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."
XXI. THE CHURCH.
FROM THE PREFACE TO THE "HOLY CITY."
UPON a certain First-day, I being together with my brethren in our prison-chamber, they expected that, according to our custom, something should be spoken out of the word for our mutual edification; but at that time I felt myself—it being my turn to speak—so empty, spiritless, and barren, that I thought I should not have been able to speak among them so much as five words of truth, with life and evidence: but at last it so fell out that providentially I cast my eye upon the 11th verse of the 21st chapter of this prophecy of Revelation; upon which when I had considered awhile, methought I perceived something of that Jasper, in whose light you there find this holy city is said to come or descend: wherefore, having got in my eye some dim glimmerings thereof, and finding also in my heart a desire to see further thereinto, I, with a few groans, did carry my meditation to the Lord Jesus for a blessing. This he did forthwith grant, according to his grace; and helping me to set before my brethren, we did all eat and were all refreshed; and behold also, that while I was in the distributing of it, it so increased in my hand that, of the fragments that we left after we had well dined, I gathered up this basketful. Methought the more I cast my eye upon the whole discourse, the more I saw lie in it. Wherefore, setting myself to a more narrow search, through frequent prayer to God—what first with doing, and then with undoing, and after that with doing again—I thus did finish it.
But yet, notwithstanding all my labor and travail in this matter, I do not, neither can I, expect that every godly heart should in every thing see the truth and excellency of what is here discoursed; neither would I have them imagine that I have so thoroughly viewed this holy city, but that much more than I do here crush out is yet left in the cluster. Alas, I shall only say thus: I have crushed out a little juice to sweeten their lips withal; not doubting but in a little time more large measures of the excellency of this city, and of its sweetness and glory, will by others be opened and unfolded, yea, if not by the servants of the Lord Jesus, yet by the Lord himself, who will have this city builded and set in its own place.
It is the ordinance of God, that Christians should be often asserting the things of God to each other; and that by their so doing, they should edify one another.
The doctrine of the gospel is like the dew and the small rain, that distilleth upon the tender grass, wherewith it doth flourish and is kept green.
Christians are like the several flowers in a garden, that have upon each of them the dew of heaven; which being shaken with the wind, let fall their dew at each other's roots, whereby they are jointly nourished and become nourishers of one another.
Church-fellowship, rightly managed, is the glory of all the world. No place, no community, no fellowship is adorned and bespangled with such beauties, as is a church rightly knit together to their Head, and lovingly serving one another.
The church and a profession are the best of places for the upright; but the worst in the world for the cumberground.
THE CHURCH A LIGHT.
The Holy Ghost is well pleased to bring in the shining virtues of the church, under the—notion of a shining moon; because, as the church herself is compared to the moon, so her virtues are as naturally compared to a shining light: as Christ saith, "Let your light so shine;" and again, "Let your loins be girded, and your lights burning." For indeed, while we are here, that church and congregation of the Lord doth most shine, and most send forth the golden rays and pleasant beams of Christianity, that is most in the exercise of the aforementioned virtues. Take away the moon, and the night is doubtful; or, though the moon be in the firmament, if she hath lost her light, the night is not thereby made more comfortable. And thus, I say, it is first with the world, where there is no church to shine, or where there is a church that doth not so shine that others may see and be lighted.
SPIRITUAL CHARACTER OF THE CHURCH.
She meddleth not with any man's matters but her own; she comes all along by the king's highway; that is, only by the rules that her Lord hath prescribed for her in his testament. The governors of this world need not at all fear a disturbance from her, or a diminution of aught they have. She will not meddle with their fields nor vineyards, neither will she drink of the water of their wells. Only let her go by the king's highway, and she will not turn to the right hand or to the left, until she has passed all their borders It is a false report that the governors of the nations have received against the city, this new Jerusalem, if they believe according to the tale that is told of her, that she is and has been of old a rebellious city, and destructive to kings, and a diminisher of their revenues. She is not for meddling with any thing that is theirs, from a thread even to a shoe-latchet. Her glory is spiritual and heavenly, and she is satisfied with what is her own. 'Tis true, the kings and nations of this world shall one day bring their glory and honor to this city; but yet not by outward force or compulsion: none shall constrain them but the love of Christ, and the beauty of this city. "The Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising." The light and beauty of this city, these only shall engage their hearts and overcome them.
Indeed, if any shall, out of mistrust or enmity against this city and her prosperity, bend themselves to disappoint the designs of the eternal God concerning her building and glory, then they must take what follows. Her God in the midst of her is mighty; he will rest in his love, and rejoice over her with singing, and will UNDO all that afflict her. Wherefore, associate yourselves, O ye people, and ye shall he broken in pieces; for God is with us.
WARNING TO THE PROFESSOR.
He that sins himself out of the church, can find no good in the world; and they that have sinned God out, can find no good in the church. A church that has sinned God away from it, is a sad lump indeed. You, therefore, that are in God's church, take heed of sinning yourselves out thence; also take heed, that while you keep in, you sin not God away, for thenceforth no good is there. "Yea, woe unto them when I depart from them, saith the Lord."
It is hard to have all things according to rule in the day of the church's affliction, because of the weakness and fearfulness of some, and because possibly those who have most skill in that matter may for a time be laid up in chains. But when the church has rest and quietness, then as she praises God, so she conceives and brings forth governors and good government and rule among her members. David, a man of blood, could not build the house to the Lord, which peaceable Solomon, that man of rest, afterwards did. When armies are engaged and hot in battle, it is harder to keep them in rank and file than when they have rest and time for discipline.
THE CHURCH IN AFFLICTION.
When the church of God is afflicted, both heaven and hell have their hand therein; but from a differing consideration, and to a diverse end. From heaven it comes, that we may remember we have sinned, and that we may be made white and tried; but from hell, that we might sin the more, and that we might despair and be damned.
