DIRECTIONS and HELPS that must, by assistance from heaven, be put in practice, if ever you would be godly early, and serve the Lord in the primrose of your days. Now all that I shall say will fall under these two heads.
First, Some things you must carefully and watchfully decline, and arm yourselves against; and
Secondly, There are other things that you must prosecute and follow.
First,There are some things that you must watchfully decline, and they are these.
Direction, (1). First, If ever you would be godly early, if you would be gracious in the spring and morning of your youth, oh! then,take heed of putting the day of death far from you, Amos 6:3, "You push away every thought of coming disaster."
Young men are very prone to look upon death afar off, to put it at a great distance from them. They are apt to say to death as Pharaoh said to Moses, "Get away from me, and let me see your face no more," Exod. 10:28. If old men discourse to them of death, they are ready to answer, as the high priest did Judas in a different case, Mat 27:4, "What is that to us? look you unto it." We know sickness will come, and death is a debt that we must all pay, but surely these guests are a great way from us; for does not David say, "The days of a man are threescore years and ten"? Psalm 90:10. We have calculated our nativities, and we cannot abate a day, a minute, a moment, of "threescore and ten;" and therefore it is even a death to think of death; there being so great a distance between our birth-day and our dying-day, as we have cast up the account.
Ah! young men, it is sad, it is very sad, when you are so wittily wicked as to say with those in Ezekiel, "the people of Israel are saying—His visions won't come true for a long, long time." Ezek. 12:27.
Ah! young men, young men, by putting far away this day—you gratify Satan, you strengthen sin, you provoke the Lord, you make the work of faith and repentance more hard and difficult, you lay a sad foundation for the greatest fears and doubts.
Ah! how soon may that sad word be fulfilled upon you, "The Lord of that servant (who says his Lord delays his coming) shall come in a day when he looks not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, and shall cut him asunder (or cut him off), and appoint him his portion with hypocrites; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth," Mat. 24:48-51. When Sodom, when Pharaoh, when Agag, when Amalek, when Haman, when Herod, when Nebuchadnezzar, when Belshazzar, when Dives, when the fool in the Gospel—were all in their prime, their pride, when they were all in a flourishing state, and upon the very top of their glory—how strangely, how suddenly, how sadly, how fearfully, how astonishingly—were they brought down to the grave, to hell!
Ah young man, who are you? and what is your name or fame? what is your power or place? what is your dignity or glory? that you dare promise yourself an exemption from sharing in as sad a portion as ever justice gave to those who were once very high, who were seated among the stars, but are now brought down to the pit of hell, Isaiah 13:10-17. I have read a story of one that gave a young prodigal a ring with a death's head, on this condition, that he should one hour daily, for seven days together, look and think upon it; which bred a great change in his life.
Ah! young men, the serious thoughts of death may do that for you which neither friends, counsel, examples, prayers, sermons, tears, have not done to this very day. Well! remember this; to labor not to die is labor in vain, and to put this day far from you, and to live without fear of death, is to die living. Death seizes on old men, and lays wait for the youngest. Death is oftentimes as near to the young man's back as it is to the old man's face.
It is storied of Charles the Fourth, king of France, that being one time affected with the sense of his many and great sins, he fetched a deep sigh, and said to his wife, By the help of God I will now so carry myself all my life long, that I will never offend him more; which words he had no sooner uttered, but he fell down dead and died.
Do not, young men, put this day far from you, lest you are suddenly surprised, and then you cry out, when too late, "A kingdom for a Christ, a kingdom for a Christ!"
Ah! young men, did you never hear of a young man that cried out, "Oh! I am so sick, that I cannot live, and yet, woeful wretch that I am! so sinful, that I dare not die. Oh that I might live! oh that I might die! oh that I might do neither!" Well! young men, remember this, the frequent, the serious thoughts of death will prevent many a sin, it will arm you against many temptations, it will secure you from many afflictions, it will keep you from doating on the world, it will make you do much in a little time, it will make death easy when it comes, and it will make you look out early for an unshakable kingdom, for incorruptible riches, and for unfading glory. Therefore do not, Oh do not put the day of death far from you. Take heed of crying tomorrow, tomorrow, says Luther; for a man lives forty years before he knows himself to be a fool, and by that time he sees his folly, his life is finished. So men die before they begin to live.
