I. The faith of those things, which have been mentioned, would be of great use and advantage to believers; and therefore they should study to have the faith of this truth fixed on their hearts, and a deep impression thereof on their spirits, to the end, that,
1. Be their case and condition what it will, they might be kept from despair, and despondency of spirit, from giving over their case as hopeless; and from looking upon themselves as irremediably gone. The faith of Christ being life, and the life, would keep up the soul in hope, and cause it say, -- how dead soever my case be, yet life can help me, and he who is the resurrection and the life, can recover me.
2. Yea, be their case and condition what it will, they would have here some ground of encouragement, to go to him with their dead soul, and to look to him for help, seeing he is the Life, as Mediator, to the end he might enliven and quicken his dead, fainting, swooning members, and to recover them from their deadness.
3. They might be freed from many scruples and objections that scar and discourage them. This one truth believed would clear up the way so, as that such things, as would have been impediments and objections before, shall evanish, and be rolled out of the way now: Such as, the objections taken from their own worthlessness, their long continuance in that dead condition, and the like.
4. They might hereby likewise be freed from that dreadful plague and evil of jealousy, whereby the soul is oft kept back from coming to Christ: For they fear he will not make them welcome; they doubt of his love and tenderness, and question his pity and compassion; yea, their jealousy maketh them to doubt of his faithfulness; so that the faith of this truth would cure this jealousy, and deliver the soul therefrom, and open a way for the soul to come forward with boldness and confidence.
5. They might also be hereby helped to wait with patience, and to be still and quiet under the Lord's various dispensations; so as they would not fret nor repine against him, knowing that he would prove himself to be Life, even the Life, in his own good time; so that the soul would patiently wait at his door, till he were pleased to look out, and with his look convey life into their dead soul.
6. They might be preserved hereby from looking out to or expecting any help from any other quarter: knowing that he alone is the Life; and so that help can no where else be had. The faith of this truth would guard from any sinistrous ways which the soul, in a time of strait, is ready to run to for relief: for hereby would it see that neither instruments nor means, nor outward administrations, nor any thing of that kind, can quicken their dead soul; and that he, and he alone must breathe in life into them, as at first, so now again.
II. May we not see and observe here great matter of admiration at the goodness and rich bounty of God towards his people, who hath found out and condescended upon such a sure, safe, and satisfying way, whereby he becometh all things to his people which they stand in need of; and that notwithstanding,
1. That we are most unworthy of any such dispensation of grace at his hands.
2. That we too oft are too desirous of other guests in our hearts beside him: O how much corruption, sin and death lodge within our souls! and how more desirous are we ofttimes of death than of life!
3. That we little improve the noble advantages for life which we have granted unto us; yea, many a time we abuse them; and this he did foresee, and yet notwithstanding would condescend unto us.
4. That we do little express our thankfulness for such mercies.
But not for our sakes hath he done this, but for his own name's sake: For noble and holy ends hath he resolved on this course; as,
(1.) That he might be "all in all," Col. iii.11, and they nothing; that he alone might fill all in all, Eph. i. ult., and they be empty and nothing without him.
(2.) That he might wear the glory of all; "for of him, and through him, and to him are all things," Rom. xi.36, and that no man might share therein.
(3.) That man might be his everlasting debtor, and cast down, in testimony thereof, his crown at his feet, "who sitteth on the throne," as those did, Rev. iv.10, and might cry out with these same elders, ver.11, "Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory, and honour, and power," &c.; and with those, chap. v.12, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and blessing."
(4.) That man's mouth might be stopped for ever, and all boasting excluded; for man is a proud creature, and ready to boast of that which is nothing and vanity. Now God hath chosen this noble way of the covenant of grace, that no man might boast any more. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? By the law of works? no, but by the law of faith, saith the apostle, Rom. iii.24.
(5.) That all might be sure to the poor chosen believer. The Lord will not have the stock of life, any longer to be in a man's own hand: for even Adam, in the state of innocency, could not use it well, but made shipwreck thereof, and turned a bankrupt; much more would man now do so, in this state of sin, in which he lieth at present, therefore hath God, out of love and tenderness to his chosen ones, put all their stock in the hand of Christ, who is better able to manage it, to God's glory and man's advantage, being faithful in all things, and a trusty servant, "having the fulness of the Godhead dwelling in him bodily." "Therefore," saith the apostle, Rom. iv.16. "it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end, the promises might be sure to all the seed."