SATAN'S HOSTILITY TO THE CHURCH.
Satan has tried many ways to be at amity with the church—not because he loves her holiness, but because he hates her welfare. And that he might bring about his enterprise, he sometimes has allured her with the dainty delicacies of this world, the lusts of the flesh and of the eyes, and the pride of life. This being fruitless, he has attempted to entangle and bewitch her with his glorious appearance as an angel of light; and to that end he has made his ministers of righteousness, preaching up righteousness, and contending for a divine and holy worship. But this failing also, he has taken in hand at length to fright her into friendship with him, by stirring up the hellish rage of tyrants to frighten and molest her; by finding out strange inventions to torment and afflict her children; by making many bloody examples of her own bowels before her eyes, if by that means he might at last obtain his purpose. But behold, all has been in vain; there can be no reconciliation. And why, but because God himself maintains the enmity? God hath put enmity between the devil and the woman; between that old serpent called the devil and Satan, and the holy and beloved and espoused wife of Christ.
SECURITY OF THE CHURCH.
Gold is a metal so invincible and unconquerable, that no fire can consume it: it may burn it indeed, and melt it; the dross indeed doth consume and give way to the power of the fire, but the gold remains and holds its ground, yea, it gets ground even of the furnace and fire itself; for the more it is burned and melted, the more it recovers its color, and the more it shakes off its dross and dishonor.
Just thus it is with the people of God, and hath been so even from the beginning: the more men oppressed them, the more they grew. His church has been now for many hundred years in the king of Babylon's furnace; all which time she hath most gloriously endured and withstood the heat; and at last, when the fire hath done its worst against her, behold, there comes out a city of gold. Wherefore, let her be bold to say, even before she comes out of the fire, "When I am tried, I shall come forth as gold."
So long as the church endured hardship and affliction, she was greatly preserved from revolts and backslidings; but after she had turned her face from the sun, and had found the plain of Shinar, Genesis 11, that is, the fleshly delights that the pleasures and profits and honors of this world afford, she, forgetting the word and order of God, was content to dwell in the land of Babel.
As the sins of God's people brought them into captivity, so their sins can hold them there; yea, and when the time comes that grace must fetch them out, yet the oxen that draw this cart may stumble, and the way, through roughness, may shake it sorely. However, heaven rules and overrules: and by one means and another, as the captivity of Israel did seem to linger, so it came out at the time appointed, in the way that best pleased God, that most profited them, and that most confounded those that were their implacable enemies. This therefore should instruct those that yet dwell where the "woman" sitteth, to quietness and patience.
To quietness; for God rules and has the disposal of things. Besides, it is a kind of arraigning of his wisdom, to be discontent at that which at present is upon the wheel. Above all, it displeases him that any should seek, or go about to revenge their own injuries, or to work their own deliverances; for that is the work of God: nor is he weak, nor has he missed the opportunity; nor does he sleep, but waketh, and waiteth to be gracious.
This also should teach them to be patient, and put them upon bearing what at present they may undergo, patiently Let them wait upon God; patiently let them wait upon men, and patiently let them bear the fruits of their own transgressions; which though they should be none other but a deferring of the mercy wished for, is enough to try, and crack, and break their patience, if a continual supply and a daily increase thereof be not given by the God of heaven.
And before I conclude this, let me add one word more, to wit, to exhort them to look that they may see what God at present may be doing among the Babylonians.
When God had his people into Babylon of old, he presented them with such varieties there as he never showed them in their own country. And is there nothing now to be seen by them that are not yet delivered from that oppression, that may give them occasion to stay themselves and wonder? What, is preservation nothing? What, is baffling and befooling the enemies of God's church nothing? In the Maryan [Footnote: Upon the accession of Mary to the throne of England, the sanguinary laws against heretics were revived, and those shocking scenes of cruelty followed which have fixed upon this princess the epithet of Bloody Queen Mary. Her gloomy bigotry caused that two hundred and seventy-seven persons should be committed to the flames, including prelates, private clergymen, laymen of all ranks, women, and even children.
Among the number were archbishop Cranmer, bishops Ridley. Latimer, and Hooper, John Rogers, John Bradford, and John Philpot.
Bishops Latimer and Ridley were burnt together. When they came to the stake, Dr. Ridley embraced Latimer fervently, and bade him be of good heart; he then knelt by the stake, and after earnestly praying together, they had a short private conversation. A lighted fagot was laid at Dr. Ridley's feet, which caused the other to say, "Be of good cheer, Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day, by God's grace, light up such a candle in England, as I trust will never be put out." When Dr. Ridley saw the flame approaching him, he exclaimed, "Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit." Latimer ceased not to say, "O Father of heaven, receive my soul."
Sanders, another martyr, was offered a pardon; but he rejected it, and embraced the stake, saying, "Welcome the cross of Christ! welcome, everlasting life!" Fox's Book of Martyrs and Hume's Hist. Eng] days here at home, there were such sweet songs sung in the fire, such sweet notes answering them from prison, and such providences, like coals of burning fire, still dropping here and there upon the heads of those that hated God, that it might, and douhtless did, make those that did wisely consider of God's doings, think God was yet near in behalf of his despised and afflicted people.
Deep things are seen by them that are upon the waters. "They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters, these see the works of the Lord and his wonders in the deep." Indeed it oft falls out that the church sees more of God in affliction, than when she is at rest and ease; when she is tumbled to and fro with waters, then she sees the works of God and his wonders in the deep. And this makes persecution so pleasant a thing; this makes "the ark go upon the face of the waters." She sees more in this her state, than in all the treasures of Egypt.
Nothing is more natural to the church, while in a wilderness condition, than such cups and draughts as the cup of the Lord's fury, the cup of trembling, the cup of astonishment.
