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MEDITATIONS ON THE HINDRANCES WHICH
KEEP BACK A SINNER FROM THE
PRACTICE OF PIETY.

Those hindrances are chiefly seven:—

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

The Scriptures mistaken are these:

1. Ezek. xxxiii. 14, 16, “At what time soever a sinner repenteth him of his sin, I will blot out all,” &c. Hence the carnal Christian gathers, that he may repent when he will. It is true, whensoever a sinner does repent, God will forgive; but the text saith not, that a sinner may repent whensoever he will, but when God will give him grace. Many, saith the scripture, when they would have repented, were rejected, and could not repent, though they sought it carefully with tears (Heb. xii. 17; Luke xiii. 24, 27.) What comfort yields this text to thee who hast not repented, nor knowest whether thou shalt have grace to repent hereafter?

2. Matt. xi. 28, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Hence the lewdest man collects, that he may come unto Christ when he list; but he must know that no man ever comes to Christ, but he who, as Peter saith, having known the way of righteousness, hath escaped the pollutions of the world, through the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (2 Pet. ii. 20, 22.) To come unto Christ is to repent and believe (Isa. i. 18; John vi. 35;) and this no man can do, except his heavenly Father draw him by his grace (John vi. 4.)

3. Rom. viii. 1, “There is therefore no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” True; but they are such who walk not after the flesh, as thou dost, but after the Spirit, which thou didst never yet resolve to do.

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4. 1 Tim. i. 15, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” &c. True; but such sinners, who like St. Paul, are converted from their wicked life; not like thee, who still continuest in thy lewdness: “For that grace of God which bringeth salvation unto all men, teacheth us, that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.” (Tit. ii. 11, 12.)

5. Prov. xxiv. 16, “A just man falleth seven times in a day, and riseth,” &c. [in a day is not in the text:] which means not falling into sin, but falling into trouble, which his malicious enemy plots against the just, and from which God delivers him (Psal. xxxiv. 19.) And though it meant falling in and rising out of sin, what is this to thee, whose falls all men may see every day? but neither God nor man can at any time see thy rising-again by repentance.

6. Isa. lxiv. 6, “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” Hence the carnal Christian gathers, that, seeing the best works of the best saints are no better, then his are good enough; and therefore he needs not much grieve that his devotions are so imperfect. But Isaiah means not in this place the righteous works of the regenerate, as fervent prayers in the name of God; charitable alms from the bowels of mercy; suffering in the gospel’s defence, the spoil of goods, and spilling of blood, and such works which Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. v. 22;) but the prophet, making an humble confession in the name of the Jewish church, when she had fallen from God to idolatry, acknowledges, that whilst they were by their filthy sins separated from God, as lepers are from men by their infecting sores and polluted clothes, their chief righteousness could not be but abominable in his sight. And though our best works, compared with Christ’s righteousness, are no better than unclean rags; yet, in God’s acceptation for Christ’s sake, they are called white raiment (Rev. iii. 18), yea, pure fine linen and shining (Rev. xix. 8), far unlike the 78leopard’s spots (Jer. xiii. 23) and filthy garments (Zech. iii. 4.)

7. James iii. 2, “In many things we sin all.” True; but God’s children sin not in all things as thou doest, without either bridling their lusts or mortifying their corruptions. And though the relics of sin remain in the dearest children of God, that they had need daily to cry, “Our Father which art in heaven, forgive us our trespasses;” yet, in the New Testament, none are properly called sinners, but the unregenerate (Gal. i. 15; Rom. v. 8; John ix. 31;) but the regenerate, in respect of their zealous endeavour to serve God in unfeigned holiness, are everywhere called saints; insomuch that St. John saith, “Whosoever is born of God sinneth not,” (1 John iii. 9; v. 18;) that is, liveth not in wilful filthiness, suffering sin to reign in him, as thou dost. Deceive not thyself with the name of a Christian: whosoever liveth in any customary gross sin, he liveth not in the state of grace. “Let, therefore,” saith St. Paul, “every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” (2 Tim. ii. 19.) The regenerate sin, but upon frailty; they repent, and God doth pardon; there they sin not to death (1 John v. 16.) The reprobate sin maliciously, sinfully, and delight therein; so that by their good will, sin shall leave them before they will leave it; they will not repent, and God will not pardon; therefore their sins are mortal, saith St. John, or rather immortal, as saith St. Paul (Rom. ii. 5.) It is no excuse, therefore, to say, we are all sinners: true Christians, thou seest, are all saints.

8. Luke xxiii. 43. The thief converted at the last gasp, was received to paradise. What then? if I may have but time to say, when I am dying, “Lord have mercy upon me,” I shall likewise be saved. But what if thou shalt not? and yet many in that day shall say, Lord, Lord, and the Lord will not know them (Matt. vii. 22, 23.) The thief was saved, for he repented; but his fellow had no grace to repent, and was damned. Beware, therefore, 79lest, trusting to late repentance at thy last end on earth, thou be not driven to repent too late without end in hell.

