The Consistent Christian
William Secker, 1660
11. Another singular action of a sanctified Christian, is to be more afflicted at the distresses of the church, than affected at his own happiness.
When we suffer not from the enemies of Christ by persecution—we should then suffer for the friends of Christ by compassion. Let not Zion's sons be rejoicing—while their mother is mourning. "Are not her breaches like the sea—and there is none to heal her?" If her breaches be irreparable—our hearts should be inconsolable. It is observed of doves, that if one is sick, the other laments. Yes, the savage beasts will mourn over the afflicted creatures of their own species; and shall that be lost among men—which is found among beasts?
Christianity never was designed to strip men of humanity. Reader! Can you see the church bleeding—and never ask balm for her wounds? How can you rejoice when she stands—if you do not mourn when she falls? It thrilled impious Nero to see the Christians burning—but it should wound us to hear of it. The cruel massacre of the Judean infants—was a pleasant sight to bloody Herod.
We may justly prefer that charge against many nominal Christians, which God did against nominal Israel. "You drink wine by the bowlful, and you perfume yourselves with exotic fragrances, caring nothing at all that your nation is going to ruin!"
Many can weep a flood for the groans of a child—but they cannot drop a tear for the groans of the church. Their love to relations transcends their love to religion. He who has property on board the church's ship, cannot but be alarmed at every storm. Many professors are like a silver eye in the spiritual head, and a wooden leg in the spiritual body—which are insensible to all its sorrows. That man who has no compassion for afflicted Christians, may rest persuaded that God will have no compassion on him! His language will be, "Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me."
The enemies of the church may toss her as waves—but they shall not split her as rocks. She may be dipped in water as a feather—but shall not sink therein as lead. He who is a well of water within her, to keep her from fainting—will also prove a wall of fire about her, to preserve her from falling. Tried she may be—but destroyed she cannot be. Her foundation is the Rock of Ages—and her defense the everlasting Arms. It is only such fabrics as are founded upon the sand—which are overthrown by the wind. The adversaries of God's people will push at them as far as their horns will go—but when they have scoured them by prosecution as tarnished vessels—then God will throw such whisps into the fire!
Many would rather see the church's expiration—than her reformation. It would afford them more pleasure to find her nullified, than purified; for they suppose that happiness increases—in proportion as holiness decreases. Christians! when persecutors make long furrows upon the saint's back—then we should cast in the seed of sympathetic tears! "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute you Me?" Thus the head cries out in heaven—while the toe is trod upon on earth!
Though Jesus Christ has altered his condition—yet he has not changed his affection. Death took away his life for us—but not his love from us. He who washed away the blood of guilt from our hearts—will soon wipe away those briny tears which disfigure our cheeks. He who paid so great a price for our redemption, will not resign us into the hands of our cruel tormentors. "Comfort, comfort my people—says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Tell her that her sad days are gone and that her sins are pardoned." If the Father of mercies thus proclaims pardon to returning prodigals—we may expect soon to hear of music and rejoicing among all the heavenly harpers!
When we see the church suffering in the cup of affliction—we should then help her with the cup of consolation. A heavy burden may easily be borne—by the assistance of many shoulders. Some are like Gallio, "none of these things concerned them." Nay, when they should be sympathizers, they are censurers. They conclude that the gold is not good, because it is tried; and that the ground is worthless, because it is ploughed. They wound those with the arrows of reproach—whom God has only corrected with the rod of reproof. It is dangerous to smite those with our tongues—whom God has smitten with his hand. His right to correct—is not our right to correct.
Because Christ suffered for transgressors, many numbered him with transgressors—but that was to give him the sharpest vinegar, when they should have given him the sweetest wine. "Pour out your fury on them; consume them with your burning anger!" Why, David? "For they persecute those you wound and talk about the pain of those you have wounded."
Sympathy is a debt we owe to sufferers. For Christians to be rejoicing when their brethren are weeping—is like putting silver-lace upon a mourning suit. Our own particular losses and distresses resemble the extinguishing of a candle, which only occasions darkness in one room—but the general distresses of the church are like the eclipsing of the sun, which overshadows the whole hemisphere. Pliny informs us of two goats meeting together on a narrow bridge, where neither of them could either proceed or recede; at last one of them lay down, that the other might go over him. How much of the man was there in those beasts—and how much of the beast is there in some men!
It is certainly better to be in the humble posture of a mourner—than in the proud gesture of a scorner. The woman of Canaan could not rest—while her daughter was restless. The torture of one—was the torment of the other—but a word from Jesus relieved them both. Sympathy renders a doleful state—more joyful. Alexander refused water in a time of great scarcity, because there was not enough for his whole army.
It should be among Christians, as among lute-strings—when one is touched, the others tremble. Believers should be neither proud flesh—nor dead flesh. Fellow members—should ever have fellow feelings. Other men's woes are our warnings—their desolation should be our information.
Jeremiah suffered not in his own person, being under the protection of the Divine Being—but though he dwelt securely from the hand of mortality—yet he was filled with the affections of sympathy. Though he wrote of the Jews desolations—yet he named them Jeremiah's Lamentations.
12. Another singular action of a sanctified Christian, is to render the greatest good for the greatest evil.
Mariners look for a storm at sea, when the waters begin to utter a murmuring noise. Theodosius the emperor, being urged to execute one who had reviled him, answered, "I am so far from gratifying your wish; that were it in my power, if he were dead, I would raise him to life again; rather than, being alive, to put him to death."
He makes a good market of bad commodities, who with kindnesses overcomes injuries. For a man to be captivated by his own angry passions, and conquer another person—is but to lose the palace of a prince—to gain the cottage of a peasant. A spark of fire falling in the ocean, expires immediately; but dropping upon combustibles, burns furiously. God has bound every believer in gospel cords—to godly behavior.
A carnal man may love his friends—but it is a Christian man who loves his enemies. "But I tell you—love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you." He calls to patience, who is patience itself! He who gives the precepts—enforces it by his own example. It is unnatural to hate those who love us; and it is supernatural to love them that hate us. A sinner can do much evil—but he can suffer none; a saint can suffer much evil—but he will do none.
He who takes up fire to throw at his adversaries, is in great danger of burning his own fingers! A badly loaded gun, instead of hitting the mark, does but recoil on him who discharges it. He who glories in wounding others—will finally wound himself. If injuries are our enemies' weapons, forgiveness should be ours. How many have had their blood seen, because they would not have their backs seen. Men's bad actions towards others—are generally excused by others' bad actions towards them. There is a two-fold madness: that of the head—which deprives men of prudence; and that of the heart—which deprives them of their patience. To forget an injury, is more than nature can promise—but to forgive it, is what grace can perform. Patience affords us a shield to defend ourselves—but innocence denies us a sword to offend others. If ever you hope that your charity should live after you—then let resentment die before you.
It is written in the law of Mahomet, that "God made angels of light—and devils of flame." But of this I am sure—that they are of hellish constitutions, who play off the fire-works of contention. "Be angry—and sin not." Anger should not be a burning coal from Satan's furnace—but a blazing coal from God's altar. It should resemble fire in straw—which is as easily quenched, as suddenly kindled. He who would be angry and not sin—must be angry at nothing but sin! "Don't let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a mighty foothold to the Devil!" He who carries angry passions to bed with him—will find that the will Devil creep between the sheets! Why should we give place to Satan—who crowds in so fast himself?
