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I write unto you fathers, &c.—1 John ii. 13, 14.
USE 1. To teach us who are fathers, or ‘in the highest rank of christianity.
1. They are such as are more delightfully employed in the exercises of godliness. I ascribe this to fathers, partly because they are acquainted with the pleasures of obedience: 1 John v. 3, ‘For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments, and his commandments are 408not grievous.’ And they have tasted that the Lord is gracious, 1 Peter ii. 3; and optima demonstratio a sensibus—the surest proof is taken from sense: they ‘know the grace of God in truth,’ Col. i. 6. And partly because by long custom they have inured themselves thereto, so that it is become another nature to them. They are alive unto God; and what a man doth with naturalness, he doth it frequently, constantly, and easily. We see in all other things this giveth readiness and promptness. Man is naturally averse from God, and custom addeth a stiffness to this bent: Jer. xiii. 23, ‘Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good that are accustomed to do evil.’ By custom and continuance men are habituated in evil, that it becometh a second nature to them. Now when men are settled in a good course, there is somewhat answerable. They are in their element when they are speaking of God and heavenly, things; they do a thing kindly when they are acting for God. The carnal nature will return, and violent temptations will much unsettle us; but surely it is an advantage to have walked in a godly course for some long space of time, to be an old disciple. The apostle speaketh of Timothy that he did naturally care for their estate, Phil. ii. 20.
2. They do more wisely manage the affairs of the spiritual life. The scripture speaketh of being ‘wise to salvation,’ wise in that which is good: Rom. xvi. 19, ‘But yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil.’ And the children of God should be ‘wise in their generation,’ Luke xvi. 8. Without this practical wisdom there is no escaping the snares of the deceiver, and getting safe to heaven. Now this wisdom is more in the old than the young believer. As to the young, see 1 Tim. iii. 6, ‘Not a novice, lest, being lifted up with pride, he fall into the condemnation of the devil;’ νεόφυτον, a late convert, or young christian, or one newly come to the faith; such an one is more various and uncertain in his motions, hath not that spiritual prudence, and that measure of circumspection, which old exercised christians have, and so is far more likely to fall into the condemnation of the devil than the experienced. On the other side, consider what advantages they have, as knowing their helps and hindrances: Heb. v. 14, ‘But strong meat belongeth unto them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.’ They know the craft of Satan: 2 Cor. ii. 11, ‘Lest Satan should get an advantage of us, for we are not ignorant of his devices.’ They have felt the bitterness of sin: Ps. li. 6, ‘In the hidden parts thou shalt make me to know wisdom.’ They know what hindrances they shall have from the devil, world, and flesh, and how they may resist occasions of evil, defeat the policies of the devil, and grow wise to salvation, and the world may not divert and distract them from the love of God and the exercise of godliness. Experience hath made them wise to decline the rocks upon which they dashed heretofore. In all arts and trades men attain greater niceness and skill by pains and observation. And shall a christian gain nothing by long practice and continual watchfulness? Surely the blows and foils received have made them skilful, and wary to disappoint the assaults of the enemy.
3. They are more fixed in the truth against the seduction of error 409This is in the text. The seducers of that age denied the godhead of Christ; and it always holdeth good: Eph. iv. 14, ‘That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine by the sleight of men and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.’ There is an estate of childish ignorance and infirmities, and there is above this a kind of growth and growing age, whilst we are making progress towards perfection; and above this there is our manly age. In our younger time there is a simplicity and easiness to credit all that is presented to us. Babes in Christ are weak in all the parts of the new man, in knowledge, prudence, faith, love, patience. But now we must not be always children, not always weak and unsettled. Surely as we grow in years we should grow in knowledge and prudence; the aged have more a spirit of discerning, more solidity in judgment, and stability in truth, and are not so easily transported with the vain and giddy notions of an unsettled head. Errors are as palpable deviations from the way to glory as profaneness and gross sins. Therefore it is a part of the perfection of a christian to be settled against them, which advantage the aged have above others, as the testimony of Christ is more confirmed in them, 1 Cor. i. 6; 1 John v. 10, ‘He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God, hath made him a liar, because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son.’ They have arguments at hand in their own bosoms. What was before in their books is transcribed upon their hearts; thither they can repair, and find reasons enough to confirm them in the truth. This testimony in ourselves doth most befriend the main and great articles of christianity, though it also confirmeth the several parts of it. They that have felt benefit by the truth are most likely to know the mind of God in lesser things: John vii. 17, ‘If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God, or whether I speak of my self.’ He that hath felt sin bitter can never be tempted to think it is no great evil; so he that hath felt Christ sweet cannot but prize him and cleave to him above all. The long experience of the fruit of duties confirms them against those delusions which would draw us from them.
