The Consistent Christian
William Secker, 1660
And here I
shall form a golden chain of twenty links—for believers to wear about
II. WHAT the disciples of Christ do more than others.
1. The first singular action of a sanctified Christian, is to do much good—and make but little noise.
Some people say much—and do nothing. But Christians do much—and say nothing. To deserve praise where none is obtained—is better than to obtain praise where none is deserved. The old maxim is worthy to be revived—he who desires honor, is not worthy of honor.
"Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men—to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven." A saint may be seen doing more works than any—and yet he does not desire to do any of the works to be seen. An alms which is seen, is by no means unpleasant to God, provided it be not given with a design to have it seen. Though good ends do not make bad actions lawful; yet bad ends, make good good actions sinful. The harp sounds sweetly; yet it hears not its own melody. Moses had more glory by his veil—than he had by his face. It is truly pleasant to behold those living in the dust of humility—who have raised others from the dust by their liberality.
That ancient caution of our Savior is very suitable to modern times: "So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full." What the first verse calls doing to be seen by men, this calls doing to receive honor from men.
Hypocrites would never be anxious for men to see them—but that by seeing them—men should praise them. The indigent are more indebted to their vanity—than their charity. They give alms, not so much for the poor to live upon—as for the rich to look upon. This is employing the master's coin—for the servant's gain. Hypocrites are more zealous for the market—than for the closet. They can pray better in the corners of the streets—than in the corners of their houses.
It is both food and drink to a formalist to fast—if others do but see it. It is reported, that the nightingale never sings so sweetly—as when others stand by to hear its melody. "Come—see my zeal for the Lord!" when there was no zeal for the Lord to be seen. Jehu only made religion a stirrup—to mount upon the saddle of popularity. Sounding souls are seldom souls that are sound. The boast of a Jehu is always linked to the heart of a Judas. Some people are like hens—which no sooner drop their eggs than they begin to chatter. If such bestow a little money on a church's repairs—it must be recorded upon church plaque.
How frequently do the enemies of grace—lurk under the praises of nature! While a hypocrite is extolled—grace is injured. By how much we arrogate to our honor—we derogate from God's honor. Vain-glory is like Naaman's leprosy—a foul spot upon a fair paper. What are the acclamations of man—compared to the approbation of God? Of what real advantage is it, to be praised on earth, by those about us—and damned in heaven, by him who is above us? One flaw in a diamond diminishes both its splendor and value. Where SELF is the end of our actions—there Satan is the rewarder of them!
"But when you give to the needy—do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing." Acts of mercy are right hand acts—but the left hand must not know them, because it will make them known. It is a singular thing for Christians to do much in secret—and to keep it secret when it is done. God is nearer to us—than we are to ourselves. We need not sound a trumpet for any 'acts of righteousness'; for when the great trumpet shall sound—every work shall be revealed.
Where the river is the deepest, the water glides the smoothest. Empty casks sound most; whereas the well-fraught vessel, silences its own sound. As the shadow of the sun is largest, when his beams are lowest; so we are always least—when we make ourselves the greatest. Wicked Saul would rather resign his crown—than his honor: "Honor me before the people!" There is little worth in outward splendor—if grace yield it not an inward luster.
When the sun of worldly grandeur is in its meridian, it may be masked with a cloud. By climbing too high on the bough of honor—you may hang yourselves on the tree of dishonor. Some would rather suffer the agony of the cross—than the infamy of the cross. It is worse, in their esteem, to be dispraised—than it is to be destroyed. Thus Abimelech, the fratricide, conceived of it: "A woman on the roof threw down a millstone that landed on Abimelech's head and crushed his skull. He said to his young armor bearer, "Draw your sword and kill me! Don't let it be said that a woman killed Abimelech!" Poor man, he dies—but his pride does not die!
How frequently does God reject those as reprobate silver—whom men esteem as fine gold! "A man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man's praise is not from men—but from God." The praise of a hypocrite is not of God—but of man; the praise of a true Israelite is not of man—but of God. The former desires to appear good—that he may be admired. The latter desires to be good—that God may be honored. The self-abased saint on earth, imitates the holy angels in heaven; while the self-admired sinner on earth, imitates the fallen angels in hell.
The cherubim in Ezekiel's vision "had the hands of a man under their wings." They had not their wings under their hands—but their hands under their wings. Their hands denoted skill, their wings denote celerity. Their hands under their wing's, denote the secrecy of their actions. They would not have others fall down and worship them, who were only around the throne—but they fell down themselves to worship him, who is upon the throne!
It was foretold of our Lord Jesus Christ, who did the most excellent works that ever were done, that "He will not cry out or shout or make His voice heard in the streets." "He will not cry out," that is—he would not be contentious. "He will not shout or make His voice heard in the streets," that is—he should not be vain-glorious.
How repugnant to this, was the conduct of the boasting Pharisee. "The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself—God, I thank you, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector." Hypocrites are better in setting forth their own worth—than their own wants; in displaying the banners of their perfections—than in discovering the heinousness of their own transgressions. "I am not as other men are!" As if he had been such a fellow—as had had no fellow. Because he was not so bad as most—he thought himself as good as the best. Ambition is so great a planet—that it must have a whole orbit to move in. Ambition is envious at its equals.
A sun-burned face seems fair, compared with an Ethiopian—but ciphers can never constitute a sum. This Pharisee was as far from being religious, as he was from being scandalous. But upon what foundation did he rear his superstructure? "I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess." He proclaims all out of doors—which was done within doors. He forgot that he was like the sea—which loses as much on one shore as it gains on another. He hid his sins—which he should have confessed; and he published his good deeds—which he should have concealed.
What victory a formalist seemingly obtains over one lust—he loses by being overcome of another. He trades, not for God's glory—but for his own vain-glory. If a tear is shed, or a prayer is made, as it is performed by him—so it is divulged by him. He who traffics in God's service, to freight himself with man's praises—shall suffer shipwreck in the haven!
It is reported of Alexander's footman, that he ran so swift upon the sand, that the prints of his footsteps were not to he seen. Thus may it be with Christians. Nothing is more pleasing to God, than a hand liberally opened—and a tongue strictly silent!
Most people are like Themistocles, who never found himself so much contented as when he heard himself praised. I will not say a gracious heart never lifts up itself in pride—but I will say, that grace in the heart never lifts it up. Grace in the heart constantly acts like itself—but a gracious heart does not always do so.
Saints should resemble a spire steeple, which is smallest where it is highest; or those orient stars, which the higher they are seated—the less they are seen. Usually the greatest boasters—are the smallest workers. The deep rivers pay a larger tribute to the sea than shallow brooks—and yet empty themselves with less noise. What will a hypocrite not do—so he might but see his own signet upon it when it is done!
2. Another singular action of a sanctified Christian, is to bring up the bottom of his life—to the top of his light.
By how far our hearts are set upon God's precepts—to love them; by so far are God's ears set upon our prayers—to answer them. David knew this when he said, "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me." Since the tree of knowledge has been tasted—the key of knowledge has been rusted.
Therefore, "The natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." Spiritual truths oppose the wickedness of human reason—because they are against it, and therefore it cannot receive them. Spiritual truths also exceed the weakness of human reason—because they are above it, therefore it cannot perceive them. It is better to be a toe in the foot—and that be sound; than to be an eye in the head—and that be blind.
There is a great propriety in the exhortation of Peter, "But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." No knowledge can equal that of Christ; no growth can equal that of grace. Without grace, there may he seeming knowledge—but without grace, there can be no saving knowledge.
There were more enlightened, than enlivened, in the days of Christ; hence he said, "If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them." John 13:17. To obey the truth, and not to know it—is impossible. To know the truth, and not obey it—is unprofitable. For, "Not everyone who says unto me, 'Lord, Lord' shall enter into the kingdom of heaven—but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." Saving knowledge is not as the light of the moon—to sleep by; but as the light of the sun—to work by. It is not a loiterer in the market-place—but a laborer in the vineyard.
A man may be a great scholar—and yet be a great sinner. Judas the traitor—was Judas the preacher! The snake which has a pearl in its head—has poison in its body! The tree of knowledge has often been planted, and flourished—where the tree of life never grew. A man may be acquainted with the grace of truth, and yet not know the truth of grace. All abilities and gifts—without grace and holiness—are but like Uriah's letters, which were the death warrants of him who carried them!
Mere head knowledge will be as unhelpful to the soul, in the judgment day—as a painted fire is unhelpful to the frozen body, in a cold day. As some articles are tanned by the same sun in which others are whitened—so are some professors hardened under the same gospel by which others are softened.
I would never have that the brand of Christians, which was the bane of heathens, "Though they knew God—they did not glorify Him as God." As it is lost labor to smite the flint—if it disperses no sparks; so it is fruitless toil to furnish our heads with light—if it does not refine our hearts. Satan may as well put out our eyes—that we should not see the truth; as cut off our feet—that we should not walk in the truth. Mere theoretical knowledge may make the head giddy—but it will never make the heart holy.
