By Matthew Mead, 1661
"You almost persuade me to be a Christian."Acts 26:28
QUESTION II. Why is it, that many men go so far, as that they come to be but almost Christians?
First, It may be to answer the call of CONSCIENCE. Though few men have grace, yet all men have conscience. Now do but observe, and, you shall see how far conscience may go in this work.
1. Conscience owns a God, and that this God must be worshiped and served by the creature. Atheists in practice, we have many; such as the apostle speaks of, "They profess to know God—but in works they deny him." But atheists in judgment none can be. Now there being such a light in conscience, as to discover that there is a God, and that he must be worshiped by the help of farther light—the light of the Word—a man may be enabled to do much in the ways of God—and yet his heart without a grain of grace.
2. Know this—that natural conscience is capable of great improvements from the means of grace. Sitting under the ordinances may exceedingly heighten the endowments of conscience. It may be much regulated, though it be not at all renewed. It may be enlightened, convinced—and yet never savingly converted and changed. You read in Hebrews 6:4, of some that were "once enlightened, and tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit." What work shall we call this? It could not be a saving work, a true change and conversion of state; for, notwithstanding this enlightening, and tasting, and partaking, yet they are here said to fall away, verse 6. Had it been a true work of grace—they could never have fallen away from that. A believer may fall—but he cannot fall away. He may fall foully—but he cannot fall finally; for, "underneath are the everlasting arms." His faith is established in the strength of that prayer of Christ, that our faith fail not. Nay, he tells us expressly, that it is eternal life which he gives—from which we shall never perish. This work, then, here spoken of, cannot be any saving work, because it is not anabiding work; for those who are under it, are said to fall away from it.
But though it be not a saving work—yet it is a supernatural work. It is an improvement made by the Word upon the consciences of men, through the power of the Spirit; and therefore they are said to "taste the good Word of God," and to be made "partakers of the Holy Spirit." They have not the Spirit abiding in them savingly—but striving with them, and working upon them convincingly, to the awakening and setting conscience on work. And conscience, thus stirred, may carry a man very far in religion, and in the duties of the gospel—and yet be but a natural conscience.
A common work of the Spirit, may stead a man very much in the duties of religion, though it must be a special work of the Spirit which gives a man salvation. A man may have the assisting presence of the Spirit, enabling him to preach and pray—and yet he may perish for lack of the renewing presence of the Spirit, enabling him to believe. Judas had the former—and yet perished for lack of the latter. He had the Spirit assisting him to cast out devils; but yet he had not the Spirit renewing him; for he was cast out himself. Thus a man may have an improved conscience—and yet be a stranger to a renewed conscience; and conscience, thus improved, may put a man very much upon duty. I pray God, none of us mistake a conscience, thus improved by the Word, for a conscience renewed by the Spirit. The mistake is very easy, especially when a life of duties is the fruit of it.
3. The conscience of a natural man is subject to distress and trouble. Though a natural conscience is not sanctified with grace, yet it is often troubled at sin. Trouble of conscience is not incident to believers only—but sometimes to unbelievers also. A believer's conscience is sometimes troubled, when his sin is truly pardoned; and a natural man's conscience is troubled for sin—though it is never freed from sin. God sometimes sets the Word home upon the sinner's conscience, and applies the terrors of the law to it; and this fills the soul with fear and horror of death and hell. Now, in this case, the soul usually betakes itself to a life of duties, merely to fence trouble out of conscience. When Absalom sets on fire Joab's cornfields, then Joab runs to him, though he refused before. Just so, when God lets a spark of hell, as it were, fall upon the sinner's conscience in applying the terrors of the Word, this drives the sinner to a life of duties which he never minded before.
The ground of many a man's engaging in religion, is the trouble of his conscience; and the end of his continuing in religion, is the quieting of conscience. If conscience would never check him, God would never hear from him. Natural conscience has a voice, and speaks aloud many times in the sinner's ears, and tells him, "This ought not to be done! God must not be forgotten. The commands of God ought not to be slighted; living in sin will be the ruin of the soul!" And hence it is, that a natural man runs to duties, and takes up a lifeless and graceless profession, that he may thereby silence conscience.
As a man sick with a stomach, whatever sweet morsel he has eaten, he vomits it all up; and although it was sweet in the eating, yet it is bitter in the vomiting; so it fares with the sinner, when he is sermon-sick, or conscience-sick. Though his sin was sweet in the practice, yet the thought of it rises bitter upon the conscience: and then his profession of religion is the pill he rolls about in his mouth, to take away the bitterness of sin's taste!
4. Natural conscience, enlightened by the Word—may discover to a man much of the misery of a natural state; though not effectually to bring him out of it; yet so as to make him restless and weary in it. It may show a sinner his nakedness; and hereupon, the soul runs to a life of duties; thinking hereby to halt the misery of his case, and to make a covering for his nakedness. It is said, "that when Adam and Eve saw they were naked, they sewed fig-leaves together, and made themselves a covering." So when once the sinner sees his nakedness and vileness by reason of sin, whereas he should run to Christ, and close with him, and beg his righteousness for a covering, "that the shame of his nakedness does not appear;" he rather runs to a life of duties and performances, and thus makes himself a covering with the fig-leaves of a profession, without Christ truly embraced, and conscience at all renewed.
Natural man would gladly be his own Savior; and supposes a change of state to be a thing within his own power; and that the true work of grace lies in leaving off the practice of sin, and taking up a life of religious duties: and, therefore, upon this principle, does many a graceless professor outstrip a sound believer; for he rests on his own performances, and hopes these will commend him to God.
Question III. If a natural conscience may go thus far, then what difference is there between this natural conscience in hypocrites, and a renewed conscience in believers? Or, how may I know whether the working of my conscience is the working of nature only, or else of grace wrought in it?
Answer. I grant that it is difficult to distinguish between the one and the other; and the difficulty has a twofold cause.
1. It arises from that hypocrisy that is in the best saints. The weakest believer is no hypocrite—but yet there is some hypocrisy in the strongest believer. Where there is most grace, there is some sin; and where there is most sincerity, yet there is some hypocrisy. Now it is very incident to a tender conscience to misgive and mistrust its state, upon the sight of any sin. When he sees hypocrisy break out in any duty or performance, then he complains, "Surely my aims are not sincere! my conscience is not renewed—it is but natural conscience enlightened, not by grace purged and changed." Pygmalion made an image so life-like that he deceived himself; and, taking the picture for a person, he fell in love with the picture!
2. It arises from that resemblance which there is between grace and hypocrisy; for hypocrisy is a resemblance of grace, without the substance. Hypocrisy is the likenessof grace, without the life of grace. There is no grace but a hypocrite may have something like it; and there is no duty done by a Christian—but a hypocrite may outstrip him in it. Now, when one who has not true grace shall go further than one who has, this may well make the believer question whether his grace is true or not; or whether the workings of his conscience are not the workings of nature only, rather than of grace wrought in it.
But to answer the question—You may make a judgment of this in these seven particulars:
1. If a natural man's conscience puts him upon duty, he does usually limit himself in the work of God. His duties are limited; his obedience is a limited obedience. He does one duty—and neglects another. He picks and chooses among the commands of God; obeys one—and slights another. Thus much is enough; what need any more? If I do thus and thus, I shall go to heaven at last. But where conscience is renewed by grace, there it is otherwise. Though there may be many weaknesses which accompany its duties, yet that soul never bounds itself in working after God: it never loves God so much—but still it would love him more; nor seeks him so much—but still it would seek him more; nor does it serve God so well at any time—but it still makes conscience of serving him better.
A renewed conscience is a spring of universal obedience: for it sees an infinite excellency, and goodness, and holiness in God; and therefore would gladly have its service rise up towards some proportionableness to the object. "A God of infinite excellency and goodness, should have infinite love," says conscience. "A holy God should have service from a holy heart," says conscience.
