you must labor to be acquainted with four things early.
APPLES OF GOLD
by Thomas Brooks, 1660
There are things which must carefully and diligently be practiced, if ever you would be godly early. I shall instance only in those who are most considerable and weighty; as,
First, If ever you would be godly early, etc., then
Duty (1). First, You must labor to acquaint yourselves with theSCRIPTURE early. You must study the word early. David studied the word in the morning of his days, in the primrose of his youth; and this made him wiser than his enemies, yes, than his teachers; this made him as much excel the ancients, as the sun excels the moon, or as the moon excels the twinkling stars, Psalm 119:97-103. Timothy was godly early; and no wonder, for in the primrose of his days he was acquainted with the Scripture; he was nurtured on the word from his childhood, yes, from his infancy, as the word properly signifies. So in that 119th Psalm, the 9th verse, "How shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to your word." There is no way to a holy heart and a clean life but by acquainting yourselves with the word early. One has long since observed, that God has bowed down the Scriptures to the capacity even of babes and sucklings, that all excuse may be taken away, and that young men may be encouraged to study the Scripture early. Ah, young men! no histories are comparable to the histories of the Scriptures: 1, for antiquity; 2, rarity; 3; variety; 4, brevity; 5, perspicuity; 6, harmony; 7, verity. All other books cannot equal God's, either in age or authority, in dignity or excellency, in sufficiency or glory.
Moses is found more ancient and more honorable than all those whom the heathens make most ancient and honorable; as Homer, Hesiod, and Jupiter himself, whom the Greeks have seated in the top of their divinity.
The whole of Scripture is but one entire love-letter, despatched from the Lord Christ to his beloved spouse; and who then but would still be a reading in this love-letter? Like Caecilia, a Roman maiden of noble parentage, who carried always about her the New Testament, that she might still be a-reading in Christ's love-letter, and behold the sweet workings of his love and heart towards his dear and precious ones.
Luther found so much sweetness in the word, in Christ's love-letter, that made him say he would not live in paradise, if he might, without the word; but with the word he could live in hell itself.
The word is like the stone garamantides, that has drops of gold in itself, enriching of the believing soul. This the martyrs found, which made them willing to give a load of hay for a few leaves of the Bible in English.
Augustine professes that the sacred Scriptures were his whole delight.
And Jerome tells us of one Nepotianus, who, by long and assiduous meditation on the holy Scriptures, had made his heart the library of Jesus Christ.
And Rabbi Chiia, in the Jerusalem Talmud, says that in his account all the world is not of equal value with one word out of the law. That which a papist reports lyingly of their sacrament of the mass, namely, that there are as many mysteries in it as there be drops in the sea, dust on the earth, angels in heaven, stars in the sky, atoms in the sunbeams, or sands on the sea-shore, etc., may be truly asserted of the Holy Scriptures.
Oh! the mysteries, the excellencies, the glories that are in the word! Ah! no book to this book; none so useful, none so needful, none so delightful, none so necessary to make you happy and to keep you happy as this. It is said of Caesar, that he had a greater care of his books than of his royal robes; for, swimming through the waters to escape his enemies, he carried his books in his hand above the waters—but lost his robe. Now, what are Caesar's books to God's books?
Ah! young men, young men! the word of the Lord is a light to guide you, a Counselor to counsel you, a comforter to comfort you, a staff to support you, a sword to defend you, and a physician to cure you. The word is a mine to enrich you, a robe to clothe you, and a crown to crown you. It is bread to strengthen you, and wine to cheer you, and a honeycomb to feast you, and music to delight you, and a paradise to entertain you.
Oh! therefore, before all and above all, search the Scripture, study the Scripture, dwell on the Scripture, delight in the Scripture, treasure up the Scripture! There is no wisdom like Scripture wisdom, no knowledge like Scripture knowledge, no experience like Scripture experience, no comforts like Scripture comforts, no delights like Scripture delights, no convictions like Scripture convictions, no conversion like Scripture conversion.
Augustine hearing a voice from heaven, which bade him take and read, tolle et lege, whereupon, turning open the New Testament, he fell upon that place, "Let us walk with decency, as in the daylight: not in carousing and drunkenness; not in sexual impurity and promiscuity; not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no plans to satisfy the fleshly desires," Romans 13:13-14. This scripture so sunk into his heart, as that it proved the means of his conversion, as he himself reports. This Augustine, as he was once preaching, his memory failing of him, contrary to his purpose, he fell upon reproving the Manicheans, and by a scripture or two, not before thought of, to confute their heresies, he converted Firmus, a Manichean, as he after acknowledged to Augustine, blessing God for that sermon.
It is reported of one Adrianus, who seeing the martyrs suffer such grievous things in the cause of God, he asked what was that which caused them to suffer such things and one of them named that text, "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man to conceive—the things which God has prepared for those who love him," 1 Cor. 2:9. And this text was set home with such a power upon him, as that it converted him and made him to profess true religion, and not only to profess it—but to die a martyr for it.
Cyprian was converted by reading the prophecy of Jonah. Junius was converted by reading the first chapter of John the evangelist.
I have read of a scandalous minister that was struck at the heart, and converted, in reading that scripture: "You then, who teach another, do you not teach yourself?" etc., Romans 2:21.
We read that Paphnutius converted Thais and Ephron, two famous strumpets, from uncleanness, only with this scripture argument, "That God sees all things in the dark, when the doors are fast closed, the windows shut, the curtains drawn," Heb. 4:13.
I have read of a poor man who persuaded a young scholar to leave reading of poetry, etc., and fall upon reading of the Scripture, which accordingly be did; and it pleased the Lord, before he had read out Genesis, to change his heart and to turn him to the Lord in the primrose of his days, he being then but twenty years of age.
I have read of a young lady, called Potamia, of a very illustrious family, who endured very much in her martyrdom, by the extreme cruelty of Basilides her executioner, yet, after her death, he bethinking himself of the holy words and scripture-expressions that were uttered by her, during her cruel torments, became a Christian, and within few days after was himself likewise crowned with martyrdom.
James Andreas, a godly minister, hearing of a Jew that for theft was hanged by the heels, with his head downward; having not seen that kind of punishment, he went to the place where he was hanging between two dogs that were always snatching at him to eat his flesh; the poor wretch repeated in Hebrew some verses of the Psalms, wherein he cried to God for mercy, whereupon Andreas went near to him and instructed him in the principles of Christian religion, about Christ the Messiah, etc., exhorting him to believe in him, and it pleased God so to bless his Scripture exhortations to him, that the dogs gave over tearing of his flesh, and the poor Jew desired him to procure that he might be taken down and baptized, and hung by the neck for the quicker despatch, which was done accordingly.
I might produce other instances—but let these suffice to provoke all young people to a speedy, serious, diligent, and constant study of the Scripture. Ah! sirs, you do not know how soon your blind minds may be enlightened, your hard hearts softened, your proud spirits humbled, your sinful natures changed, your defiled consciences purged, your distempered affections regulated, and your poor souls saved, by searching into the Scriptures, by reading the Scripture, and by pondering upon the Scripture. You should lay up the manna of God's word in your hearts, as Moses laid up the manna in the golden pot, Heb.9:4. And as Tamar did with the staff and signet that she received from Judah, she laid them up until she came to save her life, and did save her life by it, as you may see in holy story, Genesis 38:18-36. The laying up of the word now, may be the saving of your souls another day.
I have read of little bees, that when they go out in stormy weather, they will carry a little gravel with them, that they may be balanced and not carried away with the wind. Ah! young men, young men, you had need to have your thoughts and hearts balanced with the precious Word, that you may not be carried away with "every wind of doctrine," as many have been in these days, to their destruction and confusion.
Narcissus, a beautiful youth, though he would not love those who loved him, yet afterwards fell in love with his own shadow. Ah, how many young men in these days, who were once lovely and hopeful, are now fallen in love with their own and others' shadows, with high, empty, airy notions, and with strange monstrous speculations—to their own damnation! 2 Thess. 2:10-12.
