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Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect; but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.—Phil. iii. 12.
USE 2. Is to teach us three duties which are to be observed to the very last—diligence, watchfulness, and self-denial.
1. Diligence. The race is not ended as soon as begun; it is a race from earth to heaven by the way of holiness. New converts are carried on with a great deal of affection and zeal, and make a swift progress at first, but flag and faint afterwards. Therefore you must renew your resolutions for God and heaven. There is many a corruption yet to resist and conquer, many a temptation to overcome, and much necessary work to do, and you received life from Christ to do it. How much is 82all that you have done already beneath your duty, beneath the majesty of God whom you serve in the spirit, beneath the precious love of Christ, which should both incline and oblige you to live more to him; beneath the promises and advantages you have by grace for your growth and increase; beneath the weight and worth of endless glory into which yon are entering! And therefore you should be best at last, from good grow better, and the nearer to enjoyment, be the more earnest in your motions, and the more confidence of obtaining, the more abounding in the work of the Lord.
2. Be not secure, but use all caution and watchfulness that you miscarry not. Man is a very changeable creature, therefore we should always stand upon our guard; considering—
[1.] 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, he ‘turned after Adonijah, though he turned not after Absalom.’ A man may withstand one kind of brunt, yet fail in another. Every new condition brings new snares: Hosea vii. 8, ‘Ephraim is a cake not turned;’ that is, baked but of one side. The children of God prosperous differ from the children of God afflicted: 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.’ Age hath its weaknesses and frailties as well as youth.
[2.] Corruptions are sometimes strangely disguised. A man may withstand open enemies, yet fail by the insinuations of those who have a show of godliness: 1 Kings xiii. 4, 19, the man of God withstood the king, but was overcome by the old prophet. We read in history of some that lost their limbs in defence of the truth under pagan persecutions, but after made shipwreck of the faith by errors. Many with stand violence, bear it out well in a storm, yet are soon deluded and turned out of the way.
[3.] There is danger after suffering. Many suffer many things for the truth who after make foul defection from God; they may suffer a while upon the example of others; their particular interest is wrapt up in the public applause which sufferers for the truth receive from the lovers of truth, and that will make even hypocrites suffer much. Yea, continued sufferings may make the soul faint for the present time; the best, being left to themselves in the hour of temptation, may shrink, and without continual aid from heaven will dishonour God and themselves. No experience from heaven, no experience of former joy and sweetness which they have found in the way of truth, nor their former sufferings, will make them adhere to it.
[4.] Where there seemeth to be least danger there is many times most cause of fear. Lot, that was chaste in Sodom, miscarried by incest in the mountains, where was none but his own family.
[5.] When conscience is cast asleep, a child of God may fall into grievous sins. David’s heart smote him when he cut off the lap of Saul’s garment, yet fell into uncleanness and blood, and lieth asleep in it for a long time, till Nathan the prophet roused him up. Who would have thought that such a tender conscience could ever have been so charmed? But the conscience of a child of God may be strangely 83deadened and laid by for a time, even after he hath passed over the terrors of the law, and gotten some peace and confidence.
3. Continual self-denial; if you have suffered for Christ, you must suffer still, that you may not lose your cost: Gal. iii. 4, ‘Have you suffered so many things in vain?’ They are lost as to anything you can expect from God. If you have ministered to the saints, you must minister: Heb. vi. 10, 11, ‘For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have showed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister. And we desire that every one of you do show the same diligence, to the full assurance of hope to the end.’ If you have mortified and subdued the flesh, you must mortify and subdue it more and more, that you may not be castaways: 1 Cor. ix. 27, ‘But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection, lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway;’ as those are who begin in the Spirit and end in the flesh: 2 Thes. iii. 6, 7, ‘Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition received of us. For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us; for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you.’ If you have endured afflictions, you must endure still: Col. i. 11, ‘Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and long suffering with joyfulness.’ The danger is not over whilst you are yet in the way. Take heed of miscarrying in the haven, and falling at last.
