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Here the apostle cometh to exhort; as all along, with the description of seducers, he intermingleth exhortation. The sum of the exhortation is to quicken them to the use of the means of perseverance and constancy. Build up yourselves, ἐποικοδομοῦντες; the word signifieth the going on with a building already begun, and fitly noteth that care they should take for the growth of their spiritual estate. Yourselves, ἑαυτοὺς; some translate invicem, build up one another; that I confess is the apostle’s intent, but first to press them to a care of their own salvation, and then mutually to care for one another: see 1 Thes. v. 11, ‘Comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, as ye also do;’ and possibly this is spoken here by way of opposition to those that separate themselves. In your most holy faith. By faith may be meant either the grace of faith or the doctrine of faith. I rather suppose the latter, that true and pure religion which they had learned from the apostles, which was the foundation already laid, unto which they should keep close. If it be meant of faith, the grace, then he persuadeth them to progress, and to lay hold on the superstructure of good works and final perseverance, Mat. vii. 24. This faith is called most holy, in opposition to the profane mysteries of the Gnostics and Valentinians. It is a holy rule, and maketh us holy: John xvii. 17, ‘Sanctify them by thy truth, thy word is truth.’ Praying in the Holy Ghost, ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ, may be rendered, in, with, or by the Holy Ghost; that is, by his motion and inspiration, and gifts and graces received from him. Elsewhere the Holy Ghost is said to pray 335in us, Rom. viii. 26; and here we pray in the Holy Ghost. He prayeth in us so as we pray in him; he prayeth in us, to note the excitations of his grace; we pray in him, to imply the concurrence of our faculties; which is to be noted against the familists, who make the Spirit to be the immediate formal cause of all our actions, as if in the productions of grace the Spirit did only make use of us as Bilhah did of Rachel, to ‘bring forth upon her knees,’ Gen. xxx. 3, and the action were wholly his own.
The notes are these:—
Obs. 1. It is not sufficient to be established or grounded in the faith, but we must daily increase and grow more and more therein. When the foundation is laid, the building must go on piece by piece; they that are contented with a little faith have no faith; graces though imperfect are always growing, Luke xvii. 5. It is the holy ambition of Christians to be more like God every day; certainly their temper is contrary to the temper of God’s people, that think they have learned enough, know enough, are holy enough; none are so knowing but they may know more, so established but they may be more. Here we are in a state of progress, not of rest and perfection; the corn in the field groweth, though in the barn it doth not, Eph. iv. 12, 13, Phil, iii. 13. A Christian is always reaching forth and pressing onward, and the nearer he cometh to heaven his motions and tendencies are the more earnest, as a stone moveth faster the nearer it cometh to the centre; the more he enjoyeth, still he hath new motives to seek more: Prov. i. 5, ‘A wise man will hear and will increase learning;’ a good man would go to heaven as fast as he can, not make a hard shift, but ‘enter abundantly,’ 2 Peter i. 11.
Obs. 2. To grow in faith is a means to persevere in faith. Man is of an active nature; either he groweth better or worse. We shall not keep what we have received if we do not labour to increase in it, as a house begun to be built goeth to decay, and droppeth down more and more, if we do not go on to finish it. Do we grow, then, or decline? Did we observe our first coolings, the mischief would not be so great; but we, like the hen, as long as there is one egg in the nest, observe not how many are taken away; as long as we have any tolerable affections to the things of God, or somewhat to keep us alive, we do not consider how many degrees of grace we have lost.
Obs. 3. Faith—take it for the grace—is the proper foundation of holiness and good works. Works without faith are but a roof without a foundation, and faith without works is a foundation without a building; good fruit supposeth a good tree, Mat. vii.
Obs. 4. The faith of Christians is a ‘most holy’ faith; no doctrine hath such pure precepts, such high examples, such raised motives, such mysterious enforcements, such blessed rewards, and all to encourage holiness. If ever anything were exactly fitted to its purpose, surely the word is fitted to promote holiness. The precepts of the law require it; the doctrine of the gospel showeth where virtue and power is to be had to perform it; the promises encourage it; the examples of God and Christ show the height and exactness of it; the examples of the saints show it is possible; the word and ordinances work it, as being instituted by God for such a purpose, and accompanied with the power 336of his grace, Eph. v. 26. God hath reserved this honour of sanctifying the heart to the doctrine of the scriptures, to evidence their divine original: James i. 18, ‘He hath begotten us to himself by the word of truth.’ This great change which is wrought in the heart of man is by the word. A moral lecture may a little fashion the outward man, and reduce him to a civil course, as Xenocrates’ moral lecture made Polemo leave his vicious and sensual course of life; but regeneration is only found in the school of Christ. Well, then, if you will know the best religion, observe where there is most holiness discovered and wrought, Ps. xix. 7-9, John xvii. 17. In the word of God you have the copy of his holiness; there is somewhat of good life and moral behaviour among heathens, but nothing of regeneration and genuine holiness. Once more, an impure life will not suit with a holy faith; you dishonour God and disparage your religion when you walk as heathens. This holy faith is best ‘kept in a pure conscience,’ 1 Tim. iii. 9.
Obs. 5. From that building up yourselves. In building up, that is, in growth and perseverance, there is a. concurrence of our own endeavours; we are ‘living stones,’ 1 Peter ii. 4, after we are converted, and are not altogether dead and passive, as in conversion. After we ‘have received Christ’ we may ‘walk with him,’ Col. ii. 6. Motion and operation followeth life: he that made thee without thee will not save thee without thee.
Obs. 6. From the other interpretation of the word yourselves—that is, one another—observe, that mutual conference is a means of perseverance. Solomon saith, Eccles. iv. 10, ‘When two lie together they have heat.’ Surely good company preserveth and keepeth up our warmth and vigour, as a remedy against apostasy. Spiritual communion and conference is often pressed; see Heb. iii. 13, and x. 24, 25. When God’s people did oftener meet and confer together, there was more life in them.
Obs. 7. Next to conference, prayer is required. Note thence, that prayer is a means of establishment. We are kept by God’s power, and God’s power is set a-work by prayer; this is the breath that keepeth in the fire. Men that neglect prayer find sensible decays. When they suspected some distemper upon Job’s spirit, they charge him with the neglect of prayer: Job xv. 4, ‘Surely thou restrainest prayer.’ No wonder if men grow unsavoury, worldly, voluptuous, when they let days go, and weeks go, and God never heareth from them.
Obs. 8. Then we pray aright when we ‘pray in the Holy Ghost;’ this concurrence is necessary, both with respect to acceptance and assistance.
1. With respect to acceptance. God will own nothing in prayer but what cometh from his Spirit; any other voice is strange and barbarous to him: Rom. viii. 27, ‘He knoweth the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.’ The Lord delighteth not in the flaunting of pates and the unsavoury belches and eructations of a human spirit; the tuneable cadency of words is but an empty ring in God’s ears. The psalmist saith, Ps. cxli. 2, ‘Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense.’ 337Now the censers were to be kindled with holy fire before the smoke went up; the coal wherewith we are kindled must be taken from the altar, not from a common hearth, and then our prayer goeth up as incense: God’s course is to ‘prepare the heart,’ and then to grant the request: Ps. x. 17, ‘Thou wilt prepare their hearts, and cause thine ear to hear.’ Surely God’s ear will be opened if our hearts be opened; when he himself sets us a-work we need not doubt of audience. Fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice was the solemn token of acceptance heretofore; fire from heaven is the token still, even a holy ardour wrought in us by the Spirit.
