The Practice of Piety—a Puritan devotional manual, directing a Christian how to live, that he may please God

by Lewis Bayly (1611)


Seven Hindrances which keep back
a sinner from the practice of piety

I.  The First Hindrance of Piety.

An ignorant mistaking of the true meaning of certain places of the holy Scriptures, and some other chief grounds of Christian religion.

The Scriptures mistaken are these:

1. Ezek 33:14,16, "At what time soever a sinner repents of his sin, I will blot out all," etc. Hence the carnal professor gathers, that he may repent when he will. It is true, whensoever a sinner does repent, God will forgive; but the text says not, that a sinner may repent whensoever he will, but when God will give him grace. Many, when they would have repented, were rejected, and could not repent, though they sought it carefully with tears (Heb 12:17; Luke 13:24,27.) What comfort yields this text to you who have not repented, nor know whether you shall have grace to repent hereafter?

2. Matt 11:28, "Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Hence the lewdest man collects, that he may come unto Christ when he wills; but he must know that no man ever comes to Christ, but he who, as Peter says, having known the way of righteousness, has escaped the pollutions of the world, through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Pet 2:20,22.) To come unto Christ is to repent and believe (Isa 1:18; John 6:35;) and this no man can do, except his heavenly Father draws him by his grace (John 6:4.)

3. Rom 8:1, "There is therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus." True; but they are such who walk not after the flesh, as you do, but after the Spirit, which you did never yet resolve to do.

4. 1 Tim 1:15, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners," etc. True; but such sinners, who like Paul, are converted from their wicked life; not like you, who still continue in your lewdness: "For that grace of God which brings salvation unto all men, teaches us, that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world." (Titus 2:11-12.)

5. Prov 24:16, "A just man falls seven times in a day, and rises," etc. [in a day is not in the text:] which means not falling into sin, but falling into trouble, which his malicious enemy plots against the just, and from which God delivers him (Psalm 34:19.) And though it meant falling in and rising out of sin, what is this to you, whose falls all men may see every day but neither God nor man can at any time see your rising again by repentance.

6. Isa 64:6, "All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags." Hence the carnal professor gathers, that, seeing the best works of the best saints are no better, then his are good enough; and therefore he needs not much grieve that his devotions are so imperfect. But Isaiah means not in this place the righteous works of the regenerate, as fervent prayers in the name of God; charitable alms from the affections of mercy; suffering in the gospel's defense, the confiscation of goods, and spilling of blood, and such works which Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22;) but the prophet, making a humble confession in the name of the Jewish church, when she had fallen from God to idolatry, acknowledges, that while they were by their filthy sins separated from God, as lepers are from men by their infecting sores and polluted clothes, their chief righteousness could not be but abominable in his sight. And though our best works, compared with Christ's righteousness, are no better than unclean rags; yet, in God's acceptance for Christ's sake, they are called white raiment (Rev 3:18), yes, pure fine linen and shining (Rev 19:8), far unlike the leopard's spots (Jer 13:23) and filthy garments (Zech 3:4)

7. James 3:2, "In many things we sin all" True; but God's children sin not in all things as you do, without either bridling their lusts or mortifying their corruptions. And though the relics of sin remain in the dearest children of God, that they had need daily to cry, "Our Father who is in heaven, forgive us our trespasses;" yet, in the New Testament, none are properly called sinners, but the unregenerate (Gal 1:15; Rom 5:8; John 9:31;) but the regenerate, in respect of their zealous endeavor to serve God in unfeigned holiness, are everywhere called saints; insomuch that John says, "Whoever is born of God sins not," (1 John 3:9; 1 John 5:18;) that is, lives not in willful filthiness, allowing sin to reign in him, as you do. Deceive not yourself with the name of a Christian; whoever lives in any customary gross sin, he lives not in the state of grace. "Let, therefore," says Paul, "everyone that names the name of Christ depart from iniquity:" (2 Tim 2:19.) The regenerate sin, but upon frailty; they repent, and God does pardon; there they sin not to death (1 John 5:16.) The reprobate sin maliciously, sinfully, and delight therein; so that by their good will, sin shall leave them before they will leave it; they will not repent, and God will not pardon; therefore their sins are mortal, says John, or rather immortal, as says Paul (Rom 2:5.) It is no excuse, therefore, to say, we are all sinners: true Christians, you see, are all saints.

8. Luke 23:43. The thief converted at the last gasp, was received to paradise. What then? if I may have but time to say, when I am dying, "Lord have mercy upon me," I shall likewise be saved. But what if you shall not? and yet many in that day shall say, Lord, Lord, and the Lord will not know them (Matt 7:22-23.) The thief was saved, for he repented; but his fellow thieve had no grace to repent, and was damned. Beware, therefore, lest, trusting to late repentance at your last end on earth, you be not driven to repent too late without end in hell.

9. 1 John 1:7, "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin." And 1 John 2:1, "If any man sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous," etc. O comfortable! but hear what John says in the same place, "My little children, these things write I unto you, that you sin not;" if, therefore, you leave your sin, these comforts are thine—else they belong not to you.

10. Rom 5:20, "Where sin abounded, grace did abound much more." O sweet! but hear what Paul adds, "What shall we say then? shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?" (Rom 6:1-2.) This place teaches us not to presume, but that we should not despair. None, therefore, of these promises, promises any grace to any but to the penitent heart.

