O HOW happy is he who is not only a visible, but also an invisible saint! He shall not be blotted out the book of God's eternal grace and mercy.
DIGNITY OF THE CHRISTIAN
There are a generation of men in the world, that count themselves men of the largest capacities, when yet the greatest of their desires lift themselves no higher than to things below. If they can with their net of craft and policy encompass a bulky lump of earth, Oh, what a treasure have they engrossed to themselves!
Meanwhile, the man who comes to God by Christ, has laid siege to heaven, has found out the way to get into the city, and is resolved, in and by God's help, to make that his own. Earth is a drossy thing in this man's account; earthly greatness and splendors are but like vanishing bubbles in this man's esteem. None but God as the end of his desires, none but Christ as the means to accomplish this his end, are things counted great by this man. No company now is acceptable to this man, but the Spirit of God, Christ, angels and saints, as fellow-heirs with himself. All other men and things, he deals with as strangers and pilgrims were wont to do. This man's mind soars higher than the eagle, or stork of the heavens. He is for musing about things that are above and their glory, and for thinking what shall come to pass hereafter.
Is it so, that coming to Christ is by the Father? Then this should teach us to set a high esteem upon them that are indeed coming to Jesus Christ, for the sake of him by virtue of whose grace they are made to come to Jesus Christ.
We see that when men, by the help of human abilities, do arrive at the knowledge of, and bring to pass that which, when done, is a wonder to the world, how he that did it is esteemed and commended. Yea, how are his wits, parts, industry, and unweariedness in all, admired; and yet the man, as to this, is but of the world; and his work the effect of natural ability. The things also attained by him, end in vanity and vexation of spirit. Further, perhaps, in the pursuit of these his achievements, he sins against God, wastes his time vainly, and at long run loses his soul by neglecting of better things. Yet he is admired.
But, I say, if this man's parts, labor, diligence, and the like, will bring him to such esteem in the world, what esteem should we have of such a one that is, by the gift, promise, and power of God, coming to Jesus Christ?
1. This is the man with whom God is, in whom God works and walks -- a man, whose motion is governed and steered by the mighty hand of God, and the effectual working of his power. Here is a man!
2. This man, by the power of God's might which worketh in him, is able to cast a whole world behind him, with all the lusts and pleasures of it, and to charge through all the difficulties that men and devils can set against him. Here is a man!
3. This man is travelling "to mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God; and to an innumerable company of angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect, to God the judge of all, and to Jesus." Here is a man!
4. This man can look upon death with comfort, can laugh at destruction when it cometh, and long to hear the sound of the last trump, and to see the Judge coming in the clouds of heaven. Here is a man, indeed!
We pass through a threefold state from nature to glory; the state of grace in this life, the state of felicity in paradise, and our state in glory after the resurrection.
They are all kings that go to that world, and so shall be proclaimed there. They shall also be crowned with crowns, and they shall wear crowns of life and glory, crowns of everlasting joy, crowns of loving-kindness.
The coming man, the man that comes to God by Christ, if his way, all his way thither were strewed with burning coals, would choose, God helping him, to tread that path rather than to have his portion with them that perish.
"The angel of the Lord encampeth about them that fear him, and delivereth them." This, therefore, is a glorious privilege of the men that fear the Lord. Alas, they are some of them so mean, that they are counted not worth taking notice of by the high ones of the world; but their betters do respect them: the angels of God count not themselves too good to attend on them, and camp about them to deliver them. This then is the man that hath his angel to wait on him, even he that feareth the Lord.
It is said, that when the church is "fair as the sun, and clear as the moon," she is "terrible as an army with banners." The presence of godly Samuel made the elders of Bethlehem tremble; yea, when Elisha was sought for by the king of Syria, he durst not engage him but with chariots and horses, a heavy host. Godliness is a wonderful thing; it commandeth reverence, and the stooping of the spirit, even of the ungodly ones.
Godliness puts such a majesty and dread upon the professors of it, that their enemies are afraid of them; yea, even then when they rage against them, and lay heavy afflictions upon them. It is marvellous to see in what fear the ungodly are, even of godly men and godliness; in that they stir up the mighty, make edicts against them, yea, and raise up armies, and what else can be imagined, to suppress them; while the persons thus opposed, if you consider them as to their state and capacity in this world, are the most inconsiderable -- but as a dead dog or a flea. O, but they are clothed with godliness; the image and presence of God is upon them. This makes the beasts of this world afraid. "One of you shall chase a thousand."
The ornament and beauty of this lower world, next to God and his wonders, are the men that spangle and shine in godliness.
THE FAMILY IN HEAVEN AND EARTH
"The whole family in heaven, and earth." The difference betwixt us and them is, not that we are really two, but one body in Christ, in divers places. True, we are below stairs, and they above; they in their holiday, and we in our working-day clothes; they in harbor, but we in the storm; they at rest, but we in the wilderness; they singing, as crowned with joy, we crying, as crowned with thorns. But we are all of one house, one family, and are all the children of one Father.
FEEBLENESS OF THE CHRISTIAN
Israel, as the child of God, is a pitiful thing of himself; one that is full of weaknesses, infirmities, and defects, should we speak nothing of his transgressions. He that is to be attended with so many mercies, absolutely necessary mercies, must needs be in himself a poor indigent creature. Should you see a child attended with so many engines to make him go, as the child of God is attended with mercies to make him stand, you would say, "What an infirm, decrepid, helpless thing is this!" Would you not say, "Such a one is not worth the keeping, and his father cannot look for any thing from him, but that he should live upon high charge and expense, as long as he liveth?" Why, this is the case. Israel is such a one, nay, a worse: he cannot live without tender mercy, without great mercy, without rich mercy, without manifold mercy. He cannot stand, if mercy doth not compass him round about, nor go, unless mercy follows him. Yea, if mercy that rejoiceth against judgment doth not continually flutter over him, the very moth will eat him up, the canker will consume him.
THE CHRISTIAN UNDER A SENSE OF GUILT -- BUNYAN'S EXPERIENCE
I had no sooner began to recall to my mind my former experience of the goodness of God to my soul, but there came flocking into my mind an innumerable company of my sins and transgressions; amongst which these were at this time most to my affliction, namely, my deadness, dulness, and coldness in holy duties; my wanderings of heart, my wearisomeness in all good things, and my want of love to God, his ways, and his people, with this at the end of all: "Are these the fruits of Christianity? Are these the tokens of a blessed man?" Now, I sunk and fell in my spirit, and was giving up all for lost; but, as I was walking up and down in the house, as a man in a most woful state, that word of God took hold of my heart, "Ye are justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ." But Oh, what a turn it made upon me.
Now was I as one awakened out of some troublesome sleep and dream; and listening to this heavenly sentence, I was as if I had heard it thus spoken to me: "Sinner, thou thinkest that, because of thy sins and infirmities, I cannot save thy soul; but behold, my Son is by me, and upon him I look, and not on thee, and shall deal with thee according as I am pleased with him." At this I was greatly enlightened in my mind, and made to understand that God could justify a sinner at any time; it was but his looking upon Christ, and imputing his benefits to us, and the work was forthwith done.
And as I was thus in a muse, that scripture also came with great power upon my spirit, "Not by works of righteousness that we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us." Now was I got on high; I saw myself within the arms of grace and mercy; and though I was before afraid to think of a dying hour, yet now I cried, "Let me die;" now death was lovely and beautiful in my sight, for I saw we should never live indeed till we reach the other world. Oh, methought, this life is but a slumber, in comparison of that above. At this time also I saw more in these words, "heirs of God," than ever I shall be able to express while I live in this world. HEIRS OF GOD! God himself is the portion of the saints. This I saw and wondered at, but cannot tell you what I saw.
