brief answers to the young man's objections.
Objection 1.But some young men may object, and say, You would have us to be godly early, and to seek and serve the Lord in the primrose of our days. But it may be time enough hereafter to follow this counsel; we are young, and it may be time enough for us to mind these things hereafter, when we have satisfied the flesh so and so, or when we have got enough of the world, and laid up something which will stand us in good stead, and which may oil our joints when we are old. Now,
To this objection I answer,
1. First, That it is the greatest folly and madness in the world to put off God and the great things of eternity with may-bes. What tradesman, what merchant, what mariner—so mad, so foolish, so blockish—as to put off a present season, a present opportunity of profit and advantage, upon the account of a may-be? It may be—I have as good a season; it may be—I shall have as golden an opportunity to get, and to enrich myself as this is; and therefore farewell to this. No men who are in their right minds will argue thus; and why then should you, especially in the things that are of an everlasting concernment to you?
I have read of one monarch, a lunatic Italian, who thought that all the kings of the earth were his vassals; and as delirious are they who willfully neglect present seasons of grace, upon the account of a future may-be, etc.
2. Secondly, I answer, It may be if you neglected this present season and opportunity of grace, you may never have another. It may be mercy may never knock again—if you do not open now; it may be Christ shall never be offered to you again—if now you do not close with him, and accept of him; it may be the Spirit will never strive more with you—if now you do resist him and withstand him; it may be a pardon shall never be offered to you again—if now you will not take it now; it may be the gospel shall never sound again in your ears—if now you will not hear it now. Now set one may-be against another maybe, set God's may-be against your own may-be; but,
3. Thirdly, Doubtless there are many thousand thousands now in hell, who have pleased themselves and put off God and the seasons of grace with a may-be, hereafter may be time enough. It may be when I have gratified such a lust, and when I have treasured so much of the world—I will return, and seek, and serve the Lord. But before this season or opportunity came, justice has cut the thread of their lives, and they are now miserable forever; and now they are still a-cursing themselves, because they have slipped their golden opportunities upon the account of a may-be, etc. But,
4. Fourthly, and lastly, This putting off God and the present seasons of grace with a may-be, is very provoking to God, as you may see, if you will but read from the 20th verse to the 33rd of the first of Proverbs. Nothing stirs and provokes a master more than his servants putting off his service or his commands with a may-be: "it may be I will, it may be I may do this and that." Nothing puts a master sooner into a heat, a flame, than this; nor nothing puts God more into a flame than this.
"Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me, though they had seen what I did. For forty years I was angry with that generation; I said, "They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways." So I declared on oath in my anger, "They shall never enter my rest." Psalm 95:7-11.
"So, as the Holy Spirit says: "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me and for forty years saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation, and I said, 'Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.' So I declared on oath in my anger, 'They shall never enter my rest.'" Hebrews 3:7-11.
"As has just been said: "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion." Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief." Hebrews 3:15-19.
Read the words, and tremble at the thoughts of a may-be, at the thoughts of putting off of God and the seasons of grace.
I have read of two soldiers who cut off each other's right hand, and then made it an excuse—they were lame, and so could not serve in war. But this did so provoke the king that he sent them both to the gallows. I suppose the reader is not so young but knows how to apply it.
Objection 2.If I should begin to be godly early, and to seek and serve the Lord in the spring and morning of my days, I would lose my friends, I would lose their favors; for they are carnal and worldly, and had rather I should seek after gold than God, the creature than Christ, earth than heaven. etc. Now to this I answer, Surely you are wrong, for:
1. First, This is the highway, the ready way, to gain the best, the surest, and the soundest friends. "When a man's ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him," Proverbs 16:7. When a man falls in with God, God will work the creatures to fall in with him.Joseph found it so, and Jacob found it so, and Job found it so, the three children found it so, and Daniel found it so, as you all know, who have but read the Scripture. And many in this age, as bad as it is, have found, that the best way to make friends is, first to make God our friend.
