A Cabinet of Choice Jewels, or,
A Box of Precious Ointment
By Thomas Brooks, 1669
But please sir, before you close up this chapter, lay down some sure and infallible evidences of the goodness, graciousness, and happiness of their estates and conditions, who are but weak in grace, who are but babes of grace, that so they may have their portion, satisfaction, support, and consolation as well as others.
Answer. I shall endeavor to do it, and therefore thus:
VI. Sixthly, True desires of grace is grace; true desires after Christ, and grace, and holiness—is grace. He who does sincerely desire to believe—he does really believe. And he who does sincerely desire to repent—he does really repent. And he who does sincerely desire to obey the Lord, and to fear the Lord, and to serve the Lord—he does really obey the Lord, and fear the Lord, and serve the Lord. [1 Peter 2:3-4; 2 Chron. 30:18-19; Mat. 7:8; Psalm 42:1-2, 63:1, etc.]
It is the first step to grace—for a man to see his heart void of grace. And it is the first degree of grace—for a man to desire grace. Mark, all true desires of grace have the very nature and truth of grace in them, as there is true fire in a spark—as well as in a flame, and true water in a drop—as well as in a stream, and true light in a beam—as well as in the sun, and true gold in the very filings of gold—as well as in the whole wedge of gold. The least of anything partakes of the nature of the whole, Isaiah 55:1-2, 65:1; John 7:37. True desires of grace argues a state of grace and salvation: Psalm 38:9, "Lord, you know all my desires, my groaning is not hidden from you." Mat. 5:6, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled;" or as the Greek runs—those who are hungering and thirsting; intimating, that wherever this is the present disposition of men's souls, they are blessed. Rev. 22:17, "And let him who is athirst come, and whoever will, let him take the water of life freely."
Sincere desires of grace are those holy seeds, those divine beginnings of grace in the soul, out of which grace springs and grows up to its measure and perfection. [Augustine. Where there are sincere desires of grace, there are the seeds of grace, the beginnings of grace, the buds of grace.] O sirs! look, as no man can sincerely seek God in vain, so no man can sincerely desire grace in vain. A man may love gold—yet not have it. But no man loves God—but is sure to have him. Wealth a man may desire—and yet be never the richer for it. But grace no man ever sincerely desired—and missed it. And why? it is God that has wrought this desire in the heart, and he will never frustrate the desire that he himself has there wrought!
Let no man say, I have no faith, no repentance, no love, no fear of God, no sanctifying, no saving grace in me. Does he see a lack of those things in himself? Yes, that is it which so grieves him, that he cannot love God, stand in awe of him, trust in his mercy, repent of sin as he should. Yes—but does he seriously and sincerely desires to do thus. Yes, he desires it above all things in the world, and would be willing, as it were, to buy even with a whole world the least measure, or grain, or drop only of such grace.
Now let me ask him, who is it who has wrought this desire in him? Not the devil; for he would rather quench it than kindle it in him; not his own corruption, for that is naturally averse to everything that is good; it must needs then be the work of the Spirit of God, who "works in us both to will and to do of his own good pleasure," and who pronounces all them blessed, who thus desire after grace. "When I have a good desire," says one, "though it does scarcely show itself in some little slender sigh, I must be assured that the Spirit of God is present, and works his good work."
Wicked men do not desire the grace of the Holy Spirit, whereby they may resist sin—and therefore they are justly deprived of it. But he who earnestly desires the Holy Spirit has this grace already, because this desire for the Spirit cannot be but from the Spirit. "Our faith," says another, "may be so small and weak, as it does not yet bring forth fruits that may be lively felt in us. But if those who feel themselves in such an estate desire to have these feelings, namely, of God's favor and love, if they ask them of God's hands by prayer—this desire and prayer are testimonies that the Spirit of God is in them, and that they have faith already. For is such a desire a fruit of the flesh—or of the Spirit? It is of the Holy Spirit, who brings it forth only in those in whom he dwells in, etc." Then those holy desires and prayers, being the motions of the Holy Spirit in us, are testimonies of saving faith, although they seem to us small and weak.
As the woman who feels the moving of a child in her body, though very weak, assures herself that she has conceived, and that she is carrying a live child; so if we have these motions, these holy affections and desires before mentioned, assure us that we have the Holy Spirit, who is the author of them, dwelling in us, and consequently that we have also saving faith.
Again, says the same author,
(1.) if you have begun to hate and fly from sin;
(2.) if you feel that you are displeased at your infirmities and corruptions;
(3.) if, having offended God, you find a grief and a sorrow for it;
(4.) if you desire to abstain from sin;
(5.) if you avoid the occasions of sin;
(6.) if you strive against sin;
(7.) if you pray to God to give you grace;
all these holy affections, proceeding from none other than from the Spirit of God, and ought to be as so many pledges and testimonies that he is in you.
It is as impossible for us naturally to do the least spiritual good, or to desire the least grace—as it is for a toad to spit cordials, Philip. 2:13, 2 Cor. 8:10, 12. Sincere desires after God, and Christ, and grace, is sometimes the only evidences which the people of God find in themselves. This was all that Nehemiah could say of himself, and the rest of his brethren, Neh. 1:11, that they did desire to fear God's name. And so the church: Isaiah 26:8, "The desire of our soul is to your name, and to the remembrance of your holiness." And verse 9, "With my soul have I desired you in the night." So the spouse, Cant. 3:1-3. So David, Psalm 27:4, 42:1-2, 63:1. They must needs be sure of possessing grace—who have a sincere desire for it.
This is a maxim that we must live and die with, namely—that no man can truly desire grace—but he who has already grace. Certainly he who desires grace has grace to desire it. It is an infallible sign, that that man has already some measure of grace, who does seriously desire to have it. He would never seriously desire to fear God—who stands not in some awe of him already. Nor would he ever desire seriously to love God—who has not in him some love to God already. Nor would he ever seriously desire to believe—who has not in him some faith already. Nor would he ever seriously desire to repent—who has not repented already. Nor would he ever seriously desire sanctifying grace—whose heart in some measure is not already sanctified by the Spirit of grace.
It is the very essence of righteousness, says one of the ancients—for a man to be willing to be righteous. And the poor heathen could say, "It is a principal part of goodness, for a man to be willing to be good." It is natural for everyone to desire his own natural good—but to desire spiritual grace, holiness, sound sanctification, sincere faith, the true fear of God, serious repentance, etc., is more than ever any natural man did or can do. No man did ever desire to eat—who had not eaten before. No man did ever desire to believe—who did not believe before. All true desires after faith spring from saving faith as the root of them. Certainly wicked men do not, and cannot so much as desire saving grace, Job 21:14, Isaiah 53:2; and that,
[1.] First, Because grace is above the reach of sinful human nature.1 Cor. 2:14, "But the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." The water rises no higher than the springs from whence it came; so natural men can ascend no higher than his fallen human nature. Spiritual things can neither be discerned nor desired—but by those who are anointed with the eye-salve of the Spirit. The natural man is dark and blind, and he sees no beauty nor excellency in grace—that he should desire it or be in love with it. Man in his natural estate is without, Eph. 2:12. There are five withouts:
(1.) without Christ;
(2.) without the church;
(3.) without the promise;
(4.) without hope;
(5.) without God.
Now, every natural man being under these five withouts, how is it possible that he should have any serious desires after grace? Such is the corruption of our human nature, that, if you propound any divine good to it, it is entertained as fire by water, or wet wood—with hissing. Propound any evil—then it is like fire to straw; it is like the foolish satyr who made haste to kiss the fire; it is like that unctuous matter which naturalists say sucks and snatches the fire to it with which it is consumed.
The contrariety and enmity that is in every natural man's heart against God, and Christ, and grace, and holiness—may sufficiently satisfy us that the natural man is a total stranger to serious and sincere desires after God, or Christ, or grace, or the great things that belong to his everlasting peace, Romans 8:7. Such sincere and serious desires as these—Oh that Christ were mine! oh that I were married to his person! oh that I were clothed with his righteousness! oh that my soul were adorned with his grace! oh that I was filled with his Spirit! oh that he would be my king to rule me, and my prophet to teach and instruct me, and my priest to make an atonement for me! oh that I might enjoy choice and high communion with him! oh that I might sin no more against him! oh that I may do nothing unworthy of him! oh that after death I might live forever in the enjoyments of him! etc. I say such serious and sincere desires are not to be found in the natural man's bosom!
[2.] Secondly, Because grace is contrary to sinful human nature."The wisdom of the flesh is enmity against God," Romans 8:7. Fire cannot desire water—nor water fire, because they are contrary, one expelling the other. Either the water will quench the fire, or else the fire will lick up the water. So here, sinful human nature would have a man love himself, and seek himself, and exalt himself. But grace will have a man love God, and seek God, and exalt God, etc. Take human nature when it is most adorned, enriched, raised, elevated, etc.—yet then you shall find it at enmity with God and grace. Consequently,
[3.] Thirdly, Because grace is not only above sinful human nature, and contrary to nature—but it is even a hell to nature.Grace and holiness is a hell to a natural man. Look! as a glorified estate would be a hell to every wicked person (Heaven would be a hell to the damned! says one of the ancients), so would a gracious estate also. Grace puts a man to keep up the cross of Christ, to deny his natural self, his sinful self, his religious self, his relative self—and to give up a man's self to the strictest and exactest ways of God, and to crucify his lusts, and to pull out his right eye, and to cut off his right hand, etc. And oh! what hard work is this—yes, what a hell is this to sinful human nature! etc.
[4.] Fourthly, Wicked men do not and cannot so much as truly and seriously desire saving grace.Witness their daily withstanding and slighting the offers of grace. Compare these scriptures, Proverbs 1:20, seq., chapter 8:1-12; Ezek. 24:13; Mat. 23:27; Luke 19:41, 42, etc.
[5.] Fifthly, Wicked men do not and cannot so much as truly and seriously desire saving grace.Witness their common, ordinary, habitual provoking, vexing, quenching, resisting, and grieving of the Spirit of grace. Turn to these scriptures, Gen. 6:3; Isaiah 63:10; Acts 7:55; Eph. 4:30.
[6.] Sixthly, Wicked men do not and cannot truly and seriously desire saving grace.Witness that enmity, hatred, rage, and madness which is in them against the saints, whose hearts and lives are enamelled with grace, Gen. 3:15; Psalm 34:21, 44:10; Job 31:29; Amos 5:10, etc. I have read of a desperate wretch, who, when he came to die, he gave good portions to all his children but one, and to him he would give but twelve pence. And being asked the reason of it, he made answer, he was a Christian. I have heard him say, said this wretched father, that he had a promise to live on; let us now see whether a promise will maintain him or not. Certainly, wherever there are true serious desires after grace, there is a dear love to those upon whose hearts the work of grace is past.
