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How far may a man go in the way to heaven, and yet be but almost a Christian?
Answer. This I will show you in twenty several steps.
I. A man may have much knowledge, much light; he may know much of God and his will, much of Christ and his ways, and yet be but almost a Christian.
For though there can be no grace without knowledge, yet there may be much knowledge where there is no grace; illumination often goes before, when conversion never follows after. The subject of knowledge is the understanding; the subject of holiness is the will. Now a man may have his understanding enlightened, and yet his will not at all sanctified. He may have an understanding to know God, and yet want a will to obey God. The apostle tells us of some, that, “when they knew God, they glorified him not as God.”
To make a man altogether a Christian, there must be light in the head, and beat in the heart; knowledge in the understanding, and zeal in the 42affections. Some have zeal and no knowledge; that is, blind devotion; some have knowledge and no zeal; that is, fruitless speculation: but where knowledge is joined with zeal, that makes a true Christian.
Objection. But is it not said, This is life eternal—to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent?”
Answer. It is not every knowledge of God and Christ, that interests the soul in life eternal. For why then do the devils perish; they have more knowledge of God than all the men in the world; for though, by their fall, they lost their holiness, yet they lost not their knowledge. They are called δαιμονες, from their knowledge, and yet they are διαβολοι, from their malice, devils still.
Knowledge may fill the head, but it will never better the heart, if there be not somewhat else. The Pharisees had much knowledge: “Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God, and knowest his will,” &c., and yet they were a generation of hypocrites. Alas! how many have gone loaded with knowledge to hell!
Though it is true, that it is life eternal to know God and Jesus Christ; yet it is as true, that many do know God and Jesus Christ, that shall 43never see life eternal. There is, you must know, a twofold knowledge; the one is common, but not saving; the other is not common, but saving: common knowledge is that which floats in the head, but does not influence the heart. This knowledge, reprobates may have; “Balaam saw Christ from the top of the rocks, and from the hills.”
Naturalists say, that there is a pearl in the toad’s head, and yet her belly is full of poison. The French have a berry which they call uve de spine, the grape of a thorn. The common knowledge of Christ is the pearl in the toad’s head—the grape that grows upon thorns; it may be found in men unsanctified.
And then there is a saving knowledge of God and Christ, which includes the assent of the mind, and the consent of the will; this is a knowledge that implies faith; “By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many.” And this is that knowledge which leads to life eternal: now whatever that measure of knowledge is, which a man may have of God, and of Jesus Christ, yet if it be not this saving knowledge—knowledge joined with affection and application—he is but almost a Christian.
He only knows God aright, who knows how to 44obey him, and obeys according to his knowledge of him: “A good understanding have all they that do his commandments.” All knowledge without this makes a man but like Nebuchadnezzar’s image, with “a head of gold, and feet of clay.”
Some know, but to know.
Some know, to be known.
Some know, to practise what they know.
Now, to know, but to know—that is curiosity.
To know, to be known—that is vain glory.
But to know, to practise what we know—that is gospel duty. This makes a man a complete Christian; the other, without this, makes a man almost, and yet but almost a Christian.
II. A man may have great and eminent gifts, yea, spiritual gifts, and yet be but almost a Christian.
The gift of prayer is a spiritual gift. Now this a man may have, and yet be but almost a Christian: for the gift of prayer is one thing; the grace of prayer is another. The gift of preaching and prophesying is a spiritual gift; now this a man may have, and yet be but almost a Christian. Judas was a great preacher.; so were they that came to Christ, and said, “Lord, Lord, we have 45prophesied in thy name, and in thy name have cast out devils,” &c.
You must know that it is not gifts, but grace, which makes a Christian: For,
1. Gifts are from a common work of the Spirit. Now a man may partake of all the common gifts of the Spirit, and yet be a reprobate; for therefore they are called common, because they are indifferently dispensed by the Spirit to good and bad; to them that are believers, and to them that are not.
They that have grace have gifts; and they that have no grace, may have the same gifts; for the Spirit works in both; nay, in this sense he that hath no grace, may be under a greater work of the Spirit (quod hoc) as to this thing, than he that hath most grace; a graceless professor may have greater gifts than the most holy believer: he may out-pray, and out-preach, and out-do them; but they in sincerity and integrity out-go him.
2. Gifts are for the use and good of others, they are given in ordinem alium, as the schoolmen speak, for the profiting and edifying of others: so says the apostle, “they are given to profit withal.” Now a man may edify another by his gifts, and yet be unedified. himself; he may 46be profitable to another, and yet unprofitable to himself.
The raven was an unclean bird: God makes use of her to feed Elijah; though she was not good meat, yet it was good meat she brought. A lame man may with his crutch point to the right way, and yet not be able to walk in it himself. A crooked tailor may make a suit to fit a straight body, though it fit not him that made it, because of his crookedness. The church (Christ’s garden inclosed) may be watered through a wooden gutter; the sun may give light through a dusky window; and the field may be well sowed with a dirty hand.
The efficacy of the word doth not depend upon the authority of him that speaks it, but upon the authority of God that blesses it. So that another may be converted by my preaching, and yet I may be cast away notwithstanding. Balaam makes a clear and rare prophecy of Christ, and yet he hath no benefit by Christ: “There shall come a star out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel;”—-but yet Balaam shall have no benefit by it: “I shall see him, but not now; I shall behold him, but not nigh.”
God may use a man’s gifts to bring another to Christ, when he himself, whose gifts God uses, 47may be a stranger unto Christ; one man may confirm another in the faith, and yet himself may be a stranger to the faith. Pendleton strengthens and confirms Sanders, in Queen Mary’s days, to stand in the truth he had preached, and to seal it with his blood, and yet afterwards plays the apostate himself.
Scultetus tells us of one Johannes Speiserus, a famous preacher of Augsburg in Germany, in the year 1523, who preached the gospel so powerfully that divers common harlots were converted, and became good Christians; and yet himself afterwards turned papist and came to a miserable end. Thus the candle may burn bright to light others in their work, and yet afterwards go out in a stink.
3. It is beyond the power of the greatest gifts to change the heart; a man may preach like an apostle, pray like an angel, and yet may have the heart of a devil. It is grace only that can change the heart; the greatest gifts cannot change it, but the least grace can; gifts may make a man a scholar, but grace makes a man a believer. Now if gifts cannot change the heart, then a man may have the greatest gifts, and yet be but almost a Christian.
4. Many have gone laden with gifts to hell; no doubt Judas had great gifts, for he was a preacher 48of the gospel; and our Lord Jesus Christ would not set him to work, and not fit him for the work; yet “Judas is gone to his own place:” the Scribes and Pharisees were men of great gifts, and yet, “where is the wise? where is the scribe?”
“The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness.” Them that perish, who are they? Who I the wise and the learned, both among Jews and Greeks; these are called “them that perish.” A great bishop said, when he saw a poor shepherd weeping over a toad: “The poor illiterate world attain to heaven, while we with all our learning fall into hell.”
There are three things must be done for us, if ever we would avoid perishing.
We must be thoroughly convinced of sin.
We must be really united to Christ.
We must be instated in the covenant of grace.
Now, the greatest gifts cannot stead us in any of these.
They cannot work thorough convictions.
They cannot effect our union.
They cannot bring us into covenant-relation.
And consequently, they cannot preserve us from eternally perishing; and if so, then a man may have the greatest gifts, and yet be but almost a Christian.49
5. Gifts may decay and perish: they do not lie beyond the reach of corruption; indeed grace shall never perish, but gifts will: grace is incorruptible, though gifts are. not; grace is “a spring, whose waters fail not,” but the streams of gifts may be dried up. If grace be corruptible in its own nature, as being but a creature, yet it is incorruptible in regard of its conserver, as being the new creature; he that did create it in us, will conserve it in us; he that did begin it will also finish it.
Gifts have their root in nature, but grace hath its roots in Christ; and therefore though gifts may die and wither, yet grace shall abide forever. Now if gifts are perishing, then, though he that hath the least grace is a Christian, he that hath the greatest gifts may be but almost a Christian.
Objection. But doth not the apostle bid us “covet earnestly the best gifts?” Why must we covet them, and covet them earnestly, if they avail not to salvation?
Answer. Gifts are good, though they are not the best good; they are excellent, but there is somewhat more excellent, so it follows in the same verse, “Yet I show unto you a more excellent way,” and that is the way of grace. One dram of grace is more worth than a talent of 50gifts: gifts may make us rich towards men, but it is grace that makes us “rich towards God.” Our gifts profit others, but grace profits ourselves; that whereby I profit another is good, but that by which I am profited myself is better.
Now because gifts are good, therefore we ought to covet them; but because they are not the best good, therefore we ought not to rest in them: we must covet gifts for the good of others, that they may be edified; and we must covet grace for the good of our own souls, that they may be saved; for whosoever be bettered by our gifts, yet we shall miscarry without grace.
III. A man may have a high profession of religion, be much in external duties of godliness, and yet be but almost a Christian.
Mark what our Lord tells them, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven;” that is, not every one that makes a profession of Christ, shall therefore be owned for a true disciple of Christ. “All are not Israel that are of Israel;” nor are all Christians that make a profession of religion.
What a godly profession had Judas! he followed Christ, left all for Christ, he preached the gospel of Christ, he cast out devils in the name of Christ, 51he eat and drank at the table of Christ; and yet Judas was but a hypocrite.
Most professors are like lilies, fair in show, but foul in scent; or like pepper, hot in the mouth, but cold in the stomach. The finest lace may be upon the coarsest cloth.
It is a great deceit to measure the substance of our religion by the bulk of our profession, and to judge of the strength of our graces by the length of our duties. The Scriptures speak of some who having “a form of godliness, yet deny the power thereof.” Deny the power; that is, they do not live in the practice of those graces to which they pretend in their duties; he that pretends to godliness by a specious profession, and yet doth not practise godliness by a holy conversation, he hath a form, but denies the power.” Grotius compares such to the ostrich, which hath great wings, but yet flies not. Many have the wings of a fair profession, but yet use them not to mount upward in spiritual affections, and a heavenly conversation.
But to clear the truth of this, that a man may make a high profession of religion, and yet be but almost a Christian, take a fourfold evidence.
1. If a man may profess religion, and yet never have his heart changed, nor his state bettered, 52then he may be a great professor, and yet be but almost a Christian. But a man may profess religion, and yet never have his heart changed, nor his state renewed. He may be a constant hearer of the word, and yet be a sinner still; he may come often to the Lord’s table, and yet go away a sinner as he came; we must not think that duties can confer grace.
Many a soul hath been converted by Christ in an ordinance, but never was any soul converted by an ordinance without Christ. And doth Christ convert all that sit under the ordinances? Surely not; for to some, “the word is a savor of death unto death.” And if so, then it is plain, that a man may profess religion, and yet be but almost a Christian.
2. A man may profess religion, and live in a form of godliness in hypocrisy. “Hear ye this, O house of Jacob, which are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah; which swear by the name of the Lord, and make mention of the God of Israel, but not in truth, nor in righteousness.” What do you think of these? “They make mention of the name of the Lord, there is their profession but not in truth; nor in righteousness,” there is their dissimulation: and indeed there could be no hypocrisy 53in a religious sense, were it not for a profession of religion; for he that is wicked and carnal, and vile inwardly, and appears to be so outwardly, he is no hypocrite, but is what he appears, and appears what lie is. But he that is one thing really, and another thing seemingly, is carnal and unholy, and yet seems to be good and holy, he is a hypocrite.
Thus the Casuists define hypocrisy to be a counterfeiting of holiness; and this fits exactly with the Greek word, which is, to counterfeit.
