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NO EXCUSE AGAINST A SPEEDY OBEYING CHRIST’S CALL.
WE have done with the first instance, of a scribe that came uncalled; we come now to another. This man offereth not himself, but is called by Christ. ‘And he said unto another, Follow me,’ &c. He was already a disciple at large; for in Matthew it is said, chap. viii. 21, ‘Another of his disciples said unto him, Suffer me first to go and bury my father.’ He was now called to a nearer and constant attendance on Christ. Clemens Alexandrinus, from an ancient tradition, telleth us this was Philip. But before he complied with this call, he desireth a little delay and respite, until his aged father were dead and buried. Whether his father were already dead, and he would do this last office to see him decently interred, or whether his father were yet living, but not likely long to continue, and he would attend him till his death and funeral, and then follow Christ, as Theophilact thinketh, it is not much material. Clear it is he putteth off the matter with an excuse. Even the elect do not at first so readily obey the heavenly calling; some of them may put off Christ, but when he intendeth to have 122them, lie will not be put off so, the importunity of his grace overcoming their unwillingness.
But what was Christ’s answer? ‘Let the dead bury their dead, but go thou and preach the kingdom of God;’ that is, leave that office to others who are not designed for this divine and holy employment It seemeth hard to many that Christ should deny him to do this little office of love to his father, and they know not the meaning of that expression, ‘Let the dead bury their dead.’ Therefore—
1. Let us open the expression.
2. Show you what Christ teacheth us by this refusal.
1. For the expression. It may be used either proverbially or allusively. Proverbially; let one dead man bury another—that is, let them lie unburied rather than my service be neglected; or, there will not want others that will remove the dead out of their sight: and it is our wisdom to let go things unnecessary, and mind the main. Or else it is used allusively to the law of the Nazarites and the priests of the Old Testament. The law of the Nazarites is in Num. vi. 6-8, ‘All the days that he separateth himself unto the Lord, he shall come at no dead body. He shall not make himself unclean for his father or his mother, for his brother or his sister, when they die: because the consecration of his God is upon his head. All the days of his separation he is holy unto the Lord;’ that is, he must rather follow his vow in honouring the Lord, than to follow natural duty in honouring his dead parents. Now, those whom Christ called especially to follow him were consecrated to that service, as the Nazarite unto the Lord during the days of his separation. And as they might not meddle even with the interment of their parents, so this excuse was frivolous. Or else the allusion might be to the high priests, of whom we read, Deut. xxxiii. 9, ‘Who said to his father and his mother, I have not seen him; neither did he acknowledge his brethren, nor know his own children.’ Some think this hath reference to the Levites’ fact, who, being commanded by Moses, killed every man his brother, neighbour, friend, and son, that had sinned in making or worshipping the golden calf, Exod. xxxii. 26-29. Bather it is meant of the priest’s continual duty, who, by the law, if his father, mother, brother, or child did die, he might not mourn for them, but carry himself as if he did not respect or know them; for God would have them more regard their function or duty in his service than any natural affection whatsoever. The law is, Lev. xxi. 11, 12, ‘He shall not go in to any dead body, nor defile himself for his father or his mother; neither shall he go out of the sanctuary, nor profane the sanctuary of his God; for the crown of the anointing oil of his God is upon him.’ Now Christ alludeth to the law to show the urgency of this present service and employment to which he was consecrated, and the burial of the dead might be left to persons less sacred or more at leisure.
