I shall now hasten to the main use that I intend to dwell upon, and that is asan EXHORTATION to all young people.
Ah, sirs! as you regard the glory of God, the good of your bodies, the joy of your Christian friends, and the salvation of your own souls—be exhorted and persuaded to be really godly early. It was the praise and honor of Abijah, that there was found in him some good thing towards the Lord in the primrose of his childhood.
Oh! that it might be your honor and happiness to be really godly early, that it might be to you a praise and a name, that in the morning of your youth you have begun to seek the Lord, and to know and love the Lord, and to get a saving interest and propriety in the Lord. Now that this exhortation may stick and take, I beseech you seriously to weigh and ponder these following motives or considerations:
Motive (1). First consider,It is an honor to be godly early. A young saint is like the morning star; he is like a diamond in a gold ring. It is mentioned as a singular honor to the believing Jews, that they first trusted in Christ; "that we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ," Eph. 1:12. This was their praise, their crown, that they were first converted and turned to Christ and Christianity. So Paul, mentioning Andronicus and Junia, does not omit this circumstance of praise and honor, that they were in Christ "before him," Romans 16:7. "Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow-prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me."
And so it was the honor of the house of Stephanas, that they were the first-fruits of Achaia, 1 Cor. 16:15. It was their glory that they were the first that received and welcomed the gospel in Achaia. It is a greater honor for a young man to outwrestle sin, Satan, temptation, the world, and lust, than ever Alexander the Great could attain unto. It was Judah his praise and honor, that they were first in fetching home David their king, 2 Sam. 19:15.
Ah, young men and women! it will be your eternal praise and honor if you shall be before others, if you shall be the first among many, who shall know the Lord and seek the Lord; who shall receive the Lord, and embrace him; who shall cleave to the Lord, and serve him; who shall honor the Lord, and obey him; who shall delight in the Lord, and walk with him.
The Romans built Virtue's and Honor's temple close together, to show that the way to honor was by virtue; and, indeed, there is no crown compared to that which godliness sets upon a man's head: all other honor is fading and withering. Adoni-bezek, a mighty prince, is suddenly made live with with the dogs, Judges 1:7; and Nebuchadnezzar, a mighty conqueror, turned a-grazing among the oxen, Dan. 4:28; and Herod, reduced from a conceited god to be the most loathsome of men, living carrion, arrested by the vilest of creatures, upon the wish of his affronted Creator, Acts 12:23; and Haman, feasted with the king one day, and made a feast for crows the next, Esther. 7:10. I might tell you of Bajazet and Belisarius, two of the greatest commanders in the world, and many others, who have suddenly fallen from the top of worldly honor and felicity, into the greatest contempt and misery—but I shall not at this time. But that honor that arises from men's being gracious early, is such honor that the world can neither give nor take; it is honor, it is a crown that will still be green and flourishing; it is honor that will bed and board with a man, that will abide with a man under all trials and changes, that will go to the grave, that will go to heaven with a man.
Ah, sirs! it is no small honor to you, who are in the spring and morning of your days, that the Lord has left upon record several instances of his love and delight in young men. He chose David, a younger brother, and passes by his elder brothers, 1 Sam. 16:11-13; he frowns upon Esau, and passes by his door, and sets his love and delight upon Jacob the younger brother, Romans 9:12-13; he kindly and lovingly accepts of Abel's person and sacrifice, and rejects both Cain's person and sacrifice, though he was the elder brother, Gen. 4:3-6. Among all the disciples, John was the youngest and the most and best beloved, John 13:23. There was but one "young man" that came to Christ, and he came not aright, Mark 10:19-21; and all the good that was in him was but some moral good, and yet Christ loved him with a love of pity and compassion. The Greek word signifies, to speak friendly and deal gently with one; and so did Christ with him, all which should exceedingly encourage young men to be godly early, to be gracious in the morning of their youth. No way to true honor like this—but,
Motive (2). Secondly, consider,Christ loved poor sinners and gave himself for them, when he was in the prime of his age (being supposed to be about thirty-three), and will you put him off with the worst of your time?
