I FIND that the goodness of God to his people is diversely expressed in his word, sometimes by the word grace, sometimes by the word love, and sometimes by the word mercy. When it is expressed by that word grace, then it is to show that what he doeth is of his princely will, his royal bounty, and sovereign pleasure. When it is expressed by that word love, then it is to show us that his affection was and is in what he doeth, and that he doeth what he doeth for us with complacency and delight. But when it is set forth to us under the notion of mercy, then it bespeaks us to be in a state both wretched and miserable, and that his bowels and compassions yearn over us in this our fearful plight.
There are many things which men call the grace of God that are not.
1. The light and knowledge that are in every man.
2. That natural willingness that is in man to be saved.
3. That power that is in man by nature to do something, as he thinketh, towards his own salvation.
But do thou remember that the grace of God is his good-will and great love to sinners, in his Son Jesus Christ; by the which good-will they are sanctified, through the offering up of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
His blood is not laws, nor ordinances, nor commandments, but a price, a redeeming price. He justifies us by bestowing upon us, not by expecting from us. He justifies us by his grace, not by our works.
OPERATION OF GRACE.
The good child is not the first-born, but Abel. God often doth as Jacob did, even cross hands in bestowing blessings, giving that which is best to him that is least esteemed; for Cain was "the man" in Eve's esteem: she thought, when she had him, she had got an inheritance; but as for Abel (vanity,) he was little worth; by his name they showed how little they set by him.
It is so with the sincere to this day; they bear not the name of glory with the world: Cain with them is the profitable son; Abel is of no credit with them, neither see they form or comeliness in him; he is the melancholy or lowering child whose countenance spoils the mirth of the world. "The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth."
Abel, last in appearance, but in truth the first in grace; as it also is at this day. Who do so flutter it out as our ruffling, formal worshippers? Alas, the good, the sincere, the humble, they seem to be least and last; but the conclusion of the tragedy will make manifest that the first is last and the last first.
"And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering." Herein are the true footsteps of grace discovered; the person must be the first in favor with God -- -the person first, the performance afterwards: for though it be true among men that the gift makes way for the acceptance of the person, yet in the order of grace it is after another manner; for if the person be not first accepted, the offering must be abominable; for it is not a good work that makes a good man, but a good man makes a good work. The fruit does not make a good tree, but a good tree bringeth forth good fruit.
Abel then presented his person and offering, as shrouding both by faith under the righteousness of Christ, which lay wrapped up in the promise; but Cain stands upon his own legs, and so presents his offering. Abel therefore is accepted, both his person and offering, while Cain remains accursed. This then makes the difference hetwixt Abel and his brother; Abel had faith, but Cain had none. Abel's faith covered him with Jesus Christ; therefore he stood righteous in his person before God.
There is a man proceeded against for life by the law and the sentence of death is in conclusion most justly and righteously passed upon him by the judge. Suppose now, that after this, this man lives and is exalted to honor, enjoys great things, and is put into place of trust and power, and this by him that he has offended, even by him that did pass the sentence upon him.
What will all say, or what will they conclude, even upon the very first hearing of this story? Will they not say, "Well, whoever he was that found himself wrapped up in this strange providence, must thank the mercy of a gracious prince; for all these things bespeak grace and favor?"
Forgiveness is according to the riches of God's grace, wherein he has abounded towards us in all wisdom and prudence. Grace can continue to pardon, favor, and save -- -from falls, in falls, and out of falls. Grace can comfort, relieve, and help those that have hurt themselves; and grace can bring the unworthy to glory. This the law cannot do; this man cannot do; this angels cannot do; this God cannot do, but only by the riches of his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
A throne is the seat of majesty and greatness; it is not for things of an inferior quality to ascend or assume a throne. Now, then, since this river of water of life proceeds from the throne, it intimates that in grace and mercy there is great majesty; for grace, as it proceeds, has a voice from the throne. And indeed there is nothing in heaven or earth that can so awe the heart as the grace of God. Hos.3: 5. It is that which makes a man fear; it is that which makes a man tremble; it is that which makes a man how and bend, and break to pieces. Jer.33: 9; Exod.34: 6-9. Nothing has such majesty, and commanding greatness in and upon the hearts of the sons of men, as has the grace of God. There is nothing overmastereth the heart like grace, and so obligeth to sincere and unfeigned obedience as that.
