HOLINESS, the Only Way to Happiness
The Necessity, Excellency, Rarity, and Beauty of Holiness
Thomas Brooks, 1662
I come now to lay down some means and helps to holiness. Supposing that the language of some of your souls may be this: "Oh, what shall we do to be holy! Oh, what course, what way, what means must we use that we may obtain this holiness, without which we now clearly see that we shall never come to a fruition of happiness!" Methinks I hear some of you crying out, "Oh, nothing but holiness, nothing but holiness!" as that martyr once cried out, "Oh, none but Christ, none but Christ!" Methinks I hear you crying out, "Oh, give me holiness--or I die!" as Samson once cried out, "Give me water—or I die;" or as Rachel once cried out, "Give me children—or I die." Just so, you cry out, "Oh, give us holiness—or we die! Give us holiness, or we eternally die! Oh, what shall we do to be holy! We see we are undone without holiness, we shall be damned without holiness. Oh, that we were but made holy—that hereafter we may be assuredly happy!"
Well, then, if you are in good earnest resolved to be holy, I would thus advise and counsel you in these sixteen particulars:
First, take heed of some things. There are six things you must avoid and shun.
Secondly, Labor to put in practice these ten things.
I. The six things that you are to avoid and shun, even as you would shun poison in your food, or a serpent in your way, yes, as you would shun the devil himself, or hell itself, are these:
1. First, Take heed of mistaking some particular scriptures, as that of Ezek. 14:6; 18:30-32, and 33:11, 14, 16, 19. From these and such like scriptures, many unholy hearts are apt to conclude that they can repent when they please, and that though they do defer their repentance—yet it is no such difficult thing to confess their sins at the last moment of life, and to be sorry for their sins at the last moment, and to forsake their sins at the last moment, and to beg the pardon of their sins at at the last moment. And that if they do so, they imagine that God has given his word for it, he has given it under his own hand—that he will pardon their sins, and save their souls. Now to prevent these soul-undoing mistakes, you must know, O sinner,
[1.] First,That you can as well wash a black man white at pleasure—as you can repent at pleasure! You can as well raise the dead at pleasure—as you can repent at pleasure! You can as well make a world at pleasure—as you can repent at pleasure! You can as well stop the course of the sun at pleasure—as you can repent at pleasure! You can as well put the sea in a cockle-shell at pleasure—and measure the earth with a ruler at pleasure—as you can repent at pleasure. Witness the proofs in the margin. [Jer. 13:23, and 31:18; Lam. 5:21; Acts 5:31; Eph. 1:17-19; 2 Tim. 2:25; Acts 11:18.]
I confess that if to repent were to hang down the head like a bulrush for a day, or to whine with Saul for an hour, or to put on sackcloth and walk softly with Ahab for a short space, or to confess with Judas, "I have sinned," or to say with Simon Magus, "Pray to the Lord for me," or to tremble with Felix for a moment—I say, if this were to repent, doubtless you might repent at pleasure; but alas! friends, to repent is another thing, to repent is the hardest and most difficult work in the world; and that will appear in the next particular. And therefore,
[2.] Secondly,To repent is to turn a heart of flint into a heart of flesh; it is to turn darkness into light; it is to turn hell into heaven—and is this easy? To repent is to make all clean: inside clean, and outside clean. To repent is to make a clean head and a clean heart; a clean lip and a clean life—and is this easy? [Ezek. 36:25, 26; Acts 26:18; Ezek. 16:61-63, and 29:43; 2 Cor. 7:10-11.] True repentance includes a true sense of sin, a deep sorrow for sin, a hearty loathing of sin, and a holy shame and blushing for sin—and is this easy? To repent is for a man to loathe himself as well as his sin—and is this easy for man, who is so great a self-lover, and so great a self-exalter, and so great a self-admirer, to become a self-loather? To repent is to cross sinful self, it is to walk contrary to sinful self, yes, it is to revenge a man's self upon himself—and is this easy? To repent is to pluck out right eyes, and to cut off right hands, and offer up only Isaacs—and is this easy? True repentance is a daily turning of the soul further and further from sin, and a daily turning of the soul nearer and nearer to God. It is a repentance not to be repented of; it is a repentance from sin, as well as a repentance for sin. Sin has cast the soul at such a distance from God, that though the soul be every day a-turning nearer and nearer to God—yet it can never, in this life, get so near him as once it was, and as in heaven it shall be. And now tell me, O soul, is this such an easy thing, to be every day a-turning your back upon sin, and a-turning your face nearer and nearer to God? Surely not! True repentance lies in a daily dying to sin, and in a daily living to him who lives forever. The very life of repentance is the repentance of the life: and is this easy? But,
[3.] Thirdly,True repentance is a turning, not from some sin—but from every sin. Ezek. 18:30, "Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall." Every sin strikes at the law of God, the honor of God, the being of God, and the glory of God; and therefore the penitent must strike at all. Every sin fetches blood from the heart of Christ, and every sin is a grief and vexation to the Holy Spirit; and therefore the penitent must set upon crucifying of all. [Ezek. 18:21, 31, and 20:43. He who had the spot of leprosy in any one part of his body was accounted a leper, although all the rest of his body were sound and whole, Lev. 13. Just so, he who has but one spot, one sin which he does not endeavor to wash out in the blood of Christ, and in the tears of true repentance, he is a leper in the account of God.]
Every sin is an enemy to a man's peace, and to a man's comfort, and to a man's confidence, and to a man's assurance, and to a man's communion with God; and therefore he must set upon forsaking of all. If ever you are saved, O man, you must repent of your Achans—as well as your Absaloms. You must repent of your Rimmons—as well as your Mammons. You must repent of your Davids—as well as of your Goliaths. You must repent of your secret sins—as well as your open sins. You must repent of your loved sins—as well as well as of your loathed lusts. You must repent of your babe-transgressions—as well as of your giant-like provocations. If your repentance is not universal, it will never be effectual. If a ship springs three leaks, and only two are stopped—the third will certainly sink the ship. Or if a man has two mortal wounds in his body, and takes only the remedy for the cure of one—the other will undoubtedly kill him. Or if a man has two mortal diseases upon him, and will only deal with the physician for a remedy against the one—he will, without all question, perish by the prevalence of the other.
Herod turned from many sins—but not from his Delilah, his Herodias, which was his ruin. Judas, you know, was a devil in an angel's dress; he seemed to be turned from every sin—but he was a secret thief, he loved the bag; and that golden devil, covetousness, choked him, and hanged him at last. Saul for a time turned from several evils—but his sparing one, Agag, cost him his soul and his kingdom at once.
I have read a story of a devout man, who among other gifts had the gift of healing, and many people resorted to him for cure. Among the rest, one Chromatius, who being sick, sent for him, and told him of his sickness, and desired that he might have the benefit of cure, as others had before him. The devout man replied, "I cannot do it until you have beaten all the idols in your house to pieces." "Oh, that shall be done," said Chromatius. "Here, take my keys, and where you find any idols, break them in pieces;" which accordingly was done. Upon this the devout man went to prayer—but no cure was wrought; whereupon the sick man cried out, "Oh, I am as sick as ever! oh, I am very weak and sick still!" "It cannot be otherwise," replied the devout person, "neither can I help it, for there is doubtless one idol yet in your house undiscovered, and that must be defaced too." "True," says Chromatius, "it is so indeed, it is all of beaten gold, it cost a fortune. I would gladly have saved it—but here take my keys again, you shall find it fast locked up in my chest, break it also in pieces;" which being done, the devout man prayed, and Chromatius was healed.
The moral of it is good—the sin-sick soul must break, not some—but all its idols in pieces, before a cure will follow. It must deface its golden idols, its most costly idols, its most darling idols! The returning sinner must make headway against all his sins, and trample upon all his lusts—or else he will die and be undone forever; and though this be as difficult as it is noble—yet it is no more than what God has engaged to do, and to see done, as you may see by comparing Ezek. 36:25-27 with Isaiah 30:21-22. "Then you will defile your idols overlaid with silver and your images covered with gold; you will throw them away like a menstrual cloth and say to them—Away with you!" Isaiah 30:22
Now is this an easy thing, to turn from every sin, to loathe every sin, and to abandon every sin, with an "Away with you—for what have I more to do with you!" Surely not! "Ephraim shall say—What have I to do any more with idols?" Hosea 14:8. As Nehemiah cast out Tobiah and all his household stuff, in Neh. 13:6-8—just so, true repentance, it casts out Satan and all his retinue. As Moses would not leave so much as a hoof behind him, Exod. 10:26—just so, true repentance will not leave so much as a lust behind. A dispensatory conscience is always an evil conscience; he who can dispense with one sin, will, when opportunity presents, commit any sin. And as the flood made clean work, it swept away all Noah's friends, and drowned all his servants—just so, the flood of penitent tears makes clean work, it sweeps away every lust, it drowns every corruption—in respect of love and dominion. And as conquerors will not give so much as one of their enemies quarter, so true repentance will not give one lust quarter; it falls heavily upon the bones of every sin, and nothing but the blood and death of sin will satisfy the penitent soul.
The true penitent is for the mortifying of every lust which has had a hand in crucifying of his dearest Savior. It was worthily and wittily said by one, that "true repentance strips us stark naked of all the garments of the old Adam, and leaves not so much as the shirt behind." Well, sirs, remember this, to repent of sin—and yet to live in sin—is a contradiction. "If you repent with a contradiction," says Tertullian, "God will pardon you with a contradiction. You repent and yet continue in your sin, God will pardon you—and yet send you to hell. There is a pardon with a contradiction." Again,
[4.] Fourthly,If repentance be such an easy work as you suppose, I beseech you to tell me—why do many men lie under such horrors and terrors of conscience as they do, for not repenting, when repentance would quickly give them ease, and turn their hell into a heaven? I was last winter with a young man, who upon his dying bed for several hours together, being in a dreadful agony, lay crying out, "I am damned! I am damned! I am damned! I am damned!" Ah, how soon would this poor wretch have gotten out of this hell, if it had been so easy a thing to have repented, as you imagine it is! and how many, when they have been pressed to repent, have professed, that if they might have a thousand worlds to repent, they could not repent! And will you say that repentance is easy? How many have sought repentance with tears, and would have bought repentance with the price of their dearest blood—but could not obtain it! and will you say that repentance is easy? O sirs, is it good to be damned? Is it good to go to hell? Is it good to dwell with a devouring fire, and to live in everlasting burnings? Is it good to have your eternal dwelling place among devils and damned spirits? Is it good to be banished the court of heaven, and to be separated forever from the glorious presence of God, and the sweet enjoyments of Christ, and the blessed society of angels and saints, and the fruition of all the happiness that heaven affords? Oh no! oh no! Oh, why then do not men prevent all this by repentance, if it be such an easy thing to repent! But,
[5.] Lastly, If repentance be such an easy work, why then do your hearts so rise both against the doctrine of repentance, and against those who preach it and press it? Of all words, is not the word of repentance the hardest word to read? John 6:60. And of all sayings and sermons, is not that of repentance the hardest to hear and bear? Luther confesses that before his conversion he met not with a more displeasing word in all the Scripture, nor in all his study of divinity, than that word repent. O man! if repentance be so easy, why does your spirit rage, and why does your heart so swell and rise against those who preach repentance unto life? Of all preachers, there are none who so displease and move you, who so cut and gall you—as those who are still a-crying out, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" Mat. 3:2.
Repentance is the vomit of the soul; and ah, how do sinners' hearts rise against that remedy—and those who bring it! You love those who preach pleasing things, who tickle your ears—though they never touch your hearts! You love those who please your fancies—though they never meddle with your consciences; and you prefer one sermon of mercy—before a thousand sermons of repentance. [Isaiah 30:10; Jer. 5:30, 31; 14:14, and 23:11 to the end.] Now certainly if repentance were so easy to you, the doctrine of repentance would be more pleasing to you.
For a close, know that that white devil who now presents repentance to you as the easiest thing in the world, he will at last—work you to despair, and to cut the throat of your soul—by presenting repentance not only as a hard and difficult work—but as an impossible work. Oh, that these things may be so blessed unto you, as to preserve you from being deceived and deluded with a conceit that repentance is easy, and so by this means keep you from laboring to be holy!
Now as to that part of the plea, from the scriptures formerly cited—namely, that HEREAFTER will be time enough to repent—I shall thus reply:
1. First,Certainly the present call of God, the uncertainty of the Spirit's motion, and the danger of delay—calls upon you for present repentance. It is a dangerous thing to deal with God, as ill debtors do by their creditors; first they put them off one week, and then another week, and then a third week, etc., until at last they provoke their creditors to cast them into prison, and to practice all severity upon them. Those who thus deal with God shall be as severely dealt with by God, as you may see in Proverbs 1:24-32.
The ancient warriors would not receive an old man into their army; and do you think, O vain man! that after you have spent your time, and wasted your strength, and exhausted your spirits in the work of Satan, and in the service of your lusts—that God will receive you to his grace and favor? If you do thus flatter yourself, it is ten thousand to one but that you will deceive yourself! Though true repentance is never too late—yet late repentance is seldom true. Ah, how many millions are now in hell, who have thought, and resolved, and said that they would repent hereafter—but that hereafter never came! You say "Tomorrow, tomorrow I will repent," when you know not what a tomorrow will bring forth. Alas! how many thousand ways may death surprise you before tomorrow comes! Though there is but one way to come into the world—yet there are a thousand thousand ways to be sent out of the world. Oh, the diseases, the hazards, the dangers, the accidents, the deaths—which daily—which hourly attend the life of man!
A Jewish Rabbi, pressing the practice of repentance upon his disciples, exhorted them to be sure to repent the day before they died; to which one of them replied, that "the day of a man's death was very uncertain;! to which the Rabbin made answer, !Repent, therefore, every day, and then you shall be sure to repent the day before you die.! O sirs, unless you do repent today, you cannot tell that you shall repent the day before you die; for who knows today—but that he may die tomorrow?
It was once asked of Augustine, what he would say of a wicked man who had lived loosely all his life—but died penitently, etc. To whom he replied, "What would you have me to say? That he is damned? I will not, for I have nothing to do to judge him. Shall I say that he is saved? I dare not, for I would not deceive you. What then? Why, this, "If you now repent—you are safe, whatever has become of him."
Ah, friends, you are never safe until you repent; it is repentance which puts you out of all danger of miscarrying forever. Shall the farmer take his present seasons for sowing and reaping? shall the good tenant repair his house while the weather is fair? shall the careful pilot take his advantage of wind and tide, and so put out to sea? shall the traveler mend his pace when he sees the night comes on? and shall the smith strike when the iron is hot?—and shall not we take the present opportunity of repenting and turning to the Lord, remembering that there will be a time when time shall be no more; and when there shall be no place found for repentance, though it should be sought carefully with tears, Heb. 12:17; and remembering that there will be a time when your hour-glass will be out, and when the door will be shut, and when there will be no entrance at all, Luke 13:24, 27; and remembering that it is a safer course, with prudent Prometheus, to foresee a danger and shun it, than, with foolish Epimetheus, to go on unadvisedly and be punished?
Ah friends! it is a dangerous thing to make repentance, which should be the practice of all your days, to be the task of old age. Does not common experience tell us that the longer the ship leaks—the harder it is to be emptied; and that the longer the house goes to decay—the worse it is to repair; and that the further the nail is driven—the harder it will be to get out? And so certainly the longer any man defers his repentance, the more difficult it will be for him to repent; his heart will every day grow more and more hard, and his will more and more perverse, and his judgment more and more corrupted, and his affections more and more disordered, and his conscience more and more benumbed or enraged, and his whole life more and more defiled and debauched. "Let me die the death of the righteous, and may my end be like theirs!" Numbers 23:10
Friends, do not deceive yourselves, old age is but a sad, a sandy, a tottering and sinking foundation for you to build your hopes and happiness upon—for you to build your everlasting condition, your eternal making or marring upon. Are the dog-days of old age, are the trembling hands, the wrinkled face, the failing eyes, the gasping lungs, the fainting heart, the feeble knees, and the broken down legs—are these a sacrifice worthy of a majestic God? Is a body full of sores, aches, and diseases, and a soul full of sin—an offering befitting a majestic God? Surely not! Oh, what madness, what wickedness is this—to serve Satan, your lusts, and this world with full dishes—and to put off God with scraps! to serve these in the flower, in the prime and primrose of your days—and to put off God with the dregs of old age!
