HOLINESS, the Only Way to Happiness
The Necessity, Excellency, Rarity, and Beauty of Holiness
Thomas Brooks, 1662
And now I have nothing to do, but to lay down seven positions concerning holiness, which may be of singular use for the preventing of some objections and mistakes, and for the giving of satisfaction, especially to such in whom the streams of holiness runs low, and who are still a-lamenting and mourning under the imperfections of their holiness, etc.
1. Wherever genuine holiness is—it will appear, it will discover itself, it will show itself.Eph. 4:15-16. It is the very nature of grace and holiness to manifest itself, and therefore it is set forth in Scripture by the names of light, which shines abroad; Mat. 5:16, and of ointment and perfume, which cannot be hidden; Proverbs 27:9; Cant. 3:6; of leaven and salt, which permeates its own nature and relish upon a whole lump. And it is very observable, that when the Holy Spirit was given, he was given in tongues, fiery tongues, and with a rushing of a mighty wind, all of which have a quality of self-manifestation, and notifying of themselves to others, Acts 2:1-5.
Take a river that is dammed and stopped up—yet if the
course of it be natural, and if it commonly runs downward, it will at
length bear down all, and ride and run triumphantly over all that is in
its way. Just so, though genuine holiness in a day of temptation,
desertion, and affliction, etc., may seem to be dammed and stopped up—yet
at length it will make its way through all, and over all, and show itself
in its native colors. Though fire for a time may lie hidden under the
ashes—yet at last it will flame forth, and show itself to be fire.
Holiness is a divine fire, and though in some cases it may for a time seem
to be hidden, it will at length break forth, and show itself to be
holiness. I have not faith enough to believe that that man was ever
genuinely holy, whose holiness is still hidden under a bushel, or in a
dark lantern. Look! as natural life cannot be so hidden, but that it will
discover itself a hundred hundred ways—just so, holiness, which is a
Christian's spiritual life, cannot be so hidden, but it will discover it a
hundred hundred ways.
2. Holiness rises by degrees;it rises gradually in the souls of the saints. Though the first Adam was made a man, a holy man, yes, a man perfectly holy, and all at once—yet the holiness of all who are interested in the second Adam rises by degrees. [Job 17:9; P. 92:12; Mal. 4:2; Hosea 14:5-7.] It is true, in the creation of the world all the creatures were made in their full and perfect growth and strength at once; but in the new creation, holiness, which is God's own creature, is carried on by degrees, Luke 2:52. Look! as Christ increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man by degrees—just so, that babe of grace, holiness, increases in the soul by degrees. Look! as the seed which is sown in the furrows of the earth first springs into a blade, and then into an ear, and then into ripe grain, Mat. 13:23; Mark 4:28—just so, that immortal seed, holiness, which is sown in the furrows of a Christian's soul, springs and grows by degrees. Look! as the waters in the sanctuary rise first to the ankles, then to the knees, then to the loins, then to the chin, and then to a river that was not passable, Ezek. 47:3-5—just so, holiness rises higher and higher in the soul by degrees.
Look! as the morning light shines more and more unto the perfect day, Proverbs 4:18—just so, the light of holiness shines more and more clear, and more and more bright, until all darkness and imperfection be swallowed up in perfection. Look! as the body of a man grows and increases by degrees in stature and strength, until it comes to its full growth and perfection, Eph. 4:16—just so, grace and holiness will grow and increase by degrees, until grace is turned into glory, until holiness be turned into everlasting happiness.
Though the ocean is full—yet the bottle cannot be filled but by degrees. We are poor narrow-mouthed bottles, and therefore what we take in of holiness must be by degrees. Our incapacity is so great, that at present we are in no way able to take in a fullness of holiness; and therefore God drops in now a drop and then a drop, now a little and then a little—as we are able to take it in.
Indeed, to difference the state of grace from
the state of glory, the state of holiness from the state of
everlasting happiness, it is necessary that holiness should be
communicated to us by degrees. An absolute fullness of holiness will make
an absolute fullness of happiness. When our holiness is perfect, our
happiness shall be perfect; and if this were attainable on earth, there
would be but little reason for men to long to be in heaven.
3. There is a great deal of preciousness in the least degree of holiness.For,
[1.] It is the special work of the Holy Spirit; and this I have showed you already at large; and therefore it must needs be precious.
[2.] It is a part of the divine nature; it is a beam of God, a spark of glory, and therefore it must needs be precious.
[3.] There are many choice and special promises which are made over to the least degrees of holiness, as you may see by comparing these scriptures together; [2 Pet. 1:4; Mat. 12:20; Isaiah 40:10-11, and 60:22; Isaiah 35:3-4; Joel 3:10; Mat. 5:3-6; Romans 14:1, and 15:7.] and therefore the least degree of holiness is very precious.
[4.] It gives a man a right to precious privileges, and to all the precious ordinances of Christ's house. Ergo, etc.
[5.] It is a fruit of the special love and favor of God. A man may read more of the heart of God, and of the special love of God towards him in the least spark of holiness, than he can in his highest worldly enjoyments. A man may read that special grace in the least degree of holiness, which he can never read in the honors, profits, pleasures, delights, and contentments of this world. Ergo, etc.
[6.] The least degrees of holiness gives a man as great a right, and as good a title to everlasting happiness and blessedness, as the greatest degrees of holiness does; [The little hand of a child may hold a pearl, as well as the hand of the greatest giant in the world.] and the reason is clear, because the promise of happiness and blessedness is not made over to degrees of holiness—but to the truth and reality of holiness; and therefore he who has but the least spark of true holiness may plead the promise, and apply the promise, and suck marrow and sweetness out of the promise—as well as he who has the greatest measures of holiness in the world. The promises of salvation are not made over to the strength of faith—but to the truth and reality of faith, John 6:35. It is nowhere said that only he who believes with the faith of an Abraham shall be saved—but it is often said, "He who believes shall be saved;" that is, he who believes truly, though he does not believe strongly, shall be saved. Ergo, etc.