2. In point of assistance. Prayer is a work too hard for us; we can babble of ourselves, but we cannot pray without the Holy Ghost; we can put words into prayer, but it is the Spirit puts affections, without which it is but a little cold prattle and spiritless talk. Our necessities may sharpen our prayers, but they cannot enliven our prayers. A carnal man may feel the impulsions of a natural fervency, and so cry unto God as the young ravens cry unto him, and in all creatures there is a desire of relief: the rude mariners in the tempest were very earnest, Jonah i. 6. But now gracious affection is quite another thing than this natural fervency. There may be cold and raw wishes after grace, but not serious volitions and spiritual desires; these we must have from the Holy Ghost. Surely if we did consider what prayer is we should see the need of this assistance. It is a work which will cost us travail of heart, Acts i, 14, προσκαρτεροῦντες ἐν τῇ προσεύχῃ, and James v. 16, δεήσις ἐνεργουμένη. It is expressed by ‘striving.’ Rom. xv. 30, ‘Strive with me in prayers,’ and Col. iv. 12, ‘Labouring for you fervently in prayers,’ &c., ἀγωνιζόμενος. It is a striving with God himself, and then there is no setting upon God but by his own strength. This was figured in Jacob’s wrestling, Gen. xxxii. 25, to the end; which is explained Hosea xii. 4, ‘Yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed; yea, he wept and made supplication.’ The party that Jacob wrestled with is called a man, an angel, and God; a man, for the shape and form assumed; an angel, to note the second person, who is the messenger of the covenant; and God, Gen. xxxii. 30. It was such an angel as blessed him, which is proper to God. Now in the assumed body Jacob wrestled with him, which was symbolical; the prophet referreth it to his prayers. But how is it said he could not prevail against Jacob? With a blast of his mouth he might have confounded him, and it had been as easy for him to maim and destroy every joint as to make him halt and lame of one thigh. I answer—He could not because he would not; he gave out but such a measure of strength to the body assumed, and the Lord did wrestle both in and against Jacob, in Jacobo, Deus est seipso fortior—he wrestleth against us with his left hand, and strengtheneth us with his right, so that God’s power prevaileth over himself. All this is spoken to show what need we have of a divine power when we strive with God.
But now what is it to pray in the Holy Ghost? I shall answer it in a word. The Spirit helpeth us in prayer in a way of gifts or graces. In a way of gifts, that the heart may riot be bound up, and that we may have necessary words to give vent to affections. Adam maimed 338us both as to gifts as well as graces; and therefore, that our supplies in Christ may be answerable, the Spirit bestoweth upon us the gift of prayer, that we may enlarge ourselves to God on all occasions. This gift was either extraordinary and proper to the first times of the gospel, when they were able of a. sudden to dictate a prayer in a strange language which they had never learned; so it is said 1 Cor. xiv. 15, ‘I will pray with the Spirit, and with understanding also.’ Many did pray with the Spirit, that is, made use of this gift, but to the neglect of edifying; they did not pray so as they might be under stood by the hearers. Now saith the apostle, I would use the gift but to edification, so as the understanding of the auditory may go along with me.
[1.] The ordinary gift of the Spirit is that special dexterity whereby men are able to put their meaning into apt words. It is not of such a miraculous infusion, and so wonderful in itself, as the former, because it dependeth much upon the temper and suitable constitution of the body, and is much bettered by industry, hearing, reading, meditation, conference, &c., as all other ordinary habits are. But such a gift there is in the church, as we find by plain experience, many men’s tongues being ‘as the pen of a ready writer,’ Ps. xlv. 1. All miraculous gifts are now turned into ordinary gifts somewhat like them, as discerning of spirits into a sagacity and cautelous prudence, gifts of tongues into a special dexterity that way, and gifts of healing into skill in physic; so praying with the Spirit into readiness of utterance and freedom of speech. Now, though we are to covet the best gifts and strive after them, yet we must be contented with our measure. Sometimes this gift is given to carnal men because of their service in the church. Gifts are for the body; they may have great abilities to pray and preach, and may be carried on with full gales of outward assistance. Usually it is given unto men according to their constitution and natural receptivity; all cannot expect a like quickness and enlargement of speech. In the penmen of scripture you may observe a difference of character and style according to their temper and education, though their assistance as to words was also infallible. Isaiah writeth in a courtly style, and Jeremiah in a priestly, and Amos’ manner of speech relisheth of his calling. In the New Testament, John is seraphical, Paul argumentative, and Peter writeth in a milky, sweet, middle way, &c.
[2.] There is the gracious assistance of the Holy Ghost. Now, this is either habitual or actual.
(1.) Habitual grace is necessary to prayer: Zech. xii. 10, ‘I will pour upon them a spirit of grace and supplication.’ Where there is grace there will be supplication. As soon as we are new born we fall a-crying; ‘Behold, he prayeth,’ Acts ix. 11, is the first news we hear of Paul after his conversion. Prayer is a kindly duty to the new creature. Things of an airy and fiery nature, a little thing will carry them upward, it is their natural motion and tendency; the regenerate are easily drawn into God’s presence, it is the vent and utterance by which we discover the impression that is upon us. The priests were to wash in the great laver before they went to the altar; we are washed in ‘the laver of regeneration, and renewed by the Holy Ghost,’ Titus iii. 5, and so made fit to offer spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.
(2.) There is actual help and assistance which we have from the Spirit. Though a man be regenerate, yet he cannot pray as he ought, unless he be still moved and assisted by the Holy Ghost. This is continual, for we soon work out the strength which we have received. Now, these actual motions do either concern the time of prayer or the matter and the manner of it.
First, The time of prayer, the Spirit suggesteth the fittest seasons; he that searcheth out the deep things of God, knoweth the acceptable times, Ps. xxxii. 6, and accordingly giveth notice to the heart by set ting it a-work in serious addresses to God: Ps. xxvii. 8, ‘Thou saidst, Seek ye my face, and my heart said, Thy face, Lord, will I seek.’ God speaketh to us by holy motions and the impulsions of his grace, and we answer God by a ready obedience. It is the worst scorn we can put upon one whom we hate when we deny to speak with him when he sendeth for us. By these motions we are invited to come and confer with God; do not say, I am not at leisure. I would not have this interpreted as if every motion to prayer were from the Spirit. It is possible Satan may oppress an anxious soul with the tyranny of un reasonable impulsions to duty; I only understand such motions as are regular and according to the word. Neither would I again be so understood as if God were never to be called upon, or we were never to pray, but when the Spirit moveth us; that is one of the carnal fancies of many wretches now. No, no; God must have his daily acknowledgment, ‘Give us this day our daily bread;’ but my meaning is, that such a season, when we are so strongly moved by the Spirit of God, should not be neglected.
Secondly, The matter of prayer is suggested by the Holy Ghost. Let a man alone and he will soon run into a temptation, and cry for that which it were cruelty in God to give him; therefore the direction of the Holy Ghost is necessary, that we may not ask a scorpion instead of a fish, and a stone instead of bread: Rom. viii. 27, ‘He maketh intercession for the saints, according to the will of God.’ We take counsel of our lusts and interests when we are left to our own private spirit, and so would have God to be a minister of our carnal desires, and would engage him in our quarrels and private revenges; or else ask meat for our lusts. Now, the Holy Ghost teacheth us to ask not only what is lawful, but what is expedient for us, that so the will of God may take place before our inclinations.
Thirdly, For the manner. In every moral action the manner of working is a chief circumstance. A man may sin in doing good, but not in doing well. Now, in prayer, where we have immediately to do with God, we should take great heed in what manner we come to him. The right manner is when we come with affection, with confidence, with reverence.
First, With affection. It is the Holy Ghost sets us a-groaning: Rom. viii. 26, ‘He maketh intercession for the saints with such sighs and groans as cannot be uttered.’ Words are but the outside of prayer; sighs and groans are the language which God will understand, and these are the prayers which the Holy Ghost maketh for us, and in 340us. We learn to mourn from the turtle, from him that descended in the form of a dove; he draweth sighs from the heart, and tears from the eyes. Parts may furnish us with eloquence, but the Spirit giveth affection, that earnest reaching forth of soul, that holy importunity, that spiritual violence. It is all of his working. Many a prayer is neatly ordered, and tunably delivered, but this artifice of words smelleth of the man; then it savoureth of the Holy Ghost when there is life and power in it, and the poor supplicant sets himself to wrestle with God, as if he would overcome him by his own strength.