Now then, if I set bounds to my love to God, or to my service to God; if I limit myself in my obedience to the holy God; love one command, and slight another; obey in one point—and yet ignore another; then is all I do but the workings of a natural conscience. But on the other hand, if I love the Lord with my whole heart, and whole soul, and serve him with all my might and strength; if "I esteem all God's precepts concerning all things to be right, and have respect to all his commands," then is my love and service from a renewed conscience.
2. If a natural man's conscience checks or accuses for sin—then he seeks to stop the mouth of it—but not to satisfy it. Most of the natural man's duties are to still and stifle conscience. But, the believer chooses rather to let conscience cry, than to stop the mouth of it, until he can do it upon good terms, and until he can fetch in satisfaction to it from the blood of Jesus Christ, by fresh acts of faith apprehended and applied. The natural man seeks to still the noise of conscience, rather than to remove the guilt. The believer seeks the removal of guilt by the application of Christ's blood; and then conscience is quiet of itself.
As a foolish man, having a mote fallen into his eye, and making it water, he wipes away the water, and labors to keep it dry—but never searches his eye to get out the mote; but a wise man minds not so much the wiping, as the searching his eye; something has got into the eye, and that causes the watering, and therefore the cause must be removed. Now then, if when conscience accuses for sin, I take up a life of duties, a form of godliness, to stop the mouth of conscience; and if hereupon conscience be still and quiet; then is this but a natural conscience. But if, when conscience checks, it will not be satisfied with anything but the blood of Christ, and therefore I use duties to bring me to Christ; and if I beg the sprinkling of his blood upon conscience, and labor not so much to stop the mouth of it, as to remove guilt from it—then is this a renewed conscience.
3. There is no natural man, let him go ever so far, let him do ever so much in the matters of religion—but still he has his Delilah, his bosom-lust. Judas went far—but he carried his covetousness along with him. Herod went far; he did many things under the force of John's ministry; but yet there was one thing he did not; he did not put away his brother's wife—his Herodias lay in his bosom still. Nay, commonly, all the natural man's duties are to hide some sin; his profession is only made use of for a cover shame.
But the renewed conscience hates all sin, as David did, "I hate every false way!" He regards no iniquity in his heart: he uses duties, not to cover sin—but to help work down, and work out sin. Now then, if I profess religion; if I make mention of the name of the Lord, and make my "boast of the law—and yet through breaking the law dishonor God;" if I live in the love of any sin, and make use of my profession to cover it—then am I a hypocrite, and my duties flow but from a natural conscience. But, on the other hand, if I "name the name of the Lord Jesus, and withal depart from iniquity;" if I use duties, not to cover sin—but to discover and mortify sin—then am I upright before God, and my duties flow from a renewed conscience.
4. A natural man prides himself in his duties. If he is much in duty, then he is much lifted up in pride, under duty. So did the Pharisee, "God, I thank you that I am not as other men are;" and why? where lay the difference? why, "I fast twice in the week: I give tithes of all," etc. But take a gracious heart, a renewed conscience, and when his duties are at highest, then is his heart at lowest. Thus it was with the apostle Paul; he was much in service, "in season, and out of season;" preaching up the Lord Jesus with all boldness and earnestness—and yet very humble, in a sense of his own unworthiness, under all, "I am not worthy to be called an apostle. To me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ." And again, "Of sinners, I am chief."
Thus a believer, when he is highest in duties, then is he lowest in Humility. Duty puffs up the hypocrite—but a believer comes away humbled; and why? because the hypocrite has had no visions of God: he has seen only his own gifts and abilities—and this exalts him. But the believer has seen God, and enjoyed communion with God—and this humbles him. Communion with God, though it be very refreshing, yet it is also very abasing and humbling to the creature.
From the Word of the Lord, comes a sight of greatness of the Lord; and from a sight of the greatness of the Lord, comes humility. Now then, if I pride myself in any duty, and am puffed up under any performances; then have I not seen nor met with God in any duty. But on the other hand, if when my gifts are at highest—my heart is at lowest; if when my spirit is most raised—my heart is the most humbled; if, in the midst of all my services—I can maintain a sense of my own unworthiness; then have I seen and had communion with God in duty, and my performances are from a renewed conscience.
5. Look what that is, to which the heart does secretly render the glory of a duty—and that is the principle of the duty. In Hab. 1:16, we read of those who sacrifice to their net, and burn incense to their dragnet." Where the glory of an action is rendered to a man's self—the principle of that action is self. When all a man's duties terminate in self, then is self the principle of all. Now all the natural man's duties run into himself. He was never, by a thorough work of grace, truly cast out of himself, and brought to deny himself; and therefore he can rise no higher than himself in all he does. He was never brought to be poor in spirit, and so to live upon Christ; to be carried out of all duties to Jesus Christ.
But the true believer gives the glory of all his services to God; whatever strength or life there is in duty, God has all the glory; for he is by grace, humbled out of himself, and therefore sees no excellence or worthiness in self. "I labored more abundantly than they all," says the apostle; but to whom does he ascribe the glory of this? to self? No! "Yet not I," says he, "but the grace of God which was with me." Whenever the grace of Christ is wrought in the heart as a principle of duty, you shall find the soul when it is most carried out, with a "Yet not I," in the mouth of it. "I live—yet not I; I labored more abundantly than all—yet not I." Self is disclaimed, and Christ most advanced, when it is from grace, that the heart is quickened.
The twenty-four elders cast their crowns at Christ's feet. There are two very hard things: one is, to take the shame of our sins to ourselves; the other is, to give the glory of our services to Christ. Now then, if I sacrifice to my own net: if I aim at my own credit or profit, and give the glory of all I do to self; then do I "sow to the flesh," and was never yet cast out of self—but act only from a natural conscience. But if I give the glory of all my strength and life in duty only to God; if I magnify grace in all, and can truly say in all I do, "Yet not I," then am I truly cast out of self, and do what I do with a renewed conscience.
6. Though a natural conscience may put a man much upon service, yet it never presses to the attainment of holiness. So that he carries an unsanctified heart under all. How long was Judas a professor—and yet not one grain of grace had he. The foolish virgins, you know, "took their lamps—but took no oil in their vessels;" that is, they looked more after a profession, than after a sanctification. But, when a renewed conscience puts a man upon duty—it is followed with the growth of holiness. As grace helps to the doing of duty, so duty helps to the growing of grace; a believer is the more holy and the more heavenly, by his being much in duties.
Now then, if I am much in a life of duties—and yet a stranger to a life of holiness; if I maintain a high profession—and yet have not a true work of sanctification; if, like children in the rickets, I grow big in the head—but weak in the feet; then have I gifts and abilities—but no grace; and though I am much in service—yet have I but a natural conscience. But, on the other hand, if the holiness of my life carries a proportion to my profession; if I am not "a hearer of the Word only—but a doer of it;" if grace grows in seasons of duty, then do I act in the things of God, from a renewed conscience.
7. And lastly, If a natural conscience is the spring of duty—then this spring runs fastest at first, and so abates, and at last dries up. But if a renewed conscience, a sanctified heart, is the spring of duty, then this spring will never dry up. It will run always, from first to last, and run quicker at last than first, "I know your works, and the last to be more than the first." "The righteous shall hold on his way; and he who has clean hands shall be stronger and stronger."
Question. But you will say—Why does that man abate and languish in his duties, who does them from a natural conscience, more than he who does them from a renewed conscience?
Answer. The reason is, because they grow upon a fallible root, a decaying root, and that is nature. Nature is a fading root, and so are all its fruits fading; but the duties done by a renewed conscience, are fruits that grow upon a lasting root; and that is Christ. "Gifts have their root in nature—but grace has its root in Christ!" And therefore the weakest grace shall outlive the greatest gifts and abilities; because there is life in the root of the one, and not in that of the other.
