The Epistle Dedicatory
To all young people, especially those who begin to turn their faces towards Zion.
I have my hopes, through grace, that this treatise, though it be sown in weakness, yet by the blessing of the Most High upon it, it may rise in power, and be an instrumental means of the winning of souls to Christ, which is my highest ambition in this world; and therefore I have broken through all difficulties and carnal reasonings that might otherwise have stifled this babe in the womb, and kept it from ever seeing of the light.
I have read of an emperor that delighted in no undertakings so much as those which in the esteem of his counselors and captains were deemed most difficult and impossible. If they said such or such an enterprise would never be accomplished, it was argument enough to him to make the adventure; and he usually prospered, he seldom miscarried.
I have never found greater and choicer blessings to attend any of my poor weak labors, than those which have been brought forth into the world through the greatest straits and difficulties.
Valerius Maximus reports, that one telling a soldier going to war against the Persians—that they would hide the sun with their arrows, he answered, We shall fight best in the shade. Nothing should discourage nor dishearten a soldier of Christ, 2 Tim. 2:3-4. Christ says to all his soldiers (as the Black Prince his father said to him, fighting as it were in blood to the knees, and in great distress), Either vanquish or die! Men of no resolution, or of weak resolution, will be but little serviceable to the good of souls. Such watchmen as will be free from the blood of souls, and be serviceable to the interest of Christ in turning sinners from darkness to light, must be men of spirit and resolution.
I remember Austin begins one of his sermons thus: "To you is my speech, O young people, in the flower of age, in the danger of the mind.''
So say I, to you, O young people! do I dedicate the ensuing treatise, and that,
First, Because the matter contained therein does primarily and eminently concern you.
And secondly, Because of an earnest desire that I have of your internal and eternal welfare.
And thirdly, Because of some late impulses that have been upon my spirit to leave this treatise in your hands as a legacy of my love, and as a testimony and witness of my great ambition to help forward your everlasting salvation.
And fourthly, Because there is most hope of doing good among you, as I evidence more at large in the following treatise.
And fifthly, To countermine the great underminer of your souls, whose great design is to poison you, and to possess you, in the morning of your days.
Sixthly, To provoke others that are more able and worthy to be more serviceable to you in declaring themselves fully on this very subject, which none yet have done that I know of, though it be a point of as great concern to young people especially, as any I know in all the Scriptures, Eph. 4:14.
Seventhly, and lastly, Because there are very many who lie in wait to deceive, corrupt, and poison your minds with God-dishonoring, Christ-denying, conscience-wasting, and soul-damning opinions, principles, and blasphemies.
I have read of one who boasted and gloried in this, that he had spent thirty years in corrupting and poisoning of youth. Doubtless, many wretches, many monsters there be among us, who make it their business, their glory, their all—to delude and draw young people to those dangerous errors and blasphemies that lead to destruction. Error and folly, says one very well, are the knots of Satan wherewith he ties children to the stake to be burned in hell.
There is a truth in what the tragedian said long since, "poison is commonly drunk out of a cup of gold." So is an error soonest taken into the judgment and conscience, from people of the fairest carriage and smoothest conversations.
Error is so foul an hag, that if it should come in its own shape, a man would loathe it, and fly from it as from hell.
If Jezebel had not painted her face, she had not gotten so many young doating adulterers to have followed her to their own ruin.
Ah! young men, young men—the blessing of the Lord upon your serious and diligent perusal of this treatise may be a happy means to preserve you from being ensnared and deluded by those monsters "who compass sea and land to make proselytes for hell," Mat. 23:15.
And thus I have given you the reasons of my dedicating this treatise to the service of your souls. I would willingly presume that it will be as kindly taken—as it is cordially tendered. I hope none of you into whose hands it may fall, will say as one Antipater, king of Macedonia, did; when one presented him with a book treating of happiness, his answer was, I have no time for this.