Secondly, With confidence. When we come in a childlike manner, and call God Father, Rom. viii. 16, ‘We have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.’ Usually, we do not mind this part of the Spirit’s help in prayer; we look to gifts and enlargements, but not to this childlike confidence, that we may be able to call God Father without blasphemy and reproach. It is an easy matter to language it with our mouths, but to have the sense of our adoption in our hearts is a difficult thing. Sometimes the Spirit witnesseth it more explicitly by expressions; as if it were said when we go to prayer, Be of good cheer, thy sins are pardoned, God is thy God. At other times, by impressions or more secret instincts; if not by working child like confidence, yet childlike affection, optando, si non affirmando, that we may call God Father by option and choice, if not by direct affirmation, or a clear sense of our adoption.
Thirdly, With reverence. That we may be serious and awe-full, God is best seen in the light of his own Spirit. The heathens could say, Non loquendum de Deo sine lumine—we need light from God when we come to speak of or to God. That sense of the Lord’s greatness, and those fresh and awful thoughts that we have of his majesty in prayer, they are stirred up in us by the Holy Ghost; he uniteth and gathereth our hearts together, that they may not be ravelled and flittered abroad by impertinent and vain thoughts, Ps. lxxxvi. 11. Leave men to themselves, and they will do as foolishly as a man that is to gather a posy for his friend, and filleth it fuller of stinking weeds than flowers. We shall mingle many unsavoury worldly thoughts, or deal as basely and affrontingly with God as if a man under the law should mingle sulphur and brimstone with the sweet perfumes that were in the censer. Lust will be interposing in prayer, and out-talking grace; therefore, that we may be reverent and heedful, we must use the help of the Spirit, ‘praying in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance,’ Eph. vi. 18.
1. Well, then, when thou goest to prayer, look upon the Holy Ghost as appointed by the Father and purchased by the Son to help thee in this sweet and comfortable service: Rom. viii. 26, ‘The Spirit helpeth our infirmities,’ συναντιλάμβανεται, goeth to the other end of the staff and beareth a part of the burden. We are tugging and wrestling at it, and can make no work of it, but the Spirit cometh, and puts under his shoulder, and then it cometh off kindly.
2. It informeth us how much they sin that are so far from praying with the Holy Ghost, that they do not pray with their own spirit. Alas! this is but babbling, when the heart doth not go along with the lips.
3. It informeth us of the privileges of the saints. God is their 341father, willing to hear prayers; Christ is their advocate, willing to present their requests in court; and the Spirit a notary to indite and draw up their requests for them. Oh! what encouragement have we to go to the throne of grace! Surely we do not improve our privileges, or else we might have more comfortable access to the Father through Christ by the Spirit, Eph. ii. 18.
The apostle goeth on directing to the means of perseverance. As before he mentioned two duties, conference and prayer, so here two graces, love and hope.
Keep yourselves; that is, use the means: ‘We are kept by the power of God unto salvation;’ but because of the concurrence of our endeavours, it is ascribed to us, yourselves. Some interpret it as before, alii alios, keep one another. In the love of God. It may be taken for that love which God beareth to us, or else for the love wherewith we love God, which is fitly called the love of God, partly because God is the object of it, partly because the author of it, he commandeth or begetteth it, increaseth it, perfecteth it in the soul. In this second sense I take the love of God here, namely, for that grace wrought in us; and the great work committed to our care is to keep it, increase it, and discover it in all the operations of it. Looking, the formal act of hope; for the mercy. The cause is put for the effect. For all that good which we shall receive at Christ’s coming, it is called mercy, because his proceeding with the elect at the last day will be upon terms of grace. Of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is so called because it is purchased by Christ, and dispensed by him: John xvii. 2, he hath ‘power to give eternal life;’ and at his coining he introduceth his people into their happy estate, John xiv. 3. Unto everlasting life. Our happiness in heaven is sometimes called ‘everlasting life,’ at other times ‘everlasting glory.’ Observe hence:—
Obs. I. In perseverance there is a concurrence of our care and diligence: Phil. ii. 12, 13, ‘Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,’ &c. The main work is God’s: ‘He that hath begun a good work must perfect it,’ Phil. i. 6; and the same Jesus that is 4 author ‘is also ‘finisher,’ Heb. xii. 2. The deeper radication of the habit, the defence of it, the growth and perfection of it, the ability to act, is all from God: 1 Peter v. 10, ‘The God of all grace make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, and settle you;’ but yet a concurrence there is of our care and endeavours. A child in the womb is nourished by the mother, liveth by the life of the mother, feedeth by the food of the mother; but a child born liveth a more distinct and separate life of its own, though it still be under the mother’s care and provision. So it is with us after grace received. We have a power to act and do what is necessary for the preservation of the spiritual life. Well, then, let us not neglect the means. You must not lie upon the bed of ease, and think that God must do all. He doth all indeed, but in us and by us. Idle wishes will do us no good as long as our hands refuse to labour.
Obs. 2. Again, men that have grace had need look to the keeping of it. Why?342
1. We ourselves are prone to revolt: ‘This people loveth to wander,’ Jer. xiv. 10, and ‘they err in their hearts,’ though under the immediate conduct of God, Ps. xcv. 10. It is notable in scripture that we read of a decay both of faith, love, and obedience, which are the three main graces; some that ‘left their first faith,’ 1 Tim. v. 12; others that ‘left their first love,’ Rev. ii. 4; and as to obedience, we read of ‘the first ways’ of David, as distinguished from his latter: 2 Chron. xvii. 3, ‘He walked in the first ways of his father David.’ David, in his latter time, fell into scandalous crimes.
2. We are assaulted with continual temptations. An importunate suitor, by perseverance in his suit, may at length prevail. Satan will lose nothing for want of asking. Those that refused at first may yield afterward. Long conversing with the world may taint the spirit. A deformed object, when we are used to it, seemeth less deformed. In dwelling lust, though long restrained, breaketh out afterward with the more violence. Rose-trees nipped in June bear in the winter. Many that in youth have held a hard hand over sin, in their very old age have found their lusts more violent.
3. A man of long standing is apt to grow secure and negligent, as if he were now past danger; when his condition was doubtful, he seemed to be more diligent and serious, but when the labours and difficulties of our first entering into favour with God are well over, and a man hath gotten some freedom from the terrors of the law, and some peace and confidence, he is in danger of security, by which all runneth to waste in the soul. See Rev. iii. 17-19. Well, then, this life is never exempted from care; either to get grace or to keep it, w r e need to be watchful and diligent to the very last. Man is a changeable creature, and Satan is restless, either he continueth the old suit or altereth the course of temptations. It is his subtlety in that he doth not always play the same game; a man may stand one brunt and fail in another: ‘Joab turned after Adonijah, though not after Absalom,’ 1 Kings ii. 28. Every new condition bringeth new snares: ‘Ephraim is a cake not turned,’ Hosea vii. 8. A man may be well baked of one side, and yet quite dough of another; the children of God prosperous differ from the children of God afflicted, Phil. iv. 12. We had need to learn how to walk up-hill and down-hill, that we may keep with God upon all grounds. Again, corruptions may be disguised; a man may withstand open enemies, and yet fail by the insinuations of those that have a show of goodness. The young prophet withstood the king stoutly, but yet was perverted by the insinuations of the old prophet, 1 Kings xiii. 4, with 19th verse. Meletius, a sufferer under pagans, but went over to the Arians.
