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Use of Caution
Second Use of Caution.—“O take heed of being almost, and yet but almost a Christian!” It is a great complaint of God against Ephraim, that “he is a cake not turned;” that is, half baked, neither raw nor roasted, neither cold nor hot, as Laodicea: “Because thou art neither hot nor cold, therefore I will spue thee out of my mouth.” This is a condition that of all others is greatly unprofitable, exceedingly uncomfortable, and desperately dangerous.
First, “It is greatly unprofitable to be but almost a Christian;” for failing in any one point, will ruin us as surely as if we had never made any attempts for heaven. It is no advantage to the soul to be almost converted; for the little that we want, spoils the good of all our attainments. We say, as good never a whit as never the near; there is no profit in leaving this or that sin, unless we leave all sin. Herod heard John gladly, and did many things, but he kept his Herodias, and that ruined him. Judas did many things, prayed much, preached much, professed much, but yet his covetousness spoiled all; one sin ruined the young man, that had kept all the commands but one. Thus he “that offends in one point, is guilty of all.” That is, he that lives wilfully and allowedly in any one sin, brings 198the guilt of the violation of the whole law of God upon his soul, and that upon a twofold account.
1. Because he manifests the same contempt of the authority of God, in the wilful breach of one, as of all.
2. By allowing himself in the breach of any one command, he shows he kept none in obedience and conscience to God; for he that hates sin as sin, hates all sin, and he that obeys the command as the express will of God, obeys every command. And for this cause the least sin, wilfully, and with allowance lived in, spoils the good of all our obedience and lays the soul under the whole wrath of God. One leak in a ship will sink her, though she be tight every way else. “Gideon had seventy sons,” and but one bastard, and yet that one bastard destroyed all his sons; so may one sin spoil all our services; one lust beloved may spoil all our profession, as that one bastard slew all the sons of Gideon.
Secondly, “It is exceedingly uncomfortable as appears in three ways.
1. “In that such a one is hated of God and men.” The world hates him because of his profession, and God abhors him because of his dissimulation; the world hates him because he seems 199good, and God hates him because he doth but seem so. No person that God hates more than the almost Christian: “I would that thou wert either cold or hot;” either all a Christian, or not at all a Christian. “Because thou art neither cold nor hot, therefore I will spew thee out of my mouth.” What a loathsome expression doth God here use, to show what an utter abhorrency there is in him against lukewarm Christians! How uncomfortable then must that condition needs be wherein a man is abhorred both of God and man?
2. “It is uncomfortable in regard of sufferings.” For being almost a Christian, will bring us into suffering: but being but almost a Christian, will never carry us through suffering. In Matt. xiii. 20, 21, it is said, “He that receiveth the seed into stony ground, the same is he that hears the word, and with joy receives it; yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while; for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by-and-by he is offended.”
There are four things observable in these words.
1. That the stony ground may receive the word with joy.200
2. That it may for some time abide in a profession of it: He dureth for a while.
3. That his profession will expose to suffering; for, mark, persecution is said to arise because of the word.
4. This suffering will cause an apostatizing from profession; for that which is here called “offence,” is in Luke viii. 13, called falling away: “which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away.”
I gather hence, a profession may expose a man as much to suffering as the power of godliness: but without the power of godliness there is no holding out in a profession under suffering. The world hates the show of godliness, and therefore persecutes it; the almost Christian wants the substance, and therefore cannot hold out in it.
Now this must needs be very uncomfortable; if I profess religion, I am like to suffer; if I do but profess it, I am never like to endure.
3. “It is uncomfortable, in regard of that deceit it lays our hopes under;” to be deceived of our hopes causeth sorrow as well as shame. He that is but almost a Christian, hopes for heaven; but unless he be altogether a Christian, he shall never come there. Now to perish with hopes of heaven, to go to hell by the gates of glory, to 201come to the very door, and then be shut out, as the five virgins were; to die in the wilderness, within the sight of the promised land, at the very brinks of Jordan; this must needs be sad. To come within a stride of the goal, and yet miss it; to sink within sight of harbor; O how uncomfortable is this!
4. “As it is greatly unprofitable, and exceedingly uncomfortable, to be but almost a Christian, so it is desperately dangerous.” For,
1. “This hinders the true work:” A man lies in a fairer capacity for conversion, that lies in open enmity and rebellion, than he that sooths up himself in the formalities of religion. This I gather from the parable of the two sons, which our Lord Christ urged to the professing Scribes and Pharisees. “There was a man had two sons; and he came to one, and said, Go work today in my vineyard. He said, I will not; but afterwards repented and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise; and he said, I go, Sir; but went not.” The first represents the carnal, open sinner, that is called by the word, but refuses, yet afterwards repents, and believes. The second represents the hypocritical professor, that pretends much, but performs little. Now mark how Christ applies this parable: “Verily I 202say unto you, that the publicans and harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.”
