The Necessity, Excellency, Rarity, and Beauty of Holiness
Thomas Brooks, 1662
Six evidences of the
reality and power of holiness
And so I shall come now to the second part of the exhortation, and that relates to God's holy ones—to his sanctified ones—to those who have obtained holiness—to those who have experienced the principles, the power, the life, and the sweetness of holiness. And here let me exhort such, to express, declare, evidence, and hold forth both the reality and power of holiness; and that,
[1.]First, Evidence and declare the truth and reality of your holiness—by keeping yourselves free from gross enormities, from scandalous wickednesses, Romans 2:23-25. Oh, remember that one scandalous sin will obscure and cloud all your graces and spiritual excellencies. [If a sow does but wallow in one miry or dirty hole, she is filthy, etc.] Look! as one spot in the face spoils all the beauty, and one blot upon the copy obliterates the whole copy, and as one drop of ink colors a whole glass of clear water—just so, one scandalous sin will blot and blur all former acts of piety and holiness, it will stain all a man's duties and services, it will deface all a man's contentments and enjoyments, it will dash and erase out all those golden characters of righteousness and goodness that have been stamped upon the soul. The Babylonians beholding the enormities of the Jews, cried out, "These are the people of the Lord, these are come out of the Lord's land," Ezek. 36:20. David's one act of folly with Bathsheba made the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme. When one commended Alexander for his many noble acts, another objected thus against him, "Yes—but he killed Calisthenes. He was valiant and successful in the wars; ay—but he killed Calisthenes. He overcame the great Darius; ay—but he killed Calisthenes." His meaning was, that this one unjust and unrighteous action clouded and darkened all his most noble deeds. A Christian cannot after his conversion fall into a scandalous sin—but it will be objected against him by everyone, to the defacing and darkening of all his spiritual glory.
When Naaman the Syrian was cured, and as some think converted, by the prophet Elisha, he offers gold and rich garments—but he bows in the house of Rimmon. He seems to be very devout and religious—but he bows in the house of Rimmon. He promises to offer to none but the Lord—but yet he bows in the house of Rimmon. This Rimmon, like the fly in the alabaster box, spoiled all his best intentions and highest resolutions; and thus one scandalous vice disgraces all the noble virtues which are in a Christian, 2 Kings 5:1. [One flaw in a diamond takes away the luster and the price of it. If we fall but once into a puddle, it will defile us, and make everyone point at us.]
"Oh, such a man is a very holy man—but . . ." And such a one is a very gracious, experienced disciple—but . . ." And such a one is a very wise and understanding man—but . . ." And such a one is a very active, stirring saint—but—etc., This "but" mars all. If there be but one crack in the honey-glass, there the wasp will be buzzing; and if there be but one scandalous sin that a Christian falls into in all his life, how will the wicked be still a-buzzing of that about, both in city and country! O sirs, there are no sins which open so many mouths, and which saddens so many hearts, and which swell so many eyes, and that endangers so many souls—as scandalous sins do! Therefore above all keeping—keep off from them.
O sirs, as you would not harden sinners, as you would not encourage sinners, as you would not tempt sinners, as you would not stumble sinners, yes, as you would not have a hand in the damnation of sinners—take heed of scandalous sins, Romans 14:13. O sirs, as you would not provoke the great God, 1 Kings 11:9, as you would not crucify afresh the Lord of glory, and put him to an open shame, as you would not set the Comforter a-mourning, who alone can comfort you, as you would not raise a hell in your own consciences, and as you would not darken the church's glory—fly from scandalous sins as you would fly from hell itself.
I have read of holy Polycarp, that religious martyr and bishop of Smyrna, how that in the time of the fourth persecution, under Marcus Antonius Verres, when he was commanded to swear but one oath, made this answer, "Eighty-six years have I endeavored to do God service, and all this while he never hurt me, and how then shall I speak evil of so good a Lord and master, who has thus long preserved me?" And being further urged to swear by the pro-consul, he answered, "I am a Christian and cannot do it; let heathens and infidels swear if they will, I cannot do it—even if it were to the saving of my life." This holy man would rather sacrifice his life than fall into a scandalous sin. O Christians, pray and watch, and watch and pray, that you may never be left to stain your own honor, or the honor of your profession, by falling into scandalous sins!