Again, where there seemeth to be least danger there is most cause of fear. Lot, that was chaste in Sodom, miscarried in the mountains, where there were none but his own family. Conscience, that is now tender, may be strangely deadened and laid by for a time. Who would have thought that he whose heart smote him for cutting off the lap of Saul’s garment, should afterwards fall into uncleanness and blood, and He asleep in it for a long time? Confidence is sure to be dismounted. Peter is a sad instance. He told his master, ‘If all men deny thee, yet not I,’ and he meant as he spoke. He ventureth on a band of men 343with a rusty blade, followeth Christ into the high priest’s hall, who more secure than Peter? But all this confidence failed, though it met with but a weak trial, the soft words of a damsel’s question; such feathers are we when the blast of a temptation is let loose upon us. Upon all these considerations now let us make it our care to keep what graces we have gotten, which will never be done without watchfulness and diligence to quicken us further to it.
1. Unless you keep it, all is in vain; if so be it be in vain, Gal. iii. 4. It is in vain as to the final reward. It is not in vain as to the increase of punishment. You will lose all your cost you have been at for Christ, Ezek. xviii. 24, 2 John 8. Your watchings, strivings, prayings, sufferings, come to nothing. The Nazarite was to begin all anew if the days of his separation were defiled, Num. vi. 12. Nay, it is not in vain as to punishment, 2 Peter ii. 20-22.
2. To lose any degrees of grace is a great loss; it is the most precious gift, 2 Peter i. 1, conduceth to the highest ends—eternal happiness, fitteth us for communion with God; all the world cannot repair this loss, or purchase a supply for us. We are to be accountable for degrees, as well as for the grace itself. They that had five talents reckoned for five; a factor that giveth an account only for a part of the estate received is not accounted faithful. We may not be intrusted with so much again. A man that hath fallen may recover his peace and joy, but in a lower degree; a prodigal that hath once broken is not trusted with a like stock again, and a man after a great disease may never come to the same degree and pitch of health. So Christians may not recover that largeness of spirit after their foul falls and fulness of inward strength and comfort.
3. Those that have made profession of love to God, and yet afterwards break with him, bring an ill report upon the Lord, as if he were an ill master. I am persuaded that the devil in policy lets many men alone for a while to make a strict profession, and seem to be full of zeal and holiness, that they may afterwards do religion a mischief. Whilst they act for God, though they do some things excellently, Satan never troubleth them; he is at truce with them till they have gotten a name for the profession of godliness and strictness of conversation, and when once they have gotten a name, their fall will be more scandalous, more ignominious to themselves, and disgraceful to religion. Verily, this is a common experience, we see many forward, hot, and carried out with great impulsions of zeal, and all this while Satan lets them alone, he knoweth how mutable men are, and how soon they begin to tire in the ways of God, therefore lets them alone till they have run themselves out of breath, that afterward, by a more notable defection, they may shame themselves and harden others. If Judas will be a disciple, he lets him alone; if Simon Magus will be baptized, and Nicolas168168 This is on the supposition that Nicolas, one of the seven, Acts vi. 5, was the founder of the sect of the Nicolaitans.—ED. bear office in the church, he lets them alone; he knoweth the best are mutable; that many take up their religion out of interest, that men are soon weary of their own scrupulousness and rigid observances, that they first make conscience of all things, and then of nothing; and therefore he lets them go on without any notable defect 344or failing, to fly some youthful lusts, to renounce some interests, till they have gotten credit enough to discredit religion. See 2 Tim. ii. 18. O Christians! if you are not moved with respect to God, yet for your own cause; after a blaze will you go out in a stench? A house begun and not finished is a habitation for screech-owls; but, on the contrary, what an honour is it to hold out to the last, to be like ‘Mnason, an old disciple!’
4. The worst is past, we have but a few years’ service more, and we shall be happy for ever: ‘Your salvation is nearer than it was when you first believed.’ Rom. xiii. 11; a little more and you will land safe at the expected haven; if we have a rough passage, it is a short one. ‘What! will you not watch with me one hour?’ saith Christ to his apostles. The longest life is no more in comparison of eternity. Enoch lived longer than most men do, he lived three hundred and sixty-five years, Gen. v. 22, but all that while he ‘walked with God;’ and is it so tedious to us to tell over a few summers and winters before we come to heaven?
Obs. 3. The next point is more particular and express. That of all graces, love needeth keeping. Why? (1.) Because of all graces it is most decaying, Mat. xxiv. 12, Rev. ii. 4. Flame is soon spent, graces that act most strongly require most influence, as being most subject to abatement; we sooner lose our affections than anything else. (2.) Because love is a grace that we can ill spare; it is the spring and rise of all duties to God and man. (1st.) To God. Love is the first affection corrupted and renewed. The schoolmen dispute whether there be anything a man doth that hath not its first rise from love. It is love maketh us angry, and it is love maketh us hate, Ps. xcvii. 10, and love maketh us grieve, John xi. 35, 36, much more is it love that maketh us hope, and desire, and delight; so it is gracious love that sets us a-mourning for sin, Luke vii. 47, puts us upon hatred of evil, delighting in God and in his laws; see 2 Cor. v. 14, 1 John v. 3, Gal. v. 6: ‘Faith worketh by love,’ faith receiveth grace, and love exerciseth it. If we would do anything in the resistance of sin, in keeping the commandments, we cannot spare our love. (2d.) As to man. Love is a grace that will make us industrious for the good of others, and therefore we read of the ‘labour of love,’ 1 Thes. i. 3. It is gluten animarum, the glue of souls, the cement and solder of the church; the jointing that runneth throughout all the living and squared stones, Col. iii. 14; by this souls are mingled, and all mutual offices done cheerfully. Want of love to the saints is the cause of apostasy, for the less we love them the more we associate to the wicked, and then zeal is damnified and abated.
Well, then, watch the more earnestly against the decays and abatements of love;’ leaving our first love ‘is a disease not only incident to hypocrites, but sometimes to God’s own children. Christians go back ward in the heat and light of their graces ten degrees, either through the badness of the times, Mat. xxiv. 12, or through a cursed satiety that is apt to creep upon us. Affections are deadened to things to which we are accustomed. The Israelites cried out, ‘Nothing but this manna!’ Our desires are not so fresh and lively after long acquaintance. Some times it cometh from negligence, or a sluggish carelessness, we do not 345take pains to keep graces alive, nor ἀναζωπυρεῖν, ‘stir up the gift that is in us,’ 2 Tim. i. 6: as the priests in the temple were to keep in the holy fire, so are we, by prayers and meditation and constant work, to keep our love alive; but when these exercises are neglected, it decreaseth. Sometimes it falleth out through freeness in sinning. Neglect is like not blowing up the coals; sinning is like pouring on waters, a very quenching of the Spirit, 1 Thes. v. 19. Again, through secure dalliance with the pleasures of sin, or cumbering the soul with the cares of the world; when the heart runneth out too much upon the creature, God is neglected. Thus it may fall out.
But now the decay of love is seen in two things:—(1.) The remission of the degrees of love; (2.) The intermission of the acts of love.
1. A remission of the degrees, when the heart groweth cold, list less, and loose; when there is not such a strong tendency and bent of soul towards God as formerly, not such a sense of unkindness, such an awful respect to God, a care to please him, and desire to enjoy him, nor such complacency and delight in the thoughts of God. But now every loss or abatement of degree doth not mount to a leaving of our first love; there are certain ravishments and transports of soul which we feel upon the first evidence of our being reconciled to God, or are stirred up upon other special occasions. These are accidental overflowings, which may come and go; we cannot always bear up under them; new things strangely affect us; love is afterward more settled and diffused in the channels of obedience, and therefore no wonder if it do not run with so full a tide and current. This remission of degrees, then, must be understood with respect to these constant dispositions of love, as care to please, fear to offend, desire of and delight in God; when these fail us to any degree, love is a-chilling or growing cold.