Gifts and grace differ like the leather of your shoe, and the skin of your foot. Make a pair of shoes that have the thickest soles, and if you go much in them, the leather wears out, and in a little time a man's foot comes to the ground. But a man who goes barefoot all his days, the skin of his feet does not wear out. Why should not the sole of his foot sooner wear out than the sole of his shoe; for the leather is much thicker than the skin? The reason is, because there is life in the one, and not in the other; there is life in the skin of the foot, and therefore that holds out, and grows thicker and thicker, harder and harder; but there is no life in the sole of his shoe, and therefore that wears out, and waxes thinner and thinner. So it is with gifts and grace.
Now then, if I decay and abate, and grow weary of a profession, and fall away at last; if I begin in the spirit, and end in the flesh—then was all I did from a natural conscience. But if I grow and hold out, if I persevere to the end, and my "last works are more than my first," then I act from a renewed conscience.
And thus I have, in seven things, answered that question, namely, If conscience may go thus far in putting a man upon duties, then what difference is there between this natural conscience in hypocrites and sinners, and renewed conscience in believers? And that is the first answer to the main query, namely, "Whence is it that many men go so far—as those who come to be almost Christians?" It is to answer the call of conscience.
Secondly, It is from the power of the WORD under which they live. Though the Word does not work effectually upon all, yet it has a great power upon the hearts of sinners to reform them, though not to renew them.
1. It has a discerning, discovering power. "The Word of God is living and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow; and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." The Word is the looking-glass wherein everyone may see what he really is. As the light of the sun reveals the little motes, so the light of the Word, shining into conscience, discovers little sins.
2. The Word has the power of a law. It gives law to the whole soul; and binds conscience. Scripture, therefore, is frequently called the law, "Unless your law had been my delight," etc. "To the law and to the testimony." This is spoken of the whole Word of God, which is therefore called a law, because of its binding power upon the conscience.
3. The Word has a judging power. "The Word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him at the last day." The sentence that God will pass upon unconverted sinners hereafter, is no other than what the Word passes upon him here. The judgment of God, is not a day wherein God will pass any new sentence; but it is such a day wherein God will make a solemn, public ratification of the judgment passed by the ministry of the Word upon souls here. This I gather clearly from Matthew 18:18, "Whatever you shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you shall loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven." So that, by bringing a man's heart to the word, and trying it by that, he may quickly know what that sentence is that God will pass upon his soul in the last day—for as the judgment of the Word is now, such will the judgment of God be concerning him in the last day.
Indeed, there is a twofold power, farther than this, in the Word. It has a begetting and saving power. But this is put forth only upon some. But the other is more extensive, and has a great causality upon a profession of goodness, even among those who have no grace.
A man who is under this threefold power of discerning, law and judgment, who has his heart ransacked and unveiled, his conscience awakened and awed, his state and sinful condition judged and condemned; may take up a resolution of a new life, and convert himself to great profession of religion.
Thirdly, A may may go far in this course of profession—from a desire for applause and honor, and to get a name in the world. As it is said of the Pharisees, they "love to pray in the marketplaces, and in the corners of the streets—to be seen of men." Many a man does that for credit—which he will not do for conscience; and owns religion more for the sake of the lust for honor—than for the sake of Christ: thus making God's stream to turn the devil's mill.
Fourthly, It is from a desire of salvation. There is in all men a desire of salvation: it is natural to every being—to love and seek its own preservation. "Who will show us any good?" This is the language of nature, seeking happiness to itself. Many a man may be carried so far out in the desires of salvation, as to do many things to obtain it. So did the young man, "Good Master, what good things shall I do, that I may inherit eternal life?" He went far, and did much, obeying many commands—and all out of a desire of salvation.
So, then, put these together, and there is an answer to that question. "The call of conscience—the power of the word—the affectation of credit—and the desire of salvation." These may carry a man so far—as to be almost a Christian.
QUESTION IV. Why is it that many are but almost Christians when they have gone thus far? What is the cause of this?
Answer. I might multiply answers to this question—but I shall instance in two only, which I judge the most material.
First, It is for lack of right and sound conviction. If a man is not thoroughly convinced of sin, and his heart truly broken, whatever his profession of godliness may be—yet he will be sure to miscarry. Every work of conviction is not a thorough work. There are convictions which are not only natural and rational—but not from the powerful work of the Spirit of God. Rational conviction is "that which proceeds from the working of a natural conscience, charging guilt from the light of nature, by the help of those common principles of reason which are in all men." This is the conviction you read of, Romans 2:14, 15. It is said that the Gentiles who had not the law, yet had their consciences bearing witness, and accusing or excusing one another. Though they had not the light of Scripture, yet they had convictions from the light of nature. Now, by the help of the Gospel light, these convictions may be much improved—and yet the heart not renewed.
But then there is a spiritual conviction; and this is that work of the Spirit of God upon the sinner's heart by the Word, whereby the guilt and filth of sin is fully discovered, and the woe and misery of a natural state distinctly set home upon the conscience, to the dread and terror of the sinner while he abides in that state and condition! And this is the conviction that is a sound and thorough work. Many have their convictions—but not this spiritual conviction.
Query. Now you will say, "Suppose I am at any time under conviction, how shall I know whether my convictions are only from a natural conscience, or whether they are from the Spirit of God?"
Answer. I would digress too much to draw out the solution of this question to its just length. I shall, therefore, in five things only, lay down the most considerable difference between the one and the other.
1. Natural convictions reach chiefly to open and scandalous sins. Sins against the light of nature; for natural conviction can reach no farther than natural light. But spiritual conviction reaches to secret, inward, and hidden sins; such as hypocrisy, formality, lukewarmness, deadness, and hardness of heart, etc. Observe, then, whether your trouble for sin looks inward as well as outward, and reaches not only to open sins—but to secret lusts, to inward and spiritual sins. If so, this is a sure sign of the work of the Spirit, because the trouble occasioned by these sins, bears a more immediate relation to the holiness of God, who alone is offended by them; they being such sins, as no one else can see or know.
2. Natural convictions deals only with a man's outward life—not with his state and condition. Natural convictions deal with actual sins—not original sin. But spiritual conviction reaches to all sins; to sins of heart—as well as sins of life; to the sin of our nature—as well as the sins of practice; to the sin that is born in us—as well as the sin which is done by us. Where the Spirit of the Lord comes to work effectually in any soul, he holds the looking-glass of the law before the sinner's eyes, and opens his eyes to look into the looking-glass, and to see all that deformity and filthiness which is in his heart and nature! The apostle Paul said, "I would not have known what sin was except through the law." Romans 7:7. How can this be true—that he had not known sin but by the law—if the light of nature reveals sin? It is said of the Gentiles, that having not the law, they had a law to themselves. This sin, therefore, that the apostle speaks of, is not to be understood of actual sin—but of original sin, "I had not known the pollution of nature, that fountain of sin that is within—this I would not have known but by the law." And, indeed, this is a discovery that natural lightcannot make.
It is true, the philosopher could say, "That lust is the first and chief of all sins." But I cannot think he meant it of original sin—but of the inordinacy of appetite and desire, at most; for I find that the wisest of the philosophers understood nothing of original sin. Hear Seneca, "Sin is not born with you—but brought in since." Quintilian says, "It is more marvel that any one man sins, than that all men should live honestly; sin is so against the nature of men." How blind were they in this point! And so was Paul—until the Spirit of the Lord revealed it to him by the Word; and indeed, this is a discovery proper to the Spirit. It is he who makes the sinner see all the deformity and filthiness which is within! It is he who pulls off all the sinner's rags, and makes him see his naked and wretched condition! It is he who shows us the blindness of the mind, the stubbornness of the will, the disorderedness of the affections, the searedness of the conscience, the plague of our hearts, and the sin of our natures—and therein the desperateness of our state. "When He comes, He will convict the world about sin." John 16:8
3. Natural convictions carry the soul out to look more on the evil which comes as a result of sin, than on the evil which is in sin. So that the soul under this conviction is more troubled at the dread of hell, and wrath, and damnation—than at the vileness and heinous nature of sin! But spiritual convictions work the soul into a greater sensibleness of the evil which is in sin, than of the evil which comes as a result of sin. The dishonor done to God by walking contrary to His will; the wounds which are made in the heart of Christ; the grief which the Holy Spirit is put to—this wounds the soul more than a thousand hells!