Ah! young men, young men, Christ gave himself up to death, he made himself an offering for your sins, for your sakes, when he was in the prime and flower of his age. Why then should you put off Christ to your old age? Did he die for sin in the prime of his age? and will not you die to sin in the prime of your age? Did he offer himself for you in the spring and morning of his years? and will not you offer up yourselves to him in the spring and morning of your years? Romans 12:1-2. Oh give Christ no cause to say, "I died for you early—but you have not lived to me early. I was early in my suffering for you—but you have not been early in your returning to me. I made haste to complete your redemption—but you have made no haste to make sure your vocation and election, 2 Pet. 1:10. I stayed not, I lingered not—but soon suffered what I was to suffer, and quickly did what was to be done for your eternal welfare—but you have stayed and lingered, like Lot in Sodom, Gen. 19:16, and have not done what you might have done in order to your everlasting good. In the primrose of my days, I sweat for you, I wept for you, I bled for you, I hung on the cross for you, I bore the wrath of my Father for you—but you have not in the primrose of your days sweat under the sense of divine displeasure, nor wept over your sins, nor mourned over me, whom you have so often grieved and pierced, Zech. 12:10. I could not be quiet nor satisfied until I had put you into a capacity, into a possibility of salvation, and yet you are well enough quieted and satisfied, though you do not know whether ever you shall be saved."
Ah, sirs! how sad would it be with you, if Jesus Christ should secretly thus expostulate with your consciences in this your day. Oh! how terrible would it be with you, if Christ should thus visibly plead against you in his great day.
Ah! young men, young men and women, who have souls much left of God, blinded by Satan, and hardened in sin, 2 Cor. 3, 4, can hear Jesus Christ speaking thus to them: "I suffered for sinners early, I laid down a ransom for souls early, I pacified my Father's wrath early, I satisfied my Father's justice early, I merited grace and mercy for sinners early, I brought in an everlasting righteousness upon the world early, etc." I say, who can hear Jesus Christ speaking thus, and his heart not fall in love and league with Christ, and his soul not unite to Christ and resign to Christ, and cleave to Christ, and forever be one with Christ—except it be such that are forever left by Christ? Well, remember this—the more vile Christ made himself for us, the more dear he ought to be unto us.
Ah! young men, remember this, when Christ was young, he was tempted and tried; when he was in the morning of his days, his wounds were deep, his burden weighty, his cup bitter, his suffering painful, his agony and torment above conception, beyond expression; when he was young, that blessed head of his was crowned with thorns; and those eyes of his, which were purer than the sun, were put out by the darkness of death; and those ears of his which now hear nothing but hallelujahs of saints and angels, were filled with the blasphemies of the multitude; and that blessed beautiful face of his, which was fairer than the sons of men, was spit on by beastly filthy wretches; and that gracious mouth and tongue, which spoke as never any man spoke, was slandered and accused of blasphemy; and those hands of his, which healed the sick, which gave out pardons, which swayed a scepter in heaven and another on earth, were nailed to the cross; and those feet, which were beautiful upon the mountains, which brought the glad tidings of peace and salvation into the world, and which were like unto fine brass, were also nailed to the cross. All these great and sad things did Jesus Christ suffer for you in the prime and flower of his days, and oh! what an unspeakable provocation should this be to all young ones, to give up themselves early to Christ, to serve, love, honor, and obey him early, even in the spring and morning of their youth.
Let the thoughts of a crucified Christ, says one, be never out of your mind, let them be food and drink unto you, let them be your sweetness and consolation, your honey and your desire, your reading and your meditation, your life, death, and resurrection.
Motive (3). The third motive or consideration to provoke you to begin to be godly early, is this, namely,That it is the best and choicest way in the world—to be rich in gracious experiences early—which are the best riches in all the world. As he who sets up for himself early is in the most hopeful way to be rich early, so he who is godly in good earnest early, he is in the ready way, the highway of being rich in grace and rich in goodness. They usually prove men of great insight and great experience. God loves to show these his "beauty and his glory in his sanctuary." He delights to cause "his glory and his goodness to pass before" such. These shall find all his "paths drop marrow and fatness." For these "the Lord Almighty will make a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined." These shall have all kinds of "pleasant fruits" laid up "at their gates for their well-beloved." None have so many choice pledges of Christ's love, nor so many sweet kisses of Christ's mouth, nor so many embraces in Christ's arms—as those souls which are godly early.
Oh the grace, the goodness, the sweetness, the fatness that Christ is still a-dropping into their hearts! Christ will make their hearts his largest treasury, he will lay up most of his heavenly treasure in their souls. There he will store up mercies new and old; there he will treasure up all plenty, rarity, and variety; there he will lay up all that heart can wish or need require. Oh the many drops of myrrh which fall from Christ's fingers upon their hearts! Oh the many secrets that Christ reveals in their ears! Oh the many love-letters that Christ sends to these! Oh the many visits that he gives to these! Oh the turns, the walks, that he has in paradise with these! There are none in the world for experience and intelligence, compared to these. Ah! young men, young men, as you would be rich in the best riches, begin to be godly early! As there is no riches to spiritual riches, so there is no way to be rich in these riches—but by beginning to be godly, in good earnest, early.