9. 1 John i. 7, “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin.” And 1 John ii. 1, “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous,” &c. O comfortable! but hear what St. John saith in the same place, “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not;” if, therefore, thou leavest thy sin, these comforts are thine—else they belong not to thee.

10. Rom. v. 20, “Where sin abounded, grace did abound much more.” O sweet! but hear what St. Paul addeth, “What shall we say then? shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (Rom. vi. 1, 2.) This place teacheth us not to presume, but that we should not despair. None, therefore, of these promises, promiseth any grace to any but to the penitent heart.

The grounds of religion mistaken are these:—

1. From the doctrine of justification by faith only, a carnal Christian gathers, that good works are net necessary. He commends others that do good works, but he persuades himself that he shall be saved by his faith, without doing any such matter. But he should know, that though good works are not necessary to justification, yet they are necessary to salvation: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath predestinated that we should walk in them.” (Eph. ii. 10.) Whosoever, therefore, in years of discretion, brings not forth good works after he is called, he cannot be saved; neither was he ever predestinated to life eternal (Fulk. Rhem. Test. Annot. in Eph. ii. 2.) Therefore the Scripture saith, that Christ will reward every man according to his works (Rom. ii. 6; 2 Cor. ix. 6; Rev. xxii. 12.) Christ respects in the angels of the seven churches nothing but their works (Rev. ii. 2;) 80and at the last day he will give the heavenly inheritance only to them who have done good works—in feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, &c. At that day righteousness shall wear the crown (Matt. xxv.; 2 Tim. iv. 8.) No righteousness, no crown—no good works, according to a man’s talent, no reward from God, unless it be vengeance (Rom. ii. 8.) To be rich in good works, is the surest foundation of our assurance to obtain eternal life (1 Tim. vi. 19;) for good works are the true fruits of a true faith, which apprehendeth Christ, and his obedience unto salvation. And no other faith availeth in Christ, but that which worketh by love (Gal. v. 6;) and (but in the act of justification) that faith which only justifieth, is never alone, but ever accompanied with good works: as the tree with his fruits, the sun with his light, the fire with his heat, and water with his moisture. And the faith which does not justify herself by good works before men, is but dead faith, which will never justify a man’s soul before God (James ii. 26.) But a justifying faith purifieth the heart and sanctifieth the whole man throughout (Acts xv. 9; xvi. 18; 1 Thess. v. 23.)

2. From the doctrine of God’s eternal predestination (Matt. xxv. 24; Eph. i. 4; Eccles. iii. 14) and unchangeable decree, he gathers, that if he be predestinated to be saved, he cannot but be saved; if to be damned, no means can do any good; therefore all works of piety are but in vain. But he should learn, that God hath predestinated to the means, as well as to the end. Whom, therefore, God hath predestinated to be saved, which is the end (1 Pet. i. 9), he hath likewise predestinated to be first called, justified, and made conformable to the image of his Son, which is the means (Rom. viii. 29, 30; John xv. 16.) And they, saith St. Peter, who are elect unto salvation, are also elect unto the sanctification of the spirit (1 Pet. i. 2.) If, therefore, upon thy calling, thou conformest thyself to the word and example of Christ thy master, and obeyest the good motions of the Holy Spirit, in leaving sin, and living a godly life, then assure 81thyself, that thou art one of those who are infallibly predestinated to everlasting salvation. If otherwise, blame not God’s predestination, but thine own sin and rebellion. Do thou but return to God, and God will graciously receive thee, as the father did the prodigal son, and by thy conversion, it shall appear both to angels and men, that thou didst belong to his election (Luke xv. 10, 24.) If thou wilt not, why should God save thee?

3. When a carnal Christian hears that man hath not free-will unto good, he looseth the reins to his own corrupt will, as though it lay not in him to bridle, or to subdue it: implicitly making God the author of sin, in suffering man to run into this necessity. But he should know that God gave Adam free-will, to stand in his integrity if he would; but man, abusing his free-will, lost both himself and it. Since the fall, man in his state of corruption hath free-will to evil, but not to good; for in this state, we are not, saith the apostle, sufficient to think a good thought (2 Cor. iii. 5.) And God is not bound to restore us what we lost so wretchedly, and take no more care to recover again. But as soon as a man is regenerated, the grace of God freeth his will unto good; so that he doth all the good things he doth with a free-will: for so the apostle saith, that God of his own good pleasure, worketh both the will and the deed in us,3939Acti agimus, The will is passive in receiving the first grace, afterwards active in all goodness. who, as the apostle expoundeth, cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, and finish our sanctification in the fear of God (Phil. ii. 12, 13; 2 Cor. vii. 1.) And in this state, every true Christian has free-will, and as he increases in grace, so does his will in freedom: “For when the Son shall make us free, then shall we be free indeed,” (1 John viii. 36;) and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (2 Cor. iii. 17;) for the Holy Spirit draws their minds, not by coaction, but by the cords of love (Cant. i. 4), by illuminating their minds to 82know the truth; by changing their hearts to love the known truth; and by enabling every one of them (according to the measure of grace which he has received) to do the good which he loveth. But thou wilt not use the freedom of thy will, so far as God has freed it; for thou dost many times wilfully against God’s law, to the hazard of thy soul, which, if the king’s law forbade under the penalty of death, or loss of thy worldly estate, thou wouldst not do. Make not, therefore, thy want of free-will to good, to be so much the cause of thy sin, as thy want of a loving heart to serve thy heavenly Father.