Strong grace makes corruptions weak and strikes them through, laying them at the point of death, always gasping for life.
Mercy and the revelation thereof is the only antidote against sin. It is of a thawing nature; it will loose the heart that is frozen up in sin; yea, it will make the unwilling willing to come to Christ for life.
Some say, When grace and a good nature meet together, they do make shining Christians: but I say, When grace and a great sinner meet, and when grace shall subdue that great sinner to itself, and shall operate after its kind in the soul of that great sinner, then we have a shining Christian.
Men may fall by sin, but cannot raise up themselves without the help of grace.
There were two men that went on pilgrimage; the one began when he was young, the other when he was old: the young man had strong corruptions to grapple with, the old man's were weak with the decays of nature: the young man trode his steps as even as did the old one, and was every way as light as he. Who now, or which of them, had their graces shining clearest, since both seemed to be alike? The young man's, doubtless; for that which heads it against the greatest opposition, gives best demonstration that it is strongest.
As nature, even where grace is, cannot without the assistance of that grace do any thing acceptably before God; so grace received, if it be not also supplied with more grace, cannot cause that we continue to do acceptable service to God.
A present dispensation of grace is like a good meal, a seasonable shower, or a penny in one's pocket, all of which will serve for the present necessity. But will that good meal that I ate last week enable me without supply to do a good day's work in this? or, will that seasonable shower which fell last year, be, without supplies, a seasonable help to the grain and grass that is growing now? or will that penny that supplied my want the other day -- I say, will the same penny also, without a supply, supply my wants to-day?
The day of grace is the day of expense; this is our spending time. Hence we are called pilgrims and strangers in the earth; that is, travellers from place to place, from state to state, from trial to trial. Now, as the traveller at the fresh inn is made to spend fresh money, so Christians, at a fresh temptation, at a new temptation, are made to spend fresh and a new supply of grace. Great men, when and while their sons are travellers, appoint that their bags of money be lodged ready or conveniently paid in at such and such a place; and so they meet with supplies. Why, so are the sons of the great One; and he has allotted that we should travel beyond sea, or at a great distance from our Father's house: wherefore he has appointed that grace shall be provided for us, to supply at such a place, such a state or temptation, as need requires. But withal, as my lord expeeteth his son should acquaint him with the present emptiness of his purse and with the difficulty he hath now to grapple with; so God our Father expects that we should plead by Christ our need at the throne of grace, in order to a supply of grace. "Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need."
Then I saw in my dream that the Interpreter took Christian by the hand, and led him into a place where was a fire burning against a wall, and one standing by it always casting much water upon it to quench it; yet did the fire burn higher and hotter.
Then said Christian, "What means this?"
The Interpreter answered, "This fire is the work of grace that is wrought in the heart; he that casts water upon it to extinguish and put it out, is the devil; but in that thou seest the fire notwithstanding burn higher and hotter, thou shalt also see the reason of that." So he had him about to the backside of the wall, where he saw a man with a vessel of oil in his hand, of which he did also continually cast, but secretly, into the fire.
Then said Christian, "What means this?"
The Interpreter answered, "This is Christ, who continually with the oil of his grace maintains the work already begun in the heart; by the means of which, notwithstanding what the devil can do, the souls of his people prove gracious still.2 Cor.12: 9. And in that thou sawest that the man stood behind the wall to maintain the fire; this is to teach thee that it is hard for the tempter to see how this work of grace is maintained in the soul."
There is to be seen at the bottom of this holy river, the glory of God. We are saved, saved by grace, saved by grace through the redemption that is in Christ, to the praise and glory of God. And what a good bottom is here. Grace will not fail, Christ has been sufficiently tried, and God will not lose his glory; therefore they that drink of this river, shall doubtless be saved; to wit, they that drink of it with a spiritual appetite to it.
It pleased God, for the glory of his wisdom, to make this the way; to wit, to set up grace to reign. I have often thought, and sometimes said, If God will be pleased with any way, surely he will be pleased with his own. Now this is the way of his own devising, the fruit and effect of his own wisdom. Wherefore, sinner, please him, please him in that wherein he is well pleased; come to the waters, cast thyself into them and fear not drowning; let God alone to cause them to carry thee into his paradise, that thou mayest see his throne.
