The porch [Footnote: This passage is from "The House of the Forest of Lebanon," which Bunyan regarded as a type of the church in her persecuted state.] is but the entrance of the house, whither many go that yet step not into the house, but make their retreat from thence; but it is because they are non-residents: they only come to see; or else, if they pretended more, it was not from the heart. "They went out from us," said John, "but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us; but they went out that it might be made manifest that they were not all of us."
And forasmuch as this porch was fifty cubits long, men may take many a step straightforward therein, and be but in the porch yet; even as we have seen men go as one would think till they are out of view, in the porch of this church in the wilderness; but presently you have them without the door again.
True, this porch was made of pillars; and so to every one, at first entrance, it seemed the power of the place. The church in the wilderness also is so builded, that men may see that it is ordained for defence. Men also, at their first offer to step over the threshold there, with mouth profess that they will dwell as soldiers there. But words are but wind: when they see the storm coming, they will take care to shift for themselves. This house or church in the wilderness must see to itself for all them.
The church also in the wilderness, even in her porch or first entrance into it, is full of pillars -- apostles, prophets, and martyrs of Jesus. There also hang up the shields that the old warriors have used, and there are plastered upon the walls the brave achievements which they have done. There also are such encouragements there for those that stand, that one would think none that came thither with pretence to serve there, would for very shame attempt to go back again; and yet not to their credit be it spoken, they will forsake the place without blushing, yea, and plead for this their so doing.
There is the wilfully ignorant professor, or he that is afraid to know more for fear of the cross. He is for picking and choosing of truth, and loveth not to hazard his all for that worthy name by which he would be called. When he is at any time overset by arguments or awakenings of conscience, he uses to heal all by, "I was not brought up in this faith;" as if it were unlawful for Christians to know more than hath been taught them at first conversion. There are many scriptures that lie against this man, as the mouths of great guns.
There is another professor; and he is for God and for Baal too: he can be any thing for any company; he can throw stones with both hands; his religion alters as fast as his company; he is a frog of Egypt, and can live in the water and out of the water; he can live in religious company, and again as well out. Nothing that is disorderly comes amiss to him; he can hold with the hare and run with the hound; he carries fire in one hand and water in the other; he is a very, any thing but what he should be. This is also one of the many that "will seek to enter in, and will not be able."
Christian and Hopeful, after their headstrong manner, (said Mr. By-ends,) conclude that it is their duty to rush on their journey all weathers; and I am for waiting for wind and tide. They are for hazarding all for God at a clap; and I am for taking all advantages to secure my life and estate. They are for holding their notions, though all other men be against them; but I am for religion in what and so far as the times and any safety will bear it. They are for religion when in rags and contempt; but I am for him when he walks in golden slippers, in the sunshine, and with applause.
Then I saw in my dream that Christian and Hopeful forsook him, and kept their distance before him; but one of them looking back, saw three men following Mr. By-ends; and behold, as they came up with him he made them a very low congee, and they also gave him a compliment. The men's names were, Mr. Hold-the-world, Mr, Money-love, and Mr. Save-all; men that Mr. By-ends had formerly been acquainted with, for in their minority they were schoolfellows, and were taught by one Mr. Gripe-man, a schoolmaster in Love-gain, which is a market-town in the county of Coveting, in the North. This schoolmaster taught them the art of getting, either by violence, cozenage, flattery, lying, or by putting on a guise of religion; and these four gentlemen had attained much of the art of their master, so that they could each of them have kept such a school themselves.
The Interpreter takes them out into his garden, and had them to a tree whose inside was all rotten and gone, and yet it grew and had leaves. Then said Mercy, "What means this?" "This tree," said he, "whose outside is fair and whose inside is rotten, is it which may be compared to them that are in the garden of God, who with their mouths speak high in behalf of God, but in deed will do nothing for him; whose leaves are fair, but their heart good for nothing but to be tinder for the devil's tinder-box."
This is the reason of that evil-favoredness that you see attending some men's lives and professions; they have been corrupted, as Adam was, either by evil words or bad examples, even till the very face of their lives and professions are disfigured as with the pox or canker.
As the bramble said to the rest of the trees, so saith Christ to feigned thanksgivers, who pretend to give thanks for liberty, but rather use their liberty as an occasion for the flesh: If in truth ye anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust under my shadow; submit to my law, and be governed by my testament.
Hypocrisy is one of the most abominable of iniquities. It is a sin that dares it with God. It is a sin that saith God is ignorant, or that he delighteth in iniquity. It is a sin that flattereth, that dissembleth, that offereth to hold God, as it were, fair in hand, about that which is neither purposed nor intended. It is also a sin that puts a man upon studying and contriving to beguile and deceive his neighbor as to the bent and intent of the heart, and also as to the cause and end of actions. It is a sin that persuadeth a man to make a show of civility, morality, or religion, as a cloak, a pretence, a guise to deceive withal. It will make a man preach for a place and praise, rather than to glorify God and save souls; it will put a man upon talking, that he may be commended; it will make a man, when he is at prayer in his closet, strive to be heard without door; it will make a man ask for that he desireth not, and show zeal in duties when his heart is as cold, as senseless, and as much without savor as a clod; it will make a man pray to be seen and heard of men, rather than to be heard of God; it will make a man strive to weep when he repenteth not, and to pretend much friendship when he doth not love; it will make a man pretend to experience and sanctification when he has none, and to faith and sincerity when he knows not what they are. There is opposed to this sin, simplicity, innocence, and godly sincerity, without which three graces thou wilt be a hypocrite. Believe that a hypocrite, with the cunning and shrouds for his hypocrisy, can go unseen no further than the grave; nor can he longer flatter himself with thoughts of life.
A hypocrite and a false professor may go a great way; they may pass through the first and second watch, to wit, may be approved by Christians and churches; but what will they do when they come at the iron gate that leadeth into the city?
As Luther says, "In the name of God" begins all mischief. For hypocrites have no other way to bring their evils to maturity, but by using and mixing the name of God and religion therewith. Thus they become whited walls; for by this white, the white of religion, the dirt of their actions is hid.
Religion to most men is but a by-business, with which they use to fill up spare hours; or as a stalking-horse, which is used to catch the game.
The Pharisees did carry the bell and wear the garland for religion.
A fawning dog and a wolf in sheep's clothing; they differ a little in outward appearance, but they can both agree to worry Christ's lambs.
CHRIST'S LOVE ABUSED.