Hence she is said to be clothed in sackcloth, to mourn, to weep, to cry out, and to be in pain as a woman in travail. Since the church in the wilderness has been so persecuted, so distressed, so oppressed, and made the seat of so much war, so much blood, and so many murders of her children within her, can it be imagined that she drank of more of these cups? Yes, yes, she has drunk the red wine at the Lord's hand, even the cup of blood, of fury, of trembling, and of astonishment; witness her own cries, sighs, tears, and tremblings, with the cries of the widows, children, and orphans within her.
But all these cups are of pure gold. They are of God's ordaining, appointing, filling; and also sanctified by him for good to those of his that drink them. Hence Moses chose rather to drink a brimmer of these, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.
The sourness, bitterness, and wormwood of them, therefore, is only to the flesh, that loveth neither God, nor Christ, nor grace. The afflictions, therefore, that the church in the wilderness hath met with, these cups of gold, are of more worth than are all the treasures of Egypt; they are needful and profitable, and praiseworthy also, and tend to the augmenting of our glory when the next world shall come.
Besides, they are signs, tokens, and golden-marks of love, and jewels that set off the beauty of the church in the sight of God the more. They are also a means by which men are proved to be sound, honest, faithful, and true lovers of God; to be those whose graces are not counterfeit, feigned, or unsound, but true, and such as will be found to praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.
And this has been the cause that the men of our church in the wilderness have gloried in tribulation, taking pleasure in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, and in distresses, for Christ's sake. Yea, this is the reason why they have bade one another rejoice, when they fell into divers temptations, saying, "Happy is the man that endureth temptations;" and, "Behold, we count them happy that endure." And again, "If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye."
These, therefore, are vessels of pure gold, though they contain such bitter draughts, at which we make so many wry faces before we can get them down.
Do you think that a Christian, having even this cup in his hand to drink, would change it for a draught of that which is in the hand of the woman that sits on the back of the scarlet-colored beast? No, verily; for he knows that her sweet is poison; and that his bitter is to purge his soul, body, life, and religion, of death.
God sends his love-tokens to his church two ways; sometimes by her friends, sometimes by her enemies. When they come by the hand of a friend, as by a minister, a brother, or by the Holy Ghost, then they come smoothly, sweetly, and are taken, and go down like honey. But when these love-tokens come to them by the hand of an enemy, then they are handed to them roughly. Pharaoh handed love-tokens to them roughly; the king of Babylon handed these love-tokens to them roughly. They bring them of malice; God sends them of love. They bring them and give them to us, hoping they will be our death; they give them therefore with many a foul curse; but God blesses them still.
Nor is this cup so bitter but that our Lord himself drank deep of it, before it was handed to his church. He did, as loving mothers do, drink thereof himself, to show us it is not poison, also to encourage us to drink it for his sake, and for our endless health. Therefore the cup is called Christ's cup: "Are ye able to drink of the cup that I drink of? Ye shall indeed drink of my cup." Here you see they are joined in a communion in this cup of affliction.
But these are not all the cups that belong to the church in the wilderness. There is also a cup, out of which, at times, is drunk what is exceeding sweet. It is called the cup of consolation, the cup of salvation; a cup in which God himself is, as David said, "The Lord is the portion of my cup."
This cup, they that are in the church in the wilderness have usually for an after-draught to that bitter one that went before. Thus, as tender mothers give their children plums or sugar to sweeten their palate after they have drunk a bitter potion, so God gives his children the cups of salvation and consolation after they have suffered awhile: "For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation aboundeth by Christ."
Some of these cups are filled until they run over; as David said his did, when the valley of the shadow of death was before him: "Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over."
This is that which the apostle calls "exceeding"—that which is beyond measure. "I am," says he, "filled with comfort; I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation."
Now he has one answering the other: "Thou hast made summer and winter; thou hast made the warm beams of thy sun answerable to the cold of the dark night." This may yet be signified by the building of this house, this type of the church in the wilderness, in so pleasant a place as the forest of Lebanon was. Lebanon! Lebanon was one of the sweetest places in all the land of Canaan. Therefore we read of the fruit of Lebanon, of the streams from Lebanon; the scent, the smell, the glory of Lebanon; and also of the wine and flowers of Lebanon.
Lebanon! That was one thing that wrought with Moses to desire that he might go over Jordan, that he might see that goodly mountain, and Lebanon. The glory and excellent beauty of the church Christ also setteth forth by comparing her to Lebanon: "Thy lips, O my spouse, drop as a honeycomb; honey and milk are under thy tongue, and the smell of thy garments is like the smell of Lebanon."
I know there are extravagant opinions in the world about the kingdom of Christ, as if it consisted in temporal glory in part; and as if he would take it to him by carnal weapons, and so maintain it in its greatness and grandeur. But I confess myself an alien to these notions, and believe and profess quite the contrary, and look for the coming of Christ to judgment personally; and betwixt this and that, for his coming in Spirit and in the power of his word; to destroy antichrist, to inform kings, and so to give quietness to his church on earth: which shall assuredly be accomplished when the reign of the beast, the false prophet, and the man of sin is out.
Let this teach men not to think that the church is cursed of God, because she is put in a wilderness state. Alas, that is but to train her up in a way of solitariness, to make her Canaan the more welcome to her. Rest is sweet to a laboring man.
Yea, this condition is the first step to heaven; yea, it is a preparation to that kingdom. God's ways are not as man's: "I have chosen thee," saith he, "in the furnace of affliction." When Israel came out of Egypt, they were led of God into the wilderness. But why? That he might have them to a land that he had espied for them, that he might bring them to a city of habitation.
The world know not the way of the Lord, nor the judgment of our God. Do you think that saints that dwell in the world, and that have more of the mind of God than the world, could so rejoice in God, in the cross, in tribulations and distresses, were they not assured that through many tribulations is the very road to heaven?
Let this then encourage the saints to hope, and to rejoice in hope of the glory of God, notwithstanding present tribulations. This is our seed-time, our winter: afflictions are to try us of what mettle we are made; yea, and to shake off worm-eaten fruit, and such as are rotten a core.