Now, by these short hints, it is evident enough that wicked men do not, and cannot sincerely, seriously desire grace. Certainly, such who are "poor in spirit," and who mourn for their spiritual defects, and who hunger and thirst after grace and holiness, after a righteousness imparted and a righteousness imputed, must confess themselves to be in a blessed estate, and consequently in a state of grace; for what true happiness is there outside of it? Or else they must contradict our Savior, and charge truth itself with untruth, who has pronounced them blessed—who are so qualified, so affected. Were this well weighed and seriously considered of, how would it comfort, refresh, support, and keep up many a troubled soul. And what a well-spring of life would this be to many a wounded spirit!
Doubtless, the greatest part of a saint's perfection in this life (witness Paul's own sincere confession; after fourteen years' conversion, say some. And who ever went beyond him? and how exceedingly do most fall short of him!) consists rather in will—more than in work; and in desire and endeavor—more than in deed. Romans 7:15, 18-19, 21-22. There is so much good in good desires, that they are the main thing which the godly have to speak of, and to reckon of. Make an inventory of a Christian's estate, and search every room; if you find not these, you find nothing. And if you set these down in the inventory, you set down even all he is worth for the eternal world.
Daniel is called a man of desires, and so is every gracious man, a man wholly made up of gracious desires, Dan. 10:11. Mark, God makes a judgment upon the sons of men, according as their desires stand. He who desires to steal—he is a thief in the account of God. And he who desires to commit adultery—he is an adulterer in the account of God. And he who desires to oppress—he is an oppressor in the account of God. And he who desires to deceive—he is a deceiver in the account of God. And he who desires to persecute—he is a persecutor in the account of God, etc.
Look! as every wicked man is as bad in the account of God as his desires are bad—so every godly man is as good in the account of God as his desires are good. He who sincerely desires to believe, he does believe in the account of God. "The desire," says one, "to believe in the lack of faith is faith. Though as yet you lack firm and lively grace—yet are you not altogether void of grace; if you can desire it, your desire is the seed, conception, or bud of what you lack." [Mr. Perkins in his "Grain of Mustard-seed."]
Now is the spring-time of the engrafted word or immortal seed cast into the furrows of your heart; wait but a while, using the means, and you shall see that leaves, blossoms, and fruits will shortly follow, etc. Ursinus says, 'faith in the most holy is not perfect; nevertheless, whoever feels in his heart an earnest desire to believe, and a striving against his doubts, he both may and must assure himself that he is endued with true faith.'
And he who sincerely desires to repent—he does repent in the account of God. Holy Bradford, writing to a friend, says, Your sins are undoubtedly pardoned, etc., for God has given you a penitent and believing heart, that is, a heart which desires to repent and believe; for such a one is taken of him, he accepts the will for the deed, for a penitent and believing heart indeed.
And he who sincerely desires to mortify sin—he does mortify sin in the account of God. And he who sincerely desires to walk with God—he does walk with God in the account of God. And he who sincerely desires to honor God—he does honor God in the account of God. And he who sincerely desires to deny himself—he does deny himself in the account of God. And he who sincerely desires to be weaned from the world—he is weaned from the world in the account of God. And he who sincerely desires to be conformable to God—he is conformable to God in the account of God. And he who desires to grow in grace—he does grow in grace in the account of God. And he who sincerely desires to improve mercies—he does improve mercies in the account of God. And he who sincerely desires to glorify God in the hour of his visitation—he does glorify God in the hour of his visitation in the account of God. [Let your desires be before God, "and he who sees in secret shall reward you openly;" your desire is your prayer, and if your desire be continual, your prayer is continual, etc.]
A gracious man may make a better judgment of his estate by his sincere desires—than he can by his duties. And so a wicked man may make a better judgment of his estate by his desires—than he can by his words or works. I have been the larger upon this evidence because of its great usefulness to weak believers. But.
[7.] Seventhly, No man can sincerely desire grace for grace's sake,but he who has true grace. Namely, faith for faith's sake, and love for love's sake, and humility for humility's sake, and uprightness for uprightness' sake, and meekness for meekness' sake, and holy fear for holy fear's sake, and hope for hope's sake, and holiness for holiness's sake, and self-denial for self-denial's sake, etc.
Mark, no man can sincerely and seriously desire grace for the inward beauty, glory, and excellency of grace—but he who has true grace. "The king's daughter is all glorious within," Psalm 45:13, though within is not all her glory. Grace differs nothing from glory but in name. Grace is glory in the bud—and glory is grace at the full. Grace is glory militant—and glory is grace triumphant. Grace has an inward glory upon it, which none can see and love—but such as have grace in their own hearts, 2 Cor. 3:18. Wicked men can see no beauty, no glory, no excellency in grace why they should desire it. And no wonder, for they could see no beauty, nor excellency, nor glory, nor loveliness in Christ the fountain of grace, Isaiah 53:1-4.
Though next to Christ, grace is the most lovely and desirable thing in all the world—yet none can desire it for its own loveliness and desirableness—but such as have a seed of God in them. Though grace is a pearl of price, though it is a jewel more worth than the gold of Ophir, though it is a beam of God, a spark of glory, a branch of the divine nature—yet carnal hearts can see no glory nor excellency in it, that they should desire it. If carnal eyes were but opened to see the excellency of grace, it would ravish the soul in desires after it. But grace's beauty and glory is inward, and so it is not discerned but with spiritual eyes. Plato was accustomed to say, If moral virtues could be seen with bodily eyes, they would stir up in the heart extraordinary flames of admiration and love. I might say much more of grace, 1 Cor. 2:14, seq.
(1.) Grace puts an excellency, it puts a luster and beauty upon men's person. "The righteous is more excellent than his neighbor," Proverbs 12:26. And what makes him so, but grace? Wisdom makes a man's face to shine; but riches, and honors, and dignities, and royal ornaments, and costly fare, and noble attendants, don't put an excellency and glory upon man, Dan. 11:21; witness Antiochus, Saul, Haman, Herod, Dives, etc.—but saving grace does, 1 Peter 3:4-5, etc. The graces of the Spirit are that chain of pearl that adorns Christ's bride.
(2.) Grace puts an excellency upon all a man's duties; "By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain;" faith put an excellency upon Abel's sacrifice.
(3.) Grace puts an excellency upon all a man's natural and acquired excellencies. It puts an excellency upon beauty, honor, riches, name, arts, parts, gifts. Now, how excellent and glorious must that be, which puts an excellency upon all our excellencies?
(4.) Grace makes a man conformable to God and Christ.
(5.) Grace fits a man for communion and fellowship with Father, Son, and Spirit.
(6.) Grace fits a man for the choicest services.
(7.) Grace turns all things into a blessing.
(8.) Grace fills the soul with all spiritual excellencies.
(9.) Grace preserves a Christian from the worst of evils, namely, sin.
(10.) Grace sweetens death, it makes the king of terrors to be the king of desires.
(11.) Grace renders a man acceptable to God, and that is the height of a Christian's ambition in this world: 2 Cor. 5:9, "We labor" (we are ambitious), "that whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him." The apostles made it their ambition to get acceptance in heaven. Riches, and honors, and gifts, and arts, and parts, etc., may commend us to men—but it is only grace that commends us to God, and that renders us lovely in his eyes.
(12.) Grace will eternalize your names, grace will perfume and embalm your names: Heb. 11:2, "By faith the elders obtained a good report." Verse 39, "And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise." Nothing raises a man's name and fame in the world like grace. [1 John 4:17, 1:1-2; 2 Cor. 13:14; Zech. 3:7; Mal. 2:2; Proverbs 2:11-12.] A man may obtain a great report without grace—but he can never obtain a good report without grace. Nothing below grace will perpetuate a man's name. The seven deacons that the church chose, Acts 6:3, 5, were gracious men, and they were men of "good report," they were men well witnessed unto, well testified of, as the Greek word imports, Acts 10:1-4, 22. Cornelius was a gracious man, and he was a man of good report among all the nation of the Jews, Acts 9:10, 20, comp. with chapter 22:12. Ananias was a gracious man, and he was a man of a "good report." Gaius and Demetrius, they were both gracious men, and they were men of good report; witness that third epistle of John. How renowned was Abraham for his faith! and Moses for his meekness! and Jacob for his plain-heartedness! and Job for his uprightness! and David for his zeal! and Joshua for his courage! Holy Abel has been dead over five thousand years, and yet his name is as fresh and fragrant as a rose to this very day, Heb. 11:4. Grace will make your names immortal. "The righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance," Psalm 112:6. "The memory of the just is blessed—but the name of the wicked shall rot," Proverbs 10:7. Wicked men many times outlive their names—but the names of just men outlive them.
When a gracious man dies, he leaves his name as a sweet and as a lasting scent behind him; his fame shall live when he is dead. According to the Hebrew the words may be read thus: "The memory of the just shall be for a blessing." The very remembering of the just shall bring a blessing upon those who remember them. When a gracious man dies, as he carries a good conscience with him, so he leaves a perfumed name behind him.
Grace is the image of God, the delight of God, the honor of God, the glory of God; grace is the purchase of Christ, and the birth of the Spirit, and the pledge of glory; grace is the joy of angels, the glory of man, and the wonder of the world. What is the body without the soul? what is the cabinet without the jewels? what is the sun without light? what is the fountain without water? what is paradise without the tree of life? what is heaven without Christ? That is a soul without grace.
Now, every gracious soul sees a real eternal excellency, beauty, and glory in grace—and accordingly it is carried out in its desires after it. It sees such an innate excellency, beauty, and glory in that faith, wisdom, humility, meekness, patience, zeal, self-denial, heavenly-mindedness, uprightness, etc., that sparkles and shines in such and such saints, that it many times strives with God in secret—even to sweat and tears, that it may be bedecked and enriched with those singular graces which are so shining in others. Oh that I had the wisdom of such a Christian, and the faith of such a Christian, and the love of such a Christian, and the humility of such a Christian, and the meekness of such a Christian, and the zeal of such a Christian, and the integrity of such a Christian, etc. Oh that my soul was but in their case! I don't covet their riches—but their graces. Oh that I had but these graces! Oh that I had much of those graces which sparkles and shines in the hearts and lives of such and such Christians! I see a beauty and glory upon sun, moon, and stars, yes, upon the whole creation—but what is that to that beauty and glory that I see stamped upon grace? And this fires his heart with desires after grace. But,
[8.] Eighthly, No man can sincerely desire all grace, every grace, or the whole chain of graces—but he who has true grace.2 Peter 1:5-9. Vain men, when they are under some outward or inward distresses, may, to serve their present turns, desire, in a cold, formal, customary way—patience, or contentment, or meekness, or hope, or faith, etc. But they don't, nor can't, while they are wicked, while they are in their natural estate, while they are "in the gall of bitterness and bond of iniquity," Acts 8:19-25, sincerely desire every grace, especially those particular graces which are most opposite to their master sin, to their darling lusts, to their constitution sins, to their complexion sins, to those particular lusts which are to them as dear as their right eyes or right hands.