Certainly repentance is rather a work for youth than old age. It is a work rather for strength than weakness, and for health than sickness. Oh, do not let Satan deceive you, do not let your own hearts delude you—but fall upon the work of repentance presently, knowing that as you have one day more to repent of, so you have one day less to repent in. What a piece of vanity is it—that while the ship is sound, the tackling sure, the pilot well, the sailors strong, provisions laid in, and the wind favorable—that the mariners and passengers should lie in the harbor—playing cards, drinking, dicing, dancing, and idling! And when the ship is leaky, the pilot sick, the mariners faint, provisions spent, and the winds boisterous—then to hoist up sail, to make a voyage into a far country!
And yet such is the vanity of most men, who in the days of their youth, health, and strength, who when their memories are strong, and their minds quick, and their reason ripe, etc., do sin away, and fool away, and trifle away the day of grace, the offers of mercy, the motions of the Spirit, and the entreaties of Christ! And when old age comes, when their wits are cracked, their souls distracted, their senses stupified, their hearts astonished, their minds darkened, and their bodies diseased and distempered—oh, then they think to leap into heaven, with a "Lord have mercy upon me" in their mouths! Even though they have lived like devils—yet they hope they shall die like saints; and though they never took no care of God's honor—yet they hope that God will take care of their souls; but when the thread of their lives is cut, the next news that ever you shall hear of these is—that they are gone to hell.
I have read of a young man, who being admonished of the evil of his way and course, and being pressed to leave his wickedness, and to break off his sins by repentance, upon the consideration of judgment, eternity, and death a-coming; he answered, "What do you tell me of these things? I guarantee you, that I will do well enough, for when death comes, I will speak but three words—and that will help all. And so he went on in his wickedness. But one day, on coming to a bridge over deep waters, the horse stumbled, and he let go the bridle, and gave up himself and his horse to the waters; and was heard to say these three words, "Devil take all!" Here were three words with a witness! And oh that all that think to repent at last, with a "Lord have mercy upon me," would lay this instance to heart! The light of your life may be put out before you can once say, "Lord be merciful to me a sinner!"
Oh, take heed of delaying your repentance, for the more you delay it, the more will your account be increased, your debt augmented, Satan strengthened, your body enfeebled, your lusts emboldened, your soul endangered, and all the difficulties of conversion more and more multiplied. By delaying of your repentance you gratify Satan, deceive yourself, lose the opportunities of grace, and damn your soul forever and ever. Well, remember this, if you will not repent today, God may swear in his wrath tomorrow, that you shall not enter into his rest! And then woe to you—that ever you were born!
And thus much for the preventing of these sad mistakes about repentance, which mistakes keep off many a man from looking and laboring after that holiness without which there is no happiness.
The world often swells the heart
with pride; it makes men forget God, neglect Christ, slight ordinances,
and despise holiness, Deut. 32:15, 22. Ah, the time, the thoughts, the
strength, the energies—which this enticing world has made many to spend
and consume, while their souls have lain a-bleeding, and eternity has been
hastening upon them! Oh, the deadness, the barrenness, the listlessness,
the heartlessness to anything which is holy—which attends a worldly
temper! Many men are so bewitched with the profits, pleasures, and honors
of the world, that they mind not holiness, they regard not holiness, they
care not for holiness, nor the means that lead to holiness: Phil. 3:18-19,
"For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now I tell you even
weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ; whose end is
destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is their shame, who
mind earthly things." [That cardinal was wretched as well as rich, who
would not leave his part in Paris for a part in paradise.] Who were those
who walked disorderly? why, those who minded earthly things. Who were
those who fetched tears from the apostle's eyes? why, those who minded
earthly things. Who were those who were enemies to the cross of Christ?
why, those who minded earthly things. Who were those whose end is
destruction? why, those who minded earthly things. Who were those whose
God was their belly? why, those who minded earthly things. Who were those
whose glory was their shame? why, those who minded earthly things.
2. Secondly, If ever you would be holy—oh, then take heed of the witch—take heed of the world!
Sicily is so full of sweet flowers, that dogs cannot hunt there; and what do all the sweet contentments and delights of this world—but make men lose the scent of heaven and holiness? The world proves silken halters to some, and golden fetters to others. All the flowers of this world, are surrounded with many briers. The world is all shadow and vanity; it is like Jonah's gourd—man may sit under its shadow for a while—but it soon decays and dies. He who shall but weigh man's pains with his pay, his miseries with his pleasures, his sorrows with his joys, his crosses with his comforts, his needs with his enjoyments, etc., may well cry out, "Vanity of vanity, and all is vanity." The whole world is circular, the heart of man is triangular, and we know a circle cannot fill a triangle. [If the whole earth were changed into a globe of gold, it could not fill your heart.]
O sirs, if your hearts are not filled with holiness—they will be filled with the world, the flesh, and the devil. Either holiness or Satan must possess you.
Some there are, who have much holiness, and much of the world too; as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job, David, Hezekiah, Daniel, etc.
And others there are, who have no holiness, nor anything of the world either. These men are fair for two hells—a hell of misery here, and a hell of torment hereafter.
Some have much of the world—but not a spark of holiness; as Saul, Haman, Dives, Herod, etc., who had a world of wealth—but not a grain of grace.
And others have a great deal of holiness, who have but little or nothing of the world; as the apostles and Lazarus, etc., James 2:5; Mat. 11:5.
Is it not infinitely better to have holiness without the world, and so be happy forever—than to have much of the world without holiness, and so be damned forever?
A man bewitched with the world will lose many precious opportunities of grace, which are more worth than a world: witness rich Felix, who had no leisure to hear poor Paul, though the hearing of a sermon might have saved his soul, Acts 24:24, seq. A man bewitched with the world has his sinning times, and his eating times, and his sleeping times, and his trading times, and his feasting times, and his sporting times, etc.; but he has not his hearing times, nor his praying times, nor his reading times, nor his mourning times, nor his repenting times, nor his reforming times, etc. He can have time, yes, and he will have time, for everything—but to honor his God, and to make himself happy forever.
A man bewitched with the world will, when it is put to his choice, rather part with Christ to enjoy the world, than part with the world to enjoy Christ: witness the young man in the Gospel, who preferred a drop before a sea, a crumb before a crown, and his treasure on earth before eternal treasure in heaven, Mat. 19:16, 23. He would not leave that on earth which he could not long keep, for the enjoyment of that in heaven which he should never lose; rather than he would let his possessions go, he would let God and Christ go, and heaven go, and all go, etc. If heaven can be had at no cheaper a rate than parting with his possessions, "Christ may keep his heaven to himself," says he, for he'll have not have heaven upon those terms.
Again, a man bewitched with the world will prefer the most base and contemptible things before the Lord Jesus Christ; he will, with the Gergesenes, prefer his very swine before a Savior, Mat. 8:28, seq.; when they saw what a sad market their hogs were brought to, they desired Christ to depart out of their country; these Gergesites had rather lose Christ than lose their porkers; they had rather that the devil should possess their souls than that he should drown their pigs; they prefer their swine before their salvation, and present a wretched petition for their own damnation; they besought him that he would depart out of their coasts; though there be no misery, no plague, no curse, no wrath, no hell--compared to Christ's departure from a people—yet men bewitched with the world will desire this. "Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region." Matthew 8:34
Men bewitched with the world will prefer a Barabbas before a Jesus. They will with Judas betray Christ, and with Pilate condemn Christ, and with the Scribes and Pharisees they will cry out, "Crucify him crucify him! Away with this Jesus! Away with this Jesus! Let Barabbas live—but let Jesus die! Let Barabbas be saved—but let Christ be hanged!" Ah, what incarnate devils will such men prove, who are bewitched with this world!
A man bewitched with the world will gain no good by the ministry of the word. Witness Ezekiel's hearers, "So they come pretending to be sincere and sit before you listening. But they have no intention of doing what I tell them. They express love with their mouths, but their hearts seek only after money. You are very entertaining to them, like someone who sings love songs with a beautiful voice or plays fine music on an instrument. They hear what you say, but they don't do it!" Ezekiel 33:31-32. Witness the stony ground hearer, Mat. 13:22; and witness Christ's followers, John 6.
Some writers say that nothing will grow where gold grows. Be that as it may, certainly where the love of this world grows—there nothing holy will grow. A heart filled either with the love of the world, or the profits of the world, or the pleasures of the world, or the honors of the world, or the cares of the world, or the businesses of the world—is a heart incapacitated to receive any divine counsel or comfort. It is a heart shut up against God and holiness, it is a heart possessed with many devils; and therefore no wonder if such a heart loathes the honeycomb of holiness! Yes, it is no wonder to see such a heart to deride and scorn holiness as the greatest foolishness, "The Pharisees, who dearly loved their money, naturally scoffed at all this." Luke 16:14
The myth tells of Lycaon being turned into a wolf; but when a worldling is made holy, there is a wolf turned into a man! Yes, a devil is turned into a saint! Therefore the Holy Spirit, speaking of Zaccheus, who had long been bewitched by the world, brings him in with an "Behold!"—as if it were a wonder of wonders that ever such a worldling should be made holy.
A man bewitched with the world will venture the loss of his soul to enjoy the world, Mat. 16:26; as that pope that sold his soul to the devil for the enjoyment of the popedom six years. We hate the Turks for selling of Christians as slaves; but ah, how many are there among us, who call themselves Christians, who yet sell themselves and their souls to the slaves of the devil for a penny! Look! as Shimei, by seeking his servant, lost his life—just so, many, by seeking of the world, have lost their souls. Now though of all losses the loss of the soul is the greatest, the saddest, the sorest, the heaviest, and the most intolerable, inconceivable, and irrecoverable loss—yet a man bewitched with the world will run the hazard of losing it, of damning it, to enjoy the world.
You know the Reubenites in Joshua 22 preferred the country that was commodious for the feeding of their cattle, though it was far from the temple, where they might have fed their souls, and have got heaven and holiness for their souls—before their interest in the land of promise. Well, so men who are bewitched with this world in these days, oh, how do they prefer their sensual delights, their brutish contentments, and their carnal enjoyments—before the heavenly Canaan, and before the beauties of holiness, and before the temple of God's holiness, where holiness sparkles and shines in all its bravery and glory, and where their souls might be abundantly satisfied and delighted with the most ravishing joys, the most surpassing delights, and the most transcendent pleasures which are at God's right hand!
To draw to a close, the Arabic proverb says that the world is a carcass, and those who hunt after it are dogs. If this proverb is true, what a multitude of professors will be found to be dogs—who hunt more after earth than heaven; who hunt more after terrestrial than celestial things; who hunt more after nothingnesses and emptinesses, than they do after those fullnesses and sweetnesses which are in God, Christ, heaven, and holiness!
Well, friends, as ever you would obtain that real holiness, without which there is no happiness—take heed of a witch—take heed of this world! And to that purpose, oh that you would always look upon the things of this world—as you will look upon them when you come to die! Oh, that you would now look upon all the pomp, state, bravery, and glory of the world—as you will look upon it when your souls shall sit upon your trembling lips! Oh, with what a disdainful eye, with what a weaned heart, do men look upon those things then! Do so now, and I dare assure you, that though the world may trouble you—yet it shall never bewitch you.
I have read of a man who, lying in a burning fever,
professed that if he had all the world at his dispose, he would give it
all for one draught of beer; at so low a rate do men value the world at
such a time as that is. If men were so wise to value the world at no
higher a rate in health than they do in sickness; in life than they do at
the time of their death—it would never bewitch them, it would never be as
a wall of separation between holiness and them. As ever you would be holy
here, and happy hereafter, take heed of this witch! And believe it to be a
witch before it has bewitched you—or else you may believe it too late.
3. Thirdly, If ever you would be holy, then take heed of comparing yourselves with those who are, at least supposedly, worse than yourselves.Many there are, who by comparing themselves with those who are bad, very bad—think themselves to be good, very good; yes, to be too good to go to hell. Such a one was that proud Pharisee in Luke 18, who thought himself a far better man than the poor publican—and yet he was not half so honest, nor half so just, nor half so righteous, nor half so good as he was. The poor publican was ashamed of himself; he loathed himself, he abased himself, he judged himself, and he condemned himself. He acknowledged God, he adored God, he dreaded God, he admired God, and he justified God; in all of which, he exceeded the proud Pharisee. And yet, oh how scornfully does this proud Pharisee look upon him! and how disdainfully and disgracefully does he speak of him! And this was the general frame and temper of the Scribes and Pharisees, who thought no man's penny so good coin, as their own; who thought themselves better than the best—when they were the very worst of the worst. For publicans and harlots believed and repented, and entered into the kingdom of God before them, Mat. 21:31-32.
And likewise, those in Isaiah 65 were bad, very bad, yes, stark bad; they were the basest among the base, they were the vilest among the vile, they were the most rebellious among the rebellious, and the most superstitious among the superstitious. "I opened my arms to my own people all day long, but they have rebelled. They follow their own evil paths and thoughts. All day long they insult me to my face by worshiping idols in their sacred gardens. They burn incense on the rooftops of their homes. At night they go out among the graves and secret places to worship evil spirits. They also eat pork and other forbidden foods. Isaiah 65:2-4. And yet, oh how do they stroke themselves, and bless themselves, and commend themselves, and cry up themselves, and exalt themselves as the only holy ones. "Yet they say to each other—Don't come too close or you will defile me! I am holier than you!" Isaiah 65:5. They could deify themselves—and yet damn and devilify others, though they were such monsters as God abhorred, 'They are a stench in my nostrils, an acrid smell that never goes away.' Isaiah 65:5.
Ah! how many be there who, by comparing themselves with those who are worse than themselves—do judge themselves to be good enough, and holy enough! They are good negative Christians—and they think that is enough to bring them to heaven. They bless themselves that they are no Nabals for drunkenness, nor any Sodomites for filthiness, nor any Hamans for haughtiness, nor any Amnons for lustfulness, nor any of the old world for idleness, nor any Zaccheuses for covetousness, nor any Laodiceans for lukewarmness, etc. They bless themselves that they are no Gehazis for lying, nor any Shimeis for cursing, nor any Joabs for swearing, nor any Rabshakehs for railing, nor any Doegs for cruelty, nor any Judases for treachery, nor any Demases for apostasy, etc.
And thus they cheat themselves, and find out fine ways
to delude and damn their own souls; they think it grace enough, and
holiness enough, that they have attained to this—namely, not to be so bad
as the worst, though they fall infinitely short of coming near unto the
best. Well, sirs, remember this, if you are not so great sinners as
others—your horrors, your terrors, your torments, your hell shall not be
so great, nor so hot as others—but without holiness you shall be as
certainly damned as others! And what a cold comfort is this, to have a
cooler and a lighter hell than others; and yet this is all the comfort
that can be handed to unholy hearts. But,
4. Fourthly, Take heed of flatterers.Ah! how good might many men have been, who are yet exceeding bad, had they not sold their ears to flatterers! Flatterers are soul-murderers; they are soul-undoers; they are like incompetent physicians, who skin over the wound—but kill the patient! Flattery is the very mother of folly, and the very nursery of all impiety. Flatterers will cry up those for pious men—who are only superstitious; and those for wise men—who are foolish; and those for knowing men—who are ignorant; and those for virtuous men—who are wicked; and those for holy men—who at best are but civil; and those for happy men—who are certainly miserable. Flatterers dare call the proud—happy; and bless those whom God has cursed. They dare call evil good, and good evil. They dare call darkness light, and light darkness. They dare say that that man has grace—who has none. Yes, they dare swear that such and such shall be saved—though for the present they live as if they were resolved to be damned. They dare take upon them to tell you that such and such men's names are written in heaven, and that such and such belong to the election of grace—though their lives speak them out to be void of all grace.
Ah! how many a man has been kept off from the thoughts of holiness, and from the ways of holiness, and from the love and liking of holiness—by flatterers who have flattered them—that doubtless they are in the favor of God—and that certainly God did not make men to damn them—and that without all question they have a saving interest in Christ—and that there is no question but that their hearts are as good as the best—and that their eternal conditions are good, and their souls happy. Yes, they are so confident of their happiness, that they dare venture a-going to hell, if ever such should go to hell whom they fondly flatter; they dare pawn their souls and their salvation on it, that such shall never miscarry; and by these flatteries they harden men in sin, and arm them against holiness.
