The Unsearchable Riches of Christ
Thomas Brooks, 1655
II. I shall now proceed to a second doctrine, namely, That all saints are not of an equal size and growth in grace and holiness.
"Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ!" Ephesians 3:8
Some are higher, and some are lower; some are stronger and some are weaker—in spiritual graces and heavenly excellencies. "Unto me who am less than the least," etc.
Among true believers, some may be found to be but weak believers. This point flows as natural from the words as the stream does from the fountain, and no point more clear in all the Scripture than this.
In Romans 14:1, you read of some who are weak in the faith; "Those who are weak in the faith receive," says the apostle. None are to be rejected in whom is anything of Christ is to be found. And so Mat. 14:31, there is mention made of "little faith." 1 Cor. 9:22, "To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak." You read of babes in grace: 1 Pet. 2:2, 3, "As new-born babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if so be that you have tasted that the Lord is gracious." 1 John 2:12-14, there is mention made of "little children, of young men, and of fathers." All are not fathers in grace, nor all are not young men in grace; there are some children in grace. A Christian in this life has his degrees of growth; he is first a child in grace, and then a young man in grace, and then a father in grace. [It is with Christians as it is with planets: the moon goes her course once a month, the sun once a year, the rest not in many years; yet at length they finish their course.]
For the further opening of this point, I shall endeavor these four things.
I. I shall endeavor to decipher to you souls weak in grace.
II. I shall endeavor to lay down those things which may encourage, support, and comfort souls who are weak in grace.
III. I shall speak to the duties which lie upon those who are weak in grace.
IV. I shall speak to the duties which lie upon those who are strong in grace, towards those who are weak in grace.
Of these four we shall speak, as the Lord shall assist.
I.I shall begin with the first, To decipher souls weak in grace.
The first thing by which I shall describe, discover and decipher souls weak in grace is this:
[1.] Weak Christians are usually much concerned and taken up with the poor low things of this world.
They are much in carking and caring for them, and in pursuing and hunting greedily after them. That is a clear text for this: Mat. 6:25, to the end. Christ labors by several weighty arguments to fence and fortify his disciples against those uncertain, doubtful, carking worldly cares—which divide, distract, distemper, torture, and tear the heart in a thousand pieces. And yet neither these arguments, nor yet the presence of him who was the great landlord of heaven and earth, and whose love and affections were still yearning towards them, and whose special eye of providence was still over them—could rid their heads and hearts of these worldly cares that do but vex and perplex the souls of men. And it is very observable, that after this stinging lecture which Christ gave them, they did argue three different times, as to who should be greatest and highest in worldly enjoyments. Their hearts should have been only in heaven, and yet they strive for earth, as if there were no heaven, or as if earth were better than heaven. All which does clearly evidence, that their graces were very weak, and their corruptions very strong.
Men who have little of the upper springs within, are much concerned after the springs below. Baruch was godly—but weak in grace; he had but some sips and tastes of the glory of the eternal world, and that made him, when God was a-pulling down all worldly glory, to seek for earth as if there were no heaven, Jer. 45:1-5. Certainly there is but little of Christ and grace within—where the heart is so strongly concerned about earthly things. Where there is such strong love and workings of heart after these poor things, it shows our soul's enjoyment of God to be but poor and low.
In the Old Testament, the Jews, being babes and infants in grace and holiness, had a world of temporal promises, and very few spiritual promises. But now in the days of the gospel, the Lord is pleased to double and treble his Spirit upon his people, and now you meet with very few temporal promises in the gospel—but the gospel is filled with spiritual promises. The gospel drops nothing but marrow and fatness, love and sweetness; and therefore God looks in these days that men should grow up to a greater height of holiness, heavenliness, and spiritualness, than what they attained to in those dark days, wherein the sun shined but dimly. Those who are rich and strong in grace, look upon the world with a holy scorn and disdain. As Themistocles, when he saw in the dark a thing like a pearl, he scorned to stoop for it himself, saying to another, "You scoop it up—for you are not Themistocles."
Abraham, a man strong in grace, looked with a holy scorn and with an eye of disdain upon these poor things. When Melchisedec had made him heir of all things, he refused the riches that the king of Sodom offered him, because God was his shield and his exceeding great reward, Gen. 14:21, 15:1. The greatest bargain which a soul rich in grace will make with God for himself is this, "Give me but bread to eat and clothes to wear--and you shall be my God." So it was with that brave soul, Gen. 28:21. Jacob desires but bread and clothing. Mark, he asks bread—not dainties; clothing—not ornaments. A little of this world will satisfy a man who is strong in grace; much will not satisfy a man who is weak in grace; nothing will satisfy a man who is void of grace.
Souls weak in grace, have their hearts much working after these poor base things; as you may see, Mat. 18:1, "Who shall be greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" The question is stated by the disciples, whom one would have thought should have had their hearts and thoughts in heaven; but they dreamed of an earthly kingdom, where honors and offices would be distributed, as in the days of David and Solomon. And it is observable in Mark 9:33-34, that they are at it again: "And he came to Capernaum; and being in the house, he asked them, What was it that you disputed among yourselves by the way? But they remained silent" (they were ashamed to tell him); "for by the way they had disputed among themselves who should be greatest." Says one, I'll have this, and says another, I'll have that, etc.; or as it is in the Greek, "they disputed who was greatest;" so in Luke 9:46. Says one, I am greater than you; No, says another, I am greatest.
It is an argument of a childish disposition—to be concerned more with rattles and baubles, than with jewels and pearls. That Christian has little of the power of grace within him, whose heart is so strongly carried out to these vanities below. Grown men prefer one piece of gold above a thousand new pennies. A soul who is strong in grace, that is high in its spiritual enjoyments, prefers one good word from God, one good look from Christ, above all the dainties of this world. "Lord," he prays, "lift up the light of your countenance upon me." Warm my heart with the beams of your love, and then a little of these things will suffice.
You see Moses and all those worthies in the 11th of the Hebrews, who were men strong in grace—how bravely they trample upon all things below God. They left their families and their countries,where they lived like princes—to wander in a wilderness, upon the bare command of God. So Luther, a man strong in grace, when he had a gown and money given him by the elector, he turned himself about, and said, "I shall not put me off with these poor base things." Souls who know by experience what the bosom of Christ is, what spiritual communion is, what the glory of heaven is, will not be put off by with things which are mixed, mutable, and momentary. And to shame many professors in these days, I might bring in a cloud of witnesses; even from among the very heathen, who never heard of a crucified Christ, and yet were more crucified to things below Christ than many of those who pretend much to Christ. But I shall forbear, only desiring that those who think and speak so scornfully and contemptuously of heathens may not at last be found worse than heathens; yes, be judged and condemned by heathens in the great and solemn day of the Lord.
Secondly, In order to a further deciphering of weak Christians, I shall lay down this:
[2.] That weak saints do usually over-fear troubles before they come; yes, those future evils that, forty to one, may never come to pass.
The very empty thoughts and fears of possible trouble is very terrible and perplexing to a weak saint. When it was told the house of David, saying, "Syria is confederate with Ephraim, the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind," Isaiah 7:2. Their heart quaked and quivered, as we say, like an aspen leaf. It is an elegant expression, showing, in their extremity, the baseness of their fears, arguing no courage or spirit at all in them. The very news and conceit of trouble or calamities, oh how does it perplex, and vex, and grieve, and overwhelm weak Christians! [The chameleon, says Pliny, is the most fearful of all creatures, and does therefore turns into all colors to save itself; and so it is often with weak Christians..... Pray for me, said Latimer in his letter to Ridley; for I am sometimes so fearful, that I would creep into a mouse-hole.]
The very hearing of trouble at a distance makes them to stagger and reel, and ready to say, Will God now save? Will he now deliver? It puts them into those shaking fits, that they know not what to do with themselves, nor how to perform the service they owe to God or man. Now tell me, can you call that a stout spirit, a strong spirit—who is daunted with the very report and thoughts of calamity? Or who has immoderate fear of a thousand things that perhaps shall never happen; as fears of foreign invasions, or fears of home-bred confusions, fears of change of religion, or being surprised with such or such diseases, or being ruined in their outward estate by such and such devices or disadvantages, or by falling under the frowns of such a great man, or under the anger and revenge of such and such a man, and a thousand such like things. Now, this speaks out much weakness in grace. Souls strong in grace are carried above these fears; yes, with the leviathan in Job, they can laugh at the shaking of a spear, chapter 41:29. They can say with David, "Though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil; for you are with us, your rod and your staff do comfort us," Psalm 23:4. But weak souls are afraid of their own shadow. The very shadow of trouble will exceedingly trouble such souls, and oftentimes make their lives a very hell. [Bucephalus was not afraid of his burden; the shadow only frightened him. So weak Christians are afraid of the shadow of the cross.]
[3.] Thirdly, Fainting in the day of adversity speaks of a soul to be but weak in grace.
Weak Christians are overcome with little crosses. The least cross does not only startle them—but it sinks them, and makes them ready to sit down and to cry out with the church, "Behold you who pass by, see whether there be any sorrow like my sorrow," Lam. 1:12. Before trouble comes, weak Christians are apt to think that they can bear much and endure much; but, alas! when the day of trial comes upon them, when they are put to it, they prove but men of poor and impotent spirits, and then they roar, and complain, and lie down in the dust—allowing crosses and losses to bind them hand and foot, and to rob them of all their comforts. And now though they have many comforts, compared to their one cross—yet their one cross does so damp and daunt their hearts, that joy and comfort flies away from them, and they sit down overwhelmed. Certainly this speaks out little of Christ within. All Rachel's comforts were no comforts, because her children were not. This speaks out much weakness within.
Proverbs 24:10, "If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small;" if you shrink, if you abate and slacken, in the day of adversity, your strength is small. Man has no trial of his strength until he is in trouble; faintness then reveals the weakness. Afflictions test what strength we have—as hard weather tries what health we have. A weak Christian sinks under a little burden; every frown, every sour word, every puff of wind blows him down, and makes him sink under his burden. But now a soul strong in grace bears up bravely against all winds and weather. That is a wonderful text, and worthy to be written in letters of gold, which you have in Gen. 49:23-24, "Joseph's bow abode in strength, though the archers sorely grieved him, shot at him, and hated him. And the arms of his hands were made strong, by the mighty God of Jacob." The archers that sorely grieved him were his barbarous brethren who sold him; his adulterous mistress who, harlot-like, hunted for his precious life; his injurious master, who without any desert of his, imprisoned him; the tumultuating Hebrews, who perhaps spoke of stoning him; and the envious courtiers and enchanters spoke evilly of him before Pharaoh, to bring him out of favor. All these shot sorely at him. The word that is rendered archers in the Hebrew, is arrow-masters, which term implies skillfulness in shooting. They were cunning and skillful to hit the mark, and they shot at him, as at a mark; but yet "his bow abode in strength."
When God in the midst of weakness makes a soul strong, that soul will not only face enemies and difficulties—but triumph over them. Those who are strong in grace seldom lack courage or counsel when they are in the worst battle. They always find their hope to be an anchor at sea, and their faith a shield upon land; and therefore they triumph in all storms and dangers. They stand firm when they are under the greatest pressures: 2 Cor. 11:23, "In labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths often," etc. And yet he triumphs in 2 Cor. 1:12, "Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God. We have done so not according to worldly wisdom but according to God's grace." Strong Paul rejoiced in his sufferings for Christ, and therefore often sings it out: "I, Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ;" not "I Paul, enrapt up in the third heaven." He preferred his crown of thorns before a crown of gold, his prison rags above all royal robes. [If we perish, Christ perishes with us, said Luther.]
[4.] Fourthly, A weak Christian thinks that little to be much, which he suffers for Christ.
In Mat. 19:27, then "answered Peter, and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed you; what shall we have?" Their worldly case in following Christ, was little worse than when they only traded in fishing; and yet, "we have forsaken all, and followed you; what shall we have?" This their all was not worth a speaking of, and yet, for this they look for some great worldly reward and recompense. "We have forsaken all."—A few broken boats, and a few tattered and torn nets, and a little old household stuff, and Christ maintained them too, upon his own cost and charge; and yet say they, "We have forsaken all, and followed you." Neither is it without an emphasis, that they begin with a Behold; "Behold we have forsaken all," as if Christ were greatly beholding to them. Let their wills be but crossed a little, by servants, children, friends, etc, or let them but suffer a little in their names or estates, etc., and presently you shall have them a-sighing it out, "No sorrow like our sorrow, no loss to our loss, no cross to our cross," etc. [Weak Christians are like children; they look for a great reward for a little work.] Whereas souls strong in grace suffer much, and yet count that much but little. A soul strong in grace can suffer much, and yet make nothing of it. I am heartily angry, says Luther, who suffered very much, with those who speak of my sufferings, which if compared with that which Christ suffered for me, are not once to be mentioned in the same day, etc.
[5.] Fifthly, Those who are weak in grace dwell more upon what may discourage them in the ways of grace and holiness, than they do upon what may encourage them.
They dwell more upon their sins—than upon a Savior; more upon their misery—than upon free grace and mercy; more upon that which may feed their fears—than upon that that may strengthen their faith; more upon the cross—than upon the crown; more upon those who are against them—than those who are for them: Isaiah 51:12-13, "I, even I, am the one who comforts you. So why are you afraid of mere humans, who wither like the grass and disappear? Yet you have forgotten the Lord, your Creator, the one who put the stars in the sky and established the earth. Will you remain in constant dread of human oppression? Will you continue to fear the anger of your enemies from morning till night?"
The same is intimated Romans 4:19-20, "Abraham, being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body being dead, nor yet the deadness of Sarah's womb." Mark, "being not weak in faith." Souls weak in faith are very apt to dwell upon discouragements—but strong Christians look above all discouragements. "He considered not." The Greek is, he cared not for his own body, he did not mind that; but in the 20th verse, "he considered him who had promised." Souls strong in grace dwell more upon their encouragements to holiness and believing, than upon their discouragements. "He considered him who had promised." He had an eye fixed upon the faithfulness of God, and the sufficiency and almightiness of God—and this bore up his heart above all discouragements.
So in 2 Cor. 4:16-18, "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding, and eternal weight of glory; while we look not (mark, they are not doating upon their discouragements) upon things which are seen—but upon things which are not seen: the things which are seen are temporal—but the things which are not seen are eternal." An eye fixed upon encouragements makes heavy afflictions light, long afflictions short, and bitter afflictions sweet. Those blessed martyrs found it so—who were cast out all night, in a cold frosty night, naked, and were to be burnt the next day, who thus comforted themselves, The winter is sharp—but paradise is sweet; here we shiver for cold—but the bosom of Abraham will make amends for all.
Weak Christians have eyes to behold their discouragements—but none to see their encouragements; they look more upon their corruption than upon their sanctification; upon their disobedience than their obedience; upon their distrust than upon their faith; upon the old man than upon the new—and this keeps them low and weak in spirituals, it causes a leanness in their souls.
[6.] Sixthly, The zeal of weak Christians usually outstrips their wisdom and knowledge.
Weak Christians are very zealous—but not according to knowledge: Romans 10:2, "For I bear them record, that they have a zeal of God—but not according to knowledge." They were very zealous—but not true zealots, they are very peevish and pettish and censorious; but they lack wisdom and knowledge to manage their zeal, to God's glory and their brethren's good. Such zeal had those two Rabbis who set upon Charles the Fifth, to persuade him to turn Jew, as judging their religion to be the only religion in the world, and for which they were put to a cruel death, in the year 1530. A great zeal they had to the winning over of him to Judaism—but this zeal was their ruin. Zeal without knowledge is as wild-fire in a fool's hand; it is like the devil in the demoniac, that sometimes cast him into the fire, and sometimes into the water. So the disciples of Christ were weak in their light, and furious in their zeal: Luke 9:54, "Let fire come down from heaven, and consume them," say they. But mark what Christ says, ver. 55: "You know not what manner of spirits you are of;" that is, you know not what spirit acts you. You think that you are acted by such a spirit as Elijah of old was acted by—but you err, says Christ; "you have a zeal—but not according to knowledge," therefore it is a human fervidness and not a divine motion.
Zeal is like fire: in the chimney it is one of the best servants—but out of the chimney it is one of the worst masters. Zeal kept by knowledge and wisdom, in its proper place, is a choice servant to Christ and saints; but zeal not bounded by wisdom and knowledge, is the high way to undo all, and to make a hell for many at once. [Josephus, tells of some who imposed the name of Zelote upon themselves, as if they were zealous for the honor and service of God, and under this pretense committed all riots and imaginable wickedness. It were well if we had no such monsters among us in these days.]
Weak Christians are usually most zealous about circumstances and things that have least of God and Christ and the power of holiness in them; and most cold about things of value and substance—as woeful experience does evidence in these days. Zeal ordered by wisdom, feeds upon the faults of offenders, not on their persons. It spends itself and its greatest heat principally upon those things that concern a man's self. It is most exercised about substantials: Tit. 2:14—but that which is rash, is most exercised about circumstantials; Gal. 1:14, Paul was, in the days of his ignorance, very zealous for the traditions of his fathers, etc.
