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I write unto you, young men, because you have overcome the wicked one. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one, &c.—1 John ii. 13, 14.
WE come now to the second rank of christians, such as are called young men. They are described—
1. By the perfection proper to their age, ‘Because ye are strong.’ As old men are noted for wisdom, so young men for strength: Prov. xx. 29, ‘The glory of young men is their strength.’
2. The subordinate cause or means, ‘And the word of God abideth in you.’
3. The effect and fruit, and that is victory over Satan, ‘And ye have overcome the wicked one.’
That which is said concerning this rank and order may be comprised in these propositions—
1. There are a middle sort of christians, who may be called young men.
2. These above others are exposed to temptations and conflicts.
3. That which is most eminent in this age and rank of christians is strength.
4. This strength they have because the word of God abideth in them.
5. Those that have the word of God abiding in them overcome the wicked one.
Prop. 1. That there are a middle sort of christians, who may be called young men.
So the apostle frameth the distinction; and the reason of the thing carrieth it, for experience telleth us that there are some christians or believers who have felt comfort in Christ, tasted the good word of God, and are affected with the offers of an heavenly life, and thereupon have renounced the devil, the world, and the flesh, that they may seek their happiness in God through Christ; yet they have not attained to that strength of grace and comfort, nor that experience in the ways of godliness, as the fathers have gotten; neither do they walk therein so evenly and constantly as they do; so that they cannot be placed among the 417higher sort of christians; neither yet are they so weak and unexperienced as the babes. It will not be lost time a little to show more particularly wherein they differ from the fathers, or the old and more experienced christians, and from the babes and younger sort.
1. From the fathers they differ—
[1.] Because they are not so well settled in an heavenly frame of spirit. Though they set their faces heavenward, yet they are often apt to look back, and are not so constantly exercised about heavenly things, or doing all things to eternal ends, but that they are cumbered with many vain, loose, and roving imaginations and dreams of riches, preferment, worldly pomp, and ease and honour; as if that God whom they have chosen for their portion were bound to provide these things for them, and in that measure wherein they crave them. In this rank I place the disciples before the pouring out of the Spirit. I cannot count them babes, they being so long then trained up in Christ’s company; nor yet fathers, because before the solemn pouring out of the Holy Ghost they had not attained to the perfection of the gospel-spirit, which is not the spirit of this world, but the earnest of a better inheritance. Therefore we find them troubled when Christ telleth them of the cross, and how hard a matter it was to enter into the kingdom of God, Mark x. 26. Contending among themselves who should be greatest (and that in a time when the passion was near at hand, Luke xxii. 21, 24), the mother of Zebedee’s children with her sons (no doubt set a-work by them, Mat. xx. 21) came to Christ with this request, ‘Grant that these my two sons may sit the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left in thy kingdom.’ There were many pleasant dreams about worldly happiness in the hearts of christians. The apostles and their friends did dream of an earthly kingdom of Christ, and worldly honours to be distributed to his servants and followers, though Christ did often warn them to the contrary, and seek to prepare them for the cross. And doth not the love of the dignities, and honours, and profits, and pleasures of the world still creep into the hearts of believers, and tickle and inveigle them with many a vain thought and corrupt lust? Surely yes. Witness their frequent thoughts of turning the tide and stream of affairs, and comforting themselves more with hopes of seeing their desire upon their enemies, and of temporal ease, than of the heavenly felicity; their vain wishing for what others have, and misliking that which is their own; their offence at God’s providence, if he doth not find them meat for their lusts, and maintain them at such a rate as they fancy. Yet if we should say, they have no grace, we should condemn the generation of the just, and speak against plain experience.