Ah! Young men and women, young men and virgins, as you desire the everlasting welfare of your souls; as you would escape hell and come to heaven; as you would have a saving interest in Christ, a pardon in your bosoms; as you would be blessed here and glorious hereafter; find time, make time—to read over and over the following treatise, which is purposely calculated for your eternal good.
But before I go further, I think it needful, in some respects, to give the world some further account of otherreasons or motives which have prevailed with me to appear once more in print; and they are these:
First, Having preached a sermon occasionally upon these words, on which this following discourse is built, I was earnestly implored by some worthy friends, to print the sermon. I did as long as in modesty I could, withstand their desires, judging it not worthy of them; but being at last overcome, and setting about the work, the breathings and comings in of God were such as has occasioned that one sermon to multiply into many. Luther tells us, that when he first began to turn his back upon popery, he intended no more but to withstand popish pardons and selling indulgences; yet neither would God or his enemies let him alone until he resolved with Moses not to leave a hoof of popery unopposed, Exod. 10:26, etc. God many times in the things of the gospel, carries forth his servants beyond their intentions, beyond their resolutions. But,
Secondly, The kind acceptance and good quarter that my other pieces have found in the world, and those signal and multiplied blessings that have followed them; to the winning of many over to Christ, and to the building up of others in Christ—has encouraged me to present this treatise to the world, hoping that the Lord has a blessing in store for this also. Gracious experiences are beyond notions and impressions; they are very quickening and encouraging.
Thirdly, That I might in some measure make up other neglects, whose age, whose parts, whose experiences, whose graces—has long called upon them to do something considerable in this way, and that they may be provoked by my weak attempt to do better, and to make up what is lacking through my invincible infirmities and spiritual wants and weaknesses, which are so many as may well make a sufficient apology for all the defects and weaknesses that in this treatise shall appear to a serious judicious eye. But,
Fourthly, The love of Christ and souls has constrained me to it. As there is an attractive virtue, so there is a compulsive virtue in divine love. Love to Christ and souls will make a man willing to spend and be spent. He who prays himself to death, who preaches himself to death, who studies himself to death, who sweats himself to death—for the honor of Christ and good of souls—shall be no loser in the end. Divine love is like a rod of myrtle, which, as Pliny reports, makes the traveler who carries it in his hand—that he shall never be faint or weary. Divine love is very operative; if it does not work, it is an argument it does not exist at all. Divine love, like fire, is not idle—but active. He who loves, cannot be barren. Love will make the soul constant and abundant in well-doing. God admits none to heaven, says Justin Martyr—but such as can persuade him by their works, that they love him. The heathen Seneca has observed—that God does not love his children with a weak, womanish affection—but with a strong, masculine love; and certainly, those who love the Lord strongly, who love him with a masculine love—they cannot but lay out their little all for him and his glory. But,
Fifthly, I observe that Satan and his instruments are exceeding busy and unwearied in their designs, attempts, and endeavors in these days to corrupt and poison, to defile and destroy the young, the tender, the most hopeful, and most flourishing plants among us.
Latimer told the clergy in his time, that if they would not learn diligence and vigilance from the prophets and apostles, they should learn it from the devil, who goes up and down his dioceses, and acts by an untiring power—seeking whom he may destroy. When the wolves are abroad, the shepherd should not sleep—but watch; yes, double his watch, remembering that he had better have all the blood of all the men in the world upon, him than the blood of one soul upon him by his negligence, or otherwise.
Satan is a lion, not a lamb; a roaring lion, not a sleepy lion; not a lion standing still—but a lion going up and down. As not being contented with the prey—the many millions of souls he has got—"he seeks whom he may devour." 1 Peter 5:8. His greatest design is to fill hell with souls; which should awaken every one to be active, and to do all that may be done to prevent his design, and to help forward the salvation of souls.