Flattery is that sweet poison that has destroyed many a soul. Witness Rehoboam, Ahab, Herod, Nero, Alexander, etc. Just so, true is that of the wise man: Proverbs 26:28, "A lying tongue hates those who are afflicted by it, and a flattering mouth works ruin." [The Hebrew word signifies to throw down, to drive on forwards until a man falls into destruction; none drive so furiously to the ruin and destruction of souls—as flatterers do.] A flattering mouth ruins name, fame, estate, life, body and soul; it ruins a man both temporally and eternally; it often undoes a man in both worlds; it makes a man miserable both here and hereafter. Flatterers are devouring caterpillars. Flatterers' tongues do more mischief than persecutors' swords, for their swords can but destroy the bodies of men—but flatterers' tongues destroy the souls of men. Flatterers are the greatest soul-cheaters and soul-undoers in the world. Flatterers dare call vice—virtue; they dare call pride—civility; covetousness—good economy; drunkenness—good company; prodigality—liberality; wantonness—a foible of youth; passion—zeal; revenge—courage, etc. They dare call enormities—infirmities; and wickednesses—weaknesses. They dare call great sins—little sins; little sins—no sins. They gild over all their poisonous pills with gold. They draw the fairest glove upon the foulest hand. They lay their neatest colors upon the filthiest sores. They put their best paint upon the worst faces, and the richest robes upon the most diseased bodies. And by these devices they entangle many to their utter ruin.
Proverbs 29:5, "A man who flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet." The Hebrew word which is here rendered flatterer, signifies a soft, butter-spoken man; because flatterers, the better to deceive—oil their tongues and to butter their lips, so that by their smooth, soft speeches they may the more insinuate themselves into men's minds, and so make way for their destruction. Flatterers have their silken nets to ensnare and entangle poor souls to their eternal ruin. Look! as fowlers strew corn and lay baits to draw birds into their nets; or look, as hunters spread their nets, that they may capture beasts and prey upon them, or make a prey of them—just so, flatterers spread their nets that they may catch poor souls, and either prey upon them, or else make a prey of them.
Flattery is the devil's invisible net; and happy is that soul who escapes it. The flatterer's net is worse than his sword—for his sword may be the more easily seen, feared, and avoided, than his net. Of all weapons, the flatterer's net is the most perilous and dangerous, both to the lives, estates, and souls of men. It were ten thousand times better to trample a flatterer under a man's feet, than for a man to allow his feet to be taken in the flatterer's net. A flatterer is a foul enemy in the dress of a friend; he is a wolf in sheep's clothing; he is a devil transformed into an angel of light! What punishment can be too great for such?
The severity of many heathen princes and emperors has been very great against flatterers. Take one instance for all: Alexander Severus commanded one Turinus, a great flatterer, to be tied to a stake and stifled with smoke, with a herald standing by, and proclaiming to all the people, that it was but just that he who lived by the smoke of flattery should die by smoke. [Many great emperors were great enemies to flatterers.]
Now what a shameful thing is it that such as are called
Christians should desire to be flattered—when heathens have so severely
punished flatterers. Well, sirs, as ever you would be holy, take heed of
flatterers, and take heed of flattery! Let Solomon's counsel be always in
your eye, and let it always lie warm upon your hearts: Proverbs 20:19, "Do
not meddle with him who flatters with his lips." A man who loves his soul,
and would be happy in the eternal world, should shun flatterers as he
should shun a thief, a serpent, a wolf, a lion, a devil. Until you stop
your ears against a spirit of flattery, there is little hopes that ever
you will be holy.
5. Fifthly, If ever you would be holy, oh! then take heed of putting the day of death far from you.Man is a creature naturally prone to look upon death at a distance, to look upon death afar off, and to say with those in Ezekiel, "Behold, the people of Israel are saying—The vision he sees is for many years from now, and he prophesies about the distant future." Ezek. 12:27. Just so, the rich man in the Gospel reckoned upon many years, when he had not many months, no not many weeks, no not many days, no not many hours—to live in this world! Unholy people are very apt to say to death as Pharaoh said to Moses, "Get out of my sight! Make sure you do not appear before me again!" Exod. 10:28. When death knocks at the poor man's door he sends it to the rich man's gate, and the rich man translates it to the scholar, and the scholar posts it away to the courtier, and the courtier to his lady, and his lady to her maid; and so death is posted away, as it were, from one to another, everyone crying out to death, "Oh, let me not see your face! Oh, let me not see your face!"
It is a death to many kings and rulers—just to think of death, or to hear of death; and therefore they strictly charge all their servants about them, that when they saw them sick, they should never dare to name that bitter word 'death' in their ears. And Pashur cannot cast his eye upon death—but he is presently a Magor-missabib, a terror to himself, Jer. 20:3. And Saul, though he was a valiant king—yet at the news of death he falls on his face, 1 Sam. 28:20. And so Belshazzar, though he was a mighty emperor, Dan. 5:1-7—yet a letter to him, from him whom Bildad calls the king of terrors, Job 18:14, ah, how does it amaze, astonish, affright, and terrify him! and how many are there who, with Maecenas, had rather live in many diseases than die; and, with the most famous heathens, prefer the poorest life on earth, above all the hopes they have of the eternal world; like Achilles, who had rather be a servant to a poor country down here, than to be a king to all the souls departed; or like Withipoll, a rich and wretched man, who, when he was in danger of death, earnestly desired that he might live five hundred years, though it were but in the shape of a toad. Vitellius, when facing death, made himself drunk to drown the thoughts of it. A woman being ill—one of her neighbors coming to visit her, told her that if she died she would go to heaven and be with God and Jesus Christ, and with angels and saints; the sick woman answered, that she had no acquaintance there, she knew nobody there, and therefore she had rather live with her neighbors here on earth, than to go there to live among strangers.
And thus you see how apt people are to shrug at death, which is a common lot, and to say to it, as Ephraim did to his idols, "Get away from me, what have we more to do with you?" But this is and must be for a lamentation, that men put off the thoughts of their latter end to the latter end of their thoughts. Man naturally is a great life-lover, and therefore he will bleed, sweat, vomit, purge, part with an estate, yes, with a limb, ay, limbs—to preserve his life. Like him who cried out, "Oh, give me any deformity, any torment, any misery, just so that you spare my life!" And upon this account it is, that he desires that such a guest as death may not knock at his door. But ah! that all such vain men would consider, that by putting the day of their death far from them, they do but gratify Satan, strengthen their sins, provoke the Lord, and make the work of faith and holiness more hard and difficult, and so lay a deep foundation for their own eternal destruction!
Well, sirs, remember this, the serious thoughts and meditations of death, if anything, will work you to break off your sins, to mend your lives, and to look to the salvation of your souls. There is nothing that will sooner work a man to a holy fear of offending God in anything, and to a holy care of pleasing God in everything—than the serious meditation of death. Though that text, "Remember your latter end, and you shall never do amiss," is apocryphal—yet the truth asserted is canonical. I have read a story of one who gave a young prodigal a ring with a death's-head, on this condition—that he should one hour in a day, for seven days together, think and meditate upon death, which accordingly he did, and it bred a great change and alteration in his thinking and life.
O man! you do not know but that the serious thoughts of death may work that desirable thing in you, namely, holiness, which yet has not been wrought in you by all the holy counsels, the gracious examples, the fervent prayers, and the sorrowful tears of your dearest friends. You do not know but that the serious meditation of death may do you more good than all the sermons that you have ever heard; or than all the books that you have ever read; or than all the prayers that you have ever made; or than all the sighs or groans that you have ever poured out; and why then should you put the thoughts of death far from you? Certainly as he is an deep-rooted sinner, who dares look death in the face and yet sin; who dares steal a purse when the judge looks on—just so, he is a monster rather than a man, who dares look death in the face—and yet satisfy himself to live without holiness; who dares look death in the face—and yet say "I'll drink and be drunk, I'll swear and swagger, I'll roar and whore, I'll cheat and cozen, I'll hate and oppose, I'll quarrel and kill, and my hands shall be as bloody as my heart—let death do her worst!" If such a person is not in the ready way of being miserable forever, I know nothing.
1. Firstly, Well, sirs, remember these three things:
[1.] First, That there is nothing more CERTAIN than death. That statute law of heaven, "Dust you are, and unto dust you shall return," Gen. 3:19, will take hold of all the sons of men. "There is no man who lives and shall not see death," Psalm 89:48. Though Jacob wrestled with an angel and prevailed—yet death was too hard for him, Gen. 32. Though Asahel was as light of foot as a wild roe—yet he could not outrun death, and Absalom could not outride it, nor Pharaoh outdrive it. Though Saul and Jonathan were as swift as eagles, and as strong as lions—yet were they slain among the mighty. It was not Solomon's wisdom that could deliver him, nor Samson's strength which could rescue him, nor Haman's honor which could secure him, nor Goliath's sword which could defend him, nor Dives's riches which could ransom him from the grave; and therefore why should men put this day so far from them? But,
[2.] Secondly, As there is nothing more certain than death, so there is nothing more SUDDEN than death. When the old world, when Sodom, when Pharaoh, when Hagar, when Amalek, when Haman, when Nebuchadnezzar, when Belshazzar, when Dives, when the rich fool, and when Herod—were all in their prime and pride, when they were in their most flourishing estate, when they were at the very top of their glory—ah, how suddenly, how sadly, how strangely, how unexpectedly, and how astonishingly were they brought down to the grave, yes, to hell! Oh, the thousand thousands of crosses, losses, diseases, sicknesses, calamities, dangers, and deaths—which attends the life of man—and by the least of which he may be suddenly surprised and carried into the eternal world! And therefore, why should man cry out "Tomorrow, tomorrow!" when he does not know whether he shall have a tomorrow, when he does not know but that he may die before he has begun to live?
Waldus, a rich merchant of France, seeing one suddenly drop down dead in the streets, went home, repented, changed his life, studied the Scriptures, and became a worthy teacher, father, and founder of the Christians called the Waldenses. And oh that the serious thoughts of the suddenness of death might have that happy effect upon your souls, as to work you to break your league with sin, and to frighten you, as it were—into a love of holiness, and into a life of holiness!
O swearer, what do you know but that death may seize on you while the oath is in your mouth? And what do you know, O drunkard—but that death may step in between the cup and the lip, as it did to Belshazzar? And what do you know, O adulterer—but that a poisoned dart may strike through your liver while you are in the very flagrancy of your lust, as it did through Zimri's and Cozbi's? And what do you know, O proud Haman—but that you who are thus nobly feasted one day, may be a feast for the crows the next day? And what do you know who are so crafty, O Ahithophel—but that if your subtle counsel is rejected one hour, you may hang yourself the next hour? And what do you know, O you opposing and murmuring Korah—but that the earth may suddenly open and swallow you up? And therefore why should you put that day so far from you, that may so suddenly overtake you?
Berline, in Germany, while in the pulpit, said that the Scriptures were a lie—and was suddenly smitten with an apoplexy, and fell down dead on the spot. And what do you know, who are so apt to charge the Scriptures with lying—but that God may strike you both dumb and dead while the lie is in your mouth? Bibulus, a Roman general, while riding in triumph in all his glory—a tile fell off from a house in the street and knocked out his brains. And what do you know, O vain-glorious man—but that while you are triumphing in your world-glory, by some unexpected blow you may be sent into the eternal world?
Lepidus and Aufidius both stumbled at the very threshold of the senate and died; the blow came in a cloud from heaven. God by an invisible blow may send you out of this visible world.
Sophocles died suddenly by excessive joy, and Homer died by immoderate grief; excessive joy or excessive grief may suddenly bring you to your long home. Olympus the Arian heretic, speaking against the Holy Trinity as he was a-bathing himself, was struck dead by a threefold thunderbolt. We may run and read some men's sins in the very face of their punishments. Mr. Perkins speaks of one who, when it thundered, scoffingly said, "it was nothing but Tom Tumbrel a-hooping his tubs, etc.," and immediately he was struck dead with a thunderbolt from heaven. There would be no end of recounting the many judgments which have suddenly surprised all sorts of sinners. Let these few instances suffice to stir up every unholy heart to take heed of putting far off the day of death. But,
[3.] Thirdly, As there is nothing more sudden than death, so there is nothing more short than life; and why then should you put the day of your death so far from you? [Job 8:9; Psalm 102:11, 73:20, and 90:5; Job 20:8, and 7:7.] If you consider the life of man absolutely, it is but short—it is but as a span, a shadow, a dream, a bubble, a blast, a puff of wind, a pile of dust, a fading leaf, or a tale that is told, etc. The life of man is as a dream that vanishes when one awakes; it is a wind that goes away and comes not again; it is as a cloud that is soon dispersed with the wind; it is as a vapor that appears for a time, and then vanishes away; it is as the grass that soon withers; it is as the flower that soon fades; it is as the candle that every light puff of wind blows out.
The life of man is rather made up of days than years. Psalm 90:12, "So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom." Moses does not say, Lord, teach us to number our years—but "Lord, teach us to number our days." Fallen man is apt to misreckon, and to compute days for years; and therefore this holy prophet desires that God would teach them this divine arithmetic, of numbering their days—it being a lesson that none but a God can teach. Just so, Job 14:1-2, "Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble. He springs up like a flower and withers away; like a fleeting shadow, he does not endure." He speaks not of an age, nor of years, nor of many days—but of a few days. Man's days are short in themselves, and shorter in respect of the troubles which attend this present life. Man's life is so short, Austin doubts whether to call it a dying life, or a living death.
Now these few days of man's life are upon the wing, hastening and flying from us as the eagle hastens to his prey; and therefore man had need set a greater price upon every moment and minute of time, than he does upon all the world, and accordingly improve it.
2. Secondly, If you consider the life of man COMPARATIVELY, it is but short, and that will appear briefly thus:
[1.] First, If you compare the life of man to what man might have reached to had he continued in his primitive glory.Had man stood fast in innocency, he would have never known what death and misery had meant. Death is a fall that came in by a fall. Had man kept sin out of the world, he would have kept death out of the world. Had man kept fast his holiness and purity, he would have retained his immortality to this day; death could never have carried man out of the world, had not man first let sin into the world, Romans 5:12, seq.
[2.] Secondly, If you compare the life of man to the long lives of the patriarchs before the flood—then the life of man is but short.Threescore years and ten, is man's age, Psalm 90:10. And where one man lives to this age, how many thousands die before they come to it! But what is this seventy years, compared to the age that men lived to in former times? Enoch lived as many years as there are days in the year, and Adam lived nine hundred and thirty years, and Methuselah lived nine hundred sixty-nine years, Gen. 5. Now what are our lives—compared to the long lives of the patriarchs? As men's wickedness does more and more increase—so their days do more and more decrease. The more wicked any generation is—the shorter lived that generation shall be. God will quickly despatch them out of the world—who make quick despatches in ways of wickedness.
[3.] Thirdly, The life of man is but short, if you compare it to what it shall be after the morning of the resurrection.Oh, then man's days shall reach to eternity! Eternity is that one perpetual day which shall never have an end. When men after the resurrection begin to live—they shall never die after that day. Every man shall live in everlasting bliss or in everlasting woe! When the last trumpet has sounded, man shall live forever and ever!
[4.] Fourthly, The life of man is but short, if you compare it with the days of God.Psalm 39:5, "My age is nothing before him;" all time is nothing, compared to eternity. Man's life is but a minute, it is but a point of time, compared to the days of eternity. What head, what heart can conceive or reckon up the duration of God, who ever was, who still is, and who ever will be! Every child and every fool can tell you their age—but what man on earth or what angel in heaven can tell you the years of the Most High? Surely none!
[5.] Fifthly and lastly, The life of man is but short, if you compare it with the lives of other creatures.Some say that the eagle will live until she is a hundred years old. And some elephants live three hundred years; by which you see the brevity of man's life. And why then should man be so foolish, so vain—to put the day of his death so far from him? I have read of the birds of Norway, that they fly faster than the fowls of any other country; they knowing, by an instinct that God has put into them, that the days in that climate are very short—do therefore make the more haste to their nests. And oh that all who hear me this day would learn by these birds of Norway—to make haste to believe, and to make haste to repent, and to make haste to love God, and to make haste to be holy, etc., seeing their day of life is so short, and their night of death is hastening towards them.
And as the life of man is very short, so it is very significant—that a very small matter, a very little thing—may quickly put an end to man's life. When the emperor threatened the philosopher with death, he replied, "What more is your threat—than a Spanish fly may do?" An ordinary fly, zooming into the mouth of the proud Pope Adrian, choked him. Tamerlane, a Scythian captain, the terror of his time, died suddenly with a fever. Anacreon the poet was choked with the seed of a grape. Aeschylus was killed by the fall of a turtle, which fell from an eagle's talons upon his head. The duke of Brittany was stifled to death in a throng of people. An emperor died by the scratch of a comb. One of the kings of France died by choking on his food. One who was playing at tennis, received a blow with a ball a little above the right ear, which struck him into his grave. There is nothing so small, but it may be a man's bane. The tripping of a toe, the cutting of a corn, the scratch of a nail, the prick of a pin, a fish-bone, a hair, a drop of water, a crumb of bread, bad air—may bring a man to his long home! Yes, a little smoke may soon suffocate him, or his own spittle may suddenly choke him.