The grounds of religion mistaken are these:

1. From the doctrine of justification by faith alone, a carnal professor gathers, that good works are not necessary. He commends others that do good works, but he persuades himself that he shall be saved by his faith, without doing any such matter. But he should know, that though good works are not necessary to justification, yet they are necessary to salvation: "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has predestinated that we should walk in them." (Eph 2:10.) Whoever, therefore, in years of discretion, brings not forth good works after he is called, he cannot be saved; neither was he ever predestinated to life eternal. Therefore the Scripture says, that Christ will reward every man according to his works (Rom 2:6; 2 Cor 9:6; Rev 22:12.) Christ respects in the angels of the seven churches nothing but their works (Rev 2:2;) and at the last day he will give the heavenly inheritance only to them who have done good works—in feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, etc. At that day righteousness shall wear the crown (Matt 25; 2 Tim 4:8.) No righteousness, no crown—no good works, according to a man's talent, no reward from God, unless it be vengeance (Rom 2:8.) To be rich in good works, is the surest foundation of our assurance to obtain eternal life (1 Tim 6:19;) for good works are the true fruits of a true faith, which apprehends Christ, and his obedience unto salvation. And no other faith in Christ avails, but that which works by love (Gal 5:6;) and (but in the act of justification) that faith which alone justifies, is never alone, but ever accompanied with good works: as the tree with his fruits, the sun with his light, the fire with his heat, and water with his moisture. And the faith which does not justify herself by good works before men, is but dead faith, which will never justify a man's soul before God (James 2:26.) But a justifying faith purifies the heart and sanctifies the whole man throughout (Acts 15:9; Acts 16:18; 1 Thess 5:23.)

2. From the doctrine of God's eternal predestination (Matt 25:24; Eph 1:4; Eccles 3:14) and unchangeable decree, he gathers, that if he be predestinated to be saved, he cannot but be saved; if to be damned, no means can do any good; therefore all works of piety are but in vain. But he should learn, that God has predestinated to the means, as well as to the end. Whom, therefore, God has predestinated to be saved, which is the end (1 Pet 1:9), he has likewise predestinated to be first called, justified, and made conformable to the image of his Son, which is the means (Rom 8:29-30; John 15:16.) And they, says Peter, who are elect unto salvation, are also elect unto the sanctification of the spirit (1 Pet 1:2.) If, therefore, upon your calling, you conform yourself to the word and example of Christ your master, and obey the good motions of the Holy Spirit, in leaving sin, and living a godly life, then assure yourself, that you are one of those who are infallibly predestinated to everlasting salvation. If otherwise, blame not God's predestination, but your own sin and rebellion. Do you but return to God, and God will graciously receive you, as the father did the prodigal son, and by your conversion, it shall appear both to angels and men, that you did belong to his election (Luke 15:10,24.) If you will not, why should God save you?

3. When a carnal professor hears that man has not freewill unto good, he looses the reins to his own corrupt will, as though it lay not in him to bridle, or to subdue it: implicitly making God the author of sin, in allowing man to run into this necessity. But he should know that God gave Adam freewill, to stand in his integrity if he would; but man, abusing his freewill, lost both himself and it. Since the fall, man in his state of corruption has freewill to evil, but not to good; for in this state, we are not, says the apostle, sufficient to think a good thought (2 Cor 3:5.) And God is not bound to restore us what we lost so wretchedly, and take no more care to recover again. But as soon as a man is regenerated, the grace of God frees his will unto good; so that he does all the good things he does with a freewill: for so the apostle says, that God of his own good pleasure, works both the will and the deed in us, who, as the apostle expounds, cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, and finish our sanctification in the fear of God (Phil 2:12-13; 2 Cor 7:1.) And in this state, every true Christian has freewill, and as he increases in grace, so does his will in freedom: "For when the Son shall make us free, then shall we be free indeed," (John 8:36;) and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (2 Cor 3:17;) for the Holy Spirit draws their minds, not by compulsion, but by the cords of love (Song 1:4), by illuminating their minds to know the truth; by changing their hearts to love the known truth; and by enabling every one of them (according to the measure of grace which he has received) to do the good which he loves. But you will not use the freedom of your will, so far as God has freed it; for you do many times willfully against God's law, to the hazard of your soul, which, if the king's law forbade under the penalty of death, or loss of your worldly estate, you would not do. Make not, therefore, your lack of freewill to good, to be so much the cause of your sin, as your lack of a loving heart to serve your heavenly Father.

4. When the natural man hears that no man, since the fall, is able to fulfill the law of God, and to keep all his commandments, he boldly presumes to sin as others do; he contents himself with a few good thoughts: and if he be not altogether as bad as the worst, he concludes that he is as truly regenerate as the best. And every voluntary refusal of doing good, or withstanding evil, he counts the impossibility of the law. But he should learn, that though, since the fall, no man but Christ, who was both God and man, did, or can perfectly fulfill the whole law, yet every true Christian, as soon as he is regenerate, begins to keep all God's commandments in truth, though he cannot in absolute perfection. Thus, with David, they apply their hearts to fulfill God's commandments always unto the end (Psalm 119:112.) And then the Spirit of grace, which was promised to be more abundantly poured forth under the gospel, helps them in their good endeavors, and assists them to do what he commands them to do (Joel 2:28-29; Zech 12:10.) And in so doing, God accepts their good will and endeavor (2 Cor 8:12), Christ having fulfilled the law for us. And in this respect John says, that God's commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:3.) And Paul says, "I am able to do all things, through the help of him who strengthens me." (Phil 4:13.) And Zacharias and Elizabeth are said to walk in all the commandments of the Lord without reproof (Luke 1:6.) Hereupon Christ commends to his disciples the care of keeping his commandments, as the truest testimony of our love unto him (John 15:10.)