Doct. 2. That whatsoever degrees we have already attained, we must press forward to perfection.
As Paul laboured hard after it, so should we all in the sense of our defects, and endeavour a constant progress.
1. By this our title is assured. All that will be saved must either be perfect or labour after perfection. Perfect none can be, but all must labour after perfection, or else they are not sincere, and so far labour as to be ashamed of defects in holiness, and mourn over them, Rom. vii. Certainly we must not allow ourselves in them; still striving after more, and making further progress every day: Mat. v. 48, ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ christians are called to perfection, though they cannot fully attain to it in this life. Many after they have gotten such a measure of grace whereby they think they may be assured they are in a state of grace, never look further, but set up their rest; think that hereafter God will make them perfect when they die. Oh, consider, here is the time of growth. Corn doth not grow in the barn, but in the field. Besides, they hazard their claim of sincerity who do not aim at perfection; for where there is true grace there will be a desire of the greatest perfection. As a small seed will seek to grow up into a tree, and there will be trouble about the relics of sin and grief, that they can serve God no more perfectly.
2. By this our hearts are more prepared in this life for our happiness. The more holy and heavenly we grow, the more meet: Col. i. 12, ‘Who hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints 84in light.’ We are remotely fitted by regeneration: 2 Cor. v. 5, ‘Now he that hath wrought us to this self-same thing is God, who also hath given us the earnest of the Spirit.’ But next and immediately by growth and increase of grace: 1 John iii. 3, ‘He that hath this hope in him purifieth himself as Christ is pure.’ He purifieth himself more and more: Rom. ix. 23, 24, ‘And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he hath afore prepared unto glory, even us whom he called: not of the Jews only, but of the gentiles.’
3. By this our glory and blessedness are increased. The best graces have a more honourable crown; for according to the degrees of grace, so will our glory be. Every vessel is filled according to its capacity; they that are growing here have more in heaven. Glory and blessedness standeth in communion with God and conformity to him, or the vision and full fruition of God: Ps. xvii. 15, ‘As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness;’ 1 John iii. 2, ‘But we know that when he shall appear we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.’ Now the more holy we are, the more suited to this happiness, and therefore have larger measures of it; if purity of heart be necessary to see God, to enjoy communion with God now, as unquestionably it is: Mat. v. 8, ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God;’ 1 John i. 7, ‘If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another.’ It is unreasonable to imagine that clarified souls have no more fruition of God than those who have only grace enough to make a hard shift to go to heaven. Sicut se habet simpliciter ad simpliciter, ita magis ad magis. If holiness fits to see God, and without it we cannot see him, so a little holiness fits to take in a little of God; and the more of holiness the more of God; and there is the same reason for aiming at the degree as at the thing, heaven being the perfection of holiness. If you do not desire more degrees, you do not desire heaven itself.
Use. Is to persuade us to get ground in our race, which we do as our title is more assured by self-denying obedience.
1. Our end will bear it, to see God and enjoy God: 1 Thes. ii. 12, ‘That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you to his kingdom and glory.’ How much is this better than all those worldly things upon which we lay out our labour and diligence?
2. The glory of God requireth it. Less grace may serve for our safety than our comfort; for our comfort than the glory of God: John xv. 8, ‘Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.’ Your hearts will never serve you to do any excellent things for God in the world, but you will betray his honour upon all occasions by your weaknesses and infirmities. God hath most honour from the strong and fruitful christian, who produces the genuine fruits of godliness, and produces them in such plenty that God is mightily honoured by them: Mat. v. 16, ‘Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.’ By your zeal, constancy, and fidelity in your relations. Meekness, patience, strictness, and heavenly-mindedness. But if our lives be filled with sensuality, pride, envy, malice, wherein do you differ from the ungodly world but only in the name, and some little grace buried under a heap of sin?85
3. The notion of grace implieth it. You must not only begin it, but continue it till you come to the goal. Besides your entrance into christianity, there must be a progress. There is a gate, and a way, Mat. vii. 14. Will you always keep at the door and entrance? It is not enough to begin, but we must finish in the way of mortification, heavenly-mindedness, self-denial: Prov. iv. 18, ‘The path of the just is as a shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day;’ Ps. lxxxiv. 7, ‘They go from strength to strength;’ 2 Cor. iv. 16, ‘But though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.’
