The Consistent Christian
William Secker, 1660
Having dispatched that which is doctrinal—I now come to the discussion of that which is practical. And I shall here propose two considerations:
Firstly, for the erection of singular principles
Secondly, the direction of singular practices
I. PRINCIPLESwhich a believer should walk by.
Natural men obey natural principles—and spiritual men obey spiritual principles. No man can expect that bitter roots—should produce sweet fruits. Though civil principles may be kindled at the torch of nature—yet sacred principles are lighted at the blaze of Scripture. Now there are twenty singular principles which I shall consider, as the rise and spring of singular practices.
1. The first principle which believers walk by is this: that whatever is transacted by men on earth—is eyed by the Lord in heaven.
A man may hide God from himself—and yet he cannot hide himself from God. This, even a prodigal could acknowledge, "I have sinned against heaven—and in your sight." When a man wishes God to be like himself—it argues that he is wicked; but when he desires to be like God—it indicates that he is virtuous.
A false God—would be most acceptable to a false heart. For, "Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men's hands." They have mouths—but they speak not for our direction; they have eyes—but they cannot see our condition; they have ears—but they cannot hear our supplication; they have hands—but they cannot work our redemption. These were not the gods that made men—but the gods that men made.
"All things are naked and open before the eyes of him, with whom we have to do." We cannot always see his will in his works—but he can always discover our works in our will. To him the most hidden roots are as visible—as the uppermost branches. Though the place where we sin, is to men as dark as Egypt—yet to God, it is as light as Goshen. That advice which one gave to his friend privately—is worthy to be adapted publicly. "So act towards men—as in the sight of God; and so pray to God—as in the sight of men." He is a bold thief—who will cut your purse while you look in his face!
"All a man's ways seem right in his own eyes—but the Lord weighs the motives." The Lord sees faults—where men see none. Atoms which are invisible in the candle light of reason—are all made to dance naked in the sun-shine of omniscience! Cato was so grave and so good a man, that none would behave wrongly in his presence: whence it grew to a proverbial caution, "Take heed what you do—for Cato sees you!" How reproachful is it to us—that the eyes of a man should have more effect upon our actions—than the penetrating eyes of God!
God has a clear window into the darkest houses. He sees what is done in them, when none other can. To God's omnipotence, there is nothing impossible; and to God's omniscience, there is nothing invisible. I never look for those people to strain at gnats—who will easily and greedily swallow camels.
What is the reason that men do the works of darkness—but that they think they do their works in thick darkness? They suppose that no eye sees them—no, not God's eye, which does nothing else but see. "Yet you say—What does God know? Can He judge through thick darkness? Clouds veil Him—so that He cannot see!" Ah, how gladly would the hand of man—draw a veil over the face of God!
A sinful man—would be an unseen man! "Pay attention, you stupid people! Fools, when will you be wise? Can the One who shaped the ear—not hear? Can the One who formed the eye—not see?" What, will you make him deaf—who gives you ears! Will you make him blind—who gives you eyes! This is acting like a beast among men; and not as a man among beasts. But, "The Lord knows the thoughts of man; he knows that they are futile!" Foolish men think that God does not know the vanity of their thoughts. This is the vainest thought of them all!
Reader, you cannot set down your lusts, in such characters—but what the eyes of God can read them! As he can save in the greatest extremity, so he can see in the deepest obscurity. Though we cannot see God while we live—yet he can see how we live. "His eyes are on the ways of men; he sees their every step. There is no dark place, no deep shadow, where evildoers can hide." Man may gild over the leaves of a blurred life, with the profession of holiness; but God can unmask the painted Jezebel of hypocrisy, and lay her naked to her own shame!
Because sin has put out our eyes, we vainly imagine—that it has put out God's eyes! Because we cannot see what God does in heaven for us; we think, that he cannot see what we do on earth against him.
Men do not care what sins they do—when they believe that God does not see what sins are done. "They kill the widow and the foreigner, and murder the fatherless. They say—The Lord does not see it. The God of Jacob does not pay attention!"
The adulterer waits for the twilight. His sin gets up—when the sun goes down. The time of darkness, pays most tribute to the prince of darkness. There are many that blush to confess their faults, who never blush to commit them. When poor Adam had sinned, he sought not the fairest fruits to satisfy his hunger—but the broadest leaves to cover his nakedness.
It is God's gracious eye placed upon us—which makes us pious; and it is our believing eye fixed on him—which keeps us pious. What servant is there—who would pilfer, under the view of his master? What soldier would appear a coward, in the presence of his prince?
2. Another principle by which a Christian should walk, is this: that after all his present receivings—he will be brought to his future reckonings.
Thus the certain rich man dealt with his steward, "Give an account of your stewardship, for you may be no longer steward!" Man's enjoyment of outward blessings, is not a lordship but a stewardship. God communicates those good things of life to men—not that they should lay them up for their own vanity—but that they should lay them out for his glory. The richest man had as poor a beginning—as the poorest; and the poorest will have as rich an end—as the wealthiest.
"So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom." Augustine says, "We can never do that—unless we number every day, as our last day." Many put their last day—far away. They refuse to leave the earth, when the earth is about to take its leave of them. People of the greatest eminence, have anciently had their monitors—to remind them of their mortality. Agathocles, a Sicilian Prince, had his earthen plate set before him, to remind him that he had been a potter. The Roman triumphers in the meridian of their splendor, had a servant behind them, crying to each, "Remember that you are only a man!"
Men, who are gods in office—are too apt to think themselves gods in essence; but the change of the name, can make no change in the man. The royal Psalmist, who was raised to princely dignity, ridicules such a haughty prince's vanity, "I have said, you are gods—but you will die like mere men; you will fall like every other ruler." All human divinity, will soon be shrouded in mortality; and those who would appear as gods before men—shall soon appear as men before God.
Death levels the highest mountains—with the lowest valleys. Death mows down the fairest lilies—as well as the foulest thistles. The robes of illustrious princes, and the rags of destitute peasants, are both laid aside in the wardrobe of the grave. As the cloud and pillar which led Israel through the wilderness, left them on the brink of Jordan—so shall all the glittering shows of life be forgotten, in the solemn article of death!
Then those ungodly mortals, who were determined not to approach the throne of grace—shall be obliged to appear before the throne of judgment. "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad."
At the shrill voice of the last trumpet, every jailor shall deliver up all his prisoners. Now we see the living fall into the arms of death; but then we shall behold the dead awake, and rise to an unchanging life! Then the scattered dust of all Adam's children, shall ride upon the wings of the wind, until it meets together in its own bodies. Then the purchased bodies of saints, shall be claimed by their heavenly owner. "But your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy. Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead."
All the various animals which have feasted on human flesh—shall then find that their food was too rich for digestion. The bellies of beasts and whales, are not to be always the bed of God's Jonahs. Death will cut us down—but he shall not eternally keep us down. Now the same glorious person, who shall come to raise the dead, will also come to judge the dead. "In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel." The same rule which God has given the world to act by—the same rule has he taken to himself to judge by. Reader, if you obstinately and finally disobey the precious Word of God—revealed from heaven to you; you must suffer the eternal wrath of God—revealed from heaven against you. Though you may now obstinately resist the judgments which he sets before your eyes; yet you cannot then resist those judgments, which he will angrily pour out upon your souls.
Poor sinner, will you yet so willfully embrace those poisonous vipers, your lusts, which will so assuredly sting you with the pains of eternal damnation? Why will you rashly pursue anything in this world, which will subject you to the intolerable curse of God in the eternal world? "God has appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness, by that man whom he has ordained." It is the Son of man—by whom the believing world was redeemed; and it will be by the same Son of man—that the whole world shall be judged. He who was guarded to the cross, by a band of soldiers—shall soon be attended to the bench, by a shining company of angels!