Sometimes I have been so loaded with my sins, that I could not tell where to rest nor what to do; and at such times I thought it would have taken away my senses; but God, through grace, hath so effectually applied the atonement of Jesus to my poor wounded, guilty conscience, and I have found such a sweet, solid, sober, heart-comforting peace, that it hath made me rejoice exceedingly; and I have for a time been in a strait and trouble, that I should love and honor him no more, the virtue of whose blood hath so comforted my soul.
My sins have at times appeared so great, that I have thought one of them as heinous as all the sins of all the men in the world. Reader, these things are not fancies, for I have smarted for this experience; yet the least believing view of the blood of Jesus hath made my guilt vanish to my astonishment, and delivered me into sweet and heavenly peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.
Sometimes when my heart hath been hard, slothful, blind, and senseless -- which are sad frames for a poor Christian -- then hath the precious blood of Christ softened, enlivened, quickened, and enlightened my soul.
When I have been loaded with sin and harassed with temptations, I had a trial of the virtue of Christ's blood, with a trial of the virtue of other things; and I have found that when tears, prayers, repentings, and all other things could not reach my heart, one shining of the virtue of his blood hath in a very blessed manner delivered me. It hath come with such life and power, with such irresistible and marvellous glory, as to wipe off all the slurs, silence all the outcries, and quench all the fiery darts and flames of hell-fire, that are begotten by the charges of the law, Satan, and doubtful remembrances of a sinful life.
SIN AND THE SAVIOUR.
Saints are sweetly sensible that the sense of sin and the assurance of pardon will make famous work in their poor hearts. Ah, what meltings without guilt; what humility without casting down; and what a sight of the creature's nothingness, yet without fear, will this sense of sin work in the soul. The sweetest frame, the most heart-endearing frame that possibly a Christian can get into while in this world, is to have a warm sight of sin and of a Saviour upon the heart at one time. Now it weeps not for fear and through torment, but by virtue of constraining grace and mercy, and is at this very time so far off of disquietness of heart by reason of the sight of its wickedness, that it is driven into an ecstasy by reason of the love and mercy that is mingled with the sense of sin in the soul. The heart never sees so much of the power of mercy as now, nor of the virtue, value, and excellency of Christ in all his offices, as now; and the tongue is never so sweetly enlarged to proclaim and cry up grace as now: now will Christ come to be glorified in his saints and admired in them that believe.
Dost thou see in thee all manner of wickedness? The best way that I can direct a soul in such a case, is to place a steadfast eye on Him that is full, and so to look to him by faith as that thereby thou mayest draw his fulness into thy heart.
The best saints are most sensible of their sins, and most apt to make mountains of their molehills.
THE CHRISTIAN IN DARKNESS.
I know it is dreadful walking in darkness; but if that should be the Lord's lot upon me, I pray God I may have faith enough to stay upon him till death; and then will the clouds blow over, and I shall see him in the light of the living.
THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH.
Then they went on again, and their conductor did go before them, till they came to a place where was cast up a pit the whole breadth of the way; and before they could be prepared to go over that, a great mist and a darkness fell upon them so that they could not see. Then said the pilgrims, "Alas, what now shall we do?" But their guide made answer, "Fear not; stand still, and see what an end will be put to this also." So they staid there, because their path was marred. Then they also thought they did hear more apparently the noise and rushing of the enemies; the fire also and smoke of the pit was much easier to be discerned. Then said Christiana to Mercy, "Now I see what my poor husband went through; I have heard much of this place, but I never was here before now. Poor man! he went here all alone in the night; he had night almost quite through the way; also these fiends were busy about him, as if they would have torn him in pieces. Many have spoke of it, but none can tell what the Valley of the Shadow of Death should mean until they come in themselves. The 'heart knoweth its own bitterness; a stranger intermeddleth not with its joy.' To be here is a fearful thing."
"This," said Mr. Greatheart, "is like doing business in great waters, or like going down into the deep; this is like being in the heart of the sea, and like going down to the bottom of the mountains; now it seems as if the earth with its bars were about us for ever. But let them that walk in darkness and have no light, trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon their God. For my part, I have often gone through this valley, and have been much harder put to it than now I am; and yet you see I am alive. I would not boast, for that I am not my own saviour; but I trust we shall have a good deliverance. Come, let us pray for light to Him that can lighten our darkness, and can rebuke not only these, but all the devils in hell." So they cried and prayed, and God sent light and deliverance.
THE CHRISTIAN DOUBTING.
It is a rare thing for some Christians to see their graces, but a thing very common for such to see their sins, yea, and to feel them too in their lusts and desires, to the shaking of their souls.
QUESTION. But since I have lusts and desires both ways, how shall I know to which my soul adheres?
ANSWER. This may be known thus:
1. Which wouldest thou have prevail; the desires of the flesh, or the lusts of the spirit? Whose side art thou of? Doth thy soul now inwardly say, and that with a strong indignation, "Oh, let God, let grace, let my desires that are good, prevail against my flesh, for Jesus Christ's sake?"
2. What kind of secret wishes hast thou in thy soul, when thou feelest the lusts of thy flesh to rage? Dost thou not inwardly, and with indignation against sin, say, "O that I might never, never feel one such motion more. O that my soul were so full of grace, that there might be no longer room for even the least lust to come into my thoughts?"
3. What kind of thoughts hast thou of thyself, now thou seest those desires of thine that are good so briskly opposed by those that are bad? Dost thou not say, "Oh, I am the basest of creatures; I could even spew at myself. There is no man in all the world, in my eyes, so loathsome as myself is. I abhor myself; a toad is not so vile as I am. O Lord, let me be any thing but a sinner; any thing, so thou subduest mine iniquities for me?"
4. How dost thou like the discovery of that which thou thinkest is grace in other men! Dost thou not cry out, "Oh, I bless them in my heart! Oh, methinks grace is the greatest beauty in the world! Yea, I could be content to live and die with those people that have the grace of God in their souls. A hundred times, and a hundred when I have been upon my knees before God, I have desired, were it the will of God, that I might be in their condition?"
5. How art thou, when thou thinkest that thou thyself hast grace? "Oh, then," says the soul, "I am as if I could leap out of myself; joy, joy, joy then is in my heart. It is, methinks, the greatest mercy under heaven to be made a gracious man."
And is it thus with thy soul indeed? Happy man! It is grace that has thy soul, though sin at present works in thy flesh. Yea, all those breathings are the very actings of grace, even of the grace of desire, of love, of humility, and of the fear of God within thee. Be of good courage; thou art on the right side.
"I find," says the doubting Christian, "weakness and faintness as to my graces; my faith, my hope, my love and desires to these and all other Christian duties, are weak: I am like the man in the dream, that would have run, but could not; that would have fought, but could not, and that would have fled, but could not."
ANSWER. Weak graces are graces -- weak graces may grow stronger; but if the iron be blunt, put to the more strength. Eccles.10:10. Christ seems to be most tender of the weak: "He shall gather lambs with his arm, shall carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead them that are with young." Only here thy wisdom will be manifested, to wit, that thou grow in grace, and that thou use lawfully and diligently the means to do it.2 Pet.3:18; Phil.3:10, 11; I Thess.3:11-13.
I never heard a presumptuous man in my life say that he was afraid that he presumed; but I have heard many an honest, humble soul say that they have been afraid that their faith has been presumptive.
A man, in mind and affections, may depart from that which yet will not depart from him, yea, a man in mind may depart from that which yet will dwell in him as long as he lives.
For instance, there are many diseases that cleave to men, from which in their minds they willingly depart; yea, their greatest disquietment is, that so bad a distemper will abide by them; and might they but have their desire accomplished, they would be as far therefrom as the ends of the earth are asunder: and while they are found to continue together, the mind departs therefrom, and is gone either to God or to physicians for help and deliverance from it.
And thus it is with the saint, and should be with every one that by way of profession nameth the name of Christ, Rom.7; he should depart from his indwelling sin with his mind: "With his mind he should serve the law of God."