So far, therefore, does a man love Christ, as he makes conscience to walk in his commandments; and the more unto Christ is our love, the less will our pains seem in keeping his law. The law's curse, which, under the Old Testament, was so terrible, is, under the New, by the death of Christ, abolished to the regenerate. The rigor which made it so impossible to our nature before, is now to the newborn so mollified by the Spirit, that it seems facile and easy. The apostles, indeed, pressed on the unconverted Jews and Gentiles the impossibility of keeping the law by ability of nature corrupted; but when they have to do with regenerate Christians, they require to the law, which is the rule of righteousness, true obedience in word and deed; the mortifying of their members; the crucifying of the flesh, with the affections and lusts thereof; resurrection to newness of life; walking in the Spirit; overcoming of the world by faith (Rom 15:18; Col 3:5; Gal 5:24-25; Rom 6:4-5,12-13; Rom 8:11; 1 John 5:4.) So that, though no man can say as Christ, Which of you can rebuke me of sin? (John 8:46), yet every regenerate Christian can say of himself, Which of you can rebuke me of being an adulterer, whoremonger, swearer, drunkard, thief, usurer, oppressor, proud, malicious, covetous, profaner of the Sabbath, a liar, a neglector of God's public service, and such like gross sins? else he is no true Christian. When a man casts off the conscience of being ruled by God's law, then God gives him over to be led by his own lusts, the surest sign of a reprobate sense (Rom 1:24,28.) Thus the law, which, since the fall, no man by his own natural ability can fulfill, is fulfilled in truth of every regenerate Christian, through the gracious assistance of Christ's Holy Spirit (Rom 8:9, etc.) And this Spirit God will give to every Christian that will pray for it, and will incline his heart to keep his laws (Luke 11:13; James 1:5.)

5. When the unregenerate man hears that God delights more in the inward mind than in the outward man, then he imagines that all outward reverence and profession is but either superstitious or superfluous. Hence it is that he seldom kneels in the church; that he puts on his hat at singing of psalms, and the public prayers; which the profane varlet would not offer to do in the presence of a prince or a nobleman. And so that he keep his mind unto God, he thinks he may fashion himself, in other things, to the world. He divides his thoughts, and gives so much to God, and so much to his own lusts; yes, he will divide with God the Sabbath, and will give him almost the one half, and spend the other wholly in his own pleasures. But know, O carnal man, that Almighty God will not be served by halves, because he has created and redeemed the whole man! And as God detests the service of the outward man, without the inward heart, as hypocrisy; so he counts the inward service, without all external reverence, to be mere profaneness: he requires both in his worship. In prayer, therefore, bow your knees, in witness of your humiliation; lift up your eyes and your hands, in testimony of your confidence; hang down your head and smite your bosom, in token of your contrition; but especially call upon God with a sincere heart—serve him holily, serve him wholly, serve him only; for God and the Prince of this world are two contrary masters, and therefore no man can possibly serve both.

6. The unregenerate professor holds the hearing of the gospel preached, to be but an indifferent matter, which he may use, or not use, at his pleasure. But whoever you are, that will be assured in your heart that you are one of Christ's elect sheep, you must have a special care and conscience (if possibly you can) to hear God's word preached. For,

First, the preaching of the gospel is the chief ordinary means which God has appointed to convert the souls of all that he has predestinated to be saved (Acts 13:48:) therefore it is called "the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believes." (Rom 1:16.) And where this divine ordinance is not, the people perish (Prov 29:18;) and whoever shall refuse it, "it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for these people." (Matt 10:22.)

Secondly, the preaching of the gospel is the standard or ensign of Christ (Isa 11:1), to which all soldiers and elect people must assemble themselves: when this ensign is displayed, as upon the Lord's day, he is none of Christ's people that flocks not unto it (Isa 2:2;) neither shall any drop of the rain of his grace light on their souls (Zech 14:17.)

Thirdly, it is the ordinary means by which the Holy Spirit begets faith in our hearts (Rom 10:14), without which we cannot please God (Heb 11:6.) If the hearing of Christ's voice be the chief mark of Christ's elect sheep, and of the bridegroom's friend (John 10:27; John 3:29), then must it be a fearful mark of a reprobate goat (Heb 2; John 8:47) either to neglect or despise to hear the preaching of the gospel. Let no man think this position foolish, for "by this foolishness of preaching it pleases God to save those who believe." (1 Cor 1:11.) Their state is therefore fearful who live in peace, without caring for the preaching of the gospel. Can men look for God's mercy, and despise his means? "He," says Christ of the preachers of his gospel, "that despises you, despises me." (Luke 10:16.) "He who is of God hears God's words: you therefore hear them not, because you are not of God." (John 8:4,7.) Had not the Israelites heard the message of Phinehas, they had never wept (Judg 2:1, etc.) Had not the Baptist preached, the Jews had never mourned (Luke 7:32-33.) Had not they who crucified Christ heard Peter's sermon, their hearts had never been pricked (Acts 2:37.) Had not the Ninevites heard Jonah's preaching, they had never repented (Jon 3:5;)—and if you will not hear, and repent, you shall never be saved (Prov 28:9; Luke 13:5.)