Austin before his conversion he was much given to whoredom, and he would often pray, "Lord, give me chastity—but not yet." He was afraid lest God would have heard him too soon, as he himself confesses. Wicked men would be very sorry if God would take them at their words, and in good earnest answer the cold and lazy desires of their souls. If when the drunkard in a good mood should desire sobriety, and God should take him at his word—he would be very angry. Or if when the unclean person should desire chastity, God should answer his desires—he would not be very well pleased. If when the covetous person should, under some pangs of conscience, desire a free, a charitable, a noble, generous spirit, God should take him at his word—he would be greatly displeased. The same may be said of all other sorts of sinners.
But now a real Christian, though he be ever so weak—yet he seriously desires every grace; he is for every link of the golden chain of graces; he finds in his own heart sins which are contrary to every grace. And therefore he desires every grace, that he may make headway against every sin. He finds his heart and life so attended and surrounded with all sorts and kinds of temptations, that he earnestly, seriously, and frequently desires the presence and assistance of every grace, that so he may be temptation-proof, yes, victorious over every temptation. And he sees and feels the need of every grace to fill up every place, station, and condition wherein the Lord has set him, and therefore he begs hard for every grace. And he sees a beauty, and a glory, and an excellency upon every grace, and therefore he desires every grace as well as any one single grace—which no hypocrite or profane person in the world does. But,
[9.] Ninthly, No man can sincerely and seriously desire grace for gracious ends and purposes—but he who has true grace in his soul.No man can truly desire grace, that he may enjoy communion and fellowship with the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, and that he may be made conformable to Christ, and that he may be serviceable and useful to the saving interest of Christ, and that he may walk even as Christ walked, in the exercise of every grace, and that he may be rid of his sins, yes, all his sins, especially his special bosom sins; and that he may run the ways of God's commands more easily, more readily, more delightfully, more resolutely, more patiently, more unweariedly, and more zealously; and that he may be made victorious over the world, the flesh, and the devil; and that he may so live, as to be a praise, a name, an honor, and a glory to Christ; and that after all and by all he may be prepared and fitted for an eternal fruition and enjoyment of Christ, [John 1:1-4, and 2:6; Mat. 11:29-30; Psalm 119:32; 1 John 5:4-5; Romans 14:7-8; Philip. 1:20.] —but he who has true grace in his soul. Now, every weak believer is able to appeal to God, that he desires grace for gracious ends and purposes, as for the ends last cited, and others of the like nature with them.
Wicked men may in a fit desire grace, as Simon Magus did desire the Holy Spirit, to get money by it, Acts 8:18-20; or when they are under some pangs of conscience, they may desire grace to be rid of their horrors and terrors, or when they are upon a dying bed they may desire so much grace as may keep them out of hell, and bring them to heaven. But in all this they look no further than SELF; they are far from desiring of grace for gracious ends and purposes. There is nothing in all the world that the great God so much regards as man, "All these things have my hands made—but to this man will I look," Isaiah 66:2. There is nothing in man the great God so much regards—as the heart; "My son, give me your heart." There is nothing in the heart so much as the aim and end of it.
Let a man's profession be ever so glorious, let him be ever so abundant in the performance of duties, let his desires after this and that good thing be ever so strong—yet if his ends and aims are wrong, all his pretensions and performances are but beautiful abominations. Did David pray three times a day? So did the pharisees. Did David and Daniel fast? So did the pharisees, and that twice in the week. Did Cornelius give alms? So did the pharisees. Did Abraham pay tithes? So did the pharisees; they tithed their very mint and rue. But their ends being wrong, their time was lost, and their pains were lost, and their duties were lost, and their alms were lost, and their souls were lost—and that forever. [Mark 12:40; Luke 18:12; Mat. 6:2; Luke 11:42; Mat. 23:1, seq.] God writes a zero upon all those services wherein men's ends are not right, Jer. 32:23. But,
[10.] Tenthly, No man can sincerely desire and earnestly endeavor after the highest pitches of grace—but he who has true grace.Though the weak Christian has but a little grace in his heart—yet he has the top of grace, the perfection of grace in his sincere aims, in his sincere desires, and in his earnest and constant endeavors, Philip. 3:12-16, etc. And if the weakest saint might have his desires, his mind, his wish, his will, his choice—he would never more sin; he would never more dishonor Jesus Christ; he would never more grieve the Spirit of grace; he would yield unsinning obedience; he would obey in this lower world, as the angels, and as the "spirits of just men made perfect," Heb. 12:22-23, do obey in that upper world. The weakest Christian has his eye to the highest round in Jacob's ladder, and sincerely would he be at the top of it, Luke 17:5. And oh, how sweet is every providence, and every ordinance, and every duty, and every mercy, and every opportunity—which helps his soul more Christ-wards, and heaven-wards, and holiness-wards!
Sincere desires, and serious endeavors to grow in grace, is an infallible evidence of the truth of grace, 2 Peter 3:18, 1 Peter 2:2, 1 John 5:11, 1 John 3:9. Look! as a man may have grace and not know it, so a man may grow in grace and yet not discern it. As in the lopping of a tree, there seems to be a kind of diminution and destruction—yet the end and outcome of it is better growth. And as the weakening of the body by medicine seems to tend to death—yet it produces better health and more strength. The Christian's spiritual growth, when seemingly dead and declining, and be at a standstill—is still carried on by the hidden method of God to increase; for every true Christian is a member of a thriving body, in which there is no atrophy—but a continual issuing of vitality from the head; so that life, being wrought by the Spirit of life, never dies—but is always upon the growing hand—except in the dark winter night of desertion and temptations—and ripening and increasing even in the midst of all ordinary troubles and trials. ["The righteous shall flourish like the palm-tree," Psalm 91:12-14. The palm-tree never loses his leaf or fruit.—Pliny. Grace grows not alike in all saints. In the parable, some brought forth thirty, some sixty, and some an hundred fold.]
The apostle tells us, that the whole body of Christ, whereof every true Christian is a limb, is so compact together in itself, and so firmly fastened with certain spiritual nerves and ligaments to the head, that from it there is by them conveyed to each part a continual supply of spiritual grace, both sufficient to furnish it, and to further the growth of it. Let me give a little further light into this particular, by this similitude: A man is sets sail for the East Indies, and shapes his course thitherward; but along the way is often hindered by cross winds; he is by contrary winds compelled to dock at various harbors, and to stay there for a time, either to shift off stormy weather, or to take in fresh water, or to stop a leak, or to get some fresh provisions. And yet all this while we truly say, that he is going on in his way in his voyage, because his settled purpose and constant resolution is to make to his port, his haven, where he is bound; and all these seeming hindrances shall help forward his voyage. It is so in spiritual things; for our very growth in grace consists much in sincere desires, in fixed resolutions, and in faithful endeavors to grow in grace.
Aristotle makes it the mark of a good man, that he studies how he may grow better than he is, not contenting himself with any degree or measure of goodness. And another heathen observes, that "the earnest desire of what men would have, makes them forgetful of what they have." "I forget what is past," says the apostle, "and press on to what is before," Philip. 3:13. Their eye is more upon what they want—than upon what they have. It is with good Christians in this case as it is with rich worldlings, that, like men in a race, have their eye on those who be before them, not on those who are behind them; they are ever eyeing those who seem to outstrip and outgo them in wealth, and think they have nothing, and that they are but poor men—so long as they come short of such and such, who are rich and great in the world.
And so it is with many precious Christians; they have still their eye fixed upon those whose examples they either read of, or whose courses and graces they are eyewitnesses of. And hereupon they think that they have no grace, or else that they make no progress in grace, at least worth speaking of, so long as they come behind and fall short of such and such, who are very eminent, or most eminent, in grace and holiness. And upon this account it is, that they make such sore complaints of their spiritual needs, and of their slow progress in grace and holiness, and that they can hardly perceive but that they stand still at a stop. Now mark, these sad complaints of theirs, and their serious desires to grow in grace—are a sure and infallible evidence of the truth of grace in them; yes, it is a sure argument that they love grace as it is grace, that they love grace for grace's sake, which none can do, but such as have grace.
It is a sure sign that he was never truly godly, who desires not to be better; yes, he has very great cause to fear, that his heart is rotten, very rotten, if not stark rotten—who desires not to be as godly as the best, to be as gracious as he who is most gracious, and to be as holy as he who is most holy. Well, sirs! this will be found an everlasting truth, namely, That no man can sincerely desire, and habitually endeavor after the highest pitches of grace—but he who has true grace.
[11.] Eleventhly, No man can always desire grace—but he who has true grace.Constant desires after grace argues the reality of grace. Constant desires after grace manifests a state of grace. Psalm 119:20, "My soul breaks for the longing that it has unto your judgments at all times." Isaiah 26:7-9, Cant. 3:1-4, Psalm 106:3. Pliny speaks of a golden vine which never withers. All gracious desires are such golden desires which never wither. Take a Christian when you will, and where you will, and among whom you will, and in what condition you will, and still you shall find his heart full of gracious desires. Oh that I had grace! Oh that I had much grace! etc.
Balaam in a fit, in a good mood, desires to die the death of the righteous—but his desires were fleeting and flashy, they were transient, not permanent, Num. 23:10. Some poor sinners, when they are in a good mood, or under some distress of conscience, or under some grievous trials, or when they see the handwriting upon the wall, Dan. 5:6; and when death, which is the king of terrors, and the terror of kings, knocks at their doors—oh then they cry out, "Oh that we had grace! Oh, what shall we do for grace! Oh, send to such a minister, and to such a Christian, whom we have hated, scorned, reproached, and opposed, and desire them to be earnest with God, that he would give us grace; for now we see, that without grace there is no escaping of hell, nor no coming to heaven!" But all these desires of theirs are but like the morning cloud, or the early dew—which quickly passes away, Hosea 6:4, Psalm 78:37, Psalm 5:9.
But now if you look upon the weak Christian, as you shall commonly find a tear in his eye, a sigh in his bosom, and a complaint in his mouth; so you shall always find desires in his heart after grace—"Oh that I had grace! Oh that I had much grace! Oh that I did but excel in grace! Oh that I had as much grace as such a Christian! Oh that I had a greater exercise of grace!" Psalm 42:1-3, and 63:1-3, 8. Whatever outward or inward changes may attend a Christian in this world—yet you shall still find him full of holy desires, and breathings, and hankerings, and longings after God, and Christ, and grace, and holiness. "Oh that I had more of these! Oh, when shall I have more of these! Oh that God would cut me short in anything, yes, in everything, rather than cut me short in these things, that the desires of my soul are so much running after!"