Take heed of abusing this love of Christ, Eph.3: 18, 19. This exhortation seems needless; for love is such a thing as one would think none could find in their hearts to abuse. But for all that, I am of opinion that there is nothing that is more abused among professors at this day, than is this love of God. And what can such a one say for himself in the judgment, that shall be charged with the abuse of love? Christians, deny yourselves, deny your lusts, deny the vanities of this present life, devote yourselves to God, become lovers of God, lovers of his ways, and a people zealous of good works; then shall you show to one another and to all men that you have not received the grace of God in vain. And what a thing will it be to be turned off at last, as one that abused the love of Christ; as one that presumed upon his lusts, this world, and all manner of naughtiness, because the love of Christ to pardon sins was so great! What an unthinking, what a disingenuous one wilt thou be counted at that day; yea, thou wilt be found to be the man that made a prey of love, that made a stalk ing-horse of love, that made of love a slave to sin, the devil, and the world; and will not that be had?
OBJECTION. If it be so, then men need not care what they do; they may live in sin, seeing Christ hath made satisfaction.
ANSWER. If I were to point out one under the power of the devil, going hastily to hell, I would look no further for such a man than to him that would make such a use as this of the grace of God. What, because Christ is a Saviour, thou wilt be a sinner; because his grace abounds, therefore thou wilt abound in sin! O wicked wretch, let me tell thee before I leave thee, as God's covenant with Christ for his children stands sure, immutable, and unchangeable, so also hath God taken such a course with thee, that unless he deny himself, it is impossible that thou shouldst go to heaven, dying in that condition. They tempted God, proved him, and turned his grace into lasciviousness; so he sware in his wrath, They shall not enter into my rest. No, saith God, if Christ and heaven will not satisfy them, hell must devour them. God hath more places than one in which to put sinners: if they do not like heaven, hell must be their residence; if they do not love Christ, they must dwell for ever with devils.
PERVERSION OF THE TRUTH. Let those that name the name of Christ depart from the iniquity that cleaveth to opinions. This is a sad age for that: let opinions in themselves be never so good, never so necessary, never so innocent, yet there are spirits in the world that will entail iniquity to them, and will make the vanity so inseparable from the opinion, that it is almost impossible with some to take in the opinion and leave out the iniquity that by craft and subtlety of Satan is joined thereto. Nor is this a thing new and of yesterday; it has been thus almost in all ages of the church of God, and that not only in things small and indifferent, but in things fundamental and most substantial. I need instance in none other for proof hereof, but the doctrine of faith and holiness. If faith be preached as that which is absolutely necessary to justification, then faith fantastical, and looseness and remissness in life, with some, are joined therewith. If holiness of life be preached as necessary to salvation, then faith is undervalued and set below its place, and works, as to justification with God, set up and made copartners with Christ's merits in the remission of sins. Thus iniquity joineth itself with the greatest and most substantial truths of the gospel; and it is hard to receive any good opinion whatever, but iniquity will join itself thereto.
What you say about doubtful opinions, alterable modes, rites, and circumstances in religion, I know none so wedded thereto as yourselves, For you thus argue: "Whatsoever of such are commended by the custom of the place we live in, or commanded by superiors, or made by any circumstance convenient to be done, our Christian liberty consists in this-that we have leave to do them."
So that, do but call them things indifferent, things that are the customs of the place we live in, or made by any circumstance convenient, and a man may not doubt but he hath leave to do them, let him live at Rome or Constantinople, or amidst the greatest corruption of worship and government. There are therefore, doubtless, a third sort of fundamentals, by which you can wrestle with conviction of conscience, and stifle it-by which you can suit yourself for every fashion, mode, and way of religion. Here you may hop from Presbyterianism to a prelatical mode; and if time and chance should serve you, backwards and forwards again: yea, here you can make use of several consciences, one for this way now, another for that anon; now putting out the light of this by a sophistical, delusive argument. then putting out the other by an argument that best suits the time. Yea, how oft is the candle of the wicked put out by such glorious learning as this. Nay, I doubt not but a man of your principles, were he put upon it, would not stick to count those you call gospel-positive precepts,
[Footnote: "Latitudinarian." This term is used of a "remarkable class of divines," who flourished in England about the middle and towards the close of the seventeenth century. Coleridge, in his Literary Remains, says that they were generally Platonists, and all of them admirers of Grotius. "They fell into the mistake of finding in the Greek philosophy many anticipations of the Christian faith, which in fact were but its echoes. The inference is as perilous as inevitable, namely, that even the mysteries of Christianity needed no revelation, having been previously discovered and set forth by unaided reason." They are thus characterized by Dr. Wm. R. Williams, ("Miscellanies," p.196:) "Against infidelity and popery they did good service in the cause of truth. Their dread of enthusiasm made them frigid, and their mastery of the ancient philosophy made them profound. Their doctrines were generally Arrninian. Their notions of church power were less rigid than those of the rival party, and they were also more tolerant of difference in opinion. But in their preaching they laid the whole stress, well-nigh, of their efforts upon morals, to the neglect of doctrine; and in their theology, they attributed to human reason a strength and authority which gradually opened the way to the invasion of the gravest heresies. Of generally purer character than their opponents, they were also abler preachers. But while valuable as moral treatises, their sermons were most defective; for the peculiar doctrines and spirit of the gospel were evaporated." It cannot be doubted, that a class which included such men as Henry More, Cudworth, Tillotson, and Burnet, hardly deserves the wholesale reprobation hurled upon it by Bunyan. That some of them carried their LIBERALISM to a dangerous extreme, and that all of them allowed too great latitude of sentiment in theology, and, by their philosophical speculations, obscured the simple glory of the gospel, is indeed true; but some who bore this name were men of unquestionable piety, as well as of eminent genius and scholarship.]
It is interesting to contrast the mixture of divine truth and human speculation, and the almost melancholy doubts, exhibited in the writings of so excellent a man as Cudworth, with the strong and certain convictions, and the clear, well-defined views of Christian doctrine of John Bunyan, connected as they were in his case with the almost exclusive study of the word of God. We learn thereby not to despise learning and philosophy, but to beware of lowering the authority and of no value at all in the Christian religion; for now, even now, you do not stick to say that even the duty of going to God by Christ is one of these, and such a one as, if absolutely considered in itself, is neither good nor evil.
How, then, if God should cast you into Turkey, where Mahomet reigns as lord? it is but reckoning that it is the religion and custom of the country, and that which is authorized by the power that is there; wherefore, it is but sticking to your dictates of human nature, and remembering that coming to God by Christ is a thing of an indifferent nature in itself, and then for peace' sake and to sleep in a whole skin, you may comply and do as your superior commands. Why? because in Turkey are your first sort of fundamentals all found; there are men that have human nature and the law of morals written in their hearts; they have also the dictates thereof written within them, which teach them those you call the eternal laws of righteousness: wherefore you both would agree in your essential and immutable differences of good and evil, and differ only about these positive laws -- indifferent things. Yea, and Mahomet also for the time, because by a custom it is made convenient, might be now accounted worshipful; and the circumstances that attend his worship, especially those of them that clash not with the dictates of your human nature, might also be swallowed down.