7. The opinion that the sacraments are but bare signs and seals of God's promise and grace to us, does not a little hinder piety: whereas, indeed, they are seals, as well of our service and obedience unto God; which service if we perform not to him, the sacraments seal no grace to us. But if we receive them, upon the resolution to be his faithful and penitent servants, then the sacraments do not only signify and offer, but also seal and exhibit indeed the inward spiritual grace which they outwardly promise and represent. And to this end baptism is called the "washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit," (Titus 3:5;) and the Lord's Supper, "the communion of the body and blood of Christ." (1 Cor 10:16.) Were this truth believed, the holy sacrament of the Lord's Supper would be more often, and with greater reverence received.

8. The last, and not the least block at which piety stumbles in the course of religion, is by adorning vices with the names of virtues: as to call drunken carousing, drinking of healths; spilling innocent blood, valor; gluttony, hospitality; covetousness, thriftiness; whoredom, loving a mistress; simony, gratuity; pride, gracefulness; dissembling, compliment; children of Belial, good-fellows; wrath, hastiness; ribaldry, mirth: so, on the other side, to call sobriety in words and actions, hypocrisy; alms-deeds, vainglory; devotion, superstition; zeal in religion, Puritanism; humility, crouching; scruple of conscience, preciseness, etc. And while thus we call evil good, and good evil, true piety is much hindered in her progress.

And thus much of the first hindrance of piety, by mistaking the true sense of some special places of Scripture, and grounds of Christian religion.

II. The Second Hindrance of Piety.

The evil example of great people, the practice of whose profane lives they prefer for their imitation before the precepts of God's holy word: so that, when they see the greatest men in the state, and many chief gentlemen in their country, to make neither care nor conscience to hear sermons, to receive the communion, nor to sanctify the Lord's Sabbaths, etc., but to be swearers, adulterers, carousers, oppressors, etc., then they think that the using of these holy ordinances are not matters of so great importance; for if they were, such great and wise men would not set so little value on them. Hereupon they think that religion is not a matter of necessity; and therefore, where they should, like Christians, row against the stream of impiety towards heaven, they allow themselves to be carried with the multitude downright to hell, thinking it impossible that God will allow so many to be damned: whereas, if the god of this world had not blinded the eyes of their minds, the holy Scriptures would teach them, that "not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called," etc. (1 Cor 1:26;) but that for the most part the poor receive the gospel, and that few rich men shall be saved (Matt 11:5; Matt 19:23-24;) and that howsoever many are called, yet the chosen are but few. Neither did the multitude ever save any from damnation (Matt 22:14.)

As God has advanced men in greatness above others, so does God expect that they in religion and piety should go before others; otherwise greatness abused, in the time of their stewardship, shall turn to their greater condemnation in the day of their accounts. At what time sinful great and mighty men, as well as the poorest slaves and bondmen, shall wish that the rocks and mountains should fall upon them, and hide them from the presence of the Judge, and from his just deserved wrath (Rev 6:15-16, etc.), it will prove but a miserable solace to have a great company of great men partakers with you of your eternal torments. The multitude of sinners does not extenuate, but aggravate sin, as in Sodom. Better it is, therefore, with a few to be saved in the ark, than, with the whole world, to be drowned in the flood. Walk with the few godly in the narrow path to heaven; but crowd not with the godless multitude in the broad way to hell (Exod 23:2.) Let not the example of irreligious great men hinder your repentance; for their greatness cannot at that day exempt themselves from their own most grievous punishment.

III. The Third Hindrance of Piety.

The long escaping of deserved punishment in this life. "Because sentence," says Solomon, "is not speedily executed against an evil worker, therefore the hearts of the children of men are fully set in them to do evil, not knowing that the bountifulness of God leads them to repentance." (Eccles 8:11; Rom 2:4; 2 Pet 3:10.) But when his patience is abused, and man's sins are ripened, his justice will at once both begin, and make an end of the sinner (1 Sam 3:12; Ezek 39:8;) and he will recompense the slowness of his delay with the grievousness of his punishment. Though they were allowed to run on the score all the days of their life, yet they shall be sure to pay the utmost farthing at the day of their death. And while they suppose themselves to be free from judgment, they are already smitten with the heaviest of God's judgments—a heart that cannot repent (Rom 2:5.) The stone in the kidneys or gallbladder is a grievous pain that kills many a man's body; but there is no disease to the stone in the heart, whereof Nabal died, and which kills millions of souls (1 Sam 25:17.) They refuse the trial of Christ and his cross; but they are stoned by hell's executioner to eternal death.

Because many nobles and gentlemen are not smitten with present judgment for their outrageous swearing, adultery, drunkenness, oppression, profaning of the Sabbath, and disgraceful neglect of God's worship and service, they begin to doubt of divine providence and justice—both which two eyes they would as willingly put out in God, as the Philistines bored out the eyes of Sampson. It is greatly therefore to be feared lest they will provoke the Lord to cry out against them, as Sampson against the Philistines (Judg 16:21.) By neglecting the law, and walking after their own hearts, they put out, as much as in them lies, the eyes of my providence and justice; lead me therefore to these chief pillars (Judg 16:26, etc.) whereupon the realm stands, that I may pull the realm upon their heads, and be at once avenged of them for my two eyes. Let not God's patience hinder your repentance; but because he is so patient, therefore do you the rather repent.