[7.] When unholy people are under terrors of conscience, and upon their dying beds, and when they shall stand before a judgment-seat, had they as many worlds to give as there be stars in heaven, and as there are sands in the sea, they would give them all for the least spark of true holiness; [A little holiness is like a diamond, very little in bulk—but of a very high price and value, etc.] and therefore, without all question, the least degree of holiness must be very precious, considering what a price men would give for it, were it in their power to purchase.
[8.] The least degree of holiness shall at last be blessed with a happy triumph over the strongest corruptions. The least degree of holiness will lead the soul to Christ; it will bring the soul into communion with Christ; it will work the soul to lean upon Christ, and by degrees to draw that life, that virtue, and that vigor from Christ, which will enable a Christian not only to combat, but to conquer even Goliath himself; and therefore the least degree of holiness is doubtless very precious.
[9.] The least degree of holiness will render a Christian in some measure serviceable and useful to the turnings away of the wrath and judgments of God from a people or nation, and for the bringing down of favors and blessing upon a land, [Gen. 18. The least finger is of use to the whole body.] when all the power, authority, greatness, grandeur, and glory that wicked men have in their hands, can do just nothing—either to the diverting of wrath, or the obtaining of mercy; and therefore the least degree of holiness is precious. But,
[10.] Tenthly and lastly, The least degree of holiness is a sure pledge and pawn of greater degrees of holiness, which in time you shall attain to. The tallest oak was once an acorn; the wisest doctor was once in his A-B-C book; and the greatest giant was once a child. Your spark in time—shall be blowed up into a flame; your drop in time—shall be turned into a sea; and your penny in time—shall be multiplied into dollars, and your dollars into hundreds, and your hundreds into thousands, and your thousands into millions!
And now tell me, Christians, whether these ten things
do not sufficiently prove that there is a great deal of preciousness in
the least degrees of holiness. Oh, that you who have but a little holiness
would be often a-warming of your hearts at this heavenly fire! And oh,
that you who have a great deal of holiness would not despise those who
have but a little holiness! Oh, that you who bring forth a hundredfold,
would not despise those who bring forth but thirtyfold! And oh, that you
who have ten talents would not despise those who have but two talents,
considering that there is a great deal of preciousness in the least degree
4. All saints are not alike holy.Some are more holy, and others are less holy; in some saints the springs of holiness runs low, in others the springs of holiness rise very high. Holiness thrives not alike in all saints. In the parable some brought forth thirty, some sixty, and others a hundredfold—and yet all was good ground, Mat. 13:8, 23. And in that other parable, everyone had not ten talents—some had but five, others two, others but one, Mat. 25:14-15; Luke 19:12-21. God never distributes holiness alike to all. To some he gives more, to others less, according to the good pleasure of his grace. God never intended that all should thrive alike in holiness. Though there were many who feared God in Nehemiah's time—yet he tells you that his brother Hanani feared God above many, Neh. 7:2. And though Job's three friends came to visit him in the days of his sorrows, namely, Eliphaz, Zophar, and Bildad, were doubtless all holy men, Job 1:8—yet they fell very much short of Job in grace and holiness, as is evident not only by that high testimony that God himself gives concerning Job, "That there was none like him upon the earth, a perfect and upright man, one who feared God, and eschewed evil;" but also throughout that whole book of Job.
It is true, all saints are equally justified, and equally pardoned, and equally reconciled, and equally accepted—but all saints are not equally sanctified. All saints are not of equal standing in the house of God. All saints have not been partakers of equal means, all saints have not had equal gales of the Spirit, all saints have not alike acted that holiness they have; and, therefore, no wonder if all saints are not alike holy. David's worthies were not all of equal strength, nor all the stones in the building are not of equal proportion, nor all the members in the natural body are not of equal magnitude; and so it is also in the mystical body of Christ. In God's house there are vessels of gold, and vessels of silver, 1 Cor. 3:12 Tim. 2:20, that is, there are some who are more eminently sanctified and purified than others are.
You read in Scripture of babes—as well as of strong men; of lambs—as well as of sheep; of plants—as well as of trees. Besides, you read of a little faith, and of smoking flax, and of a bruised reed, and of a grain of mustard-seed. And what does all this evidence—but that God gives different measures and degrees of grace and holiness to his people? Christ has not work alike for all saints to do, nor burdens alike for all saints to bear, nor mercies alike for all saints to improve, nor temptations alike for all saints to resist, nor difficulties alike for saints to grapple with, nor dangers alike for all saints to encounter with, etc., and therefore he gives not a like measure of holiness to all—but to some more, to others less, according as their condition requires; some saints stand in need of a great deal more grace and holiness than others do. Their place, calling, condition, and employments in the world, calls for a greater stock than others need.
One man may better keep house with a hundred a year, than another who has a great family and great resort to his house, can do with a thousand a year; and so it is here. A little may serve a little farm—but it must be a great stock that must serve a great farm. A little stock of holiness will serve some Christians—but it must be a great stock of holiness that must serve to supply the necessities and the lacks of other Christians; and therefore God gives different measures and degrees of holiness among his people as their needs require.
Look! as one sinner excels another in wickedness—just
so, one saint excels another in holiness; and therefore let not those who
have much holiness despise those who have but little; nor let not those
who have but a little holiness censure or judge those who have more
holiness than themselves. All that holiness which any man has, whether it
is little, or whether it is much—is all of grace, it is all of free-grace.
Therefore let every man improve it, be thankful for it, and walk humbly
under it. [Read the 77th and the 88th Psalms. And indeed most of the
psalms of David are a full proof of this position, as all may see that
will but read them with a spiritual eye, and with an understanding heart.]