O man, shall your life be mortal—and your wrath immortal? Should we not give place to an offending brother, rather than to be designing murderer? How many are there who profess to forgive—but cannot forget an injury! Such are like people who sweep the chamber—but leave the dust behind the door. Whenever we grant our offending brethren a discharge—our hearts also should set their hands to the acquittance.
We should not only break the teeth of malice by forgiveness—but pluck out its sting by forgetfulness. To store our memories by dwelling on injuries—is to fill that chest with rusty iron—which was made for refined gold. The pot of malice should not stand upon the fire—until it boils over. Christian, can you expect better treatment in the world—than He who was better than the world?
When Aristides, the Athenian general, sat to arbitrate a difference between two people, one of them said, "This fellow accused you at such a time!" To whom Aristides answered "I sit, not to hear what he has done against me—but against you." How should a Christian shine, if a heathen gives such light! "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Not the coals of vengeance to consume him—but the coals of kindness to soften him.
Jesus was an intercessor both in his life and death; his dying breath was praying breath—and that not only for his sorrowful disciples—but for his enraged murderers also. "Father, forgive them—for they know not what they do." Thus he gave them the best wine—for the bitterest gall. The Lord Jesus spreads a large table every day, and the major part who feed thereat—are his enemies! "In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard and the goat will be at peace. Calves and yearlings will be safe among lions, and a little child will lead them all!" The Lord Jesus can both tame the most cruel beast—and quench the most raging lust!
None but a patient Christ—can make us patient Christians. As our passions were the cause of his—so his passion is the cure of ours. Reader, if you cannot forgive others—God will not forgive you. You have his own authority for this, "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." In vain do we ask God to be pacified to us—while we live at variance with others. How can we expect to have pounds remitted to us—if pence are not remitted by us?
I have read of a person who imbrued his hands in his own blood, because they were too short to reach his enemy's. Poor revenge! How repugnant was this to the apostolic advice, "Do not take revenge, my friends—but leave room for God's wrath." This was the conduct of dying Stephen, "Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice—Lord, do not charge them with this sin!" Could living men do worse to a dying man—or a dying man pray better for living men?
To do evil for good, is human corruption; to do good for good, is civil retribution—but to do good for evil, is Christian perfection. Though forgiveness is not the grace of nature—yet it is the nature of grace.
When Shimei cursed David in his distress, Abishai was for an immediate retaliation. "Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and cut off his head!" What was David's answer? "No!" the king said. "If the Lord has told him to curse me, who am I to stop him?" He was so far from taking off his head, that he does not even attempt to shut his mouth. The shoulders of charity—are able to carry the burden of injury—without either being moved with violence, or removed from patience.
Though God does not allow his people to sin in avenging their enemies—yet he allows not the sin of their enemies to go unavenged. "Vengeance is mine, I will repay! says the Lord." "Anger rests in the bosom of fools." Where there is the most indignation, there is the least discretion. No men do more readily brook insults from others—than such as have learned to despise themselves. Make not an enemy of your friend—by returning evil for good; but make a friend of your enemy—by returning him good for evil.
12. Another singular action of a sanctified Christian, is to take those reproofs best—which he needs most.
It was the saying of an heathen, though no heathenish saying, "That he who would be good, must either have a faithful friend to instruct him, or a watchful enemy to correct him." Should we murder a physician—because he comes to cure us? Should we like him worse—because he would make us better?
The flaming sword of reprehension—is but to keep us from the forbidden fruit of transgression. "Let the godly strike me! It will be a kindness! If they reprove me, it is soothing medicine. Don't let me refuse it." 'Let him smite me as with an hammer,' for so the word signifies. A Boanerges is as necessary as a Barnabas.
"Have I become your enemy—because I tell you the truth?" Truth is not always relished—where sin is nourished. Light is pleasant—yet it may be offensive to sore eyes. Honey is sweet—though it causes the wound to smart. We must not neglect the sinful actions of friends—for fear of drawing upon ourselves the suspicions of being enemies. It is better to lose the smiles of men—than the souls of men. "You must not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor directly, and you will not incur guilt because of him." He who loves a garment—hates the moths which fret it.
"Rebuke a wise man—and he will love you. Rebuke a scorner—and he will hate you." Reproof slides from a scorner's breast—as water from an oiled post. Instead of loving a man amidst all his injuries—he will hate him for all his civilities. Most people are like unruly horses, which no sooner feel the 'bit'—than they strike with their heels. Or like bees, which no sooner are angered—than they give a sharp sting!
There is much discretion to be manifested in reprehension. A word will do more with some—than a blow with others. A Venice glass is not to be rubbed so hard—as a iron kettle. The tender reed is more easily bowed—than the sturdy oak. Christ's warfare requires no carnal weapons. Dashing storms do but destroy the seed—while gentle showers nourish it. Chariots too furiously driven, may be overturned by their own vehemence.
How many are there, who check passion—with passion; and are very angry—in reproving anger! Thus to slay one devil—they raise another; and leave more work to he undone, than they found to be done. Such a reproof of vice—is a vice to be reproved. In reprehension, we should always beware of carrying our teeth in our tongues; and of biting while we are speaking. A surgeon would not be justifiable in dismembering a body—if he could effect a cure without such drastic measures.
"Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit." The word signifies, to set a dislocated bone. This requires the lady's hand; tenderness—as well as skillfulness. Reprehension is not an act of butchery—but an act of surgery. Take heed of putting too keen an edge, upon this scalpel. Mark the reason which the apostle assigns for gentle reproof: "But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted."
If your neighbor's house be on fire—your own may be in danger. We should be willing to lend mercy at one time—as we may have occasion to borrow it at another. We should do with other's sins, as we do with our own sores; which, if a gentle cut will produce a sufficient healing, we avoid sharp slashing. If ravenous birds can be frayed away by a look—we need not expend powder and shot.
It is true, open sinners deserve open censures—but private admonitions will best suit private offences. While we seek to heal a wound in our brother's actions, we should be careful not to leave a scar upon his person. That is a choice friend, who conceals our faults from the view of others—and yet reveals them to our own view. That medicine which rouses the evil humours of the body, and does not carry them off—only leaves it in a worse condition than it found it.
It must be lamented, that many are as deaf to the softest tongue of reproof—as the adder is deaf to the sweet voice of the charmer. They are always administering the bitter pills of calumny—for the sweet cordials of charity. Men love to be adored—yet hate to be reproved. But how can we praise what they do—when they are so far from doing what is worthy to be praised?
How securely would David have slept—if Nathan had not been sent to rouse him! How far do many travel in the downward road—for lack of a wholesome friend to stop them in their journey! Private admonition is rather a proof of benevolence, than of malevolence. It was the saying of Augustine, when his hearers resented his frequent reproofs, "Change your conduct—and I will change my conversation!" The more a serpent is stirred—the more he gathers up his poison!