Direction (2). Secondly, If you would be godly early, thentake heed of leaning to your own understanding.
This counsel wise Solomon gives to his son (or the young men in his time): "My child, never forget the things I have taught you. Store my commands in your heart. Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not lean on your own understanding," Proverbs 3:1, 5.
Youth is the age of folly, of vain hopes, and overgrown confidence. Ah! how wise might many have been, had they not been wise in their own opinion when young.
Rehoboam's young counselors proved the overthrow of his kingdom. It is brave for youth at all times to be discreet and sober-minded. Three virtues, they say, are prime ornaments of youth, modesty, silence, and obedience.
Ah! young men, keep close in every action to this one principle, namely, in every action resolve to be discreet and wise. Ah! young men, your leaning upon yourselves, or upon others, will in the end be bitterness and vexation of spirit. Young men are very apt to lean on their own wit, wisdom, arts, parts, as old men are to lean on a staff to support them (as the Hebrew word signifies, that is rendered lean, in that of Proverbs 3:5). This has been the bane of many a choice wit, the loss of many a brave head, the ruin of many a fine mind.
Ajax thought it was only for cowards and weaklings to lean upon the Lord for support, not for him when he was foiled. Lean not to great parts, lean not to natural or acquired accomplishments, lest you lose them and yourselves too. Leaning to natural or moral excellencies, is the ready way to be stripped of all. Babylon, who was bold bold upon her high towers, thick walls, and twenty years' provision laid in for a siege, was surprised by Cyrus.
It was said of Caesar, that he received not his wounds from the swords of enemies, but from the hands of friends; that is, from trusting in them. Ah! how many young men have been wounded, yes slain, by trusting to their own understandings, their own abilities!
It was an excellent saying of Austin, He who stands upon his own strength, shall never stand. A creature is like a single drop left to itself, it spends and wastes itself presently, but if like a drop in the fountain and ocean of being, it has abundance of security.
Ah! young men, young men, if you will need be leaning, then lean upon precious promises, 2 Peter 1:4, Psalm 27:1; lean upon the rock that is higher than yourselves, lean upon the Lord Jesus Christ, as John did, who was the youngest of all the disciples, and the most beloved of all the disciples, John 21:20, chapter 13:23. John leaned much, and Christ loved him much. Oh lean upon Christ's wisdom for direction, lean upon his power for protection, lean upon his purse, his fullness, for provision, Cant. 8:5; lean upon his eye for approbation, lean upon his righteousness for justification, lean upon his blood for remission, lean upon his merits for salvation. As the young vine, without her wall to support her, will fall and sink, so will you, young men—without Christ putting his everlasting arms under you to support you, and uphold you. Therefore, above all leanings, lean upon him. By leaning on him, you will engage him; by leaning on him, you will gain more honor than you can give; by leaning on him, you may even command him, and make him eternally yours, etc.
Direction (3). Thirdly, If you would be godly early, if you would seek and serve the Lord in the spring and morning of your days, thentake heed of flatterers and flattery. Ah! how many young men might have been very godly, who are now exceeding bad, by hearkening to flatterers, and pretending flattery! Flattery undid young Rehoboam, Ahab, Herod, Nero, Alexander, etc. Flatterers are soul-murderers; they are soul-undoers. They are like evil surgeons, who skin over the wound, but never heal it.