The ancient Thebans pictured their judges without eyes—that they might not favor persons; and without hands—to denote that no bribes should be received. "But the Judge of all the earth shall do right." The wills of human judges, are to be regulated by the laws to of righteousness; but so glorious is the heavenly judge, that even the laws of righteousness are regulated by his will. As all his works are great and marvelous—so are all his ways just and righteous.
Reader, there will be no possibility of standing before Christ—but by standing in Christ. What hopes can you entertain of an acquittal at the final judgment, if your conscience condemns you before you appear at the bar?
Those who freight their minds with carnal pleasures, will one day be condemned for carrying contraband commodities. "Be happy, young man, while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see." This were brave indeed, if it could but be secured forever: but alas, after the flash of lightning—then comes the dreadful clap of thunder, "But know that for all these things—God will bring you to judgment!" This is just as if God had said, "Well, poor sinner, run down the hill as fast as you please; but know, that you will be sure to break your neck at last!"
This is the day of God's long-suffering—but the judgment day will be the day of the sinner's long-suffering. Here the cords of patience, do, as it were, tie the hands of vengeance; but our Samson will at last be roused, and break all these cords, and then, woe be to all the Philistines! Sinners may have sparing patience exercised towards them—and yet, not have converting grace revealed in them. All such, at the world's end—will be at their wit's end.
He who now shakes his sword over the hardened sinner's head—will in the great day, sheathe it in his heart! In the awful storm of death, if his vessel be wrecked—there will be no plank to swim to shore upon. "Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?"
Thus, all who refuse and reject him as a refining fire—must be obliged to meet, and feel him as a consuming fire! How can they endure the wrath of the Lamb, who have consistently disregarded the death of the Lamb? If the night of death finds them graceless—the day of judgment will find them speechless!
Peter informs us of some, who deridingly challenge God to come to judgment, "In the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say—Where is this 'coming' he promised?" These cowards may boast and discharge the artillery of their venom, and appear as conquering heroes now; but when God appears with his naked sword, they will wish for the wings of the wind, with which to make their escape!
As a dying man has generally a short resurgence before his departure; and as an expiring candle gives a brighter glare when just going out, so these, in their boasted security—will be surprised with eternal misery! As God's mercy lets no service pass unregarded—so God's justice lets no sin pass unrevenged. He who now takes no account of his coming—will have a sad account to give at his coming.
One observes, that the resurrection of the body, is placed between the forgiveness of sins, and everlasting glory; to show, that only then can the resurrection of the body be a benefit, when remission of sin precedes it, and eternal life follows it.
It is reported of an Hungarian king, who being extremely dejected, was asked the cause of it by his brother, "O, I have been a great sinner against God!" said he, "and know not how I shall appear before him in judgment!" His brother ridiculed these his thoughts as too melancholy, and as unworthy of the king's thought. The king then made no further reply; but it was customary in that country, that if the executioner sounded a trumpet at any man's door, he was immediately to be brought forth to execution. The king, at midnight, sent the trumpeter to sound an alarm at his brother's door; which so terrified him, that he ran to the king with a trembling heart, a pale and frightful countenance, and besought him to make known, wherein he had offended him. "O brother," said the king, "you have never displeased me; but if the sight of my executioner is so dreadful in your eyes, what must the sight of God's be in mine!"
Reader, if you have uniformly lifted up your rebellious hand against Christ—how will you be able to lift up your guilty head before Christ? "For God will bring every act to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil!" If men were to be their own judges—they would never be just judges. But God shall bring every work into judgment. As God is too merciful to condemn the innocent—so he is too just to acquit the guilty!
"For by your words you shall be justified—and by your words you shall be condemned." Though the arrows of idle words, may be shot out of sight for a season; yet they will certainly hereafter, fall down upon the heads of those who discharged them! Reader, if your servant is capable of offending you by his words—is it not as reasonable to suppose that you are capable of offending God with your evil words? "Out of the same mouth proceed both blessing and cursing." There is nothing better—than a good tongue; and there is nothing worse—than an evil tongue. Jesus Christ, will in the great day, pass a sentence—upon every sentence that has passed.
There is in the same rose—honey for the bee, and poison for the spider. The same person who shall say, "Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world!" will also say, "Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels!"
As both blessing and cursing proceed out of the mouth of the same man—so both blessing and cursing will come out of the mouth of the same Christ! Man's curse is a curse of wicked execration—but Christ's curse is a curse of righteous execution.
As the same wind—may send one vessel into the haven, and sink another in the ocean; so shall the same voice of Christ—doom the sinner to eternal damnation, and welcome the saint to eternal salvation! That same gate which is opened for a citizen to go abroad for recreation, may also be opened for a malefactor to go out to execution!
Reader, how sad is that tragedy—which shall never be ended! On the stage of eternity, the rich man's bags will be emptied—to see how the poor man's box has been filled. Then the charge of the pilgrim's journey, will be examined in the steward's accounts. Ah, how can you hear the doleful knell of an everlasting funeral! Will those transient glances at former prosperity, lessen the intolerable weight of eternal calamity? The wheat and the chaff may grow together—but they shall not always lie together. There may be but of a few moments of breathing, between the sinner—and his everlasting burning! The day of retribution, will prove to him a day of separation. While the wheat is secured in the garner—the tares are consumed in the fire!
Sinner, if you now hold the righteous in derision—you would then give a thousand worlds to be their companion! Then their enjoyments will be incomparably pleasant—while your torments shall be intolerably painful. The sea of damnation will not be sweetened with a drop of compassion! If once you fall into hell, after millions of ages are elapsed, you will be as far from coming out, as you were at going in! There will not be a sinner in heaven—to interrupt the joys of saints; nor will there be a saint in hell—to soften or soothe the anguish of sinners! Those who have the ear-mark of election, and those who have the hand-mark of transgression, shall be put into separate folds.
How will those magistrates appear, who have stained the sword of authority, with the blood of innocency? They have turned its back against the wicked, and whet its edge against the righteous. Many an unjust judge, who now sits confidently on the bench—will then stand tremblingly at the bar!
How will those ministers appear—who like the dog and wolf—combine to macerate and fleece the flock! Who instead of treading out the corn, tread it down! Who instead of nurturing the child—have strangled the child!
How will fair-faced, gilded professors appear—when they shall be found no better than hell's freeholders! How will they appear—when the painted sepulcher shall be opened—and the dead men's bones disclosed! They will not be judged by the whiteness of their hands—but by the blackness of their hearts! The black hand—must then part with its white glove! That solemn day of judgment, will be too critical—for the hypocritical. All those who now color for show—will then be shown in their own colors.
3. Another principle which believers should walk by, is this: that God bears a greater respect to their hearts—than he does to their works.
"The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." God looks most—where man looks least. We cannot trust God with too much—or ourselves with too little. God is our merciful keeper; the heart is our barbarous traitor.
"My son—give Me your heart!" Proverbs 23:24. God, who is all in all to us—calls for that which is all in all in us. We may commit our estates—into the hands of men; but we must not commit our hearts—into the hands of any but God. None of our hearts so good—but he deserves them; and none so bad—but he can refine them. On whom do parents bestow their hearts—but upon their children? And on whom should children bestow their hearts—but upon their parents?
Ah, how unwilling is man to give—what he has no right to keep! As God prefers the heart to everything, such is the wickedness of man—that he will give God anything, but the heart!
"This people draws near unto me with their mouth, and honors me with their lips—but their heart is far from me." Heartless operations, are but hearty deceptions. Men may keep their works to themselves, if they refuse to yield their hearts to Jesus Christ. He who regards the heart, without anything; he also will not regard anything, without the heart.