HONEST. It seems he was well at last.
GREAT-HEART. Yes, yes; I never had a doubt about him. He was a man of a choice spirit; only he was always kept very low, and that made his life so burdensome to himself and so very troublesome to others. He was, above many, tender of sin; he was so afraid of doing injuries to others, that he would often deny himself of that which was lawful, because he would not offend.
HONEST. But what should be the reason that such a good man should be all his days so much in the dark?
GREAT-HEART. There are two sorts of reasons for it. One is, the wise God will have it so; some must pipe, and some must weep: now, Mr. Fearing was one that played upon the bass. He and his fellows sound the sackbut, whose notes are more doleful than the notes of other music are, though indeed some say the bass is the ground of music. And, for my part, I care not at all for that profession that begins not in heaviness of mind. The first string that the musician usually touches is the bass, when he intends to put all in tune; God also plays upon this string first, when he sets the soul in tune for himself. Only, there was the imperfection of Mr. Fearing, he could play upon no other music but this till towards his latter end.
HONEST. He was a very zealous man, as one may see by the relation which you have given of him. Difficulties, lions, or Vanity Fair, he feared not at all: it was only sin, death, and hell that were to him a terror, because he had some doubts about his interest in that celestial country.
When he was come at the river where was no bridge, there he was in a heavy case. "Now, now," he said, "he should be drowned for ever, and so never see that face with comfort, that he had come so many miles to behold." And here I took notice of what was very remarkable -- the water of that river was lower at this time than ever I saw it in all my life; so he went over at last, not much above wet-shod When he was going up to the gate, Mr. Great-heart began to take his leave of him, and to wish him a good reception above; so he said, "I shall, I shall;" then parted we asunder, and I saw him no more.
ENCOURAGEMENT FOR THE DOUBTING CHRISTIAN.
Doth this water of life run like a river, like a broad, full, and deep river? Then let no man, be his transgressions never so many, fear at all but there is enough to save his soul and to spare. Nothing has been more common to many, than to doubt the grace of God: a thing most unbecoming a sinner of any thing in the world. To break the law, is a fact foul enough; but to question the sufficiency of the grace of God to save therefrom, is worse than sin, if worse can be. Wherefore, despairing soul, for it is to thee I speak, forbear thy mistrusts, cast off thy slavish fears, hang thy misgivings as to this upon the hedge, and believe; thou hast an invitation sufficient thereto, a river is before thy face. And as for thy want of goodness and works, let that by no means daunt thee; this is a river of water of life, streams of grace and mercy. There is, as I said, enough therein to help thee, for grace brings all that is wanting to the soul. Thou, therefore, hast nothing to do -- I mean as to the curing of thy soul of its doubts and fears and despairing thoughts -- but to drink and live for ever.
PRUDENCE. Can you remember by what means you find your annoyances, at times, as if they were vanquished?
CHRISTIAN. Yes; when I think on what I saw at the cross, that will do it; and when I look upon my embroidered coat, that will do it; and when I look into the roll that I carry in my bosom, that will do it; and when my thoughts wax warm about whither I am going, that will do it.
PRUDENCE. And what is it that makes you so desirous to go to mount Zion?
CHRISTIAN. Why, there I hope to see him alive that did hang dead on the cross, and there I hope to be rid of all those things that to this day are in me, an annoyance to me: there, they say, there is no death; and there shall I dwell with such company as I like best. For, to tell you the truth, I love him because I was by him eased of my burden; and I am weary of my inward sickness. I would fain be where I shall die no more, and with the company that shall continually cry, "Holy, holy, holy!"
Be often remembering what a blessed thing it is to be saved, to go to heaven, to be made like angels, and to dwell with God and Christ to all eternity.
The Spirit cannot, after he hath come to the soul as a Spirit of adoption, come again as a Spirit of bondage to put the soul into his first fear, to wit, a fear of eternal damnation, because he cannot say and unsay, do and undo. As a Spirit of adoption, he told me that my sins were forgiven me and I was included in the covenant of grace, that God was my Father through Christ, that I was under the promise of salvation, and that this calling and gift of God to me are permanent and without repentance. And do you think that, after he told me this, and sealed up the truth of it to my precious soul, he will come to me and tell me that I am yet in my sins, under the curse of the law and the eternal wrath of God? No, no; the word of the gospel is not yea, yea; nay, nay. It is only yea and amen; it is so, "as God is true." 2 Cor.17:20.
Sin, after that the Spirit of adoption has come, cannot dissolve the relations of Father and son, of Father and child. And this the church did rightly assert, and that when her heart was under great hardness and when she had the guilt of erring from his ways; saith she, "Doubtless thou art our Father:" doubtless thou art, though this be our case, and though Israel should not acknowledge us for such.
That sin dissolveth not the relation of Father and son, is further evident: When the fulness of time was come, God sent forth his Son made of a woman, made under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, "Father, Father!" Now mark: "Wherefore, thou art no more a servant;" that is, no more under the law of death and damnation, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
Suppose a child doth grievously transgress against and offend his father; is the relation between them therefore dissolved? Again, suppose the father should scourge and chasten the son for such offences, is the relation between them therefore dissolved? Yea, suppose the child should now, through ignorance, cry and say, "This man is now no more my father;" is he therefore no more his father? Doth not every body see the folly of arguings? Why, of the same nature is the doctrine, the faith, that after we have received the Spirit of adoption, the Spirit of bondage is sent to us again to put us in fear of eternal damnation.
Know then that thy sin, after thou hast received the Spirit of adoption to cry unto God, "Father, Father," is counted the transgression of a child, not of a slave; and that all that happeneth to thee for that transgression is but the chastisement of a father: "And what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?"
Now let not any, from what hath been said, take courage to live loose lives, under a supposition that once in Christ they are ever in Christ, and the covenant cannot he broken, nor the relation of Father and child dissolved; for they that do so, it is evident, have not known what it is to receive the Spirit of adoption. It is the spirit of the devil, in his own hue, that suggesteth this unto them, and that prevaileth with them to do so. Shall we do evil that good may come? Shall we sin that grace may abound; or shall we be base in life because God by grace hath secured us from wrath to come? God forbid: these conclusions betoken one void of the fear of God indeed, and of the Spirit of adoption too.
Though God cannot, will not dissolve the relation which the Spirit of adoption hath made betwixt the Father and the sons, for any sins that such do commit; yet he can and often doth take away from them the comfort of their adoption, not suffering children while sinning to have the sweet and comfortable sense thereof on their hearts.
God can lay thee in the dungeon in chains, and roll a stone upon thee; he can make thy feet fast in the stocks, and make thee a gazing-stock for men and angels.
God can tell how to cause to cease the sweet operations and blessed influences of his grace in thy soul; to make those gospel-showers that formerly thou hast enjoyed, to become now to thee nothing but powder and dust.
God can tell how to fight against thee with the sword of his mouth, and to make thee a butt for his arrows; and this is a dispensation most dreadful.
God can tell how to bow thee down with guilt and distress, that thou shalt in nowise be able to lift up thy head.
God can tell how to break thy bones, and to make thee, by reason of that, to live in continual anguish of spirit; yea, he can send a fire into thy bones that shall burn, and none shall quench it.
God can tell how to lay thee aside, and make no use of thee as to any work for him in thy generation. He can throw thee aside as a broken vessel.
God can tell how to kill thee, and take thee away from the earth for thy sins.
God can tell how to plague thee in thy death, with great plagues and of long continuance.
What shall I say? God can tell how to let Satan loose upon thee; when thou liest dying, he can license him then to assault thee with great temptations; he can tell how to make thee possess the guilt of all thy unkindness towards him, and that when thou, as I said, art going out of the world; he can cause that thy life shall be in continual doubt before thee, and not suffer thee to take any comfort day or night; yea, he can drive thee even to a madness with his chastisements for thy folly, and yet all shall be done by him to thee as a father chastiseth his son.