Now there is requisite to this—
[1.] A strong faith, or a deep sense of the world to come: Heb. x. 39, ‘But we are not of them who draw back to perdition, but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.’
[2.] A fervent love, levelling and directing all our actions to God’s glory: 2 Cor. v. 14, 15, ‘For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.’
[3.] A lively hope, quickening and strengthening our resolutions for God and the world to come: 1 Peter i. 13, ‘Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.’ In short, a faith that we may believe the gospel with an assent so strong as constantly to adhere to the duties prescribed, and to venture all upon the hopes offered therein; a hope so strong that the heart be so set upon glory to come, that present things do not greatly move us, whether the delights or terrors of sense; such a love arising out of the sense of our obligations to God, and a value and esteem of his grace, that we do with all readiness of mind and delight, with frequency and constancy, continue in the obedience of his will, seeking his glory.
Doct. 3. That it is a great encouragement in the spiritual race that Christ apprehended us for this end and scope, that we may apprehend the crown of eternal life.
Christ’s apprehending of us implieth—
1. That any motion towards that which is spiritually good proceedeth first and wholly from Christ. He apprehendeth us before we can apprehend him; his person, ways, benefits, but especially our eternal rewards. We have from him beginning and progress; he is the author and finisher; he first layeth hold upon us, when we were dead in trespasses and sins, by his grace, and still upholdeth us by his grace. He puts us into the heavenly race; for till Christ changeth us we take up with things next at hand. A blinded unbelieving sinner can not see afar off, till the spirit of wisdom and revelation open his eyes: Eph. i. 17, 18, ‘That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: the eyes of your understanding being enlightened, that you may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints.’ Nor will he regard heavenly things, nor set his heart on another world, nor lay up his hopes in heaven, and forsake all the things he seeth for that God and glory 86which he never saw. He slighteth the offer; his heart is shut up against it till God open it: Acts xvi. 14, ‘Whose heart the Lord opened, so that she attended to the things spoken by Paul.’ Christ’s apprehending us in effectual calling is by a work on the will and understanding; till Christ open our eyes and turn our hearts, and instead of sensual and worldly, make them spiritual and heavenly: Acts xxvi. 18, ‘To open their eyes, and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God.’ We disregard these things till our understandings be cleared; have neither sight nor sense of the world to come, will not let go present advantages for heavenly hopes: 1 Cor. ii. 14, ‘But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned;’ Prov. xxiii. 4, ‘Labour not to be rich; cease from thine own understanding.’ Till the heart be turned our affections are prepossessed, till Christ puts us in the race.
2. Christ’s apprehending us implieth a motion on our part, a sub ordinate operation; for he infuseth a new life, which we receive from Christ, to use it and live by it.’ There is a vital power, whereby we are made to stir ourselves in a way of holiness, for thereby we are fitted for operations becoming the new creature enabled and inclined; and so the power of God and the liberty of man do sweetly consist together. Where God is said to create in us a new heart, he is also said to give us a free spirit, Ps. li. 10, 13. Where we are said to be ‘God’s workmanship in Christ Jesus;’ we are said ‘To walk in them,’ Eph. ii. 10. Where he is said to ‘take away the heart of stone, and to give us an heart of flesh,’ there it is said, ‘I will cause you to walk in my statutes,’ Ezek. xxxvi. 26, 27; 2 Cor. iii. 17, 18, ‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.’ God first worketh on us, and then by us. God’s work is first, ours subordinate: Cant. i. 4, ‘Draw me, we will run after thee;’ Ps. cxix. 32, ‘I will walk at liberty, when thou shalt enlarge my heart.’ We are ‘transformed by the renewing of our minds, but so as to prove what is that good, that acceptable and perfect will of the Lord,” Rom. xii. 2. Well, then, having such a spirit, and power, and principle of life, with which the rest of the world are not acquainted, let us press forward.
