HOLINESS, the Only Way to Happiness
The Necessity, Excellency, Rarity, and Beauty of Holiness
Thomas Brooks, 1662
I come now, in the next place, to answer those OBJECTIONS which usually are made against men's pursuing after holiness. As,
Objection 1.First, We have no power to make ourselves holy. We are as well able to make a world, to command the winds, and to raise the dead—as we are able to cleanse our own hearts, or change our own natures, or sanctify our own souls. Therefore, to what purpose should we be so strongly pressed to do that which we have no power to do? Now to this objection I shall give these following answers:
1.First, That you have no power to perform any supernatural act—such as to believe or love God, or repent, or to change your own heart, or to sanctify or make yourself holy—must be granted. That by nature you are dead in trespasses and sins, and have lost all your spiritual senses of seeing, hearing, tasting, and feeling—can't be denied, Eph. 2:1. It is certain that your nature is so corrupted that you can not think a good thought, nor speak a good word, nor do a good work; you are not sick—but dead, God-wards, and Christ-wards, and heaven-wards, and holiness-wards, etc. [2 Cor. 3:5; Mat 12:34; John 6:44; 1 Cor. 2:14.]
I have read of the lioness—that she brings forth her whelps dead, and so they remain, until, by her roaring loudly over them, they come to live. Certainly all unholy hearts are spiritually dead, and until Christ, the lion of the tribe of Judah, comes to roar over them, by uttering his voice in the gospel, they cannot live, John 5:25. Since the creation of the world, no dead man ever made himself alive. It is God alone, who can quicken the dead. Sin in dominion is the plague of the heart, 1 Kings 8:38. Now as there is no disease so deadly as the plague, so there is no plague so deadly as the plague of the heart. Oh, this is a disease that none can cure but he who is the physician of souls. An unsanctified person is not half-dead, as the Pelagians, Arminians, and Papists say; but as to spirituals he is stark dead, Col. 2:13.
An unsanctified soul is dead.
[1.]In respect of working, and therefore his works are called dead works, Heb. 9:14. There is death written upon all he does.
[2.]He is dead in respect of honor; he is dead to all privileges, he is not fit to inherit mercy. Who will set the crown of life upon a dead man's head? The crown of life is for the holy Christian, and the holy Christian is for the crown of life, Rev. 2:10; 2 Tim. 4:8. When he in Plutarch, had tried all manner of ways to raise a dead man, and to make him stand upon his feet, and saw he could not do it, then he cried out, "There must be something within, there must be something within!" Just so, when men have said and done all they can—there must be something within, there must be something of the power and spirit of Christ within—which must raise up spiritual life in those who are spiritually dead. But,
2.Secondly, I answer, That God gave you ability and power in Adam to obey him in all his commands, and though by Adam's fall you have lost your power to obey—yet God has not lost his right and power to command you to obey. [Gen. 1:26; Eccles. 7:29; Psalm 8:4, seq.] Suppose a father should furnish a child with moneys and all other necessaries to go a journey, and he should be drawn in by some strong temptation to spend his money, his time, and his strength, so as that now he is not able to go his journey; whose fault is this? Will you now say that the father has lost his power to command, because his son has lost his power to obey? Surely not! It is no iniquity in God to require that of us—which once he gave unto us. It is no injustice in the creditor to call for his debt, when the debtor is fallen into extreme poverty through his own default. But,
3.Thirdly, I answer, Though an unsanctified person is not able to perform any holy or spiritual action—such as to believe or repent, etc.—yet he is able to perform all natural actions—such as to eat, drink, work, walk, etc., and he is able to perform all social actions also—such as to trade, bargain, buy, sell, plant, and build, etc. The soul even in an unsanctified person is not dead—but a living principle; and therefore it is able to understand, will, desire, discourse, reason, and to attend the means of grace. Though he is not able to work grace in his own heart—yet he is able to attend on the means of grace. An unsanctified person may as well go to a sermon—as to a tavern; he may as well read the Scriptures—as read novels and newspapers; he may as well associate himself with those who fear an oath—as he does with those who delight to blaspheme that name that all should tremble at, etc. Man's spiritual impotency lies in his obstinacy. Man pretends he cannot believe, nor come to Christ, nor repent, etc., when he is resolved that he will not believe, nor come to Christ, nor repent, etc. [Mat. 23:37; Luke 13:34; John 5:40; Acts 7:5.]
Christ in the gospel comes and offers pardon and peace and reconciliation—but you turn your back upon him. He woos and entreats and beseeches you by his ambassadors—but you will not hear, etc. He sets life and death, heaven and hell, mercy and misery before you—but you slight all, 2 Cor. 5:18-20. Christ brings a cordial in one hand to strengthen you, and a remedy in the other hand to cure you—but you despise both. Christ offers tried gold to enrich you, and white raiment to clothe you, and precious eye-salve to enlighten you, Rev. 3:18—but you shut up your heart against all his offers! Well, sirs! remember this, in the great day of judgement, all unsanctified people will be damned, not for cannots but for will-nots! It is neither men nor devils—it is neither the greatness of your sins, nor the numberless number of your sins, which can damn you, were it not for your wilfulness in sin, Hosea 13:9.
O sinners, sinners, if you are but heartily willing to forsake your sins, and to accept of Christ as your Lord and King, and to resign up yourselves to him to be really his, to be wholly his, to be only his, and to be eternally his—he will certainly change you, and sanctify you, and save you! But if you will not be holy, if you will not be happy, if you will not be sanctified, if you will not be saved, if you will not go to heaven—but are resolved upon going to hell, what can be more just with God than that you should be Satan's bond-slaves, and firebrands of hell, and vessels of wrath to all eternity? [Proverbs 28:13; 1 John 1:9; Luke 19:41-42.] But,
4.Fourthly, I answer, If you do but stir up yourself to obey the command as well as you can—you do not know but that a power may go forth with the command, that may enable you to act suitable to the command. In that Mat. 9:1-9, Christ bid the palsied man "rise and walk, take up your bed, and go unto your house." The palsied man might have objected, "Alas! I am carried by four strong men! I am not able to stir a limb, much less to rise—but least of all to take up my bed and walk!" etc. Oh! but he puts forth himself as well as he could, and a power went forth with the command, which enabled him to do what was commanded.
Just so, in Matthew 12:10-14, there was a poor man who had a withered hand, and Christ commands him to stretch forth his hand. He might have objected, "My hand is withered, and if I might have a thousand worlds to stretch it forth, I could not stretch it forth! Yes, if my life, if my salvation did lie upon stretching forth my withered arm, I could not stretch it forth!" Oh but he throws by all objections, and complies as well as he could, and a power went forth and healed his hand.
God commanded Moses to go and deliver his people out of Egypt. Moses might have objected his old age, the great power of Pharaoh, and his lack of an army to force their way, etc. But he turns his back upon these objections, and addresses himself to the work, and such a mighty power went along with him, as did effect it.
God commanded the Israelites to take rams' horns, and with them to go and blow down the walls of Jericho, Joshua 6. They might have said, "Lord, these are weak and contemptible means, yes, Lord, if we may speak after the manner of men, they are such ridiculous means as will expose us to scorn and laughter!" But they pass over these things, and apply themselves to those weak and despicable means which God had appointed, and such a divine and glorious power went along with the means as made the walls of Jericho not only to tremble—but to tumble down before them!
Christ commanded Lazarus to come out of the grave, and there went divine power and virtue with that call of Christ, which made him to rise!
The means are the Spirit's triumphing chariot, in which he pleases to ride conquering and to conquer the souls of men, 2 Cor. 2:14. "While Peter yet spoke, the Holy Spirit fell on all those who heard the word," Acts 10:44. O man, you can not tell but that while you are in the use of divine helps, a secret power of the Spirit may break in upon you, and make the means effectual to your conversion and salvation. Many thousands have found it so—therefore address yourself to the use of the means, and wait at the pool; you cannot tell how soon the Spirit may come and move upon your soul; it may be this day, this hour, yes, this very moment wherein am thus speaking to you! But,
5.Fifthly, I answer, That the sense of your own inability, insufficiency, and impotency, should provoke you to run to Christ, and to lay hold on his everlasting strength, and to storm the throne of grace, and to give God no rest—until he has renewed and sanctified your soul, until he has effectually turned you from "darkness to light," Acts 26:18, until he has bespangled your soul with grace, and filled you with his Spirit, and made you partakers of his holiness, Heb. 12:10. It was a good saying of Augustine, "Give what you command, and command what you will."
Oh, go to God, and tell him that what he has commanded in some scriptures, he has promised to give in other scriptures. Therefore press him to make good his promises, so that you may obey his precepts. Oh, tell him that if he will but "sprinkle clean water upon you, and put his Spirit within you, and give a new heart unto you," according to his promise, that then "you will walk in his statutes, and keep his judgments, and do them," Ezek. 36:25-28. Oh, tell him that if he will but "put his fear into your heart," according to his promise, that then "you will never depart from him," Jer. 32:40. Oh, tell him that he has commanded you to "believe," and that he has also promised to give you faith, and therefore if he will but make good his promise, you shall be sure to obey his precepts, Phil. 1:29; James 5:17. Oh, tell him that he has frequently commanded you to "repent," Acts 5:31, and that he has also graciously promised to give "repentance," 2 Tim. 2:25, and therefore if he will but perform his promise, you shall not fail to obey his precepts, etc.
Oh, tell him that you have no mind to be damned! Tell him that you tremble at the thoughts of hell! Tell him that you are horrified think of "dwelling with a devouring fire, of dwelling with everlasting burnings!" Isaiah 33:14; 2 Thes. 7-10. Oh, tell him that you dread an eternal separation from him—and therefore earnestly beseech him, for his Son's sake, and for his glory sake, and his promise sake, and your soul's sake—that he would renew your nature, and sanctify your soul, so that you may not perish to all eternity. But,
6.Sixthly and lastly, What insincerity, yes, what injustice and unrighteousness is this—that you should lie complaining of the lack of power, when you do not use and improve the power you have. Without the power and assistance of special grace—you have power to attend Christian duties and services; you have power to turn your back upon the infectious and dangerous society of wicked and ungodly men; you have power to keep at a distance from the "harlot's door;" you have power to keep your mouth of blasphemy shut; you have power to keep your hands from stealing, and your feet "from being swift to shed innocent blood;" you have power to bring your body to Christian duties, though you have not power to bring your soul to Christian duties. [James 3:10; Eph. 4:28; Romans 3:15.]
The noble Bereans brought their bodies to the sermon, and they took the heads of the apostle's sermon, and compared Paul's teachings with the Scripture—and yet they were in an unrenewed and unsanctified estate, Acts 17:11-12. O sirs, you have power to come to Christian duties, and to set yourselves under the droppings of a gospel powerful ministry; you have power to lie at the pool of Bethesda, and there to wait until the cure is wrought. But where is the unsanctified soul who improves the power he has? Tell me, O vain man—why should God trust you with a greater power, when you make no conscience of improving that power you have? Why should God trust you with ten talents—when you have no heart to improve the two which he has already trusted you with? What wise father or master will trust that child or servant with thousands, who makes no conscience of improving far lesser sums to the honor and advantage of the father or the master?
How do you know, O man—but that upon the faithful improvement of that power which you have, God may add a greater power to you? If you will but go those two steps which you can—God may strike in with you, and enable you to go ten. It is a dangerous thing to neglect the doing of that which you can do, because that you cannot do everything that you should do. Suppose a father or a master should say to his son or servant, "Take such and such wares, and carry them to such and such places." And the son or servant should say, "Well, though there be some small light burdens that I can well enough carry—yet there are many heavy burdens that I cannot carry, and therefore I will carry none at all." May not the father of such a son, or the master of such a servant, in much justice and righteousness severely punish such a son or servant? Doubtless yes.
Why, this is the very case of all unsanctified souls. God commands them to believe and repent, and to love him with all their hearts, and to set him up as the object of their fear, and to give him the pre-eminence in all things, etc.—but these are supernatural acts, beyond their power. But he also commands them to attend on the means of grace, and to wait at wisdom's door, and to apply themselves to public ordinances, and to keep up pious duties, and to turn their backs upon such and such wicked societies, etc.—and these are things they can do. And yet because they cannot do the former—they willfully and wickedly refuse to do the latter; because they cannot bear the heaviest burden—they are resolved they will bear none at all; and because they cannot do everything they should—they will do nothing at all—except it be to complain that God is a hard master, and expects to reap where he does not sow. Now how just and righteous a thing it is with God to deal severely with such, I will leave you to judge. And let this suffice for answer to the first objection.
Objection 2.HEREAFTER may be time enough to look after holiness. I may yet pursue after the pleasures and profits of the world; I may yet spend some years in gratifying my own lusts, and in walking after the course of the world; I have time enough before me, and therefore some future years may be time enough to look after holiness. Now to this objection I shall give these answers:
1.First, You will not say that you can be saved too soon, nor happy too soon, nor blessed too soon, nor pardoned too soon, nor in the favor of God too soon, nor out of the danger of wrath, hell, and everlasting burnings too soon. And if so, then certainly you can not be holy too soon—for you can never be truly happy until you are truly holy. No man will be so foolish and mad as to say he may be rich too soon, and great too soon, and high and honorable in the world too soon, and in favor and esteem with men, especially with great men, too soon. Why then should you be so mad and foolish, as practically to say that you can be holy too soon? Yet this is exactly what you proclaim upon the house-top, when you cry out, "Hereafter, hereafter will be time enough to seek after holiness." But,
2.Secondly, I answer, That it is your wisdom and your work to set one "perhaps" against another. You say, "Perhaps hereafter may be time enough to look after holiness." Eccles. 7:14. Oh, set another perhaps against this perhaps, and say, "If I now neglect this season of grace—perhaps I shall never have another!" Isaiah 55:6 "If I now slight the offers of mercy—perhaps I shall never have another such offer! If I now despise this day of salvation—perhaps I shall never have another such day! If I now withstand the offers of Christ—perhaps Christ will never again make an offer to me! If I now resist the strivings of the Spirit—perhaps the Spirit will never strive with my soul again! And then—woe, woe to me that ever I was born!" [Proverbs 1:20-33; Heb. 2:1-3; Luke 19:41-45; Gen. 6:3.]
Oh, don't put off God, don't put off your soul, don't put off the thoughts of holiness, don't put off eternity with a perhaps—lest "the Lord should swear in his wrath, that you shall never enter into his rest." Heb. 3:18—and seeing that you will not allow holiness to enter into you, you shall never enter into your master's joy. Oh, why should you treat your poor soul—as you would not have God to treat it? You would not have God treat your soul with a perhaps; as with "Perhaps I will pardon you; perhaps I will lift up the light of my countenance upon you; perhaps I will change your nature and save your soul; perhaps I will fill you with my Spirit and adorn you with my grace; perhaps I will bring you to my kingdom and glory. Oh, you would not have God to put you off with such a perhaps. Why then should you deal more harshly and cruelly with your own soul—than you would have God to deal with you? But,
3.Thirdly, I answer, It is a clear argument that you are not truly nor throughly sensible of your present condition and danger, who thus object. Were you but truly sensible of your lost and undone estate out of Christ; did you but indeed know what it is to live one hour in a Christless and graceless condition; did you but see that wrath that hangs over your head; did you but read the curses which are pronounced in the book of God against you; did you but behold how hell gapes to devour you; did you but see how far off you are from God, Christ, the covenant, and all the glory and happiness of the eternal world; ah, how would you every day cry out, Give me holiness or I die, give me holiness or I eternally die! Acts 2:39; Eph. 2:12.
The patient that is truly sensible of his mortal disease will not say, "Hereafter will be time enough to send for the physician." Nor will the mortally wounded man say, "Hereafter will be time enough to fetch the surgeon." Nor will the condemned man say say, "Hereafter will be time enough to plead for a pardon." Nor will the needy man say, "Hereafter will be time enough to look for relief." Nor will the fallen man say, "Hereafter will be time enough to lift me up." Nor will the drowning man say, "Hereafter will be time enough to bring a boat to save my life." Now this is the very case of all unsanctified people in the world; and why then should they cry out, "Hereafter, hereafter will be time enough to be holy!"
The boar in the fable, being questioned why he stood sharpening his teeth so, when nobody was near to hurt him, wisely answered, that it would then be too late to sharpen them when he was to use them, and therefore he sharpened them before danger that he might have them ready in danger. Ah, sirs, there is nothing more dangerous than for you to have your holiness to seek—when temporal, spiritual, and eternal dangers are at your heels. There is no wisdom, compared to that which leads men forth to a present pursuit after holiness! Nor is there any hell compared to that hell—for a man to have his holiness to seek when he should use it.
4.Fourthly, I answer, That the brevity, shortness, and preciousness of TIME—calls aloud upon you to pursue after holiness without delay. Time past is irrecoverable; time future is uncertain; the present time is the only time—and on this moment of time depends eternity! This present day is a day of grace; oh that you had but grace to take notice of it. This present time is an acceptable time; oh that you had but a heart to realize it, and to improve it. He who has a great way to go, and a great deal of work to do in a little time—had not need to trifle away his time! This is the case of every unsanctified soul. Oh, the sins that such a soul has to repent of! oh, the graces that such a soul has to seek! oh, the evidences for heaven that such a soul has to secure! oh, the miseries that such a soul has to escape! oh, the mercies that such a soul has to press after, etc. Therefore of all men in the world, it is incumbent upon unsanctified people—to well utilize and improve their present time.
Oh, it is a dangerous thing to put off that work to another day which must be done today, or else you may be eternally undone tomorrow. The old saying was, "Now or never!" If not now done, it may be never done, and if so, then you are undone forever! Many people are now in hell, who when they were on earth were accustomed to put off the motions of the Spirit by crying out, "Tomorrow, tomorrow!" Time is so precious a thing that mountains of gold and rocks of pearl cannot redeem one lost moment; which Queen Elizabeth well understood, when on her death-bed she cried out, "Call time again, call time again! A world of wealth for an inch of time!"
Ah, what a precious commodity would time be in hell, where for one day to repent, yes, for one hour to seek after holiness—a man would give ten thousand worlds, were they in his hands to dispose of.
Time is so costly a jewel that few know how to value it and prize it at a due rate. Witness that sad and frequent complaint among many, "Oh, what shall we do to drive away the time? come, let's go to cards to drive away the time! or let's go to gaming tables to drive away the time! or let's go to the tavern, and take a pint and a pipe to drive away the time! or let's go and take a walk in the fields to drive away the time!" etc. Thus most are lavishly and profusely prodigal of that precious time which is their greatest interest to redeem! Time is a precious talent, and the non-improvement of it God will charge upon men at last, as he did upon Jezebel, Rev. 2:20-21, especially upon such who trifle away, who play away, who idle away, yes, who grossly sin away their precious time! How many are there like children, who play until their candle be out, and then they go to bed in the dark! Just so, these play and fool away their precious time, until the candle of life be out, and then they go to their beds, they go to their graves in sorrow, yes, they go to hell in the dark!
I have read of a young man who, living vainly and loosely, was very fearful of being in the dark, who after falling sick and could not sleep, cried out, "Oh, if this darkness be so terrible, what is eternal darkness!" He who makes no conscience of trifling away his precious time, shall one day experience the terribleness of eternal darkness. The poets paint time with wings, to show the rapidity and swiftness of it. O sirs, if the sense of the brevity, shortness, and preciousness of time did but lie in its full weight upon your spirits, it would certainly put you upon a speedy and earnest pursuit after holiness! Oh, then you would never say, "Hereafter, hereafter will be time enough to seek after holiness." But you would address yourselves to a fervent and a constant pressing after holiness as the one thing necessary, and be restless in your own spirits, until you had experienced the power and sweetness which is in holiness! But,
5.Fifthly and lastly, I answer, That it is the greatest folly and madness in the world for you to put off the great God and the great concernments of your soul—as you dare not put off your superiors. Where is the subject or servant, who dares put off a lawful duty urged upon him by his prince with a "Perhaps I will do it." or "Later I will do it." Where is the loving child who dares put off a present duty pressed upon him by his parents with a "Perhaps I will do it." or "Later I will do it." Where is the affectionate wife who dares put off the just desires and requests of her husband with a "Perhaps I will do it." or "Later I will answer your desires, or hereafter I will answer your requests?" O sirs, you dare not put off your superiors with a 'perhaps', or with 'laters'—and how then do you dare to put off the King of kings and the Lord of lords, with a 'perhaps', or with 'later' I will look after holiness, it may be I will study holiness, it may be I will prize holiness, or hereafter I will press after holiness, I will pursue after holiness, hereafter I will follow hard after holiness. Oh, remember that as there is nothing that does more incense, enrage, and provoke a prince against his subjects, a master against his servants, a father against his child, and a husband against his wife, than the putting off of their services and commands with a 'perhaps', or with 'laters'—so there is nothing that does more incense, inflame, and provoke the great God, than to put him off with a 'perhaps', or with 'laters' as you may see by comparing these scriptures together. [Psalm 95:6, to the end. Heb. 3:7, to the end.] And oh that for time to come you would tremble at the very thoughts of a 'perhaps', and at the very mentioning of a 'later', so that you may never put off the commands of God, to pursue after holiness with a 'perhaps', or with 'later' any more. And let this suffice for answer to this second objection.