Chrysostom compares good pastors—to fountains that ever send forth waters, or conduits that are always running, though no pail be put under. But,
Sixthly and lastly, I know the whole life of man is but an hour to work in; and the more work any man does for Christ on earth, the better pay he shall have when he comes to heaven. Every man shall at last "reap as he sows." Opportunities of doing service for Christ, and souls, are more worth than a world; therefore I was willing to take hold on this, not knowing how soon "I may put off this earthly tabernacle;" and remembering, that as there is no believing nor repenting in the grave, so there is no praying, preaching, writing, nor printing in the grave; we had need to be up and doing, to put both hands to it, and to do all we do with all our might, knowing that "the night is coming, wherein no man can work." A Christian's dying day is the Lord's pay-day; that is, a time to receive wages, not to do work.
And thus I have given the world a true account of the reasons that moved me to print the following discourse. Before I close up, I desire to speak a word to young people, and another to aged people, and then I shall take leave of both.
My requestto you who are in the primrose of your days is this—If ever the Lord shall be pleased so to own and crown, so to bless and follow this following discourse, as to make it an effectual means of turning you to the Lord, of winning you to Christ, of changing your natures, and converting your souls—for such a thing as that I pray, hope, and believe—that then you would do two things for me.
First, That you would never cease bearing of me upon your hearts when you are in the mount, that I may be very much under the pourings out of the Spirit, that I may be clear, high, and full in my communion with God, and that I may be always close, holy, humble, harmless, and blameless in my walkings with God, and that his work may more and more prosper in my hand.
Secondly, That you would by word of mouth, letter, or some other way, acquaint me with what the Lord has done for your souls—if he shall make me a spiritual father to you. Do not hide his grace from me—but acquaint me how he has made the seed that was sown in weakness, to rise in power upon you, and that
(First) That I may do what I can to help on that work begun upon you; that your penny may become a pound, your mite a million, your drop an ocean.
(Secondly) That I may the better improve some impressions that have been upon my own spirit since I began this work.
(Thirdly), That my joy and thankfulness may be increased, and my soul more abundantly engaged to that God, who has blessed the day of small things to you, 1 Thes. 2:19-20; 2 Cor. 9:2. Ponder these scriptures—2 Cor. 7:3-4, 13; Philip. 2:2; Phil. 4:1; Philem. 7; 2 John 3-4—and then be ashamed to declare what the Lord has done for you, if you can.
(Fourthly) It is better to convert one to Christ, than to civilize a thousand; and will turn more at last to a minister's account in that day, wherein he shall say, "Lo, here am I, and the children that you have given me," Isaiah 8:18. Such a man, with his spiritual children about him, shall look on God with more comfort and boldness, than those that are only able to say, "Lo, here am I, and my many benefices;" "Here am I, and my many ecclesiastical dignities and glories;" "Here am I, and the many hundreds a year that I have given." But,
(Fifthly and lastly) The conversion of others is a secondary and more remote evidence of a man's own renovation and conversion. Paul was converted himself before God made him instrumental for others' conversion. God's usual method is, to convert by those who are converted.
I do not remember any one instance in all the Scripture of God's converting any by such who have not been converted first themselves; yet I know his grace is free, and the wind blows where it wills, when it wills, and as it wills.
To aged peopleI have a word.
First, To grey-headed saints. Ah, friends! ah, fathers! would you see your honor, your happiness, your blessedness? Then look into this treatise, and there you will find what an unspeakable honor it is to be an old disciple, what a glory it is to be godly early, and to continue so to old age.
Secondly, To white-headed sinners whose spring is past, whose summer is overpast, and who are arrived at the fall of the leaf, and yet have a hell to escape, a Christ to believe in, sins to pardon, hearts to change, souls to save, and heaven to make sure; would such be encouraged from Scripture grounds to repent, believe, and hope, that yet there is mercy for such, let them seriously peruse this treatise, especially the latter part of it, and there they may find enough to keep them from despairing, and to encourage them to adventure their souls upon him who is mighty to save.
