The Necessity, Excellency, Rarity, and Beauty of Holiness
Thomas Brooks, 1662
[1.] First, The more a man can warm his heart at the PROMISES, and cleave to the promises, and rest upon the promises, and suck marrow and fatness and sweetness out of the breasts of the promises—when divine providences seem to run cross to divine promises—the greater measure of holiness that man has attained to.Where there are but little measures of holiness—there every seeming contrariety to the promise troubles a man, and every little cloud that hangs over the promise will mightily perplex a man, etc. But where holiness is raised to any considerable height, there that man will suck honey out of the flint, he will suck sweetness out of the promise—even then when providence looks sourly upon the promise; yes, when providence seems to bid defiance to the promise.
Witness Jacob, in Gen. 32:6-8, compared with verse 9,11,12, "And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying—We came to your brother Esau, and also he comes to meet you, and four hundred men with him. Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed. And Jacob said—O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, the Lord which said unto me—Return unto your country, and to your kindred, and I will deal well with you. Deliver me, I pray you, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau: for I fear him, lest he will come and smite me. And you said—I will surely do you good, and make your seed as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude." Now here you see holy Jacob, in the midst of all his fears and frights, in the midst of all his perils and dangers, in the midst of all his damps and dreads, and in the midst of all cross, astonishing providences, he turns himself to the breasts of the promise, and sucks marrow and sweetness out of those breasts. Jacob puts the promise into suit, he pleads with God upon his own promises, and so bears up sweetly under dark and dismal providences.
And so did Moses in Num. 10:29, "And Moses said unto his father-in-law, We are journeying unto the place of which the Lord said, I will give it to you. Come with us, and we will do you good: for the Lord has spoken good concerning Israel." Moses had been almost now forty years in the wilderness, and many thousands were fallen on his right hand, and on his left; yet says he to his father-in-law, in the face of all those dismal providences, "come along with us," and be as eyes unto us, and we will certainly do you good, verse 31. But his father-in-law might have objected, "Alas! what good can I expect in a wilderness condition, where so many are weak, and so many are sick, and so many thousands are fallen asleep; and where all the people are every day surrounded with a thousand dangers, difficulties, and deaths?" "Well," says Moses, "though all this is true—yet go along with us, and be serviceable and useful to us, and we will do you good; for the Lord has spoken good concerning Israel." Here this holy man Moses turns himself to the promise, and in the face of all sad providences, he draws comfort and encouragement from the promise.
And so did Jehoshaphat, in 2 Chron. 20. When the children of Ammon, and Moab, and mount Seir came against him to battle, he turns himself to the promise, verse 7-9, and gathers life and spirit from thence.
And so did David, in Psalm 60. In the 1st, 2d, and 3d verses, you have a narrative of many cross and dreadful providences—and yet in the face of them all, holy David sucks strong consolation out of the breasts of the promise, verse 6, "God has spoken in his holiness, I will rejoice: I will divide Shechem, and mete out the valley of Succoth." God has promised in his holiness, that David would be king over all Israel, and therefore, notwithstanding all strange providences, David triumphs in the promise, and looks upon himself as master of all those strongholds which are mentioned in verse 7-9.
And so Abraham, he wanted a son, and God promised him an Isaac. Now in the face of all his own deadness, and natural inabilities as to generation, and Sarah's deadness and barrenness, Romans 4:17-21, he turns about to the promise; and his faith and holiness being high, he draws sweetness and satisfaction from thence. Notwithstanding present providences, the naked promise was a well of life and salvation to him.
O sirs! it is an argument of a very great measure of holiness, when troubles and difficulties vanish upon the sight of a promise; when all things work quite cross and contrary to sense and feeling. Now for a man to embrace a promise, to hug a promise, to kiss a promise, and to draw contentment and satisfaction from a promise—argues a great degree of holiness. It is a very hard and difficult thing for a man exactly to take the picture of divine providence at any time; for many are the voices and the faces of providence, and there are as great deeps in providences, as there are in prophecies. And many texts of providence are as hard, as dark, and as difficult to be understood, as many texts of Scripture are. It is as hard to reconcile the works of God, as it is to reconcile the word of God, Psalm 36:6; Romans 11:33; for as in the word of God there are many seeming contradictions. Just so, in the works of God there are many seeming contradictions; for here one providence smiles, and there another frowns; here providence lifts up, and there providence casts down; here providence strokes, and there providence strikes; here providence leads towards Canaan, there providence leads towards a wilderness; here providence leads towards Zion, and there providence leads towards Babylon; here providence looks very fair, and there providence severely threatens; here providence is bright and lovely, and there providence is dark and dreadful.