"I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship." He who makes all he has—has a right to have all he makes. The formalist is all for outward activity—and the pietist is all for inward sincerity. The formalist has nothing within him, therefore he is for that which is outward. The pietist has nothing without him, therefore he is for that which is inward. But it is not the pretense of inward sincerity, which can justify outward impiety. Nor will a show of outward piety—be an excuse for inward hypocrisy.
Though the brain is the spring of cognitive motion—yet the heart is the original spring of vital motion. The heart is the first that lives—and the last that dies. "Wash your heart from wickedness! How long shall vain thoughts lodge within you!" Jeremiah 4:13. Vain thoughts defile the heart—as well as vile thoughts. Snails leave their slime behind them—as well as serpents. If the mildew takes hold of a single thread—it will soon spread over the whole piece. Though sinful thoughts will rise—yet they must not reign. Though these foul birds may hover over the Christian's heart—yet he does not allow them to build their nests in it!
The devil knows, that if there is any choice treasure—it is in our hearts; and he would gladly have the key of these cabinets—that he might rob us of our jewels! A heart which is sanctified, is better than a tongue which is silvered. He who gives only the skin of worship to God—receives only the shell of comfort from God. It is not the bare touching of the strings, which makes an harmonious tune. A spiritual man may pray carnally—but a carnal man cannot pray spiritually. If God's mercies do not eat out the heart of our sins—our sins will soon eat out the heart of our duties! A work which is heartless, is a work which is fruitless. God cares nothing for the decorated cabinet—but for the precious jewel.
It is said of Hannibal, the great Carthaginian commander, that he was the first who went into the field of battle—and the last who came out of it. Thus should it be in all the operations of a Christian—the heart should be the first that comes into the house of God, and the last that goes out of it. In prayer, the heart should first speak the words—and then the words should speak the sentiments of the heart. If the heart is inditing a good matter—the tongue will then be as the pen of a ready writer.
It is observed of the spider, that in the morning, before she seeks her prey, she mends her broken web; and in doing this, she always begins in the middle. And shall those who call themselves Christians, rise and pursue the callings and profits of the world, and yet be unconcerned about the broken webs of their lives, and especially of their hearts?
Those who would have the wells run with wholesome water—should look well to the springs that supply them. The Christian's heart is the guest room—where the King of glory takes up his residence. That which is most worthy in us, should be resigned to him who is most worthy of us. Good words without the heart, are but flattery! And good works without the heart—are but hypocrisy! Though God pities stumbling Christians—yet he punishes halting hypocrites!
It is reported of Cranmer, that after his flesh and bones were consumed in the flames—his heart was found whole. A gracious man is clothed with sincerity—in the midst of his infirmities. "God is a spirit, and those who worship him, must worship him in spirit, and in truth." None can ever give him the heart of their services, unless they are enabled to give him their hearts in their services. The sorrowful sighing of the heart in worship—is preferable to the most elevated and harmonious voice. One is the production of grace—the other is the exertion of nature. Pride may be at the root of one—but God is the foundation of the other. One may ravish our ears—but the other ravishes God's heart!
It is said of the Lacedemonians, who were a poor and stupid people—that they offered lean sacrifices to their gods; and that the Athenians, who were a wise and wealthy people—offered fat and costly sacrifices. And yet in their wars, the Lacedemonians had always the mastery of the Athenians. Whereupon, the Athenians went to "the oracle" to know the reason why those should fare worst—who gave most. The oracle returned this answer to them, "That the Lacedemonians were a people, who gave their hearts to their gods; but that the Athenians only gave their gifts to their gods." Thus a heart without a gift—is better than a gift without a heart!
Religion is a sacrifice—but the heart is the altar upon which it must be offered. As the body is at the command of the head which rules it; so should the soul be at the command of God, who gives it. For a man to take his body to the service of God, and leave his soul behind him—is as if a person should send his garments stuffed with straw, instead of making a personal appearance.
4. Another principle by which believers will walk, is this: that there is more final bitterness in reflecting upon sin—than there can be present sweetness in the commission of sin.
The 'ways of sin' may have popular approval—but they shall also have divine abhorrence marked upon them. This Delilah may please us for a time—but she will betray us at last! Though Satan's apples may have a fair skin—yet they certainly have a bitter core! Methinks the flaming sword in one hand, and the golden scepter in the other hand—should guard us from the forbidden tree; and make our hearts like wet tinder to all the sparks of Satan.
Reader, if you behold nothing but pleasure in the commission of sin—you will experience nothing but the most dreadful pain in the conclusion of sin. "The wages of sin—is death." All workmen should have their wages; and those who employ you, it is but reasonable that they should pay you. But, however you may delight in the works of sin—you will by no means relish the wages of sin. Ah, what wise man would toil so long in sin's drudgery—whose wages are no better than eternal misery!
Though all sins are not equal in their nature—yet all sins are in their very nature, deadly. The candle of man's life is blown out—by the wind of his lusts! The corruption of nature tends to the dissolution of nature. When the plague was in the Jewish houses—they were immediately to be demolished. It is at that enemy, SIN—which God shoots all his arrows!
Reader, you began to be sinful—when you began to be mortal. If you had never had anything to do with sin—death could never have had anything to do with you. It can only be your impiety which divests you of the chartered blessings of immortality.
Sin is like a serpent in your bosom—which stings you! Sin is like a thief in your closet—who plunders you! Sin resembles poison in the stomach; or a sword to the heart—both of which tend to death! Like John's little book—sin may be sweet in your mouth—but it will be bitter in your belly! However fair iniquity might appear to some, it will only be found like a bleary-eyed Leah to God.
The foul dregs—lie at the bottom of the vessel. The golden cup of sin—is filled with the most poisonous ingredients! Sinner, that which is now like a rose flourishing in your bosom—will in a very little time be like a poisoned dagger at your heart! Poor soul, beware of those embraces—which are but signals of destruction. While such a Judas kisses—he kills! While the ivy twines round the oak—it eats out its sap.
If sin were not so delightful—it would not be so deceitful. Like a cunning angler—sin shows the bait, but conceals the hook! Now it presents its present painted beauty—but casts a covering over its future misery. Wickedness is certainly like a river which begins in a quiet spring—but ends in a tumultuous sea.
Every being produces its own likeness. "Do men gather grapes from thorns—or figs of thistles?" The grapes of tranquility cannot grow upon the thorns of impiety. Inward peace—can only be espoused to inward purity. A good way to have conscience untormented—is to have it undefiled. He who made you clean within—will also keep you calm within.
A saint cannot so sin as to destroy his grace—but he may so sin as to disturb his peace. The spider cannot destroy the bee-hive—but it may get in and spoil the honey. If you, O man, are found nibbling at the bait—you may justly expect the hook! O think, you who now boast in nothing so much as sin—that there is a time approaching when you will be ashamed of nothing but sin! You will be eternally sinful—but you cannot be eternally joyful. In hell, all that sugar will be melted, in which this bitter pill of sin was wrapped! Hell is too hot a climate for wanton delights to live in!
The pleasures of sin are but for a season—but the torments of unpardoned sin are of an eternal duration. Our first parents soon ate of the forbidden fruit—but the world to this day feels that it is not freed from the miserable consequence of that stolen apple!
Solomon exactly describes sin's rise and fall! "Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful, and the end of that mirth is grief." Death will turn all the waters of pleasure—into blood. The serpent of sensual delight—always carries a deadly sting in its tail! All the blaze of worldly pomp—will soon end in midnight darkness and horror!
Sinner, will gall and wormwood—ever make you pleasant wine? Will thick and poisonous vapors—ever yield you sweet and wholesome showers? If you pursue sin for profit—you will never profit by your sin.
O that England did but look with Scripture glasses, upon all its departing glories, and solemnly say, "If sin had not been here—our miseries would never have been here." It is better to make your lodgings in a bed of snakes—than in the forbidden bed of sinful lusts! Who would spread the silken sails of the mind—upon the pirate ship of wantonness?