Who would wait for such a gale, as would drive them farther from the desired haven? or freight their vessels with such a cargo, as would ruin the owner? Shall we hold the candle of the gospel in one hand—and the sword of rebellion in the other? How many professors are there, who have light enough to know what should be done—but have not love enough to do what they know! Such people have no advantage from carrying a bright candle in a dark lantern. Give me the Christian who perfectly sees the way he should go—and readily goes the way he sees!
That is barren ground—which brings forth no fruit. "To him who knows to do good, and does it not—to him it is sin." The sins of ignorance are most numerous—but the sins of knowledge are most dangerous! That sinner's darkness will be the greatest in hell—whose light was the clearest on earth!
Pharnaces, the Prince of Pontus, sent a crown to Caesar, at the time he was in rebellion against him. Caesar refused the present, saying, "Let him first lay down his rebellion, and then I will receive his crown." There are many who set a crown of glory upon the head of Christ by a good profession, and yet put a crown of thorns upon his head by an evil conversation. By the words of our mouth—we may affect to adore religion; but it is by the works of our lives—that we adorn religion.
It was a just saying of one, "That in the best reformed churches, there were the most deformed professors." Look to this, reader—that all will be pulled down without you—if there be no grace set up within you. As trees without fruits are unprofitable—so knowledge without good works is abominable! Leah and Rachel are fit emblems of knowledge and obedience. Knowledge, like Rachel, is beautiful—but obedience, like Leah, is fruitful. He who dislikes to do what he knows—will one day not know what to do.
"Be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves." Wise as serpents to guard against the wolf's rapacity; and harmless as doves that you may do no man any injury. Thus, the serpent's eye is an ornament when placed in the dove's head. The lives of many professors are awfully unlike their lights. They have the light of the sun—for wisdom; but want the heat of a candle—for grace and holiness.
I have read of a painter, who being warmly reprehended by a cardinal, for putting too much red in the faces of St. Paul and St. Peter, answered, "It is to show how much they blush at the conduct of many who style themselves their successors!" Were Abraham the father of the faithful, now on earth, how would he disclaim all relation to many who call themselves his offspring! Though there was less grace revealed to the saints of old—yet there was more grace manifested by them. They knew little—and did much; we know much—and do little.
John the Baptist "was a burning and a shining light" To shine is not enough, a glow-worm will do so; to burn is not enough, a firebrand will do so. Light without heat—does but little good; and heat without light—does much harm. Give me those Christians who are burning lamps—as well as shining lights.
The sun is as vigorous in his moving—as he is illustrious in his shining. I know the light of nature requires grace, to repel the lusts of nature. Will any say, "The day of hope is dawning within them—when the powers of darkness are ruling over them?"
How monstrous is it to see a Christian's tongue larger than his hand! To speak so much of God, to others—and act so little for God, himself
3. Another singular action of a sanctified Christian, is to prefer the duty he owes to God—to the danger he fears from man!
Christians in all ages have prized their services—above their safety. The wicked flee, when no man pursues—but the righteous are bold as a lion! The fearful hare trembles at every noise—but the courageous lion is unmoved by the greatest clamors. Were believers to shrink back at every contrary wind which blows—they would never make their voyage to heaven.
"My righteousness I hold fast—and will not let it go." Poor Job could hold nothing fast—but his integrity. Grace kept his heart—when he could not keep his gold. Uprightness is so fair a complexion, as not to be subject to any alteration by the scorching beams of persecution. The laurel preserves its verdure amidst the severest blasts of winter. Times of trouble have often been—times of triumph to a believer. Suffering seasons have generally been sifting seasons—in which the Christian has lost his chaff, and the hypocrite his courage!
Dangers have frequently made the worldling leave his duties. The scythe of persecution—cuts down the tender grass of his devotion. Those who always refuse to carry the yoke of Christ upon their necks—will also refuse to carry the cross of Christ upon their backs. Nothing less than the enjoyment of God, who is altogether good—can permanently support us under the suffering of that which is evil. The flesh is an enemy to suffering; because suffering is an enemy to the flesh. The flesh may make a man an earthly courtier—but it will never make a man a Christian martyr.
Wicked men stumble at every straw in the way to heaven—but they climb over mountains in the way to destruction! Hang heavy weights on rotten boughs—and they will suddenly break. If mere professors take up religion in a fair day—they will eagerly lay it down in a foul one. The language of such is "Lord we are willing to serve you—but unwilling to suffer for you. We will go to sea with you—but on condition we have no storms. We have no objections to enter into the war, but upon this promise—that we have no blows!" Such would gladly be wafted to the port of felicity—in such vessels as would not be tossed in the sea of calamity! They think too much of wearing a thorn—though it be borrowed from Christ's crown!
There are some who would sacrifice a stout heart—to a stubborn will; and would rather die martyrs for their sins—than servants for the truth. How shall those stand for Christ—who never stood in Christ? True believers are more studious how to adorn the cross—than how to avoid the cross. They deem it better to be saved in troubled water—than to be drowned in a calm ocean!
Temporary professors are like hedge-hogs which have two holes; one to the north and another to the south; when the south wind chaffs them—they turn to the north; and when the north wind chills them—they turn to the south. Thus they lose their activity to preserve their security. That was a beggarly saying which fell from a prince's lips, "I will sail no farther in the cause of Christ—than while I can preserve my safe retreat to land."
Man is a short-sighted creature; he is afraid to follow too far upon the heels of truth—lest it should lead him into danger. Weak grace may do for God—but it must be strong grace which will die for God. A true Christian will lay down his lusts—at the command of Christ; and his life—for the cause of Christ. The more a tree of righteousness is shaken hy the wind—the more it is rooted in the ground. What, are you a member of Christ—and afraid to be a martyr for Christ? If those are blessed who die in Christ—what must they be who die for Christ!
What though the flesh returns to dust—so long as the spirit returns to heaven? What is the body of man, for a soul to live in—compared with the bosom of Abraham, for a soul to lie in? Righteous Abel, the first martyr in the church militant, was the first saint in the church triumphant. He offered up a sacrifice—when the altar was sprinkled with his own blood. As his body was the first which ever went into the earth—so his soul was the first which ever went into heaven!
"Should such a man as I flee?" says Nehemiah—a man so much owned and honored by God? It is better to die a conqueror in religion, than to live a coward in religion. Those who are willing to be combatants for God—shall also be more than conquerors through God. None are so truly courageous—as those who are truly religious. If a Christian lives—he knows by whose might he stands; and if he dies—he knows for whose sake he falls. Where there is no confidence in God—there will be no continuance with God. When the wind of faith ceases to fill the sails—the ship of obedience ceases to plough the seas! The taunts of Ishmael—shall never make an Isaac disesteem his inheritance.
Reader! if a righteous cause brings you into sufferings—a righteous God will bring you out of sufferings. A Christian is as much indebted to his enemies—as to his friends. The malicious crucifixion of Christ—wrought out the glorious exaltation of Christ. The worst that men can do against believers—is the best they can do for believers. The worst they can do against them—is to send them out of the earth; and the best they can do for them—is to send them into heaven!
That was a Christian expression of one of the martyrs to his persecutors, "You take a life from me which cannot keep—and bestow a life upon me that I cannot lose! This is as if you should rob me of my pennies—and load me with diamonds!" He who is assured of a heavenly life which has no end—need not care how soon this earthly life shall end!
Neither the persecuting hand of men, nor the chastising hand of God—relaxed ancient singular saints. "All this happened to us, yet we had not forgotten you or been false to your covenant. Our hearts had not turned back; our feet had not strayed from your path." Believers resemble the moon, which emerges from her eclipse by keeping her motion; and ceases not to shine, because the dogs bark at her. Shall we cease to be professors, because others will not cease to be persecutors?
By the seed of the serpent—the heel of the woman may be bruised—but by the seed of the woman—the head of the serpent shall be broken! A Christian may enjoy a calm of inward peace—while he sustains the storms of outward trouble. If he enjoys the former—he may expect the latter. If he suffers the latter—he may expect the former. There is no summer without its winter.
"Many waters" (may drown the world, but) "cannot quench love." The water of affliction cannot extinguish the fire of affection. If true religion goes against their lusts, formalists will quickly shut up their hearts against it. They will rather tarry out of the land of Canaan—than swim to it through the Red Sea. A man will never sustain trouble for Jesus—until he finds rest in Jesus.
Adventurous Peter could cry, "Lord! if it is you—bid me come to you on the water." Love to Christ can walk on the water without drowning, and lie in the fire without burning. It is said of the serpent, ''That it cares not to what danger it exposes its body—so long as it can but secure its head." Thus a Christian cares not to what danger he is liable, so long as Jesus is but honored thereby.
Paul, who turned the world upside-down, could not be turned upside-down by the world. "None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself; so that I might finish my course with joy." A saint is inwardly pious—when he is not outwardly prosperous. The sharper the medicine is—the sounder the patient is for its operation. The higher the flood swells on earth—the nearer the ark mounts to heaven.