IV. The Fourth Hindrance of Piety.

Presumption on God's mercy. For when men are justly convinced of their sins, forthwith they betake themselves to this shield—Christ is merciful: so that every sinner makes Christ the patron of his sin: As though he had come into the world to bolster sin, and not to destroy the works of the devil (John 3:3.) Hereupon the carnal professor presumes, that though he continues a while longer in his sin, God will not shorten his days. But what is this but to be an implicit atheist? Doubting that either God sees not his sins; or if he does, that he is not just: for if he believes that God is just, how can he think that God, who for sin so severely punishes others, can love him who still loves to continue in sin? True it is, Christ is merciful; but to whom? Only to those who repent and turn from iniquity in Jacob. (Isa 59:20.) But if any man blesses himself in his heart, saying, 'I shall have peace, although I walk according to the stubbornness of mine own heart, thus adding drunkenness to thirst,' the Lord will not be merciful to him, etc. (Deut 29:19.) O madmen! who dare bless themselves, when God pronounces them accursed! Look, therefore, how far you are from finding repentance in yourself; so far are you from any assurance of finding mercy in Christ. "Let, therefore, the wicked forsake his ways, and the unrighteous his own imaginations, and return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he is very ready to forgive." (Isa 55:7.)

Despair is nothing so dangerous as presumption; for we read not in all the Scriptures of above three or four whom roaring despair overthrew: but secure presumption has sent millions to perdition without any noise. As, therefore, the damsels of Israel sang in their dances, "Saul has killed his thousands and David his ten thousands," (1 Sam 18:7;) so may I say, that despair of God's mercy has damned thousands, but the presumption of God's mercy has damned ten thousands, and sent them quick to hell, where now they remain in eternal torments, without all help of ease, or hope of redemption. God spared the thief but not his fellow (Luke 18:43.) God spared one, that no man might despair: God spared but one, that no man should presume. Joyful assurance to a sinner that repents: no comfort to him that remains impenitent. God is infinite in mercy, but only to those who turn from their sins, to serve him in holiness, "without which no man shall see the Lord." (Heb 12:14.) To keep you, therefore, from presuming, remember that as Christ is a Savior, so Moses is an accuser (John 5:45.) Live, therefore, as though there were no gospel: die as though there were no law. Pass your life as though you were under the conduct of Moses: depart this life as if you knew none but Christ, and him crucified. Presume not, if you will not perish: repent if you will be saved.

V. The Fifth Hindrance of Piety.

Evil company, commonly termed good-fellows—but indeed, the devil's chief instruments, to hinder a wretched sinner from repentance and piety. The first sign of God's favor to a sinner is, to give him grace to forsake evil companions: such who willfully continue in sin, despise the means of their calling, jeering at the sincerity of profession in others, and shaming the Christian religion by their own profane lives. These sit in the seat of the scorners (Psalm 1:1.) For as soon as God admits a sinner to be one of his people, he bids him come out of Babylon (Rev 18:4.) Every lewd company is a Babylon, out of which, let every child of God either keep himself; or if he be in, think that he hears his Father's voice sounding in his ear, "Come out of Babylon, my child." As soon as Christ looked in mercy upon Peter, he went out of the company that was in the high priest's hall, and wept bitterly for his offence (Luke 22:62.) David vowing (upon recovery) a new life, said, "Away from me, all you workers of iniquity," etc. (Psalm 6:8), as if it were impossible to become a new man, until he had shaken off all old evil companions. The truest proof of a man's religion is the quality of his companions. Profane companions are the chief enemies of piety, and quellers of holy motions. Many a time is poor Christ (offering to be newborn in you) thrust into the stable, (Luke 2:7), when these lewd companions, by their drinking, plays, and jests, take up all the best rooms in the inn of your heart. O let not the company of earthly sinners hinder you from the society of heavenly saints and angels!

VI. The Sixth Hindrance of Piety.

A conceited fear, lest the practice of piety should make a man (especially a young man) to become too sad and pensive: whereas, indeed, none can better joy nor have more cause to rejoice, than pious Christians. For as soon as they are justified by faith they have peace with God (Rom 5:2), than which there can be no greater joy. Besides, they have already the kingdom of grace descended into their hearts, as an assurance that, in God's good time, they shall ascend into his kingdom of glory.

This kingdom of grace consists in three things—First, Righteousness (Rom 14:17;) for having Christ's righteousness to justify them before God, they endeavor to live righteously before men. Secondly, Peace; for the peace of conscience inseparably follows a righteous life. Thirdly, The joy of the Holy Spirit; which joy is only felt in the peace of a good conscience: and is so great, that it passes all understanding (Phil 4:7.) No tongue can express it, no heart can conceive it, but only he who feels it. This is that fullness of joy which Christ promised his disciples in the midst of their troubles, a joy that no man could take from them (John 16:22.) The feeling of this joy, David, upon his repentance, begged so earnestly at the hand of God—"Restore me to the joy of your salvation." (Psalm 51:12.) And if the angels in heaven rejoice so much at the conversion of a sinner, the joy of a sinner converted must needs be exceeding great in his own heart (Luke 15:7,10.) It is worldly sorrow that snows so heavily upon men's heads, and fills the furrows of their hearts with the sorrows of death (2 Cor 7:10.)