[7.] Seventhly, Among all saints, the weakest saints act most like carnal sinners.
No saint is so like a sinner—as a weak saint. "Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as carnal (worldly)--mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?" 1 Corinthians 3:1-3. They were advanced but very little above the imperfections and passions and sins of mere men, of such who had nothing of the Spirit in them, etc. Do wicked men quarrel with their teachers—when they themselves are in fault? So did these babes here. Do wicked men impute their not profiting to the minister, as he who, having a thorn in his foot, complains of the roughness of the way as the cause of his limping, whereas it was the thorn and not the roughness of the way which hurt him. Or as she, that, being struck with a sudden blindness, bid open the window, whereas it was not the lack of light—but lack of sight, which troubled her. So did these babes in the text lay the fault of their non-proficiency upon their teachers, when the fault was wholly in themselves. [In many things, weak Christians are carnal men's apes.]
Now he calls them carnal, partly because the flesh was strong in them, and partly because they followed and relished the things of the flesh, and partly because they did in their actions resemble carnal men. Do carnal and wicked men cry up one godly man, and cry down another? Do they lift up one, and abase another? So did they. Are wicked men full of envy, strife, and divisions? So were they. And these overflowings of the gall and spleen, come from a fullness of bad humours, from that abundance of carnality that was in them.
But now souls strong in grace are higher than carnal men, as Saul was higher than the people by head and shoulders. Souls strong in grace have their feet where carnal men's heads are—they have their feet on the world. Proverbs 15:24, "The way of life is above to the wise, that he may depart from hell beneath." Souls who are strong in grace, do act rather like angels than like carnal men; they do as much resemble the Father of spirits, as carnal men do the Father of lies.
[8.] Eighthly, Souls weak in grace are easily drawn aside out of the ways of holiness.
You know a man who has but a little bodily strength, is easily thrust out of the way; so it is with souls weak in grace: 1 John 3:7, "Little children, let no man deceive you; he who does righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous." Says the apostle, "Little children, let no man deceive you." Many in these days, under pretenses of high and glorious enjoyments of God, neglect and despise righteousness and holiness, crying up visions and manifestations, when their visions are only the visions of their own hearts and their manifestations are plain delusions. Ah! but says the apostle, "Little children, let none of these deceive you." I tell you he, and only he, who does righteousness, is righteous, as God is righteous. Children, you know, may be easily deceived, and made to take shiny pennies for gold, because they are prettier and brighter. Children in grace are soon deceived, hence is it that they are so deluded.
Heb. 12:12-13, "Therefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees." Some think that the apostle alludes to those combats of the heathens, wherein it was a token of yielding, when a man hung down his hands. You are weak, says the apostle, and by reason of trials you are apt to hang down your hands, and to give up all as lost; therefore, says he, lift up your hands to fight, and your feet to run, take heart and courage, faint not, give not over, turn not aside because of the sharpness of afflictions. But souls strong in grace will hold on in the ways of grace and holiness, in the face of all dangers and deaths, Psalm 44.
[9.] Ninthly, Weak Christians are apt to make sense and feeling, the judge of their spiritual estates and conditions.
And, therefore, upon every turn they are apt to judge themselves miserable, and to conclude that they have no grace, because they cannot feel it, nor discern it, nor believe it; and so making sense, feeling, and reason, the judge of their estates—they wrong, and perplex, and vex their precious souls, and make their lives a very hell.
The Canaanite woman had strong faith—but no assurance that we read of, Mat. 15:22, seq. Gal. 4:6, "And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father." Mark, they are first the sons of God, and then the Spirit cries, Abba, Father. 1 John 5:13, "These things have I written unto you who believe on the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life." Mark, they did believe, and they had eternal life, in respect of Christ their head, who, as a public person, was gone to heaven, to represent all his saints. And they had eternal life in respect of the promises, and they had eternal life in respect of the beginnings of it—and yet they did not know it, they did not believe it. "Therefore these things write I unto you who believe on the name of the Son of God," says he, "that you may know that you have eternal life, and that this life is in his Son." Ponder on Micah 7:7-9.
The word shall judge us at last, John 12:48; and therefore strong saints make only the word of God the judge of their spiritual condition now.
[10.] Tenthly, Their thoughts and hearts of weak Christians are more taken up with the love-tokens, and the good things they have from Christ—than with Christ himself.
Oh their graces, their comforts, their enlargements, their meltings, and their warmings, etc., are the things which most absorb them. Their thoughts and hearts are so exercised about these things, that Christ himself is much neglected by them. The child is so absorbed with dolls and rattles, etc., that the mother is not thought of. And such is the behavior of weak Christians towards Christ.
But now souls who are strong in grace are more taken with the person of Christ than they are with the love-tokens of Christ. They bless Christ indeed for every grain of grace, and for every good word from heaven, and for every good look from heaven; ay—but Christ himself is more to them than all these. [Christ is the most sparkling diamond in the ring of glory, etc.] This is remarkable in the church, Cant. 5:9-10, "What is your beloved more than another beloved, O you fairest among women? etc. "My beloved is dark and dazzling, better than ten thousand others!" etc. She does not say, My beloved is one that I have got so many thousands by, and heaven by, and pardon of sin by, and peace of conscience by. Oh no! but he dazzling. Her soul was taken most with the person of Christ.
It is an argument of weakness of grace, when the heart is more exercised about the bracelets, and the kisses, and the love-tokens of Christ—than it is about Christ himself. [That wife is but weak in her love, who is more taken up with her husband's presents than with his person.] But now says one strong in grace, My bracelets are precious—but Christ is more precious; the streams of grace are sweet—but the fountain of grace is most sweet; the beams of the sun are glorious—but the sun itself is most glorious. A naked Christ, a despised Christ, a persecuted Christ, is more valued by a strong Christian, than heaven and earth are by a weak Christian. [Christ's himself, to a strong Christian, is the greatest cordial in all the world.]
[11.] Eleventhly, Souls weak in grace are easily stopped and taken off from acting graciously and holily, when discouragements face them.
This you may see in that remarkable instance concerning Peter, in that 26th of Matthew, from the 69th to the end. A silly wench outfaces him; she daunts this self-confident champion; she easily stops and turns him by saying, "You were one of those with Jesus the Galilean," v. 70. "But Peter denied it in front of everyone—I don't know what you are talking about." He makes as if he did neither understand her words or her meaning; and this false dissembling was a true denying of Christ. Now Mark says, chapter 14:68, that upon the very first denial of Christ, the rooster crowed, and yet this fair warning could not secure him—but when another maid saw him, and said, "This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth," ver. 72, he denied it with an oath, saying, "I do not know the man!" This was fearful and dreadful, and the worse because his Master, whom he forsware, was now upon his trial, and might say with wounded Caesar, "What! and you my son Brutus!" Is this your kindness to your friend, to him who has loved you, and saved you, and owned you? etc. Then ver. 73, "Surely you are one of them, for your speech betrays you." And ver. 74. "He began to curse and to swear, I know not the man!" The Greek word that is rendered curse, imports a cursing and a damning of himself, an imprecation of God's wrath, and a separation from the presence and glory of God, if he knew the man." Some writers say, that he cursed Christ. "I know not the man," says he.
Though it were ten thousand times better to bear than to swear, and to die than to lie—yet when discouragement faces him, he is so amazed and daunted, that he tells the most incredible lie that almost could be uttered by the mouth of man. For there was no one more than Peter, who knew Christ. Neither could Peter allege any cause why he came there, if he had not known Christ.
But, ver. 75, "He went out, and wept bitterly." One sweet look of love breaks his heart in pieces, he melts under the beamings forth of divine favor upon him. Once he leapt into a sea of waters to come to Christ, and now he leaps into a sea of tears, because he had so shamefully denied Christ. Clement notes, that Peter so repented, that all his life-time after, every night when he heard the rooster crow, he would fall upon his knees and weep bitterly, begging pardon for this dreadful sin. Others say, that after his lying, cursing, and denying of Christ, he was ever and anon weeping, and that his face was furrowed with continual tears. He had no sooner taken in poison—but he vomits it up again, before it got to the vitals. He had no sooner handled a serpent—but he turns it into a rod to scourge his soul with remorse.
This truth is further confirmed by the speech and carriage of the disciples: Luke 24:21, seq., "We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel." Here their hope hangs the wing extremely. Weak souls find it as hard to wait for God, as it is to bear evil. This weakness Christ checks, ver. 25, "O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken," etc. And John 16:5, the first news Christ tells them, is of their sufferings and of his leaving of them; and upon the thoughts hereof their hearts were so filled with sorrow, that they could not so much as say, "Master, where are you going?" ver. 6. But now, souls strong in grace will hold on in holy and gracious actings in the very face of the greatest discouragements. And so the three Hebrew children, they hold up in the face of all discouragements. And so those brave worthies, of whom this world was not worthy, Heb. 11, their hearts were strong, notwithstanding all discouragements, to hold on in ways of holiness, and in their actings of faith upon God, in the face of all dangers and deaths which did attend them. Such a spirit shined in Chrysostom when he bid them tell the enraged empress, I fear nothing but sin!
When Henry the Eighth had spoken and written bitterly against Luther, says Luther, Tell the Henries, the bishops, the Turks, and the devil himself—do what they can—we are children of the kingdom, worshiping of the true God, whom they, and such as they, spit upon and crucified. And of the same spirit and metal were many martyrs. Basil affirms of the primitive saints, that they had so much courage and confidence in their sufferings, that many of the heathens, seeing their heroic zeal and constancy, turned Christians.
[12.] Twelfthly, Weak saints mind their wages more than their work.
Their wages are joy, peace, comfort, and assurance, etc.; and their work is waiting on God, believing in God, walking with God, acting for God, etc. Now, weak saints' minds are more carried out, and taken up about their wages, than they are about their work, as experience does abundantly evidence. [Children mind more play-days than they do working-days, or school-days.] Ah! Christians, if you don't mind your wages more than your work, what means the bleating of the sheep, and the lowing of the oxen? 1 Sam. 15:14. What means those earnest and vehement cryings out and wrestlings for joy, peace, comfort, and assurance—when the great work of believing, of waiting, and of walking with God—is so much neglected and disregarded?
But now strong saints are more mindful of their work than they are of their wages. Lord! says a strong saint, do but uphold me in a way of believing, in a way of working, in a way of holy walking, etc., and it shall be enough, though I should never have assurance, comfort, peace, or joy, until my dying day. If you will carry me forth so as you may have honor, though I have no comfort; so you may have glory, though I have no peace, I will bless you, Romans 4:18-20. I know, says such a soul, though a life of comfort be most pleasing to me—yet a life of believing, abstracted from comfort, is most honorable to you, and therefore I will be silent before you. Lord! do but help me in my work, and take your own time to give me my wages—to give me comfort, joy, peace, assurance. They are not the best servants, who mind their wages more than their work, nor they are none of the best Christians that mind their comforts and their in-comings of the Spirit of graces—more than that homage and duty that they owe to God.
Before I come to the second thing premised, give me permission to give you this hint; namely, that there is no such way to joy, peace, and assurance, as this—to mind your work more than your wages. Ah! had many mourning, complaining Christians done thus—their mourning before this had been turned into rejoicing, and their complaining into singings. Christians, the high way to comfort is to mind comfort less, and duty more; it is to mind more what you should do, than what you would have, as you may see in Eph. 1:13, "In whom you also trusted, after you heard the word of faith, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also, after that you believed, you were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise." The original runs thus—in whom believing, you were sealed. While faith is busied and exercised about Christ, and those varieties of glories and excellencies which are in him—the Lord comes, and by his Spirit seals up the life, and love, and glory of them.
Thus by divine assistance I have dispatched the first thing, namely, the deciphering of weak Christians.
II.The second thing that I propounded for the further opening and clearing of this point was, to hold forth to you those things which tend to support, comfort, and uphold weak Christians. And truly I must needs say, that if ever there was a time wherein weak Christians had need of support, I truly believe this is the time wherein we live, for by the horrid profaneness of men on the one hand, and the abominable, loose, and rotten principles of others on the other hand—the hearts of many weak Christians especially are saddened, which God would not have saddened; and their spirits wounded and grieved, which God would have comforted and healed; and therefore I shall dwell the longer upon this second thing,
And the first thing that I shall lay down by way of support is this.
Support 1. That the weakest Christians have as much interest and property in Christ, and all the fundamental good which comes by Christ—as the strongest saints have.[He who looked upon the brazen serpent, though with a weak sight—was healed as thoroughly as he who looked upon it with a stronger sight. A weak faith is a joint possessor of Christ; though no faith can be a joint purchaser of Christ.]
Weak saints are as much united to Christ, as much justified by Christ, as much reconciled by Christ, and as much pardoned by Christ—as the strongest saints. It is true, weak Christians cannot make so much improvement and advantage of their interest in Christ, as strong saints can; they have not that power, that wisdom, that spiritual skill to make that advantage of their interest and property in Christ as strong saints have; yet have they as much interest and property in the Lord Jesus, and all the fundamental good that comes by him—as the strongest saint who breathes. The sucking child has as much interest and property in the father, and in what belongs to the father—as the child that is grown up to adulthood; though the young child has not that skill, nor that power, nor wisdom to improve that interest to his advantage, as he who is grown up has. It is just so here; a soul weak in grace has as much interest in the Lord as the strongest saint has—though he has not that skill to improve that interest. And is not this a singular comfort and support? Truly, were there no more to bear up a poor weak saint from fainting under all their sins, and sorrows, and sufferings—yet this alone might do it, etc.
The second support and comfort to weak saints is this:
Support 2. That God does with an eye of love, reflect upon the least good that is in them, or done by them.[The least star gives light; the least drop moistens.]
And is not this a glorious comfort and support, that the Lord looks with an eye of love upon the least good that is in you, or done by you? You cannot have a good thought—but God looks upon that thought with an eye of love: Psalm 32:5, "I said I would confess my sin, and you forgave my iniquity." I said it in my thoughts, that I would confess my sin, and you presently meeting me with pardoning mercy, forgave my iniquity. So in Mal. 3:16, "And there was a book of remembrance written for those who feared the Lord, and who thought upon his name." They had but some thoughts of God—and God reflects upon those thoughts with an eye of love.
Isaiah 38:5, "I have heard your prayers, I have seen your tears." Tears we look upon but as poor things, and yet God looks upon them as pearls, and therefore he puts them into his bottle, as the psalmist speaks. So in Psalm 6:8, one observes that there are two strong things in tears: (1.) They drop downward, and fall to the earth; yet they reach upwards, and pierce the heavens. (2.) They are silent—yet cry very loud. There is not a bit of bread, not a drop of drink which you give—but God casts an eye of love upon it, Mat. 25:35-36.
There is not a desire that arises in your soul—but the Lord takes notice of it: Proverbs 10:17, "You have heard the desire of the humble." Weak saints are full of desires, their whole life is a life of desires, they are still a-breathing out holy desires: Lord, pardon such a sin; and give me power against such a sin; and strength, Lord, to withstand such a temptation; and grace, Lord, to uphold me under such an affliction, etc.; and the Lord hears and answers such gracious breathings and longings.
It was holy Jewel's desire, that he might die preaching; and God looked with an eye of love upon his desire, and he had it.
It was Latimer's desire, that he might shed his heart's blood for Christ; and God looked with an eye of love upon the breathings of his heart, and he had it.
The Israelites did but groan, and God looked upon their groans with an eye of love; he comes down, he makes his arm bare, he tramples upon their proud enemies, and by miracles he saved them. O weak Christian! is not this a singular comfort, that the Lord reflects with an eye of love upon your thoughts, upon your desires, upon your tears, and upon your groanings, etc. What though others slight you! what though others take no notice of you! yet the Lord casts an eye of love upon you!
Some think it very strange that God should set down in Scripture the story of Jacob, a poor countryman, Gen. 31, that he had a few ewes and lambs, streaked and spotted; and yet take no notice of the great emperors and kings of the earth, nor of their great actions and warlike designs in the world. But this is to show that tender love and respect which God bears to his children, above what he does to the great ones of this world. God is more taken with Lazarus's patched coat, than with Dives's silken robe, etc.
A third thing that I shall propound for the support and comfort of weak saints is this:
Support 3. Consider, the Lord looks more upon your graces, than he does upon your weaknesses.Or thus—The Lord will not cast away weak saints, by reason of the weaknesses which cleaves to their persons or services.
In 2 Chron. 30:18-20, there came a multitude of people to eat the Passover—but they were not prepared according to the preparation of the sanctuary; therefore Hezekiah puts up a prayer for them, and the text says, that the "Lord hearkened to Hezekiah, and healed the people." The Lord looked upon their uprightness, and so passed over all their other weaknesses. He did not cast off Peter for his horrid sins—but rather looks upon him with an eye of love and pity: Mark 16:7, "Now go and give this message to his disciples, including Peter: Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you before he died!" O admirable love! O matchless mercy! where sin abounds, grace does superabound. This is the glory of Christ, that he behaves sweetly towards his people, when they behave unworthily towards him. Christ looks more upon Peter's sorrow than upon his sin, upon his tears than upon his cursings, etc.