Some are to reproof, as tigers are to drums; because they cannot stop them, they will tear their own flesh. Man is a cross creature—yet cannot endure to be crossed. He would have a "touch me not" written upon himself—but who would chide the dog for barking, when the thief is approaching! Sin is like a nettle, which stings when it is gently touched—but hurts not when it is roughly handled. Beloved, this rough hewing of reproof is but to square us for the celestial building. As for flatterers, they may be named the devils upholsterers. They no sooner see men troubled at their lusts—than they are for laying pillows under their elbows! But let such know, that their lack of the fire of zeal—will be punished with the fire of hell. He is an unskillful artist—who paints deformities with the loveliest of colors.
Reprehension should tread upon the heels of transgression. The plaster should be applied—as soon as the wound is received. It is easier to extinguish a burning match—than a burning house. Gentle medicine will serve for a new distemper—but chronic diseases require powerful remedies.
The sword of reproof should be drawn against the offence—and not against the offender. Man thinks this cup is not sufficiently bitter—unless he mingles it with his wormwood and gall. But the wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God. The severest reproofs of the godly are not mortal—but medicinal. They are to raise the dead to life—and not put the living to death.
Who knows how much the kindness of a reprover—may tame the insolence of an offender. He who hates reproof is brutish. He is brutish, like an angry dog, that snarls and bites while the festering thorn is being taken out of his foot! Or like a wicked horse, that kicks the groomer while he is rubbing off the dirt.
"If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over." The spaniel loses the prey—by barking at the game. The presence of a multitude—makes a man take up an unjust defense, rather than lie down under just shame. It is better to censure a man in private—than to spread his guilt by proclamation. How many do that in the market, which they should do in the closet! Sin is a slippery mire; if we attempt to help others out, and do not—we sink them the deeper. Remember, tender lambs, through straying, must be gently restored to the fold.
14. Another singular action of a sanctified Christian, is to take up every duty in point of performance; and lay down in point of dependance.
When the purest duties have been performed—the purest mercies should be implored. Many have passed the rocks of gross sins—who have suffered shipwreck upon the sands of self-righteousness. Some people live more upon their customs—than they do upon Christ; more upon the prayers which they make to God—than upon the God to whom they make their prayers. This is, for the redeemed captive to reverence the sword—instead of the hand which wrought his rescue!
The Name of God with a sling and a stone—will do more than Goliath with all his armor. Duties are but dry pits, though ever so meticulously wrought—until Christ fills them. Reader, I would neither have you be idle in the means—nor make an idol of the means. Though it be the mariner's duty to weigh his anchor, and spread his sails—yet he cannot make his voyage until the winds blow. The pipes will yield no conveyance, unless the springs yield their concurrence.
What is hearing without Christ—but like a cabinet without a jewel? What is receiving without Christ—but like a glass without a cordial? We can only ascend to heaven—upon that ladder which was let down from heaven.
The most diligent saint—has been the most self-distrusting saint, "that I may gain Christ and be found in him—not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law—but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith." If you are found in your own righteousness, you will be lost by your own righteousness. That garment which was worn to shreds on Adam's back—will never make a complete covering for you.
Duties may be good crutches to go upon—but they are bad Christs to lean upon. When Augustus Caesar desired the senate to join some person with him in the consulship, they replied, "They held it as a great dishonor to him—to have any one joined with him, who was so capable himself." It is the greatest disparagement that Christians can offer to Christ—to put their services in the scale with his suffering. The beggarly rags of the first Adam—must never be put on with the princely robe of the second Adam!
Man is a creature too much inclined to warm himself by the sparks of his own fire—though he lies down in eternal flames for kindling them! Though Noah's dove made use of her wings—yet she found no rest but in the ark. Duties can never have too much of our diligence—or too little of our confidence. "For he who is entered into rest—has ceased from his own works." A believer does not perform good works to live—but he lives to perform good works.
It was an haughty saying of one, "I will not accept of heaven, gratis." But he shall have hell as his debt—who will not take heaven as a gift. "For we are the true circumcision, the ones who serve by the Spirit of God, boast in Christ Jesus, and do not put confidence in the flesh." A true Christian stands at as great distance from trusting in the best of his services—as in the worst of his sins. He knows that the greatest part of his holiness—will not make the least part of his justifying righteousness. He has unreservedly subscribed to that sentiment, "That when we have done all—we are only unprofitable servants."
When we have kept all the commandments, there is one commandment above all to be kept; that is, "all our righteous acts are like filthy rags!" In most of our works—we are abominable sinners; and in the best of our works—we are unprofitable servants. Our works are not like the crystal streams of a living fountain—but like the impure overflowings of an unruly torrent. "I will go an in the strength of the Lord God. O Sovereign Lord, I will proclaim your righteousness, yours alone." Psalm 71:16 You see, beloved, the righteousness of Christ is to be magnified—when the righteousness of a Christian is not to be mentioned.
It is hard for us to be "nothing in ourselves" amidst all our works; and to be "all things in Christ," amidst all our weakness. To undertake every duty—and yet to overlook every duty—is a lesson which none can learn—but Christ's scholars.
Our obedience, at best, is like good wine—which relishes of a bad cask. The 'Law of God' will not accept ninety-nine for a hundred. It will not accept the coin of our obedience, either short in quantity—or base in quality. The duty it exacts, is as impossible to be performed in this our fallen state—as the penalty it inflicts is intolerable to be endured in our eternal state!
We do not sail to glory—in the salt sea of our own tears—but in the red sea of the Redeemer's blood! The cross of Christ—is the only key of paradise! We owe the life of our souls—to the death of our Savior. It was his going into the fiery furnace—which keeps us from the devouring flames! Man lives—by death: his natural life is preserved by the death of the creature; and his spiritual life by the death of the Redeemer.
Moses must lead the children of Israel through the wilderness—but Joshua must conduct them into Canaan. While we are in the wilderness of this world, we walk under the guidance of Moses—but when we enter the spiritual Canaan, it must be under the leadings of Jesus. The same hand which shut the doors of hell—to keep us out of perdition—has opened the gates of heaven—to admit us to its eternal fruition.
Those who carry their vessel of hope to the puddle of their own merit—will never draw the water of comfort, from the fountain of God's mercy! Luther compares the law and gospel—to earth and heaven. We should walk in the earth of the law, in point of obeying; and in the heaven of the gospel, in point of believing. It was the saying of one, that "He would swim through a sea of brimstone—if he might but arrive safely at heaven." Ah, how would natural men sing—if they could but soar to heaven upon the pinions of their own merit! The sunbeams of Divine justice—will soon melt such weak and wax wings!
He who has no better righteousness than what is of his own providing, shall meet with no higher happiness than what is of his own deserving. "They disregarded the righteousness from God—and attempted to establish their own righteousness." If such people rest not from duty, then they rest in duty. They are determined to sail in their own ship—though they sink in the ocean! I would that all such did but know, that though good works are not destroyed by Christ—yet they must be denied for Christ.
When a looking-glass reflects the brightness of the sun, there is but an acknowledgment of what was—not an addition of what was not. A well-drawn picture praises a beautiful face; not by communicating what it lacks—but by presenting what it has. As God has none the less—for the mercy he gives; so he has none the more—for the duty he receives. Man is such a debtor to God, that he can never pay his obligation to God; yes, the more we pay him—the more we owe him for our payments.
It is Christ alone, who is the righteousness of God to man, and man to God. We are so far from paying the utmost farthing—that at the utmost, we have not a farthing to pay! That man will be a miserable spectacle of vanity—who stands upon the lame feet of his own ability.