[2.] In that they have not so much superiority and command over their affections and passions as the fathers have; though they are not at the beck and command of every foolish and hurtful lust, yet they are often assaulted and perplexed, yea, overcome with the rebellion of their carnal affections and inordinate passions, which put them to no small trouble. To these the apostle speaketh, Col. iii. 5, ‘Mortify, therefore, your members which are upon the earth, fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness which is idolatry.’ Paul himself had his violent paroxysms: Rom. vii. 19, 21, 23, ‘For the good that I would I do not; but the evil I would not, that I do. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me; but I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.’ And David was fain to keep his mouth as with a bridle, Ps. xxxix. 1. They see a great need of curbing their passions, and reforming their thoughts, and bridling their tongues.
[3.] In that they are not so wise and experienced in the spiritual warfare, and therefore are often foiled, though they do also often over come. Unruly affections may unsettle and distemper them. In their prosperity they may remit of their fervency, zeal, and diligence. In adversity they may have despondency and distrustful thoughts at God’s providence; murmuring and discontent may break out: Ps. xxxi. 22, ‘I said in my haste, I am cut off from before thine eyes;’ Ps. cxvi. 11, ‘I said in my haste, All men are liars.’ In their callings, they may bewray too much earthly-mindedness and discontent and carnal aims; the inexperienced are easily surprised, and the evils they groan under are neither at once nor easily subdued; they are often distempered with inward lusts and outward occasions.
2. From the babes they differ—
[1.] Because they have been longer engaged in the practice of godliness, and so they have a more serious consideration of their state and ways, that they may avoid sin and the occasions thereof. They have BO much acquaintance with the heavenly life as to see the need of watching, praying, and striving: Mark xiii. 37, ‘What I say unto you, I say unto all, Watch;’ 1 Cor. xvi. 13, ‘Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit yourselves like men, be strong;’ Ps. xxxix. 1, ‘I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I offend not with my tongue; I will keep my mouth with a bridle while the wicked is before me.’ Those affections and passions which were wont to be common matters with them, they pray more often and earnestly against them, and so stand upon their guard. Though they are not totally overcome, yet they resist the occasions of sin, and have a holy jealousy over themselves lest they be overtaken. Those things which were not much regarded in times past, that were passed over as things pardoned of course, are now thought of with shame and bitterness.
[2.] They are more diligent in the use of means. Their continual work is to subdue their passions and corrupt inclinations, to weaken their rebellious desires, and defeat temptations. They heartily purpose and covenant with God to bring their hearts into a better frame: Ps. cxix. 112, ‘I have inclined my heart to perform thy statutes always, even to the end.’ They busy themselves about getting spiritual furniture and strength, even the complete armour of God, whereby they may stand out against the assaults of the wicked one: Eph. vi. 12, 13, ‘For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.’ None knoweth the need of the spiritual armour, nor is so earnest to get it, as this kind of christian; 419being continually exercised with conflicts and temptations, he would not be unprepared, and knoweth the malice of Satan, and his own infirmities. Practical conviction is best, and leaveth a deeper sense upon the heart than a doctrinal discovery.
[3.] They are more versed in the word of God, though not skilful in the word of righteousness, as the fathers; yet not as unskilful as the babes: Heb. v. 13, ‘For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe.’ They are learning and studying the word, how to govern their passions and direct their way: Ps. cxix. 9, ‘Wherewith shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word.’ They would not have the peace of their souls disturbed: they are taken into God’s blessed flock, and are daily furnishing themselves with spiritual knowledge.
Prop. 2. The middle sorts of christians or young men are most exposed to temptations and conflicts.
The devil is an enemy to all mankind, but especially to young men. Noah, Solomon were tempted when in years; but the young age are most assaulted. The devil layeth snares for them, partly because those are most prone to sin, being passionate, rash, self-willed, and head strong; wrestle with stronger lusts through the abundance of heat and spirit: 2 Tim. ii. 22, ‘Fly youthful lusts.’ Company, worldly business, pleasures, are a very great snare to them, who are so prone to worldly affections and actions and fleshly lusts as they are; and therefore soon caught in the devil’s snares, and taken at his will and pleasure. Partly because young men are most capable of doing God or the devil most service; that being the choice time of their life, and they being in the prime of their days. Children are but entering into the world, and old men are going out of this life; therefore they should be the more cautious and watchful. The faculties of their souls are most vigorous, the members of their bodies most active. Therefore the devil is especially an enemy to young men; none are in greater danger than they to be drawn to wickedness.