Behold you here then, good reader, a glorious Latitudinarian, that can, as to religion, turn and twist like an eel on the hook; or rather like the weathercock that stands on the steeple.
Dost thou profess the name of Christ, and dost thou pretend to be a man departing from iniquity? Then take sufficiency of divine revelation before human reason and speculation, and to acknowledge with humble gratitude the rich rewards of an earnest and prayerful study of the English Scriptures. heed thou dost not deceive thyself, by changing one bad way of sinning for another bad way of sinning. This was a trick that Israel played of old; for when God's prophets followed them hard with demands of repentance and reformation, then they would "gad about to change their ways." Jer.2: 36. But behold, they would not change a bad way for a good, but one bad way for another; hopping as the squirrel from bough to bough, but not willing to forsake the tree. Many times men change their darling sins, as some change their servants; that which would serve for such a one this year, may not serve for the year ensuing. Hypocrisy would do awhile ago, but now debauchery. Profaneness would do when profaneness was in fashion, but now a deceitful profession. Take heed, professor, that thou dost not throw away thy old darling sin for a new one. Men's tempers alter. Youth is for pride and wantonness; middle age for cunning and craft; old age for the world and covetousness. Take heed, therefore, of deceit in this thing.
Dost thou profess the name of Christ, and dost thou pretend to be a man departing from iniquity? take heed lest thy departing from iniquity should be but for a time. Some do depart from iniquity, as persons in wrangling fits depart from one another, to wit, for a time; but when the quarrel is over, by means of some intercessor they are reconciled again. Oh, Satan is the intercessor between the soul and sin; and though the breach between these two may seem to be irreconcilable, yea, though the soul has sworn it will never more give countenance to so vile a thing as sin is, yet he can tell how to make up this difference, and to fetch them back to their vomit again, who, one would have thought, had quite escaped his sins and been gone.2 Pet.2: 18 -- 22. Take heed, therefore, O professor, for there is danger of this, and the height of danger lies in it; and I think that Satan, to do this thing, makes use of those sins again to begin, this rejoinder, which he findeth most suitable to the temper and constitution of the sinner. These are, as I may call them, the master-sins, they suit, they agree with the temper of the soul. These, as the little end of the wedge, enter with ease, and so make way for those that come after, with which Satan knows he can rend the soul in pieces. Wherefore,
To help this, take heed of parleying with thy sins again, when once thou hast departed from them: sin has a smooth tongue; if thou hearken to its enchanting language, ten thousand to one but thou art entangled. Take heed, therefore, of listening to the charms wherewith sin enchanteth the soul. In this, be like the deaf adder; stop thine ear, plug it up to sin, and let it only be open to hear the words of God.
THE UNHOLY PROFESSOR.
A professor that hath not forsaken his iniquity, is like one that comes out of the pest-house, among the whole, with his plague-sores running upon him. This is the man that hath the breath of a dragon; he poisons the air round about him. This is the man that slays his children, his kinsmen, his friend, and himself. What shall I say? A man that nameth the name of Christ, and that departeth not from iniquity, to whom may he be compared? The Pharisees, for that they professed religion but walked not answerably thereto, unto what doth Christ compare them but to serpents and vipers; what does he call them but hypocrites, whited walls, painted sepulchres, fools, and blind, and tells them that they made men more the children of hell than they were before? Matt.23. Wherefore, such a one cannot go out of the world by himself; for as he gave occasion of scandal when he was in the world, so is he the cause of the damnation of many. The apostle did use to weep when he spake of these professors, such an offence he knew they were and would be in the world. Acts 20:30; Phil.3:18, 19.
These are the chief of the engines of Satan; with these he worketh wonders. One Balaam, one Jeroboam, one Ahab, O how many fish such bring to Satan's net. These are the tares that he strives to sow among the wheat, for he knows they are mischief to it. "Wherefore let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity."
Those that religiously name the name of Christ and do not depart from iniquity, how will they die; and how will they look that Man in the face, unto the profession of whose name they have entailed an unrighteous conversation; or do they think that he doth not know what they have done, or that they may take him off with a few cries and wringing of hands, when he is on the throne to do judgment against transgressors. O, it had been better they had not known, had not professed; yea, better they had never been born. And as Christ says it had been good, so Peter says it had been better, Mark 14:12; 14:22; 2 Pet.2: 20, 2l -- good they had not been born, and better they had not known and made profession of the name of Christ.
We read that the tail of the dragon, or that the dragon by his tail, did draw and cast down abundance of the stars of heaven to the earth. Rev.12:4; Isa.9:14,15. The prophet that speaketh lies either by opinion or practice, he is the tail, the dragon's tail, the serpentine tail of the devil. Isa.9:14,15. And so in his order, every professor that by his iniquity draweth both himself and others down to hell, he is the tail. Nor can Satan work such exploits by any, as he can by unrighteous professors. These he useth in his hand as the giant useth his club; he, as it were, drives all before him with it. It is said of Behemoth, that "he moveth his tail like a cedar." Job 40:17. Behemoth is a type of the devil; but behold how he handleth his tail, even as if a man should swing about a cedar. This is spoken to show the hurtfulness of the tail, as it is also said in another place, Rev.9:5,10,19. Better no professor than a wicked professor; better openly profane, than a hypocritical namer of the name of Christ; and less hurt shall such a one do to his own soul, to the poor ignorant world, to the name of Christ, and to the church of God.
There is the sin of professors; there is a profession that will stand with an unsanctified heart and life. The sin of such will overpoise the salvation of their souls, the sin-end being the heaviest end of the scale: I say, that being the heaviest end which hath sin in it, they tilt over, and so are, notwithstanding their glorious profession, drowned in perdition and destruction.
The iniquity that cleaveth to men that profess, if they cast it not away, but countenance it, will all prove nettles and briars to them; and I will assure thee, yea, thou knowest, that nettles and thorns will sting and scratch but ill-favoredly. "I went," saith Solomon, "by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; and lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down." Prov.24:30,31.
Suppose a man were, after work all day, to be turned into a bed of nettles at night; or, after a man had been about such a business, should be rewarded with chastisements of briars and thorns; this reward for work would be but little help, relief, or comfort to him. But this is the reward of a wicked man, of a wicked professor from God: nettles and thorns are to cover over the face of his vineyard, his field, his profession, and that at the last of all; far this covering over the face of his vineyard with nettles and thorns, is to show what fruit the slovenly, slothful, careless professor will reap out of his profession when reaping-time shall come.
Nor can he whose vineyard, whose profession is covered over with these nettles and thorns of iniquity, escape being afflicted with them in his conscience; for, as they cover the face of his vineyard through his sloth now, so will they cover the face of his conscience in the day of judgment. For profession and conscience cannot be separated long: if a man then shall make profession without conscience of God's honor in his conversation, his profession and conscience will meet in the day of his visitation. Nor will he whose condition this shall be, be able to ward off the guilt and sting of a slothful and bad conversation from covering the face of his conscience, by retaining in his profession the name of Jesus Christ; for naming and professing the name of Christ will, instead of salving such a conscience, put venom, sting, and keenness into those nettles and thorns that then shall be spread over the face of such consciences. I beseech you, consider this, namely, that the man that professeth the name of Christ and yet liveth a wicked life, is the greatest enemy that God has in the world, and consequently one that God will most eminently set his face against.