God can strike straight strokes—with crooked sticks; and make Satan's dross burnish his choice vessels. Christians are crucified by the world—that they might be crucified to the world. God makes it their enemy—that he might make them enemies to it. Religion is that phoenix which has always flourished in its own ashes. While reprobates attack the truth with their sword—martyrs defend it with their blood. The loss of their heads—hastens the reception of their crowns.
We should never land in triumph at the haven of rest—if we were not tossed upon the sea of trouble. If Joseph had not been Egypt's prisoner—he would never have never been Egypt's governor. The iron chains about his feet—ushered in the golden chains about his neck. Temporal losses are only gentle breezes—but eternal losses are insupportable storms.
Reader! tell me, is not Christ, with his cross for a few years—better than Dives, with his dainties for a few days? What comparison is there between the short-lived happiness of the wicked—attended with everlasting misery; and the short-lived misery of the righteous—attended with everlasting happiness?
4. Another singular action of a sanctified Christian, is to seek the public good of others above the private good of himself.
The sentiment of Plato, a heathen, is worthy to be adopted by every Christian, "I was not born for myself alone; for my country claims a part, my relations claim a part, and my friends claim a part in me." As we are not born by ourselves—so we are not born for ourselves.
Baruch, the man of God, was forbidden to make SELF the center of his wishes, "Are you seeking great things for yourself? Seek them not!" For saints to set their hearts—upon that whereon beasts set their feet; is as if a king should abdicate his throne—to follow the plough; or, as if a man should desert a golden mine—to dig in a pit of gravel. When we hide ourselves—it denotes that we are virtuous; but when we seek ourselves—it denotes that we are covetous.
I am unwilling to draw a defective feature in any man's picture; yet how many are there, who have occupied public places—with private aspirations! While they pretended to undertake everything for the good of others; it has appeared, that they undertook nothing but for the good of themselves. Such suckers at the roots—have drawn away the sap and nourishment from the tree. They have set kingdoms on fire—that they might roast their own venison at the flames. These drones stealing into the hive—have fed upon the honey; while the laboring bees have been famished! Too many resemble ravenous birds, which at first seem to bewail the dying sheep—but at last, are found picking out their eyes!
There is a proverb—but none of Solomon's, "Every man for himself—and God for us all." But where every man is for himself—the devil will have all. Whoever is a seeker of himself—is not found of God. Though he may find himself in this life—he will lose himself in eternity.
The public spirit of Seneca is a sharp censure to many private-spirited Christians; "I would so live," said he, "as if I knew I received my being only for the benefit of others." How justly might that complaint be taken up, which was so sadly laid down by Paul, "All men seek their own—not the things of Jesus Christ." If some heathens excel Christians—it is not because Christianity does not surpass heathenism. A selfish man will not sow his seed—unless he reap the whole harvest! Now will he plant the vines—unless he presses all the grapes into his own vessel. The wheel of his diligence will not move—unless the oil of profit is in it. It may be said to many, as a great personage once said to his servant; "your rise has been my fall."
If Dives is tormented—because he refused to impart his own goods; what shall their torment be—who take that which is another's! If those fingers are cut off, which so closely clap their own property; what will become of those hands, which are always open to grasp at other men's property!
It was Israel's lamentation—that those who were once clad in scarlet—now embraced the dunghill. It may now be England's lamentation—that many who once embraced the dunghill, are now by injustice, clothed in scarlet. Every man's private interest—is best secured in the pubic good. A drop of water will soon be dried up if alone—but, in the ocean, it will retain its moisture. A single beam of light is suddenly obscured—but in the body of the sun, it retains its splendor.
Too many, in all ages, have turned a common weal—into a common woe. They have spun themselves superfine suits, out of the nation's fleece. Many noble birds have been deplumed—that their wings might be richly feathered. When any springs have been opened—they have laid pipes to convey the water into their own cisterns. Such pretended pilots have steered the ship of plenty into their own haven—but God's justice will certainly squeeze such sponges, and leave them as dry at last as they were at first. All those moths shall be destroyed—which eat into other men's garments.
For a man to advance his interest, out of another's property—is to keep all the meat in his mouth, and starve all the body beside. Natural every man is his own Alpha and his own Omega. He has his beginning from himself—and his ending in himself.
That was a morose speech of Cain to the Almighty: "Am I my brother's keeper?" He thought it was not his duty to be his brother's keeper—but did not consider that it was against his duty to be his brother's assassin. There are many who will not be their brother's keepers, and yet will be their butchers. They have riveted themselves to their possessions by the bones of their murdered brethren; and paved causeways to honor with the skulls of honest men.
Self-seeking has been so long pulling the ropes, that it has rung the death-bell of many nations. It is sad to see the house in flames, while the chamber is being furnished; the ship sinking, while the cabin is filling; or the tree falling, while the nest is a building. But better fruit cannot grow upon the trees of cruelty, than wantonness and oppression. God will compel them to drink the dregs of that cup, which they have so unjustly mingled for others.
Queen Esther was a singular saint; for she preferred the public to her private good. "If I perish, I perish!" For how can I endure to see the evil which shall come upon my people? This Israelitess was not more lovely in appearance, than benevolent in her disposition. She did not prefer her own life to her people's—but her people's to her own.
When Theodosius lay on his dying pillow, he was more studious how to do his kingdom good—than how to sustain his torturing pains; as appears by his counsel to his sons, to whom he left it. "I counsel you to be deeply concerned for the promotion of religion, and the good of man; for by this, peace will be preserved, and wars no more known."
Though the eagle is the queen of birds—yet she was not offered up in sacrifice, because she lived upon the spoil of others. Grace teaches a Christian not only to act like a man to God—but also like a God to man.
Our Lord Jesus Christ pleased not himself; that thereby he might eternally profit us. "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor; that you through his poverty might become rich!" A drop of his blood is worth more than a sea of ours! And yet he died our death—that we might live his life; and suffered our hell—to bring us to his heaven. He lay in the feeble arms of his mother—that we might lie in the tender bosom of his Father. His love began in his eternal purposes of grace—and ends in our eternal possession of glory.
Why was the Bread of Life hungry—but to feed the hungry with the bread of life? Why was Rest itself weary—but to give the weary rest? Why did he hang upon the cross on Mount Calvary—but that we might sit upon the throne on Mount Zion? His glorious face was covered with spittle—that our disfigured faces might be enameled with glory! Why did this Jonah cast himself into the sea of his Father's wrath—but to save the ship of his church from sinking? Christ is not only the vessel in which the waters of life are contained—but he is also the pipes through which they are conveyed.
If the mountains overflow with moisture—the valleys are the richer; but if the head is full of disease, the whole body is the worse. Happy are those people, whom God will use as brooms, to sweep out the dust from his temple; or who shall tug at an oar, in the boat where Christ and his church are embarked.
David was a king who ruled in righteousness, and studied not so much to make himself great—as to make his people happy. For David, after he had served his own generation, by the will of God, fell asleep. His royal services were not swallowed up in the narrow gulf of SELF. He did not draw all his lines—to the ignoble center of his own ends. Such birds are bad in the nest—but worse when they fly abroad. He served his own generation, not the preceding; for that was dead before he was alive; nor the following, for he was dead before that was alive.
Every gracious spirit is public—but every public spirit is not gracious. God may use the midwifery of the Egyptians to bring forth the children of Israelites. An iron key may open a golden treasury; and lead pipes convey pleasant waters. Though earthly blessings may be communicated to a spiritual man—yet spiritual blessings will not be communicated to a carnal man.
While meteors keep above in the skies, they yield a pleasing luster—but when they decline, and fall to the earth, they come to nothing.
Though the name of the author of Psalm 137 is not recorded; yet his generous disposition should ever be admired. "May my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not exalt Jerusalem as my greatest joy!" Good old Eli mourned more for the loss of religion—than for the loss of his relations. His heart was broken before his neck.
Augustus Caesar possessed such an entire attachment to his country, that he called it his own daughter, and refused to be called its master; because he ruled it, not by fear—but by love. After his decease, his disconsolate people lamented over him, saying, "O that he had never lived—or that he had never died!" Those whose lives deserve no praises, their death deserves no tears.
A self-seeker lives unrespected—and dies unlamented. When once a man becomes a god to himself, he then becomes a devil to others! Such a one cares not who sinks—so long as he arrives safe at shore. Those execrable wretches, whose conduct is recorded in the book of Acts, cared not whether a whole city lost their souls—so that a few shrine-makers might but preserve their gain.
It is reported of Agrippina, the mother of Nero, who being told, that if her son ever came to be an Emperor—he would be her murderer! She made this reply, "I am content to perish, if he may be Emperor." What she expressed vain-gloriously, that we shall do religiously, "Let us perish—so long as our neighbors, our relations, and our country—is bettered; and the gospel, and the Savior—is honored." But there are many who entirely reverse this language; if not in words, yet in heart they say, "Let relations, neighbors, country, and religion perish—so long as we are benefitted thereby."