4. Natural convictions are not durable, they quickly die out. They are like a slight cut in the skin, which bleeds a little, and is sore for the present—but is soon healed again, and in a few days not so much as a scar to be seen. But spiritual convictions are durable, they cannot be worn out, they abide in the soul until they have reached their end, which is the change of the sinner. The convictions of the Spirit are like a deep wound in the flesh, which goes to the vital organs, and seems to endanger the life of the patient, and is only healed with great skill, and when it is healed leaves a scar behind it, that when the patient is well, yet he can say, "Here is the mark of my wound, which will never wear out." So a soul that is under spiritual conviction—his wound is deep, and not to be healed, but by the great skill of the heavenly Physician: and when it is healed, there are the tokens of it remaining in the soul, which can never be worn out! So that the soul may say, "Here are the marks and signs of my conviction still in my soul."
5. Natural convictions make the soul shy of God. Guilt works fear, and fear causes estrangement from God. Thus it was with Adam, when he saw his nakedness, he ran away and hid himself from God. Now spiritual convictions do not drive the soul from God—but unto God. Ephraim's conviction was spiritual, and he runs to God, "Turn me, and I shall be turned."
So that there is, you see, a great difference between natural conviction and conversion: between that which is natural and that which is spiritual; that which is common, and that which is saving. Yes, such is the difference, that though a man has ever so much of the former, yet if he be without the latter, he is but almost a Christian, and therefore we have great reason to inquire more after this spiritual conviction. For,
1. Spiritual conviction is an essential part of sound conversion. Conversion begins here; true conversion begins in convictions, and true convictions end in conversion. Until the sinner is convinced of sin—he can never be converted from sin. Christ's coming was as a Savior to die for sinners. The Spirit's coming is to convince us of sin--that we may close with Christ as our Savior. Until sin is thoroughly revealed to us, interest in the blood of Christ cannot rightly be claimed by us; nay, so long as sin is unseen, Christ will be unsought. "Those who are whole need not the physician—but those who are sick."
2. Slight and common convictions, when they are but skin-deep, are the cause of much hypocrisy. Slight convictions may bring the soul to clasp about Christ—but not to close with Christ; and this is the guise of a hypocrite. I know no other rise and spring of hypocrisy, like this of slight convictions: this has filled the church of Christ with hypocrites. Nay, it is not only the spring of hypocrisy—but it is also the spring of apostasy. What was the cause that the seed was said to wither away? It was because it had no deepness of earth. Where there is thorough conviction, there is a depth of earth in the heart, and there the seed of the Word grows. But where convictions are slight and common, there the seed withers for lack of depth!
So that you see clearly, in this one instance, whence it is that many are but almost Christians, when they have gone so far in religion, to wit, for lack of sound convictions.
Secondly, and this has a near relation to the former: It is for lack of a thorough work of grace, first wrought in the heart. Where this is not, all a man's following profession comes to nothing. That person is never likely to read well, who never masters his Primer. Cloth which is not wrought well in the loom, will never wear well, nor wear long—it will do little service. Just so, that professor who does not come well off the loom, who has not a thorough work of grace in his heart—will never wear well; he will shrink in the wetting, and never do much service for God. It is not the pruning of a bad tree which will make it bring forth good fruit; but the tree must be made good, before the fruit can be good.
He who takes up a profession of religion with an unbroken heart, will never serve Christ in that profession with his whole heart. A man may not have this true and deep change in his heart—and yet he may go far, and do much in the ways of God—but he will be sure to either die a hypocrite or an apostate. Look! if a man is born crooked or misshapen in the birth—he will remain crooked as long as he lives! You may bolster or stuff out his clothes to conceal it—but the crookedness, the deformity remains still; you may hide it—but you cannot help it; it may be covered—but it cannot be cured. So it is in this case. If a man come into a profession of religion—but is not rightly born; if he be not "begotten of God, and born of the Spirit;" if there is not a thorough work of grace in his heart—all his profession of religion will never mend him! He may be bolstered out by a life of duties—but he will be but a hypocrite at last, for lack of a thorough work at first! A form of godliness may cover his crookedness—but will never cure it! A man can never be a true Christian, nor accepted by God, though in the highest profession of religion, without a work of grace in the heart! For,
. Those duties which find acceptance with God, must have an answerableness in the frame of that man's heart—to the duties done by him. The affections within, must bear a proportion to his profession without. God abhors prayer without faith; and obedience without fear and holy reverence of the lawgiver! Acts of internalworship must answer the duties of external worship. Now where there is no grace wrought in the heart, there can never be any proportion or answerableness in the frame of that man's heart, to the duties done by him.
2. Those duties which find acceptance with God, must be done in sincerity. God does not receive our duties because of their volume, nor judge of us according to thefrequency of our performances—but according to the sincerity of our hearts in the performance. It is this which commends both the doer and the duty to God. With sincerity of heart, God accepts the least we do. Without sincerity, God rejects all we do. This is that temper of spirit which God highly delights in, "Fear the Lord and worship Him in sincerity and truth." The apostle gives it a great epithet; he calls it, in 2 Cor. 1:12, the sincerity of God; that is, such a sincerity as is his special work upon the soul, setting the heart right and upright before him in all his ways.
Sincerity is the crown of all our graces; lack of sincerity is the condemnation of all our duties. Thousands perish, and go to hell in the midst of all their performances and duties, merely for lack of sincerity of heart to God! "Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart." Hebrews 10:22
Now where there is not a change of state, a work of grace in the heart, there can be no sincerity to God. Sincerity of heart, is not a herb which grows in nature's garden, "The heart of man is naturally deceitful and desperately wicked," more opposite to sincerity than to anything; as things corrupted carry a greater dissimilitude to what they were than to anything else which they never were. "God made man upright." Now man voluntarily losing this, has become more unlike himself than anything below himself; he is more like a lion, a wolf, a bear, a serpent, a toad—than to a man in innocency. So that it is impossible to find sincerity in any soul, until there is a work of grace wrought there by the Spirit of God; and hence it is, that a man is but almost a Christian, because none of his religious duties are done sincerely.
QUESTION V. What is the reason why many go no farther in the profession of religion, than to be almost Christians?
Reason 1. One reason why many go no farther in the profession of religion—is because they deceive themselves, as to the truth of their own condition. They mistake their state, and think it good and safe, when it is bad and dangerous. A man may look upon himself as a child of God—and yet God may look upon him as a vessel of wrath. A true child of God—by looking more upon his sins than his graces, more upon his failings than his faith, more upon indwelling lusts than renewing grace—may think his case very bad when yet it is very good! "I am black!" says the spouse; "and yet," says Christ, "O you fairest among women!" So the sinner, by looking more upon his duties than his sins, may think that his name is written in the book of life—and yet in the account of God—be a very reprobate! There is nothing more common than for a man to "think himself something when he is nothing;" and so he "deceives himself." Many a man blesses himself in his interest in Christ, when he is indeed a stranger to him. Many a man thinks his sin pardoned, when alas! "he is still in the gall of bitterness, and bondage of iniquity!"
Many a man thinks he has grace, when he has none, "There is," says Solomon, "one who pretends to be rich, yet has nothing." This was the very temper of Laodicea, "You say, 'I am rich. I have everything I want. I don't need a thing!' And you don't realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked!" Revelation 3:17. "You don't realize!" As bad as she was, she thought her state good. As poor as she was in grace, she thought she was rich! As wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked as she was—yet she thought she had need of nothing.