Holy Melancthon, being newly converted, thought it impossible for his hearers to withstand the evidence of the gospel—but soon after he complained that old Adam was too hard for young Melancthon.
Ah! young men, young men, if you do not in good earnest give up yourselves to the reading, to the studying, to the pondering, to the believing, to the practicing, to the applying, and to the living up to the Scripture—Satan will be too hard for you, the world will be too hard for you, your lusts will be too hard for you, temptations will be too hard for you, and deceivers will be too hard for you, and in the end you will be miserable; and thus much for the first thing, etc.
Duty (2). Secondly, If you would be godly early, then you must acquaint yourselves withYOURSELVES early.
If you would be gracious in the spring and morning of your days, then you must see early how bad you are, how vile, how sinful, how wretched you are. No man begins to be good until he sees himself to be bad. The young prodigal never began to mend, he never thought of returning to his father, until he came to himself, until he began to return into his own soul, and saw himself in an undone condition, Luke 15:12-22.
Ah! young men, young men! You must see yourselves to be children of wrath, to be enemies of God, to be strangers from God, to be afar off from God, from Christ, from the covenant, from heaven; to be sin's servants, and Satan's bond-slaves. The ready way to be found, is to see yourselves lost. The first step to mercy, is to see your misery. The first step towards heaven is to see yourselves near to hell. You won't look after the physician of souls, you won't prize the physician of souls, you won't desire the physician of souls, you won't match with the physician of souls, you won't fall in love, in league with the physician of souls, you won't resign up yourselves to the physician of souls—until you come to see your wounds, until you come to feel your diseases, until you see the symptoms, the plague-sores of divine wrath and displeasure upon you. As the whole do not need the physician, so they do not desire, they do not care for the physician. "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick." Matthew 9:12
Ah! young men, as you would be godly early, begin to acquaint yourselves with your sinful selves early, begin to acquaint yourselves early with your natural and undone condition.
There isa threefold self.
(1.) There is a NATURAL self; as a man's parts, wit, reason, will, affections, and inclinations, etc.
(2.) A RELIGIOUS self; and so a man's duties, graces, obedience, righteousness, holiness, are called one's self.
(3.) There is a SINFUL self; and so a man's corruptions, lusts, sinful nature, and dispositions, are called one's self. Now, if ever you would be godly early, you must acquaint yourselves with your sinful selves early.
Demonicus being asked at what time he began to be a philosopher, answered, When I began to know myself. So a man never begins to be a Christian until he begins to know himself. And indeed, for a man to know himself, to acquaint himself with himself, is one of the hardest works in all the world. For as the eye can see all things but itself, so most can discern all faults—but their own. Henry the Fourth, emperor of Germany, his usual speech was many know much—but few know themselves.
The very heathens did admire that saying as an oracle, know and be acquainted with your own self. The main exhortation of Chilo, one of the seven sages, was "Know yourself." And Plato records that this saying of Chilo, "Know yourself," was written in letters of gold upon the portal of Apollo's temple.
Juvenal says that this saying, "Know yourself," came from heaven. Macrobius says that the oracle of Apollo, being demanded what course should be taken for attaining to felicity, answered, only teach a man to "know himself."
Thus you see that both divinity and philosophy do agree in this, that the best and surest way to true felicity is, to know ourselves, to acquaint ourselves with ourselves.
This duty the apostle charges upon the Ephesians, "Remember that you, being in times past Gentiles in the flesh, that at that time you were without Christ, aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenant of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world," Eph. 2:11-12.
Here are five withouts: without Christ, without the church, without the promise, without hope, and without God in the world.
Man in his natural state is afar off, in three ways:
(1.) In point of opinion and apprehension.
(2.) In point of fellowship and communion.
(3.) In point of grace and conversion.
As you would be godly early, dwell much upon your corrupt nature early. Ah! such is the corruption of our nature, that propound any divine good to it, it is received as fire by water; propound any evil, then it is like fire to straw. It is like the foolish lecher, who made haste to kiss the fire; it is like that unctuous matter which the naturalists say sucks and snatches the fire to it, with which it is consumed. Until you come to be sensible of this, you will never begin to be godly; you will never look to have your hearts changed, and your souls saved.
The Ethiopians paint angels black, and devils white, in favor of their own complexion; and they say that if the brute creatures could draw a picture of the divine nature, they would make their shape the copy, and thus they flatter and delude themselves. Take heed, young men, take heed that you do not become cheats upon your own souls; take heed that you be not like those painters who, so as they can make a man's picture mirthful and gaudy, care not to draw it so as to resemble him. It is safest and best, O young man! to know the worst of yourself, and to know yourself as you are in yourself, and not as your own flattering heart, or as other flatterers, may represent you to yourself.
Duty (3). Thirdly, If you would be godly early, then you must acquaint yourselves withJesus Christ early.
You must know him early. A man never begins to be godly until he begins to know him who is the fountain of all goodness: "This is life eternal, to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent," John 17:3.
The knowledge of Christ is the beginning of eternal life; it is the way to eternal life, it is a taste of eternal life, it is a sure pledge and pawn to the soul of eternal life.
The Spaniards say of Aquinas, that he who knows not him knows not anything—but he who knows him knows all things. He who knows Jesus Christ not notionally only—but practically; not apprehensively only—but affectively, he knows all things that may make him happy; but he who knows not Jesus Christ knows nothing which will stand him in goof stead, when he shall lie upon a dying bed, and stand before a judgment seat.
Justin Martyr relates that when, in his discourse with Trypho, he mentioned the knowledge of Christ as conducing to our happiness and perfection, Trypho's friends laughed at it; but I hope better things of all those into whose hands this treatise shall fall.
Sirs! the sun is not more necessary to the world, nor the eye to the body, nor the pilot to the ship, nor the general to the army, etc., than the knowledge of Christ early is necessary for all those who would be godly early.
Dear hearts, as ever you would be godly early, you must labor, even as for life, toknow and be thoroughly acquainted with these six things concerning Jesus Christ early.
(1.) First, If you would be godly early, then you must know early thatthere is everything in Christ that may encourage you to seek him and serve him, to love him and obey him, to believe on him, and to marry with him.
If you look upon his names, his natures, his offices, his graces, his dignities, his excellencies, his royalties, his glories, his fulnesses—they all speak out as much.
Are you poor? Why, Christ has gold to enrich you, Rev. 3:18. Are you naked? Christ has white raiment to clothe you. Are you spiritually blind? Christ has eye-salve to enlighten you. Are you in straits? He has wisdom to counsel you. Are you unrighteous? He will be righteousness to you? Are you unholy? He will be holiness and sanctification to you, 1 Cor. 1:30. Are you hungry? He is bread to feed you. Are you thirsty? He is wine and milk to satisfy you. Are you weary? He is a bed to rest you. Are you sick? Why, he is a physician to cure you, etc. Omne bonum in summo bono, All good is in the chief good.
The creatures have their particular goodness, health has its particular goodness, and wealth has its particular goodness, and learning has its, and the favor of the creature has its, etc.—but now Jesus Christ he is a universal good. All the petty excellencies which are scattered abroad in the creatures are united in Christ; yes, all the whole volume of perfections which is spread through heaven and earth is epitomized in him. One Christ will be to you instead of all things else, because in him are all good things to be found. Abraham's servant brought forth jewels of silver and jewels of gold, to win Rebekah's heart to Isaac; so should you, O young men! be often in presenting to your own view all those amiable and excellent things that be in Christ, to win your hearts over to Christ early.
(2.) Secondly, If you would be godly early, then you must know early thatJesus Christ is mighty to save.
He is able to save to the uttermost all those who come unto him, who believe in him, and who cast themselves upon him. The Lord has laid help upon one that is mighty. Christ saves perfectly, thoroughly, perpetually—all who come unto him.