15. Another singular action of a sanctified Christian, is to takeup his contentment, in God's appointment.
As many do the things which God dislikes—so they dislike the things which God does. If the children of Israel obtain no meat for their lusts—then they are weary of their lives. They are delighted with their burning corruption—but are enraged with their trying condition. This is nothing less, than to be in love with their malady—and to hate their remedy. They studied more how to gratify their humor—than to satisfy their hunger. They complained of the shoe—but the disease lay in the foot.
Those who think too highly of their own deserts—will think too lowly of their estates. It is the task of God—to satisfy the desires of men. He can do everything—but they are not pleased with anything.
There is no man, but who has received more good—than he has deserved. Likewise, there is no man, who has done more evil—than has been inflicted. He should therefore be contented, though he sees but little good. And he should not be discontented, though he suffers much evil. "Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said—Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." Where the seal of faith has been set to the bond of truth—he who has said it will maintain you in the lack of earthly provisions.
When a wicked man's purse grows light—his heart grows heavy. When he has something without to afflict him—he has nothing within to support him. That well known Scripture is unknown to him: "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength."
It is hard to carry a full cup—without spilling; or to stand under a heavy load—without bowing. It is difficult to walk in the clear day of prosperity—without wandering; or in the dark night of adversity—without stumbling. But from whatever point the wind blows—the skillful mariner knows how to meet it with his sails.
Repenting is the act of Christian men—but repining is the act of carnal men. Though their estates are like a fruitful paradise—yet their hearts are like a barren wilderness. Such people are like those spiders—which suck poison out of the sweetest flowers—and by an infernal chemistry, extract dross from the purest gold!
Outward prosperity cannot create inward tranquility. Hearts-ease is a flower which never grew in the world's garden. The ground of a wicked man's trouble, is not because he has not enough of the creature—but because he cannot find enough in the creature to satisfy him! His possession is great enough—but his disposition is not good enough.
Some are satisfied under the hand of God, because they are not sensible of the hand of God. They never fret, because they never feel.
We are not to be troubled—that we have no more from God; but we are to be troubled—that we do no more for God. Christians, if you are well pleased with your eternal salvation—should not you be well pleased with your temporal condition?
Believers should be like sheep, which change their pastures at the will of the shepherd; or like vessels in a house, which stand to be filled or emptied—at the pleasure of their owner. He who sails upon the sea of this world in his own ship—will sink at last into a bottomless ocean. Never were any their own carvers—but they were sure to cut their own fingers.
A covetous man is fretful—because he has not as much as he desires. But a gracious man is thankful—because he has more than he deserves. It is true, I have not the sauce—but then I merit not the meat. I have not the lace—but then I deserve not the coat. I want that which may support my vanity—but I have that which supplies my necessity. "If we have food and clothing, we will be content with these." Here is the flesh of the creature to fill us—and the fleece of the creature to cover us.
It is reported of a woman who, being sick, was asked whether she was willing to live or die; she answered, "Whatever God pleases." "But," said one "if God should refer it to you, which would you choose?" "Truly," replied she, "I would refer it to him again." Thus, that man obtains his will from God—whose will is subjected to God.
A contented heart is an even sea in the midst of all storms. It is like a tree in autumn, which secures its life—when it has lost its leaves. When worthy Mr. Hern lay upon his deathbed, his wife, with great concern, asked him what was to become of her and her large family? he answered, "Peace, sweetheart. That God who feeds the ravens—will not starve the Herns." If the child questions his father's affection—he will soon be dubious of his father's provision.
Our most golden conditions in this life are set in bronze frames. There is no gathering a rose without a thorn—until we come to Immanuel's land. If there were nothing but showers—we would conclude the world would be drowned. If there were nothing but sunshine—we would fear the earth would be burned. Our worldly comforts would be a sea to drown us—if our crosses were not a plank to save us! By the fairest gales—a sinner may sail to destruction! By the fiercest storms—a saint may sail to glory! When our circumstances become necessitous, our corruptions become impetuous; they rage the more, because stopped by the dam of poverty. If God withholds the hand of providence, we employ the tongue of insolence. We too frequently bite at the stone—until we break our teeth! We murmur because we are in want—and therefore want because we murmur.
Contentment is the best food to preserve a sound man—and the best medicine to restore a sick man. It resembles the gilt on bitter pills, which makes a man take them—without tasting their bitterness. Contentment will make a cottage look as fair as a palace. He is not a poor man who has but little—but he is a poor man that desires much. In this sense, the poorest are often the richest, and the richest the poorest.
"Godliness with contentment is great gain." This is too precious a flower to grow in every soil. Though every godly man may not always be contented—yet every truly contented man is godly. "The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need." Such a Scripture will bring us plenty in scarcity; and fullness out of emptiness. The water in a cloud soon ceases—but the water of a fountain continues.
As Seneca said to Polybius, "Never complain of your hard condition, so long as Caesar is your friend." So say I to you, "Never complain of your hard condition, Christian, so long as Jesus is your friend!"
Let your condition be ever so flourishing—it is a hell without him. Let your condition be ever so fluctuating—it is a heaven with him. Can that man lack anything—who enjoys Christ; or can he be said to enjoy anything—who is without Christ? Why should Hagar lament the loss of the water in her bottle—while there is a well so near?
16. Another singular action of a sanctified Christian, is to be more in love with the employment of holiness, than with the enjoyment of happiness.
Thousands of professors prize the wages of religion above its works—but a Christian will prize its works above its wages. Give me that singular preacher, who prefers his labor—to his lucre; and who prefers the flock he attends—to the fleece he obtains.
Some men serve God—that they may serve themselves upon God. He loves not religion sincerely, who does not love it superlatively.
"Israel is an empty vine—he brought forth fruit for himself." Empty—and yet fruitful; fruitful—and yet empty. Thus that fertility which springs up from the bitter roots of self—has nothing but vacuity in the account of God.
Such professors do not make gain stoop to godliness—but godliness to gain; which is, as if a man should fit his foot to the shoe—when he should fit the shoe to his foot. In all the good a carnal man does for God—he seeks himself more than God. The clock of his heart will stand still—unless its wheels of profit are oiled.
If the virgin should only give her hand in matrimony for her bridegroom's riches—she would not espouse herself unto his person—but unto his portion. This would not make a marriage with him—but a merchandise of him. Augustine has an excellent saying; "He loves not Christ at all—who does not love Christ above all."
"You seek me, not because you saw the miracles—but because you ate the loaves, and were filled." Christ was the object of their actions—but self was the end of their actions. They came to Christ—to serve their own turns; and when their turns were served—they then turned away their service. They were 'cupboard disciples'—more than men at their meat—but less than women at their work. When the loaves were gone—these 'disciples' were gone. When he left off feeding them—they left off following him!
Reader, until you can love the naked truth—you will never love to go naked for the truth. Most people are mercenary in those works, wherein they should be filial and free. They look more after the streams—than upon the spring from whence they constantly run; and admire the beams more than the sun from whence they are emitted. The desire for pardon, is the only spring of a servile man's duty; he plies his prayers, as sailors do their pumps—only in a storm, or when fearful of sinking!