Let us take notice of the carriage of God to man, and again of man to God, in his conversion.
First, of God's carriage to man. He comes to him while he is in his sins; he comes to him now, not in the heat and fire of his jealousy, but in the cool of the day, in unspeakable gentleness, mercy, pity, and love -- not in clothing himself with vengeance, but in a way of entreaty, and meekly beseecheth the sinner to be reconciled unto him.2 Cor.5: 19, 20.
It is expected among men, that he who gives the offence, should be the first in seeking peace; but, sinner, betwixt God and man it is not so: not that we loved God, not that we chose God; but God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them. God is the first that seeketh peace; and in a way of entreaty, he bids his ministers pray you in Christ's stead: "As if God did beseech you by us, we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God."
O sinner, wilt thou not open? Behold, God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ stand both at the door of thy heart, beseeching there for favor from thee, that thou wilt be reconciled to them; with the promise, if thou wilt comply, to forgive thee all thy sins. O grace, O amazing grace! To see a prince entreat a beggar to receive an alms, would be a strange sight; to see a king entreat the traitor to accept of mercy, would be a stranger sight than that; but to see God entreat a sinner, to hear Christ say, "I stand at the door and knock, with a heart full and a heaven full of grace to bestow upon him that opens;" this is such a sight as dazzles the eyes of angels. What sayest thou now, sinner? Is not this God rich in mercy? hath not this God great love for sinners? Nay, further, that thou mayst not have any ground to think that all this is hut complimenting, there is also here declared, that "God hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." If God would have stuck at any thing, it would have been at the death of his Son; but he delivered him up for us freely: how shall he not then with him freely give us all things?
Let us now come to the carriage of these sinners to God, and that from the first day he begins to deal with their souls, even to the time that they are to be taken up into heaven.
1. And to begin with God's ordinary dealing with sinners: when at first he ministers conviction to them by his word, how strangely do they behave themselves. They love not to have their consciences touched; they like not to ponder upon what they have been, what they are, or what is like to become of them hereafter: such thoughts they count unmanly and hurtful. And now they are for any thing rather than the word: an alehouse, a playhouse, sports, pleasures, sleep, the world, and what not, so they may stave of the power of the word of God.
2. If God now comes up closer to them, and begins to fasten conviction upon the conscience, though such convictions be the first step to faith and repentance, yea, to life eternal, yet what shifts will they have to forget them and wear them off! Yea, although they now begin to see that they must either turn or turn, yet ofttimes they will study to waive a present conversion. They object, they are too young to turn yet; seven years hence is time enough; when they are old, or come upon a sick bed.
O what an enemy is man to his own salvation! I am persuaded that God has visited some of you often with his word, and you have thrown water, as fast as he hath by the word cast fire, upon your conscience.
Christian, what had become of thee, if God had taken thy denial for an answer, and said, "Then will I carry the word of salvation to another, and he will hear it?"
"Sinner, turn!" says God. "Lord, I cannot attend to it," says the sinner. "Turn or burn," says God. "I will venture that," says the sinner. "Turn and be saved," says God. "I cannot leave my pleasures," says the sinner; "sweet sins, sweet pleasures, sweet delights," says the sinner. But what grace is it in God thus to parley with the sinner! O the patience of God to a poor sinner! What if God should now say, "Then get thee to thy sins, get thee to thy delights, get thee to thy pleasures, take them for thy portion; they shall be all thy heaven, all thy happiness, all thy portion?"
3. But God comes again, and shows the sinner the necessity of turning now or not at all; yea, and giveth the sinner this conviction so strongly that he cannot put it if. But behold, the sinner has one spark of enmity still: if he must needs turn now, he will either turn from one sin to another, from great ones to little ones, from many to few, or from all to one, and there stop. But perhaps convictions will not thus leave him. Why, then he will turn from profaneness to the law of Moses, and will dwell as long as God will let him, upon his own seeming goodness. And now observe him, he is a great stickler for legal performance; now he will be a good neighbor, he will pay every man his own, will leave off his swearing, the ale-house, his sports, and carnal delights; he will read, pray, talk of scripture, and be a very busy one in religion, such as it is; now he will please God, and make him amends for all the wrong he has done him, and will feed him with chapters, and prayers, and promises, and vows, and a great many more such dainty dishes as these; persuading himself that now he must be fair for heaven, and thinks besides that he serveth God as well as any man: but all this while he is as ignorant of Christ as the stool he sits on, and no nearer heaven than was the blind Pharisee, only he has got in a cleaner way to hell than the rest of his neighbors are.