The three tongues that were written upon the cross, in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, to witness Christ to be the king of the Jews, do each of them, in their several idioms, avouch this axiom, that Christ is an all-sufficient Savior; and "a threefold cord is not easily broken." They say of the oil at Rheims, that though it be continually spent in the inauguration of their kings of France, yet it never diminishes. Christ is that pot of manna, that cruse of oil, that bottomless ocean, which never fails his people. There is in Christ an all-sufficiency for all creatures at all times, in all places.
The great Cham is said to have a tree full of pearls hanging by clusters; but what is the great Cham's tree to Christ, our tree of life, who has all variety and plenty of fruit upon him. The happinesses which come to believers by Christ are so many, that they cannot be numbered; so great, that they cannot be measured; so copious, that they cannot be defined; so precious, that they cannot be valued; all which speaks out the fullness and all-sufficiency of Christ.
There is in Christ, a fullness of abundance, and a fullness of redundancy, as well as a fullness of sufficiency.
There is in Christ,
1. The fullness of the Spirit.
2. The fullness of grace.
3. The fullness of the image of God.
4. The fullness of the Godhead.
5. The fullness of glory.
But I must not now open nor dilate on these things, lest I should tire both myself and the reader.
Plutarch, in the life of Phocion, tells us of a certain gentlewoman of Ionia, who showed the wife of Phocion all the rich jewels and precious stones she had. She answered her again, All my riches and jewels is my husband Phocion. So may a penitent sinner say of his blessed Savior—Christ is all my jewels, my riches, my treasures, my pleasures, etc.; his sufficiency is all these, and more than these, to me.
The Spanish ambassador, coming to see the treasury of St. Mark in Venice, which is cried up throughout the world, fell a-groping to find whether it had any bottom, and being asked why, answered, In this among other things, my great Master's treasure differs from yours, in that his has no bottom, as I find yours to have,—alluding to the mines in Mexico and Potosi. But what are the Spaniard's treasures to Christ's treasures? A man may, without much groping, find the bottom of all earthly treasures—but who can find the bottom of Christ's treasures? Should all created excellencies meet in one glorified bosom, yet they could not enable that glorious God-like creature to sound the bottom of those riches and treasures which are in Christ, Ephes. 3:8; all which speaks out Christ's all-sufficiency; and thus much for the second thing.
(3.) Thirdly, If you would be godly early, then you must know early,That there is a marvelous willingness and readiness in Christ to embrace, to entertain, to welcome returning sinners, and to show mercy and favor to them.
The young prodigal did but think of returning to his father, and he ran and met him, and instead of kicking or killing him, his father kissed him and embraced him, his affections enkindled within him, and his compassions flowed out freely to him, Luke 15:20-22. "Ho! everyone who thirsts—come to the waters; and he who has no money—come, buy and eat, yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price," Isaiah 55:1. Nazianzen says: Oh, God gives more willingly than others sell; if you will but accept, that is all the price; though you have no merits, though you have nothing in yourselves to encourage you, yet will you accept? If you will, all is freely yours; the waters shall be yours to cleanse you, and the milk yours to nourish you, and the bread yours to strengthen you, and the wine yours to comfort you. Here poor sinners are called three times to come: Come, says Christ, come, come, to show how marvelous ready and willing he is that poor sinners should taste of gospel delicacies.
So in John 7:37, "Jesus stood and cried, If any man thirsts, let him come to me and drink." So in Rev. 22:17, "Let him who is athirst come, and whoever will, let him take the water of life freely." So in Rev. 3:20, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hears my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me." So in that Luke 14:21, "The master of the house said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind." Here is no man of quality, of dignity, of worldly pomp or glory, or of any self-sufficiency, that is invited to the feast—but a company of poor, ragged, deformed, slighted, neglected, impoverished, wounded sinners; these are invited to feast with Christ.
Concerning this willingness of Christ, I shall speak more when I come to deal with old sinners in the close of this discourse, and to that I refer you for further and fuller satisfaction concerning the great readiness and willingness of Jesus Christ to entertain returning sinners.
(4.) Fourthly, If you would be godly early, then you must know early,That Jesus Christ is designed, sealed, and appointed by the Father to the office of a Mediator.
"Labor not for the food which perishes—but for that doos which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you; for him has God the Father sealed." God the Father has made Christ's commission authentical, as men do theirs by their seal. It is a metaphor, a simile taken from those who give commissions under hand and seal. God the Father has given it under his hand and seal, that Jesus Christ is the only person that he has appointed and sealed, allowed and confirmed, to the office of our redemption. If Jesus Christ was ever so able to save, and ever so willing and ready to save poor sinners—yet if he were not appointed, designed, and sealed, for that work, the awakened sinner would never look out after him, nor desire union with him, nor interest in him; and therefore it is of very great consequence to know that God the Father has sent and sealed Christ to be a Savior to his people.
"Him has God the Father sealed." Sealed by way of destination and sealed by way of qualification, sealed by his doctrine, sealed by his miracles, sealed by his baptism, sealed by his resurrection—but above all, sealed by his glorious unction. "The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion-- to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor." Isaiah 61:1-3, Luke 4:18. Neither saints nor angels are sealed and anointed to the great work of redemption—but the Lord Jesus is. You should always look upon the Lord Jesus as sealed and anointed to the office of a Mediator, and accordingly plead with him.
Ah, Lord! it is your office, as you are a sealed and an anointed Savior and Redeemer—to subdue my sins, to change my nature, to sanctify my heart, to reform my life, and to save my soul; and therefore do it for your name's sake, oh do it for your office' sake, do it for your glory's sake!
"You are anointed with the oil of gladness above your fellows," Psalm 45:7, Heb. 1:9. You have a larger effusion of the Spirit upon you than others; you are anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power after an extraordinary measure and manner; you are endued with all heroic gifts and excellencies, plentifully, abundantly, transcendently; you are sealed and predestinated; you are invested into this office of Mediatorship under the Father's hand and seal: and therefore where should I go for salvation, for remission, for redemption, for grace, for glory—but to you?
(5.) Fifthly, If you would be godly early, then you must know early,that there is no way to salvation but by Jesus Christ.
"Neither is there salvation in any other" (speaking of Christ), "for there is no other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved," Acts 4:12. If ever you are saved, you must be saved by him, and him only; you must not look for another Savior, nor you must not look for a co-Savior; you must be saved wholly by Christ and only by Christ, or you shall never be saved; you must cry out, as Lambert did when he was in the fire, and lifted up his hands, and fingers'-ends flaming, "None but Christ, none but Christ!"
When Augustus Caesar desired the senate to join two consuls with him for the better government of the state, the senate answered, that they held it as a diminution of his dignity, and a disparagement of their own judgment, to join any with so incomparable a man as Augustus. Ah! friends, it is a diminution of Christ's dignity, sufficiency, and glory, in the business of your salvation, to join anything with the Lord Jesus; and it is the greatest disparagement in the world to your own judgments, knowledge, prudence, and wisdom, to yoke any with Christ in the work of redemption, in the business of salvation.
Augustine says, that Marcellina hung Christ's picture and the picture of Pythagoras together; many there are, not only in Rome—but in England (yes, I am afraid in London), who join Christ and their works together, Christ and their prayers together, Christ and their teachers together, Christ and their mournings together, Christ and their hearings together, Christ and their alms together.
Ah, what a poor, what a weak, what an impotent, what an insufficient Savior do these men make Jesus Christ to be! Except these men come off from these things, and come up only to Jesus Christ, in the great business of salvation, they will as certainly and as eternally perish, notwithstanding their hearing, knowing, and talking much of Christ—as those who never heard of Jesus Christ.