(6.) That believers might have strong consolation, notwithstanding of all the opposition of enemies without and within, when they see that now their "life is hid with Christ in God," Col. iii.3, and that their life is in their head, they will not fear so much devils and men without, nor their own dead and corrupt hearts within.
III. How inexcusable must all such be,
1. Who will not lay hold on this life, on Jesus who is the Life, sure life, yea, everlasting life.
2. Who seek life any other way, than by and through him who is the Life.
3. Who oppose this way of life, and not only reject the offers of it, but prove enemies to it, and to all that carry it or preach it.
IV. Here is strong encouragement to all that would be at heaven, to enter into this gospel, which is a way of life; such need not fear that their salvation shall not be advanced; let Satan and all their adversaries do what they can, all that enter into this way shall live. For the way itself is life, and nothing but life. So that here all objections are obviated; life can answer all. If the believer fear, that he shall never win through difficulties, he shall die by the way; or by fainting, succumbing and swooning, dishonour the profession, and at length fall off and apostatize, or despair and give over all hope; here is that which may answer and obviate all, "I am the life;" and who can perish in the way which is the way of life, an enlivening way, yea, the way which is life itself; yea, the life in a singular and eminent manner?
V. Here is ground of reproof even of believers, who, though they have come to Christ, yet do not live in him as they ought, do not walk in him with that liveliness and activity which is called for; but,
1. Lean too much to their own understanding, gifts or graces; and think thereby to ride out storms, and to wide through all difficulties, while as, if he who is the Life do not breathe upon us, all that will fail us in the day of trial. Our understanding and parts or gifts may dry up, and our graces may wither and decay, and go backward.
2. Rest too much on duties; when they should in them go to him who is the Life. For only in him is life to be had; and him should they seek to in the ordinances, that they might have life from him in those outward duties; and this appeareth in their way of going about duties, without that dependence on him, and single eyeing of him, which is called for. As also by their freting and repining, when duties do not their business, as if life lay all in duties; and concluding all will be right, because they get duties somewhat tolerably performed; and, on the contrary, desponding, when duties fall heavy on them, and they find themselves indisposed for duty. All which clearly evinceth, that they lay too much weight on duties; while as it would be otherwise with them, if they were purely depending on Christ, and looking for all from him.
3. Despond too soon, because they get not help and relief instantly; or because they are not preserved from every degree of fainting.
4. Neglect to make use of him, and to come to him with all their wants, failings and necessities, as they ought; or come not with that freedom and boldness which the gospel grounds allow.
VI. This preacheth out the woful misery of such as are strangers to Christ. For being strangers to the Life, they have no life, they are dead, and death is engraven on all they do; even though,
1. They should be very diligent in external duties, yea, and outstrip many true believers; as the Pharisees had their fasts twice a-week, Luke xviii.
2. They should be eminently gifted, able to instruct others, and to speak of the mysteries of the gospel, to purpose and to edification. For such gifts of knowledge and utterance may be, where the lively operations of the grace of Christ are not, and consequently where Christ is not, as the Life.
3. They should seem eminent in all their outward carriage, and seem to carry most christianly in all their walk, and appear most devout in the matter of worship.
4. And they should have something more than ordinary; even taste of the heavenly gift, and be made partakers of extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost; yea, and taste the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, Heb. vi.4, 5.
VII. This discovereth the noble advantage of such as have accepted of Christ for their life. Their condition is happy, sure, desirable, and thriving; for Christ is theirs, and life is theirs; because Christ, who is the Life, is theirs.
Obj. 1. But some wicked persons may say, We see not that happy and advantageous condition of such as go for believers; for we observe them to be as little lively ofttimes as others, and as unfit for duties; yea, and sometimes as much subject to sin and corruption as others.