Might not God now cast off this sinner, and cast him out of his sight? might he not leave him to his own choice, to be deluded by and to fall in his own righteousness, because he trusts to it and commits iniquity?
But grace, preventing grace preserves him. It is true, this turn of the sinner is a turning short of Christ. But,
4. God in this way of the sinner will mercifully follow him, and show him the shortness of his performances, the emptiness of his duties, and the uncleanness of his righteousness. This I speak of the sinner, the salvation of whose soul is graciously intended and contrived of God; for he shall by gospel light be wearied out of all; he shall be made to see the vanity of all, and that the personal righteousness of Jesus Christ, and that only, is it which of God is ordained to save the sinner from the due reward of his sins. But behold, the sinner now, at the sight and sense of his own nothingness, falleth into a kind of despair; for although he hath it in him to presume of salvation through the delusiveness of his own good opinion of himself, yet he hath it not in himself to have a good opinion of the grace of God in the righteousness of Christ. Wherefore he concludeth that if salvation be alone of the grace of God through the righteousness of Christ, and all of a man's own is utterly rejected as to the justification of his person with God, then he is cast away.
Now, the reason of this sinking of heart is the sight that God has given him -- a sight of the uncleanness of his best performance. The former sight of his immoralities did somewhat distress him, and make him betake himself to his own good deeds to ease his conscience; wherefore this was his prop, his stay. But behold, now God has taken this from under him, and now he falls. Wherefore his best doth also now forsake him, and fly away like the morning dew.
Besides, this revelation of the emptiness of his own righteousness brings also with it a further discovery of the naughtiness of his heart, in its hypocrisies, pride, unbelief, hardness of heart, deadness, and backwardness to all gospel obedience; which sight of himself lies like millstones upon his shoulders, and sinks him yet further into doubts and fears of damnation. For bid him now receive Christ; he answers, he cannot, he dares not. Ask him why he cannot; he will answer, he has no faith nor hope in his heart. Tell him that grace is offered him freely; he says, "But I have no heart to receive it." Besides, he finds not, as he thinks, any gracious disposition in his soul, and therefore concludes he does not belong to God's mercy, nor has an interest in the blood of Christ, and therefore dares not presume to believe. Wherefore he sinks in his heart, he dies in his thoughts, he doubts, he despairs, and concludes he shall never be saved.
5. But behold, the God of all grace leaves him not in this distress, but comes up now to him closer than ever; he sends the Spirit of adoption, the blessed Comforter, to him to tell him God is love, and therefore not willing to reject the broken in heart; bids him cry and pray for an evidence of mercy to his soul, and says, "Peradventure you may be hid in the day of the Lord's anger."
At this the sinner takes some encouragement; yet he can get no more than that which will hang upon a mere probability, which, by the next doubt that ariseth in the heart, is blown quite away, and the soul left again in its first plight, or worse; where he lamentably bewails his miserable state, and is tormented with a thousand fears of perishing; for he hears not a word from heaven, perhaps for several weeks together. Wherefore unbelief begins to get the mastery of him, and takes off the very edge and spirit, of prayer, and inclination to hear the word any longer; yea, the devil also claps in with these thoughts, saying, "All your prayers, and hearing, and reading, and godly company, which you frequent, will rise up in judgment against you at last; therefore better it is, if you must be damned, to choose as easy a place in hell as you can."
The soul at this being quite discouraged, thinks to do as it has been taught, and with dying thoughts it begins to faint when it goes to prayer or to hear the word. But behold, when all hope seems to be quite gone, and the soul concludes, "I die, I perish," in comes on a sudden the Spirit of God again, with some good word of God which the soul never thought of before; which word of God commands a calm in the soul, makes unbelief give place, encourages to hope and wait upon God again: perhaps it gives some little sight of Christ to the soul, and of his blessed undertaking for sinners.