These desires of theirs may further be set forth by a spring between a couple of hills; the spring will always run through those hindrances that stop it, or else it will run over them—for it cannot cease running if it is a living spring. Just so, the desires of a gracious soul will still be running after God, and Christ, and grace. The good desires of bad men after God, and Christ, and grace, and holiness, are like water in a cistern, that quickly runs out. But the desires of a godly man after God, Christ, grace, holiness, are like water in a fountain that is still a-running. An unsound Christian is never good at all times; he is only good by fits, and starts, and turns, sometimes when he is sermon-sick, or under a smarting rod, or a galled conscience, or when he is under some heavy cross or sadness. Oh, then he will be good! Oh, then he will have God, and he will have Christ, and he will have grace, and he will have heaven. But this good frame, this good temper of his, is not lasting, it is not abiding; it is like a vapor that quickly vanishes, or like a windmill that goes as long as the wind fills the sails—but no longer. These are like Sigismund the emperor, who, when he was sick, would be very godly—but when he was well, none more wicked. But,
[12.] Twelfthly, No man can sincerely desire to abound and excel most in those particular graces which are most opposite and contrary to those particular sins which his natural temper, constitution, complexion, calling, or condition, does most expose him and incline him to—but he who has true grace—but he whose heart is sincere with God.Psalm 18:23, "I was upright before him, and I kept myself from my iniquity." If passion is a sincere Christian's bosom sin—then his desires run most out for meekness. If pride is a sincere Christian's bosom sin—then his desires are most for humility. If earthliness is a sincere Christian's bosom sin—then his desires are most for heavenly-mindedness. If unbelief is a sincere Christian's bosom sin—then his desires are most for faith. You shall then find him with the disciples, crying out, "Lord, increase our faith," Luke 7:5.
But now, though a wicked man's heart rise against every grace—yet it rises most strongly against those particular graces which are most opposite and contrary to those particular lusts which are a wicked man's bosom lusts, his darling sins, etc. Hence the covetous heart rises and swells most against liberality, as you see in Judas, "What need for this waste?" Mat. 26:8-9. He looks upon all as lost, which is laid out upon Christ, his servants and services. And the lukewarm professor's heart rises and swells most against zeal and fervency, Rev. 3:15-17, Luke 19. And the griping usurer's heart rises and swells most against restitution; and the adulterer's heart rises and swells most against purity, chastity, self-restraint; and the ignorant man's heart rises and swells most against light and knowledge. The ignorant man is willing to go to hell in the dark, and ready and bold enough to conclude that we never had such sad and bad times as we have had since there has been so much preaching, and so much hearing, and so much fasting, and so much praying, and so much light and knowledge in the world.
But all is quite otherwise with a true child of God; for his heart rises and swells most against the toad or toads which are in his own bosom, Romans 7:22-23. And the daily and earnest desires of his soul are, that God would make him eminent in every grace, yes, that God would make him most eminent in those particular graces which are most opposite and contrary to those particular lusts and corruptions which more peculiarly, more especially he has cause to call his bosom iniquity, or the iniquities of his heart, and of his heels, Psalm 49:5. Look! as we have some dirt, more or less, which will still cleave to our heels while we are walking in a dirty road; just so, there is some defilements and pollutions that will still be cleaving to all our duties, services, ways, and walkings in this world—which we may well call the iniquity of our heels. Now, a gracious heart rises most against these, etc.
[13.] Thirteenthly, No man can truly love grace in another—but he who has true grace in his own soul.1 John 3:10. No man can love a saint as a saint—but he who is a real saint. No man can love holiness in another—but he who has holiness in his own soul. No man can love a godly man for goodness' sake—but he who is really godly. "We know that we have passed from death to life—because we love the brethren," 1 John 3:14. Sincere love to the brethren is a most evident sign of a Christian's being already passed or translated from death to life, that is, from a state of nature into a state of grace. Such a poor soul that dares not say that he has grace in his own heart—yet dares say before the Lord—that he loves, delights, and takes pleasure to see the holy graces of the Spirit sparkling and shining in the hearts, lives, and lips of other saints, secretly wishing in himself that his soul were but in their case; and who dares say before the Lord that there are no men in all the world who are so precious, so admirable, so lovely, so excellent, and so honorable in his account, in his eye—as those who have the image of God, of Christ, of grace, of holiness, most clearly, most fairly, and most fully stamped upon them. When a poor Christian can rejoice in every light, in every sun which outshines his own; when he sees wisdom and knowledge shining in one saint, and faith and love shining in another saint, and humility and lowliness shining in another saint, and meekness and uprightness shining in another saint, and zeal and courage shining in another saint, and patience and constancy shining in another—and then can make his retreat to his closet, admiring and blessing of the Lord for the various graces of his Spirit shining in his children, and be frequent and earnest with God, that those very graces might shine as so many suns in his soul; doubtless such a poor soul has true grace, and is saved, and will be happy to all eternity. [Psalm 15:1, 4, 16:3.] In Tertullian's time, the heathen would point out the Christians by this mark, "See how they love one another." Now, to prevent mistakes, I shall show you the several properties of sincere love to the saints.
(1.) First, True love to the saints is spiritual; it is a love for the image of God which is stamped upon the soul. 1 John 5:1, "Everyone who loves him who begat—loves him also who is begotten of him;" 1 John 4:7. A soul that truly loves, loves God the father for his own sake—and the children for the father's sake. If the image of God is the magnet which draws out our love to the saints—then our love is real to them. He who does not love the saints as saints, he who does not love them under a spiritual notion—he has no true affection to them. Naturally we hate God, because he is a holy God; and his law, because it is a holy law; and his people, because they are a holy people, Gen. 3:15; 1 John 3:12. It is only the Spirit of God, who can enable a man to love a saint for the image of God which is in him. Many there are which love Christians for their goods, not for their good; they love them for the money which is in their purses—but not for the grace which is in their hearts.
Love to the saints, for the image of God which is stamped upon them—is a flower which does not grow in sinful human nature's garden. No man can love grace in another man's heart—but he who has grace in his own. Men do not more naturally love their parents, and love their children, and love themselves—than they do naturally hate the image of God upon his people and ways, Proverbs 29:10; Ezek. 25:15. I have read of one who was so lusty and quarrelsome, that he was ready to fight with his own image so often as he saw it in a mirror. Oh how many are there in these days, who are still a-quarreling and fighting with the image of God wherever they see it!
True love is for what of the divine nature, for what of Christ and grace shines in a man. It is one thing to love a godly man, and another thing to love him for godliness. Many love godly men as they are politicians, or helpful, or learned, or of a sweet nature, or affable, or related, or as those who have been kind to them. But all this is but natural love. But to love them because they are spiritually lovely, because of the seed of God in them, because they are all glorious within—is to love them as becomes saints; it is to love them at a higher and nobler rate than any hypocrite in the world can reach to, John 3:9, Psalm 45:13. The wasps fly about the tradesman's shop, not out of love to him—but the honey and fruit which is there. But,
(2.) Secondly, True love to the saints is appreciating.A gracious soul sets the highest price and the greatest value and esteem upon those who are gracious, Psalm 15:4. He honors those who fear the Lord; he looks upon the wicked as lumber—but upon the saints as jewels; he looks upon the wicked as dross—but upon the saints as the gold of Ophir; he looks upon the wicked as chaff—but upon the saints as wheat; he looks upon the saints as sons—but upon the wicked as slaves; he looks upon the saints as heirs of salvation—but upon the wicked as heirs of damnation, Psalm 119:119; Psalm 1:4; John 1:12; Heb. 1:14. Gracious souls do not value people by their great places, offices, names, professions, arts, parts, gifts, mirthful clothes, gold chains, honors, riches—but by what they are worth for another world. As the great God, so gracious souls look not how educated men are—but how pious; not how great—but how gracious; not how high—but how holy; and accordingly they value them. "My goodness extends not to you—but to the saints who are in the earth, and to the excellent, in whom is all my delight," Psalm 16:3. "The righteous is more excellent than his neighbor," Prov 12:26.
It is grace which differences one man from another, and which exalts one man above another. A gracious man, though ever so poor, and low, and contemptible in the world—is a better man than his wicked neighbor, though he be ever so great or rich in the world. In the eye, account, and esteem of God, angels, and saints—there is no man compared to the gracious man. The sun does not more excel and outshine the stars, than a righteous man does excel and outshine his unrighteous neighbor. "Better is the poor who walks in his uprightness, than he who is perverse in his ways, though he be rich," Proverbs 28:6. A gracious man prefers a holy Job upon the ash-heap, before a wicked Ahab upon the throne. He sets a higher price upon a gracious Lazarus, though clothed with rags and full of sores—than upon a rich and wretched Dives, though he be clothed gloriously, and fares sumptuously every day, Luke 16.
This is, and this must be for a lamentation—that this poor, blind, mad, besotted world rates and values men according to their worldly interest, greatness, glory, and grandeur. But gracious souls, they rate and value men by their graces, by their inward excellencies, and by what they are worth for eternity. In the eye of a gracious man, there is no wife like a gracious wife; no child like a gracious child; no friend like a gracious friend; no neighbor like a gracious neighbor; no magistrate like a gracious magistrate; no minister like a gracious minister; no master like a gracious master; nor any servant like a gracious servant. Internal excellencies are far more important with a gracious man, than all external glories. [Psalm 45:13. Wicked men may highly prize and admire the common gifts of the saints, as Pharaoh admired at the wisdom of Joseph, and Nebuchadnezzar admired at the wisdom of Daniel. But they never prize nor admire at their graces. "Everyone who does evil, hates the light." John 3:20.]
The Jews say, that those seventy people who went with Jacob into Egypt, were as much worth as all the seventy nations in the world. Doubtless, seventy gracious people, in the esteem and judgment of those who are gracious, are more worth than a whole world, yes, than seventy worlds of graceless people. Well sirs, remember this: No man can truly prize, and highly value grace in another—but he who has grace in his own heart. Some prize Christians for their wit, others prize them for their wealth; some prize them for their birth and breeding, others prize them for their beauty and worldly glory; some prize them for the great things that have been done by them, others prize them for the good things that they have received from them; some prize them for their eagle eyes, others prize them for their silver tongues, and others prize them for their golden parts. But he who is truly gracious, he prizes them for the grace of God that is in them, he sets the highest value upon them for their holiness, etc. But,
(3.) Thirdly, True love to the saints is universal, to one Christian as well as another, to all as well as any—to poor Lazarus as well as to rich Abraham, to a despised Job as well as to an admired David, to an afflicted Joseph as well as to a raised Jacob, to a despised disciple as well as to an exalted apostle. [No unregenerate person has a love to all the saints; for though he seems to love some—yet he loathes others; he is guilty of sinful partiality. They seem to love the rich, and despise the poor, James 2.]