THE FRUITLESS PROFESSOR.
Barren-fig-tree, thou art not licensed by thy profession, nor by the Lord of the vineyard, to bear these clusters of Gomorrah; neither shall the vineyard, nor thy being crowded among the trees there, shelter thee from the sight of the eye of God. Many make religion their cloak and Christ their stalking-horse, and by that means cover themselves and hide their own wickedness from men: but God seeth their hearts, hath his print upon the heels of their feet, and pondereth all their goings; and at last, when their iniquity is found to be hateful, he will either smite them with hardness of heart and so leave them, or awaken them to bring forth fruit. Fruit he looks for, seeks, and expects, O thou barren fig-tree.
But what, come into the presence of God to sin What, come into the presence of God to hide thy sin! Alas, man, the church is God's garden, and Christ Jesus is the great Apostle and High-priest of our profession. What, come into the house that is called by his name, into the place where his honor dwelleth, where his eyes and heart are continually -- what, come there to sin, to hide thy sin, to cloak thy sin! His plants are an orchard with pleasant fruits; and every time he goeth into his garden, it is "to see the fruits of the valley," and to see if the vines flourish and if the pomegranates bud.
Yea, he came seeking fruit on this fig-tree. The church is the place of God's delight, where he ever desires to be; there he is night and day. He is there to seek for fruit, to seek for fruit of all and every tree in the garden. Wherefore assure thyself, O fruitless one, that thy ways must needs be open before the eyes of the Lord. One black sheep is soon espied, although in company with many; it is taken with the first cast of the eye; its different color still betrays it. I say, therefore, a church and a profession are not places where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves from God, that seeks for fruit: "My vineyard," saith God, "which is mine, is before me." Song 8:12; Psa.26:8; 1 Kings, 9:3; Song 4:13-15.
Barren soul, how many showers of grace, how many dews from heaven, hast thou enjoyed! How many times have the silver streams of the city of God run gliding by thy roots, to cause thee to bring forth fruit! These showers and streams, and the drops that hang upon thy boughs, will all be accounted for; and will they not testify against thee, that thou oughtest of right to be burned? Hear and tremble, O thou barren professor!
When a man seeks for fruit on a tree, he goes round it and round it, now looking into this bough and then into that; he peeps into the inmost boughs and the lowermost boughs, if perhaps fruit may be thereon. Barren fig-tree, God will look into all thy boughs.
There is a man that hath a hundred trees in his vine yard, and at the time of the season he walketh into his vineyard to see how the trees flourish; and as he goes and views and pries and observes how they are hung with fruit, behold, he cometh to one where he findeth naught but leaves. Now he makes a stand, looks upon it again and again; he looks also here and there, above and below; and if, after all this seeking, he finds nothing but leaves thereon, then he begins to cast in his mind how he may know this tree next year, what stands next it, or how far it is off the hedge; but if there be nothing there that may be as a mark to know it by, then he takes his hook and giveth it a private mark, saying, Go thy way, fruitless fig-tree, thou hast spent this season in vain.
Yet doth he not cut it down -- "I will try it another year; may be this was not a hitting season." Therefore he comes again next year to see if now it have fruit; but as he found it before, so he finds it now, barren, barren, every year barren; he looks again, but finds no fruit. Now he begins to have second thoughts. How, neither hit last year nor this! Surely the barrenness is not in the season, sure the fault is in the tree; however, I will spare it this year also, but will give it a second mark; and, it may be, he toucheth it with a hot iron, because he begins to be angry.
Well, at the third season he comes again for fruit, but the third year is like the first and second, no fruit yet; it only cumbereth the ground. What now must be done with this fig-tree? Why, the Lord will lop its boughs with terror; yea, the thickets of those professors with iron. I have waited, saith God, these three years; I have missed of fruit these three years; it hath been a cumber-ground these three years; cut it down. Precept hath been upon precept, and line upon line, one year after another, for these three years, hut no fruit can be seen; I find none: fetch out the axe.
"Lord, let it alone this year also." Here is astonishing grace indeed; astonishing grace, that the Lord Jesus should concern himself with a barren fig-tree; that he should step in to stop the blow from a barren fig-tree! True, he stopped the blow but for a time; but why did he stop it at all? Why did he not fetch out the axe? Why did he not do execution? Why did he not cut it down?
Barren fig-tree, it is well for thee that there is a Jesus at God's right hand, a Jesus of that largeness of pity to have compassion for a barren fig-tree; else justice had never let thee alone to cumber the ground, as thou hast done.
See the care, the love, the labor, and way which the Lord Jesus, the dresser of the vineyard, is fain to take with thee, if haply thou mayest be made fruitful.
"Lord, let it alone this year." Lord, a little longer; let us not lose a soul for want of means. I will try, I will see if I can make it fruitful; I will not beg a long life, nor that it might still be barren, and so provoke thee. I beg for the sake of the soul, the immortal soul; Lord, spare it one year only, one year longer, this year also; if I do any good to it, it will be in little time. Thou shalt not be overwearied with waiting; one year and then --
Barren fig-tree, dost thou hear what a striving there is between the vinedresser and the husbandman for thy life?
"Cut it down," says one; "Lord, spare it," says the other. "It is a cumber-ground," saith the Father; "One year longer," prays the Son: "let it alone this year also."
"Till I shall dig about it and dung it." I doubt if it is not too much ground-bound. "The love of this world and the deceitfulness of riches" lie too close to the roots of the heart of this professor. The love of riches, the love of honors, the love of pleasures, are the thorns that choke the word; how then can there be fruit brought forth to God?
Barren fig-tree, see how the Lord Jesus by these words suggests the cause of thy fruitlessness of soul. The things of this world lie too close to thy heart; the earth and its things have bound up thy roots; thou art an earth-bound soul, thou art wrapped up in thick clay. "If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him;" how then can he be fruitful in the vineyard?
This kept Judas from the fruit of caring for the poor. This kept Demas from the fruit of self-denial. And this kept Ananias and Sapphira his wife from the goodly fruit of sincerity and truth. I John, 2:15, 16; John 12: 6; 2 Tim.4:10; Acts 5: 5-10; I Tim.6: 9, 10.
"And if it bear fruit, well." And if the outlay of all my labor doth make this fig-tree fruitful, I shall count my time, my labor, and means, well bestowed upon it; and thou also, O my God, shalt be therewith much delighted; for thou art gracious and merciful, and repentest thee of the evil which thou threatenest to bring upon a people.
