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.
XIII. THE CHRISTIAN RACE.
They that will go to heaven must run for it, because, as the way is long, so the time in which they are to get to the end of it is very uncertain; the time present is the only time: it may be thou hast no more time allotted thee than that thou now enjoyest: "Boast not thyself of to-morrow, for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth." Do not say, I have time enough to get to heaven seven years hence; for I tell thee the bell may toll for thee before seven days more be ended; and when death comes, away thou must go, whether thou art provided or not; and therefore look to it—make no delays—it is not good dallying with things of so great concernment as the salvation or damnation of thy soul. You know, he that hath a great way to go in a little time, and less by half than he thinks of, he had need to run for it.
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.
XIV. TRIALS OF THE CHRISTIAN
AFFLICTION—ITS NATURE AND BENEFITS.
The school of the cross is the school of light; it discovers the world's vanity, baseness, and wickedness, and lets us see more of God's mind. Out of dark afflictions comes a spiritual light.
In times of affliction, we commonly meet with the sweetest experiences of the love of God.
The end of affliction is the discovery of sin; and of that, to bring us to a Saviour.
Doth not God ofttimes even take occasion, by the hardest of things that come upon us, to visit our souls with the comforts of his Spirit, to lead us into the glory of his word and to cause us to savor that love that he has had for us even from before the world began till now? A nest of bees and honey did Samson find even in the belly of that lion that roared upon him. And is all this no good; or can we do without such holy appointments of God? Let these things be considered by us, and let us learn like Christians to kiss the rod, and love it.
The lamps of Gideon were discovered, when his soldiers' pitchers were broken: if our pitchers are broken for the Lord and his gospel's sake, those lamps will then be discovered that before lay hid and unseen.
People that live high and in idleness bring diseases upon the body; and they that live in all fulness of gospel ordinances, and are not exercised with trials, grow gross, are diseased and full of bad humors in their souls.
The righteous are apt to be like well-fed children, too wanton, if God should not appoint them some fasting-days.
The Lord useth his flail of tribulation to separate the chaff from the wheat.
Observe Paul: he died daily, he was always delivered unto death, he despaired of life. And this is the way to be prepared for any calamity. When a man thinks he has only to prepare for an assault by footmen, how shall he contend with horses; or if he looks no further than to horses, what will he do at the swellings of Jordan?
Oh, when every providence of God unto thee is like the messengers of Job, and the last to bring more heavy tidings than all that went before him; when life, estate, wife, children, body and soul, and all at once, seem to be struck at by heaven and earth, here are hard lessons—now to behave myself even as a weaned child: now to say, "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord."
Our afflictions work out for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. Our afflictions do it, not only because there is laid up a reward for the afflicted according to the measure of affliction, but because afflictions, and so every service of God, make the heart more deep, more experimental, more knowing and profound, and so, more able to hold, to contain, and bear more.
Let Christians beware that they set not times for God, lest all men see their folly. "It is not for you to know the times and the seasons which the Father hath put in his own power;" yea, I say again, take heed lest, for thy setting of God a seven-day's time, he set thee so many as seven times seven.
God's time is the time, the best time, because it is the time appointed by him for the proof and trial of our graces, and that in which so much of the rage of the enemy and of the power of God's mercy, may the better be discovered unto us. "I the Lord do hasten it in his time;" not before, though we were the signet upon his hand.
Afflictions are governed by God, both as to time, number, nature, and measure. In measure, when it shooteth forth, thou wilt debate with it: "He stayeth his rough wind in the day of his east wind." Our times, therefore, and our conditions in these times, are in the hand of God, yea, and so are our souls and bodies, to be kept and preserved from the evil while the rod of God is upon us.
Ease and release from persecution and affliction come not by chance, or by the good moods and gentle dispositions of men; but the Lord doth hold them back from sin, the Lord restraineth them. 2 Chron. 18:31.
"And he stayed yet other seven days." It is not God's way with his people to show them all their troubles at once, but first he shows them a part: first, forty days, after that, seven other days, and yet again, seven days more; that coming upon them by piecemeal, they may the better be able to travel through them. When Israel was in affliction in Egypt, they knew not the trial which would meet them at the Red sea. Again, when they had gone through that, they little thought that yet for forty years they must be tempted and proved in the wilderness.
"And Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked;" the failing again of his expected comforter caused him to be up and doing. Probably he had not as yet uncovered the ark, that is, to look round about him, if the dove, by returning, had pleased his humor; but she failing, he stirs up himself.
Thus it should also be with the Christian now. Doth the dove forbear to come to thee with a leaf in her bill as before? Let not this make thee sullen and mistrustful, but uncover the ark and look; and by looking, thou shalt see a further testimony of what thou receivest by the first manifestations. "He looked, and behold the earth was dry."