The Lord will not cast away weak saints for their great unbelief, because there is a little faith in them. He will not throw them away for that hypocrisy that is in them, because of that little sincerity which is in them. He will not cast away weak saints for that pride that is in them, because of those rays of humility which shine in them. He will not despise his people for their passions, because of those grains of meekness which are in them. We will not throw away a little gold because of a great deal of dross which cleaves to it, nor a little wheat because mixed with much chaff—and will God? will God?
We will not cast away our garments because of some spots, nor our books because of some blots, nor our jewels because of some flaws—and do we think that the Lord will cast away his dearest ones, because of their spots, and blots, and flaws? Surely not! God looks more upon the bright side of the cloud—than the dark: James 5:11, "Remember the patience of Job." It is not, remember the murmuring of Job, the cursing of Job, the complainings of Job, the impatience of Job; but, "Remember the patience of Job." God looks upon the pearl, and not upon the spot which is in it. So in Heb. 11:30-31, there is mention made of Rahab's faith, love, and peaceable behavior towards the spies—but no mention made of her lie. The Lord overlooks her weakness, and keeps his eye upon her virtues.
Where God sees but a little grace, he does as it were hide his eyes from those circumstances that might seem to deface the glory of it. So in 1 Pet. 3:6, "Even as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him Lord." Mark there was but one good word in Sarah's speech to Abraham, she called her husband Lord; the speech otherwise was a speech of unbelief—yet the Holy Spirit speaking of her in reference to that speech, conceals all the evil in it, and mentions only the reverent title she gave to her husband, commending her for it.
He who drew Alexander, while he had a scar upon his face, drew him with his finger upon the scar. So when the Lord comes to look upon a poor soul, he lays his finger upon the scar—upon the infirmity—that he may see nothing but grace, which is the beauty and the glory of the soul.
Ah! but weak Christians are more apt to look upon their infirmities than on their graces, and because their little gold is mixed with a great deal of dross, they are ready to throw away all as dross. Well, remember this, the Lord Jesus has as great and as large an interest in the weakest saints, as he has in the strongest. He has the interest of a friend, and the interest of a father, and the interest of a head, and the interest of a husband; and, therefore, though saints are weak, yes, though they are very weak—yet having as great and as large an interest in them as in the strongest saints—he cannot but overlook their weakness, and keep a fixed eye upon their graces.
A fourth support is this:
Support 4. That the Lord will graciously preserve and strengthen those weak graces which are in you.[The tallest oak was once an acorn; the most learned doctor was once in his alphabet book.]
Though your graces be as a spark of fire in the midst of an ocean of corruption—yet the Lord will preserve and blow up that spark of fire into a flame. It was the priest's office in the time of the law, to keep the fire in the sanctuary from going out; and it is the office of our Lord Jesus, as he is our high priest, our head, our husband, our mediator—to keep alive that heavenly fire which he has kindled in any of our souls. His honor, his faithfulness, and his goodness is engaged in it, and therefore he cannot but do it—else he would lose much love and many prayers and praises—did he not nourish, preserve, and strengthen his own work in his own people.
The faith of the disciples was generally weak, as I have formerly showed you, and yet how sweetly does the Lord Jesus react towards them! John 16, Acts 2. He was still a-breathing out light, life, and love upon them; he was still a-turning their water into wine, their bitter into sweet, and their discouragements into encouragements—and all to raise and keep up their spirits. His heart was much in this thing, therefore says he, "It is necessary that I leave you, that I may send the Comforter to be a comfort and guide unto you." I will pour out my Spirit upon you, that a little one may become a thousand, and a small one a strong nation, and that the feeble may be as David, and the house of David as God, as the angel of the Lord, Zech. 12:8.
That is a sweet text, Isaiah 65:8, "But I will not destroy them all,' says the Lord. "For just as good grapes are found among a cluster of bad ones (and someone will say, 'Don't throw them all away—there are some good grapes there!'), so I will not destroy all Israel. For I still have true servants there." Oh, says Christ to the Father, here are a company of weak saints that have some buddings of grace, oh do not destroy it, Father! there is a blessing in it, though it be but weak. The genuine sense of the similitude, I think, is this: when a vine being blasted or otherwise decayed is grown so bad and so barren, that scarce any good clusters of grapes can be discerned on it, whereby it may be deemed to have any life, or of ever becoming fruitful again, and the farmer is about to cut it down to the ground, one standing by sees here a cluster, and there a little cluster, and cries out, Oh do not not cut down the vine, it has a little life, and by good husbandry it may be made fruitful. We may look upon the Lord Jesus as thus pleading with his Father's justice: Father, I know you see that these souls are dry and barren, and that there is little or no good in them, and therefore you might justly cut them down. But, O my Father! I see here a bunch and there a bunch, here a little grace and there a little grace—surely there is a blessing it. Oh spare it, let it not be destroyed.
Mat. 12:27, "A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory." [It is the custom of Biblical writers, to use phrases whereby they understand much more than they do express: an example whereof you have in this verse, where Christ's not breaking the bruised reed signifies his great mercy and kindness in repairing, and restoring, and curing the bruised weakling. And so his not quenching the smoking flax is his enlivening, quickening, and inflaming that fire or spark of grace or goodness which was almost quenched, etc.]
"A bruised reed he will not break." The Jewish commentators understand it thus: he shall not tyrannise over—but nourish and cherish the poor, weak, feeble ones, who are accustomed to be oppressed by great ones. But men more spiritual understand it thus: Christ will not behave roughly and rigorously towards poor weak tender souls, whose graces are as a bruised reed and as smoking flax. A reed is a contemptible thing, a fragile thing, it will break sometimes before a man is aware; a bruised reed is more fragile, it will be broken with a touch—yet Christ will not break such a bruised reed, that is, a soul weak in grace.
"A smoldering wick he will not snuff out." The wick of a candle is of little worth, and yet less when it smokes, as yielding neither light nor heat—but rather smokes, and offends with an foul smell, which men cannot bear—but will put it out. But the Lord Jesus Christ will not do so. Souls whose knowledge, love, faith, and zeal do as but smoke—the Lord Jesus will not trample under foot; nay, he will cherish, nourish, and strengthen such—to life eternal. Look, what wax is to the wick, or oil is to the lamp—that will the Lord Jesus be to the graces of weak Christians.
"Till he leads justice to victory." That is, until the sanctified frame of grace begun in their hearts be brought to that perfection that it prevails over all opposite corruption.
Thus you see how sweetly the Lord Jesus behaves towards souls weak in grace; therefore let not those who bring forth a hundredfold despise those who bring forth but thirty, nor those who have five talents despise those who have but two.
The fifth support is this:
Support 5. That weak saints may be very useful to the strong, and sometimes may do more than strong saints can.
As you may see in 1 Cor. 12:14-28. The apostle in this Scripture discovers the singular use of the weakest saint in the body of Christ, by the usefulness of the weakest and lowest member in the natural body to the strongest: ver. 21, "The eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of you; nor again the head to the foot, I have no need of you." By the head and by the eye he means such saints as were eminent in gifts and graces, who were adorned more richly and who shined more gloriously in grace and gracious abilities than others. Oh these should not despise those who were not so eminent and excellent as themselves; for God has so tempered the inequality of the members in the natural body, that the more excellent and beautiful members cannot do without the more abject and weak members; therefore slight not the weakest saints, for certainly, at first or last, the weakest will be serviceable to the strongest. A dwarf may be useful to a giant, a child to a man; sometimes a little finger shall do that which a limb in the body cannot do; it is so often in Christ's spiritual body. I will give you a very famous instance for this.
Weak Christians may be of singular use to the strongest; those who know most may learn more even from the weakest saints. [A little star has light and influence, though not the glory which is proper to the sun.]
Junius was converted by discoursing with a ploughman. In Acts 18:24-27, Apollos, though he was an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures as the text speaks—yet was he furthered and bettered in the knowledge of Christ's kingdom by Aquila and Priscilla. A poor tent-maker and his wife were instrumental to acquaint him with those things that he knew but weakly, and so communicated their light and knowledge to him.
The sixth support is this:
Support 6. Where there is but a little grace, there God expects less, and will accept of less, though it be accompanied with many failings.
You say, Oh! I have but a little grace, a little faith, a little love, a little zeal. Oh know, where there is but a little grace, there God expects less obedience, and will accept of less service: 2 Cor. 8:12, "For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that which a man has, and not according to that which he has not." The two pennies dropped into the treasury, Luke 21:3, by the poor widow, her heart being in the action, were more acceptable than large amounts cast in by the rich people. Noah's sacrifice could not be great, and yet it was greatly accepted by God. In the time of the law, God accepted a handful of meal for a sacrifice, and a parcel of goat's hair for an oblation; and certainly God has lost none of his affections to poor souls in the time of the gospel.
Canticles 2:14, "Let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your countenance is lovely." The Hebrew word for voice signifies any sound such as birds or brutes make. Their chattering is like lovely songs in the ear of God, their penny is a sweet offering. Parents, who have but some drops of that love and tender affection that is in God to his people—they accept of a very little service from their weak children; and will not God? In time of strength God looks for much—but in the time of weakness God will bear much, and overlook much, and accept of a little, yes, of a very little. [It is very observable that the eagle and the lion, those brave creatures, were not offered in sacrifice unto God—but the poor lamb and dove: to note that your brave, high, and lofty spirits God regards not; but your poor, meek, lowly spirits God accepts.]
One, writing of the tree of knowledge, says that "it bears many leaves—but little fruit." Though weak saints have a great many leaves, and but little fruit, little grace—yet that little the Lord will kindly accept of.
Artaxerxes, the Persian monarch, was famous for accepting of a little water from the hand of a loving subject; God makes himself famous, and his grace glorious, by his kind acceptance of the weakest endeavors of his people, etc.
The seventh support is this:
Support 7. The least measure of grace is as true and as good and sure a pledge of greater measures of grace that the soul shall have here, and of glory that the soul shall have hereafter—as the greatest measure of grace
"He who has begun a good work, he will perfect it to the day of Christ," Philip. 1:6. Christ is called not only the author—but also the finisher of our faith, Heb. 12:2. In Mal. 4:2, "But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture." And so in Job 17:9, "The righteous shall hold on his way, and he who has clean hands shall be stronger and stronger." Zech. 12:8, "On that day the Lord will defend the people of Jerusalem; the weakest among them will be as mighty as King David! And the royal descendants will be like God, like the angel of the Lord who goes before them!" So in Hosea 14:5-7, "I will be to Israel like a refreshing dew from heaven. It will blossom like the lily; it will send roots deep into the soil like the cedars in Lebanon. Its branches will spread out like those of beautiful olive trees, as fragrant as the cedar forests of Lebanon. My people will return again to the safety of their land. They will flourish like grain and blossom like grapevines. They will be as fragrant as the wines of Lebanon."
The tree in Alcinous's garden always had blossoms, buds, and ripe fruits, one under another. Such a tree, will God make every Christian to be. "The righteous," though ever so weak, "shall flourish like the palm tree," Psalm 92:12-14. Now the palm tree never loses his leaf or fruit, says Pliny.
An old man being asked if he grew in goodness, answered, Yes, doubtless I believe I do, because the Lord has said, "They shall still bring forth fruit in old age, they shall be fat, and flourishing."
In the island of St. Thomas, on the back side of Africa, in the midst of it is a hill, and over that a continual cloud, wherewith the whole island is watered. Such a cloud is Christ to weak saints. Though our hearts naturally are like the isle of Patmos, which is so barren of any good as that nothing will grow but on earth that is brought from other places—yet Christ will make them like "a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not," Isaiah 58:11.
The eighth support is this:
Support 8. That the least good that is done by the weakest saint shall not be despised by Christ—but highly esteemed and rewarded.
The Lord comes—with a great reward for a little work. As you may see in Mat. 19:27, "Behold we have forsaken all, and followed you, and what shall we have?" A great all! a great catch indeed, as I have formerly showed you; they left a few old boats and torn nets and poor household stuff—yet Christ reacts very sweetly and lovingly to them, and tells them in verse 28, that they would "sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." Christ tells them they shall sit as kings. They are here but obscure kings—but kings elected; but in that day they shall be kings crowned, kings glorified, kings acknowledged. Then they shall as far outshine the glory of the sun, as the sun now outshines a twinkling star. In that day they shall be "higher than the kings of the earth," Psalm 89:27.
So in Mat. 10:42, "And whoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones, a cup of cold water only, in the name of a disciple, truly I say unto you, he shall never lose his reward, for a cup of cold water." Water, the common element, and cold water, which cost them not so much as fire to warm it; for that, there is a torrent and a very sea of all pleasures provided for you to all eternity. God esteems men's deeds by their minds—and not their minds by their deeds. The least and cheapest courtesy that can be showed shall be rewarded. There is an emphasis in that deep asseveration, "Truly I say unto you, he shall never lose his reward." God is not likely to break his promise; neither will he forget the least good done by the least saint. The butler may forget Joseph, and Joseph may forget his father's house—but the Lord will not forget the least good done by the weakest saint.
Agrippa, having suffered imprisonment for wishing Caligula emperor, the first thing Caligula did when he came to the empire, was to promote Agrippa to a kingdom. He gave him also a chain of gold as heavy as the chain of iron, which was upon him in prison. And will not Christ richly reward for all our well-wishes toward him, and for all our gracious actings for him? Surely he will. He has a king's heart, as well as a king's purse.
The Duke of Burgundy, being a wise and loving man, did bountifully reward a poor gardener, for offering of him a root, being the best present the poor man had; and will not our God, whose very nature is goodness, kindness, and sweetness, etc., do much more? Surely he will reward the least good done by the weakest saint. Therefore be not discouraged, weak Christians, though you should meet with hard measure from the world, though they should reward your weak services with reproaches, etc., for the Lord will reward you; he "will not despise the day of small things," Heb. 6:10. What though, O precious soul, your language is clipped and broken? what though you can but chatter like a crane? what though you can not talk as fluently and eloquently for Christ as others? what though your hand is so weak, that you can not do so much for Christ as others? nor do so well for Christ as others? Yet the Lord, seeing your heart sincere, will reward you. You shall have an everlasting rest for a little labor, and a great reward for a little work!
The ninth support is this:
Support 9.That as your graces are weaker than others—so your temptations shall be fewer—and your afflictions lighter than others.
God in much wisdom and love will suit your burdens to your backs; he will suit all your temptations and afflictions to your strength. Your burdens shall not be great—if your strength be but little; as you may see, 1 Cor. 10:13, "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." The Lord, O weak Christian! will suit your burden to your back—and his strokes to your strength. This is most evident in Scripture, that the strongest in grace have always been most tempted, afflicted, and distressed. [When Latimer was at the stake, ready to be burned, he breathed out those sweet words, God is faithful!]
If Abraham excels others in faith, God will test the strength of Abraham's faith to the uttermost, and put him to that test, which he never put man to before, Gen. 20. If Moses excels all others in meekness, the Lord will test the strength of that grace, and Moses shall have to do with as proud and as murmuring a generation, as ever man had to do with. If Job excels all others in patience, he shall be exercised with such strange and unheard of afflictions, as shall try not only the truth—but also the strength of his patience to the uttermost. If Paul has more glorious revelations than the rest of the apostles, Paul shall be more buffeted and exercised with temptations, than the rest of the apostles. [Num. 12:3; Exod. 16:7-8; Num. 14:27, 36, and 16:11; Exod. 15:24; James 5:11; read the 1st, 6th, and 7th chapters of Job; 2 Cor. 12:1-11.]
And thus you see it clear by all these instances, that the best and choicest saints have always met with the worst and greatest temptations and afflictions. So when the disciples were in the lowest form, when they were weak in grace, the Lord Jesus exercises them but with light afflictions; but when they had a greater measure of the Spirit poured upon them, then their troubles were increased and multiplied, and their former troubles, in comparison of the latter, were but as scratches of pins, compared to stabs at the heart, Acts 2:1-21. When the Spirit of the Lord was poured out upon them—then they were greatly afflicted, opposed, and persecuted; when they had a greater measure of the Spirit, to enable them to bear the hatred, frowns, strokes, and blows of the enraged world—then all of them had the honor to suffer a violent death for Christ, as histories do evidence.
That is a very remarkable scripture, Luke 24:49, "And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. But stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven." The Lord Jesus would not have them go from Jerusalem, until they were endued with power from on high—the gifts and graces of the Spirit that are promised in Isaiah 44:3; Joel 2:28; John 14:16, and 15:26. Says Christ, "Stay here in the city, until you are completely armed and fitted for all encounters, until you be endued with power;" or, as the Greek carries it, "until you are clothed." They were as naked persons; they had but a little of the Spirit, so that they were not complete; they were not clothed with the Spirit, until after the ascension of Christ. Now says Christ, "Wait until such time as you are clothed with the Spirit." The Lord Jesus knew well enough that they would meet with bitter opposition, terrible afflictions, and dreadful persecution for his and the gospel's sake; therefore "stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven," that so nothing may daunt you, nor sink you.
