HOLINESS, the Only Way to Happiness
The Necessity, Excellency, Rarity, and Beauty of Holiness
Thomas Brooks, 1662
Sixteen provocations to increased holiness
(1.)The first motive to whet and stir up your spirits to labor after greater degrees and higher measures of holiness than yet you have attained to—consider that notwithstanding all the means, and all the advantages, and all the opportunities that you have enjoyed to work you to perfect holiness in the fear of God—yet you have obtained but to very small measures of holiness. You are rather babes than men in holiness; you are rather shrubs than cedars in grace; you are rather dwarfs than giants in godliness to this very day. This sad charge I shall briefly charge against you by an induction of eight particulars, thus:
[1.] First, The strength, the power, the activity, and the prevalence of SIN in you to this day does witness to your faces that you have yet obtained but small measures of holiness.Romans 7:22-24; Isaiah 59:12. O my brethren, are not many of your corruptions as powerful and as strong as they were five, ten, yes, twenty years ago—notwithstanding all the prayers that you have made, and all the sermons that you have heard, and all the tears that you have shed, and all the resolutions that you have taken, and all the promises that you have made, and all the conflicts that you have had? And what does this speak out but that holiness is at a low ebb in your souls? O sirs, were but holiness risen to a greater height in your souls—how readily would you trample upon your lusts!
As the house of David grew stronger and stronger—the house of Saul grew weaker and weaker, 2 Sam. 3:1. As holiness rises in the soul by degrees—sin dies in the soul by degrees. The more any man abounds in holiness—the more he abounds in his spiritual conquests over the world, the flesh, and the devil, Gal. 8:14. O sirs, your pride testifies to your faces, and your self-love testifies to your faces, and your worldliness testifies to your faces, and your passion testifies to your faces, and your meager faith testifies to your faces, and your hypocrisy testifies to your faces, and your carnality testifies to your faces, etc., that yet you are not got up many rounds in Jacob's ladder, Hosea 5:5, and 7:10. But,
[2.] Secondly, You have not attained to much holiness; witness that high price that you set upon the toys, the trifles, and the vanities of this world,as Jonah did upon his gourd, Gen. 24:30-31. Ah, at what a rate do men value the empty honors, the fading riches, and the fleeting pleasures of this world! Did not Peter prefer an earthly tabernacle (Matthew 17) above a celestial palace, not made with hands, and eternal in the heavens? But what do I talk of Peter, when this disease had again and again and again overspread the hearts of all the disciples, as you may evidently see by comparing these scriptures together. [Mat. 17:4; 2 Cor. 5:1-2; Mat. 18:1-2; Mark 9:33-36; Luke 9:46-47, and 22 to 28.] They had dispute upon dispute—which of them should be accounted greatest. They had often sharp contests among themselves, which of them should have the greatest honor, the best office, and the highest place in Christ's earthly kingdom! Indeed their thoughts, heads, and hearts were so taken up about an outward kingdom, a worldly kingdom, that they little minded either the spiritual kingdom of God within them, or the glorious kingdom of God above them.
As the foolish Indians prefer every toy and trifle before their mines of gold—just so, many Christians, who are low in holiness, prefer the trifling vanities of this world before the glorious treasures and endless pleasures which are at God's right hand, Psalm 16:11. Oh—but where holiness is risen to any considerable height, there men will make a very footstool of earthly crowns, for Christ to get up and ride in triumph. There all the glory and glitter of this world will be but as dross and dung, "But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ." Philippians 3:7-8. There men would, like the woman, the church, in the Revelation, "trample the moon," that is, all the things of this world, which are as changeable as the moon, "under their feet," Rev. 12:1. Were there but more holiness in your hearts, all the mirthful and gallant things of this world would be more contemptible in your eyes. O sirs, if Midas was condemned to wear ass's ears, because he preferred Pan's pipe before Apollo's lute, that is, human policy before divine providence—how severely are they to be censured, who prefer the poor, low, empty nothings of this world before all the glory and happiness of the eternal world! etc. But,
[3.] Thirdly, You have attained to but little holiness; witness your fears and faintings in a day of adversity.Though there are as many fear nots, as there be fears in Scripture—yet in a day of calamity, how easily and frequently does your fears get above your faith! Isaiah 51:12-13, and 41:10, 14. What fainting-fits do then attend you! Proverbs 24:10, "If you faint in the day of adversity—your strength is small." Look! as bodily faintness discovers bodily weakness—just so, soul faintness discovers soul weakness. It is troubles, which are the trials of a Christian's strength. Afflictions will test what sap and life we have within us. As the man is for holiness—just so, is his strength under trials. He who has no holiness—has no strength; and he who has but a little holiness—has but a little strength. He who has much holiness—has much strength; and accordingly will bear up bravely in a day of trial; his bow, with Joseph's, will then abide in strength, Gen. 49:23-24. Though Noah in the building of his ark met with many a sore trial, and many a sad affront, and many a broad jest, and many a bitter scoff; and though the people generally laughed at the good old man, thinking that he did only dream of rain; yet Noah, being eminent in holiness, his bow abode in strength, and he held on building of the ark, until he had finished the work that God had commanded.
But oh the sadness, the weakness, the faintness—which attends most people in the day of their adversity! Jer. 8:18, 21, "When I would comfort myself against sorrow, my heart is faint in me. For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt; am I black; astonishment has taken hold on me." Chapter 45:3, "You did say, Woe is me now! for the Lord has added grief to my sorrow; I fainted in my sighings, and I find no rest." Lam. 1:22, "For my sighs are many, and my heart is faint." Chapter 5:17, "For this our heart is faint, for these things our eyes are dim." Now this faintness in the day of adversity speaks out much spiritual weakness; for where holiness is risen to a noble height, there men will bear up courageously, even in a day of calamity.
The eagle is the king of birds, and therefore the Romans, who were the greatest potentates on earth, still bore the eagle in their standards. Now the naturalist observes concerning this royal bird, that whereas all other birds make a noise when they are hungry, this princely bird makes no noise at all, though he be ever so hungry, for such is the greatness and the nobleness of his spirit, that whatever befalls him, he won't cry, and whine, and repine, as other birds will do when they lack their food; his princely spirit carries him above all hunger, thirst, or danger. Just so, men who are eminent in holiness, are men of such noble, princely spirits—that they won't faint, nor vex, nor fret, nor complain—nor whine, whatever their needs, trials, or straits may be. Such afflictions as would break other men's hearts, cannot so much as break their sleep; they still hold on their way, and whatever they meet with, they will be still a-mounting nearer and nearer to heaven. But where there is but a little holiness, there men will be like the common fowls of the air, still a-making a noise, they will still be a-crying, whining, and repining under every trial and trouble they meet with. But,
[4.] Fourthly, You have but a little holiness; witness your easy, your ready, and your frequent fallings before temptations and motions to sin.O sirs, when the temptation does but touch and take; when you are no sooner tempted but you are conquered; no sooner assaulted but you are vanquished; certainly holiness is at a very low ebb in your souls. That garrison, without all question, is very weak—which is taken at the first assault; and that soldier is but slightly armed, that is run through at the first thrust. Just so, that Christian has but little spiritual strength in him, who is worsted and vanquished upon the first appearance of a temptation. When men's understandings are easily corrupted with error, or their judgments with levity, or their wills with frowardness, or their affections with disorderedness, or their consciences with unrighteousness—it is a very great argument that there is but little holiness within. O sirs, men eminent in holiness, in their ordinary course, have been always eminent in the resisting and withstanding of temptations, as is evident in Joseph, Job, Daniel, the three Hebrew children, etc. [Gen. 39; Job 1; Dan. 3 and 6.]
Austin thanks the Lord that his heart and the temptation did not meet together. The devil tempting Bonaventure, told him that he was a reprobate, and therefore persuaded him to drink in the present pleasures of this life, for, says Satan, you are excluded from the future joys with God in heaven; to whom he answered, "No, not so, Satan, for if I must not enjoy God after this life, I will labor to enjoy him as much as I can while I live." When one of the martyrs was offered riches and honors if he would recant, he gave this excellent answer, "Do but offer me something that is better than my Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall see what I will say to you." And the young convert when he was tempted, answered, "I am not the man that I was!" When Valens the emperor offered large preferments to Basil, and told him what a great man he would make him, he answered, "Offer these things to children, and not to Christians." When Bernard was tempted, "Tell me not, Satan," said he, "what I have been—but what I am, and will be—through grace." And so when Beza was tempted in the like case, he answered, "Whatever I was, I am now in Christ a new creature, and that is it which troubles you, Satan; I might have continued in my sins long enough before you would have vexed at it—but now I see you do envy me the grace of my Savior." And when Augustine was sadly reviled by the Donatists for the wickedness of his youth, he answered, "The more desperate my disease was—just so much the more, I admire the physician."
Thus men eminently holy have stood their ground in the face of all temptations and motions to sin. But, alas in these times how easily, how readily, and how frequently do multitudes fall before every temptation! As soon as Achan had but cast his eye upon the Babylonish garment and shekels of silver and wedge of gold—his fingers itched to be handling of them, Josh. 7:21. Just so, many in these days, as soon as they do but see the way to honor or preferment, or a great place, or a high office, etc., oh, how do their fingers itch, how do their souls long after these things! and though they savor and smell ever so strong of Babylon or of Rome—yet have them they must. Such people may do well to remember, that Achan's Babylonish garment was but a shroud to shroud him, and his golden wedge was but a wedge to cleave him, and his shekels of silver were but shekels to hold him the faster, both under the wrath of God and man.
Such as can turn with every wind, and close with every worship, and bow to every idol that man sets up—have either no holiness, or else but very little holiness, in their hearts. Such as easily and readily fall before temptations from within or without, have never attained to any great measures of holiness. But,
[5.] Fifthly, You have but a little holiness; witness the strange behavior and carriage of your souls, when the Lord smites you in some near and dear enjoyment.If the Lord does but frown upon your Joseph, or touches your Isaac, or calls for your Benjamin, or withers your gourd—oh, now with Rachel you will not be comforted, or with Jacob you will go mourning into the grave, or with David you will cry out, "O Absalom, my son, my son! would God I had died for you!" or with Jonah you will tell God to his face that you do well to be angry. [Jer. 31:15; Gen. 37:35; 2 Sam. 18:33; Jonah 4:9.] Oh, now you can't look up and trust in God, you can't look up and delight in God, you can't look up and hope in God, you can't look up and solace yourselves in God, you can't look up and lie down in the good pleasure of God, you can't look up and justify God, you can't look up and say God is your God, etc.
Oh, now that God has touched you in your first-born, you can neither eat, nor drink, nor sleep. Now you can taste no sweet, nor take any comfort, nor find any contentment in any of all your enjoyments. Now that God has touched the apple of your eye, you can neither think well of God, nor speak well of God, nor behave well towards God. Oh, now nobody can please you, nor can anything satisfy you. Now you think that there is no sorrow compared to your sorrow; no cross compared to your cross; nor any loss compared to your loss, etc. Now every sweet is bitter, and every comfort is a cross; and accordingly you behave both towards God and towards man, Lam. 1:12, 18; all which speaks out holiness to be at a very low ebb in your souls.