4. When the natural man hears that no man, since the fall, is able to fulfil the law of God, and to keep all his commandments, he boldly presumes to sin as others do; he contents himself with a few good thoughts: and if he be not altogether as bad as the worst, he concludes that he is as truly regenerate as the best. And every voluntary refusal of doing good, or withstanding evil, he counts the impossibility of the law. But he should learn, that though, since the fall, no man but Christ, who was both God and man, did, or can perfectly fulfil the whole law, yet every true Christian, as soon as he is regenerate, begins to keep all God’s commandments in truth, though he cannot in absolute perfection. Thus, with David, they apply their hearts to fulfil God’s commandments always unto the end (Psal. cxix. 112.) And then the Spirit of grace, which was promised to be more abundantly poured forth under the gospel, helps them in their good endeavours, and assists them to do what he commands them to do (Joel ii. 28, 29; Zech. xii. 10.) And in so doing, God accepts their good will and endeavour (2 Cor. viii. 12), Christ having fulfilled the law for us. And in this respect St. John saith, that God’s commandments are not burthenous (1 John v. 3.) And St. Paul saith, “I am able to do all things, through the help of him that strengtheneth me.” (Phil. iv. 13.) And Zachary and Elizabeth are said to walk in all the 83commandments of the Lord without reproof (Luke i. 6.) Hereupon Christ commends to his disciples the care of keeping his commandments, as the truest testimony of our love unto him (John xv. 10.) So far, therefore, doth a man love Christ, as he makes conscience to walk in his commandments; and the more unto Christ is our love, the less will our pains seem in keeping his law. The law’s curse, which, under the Old Testament, was so terrible, is, under the New, by the death of Christ, abolished to the regenerate. The rigour which made it so impossible to our nature before, is now to the newborn so mollified by the Spirit, that it seems facile and easy. The apostles, indeed, pressed on the unconverted Jews and Gentiles the impossibility of keeping the law by ability of nature corrupted; but when they have to do with regenerate Christians, they require to the law, which is the rule of righteousness, true obedience in word and deed; the mortifying of their members; the crucifying of the flesh, with the affections and lusts thereof; resurrection to newness of life; walking in the Spirit; overcoming of the world by faith (Rom. xv. 18; Col. iii. 5; Gal. v. 24, 25; Rom. vi. 4, 5, 12, 13; viii. 11; 1 John v. 4.) So that, though no man can say as Christ, Which of you can rebuke me of sin? (John viii. 46), yet every regenerate Christian can say of himself, Which of you can rebuke me of being an adulterer, whoremonger, swearer, drunkard, thief, usurer, oppressor, proud, malicious, covetous, profaner of the Sabbath, a liar, a neglector of God’s public service, and such like gross sins? else he is no true Christian. When a man casts off the conscience of being ruled by God’s law, then God gives him over to be led by his own lusts, the surest sign of a reprobate sense (Rom. i. 24, 28.) Thus the law, which, since the fall, no man by his own natural ability can fulfil, is fulfilled in truth of every regenerate Christian, through the gracious assistance of Christ’s Holy Spirit (Rom. viii. 9, &c.) And this Spirit God will give to every Christian that will 84pray for it, and will incline his heart to keep his laws (Luke xi. 13; James i. 5.)