There are many things in this treatise that are of use to all, and several things of importance—which are not every day preached nor read. I have made it as pleasurable as time would permit, that so it might be the more profitable to the reader, and that I might the better take the young man by a holy craft; which is a high point of heavenly wisdom, there being no wisdom to that of winning of souls, 2 Cor. 12:16; Proverbs 11:13. I shall now follow this poor piece with my weak prayers, that it may be so blessed from heaven, as that it may bring in some—and build up others—and do good to all. And so rest,
Your friend and servant in the Gospel of Christ,
The explanation of the verse
"And all Israel shall mourn for him, and bury him: for he only of Jeroboam shall come to the grave, because in him there is found some good thing toward the Lord God of Israel in the house of Jeroboam." 1 Kings 14:13
I shall only stand upon the latter part of this verse, because that affords me matter most suitable to my design.
These words are a commendation of Abijah's life. When Abijah was a boy, verse 3, 12, when he was in his young and tender years, he had the seeds of grace in him, he had the image of God upon him, he could discern between good and evil, and he did that which pleased the Lord.
The Hebrew word translated boy, verse 3, is very often applied to such as we call youth, or young men; Exod. 24:5; Num. 11:28; 1 Sam. 2:17, etc.
Of such prudence was Abijab, as that he could choose good and refuse evil. He was a Lot in Sodom, he was good among the bad. The bent and frame of his heart was towards that which was good, when the heart both of his father and mother was set upon evil. Abijah began to be good early. He crossed that pestilent proverb, "a young saint and an old devil." It is the glory and goodness of God that he will take notice of the least good that is in any of his. There was but one good word in Sarah's speech to Abraham, and that was this, she called him Lord; and this God mentions for her honor and commendation, "She called him Lord," 1 Peter 3:6. God looks more upon one grain of wheat, than upon a heap of chaff, upon one shining pearl than upon a heap of rubbish.
God finds a pearl in Abijab, and he puts it into his crown, to his eternal commendation, "in him there is found some good thing toward the Lord God of Israel." For the words, "in him there is found," the Hebrew word Matsa, sometimes signifies finding without seeking: Isaiah 65:1, "I am found of them that sought me not;" so Psalm 116:3, "The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell got hold upon me, I found trouble and sorrow." I found trouble which I looked not for; I was not searching after sorrow—but I found it. There is an elegance in the original; "The pains of hell got hold upon me," so we read—but the Hebrew is, "The pains of hell found me." One word signifies both. They found me, I did not find them. "There was found in Abijah some good thing towards the Lord," that is there was found in him, without searching or seeking, some good thing towards the Lord. It was plain and visible enough. Men might see and observe it without inquiring or seeking. They might run and read some good thing in him towards the Lord.
Secondly, The word sometimes signifies finding by seeking or inquiry: Isaiah 55:6, "Seek the Lord while he may be found," etc. So upon search and inquiry there was found in Abijah, though young, "some good thing toward the Lord."
Thirdly, Sometimes the. word notes the obtaining of that which is sufficient: Joshua 17:16; Num. 11:22; Judges 21:14. In Abijah there was that good in him towards the Lord, which was sufficient to evidence the work of grace upon him, sufficient to satisfy himself and others of the goodness and happiness of his condition, though he died in the prime and flower of his days, etc.
"In him there is found some good thing toward the Lord God of Israel." The Hebrew word Tob, that is here rendered good, signifies,
First, That which is right and just: 2 Sam. 15:3, "See your matters are good and right," that is just and right.
Secondly, That which is profitable: Deut. 6:11, "Houses full of all good things," that is houses full of all profitable things.
Thirdly, That which is pleasing: 2 Sam. 19:27, "Do what is good in your eyes," that is do what is pleasing in your eyes.
Fourthly, That which is full and complete: Gen. 15:15, "You shall be buried in a good old age," that is you shall be buried when your age is full and complete.
Fifthly, That which is joyful and delightful: 1 Sam. 25:8, "We come in a good day," that is we come in a joyful and delightful day.
Now put all together, and you may see that there was found in Abijah, when he was young, that which was right and just, that which was pleasing and profitable, and that which was matter of joy and delight.
In the words you have two things that are most considerable.