2. The reasons of Christ’s refusal. Christ would show hereby—(1.) That all human offices and duties must give place to the duty we owe to God. Duty to parents must be observed, but duty to God must be preferred before that or anything whatsoever. A truth justified by Christ’s own example. He began betimes, at twelve years old, when he was disputing 123with the doctors, and his parents sought for him: Luke ii. 49, ‘He said unto them, How is it that you sought me? Wist you not that I must be about my Father’s business?’ So Mat. xii. 47, 48, when his mother and kindred waited for him, desiring to speak with him, ‘He answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother, and who are my brethren?’ Obedience to God, and declaring his Father’s will, was dearer to him than all relations. Natural and secular respects swayed not with him in comparison of gaining proselytes to heaven; his mother’s conference with him was nothing to his Father’s service, and teaching the people a more acceptable work than paying a civility to his natural relations. So John ii. 4, ‘Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.’ His office to which he was sent by God was a matter in which she, though his earthly parent, was not to interpose; God’s work must be done in God’s own way, time, and method: God hath greater authority over you than all the men in the world. (2.) He would teach us hereby that the ministry requires the whole man, even sometimes the omission of necessary works, much more superfluous: ‘Give thyself wholly to these things,’ 1 Tim. iv. 15.
The words are now explained; the practical notes are these two:—
First, That nothing in the world is a matter of such great weight as to be a sufficient excuse for not following of Christ.
Secondly, That those who are called to follow Christ should follow him speedily, without interposing any delays.
For the first point, that nothing in the world is a matter of such great weight as to be a sufficient excuse for not following of Christ, I will illustrate it by these considerations:—
1. There are two sorts of men. Some understand not their Lord’s will, others have no mind to do it, Luke xii. 47, 48. Some understand not the terms of the gospel; they think to have Christ, and the pleasures of the flesh and the world too. But there are others who under stand Christ’s terms, but are loth to become Christ’s disciples; they know their master’s will, but they do not prepare themselves to do it; that is, they do not presently set upon the work, but make so many delays that it plainly appeareth that they are loth to yield to Christ’s terms; that is, to turn their backs upon the vanities of the world, and renounce their most pleasing sins, and to take the word for their rule, the Spirit for their guide, and eternal life for their felicity and happiness: to such we now speak.
2. They that have no mind to follow Christ put off the matter with dilatory shifts and excuses. To refuse altogether is more heinous, and therefore they shift it off for a time. Non vacat is the pretence—I am not at leisure. Non placet, I like it not, is the real interpretation, disposition, and inclination of their hearts, for excuses are always a sign of an unwilling and backward heart. When they should serve God there is still something in the way, some danger, or some difficulty which they are loth to encounter with. As Prov. xxvi. 13, ‘The slothful man saith, There is a lion in the way, there is a lion in the streets,’ Palestine was a land infested with lions, because of the many deserts and thickets that were in it, but being well peopled, they did rarely appear. Now the sluggard taketh this pretence from 124thence. If his business lay in the fields, there was a lion in the way; if his business lay in the towns and cities, there is a lion in the streets, as sometimes, though but rarely, they came into places inhabited and of great resort. Now, if he should go about his business too early, he might meet with a lion in his range and walk before they were retired into their dens. Thus do men alarm themselves with their own foolish fears to excuse their idleness and negligence. So again Prov. xv. 19, ‘The way of the slothful is as an hedge of thorns, but the way of the righteous is made plain.’ They imagine difficulties and intolerable hardships in a course of godliness: but it is their cowardice and pusillanimous negligence which maketh the ways of God seem hard: they are all comfortable, plain, and easy to the pure and upright heart and willing mind. Come we to the New Testament: Luke xiv. 18-20, ‘They all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said, I have bought me a piece of ground, and I must go to see it; I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them; I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have married a wife, and cannot come.’ The meaning is, many were invited to everlasting happiness, but they preferred their designs of worldly advantages. Mark, they do not absolutely deny, but make excuse. Excuses are the fruit of the quarrel between conviction and corruption. They are convinced of better things, but being prepossessed and biassed with worldly inclinations, they dare not fully yield nor flatly deny, therefore they choose a middle course, to make excuses. Doing is safe, or preparing ourselves to do, but excusing is but a patch upon a filthy sore, or a poor covering of fig-leaves for a naughty heart.
3. The usual excuses which sinners may, and usually do allege, are these four:—The difficulty of religion, the danger that attendeth it, want of time, and that they have no power or strength to do good.
[1.] For the first. It is troublesome and tedious to flesh and blood to be held to so much duty, and to wean our hearts from things we so dearly love; and the world thinketh that we are too nice and precise to urge men to such a strict and holy and heavenly life, and less ado will serve the turn.