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

6. The unregenerate Christian holds the hearing of the gospel preached, to be but an indifferent matter, which he may use, or not use, at his pleasure. But whosoever thou art, that wilt be assured in thy heart that thou art one of Christ’s elect sheep, thou must have a special care and conscience (if possibly thou canst) to hear God’s word preached. For, First, the preaching of the gospel is the chief ordinary means which God has 85appointed to convert the souls of all that he hath predestinated to be saved (Acts xiii. 48:) therefore it is called “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” (Rom. i. 16.) And where this divine ordinance is not, the people perish (Prov. xxix. 18;) and whosoever shall refuse it, “it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for these people.” (Matt. x. 22.) Secondly, the preaching of the gospel is the standard or ensign of Christ (Isa. xi. 1), to which all soldiers and elect people must assemble themselves: when this ensign is displayed, as upon the Lord’s day, he is none of Christ’s people that flocks not unto it (Isa. ii. 2;) neither shall any drop of the rain of his grace light on their souls (Zech. xiv. 17.) Thirdly, it is the ordinary means by which the Holy Ghost begetteth faith in our hearts (Rom. x. 14), without which we cannot please God (Heb. xi. 6.) If the hearing of Christ’s voice be the chief mark of Christ’s elect sheep, and of the bridegroom’s friend (John x. 27; iii. 29), then must it be a fearful mark of a reprobate goat (Heb. ii.; John viii. 47) either to neglect or contemn to hear the preaching of the gospel. Let no man think this position foolish, for “by this foolishness of preaching it pleaseth God to save them which believe.” (1 Cor. i. 11.) Their state is therefore fearful who live in peace, without caring for the preaching of the gospel. Can men look for God’s mercy, and despise his means? “He,” saith Christ of the, preachers of his gospel, “that despiseth you, despiseth me.” (Luke x. 16.) “He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God.” (John viii. 4, 7.) Had not the Israelites heard the message of Phineas, they had. never wept (Judges ii. 1, &c.) Had not the Baptist preached, the Jews had never mourned (Luke vii. 32, 33.) Had not they who crucified Christ heard Peter’s sermon, their hearts had never been pricked (Acts ii. 37.) Had not the Ninevites heard Jonah’s preaching, they had never repented (Jonah iii. 5;)—and if thou wilt not hear, and 86repent, thou shalt never be saved (Prov. xxviii. 9; Luke xiii. 5.)

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

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

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

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The Second Hindrance of Piety.

II. The evil example of great persons, the practice of whose profane lives they prefer for their imitation before the precepts of God’s holy word: so that, when they see the greatest men in the state, and many chief gentlemen in their country, to make neither care nor conscience to hear sermons, to receive the communion, nor to sanctify the Lord’s Sabbaths, &c., but to be swearers, adulterers, carousers, oppressors, &c., then they think that the using of these holy ordinances are not matters of so great moment; for if they were, such great and wise men would not set so little value on them. Hereupon they think that religion is not a matter of necessity; and therefore, where they should, like Christians, row against the stream of impiety towards heaven, they suffer themselves to be carried with the multitude downright to hell, thinking it impossible that God will suffer so many to be damned: whereas, if the god of this world had not blinded the eyes of their minds, the holy Scriptures would teach them, that “not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called,” &c. (1 Cor. i. 26;) but that for the most part the poor receive the gospel, and that few rich men shall be saved (Matt. xi. 5; xix. 23, 24;) and that howsoever many are called, yet the chosen are but few. Neither did the multitude ever save any from damnation (Matt. xxii. 14.) As God has advanced men in greatness above others, so does God expect that they in religion and piety should go before others; otherwise greatness abused, in the time of their stewardship, shall turn to their greater condemnation in the day of their accounts. At what time sinful great and mighty men, as well as the poorest slaves and bondmen, shall wish that the rocks and mountains should fall upon them, and hide them from the presence of the Judge, and from his just deserved wrath (Rev. vi. 15, 16, &c.), it will prove but a miserable solace to have a great company of great men partakers with thee of thine eternal 88torments. The multitude of sinners doth not extenuate, but aggravate sin, as in Sodom. Better it is, therefore, with a few to be saved in the ark, than, with the whole world, to be drowned in the flood. Walk with the few godly in the narrow path to heaven; but crowd not with the godless multitude in the broad way to hell (Exod. xxiii. 2.) Let not the example of irreligious great men hinder thy repentance; for their greatness cannot at that day exempt themselves from their own most grievous punishment.

The Third Hindrance of Piety.

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

Because many nobles and gentlemen are not smitten with present judgment for their outrageous swearing, adultery, drunkenness, oppression, profaning of the Sabbath, and disgraceful neglect of God’s worship and service, 89they begin to doubt of divine providence and justice, both which two eyes they would as willingly put out in God, as the Philistines bored out the eyes of Sampson. It is greatly therefore to be feared lest they will provoke the Lord to cry out against them, as Sampson against the Philistines (Judges xvi. 21.) By neglecting the law, and walking after their own hearts, they put out, as much as in them lieth, the eyes of my providence and justice: lead me therefore to these chief pillars (Judges xvi. 26, &c.) whereupon the realm standeth, that I may pull the realm upon their heads, and be at once avenged of them for my two eyes. Let not God’s patience hinder thy repentance; but because he is so patient, therefore do thou the rather repent.

The Fourth Hindrance of Piety.