O sirs, were holiness but risen to some considerable height in your souls, you would with Job, who was eminent in holiness, bless a taking God, as well as a giving God, Job 1:21; and you behave sweetly and sincerely towards God, as well when he writes bitter things against you as when he is a-multiplying of favors and kindnesses upon you. But if when the rod smarts—you kick, and fling, and fret, and fume, and vex, and tear your comforts in pieces, and your souls in pieces, and your God in pieces, as much as in you lies, certainly the streams of holiness run low in your souls. But,
[6.] Sixthly, You have but little holiness; witness the ebbings and the flowings of your spirits according to the working of secondary causes.As secondary causes work—so you are up and down, high and low. Now you are full of hopes—and at another time you are full of fears. Now you believe—and later on despair. Now you are steadfast—and afterwards you are wavering. Now you say, "surely God will once more own us,"—and momentary you say, "truly God has forsaken us." Now you say you see the clouds begin to scatter—and later on you say you see the clouds grow darker and thicker. Now you say the winter is past, and the singing of birds has come—and afterwards you say your winter is likely to be longer than ever. [Cant. 2:11-12; Jer. 8:22, 46:11, and 2:8.] Now you say there is balm in Gilead—and at another time you say your wound is incurable. Now you say all is well—and shortly you are ready to give up all as lost, etc. And thus your hearts rise and fall according to the working of second causes.
When you have full purses, and powerful armies, and wise counselors, and great allies—then you are ready to say, "Surely our mountain is strong, and we shall never be moved!" Psalm 30:6-8. But when your bags are empty, and your forces broken, and your counsels dissipated, and your allies fallen off—then you are ready to cry out, "Oh, now there is no hope, there is no help! "
Oh—but were you eminent in holiness, then, under the saddest and crossest workings of second causes, you would say with Asa, "O Lord, there is no one like you to help the powerless against the mighty. Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you," 2 Chron. 14:11; and with Elisha, "Those who are with us are more than those who are with them," 2 Kings 6:16-17; and with Moses, "Stand still and see the salvation of God," Exod. 14:13; and with David, "The Lord is on my side, I will not fear what man can do unto me," Psalm 118:6. Holiness in any considerable height, will set the power of God in opposition to all the power of the world, and then divinely triumph over them, Psalm 65:6-11.
Pompey once gloried in this—that with one stamp of his foot he could raise all Italy up in arms; but the great God with one stamp of his foot, or with one word of his mouth, can raise not only Italy—but also all the angels in heaven, and all the men on earth, in arms at his pleasure. And in the power of this God, eminent holiness will enable a man to glory all the day long. Where holiness is weak, there men stand and fall as second causes work—but where holiness is eminent, there men will live upon the first cause; and, however second causes may wheel about—yet such a man will live upon him, and look up to him who has a wheel within every wheel, Ezek. 1:15-22. But,
[7.] Seventhly, You have but little holiness; witness that soul-leanness, barrenness, and unfruitfulness that is among you at this very day.Ah, how may most cry out with the prophet Isaiah, "Oh my leanness, my leanness!" Isaiah 24:16, and 10:16. "Oh our leanness, our leanness, our barrenness!" etc. Though God has waited many years for fruit—yet behold nothing but leaves. I have read of the Indian fig-tree--that its leaves are exceedingly broad--but its fruit is no bigger than a bean. Ah, how many Christians are there in these days whose leaves of profession are very broad—but their fruits of righteousness and holiness are very small. And as the Indian fig-tree, though it be of fair and goodly dimensions—yet it wastes all its sap and juice into leaves and blossoms. Just so, many in these days, who, though they look fair, and make a goodly show—yet they waste all their spiritual sap and life—into the mere leaves and blossoms of an empty profession.
Ah, how are many of our hearts like to the isle of Patmos, which is so barren that nothing good will grow on it; all the good things that grow there is from the earth that is brought from other places.
Look! as a company of ants are very busy about a molehill, running to and fro, and wearying themselves in their several movings and turnings, this way and that—and yet never grow great; for after all their motions and stirring, they are still the same as to the slender proportion of their bodies: just so, many Christians in these days run to and fro, they run from one duty to another, and from one ordinance to another, and from one opinion to another, and from one principle to another, and from one minister to another, and from one church to another, and from one way to another, and from one notion to another—and yet they make little progress in holiness, they grow but little in the love, the life, the likeness, and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 Pet. 3:18. They are like those silly women who Timothy speaks of, who were ever learning—and yet never able to come to the knowledge of the truth, 2 Tim. 3:6-7. And they are like the country of Ozizala, which abounded with mirthful flowers—but was barren of nourishing grain. Just so, these abound in mirthful notions, and flourishing parts--but are barren of grace and holiness.
Seneca has long since observed that as the philosophers in his time grew more and more learned—just so, they grew less and less moral; and is there anything more evident in these days than this, namely, that as men grow more and more in empty airy notions, and in a pompous religion and profession—just so, they grow less and less zealous and pious.
The reason, say some, why Christ cursed the fig-tree, though the time of bearing fruit was not come, was because it made a glorious show with leaves, and promised much—but brought forth nothing. What is a barren tree, a barren ground, or a barren womb—compared to a barren heart? Many in our days are like the cypress-tree, which, the more it is watered—the more it is withered. Just so, the more many are watered with the means of grace—the more they wither; the more the dews of heaven falls upon them, and the more heavenly manna is daily rained round about them—the more lean, fruitless, and barren they grow. Such souls may do well to remember that those trees which are not for fruit—are for the fire! John 15:6; Heb. 6:8.
For a close, let me tell you that I fear, with Augustine—that many grieve more for the barrenness of their lands—than they do for the barrenness of their lives; and for the barrenness of their trees—than they do for the barrenness of their souls; and for the loss of their cattle—than they do for the loss of God's countenance. But,
[8.] Eighthly and lastly, You have but little holiness; witness that great indifference and fickleness that is to be found among you.Ah, how many Christians are there in these days of gospel light who are indifferent who they hear, or what they hear; who are indifferent whether they pray or not, or walk in gospel order or not, or maintain closet communion with God or not, or enjoy the Lord's supper or not, etc. Oh, what inconstancy is to be found among many in these days! Many people are only constant in inconstancy. [Lord Paulet kept both great favor and places under Henry the Eighth, a Papist, and under King Edward the Sixth, a Protestant, and under Queen Mary, a Papist, and under Queen Elizabeth, a Protestant; and being asked how he could do so, he answered that he always imitated the willow and not the oak.]
Now they are for ordinances—and at another time they are against them. Now ordinances are precious and glorious things—and afterwards they are poor low things. Now they cry up this and that for glorious truths—and shortly they cry down the same things as dangerous and pernicious errors. Now they cry up Paul and cry down Apollos—and afterwards they cry up Apollos and cry down Paul. Now they are for this form—and momentarily they are for that form. Now they are very zealous—and shortly they are very lukewarm. Now they are for worshiping of God according to Scripture rule—and afterwards they are for worshiping of God according to the prescriptions of men. Now they have their gales of devotion—and before long they are quite becalmed. Now they are full of life—and in a short while they are very lumpish. Now they stand fast—and afterwards they are wavering. Now they are confident all will be well—and before long they give up all as lost. Now they will lay down their lives for Christ—and at another time they are afraid to own Christ, etc.
Now what does this indifference and inconstancy speak
out—but either a total lack of holiness, or else that holiness is
at a very low ebb in these men's souls? Now these eight arguments
do clearly evidence that many, oh that I could not say that most,
Christians have attained but to small measures and degrees of holiness. But,
(2.) Secondly,To provoke you to labor after higher degrees of holiness, consider that it is possible for you to attain to greater measures of holiness, than any you have yet reached unto. Though the work is hard—yet it is possible; and what great things won't men attempt upon the account of a possibility. Now that it is possible that you may attain to a greater perfection of holiness, I shall evidence these five ways:
[1.] First, By many precious PROMISES which are scattered up and down in the blessed Scriptures; as that Job 17:9, "The righteous shall hold on his way, and he who has clean hands shall be stronger and stronger;" or as the Hebrew has it, "he shall add strength," that is, he shall go on from one degree of spiritual strength to another, he shall go on from a lesser degree to a greater degree of spiritual strength, and from a lower degree to a higher degree of spiritual strength. A holy man shall not only have his spiritual strength maintained—but increased; he shall not only retain that spiritual strength he has—but he shall be still a-adding of strength to strength, Psalm 84:7. They go from strength to strength, or from power to power; or as the word may be read, from company to company, or from troop to troop—in allusion to the custom of the Jews, when all the males went up thrice a year to Jerusalem; now when they went up to Jerusalem, they went up with their flocks, and in troops. Now those who were lively, active, and strong—they overtook this company and that, and this troop and that—and so they went on, their power and strength increasing daily more and more, until they appeared before God in Zion. Look! as the bee goes from flower to flower to gather honey—just so, those who had a principle of grace and holiness in them, they went from one good company to another, from one troop of Christians to another—still gathering up heavenly honey as they went.
O sirs, there is no such way to perfect holiness, as to be still a-going on from duty to duty, and from ordinance to ordinance; from praying to hearing, and from hearing to praying; from reading to meditating, and from meditating to reading; from public duties to closet duties, and from closet duties to public duties, etc. Psalm 92:12-14, "But the godly will flourish like palm trees and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon. For they are transplanted into the Lord's own house. They flourish in the courts of our God. Even in old age they will still produce fruit; they will remain vital and green." The promise of flourishing is repeated in these verses—to note the more than ordinary flourishing estate of the saints, even in their old age.
I have read of an old Christian, who being asked whether he grew in goodness or not, answered, "I believe I do, because the Lord has promised that his people shall bring forth fruit in old age." Pliny, writing of the crocodile, tells us that she grows to her dying day—just so, Christians who are rooted in Christ, and planted in the house of the Lord, they will be still growing up in grace and holiness even to their dying day. It is with real Christians as it is with wine—the older the better; or as it is with the sun—which shines most gloriously and amiably when it is near setting. Gracious souls are like an evergreen tree, whose leaves are always green, not only in the summer of youth—but also in the winter of old age. The palm-tree is always green, it never loses its leaves or fruit, and the more it is loaded the deeper it is rooted; and so it shall be with throughout Christians.
Just so, in Isaiah 46:3-4, God has promised to carry us on to old age, "Listen to me, all you who are left in Israel. I created you and I have cared for you since before you were born. I will be your God throughout your lifetime—until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you." That God who begins a work of grace and holiness in his people's hearts—that God will perfect and carry on that work. Mothers express their tender care, love, and delight, by carrying their babes in their arms until they can walk alone. But God surpasses them in his love, care, tenderness, and divine fondness—for he will carry them even to old age. This word "I," which is six times repeated in the fourth verse, is doubtless of very great importance, and signifies not only God's eternal essence, and that he will be ever like himself—but also his unchangeableness in regard of us; for whatever our thoughts may be concerning God—yet we shall always find him one and the same; he will be as good to his people at last as he was at first, even to old age he will carry them.
Just so, in Proverbs 4:18, "The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter until the full light of day." A holy man proceeds from grace to grace, from virtue to virtue; he goes from faith to faith, and from strength to strength—until at length he shines as the sun in his strength!
Just so, in Hosea 14:5-7, "I will be to Israel like a refreshing dew from heaven. It will blossom like the lily; it will send roots deep into the soil like the cedars in Lebanon. Its branches will spread out like those of beautiful olive trees, as fragrant as the cedar forests of Lebanon. My people will return again to the safety of their land. They will flourish like grain and blossom like grapevines. They will be as fragrant as the wines of Lebanon." The growth, the fruitfulness, and the flourishing estate of the saints in grace and holiness, is set forth by a sevenfold metaphor in these words. The similes are all plain and easy, and you may easily dilate upon them in your own thoughts; and therefore I shall pass them.