Such was the public spirit of Moses, that when the Lord proposed to him to destroy Israel, and to make a great nation of him—he became intercessor for them; yes, even when they were ready to stone him! His affections as a ruler—were stronger than his affections as a father. Thus Joshua, his honorable successor, so far imitated him, that he first divided Canaan into several allotments and portions for the tribes of Israel, before he made any provision for his own family. Give me such carvers as lay not all the meat upon their own dishes!
5. Another singular action of a sanctified Christian, is to have the most beautiful lives—among the vilest people.
As an ungodly man poisons the air in which he breathes; so he pollutes the age in which he lives. The putrid grape corrupts the sound cluster. Pious Joseph, by living in the court of Pharaoh, had learned to swear by the life of Pharaoh. A high priest's hall instructed Peter how to deny his suffering Master. Fresh waters lose their sweetness—by gliding into the salt sea. Those who sail among the rocks—are in danger of splitting their ships.
When vice runs in a single stream, it is then a fordable shallow—but when many of these meet together, they then swell a deeper channel. The Lord has appointed from the beginning, that enmity shall exist between the righteous seed of the woman—and the unrighteous seed of the serpent. There must be no harmony—where the chief musican will have a jar. It is far better to have the ungodly man's enmity—than his society. By his enmity—he is most hateful; but by his society—he is most hurtful. A pious man in the company of wicked men—is like a green branch among dry and burning brands; they can sooner kindle him—than he can quench them.
As sheep among the thorns injure their fleeces; so saints among sinners do an injury to their graces. Hence it is said, "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you." To see a saint and a sinner maintaining familiar fellowship with each other—is to behold the living and the dead keeping house together! The godly are more frequently corrupted by the evil deportment of the worldling—than the worldling is refined by the chaste life of the godly.
The impious lives of the wicked, are as contagious as the most fearful plague which infects the air. When the pure doves of Christ lie among such filthy pots—their white feathers are sullied. You may observe, that if you mix an equal portion of sour vinegar and sweet wine together; you will find that the vinegar will sooner sour the wine, than the wine sweeten the vinegar.
That is a sound body which continues healthful in a pest house. It is a far greater wonder to see a saint maintain his purity among sinners, than it is to behold a sinner becoming pure among saints. Christians are not always like fish—which retain their freshness in the salt sea; or like the rose—which preserves its sweetness among the most foul weeds; or like the fire—which bums the hottest when the season is coldest.
A godly man was once heard to lament, "that as often as he went into the company of the wicked, he returned less a man from them than he was before he joined with them." As it is a difficult thing to touch melting pitch—and not to be defiled; so it is for saints so to act toward sinners as to do much good for them—and receive no injury from them. If we cannot help them—it is their unholiness; if they hurt us—it is our unhappiness. The Lord's people, by keeping evil company, are like people who are much exposed to the sun—insensibly tanned and darkened.
Every Christian is a light in the world-though he is not the light of the world. "Let your light shine before men—that they, seeing your good works, may glorify your Father who is in heaven!" O that Christians were more like the light, which abides pure, though the air in which it dwells is corrupted! Men may defile themselves in the light—but they cannot defile the light itself. The sun shines throughout an impure world, and yet knows no impurity. Ah, how many resemble swine in the fairest meadow; which would break every bound to find the mire! They remind me of impious Judas, who, instead of being a disciple among devils—was a devil among disciples. Poor man, he was all precept—and no example. He could attempt to reprove one, who was innocence itself; and encourage one, who was sin itself.
Pious company brings fire to our graces, to kindle them when they are freezing—but impious company brings water to quench them, when they are flaming.
It is observed by some, "that the sweetest flowers may be found among the most offensive herbs." The poets affirm, that "Venus never appeared so beautiful, as when she sat by black Vulcan's side." This we are beyond a doubt concerning, that Stephen's face never shone so gloriously in the church, where he was admired; as in the council, where he was abhorred. Had he been like them—they would not have disliked him. Had not God given him spiritual life—they would never have put him to an ignominious death. How will the fire consume dry fuel, when it prevailed to such a degree over the green.
That jewel must be glorious in the sun—which glitters in the shade. There are many men that can suit with any men; they can be professors among those that are professors, and scorners among those that are scorners. These are good in conjunction with those that are good—but evil in conjunction with those that are evil. Every man loves to be a man that is beloved—and is apt to take pleasure in them who do take pleasure in him; but take heed of ceasing to be good Christians, that others may think you good companions. It is hard to be conformed to the world in the outward man—and transformed to God in the inward man; to be an outward heathen—and an inward Christian. It is a Spanish proverb, "Tell me but where you go—and I will tell you what you do." And our English proverb well Englishes this proverb, "Birds of a feather—will flock together." To be too intimate with sinners—is to intimate that you are sinners!
"After they were released, they went to their own company." Acts 4:23. To whom should believers join—but to believers. There is no trusting the tamest natures; let but the lions out of their fetters—and they will soon show you their bloody natures! How dare you be found lodging—in that house where God himself is not found dwelling. There is no sleeping with dogs—without swarming with fleas.
It is a royal diadem that Christ sets on the head of his spouse. "Like a lily among thorns—is my beloved among the maidens." Song of Songs 2:2. There are many thorns that are among the lilies—but few lilies that are among the thorns. How rare a spectacle is it to see a believer keep his purity—in the midst of vanity; to be like Noah—a new man in an old world. If Lot had been polluted with Sodom's sins—he might have been consumed in Sodom's flames!
It is ill breathing—in an infectious air. Satan's progeny loves not to go to hell—without society. It is better to be with Philpot in his coal-house—than with Bonner in his palace. A man may pass through Ethiopia and yet be unchanged—but if he remains there, he will be discolored.
Ecclesiastical history says of Valens, the Emperor, that by marrying an Arian lady, he was himself ensnared in that wicked opinion. "Then I heard another voice from heaven say: "Come out of her, My people, so that you will not share in her sins—so that you will not receive any of her plagues!" Revelation 18:4
Where the Catholic Church is fallen away from God—there let us fall away from them. Where such worms breed in the body of a nation—they will be sure to eat out the vitals of true religion. Not to take away such traitors—is to make a nest wherein to hatch their treasons.
6. Another singular action of a consistent Christian—is to choose the worst of sorrows—before he will commit the least of sins. The wicked entirely reverse this—for they prefer the greatest sin—to the least sufferings! This is to leap out of the hot pan—into the consuming fire! By seeking to shun an external calamity—they rush into eternal misery! This is as if a man should lose his head—to preserve his hat! Or, as if the mariner should sink the sailing vessel— to avoid the rising storm.
Above every evil, we should consider sin as the greatest evil. Sin is the only target—at which all the arrows of divine vengeance are shot! Sinners are those spiders which weave their own webs—and are afterwards entangled in them. Our own destruction—is but the fruit of our own transgression.
Sin has every evil united to it. Sin is the fountain and origin of all evils. Thus the prophet viewed it, "Why does a living man complain—for the punishment of his sins?" When man had no evil within him—he had no evil upon him. He began to be sorrowful—when he began to be sinful. When the soul shall be fully released from the guilt of iniquity—the body shall be wholly delivered from the burden of infirmity. Sorrow shall never be a visitant—where sin is not an inhabitant. sorrow would be a foreigner—if sin were not a sojourner.
God is as far from chastening his children for nothing—as he is from beating them to nothing. A hole in the ship will sink it to the bottom. A small bite from a poisonous serpent will affect the whole body. There is no way to calm the sea—but by excommunicating Jonah from the ship. If the root is killed—the branches will soon be withered. If the spring is diminished—there is no doubt but the streams will soon fail. Where the fuel of corruption is removed—there the fire of affliction is extinguished.
The wages of sin—is death. As the works of sin are dishonorable; so the wages of sin are deadly! The corruption of nature is the cause of the dissolution of nature. The candle of our lives—is blown out by the wind of our lusts! Sin is that noxious weed—which chokes out the choicest grain. Sin is that offensive smoke—which depresses the rising flame. Sin is that dismal cloud—which overshadows the beaming sun.
Were it not for sin—death would never have had a beginning! Were it not for death—sin would never have an ending! Man, as a creature, is a debtor to the commands of God, as a Sovereign—but as a sinner, he is a debtor to the severity of God, as a Judge.
What is so sweet a good as Christ? And what is so great an evil as lust? Sin has brought many a believer into suffering—and suffering has instrumentally kept many a believer out of sin. It is better to be preserved in brine—than to rot in honey! The bitterest medicine is to be preferred—before the sweetest poison. In the same fire wherein the dross is consumed—the precious gold is refined.
There are many thousands of souls, who would never have obtained the hopes of heaven—if they had not been brought there by the gates of hell. As every mercy is a drop derived from the ocean of God's goodness; so every misery is a grain weighed out by the supreme wisdom of God's providence.
When Eudocia angrily threatened Chrysostom with banishment, he calmly replied; "Go tell her I fear nothing but sin!" He who serves God—need fear nothing so much as sin!