These words therefore inform us, that if a barren figtree, a barren professor, shall now at last bring forth fruit to God, it shall go well with that professor, it shall go well with that poor soul. His former barrenness, his former tempting of God, his abuse of God's patience and long-suffering, his misspending year after year, shall now be all forgiven him. Yea, God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ will now pass by and forget all, and say, "Well done," at the last.
"And if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down." There is nothing more exasperating to the mind of a man, than to find all his kindness and favor slighted; neither is the Lord Jesus so provoked with any thing, as when sinners abuse his means of grace. If it be barren and fruitless under my gospel, if it turn my grace into wantonness, if, after digging and dunging and waiting, it yet remain unfruitful, I will let thee cut it down.
Gospel-means applied are the last remedy for a barren professor; if the gospel, if the grace of the gospel will not do, there can be nothing expected but, "Cut it down."
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate." Matt.23:37,38.
Yet it cannot be but that this Lord Jesus, who at first did put a stop to the execution of his Father's justice, because he desired to try more means with the fig-tree -- it cannot be but that a heart so full of compassion as his, should be touched to behold this professor must now be cut down. "And when he was come near, he beheld the city and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things that belong to thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes."
When Christ giveth thee over, there is no intercessor, no mediator, no more sacrifice for sin; all is gone but judgment, but the axe, but "a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries." Heb.10:26-28.
The day of grace ends with some men before God takes them out of this world. Now, then, I would show you by some signs how you may know that the day of grace is ended, or near to ending with the barren professor.
First sign. The day of grace is like to be past, when a professor hath WITHSTOOD, ABUSED, AND WORN OUT GOD'S PATIENCE: then he is in danger; this is a provocation; now God cries, "Cut it down."
There are some men that steal into a profession, nobody knows how, even as this fig-tree was brought into the vineyard by other hands than God's; and there they abide lifeless, graceless, careless, and without any good conscience to God at all. Perhaps they came in for the loaves, for a trade, for credit, for a blind; or it may be, to stifle and choke the checks and grinding pangs of an awakened and disquieted conscience. Now, having obtained their purpose, like the sinners of Zion, they are at ease and secure, saying, like Agag, Surely the bitterness of death is past: I am well; I shall be saved and go to heaven. Thus in these vain conceits they spend a year, two, or three; not remembering that at every season of grace, and at every opportunity of the gospel, the Lord comes seeking fruit.
Well, sinner, well, barren fig-tree, this is but an evil beginning. God comes for fruit. What have I here? saith God. What a fig-tree is this, that hath stood this year in my vineyard, and brought me forth no fruit! I will cry unto him, Professor, barren fig-tree, be fruitful; I look for fruit, I expect fruit, I must have fruit; therefore bethink thyself. At these the professor pauses; but these are words, not blows; therefore off goes this consideration from the heart.
When God comes the next year, he finds him still as he was, a barren, fruitless cumber-ground. And now again he complains, Here are two years gone, and no fruit appears; well, I will defer mine anger for my name's sake. I will yet wait to be gracious. But this helps not, this hath not the least influence upon the barren fig-tree: Tush, saith he, here is no threatening; God is merciful, he will defer his anger, he waits to be gracious; I am not yet afraid. O, how ungodly men, that are unawares crept into the vineyard, how do they turn the grace of our God into lasciviousness!
Well, he comes the third year for fruit, as he did before, but still he finds but a barren fig-tree; no fruit. Now he cries out again, O thou dresser of my vineyard, come hither: here is a fig-tree hath stood these three years in my vineyard, and hath at every season disappointed my expectation; for I have looked for fruit in vain. Cut it down; my patience is worn out, I shall wait on this fig-tree no longer.
And now he begins to shake the fig-tree with his threatenings: Fetch out the axe. Now the axe is death; death therefore is called for. Death, come, smite me this fig-tree. And withal the Lord shakes this sinner, and whirls him upon a sick-bed, saying, Take him, death; he hath abused my patience and forbearance, not remembering that it should have led him to repentance and to the fruits thereof: death, fetch away this fig-tree to the fire, fetch this barren professor to hell. At this, death comes with grim looks into the chamber, yea, and hell follows with him to the bedside, and both stare this professor in the face, yea, begin to lay hands upon him. One smites him with pains in his body, with headache, heartache, backache, shortness of breath, fainting qualms, trembling of joints, stopping at the chest, and almost all the symptoms of a man past all recovery. Now, while death is thus tormenting the body, hell is busy with the mind and conscience, striking them with its pains, casting sparks of fire in thither, wounding with sorrows and fears of everlasting damnation the spirit of this poor creature. And now he begins to bethink himself, and to cry to God for mercy: Lord, spare me; Lord, spare me. Nay, saith God, you have been a provocation to me these three years. How many times have you disappointed me! How many seasons have you spent in vain! How many sermons and other mercies did I of my patience afiord you; but to no purpose at all. Take him, death. O good Lord, saith the sinner, spare me but this once; raise me but this once.
Indeed I have been a barren professor, and have stood to no purpose at all in thy vineyard; hut spare, O spare me this one time, I beseech thee, and I will he better. Away, away, you will not; I have tried you these three years already; you are naught: if I should recover you again, you would he as bad as you were before. (And all this talk is while death stands by.) The sinner cries again, Good Lord, try me this once; let me get up again this once, and see if I do not rnend. But will you promise me to mend? Yes indeed, Lord, and vow it too. I will never be so bad again, I will he better. Well, saith God, Death, let this professor alone for this time: I will try him a little longer; he hath promised, he hath vowed, that he will amend his ways. It may be he will mind to keep his promises. Vows are solemn things; it may he he may fear to break his vows. Arise from off thy bed. And now God lays down his axe. At this the poor creature is very thankful, praises God, and fawns upon him, shows as if he did it heartily, and calls to others to thank him too. He therefore riseth, as one would think, to be a new creature indeed. But by that he hath put on his clothes, is come down from his bed, and ventured into the yard or shop, and there sees how all things are gone to sixes and sevens, he begins to have second thoughts, and says to his folks, What have you all been doing? How are all things out of order! I am I cannot tell how much behindhand; one may see if a man be but a little laid aside, that you have neither wisdom nor prudence to order things. And now, instead of seeking to spend the rest of his time for God, he doubleth his diligence after this world. Alas, he saith, all must not be lost; we must have provident care. And thus, quite forgetting the sorrows of death, the pains of hell, the promises and vows which he made to God to be better, because judgment was not speedily executed, therefore the heart of this poor creature is fully set in him to do evil.