Ans. 1. However it be with them, either in thine eyes, or possibly in their own sometimes, yet thou mayest hold thy peace; for in their worst condition, they would not exchange with thee for a world; in their deadest-like condition, they are not void of all life, as thou art, notwithstanding all thy motions, and seeming activeness in duty; because all thy motion in and about duty is but like the moving of children's puppets, caused by external motives, such as a name, applause, peace from a natural conscience, or the like; and not from any inward principle of grace and life.
2. Howbeit they sometimes seem to be dead, yet they are not always so; life doth really work sometimes in them; whereas there was never any true or kindly motion of life in thee.
3. There may be more life in them, yea, life in motion, when they seem to be overcome with some lusts or corruption, yea, when really they are overcome, than beholders that are strangers to the heart can observe. For when temptation is violent, as having the advantage of the time and place, of the constitution of the body, and the like, it argueth no small degree of life, and of life in motion, to make some resistance and opposition thereunto, though at length he should be overcome thereby. And this opposition and resistance, flowing from a principle of grace, speaketh out life, though corruption, having the advantage, should at that time overpower the motion of life, and carry the man away.
4. If it be not otherwise with believers than is objected, they may blame themselves, for not improving Christ better for life.
Object. But some who are true believers will object the same, and cry out of themselves as dead; and say, They find not that liveliness and activity in their souls, that will evidence Christ, the Life, dwelling and working in them.
Ans. It may be they prejudge themselves of that lively frame they might enjoy, and so wrong themselves:
1. In not exercising faith on Christ, and drawing life from him and through him. The life which they live should be by faith, Gal. ii.20. How then can such as do not eat become fat? by faith we feed on Christ.
2. In not watching, but giving way to security, and thereby encouraging and strengthening the adversary, as we see in David; when they stand not on their watch-tower, they invite Satan to set on; and he is vigilant enough, and knoweth how to take his advantage, and to improve his opportunity.
3. In giving way to laziness and not stirring up themselves, as we see in the bride, Cant. iii.1; v.3; when they stir not up the grace of God which is in them, how can they be lively? If grace be laid by, it will contract rust. The best way to keep grace lively, is to keep it in exercise, how little soever it be.
4. By their rashness, walking without fear, as is to be observed in Peter, when he slipped so foully. When through their want of circumspection, they precipitate themselves into danger, and cast themselves among their enemies' hands, is it any wonder, that it go not with them as they would; and that they provoke God to leave them to themselves; that they may know what they are, and learn afterwards not to tempt the Lord, and to walk more circumspectly?
5. By leaning too much to their attainments, and not looking out for new influences of grace and life. Hereby they provoke God to let them know to their expense, that for as great a length as they are come, they must live by faith, and be quickened by new influences from the Spirit of life.
6. So they may wrong themselves through their ignorance of Christ, and of the way of making use of him; and if they, through unacquaintedness with Christ and the right way of improving the fulness that is in him, miss the fruit and advantage which otherwise they might have, they can only blame themselves.
7. They may also prejudge themselves by their self-love, self-esteem, self-seeking, self-pleasing, &c., which piece and piece will draw them off Christ, and cause them forget the way of sucking life from him, who is the fountain of life.
8. When they give way to small sins, they open a door to greater; and they lose thereby their tenderness, and so provoke the Lord to withdraw; and this is another way, whereby they prejudge themselves of that benefit of liveliness, which they might otherwise have.
9. So also by worldly-mindedness, which alienateth their mind from God; and,
10. By their impatience, and fretting, and repining against God, and his wise dispensations, they also prejudge and wrong themselves; for while they are in that mood, they cannot with due composedness of Spirit, go to Christ, and draw life from him through faith.
Obj. 3. But is there not even some of those who are most tender, that complain of their deadness and shortcomings?
Ans. 1. It may be that they complain without cause; and that they have more cause of rejoicing, and of blessing the Lord for what he hath done to them, than of complaining.
2. Their complaining will not prove the want of life, but rather the contrary. For when they complain most, they must be most sensible if their complaints be real, and not merely for a fashion; and sense is a manifest evidence of life.
3. It would be remembered, that the Lord can make their failings and shortcomings contribute to the furthering of their life, as we see it did in Peter.