Those who launch out into any voyage, should always previously look well to their tackling, lest a destructive storm should drown them. A bad conscience embitters the sweetest comforts—but a good conscience sweetens the bitterest crosses. How great a wound do vices make in the conscience; yes, even in our infant years! Though the hardened sinner is not afraid to do evil—yet he will be afraid to suffer evil. They need not fear a cross on their back—who feel a Christ in their heart!
The water outside the ship may toss it—but it is the water inside the ship, which sinks it! It is better to have the body consumed to ashes for the sake of Christ—than to have the soul dwell in everlasting burnings, through being ashamed of Christ! Though Christians have no warrant to expect that they shall live here without afflictions; yet in the exercise of them, faith will teach them to live above afflictions.
That noble servant of Christ, Ignatius, gloried in reproaches for his Lord. He truly delighted to suffer for Christ, "I am not worthy to suffer for Jesus." Every Christian's Patmos—is his way to paradise.
Suppose the furnace is heated 'seven times hotter'—yet God can make the sufferer seventy times happier. Those who are here persecuted for well-doing, shall hereafter be crowned with the well-dying. There are none more welcome to the spiritual Canaan—than those who swim to it through the red sea of their own blood.
Christian Reader! when you come into the world—you do but live to die again! And when you leave the world—you do but die to live again! What is the grain the worse—for the fan by which it is winnowed? What is the gold the worse—for the fire by which it is refined?
Pendleton, a self-confident professor, promised to fry out his fat body in the flames of martyrdom, rather than betray religion. But when the trial approached, he changed his note, and said, "I came not into the world burning—neither will I go out of the world flaming."
Those who refuse to give up their lusts for Christ—will never be inclined to give up their lives for Christ! Paul and Silas had their prison songs—in their prison sufferings. Those caged birds sang with as much melody—as any which have sky liberty. Thus Ignatius, in his epistle to the persecutors of the church, gloried, saying, "The wild beasts may grind me, as corn between their teeth—but I shall by that become as choice bread, in the hand of my God!"
I have read an account of a woman, who was imprisoned for her religion; and being in travail with child, she cried out with pain. The keeper derided her, saying. "How can you endure the fire—seeing you make so much noise in bringing forth a child?" "Very well," said she, "for now I suffer as a sinner—but then I shall suffer for my Savior."
There is more real evil in a particle of corruption, than in an ocean of tribulation! In suffering—the offence is offered to us; in sinning—the offence is committed against God. In suffering, there is an infringement of man's liberty; in sinning, there is a denial of God's authority. The evil of suffering is transient—but the evil of sin is permanent. In suffering—we lose the favor of men; but in sinning—we hazard the favor of God.
The rose is sweeter under the still where it drops—than upon the stalk whereon it grows. The face of godliness is never so beautiful—as when it is spit upon! The best of wheat—is that which sustains all the drifts of wintry snow.
That was an heroic saying of Vincentius, to his hardened persecutors, "You may rage and do your worst—but you shall find the Spirit of God administering more strength to the tormented, than the spirit of the devil affording strength to my tormentors!" Where Christian choose that which is truly best—there let malicious persecutors do their worst. Though you may feel their might—yet you need not feel their malice. They can have no just grounds of fear, whose confidence is in God. Life is only to be desired—by those to whom death would be no gain.
It is reported of Hooper the martyr, that when he was going to suffer, a certain person addressed him, saying, "O Sir, take care of yourself! Life is sweet—and death is bitter!" "Ah, I know that," he replied, "but eternal life is full of more sweetness than this mortal life! And eternal death is full of more bitterness than this fiery death!" A man may suffer without sinning—but he cannot sin without suffering.
When Phillip inquired of Demosthenes, whether he was afraid to lose his head. He answered, "No—for if I do lose it, the Athenians will bestow an immortal one upon me!"
That was animating language which dropped from the lips of the three Hebrew children, or rather of the three champions "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power. But even if he doesn't, Your Majesty can be sure that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up!" Either they must sin foully—or suffer sadly. They must either bow to a golden image—or bum in a flaming furnace. But they were as far from worshiping his gods—as he was from worshiping their God!
The beloved Daniel chose rather to die in the the den of lions; than shamefully desert the cause of the Lamb. Shall not we, for his sake, bear the wrath of man—who, for our sakes, bore the wrath of God? Though obedience is better than sacrifice—yet sometimes, for a man to sacrifice himself is the best obedience.
He who loses a base life for Christ—shall hereafter find a better life in Christ.
When some attempted to turn Polycarp from the faith, by insinuating, that, "There was no evil in calling Caesar LORD, and offering sacrifices to him." He replied, that, "He had served Jesus Christ for many years, and had always found him a good Master—that he would therefore, submit himself to all the tortures they should inflict; rather then deny him."
Moses, that memorable worthy, "Chose to suffer with the people of God rather than to enjoy the short-lived pleasure of sin." What is a cup of medicine, which removes a disease; compared with a cup of poison, which takes away the life? Those who live upon God, in the use of the creature; can also live upon him, in the loss of the creature. That was a noble expression, of a noble Christian, "Whatever I thankfully receive, as a token of God's love to me; I part with contentedly, as a token of my love to him."
"Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die." Shall one even dare to die for a good man—and shall we refuse to die for a good God?
"Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection." Some would have used any pick-lock, to have opened a passage to their liberty; but they knew too much of another world to bid at so high a rate for the present.
It is reported of Hormisdas, a nobleman of Persia; who being degraded of all his promotions, because he would not change his profession of Christ; that afterward, his persecutors restored them all again, and solicited him to deny Christ. But he rent his purple robe, and laid all his honors at the feet of the Emperor, saying, "If you restore these honors, with an intention to make me desert my Savior; I decline to accept them, upon such conditions!" Good man, he thought, and that justly too—that Christ without worldly honor—was better than worldly honor without Christ.
It is recorded concerning one of the martyrs, that when he was going to the stake, a nobleman besought him, in a compassionate manner, to take care for his soul. "So I will, he replied, "For I give my body to be burnt—rather than have my soul defiled." How many professors are there, who would rather have sinful self satisfied, than crucified!
As the power of grace, comes in at one door; the love of vice, will go out at another! The only way, to have the house of Saul weakened; is to get the house of David strengthened. Those Philistines, who lacked courage to meet Sampson when he was in vigor; could insultingly dance round him, when we was in weakness.
Reader! consider seriously—that it is sin which in this life debases a person; and in the next life destroys him. Their state must be dreadful, whose end is damnation, because their damnation is without end. No condition can be so intolerably doleful—as that which is unalterably dreadful.
A certain person, on seeing a Christian woman go cheerfully to prison, said to her, "O you have not yet tasted of the bitterness of death!" She as cheerfully answered, "No, nor shall I ever; for Christ has promised, that those who keep his sayings, shall never see death."
A believer may feel the stroke of death; but he shall never feel the sting of death. The first death may bring his body to corruption; but the second death shall never bring his soul to destruction. Though he may endure the cross—yet he shall not endure the curse. There can be no condemnation, to those Christians, who belong to Christ.
7. Another singular action, of a sanctified Christian, is to be a father to all in charity—and yet a servant to all in humility.
First, to be a father to all—in charity.That crop that is sown in mercy—shall be reaped in glory. In heaven, there are riches enough—but no poor to receive them. In hell, there are poor enough—but no riches to relieve them. How many of the most wealthy—are deaf to
the most importunate requests for mercy! They will do no good, in the world—with the goods of the world. They too much resemble sponges—which greedily suck up the waters, but will not yield a return of them again, until they are well squeezed.
Necessity, is not likely to be supplied by the hand of misery; while so many, who would help, cannot, for lack of ability; and so many, who may help, will not for lack of charity. There is not a drop of water—for such a Dives in hell; who has not a crumb of bread—for a poor distressed Lazarus upon earth. Every act of charity—is but an act of equity. It is not the bestowment of our gifts; but the payment of our debts.
The rich man's excess, was ordained to relieve the poor man's necessity. A lady on giving sixpence to a beggar, said thus to him, "I have now given you more than ever God gave to me." To whom he replied, "No, madam! No, madam—God has given you all your abundance." "That is your mistake" said she, "for he has but lent it me—that I might bestow it on such as you."
John, the beloved disciple of Christ, inculcates the doctrine of love, to the disciples of Christ, "Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is a child of God. And everyone who loves the Father—loves his children, too." As holiness works a likeness to him who begets it; so it works a love to those who enjoy it. It is impossible for anyone to love the person of Christ—who does not delight in the picture of Christ. He who loves himself, will not hate his brother. While he is out of charity with his brother—he shows that God is out of charity with him. We lose more for lack of God's love—than our brethren lose for lack of our love.
He is not a covetous man, who lays up something providentially—but he is a covetous man, who gives out nothing willingly. He is as prudent a man, who sometimes distributes discreetly—as he who accumulates hastily. Men frequently discover more wisdom in laying out—than in laying up.