When the pale horse of death goes before—the red horse of wrath follows after! When the sinner's body goes to the worms to be consumed—then his soul goes to hell to be tormented! A wise man knows, that it is far better to forego the pleasures of sin here—than to undergo the pains of wrath hereafter!
Reader, if you delight in sin, I wish you to remember, that your ill-doing, will shortly be your undoing. "What benefit did you reap at that time—from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death!" "There was a certain rich man who was splendidly clothed, feasting lavishly every day." What pleasure does Dives now reap in hell, from all the choice banquets he sat down to, on earth? "I am in agony in this fire!" The stench and torment of everlasting burnings—will take away the sweetest perfumes which ever covered sin! The stench and torment of everlasting burnings, will take away the sweetest perfumes which ever covered sin!
Young Joseph chose rather to be a bound prisoner for Christ, than to be an open slave to his lusts. "How can I do this wickedness—and sin against God!" It does not only grieve a saint, that God is displeased at what he does—but that he is dishonored by what he does. He is more distressed for sin which brings evil—than for the evil which sin brings.
When the mute son of Croesus saw his father's life in danger—he cried out so loud in his fright, that his tongue-strings broke, and he exclaimed, "Do not kill King Croesus!" Did Christ open his veins for our redemption, and shall not we open our mouths for his vindication? "The crown is fallen from our heads, woe unto us—that we have sinned." Sin is not only a monster, which unmans us; but it is also a tyrant, which uncrowns us. Nay, it not only takes the crown from off the sinner's head—but it also entails the curse upon the sinner's soul.
There are many who vainly suppose that the fountain of their sin is quite dried up, when alas, the streams are only turned into another channel. A hand taken off from sinful practices, without a heart taken off from sinful principles, is only like a field, which having for a time lain fallow, afterward springs up with greater increase! or it is like a stream which having been dammed for a while, at last runs with greater violence, when the sluices are opened!
4. Another singular principle for believers to walk by, is this: that there is the greatest vanity—in all created excellency.
"Vanity of vanities! Everything is vanity!" Ecclesiastes 1:2. If this truth were more believed—this world would be less adored.
A lady being once told, that the world, in all its glory, was but vanity; returned for answer, "True, I have heard that Solomon said so—but he tried it, before he said it, and so will I." Thus, many believe not a serpent to be poisonous, until they are envenomed with it! They forget, that it is not only vanity—but also vexation of spirit; and all who are resolved to try the former, must also feel the latter.
He who knocks at the creature's door for supplies—will find an empty house kept there! "All the rivers run into the sea—yet the sea is not full." Though all the rising streams of worldly profits may run into the hearts of men—yet they cannot fill up the hearts of men. Reader, did you ever hear a rich man complain of the lack of riches? Though he has enough to support him—yet he has not enough to content him!
"All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing." Ecclesiastes 1:8. Were it possible for the eye to see all that is to be seen—yet it would not be satisfied with seeing. If there is not enough in the world to satisfy the senses of men—how should there be enough in it to satisfy the souls of men? The earth is not a satisfying substance—but a fleeting shadow!
"For the fashion of this world passes away." The most excellent and flourishing appearances in the whole creation—are continually hastening to dissolution! We are commanded to use the world—as though we used it not; because while we use the world—it is not! The tide of worldly grandeur which brings the gallant ship into the haven, may suddenly leave her in the mud. The higher the sun of prosperity approaches on its meridian—the nearer it is to its setting.
O all you who caress the world, have you not seen some who have begun their lives in a palace—to end them in a prison? The golden chains about their necks—have been turned into iron fetters about their feet! The substance of this life, is but for the season of this life. All creature felicity will become a victim to mortality. You who feed upon golden dust—must have all your gold turned to dust! The short summer of your prosperity—will usher in the long winter of damnation. Those who now rejoice in the world, will before long—have no world wherein to rejoice. "Arise and depart; for this is not your rest, because it is polluted! It shall destroy you, even with a sore destruction." Heart's-ease is a flower which does not grow in the world's garden.
Where does that fish swim, which will not nibble at that hook, on which there hangs a golden bait? How many perish eternally—to gain that which perishes in the using.
Poor worldling, why do you seek for wealth with such incessant anxiety, seeing the greatest misers are laid as naked in their "long home"—as the poorest beggars? The tighter you grasp the world in your hands—the sooner it slides between your fingers. "For what is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world—and lose his own soul?" He who made this world—knew its worth. If the world is gained—it may be lost again; but if the soul be lost at death—it can never be recovered. There is one way to keep a man out of hell—but there is no way to get a man out of hell. It is as easy for a stone to lodge in the air—as for a man to find rest in the earth.
The greatest glory of this world is like a rotten post, which never shows its brightness but in the dark. How few are there who have resolved to ascend the pinnacle of honor—but what have left a good conscience at the bottom of the ladder! Believers themselves would be glutted with the world's sweets—if a gracious God were not to call them away from the banquet. Creature comforts, are like the soft morning dews, which, while they water the branches of the tree, leave the roots dry. Why should the professors be found eagerly pursuing those trifles—which even heathens have been found flying from? The world is rather a sharp brier to wound us—than a sweet flower to delight us.
As poison works more furiously in wine—than in water; so corruptions betray themselves more in a state of plenty—than they do in a state of poverty.
One compares this life to a beautiful nut, which, however fair it may seem—is full of nothing but worms and rottenness! The earth is for a saint's passage—but heaven is prepared for him as his portion. The earth is for a believer's use—but heaven alone, is a believer's choice. Everything below heaven—is too base for the soul's nobility, and too brittle for the soul's stability.
A professor boasting of the world—is but like a balloon filled with the wind. Those who set out at first, like Judas, for the world—may be put off at last, like Demas, with the world. "Son, remember that you, in your life time, received your good things." These blossoms will fall off from all such spreading trees—when death comes to shake the boughs!
The world is too frequently gotten with anxious cares, kept with alarming fears, and lost with heart-rending groans! We see the outside of the great estate—but not the inside of it. We behold the field of corn—but not the tares that are mixed with it. We do not always see the worldling's clouds and dark nights—but his clear day and sunshine. The riches, honors and pleasures of the world are like beautiful—but poisonous trees. The devil shows us the fair leaves, and offers us the pleasant fruits—but conceals from us their deadly nature!
The world pretends to be a nurse—but those who draw her breasts will find in one the water of vanity; and in the other the wind of vexation. It is counted miraculous to find a diamond in a vein of gold; but it is more miraculous to find a pure and precious Christ in the bosom of an earthly Christian.
When we have the least of creature enjoyments, it is then our duty to bless God for them. When we have most of creature enjoyments, it is then our distinguished privilege not to bless ourselves in them.
The world does us infinitely more hurt by loving it—than it can possibly do us good by having it. "Labor not for the food which perishes—but for that which endures to everlasting life." Ah, what a fool is he who would hazard a glorious crown above, for a single crumb below!
The higher the larks are in their flight—the sweeter are their songs. The higher a Christian is raised above the things of the earth—the more he is ravished with the joys of heaven. The least portion of grace—is preferable to a mountain of gold. One ray of God's mercy—is better than a sun of earthly pleasure! One whisper of love from Christ's voice—is worth more than all the symphony of nature. Give me that friend who lives forever, and that wealth which lasts forever! I desire those blessings which come freely, satisfy fully, and continue eternally!
"Surely every man walks in a vain show! Surely he is disquieted in vain. He heaps up riches—not knowing who shall gather them." Every carnal man walks in a vain show—and yet how vain is he of his show of vanity! He is disquieted in vain—and it is only vanity which disquiets him. He labors all his life for the profit of riches, and yet in death, his riches will not profit him. He who views an ox grazing in a fat pasture, concludes that he is but preparing for the day of slaughter!