The tenth support is this:
Support 10. That your persons stand not before God in your own righteousness—but in the perfect, spotless, and matchless righteousness of the Lord Jesus.
Weak hearts are apt to sit down troubled and discouraged, when they look upon that body of sin that is in them, and those imperfections which attend their chief services; they are ready to say, We shall one day perish by the strength of our lusts, or by the defects of our services. Oh but weak souls should remember this, to strengthen them against all discouragements, that their persons stand before God, clothed with the righteousness of their Savior, and so God owns them and looks upon them as persons wrapped up in his royal robe. Hence it is that he is called, Jer. 23:6, "JEHOVAH TSIDKENU, the Lord our righteousness." And so in 1 Cor. 1:30, "He is made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption." [The costly cloak of Alcisthenes, which Dionysius sold to the Carthaginians for a large sum, is a mean and beggarly rag, compared to that embroidered mantle which Christ puts upon the weakest saints.]
Though weak saints have nothing of their own—yet in Christ they have all, for in him is all fullness, Col. 1:19, both repletive and diffusive; both of abundance and of redundance; both of plenty and of bounty. Christ is made to weak saints wisdom, by his prophetical office; and he is made to weak saints righteousness and sanctification, by his priestly office; and he is made to weak saints redemption, by his kingly office. So in Col. 2:10, "And you are complete in him—who is the head of all principality and power."
Varro reports of two hundred and eighty-eight different opinions which were among the philosophers, as to what constituted happiness; but they were wrong in them all, one judging his happiness lay in this and another in that. They caught at the shadow of happiness—but could not come at the tree of life, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is weak saints' complete happiness. Rev. 14:5, "They were without fault before the throne of God." Though men may accuse you, judge and condemn you—yet know for your support, that you are acquitted before the throne of God. However you may stand in the eyes of men, as full of nothing but faults, people made up of nothing but sin—yet are you clear in the eyes of God. So in Cant. 4:7, "You are all fair, my love, and there is no spot in you." There is no spot in God's account. God looks upon weak saints in the Son of his love, and sees them all lovely; they are as the tree of Paradise, Gen. 3:6, "fair to his eye, and pleasant to his taste." Or as Absalom, in whom there was no blemish from head to foot. Ah, poor souls! you are apt to look upon your spots and blots, and to cry out with the leper not only "Unclean, unclean!" but "Undone, undone!" Well, forever remember this, that your persons stand before God in the righteousness of Christ; upon which account you always appear, before the throne of God, without fault; you are all fair, and there is no spot in you.
The eleventh support is this:
Support 11. Your sins shall never provoke Christ, nor prevail with Christ so far, as to give you a bill of divorce. [Read Jer. 3. Out of the most poisonful drugs God distills his glory and our salvation. Galen speaks of a maid, called Nupella, who was nourished by poison. God can and will turn the very sins of his people, which are the worst poison in all the world, into his children's advantage.]
Oh there is much in it, if the Lord would set it home upon your hearts. Your sins shall never prevail so far with Christ, nor ever so far provoke him, as to work him to give you a bill of divorce. Your sins may provoke Christ to frown upon you, they may provoke Christ to chide with you, they may provoke him greatly to correct you—but they shall never provoke Christ to give you a bill of divorce: Psalm 89:30-34, "But if his sons forsake my law and fail to walk in my ways, if they do not obey my decrees and fail to keep my commands, then I will punish their sin with the rod, and their disobedience with beating. But I will never stop loving him, nor let my promise to him fail. No, I will not break my covenant; I will not take back a single word I said."
That is a great support to a weak saint—that his sin shall never separate him from God nor Christ. You are many times afraid that this deadness, this dullness, this earthliness, and these wandering thoughts, etc., which attend you, will provoke the Lord Jesus to sue a bill of divorce against you. But remember this, your sins shall never so far prevail with Christ, as to work him to give you a bill of divorce.
Mark—There is nothing can provoke Christ to give you a bill of divorce but sin. Now sin is slain; consequently, I shall open this to you in three things:
[1.] First, Sin is slain JUDICIALLY; for it is condemned both by Christ and his people, and so it is dead according to law; which is and may be a singular comfort and support to weak saints, that their greatest and worst enemy, sin, is condemned to die, and shall not forever vex and torment their precious souls. It is dead judicially, it is under the sentence of condemnation: 1 Cor. 15:55, 56, "O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory? The sting of death is sin," etc. The apostle here triumphs over it as a thief condemned to death. Sin is sentenced now; though not fully put to death, it is dead judicially. As when the sentence of death is passed upon a malefactor, you say he is a dead man; why? he is judicially dead; so is sin, sin is judicially dead. When a man who has robbed and wounded another is taken, and sentenced judicially—we say he is a dead man. Sin, O weak soul! is sentenced and judicially slain; and therefore that can never work the Lord Jesus to give you a bill of divorce. The thoughts of which should much refresh you and support you.
[2.] Secondly, Sin is dead or slain CIVILLY, as well as judicially. It is civilly dead, because the power of it is much abated, and its dominion and tyranny overpowered. As when a king or tyrant is whipped and stripped of his power to domineer, reign, and play the tyrant, he is civilly dead, even while he lives; so is sin in this sense dead even while it lives, Romans 6:14. [It is with sin in the saints as it was with those beasts, Dan. 7:12, which had their dominions taken away, though their lives were prolonged for a season and a time.]
Adam died civilly the same day that he sinned. The creatures that before lovingly obeyed him, as soon as he renounced obedience to his God, they renounced all obedience to him or his sovereignty, so that he civilly died the very same day that he sinned.
That is a sweet word that you have, Romans 6:11, "Likewise reckon you also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin." Therefore Christ will never divorce you for sin. Oh what a support may this be to a weak saint, that sin, which he fears above all other things in the world, is slain judicially and civilly. The Lord has whipped and stripped it of all its ruling, reigning, domineering, tyrannizing power. Oh, therefore, Christians, look upon sin as dead, that is, as not to be obeyed, as not to be acknowledged, no more than a tyrant who is stripped of all his tyrannizing power. People who are wise, and understand their liberty, look not upon such a one as fit to be obeyed and served—but as one fit to be renounced and destroyed. You must so look upon your sins, and deal accordingly with them. [Where sin sits in the soul, as a king sits upon his throne, and commands the heart, as a king commands his subjects, there is reign of sin; but grace frees the soul from this.]
[3.] Thirdly, Sin is slain NATURALLY, as well as civilly. Christ has given it its death's wound by his death and resurrection. He has given sin such a wound, that it cannot be long-lived, though it may linger a while in a saint. As a tree that is cut at the root with a sore gash or two, must die within a year, perhaps a month, nay, it may be within a week; though for a time it may flourish, it may have leaves and fruit—yet it secretly dies, and will very shortly wither and perish. The Lord Jesus has given sin such a mortal wound, by his death and Spirit, and by the communication of his favor and grace to the soul, that sin shall never more recover its strength—but die a lingering death in the souls of the saints. Christ did not die all at once upon the cross—but little by little; to show us, that his death should extend to the slaying of sin gradually in the souls of the saints.
When our enemy has a mortal wound, we say he is a dead man, his wound is mortal; so when Jesus Christ has given sin such a deadly wound, such a mortal blow, that it shall never more recover its strength and power—we may truly say, it is dead, it is slain. Therefore cheer up, O weak souls, for certainly sin which is thus slain can never provoke Jesus Christ to give you a bill of divorce. Ah! that all weak Christians would, like the bee, abide upon these sweet flowers, and gather honey out of them, etc.
To proceed. The twelfth support is this:
Support 12. Christ and you are sharers.Know this, weak saints, for your support and comfort,
1. That Christ shares with you—and you share with Christ.I shall open this sweet truth to you a little.
[1.] Christ shares with you in your NATURES.
In Heb. 2:16, "For truly he took not on him the nature of angels—but he took on him the seed of Abraham." And by this he has advanced fallen man above the very angels. This is the great mystery spoken of, 1 Tim. 3:16, "And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness—God was manifested in the flesh," etc.
[2.] The Lord Jesus shares with you in your AFFLICTIONS.
In Isaiah 63:9, "In all their afflictions he was afflicted, and he personally rescued them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them. He lifted them up and carried them through all the years." It is between Christ and his church as between two lute strings, no sooner one is struck but the other trembles.
The ancients use to say commonly, that Alexander and Hephastion had but one soul in two distinct bodies, because their joy and sorrow, glory and disgrace, was mutual to them both. It is so between Christ and his saints. Their names, which are written in red letters of blood in the church's calendar, are written in golden letters in Christ's register in the book of life, said Prudentius. In my lifetime, said a gracious soul, I have been assaulted with temptations from Satan, and he has cast my sins into my teeth to drive me to despair; yet the Lord gave me strength to overcome all his temptations.
[3.] He shares with you in all SUFFERINGS and PERSECUTIONS.
Acts 9:4-5, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" There is such a near union between the Lord Jesus Christ and the weakest saints, that a man cannot strike a saint but he must strike through the very heart of Christ. Their sufferings are held his, Col. 1:24; and their afflictions are his afflictions, and their reproaches are his reproaches, Heb. 13:13; and their provocations are his provocations, Neh. 4:4-5; God is provoked more than Nehemiah. So Isaiah 8:18, compared with
Heb. 2:13. "Behold I, and the children whom the Lord has given me, are for signs and wonders in Israel." This the apostle applies to Christ, Heb. 2:13.
[4.] The Lord Jesus Christ shares with you in all your TEMPTATIONS. Heb. 2:17-18, and 4:15-16.
Christ was tempted, and he was afflicted as well as you, that he might be able so support you who are tempted. As a poor man who has been troubled with pain and grief, he will share with others who are troubled with pain or grief. Ah, friends! the Lord Jesus Christ has lost none of his affections by going to heaven; he is still full of compassion, though free from personal passion. When he was on earth, oh! how did he sympathize with his poor servants in all their temptations. "Satan," says Christ to Peter, "has desired to winnow you—but I have prayed for you who your faith fail not," Luke 22:32. Luther, in his preaching, addressed every man's temptation, and being once asked how he could do so? answered, Because I have experienced manifold temptations and experiences myself. Oh! the manifold temptations that the Lord Jesus has undergone, makes him sensible, as I may say, and willing to share with us in our temptations.
2. As Christ shares with weak saints, soweak saints share with Christ. And this I shall show you briefly in a few particulars.
[1.] Weak saints share with Christ in his DIVINE NATURE.
2 Peter 1:4, "Whereby are given to us exceeding great and precious promises; that by these we might be partakers of the divine nature." Not of the substance of the Godhead—for that is incommunicable; but by the divine nature we are to understand those divine qualities, called elsewhere, "the image of God," "the life of God," that whereby we are made like to God in wisdom and holiness, wherein the image of God, after which man was at first created, consists, Eph. 4:24, Col. 3:10. [To be made partakers of the divine nature notes two things: (1.) fellowship with God in his holiness; (2.) a fellowship with God in his blessedness.]
Saints do partake of this divine nature, that is, of those divine qualities before spoken of—they resemble God, not only as a picture does a man, in outward lineaments—but as a child does his father, in countenance and disposition. And well may grace be called "the divine nature," for as God brings light out of darkness, comfort out of sorrow, riches out of poverty, and glory out of shame; so does grace bring day out of night, and sweet out of bitter, and plenty out of poverty, and glory out of shame. Grace turns pennies into gold, pebbles into pearls, sickness into health, weakness into strength, and needs into abundance. "Having nothing—and yet possessing all things," 2 Cor. 6:10, etc.
[2.] Weak saints share with Christ in his SPIRIT and GRACE.
In Psalm 45:7, Christ is "anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows." They have the anointings of the Spirit, as well as he—though not so richly as he. They have their measure, though not that measure and proportion of the Spirit as the Lord Jesus has. So in John 1:16, "Of his fullness have all we received, grace for grace." There is in Christ not only a fullness of abundance—but also a fullness of redundance. There is an overflowing fullness in Christ, as a fountain overflows, and yet still remains full. "Grace for grace," or, "grace upon grace." Abundance of grace, and the increases of graces, one by another.
"Grace for grace," that is—as the paper from the press receives letter for letter; or as the wax from the seal receives print for print; or as the mirror from the image receives face for face—so does the weakest saint receive from Jesus Christ.
"Grace for grace," that is, for every grace that is in Christ, there is the same grace in us, in some measure. There is not the weakest saint who breathes—but has in him some wisdom that answers to the wisdom of Christ, and some love that answers to the love of Christ, and some humility, meekness, and faith, that answers to the humility, meekness, and faith of the Lord Jesus—in truth and reality—though not in degree or quantity, etc.
[3.] Weak saints share with Christ, in the manifestations and discoveries of his FATHER.
The Lord Jesus, who lies in the bosom of the Father, has the clearest and the fullest manifestations of the Father that can be, and he comes and opens the love and heart of the Father, he unbosoms God to the weakest saints, as in John 15:15, "Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knows not what his Lord does: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you." So in John 17:6-8.
[4.] Weak saints share with Christ in his honorable TITLES.
In the title of sons, 1 John 3:1, "Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us—that we should be called the sons of God!" And in that of heirs, Romans 8:17. Yes, they are priests, and prophets, and kings, as well as he, as you may see by comparing Rev. 8:5-6, with 1 Peter 2:9, etc. [The wife shares with her husband in all his titles of honor; so does a Christian with his Christ.]
[5.] Weak saints share with Christ in his CONQUESTS.
In 1 Cor. 15:55-57, Romans 8:37, Christ has triumphed over sword, famine, death, and devils, etc., and so have they through him also. Over all these we are more than conquerors, we are over and above conquerors. Oh what a blessed thing is this! that weak saints should share with Christ in his conquests. The poor weak soldier shares with his general in all his noble and honorable conquests; so does a poor weak Christian share with his Christ in all his noble and honorable conquests. [See 1 Sam. 18:17-29; Col. 2:14, 15; Eph. 2:13-16; Heb. 2:14,15; Romans 8:37.]
[6.] Lastly, They share with Christ in his HONOR and GLORY.
And what would they have more? John 12:26, "If any man serves me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serves me—him will my Father honor." 1 Peter 5:1, Eph. 2:6, "And has raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." Believers are already risen in Christ their head, and they do at this instant sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. Christ, as a public person, does represent all believing souls, and they are set down in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. In Romans 8:17, "If we suffer with him, we shall also reign with him." And in John 14:2-3, "I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there you may be also." So in Rev. 3:21, "To him who overcomes will I grant to sit with me on my throne, even as I overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne." [Christ is the believer's precursor, to prepare for them the best mansions, etc.]
Now, what would you have more, weak souls? Christ shares with you, and you share with Christ. You are apt to be discouraged because you do not share with Christ in such measures of grace, comfort, and holiness—as such and such strong saints do. Oh! but remember in how many weighty things Christ and you are sharers—and be dejected if you can! Ah, Christians! what though you do not share in the honors, profits, pleasures, and advantages of the world; yet this should be your joy and crown—that Christ and your souls are sharers in those things which are most eminent and excellent, most precious and glorious. The serious remembrance thereof, should bear up your heads, hopes, and hearts—above all the troubles, temptations, and afflictions that come upon you in this world, etc.
III.The third thing propounded, was to show you the DUTY of weak saints. Who these weak saints are, you have heard; and what their supports and comforts are, you have heard; and now I shall show you their duty in the following particulars.
And the first duty that I shall press upon weak saints is this:
1. To be thankful for that little grace they have.[The laws of Persia, Macedonia, and Athens, condemned the ungrateful person to death; and certainly unthankfulness may well be styled the epitome of all vices.]
Will you be thankful, O Christian, for the least courtesy showed you by men? And will you not be thankful for that little measure of grace that is bestowed upon you by God? Do you remember, O weak Christian! that the least measure of grace is more worth than a thousand worlds? that it is more worth than heaven itself? Do you remember, O weak Christian! that the greatest number of men have not the least measure or grain of saving grace? Does free grace knock at your door, when it passes by the doors of thousands? And does it cast the pearl of great price into your bosom, when others are left to wallow in their blood forever? And will you not be thankful? Oh do but consider, weak souls, how notoriously wicked you would have been if the Lord had not bestowed a little grace upon you! You look, O soul, one way, and there you hear some a-cursing, and a-blaspheming God to his very face. Had not the Lord given you a little grace, ten thousand to one but you had been one in wickedness among these monsters of mankind. And you look another way, and there you see persons dicing, carding, gambling and drunkenning, etc.; why, had not the Lord vouchsafed to you some tastes and sips of grace, you might have been as vile as the vilest among them! Ah, weak saints! you do not think what an awakened conscience would give for a little of that little grace that the Lord has given you. Were all the world a lump of gold, and in their hand to give—they would give it for the least spark of grace, for the least drop of mercy.