1. It is true of christians young in grace; these especially are busied in fighting against the temptations of Satan, and in resisting and subduing their own unruly lusts. This age is a life of conflicts; they have many rebellious desires, vain thoughts and wishes, inordinate affections; and therefore if they be serious in their work, they must expect blows and troubles: Heb. x. 32, ‘After ye were enlightened, ye endured a great fight of afflictions,’ φωτισθέντες. Baptism by the ancients was called φωτισμὸς, and to baptize φωτιζείν, and times of baptism, ἡμέρας τῶν φωτῶν; the newly baptized, ωεοφωτιστοὺς; the font, φωτιστήριον. Possibly the word in this use might not be so ancient as the apostles’ days, however it was then used for the first taking up of the profession of christianity, Heb. vi. 4. Those were once enlightened, φωτισθέντες. The first creature was light: 2 Cor. iv. 6, ‘God commanded the light to shine out of darkness.’ Presently after they had received the faith of Christ, and were admitted into the church by baptism, they endured πολλὴν ἄθλησιν, rapine, scourges, persecutions, haled before tribunals of men. Many in their first time were put to bitter and sore conflicts. Jesus Christ as soon as he was baptized, which was his consecration or solemn, inauguration into the 420exercise of his mediatorial office, was then tempted: Mat. iv. 1, ‘Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.’ As soon as he is installed into his office, he entereth into the lists with Satan. The church of the Jews, as soon as God began to separate them from the Egyptians, at their first setting forth they were pursued: and even after they came into the wilderness, they were set on by the Amalekites, Exod. xvii. 18. The primitive christian church is set forth by the visional emblem of a dragon, ready to devour the man child as soon as it was born, Rev. xii. 4. So it is with particular persons very often; Paul when converted, presently the Jews conspire to kill him. God may permit this, partly to abate their carnal confidence. Many a man because newly converted, having had as yet no thorough and full experience of the strength of sin, the danger of temptation and his own weakness, may bear it a little too high upon the confidence of his own resolutions, which, because they are sincere and undissembled, he thinketh they may be easily maintained. Now God, to humble him, and to show that it is not in him that willeth and runneth, Rom. ix. 16, that it is not their own purposes, though sincere, that will secure them, suffereth Satan to tempt, and his instruments to vex us, sin to put forth its strength, that we may have experience of our own weakness and nothingness, and that our strength lieth in Jesus Christ rather than in ourselves. The best are in danger of self-confidence, even those whose resolutions and purposes against sin are most sincere, and therefore Satan is suffered to tempt them; as the Canaanites were suffered in the land, and many times had the better of Israel, to show that the victory was not gotten by their own bow and strength. And partly to glorify his own grace, for his power is perfected in our weakness, 2 Cor. xii. 10; that is, discovered with more advantage. Christians when young are put upon sore trials, to show that they have not this power of themselves, but of the Lord. A young christian is the best instance for this purpose. A man of long experience might seem to stand by his own strength, but when those who are sorely exercised with temptation are maintained against the most violent impression the devil can make upon them, it is more for the glory of God’s grace. Take an instance in David and Joseph, an old and a young man, 2 Sam. xi. 2, 3, with Gen. xxxix. 7-10. Joseph a single man, David had a multitude of wives; Joseph had the advantage of secrecy, David was fain to make way for his lusts by other sins; Joseph was solicited, David was the solicitor; Joseph shuns all occasions, David seeketh them out. Yet the one standeth and the other is foiled. The fall of the experienced man brought a great deal of dishonour to God, as the other made much for the praise of his grace. And partly that they may be fitted and prepared to walk with God in their after-course in all holiness and righteousness, when once they are seasoned in Christ’s warfare. The old Germans were wont to dip their children newly born in the Rhine, thereby to harden and prepare them for the toil of war and labour: Lam. iii. 27, ‘It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.’ The yoke of duty, the yoke of afflictions and temptations; they are thereby seasoned for all their lives after. And partly to try their thankfulness for receiving Christ, and the inestimable benefits of his love. We profess in pangs of conscience to be willing 421to receive Christ upon the hardest terms, though reduced to rags and beggary, and the greatest extremities; and this is no more than needeth. Our religion and the apparent light of truth compelleth us to use those terms: Mat. xiii. 45, 46, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant-man seeking goodly pearls; and when he hath found one pearl of great price, he went and sold all that he had, and bought it.’ God will try whether we will stand to our word, or whether this be a compliment extorted from us by the present pang; and that we are resolved to fight as well as work: Rom. vi. 13, ‘Yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.’ Now though God keep back the assault of furious and boisterous temptations for a while, yet at length after some time it is needful to try the sincerity of our covenant vow.