Objection 3.Thirdly—but if we should thus press and pursue after holiness—then we must take our farewell of all joy and comfort, of all delight and pleasure, and never more expect to enjoy another merry day—for we observe that there are no people under heaven who live such a melancholy, sad, sorrowful, pensive life, as those who press most after holiness, and who make most stir and noise about holiness, and therefore if we should resolve to follow after holiness, we must resolve to spend our days in sorrow and sadness, in sighing and mourning, etc.
Now to this grand objection, I shall give these eight answers:
1.First, It may be you look only on the dark side of the cloud—and not on the bright side. You look only on your left hand, where the mourners in Zion stand—but did you but cast an eye on your right hand, there you would see many of the precious sons and daughters of Zion rejoicing and triumphing. [Isaiah 61:1-3, 10-11, and 35:10.] Now thus to look, what is it but to look for a straw to thrust out your own eyes with. O sirs, it is neither wisdom nor righteousness to look only upon those who mourn—and not upon those who rejoice; upon those who sigh—but not upon those who sing, Isaiah 52:8-9; Jer. 31:7, 12.
Before you pass a judgment upon the people of God, or the good ways of God—look on both sides! I say again, look on both sides—and then you will be sure to see some saints in their wedding attire, as well as others in their mourning garments. No man in his wits will argue thus, because such and such men of such a calling or trade are in their mourning garments, therefore all men of that calling or trade are in their mourning garments; and yet so witless are many men as thus to argue against the people of God, and the ways of God. But,
2.Secondly, I answer, As there are tears of sorrow—so there are tears of joy. [Compare these scriptures together; Gen. 43:30, 45:2, and 46:29-30; 1 Sam. 1:13-20.] Jacob weeps over Joseph—but it was with tears of exceeding joy. The sweetest joy is from the sourest tears. Tears are the breeders of spiritual joy. A holy man's heart is usually fullest of joy—when his eyes are fullest of tears. When Hannah had wept, she went away and was no more sad. The bee gathers the best honey of the bitterest herbs. Christ made the best wine of water: the best, the purest, the strongest, and the sweetest joys are made of the distilled waters of evangelical repentance. Gospel mourning is fully consistent with holy joy.
Though it must be granted that the love of sin and true joy are inconsistent; and that the reign and dominion of sin and true joy are inconsistent—yet it must be confessed that mourning for sin and holy joy are consistent in one and the same heart; and though legal terror and evangelical joy are inconsistent—yet evangelical sorrow and evangelical joy are consistent in one and the same soul. The same eye of faith which drops tears of sorrow—also drops tears of joy, Zech. 12:10; 1 Pet. 1:8. A clear sight of free grace, of pardoning mercy, and of a bleeding dying Savior—will fill the soul both with sorrow and joy at the same time, as the experiences of a thousand Christians can testify. A Christian always joys most, and mourns most—when he is most under the sense of divine love, the influences and incomes of heaven, the hopes of glory, the reports of mercy, and the precious sealings of the blessed Spirit. "As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing." 2 Corinthians 6:10
Look! as medicine is the way to health, so godly sorrow is the way to holy joy. And look, as a wicked man's joy ends in sorrow, Proverbs 14:13, so a godly man's sorrow ends in joy: Isaiah 61:3, "To provide for those who grieve in Zion--to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor." Godly sorrow is the parent of holy joy; a godly man's mourning time is his most joyful time. I have read of a godly man who, lying upon his dying bed, and being asked which was the most joyful time that ever he had in all his life, cried out, "Oh, give me my mourning days again, oh, give me my mourning days again, for they were the joyfullest days that ever I had!" The more a Christian "sows in tears," the greater, even in this world, shall be his "harvest of joy;" his merry days shall be always answerable to his mourning days, Psalm 126:6. But,
3. Thirdly, I answer, That this is a false charge, a mere slander, an unjust calumny that Satan and his bond-slaves have cast upon holiness, and the ways of holiness—on purpose to hinder men from pursuing and following after holiness. The language of the objection is quite contrary to the language of the holy Scripture; witness Psalm 138:5, "Yes, they shall sing in the ways of the Lord; for great is the glory of the Lord." When the kings of the earth shall be generally converted and sanctified, as it is in verse the 4th, "then they shall sing in the ways of the Lord." When they shall come to experience and taste the power, excellency, and sweetness of holiness, then they shall sing in the ways of the Lord. Conversion and sanctification administer the highest grounds of joy and rejoicing: 2 Cor. 1:12, "For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom—but by the grace of God, we have had our life in the world, and more abundantly to you-wards."
A holy life affords the greatest ground of rejoicing. There is no joy compared to that which springs from the testimony of a sanctified conscience. God has given it under his own hand, that "the ways of wisdom" (which are always ways of holiness) "are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace," Proverbs 3:17. There is no pleasure nor felicity compared to that which flows from the ways of sanctity. The sweetest roses, the strongest comforts, and the greatest pleasantness—is to be found in the ways of holiness. Oh the joy, the peace, the tranquility, the serenity which attends the ways of purity. I might call in many millions of saints, who from their own experiences are able to give the lie to this objection, and further to tell you—that they have met with more comforts, sweetness, and pleasantness in one hour's communion with God, in one hour's walking with God—than ever they have found in all the ways of ungodliness and wickedness, wherein they have wandered. Oh, they are able to tell you, that when they walked in ways of impiety, they found by experience that God had made a separation between sin and peace, between sin and joy, between sin and assurance, between sin and the light of his countenance, etc., Isaiah 57: 20-21; and they are able to tell you from what they have found, that there is no fear, no terror, no horror, no gripes, no grief, no stings, no hells—compared to those who attend the ways of ungodliness; and this were enough to blow off this objection, Romans 6:21. But,
4.Fourthly, I answer, That the joy of the saints is chiefly and mainly—an inward joy, a spiritual joy, a joy which lies remote from a carnal eye. The joy of a Christian lies deep, it cannot be expressed, it cannot be painted. Look! as no man can paint the sweetness of the honeycomb, nor the sweetness of a cluster of grapes, nor the fragrancy of the rose of Sharon—just so, no man can paint out the sweetness and spiritualness of a Christian's joy, it lies so deep and low in a gracious heart. And look, as the life of a Christian is hid with Christ in God," Col. 3:3—just so, the joy of a Christian is "hid with Christ in God." As their life is a hidden life, so their joy is a hidden joy. The joy of a Christian is "hidden manna," it is the "new name and white stone, that none knows but he who has it," Rev. 2:20; Proverbs 14:10, "The heart knows his own bitterness, and a stranger does not intermeddle with his joy." The joy of a saint is a jewel which falls not under a stranger's eye. Look! as the greatest terrors and torments of the wicked are inward, so the greatest joys and comforts of the saints are inward; and look, as the heart of man is deep, so holy joy is a treasure that lies deep, and it is not every man who has a golden key to search into this treasury, Jer. 17:9-10.
As a man standing on the sea-shore sees a great heap of waters, one wave riding upon the back of another, and making a dreadful noise—but all this while, though he sees the water rolling, and hears it raging and roaring—yet he sees not the wealth, the gold, the silver, the jewels, and incredible treasures which lie buried there. Just so, wicked men they see the needs of the saints—but not their wealth; they see their poverty—but not their riches; they see their miseries—but not their mercies; they see their conflicts—but not their comforts; they see their sorrows—but not their joys, 1 Cor. 2:14. Oh, the blind world cannot see the joys and rejoicings, the comforts and consolations of the saints—which lie at the bottom of their souls. Their joys are inward and spiritual—and so must the eye be that discerns them.
The joy of the saints is like "a garden enclosed, a spring shut up, a fountain sealed," Cant. 4:12; and as the glory of the church is inward, Psalm 45:13, so the joy of the church is inward. The waters of consolation lie deep in the wells of salvation, Isaiah 12:3. The richest veins of gold lie deepest under ground; and so does the strongest and the choicest joys of the saints lie deep. The moon is often dark to the world, when yet that part which faces the sun is very lightsome, beautiful, and glorious. Just so, many times, if you look upon the outside of a Christian, which is his dark side, you may see his countenance clouded, and his bearing and behavior as to the world either damped or obscured; but if you could but now look upon his inside, which is his best side, and which faces the Sun of righteousness, oh, then you would see the light of joy and comfort sweetly and gloriously shining forth.
O sirs, look, as there are many rich men in the world, who make no show of it by their garb, or table, or attendance, etc.—just so, there are many Christians who are rich in divine consolations, who yet don't show it in such or such an outward carnal way as the men of the world do usually express their joy in. Many a wicked man has heaviness in his heart when he has laughter in his face, as the wisest of princes has long since observed, in Proverbs 14:13, "Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful, and the end of that mirth is heaviness." The heart often weeps when the mouth laughs. Every laughter is not hearty, for laughter being but a sign of joy, the sign may be where the substance is not. Many wicked men are inwardly sad when they are outwardly glad, 2 Cor. 5:12. The false apostles put on a joyful face—but had not joy in the heart; they seemed to be merry—and yet all their smiles were but counterfeit smiles, all their joys were but skin deep; the joy which was in their faces was nothing compared to the terrors, horrors, and torments which were in their hearts. Just so, the godly many times rejoice in heart, when sadness and blackness seems to cover their faces: 2 Cor. 6:10, "As sorrowful—yet always rejoicing," etc.
It is very observable that the apostle brings in the sorrow of the godly with a quasi, as it were sorrow, not that it is sorrow indeed—but "as sorrowful," as if their sorrow had been rather a painted sorrow than a real sorrow; but when he speaks of their joy, there is no quasi—but true joy; he does not say "as rejoicing," but "always rejoicing." Their joy was a real joy—but their sorrow was but a seeming sorrow. When a Christian is at worst, as to the eye of the world, he may say of his joy, as Christ speaks of his meat, etc., when he said, "I have food to eat that you know not of," John 4:33—just so, he may say, I have joy, I have great joy, that the world knows not of.
Look! as there is life and sap and juice in the root of the tree, even in the winter season, when there is no leaves, nor blossoms, nor fruit hanging on the tree—just so, there is joy and comfort and peace in the heart of a saint, when there are no outward visible discoveries of it to others! You may as rationally conclude that there is no life, sap, and juice in the root of the tree, because the tree has no leaves, blossoms, or fruit on it—as you may conclude that the saints have no joy in their hearts, because they do not express it in such outward visible acts as may convince the world that they have it, etc. But,
5.Fifthly, I answer, That it is horrid injustice to make the hearts of the righteous sad, whom God would not have saddened, by your pride, profaneness, looseness, wickedness, worldliness, lukewarmness, filthiness, carnalness, etc., and then to cry out against them, that they are the saddest and most comfortable people in the world, Ezek. 13:22-23. What is this but, with Nero, to set the city of Rome on fire, and then to lay the blame of it upon the Christians, and punish them for it? What is this but to deal by the saints as the devil deals by them? He loads them and follows them with most sad, grievous, blasphemous, horrid, and hellish temptations, on purpose to make them walk heavily, mournfully, and uncomfortably; and when he has accomplished his design, then he accuses them sometimes to God, sometimes to themselves, and sometimes to others, for their heavy and uncomfortable walking, Rev. 12:10.
Oh, what inhumanity, cruelty, and vanity was it in the Egyptians to double the Israelites' sum of bricks, and to take away their straw, and then to cry out "that they were lazy," Exod. 5:8, 17. Just so, oh what inhumanity and cruelty is this in unsanctified people, to sadden, grieve, and afflict the people of God with their drunkenness, wantonness, and lewdness, and with their cursing, swearing, and lying, and with their scorning and scoffing at godliness, and with their slandering of the Lord, his people and ways, and with their resisting and quenching of the blessed motions of the Spirit, and with their shifting off the glorious offers of grace and mercy, and with their treasuring up of wrath against the day of wrath, etc., [Psalm 119:136, 158; Jer. 9:1-2; 2 Pet. 2:2:7-8; Romans 2:4-5.] and then to cry out, "Oh, how sadly, oh, how mournfully, do these men walk! Oh, what uncomfortable lives do these men live! Oh, what sorrow and pensiveness attends them!" But is this just? is this fair?
Suppose a husband should do all he could to afflict and grieve his wife, and a father his child, and a master his servant, and a friend his friend, etc., and when they had done, then fall a-complaining that there were none so melancholy, nor any so sad and sorrowful as they. Oh, what folly, what madness, and what injustice would this be! And yet, this is the common dealing of unsanctified people with the people of God, Dan. 4:27.
Ah, sinners, sinners, if you would but break off your sins by repentance, and cease from doing evil, and turn to the Lord with all your hearts, and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and fall in with the ways of God, and trample upon this wicked world, and seek after the things of a better life—oh, how soon would the saints' sighing be turned into singing, and their mourning into rejoicing! Oh, the music, the mirth, the melody, that your life would make, both in their hearts and in their ears! It is very observable that Abraham made a feast at the weaning of his son Isaac, Gen. 21:8. He did not make a feast on the day of his nativity, nor on the day of his circumcision, but on that day when he was taken from his mother's bosom. O sirs, if you were but once weaned from your lusts, and from the vanities of this world, if you were but once weaned from old corrupt customs, and from following after your sinful lovers—oh, how would all God's faithful Abrahams rejoice! 1 Pet. 1:18-19; Hosea 6:7. Oh, what a feast of fat things oh, what a heavenly banquet would this make in all their hearts!
About three hundred years after the apostles' time, Caius Marius Victorius, an old pagan, was converted from his paganism, infidelity, and impiety, and brought over to the Christian faith; which, when the people of God saw, there was wonderful rejoicing, and shouting, and dancing for gladness, and psalms were sung in every church, "Caius Marius Victorius has become a Christian! Caius Marius Victorius has become a Christian!" This was written as a wonder, and sung as a wonder, that this old pagan, this gray-headed pagan, should become a gracious Christian, that he should in his old age be renewed and sanctified.
Ah, friends, if you were but once converted and changed, if you were but once turned from darkness to light, if you were but once brought to Christ, if the people of God could but once see that you had passed the pangs of the new birth, and that Christ and holiness were formed in your souls—ah, how would their hearts be filled with joy, and their mouths with laughter! Oh, what songs of salvation would they sing! Oh, how would the high praises of God be in their mouths!
You say, "Oh there are none so sad and sorrowful, etc., as such and such Christians." But what is the cause of their sorrow and sadness? is it not your wickedness and ungodliness? is it not your unconverted and unsanctified estate? Surely yes. Oh, that you would therefore cease from complaining against them, and fall amending of your own heart and ways! And then all tears will be quickly wiped away from their eyes. But,
6.Sixthly, I answer, That all the joys, delights, and pleasures that holiness debars men of—are sinful joys, delights, and pleasures. [Romans 1:32; 2 Thes. 2:12; Amos 6:13; Zeph. 3:11; 2 Pet. 2:13.] Unsanctified souls take pleasure in unrighteousness; they rejoice to do evil; they make a sport of sin; they delight to dishonor their God, and damn their own immortal souls. Proverbs 2:14, "They delight in doing wrong and rejoice in the perverseness of evil." And this is brought in as an aggravation of Jerusalem's sin: Jer. 11:15, "When you do evil, then you rejoice." Ah, how madly-merry are those who can take delight in that which is their shame and misery! Ah, how has man fallen from his primitive glory—that he can now rejoice in that which is—a dishonor to God, a reproach to Christ, a grief to the Spirit, a provocation to divine wrath, a blot upon his name, a curse upon his estate, a wound upon his conscience, and a plague upon his soul! Now what a mercy must it be to be taken off from that carnal mirth which ends in mourning, and from those vain delights which end in unspeakable torments, and from that foolish jollity which leads to everlasting misery! Rev. 18:17.
I have read of king Lysimachus, that when he and his army were besieged in one of his cities, and in great danger of perishing by thirst, for a cup of cold water he delivered up the keys of the city to his enemy, which cold comfort he had no sooner tasted, but his tongue bewrayed the grief of his heart, saying, "Oh, that for so momentary a pleasure, I should be brought down from a sovereign a servant, from a king a captive!" Ah, what folly and madness is it for men to run the hazard of losing the kingdom of heaven, and the pleasures which are at God's right hand, Psalm 16:11, for those short-lived pleasures which are but like a blaze, or like the lightning, or like a morning cloud, or the early dew which soon passes away! Ah, who would endure an ocean of torture for a drop of sensual pleasure, or for a few bitter-sweets? And therefore doubtless, God can't do the soul a greater pleasure than to take it off from such vanishing pleasures. All sensual pleasures defile the soul, they debase the soul, yes, they debauch the soul; they take off the heart from God, and they deaden the heart towards God. The widow while she lived in pleasure is reckoned dead, 1 Tim. 5:6. That is, she is dead God-wards, and dead Christ-wards, and dead duty-wards, and dead heaven-wards, and dead holiness-wards, etc.
Aristotle writes of a parcel of ground in Sicily that sends forth such a strong, such a sweet smell of fragrant flowers, that no hounds can hunt there. Just so, the carnal pleasures of this world do send forth so strong a scent, that unsanctified people cannot hunt after God, nor Christ, nor holiness, nor the great concernments of the eternal world; and therefore it is rather man's felicity than his misery—to be taken off from such vain pleasures. Sensual pleasures and delights cannot satisfy the soul of man; they are but frothy and flashy, they only wet the mouth, they never warm the heart. A man may sooner break his neck than satisfy his heart with sensual pleasures. They seem substantial in the pursuit—but are clouds in the enjoyment.
Xerxes being weary of his sensual pleasures, promised great rewards to those who would invent new pleasures; and when they had invented new pleasures and delights—yet then he could not be satisfied nor contented; he would gladly have had one pleasure to have taken off the weariness of another—but it could not be. There is nothing in carnal delights, but imagination and expectation; for they can neither fill the heart nor satisfy the heart.
O sirs, there is no real pleasure in sin. All the pleasures of sin are counterfeit pleasures; they are but the shapes and shadows of pleasure. They are the seeds of future grief; they are but a pledge laid down for sorrow or ruin. It is observed by the mythologists that 'pleasure' went on occasion to bathe herself, and having stripped off her clothes by the water-side, 'sorrow' having hid herself close at hand, steals the clothes away, puts them on, and so departs. Just so, carnal pleasures are nothing but sorrow in pleasure's clothes. Certainly if there were the least real delight in sin—hell could never be hell. Yes, then it would follow that hell would be the greatest place of pleasure—for doubtless hell is the greatest place of sin.
Oh, don't deceive your own souls! there can be no real joy in sensual pleasures. What real delight or pleasure can there be in fooling and staggering in an ale-house or tavern; in swaggering and swearing; in dicing and carding; in dancing, partying, and whoring; in slighting of Sabbaths, in scoffing at saints, in despising of ordinances, and in pursuing after lying vanities? Surely none! And as for those seeming pleasures which attend the ways of sin, ah, how soon do they vanish and leave a sting behind them!
Now all the pleasures that holiness deprives you of, are only such that you may better ten thousand times lack, than enjoy. Look! as all the pleasures which manhood takes a person off from, are babyish and toyish pleasures; such as from delighting in a rattle, a toy, a feather, a hobby-horse, a wooden sword, etc. Just so, all the pleasures and delights which holiness takes a man off from—they are babyish and foolish; yes, they are base, dangerous, and devilish! Therefore it must needs be rather a high felicity than a misery—for God to take you off from such sinful pleasures and delights, by laying principles of holiness into your heart.
Oh! remember that holiness will be no loss unto you; it will be only an exchange of sinful delights—for those which are holy; and of carnal delights—for those which are spiritual; and of earthly delights—for those which are heavenly. Isaac was not to be sacrificed—but the ram. All the delights that holiness will put you upon to sacrifice, are but the rammish and foul delights of sin and the world, which may better be sacrificed than spared. Holiness will secure your Isaac—that is, your spiritual laughter, your spiritual joy, and your heavenly delights and pleasure. Well, for a close, remember this—that sensual pleasures are below a man. Witness Tully, who says that "he is not worthy of the name of a man—who would entirely spend one whole day in pleasures." And witness Julian the apostate, who professed that "the pleasures of the body were far below a great spirit." He who delights in sensual pleasures shall find at last—that his greatest pleasures will become his bitterest pains. All that holiness will do is but to ease you of your pains, and therefore you have more cause to pursue after it than to turn your back upon it. But,
7.Seventhly, I answer, It may be, that their present case and condition, bespeaks rather the exercise and evidence of sorrow and of grief, than of gladness, joy, and triumph.