5. A Christian may be more eminently holy at one time than at another; he may thrive and increase more in holiness at one season than at another.Two men do not more differ one from another, than the self-same Christian at several times differs from himself! Now, the spring-tide of holiness is risen high, very high; yet at another time, the streams of holiness runs exceeding low. Now, he is fully freighted with high thoughts of God, with honorable thoughts of Christ, with precious thoughts of the saints, with pious thoughts of the Scripture, with delightful thoughts of ordinances, with serious thoughts of providences, and with ravishing thoughts of eternity; yet at another time you shall have him filled with such hard thoughts of God, with such dishonorable thoughts of Christ, with such low thoughts of the saints, with such slight thoughts of the Scripture, with such undelightful thoughts of ordinances, and with such confused thoughts of providences, and with such muddy, dark, and unpleasing thoughts of eternity—as if he were really another man. [Besides the examples of Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Job, and Peter, with the experiences of all other saints in all ages, speaks out this truth.]
Now he is very lively and quick, very cheerful and thankful, very fruitful and faithful. Now he is very fearful of offending God, and very careful of pleasing God, and very circumspect and watchful in his walking with God, as if he were a man fully resolved instantly to move from present holiness to eternal happiness; but now, if you please to look on this man at another time, when he is either deserted of God, or tempted by Satan, or worsted by the world, or enthralled by his lusts, and ah, how unlike himself will you find him? For now he is spiritually flat, and dull, and dry, though not quite dead; now he is much spiritually straitened and shut up; now he can neither joy in God, nor delight in Christ, nor find sweetness in ordinances, nor any taste or relish in any of his mercies. Now his apprehensions are dark, his thoughts are dismal, his meditations are confused, his words are unadvised, and his ways are crooked.
Now he says, "The Lord is my portion," and at another time he says, "Will the Lord cast off forever, and will he be favorable no more?" Now he believes, before long he doubts. This hour he hopes, the next he fears; today he is upon the mount, joying and triumphing, tomorrow you shall have him in the valleys, mourning and sighing. Thus, many clouds, many eclipses, many varieties, and many changes, pass upon God's holy ones in this life.
A child, a tree, a plant, shoots up sometimes more in a month than they do in many months. Just so, does many a child of God: many a tree of righteousness, and many a plant of renown, shoot up more in holiness in a month sometimes than they do in many months at another time; they thrive and flourish in holiness more in a year sometimes than they do in many years at another time. Look! as many a man gets more money in one year than he does afterwards get in seven—just so, many a Christian gets more grace and holiness sometimes in one year than he gets afterwards in seven.
No saints have at all times alike the same blessed gales of the Spirit. It is just with a holy soul as it is with a ship; sometimes the ship has a very fair and fresh gale of wind, and then she cuts her way through the proud waves of the sea, and the passengers sail very speedily and merrily towards their desired port; but in a short while, the wind is slack, and veers about to another point of the compass, and then the passengers are all dejected, or frightened—and they sail but slowly and heavily towards their desired harbor. And so it is with a holy heart: sometimes the gales of the Spirit blow very fair and sweet, very strong and powerful, upon a gracious soul—and then a Christian sails most sweetly, most speedily, and most successfully on in a way of holiness, and towards his port of happiness. But in a short while, the Spirit is either resisted, or grieved, or neglected, or quenched, or vexed, or disobeyed; and then his gales, his influences, his breathings, are slacked, and then a poor Christian sails but very slow on in a way of holiness, then he does but even creep towards the harbor of everlasting blessedness.
Again, no saints have at all times alike the same external helps, advantages, and opportunities of being holy, and of thriving in holiness. It may be they have not the word so clearly, so powerfully, so sweetly, so faithfully, nor so frequently preached to them as formerly they have had. Or it may be they have not other ordinances so lively, so purely, so spiritually, so evangelically dispensed to them as formerly they have had. It may be they have had stones instead of bread, and bones instead of flesh, and chaff instead of wheat, and muddy water instead of choice wine—and then no wonder if they do not thrive in holiness as they did when God rained manna every day about their tents, and when they were fed with the best of the best that their heavenly Father's table, wine-cellar, and house did afford.
When children have not as good food, and as good excercise, as they have formerly had, no wonder if they thrive not as at other times. And so it is here: look, as no men have always the same helps, the same advantages, the same opportunities to grow great, and rich, and high, and honorable in the world, that sometimes they have had—just so, no Christian has always the same helps, advantages, and opportunities to grow rich and high in holiness, as sometimes he has had. It may be he has not that communion and fellowship with the people of God that once he had, or if he has—yet it may be their communion is not so pure, so holy, so lively, so heart-warming, so soul-enriching, as once it has been. Or it may be he has not as good counsel as formerly, nor as good examples as formerly, nor as good encouragement as he has formerly had to be holy. Or it may be their calling, employment, and outward condition is so altered and changed from what once it was, that they have not that time for closet duties, and to wait on public ordinances, that once they had. Or it may be bodily infirmities, weaknesses, diseases, aches, and ailments are so increased and multiplied upon them, that they cannot make that improvement that once they did of those very advantages and opportunities, that yet, by a hand of grace, is continued among them.
Now these cases being incident to the people of God,
there is no reason to wonder, if at some times saints are more holy than
they are at others; and if at some seasons they shoot up more in holiness
than they do at others. The serious weighing of this position may serve to
prevent many fears and scruples, many debates and disputes, that often
rise in the hearts of Christians upon the often ebbings and flowings of
holiness in their souls.