As for worldly riches, the godly have always despised them, and preferred a contemplative life above them! The prophet calls them "thick clay," which will sooner break the back than lighten the heart; they cannot better the soul, they cannot enrich the soul, Hab. 2:6. Ah! how many threadbare souls are to be found under silken cloaks and gowns! How often are worldly riches like hangmen, they hide men's faces with a covering, that they may not see their own end, and then they hang them! And if they do not hang you, they will shortly leave you, they "make themselves wings and fly away!" Proverbs 23:5. When one was a-commending the riches and wealth of merchants, I do not love that wealth, said a heathen, that hangs upon ropes; if they break, the ship miscarries, and all is lost. He is rich enough, says Jerome, who lacks not bread, and high enough in dignity that is not forced to serve.
"This world's wealth, that men so much desire,
It was an excellent saying of Lewis of Bauyer, emperor of Germany, Such goods are worth getting and owning—as will not sink or wash away if a shipwreck happens—but will wade and swim out with us. We see such are the spiritual riches that will attend those who, in the spring and morning of their youth, shall know the Lord and serve the Lord, and get an interest in the Lord; and thus much for the third motive.
Motive (4). The fourth motive to provoke young ones to be really godly early is, to consider thatThe present time, the present day, is the only season that you are sure of.
Time past cannot be recalled, and time to come cannot be ascertained: "Today, if you hear his voice, harden not your hearts," Heb. 3:15; "Behold, now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation," 2 Cor. 6:2. Some there are who trifle away their time, and fool away their souls and their eternal salvation. To prevent this, the apostle beats upon the present opportunity, because if that be once past, there is no recovering of it. Therefore, as the mariner takes the first fair wind to sail, and as the merchant takes his first opportunity of buying and selling, and as the farmer takes the first opportunity of sowing and reaping—so should young men take the present season, the present day, which is their day, to be godly towards the Lord, to seek him and serve him, and not to put off the present season, for they know not what another day, another hour, another moment, may bring forth.
That door of grace which is open today may be shut tomorrow; that golden scepter of mercy which is held forth in the gospel this day may be taken in the next day; that love that this hour is upon the bare knee entreating and beseeching young men to break off their sins by repentance, "to return to the Lord, to lay hold on his strength, and be at peace with him," may the next hour be turned into wrath, Isaiah 27:4-5.
Ah! the noble motions that have been lost, the good purposes that have withered, the immortal souls that have miscarried—by putting off the present season, the present day. Paul discoursing before Felix of righteousness and temperance and judgment to come, Acts 24:25, and in this discourse striking at two special vices that Felix was particularly guilty of, he falls a-trembling, and being upon the rack to hear such doctrine, he bids Paul "depart for that time, and he would call for him at a convenient season." Here Felix neglects his present season, and we never read that ever after this he found a convenient time or season to hear Paul make an end of the subject he had begun. So Christ made a very fair offer to the young man in the Gospel, "Go and sell that you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven," Mat. 19:21-24. Here Christ offers heavenly treasures for earthly treasures, unmixed treasures for mixed treasures, perfect treasures for imperfect treasures, satisfying treasures for unsatisfying treasures, lasting treasures for fading treasures; but the young man slips his opportunity, his season, and goes away sorrowful, and we never read more of him.
Ah! young men, young men, do not put off the present season, do not neglect the present day. There is no time yours but the present time, no day yours but the present day; and therefore do not deceive yourselves and feed yourselves with hopes of time to come, and that you will repent—but not yet; and lay hold on mercy—but not yet; and give up yourselves to the Lord next week, next month, or next year, for that God that has promised you mercy and favor upon the day of your return, he has not promised to prolong your lives until that day comes.
Ah! young men, young men, you say you will become godly before you die—but if you are not godly today, you may die tomorrow, nay, justice may leave him to be his own executioner tomorrow, who will not repent, nor seek the Lord today.
I have read of a certain young man, who, being admonished of the evil of his way and course, and pressed to leave his wickedness by the consideration of death, judgment, and eternity that was a-coming, he answered, 'Why do you tell me of these things? I will do well enough; for when death comes, I will speak but three words, and all will be fine.' And so still he went on in his sinful ways—but one day while on horseback, coming to a bridge, to go over a deep water, the horse stumbled, and he let go the bridle, and gave up himself and horse to the waters, and was heard to say these three words, Devil take all! Here was three dreadful words indeed, and an example, with a witness, for all young men to beware, who think to repent with a three-word repentance at last.
Otho, the emperor, slew himself with his own hands—but slept so soundly the night before, that the grooms of his chamber heard him snore.