Now under all such providences, for a man to run to a
promise, and to draw out life, and strength, and sweetness from a
promise—is a clear evidence of a very high pitch of holiness that such a
person has attained to. I have read of an emperor that put on a new suit
every day. O, sirs! when the great God shall every day apparel himself in
strange changeable providences, now for a man to hang upon the breasts of
a promise, and to suck milk out of a promise, argues a very great increase
of holiness. But,
[2.] Secondly, The more a man can overcome evil with good upon holy and gracious accounts—as upon the account of God's command, God's honor, the credit of the gospel, and the conviction, conversion, and salvation of souls—the greater measure of holiness such a person has attained to.To return reproach for reproach, reviling for reviling, and cursing for cursing, and scorning for scorning, and defaming for defaming—is exceeding natural to us. But to love those who hate us, to bless those who curse us, to do good to those who abhor us, and to pray for those who persecute us, and who despitefully use us—according to Christ's express command in Mat. 5:44—are things exceeding contrary to nature, and exceedingly above nature. [Austin says that "Christ made a pulpit of the cross, and the great lesson he taught Christians was to love their enemies."]
The power of grace and holiness appears in nothing more than in bringing the heart to a sweet and ready subjection to such commands as are most cross, and contrary to flesh and blood. As those are in Romans 12:17-21, "Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." And so in 1 Thes. 5:15, "Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else." To return good for evil, and kindnesses for injuries, to behave ourselves courteously, humbly, meekly, tenderly, and sweetly towards those who behave themselves discourteously, proudly, passionately, harshly, and sourly towards us, argues a very great degree of holiness.
David was a man eminent in holiness, and he was good at this good work, as you may see in that 2 Sam. 1:24, "O daughters of Israel, weep for Saul, who clothed you in scarlet and finery, who adorned your garments with ornaments of gold." He does not envy against Saul, nor insult or rejoice over Saul's death, as many carnal and unsanctified hearts would have done, nor he does provoke or stir up the daughters of Israel to rejoice in the death and destruction of such a tyrant—who had hunted him up and down as a partridge, and who had often designed his ruin, and who had always returned him evil for good, and who had bathed his sword in the blood of Abimelech the high-priest, and in the blood of eighty more of the priests of the Lord, and who had forsaken the Lord, and gone to a witch, yes, to the devil, for help in his need.
Oh no! David conceals what was bad, and remembers what was good; he passes over those things that were condemnable, and he instances only in those things that might make his memory most acceptable, commendable, and delightful among the weaker gender, namely, Saul's clothing them in scarlet and finery, and adorning their garments with ornaments of gold.
And just so, Joseph was a man eminent in holiness, and he was good at this hard work; as you may see in Gen. 50:16-23. And Moses was a man of great holiness, and he was good at this difficult work; as you may see in Psalm 106:16, 23, 33, compared together. And Stephen was a man full of the Holy Spirit, and he was good at praying for those who made a prey of him, Acts 7:60. And Paul was a man of the same mind and mettle, as you may see by comparing the 2 Cor. 11:24, with the Romans 9:1-3. And Eusebius affirms that when Paul was beheaded, under Diocletian the emperor, he prayed both for Jews and Gentiles, for the multitude assembled, and also for the judge and executioner, that his death might not one day be laid unto their charge.
Calvin was a man of great holiness, and therefore though Luther (who was a man of a most violent, bitter, passionate spirit) had woefully wronged him, and reviled him—yet, says he, "let Luther hate me, and in his wrath call me a thousand times a devil—yet I will love him, and honor him, and acknowledge him a choice and precious servant of God."
Mr. Foxe, who wrote the "Book of Martyrs," was so famous in the practice of this hard piece of Christianity, that it became a proverb: "If any man would have Mr. Foxe do him a good turn, let him do him an injury, and he will be sure to do him a good turn for it."
"Send me to my toads again, in the dungeon, where I may pray for your lordship's conversion," said Mr. Sanders the martyr, to the bishop of Winchester.
Thus you see that the more eminent any people are in holiness, the more they overcome evil with good; the more good they will do those who do evil to them; and thus to do, is but to conform to Christ your head, for he shed tears for those who were to shed his blood, and he gave them his blood to drink, who gave him gall to drink and vinegar to drink. That man is almost got up to the very epitome of holiness, whose soul is habituated to overcome evil with good, upon holy and precious accounts.
