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Three things inserted by way of Caution.
In the next place, I come to lay down some necessary cautions. Though I say a man should be content in every estate, yet there are three estates in which he must not be contented.
1st. He must not be contented in a natural estate: here we must learn not to be content. A sinner in his pure naturals is under the wrath of God, (Jno. 3. 16) and shall he be content when that dreadful vial is going to be poured out? Is it nothing to be under the scorchings of divine fury? “who can dwell with everlasting burnings?” A sinner, as a sinner, is under the power of Satan, (Ac. 26. 18) and shall he in his estate be contented? Who would be contented to stay in the enemies’ quarters? While we sleep in the lap of sin, the devil doth to us as the Philistines did to Samson, cut out the lock of our strength, and put out our eyes. Be not content, O sinner, in this estate! For a man to be in debt, body and soul; in fear every hour to be arrested and carried prisoner to hell, shall he now be content? Here I preach against contentation,. Oh get out of this condition! I would hasten you out of it as the angel hastened lot out of Sodom; (Gen. 19. 15) there is the smell of the fire and brimstone upon you. The longer a man stays in his sin, the more sin doth strengthen. It is hard to get out of sin, when the heart as a garrison is victualled and fortified. A young plant is easily removed, but when the tree is once rooted, there is no stirring of it: thou who art rooted in thy pride, unbelief, impenitency, it will cost thee many a sad pull ere thou art plucked out of thy natural estate. (Jer. 6. 16) It is an hard thing to have a brazen face and a broken heart; “he travaileth with iniquity;” (Ps. 7. 14) be assured, the longer you travail with your sins, the more and the sharper pangs you must expect in the new birth. O be not contented with your natural estate! David saith, “why art thou cast down, O my soul?” (Ps. 43. 5) But a sinner should say to himself, why art thou not disquieted, O my soul? Why is it that thou layest afflictions so to heart, and canst not lay sin to heart? It is a mercy when we are disquieted about sin. A man had better be at the trouble of setting a bone, than to be lame, and in pain all his life; blessed is that trouble that brings the soul to Christ. It is one of the worst sights to see a bad conscience quiet; of the two, better is a fever than a lethargy. I wonder to see a man in his natural estate content. What! content to go to hell?
2d. Though, in regard of externals, a man should be in every estate content, yet he must not be content is such a condition wherein God is apparently dishonoured. If a man’s trade be such that he can hardly use it, but he must trespass upon a command, and so make a trade of sin, he must not content himself in such a condition; God never called any man to such a calling as is sinful; a man in this case, had better knock off and divert, better lose some of his gain, so he may lessen some of his guilt. So, for servants that live in a profane family, the suburbs of hell, where the name of God is not called upon, unless when it is taken in vain, they are not to content themselves in such a place, they are to come out of the tents of these sinners; there is a double danger in living among the profane.
1. Lest we come to be infected with the poison of their ill example. Joseph, living in Pharaoh’s court, had learned to swear “by the life of Pharaoh.” (Ge. 42. 15) We are prone to suck in example: men take in deeper impressions by the eye than the ear. Dives was a bad pattern, and he had many brethren that seeing him sin, trode just in his steps, therefore saith he, “I pray thee send him to my father’s house: for I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.” (Lu. 16. 27,28) Dives knew which way they went; it is easy to catch a disease from another, but not to catch health. The bad will sooner corrupt the good, than the good will convert the bad. Take an equal quantity and proportion, so much sweet wine with so much sour vinegar; the vinegar will sooner sour the wine than the wine will sweeten the vinegar. Sin is compared to the plague, (1 Ki. 8. 37) and to leaven, (1 Cor. 5. 7) to show of what a spreading nature it is. A bad master makes a bad servant. Jacob’s cattle, by looking on the rods which were speckled and ring-straked conceived the rods. We do as we see others do before us, especially those that are above us. If the head be sick, the other parts of the body are distempered. If the sun shines not upon the mountains, it must needs set in the valleys. We pray, “lead us not into temptation:” Lot was the world’s miracle, who kept himself fresh in Sodom’s salt water.
2. By living in an evil family, we are liable to incur their punishment: “pour out thy wrath upon the families that call not upon thy name. (Jer. 10. 25) For want of pouring out of prayer, the wrath of God was ready to be poured out. It is dangerous living in the tents of Kedar. When God sends his flying roll, written within and without with curses, it enters into the house of the thief and the perjurer, “and consumes the timber and the stones thereof.” (Ze. 5. 4) Is it not of sad consequence to live in a profane perjured family, when the sin of the governor pulls his house about his ears? If the stones and timber be destroyed, how shall the servant escape? And suppose God send not a temporal roll of curses in the family, there is a “spiritual roll, and that is worse.” (Pr. 3. 33) Be not content to live where religion dies. “Salute the brethren, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house.” (Col. 4. 15) The house of the godly is a little church, the house of the wicked a little hell. (Pr. 7. 27) Oh, incorporate yourselves into a religious family; the house of a good man is perfumed with a blessing. (Pr. 3. 33) When the holy oil of grace is poured on the head, the savour of this ointment sweetly diffuseth itself, and the virtue of it runs down upon the skirts of the family. Pious examples are very magnetical and forcible. Seneca said to his sister, though I leave you not wealth, yet I leave you a good example. Let us ingraft ourselves among the saints; by being often among the spices, we come to smell of them.