And upon this account it is better not to be at all, than to be almost a Christian; for the almost hinders the altogether. It is better, in this regard, to be a sinner without a profession, than to be a professor without conversion: for the one lies fairer for an inward change, when the other rests in an outward. Our Lord Christ tells the Scribe, “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God,” yet never like to come there. None farther from the kingdom of God than such as are not far from the kingdom of God. As for instance, when there lies but one lust, one sin between a soul and Christ, that soul is not far from Christ: but now, when the soul rests in this nearness to Christ, and yet will not part with that one lust for Christ, but thinks his condition secured, though that lust be not subdued; who is farther from the kingdom of God than he? So our Lord Christ tells the young man, “One thing thou lackest.” Why he was very near heaven, near being a Christian altogether, he was very near being saved; he tells Christ he had kept all the commands. He lacked but one thing; I say, but one thing: but it was a great thing. That one thing he lacked was more than all things he had, 203for it was the one thing necessary; it was a new heart, a work of grace in his soul, a change of state, a heart weaned from the world. This was the one thing, and he that lacks this one thing, perishes with his all things else.
2. “This condition is so like a state of grace, that the mistake of it for grace is easy and common;” and it is very dangerous to mistake anything for grace that is not grace; for in that a man contents himself, as if it were grace. Formality doth often dwell next door to sincerity, and one sign serves both; and so the house may be easily mistaken, and by that means a man may take up his lodging there, and never find the way out again.
What one saith of wisdom, (many might have been wise, had they not thought themselves so when they were otherwise) the same I may say of grace; many a formal professor might have been a sincere believer, had he not mistook his profession for conversion, his duties for grace, and so rested in that for sincerity that is but hypocrisy.
8. “It is a degree of blasphemy to pretend to grace, and yet have no grace.” I gather this from Rev. ii. 9,—“I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not.” This 204place undergoes a variety of constructions; Grotius and Paraeus do not make their blasphemy to lie in their saying they are Jews, and are not; but to lie in the reproaches that these Jews fastened upon Christ, calling him impostor, deceiver, one that hath a devil, &c. Brightman goes another way, and saith, this was the blasphemy of these Jews; they retained that way of worship that was abrogated, and thrust upon God those old rites and ceremonies that Jesus Christ had abolished, and nailed to his cross, by which they overthrew the glory of Christ, and denied his coming. But I conceive the blasphemy of these Jews to lie in this, that they said they were Jews and were not. A Jew here is not to be taken literally and strictly only, for one of the lineage of Abraham, but it is to be taken metonymically for a true believer, one of the spiritual seed of Abraham: “He is a Jew who is one inwardly;” so that for a man to say he is a Jew when he is not, to profess an interest in Christ when he hath none, to say he hath grace when he hath none, this Christ calls blasphemy.
But why should Christ call this blasphemy? This is hypocrisy; but how may it be said to be blasphemy? Why, he blasphemes the great attribute of God’s omnisciency, he doth implicitly 205deny that God sees and knows our hearts and thoughts; for if a man did believe the omnisciency of God, that he searches, the heart and sees and knows all within, he would not dare to rest in a graceless profession of godliness. This, therefore, is blasphemy in the account of Christ.
4. “It is dangerous to be almost a Christian, in that this stills and serves to quiet conscience.” Now it is very dangerous to quiet conscience with anything but the blood of Christ: it is bad being at peace till Christ speak peace. Nothing can truly pacify conscience less than that which pacifies God, and that is the blood of the Lord Christ. Now the almost Christian quiets conscience, but not with the blood of Christ: it is not a peace flowing from Christ’s propitiation, but a peace rising from a formal profession, not a peace of Christ’s giving, but a peace of his own making; he silences and bridles conscience with a form of godliness, and so makes it give way to an undoing, soul-destroying peace; he rocks it asleep in the cradle of duties, and then it is a thousand to one it never awaketh more till death or judgment.
Ah, my brethren, it is better to have conscience never quiet, than quieted any way but by “the 206blood of sprinkling:” a good conscience unquiet, is the greatest affliction to saints; and an evil conscience quiet, is the greatest judgment to sinners.
5. “It is dangerous to be almost a Christian, in respect of the unpardonable sin.” The sin that the Scripture saith, “can never be forgiven, neither in this world nor in the world to come;” I mean the sin against the Holy Ghost. Now such are only capable of sinning that sin as are but almost Christians. A true believer cannot; the work of grace in his heart, that seed of God which abideth in him, secures him against it.
The profane, ignorant, open sinner cannot; though he live daily and hourly in sin, yet he cannot commit this sin, for it must be from an enlightened mind. Every sinner, under the gospel, especially sins sadly against the Holy Ghost, against the strivings and motions of the Spirit: he “resists the Holy Ghost;” but yet this is not the sin against the Holy Ghost.
There must be three ingredients to make up that sin.
1st, It must be wilful. If we sin wilfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sin.”
2d, “It must be against light and conviction, 207after we have received the knowledge of the truth.”