4. Their hearts are brought into a more settled, heavenly temper. In christians of a lower rank there is a greater inconstancy in their choice; though they are not as the half-convert, double-hearted and unstable, James i. 8, yet very uncertain in their motions; but after wards they bring their hearts into a more even, holy frame, and a more fixed bent towards heavenly things: Col. i. 23, ‘If ye continue in the faith, grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel.’ A man at first hath not disentangled his heart from the snare of worldly felicity, and therefore his mind and heart is scattered to so many vain impertinent objects, and they are busied more about transitory pleasures, and therefore are shifting off and on, and so darken the spiritual life by the eruption of the carnal nature; and therefore David beggeth, Ps. lxxxvi. 4, ‘Rejoice the soul of thy servant, for unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul;’ and the apostle, 2 Thes. iii. 5, ‘The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ.’ Their hearts are straight set towards God and heavenly things. The apostle presseth christians, 410that looked in a short time to appear before God and receive their wages, ‘to be steadfast and unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord,’ 1 Cor. xv. 58. A man may be steadfast in the main, though somewhat moved and shaken, but the apostle would have us not only be steadfast but immovable. A tree that hath long stood out against many stormy winds is the more firmly rooted; so a seasoned christian that hath gone through all weathers. But men that have not solid rooting wave hither and thither. There is initial grace, and a radicated state of grace.
5. They oftener meditate of God, his word, and works, and providence. The reasons why I think the more aged sort of christians are known by their meditation, are partly because, being past learning, they improve their knowledge by meditation. They have had a long time to make provision, and hoard up spiritual treasure; and now they bring it forth: Mat. xii. 31, ‘A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth good things.’ And partly because meditation is a difficult work for young beginners, who have not so good a stock to spend upon, and so are more empty and barren; they are not as yet cleansed from vain and idle thoughts, nor have inured themselves to self-government. But now long experience hath taught the aged christian what a hindrance it is to have their hearts pestered and disordered with vanities, how it deadeneth their prayers; and therefore they throng themselves with holy thoughts of God in Christ, who is the beloved of their souls. They feast themselves upon him with the dearest and most delightful apprehensions: Ps. civ. 34, ‘My meditation of him shall be sweet; I will be glad in the Lord;’ Cant. i. 13, ‘A bundle of myrrh is my beloved unto me; he shall lie all night between my breasts.’ They often meditate of God, his infinite majesty, his everlasting being, his power, wisdom, goodness, and mercy. His word: Ps. cxix. 97, ‘Oh, how I love thy law! it is my meditation all the day;’ ver. 103, ‘How sweet are thy words to my taste 1 yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!’ His works: Ps. viii. 3, 4, ‘When I consider the heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast ordained: what is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou visitest him?’ His judgments on the wicked: Ps. lviii. 10, ‘The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance; he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked;’ Ps. xxxvii. 34-36, ‘Wait on the Lord, and keep his way, and he shall exalt thee to inherit the land; when the wicked are cut off, thou shalt see it. I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay-tree; yet he passed away, and lo, he was not; yea, I sought him, but he could not be found.’ In every age some of the wicked are made spectacles of God’s threatened judgments before the eyes of his people. Every man in his own time maketh his remarks and observations, as the prophet had his observations in his time. These the believer layeth up in his heart, which feedeth his faith, and calmeth his passions, and awakeneth his zeal, preventeth rash judging by present appearances. His provision for his people: Ps. xxxvii. 25, ‘I have been young and now am old, yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.’ His providence to themselves. 411They have been long students in providence. Making good his promises: Josh. xxiii. 1, with the 14th, ‘And it came to pass, a long time after the Lord had given rest to Israel from all their enemies round about, that Joshua waxed old. And behold, this day I am going the way of all the earth; and ye know in all your hearts, and in all your souls, that not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spake concerning you: all has come to pass unto you, and not one thing hath failed thereof;’ Gen. xlviii. 15, ‘And he said, God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day.’ He provided for all our wants, delivered us in all our dangers. How lovely is it for old men to talk of the promises of God, and his mercies that have been of old! As David: Ps. xxv. 6, ‘Remember, O Lord, thy tender mercies and thy loving-kindnesses; for they have been ever of old.’