"And now, O Father, glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you." Christ prayed for glory, more for the Father's sake, who bestowed it—than for his own sake, who received it. A true Christian not only desires grace that God may glorify him—but that he also may glorify God.
Could carnal men find the mercies of God—they would never seek the God of mercies. Could they tell how to be well without him—they would never desire to come to him. God has but little of their society—except when they can find no other company.
Worldings, instead of looking upon godliness as their greatest gain, will look upon gain as their greatest godliness. They love religion, not for the beauty existing in it—but for the dowry annexed to it. They are like the fox, that follows the lion for the prey that is falling from him. If there is no honey in the pot—such wasps will hover no longer about it!
Mark how the long-suffering God expostulates with self-seeking Israel, "During those seventy years of exile, when you fasted and mourned in the summer and at the festival in early autumn, was it really for me that you were fasting? And even now in your holy festivals, you don't think about me but only of pleasing yourselves." In fasting and in festivals—their eyes were not cast upon God—but upon themselves! They did not forgot to eat when they were hungry—but they forgot to praise God when they were full. Their greediness swallowed up all their thankfulness.
Reader! Remember that God will shut your duties out of heaven—if your duties shut him out on earth. I have heard an account of a woman, who had fire in one hand and water in the other—and was asked what she was going to do with them. She answered, "With this fire I am going to burn up all the joys of heaven; and with this water I am going to quench all the flames of hell; that my services to my God might neither arise from the fear of punishment, nor hope of reward."
The less emphasis you lay upon your own works—the more will God lay upon them. Those who are most righteous in themselves—are least righteous to God. God has three sorts of servants in the world: some are 'slaves' and serve him from a principle of fear; others are 'hirelings' and serve him for the sake of wages; and the last are 'sons' and serve him under the influence of love.
Now a hireling will be a changeling. He who will not serve God except something is given him—would serve the devil, if he would give him more! Anyone shall have his works—who will but augment his wages. Many are advocates for the enjoyment of happiness, and enemies to the employment of holiness.
Demetrius cries up the goddess Diana; yet it was not her temple—but her silver shrines, he so much adored. He was more in love with her wealth—than with her worship. "Men, you know we receive a good income from this business." If her temple had been demolished, their trade would have been diminished. "Does Job serve God for nothing?" Yes, for Job served God when he had nothing. He was as pious in his poverty—as in his plenty. In this sense, that man who will not serve God for nothing—is nothing in his services.
Love does not serve for selfish returns—but it amply pays itself in serving its beloved. It is reported of one, who, being asked for whom he labored most, he answered, "For my friends." And being asked for whom he labored least, he answered, "For my friends." Love does most—and yet thinks least of what it does.
Hypocrites are more in love with the gold of the altar, than with the God of the altar. "Woe unto you, scribes and pharisees, hypocrites; for you devour widows houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you shall receive the greater damnation!" They painted their avarice in religious colors, and put the arms of Christ upon the devil; that iniquity might, by that means, be esteemed under the garb of religion. They fasted all the day—that they might feed upon the widows houses at night. They hatched the birds of oppression in the nests of devotion. These spiders weaved the web of their own works—to catch the flies of other men's wealth!
The observation of Augustine is founded on too much truth: "There is often a vast difference between the face of the work—and the heart of the workmen." But a man influenced by the Lord in his services, though he may find SELF in them as an intruder—yet he cannot allow SELF in them as a leader.
A Christian is more in love with his present duty—than he is with his future glory. Paul was contented to stay a while out of heaven—that he might be the instrument of bringing other souls into heaven. "To me—to live, is Christ, and to die is gain." His life was most useful to others—but his death was most profitable to himself. By dying, he might have enjoyed his inheritance sooner; but by living, God made his usefulness greater.
Were it possible to put those things asunder—which God himself has joined together, a Christian would rather be holy without any happiness—than happy without any holiness.
Luther had this expression; "I had rather be in hell with Christ—than in heaven without Christ." Indeed, hell itself would be a heaven—if Christ was in it; and heaven would be a hell—if Christ was not in it. These are hard saying to an uncircumcised ear—but the real choice of every renewed heart.
A gracious man makes this request of his soul: "Lord, let me rather have a gracious heart—than a great estate; let me rather be pious without prosperity—than prosperous without piety." Though he may love many things besides true religion—yet he would not love anything above true religion.
The earth is our work-house—but heaven is our store-house. The earth is a place to run in—and heaven is a place to rest in.
17. Another singular action of a sanctified Christian, is to be more employed in searching his own heart—than he is in censuring other men's states.
Those bishops are too busily employed—who lord it over another man's diocese. "Be diligent to know the state of your flocks, and look well to your herds." It is a matter of greater importance, to know the state of our hearts—than the state of our flocks.
Censorious men commonly take up magnifying glasses—to look at other people's imperfections; and diminishing glasses—to look at their own enormities.
Plato entertaining a few friends at an elegantly spread table, Diogenes, a famous cynic philosopher, coming in at the same time, trampled upon it, saying, "I trample upon the pride of Plato!" To whom Plato immediately replied, "Yes but with greater pride in Diogenes!"
They are fittest to find fault—in whom there is no fault to be found. "You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye—and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." He who blows into a heap of dust—is in danger of putting out his own eyes.
"What makes you better than anyone else?" 1 Corinthians 4:7. Reader, are there not the same lusts lodging in your heart—which are reigning in other men's lives? The reason why there is so little self-condemnation, is because there is so little self-examination. For lack of this, many people are like travelers, skilled in other countries—but ignorant of their own.
As it is an evidence that those tradesmen are bankrupt in their estates—who are afraid to look into their books. Likewise, it is plain that there is something wrong within, among all those who are afraid to look within. The trial of ourselves—is the ready road to the knowledge of ourselves. He who buys a jewel in a box, deserves to be deceived with a fake stone.
Reader, would you see God? then cast your eyes upwards; would you see yourself? then cast you eyes inward. Contemplation is a magnifying glass to see our Savior in—but examination is a looking-glass to view ourselves in. Are we then in the narrow way, which leads to life—or in the broad way which leads to death? Are we Christ's bride—or Satan's harlots? Are our spirits chairs for vice to sit on—or thrones for grace to rule in?
Nero thought no person chaste—because he was so unchaste himself. Such as are troubled with the jaundice—see all things yellow. Those who are most religious—are least censorious. "Who are you that judge another man's servant?" Those who are fellow creatures with men—should not be fellow judges with God. Reader, why will you search another man's wound—while your own is bleeding? Take heed that your own vesture is not full of dirt—when you are brushing the dust off your neighbor. Complain not of dirty streets—when heaps of rubbish lie at your own doors. Many people are no longer well, than while they are holding their fingers upon another person's sores. Such are no better in their conduct than crows—which prey only upon carrion. "But let every man prove his own work—and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.
For want of self-examination, men have their accounts to cast up—when they should have them to deliver up. They have their evidences of grace to seek—when they should have them to show. They lie down with such hopes in their beds of rest—with which they dare not lie down in their bed of dust. Conversion begins in consideration. The hasty shower falls fastest—but the soft snow sinks the deepest.
