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TO THE READER.
I KNOW how customary it is for men to ascend the public stage with premised apologies for the weakness and unworthiness of their labors, which is an argument that their desires (either for the sake of others’ profit, or their own credit, or both) are stretched beyond the bounds of their abilities; and that they covet to commend themselves to the world’s censure, in a better dress than common infirmity will allow. For my own part, I may truly say with Gideon, “Behold, my thousand is the meanest,” my talent is the smallest, “and I am the least in my Father’s house;” and therefore this appearance in public is not the fruit of my own choice, which would rather have been on some other subject, wherein I stand in some sense indebted to the world, or else somewhat more digested, and possibly better fitted for common acceptation. But this is but to consult the interest of a man’s own name, which, in matters xxviof this concern, is no better than a “sowing to the flesh,” and the harvest of such a seed-time will be “in corruption.”
Thou hast here one of the saddest considerations imaginable presented to thee, and that is, “How far it is possible a man may go in a profession of religion, and yet, after all, fall short of salvation; how far he may run, and yet not so run as to obtain.” This, I say, is sad, but not so sad as true; for our Lord Christ doth plainly attest it: “Strive to enter in at the strait gate; for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.”
My design herein is, that the formal, sleepy professor may be awakened, and the close hypocrite discovered; but my fear is, that weak believers may be hereby discouraged; for, as it is hard to show, how low a child of God may fall into sin, and yet have true grace, but that the sinner will be apt thereupon to presume; so it is as bard to show how high a hypocrite may rise in a profession, and yet have no grace, but that the believer will be apt thereupon to despond. The prevention whereof I have carefully endeavored, by showing, that though a man may go thus far, and yet be but almost a Christian, yet a man may fall short of this, and be a true xxviiChristian notwithstanding. Judge not, therefore, thy state by any one character thou findest laid down of a false professor; but read the whole, and then make a judgment; for I have cared, as not to “give children’s bread to dogs,” so not to use the dog’s whip to scare the children; yet I could wish that this book might fall into the hands of such only whom it chiefly concerns, who “have a name to live, and yet are dead;” being busy with the “form of godliness,” but strangers to the “power of it.” These are the proper subjects of this treatise: and the Lord follow it with his blessing wherever it comes, that it may be an awakening word to all such, and especially to that generation of profligate professors with which this age abounds; who, if they keep to their church, bow the knee, talk over a few prayers, and at a good time receive the sacra went, think they do enough for heaven, and hereupon judge their condition safe, and their salvation sure; though there be a hell of sin in their hearts, “and the poison of asps is under their lips;” their minds being as yet carnal and unconverted, and their conversations filthy and unsanctified. If eternal life be of so easy attainment, and to be had at so cheap a rate, why did our Lord Christ tell us, “Strait is the gate and xxviiinarrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it?” And why should the apostle perplex us with such a needless injunction, “to give diligence to make our calling and election sure?” Certainly, therefore, it is no such easy thing to be saved, as many make it; and that thou wilt see plainly in the following discourse. I have been somewhat short in the application of it; and therefore let me here be thy remembrancer in five important duties:—
First, “Take heed of resting in a form of godliness; as if duties, ex opere operato, could confer grace. A lifeless formality is advanced to a very high esteem in the world, as a “cab of dove’s dung” was sold in the famine of Samaria at a very dear rate. Alas! the profession of godliness is but a sandy foundation to build the hope of an immortal soul upon for eternity. Remember, the Lord Jesus Christ called him a foolish builder, “that founded his house upon the sand,” and the sad event proved him so, “for it fell, and great was the fall of it.” O therefore lay thy foundation by faith upon the rock Christ Jesus; look to Christ through all, and rest upon Christ in all.
Secondly, “Labor to see an excellency in the power of godliness,” a beauty in the life of Christ, xxixIf the means of grace have a loveliness in them, surely grace itself hath much more; for, “the goodness of the means lies in its suitableness and serviceableness to the end.” The form of godliness hath no goodness in it any farther than it steads and becomes useful to the soul in the power and practice of godliness. The life of holiness is the only excellent life; it is the life of saints and angels in heaven; yea, it is the life of God in himself. As it is a great proof of the baseness and filthiness of sin, that sinners seek to cover it; so it is a great proof of the excellency of godliness that so many pretend to it. The very hypocrite’s fair profession pleads the cause of religion, although the hypocrite is then really worst, when he is seemingly best.
Thirdly, “Look upon things to come as the greatest realities;” for things that are not believed work no more upon the affections than if they had no being; and this is the grand reason why the generality of men suffer their affections to go after the world, setting the creature in the place of God in their hearts.