[1.]For first, It may be, that some wound or guilt at present may lie hard upon their consciences, as once it did on David's, Psalm 51. And who then is able to rejoice when under a wounded conscience, or a guilty conscience? As long as Adam remained holy in paradise, he stood fast; but having once wounded his conscience by eating the forbidden fruit, though he tarried a while in paradise—yet he could take no delight nor contentment in paradise. It is true the sun did shine as bright as ever, and the rivers ran as clear as ever, and the birds sang as sweetly as ever, and the animals played as pleasantly as ever, and the flowers smelled as fragrantly as ever, and all the trees and fruits of the garden did flourish as greatly as ever, etc. Ah—but now Adam had contracted guilt upon his conscience, and this mars his joy, and spoils his delight, and unparadises paradise to him! His fall had made so deep a wound in his conscience, that he could take no delight in any of the delights of paradise. Guilt as an arrow did stick so fast in his conscience, that instead of sucking sweetness from the fairest fruits—he runs to hide himself under the broadest leaves, Gen. 3:10. Guilt makes a man a Magor-missabib, Jer. 20:3—a terror to himself.
Put ever such stately robes upon a wounded man—he minds them not; set ever such dainty fare before a wounded man—he relishes it not; lay him on ever so soft a bed—yet it pleases him not; and let him hear ever such sweet music—yet it delights him not; the smart and sense of his wound takes off the sweet of all. Just so, does a wound in the conscience take off the sweet of all a man's enjoyments and contentments. A guilty conscience, like Prometheus' vulture, lies ever gnawing. What the would-be disciple said to our Savior—namely, "Master, I will follow you wherever you go," Mat. 8:19—that a guilty conscience says to a fallen sinner: "If you fast I will follow you, and fill your mind with black and dismal apprehensions of God, of justice, of hell; if you feast I will follow you, and show you the handwriting on the wall that shall make your countenance to change, your thoughts to be troubled, and your joints to be loosed, and your knees to knock one against another, Dan. 5:5; when you go forth I will follow you with terrors, and when you return home I will follow you with horrors; when you go to board I will follow you with stinging accusations, and when you go to bed I will follow you with terrifying and affrighting dreams, Job 7:14. Now what joy can be in such a man's heart? What gladness can be in such a man's face? Surely none!
I remember a saying of Luther, "One drop of an evil conscience swallows up the whole sea of worldly joy." [It was guilt which made that despairing Pope say that the cross could do him no good, he had so often sold it] Oh, it is better with Evagrius to lie secure on a bed of straw, than to lie with a guilty conscience on a bed of down, having the curtains embroidered with gold, and the fringes bespangled with pearls. Sin brings such a stain and such a sting with it, as spoils all a man's joys and delights. And if this be the present case of a Christian, as it may be—then never wonder to see him hang down his head, and to walk mournfully before his God. Or,
[2.]Secondly, This may arise from some great and heavy affliction, which for the present may sadly distress and oppress a saint's spirit; as Job's did his, or as Hezekiah's did his, or as Jacob's did his, etc. [Job 3:38; Isaiah 9:16; Gen. 37:30, to the end.] The disease may be so violent, the medicine may be so strong, the wound may be so deep, the plaster may be so corroding, the melting pot may be so hot, the iron chains may be so heavy, the gall and wormwood may be so bitter—that a Christian may be so far from joy and rejoicing, as that he may for the present be so shut up under trouble and amazement, and under sorrow and grief—as that he may not be able, if you would give him all the world, to open his case unto you; his eyes may in some sort tell what his tongue can in no sort utter, Psalm 77:4.
Usually they are the smallest miseries, when he who has them can presently tell all the world of them. The greatest sorrow has for the most part the deepest silence attending on it. What Christian ever had joy in his heart or gladness in his face, when God was disciplining him harshly and roughly? Or,
[3.]Thirdly, It may be they are deserted; perhaps God is withdrawn from them, and he who should comfort them stands afar off. [Lam. 1:16; Gen. 31:2, 5; Psalm 30:7; read the 77th and the 88th Psalms; Isaiah 8:17; Micah 7:7-9, 17; Psalm 4:6, and 42:5, 11, etc.] Ah, what Christian can rejoice when the countenance of God is not kindly towards him as of old? who can be pleasant when God is displeased? who can smile when God frowns? who can sing when God sighs? who can be merry when God is withdrawn? Surely none who have ever experienced what the shinings of his face means! O sirs, the proper work of a deserted soul lies not in joy and rejoicing—but in mourning and waiting, and in seeking and suing at the throne of grace—that God would lift up the light of his countenance, and cause his face to shine, and his favor to break forth—that the bones that he has broken may rejoice. Just as Hudson the martyr, when he was deserted at the stake, prayed earnestly, he was comforted immediately, and suffered valiantly.
Look! as when Samson's locks were cut off, his strength was gone—just so, when God is gone, a Christian's locks are cut off, his strength is gone, his strength to joy and rejoice in God is gone, his strength to delight and to take pleasure in God is gone; and as Samson, when his locks were cut off, and his strength was gone, fell to prayer, Judges 16:28, "And Samson called unto the Lord, and said, O Lord God, remember me, I pray you, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes!" So when God is gone, the work of a Christian lies more in praying than it does in rejoicing. Though Joseph's heart was as full of love to his brethren as it could hold, Gen. 42:7-25—yet when he looked sourly upon them, and spoke roughly to them, they were much afflicted and distressed. Just so, though the heart of Jesus be as full of love to his people as it can hold—yet when he looks sourly, and speaks roughly to them—they can't but be grieved and saddened. But,
[4.]Fourthly, It may be they are sadly tempted and strangely buffeted by Satan, as Paul was—and from thence their present sadness may arise, 2 Cor. 12:8-10. Tempted souls can tell you that it is one of the hardest works in the world to rejoice in the school of temptation, and to be merry when Satan's fiery darts stick fast in the soul. Adam's tempting-time was not his rejoicing-time—but his sinning-time; and David's tempting-time was not his rejoicing-time—but his miscarrying-time, 1 Chron. 21; and Job's tempting-time was not his rejoicing-time—but his complaining-time, Job 3; and Peter's tempting-time was not his rejoicing-time—but his cursing and blaspheming-time, Mat. 26; and Paul's tempting-time was not his rejoicing-time—but his humbling-time, 2 Cor. 12:7-8. ["Our whole life," says Austin, "is nothing but a continued temptation."]
The best men are most tempted; and oftentimes they are followed with the saddest, darkest, vilest, basest, and most amazing, affrighting, tormenting, and astonishing temptations. And how is it possible that they should be able to rejoice and be glad, when such dreadful storms beat upon them! Certainly the work of a Christian in the day of temptation lies in his putting on the whole armor of God, Eph. 6:10-11, 16-18, and in a prudent handling the sword of the Spirit and the shield of faith, and in earnest praying and vigilant watching, and a stout resisting of all Satan's fiery darts; for he who thinks, by disputing and reasoning, to put Satan off, does but shoot with him in his own bow, and will find to his cost that Satan will be too hard for him. It is open defiance, it is downright blows which makes Satan fly, and which secures the victory, James 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:9. Now joy and rejoicing attends not the combat—but the conquest. The Romans never used to ride in triumph—but after conquests obtained. A Christian's triumphing time is his conquering time. Joy is most seasonable and suitable when a Christian has beaten Satan out of the field. The rooster in the Arabic fable began to crow and clap his wings, as if he had obtained a perfect conquest—but, behold, suddenly a vulture comes, and snatches this great conqueror away. Those who triumph and rejoice over Satan before they have overcome him, are in no small danger of being beaten by him. But,
[5.]Fifthly and lastly, To gather up many things together. I say that their present sorrow and sadness may arise from their going astray into some by-path of vanity and folly, wherein they have got a fall, or broke a bone, or put their souls out of joint. As children sometimes get a fall, and then they come home by weeping cross—just so, Christians too often go astray and get a fall, and then they are fain to weep it out. When men keep not in the king's highway, they are often robbed of their money, and stripped of their clothes, and wounded too, as he was in the Gospel who fell among thieves—just so, when Christians keep not in the King of kings' highways, which are ways of righteousness and holiness, then they are often robbed of their comfort, and joy, and peace, and assurance, and communion with God, etc., and sorely wounded and bruised, and then it is no wonder if they are brought home with tears in their eyes.
Or it may be their evidences for heaven are so blotted and blurred that they cannot read their title to heaven—and then it is no wonder if they are perplexed and grieved. Or it may be they call in question former grants of favor and grace. Or it may be a deeper sense of misspent time lies harder than ever upon them. Or else the littleness and smallness of their graces under such soul-enriching opportunities and advantages do sorely oppress them. Or else the lateness of their conversion may sadly afflict them, etc. [Luke 10:30; Isaiah 35:8; Psalm 119:176.]
Now how absurd and unreasonable a thing is it for any men to argue thus, that surely godly men have no joy, no delight, no pleasure, etc., because there are some particular cases and conditions wherein they may be cast which rather bespeaks sorrow than joy, grief than gladness, mourning than mirth! Certainly you may as rationally and as righteously expect mirth, joy, and gladness from carnal, worldly, and ungodly wretches when they are under burning fevers, loathsome diseases, or violent pains of the stone or gout, etc., as you may expect upon a rational or religious account, joy and gladness, etc., in the saints in the fore-mentioned cases which are incident to them. It was a very unreasonable request that they made to the people of God in Psalm 137:1-4, "By the rivers of Babylon—there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion. There we hung up our lyres on the poplar trees, for our captors there asked us for songs, and our tormentors, for rejoicing: "Sing us one of the songs of Zion." How can we sing the Lord’s song on foreign soil?" And it is as unreasonable to expect or look that the people of God should sing and be merry, rejoice and be glad, when they are under soul distresses, and under the sore rebukes of God, and poured from vessel to vessel, etc. Music in times of mourning is as unreasonable as it is unseasonable and unsavory, Jer. 48:11, Proverbs 25:20, "Singing cheerful songs to a person whose heart is heavy is as bad as stealing someone's jacket in cold weather or rubbing salt in a wound." Music and mourning, singing and sorrow, agree like harp and harrow. There is such a contrariety between singing and sorrow, that he who sings does but add weight to his sorrow that cannot sing.
O sirs, as there is a time for rejoicing, so there is a time for mourning, Eccles. 3:4; as there is a time to laugh, so there is a time to weep; and as we must rejoice with those who rejoice, so we must mourn with those who mourn, and weep with those who weep, Romans 12:15. The condition of God's people in this life is a mixed condition. In this life they have their rejoicing times and their mourning times, their laughing times and their weeping times, their singing times and their sorrowing times, etc. It is true, in heaven there is all joy and no sorrow, all gladness and no sadness; and in hell there is all sorrow and no joy, all grief and no gladness, all howling and no singing, all madness and no mirth. But in this present life it is otherwise, for if there should be nothing but joy, many would look for no other heaven; and if there should be nothing but sorrow, most would look for no other hell. If men should have nothing but joy, how sadly would they be puffed up! And if they should have nothing but sorrow, how easily would they be cast down! But now, by a divine hand, our sorrows being mixed with our joys, our hearts come to be the more effectually weaned from the vanities of this life, and to long more earnestly after the pure and unmixed joys of a better life, etc. But,
8.Eighthly, I answer, That it is possible that the sadness, sorrow, and grief of those particular saints that you have your eye upon may arise from the natural temper and constitution of their bodies. [The cure of melancholy belongs rather to the physician than to the divine, to Galen than to Paul.] Many saints are often cast into a melancholy mold; for though grace changes the disposition of the soul—yet it alters not the constitution of the body. Now there is no greater enemy to holy joy and gladness than melancholy, for this pestilent humor will raise such strange passions and imaginations, it will raise such groundless griefs, and fears, and frights, and such senseless surmises and jealousies, as will easily damp a Christian's joy, and mightily vex, perplex, trouble, and turmoil, daunt, and discourage a Christian's spirit. A melancholy constitution is Satan's anvil, upon which he forms many black, dark, and dismal temptations, which do exceedingly tend to the keeping down of divine consolation from rising high in the soul. This black, dark, dusky humor disturbs both soul and body; it tempts Satan to tempt the soul, and it disables the soul to resist the temptation; yes, it prepares the soul to hearken to the temptation, and to close and fall in with the temptation, as the experiences of all melancholy Christians can testify.
Look! as colored glass makes the very beams of the sun seem to be all of the same color with itself—if the glass is blue, the beams of the sun seems to be blue; if the glass is red, the beams of the sun seem to be red; or if the glass be green, the beams of the sun seem to be green—so this black melancholy humor represents all things to the eye of the soul as duskish and dark, and as full of horror and terror, yes, many times it represents the bright beams of divine love, and the shinings of the Sun of righteousness, and the gracious whispers of the blessed Spirit—as delusions, and as sleights of Satan, to delude the soul.
I have read of a foolish melancholy bird which stands always but upon one leg, for fear her own weight, though she is very small, should sink her into the center of the earth, and holding her other leg over her head, lest the heavens should fall upon her and crush her. I shall not dispute the credibleness of the relation; but certainly there is nothing that fills a Christian so full of fears and frights as a melancholy humor does. There are no greater adversaries to joy and gladness, than such fears and frights. Now how absurd and unreasonable is it to father that upon holiness, or upon all holy people—which proceeds from the special constitution of some particular saints! And yet this is the trade that unsanctified souls drive. And let thus much suffice for answer to this grand objection; and oh that this objection may never have a resurrection in any of your hearts more But,
Objection 4.Some may object, and say, We see that no people on earth are exposed to such troubles, dangers, afflictions, and persecutions, as those are exposed to who mind holiness, who follow after holiness. These are days wherein men labor to frown holiness out of the world, and to scorn and kick holiness out of the world; and do you think that we are foolish enough to pursue after holiness? Now to this great and sore objection, I shall give these following answers
1. It must be granted that afflictions and persecutions has been the common lot and portion of the people of God in this world.Abel was persecuted by Cain, (1 John 3:12), and Isaac by Ishmael, (Gal 4:29). That seems to be a standing law, "All who will live godly in Christ Jesus must suffer persecution," (2 Tim 3:12). A man may have many faint wishes and cold desires after godliness, and yet escape persecution; yes, he may make some initial endeavors and attempts as if he would be godly, and yet escape persecution. But when a man is thoroughly resolved to be godly, and sets himself in good earnest upon pursuing after holiness and living a life of godliness, then he must expect to meet with afflictions and persecutions. It is neither a Christian's gifts nor his graces, it is neither his duties nor his services which can secure him from persecution. Whoever escapes, the godly man shall not escape persecution in one kind or another, in one degree or another. He who will live up to holy rules, and live out holy principles, must prepare for sufferings. All the roses of holiness are surrounded with pricking briers.
The history of the ten persecutions, and Foxe's book of martyrs, the 11th of the Hebrews, with many other treatises which are existent, do abundantly evidence that from age to age, and from one generation to another, those who have been born after the flesh have persecuted those who have been born after the Spirit, (Gal 4:20), and that the seed of the serpent have been still a-multiplying of troubles upon the seed of the woman.
Would any man take the church's picture, says Luther, then let him paint a poor helpless maid sitting in a wilderness, compassed about with hungry lions, wolves, boars, and bears, and with all kinds of other cruel, hurtful beasts, and in the midst of a great many furious men assaulting her every moment and minute—for this is her condition in the world. As certain as the night follows the day, so certain will that black angel, persecution, follow holiness wherever it goes. In the last of the ten persecutions, seventeen thousand holy martyrs were slain in the space of one month. And in Queen Mary's days, or, if you will, in the Marian days, not of blessed—but of most abhorred memory, the Popish prelates in less than four years sacrificed the lives of eight hundred innocent Christians to their idols! And oh that that precious innocent blood did not still cry to heaven for vengeance against this nation! But,
2. Christ and his apostles has long since foretold us that afflictions and persecutions will attend us in this world.The Lord has long since forewarned us, that we may be forearmed, and not surprised on a sudden when they come. Christ has shot off many a warning piece in his word, and sent many a warning and harbinger, that so we may stand upon our guard, and not be surprised nor astonished when afflictions and persecutions overtake us: Matthew 10:22, "And you shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he who endures to the end, the same shall be saved." Chapter 16:24, "Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." Luke 21:12, "But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name's sake." John 15:20, "Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than the Lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also."
Ah Christians, since they have crowned Christ's head with thorns, there is no reason why you should expect to be crowned with rosebuds! John 16:33, "These things I have spoken unto you, that in me you might have peace. In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." Acts 14:21, 22, "And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch, confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God." As there was no way to paradise but by the flaming sword, nor any way to Canaan but through a wilderness; so there is no way to heaven but by the gates of hell, there is no way to a glorious exaltation but through a sea of tribulation. They do but dream and deceive their own souls who think to go to heaven upon beds of down, or in a soft and delicate way, or that think to be attended to glory with mirth and music, or with singing or dancing. The way to eternal happiness is not strewed with roses—but full of thorns and briers, as those of whom this world was not worthy have experienced.
Ecclesiastical histories tell us that all the apostles died violent deaths. Christ was crucified with his head upwards—but Peter thought this was too great an honor for him to be crucified as his Lord, and therefore he chose to be crucified with his heels upward. Andrew was crucified by Egeus, king of Odessa. James the son of Zebedee was slain by Herod with the sword, (Act 12:2). Philip was crucified at Hierapolis in Asia. While Bartholomew was preaching the glad tidings of salvation, multitudes fell upon him and beat him down with staves, and then crucified him, and after all this, his skin was flayed off, and he beheaded. Thomas was slain with a lance at Calumina in India. Matthew was run through with a sword. James the son of Alpheus, who was called the Just, was thrown down from off a pinnacle of the temple, and yet having some life left in him, his head was bashed with a club. Lebbeus was slain by Agbarus, king of Edessa. Paul was beheaded at Rome under Nero. Simon the Canaanite was crucified in Egypt, say some, others say that he and Jude were slain in a tumult of the people. Matthias was stoned to death. John was banished into Patmos, (Rev 1:9), and afterwards, as some histories tell us, he was by that cruel tyrant Domitian cast into a large barrel of scalding lead, and yet delivered by a miracle. Thus all these precious servants of God, except John, died violent deaths, and so through sufferings entered into glory; they found in their own experience the truth of what Christ had foretold concerning their sufferings and persecutions.
When Mr. Bradford was told that his chain was being bought, and that he must be burnt, he lifted up his eyes to heaven and said, "I thank God for it; I have looked forward to this a long time; it comes not to me suddenly—but as a thing waited for every day, yes, every hour in the day; the Lord make me worthy thereof." If upon God's warning you will but prepare for sufferings, you will never fear nor faint under sufferings, yes, then you will be able under the greatest persecutions to bear up bravely, and with holy Bradford bless the Lord that has called you to so high an honor as to count you worthy to suffer for his name. But,
3. I answer, That all the troubles, afflictions, and persecutions that do befall you for holiness' sake, shall never hurt you nor harm you, they shall never prejudice you, nor wrong you in your main and great concerns:Exodus 3:2, "And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed." Here you have a bush, a dry bush, a bramble-bush all on fire, and yet not consumed. This burning bush was an excellent emblem of the church in the fire of tribulation and persecution. Though the church may seem to be all on fire by reason of afflictions and persecutions—yet it shall be preserved, it shall not be destroyed. God would not allow his anointed ones, his sanctified ones, so much as to be touched, hurt, or harmed by those who had malice enough in their hearts, and power enough in their hands, not only to hurt them—but even to destroy them. Sanctified people are sacred people, and those who touch them touch the apple of God's eye, and whoever shall be so bold to touch the apple of God's eye shall dearly smart for it.
It was no small affliction to have no settled habitation. To fly from place to place, from kingdom to kingdom, and from nation to nation, was certainly an afflicted condition. Doubtless many fears and frights, many hazards and dangers did attend them, when they considered that they were as lilies among the thorns, and as a few sheep among a multitude of wolves. In the land of Canaan there were seven mighty nations (Deu 7:1). Now for the people of God, who were so few in number, to sojourn and wander among these, could not but be very dangerous and perilous; and yet such was the love of God to them, and the care of God over them, that he allowed no man, whether he was high or low, honorable or base, rich or poor, civil or profane, to hurt or harm them.
Daniel 3:25, 27, "And the king answered and said, 'Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods!' They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them." Though these holy men were cast into a furnace, into a fiery furnace, into the midst of a hot fiery furnace—yet God will work a miracle, yes, a glorious miracle, rather than the fire shall in the least hurt or harm them. God gives a commission to the fire to burn those mighty men who made the fire, and who cast his children into the fire, and whom the king would have to be spared and saved; and he lays a law of restraint upon the fire, that it should not hurt nor harm them whom the king would have destroyed.
Those, whom the King of kings will not have hurt, shall not be hurt, let kings and princes do their worst; that fire which burnt their bonds had no power to burn, no nor to touch, their bodies. God would not allow the fire to singe a hair of their heads, nor to change the color of their coats, nor to leave so much as a smoky smell upon his people, that those heathen princes might see how tender he was of them, and how willing he was to put forth his almighty power rather than he would see them wronged or harmed.