Ah! young men, young men, you shall not lose your friends by seeking and serving of the Lord in the spring and morning of your days—but only exchange bad ones for good ones, the worst for the best. He who gives up himself early to the Lord shall have God for his friend, and Christ for his friend, and the angels for his friends, and the saints for his friends. Christ will be to such, first, an omnipotent friend; secondly, an omniscient friend; thirdly, an omnipresent friend; fourthly, an indeficient friend; fifthly, a sovereign friend; sixthly, an immutable friend; seventhly, a watchful friend; eighthly, a loving friend; ninthly, a faithful friend; tenthly, a compassionate friend; eleventhly, a close friend, "There is a friend that sticks closer than a brother," Proverbs 18:24. Such a friend is Christ, and such a friend is as one's own soul, a rare happiness, hardly to be matched. Twelfthly, an universal friend; a friend in all cases and a friend in all places. Christ is so a friend to everyone of his, as if he were a friend to none besides. Hence it is that they say, not only our Lord, our God—but my Lord, and my God. Christ is such an universal friend, as that he supplies the place, and acts the part of every friend, Thirteenthly, "He is our first friend," Psalm 90:1; before we had a friend in all the world he was our friend, Proverbs 8:21. Lastly, he is a constant friend: "Whom he loves, he loves to the end," John 13:1.
Augustus Caesar would not suddenly entertain a league of friendship with any—but was a constant friend to those he loved, late before I love, as long before I leave. Where Christ begins to love, he always loves, Jer. 31:3, "I have loved you with an everlasting love." Now who would not venture the loss of all friends in the world to gain such a friend as this is?
Ah! young men and women, let me say to you what Seneca said to his friend Polibius, never complain of your hard fortune as long as Caesar is your friend. So say I; never complain of your loss of friends so long as by losing of them you gain Christ to be your friend.
2. Secondly, You were better be without their friendship and favor, than to enjoy it upon any sinful and unworthy accounts. You were better run the hazard of losing your friends and their favor by seeking and serving the Lord in the primrose of your days, than to run the hazard of losing God, Christ, heaven, eternity, and your soul forever by neglecting the things of your peace, Matt. 16:26, Mark 8:36.
Well! young men, remember this, the torments of a thousand hells, were there so many, comes far short of this one voice, to be turned out of God's presence with "'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!" Matt. 7:23.
Ah, young man, young man! you were better ten thousand thousand times to be cast out of the thoughts and hearts of your carnal friends and relations, than to be cast out of God's presence with cursed Cain, Gen. 4, forever, than to be excommunicated out of "the general assembly of the saints, and congregation of the first-born which are written in heaven," Heb. 12:23; and therefore away with this objection. But,
3. Thirdly, The favor and friendship of such carnal people is very fickle and inconstant; it is very fading and withering. Now they stroke, and at another time they strike; now they lift up, and at another time they cast down; now they smile, and at another time they frown; now they kiss, and at another time they kill; now they cry, "Hosanna! Hosanna!" and at another time they cry, "Crucify him, crucify him!" Haman is one day feasted with the king, and the next day made a feast for crows, Esther 7. The princes of Babylon were highly in king Darius his favor one day, and cast into the lion's den the next, Dan.6. The scribes and pharisees that cried up Judas one day, did in effect bid him go and hang himself the next day, Mat. 27:3-5.
Such men's favor and friendship are as Venice glasses, quickly broken, and therefore not much to be prized or minded. Histories abound with instances of this nature. But I must hasten: only remember this, that every day's experience tells us that wicked men can soon turn tables, and cross their books; their favor and friendship is usually like to a morning cloud, or like to Jonah's gourd: one hour flourishing and the next hour withering; and why then should you set your heart upon that which is more changeable than the moon? But,
4. Fourthly and lastly, Who but a bad man would adventure the loss of the king's favor to gain the favor of his slave? Who but a stark Bedlam would run the hazard of losing the judge's favor upon the bench, to purchase the good will of a prisoner in the dungeon?
Socrates preferred the king's countenance before his coin; and so must you prefer the favor of God, the countenance of Christ, Psalm 4:6-7, and the things of eternity—above all the favor and friendship of all the men in the world. When your nearest friends and dearest relations stand in competition with Christ, or the things above, you must shake them off, you must turn your backs upon them, and welcome Christ and the things of your peace. He who forsakes all relations for Christ, shall certainly find all relations in Christ; he will be father, friend, husband, child; he will be everything to you, who take him for your great all.