The emperor Anastasius' motto was, Smooth talk proves often sweet poison. Flattery is the very spring and mother of all impiety; it blows the trumpet, and draws poor souls into rebellion against God, as Sheba drew Israel to rebel against David. It put our first parents upon tasting the forbidden fruit; it put Absalom upon dethroning of his father; it put Haman upon plotting the ruin of the Jews; it put Korah, Dathan, and Abiram upon rebelling against Moses; it makes men call evil good and good evil, darkness light and light darkness, etc. Flattery puts people upon neglecting the means of grace, upon undervaluing the means of grace, and upon despising the means of grace; it puts men upon abasing God, slighting Christ, and vexing the Spirit; it unmans a man; it makes him call black white and white black; it makes a man exchange pearls for pebbles, and gold for counters; it makes a man judge himself wise when he is foolish; knowing, when he is ignorant; holy, when he is profane; free, when he is a prisoner; rich, when he is poor; high, when he is low; full, when he is empty; happy, when he is miserable, Rev. 3:17-18.
Ah! young men, young men, take heed of flatterers; they are the very worst of sinners; they are left by God, blinded by Satan, hardened in sin, and ripened for hell! God declares sadly against them, and that in his word and in his works: in his word, as you may see by comparing these scriptures together, Deut. 29:18-20; Psalm 78:36, 36:1, 3; Job 17:5; Ezek. 12:24; Dan. 11:21, 32, 34. Psalm 12:2-3, "They speak vanity everyone with his neighbor: with flattering lips, and with a double heart, do they speak. The Lord shall cut off all flattering lips, and the tongue that speaks proud things." And as God declares sadly against them in his word, so he has declared terribly against them in his works, as you may run and read in his judgments executed upon Ahab's flattering prophets, and upon Haman, and upon Daniel's princely false accusers, etc. And why, then, will not you stop your ears against those wretches, whom the hand and heart of God is so much against?
Again, as God declares against them, so godly men detest them and declare against them, as you may see by comparing these scriptures together, Psalm 5:8-10; Proverbs 2:16, Proverbs 7:21, Proverbs 28:23; Job 32:21-22; 1 Thes. 2:5, 10. Proverbs 20:19, "Meddle not with him who flatters with his lips." Why so? Why! Because a man who flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet, Proverbs 29:5. The Hebrew word that is here rendered flatterer, signifies a soft butter-spoken man, because flatterers use smooth, soft speeches. Also the word signifies "to divide," because a flatterer's tongue is divided from his heart. Flatterers have their nets, and those who give ear to them will be taken to their ruin. A lying tongue hates those who are afflicted by it, and "a flattering mouth works ruin," Proverbs 26:28. A flattering mouth ruins name, fame, estate, body, soul, life.
Valerian, the Roman emperor, used to say, Not bitter words—but flattering words do all the mischief.
When Alexander the Great was hit with an arrow in the siege of an Indian city, which would not heal, he said to his flatterers, You say that I am Jupiter's son—but this wound cries that I am but a man.
Now shall godly men detest them and abhor them, as they are the pest of pests, the plague of plagues; and will you own them, will you take pleasure in them, to your ruin here and hereafter? The Lord forbid! Oh say to all flatterers, as he to his idols, "Get hence, for what have I more to do with you?" Hosea 14:8.
Nay, once more consider, that not only the good—but the bad, not only the best—but some of the worst of men, have manifested their detestation of flatterers and flattery.
When a court parasite praised Sigismund the emperor above measure, the emperor gave him a sound beating.
When Aristobulus the historian presented to Alexander, the great book that he had written of his glorious acts, wherein he had flatteringly made him greater than he was, Alexander, after he had read the book, threw it into the river Hydaspes, and said to the author, It were a good deed to throw you after it.
When the flatterers flattered Antigonus, he cried out, You lie, you lie in your throat; these virtues that you speak of I have not in me—I am like a leopard, that have ten black spots to one white.
Augustus Caesar and Tiberius Caesar were deadly enemies to flatterers, insomuch that they would not be called lords by their own children.
A good saying is attributed to Trebonianus Gallus, namely, No flatterer can be a true friend.
Ah! young men, young men, shall God, shall godly men, shall bad men, detest and declare against flatterers and flattery, and will not you turn a deaf ear upon them, yes, fly from them as from a serpent, and shun them as you would shun hell itself? If you do not, the very heathens but now cited will rise in judgment against you.