2. The devil tempteth and molesteth the saints, either in hope to recover the prey (newly taken out of his hands) back again; as Pharaoh made hue and cry after Israel as soon as they were escaped. After long experience and many resistances he hath the less hopes. It is in vain to think he will be dispossessed quietly: 2 Peter ii. 18, ‘For when, they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who lived in error;’ ὄντως, clean, or ὀλίγως, for a little while, escaped from error; or else to weary them, and to make their pilgrimage uncomfortable. At first, while they are admiring the love of God, and the offers of grace to sinners, and their blessed change is fresh in their memories, and that woful estate wherein they were by nature, while they are but as brands plucked out of the burning, the devil dareth not set upon them; but when these qualms of love are over, he is very busy in hope they will return to their old master, when they find nothing but blows and buffets; or if not, that they shall never serve God cheerfully. The devil is not only an enemy to our grace, but to our peace and comfort. They snarl at the feast God hath provided for us: Ps. xxiii. 5, ‘Thou preparest a table for me in the presence of mine enemies; thou anointest my head with oil, my cup runneth over.’ The devils grieve and envy at the riches of God’s bounty to his beloved ones.
3. In regard of themselves and their own flesh, which is not as yet perfectly subdued to Christ’s discipline. The bullock at first yoking is most unruly; the fire at the first kindling casts forth much smoke: Rom. vii. 9, ‘Sin revived, and I died.’ They have much to do with a naughty heart: Mat. vii. 14, ‘Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way;’ at least, at the beginning, or upon our first entrance upon christianity; and when christians are young and raw, and of little experience in the ways of God, it is more tedious to them; they are more unprovided, more unresolved, than they thought themselves to be; and they set upon the mortification of sin, and feel the force of corrupt nature more powerful than ever they imagined it would be, and their light and love is increased, and so their sin is more grievous than it was before. When a man is dead in trespasses and sins, he hath no feeling; but when he has a deeper insight into the law, and the nest of unclean birds is more discovered, then a child of God begins to groan: Rom. vii. 24, ‘O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the 422body of this death?’ When first we began to be serious, the guilt of sin troubled us, and engaged us to look after justification by Christ; but when we are more acquainted with God, the power of sin troubleth us, and we are more engaged to look after mortification, and so we are put upon the greater conflicts.
Prop. 3. That which is most eminent in this rank of christians is strength, ‘Because ye are strong.’ How strong?
There is the strength of the body and there is the strength of the soul.