In the Old Testament, God commands them not to wear a garment of divers sorts, as of woollen and linen together, "neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon you," Deut.22:11. This law was figurative, and shows us that in the case of our justification, acceptance, and salvation—we are not to join our works, our services, with the righteousness of Christ. God abhors a linsey-woolsey righteousness. And as by the letter of this law, in the Hebrews' account, one thread of wool in a linen garment, or one linen thread in a woollen garment, made it unlawful, so the least manner of mixture in the business of justification makes all null and void. "And if by grace, then it is no more of works, otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace, otherwise work is no more work." He who shall mix his righteousness with Christ's, he who shall mix his puddle with Christ's purple blood, his rags with Christ's royal robes, his copper with Christ's gold, his water with Christ's wine, etc., is in the ready way to perish forever.
On earth kings love no consorts; power is impatient of participation. Christ will be Alexander or Nemo, nobody; he will be all in all in the business of justification, or he will be nothing at all. We must say of Christ, as it was once said of Caesar, He may have a companion, etc.—but he must not have a competitor, 1 Cor. 1:30, Romans 5:19-20.
Let us say of Christ, as the heathen once said of his petty gods, so long as he had his Jupiter as his friend, he regarded them not. So, so long as we have our Jesus as our friend, and his righteousness and blood as ours, we shall despise all other things, and abhor the bringing of anything into competition with him. A real Christian cares not for anything that has not something of Christ in it. He who holds not wholly with Christ, does very shamefully neglect Christ, says Gregory Nazianzen. (Eph. 3:9-10, Psalm 61:15-16, 19, compared.)
There is no other name, no other nature, no other blood, no other merits, no other person to be justified and saved by—but Jesus Christ. You may run from creature to creature, and from duty to duty, and from ordinance to ordinance, and when you have wearied and tired out yourselves in seeking ease and rest, satisfaction and remission, justification and salvation, in one way and another, you will be forced after all to come to Christ, and to cry out, Ah! none but Christ, none but Christ! Isaiah 55:2, Rom.10:3. Ah! none to Christ, none to Christ; no works to Christ; no duties, no services to Christ; no prayers, no tears to Christ; no righteousness, no holiness to Christ. Well! friends, remember this, that all the tears in the world cannot wipe off meritoriously one sin, nor all the grace and holiness that is in angels and men buy out the pardon of the least transgression. All remission is only by the blood of Christ.
(6.) Sixthly and lastly, If you would be godly early, then you must know early,that the heart of Jesus Christ is as much set upon sinners now that he is in heaven, as ever it was when he was upon earth.
Christ is no less loving, less mindful, less desirous of sinners' eternal welfare now he is heaven in a far country—than he was when he lived on earth. Witness his continuing the ministry of reconciliation among poor sinners in all ages; witness the constant treaties, that by his ambassadors and Spirit he still has with poor sinners, about the things of their peace, the things of eternity; witness his continual knockings, his continual callings upon poor sinners by his word, rod, Spirit—to open, to repent, to lay hold on mercy, and to be at peace with him; witness his continual wooing of poor sinners in the face of all neglects and put-offs, in the face of all delays and denials, in the face of all harsh entertainment and churlish answers, in the face of all gainsayings and carnal reasonings, in the face of all the scorn and contempt that wretched sinners put upon him, and witness that plain word, "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today, and forever," Heb. 13:8. Christ is the same afore time, in time, and after time, he is unchangeable in his essence, in his promises, and in his affections: "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, says the Lord, who is, and who was, and who is to come," Rev. 1:8, 11; 21:6; 22:13.
The phrase is taken from the Greek letters, whereof Alpha is the first and Omega is the last. The first and last letter of the Greek alphabet is a description of me, says Christ, who am before all and after all, who am above all and in all, who am unchangeable in myself, and in my thoughts and good will to poor sinners. Therefore do not, poor souls, entertain any hard thoughts concerning Jesus Christ, as if he was less mindful, less pitiful, and less merciful to poor souls now that he is in heaven, than he was when his abode was in this world.
And thus I have gone over those six things that you must know concerning Christ early, if ever you be godly early. When Pope Leo lay upon his death-bed, Cardinal Bembus citing a text of Scripture to comfort him, he replied, "Away with these baubles concerning Christ!" But I hope better things of you, and do desire that you will say of all things below this knowledge of Christ that I have opened to you, as that devout pilgrim, who, traveling to Jerusalem, and by the way visiting many brave cities, with their rare monuments, and meeting with many friendly entertainments, would often say, I must not stay here, this is not Jerusalem. Ah! so do you, young men and women, in the midst of all your worldly delights and contents, cry out, Oh! we must not stay here, this is not Jerusalem, this is not that knowledge of Christ that I must have, if ever I am happy here and blessed hereafter.
Duty (4). Fourthly and lastly, If you would be godly early, thenyou must acquaint yourselves with those who are godly early.
Direction (1). First, If you would be gracious in the spring and morning of your youth, then you must begin early tobe much in with those who are much in with Christ, who lie near his heart and know much of his mind. "He who walks with wise men shall be wise—but a companion of fools shall be destroyed," or, as the Hebrew has it, shall be broken in pieces, as when an army is broken and routed by an enemy. Walking with the wise, he shall be wise, for so the original has it. It is not talking with the wise—but walking with the wise, which will make you wise; it is not your commending and praising of the wise—but your walking with the wise, which will make you wise; it is not your taking a few turns with the wise which will make you wise—but your walking with the wise which will make you wise. There is no getting much good by those who are godly—but by making them your ordinary and constant companions.
Ah, friends! you should do as Joseph in Egypt, of whom the Scripture says, Psalm 105:22 (according to the Hebrew phrase), that he tied the princes of Pharaoh's court about his heart. If ever you would gain by the saints, you must bind them upon your souls, you must labor to have very near, close, and intimate communion with them.
The Jews have a proverb, that two dry sticks put to a green one will kindle it. The best way to be in a flame God-ward, Christ-ward, heavenward, and holiness-ward, is to be among the dry sticks, the kindle-coals, the saints; for as live coals kindle those who are dead, so lively Christians will heat and enliven those who are dead God-wards, Christ-wards, heaven-wards, and holiness-wards. "As iron sharpens iron, so does the face of a man his friend," Proverbs 27:17.
Men's wits, parts, and gifts, and industry, commonly grow more strong, vigorous, and quick, by friendly conference and communion.
And as he who comes where sweet spices and ointments are stirring, carries away a sweet savor with him, so he who converses with those who are godly shall carry away that goodness and sweetness with him which shall render him sweet, desirable, and delectable to others. Polemon, whom Augustine speaks of, who was all for wine and play, etc., became a brave man when he came acquainted with the philosopher's school. So many young men, that have been all for wine and women, for playing and toying, for vanity and folly, have become brave men, precious men, by the company, counsel, and example of those who were gracious.
Doctor Taylor, the martyr, rejoiced that ever he came into prison, because he came there to have acquaintance with that angel of God, John Bradford, as he calls him: so, doubtless, many young people there be that have much cause to rejoice, and forever to bless the Lord, that ever they came acquainted with such and such who fear the Lord, and who walk in his ways, for the good that they have received by them.
Algerius, an Italian martyr, said he had rather be in prison with Cato, than with Caesar in the senate house. Ah! young men, young men, you were better be with the people of God, when they are in the lowest and most contemptible condition, than with the great wicked ones of the world, when they are in all their royalty and glory. In the day of account you will find that they have made the best market, who have rather chosen to keep company with Lazarus, though in his rags, than they would with others keep company with Dives, though in his purple robes.
Well! young men, remember this, clothes and company do oftentimes tell tales, in a mute but significant language. Tell me with whom you go, and I will tell you what you are, says the Spanish proverb. Cicero, though a heathen, had rather to have no companion, than a bad one. The Lord grant that this heathen, and others among them, that were of the same mind with him, may never rise up in judgment against any of you, into whose hands this treatise may fall.