As that manner who is inattentive to his helm, is in danger of wrecking his vessel—so he who knows not himself, is likely to lose himself. "Examine yourselves—to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves." If your heart is not the cabinet of such a jewel—your head will never be graced with a diadem in glory. If you must needs be a judge—then pray sit upon your own bench. I shall ever esteem such to be but religious lepers—who care not for Scripture looking-glasses. He who never cries out, "Woe is me—for I am undone!" will never hear Christ "Go in peace." Self-examination, is the beaten path to perfection; it is like fire—which not only tries the gold—but purifies it also.
The heathen tell us, that "Know yourself" was an oracle which came down from heaven. It is this oracle, which will lead us to the God of heaven. The sight of yourself in grace—will bring you to the sight of God in glory! The plague of the body is not every man's plague—but the plague of the soul is. If the the plague of the soul were known more—the plague of the body would be feared less. Though there may be a more pleasant sight—yet there is not a more profitable sight. Until you know how deep the pit is, into which you are fallen—you will never properly praise that hand which raises you out of it.
The bottom of our diseases—lies in not searching our diseases, to the bottom. So we put on some filthy rags to cover our nakedness—and we then wickedly despise the Savior's righteousness.
"He who trusts his own heart is a fool!" And yet such fools are we—as to trust our own hearts! The Lord searches all hearts by his omniscient eye; but he searches his people's hearts by the eye of his mercy. If a man would know whether the sun shines—it is better to view its beams on the pavement, than its body in the sky. The readiest way to know whether you are in Christ—is to know whether Christ is in you. For the fruit on the tree, is more visible than the root of the tree.
18. Another singular action of a sanctified Christian, is to set out for God at our beginning—and to hold out with God unto the end.First—To set out for God at our beginning. "Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come." In the distillation of strong waters, the first drawn is fullest of spirits. "The first of the first-fruits of your land—you shall bring into the house of the Lord your God." God prizes a Christian in the bud—and delights in the blossoms of youth, above the sheddings of old age.
Naturalists inform us, that the most orient pearls, are generated from the morning dew. That field is full of the richest corn—which is cleansed from its noxious weeds in the spring. How pleasant is it to see the thousands of spiritual Israel, seeking the heavenly manna in the morning of their lives. Is it not better to cry for mercy on earth with the publican—than to call for water in hell with Dives? To discover grace in an old sinner, is well—but to view it in vigorous youth, is better. All the sacrificial animals, were offered to God in their prime. Jesus was carried in triumph upon a colt.
No music could ever equalize the heaven-born cries of new-born babes. When the snow-drops of youth appear in the garden of the church—it shows that there is a glorious summer approaching.
If youth is sick of the will-nots, old age is in danger of dying of the shall-nots. It is hard to cast off the devil's yoke—when we have worn it long upon our necks! "Can a man be born again—when he is old?" Grace seldom grafts upon such withered stocks. An old sinner is nearer to the second death—than he is to the second birth. It is more likely to see his soul taken out of the flesh—than the flesh taken out of his soul. His body is nearer to corruption, than his soul is to salvation.
Where the enemy is the strongest—there the victory is the hardest. Usually, where the devil pleads antiquity—he keeps propriety. As there are none so old, as that they should despair of mercy—so there are none so young, as that they should presume on mercy. If God's "today" is too soon for your repentance your "tomorrow" may be too late for his acceptance. Mercy's clock does not always strike at our beck! The longer poison stays in the body—so much the more harmful are its effects. O how amiable are the golden apples of grace—in the silver pictures of blooming youth! God prizes a young friend—but punishes an old enemy. Old sinners are much like old serpents—the fullest of poison!
It is singularly pleasant to view the Ancient of Days—in infants in days; and to see green pieces of timber—being squared for the celestial building. Blessed are those in whom grace is in its prosperity, while their nature is in its minority. "I have more understanding than my teachers." His youth—was wiser than their age. His dawning was brighter than their noontide. And this was the more admirable, because it was in his youth; for when our lives are the most vigorous—our lusts are the most boisterous.
You teach a dog while he is a pup; and break a horse while he is a colt. A plentiful harvest, is the outcome of an early seed time. Young reader, remember that your youthful sins—lay a foundation for aged sorrows. You have but one arrow to shoot at the mark—and if that is shot at random, God may never put another into your bow!
"I am Alpha and Omega; the beginning and the ending; the first and the last." He who is the first and the last, should be served from the first to the last. You can never come too soon—to him who is your beginning; and you can never stay too long—with him who is your ending. The flower of life is of Christ's setting, and shall it be of the devil's cropping?
But what is setting out, without holding out? Mutability is at best but the badge of infirmity. It can only be those trees which are unsound at their roots—which cease from putting forth leaves in their season. Those who at present are inwardly corrupt—will in the future be openly profane. False grace is always declining, until it be wholly lost. But true grace goes from a morning's dawn—unto a meridian splendor. It is just to be cast off from God—for casting off the ways and work of God.
"Be faithful unto death—and I will give you the crown of life." He has a crown for the runner—but a curse for the run-away. God accounts not himself served at all—if he be not always served. It is not enough to begin our course well—unless it is crowned with perseverance. Some trees put forth fair blossoms—but their flattering spring is turned into an unfruitful winter. Some clear mornings have become overcast with the thickest clouds. The corn which promised a large harvest in the blade of profession, is blasted in the ear. The light remains—no longer than while the sun shines. When God ceases to be gracious—man ceases to be righteous.
The flowers of paradise would quickly wither on earth—if they were not watered with drops from heaven. How have the mighty fallen—when the Almighty has not stood by them! The devil would soon put out our candles—if Christ did not carry them in his lantern. "Do not be weary in well doing, for in due season we shall reap if we faint not." To see a ship sink in the harbor of profession, is more grievous, than if it had perished in the open sea of profaneness.
There goes the same power of God—to strengthen a saint—as to quicken a sinner. He who sets us up and makes us holy—must keep us up and make us steady. How many professors have seemed to be just ready to cast an eternal anchor—when a contrary wind has drove them to sea, and they have perished forever! "O Israel and Judah, what should I do with you?" Why, what is the matter? "Your love vanishes like the morning mist and disappears like dew in the sunlight."
Some have beat Jehu's march; they have driven furiously in religion; but within a few years, they have knocked off their chariot wheels. After they have lifted up their hands to God—they have lifted up their heels against him! That man's beginning was in hypocrisy—whose ending is in apostasy! Reader, you look for happiness as long as God has a being in heaven—and God looks for holiness as long as you have a being on earth. "He who endures to the end, shall be saved."
"If any man draws back—my soul shall have no pleasure in him." He who draws back from his profession on earth—shall be kept back from any possession in heaven. He that departs in the faith, shall be saved; but he who departs from the faith, shall be damned.
That mariner has no praise—who sinks his ship before he comes to the harbor. That soldier obtains no glory—who lays down his weapons in the heat of the battle. Some say, that the chrysolite, which is of a golden color in the morning, loses its splendor before the evening. Such are the glittering shows of hypocrites. Though fiery meteors fall to die on earth—yet fixed stars remain in heaven.
When once that fire which is laid on God's altar is kindled, it shall no more be quenched. Grace may be shaken in the soul—but it cannot be shaken out of the soul. It may be a bruised reed—but it shall never be a broken reed.