6. They can more feelingly than others speak of the shortness, misery, and sinfulness of the present life: Gen. xlvii. 8, 9, ‘And Pharaoh said unto Jacob, How old art thou? And Jacob said unto Pharaoh, The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years: few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, and I have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage.’ Jacob had many removings from place to place, and knew by experience that here is no abiding city. Young men are ἐυέλπιστοι, full of worldly hopes. Though others have tried the world before them, yet they think it will succeed better with them: Ps. xlix. 13, ‘This their way is their folly; yet their posterity approve their sayings.’ Though others found themselves fondly deceived and frustrated, yet they that succeed them go in the same track; 1 Chron. xxix. 15, old David confesseth so much: ‘For we are strangers before thee, and sojourners, as were all our fathers; our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is no abiding.’ They know the disappointments of a naughty world.
7. They are more weaned from the delights of sense, and have long used to moderate themselves within the bounds of sobriety: Titus ii. 2, ‘That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience.’ Old age being cold and dry, is desirous to warm and moisten itself; and therefore need this caution, they must take heed that they be not mocked with wine and strong drink. Noah and Lot, who lived so long, yet had not got a command over their appetite. They should be examples of sobriety; a tippling old man, what a disgrace is he to his grey hairs! But with the children of God it is otherwise, they know how to spend every day and winter’s night in another fashion than in eating, drinking, sporting, and playing. Anna went not out of the temple, and old Simeon waited to see God’s salvation.
8. They think and speak of the world to come, and the blessed state of the faithful in the most lively manner, as apprehending it sure and near: 2 Cor. iv. 16, ‘For this cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day;’ 2 Tim. iv. 7, 8, ‘I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a, crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall 412give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing;’ Rom. xiii. 11, ‘And that knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep, for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.’ By the course of nature it will not be long ere they are with God; therefore their hearts work the more strongly after it. Natural motion is swifter toward the latter end, when it comes nearer the centre.
9. They attain unto greater soundness and integrity in the essentials of religion: Titus ii. 2, ‘That the aged be sober, temperate, sound in faith, charity, patience.’ In that verse somewhat is said to the aged, as they are old men, and somewhat as old christians. They that have the most effectual apprehensions of the greatness, goodness, and wisdom of God, and of their own sin, the need of Christ and grace, the truth and excellency of the life to come, and the vanity of this life, are the best christians. They who are most conformed to Christ in humility, meekness, and lowliness of mind, esteeming others better than themselves, that have most hatred of sin, and care to subdue it, and victory over it, and can most deny the flesh, its irregular desires, and bear the inconveniences of it, and whose greatest delight is in God himself, these are the grown christians.
Use 2. To show how much it concerneth fathers in years to be fathers in grace, and to be more eminently religious than others, that they may be a pattern and example to them. First, it conduceth to God’s honour. If young men and children should only profess religion, you would take it for indiscretion and hotness of spirit; young punies, they know not what they do. Moses ‘when he was grown in years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter,’ Heb. xi. 24. Fathers, when they served God in their ripest age, and for many years, and yet are not weary of his service, this is an honour to him. Secondly, for your own comfort, what a support and staff is godliness to old age, when decays of nature are recompensed with the increase of grace, the weakness of body with soundness of mind! 2 Cor. iv. 16, ‘For which cause we faint not; but though the outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.’ The mind is fresh and vigorous when the body is weak. When the eye is dim, as in old Israel, it can see God the invisible one. If with Barzillai we lose our taste, yet we find sweetness in the bread of life. If we die, Christ is our life. Alas! many old men are like vessels long abroach, nothing left in them but the lees and dregs of ignorance and sin. How miserable are such old men, when ignorant of God, and mindless of heavenly things, in part or in whole, when they do not seek after God I In part, when yet weak, very babes in knowledge or grace; weak, unwise, feeble in things of God, and so may easily be foiled by temptations, and miscarry foully. Their example swayeth much; if they are only dead sticks, they do but cumber the ground. But how good is it to leave a sweet scent of religious conversation behind them!