And thus I have despatched those four things that you must be acquainted with early, namely, the Scripture, your own hearts and conditions, the Lord Jesus Christ, and those who fear him, if ever you would be godly early.
Direction (2). Secondly, If you would be godly early, if you would seek and serve the Lord in the spring and morning of your days, Thenyou must shun the occasions of sin early. A man will never begin to be godly, until he begins to decline those occasions that have made him bad: 1 Thes. 5:22, "Abstain from all appearances of evil."
You must shun and be shy of the very appearance of sin, of the very shows and shadows of sin. The word eidos, which is ordinarily rendered appearance, signifies kind, or sort; and so the meaning of the apostle seems to be this, "Abstain from all sorts, or the whole kind of evil;" from all that is truly so, be it ever so small.
The least sin is dangerous. Caesar was stabbed with needles, and many have been eaten up by mice and lice.
The least spark may consume the greatest house, the least leak may sink the greatest ship, the least sin is enough to undo your soul; and therefore shun all the occasions that lead unto it.
Job made a covenant with his eyes, Job 31:1; Joseph would not be in the room where his mistress was, Gen. 39:10; and David, when himself, would not sit with vain people, Psalm 26:3-7. As long as there is fuel in our hearts for a temptation, we cannot be secure; he who has gunpowder about him, had need keep far enough off from sparks; he who is either tender of his credit abroad, or comfort at home, had need shun, and be shy of the very show and shadow of sin; he who would neither wound conscience nor credit, God nor gospel, had need hate "the garment spotted with the flesh," Jude 23.
In the law, God commanded his people, not only that they should worship no idol—but that they should demolish all the monuments of them, and that they should make no covenant nor affinity with those who worshiped them, and all lest they should be drawn by those occasions to commit idolatry with them. He who would not taste of the forbidden fruit, must not so much as gaze on it; and he who would not be bitten by the serpent, must not so much as parley with the serpent.
It is very observable, that in the law, the Nazarite was not only commanded to abstain from wine and strong drink—but also he might not eat grapes, whether moist or dry, or anything that is made of the vine tree, from the kernels even to the husk. But why not these small things, in which there could be no danger of drunkenness? Surely, lest by the contentment of these, he might be drawn to desire the wine, and so be brought on to sin, to break his vow, and so make work for hell, or for the physician of souls. God hereby forbidding the most remote occasions, shows how wary and exactly careful men should be to shun and avoid all occasions, provocations, and appearances of evil; and indeed we had need to keep off from slippery places who can hardly stand fast on dry ground.
He who ventures upon the occasion of sin and then prays, "Lord, lead me not into temptation," is like him that thrusts his finger into the fire, and then prays that it may not be burnt; or like him that is resolved to quench the fire with oil, which, instead of quenching it, is as fuel to feed it and increase it. It is a greater miracle not to fall, being among strong temptations, than it is to raise up the dead; he who would not be defiled, must not touch pitch; he who would not be burnt, must not carry fire in his bosom; he who would not eat the meat, must not meddle with the broth; he who would not fall into the pit, must not dance upon the brink: "Keep far from a false matter," Exod. 23:7. He who will not fly from the occasions and allurements of sin, though they may seem ever so pleasant to the eye, or sweet to the taste—shall find them in the end more sharp than vinegar, more bitter than wormwood, more deadly than poison.
There is a great truth in that saying of the son of Sirach, "He who loves danger, shall perish therein; he who will not decline danger, shall not be able to decline destruction."
Socrates speaks of two young men that flung away their belts when, being in an idol temple, the lustrating water fell upon them, detesting, says the historian, "the garment spotted by the flesh;" and will you, O young men, play and toy with the occasions of sin? The Lord forbid.
There are stories of several heathens that have shunned and avoided the occasions of sin, and will you dare to venture upon the occasions of sin?
Alexander would not see the woman after whom he might have lusted.
Scipio Africanus, warring in Spain, took New Carthage by storm, at which time a beautiful and noble virgin fled to him for support to preserve her chastity. He being but twenty-four years old, and so in the heat of youth, hearing of it, would not allow her to come into his sight for fear of temptation—but caused her to be restored in safety to her father.
Livia counseled her husband Augustus, not only not to do wrong—but not to seem to do so, etc.
Caesar would not search Pompey's cabinet, lest he should find new matters of revenge.
Plato mounted upon his horse, and judging himself a little moved with pride, did presently light from his horse, lest he should be overtaken with loftiness in riding.
Theseus is said to cut off his golden locks, lest his enemies should take advantage by taking hold of them.
Ah! young men, young men, shall the very heathens thus shun and fly from the occasion of sin, and will not you? will not you who sit under the sunshine of the gospel? These will in the great day of account be sad and sore witnesses against those who dally and play with the occasions of sin.
To prevent carnal worry, Christ sends his disciples to school, to the irrational creatures (Matt. 6:26-32). And to prevent your closing with the occasions of sin, let me send you to school to the like creatures, that you may learn by them to shun and avoid the occasions of sin.
The Sepiae, a certain kind of fish, perceiving themselves in danger of taking, by an instinct which they have, they do darken the water, and so many times escape the net which is laid for them.
Geese, they say, when they fly over Taurus they keep stones in their mouths, lest by goggling they should discover themselves to the eagles, which are among the mountains waiting for them. Now, if all these considerations put together will not work you to decline the occasions of sin, I know not what will. There is a truth in that old saying—
He who will no evil do,
Must do nothing belongs thereto.
The Israelites must have no leaven in their houses until the Passover be done, lest they should be tempted to eat of it, Exod. 13.
Direction (3). Thirdly, If you would be godly early, thenyou must remember the eye of God early.
If you would seek and serve the Lord in the spring and morning of your days, then you must study God's omnipresence early. "Does not he see my ways, and count all my steps?" "For his eyes are upon the ways of man, and he sees all his goings. There is no darkness, nor shadow of death, where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves," Psalm 139:2-14; Job 31:4, 21-22.
I have read that Paphnutius converted two famous young strumpets, Thais and Ephron, from immorality, only with this argument, that God sees all things in the dark, when the doors are fast, the windows shut, and the curtains drawn. By this very argument Solomon labors to take off his young men from carnal and sinful courses: "And why will you, my son, be ravished with a strange woman, and embrace the bosom of a stranger? For the ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord, and he ponders all his goings," Proverbs 5:20-21. You may deceive all the world, like that counterfeit Alexander in Josephus his story—but Augustus will not be deceived; he has quicker and sharper eyes.
Ah! young men, young men, you may deceive this man and that, and as easily deceive yourselves—but you cannot deceive him, who is totus oculus, all-eye. As the eyes of a well-drawn picture are fastened upon you which way soever you turn, so are the eyes of the Lord. I have read of one who, being tempted to adultery, said they could not be private enough, and being carried from room to room, answered, We are not yet private enough, God is here!
Ah, friends! His eyes, which are ten thousand times brighter than the sun, compasses your words, your ways, your works, your thoughts, your bed, your table, your bench. The Egyptian hieroglyphic for God was an eye on a scepter, showing that he sees and rules all things, Jer. 13:27, 29:23.
Ah, friends! All thoughts, words, hopes, and hearts, are naked, opened, dissected and quartered before that God with whom you have to do. God is very precise and exact in marking and observing what is done by men, that he may render to every man according to his works.
Ah! young men and women, the eye of God should be more to you than all the world besides. Oh that the Scripture might be written with the pen of a diamond upon your hearts. "Should you not fear me? Should you not tremble in my presence?" Jer. 5:22. There is a great truth in that saying of his, A great necessity of goodness is from hence put into us, because we do all things before the eyes of a judge that sees all things.
Direction (4). Fourthly, If you would be godly early, thenyou must hearken to the voice of CONSCIENCE early, 2 Tim. 1:3.