Eph. 1:15, "I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints." Col. 1:4, "Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which you have to all the saints." Faith in Christ Jesus issues in love to all the saints; therefore they go commonly coupled in Paul's Epistles. It was the glory of the Ephesians and Colossians that their faith and love reached to all the saints. Their love was not a narrow love, a love confined to some particular saints—but it was universal to all saints: Philip. 4:21, "Greet every saint in Christ Jesus;" the poorest as well as the richest, the weakest as well as the strongest, the lowest as well as the highest, and those who have many infirmities as well as those who have fewer infirmities, and those who have but weak parts and gifts as well as those who have the strongest parts and the most raised gifts, Eph. 1:21-23; 1 Pet. 2:17.
All the saints have the same Spirit, the same Jesus, the same faith, etc.; they are all fellow-members, fellow-travelers, fellow-soldiers, fellow-citizens, fellow-heirs, and therefore must they all be loved with a sincere and cordial love. Love is set upon the brotherhood, upon the whole fraternity of believers, and not here and there upon one. Divine love casts an eye of favor upon grace in rags, upon a ash-heap, in a dungeon, a den, a prison, a fiery furnace. Grace is as lovely in the illiterate as in the greatest scholar, in the servant as in the master, in the maid as in the mistress, in the child as in the father, in the subject as in the prince, in the buyer as in the seller, etc.
Look! as all our delight must be in the saints—so our delight must be in all the saints. It is sad and sinful to despise our poor brethren. And yet this was the very case of the Corinthians, for they in their love-feasts behaved so unequally, "that one was hungry," namely, the poor, "and another was drunken," namely, the rich. And this made the apostle put that question to them, "What! have you not houses to eat and drink in? or despise you the church of God, and shame those who have not?" 1 Cor. 11:21-22, or put those who have nothing to shame.
And the apostle James does very roundly reprove and condemn that partial love that was generally among the Jews in his days: "My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?" James 2:1-4. Not that the apostle does simply or absolutely prohibit a civil differencing of men in place from others; for it cannot be denied but that there is a holy and warrantable respect of people in respect of their age, callings, gifts, graces, and greatness in the world. But when the rich man's wealth is more regarded than the poor man's godliness, and when men behave so to the rich as to cast scorn, contempt, disgrace, and discouragement upon the godly poor; those who respect a rich man who has but a little grace, before a poor man who is rich in grace—are worthy of blame.
All true-born sons love to see the image and picture of their father, though hung in ever so poor a frame, and in ever so mean a cottage. Just so, the true-born sons of God, they love to see the image of God, the picture of God, upon the poorest saints. It is sad to prefer a worldly splendor—before heavenly grace; a gold ring—before a rich faith; a chain of gold—before a chain of grace. Verse 5, "Hearken, my beloved brethren, has not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom?" We judge of people, by their faith. It is the great wisdom of a Christian not to judge of men by their outwards—but by their inwards; not by their externals—but by their internals; not by what they are worth for this world—but by what they are worth for that eternal world. The poorest saints are God's portion, Deut. 32:9; they are his pleasant portion, Jer. 12:10; they are his peculiar treasure, Exod. 19:5; they are his jewels, Mal. 3:17; they are the apple of his eye, Zech. 2:8; they are his glory, Isaiah 4:5; they are the crown of his glory and royal diadem, Isaiah 62:3. And therefore it is a dangerous thing to slight them, to disown them, to look frowningly upon them, or to behave unworthily towards them.
Pompey told his Cornelia, It is no praise to you to have loved Pompeium Magnum, Pompey the Great—but if you love Pompeium miserum, Pompey the miserable, you shall be a pattern for imitation to all posterity. So I say, It is no great matter to love those who are rich and pious, great and gracious, high and holy. But to love the poor saints of God in their lowest and most miserable condition, when they have not a rag to cover them, nor a crust to refresh them, nor a fire to warm them, nor a friend to stand by them, nor a penny to help them—this is praiseworthy, this manifests much of God, of Christ, of grace within.
Romanus the martyr, who was born of noble parentage, entreated his persecutors that they would not favor him for his nobility; for it is not, said he, the blood of my ancestors—but my Christian faith, that makes me noble. It is not race nor place—but grace, which makes a man truly noble. Without question, he who loves one saint for the image of God which is upon him—he cannot but fall in love with every saint that bears the lovely image of the Father upon him; he cannot but love a saint in rags as well as a saint in robes; a saint upon the ash-heap as well as a saint upon the throne. Usually, those Christians that have least of the world, have most of Christ. Commonly, those Christians that have least of the world, have most of heaven in their hearts, houses, and lives. But,
(4.) Fourthly, True love to the saints will extend to those who are most remote in respect of place, as well as to those who are near.They of Macedonia and Achaia made a contribution for the poor saints at Jerusalem, Romans 15:26. The saints of Macedonia and Achaia did freely and cheerfully contribute to the poor saints at Jerusalem, whose faces probably they had never seen. And Gaius is commended for his love to strangers, 3 John 5. A gracious man who has an estate, a treasury, an inheritance—he is like a common fountain—which freely gives out to strangers as well as to near neighbors. A great fire will warm those who sit far from it, as well as those who sit near unto it. Just so, sincere love will extend and stretch out itself to those saints who are most remote. Gracious souls do dearly love and highly value those saints whose faces they have never seen, nor are likely to see in this world, and from whose hands they have not received the least civility. And all upon the serious reports that they have had of the grace of God that has been sparkling and shining in them, whose habitations are at a great distance from them. A sincere love, a genuine love, a hearty love, will be running out towards those who live most remote from us, if we do but understand that God is in them and with them of truth, Romans 12:9, 1 Peter. 1:22, 1 John 3:18. But,
(5.) Fifthly, Our love to the saints is right, when we love them best and most—in whom the spiritual and supernatural causes of love are most sparkling and shining.Where grace draws the affections, where the more grace we see—the more we shall love them. Psalm 16:3, "My goodness extends not to you—but to the saints who are in the earth, and to the excellent, in whom is all my delight." There are saints, and there are excellent saints. The Hebrew word that is here rendered excellent, signifies magnificent ones, noble ones, glorious ones, wonderful ones. O sirs! there are some saints who are magnificent in grace, noble in grace, glorious in grace, wonderful in grace. Now this is certain—if grace is the true reason why we love any, then the more excellent, the more magnificent any are in grace, the more highly we shall prize them, and the more dearly we shall love them, and the more abundantly in our hearts we shall honor them, Psalm 15:4.
Look! as grace rises higher and higher in the same person, so we shall rise higher and higher in our love to the same person. Daniel was greatly beloved, Dan. 9:23, and John was singularly beloved, John 21:20. And why? Because they were more eminently gracious than others were. Where there is most grace, there God is most honored, and there Christ is most exalted, and there the Spirit is best pleased, and there true religion is most adorned, and there Satan is most dethroned, and there the world is most conquered, and there sin is most subdued, and there duties are most exactly performed. And therefore there the gracious soul can't but love best and most.
There are some who seem to love such and such godly men, whose judgments are weak, and light little, and parts low, and grace small; who yet look with a squint eye, an envious eye, upon every sun which outshines their own—upon everyone's graces and excellencies which are more sparkling than their own. Though pride and envy have received their death's wound at the soul's first conversion—yet they are not quite slain in a believer. There is an aptness even in real saints to grudge and repine at those gifts, graces, and excellencies in others, which outshine their own. John's disciples muttered and murmured because Christ had more followers and admirers than John, Luke 7:16-23, and that spirit that lived in John's disciples is still alive to this very day. This is, and this must be, for a lamentation.
Well, sirs, look, as the fairest day has its clouds, the finest linen its spots, the richest jewels their flaws, the sweetest fruits their worms—just so, when many precious Christians are not themselves, when they are in an hour of temptation, when their corruptions are up and their graces down, they may, and too often do, envy and repine at those graces, excellencies, and abilities, that do overcast, cloud, darken, and outshine their own, Num. 11:29.
The best of men are but men at the best, and there is still those bitter roots of pride, vain-glory, self-love, envy, etc., remaining in them, which occasions their hearts to rise and swell, yes, sometimes to cast disgrace upon those excellencies in others that themselves lack, Heb. 12:15, as that man who could not write his own name, and yet called the liberal arts a public poison and pestilence. This spiritual disease of envy, is mostly to be found among Christians who are got into some of the highest forms in Christianity. Take your ordinary common Christians, and they commonly rejoice most where they see most grace. And so do your Christians in a higher form too, when they come to themselves, and to make up their accounts, and have wept over those cursed roots of bitterness which are so apt to be sprouting out.
Now, there is no greater argument that our grace is true, and that we love others for grace's sake, than our loving those best who have most grace, though they have but little of the world. A pearl is rich if found on a ash-heap, though it may glisten more when set in a ring of gold; so many a poor believer is rich in grace, and precious and glorious in the eye of Christ, and should be so in ours, though like Job he sits upon a ash-heap. Though in the eyes of the world he may seem to glisten most when adorned with riches, honor, and outward pomp; if grace be the true reason why we love any person, then the more grace that person has, the more we shall love him. A godly man loves all who are godly—but he loves them most who excel most in the power, purity, and practice of godliness, etc. But,
(6.) Sixthly and lastly, True love to the saints is constant, it is permanent. 1 Cor. 13:8, "Love never fails;" Heb. 13:1, "Let brotherly love continue." It is a love like that of Christ's, who loved his people to the end: 1 John 4:16, "He who dwells in love, dwells in God, and God in him." John 13:1, and 15:12, etc., Our love to our brother must not only lodge with us for a night—but we must dwell in brotherly love. Look! as our love must be sincere without hypocrisy, so it must be constant without deficiency. That love was never true—which is not constant. True love, like the pulse, will still be beating, it will still be working and running out to the person beloved. True love will not fawn upon a Christian when high—and frown upon him when low; it will not kiss him upon the throne—and kick him upon the ash-heap.
The grounds and causes of their love are constant, namely, God's commands, their spiritual relations, and the truth of grace in their souls; and therefore their love cannot but be constant. "A friend," says Solomon, "loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity," Proverbs 7:17. Euripides hit it when he said, that a faithful friend in adversity, is better than a calm sea to a weather-beaten mariner. He who truly loves—will love in adversity as well as in prosperity, in storms as well as in calms, in winter nights as well as in summer days. He who sincerely loves the saints—he will love them as well when men frown upon them, as when they smile upon them; as well when men strike them, as when they stroke them; as well when men cast them down, as when they lift them up; as well when men cry, "Crucify them, crucify them," as when they cry, "Hosanna, hosanna," to them.