6. There will come a time when in this world, holiness shall be more general, and more eminent, than ever it has been since Adam fell in paradise.The Scripture speaks clearly, roundly, and fully to this: Deut. 30:5, 6, 8, "The Lord your God will bring you into your own land, and the Lord your God will circumcise your heart, and the heart of your seed, to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul—and you shall return and obey the voice of the Lord, and do all his commandments." This gracious promise was made to the Jews over two thousand years ago—and yet to this very day it has not been fulfilled; and therefore there will certainly come a time wherein God will make it good. Isaiah 11:6, "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, etc., and they shall not hurt, etc., for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea." This glorious promise has not been made good to this day—but there is a time a-coming wherein it shall be accomplished. Isaiah 35:8, "There shall be a highway, and it shall be called a way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it." Isaiah 59:21, "This is my covenant, my word and my spirit shall never depart from you forever." Isaiah 60:21, "Your people shall be all righteous." Jer. 32:40-41, "I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them to do them good; but I will put my fear into their hearts, that they shall not depart from me. Yes, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and will plant them in this land assuredly with my whole heart and whole soul." Just so, Ezek. 36:23-30; Mal. 4:1-2; 2 Pet. 3:13.
And so the prophet Ezekiel, speaking of the glorious
state of the church in the last days, Ezek. 44:7, 9, adds, "Thus says the
Lord, no stranger uncircumcised in heart shall enter into my sanctuary."
Zeph. 13, "The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies;
neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouths." Now the
context clearly shows that these words relate to the glorious state of the
church on earth, and they have never yet received their accomplishment—but
shall in the last days, for he is faithful who has spoken it: Zech.
14:20-21, "Upon all shall be holiness to the Lord." I have opened this
text pretty fully to you already in my former discourses on holiness, and
therefore shall pass it by now. Rev. 21 verse the first and verse the
last, "And I saw a new heaven, and a new earth, and I saw the holy city
New Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven. Behold the tabernacle of
God is with men, etc., and there shall in no wise enter into it anything
that defiles, etc.—but those who are written in the Lamb's book." I have
formerly proved by several arguments, that this chapter cannot be
understood of heaven—but must necessarily, and beyond all dispute, be
understood of the glorious state of the saints on earth, which they shall
certainly enjoy in the last days. By all these scriptures it is most
evident that there will come a time when holiness shall be more general,
and at a fuller height than ever yet it has been since man fell from his
original holiness; and therefore pray and wait, and wait and pray, look
and long, and long and look—for the breaking forth of this day of glory
upon the world.
[7.] Though the people of God ought to be holy at all times—yet there are some special times and seasons wherein God calls aloud for holiness, more than he does at other times, and wherein he looks, and expects that his people should be eminently holy, as well as genuinely holy.
Question. But what are those special times and seasons wherein God calls loudest for holiness and most for holiness?
I answer, they are these:
[1.] First, After great and sore FALLS.Oh, now God calls aloud for holiness. David after his great falls, greatly humbles himself before the Lord, Psalm 51. Job after his bitter cursing and heavy complaining, abhors himself in dust and ashes, Job 3 and 42:4-5. Hezekiah, after his great miscarriage, did chatter like a crane and mourn as a dove. Isaiah 38:14. Peter after his hellish cursing, his desperate swearing, and his hideous lying—goes out and weeps bitterly, Mat. 26. Just so, Origen, after he had denied the truth, and sacrificed to an idol, he came to Jerusalem, and being desired to preach, and having opened his Bible, the first scripture that his eye was fixed upon was that Psalm 50:16-17, "What have you to do to take my word into your mouth, seeing you hate to be reformed?" whereupon he shut his book, sat down, and fell into a passion of weeping, and so came out of the pulpit, as not being able to speak to the people.
After great falls God expects and looks that his people should be more fearful of sin than ever, and more careful of pleasing and honoring of him than ever, and more resolute in resisting of temptations than ever, and more constant and abundant in a way of duty than ever, and more thankful and fruitful under mercies than ever, and more quiet and silent under afflictions than ever, and more stout and courageous in the face of all opposition than ever, and more wise and circumspect in their walkings than ever, and more vigilant and diligent to prevent and avoid future falls than ever. How else will the honor of God be repaired, and the glory of religion be vindicated, and the credit of the gospel be raised, and the grieved saints be rejoiced, and young beginners in religion be afresh encouraged, and secure sinners be awakened, convinced, and converted? But,
[2.] Secondly, When God shows singular MERCY to his people, and when he does great things for his people—then he expects and looks that his people should be a holy people, and then he calls loudest for holiness.Exod. 19:3-5, "Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, "This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: 'You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine." Here Moses makes use of a very elegant expression, to show the singular love, care, kindness, and goodness of God towards his people, "He carried you upon eagles' wings." The eagle is a very princely, noble bird, she fears no birds from above to hurt her young ones, and because she fears the arrow from beneath, therefore she carries her young ones upon her wings—just so, that there is no hurting, nor harming, nor no killing of them—but by shooting through the body of the mother eagle. Other birds carry their young ones in their talons, and so expose them to danger—but the eagle carries hers upon her wings, that they may be safe and secure. Moses, to show how choice and watchful God was of Israel, and how much he stood upon their safety and security, tells them that he carried them upon eagles' wings; so that none of their enemies might ruin or destroy them, yes, that they might not so much as in the least hurt or harm them. He carried them out of Egypt, and he carried them through the Red Sea sweetly, swiftly, strongly, and tenderly, as the eagle carries her young ones when danger is at hand.