Troubles for Christ's sake are but like the prick of an awl in the tip of the ear, in order to hang a jewel there.
Let this also put the saints upon patience. When we know that a trial will have an end, we are encouraged to exercise patience. I have a bad master, but I have only a year to serve under him, and that makes me serve him with patience. I have but a mile to go in this dirty way, and then I shall have my path pleasant and green, and this makes me tread the dirty way with patience.
I am now in my rags; but by that a quarter of a year is come and gone, two hundred [Footnote: That is, pounds: a large income in the England Bunyan's day.] a year comes into my hand; wherefore I will wait and exercise patience. Thus might I multiply comparisons.
Be patient, then, my brethren. But how long? "To the coming of the Lord." But when will that be? "The coming of the Lord draweth nigh."
How unseen the strength of the church under persecution is of all that are without her. Alas, they think that she will be run down with a push; or, as they said, "What do these feeble Jews? Will they fortify themselves? will they sacrifice? will they make an end in a day? will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish which are burnt? Alas, if a fox go up, he will even break down their stone wall."
But do you think these men saw the strength of the Jews? No, no; their pillars were within, and so were shadowed from their eyes. David himself could not tell what judgment to make of the way of the world against the people of God, until he went into the sanctuary of God.
How then can the world judge of the condition of the saints? Alas, had they known the church's strength, surely they would not have so furiously assaulted her. But what have they got by all they have done, either, against the Head or body of the church?
She has yet being in the world, and will have, shall have, though all the nations on earth should gather themselves together against her. Nor is it the cutting off of many that will make her cease to flourish. Alas, were she not sometimes pruned and trimmed, her boughs would stand too thick. Those therefore that are taken away with God's pruning-hooks, are removed that the under branches may grow the better.
No man needs be afraid to let Jesus Christ be chief in the world: he envies nobody; he designs the hurt of none: his kingdom is not of this world, nor doth he covet temporal matters: let but his wife, his church, alone, to enjoy her purchased privileges, and all shall be well; which privileges of hers, since they are soul-concerns, make no infringement upon any man's liberties. Let but faith and holiness walk the streets without control, and you may be as happy as the world can make you. I speak now to them that contend with him.
But if seasonable counsel will not go down, if hardness of heart and blindness of mind and so perishing from the way shall overtake you, it is but what you of old have been cautioned of: "Be wise now, therefore, O ye kings; be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him."
The very name of Jesus is the very tower of the Christian church, and that by which she frights the world, not designedly, but through their misunderstanding; for neither she nor her Jesus is for doing them any hurt. However, this is that which renders her yet, in their eye, terrible as an army with banners.
Always when antichrist made his inroads upon the church in the wilderness, to slay, to cut off, and to kill, yet some of the pillars stood; they were not all burnt in the fire, nor cut down. They said indeed, "Come, let us cut them off from being a nation, that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance." But what then? There is a difference betwixt saying and doing; the bush was not therefore consumed because it was set on fire; the church shall not be consumed, although she be afflicted.
And the reason is, because God has his reserve: therefore if Abel falls by the hand of Cain, Seth is put in his place; if Moses is taken away, Joshua shall succeed him; and if the devil break the neck of Judas, Matthias is at hand to take his office. God has a succession of pillars in his house; he has to himself a reserve.
They therefore brought out Faithful, to do with him according to their law; and first they scourged him, then they buffeted him, then they lanced his flesh with knives; after they had stoned him with stones, they pricked him with their swords; and last of all, they burned him to ashes at the stake. Thus came Faithful to his end. Now I saw in my dream that Christian went not forth alone, for there was one whose name was Hopeful—being so made by the beholding of Christian and Faithful in their words and behavior in their sufferings at the fair—who joined himself unto him; and entering into a brotherly covenant, told him that he would be his companion.
Thus one died to bear testimony to the truth, and another rises out of his ashes, to be a companion with Christian in his pilgrimage.
"And she bare a son, and called his name Seth; for God, saith she, hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel, whom Cain slew." Gen. 4. When Seth comes, then the ground is made good again; then a living saint is found to stand, and maintain that truth which but now his brother bled for.
THE FUTURE GLORY OF THE CHURCH.
Thy children shall all be holy or righteous, and "great shall be the peace of thy children; and the nations of them that are saved shall walk in the light of it." Surely the Holy Ghost would never have spoken such a word as this if he had not intended to show us that at the day of the setting up of this Jerusalem, a great harvest of sinners shall be gathered by the grace of the gospel. But the truth is, the Scriptures go with open arms towards the latter end of the world, even as if they would grasp and compass about almost all people then upon the face of the whole earth with the grace and mercy of God: "The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea."
Never was fair weather after foul, nor warm weather after cold, nor a sweet and beautiful spring after a heavy and nipping and terrible winter, so comfortable, sweet, and desirable and welcome to the poor birds and beasts of the field, as this day will be to the church of God. Darkness! it was the plague of Egypt; it is an empty, forlorn, desolate, solitary, and discomforting state. Wherefore light, even the illuminating grace of God, especially in the measure that it shall be communicated unto us at that day, it must needs be precious. In light there is warmth and pleasure. It is by the light of the sun that the whole universe appears unto us distinctly, and it is by the heat thereof that every thing groweth and flourisheth; all which will now be gloriously and spiritually answered in this holy and new Jerusalem. O how clearly will all the spiders and dragons and owls and foul spirits of antichrist, at that day, be discovered by the light hereof. Now also will all the pretty and little birds in the Lord's field, most sweetly send forth their pleasant notes, and all the flowers and herbs in his garden spring. Then will it be said to the church by her husband and Saviour, "Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away; for lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone, the flowers appear on the earth, the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land; the fig-tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vine with her tender grapes give a good smell." You know how pleasant this is, even to be fulfilled in the letter of it, not only to birds and beasts, but to men; especially it is pleasant to such men as have for several years been held in the chains of affliction. It must needs therefore be most pleasant and desirable to the afflicted church of Christ, who hath lain now in the dungeon of antichrist for. above a thousand years. But, Lord, how will this lady, when she gets her liberty and when she is returned to her own city, how will she then take pleasure in the warmth and spangling beams of thy shining grace, and solace herself with thee in the garden, among the nuts and pomegranates, among the lilies and flowers, and all the chief spices!