Flatterers are the very worst of sinners. The flatterers told Caesar, that his freckles in his face were like the stars in the skies. They bought and sold Aurelius the emperor at pleasure. And Augustus complained, when Varrus was dead, that he had none now left that would deal plainly and faithfully with him.
I have been the longer upon this, out of love to young men's souls, who are so apt to be ensnared in the flatterer's net. If ever you would be good in good earnest, you must abhor flatterers as the first-born of the devil, and as such as are most pernicious to men's happiness both here and hereafter.
It is reported of one Oramazes, that he had an enchanted egg, in which, as he boasted himself, he had enclosed all the happiness of the world; but being broken, nothing was found in it but wind. Flatterers are the greatest cheaters, the greatest deceivers in the world.
They say of the crocodile, that when he has killed a man, he will weep over him, as if he were sorry, and did repent for what he had done; the application is easy.
Direction (4). Fourthly, If you would be godly early, if you would seek and serve the Lord in the spring and morning of your days, thentake heed of engaged affections to the things of the world.
The young man in the Gospel took many a step towards heaven: "All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?" Mat. 19:16-24. Christ makes a very fair offer to him in the next words: "If you will be perfect, go and sell that you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me." You shall have heaven for earth, a sea for a drop, a treasure for a mite, a crown for a crumb. Ay—but the young man's affections were strongly engaged to the things of the world; and therefore he turns his back upon Christ, and goes away sorrowful, because he had great possessions. Oh the madness, the folly of this young man, who, to enjoy a little temporal felicity, has bid an everlasting farewell to Christ and glory!
In Genesis 13:2, it is said, that Abraham was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold; the Hebrew word which is here rendered rich, signifies heavy; it signifies a burden, to show us that riches are a heavy burden and an hindrance many times to heaven and happiness; and this young man in the Gospel found it so to his eternal undoing. Though the loadstone cannot draw the iron when the diamond is in presence, yet earthly possessions did draw this young man's soul away when Christ the pearl of price was present. The world is a silken net, and this young man found it so; the world is like golden fetters, and this young man found it so; the world is like sweet poison, and this young man found it so; for he had drunk so large a draught of it, that there was no room in his soul for Christ or heaven, for grace or glory.
Some say, that when the serpent Scytale cannot overtake the flying passenger, she does with her beautiful colors so astonish and amaze them, that they have no power to pass away until she have stung them; such a serpent the world proved to the young man in the Gospel; it did so affect him and take him, so amaze him and amuse him, that he could not stir until it stung him to death.
When the moon is fullest, it is furthest from the sun; so the more men have of the world, the further commonly they are from God; and this the young man in the Gospel demonstrated.
Many have ventured life and limb, and many a better thing, to gain the things of this world; and yet, after all, they have got nothing at all. Achan's golden wedge proved a wedge to cleave him; and his stolen garment—a garment to shroud him.
The whole world is circular, the heart of a man is triangular, and we know a circle cannot fill a triangle; yes, if it is not filled with the Trinity, it will be filled with the world, the flesh, and the devil. The world may be resembled to the fruit that undid us all, which was fair to the sight, smooth in handling, sweet in taste—but deadly in effect and operation.
Ah! young men, young men, have none of you found it so?
The world in all its bravery is no better than the cities which Solomon gave to Hiram, which he called Cabul, that is to say, displeasing or dirty, 1 Kings 9:13; the world will afford nothing but trivial flowers, surrounded with many briers. Oh the vanity, the uncertainty, the imperfection of all things below! If a man should weigh his pay and his pains together, his miseries and his pleasures together, his joys and his sorrows together, his mercies and his crosses together, his good days and his bad days together, will he not conclude, Vanity of vanities, and all is vanity?
It was a wise and Christian speech of Charles the Fifth to the Duke of Venice, who, when he had showed him the glory of his princely palace and earthly paradise, instead of admiring it, or him for it, only returned him this grave and serious memento, These are the things which make us unwilling to die. It was a good saying of one to a great Lord, upon his showing him his stately house and pleasant gardens, Sir, you had need make sure of heaven, or else when you die you will be a very great loser.