Young men, I will suppose you to be good accountants; now if you please to count the number and mark the age of the sacrifices in the Old Testament, you shall find more kids and lambs offered, than goats and old sheep. You have no lease of your lives, you are not sure that you shall live to Isaac's age, to live until your eyes wax dim, Gen. 27:1; you are not sure that you shall live to Jacob's years, and die leaning upon the top of a staff, Heb. 11:21. You read of those who "die in their youth, and whose lives are among the unclean," Job 36:14. Do not the present season slip away, neglect not this day of grace, let not Satan keep your souls and Christ any longer asunder, by telling of you that you are too young, that hereafter will be time enough. Austin tells us, that by this very temptation the devil kept him off from receiving of Christ, from closing with Christ seven years together; he could no sooner think of inquiring after Christ, of getting a saving interest in Christ, of leaving off his sinful courses, etc.—but Satan would be still a-suggesting, 'You are too young to leave your drunkenness, you are too young to leave your Delilahs, to leave your harlots;' until at last he cried out, 'Why may I not repent today? and lay hold on Jesus Christ today? etc. Ah! young men, this is your day, this is your season; if you will not now hearken and obey, you may perish forever.
Caesar had a letter given him by Artemidorus that morning he went to the senate, wherein notice was given him of all the conspiracy of his murderers, so that with ease he might have prevented his death—but neglecting the reading of it, was slain; he slipped his season, and dies for it. Ah! how many for slipping gracious seasons and opportunities, have died forever! Soul-opportunities are more worth than a thousand worlds; mercy is in them, grace and glory is in them, heaven and eternity is in them.
Motive (5). Fifthly, To provoke you to be godly early, consider,How just it is with God to reserve the dregs of his wrath for those who reserve the dregs of their days for him.
How can a husband embrace that wife in her old age, who has spent all the time of her youth in following after strangers? Will any man receive such into his service, who has all their days served his enemies, and received such wounds, blows, and bruises, that renders them unfit for his service?
Ah! young men, young men, do not thus "foolishly and unwisely requite the Lord," Deut. 32:6, for all his patient waiting, his gracious wooing, and his merciful dealing with you. Ah! do not put off God to old age; for old, lame, and sick sacrifices rarely reach as high as heaven. Is not old age very unteachable? in old age are not men very unable to take in, and as unable to give out? In old age, oftentimes, men are men—yet not men; they have eyes—but see not; ears—but hear not; tongues—but speak not; feet—but walk not. An aged man is but a living mortuary.
Now how unlovely, how unfitting, how unworthy, nay, how incensing, how provoking a thing must this needs be—when men will dally with God, and put him off until their senile days have overtaken them, until their spring is past, their summer overpast, and they arrived at the fall of the leaf, yes, until winter colors have stained their heads with gray and hoary hairs! How provoking this is, you may see in those sad words of Jeremiah: Jer. 22:21-22, "I spoke unto you in your prosperity; but you said, I will not hear: this has been your manner from your youth, that you obey not my voice." But will God tolerate this behavior at their hands? No! Therefore it follows in the next verse, "Surely you shall be ashamed and confounded for all your wickedness."
Oh! that young men would let this scripture lie warm every morning upon their hearts, that so they may not dare to put off God and provoke him to their own eternal misery. Though you are young and in your strength, yet are you stronger than God, can you overcome him? If you will needs be a-provoking, provoke those who are your matches, and do not contend with him who is mightier than you, who can command you into nothing, or into hell at pleasure!
Motive (6). Sixthly, consider,That the sooner you are godly on earth, the greater will be your reward in heaven.
The sooner you are gracious, the more at last you will be glorious. You read in the Scripture of a reward, of a great reward, and of a full reward. Now those who are godly early—who know, seek, serve, and love the Lord in the spring and morning of their youth, they are in the fairest way of gaining the greatest and the fullest reward.
And this I shall make clear by that which follows.
(1.) First,The sooner any man begins to be really godly, the more good he will do in this world. Now, the more good any man does on earth, the more glory he shall have in heaven. Therefore, my beloved brethren, "Therefore, my dear brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain," 1 Cor. 15:58.