And to this purpose, the Hebrews have two words for hypocrites; panim, which signifies faces; and chanepim, which signifies counterfeits; from chanaph, to dissemble: so that he is a hypocrite that dissembles religion, and weareth the face of holiness, and yet is without the grace of holiness. He appears to be in semblance, what he is not in substance; he wears a form of godliness without, only as a cover of a profane heart within. He hath a profession that he may not be thought wicked; but it is but a profession, and therefore he is wicked. He is the religious hypocrite; religious, because he pretends to it; and yet a hypocrite, because he doth but pretend to it. He is like many men in a consumption, that have fresh looks, and yet rotten lungs; or like an apple that hath a fair skin, but 54a rotten core. Many appear righteous, who are, only righteous in appearance. And if so, then a man may profess religion, and yet be but almost a Christian.
3. Custom and fashion may make a man a professor; as you have many that wear this or that garb, not because it keeps them warmer, or hath any excellency in it more than another, but merely for fashion.
Many must have powdered hair, spotted faces, feathers in their caps, &c. for no other end, but because they would be fools in fashion. So, many profess Christianity—not because the means of grace warm the heart, or that they see any excellencies in the ways of God above the world, but—merely to follow the fashion! I wish I might not say, it hath been true of our days, because religion hath been uppermost, therefore many have professed; it hath been the gaining trade, and then most will be of that trade.
Religion in credit makes many professors, but few proselytes; but when religion suffers, then its confessors are no more than its converts; for custom makes the former, but conscience the latter. He that is a professor of religion merely for custom-sake, when it prospers, will never be a martyr for Christ’s sake, when religion suffers. He that 55owns the truth, to live upon that, will disown it, when it comes to live upon him.
They say, that when a house is decaying or falling, all the rats and mice will forsake it; while the house is firm, and they may shelter in the roof, they will stay, but no longer; lest, in the decay, the fall should be upon them, and they that lived at top should die at bottom. My brethren, may I not say, we have many that are the vermin, the rats and mice of religion, that would live under the roof of it, while they might have shelter in it; but when it suffers, forsake it, lest it should fall, and the fall should be upon them? I am persuaded this is not the least reason why God hath brought the wheel upon the profession of religion; namely to rid it of the vermin. He shakes the foundations of the house, that these rats and mice may quit the roof; not to overturn it, but to rid them of it; as the husbandman fans the wheat, that he may get rid of the chaff. The halcyon days of the gospel provoke hypocrisy, but the sufferings for religion prove sincerity.
Now, then, if custom and fashion make many men professors, then a man may profess religion, and yet be but almost a Christian.
4. If many may perish under a profession of 56godliness, then a man may profess religion and yet be but almost a Christian.
Now, the Scripture is clear, that a man may perish under the highest profession of religion. Christ cursed the fig-tree, that had leaves and no fruit. It is said, that “the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness.” Who were these, but they that were then the only people of God in the world by profession, that had made a “covenant with him by sacrifice”—and yet these were cast out.
In St. Matthew, you read of some that came and made boast of their profession to Christ, hoping that might save them. “Lord,” say they, “have we not prophesied in thy name, cast out devils in thy name, done many wonderful works in thy name?” Now what saith our Lord Christ to this? “Then I will profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from me.”
Mark, here are they that prophesy in his name, and yet perish in his wrath; in his name cast out devils, and then are cast out themselves; in his name do many wonderful works, and yet perish for wicked workers. The profession of religion will no more keep a man from perishing, than calling a ship the Safe-guard, or the Good-speed, will keep her from drowning. As many go to 57heaven with the fear of hell in their hearts, so many go to hell with the name of Christ in their mouths. Now then, if many may perish under a profession of godliness, then may a man be a high professor of religion, and yet be but almost a Christian.
Objection. But is it not said by the Lord Christ himself, “He that confesses me before men, him will I confess before my Father in heaven?” Now, for Christ to say, he will confess us before the Father, is equivalent to a promise of eternal life: for if Jesus Christ confess us, God the Father will never disown us.
True, they that confess Christ, shall be confessed by him; and it is as true, that this confession is equivalent to a promise of salvation. But now you must know, that professing Christ, is not confessing him: for to profess Christ is one thing —to confess Christ is another. Confession is a living testimony for Christ, in a time when religion suffers; profession may be only a lifeless formality, in a time when religion prospers. To confess Christ, is to choose his ways, and own them. To profess Christ, is to plead for his ways, and yet live beside them. Profession may be from a feigned love to the ways of Christ; but confession is from a rooted love to the person of Christ. To profess Christ, is to own him when none deny 58him; to confess Christ, is to plead for him, and. suffer for him, when others oppose him. Hypocrites may be professors; but the martyrs are the true confessors. Profession is a swimming down the stream. Confession is a swimming against the stream. Now many may swim with the stream, like the dead fish, that cannot swim against the stream, with the living fish. Many may profess Christ, that cannot confess Christ; and so, notwithstanding their profession, yet are but almost Christians.
IV. To come yet nearer; a man may go far in opposing his sin, and yet be but almost a Christian.
How far a man may go in this work, I shall show you in seven gradual instances.
First, A man may be convinced of sin, and yet be but almost a Christian: for,
1. Conviction may be rational, as well as spiritual; it may be from a natural conscience enlightened by the word, without the effectual work of the Spirit, applying sin to the heart.
2, Convictions may be worn out; they many times go off, and end not in sound conversion. Saith the church, “We have been with child, we have been in pain, we have brought forth wind.” This is the complaint of the church, in reference to the unprofitableness of their afflictions; and it 59may be the complaint in most, in reference to the unprofitableness of their convictions.
3. Many take conviction of sin, to be conversion from sin; and to sit down and rest in their convictions. That is a sad complaint God makes of Ephraim “Ephraim is an unwise son; for he should not stay long in the place of the breaking forth of children.” Now then, if convictions may be only from natural conscience; if they may be worn out, or may be mistaken, and rested in for conversion, then a man may have convictions, and be but almost a Christian.
Secondly, A man may mourn for sin, and yet be but almost a Christian. So did Saul; so did Esau, for the loss of his birthright, which was his sin, and therefore he is called, by the Spirit of God, “profane Esau;” yet, “he sought it again carefully with tears.”
Objection. But doth not Christ pronounce them blessed that mourn? “Blessed are they that mourn.” Sure then, if a man mourn for sin, he is in a good condition: you see, saith Nazianzen, that salvation is joined with sorrow.
Solution. I answer, it is true, that they who mourn for sin, in the sense Christ there speaks of, are blessed; but all mourning for sin, doth not therefore render us blessed.60
1. True mourning for sin must flow from spiritual convictions of the evil, and vileness, and damnable nature of sin. Now, all that mourn for sin, do not do it from a thorough work of spiritual conviction upon the soul; they have not a right sense of the evil and vileness of sin.
2. True mourning for sin, is more for the evil that is in sin, than the evil that comes by sin; more because it dishonors God, and wounds Christ, and grieves the Spirit, and makes the soul unlike God, than because it damns the soul. Now there are many that mourn for sin, not so much for the evil that is in it, as for the evil that it brings with it; there is mourning for sin in hell; you read of “weeping and wailing” there. The damned are weeping and mourning to eternity; there, is all sorrow, and no comfort. As in heaven there is peace without trouble, joy without mourning; so in hell there is trouble without peace, mourning without joy, weeping and wailing incessantly; but it is for the evil they feel by sin, and not for the evil that is in sin; so that a man may mourn for sin, and yet be but almost a Christian: it may grieve him to think of perishing for sin, when it does not grieve him that he is defiled and polluted by sin.
Thirdly, A man may make large confession of 61sin, to God, to others, and yet be but almost a Christian.
How ingenuously doth Saul confess his sin to David? “I have sinned,” saith he, “thou art more righteous than I! Behold, I have played the fool, and have erred exceedingly.” So Judas makes a full confession: “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.” Yet Saul and Judas were both rejected of God; so that a man may confess sin, and yet be but almost a Christian.
Objection. But is not a confession of sin a character of a child of God? Doth not the apostle say, “If we confess our sins, God is just and faithful to forgive them;” no man was ever kept out of heaven for his confessed badness, though many are kept out of heaven for their supposed goodness.
Judah, in. Hebrew, signifies confession; now Judah got the kingdom from Reuben; confession of sin is the way to the kingdom of heaven.
There are some that confess sin, and are saved; there are others that confess sin, and perish.
1. Many confess sin merely out of custom, and not out of conscience; you shall have many that will-never pray, but they will make a long confession of sin, and yet never feel the weight or burden of it upon their consciences.
2. Many will confess lesser sins, and yet conceal greater; like the patient in Plutarch, that complained to his physician of his finger, when his liver was rotten.
3. Many will confess sin in the general, or confess themselves sinners; and yet see little, and say less of their particular sins; an implicit confession, as one saith, is almost as bad as an implicit faith.
Where confession is right, it will be distinct, especially of those sins that were our chief sins. So David confesses his blood-guiltiness and adultery: so Paul his blasphemy, persecution, and injury against the saints. It is bad to hear men confess they are great sinners, and yet cannot confess their sins. Though the least sin be too bad to be committed, yet there is no sin too bad to be confessed.
4. Many will confess sin, but it is only under extremity, that is, not free and voluntary. Pharaoh confesses his sin, but it was when judgment compelled him. “I have sinned against the Lord,” saith he; but it was when he had had eight plagues upon him.
5. Many do by their sins as mariners do by their goods, cast them out in a storm, wishing for them again in a calm. Confession should 63come like water out of a spring, which runs freely; not like water out of a still, which is forced by fire.
6. Many confess their sins, but with no intent to forsake sin; they confess the sins they have committed, but do not leave the sins they have confessed.
Many men use their confession as Lewis the eleventh of France did his crucifix; he would swear an oath, and then kiss it; and swear again, and then kiss it again. So many sin, and then confess they do not well, but yet never strive to do better.
Mr. Torsel tells a story of a minister he knew, that would be often drunk, and when he came into the pulpit, would confess it very lamentingly; and yet no sooner was he out of the pulpit, but he would be drunk again; and this would he do as constantly as men follow their trades.
Now then, if a man may confess sin merely out of custom; if he may confess lesser sins, and yet conceal greater; if he may confess sin only in the general, or only under extremity, or if he may confess sin without any intent to forsake sin, then surely a man may confess sin, and yet be but almost a Christian.
Fourthly, A man may forsake sin, and yet be but almost a Christian; he may leave his lust, 64and his wicked ways, which he sometimes lived in, and in the judgment of the world become a new man, and yet not be a new creature. Simon Magus, when he hears Philip preaching concerning the kingdom of God, leaves his sorcery and witchcraft, and believes.
Objection. But you will say, this seems contrary to Scripture; for that says, “He that confesseth and forsaketh sin, shall have mercy;” but I confess sin, yea, not only so, but also I forsake sin; sure therefore this mercy is my portion, it belongs to me.
Answer. It is true, that where a soul forsakes sin from a right principle, after a right manner, to a right end; where he forsakes sin as sin, as being contrary to God, and the purity of his nature—this declares that soul to be right with God, and the promise shall be made good to it, “He shall find mercy.”
But now pray mind, there is a forsaking sin that is not right, but unsound.
1. Open sins may be deserted, and yet secret sins may be retained; now this is not a right forsaking; such a soul shall never find mercy. A man may be cured of a wound in his flesh, and yet may die of an imposthume in his bowels.
2. A man may forsake sin, but not as sin; for 65he that forsakes sin as sin, forsakes all sin. It is impossible for a man to forsake sin as sin, unless he forsakes all that he knows to be sin.