4. It would also be remembered, that Christ doth not distribute and give out of this life to all his members and followers, in a like measure; but to some more, and to others less, according as he seeth it meet and convenient, both for his own glory and their good, He hath more service for some than for others; and some he will employ in greater and more difficult work, which will call for more life; and others he will employ in common work, which will not call for such an eminent degree of life.
5. And upon the same account, he may think it good to give to the same person a larger measure of grace at one time than at another.
6. And that for wise reasons and noble ends; as,
(1.) That all may see how absolute he is in his dispensations; a sovereign that doth with his own what he will, and will not give an account of any of his ways or communications to us.
(2.) That we may learn submission, and quietly to stoop before him, whatever measure he be pleased to dispense towards us.
(3.) That we may learn to depend upon him more closely all along; in all our ways to acknowledge him.
(4.) That we may learn to exercise patience, which must have its perfect work, in waiting upon him as a great king. This is his glory, and it is the testifying of our homage to him.
(5.) He will train us up so as to be well contented and satisfied, if he bring us home at length, though not with such a convoy of the graces of his Spirit as we would wish.
(6.) That we may see and read our daily obligation to Christ our life, and the daily need we have of his keeping our life in, by fresh gales of his Spirit, and new heavenly influences.
(7.) And that getting new proofs of his kindness and faithfulness, we may give him new songs of praise daily, and so express our thankfulness to him, which will tend to set forth his glory.
VIII. This may point out unto believers, several duties to which they are called. We shall name some few of many; as,
1. That they should rejoice, and be comforted in the thoughts of this, that they have such a complete Mediator, one that is thoroughly furnished, and made all things for them; not only the Way, and the Truth, but the Life also.
2. The thoughts of this should also stir up the wondering at the wisdom, graciousness, and goodness of God; and to thankfulness for providing such an all-sufficient way for them.
3. This should also encourage them under all temptations, faintings, backsets, and fits of deadness that they fall into, that there is one who is the Life; and that he whom their soul hath chosen is the Life, and so fully able to quicken and enliven them.
4. This should teach them humility, and not to be proud of any thing they have or do; for it is he, who is the Life, who keepeth them in life, and helpeth them to any duty; yea, it is life that worketh all in them.
5. And likewise it should teach them to acknowledge him, to whom they are obliged for any thing they do, for any life they have, or any acts or fruits of life that appear in them; and to be thankful to him therefor.
6. And mainly, they should here read their obligation and duty, to improve this advantage, and to draw life out of this fountain, and so live by this life; act and do all in and through this life; and so be quickened by this life, in all their fits of deadness; and for this cause would keep those things in mind:
(1.) That they should live in a constant conviction of their own weakness, deadness, and inability to do any acts of life of themselves; and far less to recover themselves out of any distemper and fit of deadness which they fall into.
(2.) That they should live in the faith of this, that there is life enough in him, who is the Life, to do their business. They should be persuaded of his all-sufficiency.
(3.) That he is not only an all-sufficient deliverer, able to deliver a soul that is, as it were, rotting in the grave, and to cause the dead to hear his voice and live; but also most willing and ready to answer them in all their necessities, according to wisdom, and as he seeth it for his glory, and their soul's advantage. The faith of this is necessary, and will be very encouraging.
(4.) That they should go to him, how dead-like soever their condition be, and by faith roll their dead case upon him, who is the Life.
(5.) That they should pray upon the promises of grace and influence, even out of the belly of hell, or of the grave, with Jonah, chap. ii.2; for he is faithful and true, and tender-hearted, and will hear and give a good answer at length.
(6.) That in the exercise of faith and prayer, they should wait with patience, till he be pleased to come, and breathe upon the dry bones, and till the Sun of Righteousness arise on their souls with healing in his wings.
But of this more particularly in the following cases, which now we come to speak a little unto, of purpose to clear more fully how the believer is to make use of Christ as the Life, when he is under some one distemper or other, that calleth for life and quickening from Christ the Life. We cannot handle distinctly all the particular cases which maybe brought under this head; it will suffice, for clearing of this great duty, to speak to some few.