I shall conclude with that precious promise, John 4:14, "But whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him, shall never thirst: but the water that I shall give him, shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life." The Spirit in its gracious operations shall be a constant spring in believers' hearts, and it shall every day rise higher and higher, like the water in Ezekiel, until grace is swallowed up in glory! Ezek. 47:1-7. And thus you see by these choice promises, that it is possible for you to attain to a greater measure of holiness. But,
[2.] Secondly, The PRAYERS that have been put up upon this very account, do clearly evidence that it is possible for you to attain to a greater measure of holiness.Certainly the people of God would never have prayed for higher degrees of grace and holiness, if they had not been attainable. Now it is very observable that the spirits of the saints have run out much this way, as is evident in these instances, Phil. 1:9-11, "And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ--to the glory and praise of God."
Colossians 1:9 "For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding." Colossians 4:12, "Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured." The Greek word is a metaphor from a ship, whose sails are filled with wind. Epaphras was a humble petitioner that the souls of the Colossians might be filled with the highest degrees of grace and holiness, as the sails of a ship are filled with wind. 1 Thes. 3:12, "And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one towards another, and towards all men, even as we do towards you." The apostle, by doubling his word, increase and abound, discovers himself to be an importunate suitor, that a double portion of grace and holiness might be given out to the Thessalonians.
Just so, in Hebrews 13:20-21, "Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen." The apostle cannot beg anything for these believing Hebrews below perfection. And the apostle Peter puts up the same requests for those blessed converts who were scattered throughout "Pontius, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia."
1 Peter 5:10, "But the God of all grace, who has called us into his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that you have suffered a while, make you perfect, establish, strengthen, settle you." God is called "the God of all grace," because he is the giver of all kinds of grace, and of all degrees of grace. Nothing below perfection will satisfy this great apostle, when he comes to plead for these saints. Though they had as much grace as would bring them to heaven—yet he begs such a perfection of grace as might raise them high in heaven. And thus it appears by the prayers of these holy men, that saints may still be rising in grace and holiness. But,
[3.] Thirdly, The EXPERIENCE of other saints does clearly evidence this, that you may attain unto higher degrees of grace and holiness than those which yet you have attained unto.
Genesis 6:9, "Noah was a just man and perfect in his generation, and Noah walked with God." Noah was not only perfect with perfection of parts; nor only perfect in respect of desires, endeavors, and aims; nor only perfect in respect of his justification before God by imputed righteousness; nor only perfect in respect of God's approbation, acceptance, and delight; nor only perfect in respect of God's design and intentions to make him so in the eternal world; nor only perfect in respect of those gifts and graces with which he was adorned and furnished for the discharge of his place, office, and work to which the Lord had called him; nor only comparatively perfect, in regard of that profane, ungodly, and debauched generation among whom he lived; but also he is said to be perfect in respect of an eminent progress that he had made in grace and holiness. He had attained to considerable degrees and measures of grace and holiness; and though his proficiency in the exercise of grace and practice of piety fell short of complete perfection—yet it rose to such a height that God could not but crown him and chronicle him for a perfect man. [Psalm 37:37; Phil. 3:11-16; Cant. 4:7; Eph. 5:26-27; Rev. 14:4-5; Proverbs 2:21, and 11:5; 2 Tim. 3:16-17.] In all ages of the world, there has been four different levels of Christians—namely, babes, children, young men, and old men. [1 Pet. 2:2; 1 John 2:12-14; Heb. 5:12-14.] Noah was not a babe, nor a child, nor a young man—but an old man in grace and holiness; and therefore he is said to be perfect. There are several grades in Christ's school—some higher, some lower. Now he who is in the highest grade may be said to be perfect, in regard of those who are in a lower or in the lowest grade. Now Noah was in the highest grade of grace and godliness, therefore he is said to be perfect.
And in this sense, I suppose, Job is said to be a perfect man: Job 1:1, 8, "There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one who feared God, and eschewed evil. And the Lord said unto Satan, Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and upright man, one who fears God, and eschews evil?" Job was a very considerable person; he was a man of a choice spirit, he was taller in goodness, and head and shoulders higher in grace and godliness—than any of the saints in that age and corner of the world where he lived. Job was a man of the greatest weight and worth for holiness, in all the world. Job was a paragon; no Christians could come near him. As he was the greatest—just so, he was the best of the best of all the saints—for heights of grace and holiness. He was a giant, and all the Christians round about him were but as so many dwarfs. He was the paragon of his time; for piety and sanctity none could parallel him, none could match him.
In this sense we are to understand the apostle, both in 1 Cor. 2:6, "We speak wisdom among those who are perfect," and in Phil. 3:15, "Let as many as be perfect be thus minded." He speaks here not of an absolute perfection, for such a perfection himself disclaims in verse 12, "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me." By the force of the original word, that is here rendered press on, [I persecute, I follow with as hot and as eager a spirit after perfection, just as persecutors do follow after those they persecute.] the apostle declares that he had perfection in chase, as it were, and that his spirit was with much heat and eagerness carried out in pursuing after it, and resolved not to rest until he had attained to it.
An absolute perfection is very desirable on earth—but shall never be obtained until we come to heaven. Absolute perfection is not the privilege of saints militant—but of saints triumphant; and therefore the perfection that the believing Corinthians and holy Philippians had attained to—was not an absolute but a comparative perfection; they were perfect in comparison of those who were but babes and shrubs and dwarfs in Christ.
It is a very high and honorable report which the apostle gives of the Corinthians in that 2 Cor. 8:7, "Therefore, as you abound in everything, in faith, in utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us; see that you abound in this grace also." And it is a very large testimony that the same apostle gives of the Romans in that Romans 15:14, "And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that you are also full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another." Now the fullness the apostle speaks of is not a fullness of parts, for the weakest believer as well as the strongest is at first conversion renewed and sanctified in every part, though it be but in part and imperfect. But of this fullness the apostle does not speak. But then there is a fullness of degrees. The apostle is to be understood of a comparative fullness. The Romans were full of all goodness and knowledge—in comparison of those in whom Christ was but newly formed, and in whom the work of grace was but newly erected. And they were full of all goodness and knowledge now, in comparison of what they were at their first acquaintance with Christ, and first acceptance of Christ, and first resignation of themselves to Christ, and at their first marriage union and communion with Christ.
And thus you see, by the experiences of other saints, that it is possible for you to attain to higher degrees of grace and holiness than any that yet you have attained to. But,
[4.] Fourthly, It is possible for you to attain to higher degrees and pitches in holiness than any that yet you have attained unto; witness the PRAISES and THANKSGIVINGS that have been offered up to God upon their accounts who have attained to a very great height of holiness.Take a few Scripture instances for the clearing up of this particular:
1 Cor. 1:4-5, 7, "I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; that in everything you are enriched by him, in all utterance and in all knowledge; so that you come behind in no good gift."
Eph. 1:3, 7-8, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ; who according to the riches of his grace, has abounded towards us in all wisdom and prudence." [Though injuries should be written in the dust—yet spiritual mercies should be written on marble, that our hearts may be the better provoked to thankfulness for them.] Here the apostle trumpets out the high praises of God, for that he had blessed them and enriched them, though not with grain, or oil, or wine, or with gold or silver, which is but red and white clay, that yet he had blessed them with all spiritual blessings—which are the choicest, the chief, and the sweetest of blessings. Spiritual blessings are right-handed blessings, they are peculiar blessings, they are blessings-sweetening blessings, for they sweeten all the blessings man enjoys. And they are blessings-begetting blessings, for they beget and bring forth many other blessings, to the enriching and adorning of a Christian's soul. And they are blessings-sanctifying blessings, they are blessings that sanctify all other blessings. And they are blessings-preserving blessings, they are blessings that will preserve all our other blessings. Spiritual blessings are peculiar blessings, they are costly blessings, they are blessings that reach to the very spirit and soul of a Christian, they are blessings that raise the spirit of a Christian, and that ennoble the spirit of a Christian, and that cheer up the spirit of a Christian, and that a thousand ways betters the spirit of a Christian! Therefore it is no wonder that the apostle's heart was so affected with spiritual blessings, and that his mouth was so filled with spiritual praises, as indeed it was.
1 Tim. 1:12, 14, "And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, because the grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus."
And thus you see by others' thanksgivings, that it is possible for you to attain to far higher degrees of holiness than what for the present you are raised to. The stork is said to leave one of her young ones where she hatches them; and the elephant to turn up the first sprig towards heaven when he comes to feed, and both out of some instinct of gratitude; and shall not a divine instinct enable Christians to do much more in a way of gratitude, both upon the account of their own graces, and upon the account of those eminent measures of grace, which other saints are blessed and crowned with? Though Seiarus did dare to sacrifice to himself—yet a Christian must not dare to sacrifice to himself, nor to his duties, nor to his graces, etc.; the sacrifice of praise in regard of grace received, is a crown of glory which is due to none but the God of grace.
All the rivers return to the sea from whence they had their beginning. God will give you his covenant, and he will give you his ordinances, and he will give his heaven, and he will give you his Son, yes, he will give you himself; but his glory, his glory—he will not give unto another, Isaiah 42:8. Whatever he parts with, he is resolved that neither angels nor men shall share with him in the glory of his grace. I have read of a stork which cast a pearl into the bosom of a maid which had healed her of a wound. O sirs! when God comes to heal you of your spiritual wounds and diseases, and not only so—but shall also richly bespangle and adorn your souls with his precious graces, what can you do less than cast that pearl of praise into the bosom of God? as David did in that Psalm 103:1-6.
The best means to get more grace, is to be thankful for that grace which you have, for God loves to sow much where he reaps much. If your returns are answerable to your receipts, you will still be on the receiving hand. Thankfulness is God's payment for all his blessings, and those who truly and duly pays this payment, shall be sure to abound in the best of blessings. Thankfulness for one blessing always draws on another blessing, as saints by experience daily find. And thus you see, by these arguments, that it is possible for you to attain higher degrees of holiness than any yet you have reached unto. But,
[5.] Fifthly and lastly, It is possible for you to attain to higher degrees of holiness, etc.; witness those choice, those rare and singular gifts that Christ has bestowed upon many of his servants for this very purpose—namely, that they may help on a growth and an increase of holiness in your hearts.
"It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." Ephesians 4:11-13
One main end of Christ's giving such eminent gifts to his church leaders—is that his people may be made eminent in holiness. It is not only to bring them in—but also to build them up; it is not only to convert them—but also to edify them; it is not only to begin a work of holiness—but also to perfect and carry on a work of holiness. And therefore the word is not only compared to seed which begets holiness in men's hearts—but also to wine and milk and strong meat, which helps forward the growth and increase of holiness in men's hearts.
And so the great end of the Lord's supper is not to work spiritual life where it is not—but to increase it where it is; it is not to change the heart—but more and more to sanctify the heart; it is not to begin holiness—but to perfect holiness in the fear of the Lord; it is not to sow the seed of grace in the soul—but it is to cause that seed to grow and flourish in the soul. The martyrs in the primitive church, when they were to appear before the cruel tyrants, they were accustomed, as Cyprian shows, to receive the Lord's supper, and thereby they were fired with zeal and fervor, and filled with faith and fortitude, etc. Chrysostom says, that "by the sacrament of the Lord's supper we are so armed against Satan's temptations that he flees from us, as if we were so many lions that spit fire." The Lord's supper is a cabinet of spiritual jewels; and oh, then, how unmanly and inappropriate a thing it is, to hang this cabinet of jewels, which is more worth than the gold of Ophir, in a swine's snout! And how that mother can be guiltless of the death of her child, who gives him poison in a golden cup, with this caution, that she tells him it is poison, I know not; no more do I know how that minister can be guiltless of the body and blood of our Lord, who dispenses the bread of life to those who are known to be without spiritual life—yes, who are known to be dead in sins and trespasses.