These things proving ineffectual, God takes hold of his axe again, sends death to a wife, to a child, to his cattle. I will blast him, cross him, disappoint him, cast him down; and will set myself against him in all that he putteth his hand unto. At this the poor barren professor cries out again, Lord, I have sinned; spare me once more, I beseech thee. O take not away the desire of mine eyes; spare my children, bless me in my labors, and I will mend and be better. No, saith God, you lied to me last time, I will trust you in this no longer; and withal he tumbleth the wife, the child, the estate, into a grave.
At this the poor creature is afflicted and distressed, rends his clothes, and begins to call the breaking of his promise and vows to mind; he mourns and prays, and like Ahab, a while walks softly at the remembrance of the justness of the hand of God upon him. And now he renews his promises: Lord, try me this one time more, take off thy hand and see; they go far that never turn. Well, God spareth him again, sets down his axe again: "Many times he did deliver them, but they provoked him with their counsels, and were brought low for their iniquities." Now they seem to be thankful again, and are as if they resolved to be godly indeed. Now they read, they pray, they go to meetings, and seem to be serious for a while; but at last they forget. Their lusts prick them, suitable temptations present themselves; wherefore, they return to their own crooked ways again.
Yet again, the Lord will not leave this barren professor, Luke 13: 6-9, but will take up his axe again, and will put him under a more heart-searching ministry, a ministry that shall search him and turn him over and over -- a ministry that shall meet with him, as Elijah met with Ahab, in all his acts of wickedness: and now the axe is laid to the roots of the tree. Besides, this ministry doth not only search the heart, but presenteth the sinner with the golden rays of the glorious gospel: now is Christ Jesus set forth evidently, now is grace displayed sweetly; now, now are the promises broken, like boxes of ointment, to the perfuming of the whole room. But alas, there is yet no fruit on this fig-tree. While his heart is searched, he wrangles; while the glorious grace of the gospel is unveiled, this professor wags and is wanton, gathers up some scraps thereof, tastes the good word of God and the power of the world to come, drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon him, but bringeth not forth fruit meet for him whose gospel it is; takes no heed to walk in the law of the Lord God of Israel with all his heart, but counteth that the glory of the gospel consisteth in talk and show, and that our obedience thereto is a matter of speculation -- that good works lie in good words, and if men can finely talk, they may think they bravely please God. He thinks the kingdom of God consisteth only in word, not in power; and thus proves ineffectual this fourth means also.
Well, now the axe begins to be heaved higher, for now indeed God is ready to smite the sinner: yet before he will strike the stroke, he will try one way more at last; and if that misseth, down goes the fig-tree.
Now this last way is to labor and strive with this professor by his Spirit. Therefore the Spirit of the Lord is now come to him; but not always to strive with man, Gen.6:8; yet awhile he will strive with him, he will awaken, he will convince, he will call to remembrance former sins, former judgments, the breach of former vows and promises, the misspending of former days. He will also present persuasive arguments, encouraging promises, dreadful judgments, the shortness of time to repent in; and that there is hope if he come. He will show him the certainty of death and of the judgment to come, yea, he will pull and strive with this sinner. But behold, the mischief now lies here; here is laboring and striving on both sides. The Spirit convinces, the man turns a deaf ear to God; the Spirit saith, Receive my instruction and live, but the man pulls away his shoulder; the Spirit shows him whither he is going, but the man closeth his eyes against it; the Spirit offers violence, the man strives and resists: he has "done despite unto the Spirit of grace." Heb.10:29. The Spirit parleyeth a'second time and urgeth reasons of a new nature, but the sinner answereth, No; I have loved strangers, and after them will I go. Amos 4: 6-12. At this, God comes out of his holy-place, and is terrible; now he sweareth in his wrath they shall never enter into his rest. Ezek.34:13. I exercised towards you my patience, yet you have not turned unto me, saith the Lord. I smote you in your person, in your relations, in your estate, yet you have not returned unto me, saith the Lord. "Cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?"
The second sign that such a professor is almost, if not quite past grace, is when God hath GIVEN HIM OVER, or lets him alone and suffers him to do any thing, and that without control; helpeth him not either in works of holiness, or in straits and difficulties: "Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone." "Woe be to them when I depart from them." "I will laugh at their calamity; I will mock when their fear cometh."
Barren fig-tree, thou hast heretofore been digged about; God's mattock has heretofore been at thy roots; thou hast heretofore been striven with, convinced, awakened, made to taste and see, and cry, O the blessedness! Thou hast heretofore been met with under the word; thy heart has melted, thy spirit has fallen, thy soul has trembled, and thou hast felt something of the power of the gospel. But thou hast sinned, thou hast provoked the eyes of his glory, thy iniquity is found to be hateful; and now perhaps God has left thee, given thee up, and lets thee alone.
Heretofore thou wast tender; thy conscience startled at the temptation to wickedness, for thou wert taken off from the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, 2 Pet.2: 20-22; but that very vomit that once thou wert turned from, now thou lappest up again,
Seest thou a man that heretofore had the knowledge of God, and that had some awe of majesty upon him; seest thou such a one sporting himself in his own deceivings, Rom.1:30, 31, "turning the grace of God into lasciviousness, and walking after his own ungodly lusts? His judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and his damnation slumbereth not." 2 Pet.2:13.
Dost thou hear, barren professor? It is astonishing to see how those who once seemed sons of the morning, and were making preparations for eternal life, now at last, for the rottenness of their hearts, by the just judgment of God are permitted, being past feeling, "to give themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness." Eph.4:18, 19. A great number of such were in the first gospel days; against whom Peter and Jude and John pronounce the just judgment of God.2 Pet.2:3-8; Jude 5-8. Barren fig-tree, dost thou hear? These are beyond all mercy; these are beyond all promises; these are beyond all hopes of repentance; these have no intercessor, nor any more share in the one sacrifice for sin. For these there remains nothing but a fearful looking for of judgment.
These men go whither they will, do what they will; they may range from opinion to opinion, from notion to notion, from sect to sect, but are steadfast nowhere: they are left to their own uncertainties; they have not grace to establish their hearts; and though some of them have boasted themselves of this liberty, yet Jude calls them wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever. They are left to be fugitives and vagabonds in the earth, to wander everywhere but to abide nowhere, until they shall descend to their own place, with Cain and Judas, men of the same fate with themselves.
Look thou certainly, fruitless professor, for an eternal disappointment in the day of God; for it must be; thy lamp will he out at the first sound the trump of God shall make in thine ears; thou canst not hold up at the appearance of the Son of God in his glory; his very looks will he to thy profession as a strong wind is to a blinking candle, and thou shalt he left only to smoke.
Oh, the alteration that will befall a foolish virgin. She thought she was happy, and that she should have received happiness with those that were right at the heart; but behold the contrary: her lamp is going out, she has now to seek for saving grace, when the time of grace is over; her heaven she thought of has proved a hell, and her god has proved a devil. God hath cast her out of his presence, and closes the door upon her. She pleads her profession and the like, and she hath for her answer repulses from heaven. "So are the paths of all that forget God; and the hypocrite's hope shall perish; whose hope shall be cut off, and whose trust shall be the spider's web: though he lean upon his house, it shall not stand; he shall hold it fast, but it shall not endure."
