They that will have heaven must run for it, because the devil, the law, sin, death, and hell, follow them. There is never a poor soul that is going to heaven, but the devil, the law, sin, death, and hell make after that soul. "Your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about seeking whom he may devour." And I will assure you the devil is nimble; he can run apace, he is light of foot, he hath overtaken many, he hath turned up their heels, and hath given them an everlasting fall. Also the law, that can shoot a great way; have a care thou keep out of the reach of those great guns the ten commandments. Hell also hath a wide mouth; it can stretch itself further than you are aware of. And as the angel said to Lot, "Take heed; look not behind thee, neither tarry thou in all the plain" -- that is, anywhere between this and the mountain -- "lest thou be consumed;" so say I to thee, Take heed; tarry not, lest either the devil, hell, death, or the fearful curses of the law of God, do overtake thee and throw thee down in the midst of thy sins; then thou, as well as I, wouldst say, They that will have heaven must run for it.
They that go to heaven must run for it, because, perchance, the gates of heaven may be shut shortly. Sometimes sinners have not heaven's gates open to them so long as they suppose, and if they be once shut against a man, they are so heavy that all the men in the world and all the angels in heaven are not able to open them. "I shut, and no man can open," saith Christ. And how if thou shouldst come but one quarter of an hour too late? I tell thee it will cost thee an eternity to bewail thy misery in. Francis Spira [Footnote: Francis Spira, an eminent lawyer of Padua, Italy, flurished in the first half of the sixteenth century. He embraced the reformed religion, and advocated evangelical sentiments with very great zeal. But at legnth, terrified by the threats of the papal church, he made a public recantation of his religious opinions. His apostasy from the faith threw him into despair, and amid intolerable mental agonies, refusing all sustenance and comfort, and affirming his certain condemnation for having abjured the known truth, he miserably expired. See Sleidan's History of the Reformation, page 475.] can tell thee what it is to stay till the gate of mercy be quite shut; or to run so lazily that they be shut before thou get within them. What, to be shut out -- what, out of heaven! Sinner, rather than lose it, run for it; yea, and "so run that thou mayest obtain."
Be not daunted though thou meetest with never so many discouragements in thy journey thither. That man that is resolved for heaven, if Satan cannot win him by flatteries, he will endeavor to weaken him by discouragements, saying, Thou art a sinner, thou hast broke God's law, thou art not elected, thou comest too late, the day of grace & past, God doth not care for thee, thy heart is naught, thou art lazy -- with a hundred other discouraging suggestions. Then thou must encourage thyself with the freeness of the promises, the tender-heartedness of Christ, the freeness of his invitations to come in, the greatness of the sin of others that have been pardoned, and that the same God through the same Christ holdeth forth the same grace free as ever. If these be not thy meditations, thou wilt draw very heavily in the way to heaven if thou do not give up all for lost; therefore I say, take heart in thy journey, and say to them that seek thy destruction, "Rejoice not against me, O my enemy, for when I fall I shall arise, when I sit in darkness the Lord shall be a light unto me."
Let me give thee a few motives along with thee. It may be they will be as good as a pair of spurs to prick on thy lumpish heart in this rich journey.
1. Consider there is no way but this; thou must either win or lose. If thou winnest, then heaven, God, Christ, glory, ease, peace, life, yea, life eternal, are thine; thou shalt be made equal to the angels in heaven; thou shalt sorrow no more, sigh no more, feel no more pain; thou shalt be out of the reach of sin, hell, death, the devil, the grave, and whatever else may endeavor thy hurt.
But contrariwise, if thou lose, then thy loss is heaven, glory, God, Christ, ease, peace, and whatever else tends to make eternity comfortable to the saints; besides, thou procurest eternal death, sorrow, pain, blackness and darkness, fellowship with devils, together with the everlasting damnation of thy own soul.
2. Consider that this devil, this hell, death, and damnation follow after thee as hard as they can, and have their commission so to do by the law, against which thou hast sinned; and therefore for thy soul's sake make haste.
3. If they seize upon thee before thou get to the city of refuge, they will put an everlasting stop to thy journey. This also cries, Run for it.
4. Know also, that now heaven-gates, the heart of Christ with his arms are wide open to receive thee O methinks that this consideration, that the devil followeth after to destroy, and that Christ standeth open-armed to receive, should make thee reach out and fly with all haste and speed!
5. Keep thine eyes upon the prize: be sure that thine eyes be continually upon the profit thou art like to get. The reason why men are so apt to faint in their race for heaven, lies chiefly in either of these two things:
(1.) They do not seriously consider the worth of the prize; or else if they do, they are afraid it is too good for them. Therefore keep thine eye much upon the excellency, the sweetness, the beauty, the comfort, the peace that is to be had there by those that win the prize.