And thus you see, by these five arguments, that it is possible for you to
attain to greater measures of holiness than any yet you have reached unto; and
so much for the second motive.
(3.) Thirdly, To provoke you to labor after higher degrees of holiness, consider that the more holy you are—the more you will be the delight of God, and the more dear you will be to God, and the more beloved you will be by God.For the right understanding of this argument you must carefully distinguish between God's love of goodwill, and his love of delight.
God's love of GOODWILL is equal to all his saints, whether they are rich or poor, high or low, bond or free; or whether they have a sea of grace—or but a drop of grace. God's love of goodwill runs as much out to the weakest Christian, as it does to the strongest; as much to a babe in grace as to a giant in grace.
All saints are equally ELECTED. God never chose one man to be a vessel of glory more than another; the weakest saint is as much elected as the strongest, Romans 11:17.
And as all saints are equally elected—just so, all saints are equally REDEEMED by Jesus Christ. Christ bled as much for one saint as another, and he sweat as much for one saint as another, and he sighed and groaned as much for one saint as another, and he trod the wine-press of his Father's wrath as much for one saint as another, Isaiah 53:3-12. Christ paid as great a price for his lambs—as for his sheep, 1 Cor. 6:19-20. Christ paid as great a price for Lazarus in his rags—as for David in his royal robes.
And as all saints are equally redeemed—just so, all saints are equally EFFECTUALLY CALLED; one saint is as much called out of the kingdom of darkness as another, and one saint is as much called to Jesus Christ as another, 1 Pet. 2:9. In effectual calling, God looks with as favorable an eye upon one as he does upon another.
And as all saints are equally called—just so, all saints are equally JUSTIFIED, 2 Cor. 5:19-20; though one saint may be more sanctified than another—yet no saint is more justified than another. The weakest believer is as much justified and pardoned before the throne of God as the strongest is; that pure, perfect, matchless, and spotless righteousness of Christ is as much imputed to one saint as it is to another, 1 Cor. 1:30.
And as all saints are equally justified—just so, all saints are equally ADOPTED, Gal. 4:4-6; the weakest believer is as much an adopted son of God, as the strongest believer in the world is. God is no more a father to one than he is to another. In human families, the babe in the mother's arms is as much a son—as he who is of riper years. Thus you see that God's love of goodwill is equal in all his saints. "Those He predestined, He also called; and those He called, He also justified; and those He justified, He also glorified." Romans 8:30.
But God's love of DELIGHT runs out more to some saints than it does to others; for those who have much holiness are much beloved—but those who have most holiness are most beloved, John 14:21-23. The greater you are in holiness, the greater will you be beloved of God. "O Daniel, you are greatly beloved," Dan. 9:23. And why does God love more, and delight more in Christ, than he does in all the angels and saints in heaven, and in all the upright ones who are on earth? Because Christ is more eminent and glorious in holiness than all created beings are; he is more the express image of his Father's person, and the brightness of his Father's glory than others, and therefore he is more beloved than others.
It was an excellent observation of one of the fathers, namely, that God loved the humanity of Christ more than any man, because he was fuller of grace and truth than any man. Now for the further clearing up of this great argument, Consider—
First, that the more holy any person is—the more excellent that person is.All impurities are diminutions of excellency. The more mixed anything is—the more abased it is. The more you mix your wine with water—the more you abase your wine; and the more you mix your gold with tin—the more you abase your gold. But the purer your wine is—the richer and the better your wine is; and the purer your gold is, the more glorious and excellent it is. Just so, the purer and holier any person is, the more excellent and glorious that person is. Now the more divinely excellent and glorious any person is, the more he is beloved of God, and the more he is the delight of God. But,
Secondly, the more holy any person is—the more that person pleases the Lord.Heb. 11:5. Fruitfulness in holiness fills God with joy. The farmer is not so much pleased with the fruitfulness of his fields, nor the wife with the fruitfulness of her womb, nor the father with the thriving of his child—as God is pleased with the fruitfulness and thriving of his children in grace and holiness! Now certainly the more God is pleased with any person, the more he loves that person, and the more pleasure and delight he takes in such a person. If God is most pleased with holiness—he cannot but be most delighted in those who are most holy. But,
Thirdly, the more holy any person is—the more like God he is,and the more like to God he is, doubtless, the more he is beloved of God. It is likeness both in nature and grace that always draws the strongest love. Though every child in the family is the father multiplied, a second edition of the father—yet the father loves him best, and delights in him most—who is most like him, and who in feature, spirit, and action, does most resemble him to the life. And so does the Father of spirits also, he always loves those best, who in holiness resemble him most.
There are four remarkable things in the beloved disciple John, above all the rest of the disciples: [John 13:23, 18:16, and 19:26-27.]
1. That he lay nearest to Christ's bosom at the table.
2. That he followed Christ closest to the high priest's palace.
3. That he stood close to Christ when he was on the cross, though others had basely deserted him, and turned their backs upon him.
4. That Christ commended the care of his virgin mother to him.
Now why did Christ's desire, love, and delight—run out with a stronger and a fuller tide towards John, than to the rest of the disciples? Doubtless it was because John did more resemble Christ than the rest; it was because John was a more exact picture and lively representation of Christ, than the others were. But,
Fourthly, the more holy any man is, the more communion and familiarity that man shall have with God; as you may see in Moses. Moses was a paragon for meekness and holiness: Num. 12:3, "Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth." There was no man so slighted, wronged, provoked, teased, perplexed, and troubled by that wicked, unthankful, unbelieving, and murmuring generation—as Moses was! And yet he did neither rail at them nor revile them; he did neither storm nor rage, he did neither fret nor fling! And though he had a sword of justice in his hand, and might easily have avenged himself on them—yet he would not—but exercised all patience, tenderness, goodness, and sweetness towards them. Oh the lowliness, the meekness, the holiness of this man Moses! And oh the freeness, the friendliness, the openness, and the familiarity of God with Moses!
Deut. 34:10, "There has never been another prophet like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face." To give you a little light into these words: some of the Rabbis observe that Moses surpassed all the other prophets, not only in sublimity of prophecies—but also in excellency and number of miracles; for Moses within one age wrought seventy-six miracles, when all the rest of the prophets from the beginning of the world quite down to the ruin of the first temple, wrought only seventy-four. As for those words, "whom the Lord knew face to face," you are not to understand them thus, that God has a face as man has, nor that Moses had a view of the essence of God, which is invisible; for in this sense no man has seen God at any time, John 1:18; and indeed the least beam of God's essential glory and majesty would have swallowed up Moses alive, 1 Tim. 6:16. But these words, "whom the Lord knew face to face," are to be understood of God's speaking to Moses in a free, friendly, familiar, and plain manner. God did speak to Moses by a clear articulate voice, even as one man speaks to another when they speak face to face.
And so when Aaron and Miriam were swelled with pride and envy, and began to bespatter Moses, and to pick a hole in his coat; and attempt to cloud, eclipse, and diminish his glory, see at what a high and noble rate God speaks of Moses; see how God magnifies and exalts and lifts up Moses! "At once the Lord said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, 'Come out to the Tent of Meeting, all three of you.' So the three of them came out. Then the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud; he stood at the entrance to the Tent and summoned Aaron and Miriam. When both of them stepped forward, he said, 'Listen to my words—When a prophet of the Lord is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams. But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?' The anger of the Lord burned against them, and he left them." Numbers 12:4-9.
Now here you see how God owns Moses, and stands up for Moses, and pleads for Moses, and tells Aaron and Miriam to their faces that Moses was his greatest favorite, and that he had far greater respect for Moses than he had for them, and that there was not a man in all the world whom was so intimate with him as Moses, and who had so much of his ear and heart as Moses had. God did appear to other prophets in dreams and visions, which were transient—but with Moses God will speak mouth to mouth, God will speak to him without an interpreter, he will speak to Moses more familiarly and frequently than he did to others by visions, and more clearly, plainly, and assuredly than he did to others by dreams. God here engages himself to hold a more close, familiar, friendly, and constant fellowship and correspondence with Moses, than with any others in the world. Moses was blessed with as clear, and with as full, and with as apparent sight of God, and communion with God—as he was able to bear and comprehend.
Some of the learned are of opinion, that Christ conversed with Moses in a human shape, as he had done with Abraham before; they conjecture that the Lord Jesus did very friendly and familiarly show himself to Moses with that very same face and form of human nature, which he afterwards assumed, [Gen. 18 and 32:30, etc.] but this I dare not press upon you as an article of your faith. And whether Moses had one hundred and seventy-three familiar conferences with God, which none of the prophets had, lies upon those Rabbis who assert it, to prove; but this is granted on all hands, that Moses was a special favorite, and a man in high communion with God, and one who had very clear and eminent discoveries and manifestations of God.
And so Abraham was a man of great holiness, and a man eminent in his communion with God. God owned him as a friend, as an honorable friend, as an eminent friend, as a bosom friend, as a peculiar friend, and as a faithful friend, Isaiah 41:8; and therefore he made him one of his privy council, and opened his heart and his secrets to him: "And the Lord said, shall I hide from Abraham the thing which I do?" Gen. 18:17. Abraham is styled the friend of God in a special way. Though God had many friends—yet it was Abraham, who was his singular friend, his darling friend, his rare friend, etc., and accordingly God was most free, and full, and rich in the communications of his favors and secrets to Abraham. It was not enough for Abraham to be of God's court—but he must be also of his cabinet council.
It was always a social principle—that sweet and intimate friendship cannot be extended to many. Friends usually go by pairs. And thus you see that the more holy any man is—the more communion that man shall have with God—and the more communion any man has with God—the more beloved of God shall that man be. The highest communion is always attended with the highest love. But,
Fifthly and lastly, the more holy any man is—the more actually ripe and fit for heaven that man is.A Christian at first conversion is but rough cast—but as holiness is increased—just so, he comes more and more every day to be prepared, polished, squared, and fitted for a full and glorious fruition of God in heaven, Job 5:26. Though the least degree of grace and holiness puts a man into a habitual preparedness and fittedness for heaven—yet it is only an eminency in grace and holiness, which puts a man into an actual preparedness and fittedness for heaven. The richer in grace—the riper for glory! The higher you are in holiness—the fitter you are to enter into the joy of your Lord! Though the least drop or grain of holiness is enough to keep a man from dropping into hell—yet it is only matured holiness, which actually prepares and fits a man to go to heaven, Mat. 25:19-24.
Now, doubtless, the more actually ripe and ready any man is for heaven—the more pleasure and delight God takes in him. The more the vessels of grace are fitted for glory—the more delight God takes in them. When God set himself upon the creation of the world, in the close of every day's work, except the second, God set his seal, "that it was good;" but when he had perfected and completed the whole creation, and cast an eye upon all together, then he concludes, "that it was very good." "And God saw all that he had made, and "behold it was very good," or "extremely good," so some, or "very pleasant and delightful."