Take heed, therefore; thy soul, heaven, and eternity lie at stake; yea, they turn either to thee or from thee upon the hinge of thy faith, If it be right, all is thine; if wrong, then all is lost, however thy hope and expectations are to the contrary.
There are bare notions, there are common workings, and there is a work that is saving and that will do the soul good to eternity.
1. There are bare notions, and they that have them are such unto whom the gospel comes in word only, 1 Thess.1:5; 1 Cor.4:19, 20; such whose religion stands in word only, and is not attended with a power suitable: that is, there goes not with the word a power sufficient to subdue and work over the heart to a cordial and gracious close with thut word that comes to them. Yet such is the noise and sound of the word, that they are willing to become professors thereof; there is some kind of musicalness in it, especially when well handled and fingered by a skilful preacher. "And lo," saith God unto such preachers, when their auditory is made up of such kind of hearers, "lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument; for they hear thy words, but they do them not."
2. But then, besides these there is another sort, and they go further than these. For to them the word came, not in word only but also in power: though not in such a power as is sufficient, absolutely against all attempts whatsoever, to bring the soul to glory.
(1.) They attain light or illumination to see much of their state by nature. Heb.6:4.
(2.) This light stands not in bare speculation, but lets fall upon the conscience convincing arguments to the bowing and humbling of the spirit.1 Kings, 21: 27-29.
(3.) They submit to these convictions and reforms, and may for a time not only come out from them that live in error, but escape the pollutions of the world by the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.2 Peter, 2:18-20; Gal.3:4; 4:20.
(4.) Yea, so powerful will this dispensation be, that it will prevail with them to do and suffer many things for the vindication of the truth of that gospel which they profess. For the word will be sweet unto them; Christ, the gift of God, will be relished by them. Heb.6:4, 5. The powers of the world to come will be in them; some workings of the Holy Ghost will be in them; and joy, which is as oil to the wheels, will be with their souls. Luke 8:13.
Thus is it with some professors, who yet cannot be said to depart from iniquity, because the things that now are upon them abide with them but awhile: "For awhile they believe; they rejoice in the light for a season," and after that return to their old course, and are again entangled with their iniquities and overcome.
Now the causes of this declension, or falling away again unto iniquity, are many.
One is, that this work, this work of power which they have been made partakers of, has not been thorough enough upon all the powers of their souls. Their understandings, their judgments and consciences have been dealt with, but the power of God has not been upon their wills and minds and affections rightly to subdue them to the grace of the gospel.
Therefore also such persons, upon the withdrawing of those influences that at present are mighty upon them, do forthwith forget both what they had and what work it made upon them. Straightway they forget what manner of men they were. It is said of Israel, "They sang his praises; they soon forgat his word." So these; they forget.
They forget what light and what convictions they had. They forget what sorrow for sin they had. They forget what tastes of Christ and his word they had.
They forget what joy and comfort they had. They forget how fair for heaven they were. And they forget how cleansed once they were. "They have forgotten that they were purged from their old sins." 2 Pet.1:9.
Now, forgetfulness makes things that are past as nothings; and if so, then it can lay no obligations upon the mind to engage it to delight in them; no, not in thoughts of them, as if they were remembered by us.
Forgetfulness is a very dangerous thing; it makes preaching vain, profession vain, faith vain, and all to no purpose.1 Cor.15:1, 2. Such profession is but a dream; and such professors but as dreamers; all vanishes in the morning. This made Paul so caution the Corinthians that they should forget not the preaching; arid the writer to the Hebrews so earnestly call them, in their backsliding, back to the remembrance of former days, and to the recollecting what it was that then made them so willingly endure their great fight of affliction.
Forgetfulness, I say, makes things nothings; it makes us as if things had never been; and so takes away from the soul one great means of stay, support, and encouragement. When choice David was dejected, the remembrance of the hill Hermon was his stay; when he was to go out against Goliath, the remembrance of the lion and the bear was his support; so when those that have had the power of the things of God upon them, can think of this when they are withdrawn, it will, even the thinking of it, have some kind of operation upon the soul. And therefore you shall find, that the recovering of a backslider usually begins at the remembrance of former things. "Remember from whence thou art fallen, and repent and do thy first works."
It is marvellous to see how some men are captivated with this forgetfulness. Those that sometimes have prayed, cried, groaned, and sighed for eternal life; those that sometimes thought no pains too much, no way too far, no hazards too great to run, for eternal life; those that sometimes were captivated with the word, and with the comforts and joy thereof, and who, had it been possible, would have pulled out their eyes, and have given them to gospel ministers, so dear and sweet were the good tidings which they brought. to such. I say, it is marvellous to see how such men are captivated with the forgetfulness of this. They are as if they had never been those men; they are as if they had had no such things, or as if they never had thought about them. Yea, they are strange, and carry it strangely to all those that still are under the power of that word, and of that mighty hand by which sometimes themselves were guided.
Should one say to them, Art not thou the man that I once saw crying under a sermon, that I once heard cry out, "What must I do to be saved?" and that some time ago I heard speak well of the holy word of God? how askew will they look upon one; or if they will acknowledge that such things were with them once, they do it more like images and rejected ghosts, than men. They look as if they were blasted, withered, cast out and dried to powder, and now fit for nothing but to be cast into the fire and burned. John 15.
THE UNPARDONABLE SIN.
THE MAN IN THE IRON CAGE.
"Now," said Christian, "let me go hence." "Nay, stay," said the Interpreter, "till I have showed thee a little more, and after that thou shalt go on thy way." So he took him by the hand again, and led him into a very dark room, where there sat a man in an iron cage.
Now the man to look on, seemed very sad. He sat with his eyes looking down to the ground, his hands folded together, and he sighed as if he would break his heart. Then said Christian, "What means this?" At which the Interpreter bid him talk with the man.
Then said Christian to the man, "What art thou?" The man answered, "I am what I was not once."
CRISTIAN. "What wert thou once?"
The man said, "I was once a fair and flourishing professor, both in mine own eyes, and also in the eyes of others; I once was, as I thought, fair for the celestial city, Luke 8:13, and had then even joy at the thoughts that I should get thither."
CHRISTIAN. "Well, but what art thou now?"
MAN. "I am now a man of despair, and am shut up in it as in this iron cage. I cannot get out: O NOW I cannot."
CHRISTIAN. "But how earnest thou in this condition?"
MAN. "I left off to watch and be sober; I laid the reins upon the neck of my lusts; I sinned against the light of the word, and the goodness of God; I have grieved the Spirit, and he is gone; I tempted the devil, and he is come to me; I have provoked God to anger, and he has left me; I have so hardened my heart that I CANNOT repent."