Reader! the hope of living long on earth, should not make you covetous—but the prospect of living long in heaven should make you bounteous. Though the sun of charity rise at home—yet it should always set abroad.
Seneca, the heathen, inculcates a principle worthy the credence of every Christian, "I truly enjoy no more of the world's affluence—than what I willingly distribute to the needy." Without your mercy—the poor cannot live on earth; and without God's mercy—you shall not live in heaven! Some men's churlishness entirely swallows up their charitableness. Instead of praying one for another—they are making a prey one of another.
When I consider that our hearts are no softer—I wonder that the times are no harder. It is a reproach to many rich men, that God should give them so much—and that they should give the poor so little.
Some observe that the most barren grounds—are nearest to the richest mines. It is too often true in a spiritual sense, that those whom God has made the most fruitful in estates—are most barren in good works. It is too generally true, that the rich spend their substance wantonly—while the poor give their alms willingly. A penny comes with more difficulty out of a bag that is pressing full—than a dollar out of a purse that is half empty.
Why does the Lord make your cup run over—but that other men's lips might taste the liquor? The showers which fall upon the highest mountains, should glide into the lowest valleys. "Give—and it shall be given you," is a maxim little believed.
It is infidelity which is the spring of all cruelty. Wherever you can discover the face of one, you may also hear the sound of the other's feet. If you deny relief to those who are virtuous—you kill laborious bees; if you bestow your gifts on those who are wicked—you do but support drones. But it is better to favor a illegitimate child—than to murder a legitimate child. God looks not so much on the merits of the beggar—as upon the mercy of the giver.
"The Lord has already told you what is good, and this is what he requires: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God." Here is a trinity of precepts—from a trinity of persons. Pharisees delight more to plead his precept, than to practice it; which is, as if a man should cry up the kindness of his king—and at the same time join in rebellion against him. If all were rich—no alms need be received; if all were poor—no alms could be bestowed.
God, who could have made all men wealthy, has made most men poor; that the poor might have Christ for an example of patience—and the rich for an example of goodness. Cruelty is one of the highest scandals to piety; for instead of turning lions into lambs—it turns lambs into lions!
"Be merciful—as your Father in heaven is merciful." Clemency is one of the brightest diamonds in the crown of majesty. How cheerfully should we practice benevolence, when we consider who has set us the example! "Be perfect—even as your heavenly Father is perfect." What one Scripture calls mercy—the other styles perfection; as if this one perfection of mercy included all. He who shows mercy when it may be best spared—will receive mercy when it shall most be needed.
It is reported of one of the dukes of Savoy, that, being asked by certain ambassadors at his court what hounds he kept; he conducted them into a large room, where there were a number of poor people sitting at table. "These" said he, "are all the hounds I have upon earth; and with whom I am in pursuit of the kingdom of heaven." It is counted an honor to live like princes—but it is a greater honor to give like princes.
"Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world." The flames of piety towards God—must be accompanied with the incense of charity towards man. Mercy is so good a servant—that it will never allow its master to die a beggar.
Those who have drained their own wells dry, in order to fill the poor man's cistern—shall never perish for lack of water to quench their thirst. Those who have blessed others—shall be blessed themselves.
"Then the King will say to those on his right—Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me." Mercy is the queen of beauty—and the blessed offspring of the King of glory!
Scarce any virtue in the whole Scripture has been returned with greater interest—than the love of mercy. Though charity may make your purse lighter one day; yet God will make it heavier another. All who have their names registered in the book of eternity—will have the poor man's distresses recorded upon the heart of sympathy. For though they are so poor as to be unable to relieve him—yet they are so tender as to pity him. I know no better way to preserve your meal—than by parting with your cake. Large springs should send forth their waters, without pumping. Your benevolence should seek the poor—before the poor seek your benevolence.
"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness . . ." He who distributes in compassion, has put on the badge of election. Many can love at their tongue's end—but the godly love at their finger's end. If a man is without proper clothing, it is easy for the miser to bid him be clothed; or if he be empty, he can easily bid him be filled; as if poor Christians were able to live upon the air. Liberality does not consist in good words—but in good works! The doubtful are to be resolved by our counsels—but the necessitous are to be relieved by our morsels. It is exceedingly lovely to behold the pictures of purity, though they be hung in the frames of poverty.
Reader would you be covetous of anything? let it be rather to lay out on necessity, than to lay up for posterity. Generosity is seed; and the gardener does not become wealthy by saving his seed—but by sowing of his seed.
Secondly, A servant to all—in humility.Our first fall was by rising against God—but our best rise, is by falling down before him. The acknowledgment of our own impotence, is the only stock upon which the Lord ingrafts divine assistance.
A humble saint—looks most like a citizen of heaven. "Whoever will be chief among you—let him be your servant." He is the most lovely Christian, who is the most lowly Christian. As incense smells the sweetest when it is beaten smallest—so saints look loveliest when they lie lowest. Arrogance in the soul, resembles the spleen in the body; which grows most, while other parts are decaying. God will not allow such a weed to grow in his garden, without taking some course to root it up. A believer is like a vessel cast into the sea—the more it fills, the more it sinks.
"Pride goes before destruction—and a haughty spirit before a fall." It is not all the world that can pull a humble man down—because God will exalt him; nor is it all the world that can keep a proud man up—because God will debase him.
Do but mark how one of the best of saints, views himself as one of the least of saints; "For I am the least of the apostles—and do not even deserve to be called an apostle!" In the highest heavens, the beams of majesty are displayed—but to the lowest hearts, the streams of mercy are discovered. "Be clothed with humility." Pride is a sinner's torment—but humility is a saint's ornament. The garment of humility—should always be worn on the back of Christianity.
God many times places a thorn in the flesh—to pierce the balloon of pride. He makes us feel a sense of our misery—that we may sue for his unmerited mercy. The first Adam was for self-advancement—but the second Adam is for self-abasement. The former was for having SELF deified—the latter is for having SELF crucified.
Though there may be something left by self-denial; yet there can be nothing lost by self-denial. Nay, a man can never enjoy himself—until he is brought to deny himself. We live—by dying to ourselves; and die—by living to ourselves. There is no proud man—who is not a foolish man; and scarcely is there any foolish man—who is not a proud man. It is the night-owl of ignorance, which broods and hatches the peacock of pride.
God abhors those people worst—who adore themselves most. Pride is not a Bethel—that is, a house where God dwells; but a Babel—that is a stinking dungeon in which Satan abides. Pride is not only a most hateful evil—but it is a radical evil. As all other lusts are found lodging in it—so they are found springing from it. Pride is a foul leprosy, in the face of morality; and a hurtful worm, gnawing at the root of humility. Pride is a cancer within, and a spreading plague without.
"God resists the proud—but gives grace unto the humble." Give me the lovely vessel of humility, which God shall preserve—and fill with the wine of his grace; rather than the varnished cup of pride, which he will dash in pieces, like a potter's vessel. Where humility is the corner-stone—there glory shall be the top-stone.
It is impossible to have true thoughts of ourselves, while we entertain high thoughts of ourselves. "Even if everyone else deserts you, I never will!" Poor Peter, he was the most impotent—when he was the most arrogant. He had no doubt of standing, while others were falling. But it proved at last, that he fell while others stood.
That was an excellent saying of one; "Where a gracious person would sit below me—I will acknowledge his dignity; but where a proud person would move above me—I would abhor his vanity!" A humble heart may meet with opposition from man—but it shall meet with approbation from God. As humility is a grace very excellent in itself; so it is very pleasing to God. He who is a subject of the former—shall hereafter be an inheritor with the latter.
8. Another singular action of a sanctified Christian, is to mourn most before God—for those lusts which appear least before men.
Others cannot mourn in secret for public sins—but we should mourn in public for our secret sins. That must be sought with repentance, which has been so long lost by disobedience. Outward acts are most scandalous among men—but inward lusts are most atrocious before God.
Reader! if you would know the heart of your sin—then you must know the sins of your heart! "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are the things that defile a man!" Matthew 15:19-20. These streams of defilement which appear in your life—do but show what a fountain of wickedness there is in your heart! Even the "thought of foolishness in sin!" "When sin has conceived, it brings forth death!" There is no sin so little—as not to kindle an eternal fire! Sin's first-born is death—and its last-born is hell.
Though repentance is the act of man—yet it is the gift of God. It requires the same power to melt the heart—as to make it. As we are deeply fallen from a state of innocence, so we should rise to a state of penitence. Those sins shall never make a hell for us—which are a hell to us. Some people do nothing more—than make work for repentance; and yet do nothing less—than repent of their works. They have sin enough for all their sorrows—but not sorrow enough for all their sins. Their eyes are windows to let in lusts—when they should be flood-gates to pour out tears!
When godly sorrow takes possession of the house—it will quickly shut sin out of doors. There must be a falling out with our lusts—before there can be a genuine falling off from our lusts. There must be a sincere loathing of sin in our affections—before a true leaving of sin in our actions. It is a hearty mourning for our transgressions, which makes way for a happy funeral of our corruptions!