3d. The third caution is, though in every condition we must be content, yet we are not to content ourselves with a little grace. Grace is the best blessing. Though we should be contented with a competency of estate, yet not with a competency of grace. It was the end of Christ’s assension to heaven, to give gifts; and the end of those gifts, “that we may grow up into him in all things who is the head, even Christ. (Ep. 4. 15) Where the apostle distinguisheth between our being in Christ, and our growing in him; our ingratifying, and our flourishing; be not content with a modicum in religion.
It is not enough that there be life, but there must be fruit. Barrenness in the law was accounted a curse: the farther we are from the fruit, the nearer we are to cursing. (He. 6. 8) It is a sad thing when men are fruitful only in the unfruitful works of darkness. Be not content with a drachm or two of grace; next to a still-born, a starveling in Christ is worse. O covet more grace! never think thou hast enough. We are bid to covet the best things. (1 Cor. 12. 31) It is an heavenly ambition when we desire to be high in God’s favour, a blessed contentation when all the strife is who shall be most holy. St Paul, though he was content with a little of the world, yet not with a little grace: “he reached forward, and pressed towards the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. (Ph. 3. 13,14) A true Christian is a wonder; he is the most contented, and yet the least satisfied; he is contented with a morsel of bread, and a little water in the cruise, yet never satisfied with grace; he doth pant and breath after more; this is his prayer, “Lord, more conformity to Christ, more communion with Christ; he would fain have Christ’s image more lively pictured upon his soul. True grace is always progressive; as the saints are called lamps and stars, in regard of their light, so trees of righteousness, (Is. 61. 3) for their growth: they are indeed like the tree of life, bringing forth several sorts of fruit.
A true Christian grows in beauty. Grace is the best complexion of the soul; it is at the first plantation, like Rachel, fair to look upon; but still the more it lives, the more it sends forth its rays of beauty. Abraham’s faith was at first beautiful; but at last did shine in its orient colours, and grew so illustrious, that God himself was in love with it, and makes his faith a pattern to all believers.
A true Christian grows in sweetness. A poisonous weed may grow as much as the hyssop or rosemary, the poppy in the field as the corn, the crab as the pearmain; but the one hath a harsh sour taste, the other mellows as it grows: an hypocrite may grow in outward dimensions, as much as a child of God, he may pray as much, profess as much: but he grows only in magnitude, he brings forth only sour grapes, his duties are leavened with pride; the other ripens as he grows; he grows in love, humility, faith, which do mellow and sweeten his duties, and make them come off with a better relish. The believer grows as the flower, he casts a fragrancy and perfume.
A true Christian grows in strength: he grows still more rooted and settled. The more the tree grows, the more it spreads its root in the earth: a Christian who is a plant of the heavenly Jerusalem, the longer he grows, the more he incorporates into Christ, and sucks spiritual juice and sap from him; he is a dwarf in regard of humility, but a giant in regard of strength, — he is strong to do duties, to bear burdens, resist temptations.
He grows in the exercise of his grace; he hath not only oil in his lamp, but his lamp is also burning and shining. Grace is agile and dexterous. Christ’s vine do flourish; (Ca. 6. 11) hence we read of “a lively hope, (1 Pe. 1. 3) and “a ferverent love;” (1 Pe. 1. 22) here is the activity of grace. Indeed sometimes grace is a sleepy habit of the soul, like sap in the vine, not exerting its vigour, which may be occasioned through spiritual sloth, or by reason of falling into some sin; but this is only for a while: the spring of grace will come, “the flowers will appear, and the fig tree put forth her green figs.” The fresh gales of the Spirit do sweetly revive and refacilitate grace. The church of Christ, whose heart was a garden, and her graces as precious spices, prays for the heavenly breathings of the Spirit, that her sacred spices might flow out. (Ca. 6. 16)
A true Christian grows both in the kind and in the degree of grace. To his spiritual living he gets an augmentation, he adds to “faith, virtue: to virtue, knowledge: to knowledge, temperance,” &c. (2 Pe. 1. 5,6) Here is grace growing in its kind. And he goes on “from faith to faith;” (Ro. 1. 17) there is grace growing in the degree; “we are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, because your faith groweth exceedingly;” (2 Th. 1. 3) it increaseth over and above. And the apostle speaks of those spiritual plants which were laden with gospel-fruit. (Ph. 1. 11) A Christian is compared to the vine, (an emblem of fruitfulness) he must bear full clusters: we are bid to perfect that which is lacking in our faith. (1 Th. 3. 10) A Christian must never be so old as to be past bearing; he brings forth fruit in his old age. (Ps. 92. 14) An heaven-born plant is ever growing; he never thinks he grows enough; he is not content unless he add every day one cubit to his spiritual stature. We must not be content just with so much grace as will keep life and soul together, a drachm or two will not suffice, but we must be still increasing, “with the increase of God.” (Col. 2. 19) We had need renew our strength as the eagle. (Is. 40. 31) Our sins are renewed, our wants are renewed, our tentations are renewed, and shall not our strength be renewed? O be not content with the first embryo of grace; grace in its infancy and minority! You look for degrees of glory, be ye Christians of degrees. Though a believer should be contented with a modicum on his estate, yet not with a modicum in religion. A Christian of the right breed labours still to excel himself, and come nearer to that holiness in God, who is the original, the pattern, and prototype of all holiness.
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