Now God having expressed such love, such care, such affections, such tenderness, such sweetness, and such kindness to his people, he looks and expects that they should be a holy people, and therefore he strongly urges them to obey his voice indeed, and to keep his covenant. Now what is it for a man to obey God's voice indeed, and to keep his covenant—but to be really holy, yes, to be eminently holy? Just so, in that 10th chapter of Deuteronomy, where Moses had made a large narrative of the singular favors and mercies of God to Israel in the eleven first verses of that chapter, he falls in the 12th and 13th verses upon pressing of them to be a holy people. "And now Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you—but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul? To keep the commandments of the Lord, and his statutes, which I command you this day." The word in the 12th verse rendered require, signifies to ask, to request, or petition a person. Now here Moses brings in God, asking, requesting, and petitioning of Israel that they would fear him and walk in his ways, etc., and what is that but that they would be a holy people to him, that had done such great and glorious things for them? The word in the 13th verse rendered keep, signifies to keep carefully, diligently, faithfully to keep, Job 12:12; 1 Kings 20:39, as watchmen keep the city, or as soldiers keep their garrisons, or as jailers keep their prisoners. Now God would have his people thus to keep his commandments and his statutes, and this God would have them to do so, upon the account of those high acts of favor and grace that he had showed unto them; and thus to keep his commandments and his statutes, what is it but to be a holy people, yes, to be a very holy people unto the Lord?
And so in Ezra 9:13-14, "What has happened to us is a result of our evil deeds and our great guilt, and yet, our God, you have punished us less than our sins have deserved and have given us a remnant like this. Shall we again break your commands and intermarry with the peoples who commit such detestable practices? Would you not be angry enough with us to destroy us, leaving us no remnant or survivor?" Free and rich mercy calls hardest and most sincere duty. The more merciful God has been to his people, the more fearful they should be of offending of him, and the more careful they should be in pleasing of him. Divine blessings should be the greatest obligations in the world upon a Christian to keep at a distance from sin, and to keep close to a holy God. The greater the mercy is, and the more miraculous the deliverance and the salvation is, which God crowns his people with, the greater are the engagements that God has put upon them to be a holy people to him.
Just so, in that 116th Psalm, David gives in a bill of particulars in the eight first verses; he gives you a choice narrative of the singular favors and blessings of God, both in respect of his inward and his outward man. God had been good to his soul, and he had been kind to his body; he tells you of God's sparing mercy, and of his preventing mercy, and of his preserving mercy, and of his delivering mercy, and of his supporting mercy, and of his multiplying mercy, and of his pardoning mercy; he tells you that God has heard his prayers, and wiped off his tears, and preserved his feet from falling, and his soul from death. And then in the following words he tells you what his resolution is upon the whole: "I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living," verse 9th, or rather, as the Hebrew has it, "I will walk before the face of the Lord." The Hebrew word that is here rendered walk, signifies a continued action, or the reiteration of an action. David resolves that he will not only take a step or two with God, or walk a pretty way with God, as Orpah did with Ruth, and then take his leave of God, as Orpah did of her mother, Ruth 1:10-15; but he resolves, whatever comes on it, that he will walk constantly, resolutely, and perpetually before God, or before the face of the Lord.
This walking before the face of the Lord implies a very exact, circumspect, accurate, and precise walking before God; and indeed no other walking is either suitable or pleasing to the eye of God. But is this all that he will do upon the receipt of such amazing mercies? Oh no! for he resolves to take the cup of salvation, and to call upon the name of the Lord, and to offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving, vers. 13, 17. But is this all that he will do? Oh no! for he resolves that he will presently pay his vows unto the Lord in the presence of all his people, vers. 14, 18. But is this all that he will do? Oh no! for he resolves that he will love the Lord better than ever and more than ever, vers. 1-2. He loved God before with a genuine love—but having now received such rare mercies from God, he is resolved to love God with a more raised love, and with a more inflamed love, and with a more active and stirring love, and with a more growing and increasing love than ever.
And so the apostle in that Romans 12:1-2, "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercies, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will." When this great apostle would work up the Romans to a full resignation of themselves to God and to his service, and would fence and arm them against the sinful fashions, customs, examples, dispositions, and practices of a corrupt and wicked world—he sets the mercies of God before them. The apostle very well knew that there was no such spur to holiness, nor any such preservative against wickedness, as this was. The apostle could have set threatenings before them, and the curse before them, and wrath before them, and former and latter judgments before them, and hell before them; and yet he passes over all these things, and presents the mercies of God before them, as the most effectual means under heaven to engage them to holiness, and to fortify them against all sinful conformity and worldly vanity.
O sirs! you are all under several amazing mercies this day. You are out of hell, and is not that an amazing mercy? You have many mercies that others lack, and is not that an amazing mercy? Yes, God rains manna every day about your tents when others wander several miles, and are too often put off with stones instead of bread, and is not that an amazing mercy? That wicked men's hearts should be so full of wrath, rage, revenge, envy, and malice, and you cast at their feet and yet not trod to death, is an amazing mercy. That you should stand when others fall, that you should be faithful when others are false, that you should persevere when others backslide, that you should be for God when so many are for Baal, and that you should be followers of the Lamb when so many thousands are dancing after Antichrist's pipes, are all very rare and amazing mercies; and calls aloud upon you to be holy, yes, to be eminently holy, etc. But,
[3.] Times of personal AFFLICTIONS are times wherein God calls aloud for holiness.When the rod of God is upon our backs, it highly concerns us to look that our words are full of grace, and that all our ways and works are full of holiness. Now God looks that his people should be divinely fearful of offending him, and divinely careful in pleasing of him, and divinely willing to resign up themselves to him, and divinely patient in waiting on him, and divinely humble in submitting to him, and divinely wise in justifying of him, and divinely resolute in serving of him. Heb. 12:10, "God afflicts us for our profit, that we might be made partakers of his holiness." Why, they were before partakers of his holiness, that is true; and these words declare that the great reach and design of God, in all the afflictions that he brings upon his people, is to make them more and more holy; and therefore for Christians to be proud under the rod, and carnal under the rod, and worldly under the rod, and froward under the rod, and stupid under the rod, and wanton under the rod, and wicked under the rod—is to cross and frustrate the great design of God in afflicting of them. In afflictions God looks that his people should shine brighter and brighter, and grow better and better, and holier and holier. Oh, there is nothing which pleases God more, which delights God more, which affects God more, or that wins upon God more—than to see his people a holy people in the days of their afflictions!