3. A man may let one sin go to hold another the faster; as a man that goes to sea, would willingly save all his goods; but if the storm arises that he cannot, then he throws some overboard to lighten the vessel, and save the rest. So did they, Acts xxvii. 38. So the sinner chooses to keep all his sins; but if a storm arises in his conscience, why then he will heave one lust overboard, to save the life of another.
4. A man may let all sin go, and yet be a sinner still; for there is the root of all sin in the heart, though the fruit be not seen in the life; the tree lives, though the boughs be lopped off. As a man is a sinner, before ever he acts sin, so (till grace renews him) he is a sinner, though he leaves sin; for there is original sin in him enough to damn and destroy him.
5. Sin may be left, and yet be loved; a man may forsake the life of sin, and yet retain the love of sin: now, though leaving sin makes him almost a Christian, yet loving sin shows he is but almost a Christian. It is a less evil to do sin, and not love it, than to love sin and not do it; for to do sin may argue only weakness of grace, but 66to love sin argues strength of lust. “What I hate, that I do.” Sin is bad in any part of man, but sin in the affection is worse than sin in the conversation; for sin in the conversation may be only from infirmity, but sin in the affection is the fruit of choice and unregeneracy.
6. All sin may be chained, and yet the heart not changed; and so the nature of the sinner is the same as ever. A dog chained up, is a dog still, as much as if he was let loose to devour.
There may be a cessation of arms between enemies, and yet the quarrel may remain on foot still: there may be a making truce, where there is no making peace.
A sinner may lay the weapons of sin out of his hand, and yet the enmity against God still remain in his heart. There may be a truce—he may not sin against him; but there can be no peace till he be united to him.
Restraining grace holds in the sinner, but it is renewing grace that changes his nature. Now. many are held in by grace from being open sinners, that are not renewed by grace, and made true believers.
Now then, if a man may forsake open sins, and retain secret sins; if he may forsake sin, but not as sin; if he may let one sin go, to hold another 67the faster; if a man may let all sin go, and yet be a sinner still; if sin may be left, and yet be loved: finally, if all sin may be chained, and yet the heart not changed;—then a man may forsake sin, and yet be but almost a Christian.
V. A man may hate sin, and yet be but almost a Christian.
Absalom hated Amnon’s uncleanness with his sister Tamar: yea, his hatred was so great, that he slew him for it; and yet Absalom was but a wicked man.
Objection. But the Scripture makes it a sign of a gracious heart, to hate sin; yea, though a man do, through infirmities, fall into sin, yet if he hates it, this is a proof of grace. Paul proves the sincerity of his heart, and the truth of his grace, by this hatred of sin, though he committed it: “What I hate, that I do.” Nay, what is grace but a conformity of the soul to God; to love as God loves, to hate as God hates? Now God hates sin: it is one part of his holiness to hate all sin. And if I hate sin, then am I conformed to God: and if I am conformed to God, then am I altogether a Christian.
Answer. It is true, that there is a hatred of sin, which is a sign of grace, and which flows from 68a principle of grace, and is grace. As for instance:
To hate sin, as it is an offence to God, a wrong to his majesty; to hate ’sin, as it is a breach of the command, and so a wicked controlling of God’s will, which is the only rule of goodness; to hate sin, as being a disingenuous transgression of that law of love established in the blood and death of Christ, and so, in a degree, a crucifying of Christ afresh. To hate sin, as being a grieving and quenching the Spirit of God, as all sin in its nature is.—Thus to hate sin, is grace; and thus every true Christian hates sin.
But, though every man that hath grace hates sin, yet every man that hates sin hath not grace: for, a man may hate sin from other principles, not as it is a wrong to God, or a wounding Christ, or a grieving the Spirit; for then he would hate all sin; for there is no sin but hath this in the nature of it. But,
1. A man may hate sin for the shame that attends it, more than for the evil that is in it. Some sinners there are, “who declare their sin as Sodom, and hide it not.” They are set down in the seat of the scornful; “they glory in their shame.” But now others there are who are ashamed of sin, and therefore hate it, not for the sin’s sake, but 69for the shame’s sake. This made Absalom hate Amnon’s uncleanness, because it brought shame upon him and his sister.
2. A man may hate sin more in others, than in himself: so doth the drunkard—he hates drunkenness in another, and yet practises it himself! the liar hates falsehood in another, but likes it himself. Now he that hates sin from a principle of grace, hates sin most in himself; he hates sin in others, but he loathes most the sins of his own heart.
3. A man may hate one sin as being contrary to another. There is a great contrariety between sin and sin, between lust and lust; it is the excellency of the life of grace, that it is a uniform life; there is no one grace contrary to another. The graces of God’s Spirit are different, but not differing. Faith, and love, and holiness, are all one: they consist together at the same time, in the same subject; nay, they cannot be parted. There can be no faith without love, no love without holiness; and so, on the other hand, no holiness without love; no love without faith. So that this makes the life of grace an easy and excellent life; but now the life of sin is a distracting contradictious life, wherein a man is a servant to contrary lusts: the lust of pride and prodigality is contrary 70to the lust of covetousness, &c. Now, where one lust gets to be the master-lust of the soul, then that works a hatred of its contrary. Where covetousness gets the heart, there the heart hates pride; and where pride gets uppermost in the heart, there the heart hates covetousness. Thus a man may hate sin, not from a principle of grace, but from the contrariety of lust. He does not hate any sin, as it is sin; but he hates it, as being contrary to his beloved sin.
Now then, if a man may hate sin for the shame that attends it; if he may hate sin more in others than himself; if he may hate one sin as being contrary to another;—then he may hate sin, and yet be but almost a Christian.
VI. A man may make great vows and promises—he may have strong purposes and resolutions against sin, and yet be but almost a Christian.
Thus did Saul; he promises and resolves against his sin: “Return, my son David,” saith he, “for I will no more do thee harm.” What promises and resolves did Pharaoh make against that sin of detaining God’s people?—saith he, “I will let the people go, that they may do sacrifice to the Lord.” And again, “I will let ye go, and ye shall stay no longer.” And yet Saul and Pharaoh both perished in their sins. The greatest 71purposes and promises against sin will not make a man a Christian: for,
1. Purposes and promises against sin, never hurt sin: we say, “threatened folks live long;” and truly so do threatened sins. It is not new purposes, but a new nature, that must help us against sin: purposes may bring to the birth, but without a new nature, there is no strength to bring forth. The new nature is the best soil for holy purposes to grow in; otherwise, they wither and die, like plants in an improper soil.
2. Troubles and afflictions may provoke us to large purposes and promises against sin for the future. What more common, than to vow, and not to pay? to make vows in the day of trouble, which we make no conscience to pay in the day of grace? Many covenant against sin, when trouble is upon them; and then sin against their covenant, when it is removed from them. It was a brave rule that Pliny, in one of his epistles, gave his friend to live by, “That we should continue to be such when we are well, as we promise to be when we are sick.” Many are our sick-bed promises, but we are no sooner well, than we grow sick of our promises.
3. Purposes and resolves against sin for the future, may be only a temptation to put off repentance 72for the present. Satan may put a man on to good purposes, to keep him from present attempts. He knows whatever we purpose, yet the strength of performance is not in ourselves. He knows, that purposes for the future are a putting God off for the present; they are a secret will not, to a present opportunity. That is a notable passage, “Follow me,” saith Christ, to the two men. Now see what answers they gave to Christ;—“Suffer me first to go and bury my father,” says one. This man purposes to follow Christ, only he would stay to bury his father. Says the other, “Lord, I will follow thee, but let me first go and bid them farewell which are at my house:” I will follow thee, but only I would first go and take my leave of my friends, or set my house in order; and yet we do not find that ever they followed Christ notwithstanding their fair purposes.
4. Nature unsanctified may be so far wrought on, as to make great promises and purposes against sin.
1st, A natural man may have great convictions of sin, from the workings of an enlightened conscience.
2d, He may approve of the law of God.
3d, He may have a desire to be saved.73
Now these three together—the workings of conscience; the sight of the goodness of the law; a desire to be saved,—may bring forth in a man great purposes against sin, and yet he may have no heart to perform his own purposes. This was much like the case of them—say they to Moses, “Go thou near, and hear all that the Lord our God shall say: and tell thou it to us, and we will hear it, and do it.” This is a fair promise, and so God takes it: “I have heard the words of this people; they have well said all they have spoken.” So said, and so done, had been well; but it was better said than done; for though they had a tongue to promise, yet they had no heart to perform; and this God saw: therefore said he, “O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep my commandments always, that it might be well with them!” They promised to fear God, and keep his commandments; but they wanted a new heart to perform what an unsanctified heart had promised. It fares with men in this case, as it did with that son in the gospel, that said, He would go into the vineyard, but went not.”
Now then, if purposes and promises against sin, never hurt sin; if present afflictions may draw out large promises; if they may be the 74fruit of a temptation—or, if from nature unsanctified surely then a man may promise and purpose much against sin, and yet be but almost a Christian.
VII. A man may maintain a strife and combat against sin in himself, and yet be but almost a Christian. So did Balaam when he went to curse the people of God, he had a great strife within himself. “How shall I curse,” saith he, “whom God hath not cursed? or how shall I defy whom the Lord hath not defied?” And did not Pilate strive against his sin, when he said to the Jews, “Shall I crucify your king? what evil hath he done. I am innocent of the blood of this just man.”
Objection. But you will say, “Is not this an argument of grace, when there is a striving in the soul against sin? for what should oppose sin in the heart but grace? The apostle makes “the lusting of the flesh against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh,” to be an argument of grace in the heart. Now I find this strife in my heart, though the remainders of corruption sometimes break out into actual sins, yet I find a striving in my soul against sin.
Answer. It is true, there is a striving against sin, which is only from grace, and is proper to 75believers; and there is a striving against sin, which is not from grace, and therefore may be in them that are not believers.. There is a strife against sin in one and the same faculty; the will against the will—the affection against the affection; and this is that which the apostle calls “the lusting of the flesh against the spirit;” that is, the striving of the unregenerate part against the regenerate; and this is ever in the same faculty, and is proper to believers only.
An unbeliever never finds this strife in himself. This strife cannot be in him; it is impossible, as such; that is, while he is on this side a state of grace. But then there is a striving against sin in divers faculties; and this is the strife that is in them that are not believers. There, the strife is between the will and the conscience; conscience enlightened and terrified with the fear of hell and damnation—that is against sin the will and affection, not being renewed, they are for sin. And this causes great tugging and combats many times in the sinner’s heart. Thus it was with the Scribes and Pharisees. Conscience convinced them of the divinity of Christ, and of the truth of his being the Son of God; and yet a perverse will, and carnal affections, cry out, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”—Conscience pleaded for him. 76He had a witness in their bosoms; and yet their wills were bent against him: and therefore they are said “to have resisted the Spirit;” namely, the workings and convictions of the Spirit in their consciences. And this is the case of many sinners: when the will and affections are for sin, and plead for it, conscience is against it, and many times frights the soul from the doing of it. And hence men take that which opposes sin in them to be grace, when it is only the work of a natural conscience. They conclude the strife is between grace and sin—the regenerate and unregenerate part; when, alas.! it is no other than the contention of a natural conscience against a corrupt will and affections.—And if so, then a man may have great strifes and combats against sin in him; and yet be but almost a Christian.
5. A man may desire grace, and yet be but almost a Christian. So did the five foolish virgins: “Give us of your oil.” What was that but true grace? It was that oil that lighted the wise virgins into the bridegroom’s chamber. They do not only desire to enter in, but they desire oil to light them in. Wicked men may desire heaven—desire a Christ to save them; there is none so wicked upon earth, but desire to be happy in heaven. But now here are they that desire grace 77as well as glory, and yet these are but almost Christians.