I have read of a man who, being 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. So would an awakened conscience give for one grain of grace. Oh! says such a soul, when I look up and see God frowning, when I look inward and feel conscience gnawing and accusing, when I look downward and see hell open to receive me, and when I look on my right and left hand, and see devils standing ready to accuse me, oh! had I a thousand worlds I would give them all for a little drop of that grace that such and such souls have, whom I have formerly slighted and despised. Oh! what would not a damned soul, that has been but an hour in hell, give for a drop of that grace that you have in your heart! Think seriously of this and be thankful. [One of the kings of England in his straits cried out, "A kingdom for a horse! a kingdom for a horse!" So do awakened consciences cry out, A kingdom for a Christ! a kingdom for a Christ, or a little grace!]
Well! remember one thing more, and that is this, namely, that there is no such way to get much grace, as to be thankful for a little grace. He who opens his mouth wide in praises, shall have his heart filled with graces. Ingratitude stops the ear of God, and shuts the hand of God, and turns away the heart of the God of grace, and therefore you had need be thankful for a little grace. Unthankfulness is the greatest injustice that may be; it is a withholding from the great landlord of heaven and earth his due, his debt.
Philip branded his soldier who asked for the land of one that had relieved him and kindly entertained him, with the ungrateful guest. Lycurgus among all his laws, made none against the ungrateful; because that was thought a thing so wicked, as not to be committed by man. O weak saints! give not God an occasion by your ingratitude to brand you, and to write upon your foreheads, ungrateful children. Had it not been for unthankfulness, Adam had been in paradise, the lapsed angels in heaven, and the Jews in their own land of promise. You know how to apply it, Isaiah 1:3-4.
But that I may in good earnest stir up your souls to thankfulness—will you take home with you these things, that perhaps have never or seldom been thought of by you?
[1.] First, Consider,that there is more need of praises than there is of prayers.
Two things do with open mouth proclaim this truth. And the first is this, our mercies greatly outweigh our needs. This is true in temporals—but infinitely more in spirituals and eternals. You lack this and that temporal mercy, and what is your lack, O soul! of this and that single mercy—compared to the multitudes of temporal mercies that you do enjoy? And as for spirituals, there is nothing more clear than this, that your spiritual mercies do infinitely outweigh your spiritual lacks. You lack this and that spiritual mercy—but what are those lacks to that God, that Christ, and all those spiritual blessings in heavenly places, with which you are blessed in Christ Jesus, Eph. 1:4. [God's favors and mercies seldom or never come single; there is a series or chain of them, and every former draws on a future.]
[2.] Secondly, Consider this, That all your wants and miseries are deserved and procured by your sins. Jer. 4:18, "Your way and your doings have procured these things unto you: this is your wickedness, because it is bitter, because it reaches unto your heart." And chapter 5:25, "Your iniquities have turned away these things, and your sins have withheld good things from you." But all your mercies are unmerited and undeserved; they all flow in upon you from the free love and favor of God; and therefore there is more need of praises than of prayers. And oh! that the high praises of God were more in your mouths, upon this very account! And oh that, with David, you would summon all the faculties of your souls to praise the Lord, who has filled you, and followed you with the riches of mercy all your days, Psalm 149:2, and 103:1-5. [God and Christ are the sole fountain from whence all these streams of living waters flow.] But,
[3.] Thirdly, Consider this, Thankfulness is a surer and a better evidence of our sincerity, than praying or hearing, or such like services, are.
Thanksgiving is a self-denying grace; it is an uncrowning ourselves and the creatures, to set the crown upon the head of our Creator; it is the making ourselves a footstool, that God may be lifted up upon his throne, and ride in a holy triumph over all; it is a grace that gives God the supremacy in all our hearts, thoughts, desires, words, and works. Self-love, flesh and blood, and many low and carnal considerations, may carry men to pray, and hear, and talk, etc. The whip may work a slave to work—but thankfulness is the free-will offering of a child. There is nothing that so clearly and so fully speaks out your sincerity, as thankfulness does. Therefore, weak saints, if you would have a substantial evidence of your sincerity—be thankful for a little grace. The little birds do not sip one drop of water—but they look up, as if they meant to give thanks, to show us what we should do for every drop of grace, etc. [It is much to be feared that that man is Christless and graceless, who is earnest in craving mercies—but slow and dull in returning praises. It is a sign that the dumb devil has possessed such a man.]
The fourth and last consideration to set this home is this:
[4.] A thankful soul holds consort with the music of heaven.
By thankfulness you are like the angels, who are still a-singing hallelujahs to him who sits upon the throne, and is blessed forever, Rev. 4:6-9, and 5:12-14. In heaven there are no prayers—but all praises. I am apt to think, that there cannot be a clearer nor a greater argument of a man's right to heaven, and ripeness for heaven, than this, being much in the work of heaven here on earth. There is no grace but love, nor no duty but thankfulness, which goes with us to heaven. [Epictetus wished he were a nightingale, to be ever singing. And what then should a saint wish?]
Ay—but weak saints may say, Sir! we judge that there is weight in what you say, to provoke us to thankfulness; but did we know that we had true grace, though it were ever so little, though it were but as the grain of mustard seed, we would be thankful. But this is our condition, we live between fears and hopes; one day hoping we shall go to heaven, and be happy forever; another day we are fearing that we shall go to hell, and miscarry forever; and thus we are up and down, backward and forward. Sometimes we believe we have grace, and at other times we doubt we have none; sometimes we have a little light, and suddenly our sun is clouded; one day we are ready to say with David, "The Lord is our portion," and the next day we are ready to complain with Jonah, that we are "cast out" from the presence of the Lord.
Methinks I hear a weak saint saying thus to me, Sir, I would gladly have an end put to this controversy which has been so long in my soul, namely, whether I have grace or not, and if you please, I will tell you what I find, and so humbly desire your judgment and opinion upon the whole.
Well, speak on, poor soul, and let me hear what you have found in your own soul.
Why, sir, then thus:
[1.] I find, first, a holy restlessness in my soul—until with old Simeon I have gotten Christ in my arms, yes, until I have gotten Christ in my heart, Luke 2:25-33. I go from duty to duty, and from ordinance to ordinance, and yet I cannot rest, because "I cannot find him whom my soul loves," Cant. 5:10. I am like Noah's dove, which could not rest until he had gotten into the ark. Oh I cannot be quiet until I know that I am housed in Christ. My soul is like a ship in a storm, which is tossed hither and there, oh! where shall I find him? Oh! how shall I obtain him who is the chief of ten thousand? What Absalom said in another case, I can say in this, says the poor soul; in his banishment he could say, "What is all this to me, so long as I cannot see the king's face?" And truly the language of my soul is this, What is honor to me? and riches to me? and the favor of creatures to me? so long as I go mourning without my Christ, so long as I see not my saving interest in my Christ. [The child is restless until it be in the mother's arms.]
Well, have you anything else to say, O weak Christian?
Yes sir, I have one thing more to say.
What is that?
Why, it is this:
[2.] I can truly say, that the poorest, the most distressed and afflicted man in the world, is not fuller of desires, nor stronger in his desires than I am. The poor man desires bread to feed him, and the wounded man desires a plaster to heal him, and the sick man desires cordials to strengthen him, etc. But these are not fuller of desires after those things which are suitable to them, than I am of holy and heavenly desires. Oh that I had more of God! oh that I were filled with Christ! oh that I had his righteousness to cover me, his grace to pardon me, his power to support me, his wisdom to counsel me, his loving-kindness to refresh me, and his happiness to crown me, etc.
Well, is this all, O weak saint?
No, sir, I have one thing more to tell you.
What is that?
Why, that is this:
[3.] Though I dare not say that Christ is mine—yet I can truly say, that Christ, his love, his works, his grace, his word, are the main objects of my contemplation and meditation. Oh, I am always best, when I am most a-meditating and contemplating Christ, his love, his grace, etc. Psalm 139:17, "How precious are your thoughts unto me, O God; how great is the sum of them!"
Well, is this all, O weak saint?
No, sir, I have one thing more to say.
What is that?
Why, it is this:
[4.] I can truly say, That the lack of Christ's love is a greater grief and burden to my soul, than the lack of any outward thing in this world. I am in a lacking condition, as to temporals; I lack health, and strength, and trading, friends, and money, "which is the answer to all things," as Solomon speaks, Eccles. 10:19. And yet all these lacks do not so grieve me, and so afflict and trouble me, as the lack of Christ, as the lack of grace, as the lack of the discoveries of that favor, which is better than life, Psalm 63:3-4.
Well, is this all, O weak saint?
No, sir, there is one thing more.
What is that?
Why, that is this:
[5.] That I would not willingly nor resolvedly sin against Christ, for a world. It is true, I dare not say I have a saving interest in Christ—yet I dare say that I would not willingly and resolvedly sin against Christ for a world. [I will rather leap into a bonfire than willfully to commit wickedness, willfully to sin against God.] I can say, through grace, were I this moment to die, that my greatest fear is of sinning against Christ, and my greatest care is of pleasing Christ. I know there was a time, when my greatest care was to please myself and the creature, and my greatest fear was to displease myself and the creature. I can remember with sorrow and sadness of heart, how often I have displeased Christ to please myself, and displeased Christ to please the creature. But now it is quite otherwise with me, my greatest care is to please Christ, and my greatest fear is of offending Christ. [And I, said Anselm, had rather go to hell pure from sin than to heaven polluted with that filth. The primitive Christians chose rather to be thrown to lions without, than left to lusts within.]
Well, is this all, O weak saint?
No, sir, I have one thing more.
What is that?
Why, that is this:
[6.] Though I dare not say that Christ is mine, and that I have an interest in him—yet I can truly say, I dearly love the people of Christ, for the image of Christ that I see stamped upon them. It is true, I dare not say Christ is mine, and heaven is mine; I cannot say with such and such, "The Lord is my portion;" yet I can say that I dearly love those who have the Lord for their portion. I can truly say, that the poorest and the most neglected, and the most despised saint in the world, is more precious in my eye, and more dear to my soul, than the greatest and the richest sinner in the world, Psalm 16:3. [It is reported of Bucer and Calvin, that they loved all those in whom they could espy anything of Christ. It is just so with these poor hearts who question their present condition.]
Well, is this all, O weak saint, that you have to say?
No, sir, I have one thing more.
What is that?
Why, that is this:
[7.] Though I dare not say that I have any interest in Christ, or that I love Christ—yet I dare say, that my soul weeps and mourns in secret for the dishonor that is done to Christ, both by myself and by others also. I can look the Lord in the face, were I now to die, and say, Lord! you who know all thoughts and hearts, you do know, that "my eyes run down with rivers of tears, because men keep not your law," Jer. 9:1-3; Psalm 119:136.
Well, is this all?
No, sir, I beg your patience to hear me in one thing more.
What is that, O weak Christian?
Why, that is this:
[8.] That I prize people and things according to the spiritualness and holiness which is in them; and the more spiritual and holy any man or thing is, the more is that man and thing prized by my soul.
I have often thought of that sweet word, Psalm 119:104, "Your word is very pure, therefore does your servant love it." [Much in the word is wrapped up in a little; it is more to be admired than to have Homer's Illiads comprised in a nutshell. The word is like the stone, garamantides, which has golden drops within itself, enriching of the gracious soul.] Other men love it because of the profit they get by it, or because of a name, or this, or that; but I love it for the purity, for the holiness, and the cleanness of it. No preaching, says the weak saint, nor any praying, nor any talking, nor any society is sweet to me—but that which is most spiritual, most holy. It is not an exercise tricked and trimmed up with wit, learning, and eloquence; it is not the hanging of counterfeit pearls on truth's ears, which I prize; but the more plainness, spiritualness, and holiness, I see in an exercise, the more is my heart raised to prize it and love it.
And therefore, says the weak saint, because Christ is perfectly and infinitely holy above all other, I prize Christ above all. Ordinances are sweet—but Christ is more sweet to my soul. Saints are precious—but Christ is far more precious. Heaven is glorious—but Christ is infinitely more glorious. The first thing that I would ask, if I might have it, says the weak saint, is Christ. And the next thing that I would ask, if I might have it, is more of Christ. And the last thing that I would ask, if I might have it, is that I might be satiated and filled with the fullness of Christ. Let the ambitious man take the honors of the world, so I may but have Christ. Let the voluptuous man swim in all the pleasures of the world, so I may have Christ. And let the covetous man tumble up and down in all the gold and silver of the world, so I may have Christ—and it shall be enough to my soul. [None but Christ, none but Christ, said the martyr.]
Well, is this all, O weak saint?
No, sir; I have one thing more to say,
What is that?
Why, it is this:
[9.] I find the same conflict in my soul that Paul found in his soul, after he was converted nearly fourteen years, after he was taken up into as clear and choice enjoyments of God, as any soul that ever I read of. The conflict that is mentioned, Romans 7:6, I find in my soul. The whole frame of my soul, understanding, will, and affections, are set against sin. I find that "I hate the evil that I do, and I find that the good which I would do—I do not; and the evil which I would not do—that do I. I find a law in my members, rebelling against the law of my mind, and leading of me captive into the law of sin," and this makes me often to cry out with Paul, "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of death? Therefore I sometime hope, that those sins which are now my burden, shall never hereafter be my bane. [The best saints in this world are like the tribe of Manasseh, half on this side Jordan, in the land of the Amorites, and half on that side, in the Holy Land. And though to be kept from sin brings most comfort to a poor soul—yet for a poor soul to oppose sin, and God to pardon sin—that brings most glory to God, 2 Cor. 12:7-9.]
Well, and is this all, O weak saint?
No, sir; I have one thing more to say.
What is that?
Why that is this:
[10.] I can truly say, when the Lord gives me any strength against sin, and any power to serve him, and walk close with him in his ways—it is a greater joy and comfort to my soul, than all the blessings of this life. Though I have not yet seen, he has "set me as a seal upon his heart, as a seal upon his arm;" though I have not yet the clear assurance of his love; though his spirit has not yet set up such a light in my soul, whereby I might run and read my right and title to himself and heaven; yet when he does give me but a little light through a crevice, when he does but begin to cause his love to dawn upon me, when he gives me but a little strength against sin, and a little power to walk close with himself, etc.; oh, this does administer more abiding joy, and more sweet peace, and more solid comfort to my soul, than all the riches, honors, friends, and favors of this world. [A gracious soul is as careful that he does not endanger another by a bad life, as he is careful to save his own life.]
Well, is this all, O weak saint?
No, sir; I have one thing more to say.
What is that?
Why, that is this:
[11.] Though my interest in Christ be not clear to me—yet I can truly say I would not change my condition with the men of this world, for a thousand worlds, Psalm 101:3; 139:21-22; 120:6. It is true, I cannot say that I have "the seal and witness of the Spirit," that many talk and boast of, though I fear but a few enjoy; yet I can truly say, that I would not change my estate with men merely civil, nor with the profane men of this world, for ten thousand worlds, etc.
Well, is this all, O soul!
No, sir; I have but one thing more, and then I am done.
Well, what is that?
Why, that is this.
[12.] I find my soul carried forth to a secret resting, relying, leaning, staying, and hanging upon Christ for life and happiness. Though I know not how it shall go with me—yet I have thrown myself into his arms; I lean upon him; there I will hang, and there I will rest and stay: "if I must perish, I will perish there," Job 13:15; 2 Kings 7:3-5; Esther 4:16.
And thus, sir, I have opened my state and condition to you; and now I do earnestly desire your judgment upon the whole.
Well, then, this I shall say, as "I must answer it in the day of my appearing before God," that had I as many souls as I have hairs on my head, or as there be stars in heaven, I could freely adventure the loss of them all, if these things do not undeniably speak out, not only the truth—but also the strength of grace, etc. Nay, let me tell you, that he who finds but any of these things really in his soul, though the Lord has not given him a clear and full manifestation of his love and favor, etc.—yet, while breath is in his body, he has eminent cause to bless God, and to walk thankfully and humbly before him.
The second duty is this,
2. Live up to that little grace you have.
You say, O weak Christian, you have but a little light, a little love, a little zeal, a little faith, etc. Well, grant it—but know that it is your duty to live up to those measures of grace you have. And this is the second head that I shall press upon you—live up and live out that grace you have. [To speak well, says Isiodore Pelusiota, is to sound like a cymbal; but to live well, is to act like an angel, etc.] And if ever there were a season to press this point home upon souls, this is the season in which we live. And considering that it is not a flood of words—but weight of argument, which convinces sincere people, I shall therefore propound these following things to their serious consideration.
[1.] First, Consider this, living up to your graces carries with it, the greatest evidence of the truth of grace.
That man who lives not up to his grace, let him be strong or weak, lacks one of the best and strongest demonstrations that can be, to evidence the truth of his grace. If you would have a clear evidence that that little love, that little faith, that little zeal you have is true—then live up to that love, live up to that faith, live up to that zeal that you have, and this will evidence it beyond all contradiction, etc. [If Seneca said of his wise man, He is more in heaven than in earth; may not I say this is much more true of the godly? etc.]
[2.] Secondly, Consider this, God and your own souls will be very great losers, if you live not up to those measures of grace you have.