Jer. 2:2-3, "Go, and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying—Thus says the Lord—I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the desert, through a land not sown. Israel was holy to the Lord, the firstfruits of his harvest; all who devoured her were held guilty, and disaster overtook them." God was wonderfully affected and taken with the love of his people, and with the kindness of his people, and with the holiness of his people—when they were in their wilderness condition. Look! as stars shine brightest in the darkest nights, and as torches are the better for beating, and spices the sweeter for pounding, and young trees the faster rooted for shakings, and vines the more fruitful for bleeding, and gold the more glittering for scouring; just so, God looks that his children's graces should shine brightest in the darkest nights of afflictions, he looks that his children should be the better for his fatherly beating, and the sweeter for being pounded in the mortar of affliction, and the faster rooted in grace and holiness, by all divine shakings, [Well waters are hottest in winter.] etc.
In times of affliction God looks that his children should be true salamanders, which live best in the fire. Where afflictions hang heaviest, he looks that there corruptions should hang loosest; he looks that that grace and holiness which lies hidden in nature, as sweet water does in rose leaves, should then be most fragrant, when the fire of affliction is put under, to distill it out, etc. But,
[4.] When people who are under a great profession, or in church communion, shall fall presumptuously and scandalously, when they shall not only do weakly—but wickedly, when not only infirmities—but enormities may be justly and righteously charged upon them; when such people walk so loosely, and vainly, as that they occasion the name of God to be blasphemed, religion to be scorned, the gospel to be despised, profession to be abhorred, the saints to be reviled, and new believers to be discouraged, and the ungodly in their wickedness to be hardened and confirmed; oh, this is a time wherein God calls aloud upon his people to be holy! Oh, now God expects an extraordinary measure of holiness in his people! Oh, now he looks that his people should rather walk like angels, than live like saints, so that they may in some measure repair and make up the sad breaches that have been made upon his honor, and the credit of religion; and that they may live profession into honor and esteem once more in the world. Such blessed effects as these, the horrid sin of the incestuous person did work in the hearts and lives of the Corinthians, as you may see by comparing these scriptures together. [1 Cor. 5:1-3; 2 Cor. 2:4-8, and 7:11.]
O sirs! in these days are there not many who have made a very high profession, who have shined as the stars in the skies—who are now fallen from their profession, from their principles, and from all things which are godly? How many now do build the things that they have destroyed? What betraying of Christ, what betraying of truth, and what betraying of saints is there this day among many who have pretended very high to religion! How many now approve of those things which before they would never own; and who justify those things now, which they have formerly condemned; and who comply with those things now, which formerly they have abhorred; yes, who contend for those things now, for which they have formerly suffered? And, therefore, certainly these are the very times wherein God calls aloud upon his people to be holy, yes, to be eminently holy, etc. But,
[5.] In all our approaches, addresses, and drawings near to God—God calls aloud for holiness.Lev. 10:3, "Among those who approach me I will show myself holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored." There is nothing more evident than this throughout the Old Testament, that the people of God were always to sanctify themselves when they were to draw near to God. John 4:23-24. God is a holy God, and there is no drawing near to him without holiness; the worship which God stands most upon, and which is most pleasing and delightful to him—is spiritual worship, and none can offer this but a holy people. Such as draw near to God without holiness may, if they were not deaf, hear God saying to them, "What have you to do to take my name into your mouths, seeing you hate to be holy? Who required these things at your hands?" Psalm 50:16-17; Isaiah 1:12.
The Persians every morning worship the rising sun, and the Turks their Mahomet, and the Papists their images, and some of the Indians worship the first thing that they meet with in the morning, and others of them worship a red rag, and others of them worship the devil. [The Romans taught that a man might be saved in any religion. Isaiah 29:13-14; Mat. 15:8-9.] The Romans used to worship Jupiter, a hurtful god among them, not because they loved him—but because they would not be hurt or harmed by him. And Praxiteles the painter made the silly people worship the image of his strumpet, under the title and pretense of Venus. And truly all the worship that you offer to God is little better, if you draw near to him with your body, without holiness in your soul.
O sirs, remember that in all your public duties God calls aloud for holiness, and in all your family duties God calls aloud for holiness, and in all your closet duties God calls aloud for holiness. Times of drawing near to God, should be always times of much holiness. You may come to a duty—but you will never come to God in a duty—without holiness. You may come to an ordinance—but you will never come to God in an ordinance—without holiness; and therefore, in all your drawings near to God, remember that God calls for holiness in a special manner then. But,
[6.] When God eminently appears in the execution of his JUDGMENTS upon wicked and ungodly men—oh, that is a time that God calls aloud for holiness.When he is a-raining hell out of heaven upon unholy people, God now looks that his people should be holy, yes, eminently holy. Just so, in that Exod. 19:4, 5, "You have seen what I did unto the Egyptians," you have been eyewitnesses of my dealings with them in Egypt, you have seen how I have followed them with plague upon plague, because they did so sorely oppress you, and would not let you go to worship me and serve me according to my own prescriptions, Exod. 24. And when they were judgment-proof, you saw me drown them in the Red Sea before your eyes; and upon this very ground he urges them to obey his voice, and to keep his covenant, verse 5.
And just so in Rev. 15:1-4, "I saw in heaven another great and marvelous sign: seven angels with the seven last plagues--last, because with them God's wrath is completed. And I saw what looked like a sea of glass mixed with fire and, standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and over the number of his name. They held harps given them by God and sang the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb: "Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the ages. Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed." In this and the following chapters the utter overthrow of Antichrist is described. In this chapter you have a new vision of the gospel's restoring, and of Antichrist's ruin. By the sea of glass mingled with fire, we are to understand the fiery trials, and dreadful persecutions by fire and faggot, which Antichrist will inflict upon sincere and faithful Christians. The allusion is to the Red Sea, and Pharaoh's persecuting of Israel; but the addition of fire is plainly to distinguish the Pope's persecution from Pharaoh's; for though Pharaoh did sorely oppress the people of God both in their liberties and consciences, and though he had plotted and contrived a way to destroy their male children—yet he was never so cruel, he was never so bloody, as to burn the people of God with fire and faggot, as Antichrist has done in all ages.