But behold, so soon as the power of things again begins to wear off the heart, the sinner gives place to unbelief, questions God's mercy, and fears damning again. He also entertains hard thoughts of God and Christ, and thinks former encouragements were fancies, delusions, or mere think-sos.
And why doth not God now cast the sinner to hell, for thus abusing his mercy and grace? O no: "He will have mercy on whom he will have mercy, and he will have compassion on whom he will have compassion;" wherefore goodness and mercy shall follow him all the days of his life, that he may dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
6. God, therefore, after all these provocations, comes by his Spirit to the soul again, and brings sealing grace and pardon to the conscience, testifying to it that its sins are forgiven and that freely, for the sake of the blood of Christ. And now has the sinner such a sight of the grace of God in Christ, as kindly breaks his heart with joy and comfort. Now the soul knows what it is to eat promises; it also knows what it is to eat and drink the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ by faith; now it is driven by the power of his grace to its knees, to thank God for forgiveness of sins and for hopes of an inheritance among them that are sanctified by faith which is in Christ; now it has a calm and a sunshine; now "he washes his steps with butter, and the rock pours him out rivers of oil."
7. But after this, perhaps the soul grows cold again; it also forgets the grace received, and waxes carnal; begins again to hanker after the world; loseth the life and savor of heavenly things; grieves the Spirit of God; wofully backslides; casteth off closet duties quite, or else retains only the formality of them; is a reproach to religion, and grieves the heart of them that are awake and tender of God's name.
But what will God now do? Will he take this advantage to destroy the sinner? No. Will he let him alone in his apostasy? No. Will he leave him to recover himself by the strength of his now languishing grace? No. What then? Why, he will seek this man out till he finds him, and bring him home to himself again: "For thus saith the Lord God, Behold I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out, as a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among the sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered. I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away; I will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick." Ezek.34:11-16.
Of God's ordinary way of fetching the backslider home I will not now discourse; namely, whether he always breaketh his bones for his sins, as he broke David's, or whether he will all the days of his life for this leave him under guilt and darkness; or whether he will kill him now, that he may not be condemned in the day of judgment, as he dealt with them at Corinth. I Cor.11: 30-32.
God is wise, and can tell how to imbitter backsliding to them he loveth. He can break their bones and save them; he can lay them in the lowest pit, in darkness and the deep, and save them; he can slay them as to this life, and save them. And herein appears wonderful grace, that Israel is not forsaken.
8. But suppose God deals not either of these ways with the backslider, but shines upon him again, and seals up to him the remission of his sins a second time, saying, "I will heal their backslidings, and love them freely." What will the soul do now? Surely it will walk humbly now, and holily all its days. It will never backslide again, will it? It may happen it will not; it may happen it will. It is just as his God keeps him; for although his sins are of himself, his standing is of God; I say, his standing while he stands, and his recovery if he falls, are both of God. Wherefore, if God leaves him a little, the next gap he finds, away he is gone again: "My people," says God, "are bent to backsliding from me."
Here is grace. So many times as the soul backslides, so many times God brings him back again -- I mean the soul that must be saved by grace; he renews his pardons and multiplies them. Yea, for aught I know, there are some saints, and they not long-lived either, that must receive, before they enter into life, millions of pardons from God for these; and every pardon is an act of grace, through the redemption that is in Christ's blood.
The first step to the cure of a wounded conscience is for thee to know the grace of God, especially the grace of God as to justification.
Grace can pardon our ungodliness and justify us with Christ's righteousness; it can put the Spirit of Jesus Christ within us; it can help us when we are down; it can heal us when we are wounded; it can multiply pardons, as we through frailty multiply transgressions.
A self-righteous man, a man of the law, takes grace and mercy for his greatest enemy.
The best of things that are of this world are some way hurtful. Honey is hurtful, wine is hurtful, silver and gold are hurtful; but grace is not hurtful. Never did man yet catch harm by the enjoyment and fulness of the grace of God. There is no fear of excess or surfeiting here. Grace makes no man proud, no man wanton, no man haughty, no man careless or negligent as to his duty that is incumbent upon him, towards either God or man. No; grace keeps a man low in his own eyes, humble, self-denying, penitent, watchful, savory in good things, charitable: and makes him kindly affectioned to the brethren, pitiful and courteous to all men.