Then said Christian to the Interpreter, "But is there no hope for such a man as this?" "Ask him," said the Interpreter.
Then said Christian, "Is there no hope but you must be kept in the iron cage of despair?"
MAN. "No, none at all."
CHRISTIAN. "Why? the Son of the Blessed is very pitiful."
MAN. "I have crucified him to myself afresh; I have despised his person, I have despised his righteousness, I have counted his blood an unholy thing. I have done despite to the Spirit of grace, Luke 19:14; Heh.6:4-6; 10:28, 29; therefore I have shut myself out of all the promises, and there now remains to me nothing but threatenings, dreadful threatenings, fearful threatenings of certain judgment and fiery indignation which shall devour me as an adversary."
CHRISTIAN. "For what did you bring yourself into this condition?"
MAN. "For the lusts, pleasures, and profits of this world; in the enjoyment of which I did then promise myself much delight; but now every one of those things also bites me and gnaws me like a burning worm."
CHRISTIAN. "But canst thou not repent and turn?"
MAN. "God hath denied me repentance. His word gives me no encouragement to believe; yea, himself hath shut me up in this iron cage: nor can all the men in the world let me out. O eternity, eternity! how shall I grapple with the misery that I must meet with in eternity?"
Then said the Interpreter to Christian, "Let this man's misery he remembered by thee, and be an everlasting caution to thee."
"Well," said Christian, "this is fearful! God help me to watch and he sober, and to pray that I may shun the cause of this man's miseiy."
We that religiously name the name of Christ should depart from iniquity, because the Spirit of the Father will else be grieved. Eph.4:30. The countenancing of iniquity, the not departing therefrom, will grieve the Spirit of God, by which you are sealed to the day of redemption; and that is a sin of a higher nature than men commonly are aware of. He that grieveth the Spirit of God shall smart for it here, or in hell, or both. And that Spirit that sometimes did illuminate, teach, and instruct them, can keep silence, can cause darkness, can. withdraw itself, and sufler the soul to sin more and more; and this last is the very judgment of judgments. He that grieves the Spirit, quenches it; and he that quenches it, vexes it; and he that vexes it, sets it against himself, and tempts it to hasten destruction upon himself.1 Thess.5:19.
Wherefore take heed, professors, I say, take heed, you that religiously name the name of Christ, that you meddle not with iniquity, that you tempt not the Spirit of the Lord to do such things against you; whose beginnings are dreadful, and whose end in working of judgments is unsearchable. Isa.63:10; Acts 5:9.
A man knows not whither he is sjoing, nor where he shall stop, that is but entering into temptation; nor whether he shall ever turn back, or go out at the gap that is right before him.
He that has begun to grieve the Holy Ghost, may be sufiered to go on until he has sinned that sin which is called the sin against the Holy Ghost. And if God shall once give thee up to that, then, thou art in the IRON CAGE, out of which there is neither deliverance nor redemption.
There is a sin called the sin against the Holy Ghost, from which there is no redemption, and this sin doth more than ordinarily befall professors; for there are few, if any, that are not professors, that are at present capable of sinning this sin. They which "were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come," Heb.6:4, 5 -- of this sort are they that commit this sin. Peter also describes them to be such, that sin the unpardonable sin: "For if after they have escaped the pollution of the world, through the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning." 2 Pet.2:2.
The other passage in the tenth of the Hebrews holdeth forth the same thing: "For if we sin wilfully, after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sin. but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation that shall devour the adversaries."
These, therefore, are the persons that are the prey for this sin. This sin feedeth upon professors, and they that are such do often fall into the rnouth of this eater.
The unpardonable sin, the sin against the Holy Ghost, is a sin of this nature: For a man after he hath made some profession of salvation to come alone by the blood of Jesus, together with some light%and power of the same upon his spirit -- I say, for him knowingly, wilfully, and despitefully to trample upon the blood of Christ shed on the cross, and to count it an unholy thing, or no better than the blood of another man; and rather to venture his soul any other way, than to be saved by this precious blood.
It is called the sin against the Holy Ghost, because such sin against the manifest light of the Spirit; that is, they have been formerly enlightened into the nature of the gospel, and the merits of the man Christ, and his blood, righteousness, intercession, etc., and also have professed and confessed the same, with some life and comfort in and through the profession of him; yet now against all that light, they maliciously and with despite to all their former profession, turn their backs, and trample upon the same.
This sin is immediately committed against the motions and convictions and light of that Holy Spirit of God, that makes it his business to hand forth and manifest the truth and reality of the merits and virtue of the Lord Jesus.
To some men that have grievously sinned under a profession of the gospel, God. gives this token of his displeasure: they are denied the power of repentance; their heart is bound, they cannot repent. It is impossible they should ever repent, should they live a thousand years. It is impossible for those fall-aways to be renewed again unto repentance, seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to open shame. Now, to have the heart so hardened, so judicially hardened, this is as a bar put in by the Lord God against the salvation of this sinner. This was the burden of Spira's complaint: "I cannot do it; O, now I cannot do it."
This man sees what he has done, what should help him, and what will become of him; yet he cannot repent. He pulled away his shoulder before, he shut his eyes before, and in that very posture God left him; and so he stands to this very day. I have had a fancy that Lot's wife, when she was turned into a pillar of salt, stood yet looking over her shoulder, or else with her face towards Sodom; as the judgment caught her, so it bound her, and left her for a monument of God's anger to after-generations.
I have been the more plain and simple in my writing, because the sin against the Holy Ghost is in these days more common than formerly, and the way unto it more beautified with color and pretence of truth I may say of the way to this sin, it is, as was once the way to Jerusalem, strewed with boughs and branches, and by some there is cried a kind of Hosanna to them that are treading these steps to hell. Oh, the plausible pretences, the golden names, the feigned holiness, the demure behavior mixed with damnable hypocrisy, that attend the persons that have forsaken the Lord Jesus, that have despised his person, trampled upon him, and "counted the blood of the covenant wherewith they were sanctified an unholy thing." They have crucified him to themselves, and think that they can go to heaven without him, yea, pretend they love him, when they hate him; pretend they have him, when they have cast him off; pretend they trust in him, when they bid defiance to his undertakings for the world.
So they both went on, and Ignorance he came after. Now, when they had passed him a little way, they entered into a very dark lane, where they met a man whom seven devils had bound with seven strong cords, and were carrying him back to the door that they saw on the side of the hill. Matt.12: 45; Prov.5: 22. Now good Christian began to tremble, and so did Hopeful, his companion; yet as the devils led away the man, Christian looked to see if he knew him; and he thought it might be one Turn-away that dwelt in the town of Apostasy. But he did not perfectly see his face; for he did hang his head like a thief that is found. But being gone past, Hopeful looked after him, and espied on his back a paper with this inscription: "Wanton professor and damnable apostate."