But now mark, when the vials of the wrath of God come to be poured out upon Antichrist, yes, upon whatever smells of Antichrist, or looks like Antichrist—why then, the people of God will in a very eminent way lift up God as the great object of their fear, and then the generality of the nations shall be so deeply affected with the dreadful, amazing, and astonishing judgments of God upon Antichrist, that they shall repent, worship him, and give glory to him! O sirs! when God strikes slaves—the sons should tremble. Great judgments upon sinners speaks out a great deal of the justice and holiness of God; and the more the justice and holiness of God appears, the more holy his people should grow. Ah, Christians! had you grown more holy by those severe judgments of God that has been inflicted upon others before your eyes, you had not been under those smart rebukes of God that now you are under this day! But,
[7.] When men are called forth to WAR by God.Oh! that is a special time and season wherein God calls aloud for holiness. The man of war must have holiness written upon the bridles of the horses, Zech. 14:20. When men carry their lives in their hands, they had need of holiness in their hearts; when in every encounter a man must expect to enter upon a state of eternity, he had need be very holy, so that if he should fall in the encounter, he may be sure to be eternally happy. [The Romans lived more orderly in time of war than in the times of their greatest peace.]
Deut. 23:9, 14, "When the army goes forth against your enemies, then keep from every wicked thing. For the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp, to deliver you, and to give up your enemies before you: therefore shall your camp be holy, that he sees no unclean thing in you, and turn away from you." When the sword devours on both hands, when it eats the flesh of nobles, and drinks the blood of nobles; when it feeds upon the flesh of the poor, and drinks the blood of the needy—then every soldier had need be a saint. When an eternity of glory or misery is every moment before every soldier, every soldier had need walk very accurately, he had need live very holily.
Mark, though the people of God were to keep themselves from every wicked thing at all other times—yet when they went out against their enemies, then in a special manner it highly concerned them to keep themselves not from some—but from every evil thing, or rather, as the Hebrew has it, from every evil word. He who is in danger of death every step he takes, and who carries his very soul in his hand, had need precisely to abstain not only from every evil work—but also from every evil word, as here God expressly charges Israel to do. When God finds holiness in Israel's camp, then God will quickly give up Israel's enemies into Israel's hands; but when the camp becomes a den of iniquity, then God will depart from the camp. And when God, who is the bulwark of a camp, has departed—all the world cannot preserve that camp from being destroyed.
The Lamb looks that all those brave hearts that engage with him against Antichrist, should be called, and chosen, and faithful, Rev. 17:14. There is no armor compared to that of holiness. Let a man be ever so well mounted, clothed, armed, weaponed—yet if he is unholy, he lies naked and open to all disasters, calamities, and miseries. O sirs! it is one of the most dreadful things in the world, to hear such a-cursing, swearing, lying, and damning of themselves, and to see such a-giving up themselves to work all manner of wickedness with greediness—who carry their lives in their hands every hour in the day! Yes, at whose elbows damnation stands every moment! O sirs! when God gives the sword a commission to eat flesh, and drink blood, to slay both old and young, to spare none who come before it, and to pity none who come near unto it—it highly concerns all men to be holy. This is a special season wherein God calls aloud for holiness.
I confess I am for peace and truth, for peace and righteousness, for peace and holiness; and am against all war; but whenever the Lord shall call forth his people to fight his battles against Antichrist, and to smite Daniel's image in pieces—it concerns them very much—to be a holy people, yes, to be eminently holy, as they would have the presence of God with them, and the power of God engaged for them, and the mercy, goodness, and blessing of God following and prospering of them, 1 Sam. 25:28; Dan. 2:31, et seq. Though he who goes to war had need carry his purse with him—yet he must be sure to leave his sins behind him, or else his sins will do him more mischief than all his enemies, for they will set God against him; and how can straw and stubble possibly stand before a consuming fire?
I have read of Xerxes, who, viewing almost an innumerable army of men, he fell a-weeping, saying, "Where will all these men be within a hundred years?" He wept to think that all that mighty army would be in their graves within a hundred years. Ah, what cause of weeping is there, when we behold the multitudes in the world, considering that within a few years, yes, months, for anything we know—most of them may be in hell—except there is found repentance on their sides, and pardoning mercy on God's side—they are so abominable, debauched, and wicked. "As He approached and saw the city, He wept over it." Luke 19:41. But,
[8.] When God has separated and severed his people from the corrupt and sinful customs and manners of the world, and brought them into fellowship with himself, and into gospel-communion with one another—oh, then, in a special manner he calls aloud upon them to be holy.Lev. 20:23-24, 26, "Do not live by the customs of the people whom I will expel before you. It is because they do these terrible things that I detest them so much. But I have promised that you will inherit their land, a land flowing with milk and honey. I, the Lord, am your God, who has set you apart from all other people. You must be holy because I, the Lord, am holy. I have set you apart from all other people to be my very own."