Well, friends! remember this, it is not infirmities—but enormities, it is not weaknesses—but wickednesses, which will cast the crown from off your heads, and which will strip you of all your glory! Therefore, as you would hold fast your crown, keep at an everlasting distance from scandalous sins, etc. But,
[2.]Secondly, Evidence and declare the truth and reality of your holiness—by your cordial thankfulness for so rare a jewel, and for so great a mercy. [Psalm 103:1-5, or, as the original will bear, "bow the knee, O my soul."] O sirs, one drop, one spark of holiness is more worth than heaven and earth, and how then can you but be thankful for it? Will you be thankful to that God that made you a man? and will you not be thankful to the same God that made you a saint? Will you bless him who made you a creature? and will you not bless the same God who has made you a new creature? Will you praise him for the heavens which are but the workmanship of his hands? and will you not praise him for holiness, which is the workmanship of his heart? Psalm 8. Tell me, O Christian, is not holiness a soul-mercy? and what mercies will you be thankful for, if not for soul-mercies?
Tell me, O Christian, is not holiness of all mercies the most necessary mercy? The lack of other mercies might have troubled you, ay—but the lack of holiness would have damned you; and will you not be thankful for holiness, which is the one thing necessary? Tell me, O Christian, is not holiness an incomparable mercy? What is your health, your wealth, your wit, compared to holiness? Dare you mention your birth, your breeding, your arts, your parts, your honor, your greatness, or your advancement in the world, in that day wherein holiness is spoken of? Surely not! And will you not then be thankful for such an incomparable mercy as holiness is?
Tell me, O Christian, is not holiness a special mercy, a peculiar treasure which God entrusts but few men with? Does not the world lie in wickedness? 1 John 5:19. Are not the multitude in all places strangers, yes, enemies to holiness? And how then can you but be thankful for holiness?
Yes, once more tell me, O Christian, is not holiness a mercy-sweetening mercy? Is it not the beauty of holiness, which puts a beauty upon all your mercies? Is it not holiness, which bespangles all your comforts and contentments? Oh, how sour would all your mercies taste, and how pale and ashen would all your mercies look—were it not for holiness! It is the lack of holiness which makes all a man's mercies look as ill-favored as Pharaoh's lean cows, and it is the fruition of holiness which makes all a man's mercies look as well-favored as Pharaoh's fat cows, Gen. 41:2-4; it is holiness that both puts a color upon all our mercies, and that gives a taste and a relish to them.
All our mercies, without holiness, will be but as the waters of Marah—bitter, Exod. 15:23-25; it is only holiness, which is the tree that will make every bitter sweet, and every sweet more sweet. So how then can you but be thankful for holiness? Oh, remember how far off you were from God, and Christ, and the promise, and heaven, and happiness—when you were without holiness in this world, Eph. 2:12. Oh, remember what a child of wrath, what a bond-slave to Satan, what an enemy to God, and what an heir to hell you were—when you were an opposer of holiness, and a secret despiser of holiness—and then be unthankful for holiness if you can!
Oh, remember that now by holiness, of a slave you are made a son; and of an heir of wrath you are made an heir of heaven. And instead of being Satan's bondman, you are now made Christ's freeman; your iron chains are now knocked off, as sometimes Joseph's were, and the golden chain of holiness is now put upon you, John 8:36. And what does all this call aloud for, but thankfulness?
Thales, a heathen, gave thanks to God for three things: 1. That he had made him a man, and not a beast; 2. That he had made him a man, and not a woman; 3. That he was born a Greek, and not a barbarian. And, oh then, what cause of thankfulness have you for your supernatural being, and for all those noble principles of holiness that the Lord has stamped upon your soul! etc. Shall the farmer be thankful for a plentiful harvest, and the merchant for large returns, and the shopkeeper for a full trade, and the mariner for a good voyage—and will not you be much more thankful for holiness? Shall the beggar be thankful for a crust to feed him, and shall the blind be thankful for a dog to lead him, and shall the naked be thankful for rags to cover him, and shall the aged be thankful for a staff to support him, and shall the diseased be thankful for a cordial to raise him—and will not you be thankful for holiness, yes, for that holiness which is bread to strengthen you, and a guide to lead you, and raiment to clothe you, and a staff to support you, and a cordial to comfort you? Oh, remember that ingratitude is a monster in nature, a faux-pas in manners, and a paradox in grace—damming up the course of all donations, both divine and human.
