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Sermon VI. The obligation to increase in godliness.
Preached May 29, 1674.
“Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more.” — 1 Thess. iv. 1.
Our business that we design this day is, to consider how we may carry on our practice. This text of Scripture speaks out the whole of what I aim at; and I wish that I could speak it in the same spirit and with the same frame of heart wherewith it is done by the apostle.
It is a very unusual earnestness the apostle uses in this matter. “We beseech you, brethren, and exhort you,” saith he. And it is evident from thence that this matter, whatever it be, is of very great importance in itself; that it sat with very great weight upon the heart and mind of the apostle; and that it is a matter that brethren, members of churches, will oftentimes stand in need of being very earnestly pressed unto. I conceive all these three things to be evidently included in this earnestness of the apostle, and the reduplication of it. “Now we beseech you, brethren, and we exhort you,” saith he.
470The first word, in my apprehension, doth express his love and condescension, “We beseech you; “and the latter doth express his ministerial authority, “We exhort you,” speaking of the application of the word in the ministry of the gospel, called “exhortation,” Rom. xii. 8. So here is a mixture of personal love and ministerial authority, which is the wisdom of a minister. The apostle lays his whole interest upon this matter.
And there is another word that signifies also what weight he lays on it, We have rendered it here, “Furthermore then.” It is τὸ λοιπὸν οὖν, — “for what remains” ‘You have been instructed in the mystery of the gospel; you have been made partakers of the privileges of the gospel: all that remains now, brethren, is that you so walk as to please God, and abound therein more and more.’ Having prepared the way thus, he gives another encouragement and enforcement unto what he hath to press upon them; and that is, that he had taught them their duty already, there was nothing now behind but their practice. “As ye have,” saith he, “received of us how ye ought to walk.” He had already taught them this great matter; which would be a facilitating of the duty, and a great aggravation of their guilt if they lived in the neglect of it.
What is this thing the apostle makes this entrance into? It is, “How ye ought to walk and to please God,” saith he.
And further to insinuate it upon their minds, and take off any objection, ‘What makes this earnestness? why do you press this? why are you so importunate with us? what can you blame in us?’ ‘No,’ saith the apostle, ‘as we have taught you “how to walk and to please God;” so,’ saith he, ‘I charge you with nothing, but desire you that ye would “abound more and more.” ’ ‘Rest not in what ye have attained; there is yet a progress for us all,’ saith he, — ‘for you and for me.’ If we think we are risen as high as we need, we have attained as much as is necessary, ‘it is quite otherwise,’ saith the apostle, ‘your work is to “abound more and more.” ’
And, truly, the great thing that is upon my heart to exhort you unto, — and this text of Scripture doth but confirm it, — is, to abound more and more in such work wherein we may please God. I cannot speak with that love the apostle did, nor with that authority the apostle did; no, truly. We cannot say we have taught you in all things, yet, how to walk and to please God; though we hope you have been taught: but I can truly say the same thing is upon my heart, according to my measure, to beseech you and exhort you, to declare unto you how to walk in this church relation wherein you stand, so as that you may please God, and so as that you may abound in so walking more and more; and the Lord convince us all, every one, that it is our duty to be abounding in this matter! Some may think 471there is no more needful but so to walk as that they may be members in the church, and give no offence to the church; some, who have already attained a good reputation in their profession, may not think it incumbent on them to do any more but to keep up their place and station, not to decay. Our duty is quite otherwise; we are to “abound more and more.”
Now, because I do intend, if I live, and God will and permit, to go over all the especial duties of our relation, to show in them all how we may so walk as to please God, I shall lay a little general foundation at present out of these words, and that in this rule or proposition, — That there is a peculiar walking with God in fruitful holiness required of all who are admitted into the fellowship of the gospel, the communion of the saints, — and the order of the churches.
This is the first general rifle, and I would build all that ensues upon it. There is a peculiar walking with God, so as to please God, and a progress therein, abounding more and more in it, required of all who are admitted to the privileges of the gospel in church-order and society, and the communion of the saints.
A walking with God; — in the Scripture our obedience to God is not so frequently expressed, in general, by any one word as by this of walking: to walk with God; to walk in his law; to walk in his statutes; to walk in the fear of the Lord.
Now, this walk we speak of is the whole course of our conversation, and our exercise therein with respect unto God. That is a man’s walk. As is the course of a man’s conversation, and his exercise therein with respect unto God, so is his walk: which may be either straight or crooked; it may be either close or loose; it may be either with God or contrary to him. ‘If ye walk contrary to me,’ saith God, ‘I will walk contrary to you.’ And it is variously expressed in Scripture. Sometimes it is called walking with God: Gen. v. 24, “Enoch walked with God;” — sometimes it is called walking before God: Gen. xvii. 1, “Walk before me, and be thou perfect;” — sometimes it is called a walking after God: 2 Kings xxiii. 3, “The king made a covenant to walk after the Lord;” — sometimes it is called a “walking worthy of the Lord,” Col. i. 10; — and sometimes it is termed a “humbling ourselves to walk with God,” Mic. vi. 8. We render it to “walk humbly with God; “but it is so in the original. And all this is to show that God ought to be all and in all in our walk; that we ought so to walk as those who have all from him, as those who do all for him, as those who design conformity to him, and as those that wait for the enjoyment of him. It is every way expressed, that we may know that God ought to be all in our whole walk, — that is, in all we do in this world.