Use 3. That the aged in years and grace must be written unto—
1. That they may persevere in godliness. They are not yet out of the reach of temptations. Men that have made some long profession of the name of Christ may suffer a great abatement of their former integrity in their latter days. It is not with them as it was at first. We read 413of some that ‘left their first love,’ Rev. ii. 4; there was a great decay, though not an utter extinction. It is said, 2 Chron. xvii. 3, ‘The Lord was with Jehoshaphat, because he walked in the first ways of his father David;’ who in his latter time fell into scandalous crimes, as his adultery with Uriah’s wife, the murdering of Uriah himself, and the numbering of the people. And it is the opinion of some divines that he never recovered a like measure and proportion of grace as he had before. The like may fall out to others, partly from the continual presence of temptations. The devil continually suggesteth evil, and as an importunate suitor, and by perseverence in his suit, may at length prevail. The world we daily converse with, objects to which we are accustomed, taint the mind. A deformed object which is continually in view seemeth less deformed. Indwelling lusts long restrained may break out again, as roses nipped in the summer near about bearing time bear in winter. Satan still waiteth, and his temptations do importunately return upon us. I confess this is no excuse, yet it may be a cause. Satan’s continued temptations should make us more watchful. Long experience of the vanity of worldly things should wean us from them, and lust long kept under is the more easily bridled. Yet the continual presence of temptation showeth the daily necessity of gracious helps and means. Partly by their own security. A man of long standing, being secure of salvation, may grow remiss and negligent; and supposing that he hath grace, and is possessed of the love of God, may think that there needeth not such diligence as when he was doubtful. And if he go round in his accustomed tract of duties, may carry it as if he were now past all danger, and so insensibly decayeth. After the first labours of regeneration, and the difficulties of reconciliation with God are past over, and freedom from the terrors of the law in part obtained, and they have gotten some peace and confidence, then they are in danger of this security: Rev. iii. 17, 18, ‘Because thou sayest, I am rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing, and knowest not that thou art wretched and miserable and poor, and blind, and naked; I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire that thou mayest be rich, and white raiment that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thy eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see.’ It is not spoken to beginners, and persons unacquainted with Christ, but to old lukewarm professors. Well, then, there needeth watchfulness to the very last. Man is a very changeable creature; therefore we should always stand upon our guard. Partly because the course of temptations may be altered; the devil doth not always play the same game. As it is said of Joab, 1 Kings ii. 28, ‘Joab turned after Adonijah, though he turned not after Absalom.’ In his old age he miscarried. A man may withstand one kind of brunt, and yet fail in another. The children of God prosperous differ from the children of God afflicted. We had need be provided for all weathers: Phil. iv. 12, ‘I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound; everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.’ The young prophet withstood the king, yet was overcome by the enticings of the old prophet, 1 Kings xiii. 4, with the 19th. Lot, that was chaste in Sodom, miscarried in the 414mountains, where were none but his own family. When conscience is cast asleep, even a child of God may fall into the grossest sins. David’s heart smote him when he cut off the lap of Saul’s garment, yet afterwards fell into uncleanness and blood, and lay asleep in it a long time, till Nathan the prophet roused him up. Well, then, the fathers must be written unto, as well as the young men and babes. You would think it a great misery if a mariner, after he hath weathered out all tempests at sea, should suffer shipwreck in the haven’s mouth; so for you to do an unseemly action after you have long professed yourselves servants of Jesus Christ, and have been assisted by him in several conditions.
2. They must be written unto first, that their growth may be promoted; that they may be stirred up to more seriousness, and more diligence, and more fruitfulness.
[1.] After so long a standing, and so much means, more growth and tendency towards perfection may be justly expected from them: Ps. xcii. 13, 14, ‘Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God; they shall bring forth fruit in old age, they shall be fat and flourishing.’ The courts of God are a kindly soil; they that grow there are kept fresh and lively, and fruitful towards God. The decay of the outward man doth not hinder the renewing of the inward. Their last works are better than the first; they shall have great liberty and delight in God to the last: Isa. xl. 31, ‘They that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary, and they shall walk and not faint.’ When nature seemeth to be clean spent, there is a sweet supply of spiritual strength. Eagles are vigorous, they fly strongly and swiftly, and renew their youth; some say by casting their bill when their upper beak groweth crooked with age, and shooteth up the lower; or rather by moulting and casting their feathers: Ps. lxxxiv. 10, ‘They go on from strength to strength’ in the heavenly journey, always get ground; we should always be learning something; as we grow older, we should grow wiser and better.