3d, It must be in resolved malice. Now you shall find all these ingredients in the sin of the Pharisees, Matt. xii. 22. Christ heals one that was “possessed of the devil;” a great work, which all the people wondered at, verse 23. But what say the Pharisees? see verse 24. “This fellow casteth out devils by the prince of devils.” Now that this was the sin against the Holy Ghost, is clear; for it was both wilful and malicious, and against clear convictions. They could not but see that he was the Son of God, and that this work was a peculiar work of the Spirit of God in him and yet they say, he wrought by the devil! whereupon Christ charges them with this “sin against the Holy Ghost,” verse 31, 32, 33.44 Compare this with Mark iii. 23, 23, 30. Now the Pharisees were a sort of great professors; whence I gather this conclusion, that it is the professor of religion that is the subject of this sin; not the open carnal sinner, not the true believer, but the formal professor. Not the sinner, for he hath neither light nor grace; not the believer, for he hath both light and grace; therefore the formal professor, for he hath light but no grace. Here, then, is the great danger of being almost a 208Christian—he is liable to this dreadful unpardonable sin.
6. “The being but almost a Christian, subjects us to apostasy.” He that gets no good by walking in the ways of God, will quickly leave them and walk no more in them. This I gather from Hosea xiv. 9. “Who is wise, and he shall understand these things? prudent, and he shall know them? for the ways of the Lord are right, and the just shall walk in them, but the transgressors shall fall therein.”
“The just shall walk in them.” He whose heart is renewed and made right with God, he shall keep close to God in his ways.
“But the transgressor shall walk therein.” The word in the Hebrew is peshangim, from a word that signifies to prevaricate: so that we may read the words thus, “The ways of the Lord are right, and the just shall walk in them; but he that prevaricates (that is, a hypocrite,) in the ways of God, he shall fall therein.”
An unsound heart will never hold out long in the ways of God: “He was a burning and a shining light, and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in that light.”
“For a season”—For an hour, a short space, and then they left him. It is a notable question 209Job puts concerning the hypocrite—“Will he delight himself in the Almighty? will he always call upon God?”
He may do much, but those two things he cannot do:
1. He cannot make God his delight.
2. He cannot persevere in duties at all times, and in all conditions.
He will be an apostate at last: the scab of hypocrisy usually breaks out in the plague-sore of apostasy. Conversion ground is standing, ground; it is terra firma; but a graceless profession of religion is a slippery ground, and falling ground; Julian the apostate, was first Julian the professor. I know it is possible a believer may fall, but yet “he rises again, the everlasting arms are underneath;” but when the hypocrite falls, who shall help him up? Solomon saith, “Wo to to him that is alone when he falls!” that is without interest in Christ. Why wo to him? For he hath none to help him up.” If Jesus Christ do not recover him, who can? David fell and was restored, for he had one to help him up; but Judas fell and perished, for he was alone.
7. “This being but almost a Christian, provokes 210God to bring dreadful spiritual judgments upon a man.”
Barrenness is a spiritual judgment: now this provokes God to give us up to barrenness. When Christ found the fig-tree that had leaves but no fruit, he pronounces the curse of barrenness upon it: “Never fruit grow on thee more.” And so Ezek. xlvii. 11: “The miry places thereof, and the marshy places thereof, shall not be healed; they shall be given to salt.”
A spirit of delusion is a sad judgment. Why, this is the almost Christian’s judgment, that receives the truth, but not in the love of it: “Because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved; for this cause God shall send them strong delusions.”
To lose either light or sight, either ordinances or eyes, is a great spiritual judgment. Why, this is the almost Christian’s judgment: he that profits not under the means of God, provokes God to take away either light or sight; either the ordinances from before his eyes, or else to bind his eyes under the ordinances.
To have a hard heart, is a dreadful judgment, and there is no hypocrite but he hath a hard heart.
My brethren, it is a dreadful thing for God to 211give a man up to spiritual judgments! Now this being almost a Christian, provokes God to give a man up to spiritual judgments: surely, therefore, it is a very dangerous thing to be almost a Christian!
8. “Being almost and but almost Christians, will exceedingly aggravate our damnation.” The higher a man rises under the means, the lower he falls if he miscarries: he that falls but a little short of heaven, will fall deepest into hell; he that hath been nearest to conversion, being not converted, shall have the deepest damnation when he is judged. Capernaum’s sentence shall exceed Sodom’s for severity; because she exceeded Sodom in the enjoyment of mercy—she received. more from God, she knew more of God, she professed much for God, and yet was not right with God; therefore, she shall be punished more by God. The higher the rise, the greater the fall; the higher the profession, the lower the damnation. He miscarrieth with a light in his hand: be perisheth under many convictions; and convictions never end but in a sound conversion, as in all saints; or in a sad damnation, as in all hypocrites. Praying-ground, hearing-ground, professing-ground, and conviction-ground, is, of all, the worst ground to perish upon.212
Now, then, to sum up all under this head.
If to be almost a Christian hinders the true work of conversion; if it be easily mistaken for conversion; if it be a degree of blasphemy; if this be that which quiets conscience; if this subjects a man to commit the unpardonable sin; if it lays us liable to apostasy; if it provokes God to give us up to spiritual judgments; and if it be that which exceedingly aggravates our damnation; sure then it is a very dangerous thing to be almost and but almost a Christian!
O labor to be altogether Christians, to go farther than they who have gone farthest, and yet fall short! This is the great counsel of the Holy Ghost: “So run that ye may obtain.—Give diligence to make your calling and election sure.”
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