1. The strength of the body; that is incident to young men naturally considered: Prov. xx. 29, ‘The glory of young men is their strength.’ But this is no great thing in a spiritual eye and consideration; for a bull or an ox may exceed us in this kind of strength, for they are strong to labour, Ps. cxliv. 14; and a robust temper of body doth more often incline to sin than to virtue and grace. So many show their strength in pouring down strong drink: Isa. v. 22, ‘Woe unto them that are mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink.’ Many wicked ones glory in their ability to take in much liquor, and go away with it; or else in prodigious lust; they spend their strength on women, contrary to Prov. xxxi. 3, ‘Give not thy strength unto women;’ or at best have only strength for bodily conflicts. Now this is not the strength intended, not strength for bodily conflicts, but for wrestling with Satan and spiritual wickedness; not strength of nature, but grace; strength to overcome temptations to sin, to govern our passions and affections in the fear of God, to do the things which God commandeth. This much excelleth the outward bodily strength: Prov. xvi. 32, ‘He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit, than he that taketh a city.’ These are strong indeed; the others may be feeble and impotent; as Samson had great bodily strength, but was easily overcome by his lusts. That is a weak heart that lieth open to the assault of every temptation, that is at the beck of every foolish and hurtful lust, as pride, sensuality, worldliness, carnal fear, and sorrow; and so an imperious heart is a weak heart: Ezek. xvi. 30, ‘How weak is thine heart, saith the Lord! seeing thou doest all these things, the work of an imperious whorish woman.’
2. The strength of the soul, which is the property of christians, often spoken of in scripture: Ps. cxxxviii. 3, ‘And strengthen me with strength in my soul;’ Eph. iii. 6, ‘To be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man.’ This is the fruit of grace, for by nature we have it not: Rom. v. 6, ‘When we were yet without strength;’ without any power to help ourselves out of that misery into which we had plunged ourselves; but by grace there is a power whereby a christian is enabled to all spiritual duties, 2 Tim. i. 7, a spirit of power, of love, and a sound mind.
This spiritual strength serveth for three uses—
[1.] To bear burdens with patience. A heavy burden requireth a sound back: Col. i. 11, ‘Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and long-suffering with joy fulness.’ If we cannot bear afflictions and troubles with courage and cheerfulness, we are little acquainted with spiritual strength: Prov. xxiv. 10, 423‘If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small.’ As a weak man sinketh under his burden.
[2.] To perform duties with cheerfulness. That is a part of a christian’s strength to be able to work hard, as well as bear much: Phil. iv. 13, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me.’ The grace of Christ disposeth us to every duty to which we are called by him. He enableth those whom he employeth. There is a sluggishness in most christians; they excuse themselves by their weakness: Christ maketh them able for everything that lieth within the compass of their duty. If men did awaken the strength which they have, or improve what God vouchsafeth to them by the sanctifying motions of his Spirit, they would not be so weak as they pretend to be. But as lazy beggars, who personate and act diseases because they would not work, so they idly complain for want of strength. They spare their pains, and then cry out they are impotent, because they are loath to stir up themselves. There are two extremes—pride and sloth: pride is seen in self-confidence; sloth in a neglect of the grace given.
[3.] To resist temptations with success. Our necessities are many, so must our strength be to fight as well as to work and bear. When the apostle was about to treat of the spiritual armour, he prefaceth it thus: Eph. vi. 10, ‘Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.’ When we think with Samson to go forth and shake ourselves as at other times, we feel sad gyves and fetters; we must use the spade as well as the trowel. We are assaulted with all kinds of temptations; by the devil, as a tempter, and vexer, and opposer of the saints; by the world, persecuting and enticing; by the flesh, as rebelling against and shrinking from the discipline of the Spirit. Now the strength of the soul lieth in a firm resolution opposite to fears and snares. It is said of Joseph that his ‘bow abode in its strength,’ Gen. xlix. 44. His was a snaring temptation, but Joseph was kept innocent in all. So it is opposite to a fearful heart: Isa. xxxv. 4, ‘Say to them of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not; behold your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompense, he will come and save you.’ Now whether strength be opposite to snares or fears, it is the fruit, not of natural boldness, but of faith. The strength of the soul lies in a sound belief of the truths of the gospel: 1 Peter v. 9, ‘Whom resist, steadfast in the faith/ It is a lamentable thing to see what a poor cowardly spirit there is in most christians; how soon they are captivated, or discouraged with every slender assault or petty temptation, and their resolutions are shaken with the appearance of every difficulty. This is not so much want of strength as sluggishness and cowardice, and neglect of the grace given. Well, then, this is common to all christians that are strong, but more especially to the middle sort, whose strength is most exercised and tried. They have need to be strong who are assaulted by the evil one; their lusts are more boiling hot, and sooner set a-work; they had need get faith, sobriety, humility, temperance, and suchlike, for in these things lieth the strength of the soul. This is the armour of God, and in these things should they excel.