Distinguishing mercies should breed and nourish distinguishing lives. O sirs, it is not for you who are separated and severed from the world by God—to be proud, and carnal, and formal, and distrustful, and hypocritical, and earthly, and froward, etc., as the world is! it is not for you to deny your principles, to debauch your consciences, to change your notes, to turn your coats, to defile your souls, to blot your names, and to scandalize your profession! O sirs, if God has called you, and separated you, and severed you from the world—it highly concerns you not to think as the world thinks, nor to speak as the world speaks, nor to judge as the world judges, nor to walk as the world walks, nor to worship as the world worships—but so to think, speak, judge, walk, and worship as may make most for the honor of God, the glory of the gospel, and as best befits those who have had the honor and the happiness of being called, and separated and severed by God from the world. But,
[9.] When the day of the Lord draws near, and when we look for the accomplishment of great things—oh, then, God calls aloud upon his people to be holy."But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him." 2 Peter 3:10-14
The nearer the day of Christ is to us, and the more great and glorious things we expect from God, the more holy, the more spotless, and the more blameless we must labor to be, Isaiah 65:17-20. I know there are many who look for new heavens and a new earth, that is, for a glorious church-state here on earth, wherein shall dwell righteousness. It is certain that the highest heavens, where God keeps his royal court, was never without righteousness. Righteousness has been always the habitation of his throne; righteousness has always dwelt in the highest heavens; and, indeed, heaven would be no heaven, yes, it would rather be a hell than a heaven—if righteousness did not always dwell there.
The palace of the great King will be always new, fresh, shining, and gloriousness; but, indeed, the earth in all ages, have been full of injustice, unrighteousness, wickedness, tyranny, cruelty, and oppressions; so that righteousness seems to have been banished out of the world, ever since Adam fell from his primitive righteousness and holiness. Oh—but there is a glorious day a-coming, wherein the earth shall be full of righteousness and holiness, as I have formerly proved at large from other Scriptures.
Now, Christians, the more great and glorious things you expect from God, as the downfall of antichrist, the conversion of the Jews, the conquest of the nations to Christ, the breaking off of all yokes, the new Jerusalem's coming down from above, the extraordinary pouring out of the Spirit, and a more general union among all saints, the more holy, yes, the more eminently holy in all your ways and actings it befits you to be. Many there are, who will talk high, and speak big words, and tell you stories of great things that they expect and look for in these days, which are the last of the last times; and yet if you look into their lives, you shall find them loose, and vain, and what not? Oh, that these would forever remember, that the more great and glorious things we expect and look for from God—the more holiness God expects and looks for from us; and therefore as we would not have God fail our expectation, let us not frustrate his, and the higher your expectation rises, the higher always let your holiness rise—for there is nothing that will hasten that desirable day of glory upon the world like this. But,
[10.] Lastly, When you draw near your end, when there are but a few steps between you and the grave, between you and eternity;when you have but a little time to live, when death stands at your back, and treads on your heels, and knocks at your door; when the eyes begin to grow dark, when the grinders begin to cease, when the keepers of the house—the hands and the arms—begin to tremble, and when the strong men—the legs and thighs—begin to bow and stagger, and totter, as being too weak to bear the body's burden, Eccl. 12:2-5. Oh then! what a holy people should you be!
This very consideration had a very great influence upon that great apostle's spirit, "So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things." 2 Peter 1:12-15 [There is a sinful sluggishness and drowsiness that often hangs upon the best of men, and therefore they stand in much need of being awakened and roused up, to look after their spiritual and eternal concernments.]
The apostle having the sentence of death in himself, oh, how does he bestir himself, and how does he stir up all that grace and holiness that was in his heart, yes, in all his ministerial and apostolical gifts, and all to better himself, and to make those who were genuinely holy, to be eminently holy! Peter being very sensible of the near approaches of death, did very earnestly desire, and greatly endeavor so to act his part before he went off the stage of life, that when his head was in the dust, and his soul in heaven—those saints that should survive him might be very famous in grace and holiness.
O sirs! when once the gray hairs of holiness and righteousness are upon you, it highly concerns you to shun the very shows and appearances of evil, so that you may not spot nor stain the honor of your white head. I have read of Joshua, that valiant soldier, that when he was a young man, and in the prime and flower of his days, when his "bones were full of marrow," as Job speaks, that then he was least in vigor and valor for God, and how that sometimes in cases of imminent danger he would hide himself; but when he grew older, and found the strength of nature declining and decaying, then he bestirred himself exceedingly for God.
O sirs! when you have one foot in the grave, God calls aloud upon you to bestir yourselves exceedingly for His honor and glory, and for your own internal and eternal welfare! Solon was not ashamed to say that he learned much in his old age. And Julianius, the lawyer, was accustomed to say that when he had one foot in the grave, he would have the other in the school. O sirs! shall nature do more than grace? Shall morality excel genuine piety? It was the glorious commendation of the church of Thyatira that her last works were greater than her first, Rev. 2:19, "I know your works—your love, faithfulness, service, and endurance. Your last works are greater than the first." Oh, the happiness of that man who is best at last—who brings forth most of the fruits of righteousness and holiness in old age. Oh, the blessedness of that man whose faith is more strong at last than at first; and whose love is more inflamed at last than at first; and whose hopes are more raised and elevated at last than at first; and whose knowledge is more clear at last than at first; and whose zeal is warmer at last than at first; and whose thoughts are more heavenly at last than at first; and whose heart is more spiritual at last than at first; and whose communion with God is more high at last than at first; and whose life is more holy at last than at first!
If there be any man in the world that is ripe for heaven, and that enjoys a heaven in his own soul on this side heaven, this is the man whose graces, and whose gracious works, are more at last than at first. Well, Christians, forever remember this, the nearer death makes her approaches to you, the louder God calls upon you to be holy.
And thus, by a hand of grace, which has been in me, upon me, and with me—I have showed you what those special times and seasons are, wherein God calls loudest for holiness, and so, according to my weak measure, I have given out all that the Lord has graciously given in, concerning that most necessary, that most noble, that most glorious, and that most useful point of points of holiness; and therefore I have nothing more to do but earnestly to pray that what has been spoken and written may be so blessed from on high, that it may work mightily to the internal and eternal welfare both of writer, reader, and hearer—so that, when their race is run, and their work done here on earth, they may be everlastingly blessed with a happy sight of the beatifical vision of God in heaven! Amen.