To this I answer:—
(1.) Diligence is certainly necessary to all that will be saved: Phil, ii. 12, ‘Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;’ 2 Peter iii. 14, ‘Be diligent, that ye may be found of him in peace, with out spot and blameless.’ And, therefore, if you cannot deny the ease and sloth of the flesh, you are wholly unfit for the work of godliness.
(2.) This diligence is no more than needeth, whatever the carnal world thinketh, who leave the boat to the stream, and hope to be accepted with God for a few cold and drowsy devotions, or some superficial righteousness. A painter-stainer will think a painter-limner too curious, because his own work is but a little daubing. The broad way pleaseth the world best, but the narrow way leadeth to life.
(3.) This diligence may be well afforded, considering that eternal life and death is in the case. Life! will you stop a journey for your lives because it is a little tedious, or there is dirt in the way, or the wind bloweth on you, and the like? Since it is for God and heaven, we 125should not grudge at a little labour: 1 Cor. xv. 58, ‘Therefore be ye steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord; forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.’ There is also death in the case. Now, which is better, to take a little profitable pains in godliness, or to endure everlasting torments? To save a little labour or diligence in the holy life, and run the hazard of being miserable for ever. Which is worst? The trouble of physic, or the danger of a mortal disease?
[2.] Another excuse is the danger which attendeth it. It may expose you to great troubles to own God and religion heartily; and if there be peace abroad, and magistrates countenance religion, yet many times at home a man’s greatest foes may be those of his own household, Mat. x. 36. But for the pleasing or displeasing of your relations you must not neglect your duty to God; as Jerom to Heliodorus, per calcatum perge patrem—if thy father lie in the way, tread upon his bowels rather than not come unto Christ. Our Lord hath expressly told us, Mat. x. 37, ‘He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me.’ Neither favour nor disfavour of our friends is a just let or impediment to our duty. The advantages we can or are likely to receive from parents are not worthy to be compared with those we expect from God, nor is their authority over us so great as God’s is: Luke xiv. 26, ‘If any man come to me, and hate not his father or mother, and wife, and children, and brethren and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.’ Though Christianity doth not discharge us from obedience to parents, yet the higher duty must be preferred, namely, obedience to Christ, and loving less is hating.
[3.] Another excuse is, I have no time to mind soul affairs. My distractions in the world are so great, and my course of life is such, that I have no leisure. I answer—Will you neglect God and salvation be cause you have worldly things to mind? Whatever your business be, you have a time to eat, and drink, and sleep; and have you no time to be saved? Better encroach upon other things than that religion should be cast to the walls or jostled out of your thoughts. David was a king, and he had more distracting cares than most of us have or can have, yet he saith, Ps. cxix. 147, 148, ‘I prevented the dawning of the morning; and cried; I hoped in thy word. Mine eyes prevent the night-watches, that I may meditate in thy word;’ and ver. 164, ‘Seven times a day do I praise thee, because of thy righteous judgments.’ Do you spend no time in idleness, vain talking, and carnal sports? and might not this be better employed about heavenly things? Eph. v. 15, 16, ‘See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.’ Vitam non accepimus brevem, sed fecimus, nec inopes temporis, sed prodigi sumus. God hath not set you about work that he alloweth you no time for, but we waste our time, and then God is straitened. Many poorer than you have time, because they have a heart and will to improve it.
[4.] I have no power or strength to do good. And what will you have us do? This is the excuse of the idle and naughty servant: Mat. xxv. 24, ‘I knew that thou wert a hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed,’ God sets you about work, but giveth you no strength, is your excuse; but certainly 126you can do more than you do, but you will not make trial. God may be more ready with the assistances of his grace than you can imagine. The tired man may complain of the length of the way, but not the lazy, who will not stir a foot. If you did make trial, you would not complain of God, but yourselves, and beg grace more feelingly. In short, you are not able, because you are not willing. And your impotency is increased by evil habits contracted, and long custom in sin.