3. The tendency of this life infused is to be considered by us, which is to God and heaven. Converting grace draweth and bendeth the soul to its end and rest, that we may grow more divine and heavenly; for you are so far sanctified as you are divine and heavenly.
[1.] Divine: 2 Peter i. 4, ‘Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature.’ So that we are or should be still growing, breathing, and reaching forth after God, seeking after him, longing to be with him, to be rid of sin, to see his blessed face, and to live in his perfect love, praising him to all eternity. As the seed is working through the dry clods, so doth this principle of grace; it tendeth toward God, that it may have more enjoyment of God in conformity to him, and be more perfectly subject to him, and never grieve him nor dishonour him more. In the world there is not sufficient to answer the desires and expectations 87of the new creature. Two things the heart looketh for as soon as it is changed by grace—perfect enjoyment of God, and perfect conformity and subjection to him, that he may be with God, and free from sin. For this Paul groans: Rom. viii. 23, ‘Even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our bodies.’
[2.] Heavenly; that we may live in heaven above the earth, and our hearts may be above with God as our happiness. The heart is suited to that exceeding glory promised us in the gospel, that we may affect it, care for it, fix it as our scope and home, travel toward it with all zeal and diligence. Well, then, if the first grace do in some measure incline us to seek this happiness with God above as our treasure, hope, and home, as the chief matter of our desires and joys, then we are apprehended by Christ; for none but illuminated souls can discern this glory, none but the sanctified soul is inclined to it: Col. iii. 1-3, ‘If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God. Set your affections on things above, not on things of the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God;’ 2 Cor. i. 12, ‘For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world.’
4. Christ having apprehended us, still keepeth us in his own hands, and will not fail us, but stand by us in the race in which he hath set us; for that we have from him beginning and progress. He is the author and finisher of our faith; having laid hold upon us by converting grace, he still upholdeth us by his confirming grace; and having begun life, maintaineth it by a constant influence. His divine manutenency is often spoken of in scripture; so that besides our care, and watchfulness, and incessant labour, we receive a new life, vigour, and assistance from Christ.
Use. Is to press us to answer Christ’s apprehension of us by an exact, resolved, diligent pursuit of eternal life, that only will declare that we are apprehended by Christ, that we may be guided by him to the land of promise.
I shall give you two motives—
1. Think often of our great obligation to Christ for the great love he hath showed us in our calling and conversion; that he apprehended you in your sins, called you with a holy calling, gave you some taste of his graciousness in the pardoning of your sins, acquainted you with his great and distinguishing love. And is this to be answered with a cold obedience? Christ snatched you from the furnace of hell as brands plucked out of the burning; you have just cause to bless God to all eternity for making you new creatures, living members of Christ. But wherefore did he make you new creatures, but that at length he might perfect the work begun?
2. Consider how Christ is interested in your preservation. He had his race and his agonies: Heb. xii. 1, 2, ‘Let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despised the shame, and is now at the right hand of the throne of God.’ 88The ‘joy before him’ was principally eternal glory, for which end he apprehended us. That is not all; we are his crown, his joy, a church of holy believers: Isa. liii. 10, 11, ‘When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many, for he shall bear their iniquities.’ A numerous seed, these are called his ‘purchased possession,’ Eph. i. 14. He had this in his eye as his crown and the reward of his sufferings: Ps. ii. 3, ‘Ask of me, and I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the utmost parts of the earth for thy possession;’ given him as a recompense of his humiliation.
This consideration giveth you a double advantage—
[1.] It assureth you of his willingness and readiness to assist and help you to the end of the race; for Christ will not lose his own crown, if believers be his crown and rejoicing.
[2.] Our Saviour Christ hath given an example of enduring the highest afflictions in this world. Of faith; he hath led us as a captain. Let us lay aside our worldly love, and fear and obey him, for he will be sure to crown all those that follow him.
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