Man's wages, man's reward—shall be according to his works. He who does most work here—shall have most reward hereafter. God will at last proportion the one to the other—the reward to the work. "He who sows sparingly shall reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall reap bountifully," 2 Cor. 9:6. Though no man shall be rewarded for his works, yet God will at last measure out happiness and blessedness to his people according to their service, faithfulness, diligence, and work in this world, Romans 2:5-7. Grace is glory in the bud, and glory is grace at the full; glory is nothing else but a bright constellation of graces; happiness is nothing but the quintessence of holiness. Grace and glory differ in degree, not kind. Grace and glory differ very little; the one is the seed, the other is the flower; grace is glory militant, and glory is grace triumphant; and a man may as well plead for equal degrees of grace in this world, as he may plead for equal degrees of glory in the other world. Surely the more grace here, the more glory hereafter; and the more work Christians do on earth, the more glory they shall have in heaven; and the sooner men begin to be godly, the more good they will do in this world; and the more they do here, the more they shall have hereafter. Philosophers seem to weigh our virtues with our vices, and according to the preponderation of either, denominate us godly or bad, and so deliver us up to reward or punishment.
No man can commend good works magnificently enough, says Luther, for one work of a Christian is more precious than heaven and earth; and therefore all the world cannot sufficiently reward one good work. And in another place, says the same author, If I might have my desire, I would rather choose the lowest work of a country Christian or poor maid, than all the victories and triumphs of Alexander the Great, and of Julius Caesar.
And, again, whatever the saints do, though never so small
and lowly, it is great and glorious; because they do all in faith and by the
word, says the same author. To prevent mistakes, you must remember, that the
works that Jesus Christ will reward at last are supernatural works: they
They are works which flow from supernatural principles, and they are directed to supernatural ends, and performed in a supernatural way. Now the sooner a man begins to be godly, the more he will abound in these good works; and the more doubtless any man abounds in such good works on earth, the greater reward he shall have in heaven. Yet it must not be forgotten that the best actions, the best works of hypocrites, and all men out of Christ, are but splendida peccata, splendid and shining sins, beautiful abominations. And as the phoenix in Arabia gathers sweet odoriferous sticks together, and then blows them with her wings, and burns herself with them, so many a carnal professor burns himself with his own good works, that is, by his expecting and trusting to receive that by his works, which is only to be received and expected from Jesus Christ. Though all that man can do towards the meriting of heaven is no more than the lifting up of a trifle towards the meriting of a kingdom, yet such a proud piece man is, that he is ready enough to say with proud Vega, I will not have heaven of free cost.
A proud heart would gladly have that of debt, which is merely of grace, and desires that to be of purchase which God has intended to be of free mercy; which made one to say, that he would swim through a sea of brimstone, that he might come to heaven at last; but he who swims not there through the sea of Christ's blood, shall never come there. Man must swim there, not through brimstone—but through Christ's blood, or he miscarries forever.
(2.) Again,the sooner a man begins to be godly, the more serviceable he will be to others, and the more he will arouse others to good. Now, all the good that you provoke others to by counsel or carriage, by life or example, shall be put down to your account; just as all the sins that men provoke others to, is put down to their accounts. David did but send a letter concerning the death of Uriah, and the charge comes, "You had slain Uriah with the sword," 2 Sam.12: 8-9. The more I stir up others to sow, the more at last I shall reap, Isaiah 38:3, Neh. 13:14. The sooner a man begins to be godly, the more good he will do, the more serviceable he will be in the town or city where he dwells, in the family where he lives, among his relations, wife, children, kindred, servants, etc., with whom he converses.
The sooner a man begins to be gracious, the sooner and the more useful will his arts, his parts, his gifts, his graces, his mercies, his experiences, his life, his labors, his prayers, his counsels, his examples—be to all who are with him, to all who are about him.
We learn—that we may teach, is a proverb among the Rabbis. And I do therefore lay in and lay up, says the heathen, that I may draw forth again, and lay out for the good of many.
Ah! young men, young men! as you would be useful and serviceable to many, begin to be godly early, and to lay in and lay up and lay out early, for the profit and advantage of others. Augustine accounted nothing his own that he did not communicate to others. The bee does store her hive, out of all sorts of flowers for the common benefit. It is a base and unworthy spirit for a man to make himself the center of all his actions. The very heathen man could say that a man's country, and his friends, and others, challenge a great part of him. And indeed the best way to do ourselves good is to be a-doing good to others; the best way to gather is to scatter. "He who sows liberally shall reap liberally," 2 Cor. 9:6. "The liberal soul shall be made fat," Proverbs 11:25.
It is fabled of Midas, that whatever he touched he turned it into gold. It is certain that a liberal hand, a liberal heart, turns all into gold, into gain, as Scripture and experience do abundantly evidence. Now, if you put all these things together, nothing is more evident than that those who begin to be godly early are in the ready way, the high way, to be high in heaven when they shall cease from breathing on earth. And therefore, young men, as you would be high in heaven, as you would have a great reward, a full reward, a massy, weighty crown—oh labor to be godly early; labor to get acquainted with the Lord, and an interest in the Lord, in the spring and morning of your days!