IV. The presumption of God’s mercy: For when men are justly convinced of their sins, forthwith they betake themselves to this shield—Christ is merciful: so that every sinner makes Christ the patron of his sin: As though he had come into the world to bolster sin, and not to destroy the works of the devil (John iii. 3.) Hereupon the carnal Christian presumes, that though he continues a while longer in his sin, God will not shorten his days. But what is this but to be an implicit atheist? Doubting that either God seeth not his sins; or if he does, that he is not just: for if he believes that God is just, how can he think that God, who for sin so severely punishes others, can love him who still loveth to continue in sin? True it is, Christ is merciful; but to whom? Only to them that repent and turn from iniquity in Jacob. (Isa. lix 20.) But if any man bless himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace, although I walk according to the stubbornness of mine own heart, thus adding drunkenness to thirst, the Lord will not be merciful to him, &c. (Deut. xxix. 19.) O madmen! who dare bless themselves, when God pronounceth them accursed! Look, therefore, how far thou art from finding repentance in 90thyself; so far art thou from any assurance of finding mercy in Christ. “Let, therefore, the wicked forsake his ways, and the unrighteous his own imaginations, and return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he is very ready to forgive.” (Isa. lv. 7.)

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

The Fifth Hindrance of Piety.

V. Evil company, commonly termed good-fellows;—but indeed, the devil’s chief instruments, to hinder a wretched sinner from repentance and piety. The first sign of God’s favour to a sinner is, to give him grace to forsake evil companions: such who wilfully continue in 91sin, contemn the means of their calling, gibing at the sincerity of profession in others, and shaming the Christian religion by their own profane lives. These sit in the seat of the scorners (Psal. i. 1.) For as soon as God admits a sinner to be one of his people, he bids him come out of Babylon (Rev. xviii. 4.) Every lewd company is a Babylon, out of which, let every child of God either keep himself; or if he he be in, think that he hears his Father’s voice sounding in his ear, “Come out of Babylon, my child.” As soon as Christ looked in mercy upon Peter, he went out of the company that was in the high priest’s hall, and wept bitterly for his offence (Luke xxii. 62.) David vowing (upon recovery) a new life, said, “Away from me, all ye workers of iniquity,” &c. (Psal. vi. 8), as if it were impossible to become a new man, till he had shaken off all old evil companions. The truest proof of a man’s religion is the quality of his companions. Profane companions are the chief enemies of piety, and quellers of holy motions. Many a time is poor Christ {offering to be new-born in thee) thrust into the stable, {Luke ii. 7), when these lewd companions, by their drinking, plays, and jests, take up all the best rooms in the inn of thy heart. O let not the company of earthly sinners hinder thee from the society of heavenly saints and angels!

The Sixth Hindrance of Piety.

VI. A conceited fear, lest the practice of piety should make a man (especially a young man) to wax too sad and pensive: whereas, indeed, none can better joy nor have more cause to rejoice, than pious and religious Christians. For as soon as they are justified by faith they have peace with God (Rom. v. 2), than which there can be no greater joy. Besides, they have already the kingdom of grace descended into their hearts, as an assurance that, in God’s good time, they shall ascend into his kingdom of glory. This kingdom of grace consists in three things—First, Righteousness (Rom. xiv. 17;) for having Christ’s 92righteousness to justify them before God, they endeavour to live righteously before men. Secondly, Peace; for the peace of conscience inseparably follows a righteous conversation. Thirdly, The joy of the Holy Ghost; which joy is only felt in the peace of a good conscience: and is so great, that it passeth all understanding (Phil. iv. 7.) No tongue can express it, no heart can conceive it, but only he that feels it. This is that fulness of joy which Christ promised his disciples in the midst of their troubles, a joy that no man could take from them (John xvi. 22.) The feeling of this joy, David, upon his repentance, begged so earnestly at the hand of God—” Restore me to the joy of thy salvation.” (Psal. li. 12.) And if the angels in heaven rejoice so much at the conversion of a sinner, the joy of a sinner converted must needs be exceeding great in his own heart (Luke xv. 7, 10.) It is worldly, sorrow that snows so timely upon men’s heads, and fills the furrows of their hearts with the sorrows of death (2 Cor. vii. 10.) The godly sorrow of the godly (when God thinks it meet to try them) causeth in them repentance not to be repented of: for it doth but further their salvation. And in all such tribulation, they shall be sure to have the Holy Ghost to be their comforter (John xiv. 16, 17;) who will make our consolations to abound through Christ, as the sufferings of Christ shall abound in us (2 Cor. i. 5.) But whilst a man lives in impiety, he hath no peace, saith Esai (Isa. lvii. 21.) His laughter is but madness, saith Solomon (Eccl. ii. 9;) his riches are but, clay, saith Habakkuk (Hab. ii. 6:) nay, the apostle esteems them no better than dung in comparison of the pious man’s treasure (Phil. iii. 8; Luke vi. 25;) all his joys shall end in woe, saith Christ. Let not, therefore, this fake fear hinder thee from the practice of piety. Better it is to go sickly (with Lazarus) to heaven, than full of mirth and pleasure, with the rich man to hell. Better it is to mourn for a time with men, than to be tormented for ever with devils.

93

The Seventh, Hindrance of Piety.