2. An intermission of the acts and exercise of love, when God is forgotten, duty neglected, sin unmortified, no care of or frequency in private communion with God, no sweet thoughts of him, Ps. lxiii. 6; civ. 34. Where we love there will be musing on the object beloved, there will be familiarity and intimateness of converse. There is not a day can pass but love will find some errand and occasion to confer with God, either to implore his help or ask his counsel. But now, when men can pass over whole days and weeks, and never give God a visit, such strangeness argueth little love. Again, when there is no care of glorifying God, no plottings and contrivings how we may be most useful for him, when we do not mourn over sin as we were wont to do, are not so sensible of offences, have not these meltings of heart, are not so careful to avoid all occasions of offending God, are not so watchful, so zealous, as we were wont to be, do not rise up in arms against temptations and carnal thoughts, love is decayed. Certainly when the sense of our obligations to Christ is warm upon the heart, sin doth not escape so freely; love will not endure it to live and act in the heart, Titus ii. 11, 12, Gen. xxxix. 9. But now, as this is worn off, the heart is not watched, the tongue is not bridled, speeches are idle, yea, rotten and profane; wrath and envy tyrannise over the soul, all runneth to riot in the poor neglected heart; yea, further, God’s public 346worship is performed perfunctorily, and in a careless, stupid manner; sin confessed without remorse and sense of the wrong done to God; prayer made for spiritual blessings without desire of obtaining; wrath deprecated without any fear of the danger; intercession for others without any sympathy or brotherly love; thanks given without any esteem of the benefits or affection to God in the remembrance of them; conference of holy things is either none at all, or very slight and care less; hearing without attention; reading without a desire of profit; singing without any delight or melody of heart. All this is but the just account of a heart declining in the love of God.
Now as you love your souls beware of this great evil. To this end—
1. Be ‘rooted and grounded in love,’ Eph. iii. 17. Do not content yourselves with flashes and good moods and meltings at a sermon, but get solid grace and thorough experiences: glances and sudden affections will come to nothing, Mat. xiii. 4, 5, with xx. 21. A tree that hath taken root is in less danger of withering.
2. Increase and grow in love, 1 Thes. iv. 10. Nothing conduceth to a decay more than contentment with what we have received; every day you should love sin less, self less, world less, but Christ more and more.
3. Observe the first declinings, for these are the causes of all the rest. Evil is best stopped in the beginning; if, when we first began to grow careless, we had taken heed, then it would never have come to this. A heavy body moving downward, vires acquirit eundo, it gathers strength by running, and still moveth faster and faster. Look then to your first breaking off from God, and remitting your watch and spiritual fervour; it is easier to crush the egg than to kill the serpent. He that keepeth a house in constant repair prevents the ruin and fall of it; stop every hole and chink before the mischief spread further.
4. Plead with thy heart. The highest degree of love doth not answer the dignity of Christ, nor the duty that we owe to him; he is to be loved with ‘all the soul, and all the heart, and all the might.’ It is a disgrace to him to give him less; surely he looketh to be much loved again who hath loved us so entirely, and ‘translated us out of darkness into marvellous light,’
5. In case of decay, take the advice the Holy Ghost hath given you, Rev. ii. 5, where three things are required—(1.) Consideration; (2.) Humiliation; (3.) Reformation.
[1.] Consideration: ‘Remember whence thou art fallen,’ ponder the case. In examination we compare ourselves and the law together, but in this recollection ourselves and ourselves together. Sadly consider then what a difference there is between thee and thyself, recall former experiences, and say as Job, chap. xxix. 2, 3, ‘Oh! that I were as in months past, in the days when God preserved me, when his candle shined on my head.’ Or as the church, Hosea ii. 7, ‘It was better with me than now.’ In our serious sequestration and retirements we should have such thoughts as these are:—I was wont to spend some time every day with God; I remember when it was a delight to me to think of him; now I have no heart to pray or meditate, no relish of communion with his blessed majesty; it was the joy of my soul to be at an ordinance, the returns of the Sabbath were welcome to me; but now 347what a weariness is it! Time was when I had sweet experiences, and the graces of God’s Spirit were more lively in me, but now all is dead and inefficacious; time was when a vain thought was burdensome unto me, but now I can away with sinful actions; time was when the mispence of ordinary time was a grief unto my soul, now I can spend the Sabbath unprofitably and never be troubled, &c. Thus should you consider your estate.
[2.] Humiliation, intimated in the word ‘repent.’ It is not enough to know yourselves fallen; many are convinced of their collapsed and decayed estate, but do not judge themselves for it in God’s presence. Go, bewail it to God, smite upon the thigh, praying for pardon. That is the notion of the word repent here. It is not enough to repent of gross whoredom, theft, drunkenness; we must repent also of the decays of love. The blind world thinketh we are to repent of nothing but what is publicly odious. In friendship, coldness is taken for a great injury. Go, arraign thyself before God for growing cold in his love and service.
[3.] Reformation: ‘Do thy first works.’ We must not spend the time in idle complaints. Many are sensible that do not repent; some may repent that do not reform; you must not be quiet till you recover your former station. Christ puts Peter upon a treble profession, because of his treble denial, John xxi. 17.
Obs. 4. The next note is from the coupling of these two: ‘The love of God,’ and ‘looking for the mercy of Christ unto eternal life.’ Thence observe, that love to God will put us upon looking for Christ’s second coming, when this mercy is to be dispensed to us. See the like connection elsewhere, 2 Thes. iii. 5, ‘The Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and the patient waiting for Christ.’ Two reasons may be given of it:—
1. Love allayeth fear, 1 John iv. 18. Of whom should a Christian be afraid at that day? Of the devil? He is held in chains of darkness, and judged by the saints together with Christ. Of Christ? Shall the members be afraid of their head? the ransomed of their Redeemer? the beloved of their Saviour? Oh! but then he cometh as a judge. But it is to plead their cause, to right their wrongs, to revenge their enemies, to reward their services. If he be then your judge, he hath ever been your advocate hitherto, and surely he that hath interceded for you will not condemn you.
2. Love quickeneth desire: 2 Peter iii. 12, ‘Looking for and hastening to the coming of the Lord;’ see Cant. viii. 14, Rev. xxii. 20. A harlot would have her husband defer his coming, but a chaste spouse thinketh he can never come soon enough. They that go a-whoring after the world, neither desire Christ’s coming, nor love his appearing; but ‘the Spirit of the bride saith, Come.’ They that love God look for it, Phil. iii. 20, long for it, 2 Tim. iv. 8: they ‘love his appearing.’ Corrupt nature saith, ‘Depart,’ Job xxii. 14; but grace saith, ‘Come.’ The children of God would fain see him of whom they have heard so often, and so much, and of whose sweetness they have tasted. They know him by hearsay and by spiritual experience; but they would fain see his person.
Use 1. This now informeth us what a difference there is between a 348child of God and wicked men. They wish this day would never come, and would be glad in their hearts to hear such news. The thought of Christ’s coming is their burden and torment. They have the spirit of the devil in them: ‘Art thou come to torment us before our time’? Mat. viii. 29. They cannot endure to hear or think of it. If it might go by voices whether Christ should come or no, would they give their voice this way, and say, ‘Come, Lord Jesus; yea, come quickly’? If thieves and malefactors should have the liberty to choose whether the assizes should be kept or no, would they ever fix it, and look for and long for the time of its approach? No, no; but a child of God is waiting and looking for this happy time.
Obj. But now here is an objection. Are Christians always in this frame? What shall we say then to those weak ones that tremble at the thought of it for want of the assurance of God’s love, and the best saints that do not always feel such an actual inclination and strength of desire?