Objection. But is it not commonly taught that desires of grace are grace? nay, doth not our Lord Christ make it so?—“Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled.”
Answer. It is true, that there are some desires of grace which are grace: as,
1. When a man desires grace from a right sense of his natural state; when he sees the vileness of sin, and the woful, defiled, and loathsome condition he is in by reason of sin; and therefore desires the grace of Christ to renew and change him,—this is grace. This some make to be the lowest degree of saving faith.
2. When a man joins proportionable endeavors to his desires; doth not only wish for grace, but work for grace; such desires are grace.
3. When a man’s desires are constant and incessant, that cease not but in the attainment of their object; such desires are true grace. They are a part of the especial work of the Spirit. They do really partake of the nature of grace; now it is a known maxim, “that which partakes of the nature of the whole, is a part of the whole;” the filings of gold are gold. The sea is not more 78really water, than the least drop; the flame is not more really fire than the least spark.
But though all true desires of grace, are grace yet all desires of grace, are not true: for,
1. A man may desire grace, but not for itself, but for somewhat else; not for grace’s sake, but for heaven’s sake: he doth not desire grace, that his nature may be changed, his heart renewed, the image of God stamped upon him, and his lusts subdued in him. These are blessed desires, found only in true believers. The true Christian only can desire grace for grace’s sake; but the almost Christian may desire grace for heaven’s sake.
2. A man may desire grace without proportionable endeavors after grace; many are good at wishing, but bad at working; like him that lay in the grass on a summer’s day, crying out, “O that this were to work?” Solomon saith, “The desire of the slothful kills him.” How so? “For his hands refuse to labor;” He perisheth in his desires. The believer joins desires and endeavors together: “One thing have I desired of the Lord, and that will I seek after.”
3. A man’s desires of grace may be unseasonable: thus the foolish virgins desired oil when it was too late. The believer’s desires are seasonable; 79he desires grace in the season of grace, and seeks in a time when it may be found. “The wise man’s heart knows both time and judgment.” He knows his season, and hath wisdom to improve it. The silly sinner doth all his works out of season he sends away the seasons of grace, and then desires grace when the season is over. The sinner doth all too late; as Esau desired the blessing when it was too late, and therefore he lost it; whereas, had he come sooner, he had obtained it. Most men are like Epimetheus, wise too late, they come when the market is done; when the shop is closed, then they have their oil to get. When they lie upon their death-beds, then they desire holy hearts.
4. Desires of grace in many are very inconstant and fleeting, like the “morning dew, that quickly passes away:” or like Jonah’s gourd, that springs up in a night, and withers in a night: they have no root in the heart, and therefore quickly perish. Now, if a man may desire grace, but not for grace’s sake; if desires may be without endeavors; if a man may desire grace when it is too. late; if these desires may be but fleeting and inconstant; then may a man desire grace, and yet be but almost a Christian.
5. A man may tremble at the word of God and 80yet be but almost a Christian, as Belshazzar did at the handwriting upon the wall.
Objection. But is not that a note of sincerity and truth of grace, to tremble at the word? Both not God say, “To him will I look that is of a poor and contrite spirit, and trembles at my word?”
Answer. There is a two-fold trembling.
1. One is, when the word discovers the guilt of sin, and the wrath of God that belongs to that guilt; this, where conscience is awake, causes trembling and amazement: thus, when Paul preached of righteousness and judgment, it is said Felix trembled.
2. There is a trembling which arises from a holy dread and reverence of the majesty of God, speaking in his word; this is only found in true believers, and is that which keeps the soul low in its own eyes. Therefore mark how the words run: “To him will I look that is of a poor and contrite spirit, and trembles at my word.” God does not make the promise to him that trembles at the word; for the devils believe and tremble; the word of God can make the proudest, stoutest sinner in the world to shake and tremble,—but it is “to the poor and contrite spirit that trembles.” Where trembling is the fruit of a spirit broken for sin, and low in its own eyes; there will God look. 81Now many tremble at the word, but not from poverty of spirit, not from a heart broken for sin, and low in its own eyes;, not from a sense of the majesty and holiness of God: and therefore, notwithstanding they tremble at the word, yet they are but almost Christians.
3. A man may delight in the word and ordinances of God, and yet be but almost a Christian: “They take delight in approaching to God.” And it is said of that ground, that it “received the word with joy,” and yet it was but “stony ground.”
Objection. But is it not made a character of a godly man, to delight in the word of God? Doth not David say, “He is a blessed man that delights in the law of the Lord?”
Answer. There is a delighting in the word, which flows from grace, and is a proof of blessedness.
1. He that delights in the word, because of its spirituality, he is a Christian indeed; the more spiritual the ordinances are, the more doth a gracious heart delight in them.
2. When the word comes close to the conscience, rips up the heart, and discovers sin, and yet the soul delights in it notwithstanding; this is a sign of grace.82
3. When delight arises from that communion that is to be had with God there, this is from a principle of grace in the soul.
But there may be a delight in the word, where there is no grace.
1. There are many who delight in the word because of the eloquence of the preacher: they delight not so much in the truth delivered, as in the dress in which they are delivered. Thus it is said of the prophet Ezekiel, that he was to them “as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice.”
2. There are very many who delight to hear the word, that yet take no delight to do it: so saith God of them, “They delight to hear my words, but they do them not.”
Now then, if a man may delight in the word, more because of the eloquence of the preacher, than because of the spirituality of the matter; if he may delight to hear the word, and yet not delight to do it,—then he may delight in the word, and yet be but almost a Christian.
VIII. A man may be a member of the church of Christ, he may join himself to the people of God, partake with them in all ordinances, and share of all church privileges, and yet be but almost a Christian.83
So the five foolish virgins joined themselves to the wise, and walked together. Many may be members of the church of Christ, and yet not members of Christ, the head of the church. There was a mixed multitude came up with the church of Israel out of Egypt: they joined themselves to the Israelites, owned their God, left their own country, and yet were in heart Egyptians notwithstanding; “All are not Israel, that are of Israel.”
The church in all ages hath had unsound members: Cain had communion with Abel; Ishmael dwelt in the same house with Isaac; Judas was in fellowship with the apostles; and so was Demas with the rest of the disciples. There will be some bran in the finest meal: the drag-net of the Gospel catches bad fish as well as good; the tares and the wheat grow together, and it will be so till the harvest.
God hath a church where there are no members but such as are true members of Christ, but it is in heaven, it is the “church of the first-born;” there are no hypocrites, nor rotten, unsound professors, none but the “spirits of just men made perfect:” all is pure wheat that God layeth up in that garner; there the chaff is separated to unquenchable fire.84
But in the church on earth the wheat and the chaff lie in the same heap together; the Samaritans will be near of kin to the Jews when they are in prosperity: so while the church of God flourisheth in the world, many will join to it; they will seem Jews, though they are Samaritans; and seem saints, though yet they are no better than almost Christians.
IX. A man may have great hopes of heaven, great hopes of being saved, and yet be but almost a Christian.
Indeed there is a hope of heaven which is “the anchor of the soul sure and steadfast,” it never miscarries, and it is known by four properties.
First, It is a hope that purifies the heart, purges out sin: “He that hath this hope, purifies himself even as God is pure.” That soul that truly hopes to enjoy God, truly endeavors to be like God.
Secondly, It is a hope which fills the heart with gladness: “We rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”
Thirdly, It is a hope that is founded upon the promise: as there can be no true faith without a promise, so, nor any true hope. Faith applies the promise, and hope expects the fulfilling the 85promise: faith relies upon the truth of it, and hope waits for the good of it; faith gives interest, hope expects livery and seisin.
Fourthly, It is a hope that is wrought by God himself in the soul; who is therefore called, “the God of hope,” as being the Author as well as the Object of hope. Now, he that hath this hope shall never miscarry. This is a right hope; the hope of the true believer: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” But then, as there is a true and sound hope, so there is a false and rotten hope; and this is much more common, as bastard-pearls are more frequently worn than true pearls.
There is nothing more common, than to see men big with groundless hopes of heaven: as,
1. A man may have great hope that hath no grace; you read of the “hope of hypocrites.” The performance of duties is a proof of their hope; the foolish virgins would never have done what they did, had they thought they should have been shut out after all. Many professors would not be at such pains in duties as they are, if they did not hope for heaven. Hope is the great motive to action: despair cuts the sinews of all endeavors. That is one reason why the damned in hell cease acting toward an alteration of their state, because despair hath taken hold of them: 86if there were any hope in hell, they would up and be doing there. So that there may be great hope where there is no grace; experience proves this; formal professors are men of no grace, but yet men of great hopes; nay, many times you shall find that none fear more about their eternal condition, than they that have most cause of hope, and none hope more than they that have most cause of fear. As interest in hope may sometimes be without hope, so hope in God may be without interest.
2. A man may hope in the mercy, and goodness, and power of God, without eyeing the promise; and this is the hope of most: God is full of mercy and goodness, and therefore willing to save; and he is infinite in power, and therefore able to save; why therefore should I not rest on him?
Now it is presumption, and therefore sin, to hope in the mercy of God, otherwise than by eyeing the promise; for the promise is the channel of mercy, through which it is conveyed; all the blessedness the saints enjoy in heaven, is no other than what is the fruit of promise relied on, and hoped for here on earth. A man hath no warrant to hope in God, but by virtue of the promise.
3. A man may hope for heaven, and yet not cleanse his heart, nor depart from his secret sins; 87that hope of salvation that is not accompanied with heart-purification, is a vain hope.
4. A man may hope for heaven, and yet be doing the work of hell; he may hope for salvation, and yet be working out his own damnation, and so perish in his confidences. This is the case of many, like the water-man that looks one way, and rows another; many have their eyes on heaven whose hearts are in the earth; they hope in God, but choose him not for a portion; they hope in God, but do not love him as the best good, and therefore are like to have no portion in him, nor good by him; but are like to perish without him, notwithstanding all their hopes: “What is the hope of the hypocrite, though he hath gained, when God takes away his soul?”
Now then, if a man may have great hope of heaven, that hath no grace; if he may hope in mercy, without eyeing the promise; if he may hope without heart-purifying; if he may hope for heaven, and yet do the work of hell; surely then a man may have great hopes of heaven, and yet be but almost a Christian.
X. A man may be under great and visible changes, and these wrought by the ministry of the word, and yet be but almost a Christian, as Herod was. It is said, “when he heard John 88Baptist, he did many things, and heard him gladly.” Saul was under a great change when he met the Lord’s prophets; he turned prophet too. Nay, it is said, verse 9th of that chapter, that “God gave him another heart.” Now, was not this a work of grace? and was not Saul here truly converted? One would think he was; but yet indeed he was not. For though it is said, God gave him another heart, yet it is not said, that God gave him a new heart. There is a great difference between another heart, and a new heart; God gave him another heart to fit him for a ruler, but gave him not a new heart to make him a believer; another heart may make another man, but it is a new heart that makes a new man.
Again Simon Magus is a great proof of this truth: he was under a great and visible change; of a sorcerer he was turned to be a believer; he left his witchcrafts and sorceries, and embraced the gospel; was not this a great change? If the drunkard doth but leave his drunkenness, the swearer his oaths, the profane person his profaneness, they think this is a gracious change, arid their state is now good. Alas! Simon Magus did not only leave his sins, but had a kind of conversion; for, he believed, and was baptized.”89
Objection. But is not that man that is changed, a true Christian?