Now there are several grounds of this mistake. I will name five to you.
First, The desperate deceitfulness of the heart of every natural man. "The heart is deceitful above all things." The Hebrew word is the same with Jacob's name. He was a deceiver of his brother Esau, "He is rightly called Jacob," says he, "for he has deceived me these two times." The word signifies, to be fraudulent, subtle, deceitful, and supplanting. Thus is the heart of every natural man "deceitful above all things." You read of the deceitfulness of the tongue. And of the deceitfulness of riches. And of the deceitfulness of beauty. And of the deceitfulness of friends. But yet the heart is deceitful above them all. Nay, you read of the deceitfulness of Satan, yet truly a man's heart is a greater deceiver than he; for Satan could never deceive a man, if his own heart did not deceive him.
Now it is from the desperate treachery of his own heart—that a man presumes upon the goodness of his case! How common is it for men to boast of the goodness of their hearts! "I thank God, though I do not make such a show and pretense as some do, yet I have as good a heart as the best!" O do but hear Solomon in this case, "He who trusts in his own heart is a fool." Proverbs 28:26. Will any wise man commit his money to a thief? Will he trust a cheat? It was Augustine who said, "That man who trusts to his own heart, shall be sure to find himself deceived at last!"
Secondly, This mistake arises from the pride of a man's heart! There is a proud heart in every natural man. There was much of this pride in Adam's sin, and there is much of it in all Adam's sons. It is a radical sin, and from hence arises this over inflated opinion of a man's state and condition. Solomon says, "Be not righteous overmuch." Augustine, speaking occasionally of these words, says, it is "not meant of the righteousness of the wise man—but the pride of the presumptuous man." Now in this sense every carnal man is righteous overmuch; though he has none of that righteousness which commends him to God, namely, the righteousness of Christ—yet he has too much of that righteousness which commends him to himself, and that is self-righteousness.
A proud man has an eye to see his beauty—but not his deformity; his abilities—but not his spots; his seeming righteousness—but not his real wretchedness. "It must be a work of grace that must show a man the lack of grace." The haughty eye looks upward—but the humble eye looks downward, and therefore this is the believer's motto, "I am the least of saints—and the greatest of sinners!" "The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: God, I thank you that I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers, adulterers." Luke 18:11. This is the unsaved man's motto.
Thirdly, Many deceive themselves with common grace instead of saving grace; through that resemblance which is between them. As many take counterfeit money for current coin—so do too many take common grace for true grace. Saul took the devil for Samuel, because he appeared in the mantle of Samuel: so many take common grace for saving, because it is like saving grace. A man may be under a supernatural work—and yet fall short of a saving work; the first raises nature, the second only renews nature: though every saving work of the Spirit is supernatural, yet every supernatural work of the Spirit is not saving; and hence many deceive their own souls, by taking a supernatural work for a saving work.
Fourthly, Many mistake a profession of religion for a work of conversion; and outside reformation for a sure sign of inward regeneration. If the outside of the cup is washed, then they think all is clean, though it is ever so foul within. This is the common rock that so many souls split upon, to their eternal hazard—taking up a form of godliness—but denying the power thereof.
Fifthly, Lack of a home application of the law of God to the heart and conscience, to discover to a man the true state and condition he is in. Where this is lacking, a man will sit down short of a true work of grace, and will reckon his case better than it is. That is a notable passage which the apostle hints concerning himself, "I was alive without the law once; but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died." Here you have an account of the different apprehensions Paul had of his condition with and without the Word.
1. Here is his apprehension of his condition without the Word, "I was alive," says he, "without the law." Paul had the law—for he was a Pharisee; and they had the "form of knowledge, and of the truth of the law;" therefore, when he says he was "without the law," you must not take him literally—but spiritually; he was without the power and efficacy of it upon his heart and conscience, convincing, and awakening, and discovering sin; and so long as this was the case, he doubted not of his state—he was confident of the goodness of his condition. This he hinted when he says, "I was alive," but then,
2. Here is his apprehension of his condition with the word, and that is quite contrary to what it was before, "when the commandment came," says he, "then sin revived—and I died." When the Word of the Lord came with power upon his soul, when the Spirit of God set it home effectually upon his conscience, that is meant by the coming of the commandment. "Then sin revived—and I died;" that is, I saw the desperateness of my case, and the filthiness of all my self-righteousness. Then, my hope ceased, and my confidence failed; and, as before, I thought myself alive, and my sin dead; so when God had awakened conscience by the Word—then I saw my sin alive and powerful, and myself dead and miserable.
So that this is the first reason why men go no further in the profession of religion, than to be almost Christians. It is because they mistake their state, and think it good when it is not; which mistake is five-fold.
1. A deceitful heart.
2. A proud spirit.
3. Taking common grace for saving grace.
4. Taking outward reformation, for true regeneration.
5. Lack of home application of the law of God to the heart and conscience.
Reason 2. Another reason why many go no farther in the profession of religion—is from Satan's cunning, who, if he cannot keep sinners in their open profaneness, then he labors to persuade them to take up with a form of godliness. If he cannot entice them on in their lusts, with a total neglect of heaven—then he entices them into such a profession as is sure to fall short of heaven. He will consent to the leaving some sin—just so long as we do but keep the rest; and to the doing of some duties—just so long as we neglect the rest. Nay, rather than part with his interest in the soul, he will yield far to our profession of religion, and consent to anythingbut our conversion, and closing with Christ for salvation. Satan does not care which way we come to hell—so as he gets us but there at last!
Reason 3. Another reason why many go no farther in the profession of religion—is from worldly and carnal policy. This is a great hindrance to many; policy many times enters caveats against piety. Jehu will not part with his calves lest he hazard his kingdom. Among many men there would be more zeal and honesty, were there less design and policy. There is an honest policy which helps religion—but carnal policy hinders it. We are commanded "to be wise as serpents;" now, "the serpent is the subtlest of creatures." But then we must be as "innocent as doves." If piety is without policy, it lacks security; if policy is without piety, it lacks integrity. Piety without policy is too simple to be safe; and policy without piety is too subtle to be good. Let men be as wise, as prudent, as subtle, as watchful as they will—but then let it be in the way of God; let it be joined with holiness and integrity. That is a cursed wisdom which forbids a man to launch any further out in the depths of religion, than he can see the land, lest he be taken in a storm before he can make safe to shore again.
Reason 4. Another reason why many go no farther in the profession of religion—is because there are some lusts espoused in the heart, which hinder a hearty close with Christ. Though they bid fair—yet they come not to God's terms. The rich young ruler would have eternal life—and he bid fair for it. He had a willing obedience to every command but one—but only one; and will not God abate him one? Is God so severe? Will he not come down a little in his terms, when man rises so high? Must man yield all? Will God yield nothing? No, my brethren, he who underbids for heaven, shall as surely lose it—just as he who will give nothing for it. He who will not give all he has—part with all for that "pearl of great price"—shall as surely go without it, as much as he who has no interest in Christ. The not coming up to God's terms is the ruin of thousands of souls; nay, it is that upon which all who perish, do perish. A naked sinner to a naked Christ; a bleeding, broken sinner, to a bleeding, broken Christ—these are God's terms.
Most professors are like iron between two equal loadstones. God draws—and they incline towards God; and the world draws—and they incline to the world. They are between both. They would not leave God for the world—if they must leave the world for God. If they must part with all—with every lust, every darling sin, every beloved sin—why, then, the spirit of Demas possesses them, and God is forsaken by them. My brethren, this is the great reason why many who come to be almostChristians, go no farther. Some one beloved lust or other hinders them, and after a long and high profession, parts them and Christ forever! They did run well—but here it is that they give out, and after all fall short, and perish to all eternity!
I have thus answered these four questions—
1. How far a man may go in the way to heaven—and yet be but almost a Christian?
2. Why it is that a man goes so far, as to be almost a Christian?
3. When it is that a man is but almost a Christian, when he has gone thus far?
4. What is the reason men go no farther in religion, than to be almost Christians?
I proceed now to the APPLICATION.