Objection 3.Yes—but I shall meet with many reproaches from one and other, if I should labor to be godly early, if I should seek and serve the Lord in the spring and morning of my youth. Now, to this I answer,
1. First, What are reproaches, compared to the great things that others have suffered for Christ his gospel, and the maintaining of a good conscience? What is a prick of a pin compared to a stab at the heart? what is a chiding compared to a hanging, a whipping compared to a burning? No more are all the reproaches you can meet with, compared to the great things that others have suffered for Christ's sake.
Ah, young men! you should be like the Scythian that went naked in the snow; and when Alexander wondered how he could endure it, answered, I am all forehead.
So should you in the cause and way of Christ; you should not be ashamed, you should be all forehead, you should be stout and bold.
Colonus, the Dutch martyr, under all his reproaches, called to the judge that had sentenced him to death, and desired him to lay his hand upon his heart, and then asked him, Whose heart did beat fastest—his or the judge's? All the reproaches in the world should not so much as make a Christian's heart race; they should not in the least trouble him nor disturb him. But,
2. Secondly, I answer, That all the reproaches you meet with in the way of Christ, and for the sake of Christ—they do but add pearls to your crown; they are all additions to your happiness and blessedness. "If you are ridiculed for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you." 1 Peter 4:14. The more you are reproached for Christ's sake on earth, the greater shall be your reward in heaven; those who are most loaded with reproaches here, shall be most laden with glory hereafter, Mat. 5:11-12. Christ has written their names in golden letters in his book of life—who are written in black letters of reproach for his sake on earth. It was a good saying of Chrysostom: A reproacher, says he, is beneath a man—but the reproached who bear it well, are equal to angels. Of all crowns, the reproached man's crown will weigh heaviest in heaven. But,
3. Thirdly, I answer, the best men have been mostly reproached. David was, Psalm 69:7, 89:50, 119:22, 31:11, 109:25; and Job was, Job 19:3, 20:3, 16:10; and Jeremiah was, Jer. 20:7, 10. Yes, this has been the common portion of the people of God in all ages of the world. In Nehemiah's time it was so: Neh. 1:3, "And they said unto me, The remnant that are left of the captivity, are in great affliction and reproach." In David's time it was so, Psalm 79:4, and Psalm 44:13-14; and in Jeremiah's time it was so: Lam. 5:1, "Remember, O Lord, what is come upon us: consider, and behold our reproach." And in Daniel's time it was so: Dan. 9:16, "Your people are become a reproach to all that are about us;" and it was so in the apostle's time: 2 Cor. 6:8, "By honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report: as deceivers and yet true;" 1 Tim. 4:10, "For therefore we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God," etc. And it was so in the primitive times, for when the Christians met together before sunrise to pray, the heathens reported of them that they worshiped the sun, and aspired after monarchy, and committed adulteries and unnatural uncleannesses.
Now, who is troubled, who complains of that which is a common lot—as cold, winter, sickness, death? etc. No more should any complain of reproaches, it being the common lot of the people of God in all ages. Yes, Christ himself was sadly reproached, falsely accused, and strangely traduced, disgraced, and scandalized. He was called a glutton, a drunkard, a friend of publicans and sinners, and judged to use the black art, casting out devils by Beelzebub the prince of devils, Mat. 9:34,12:24. Christ has suffered the greatest and the worst reproaches; why then should you be afraid to wear that crown of thorns, which Christ has worn before you? There is a great truth in what he said, he who is afraid to suffer cannot be His disciple—who suffered so much. If the master has been marked with a black coal, let not the servant think to go free. I am heartily angry, says Luther, with those who speak of my sufferings as great—which, if compared with that which Christ suffered for me, are not once to be mentioned in the same day. But,
4. Fourthly, I answer, That all reproachers shall at last be arraigned at the highest bar of justice, for all the reproaches that they have cast upon the people of God. "Your former friends are very surprised when you no longer join them in the wicked things they do, and they say evil things about you. But just remember that they will have to face God, who will judge everyone, both the living and the dead," 1 Pet. 4:4-5.