Well, Christians, the more you can overcome evil with
good, the more certainly your hearts are filled with good. That man's
heart is full of the fruits of righteousness and holiness, that, upon
divine considerations is accustomed, not to be overcome of evil—but to
overcome evil with good. But,
[3.] Thirdly, When men in the main—I say, in the main—are as holy out of pious duties, as they are in pious duties; when in the main of their lives they are as spiritual, as heavenly, as humble, as gracious, as serious, as watchful, as circumspect, etc., as they are in their most pious performances and duties; this argues not only the truth of holiness—but a very high degree of holiness.Moses' face did shine as gloriously when he came off from the mount, as ever it did shine when he was upon the mount, Exod. 34:29-30, 33, 35. O sirs! if when you come off from the mount of duties, there remains some rays and shinings of God upon you, it is an argument that the waters of sanctity are risen to a considerable height in your souls, Ezek. 47:2-6. Ah, how lively, how warm, how enlarged, how holy, how humble, how heavenly, how spiritual, how serious, how zealous, how pious, how gracious are many in pious duties, in ordinances; but ah! how dead, how cold, how straitened, how unholy, how proud, how worldly, how carnal, how slight, and how irreligious are they out of pious duties, out of ordinances. Now, certainly, these have either no holiness at all, or else they have attained to but a very little measure of holiness. But now, when a man in the main, when a man in his course is the same out of duties, out of ordinances—that he is in duties, in ordinances—it is a very great and glorious argument that such a person has in a very great measure perfected holiness in the fear of the Lord. But,
[4.] Fourthly, The more a man can divinely joy and rejoice under tribulations and afflictions—the greater measure of holiness he has attained to.It is a mercy not to grumble, not to mutter, not to murmur, not to fret, not to faint, not to despond, not to despair. It is much to be silent under afflictions, and to be quiet and patient under tribulations. Oh—but to divinely joy and rejoice under afflictions, under tribulations—argues a very great height of holiness, Romans 5:3-4, "And not only so—but we glory in tribulations also, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope." That glorying and rejoicing are both the same in the New Testament, is sufficiently known; they differ only in degrees, glorying being a step above rejoicing. It is much to rejoice in tribulations—but it is more to glory in tribulations; yes, to glory in them as an old soldier glories in all those marks and scars of honor which he has met with in the service of his king and country; and yet to this height, the believing Romans were raised—which argues a very great measure of holiness in them.
And so in 2 Cor. 7:4, "I am filled with comfort, I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation," or as the Greek runs, I do over-abound exceedingly with joy, I have a superabundance of joy in all our tribulation; and so in chap 12:9-10, "Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ might rest upon me: therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong." Paul rejoices and glories more in his heavy afflictions, and in his various tribulations, than he did in his glorious and mysterious revelations. The more he was afflicted and distressed, the more he had of the visible presence of Christ, and the more he had of the glorious assistance of Christ, and the more he had of sweet communion and fellowship with Christ, and the more he had of the choice supports and singular comforts of Christ—and therefore he takes pleasure in all the pressures which were upon him.
And so in James 1:2, "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various afflictions." O sirs! to be divinely merry in misery, to rejoice in the cross as men rejoice in a crown, to rejoice in adversity as others rejoice in prosperity, to rejoice in a stinking prison as others rejoice in their stately palaces, to rejoice in shackles as others rejoice in liberty, to rejoice in needs as others rejoice in abundance, to rejoice in reproaches as others rejoice in their honors, etc., is very much; but to be joyful in such cases, not with a little joy—but with exceeding great joy—is more. "All joy" is a Hebraism, and it signifies great joy, full joy, exceeding joy, perfect joy. Oh! thus to rejoice, and that not only when you fall into some afflictions—but when you fall into divers afflictions, argues a very great measure of holiness.
But ah! how rare is it to find such souls in these
days, who cannot only bear the cross—but also rejoice in the cross; who
cannot only bear reproaches—but also wear reproaches as their crown and
[5.] Fifthly, The more extensive a man's obedience is to divine commands—the greater measure of holiness that man has attained to.Caleb had a very great measure of the spirit of holiness upon him; and he is said to have followed the Lord fully; that is—his obedience was full, universal, resolute, and constant to the end.