Daniel 6:21-24, "Daniel answered, 'Long live the king! My God sent his angel to shut the lions' mouths so that they would not hurt me, for I have been found innocent in his sight. And I have not wronged you, Your Majesty.' The king was overjoyed and ordered that Daniel be lifted from the den. Not a scratch was found on him because he had trusted in his God. Then the king gave orders to arrest the men who had maliciously accused Daniel. He had them thrown into the lions' den, along with their wives and children. The lions leaped on them and tore them apart before they even hit the floor of the den."
Holiness, innocency, and integrity will preserve a man even among lions. Daniel preferred the worship of his God before his life. He made no great reckoning of his life when it stood in competition with divine glory, and therefore, rather than Daniel shall be hurt, God will by a miracle preserve him, he will stop the mouths of the hungry lions, and he will tame their rage, and overmaster their cruelty, rather than a hair of Daniel's head shall perish. When Daniel was taken out of the den, there was no hurt, no wound, no sore, no bruise found upon him. Daniel was a harmless man, and God keeps him from harms in the midst of harms.
Acts 18:9, 10, "One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city." Paul met with many trials and troubles, bonds and prisons, oppositions and persecutions, and yet none of all these hurt him—but God miraculously preserved him even to old age (Act 20:23). All the troubles, afflictions, and persecutions which attend holiness, can never reach a Christian's soul, they can never diminish a Christian's treasure; they reach the shell—not the kernel; they reach the case—not the jewel; they reach the lumber—not the goods; they reach the barn—not the palace; they reach the ribbon in the hat—not the gold in the purse. The most fiery trials and persecutions can never deprive a Christian of the special presence of God, nor of the light of his countenance, nor of the testimony of a good conscience, nor of the joys of the Spirit, nor of the pardon of sin, nor of fellowship with Christ, nor of the exercise of grace, nor of the hopes of glory (Psalm 23:4; 2Co 1:8,9,12); and therefore certainly they can't hurt a Christian, they can't wrong a Christian in his greatest and chief concerns.
O Christian, let persecutors do their worst, they can't reach your soul, your God, your comfort, your crown, your paradise, &c.; and therefore let no man be kept off from pursuing after holiness because of afflictions or persecutions, seeing none of these can reach a Christian's great concernments. But,
4. I answer, That the condition of persecutors, of all conditions under heaven, is the most sad and deplorable condition; and this will appear by the consideration of these five things:
[1.]By the prayers and indictments that the saints have offered against them in the highest court of justice, I mean in the parliament of heaven: "Lift up your spear and javelin and block the way of my enemies. Let me hear you say, "I am your salvation!" Humiliate and disgrace those trying to kill me; turn them back in confusion. Blow them away like chaff in the wind—a wind sent by the angel of the Lord. Make their path dark and slippery, with the angel of the Lord pursuing them. Although I did them no wrong, they laid a trap for me. Although I did them no wrong, they dug a pit for me. So let sudden ruin overtake them! Let them be caught in the snare they set for me! Let them fall to destruction in the pit they dug for me. Then I will rejoice in the Lord. I will be glad because he rescues me." Psalm 35:3-9
Lamentations 3:61-65, "Lord, you have heard the vile names they call me. You know all about the plans they have made—the plots my enemies whisper and mutter against me all day long. Look at them! In all their activities, they constantly mock me with their songs. Pay them back, Lord, for all the evil they have done. Give them hard and stubborn hearts, and then let your curse fall upon them!" 2 Timothy 4:14, "Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done." Thus you see how the hearts of the saints have been drawn out against their persecutors. Prayers are the arms that in times of persecution the saints have still had recourse to. But,
[2.]Persecutions do but raise, whet, and stir up a more earnest and vehement spirit of prayer among the persecuted saints: Revelation 6:9, 10, "When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice—How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" The blood of the persecuted cries aloud for vengeance upon the persecutors.
There is no blood which cries so loud, and which makes so great a noise in heaven, as the blood of the martyrs, as the blood of butchered persecuted saints. Persecutors, like these Roman emperors, in all ages have causelessly and cruelly destroyed the people of God; they delight in the blood of saints, they love to wallow in the blood of saints, they take pleasure in glutting themselves with the blood of saints, they make no conscience of watering the earth, nor of coloring the sea, nor of quenching the flames with the blood of the saints, yes, if it were possible, they would willingly swim to heaven through their hearts' blood, whom Christ has purchased with his own most precious blood.
Persecution puts an edge, yes, a sharp edge, upon the prayers of the saints: Acts 12:5, "So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him." The Greek word signifies earnest and stretched-out prayer. When Peter was in prison, sleeping between two soldiers, and bound with two chains, and the keepers standing before the prison door, oh, how earnest! Oh, how instant! Oh, how fervent! Oh, how vehement! Oh, how constant were the saints in their prayers for his deliverance! Oh, their hearts, their souls, their spirits were in their prayers! Oh, their prayers were no cold prayers, no formal prayers, no lukewarm prayers, no dull or drowsy prayers—but their prayers were full of life, and full of warmth, and full of heat. They knew Herod's bloody intention to destroy this holy apostle by his imprisoning of him, and by the chains that were put on him, and by the strong guards that were set upon him, and by his bathing of his sword in the innocent blood of James, that his hand might be the more apt and ready for further acts of murder and cruelty; and oh, how did the consideration of these things whet and provoke their spirits to prayer! Oh, now they will take no denial, now they will give God no rest—until he has overturned the tyrant's counsel and designs, and sent his angel to open the prison doors, and to knock off Peter's chains, and to deliver him from the wrath and fury of Herod; and their prayers were successful, as is evident in the 12th verse, "When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying," or rather, as the original has it, "where many thronged together to pray." The violence and rage of their persecutors did so raise, whet, and encourage them to prayer, that they throng together, they crowded together to pray, yes, when others were a-sleeping they were a-praying, and their prayers were no sleepy prayers, they were no lazy dronish prayers, nor they were no book-prayers—but they were powerful and prevalent prayers; for as so many Jacobs, or as so many princes, they prevailed with God. They prayed and wept, and wept and prayed; they called and cried, and cried and called; they begged and bounced, and they bounced and begged; and they never left knocking at heaven's gates until Peter's chains were knocked off, and Peter given into their arms, yes, their bosoms, as an answer of prayer. Oh the power and force of joint prayer, when Christians do not only beseech God—but besiege him, and beset him too, and when they will not let him go until he has blessed them, and answered their prayers and the desires of their souls!
I have read that Mary Queen of Scots was accustomed to say that she was more afraid of Mr. Knox's prayers, and the prayers of those Christians that walked with him, than she was of a fierce army of ten thousand men. But,
[3.]Thirdly, It will appear that the condition of persecutors is the most sad and deplorable condition of all conditions under heaven, if you will but seriously consider and lay to heart the sore judgments which are threatened, and that have been executed upon them: Deuteronomy 30:7, "And the Lord your God will put all these curses upon your enemies, and on those who hate you, who persecuted you;" Nehemiah 9:9-11, "You saw the sufferings and sorrows of our ancestors in Egypt, and you heard their cries from beside the Red Sea. You displayed miraculous signs and wonders against Pharaoh, his servants, and all his people, for you knew how arrogantly the Egyptians were treating them. You have a glorious reputation that has never been forgotten. You divided the sea for your people so they could walk through on dry land! And then you hurled their enemies into the depths of the sea. They sank like stones beneath the mighty waters!"
Pharaoh and his princes and people were very great oppressors and persecutors of God's Israel, and therefore God visited them with ten dreadful plagues, one after another; but when, after all these plagues, God saw that their enmity against his people was as great, or rather greater than ever, and that they were still set upon persecuting of his people, then God takes up Pharaoh and his mighty host, and throws them as a stone into the mighty waters! (Exo 15:10).
God whets before he strikes, he bends his bow before he shoots, he prepares instruments of death before he brings men down to the grave, his hand takes hold on judgment before his judgments take hold of men; but if all these warnings will not serve their turns, God will overturn them with a witness. "He ordains his arrows against the persecutors," or as the Hebrew has it, "against the hot burning persecutors." God has his hot burning arrows for hot burning persecutors. Let persecutors be ever so hot against the saints—God will be as hot against them; and let them be ever so much inflamed against the people of God—God will be as much inflamed against them.
When malicious and mischievous persecutors have done all they can to vex and fret, to daunt and affright, to dismay and discourage the people of God, then God will terrify the most terrible among them, and "they shall not prevail nor prosper, yes, they shall stumble and fall, they shall be ashamed and confounded." When the time is expired that God has pre-fixed for his people's sufferings, then God will retaliate upon their persecutors. Then those who plundered his people shall be plundered; and those who dealt harshly and treacherously with them, shall be dealt harshly and treacherously with. 2 Thessalonians 1:6, "Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to those who trouble you." It is but justice that God should trouble those who are the troublers of his people.
And God has even in this life been a swift witness against the persecutors of his people. Cain was a persecutor, and his brother's blood pursued him to hell. Pharaoh was a great oppressor and persecutor of his people, and God followed him with plague upon plague, and judgment upon judgment, until he had overthrown him in the Red Sea. Saul was a persecutor, and falls by his own sword. Haman was a great persecutor of the saints, and he was feasted with the king one day, and made a feast for crows the next! Pashur was a great persecutor, he smote the prophet Jeremiah, and put him in the stocks, and God threatened to make him a terror to himself and to all his friends, Jeremiah 20:1-3. Zedekiah was a persecutor, he smote the prophet Micaiah on the cheek for dealing plainly and faithfully with the kings, and in the day of trouble and distress he goes from chamber to chamber to hide himself (1Ki 22). Jezebel was a great persecutor, she slew the prophets of God, and she was thrown out of a window, and eaten up by dogs, (1Ki 18:4-13; 2Ki 9:30). Herod the Great, who caused the babes of Bethlehem to be slain, hoping thereby to destroy Christ, shortly after was plagued by God with an incurable disease, having a slow and relentless fever continually tormenting his inward parts; he had a vehement and greedy desire to eat, and yet nothing would satisfy him; his inward parts rotted, his breath was havy and stinking, some of his members rotted, and in all his members he had so violent a cramp, that nature was not able to bear it; and so growing mad with pain, he died miserably. But,
[4.]It will appear that persecutors are in the most sad and deplorable condition, if you do but consider that there is a day a-coming wherein God will fully reckon with all persecutors, for their persecuting of his saints: Psalm 9:12, "When he makes inquisition for blood, he remembers them; he forgets not the cry of the humble." There is a time when God will make inquisition for innocent blood. The Hebrew word which is here rendered inquisition, signifies not barely to seek, to search—but to seek, search, and inquire with all diligence and care imaginable. Oh, there is a time a-coming, when the Lord will make a very diligent and careful search and inquiry after all the innocent blood of his afflicted and persecuted people, which persecutors and tyrants have spilt as water upon the ground; and woe to persecutors when God shall make a more strict, critical, and careful inquiry after the blood of his people, than ever was made in the Inquisition of Spain, where all things are done with the greatest diligence, scrutiny, secrecy, and severity.
O persecutors, there is a time acoming, when God will make a strict inquiry after the blood of Hooper, Bradford, Latimer, Taylor, Ridley, etc. There is a time a-coming, wherein God will inquire who silenced and suspended such and such ministers, and who stopped the mouths of such and such, and who imprisoned, confined, and banished such and such—who were once burning and shining lights, and who were willing to spend and be spent, that sinner might be saved, and that Christ might be glorified. There is a time when the Lord will make a very careful inquiry into all the actions and practices of ecclesiastical courts, high committees, etc., and deal with persecutors as they have dealt with his people.
Psalm 12:5, "Because of the oppression of the weak and the groaning of the needy, I will now arise. I will protect them from those who malign them." When oppressors and persecutors do snuff and puff at the people of God, when they defy them, and scorn them, and think that they can with a blast of their breath blow them away—then God will arise to judgment! At that very nick of time when all seems to be lost, and when the poor oppressed and afflicted people of God can do nothing but sigh and weep, and weep and sigh, then the Lord will arise and ease them of their oppressions, and make their day of extremity, a glorious opportunity to work for his own glory, and his people's good.
Alas, all the sorrows, troubles, afflictions, vexations, torments, and punishments that befall the persecutors of the saints in this life, they are but fairy-tales, as it were; they are but the beginnings of sorrows, they are but types and figures of those easeless, endless, and remediless torments and punishments that will at last inevitably fall upon all the persecutors of the saints. But,
[5.]Fifthly and lastly, Persecutors at present are under an evident token of perdition and destruction; they have the marks and signs of divine displeasure upon them: Philippians 1:28, "And in nothing terrified by your adversaries, which is to them an evident token of perdition—but to you of salvation, and that of God." Persecuted Christians ought not to be disheartened or discouraged—but rather to take heart and courage, by all the persecutions which are raised against them, because they are most certain witnesses and evidences from God himself, both of their own salvation, and of their persecutors' perdition and destruction.
And thus you see by these five things, that there is no condition under heaven that is so sad and deplorable a condition, as the condition of persecutors is. But,
5. I answer, That God will bear his people company in all their afflictions and persecutions.If the bush, the church, be all on fire, the angel of the covenant will be in the midst of it. Isaiah 43:1-3, "But now, O Israel, the Lord who created you says: "Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior." Both in the waters of affliction, and in the fire of persecution, God will bear his people company. So in that Daniel 3:24, 25, "Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, "Weren't there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?" They replied, "Certainly, O king." He said, "Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like unto the Son of God." Christ is never so near to his people as when they are in their fiery trials; and the hotter the furnace is, the more eminently present will Christ be with his people. Saints never enjoy so much of the supporting, emboldening, comforting, and encouraging presence of the Lord, as they do when the sun of persecution shines hottest upon them.
2 Corinthians 4:8, 9, "We are troubled on every side—yet not destroyed; we are perplexed—but not in despair; persecuted—but not forsaken; cast down—but not destroyed." Divine help is nearest when a saint's danger is greatest. It is the deriding question which persecutors put to the saints in the time of their trials and troubles, Where is now your God? (Psalm 42:10); but they may return a bold and confident answer, "Our God is here," our God is near unto us, our God is round about us, our God is in the midst of us, our God has given us his promise "that he will never, never leave us, nor forsake us," (Heb 13:5); in every trouble, in every danger, in every death, the Lord will be sure to keep us company. God will bear his children company, not only while they are in a delightful paradise—but also when they are in a howling wilderness, (Hos 2:14).
O Christians, in all your sufferings the angel of God's presence will bear you company, and he will sweeten the most cruel torments, and wipe off all the sweat, and take away all the pain, yes, he will turn your pains into pleasure, (Isa 63:9). If Joseph is cast into prison, the Lord will be with him there, (Gen 39:20, 21). If Jeremiah is thrown into the dungeon, the Lord will be with him there, (Jer 36:6-14). If David walks through the valley of death, God's rod and his staff shall comfort him, (Psalm 23:4, 5). If the three children are cast into a fiery furnace, the presence of the Son of God shall preserve them. If Daniel must go to the lions' den, God will keep him company there, and chain up the lions' nature, and sew up the lions' mouths, and lay a law of restraint upon the lions' paws, that they shall not have so much as a disposition to touch him, or in the least to hurt him or harm him. If Paul is brought before Nero 's judgment-seat, God will stand by him, though all men forsake him, and bring him off with credit and triumph, (2Ti 4:16-18). Thus you see that in all the afflictions and persecutions that do befall the people of God, God will not fail to keep them company; and therefore let not troubles trouble you, let not afflictions afflict you, nor let not persecutions discourage you. But,
6. I answer, That he shall be sure to suffer from Christ—who refuses to suffer, or that is afraid to suffer, for Christ's sake, or holiness' sake, or the gospel's sake.No man can suffer so much for Christ as he shall be sure to suffer from Christ, if he disdains and refuses to suffer for Christ: Mark 8:35, "For whoever will save his life, shall lose it; but whoever shall lose his life for my sake, and the gospel's, the same shall save it." He who shall attempt to save his life by shifting off of truth, or by forsaking of Christ—shall lose it. He who thinks to shun suffering by sinning, shall be sure to suffer with a witness. It is a gainful loss to suffer for the truth, it is a lossful gain, by time-serving and base complying with the lusts and humours of men, to provide for our present safety, security, plenty, peace, and ease, &c., either by denying the truth, or by betraying the truth, or by exchanging the truth, or by forsaking the truth.
So verse 38, "Whoever, therefore, shall be ashamed of me, and of my words, in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father, with the holy angels." Ah, friends, what are prisons and dungeons, and racks and flames—compared to Christ's being ashamed of a man in the great day, when he shall be attended with troops of saints and millions of angels? When, in the face of the court of heaven, when all the princes of glory shall sit upon their thrones, Christ shall disdain a man, and scorn so much as to look upon him, or take any notice of him, or show the least respect or favor towards him. Oh, what a sea of sorrow and a hell of horror will this raise in him!
I have read that when Sapor, king of Persia, raised a violent persecution against the Christians, Usthazares, an old nobleman, and one of king Sapor's eunuchs and courtiers, being a Christian, was so terrified that he left off his profession, and sitting at the court gate when Simeon, an aged holy bishop, was led to prison, and rising up to salute him, the good bishop frowned upon him, and turned his face with indignation from him, as disdaining to look upon a man who had denied the faith; upon this Usthazares fell a-weeping, and went into his chamber, and put off his courtly garments, and then broke out into these like words, Ah, how shall I appear before that God that I have denied? With what face shall I behold that God of whom I have been ashamed, when Simeon, my old familiar acquaintance, will not endure to look upon me—but disdains to bestow a civil salute upon me? If he frowns now, oh, how will God behold me when I shall stand before his tribunal seat! And this physic so wrought with him, that he recovered his spiritual strength, and went boldly and professed himself a Christian, and died a glorious martyr. The application is easy.
Well, sirs, remember this, it is infinitely better to suffer for God, than to suffer from God: 1 Peter 3:17, "For it is better, if the will of God be so, that you suffer for well doing, than for evil doing." It is better to suffer for well doing from men, than to suffer for ill doing from God. But,
7. I answer, That great are the advantages which will redound to you by all the troubles, afflictions, and persecutions that shall befall you, for righteousness' sake, for holiness' sake, Luke 21:13. Persecutions are the workmen that will fit you and square you for God's buildings; they are the rods which will beat off the dust from your souls; and the scullions [a kitchen servant who cleans pots and does other menial tasks] that will scour off the rust from your souls; they are the fire which will purge you from your dross, and the water which will cleanse you from your filthiness. Physicians, you know, apply horse-leeches to their disordered patients. Now the horse-leech intends nothing but to satiate and fill himself with the blood of the sick patient—but the physician has a more noble aim, even the drawing away of that putrified and corrupt blood that endangers the life of his patient; so though persecutors aim at nothing more than to draw out the heartblood of God's people, that they may satiate and fill themselves with it—yet God has other thoughts and other aims, even the drawing away of that corrupt blood, that pride, that self-love, that worldliness, that carnalness, and that lukewarmness, that otherwise would endanger the life, the health, and welfare of their souls. But this great truth I shall make more evident by an induction of particulars. Thus,
[1.] Hereby you will give an evident proof of the soundness and uprightness of your own hearts, Philippians 1:27-29. Afflictions and persecutions will discover what metal men are made of. All is not gold that glistens. There are many who glisten, and look like golden Christians—but when they come to the fire, they prove but dross. He is a golden Christian indeed, who remains gold when under fiery trials.
The stony ground hearer did glisten and shine very gloriously, for it received the word with joy for a time—but when the sun of persecution rose upon it, it fell away, (Mat 13:20, 21). Men who now embrace the word, will, in times of persecution, distaste the word, if it is not rooted in their understandings, judgments, wills, affections, and consciences. Men may court the word, and compliment the word, and applaud the word, and seemingly rejoice in the word—but they will never suffer persecution for the word, if it be only received into their heads, and not rooted in their hearts.
The house built upon the sand was as lovely, as goodly, and as glorious a house to look upon as that which was built upon the rock; but when the rain of affliction descended, and the floods of tribulation came, and the winds of persecution blew and beat upon that house, it fell with a great crash! (Mat 7:26, 27). No professors will be able to endure in all winds and weathers—but such as are built upon a rock. All others will sink, shatter, and fall when the wind of persecution blows upon them, (Mal 3:2); as sure as the rain will fall, the floods flow, and the winds blow, so sure will an unsound heart give out when trials come.
