to prevent this we should take our flight straight upward after the Spirit, (for that is the proper motion of the more pure and spiritual part of this world), and give no rest till we be out of the reach of that infection, till we be fully escaped the pollutions of the world.
But if you cannot be persuaded to come off this way, that seems so pleasant to your flesh, that way which is the very course of the world, (for these are joined, Eph. ii.2), then, I beseech you, stand still, and consider whither it will lead, do but stop a little, and bethink yourselves sadly and seriously whither this will take you, where it shall end. And truly that is dreadful, the end of it is death, a never ending death. I am sure, if you were walking by the way, and one came and told you gravely and seriously that that way is full of dangerous pits, that there are many robbers in it waiting to cut your throat, you would count the admonition worthy of so much notice as to halt and consider what to do, but now, when the Lord himself, that deserves infinite more respect and credit than men, gives you warning once, and often, day after day repeats this admonition to you, sends out many ambassadors to call you off, makes this word to sound daily in your ears, "Oh! why will you die?" "Such ways lead down to the chambers of death and hell," "to be carnally-minded" in the issue "is death," whatsoever you may promise to yourselves, I say, when he makes a voice to accompany us in all our walkings, this is not the way that leads to life, why do you not think it worthy of so much consideration as once to stop and sist your progress till you examine what will come of it? Are we so credulous to men, and shall not we believe God, who is truth itself, who affirms it so constantly, and obtests us so earnestly? Are we so wise and prudent in lesser things, and shall we be mad, self-willed, and refractory in the greatest things that concern us eternally? Oh! unbelief is that which will condemn the world, the unbelief of this one thing, that the walking after, and minding of the flesh is mortal and deadly. Though all men confess with their tongues this to be a truth, yet it is not really believed, the deep inconsideration and slight apprehension of this truth, makes men boldly to walk, and violently to run on, to perdition. Did you indeed believe that eternal misery is before you at the end of this way, and would you be so cruel to yourselves as to walk in it for any allurement that is in it? Did you really believe that there is a precipice into utter darkness and everlasting death at the end of this alley, would the pleasure and sweetness of it be able to infatuate you and besot you so far as to lead you on into it, like an ox to the slaughter, and a fool to the correction of the stocks? It is strange, indeed, though you neither will believe that death is the end of these things, nor yet can you be persuaded that you do not believe it. There is a twofold delusion that possesses the hearts of men; one is, a dream and fancy of escaping death though they live in sin; another is, a dream and fancy that they do believe that death is the wages of sin; we might wonder how they consist together if we did not find it by so many experiences. Your way proves that you do not believe it, that death is the end of it, and then your words evidence that you do not believe that you are unbelievers of that. O! how desperate is the wickedness, and how great is the deceitfulness, of the heart! The false prophet that is in every man's bosom, deceives him that it may destroy him. As Satan is a liar and a murderer, and murders by lying, so the heart of man is a self murderer and a self destroyer, and that is done by lying and deceiving. There is some lie in every sin, but there is this gross, black, fundamental lie at the bottom of all sin, -- a conceit of immunity and freedom from death and hell, a strong imagination of escaping danger, even though such a way be chosen and walked into as of its own nature inevitably leads to destruction. And there is something of this bloody murdering flattery even in the hearts of Christians, therefore, this apostle gives us an antidote against it, and labours often to purge it out, by stirring up that knowledge they have received. "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?" 1 Cor. vi.9. Be not deceived, God is not mocked, for what a man soweth, that shall he reap, he that soweth to the flesh shall reap corruption &c., Gal. vi.7, 8. O that you might listen to this word, to this watchword given you and stop your course, at least for a season, to think what shall be the latter end! Know you not that such shall not inherit the kingdom? Know you not that the way to heaven lies upward? Know you not that your way lies downward towards the flesh and the earth? Are you so far demented(182) as to think to come to heaven by walking just downward in the lusts of the flesh? Truly this is the strongest and strangest enchantment that can be, that you think to sow one thing and reap another thing, to sow darkness and reap light, to sow corruption and reap incorruption. Is that possible in nature to sow nettle seed and think to reap barley or wheat? Be not deceived. O that you would undeceive your poor deluded souls, and know that it is as natural for death and hell to grow out of sin and walking after the flesh, as it is for every seed to yield its own fruit and herb! Do you then think to dissolve the course and order of nature? Truly the flesh is mortal in itself; it is ordained for corruption. You see what it turns to after the life is out, that is an emblem of the state of the fleshly soul after death. As you did abase your spirits to the service of the flesh here, and all your ploughing, and labouring, and sowing was about it, the seed which you did cast in the ground was fleshly lusts, earthly things for the satisfaction of your flesh, so you shall reap of the flesh corruption, death, and destruction that shall make your immortal spirits mortal and corruptible, and subject them to death and corruption with the body, as far as they are capable, it shall deprive them of all that which is their proper life and refreshment, and separate them eternally from the fountain of blessedness, and banish them out of heaven unto the fellowship of devils. And O, that corruption of the incorruptible spirit is worse than the corruption of the mortal flesh, corruptio optimi pessima!
Now, whoever of you is thus far undeceived as to believe your danger and misery, and to discern that inbred delusion of your hearts, be not discouraged utterly, there may be hope of recovery when you see your disease. I say, if you see that hell is at the end of your way, then know that he who sent that voice to call you off that way of death, he leaves you not to your own wits to guide you into the right way, but he follows with a voice behind you, saying, "Here is the way, walk in it," turn not out of it to the right hand or left. And this voice sounds plainly in the word, and it is nothing else but the sound of the gospel, -- that blessed sound that invites and allures you to come to Jesus Christ, "the way, truth, and life," the true way to the true life. All other ways, all other lives have no truth in them, it is but a cloud, a fancy that men apprehend and lay hold on. But come to this way and it will truly lead thee to the true life, eternal life. If you fly unto him out of the apprehension of your danger, you have a clear way to come to God, and as plain a way to attain life and peace. Being in Christ, you have assurance of not falling into condemnation. He is such a way as will hold you in, and not suffer you to go out of it again to the way of death. And therefore he will give you a Tutor, a Guider, and Director in this way to life and peace, and that is the Holy Spirit, to lead in all truth, and to guide your feet in the way of his commandments. So that in this new and living way of Christ, you shall have both light of the word to know where to walk, and life of the Spirit to make you walk toward that eternal life, and thus grace and truth are come by Jesus Christ. Indeed, you must suffer the mortification of your flesh, you must endure the pain of the death of your lusts, the cutting off your right hand and plucking out your right eye, which would make you offend and stumble in the way, but let the remembrance of the life to come sweeten it all. When men undergo the hazard of losing life for a little pleasure, when, for a poor petty advantage, men will endure so much pains and trouble. O what should "eternal life," and such a life as the best life here is but death to it! How should it mitigate and sweeten the bitterness of mortification? How should it fortify our spirits to much endurance and patience? A battle we must have, for these lusts that we disengage from the devil, and the world besides, will lay wait for us in this way, but, when for such small and inconsiderable advantages men will endure all the disadvantages of war, of a long war, O how should the expectation of this peace, which encloses and comprehends all felicity, all well being, animate and strengthen us to fight in into the city of life and peace eternal!