Further, God can tell how to tumble thee from off thy death-bed in a cloud, he can let thee die in the dark; when thou art dying, thou shalt not know whither thou art going, to wit, whether to heaven or to hell. Yea, he can tell how to let thee seem to come short of life, both in thine own eyes and also in the eyes of them that behold thee. "Let us therefore fear," says the apostle -- though not with slavish, yet with filial fear -- "lest, a promise being left us of entering into rest, any of us should seem to come short of it."
Now all this and much more can God do to his, as a father by his rod and a father by rebukes: ah, who know but those that are under them, what terrors, fears, distresses, and amazements, God can bring his people into? He can put them into a furnace, a fire, and no tongue can tell what, so unsearchable and fearful are his fatherly chastisements, and yet never give them the spirit of bondage again to fear. Therefore, if thou art a son, take heed of sin, lest all these things overtake thee and come upon thee.
Dost thou fear the Lord? "The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on them that fear him."
Child of God, thou that fearest God, here is mercy nigh thee, mercy enough, everlasting mercy upon thee. This is long-lived mercy. It will live longer than thy sin; it will live longer than temptation; it will live longer than thy sorrows; it will live longer than thy persecutors. It is mercy from everlasting to contrive thy salvation, and mercy to everlasting to resist all thy adversaries. Now what can hell and death do to him that hath this mercy of God upon him? And this hath the man that feareth the Lord.
Take that other blessed word, and O, thou man that fearest the Lord, hang it like a chain of gold about thy neck: "As the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy to them that fear him." If mercy as big, as high, and as good as heaven itself will be a privilege, the man that feareth God shall have the privilege.
CHRIST OUR LIFE.
Here is my life, namely, the birth of this Man, the righteousness of this man, the blood of this man, the death and resurrection of this man, the ascension and intercession of this man for me, and the second coming of this man to judge the world in righteousness. I say, here is my life, if I see this by faith without me, through the operation of the Spirit within me: I am safe, I am at peace, I am comforted, I am encouraged; and I know that my comfort, peace, and encouragement is true, and given me from heaven by the Father of mercies, through the Son of the Virgin Mary -- the Son of man, the Son of God, the true God.
UNION WITH CHRIST.
Stay not in some transient comforts, but abide restless till thou seest a union betwixt thee and this blessed One, to wit, that he is a root and thou a branch -- that he is head, and thou a member. And then shalt thou know that the case is so between thee and him, when grace and his Spirit have made thee to lay the whole stress of thy justification upon him, and have subdued thy heart and mind to be one spirit with him.
LIFE OF FAITH.
O man or woman, whoever thou art, that art savingly convinced by the Spirit of Christ, thou hast such an endless desire after the Lord Jesus Christ, that thou canst not be content with any thing below the blood of the Son of God to purge thy conscience withal; even that blood that was shed without the gates. Also thou canst not be at quiet, till thou dost see by true faith that the righteousness of the Son of Mary is imputed unto thee and put upon thee. Rom.3:21-23. Then also thou canst not be at quiet, till thou hast power over thy lusts and corruptions, till thou hast brought them into subjection to the Lord Jesus Christ. Then thou wilt never think that thou hast enough of faith: no, thou wilt be often crying out, "Lord, give me more precious faith; Lord, more faith in thy righteousness; more faith in thy blood and death; more faith in thy resurrection; and, Lord, more faith in this -- that thou art now at the right hand of thy Father in thy human nature, making intercession for me a miserable sinner." And then, O poor soul, if thou comest but hither, thou wilt never have an itching ear after another gospel.
If thou wouldst be faithful to do that work that God has allotted thee to do in this world for his name labor to live in the savor and sense of thy freedom and liberty by Jesus Christ; that is, keep this, if possible, ever before thee -- that thou art a redeemed one, taken out of this world and from under the curse of the law, out of the power of the devil, and placed in a kingdom of grace and forgiveness of sins for Christ's sake.
This is of absolute use in this matter; yea, so absolute that it is impossible for any Christian to do his work christianly, without some enjoyment of it.
The first thing of which the soul is sick, and by which the conscience receiveth wounding, is the GUILT of sin and fear of the curse of God for it; for which are provided the wounds and precious blood of Christ, which flesh and blood, if the soul eat thereof by faith, give deliverance therefrom. Upon this FILTH of sin appears most odious; for that it hath not only at present defiled the soul, but because it keeps it from doing those duties of love which by the love of Christ it is constrained to endeavor the perfecting of. For filth appears filth, that is, irksome and odious to a contrary principle now implanted in the soul; which principle had its conveyance thither by faith in the sacrifice and death of Christ going before. "The love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they who live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but to him that died for them and rose again."
The man that has received Christ desires to be holy, because the nature of the faith that lays hold on Christ worketh by love, and longeth, yea, greatly longeth, that the soul may be brought not only into a universal conformity to his will, but into his very likeness; and because that state agreeth not with what we are now, but with what we shall be hereafter: "Therefore in this we groan, being burdened" with that which is of a contrary nature, "earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven;" which state is not that of Adam'a innocency, but that which is spiritual and heavenly, even that which is now in the Lord in heaven.
Blessed be God for Jesus Christ, and for that he took our nature and sin and curse and death upon him; and for that he did also by himself, by one offering, purge our sins. We that have believed have found rest, even there where Christ and his Father have smelled a sweet savor of rest: because we are presented to God even now complete in the righteousness of him, and stand discharged of guilt even by the faith of him; yea, as sins past, so sins to come, were taken up and satisfied for by that offering of the body of Jesus. We who have had a due sense of sins, and of the nature of the justice of God, know that no remission of the guilt of any one can be, but by atonement made by blood. Heb.9:22.
We also know that where faith in Jesus Christ is wanting, there can be neither good principle, nor good endeavor; for faith is the first of all graces, and without it there is nothing but sin. Rom.14:23.
We know also that faith, as a grace in us, severed from the righteousness of Christ, is only a beholder of things, but not a justifier of persons; and that if it lay not hold of and applieth not that righteousness which is in Christ, it carries us no further than to the devils.
We know that this doctrine killeth sin, and curseth it at the very roots: I say, we know it, who have mourned over him whom we have pierced, and who have been confounded to see that God by his blood should be pacified towards us for all the wickedness we have done. Yea, we have a double motive to be holy and humble before him: one, because he died for us on earth; another, because he now appears for us in heaven, there sprinkling for us the mercy-seat with his blood, there ever living to make intercession for them that come unto God by him. "If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, who is the propitiation for our sins." Yet this works in us no looseness nor favor to sin, but so much the more an abhorrence of it: "She loveth much, for much was forgiven her;" yea, she weeps, she washeth his feet, and wipeth them with the hairs of her head, to the confounding of Simon the Pharisee, and all such ignorant hypocrites.
DIVINE LOVE IMPROVED.
Empty notions of the love of God and of Christ will do nothing but harm; wherefore they are not empty notions that I press thee to rest in, but that thou labor after the knowledge of the savor of this good ointment which the apostle calls "the savor of the knowledge of this Lord Jesus." Know it until it becomes sweet or pleasant to thy soul, and then it will preserve and keep thee. Make this love of God and of Christ thine own, and not another's. Many there are that can talk largely of the love of God to Abraham, to David, to Peter, and Paul. But that is not the thing. Give not over until this love be made thine own; until thou find and feel it to run warm in thy heart by the shedding of it abroad there, by the Spirit that God has given thee. Then thou wilt know it with an obliging and engaging knowledge; yea, then thou wilt know it with a soul-strengthening and soul-encouraging knowledge.
Wouldst thou improve this love of God and of Christ? then set it against the love of all other things whatsoever, even until this love shall conquer thy soul from the love of them to itself.