I am in ecstasy, says Picus Mirandula, to think how profane men rail upon those now, whom one day they will wish they had imitated. It was excellent counsel that the heathen orator gave his hearers, let us live as those who must give an account of all at last.
Chrysostom brings in Christ comforting his disciples against reproaches, speaking thus unto them, What! is the wrong grievous to you—that they now call you seducers and conjurors? It will not be long before they shall openly call you the saviors and blessings of the whole world; that time that shall declare all things that are now hid, shall rebuke them for their lying words against you, and shall kindle the splendor of your virtue; so they shall be found liars, evil speakers, false accusers of others; but you shall be more clear and illustrious than the sun, and you shall have all men witnesses of your glory. Such as wisely and humbly bear reproaches now, shall judge reproachers at last. But,
5. Fifthly, I answer, That God does many times, even in this life, judge the reproachers of his people. "I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse those who curse you," Gen. 12:3, and 2 Sam. 16:11-13. God will even in this life curse those, who curse them that he blesses. Pharaoh found it so, and Saul found it so, and Jezebel found it so, and Haman found it so, and the princes of Babylon found it so, and the Jews find it so to this very day.
And oh the dreadful judgments and curses that God has poured out upon the reproachers of his name, of his Son, of his Spirit, of his word, of his ordinances, and of his people—in these days wherein we live! I might give you many sad instances of such in our days, whose feet justice has taken in the snare, men of abstracted conceits and sublime speculations; and indeed such usually prove the great wise fools, who, like the lark, soars higher and higher, peering and peering, until at length they fall into the net of the fowler; and no wonder, for such people usually are as censorious as they are curious.
6. Sixthly, I answer, Paul rejoices more in his suffering reproaches for Christ's sake, than he did in his being enrapt up in the third heaven: 2 Cor. 12:10, "Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then am I strong." And therefore you have him often a-singing this song, "I Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ;" not I Paul, enrapt up in the third heaven. He looked upon all his sufferings as God's love-tokens; he looked upon all reproaches as pledges and badges of his sonship; and therefore joys and glories under all. Christ showed his glory to him in taking him up in the third heaven; and he showed his love to Christ, in his joyful bearing of reproaches for his sake. Paul rattles his chain, which he bears for the gospel, and was proud of it, as a woman of her ornaments, says Chrysostom.
Now why should that be matter of trouble and discouragement to you, which was matter of joy and rejoicing to him? Shall he look upon reproaches as a crown of honor—and will you look upon reproaches as a crown of thorns?
Oh! look upon reproach as a royal diadem, look upon it as Christ's badge, and count it your highest ambition in this world to wear this badge for his sake, who once wore a crown of thorns for your sakes. When Babylas was to die, he required this favor, to have his chains buried with him as the ensigns of his honor. But,
7. Seventhly, I answer, That by a wise and gracious behavior under the reproaches you meet with for Christ's sake, you may be instrumental to win others to Christ.
It was a noble saying of Luther, the church converted the whole world by blood and prayer.
Many have been won to Christ by beholding the gracious carriages of Christians under their sufferings and reproaches for Christ.
We read of Cecilia, a poor virgin, who, by her gracious behavior under all her sufferings and reproaches for Christ, was the means of converting four hundred to Christ.
Adrianus, beholding the gracious, cheerful behavior of the martyrs under all their sufferings and reproaches, was converted to Christ, and afterwards suffered martyrdom for Christ.
Justin Martyr was also converted by observing the holy and cheerful behavior of the saints under all their sufferings and reproaches for Christ. During the cruel persecutions of the heathen emperors, the Christian faith was spread through all places of the empire, because the oftener they were mown down, says Tertullian, the more they grew.
And Austin observed, that though there were many thousands put to death for professing Christ, yet they were never the fewer for being slain.
Ah! young men, you may, by a wise and gracious bearing of reproaches for Christ, be instrumental to win others to Christ; and therefore never plead there is a lion in the way. But I must hasten; and therefore,
8. In the eighth and last place, consider, How bravely several of the very heathens have born reproaches; and let that provoke you, in the face of all reproaches, to seek and serve the Lord in the morning of your youth, etc.