Answer. Not every change makes a man a Christian: indeed there is a change, that whoever is under it is a true Christian.
When a man’s heart is so changed, as that it is renewed: when old things “are done away, and all is become new:” when the new creature is wrought in the soul, when a man is “turned from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God;” when the mind is enlightened, the will renewed, the affections made heavenly: then a man is a Christian indeed.
But now you must know that every change is not this change. For,
1. There is a civil change, a moral change, as well as a spiritual and supernatural change.
Many men are changed in a moral sense, and one may say, they are become new men; but they are in heart and nature the same men still. They are not changed in a spiritual and supernatural sense, and therefore it cannot be said of them, they are become new creatures.
Restraining grace may cause a moral change; but it is renewing grace that must cause a saving change. Now, many are under restraining grace, and so changed morally, that are not 90under the power of saving grace, and so changed savingly.
2. There is an outward change, as well as an inward change: the outward change is often without the inward, though the inward change is never without the outward. A man’s heart cannot be sanctified, but it will influence the life; but a man’s life may be reformed, and yet never affect or influence the heart.
3. A man may be converted from a course of profaneness, to a form of godliness; from a filthy conversation, to a fair profession; and yet the heart be the same in one and the other. A rotten post may be gilt without, and yet unsound within. It is common to have the “outside of the cup and platter” made clean, and yet the inside foul and filthy.
Now then, if a man may be changed morally, and yet not spiritually—outwardly, and yet not inwardly, from a course of profaneness to a lifeless form of godliness; then a man may be under great and visible changes, and yet be no more than almost a Christian.
I do not speak this to discountenance any change, short of that which is spiritual; but to awaken you to seek after that change which is more than moral. It is good to be outwardly 91renewed, but it is better to be savingly renewed. I know how natural it is for men to take up with anything like a work of conversion, though it be not conversion and resting in that, they eternally perish.
Beloved, let me tell you, there is no change, no conversion, can stead your souls in the day of judgment, on this side that saving work, which is wrought on the soul by the Spirit of God, renewing you throughout: the sober man, without this change, shall as surely go to hell, as the foolish drunkard. Morality and civility may commend us to men, but not to God. They are of no value in the procurement of an eternal salvation.
A man may go far in an outward change, and yet be not one step nearer heaven, than he that was never under any change;—nay, he may be, in some sense, further off; as Christ saith, the Scribes and Pharisees were further from heaven, with all their show of godliness, than publicans and harlots, in all their sin and uncleanness. Because, resting in a false work, a partial change, we neglect to seek after a true and saving change. There is nothing more common than to mistake our state, and by overweening thoughts, misjudge our condition, and so perish in our own delusions. 92The world is full of these foolish builders, that lay the foundation of their hopes of eternal salvation upon the sand.
Now, my brethren, would you not mistake the way to heaven, and perish in a delusion? Would you not be found fools at last? for none are such fools as the spiritual fool, who is a fool in thy; great business of salvation. Would you not be fools for your souls, and for eternity? O then labor after, and pray for, a thorough work of conversion! Beg of God that he would make a saving change in your souls, that ye may be altogether Christians! All other changes below this saving change, this heart change, make us but almost Christians.
XI. A man may be very zealous in the matters of religion, and yet be but almost a Christian.
Jehu did not only serve God, and do what he commanded him, but was very zealous in his service: “Come with me, and see my zeal for the Lord of hosts!” and yet in all this Jehu was a very hypocrite. Joash was a great reformer in Jehoiada’s time it is said, “He did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, all the days of Jehoiada the priest.” But when Jehoiada died, Joash’s zeal for God died with him, and he becomes a very wretch.93
Objection. But the apostle makes zeal to be a note of sound Christianity: “It is good to be zealously affected in good things;” nay, it seems to be the non-such qualification for obtaining eternal life; “The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.”
Answer. It is true, there is a zeal which is good, and which renders the soul highly acceptable to God—a zeal, that never misses of heaven and salvation. Now this is a zeal which is a celestial fire; the true temper and heat of all the affections to God and Christ. It is a zeal wrought and kindled in the soul by the Spirit of God, who first works it, and then sets it on work. It is a zeal that hath the word of God for its guide, directing it in working, both in regard of its object and end, manner and measure. It is a zeal that checks sin, and forwards the heavenly life. It is a zeal that makes the glory of God its chief end; which swallows up all by-ends: “The zeal of thy house hath eaten me up.”
But now all zeal is not this kind of zeal: there is a false zeal, as well as a true: every grace hath its counterfeit. As there is fire, which is true heavenly fire, on the altar, so there is strange fire: Nadab and Abihu offered strange fire upon God’s altar.94
There are several kinds of zeal, none of which are true and sound, but false and counterfeit.
I shall instance in eight particulars
First, There is a blind zeal, a zeal without knowledge. “They have a zeal,” saith the apostle, “but not according to knowledge.” Now as knowledge without zeal is fruitless, so zeal without knowledge is dangerous. It is like wild-fire in the hand of a fool; or, like the devil in the man possessed, that threw him sometimes into the fire, sometimes into the water.
The eye is the light of the body, and the understanding is the light of the soul. Now, as the body, without the light of the eye, cannot go without stumbling; so the soul, without the light of the mind, cannot act without erring. Zeal without knowledge, is like an ignis fatuus in a dark night, that leads a traveller out of his way, into the bogs and mire. This was the zeal of Paul, while he was a Pharisee: “I was zealous towards God, as ye are all this day; and I persecuted this way unto the death.” And again, “I verily thought with myself, I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” And, “Concerning zeal, persecuting the church.” Such a zeal was that in John, “They shall put you out of the synagogue,”—silence you, you shall not be 95suffered to preach;—“yea, the time comes, that whoever kills you, will think that he doth God service.” This is great zeal, but yet it is blind zeal; and that God abhors.
Secondly, There is a partial zeal: in one thing, fire hot—in another key-cold; zealous in this thing, and yet careless in another. Many are first-table Christians, zealous in the duties of the first-table, and yet neglect the second. Thus the Pharisees were zealous in their Corban, and yet unnatural to their parents, suffering them to starve and perish. Others are second-table Christians, zealous in the duties of the second-table, but neglect the first; more for righteousness among men, than for holiness towards God. But now he whose religion ends with the first-table, or begins with the second, he is a fool in his profession; for he is but almost a Christian.
The woman that was for the dividing the child, was not the true mother; and he that is for dividing the commands, is not a true believer.
Jehu was zealous against Ahab’s house, but not so against Jeroboam’s calves; many are zealous against sin of opinion, that yet use no zeal against the sins of their conversation.
Now, as we know that the sweat of the whole body is a sign of health, but the sweat of some 96one part only, shows a distemper, and therefore physicians do reckon such a heat to be symptomatical. So where zeal reaches to every command of God alike, that is a sign of a sound constitution of soul; but where it is partial, where a man is hot in one part, and cold in another, that is symptomatical of some inward spiritual distemper.
Thirdly, There is a misplaced zeal; fixed upon unsuitable and disproportionable objects. Many are very zealous in trifling things that are not worth it, and trifling in the things that most require it; like the Pharisees that were diligent tythers of mint, anise, and cummin, but neglected the “weightier matters of the law; judgment, mercy, and faith.” They had no zeal for these, though very hot for the other; many are more zealous for a ceremony, than for the substance of religion; more zealous for bowing at the name of Jesus, than for conformity to the life of Jesus; more zealous for a holy vestment, than for a holy life; more zealous for the inventions of men, than for the institutions of Christ. This is a superstitious zeal, and usually found in men unconverted, in whom grace never was wrought. Against such men heathens will rise up in judgment. When. was it that Paul was so “exceeding zealous of the traditions of his fathers.,” as he saith, but only 97when he was in his wretched and unconverted state? as you may see in the next verses: “But when it pleased God to call me by his grace, then I conferred not with flesh and blood.” Paul had another kind of zeal then, actuated by other kind of principles.
Fourthly, There is a selfish zeal, that hath a man’s own end for its motive; Jehu was very zealous, but it was not so much for God, as for the kingdom; not so much in obedience to the command, as in design to step into the throne; and therefore God threatens to punish him for that very thing he commands him to do: “I will avenge the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu:” because he shed that blood, to gratify his lust, not to obey God. So Simeon and Levi pretend great zeal for circumcision, seem very zealous for the honor of God’s ordinances, when in truth their zeal was covetousness, and revenge upon the Shechemites.
Fifthly, There is an outside zeal: such was that of the Scribes and Pharisees; they would not eat with unwashed hands, but yet would live in unseen sins; they would wash the cup often, but the heart seldom; paint the outside, but neglect the inside. Jehu was a mighty outside reformer, but he reformed nothing within, for he had a base 98heart under all. “Jehu took no heed to walk in the law of the Lord with all his heart.” Though his fleece was fair, his liver was rotten. Our Lord Christ observes of the Pharisees, “They pray, to be seen of men;” and fast, so “that they may appear to men to fast.”
Sixthly, There is a forensic zeal, that runs out upon others; like the candle in the lantern, that sends all the heat out at the top; or as the lewd woman Solomon mentions, whose “feet abide not in her own house.”
Many are hot and high against the sins of others, and yet cannot see the same in themselves; like the Lamiae, that put on their spectacles when they went abroad, but pulled them of within doors.
It is easy to see faults in others, and as hard to see them in ourselves. Jehu was zealous against Baal and his priests, because that was Ahab’s sin; but not against the calves of Bethel, because that was his own sin. This zeal is the true character of a hypocrite; his own garden is overrun with weeds, while he is busy in looking over his neighbor’s pale.
Seventhly, There is a sinful zeal: all the former may be called sinful from some defect; but this I call sinful in a more special notion, because against 99the life and chief of religion. It is a zeal, against zeal, that flies not at profaneness, but at the very power of godliness; not at error, but at truth; and is most hot against the most spiritual and important truths of the times. Whence else are the sufferings of men for the truth, but from the spirit of zeal against the truth? This may be called a devilish zeal; for as there is the faith of devils, so there is the zeal of devils: “Therefore his rage is great, because he knows his time is short.”
Eighthly, there is a scriptureless zeal, that is not butted and bounded by the word, but by some base and low end. Such was Saul’s zeal, when God bids him destroy Amalek, “and spare neither man nor beast;” when contrary to God’s command, he spares the best of the sheep and oxen, under pretence of zeal for God’s sacrifice. Another time, when he had no such command, then he slew the Gibeonites “in zeal to the children of Israel and Judah.”
Many a man’s zeal is greater then and there, when and where he hath the least warrant from God. The true spirit of zeal is bounded by Scripture; for it is for God and the concerns of his glory: God hath no glory from that zeal that hath no scripture-warrant.100
Now then, if the zeal of a man in the things of God may be only a blind zeal, or a partial zeal, or a misplaced zeal, or a selfish zeal, or an outside zeal, or a forensic zeal, or a sinful zeal, or a scriptureless zeal; then it is evident, that a man may be very zealous in the matters of religion, and yet be but almost a Christian.
XII. A man may be much in prayer—he may pray often, and pray much; and yet be but almost a Christian. So did the Pharisees, whom yet our Lord Christ rejects for hypocrites.
Objection. But is not a praying-frame an argument of a sincere heart? Are not the saints of God called “the generation of them that seek the face of God?”