VII. And lastly, the hope of long life: For, were it possible that a wicked liver thought this year to be his last year, this month his last month, this week his last week,4040Fleres, si scires unum tua tempora mensem: rides, quum non sit forsitam una dies.—T. Morus. but that he would change and amend his wicked life? No verily, he would use the best means to repent, and to become a new man. But as the rich man in the gospel promised himself many years to live in ease, mirth, and fulness (Luke xii. 19, 20), when he had not one night to live longer: so many wicked epicures falsely promise themselves the age of many years, when the thread of their life is already almost drawn out to an end. So Jeremiah ascribes the cause of the Jews’ sins and calamities to this, that she remembered not her last end (Lam. i. 9.)

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

Hark in thine ear, O secure fellow! thy life is but a puff of breath in thy nostrils; trust not to it (Isa. ii. 22.) Thy soul dwells in a house of clay, that will fall ere it be long; as may appear by the dimness of thine eyes, the deafness of thine ears, the wrinkles in thy cheeks, the rottenness of thy teeth, the weakness of thy sinews, the 94trembling of thy hands, the kalendar in thy bones, the shortness of thy sleep, and every grey hair, as so many summoners, bid thee prepare for thy long home. Come, let us in the meanwhile walk to thy father’s coffin: break open the lid; see here, how that “corruption is thy father, and the worm thy mother and sister.” (Job xvii. 14.) Seest thou how these are? so must thou be ere long. Fool! thou knowest not how soon. Thy hour-glass runneth apace, and in all places; death in the meanwhile waiteth for thee.

The whole life of man, save what is spent in God’s service, is but foolery: for a man lives forty years before he knows himself to be a fool; and by that time he seeth his folly, his life is finished.4141Homo est fatuus usque ad 40 annum, deinde ubi agnovit se esse fatuum, vita consumpta est.—Luth.

Hark, husbandman, before thou seest many more crops of harvest, thyself shall be ripe, and death will cut thee down with his sickle. Hark, tradesman, ere many six months go over, thy last month will come on; after which, thou shalt trace away, and trade no longer. Hark, most grave judge, within a few terms, the term of thy life approacheth, wherein thou shalt cease to judge others, and go thyself to be judged. Hark, O man of God, that goest to the pulpit, preach this sermon as it were the last that thou shouldst make to thy people. Hark, nobleman, lay aside the high conceit of thy honour: death, ere it be long, will lay thy honour in the dust, and make thee as base as the earth that thou treadest under thy feet. Hark, thou that now readest this book, assure thyself, ere it be long there will be but two holes where now thy two eyes are placed; and others shall read the truth of this lesson upon thy bare skull, which now thou readest in this little book. How soon I know not; but this I am sure of, that thy time is appointed, thy months are determined; thy days are numbered, and thy very last hour is limited (Job xiv. 5, 14; Psal. xc. 12; Dan. v. 26; xi. 8), beyond which thou shalt not pass. 95For then the first-born of death, mounted on his pale horse (Rev. vi. 8), shall alight at thy door; and, notwithstanding all thy wealth, thy honour, and the tears of thy dearest friends, will carry thee away, bound hand and foot, as his prisoner, and keep thy body under a load of earth, until that day come wherein thou must be brought forth to receive according to the things which thou hast done in that body, whether it be good or evil (2 Cor. v. 10.) O let not, then, the false hope of an uncertain long-life hinder thee from becoming a present practiser of religious piety! God offereth grace to-day; but who promiseth to-morrow? (Psal. xcv. 7; Heb. iii. 7, 13.) There are now in hell many young men who had purposed to repent in their old age; but death cut them off in their impenitency, ere ever they could attain to the time they set for their repentance. The longer a man runs in a disease, the harder it is to be cured: for custom of sin breeds hardness of heart, and the impediments which hinder thee from repenting now, will hinder thee more when thou art more aged.