"And in the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations."
This tree of life is the Lord Jesus Christ; and that he is here called a tree, is to show how fruitful and exceeding advantageous he in all his benefits will be to the inhabitants of this city. This is the tree under whose branches the fowls of heaven shall now most safely lodge, and find relief from the hot and fainting beams of the persecuting sun of this world.
In that he saith this city hath a tree of life in it, he alludes to the garden of Eden, the pleasant paradise that God began the world withal; whereby he signifies, that as the world began with a paradise, so also it shall end with a paradise, when sin and Satan have done their worst. This new Jerusalem shall be the wind-up of the world; and in it shall stand the tree of life, as there stood one in the goodly garden which was the beginning thereof.
Now this tree of life being in the midst of this city, it signifies that the inhabitants of it shall be sweetly shadowed, refreshed, and defended with its coolness, and also sweetly nourished and comforted with its dainties. "As the apple-tree is among the trees of the wood, so is my Beloved among the sons. I sat under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste." Indeed the shadow of this tree of life, as always it is refreshing to the tempted and weary, so now it will be far more: "They that dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall revive as the corn and grow as the vine, and the scent thereof shall be as the wine of Lebanon." His shadow will make us return, that is, to our first love—to the days of our youth, to our young, fresh, tender, and flourishing faith, love, and self-denial, that we received in the day of our espousals.
O they will be green, savory, reviving, flourishing, growing Christians that shall walk the streets of the new Jerusalem.
Now there shall be a oneness of judgment and understanding in the hearts of all saints; they shall be now no more two, but one in the Lord's hand.
Alas, the saints are yet but as an army routed, and are apt sometimes through fear, and sometimes through forgetfulness, to mistake the word of their Captain-general the Son of God, and are also too, too prone to shoot and kill even their very right-hand man. But at that day all such doing shall be laid aside, for the knowledge of the glory of the Lord shall cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea: which knowledge shall then strike through the heart and liver of all swerving and unsound opinions in Christ's matters; for then shall every one of the Christians call upon the name of the Lord, and that with one pure lip, or language, to serve him with one consent.
XXII. The Ministry.
Importance of the ministry.
The church itself, without its watchmen, is a weak, feeble, and very helpless thing. What can the lady or mistress do to defend herself against thieves and sturdy villains, if there be none but she at home? It is said, when the shepherd is smitten, the sheep will be scattered. What could the temple do without its watchmen? 1 Chron. 9:24.
Then let the churches love their pastors, hear their pastors, be ruled by their pastors, and suffer themselves to be watched over, and to be exhorted, counselled, and if need be, reproved and rebuked by their pastors. And let the ministers not sleep, but be watchful, and look to the ordinances, to the souls of the saints, and the gates of the church. Watch, man; WATCH, MAN; WATCH!
Duty Of Churches To The Ministry.
O churches, let your ministers be beautified with your love; that they may beautify you with their love, and also be an ornament unto you, and to that gospel they minister to you, for Jesus Christ's sake.
Different Classes Of Ministers.
Is the soul such an excellent thing, and is the loss thereof so unspeakably great? Then this should teach the people to be very careful to whom they commit the teaching and guidance of their souls.
This is a business of the greatest concern: men will be careful to whom they commit their children, whom they make the executors of their wills, in whose hand they trust the writing and evidences of their lands; but how much more careful should we be, unto whom we commit the teaching and guidance of our souls. And yet most men are in these matters least of all careful.
There are idol shepherds. Zech. 11:7. There are foolish shepherds. Zech. 11:15. There are shepherds that feed themselves, and not their flocks. Ezek. 34:2. There are hard-hearted and pitiless shepherds. Zech. 11:3. There are shepherds that instead of healing, smite, push, and wound the diseased. Ezek. 34:4, 21. There are shepherds that cause their flocks to go astray. Jer. 50:6. And there are shepherds that feed their flocks: these are the shepherds to whom thou shouldst commit thy soul for teaching and for guidance.
Then said the Interpreter, "Come in; I will show thee that which will be profitable to thee." So he commanded his man to light a candle, and bade Christian follow him. So he had him into a private room, and bid his man open a door: the which when he had done, Christian saw the picture of a very grave person hang up against the wall; and this was the fashion of it: it had eyes lifted up to heaven, the best of books in its hand, the law of truth was written upon its lips, the world was behind its back; it stood as if it pleaded with men, and a crown of gold did hang over its head.
Then said Christian, "What meaneth this?"
INTERPRETER. "The man whose picture this is, is one of a thousand; he can beget children, 1 Cor. 4:15, travail in birth with children, Gal. 4:19, and nurse them himself when they are born. And whereas thou seest him with his eyes lifted up to heaven, the best of books in his hand, and the law of truth written on his lips; it is to show thee that his work is to know and to unfold dark things to sinners; even as also thou seest him stand as if he pleaded with men. And whereas thou seest the world as cast behind him, and that a crown hangs over his head; that is to show thee that, slighting and despising the things that are present for the love that he hath to his Master's service, he is sure, in the world that comes next, to have glory for his reward.
"Now," said the Interpreter, "I have showed thee this picture first, because the man whose picture this is, is the only man whom the Lord of the place whither thou art going hath authorized to be thy guide in all difficult places thou mayest meet with in the way; wherefore, take good heed to what I have showed thee, and bear well in thy mind what thou hast seen, lest in thy journey thau meet with some that pretend to lead thee right, but their way goes down to death."