The contrary is affirmed of Solomon in 1 Kings 11:6, "And Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord, and went not fully after the Lord, as did David his father," that is—his obedience was not so full, so universal, so sincere, so resolute, and so constant as David his father's was. Zacharias and Elizabeth were people of great holiness, and their obedience was very extensive; for they walked blameless not only in some—but in all the commandments, and not only in all the commandments—but also in all the ordinances of the Lord, Luke 1:5-6. Their obedience was of such a universal extent and latitude, that it comprehended and took in all the duties both of their general and particular callings; they had an eye to the duties of the second table, as well as they had an eye to the duties of the first; and they subjected themselves to the duties of their particular calling, as well as to the duties of their general calling. As they had an eye to mint, anise, and cumin, Mat. 23:23, that is, to the lesser and lower duties of religion—just so, they had an eye to the greater and weightier duties of religion, namely, judgment, mercy, and faith, etc.
But some at their first conversion, and while they
remain weak in grace and holiness—their obedience is more strait and
narrow; for commonly they spend much, if not most, of their time in
praying, fasting, hearing, reading, Christian conference, etc., and
neglect a hundred other duties which are incumbent upon them; they are
very forward and warm in the duties of their general calling—but very cold
and remiss in the duties of their particular calling; they are very
frequent and fervent in some duties, and very rare in other duties. But
the more they grow in grace and holiness, the more extensive will their
obedience be, and the more their hearts will be dilated and extended to
all the duties both of the first and second table. But,
[6.] Sixthly, The more a man conflicts with heart sins, with spiritual sins, with invisible sins, with sins which lie most hidden and obscure from the eyes of the world—and the more spiritual victories and conquests a man obtains over them—the greater measure of holiness that person has certainly attained to.When the heart rises with all its strength and might against secret pride, secret self-love, secret bubblings of lusts, secret carnal confidence, secret murmuring, secret hypocrisy, secret envy, secret self-applause, secret malice, secret hatred, secret snares, secret temptations, etc., it is an evidence that holiness has grown up to some considerable height there. [2 Chron. 32:26; Psalm 119:80; 2 Cor. 12:7-9; Psalm 30:6-7; Romans 7:23-24; 2 Cor. 7:1.]
A little grace, a little holiness, will work a man to conflict with gross sins, with outward sins, with bodily sins, with open sins, which everyone may set their eyes on. Yes, where there is no grace, no holiness at all, the light of nature, the common convictions of the Spirit, the laws of men, the eyes of men, the threats of men, the examples of men, a smarting rod, and good education, may work men to conflict with such sins. Oh, but when all the strength and might of the soul is engaged against those very sins that lie not within the sight or reach of the most sharp and piercing men in the world—but in the heart, and about the heart, and are only obvious to God's omniscient eye, this argues a great degree of holiness.
And therefore Augustine hit the mark when he said that it is the hardest thing for a man to fight with his lusts—especially his heart lusts, his spiritual wickedness. And he has long since complained that we do not tame "the beasts in our own bosoms". Oh, it is an easier thing to tame all the beasts in the world than it is to tame the beast in the bosom. All the beasts in the world may be tame and brought under control, by a human power, James 3:7—but no power below that power which raised Christ from the grave, can tame the beasts that are in our bosoms. [Heraclius's motto was, "It is God who gives victory!"]
Now look, as conflicts with heart sins, with spiritual sins, etc., argues some eminency in holiness—just so, victory over heart sins, over spiritual sins, over those sins which lie most remote from the eyes of others, argues a very great degree of holiness. When a Christian does not only resist heart sins—but vanquishes heart sins; when he does not only combat with heart sins—but conquers heart sins; when he does not only fight with heart sins—but also overcomes heart sins; when he does not only wrestle with heart sins—but also overthrows heart sins—this speaks out holiness in its growth. It was a good saying of Cyprian: "There is no greater pleasure—than to have overcome a sinful pleasure; neither is there any greater conquest—than to conquer one's own corruptions." And it was an excellent saying of Eusebius Emesenus: "Our fathers overcame the torments of the flames; let us overcome the fiery darts of our vices." And indeed it is an easier thing to overcome fiery flames, than it is to overcome those flaming lusts and corruptions which are in our own hearts.
Philosophy may teach us to endure hardships, as it did Calanus in Curtius, who willingly offered his body to the fire, to the flames; but it is only grace, it is only holiness, that can enable us to overcome our lusts, our heart lusts. We read of many who, out of greatness of spirit, could offer violence to nature—but were at a loss when they came to deal with their corruptions.