A wise man being to go a far and foul journey, will not lay the heaviest burthen upon the weakest horse. And with what conscience canst thou lay the great load of repentance on thy feeble and tired old age? whereas now in thy chiefest strength thou canst not lift it, but art ready to stagger under it. Is it wisdom for him that is to sail a long and dangerous voyage, to lie playing and sleeping whilst the wind serveth, and the sea is calm, the ship sound, the pilot well, mariners strong; and then set forth when the winds are contrary, the weather tempestuous, the sea raging, the ship rotten, the pilot sick, and the sailors languishing? Therefore, O sinful soul, begin now thy conversion to God, whilst life, health, strength, and youth last: “before those years draw nigh, when thou shalt say.. I have no pleasure in them.” (Eccl. xii. 1.) God ever required in his service the first-born, and the first-fruits, and those to be offered to him without delay (Exod. xiii. 2; xxii. 29.) So just Abel offered 96to God his firstlings and fattest lambs (Gen. iv. 4;) and good reason that the best Lord should be first and best served. All God’s servants should therefore remember to serve their Creator in the days of their youth (Eccl. xii. 12), and early in the morning, like Abraham, to sacrifice unto God the young Isaac of their age (Gen. xxii. 3.) “Ye shall not see my face,” saith Joseph to his brethren, “except you bring your brother with you.” (Gen. xliii. 3.) And how shalt thou look in the face of Jesus, if thou givest thy younger years to the devil, and bringest him nothing but thy blind, lame, and decrepit old age? “Offer it unto thy prince,” saith Malachi. (Mal. i. 8.) If he will not accept such a one to serve him, how shall the Prince of princes admit such a one to be his servant? If the king of Babel would have young men (well-favoured, and such as had ability in them) to stand in his palace, shall the King of heaven have none to stand in his courts but the blind and lame, such as the soul of David hated? (Dan. i. 4; 2 Sam. v. 8.) Thinkest thou, when thou hast served Satan with thy prime years, to satisfy God with thy dotage? Take heed lest God turn thee over to thy old master again; that as thou hast all the days of thy life done his work, so he may in the end pay thee thy wages. Is that time fit to undertake, by the serious exercises of repentance (which is the work of works), to turn thy sinful soul to God, when thou art not able with all thy strength to turn thy weary bones on thy soft bed? If thou findest it so hard a matter now, thou shalt find it far harder then. For thy sin will wax stronger, thy strength will grow weaker, thy conscience will clog thee, pain will distract thee, the fear of death will-amaze thee, and the visitation of friends will so disturb thee, that if thou be not furnished aforehand with store of faith, patience, and consolation, thou shalt net be able either to meditate thyself, or to hear the word of comfort from others; not to pray alone, nor to join with others who pray for thee. It may be thou shalt be taken with a dumb palsy, or 97such a deadly senselessness, that thou shalt neither remember God, nor think upon thine own state: and dost thou not well deserve that God should forget to save thee in thy death, who art so unmindful now to serve him in thy life? The fear of death will drive many at that time to cry, Lord, Lord! but Christ protesteth that he will not then know them for his (Matt. vii. 22.) Yea, many shall then, like Esau, with tears seek to repent, and yet then find no place of repentance (Heb. xii. 17.) For man hath not free-will to repent when he will, but when God will give him grace. And if Mercy shewed herself so inexorable, that she would not open her gates to so tender suitors as virgins, to so earnest suitors as knockers, because they knocked too late (Matt. xxv. 11), how thinkest thou that she will ever suffer thee to enter her gates, being so impure a wretch that never thinkest to leave sin till sin first leaveth thee, and didst never yet knock with thine own fists upon the breasts of a penitent heart? And justly does grace deny to open the gates of heaven, when thou knockest in thine adversity, who in thy prosperity wouldst not suffer Christ, whilst he knocked, to enter in at the door of thy heart (Rev. iii. 20.)—Trust not either late repentence or long life. Not late repentance; because it is much to be feared lest the repentance which the fear of death enforces, dies with a man dying; and the hypocrite, who deceived others in his life, may deceive himself in his death. God accepteth none but free-will offerings, and the repentance that pleaseth him must be voluntary, and not of constraint. Not long life, for old age will fall upon the neck of youth: and as nothing is more sure than death, so nothing is more uncertain than the time of dying. Yea, often when ripeness of sin is hastened by outrageousness of sinning, God suddenly cutteth off such vicious livers, either with the sword, intemperateness, luxury, surfeit, or some other fearful manner of sickness. Mayest thou not see that it is the evil spirit that persuades thee to defer thy repentance till old age, when experience tells thee that not one 98of a thousand that takes thy course ever attains to it? Let God’s Holy Spirit move thee not to give thyself any longer to eat and drink with the drunken, lest thy Master send death for thee in a day when thou lookest not for him, and in an hour that thou art not aware of, and so suddenly cut thee off, and appoint thee thy portion with the hypocrites, where shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. xxvii. 49, 50, 51.) But if thou lovest long life, fear God, and long for life everlasting (Deut. xxx. 16; Prov. iii. 2; Psal. xxxiv. 11, &c.) The longest life here, when it comes to the period, will appear to have been but as a tale that is told, a vanishing vapour, a flitting shadow, a seeming dream, a glorious flower, growing and flourishing in the morning, but in the evening cut down and withered (Psal. xc. 9; James iv. 14; Psal. cix. 23; lxxvi. 5; xc. 5, 6; 1 Pet. i. 24;) or like a weaver’s shuttle, which, by winding here and there swiftly, unwindeth itself to an end (Isa. xxxviii. 12.) It is but a moment, saith St. Paul (2 Cor. iv. 17.) O then the madness of man, that for a moment of sinful pleasure will hazard the loss of an eternal weight of glory! (Heb. xi. 25; 2 Cor. iv. 17.)

These are the seven chief hinderers of piety, which must be cast out, like Mary Magdalene’s seven devils, before ever thou canst become a true practiser of piety, or have any sound hope to enjoy either favour from Christ by grace, or fellowship with him in glory (Mark xvi. 9; Luke viii. 2.)

The Conclusion.