The godly sorrow of the godly (when God thinks it fit to try them) causes in them repentance not to be repented of: for it does but further their salvation. And in all such tribulation, they shall be sure to have the Holy Spirit to be their comforter (John 14:16-17;) who will make our consolations to abound through Christ, as the sufferings of Christ shall abound in us (2 Cor 1:5.) But while a man lives in impiety, he has no peace, says Isaiah (Isa 57:21.) His laughter is but madness, says Solomon (Eccles 2:9;) his riches are but clay, says Habakkuk (Hab 2:6:) nay, the apostle esteems them no better than dung in comparison of the pious man's treasure (Phil 3:8; Luke 6:25;) all his joys shall end in woe, says Christ. Let not, therefore, this false fear hinder you from the practice of piety. Better it is to go sickly with Lazarus to heaven; than full of mirth and pleasure, with the rich man to hell. Better it is to mourn for a time with men, than to be tormented forever with devils.

VII. The Seventh Hindrance of Piety.

And lastly, the hope of long life: For, were it possible that a wicked liver thought this year to be his last year, this month his last month, this week his last week—he would change and amend his wicked life. He would use the best means to repent, and to become a new man. But as the rich man in the gospel promised himself many years to live in ease, mirth, and fullness (Luke 12:19-20), when he had not one night to live longer: so many wicked epicures falsely promise themselves the age of many years, when the thread of their life is already almost drawn out to an end. So Jeremiah ascribes the cause of the Jews' sins and calamities to this, that she remembered not her last end (Lam 1:9.)

The longest space between a man's coming by the womb, and going by the grave, is but short: for "man that is born of a woman has but a short time to live," (Job 14:1;) he has but a few days, and those full of nothing but troubles. And except the practice of piety, how much better is the state of the child that yesterday was born, and today is buried, than Methuselah's, who lived nine hundred sixty-nine years, and then died? Of the two, happier the babe, because he had less sin, and fewer sorrows. And what now remains of both, but a bare remembrance? What trust should a man repose in long life? seeing the whole life of man is nothing but a lingering death; so that, as the apostle protests, a man dies daily.

Harken, O secure fellow! your life is but a puff of breath in your nostrils; trust not to it (Isa 2:22.) Your soul dwells in a house of clay, that will fall before it be long; as may appear by the dimness of your eyes, the deafness of your ears, the wrinkles in your cheeks, the rottenness of your teeth, the weakness of your sinews, the trembling of your hands, the brittleness in your bones, the shortness of your sleep, and every grey hair, as so many summoners, bid you prepare for your long home. Come, let us in the meanwhile walk to your father's coffin: break open the lid; see here, how that "corruption is your father, and the worm your mother and sister." (Job 17:14.) See how these are? so must you be before long. Fool! you know not how soon. Your hourglass runs out rapidly, death in the meanwhile waits for you.

The whole life of man, save what is spent in God's service, is but foolery: for a man lives forty years before he knows himself to be a fool; and by that time he sees his folly, his life is finished.

Hark, farmer, before you see many more crops of harvest, yourself shall be ripe, and death will cut you down with his sickle. Hark, tradesman, before many months go over, your last month will come on; after which you will trade no longer. Hark, most grave judge, within a few terms, the term of your life approaches, wherein you shall cease to judge others, and go yourself to be judged. Hark, O man of God, that go to the pulpit, preach this sermon as it were the last that you should make to your people. Hark, nobleman, lay aside the high conceit of your honor: death, before it be long, will lay your honor in the dust, and make you as contemptible as the earth that you tread under your feet. Hark, you that now read this book, assure yourself, before it be long there will be but two holes where now your two eyes are placed; and others shall read the truth of this lesson upon your bare skull, which now you read in this little book. How soon I know not; but this I am sure of, that your time is appointed, your months are determined; your days are numbered, and your very last hour is limited (Job 14:5,14; Psalm 90:12; Dan 5:26; Dan 11:8), beyond which you shall not pass.

For then the messenger of death, mounted on his pale horse (Rev 6:8), shall alight at your door; and, notwithstanding all your wealth, your honor, and the tears of your dearest friends—will carry you away, bound hand and foot, as his prisoner, and keep your body under a load of earth, until that day comes wherein you must be brought forth to receive according to the things which you have done in that body, whether it be good or evil (2 Cor 5:10.) O let not, then, the false hope of an uncertain long life hinder you from becoming a present practicer of piety! God offers grace for today; but who promises tomorrow? (Psalm 95:7; Heb 3:7,13.) There are now in hell many young men who had purposed to repent in their old age; but death cut them off in their impenitency, before ever they could attain to the time they set for their repentance. The longer a man runs in a disease, the harder it is to be cured: for custom of sin breeds hardness of heart, and the impediments which hinder you from repenting now, will hinder you more when you are more aged.