I remember a notable saying of Ambrose, speaking of Samson. Says he, he broke the bonds of his enemies—but he could not break the bonds of his own lusts; he choked the lion—but he could not choke his own wanton love; he set on fire the harvest of strangers, and himself being set on fire with the spark of one immoral woman, lost the harvest of his virtue. And this saying of Ambrose puts me in mind of a great Roman captain, who, as he was riding in his triumphant chariot through Rome, had his eyes constantly on a harlot who walked along the street, which made one say, "Behold how this noble captain, who conquered such potent armies, is himself conquered by one silly woman!"
Oh, it is not philosophy, nor morality, nor civility,
etc.—but holiness, but sanctity—which will make the soul victorious over
iniquity. The more victories and conquests a man makes upon heart sins,
upon spiritual sins, upon secret sins—the greater measures of holiness
that person has certainly attained to. But,
[7.] Seventhly, The more a man is exercised and busied in the most internal and spiritual duties of religion—the greater measures of holiness that man has attained to.You know there are external duties of religion, and there are internal duties of religion. There are external duties of religion—such as public preaching, hearing the word, reading the word, fasting, singing of psalms, Christian conference, communion of saints, and receiving the Lord's supper, Mat. 6 and 23. Now such Christians who have but small measures of grace and holiness, and hypocrites and formalists who have not the least measure of true grace and holiness—these are most commonly exercised and busied about the external duties and services of religion; but very seldom, very rare, shall you find them in the more inward and spiritual duties of religion, Isaiah 1:11-19, and 58:1-5; Zech. 7:4-7.
But then, as there are external duties—just so, there are internal and spiritual duties—such as self-examination, self-resignation to God, self-loathing, self-judging, divine meditation, praying in the Spirit, watchfulness over the heart, and making application of the blood of Christ, the death of Christ, the grace of Christ, the love of Christ, and the word of Christ to a man's own soul.
Now the more any Christian is exercised and employed in these internal, spiritual, and evangelical duties and services, the greater heights and degrees of holiness that Christian is grown to: Phil. 3:3, "For we are the true circumcision, who worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh." These Philippians were eminent in grace and holiness, as you may see in chapter 1. And they place no confidence in circumcision, nor in any such outward performances or services—but they were much in the exercise of grace, and in worshiping of God in the spirit, and in rejoicing in the person of Christ, the natures of Christ, the offices of Christ, the discoveries of Christ, the communications of Christ, the glorious operations of Christ, the precious promises of Christ, and in the heart-warming and heart-cheering blood of Christ.
Now to be much exercised in the most internal,
spiritual, and evangelical duties of religion—argues a very great height
of holiness. But,
[8.] Eighthly, The more spiritual, internal, and intrinsic principles, motives, and considerations, carries a person on in pious duties and services—the more holy that person is.When a man is carried on in the duties of religion, from a sense of divine love, or from a sense of the special presence of Christ with his heart, or from a sense of the excellency and sweetness of communion and fellowship with God, or from a sense of the graciousness and goodness of God towards him, or from a sense of singular influences and visits from God, or from a sense of the choice and precious discoveries of God, or from a sense of the beauty and glory of God, etc.—this argues a very great measure of holiness, that such a person has attained to. [Psalm 119:1-3; 1 John 1:1-4; Isaiah 38:16-17, 19-20; Psalm 63:1-3.]
The more the sweet looks of Christ, the secret visits of Christ, the private whispers of Christ, the divine joggings of Christ, the blessed love-tokens of Christ, and the holy kisses and glorious embraces of Christ—does incite and provoke a person to pious duties, the greater degrees of holiness that person has reached to. But it is an argument that the streams of holiness runs but low, when external motives and considerations have the greatest hand in carrying a person on in pious duties. The more bare custom, the eye of the creature, the favor of the creature, the example of the creature, the applause of the creature, the rewards of the creature, or the keeping up of a man's abilities, or the keeping up of a man's name, esteem, and reputation in the world does influence a Christian's heart to pious duties—the less holiness that Christian has.
Yes, it is considerable, that outward motives and natural principles have carried many heathen to do many great and glorious things in the world. Did not Sisera do as great things as Gideon? the difference did only lie here, that the great things which Gideon did, he did from more spiritual principles and raised considerations than any Sisera was acted by. And did not Diogenes trample under his feet the great and glorious things of this world, as well as Moses? the difference did only lie in this, that Moses trampled under his feet the mirthful and gallant things of this world from inward, holy principles, and from high and glorious considerations and motives; whereas Diogenes did only trample upon them from poor, low principles, and from carnal and external considerations.