Ah! young men, young men, it is only heaven that is above all winds, storms, and tempests; nor has God cast man out of paradise for him to think to find out another paradise in this world. The main reason why many young men doat upon the world is, because they are not acquainted with a greater glory. Men ate acorns until they were acquainted with the use of wheat. The woman had the moon under her feet when she was clothed with the sun, and had a crown of twelve stars upon her head, Rev. 12:1.
Ah! young men, were you but clothed with the Sun of righteousness, and had you a crown set upon your heads by the hand of faith, you would have all the things of this world—which are as low, bespotted, and mutable as the moon—under your feet, Heb.11: 24-27, 35; Heb. 10:34. Well! young men, as ever you would be godly early, sit loose from the things of this world, be no longer worshipers of this golden calf, and never let the world, that shall be but your servant, become your Lord. Oh! let not the devil and the world have more service for an ounce of gold, than Christ shall have for the kingdom of heaven!
Ah, young men! the world and you must part, or Christ and you will never meet, "you cannot serve God and mammon," Matt. 6:24. The two poles shall sooner meet, than the love of Christ and the love of the world.
Direction (5). Fifthly, If you would be godly early, if you would know, seek, and serve the Lord in the spring and morning of your youth, thentake heed early of carnal reason, take heed of consulting with flesh and blood, Gal. 1:15-16.
Many a hopeful young man has been undone temporally and undone eternally, by hearkening to those evil counselors.
Carnal reason is an enemy, yes, an utter enemy, nay, it is not only an utter enemy—but it is enmity, yes, enmities, Romans 8:7. An enemy may be reconciled—but enmity can never be reconciled. Carnal reason is not only averse—but it is utterly averse to all goodness; it builds strongholds and arguments against the most glorious gospel truths, and accounts the precious things of Christ as a strange thing. Carnal reason will make God and gospel do homage to it. When carnal reason is on the throne, Christ and his truths must all bow or be judged before its bar.
Ah! young men, young men, as ever you would be godly early, stop your ears against all carnal reasonings within you. Carnal reason judges the choicest things of the gospel to be mere foolishness, 1 Cor. 1:23. It is blind, and cannot see how to make a right judgment of Christ, his word, his ways, and yet will control all.
If you are resolved to be still scholars to this master, then you must resolve to be unhappy here and miserable hereafter. But it is safer and better for you to imitate those young men, who in the morning of their days have graciously, wisely, and resolutely withstood those evil counselors—carnal reason, flesh and blood; Joseph and Moses, Daniel, Shadrach, Mesbach, and Abednego, all these in the primrose of their youth were good at turning the deaf ear to carnal counsel and carnal counselors, Gen. 39:7-11, etc; Heb. 11:24-26; Dan. 1.
Cassianus reports of a young man that had given himself up to a Christian life, and his parents disliking that way, they wrote letters to him to persuade him from it; and when he knew they were letters come from them, he would not open them—but threw them into the fire. This example is worth a following.
Another famous example you have in the story of King Edward the Sixth, when Cranmer and Ridley came to him, and were very earnest to have him give way to his sister to have mass. He stood out and pleaded the case with them, that it was a sin against God, and provoking to the eyes of his glory, etc.—but they still continued to use many carnal arguments to persuade the king, who was but a child about fifteen years of age—but he withstood them a great while; but at length when he saw he could not prevail with all his pleading against those brave men—but that they still continued their suit, he burst out into bitter weeping and sobbing, desiring them to desist. The motioners seeing his zeal and constancy, being overcome, they went away and told one that the king had more divinity in his little finger, than they had in all their bodies.
Ah! young men, it will be your safety and your glory to write after this princely copy, when you are surrounded with carnal reason and carnal counselors, etc.
Direction (6). Sixthly and lastly, If you would be godly early, thentake heed of comparing yourselves with those who are worse than yourselves.