True, there are men in the world that abuse the grace of God, as some are said to turn it into wantonness and into lasciviousness. But this is not because grace has any such tendency, but because such men are themselves empty of grace, and have only done as death and hell have done with wisdom, "heard the fame thereof with their ears."
Some receive the rain of God and the droppings of his clouds, because they continually sit under the means of grace. But alas, they receive it as stones receive showers, or as dunghills receive the rain: they either abide as hard as stones still, or else return nothing to heaven for his mercy, hut as dunghills do, a company of stinking fumes.
To slight grace, to do despite to the Spirit of grace, to prefer our own works, thus derogating from grace -- -what is it but to contemn God? to contemn him when he is on the throne, when he is on the throne of his glory? I say again, it is to spit in his face, even then when he commands thee to how before him, to be subject unto him, and to glorify the grace of his glory, that proceeds from the throne of his glory. If men in old time were damned because they glorified him not as God, shall not they be more than damned, if more than damned can he, who glorify him not for his grace? And, to he sure, none glorify him for his grace but those that close in therewith, and submit themselves thereto. Talkers of grace are but mockers of God, but flatterers of God. Grace God has exalted; has set it upon the throne, and so made it a king, and given it authority to reign; and thou goest by and nearest thereof, but wilt not submit thyself thereto, neither thy soul, nor thy life. Why, what is this more than to flatter God with thy lips, and than to lie unto him with thy tongue? What is this but to count him less wise than thyself, while he seeks glory by that by which thou wilt not glorify him -- -while he displays his grace before thee in the world from the throne, and as thou goest by, with a nod thou callest it a fine thing, but followest that which leadeth therefrom? Tremble, tremble, ye sinners, that have despised the riches of his goodness. The day is coming when ye shall behold and wonder and perish, if grace prevaileth not with you to be content to be saved by it to the praise of its glory, and to the glory of him who hath set it upon the throne. Acts 13: 38-41.
There is a spring that yields water good and clear, but the channels through which this water comes to us are muddy, foul, or dirty; now of the channels the waters receive a disadvantage, and so come to us as savoring of what came not with them from the fountain, hut from the channels.
This is the cause of the coolness, and of the weakness, and of the flatness, and of the many extravagances that attend some of our desires: they come warm from the Spirit and grace of God in us; hut as hot water running through cold pipes, or as clear water running through dirty convey ances, so our desires gather soil.
GRACE -- THE WATER OF LIFE.
"And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb." Rev.22: 1.
This "water of life" is the Spirit and grace of God, and the spirit of life. Zech.12: 10; John 4: 10, 11, 14; 7: 37-39; Rev.11: 11.
A throne is the seat of justice: "Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne." Psal.89: 14. And it is also from justice that this river of grace flows to us: justice to Christ, and justice to those that are found in him. Rom.3: 24. God declares that he can justly justify, justly forgive: now, if he can justly justify and justly forgive, then can he give grace and cause that it should proceed to, yea, flow after us as a river. But whence must this come? the text says, from the throne -- from the throne, the seat of justice; for from thence, by reason of what He hath found in Christ for us, he in a way of righteousness and justice lets out to us rivers of his pleasures, whoso original is that great and wide sea of mercy that flows in his infinite heart beyond thought.
There is a river, clear and pleasant, the streams whereof make glad the city of God.
These are the waters that the doves love to sit by, because by the clearness of these streams they can see their pretty selves as in a glass. Song 5: 12.
These he the streams where the doves wash their eyes, and by which they solace themselves and take great content. These streams are instead of a looking-glass; their clearness presents us with an opportunity of seeing our own features.
As in fair waters a man may see the hody of the sun, and of the moon, and of the stars, and the very body of heaven; so ho that stands upon the bank of this river, and that washeth his eyes with this water, may see the Son of God, the stars of God, the glory of God, and the habitation that God has prepared for his people. And are not these pleasant sights? Is not this excellent water? Has not this river pleasant streams?