Worldly enjoyments are but like hot waters, which, as some affirm, are soonest congealed in frosty weather. The greatest happiness of the creature—is not to have the creature for his happiness. It is far better not to have the world at all—than to have our all in the world. Who would be like the raven—to feed upon the carrion of this execrated world, while there is much more wholesome food for doves—in the ark? The world at best, is but a looking-glass; there is a face presented by it—but there is no face seated in it. When you have sifted out its finest flour—it turns to bran.
"Labor not to be rich." A strange paradox! If it were not for labor—who would be rich? And if it were not for riches—who would labor? But see what follows! "Will you set your eyes upon that which is not?" While riches are—they are not. They are not what they look like—they have not in them what we look for. But what are they not? They are not durables—but changeables. "Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone—for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle!" The gourd may flourish in the day—but it will wither at night.
The cup which now overflows with wine—may soon be filled up to the brim with water. When the sun of earthly happiness is in its meridian—it may be eclipsed. A man rejoices in health—and a severe illness shakes him. He delights in honor—and a cloud shadows him. He delights in riches—and a thief robs him. He delights in peace—and a rumor disturbs him. He delights in life—and death disappoints him!
The heavens at first had their dropsy—and then the old world was drowned. The heavens at last shall have their fever—and then the new world shall be burned.
The earth is big in our hopes—but little in our hands. It is like Sodom's apples, beautiful to the eye at a distance—but when they are touched, they crumble into ashes. "Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath." Wealth is worthless in the day of man's wrath—to preserve him from plundering. Wealth is worthless in the day of God's wrath—to keep him from punishment. Pleasures are but a shield of melting wax, against a sword of power; they can no more keep an evil conscience from tormenting, than a velvet sleeve can keep a broken arm from aching.
See how the men of the world toil upon their hands and knees for the vanities of the world! "There are many who say—Who will show us any good?" As if they could find a heaven—in the trifles of earth. That was an hard expression of an hardened worldling: "Let God but give me enough of the earth—and I will never complain of the loss of heaven." Thus we see the curse of the serpent—entailed upon the seed of the serpent. What God pronounces as a malediction—they take as a benediction!
"The devil took him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. "All this I will give you," he said, "if You will bow down and worship me." If a covetous man had been there, O how would he have catched the promise out of the devil's lips—lest he should have gone back from his word! Some are so enchanted with their golden bags, that they will run hastily to hell—if they might but be well paid with golden wedges for their pains. All such covetous Balaams—must fall by their own devices!
Covetousness is incompatible with the love of holiness. The truly excellent of the earth—can see no excellency in the earth. This world is no better than a loathsome dunghill, upon which the wealthy stand crowing—and about which the poor are scraping! If he alone is blessed—who lives above the world; then those cannot be blessed—who live in conformity to the world.
6. Another singular principle by which a Christian should walk, is this: that DUTIES can never have too much attention paid to them, or too little confidence placed in them.
The Christian owes nothing to his corruptions—but their crucifixion. "Therefore, brethren, we are debtors; not to the flesh—to live after the flesh." Where God becomes a donor—man becomes a debtor. The debt of sin is mercifully discharged for him—that the debt of service might be willingly discharged by him. Every created thing has its bounds—but grace has none. In true godliness—there is no excess. Those wells which are of God's digging—can never be too full of water. He delights to see the trees of righteousness, laden with the fruits of righteousness!
Though faith alone justifies the soul—yet that faith which justifies the soul, is not alone. Faith without good works—are like trees without their fruits. In proof of sanctification, good works cannot be sufficiently magnified! But in point of justification, good works cannot be sufficiently nullified! The lamp of duty can only shine clearly—as it is trimmed with the oil of mercy.
Some choice ship captains, when they have approached the shore, have left the bottom of merit, to sail in the bark of mercy, crying out, "Our greatest safety is to rest only in the mercy of God." The law of God is such a master as to require the whole task of duty without mitigation; and the mercy of God is so good a benefactor, as to be capable of pardoning every transgression without limitation. He who ignorantly trusts in his own righteousness—will feel God's angry sword! And he who, as lost and helpless, trusts in the mercy of God—shall be enabled to touch the golden scepter!
Most that perish, it is not their disease which kills them—but their physician! They think to cure themselves—and this leaves them incurable. Good works are so indigent—that no man can be saved by them! And yet are so excellent—that no man can go to heaven without them! It would be well for Christ's members—if it were with them as it is with skillful mariners, who have their eyes on the stars, and their hands at the stern! The self-righteous man is too prone to wrap himself in his religious duties! But this is making bad—worse! For he who vainly thinks to wipe off old scores by his merit—does but increase his enormous debt!
"Now we know that whatever things the law says, it says to those who are under the law—that every mouth may be stopped!" How shall any mouth be opened to plead guiltless—when God has stopped every mouth with its own guilt? It is in vain to stand up and plead innocence before him who is all eye—to see the blackest flesh, under the whitest feathers; and the foulest heart under the fairest act!
Reader, though good works may be our Jacob's staff to walk with on earth—yet they cannot be our Jacob's ladder to climb to heaven with! To lay the salve of our services upon the wound of our sins—is as if a man who is stung by a wasp should wipe his face with a nettle! Or as if a person should busy himself in supporting a tottering shack, with a burning fire-brand!
It is the greatest folly to expect profit—from that which is unprofitable. Could we have done all that was commanded us—yet, without the mercy of God, all that we could have done—would certainly undo us.
When the river fails us in its supplies of water, we then look up to the clouds for moisture. If Christ does not breathe into our religious services, it is impossible to grow under them. It was not the tempered clay which cured the blind man—but Christ's anointing his eyes therewith. The clay was more likely, without Christ—to make a seeing man blind—than a blind man see! Thus, though we may receive our spiritual sight in the ordinances—yet it is not the ordinances which give us sight.
It was not the troubling of the pool in Bethesda, which made it healing; but the coming down of the angel into it. That man must famish at last, who always feeds upon the dish—instead of the meat. There is no instruction to be gotten from the sun-dial of duty, except the Sun of Righteousness shines upon it.
Reader, it is dangerous for you to take shelter in your own righteousness; for the lightning of divine vengeance, which flashes before you; and the curses of the law, which thunder around you—may suddenly shake your house down upon you. As fast as you lay on your own plasters—a spiritual conscience will rub them off again. Nothing but the grace of the gospel—can perfectly heal the wounds which a broken law has made. Though at the command of Christ—you may let down the net; yet it is only by the blessing of Christ—that you can enclose a profitable draught.
Christian people judge that, as they can never see God according to the greatness of his majesty—so they can never serve him according to the greatness of his mercy.
When Paul wrote to Philemon concerning his receiving his servant Onesimus back, he used this argument to prevail with him, "You owe unto me, even your own self." Thus man not only owes his services—but also himself to God. No man can merit a reward—by paying his debts; much less can a sinner merit mercy—by being an insolvent debtor.
The body of a man can as soon labor incessantly without food—as the soul of a Christian can live continually without ordinances. Paul's religion was dearer to him than his life, "I consider my life worth nothing to me—if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me." Jesus Christ laid down his precious life—to secure the possession of heaven for man; and shall man refuse to lay out his life—in pursuing the glories of heaven? Was heaven worth Christ's passion—and shall it not be worth our seeking? Alas, what is our sweat—compared to his blood!
What could Jesus do more—than to die for us! What can we do less—than to live for him! "To whom much is given—of them much shall be required."
You cannot fathom all the good which He has bestowed upon you—nor all the evil which He has forgiven you! Such is his goodness—that he deserves infinitely more from you than he demands of you.
If heaven could be obtained by human endeavors, then heaven must either be of little worth, or the endeavors must be of great value. But he who puts an estimate upon all things according to their true value, has said, "When you have done everything which was commanded, you should say—We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which was our duty to do." We are not only unprofitable when all is to be done—but when all has been done. We are unprofitable to God, because he is necessarily and eternally blessed without us! We are not profitable to ourselves, because without him we shall be everlastingly cursed in ourselves!