(2.) And do not let the thoughts of the rareness of the place make thee say in thy heart, This is too good for me; for I tell thee, heaven is prepared for whosoever will accept of it, and they shall he entertained with hearty good welcome.
6. Think much of them that are gone before; how safe they are in the arms of Jesus. Would they be here again for a thousand worlds? Or if they were, would they be afraid that God would not make them welcome? What would they judge of thee if they knew thy heart began to fail thee in thy journey, or thy sins began to allure thee and to persuade thee to stop thy race? Would they not call thee a thousand fools, and say, O that he did but see what we see, feel what we feel, and taste of the dainties that we taste of? O if he were one quarter of an hour to behold, to feel, to taste, and enjoy but the thousandth part of what we enjoy, what would he do? What would he suffer? What would he leave undone? Would he favor sin? Would he love this world below? Would he be afraid of friends, or shrink at the most fearful threatenings that the greatest tyrants could invent to give him? Nay, those who have had but a sight of these things by faith, when they have been as far off from them as heaven from earth, yet they have been able to say with a comfortable and merry heart as the bird that sings in the spring, that this and more shall not stop them from running to heaven. Sometimes when my base heart hath been inclining to this world, and to loiter in my journey towards heaven, the very consideration of the glorious saints and angels in heaven hath caused me to rush forward -- to disdain these poor, low, empty, beggarly things, and say to my soul, Come soul, let us not be weary; let us see what this heaven is; let us even venture all for it, and try if that will quit the cost. Surely Abraham, David, Paul, and the rest of the saints of God, were as wise as any are now, and yet they lost all for this glorious kingdom.
7. To encourage thee a little further, set to work, and when thou hast run thyself down weary, then the Lord Jesus will take thee up and carry thee. Is not this enough to make any poor soul begin his race? Thou perhaps criest, "O, but I am feeble, I am lame;" well, but Christ has a bosom; consider, therefore, when thou hast run thyself down weary, he will put thee in his bosom. "He shall gather the lambs with his arms, and carry them in his bosom." This is the way that fathers take to encourage their children, saying, Run, sweet babe, until thou art weary, and then I will take thee up and carry thee.
8. Or else he will convey new strength from heaven into thy soul.
9. Again, methinks the very industry of the devil, and the industry of his servants, should make you that have a desire to heaven and happiness, run apace. Why, the devil he will lose no time, spare no pains, also neither will his servants, both to seek the destruction of themselves and others; and shall not we be as industrious for our own salvation? Shall the world venture the damnation of their souls for a poor corruptible crown, and shall not we venture the loss of a few trifles for an eternal crown? Shall they venture the loss of eternal friends, as God to love, Christ to redeem, the Holy Spirit to comfort, heaven for habitation, saints and angels for company, and all this to get and hold communion with sin and this world, and a few base wretches like themselves? And shall not we labor as hard, run as fast, seek as diligently, nay, a hundred times more diligently, for the company of these glorious eternal friends, though with the loss of such as these, nay, with the loss of a thousand times better than these poor, low, base, contemptible things? Shall it be said at the last day, that wicked men made more haste to hell than you did make to heaven; that they spent more hours, days, and that early and late, for hell, than you spent for that which is ten thousand thousand of thousand times better? O let it not be so, but run with all might and main.
Is the soul such an excellent thing, and is the loss thereof so unspeakably great? Then this commends those for the wise ones that above all business concern themselves with the salvation of their souls; those that make all other matters but things by the by, and the salvation of their soul the one thing needful.
Let me then encourage those that are of this mind to be strong and hold on their way. Soul, thou hast chosen right; I will say of thy choice, as David said of Goliath's sword, "There is none like that, give it me."
But who told thee that thy soul was such an excellent thing as by thy practice thou declarest thou believest it to be? What, set more by thy soul than by all the world? What, cast a world behind thy back for the welfare of a soul! Is not this to play the fool in the account of sinners, while angels wonder at and rejoice for thy wisdom?
What a thing is this, that thy soul and its welfare should be more in thy esteem than all these glories wherewith the eyes of the world are dazzled! Surely, thou hast looked upon the sun, and that makes gold look like a clod of clay in thine eyesight.