A wise man being to go a far and difficult journey, will not lay the heaviest burden upon the weakest horse. And with what conscience can you lay the great load of repentance on your feeble and tired old age? whereas now in your chief strength you can not lift it, but are ready to stagger under it. Is it wisdom for him that is to sail a long and dangerous voyage, to lie playing and sleeping while the wind serves, and the sea is calm, the ship sound, the pilot well, mariners strong; and then set forth when the winds are contrary, the weather tempestuous, the sea raging, the ship rotten, the pilot sick, and the sailors languishing? Therefore, O sinful soul, begin now your conversion to God, while life, health, strength, and youth last: "before those years draw near, when you shall say. I have no pleasure in them." (Eccles 12:1.)

God ever required in his service the firstborn, and the first fruits, and those to be offered to him without delay (Exod 13:2; Exod 22:29.) So just Abel offered to God his firstlings and fattest lambs (Gen 4:4;) and good reason that the best Lord should be first and best served. All God's servants should therefore remember to serve their Creator in the days of their youth (Eccles 12:12), and early in the morning, like Abraham, to sacrifice unto God the young Isaac of their old age (Gen 22:3.) "You shall not see my face," says Joseph to his brethren, "except you bring your brother with you." (Gen 43:3.) And how shall you look in the face of Jesus, if you give your younger years to the devil, and bring him nothing but your blind, lame, and decrepit old age? "Offer it unto your prince," says Malachi. (Mal 1:8.) If he will not accept such a one to serve him, how shall the Prince of princes admit such a one to be his servant? If the king of Babel would have young men (well-favored, and such as had ability in them) to stand in his palace, shall the King of heaven have none to stand in his courts but the blind and lame, such as the soul of David hated? (Dan 1:4; 2 Sam 5:8.)

Do you think, when you have served Satan with your prime years, to satisfy God with your senility? Take heed lest God turn you over to your old master again; that as you have all the days of your life done his work, so he may in the end pay you your wages. Is that time fit to undertake, by the serious exercises of repentance (which is the work of works), to turn your sinful soul to God, when you are not able with all your strength to turn your weary bones on your soft bed? If you find it so hard a matter now, you shall find it far harder then. For your sin will wax stronger, your strength will grow weaker, your conscience will clog you, pain will distract you, the fear of death will amaze you, and the visitation of friends will so disturb you—that if you be not furnished aforehand with store of faith, patience, and consolation, you shall net be able either to meditate yourself, or to hear the word of comfort from others; nor to pray alone, nor to join with others who pray for you. It may be you shall be taken with a deadly senselessness, that you shall neither remember God, nor think upon your own state: and do you not well deserve that God should forget to save you in your death, who are so unmindful now to serve him in your life? The fear of death will drive many at that time to cry, Lord, Lord! but Christ protests that he will not then know them for his (Matt 7:22.) Yes, many shall then, like Esau, with tears seek to repent, and yet then find no place of repentance (Heb 12:17.) For man has not freewill to repent when he will—but only when God will give him grace.

And if mercy showed herself so inexorable, that she would not open her gates to so tender suitors as virgins, to so earnest suitors as knockers, because they knocked too late (Matt 25:11)—do you think that she will ever allow you to enter her gates, being so impure a wretch that never think to leave sin until sin first leaves you, and did never yet knock with your own fists upon the breasts of a penitent heart?

And justly does grace deny to open the gates of heaven, when you knock in your adversity, who in your prosperity would not allow Christ, while he knocked, to enter in at the door of your heart (Rev 3:20.)—Trust not either late repentance or long life. Not late repentance; because it is much to be feared lest the repentance which the fear of death enforces, dies with a man dying; and the hypocrite, who deceived others in his life, may deceive himself in his death. God accepts none but freewill offerings, and the repentance that pleases him must be voluntary, and not of constraint. Not long life, for old age will fall upon the neck of youth: and as nothing is more sure than death, so nothing is more uncertain than the time of dying. Yes, often when ripeness of sin is hastened by outrageousness of sinning, God suddenly cuts off such wicked livers, either with the sword, intemperateness, luxury, surfeit, or some other fearful manner of sickness. May you not see that it is the evil spirit that persuades you to defer your repentance until old age, when experience tells you that not one of a thousand that takes your course ever attains to it? Let God's Holy Spirit move you not to give yourself any longer to eat and drink with the drunken, lest your Master sends death for you in a day when you look not for him, and in an hour that you are not aware of, and so suddenly cut you off, and appoint you your portion with the hypocrites, where shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt 27:49-51.)

But if you love long life, fear God, and long for life everlasting (Deut 30:16; Prov 3:2; Psalm 34:11, etc.) The longest life here, when it comes to the end, will appear to have been but as a tale that is told, a vanishing vapor, a flitting shadow, a seeming dream, a glorious flower, growing and flourishing in the morning, but in the evening cut down and withered (Psalm 90:9; James 4:14; Psalm 109:23; Psalm 76:5; Psalm 90:5-6; 1 Pet 1:24;) or like a weaver's shuttle, which, by winding here and there swiftly, unwinds itself to an end (Isa 38:12.) It is but a moment, says Paul (2 Cor 4:17.) O the madness of man, that for a moment of sinful pleasure will hazard the loss of an eternal weight of glory! (Heb 10:25; 2 Cor 4:17.)

These are the seven chief hinderers of piety, which must be cast out, like Mary Magdalene's seven devils, before ever you can become a true practicer of piety, or have any sound hope to enjoy either favor from Christ by grace, or fellowship with him in glory (Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2.)