Lycurgus, as Musculus observes, among all his laws, made none against the ungrateful, because ingratitude was thought a thing so vile, as not to be committed by man. The Persians and Athenians condemned the ungrateful to death. Ah, unthankful Christians, how can you think of these heathens, and not blush! Shall they bless God for crumbs—and will not you bless God for crowns? Shall they bless God for the gifts of nature, and will not you bless God for the gifts of grace? etc. Next to a holy Christ, holiness is the greatest gift which God can give, and therefore be thankful for it, etc. But,
[3.]Thirdly, Evidence and declare the truth and reality of your holiness—by the reality of your constant pursuit after holiness—by your holding up and holding on in a way of holiness—by your perseverance in holiness. This exhortation, "Pursue with all men, and holiness," Heb. 12:14, was given forth to such as had a spirit of holiness, and principles of holiness in them; and these are the men who the holy apostle presses to press after holiness. [Hosea 6:3; 1 Thes. 3:12-13; 2 Pet. 1:5-10; Phil. 3:14-16; 2 Pet. 3:17-18.] "Finally, dear brothers and sisters, we urge you in the name of the Lord Jesus to live in a way that pleases God, as we have taught you. You are doing this already, and we encourage you to do so more and more." 1 Thessalonians 4:1
That holiness will do us no good, which is not made good by perseverance. O sirs, shall the ambitious person pursue after his honors, and the voluptuous person after his pleasures, and the worldling pursue after his gain, and the wanton pursue after his harlots, and the drunkard pursue after his full cups, etc.; and shall not Christians much more pursue after holiness? Not to go forward is to go backward; and not to grow better is to grow worse; and not to grow more holy is to grow less holy. The crown, the new name, and the white stone—is for him who holds out, and who holds on in his pursuit after holiness. [Rev. 2:10,17; Jude 20; 1 Cor. 9:24; Heb. 12:1, 4.]
Progress in holiness is fitly compared to a building, to a race, to the morning light, and to the increasing moon. Now, you know, houses are raised from the foundations to the walls, and from the walls to the first story, and then to the second story, and then to the third, and so higher and higher, until you come up to the roof. And in a race, you know, men run on until they come to the goal. And the morning light shines brighter and brighter until it becomes perfect day. And the moon increases more and more until it comes to the full moon. Just so, must Christians persevere and hold on in adding grace to grace. O Christians! you must not be like to a morning cloud, nor to the early dew; you must not stand still in the ways of holiness, as the sun stood still in Gibeon, Josh. 10:13; much less are you to go back, like the sun on Ahaz's dial, 1 Kings 10:11; but as a bridegroom which comes out of his chamber, and rejoices as a strong man to run his race, Psalm 19:5. Just so, must you delight to run the ways of God's commands, Psalm 119:32; you must maintain your progress in piety, whatever comes of it.
"Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace." Proverbs 3:17. O sirs, the way of holiness is the safest way, the noblest way, the sweetest way, the cleanest way, the pleasantest way, and the happiest way; and therefore hold on, and hold up in that way, though the world, the flesh, and the devil should cry out, "There is a lion in the way, there is a lion in the way," Proverbs 26:13.
It is said of Hannibal, that notwithstanding the rough rocks, and the craggy cliffs of the Alps—yet he proceeded onward in his design for Italy, with this resolution, that he would either find a way or make a way. Just so, must Christians hold on in a way of holiness, notwithstanding all the rocks and obstacles and difficulties that they meet with in that way.