I have read of one Cosmus Medici, a rich citizen of Florence, that he confessed to a near friend of his that he built so many magnificent structures, and spent so much on scholars and libraries—not for any love to learning—but to raise up to himself the trophies of fame and renown. And many of the Romans have done very great and glorious things for their country—but all from natural principles, and from carnal and external motives and considerations, as for a great name, a puff of honor, a little applause, etc., and therefore their most glorious actions have been but shining sins, Jer. 32:23. God always writes a nothing upon all those services wherein men's principles and their ends are selfish or wicked or base.
It was a notable saying of Luther, "One work of a
Christian," says he, "is more precious than heaven and earth, and if I
might have my desire, I would rather choose the lowest work of a country
Christian, or poor maid, than all the victories and triumphs of Alexander
the Great and of Julius Caesar, because whatever a saint does, though it
be ever so small—yet it is great and glorious, because he does all in
faith and by the word." And says the same author further, "Let our works
be ever so small, servile—yet if done out of love to the Lord—they will be
all glorious, yes, such as shall remain to all eternity." O sirs, all our
works and services must be wrought from God, for God, in
God, and according to God—or else they will be but splendida
peccata—splendid sins! Well, the more spiritual and internal the
principles, motives, and considerations are, which carry a Christian on in
pious duties, the greater measure of holiness has that Christian arrived
[9.] Ninthly, The more solid, precise, exact, and accurate a Christian is in pious duties and services—the greater measure of holiness that Christian has attained to.And the more any Christian grows in holiness, the more spiritual, the more savory, the more exact and accurate he will grow in all his pious services and performances. The more a Christian's heart is endeared to pious duties, and the more his heart is affected with the heavenly nature of pious duties, and the more easily, the more holily, the more freely, and the more spiritually he performs pious duties—the more he is thriving and grown in holiness.
A young carpenter gives more blows, and makes more noise and chips than an old experienced workman does—but the old experienced workman does his work more solidly, more exactly, and more accurately than the young carpenter does. Just so, many young Christians, who are but newly entered into the trade of Christianity, and who are raised up but to a very small degree of sanctity, these may multiply duties upon duties, these may abound in pious performances, these may be much in adding of service to service; but yet the aged and experienced Christian in grace and holiness does pious duties more solidly, more spiritually, more exactly, and more accurately than the young Christian does.
We must never judge of an eminency in holiness by the number or multitude of our duties—but by the seriousness, the graciousness, the solidness, the spiritualness, the holiness, the heavenliness, and the accurateness of our hearts in duties.
A young musician may play longer and more quick and nimble upon an instrument than an old musician can—but yet the old musician plays with more art, accurateness, skill, judgment, and understanding than a young musician does. Just so, young Christians in grace and holiness may hold out longer, and be quicker and nimbler in pious duties, than others who are more aged in grace and holiness; but yet those who are aged in grace and holiness perform pious duties with more spiritual art and accurateness, and with more divine skill, judgment, and understanding, than they do, in whom the spring of holiness runs low.
A young scholar may write more paper, and make more letters than his master does—but yet his master writes more understandingly, exactly, and accurately than the young scholar. Just so, many young converts may run over more duties than others—and yet others may perform duties more understandingly, and more exactly, and more accurately than they do.
Let the duty be ever so short—yet if there is
much spiritualness, holiness, brokenness, seriousness, and accurateness in
it—it will carry all before it—it will win the blessing and obtain the
crown; when the longest duties, wherein there is no such frame nor
temper of spirit, shall not prevail with God at all, Zech. 7:4-6; Isaiah
58:1-6. It argues a very great measure of holiness when the soul is
habitually carried on in pious duties with much solidness, seriousness,
spiritualness, exactness, and accurateness. But,
[10.] Tenthly, The more any man makes it his great business and work, in all his duties, ways, and walkings—to approve himself to God, and to be acceptable with God—the greater height of holiness that man has attained to.Jer. 12:3; Psalm 17:2.