Christ is more tender of his mystical body—than he was of his natural body. Though a believer may fall foully—yet he shall never fall finally. The gates of hell shall not prevail—against the heirs of heaven. The fiery darts of the devil, which in themselves are intentionally mortal—shall be to saints eventually medicinal. These bees may sting him—but their venom shall not destroy him. His light may be eclipsed for a time; but the sun will break forth again.
Under the law, the Lord had his evening sacrifice—as well as his morning sacrifice. "No man who puts his hand to the plough—and looks back, is fit for the kingdom of God." Our labors are never fulfilled, until our days are fulfilled. There is nothing pleasant—but what is constant. Though a saint may sometimes be weary in doing the work of the Lord—yet he is at no time weary of doing the work of the Lord. There may be a suspension of the operation of grace; but there cannot be a destruction of the being of grace. This babe may lie upon a sick-bed; but it shall never lie upon a death-bed.
Christ is called the Finisher of our faith—as well as the Author of our faith. There is as much necessity for the Spirit to keep up our graces—as there is to bring forth our graces.
Indifference in religion—is the first step to apostasy from religion. Though Christians are not altogether kept from falling; yet they are kept from falling altogether. They may show an apathy toward Christ for a time; but they shall not depart from Christ forever. The trees of righteousness may have their autumn; but they shall also have their spring. There is never so low an ebb—but there is also as high a tide.
Christians are like crocodiles—which grow until they die! They are like the moon, which increases in her beauty, until she is at the full. They have no desire of putting off the robes of purity—while they are on this side eternity. They wish to hold the sword of piety in their hands—until God sets the crown of glory upon their heads!
Professing reader, if piety is not the way of safety—why do you set forth in it? And if piety the way—why do you shrink back from it? Usually those who ride fastest at the beginning of their journey—are the first who talk of halting on the road.
See what a sparkling diamond there is set in the apostle's crown, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith! Henceforth, there is laid up for me a crown of glory!" Paul the warrior—was Paul the conqueror. And Paul the conqueror—was Paid the crowned. Jesus Christ is never a father to abortive children. Where he gives strength to conceive, he gives strength to bring forth. He turns the bruised reed—into a brazen pillar; and the smoking flax—into a enduring flame.
19. Another singular action of a sanctified Christian, is to take all the shame of his sins unto himself—and to give all the glory of his services unto Christ.Many people take all the glory of their services to themselves—and lay all the share of their sins on Christ; as if he who died on earth to redeem us from sin—should live in heaven to confirm us in sin.
The devil may flatter us—but he cannot force us. He may tempt us to sin—but he cannot compel us to sin. He could never come off a conqueror, were he not joined by our forces. The fire is his—but the tinder is ours. He could never enter into our houses—if we did not set open our doors.
Many complain for lack of liberty—who thrust their feet into Satan's fetters! "Then the man replied—The woman You gave to be with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate." As if he had said, "I took that as a gift from her—whom You gave as a gift to me." It is the worst of sins—to charge God with our sins! They may receive their punishment from him—but they shall never receive their temptation from him. He cannot be the unrighteous upholder—of what he is the righteous avenger. O blasphemy, to charge that sun with darkness, by which the heaven's are enlightened; or that sea with a lack of moisture, by which the whole earth is watered! Our impiety is as truly the offspring of our souls—as our posterity is the issue of our bodies. "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." Whatever is truly good—has its origin in God. Now the same spring cannot send forth—both sweet and bitter waters. It is a known rule—contraries destroy each other.
Many have more leaves to cover their wickedness—than they have garments to cover their nakedness. They lay their heresy at the door of the sanctuary; and call their diabolical seductions, 'evangelical revelations'. As if the Father of light, could bring forth the darkness of sin. What is this, but to set a crown of lead, upon a head of gold! We can defile ourselves—but we cannot cleanse ourselves. The sheep can go astray alone—but can never return to the fold, without the assistance of the shepherd. Until we taste the bitterness of our own misery—we shall never relish the sweetness of God's mercy. Until we see how foul our sins have made us—we shall never pay our tribute of praise to Christ for washing us. If we were left to ourselves but for a moment—we would destroy ourselves in that moment!
Many advance themselves—to depreciate Christ; but we should look upon ourselves as nothing—and Christ as everything. "I am less than the least of all God's people." Paul was willing to be esteemed a cipher—so that Christ might stand for a figure. Well may we abase ourselves for his advancement, who abased himself for our salvation. "Let Luther be accounted a devil—so long as Christ may be exalted as Savior!" said that flaming seraph of himself.
"Without me, you can do nothing." The pen may as soon write without the hand which holds it—as our hearts work unless the Spirit moves them. Not only the enjoyment of our talents, is from God; but the improvement of them, is from him. "Lord, your pound has gained ten pounds." It is not my pains—but your pound which has done it. The children of God are like a clock, which soon stands still—if it is not wound up. "Did not our hearts burn within us!" But how long did the flame last? All the time he talked with them. When he gave over breathing on them—their fuel gave over burning. Gracious hearts are like stars in the heavens—which shine not by their own splendor. He who takes the brick—must give the straw to make it. There is no water—unless he smites the rock; nor fire—unless he strikes the flint.
If he calls us to the work of angels—he will supply us with the strength of angels. "For when we were without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly." A Christless soul—is also a strengthless soul. Man is indebted to God for what he has—but God is not indebted to man for what he does. "For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever!" The humble heart knows no foundation but God's grace; and the upright man knows no end but God's glory.
Whatever action has God for its author—has God for its center. A circular line makes its ending, where it had its beginning. Reader, take heed of turning a sacred privilege, into a privy sacrilege. If God gives that grace, which is not due to you—will you deny the praise, which is due to him?
The wicked make their end—their god; but we make God—our end. The sky is made more glorious by one sun—than by all the stars which stud the heavens. Thus Jesus Christ has more glory given to him from one saint—than from all the world besides. He takes more pleasure in their prayers—and is more honored by their praise.
"Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do—do all to the glory of God." From the lowest act of nature, to the highest act of grace, there is no argument for the pride of man—but every argument for the praise of God. If he makes our nature gracious—we should make his name glorious. He that would be stealing the honor of God—is not worthy to receive the honor of a man.
Caesar once said to his opponent, "Either I will be Caesar—or nobody." So the Lord says, "Either I will be a great God—or no God." That man disparages the glory of the sun—who sets it upon a level with the twinkling stars. The glory of God is the golden mark—at which all the arrows of obedience are shot, otherwise they fall short of their mark. The body has two eyes—but the soul must have but one; and that so firmly fixed upon Christ, as never once to glance beside him. A single eye is fittest for a single object.
"When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they raised their voices, saying—The gods have come down to us in the form of men!" But do they take that glory to themselves, which is idolatrously given to them from others? No! "Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you." As if they had said, "We are so far from possessing the glorious perfections of God, that we are clothed with all the weaknesses and sins of men."
Ungodly Herod was not like Paul and Silas, "The people gave a shout, saying—This is the voice of a god, not of a man!" What the people gave foolishly—he took fearlessly. "Immediately, because Herod did not give glory to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died!" Ah, how soon this worm-eaten wretch—was a wretch eaten up by worms! Every little river pays its tribute to the great sea—and shall we refuse ours to the great God?