When one came and reproached Xenophon, says he, You have learned how to reproach, and I have learned how to bear reproach.
And Aristippus, the philosopher, said, You are fit to cast reproaches, and I am fit to bear reproaches.
When one wondered at the patience of Socrates towards one who reviled and reproached him, If we should meet one, says he, whose body were more unsound than ours, should we be angry with him, and not rather pity him? Why, then, should we not do the like to him whose soul is more diseased than ours?
Augustus Caesar, in whose time Christ was born, bid Catullus the railing poet to supper, to show that he had forgiven him.
It is a notable example that we find of one Pericles, who, as he was sitting with others in a great meeting, a foul-mouthed fellow bitterly reproached him, and railed all the day long upon him; and at night, when it was dark, the fellow followed him, and railed at him even to his door, and he took no notice of him; but when he came at home, this is all he said, Friend, it is dark, please let my servant light you home.
Josephus reports of that Herod that is made mention of in Acts 12:23, that when one Simon, a lawyer, had grievously reproached and scandalized him before the people, he sent for him, and caused him to sit down next to him, and in a kind manner he spoke thus to him: Tell me, I pray you, what thing you see fault-worthy or contrary to the law in me. Simon not having anything to answer, besought him to pardon him, which the king did, and was friends with him, and dismissed him, bestowing gifts on him.
Ah! young men, young men, shall the very heathen make nothing of reproaches? shall they bear up so prudently and bravely under the greatest loads of reproaches, and will not you? Will not you, who in your light, in your mercies, and in all gospel engagements, are so highly advanced above them? Oh that none of them may be called to the bar in the great day to witness against any of you into whose hands this treatise shall fall. And so much by way of answer to the third objection. But,
Objection 4.Fourthly, The young man objects, and says, You press us to be godly early, and to seek and serve the Lord in the spring and morning of our days; but we observe that most men mind not these things—but rather give liberty to themselves to walk in ways that are most pleasing to the flesh; and why, then, should we be singular and odd? We were better do as the most do, etc. Now to this I answer,
1. That though bad examples are dangerous to all, yet usually they prove most dangerous and pernicious to young people, who are more easily drawn to follow examples than precepts, especially those examples which tend most to undo them: 2 Kings 15:9, it is said of Zachariah, the king of Israel, that "he did evil in the sight of the Lord, as his fathers had done; he departed not from the sins of Jeroboam;" he would be as his father was, and do as his father did, whatever came of it.
So the Samaritans, of whom it is said, 2 Kings 17:41, "These nations feared the Lord" (that is, they made some kind of profession of the true religion, as the ten tribes had done), "and served their engraved images too; both their children and their children's children did thus; as did their fathers, so do they unto this day." By evil examples they were both drawn to idolatry, and rooted and confirmed in it. So the main reason why the kingdom and church of Judah were so settled in their idolatry, that there was no hope of reclaiming them, was this, that their children remembered their altars and their groves by the green trees upon the high hills, Jer. 17:1-2. Tinder is not apter to take fire, nor wax the impression of the seal, nor paper the ink, than youth is to follow ill examples.
You may see in Radbad, king of Phrisia, who coming to the font to be baptized, asked what was become of his ancestors? answer was made, that they died in a fearful state unbaptized; he replied that he would rather perish with the multitude than go to heaven with a few.
I remember the heathen brings in a young man who, hearing of the adulteries and wickednesses of the gods, said, What! do they so? and shall refuse it? No, I will not. Sinful examples are very drawing and very encouraging; many have found it so to their eternal undoing. Those who have no ears to hear what you say—have many eyes to see what you do. Bad princes make bad subjects; bad masters make bad servants; bad parents make bad children; and bad husbands make bad wives. It is easier for the bad to corrupt the good, than for the good to convert the bad! It is easier to run down the hill with company, than to run up the hill alone!