Consalvus, a Spanish bishop and inquisitor, wondered how the Christians had that commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," so indelibly printed in their hearts, that no torture could blot it out, and make them confess and betray one another, or cease from loving one another. I have read of Ursinus, a Christian physician, who being to suffer martyrdom for the gospel of Christ, began to waver and faint; which, when Vitalis, a holy man, saw, he stepped to him, and though he knew it would cost him his life—yet he thus comforted and encouraged him, saying, 'What! have you been heretofore so industrious to preserve men's bodies, and will you now shrink at the saving of your own soul? Be courageous, fear not,' etc. For which faithful counsel, he also was condemned to death, and suffered accordingly.
A true friend is neither known in prosperity, nor hidden in adversity. True love is like that of Ruth's to Naomi, that of Jonathan's to David, permanent and constant. Many there be whose love to the saints is like Job's brooks, which in the winter, when men have no need of them, overflows with offers of service and shows of love. But when the season is hot and dry, and the poor thirsty traveler stands in most need of water to refresh him, then the brooks are quite dried up. They are like the swallow, that will stay by you in the summer of prosperity—but fly from you in the winter of adversity. It is observed by Josephus of the Samaritans, that whenever the Jews' affairs prospered, they would be their friends, and profess much love to them; yes, they would vaunt of their alliance, saying, that they were near akin, and of the race of Ephraim and Manasseh, the sons of Joseph. But when the Jews were in trouble and affliction, and brought down, then they would not own them, nor have anything to do with them; yes, then they would set themselves with all their might against them, as the same historian tells us. This age is full of such Samaritans.
Yet certainly, such as truly love, they will always love; such as truly love the people of God, they will love them to the end. In the primitive times it was very much taken notice of by the very heathen, that in the depth of misery, when fathers and mothers forsook their children, Christians, otherwise strangers, stuck close one to another. Their love of religion and one of another, proved firmer than that of sinful human nature. They seem to take away the sun out of the world, said the orator, who take away friendship from the life of man; for we do not more need fire and water than constant friendship. Though wicked men may pretend great love to the saints—yet their love is not constant. God sometimes indeed overrules their spirits with a very strong hand, as he did Laban's and Esau's, or as he overruled the spirits of the lions to preserve Daniel; and of the ravens to feed Elijah, Gen. 31:24, 29, 33:1-5; Dan. 6—but so soon as that overruling providence is over, they are as they were before. God for a time gave the Israelites favor in the eyes of the Egyptians—but before and after they were their utter enemies. But now a gracious soul, he loves the saints at all times, his love to them is constant. But,
[14.] Fourteenthly, That soul that dares not say that he has grace—yet can truly say before the Lord, that he prizes the least grain of grace above ten thousand thousand worlds, certainly that soul has true grace in him.Doubtless there are none who can prize grace in their understandings and judgments above all the world—but such as are first taken out of the world by grace, Micah 6:6-7; Philip. 3:18-19; Mat. 19:16-25; Psalm 2:21. There is no man on earth whose heart is void and empty of grace—but sets a higher value and price upon his lusts, or upon his relations, or upon his honors, or riches, or pleasures, or upon this or that worldly enjoyment, than he does upon grace, or the fountain of grace; yes, how many thousands are there, who set a higher price or value upon a hound, a hawk, a horse, a harlot, a good trade, a fair estate, a rich inheritance, yes, upon the very toys and trifles of this world, than they do upon God, or Christ, or grace! It was never yet known in the world, that ever God sent such a man to hell, who prized grace above heaven itself, who had rather have grace and holiness without heaven, than heaven itself without grace and holiness.
[15.] Fifteenthly, That soul that dares not say that his condition is good—yet can say in truth of heart before the Lord, that he would not change his condition with the vain, carnal, formal, and profane men of the world, for ten thousand worlds; that man is certainly for heaven, and heaven is certainly for that man. We may be very highly and groundedly confident, that God will never cast that man to hell, among devils and damned spirits, at the great day, who in his day of life would not choose to be in the condition of the men of the world, for as many worlds as there be men in the world. Look! as none meet in heaven—but such as alike in their renewed natures, principles, and practices; so none meet in hell but such as alike in their old natures, principles, and practices. That God that would not allow an ox to be yoked with an donkey in this world, Deut. 22:10; nor a believer with an infidel, 2 Coy. 6:14-18; will never suffer such to be yoked with devils and damned reprobrates in that lower world, who would not, to gain many worlds, be willingly yoked with wicked men in this world. Certainly they shall never be a Christian's companions in that eternal world, whose society and company, and whose wickedness and baseness have been a grief, a torment, a hell to him in this world, Psalm 119:53, 136; Jer. 9:1-2; Ezek. 9:4, 6; 2 Peter 2:7-8. When Mrs. Catherine Brettergh was upon her dying bed, and most grievously assaulted by temptations, in the midst of her sore conflicts, this was no small support and comfort to her—that surely God would not send her to hell, to live forever among such wicked people, whose company and whose sin was a burden to her in this world, etc. But,
[16.] Sixteenthly, That soul that dares not say that he does not sin—"For in many things we offend all;" "and there is not a just man upon the earth that does good, and sins not;" and who can say, "I have made my heart clean, I am pure from sin?" "And if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us," [James 3:2; Eccles. 7:20; Proverbs 20:7; John 1:1, 8.]—yet, can say in uprightness before the Lord, that he would not willingly, resolutely, maliciously, willfully, wickedly, and habitually sin against the Lord to gain a world; that soul which don't or won't, through grace assisting, allow himself, or indulge himself in a course of sin, or in a trade of sin, or in the common practice of any known sin—that soul is certainly a gracious soul. "The evil that I do, I allow not," Romans 7:15.
It is one thing for a man to sin, it is another thing for a man to allow himself in sin; it is one thing for a godly man to step into a sin, and it is another thing to keep the road of sin. "Search me and try me, and see if there be any way of wickedness in me," or as the Hebrew runs, "any way of pain, or of grief, or of provocation," Psalm 139:24, that is, any course of sin that is grievous or provoking to the eyes of divine glory. A real saint can neither allow of sin, nor wallow in sin, nor be transformed into the image of sin, nor mix itself with sin. It is possible for a sincere Christian to step into a sinful path, or to touch upon sinful facts, and now and then in an hour of temptation, to slide, to trip, and to be overtaken unawares. But his main way, his principal work, is to depart from iniquity, Gal. 6:1, Proverbs 16:17, as a true traveler may now and then step a few steps out of his way, who yet for the main keeps his way, keeps the road. Or as a bee may now and then light upon a thistle—but her main work is to be gathering at the flowers. Or as a sheep may now and then slip into the dirt, or into a slough—but its main work is to be grazing upon the mountains.
Certainly, O soul, if sin is now your greatest burden, it shall never hereafter prove your eternal bane. God never yet sent any man to hell for sin, to whom sin has commonly been the greatest hell in this world. God has but one hell, and that is for those to whom sin has been commonly a heaven in this world. That man who hates sin, and that daily enters his protest against sin—that man shall never be made miserable by sin. Sin in a wicked man is like poison in a serpent; it is in its natural place, it is delightful to a sinner. But sin in a saint is like poison in a man's body, it is offensive, and the heart rises against it, and uses all divine antidotes whereby it may be expelled and destroyed. Nothing will satisfy a gracious soul—but the heart blood of his lusts. Now, he shall never be damned for his sins, whose heart is set upon killing his sins.
[17.] Seventeenthly, Such a poor soul that dares not say, that God is his God, or that Christ is his redeemer, or that he has a work of grace upon his heart—yet can say with some integrity of heart before the Lord, that if God and Christ, grace and glory, holiness and happiness, were offered to him on the one hand, and all the honors, pleasures, profits, delights, and carnal contents of the world were offered him on the other hand—he had infinitely rather ten thousand thousand times choose God and Christ, grace and glory, holiness and happiness, than the contrary; certainly such a soul has true grace in him, and a saving work passed upon him; for none can freely, seriously, habitually, resolutely, choose God and Christ, grace and glory, holiness and happiness, as their chief good—but such who are really godly. Look! as our love to God is but an effect of his love to us—"We love him because he first loved us," 1 John 4:19—so our choosing of God for our God, is but an effect of God's choosing us for his people; we choose him because he first chose us, Deut. 7:6-9, 26:17-19. Such who, in their serious choice, set up God and Christ above all other people and things—such God will certainly make happy and blessed forever. God never did, nor never will, reject those, or damn those, who really choose him for their God, and for their great all.
The greatest part of the world choose their lusts rather than God, and the creatures rather than Christ; they choose rather to be great than gracious, to be rich in this world than to be rich towards God, Luke 12:21, to be outwardly happy than to be inwardly holy, to have a heaven on earth than to have a heaven after death—and so they miscarry forever, Mat. 10:42. That soul who with Mary has chosen the better part, that soul with Mary shall be happy forever; every man must stand or fall forever as his choice has been. But,
[18.] Eighteenthly, Can you truly say, in the presence of the great and glorious God, who is the searcher of all hearts, that you have given up your heart and life to the rule, authority, and government of Jesus Christ?and that you have chosen him to be your sovereign Lord and King, and are truly willing to submit to his dominion, as the only precious and righteous government, and as the only holy and heavenly, sweet and pleasant, profitable and comfortable, safe and best dominion in all the world, and to resign up your heart, your will, your affections, your life, your all—really to Christ, wholly to Christ, and only to Christ?
Can you, O poor soul! look up to heaven and truly say, "O dear Lord Jesus! other lords, namely, the world, the flesh, and the devil, have had dominion too long over me. But now these lords I do heartily renounce, I do utterly renounce, I do forever renounce, and do give up myself to you as my only Lord, beseeching you to rule and reign over me forever and ever! O Lord! though sin rages, and Satan roars, and the world sometimes frowns, and sometimes fawns—yet I am resolved to own you as my only Lord, and to serve you as my only Lord. And my greatest fear, by divine assistance, shall be of offending you, and my chief care shall be to please you, and my only joy shall be to be a praise and an honor to you, Isaiah 26:13, 33:22. O Lord! I can appeal to you in the sincerity of my heart, that though I have many invincible sins, weaknesses, and infirmities which hang upon me; and though I am often worsted by my sins, and overcome in an hour of temptation—yet you who know all thoughts and hearts—you know that I have given up my heart and life to the obedience of Jesus Christ, and do daily give them up to his rule and government. And it is the earnest desire of my soul, above all things in this world, that Jesus Christ may still set up his laws in my heart, and exercise his dominion over me," Psalm 65:3, Romans 7:23.