As there is no time, in which God is not blessing his children—there should be no time, in which his people are not praising him. As he designs our happiness, in all he does—it is but reasonable that we should seek his honor in all we do. We have no way to turn the streams unto God, the ocean of all bounty—but through the pipes of gratitude.
"Giving thanks unto the Father who has made us fit to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light." It is very fit—that he should be magnified by us; when he makes us fit—to be glorified with him.
As the best of means should make us fruitful, so the least of mercies should make us thankful. "The twenty-four elders fall down and worship the one who lives forever and ever! And they lay their crowns before the throne and say—You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power!" Whatever ointment is poured out upon Christ's head, will run down to the skirts of his garment. What a saint gives to Christ in copper, shall be returned to him in silver! Yes, the only way to keep our crowns on our heads—is to cast them down at his feet!
20. The last singular action of a sanctified Christian, is that he values his heavenly inheritance, above all earthly possessions.
"God has reserved a priceless inheritance for his children. It is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay." 1 Peter 1:3-4. "Our citizenship is in heaven!" Philippians 3:20.
Some say, that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush—but surely such a bird in the bush, is worth two in the hand. If others dote upon the streams—let us admire the fountain. Socrates being asked what his native country was; answered, "I am a citizen of the whole world." But ask a Christian what his native country is—and he will answer, "I am a citizen of all heaven!" Believers build their tombs—where worldlings build their habitations. The men of the world—fix their hearts upon the things of the world. This fleeting world, is the cabinet in which they lock up all their jewels! Though God has given the earth to beasts—yet such beasts are men—as to give themselves to the earth!
It was the saying of a cursed cardinal, "I prefer a part in the honors of Paris—to a part in the happiness of paradise." What is the glimmering of a candle, compared to the shining of the sun? or the value of dirt, compared with gold? Foolish children are taken up more with fleeting pleasures—more than with eternal glory. Thus while the shadow is embraced, the substance is neglected.
That man who is a laboring bee, for earthly prosperity; will be but an idle drone, for heavenly felicity. "If you are risen with Christ—seek those things which are above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God."
There is no need of blotting out the characters of our affections—but of writing them on fairer paper. There is no necessity for drying up these running waters—but for diverting them into their proper channels. Why should we wholly destroy these valuable plants—when they might thrive so well in a better soil? He who looks upon heaven with desire—will look upon earth with disdain. Our affections were made for the things which are above us—and not for the things which are about us.
What is an earthly manor—compared to a heavenly mansion! As carnal things seem small to a spiritual man—so spiritual things appear small to a carnal man. There is no desiring, and living for things, which are beyond the sphere of our own knowledge. Heaven is to the worldling—as a mine of gold which is buried deep in the earth—he does not realize that it exists. But if he had the eyes of an eagle to see it—he would wish for the wings of an eagle to soar unto it.
How little would the great world seem to us—if the great God were not so little in us! Either men have no thoughts of a future state—or else they have low thoughts of a future state. If we had souls without any bodies—then there would be no need of the earth to keep us; if we had bodies without any souls—there would be no need of heaven to crown us. Such as have no present holiness—are for a present happiness.
"Many are saying—who will show us any good?" Any good will serve those—who know not the chief good. But David adds, "O Lord, lift up the light of your countenance upon us." O how sordid is it for men to prefer the garlic and onions of Egypt—to the milk and honey of Canaan! Visible trifles to them—are better than invisible realities. They mind the present world so much—as if it would never have any end; and the eternal world so little—as if it would never have a beginning.
Reader, why should you be so taken up with your riches—when you will be so soon taken from your riches? Why do you dote upon a flower—which may wither in an hour? As you are traveling beyond the world—it would be your wisdom to be trading above the world. But alas, such are not easily awaked—who fall so fast asleep on the world's pillow!
When the Gauls had tasted the wine of Italy—they asked where the grapes grew; and would never rest until they came there. Thus may you cry, "O that I had the wings of a dove—that I might fly away and be at rest!" A believer is willing to lose the world—for the enjoyment of grace. He is willing to leave the world—for the fruition of glory. As the worst on this side of eternity, compared with hell—is mercy; so the best on this side eternity, compared with heaven—is misery. There is no more comparison to be made between heaven—and earth; than there is between a piece of rusty iron—and refined gold.
Augustine says, "The hope of immortal life—is the life of our mortal lives." It is the expectation of a future glorious heritage, which is the Jacob's staff of saints—with which they walk through this dark pilgrimage. "If in this life only, we have hope in Christ—we are of all men the most miserable!" But because we have hope in Christ, after this life—we may be of all men the most comfortable!
Though we have desires in the world—yet we have no desires after the world. "In this world we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling." A believer longs most for that place—where he shall be best. He not only grows in grace—but groans for glory. Perfection is the boundary of the strongest expectation. As it is satisfied with nothing less—so it looks for nothing more. Everything in eternity—is wound up to its highest capacity. It is in heaven, that mercy will be received unmixed—and majesty viewed unveiled. What is a worthless pebble—compared with a matchless diamond!
What a sweet salutation is that of the Savior to his servant, "Enter into the joy of your Lord!" O, what joy shall enter into the believer— when he shall enter into the joy of his Redeemer! Then the vessels of mercy, shall have sea-room enough—in the ocean of glory!
Those whom love has closely united together—cannot contentedly dwell forever asunder. "Come, you who are blessed by my Father—inherit the kingdom prepared for you before the foundation of the world!" That which makes hell so full of horror—is that it is below all hopes; and that which makes heaven so full of splendor—is that it is above all fears. Hell is a night—without the return of day; heaven is a day—free from the approach of night. Who would not seek after glory with the greatest diligence, and wait for glory with the greatest patience; seeing we increase the interest, while we wait for the principle.
There are some deluded professors, who aspire after earthly grandeur; as if the place where saints are crucified, were the place where they are glorified. This were to consider the church, in a triumphant condition, rather than a militant condition. The ark of the church, which is now tossed upon a tumultuous sea—shall then rest in the harbor of eternal tranquility.
"In my Father's house are many mansions—I go to prepare a place for you." Our Redeemer is our forerunner. He who takes possession of us on earth—takes possession for us in heaven. As we are not long here without him—so he will not be long there without us. Here on earth—all the world is not enough for one carnal man; but there in eternity—one heaven shall be enough for all Christians. In this life—there are showers of tears which fall from the saint's eyes; but in that eternal life—there shall be a perpetual sunshine of glory in the saint's heart.
Many temptations may accost a heaven-born soul—but no temptation shall finally prevail against him. Flying birds are never taken in a fowler's snare. What is all that we enjoy here on earth; but as a dying spark—of that living flame! as a languishing ray—of that illustrious sun! or as a small drop—of that overflowing spring!
"You love Him, though you have not seen Him. And though not seeing Him now, you believe in Him and rejoice with inexpressible and glorious joy!" If there is so much delight in believing—oh, how much is there in beholding! What is the wooing day, compared to the wedding day! What is the sealing of the will, compared to the enjoyment of the inheritance! What are the foretastes of glory, compared to the fullness of glory! The good things of that life are so great—as not to be measured; they are so many—as not to be enumerated; and so precious—as not to be estimated!
If the picture of holiness is so lovely—in its rough draft; how lovely a piece will it be—in all its perfections! Every grace which is here seen in its minority—shall be seen there in its maturity.