I would desire all young men often to remember that saying of Lactantius, he who imitates the bad cannot be good. Young men, in these professing times, stand between good and bad examples, as Hercules in his dream stood between virtue and vice. Solicited by both, you must choose who to follow. Oh that you were all so wise as to follow the best. As a woman who has many suitors is very careful to take the best, so should you. Life, heaven, happiness, eternity, hangs upon it.
But before I come to the second answer, let me leave this note or notion with those who make no conscience of undoing others by their examples, namely, That a more grievous punishment is reserved for those who cause others to sin, than for those who sin by their example. Thus the serpent was punished more than Eve, and Eve more than Adam. So Jezebel felt a greater and sorer judgment than Ahab.
Friends, you have sins enough of your own, to make you forever miserable; why should you, by giving bad examples to others, make yourselves far more miserable? The lowest, the darkest, the hottest place in hell, will be for those who have drawn others there by their example, Mat. 23:15. Dives knew that if his brethren were damned—that he would be double damned, because he had largely contributed to the bringing of them to hell by his wicked example. Therefore he desires that they might be kept out of hell—not out of any love or good will to them—but because their coming there would have made his hell more hot, his torments more insufferable, Luke 16:28. "It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck—than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin." Luke 17:2
2. Secondly, I answer, If you sin with others, you shall suffer with others; if you will partake of other men's sins, you shall also partake of other men's plagues, Rev. 18:4. Those who have been, like Simeon and Levi, brethren in iniquity—they shall be brethren in misery. Those who have sinned together impenitently shall be sent to hell jointly—they shall perish together eternally. If you will needs be companions with others in their sins, you shall be sure to be companions with them in their sorrows.
The old world sin together—and are drowned together, Gen. 6; the Sodomites, burning in lusts together—were burnt with fire and brimstone together, Gen. 19. Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, they sin together, they murmur and provoke the Lord together—and the earth opens her mouth and swallows them up together, Num. 16:26-34. Pharaoh and his hosts pursue Israel together—and they are drowned in the sea together, Exod. 14. Zimri and Cosbi commit folly, uncleanness together—and Phinehas stabs them both together, Num. 25.
The Hebrew doctors have an insightful parable to this purpose: A man planted an orchard, and, going from home, was careful to leave such watchmen as might both keep it from strangers and not deceive him themselves; therefore he appointed one blind—but strong of his limbs; and the other seeing—but a cripple. These two, in their master's absence, conspired together, and the blind took the lame on his shoulders, and so stole the fruit; their master returning and finding out their subtlety, punished them both together.
So will justice deal with you at last, who sin with others; therefore take heed, young men, of doing as others do. But,
3. Thirdly, I answer, You must not live by examples—but by precepts. You are not to look so much at what others do, as at what God requires you to do: Exod. 23:2, "You shall not follow a multitude to do evil." Romans 12:2, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world;" that is, do not fashion and conform yourselves to the corrupt customs and courses of wretched worldlings, who have made gold their God, and gain their glory. The running cross to a divine command cost the young prophet his life, though he did it under pretense of revelation from God, as you may see in that sad story, 1 Kings 13, etc. The command of God must outweigh all authority and example of men [Jerome].
And we must be as careful in the keeping of a light commandment as an heavy commandment. Says a Rabbi, Divine commands must be obeyed against all contrary reasonings, wranglings, and examples.
Ah! young men, you who doat so much upon examples now, will find that a stinging terrifying question, when put home by God or conscience, Who has required those things at your hands? Isaiah 1:12. But,
4. Fourthly, I answer, Company and allurements to sin—will be found no sufficient excuse for sin.
If Eve lays her fault on the serpent, and Adam lays his fault on Eve—God will lay the curse on both. Saul's provocation by his people, and by Samuel's long stay to offer sacrifice, would not exonerate him; but for his disobedience he must lose both his crown and life, 1 Sam. 15:14-15, 26-27. The young man in the Proverbs, though tempted and solicited by the harlot, yet has a dart struck through his heart, Proverbs 7:14-15, 21. Though Jonah did plead God's gracious inclinations to show mercy, and his fear of being disproved; yes, and though he might have pleaded his fear of cruel and savage usage from the Ninevites, whose hearts were desperately set upon wickedness, and his despair of ever doing good upon a people so blinded and hardened, and that they were Gentiles and he a Jew; and why should he then be sent with so strange, so terrible a message to such a people, nothing being more hateful and distasteful to a Jewish palate? But all these pleas and excuses will not bear off the blow. Jonah must be thrown into the sea for all this; yes, he must go to "the bottom of hell," as himself phrases it. It is in vain for the bird to complain—that it saw the corn but not the trap; or for the fish to plead—it saw the bait but not the hook. So it will be in vain for sinners at last, when they are taken in an infernal trap, to plead the company and allurements by which they have been enticed to undo their soul forever.