But who put the thoughts of the excellencies of the things that are eternal -- I say, who put the thoughts of the excellency of those things into thy mind in this wanton age, in an age wherein the thoughts of eternal life and the salvation of the soul are with too many like the Morocco ambassador [Footnote: Evelyn, who lived in the times of Charles I., Cromwell. Charles II., and William, refers in his "Diary" to this ambassador, named Hamet. When presented to the king, he and his retinue were "clad in the Moorish habite, cassocks of colored cloth or silk, with buttons and loopes; over this an ALHAGA or white woolen mantle, so large as to wrap both head and body; a shash or small turban; naked legg'd and armed, but with leather socks like the Turks; rich scymeters, and large calico-sleeved shirts. The ambassador had a string of pearls oddly woven in the turban. Their presents were lions and estridges (ostriches.) But the concourse and tumult of the people was intolerable, so as the officers could keep no order."] and his men of strange faces, in strange habits, with strange gestures and behaviors, monsters to behold?
But where hadst thou that heart that gives entertainment to these thoughts, these heavenly thoughts? These thoughts are like the French Protestants, [Footnote: By the famous edict of Nantes, which was granted the Huguenots by Henry IV., they were allowed liberty of conscience and the free exercise of religion. Louis XIV., grandson of Henry, after a series of arbitrary infractions of that edict by his father and himself at the instigation of the Jesuits, at length in 1685 abrogated it, and banished the Protestants from the kingdom under circumstances of aggravated cruelty. Great numbers of them were dispersed through all the countries of Europe. Evelyn, in his Diary, says that in 1685, "there had now been numbered to passe through Geneva onely forty thousand towards Swisserland. In Holland, Denmark, and all Germany were dispersed some hundred thousands, besides those in England." In the Memoirs of the Reformation in France prefixed to Saurin's Sermons, it is stated that eight hundred thousand were banished from France, and that they carried with them more than twenty millions of property. The refugees charged their sufferings on the RELIGION of Rome, for Pope Innocent XI highly approved of this persecution. He wrote a brief to the king, assuring him that what he had done against the heretics of his kingdom would be immortalieied by the eulogies of the Catholic church. He delivered a discourse in the Consistory in 1689, in which he said, "The most Christian king's zeal and piety did wonderfully appear in extirpating heresy." He ordered the TE DEUM to be sung. Evelyn says, "I was show'd the harangue which the bishop of Valentia on Rhone made in the name of the cleargie, celebrating the French king for persecuting the poor Protestants; with this expression in it: 'His victory over heresy was greater than all the conquests of Alexander and Caesar.'"] banished thence where they willingly would have harbor: how came they to thy house, to thy heart, and to find entertainment in thy soul? The Lord keep them in every imagination of the thoughts of thy heart for ever, and incline thine heart to seek him more and more.
And since the whole world have slighted and despised and counted foolish the thoughts wherewith thy soul is exercised, what strong and mighty supporter is it upon and with which thou bearest up thy spirit, and takest encouragement in this thy forlorn, unoccupied, and singular way, for so I dare say it is with the most? But certainly it is something above thyself, and that is more mighty to uphold thee than is the power, rage, and malice of all the world to cast thee down, or else thou couldst not bear up, now the stream and the force thereof are against thee.
OBJECTION. "I know my soul is an excellent thing, and that the world to come and its glories, even in the smallest glimpse thereof, do swallow up all the world that is here; my heart also doth greatly desire to be exercised about the thoughts of eternity, and I count myself never better than when my poor heart is filled with them; and as for the rage and fury of this world, it swayeth very little with me, for my heart is come to a point; but yet for all that, I meet with many discouragements, and such things as indeed do weaken my strength in the way."
But, brave soul, pray tell me what the things are that discourage thee, and that weaken thy strength in the way.
"Why, the amazing greatness of this my enterprise. I am now pursuing things of the highest, the greatest, the most enriching nature, even eternal things; and the thoughts of the greatness of them drowned me: for when the heat of my spirit in the pursuit after them is a little returned and abated, methinks I hear myself talking thus to myself: Fond fool, canst thou imagine that such a gnat, a flea as thou art, can take and possess the heavens, and mantle thyself up in the eternal glories? If thou makest first a trial of the successfulness of thy endeavors upon things far lower, more base, but much more easy to obtain, as crowns, kingdoms, earldoms, dukedoms, gold, silver, or the like, how vain are these attempts of thine, and yet thou thinkest to possess thy soul of heaven. Away, away! by the height thereof, thou mayest well conclude it is far above, out of thy reach; and by the breadth thereof, it is too large for thee to grasp; and by the nature of the excellent glory thereof, too good for thee to possess. These are the thoughts that sometimes discourage me, and that weaken my strength in the way."
ANSWER. The greatness of thy undertakings does but show the nobleness of thy soul, in that it cannot, will not be content with such low and dry things as the base-born spirits that are in the world can and do content themselves withal.