A man will never begin to be godly until he begins to hearken to what conscience speaks. So long as a man turns a deaf ear to conscience, he is a safe prisoner to Satan, and a sure enemy to God, Psalm 58:4, John 3:20-21. Ah! how godly might many have been had they but begun early to hearken to conscience!
Ah! young men, do not dally with conscience, do not play, do not trifle with conscience, do not stop your ears against conscience. He who will not in his youth give conscience audience, shall at last be forced to hear such lectures from conscience, as shall make his life a very hell. A sleepy conscience is like a sleepy lion, when he awakes, he roars and tears; so will conscience, Mark 9:22. Conscience is a thousand witnesses for or against a man. He who has long turned the deaf ear to conscience, shall at last find his conscience like Prometheus' vulture, that lies ever a-gnawing. Judas found it so, and Spira found it so, and Blair, a great councillor of Scotland, found it so.
I have read of one John Hofmeister, who fell sick in his inn, as he was traveling towards Auspurge in Germany, and grew to that horror of conscience, that they had to bind him in his bed with chains, where he cried out, that he was forever cast off by God, and that the promises that were set before him would do him no good, and all because he had wounded his conscience, and turned a deaf ear to conscience.
Well! young men, if you will not early hearken to conscience, you shall at last hear conscience saying to you, as the probationer disciple said to Christ, "Master, I will follow you wherever you go," Mat.8:19; so says conscience, Sinner, I have called upon you many a thousand times, and told you, that I must by commission be your best friend, or your worst enemy—but you would not hear. Therefore now I will follow you where ever you go. Fast, and I will follow you, and fill you with horrors and terrors. Feast, and I will follow you, and show you such a handwriting upon the wall, as shall cause your countenance to change, your thoughts to be troubled, the joints of your loins to be loosed, and your knees dashed one against another, Dan. 5:5-6. Stay at home, and I will follow you from bed to board. Go abroad, and I will follow you into all places and companies, and you shall know that it is an evil and a bitter thing, that you have so often and so long neglected my calls, and disobeyed my voice, and walked contrary to me. How you shall find a truth in that saying of Luther, one drop of an evil conscience swallows up the whole sea of worldly joy.
Well! young men, there is a day coming wherein a good conscience will be better than a good purse, for then the Judge will not be put off with a suit of compliments or fair words, nor drawn aside with hope of reward; and therefore, as you would be able to hold up your heads in that day, make conscience of hearkening to the voice of conscience in this your day.
Direction (5). Fifthly, If you would be godly early, thenyou must know early wherein true happiness lies.
For a man will never begin to be godly until he begins to understand wherein his happiness consists.
The philosophers, speaking of happiness, were divided into two hundred and eighty-eight opinions, everyone intending something, and yet resolving nothing. Therefore the man in Plutarch, hearing them wrangle about man's summum bonium, chief good, one placing it in this, and another in that, he went to the market and bought up all that was good, hoping, among all, he should not miss of it—but he did. Many look for happiness in sin, others look for it in the creatures—but they must all say, It is not in us, Isaiah 56:12, Job 28:14: nothing can give what it has not. If the conduit pipe has no water, it can give no water; if a man has no money, he can give no money; if the creatures have no happiness, they can give no happiness. Now this jewel, this pearl, happiness, is not to be found in the bosom, in the bosom of creatures. In a word, because I must hasten to a close, man's happiness lies,
First,In communion with God, as experience and Scripture demonstrates. "Happy is that people who are in such a case (but give me that word again), yes, happy is that people whose God is the Lord," Psalm 144:15. A man whose soul is in communion with God shall find more pleasure in a desert, in a dungeon, in a den, yes, in death—than in the palace of a prince, than in all worldly delights and contents, etc.
Secondly,In pardon of sin. "Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit," Psalm 32:1-2. It is not, blessed is the honorable man—but blessed is the pardoned man. It is not, blessed is the rich man—but blessed is the pardoned man. It is not, blessed is the learned man—but blessed is the pardoned man. It is not, blessed is the popular man—but blessed is the pardoned man. It is not, blessed is the victorious man—but blessed is the pardoned man. Do with me what you will, since you have pardoned my sins, says Luther.
Thirdly,In a complete fruition and enjoyment of God, when we shall be here no more. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God," Mat. 5:8; "Now they see him but darkly—but in heaven they shall see him face to face; they shall know as they are known," 1 Cor. 13:12. But of these things I have spoken largely elsewhere, and therefore shall satisfy myself with these hints.
Direction (6). Lastly, If you would be godly early, thenyou must break your covenant with SIN early.
You must fall out with your lusts early; you must arm and fence yourselves against sin early, Isaiah 28:15-18. A man never begins to fall in with Christ until he begins to fall out with his sins. Until sin and the soul be two, Christ and the soul cannot be one. Now, to work your hearts to this, you should always look upon sin under these notions:
Notion (1). First, If you would have the league dissolved between sin and your souls early, thenlook upon sin under the notion of an ENEMY. "Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul," 1 Peter 2:11. As the viper is killed by the young ones in her belly, so are poor sinners betrayed and killed by their own lusts, that are nourished in their bosoms.
Pittacus, a philosopher, challenged Phlyon the Athenian captain, to single combat—carried a net privily, and so caught him, and overcame him. So does sin with poor sinners—the dangerous, pernicious, malignant nature of sin. You may see in the story of the Italian, who first made his enemy deny God, and then stabbed him to the heart, and so at once murdered both body and soul. Sin betrays us into the hand of the devil—as Delilah did Samson into the hands of the Philistines.
Sugared poisons go down pleasantly. Oh! but when they are down, they gall and gnaw, and gripe the very heart-strings asunder; it is so with sin. Ah! souls, have not you often found it so?
When Phocas the murderer thought to secure himself by building high walls, he heard a voice from heaven telling him, that though he built his bulwarks ever so high, yet sin within would soon undermine all.
Ambrose reports of one Theotimus, that having a disease upon his body, the physician told him, that except he abstained from intemperance, drunkenness, uncleanness, he would lose his eyes; his heart was so desperately set upon his sins, that he cries out, then, farewell, sweet light! Ah, how did his lusts war both against body and soul!
The "old man" is like a treacherous friend, and a friendly traitor. Though it be a hard thing to fight with a man's lusts, yet you must fight or die. If you are not the death of your sins, they will prove the death of your souls.
The oracle told the Cyrrheans, they could not be happy, unless they waged war night and day; no more can we, except we live and die fighting against our lusts.
Ah! young men, can you look upon sin under the notion of an enemy, and not break with it, and not arm against it?
Well! remember this, the pleasure and sweetness which follows victory over sin, is a thousand times beyond that seeming sweetness that is in sin; and as victory over sin is the sweetest victory, so it is the greatest victory. There is no conquest as great as that which is gotten over a man's own corruptions. "He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty: and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city," Proverbs 16:32.
It is noble to overcome an enemy without—but it is more noble to overcome an enemy within; it is honorable to overcome fiery flames—but it is far more honorable to overcome fiery lusts.
When Valentinian the emperor was upon his dying-bed, among all his victories only one COMFORTED him, and that was victory over his worst enemy, namely, his own naughty heart.
Ah! young men, young men, your worst enemies are within you, and all their plots, designs, and assaults are upon your souls, your most noble part. They know if that citadel be won, all is their own, and you are undone, and shall be their slaves forever; and therefore it stands upon you to arm yourselves against these inbred enemies; and if you engage Christ in the quarrel, you will carry the day; and when you shall lie upon your dying-beds, you will then find that there is no comfort to that which arises from the conquests of your own hearts, your own lusts.
Notion (2). Secondly, If you would break covenant with sin, if you would arm and fence yourselves against sin early, thenlook upon sin as the soul's BONDS, Gal. 3:10, John 8:34.
For as bonds tie things together, so does sin tie the sinner and the curse together. It binds the sinner and wrath together, it links the sinner and hell together: "I perceive that you are in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity," Acts 8:23. Iniquity is a chain, a bond. Now, bonds and chains gall the body, and so does sin the soul; and as poor captives are held fast in their chains, so are sinners in their sins; they cannot redeem themselves by price, nor by power, 2 Tim. 2:26.