It is an observation of some of the learned, that those who were marked to be preserved in Jerusalem, were marked with the letter tau, which is the last of all the Hebrew letters, to signify that they must run the race of holiness even to the last, Psalm 44:17-22; Ezek. 9:4. O sirs, in the face of all your sins and unworthiness, God holds on in ways of mercy towards you; and why then should not you hold on in ways of sanctity towards him? Shall Satan persevere in his enmity against holiness? and shall wicked men persevere in their opposition to holiness? and shall formalists persevere in their neglect of holiness? and will not you persevere in your pursuit of holiness?
A good farmer will not give over sowing until he has sowed all his land; nor will a good physician give over his patient until he has cured him; nor will a good workman give over his work until he has finished it; no more should a good Christian give over his pursuit of holiness, until he is come up to the highest perfection of holiness. Look! as God carried on the work of creation from day to day until he had finished it, and as Christ carried on the work of our redemption from day to day until he had completed it—just so, Christians should look to a daily carrying on of the work of holiness in their hearts and lives, until that work be perfected and completed.
The philosopher being asked in his old age, why he did not give over his practice, and take his ease? answered, "When a man is to run a race of forty furlongs, would you have him sit down at the thirty-ninth, and so lose all his pains, and the prize for which he runs? Surely not! O Christians, you are racers, and you must run to the end of your race, Heb. 12:1; [What had it availed Peter to have escaped the first and second watch, if he had stuck at the iron gate, and had not passed through that also?] It is not enough to begin well, and to run well for a time—but you must hold out in running until you come to the goal, or else you will lose all the pains and labor that ever you have taken in religion, you will lose all the prayers that ever you have made, and you will lose all the sermons that ever you have heard, and you will lose all the fasts that ever you have observed, and you will lose all the tears that ever you have shed, and you will lose all the alms that ever you have given—if you do not hold out to the end. If you do not persevere in well-doing, you will lose your crown, and be undone forever after all your doings. A progress in holiness is requisite not only to your consolation—but also to your salvation, Mat. 24:13. But,
[4.]Fourthly, Evidence and declare the truth and reality of your holiness—by a resolute standing up for purity of religion, and for purity of worship and ordinances, in opposition to all mixtures and corruptions whatever. O sirs, the great God is concerned about nothing more in all the world, than upon purity in his worship, James 1:27. There is nothing that does so provoke and exasperate God against a people, as mixtures in his worship and service, Mat. 21:12-13; John 2:15-17. Pollutions in worship do sadly reflect upon the name of God, the honor of God, the truth of God, and the wisdom of God; and therefore his heart rises against them. The very spirit, life, and soul of the second commandment lies in these words, "You shall not make to yourself any engraved image," etc. In matters of divine worship God abhors that men should mix their water with his wine, their dross with his gold, their chaff with his wheat, etc. When once men come to be so bold as to defile his worship with their mixtures, then God is resolved to be a swift and a terrible witness against them, as you may clearly see by comparing these notable places of Scripture. [Lev. 10:1-2; Ezek. 5:11-12, and 23:38-39; Jer. 7:29-30; Ezek. 8:17-18; Rev. 22-23; Deut. 4:2, and 12:32.]
There is no sin which does so incense and provoke God to jealousy and wrath against a people, as mixtures in worship. God can bear with defilements anywhere, but in his worship and service—and that,
First, Because mixtures in worship are cross to God's express commands. Who are you, O man! who dares run cross to his commands—who can command you into the dust, yes, into hell, at his pleasure? etc.
Secondly, Because this is to accuse the blessed Scripture of insufficiency. If the Scripture are a sufficient rule to order, guide, and direct us in all matters of worship—then how do you, O man! detract from the sufficiency of the Scripture, who mingles your own or other men's inventions with divine institutions, and set up your worship along side God's worship? O sirs, the Scriptures are sufficient to direct us fully in everything that belongs to the worship and service of God. We need not depend upon the wisdom, prudence, care, or authority of any men under heaven to direct us in matters of worship.