The work of creation was so curiously and gloriously framed, and so full of admirable rarities and varieties, that it raised delight and pleasure in God himself. Whereupon Augustine observes that even to every grace, yes, of the least degree of grace, he says it is "good;" but when he beholds the graces of his saints fresh and flourishing, your faith acted and strengthened, your repentance daily renewed, your humility increased, etc., then he concludes that all is "very good."
O sirs, if the Lord Jesus Christ is so ravished with one of his spouse's eyes, and with one chain of her neck, Cant. 4:9; with the least drops or sips of grace, or with the least grains of grace and holiness; oh, how much more will great measures of grace and holiness enthrall him and ravish him!
Well! for a close of this argument, remember this, that
as the sun shines hotter on some climates than it does upon others,
and as the dew falls more upon one place than another, and as the
water overflows some pastures more than others—just so, God's love
of delight and pleasure shines hotter and brighter upon some Christians
than it does upon others; and these I have showed you to be such who are
most eminent and excellent in grace and holiness. And thus much for this
(4.) Fourthly, To provoke you to labor after higher degrees of holiness, consider that the more your holiness is increased—the more the great God will be honored and glorified.Mat. 5:16, "Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." Fruitfulness in holiness sets the weightiest crown of glory upon the head of God: John 15:8, "Herein is my Father glorified—that you bear much fruit." The more eminent any person is in holiness, the more clearly and convincingly he proclaims God before all the world to be a rich God, a full God, a bountiful God, an overflowing God. There is nothing that works men to admire God so much, and to exalt God so high—as a Christian's fruitfulness in holiness. "Oh, how good must that God be, whose servants are so good," said the heathen! Oh, how glorious in holiness must that God be, whose people are so holy!
Look! as the thriving child is a credit to the mother, and the rich servant is an honor to his master, and a plentiful crop is the praise of the farmer—just so, that Christian who thrives in grace, who grows rich in holiness—is the greatest credit, and the highest honor, and the sweetest praise to God in the world! The tree in Alcinous's garden had always blossoms, buds, and ripe fruits, one under another. O sirs, those trees of righteousness that have not only the blossoms and buds of holiness upon them—but also the ripe fruits of holiness one under another—they are the greatest honor and glory to God in the world!
Isaiah 61:3, "They will be called oaks of
righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor."
What will men say when they shall behold your eminency in sanctity?
Will they not say, "Certainly God is no hard master—harvesting where he
have not sown and gathering where he has not scattered seed, Mat. 25:24.
Certainly he keeps a noble house—his tables are richly spread, his cups
overflow, he feeds, yes, he feasts his servants with the choicest rarities
and varieties which heaven affords: witness their thriving and flourishing
estate in grace and holiness." And thus you see that the more your
holiness is increased, the more highly the God of heaven will be exalted
and magnified. But,
(5.) Fifthly, To provoke you to endeavor after higher degrees of holiness, consider that the more holiness you have—the more he will give you.At first God gives holiness where there is none; and where this holiness is improved—there God will be still augmenting and increasing of it. Do you but make it your business to "perfect holiness in the fear of the Lord," Heb. 6:7, and the Lord will not fail to make new and fresh additions of more grace and holiness to that you have! Psalm 84:11, "The Lord will give grace and glory, and no good thing will he withhold from those who walk uprightly." Mark those words, namely, that "the Lord will give grace and glory," that is, grace unto glory, he will still be adding more grace to what you have, until the bud of grace is turned into the flower of glory! Until your grace on earth commences to glory in heaven!
The more holiness any man has—the more still God will give him: Mat. 13:12, "For whoever has, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance." He who has principles of grace and holiness laid into his soul—he shall find a plentiful increase of those sanctifying and saving principles; he shall have more abundance; his spark of holiness shall grow into a flame; his drops of holiness shall be turned into a sea; and his mite of holiness shall be multiplied into millions!
The greater harvest of holiness a Christian brings forth—the greater increase of holiness shall he experience; every exercise of grace and holiness is always attended with new increase of grace and holiness, Mat. 25:29.
Look! as that arm is greatest and strongest, which is most used and exercised—so that particular grace which is most exercised and used is most strengthened and greatened.
Look! as earthly parents, when they see their children
to improve a little stock to great advantage, then they add to their
stock, they increase their stock, they double their stock. Just so, when
the Father of spirits sees his children to improve a little stock of grace
and holiness to the great advantage of their souls, then he will increase
their spiritual stock, he will be still a-adding to their stock, yes, he
will double their stock! John 15:2, "Every branch that bears fruit he
prunes it—that it may bring forth more fruit." Such as are
fruitful—shall be made more fruitful. Christ will take most pains to make
them better—who are already very good. Of all Christians in the world,
there are none who have so much grace as humble Christians have—and
yet God delights to pour in grace into their souls, as men pour liquor
into empty vessels, James 4:6. Humility is both a grace, and a vessel to
receive more grace. And thus much for this fifth argument. But,
(6.) Sixthly, To provoke you to labor after higher degrees of holiness, consider that the more holiness you attain to—the greater will be your heaven of joy and comfort in this present world.Though the least spark of true holiness will certainly bring a man to heaven—yet it is only an eminency in holiness which will make a man walk comfortably to heaven.
The more holiness any man has—the more he shall enjoy God, in whose presence is fullness of joy, Psalm 16:11; and the more any man enjoys the presence of God—the greater will be his heaven of joy in this world. Look! as a little star yields but a little light—just so, a little holiness yields but a little comfort; and look, as the greatest stars yields the greatest light—just so, the greatest measures of holiness always yields the greatest comforts. Divine joy ebbs and flows—as holiness ebbs and flows.
Soul comfort rises and falls—as holiness rises and falls. Great measures of holiness carries with them, the greatest evidence of the reality of holiness. The more clearly and evidently the reality and sincerity of a man's holiness rise—the higher will the springs of joy and comfort arise in his soul. Great measures of holiness carry with them the greatest evidence of a man's union and communion with God; and the more evident a man's union and communion is with God, the more will that man's soul be filled with that joy that is unspeakable and full of glory, 1 Pet. 1:8.
In great measures of holiness, a man may see and read most of the love of God, the face of God, the favor of God, and the heart of God, Acts 9:31; and the more a man is blessed with such a sight as this is, the more will that babe of grace, divine joy, spring in his soul. The greater measures of holiness and sanctification any man attains to—the clearer and brighter will the evidences of his justification be. Now the clearer evidences any man has of his justification, the stronger will be his consolation, Romans 5:1-3, and 8:30, 33-35; and indeed the strongest waters of consolation do always flow from a clear sight and a true sense of a man's justification. No man lives so comfortably, no man bears the cross so sweetly, no man resists the devil and the world so stoutly, nor no man will die so cheerfully, as he who lives and dies in a clear sight of his justification.
The more holiness any man attains to, the more his
fears will be scattered, his doubts resolved, and all those
impediments removed that commonly bar out joy and comfort; and what will
be the happy issue of these things—but the bringing in of a sea of joy and
comfort into the soul! It is not riches, nor honors, nor applause, nor
learning, nor friends, nor a great name in the world—but an eminency in
holiness, that can highly raise the springs of divine joy in a Christian's
soul. Though the windows of the temple were broad without but narrow
within—yet the joy and comfort of a Christian that is eminent in holiness
is broad and full within, though it be narrow and contracted without. O
sirs, as ever you would have your joy full—labor for a heart filled with
holiness. Your comforts will be always few and low—if your holiness be
low. Why have the angels always harps in their hands, and hallelujahs in
their mouths—but because they have attained to a fullness of holiness?
(7.) Seventhly, To provoke you to labor after higher degrees of holiness, consider that the more holy any person is—the more the Lord will reveal and manifest himself, and his mind and will, unto him.John 14:21-23; Hosea 6:3. Ezekiel was a man of eminent holiness, and a man who had glorious visions, and deep mysteries, and rare discoveries of God, and of the great things that should be brought about in the latter days, reavealed to him. And Daniel was a man of very great holiness: and oh, what secrets and mysteries did God reveal to him! [See 2, 4, 6, 8-12 chapters of Daniel.] Many of those great and glorious things which concern the destruction of the four last monarchies, and the growth, increase, exaltation, flourishing, durable, invincible, and unconquerable estate of his own kingdom, was revealed to him.
Among all the apostles, Paul was a man of the greatest holiness, and of all the apostles Paul had the most glorious revelations and discoveries of God manifested to him, 2 Cor. 12:2, 4. Witness those glorious revelations that he had when he was caught up into the third heaven, into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, or wordless words—such as words were too weak to utter, such as was not possible for man to utter, and that, either because they transcended man's capacity in this life, or else because the apostle was forbidden to utter them; they being revealed to him, not for the public use of the church—but only for his particular encouragement, so that he might be the better able to encounter all the hardships, difficulties, dangers, and deaths that would attend him in the conscientious discharge of his ministerial work.
Some of the ancients are of opinion that he saw God's essence; for, say they, other things in heaven might have been uttered—but the essence of God is so great and so glorious a thing, that no man or angel can utter it or declare it. But here I must crave permission to enter my dissent against them, for the Scripture is express in this, that no man has thus ever seen the Lord at any time, John 1:18; 1 Tim. 6:16; 1 John 4:12; and that no man can thus see the Lord and live. And as great a favorite of heaven as Moses was—yet he could only see the back parts of God, he could only behold some lower representations of God.
Others say, that he heard the heavenly singing of angels and blessed spirits, which was so sweet, so excellent and glorious, that no mortal man was able to utter it, and this of the two is most probable; but no man is bound to make this opinion an article of his faith.
This, I think, we may safely conclude—that in this rapture, besides the contemplation of celestial mysteries, he felt such unspeakable delight and pleasure, that was either like that, or exceeding that, which Adam had in the terrestrial paradise. Doubtless, the apostle did see and hear such excellent and glorious things, as was impossible for the tongue of any mortal man to express or utter.
And so John was a man of most rare holiness, and Christ reveals to him the general state of his church, and all that should befall his people—from John's time unto his second coming. Christ gives John a true representation of all the troubles, trials, changes, mercies, and glories that in all times, and in all ages and places, should attend his church—until he comes in all his glory. About sixty years after Christ's ascension, Christ comes to John and opens his heart, and unbosoms his soul, and makes known to him all that care, that love, that tenderness, that kindness, and that sweetness, which he would exercise towards his church, from that very time to the end of the world. Christ tells John, that though he had been absent and seemingly silent for about threescore years, that yet he was not so taken up with the delights, pleasures, and glory of heaven, as that he did not care what became of his church on earth. Oh, no! And therefore he opens his choicest secrets, and makes known the most hidden and glorious mysteries to John, which ever were made known to any man. As there was none who had so much of the heart of Christ as John—just so, there was none who had so much of the ear of Christ as John. Christ singles out his servant John from all the men in the world, and makes known to him all the happy providences, and all the sad occurrences that were to come upon the followers of the Lamb, so that they might know what to pray for, and what to expect, and what to wait for. He also declares to John all that wrath and vengeance, all that desolation and destruction, which should come upon the false prophet, and the beast, and upon all that followed after them, and who were worshipers of them, and who had received their marks, either in their foreheads or in their hands.
We read of holy Polycarp, that as he lay in his bed he saw in a vision the bed set on fire under his head; and thus God did forewarn him, and manifest to him, what manner of death he would die, and accordingly it happened, for he was burnt for the cause of Christ, and rejoicingly sealed the truth with his blood.