God will lose many prayers and many praises; he will lose much honor, and glory, and service, which otherwise he might have; and you will lose much peace, much comfort, much rest, quietness, and content that otherwise your souls might enjoy, etc. [Of all losses, spiritual losses are the saddest and greatest; and re-gained with the greatest difficulty.]
[3.] Thirdly, Consider this, your not living up to that little light and grace you have, will open the mouths of graceless souls against your gracious God, and against his gracious ones, and against his gracious ways. [1 Peter 2:15, "For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men." The Greek word signifies to muzzle, to halter up, or button up their mouths, as we say. Oh! there is nothing which will so muzzle and button up the mouths of vain men—as Christians living up to that light and grace they have.]
You think, because of the weakness of your grace—you must be borne with in this, and that, and what not. But remember, it is your duty to live up to the light and grace you have; and nothing below this will effectually stop the mouths of graceless wretches from barking against the ways of God, the truths of God, and the people of God. Vain men will be often a-reasoning thus: though such and such men and women have not such great knowledge, such clear light, such strong love, and such burning zeal as David, Paul, and other worthies—yet they have so much light and knowledge as tells them that they should not live thus and thus as they do. Their light and knowledge tells them that they should be just and righteous in their dealings, and in all their ways and designs, etc. Though they have not such great measures of spiritual enjoyments as such and such—yet that little grace they have, should lead them by the hand to do things worthy of that Christ and the gospel they profess, etc.
Let me a little expostulate the point with you, weak saints; you know that you should not be stirred and heated by every straw that is in your way. Why, then, do you not in this, live up to your light? You know that you should not "be overcome of evil—but overcome evil with good," Romans 12:21. Why, then, do you not in this, live up to your light? You know that you should "do good to those who do hurt to you," Mat. 5:44-48. Why, then, do you not in this, live up to your light? You know that you should do your duties to others, though they neglect their duties to you. It is not the neglect of a husband's duty—which frees the wife from the discharge of hers; nor the neglect of a wife's duty—which frees the husband from the discharge of his. You know this, don't you? Yes! Why don't you then live up to your light? Why do you by your bad lives—open the mouths of others against God and his ways? You know that you should be exemplary in your relations, in your callings, and in your conversations; you know that you should be examples of holiness, meekness, sweetness, patience, and contentedness—so why then, don't you live up to your knowledge in these things? You know that you should do to others as you would have others to do to you—so why then, in this, don't you live up to your knowledge? Ah! that you who are weak did not cause the mouths of wicked men to be opened against God, his truths and ways—by your living below that light and knowledge which God has given you! I beseech you, as you desire the honor of God, and as you would stop the mouths of vain men—live up to those measures of grace that the Lord has given you! No way to comfort like this, no way to the crown like this. He will not be long a babe in grace—who lives out that little grace he has.
[4.] Fourthly, Living up to your light, is the readiest and the only way to recover all that has been lost by your living below your light.
By your living below your light, God, your own souls, and the gospel have lost much, yes, and others also have lost much light, comfort, strength, and quickness, etc., which they might have had, had you but lived up to that little grace you had. Now, there is no way on earth to recover these losses—but by living up to that grace which you have. Ah, Christians! it is not your running from sermon to sermon—not that I speak against frequent hearing of the word—nor your crying up this man and that man, or this doctrine and that, or this way or that, which will recover and fetch up the honor that God has lost by your living below your graces.
It is only your living up to your graces, which will make up all the breaches that have been made upon his honor and the gospel, and upon the comfort and peace of your own souls and others. Well, remember this, all the honor that God has from you in this life—is from your living up to that light, knowledge, love, fear, and faith that he has given you. There is nothing that will make up all losses but this; therefore I beg of you, upon the knees of my soul, that you would take this one thing home with you, and go into your closets, and lay your hands upon your hearts, and say—Well, the Lord has lost much, and my own soul has lost much, and others have lost much—by my living below that little grace I have; and therefore I will now make it my business, by assisting grace, to live up to those measures of grace that I have received, more than yet I have done all my days. I will, by the strength of Christ, make it more my duty and my work to live out what God has given me, than ever yet I have done, that so the Lord and the gospel may, be no further losers, but gainers by me.
[5.] The fifth and last motive is this, the readiest and the surest way to get more grace—is to live up to that little grace you have.
He who lives up to a little light shall have more light; he who lives up to a little knowledge shall have more knowledge; he who lives up to a little faith shall have more faith; and he who lives up to a little love shall have more love, etc. [Job 17:29; Cant. 6:10; Proverbs 4:18. There is a country in Africa where the people's industry has an abundant reward; for every bushel of seed they sow, they receive one hundred and fifty after. The application is easy.] There is no such way to attain to greater measures of grace as for a man to live up to that little grace he has. Truly, the main reason why many are such babes and shrubs in grace—is because they do not live up to their attainments. He who won't improve two talents, shall never have the honor to be trusted with five; but he who improves a little, shall be trusted with much: "The diligent hand makes rich," Proverbs 10:4. He who is active and agile, who works as well as wishes, who adds endeavors to his desires—will quickly be a cedar in grace.
Ah, Christians! you have a God who is great, a God who is good, a God who is gracious, and a God who is rich—who does not like to see his children to be always weaklings and striplings in grace. The very babe, by drawing the breasts, gets strength and nourishment. Oh you babes in grace, put out that little strength you have, be you still a-drawing at the breasts of Christ, at the breasts of the promises, and strength will come, nourishment will follow, etc. [Dionysius gave him his money back, after that he heard he employed a little well. And will God be worse than a heathen?]
The third duty that I would press upon weak saints is this:
3. Be sure that you always reflect upon your graces, and whatever good is in you—with cautions.
This is a weighty point, and does bespeak your most serious attention. There are six rules or cautions, which weak saints should always observe in their looking upon their graces.
And the first is this:
[1.] Look upon all your graces as gifts of grace—as favors given you from above—as gifts dropped out of heaven into your hearts—as flowers which are given you out of the garden of paradise.
A man should never look upon his grace—but he should look upon it as a flower of paradise, as a gift which God has cast into his bosom from heaven. 1 Cor. 4:7, "Who makes you to differ from another? And what have you who you have not received?" etc. "Of your own," says David, "have we given you," 1 Chron. 29:14. You talk of light, of love, of fear, of faith, etc.—but what are all these but pearls of glory which are freely given to you, by the hand of grace? "Every good and perfect gift comes down from above." As all light flows from the sun, and all water from the sea—so all good flows from heaven. The greatest excellencies in us do as much depend upon God, as the light does upon the sun.
When you look upon your wisdom, you must say, Here is wisdom, ay—but it is from above; here is some weak love working towards Christ—but it is from above; here is joy, and comfort, and peace—but these are all the flowers of paradise; they never grew in nature's garden. When a soul looks thus upon all those costly diamonds with which his heart is decked—he keeps low, though his graces are high. Where this rule is neglected, the soul will be endangered of being swelled and puffed.
Mr Foxe used to say, that "as he got much good by his sins—so he also got much hurt by his graces." When you look upon the stream, remember the fountain; when you look upon the flower, remember the root; when you look upon the stars, remember the sun; and when you look upon your graces, remember the fountain of grace, else Satan will be too hard for you. Satan is so artful, so subtle and critical, that he can make your very graces to serve him against your graces; conquering joy by joy, sorrow by sorrow, humility by humility, fear by fear, and love by love—if you do not look upon all your graces as streams flowing from the fountain above, and as fruits growing upon the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God. Therefore, when one eye is fixed upon your graces—let the other be always fixed upon the God of grace.
[2.] Secondly, At that time when your eye is upon inherent grace and righteousness, let your heart be fixed upon Christ, and his imputed righteousness. [Let us say of Christ, as the heathen once said of his petty gods, so long as he had Jupiter to friend, he regarded them not. So, so long as we have our Jesus as our friend, we should not regard others, no, not our very graces, in comparison of Christ.]
Paul's eye was upon his grace: Romans 7:22, 25, "I delight in the law of God, after the inward man. And with my mind I serve the law of God." And yet at that very same time, his heart was set upon Christ, and taken up with Christ; ver. 25, "I thank God, through our Lord Jesus Christ." So in Col. 2:2-3, you have one eye fixed upon grace, and at the same time the heart fixed upon Christ. "That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ; in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." His eye is upon grace, his heart is upon Christ. So in Philip. 3:8, the apostle has his eye upon the excellent knowledge of Christ—but ver. 9, his heart is set upon the righteousness of Christ. "That I might be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law—but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith." Here you have his eye upon grace, and his heart upon Christ, in the very presence of his grace. This is your glory, Christians, in the presence and sight of all your graces—to see the free grace of Christ, and his infinite, spotless, matchless, and glorious righteousness—to be your surest, sweetest, highest, and choicest comfort and refuge.
Peter was not well skilled in this lesson, and that was the very reason that he fell foulest, when his confidence was highest. Grace is a ring of gold, and Christ is the diamond in that ring; and he who looks more upon the ring than the diamond which is in it—in the hour of temptation, he will certainly fall. When the wife's eye is upon her rings or jewels, then her heart must be set upon her husband. When grace is in my eye, Christ must at that time be in my arms, yes, he must lie between my breasts: Cant. 1:13, "My beloved is as a bundle of myrrh, he shall lie all night between my breasts." Christ, and not grace, must lie nearest to a Christian's heart.
[3.] A third thing is this, When you look upon your grace, you must look upon it as a beautiful creature—which is begotten in the soul by Christ, and which is strengthened, maintained, nourished, and upheld in your souls—by nothing below the spiritual, internal, and glorious operations of Christ. [Gal. 2:20, Philip. 1:6. When God crowns us, he does but crown his own gifts in us.—Augustine.]
Though grace is a beautiful creature—yet grace is but a creature—and your souls must look upon it only as a creature. Grace is a heavenly offspring, it is the first-born of God, as I may say, and does most represent him to the life. Grace is a bud of glory; it is of the blood royal; it is nobly descended, James 1:17. So in Heb. 12:2, "Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith." Christ is the Alpha and Omega, the beginner and ender. In all other things and arts, the same man cannot begin and finish—but Christ does both. Philip. 1:5, Our graces thrive and are upheld in life and power, in beauty and glory—only by the internal operation of Christ in our souls. So in Col. 1:27, "Christ in you the hope of glory," So ver. 29, "Whereunto I also labor, striving according to his working which works in me mightily."
So Philip. 4:13, "I can do all things, through Christ who strengthens me;" I can be high and low, poor and rich, honorable and base, something or nothing, etc., through Christ who strengthens me. [The word all things, though it be an universal, is not to be taken in the utmost extent—but according to the use of the like phrases in all languages, wherein the universal sign affixed, either to persons, or times, or places, or things—signifies a great number—but not all without exception, as you may see by comparing these scriptures together: Psalm 14:4, 8-9; John 14:26; 1 Cor. 10:23. So those words are to be understood in Philip. 4:13.]
So in Cant. 4:16, "Blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may send forth a fragrant smell." We may puff and blow our hearts out, and yet no savory smell will flow forth, if Christ does not blow.
So in Psalm 138:3, "In the day when I cried, you answered me, and strengthened me with strength in my soul." Your graces, Christians, are heavenly plants of God's own planting and watering; and certainly the heavenly farmer will never allow such plants of renown to wither, for lack of heavenly sap; he will strengthen, support, and nourish the work of his own hand. He will cause the desires of his people to bud, and their graces to blossom, and their souls to be like a watered garden—green and flourishing: Isaiah 58:11, compared with Isaiah 35:6-7.
[4.] Fourthly, When you look upon your graces, you must look upon them as a pledge of more glorious and unspeakable measures of grace and glory—which your souls shall be filled with at last.
In Eph. 1:13-14, "Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession--to the praise of his glory." That little light and knowledge you have, is a pledge to your soul, that you shall at last know, even as you are known. 1 Cor. 13:12, "For now we see through a glass darkly—but then face to face. Now I know in part—but then shall I know, even as I am known." Christians know but little of what they should know, they know but little of what they might know, they know but little of what others know, they know but little of what they desire to know, they know but little of what they shall know—when they shall come to know "even as they are known." And yet these weak and imperfect glimpses that they have of God and heaven here, are infallible pledges of that perfect knowledge and full prospect that they shall have of God and heaven hereafter.
So that that little spark of joy which you have, is a pledge of those everlasting joys which shall rest upon your head—when all sorrow and mourning shall fly away, Isaiah 35:10, etc. And those sips of comfort you have now, are a pledge of your swimming in those everlasting pleasures that are "at God's right hand," Psalm 16:11. The least measures of grace are a pledge of greater measures. God will not lose his pledge, though men often lose theirs. God will not despise "the day of small things;" he will make those who bring forth but thirty fold, to bring forth sixty fold; and those who bring forth sixty fold, to bring forth a hundred fold, etc.
God, his Son and Spirit, are all eminently and fully engaged to carry on the work of grace in his children's souls. Therefore do not sit down and say, My light is but dim, and my love but weak, and my joy but a spark which will quickly go out, etc. But always remember, that those weak measures of grace which you have, are a sure evidence of greater measures which God will confer upon you in his own time and in his own ways.
[5.] Fifthly, When you look upon your graces, be sure that you look more at the quality of your graces, than at the quantity of your graces.
You must rather bring your graces to the touchstone—to try their truth and reality; than to the balance—to weigh their measures. Many weak Christians are weighing their graces, when they should be a-trying the truth and reality of their graces—as if the quantity of grace were more considerable than the essence and nature of grace. And this is that which keeps many weak saints in a dark, doubting, questioning, and despairing condition; yes, this makes their lives a very hell. Weak saints, if you will not observe this rule, this caution, when you look upon your graces—you will go sighing and mourning to your graves. Ah! poor hearts, you should not be more cruel to your own souls than God is. When God comes to a judgment of your spiritual estates, he does not bring a pair of scales to weigh your graces—but a touchstone to try the truth and reality of your graces; and so should you deal by your own souls. If you deal otherwise, you are more cruel to your souls than God would have you. And if you are resolved that in this you will not imitate the Lord, then I dare prophesy that joy and peace shall be none of your guests, and he who should comfort you will "stand afar off," Lam. 1:16.
It is good to own and acknowledge a little grace—though it be mingled with very much corruptions; as that poor soul did, Mark 9:24, "And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help my unbelief." He had but a little little faith, and this was mixed with abundance of unbelief, and yet notwithstanding he acknowledges that little faith he had, "Lord, I believe, help my unbelief." His faith was so weak, that he accounts it little better than unbelief; yet, says he, "Lord, I believe, help my unbelief." The least measure of true faith will make you blessed here, and happy hereafter. [Grace is one substance. Every twinkling of light is light; every drop of water is water; every spark of fire is fire; every drop of honey is honey. So every drop of grace is grace; and if the least drop or spark of grace be not worth acknowledging, it is worth nothing.]
Much faith will give us a heaven here on earth. And any faith, if true, will give us heaven hereafter. So the church in Cant. 1. 5, "I am black—but lovely." She had nothing to say for her purity—yet she acknowledges her loveliness. "I am black—but lovely." Though she could not say she was fully pure—yet she could say she was lovely. As she was free to confess her blackness, so she was ingenuous to acknowledge her loveliness. "I am black—but lovely."
Ah, Christians! will you deal worse with your own souls, than you deal with your children? When you go to make a judgment of your child's affections, you look more to the truth of their affections, than you do to the strength of their affections; and will you be less sincere and favorable to your poor souls? If he deserves to be branded, who feasts his child and starves his wife; what do you deserve, who can acknowledge the least natural good that is in a child—and yet will acknowledge none of that spiritual and heavenly good that is in your souls?
[6 ] Sixthly, and lastly, When you look upon your graces, look that you do not renounce and reject your graces, seen in the light of the Spirit, as a weak and worthless evidence of your interest in Christ, and that happiness which comes by Christ.
I know in these days many cry up revelations and visions—yes, the visions of their own hearts—and make slight of the graces of Christ in the hearts of his people. Yes, they look upon grace as a poor weak thing. Ah, Christians! take heed of this, else you will render null, in a very great measure, many precious scriptures, especially the Epistles of John—which were penned for the comfort and support of weak saints. [Grace, says one, is the foundation of all our felicity, and comprehends all blessings, as manna is said to have done all good tastes. John's epistles are a rich treasury for Christian assurance.]
But that this may stick and work, be pleased to carry home with you these three things.
(1.) First, Other precious saints who are now triumphing in heaven, have pleaded their interest in God's love, and hopes of a better life—from graces inherent.
I will only point at those scriptures that speak out this truth: 1 John 3:14, 2:3-4; Job 23:10-12; and the whole 31st chapter of Job; Psalm 119:6; Isaiah 38:2-3; 2 Cor. 1:12. All these scriptures, with many others which might be produced, do with open mouth proclaim this truth. And surely to deny the fruit growing upon the tree to be an evidence that the tree is alive—is to me as unreasonable as it is absurd. Certainly, it is one thing to judge by our graces, and another thing to trust in our graces, to make a Savior of our graces. There is a great deal of difference between declaring and deserving; and if this be not granted, it will follow, that the apostle has sent us to a covenant of works, when he exhorts us to "use all diligence to make our calling and election sure," 2 Peter 1:5-10. [Christians may doubtless look to their graces as evidences of their part in Christ and salvation; and the clearer and stronger they are, the greater will be their comfort; but not as causes of their salvation.]