Motive (7). The seventh motive or consideration to provoke and incite you to be godly early, is to consider,That the Lord is very much affected with your seeking of him, and following after him—in the spring and morning of your youth.
"Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying—I remember you, the kindness of your youth, the love of your espousals, when you went after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown," Jer. 2:2.
Ah! how kindly, how sweetly did the Lord take this at their hands, that they followed him in their youth, while their "bones were full of marrow," while they were strong and fit for service, while nature was fresh, lively, and vigorous. In the law, God called for the first of all things; he required not only the first-fruits—but the very first of the first: "The first of the first fruits of your land, you shall bring into the house of the Lord your God," Exod. 23:19. God is the first being, the first good, and therefore deserves the first of the first, and the best of the best; the first and the best is not too good for him, who is goodness itself. God, in Leviticus 2:14, is so passionately set upon having the first of the first, that he will not wait until the green ears of corn be ripe—but will have the green ears of corn dried in the fire, lest he should lose his longing.
As many young women and sickly children cannot wait until the fruit is ripe—but must have it while it is green; even so, says God, my heart, my desires, are so vehemently set upon the first-fruits, the first things, that I cannot wait, I cannot satisfy myself without them. What would God teach us by all this—but to serve him with the first-fruits of our age, the primrose of our childhood, the morning of your youth. God has given you of the best—do not put him off with the worst, with the worst of your time, the worst of your days, the worst of your strength, lest he swear in his wrath that "you shall never enter into his rest," Heb. 3:18.
Motive (8). The eighth motive or consideration to provoke you to be godly early, to seek and serve the Lord in the morning of your youth, is to consider, thatThis may be a special means to prevent many black temptations; and an encouragement to withstand all temptations that you may meet with from a tempting devil and a tempting world.
An early turning to the Lord will prevent many temptations to despair, many temptations to neglect the means openly, to despise the means secretly; many temptations about the being of God, the goodness, faithfulness, truth and justice of God; temptations to despair, temptations to lay violent hands on a man's self. Temptations to question all that God has said, and all that Christ has suffered, arises many times from men's delaying and putting off of God to the last; all which, with many others, are prevented by a man's seeking and serving of the Lord in the spring and morning of his youth.
It is reported of the deer of Scythia, that they teach their young ones to leap from bank to bank, from rock to rock, from one turf to another, by leaping before them; by which means, when they are hunted, no beast of prey can ever capture them. Just so, when people exercise themselves in godliness when they are young, when they leap from one measure of holiness to another, when they are in the morning of their days, Satan, that mighty hunter after souls, may pursue them with his temptations—but he shall not overtake them, he shall not prevail over them. As you see in Moses, Joseph, Daniel, and the three Hebrew children, these knew the Lord, and gave up themselves to the Lord in the prime and primrose of their youth, and these were all temptation-proof, Heb. 11, Gen. 39, Dan. 3. Satan and the world pursued them—but could not overtake them. When the devil and the world had done their worst, the young men's bows abode in strength, and their hands were made strong to resist by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob, Gen. 49:23-24. Said that young convert when tempted—I am not the man that I was.
Luther tells of a young virgin that used to resist all temptations with this—I am a Christian. Early converts may say, when tempted, as Luther did—Tell me not, Satan, what I have been—but what I am and will be. Or as he in the like case, Whatever I was, I am now in Christ a new creature, and that is it which troubles you. Or as he—The more desperate my disease was, the more I admire the physician. Yes, you may yet strain it a peg higher, and say, The greater my sins were—the greater is my honor; as the devils which once Mary Magdalene had—are mentioned for her glory. When Pyrrhus tempted Fabricius the first day with an elephant, so huge and monstrous a beast, as before he had not seen, the next day with money and promises of honor, he answered, I fear not your force; I am too wise for your fraud.
Ah! young men, young men, as you would be free from the saddest and darkest temptations, and as you would be armed against all temptations, oh labor as for life to be godly early! seek and serve the Lord in the morning of your youth. No way like this for the preventing earthquakes, heartquakes, stormy days, and winter nights, etc.
Motive (9). The ninth motive or consideration to stir up young men to be godly early, to seek and serve the Lord in the spring and morning of their youth, is,To consider the worth and excellency of souls.
A soul is a spiritual, immortal substance; it is capable of the knowledge of God, it is capable of union with God, of communion with God, and of a blessed and happy fruition of God, Mat. 19:28; Acts 7:59-60; Philip. 1:23.