Inference 1. Salvation is not so easy a thing as it is imagined to be. This is attested by our Lord Jesus Christ himself, "Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way which leads to life, and few there are who find it." The gate of conversion is a very narrow gate—and yet every man who would be saved eternally, must enter in at this narrow gate; for salvation is impossible without it. "Except a man is born again," born from above, "he cannot see the kingdom of God." Not that this gate is narrow simply, and in respect of itself. No; for converting grace is free. The gate of mercy stands open all the day long. In the offers of gospel grace, none are excluded, unless they exclude themselves. Christ does not say, "If such and such will come to me, I will not cast them out;" but "whoever comes unto me," be he who or what le will, if he has a heart to close with me, "I will never cast him out." He says not, "If this or that man will come—here is water of life for him;" but, "If any man will, let him take the water of life freely."
Christ grudges mercy to none; though salvation was dearly purchased for us, yet it is freely offered to us. So that the gate which leads to life is not narrow on Christ's part, or in respect of itself—but it is narrow in respect of us, because of our lusts and corruptions, which make the entrance difficult. A needle's eye is big enough for athread to pass through—but it is a narrow passage for a rope: either the needle's eye must be enlarged, or the rope must be untwisted, or the entrance is impossible. So it is in this case—the gate of conversion is a very narrow passage for a carnal, corrupt sinner to go in at. The soul can never pass through with any one lust beloved and espoused; and, therefore, the sinner must be untwisted from every lust—he must lay aside the love of every sin, or he can never enter in at this gate, for it is a narrow gate.
And when he is in at this narrow gate, he meets with a narrow way to walk in—so our Lord Christ says, "Narrow is the way which leads to life." And what way is this—but the way of sanctification? "For without holiness, no man shall ever see the Lord." Now this way of sanctification is a very narrow way, for it lies over the neck of every lust, and in the exercise of every grace, subduing the one, and improving the other; dying daily—and yet living daily; dying to sin and living to God. This is the way of sanctification! And O, how few are there who walk in this way! The broad way has many travelers in it—but this narrow way is like the ways of Canaan in the days of Shamgar. It is said, "In the days of Shamgar, the travelers walked through by-ways." In the Hebrew, it is, "through crooked ways."
The way of holiness is for the most part, an unoccupied way—so says the prophet. "A way shall there be, and it shall be called the way of holiness, the unclean shall not pass over it; no lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beasts shall go up thereon; but the redeemed shall walk there." The unclean, and the lion, and the ravenous beast, they are in the crooked ways: none but the redeemed of the Lord walk in the way of the Lord. It is no wonder, then, that our Lord Christ says of life, that "few there are who find it," when the gate is strait, and the way narrow, which leads to it. Many pretend to walk in the narrow way—but they never entered in at the narrow gate; and many pretend to have entered in at the narrow gate—but they walk not in the narrow way.
It is a very common thing for a man to perish upon a mistake of his way. They go on in those paths which lead to hell—and yet hope to find heaven at last! Those twenty parts, fore-mentioned, run into destruction—and yet many choose them, and walk in them—yet think to arrive in heaven! As many profane and open sinners perish by choosing the way of death, so many formal professors perish by mistaking the way of life. This I gather from what our Lord Christ says, "Few there are who find it;" which does clearly imply what in Luke 12:24, he does plainly express, namely, that many seek it; many seek to enter in—and yet are not able; many run far—and yet do not "so run as to obtain." Many bid fair for the Pearl of great price—and yet go without it. Hell is had with ease—but the "kingdom of heaven suffers violence."
Inference 2. If many go thus far in the way to heaven—and yet miscarry—O then, what shall be the end of those who fall short of these! If he shall perish who isalmost a Christian, what shall he do who is not at all a Christian! If he who owns Christ, and professes Christ, and leaves many sins for Christ, may be damned notwithstanding; what then shall his doom be that disowns Christ, and refuses to part with one sin, one lust, for Christ; nay, who openly blasphemes the precious name of Christ! If he who is outwardly sanctified shall yet be eternally rejected, what will the case be of such as are openly unsanctified, who have not only the plague of a hard heart within—but also the plague-sore of a profane life without? If the formal professor must be shut out—surely then the filthy adulterer, swinish drunkard, the foul-mouthed scoffer, yes, and every carnal sinner much more! If there is a woe to him who falls short of heaven, then how sad is the woe to him who falls short of those who fall short of heaven! Ah, that God would make this an awakening word to sinners who are asleep in sin, without the least fear of death, or dread of damnation!
Use of EXAMINATION. Are there many in the world who are almost, and yet but almost Christians? Why, then, "it is time for us to call our condition into question, and to make a more narrow scrutiny into the truth of our spiritual estate;" what it is, whether it be right or not; whether we are sound and sincere in our profession of religion, or not. When our Lord Christ told his disciples, "One of you shall betray me," everyone began presently to reflect upon himself; "Master, is it I? Master, is it I?" So should we do, when the Lord reveals to us from his Word, how many there are under the profession of religion, who are but almost Christians, we should straightway reflect upon our hearts, "Lord, is it I? Is my heart unsound. Am I but almost a Christian? Am I one of those who shall miscarry at last? Am I a hypocrite under the profession of religion? Have I a form of godliness without the power?"
There are two questions of very great importance, which everyone of us should often put to ourselves: What am I? Where am I?
1. What am I? Am I a child of God or not? Am I sincere in religion, or am I only a hypocrite under a profession?
2. Where am I? Am I yet in a natural state, or a state of grace? Am I yet in the old root, in old Adam; or am I in the root Christ Jesus? Am I in the covenant of works, which ministers only wrath and death? or am I in the covenant of grace, which ministers life and peace?
Indeed, this is the first thing a man should look at. There must be a change of state, before there can be a change of heart. We must come under a change of covenant, before we can be under a change of condition; for the new heart and the new spirit is promised in the new covenant. There is nothing of that to be heard of in the old covenant: now a man must be under the new covenant, before he can receive the blessing promised in the new covenant; he must be in a new covenant state, before he can receive a new covenant heart. No mercy, no pardon, no change, no conversion, no grace—is dispensed out of covenant. Therefore this should be our great inquiry; for if we know not where we are, we cannot know what we are; and if we know not what we are, we cannot be what we should be; namely, altogether Christians.
Let me then, I beseech you, press this duty upon you who are professors. Try your own hearts; "examine yourselves whether you are in the faith; prove your own selves." I urge this upon most cogent arguments.
1. Because many rest in a notion of godliness and outward shows of religion—and yet remain in their natural condition. Many "are hearers of the Word," but "notdoers of it," "and so deceive their own souls." James 1:22 Some neither hear nor do—these are profane sinners. Some both hear and do—these are true believers. Some hear, but they do not do—these are hypocritical professors. He who slights the ordinances cannot be a true Christian; but yet it is possible a man may own them, and profess them—and yet be no true Christian. Who would trust to a mere profession, that shall see Judas a disciple, an apostle, a preacher of the gospel, one who cast out devils, to be cast out himself? "He is not a Jew who is one outwardly, neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men—but of God."
2. Because errors in the foundation are very dangerous. If we are not right in the main, in the fundamental work; if the foundation is not laid in grace in the heart—all our following profession comes to nothing. The house is built upon a sandy foundation, and though it may stand for awhile, yet "when the floods come, and the winds blow and beat upon it—great will be the fall of it."
3. Because many are the deceits that our souls are liable to in this case. There are many things like grace—which are not grace. It is the likeness and similitude of things, which deceives—and makes one thing to be taken for another. Many take gifts for grace; and common knowledge for saving knowledge. But a man may have great gifts—and yet no grace. He may have great knowledge—and yet not Jesus Christ. Some take common grace for saving grace; whereas, a man may believe all the truths of the gospel, all the promises, all the threatenings, all the articles of the creed, to be true—and vet perish for lack of saving grace!