Dionysius, the Sicilian king, to excuse himself from the present delivery of the golden garment he took from his idol Apollo, answered, that such a robe as that was could not be at any season of the year useful to his idol, for it would not keep him warm in the winter, and it was too heavy for the summer--and so put off his idol-god. But the God of heaven, the God of all flesh, will not be put off with any excuses or pretenses, when he shall try and judge all men. But,
5. Fifthly and lastly, I answer, That it is a very great judgment to be given up to follow evil examples, Mat. 18:7. A man given up to evil examples is a man sadly left of God, woefully blinded by Satan, and desperately hardened in sin. It speaks a man ripe for wrath, for ruin, for hell: Jer. 6:21, "Behold, I will put obstacles before this people. Fathers and sons alike will stumble over them; neighbors and friends will perish." Oh! it is a dreadful thing when God shall make the sinful examples of others to be stumbling-blocks to a people, at which they shall stumble, and fall, and perish forever; good had it been for such people that they had never been born, as Christ once spoke concerning Judas, Mat. 26:24.
The Rhodians and Lydians enacted several laws, that those sons which followed not their fathers in their virtues—but followed wicked examples, should be disinherited, and their lands given to the most virtuous of that race, not admitting any impious heir whatever to inherit; and do you think that God will not disinherit all those of heaven and happiness who follow wicked examples? Doubtless he will, 1 Cor. 10:5-12.
Objection 5.The fifth and last objection I shall mention is this, God is a God of mercy; in him are affections of mercy, yes, a sea, an ocean of mercy; he loves mercy, he delights in mercy, and he is ready to show mercy to poor sinners, when they are even at the last gasp, when there is but a short stride between them and the grave, between them and eternity; as we see in his extending mercy to the thief, and in his giving a pardon into his hand, and the assurance of paradise into his bosom, when he was ready to be turned off the ladder of life. Therefore I may spend the primrose of my days in following sin, and the delights, profits, vanities, and amusements of this world, and at my last gasp I may have mercy as well as the thief. God is a God made up of mercy, and surely he will not deny some crumbs of mercy to a poor sinner in misery, etc.
Now to this objection I shall give these following answers.
1. First, God is as just as he is merciful; witness his casting the angels out of heaven, and Adam out of paradise; witness all the threatenings, the curses, the woes, that the Bible is filled with, from one end to the other; witness the hell, the horror, the terror and astonishment that he raises in the consciences of sinners; witness the devastations that he has made of the most stately and flourishing towns, cities, countries, and kingdoms, that have been in all the world; witness the variety of diseases, calamities, miseries, dangers, deaths, and hells, that always attend the inhabitants of the world; but above all, witness Christ's treading the wine-press of his Father's wrath; witness his hiding his face from him, and the pouring out of all his displeasure and vengeance upon him.
Zeleucus, the Locrensian lawgiver, thrust out one of his own son's eyes, for his transgressing of a righteous law which he had enacted—but God the Father thrust out both Christ's eyes for our transgressing of his royal law. Oh! the justice and severity of God. But,
2. Secondly, I answer, That there is not a greater evidence of blindness, profaneness, hard-heartedness, spiritual madness, and hellish desperateness in all the world, than to make that an argument, an encouragement to sin, namely, the mercy of God, which should be the greatest argument under heaven to keep a man from sin—as all know that have but read the Scripture. Neither are there any sinners in the world that God delights to rain hell out of heaven upon, as upon such, who by their abuse of mercy, turn the God of mercy into a mere scarecrow, who threatens without punishing; and go on out-daring justice itself.