Christ left his Father's bosom for the good of souls; he assumed man's nature for the salvation of man's soul. Christ prayed for souls, he sweat for souls, he wept for souls, he bled for souls, he hung on the cross for souls, he trod the wine-press of his Father's wrath for souls, he died for souls, he rose again from death for souls, he ascended for souls, he intercedes for souls, and all the glorious preparations that he has been a-making in heaven these sixteen hundred years is for souls, Heb. 2:13-16; Isaiah 63:3; John 14:1-3.
Ah! young men, young men, do not play the courtier with your precious souls. The courtier does all things late; he rises late, dines late, sups late, goes to bed late, repents late.
Ah! sirs, the good of your souls is before all, and above all other things in the world; to be first regarded and provided for, and that partly because it is the best and more noble part of man, and partly because therein mostly and properly is the image of God stamped, and partly because it is the first converted, and partly because it shall be the first and most glorified.
Ah! young men, young men, if they be worse than infidels, that make no provision for their families, 1 Tim. 5:8; what monsters are those who make not provision for their own souls! This will be bitterness in the end.
Caesar Borgias being sick to death, lamentably said, "When I lived, I provided for everything but death; now I must die, and am unprovided to die." This was a dart at his heart, and it will at last be a dagger at yours, who feast your bodies—but starve your souls; who make liberal provision for your ignoble part—but no provision for your more noble part.
If they deserve a hanging, who feast their slaves, and starve their wives; who make provision for their enemies—but none for their friend; how will you escape hanging in hell, who make provision for everything, yes, for all your lusts—but make no provision for your immortal souls? James 4:2-3; Hos. 7:13-14. We hate the Turks for selling Christians for slaves, and what shall we think then, of those who sell themselves, their precious souls—for toys and trifles which cannot profit? who practically say, what once a profane nobleman of Naples verbally said, namely—that he had two souls in his body, one for God, and another for whoever would buy it.
Ah! young men, young men, do not pawn your souls, do not sell your souls, do not exchange away your souls, do not trifle and fool away your precious souls! They are jewels, more worth than a thousand worlds, yes, than heaven and earth. If they are safe—all is safe; but if they are lost—all is lost: God lost, and Christ lost, and the society of glorious angels and blessed saints lost, and heaven lost—and that forever! Granetensis tells of a woman who was so affected with souls' miscarryings, that she besought God to stop up the passage into hell with her soul and body, that none might have entrance.
Ah that all young people were so affected with the worth and excellency of their souls, and so alarmed with the hazard and danger of losing their souls, as that they may in the spring and morning of their days inquire after the Lord, and seek him, and serve him with all their might, that so their precious and immortal souls may be safe and happy forever. But if all this will not do, then in the last place,
Motive (10). Tenthly, Consider, young men,That God will at last bring you to a reckoning. He will at last bring you to judgment.
"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, but know that for all these things God will bring you to judgment," Eccles. 11:9. In these words you have two things:
(1.) An ironic concession; he bids him "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." He yields him what he would have, by an irony, by way of mockage and bitter scoff. Now you are young and strong, lively and lusty, and your bones are full of marrow; you are resolved to be proud and scornful, to indulge the flesh, and to follow your delights and pleasures. Well! take your course if you dare, or if you have a mind to it, if your heart be so set upon it. ""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."
(2.) The second is a warning, or a sad and severe premonition: "But know that for all these things God will bring you to judgment." "God will bring you;" these words import two things: first, the unwillingness of youth to come to judgment; secondly, the unavoidableness that youth must come to judgment; but how soon you shall be brought to judgment, is only known to God.
Augustine confesses in one of his books, that as long as his conscience was gnawed with the guilt of some youthful lust he was once ensnared with, the very hearing of a day of judgment, was even a hell to him.
Histories tell us of a young man, who being for some capital offence condemned to die, grew grey in one night's space, and was therefore pitied and spared.
Ah! young men, young men—may the serious thoughts of this great day put you upon breaking off the sins of your youth; and the dedicating of yourselves to the knowledge, love, and service of the Lord, in the spring and flower of your days. Ah! young men, consider the errors of your lives, the wickedness of your hearts, the sinfulness of your ways, and that strict account that before long you must be brought to before the judge of all the world.
The heathens themselves had some kind of dread and expectation of such a day; and therefore, when Paul spoke of judgment to come, Felix trembled, though a heathen, Acts 24:25.
The bringing into judgment is a thing which is known by reason, and is clear by the light of nature; therefore, in Austria, one of the nobles dying, who had lived ninety-three years, and had spent all his life in pleasures and delights, never being troubled with any infirmity, and this being told to Frederick the emperor, From hence, says he, we may conclude the soul's immortality; for if there is a God who rules this world, as divines and philosophers teach, and that he is just no one denies; surely there are other places to which souls after death do go, and receive for their deeds either reward or punishment, for here on earth, we see that neither rewards are given to the good, nor punishments to the evil.