This is Christian. Do it therefore, and say, "Why should any thing have my heart but God, but Christ? He loves me with love that passeth knowledge. He loves me, and he shall have me; he loves me, and I will love him; his love stripped him of all for my sake; Lord, let my love strip me of all for thy sake. I am a son of love, an object of love, a monument of love, of free love, of distinguishing love, of peculiar love, and of love that passeth knowledge; and why should not I walk in love? in love to God, in love to men, in holy love, in love unfeigned?"
This is the way to improve the love of God for thy advantage, for the subduing of thy passions, and for sanctifying of thy nature.
It is an odious thing to hear men of base lives talking of the love of God, of the death of Christ, and of the glorious grace that is presented unto sinners by the word of the truth of the gospel. Praise is comely for the upright, not for the profane.
Therefore let him speak of love that is taken with love, that is captivated with love, that is carried away with love. If this man speaks of it, his speaking signifies something; the powers and bands of love are upon him, and he shows to all that he knows what he is speaking of. But the very mentioning of love is, in the mouth of the profane, like a parable in the mouth of fools. Wherefore, Christian, improve this love of God as thou shouldst, and that will improve thee as thou wouldst.
It is natural for children to depend upon their father for what they want. If they want a pair of shoes, they go and tell him; if they want bread, they go and tell him; so should the children of God do. Do you want spiritual bread? Go tell God of it. Do you want strength of grace? Ask it of God. Do you want strength against Satan's temptations? Go and tell God of it. When the devil tempts you, run home and tell your heavenly Father; go pour out your complaints to God; this is natural to children -- if any wrong them, they go and tell their father.
If thou wouldst improve this love of God and of Christ, keep thyself in it: "Keep yourselves in the love of God." Living a holy life is the way, after a man has believed unto justification, to keep himself in the favor and comfort of the love of God. And O that thou wouldst indeed do so. And that because, if thou shalt want the savor of it, thou wilt soon want tenderness to the commandment, which is the rule by which thou must walk, if thou wilt do good to thyself, or honor God in the world. "To him that ordereth his conversation aright, I will show the salvation of God." He that would live a sweet, comfortable, joyful life, must live a very holy life.
All God's children are criers: Cannot you be quiet unless you are filled with the milk of God's word? cannot you be satisfied unless you have peace with God? Pray you consider it, and be serious with yourselves; if you have not these marks, you will fall short of the kingdom of God, you shall never have an interest there: there is no intruding: they will say, "Lord, Lord, open unto us;" and he will say, "I know you not." No child of God, no heavenly inheritance. O do not flatter yourselves with a portion among the sons, unless you live like sons. When we see a king's son playing with a beggar, this is unbecoming; so if you bo the King's children, live like the King's children: if you be risen with Christ, set your affections on things above, and not on things below; when you come together, talk of what your Father promised you; you should all love your Father's will, and be content and pleased with the exercises you meet with in the world; if you are the children of God, live together lovingly; if the world quarrel with you, it is no matter, but it is sad if you quarrel together: if this be among you, it is a sign of ill-breeding; it is according to no rules you have in the word of God. Dost thou see a soul that has the image of God in him? Love him, love him; say, "This man and I must go to heaven one day;" serve one another, do good for one another; if any wrong you, pray to God to right you, and love the brotherhood.
Remember, man, if the grace of God hath taken hold of thy soul, thou art a man of another world, and indeed a subject of another and more noble kingdom, the kingdom of God -- which is the kingdom of the gospel, of grace, of faith, and righteousness, and the kingdom of heaven hereafter. In these things thou shouldst exercise thyself, not making heavenly things which God hath bestowed upon thee, stoop to things that are of the world; but rather here beat down the body, to mortify thy members, hoist up thy mind to the things that are above, and practically hold forth before all the world that blessed word of life.
Assure thyself, thy God will not give thee straw, but he will expect brick.
It is amiable and pleasant to God when Christians keep their rank, relation, and station, doing all as becomes their quality and calling. When Christians stand all in their places, and do the work of their stations, then they are like the flowers in the garden, that stand and grow where the gardener hath planted them; and then they shall both honor the garden in which they are planted, and the gardener that hath so disposed of them. From the hyssop in the wall to the cedar in Lebanon, their fruit is their glory. And seeing the stock into which we are planted is the most fruitful stock, the sap conveyed thereout the most fruitful sap, and the dresser of our souls the wisest husband-man, how contrary to nature, example, and expectation we should be, if we should not be rich in good works. Wherefore, take heed of being painted fire, wherein is no warmth; of being painted flowers, which retain no smell; and of being painted trees, whereon is no fruit. Whoso boasteth himself of a false gift, is like clouds and wind without rain. Farewell; the Lord be with thy spirit, that thou mayest profit for time to come.
THEY only have benefit by Christ to eternal life, who die by his example as well as live by his blood; for in his death was both merit and example; and they are like to miss in the first, that are not concerned in the second.
As it is natural for the stranger, so soon as ever he has entered the gates of a city, to have his feet in the streets of the city, so it is natural for the sinner, so soon as ever he is entered into the church of Christ, to have his feet treading in the way and paths of holiness. Wherefore it is usual in the holy Scripture to call the transformation of the sinner from Satan to God a holy way, and also to admonish him that is so transformed to walk in that way, saying, Walk in the faith, love, spirit, and newness of life, and walk in the truth, ways, statutes, and judgments of God.
Jacob, when sick, would worship God, though so weak as not able to do it without leaning upon the top of his staff: a blessed example for the diligent, and reproof for those that are slothful.
Good opportunities are God's seasons for doing the work; wherefore, watch for them and take them as they come. Paul tells us, he was "in watchings often;" surely it was that he might take the season that God should give him to do his work for him; as he also says to Timothy, "Watch thou in all things, do the work," etc.
Opportunities as to some things come but once in one's lifetime, as in the case of Esther, and of Nicodemus and holy Joseph; when Esther begged the lives of the Jews, and the other the body of Jesus; which had they once let slip or neglected, they could not have recovered it again for ever. Watch, then, for the opportunity:
Because it is God's season, which without doubt is the best season and time for every purpose.
Because Satan watches to spoil, by mistiming as well as by corrupting whatever thou shalt do for God. "When I would do good," says Paul, "evil is present;" that is, either to withdraw me from my purpose, or else to infect my work.
That the opportunity may not slip thee, either for want of care or forecast,
1. Sit always loose from an overmuch affecting thine own concernments, and believe that thou wast not born for thyself: a brother is born for adversity.
2. Get thy heart tenderly affected with the welfare of all things that bear the stamp and image of God.
3. Study thy own place and capacity that God hath put thee in in this world; for suitable to thy place are thy work and opportunities.
4. Make provision beforehand, that when things present themselves, thou mayst come up to a good performance: be prepared for every good work.
5. Take heed of carnal reasonings; keep the heart tender, but set thy face like a flint for God.
6. And look well to the manner of every duty.
To stoop low is a good work, if it be done in faith and love; though but by a cup of cold water, it is really more worth in itself, and of higher esteem with God, than all worldly and perishing glory.
When holiness is lovely and beautiful to the soul, and when the name of Christ is more precious than life, then will the soul sit down and be afflicted, because men keep not God's law. "I beheld the transgressors, and was grieved, because they kept not thy word." Psalm 119:158.
The heart that is fullest of good works has in it the least room for Satan's temptations.
Souls rightly touched, will labor to draw not only their families, but a whole city after Christ. John 4:28, 29.