Answer. A man is not therefore a Christian, because he is much in prayer. I grant that those prayers that are from the workings and sighings of God’s Spirit in us; from sincere hearts lifted up to God; from a sense of our own emptiness, and God’s infinite fulness; that are suited to God’s will, the great rule of prayer; that are for spiritual things, more than temporal; that are accompanied with faith and dependence,—such prayers speak a man altogether a Christian. But now a man may be much in prayer, and yet be a stranger to such prayer; as,101
1. Nature may put a man upon prayer; for it is a part of natural worship. It may put a child of God upon prayer—did Christ: “He went and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father! if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” This was a prayer of Christ which flowed from the sinless strugglings of nature, seeking its own preservation.
2. A man may pray in pretence, for a covering to some sin: so did those devout Pharisees: “Wo to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.” So the Papists seem very devout to pray a rich man’s soul out of purgatory; but it is to cheat the heir of much of his estate, under pretence of praying for his father’s soul.
3. A man may pray, and yet love sin; as Austin before conversion prayed against his sin, but was afraid God should hear him, and take him at his word. Now, God hears not such prayers: “If I regard iniquity in my heart, God will not hear my prayer.”
4. A man may pray much for temporal things, and little for spiritual things; and such are the prayers of most men, crying out most for temporal 102things. More for, “Who will show us any good?” than for, “Lord, lift upon us the light of thy countenance.” David copies out the prayer of such: “That our sons may be as plants, and that our daughters may be as corner-stones, polished after the similitude of a palace: that our garners may be full, &c. Happy is the people that is in such a case!” This is the carnal prayer; and this David calls vanity—“They are strange children, whose mouth speaketh vanity.”
5. A man may pray, and yet be far from God in prayer: “This people draw nigh to me with their mouths, and honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” A man may pray, and yet have no heart in prayer; and that God chiefly looks at: “My son, give me thy heart.”
The Jews have this sentence written upon the walls of their synagogues: “Prayer, without the intention of the mind, is but a body without a soul.”
It is not enough to be conscionable to use prayer, but we must be conscionable to the use of prayer. Many are so conscientious that they dare not but pray; and yet so irreligious, that they have no heart in prayer. A common work of God may make a man conscionable to do duties, but nothing less than giving grace in the 103heart, will make a man conscionable in the doing of them.
6. A man’s prayer may be a lie. As a profession without sanctity is a lie to the world, so prayer without sincerity, is a lie to God. It is said of Israel, that they “sought God, and inquired early after him.” They were much in prayer, and God calls all but a lie. “Nevertheless, they did flatter him with their mouths, and they lied to him with their tongues, for their heart was not with him.”—“Hearken to my prayer, that goeth not out of feigned lips,” saith David.
7. Affliction and the pressure of outward evils, will make a man pray, and pray much. “When he slew them, then they sought him, and returned, and inquired early after God.” The heathen mariners called every man upon his God when in a storm: when they fear drowning, then they fall to praying, Jonah i. 5. Mariners are for the most part none of the devoutest, nor much addicted to prayer. They will swear twice, where they pray once; and yet it is said, “They cry to the Lord in their trouble:” and hence you have a proverb, “He that cannot pray let him go to sea.”—“They poured out a prayer when thy chastening was upon them.”104
Now then, if nature may put a man upon prayer; if a man may pray in pretence, and design; if a man may pray, and yet love sin; if a man may pray mostly for temporal things; if a man may pray, and yet be far from God in prayer; if prayer may be a lie, or it may be only the cry of the soul under affliction,—sure then a man may be much in prayer, and yet be but almost a Christian.
Objection. But suppose a man pray, and prevail with God in prayer, surely that is a witness from heaven of a man’s sincerity in prayer: now, I pray, and prevail; I ask, and am answered.
Answer. A man may pray, and be answered; for God many times answers prayers in judgment. As God is sometimes silent in mercy, so he speaks in wrath; and as he sometimes denies prayer in mercy, so he sometimes answers in judgment: when men are over-importunate in something their lusts are upon, and will take no nay, then God answers in judgment. “He gave them their own desire.” They had desired quails, and God sent them: but now mark the judgment—“While the meat was in their mouths, the wrath of God came upon them, and slew them.”
Objection. But suppose a man’s affections are much stirred in prayer—how then? Is not that 105a true note of Christianity? Now my affections are much stirred in prayer.
Answer. So was Esau’s, when he sought the blessing. “He sought it carefully with tears.” A man may be affected with his own parts in a duty, while good notions pass through his head, and good words through his lips: some good motions also may stir in his heart, but they are but sparks which fly out at the tunnel of the chimney, which suddenly vanish; so that it is possible a man may pray, and prevail in prayer; pray, and be affected in prayer—and yet be but almost a Christian.
XIII. A man may suffer for Christ in his goods, in his name, in his person; and yet be but almost a Christian.
Every man that bears Christ’s cross on his shoulders, doth not, therefore, bear Christ’s image in his soul.
Objection. But doth not our Lord Christ make great promises to them that suffer, or lose anything for him? Doth he not say, “Every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundred fold, and shall inherit everlasting life?” Sure they are true Christians to whom Christ makes this promise!106
Answer. There is a suffering for Christ, that is a note of sincerity, and shall have its reward. That is, when a man suffers for a good cause, upon a good call, and with a good conscience, for Christ’s sake, and in Christ’s strength; when his sufferings are a filling up “that which is behind of the sufferings of Christ;” when a man suffers as a Christian, as the apostle hath it, “If a man suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed;” when a man thrusts not himself into sufferings, but stays God’s call, such suffering is a proof of integrity.
But now, every suffering for Christ is not suffering as a Christian: for,
1. A man may suffer for Christ, for that profession of religion that is upon him; the world hates the show of religion. Times may come, that it may cost a man as dear to wear the livery of Christ, as to wear Christ himself. Alexander had like to have lost his life for the gospel’s sake, yet he was that Alexander, as is generally judged, that afterwards made shipwreck of faith, and greatly opposed Paul’s ministry.
2. A man may suffer for Christ, and yet have no true love to Christ. This is supposed: “Though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profits nothing.”107
Love to Christ is the only noble ground of suffering; but a man may suffer much upon other ends.
1. Out of opinion of meriting by our sufferings, as the Papists; or,
2. Out of vain glory, or for applause among professors: some have died, that their names might live; or,
3. Out of a Roman resolution, or stoutness of spirit.
4. Out of a design of profit, as Judas forsook all for Christ, hoping to mend his market by closing with him; or,
5. Rather to maintain an opinion, than for truth’s propagation. Socrates died for maintaining that there was but one God; but whether he died rather for his own opinion, than for God’s sake, I think it is no hard matter to determine. Thus, a man may suffer for professing Christ, and yet suffer upon wrong principles.
Now then, if a man may suffer for Christ, from the profession that is upon him, or suffer for Christ, and yet not truly love him; then a man may suffer for Christ, and yet be but almost a Christian.
XIV. A man may be called of God, and embrace this call, and yet be but almost a Christian.
Judas is a famous instance of this truth: he 108was called by Christ himself, and came at the call of Christ; and yet Judas was but almost a Christian.
Objection. But is not the being under the call of God, a proof of our interest in the predestinating love of God? Doth not the apostle say, “Whom he predestinated, them he called?” Nay, doth he not say, in the next verse, “Whom he called, them he justified?” Nay, doth not God call all whom he intends to save?
Answer. Though God calleth all those that shall be saved, yet all shall not be saved whom God calleth. Every man under the gospel is called of God in one sense or other, but yet every man under the gospel shall not therefore be saved: “For many are called, but few chosen.”
There is a twofold call of God—internal, and external.
1. There is an internal call of God. Now, this call is a special work of the Spirit, by the ministry of the word, whereby a man is brought out of a state of nature, into a state of grace; “out of darkness into light, from being vessels of wrath, to be made heirs of life.” I grant, that whoever is under this call of God, is called effectually and savingly, to be a Christian indeed. “Every man 109that hath heard and learned of the Father, comes to me.”
2. There is a call of God which a man may have, and yet not be this call: there is an external call of God, which is by the ministry of the word.
Now every man that lives under the preaching of the gospel, is thus called. God calls every soul of you to repent, and lay a sure foundation for heaven and salvation, by the word you hear this day.
But now every man that is thus called, is not therefore a Christian: for,
1. Many under the call of God, come to Christ, but are not converted to Christ, have nothing of the grace and life of Christ; such as he, who, when Christ sent out his servants to bid guests unto the marriage, came in at the call of Christ, but yet “had not on the wedding garment;” that is, had none of the grace and righteousness of Jesus Christ.
2. Many that are under the call of the gospel, come to Christ, and yet afterwards fall away from Christ; as Judas and Demas did. It is said, when Christ preached a doctrine that his disciples did not like, that “from that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.”110
Now then, if many are only under this external call of God; if many that come to Christ are not converted to Christ, but fall away from Christ; then a man may be called of God, and yet be but almost a Christian.
XV. A man may have the spirit of God, and yet be but almost a Christian.
Balaam had the Spirit of God given him when he blessed Israel: “Balaam saw Israel abiding in tents, and the Spirit of the Lord came upon him.” Judas had; for by the Spirit he cast out devils; he was one of them that came to Christ, and said, “Lord, even the devils are subject to us.” Saul had—“Behold, a company of prophets met him; and the Spirit of God came upon him, and be prophesied among them.”
Objection. But you will say, “Can a man have the Spirit of God, and yet not be a Christian?” Indeed, the Scripture saith, “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his;” but surely if any man have the Spirit of Christ, he is his!
Answer. There is a having the Spirit, which is a sure mark of saintship. Where the Spirit is an effectual prevailing principle of grace and sanctification, renewing and regenerating the heart: where the Spirit is a potent worker, “helping the 111soul’s infirmities: where the Spirit is so as to “abide forever.” But now every man that hath the Spirit, hath not the Spirit in this manner: for,
1. A man may have the Spirit only transiently, not abidingly. The Spirit may be in a man, and yet not dwell in a man: the Spirit is wherever he dwells, but he does not dwell wherever he is; he is in all, but dwells in saints only. The hypocrite may have the Spirit for a season, but not to abide in him forever.
2. A man may have the Spirit, and yet not be born of the Spirit. Every true Christian is born of the Spirit. A hypocrite may have the gifts of the Spirit, but not the graces: the Spirit may be in him by the way of illumination, but not by way of sanctification; by way of conviction, but not by way of conversion. Though he may have much common grace for the good of others, yet he may have no special grace for the good of himself; though his profession be spiritual, yet his state and condition may be carnal.
3. A man may have the Spirit only as a Spirit of bondage. Thus, many have the Spirit working only to bondage. “The Spirit of bondage is an operation of the Holy Ghost by the law, convincing the conscience of sin, and of the curse of the law, and working in the soul such an apprehension 112of the wrath of God, as makes the thoughts of God a terror to him.”
This Spirit may be, and often is, without saving grace: this operation of the Spirit was in Cain and Judas. There are none that receive the Spirit of adoption, but they first receive the Spirit of bondage: yet many receive the Spirit of bondage, that never receive the Spirit of adoption.
4. A man may have the Spirit of God working in him, and yet it may be resisted by him. It is said of the Jews, “They rebelled, and vexed his Holy Spirit:” and the same sin is charged upon their children: “Ye stiff-necked, and uncircumcised in heart, ye have always resisted the Holy Ghost; as your fathers did, so do ye.” The hypocrite retains not the Spirit so long as to come up to regeneration and adoption, but quenches the motion of it, and thereby miscarries eternally.
5. A man may have the Spirit, and yet sin that unpardonable sin: he may have the Holy Ghost, and yet sin the sin against the Holy Ghost;—nay, no man can sin this sin against it, but he that hath some degree of it.