I now proceed to the fourth consideration.
4. None of these excuses are sufficient for not following of Christ. And that—
[1.] Because of his authority. Who requireth this duty from us, or imposeth it on us? It is the Lord Jesus Christ, to whose sentence we must stand or fall. When he biddeth us follow him, and follow him speedily, to excuse ourselves is to countermand and contradict his authority: it is flat disobedience, though we do not deny the duty, but only shift off and excuse our present compliance; for he is as peremptory for the time and season as for the duty. ‘Now while it is called to-day, harden not your hearts,’ Heb. iii. 7, 8. God standeth upon his authority, and will have a present answer. If he say, To-day, it is flat disobedience for us to say, To-morrow; or Suffer me first to do this and that business.
[2.] It appeareth from his charge to his messengers. Nothing can take off a minister of the gospel from seeking the conversion and salvation of souls. We cannot plead anything to exempt us from this work. To plead that the people’s hearts are hard, and that the work is difficult and full of danger, will not serve the turn. No; ‘Their blood will I require at thy hands.’ Therefore, all excuses set aside, we must address ourselves to our work. Acts xx. 23, 24: Paul went bound in the spirit, and the Holy Ghost had told him that in every city bonds and afflictions did abide and wait for him; but, saith he, ‘None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear to myself, so as I may finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of my Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.’ He was willing and ready to endure what should befall him at Jerusalem, and reckoned nothing of it, nor of loss of life, if he might successfully preach the gospel, and serve Christ faithfully in the office of the ministry. If nothing be an excuse to us, can anything be an excuse to you? Should your souls be nearer and dearer to us than to yourselves?
[3.] It appeareth from the matter of the duty imposed on you, if you consider the excellency and the necessity of it.
To begin first: The excellency. All excuses against obedience to God’s call are drawn from the world and the things that are in the world. Now there is no comparison between the things of the world and following Christ’s counsel, that we may be everlastingly happy. The question will soon be reduced to this, Which is most to be regarded, God or the creature, the body or the soul, eternity or time? The excuses are for the body, for time, for the creature; but the in junctions of duty are for God, for the soul, and for eternity. Sense saith, Favour the flesh: faith saith, Save thy soul; the one is of everlasting consequence, and conduceth to a happiness that hath no end; 127the other only for a time: 2 Cor. iv. 18, ‘While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.’ One turn of the hand of God separateth the neglected soul from the pampered body, and then whose are all these things?
The necessity: that we may please God and enjoy him for ever. We can never plead for a necessity of sinning; for a man is never driven to those straits, whether he shall sin more or less; but some times duties come in competition—duty to a father, and a special in junction of Christ’s to follow him; one must be subordinated to the other, and the most necessary must take place; the less give place to the greater. Now, this is much more true of those things which are usually pleaded by way of hesitancy, or as a bar to our duty, as our worldly and carnal satisfactions. But you will say, we must avoid poverty and shame. But it is more necessary to avoid damnation; not to preserve our temporal interests, but to seek after eternal life: Luke x. 42, ‘One thing is necessary.’
[4.] It appeareth from the nature of the work. To follow Christ is not to give to him as much as the flesh can spare, but wholly to devote yourselves to his service, to sell all for the pearl of great price, Mat. xiii. 46. And you are obliged to walk so, that all may give way to the glory of God, and the service of your redeemer. If He will employ us thus and thus, we must not contradict it, or plead anything by way of excuse.
Use. Do not neglect your duty for vain excuses. The excusing humour is very rife and very prejudicial to us, for the sluggard hath a high conceit of his own allegations: Prov. xxvi. 16, ‘The sluggard is wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason.’ In the Eastern countries their council usually consisted of seven, as we read of the seven princes of Media and Persia, Esther i. 14. Therefore let us a little disprove this vain conceit. The sluggard thinketh himself so wise that all others are but giddy and crazy-brained people, that are too nice and scrupulous, and make more ado with religion than needeth. But can a man do too much for God and heaven? 1 Thes. ii. 12. The sluggard thinketh it is a venture, and he may venture on one side as well as the other; but it is a thousand to one against him in the eye of reason, put aside faith: in doubtful cases, the surest way is to be taken. But to draw it to a more certain determination.