And as to the greatness of the things thou aimest at, though they be, as they are indeed, things that have not their like, yet they are not too big for God to give; and he has promised to give them to the soul that seeketh him; yea, he hath prepared the kingdom, and laid up in the kingdom of heaven the things that thy soul longeth for, presseth after, and cannot he content without.
Art thou got into the right way? Art thou in Christ's righteousness? Do not say, Yes, in thy heart, when in truth there is no such matter. It is a dangerous thing, you know, for a man to think he is in the right way, when he is in the wrong. It is the next way for him to lose his way; and not only so, but if he run for heaven, as thou sayest thou dost, even to lose that too. O this is the misery of most men, to persuade themselves that they are right, when they never had one foot in the way! The Lord give thee understanding here, or else thou art undone for ever. Prithee, soul, search when it was thou turnedst out of thy sins and righteousness into the righteousness of Jesus Christ. I say, dost thou see thyself in him; and is he more precious to thee than the whole world? Is thy mind always musing on him; and lovest thou to be walking with him? Dost thou count his company more precious than the whole world? Dost thou count all things but poor, lifeless, empty, vain things, without communion with him? Doth his company sweeten all things; and his absence imbitter all things? Soul, I beseech thee be serious, and lay it to heart, and do not take things of such weighty concernment as the salvation or damnation of thy soul without good ground.
Art thou unladen of the things of this world; as pride, pleasures, profits, lusts, vanities? What, dost thou think to run fast enough, with the world, thy sins and lusts in thy heart? I tell thee, soul, they that have laid all aside, every weight, every sin, and are got into the nimblest posture, they find work enough to run; so to run as to hold out. To run through all the opposition, all the jostles, all the rubs, over all the stumbling-blocks, over all the snares, from all the entanglements that the devil, sin, the world, and their own hearts lay before them -- I tell thee, if thou art going heavenward, thou wilt find it no small or easy matter.
Art thou therefore discharged or unladen of these things? Never talk of going to heaven if thou art not. It is to be feared thou wilt be found among the "many that shall seek to enter in and shall not be able." If so, then in the next place, what will become of them that are grown weary before they are got half-way thither? Why, man, it is he that holdeth out to the end, that must be saved; it is he that overcometh, that shall inherit all things; it is not every one that begins. Agrippa took a fair step for a sudden: he steps almost into the bosom of Christ in less than half an hour. "Almost," saith he to Paul, "thou persuadest me to be a Christian." Ah, it was but ALMOST; and so he had as good have never been a WHIT; he stepped fair indeed, but yet he stepped short; he was hot while he was at it, but he was quickly out of wind. O this BUT ALMOST! I tellyou, this BUT ALMOST lost his soul. Methinks I have seen sometimes how these poor wretches that get but almost to heaven, how fearfully their almost and their but almost will torment them in hell; when they shall cry out in the bitterness of their souls, saying, "Almost a Christian. I was almost got into the kingdom, almost out of the hands of the devil, almost out of my sins, almost from under the curse of God; almost, and that was all; almost, but not altogether. O that I should be almost at heaven, and should not go quite through!" Friend, it is a sad thing to sit down before we are in heaven, and to grow weary before we come to the place of rest; and if it should be thy case, I am sure thou dost not so run as to obtain.
EVANGELIST. The crown is before you, and it is an incorruptible one; "So run, that you may obtain it." Some there be that set out for this crown, and after they have gone far for it, another comes in and takes it from them: "Hold fast, therefore, that ye have; let no man take your crown:" you are not yet out of the gunshot of the devil; "you have not resisted unto blood, striving against sin:" let the kingdom be always before you, and believe stead-fastly concerning things that are invisible; let nothing that is on this side the other world get within you; and, above all, look well to your own hearts and to the lusts thereof, for they are "deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked:" set your faces like a flint; you have all power in heaven and earth on your side.
Though the way to heaven be but one, yet there are many crooked lanes and by-paths that shoot down upon it, as I may say. And again, notwithstanding the kingdom of heaven be the chief city, yet usually those by-paths are most beaten, most travellers go those ways; and therefore the way to heaven is hard to be found, and as hard to be kept in, by reason of these. Yet, nevertheless, it is in this case as it was with the harlot of Jericho; she had one scarlet thread tied in her window, by which her house was known: so it is here; the scarlet streams of Christ's blood run throughout the way to the kingdom of heaven; therefore mind that: see if thou do find the besprinkling of the blood of Christ in the way; and if thou do, be of good cheer, thou art in the right way.