(2.) Secondly, Carry home this with you, If justification and sanctification are both benefits of the covenant of grace—then to evidence the one by the other, is no ways unlawful; nor it this a turning aside to a covenant of works:
But our justification and sanctification are both benefits and blessings of the covenant of grace. Consequently in Jer. 33:8, "I will pardon all their iniquity, whereby they have sinned against me," there is your justification; "and I will cleanse them from all their iniquity, whereby they have sinned against me," there is your sanctification. And therefore to evidence the one by the other, can be no ways unlawful, nor it this a turning aside to a covenant of works.
(3.) Thirdly, Carry home this with you, Whatever gift of God in man brings him within the compass of God's promise of eternal mercy—that gift must be an infallible evidence of salvation and happiness. But such are those gifts mentioned in those scriptures that prove the first head. Therefore they are infallible evidences of our salvation and eternal happiness.
I confess a man may have many great gifts, and yet none of them bring him within the compass of God's promise of eternal mercy. But I say, whatever gift of God in man brings him within the compass of God's promise of eternal mercy—that gift must be an infallible evidence of his happiness and blessedness. [Covet rather graces than gifts; as to pray more fervently, though less notionally or eloquently. Stammering Moses must pray—rather than well-spoken Aaron. The Corinthians came behind in no gift, 1 Cor. 1:7; yet were babes and carnal, chapter 3:2-3.]
For the further clearing of this, I will instance in a gift of waiting. Where this gift is, it brings a man within the compass of God's promise of eternal mercy. And had a man, as in a deserted state it often happens, nothing under heaven to show for his happiness—but only a waiting frame, this ought to bear him up from fainting and sinking. When the soul says, "My sun is set, my day is turned into night, my light into darkness, and my rejoicing into mourning, etc., oh, I have lost the comforting presence of God! I have lost the quickening presence of God! I have lost the supporting presence of God! I have lost the encouraging presence of God! etc., and when I shall recover these sad losses, I know not. All that I can say is this, that God keeps me in a waiting frame, weeping and knocking at the door of mercy." Now, I say, this waiting temper brings the soul within the compass of the promise of eternal mercy. And certainly such a soul shall not miscarry. Take three promises for this.
In Isaiah 40:31, "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." The mercy is the waiting man's—but the waiting man must give God leave to time his mercy for him. So in Isaiah 30:18, "And therefore will the Lord wait, that he may be gracious unto you; and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you: for the Lord is a God of judgment; blessed are all those who wait for him." So in Isaiah 64:4, "For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither has the eye seen, O God, besides you, what he has prepared for him who waits for him." So in Isaiah 49:23, "They shall not be ashamed, who wait for me."
Men are often ashamed—who wait upon other men. Men high and great often frustrate the expectation of waiting souls, and then they blush, and are ashamed and confounded that they have waited, and been deceived; but "they shall not be ashamed, who wait for me," says God; I will not deceive their expectation, and after all their waiting turn them off, and say, I have no mercy for you. [That is, they shall be advanced by me to great happiness and glory, to great dignity and felicity; for in the Hebrew dialect, adverbs of denying signify the contrary to the import of that verb whereunto they are joined, as might be showed by many scriptures.] Now, I say, where this waiting temper is, which is all that many a poor soul has to show for everlasting happiness and blessedness, that soul shall never miscarry. That God who maintains and upholds the soul in this heavenly waiting frame—in the appointed season will speak life and love, mercy and glory, to the waiting soul.
And so I have done with the third use, which was to stir you up to look upon your graces with cautions.
The fourth duty is:
4. To persuade weak saints not to turn aside from the ways of God, nor from the service of God, because of any hardships or difficulties that they meet with in his ways or service.
There is a very great aptness in weak saints to take offence almost at everything, and to be discouraged by the least opposition, affliction, and temptation—and so to turn aside from the good old way. Now that no difficulties nor hardships may turn you out of the way that is called holy, consider seriously of these few things.
[1.] First, Consider this, the Lord will sweeten more and more his services to you.
He will make his work to be more and more easy to your souls; he will suit your burden to your back, and your work to your hand. O weak soul! you shall find that his grace will be sufficient to hold you up and carry you on, notwithstanding any difficulties or discouragements that are in the way. He will shed abroad that love that shall constrain your soul, both to keep close to his service, and to delight in his service, 2 Cor. 12:9; ver. 14. He will make all his services to be easy to you; he will give to you that assisting grace which shall keep up your head and heart from fainting and sinking under discouragements, as you may see in Ezek. 36:25-28, "And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you shall keep my judgments, and do them." So in Psalm 63:8, "My soul follows hard after you," (ay—but how comes this to pass?): "Your right hand upholds me!" I feel your hand under me, drawing of my soul off after you. Oh! were not your gracious hand under me, I would never follow hard after you.
The Lord will put under his everlasting arms, O weak Christian! and therefore though your feet be apt to slide—yet his everlasting arms shall bear you up. Therefore be not discouraged, do not turn aside from those paths that drop marrow and fatness, though there be a lion in the way. [The philosopher told his friends when they came into his little poor cottage, The gods are here with me. Surely God, and Christ, and the Spirit are, and will be, with weak saints, to aid and assist them in every gracious work.]
[2.] Secondly, Consider this, O weak saint! that there is less danger and hardship in the ways of Christ, than there is in the ways of sin, Satan, or the world.
That soul does but leap out of the frying-pan into the fire, that thinks to mend himself by turning out of the way that is called holy. Oh! the horrid drudgery that is in the ways of sin, Satan, or the world. Your worst day in Christ's service—is better than your best days, if I may so speak, in sin or Satan's service, Proverbs 11:18-19, and 21:21. Satan will pay the sinner at last with the loss of God, Christ, heaven, and his soul forever. "But in the way of righteousness is life, joy, peace, honor, and in the pathway thereof there is no death," Proverbs 12:28. "His ways are ways of pleasantness, and all his paths are peace," Proverbs 3:17.
[3.] Thirdly, Remember, O weak saint! that all those hardships that you meet with—do only reach the outward man.
They only reach the ignoble, the baser part of man; they meddle not, they touch not, the noble part. "With my mind I serve the law of God, though with my flesh the law of sin," Romans 7:22. And verse 25, "I delight in the law of God, after the inward man." And indeed many of the heathen have encouraged themselves in this very consideration, against the troubles and dangers of this life. All the arrows which are shot at a Christian stick in his shield, they never reach his conscience, his soul. The raging waves beat sorely against Noah's ark—but they touched not him. The soul is of too noble a nature to be touched by troubles. Jacob's hard service under Laban, and his being nipped by the frost in winter, and scorched by the sun in summer, did only reach his outward man; his soul had high communion, and sweet fellowship with God, under all his hardships, Gen. 31:40. Ah, Christian! bear up bravely, for whatever hardships you meet with in the ways of God, shall only reach your outward man; and under all these hardships you may have as high and sweet communion with God, as if you had never known what hardships meant, Hosea 2:14.
[4.] Fourthly, Tell me, O weak saints! have not you formerly enjoyed such sweet refreshings while you have been in the very service of God, as has outweighed all the troubles and hardships that your souls have met with? I know you have, and you know that you have often found that scripture made good upon your hearts, Psalm 19:11, "Moreover, by them is your servant warned, and in keeping of them there is great reward." Mark, he does not say, "for keeping of them there is great reward," though that is a truth; but, "in keeping of them there is great reward. While the soul is at work, God throws in the reward. Do not you remember, O weak Christians! when you have been in the service and way of God, how he has cast in joy at one time, and peace at another? etc. Oh! the smiles, the kisses, the sweet discoveries that your souls have met with, while you have been in his ways. Ah, poor souls! do not you know that one hour's being in the bosom of Christ will make you forget all your hardships? Heaven at last will make amends for all; and the more hardships you find in the ways of God, the more sweet will heaven be to you when you come there.
[Austin says, If a man should serve the Lord a thousand years, it would not deserve an hour of the reward in heaven, much less an eternity, etc.] Oh, how sweet is a harbor after a long storm, and a sunshine day after a dark and tempestuous night, and a warm spring after a sharp winter! The miseries and difficulties that a man meets with in this world, will exceedingly sweeten the glory of that other world.
[5.] Lastly, consider, What hardships and difficulties the men of this world run through, to get the world, and undo their own souls.
They rise early, go to bed late; they go from one end of the world to another, and venture through all manner of dangers, deaths, and miseries—to gain those things which are vain, uncertain, vexing, and dangerous to their souls, Psalm 127:2, Mat. 16:16. And will not you, as "a good soldier of Christ," 2 Tim. 2:3-4, endure a little hardship for the honor of your Captain, and your own internal and eternal good? You are listed under Christ's colors, and therefore you must arm yourself against all difficulties and discouragements. The number of difficulties makes the Christian's conquest the more illustrious. A gracious man should be made up all of fire, overcoming and consuming all oppositions, as fire does the stubble. All difficulties should be but whetstones to his fortitude, as Chrysostom said of Peter.
The fifth duty is this:
5. You who are weak saints should observe how Christ keeps your wills and affections.
That man is kept indeed, whose will and affection is kept close to Christ; and that man is lost with a witness, whose will and affections are won away from Christ. Weak saints are more apt to observe their own actions than their wills and affections, and this proves a snare unto them; therefore observe your affections, how they are kept; for if they are kept close to Christ, if they are kept faithful to Christ, though your foot may slide from Christ, all is well. The apostle, Romans 7:17, seq., observed, that his will and affections were kept close to Christ even then, when he was tyrannically captivated and carried by the prevalency of sin from Christ: "With my mind I serve the law of God," says he, "and what I do I allow not; therefore it is no more I that does it—but sin that dwells in me." My will stands close to Christ, and my affections are faithful to Christ, though by the prevalency of corruption I am now and then carried captive from Christ. It is one thing to be taken up by an enemy, and another thing for a man to lay down his weapons at his enemy's feet. I am, says the apostle, a forced man, "I do what I hate;" I do what I never intended. The heart may be sound, when more external and inferior parts are not. The heart of a man may be sound God-ward and Christ-ward and holiness-ward, when yet there may be many defects and weaknesses in his conversation.
Now, a weak Christian should be very studious to observe how his heart stands God-wards; for the man is as his heart is; if that be right with Christ, then all is well; therefore, says Solomon, Proverbs 4:23, "Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life." The Hebrew runs more fully thus: "Before all," or, "Above all keepings, keep your heart; for out of it is the goings forth of lives." The heart is the spring and fountain of all natural and spiritual actions, it is the primum mobile—the great wheel which sets all other wheels a-going; it is the great monarch in the isle of man; therefore keep it with all custody and caution, or else bid farewell to all true joy, peace, and comfort. When the heart stands right towards Christ, Christ will pardon much, and pass by much. [The heart is the presence-chamber of the king of heaven.]
If the ravished virgin in the time of the law cried out, she was guiltless; so when a poor soul, ravished by the power of corruption, and strength of Satan's temptations, cries out, "Lord, I would not, for all the world, sin against you, I would not distrust you, I would not be impatient under your afflicting hand, I would not be proud under your merciful hand; but, Lord, these sons of Zeruiah, 2 Sam. 3:39, these corruptions, are too hard for me; they commit a rape upon me; they ravish me of my Jesus, and of my joy, and of my peace; Lord, help me, Lord deliver me!" Now these weaknesses shall not be charged upon the soul. The ravished virgin under the law, if she cried out, was guiltless; and certainly God is not, nor will not be, less merciful and gracious to his people under the gospel, who are still a-crying out against their sins and Satan's assaults. Surely those sins shall never be a Christian's bane—which are now his greatest burden. It is not falling into the water—but lying in the water, that drowns. It is not falling into sin—but lying in sin, that damns. If sin and your heart be two, Christ and your heart are one. If your heart is Christward, you are so happy that nothing can make you miserable.
6. Sixthly, Take heed of making sense and feeling a judge of your condition. Though there is nothing more dangerous—yet there is nothing more ordinary, than for weak saints to make their sense and feeling the judge of their condition. Ah, poor souls! this is dishonorable to God, and very disadvantageous to yourselves. Sense is sometimes opposite to reason—but always to faith; therefore do as those worthies did, 2 Cor. 5:8, 9, "We walk by faith—and not by sight." [Sense and reason in spiritual things, says Luther, is noxia bestia—a harmful beast, that will destroy and pull down what faith builds up.]
For a man to argue thus: Surely God is not my God, for I am not enlightened, I am not quickened, I am not melted, I am not raised, I am not enlarged as formerly. Oh! I have not those sweet answers and returns of prayer that once I had! Oh! I cannot find the Lord's quickening presence, nor his enlivening presence, nor his humbling presence, nor his encouraging presence, as once I have; therefore surely my condition is not good. Oh! I am more backward to good than formerly, and more prone to evil than formerly, therefore I am afraid that God is not my God, and that the work of grace is not thorough upon me. Oh! God does not look upon me as in the days of old, nor speak to me as in the days of old, nor behave towards me as in the days of old, and therefore I am afraid that all is naught.
Truly, if you will make sense and feeling the judge of your estate and condition, you will never have peace nor comfort all your days. Your estate, O Christian, may be very good, when sense and feeling says it is very bad. That child cannot but be perplexed, who thinks his father does not love him, because he does not always feel him smoothing and stroking of him. Christians, you must remember that it is one thing for God to love you—and another thing for God to tell you that he loves you. Your happiness lies in the first—your comfort in the second. God has stopped his ear against the prayers of many a precious soul whom he has dearly loved. [Psalm 80:4; Lam. 3:34; Psalm 119:25, 37, 40, 88, 107, 149, 154, 156, 159; 42:5; Cant. 3:1-3; Isaiah 54:7-8.]
The best of men have at times lost that quickening, ravishing, and comforting presence of God, which once they have enjoyed. And truly, he who makes sense and carnal reason a judge of his condition, shall be happy and miserable, blessed and cursed, saved and lost, many times in a day, yes, in an hour! The counsel that I would give to such a soul that is apt to set up reason in the room of faith is this, Whatever your estate and condition be, never make sense and feeling the judge of it—but only the word of God. Did ever God appoint carnal reason, sense, and feeling, to be a judge of your spiritual estate? Surely not. And why, then, will you subject your soul to their judgments? God will judge you at last by his word: John 12:48, "The word that I have spoken, the same shall judge you in the last day."
Carnal reason is an enemy to faith; it is still a-crossing and contradicting of faith; it fills the mind full of cavils and prejudices, full of pleas and arguments, to keep Christ and the soul asunder, and the soul and the promises asunder, and the soul and peace and comfort asunder. It will never be well with you so long as you are swayed by carnal reason, and rely more upon your five senses than the four evangelists. Remember Job was as famous for his confidence as for his patience: "Though he slays me—yet will I trust in him," Job 13:15. As the body lives by breathing, so the soul lives by believing, etc.
IV. The duties of strong saints to the weak.
We come now to the last thing propounded, and that is, the duties of strong saints to those who are weak. I intend at this time to finish this point, and therefore shall not speak everything that might be spoken, being not of their minds, who think a man never speaks enough, who speaks not all that may be spoken to an argument. I shall, as near as I can, instance in those duties which are most weighty and worthy. And surely those souls who are serious and conscientious in the discharge of these, cannot, nor will not, be negligent in the discharge of the rest. Now there are eleven duties that strong saints are to perform to those who are weak.
And the first is this.
[1.] Those who are strong ought to bear with the infirmities of the weak.
Romans 15:1, "We then who are strong," says the apostle, "ought to bear with the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves." The word that is rendered to bear signifies to bear as pillars do bear the weight and burden of the house; to bear as porters do bear their burdens, or as the bones do bear the flesh, or rather as parents bear their babes in their arms.
"Bear the infirmities." Mark, he does not say the enormities—but the infirmities; he does not say the wickedness—but the weakness. The strong ought to bear with the infirmities of the weak. The Lord bears with the weakness of his children. Peter is weak, and sinful through weakness; he will not let the Lord Jesus wash his feet, John 13; but the Lord Jesus knowing that this was from weakness, and not from wickedness, he passes it over, and notwithstanding his unkind refusal, he washes his feet. Thomas is very weak: "I will not believe," says he, "except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side," John 20:25. Now this Christ bears with much tenderness and sweetness, as you may see in ver. 27, "Then said he to Thomas, Reach hither your fingers, and behold my hands, and reach hither your hand, and thrust it into my side, and be not faithless—but believing." The Lord Jesus does, as it were, open his wounds afresh; he overlooks his weakness. Well, says he, seeing it is so that you will not believe, I will rather bleed afresh than you shall die in your unbelief.