DUTY OF MINISTERS.
Would Jesus Christ have mercy offered in the first place to the biggest sinners? then let God's ministers tell them so.
There is a tendency in us, I know not how it doth come about, when we are converted to contemn them that are left behind. Poor fools as we are, we forget that we ourselves were so.
But would it not become us better, since we have tasted that the Lord is gracious, so to act towards them that we may give them convincing ground to believe that we have found that mercy which also sets open the door for them to come and partake with us?
Austerity doth not become us, neither in doctrine nor in conversation. We ourselves live by grace; let us give as we receive, and labor to persuade our fellow-sinners whom God has left behind us, to follow after, that they may partake with us of grace. We are saved by grace, let us live like them that are gracious. Let all our things to the world be done in charity towards them; pity them, pray for them, be familiar with them for their good. Let us lay aside our foolish, worldly, carnal grandeur; let us not walk the streets, and have such behaviors as signify we are scarce for touching the poor ones that are left behind, no, not with a pair of tongs.
Remember your Lord; he was familiar with publicans and sinners to a proverb. "Behold a gluttonous man and a wine-bibber; a friend of publicans and sinners." Matt. 11:19. The first part, concerning his gluttonous eating and drinking, to be sure, was a horrible slander; but for the other, nothing was ever spoken truer of him by the world.
Now why should we lay hands cross on this text; that is, choose good victuals and love the sweet wine better than the salvation of the poor publican? Why not be familiar with sinners, provided we hate their spots and blemishes, and seek that they may be healed of them? Why not be fellowly with our carnal neighbors, if we take occasion to do so that we may drop and be distilling some good doctrine upon their souls? Why not go to the poor man's house, and give him a penny and a scripture to think upon?
"There were giants in the earth in those days." These words seem to be spoken to show us the hazards that Noah run while he preached the truth of God; he incurred the displeasure of the giants, who doubtless made all men tremble and kept the whole world in awe. But Noah must engage the giants, he must not fear the face of a giant.
This way God also took with Moses and with his people of Israel. They must go to possess the land of the giants, a people high and tall as the cedars, a people of whom went the proverb, "Who can stand before the children of Anak?" They must not be afraid of Og the king of Bashan, though his head be as high as the ridge of a house, and his bedstead a bedstead of iron.
This should teach us not to fear the faces of men; no, not the faces of the mighty; not to fear them in the matters of God, though they should run upon us like a giant.
Persecution, or the appearance of the giants against the servants of God, is no new business; not a thing of yesterday, but of old, even when Noah did minister for God in the world.
"And Noah began to be a husbandman." This trade he took up for want of better employment; or rather, in mine opinion, from some liberty he took to himself to be remiss in his care and work as a preacher. For seeing the church was now at rest, and having the world before them, they still retaining outward sobriety, poor Noah, good man, now might think with himself, "I need not now be so diligent, watchful, and painful in my ministry as formerly; the church is but small, without opposition and also well settled in the truth; I may now take to myself a little time to tamper with worldly things." So he makes an essay upon husbandry: "He began to be a husbandman." Ha, Noah, it was better with thee when thou wast better employed; yea, it was better with thee when a world of ungodly men set themselves against thee—yea, when every day thy life was in danger to be destroyed by the giants, against whom thou wast preacher above a hundred years—for then thou didst walk with God: then thou wast better than all the world; but now thou art in the relapse.
MINISTERS, SERVANTS OF THE CHURCH.
Gifts and office make no men sons of God; as so, they are but servants; though these, as ministers and apostles, were servants of the highest form. It is the church, as such, that is the lady, a queen, the bride, the Lamb's wife; and prophets, apostles, and ministers are but servants, stewards, laborers for her good.
As therefore the lady is above the servant, the queen above the steward, or the wife above all her husband's officers, so is the church, as such, above these officers.
GIFTS AND GRACE IN MINISTERS.
A tinkling cymbal, 1 Cor. 13:1, 2, is an instrument of music with which a skilful player can make such melodious and heart-inflaming music, that all who hear him play can scarcely hold from dancing; and yet behold, the cymbal hath not life, neither comes the music from it, but because of the art of him that plays therewith; so then the instrument at last may come to naught and perish,—though in times past such music hath been made upon it.
Just thus I saw it was and will be with them that have gifts, but want saving grace: they are in the hand of Christ, as the cymbal in the hand of David; and as David could with the cymbal make that mirth in the service of God as to elevate the hearts of the worshippers, Christ can so use these gifted men, as with them to affect the souls of his people in his church; and yet when he hath done all, hang them by, as lifeless, though sounding cymbals.
A man may be used as a servant in the church of God, and may receive many gifts and much knowledge of the things of heaven, and yet at last, himself be no more than a very bubble and nothing.
This our day doth indeed abound with gifts; many sparkling wits are seen in every corner; men have the word and truths of Christ at their fingers' ends. But alas, with many, yea a great many, there is naught but wits and gifts: they are but words; all their religion lieth in their tongues and heads; the power of what they say and know is seen in others, not in themselves. These are like the lord on whom the king of Israel leaned; they shall see the plenty, the blessed plenty that God doth provide and will bestow upon his church, but they shall not taste thereof.
Alas, great light, great parts, great works, and great confidence of heaven, may be where there is no faith of God's elect, no love of the Spirit, no repentance unto salvation, no sanctification of the Spirit, and so, consequently, no saving grace.
THE FALSE MINISTER.
So Christian and Hopeful went on, and Ignorance followed. They went then till they came to a place where they saw a way put itself into their way, and seemed withal to lie as straight as the way which they should go; and here they knew not which of the two to take, for both seemed straight before them; therefore, here they stood still to consider.