If thou wouldst be faithful to do that work that God hath appointed thee to do in this world for his name, then beware thou do not stop and stick when hard work comes before thee. The word and Spirit of God come sometimes like chainshot to us, as if it would cut down all -- as when Abraham was to offer up Isaac, and the Levites to slay their brethren. Oh, how willingly would our flesh and blood escape the cross for Christ! The comfort of the gospel, the sweetness of the promise, how pleasing is it to us! Like Ephraim, we like to tread out the corn, and to hear those pleasant songs and music that gospel sermons make, where only grace is preached and nothing of our duty as to works of self-denial. But as for such, God will tread upon their fair neck, and yoke them with Christ's yoke; for then they have a work to do, even a work of self-denial.
"Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me." Let him first sit down and count up the cost and the charge he is like to be at, if he follow me; for following of me is not like following of some other masters. The winds set always on my face; and the foaming rage of the sea of this world, and the proud and lofty waves thereof do continually beat upon the sides of the bark that myself, my cause, and my followers are in; he therefore that will not run hazards, and that is afraid to venture a drowning, let him not set foot into this vessel.
Some, when they come at the cross, will either there make a stop and go no further, or else, if they can, step over it; if not, they will go round about. Do not thou do this, but take it up and kiss it, and bear it after Jesus.
Where is the man that walketh with his cross upon his shoulder? Where is the man that is zealous of moral holiness? Indeed, for those things that have nothing of the cross of the purse, or of the cross of the belly, or of the cross of the back, or of the cross of the vanity of household affairs -- for those things, I find we have many, and very busy sticklers; but otherwise, the cross, self-denial, charity, purity in life and conversation, is almost quite out of doors among professors. But, man of God, do thou be singular as to these.
OBEDIENCE IN LITTLE THINGS.
Little things do ofttimes prove us most; for we, through the pride of our hearts, are apt to overlook little things, because, though commanded, they are but little.
Sometimes God would have men exact to a word, sometimes even to a tack or pin or loop, sometimes to a step. Be careful, then, in little things, but yet leave not the other undone.
MOTIVES TO HOLT LIVING. When God shows a man the sin he has committed, the hell he has deserved, the heaven he has lost -- and yet that Christ and grace and pardon may be had -- this will make him serious, this will make him melt, this will break his heart, this will show him that there is more than air, than a noise, than an empty sound in religion; and this is the man whose heart, whose life, whose conversation and all will be engaged in the matter of the eternal salvation of his precious and immortal soul.
Though there are many mercies that lay an obligation upon men to be holy, yet he that shall want the obligation that is begotten by the faith of redeeming mercy, wanteth the main principle of true holiness; nor will any other be found sufficiently to sanctify the heart to the causing of it to produce such a life; nor can such holiness be accepted, because it comes not forth in the name of Christ. That which constrained David was forgiving and redeeming mercy, and that which constrained Paul was the love that Christ showed to him in dying for his sins and in rising from the dead.
Paul also beseecheth the Romans by the redeeming, justifying, preserving, and electing mercy of God, that they present their body a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which, saith he, is your reasonable service. Hence all along, they that are exhorted to holiness in the New Testament, are exhorted to it upon the supposition of the benefit of redemption which they have received by Jesus Christ. Walk in love, as Christ loved us.
Can you give me some motive to self-denial? Yes, the Lord Jesus denied himself for thee: what sayest thou to that?
Oh, I have thought sometimes what bloody creatures hath sin made us. The beasts of the field must be slain by thousands before Christ came, to signify to us that we should have 'a Saviour; and after that, he must come himself and die a worse death than died those beasts, before the work of saving could be finished. O redemption, redemption by blood, is the heart-endearing consideration! This is that which will make the water stand in our eyes, that will break a heart of flint, and that will make one do as they do that are in bitterness for their firstborn.
Perhaps in the day of thy conversion thou wast more unruly than many. Like a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke, hardly tamed, thou wast brought home by strong hands. Thou wouldst not drive: the Lord Jesus must take thee up, lay thee upon his shoulder, and carry thee home to his Father's house. This should engage thy heart to study to advance the grace of God.
It may do thee no harm but good to cast an eye over thy shoulder, at those that now lie roaring under the vengeance of eternal fire; it may put thee in mind of what thou wast once, and of what thou must yet assuredly be, if grace by Christ preventeth not: keep then thy conscience awake with wrath and grace, with heaven and hell; but let grace and heaven bear sway.
Get thou thy soul possessed with the spirit of the Son, and believe thou art perfectly set free by him from whatsoever thou by sin hast deserved at the hand of revenging justice. This doctrine unlooseth thy hands, takes off thy yoke, and lets thee go upright; this doctrine puts spiritual and heavenly inclinations into thy soul, and the faith of this truth doth show thee that God hath so surprised thee and gone beyond thee with his blessed and everlasting love, that thou canst not but reckon thyself his debtor for ever. "Therefore, brethren, we are debtors not to the flesh, to live after the flesh." Rom.8: 12.
If thou wouldst be faithful to that work that God hath allotted thee to do in this world for his name, then labor to see a beauty and glory in holiness and in every good work; this tends much to the engaging of thy heart. O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; fear before him all the earth; and for thy help in this, think much on this in general, that "thus saith the Lord" is the wind-up of every command; for indeed much of the glory and beauty of duties doth lie in the glory and excellency of the person that doth command them; and hence it is, that "Be it enacted by the king's most excellent majesty" is the head of every law, that that law should therefore be reverenced by and be made glorious and beautiful to all. And we see upon this very account, what power and place the precepts of kings do take in the hearts of their subjects, every one loving and reverencing the statute because there is the name of their king. Will you rebel against the king? is a word that shakes the world. Well then, turn these things about for an argument to the matter in hand, and let the name of God, seeing he is wiser and better and of more glory and beauty than kings, beget in thy heart a beauty in all things that are commanded thee of God. And indeed, if thou do not in this act thus, thou wilt stumble at some of thy duty and work thou hast to do; for some of the commands of God are in themselves so mean and low, that take away from them the name of God and thou wilt do as Naaman the Syrian, despise instead of obeying. What is there in the Lord's supper, in baptism, yea, in preaching the word and prayer, were they not the appointments of God? His name being entailed to them makes them every one glorious and beautiful. Wherefore no marvel if he that looks upon them without their title-page, goeth away in a rage like Naaman, preferring others before them. "What is Jordan? Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters in Israel? May I not wash in them and be clean?" saith he. This was because he remembered not that the name of God was in the command. Israel's trumpets of rams'-horns, and Isaiah's walking naked, and Ezekiel's wars against a tile, would doubtless have been ignoble acts, but that the name of God was that which gave them reverence, power, glory, and beauty. Set therefore the name of God and "thus saith the Lord" against all reasonings, defamings, and reproaches that either by the world or thy own heart thou findest to arise against thy duty; and let his name and authority alone be a sufficient argument with thee, to hehold the beauty that he hath put upon all his ways, and to inquire in his temple.
Christians should so manage their time and the work that God hath appointed them to do for his name in this world, that they may not have part thereof to do when they should be departing this world; because, if they do not, dying will be a hard work with them, especially if God awakeneth them about their neglect of their duty. The way of God with his people is to visit their sins in this life; and the worst time for thee to be visited by them is when thy life is smitten down as it were to the dust of death, even when all natural infirmities break in like a flood upon thee-sickness, fainting, pains, wearisomeness, and the like: now, I say, to be charged also with the neglect of duty when in no capacity to do it-yea, when perhaps so feeble, as scarce able to abide to hear thy dearest friend in this life speak to thee-will not this make dying hard? yea, when thou shalt seem both in thine own eyes and also in the eyes of others, to fall short of the kingdom of heaven for this and the other transgressions; will not this make dying hard? David found it hard when he cried, "O spare me a little, that I may recover strength, before I go hence and be no more." David at this time was chastened for some iniquity, yea, brought for his folly to the doors of the shadow of death. But here he could not enter without great distress of mind; wherefore he cries out for respite, and time to do the will of God and the work allotted him. So again: "The pains of hell caught hold upon me, the sorrows of death compassed me about, and I found trouble and sorrow; then I cried unto the Lord." Aye, this will make thee cry, though thou he as good as David. Wherefore learn by his sorrow, as he himself also learned at last to serve his own generation by the will of God, before he fell asleep. God can tell how to pardon thy sins, and yet make them such a bitter thing and so heavy a burden to thee that thou wouldst not, if thou wast but once distressed with it, come there again for all this world. Ah, it is easy with him to have this pardon in his bosom, even when he is breaking all thy bones and pouring out thy gall upon the ground -- yea, to show himself then unto thee in so dreadful a majesty, that heaven and earth shall seem to thee to tremble at his presence. Let then the thoughts of this prevail with thee as a reason of great weight, to provoke thee to study to manage thy time and work in wisdom while thou art well.