John Huss was a man eminent in holiness—he was born in Prague, and was pastor of the church of Bethlehem. His name, Huss, in the Bohemian language, signifies a goose; at his martyrdom, he told them, that if they roasted him in the fire, out of the ashes of the goose, a hundred years after, God would raise up a swan in Germany, who would carry the cause on for which he suffered, and whose singings would affright all those vultures—which was exactly fulfilled in Luther—whose name in the Bohemian language signifies a swan—for God raised him up as a famous instrument in his hand, who carried on that glorious cause with mighty success.
Luther was a man of great holiness, and being one time more than ordinarily earnest with God in prayer, he came down to his friends, and told them with a very great confidence, that it should go well with Germany all his days; he knew what was done in heaven—by that which God had done in his own heart, and accordingly it happened. The last martyr who was burnt in Smithfield, told the people that they should be of good comfort, for he was fully persuaded that he was the last who would suffer under Queen Mary, and so he was.
Thus you see that men of greatest holiness have had the clearest and choicest manifestations and discoveries of God, and of his mind, made known to them. Suitable to that choice promise that you have in Jer. 33:3, "Call unto me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty"—or hidden—"things," [hidden, as bunches of grapes are hidden under the leaves of the vines.] "which you know not." God will make known to his holy ones the most hidden and abstruse things; and the more holy they are, the more they shall know of the most secret and mysterious things of God. John 7:17, "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine." Christ will be most open to those who are most obedient to him; they shall know most of the doctrine of Christ who are most complying with the will of Christ.
David was a man of great holiness, as is evident by that glorious testimony that God has given of him in that Acts 13:22, "I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after my own heart, who shall fulfill all my will"—"all my wills;" to note the eminency, transcendency, universality, and sincerity of his obedience. Now if you will but look into that 2 Sam. 7:27, there you shall see how the Lord declares and makes known himself and his intentions towards him; "O Lord Almighty, God of Israel, you have revealed this to your servant." But the Hebrew is more full and excellent; in the original it runs thus, "Lord, you have revealed this to the ear of your servant." Now the emphasis lies in those words, "to the ear of your servant." When God makes known himself and his intentions to such as are eminent in holiness, he does it in their ear. God tells David in his ear, that "he will build a house for him," that is, that he would continue his kingdom to him, and to his posterity after him. This was blessed news, and this God tells in his ear.
Such as are our special friends and favorites—we often whisper to them in the ear. When we would acquaint them with our most secret and weighty purposes, intentions, and resolutions, we give them a whisper in the ear. Such people who are eminent in holiness, are the great favorites of heaven, and God tells them in the ear of many a rare secret, which all others are kept ignorant of.
Well, sirs, for a close, remember this—that there are
no people on earth who are so prepared and fitted for the clearest,
fullest, and highest manifestations of God—as those who are eminent in
holiness! Nor are there any who set so high a price upon the
manifestations of God—as men who are eminent in holiness! Nor are there
any who are so able to bear the revelations of his will—as men who are
eminent in holiness! Nor are there any who will make such a humble,
faithful, constant, and thorough improvement of all that God shall make
known to them—as men who are famous for holiness. Therefore, as ever you
would have God in an eminent way to manifest and reveal himself and his
mind unto you—oh, labor after a greater measure of holiness! But,
(8.) Eighthly, To provoke you to labor after higher degrees of holiness, consider that the more holy a man is—the more singular delight and pleasure God will take in all his pious duties and services.[Generally it was the custom of the Eastern countries to wash before worship. The very heathen gods would be served in white—the very emblem of purity.] Holiness puts a divine savor upon all a man's services. There are no duties so sweet as those who have most holiness in them
Mal. 3:3-4, "He will sit and judge like a refiner of silver, watching closely as the dross is burned away. He will purify the Levites, refining them like gold or silver, so that they may once again offer acceptable sacrifices to the Lord. Then once more the Lord will accept the offerings brought to him by the people of Judah and Jerusalem, as he did in former times." After the Lord Jesus Christ has been to his people as a refiner's fire, and as fuller's soap, that is, after he has refined, scoured, and purged his people from their drossiness, filthiness, earthliness, selfishness, and sensualness, etc., then "they may once again offer acceptable sacrifices to the Lord."
Look! as light makes all things pleasant and delightful to man—just so, holiness makes all a man's duties and services pleasant and delightful to the Lord: Zech. 13:9, "This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, 'They are my people,' and they will say, 'The Lord is our God.'" When God has refined his people as silver is refined, then he will bow his ear, and open his hand, and grant them the desires of their hearts. Oh the pleasure and delight which God takes in the prayers, tears, hearings, readings, meltings, mournings, and repentings—of such who are eminently purged and sanctified!
The more holiness any man has, the less of the flesh, pollution, and corruption there is in all his duties and services; and the less there is of the old man in all our holy offerings—the more they are the delight of God. The more holiness anyone has, the less there will be of man, and the more there will be of Christ and the Spirit in all his duties and services; and doubtless, the less there is of man, and the more there is of Christ in duties—the more pleasant and delightful they will be unto the Lord.
The more holy any man is, the more there will be of his heart in his duties, and the more a man's heart is in his duties, the more pleasant and delightful they will be to God. God is a Spirit, John 4:23-24, and he is only delighted with those duties wherein the spirit of a man is. The heart is the presence-chamber of the King of heaven! It is his bed of spices; it is his royal throne—on which he delights to sit and rule. A sanctified heart in duties shall prevail with God for crowns; when a silver tongue shall not prevail with God for crumbs.
The more holy any man is, the more delight and pleasure he will take in pious duties and services. The more a man's natural strength is, the more easily he walks, and the more delightfully he works. The fuller the wings are of feathers, with the more ease and pleasure the bird flies—just so, the fuller the soul is of holiness, the more easily, the more pleasantly, and the more delightfully will it walk, yes, run, yes, fly in all the ways of God's commands! Every yoke of Christ is easy, and every command of Christ is joyous to a man who is eminent in holiness. [Psalm 40:8, and 119:32; Mat. 11:29; 1 John 5:3.]
Now the more any man delights and takes pleasure in
pious duties and services—the more God delights and takes pleasure in his
pious duties and services. The more a Christian's heart is affected with
the duties of piety, the more the heart of God will be affected with those
duties. Look! as there is no duty which affects the heart of God, which
does not first affect our own—just so, all those duties and services which
are divinely pleasing and delightful to our noble part, they are also
pleasing and delightful to God himself. The very heathen, as several
authors report, had their pots of water set at the doors of their temples,
where they washed before they went to sacrifice, having this notion and
opinion among them—that their gods did best accept and most delight in
those sacrifices that were offered by those who had washed themselves pure
and clean. Sure I am—that the great God, who is the God of gods, is most
pleased and delighted with those sacrifices of prayers and praises which
are offered up with the purest hands, and with the cleanest heart; and
therefore, as ever you would have God to take singular pleasure and
delight in all your duties and services—labor after an eminency in
(9.) Ninthly, To provoke you to labor after higher degrees of holiness, consider that many who have been won over to Christ after you—do now in holiness much excel you.Are there not many children who have been in Christ but yesterday, as it were—and yet how do they outstrip their parents, not only in abilities—but in piety, who have been in Christ many years before them? And are there not many servants to be found who have not been in Christ seven years, who yet are more holy, more humble, more heavenly, more spiritual, more serious, and every way more gracious than their masters, who have been in Christ long before them? And are there not many poor, neglected, despised, and scorned Christians, who have been converted and sanctified but a few years—who yet are more fearful of sinning against God, and more careful of pleasing God, and more studious of glorifying of God, and more wise, and watchful, and circumspect in their walking with God, and more laborious and diligent in the use of all holy means whereby God may be exalted and lifted up in the world—than many great and rich Christians in the world, who yet have been in Christ very many years before them?
Paul had some kinsmen who were in Christ before him, as you may see in that Romans 16:5, 7, "Greet my dear friend Epaenetus, who is the first convert to Christ from Asia. Greet Andronicus and Junia—they were also in Christ before me." And yet in grace and holiness he excelled them all. [2 Cor. 1:12, and 11:22-30; 1 Thes. 2:2-13.] You know many men in riding a journey do often set out after their neighbors—and yet they not only overtake them—but also get into their inns many hours before them. And among seamen, is there anything more common than for those who set sail some days after others—yet to get into their ports before them? Just so, there are many Christians who have set out heavenwards and holinesswards after others—and yet they have not only overtaken them—but also in grace and holiness gone far before them.
As Christ, in his youth, excelled all the doctors in
the temple, Luke 2:46-48—just so, many Christians, even in their youth, as
I may say, do excel other Christians, who, in respect of their years and
opportunities, might have been doctors in Christianity. [Jerome writes of
Paulinus, that in the first part of his life he excelled others, and in
his latter part he excelled himself.] In this great city you have very
many who have begun trade many years after others—and yet they are grown
far greater and richer than those of their same trade, who have begun many
years before them; and doubtless there are very many in this city who have
begun the trade of Christianity, the trade of godliness, long after
others, who yet are grown greater and richer in grace and holiness than
those who have for very many years driven that trade. And oh, how should
this alarm all such to double their diligence, and to strive and labor as
for life to be eminent in holiness, yes, to perfect holiness in the fear
of the Lord! But,
(10.) Tenthly, To provoke you to labor after higher degrees of holiness, consider that there are no people under heaven who are so strongly obliged and engaged to perfect holiness in the fear of the Lord as you are,for you are the only people on earth who are made partakers of the divine nature; and who have a more excellent spirit in you than the men of this world have; and who have more excellent principles in you—as knowledge, wisdom, faith, love, self-denial, humility, etc., to help on the advance and increase of holiness, than others have, whose souls are strangers, yes, enemies, to those noble and divine principles. [2 Pet. 1:4; Dan. 6:3; 1 Cor. 2:12.]
You are the only people on earth upon whom all exhortations and commands to grow in holiness, to increase in holiness, and to perfect holiness in the fear of the Lord—does most immediately, most directly, most eminently, most roundly, and most fully fall, as you may easily see by comparing these scriptures together. [Pet. 3:18; 2 Cor. 7:1, and 13:11; Col. 2:7; Heb. 6:1; 1 Cor. 15:58; Jude 10.] O sirs, how gloriously should that house be adorned with holiness, which is of God's own building! And how fruitful should those vineyards and gardens be, which are of God's own planting! And how full should those wells be, which are of God's own digging! And how sweet should those flowers be, which are of God's own planting! And how ripe should those fruits be, which are of God's own grafting!
O sirs, shall the eagle fly higher and higher; shall the sun shine brighter and brighter; and shall the giant refreshed with wine run swifter and swifter; and shall the woman who is with child grow fuller and fuller, and greater and greater? And shall not you who are the people of God's holiness—fly higher and higher in holiness, and shine brighter and brighter in holiness, and run swifter and swifter in the ways of holiness, and grow fuller and fuller, and greater and greater in the births of holiness?
O sirs, holiness in a Christian is not like a star in the sky, nor a stone in the earth, nor a bullet in a gun, which is always the same. But holiness is like to the seed, which, being sown in the furrows of the earth—first springs up into a blade, and then into an ear, and then into ripe corn, Mat. 13:23; Mark 4:28. Holiness is like to the waters in Ezekiel's sanctuary, which rise by degrees, Ezek. 47:3-4. First, it rose to the ankles, then to the knees, then to the loins, and then to a mighty river that could not be passed over. Holiness is like to the house of David, which grew stronger and stronger, 2 Sam. 3:1; and like to the cedars of Lebanon, which grow greater and greater, Hosea 14:6-7.