The true believer hath so much of the Spirit, such a work of it in him, that he cannot sin that sin: “He that is born of God, sins not:” to wit, 113that “sin unto death,” for that is meant. The carnal professing sinner, he cannot sin that sin, because he is carnal and sensual, having not the Spirit. A man must have some measure of the Spirit that sins this sin: so hath the hypocrite: he is said to be “partaker of the Holy Ghost,” and he only is capable of sinning the sin against the Holy Ghost.
Now then, if a man may have the Spirit transiently only, not abidingly; if a man may have the Spirit, and yet not be born of the Spirit; if he may have the Spirit only as a Spirit of bondage; if a man may have the Spirit working in him, and yet it may be resisted by him; if a man may have the Spirit and yet sin that unpardonable sin against it; then surely a man may have the Spirit of God, and yet be but almost a Christian.
XVI. A man may have faith, and yet be but almost a Christian.
The stony ground, that is, those hearers set out by the stony ground, “for a while believed.” It is said, that many believed in the name of Christ, yet Christ durst not “commit himself to them.” Though they trusted in Christ, yet Christ would not trust them; and why? “because he knew all men.” He knew they were 114rotten at root, notwithstanding their faith. A man may have all faith, to the removing of mountains, and yet be nothing.
Objection. But how can this be, that a man may have faith, and yet be but almost a Christian? Doth not our Lord Christ promise life eternal and salvation to all that believe? Is not this the Gospel that is to be preached to every creature, “He that believes shall be saved?”
Answer. Though it is true what our Lord Christ saith, that “he that believes shall be saved,” yet it is as true, that many believe that shall never be saved; for Simon Magus believed; yea, James saith, “The devils believe and tremble:” now none will say these shall be saved. As it is true, what the apostle saith, “All men have not faith,” so it is as true, that there are some men have faith, who are no whit the better for their faith.
You must know therefore there is a two-fold faith,
1. Special and saving.
2. Common and not saving.
1. There is a saving faith.
This is called “faith of the operation of God.” It is a work of God’s own Spirit in the soul. It is such a faith as rests and casts the soul wholly upon Christ for grace and glory, pardon and 116peace, sanctification and salvation. It is a united act of the whole soul, understanding, will and affections, all concurring to unite the soul to an all-sufficient Redeemer. It is such a faith as “purifies the heart,” and makes it clean; it influences and gives strength and life to all other graces. Now, whoever hath this faith, is a Christian indeed; this is the “faith of God’s elect.” But then,
2. There is a common faith, not saving, a fading and temporary faith; there is the faith of Simon Magus, as well as the faith of Simon Peter: Simon Magus believed, and yet he was in the “gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.” Now Simon Magus had more followers than Simon Peter: the faith of most men will at last be found to be no better than the faith of Simon Magus: for,
First, The faith of most is but a temporary faith, endures for a while, and then dies and perisheth; true and saving faith, such as is the faith of God’s elect, cannot die: it may fail in the act, but not in the habit; the sap may not be in the branch, but it is always in the root.
That faith that perisheth, that faith a man may have and perish.
Secondly, there is a faith that lies only in generals, 116not in particulars: as there is a general and particular object of faith, so there is a general and particular faith. The general object of faith is the whole Scripture; the particular object of faith is Christ in the promise. Now many have a general faith to believe all the Scripture, and yet have no faith to make particular application of Jesus Christ in the promise. Devils and reprobates may believe the truth of the Scripture, and what is written of the dying and suffering of Christ for sinners; but there are but few that can close up themselves in the wounds of Christ, and by his stripes fetch in healing to their own souls.
Thirdly, There is a faith that is seated in the understanding, but not in the will; this is a very common faith: many assent to the truth. They believe all the attributes of God, that he is just, holy, wise, faithful, good, merciful, &c. But yet they rest not on him notwithstanding. They believe the commands are true, but yet do not obey them: they believe the promises are true, but yet do not embrace and apply them: they believe the threatenings are true, but yet do not flee from them.
Thus their faith lies in assent, but not consent; they have faith to confess a judgment, but none to take out execution: by assent they lay a foundation, 117but never build upon it by application. They believe that Christ died to save them that believe, and yet they believe not in Christ, that they may be saved.
O my brethren, it is not a believing head, but a believing heart that makes a Christian; “with the heart man believes to righteousness:” without this our “faith is vain, we are yet in our sins.”
Fourthly, There is a faith without experience; many believe the word upon hearsay, to be the word of God; but they never felt the power and virtue of it upon their hearts and consciences. Now what good is it to believe the truth of the word, if a man’s conscience never felt the power of the word:’ what is it to believe the truth of the promise, if we never tasted the sweetness of the promise? We are in this case like a man that believes the description others make of strange countries, but never travelled them to know the truth: or as a patient that believes all the physician says, but yet tries none of his potions. We believe the word, because we cannot gainsay it; but yet we have no experience of any saving good wrought by the word, and so are but almost Christians.
Fifthly, There is a faith that is without brokenness 118of heart, that does not avail to melt or soften the heart, and therefore is not true faith; for the least true faith is ever joined with a bending will, and broken heart.
Sixthly, There is a faith that transforms not the heart; faith without fruit, that doth not bring forth the new creature in the soul, but leaves it in a state of sin and death. This is a faith that makes a man a sound professor, but not a sound believer; he believes the truth, but not as it is in Jesus; for then it would change and transform him into the likeness of Jesus. He believes that a man must be changed that would be saved, but yet is not savingly changed by believing. Thus, while others believe to salvation, he believes to damnation: for “his web shall not become a garment; neither shall he cover himself with his work.”
Now then, if a man’s faith may be but temporary, or may lie only in generals, or may be seated in the understanding only, or may be without experience, or may be without a broken heart, or without a new heart; surely then a man may have faith, he may taste of this “heavenly gift,” and yet be but almost a Christian.
XVII. A man may go further yet: he may 119possibly have a love to the people of God, and yet be but almost a Christian.
Every kind of love to those who are saints, is not a proof of our saintship. Pharaoh loved Joseph, and advanced him to the second place in the kingdom, and yet Pharaoh was but a wicked man: Ahab loved Jehoshaphat and made a league with him, and married his daughter Athaliah to Jehoram, Jehoshaphat’s son, and yet Ahab was a wicked wretch.
But you will say this seems to contradict the testimony of the Scriptures; for that makes love to the saints and people of God, a sure proof of our regeneration, and interest in life eternal: “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren.” Nay, the Spirit of God putteth this as a characteristical distinction between saints and sinners: “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doth not righteousness, is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.” By brethren we do not understand brethren by place, those who are of the same country or nation, such as are called brethren in Rom. ix. 3, Acts vii. 23, 25. Nor do we understand brethren by race, those who are descended of the same parents such are called brethren in 120James i. 2. But by brethren we understand brethren by grace, and supernatural regeneration, such as are the children of God; and these are the brethren whom to love is a sure sign that we are the children of God.
Answer. To this I answer, that there is a love to the children of God, which is a proof of our being the children of God. As for instance, when we love them as such, for that very reason, as being the saints of God, when we love them for the image of God, which appeareth in them, because of that grace and holiness which shineth forth in their conversations; this is truly commendable, to love the godly for godliness sake, the saints for saintship sake, this is a sure testimony of our Christianity. The love of grace in another, is a good proof of the life of grace in ourselves. There can be no better evidence of the Spirit of Christ in us, than to love the image of Christ in others. For this is a certain truth that a sinner cannot love a saint as such; “an Israelite is an abomination to an Egyptian.”
There is a contrariety and natural enmity between the two seeds; between the children of the world, and those whom the Father in His eternal love hath “chosen out of the world.”
It is likeness which is the great ground of love.121Now there is the highest dissimilitude and unlikeness between an unregenerate sinner, and a child of God, and therefore a child of God cannot love a sinner as a sinner: “In whose eyes a vile person is contemned.” He may love him as a creature; he may love his soul, or he may love him under some relation that he stands in to him. Thus God loves the damned spirits, as they are his creatures, but as fallen angels he hateth them with an infinite hatred. So to love a sinner, as a sinner, this a child of God cannot do; so neither can a sinner love a child of God as a child of God. That he may love a child of God, that I grant, but it is upon some other consideration; he may love a person that is holy, not the person for his holiness, but for some other respect. As,
1. A man may love a child of God for his loving, peaceable, courteous deportment to all with whom he converseth. Religion beautifies the conversation of a man, and sets him off to the eye of the world. The grace of God is no friend to morose, churlish, unmannerly behavior among men; it promotes an affable demeanor and sweetness to all; and where this is found, it winneth respect and love from all.
2. A man may love a saint for his outward 122greatness and splendor in the world; men are very apt to honor worldly greatness, and therefore the rich saint shall be loved and honored, whilst the poor saint is hated and despised. This is as if a man should value the goodness of his sword by the embroidery of his belt; or his horse for the beauty of his trappings, rather than for his strength and swiftness.
True love to the children of God, reaches to all the children of God, poor as well as rich, bond as well as free, ignoble as well as noble, for the image of Christ is alike amiable and lovely in all.
3. A man may love a child of God for his fidelity and usefulness in his place: where religion in the power of it taketh hold of a man’s heart, it makes him true to all his trusts, diligent in his business, faithful in all his relations; and this obligeth respect. A carnal master may prize a godly apprentice or servant that makes conscience of pleasing his master, and is diligent in promoting his interest.
I might instance in many things of the like nature, as charity, beauty, wit, learning, parts, &c., which may procure love to the people of God from the men of the world. But this love is no proof of charity: For,123
First, It is but a natural love arising from some carnal respect, or self-ends: that love which is made by the Scripture an evidence of our regeneration, is a spiritual love, the principal loadstone and attraction whereof is grace and holiness; it is a love which embraceth a “righteous man in the name of a righteous man.”
2. A carnal man’s love to saints, is a limited and bounded love; it is not universal “to the seed.” Now as in sin, he that doth not make conscience of every sin, maketh conscience of no sin as sin; so he who doth not love all in whom the image of Christ is found, loveth none for that of the image of Christ which is found in them.
Now then, if the love we bear to the people of God may possibly arise from natural love only, or from some carnal respect; or if it be a limited love, not extended to all the people of God, then it is possible that a man may love the people of God, and yet be no better than almost a Christian.
XVIII. A man may obey the commands of God, yea, many of the commands of God, and yet be but almost a Christian.
Balaam seems very conscientious of steering his course by the compass of God’s command. When Balak sent to him to come and curse the 124people of God, saith Balaam, “If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God:” and so saith he, “The word that God putteth in my mouth, that shall I speak.” The young man went far in obedience, “All these have I observed from my youth up;” and yet he was but a hypocrite, for he forsook Christ after all.
Objection. But is it not said, “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me; and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father; and I will love him, and manifest myself unto him?” And doth not our Lord Christ tell us expressly, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatever I command you?” And can a man be a friend of Christ and be but almost a Christian?
I answer—There is an obedience to the commands of Christ, which is a sure proof of our Christianity and friendship to Christ.
This obedience hath a threefold property.
It is, 1. Evangelical. 2. Universal. 3. Continual.
First, It is evangelical obedience, and that both in matter and manner, ground and end.
In the matter of it; and that is what God requires: 125“Ye are my friends, if ye do whatever I command you.”
In the manner of it; and that is according as God requires: “God is a Spirit, and they that worship him, must worship him in spirit and in truth.”
In the ground of it; and that is, “a pure heart, a good conscience, and a faith unfeigned.”
In the end of it; and that is, the honor and glory of God: “Whatever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”
Secondly, It is a universal obedience, which extendeth itself to all the commands of God alike: it respects the duties of both tables. Such was the obedience of Caleb, “who followed the Lord fully;” and of David, who had “respect to all his commands.”