"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." 2 Timothy 3:16-17. The Scriptures are sufficient to inform the ignorant, to confute the erroneous, to reform the wicked, and to guide and direct, support and comfort those who are gracious. Here a lamb may wade, and an elephant may swim. Here is milk for babes, and meat for strong men, and comfort for the afflicted, and support for the tempted, and ease for the troubled, and light for the clouded, and enlargement for the straitened, etc. Oh, how full of light, how full of life, how full of love, how full of sweetness, how full of goodness, how full of righteousness and holiness, etc., is every chapter, and every verse in every chapter, yes, and every line in every verse!
The Scriptures are sufficient to direct us as to all the parts of worship. As,
1. public prayer.
2. reading and expounding.
5. the seals both of baptism and the supper of the Lord.
The Rabbis say that a mountain of matter hangs upon every word of Scripture, yes, upon every tittle of Scripture. God never sends his people to the shop of men's traditions and inventions—but he still sends them to the Scripture: Isaiah 8:20, "To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn." And in the New Testament Christ sends his hearers to the Scriptures: John 5:39, "Search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life, and they are they which testify of me." The Greek word that is here rendered search, signifies a strict, narrow, curious, diligent search. We must search the Scripture as we would search for gold, or for some precious stones which we would gladly find; we must search the Scriptures as hunters seek and search out their game. And so the apostle sends his hearers to the Scriptures, 2 Pet. 1:19-22, as to a surer word than that of revelation. All which speaks out the sufficiency of the Scripture to direct us in all matters that concern our internal or eternal welfare. Oh, that you would forever remember these two things:
(1.) First, That that which bred the Popish religion, superstition, idolatry, and pompous worship—was men's departing from the word, and not cleaving to the word as a sufficient rule to direct them in all matters of worship. And,
(2.) Secondly, That that which has occasioned all those discords, divisions, heats, heart-burnings, animosities, and contentions, etc., about ceremonies, liturgy, forms, gestures, etc., has been men's not keeping close to the blessed word of God. When men forsake this perfect rule of Scripture, where won't they run? and what won't they do? Ah, who are you, O vain man—who accuses the holy Scriptures of insufficiency—how will you blush, and be ashamed and confounded, when in the great day the Lord shall plead the excellency, and vindicate the sufficiency and authority of his blessed book, in opposition to all the mixtures of men's traditions with divine institutions?
Thirdly, God won't nor can't bear with mixtures in his worship and service, because to bring them in is to accuse and charge God with weakness and folly, as if God were not careful enough, nor faithful enough, Heb. 3:4-6, nor mindful enough, nor wise enough, nor prudent nor understanding enough, to order, direct, and guide his people in the matters of his worship—but must be beholding to the wisdom, prudence, and care of man, John 4:23-24, of vain man, of sinful man, of vile and unworthy man, of weak and foolish man—to complete, perfect, and make up something that was lacking in his worship and service, Psalm 39:5, etc.
Fourthly, God won't bear with mixtures in his worship and service, because all mixtures debases the worship and service of God, and makes the worship a vain worship, Isaiah 29:13-14; Mat. 15:3, 6, 8-9. As the mixing of water with wine is the debasing of the wine, and the mixing of tin with silver, or brass with gold, is the debasing of the silver and gold—just so, for men to mix and mingle their traditions and inventions with God's institutions, is to debase the worship and service of God, and to detract from the excellency and glory of it. The kings and princes of this world have most severely punished such, who, by their base mixtures, have counterfeited their coin; and there is a day a-coming wherein the King of kings will most severely punish all such who have counterfeited his worship and service by mixing their Romish traditions with his holy institutions.
Rev. 22:18, "For I testify unto every man who hears the words of the prophecy of this book—If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues which are written in this book." And no wonder! For what horrible pride, presumption, stoutness, and baseness of spirit is it in foolish man to be so bold with the great God, as to dare to mix anything of his own with his worship and service, which, according to divine institution, is so perfect and complete! God will never tolerate it—to see men lay their dirt upon his gold, and to put their rags upon his royal robes.
Ah, Christians, Christians, evidence your holiness by standing up for holy ordinances and pure worship—in opposition to all mixtures whatever. Oh, don't you touch a polluted worship, don't you plead and contend for a polluted worship—but let Baal plead for Baal. And though all the world should wander after the beast—yet you must not follow them! And though every forehead should have the mark of the beast upon it—yet you must abhor his mark, and whatever else it is, which but smells and savors of the beast.