And oh, that all I have spoken upon this account might be so blessed as to work you to take heed of putting the day of your death so far away from you! The evil servant, when he thought his master was gone afar off, begins oppressing the other servants, partying, and getting drunk, Luke 12:45. And just so, the lewd woman in the Proverbs, chapter 7:19-20, when the husband was gone a long journey, when he was far from home—then she grew promiscuous, vain, and secure. Just so, when men put afar off the day of their death, then they grow more loose, profane, and unholy. Whereas a serious and frequent eyeing and minding of death as at hand, as at a man's elbow—would alarm a man to break off his sins by repentance, and to labor for holiness, as a man would labor for life itself. I have read of the women on a certain island—that the first garment they make is their shroud, with which they usually gird themselves when they go abroad, to show that they are still mindful of their mortality. Ah, friends, a constant minding of your mortality would contribute very much towards the making of you holy. He who daily looks upon death—will be daily a-looking after holiness. The oftener any man looks into the grave—the oftener that man will be looking up to heaven, and a-begging that God would make him holy even as he is holy. But,
6. Sixthly and lastly, Take heed of settling yourselves under an unholy minister--of one whose life gives the lie to his doctrine.An unholy preacher is the greatest destroyer of the souls of men! He who preaches well--but lives bad--does what he can, to murder all his hearers at once! There is no greater bar to holiness, than ministers' unholy lives. An unholy life mars the soundest and the sweetest doctrine. The sins of teachers are the teachers of sins! "The leaders of the people have led them down the path of destruction." Isaiah 9:16.
An unholy minister is the greatest pest, the worst plague, and the greatest mischief--that can be to a people; for his enormities, his wickednesses, will have the strongest influences upon the souls and
lives of men--to make them eternally miserable. His falls will be the fall and ruin of many; for people are more prone to live more by examples--than by precepts; mind more what the minister does--than what he says; eye more how he walks--than how he talks. "Watch your life and doctrine closely." 1 Timothy 4:16. "Set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity." 1 Timothy 4:12. "In everything set them an example by doing what is good." Titus 2:7.
It was said of one—that was an excellent preacher—but a very bad liver; that when he was in the pulpit—it was pity he should ever come out of it, he preached so well; and when he was out of the pulpit—it was pity that ever he should go into it, he lived so badly. Certainly it is pity that ever such should go into a pulpit who preach well but live bad; who have much of God in their mouths, and much of the devil in their lives; who have the earth as much at their fingers' end as they have heaven at their tongue's end; whose lives puts their words to a blush; who have much of heaven in their expressions, and nothing of heaven in their lives; who have much holiness in their looks—but none in their hearts; and much holiness in their lips—but none in their lives. The unholy lives of such preachers causes people to slight and abhor the holy things of God, 1 Sam. 2:17; yes, their bad lives often raise doubts in their hearers' hearts whether those things that they preach are true or not. Hearers will be ready to object and say, "If these things are true that the minister says, why does he not practice what he preaches? why does he not do as well as say?"
And with what face or confidence can he appear against that in the pulpit, which he countenances and patronizes in his life? Who will credit that man's doctrine, who has Jacob's voice—but Esau's hands; who is a saint, yes, an angel, in the pulpit—but a debauched sinner, yes, an incarnate devil, out of it?
I have read of a woman who, living in professed doubt of the Godhead, after better illumination and repentance, did often protest that the wicked life of a great minister, under whose ministry she lived, did conjure up those damnable doubts in her soul. There is nothing that brings holy truths so much into question as the unholy lives of such preachers; neither is there anything that exposes a minister's person and office to so much scorn and contempt as an unholy life. Let a minister be ever so learned, solid, quaint, elegant, zealous, judicious, sententious, etc.—yet if he is carnal, covetous, worldly, vain, and loose in his life and conversation, his hearers will rather deride his doctrine—than reform by his doctrine; they will rather despise it—than study how to profit by it; therefore he said right, who said—
"Unto a teacher it's no small disgrace
When his own faults reprove him to his face."
There is nothing in all the world that is more powerful and prevalent to corrupt and mislead unholy men, and to harden, strengthen, and encourage them in ways of wickedness—than the looseness of their lives whose office binds them to look to the salvation of their souls, Ezek. 13:22, and Jer. 33:15: Mal. 2:8, "You are departed out of the way; you have caused many to stumble at the law." When the preacher departs out of the way of holiness, the people will quickly stumble at the law of holiness; when ministers are as wandering stars, no wonder if their hearers wander from all that is good. He whose life is not a standing reproof to sin, will, by his life, encourage sinners more and more in a way of sin.
There is nothing which keeps men so off from a good opinion of holiness, and from the love of holiness, and the liking of holiness, and from the pursuing after holiness—than the unholy lives of their teachers. Therefore, as ever you would be holy, fly their tents, and abandon their company and society. Ministers whose lives are unholy, though their abilities may be high, are like a stone gutter, that conveys water into a garden—but receives no benefit itself thereby; or like a harp that makes melody for others—but hears nothing itself. They are like those carpenters who built the ark to save others, and were drowned themselves; or like porters at great men's gates, that let in others—but lodge without themselves; or like sea-marks, that rot themselves—and yet give others warning to avoid shipwreck; or like Caesar's soldier, that dug a fountain for Caesar, and perished himself for lack of water.
Oh, the folly and madness of such ministers, who give light to others—and yet walk in darkness themselves; who feast others' souls—but starve their own; who rescue others from a devouring enemy—and yet allow themselves to be devoured; who forewarn others of the horrible pit—and yet fall into it themselves; who give good counsel to others—and yet can't take good counsel themselves; who study and strive to bring others to heaven—and yet have no mind to go there themselves!
Certainly society and company with such, can't but be a
mighty hindrance to holiness. He who is in good earnest resolved to be
holy, must resolutely be resolved to have nothing to do with such unholy
people. And thus you see the several things that you must decline, if ever
you would be holy. But,
II. Secondly,As there are six things that you must decline if ever you would obtain that real holiness without which there is no happiness—just so, there are ten things which you are to DO--which you are to put in PRACTICE, without which you will never be holy here, nor happy hereafter.
Question. But what are they?
Answer. They are these:
(1.) First, Greatly lament and mourn over your own unholiness, over your own wickedness.The first step to holiness, is melting and mourning over a man's own unholiness. Go to your closet, and fall down before the most high and holy God, and mourn bitterly over the unholiness of your nature, the unholiness of your heart, the unholiness of your affections, the unholiness of your intentions, the unholiness of your resolutions, the unholiness of your expressions, and the unholiness of your life: Joel 2:12, "Turn to the Lord with weeping and with mourning." The foundation of a thorough reformation must be laid in a deep humiliation. The best way to be holy is to accuse, indict, arraign, and condemn yourself for your unholiness. [Ezra 6:2; Jer. 50:4; Psalm 51:5.]
You shall as soon espouse light and darkness, and marry midnight to the noonday—as you shall espouse or marry a holy God to an unhumbled sinner. Oh, who can look upon sin as an offence against a holy God, as the breach of a holy law, as the wounding and crucifying of a holy Savior, as the grieving and saddening of a holy Sanctifier, and as an eternal loss and undoing of his own soul—and not mourn over it? Oh, who can cast a serious eye upon the nature of sin, or upon the exceeding sinfulness of sin, or upon the aggravations of sin—and not have his heart humbled, his soul grieved, and his spirit melted for sin? Oh, who can look upon sin as it strikes at the honor of God, the name of God, the being of God, the glory of God, and the design of God—and not have his mouth full of penitential confessions, his eyes full of penitential tears, and his heart full of penitential sorrow?
Some, as they say of witches, cannot weep for sin; but those who weep not for sin here, where there are handkerchiefs in the hands of Christ to wipe off their tears—shall weep out their eyes in hell hereafter. It is better to weep bitterly for your sins on earth, than to weep eternally for your folly in hell. Ah, how hard is that heart that can sadly lament and bewail the loss of a groat, a chicken, a child, a sheep, a ship, a friend, etc.—and yet can't let fall a tear to save a lost soul!
Jacob weeps and prevails with God, Hosea 12:4; his tears made a happy conquest upon God. Jacob weeps and prevails with God for his life; and what do you know but that by your penitential tears you may prevail with God for your soul? He weeps and prevails with God for temporals; and why may not you by weeping prevail with God for eternals? He weeps and prevails with God for some outward happiness; and why may not you by weeping prevail with God for inward holiness? It is an old observation, that the tears of repenting sinners are the wine of angels. Certainly God himself can smile to see a sinner grieve for his sins, and to see him grieve that he can grieve no more, for that he has sinned against a God so great, so gracious, so bountiful, so merciful, etc., Psalm 51:17.
Though God is displeased with a sinner's sins—yet he is very well pleased with a sinner's tears, and therefore as he has a bag for the one, so he has a bottle for the other. It cannot but be a pleasure to God—to see a sinner drown his sins in a deluge of penitential tears. Though tears of indignation, as was Esau's; and tears of dissimulation, as was Ishmael's; and tears of desperation, as was Judas'; are abominable to God—yet tears of godly compunction and contrition are acceptable and delightful unto God. A sinner never looks so sweetly, as when he weeps most penitentially: witness Mary Magdalene, Manasseh, and those murderers of Christ, Acts 2. A sinner's face never shines so beautiful, as when it is bedewed with penitential tears. Tears have a voice, "The Lord has heard the sound of my weeping" Psalm 6:8. And God has an eye as well upon a man's tears as upon his prayers. Penitent tears are divine ambassadors, which never return from the throne of grace without answers of grace, Isaiah 38:5, "I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears." Peter said nothing—but went out and wept bitterly—and obtained mercy, Mat. 26:75. Tears are a kind of silent prayers, that will at last prevail for mercy. Naaman the Syrian was cleansed of his leprosy by the waters of Jordan; penitential tears may do much towards the cleansing of your leprous soul from sin.
He who really grieves that he cannot grieve for sin—is
grieved for sin. He who is truly sorry that he cannot be sorry for sin, is
in a measure sorry for sin. He who truly desires to drown his sins in his
tears, he has in divine account drowned his sins in his tears. The maid in
Scaliger swooned at the sight of a lily. Oh, how much more should you
swoon at the sight of your unholiness! Basil wept when he saw the rose,
because it brought to his mind the first sin from whence it had the
prickles. Oh, how should a sinner fall a-weeping when he looks upon the
greatness of his wickedness and his lack of holiness! As ever you would be
holy, mourn over your own unholiness. But,
(2.) Secondly, If ever you would be holy, you must seek the HOLY SPIRIT.The Spirit is the efficient cause of all the holiness which is in the world. The Spirit of God is a spirit of holiness, Romans 1:4; he is frequently called the Holy Spirit: "Cast me not away from your presence; and take not your Holy Spirit from me," Psalm 51:11; "But they rebelled, and vexed his Holy Spirit," Isaiah 63:10; "And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby you are sealed unto the day of redemption," Eph. 4:30; "God, who has also given unto us his Holy Spirit," 1 Thes. 4:8; "In whom also, after that you believed, you were sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise," Eph. 1:13.
To make a man holy—is greater than to create a world; it is a work too high and too hard for angels or men; it can be done by none but by the Holy Spirit. Sanctification is made the Spirit's personal operation, 2 Thes. 2:13, 1 Pet. 1:2. It is the great work of the Spirit—to shape, form, and fashion the new creature holiness, in all the vessels of glory. The Spirit is the root of all holiness; and therefore the several parts of holiness are called the fruits of the Spirit, Gal. 5:22. It is true, God purposes holiness to his people, and Christ has purchased holiness for his people; but it is only the Spirit that is the efficient cause or worker of holiness in his people. Though the Father, Son, and Spirit has designed to re-imprint holiness upon man's heart—yet the Spirit has the greatest hand in that work. When man was in his primitive glory, holiness was his loveliness and his likeness to God; but being now fallen, that image is so broken and marred, that no hand can repair it or restore it but the hand of the Spirit.
The great principle of holiness which was in Christ, as to his human nature, was the Holy Spirit, which he had above measure; for he was anointed with the unction of the Spirit above his fellows. Just so, that, look which way you will, the Spirit still appears to be the great principle of holiness. Holiness is the very picture of God, and certainly no hand can carve that excellent picture but the Spirit of God. Holiness is the divine nature, and none can impart that to man but the Spirit.
"When He comes, He will convict the world about sin." John 16:8. A man never comes to see his sins, nor to be sick of his sins, nor to loathe his sins, nor to arraign his sins, nor to condemn his sins, nor to judge himself for his sins, evangelically—until he comes to be possessed of the Holy Spirit. A man never comes to spit out the sweet morsels of sin, he never comes to make a sacrifice of his only Isaac, and to hack his trembling Agag in pieces, and to strangle his Delilah, and in good earnest to set upon an utter extirpation of those sins that his constitution, inclination, custom, calling, and interest does most incline him to—until the Spirit of holiness comes upon him. Until the Holy Spirit falls upon the hearts of sinners, they will never be fired out of their pride, formality, carnality, sensuality, and security.
When the Holy Spirit comes as a spirit of glory and power to change your heart, to destroy your sins, to reform your ways, and to save your soul, etc., oh, then cry out, "Let him still go on conquering and to conquer, until all his enemies are made his footstool. Oh, let him cut off every right hand, and pluck out every right eye, etc., which offends! Oh, let him do justice upon every sin—upon every open sin, upon every secret sin, upon every bosom sin, upon every pleasing sin, and upon every gainful sin!"
Oh, set yourselves under the celestial influences and sweet distillings of the Holy Spirit! Oh, prize his motions! Oh, welcome his motions! Oh, comply with his motions! Oh, follow his motions, so that you may be holy and happy forever. When David asked counsel of God, whether he should go up against the Philistines or not, he received this answer: "When you hear a sound like marching feet in the tops of the balsam trees, attack! That will be the signal that the Lord is moving ahead of you to strike down the Philistines," 2 Sam. 5:24. Just so, should everyone wisely observe, when the Spirit sweetly and strongly moves them to mind holiness, to fall in love with holiness, to press after holiness; when the Spirit moves them to leave off their sins, to turn to God, to embrace Christ, to tremble at threatenings, and to embrace promises; oh, make much of these holy motions! Oh, cherish these divine breathings! Oh, don't quench these heavenly sparks, lest the Spirit never more moves you, nor ever more strives with you, Gen. 6:3.
Oh, when you hear a voice within you, or a voice behind you, saying, "Come with me from Lebanon, my sister, my spouse," etc., Isaiah 30:21, and Cant. 4:8, "Come away from your cups—you drunken wretch! Come away from your wanton Delilahs—you unclean wretch! Come away from your sinful pleasures—you voluptuous wretch! Come away from your money bags—you worldly wretch! Come away from your honors—you ambitious wretch! Come away from your fraud—you cheating wretch!" Oh hearken to this voice! oh obey this voice, that it may go well with your soul forever! If now you strike while the iron is hot, if now you hoist up sail while the wind is fair—you may be made happy forever.
In John 5:4, there were certain times when the angel came down and troubled the waters, and whoever did then step in, was healed of whatever disease he had. Just so, there are certain times and seasons wherein the Spirit of holiness stirs the heart and affections, and moves and breathes upon the soul. Now if men were wise to observe these times and seasons, they might be happy forever. The time of the Spirit's moving is the acceptable time; if you observe it you are made, if you neglect it you are marred. All the movings and motions of the Spirit are in order to an eternity of felicity and glory. Oh, therefore don't grieve the Spirit! Don't cross the Spirit! Don't vex the Spirit! Don't tempt the Spirit! Don't quench the Spirit! Don't oppose the Spirit! Don't resist the Spirit! Don't deal harshly or unkindly with the Spirit—by sinning against illumination, conviction, resolutions and promises of reformation.
Oh, be more tender of the gracious motions of the
Spirit, than you are of your name, your estate, your liberty, your life;
for he designs your internal good in this world, and your eternal good in
the eternal world; and therefore don't affront him, nor behave unworthily
towards him. If you should, it may be at the cost of your life and your
soul! If a man misses the opportunity of a favorable gale, his ship will
lie still. When the Spirit moves salvation, and all the glory of heaven
stands waiting at your door, if now you will but open, the King of glory
will enter in, and bless you forever. Saul, by neglecting his opportunity,
lost an earthly kingdom. Take heed lest you, by slighting the motions of
the Spirit, come to lose a heavenly kingdom. The letting slip one season
when the Spirit moves may undo a man in both worlds—as Felix found it so.