David was a man of great holiness; and how studious and industrious he was to approve his heart to the Lord you may see in Psalm 139:23-24, "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me and know my thoughts; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." [The Hebrew word signifies a very strict, careful, diligent search and inquisition, etc.] The psalmist knew that God had an eye upon him, both at home and abroad, both at bed and at board, both in public and in private, both in his family and in his closet; he knew that God had an eye in every corner of his house, and in every corner of his heart, and therefore he appeals to God, and he opens his heart to God, and nobly ventures upon the trial of God, "Search me, O God, and know my heart," etc. This frequent repetition and doubling of words, "Search me, O God, and know my heart, try me and know my thoughts," etc., does not only note the earnestness and seriousness of David's spirit in prayer—but also the soundness, the uprightness, the plainness, and the sincerity of David's heart—in that he was very willing and ready to submit himself to the search, trial, examination, and approbation of God.
And so Peter, that great apostle of the Jews, makes it his great business to open himself to Christ thrice together, "Lord, you know that I love you, Lord; you know that I love you, Lord; you who know all things, you know that I love you," John 21:15-17. Christ best knew the reality and sincerity of Peter's love, and therefore Peter appeals to him, as to a judge who would be sure to judge righteous judgment, "You know that I love you."
And so the apostle Paul, speaking in the name of his fellow-apostles, says, "Therefore we labor, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him," 2 Cor. 5:9. The Greek word which is here rendered labor, is a very emphatic word. It signifies to labor and endeavor with all earnestness and might, to endeavor with a high and holy ambition, to be approved of by God, and to be accepted of God, judging it to be the greatest honor and the most desirable happiness in all the world to be graciously owned, approved, and accepted of the Lord. As ambitious, industrious, and laborious as Haman was to be highly accepted with king Ahasuerus—yet he was not more ambitious to be accepted with the king, than the apostles were ambitious to be accepted of the King of kings.
O sirs, when in every sermon you hear, and in
every prayer you make, and in every fast you keep, and in
every action you do, and in every way that you walk, and in
every mercy that you enjoy, and in every cross that you
bear, etc.—you make it your great business and work to approve yourselves
to the Lord—and that though the world should discountenance you, and
friends hate you, and near and dear relations reject you—that yet you may
find blessed acceptance with God—this argues holiness to be upon the
throne. When in all your dealings and tradings with God—you make it
your heaven to approve yourselves to God; and when in all your
transactions with men—you make it your happiness to approve
yourselves to God—it is an argument that the springs of holiness have
risen high in your souls. But,
[11.] Eleventhly, The more a man lives by the rule of whether an action is spiritually beneficial—the greater measure of holiness that person has attained to.John 16:7; 2 Cor. 8:10. Weak holiness has only an eye upon the rule of lawfulness—that is, whether an action is lawful or not. But raised holiness has one eye upon the rule of lawfulness, and the other upon whether the action is spiritually beneficial. Weak holiness says, "Oh, this is lawful, and that is permissible!" Oh, but raised holiness says, "Is this spiritually beneficial? is it beneficial as well as lawful?"
That angelical apostle, Paul, always had his eye upon whether an action was spiritually beneficial or not: 1 Cor. 6:12, "Everything is permissible for me—but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible for me—but I will not be mastered by anything." And so chapter 10:23, "Everything is permissible—but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible—but not everything is constructive."
Many things may be lawful, which yet may be unnecessary or unwise for our place, state, calling, and condition in the world. It was lawful for the apostle to eat meat—but it was not beneficial for him to eat meat; when his eating of meat would make his weak brother to sin, or grieve, or stumble, or fall, Romans 14:21. And therefore he resolves that, rather than he will eat meat—that he will never eat meat while the world stands, 1 Cor. 8:13.
The more unchangeably resolved any person is to live by judging whether an action is spiritually beneficial or not—the greater measure of holiness that person has certainly attained to. The streams of holiness runs low in that Christian's heart—who only lives by the rule of lawfulness—and never lives by judging whether an action is spiritually beneficial or not. It argues a very great height of holiness for a man to make as much conscience of living by the rule of whether an action is spiritually beneficial or not, as he does of living by the rule of lawfulness. For a man to be often a-looking over his natural actions, his moral actions, and his pious actions, and to be still a-putting this question to himself, "O my soul! do you eye what is most spiritually beneficial?" Such a frame and temper of spirit speaks out much of Christ and holiness within.