Prop. 4. This strength they have because the word of God abideth in them.424
This middle clause looketh both ways: ‘Ye are strong, because the word of God abideth in you; and ye have overcome the wicked one, because the word abideth in you;’ 1 Peter ii. 2, ‘As new-born babes desire the sincere milk of the word, that they may grow thereby.’ The word of God is the food of the soul, and so increaseth strength against temptations. The strength of the mind lieth in reason, and the word of God is our storehouse of reasons. It is the great weapon of the spiritual warfare: Eph. vi. 17, ‘Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.’ Jesus Christ made use of this argument to foil Satan with, Sic scriptum est, ‘It is written, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God,’ Mat. iv. 7. The word of God laid up in the heart, and made use of pertinently by the christian soldier, hath somewhat in it to ward off the blow of any temptation. The seasonable calling to mind such a scripture, forbidding or threatening for such an evil, or pressing the practice of such a duty, or speaking comfort or encouragement to a soul exercised with such a cross, it is a great relief. In temptations to have the word ready at hand, whether precepts, threatenings, or promises, to lay up all kind of spiritual knowledge, is to take a notable antidote and preservative against sin: Ps. cxix. 11, ‘Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee.’ Hid, not for concealment, but for custody. When the young man’s soul is well stocked and furnished with the word of God, he hath his spiritual weapon ready, and is prepared for all assaults.
1. The precepts and doctrines of the word abide in them: Ps. xxxvii. 31, ‘The law of God is in his heart, none of his steps shall slide.’ A lively active sense of his duty is kept fresh upon his heart; and then, when they are tempted, they answer as the Rechabites, We dare not; our father commanded us otherwise, Jer. xxxv. 6. Take, for instance, Joseph: Gen. xxxix. 9, ‘How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?’ When we are stored with good principles, it will be a great help to us in all businesses and affairs: Prov. vi. 22, ‘Bind them upon thine heart; and when thou goest, it shall lead thee; when thou sleepest, it shall keep thee; when thou awakest, it shall talk with thee.’ Wicked men’s sin engrosseth all their thoughts, employeth them all the day, and it stayeth in the fancy all the night; it saluteth them first in the morning. But now a christian, that is a law to himself, a bible to himself, the word of God urgeth him to his duty, directeth him in his work, seasoneth his business, restraineth him from sin. His heart thus furnished casteth in seasonable thoughts and directions upon all occasions, when he is in company, when he is alone. In company: ‘A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth good things,’ Mat. xii. 34, 35, full of gracious discourse. The tap runneth according to the liquor wherewith the vessel is filled. When alone, his reins instruct him in the night season, Ps. xvi. 7. When without all outward helps, his heart furnisheth him with matter of comfort, counsel, and reproof. The frothiness of our spirits, the barrenness and leanness of our souls, come from the want of transcribing the truths of the bible or God’s blessed book upon our hearts. A man that hath his pocket full of brass farthings, and some few pieces of gold and silver, will more readily draw out farthings than pieces of gold or silver or valuable money. Vain thoughts are so ready with us because we have stored our minds with trash.425
2. The promise. These must abide in us for comfort against temptations, desertions, and afflictions: Job xxii. 22, ‘Receive, I pray thee, the law from his mouth, and lay up his words in thine heart;’ as you would do choice things, that they may not be lost or embezzled. In a time of trial, one promise of God will give you more true comfort and support than all the arguings of men. In a time of wants and straits, how sweet is it to remember how amply we are provided for in the covenant! Ps. cxix. 111, ‘Thy testimonies have I taken for an heritage for ever; for they are the rejoicing of my heart.’ And in doubts and discouragements by reason of pressures and troubles: Ps. cxix. 5, ‘This is my comfort in afflictions, thy word hath quickened me;’ Heb. xii. 5, ‘Have you forgotten the consolation which speaketh to you as children?’ It is good to have the promises familiar with us, that we may not have them to seek in a time of distress; happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them. So for temptations, what promises God hath made to the thirsty, what encouragements are given to those that strive after grace; so to seek after God in holiness and righteousness: Mat. v. 8, ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’ What assistance is secured to them that watch and pray, 1 Peter v. 9, 10; how God giveth more grace to the humble, to overpower the natural spirit, James iv. 5, 6; how willing God is to receive us upon our penitence after we are foiled. This maketh the young christian take courage, though his spiritual course be often interrupted.