Nothing speaks out more soundness and uprightness, than a pursuing after holiness, even then when holiness is most afflicted, pursued, and persecuted in the world. To stand fast in fiery trials, argues much grace and integrity within. But,
[2.] All the troubles and persecutions which Satan or his instruments raise against the saints of the Most High shall not diminish their number—but rather increase them.The kingdom of Christ is set forth by a little stone cut out of a mountain without hands (Dan 2:34, 35); and though in all ages there has been many hammers at work to break this little stone in pieces—yet they have not been able to do it—but this little stone has proved a growing stone, and, in spite of the devil and a persecuting world, will grow more and more, until it comes to be a great mountain, and fills the whole earth. In the 8th chapter of the Acts you read of a great persecution, and the storm beat so hard upon the churches, that it dispersed and scattered them up and down; and this was so far from lessening of the number of believers, that it did mightily increase their number; witness verses 4-6, 8, "Therefore those who were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word. Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them. And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spoke, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. And there was great joy in that city." Samaria was a very wicked, corrupt place, and bewitched by the sorceries of Simon Magus—yet God had his people there, and by the ministry of Philip—not Philip the apostle—but Philip the deacon who was a persecuted brother, he called them home to be partakers of his Spirit and grace, verses 14-17. And thus the scattering of the church was the great advantage and increase of the church.
The persecution of one church may be the gathering, edifying, multiplying, and erecting of many churches. Such ministers who have been by persecution driven from their own churches have been eminently instrumental in the planting of many other churches. Though the gospel, and the faithful preachers and professors of it—were by the Scribes, Pharisees, high priests, elders, and great Council exploded, blasphemed, and persecuted at Jerusalem, which was once the holy city—yet it was with joy received in the polluted, bewitched, scorned, and despised city of Samaria. Oh, the freeness! Oh, the riches of grace! Persecution is the multiplication of the people of God; in all ages the more the saints have been afflicted, oppressed, and persecuted, the more they have increased.
The removing of the seven churches in Asia brought the gospel to Europe and Africa. During the ten cruel persecutions of the heathen emperors, the Christian faith was spread through all places of the empire; because the oftener they were mown down, the more they grew, as Tertullian witnesses; and the more we are cut down by the sword of persecution, says the same author, the more still we increase. Persecuted saints are like camomile, which grows and spreads by being trod upon; the more persecutors tread upon the people of God, the more they will spread and grow. But,
[3.] The troubles, afflictions, and persecutions which befall you in the pursuit after holiness, may issue in the conversion and salvation of others; as is evident in Acts 8, which chapter I recommend to your most serious perusal. So in that 2 Timothy 2:9, 10, "Wherein I suffer trouble as an evil doer, even unto bonds—but the word of God is not bound," (though Paul was fettered—yet the word was free,) "therefore I endure all things for the elect's sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory."
Paul, for preaching of the gospel clearly and faithfully, was imprisoned at Rome and handled as if he had been a malefactor, all which he was contented to suffer upon these very grounds—that the elect might be called, converted, saved, and glorified. It is very observable, that though Paul was a prisoner—yet he preached; though he was in chains—yet he preached; and though he was accounted as an evil-doer—yet he preached, that the elect might be sanctified and saved. Though his persecutors did lay irons upon his legs—yet they could not lay a law of silence upon his lips; and though they shut him up from going to others—yet they did not shut out others from coming to hear him; for even in prison he exercised his ministerial office. As cruel as his persecutors were, they would not shut the prison doors upon those who waited on his ministry. So Philemon was converted by Paul when he was in bonds: Philemon 10, "I beseech you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds." God made Paul's prison to be a paradise to Onesimus; Paul by his preaching, patience, and cheerfulness in suffering, converts Onesimus to the faith.
Prisons in these times were turned into churches; and so they were in Queen Mary's days, for as bloody as her reign was, most of the prisons in England were turned into Christian schools and churches, says Mr. Foxe: so that there was no greater comfort than for Christians to resort to prisons, and to hear the martyrs to pray and preach, and to behold their holy, humble, heavenly, gracious conversation. So the afflictions and persecutions of the saints in the primitive times issued in the conversion and salvation of many souls.
We read that Cecilia, a poor virgin, by her gracious behavior in her martyrdom, was the means of converting four hundred to Christ. Adrianus, by seeing the martyrs suffer so patiently and cheerfully, was converted to the faith, and afterwards sealed to the truth with his blood. Justin Martyr was also converted in the same way. In the third persecution, Faustus and Jobita suffered martyrdom with such invincible patience, courage, and cheerfulness, that Calocerius cried out, Truly, great is the God of the Christians. Upon which words he was presently apprehended, and so suffered martyrdom with them. And that was a remarkable saying of Luther, The church converts the whole world by blood and prayer.
Now if by your troubles, afflictions, and persecutions, and the exercise of grace under them, you shall be instrumental to convert and save a soul or souls from wrath to come, it will turn wonderfully to your advantage, and you shall "shine as the stars forever and ever" (Dan 12:3). That same power, presence, wisdom, and grace, that converted others by the sufferings of former saints, is able to accomplish the same glorious effects by the sufferings of the saints of this generation; and therefore bear up bravely, and neither fear nor faint under your present sufferings. But,
[4.] The troubles, afflictions, and persecutions which Christians meet with in their pursuit after holiness, will further the increase and growth of their grace.Grace never rises to so great a height as it does in times of persecution. Suffering times are a Christian's harvest times (Psalm 69:7-9, 12). Let me instance in that grace of zeal: I remember Moulin speaking of the French Protestants, says, "When Papists burn us for reading the Scriptures, we burn with zeal to be reading of them; but now persecution is over, our Bibles are like old almanacs," &c. All the reproaches, frowns, threatenings, oppositions, and persecutions that a Christian meets with in a way of holiness, does but raise his zeal and courage to a greater height.
In times of greatest affliction and persecution for holiness' sake, a Christian has, first, a good captain to lead and encourage him; secondly, a righteous cause to prompt and embolden him; thirdly, a gracious God to relieve and support him; fourthly, a glorious heaven to receive and reward him; and certainly these things cannot but mightily raise him and inflame him, under the greatest opposition and persecution. These things will keep him from fearing, fawning, fainting, sinking, or flying in a stormy day; yes, these things will make his face like the face of an adamant, as God promised to make Ezekiel's, (Eze 3:7-9 and Job 41:24).
Now an adamant is the hardest of stones, it is harder than a flint, yes, it is harder than the nether-millstone. The naturalists observe, that the hardness of this stone is unspeakable: the fire cannot burn it, nor so much as heat it through, nor the hammer cannot break it, nor the water cannot dissolve it; and therefore the Greeks call it an adamant from its unbreakableness; and in all storms the adamant shrinks not, it fears not, it changes not its hue; let the times be what they will, the adamant is still the same. In times of persecution, a good cause, a good God, and a good conscience will make a Christian like an adamant; it will make him invincible and unchangeable. But,
[5.] Persecuting times are uniting times.Oh! the discord, the division, the wrangling, biting and quarreling that is to be found among professors in times of peace and prosperity! But when affliction and persecution comes upon them, this unites them together. Though the sheep in sunshine days feed at a distance, and wander one from another; yet when a storm comes, or the wolf comes—then they run all together; and so it is with Christians. Some religious leaders who could by no means agree when they had their freedom and liberty—yet could well enough agree when they were in prison together. Though children in a family may fall out among themselves—yet they quickly unite when a common enemy assaults them. Persecuting times unite Christians closer together in their affections, resolutions, and prayers. They who formerly could hardly be brought to eat together, or trade together, or live together, or walk together—in persecuting times will be brought to hear together, and pray together, and fast together, and communicate experiences together, and stand together, and fall together, and rise together, &c., (Psalm 83:3-9). But,
[6.] As persecuting times are uniting times, so persecuting times are truth-advancing times.Truth thrives most when it is most opposed and persecuted: Philippians 1:12-14, "Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly." Court, city, and country did ring of Paul's bonds, and the cause thereof. Paul's iron chain made more noise, and was more glorious, and wrought more blessed effects, than all the golden chains in Nero's court; for by his bonds and chains many of the brethren were mightily emboldened and encouraged to preach the word without fear. The brethren, when they saw that Paul preached, and kept up the exercise of his ministry, though a prisoner, and though he was in bonds and chains—could not but reason thus with themselves: if Paul a prisoner holds up and holds on in preaching the word, though he is in bonds and chains; ah, how much more ought we who are at liberty to hold up and hold on in preaching the truth, and advancing the truth, and in spreading of the truth. Now, by what has been said, it is most evident that persecuting times are truth-advancing times. But,
[7.] Lastly, As persecuting times are truth-advancing times: so persecuting times are a Christian's rejoicing times.A Christian's heart is never so full of joy, as it is when he is under sufferings: Acts 5:41, "And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name." They counted it an honor to be dishonored for Christ; they took it as a grace to be disgraced for Jesus. Stephen found the joys of heaven in his heart as the stones came clattering about his ears (Act 7:55, 56). So Paul and Silas, when they were in prison, their hearts were so full of joy that they could not hold it in—but at midnight when others were a-sleeping, they must fall a-singing out the praises of the Most High (Act 16:25). They found more pleasure than pain, more joy than sorrow, more comfort than torment—in their bonds. The rods with which they were whipped were as rods made up all of rosemary branches. Divine consolations rise so high in their souls—that their prison was turned into a palace, yes, into a paradise!
Eusebius tells us of Algerius the Italian martyr, how that, writing to his friend from a stinking dungeon, he writs his letter "from my pleasant orchard;" such were his divine consolations, that they turned his dungeon into a pleasant orchard. "I with my fellows," says Mr. Philpot, "were carried to the coal-house, where we lie in filth in the straw, as cheerfully, we thank God, as others do in their beds of down." Mr. Bradford took off his cap, and thanked the Lord, when his keeper's wife brought him word that he was to be burned the next day. Mr. Taylor did a dance when he was come near to the place where he was to be martyred. Mr. Rogers, the first who was burned in Queen Mary's days—sang in the flames. If men did but know by experience the sweet that is in suffering for Christ, they would desire with Chrysostom, if it were put to their choice, rather to be Paul a prisoner of Jesus Christ, than Paul enrapt up in the third heaven.
God reserves the best and strongest wine of consolation for a day of persecution; suitable to that 2 Corinthians 1:3-5, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows." Oh, the sweet looks, the sweet words, the sweet hints, the sweet in-comes, the sweet joggings, the sweet embraces, the sweet influences, the sweet discoveries, the sweet love-letters, the sweet love-tokens, and the sweet comforts that Christians experience in their sufferings for Christ! And thus you see the great and glorious advantages that will redound to the people of God by all their afflictions and persecutions. But,
8. That to suffer affliction and persecution for holiness' sake, is the greatest and highest honor that you are capable of in this world.The crown of a martyrdom is a crown that the angels, those princes of glory, are not capable of winning or wearing; and oh, who are you! What are you, O man! That God should set this crown upon your head! 1 Peter 4:13-14, "But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you." The very suffering condition of the people of God is at the present a glorious condition, for "the Spirit of glory and of God rests on them," and they must needs be glorious, yes, very glorious, upon whom the Spirit of glory dwells.
The sufferings of "the three children," (Dan 3), tended very much to their honor and advancement, even in this world; and had those vessels of honor slipped their opportunity of suffering, they had lost their glory. The apostles all along counted their sufferings for Christ their highest honor. And that is a remarkable scripture that you have in that Hebrews 11:36-38, "Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground." Oh! but these were surely the most sad, miserable, wretched, and forlorn creatures in all the world. Oh no! and that is most evident if the testimony and judgment of the Holy Spirit may be received; for, verse 38, "They were such of whom the world was not worthy." The persecuting world was not worthy of their love, nor worthy of their prayers, nor worthy of their presence, nor worthy of their fellowship; and therefore God called them home, and set them down upon thrones by himself.
And to me it is very observable, that when that great apostle Paul would glory in that which he accounted his honor, glory, and excellency;he does not glory in his high office, nor in his being enrapt up in the third heaven, nor in the interest that he had in the hearts of the saints, nor in his arts or parts, etc.; but he glories in his sufferings, in that 2 Corinthians 11:23-27, "I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked." Thus you see that this blessed apostle looks upon his sufferings as his greatest glory.
"To suffer for Christ is the greatest honor and promotion that God gives in this world," said old Latimer. John Noyes took up a faggot from the fire and kissed it, saying, "Blessed be the time that ever I was born: to come to this promotion." After they had fastened Alice Driver with a chain to the stake to be burned, "Never," said she, "did a necklace so well please me--as this chain." Balilus the martyr, when he was to die, requested this favor from his persecutors, namely, that he might have his chains buried with him, as the ensigns of his honor. When Ignatius was to suffer, "It is better for me," says he, "to be a martyr, than to be a monarch." Sufferings for Christ are the ensigns of heavenly nobility.
It was a notable saying of a French martyr, when the noose was around his comrade's neck, "Give me," said he, "that golden chain, and dub me knight of that noble order." "I am the most unfit man for this high office of suffering for Christ, who ever was appointed to it," said blessed Sanders. I shall with that excellent saying of Prudentius: "Their names which are written in red letters of blood in the church's calendar, are written in golden letters in Christ's register, the book of life." And thus you see on all hands, that suffering for Christ is the highest honor that you are capable of in this world: and, therefore, there is little reason why a Christian should shrink or shrug at sufferings. But,
9. That the afflictions, persecutions, and sufferings which attend Christians in these days, are nothing compared to the fiery trials which the saints and martyrs of old have met with.For sevenfold harder measure has been measured forth to them, than is this day measured forth to us. Our sufferings are hardly to be named in comparison to those sore and heavy things are mentioned, which those precious and famous worthies of old have suffered. I may say to most Christians, as the apostle did to the Hebrews, "You have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin" (Heb 12:4). Many have—but you have not; you have only met with hard words, when others have met with blows and wounds; you have been only a-contending with men, when others have been a-contending with beasts; you have been only whipped with rosemary branches, when others have been whipped with scorpions; you have been only bound with silken bands, when others have been bound with iron chains. Will you be so favorable to yourselves as to compare your sufferings with the sufferings of former saints; and that you may, let me give you a little abridgment of their sufferings "of whom the world was not worthy."
History tells us, that in the ten primitive persecutions, they exercised all manner of cruelty and torments that could be devised against the Christians:
1. In the reign of Hadrian the emperor, there were ten thousand Christians crowned with a crowns of thorns, thrust into the sides with sharp lances, and then crucified.
2. Others were so whipped, that their entrails were seen, and afterwards they were thrown upon sharp shells, and then upon sharp nails and thorns. And after all this cruelty, they were thrown to wild beasts to be devoured.
3. Multitudes were banished.
4. Others were pulled apart with wild horses.
5. Some were beaten and racked with bars of iron.
6. Others were cast into loathsome dungeons.
7. Some were burnt in the fire.
8. Others were knocked down and had their brains beaten out with staves and clubs.
9. Some were pricked in their faces and eyes with sharp reeds.
10. Others were stoned to death with stones, as Stephen was.
11. Some were dashed in pieces against millstones.
12. Others had their teeth dashed out of their jaws, and their joints broken.
13. Some were cast down from very high places.
14. Others were beheaded.
15. Some were tormented with razors.
16. Others were slain with the sword.
17. Some were run through with pikes.
18. Others were driven into the wilderness, where they wandered up and down, suffering hunger and cold, and where they were exposed to the fury both of wild beasts, and also to the rage of the barbarous Arabians.
19. Some fled into caves, which their persecutors crammed up with stones, and there they died.
20. Others were trodden to death by the people.
21. Some were hanged on gibbets with a slow fire under them.
22. Others were cast into the sea and drowned.
23. Some were slain by being thrown in mines.
24. Others were hanged by the feet, and choked with the smoke of a small fire, their legs being first broken.
25. Some were covered with oil, and then roasted with a soft fire.
26. Others were hung by one hand, that they might feel the weight of their whole bodies scorching and broiling over burning coals.
27. Some were shot through with arrows, and afterwards thrown into stinking prisons.
28. Others were stripped stark naked, and thrown out in cold, frosty nights; and burnt the next day.
29. In Syria, a company of Christian virgins were stripped stark naked to be scorned by the multitude, then shaved, and then torn in pieces and devoured by beasts.
30. Lastly, many women had the joints of their bodies pulled from another, and their flesh and sides clawed with talons of wild beasts to the bones, and their breasts seared with torches until they died.
And thus you have an account of thirty different ways by which the precious sons and daughters of Zion have formerly been afflicted, tormented, and destroyed! What heart of stone can read over this list with dry eyes? And now tell me, sirs, whether your sufferings are worth a naming in that day, wherein the sufferings of the precious servants of God in the primitive times are spoken of? Oh, no! Well then, take heed of making molehills mountains, and of crying out, "Is there any sorrow to our sorrow, or any sufferings to our sufferings?"
10. I answer, That unholy people have suffered as great and grievous things for the satisfying of their lusts and pleasures, and for the compassing of some worldly good—as you have suffered, or are likely to suffer for your pursuing after holiness.Oh the hazards, the dangers, the deaths that many have run through to gratify their lusts! Petrus Blesensis has long since observed, that the courtiers of his time suffered as many vexations, with weariness and painfulness, with hunger and thirst, and with all the catalogue of Paul's afflictions that is reckoned up in that 2 Corinthians 11, as good Christians did for the truth. I have read of a Roman servant, who knowing his master was sought for by officers to be put to death, he, to save his master's life, put himself into his master's clothes that he might be taken for him, and accordingly he was taken and put to death for him, and all this out of vainglory. Ah what cutting, what lancing, what bleeding, and what searching will many men endure upon the advice of their physicians, and all for a little health, a little strength, or to preserve a wretched life for a few days, yes, for a few hours sometimes. And why then should Christians think so much of suffering afflictions and persecutions for holiness' sake, the least grain of which being more worth than a thousand thousand of those things, for which they have suffered such exquisite pains and torments?
Ah! what great things, what hard things do many men daily suffer to gratify their own lusts, and to satisfy the lusts of others! Oh the hell of horrors and terrors, which are worse than a thousand deaths, that many a sinner daily wades through to enjoy his sin! And why then should you be startled in your pursuit after holiness, because of afflictions and persecutions that may attend you? When they are nothing compared to what many suffer from within and without, to enjoy that which will undo them to all eternity, &c. But,
11. I answer, Though persecutions may attend the pursuit of holiness—yet God has a thousand thousand ways to preserve his people, from being ruined and destroyed by persecuting hands.Several afflictions and persecutions befell Paul at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra, "but out of them all the Lord delivered him." As a righteous cause led him into sufferings, so a righteous God led him out of sufferings. Both Jews and Gentiles, barbarians and Grecians, princes and people, were as madly set upon persecuting of him, as he was once madly set upon persecuting of the saints—but God delivered him from every hand of violence. Divine power and wisdom wrought gloriously for him; both in six troubles and in seven it brought him clearly off, and bravely out, not of some—but out of all his dangers and distresses, afflictions and persecutions, etc. Now,
[1.] God sometimes preserves his people from being ruined and destroyed, by laying a law of restraint upon the spirits of their persecutors, as he did upon Laban's and Esau's, that they could not hurt him; yes, instead of kicking and killing, behold kissing and embracing. God tied up those cursed dogs, and laid such a restraint upon their wrath, rage, and malice—that they could not so much as touch a hair of Jacob's head. God stopped their mouths and bound their hands, that they were not able to act anything to the hurt of Jacob. That God who laid a restraint upon the fierce wild creatures in Noah's ark, that they might not prey upon the tamer animals, and who chained up the lions from preying upon Daniel—that God chained up these two lions, that they could not make a prey of innocent Jacob. But,
[2.] God does this sometimes by setting persecutors one against another.When the Moabites were confederated with the Ammonites and those of mount Seir against Judah, God made them turn their swords against one another, and so they mutually became their own executioners, and by this means poor Judah escaped. God sometimes saves his lambs by setting the wolf and the dog against each other. When that wolf Saul was even ready to devour David the lamb, God lets loose those dogs the Philistines upon Saul, and so by this means David was preserved and secured (1Sa 23:27). And so Paul, by setting the persecuting Pharisees against the persecuting scribes, he escaped persecution (Act 23:6-8). But
[3.] God does sometimes saves his people from persecutions by passing a sentence of death upon their persecutors: and thus by his sudden and fearful judgment upon Herod he gave rest, liberty, and quiet to his people (Act 12:23, 24). And so by his vengeance on persecuting emperors he gave rest to his people. And by giving Ahithophel rope enough, he preserved David from perishing. But,
[4.] God does this sometimes by altering and changing the very hearts and natures of their persecutors.And thus by changing Paul's nature, by turning that wolf into a lamb, that devil into a saint, he gave the churches rest throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria (Act 9:31); and this is one of the most desirable things in the world, that God would save his people from outward ruin by ruining their persecutors' sins, and by changing their hearts and saving their souls. But,
[5.] God does this sometimes by taking persecutors' feet in the same snares that they have laid for others: Psalm 9:16, "The wicked is snared in the work of his own hands. Higgaion. Selah." Higgaion selah signifies matter of great admiration, and of deep meditation; that the wicked should be snared in the work of his own hands is matter of perpetual admiration, and of most serious meditation. Who will not admire that Goliath should be slain with his own sword, and that proud Haman should hold Mordecai's stirrup, and be the herald of his honor: Psalm 7:15,16, "He who digs a hole and scoops it out falls into the pit he has made. The trouble he causes recoils on himself; his violence comes down on his own head."