Keep those grounds and evidences that God hath given you of your call to be partakers of this love of Christ, with all clearness upon your hearts and in your minds. For he that lacks that sight of them, or a proof that they are true and good, can take but little comfort in this love. There is a great mystery in the way of God with his people. He will justify them without their works, he will pardon them for his Son's sake. But they that are careless, carnal, and not holy in their lives, shall have but little comfort of what he hath done, doth, and will do for them.
Nor shall they have their evidences for heaven at hand, nor out of doubt with them; yea, they shall walk without the sun, and have their comforts by bits and knocks; while others sit at their Father's table, have liberty to go into the wine-cellar, rejoice at the sweet and pleasant face of their heavenly Father towards them, and know it shall go well with them at the end.
Those that make conscience of walking in the commandments of God, they shall be blessed with the bread of life, when others shall be hunger-bit.
The greatest part of professors nowadays take up their time in contracting guilt and asking for pardon, and yet are not much the better. Whereas, if they had but the grace to add to their faith, virtue, etc., they might have more peace, live better lives, and not have their heads so often in a bag, as they have. "To him that ordereth his conversation aright, will I show the salvation of God."
"And all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty and five years. And Enoch walked with God, and was not, for God took him." Enoch therefore lived here but a while: he was too good to live long in this world; the world was not worthy of him; neither could he be spared so long out of heaven, for God took him.
The end of walking with God, or the pathway thereof, leads men to heaven, to the enjoyment of the glory of God. Thus also it was with blessed Elijah; he followed God from place to place, till at length he was caught up into heaven.
Those that shall be found, in the day of their resurrection, the people of God most laborious for God while here, they shall at that day enjoy the greatest portion of God, or shall be possessed of most of the glory of the Godhead then. For that is the portion of the saints in general. And why shall he that doeth most for God in this world, enjoy most of him in that which is to come, but because by doing and acting, the heart and every faculty of the soul are enlarged and more capacitated, whereby more room is made for glory? Every vessel of glory shall at that day be made full of it: but every one will not be capable to contain a like measure; and so if they should have it communicated to them, would not be able to stand under it; for there is an eternal weight in the glory that saints shall then enjoy; and every vessel must be at that day filled, that is, have its heavenly load of it.
Examine: Dost thou labor after those qualifications that the Scriptures describe a child of God by-that is, faith, yea, the right faith, the most holy faith, the faith of the operation of God? And also, dost thou examine whether there is a real growth of grace in thy soul, as love, zeal, self-denial, and a seeking by all means to attain, if possible, to the resurrection of the dead; that is, not to satisfy thyself until thou be dissolved and rid of this body of death, and be transformed into that glory that the saints shall be in after the resurrection-day?
And in the mean time, dost thou labor and take all opportunities to walk as near as may be to the mark, though thou knowest thou canst not attain it perfectly? Yet I say, thou dost aim at it, seek after it, press towards it, and hold on in thy race; thou shunnest that which may any way hinder thee, and also closest in with what may any way further the same, knowing that that must be, or desiring that it should be, thine eternal frame; and therefore, out of love and liking to it, thou dost desire and long after it, as being the thing that doth most please thy soul.
Or how is it with thy soul? Art thou such a one as regards not these things, but rather busiest thy thoughts about the things here below, following those things that have no scent of divine glory upon them? If so, look to thyself; thou art an unbeliever, and so under the wrath of God, and wilt for certain fall into the same place of torment that thy fellows have fallen into before thee, to the grief of thy own soul and thy everlasting destruction.
Consider and regard these things, and lay them to thy heart before it be too late to recover thyself, by repenting of the one and desiring to close in with the other.
Oh, I say, regard, regard; for hell is hot, God's hand is up, the law is resolved to discharge against thy soul. The judgment-day is at hand; the graves are ready to fly open; the trumpet is near the sounding; the sentence will ere long be past, and then you and I cannot call time again.
Reckon with thy own heart every day before thou lie down to sleep, and cast up what thou hast received from God and done for him, and where thou hast also been wanting. This will beget praise and humility, and put thee upon redeeming the day that is past; whereby thou wilt be able, through the continual supplies of grace, in some good measure to drive thy work before thee, and to shorten it as thy life doth shorten, and mayst comfortably live in the hope of bringing both ends sweetly together.
He that will keep water in a sieve, must use more than ordinary diligence. Our heart is a leaky vessel; and therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.
They that name the name of Christ, let them depart from their constitution-sin, or if you will, the sin that their temper most inclines them to. Every man is not alike inclined to the same sin, but some to one, and some to another. Now, let the man that professes the name of Christ religiously consider with himself, "Unto what sin or vanity am I most inclined? is it pride? is it covetousness? is it fleshly lust?" and let him labor by all means to leave off and depart from that. This is that which David called his own iniquity, and saith, "I was also upright before him, and I kept myself from mine iniquity." Psa.18:23. Rightly are these two put together, for it is not possible that he should be an upright man that indulgeth or countenanceth his constitution-sin; but on the contrary, he that keeps himself from that will be upright as to all the rest; and the reason is, because if a man has grace to trample upon and mortify his darling, his bosom, his only sin, he will more easily and more heartily abhor and fly the rest.
And indeed, if a man will depart from iniquity, he must depart from his darling sin first; for as long as that is entertained, the other, at least those that are most suiting to that darling, will always be haunting of him. There is a man that has such and such haunt his house and spend his substance, and would be rid of them, but cannot; but now, let him rid himself of that for the sake of which they haunt his house, and then he shall with ease be rid of them. Thus it is with sin. There is a man that is plagued with many sins, perhaps because he embraceth one; well, let him turn that one out of doors, and that is the way to be rid of the rest. Keep thee from thy darling, thy bosom, thy constitution-sin.
Among the motives to prevail with thee to fall in with this exhortation, are,
1. There can no great change appear in thee, make what profession of Christ thou wilt, unless thou cast away thy bosom sin. A man's constitution-sin is, as I may call it, his visible sin; it is that by which his neighbors know him and describe him, whether it be pride, covetousness, lightness, or the like. Now, if these abide with thee, though thou shouldst be much reformed in thy notions and in other parts of thy life, yet say thy neighbors, "He is the same man still: his faith has not saved him from his darling. He was proud before, and is proud still; was covetous before, and is covetous still; was light and wanton before, and is so still; he is the same man, though he has got a new mouth." But now, if thy constitution-sin be parted with, if thy darling be cast way, thy conversion is apparent; it is seen of all; for the casting away of that is death to the rest, and ordinarily makes a change throughout.
2. So long as thy constitution-sin remains, as winked at by thee, so long thou art a hypocrite before God, let thy profession be what it will; also, when conscience shall awake and be commanded to speak to thee plainly what thou art, it will tell thee so, to thy no little vexation and perplexity.
THE CHRISTIAN PROFESSOR ADMONISHED.
O thou professor! thou lamp-carrier! have a care and look to thyself; content not thyself with only that which will maintain thee in a profession, for that may be done without saving grace; but I advise thee to go to Aaron, to Christ the trimmer of our lamps, and beg of him thy vessel full of oil, that is, grace for the seasoning of thy heart, that thou mayest have wherewith not only to bear thee up now, but at the day of the bridegroom's coming when many a lamp will go out and many a professor be left in the dark.