Sol. I answer—The meanest saint hath some inclination this way. Can a man desire that Christ should come into his heart, and not come to judgment? Since comfort and reward is more naturally embraced than duty, the first work of grace is to raise us up to this hope, 1 Peter i. 3; but yet sometimes there may be a drowsiness and indisposition, and then their lamps may not be kept burning, Luke xii. 35. 36. The wise virgins slept as well as the foolish, Mat. xxv. Oftentimes they find themselves indisposed for his coming by careless carriage, remission of their watch, and scattering their love to the creature; yea, much of their old bondage may remain through the imperfection of their love; for it is ‘perfect love casteth out fear.’ A wife desireth her husband’s coming home, but it may be all things are not ready, and in so good order as they should be. All Christians desire the coming of Christ, but sometimes they are not so exact and watchful, and therefore their affections are not so lively.
Use 2. Here is a note of trial whether we love God or Christ. How do we stand affected towards his appearing? The world cannot satisfy Christians; they look beyond it. In things to come we are apt to feign, and because we have not a sufficient sense of them, we think we have an affection to them when we have them not. If there be looking, there will be preparing. When you expect a great estate for your children, you breed them accordingly; or rather thus, a man that expecteth the coming of a king to his house will make all things ready. Surely you look for nobody when you are not fitting and preparing yourselves. What have you done against this great day? Do you ‘judge yourselves’? 1 Cor. xi. 31. Do you get into Christ, Rom. viii. 1, that you may be interested in Christ’s righteousness against you come to undergo Christ’s judgment? What purging of heart and life? 2 Peter iii. 11. Art thou in such a case wherein thou wouldst be ‘found of Christ’?
To exhort those that love God to look earnestly for the coming of Christ. To this end:—
1. Consider our relations to him; he is our master, we are his servants, and good servants will wait for their master’s coming, Mat. xxiv. 45. Here we have our meals, but then our wages. It is but 349present maintenance which we have now; but ‘Behold, I come, and my reward is with me.’ Christ will not come empty-handed. Again, he is our husband, we his spouse: ‘The bride saith, Come,’ Rev. xxii. 17. We are now but contracted to Christ; then is the day of solemn espousals. The judge is the wicked man’s enemy, but your redeemer.
2. Consider the privileges we shall then enjoy. The day of Christ’s coming is:—
[1.] A day of manifestation, Rom. xiii. 19. All is now hidden. Christ is hidden, the saints are hidden, their life is hidden, Col. iii. 3, their glory is hidden, 1 John iii. 2; but then Christ shall appear, and we shall appear with him in glory; as Moses told the rebels, Num. xvi., ‘To-morrow the Lord will show who are his.’ Christ, as the natural Son, shall then appear in all his royalty and glory, as the great God and Saviour of the world; so shall the saints put on their best robes. In winter the tree appeareth not what it is, the sap and life is hidden in the root; but when summer cometh, all is discovered.
[2.] It is a day of perfection. Everything tendeth to its perfect estate: the little seed that is sown in the ground breaketh through the clods that it may be in flower and perfection; so a Christian is working through, that he may come to an estate of perfect holiness and perfect freedom. Here we are very weak; yea, even to glorified spirits he is but a saviour in part; there is some fruit of sin continued upon the body; but then body and soul are united, and perfectly glorified to praise God in heaven. Christ cometh to make an end of what he hath begun; he came first to redeem our souls from sin, but then our ‘bodies from corruption;’ then all privileges are perfect regeneration, Mat. xix. 28. When heaven is new, earth new, bodies new, souls new, that is a regeneration indeed. So adoption: we are sons, but handled as servants, ‘looking for the adoption.’ Rom. viii. 23. So justification: our pardon shall be proclaimed at the market-cross, published before all the world, Acts iii. 19. So for redemption, Luke xxi. 28: the body is a captive when the soul is set at liberty; the body is held under death till that day.
[3.] It is a day of congregation, or gathering together. The saints are now scattered, they live in divers countries and in divers ages, but then all meet in one assembly and congregation, Ps. i. 6; but of these things more largely, ver. 6, on these words, the great day.
Obs. 5. From that looking for the mercy, &c., observe, that looking earnestly for eternal life is a good means of perseverance; for to that end it is urged by the apostle here. I shall inquire—(1.) What this is; looking (2.) What influence it hath upon our perseverance.
1. What this looking is. It implieth patience, but chiefly hope.
[2.] Hope. Now, because there is a blind hope and a good hope, a bastard hope and a genuine hope—‘good hope through grace,’ saith the apostle, 2 Thes. ii. 16—let me tell you that this looking or expectation is not that blind hope that is found in men ignorant and presumptuous, that regard not what they do. Presumption is a child of darkness, the fruit of ignorance and inconsideration. When men 350are once serious they find it a hard matter to fix an advised hope on things to come, for guilty nature is more inclinable to fear than to hope. This blind hope will certainly fail us; it is compared to a ‘spider’s web,’ Job viii. 14. The spider spinneth a web out of his own bowels, which is swept away as soon as the besom cometh; so do carnal men conceive a few rash and ungrounded hopes; but when death cometh, or a little trouble of conscience, these vain conceits are swept away. This hope which I press you to is a serious act, arising from grace aiming at its own perfection. Again, this looking is not some glances upon heaven, such as are found in worldly and sensual persons, who now and then have their lucida intervalla, their good moods and sober thoughts, as Balaam, Num. xxiii. 10; a taste they may have, Heb. vi. 4, a smatch of the sweetness of heaven and spiritual comforts; the most wretched worldlings have their wishes and sudden rapts of soul; but alas! these sudden motions are not operative, they come but seldom, and leave no warmth upon the soul, as fruit is not ripened that hath but a glance of the sun, and a sudden light rather blindeth a man than showeth him the way. So these sudden indeliberate thoughts vanish, and leave men never the better. Again, it is not a loose hope or a probable conjecture; this hath no efficacy upon the soul. Men that are under an anxious, doubtful posture of spirit will be very un even in their walkings, James i. 8. When men are discouraged in a race they begin to slacken their pace, to which the apostle alludeth when he saith, ‘I run not as one that is uncertain,’ 1 Cor. ix. 26; but when they begin sensibly to get ground, they hold on their course the more cheerfully.
Thus negatively I have shown you what it is not, but now positively; it is an earnest, well-grounded expectation of blessedness to come. It bewrayeth itself—
[1.] By frequent and serious thoughts. Thoughts are the spies and messengers of hope; it sendeth them into the promised land to bring the soul tidings from thence; it is impossible a man can hope for a thing, but he will be thinking of it; by this means we preoccupy and forestall the contentment of what we expect, and feast the soul with images and suppositions of what is to come, as if it were already present. If a beggar were adopted into the succession of a crown, he would please himself in imagining the happiness and honour and pleasure of the kingly state; so certainly if we did look upon ourselves as ‘heirs of the kingdom of heaven,’ and ‘co-heirs with Christ,’ we would think of that happy state more than we do, and by a serious contemplation our hearts would carry us above the clouds, and set us in the midst of the glory of the world to come, as if we did see Christ upon his throne, and Paul with his crown of righteousness upon his head, and all the blessed leaning in Abraham’s bosom. A carnal expectation filleth men with carnal musings and projects; as Luke xii. 18, διελογίζετπ, he was dialoguing and discoursing with himself of pulling down barns and building greater, of bestowing his fruits and goods. See the like, James iv. 13. It is usual with men to forestall the pleasure of their hopes, as young riotous heirs spend upon their estates before they come in hand. Now, so it is also in heavenly things; men that expect them will be entertaining their spirits with the thoughts of them.351
[2.] By hearty groans, and sighs, and longings: Rom. viii. 23, ‘We groan in ourselves, waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our bodies.’ They have had a taste of the clusters of Canaan, and therefore long for more; they can never be soon enough with Christ: ‘When shall it once be?’ The nearer enjoyment, the more impatient of the want of his company. As the decays of nature do put them in mind of another world, they begin to lift up the head and look out, Rom. viii. 19, ἀποκαραδοκία κτίσεως, ‘the earnest expectation of the creature;’ the word signifieth the pushing out of the head to see if it can spy a thing a great way off, and noteth the extension of the soul towards the fruition of things hoped for; they would have a fuller draught of the consolations of the Spirit, more freedom from sin, more perfection of grace, &c.