Some take morality and restraining grace—for piety and renewing grace; whereas it is common to have sin much restrained, where the heart is not renewed. Some are deceived with a half-work, taking conviction for conversion, and reformation for regeneration; we have many mermaid-Christians. They are like Nebuchadnezzar's image—with a head of gold, and feet of clay. The devil cheats most men by a synecdoche, putting a part for the whole. They put partial obedience to some commands, for universal obedience to all commands.
Endless are the delusions that Satan fastens upon souls, for lack of this self-search. It is necessary, therefore, that we try our state, lest we take the shadow for thesubstance.
4. Satan will try us at one time or other. He will winnow us and sift us to the bottom; and if we now rest in a groundless confidence, it will then end in a comfortless despair. Nay, God himself will search and try us at the day of judgment especially; and who can abide that trial, that never tries his own heart?
5. Whatever a man's state be, whether he is altogether a Christian or not, whether his principle is sound or not—yet it is good to examine his own heart. If he finds his heart good, his principles right and sound—this will be matter of rejoicing. If he finds his heart rotten, his principles false and unsound—the discovery is in order to a renewing. If a man has a disease upon him, and knows it, he may send to the physician in time; but what a sad vexation will it be, not to see a disease until it is past cure? So for a man to be graceless, and not see it until it he too late—to think himself a Christian when he is not, and that he is in the right way to heaven, when he is in the ready way to hell—and yet not know it, until the judgment-day confounds his confidence—this is the most irrecoverable misery!
These are the grounds upon which I press this duty, of examining our state. O that God would help us in the doing this necessary duty!
Question. You say, "But how shall I come to know whether I am almost, or altogether, a Christian? If a man may go so far—and yet miscarry, how shall I know when my foundation is right—when I am a Christian indeed?"
Answer 1. The altogether Christian closes with, and accepts of Christ upon Gospel terms. True union makes a true Christian. Many close with Christ—but it is upon their own terms; they take him and own him—but not as God offers him. The terms upon which God in the gospel offers Christ, are, that we shall accept of a broken Christ with a broken heart—and yet a whole Christ with the whole heart. A broken Christ with a broken heart—as a witness of our humility. A whole Christ with a whole heart—as a witness of our sincerity. A broken Christ respects his suffering for sin; a broken heart respects our sense of sin. A whole Christ includes all his offices. A whole heart includes all our faculties. Christ is a King, Priest, and Prophet, and all as Mediator. Without any one of these offices, the work of salvation could not have been completed. As a Priest—he redeems us. As a Prophet—he instructs us. As a King—he sanctifies and saves us. Therefore, the apostle says, "He is made to us a God of wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption." Righteousness and redemption flow from him—as a Priest. Wisdom flows from him—as a Prophet. Sanctification flows from him—as a King.
Many embrace Christ as a Priest—but yet they own him not as a King and Prophet. They like to share in his righteousness—but not to partake of his holiness. They would be redeemed by him—but they would not submit to him. They would be saved by his blood—but not submit to his power. Many love the privileges of the gospel—but not the duties of the gospel. Now these are but almost Christians, notwithstanding their close with Christ; for it is upon their own terms—but not upon God's.
The offices of Christ may be distinguished—but they can never be divided. But the true Christian owns Christ in all his offices: he does not only close with him as Jesus—but as Lord Jesus. He says with Thomas, "My Lord, and my God." He does not only believe in the merit of his death—but also conforms to the manner of his life. As he believes in him, so he lives to him. He takes him for his wisdom, as well as for his righteousness; for his sanctification, as well as his redemption.
Answer 2. The altogether Christian has a thorough work of grace and sanctification wrought in the heart, as a spring of duties. Regeneration is a whole change; "all old things are done away, and all things become new." It is a perfect work, as to parts, though not as to degrees. Carnal men do duties—but they are from an unsanctified heart, and that spoils all. A new piece of cloth never does well in an old garment, for the rip is but made worse. When a man's heart is thoroughly renewed by grace, the mind savingly enlightened, the conscience thoroughly convinced, the will truly humbled and subdued, the affections spiritually raised and sanctified; and when mind, and will, and conscience, and affections, all join issue to help on with the performance of the duties commanded; then is a man altogether a Christian!
Answer 3. He who is altogether a Christian, looks to the manner, as well as to the matter of his duties. Not only that they are done—but how they are done. He knows the Christian's privileges lie in pronouns—but his duty in adverbs. It must not be only good—but that good must be rightly done. Here the almost Christian fails, he does the same duties that others do for the matter—but he does them not in the same manner; while he minds the substance, he regards not the circumstance. If heprays—he regards not faith and fervency in prayer. If he hears—he does not mind Christ's rule, "Take heed how you hear." If he obeys—he looks not to the frame of his heart in obeying, and therefore miscarries in all he does. Any of these defects spoil the good of every duty.
Answer 4. The altogether Christian is known by his sincerity in all his performances. Whatever a man does in the duties of the gospel, he cannot be a Christian without sincerity. Now, the almost Christian fails in this; for though he does much, prays much, hears much, obeys much—yet he is a hypocrite under all.
Answer 5. He who is altogether a Christian, has an "answerableness within to the law without." There is an affinity between the Word of God—and the will of the Christian. His heart is, as it were—the transcript of the Word. The same holiness that is commanded in his Word—is implanted in the heart. The same conformity to Christ, that is enjoined by the Word of God—is wrought in the soul by the Spirit of God. The same obedience which the Word requires of him, the Lord enables him to perform, by his grace bestowed on him. This is that which is promised in the new covenant, "I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts." Now the writing his law in us, is nothing else but his working that grace and holiness in us, which the law commands and requires of us.
In the old-covenant administration, God wrote his laws only upon tables of stone—but not upon the heart; and therefore, though God wrote them, yet they broke them. But in the new-covenant administration, God provides new tables: not tables of stone—but "the fleshly tables of the heart," and writes his laws there, that there might be a law within, answerable to the law without. And this every true Christian has. So that he may say in his measure, as our Lord Christ did, "I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart."
Every believer has a light within him, not guiding him to despise and slight the Word—but to prize and walk by the light of the Word—which commands him to walk in the light, and the light directs him to walk according to the Word. Moreover, from this impression of the law upon the heart, obedience and conformity to God becomes the choice and delight of the soul; for holiness is the very nature of the new creature. So that if there were no Scripture, no Bible to guide him—yet he would be holy, for he has received "grace for grace;" there is grace within—to answer to the Word of grace without. Now, the almost Christian is a stranger to this law of God within; he may have some conformity to the Word in outward life—but he cannot have this answerableness to the Word in inward constitution.
Answer 6. The altogether Christian is much in duty—and yet much above duty. Much in duty, in regard of performances; much above duty, in regard of dependence. Much in duty by obeying; but much above duty by believing. He lives in his obedience—but he does not live upon his obedience—but upon Christ and his righteousness. The almost Christian fails in this. He is much in duty—but not above it—but rests in it; he works for rest, and he rests in his works. He cannot come to believe and obey too. If he believes, then he thinks there is no need of obedience, and so casts off that. If he is much in obedience, then he casts off believing, and thinks there is no need of that. He cannot say with David, "I have hoped for your salvation, and obeyed your commandments." The more a man is in duty, and the more above it; the more in doing, and more in believing—the more a Christian.
Answer 7. He who is altogether a Christian is universal in his obedience. He does not obey one command and neglect another. He does not do one duty and cast off another. He has respect to all the commands—he endeavors to leave every sin, and love every duty. The almost Christian fails in this, his obedience is partial and piece-meal. If he obeys one command, he breaks another. The duties which least cross his lusts—he is much in. But those duties which do cross his lusts—he lays aside. The Pharisees "fasted, prayed, paid tithes," etc.—but they did not lay aside their covetousness, their oppression; they "devoured widows' houses," they were unnatural to parents.