Some men fly from the "river of the water of life," as from a bear; arid some are afraid to drink of it, for fear it should he poison unto them. Some again, dare not take it, because it is not mixed, and as they, poor souls, imagine, qualified and made toothsome by a little of that which is called the wisdom of this world. Thus one shucks, another shrinks, and another will none of God. Meanwhile, whoso shall please to look into this river, shall find it harmless and clear; yea, offering itself to the consciences of all men to make trial if it be not the only chief good, the only necessary waters, the only profitable for the health of the soul, of all the things that are in the world, and as clear of mischief as is the sun of spots.
In old times the ancients had their habitations by the rivers; yea, we read of Aroer, that stood upon the brink of the river Arnon. Balaam also had his dwelling in his city Pethor, by the river of the land of the children of his people. O, by the river side is the pleasantest dwelling in the world; and of all rivers, the river of the water of life is the best. They that dwell there shall not hunger nor thirst, neither shall the heat or sun smite them; for he that hath mercy on them shall lead them, even by springs of water shall he guide them. Isa.49: 10; Psal.1: 3; Jer.17: 8.
Trees planted by the rivers, and that spread out their roots by the rivers, they are the flourishing trees, they bring forth their fruit in their season. And the promise is, that men that take up their dwellings by this river of water of life, shall be fruitful as such trees.
If thou be a Christian, thou hast more than an ordinary call and occasion to abide by these waters; thy things will not grow but by these waters. Weeds, and the excellences of most men, we may find in the barren wilderness; they grow under every hedge, Jer.31: 12; but thine are garden, and so choice, things, and will not thrive without much water; no, not without the water of God's river. Isa.21: 1-3. Dwell therefore here, that thy soul may be as a watered garden.
By the characters that are given of this water of life, thou art capacitated to judge, when a notion, a doctrine, an opinion comes to thy ears, whether it is right good and wholesome, or how. This river is pure, is clear, is pure and clear as crystal. Is the doctrine offered unto thee so? or is it muddy and mixed with the doctrines of men? Look, man, and see if the foot of the worshippers of Bel [Footnote: Story of Bel and the dragon in the Apychrypha.] be not there; and if the waters be not fouled thereby. What water is fouled is not the water of life, or at least, not the water of life in its clearness. Wherefore, if thou findest it not right, go up higher to the spring-head; for always the nearer to the spring, the more pure and clear is the water. Fetch then thy doctrine from afar, if thou canst not have it good nearer hand. Job 36: 3. Thy life lies at stake; the counterfeit of things is dangerous; every body that is aware, is afraid thereof. Now a counterfeit here is most dangerous, is most destructive; wherefore take heed how you hear what you hear; for, as men say of the fish, by your color it will be seen what waters you swim in. Wherefore look you well to yourselves.
The grace of God is called a river, to show that it is only suited to those who are capable of living therein. Water, though it is that which every creature desireth, yet is not an element in which every creature can live. Who is it that would not have the benefit of grace, of a throne of grace? But who is it that can live by grace? even none but those whose temper and constitution is suited to grace. Hence, as the grace of God is compared to a river, so those that live by grace are compared to fish; for that, as water is that element in which the fish liveth, so grace is that which is the life of the saint. "And there shall be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters shall come thither; for they shall he healed, and every thing shall live whither the river cometh." Ezek.47: 9. Art thou a fish, man -- art thou a fish? canst thou live in the water? canst thou live always, and nowhere else hut in the water? is grace thy proper element? The fish dieth if she be taken out of the water, unless she be timely put in again; the saint dieth if he be not in this river. Take him from his river, and nothing can make him live; let him have water, water of life enough, and nothing can make him die.
I know that there are some things besides fish that can make a shift to live in the water; but the water is not their proper, their only proper element. The frog can live in the water, but not in the water only; the otter can live in the water, hut not in the water only. Give some men grace and the world, grace and sin -- admit them to make use of their lusts for pleasure, and of grace to remove their guilt, and they will make a pretty good shift, as we say; they will finely scrabble on in a profession. But hold them to grace only, confine their life to grace, put them into the river and let them have nothing hut river, and they die; the word, and way, and nature of grace, is to them as light bread, and their soul can do no other but loathe it, for they are not suited and tempered for that element.