Sinner, you have filled the book of God with your sins—and will you not fill the bottle of God with your tears? Remember, that when Christ draws the likeness of the new creature, his first brush is dipped in water: "Unless you repent—you shall all likewise perish!" Is it not better to repent without perishing—than to perish without repenting? Godly sorrow is such a grace, that without it—not a soul shall be saved; and with it—not a soul shall be lost! Is it not therefore better to swim in the water-works of godly repentance—than to burn in the fire-works of divine vengeance? Do not think that the tears which are shed in hell—will in the least abate the torments which are suffered in hell!
Repentance is a priceless grace—for it is the bestowment of a priceless Savior. "God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins." As a prince he gives repentance—and as a priest he gives pardon. Our humiliation—is the fruit of his exaltation. As he was abased for the sinner's advancement—so he was exalted for the sinner's abasement! Remember, sinner, if your heart is not broken in you—your guilt is not broken from you. If you lay not your sins to heart—that you may be humbled; God will lay your sins to your charge—that you may be damned. Though repentance is not a pardon's obtainer; yet it is a pardon's forerunner.
He who lives in sin, without repentance—shall die in sin, without forgiveness. There is no coming to the fair haven of glory—without sailing through the narrow strait of repentance. Christ rejoices over those as blessed—who mourn over themselves as cursed. "Blessed are those who mourn—for they shall be comforted." Out of the saltiest water—God can brew the sweetest cordial. The skillful bee gathers the best honey—from the bitterest herbs. When the cloud has been dissolved into a shower—there soon follows a glorious sunshine. The more a stone is chiseled by the hand of the engraver—the greater the beauty of the gem. By groans unutterable—the Lord ushers in joys unspeakable.
None do more sing in the possession of Christ, than such as most lament the departure of Christ. Usually their joys—are commensurate to their sorrows. A tender heart is like melting wax—ah what choice impressions are made upon such soft dispositions!
A Christian should mourn more for the lusts of the flesh—than for the works of the flesh; for the sin of our nature transcends the nature of all our outward sins. Carnal sins defile the soul by the body—but spiritual sins defile the soul in the body. Many people can mourn over a body from which a soul is departed—but they cannot mourn over a soul whom God has deserted! Alas! What is the bite of a flee—compared to the bite of a lion? What is a spot in the face—compared to a stab in the heart? Inward diseases are least visible—and yet most fatal. A man may die of an internal cancer—although a spot never appears on his body.
Sin in the soul, is like Jonah in the ship—it turns the smoothest water into a troubled ocean. We must mourn for sin on earth—or burn for sin in hell! It is the coldness of our hearts—which kindles the fire of God's anger. "They will look on me whom they have pierced and mourn for him as for an only son. They will grieve bitterly for him as for a firstborn son who has died!" Zechariah 12:10. Christians! the nails which pierced Christ's hands—should now pierce your hearts! You should now be deeply wounded with godly sorrow, for having so deeply wounded him with your ungodly sins! It should grieve your spirits—to remember how much you have grieved his Spirit.
A believer puts on the sackcloth of contrition—for having put off the garment of perfection. As the sugar-cube is dissolved, and weeps itself away—when dipped in wine. Likewise do our hearts melt under a sense of divine love. Our language at such a season is, "O that we should be such base children—to such a blessed Father!"
Man must be convinced of sin—before he can truly repent of sin. Unbelief in the heart is like the worm in Jonah's gourd—an unseen adversary. Unbelief is least visible—but most hurtful. Unbelief is the worst of robbers—it both plunders and wounds the soul. Christ may dwell in the heart—where unbelief lurks—but not where it reigns. If Christ destroys its armor—it becomes as weak as other men. The chief strength in which unbelief trusts—is ignorance! It is no wonder why men sigh so little for sin—when they see so little of sin. They have tears enough for their outward losses—but none for their inward lusts! They can mourn for the evil which sin brings—but not for sin which brings the evil.
Pharaoh more lamented the hard strokes that were upon him, than the hard heart which was within him! Esau did not mourn, because he sold the birthright, which was his sin—but because he lost the blessing, which was his punishment. This is like weeping over an onion—the eye sheds tears because it hurts! When the sailing is smooth, mariner has his heart set on his costly cargo—yet he casts it overboard in a storm. Many complain more of the sorrows to which they are born—than of the sins with which they were born! They tremble more at the vengeance of sin—than at the venom of sin. The venom of sin delights them—the vengeance of sin affrights them!
"The sinners in Zion are afraid; trembling seizes the ungodly!" Why—what is the matter? "Who among us can dwell with a consuming fire? Who among us can dwell with ever-burning flames?" They feared sin— not as it was a black coal which defiled—but as it was a fire which burned them!" A stroke from God's justice broke the heart of Judas into despair; while a look from Christ's mercy melted Peter's heart into tears!
There are two evil things in our sins: the devilishness of them, and the dangerousness of them. Now take a saint and an unrepentant sinner; the saint says, "What evil have I done?" The sinner says, "What evil must I suffer?" One mourns for the sin—the other mourns for the punishment! The saint grieves because his soul is defiled—the sinner grieves because his soul is damned. Water may gush from a rock—when it is smitten with a rod. But all such streams are lost; for they neither quench the flames of hell—nor fill God's bottles in heaven.
Our whole life should be a life of repentance—and such repentance, as needs not to be repented of. While the vessel is leaking, the pump may be going. Reader, it is an unfavorable symptom, if you can wipe away tears from your eyes—before God has washed away guilt from your conscience. It is better traveling to heaven sadly—than to hell merrily! Give me a sorrowful saint—rather than a merry sinner.
Did the rocks rend—when Christ died for sin? And shall not our hearts rend—for having lived in sin? "If we confess our sin—he is faithful and just to forgive us our sin; and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Did ever words like these drop from the lips of any being—except God? Here, the sinner is desired only to acknowledge the debt—and the mountain of sin shall be cancelled. Is it not therefore better to be saved by divine mercy—than to be damned by divine justice? As soon as we are oppressed, and groan under our burden of sin—we are sure to be eased by Christ's shoulders. If we repent of our offences with sincere grief—the offended Lord joyfully forgives and forgets them all.
Where misery passes undiscerned—there mercy passes undesired. Christ may knock long at such doors—before he gains admittance. He only enters into those—who enter into themselves. "Behold I stand at the door and knock!" Christ oftener comes to the door—than he enters the house. As we knock at his door for audience—so he does at ours for entrance. If Christ is shut out of our heart—our prayers will be shut out of his heart. Why should God show him mercy—who never acknowledged himself guilty? A saint's tears—are better than a sinner's triumphs.
Bernard says, "The tears of penitents—are the wine of angels!" When a sinner repents—the angels rejoice! Give me such a mourning on earth—as creates music in heaven. Many are battered as lead by the hammer—who were never bettered as gold by the fire. Sometimes, that repentance which begins in the fears of hell—ends in the flames of hell!
9. Another singular action of a sanctified Christian, is to keep his heart the lowest—when God raises his estates the highest.
Paul saw the need of this, when he enjoined Timothy to charge those who were rich in this world not to be proud-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches. Sinful arrogance, usually attends creature-confidence. Worldly wealth is a bellows to swell the balloon of pride! For when men's estates are lifted up—it is but too common for men's hearts to be puffed up. Oh! how fond is thin dust—of thick clay! Pride breeds in great estates—as worms do in sweet fruits.
Remember, Christian, if you be poor in the world—you should be rich in faith; and if you be rich in this world, you should be poor in spirit. The way to ascend—is to descend; the deeper a tree roots—the wider do its branches spread. The sun of prosperity shines the clearest—in the sphere of humility. The true nobility of the mind—consists in the humbleness of the mind. Consider, that as none have so little—but they have great cause to bless God; so none have so much—as to have the least cause to boast before God.
Shall the theatrical vagrant be proud of his borrowed robes, or the mud wall swell because the beams of a beautiful sun shine upon it? Gold in your bags may make you great—but it is grace in your hearts which makes you godly. Godliness, without greatness, shall be esteemed; when greatness, without godliness shall be confounded. Proud sinners are the fittest companions—for proud devils. The more prosperity man enjoys—the more humility God enjoins.
Nature teaches us, that those trees bend the most freely—which bear the most fully. As a proud heart loves none but itself—so it is beloved by none but itself. Who would attempt to gain those pinnacles—that none have ascended without fears, or descended without falls? When men through daring pride cast off all allegiance to God—he in just derision casts them out from the inheritance of God. If we refuse to acknowledge him—he will refuse to acknowledge us.
It is reported of Philip of Macedon, that after having obtained the honor of an unexpected victory, he was observed to look very much dejected. On being asked the reason, he replied, "that the honors which were obtained by the sword, might also be lost by the sword." Was he pensive—when providence crowned him with victory? and shall we be vainly elated—when providence makes us wealthy? The Supreme Majesty cannot allow us to glory in any, but Himself. Therefore, when we glory in our pride—he stains the pride of our glory. It is a difficult matter—to be grand in the estimation of others—and base in our own estimation. The face of no mere man ever shone so illustriously, as that of the ancient Jewish lawgiver's; and yet it is affirmed that no man's heart was ever so meek. But most men resemble chameleons; which no sooner take in the air—than they begin to swell.