Oh the sins! oh the sorrows! oh the shame! oh the
reproach! oh the troubles! oh the travails! oh the trials, etc., which
might have been prevented—had we more minded and followed whether an
action is spiritually beneficial or not. But,
[12.] Twelfthly and lastly, The more a man can deny himself—when he has an opportunity, power, and authority to raise himself, to greaten himself, to seek himself, and to lift up himself—the greater measure of holiness that man has attained to.Providence put many a rare and fair opportunity into Moses' hand, whereby he might have raised himself, and have greatened himself in the world—and yet then, even then, he denies himself. "By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king's anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible." Hebrews 11:24-27. [Exod. 32:9-15; Deut. 9:13-14, 18-20]
Nehemiah was a man of the same mind and mettle. He stood upon the advantage ground to have greatened himself, and to have lifted up himself as others had done before him. But instead of this, he lessens himself, he denies himself, he degrades himself, and being of a very noble, generous, public spirit, he turns his back upon his own worldly interest, and keeps a very free and bountiful table, upon his own expense, and not upon the account of a public purse. "I would like to mention that for the entire twelve years that I was governor of Judah—neither I nor my officials drew on our official food allowance. This was quite a contrast to the former governors who had laid heavy burdens on the people, demanding a daily ration of food and wine, besides a pound of silver. Even their assistants took advantage of the people. But because of my fear of God, I did not act that way. I devoted myself to working on the wall and refused to acquire any land. And I required all my officials to spend time working on the wall. I asked for nothing, even though I regularly fed 150 Jewish officials at my table, besides all the visitors from other lands! The provisions required at my expense for each day were one ox, six fat sheep, and a large number of domestic fowl. And every ten days we needed a large supply of all kinds of wine. Yet I refused to claim the governor's food allowance because the people were already having a difficult time." Nehemiah 5.
And so Daniel was one in spirit with the former: Dan. 1:8-11, When God had brought him into high favor with the prince of the eunuchs, and given him a great deal of heart-room there—yet upon no terms would he defile himself with the king's food, or comply with the requests of the prince. It argues a great deal of holiness for a man to deny his temporal self, to dethrone his temporal self—when he stands upon the advantage ground to advance his temporal self, and to enthrone his temporal self in the world, Rev. 4:10-11.
I have read of Trajan the emperor, how he sent Eustochius, one of his chief captains against the barbarians, who having vanquished them, returned home. The emperor being very joyful at this good news goes to meet him, and brings him gloriously into the city. Now Eustochius being high in the emperor's favor, it was but ask and have, speak and speed; but on this very day of pomp, triumph, and glory, he chose rather to suffer the martyrdom of himself, his wife, and children—than to offer sacrifice to Apollo; and so denies himself, and all his present pomp and glory, when he might greatly have enriched himself and advanced himself. Nothing speaks out greater measures of holiness, than for a man to deny himself—when he may seek himself, and exalt himself.
I have read of a godly man, who was much in pious duties; who being sorely tempted by Satan, and to whom Satan said, "Why do you take such pains? you watch, and fast, and pray, and abstain from the sins of the times. But, O man! what do you do, more than I do? Are you no drunkard?—neither am I! Are you no adulterer?—neither am I! Do you watch? why, let me tell you, I never sleep! Do you fast? why, I never eat nor drink. What do you do, more than I do?" "Why, I will tell you, Satan," said the holy man, "I pray, I serve the Lord, nay, more than all this, I deny myself!" "Nay, then," says Satan, "you go beyond me, for I am proud, and I exalt myself." And so he vanished.
Oh the excellency of self-denial! and oh the holiness and the happiness of that man who can deny himself, who can debase himself, who can even trample upon himself—when he has power and authority in his own hand to greaten himself and to exalt himself! Power and authority will try what mettle men are made of. Ah, how many have there been among us, who, when they have had no power nor authority in their hands to help themselves, have seemed to be great deniers of themselves; but no sooner had they power and authority in their hands—but ah, what self-love, what self-interest, what self-seeking, and what self-exalting was to be found among them! Oh, how have many among them, instead of loving God to the contempt of themselves—have loved themselves to the contempt of God! And who, instead of debasing themselves that they might exalt God—have debased God that they might exalt themselves! And who, instead of losing themselves that they might find God—have lost God that they might find themselves!
These put me in mind of the abbot, who lived strictly, and looked demurely, and walked humbly—so long as he was but a monk. But when, by his seeming sanctity and humility, he had got to be abbot, he grew most intolerable proud and insolent, etc. And being asked the reason of it, he confessed that his former humble demeanor was but to see if he could find the keys of the abbey. How many such abbots we have had among us—you all know! Ah, how rare is it to find a man to deny himself, when he is advantaged to seek himself. Such a man is worth gold—but this iron age affords few such golden men. Where this frame of spirit is—there the streams of holiness runs deep.
And thus much for this use of trial and examination.