Well, sirs, as ever you would be holy, you must labor for a spirit of
holiness; and for your encouragement remember this, that though the Holy
Spirit is the great jewel of glory—yet God is more ready to give Him, than
you are to ask; witness that 11th of Luke, from the 9th to the 14th verse.
(3.) Thirdly, If ever you would be holy, then you must wait upon the WORD.The word of God faithfully preached, is the ordinary means by which holiness is wrought in sinners' hearts. The word is that triumphant chariot of the Spirit, wherein he rides conquering and to conquer the souls of men. The holy word is designed by God to beget holiness in sinners' hearts—and to countenance, cherish, nourish, and strengthen holiness where it is begotten. John 17:17, "Sanctify them through your truth: your word is truth." And for their sakes, etc., "I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth," verse 19. Just so, chapter 15:3, "Now you are clean through the word which I have spoken to you." The ordinary way of making unclean souls clean, unholy souls holy—is the ministry of the word, Phil. 5:26. As there is a cleansing virtue in the blood of Christ, 1 John 1:7, so there is a cleansing virtue in the word of Christ.
Psalm 119:9, "How shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to your word." Of all men, the young man is usually most wild and wicked, most licentious and rebellious; and yet the word of God is the power of God to his conviction and conversion, to his sanctification and salvation. Though the cleansing of a young man's heart be one of the hardest works in the world—yet this may be done by the word. There are no lusts so strong but the word can cast them down, nor no stains so deep but the word can wash them out. Three thousand sinners were made saints by one sermon, Acts 2:41; and five thousand more were converted and sanctified by another sermon, chapter 4:4. Here were eight thousand men cleansed, sanctified, and saved—by two sermons, and doubtless most of them were young.
O sirs, as ever you would have holy principles laid in your souls, and holy affections raised in your souls, and holy ends aimed at by your souls, hear the word in season and out of season. Oh attend it! oh wait on it! It will be soap to cleanse you, and fire to purge you, and water to wash you, and a wind to turn you from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to Jesus Christ, Acts 26:16-24. The gospel preached, has been the power of God to the salvation of multitudes of souls, Romans 1:16. The word is that immortal seed by which holiness—which is not only a grace but the conjunction of all graces—is formed in the soul, 1 Pet. 1:23. It is the word which gives a spiritual birth and being to men, Gal. 4:19. The word enlightens the eye, Psalm 119:105. The word softens the heart, Deut. 32:2. The word purges the conscience, and it converts the soul, Psalm 19:7. The word dethrones Satan, it casts down strongholds, 2 Cor. 10:4-5. The word quickens the dull, Psalm 119:50. The word raises the dead, John 5:24-25. Oh, therefore, hear it, and wait on it, and come to it—that you may be made holy by it.
Many come to hear the word to censure it, others to mock at it, others to enrich their curious notions by it, and others come to catch the minister at it. You must come to it, that you may be made holy by it, and doubtless sooner or later you shall obtain your end. Yes, it is good for a man to come to the word, though his design in coming is bad; it is good for a man to sit under that great ordinance of the word, though he sits upon thorns, as it were, all the while he is there. Those who come to see who has got the newest fashions—may have their hearts fashioned into a conformity with the word. They came to catch—but were caught themselves, "Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, "Why didn't you bring him in?" "No one ever spoke the way this man does," the guards declared." John 7:45-46. Austin coming to Ambrose to have his ears tickled, had his heart touched and turned. "Come," says old Latimer, in a sermon before king Edward the Sixth, "to the public meeting, though you come to sleep, it may be God may take you napping."
When you come, though it be but to taste the minister's spirit—yet then God may take hold on your spirit, and save it in the day of his power upon your soul. Though you come with a heart full of prejudices against Christ—yet by the word you may be brought to a love of Christ, to a liking of Christ, and to a choice of Christ, and to a blessed close and resignation of yourself to Christ. Those who came to surprise Christ, were so taken with Christ, that being filled with admiration they could not but proclaim his divine excellencies; "No one ever spoke the way this man does!" The word is the word of the Lord—let the hand be what it will, which brings it. When gold is offered, men care not how noble or ignoble, how great or how base he is, who offers it. Just so, men should not look so much at the hand which brings the word, as at the word itself. The word of the Lord was as much the word of the Lord in the hand and mouth of Amos—who was a prophet from among the herdsmen of Tekoa—as it was the word of the Lord in the hand and mouth of Isaiah—who, as some think, was a prophet of royal blood.
Ambrose observes of the woman of Samaria, John 4:7, that she came to Jesus at Jacob's well as a sinner—but she went away an evangelist. O sirs, let nothing hinder you from coming to the word! Oh come to the word! though you come as sinners—yet come, for though you do come sinners—yet you may go away saints. Though the dew of heaven has richly and sweetly fallen upon your hearts—and yet, like Gideon's fleece, you are still dry—yet come to the word still, for who can tell but that at the very next sermon God may make your soul like a watered garden, and like a spring of water "whose waters fail not," Isaiah 58:11.
It is reported of young king Edward the Sixth, that
being about to lay hold on something that was above the reach of his short
arm, one who stood by espying a large embossed Bible lying on the table,
offered to lay that under his feet to heighten him—but the good young king
disliked the motion, and instead of treading it under his feet he laid it
to his heart. Oh come to the word—but come not to trample upon it,
come not to scoff or mock at it, come not to despise it or
to revile it—but come and lay it to your hearts, and it may do you
good forever! There is no better way to make you holy than to attend on
the holy word. But,
(4.) Fourthly, If ever you would be holy—then associate yourselves with those who are holy.Look! as he who walks with the wise shall be wise, so he who walks with the holy shall certainly be pressed and provoked to be holy, Proverbs 13:20. As Socrates made it his business to better others by his company—just so, will a holy man will make it his business to make others holy by his counsel, prayers, and example. He knows that it is one of the most noble and divine employments in the world to make others holy, and therefore he sets upon that work with all his might.
Look! as there is no greater a hindrance to holiness than the society of the wicked—so there is no greater a help to holiness than the society of those who are godly, Psalm 119:115, and 1:1. Look! as the beginning of ungodliness is to keep company with those who are are ungodly—so the beginning of holiness is to keep company with those who are holy. Look! as one drunkard makes another, and one swearer makes another, and one proud person makes another, and one worldling makes another, and one formalist makes another—so one holy man makes another. Look! as one sober man makes another, and one prudent man makes another, and one resolute man makes another, and one zealous man makes another, and one heavenly-minded man makes another—so one holy man makes another.
Ah, sinners! sinners! there are no companions in the world—who will pity you as these; who will weep and mourn over you as these; who will strive and wrestle with God for you as these, Romans 10:1. There are none who will be so concerned for your salvation as these; nor any who will labor so much for your conversion as these; nor any who will so spend themselves to prevent your damnation as these, 2 Cor. 12:15. O sirs, upon trial you will find that there are none so able to counsel you, nor any so faithful to reprove you, nor any so ready to help you, nor any so compassionate to sympathize with you, nor any so strong to support you, nor any so advantaged to convert you—as those who are holy! Why then will you not labor to be one of this society?
O sirs, of all fellowships, the fellowship of saints is the most noble, the most honorable, the most pleasant, the most amiable, the most desirable, the most profitable, and the most commendable fellowship! Why then will you still live strangers, yes, enemies, to this fellowship? Ah sirs, holy men will still be awakening and alarming of your drowsy spirits, they will be still a-knocking at the door of your hearts, and asking of you whether it be good going to hell; they will still be inquiring of you what provision you have made for the eternal world, and how all things stand within; they will still be jogging at your elbows—that you may not die in your sins; and they will still be whispering in your ear—that your souls may live forever.
The Jews have a proverb, that "two dry sticks put to a green one will kindle it." Oh, there is nothing in all the world which contributes so much to the kindling, to the firing, and to the inflaming of men's hearts after holiness—as the society of those who are holy. Algerius, an Italian martyr, "had rather be in prison with Cato, than to live with Caesar in the senate-house." Oh, it is ten thousand times better to live with those who are holy—though in a dark prison; than to live among those who are unholy—though in a royal palace. Urbanus Regius, having one day's converse with Luther, tells us, "that it was one of the sweetest days that ever he had in all his life."
O sinners, did you but experience for one day the sweet
and happiness of the communion of saints, you would then cry out, "Oh,
there is no society, compared to the society of God's holy ones." And
therefore, as ever you would be holy, let holy men have more heart-room
and house-room with you. But,
(5.) Fifthly, If ever you would be holy—then dwell much upon those solemn vows and covenants that you have formerly made in the days of your distress.Ah, how often have you—in the days of your calamity and misery, and in the days when sicknesses and weaknesses did hang upon you, and when the terrors of death were upon you—how frequently in those days did you solemnly vow and promise that, by the strength and assistance of the Lord—you would break off your sins by repentance, and that you would make it your greatest care, and your greatest business and work in this world, to mind holiness, and to press after holiness, and to give your souls no rest until you had experienced the power, excellency, and sweetness of holiness!
David by an oath bound himself to keep God's righteous judgments: Psalm 119:106, "I have sworn, and I will perform it—that I will keep your righteous judgments." A religious vow is nothing else but a solemn promise or oath, whereby a man engages himself to the great God—that he will decline such ways, means, and methods as lead to wickedness; and that he will set in good earnest upon the practice of all the ways and means of holiness—by the strength and assistance of divine grace.
So you have by many vows and promises engaged yourselves "to cast off the works of darkness, and to put on the armor of light," suitable to the apostle's exhortation, Romans 13:12. And as the people in Nehemiah's time did enter into a solemn oath to walk in God's law, and to observe and do all his commandments, Neh. 10:29—just so, you have in the times of your outward and inward distresses vowed to the Lord, that you would observe all his statutes, and walk in all his holy ways, and do all his righteous commandments. Job once made a covenant with his eyes—that he would not lustfully look upon a girl, Job 31:1-2; but how often have you made a covenant with your thoughts—that you would not think of vanity; and with your eyes—that you would not behold vanity; and with your ears—that you would not hear vanity; and with your tongues—that you would not speak vanity; and with your hearts—that you would not contrive vanity; and with your hands—that you would not act vanity.
Now your vows and your covenants are upon you, oh that you would not, with the immoral woman in the Proverbs, chapter 17, forget the covenant of your God! Oh, it is better ten thousand times not to vow, than to vow and not to pay, Eccles. 5:5. God can take no pleasure in such as are off and on with him, nor in such who are forward to vow—but make no conscience to pay their vows. These are fools in folio, and therefore God cannot but detest them, and turn his back upon them.
If good Jacob, who is called "the father of vows," was so backward to pay his vows, that God was forced, not only to tell him again and again with a "go up to Bethel, and there build me a chapel," but also severely to punish his delays, both in the rape of his daughter, and in the cruelty of his sons, etc., Gen. 35; ah, how severely then may God deal with such who not only delay the paying of their vows—but who live also in the daily breach of their vows! Most men have need of that counsel which one gave Sigismund the emperor, who asked him what he should do to be happy; "Live," said he, "as you promised and vowed to do, when you were last sick of the stone and gout." Ah, that all men would make more conscience of living out, and of living up to the covenants, vows, and promises that they have made to God in the days when the hand of the Lord has gone out many ways against them, and when terrors of conscience have been strong upon them! Oh, what repentance! oh, what reformation! oh, what amendment have they promised in those days! And yet no sooner have these outward and inward storms been over—but they have been as vain and loose and base as ever.
In the time of the great plague in king Edward's days, as long as the heat of the plague lasted, oh how did everyone cry out, "I have sinned, I have sinned! Mercy, Lord! Oh mercy! mercy, good Lord!" Then lords and ladies, and people of all sorts, cried out to the ministers, "Tell us what shall we do to avoid the wrath of the Lord? what shall we do to be safe in this evil day? Oh take these bags of money, and pay so much to such a one whom I have deceived! and restore so much to such a one whom I have in bargaining overreached! Oh give so much to the poor, and so much to other pious uses!" etc. But after the sickness was over, they "returned with the dog to the vomit, and with the sow to the wallowing in the mire again; and so their latter end was worse than their former."
There was a very great sinner, who in the time of his sickness was so sorely terrified in his conscience for his many heinous sins, that he made the very bed to shake upon which he lay, and cried out all night long, "I am damned! I am damned! I am damned!" etc.; and in this his sickness he made many great protestations of amendment of life, if God would but be pleased to recover him, and prevent his going down to the grave at this time. Well, in a short time after he did recover, and being recovered he was as base, wretched, and wicked as ever he was before.
But those who are now like to Satan in sin, may
hereafter be like to him in torment. Such who now outlive their vows,
shall, when they die, have hell enough. You count it a very shameful thing
to break a promise or covenant with men; but is it not far more shameful
to break a promise with God? The Egyptians, though heathens, so hated
perjury, that if any man did but swear by the life of the king, and did
not perform his oath—that man was to die, and no gold was to redeem his
life. When the Romans made covenants, they took stones in their hands, and
said, "If I make this covenant seriously and faithfully, then let the
great Jupiter bless me; if not, so let me be cast away from the face of
the gods as I cast away this stone." Covenant-breaking was a sin greatly
detested and abhorred among the very heathens; and shall Christians make
nothing of breaking their vows, promises, and covenants with the great
God? Well, sirs, remember this—those sins that you have vowed against must
be deserted, and that holiness which you have vowed to follow must be
pursued—or a worse thing than the curse of Meroz must be expected; Judges
5:23 compared with that John 5:14. But,
(6.) Sixthly, If ever you would be holy, then dwell much upon the worth and preciousness of your SOULS.Christ, who alone paid the price of souls, has told us that one soul is more worth than all the world, Mat. 16:26. Christ left his Father's bosom, and all the glory of heaven, for the good of souls; he assumed the nature of man for the happiness of the soul of man; he trod the wine-press of his Father's wrath for souls; he wept for souls, he sweat for souls, he prayed for souls, he paid for souls, and he bled out his heart-blood for souls.
The soul is the breath of God, the beauty of man, the wonder of angels, and the envy of devils; it is of an angelical nature, it is a heavenly spark, a celestial plant, and of a divine offspring. The soul is a spiritual substance, capable of the knowledge of God, and of union with God, and of communion with God, and of an eternal fruition of God. There is nothing that can suit the soul below God, nor anything that can satisfy the soul without God. The soul is so high and so noble a piece, that it scorns all the world in point of acceptance, justification, satisfaction, and salvation. What are all the riches of the East or West Indies? what are rocks of diamonds, or mountains of gold—compared to the price that Christ laid down for souls? 1 Pet. 1:18-19. Christ made himself an offering for sin—that souls might not be undone by sin; the Lord died—that slaves may live; the Son dies—that servants may live; the natural Son dies—that adopted sons may live; the only-begotten Son dies—that bastards may live; yes, the Judge dies—that malefactors may live.
Ah, friends, as there was never sorrow like Christ's sorrow—so there was never love like Christ's love; and of all his love, none can compare to his love for souls. In a word, the spiritual enemies which daily war against the soul, the glorious angels which hourly guard the soul, and the precious ordinances which God has appointed as means both to convert and to feed the soul—do all speak out the preciousness and excellency of the soul.
Many lay claim to the soul of man—sin lays claim to it, and the world lays claim to it, and Satan lays claim to it, and Christ and holiness lay claim to it. Oh, that Christ and holiness might have it before all others! O sirs, there is no wisdom nor policy to that of securing our precious souls—for they are jewels of more worth than all the world! All the honors, riches, greatness, and glory of this world are but sticks and stones, compared to these glorious gems. Therefore, before all and above all other things—make sure work for your souls. If they are safe all is safe—but if they are lost all is lost.
Other things cannot be made sure. Riches cannot, for as they are lying vanities, so they are flying vanities—they make themselves wings, and they fly away.
Honors cannot: Haman is feasted with the king one day, and made a feast for crows the next. Herod is one hour cried up as a god, and the next hour he is eaten of worms. Princely courts are very slippery: a man may quickly get a fall there, that may easily break both back and neck, as many in all ages have experienced.
The applause and favor of creatures cannot, for many men's favors are got with an apple, and lost with a nut. Judas' heart was hardly warmed with the high-priest's favor, before they shut their doors upon him, with a "what is that to us? look you to that," Mat. 27:4-5. Most men's favors are as light as a feather, and so tossed up and down with every breath of windy vanity. The moon does not so often vary and change, as the esteem of most men do vary and change. How many men have had their names written in golden characters one year—and in letters of blood the next! What is the favor of man but a blast, a sunshine-hour, a puff of wind, a great nothing? and who then would spend an hour's time to secure it?