3. The threatenings. Many lusts are strange and boisterous, and are deaf to all milder motives. By the threatenings, God standeth as with a drawn sword in their way to stop them, if tempted to a sensual fleshly life: Rom. viii. 13, ‘If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die.’ Many are strongly inclined and wedded to sensual satisfactions, a sporting life. Consider, what am I a-doing? if tempted to any inordinate complacency in creature comforts: Ps. lxxiii. 27, ‘Thou hast destroyed all them that go a-whoring from thee;’ and they that only mind earthly things, their ‘end is destruction,’ Phil. iii. 19.
But what is this abiding?
There must be receiving before there can be abiding. There are some will not take the word in: John viii. 37, ‘My word hath no place in you.’ They have no room for Christ, his directions, and comforts. The soul must be emptied before the word can have place in you. This reception is opposed by inward corruption: 1 Cor. ii. 14, ‘The natural man receiveth not the things which are of God.’ They cannot digest it, being so contrary to the dictates of flesh and blood. It cannot sink down into their hearts to take root there, but floateth in their imaginations, there is such unanswerableness to things spiritual. So the devil opposeth it: Mat. xiii. 19, ‘Then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in the heart.’ When he seeth men begin to be serious, he seeketh to divert these thoughts.
Prop. 5, Those that have the word of God abiding in them overcome the wicked one. Where—(1.) The adversary, ‘the wicked one;’ (2.) The victory, ‘have overcome,’ as a thing past.
1. The adversary, ‘The wicked one.’ As God is the holy One, so the devil here and elsewhere is called ‘the wicked one;’ 1 John v. 18, ‘The wicked one toucheth him not;’ Eph. vi. 16, ‘That you may be able to 426quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.’ Satan is so called, partly because he is wicked in himself; the eldest sinner and the greatest sinner: 1 John iii. 8, ‘The devil sinneth from the beginning.’ And partly because his great work and business is to draw and drive others to sin and wickedness; therefore called the father of sinners: John viii. 44, ‘Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do;’ as Jubal is the father of such as handle the harp and the organ, Gen. iv. 21. All the sins in the world, both actual and original, are by his furtherance. Some sins are singularly diabolical, and such as could not be acted by man in an ordinary course of sinning; as Judas’ treason: John xiii. 2, ‘The devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot to betray him,’ Blasphemous thoughts against God, unnatural sins, self-murder, these he may inject into the hearts of the godly, as the envious man may throw weeds into the garden that do not grow there: but in common sins Satan hath a great hand and strong; as in David’s numbering the people: 1 Chron. xxi. 1, ‘And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.’ In our wrath and passion we give place to Satan, Eph. iv. 27; he omitteth no opportunity of gaining his further interest in the heart: 1 Cor. vii. 5, ‘Lest Satan tempt you for your incontinency;’ 1 Tim. iii. 6, ‘Not a novice, lest he be lifted up with pride, and fall into the condemnation of the devil.’ And partly because all his temptations tend to sin, and are solicitations to sin. God tempts, and Satan tempteth. God tempteth to discover some notable effect of grace in his servants: Gen. xxii. 1, ‘God did tempt Abraham,’ not to infuse evil, or solicit to evil, for so ‘God tempteth no man;’ James i. 13, ‘Let no man say when he is tempted, he is tempted of God, for God tempteth no man.’ God’s tempting is always good, and for good; as a general without any injustice may put the valiantest of his army in the greatest dangers. In the temptation we must distinguish the mere trial and solicitation to sin. Satan’s temptings are evil, and for evil, therefore he is called ‘the wicked one.’