Young men are very apt to compare themselves with those who are worse than themselves, and this proves a snare unto them, yes, oftentimes their bane, their ruin—as it did the young pharisee in the Gospel, who pleaded his negative righteousness. He was not as other men are, "extortioners, unjust, adulterers," and stood on his comparative goodness, "nor as this publican;" he stands not only upon his comparisons—but upon his disparisons, being blind at home, and too quick-sighted abroad; he despises and condemns this poor publican, who was better than himself, Luke 18:11-14, making good that saying of Seneca, "The nature of man," says he, "is very apt to use spectacles to behold other men's faults, rather than looking-glasses to behold our own." Such pharisees do justly incur the censure which that sour philosopher passed upon grammarians, that they were better acquainted with the evil of Ulysses than with their own.
Ah! young man, young man, you know, he who drinks poison, though he drinks not so much as another, and he who commits treason, though not so great, so high treason as another—shall yet as certainly be poisoned, and hanged—as he who has drunk a greater quantity of poison, and committed higher acts of treason.
Sirs! do not delude and befool your own souls; if you are not as wicked as others, you shall not be as much tormented as others—but yet you shall be as certainly damned as others; you shall as certain to hell as others; you shall as sure be shut out forever from God, Christ, saints, angels, and all the treasures, pleasures, and glories of heaven, as others, except it be prevented by timely repentance on your side, and pardoning mercy on God's side.
Will you count it madness, O young man! in him who is sick, to reason thus? I am not so sick as such and such, and therefore I will not send to the physician; and in the wounded man to say, I am not so desperately wounded as such and such, and therefore I will not send to the surgeon; and in the traitor to say, I am not guilty of so many foul and heinous treasons as such and such, and therefore I will not look after a pardon; and in the necessitous man to say, I am not so poor as such and such, and therefore I will not welcome a hand of charity? And will you not count it the greatest madness in the world for you to put off your repentance, and your returning to the Lord in the spring and morning of your youth, because that you are not as sinful, as wicked as such and such. If to have a milder punishment in hell than others, will satisfy you, then go on; but if you are afraid of the worm which never dies, and of the fire which never goes out, being like that stone in Arcadia, which being once kindled could not be quenched, oh, then, begin to be godly early! Oh seek and serve the Lord in the spring and morning of your days!
To think often of hell, is the best way to be preserved from falling into hell. Ah! young men, young men, that you would often consider of the bitterness of the damned's torments, and of the pitilessness of their torments, and of the diversity of their torments, and of the easelessness of their torments, and of the remedilessness of their torments, the eternity of their torments. The sinner's delight here is momentary, that which torments hereafter is perpetual. When a sinner is in hell, do you think, O young man! that another Christ shall be found to die for him, or that the same Christ will be crucified again for him, or that another gospel should be preached to him? Surely not!
Ah! why then will you not early return and seek out after the things that belong to your everlasting peace? I have read of Pope Clement the Fifth, that when a young nephew of his died, he sent his chaplain to a necromancer, to know of him how it fared with him in the other world; the conjuror showed him to the chaplain, lying in a fiery bed in hell, which, when the pope understood, he never joyed more, etc.
Ah! young man, that these occasional hints of hell may be a means to preserve you from lying in those everlasting flames.
Bellarmine tells us of a certain advocate of the court of Rome, that being at the point of death, was stirred up by those who stood by, to repent and call upon God for mercy; he, with a constant countenance, and without sign of fear, turned his speech to God, and said, Lord! I have a desire to speak unto you, not for myself—but for my wife and children, for I am hastening to hell, neither is there anything that you should do for me.
Sir Francis Bacon relates how it was a common byword of the Lord Cordes, that he would be content to live seven years in hell, so he might win Calais from the English; but if you, O young man, are given up to such desperate atheism, and carnal apprehensions of hell, I am afraid God will confute you one day by fire and brimstone; but I would willingly hope better things of all those young people, into whose hands this treatise shall fall; and thus you see what things must be declined and avoided—if ever you would be godly early, if ever you would seek and serve the Lord in the spring and morning of your days.