[3.] By lively tastes and feelings. A believer hath eternal life, John xvii. 3; he beginneth it here. Hope is called ‘a lively hope,’ not only living, but lively, 1 Peter i. 3, because it quickeneth the heart, and maketh us cheerful and sprightly: Rom. v. 2, ‘We rejoice under the hope of the glory of God,’ Joy is for enjoyment and possession; but yet that prepossession which hope getteth causeth all joy; see 1 Peter i. 8. I confess all feel it not in a like degree, because it dependeth upon a sense of grace, which believers always have not, yet all find a sweetness and some comfort, when they think of what they look for. Worldly hope is but the dream of a shadow; there is pain and trouble in the expectation, and no satisfaction in the fruition.
2. Let me show you the influence it hath upon perseverance.
[1.] It sets us a-work to purge out sin: 1 John iii. 3, ‘Every one that hath this hope purifieth himself as Christ is pure.’ The things that we look for are holy; it is a great part of our portion in heaven to be free from sin, and to be consorts of the immaculate Lamb. Can we hope for these things and cherish worldly lusts? If we did, we look for a sensual paradise; then we might indulge our lusts without any defiance of our hopes. But we look for a pure and holy as well as a glorious and blessed estate, and therefore we should begin to purify ourselves.
[2.] It withdraweth our hearts from present things: Phil. iii. 20, ‘Our conversation is in heaven, from whence we look for a saviour.’ A man that hath been looking upon the sun findeth his eyes dazzled that he cannot behold an object less glorious; the oftener we look within this veil, the more is the glory of the world obscured. Abraham lived as a stranger in the promised land. Why? Because ‘he looked for a city,’ &c., Heb. xi. 9, 10. ‘Deny worldly lusts,’ saith the apostle, ‘looking for the blessed hope,’ Titus ii. 12, 13. A man who is much in heaven, his affections are pre-engaged, and therefore the world doth him little hurt. Birds are seldom taken in their flight; the more we are upon the wing of heavenly thoughts the more we escape snares. Hope sets the wheels a-going: Phil. iii. 13, ‘I press onward because of the high prize of our calling.’ The thought of the end quickeneth to the use of means; we faint because we do not consider it more, 1 Cor. xv. 58. Heaven will pay for all.
[3.] It maketh us upright and sincere; looking asquint on secular rewards is the cause of all our declinings: Mat. vi. 2, μίσθον ἀπέχουσι, 352‘they have their reward,’169169 See the Larger Annotations. Hired servants do not look for the inheritance, and therefore must have pay in hand; if they may have the world and live in honour and pleasure, they will discharge God from all other promises. A sincere man maketh God his paymaster, and that chiefly in the other world, Col. iii. 24; we have a master good enough in him, we need not look for pay elsewhere.
[4.] It supporteth us under those difficulties and afflictions which are wont to befall us in a course of godliness. We can counterbalance what we feel with what we expect; we feel nothing but trouble, and that which we expect is life and glory, Rom. viii. 18, 2 Cor. iv. 17, 18. In this respect hope is called an ‘anchor,’ Heb. vi. 19. In the stormy gusts of temptation it stayeth the soul, ‘which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and entereth into that which is within the veil.’ It is a weighty anchor, that will not bow or break; and the ground is good; it ‘entereth into that within the veil,’ and therefore, though tempests arise, it will keep us from floating and dashing against the rocks. Again it is called a helmet: Eph. vi. 17, ‘The helmet of salvation;’ so 1 Thes. v. 8. The helmet is for the head in conflicts. As long as we can lift up our heads and look to heaven, we are safe.
[5.] It helpeth us to resist temptations. Sin maketh many promises, and prevaileth by carnal hope. Balaam was enticed by promises to curse God’s people. Babylon’s fornications are presented in a golden cup. Men are corrupted with promises of preferment and greatness and present accommodations. Now hope sets promise against promise, heaven against earth, ‘pleasures at God’s right hand ‘against carnal delights and ‘taking our fill of loves;’ as one nail driveth out another, so doth hope defeat the promises of the world by propounding the promises of God.
Let us now apply this:—
Use 1. It informeth us that we may look for the reward without sin. Those men would be wiser than God that deny us a liberty to make use of the Spirit’s motives, they begrudge God’s bounty, To what end should the Lord propound rewards, but that we should close with them by faith? Graces may be exercised about their proper objects without sin; it requireth some faith to aim at ‘things not seen;’ the world is drowned in sense and present satisfactions. They are mercenaries that must have pay in hand; their souls droop and languish if they do not meet with credit, applause, and profit; they make man their paymaster. They have the spirit of a servant that prefer present wages before the inheritance; but to do all upon the encouragements of ‘the mercy of Jesus Christ unto eternal life ‘argueth grace. It was a relief to the soul of Christ to think of the reward, Heb. xii. 2. Christ, as man, was to have rational comforts and human encouragements. That is sinful indeed when we would have the reward but neglect the work; when we would be merrcenaii but not operarii, we sever the reward from the duty, and, like Ephraim, are ‘willing to tread the corn,’ but ‘not break the clods,’ Hosea x. 11. Again, we look amiss upon the reward when we have a carnal notion of heaven; as some Jews looked for a carnal Messiah, so do some Christians for a carnal 353heaven, for base pleasure and fleshly delights, for a Turkish paradise. Such kind of hopes debase the heart; or else when we look for it as merited by us, as if we could challenge it by our works, then we are mercenaries indeed; it is here ‘looking for the mercy of Jesus Christ,’ &c.
Again, our own happiness must not be our last end. There is a personal happiness that results to us from the enjoyment of God. Now, the glory of God must be preferred before it.
Use 2. If you would persevere in the love of God and a good frame of heart, revive your hopes, and set the soul a-looking and a-longing for eternal life. If we ‘keep the rejoicing of our hope firm to the end,’ then we are safe, Heb. iii. 6. Courtiers are more polite in their manners than ordinary subjects, because they are more in their prince’s eye and company. The oftener we are in God’s court the more holy. Well, then, be as much as you can in actual expectation of this blessedness. To this end—
1. Believe it There is a mist upon eternity to a carnal heart. They are led by sense and reason, and believe no more than is evident to a natural principle; but now ‘faith is the evidence of things not seen,’ Heb. xi. 1. Fancy and nature cannot outsee time, and look be yond death. Faith holdeth the candle to hope, and then we have a prospect into the other world, and can see a happy estate to come.
2. Apply it. It is a poor, comfortless meditation to think of a blessed hope and the certainty of it, unless we have an interest in these things. A hungry man taketh little pleasure in gazing upon a feast, when he tastes not of it. The reprobate hereafter are lookers-on; and David speaketh of a ‘table spread for him in the sight of his enemies.’ Hope hath never a more lively influence than when we can make out our own propriety and interest: Job xix. 25, ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth;’ 2 Cor. v. 1, ‘We know that if this earthly tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building not made with hands, eternal in the heavens;’ 2 Tim. iv. 8, ‘Henceforth there is laid up for me,’ &c. They do not only believe there is a heaven, but apply it—for me. You will say, Is hope only the fruit of assurance? I answer—It is the fruit of faith as well as of assurance or experience; but the sense of our interest is very comfortable, and in some sort necessary. Be fore we can hope anything for ourselves, our qualification is to be sup posed. In a matter of such moment a man should not be at an uncertainty. Canst thou be quiet and not sure of heaven? Not to look after it is a bad sign. A godly man may want it, but a godly man cannot slight it. It is possible a man may make a hard shift to creep to heaven through doubts and fears, and may be ‘scarcely saved,’ 1 Peter iv. 18, whilst others have ‘an abundant entrance;’ but then you lose your heaven upon earth, which consisteth in ‘peace and joy in the Holy Ghost,’ and lose much of the efficacy of hope; for uncertain, wavering thoughts work little, therefore assurance cannot be slighted. Further, I add; by showing what application there must be if we cannot attain to assurance; there are three degrees of application beneath assurance: there is acceptation, adherence, and affiance.