Ah! young men, young men! no bondage like soul bondage, no slavery like soul slavery. The Israelites' bondage under Pharaoh, and the Christians' bondage under the Turks, is but the bondage of the body, of the baser and ignoble part of man; but yours is soul bondage, and soul slavery, which is the saddest and greatest of all.
Ah, friends! you should never look upon your sins but you should look upon them as your bonds; yes, as the worst bonds that ever were. All other chains are golden chains, chains of pearl, compared to those chains of iron and brass, those chains of lust, with which you are bound. Ah! who can thus look upon his chains, his sins, and not loathe them, and not labor for freedom from them? Justinus the emperor's motto was, liberty is invaluable. If civil liberty is, surely spiritual liberty is much more. If you ask souls who were once in a state of bondage—but are now Christ's free men, they will tell you so.
It was a good observation of Chrysostom, that Joseph was the free man and his mistress was the servant, when she was at the beck of her own lusts, when she tempted and he refused. Such as live most above sin and temptation, are the greatest freemen; others, who live under the power of their lusts, are but slaves, and in bonds, though they dream and talk of freedom, Titus 3:3.
Notion (3). Thirdly, If you would break league with sin, and arm and fence yourselves against it, thenlook always upon sin under the notion of FIRE.
"And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire," Jude 23. Oh, snatch them out of their sins, as you would snatch a child, a friend, out of the fire, or as the angel snatched Lot out of Sodom—hastily, and with a holy violence. Natural fire may burn the house, the goods, the treasure, the servant, the child, the wife, the body; but this fire burns the soul, it destroys and consumes that noble part which is more worth than all the treasures of a thousand worlds. Every man has a hand and a heart to quench the fire which burns his neighbor's house—but few men have either hands or hearts to quench the fire that burns their neighbor's souls; this is, and this shall be, for a lamentation.
I have read of one who, upon the violence of any temptation to sin, would lay his hand upon burning coals, and being not able to abide it, would say to himself, 'Oh, how unable shall I be to endure the pains of hell'—and this restrained him from evil. But what is the fire of hell to the fire of sin? Now, to provoke you to look upon sin under the notion of fire, consider with me the sundry resemblances between material and immaterial fire, between corporeal common fire and between this spiritual fire, sin. As,
[1.] First,Fire is terrible and dreadful. A ship on fire, a house on fire, oh how dreadful is it! So sin set home upon the conscience is exceeding terrible and dreadful. "My iniquity is greater than I can bear." Sin or iniquity is often put for the punishment of sin, by a metonymy of the cause for the effect; for sin is the natural parent of punishment. "My iniquity," says Cain, "is so great, and lies so heavy, so terrible and dreadful upon my conscience, that it cannot be forgiven," Gen. 4:13, and thus he stabs two at once—the mercy of God, and his own soul. So Judas, "I have sinned, in that I have betrayed innocent blood; and he went and hanged himself," Mat. 27:3-5.
As there is no fighting with a mighty fire, so there is no bearing up when God sets home sin upon the conscience; a man will then choose strangling or hanging, rather than living under such wounds and lashes of conscience. Histories abound with instances of this nature; but I must hasten to a close.
[2.] Secondly,Fire is most dangerous and pernicious when it breaks forth of the chimney, or of the house; so it is with sin. Sin is bad in the eye, worse in the tongue, worser in the heart—but worst of all in the life. Fire, when out of its proper place, may do much hurt in the house—but when it flames abroad, then it does most mischief to others, 2 Sam. 12:9-15.
Sin in the heart may undo a man—but sin in the life may undo others as well as a man's self. Set a guard upon the eye, a greater upon your heart—but the greatest of all upon your life, Job 30:1, Proverbs 4:23, Eph. 5:15.
Salvian relates how the heathen did reproach some Christians, who by their lewd lives made the gospel of Christ to be a reproach. "Where," said they, "is that good law which they believe? Where are those rules of godliness which they do learn? They read the holy Gospel—and yet are unclean; they hear the apostles' writings—and yet are drunk; they follow Christ—and yet disobey Christ; they profess a holy law—and yet lead impure lives."
But the lives of other Christians have been so holy, that the very heathens observing them, have said, Surely this is a good God—whose servants are so good.
It is noble when the life of a Christian is a commentary upon Christ's life.
One speaking of the Scripture, says, they are words to be lived, and practiced, not read only.
A heathen [Plutarch] advises us to live so circumspectly, as if our enemies did always behold us. And said another [Epictetus], For shame, either live as Stoics, or leave off the name of Stoics. Sirs, live as Christians, or lay down the name of Christians.
[3.] Thirdly,Fire hardens, it makes the weak and limber clay to become stiff and strong for the potter's use. So sin hardens: it hardens the heart against the commands of God, the calls of Christ, and the wrestlings of the Spirit. And as you see in Pharaoh, the Jews, and most that are under the sound of the gospel, Jer. 5:3; Jer. 19:15; Isaiah 9:13.
Ah! how many has this fire—sin—hardened in these days, by working them to slight soul-softening means, and by drawing them to entertain hardening thoughts of God, and to fall in with soul-hardening company, and soul-hardening principles, and soul-hardening examples of hardened and unsensible sinners, Jer. 2:25; Jer. 18:12. One long since thus complained, that they did more calmly pass by the injuries done to Christ, than those which are done unto themselves. This age is full of such hardened unsensible souls.
[4.] Fourthly,Fire is a lively active element, so is sin. Ah! how lively and active was this fire in Abraham, David, Job, Peter, Paul, and other saints! Though Christ by his death has given it its mortal wound, yet it lives, and is and will be active in the dearest saints. Though sin and grace were not born together, neither shall they die together; yet while believers live in this world, they must live together.
One speaks of a fig-tree which grew in a stone-wall, and all means were used to kill it. They cut off the branches and it grew again, they cut down the body and it grew again, they cut it up by the root and still it lived and grew, until they pulled down the stone-wall. Until death shall pull down our stone-walls, sin will live, this fire will burn.
We may say of sin as some say of cats, that they have many lives; kill them and they will live again, kill them again and they will live again; so kill sin once and it will live again, kill it again and it will live again, etc. Sin oftentimes is like that monster Hydra, cut off one head and many will rise up in its place.
[5.] Fifthly,Fire is of a penetrating nature, it pierces and winds itself into every corner and chink, and so does sin wind itself into our thoughts, words, and works. It will wind itself into our understandings to darken them, and into our judgments to pervert them, and into our wills to poison them, and into our affections to disorder them, and into our consciences to corrupt them, and into our carriages [walk and conversation; conduct or actions] to debase them. Sin will wind itself into every duty and every mercy, it will wind itself into every one of our enjoyments and concernments.
Hannibal having overcome some Romans, put their armor on his soldiers, and so by that policy, they being taken for Romans, won a city. But what are Hannibal's wiles to sin's wiles or Satan's wiles? If you have a mind to be acquainted with their wiles, look over my treatise, called, "Precious Remedies against Satan's Devices."
[6,] Sixth and lastly,Fire is a devouring, a consuming element, Psalm 21:9. It turns all fuel into ashes. It is a wolf that eats up all. So sin is a fire that devours and consumes all; it turned Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes; it has destroyed the Chaldean, Persian, and Grecian kingdoms, and will at last destroy the Roman kingdom also. This wolf ate up Samson's strength, Absalom's beauty, Ahithophel's policy, and Herod's glory, etc. It has drowned one world already, and will at last burn another, even this. Oh the hopes, the hearts, the happiness, the joys, the comforts, the souls that this fire, sin, has consumed and destroyed! etc.