Answerable hereunto, God’s gracious actings towards us are called 472his walking with us. Lev. xxvi. 11, 12, “And I will walk among you,” saith God. Two cannot walk together unless they are agreed. When God and we walk together in peace, upon the agreement made between us by Christ, by the blood of the cross, then are we in our places, and then is God exalted.
Now, this walking with God, without which, as I shall manifest afterwards to you, all our privileges and all our enjoyments are useless, are dangerous, are present means and will be future aggravations of our eternal ruin (without it, I say, that which we lay such weight upon, that which we suffer for, that which we rejoice in, if there be not this walking with God, so as to please him, it is useless and dangerous, — it is a present means of destruction, and will be a future aggravation of it), I say this walking with God may be considered two ways: 1. With respect unto the covenant of grace in general; and, 2. With respect unto the particular church covenant, or holy agreement that is among us in the fellowship of the gospel, which the apostle hath here a particular respect unto: “How ye ought to walk;” — ‘Ye church of Thessalonica, which is in God the Father and in our Lord Jesus Christ; how ye ought to walk.’
First, It is our obedience in general according to the tenor of the covenant of grace; for so it is expressed. All covenant-obedience is expressed in that word, “Walk before me,” Gen. xvii. 1. “I am the Almighty God,” saith he: “walk before me, and be thou upright.” And so, when God promises his Spirit to fulfil in all believers, in all the elect, the grace of the covenant, he saith, “I will write my law in their hearts, and cause them to walk in my statutes” Now, brethren, I would desire you to consider this, in the second place, that church-society is the peculiar way that God hath chosen and ordained whereby we may express covenant-obedience, unto the glory of God and the furtherance of our own salvation. I say, that church-society is a peculiar way God hath appointed whereby we may express our covenant-obedience, unto the glory of God and unto the furtherance of our own salvation. And if any man ask us a reason of this way, and a reason of the ordinances of this way; we can give him neither better nor other answer than this, It is the way God hath appointed whereby we may express our covenant-obedience unto his glory.
Hence these two things follow:—
First, That no man can walk as he ought, and please God in church-society, that doth not walk as he ought in the covenant of grace. The reason is plain, for this our church-society is nothing but the way God hath appointed to express that obedience; as all institutions from the beginning of the world were nothing but ways God had appointed to express covenant-obedience in.
473There is no man, therefore, let him by any way or means come into a church, and be made partaker of the privileges of the church, can walk so as to please God (as the text saith) in that church, unless he walk antecedently and fundamentally in the covenant-obedience that God requireth of him.
Secondly, It follows from hence that no man can walk as he ought to the glory of God in covenant-obedience, that doth not join himself to some church-society wherein to walk; and the reason is, because it is the way God hath chosen and appointed whereby that obedience may be expressed, in one church-society or other that is sound in the faith, walking in the truth. A man cannot walk orderly else in covenant-obedience, because he knows not how to express it to the glory of God.
Now, the first of these, how we should walk in general with respect unto the covenant of grace, I shall not speak unto. It is a long work, a great work; it is not that which I design. In brief, the principle of it is the Spirit of God, whence we are said to “walk in the Spirit;” — the rule of it is the word of God, whence we are said to walk according to the rule, “As many as walk by this rule, peace be on them,” etc.; — the life, way, power of it, is Jesus Christ, in the third place, “I am the way, the truth, and the life;” — the object and end of it is God himself; we walk before God, and so come to the enjoyment of him; — the bounds of it are the covenant; nothing beyond what God requires in his covenant belongs to this walk, nothing that falls beneath the grace of the covenant doth belong unto it, nothing that is contrary to the precepts of the covenant. It is the covenant that gives bounds unto our walking. And the design of this walk is the resignation of ourselves to God, conformity to him, and enjoyment of him. But these are not the things I intend.
That which I intend to speak unto (not now, but hereafter), is our walk with God in that especial church-relation wherein we stand. And I shall endeavour, if God will, to show you how we ought to walk so as to please God, by plain, evident, familiar instructions from the Scripture, accommodated to our state and condition in all things: and, secondly, press it upon your consciences and my own, as the necessity, and condition, and temptations befalling churches, in the days wherein we live, do require; and especially with respect unto that woful conformity to the world which seems to have overtaken the generality of professors in these days.
What I spoke unto you the last day hath occasioned me to go thus back, to lay this foundation; for that will give but one particular of what will be found necessary to press upon you, that you may so walk as to please God, and abound in it more and more.
Yet that is such a weighty particular, — namely, how we may 474every one of us, in our places and conditions, and under our opportunities, promote holiness in one another, and be awakened to a diligent watchfulness unto that duty, that I would beg of you that that might not fall off from our consideration with the experience of other things. And that you might know how to put it in practice more among us was referred to your consideration as well as mine.
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