Near and dear relations cannot, for the delight of Ezekiel's eyes is taken away with a stroke, Ezek. 24:16; and all Job's children are snatched away in a day, Job 1:10. All our nearest and dearest relations are like a bouquet, which the oftener we smell to it, the sooner it withers.
But holiness may be made sure: witness the spirits of just men made perfect in heaven, Heb. 12:23. And witness the many thousands of Christians this day in the world, who experience the principles of holiness in their hearts, and who evidence the power of holiness in their lives. O sirs, if the serious consideration of the preciousness and worth of your souls will not draw you out to study holiness, to love holiness, to prize holiness, and to press after holiness—what will? O sirs, it is only holiness, which is the happiness of the soul, the safety and security of the soul, the prosperity and felicity of the soul, and the luster and glory of the soul. Therefore why should you not labor, as for life, after this inestimable jewel, holiness?
Oh, let the remembrance of the preciousness of your souls be an effectual means to draw you to hear—that you may be holy, and to pray—that you may be holy, and to read—that you may be holy, and to mourn—that you may be holy; and to sigh and groan after holiness, as after that which is the soul's only happiness. O sirs, there is nothing below heaven as precious and noble as your souls! Oh, do not poison your precious souls by gross enormities! Oh, do not starve your souls by the omission of pious duties! Oh, do not murder and damn your souls by turning your backs upon holy ordinances!
I have read of a woman, who, when her house was on fire, so minded the saving of her goods, that she forgot her only child, and left it burning in the fire; at last, being minded of it, she cries out, "Oh, my child! oh, my poor child!" but all too late, all too late. Just so, there are many men now so mad upon the world, and so bewitched with the world, that they never mind, they never regard their poor souls, until they come to fall under everlasting burnings, and then they cry out, "Oh, our souls! oh, our poor souls! Oh, that we had been wise for our souls! Oh, that we had got holiness for our souls Oh, that we had made sure work for our souls! But all too late, all too late!" The Lord make you wise to prevent soul-burnings at last. If he is rather a monster than a man—who feasts his slave but starves his wife; what shall we say of those who pamper their bodies but starve their souls; and who have threadbare souls under silk and satin clothes; and who please themselves with deformed souls under beautiful faces? Surely it would have been good for these, that they had never been born!
I have read of a Scythian captain, who, having for a drink of water—yielded up the city, cried out, "What have I lost! what have I betrayed!" Just so, all unholy people will at last cry out, "We have betrayed our immortal souls, we have lost a precious Father, we have lost a dear Redeemer, we have lost the company of glorious angels, we have lost the society of the spirits of just men made perfect, and we have lost all the pleasures and joys and delights that are at the right hand of the Most High! We have lost these, we have lost all these, and we have lost them forever and ever! Surely there is no hell compared to this hell!"
For a close of this direction, remember this—that as
the soul is the life and excellency of the body—so holiness is the life
and excellency of the soul. And as the body without the soul is dead—so
the soul without holiness is dead. "This my son was dead, and is alive."
If you get holiness into your souls, your souls shall live forever—but if
you die without holiness, your souls shall die forever and ever. I have
read that there was a time when the Romans wore jewels on their shoes. Oh,
that in these days most men did not do worse! oh that they did not trample
under feet that matchless jewel—their precious souls! But,
(7.) Seventhly, If ever you would be holy, then set in good earnest upon reading of the Holy SCRIPTURE.Many a man has been made holy by reading of the holy word. The Bible is the book of books—it is the only book—all other books in the world are but waste paper compared to it. Augustine cries out, "Away with our writings, that room may be made for the book of God!" Notwithstanding the greatness and multiplicity of the affairs of princes—yet they were diligently to read the word: Deut. 17:19, "And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them." God looks that the greatest princes on earth should make use of this library. Though David was a great prince, and had a multitude of weighty businesses upon his hand—yet he was so much in reading and meditating on the word, that he made it his counselors. The word was David's learned counselor, Psalm 119:24, to which he resorted for counsel, advice, and comfort, in all his necessities and miseries.
Alphonsus, king of Arragon, has been highly extolled for reading the Scriptures fourteen times over, with expositions, notwithstanding his great public employments. And Alphonsus, king of Naples, read over the Bible forty times, notwithstanding many great affairs were upon his hand. Theodosius the emperor, and Constantine the Great, were much taken up in reading of the Scriptures. Just so, Queen Elizabeth, when she passed in triumph through the streets of London after her coronation, and had the Bible presented to her—she received the same with both her hands, and, kissing it, laid it to her breasts, saying, that "the bible had ever been her chief delight, and should be the rule whereby she meant to frame her government."
It is very observable, that the eunuch was reading the Scripture when Philip was commanded, by commission from the Holy Spirit, to join himself to his chariot, and to instruct him in the knowledge of Christ—which proved his conversion and salvation, Acts 8:26, 40. And Junius was converted by the reading of that first chapter of John, "In the beginning was the Word," etc., being amazed with the strange majesty of the style, and the profound mysteries therein contained. Augustine was strangely converted by hearing a voice from heaven, saying, "Tolle lege, tolle lege!"—Take and read, take and read! and taking up the Bible, the first passage of Scripture that he cast his eyes upon was that Romans 13:13-14, "Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature." And no sooner had he read the verses, but the work of conversion was finished, and pious resolutions for a thorough reformation of life was settled in him.
The gospel read is sometimes the power of God to salvation, as well as the gospel heard, Romans 1:16. Cyprian confesses that he was converted from idolatry and necromancy by hearing the history of the prophet Jonah read and expounded. And Luther confesses that he was converted by reading Scripture. I have read of a scandalous minister who was struck at the heart and converted in reading Romans 2:21-22, "You, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?" There is a scholar now alive, who being persuaded by an honest poor man to leave reading of poetry, and to fall upon reading of the Bible, did so; and before he had read out Genesis his heart was changed, and he was converted.
O sirs, as you prize your conversion, your salvation, make more conscience of reading the Scripture than ever you have done. Be often in whetting of these scriptures upon your hearts, Deut. 6:6-9, and 31:11, 12; Jer. 36:6-7; John 5:39. In these scriptures God requires all sorts of people, both men, women, children, and strangers, both learned and unlearned—to read the Scriptures, and to search after the heavenly treasures which are laid up in them, as men search for gold and silver in the ore. And Paul charges Timothy that he give attendance to reading, 1 Tim. 4:13. "And blessed is he," says John, "who hears and reads the words of this book," Rev. 1:3. Yes, Christ himself has highly honored the reading of Scripture, with his own example; for coming to Nazareth, as his custom was, he stood up to read the Scriptures, Luke 4:16, 21.
The Bereans, for reading and searching of the Scriptures, are styled "more noble than the Jews of Thessalonica," or as the Greek has it, "they were of a more noble and sincere disposition," though they belonged to the country town of Berea, than the Thessalonians were, who dwelt in the rich and stately city of Thessalonica, Acts 17:11. Sometimes there is more true nobility and sincerity under a ragged coat—than there is under a satin suit. The Holy Spirit gives a very large and high commendation of the Scriptures in 2 Tim. 3:15, "And that from a child you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus." It is observable that in these words you have not simply holy Scriptures—but the holy Scriptures. The article there is very emphatical, and it is used by the Holy Spirit to distinguish these sacred writings from all profane writings, and to note the eminency and excellency of the holy Scriptures above all other men's writings whatever. Now the Scriptures have this adjunct, this epithet "holy" given them in five respects.
[1.] In respect of their author and origin—namely, a holy God.
[2.] They are holy in respect of the penmen—who were holy men of God, 2 Pet. 1:21.
[3.] They are holy in respect of their matter—they treat of the holy things of God; a vein of holiness runs through every line of Scripture. The Scripture calls for holy hearts and holy lives; it calls for holy principles and holy practices, holy words and holy works, holy affections and holy lives, 1 Pet. 1:15.
[4.] They are holy in respect of their effects and operations—they are a means to effect and work holiness, and they are a means to complete and perfect holiness, Job 17:17. The word is not only a pure word—but also a purifying word; it is not only a clean word—but also a cleansing word, Psalm 19:8-9.
[5.] They are called holy by way of distinction, and in opposition not only to all human and profane writings—but also to the writings of the best and choicest men who ever wrote; for they have had their failings, weaknesses, and infirmities, and therefore must have their many grains of allowance; but the holy Scripture is most perfect and complete. Now, sirs, if ever you would be holy, it is imperative that you make more conscience of reading the holy Scriptures than ever yet you have done. Many a man has been made holy by reading the holy Scriptures; and why may not you also be made holy by reading of the same holy word? Certainly all the angels in heaven, and all the men on earth, can't tell to the contrary—but that you may be made holy even by reading of the holy word.
The Holy Spirit is a sovereign agent, and he can as well work holiness in your heart by reading as by hearing—and therefore set yourself about this noble and necessary work. Ah, friends, the Scriptures are God's epistle; they are God's love-letter to men; and why then will you not read them? Anhalt, that princely preacher, was accustomed to say that the Scriptures were Christ's swaddling-bands, the child Jesus being to be found almost in every page, in every verse, and in every line. Oh, be often in looking upon, and handling of these swaddling-bands! O sirs, there are no histories which are comparable to the histories of the Scripture.
[1.] First, For antiquity. Moses is found more ancient than all those whom the Grecians make most ancient, as Homer, Hesiod, and Jupiter himself, whom the Greeks have seated in the top of their divinity.
[2.] Secondly, For rarity.
[3.] Thirdly, For brevity. Here you have much wrapped up in a little space: here you have Homer's "Iliads" comprised in a nutshell.
[4.] Fourthly, For perspicuity. The foundations of true religion and happiness are so plain and clear, that everyone may run and read them. It was a true saying of Augustine, "That God has bowed down the Scriptures to the capacities even of babes and sucklings."
[5.] Fifthly, For harmony. Though there may seem to be a contrariety between scripture and scripture—yet there is a blessed harmony between all the parts of Scripture; the contrariety is seeming, not real. As when a man is drawing water out of a well with two vessels of a different metal, the water at the first seems to be of a different color—but when he draws up the vessels nearer to him, the diversity of colors vanish, and the water appears to be of one and the same color; and when he tastes them, they have one and the same relish. Just so, though at first sight there may seem to be some contradictions in the Scriptures—yet when we look more nearly and narrowly into them, and compare one place with another, we shall find no contrariety, no differences in them at all—but a perfect harmony, and a full and sweet consent and agreement between one place and another, between text and text, scripture and scripture.
[6.] Sixthly, For verity. The Scriptures are most sure and certain; heaven and earth shall pass away before one jot or tittle of the Scripture shall pass unfulfilled.
[7.] Seventhly, For variety. There are no varieties, compared to those which are to be found in Scripture. As in Noah's ark all sorts of creatures were to be found—so in this heavenly ark, the Scriptures, all varieties are to be found. Here you may find a remedy for every disease, and balm for every wound, and a plaster for every sore. Here the lamb may wade—and here the elephant may swim. Here is milk for babes—and here is meat for strong men. Here is comfort for the afflicted, and support for the tempted, and solace for the distressed, and ease for the wearied. Here is a staff to support the feeble—and a sword to defend the weak. That which a Papist reports lyingly of their sacrament of the mass—namely, that there are as many mysteries in it as there are drops in the sea, dust on the earth, angels in heaven, stars in the sky, atoms in the sunbeams, or sands on the sea-shore, etc.—may be truly asserted of the holy Scriptures; there are many thousand thousand varieties in this garden of paradise, the Scripture.
[8.] Eighthly, For fullness. The Scriptures are full of light; and full of life; and full of love; and full of righteousness; and full of holiness; and full of all goodness. It was a weighty saying of Tertullian, "I adore the fullness of the Scripture."
Many men talk much of the philosopher's stone—that it turns copper into gold; and of cornucopia—that it had all things necessary for food in it; and of the herb panaces—that it was good for all diseases; and of the drug catholicon—that it can cure anything; and of Vulcan's armor—that it was full armor against all thrusts and blows. But that which they vainly attribute to these things for bodily good—may safely and honorably be attributed to the blessed Scriptures in a spiritual manner. The Scriptures turns hearts of copper into hearts of gold; it is a paradise that is full of the trees of life, and these trees of life are both for food and healing; here is all manner of fruit to feed you and fill you, to delight you and satisfy you, and the very leaves of these trees are singular medicines to heal you and cure you, Rev. 22:2. The Scripture prescribes the choicest drugs to heal you, namely, repentance and the blood of Christ. And it is the Scripture which furnishes you with the best armor against all principalities and powers, and against all spiritual wickednesses in high places, Eph. 6:11, 18.
Oh, how should the consideration of all these things work you to be much in reading of the holy Scriptures! If you will but make trial, you should be sure to find in them, stories more true, more various, more pleasant, more profitable, and more comfortable than any you will find in all ancient or modern writers. Ah, friends, if you would but in good earnest set upon reading of the holy Scriptures, you may find in them so many happinesses as cannot be numbered, and so great happinesses as cannot be measured, and so copious happinesses as cannot be defined, and such precious happinesses as cannot be valued! If all this won't draw you to read the holy Scriptures conscientiously and frequently—I know not what will.
It is said of Mary, that she spent the third part of her time in reading of the word. Caecilia, a Roman maiden of noble parentage, carried always about her the New Testament, and spent much time in reading it. Alfred, once king of England, compiled psalms and prayers into one book, and called it a Manual, which he always carried about him, and spent much time in the perusal of it. Augustine caused David's penitential psalms to be written upon the walls of his bedchamber, that he might read them as he lay in his bed; he read and wept, and wept and read.
Well, if all this will not prevail with you to be much in reading of the Scriptures, consider that Agesilaus, an excellent king of Sparta, would never go to bed, nor rise up, before he had looked into Homer, whom he called his sweetheart; but what was Homer's books to God's book, which is the book of books, as Charles the Great did signify when he crowned it with his own crown. Scipio Africanus usually had in his hands the books of Xenophon. But oh, how much more commendable will it be for you to have always in your hands the book of God! Alphonsus had always in his bosom the Commentaries of Caesar, and he was so much delighted with the history of Titus Livius, that he once commanded certain musicians, that were very skillful in that art, to depart his presence, saying that he could read a more pleasant story out of Livius. Alas! what are Livius' stories, compared to the blessed stories that are in the Bible! O sirs, if Lipsius, when he did but read Seneca, thought that he was even on the top of Olympus, above mortality and human things; and if Julius Scaliger thought twelve verses in Lucan better than the German empire—oh, then, of what infinite worth and value is the blessed Scripture! Shall heathens take such pleasure in reading of the works of heathens, and shall not Christians take as much pleasure in reading of the holy Scriptures, wherein there is so much of the Spirit, hand, and heart of God? Shall they set so high a price upon the books of heathens, and shall we so slight and undervalue the book of God as not to think it worth a-opening once a day? Truly, I am afraid, I am afraid, that there are some among us, who hardly open their Bibles once a week, and others, who hardly open their Bibles once a month, and not a few who hardly open their Bibles once a quarter, etc. Certainly as the rustiness of some men's gold will be a witness against them in the great day of the Lord, so the mustiness of some men's Bibles will be a witness against them in that great day! James 5:1-3.
Question. But is it not lawful for a man to read other men's books, to read other men's holy works?etc.
Answer. Doubtless it is lawful; and that,
[1.] First, Because other men's holy works, so far as they are holy—are but the fruits, products, and operations of the Holy Spirit, etc.
[2.] Secondly, Because their holy labors are of singular use for the clearing up of many hard, difficult, and mysterious scriptures, etc.
[3.] Thirdly, Because they have been the means of many men's conversion. While Vergerius read Luther's books with an intent to confute them—he himself was converted by them. I doubt not but that there are many now in heaven, and multitudes now on earth, who have been converted by the books and writings of holy men; and therefore it cannot but be lawful to read such books, etc.
[4.] Fourthly, Though it is lawful to read other men's holy writings—yet the holy Scriptures must still have the pre-eminence; they must be firstly, chiefly, and mostly read. All other books in comparison of the book of God, must be cast aside; it is God's book which is indeed the book of books.
Cumanus, a governor of Judea, though he was but a heathen, and a wicked man—yet he caused a soldier to be beheaded for tearing a copy of the book of Moses's law, which he found at the sacking of a town. And venerable in all ages and among all nations have been the books wherein the laws either of their beliefs or polity have been contained; as the Talmud among the Jews, and the laws of the twelve tables among the Romans, and the Alcoran among the Turks. Yes, all pagans have highly valued the laws of their legislators; and shall not Christians much more set a high esteem upon the holy Scriptures, which are the map of God's mercy, and man's misery, the touchstone of truth, the shop of remedies against all maladies, the hammer of vices, and the treasury of virtues, the exposer of all sensual and worldly vanities, the balance of equity, and the most perfect rule of all justice and honesty?