It is our bounden duty—to live in obedience; but it will prove our utter ruin—to live on obedience. Heaven is either the gift of mercy, or the reward of duty. If the latter, Christ died in vain; but if the former, we boast in vain. "Fear not, little flock—for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." Thus we see that heaven is not the product of man's labor—but the token of God's good pleasure.
Many proud sinners will labor hard in the storms of life, and hurricanes of death, rather than cry with Peter, "Lord, save me—I perish!" But God is determined that every person shall die a malefactor, who dies without a mediator. The dignity of good works does not lie in their merit—but in God's grace alone; for were he to examine and estimate them according to the rigor of the law, and separate from Christ—instead of their being valuable as refined gold, they would be as despicable as worthless tinsel!
Our highest perfections are darkened with the blackest shades of imperfection. If Christ is not the foundation of our perfection on earth, he will not be the top-stone of our salvation in heaven. Reader, what person would thank you—for holding a candle to assist the light of the sun? Or what prince would praise you—for setting a dirty pebble in his crown of precious diamonds? How then can it be supposed that those works which are pregnant with evil—can be pleasing to God?
If man lays too much weight upon the pillars raised by his own hands—he will pull the building upon his own head! God, who cannot lie, has said, "So then, it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs—but of God who shows mercy." It is not of him who wills—though he wills ever so heartily; nor of him who runs—though he runs ever so hastily. Man's crown of glory—is only made by the hand of God's mercy. Man's working is not the cause of God's grace—but God's grace is the cause of man's working! The creature may do something against grace—but he can do nothing without it. It is dangerous to hang the weight of eternity—upon the slender threads of our activity. The boundless life of felicity—flows only from the bottomless love of the Deity.
7. Another principle by which a believer should walk, is this: that those precious promises, which are given to insure his happiness—do not supersede those directions which are laid down for him to seek after happiness.
"Thus says the Lord—I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel—to do it for them." As those under the law—were not without a gospel to save them; so those who are under the gospel—are not without a law to rule them. There is the same impropriety in divorcing those who are united—as in uniting those who are divorced.
"Ask—and it shall be given you; seek—and you shall find; knock—and it shall be opened unto you." Continued gospel importunity—is the most powerful oratory. Man's importunity, has no meritorious claim upon God. God has a right to the former—but we have no right to the latter. He who enables us to find him—enjoins us to seek him. The Lord delights, neither to see us slothful seekers—nor doubtful seekers.
He who refuses to hear the voice of Christ—shall never see the face of Christ! "He who says he abides in Christ; ought himself also so to walk, even as Christ walked." Then only, does the watch of our lives move regularly—when the hand of mercy winds it up. The law condemns those as criminals, who lay claim to the royal crown—when they are not of royal blood. Many would be like Christ in bliss—who would not be like him by grace. They are willing to have those promises which confirm them in happiness—but dislike those precepts which are to regulate their conduct!
"The Lord is our Judge, the Lord is our Lawgiver, the Lord is our King—he will save us." Wherever the Lord is a priest for pardon—he is a prince for dominion. He is always a Ruler—where he is a Savior. As Jesus Christ is the foundation of our happiness—so is he the fountain of all our holiness. Reader, remember, if Christ be not a refiner's fire, in you; he will be a consuming fire, to you! "But bring here these enemies of mine, who did not want me to rule over them—and slaughter them in my presence!" Thus, if you refuse him to reign over you—he will refuse you to reign with him.
"As many as walk according to this rule—peace be on them." To tread in any other path on earth—is to miss the one way to heaven. If the golden chains of love to God—do not bind you to duty; the iron chain of God's wrath—will bind you to eternal misery! He who abuses his liberty in this world—will forever lose it in the eternal world.
"Blessed are those who do his commandments—that they may have right to the tree of life." To look upon a precept without a promise—is the high road to desperation. To look upon a promise without a precept—is the high road to damnation. The promise is like the cork in the net—to preserve it from sinking. The precept is like lead to the net—to keep it from floating.
A believer is like the mariner's compass; which is governed by the constant heavens—and not by the variable winds. Reader, will you make him a stumbling stone—whom God has made a foundation stone? Remember, the fire can consume the dross—as well as refine the gold. The strength of a rock is seen not only in supporting the house which is built upon it—but in breaking the ships which dash against it. The pillar of cloud was as dreadful in the darkness it gave to the Egyptians—as it was glorious in the light it gave to the Israelites!
Whenever Christ takes the burden of guilt from a sinner's shoulders—he then lays a yoke of obedience upon his neck. Though God can give a pardon to the greatest sin—yet he cannot grant a patronage to the least sin. To be lascivious, because God is gracious—what is this, but to drown yourself in that river—in which you should wash yourself! To live a life of gospel obedience—is the liberty of God's children. But to give your licentious appetite the reins—is the bondage of Satan's slaves!
That soul was never related to Christ—who was never devoted to Christ. "Not everyone who says unto me, Lord, Lord—shall enter the kingdom of heaven; but only he who does the will of my Father, who is in heaven." Subjection to the will of God, is not only a test of our present duty—but it is also an evidence of our future glory! To expect to see God in heaven, and not to seek him on earth—is as foolish, as if a gardener should leave his plough into the barn, and then look for a rich harvest.
Sitting birds are the fowler's targets; while those which soar as the eagle are in safety. When men are out of the way of their worldly callings—it is easy to call them out of their heavenly way. God works with—and without means. With means—that man should not be indolent. Without means—that he should not be self-confident. Jacob makes his prayers to his heavenly Father—and yet present his gifts to his angry brother. David went out against Goliath in the name of the God of Israel—and yet went to the brook to fetch stones for his sling. The sword of Joshua must go with the prayers of Moses—and the prayers of Moses accompany the sword of Joshua. Had they fought and not prayed—they would have obtained no victory, because God will not be neglected. Had they prayed and not fought—they would have obtained no victory, because God will not be tempted.
"This is he who came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ." He did not come by water without any blood—or by blood without any water. He came not to pardon—and to leave the soul unpurged. Nor did he come to merely purge—and to leave the soul unpardoned. Wherever the death of Christ clears a soul from guilt—the spirit of Christ cleanses that soul from filth. A man may be justified without immediate glorification; but not without attendant sanctification. The law by which God rules us—is as dear to him, as the gospel by which he saves us.
Many would use faith as an eye to see with—but not as a foot to walk with. They look for the crown of victory—but are unwilling to fight the good fight of faith. That faith which sets men to oppose their internal enemies—sets God also to oppose their external adversaries. Prayer is the midwife of the promises! The promises are wells of comfort to the church—and believing prayer is the cup to draw the water out of the wells!
8. Another principle by which a believer should walk, is this: that it is dangerous dressing himself for the heavenly world—by the looking-glass of this present world.
"You shall not follow a multitude—to do evil." Exodus 23:2. Satan's herd of swine—is larger than Christ's flock of sheep! Let them be ever so mighty—they are not to be feared. Let them be ever so many—they are not to be followed. To infer that way to be the truest which is the largest—is to conclude upon the quality of the cloth—by the size of the cloth.
Remember—the multitude of people, are like the droves of cattle—which go to the slaughter! "Though the people of Israel are as numerous as the sand on the seashore—only the remnant will be saved." The whole piece belongs to the devil—but God cuts off a remnant for himself! There are many birds of prey—to one bird of paradise. Pebbles lie abundant in the streets—but pearls are rare to find.
The Scripture not only presents us with an account of the purity of those who shall be saved—but also with the smallness of their number. "You can enter God's Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose the easy way. But the gateway to life is small, and the road is narrow, and only a few ever find it!" Matthew 7:13-14. "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom!" Luke 12:32.