As that is a rebellious heart—in which sin is allowed to reign; so that is not a very enlarged heart—which the world can fill. Alas, what will it profit us to sail before the pleasing gales of prosperity—if we are afterwards overset by the gusts of vanity? Your bags of gold should be ballast in your vessel—to keep her always steady; instead of being topsails to your masts—to make your vessel giddy. Give me that distinguished Christian, who is rather pressed down under the weight of all his honors—than puffed up with vain-glory.
It has been observed by those who are experienced in the sport of angling, that the smallest fishes bite the fastest. Oh, how few great men do we find so much as nibbling at the gospel hook! "But the leaders had utterly rejected their God." Mercy favored them—but gratitude could not bind them.
When King James's tutor lay upon his expiring pillow, his Majesty sent to inquire how he did, "Go tell my royal sovereign, that I am going where few kings go." The tree of life is not often planted—in an earthly paradise. Under the Levitical law, the lamb and the dove were offered in sacrifice—when the lion and the eagle were rejected. The shining diamond of a great estate—may frequently be found upon an unsound and idolatrous heart. Great prosperity is not to be deemed the greatest security. The lofty unbending cedar is more exposed to the injurious blast, than the lowly shrub. The little rowboat rides safely along the shore—while the gallant ship is wrecked in the wide ocean. Those sheep which have the most wool—are generally the soonest fleeced. Poverty is its own defense against robbery. A fawning world—is worse than a frowning world. Who would shake those trees—upon which there is no fruit?
Many think they are saved—because they are poor; and others—because they are rich—but these are all capitally mistaken! For much of the former are not saved, and not many of the latter will be saved. "Not many of the worldly wise; not of the influential; not many of noble birth—are called." You nobles, I call you to see—that not many nobles are called. He does not say, not any—but not many. Blessed be God, we can say of them, as Luther once said of Elizabeth, a pious queen of Denmark, "Christ will sometimes carry a queen to heaven." Rich men are choice dishes at God's table.
Some people, when their estates are low—their hearts are high. But true believers, when their estates are high—their hearts are low. What an excellent commendation does the beloved prophet of Israel give the beloved prince of Israel, "Then King David went in and sat before the Lord and prayed—Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?" The weighty clusters of mercy completely bowed the branches of this royal vine! He does not contend with God for mercies denied—but he adores him for mercies granted. The eye of his humility views the grace of God—and then he is thankful; it also views the folly of his heart—and this makes him mournful.
Theodosius deemed it more honorable to be a child of God—than a monarch of the world; and so did King David. Ah! why will you set your heart upon vanity? For everything will come to nothing—but He who formed all things out of nothing. Many think it must go well with them hereafter, because it is so well with them here; as if silver and gold, which came out of the dirt of the earth—would carry them to the bosom of the God of heaven. Though the gates of heaven will open to admit the heaven-born soul; yet they are not unlocked with a golden key. A man may bask in the beams of prosperity now—and yet bum in the flames of eternity hereafter!
The worm of pride is always injurious to celestial plants! Either this vice must be shut out on earth—or we shall be shut out in heaven. The bowing reed of a humble mind—shall be preserved entire; while the sturdy oak of a proud lofty mind—shall be broken to shivers. A proud person thinks everything too much—which is done by him; and everything too little—which is done for him. God is as far from pleasing him with his gifts—as he is from pleasing God with his works. Remember what the observant prophet Habakkuk declares, "Behold! his soul which is lifted up in him, is not upright." Observe, he introduces the subject with a "Behold!" He who lifts up himself—is not lifted up of God. I will not say, 'a godly man is never proud'—but I will say, 'a proud man is never godly.'
10. Another singular action of a sanctified Christian, is to seek to be better inwardly in his substance—than outwardly in appearance.
"Having a form of godliness—but denying its power." 2 Timothy 3:5 This is a business which no hypocrite chooses to be employed in—he prefers varnish—to solid gold. It little concerns him how much the house is infected with the leprosy—just so long as it is but outwardly fair to human inspection. He forgets that, "A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man's praise is not from men, but from God."
Formality frequently takes its dwelling near the chambers of integrity, and so assumes its name; the soul not suspecting that hell should make so near an approach to heaven. A rotten post, though covered with gold, is more fit to be burned in the fire, than for the building of a fabric. Where there is a pure conscience—there will be a pure conversation. The dial of our faces does not infallibly show—the time of day in our hearts. The humblest looks may enamel the face—while unbounded pride governs the heart! Unclean spirits may inhabit the house—when they look not out at the window.
A hypocrite may be both the fairest—and the foulest creature in the world! He may be fairest outwardly in the eyes of man—and foulest inwardly in the sight of God. How commonly do such unclean swans cover their black flesh with their white feathers! Though such wear the mantle of Samuel—they should bear the name of Satan!
Many appear righteous—who are only righteous in appearance. But while they are deceiving others with the false shows of holiness—they are also deceiving themselves with the false hopes of happiness. The hypocrite would not willingly appear evil—and yet would inwardly be evil. He would gladly be accounted godly—and yet would not be godly. Man, either appear what you are—or be what you appear. What will the form of godliness do for you—if you deny the power thereof? Own this—or God will disown you! Those who have the power of godliness, cannot deny the form; while those who have the form of godliness, may deny the power.
Hypocrites resemble looking-glasses—which present the faces that are not in them. Oh, how desirous are men to put the fairest gloves—upon the foulest hands; and the finest paint—upon the rottenest posts! To counterfeit the coin of heaven, is to commit treason against the King of heaven. Who would spread a exquisite cloth—upon a dirty table?
If a mariner sets sail in an unsound ship—he may reasonably expect to lose his voyage. No wise virgin would carry a lamp—without light. O professor, either get the light—or part with the lamp. None are so black in the eyes of the all knowing God—as those who paint for spirit spiritual beauty.
Some people are better in show—than in substance. But not so with true Christians; they are not like painted tombs, which enclose decayed bones. The king's daughter "is all glorious within!" She is all glorious within—though within is not all her glory. That is a sad charge, which the God of truth brings against certain false professors, "I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews, and are not—but are the synagogue of Satan!" A false friend—is worse than an open enemy. A painted harlot is less dangerous—than a painted hypocrite. A treacherous Judas is more abhorred by God—than a bloody Pilate!
Professors! Remember the sheep's clothing will soon be stripped from the wolf's back! The velvet plaster of profession—shall not always conceal the offensive ulcer of corruption. Neither the ship of formality nor hypocrisy—will carry one person to the harbor of felicity. The blazing lamps of foolish virgins may light them to the bridegroom's gate—but not into his chamber. Either get the nature of Christ within you—or take name of Christ away from you.
Oh, what vanity is it to lop off the boughs—and leave the roots which can send forth more; or to empty the cistern, and leave the fountain running which can soon fill it again! Such may swim in the water as the visible church—but when the net is drawn to shore, they must be thrown away as bad fishes. Though the tares and the wheat may grow in the field together—yet they will not be housed in the granary together.
How pious and devout did the Pharisees appear before men! The people concluded these religious leaders, to be the only saints upon the earth. They judged the inward man by the outward—but not so with the heart-searching God! For He said unto them, "You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men—but God knows your hearts! What is highly valued among men—is detestable in God's sight!" That sepulcher is not always the repository of gold—which is outwardly garnished. Herod was a god in the esteem of the people—when he was but a fiend in the sight of the Lord; they adored him—he destroyed him.
A man's outward life may be civilized—when his heart is not evangelized. There is as much difference between nature restrained—and nature renewed, as between the glimmering of a glowworm—and the splendor of the noonday sun! A bad man is certainly the worst—when he is seemingly the best. We must not account everyone a soldier—who swaggers with a sword. A rusty sword—may frequently be found in a highly decorated scabbard. What good is it to have our hands as white as snow—if our hearts are as black as the bottomless pit! Such professors resemble soap bubbles—smooth and pretty without—yet only filled with air!
A man may wear the Savior's livery—and yet be busied in Satan's drudgery! The skin of an apple may be fair—when it is rotten at the core! Though all gold may glitter—yet all is not gold that glitters. The worst hypocrite may have the color of gold—but not the value of gold. What comparison is there, between the golden cup filled with putrid water—and the clay cup filled with fine wine?
Very few deceivers duly weigh that notable saying of the wise man, "The man of integrity walks securely—but he who takes crooked paths will be found out!" He who promises to cover the true Christian's infirmities—threatens also to disclose the hypocrite's impieties. Well would it be for such to remember, that arch-traitor Judas, purchased nothing by his deceitful dealings—but a halter for his body, in which he was hanged; and fire for his soul, in which he is burning!