It is observable that in kings' courts, that children, fools, and the crude rabble, are much impressed with fine pictures, and rich shows, and glistening gaudy clothes, etc. But such as are wise, serious, grave statesmen—they have no regard for such poor things, they look upon those things as things which are much below the nobleness and the greatness of their spirits, who have honorable objects, and the great and weighty affairs of the state to busy themselves about. Just so, though the children, the fools, and the rabble of the world are much affected and impressed with such pollutions and mixtures as makes up a glorious pompous worship—yet you who have a spirit of holiness, and principles of holiness in you, oh, how should you slight such things, and pass by such things as things below you, as things not worthy of you—who have a holy God, a holy Christ, a holy gospel, and a holy worship to busy your thoughts, your minds, your heads, and your hearts about. But,
[5.]Fifthly, Evidence and declare the truth and reality of your holiness—by bewailing and lamenting the loss of holiness. Ah, how is this crown of holiness fallen from our heads! Lam. 5:16. Oh the leanness of souls! Oh the spiritual witherings and decays in grace and holiness, which are to be found among many Christians this day! Some complain of the loss of trade, and others complain of the loss of estate; some complain of the loss of credit, and others complain of the loss of friends. But what are all these losses to the loss of holiness? And yet how few are there, who complain of the loss of holiness. Holiness is fallen in our hearts, in our families, in our streets, and in our churches; and yet how few are there to be found, who lament the fall of holiness.
O sirs, will you lament such as are fallen from riches to poverty, from honor into disgrace, and from the highest pitch of prosperity to the lowest step of beggary and misery; and will you not lament such who are fallen from the highest round to the lowest round in Jacob's ladder? O sirs, will you mourn over a decayed estate? will you weep over decayed friends? and will you sigh and sob over a decayed body? and will you not much more lament and mourn over decayed souls? etc. Ah, how many have lost that love, that life, that heat, that zeal, that readiness, that forwardness, and that resoluteness that once they had for God and godliness! Rev. 2:4-5.
Some have fallen from their holiness by giving themselves elbow-room to sin against the checks and lashes of conscience, Psalm 51. Others have decayed in holiness by their secret resisting and smothering the gracious motions of the Spirit, Acts 7:51. Some have fallen from holiness, either by their neglect of precious means, or else by their heartless using of the means, 1 Thes. 5:20. Others have fallen from their holiness, either by the allurements and enticements of a tempting world, or else by the frowns and threatenings of a persecuting world, 2 Tim. 4:10. Some have fallen from holiness by their non-exercise of grace. Others have fallen from holiness by not discerning their first decays in grace. Just so, that, upon one account or another, multitudes in these days have fallen from that holiness which was once their glory.
If you look into families, there you shall find masters complaining that their servants are so careless, foolish, frothy, light, slight, slothful, unfaithful, proud, and lofty—that they are not to be trusted. And if you look again into the same families, there you shall find servants complaining that their masters and mistresses are so exceeding froward, peevish, passionate, worldly, neglective of duties, and careless of their souls—that it is even a hell to servants to live with them. Now, how do you account for all these sad complaints—but either a total lack of holiness, or else a very great decay of holiness? And if you look among all other relations, as husbands and wives, parents and children, magistrates and people, ministers and Christians, oh, what sad divisions, what fiery contentions, and what fearful jars are there to be found! oh, what slightings, what revilings, what under-valuings, what heart-risings, what heart-swellings, and what heart-burnings are to be found among them! And what do all these things declare—but that the glory of God has departed from Israel, and that holiness is fallen to a very low ebb?
Ah friends, were there but more holiness among you, there would be more unity among you, and more love among you, and more sweetness and tenderness among you, and more forbearance and patience among you. Oh, then you would never be snarling one at another, nor biting one of another, nor plotting one against another, nor devouring one of another any more.