Now certainly, there is not the weakest Christian in all the world but can venture himself upon such an appeal to God as this is. And without all question, where such a frame and temper of spirit is, there the dominion of Jesus Christ is set up. And where the dominion of Christ is set up, there sin has no dominion; for the dominion of sin and the dominion of Christ are inconsistent, and therefore such a soul is happy, and will be happy to all eternity. But,
[19.] Nineteenthly, That man who will venture his soul upon Christ, and who will lean upon Christ, and cleave to Christ with full purpose of heart, [Cant. 8:5; Acts 11:21-23; Psalm 71:15; Isaiah 61:10.] and who will cleave to his blood, and cleave to his righteousness, and cleave to his merits and satisfaction, in the face of all fears, doubts, disputes, cavils, and objections—and though it cannot clear its title to Christ—yet will stay and hang itself upon Christ for life and happiness; that man is certainly a believer, and will be everlastingly saved.
"Though he slays me—yet will I trust in him," Job 13:15; if I must die, I will die at his feet, and in the midst of death expect a better life. That man is a true believer, who can love a frowning God, and hang upon an angry God, and follow hard after a withdrawing God, yes, and trust in a killing God, as here, Mat. 15:22-28. Job had his feverish fits, and his impatient slips, and yet he kept up his heroic resolution to lean upon the Lord, while he had but one minute to live. And this manifests not only the reality of faith—but also the strength of Job's faith in the midst of his extraordinary combats.
When the soul is peremptorily and habitually resolved to cleave to the person of Christ, and to cleave to the merits of Christ, and to cleave to the transactions of Christ with the Father for the salvation of sinners, as the wife cleaves to her husband, or as the child cleaves to the father, or as Ruth cleaved to Naomi, or as the ivy cleaves to the oak, with an "If I perish, I perish," Ruth 1:14-17, Esther 4:16, then it is safe, then it is happy, then it is out of the danger of hell, then it is within the suburbs of heaven. God never did, nor ever will cast such a man to hell, whose soul is drawn forth to a secret resting, staying, leaning, and relying alone upon Christ, for the obtaining of all that good, and all that glory that he has purchased, and his Father has promised. But,
[20.] Lastly, That man who makes it his principal care, his main business, his work of works, to look to his heart, to watch his heart, and to reform his heart—that man doubtless has a saving work of God upon his heart.There are two things which a gracious soul most looks at—his God and his heart. Though a gracious man looks to the cleansing of his hands—yet his principal care is the reformation of his heart, the cleansing of his heart, according to that command of the apostle James: "Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded," James 4:8. And that of the prophet Jeremiah: "O Jerusalem, wash your heart from wickedness, that you may be saved," Jer. 4:14. Man must labor after a clean inside, as well as a clean outside. The outward life must not be only unspotted before the world—but the heart also must be unspotted before God; the heart is as capable of inward defilements as the body is of outward defilements, 2 Cor. 7:1.
O sirs! though heart defilement is least taken notice of—yet heart defilement is the worst defilement, and the most dangerous defilement in the world. Heart defilement is spiritual defilement, and spiritual defilement is the defilement of devils, which of all defilement is the most hateful, odious, and pernicious defilement, Eph. 6:12. The hypocrite's only care is to keep his outward life from defilement—but the sincere Christian's care is mainly to keep his heart from defilement; for he very well knows, that if he can but keep his heart clean—he shall with more ease keep his life clean. If the fountain is kept pure—the streams will run pure. The heart is the spring of all actions, and therefore every action is as the spring is from whence it flows; if the spring is good—the action is good which flows from it; if the spring is evil, the action is evil which flows from it. "The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart." Luke 6:45
Certainly, the great work of a Christian lies with his heart. The reformation of the heart is the highest and choicest part of reformation, because it is the reformation of the noblest part of man, and is that which God looks most after, Proverbs 23:26. The reformation of the heart is indeed the heart of reformation. There is nothing reformed to purpose, until the heart is reformed; if the heart is bad, all is bad; if that is very bad, all is very bad; if that is stark bad, all is stark bad. But if that is reformed, all is reformed.
A gracious man's watch is mainly about his heart: [Psalm 51:10, 86:11, 119:36, 119:80, 27:8, 119:2, 10; Acts 8:36; Heb. 8:11; Jer. 31:33.] "Create in me a clean heart, O God! and renew a right spirit within me." "Unite my heart to fear your name." "Incline my heart unto your testimonies." "Let my heart be sound in your statutes, that I be not ashamed." "When you said, Seek my face, my heart answered, Your face, Lord, will I seek." "With my whole heart have I sought you." "Your word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against you." "Incline my heart unto your testimonies, and not unto covetousness."
The heart of man is the fountain of life or death, and therefore sin in the heart, in some respects, is worse and more dangerous than sin in the life. And hence it is that the sincere Christian doubles his guard about his heart. Luther hit it when he said, "I more fear what is within me—than what comes from without." The storms and winds without do never move the earth; it is only vapors within which cause earthquakes.
Hypocrites, as our Savior testifies, are all for the outside; they wash the platters and the cups, and beautify the tombs, like an adulteress whose care is to paint a fair face upon a foul heart, Mat. 23:25-30. But now a sincere Christian, though he has a great concern for the well ordering of his life—yet his main business and work is about his heart. "Oh that this ignorant heart were but more enlightened! Oh that this proud heart were but more humble! Oh that this profane heart were but more holy! Oh that this earthly heart were but more heavenly! Oh that this unbelieving heart were but more believing! Oh that this passionate heart were but more meek! Oh that this carnal heart were but more spiritual! Oh that this lukewarm heart were but more zealous for God, and Christ, and the gospel, and the great concerns of eternity! Oh that this vain heart were but more serious! Oh that this dull heart were but more quickened! Oh that this dead heart were but more enlivened!" etc.
The highest and hardest work of a Christian lies with his heart. Mark, common light, common conviction, education, enforcement of conscience, principles of common honesty and morality, the eye of man, the fear of man, the examples of man, the laws of man, and the rewards of man, with a hundred other things, may be very prevalent to reform the life, to regulate the outward life, and to keep that in some due decorum. And yet all these things will be found too weak, too low to change the heart, to reform the heart, to mend the heart, to purify the heart. To this great work there are principles of a higher nature required: "Purifying their hearts by faith," Acts 15:9.
It is not a guard of moral virtues—but a guard of saving graces that can keep the heart in order. To reform the heart, to keep the heart in a gracious frame, is one of the best and hardest works in the world: Proverbs 4:23, "Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life." The text is about matter of life and death. The words are mandatory, for all counsels in Scripture carry in them the force of a command. In the words you have two things observable: (1.) A duty enjoined, "Keep your heart with all diligence." (2.) The reason or motive enforcing it, "For out of it are the issues of life." In the duty there are two things considerable: (1.) Here is the subject matter, the thing that is to be done, and that is, "keep your heart." This duty is charged upon all in peremptory and undispensable terms. (2.) Here is the manner how it must be done, and that is, "with all diligence."
(1.) "Keep." The Hebrew word natsar, to keep, has various significations—but the main is to keep in safe custody; we should keep our hearts as under lock and key, that they may be always at hand when the Lord shall call for them, etc.
(2.) "Your heart." By the heart we are not to understand that particular vital member of the body that in common speech we call the heart. Heart is not here taken properly for that part of the body which philosophers call the first that lives and the last that dies. But by heart, in a metaphor, the Scripture sometimes understands some particular noble faculty of the soul. Sometimes the heart is put for the understanding: Romans 1:21, "Their foolish heart was darkened," that is, their understanding was darkened. Sometimes it is put for the will and affections: Mat. 22:37, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind," that is, with your will and with all your affections. So Proverbs 23:26, Deut. 10:12. The will is the chief power of the soul, as the heart is the principal part of the body. And it commands all the affections, as the centurion did his servants, Mat. 8. Sometimes it is put for the conscience: 1 John 3:20, "If our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things," that is, if our conscience condemns us justly, then our case must be assuredly sad, because God knows much more by us than we know by ourselves, and can charge us with many sins that conscience is not privy to, Psalm 19:12. Sometimes it is put for the memory: Psalm 119:11, "Your word have I hid in my heart," that is, in my memory. So Luke 2:19. But here it is taken comprehensively for the whole soul, with all its powers, noble faculties, and endowments, together with their several operations—all which are to be watched over.
(3.) "With all diligence," or as the Hebrew runs, "with all keeping." The Hebrew word shamar; signifies, to keep with watch and ward. [Cato, Cicero, Seneca, Socrates, and other heathens, have laid down excellent rules for the government of the outward man. But none for the government of the heart.] A Christian is to keep a perpetual guard about his heart. The Hebrew word is borrowed from military affairs. We should keep our hearts as soldiers keep a garrison, with watch and ward. The word shamar is taken from a besieged garrison, begirt by many enemies without, and in danger of being betrayed by treacherous citizens within; in which danger the soldiers upon pain of death are commanded to watch.
Junius reads the word thus, "Keep your heart," above all keeping. So Jerome reads, above all keeping keep your heart, that is, keep, keep, watch, watch, etc. So Rhodoiphus reads it; and so we read it in the margin of our Bibles. And the Syriac reads it in the same manner that our English does, with all caution and wariness we are to keep our hearts.
Oh what guards and double guards! Oh what watches and double watches, should men put upon their hearts! These words, keeping, keep, import both a universal watchfulness over the heart, and a diligent watchfulness over the heart, and a constant watchfulness over the heart; and thrice happy are those people who keep such a watch upon their hearts. A man is to keep his eye, and keep his mouth, and keep his feet—but above all keeping, he is to keep his heart. It is a duty incumbent upon every Christian to keep his own heart, "Keep your heart yourself." You may make another person your yard-keeper, or your house-keeper, or your shop-keeper, or your cash-keeper, or your horse-keeper, or your purse-keeper. But you must be your own heart-keeper. "Keep your heart with all diligence." Some understand this of all kind of watchfulness. The Hebrew word is applied to several sorts of keeping. As,
First, It is applied to those who are the keepers of a prison, where dangerous felons or malefactors are to be looked to, that they do not break away. 1 Kings 20:39, "Keep this man," So Joseph was made the keeper of the prison, Gen. 39:21-23; so Job, 7:12. The Hebrew word is the same with that in Proverbs 4:23. Now, oh how diligent, how vigilant are men in looking after their prisoners! Even so should we be in looking after our hearts, etc.