Ah, young men! "knowing therefore the terror of the Lord," 2 Cor. 5:9-11, and the terror of this day, oh! that you would be persuaded to flee from the wrath to come, to cast away the idols of your souls, to repent and be converted in the primrose of your youth, that your sins may be blotted out when "the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord," Acts 3:19, or else woe! woe! to you that ever you were born!
I have read a story of one who, being risen from the dead, and being asked in what condition he was, he made answer, No man does believe, no man does believe, no man does believe. And being further asked what he meant by that repetition, he answered, No man does believe how exactly God examines, how strictly God judges, how severely he punishes. Oh that the ways of most young people did not declare to all the world that they do not, and that they will not believe the dread and terror of that day that will admit of no plea, nor place for apology or appeal! The highest and last tribunal can never be appealed from, or repealed.
Now if, for all that has been said, you are resolved to spend the flower of your days, and the prime of your strength—in the service of sin and the world; then know that no tongue can express, no heart can conceive that trouble of mind, that terror of soul, that horror of conscience, that fear and amazement, that weeping and wailing, that crying and roaring, that sighing and groaning, that cursing and howling, that stamping and tearing, that wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth—which shall certainly attend you, when God shall bring you into judgment—for all your looseness and lightness, for all your wickedness and wantonness, for all your profaneness and baseness, for all your neglect of God, your grieving the Comforter, your trampling under foot the blood of a Savior, for your despising of the means, for your prizing earth above heaven, and the pleasures of this world above the pleasures which are at God's right hand.
Oh! how will you wish in that day when your sins shall be charged on you—when justice shall be armed against you—when conscience shall be gnawing within you—when the world shall be a flaming fire about you—when the gates of heaven shall be shut against you—and the flame of hell ready to take hold of you—when angels and saints shall sit in judgment upon you, and forever turn their faces from you—when evil spirits shall be terrifying of you—and Jesus Christ forever disowning of you; how will you, I say, wish in that day—that you had never been born, or that you might now be unborn, or that your mothers' wombs had been your tombs! Oh, how will you then wish to be turned into a bird, a beast, a stock, a stone, a toad, a tree! How you sill say, Oh that our immortal souls were mortal! Oh that we were nothing! Oh that we were anything but what we are!
I have read a remarkable story of a king who was depressed and sad, and wept; which, when his brother saw, he asked him why he was so pensive? Because, says he, I have judged others, and now I must be judged myself. And why, says his brother, are you now so sad about this? it will, happily, be a long time before that day comes, and besides that, it is but a slight matter. The king said little about it for the present. Now, it was a custom in that country, when any had committed treason, there was a trumpet sounded at his door in the night time, and he was next day brought out to be executed. Now, the king commanded a trumpet to be sounded at his brother's door in the nighttime, who, awakening out of his sleep, when he heard it, arose, and came quaking and trembling to the king. How now? says the king; why are you are so affrighted? I am, says he, accused of treason, and next morning I shall be executed. Why, says the king to him again, are you so troubled at that, knowing that you shall be judged by your brother, and for a matter that your conscience tells you you are clear of? How much more, therefore, may I be afraid, seeing that God shall judge me, and not in a matter that my conscience frees me of—but of that whereof I am guilty? And beside this, if the worst comes—it is but a temporary death you shall die—but I am liable to death eternal, both of body and soul. I will leave the application to those young people that put this day afar off, and whom no arguments will move to be godly early, and to acquaint themselves with the Lord in the morning of their youth.
But now to those young men and women who begin to seek, serve, and love the Lord in the primrose of their days—the day of judgment will be to them like music in the ear, and a jubilee in the heart. This day will be to them "a day of refreshing," a "day of redemption," a day of vindication, a day of coronation, a day of consolation, a day of salvation; it will be to them a marriage-day, a harvest-day, a pay-day. Now the Lord will pay them for all the prayers they have made, for all the sermons they have heard, for all the tears they have shed. In this great day Christ will remember all the individual offices of love and friendship showed to any of his people. Now he will mention many things for their honor and comfort that they never minded, now the least and lowest acts of love and pity towards his shall be interpreted as a special kindness shown to himself. Now the crown shall be set upon their heads, and the royal robes put upon their backs; now all the world shall see that they have not served the Lord for nothing. Now Christ will pass over all their weaknesses, and make honorable mention of all the services they have performed, of all the mercies they have improved, and of all the great things that for his name and glory they have suffered.