Sin is in the best of men; and as long as it is so, without great watchfulness and humble walking with God, we may be exposed to shame and suffering for it. It is possible for Christians to suffer for evil-doing, and therefore let Christians beware; it is possible for Christians to be brought to public justice for their faults, and therefore let Christians beware.
A Christian can never be overcome unless he should yield of himself.
There is no way to kill a man's righteousness but by his own consent. This Job's wife knew full well; hence she tempted him to lay violent hands on his own integrity. Job 2:9.
FAILINGS AND SINS OF CHRISTIANS.
"And Noah began to lie a husbandman, and he planted a vineyard. And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent."
This is the blot in this good man's scutcheon; and a strange blot it is, that such a one as Noah should be thus overtaken with evil. One would have thought that Moses would now have begun with a relation of some eminent virtues and honorable actions of Noah, since now he was delivered from the death that overtook the whole world; and was delivered, both he and his children, to possess the whole earth himself. Indeed, he stepped from the ark to the altar, as Israel of old did sing on the shore of the Red sea; but as they, HE soon forgot; he rendered evil to God for good.
Neither is Noah alone in this matter. Lot also, being delivered from that fire from heaven which burnt up Sodom and Gomorrah, falls soon after into lewdness. Gideon also, after he was delivered out of the hands of his enemies, took that very gold which God had given him as the spoil of them that hated him, and made himself idols therewith.
What shall I say of David, and of Solomon also, who, after he had been twenty years at work for the service of the true God, both in building and preparing for his worship, and in writing proverbs by divine inspiration, did after this make temples for idols, yea, almost for the gods of all countries? Yea, he did it when he was old, when he should have been preparing for his grave and for eternity.
All these were sins against mercies, yea, and doubtless against covenants and the most solemn resolutions to the contrary. For who can imagine but that when Noah was tossed with the flood, and Lot within the scent and smell of the fire and brimstone that burned down Sodom with his sons and daughters, and Gideon, when so fiercely engaged with so great an enemy, and delivered by so strange a hand, should in the most solemn manner both promise and vow to God? But behold, now they in truth are delivered and saved, they recompense all with sin: "Lord, what is man? how abominable and filthy is man, who drinketh in iniquity like water!"
Let these things teach us "to cease from man, whose breath is in his nostrils; for wherein is he to be accounted of?" Indeed, it is a vain thing to build our faith upon the most godly man in the world, because he is subject to err; yea, better men than he have been so. If Noah and Lot and Gideon and David and Solomon -- who wanted not matter from arguments, and that of the strongest kind, as arguments that are drawn from mercy and goodness be, to engage to holiness and the fear of God -- yet, after all, did so foully fall as we see, let us admire grace that any stand; let the strongest fear, lest he fearfully fall; and let no man but Jesus Christ himself be the absolute platform and pattern of faith and holiness: as the prophet saith, "Let us cease from man."
None knows the things that haunt the backslider's mind; his new sins are all turned talking devil's, threatening devils, roaring devils, within him. Besides, he doubts of the truth of his first conversion, consequently he has it lying upon him as a strong suspicion, that there was nothing of truth in all his first experience; and this also adds lead to his heels, and makes him come, as to sense and feeling, more heavily and with the greater difficulty, to God by Christ. As the faithfulness of other men kills him, he cannot see an honest, humble, holy, faithful servant of God, but he is pierced and wounded at the heart. "Aye," says he within himself, "that man fears God; that man hath faithfully followed God; that man, like the elect angels, has kept his place; but I am fallen from my station like a devil. That man honoreth God, edifieth the saints, convinceth the world and condemneth them, and is become 'heir of the righteousness which is by faith.' But I have dishonored God, stumbled and grieved saints, made the world blaspheme, and, for aught I know, been the cause of the damnation of many. "These are the things, I say, together with many more of the same kind, that come to him; yea, they will come with him, yea, and will stare him in the face, will tell him of his baseness and laugh him to scorn, all the way that he is coming to God by Christ-I know what I say-and this makes his coming to God by Christ hard and difficult to him. Shame covereth his face all the way he comes. He doth not know what to do; the God that he is returning to is the God that he has slighted, the God before whom he has preferred the vilest lusts; and he knows God knows it, and has before Him all his ways.
The man that has been a backslider, and is returning to God, can tell strange stories, and yet such as are very true. No man was in the whale's belly, and came out again alive, but backsliding and returning Jonah; consequently no man could tell how he was there, what he felt there, what he saw there, and what workings of heart he had when he was there, so well as he.
The returning again of the backslider gives a second testimony to the truth of man's state being by nature miserable, of the vanity of this world, of the severity of the law, certainty of death, and terribleness of judgment to come. His first coming to God by Christ told them so, but his second coming tells them so with a double confirmation of the truth. "It is so," saith his first coming; "OH, IT is SO!" saith his second.
The backsliding of a Christian comes through the overmuch persuading of Satan and lust, that the man was mistaken, and that there was no such horror in the things from which he fled, nor so much good in the things to which he hasted. "Turn again, fool," says the devil, "turn again to thy former course. I wonder what frenzy it was that drove thee to thy heels, and that made thee leave so much good behind thee, as other men find in the lusts of the flesh and the good of the world. As for the law, and death, and an imagination of the day of judgment, they are but mere scarecrows, set up by polite heads to keep the ignorant in subjection." "Well," says the backslider, "I will go back again and see;" so, fool as he is, he goes back, and has all things ready to entertain him: his conscience sleeps, the world smiles, flesh is sweet, carnal company compliments him, and all that can be got is presented to this backslider to accommodate him. But behold, he doth again begin to see his own nakedness, and he perceives that the law is whetting his axe: as for the world, he perceives it is a bubble; he also smells the smell of brimstone, for God hath scattered it upon his tabernacle and it begins to burn within him. "Oh," saith he, "I am deluded; Oh, I am ensnared. My first sight of things was true. I see it so again." Now he begins to be for flying again to his first refuge: "O God," saith he, "I am undone; I have turned from thy truth to lies; I believed them such at first, and find them such at last: have mercy upon me, O God."
This, I say, is a testimony, a second testimony by the same man.
"And him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out." I shall here speak a word or two to him that is coming, after backsliding, to Jesus Christ for life.
Thy way, O thou sinner of a double dye, thy way is open to come to Jesus Christ. I mean thee, whose heart, after long backsliding, doth think of turning to him again. Thy way, I say, is open to him, as is the way of the other sorts of comers; as appears by what follows.
1. Because the text makes no exception against thee. It doth not say, "And any one but a backslider; any one but him." The text doth not thus object, but indefinitely openeth wide its golden arms to every coming soul, without the least exception. Therefore thou mayest come. And take heed that thou shut not that door against thy soul by unbelief, which God has opened by his grace.
2. Nay, the text is so far from excepting against thy coming, that it strongly suggesteth that thou art one of the souls intended, O thou coming backslider; else why need that clause have been so inserted, "I will in no wise cast out?" as if he should say, "Though those that come now are such as have formerly backslidden, I will in no wise cast away the fornicator, the covetous, the railer, the drunkard, or other common sinners, nor yet the backslider neither."
If thou yet, instead of repenting and doing thy first works, dost remain a backslider,
1. Then remember that thou must die; and remember also, that when the terrors of God, of death, and a back-slidden heart meet together, there will be sad work in that soul: this is the man that hangeth tilting over the mouth of hell, while death is cutting the thread of his life.
2. Remember, that though God doth sometimes, yea, often, receive backsliders, yet it is not always so. Some draw back unto perdition; for, because they have flung up God and would none of him, he in justice flings up them and their souls for ever. Prov. I: 24-28.