[1.] Acceptation of God’s offer upon God’s terms: Job v. 27, ‘Know thou it for thy good;’ put in for these hopes, and take God to his 354word upon this confidence; make good thy part of the stipation in the covenant, and he will not fail thee. This application there must be in all, in answer to the demands of the covenant, 1 Peter iii. 21, Exod. xxiv. 6-8.
[2.] Adherence. Stick close to this hope in a course of obedience. If we do God’s work we shall not fail of wages: 1 Cor. ix. 26, ‘I run not as one that is uncertain.’
[3.] Affiance. Besting, waiting upon God for the accomplishment of this blessedness, though not without some doubts and fears as to our own interest. Though you cannot say it is yours, yet you will cast yourself upon ‘the mercy of God in Christ,’ as it is in the text, ‘Looking for the mercy of Christ.’ You dare venture your soul in that bottom. This is that ‘committing yourselves to him as unto a merciful and faithful creator,’ which the apostle speaketh of, 1 Peter iv. 19. You will go on with your work, and put yourselves in God’s hand for your eternal happiness, because he is merciful, faithful. See also Rom. ii. 7.
3. Meditate on it often. Meditation is a temperate ecstasy, a survey of the land of promise. God biddeth Abraham take a view of Canaan, Gen. xiii. 14, 15. Surely the more we lift up our thoughts in the contemplation of this blessed estate, the more lively will our hopes be. If every morning we spent a thought this way, it would season the heart against the love of present things. The morning is an emblem of the resurrection, when we awake out of the sleep of death, and the day cometh which will never have night more, Ps. xvii. 15. So in time of troubles we should be reckoning upon a better estate, Rom. viii. 18. So, when you are by bodily sickness summoned to the grave, and you are going down to converse with worms and skulls, then think of a blessed eternity, Job xix. 26.
Obs. 6. The next point is from that clause, the mercy. The ground of our waiting and looking for eternal life is God’s mercy, not for any works or merits of ours; we cannot challenge it as a debt: sin and death are as work and wages, but eternal life is a donative, Rom. vi. 23. Eternal life is not the wages of obedience, as damnation is the wages of sin. Why, wherein lieth the difference? I answer—Wicked men stand upon their own bottom, but Christ hath obtained this privilege for us. Wicked works are ours, and they are merely evil, the good that we do is imperfect, and God’s grace hath the main stroke, so that we are rewarded rather according to what we have received than what we have done. A servant is under a covenant of obedience, and tradeth with his master’s estate, he doth but his duty, he deserveth something.170170 Qu. ‘nothing’?—ED. We are bound to do good and forbidden to sin; when we do what is forbidden we deserve punishment, but when we do what is commanded we do not deserve the reward, because we are bound, and because we have all from God’s grace: as you must pray for eternal life, so must you ‘look for eternal life.’ If you should say, Give me heaven for I deserve it, natural conscience would blush at the immodesty of such a request. It is as great an absurdity when you make your own works the ground of your hope, for in prayer our desires and hopes are put into language, and made more explicit; so that which is our plea in prayer must be the ground of our 355claim in point of confidence, unless we mean to compliment with God. Well, then—
1. Let this encourage us to wait with hope, notwithstanding infirmities as as well afflictions. What a good master do we serve! He hath provided comforts not only against our misery, but against our unworthiness; not only glory as a reward, but mercy as the cause of it that we may take glory out of the hands of mercy. He looked upon us not only as liable to suffering, but sinning; and therefore, as he hath provided life and safety for us, so upon terms of grace.
2. It showeth us how we should ascribe all to mercy, from the beginning to the end of our salvation. We were taken into a state of grace at first out of mere mercy: 1 Tim. i. 13, ἠλεήθην, I was all to171171 All to, equivalent to altogether; as in Judges ix. 53.—ED. be-mercied; Titus iii. 5, ‘Not by works of righteousness that we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us.’ He doth not barely say, Not for our works, but Not for our works ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ, not for our best works, those works of righteousness which might be supposed to be foreseen as done by us. So also when we are taken into a state of glory, it is still mercy, we can merit no more after grace than before: 2 Tim. i. 18, ‘The Lord grant him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day.’
Obs. 7. Once more, this mercy is called the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thence observe, that this mercy which we look for is dispensed by Jesus Christ; he purchased it, and he hath the managing of it in the whole economy of grace: ‘He shall take of mine,’ saith he, concerning the Holy Ghost; and in the last day he distributeth to some ‘judgment without mercy,’ to others ‘mercy;’ they are judged upon gospel terms. Well, then—
1. Get an interest in Christ, otherwise we cannot look for mercy in that great day: 1 John ii. 28, ‘If we abide in him, then shall we have boldness.’ They that slight Christ in the offers of the gospel have no reason to look for benefit by him; you will howl and tremble then, and call upon the mountains to ‘hide you from the wrath of him that sitteth upon the throne.’ They that prize the mercy of Christ now, they find it to be the very last; mercy, that planted grace in their hearts, will then put the crown upon their heads. Here it was their care to glorify Christ and to honour him, though with the loss of all; there will Christ glorify them in the presence of all the world.
2. It maketh for the comfort of Christ’s people and members. Our blessed hopes are founded upon the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in his hands to dispense them. From thence you may collect:—
[1.] The fulness of this blessedness. An infinite merit purchased it, an infinite mercy bestoweth it. Surely the building will be answerable to the foundation. It is no small thing that we may expect from infinite mercy and infinite merit. Would an emperor give brass farthings? Do men that understand themselves give vast sums for trifles?
[2.] The certainty of this blessedness. Christ hath the managing of it. He never discovered any backwardness to thy good nor inclination to thy ruin; he died for thee before thou wert born; he called 356thee when thou wert unworthy; warned thee of dangers which thou never fearedst; instead of deserved wrath, showed thee undeserved mercy; intercedeth for thee when thou little thinkest of it; hath been tender of thee in the whole conduct of his providence; visited thee in ordinances; is mindful of thee at every turn, and will he be harsh to thee at last?
The last note is from that clause unto eternal life. The great benefit which we have by Christ is eternal life.
1. There is life; all that you labour for is for life, that which you prize above other things is life: ‘Skin for skin, all that a man hath will he give for his life;’ that is, he will part with all things, even to his very skin, to save his life.
2. It is an excellent life.172172 Called therefore ‘a crown of life,’ Rev. ii. 10. The life of sense, which is the beasts’, is better than that vegetative life which is in the plants, and the rational life which is in men is better than the sensitive, and the spiritual exceedeth the rational, and the glorious life the spiritual. Vegetative life is the vigour of the sap, sensitive life is the vigour of the blood, rational life is the union of the soul with the body, spiritual life is the union of the soul with Christ, and the life of glory exceedeth that in degree, for it standeth in the immediate fruition of God.
3. It is a happy life, not subjected to the necessities of meat and drink. We have then ‘spiritual bodies,’ 1 Cor. xv. 45. It is not encumbered with miseries as the present life is, Gen. xlvii. 9. It is a life which we are never weary of; in deep distress life itself may become a burden: Elijah said, ‘Take away my life,’ 1 Kings xix. 4. But this life cannot be a burden.
4. It is eternal life. This life is but a flower that is soon withered, a vapour that is soon blown over; but this is for ever and ever, as eternity increaseth the torment of the wicked, so the blessedness of the godly. Well, then, let this press you to keep yourselves in the love of God till this happy estate come about.
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