Again, if you look among men whose abilities are great, whose gifts are high, whose profession is glorious, and whose expressions and notions are very seraphical, ah, what a little holiness will you find!
O sirs, shall the men of this world vex and fret, shall they weep and wail, and shall their lamentation and mourning be like that of Hadadrimmon in the valley of Megiddo, 2 Chron. 35:24-25, and that for the loss of a little wealth, or for a punctilio of honor, or a day of pleasure, or the smiles of a prince, etc.? And will not you lament and mourn for the loss of holiness, which is the choicest jewel in a Christian's crown? Tears, instead of gems—were the ornaments of David's bed when he was fallen from his holiness, Ps, 51. And though the Persian kings would have neither mourning, nor mourning apparel worn in their presence—yet the King of kings loves to see his people a-mourning for the falls of holiness, as well as for the heights of wickedness.
When news was brought to Xenophon of his son's death, he took off his crown from his head, and wept. O my brethren, who can hear of the death of holiness, and behold the death of holiness in men's hearts, lives, and families—and not take off his crown, and weep; and not take off his ornaments, and weep until he can weep no more? etc. But,
[6.]Sixthly, Evidence and declare the truth and reality of your holiness—by pursuing, pressing, and following after the highest degrees of holiness. Oh, do not sit down satisfied with some drops or sips of holiness—but labor after the perfection of holiness. Oh, don't content yourselves with so much holiness as will bring you to happiness, or with so much holiness as will keep wrath and your souls asunder, or hell and your souls asunder, or eternal ruin and your souls asunder. The exhortation in the text, "Follow peace with all men, and holiness," Heb. 12:14, is an exhortation that was given out to saints who were holy before, and the life and force of the exhortation lies in this—that those who were holy should labor to be more and more holy, they should still be adding of grace to grace, holiness to holiness, they should still be a-going on from faith to faith, and from strength to strength. [2 Pet. 1:5-13; Romans 1:17; Psalm 84:7.]
As holiness has its conception, birth, and infancy—just so, it has its full growth, and after the highest degrees of holiness, all Christians must strive. Holiness is not like to Jonah's gourd, which shot up in a night—but it is like plants and trees which grow up by degrees, (Psalm 92:14,) and after the highest degrees we must endeavor. [Only mushrooms grow up to perfection in one night.] After the prophet Elijah had traveled a day's journey in the wilderness, he sat down and slept under a juniper-tree, and there God calls upon him, "Get up and eat," 1 Kings 19:4-5; and when he found him the second time he calls again upon him, "Get up and eat, because you have a great journey to go," verse 7. O Christians, you have a howling wilderness to travel through, you have a great journey to go, you have many a mountain to walk over, and many an enemy to vanquish—even the world, the flesh, and the devil, and many a cross to bear, and many a mercy to improve, etc., and therefore you have very great cause to up and eat. I say, get up and eat, that is—grow stronger and stronger in holiness, and to walk from grace to grace, and from virtue to virtue, and to come off from your milk, and to feed upon strong meat, Heb. 5:12-14, that you may hold out to the end of your journey, and neither faint nor fall short of that great salvation which attends perfection of holiness.
This progress in holiness is that main thing that the apostle presses upon the believing Corinthians in that 2 Cor. 7:1, "Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." The apostle having in the former chapter armed the believing Corinthians with many strong arguments against all communion and fellowship with idolaters, he comes at last to touch upon those great and glorious promises which, upon the account of their high and holy calling, they were interested in, verse 16-18. He presents them as singular motives, and as choice and precious encouragements, to move them to perfect holiness in the fear of God. There is no work on earth that so well befits the heirs of such precious promises as that of cleansing themselves from all filthiness on the one hand, and that of perfecting holiness in the fear of God on the other hand.
Now this being a point of the highest concernment, and of the greatest importance imaginable to the saints, I shall therefore endeavor these three things:
I. First, To lay down some motives to provoke you to perfect holiness in the fear of God, etc.
II. Secondly, I shall propound some means, some directions, that may help you to make a progress in holiness, etc.
III. Thirdly, I shall show you how you may know whether you have attained to such a perfection of holiness as we are all to strive after, etc.