"Let none of those who hear the warnings of this curse consider themselves immune, thinking, 'I am safe, (God is a God of mercy), even though I am walking in my own stubborn way.' This would lead to utter ruin! The Lord will not pardon such people. His anger and jealousy will burn against them. All the curses written in this book will come down on them." Deuteronomy 29:19-20. In these words you may observe, that God is absolute in his threatening, to show that he will be resolute in punishing: Psalm 11:5-6, "The wicked, and him that loves iniquity, does his soul hate. Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup."
Ah! that all poor sinners would make these two scriptures their companions, their constant bed-fellows, until they are got above that sad temptation of turning the mercy of God into an encouragement to sin.
While Milo Crotoniates was tearing asunder the stock of an oak, his strength failing him,—the cleft suddenly closing,—was held so fast by the hands, that he became a prey to the beasts of the field. All the abusers of mercy will certainly and suddenly become a prey to the justice of God, who will rend and tear them in pieces, as the Psalmist speaks: Psalm 50:22, "Woe, woe, to that soul that fights against God with his own mercies"—who will be bad, because he is good; who will be sinful, because he is merciful; who will turn all the kindness of God—which should be as so many silver cords, to tie him to love and obedience—into arrows, and to shoot them back into the heart of God. Abused mercy will at last turn into a lion, a fierce lion; and then woe to the abusers and despisers of it! But,
3. Thirdly, In answer to that part of the objection concerning the thief on the cross, I offer these things briefly to your thoughts.
(1). First, That as one was saved to teach sinners not to despair; so another was damned to teach them not to presume. A pardon is sometimes given to one upon the gallows—but whoever trusts to that, the hangman's rope may be his end.
(2). Secondly, It is an example without a promise. Here is an example of late repentance—but where is there a promise of late repentance? Oh! let not his late and sudden conversion be to you a temptation, until you have found a promise for late and sudden conversion. It is not examples—but promises, which are foundations for faith to rest on. He who walks by an example of mercy, without a precept to guide him, and a promise to support him, walks but by a dark lantern, which will deceive him. Well! young man, remember this, examples of mercy increase wrath, when the heart is not bettered by them. But,
(3). Thirdly, This was a rare miracle of mercy, with the glory whereof Christ did honor the ignominy of his cross, and therefore we may as well look for another crucifying of Christ as look for a sinner's conversion, when he has scarce time enough for another breath. But,
(4). Fourthly, I answer, This thief knew not Christ before; he had not refused, neglected, nor slighted Christ before. The sermon on the cross was the first sermon that ever he heard Christ preach, and Christ's prayer on the cross was the first prayer that ever he heard Christ make. He knew not Christ until he met him on the cross, which proved to him a happy meeting. His case was as if a Turk or a heathen should now be converted to the faith; and therefore you have little reason, O young man, to plead this example to keep Christ and your soul asunder, who are every day under the call, the entreaties, and wooings of Christ. But,
(5). Fifthly, and lastly, I answer, The circumstances of time and place are rightly to be considered. Now when Christ was triumphing on the cross over sin, Satan, and the world; when he had made the devils a public spectacle of scorn and derision; when he was taking his leave of the world and entering into his glory; now he puts a pardon into the thief's hand, and crowds other favors and kindnesses upon him.
As in the Roman triumphs, the victor being ascended up to the capitol in a chariot of state, used to cast coins among the people for them to pick up, which he used not to do at other times; so our Lord Jesus Christ, in the day of his triumph and solemn inauguration into his heavenly kingdom, scatters some heavenly jewels that this thief might pick up—which He does not, nor will not do every day. Or, as in these days it is usual with princes to save some notorious malefactors at their coronations when they enter upon their kingdoms in triumph, which they do not do afterwards, so did Jesus Christ carry it toward this thief.
But this is not his ordinary way of saving and bringing souls to glory; and therefore do not, O young man! let not the thief's late conversion prove a temptation or an occasion of your delaying your repentance, and trifling away the primrose of your days in vanity and folly. And this much may suffice to have spoken by way of answer to the young man's objections. I shall now speak a few words to old men, and so close up.