God doth not let us see the hills for our help before we have first of all seen them drowned. Look not to them, therefore, while the water is at the rising; but if they begin to cease their raging, if they begin to fall, and with that the tops of the mountains be seen, you may look upon them with comfort; they are tokens of God's deliverance. Gen. 8.
It was requisite that the hills, Gen. 7:19, should be covered, that Noah might not have confidence in them; but surely this dispensation of God was a heart-shaking providence to Noah and them that were with him; for here indeed was his faith tried, there was no hill left in all the world; now were his carnal helpers gone, there was none shut up or left. Now therefore, if they could rejoice, it must be only in the power of God.
Noah was to have respect in his deliverance not only to himself and family, but to the good of all the world. Men's spirits are too narrow for the mind of God, when their chief end, or their only design in their enjoying this or the other mercy, is for the sake of their own selves only. It cannot be according to God, that such desires should be encouraged. "None of us liveth unto himself;" why, then, should we desire life only for ourselves?
The church cries out thus: "God be merciful to us and bless us, and cause his face to shine upon us." Why? "That thy way may be known upon earth, and thy saving health among all nations." So David: "Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with thy free Spirit; then will I teach transgressors thy ways, and sinners shall be converted unto thee."
So then, we must not desire to come out of trials and afflictions alone or by ourselves, but that in our deliverance the salvation of many may be concerned.
In every affliction and persecution, the devil's design is to impair Christ's kingdom; wherefore, no marvel that God designs in our deliverance the impairing and lessening the kingdom of sin and Satan. Wherefore, O thou church of God, which art now upon the waves of affliction and temptation, when thou comest out of the furnace, if thou come out at the bidding of God, there shall come out with thee the fowl, the beast, and abundance of creeping things. Gen. 8:17. "O Judah, he hath set a harvest for thee, when I returned the captivity of my people."
There are several degrees of suffering for righteousness: there is the scourge of the tongue, the ruin of an estate, the loss of liberty, a jail, a gibbet, a stake, a dagger. Now answerable to these are the comforts of the Holy Ghost prepared, like to like, part proportioned to part; only the consolations are said to abound. 2 Cor. 1:5.
But the lighter the sufferings are, the more difficult it is to judge of the comforts of the Spirit of God; for it is common for a man to be comfortable under sufferings when he suffereth but little, and knows also that his enemy can touch his flesh, his estate, or the like, but little. And this maybe the joy of the flesh, the result of reason; and may be very much, if not altogether, without a mixture of the joy of the Holy Ghost therewith. The more deep, therefore, and the more dreadful the sufferings are, the more clearly are seen the comforts of the Spirit. When a man has comfort where the flesh is dead, stirreth not, and can do nothing; when a man can be comfortable at the loss of all; when he is under sentence of death, or at the place of execution—if yet a man's cause, a man's conscience, the promise, and the Holy Ghost, have all one comfortable voice, and do all together with their trumpets make one sound in the soul, then good are the comforts of God and his Spirit.
There are several degrees of sufferings; wherefore it is not to be expected that he that suffers but little should partake of the comforts that are prepared for them that suffer much. He that has only the scourge of the tongue, knows not what are the comforts that are prepared for him that meets with the scourge of the whip. And how should a man know what manner of comforts the Holy Ghost doth use to give at the jail and the gibbet, when himself for righteousness never was there?
Persecution of the godly was never intended of God for their destruction, but for their glory, and to make them shine the more when they are beyond this valley of the shadow of death.
"We that are Christians have been trained up by his Son in his school this many a day, and have been told what a God our Father is, what an arm he has, and with what a voice he can thunder; how he can deck himself with majesty and excellency, and array himself with beauty and glory; how he can cast abroad the rage of his wrath, and behold every one that is proud and abase him. Have we not talked of what he did at the Red sea and in the land of Ham, many years ago; and have we forgot him now? Have we not vaunted and boasted of our God, both in church, pulpit, and books, and spake to the praise of them that attempted to drive antichrist out of the world with their lives and their blood instead of stones; and are we afraid of our God? He was God, a Creator, then; and is he not God now? and will he not be as good to us as to them that have gone before us? or would we limit him to appear in such ways as only smile upon our flesh, and have him stay and not show himself in his heart-shaking dispensations until we are dead and gone? What if we must now go to heaven, and what if he is thus come to fetch us to himself? If we have been as wise as serpents and innocent as doves—if we can say, Neither against the law of the Jews, neither against the temple, nor against Caesar, have we offended any thing at all—of what should we be afraid? Let heaven and earth come together; I dare say they will not hurt us."
Religion that is pure is a hot thing; and il usually burns the fingers of those that fight against it.
Ah, when God makes the bed, he must needs lie easy whom weakness hath cast thereon: a blessed pillow hath. that man for his head, though to all beholders it is hard as a stone. Psa. 41:1-3.
It is as ordinary as for the light to shine, for God to make back and dismal dispensations usher in bright and pleasing.