It is usual with God to take persecutors in the snares and pits that they have laid for his people, as many thousands in this nation have experienced; and though Rome and her confederates are this day a-laying of snares and traps, and a-digging of pits for the righteous, who will rather burn than bow to their Baal—yet do but wait and weep, and weep and wait a little, and you shall see that the Lord will take them in the very snares and pits that they have laid and dug for his people. But,
[6.] God sometimes preserves his people from persecuting hands, by providing cities of refuge to shelter them, and by providing hiding-places to hide them in: Matthew 10:23, "If they persecute you in one city, flee to another." God has always found one city of refuge or another to shelter his persecuted people in. And so when bloody persecuting Jezebel had cut off many of the Lord's prophets, God provided an Obadiah to hide a hundred of them in a cave (1Ki 18:4, 13). God never lacks a chamber of presence, a chamber of providence, a chamber of protection, a chamber of salvation to hide his people in (Isa 26:20). I have read of one that, in the time of the massacre at Paris, crept into a hole to hide himself, and as soon as he was in there came a spider and weaved a web before the hole; the next morning the murderers came to search for him, Search in that hole, said one, and see if he is not there! O no, said another, he can't be there, for there is a cobweb at the hole's mouth; upon which they did not suspect his being there, by which means he was preserved from the rage and fury of those men of blood. But,
12. Lastly, I answer, That all the persecutions that you meet with on earth shall advance your glory in heaven.The more saints are persecuted on earth, the greater shall be their reward in heaven; as persecutions do increase a Christian's grace, so they do advance a Christian's glory: Matthew 5:10-12, "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven!" Luke 6:22, 23, "Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven!"
Those who are now opposed and persecuted by men, shall at last be owned and crowned by God; yes, and the more afflictions and persecutions are multiplied upon them in this world—the greater shall be their recompense in the eternal world. The original words, in Matthew and in Luke, signifies exceeding great joy, such as men usually express by skipping and dancing; let your hearts leap, and let your bodies leap for joy, for great is your reward in heaven. Look, as young cattle in the spring, do leap and skip for joy; so says Christ, do you leap and skip under all the afflictions and persecutions which befall you for righteousness' sake, for great is your reward in heaven.
O Christians, all your sufferings will certainly increase your future glory; every affliction, every persecution will be put into the scale of your heavenly glory, to make it more weighty in that day, wherein he will richly reward you for every tear, for every sigh, for every groan, for every hazard, and for every hardship that you have met with in the pursuit of holiness, etc. For light afflictions you shall have a weight of glory; and for a few afflictions you shall have as many joys, pleasures, delights, and contentments as there are stars in heaven or sands on the sea-shore; and for momentary afflictions you shall have an eternal crown of glory (2 Co 4:16-18).
If you have suffered for Christ on earth, you shall have glory with Christ in heaven. Ah Christians, your present sufferings are but the seeds of your future glory, and the more plentifully you sow in tears, the more abundant will be your harvest of glory. Ah Christians! Shall not the hopes of that great reward which attends suffering saints bear you up bravely, and carry you out sweetly under all the storms that may beat upon you while you are sailing heavenwards and holiness-wards? Surely yes. I hope none of you will think that I have been too long in answering this objection, considering the present times.
Objection 5.Fifthly, Others may object and say, We would labor after this holiness, without which there is no happiness, etc. But if we should—then we must resolve to be poor, and base, and beggarly in the world. We must then resolve ourselves to fare hard, and lie hard, and labor hard, and live poor in the world—for we shall never raise an estate to ourselves by holiness and strictness, we shall never grow rich and great in the world by godliness. Nay, by driving this trade of holiness—we shall lose our trades, our customers, and those estates we now have, and quickly fall into dire poverty, etc. Now to fence and arm you against this objection, give me permission to propose these six following considerations:
[1.]First, Consider that it is not absolutely necessary that you should be rich, or high, or great in this world; but it is absolutely necessary that you should be holy. The lack of riches can only trouble you—but the lack of holiness will certainly damn you. You may be happy in the eternal world, though you are not high in this world. Many a man has gone to heaven without a penny in his purse, or good clothes on his back. Doubtless it is infinitely better with ragged, naked Lazarus to go to heaven—than it is with Dives to go rich and well-clad to hell, Luke 16:19-31. It is better to go to heaven poor, and halt, and maimed—than to go to hell healthy and rich. Poverty and outward misery with salvation, is far better than worldly prosperity and felicity with everlasting perdition. Holiness, and not riches, is the one thing necessary. If you have holiness, nothing can make you miserable; but if you lack holiness, nothing can make you happy.
Outward blessings are no infallible evidences of a blessed estate. Was Abraham rich? so was Abimelech too. Was Jacob rich? so was Laban too. Was David a king? so was Saul too. Was Constantine an emperor? so was Julian too. It is only holiness which sets the crown of happiness upon a Christian's head. But,
[2.]Secondly, Consider that it is not sanctity—but impiety; it is not holiness—but wickedness, which exposes men to the greatest poverty and misery!
Proverbs 6:26, "For by the means of a whorish woman a man is brought to a piece of bread." Whoredom is a very costly sin, Proverbs 24:33-34, and 28:19, 22; the prodigal had quickly spent his portion among his harlots, Luke 15. Whoredom cannot be a greater paradise to the flesh, than it is a purgatory to the purse—as many great ones have found it so. Herod, that old fornicator, was so inflamed and bewitched with the immodest wanton dancing of the damsel, that he swore he would give her to the half of his kingdom, Mark 6:23-24. And it is very observable, that while Solomon, in his younger days, kept holy, chaste, and pure—silver and gold was as plenteous at Jerusalem and at court as the stones of the street; but when Solomon had given himself up to his concubines, they quickly exhausted his treasuries, and brought him to so low an ebb, that he was forced to oppress his subjects with such heavy taxes, burdens, and tributes, which occasioned the revolt of the ten tribes. [Kings 10:27-28; 2 Chron. 1:15-17; 1 Kings 12:1-20.]
Josephus, in his Antiquities, tells us of Decius Mundus, who gave a great amount to satisfy his lusts one night with a whore—and yet did not obtain satisfaction. There is no sin which has brought more men, and greater men, to beggary and misery than this has. It is a great misery to be brought to a piece of bread, to a scrap, a little bit of bread; but to be brought into so low a condition by harlots, doubles the misery; for he who is by a whorish woman brought to a piece of bread on earth, shall be brought to beg a drop of water in hell, except there be found repentance on his side, and pardoning mercy on God's.
Take another instance in that Proverbs 23:20-21, "Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags." [The glutton and the drunkard were to be stoned to death, Deut. 21:20-21. Basil calls drunkenness a self-chosen devil. When Eschines commended Philip king of Macedon for a jovial man who would drink freely, Demosthenes, being by, told him that was a good quality in a sponge—but not in a prince.] Many dukes, earls, lords, and gentlemen of great estates, have sadly experienced the truth of this scripture.
Luxurious company has brought many a man to extreme poverty. The full cup makes an empty purse; and the fat dish makes a lean money-bag. He who fills you wine with one hand, and sets before you dainty dishes with the other hand, will be sure to pick your pockets with both hands! This Caligula, the Roman emperor, found by experience; for his gluttony brought him to incredible poverty. Diogenes, hearing that the house of a certain prodigal was offered to sale, said, "I knew that house was so accustomed to surfeiting and drunkenness, that before long it would spew out the master."
There was a street in Rome called vicus sobrius, the sober street, because there was never an ale-house in it; but this, I think, is hard to say of any street in London, yes, of any street in England. Excessive drinking is now so great in our land. Ah, sirs! what is more evident than this, that drunkenness flows in England! Oh, what a deal of ground has this sin made within this few months upon English hearts! There was a time when drunkards were as rare in England as wolves—but now they are as common as swine. Ah, what staggering, reeling, and shameful spewing is to be found, both among the great ones, the priests, and people of this nation!
The prophet Hosea complained in his time, that the princes, upon their king's day, made him sick with bottles of wine, Hosea 7:5 "On the day of the festival of our king, the princes become inflamed with wine." This day of their king was either his birthday, or his coronation day; or the day wherein their king Jeroboam set up his golden calves at Dan and Bethel, as some others conceive. Now in this day of their king there was such carnal triumphing, and such pampering of the flesh, and such roaring, carousing, and drinking of bottles of wine, that the princes drank themselves sick, drowning their bodies and souls in bottles and kegs of wine. Memorable is the king's late proclamation against all such debauched people, who, pretending to drink to his health, destroy their own by a shameful abusing of the precious creatures of God.
If the prophet Hosea were now alive in this nation, ah, what cause would he have to complain that both high and low, men and women, young and old have given themselves to this beastly sin, which unmans a man, and which besots the soul, and which destroys the body, and which proves a cankerworm to men's estates! What are most ale-houses, but hell-houses—but the devil's houses, in which the name of God is notoriously blasphemed, piety scorned, the saints derided, young ones impoisoned, and old ones hardened, and many thousand families impoverished? And why, then, should it be almost as easy a task to conquer the West Indies, to overcome the Turk, and to bring down the Pope—as it is to bring down such wretched ale-houses, as are the very nurseries of all sin, and the synagogues of incarnate devils, and the very sinks of all misery, poverty, and beggary. By these instances it is most clear that it is not holiness—but wickedness that exposes men to the greatest poverty and misery. But,
[3.]Thirdly, Consider that God can make a little with holiness, go a great way. [Mr. Foxe speaks of a poor woman, who being threatened that she would have but a little bread one day, and a little water on the next, replied, "If you take away my food, I hope God will take away my hunger, and then it will be all one as if I had food."] A little with holiness shall serve the turn, and then enough is as good as a feast. God can make a handful of meal in the barrel, and a little oil in the cruse, hold out a long while, I Kings 17:10-17. Just so, Deut. 8:4, "Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years." Chapter 29:5, "During the forty years that I led you through the desert, your clothes did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet." Their clothes in forty years' time was not the worse for wearing, their garments were not worn out with wearing, in all that time they were not grown old and so unfit to wear. Oh no; but they were as fresh and strong, and fit for use at the last, as they were when they first came into the wilderness, and this was by a divine power that preserved them from decay. God supplied all the backs and bellies of the Israelites in such state, as if every Israelite had been a prince. When God brings his people into a wilderness condition, he will make their mercies last and hold out as long as their wilderness condition continues.
Just so, in that Proverbs 15:16-17, "Better a little with the fear of the Lord than great wealth with turmoil. Better a meal of vegetables where there is love, than a fattened calf with hatred." [Sheep can live upon bare commons, where fat oxen would be quickly starved, etc.] Chapter 16:8, "Better is a little with righteousness, than great revenues without right." Chapter 17:1, "Better is a dry morsel and quietness therewith, than a house full of sacrifices with strife." Psalm 37:16, "A little that a righteous man has, is better than the riches of many wicked." Where there is a holy God, and a holy heart—a little of the world will go far. A little will be a sufficiency to him, who with it enjoys that Holy One who is all-sufficiency itself, Phil. 4:11-20. Though a whole world will never fill nor satisfy an unsanctified heart; yet a little, a very little of the world will satisfy and content a holy heart. There are two things that an unholy heart can never find, it can never find any sweetness in spirituals, nor it can never find any satisfaction in temporals. But a holy heart always finds the greatest sweetness in spirituals, and is as easily satisfied with the least and poorest of temporals, Esther. 5:9-14. Gen. 28:20-21, "Then Jacob made a vow, saying—If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father's house, then the Lord will be my God." Holy Jacob does not indent with God for costly apparel, or delicate fare; he does not make a bargain with God to be housed in luxury, and fed daintily, and clothed gorgeously, and lodged easily, and waited on nobly. ["Bread and water with the gospel is good enough," said holy Greenham.] Oh no; bread to eat and clothes to wear is as much as holy Jacob looks after.
Ah friends, a little will serve nature, and less will serve grace, though nothing will serve or satisfy an unsanctified man's lusts. O sirs, the very bread which a holy man eats, relishes better than all the glutton's delicious fare; and the very sheep-skins and goat-skins which he wears, wear softer and finer than all the purple and soft raiment that is in princes' houses; and the very holes, and caves, and dens wherein holy men live, are more pleasant and delightful than the stately palaces of the great ones of the world. ["It is great riches not to desire riches, and he has most, who covets least." Socrates.] Godliness and contentment does so sweeten and so lengthen out all a Christian's mercies, that he cannot but reckon himself a happy man, though he may be the poorest among many men. Let me conclude this third answer thus—
This world's wealth that men so much desire,
May well be likened to a burning fire;
Whereof a little can do little harm,
But profit much our bodies well to warm:
But take too much, and surely you shall burn;
So too much wealth to too much woe does turn.
[4.]Fourthly, Consider that worldly riches and holiness do often meet together. A man may be a very holy man—and yet a rich man too. Abraham and Lot were as wealthy men as most in their time—and yet behind none for faith and holiness. David, and Solomon, and Jehoshaphat, and Hezekiah had crowns on their heads and scepters in their hands, and very great revenues at their commands, and in all these grace and greatness sweetly meet. [Isaiah 41:2. Abraham is called the righteous man.] Job was a very holy man—and yet a very rich man, Job 1:3, 8. If you cast your eye upon the first of Job, and survey his estate, you shall find that he had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred she-donkeys, and a very large family; but if you will look into the last of Job, and survey his estate, there you shall find it doubled. Joseph, Nehemiah, Mordecai, Daniel, and the three Hebrew children, were very gracious—and yet very high and great in the world. As every wicked man is not a rich man—just so, every holy man is not a poor man. If you will but set the gracious against the graceless, the holy against the profane, I doubt not, but for one holy man whose estate is low and poor, you will find thousands of wicked men whose conditions are beggarly and low in this world. God many times delights to confute the devil's proverb—namely, that "plain dealing is a jewel—but he who uses it shall die a beggar." Now God by heaping up riches and honor and greatness upon the righteous, gives the devil the lie, and lets the world see that holiness many times is the ready way to worldly greatness.
It is observable, that when all the sons of Jacob returned with corn and money in their sacks from Egypt, Benjamin had not only corn and money in his sack—but he had over and above the silver cup put into the mouth of his sack, as a singular pledge of his brother Joseph's favor, Gen. 44. Just so, God many times gives to his Benjamins, the sons of his right hand, not only as much of the world as he does to others—but more of the world than he does to others; he does not only give them corn and money in common with others—but he also gives them the silver cup, the grace cup; he puts in some singular temporal blessings into their sacks more than into other men's; for he is the great Lord of all, and therefore may dispose of his own as he pleases. But,
[5.]Fifthly, Consider that most men are best in a low condition. David was never better than when he was in a wilderness condition, for degrees of grace, and for the exercise of grace, and for communion with the God of grace. It was best with David when his condition was low in the world, Psalm 63:1-4. It was never better with Jacob than when he passed over Jordan with a staff in his hand, Gen. 32:10. Job's graces never shined so gloriously as when he sat upon a ash-heap, and could bless a taking God as well as a giving God, Job 1. Though John the Baptist was poor in the world—yet the Holy Spirit tells us that he was the greatest, Mat. 11:11. Paul was but a poor tent-maker—and yet his life was in heaven, Phil. 3:20. The church of Smyrna was the poorest church—but yet the best of all the seven churches in Asia, Rev. 2:8-9.
Christ knew very well that his disciples would be best in a low condition, and therefore he fed them but from hand to mouth. He who could have turned stones into bread, could as easily have turned stones into gold, and so have made his disciples rich and great in the world—but he would not. Christ could easily have changed their rags into robes, and their cottages into stately palaces, and their barley loaves into costly banquets—but he knew that their hearts would be best when their condition was lowest; and therefore he makes them live upon common fare.
As there was none so holy as Christ—just so, there was none so poor as Christ, Mat. 8:20-21. Christ lived poor and died poor, for as he was born in another man's house—just so, he was buried in another man's tomb. Austin has long since observed, that when Christ died he made no will; he had no crown lands; all he had was a coat, and that the soldiers parted among them. Had there been any true happiness or blessedness in gold and silver, mirthful clothes, stately mansions, gorgeous attendants, or in well-furnished tables, etc., Christ, who was, and still is, the Lord of all, would certainly have been so favorable to himself, and so kind to his disciples, as not to have deprived himself or his family of that happiness and blessedness which they might have enjoyed, by enjoying the costly things of this world; but he very well knew that true happiness and blessedness was too great and too glorious a thing to be found in any such worldly enjoyments, and upon that ground, was willing to be without them himself. And in his wise providence he so ordered the affairs of his own house, that those whom he loved best should have least of those things wherein there was no true happiness.
Lazarus was very poor—but very holy; he was houseless—but not Lordless; his body was clothed with rags—but his soul was adorned with grace; he had no bread to eat—and yet he had bread to eat that the world knew not of. While he lived, the dogs, being more kind than their master, licked his sores—but when he died, the angels carried him into Abraham's bosom. In all ages this has been an experienced truth, that most men are best in a low condition. Pope Martin reports of himself, that while he was a monk, and lived in the cloister, he had some evidences for heaven—but when he was a cardinal, then he began to fear and doubt whether ever he should go to heaven; but afterwards, when he came to be pope, he utterly despaired of ever going there.
Ah, how holy, how humble, how heavenly, how gracious, how serious, how zealous, how prudent, how vigilant, and how diligent have many men been while their condition was low, and poor in the world! but when under various changes they changed their brass into silver, their copper into gold, their cottages into palaces, their shops into lordships, and their sheep-skins into scarlet, etc., ah, how proud, how worldly, how earthly, how carnal, how careless, how cold, how formal, how lukewarm, how indifferent, how light, how slight, how vain, how loose—did they generally grow!
I have read of the pine-tree, that if you pull off the bark it will last a long time; but if the bark remains on, it will rot the tree. Ah, how has the bark of honor, the bark of riches, the bark of pleasure, the bark of success, the bark of applause, and the bark of preferment, etc., has rotted, and corrupted, and worsened many glorious professors in these days! And oh that, now their bark is taken off, they may with the pine-tree grow better and better! Oh, that now they may grow more holy than ever, and more humble than ever, and more heavenly than ever, and more spiritual than ever, and more watchful than ever, and more faithful than ever, and more friendly than ever, and more united than ever! etc.
Now if most men are best in a low condition, then there is no reason why any man should turn his back upon holiness because of poverty, which often treads upon holiness' heels. The cypress-tree is high—but barren; and the olive-tree is low—but fruitful. Ah, Christians, it is infinitely better to be an olive-tree, low and fruitful, to be low in the world, and full of the fruits of righteousness and holiness; than to be a cypress-tree, high in honors, riches, and worldly greatness, etc., and to be barren of all grace and goodness. But,
[6.]Sixthly and lastly, Consider that spiritual riches, which are the best of riches, do commonly attend the poorest saints. Usually there are none so rich in spirituals, as those who are poorest in temporals; there are none who have so much to show for the eternal world as those who have least to show of this earthly world: James 2:5, "Hearken, my beloved brethren, Has not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him?" Though they have never a penny in their purses, nor never a rag to hang on their backs, nor ever a bit to put in their bellies—yet they are rich heirs, and their heads are destined for the diadem. Usually the poorest saints are the richest Christians in comforts, in graces, in promises, in experiences, and in spiritual enjoyments, etc., 2 Cor. 8:1-5; Romans 5:3. The holy soul drives the freest and the greatest trade heavenwards; the holy soul may sail to any port that lies in God's dominions, and trade freely—and what enriches men like a free and a full trade? There are infinite treasures laid up in precious promises, and all these treasuries lie open to the holy soul. A Christian may laden his soul as deep as he pleases with the precious commodities of heaven.
I have read of Tiberius the emperor, in 577, who, seeing a cross set in a marble stone lying in the ground, commanded it to be dug up; and when it was dug rip, he found a rich treasure under the cross. O sirs, under the cross of poverty there are treasures, spiritual treasures, lasting treasures, and satisfying treasures to be found. Though holiness may be attended with cross upon cross, loss upon loss, and misery upon misery, and calamity upon calamity, and sorrow upon sorrow, and vexation upon vexation, etc.—yet under every cross and every loss, etc., a Christian shall be sure to find such spiritual and heavenly treasure, that for weight, worth, use, delight, and duration, all the treasures of the world are not to be compared to it.