[2.] Their manifold experience should make them better. It is a miserable thing to pass under so many providences, and not to be bettered and improved by them: Deut. xxix. 2-6, ‘And Moses called unto all Israel, and said unto them, Ye have seen all that the Lord did before your eyes in the land of Egypt unto Pharaoh, and all his servants, and unto all his land; the great temptations which thine eyes have seen, and the signs and those great miracles: yet the Lord hath not given you an heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear unto this day. And I have led you forty years in the wilderness; your clothes are not waxen old upon you, and thy shoe is not waxen old upon thy foot. Ye have not eaten bread, neither have ye drunk wine or strong drink; that ye might know that I am the Lord your God.’ Surely none live long in the world but they have much experience of the bitterness of sin: Jer. ii. 19, ‘Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backsliding shall reprove thee: know therefore, and see, that it is an evil thing and bitter, that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God, and that my fear is not in thee, saith the Lord of hosts.’ It is dangerous meddling with forbidden fruit. Of the vanity of the 415creature: Ps. cx. 96, ‘I have seen an end of all perfection.’ Some find it to their bitter cost. This vanity doted on and trusted in causeth vexation of spirit. Oh, the naughtiness of the world! John xv. 19, ‘If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but because ye are not of this world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.’ Satan’s indefatigable malice: 2 Cor. ii. 11, ‘Lest Satan should get an advantage of us, for we are not ignorant of his devices;’ 1 Peter v. 8, ‘For the devil, like a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour.’ On the other side, oh, the comfort, peace, and blessedness that attendeth holy walking! Micah ii. 7, ‘Do not my words do good to him that walketh uprightly?’ Ps. cxix. 56, ‘This I had because I kept thy precepts.’ This peace, this comfort, this joy in the Holy Ghost. Of God’s hearing prayer: Ps. cxvi. 1, ‘I love the Lord, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications.’ Seasonable relief in difficulties and straits: Ps. xlvi. 1, ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.’ The sweet revivings in afflictions and trouble: Rom. v. 3-5, ‘And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also, knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope; and hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us.’ Fulfilling of promises: Ps. xviii. 30, ‘As for God, his way is perfect: the word of the Lord is tried; he is a buckler to all those that trust in him;’ and many such like. Now it is an argument of spiritual stupidness and folly, that a christian should be trained up for a long time in these things, and be not a jot the wiser; if his faith be not stronger, his love to God more fervent, and hatred of sin more lively and earnest; if he cannot wait upon God with a more composed spirit in the midst of this world’s uncertainties; therefore they are to be excited and written unto.
Use 2. Is to show us what is a proper meditation for the aged christians—God’s ancientness and eternity. Their thoughts should be more taken up about this, about him who was before all things, and will be when all things shall be no more. Surely they that are going out of the world, they should not be contented with anything that had once a beginning, and within a little while will have an end; their great business is to know the eternal God, and eternally to enjoy him. They have had long experience of the transitory nature of earthly things, which should weaken temptations, and blare the glory of them in their eyes. They are going to converse with him immediately who ‘in the beginning laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of his hands: they shall perish, but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as a garment, and as a vesture shalt thou change them; but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail,’ Heb. i. 10-12, Ps. cii. 25, 26. Christ is eternal, and cannot be perishing or die; and this is the rock of the church’s comfort. God from the mount of eternity beholdeth all successions and changes of the creature, but he cannot be changed. The world may be changed, and we, being mortal, may be changed, and must be changed that we may inherit eternal life; but he from the beginning to the end is still the same, and shall destroy all enemies, consume the world with fire, and eternally glorify the saints. We are but of yesterday, and to-morrow 416we shall be gone, but ‘Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.’ Though days and years are in a continual flux and motion about him, yet he is the same for ever, he is the beginning without beginning, and the end without end; before all, after all, and in all. Think often of his unchangeableness; but consider also your own vanity, whose glory and perfection is like a summer flower, or like a vapour ascending for a little time. Our purposes are soon broken off, and made of none effect.
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