1. Nothing is a reasonable excuse which God’s word disproveth, for the scriptures were penned to discover the vain sophisms which are in the hearts of men: Heb. iv. 12, ‘For the word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart;’ to discover the affections of a sensual heart, however palliated with the pretences of a crafty understanding. Certainly, our private conceits must not be lifted up against the wisdom of God, nor can a creature be justified in going against his maker’s will. Nothing can be reason which the God of wisdom contradicts and calleth folly: Jer. viii. 9, ‘Lo, they have rejected the word of the Lord, and what wisdom is in them?’128
2. Nothing can be pleaded as a reasonable excuse which your consciences are not satisfied is reason. Men consult with their affections rather than with their consciences. Conscience would draw other conclusions, therefore our excuses are usually our aggravations: Luke xix. 22, ‘Out of thy own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant.’ The master expected increase, therefore he should have done what he could: Job xv. 6, ‘Thine own mouth condemneth thee; yea, thine own lips testify against thee.’ That is the strongest conviction which ariseth from a man’s own bosom; that is the reason why there are so many appeals to conscience in scripture: 1 Cor. x. 15, ‘I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say.’ Your own hearts tell you ye ought to be better, to mind God more, and the world less, to be more serious in preparing for your eternal estate.
3. Nothing can be a reasonable excuse which reflects upon God, as if he had made a hard law which none can keep, especially if urged against the law of grace; this is to say, the ways of God are not equal, therefore there can be no excuse for the total omission of necessary duties.
4. No excuse can be reasonable, but what you dare plead at the bar of Christ; for that is reason which will go for reason at last. Then the weight of all pleas will be considered, and all negligent persons that have not improved the light of nature, or have not obeyed the gospel, will be left without excuse. What doth it avail prisoners to set up a mock sessions among themselves to acquit one and condemn another? He is in a good condition that shall be excused in the last judgment, and in a bad condition that shall be condemned then.
1 now proceed to the second point.
Secondly, That those who are called to follow Christ, should follow him speedily, without interposing any delays.
1. Ready obedience is a good evidence of a sound impression of grace left upon our hearts. There is a slighter conviction which breedeth a sense of our duty, but doth not so strongly urge us to the performance of it. And there is a more sound conviction, which is accompanied with a prevailing efficacy, and then all excuses and delays are laid aside, and men kindly comply with God’s call: Cant. i. 4, ‘Draw me, I will run after thee.’ Run; it noteth an earnest and speedy motion; the fruit of the powerful attraction of the Spirit: Mat. iv. 20, ‘They straightway left their nets and followed him.’ The scoffing atheistical world thinketh it easiness and fond credulity, but it argueth a sound impression. The impulsions of the Holy Spirit work in an instant, for they carry their own evidence with them: Gal. i. 16, ‘Immediately I consulted not with flesh and blood.’ In divinis, non est deliberandum. When our call is clear, there needeth no debate or demurring upon the matter.
2. The work goeth on the more kindly when we speedily obey the sanctifying motions of the Spirit, and the present influence and impulsion of his grace. You have not such an advantage of a warm conviction afterward: when the waters are stirred then we must put in for a cure, John v. 4. To adjourn and put it off, as Felix did, Acts xxiv. 25, doth damp and cool the work—you quench this holy fire; or 129to stand hucking with God, as Pharaoh did, the work dieth on your hand.