O sirs, what is a cup of pleasant wine to a condemned man? Or a ship's lading of gold to a drowning man? Or a sumptuous feast to a sick man? or royal robes to a diseased man? etc. No more are all the riches or treasures of this world, compared to those spiritual riches and heavenly treasures which attends the poorest saints. Austin has long since told us that, "Earthly riches are full of poverty." They cannot enrich the soul, for oftentimes where the purse is full of gold, the heart is empty of grace; and under many silken coats there are threadbare souls to be found. Now what are all the riches of this world, compared to those riches of consolation, and riches of sanctification, and riches of justification, and riches of salvation, and riches of glorification—which attends the poorest saints? Suppose that poverty should break in upon you like an armed man while you are in the pursuit of holiness—yet if the best of riches, if spiritual riches, shall attend your poverty, as certainly they shall, what cause have you to be discouraged? Surely none! And let thus much suffice for answer to this fifth objection.
Objection 6.But sixthly, Some may further object, and say, "Should we pursue after holiness, it would be a disgrace, a disparagement, and dishonor to us who are high, and great, and rich, and honorable in the earth. We are gentlemen, we are well-bred and high-born, and holiness seems to be too poor and too low a thing for such as we are to look after, etc."
Now to fence and arm you against this objection, give me permission to propose to your most serious thoughts these following considerations, etc.:
[1.]First, That holiness is man's greatest honor and excellency—and this I have made evident at large in the third motive to holiness. Yes, holiness is the crown, excellency, and glory of all a man's excellencies and glories—as has been fully proved in the fifth motive to holiness. Yes, and that which is yet more, holiness reflects honor, not only upon a man's own person—but it reflects honor also upon a man's near and dear relations, yes, upon the very country, city, or town where he was born—as is made good at large in the sixth motive to holiness, to which I refer you for more full and complete satisfaction to this objection. [In the other motives you will find holiness to be the honor of God, Christ, and angels, etc.] But,
[2.]Secondly, Ah, how is man fallen from his primitive glory, that looks now upon holiness as his disgrace, as his discredit and dishonor, which in innocency was the top and crown of all his glory and felicity! Ah, how has sin blinded, bebeasted, and besotted the sons of men—that they should look upon that to be their reproach which is their highest honor in this world; and to look upon that to be their disgrace which alone puts a grace upon them; and to look upon that to be their discredit which can only bring them into credit with God, angels, and godly men! Augustine confesses that it was just thus sometimes with him, for he was stricken with such blindness, that he thought it a shame unto him to be less vile and wicked than his companions, whom he heard boast of their lewdness, and boast so much the more, by how much they were the more filthy. "Therefore," says he, "lest I should be of no account, I was the more wicked, and when I could not otherwise match others, I would pretend that I had done those things which I never did, lest I should seem so much the more abject by how much I was the more innocent, and so much the more vile by how much I was the more chaste."
Ah, what will not a soul blinded by sin say and do, when the work of holiness is not formed in him! Sin has certainly cast that sinner into a woeful lethargy, who is the father of this objection. Now, it is observed of those who are fallen into a lethargy, that their bodies are subject to a continual drowsiness, and their memories are so weak that they cannot remember anything that they speak or do; nay, it does so far debase them that they forget the very necessary actions of life. And just so has sin dealt with these objectors' souls, it has cast them under such a spiritual drowsiness, yes, it has cast them into such a deadly and fearful sleep, that it makes them forget the one thing necessary—namely, holiness.
Souls under a spiritual lethargy forget their lost and lamentable condition, they forget how far off they are from God, Christ, heaven, and salvation, and they forget how near they are to hell, to ruin, to everlasting burnings, and to utter perdition and destruction. It is observable of the blacksmith's dog, that neither the noise of hammers by him, nor the sparks of fire flying about him, nor those which land upon him, do any whit awaken him—but he snorts and sleeps on securely in the midst of all. Just so, sin has cast the sinner into so deep a sleep, that though the sparks of hell-fire in the threatenings fly about him, and the hammers of God's judgments make a noise on all sides of him—yet he is so stupefied and benumbed that nothing will awaken him to behold his spiritual and eternal hazard—but he sleeps on securely, and so will continue, if infinite grace and mercy does not prevent, until he awakes with everlasting flames about his ears.
When a man is in a deep lethargy, if you pinch him with pincers, or prick him with needles, he feels it not; if you scourge him he cries not, if you threaten him he fears not, etc. Now this is the condition of such who are in a spiritual lethargy; let the judgments of God be denounced, and let the terrors of the law be preached, they tremble not; let the flames of hell-fire flash upon their souls, they regard it not, for they are sermon-proof, and judgment-proof, and hell-proof. Now this is your very case, O sinner! who cry out that the pursuit of holiness will turn to your disgrace and discredit in the world; for were your eyes but open to see the necessity, beauty, and excellency of holiness, oh, then you would call for holiness, and cry for holiness, and search for holiness, and press for holiness, as that which is the chief ornament, and the only honor and glory of the creature. But,
[3.]Thirdly, I answer, That it is not holiness—but wickedness, it is not godliness—but impiety, which is the reproach, the dishonor, the disgrace, and disparagement of man. Proverbs 14:34, "Righteousness exalts a nation; but sin is a reproach to any people," or as the Hebrew has it, "to nations." The world usually accounts either beggarliness of estate, or badness of situation, or crudeness of behavior, or changes in government, or dullness of invention, or some suchlike imperfections, to be the reproach of nations. But the Holy Spirit tells us that it is sin, it is sin which is the reproach of nations, which is the shame of nations, which is the contempt and scorn of nations, and which blots and blurs all the excellencies and glories of nations. Impious people makes the nations infamous; and the more impious any nation, city, or person is—the more infamous that nation, city, or person is.
Proverbs 6:32, 33, "But a man who commits adultery lacks judgment; whoever does so destroys himself. Blows and disgrace are his lot, and his shame will never be wiped away." [What an indelible blot was this still upon David—namely, that his heart was upright in all things—except in the matter of Uriah.] There is nothing that is such a blemish and such a wound to a man's honor—as sin. Sin leaves such a blot, such a blur, and such a reproach upon a man's name, fame, and reputation—that no art, no pains shall ever be able to wipe it out. All the water in the sea cannot wash away, nor all the rubbing in the world cannot wipe away—the disgrace, disdain, and contempt, that enormities, which wickednesses lays a people under. Jer. 24:9, "I will make them an object of horror and evil to every nation on earth. They will be disgraced and mocked, taunted and cursed, wherever I send them." It was not for their holiness, their godliness—but for their wickedness and ungodliness, that God was resolved to make them disgraced and mocked, taunted and cursed.
Proverbs 10:7, "The memory of the just is blessed; but the name of the wicked shall rot." The wickedness of the wicked heaps so much disgrace, disparagement, and dishonor upon them, that it makes their very names to rot and stink above-ground. Their carcasses do not more rot and stink under-ground, than their very names do rot and stink above-ground. The wickedness of the wicked will make their very names such a detestation and such an abhorring, that they shall either not be remembered at all, or if they are, they shall be only remembered as a rotten, stinking, putrified thing. As the curse of God follows the soul of a wicked man to hell—just so, the curse of God follows the name of a wicked man on earth—so that it becomes most noisome and loathsome among the sons of men.
Sin does so debase and bebeast the great ones of the world, that the prophets use to set forth wicked kings by the names of beasts—as the goat, the ram, the leopard, the bear—to note the beastliness of their conditions, and because they commonly maintain and exercise their government by brutish violence and tyranny, Dan. 7:3-7; Proverbs 28:15-16. And Christ himself, who never spoke treason nor sedition, terms king Herod a fox in Luke 13:32, "And he said unto them, Go you and tell that fox." Herod was as crafty and as subtle as a fox, he was as cruel and as fradulent as a fox, and therefore he is very fitly termed by Christ a fox. And so Paul describes Nero by the name of a lion. 2 Tim. 4:17, "And I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion"— that is, out of the mouth of Nero, who for his power and cruelty was like a lion, for he was a most cruel and desperate persecutor of the Christians, and made a bloody decree, that "whoever confessed himself a Christian, should immediately be put to death as a convicted enemy of mankind." Now, by what has been said, you see that it is not holiness but wickedness that is the greatest disgrace, dishonor, and disparagement imaginable to the sons of men; and therefore there is no reason why the great ones of the world should disdain to pursue after holiness upon the account of this objection. But,
[4.]Fourthly, I answer, That this objection savors strongly of cursed pride, and of hellish loftiness and arrogance of spirit; for who are you, O great man! or what are you, O mighty man—but that you may be dishonored and disparaged for holiness' sake? What are your great swelling honors and titles—but as so many baby-rattles? And what is all your worldly greatness—but a wind that may blow you the sooner to hell? What is all your glory, but a glorious fantasy, a great nothing; and this Haman and Herod found by experience, and so did Julius Caesar and Augustus Caesar. Bajazet, who was one of the greatest commanders in the world, was carried about in an iron grate to be a footstool to an insulting conqueror. And Belisarius, the most famous general that the latter age of the Roman empire knew, and in greatest favor with Justinian his prince, was reduced to that great poverty that he was glad to beg his bread. And thus in all ages men have quickly fallen from the highest pinnacle of honor, to sit with Job upon the ash-heap.
O you great piece of vanity—who makes this objection—your true honor does not lie in your coat of arms, nor in your great titles, nor in your great lordships and manors, nor in your high birth, etc.—but in your interest in Christ, in your new birth, in your being an heir of the promises, in your title to heaven, and in your pursuit after holiness. Truly, if you should live and die without these things, it had been ten thousand times better that you had been brought up in a cave, than that you had been brought up at court; and that you had all your days lain under a hedge, than that you have sit so long upon seats of honor; and that you had begged your bread from door to door, than that you have had your full cups and full tables; and that you had been clothed with rags, than that you have put on costly robes—for the great things of this world does but lay men the more open to great temptations, and to great provocations, even to commit the greatest abominations.
O sirs, suppose a criminal, who is led to execution, should engrave his coat of arms upon the prison gate, would he not be accounted vain and mad? and yet such is the madness and vanity of the great ones of this world, that they endeavor with the greatest industry to leave monuments of their dignity in the prison of this world—but take no care to make provision for the eternal world, Psalm 49:10-15; and all this is out of the horrid pride and loftiness of their spirits. Psalm 10:4, "In his pride the wicked does not seek God; in all his thoughts there is no room for God." There is nothing which hinders a man from seeking after a holy God, and from pursuing after holiness, like pride. A proud heart is too stout to think of holiness, or to mind holiness, or to prize holiness, or to press after holiness. "Who is the Lord," says proud Pharaoh, "that I should serve him?" Exod. 5:2. Just so, says the proud heart, "What is holiness, that I should seek it, and press so hard after it?" As there is no sin that fortifies the heart against holiness like pride—just so, there is no sin that weakens and disenables the heart to pursue after holiness like pride.
O you proud and lofty ones of the world, who look upon holiness as a poor, low, contemptible thing; tell me, what are all your noble births, and great estates, etc.—but trifles which God bestows upon the worst and basest of men? "The whole Turkish empire," says Luther, "is but a crust which God casts to a dog." Tell me whether the fly and the worm, yes, the most contemptible creature—was not man's elder brother at his first creation; and if so, why then should vain man be proud? Oh, tell me whether you have ever laid to heart that soul-abasing and soul-humbling text, Psalm 39:5, "Truly every man at his best estate is altogether vanity. Selah." "Truly" lets that in, and "Selah" shuts that up; "truly every man"—not some man—but "every man;" all men are all vanity, or "every man is every vanity." Every man is a comprehensive vanity—every rich man is every vanity, and every great man is every vanity, and every mighty man is every vanity, and every noble man is every vanity. Yes, and that which is yet more, "every man at his best estate," not in his childhood or decrepit old age—but in his best estate, when he is best constituted and matured, when he is most firmly fixed and settled on his best bottom—yet even then he is vanity. The original runs thus, "every man standing," that is, as some understand it, standing a-tiptoe in all his gallantry and bravery, in all his beauty and glory, and in all his pomp and majesty—is vanity, yes, every vanity.
Well sirs, remember this, that as glow-worms make a glorious show in the night—but when the day appears they appear to be poor, despicable, base creatures—just so, though now the high, the great, and mighty ones of the earth shine and gloriously sparkle in the darkness of this world—yet in that day when the Sun of righteousness shall arise, and manifest the secrets of all hearts to the world, and strip the great ones of all their titles of honor, and their noble parentage, and their rich and royal robes, and their troops and trains, and their crowns and chains—then they will appear to be but base and despicable creatures. Then their poverty and misery, their nakedness and vileness will appear to all the world; then the world shall see that riches without righteousness, power without piety, and greatness without holiness, will do the great ones of this world no good. Oh, that you had now a heart to weep over that pride of heart, which keeps you from pursuing after holiness—so that you may not weep to all eternity in utter darkness! But,
[5.]Fifthly and lastly, I answer, That there are no people under heaven, who stand so much obliged to look after holiness, and to press with all their might to obtain holiness—as the rich, the great, the mighty, and the honorable of the earth.
For, first, why has God made them greater than others—but that they should labor to be holier than others? They are therefore higher than others, that they may be holier than others. The greatness of their outward glory calls aloud upon them to excel in sanctity; and woe to those who are resolved to be worse than others, because God has done more for them than he has for others.
Secondly, They of all men have more time, leisure, and advantages to hear much that they may be holy, and to read much that they may be holy, and to pray much that they may be holy, and to confer much with all sorts and ranks of men, that they may be holy; and therefore it concerns them above all other men in the world to be holy. Other men have neither the time nor the advantages to gain holiness as these men have.
But thirdly, Their examples are most powerful and prevalent with the people, either for much good, or for much evil, Proverbs 29:12. If the mountains overflow with waters, the valleys are the better; and if the head is full of disease, the whole body fares the worse. The actions of rulers are most commonly rules for the people's actions, and their examples pass as current as their coin. [Esther. 1:10-11, 15-18. It is noted in King Alphonsus's sayings, that "a great man cannot commit a small sin."] If their examples are evil, there are none so dangerous as theirs. Jeroboam the son of Nebat is never mentioned in the Scripture, nor ever read of in the chronicles of Israel—but he draws a tail after him, like a blazing star, "who made Israel to sin."
A sick head disorders all the other parts, and a dark eye benights the whole body. The evil examples of great men corrupts the air round about. The common people are like soft wax, easily receiving impressions from the seals of great men's vices. If a peasant meets with luxury in a scarlet robe, he dares be like such, having so fair a cloak for it. If the common people meet with drunkenness of a great public person, they dare be such themselves; they make no bones to sin by prescription, and to damn themselves with authority. Austin brings in some excusing their compliances with the sinful customs of those times thus, "Great personages urged it, and it was at the king's banquet." They thought it a sufficient excuse to plead the examples of great men.
And if the examples of great men are virtuous, there are none so winning and drawing as theirs. [Carus the Roman emperor used to say, "A good leader makes a good follower."] Men who are high and eminent in authority, power, and dignity, and eminent also in grace and holiness—they carry the inferior people by their examples to a liking of holiness, and to a love of holiness, and to a pursuit after holiness. As the biggest stars in the skies are always the brightest, and give the greatest luster to those of a lesser magnitude—just so, those who, in respect both of greatness and grace, are so many shining stars—they give the greatest light and luster to others by their shining lives. Oh, what a world of good will the gracious example of a good prince provoke others unto! It was the saying of Trajanus, "Subjects prove good by a good king's example."
Stories tells us of some who could not sleep when they thought of the trophies of other worthies who went before them. The gracious examples of great men are very awakening, quickening, and provoking to that which is good, as is most evident in all those kingdoms, countries, cities, and villages where such men live. And therefore great men are the more obliged to be godly men, and honorable men to be holy men.
But, fourthly, of all men under heaven, you will have the greatest accounts to make up with God; and therefore you have the more cause to seek after holiness. Where God gives much there he looks for much, Luke 48. [It was excellent counsel that the heathen orator gave his hearers—"Let us so live as those who must give an account of all at last."] O sirs, God will bring you to an account for that talent of honor, and that talent of wealth, and that talent of birth, and that talent of power, and that talent of authority, and that talent of interest, and that talent of time, etc., that he has entrusted you with! How will you be able to stand in the day of account without holiness in your hearts?
King Philip the Third of Spain, whose life was free from gross evils, professed that he would rather lose all his kingdoms than offend God willingly; yet, being in the agony of death, and considering more thoroughly of his account that he was to give to God, fear struck into him, and these words broke from him: "Oh, would to God I had never reigned! Oh, that those years I have spent in my kingdom I had lived a private life in the wilderness! Oh, that I had lived a solitary life with God! How much more securely should I have now died! How much more confidently should I have gone to the throne of God! What does all my glory profit me—but that I have so much the more torment in my death!"
Well, gentlemen, there is a day a-coming wherein the Lord will call you to a strict account, both for the principal, and also for the interest of all those talents of honor, riches, and greatness, etc., that he has put into your hands! How will you be ever able to hold up your heads in this day of account, unless you experience principles of holiness in your hearts, and hold forth the power of godliness in your lives? If Saul was astonished when he heard Jesus of Nazareth but calling upon him, Acts 22:7-8; if Herod was affrighted when he thought that John Baptist was risen from the dead, Mark 6:16; if the Philistines were afraid when they saw David's sword, 1 Sam. 21:9; if the Israelites were appalled when they saw Aaron's rod, Num. 7:10; if Judah was ashamed when he saw Thamar's signet ring and staff, Gen. 38:25-26; and if Belshazzar was amazed when he saw the handwriting on the wall, Dan. 5:9—oh, how astonished, how affrighted, how ashamed, and how amazed will the great ones of the world be—who live and die without holiness, when God shall bring them to the judgment bar, and command them to give an account of all the talents that he has put into their hands!
If the Carthaginians were troubled when they saw Scipio's sepulcher; if the Saxons were terrified when they saw Cadwallon's image; and if the Romans were astonished when they saw Caesar's bloody robe; ah! how will all the great unholy ones of the earth be troubled, terrified, and astonished in the great day of their accounts! There are none who will have such large accounts to give—as the great ones of the world, and therefore there are none who stand so strongly engaged to look after holiness as they do.
But, fifthly, the greater any men are on earth, if they live and die without holiness, the greater will be their torments in hell! All their greatness, glory, and gallantry will but sink them the lower in hell. The Scribes and Pharisees were the rich, the high, and the great ones of the times—and these Christ lays under the greater damnation, Mat. 23:14. The Germans have this proverb, "The pavement of hell, is made of the bare skulls of the priests, and the glorious crests of gallants." Their meaning is, that the more eminent any are in church or state, and do not employ their eminency, power, and authority in ways of piety and sanctity—the lower they shall lie in hell—yes, these men, of all others, shall lie lowest in hell! Rev. 18:7, "As much as she glorified herself and lived luxuriously, give her that much torment and grief!" Isaiah 47:8. Babylon's torment and sorrow must be suitable to her sin. Babylon excelled all others in pride, haughtiness, luxury, and blasphemy, etc., and her punishments must be answerable. Just so, the great, the rich, the high, and the mighty men of the world—they usually exceed all others in pride, drunkenness, uncleanness, filthiness, oppression, vainglory, gluttony, and tyranny, etc., and according to their sins, will be their torments and their punishments in hell!
Isaiah 30:33, "Topheth has long been prepared; it has been made ready for the king. Its fire pit has been made deep and wide, with an abundance of fire and wood; the breath of the Lord, like a stream of burning sulfur, sets it ablaze." [Tophet is the name of a place in the valley lying on the south side of Jerusalem, Joshua 18:16. Now in this valley stood Tophet, wherein the idolatrous Jews used to burn their children in sacrifice to the idol Moloch, and it had that name from the drums or tabrets that their idolatrous priests used to beat upon at the time of their detestable services, to drown the hideous shrieks and lamentable cries of the poor sacrificed children!] Alas! the brick-kilns of Egypt, and the furnace of Babylon, were but as a blaze of straw, compared to this tormenting Tophet, which has long been prepared for the great and mighty ones of the earth!
Oh, how dreadful must that fire be—which is prepared by God himself, and which is kindled by the breath of the Lord, and which shall never be quenched! Such is the fire which is prepared for the great and mighty ones of the world! Oh, the easeless, the endless, the remediless, the inevitable torments which are prepared for those who are great and graceless! In hell their wanton eyes shall be tormented with ugly and fearful sights of ghastly spirits! In hell their ears, which used to be delighted with all delightful music, shall now be filled with the hideous cries, howlings, and yellings of devils and damned spirits! In hell their tongues of blasphemy shall now be tormented with drought and thirst; and though with the rich glutton, they cry out for a drop to cool their tongues—yet justice will deny them drops, who have denied others crumbs! In hell their hands of bribery, cruelty, and tyranny shall now be bound with everlasting chains, and so shall their feet, which were once swift to shed innocent blood. In a word, their torments shall be universal, they shall extend to every member of the body, and to every faculty of the soul.
Ah, sirs fire, sword, famine, prisons, racks, and all other torments that men can invent, are but as flea-bitings, compared to those scorpions! They are but as drops, compared to those vials of wrath! They are but as sparks, compared to those eternal flames that all unsanctified people shall lie under.