The Conclusion.

To conclude all. Forasmuch as you see that without Christ you are but a slave of sin, death's vassal, and the food of worms, whose thoughts are vain—whose deeds are vile—whose pleasures have scarcely a beginning—whose miseries never know end: what wise man would incur these hellish torments, though he might, by living in sin, purchase to himself for a time the empire of Augustus, the riches of Croesus, the pleasures of Solomon, the policy of Ahithophel, the voluptuous fare and fine apparel of the rich man? For what should it avail a man, as our Savior says, to win the whole world for a time, and then to lose his soul in hell forever?

And seeing that likewise you see how great is your happiness in Christ, and how vain are the hindrances that debar you from it; beware, as the apostle exhorts, of the deceitfulness of sin (Heb 3:13;) for that sin, which seems now to be so pleasing to your corrupt nature, will one day prove the bitterest enemy to your distressed soul, and in the meanwhile harden, unawares, your impenitent heart.

Sin, as a serpent, seems beautiful to the eye, but take heed of the sting behind, whose venomous effects, if you knew, you would as carefully fly from sin as from a serpent. For,

1. Sin did never any man good: and the more sin a man has committed, the more odious he has made himself to God, the more hateful to all godly men.

2. Sin brought upon you all the evil, crosses, losses, disgraces, and sicknesses, which ever befell you: "Fools;" says David, "by reason of their transgressions, and because of their iniquities, are afflicted." (Psalm 107:17.) Jeremiah in a lamenting manner asks the question, "Why is the living man sorrowful?" (Lam 3:20.) The Holy Spirit answers him, "Man suffers for his sin." Hereupon the prophet takes up that doleful outcry against sin, as the cause of all their miseries, "Woe now unto us that ever we have sinned!" (Lam 5:16.)

3. If you do not speedily repent you of your sins, they will bring upon you yet far greater plagues, losses, crosses, shame, and judgments, than hitherto ever befell you. (Read Lev 26:18, etc.; Deut 28:15, etc.)

4. And lastly, If you will not cast off your sin; God, when the measure of your iniquity is full, will cast you off for your sin (Gen 15:6;) for as he is just, so he has power to kill and cast into hell all hardened and impenitent sinners. If, therefore, you will avoid the cursed effects of sin in this life, and the eternal wrath due to it in the world to come, and be assured that you are not one of those who are given over to a reprobate mind; let then, O sinner, my counsel be acceptable unto you! break off your sins by righteousness. O let there at length be an healing of your error! (Dan 4:27.) Nathan used but one parable, and David was converted (Sam 12:13;) Jonah preached but once to Nineveh, and the whole city repented (Jonah 3:5, etc.;) Christ looked but once on Peter, and he went out and wept bitterly (Luke 22:62.) And now that you are oft and so lovingly entreated, not by a prophet, but by Christ the Lord of prophets; yes, that God himself, by his ambassadors, begs you to be reconciled to him (2 Cor 5:20), leave off your adultery with David; repent of your sins like a true Ninevite; and while Christ looks in mercy upon you, leave your wicked companions, and weep bitterly for your offences.

Content not yourself with that formal religion which unregenerate men have framed to themselves, instead of sincere devotion; for in the multitude of opinions, most men have almost lost the practice of true religion. Think not that you are good enough, because you do as the most, and are not so bad as the worst. No man is so wicked that he is addicted to all kind of vices, for there is an antipathy between some vices; but remember that Christ says, "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." (Matt 5:20.) Consider with yourself how far you come short of the Pharisees, in fasting, praying, frequenting the church, and giving of alms: think with yourself how many pagans who never knew baptism, yet in moral virtues and honesty of life, do go far beyond you—where is then the life of Christ your master? and how far are you from being a true Christian?

If you do willingly yield to live in any one gross sin, you can not have a regenerate soul, though you reform yourself, like Herod, from many other vices. A true Christian must have respect to walk, in the truth of his heart, in all the commandments of God alike (Mark 6:20:) "For," says James, "he who shall offend in one point of the law" (willfully) "is guilty of all." (James 2:10.) And Peter bids us lay aside, not some, but "all malice, guile, and hypocrisies," etc. (1 Pet 2:1.) One sin is enough to damn a man's soul, without repentance. Dream not to go to heaven by any nearer or easier way than Christ has trained unto us in his word: the way to heaven is not easy or common, but straight and narrow (Matt 7:14;) yes, so narrow, that Christ protests that a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matt 19:23), and that those that enter are but a few (Matt 7:14; Matt 22:14), and that those few cannot get in but by striving (Luke 13:24), and that some of those who strive to enter in shall not be able. This all God's saints, while they lived here, knew well; when with so often fastings, so earnest prayers, so frequent hearing the word, and receiving the sacraments, and with such abundance of tears they devoutly begged at the hands of God, for Christ's sake, to be received into his kingdom.

If you will not believe this truth, I assure you that the devil, who persuades you now that it is easy to attain heaven, will tell you hereafter that it is the hardest business in the world. If, therefore, you are desirous to purchase sound assurance of salvation to your soul, and to go the right and safe way to heaven, get forthwith, like a wise virgin (Matt 25:1), the oil of piety in the lamp of your conversation, that you may be in a continual readiness to meet the bridegroom, whether he comes by death or by judgment.