Christian reader, let me beg of thee that thou wilt not be offended either with God or men, if the cross is laid heavy upon thee. Not with God, for he doeth nothing without a cause; nor with men, for they are the hand of God: and will they, nill they, they are the servants of God to thee for good. Psa. 17:14; Jer. 24:5. Take, therefore, what comes from God by them thankfully. If the messenger that brings it is glad that it is in his power to do thee hurt and to afflict thee, if he skips for joy at thy calamity, be sorry for him, pity him, and pray to thy Father for him: he is ignorant, and understandeth not the judgment of thy God; yea, he showeth by this his behavior, that though he as God's ordinance serveth thee by afflicting thee, yet means he nothing less than to destroy thee: by the which also he prognosticates before thee that he is working out his own damnation by doing thee good. Lay therefore the woful state of such to heart, and render him that which is good for his evil, and love for his hatred to thee; then shalt thou show that thou art moved by a spirit of holiness, and art like thy heavenly Father. And be it so, that thy pity and prayers can do such a one no good, yet they must light somewhere, or return again, as ships come laden from the Indies, full of blessings into thine own bosom.
Poor man, thou hast thy time to be afflicted by thy enemies, that thy golden graces may shine the more; thou art in the fire and they blow the bellows. But wouldst thou change places with them? Wouldst thou sit upon their place of ease? Dost thou desire to be with them? O rest thyself contented; in thy patience possess thy soul, and pity and bewail them in the condition in which they are.
The cup that God's people in all ages have drank of, even the cup of affliction and persecution, it is not in the hand of the enemy, but in the hand of God; and he, not they, poureth out of the same.
There are but two ways of obeying: the one to do that which I in my conscience do believe that I am bound to do, actively; and where I cannot obey actively, there I am willing to lie down and to suffer what they shall do unto me.
A Christian, when he sees trouble coming upon him, should not fly in the face of the instrument that brings, but in the face of the cause of its coming. Now the cause is thyself, thy base self, thy sinful self, and thy unworthy carriages towards God under all the mercy, patience, and long-suffering that God has bestowed upon thee, and exercised towards thee. Here thou mayest quarrel, and be revenged, and spare not, so thou take vengeance in a right way; and thou wilt do so, when thou takest it by godly sorrow. 1 Cor. 7:10,11.
It is a rare thing to suffer aright, and to have thy spirit in suffering beat only against God's enemy, sin.
Let them that are God's sufferers pluck up a good heart; let them not be afraid to trust God with their souls, and with their eternal concerns. Let them cast all their care upon God, for he careth for them.
"But I am in the dark." I answer, never stick at that. It is most bravely done to trust God with the soul in the dark, and to resolve to serve God for nothing, rather than give out. Not to see and yet to believe, and to be a follower of the Lamb and yet to be at uncertainty what we shall have at last, argues love, fear, faith, and an honest mind, and gives the greatest sign of one that hath true sincerity in his soul. It was this that made Job and Peter so famous; and the want of it took away much of the glory of the faith of Thomas. Wherefore, believe verily that God is ready, willing; yea, that he looks for and expects that thou, who art a sufferer, shouldst commit the keeping of thy soul to him as unto a faithful Creator.
Is there nothing in dark providences, for the sake of the sight and observation of which such a day may be rendered lovely, when it is upon us? Is there nothing of God, of his wisdom and power and goodness, to be seen in thunder and lightning, in hailstones, in storms and darkness and tempests? Why then is it said, he hath his way in the whirlwind and storm? And why have God's servants of old made such notes, and observed from them such excellent and wonderful things? There is that of God to be seen in such a day, which cannot be seen in another. His power in holding up some, his wrath in leaving others; his making shrubs to stand, and his suffering cedars to fall; his infatuating the counsels of men, and his making the devil to outwit himself; his giving his presence to his people, and his leaving his foes in the dark; his discovering the uprightness of the hearts of his sanctified ones, and laying open the hypocrisy of others, is a working of spiritual wonders in the day of his wrath and of the whirlwind and storm.
These days, these days of trial, are the days that do most aptly give an occasion to Christians to take the exactest measures and scantlings of ourselves. We are apt to overshoot in days that are calm, and to think ourselves far higher and more strong than we find we are when the trying day is upon us. The mouth of Gaal, Judges 9:38, and the boasts of Peter, were great and high before the trial came; but when that came, they found themselves to fall far short of the courage they thought they had. We also, before the temptation comes, think we can walk upon the sea; but when the winds blow, we feel ourselves begin to sink. Hence such a time is rightly said to be a time to try us, or to find out what we are; and is there no good in this? Is it not this that rightly rectifies our judgment about ourselves, that makes us to know ourselves, that tends to cut off those superfluous sprigs of pride and self-concitedness, wherewith we are subject to be overcome? Is not such a day the day that bends us, humbles us, and that makes us bow before God for our faults committed in our prosperity? And yet doth it yield no good unto us? We could not live without such turnings of the hand of God upon us.