Thirdly, It is a continual obedience, a putting the hand to God’s plough, without looking back: “I have inclined my heart to perform thy statutes always, even to the end.”
He that thus obeys the command of God, is a Christian indeed; a friend of Christ indeed. But all obedience to the commands of God, is not this obedience; For,
1. There is a partial obedience—a piece-meal religion, when a man obeys God in one command, 126and not in another; owns him in one duty, and not in another; when a man seems to make conscience of the duties of one table, and not of the duties of another. This is the religion of most.
Now this obedience is no obedience; for as he that doth not love God above all, doth not love God at all; so he that doth not obey all the commands universally, cannot be said to obey any command truly. It is said of those in Samaria that they “feared the Lord, and served their own gods after their own manner.” And yet in the very next verse it is said, “They feared not the Lord;” so that their fear of the Lord was no fear. In like manner, that obedience to God is no obedience, which is but a partial and piecemeal obedience.
2. A man may obey much, and yet be in his old nature; and if so, then all his obedience in that estate is but a painted sin: “He that offereth an oblation, is as if he offered swine’s blood; and he that burneth incense, as if he blessed an idol.” The nature must be renewed, before the command can be rightly obeyed; for “a corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit.” Whatever a man’s performances are, they cannot be called obedience, whilst the heart remaineth unregenerate, because the principle is false and unsound. 127Every duty done by a believer, is accepted of God, as part of his obedience to the will of God, though it be done in much weakness; because, though the believer’s hand is weak, yet “his heart is right.” The hypocrite may have the most active hand, but the believer hath the most faithful and sincere heart.
3. A man may obey the law, and yet have no love to the Lawgiver. A carnal heart may do the command of God, but he cannot love God, and therefore cannot do it aright; for love to God is the foundation and spring of all true obedience. Every command of God is to be done in love: this is the “fulfilling of the law.” The apostle saith, “Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, (these seem to be acts of the highest obedience), yet if I have not love, it profits me nothing.”
4. I might add, that a man may be much in obedience from sinister and base selfish ends: as the Pharisees prayed much, gave much alms, fasted much but our Lord Christ tells us, that it was “that they might be seen of men, and have glory of men.” Most of the hypocrite’s piety empties itself into vain-glory; and therefore he is but an empty vine in all he does, because 128“he bringeth forth fruit to himself.” It is the end that justifies the action: indeed, a good end cannot make a bad action good, but yet the want of a good end makes a good action bad.
Now then, if a man may obey the commands of God partially, and by halves; if he may do it, and yet be in his natural state; if he may obey the commands of God, and yet not love God; if the ends of his obedience may be sinful and unwarrantable,—then a man may be much in obeying the commands of God, and yet be but almost a Christian.
XIX. A man may be sanctified, and yet be but almost a Christian.
Every kind of sanctification doth not make a man a new creature; for many are sanctified that are never renewed. You read of them that “count the blood of the covenant, wherewith they were sanctified, an unholy thing.”
Objection. But doth not the Scripture tell us, that “both he who sanctifieth, and they who are sanctified; are all one: for which cause, he is not ashamed to call them brethren.” And can a man be one with Christ, and yet be but almost a Christian?
Answer. To this I answer—You must know 129there is a twofold work of sanctification spoken of in Scripture.
The one, common and ineffectual.
The other, special and effectual.
That work of sanctification which is true and effectual, is the working of the Spirit of God in the soul, enabling it to the mortifying of all sin, to the obeying of every command, to “walking with God in all well-pleasing.” Now, whoever is thus sanctified, is one with him that sanctifieth. Christ will not be ashamed to call such brethren; for they are “flesh of his flesh, and bone of his bone.”
But then there is a more common work of sanctification which is ineffectual as to the two great works of dying to sin, and living to God. This kind of sanctification may help to restrain sin, but not to mortify sin; it may lop off the boughs, but it layeth not the axe to the root of the tree; it sweeps and garnishes the room with common virtues, but doth not adorn it with saving graces; so that a man is but almost a Christian, notwithstanding this sanctification.
Or thus, there is an inward and outward sanctification.
Inward sanctification is that which deals with the soul and its faculties, understanding, conscience, 130will, memory, and affections. Outward sanctification is that which deals with the life and conversation. Both these must concur to make a man a Christian indeed: therefore the apostle puts them together in his prayer for the Thessalonians: “The God of peace sanctify you wholly; and, I pray God, your whole spirit, and soul, and body, be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” A man is then sanctified wholly when he is sanctified both inwardly and outwardly—both in heart and affections, and in life and conversation. Outward sanctification is not enough without inward, nor inward without outward: we must have both “clean hands, and a pure heart.” The heart must be pure, that we may not incur blame from within; and the hands must be clean, that we may not incur shame from without. We must have hearts “sprinkled from an evil conscience, and bodies washed with pure water.” “We must cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit.” Inward purity is the most excellent, but, without the outward, it is not sufficient; the true Christian is made up of both.
Now many have clean hands, but unclean hearts. They wash the outside of the cup and platter, when all is filthy within. Now, the former 131without the latter, profiteth a man no more than it profited Pilate, who condemned Christ, to wash his hands in the presence of the people: he washed his hands of the blood of Christ, and yet had a hand in the death of Christ. The Egyptian temples were beautiful on the outside, but within you shall find nothing but some serpent or crocodile. “He is not a Jew which is one outwardly.” Judas was a saint without, but a sinner within; openly a disciple, but secretly, a devil.
Some pretend to inward sanctity without outward. This is the pretence of the open sinner: “Though I sometimes drop an idle, foolish word,” saith he, “or though I sometimes swear an oath, yet I think no hurt:—I thank God my heart is as good as the best!” Such are like the sinner Moses mentions; that “blessed himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine own heart, to add drunkenness to thirst.”
Some pretend to outward sanctity without inward. Such are like the Scribes and Pharisees, “who outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within are full of hypocrisy and iniquity;” fair professors, but foul sinners.
Inward sanctity without outward, is impossible; 132for it will not reform the life. Outward sanctity without inward, is unprofitable; for it will not reform the heart: a man is not a true Christian without both. The body doth not make a man without the soul, nor the soul without the body; both are essential to the being of man: so the sanctification of both, are essential to the being of the new man. True sanctification begins at the heart, but works out into the life and conversation; and if so, then man may attain to an outward sanctification, and yet, for want of an inward, be no better than almost a Christian.
And so I shall end this long pursuit of the almost Christian, in his progress heavenward, with this one general conclusion:—
XX. A man may do all, as to external duties and worship, that a true Christian can; and, when he hath done all, be but almost a Christian.
You must know, all the commands of God have an intra and an extra: there is, as I may say, the body and the soul of the command. And accordingly, there is an internal and an external worship of God.
Now the internal acts of worshipping of God„ are to love God, to fear God, to delight in God, to trust in God, &c.133
The external acts of worshipping of God, are by praying, teaching, hearing, &c.
Now there is a vast difference between these internal and external acts of worship; and such a difference there is, that they distinguish the altogether from the almost Christian; the sincere believer from the unsound professor: and, indeed, in this very thing the main difference between them doth lie.
1. Internal acts of worship are good propter fieri; the goodness doth adhere intrinsically to the thing done. A man cannot love God, nor fear God, but it will be imputed to him for a gracious act, and a great part of his holiness. But now, external acts of worship are not denominated good, so much from the matter done, propter fieri, as from the manner of doing them. A man cannot sin in loving and delighting in God, but he may sin in praying and hearing, &c., for want of a due manner.
2. Internal. acts of worship put a goodness into external: it is our faith, our love, our fear of God, that makes our duties good.
3. They better the heart, and greater the degrees of a man’s holiness. External duties do not always do this. A man may pray, and yet his heart never the holier; he may hear the word, 134and yet his heart never the softer: but now, the more a man fears God, the wiser he is: the more a man loves God, the holier he is. Love is the perfection of holiness: we shall never be perfect in holiness, until we come to be perfect in love.
4. There is such an excellency in this internal worship, that he who mixes it with his external duties, is a true Christian when he doth least but without this mixture, he is but almost a Christian that doth most.
Internal acts of worship, joined with outward, sanctify them, and make them accepted of God, though few: external acts of worship, without inward, make them abhorred of God, though they be never so many. So that, although the almost Christian may do all those duties in hypocrisy, which a true Christian doth in sincerity; nay, though in doing external duties, he may out-do the true Christian, as the comet makes a greater blaze than the true star: if Elijah fast and mourn, Baal’s priests will cut their flesh; yet he cannot do those internal duties, that the meanest true Christian can.
The almost Christian can pray, but he cannot love God; he can teach or hear, &c., but he cannot take delight in God. Mark Job’s query concerning the hypocrite: “Will he delight himself 135in the Almighty?” He will pray to the Almighty, but will he delight himself in the Almighty? Will he take pleasure in God? Ah, no! he will not—he cannot! Delight in God ariseth from a suitableness between the faculty, and the object; now, none more unsuitable, than God and a carnal heart. Delight arises from the having what we desire, and from enjoying what we have. How then can he delight in God, that neither enjoyeth, nor hath, nor truly desireth God? Delight in God is one of the highest exercises of grace: and therefore, how can he delight in God, that hath no grace?
Why, then, should any saint of God be discouraged, when he hears how far the almost Christian may go in the way to heaven: whereas, he that is the weakest true believer, that hath the least true grace, goes farther than he; for he believes in, and loves God.
Should the almost Christian do less, as to matter of external duties, yet, if he had but the least true faith, the least sincerity of love to Christ, he would surely be saved; and should the true Christian do ten times more duties than he doth, yet, had he not faith in Christ, and love to Christ, he would surely be rejected.
O, therefore, let not any weak believer be discouraged, 136though hypocrites may out-do them, and go beyond them in duty; for all their duties are done in hypocrisy, but your faith and love to God in duties, is a proof of your sincerity.
I. I do not speak this to discourage any soul in the doing of duties, or to beat down outward performances, but to rectify the soul in the doing of them. As the apostle saith, “Covet earnestly the best gifts: but yet I show you a more excellent way.” So I say, covet the best gifts; covet much to be in duties, much in prayer, much in hearing, &c. “But I will show you a more excellent way;” and that is, the way of faith and love. Pray much, but then believe much too. Hear much; read much; but then love God much too. Delight in the word and ordinances of God much, but then delight in the God of ordinances more.
And when you are most in duties, as to your use of them, O then be sure to be above duties, as to your resting and dependence upon them. Would you be Christians, indeed,—altogether Christians? O then, be much in the use and exercise of ordinances, but be much more in faith and dependence upon Christ and his righteousness. When your obedience is most to the command, then let your faith be most upon the 137promise. The professor rests in duties, and so is but almost a Christian but you must be sure to rest upon the Lord Christ. This is the way to be altogether Christians; for, if ye believe, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. And thus I have answered the first query; to wit, how far a man may go in the way to heaven, and yet be but almost a Christian.
1. He may have much knowledge.
2. He may have great gifts.
3. He may have a high profession.
4. He may do much against sin.
5. He may desire grace.
6. He may tremble at the word.
7. He may delight in the word.
8. He may be a member of the church of Christ.
9. He may have great hopes of heaven.
10. He may be under great and visible changes.
11. He may be very zealous in the matters of religion.
12. He may be much in prayer.
13. He may suffer for Christ.
14. He may be called of God.
15. He may, in some sense, have the Spirit if God.138
16. He may have some kind of faith.
17. He may love the people of God.
18. He may go far in obeying the commands of God.
19. He may be, in some sense, sanctified.
20. He may do all, as to external duties, that a true Christian can, and yet be no better than almost a Christian.
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