O Christians, there are none who are so strongly obliged to go on from faith to faith, and from strength to strength, and from holiness to holiness—as you are, Romans 1:17. Oh! you must labor to be filled up to the brim with holiness, Col. 1:13, and 2:7. Oh! you must strive to equalize the first three of David's worthies, 1 Chron. 11:21. Oh! you must endeavor to be like the brethren of Gideon, everyone resembling the children of a king, Judges 8:18. Oh, that you could all say as Elihu once did, "For I am full of words, and the spirit within me compels me; inside I am like bottled-up wine, like new wineskins ready to burst," Job 32:18-19. O my brethren—to be as full of holiness as new bottles are full of wine, or as the moon is full of light, or as the black clouds are full of rain, or as mother's breasts are full of milk—is the greatest happiness in this world.
O sirs! there are no people on earth who are engaged to love the Lord with such a vehement love as you, nor to trust in the Lord with such an inflamed faith as you, nor to hope in the Lord with such a raised hope as you, nor to delight in the Lord with such ravishing delights as you, nor to long after the Lord with such earnest longings as you, nor to fear before the Lord with so great a trembling as you, nor to be so zealous for God with such a burning zeal as you, nor to mourn over sin before the Lord with so great a mourning as you, nor to hate all things which are contrary to the nature of God, the being of God, the command of God, and the glory of God—with such a deadly hatred as you.
Well, remember this, namely—it is no little sin for any
Christian to sit down satisfied under a little measure of holiness,
considering the many and the great obligations which lie upon him to
perfect holiness in the fear of the Lord. But,
(11.) Eleventhly, To provoke you to labor after higher degrees of holiness, consider that the more holiness any man attains to—the more bold, courageous, resolute, manly, and heroic that man will be for God and godliness.2 Cor. 1:8-12. Holiness ennobles the heart, it raises the heart; and the higher the springs of holiness rises in the heart—the higher it raises the heart, and the more it steels the heart for God and godliness. The more holiness any man has, the more resolutely he will set himself against sin, and the more divinely he will scorn the world, and the more courageously he will trample upon temptations, and the more heroic he will be under all his afflictions. Men of greatest holiness have been men of greatest boldness; witness Nehemiah, the three Hebrew children, Daniel, and all the holy prophets and apostles. Proverbs 28:1, "The wicked flee when no man pursues—but the righteous are as bold as a lion," yes, as a young lion, as the Hebrew has it, which is in his hot blood and fears nothing.
Great holiness made Daniel not only as bold as a lion—but also to daunt the lions with his boldness.
Luther was a man of great holiness, and a man of great boldness: witness his standing out against all the world. When the emperor sent for him to trial at Worms, and his friends dissuaded him from going, he said, "I will surely go, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; yes, though I knew that there were as many devils in Worms to resist me, as there be tiles to cover the houses—yet I would go!" And when Luther and his associates were threatened with many dangers from opposers on all hands, he lets fall this heroic and magnanimous speech, "Come let us sing the 46th Psalm—and then let them do their worst."
Latimer was a man of much holiness, counting the darkness and profaneness of those times wherein he lived, and a man of much courage and boldness; witness his presenting to the adulterous King Henry the Eighth, for a New Year's gift, a New Testament with this motto wrapped around it, "Whoremongers and adulterers God will judge!"
Taylor, the martyr, was a very holy man, and being persuaded by some of his friends not to appear before Stephen Gardiner, bishop of Winchester—but to flee. "You flee," said he, "and do according to your consciences—but as for myself I am fully determined, by God's grace, to go to the bishop, and to tell him to his beard that he does evil."
Colonus, the Dutch martyr, called to the judge who had sentenced him to death—asked the judge to lay his hand upon his heart, and then asked him whose heart beat faster, his or the judge's. Here was a man of a heroic spirit indeed.
Basil was a man of great holiness, and a man of a most manly and courageous spirit. When the emperor sent to him to subscribe to the Arian heresy, and to engage him, promised him great preferment, to which Basil replied, "Alas, your speeches are fit to catch little children with—who mind such things—but we who are nourished and taught by the holy Scriptures are readier to suffer a thousand deaths than to allow one syllable or tittle of the Scripture to be altered!" And when the emperor threatened him with imprisonment, banishment, and death, he answered, "Let him threaten children with such things; as for my part, I am resolved that neither threatenings nor flatteries shall silence me, or draw me to betray a good cause, or a good conscience."
Charles the Ninth, king of France, who had a deep hand in that barbarous and bloody massacre of many thousands of the saints in France; soon after that horrid tragic and perfidious slaughter was over, he called the Prince of Conde, and proposed to him these three things, "Either to go to mass; or to die immediately; or to suffer perpetual imprisonment." To which he returned this noble, bold, and heroic answer, namely, "That by God's help he would never choose the first, and for either of the other two he left to the king's pleasure and God's providence."
John, Duke of Saxony, was eminent in Christianity, and he did heroically assert and maintain the cause of God against all opposition in three imperial assemblies. When it was told him that he would lose the favor of the Pope, and the emperor, and all the world besides, if he stuck so fast to the Lutheran cause; he gave this noble answer, "Here are two ways," said he, "I must serve God or the world, and which of these do you think is the better?" and so put them off with this pleasant indignation. And when the States of the empire forbid all Lutheran sermons, he presently prepared to be gone, and professed boldly, that he would not stay there where he might not have liberty to serve God.
And thus you see by all these famous instances that the
more eminent any people are in holiness, the more bold, resolute,
courageous, and heroic they will be for God, and for the things of God;
and therefore, as ever you would be men of high courage and resolution for
God, labor to be high in holiness. Such men who in all ages have been
eminent in holiness have been like Shammah, one of David's worthies, who
stood and defended the field when all the rest fled. But,
(12.) Twelfthly, To provoke you to labor after higher degrees of holiness, consider that the more holiness any man attains to—the more serviceable and useful he will be in his generation.David was a man eminent in holiness, and as eminently serviceable in his generation: Acts 13:36, "For David after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell asleep." Men who have but a little stock of holiness—will be but a little serviceable in their generation; but men who have a great stock of holiness—will be greatly serviceable in their generation. Men who have but little farms, and little stocks—are but a little serviceable to their country; but men who have great farms, and large stocks, and rich revenues—are greatly serviceable to their country. What a world of good sometimes does one rich man do in a town, a city, a country! Just so, one saint who is rich in grace and holiness! Oh, what a world of good does he do to all who are round about him!
Merchants who have great stocks, trade to the East and West Indies, and so enrich their country; whereas those who have but weak estates can only barter with their neighbors at home, and so are instruments but of little public good. A candle enlightens the room—but the sun enlightens the whole world. The more holiness any man has, the more fit for public use that man will be, 2 Tim. 2:21. As there was none so holy as Christ—just so, there was none of so public a spirit as Christ; he went up and down doing good, Acts 10:38; he laid out himself, and he laid down himself for public good; he healed others—but was hurt himself; he filled others—but was hungry himself. A man who is eminent in holiness, will be of his mind—who was rather willing to beautify Italy than his own house.
Moses was a man of great holiness, and of famous use in his generation, Num. 14:11-14, 19-20. Ah, how often did he turn away the fierce anger and indignation of God from sinful Israel! Deut. 9:14; and oh the famous deliverances and glorious salvations that God brought about by his hand! Psalm 106:23. Nehemiah was a very holy man, and he laid out himself and his great estate for public service, Neh. 5:14, seq. Mordecai was a very pious man, and a man famously serviceable in his generation, Esther 4. Esther 10:3, "Mordecai the Jew was second in rank to King Xerxes, preeminent among the Jews, and held in high esteem by his many fellow Jews, because he worked for the good of his people and spoke up for the welfare of all the Jews." King Jehoshaphat and Joshua, were men of eminent holiness, and of singular use and service in their generation.
Men who have no holiness, and others that have
but a little holiness, will be still a-carrying on a private interest of
honor, or profit, or friends, or relations—and this we have seen evident
among us in these latter days; and therefore, as ever you would be
eminently serviceable in your generation, labor after an eminency in
(13.) Thirteenthly, To provoke you to labor after higher degrees of holiness, consider that the greatest degrees of holiness are usually attended with the highest degrees of honor.Grace is called glory, and the greatest measures of grace are commonly crowned with the greatest degrees of glory, 2 Cor. 3:18. Abraham was a man eminent in grace and holiness, and he was highly in honor among the people: Gen. 23:6, "You are an honored prince among us;" or as the Hebrew has it, you are a prince of God among us, that is, you are a notable prince, you are an excellent prince.
Job was a man who had attained to a very high degree of holiness, Job 1:1-2; and he was highly honored among the people: Job 29:25, "I chose the way for them and sat as their chief; I dwelt as a king among his troops." In all weighty matters Job was the only man, he was chosen by all, and advanced by all above all, in all assemblies and places of judicature, etc. Whoever was of the committee, Job was still chairman; whoever was of the council—Job was still president; and whoever was of the court—Job was still king, yes, he dwelt as a king in the army. Job was guarded as a king in the army, and honored as a king in the army, and beloved and admired as a king in the army, and obeyed and served as a king in the army, and feared and reverenced as a king in the army. I might give you further instances of this in Joseph, Moses, Nehemiah, Mordecai, the three Hebrew children, and Daniel—but I shall forbear.
Faith is but a piece, a part, a branch of holiness; and yet, oh, what an honorable mention does Paul make of the Romans' faith, in Romans 1:8, "First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the world." The Roman Christians had attained to an eminency in faith, and the report thereof sounded throughout the Roman empire, yes, throughout the world, for there being a great resort to Rome from all parts of the world, and by everyone's discoursing and admiring of the Romans' faith, their faith came to be spread abroad among all the churches all the world over.
Look! as Christ's fullness of grace was his highest glory in this world—just so, a Christian's fullness of holiness is his highest honor in this world, Psalm 45:1-2. O sirs, there is no such way to be high in honor and renown, both in the consciences of sinners and saints—as to be high in holiness. Jewel was a man eminent in holiness, and his holiness set him high in the very judgments and consciences of the Papists. The dean of the college, though a Papist—yet speaks thus of him: "In your faith I hold you a heretic—but surely in your life you are an angel." Among the very heathens, those were most highly honored, who were most excellent and eminent in moral virtues. Aristides was so famous among the Athenians for his justice, that he was called Aristides the Just, etc.,
O Christians, it is your highest honor and glory in this world, to be so eminent and famous for holiness, that men may point at you, and say, "there goes such a one the wise, and there goes such a one the humble, and there goes such a one the heavenly, and there goes such a one the meek, and there goes such a one the patient, and there goes such a one the contented, and there goes such a one the just, and there goes such a one the merciful, and there goes such a one the zealous, and there goes such a one the courageous, and there goes such a one the sincere, and there goes such a one the faithful, etc."
Well, for a close, remember this, that though great
places, great offices, great revenues, and great honors, etc., may exalt
you and set you high in the uppermost seats and rooms among men—yet it is
only an eminency in holiness which will exalt you and set you high in the
consciences of sinners and saints. But,
(14.) Fourteenthly, To provoke you to labor after higher degrees of holiness, consider that the times wherein you live, calls for this at your hand.Jer. 51:5, "The land was filled with sin against the Holy One of Israel." Ah, how is this land filled with sin, yes, with the worst of sins, against the Holy One of Israel! Hell seems to be broken loose, and men strive to exceed and excel one another in all kinds of wickedness. Oh the scarlet sins which are now to be found under many scarlet robes! Oh the black transgressions which are now to be found under many black robes of ministers! Oh the new-found oaths, the hellish blasphemies, the horrid filthiness, and the abominable debaucheries which are committed daily in the face of the sun! Ah how shameless, how senseless are sinners grown in these days! Jer. 3:3, "You have a whore's forehead, and refuse to be ashamed." Sin everywhere now appears with a whore's forehead.