Look! as the least joy in heaven infinitely surpasses the greatest comforts on earth, so the least torments in hell do infinitely exceed the greatest that can be devised here on earth.
For a close, remember this—as there are degrees of glory in heaven—just so, there are degrees of torment in hell; and as those who are most eminent in grace and holiness shall have the greatest degrees of glory in heaven—just so, those who are most vile and wicked on earth shall have the greatest degrees of torments and punishments in hell. [Mat. 10:15, and 11:22; Luke 12:47-48.]
Now common experience tells us that the rich, the great, the high, the honorable, and the mighty ones of the world—are usually the most excelling in all wickedness and ungodliness; and therefore their condemnation will be the greater, they shall have a hotter and a darker hell than others—unless they labor after this holiness, which will be their only fence against hell, and their sure path to heaven.
But, sixthly and lastly, of all men on earth—the rich, the great, and the honorable will be found most inexcusable. The poor and the lowly ones of the earth will plead their lack of time, and lack of means, and lack of opportunities; they will be ready to say, "Lord, we have risen early, and gone to bed late, Psalm 127:1-2, we have labored, and sweat, and drudged, and all little enough to get bread to eat, and clothes to wear, and to keep the police from the door, and to pay every man his own. Had we had but the time, the means, the advantages that such and such gentlemen have had, and that such and such nobles have had, and that such and such princes have had, etc., oh, how we would have minded holiness, and studied holiness, and pressed after holiness! But seeing it has been otherwise with us, we hope, Lord, we may be excused."
But what excuse will you be able to make, O you great ones of the earth, who have had time, and opportunities, and all advantages imaginable—to make yourselves holy and happy forever—and yet you have trifled away your golden seasons, and forgotten the one thing necessary, and given yourselves up to the lusts and vanities of this world—as if you were resolved to be damned?
Let me a little allude to John 15:22: "If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin; but now they have no cloak or excuse for their sin." Just so, will God one day say to the great ones of the world: "Had I not given you riches, and greatness, and honor, etc., to have encouraged you to look after holiness, and that you might have time, and leisure, and opportunity to seek holiness and pursue it, you might have had some cloak, some excuse for your neglecting so great, so glorious, so noble, and so necessary a work. Oh! but now you have no cloak, no excuse at all for your sin. Now you can show no reason under heaven why an eternal doom should not be passed upon you." Ah how silent, how mute, how speechless, and how self-condemned, will all the great ones of the world be, when God shall thus expostulate with them! Oh, that such would seriously lay to heart Mat. 22:11-12: "And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: and he says unto him, Friend, how did you get in here—not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless." By the wedding garment the learned understand holiness of heart and life. Now when the king questions him about the lack of this wedding garment, he is speechless, or as the Greek word imports, "he was muzzled or haltered up," that is, he held his peace, as though he had a bridle or a halter in his mouth; he was not able to speak a word for himself, his own conscience had passed a secret sentence of condemnation upon him, and he sat silent under that sentence, as having nothing under heaven to say why he should not be cast into utter darkness. And this will be the very case of all the rich, the great, and the mighty ones of the world, who shall be found without the garment of holiness, when the Lord shall enter into judgment with them.
And thus you see by these six arguments, that there are no people under heaven who are so eminently engaged to look after holiness—as the rich, the great, and the mighty ones of the earth. But,
Objection 7.Seventhly and lastly, Others may object and say, "If we should we pursue after holiness—we shall be sure to be reviled, slandered, and reproached on all hands; everyone will hoot and hiss at us, we shall become a scorn and a byword to all that live in the family with us, and to all our neighbors round about us; everyone will scorn us, and hate us, and we shall be their table-talk, and their song, and the butt of their ridicule, etc.
Now that you may be sufficiently armed against this objection, I desire you seriously to consider of these five following answers:
[1.]First, That those who revile and reproach holiness, are such that have never known the necessity nor the excellency of holiness; they have never experienced the power nor the sweetness of holiness; they speak evil of things they know not, of things they understand not, Jude 10; 1 Tim. 1:7. Not to know is man's misery—but to speak evil of that which a man understands not is the height of folly; and this these revilers do. "Had they known," says the apostle, "they would not have crucified the Lord of glory," 1 Cor. 2:8—just so, I say, had these revilers known the splendor, the beauty, and the glory of holiness—they would never have reviled it and scorned it. Had the Jews known the Godhead of Christ, the divinity of Christ, the glory of Christ, they would never have asked for Barabbas, and have railed on Jesus as they did. Just so, had these railers but known the worth and the weight of holiness, they would never have cried up wickedness, and decried holiness as they do.
Now, oh what shame, what folly, what vanity is it for a man to turn his back upon holiness because such revile it and scorn it—who never knew feelingly, nor experimentally, what holiness was! Would not a man either sigh or laugh at him who would turn his back upon riches, honors, and preferments, etc., because the blind, poor, and beggarly sort of people, who never experienced what these things mean, casts dirt, scorn and reproach upon them? and is not this the present case? Surely yes!
The fox in the fable, when he could not get at the grapes, cried out, that "they were sour, they were sour!" Just so, men who cannot reach to the riches, the honors, and the great things of the world, oh, how do they cry out against these things! oh, what disgrace, scorn, and contempt do they cast upon these things! and all because they cannot reach them, because they cannot grasp them. The application is easy. It is men's ignorance of holiness, which makes them cry out so much against holiness. That heathen, Aristotle, hit the mark when he cried out, "Ignorance is the source of all sin; the very well-spring from whence all wickedness flows." For ignorance enslaves the soul to Satan, it lets in sins by troops, and then locks them up in the heart, and it shuts out all the means of recovery, etc. And who then will wonder to see ignorant people let fly at holiness? Suppose a geometrician should be drawing of lines and figures, and there should come in some silly, ignorant fellow, who seeing him, should laugh at him. Would the geometrician leave off his employment because of this derision? Surely not—for he knows that his laughter is but the fruit of his ignorance—as not knowing his science—and therefore he keeps on drawing, though the silly fellow should keep on in his laughing. O sirs, though ignorant people deride holiness, and laugh at holiness—yet be not ashamed of holiness—but hold on, and hold out in your pursuit after holiness, for they understand not the rules and principles by which you are actuated; and that is why they throw dirt in the face of holiness. But it will be your wisdom to wipe that off, and so much the more to pursue after holiness, by how much the more the silly ones of the world slight holiness, and laugh at holiness. But,
[2.]Secondly, There is no fence against an evil tongue. A man may fence himself against an evil eye, and against an evil hand, and against an evil head, etc.—but there is no fence against an evil tongue. An evil tongue is such an unruly, such a mischievous, such a dangerous, such a killing, and such a destroying member—that there is no fence against it. A man may fence off the stroke of a sword, the thrust of a rapier, and the shot of an arrow—but he can never fence off the reproach and the reviling of an evil tongue. If the heart is sanctified, the tongue is the best member in the body; if the heart is unsanctified it is the worst.
Aesop being by his master sent to buy up all the best meat he could get in the market, bought up all the tongues; and being sent again to buy up all the worst meat he could get in the market, he bought up all the tongues again. When he was asked why he did so, he answered, "that there was no flesh better than a good tongue, nor any flesh worser than a bad tongue." Which the apostle confirms fully in that James 3:2-12. [Bias, one of the seven wise men, told Amasis king of Egypt, that "the tongue was the best or worst member of the body." "The whole life of man is made up of the sins of the tongue." Basil.]
An evil tongue is wilder than the wildest beast. The horse, the donkey, the camel, the elephant, yes, the lion, the leopard, the bear, and all other beasts, have been tamed by man! But the tongue, no man, no monarch, on earth have ever been able to tame. An evil tongue, in some respect, is worse than the devil; for the devil may be shunned and avoided—but an evil tongue no man can shun; and if you resist the devil he will fly from you—but the more you resist an evil tongue the more it will fly upon you.
Proverbs 16:27, "An ungodly man digs up evil; and in his lips there is a burning fire." An ungodly man, or a man of Belial, as the original has it, "digs up evil." Such old evils that have been long since buried in the grave of oblivion and forgetfulness, he digs up to cast in the saints' faces, to reproach them with. The teeth of malice will be still a-digging to find out something against the people of God, and if they can pick up anything out of the ash-heap of false reports to object against them, their lips presently are as so many burning beacons to discover it to all the world. Now their tongues will be set on fire by hell, and now they will labor to fire the hearts and tongues of others against the people of God.
David, who fell oftener under the sad lashes of evil tongues, compares reviling tongues to three fatal weapons: a razor, a sword, and an arrow.
1. To a razor in Psalm 52:2. Now you know a razor meets with every little hair, and many times instead of shaving the hair it slashes the flesh; and sometimes by missing the beard it endangers the throat. And so the reviling tongue will take the least advantage imaginable to slash and cut the names and reputations of those who fear the Lord, in a thousand pieces.
2. To a sword, Psalm 57:4, that cuts and wounds deep; and so does the reviler's tongue cut deeply into the names, fames, and credits of the people of God; and,
3. To an arrow, Psalm 64:3. The sword only cuts when we are near—but the arrow hits at a distance. The sword cannot cut except we are at hand—but the arrow may hit us when we are afar off. The reviler can easily shoot his arrows of reproach a great way off; he can shoot them from one town to another, from one city to another, from one kingdom to another, yes, from one end of the earth to the other, Psalm 73:9. When the hands are manacled, and the feet fettered and stocked—the tongue travels freely all the world over, and loads the names of men with what reproaches it pleases.
The tongue is the great interpreter of the heart; the tongue is the key which unlocks those treasures of wickedness that are in the heart; the corruptions of men's hearts commonly breaks forth at their lips, Mat. 12:34. Look! as a pimpled face is a symptom of a distempered liver, and as a stinking breath is a symptom of corrupted lungs—just so, a reviling tongue is a symptom of a base rotten heart. [That man has commonly most of the devil in his heart—who has most of the devil in his mouth.]
When the pump works, you may quickly know whether the water which is in the fountain or well, is clear or muddy, sweet or stinking; and when the clapper strikes you may soon guess of what metal the bell is made of; and so by men's tongues you may easily guess what is in their hearts. If the tongue is vile—the heart is so; if the tongue is bloody—the heart is so; if the tongue is adulterous—the heart is so; if the tongue is malicious—the heart is so; if the tongue is covetous—the heart is so; and if the tongue is cruel—the heart is so, etc.
Men's minds are known by their mouths. If the mouth is bad—the mind is not good. He who is rotten in his talk—is commonly rotten in the heart. Of all the members of the body there is none so serviceable to Satan as an evil tongue; and therefore when all the body is full of sores, Satan will keep the tongue from blisters, so that a man may the more freely and fully curse God and die. And this was the reason why Satan spared Job's tongue, when he sadly pained all other members of his body, so that his grand design, which was to provoke Job both to curse God and to charge him foolishly, might take place; but Job's tongue was oiled with grace, and proved his glory in his trying hour; and instead of cursing, he blesses a taking God—an angry God.
O sirs, the world is as full of evil tongues, as the Nile is of crocodiles, or as Sodom of sulphur, or as Egypt of lice; and there is no fence, no guard against these evil tongues; and therefore why should any man be discouraged from pursuing after holiness, because of the revilings of evil tongues? Munster writes of men in India which speak not like men—but bark like dogs; and who regards such men? no more should we regard such foul-mouthed people who are still barking against holiness, as the dogs bark against the moon; but as the moon runs her race and holds her course, though all the dogs in the town bark ever so much at it—just so, should you pursue after holiness, though all the tongues in the town should be barking and scoffing at you. But,
[3.]Thirdly, Consider that those who now reproach holiness will before long be of another mind; those who now revile and reproach holiness will in a short time change their minds and their tunes. When these very men who revile holiness shall come to fall under terrors and horrors of conscience, and when they shall come to lie upon their dying beds, and to have their immortal souls sit trembling and quaking upon their pale lips, and when they shall appear before the great God, and awake with everlasting flames about their ears—oh, how will they then wish that they had never reviled holiness! How will they then wish that they had prized holiness, and that they had spent their all in pursuing after holiness! Num. 23:10. Oh, how will they then charge themselves, and censure themselves, and arraign and condemn themselves, for their scorning and condemning of holiness! Oh, how will they then wish that they had never heard of holiness, nor read of holiness, nor thought of holiness! Oh, how will they then wish that their mothers' wombs had proved their tombs, and that they had rather lived and died in a land of darkness—than thus to live and die without holiness!
Now, oh, what folly and madness is it for you to neglect the pursuit of holiness, because such and such revile it, who perhaps before the next year, the next month, yes it may be the next Sabbath comes about, will wish ten thousand times over and over that they had pursued after it, and that they had made it their greatest work in this world to obtain it! But,
[4.]Fourthly, Such people who are revilers, deriders, and haters of holiness, should rather be divinely despised, scorned, and slighted—than anyways gratified, encouraged, pleased, and strengthened in their evil ways by your neglect of holiness, and by your non-pursuance after holiness. Oh, how may your neglect of holiness upon the account of revilings and scornings, strengthen the hands and the hearts of revilers and scorners! etc., Ezek. 13:19, seq.; and therefore it is much better divinely to slight and disdain them, than by sinful omissions to gratify and please them.
See how slighting Elisha carries it to wicked Jehoram, though he was a king: 2 Kings 3:13-14, "Elisha said to the king of Israel, "What do we have to do with each other? Go to the prophets of your father and the prophets of your mother." [The prophets here spoken of were the remaining prophets of Baal, of the idolatrous groves, and of the calves of Jeroboam] "No," the king of Israel answered, "because it was the Lord who called us three kings together to hand us over to Moab." Elisha said, "As surely as the Lord Almighty lives, whom I serve, if I did not have respect for the presence of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, I would not look at you or even notice you." It was not the great distress and danger that they were in, being likely to perish for lack of water, nor the dignity of kings, nor the number of three—but the goodness, the graciousness, and holiness of Jehoshaphat, which wrought upon Elisha to work a miracle to preserve them and their people alive. Had it not been for Jehoshaphat, the holy prophet would not have honored Jehoram with a look, no, not with a cast of his eye. These words, "I would not look at you or even notice you," are words of a very high strain, and speak out a great deal of holy loftiness, stateliness, and contempt towards king Jehoram.
And the same spirit was working in Mordecai towards wicked Haman, as you may see in Esther 3:2, "All the royal officials at the king's gate knelt down and paid honor to Haman, for the king had commanded this concerning him. But Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor." [The Persians' manner was to kneel down and reverence their kings, and such as he appointed in chief authority, which Mordecai would not do to this proud, ambitious, wicked Haman, though all the courtiers, and the king's life-guard, and all who attended the court did.] The Persian kings, as many other heathenish kings, were reverenced by their subjects with a kind of divine honor or service; and such reverence and honor the king commanded should be showed to his great favorite Haman; but this renowned Mordecai refused to do. He was so divinely noble and stout, that he would not reverence such a wicked wretch in his heart, nor yet yield to him who outward worship that was required by the king, it being more than was due to a man. Some of the Rabbis say, that Haman had the image of some false God about him, and that therefore Mordecai would not bow before him, lest he might seem to bow to the idol that Haman carried about him: others of the Rabbis say, that Haman did make himself a god, and required such worship as was due only to the true God, and that therefore Mordecai would not reverence him, nor bow before him. And other expositors say that it was more honor than did belong to a man that they gave to Haman; and that therefore Mordecai refused to bow to him. And it is very remarkable that some of the wisest and best of heathens have forborne to come into their king's presence, because there was expected greater honor and worship to be done to their kings than was fit to be done to a mortal man. But that which is most considerable, and most probable, is this, that therefore Mordecai refused to reverence Haman, and to bow unto him, because he was a wicked Amalekite, and a bitter enemy to the people of God, and of that nation and of that stock whose remembrance God would have blotted out under heaven, Exod. 17:14; Deut. 25:19; and with whom the Lord had sworn that he would have war from generation to generation, until they were utterly wasted and destroyed, Exod. 17:16, compared with that 1 Sam. 15:3.
It has been usual with the saints to slight such who have been slighters of Christ and holiness. ["I shall look upon Auxentius no otherwise than as upon a devil, so long as he is an Arian," said holy Hilary.] When Amphilochius the bishop came into the presence of the emperor Arcadius and his son, who was then partner with his father in the empire, he saluted the emperor with all reverence—but slighted his son, whereupon the emperor was very much displeased, and demanding the reason why he so slighted his son? the bishop answered, because he had slighted and neglected the eternal Son of God, he being at that time a professed Arian; whereupon the emperor received the bishop again into favor, and banished all Arians out of his dominions. I have read of one Maris, a godly bishop of Chalcedon, who, being blind, and Julian, that apostate emperor, giving him some opprobrious words, calling him blind fool, because he had rebuked him for his apostasy, the good man answered thus, "I bless God that I have not my sight, to see such an ungracious face as your is."
When a great Lord of this land, who was as graceless as he was great, met Mr. Fox in London streets, and asked him how he did, Mr. Fox said little or nothing to him; whereupon says this great Lord, "Sir, do you not know me?" "No, not I" said Mr. Fox. Says the Lord, "I am such a one." "Sir," said Mr. Fox, "I desire to know nothing but Jesus Christ, and him crucified." Polycarpus meeting at a certain time with Marcion the heretic: says Marcion, "Don't you know me?" "Yes," said Polycarpus, "I know you to be the first-begotten child of the devil." And indeed, why should we prefer him before a piece of copper, that prefers a piece of gold before his God, yes, that prefers his lusts and every toy and trifle before Jesus Christ, his immortal soul, and the great concernments of the eternal world? God commanded in the old law that whatever did go with its breasts upon the ground, should be an abomination to us. Oh, how much more should we abominate that man whose heart and soul is glued unto a piece of earth, or to this or that defiling and destroying lust: Proverbs 29:27, "An unjust man is an abomination to the just: and he who is upright in the way is an abomination to the wicked."
The quarrel between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent is almost six thousand years old, Gen. 3:15. Light and darkness, heaven and hell, are not more opposite and contrary one to another, than these are contrary one to another. That seed of enmity that was at first between them is now grown up on both sides to an abomination, and an abhorring of each other. [The antipathies which are in nature between the elephant and the boar, the lion and the rooster, etc., is nothing to that which is between the just and the unjust.] The just man says, "What have I to do with you, you son of Belial?" And the unjust man says, "What have I to do with you, you son of David?"
The original in the text last cited is observable, the just abhors the man of iniquity, that is, the man who is made up of iniquity, that is, nothing but iniquity. Now, this shows that it is iniquity in the man who makes the man to be an abomination to the just; but now wicked men they abhor the upright for their very uprightness, they abhor him who is upright in the way, and could wish him quite out of the way, and will do what they can to do away with him. The uprightness of the upright is such a terror to the wicked that they cannot but abominate and abhor the upright; and therefore, no wonder if the upright abominate them; and indeed, who can look upon wicked men, as enemies to God, as adversaries to Christ, as murderers of their own souls, as fighters against the church, as champions for Satan, and as pests and plague of a nation—and not abhor them, and not abominate them?
O sirs, not to despise the wicked, is an argument that you yourselves are wicked; and not to despise the wicked is a means to make them more wicked; not to despise the wicked is to encourage and tempt the wicked to be sevenfold more wicked; yes, not to despise the wicked, who despise God, Christ, heaven, and holiness, etc., is to despise God himself. As for such who advance the wicked, who magnify the wicked, who flatter the wicked, who strengthen the hands of the wicked, who are most in with the wicked, who joy and glory in the prosperity of the wicked, and who sigh and mourn at the downfall of the wicked; these are certainly wicked, yes, they are eminently wicked, and therefore the more to be slighted and scorned by men of integrity and sanctity. But,
[5.]Fifthly and lastly, To neglect the pursuit of holiness upon the account of this objection, is to debase the great God, and to overvalue vain man, as if there were more power, ability, policy, and malice, etc., in worthless man to hurt and harm you, than there is power, all-sufficiency, wisdom, goodness, and graciousness in God to defend you, and secure you, and arm you against all the reproaches and revilings of slanderous tongues. Now who are you, and what are you, O vain man! that you should dare to lessen God—and greaten man; to debase God—and exalt man; yes, to set up man above God himself, and to ungod him as much as as you can? And yet all this you do when you turn your back upon holiness, because of the revilings and reproaches of wicked men.
But I shall say no more to this objection, because I have spoken very largely to this objection in my former books. If you desire further satisfaction to this objection, turn to that treatise called "Apples of Gold," etc., and you will find seven more distinct answers to it. And see also my "Mute Christian under the Smarting Rod," and you will find eight answers more to this objection. I confess several other objections might be made against your pursuing after holiness—but because I have spoken to them at large in my former writings, therefore I shall not trouble you with them here; and therefore let thus much suffice for answer to those objections that usually men make when they are pressed home to follow after holiness.