To conclude all. Forasmuch as thou seest that without Christ thou art but a slave of sin, death’s vassal, and the meat of worms, whose thoughts are vain—whose deeds are vile—whose pleasures have scarce beginnings—whose miseries never know end: what wise man would incur these hellish torments, though he might, by living in sin, purchase to himself for a time the empire of Augustus, the riches of Croesus, the pleasures 99of Solomon, the policy of Achitophel, the voluptuous fare and fine apparel of the rich man? For what should it avail a man, as our Saviour saith, to win the whole world for a time, and then to lose his soul in hell for ever?

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

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

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

2. Sin brought upon thee all the evil, crosses, losses, disgraces, and sicknesses, that ever befel thee: “Fools,” saith David, “by reason of their transgressions, and because of their iniquities, are afflicted.” (Psal. cvii. 17.) Jeremiah in a lamenting manner asks the question, “Wherefore is the living man sorrowful?” (Lam. iii. 20.) The Holy Ghost answereth him, “Man suffereth for his sin.” Hereupon the prophet takes up that doleful outcry against sin, as the cause of all their miseries, “Woe now unto us that ever we have sinned!” (Lam. v. 16.)

3. If thou dost not speedily repent thee of thy sins, they will bring upon thee yet far greater plagues, losses, crosses, shame, and judgments, than hitherto ever befel thee. (Read Lev. xxvi. 18, &c.; Deut. xxviii. 15, &c.)

4. And lastly, If thou wilt not cast off thy sin, God, when the measure of thine iniquity is full, will cast thee off for thy sin (Gen. xv. 6;) for as he is just, so he has 100power to kill and cast into hell all hardened and impenitent sinners. If, therefore, thou wilt avoid the cursed effects of sin in this life, and the eternal wrath due to it in the world to come, and be assured that thou art not one of those who are given over to a reprobate sense; let then, O sinner, my counsel be acceptable unto thee! break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by shewing mercy towards the poor: O let there at length be an healing of thine error! (Dan. iv. 27.) Nathan used but one parable, and David was converted (Sam. xii. 13;) Jonas preached but once to Nineveh, and the whole city repented (Jonas iii. 5, &c.;) Christ looked but once on Peter, and he went out and wept bitterly (Luke 22:62.) And now that thou art oft and so lovingly entreated, not by a prophet, but by Christ the Lord of prophets; yea, that God himself, by his ambassadors, prays thee to be reconciled to him (2 Corinthians 5:20), leave off thine adultery with David; repent of thy sins like a true Ninevite; and whilst Christ looketh in mercy upon thee, leave thy wicked companions, and weep bitterly for thy offences. Content not thyself with that formal religion which unregenerate men have framed to themselves, instead of sincere devotion; for in the multitude of opinions, most men have almost lost the practice of true religion. Think not that thou art a Christian good enough, because thou dost as the most, and art not so bad as the worst. No man is so wicked that he is addicted to all kind of vices, for there is an antipathy between some vices; but remember that Christ saith, “Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. v. 20.) Consider with thyself how far thou comest short of the Pharisees, in fasting, praying, frequenting the church, and giving of alms: think with thyself how many pagans who never knew baptism, yet in moral virtues and honesty of life, do go far beyond thee;—where is then the life of Christ thy master? and how far art thou from 101being a true Christian? If them dost willingly yield to live in any one gross sin, thou canst not have a regenerate soul, though thou reformest thyself, like Herod, from many other vices. A true Christian must have respect to walk, in the truth of his heart, in all the commandments of God alike (Mark vi. 20:) “For,” saith St. James, “he that shall offend in one point of the law” (wilfully) “is guilty of all.” (James ii. 10.) And Peter bids us lay aside, not some, but “all malice, guile, and hypocrisies,” &c. (1 Pet. ii. 1.) One sin is enough to damn a man’s soul, without repentance. Dream not to go to heaven by any nearer or easier way than Christ hath trained unto us in his word: the way to heaven is not easy or common, but straight and narrow (Matt. vii. 14;) yea, so narrow, that Christ protesteth that a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matt. xix. 23), and that those that enter are but a few (Matt. vii. 14; xxii. 14), and that those few cannot get in but by striving (Luke xiii. 24), and that some of those who strive to enter in shall not be able. This all God’s saints, whilst they lived here, knew well; when with so often fastings, so earnest prayers, so frequent hearing the word, and receiving the sacraments, and with such abundance of tears they devoutly begged at the hands of God, for Christ’s sake, to be received into his kingdom.

If thou wilt not believe this truth, I assure thee that the devil, who persuades thee now that it is easy to attain heaven, will tell thee hereafter that it is the hardest business in the world. If, therefore, thou art desirous to purchase sound assurance of salvation to thy soul, and to go the right and safe way to heaven, get forthwith, like a wise virgin (Matt. xxv. 1), the oil of piety in the lamp of thy conversation, that thou mayest be in a continual readiness to meet the bridegroom, whether he cometh by death or by judgment: Which, that thou mayest the better do, let this be thy daily practice.


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