Most men judge of the reality of things by their visibility and proximity to sense; and, therefore, the choice of that wretched cardinal becomes their option, who would not leave his part xxxin Paris for his part in Paradise. Sure, whatever his interest might be in the former, he had little enough in the latter. Well may covetousness be called idolatry, when it thus chooses the world for its god.
O! consider—eternity is no dream; hell and the worm that never dies, is no melancholy conceit. Heaven is no feigned Elysium; there is the greatest reality imaginable in these things; though they are spiritual, and out of the ken of sense, yet they are real, and within the view of faith. “Look not therefore at the things which are seen, but look at the things which are not seen; for the things that are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
Fourthly, “Set a high rate upon thy soul.” What we lightly prize, we easily part with. Many men sell their souls at the rate of profane Esau’s birth-right, for a morsel of bread;” nay, “for that which,” in the sense of the Holy Ghost, “is not bread.” O consider thy soul is the most precious and invaluable jewel in the world; it is the most beautiful piece of God’s workmanship in the whole creation; it is that which bears the image of God, and which was bought with the blood of the Son of God; and shall we not set a value upon it, and count it precious?xxxi
The apostle Peter speaks of three very precious things:—
1. A precious Christ.
2. Precious Promises.
3. Precious Faith.
Now, the preciousness of all these lies in their usefulness to the soul. Christ is precious, as being the redeemer of precious souls,—the Promises are precious, as making over this precious Christ to precious souls,—Faith is precious, as bringing a precious soul to close with a precious Christ, as he is held forth in the precious promises. O take heed that thou art not found overvaluing other things, and undervaluing thy soul. Shall thy flesh, nay thy beast, be loved, and shall thy soul be slighted? Wilt thou clothe and pamper thy body, and yet take no care of thy soul? This is, as if a man should feed his dog, and starve his child. “Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats; but God will destroy both it and them.” O let not a tottering, perishing carcass have all your time and care, as if the life and salvation of thy soul were not worth the while.
Lastly, “Meditate much on the strictness and suddenness of that judgment-day, through which thou and I must pass into an everlasting state; wherein God, the impartial judge, will require an xxxiiaccount at our hands of all our talents and intrustments.” We must then account for time, how we have spent that; for estate, how we have employed that; for strength, how we have laid out that; for afflictions and mercies, how they have been improved; for the relations we stood in here, how they have been discharged; and for seasons and means of grace, how they have been husbanded. And look, how “we have sowed here, we shall reap hereafter.”
Reader, these are things that of all others deserve most of, and call loudest for, our utmost care and endeavors, though by the most least minded. To consider what a spirit of atheism of we may judge the tree by the fruits, and the principle by the practice) the hearts of most men are filled with, who live, as if God were not to be served, nor Christ to be sought, nor lust to be mortified, nor self to be denied, nor the Scripture to be believed, nor the judgment-day to be minded, nor hell to be feared, nor heaven to be desired, nor the soul to be valued; but give up themselves to a worse than brutish sensuality, “to work all uncleanness with greediness,” living without God in the world—this is a meditation fit enough to break our hearts, if at least we were of holy David’s temper, who “beheld the transgressors, xxxiiiand was grieved,” and had “rivers of waters running down his eyes, because men kept not God’s laws.”
The prevention and correction of this soul-destroying distemper, is not the least design of this Treatise now put into thy hand. Though the chief virtue of this receipt lies in its sovereign use to assuage and cure the swelling tympany of hypocrisy, yet it may serve also, with God’s blessing, as a plaster for the plague-sore of profaneness, if timely applied by serious meditation, and carefully kept on by constant prayer.
Reader, expect nothing of curiosity or quaintness, for then I shall deceive thee; but if thou wouldst have a touch-stone for the trial of thy state, possibly this may serve thee. If thou art either a stranger to a profession, or a hypocrite under a profession, then read and tremble, for thou art the man here pointed at.
—Mutato nomine de te
But if the kingdom of God be come with power into thy soul; if Christ be formed in thee; if thy heart be upright and sincere with God, then read and rejoice.
I fear I have transgressed the bounds of an xxxivepistle. The mighty God, whose prerogative it is to teach to profit, whether by the tongue or the pen, by speaking or writing, bless this tract, that it may be to thee as a cloud of rain to the dry ground, dropping fatness to thy soul, that so thy fleece being watered with the “dew of heaven,” thou mayest “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” In whom I am thy
Friend and Servant,
London, October, 1661,21
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