And as they wore thinking about the way, behold, a man black of flesh, but covered with a very light robe, came to them, and asked them why they stood there. They answered, that they were going to the celestial city, but knew not which of these ways to take. "Follow me," said the man; "it is thither that I am going." So they followed him in the way that but now came into the road, which by degrees turned, and turned them so far from the city that they desired to go to, that in a little time their faces were turned away from it; yet they followed him. But by and by, before they were aware, he led them both within the compass of a net, in which they were both so entangled that they knew not what to do; and with that the white robe fell off from the black man's back: then they saw where they were. Wherefore, there they lay crying some time, for they could not get themselves out.
Then said Christian to his fellow, "Now do I see myself in an error. Did not the shepherds bid us beware of the flatterer?" Thus they lay bewailing themselves in the net. At last they spied a shining one coming towards them with a whip of small cords in his hand. When he was come to the place where they were, he asked them whence they came, and what they did there. They told him that they were poor pilgrims going to Zion, but were led out of their way by a black man clothed in white, who bid us, said they, follow him, for he was going thither too. Then said he with the whip, "It is Flatterer, a false apostle that hath transformed himself into an angel of light." So he rent the net, and let the men out.
Then said he to them, "Follow me, that I may set you in your way again." So he led them back to the way which they had left to follow the flatterer. Then he asked them, saying, "Where did you lie the last night?" They said, "With the shepherds upon the delectable mountains." He asked them then, if they had not a note of direction for the way. They answered, "Yes." "But did you not," said he, "when you were at a stand, pluck out and read your note?" They answered, "No." He asked them, "Why?" They said they forgot. He asked, moreover, if the shepherds did not bid them beware of the flatterer. They answered, "Yes; but we did not imagine," said they," that this fine-spoken man had been he." Rom. 16:17, 18.
Then I saw in my dream that he commanded them to lie down, Deut. 29:2; which when they did, he chastised them sore, to teach them the good way wherein they should walk, 2 Chron. 6:26, 27; and as he chastised them he said, "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten; be zealous therefore and repent." This done, he bid them go on their way, and take heed to the other directions of the shepherds. So they thanked him for his kindness, and went softly along the right way, singing.
Another reason why delusions do so easily take place in the hearts of the ignorant, is because those that pretend to be their teachers do behave themselves so basely among them. And indeed I may say of these, as our Lord said of the Pharisees in another case, All the blood of the ignorant, from the beginning of the world, shall be laid to the charge of this generation. They that pretend they are sent of the Lord, and come saying, Thus saith the Lord; we are the servants of the Lord; our commission is from the Lord—I say, those who pretend themselves to be the preachers of truth, but are not, do by their loose conversation render the true doctrine of God and his Son Jesus Christ contemptible, and do give the adversary mighty encouragement to cry out against the truths of our Lord Jesus Christ, because of their wicked walking. Now "shall not his soul be avenged on such a nation as this?" who pretend to be teachers of the people in goodness, when, as for the most part of them, they are the men that at this day do harden their hearers in their sins, by giving them such ill examples that none goeth beyond them for impiety? As for example, Would a parishioner learn to be proud? he or she need look no further than to the priest, his wife, and family; for there is a notable pattern before them. Would the people learn to be wanton? they may also see a pattern among their teachers. Would they learn to be drunkards? they may also have that from some of their ministers; for indeed they are ministers in this, to minister ill examples to their congregations. Again, would the people learn to be covetous? they need but look to their ministers, and they shall have a lively, or rather a deadly, resemblance set before them, in both riding and running after great benefices and parsonages, by night and by day; nay, they among themselves will scramble for the same. I have seen, that so soon as a man hath but departed from his benefice as he calls it, either by death or out of covetousness of a bigger, we have had one priest from this town, and another from that, so run for these tithe-cocks and handfuls of barley, as if it were their proper trade and calling to hunt after the same.
A covetous minister is a base thing; a pillar more symbolizing Lot's wife, than a holy apostle of Jesus Christ.
The unbelieving world slight the Scriptures because carnal priests tickle the ears of their hearers with vain philosophy and deceit, and thereby harden their hearts against the simplicity of the gospel and word of God; which things the apostle admonished those that have a mind to close in with Christ, to avoid, saying, "Beware lest any man," be he what he will, "spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the traditions of men and rudiments of the world, and not after Christ."
And you who muzzle up your people in ignorance, with Aristotle, Plato, and the rest of the heathenish philosophers, and preach little if any thing of Christ rightly—I say unto you, that you will find you have sinned against God and beguiled your hearers, when God shall in the judgment-day lay the cause of the damnation of many thousands of souls to your charge, and say, "I will require their blood at your hands."
THE MINISTER AT THE DAY OF JUDGMENT.
Some men, it is to be feared, at the day of judgment, will be found to be the authors of destroying whole nations. How many souls, do you think, Balaam with his deceit will have to answer for? How many Mahomet? How many the Pharisees that hired the soldiers to say the disciples stole away Jesus, and by that means stumbled their brethren to this day?
How many poor souls hath Bonner to answer for, think you; and several filthy, blind priests? How many souls have they been the means of destroying by their ignorance and corrupt doctrine? preaching that which was no better for their souls than ratsbane to the body, for filthy lucre's sake. They shall see that they, many of them it is to be feared, will have whole towns to answer for, whole cities to answer for. Ah, friend, I tell thee, thou that hast taken in hand to preach to the people, it may be thou hast taken in hand thou canst not tell what. Will it not grieve thee to see thy whole parish come bellowing after thee to hell, crying out, This we may thank thee for; thou didst not teach us the truth; thou didst lead us away with fables; thou wast afraid to tell us of our sins, lest we should not put meat fast enough into thy mouth. O cursed wretch, that ever thou shouldst beguile us thus, deceive us thus, flatter us thus. We would have gone out to hear the word abroad, but that thou didst reprove us, and also tell us that that which we see now is the way of God was heresy and a deceivable doctrine, and wast not contented, blind guide as thou wert, to fall into the ditch thyself, but hast also led us thither with thee.