3. There is hazard in delaying and putting off such a business of concernment as conversion to God. Certainly this is a business of the greatest concernment, and the greatest work should be first thought of: Mat. vi. 33, ‘Seek first the kingdom of God, and the righteousness thereof;’ and most thought of:’ Ps. xxvii. 4, ‘One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord.’ Now, if we delay, it is left upon great hazards. Life is uncertain, for you know not what a day may bring forth: Prov. xxvii. 1, ‘Boast not thyself of to-morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.’ If God had given leave (as princes sometimes in a proclamation, for all to come in within a certain day); so if God had said, Whosoever doth not repent till thirty or forty years be out, there were no great hazard till the time were expired, we might entertain sin a little while longer. But we know not the day of our death, therefore we should get God to bless us ere we die. A new call is uncertain, 2 Cor. vi. 1, 2. It may be he will treat with us no more in such a warm and affectionate manner. If he call, yet not vouchsafe such assistances of his grace, ‘if, peradventure, God will give them repentance unto life,’ 2 Tim. ii. 25. It is a hazard or uncertain if the Spirit of God will put another thought of turning into your hearts, when former grace is despised: Isa. lv. 6, ‘Call upon the Lord while he is near, and seek him while he may be found.’
4. Consider the mischiefs of delaying. Every day we contract a greater indisposition of embracing God’s call. We complain now it is hard; if it be hard to-day, it will be harder to-morrow, when God is more provoked, and sin more strengthened, Jer. xiii. 23. Yea, it may be, our natural faculties are decayed, the vigour of our youth exhausted. When the tackling is spoiled and the ship rotten, it is an ill time to put to sea: Eccles. xii. 1, ‘Remember now thy creator in the days of thy youth.’ And besides, consider the suspicion that is upon a late repentance. The most profane would have God for their portion at last.
5. The reasons for delay are inconsiderable. Suppose it be our satisfaction in our present estate. The pleasures of sin are sweet, and we are loth to forego them; but those pleasures must one day be renounced, or you are for ever miserable. Why not now? Sin will be as sweet to the carnal appetite hereafter as now it is; and salvation is dispensed upon the same terms. You cannot be saved hereafter with less ado, or bring down Christ and heaven to a lower rate. If this be a reason now, it will for ever lie as a reason against Christ, and against conversion. The laws of Christianity are unalterable, always the same, and your hearts not like to be better. Or is it that you are willing now, but you have no leisure? when such encumbrances are over, you shall get your hearts into better posture. Oh no; it is hypocrisy to think you are willing when you delay. Nothing now hindereth but a want of will; and when God treateth with thee about thine eternal peace, it is the best time; but God always cometh to the sinner unseasonably in his own account. But consider, it was the devil that said, Mat. viii. 29, ‘Art thou come hither to torment us before the time?’130
The use is, to reprove that dallying with God in the work of conversion, which is so common and so natural to us.
The causes of it are:—
1. Unbelief, or want of a due sense and sight of things to come. If men were persuaded of eternal life and eternal death, they would not stand hovering between heaven and hell, but presently engage their hearts to draw nigh to God. But we cannot see afar off: 2 Peter i. 9, ‘He that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off.’
2. Another cause is security. They do not take these things into their serious thoughts. Faith showeth it is sure, and consideration bringeth it near: Amos vi. 3, ‘Ye put far away the evil day.’ Things at a distance do not move us. We should pray, and preach, and practise as if death were at our backs, and remember that all our security dependeth upon the slender thread of a frail life.
3. Another cause is averseness of heart; they have no mind to these things: Rom. viii. 7, ‘The carnal mind is enmity against God.’ The heart is inclined to worldly vanities, set against God and godliness. Now let us consider the heinousness of this sin. It is ingratitude and unthankfulness for God’s eternal love: Ps. ciii. 17, ‘The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him.’ It is also disingenuity; we would be heard presently: Ps. cii. 2, ‘Lord, hear me speedily.’ To-day is the season of mercy, to-morrow of duty. We are always in haste, would have the Lord to tarry for our sinful leisure, when we will not tarry his holy leisure. It is also base self-love; we can be content to dishonour God longer, provided at length we may be saved. Lastly, it is great injustice to keep God out of his right; he hath been long enough kept out of his right already: 1 Peter iv. 3, ‘The time past of our life may suffice to have wrought the will of the Gentiles.’ Therefore, let us no longer delay, but speedily address ourselves to entertain the motions of the Holy Spirit.
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