The Persians thought a crooked nose was a great ornament, because the face of their Emperor had a crooked nose. Great men's vices are more imitated—than poor men's graces. The ill humors of the head—may consume the vital organs of the body. Inferiors love to go the way—which superiors are accustomed to go. The actions of their rulers—are too much the rule of the people. Such people conceive by the eye—like Jacob's sheep, which brought forth their lambs suitable to the color of the rods. Those who follow after others in sinning—will be sure to follow them in suffering! Alas, then the greatness of the multitude—will not extinguish the fierceness of the flame! The number of those immortal faggots—will but intensify the fury of the eternal fire!
"Many are called—but few are chosen." It is not, many are chosen—and few called; but many are called—and few are chosen. Sinners are certainly the greatest company—but they are also the worst company. Though the nature of believers is the greatest—yet their numbers are the smallest.
One said that, "All the names of the good emperors, might be engraved on a little ring." I will not say there are not any godly men who are great—but I will say, that there are not many great men who are godly. The trees of righteousness are thinly planted in the world's orchard. As in one righteous man there are many sins—so to one godly man—there are many wicked sinners!
The generality of people, will rather walk in the way that most people go—than in the way that the best people go. They are like dead fish, which float down the stream, wherever it runs; or like the water, which takes the fragrance of the vessel in which it is contained.
The 'voice of the people'—is often the voice of the devil. Whatever is engraved upon the seal—is imprinted upon the wax. If we will not have the people of the world to be our leaders—we shall be sure to have them as our troublers. If they cannot seduce us into their evil way—they will oppose us in our holy way. If they cannot scorch us with their fire—they will try to blacken us with their smoke. They will speak evil of us—because we do not run into the same excess of evil with them. Because we refuse to play the fool with them—they will say that we are mad.
Those who would arrive where the righteous now are—should be found in the road in which they once were. "Be followers of those, who through faith and patience, inherit the promises." What is the reason that there are so many scribbling professors in the world—but that they write after such imperfect copies! The best of men—are but men, at the best. It is better to imitate an evil man in that which is good—than imitate a good man in that which is evil.
Paul said, "Be followers of me." But his exhortation has its limitation— "Even as I am a follower of Christ." Where he follows Christ—there we must follow him. But if a Paul forsakes Christ, we must forsake even Paul! That was a good saying of Thomas More, "I will not pin my faith upon any man's sleeve, because I know not where he will carry it."
Believers have not only infirmities which are natural—but they have also such as are sinful. Noah was no sooner delivered from a deluge of water—than he was drowned in a deluge of wine!
The failings of Christians do not flow from a want of grace—but from a weakness in grace; not from their depravity of spirit—but from the corruptions of the flesh. As they are not what they have been—before conversion; so they are not altogether what they would be—after conversion. Those roses which are now in blossom—shall hereafter be fully blown! And the stars which are yet concealed under a cloud—shall be seen in a clear sky.
Those are but suspicious Christians, who will approve all which believers do. Their lives must be followed no further—than they agree with the Scripture.
He is a rotten professor, who says in his heart, "Why may not I be drunk as well as Noah, and commit adultery as well as David?" Did you ever hear of any who plucked out their eyes—because others were smitten with blindness? Or of any who cut off their legs—because others went on crutches?
If you have sinned as David and Noah did—you should also mourn as they did! Their sinss are not for our imitation—but for our caution. They are not land-marks to direct travelers—but sea-marks to warn mariners. If a man finds a piece of gold covered with dust—will he preserve the dirt, and throw away the gold?
"You have heard of the patience of Job." Yes, and of his impatience also! Instead of cursing the sin with which he was born, he cursed the day in which he was born!
You have heard of the meekness of Moses, and yet this even thread was not without its knots. While he is bringing water out of the rock—he is also fetching fire out of his own heart!
Peter not only forsook his Lord—but also forswore him. Who would ever have suspected, that he who had his name from an immovable rock—should have proved such a shaken reed!
Reader, if you do not turn your back upon Egypt—you will fall short of the land of Canaan!
When God comes to pass sentence, he will bring every sinner to the bar. His laws are not like spider's webs—which keep the little flies prisoners—but which the greater will break with smaller struggles.
Though man may have many under him upon earth—yet he has one in heaven who is above him. "The Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where are you?" Not, where were you? but where are you? Oh how quickly have you forfeited that inheritance, which I so lately settled on you in paradise! "The woman whom you gave to he with me, she gave me of the tree—and I ate." Because she put it into his hands-was that any reason why he should put it into his mouth?
The monsters of sin are so hateful when they are brought forth—that we are unwilling to own them ourselves; therefore we lay them at the doors of others.
The stable mountains are not so firm—but they may be removed by fearful earthquakes. Those saints who have been as the greatest stars or suns, have at times had their sad eclipses.
9. Another principle by which a believer should walk, is this: That wherever sin proves hateful—it shall not prove hurtful.
What an apology does a sorrowful Savior make for his sleeping saints! "The spirit is willing—but the flesh is weak!" Take a carnal man, and what he can do—that he will not do. Take a Christian man, and what he would do—that he cannot do.
God will pity impotency—but he will punish obstinacy. God has mercy for his own can-nots—but none for the devil's will-nots! Adam's want was rather in his will—than in his power; but a saint's want is rather in his power—than in his will. "O that my ways were directed to keep your statutes!" A saint's will begins where his work ends.
"Lord, I believe—help my unbelief!"
Lord, I see—but enlighten my darkness!
Lord, I hear—but cure my deafness!
Lord, I move—but quicken my dullness!
Lord, I desire—but help my unwillingness!
In playing over a tune upon an instrument, a single string may jar and slip, and yet the main be musical. It would be folly, indeed, to think that our fields have no grain in them—because there is some chaff about the wheat; or that the ore had no gold in it—because there is some dross among it. In heaven there is service alone—without any sin; in hell there is sin alone—without service; but on earth, there is sin and service in the same man—as there is light and shade in the same picture.
Christian Reader! to condemn your evil—is good; but to condemn your good—is evil. Here believers are like the Israelites, who in their darkest night—had a pillar of fire; and in their clearest day—had a pillar of a cloud. Above us—there is light without any darkness; below us—there is darkness without any light; but in this world—it is neither day nor night—but in the evening time it shall be light.
Though the lowest believer is above the power of sin—yet the highest believer is not above the presence of sin! It is in a living Christian that sin is to be mortified—but it is only in a dying Christian that sin is to be destroyed.
When the body and the soul are separated by mortality—sin and the soul, will be separated to eternity! Though a forced subjection is sufficient to satisfy a tyrant; yet it is only a sincere obedience which is true homage to a king.
Sin never ruins—but where it reigns. Sin is not damning—where it is disturbing. The more trouble sin receives from us—the less trouble sin does to us. Sin is only a murderer—where it is a governor.
The rose is a fragrant flower, though it be surrounded with piercing thorns. The Passover was a feast, though the Israelites ate it with bitter herbs.
There is always too much of the wild olive tree—in those who are engrafted into the true olive tree. Our graces are our best jewels—but they do not yield their brightest luster in this world. The moon, when she shines brightest—has its spots; and the fire, when it burns the hottest—has its smoke.
"I said in my haste, I am cut off from before your eyes; nevertheless you heard the voice of my supplication." Who would have thought those prayers should ever have had any prevalency in God's ear—which were mixed with so much infidelity in the petitioner's heart?
Sin is an enemy at the Christian's back—but not a friend in his bosom. Although believers should be mournful—because they have infirmities; yet they should be thankful—because they are but infirmities. It is true they have sin in them—and that should make them sorrowful. But it is just as true, that they have a Savior for them—and that should make them joyful. It is not the interposition of a cloud—but the departure of the sun, which constitutes a night.