Secondly, It signifies to keep, as men would keep a besieged garrison, or city, or castle, in time of war. So it is used in that Hab. 2:1. Now what strong guards, what watchful guards do men keep up at such a time! A gracious heart is Christ's fort-royal. Now, against this fort Satan will employ the utmost of his strength, art, and craft. And therefore how highly does it concern every Christian to keep a strong guard, a constant guard about his heart! But,
Thirdly, It signifies to keep, as the priests and Levites kept the sanctuary of God, the temple of God, and all the holy things that were committed to their charge; so the word is often used by the prophet, Ezek. 44:8, 15-16, etc. The temple, and all the vessels of the temple, were to be kept pure, and clean, and sweet. Our hearts are the temples of God, the temples of the Holy Spirit. And therefore we should always keep a strong and diligent guard about them, that nothing may pass in or out, that may be either displeasing, provoking, or grieving to them. But,
Fourthly, The word signifies to keep, as a man keeps his life.Job 10:12, "Your care has preserved," here is shamar, "my life." Now with what care, with what diligence, with what labor, with what watchfulness do men labor to preserve their natural lives! What a guard, what a watch do men daily set about their lives; the same they should set about their hearts. But,
Fifthly, Men should keep their hearts, as they keep a rich treasure of money or jewels.Now, to preserve a rich treasure, what locks, what bolts, what bars, what chains are made use of! Our hearts are jewels more worth than all the kingdoms, crowns, and scepters of this world. There are few men that know how to value a God, a Christ, a gospel, a covenant of grace, a heaven, or their own hearts as they should. What are mountains of gold, and rocks of pearl—compared to the heart, the soul of man! The heart is that pearl of great price for which a man should venture his all, and lay down his all. Oh then, what a guard, what a watch should a man continually keep upon his heart!
The heart is the presence-chamber of the King of heaven. And upon this account it becomes a Christian always to keep a guard upon his heart. He keeps his heart best, who keeps it as his choicest treasure, etc. All our spiritual riches are in our hearts. A godly man may say—All my goods I carry about with me. But,
Sixthly, Men should keep their hearts, as a fond father keeps his only child.The fond father will still keep his child within doors, he will still have him under his eye, and in his presence, so that no hurt, no harm may befall him day or night. Our eye should be still upon our hearts, or else they will give us the slip, and play the harlot with us. But,
Seventhly, Men should keep their hearts, as lovers keep the love-tokens which are mutually sent one to another.They love to be often a-looking upon them, and a-thinking of them, and a-talking of them; and will be sure to keep the strictest and the strongest guard upon them. So a Christian should still be a-looking upon his heart, and a-thinking upon his heart, and a-speaking of his heart, either of the badness of it, or of the needs of it, and a-keeping of the strictest and strongest guard upon his heart. But,
Eighthly, A man should keep his heart as a man keeps his house, when he is afraid and in danger of being robbed by thieves in the night.Oh how wakeful, and watchful, and active will a man now be! But what is a man's house to his heart? A man's heart is in ten thousand times more danger than his house, and accordingly his guard should be most about his heart. But,
Ninthly, A man should keep his heart, as men keep their gardens which are full of choice, rich, rare, ripe fruits and flowers.Now, what care, cost, and pains men are at to keep such gardens, you well know. And oh that you did but every day more and more experimentally know what it is to spend your greatest care and pains about your hearts, which are Christ's garden, his bed of spices, where all graces flourish! Cant. 4:16.
Tenthly, and last, A man should keep his heart as stylish men and women do their fine clothes.Oh they won't endure a speck, a spot upon them! It is your wisdom, and oh that you would more and more make it your work, to keep your hearts from all sinful specks and spots! Let not others be more careful to keep their outsides clean, than you are to keep your insides clean; for what are clean clothes, compared to a clean heart? It is better to go to heaven in ragged clothes with a clean heart—than to go to hell in fine clothes with an unclean heart.
Doubtless that man who makes it his business to keep his heart as men keep dangerous felons or traitors; or as soldiers keep their garrisons or castles when closely besieged; or as the priests and Levites kept the sanctuary of God; or as a man keeps his natural life; or as a man keeps a rich treasure; or as a fond father keeps an only child; or as lovers keep their love-tokens; or as a man keeps his house when he is in danger to be robbed; or as a man keeps his pleasant garden; or as stylish men and women keep their fine clothes—that man is doubtless a true Nathanael—a man who has a work of God passed in power upon his soul.
Yes, that man whose sincere desires, and whose gracious purposes, and fixed resolutions, and faithful endeavors, is to guard and watch his heart, according to the particulars we have now hinted, that man, without a perhaps, is a gracious man, and one who has the root of the matter in him, and shall be happy to all eternity.
Look! as no man can hear as he would and should; nor pray as he would and should; nor believe as he would and should; nor repent as he would and should; nor walk as he would and should—so no man can keep his heart as he would and should. But if a man makes it his great business and work to keep his heart, to watch his heart, to reform his heart, to better his heart—he is accepted of God, and shall be blessed forever.
It is one of the greatest and clearest evidences of grace, for a man to make it his greatest business, work, and concern—to keep his heart always in a gracious frame, to keep his heart always in a wakeful frame, in a watchful frame, in a tender frame, in a believing frame, in a repenting frame, in a humble frame, in a patient frame, in a serious frame, in a heavenly frame, and in a jealous frame; for the more gracious the heart is, the more suspicious it will be. [Cant. 5:2; 2 Kings 22:19; 2 Chron. 32:26; James 5:11; Eccles. 5:1,2; Col. 3:1,2; 2 Cor. 7:11.]
Satan has a strong party, a numerous party, an experienced party, a subtle party, in all our hearts, and therefore it highly concerns us to watch our hearts with a holy jealousy. O sirs! God has never said, Above all keepings, keep your shops; or above all keepings, keep your estates; or above all keepings, keep your flocks; or above all keepings, keep your money-bags; or above all keepings, keep your friends; or above all keepings, keep your bodies; or above all keepings, keep your names; or above all keepings, keep your lives. But he has said, Above all keepings, keep your hearts.
Look! as the heart is the fountain of natural life, and if it fails, life fails. And therefore it is strongly secured with ribs about it, it is guarded in a castle of flesh and bones; so is the soul the fountain of spiritual life, and runs invisibly through all the body. Fountains were to be kept pure, by the Roman laws; and the heart, which is the spring and fountain of all actions, is to be kept pure, by the laws of the great God, 2 Cor. 7:1; 1 Thes. 5:23, etc. Men keep the heart principally from hurt, because every wound there is mortal.
Oh that men were as wise for their souls! God's eye is mainly upon the heart. The heart, well guarded and watched, keeps all in security. Alexander was safe while Antipater kept the watch, so all within that little world MAN will be safe while the heart is strongly guarded. The heart is the fountain, the root, the store-house, the great wheel that sets all a-going, and therefore, above all keepings, keep your hearts. It is a foolish thing to watch the outworks, and leave the fort-royal without a guard; so it is a foolish thing to watch the out-works, the eye, the ear, the tongue, the hand, the feet—though these must all be watched—and to leave the heart, which is a Christian's fort-royal, without a guard.
"If all things else must needs be lost,
Yet save your soul, Whatever it cost."
He who makes it his business to watch, and weep, and sigh, and groan most over his own heart—he doubtless is in a gracious estate. He who makes it his work, his daily work, his greatest work, his work of works—to keep a continual guard upon his heart, he certainly is in a blessed estate. He who lamentingly cries out, "Oh that my soul did but prosper as my body! Oh that my inward man were but in as good a frame as my outward man! Oh that this proud heart were but more humble! Oh that this hard heart were but more softened! Oh that this carnal heart were but more spiritual! Oh that this earthly heart were but more heavenly! Oh that this unbelieving heart were but more believing! Oh that this passionate heart were but more meek! Oh that this vain heart were but more serious! Oh that this blind heart were but more enlightened! Oh that this dull heart were but more quickened! Oh my heart, my heart! when will you be better? Oh my God, my God! when shall my heart be better? Oh bring it into a gracious frame, and forever keep it in a gracious frame!" He who thus lamentingly cries out of his heart, he certainly has an honest heart, and will be happy forever.
"O Lord, my memory is weak, and my utterance is bad, and my understanding is dark, and my gifts are low, and my affections are flat, and my temptations are strong, and my corruptions are prevalent, Psalm 39:22-24. But you, who are the great heart-searcher, you know that I would sincerely have my heart in a better temper; I had rather have my heart brought into a gracious frame, and kept in a gracious frame, than to have all the riches of the Indies, than to be an emperor, yes, than to be king over all the earth."
If it be indeed thus with you, you are blessed, and shall be blessed forever; 2 Cor. 8:1 2, "For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man has, and not according to that he has not." I know the apostle speaks this in point of alms—but it is applicable to the case in hand, and to a hundred other cases. God measures his people not by their works—but by their wills. If they desire to be to be more holy, humble, heavenly, and to have their hearts always in a most gracious frame—then they are accepted of God; for every godly man is as good in the eye of God, in the judgment of God, and in the account of God—as he would be.
Not long before Mr. Baynes died, some friends who were with him in his library, which was an excellent one, fell a-commending of it; "Ay," says he, "there stand my books—but the Lord knows that for many years last past I have studied my heart more than books." Oh no minister compared to him, no scholar compared to him—who studies his heart more than his books. Nor is there any Christian compared to him who studies his heart more than his day-books, or more than his shop books, or that studies his heart more than his counting-house, or that studies his heart more than a good bargain, etc. That man is for heaven, and heaven is for that man—who makes it his greatest business in this world to watch his heart, to guard his heart.
The hypocrite looks most to externals—but the sincere Christian looks most to internals. The hypocrite's main watch is about his lips—but a sincere Christian's main watch is about his heart. The hypocrite's main work lies without doors—but the sincere Christian's main work lies within doors. All know, that know anything, that both nature and grace begin at the heart—but art begins at the face. A painter does not begin a picture at the heart; a picture has but a face—but an outside. And as nature begins at the heart—but art at the face, so grace begins at the heart—but hypocrisy at the face, at the outside of religion.
Every man is that in reality—which he is inwardly. "A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man's praise is not from men, but from God," Romans 2:28-29. Certainly that man who makes it his great business to watch his heart, and to keep his heart always in a gracious frame, that man is a gracious man.
It is true our hearts are like our watches, seldom got to go well; and when they do go well, how hard a work is it to keep them going well! The motions of our watches are not constant; sometimes they go faster, and sometimes they go slower, and often they stand in need of mending. Though in these, and many other respects, our hearts are like our watches—yet if we make it our grand work to keep a constant guard upon our hearts, and our main design in this world to have our hearts brought and kept in a gracious frame, our spiritual estate is good, and we shall be happy forever, etc.
In my other writings there are variety of special evidences, which the Christian reader, if he pleases, and if need requires, may make use of, in order to the further clearing up of his gracious estate, and therefore let these twenty suffice at this time. And thus much for this chapter, etc.