2. What is the victory? for the apostle speaketh of it as a thing past, ‘Ye have overcome.’
Ans. In these considerations—
1. The devil is an enemy, with whom we cannot make peace, but must fight against him till we overcome. So that here it cometh to a point, either we must perish or conquer. On the devil’s part there is great enmity, unwearied activity, and unsatiable cruelty; and on our part there must be constant resistance and watchfulness. He is still in action, and nothing less will satisfy him but the destruction of souls. None of Christ’s soldiers must think of flying or yielding; not flying. It is very notable that among the pieces of the spiritual armour there is no piece for the back parts, because there is no flight in this warfare, but we must stand it out to the last. No yielding; for the more way we give to Satan, he tyranniseth the more; and the more stoutly he is opposed, the more he loseth ground: Mat. xii. 44, 45, when the house is empty, swept, and garnished, and prepared for Satan, then he bringeth worse devils.
2. There is hope of this victory. Whilst we keep up the fight, our striving is a degree of conquest: James iv. 8, ‘Resist the devil, and 427he shall flee from you.’ Though God suspendeth the victory, yet if he giveth strength and courage to fight, you have overcome. A christian hath offensive and defensive weapons, but Satan only offensive weapons, darts and wiles. A christian hath a sword and shield; the conquest is begun as long as you stand out against his wiles, Eph. vi. 11, and quench his fiery darts, ver. 16. If he doth not overcome us, and unsettle our love to God, we overcome him.
3. There are great preparations for a victory. The devil is a conquered adversary: Col. ii. 15, ‘And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.’ A disarmed enemy: Heb. ii. 14, ‘That through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.’ We do but set upon the relics of a battle already fought with success.
4. The devil hath been conquered, and is conquered in part by these spiritual young men. The apostle speaketh of such as are strong, and had the word of God abiding in their hearts. They are not such weak young men as Rehoboam, whom every company and every temptation doth carry away; but strong christians, who are victorious and over come; as Joseph: Gen. xxxix. 9, ‘How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?’ There are some the word of God doth only flash in their minds, but doth not abide in them; over them the devil prevaileth: ‘The evil one catcheth away the good seed sown in their heart,’ Mat. xiii. 19. But in those on whom the word hath made so deep an impression that it cannot be rooted out, these overcome the evil one: 1 John v. 18, ‘He that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and the evil one toucheth him not.’ These use all care and diligence that the devil gets no hold on them, that he doth not touch them with a deadly wound; these young men in Christ have gotten a victory over Satan, which is the greatest fortitude.
5. Though the final conquest be hereafter, yet it is sure and near: Rom. xvi. 20, ‘The God of peace shall tread Satan under your feet shortly.’ There will a time of triumph come, when he that is a soldier now shall then be a conqueror. Tread him under your feet, set your feet upon the necks of these kings, as Joshua. He will not only tread Satan to pieces, but under your feet.
Use. If this be the age of conquests, let us not count it strange. There are many wise reasons why God permits it, for his own glory, and to discover the riches of his grace.
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