Take the purest believer in the world, and you will find him fuller of sin—than he is of prayer. There is too much of the earth—in his most heavenly employments. But as Alexander's painter could find a finger to conceal the scar on his master's face—so when Jesus Christ draws the picture of the saint's excellency, he can find a covering for all the scars of his infirmities.
The Savior looks over that which is his own—and overlooks that which is his people's. Where there is no sin allowed by them—there shall be grains of allowance to them. God will not throw away his jewels—for every speck of dirt which may be on them!
Though Christ honors grace in its maturity—yet he owns it in its minority. "You of little faith—why did you doubt?" Poor Peter had faith enough to keep him from drowning—but not enough to keep him from doubting. The least buds draw sap from the root—as well as the greatest branches. Though one star exceeds another in magnitude—yet both are alike seated in the heavens. Though one member of the body is larger than another—yet each has an equal union with the head.
The conduct of a Christian may sometimes be spotted with infirmity—when the heart is sound in the love of sanctity. Jacob halted—and yet was blessed. As his blessing did not take away his halting—so his halting did not keep away his blessing.
Hagar will have a room in Sarah's house—until death turns her out of doors. As death leaves the body soulless—so it leaves the soul sinless. "For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have." God does not expect the pump to run with pleasant water—where there is none put into the cistern.
The heavenly Bridegroom will not put out a believer's candle—because of the dimness of its burning; nor will he overshadow a believer's sun—because of the weakness of its shining.
Though that vice may be found in us, for which he might justly damn us; yet that grace is to be found in him, by which he can easily save us. He does not come with water to extinguish the fire—but with wind to disperse the smoke!
"The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination unto the Lord!" because the incense savors of the hand which offers it! Not only the wicked man's design's against the godly are sinful—but all his prayers to God are also hateful. Not so for the righteous; for, the prayer of the upright is God's delight. If the vessel of the heart is clean—God will taste of the sweet wine which is drawn from it! "O My dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the crevices of the cliff—let me see your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely!"
10. Another principle that a Christian should walk by, is this: That inward purity is the ready road to outward plenty.
That is but a hell-made proverb, "Plain dealing is a jewel—but he who adheres to it shall die a beggar."
Though true religion is against our sloth—yet it is not against our interest. Oh what rich clusters of grapes hang all along our way to Canaan! True religion is so bountiful a master—that none need be afraid of becoming its servant. "Seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall he added unto you!" Our work below is the best done—when our work for above is the first done. He who has most of heaven in his heart—has not always the least of earth in his hand.
"The young lions lack and suffer hunger—but those who seek the Lord shall not lack any good thing." As they would feel no evil thing within, so they shall lack no good thing without.
He who freely opens the upper spring—will never wholly close the nether springs. There shall be no silver lacking in Benjamin's sack—while Joseph has it to throw in. Grace is not such a beggarly visitant—as will not pay its own way. When the best of beings is adored—the best of blessings are enjoyed.
While the rough Esau of this world hunts after the venison—the smooth Jacob shall carry away the blessing! "For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give grace and glory. No good thing will he withhold from those who walk uprightly!" Why need a saint fear darkness—when he has such a sun to guide him! Or why should he dread dangers—when he has such a shield to guard him!
Christian, the God whom you serve is so excellent—that no good can be added to him; and he is so infinite, that no good can be diminished in him! He blesses others—and yet he is not the less full. He shows mercy to the full—and yet remains full of mercy.
Sinners look upon times of obedience—as times of hindrance. They trust to their own toiling—and not to God's undertaking. They carry on such a trade for the earth—as makes them miscarry in their merchandise for heaven. Though every rich man is not truly godly—yet every godly man is truly rich!
The sun can as easily diffuse its beams over the whole world, as upon a single field. What God receives from man—makes him no richer; and what man receives from God—makes God none the poorer. His goodness may be imparted—but cannot be impaired.
Christian Reader! if the deep fountain is still running—why should you fear to fill your little vessel? "The Lord is my shepherd—there is nothing I lack!" The sheep of Christ may change their pasture—but they shall never lack a pasture. "Is not the life—more than food; and the body—more than clothing?" If God grants unto us great things—shall we distrust him for small things? He who has given us heavenly blessings—will also give us earthly blessings. The great Gardener never under-stocked his own gardens.
Jehu, who only served God in hypocrisy, had an external kingdom; and shall those who serve him from a principle of inward purity, be put off without a heavenly kingdom? If God valued counterfeit coin so much—how highly will he esteem the true gold! If he drops so much blessing into a vessel of wrath—what will he put into a vessel of mercy! If he gives so much to a bond-slave of hell—what will he do for a free-born child of heaven!
"Have I been a wilderness unto Israel, a land of darkness?" God was not a wilderness to them—when they were in the wilderness. When they wanted bread—he gave them manna; when they wanted water—he opened a rock; and though they had no new apparel—yet their old garments did not wear out—but as their bodies grew, so their clothes grew. Thus they were never better off—than when they were ready to give up all as lost.
Oh how good is the believer's God, who not only shortens his pilgrimage for him—but also sweetens it to him! Had Christians too much of temporal things—they might care too little for spiritual things. Daniel appeared better with his plain vegetables, than the Babylonians with all their royal feasts. Some have rowed safely in a narrow river—and been drowned afterwards in a large sea. A little is sufficient—to him who with it enjoys God's all-sufficiency.
Godliness is so full a spring—that it will not let the Christian perish for lack of water. "Let the people praise you, God, let all the people praise you!" (What then?) "Then shall the earth yield her increase, and God, even our own God, shall bless us." Our unthankfulness is the cause of the earth's unfruitfulness. While man is blessing God for his mercies—he is blessing man with his mercies.
Some are afraid of religion, because they suppose they shall lose all their earthly mammon, while they are seeking heavenly manna. They think that piety—is the greatest enemy to prosperity. Could they but reap profit by praying, they would be found more at prayer. Ignorant worldlings look upon gain as their greatest godliness—and not on godliness as their greatest gain. But a golden plaster is a poor application for a wounded conscience. When the worm of carnality is gnawing at the root of religious performances, all the formalist's blooming hopes will fade, and die away at last!
"Godliness is profitable to all things; having the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come." Who knows how many rich productions there are in the pleasure-garden of religion! There is mellow fruit in it for every day in the year.
"Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, and delights greatly in his commandments; wealth and riches shall be in his house; and his righteousness endures forever." All worldly gain, while we live, we may lose it; and when we die, we must leave it—but in keeping God's commandments there is great reward. There is a reward of God's approbation in life; of his confirmation in death; and of his complete salvation in glory.
In earthly services the master enjoys the profit—but in pious services the servant enjoys the profit. "And the ark of the Lord continued in the house of Obed-Edom three months; and the Lord blessed Obed-Edom, and all his household." The ark was not blessed for the sake of his household—but his household was blessed for the sake of the ark. The ark of God always pays for its entertainment, wherever it dwells.
Many will side with religion while they can live upon it—and desert it when it must live upon them. But that saying is yet true; "Godliness with contentment is great gain." It is only the Christian man, who is the truly contented man; and what are our enjoyments without contentment? What is a great possession—if wedded to great vexation? Wicked men make this world their treasure—and God makes it their torment. "When they want estates—they are troubled for them; when they have estates—they are troubled with them. When they would drink of the river—God disturbs the water.
Reader! if you know nothing of Christ, I wish you to remember, that when you come to die—you will find religion necessary; and while you live—you will find it profitable. The purest honey—is gathered out of the hive of holiness. The ways of iniquity—are the ways of beggary. It is but reasonable that God should fall out with those in the course of his providence, who fall off from him in the course of their obedience.
"In Wisdom's right hand is length of days; and in her left hand riches and honor." Look to which ever hand you will—and you will find it full.