Peter Camois, in his Draught of Eternity, tells us, that some devout people caused those words of the prophet Isaiah to be written in letters of gold upon their chimney-pieces: "Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?" Isaiah 33:14.
Ah! young men, young men, I desire that you may always look upon sin under the notion of fire, yes, as such fire as lays the foundation for everlasting fire, for everlasting burnings; and this may work when other things will not.
I have read of a chaste woman, who being pressured to commit sin with a lewd Russian—that she called for a pan of burning coals, and requested him for her sake to hold his finger in them but one hour. He said this was an extreme and harsh request. She replied that seeing he would not do so much as to put one finger upon the coals for one hour for her—that she could not yield to do that for which she should be tormented, both body and soul, in hell-fire forever. The application is easy, etc.
Notion (4). Fourthly, If you would break with sin early, if you would arm against sin in the spring and morning of your days, then you shouldlook upon sin under the notion of a THIEF.
And, indeed, sin is the greatest thief, the greatest robber in the world. It robbed the angels of all their glory, 2 Pet. 2:4; it robbed Adam of his paradise and felicity, Gen. 3, and it has robbed all mankind of five precious jewels, the least of which was more worth than heaven and earth.
1. Sin has robbed them of the holy and glorious image of God, which would have been engraved upon them, had Adam not fallen into sin.
2. Sin has robbed them of divine sonship--and has made them slaves of Satan.
3. Sin has robbed them of divine friendship--and made them enemies to God.
4. Sin has robbed them of communion and fellowship with God--and made them strangers and aliens to Him.
5. Sin has robbed them of their glory--and made them vile and miserable.
It has robbed many a oration of the gospel, and many a parish of many a happy guide, and many a Christian of the favor of God, the joys of the Spirit, and the peace of conscience.
Oh! the health, the wealth, the honor, the friends, the relations—which sin has robbed thousands of.
More—It has robbed many of their gifts, their arts, their parts, their memory, their judgment, yes, their very reason, as you may see in Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Ahithophel, Haman, Herod, and those Babylonish princes that accused Daniel.
And so Menippus of Phoenicia, who, having lost his goods, strangled himself. And so Dinarcus Phidon, at a certain loss, cut his own throat. By all which it is most apparent, that sin is the greatest thief in all the world.
Oh! then, who would not break league and covenant with it, and be still in pressing of God to do justice upon it! etc.
Notion (5). Fifthly, If you would break with sin, and arm and fence yourselves against sin early, then you must lookupon sin under the notion of a BURDEN.
And indeed, of all burdens—sin is the heaviest burden in all the world: "For troubles without number surround me; my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see. They are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails within me," Psalm 40:12. "For my sins have flooded over my head; they are a burden too heavy for me to bear." Psalm 38:4. "Sin is a weight which easily besets us," Heb.12:1. Poor souls; sin is a burden that so troubles them and puzzles them, that so curbs them and girds them, that so presses and oppresses them, as that it wrings many bitter tears from their eyes, and many sad and grievous sighs and groans from their hearts. "Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin?" Romans 7:24
Again, as sin is a burden to Christians, so it is a burden to heaven. It made heaven weary to bear the angels that fell; no sooner had they sinned but heaven groans to be eased of them, and it never left groaning until justice had turned them a-groaning to hell, Jude 6.
Again, as sin is a burden to heaven, so it is a burden to the earth. Witness her swallowing up Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, their wives, children, goods, servants, etc., Num. 16:26-35. Ah, sinners! your sins makes the very earth to groan—they make the earth weary of bearing you. Oh, how does the earth groan and long to swallow up those earthly wretches, whose hopes, whose hearts, are buried in the earth! These shall have none of heaven—but enough of earth, when they come to die.
Cornelius a Lapide tells a story, that he heard of a famous preacher, who, showing the bondage of the creature, Romans 8:19-23, brings in the creature complaining thus: Oh, that we could serve such as are godly; oh, that our substance might be incorporated into godly people, that so we might rise into glory with them; oh, that our substance might not be incorporated into the flesh of sinners, for if it be, we shall go to hell, and would any creatures go to hell? oh, we are weary of bearing sinners! we are weary of serving of sinners! Thus the creatures groan, thus the creatures complain, the sinner's sins forcing them to it, etc.
Again, sin is a burden to God: "Behold, I am pressed under you, as a cart is pressed that is full of sheaves," Amos 2:13. By this plain, pithy, country comparison, God shows how sadly he is pressed and oppressed, how sorely he is wearied and tired with those people's sins. Divine patience is even worn out. Justice has lifted up her hand, and will bear with them no longer. God seems to groan under the pressure of their sins, as a cart seems to do under a heavy load. Of this God complains by the prophet Isaiah: "You have burdened me with your sins and wearied me with your faults," Isaiah 43:24. I am as weary of your sins as a travailing woman is weary of her pains, says God. Sin was such a burden to God, that he sweeps it off with a sweeping flood, Gen. 7, etc.
Again, sin is a burden to Christ: It made him sweat as never man sweat; it made him sweat great drops of clotted or congealed blood, Luke 22:44. Sin put Christ's whole body into a bloody sweat; it made him groan piteously, when he bore our sins in his body on the tree. Sin made his soul heavy even to the death, and had he not been one who was mighty, yes, that was Almighty, he would have fainted and failed under his burden, 1 Pet. 2:24, Isaiah 9:6. And thus you see what a burden sin is to man, to the creatures, to heaven, to earth, to God, to Christ; and therefore, as you would break with sin early, look always upon it as a burden, yes, as the greatest and heaviest burden in all the world, etc.
Notion (6). Sixthly and lastly, If you would break covenant with sin, and arm and fence yourselves against it early, then you mustlook upon it early under the notion of a TYRANT.
"At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another." Titus 3:3. And indeed, sin is the worst and greatest tyrant in the world. Other tyrants can but tyrannize over our bodies—but sin is a tyrant which tyrannizes over both body and soul, as you may see in the sixth and seventh of the Romans. Sin is a tyrant which has a kind of jurisdiction in most men's hearts; it sets up the law of pride, the law of lust, the law of oppression, the law of formality, the law of hypocrisy, the law of carnality, the law of self-love, the law of carnal reason, the law of unbelief—and strictly commands subjection to them, and proclaims fire and sword to all who will not bow down. This saints and sinners, godly men and bad men, do sufficiently experience.
Sin is a tyrant of many thousand years' standing, and though it has had many a wound, and received much opposition—yet still it plays the tyrant all the world over! Oh, the hearts that this tyrant makes to ache! the souls that this tyrant makes to bleed!
Pharaoh's tyranny was nothing to sin's tyranny. This tyrant will not so much as allow his slaves to sleep. They sleep not, except they have done mischief, and their sleep is taken away unless they cause some to sin, Proverbs 4:16. "The wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no peace to the wicked, says my God," Isaiah 57:20-21.
Other tyrants have been brought down and brought under control by a human power—but this cannot but by a divine. The power of man has brought down many of the tyrants of this world—but it is only the power of Christ that can bring down this tyrant, that can cast down his strongholds, 2 Cor.10:3-6, etc. Therefore, engage Christ in the conflict, draw him into the battle, and in the end the conquest will be yours.
Vitellius, who had been emperor of all the world, yet was driven through the streets of Rome stark naked, and thrown into the river Tiber, etc.
Andronicus the emperor, for his cruelty towards his people, was by them at last shamefully deposed, and, after many contumelies, hanged up by his heels.
Ptolemy was put on a cross; Bajazet in an iron cage; Phocas broken on the wheel; Lycaon cast to the dogs, as well as Jezebel; Attalus thrust into a forge; King Gath into a beer barrel, etc. But none of these who have tamed these tyrants, who have brought down these mighty Nimrods—have been able to tame, to bring under control the tyrants, the sins, the lusts—which have been in their own bosoms. Many a man has had a hand in bringing down of worldly tyrants, who, notwithstanding, have died forever by the hand of a tyrant within, etc.