What Chrysostom said of old to his hearers—namely, "Get you Bibles, for they are your souls' remedies"—that I say to you all, Oh, get you Bibles, for they are your souls' remedies, your souls' food, your souls' happiness. Ah, friends, no book befits your hands like the Bible. It was this book which made David wiser than his teachers; this is the book which makes the best preachers; and this is the book which is the best preacher. This book, this preacher will preach to you in your shops, in your chambers, in your closets, yes, in your own bosoms. This book will preach to you at home and abroad, it will preach to you in all companies, whether they are good or bad, and it will preach to you in all conditions, whether they are prosperous or afflictive. By this book you shall be saved, or by this book you shall be damned! By this book you must live, by this book you must die, and by this book you shall be judged in the great day! John 12:48. Oh, therefore, love this book above all other books, and prize this book above all other books, and buy this book before all other books.
In King Henry the Eighth's time, and in Queen Mary's
days, Christians would have given cartloads of hay and corn for a few
chapters in the New Testament; and will not you part with three or four
shillings to buy a Bible, that may save your souls, that may make you holy
here and happy hereafter? And read this book before all other books, and
study this book more than all other books; for he who reads much and
understands nothing, is like him who hunts much and caches nothing. And
let this suffice for this seventh direction.
(8.) Eighthly, If ever you would be holy, then be much in PRAYER.Prayer is the most prevalent orator at the throne of grace. Many who have gone to that throne with tears in their eyes—have come away with praises in their hearts! Many who have gone to that throne with hearts full of sin—have returned with hearts full of grace! Jacob wept and prayed, and prayed and wept—and in the end, as a prince he prevailed with God, Hosea 14:4. Just so, many a sinner has wept and prayed, and prayed and wept—and in the end, as a prince he has prevailed with God. Ah, sirs, it may be that there are but a few weeks, nay, a few days, nay, perhaps but a few hours—between your souls and eternity, between your souls and everlasting burnings, between your souls and a devouring fire, between your souls and damnation! Will you not then pray and mourn, and mourn and pray, for that holiness, without which there is no happiness, yes, without which hell and destruction will be forever your portion? Oh, take that blessed promise, Ezek. 36:25-27, and urge God with it; oh, tell him that he has said that "he will sprinkle clean water upon you, and that you shall be clean from all your filthiness, and that from all your idols he will cleanse you", etc. Oh, tell him,
First, That he stands engaged by promise to give his Holy Spirit to those who ask it, Luke 11:13.
Secondly, Oh, tell him that none can make an unholy heart holy—but a holy God.
Thirdly, Tell him that surely it is no sin to beg holiness from a holy God.
Fourthly, Tell him that he has made such who were once notorious in wickedness, to become eminent in holiness: witness Manasseh, Mary Magdalene, Paul, the murderers of Christ, and those vile Corinthians, 1 Cor. 5:6, 9-11.
Fifthly, Tell him that he has given holiness to those who have not sought it, and how then can it stand with his honor to deny it to those who seek it? Surely if he has been "found by those who sought him not," he will not hide himself "from those who seek him," Isaiah 65:1-2.
Sixthly, Tell him that you had rather that he should deny you anything, than that he should deny you holiness. Say to him, "Lord, health is the prince of outward mercies; and wealth is the spring of many mercies; and wife, children, and friends are the pinnacle of mercies, the cream of mercies—and that mercy is the sweetener of all your mercies"—and yet tell him that you had rather that he should strip you of any of these, nay, that he should deny you all of these—than that he should deny you holiness.
Seventhly, Tell him that you did never read of any man who did ever make a hearty request for holiness—but his request was granted. The leper would sincerely be clean, and Christ's answer is, "I will—be clean!" Mat. 8:2-3. Christ does neither delay him nor deny him. The poor leper could no sooner desire to be clean—but Christ commands him to be clean—"I will—be clean." His prayer was short and sweet—and his answer was sudden and gracious.
Eighthly, Tell him that you are unwilling to be miserable forever, tell him that you can not bear the thoughts of an eternal separation from him—and yet this must be your portion, except he will glorify the riches of his grace in bestowing of that pearl of price, holiness, upon you! Oh, tell him that your lack of holiness is now your greatest hell! tell him that you are now fully resolved to give him no rest until he has changed your heart, and made you in some measure to be what he would have you to be, etc.
It is observable among the worst of men, the Turks, yes, among the worst of Turks, the Moors—who by their law it is a usual custom with them to pray for day before the daybreak, and when it is day they give thanks for daylight, and at noon they give thanks to God that half the day is past, and then at last they pray that they may have a good night after their day. Ah, sinners, sinners, shall not these Turks rise up one day in judgment against you who think not holiness worth a-praying for?
OBJECTION. But the prayers of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord, Proverbs 15:8, and 28:9; and he casts their sacrifices as dung in their faces, Isaiah 11-16, and 58:1-7; their very prayers are sinful, and therefore they were better neglect prayer until God shall work graciously and savingly upon them, than to pray, and so to sin as often as they pray, etc. To this I answer,
(1.) First, The prayers of the wicked may be materially good, when they are not formally good; yes, when they are theologically evil, 2 Chron. 25:2. Amaziah did that which was perfect in the sight of the Lord, as to the matter—but not with a perfect or sincere heart. He failed not in the matter—but in the manner. He did not do that good which he did, from principles of faith, love, etc., nor to a right end—divine glory. Many unsanctified people may have the gift of prayer—who have not the spirit of prayer, nor the grace of prayer, Mat. 7:21, and 23:14. [Psalm 78:36-37; Proverbs 1:27-28; Isaiah 58:1-4.]
Now certainly where God gives such a gift, he requires the use of it. The gift of prayer is from the Spirit, as well as the grace of prayer; and who can tell but that upon the use of the gift of prayer, the Spirit may give the grace of prayer? However, it is dangerous to neglect a gift. The slothful servant was not cast into utter darkness for rioting out his talent—but for not improving of his talent, Mat. 25:30. That the prayers of a wicked man are not formally good, must be granted, yes, that they are abominable and ineffectual, cannot be denied; they are like the precious stone Diacletes, which though it has many excellent powers in it—yet it loses them all if it be put in a dead man's mouth. Just so, prayer, though it has many virtues and excellencies in it—yet it loses them all when it is performed by a man who is spiritually dead—that is, dead God-wards, and Christ-wards, and heaven-wards, and holiness-wards; but if you consider the matter of a wicked man's prayers, so they may be good, yes, so good as that they may prevail with a good God for much temporal good, as I shall show you before I close up all my answers to this objection. But,
(2.) Secondly, It is a less sin for an unholy person to do a religious duty, than it is to omit it. Now of two sins, whereupon, not God—but a man's self has inevitably put him to commit one of them, he must choose the least, he must choose rather to sin in the manner, in not doing of it so well as he should, than to fail in the matter, and so quite neglect the duty itself. For this is most certain, when God commands a duty absolutely to be done, it is a greater sin not to do it at all, than to do it amiss, and the reason is evident, because our disobedience is total in not doing at all, and but only partial in doing it otherwise than we ought. As for a man willfully and peremptorily to refuse to hear the word, is a greater and fouler fault than to hear it with a forgetful or disobedient heart, there being more hope of the latter than of the former; for some that have come to catch, have been caught by the word, John 7:46. "And therefore come," says Latimer, "to the word; though you come to sleep, it may be God may take you napping."
When Mr. Henry Sulphen was preacher at Bremen, several Roman Catholics sent their chaplains to trap him in his words; but the power of God was so wonderfully seen in his preaching, that the greatest part of those who came to ensnare him, were converted by him. It is good to come to the word, though a man comes with an ill intent; to come, though he should come with a purpose to catch, for in so coming he may be catched, as Augustine was by Ambrose.
Without doubt there is no disobedience like that which is total. Partial disobedience is no disobedience, compared to that which is total. That wife who totally disobeys her husband, and that child who totally disobeys the father, and that servant who totally disobeys his master, is much more to blame, and do much more provoke—than those who are only partial in their disobedience. And so it is between God and sinners, etc.
(3.) Thirdly, If there were any strength in this objection, it would lie as strong against a wicked man's civil actions, as it does against his religious actions: Proverbs 21:4, "The plowings of the wicked is sin;" not only the prayers of the wicked—but also the plowings of the wicked are sin, not only the spiritual but also the natural and civil actions of a wicked man are sin; and therefore, according to their arguing, a wicked man must not exercise himself in his calling, in his plowing and sowing, etc., because that his civil actions are sinful as well as his religious; and it is as impossible for him to please God in the one, as it is to please him in the other. Surely all men who are in their wits, will either sigh or laugh at such kind of reasonings. But,
(4.) Fourthly, This objection lies as strong against wicked men's natural actions—namely, their eating, drinking, and sleeping, etc.—as it does against their praying. When a wicked man eats, he is to eat to divine glory, and when he drinks, he is to drink to divine glory, 1 Cor. 10:31; and when he recreates himself, he is to recreate himself to divine glory; and when he sleeps, he is to sleep to divine glory. In all these natural and common actions, he is to make the glory of God his supreme scope. Now there is not a wicked man on earth who does or can eat or drink, etc., to divine glory; he does not—and he cannot set up the glory of God as the chief and ultimate end of his natural and common actions. Now who but fools in folio will reason thus: wicked men are to eat and drink, etc., to divine glory—but this they cannot do, Titus 1:15; and therefore wicked men must neither eat nor drink, etc. But,
(5.) Fifthly, The force and spirit of this objection, if there were any in it, lies as flatly and fully against all other pious duties—as it does against prayer. It lies as strong against hearing, reading, and meditating on the word, etc., as it does against prayer. And who but such who are sadly left of God, and woefully blinded by Satan, will be so wretched as to say, wicked men must neither hear the word, nor read the word, nor meditate on the word—because they cannot do these actions in faith, "and whatever is not of faith is sin," Romans 14:23. But,
(6.) Sixthly, There are those who can say by experience, that the first special work of God that ever they perceived on their own hearts—was while they were pleading with God at the throne of grace. There are those who have brought proud hearts to the throne of grace—but have returned with hearts humbled; and who have brought hard hearts—but have gone away with hearts graciously broken and melted; and who have brought carnal hearts—but returned with spiritual hearts; and who have brought worldly hearts—but returned with heavenly hearts. God sometimes hears prayers for his own sake, and for his Son's sake, and for his glory's sake, and for his promise sake—when he will not hear prayers for the sinner's sake. But,
(7.) Seventhly, Sinful omissions lead to sinful commissions, yes, sometimes they lead to ruin! As you may see in the angels—which fell from the highest heaven to the lowest hell; and in Adam—who fell in paradise from the highest pinnacle of glory to the lowest step of sin and misery. Those reprobates in that 25th of Matthew did not rob the saints—but only omitted the relieving of them, and this proved a damning to them. Rich Dives did not rob the poor—but his not relieving of them was his ruin, Luke 16. Moab and Ammon were banished the sanctuary to the tenth generation for a mere omission, because they did not meet God's Israel in the wilderness with bread and water, Deut. 23:3, 4, 6.
Look! as the omission of healthy diet breeds natural diseases in the body, so does the omission of good duties breed spiritual diseases in the soul. All sinful omissions make work for hell—or for the physician of souls. O man! you do not know what deadly sin, what deadly temptation—may follow upon a mere single omission. Origen, going to comfort and encourage a martyr who was to suffer, was apprehended by the officers, and constrained either to offer to the idols or to be tortured. Being thus hard put to it, to save his life, he bowed to the idols; but afterwards, when he came to himself, he sadly bewails his sin, and confesses that he went forth that morning without making his prayers unto God, which sinful omission God did so severely punish, by leaving of him to fall into so great a sin, which pierced his soul through with many sorrows.
I am apt to think that many a sin, many a snare, and many a fall might have been prevented—if such and such pious duties had not been omitted. Sinful omissions prepare the way to sinful commissions, and both prepare the way to a fatal destruction. I believe many men would never have been so abominable wicked—if they had not first cast off pious duties. He who lives in the neglect of prayer, tempts more devils than one—to ensnare his soul, yes, to destroy his soul, etc. But,
(8.) Eighthly and lastly, There are several weighty arguments that may be produced to prove that it is the DUTY of wicked and unconverted men to perform religious duties, as to pray and seek the Lord, etc. Among the many that may be brought forth, I shall only give you these six:
[1.] First, This is evident from divine commands, as you may clearly see by comparing of these scriptures together, Isaiah 55:6-7; Acts 8:21-23; Psalm 65:21. 1 Thes. 5:17, "Pray without ceasing," is an indefinite injunction; and who are you, O man, who dares to prohibit what God commands? Are not his commands obliging? and may not disobedience to the least of them cost you your life, your soul, your all? God's commands are neither to be slighted, censured, nor neglected. Woe to him who looks upon great commands as little commands—and little commands as no commands, Mat. 23:23. O sirs, it is a very dangerous thing to act or run counter-cross to God's express command; it may cost a man dear, as you may see in that sad story, 1 Kings 13:24.
The heathens, indeed, would frequently run cross to their gods' commands, for when their gods commanded them to offer up a man, they would offer up a candle; and so Hercules, when he was to offer up a living man, he offered up a painted man. But does it befit Christians to deal thus with the great God, with the living God, with the God of gods—as the heathens did by their gods? Surely not! God's commands are not like unto the commands of the heathens—which might be contradicted and changed—but they are like to the commands of the Medes—which cannot be reversed nor changed; they must be evangelically obeyed, or you will be eternally destroyed. The Rechabites were very rigid observers of their father's commands; and will you make slight of God's commands? Jer. 35:2, 5-7. "The angels who excel in strength do his commandments," Psalm 103:20; and will you despise them? Why should the peasant scorn that work in which the prince himself is engaged? But,
[2.] Secondly, Prayer is a natural worship, and is incumbent upon all men, as they are created by God. Prayer is a duty which the very law of nature, as well as the law of the word, lays upon men. And this you may see in those pagans, Jonah 1:5, "The mariners cried every man to his god." That there is a God, and that this God is to be called upon—are lessons which are taught in nature's school: Isaiah 45:20, "They pray to a god which cannot save." For any man to say a wicked man ought not to pray—is to say a wicked man ought not to worship God, nor acknowledge him to be his maker; and who but such who are either blind or mad dare speak such language? Certainly those who live in the neglect of prayer under the gospel—sin against a double light, the light of nature and the light of the gospel, and therefore they shall be double-damned. There is no hell compared to these men's hell—who sin against a double light, etc. But,
[3.] Thirdly, The neglect of prayer is charged upon wicked people as their sin; as you may see by comparing of these scriptures together, Psalm 14:2, 4, and 10:4; Jer. 10:21; Hosea 7:7; Zeph. 1:6. Now doubtless if it were not a duty for unregenerate people to pray, it could never stand with the holiness, justice, and righteousness of God, to charge the omission of prayer upon them as a sin, and therefore, without question, it is their duty to pray. But,
[4.] Fourthly, Wicked and unregenerate people are again and again imprecated against for not calling upon the Lord: Psalm 79:6, "Pour out your wrath on the nations that do not acknowledge you, on the kingdoms that do not call on your name." Jer. 10:25, "Pour out your wrath on the nations that do not acknowledge you, on the peoples who do not call on your name." Now certainly, if prayer were not a duty incumbent upon wicked men, they would never be thus imprecated against for the omission of it. To imprecate that vials, that full vials, that full vials of wrath and fury should be poured forth, suddenly and plentifully, upon those kingdoms and peoples who do not call upon the name of the Lord, is so dreadful a thing, that it would have never been mentioned in the Scripture, had it not been to alarm the worst of men to the work of prayer. But,
[5.] Fifthly, If absolute promises, or precious promises of special grace and mercy—are made to sinners, as sinners—then sinners may in prayer plead out those promises, and urge God upon making good his promises. But absolute promises, or promises of special grace and favor, are made over to sinners, as sinners, consequently, that such promises are made over to poor sinners, as sinners, is evident, "I was enraged by his sinful covetousness; I punished him, and hid my face in anger, yet he kept on in his willful ways. I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will guide him and restore comfort to him, creating praise on the lips of the mourners in Israel. Peace, peace, to those far and near. And I will heal them." Isaiah 57:17-19. These words drop nothing but myrrh and mercy. If Ennius could pick gold out of a ash-heap, oh, what gold, what comfort, may be picked out of these golden promises! In these words, let us consider two things: first, the precious promises which are here made; secondly, the people to whom they are made. In the words you have four precious promises of special grace and favor; they are as so many streams of grace flowing from the covenant of grace.