I say, look to thyself, lest thou cry out when it is too late, Send Lazarus to my people, my friends, my children, my congregation to whom I preached, and whom I beguiled through my folly. Send him to the town in which I did preach last, lest I be the cause of their damnation.
In my preaching of the word, I took special notice of this one thing, namely, that the Lord did lead me to begin where his word begins with sinners; that is, to condemn all flesh, and to open and allege that the curse of God by the law doth belong to, and lay hold on all men as they come into the world, because of sin.
Now this part of my work I fulfilled with great feeling; for the terrors of the law, and guilt for my transgressions, lay heavy on my conscience: I preached what I felt, what I smartingly did feel; even that under which my poor soul did groan and tremble to astonishment.
Indeed, I have been as one sent to them from the dead; I went myself in chains, to preach to them in chains; and carried that fire in my own conscience, that I persuaded them to be aware of. I can truly say, and that without dissembling, that when I have been to preach, I have gone full of guilt and terror even to the pulpit-door, and there it hath been taken off, and I have been at liberty in my mind until I have done my work; and then immediately, even before I could get down the pulpit-stairs, I have been as bad as I was before; yet God carried me on, but surely with a strong hand, for neither guilt nor hell could take me off my work.
Thus I went on for the space of two years, crying out against men's sins, and their fearful state because of them. After which the Lord came in upon my soul with some sure peace and comfort through Christ; for he did give me many sweet discoveries of his blessed grace through him: wherefore now I altered my preaching—for still I preached what I saw and felt. Now, therefore, I did much labor to hold forth Jesus Christ in all his offices, relations, and benefits unto the world; and did strive also to discover, to condemn, and remove those false supports and props on which the world doth both lean and by them fall and perish. On these things also I staid as long as on the other.
When I have been preaching, I thank God, my heart hath often all the time of this and the other exercise, with great earnestness cried to God that he would make the word effectual to the salvation of the soul; still being grieved lest the enemy should take the word away from the conscience, and so it should become unfruitful: wherefore I have labored so to speak the word, as that thereby, if it were possible, the sin and person guilty might be particularized by it.
And when I have done the exercise, it hath gone to my heart to think the word should now fall as rain on stony places; still wishing from my heart, Oh, that they who have heard me speak this day did but see as I do, what sin, death, hell, and the curse of God are; and also what the grace, and love, and mercy of God are, through Christ; to men in such a case as they are who are yet estranged from him. And indeed, I did often say in my heart before the Lord, that if I should be hanged up presently before their eyes, and it would be a means to awaken them and confirm them in the truth, I gladly should be contented.
For I have been in my preaching, especially when I have been engaged in the doctrine of life by Christ without works, as if an angel of God had stood at my back to encourage me. Oh, it hath been with such power and heavenly evidence upon my own soul, while I have been laboring to unfold it, to demonstrate it, and to fasten it upon the consciences of others, that I could not be contented with saying, I believe, and am sure. Methought I was more than sure—if it be lawful thus to express myself—that those things which then I asserted were true.
If any of those who were awakened by my ministry did after that fall back—as sometimes too many did—I can truly say, their loss hath been more to me than if my own children, begotten of my body, had been going to their grave. I think verily I may speak it without any offence to the Lord, nothing has gone so near me as that; unless it was the fear of the loss of the salvation of my own soul. I have counted as if I had goodly buildings and lordships in those places where my children were born: my heart hath been so wrapped up in the glory of this excellent work, that I counted myself more blessed and honored of God by this, than if he had made me emperor of the Christian world or the lord of all the glory of the earth without it. Oh these words: "He that converteth the sinner from the error of his way, shall save a soul from death." "The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise." "They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness, as the stars for ever and ever." "For what is our hope, our joy, our crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? For ye are our glory and joy." These, I say, with many others of a like nature, have been great refreshments to me.
I have observed that a word cast in by the by, hath done more execution in a sermon, than all that was spoken besides: sometimes also, when I have thought I did no good, then I did the most of all; and at other times, when I thought I could catch them, I have fished for nothing.
BUNYAN'S CHARACTER AND PRINCIPLES
For my descent, it was, as is well known by many, of a low and inconsiderable generation; my father's house being of that rank that is meanest and most despised of all the families of the land. Wherefore I have not, as others, to boast of noble blood and of any high-born estate according to the flesh; though all things considered, I magnify the heavenly Majesty for that by this door he brought me into the world, to partake of the grace and life that is in Christ by the gospel.
What need you, before you have showed one syllable of a reasonable argument in opposition to what I assert, thus trample my person, my gifts, and grace—have I any—so disdainfully under your feet, because of my low descent among men; stigmatizing me for a person of that rank that need not to be heeded. And what, is my rank so mean that the most gracious and godly among you may not duly and soberly consider what I have said? Was it not the act of the false apostles to say thus—to bespatter a man that his doctrine might be disregarded? "Is not this the carpenter?" and, "His bodily presence is weak and his speech contemptible," did not use to be in the mouths of the saints; for they knew the wind blew where it listed. Neither is it high birth, worldly breeding, or wealth; but electing love, grace, and the wisdom that comes from heaven, that those who strive for strictness of order in. the things and kingdom of Christ, should have in regard and esteem. Need I read you a lecture? Hath not God chosen the foolish, the weak, the base, yea and even things that are not to bring to naught things that are? Why then do you despise my rank, my state, and quality in the world?
Since you would know by what name I would be distinguished from others, I tell you, I would be, and I hope I am, A CHRISTIAN; and choose, if God should count me worthy, to be called A CHRISTIAN, A BELIEVER, or other such name which is approved by the Holy Ghost.
Your artificial, squibbling suggestions to the world about myself, my imprisonment, and the like, I freely bind unto me as an ornament among the rest of my reproaches, till the Lord shall wipe them off at his coming.