First, That this young man's goodness was towards the Lord God of Israel. Many there are that are good, nay, very good towards men, who yet are bad, yes, very bad towards God. Some there are who are very kind to the creature—and yet very unkind to their Creator. Many men's goodness towards the creature is like the rising sun—but their goodness towards the Lord is like a morning cloud, or as the early dew, which is soon dried up by the sunbeams, Hosea 6:4; but Abijah's goodness was towards the Lord, his goodness faced the Lord, it looked towards the glory of God.
Two things makes a good Christian, good actions and good aims; and though a good aim does not make a bad action good, as in Uzzah, yet a bad aim makes a good action bad, as in Jehu, whose justice was approved—but his policy punished, the first chapter of Hosea, and the fourth verse. Doubtless Abijah's actions were good, and his aims good, and this was indeed his glory, that his goodness was "towards the Lord."
It is recorded of the Catanenses, that they made a stately monument, of kingly magnificence, in remembrance of two sons, who took their aged parents upon their backs, and carried them through the fire, when their father's house was all in a flame. These young men were good towards their parents; but what is this compared to Abijah's goodness "towards the Lord"? etc. A man cannot be good towards the Lord, but he will be good towards others; but a man may be good towards others, who is not good towards the Lord. Oh that men's practices did not give too loud a testimony every day to this assertion! etc.
Secondly, He was good among the bad. He was good "in the house of Jeroboam." It is in fashion to seem at least to be good among the good; but to be really good among those that are bad, that are eminently bad, argues not only a truth of goodness—but a great degree of goodness. This young man was good in the house of Jeroboam, who made all Israel to sin; who was evil, who was very evil, who was stark evil; and yet Abijah, as the fish which live in the salt sea are fresh—so though he lived in a sink, a sea, of wickedness, yet he retained his "goodness towards the Lord."
They say roses grow the sweeter when they are planted by garlic. They are sweet and rare Christians indeed who hold their goodness, and grow in goodness, where wickedness sits on the throne; and such a one the young man in the text was.
To be wheat among tares, corn among chaff, pearls among cockles, and roses among thorns—is excellent.
To be a Jonathan in Saul's court, to be an Obadiah in Ahab's court, to be an Ebed-melech in Zedekiab's court, and to be an Abijah in Jeroboam's court—is a wonder, a miracle.
To be a Lot in Sodom, to be an Abraham in Chaldea, to be a Daniel in Babylon, to be a Nehemiah in Damascus, and to be a Job in the land of Uz—is to be a saint among devils; and such a one the young man in the text was.
The poets affirm that Venus never appeared so beauteous as when she sat by black Vulcan's side. Gracious souls shine most clear when they be set by black-conditioned people. Stephen's face never shined so angelically, so gloriously—as before the council where all were wicked and malicious. So Abijah was a bright star, a shining sun, in Jeroboam's court, which for profaneness and wickedness was a very hell.
The words that I have chosen to insist upon will afford us several observations—but I shall only name one, which I intend to prosecute at this time, and that is this, namely: That it is a very desirable and commendable thing for young men to be really godly early.
Dear friends! since I yielded to your desires, and set about this work, I begun to consider that I had never heard nor read of any that had treated on this subject; also I seriously considered of the usefulness of it, especially in these times, wherein so many young people have their faces towards Zion; which considerations, with the breaking in of God upon me beyond my expectation, has occasioned that sermon you heard to swell into a little treatise, which in all love I present unto you. The very same things that sounded in your ears--I here present to your eyes, with enlargements and additions to what I first intended. The pains have been mine; the profit that will redound to you and others, into whose hands it may fall, I hope will be such as will turn to all our accounts in the day of Christ.
I have read of an emperor's son who used to say, The longer the cooks are preparing the meal--the better will be the cheer; his meaning was, the longer he waited for the empire, the greater it would be. The longer you have waited for this discourse, the better I desire it may prove. It would have been in your hands long before this, if others that should have made more haste had not been more to blame than myself; yet I know it is not a child so late born, that I need question your fathering of it. And now I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified, Acts 20:32.
Your servant in the work of Christ,