I. The precious PROMISES which are here made.
First, You have here a promise of healing: verse 18, "I have seen his ways, but I will heal him," or, as you may read the words, though I have seen his ways and courses, and well observed how unworthily, how exasperating, and how obstinately he has behaved, "yet I will heal him,"—"I will heal his backsliding nature." Though his disease is dangerous, though it is very dangerous—yet to an almighty physician no disease is incurable. I will heal his inside by pardoning his sin and purging his conscience; and I will heal his outside by removing of judgments and calamities from him; and all this I will do upon the account of my promise and covenant: Hosea 14:4; Jer. 32:38, and 40:2, compared; Psalm 103:3; Jer. 3:22; Mal. 4:2.
Secondly, You have in the words a promise of guiding; "I will guide him," or, as the Hebrew has it, "and I will guide him, I will conduct him in safety to his own country." So some sense it—but you may understand it, doubtless, of a spiritual, as well as of a providential leading. "I will lead him by my word, and I will lead him by my Spirit, and I will lead him by my counsel, suitable unto many precious promises of grace which are scattered up and down in the Scripture."
Thirdly, In the words you have a promise of comfort; "I will restore comforts to him," not comfort—but comforts; that is, in the room of all those discomforts, sorrows, calamities, and miseries brought upon himself—I will, says God, lay in abundance of comfort, yes, I will laden him with all sorts of comforts, both temporal, spiritual, and eternal, suitable to that word of grace that you have in Isaiah 40:1-2.
Fourthly, In the words you have a promise of peace: verse 19, "I will create praise on the lips of the mourners in Israel. Peace, peace, to those far and near," says the Lord. The repetition of the word 'Shalom, shalom', 'peace, peace', imports a large extent of peace; it notes true peace, firm peace, sure peace, great peace, abundance of peace, yes, constant and lasting peace. Under the name of the Hebrew word 'peace' in is denoted all manner of prosperity, and the repetition of the word always notes a large measure of tranquility, plenty, prosperity, and felicity. O sirs, peace with God, and peace with conscience, and peace with the creatures—are all the products of God's creating power and grace, Eph. 2:16-18, and so must be referred to the covenant of grace.
Let us consider,
II. The PEOPLE to whom these precious promises are made; and I here let us observe these three things.
First, Their sin; and this you have in verse 17, "I was enraged by his sinful covetousness." The sin that is charged upon him is a very great and grievous, it is a very vile and heinous sin; it is called not only greed—but the sinful greed, to show the height and transcendency of this their wickedness!
"Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of covetousness; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." Luke 12:15. Covetousness is—a very great and grievous sin—a mother-sin—a breeding sin—a sin which has all sin in its womb—a very vile and heinous sin—the root of all evil. Covetousness makes the soul earthly—which should be celestial. Covetousness is an evil which subjects
men to the basest and vilest evils.
Covetousness makes a man a fool! "You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?" Luke 12:20.
Covetousness robs a man of all true peace, comfort, contentment and quiet. Covetousness brings men into snares which drown their souls in perdition. Covetousness renders men unsatisfied under all their outward enjoyments. Though a covetous wretch has enough to sink him--yet he can never have enough to satisfy him. First he wishes for a bag full, and then a chest full, and then a room full, and then a house full, etc.
The plague of unsatisfiedness, is the great plague which covetous men are under. Certainly you shall as soon fill a triangle with a circle, and a chest with grace--as you shall be able to fill and satisfy a covetous mind with money.
A covetous man is like a swine--which is good for nothing while it lives. The horse is good to carry, the ox is good to draw, the sheep is good for cloth, the cow is good to give milk, and the dog is good to guard the house--but the hog is good for nothing while he lives! Just so, a covetous man is only serviceable when he is dead. That scripture often proves true, "the riches of a sinner are laid up for the just," Job 27:17.
No sin lays men under greater woes! "People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs." 1 Timothy 6:9-10.
Secondly, They grew worse under the afflicting hand of God; "I was enraged by his sinful greed; I punished him, and hid my face in anger, yet he kept on in his willful ways." They were like peevish, self-willed, stubborn children—which grow more cross, crooked, and perverse under all the chastenings of their father. And this was no small aggravation of their sin—that they grew worse under the rod! Plutarch writes that it is the quality of tigers, that if drums sound about them, they will grow mad, and rip and tear their own flesh in pieces; and so it was with these sinners in the text. Oh, how did they fret and fume, and tear—when they were under the rebukes of God! But,
Thirdly, They persevered and went on against all warnings; "I have seen his ways," that is, I have seen his obstinacy and incorrigibility in sin. "Ah, poor creature!" says God, "he sees not his present misery and slavery; he takes no notice of his own folly and vanity—of his own perverseness and peevishness; he scorns to bend or bow under my mighty hand; he is resolved to stand it out to the death; he will persist on in his own ways, though he eternally perishes—though hell stands at the end of his ways—yet on he will go!"
Well! what is the outcome of all this? God says, "I have seen his ways—and I will heal him." It is not, "I have seen his ways—and will curse him!" No, but "I have seen his ways—and I will heal him." It is not, "I have seen his ways—and will never have any more to do with him!" No, but "I have seen his ways—and will heal him!" It is not, "I have seen his ways—and will damn him!" No, but "I have seen his ways—and will heal him."
Oh the freeness! Oh the unsearchableness! Oh the riches of God's grace!
And thus you see that the precious promises last cited are promises which are made over to sinners as sinners.
And this is further evident in Isaiah 43:22-25. "Yet you have not called upon me, O Jacob, you have not wearied yourselves for me, O Israel. You have not brought me sheep for burnt offerings, nor honored me with your sacrifices. I have not burdened you with grain offerings nor wearied you with demands for incense. You have not bought any fragrant calamus for me, or lavished on me the fat of your sacrifices. But you have burdened me with your sins and wearied me with your offenses. I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more!"
For sins of omission and sins of commission, what can be more charged upon a sinful people than here is charged upon them? They were not only negligent of his worship and service—but they were also weary of his worship and service, and counted it rather a burden than a benefit, rather a toil than a pleasure. In all their outward observances they did but court the Lord, they did but compliment God; for while they were in his service, their hearts were secretly weary of his service; and by their sinful commissions, oh, how did they grieve, vex, oppress, and burden the Holy One of Israel! And yet, in verse 25, God does passionately and emphatically proclaim their free pardon, "I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more!"
The metaphor is taken from men's blotting out of debts out of their debt-book. Now when a debt is blotted out of the debt-book, it is never more charged upon the debtor; it is never more regarded nor remembered. Just so, when God proclaims the sinner's pardon, when he forgives him his transgressions—he blots out, he erases, he crosses his books, and cancels all debts—so that he will never count his sins against him, and never charge his sins upon him! Being once forgiven—they shall be forever forgotten, they shall never more come into his remembrance!
And all this he will do for his name's sake, and for the praise and glory of his own free grace.
Just so, in Ezek. 36:26-29. "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God. I will save you from all your uncleanness!"
Now by all these scriptures it is most plain and evident that the precious promises of special grace and mercy are made over to sinners as sinners; and if so, then doubtless sinners may lawfully put these promises into suit. O sirs, don't you know that desire is the soul of prayer? and who—but such as are witless and graceless—will say that a wicked man may not desire the accomplishment of God's gracious promises—who will say an unregenerate man may not desire to be pardoned, sanctified, and renewed; and that the Lord would bestow his Spirit upon him, and that, by the finger of the same Spirit, the law of the Lord may be written in his heart, that he may observe his statutes, and do them? These are things that God has engaged himself to do for poor sinners, and therefore certainly sinners may put God in mind of his engagements. But,
[6.] Sixthly and lastly, God would never have encouraged and rewarded with temporal favors wicked and unregenerate men's religious duties and services as he has done—if he would not have had them exercise themselves in pious duties. Now that he has thus encouraged and rewarded wicked and unregenerate men, is evident in these instances, 1 Kings 21:19; Jonah 3:4, seq.; 2 Chron. 26:5. Uzziah sought God in the days of Zechariah; and when he sought the Lord, God made him to prosper. Had he been really godly, had he had the root of the matter in him, had he been a sincere, a throughout Christian, he would have sought the Lord all his days, he would have held on and held out in well-doing; but being carnal, hypocritical, and unregenerate, his religion dies with Zechariah. Another instance you have of this is in the book of Jonah, among the sailors, who usually are the worst of sinners, Psalm 107:23-30. And another instance you have in that known case of Jehu. From all which we may well conclude, that God expects and looks that wicked men, that unregenerate men, should be found in the exercise of religious duties.
It is an excellent observation of Calvin upon God's
rewarding the Rechabites' obedience: Jer. 35:19, "God," says he, "oft
recompenses the shadows and seeming appearances of virtue—to show that
delight he takes in the ample rewards he has reserved for true and sincere
piety." To conclude, it was as easy for Boaz to have given Ruth as much
grain at once, and so have sent her home without any more ado—but he would
not, being resolved that she should use her endeavor to gather and glean
it, and beat it out too when she had gleaned it. Just so, it is as easy a
thing for God to give his Christ, to give his Spirit, and to give his
grace immediately to poor sinners without their using of the means—but he
won't, being resolved that they shall use the means of hearing, reading,
praying, and conference, etc., and when they have done, leave the issue of
all their labors and endeavors to his good-will and pleasure. I have taken
the more pains fully and clearly to answer this objection, that it may
never more have a resurrection in any of your souls.
(9.) Ninthly, If ever you would be holy, then, when you have done all—WAIT.Oh, hear and wait—and wait and hear; pray and wait—and wait and pray; read and wait—and wait and read; confer and wait—and wait and confer; watch and wait—and wait and watch. O sirs, shall the farmer wait for a good harvest? and the merchant wait for good returns? James 5:7-8; and the watchman wait for the dawning of the day? and the patient wait for a happy cure? and the poor client wait for a day of hearing? etc.; and will not you wait for Christ, and wait for the Spirit, and wait for pardon, and wait for grace, and wait for glory? etc. O sinners, sinners, remember you are at the right door—and therefore wait. Oh, remember that while you are waiting for mercy, God is preparing of mercy. Oh, remember that it is mercy that you may wait for mercy. Devils and damned spirits can't wait for mercy. Wait they must; but, oh, it is for more wrath, anger, and fiery indignation.
Oh, remember your condition bespeaks waiting—for you are poor, halt, lame, blind, and miserable creatures. Oh, remember that mercy is sweetest when it comes after a patient waiting: Deut. 32:13, "He made him to suck honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock;" that is, he made him to suck water that was as sweet as honey out of the rock, out of the flinty rock. Oh, remember that a patient waiting for mercy is the only way to greaten your mercy. "The longer," said the emperor's son, "the cooks are a-preparing the food, the better the meal will be." His meaning was, the longer he waited for the empire, the greater it would be. Just so, the longer a soul waits for mercy, the greater and the better it will be when it comes; as you may see in that famous instance of the poor man who lay thirty-eight years at the pool of Bethesda, John 5:2, 16. Famous was the patience of Elijah's servant, who, in obedience to his master's command, went seven several times up and down steep Carmel, 1 Kings 18:8, which could not be without danger and difficulty, and all to bring news of nothing, until his last journey, which made a recompense for all the rest, with the tidings of a cloud arising. Oh, so do but patiently wait upon the Lord—and that grace, that favor, that mercy, will come at last, which will fully recompense you for all your waitings.
Remember that the mercies of God are not styled the swift—but the sure mercies of David, Isaiah 55:3. Mercy may be sure, though it be not presently upon the wing flying towards us. And the same prophet says, "The glory of the Lord shall be your reward," Isaiah 58:8. Now this, we know, comes up last, to secure and make good all the rest, for where grace leads the front, glory at last will be in the rear. Oh, do but patiently wait, and he who shall come, will come, and will not tarry, Heb. 10:37; not a year, not a quarter, not a month, not a week, not a day, no, not an hour beyond the prefixed time that he has set of showing mercy to poor sinners.
Oh, how sad was it that Saul should lose his kingdom for lack of two or three hours patience! But oh, how much more sad will it be if you should lose all the prayers that you have made, and all the sermons that you have heard, and all the tears that you have shed, and all other pains that you have taken—and all for lack of a little more patience! yes, how woefully-sad would it be if you should lose your God, and lose your Christ, and lose your soul, and lose an eternity of glory, and all for lack of a little patience to wait the Lord's time! Oh, therefore resolve to hold on waiting to the death, and if you must perish, to perish in a waiting way—which if you should, you would be the first that ever so perished. Oh, remember that if God should come, and mercy come, and pardon come, and grace come—when your sun is near setting, when your hour-glass is almost out, and when there is but a short step between you and eternity—it will infinitely recompense you for all your waiting; and therefore wait still.
And to keep up your spirits, and to uphold your soul in
a waiting way, oh that you would make these following promises your daily
food, your daily friends, your daily companions:
Psalm 27:14, "Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall
strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord." Proverbs 20:22, "Wait on
the Lord, and he shall save you." Isaiah 30:18, "Yet the Lord longs to be
gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of
justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!" Isaiah 40:31, "But those who
wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength: they shall mount up with
wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, and they shall walk and
not faint!" Isaiah 49:23, "Those who wait for me will never be put to
shame." Isaiah 64:4, "Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has
perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of
those who wait for him!" Proverbs 8:34, "Blessed is the man who hears me,
watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors." Oh, how
should these precious promises encourage your hearts to wait on the Lord!
Oh, how should they lengthen and draw out your patience to the utmost!
(10.) Tenthly and lastly—Dwell much upon the memorable judgments of God, that even in this life have fallen upon unholy people."Remember Lot's wife!" Luke 17:32. Oh, remember her sin and punishment—so that fearing her sin, you may learn to take heed of her punishment. Isaiah 26:9, "When your judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness;" that is, they should learn righteousness—for so the words may be read—they should learn to fear you, and learn to turn unto you, and learn to forsake their sins and amend their lives. When your judgments, your memorable judgments, are abroad in the world, it highly concerns all the sons of men to look after holy thoughts, holy affections, and holy lives—so that it may go well with them in the day of the Lord's wrath. Others sense the words thus: When your judgments are on the earth, the inhabitants of the world, that is, sinners as well as saints, shall learn righteousness, that is, they shall learn to fear you upon the account of your righteous judgment; suitable to Job 37:23-24, "We cannot imagine the power of the Almighty, yet he is so just and merciful that he does not oppress us. No wonder people everywhere fear him. People who are truly wise show him reverence." Rev. 15:4, "Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous deeds have been revealed." The judgments of God upon Antichrist shall so awaken, alarm, and dismay the nations—that they shall cast off all false ways of worship, and worship the Lord in a more pure, spiritual, high, and noble way than ever yet they have done.
God is a sovereign agent, and he can make sinners saints, as well by judgments as by mercies. Waldus, (from whom the Waldenses derived their name), when many worldlings were met together to be merry, seeing one among them suddenly fall down dead—it so struck to his heart, that he went home a penitent, and proved to be a very precious holy man. Pharaoh was not a pin the better for all the plagues which came upon him; but Jethro, taking notice of God's heavy judgments upon Pharaoh, and likewise upon the Amalekites, was thereby converted, and became a proselyte, as some observe. O sirs, who can tell but that a fixed eye upon the remarkable judgments of God, that have been inflicted upon notorious sinners—may be a means to change you and turn you to the Lord?
Do not forget the plagues which came upon bloody Pharaoh. Remember how crafty Ahithophel, and proud Haman, and covetous Judas—all came to the halter. Do not forget how the earth opened her mouth and swallowed up Korah and his companions. Do not forget the Samuel's sword which cut Agag in pieces; nor the stately oak tree, on which Absalom was hanged; nor the javelin which Phinehas, in his zeal for God, thrust through Zimri and Cozbi. Remember how Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead with a lie in their mouths. Remember how God rained hell out of heaven upon Sodom and Gomorrah. Remember how suddenly, how unexpectedly, and how inevitably the flood came upon the old world; and remember how the angels that kept not their first station of holiness—are now in chains under everlasting darkness. Oh, who can seriously dwell upon the severe judgments of God upon these people, and not resolve upon breaking off his sins, and pursuing after that holiness, without which there is no happiness!
Oh, remember that God is as holy a God as ever, and as just a God as ever, and as jealous of his glory as ever; and therefore turn from the evil of your doings, that your souls may live. Oh, that the dreadful judgments of God that have been executed upon others might so alarm all unholy hearts—that they may with all their might cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, so that they may be children of the light, and their souls may live forever! And thus much for the means whereby men may reach to that holiness, without which there is no happiness.