Ah, what open opposition does Christ meet with in his gospel offices, members, ways, worship, and works! Mat. 24:12; ah how does all iniquity abound, and how bold and resolute are multitudes now in dishonoring of God, in polluting his ordinances, in destroying their own souls, and in treasuring up of wrath against the day of wrath! etc., Romans 2:5.
Now the worser the times are—the better every Christian must labor to be; the more profane the age is wherein we live—the more holy we must endeavor to be. O sirs, how else will you recompense the great God, if I may so speak, for all the dishonors which are cast upon him by the matchless looseness and wickedness of the present times? how else will you shine as lights in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation? "You are to live clean, innocent lives as children of God in a dark world full of crooked and perverse people. Let your lives shine brightly before them." Philippians 2:15. How else will you convince the consciences, and stop or button up the mouths of wicked and unreasonable men? 1 Pet. 2:15. How else will you be the Lord's witnesses against this sinful and adulterous generation? Isaiah 43:10, 12, and 44:8. How else will you manifest your great love to Christ, and your exceeding tenderness of the honor and glory of Christ? How else will you give an undeniable testimony of the glorious operations of the Spirit in you? Psalm 18:20-25. How else will you satisfy your own consciences that your hearts are upright with God? And how else will you with Noah condemn a wicked world? Heb. 11:7.
Well, Christians, remember this, it is more than time
for you to perfect holiness in the fear of the Lord, when so many
thousands labor day and night to perfect wickedness in despite of the
Lord; it is time for you to be angels in holiness, when multitudes strive
to exceed the very devil in wickedness. Since Christ was on earth, there
has been no times that have called louder for the perfecting of holiness
than the present times wherein we live. But,
(15.) Fifteenthly, To provoke you to labor after higher degrees of holiness, consider how the men of the world study and strive to abound and increase in worldly blessings.Oh, what ado is there among worldlings to lay house to house, and field to field, to make a hundred into a thousand, and a thousand into ten thousand, etc., Isaiah 5:8. Many men rise early and go to bed late, yes, they cross and wound their consciences, and decline their principles, and endanger their immortal souls—and all to add to their worldly stores, Psalm 127:1-2. This age is full of such Ahabs, who covet their neighbors' vineyards, yes, they will wade through Naboth's blood to procure them, 1 Kings 21. And how many rich fools are there among us, who instead of minding their souls, and providing for eternity, mind nothing, nor talk of nothing—but pulling down their barns, and building of greater ones! Luke 12:16-21. What struggling is there for places of honor; what desperate ventures for rich commodities; and what high attempts there are for large possessions! Oh the time, the strength, the energy— which many spend in an eager pursuit after earthly things! Psalm 4:6.
Oh, how sad it is to consider that Satan shall have more service from a worldling for an ounce of gold, than God shall have for the kingdom of heaven! though the world in all its bravery is no better than the cities which Solomon gave to Hiram, which he called Cabul, that is, displeasing or dirty, 1 Kings 9:13; yet, oh, how mad are men upon it! Though all the great, the mirthful, and the glorious things of the world may fitly be resembled to the fruit which undid us all, which was fair to the sight, smooth in handling, sweet in taste—but deadly in operation! Yet, oh, how fond are men of these things! and how do most long to be touching and tasting of them, though a touch, a taste, may exclude them out of paradise forever! O sirs, what fools in folio are they, who dare hazard the loss of a paradise for a wilderness; of a crown for a crumb; of a kingdom for a cottage; and of pearls for trifles! and yet such fools are all those who spend themselves in multiplying and increasing of their earthly enjoyments.
In Gen. 13:2 it is said, that "Abraham was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold;" but according to the Hebrew it runs thus, "Abraham was very heavy, in cattle, in silver, and in gold," to show that riches, that gold and silver, which is the great god of the world, are but heavy burdens, and rather a hindrance than a help to heaven and happiness. Gold and silver, which are but the yellow and white guts and garbage of the earth, is fitly called by the prophet, "thick clay," Hab. 2:6, which will sooner break a man's back than satisfy his heart; and oh, what folly and madness is it for a man to be still a-loading of himself with the clay of this world!
Though the horse is loaded with rich treasure all the day long—yet when night comes he is turned into the dark stinking stable, with an empty belly, and with his back full of galls, sores, and bruises. Just so, though vain men may be loaded with the treasures of this world during the day of their life—yet when the night of death comes, then they shall be turned into a dark stinking hell, with consciences full of guilt and galls, and with souls full of sores and bruises; and then what good will all their treasures do them?
Though the rich man in the Gospel lived sumptuously—yet when he died he went to hell, Luke 16. Though mammon, as Aretius and many others observe, is a Syriac word, and signifies wealth, riches; yet Irenaeus derives mammon of mum—which signifies a spot, and hon—which signifies riches, to show that riches have their spots; and yet, oh, how unwearied are men in their adding of spots to spots! Men, in their pursuit after things of this world, seem to act by an untired power, they are never weary of heaping up bags upon bags, nor of enlarging their tents, nor of increasing their revenues, etc.
Now, oh, how should this provoke every gracious soul to
be adding of grace to grace, and holiness to holiness! Oh, let not the men
of the world outdo you, let them not out-act you! Oh, let not nature excel
grace! Oh, let the muckworms of this world know that divine principles are
too high and noble to be matched, or to be out-acted by anything that they
can do! O sirs, shall children grow in your families, and oxen
grow in your stalls, and fish grow in your ponds, and grass
grow in your fields, and flowers grow in your gardens, etc., and shall
not holiness grow in your hearts? Well, friends, remember this, it is
infinitely better to be poor men and rich Christians, than to be rich men
and poor Christians. But,
(16.) Sixteenthly, To provoke you to labor after higher degrees of holiness, consider that the more holiness you attain to in this world—the more weighty and heavy, the more bright and glorious will be your faithful ministers' crown.O sirs, as you rise higher and higher in holiness—just so, the springs of joy rises higher and higher in your ministers' souls, 2 John 4. O Christians, it is neither your seraphic notions, nor your pompous profession; it is neither your good words, nor your sweet looks; it is neither your civilities, nor your courtesies, which raise joy in your ministers' hearts, or which will add to your ministers' crown—but an increase of holiness will do both, Romans 15:14.
The Thessalonians were rare Christians, they were very eminent and high in holiness, as you may see in 1 Thes. 1:5-8, and they were the apostle's "joy and crown of rejoicing," as you may see in chapter 2:19-20, "For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? For you are our glory and joy." The apostle tells these raised, these renowned Thessalonians, that as they were now his hope, his glory, and joy—so at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ they would be his joy, and crown of rejoicing.
Look! as Christ has his thousand shekels of silver—just so, his faithful laborious ministers have their two hundred shekels of silver, and that indeed is a great reward: Cant. 8:12, "But my own vineyard is mine to give; the thousand shekels are for you, O Solomon, and two hundred are for those who tend its fruit." Oh, what an honor is it for faithful ministers to have a fifth part of that reward that Christ has himself!
In this 12th verse Christ compares his vineyard, his church, to that of Solomon's, which is mentioned in verse 11, and though doubtless Solomon's vineyard was one of the rarest, choicest, and fruitfullest vineyards in all Judea—yet it was very inferior to Christ's vineyard. And that partly because Christ's vineyard cost him a dearer and a greater price, even the price of his blood, 1 Pet. 1:18-19, than ever Solomon's cost him.
And partly because his vineyard serves to more spiritual, high, honorable, and noble ends, than ever Solomon's did, 1 Tim. 3:15, namely, the glory and exaltation of God, the propagating of truth, the bringing forth of the fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, the bringing in of sinners, and the building up of saints, Gal. 5:22-23; and partly because his eye is still upon it, and his protection is still over it, and his presence is still with it, Psalm 121:3-8. Isaiah 27:2-3, "Sing about a fruitful vineyard: I, the Lord, watch over it; I water it continually. I guard it day and night so that no one may harm it." But Solomon's eye was not always upon his vineyard, neither was his hand of protection always over it, neither was his kingly presence always with it.
And partly because all Christ's treasure is laid up in his vineyard, his church. His treasures of grace, his treasures of mercy, his treasures of comfort, his treasures of goodness, etc., Eph. 3:10, 17-20, is all laid up in his church; but Solomon, as rich and as glorious a king as he was—yet he had no such treasures laid up in his vineyard. Solomon never made his vineyard his treasury.
And partly because his vineyard was given to him forever, as an everlasting inheritance; but Solomon's was but temporary and mutable, Psalm 2:7; John 6:39, and 17:6, 8, 12.
Now all those who are painstaking and faithful laborers in Christ's vineyard, shall receive a noble, a liberal compensation and recompense for their labors. No man shall shut a door nor open a door in Christ's vineyard for nothing; no man shall labor an hour there without a reward. All faithful ministers are fellow-laborers with Christ in the spiritual husbandry; they dig with Christ, and they plant with Christ, and they prune with Christ, and they water with Christ, and they watch with Christ, 1 Cor. 3:8-9; and therefore Christ will allow them a fifth part of the glory and reward with himself. As he has his thousand pieces of silver—just so, he will see to it that they shall have their two hundred pieces of silver. A thousand is the number of perfection, and here it may note that fullness of glory that Christ should have. And the two hundred may note that very great proportion of heavenly glory that all the faithful laborers in Christ's vineyard shall have, who have helped forward the flourishing estate of that vineyard, Mat. 19:27-29.
Look! as the thriving of the child adds to the comfort and the credit of the nurse, and the fruitfulness of the field adds to the pleasure and delight of the farmer, and the health and increase of the flock adds to the joy and reward of the shepherd—just so, the increase of holiness, the thriving, the fruitfulness of souls in holiness, adds to the credit and comfort, to the pleasure and delight, to the joy and reward of faithful painstaking ministers, who are nurses, farmers, and shepherds, in the language of the Holy Scriptures. Though it is true that faithful ministers are a sweet savor to God, both in those who are saved, and in those who perish, 2 Cor. 2:15, though their labor, whether it hits or misses, is accepted, and shall be rewarded by the Lord, as the physician has his fee, though the patient dies, and the nurse has her wages, though the child doesn't thrive, and the vine-dresser has his hire, though the vines doesn't bear fruit—yet the more they win men to heaven, and the more by their means the work of holiness is carried on in the hearts and lives of men—the weightier will be their crown of glory, and the greater will be their joy and rejoicing in the great day of our Lord, Isaiah 49:15.
O sirs, did you but see your faithful ministers' tears, did you but hear their heavy sighs and groans, were you but acquainted with their fervent and frequent prayers on your behalf, did you but believe how they beat their brains, and how willing they are not only to spend themselves—but even to spit out their very lungs in the service of your souls, how would you call upon your own souls to add holiness to holiness—yes, charge your own souls to perfect holiness in the fear of the Lord! Well, friends, as ever you would add to your faithful ministers' comfort here, and to their joy and crown at the coming of our Lord—labor after higher degrees of holiness.