So the three disciples whom Christ had singled out to watch with him one hour, Mat. 26, they showed a great deal of weakness to be sleeping, when their Lord was a-sorrowing; to be snorting when their Savior was sighing, etc. Yet Christ bears this, and reacts sweetly towards them, and excuses their weakness: ver. 41, "The spirit is willing—but the flesh is weak." Oh how sweetly does the Lord behave! Every new man is two men; he has a contrary principle in him, the flesh and the spirit. The spirit, the noble part, is willing—but the flesh, the ignoble part, is weak and wayward.
Now shall the Lord thus bear with his weak ones, and shall not strong saints bear also? Remember, strong Christians, there was a day when you were as weak as others, as apt to fall as others, as easily conquered as others; and if then the Lord behaved sweetly towards you, let the same spirit be in you towards those who are weak. It will be no grief of heart to you, if in this you act like your Lord and Savior.
If you do not bear with the infirmities of the weak, who shall? who will? This wicked world cannot, nor will not. The world will make them transgressors for a word, and watch for their halting; and therefore you had need to bear with them so much the more, Isaiah 29:21, Jer. 20:10. The world's cruelty should stir up your compassions.
[2.] Secondly, As it is your duty to bear with them, so it is your duty to receive them into communion with you.
Romans 14:1, "Receive him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters." That is, him who is not thoroughly persuaded of all things pertaining to Christian liberty, about things indifferent. He does not say, "Those who have no faith receive." For there is no rule for the saints or churches to receive them into communion, who have no faith, who have no fellowship with the Father and the Son. But "Receive him whose faith is weak."
The word that is here rendered receive, signifies to receive into our bosom with charitable affection. The Greek word signifies three things.
(1.) It signifies to receive weak saints into our heart; to receive them with the greatest tenderness, affection, pity, and compassion that possibly can be. So the same Greek word is used in the Epistle of Philemon, ver. 12, where Paul entreats Philemon "to receive Onesimus who is my very heart." The word there is the same word with this in the text. So must the strong receive the weak, even as their own heart; receive them with the greatest affection, with the greatest compassion that possibly can be.
(2.) The word signifies patiently to bear with the weak when they are received; and not to take them into your bosom, into your communion one day and cast them out the next—but patiently to bear with them, as well as affectionately to receive them.
It was the heathen prince Xerxes, who crowned his steersman in the morning—and beheaded him in the evening of the same day, etc.
(3.) The word signifies by fatherly instruction to seek to restore him. It is not the will of Christ that weak saints should be rejected, or that the door of entrance should be shut against them, until they are stronger, or until they have attained to such heights and such perfections of grace and divine enjoyments of God as others have attained. Remember this, as the weakest faith, if true, gives the soul a right to all that internal and eternal worth that is in Christ: so the weakest faith, if true, gives a man a real right unto all the external privileges and favors that come by Christ. In Romans 15:7, "Therefore receive one another—as Christ also received us to the glory of God." This is the standing rule for all the saints and churches in the world to go by. It is not their wills—but these two scriptures last cited, which are the standing rules by which all the churches on earth are to go by, in the admission of members.
"Those who are weak in the faith" are to be received by you, because the Lord Jesus has received them. Christ does not receive the strong—and cast off the weak. No; the Lord Jesus gathers the weak into his bosom, and tenderly dandles them upon his knee. He receives the weak—as well as the strong; therefore says the apostle, "As the Lord has received them—so do you."
Bucer rejected none in whom he saw aliquid Christi—anything of Christ—but gave them the right hand of fellowship. Such people and churches can never answer it to Christ—who keep the door of admission shut against souls truly gracious, though they are but weak in grace, though they have not attained to such a measure of light, or degrees of love, or to such perfections in holiness—as such and such have done. No; the standing rule is, "Him whom the Lord has received—receive."
If weak saints shall desire communion, and be willing to walk in the ways that Jesus Christ has appointed his saints to walk in, the churches ought to give them the right hand of fellowship. And that is the second duty that lies upon the strong, namely, that they are to receive the weak into communion and fellowship with them, and that with the greatest affection, love, and compassion, that possibly can be.
A third duty that lies upon strong saints to the weak is this:
[3.] They must look more upon their graces—than upon their weaknesses.
It is a sad thing when they shall borrow spectacles to behold their weak brethren's weaknesses, and refuse looking-glasses wherein they may see their weak brethren's graces. Saints who are strong ought to look more upon the virtues of weak saints than upon their miscarriages. When Christ saw but a little moral good in the young man, the text says that "He looked upon him, and loved him," Mark 10:12. And shall not we look upon a weak saint and love him, when we see the love of God and the image of God upon him. Shall moral virtue take the eye, and draw the love of Christ? And shall not supernatural grace in a weak Christian, take our eyes and draw our hearts? Shall we eye a little gold in much earth? And shall we not eye a little grace where there is much corruption? [If moral virtue could be seen with mortal eyes, it would soon draw all hearts to itself, says Plato. What, then, should grace do? the least grain of which is of more worth than all the moral virtues in the world.]
It is an unsufferable weakness, I had almost said, for people to allow their affections to run out only to such who are of their judgments; and to love, prize, and value people according as they suit their opinions—and not according to what of the image of God shines in them. But if this be not far from a gospel spirit, and from that God-like spirit which should be in saints, I know nothing. It speaks out much of Christ within, to own where Christ owns, and love where Christ loves, and embrace where Christ embraces, and to be one with everyone that is practically one with the Lord Jesus. Christ cannot but take it very unkindly at our hands—if we should disown any upon whom he has set his royal stamp. And I bless his grace that has drawn out my desires and endeavors to love, own, and honor the people of Christ, according to the appearances of Christ which I see in them. And, if I am not much mistaken, this is the highway to that joy, peace, and comfort—the lack of which makes a man's life a hell. God looks more on the bright side of the cloud, than he does on the dark—and so should we.
It was the honor of Vespasian that "he was more ready to conceal the vices of his friends, than their virtues." Surely there is much of God in that soul, that is upon a gospel account more careful and skillful to conceal the vices of weak saints, than their virtues. Many in these days do justly incur the censure which that sour philosopher passed upon grammarians, that "they were better acquainted with the evil of Ulysses, than with their own."
[4.] Fourthly, it is the duty of strong saints, in things indifferent—to deny themselves, to please the weak.
1 Cor. 8:13, "If what I eat is going to make another Christian sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live—for I don't want to make another Christian stumble." Strong saints must stand unchangeably resolved neither to give offence carelessly, nor to take offence causelessly. Says the apostle, I will not stand to dispute my Christian liberty—but will rather lay it down at my weak brother's feet, than I will by the use of it offend one for whom Christ has died. 1 Cor. 9:22, "To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak. I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some." That is, I condescended and went to the uttermost that I possibly could, without sin—to win and gain upon the weak; I displeased myself in things which were of an indifferent nature, to please them.
You ought not, O strong Christian, by the use of your Christian liberty, to put a stumbling-block before your weak brother. Romans 15:2, "We then who are strong, ought to bear with the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let everyone of us please his neighbor for his good to edification." He does not say, Let everyone of us please the lust of his neighbor—but let everyone of us please his neighbor for his good to edification. Let us in things of an indifferent nature so yield as to please our neighbor. There were some who thought that they might observe days; others thought they might not. Some thought they might eat meat; others thought they might only eat vegetables. Why, says the apostle, in these things which are of an indifferent nature, I will rather displease and deny myself, to profit my neighbor, than I will, by the use of my liberty, occasion my neighbor to offend. Ay, this is true Christian love indeed, for a man to cross himself to please his neighbor, so it may be for his soul's edification. But this heavenly love is driven almost out of the world, which causes men to dislike those things in others which they flatter in themselves.
A fifth duty incumbent upon strong saints is,
[5.] To support the weak.
1 Thes. 5:14, "Support the weak, be patient towards all men." Look, what the crutch is to the lame, and the beam of the house is to the ruinated house—that ought strong saints to be to the weak. Strong saints are to be crutches to the weak, they are to be, as it were, beams to bear up the weak. Strong saints are to set to their shoulder, to shore up the weak by their counsels, prayers, tears, and examples. Strong saints must not deal with the weak, as the herd of deer do with the wounded deer; they forsake it and push it away. Oh no! When a poor weak saint is wounded by a temptation, or by the power of some corruption, then those who are strong ought to support and support such a one, lest he be swallowed up in sorrow. When you who are strong see a weak saint staggering and reeling under a temptation or affliction, Oh, know it is then your duty to put both your hands underneath, to support him so that he faints not, that he miscarries not in such an hour. Isaiah 35:3, "Strengthen the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees." [Look, what the nurse is to the child, the oak to the ivy, the house to the vine; that should strong saints be to the weak, etc., 2 Cor. 2:7.]
"Strengthen the weak hands," that is, hands that hang down; "and confirm the feeble knees," that is, such knees that by reason of feebleness are ready to fall. Strengthen such, that is, encourage them, by casting in a promise, by casting in your experiences, or by casting in the experiences of other saints, that so they may be supported. It may be his case was once yours: if so, then tell him what promises did support you, what discoveries of God did uphold you; tell him what tastes, what sights, and what in-comes you had, and how bravely you did bear up, by the strength of his everlasting arms which were under you, etc.
A sixth duty that is incumbent upon strong saints is,
[6.] To take heed of making weak saints halt and go lame in a way of holiness, or of keeping them off from the ways of God, or of turning them out of the ways of God.
That is the meaning of that scripture, as I conceive, Luke 17:2. And of that, Mat. 18:10, "Beware that you don't despise a single one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven." You are apt to slight them because they are weak in grace and holiness, and so you are apt to cause them to halt; but take heed of this, they have glistening courtiers which attend them; therefore take heed that you do not offend them, for their angels, as so many champions, stand ready to right them and fight for them. A man were better offend and anger all the devils in hell, and all the witches in the world, than to anger and offend the least of Christ's little ones. If Cain despises Abel, God will arraign him for it: "Why is your countenance cast down?" Gen. 4:6. If Miriam does but mutter against Moses, God will spit in her face for it, Num. 12:14.
That is a very dreadful word, Mat. 18:6, "But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea." You make nothing of it—but says Christ, take heed, "for it would be better that a millstone," a huge millstone, as the Greek word signifies, such a one as only a donkey can turn about; (this kind of punishment the greatest malefactors among the Jews were put to in those days, says Jerome), "and cast into the middle of the sea;" so it is word for word in the Greek, the middle being deepest and furthest off from the shore, rendering his condition most miserable and irrecoverable.
[7.] Seventhly, It is the duty of strong saints to suit all things to the capacity of the weak.
To suit all their prayers and all their discourses to the capacity of the weak. Paul was good at this: "To the weak became I as weak." Paul was a man as strong in natural and acquired parts as any living, and he knew how to word it, and to carry it in as lofty strains, as any who breathed—yet who more plain in his preaching than Paul? It has many a time made my heart sad, to think how those men will answer it in the day of Christ—who affect lofty strains, high notions, and cloudy expressions—who make the plain things of the gospel dark and obscure.
Many preachers in our days are like Heraclitus, who was called "the dark doctor;" they affect sublime notions, obscure expressions, uncouth phrases, making plain truths difficult, and easy truths hard. "They darken counsel with words without knowledge," Job 38:2. Studied expressions and high notions in a sermon, are like Asahel's carcass in the pathway, which did only stop men and make them gaze—but did no ways profit them or better them. It is better to present truth in her native plainness, than to hang her ears with counterfeit pearls.
That is a remarkable scripture, 1 Cor. 3:1-2, "And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual—but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat; for hitherto you were not able to bear it, neither yet now are you able." The apostle did not soar aloft in the clouds, and express the mysteries of the gospel in such a dark obscure way as that poor creatures could not be able to understand the mind of God in it. No; but he suited all his discourses to their capacities; and so must you.
[8.] Eighthly, It is your duty to labor to strengthen weak saints against sin, and to draw them to holiness argumentatively.
When a strong saint comes to deal with one that is weak, and would strengthen him against sin, he must do it argumentatively; and when he would draw to holiness, he must do it argumentatively. 1 John 2:1-2, compared with chapter 1:7, 9, "My little children, these things I write unto you—that you sin not." What things were those he wrote? Mark, chapter 1:7, "If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses from all sins." Here he fences them against sin, by one of the strongest and choicest arguments that the whole book of God affords, by an argument which is drawn from the soul's communion with God. And then in verse 9, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If any man sins, we have an advocate with the Father." Here the apostle labors to strengthen weak saints argumentatively, even by the strongest arguments that the whole book of God affords. So verses 12-13, "I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you, for his name's sake," etc. So in verse 18, "Little children, it is the last times, and as you have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists, whereby we know that it is the last time." So verse 28, "And now, little children, abide in him, that when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does righteousness is born of him." You see in all these scriptures how the apostle labors to strengthen weak saints in a way of holiness, and to fence them against ways of wickedness argumentatively, and so must you; this being the ready way to convince them, and to make a conquest upon them, etc.
The ninth duty that lies upon strong saints is,
[9.] To cast a mantle over the infirmities of the weak.
Now there is a three-fold mantle that should be cast over the infirmities of the weak. There is a mantle of wisdom, a mantle of faithfulness, and a mantle of compassion, which is to be cast over all the infirmities of weak saints.
First, Strong saints are to cast a mantle of wisdom over the infirmities of weak saints. They are not to present their sins in that ugliness, and with such aggravations, as may terrify, as may sink, as may make a weak saint to despair, or may drive him from the mercy-seat, or as may keep him and Christ asunder, or as may unfit him for the discharge of pious duties. It is more a weakness than a virtue in strong Christians, when a weak saint is fallen, to aggravate his fall to the uttermost, and to present his sins in such a dreadful dress, as shall amaze him, etc. It often proves very prejudicial and dangerous to weak saints, when their infirmities are aggravated beyond Scripture grounds, and beyond what they are able to bear. He who shall lay the same strength to the rubbing of an glass dish, as he does to the rubbing of a pewter platter, instead of cleaning it, shall surely break it all to pieces. The application is easy, etc. [Parisiensis said sometimes concerning trifles: It is, said he, as if a man should see a fly or a flea on a man's forehead, and for that should presently take a hammer to knock him on the head to kill the fly.]
Secondly, There is a mantle of faithfulness which is to be cast over the infirmities of weak saints. A man should never reveal the infirmities of a weak saint, especially to such that have neither skill nor will to heal and bury them. The world will but blaspheme and blaze them abroad, to the dishonor of God, to the reproach of religion, and to the grief and scandal of the weak, etc. They will with Ham rather call upon others to scoff at them, than bring a mantle to cover them, etc. Ham was cursed because he revealed his father's nakedness to his brethren, when it was in his power to have covered it. He saw it, and might have drawn a curtain over it—but would not; and for this, by a spirit of prophecy, he was cursed by his father, Gen. 9:22. This age is full of such monsters, who rejoice to blaze abroad the infirmities of the saints, and these certainly justice has or will curse.
Thirdly, There is a mantle of compassion which must be cast over the weaknesses and infirmities of weak saints. When a weak man comes to see his sin, and the Lord gives him to lie down in the dust, and to take shame and confusion to himself, that he has dishonored God, and caused Christ to bleed afresh, and grieved the Spirit, etc.; oh now you must draw a covering, and cast a mantle of love and compassion over his soul, that he may not be swallowed up with sorrow. Now you must confirm your love to him, and carry it with as great tenderness and sweetness after his fall, as if he had never fallen. This the apostle presses, 2 Cor. 2:7, "Love," says the wise man, "covers all sin." Love's mantle is very large. Love claps a plaster upon every sore; love has two hands, and makes use of both, to hide the scars of weak saints.
Christ, O strong saints, casts the mantle of his righteousness over your weaknesses, and will not you cast the mantle of love over your brother's infirmities? [I have known a good old man, said Bernard, who, when he had heard of any that had committed some notorious offence, was accustomed to say with himself, He fell today—so may I tomorrow, etc.]
[10.] Tenthly, It is the duty of strong saints to sympathize with the weak; to rejoice with them when they rejoice, and to mourn with them when they mourn.
2 Cor. 11:29, "Who is weak, and I am weak? who is scandalized, offended—and I am not on fire, burn not?"
Thuanus reports of Lodovicus Marsacus, a knight of France, when he was led with other martyrs that were bound with cords, going to execution, and he for his dignity was not bound, he cried, Give me my chains too, let me be a knight of the same order.
It should be between a strong saint and a weak, as it is between two lute-strings, which are tuned one to another; no sooner one is struck—but the other trembles; no sooner should a weak saint be struck—but the strong should tremble. "Remember those who are in bonds, as bound with them," Heb. 13:3.
The Romans punished one that was seen looking out at his window with a crown of roses on his head, in a time of public calamity; and will not God punish those who do not sympathize with Joseph in his afflictions? Surely he will. Amos 6:1-14.
[11.] Lastly, It is the duty of the strong to give to the weak the honor which is due unto them.
1 Peter 3:7: They have the same name, the same baptism, the same profession, the same faith, the same hope, the same Christ, the same promises, the same dignity, and the same glory with you; therefore speak honorably of them, and behave honorably towards them. Let not those be under your feet—whom Christ has laid near his heart, etc. And so much for this second doctrine, that all saints are not of an equal size and growth in grace and holiness.