Answer 8. The altogether Christian makes God's glory the chief end of all his performances. If he prays, or hears, or gives, or fasts, or repents, or obeys, etc., God's glory is the main end of all. It is true, he may have somewhat else at the back end of his work—but God is at the front end. As Moses' rod swallowed up the magicians' rods, so God's glory is the ultimate end, which swallows up all his other ends. Now the almost Christian fails in this, his ends are corrupt and selfish. God may possibly be at the back end of his work—but self is at the front end. For he who was never truly cast out of himself, can have no higher end than himself.
Now then, examine yourself by these characters, put the question to your own soul. Do you close with Christ upon gospel terms? Is grace in the heart, the principle of your performances? Do you look to the manner, as well as the matter of your duties? Do you do all in sincerity? Is there an answerableness within, to the Word without? Are you much above duty, when much in duty? Is your obedience universal? Lastly, is God's glory the end of all? If so, then you are not only almost—but altogether a Christian!
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 you are neither hot nor cold, therefore I will spue you 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 lack, spoils the good of all our attainments. 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 rich young ruler—who had kept all the commands but one. Thus "the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as the person who has broken all of God's laws." That is, he who lives willfully and allowedly in any one sin, brings the 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 who hates sin as sin, hates all sin, and he who obeys the command as the express will of God, obeys every command. And for this cause the least sin, willfully, 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 it. "Gideon had seventy sons," and but one bastard son—and yet that one bastard destroyed all his other sons! Just 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 to be but almost a Christian. This appears in three ways.
1. In that such a one is hated both by 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 to be pious, and God hates him because he is not really pious. There is no person which God hates more, than the almost Christian! "I would that you were either cold or hot;" either all a Christian, or not at all a Christian. "Because you are neither cold nor hot, therefore I will spew you out of my mouth!" What a loathsome expression does 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 by 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 throughsuffering. In Matt. 13:20, 21, it is said, "The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away." There are four things observable in these words.
1. That the stony ground may receive the Word with joy.
2. That it may for some time abide in a profession of it—he lasts only a short time.
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.
I gather hence, that 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 lacks the substance, and therefore cannot hold out in it. Now this must needs be very uncomfortable; if I profess religion, I am likely to suffer persecution. But if I do but profess it, I will never endure persecution.
3. It is uncomfortable, in regard of that deceit it lays our hopes under. To be deceived of our hopes, causes sorrow as well as shame. He who is but almost a Christian, hopes for heaven; but unless he is 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 come 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!
Thirdly, It is desperately dangerous to be but almost a Christian. For,
1. This hinders the true work. A man lies in a fairer capacity for conversion, who lies in open enmity and rebellion, than he who soothes 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 who had two sons. He went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work today in the vineyard.' 'I will not,' he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, 'I will, sir,' but he did not go." The first son represents the carnal, open sinner, who is called by the word, but refuses—yet afterwards repents, and believes. The second represents the hypocritical professor, who pretends much—but performs little. Now mark how Christ applies this parable, "Truly I say 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, "You are not far from the kingdom of God," yet never likely to come there. None are 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 rich young ruler, "One thing you lack!" 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, for 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 who lacks this one thing perishes, notwithstanding all his other things besides.
2. This condition is so like a state of grace, that to mistake of it for grace is easy and common. And it is very dangerous to mistake anything for grace—which is not grace; for in that a man contents himself—as if it were grace. Formality does 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. 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 which is but hypocrisy.
3. It is a degree of blasphemy to pretend to grace—and yet have no grace. I gather this from Rev. 2:9, "I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews—and are 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 has none, to say he has grace when he has 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 omniscience—he implicitly denies that God sees and knows our hearts and thoughts. For if a man did believe the omniscience 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—until 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 his conscience asleep in the cradle of duties, and then it is a thousand to one, that it never awakens until judgment! Ah, my brethren, it is better to have conscience never quiet, than quieted any way but by "the blood of sprinkling." A good conscience unquiet—is the greatest affliction to saints! An evil conscience quiet—is the greatest judgment to unconverted sinners!
5. It is dangerous to be almost a Christian, in respect of the unpardonable sin. The sin which the Scripture says, "can never be forgiven, neither in this world nor in the world to come;" I mean the sin against the Holy Spirit. 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 abides in him, secures him against it. The profane, ignorant, open sinner cannot; though he lives 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 Spirit, against the strivings and motions of the Spirit—he "always resists the Holy Spirit;" but yet this is not the sin against the Holy Spirit. There must be three ingredients to make up that sin.
1st, It must be willful—"If we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sin."
2nd, It must be against light and conviction—"after we have received the knowledge of the truth."
3rd, It must be in resolved malice.
Now you shall find all these ingredients in the sin of the Pharisees, Matt. 12:22. Christ heals one who was "possessed of the devil;" a great work, which amazed all the people, verse 23. But what say the Pharisees? see verse 24. "This man casts out devils—by the prince of devils!" Now that this was the sin against the Holy Spirit, is clear; for it was both willful and malicious, and against clear convictions. They could not but see that he was the Son of God, and that this work was a special work of the Spirit of God in him; and yet they say, that he wrought this miracle by the devil! Whereupon Christ charges them with this "sin against the Holy Spirit," verse 31, 32, 33. Now the Pharisees were a sort of great religious professors; whence I gather this conclusion, that it is the professor of religion, who is the subject of this unpardonable sin; not the open carnal sinner, not the true believer—but the formal professor. Not the profane sinner—for he has neither light nor grace. Not the believer—for he has both light and grace. Therefore the formal professor, for he has light but no grace.
Here, then, is the great danger of being almost a Christian—he is liable to this dreadful unpardonable sin.
6. The being but almost a Christian, subjects us to apostasy. He who 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 14:9. "Who is wise? He will realize these things. Who is discerning? He will understand them. The ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them." "The righteous walk in them." He whose heart is renewed and made right with God, he shall keep close to God in his ways. "But the rebellious stumble in them." The word in the Hebrew signifies to prevaricate; so that we may read the words thus, "The ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, but he who prevaricates (that is, a hypocrite,) in the ways of God, he shall stumble in them."
An unsound heart will never hold out long in the ways of God, "He was a burning and a shining light, and you were willing for a season to rejoice in that light." "For a season;" For a short space—and then they left him.
It is a notable question Job puts concerning the hypocrite, "For what is the hope of the hypocrite, when God takes away his soul? Will he delight himself in the Almighty? will he always call upon God?" Job 27:8, 10. 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 that a believer may fall—but yet "he rises again, the everlasting arms are underneath him." But when the hypocrite falls, who shall help him up? Solomon says, "Woe to him who is alone when he falls!" that is without interest in Christ. Why woe to him? "For he has none to help him up." If Jesus Christ does 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 God 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 which had leaves but no fruit, he pronounces the curse of barrenness upon it, "Fruit will never grow on you again." And so Ezek. 47:11, "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 thealmost Christian's judgment—he who 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 blind his eyes under the ordinances.
To have a hard heart, is a dreadful judgment, and there is no hypocrite, but he has a hard heart. My brethren, it is a dreadful thing for God to give 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 who falls but a little short of heaven—will fall deepest into hell! He who has been nearest to conversion, yet remain unconverted—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 greater the damnation. He miscarries with a light in his hand; he perishes under many convictions. 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!
Now, then, to sum up all under this head. If to be almost a Christian hinders the true work of conversion; if it is easily mistaken for conversion; if it is a degree of blasphemy; if this is 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 is that which exceedingly aggravates our damnation; surely 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 Spirit, "So run that you may obtain." "Give diligence to make your calling and election sure."
Use—of EXHORTATION. Do you need any MOTIVES to quicken you up to this important duty?
Consideration 1. This is that which is not only commanded by God—but that whereunto all the commands of God tend. A perfect conformity of heart and life to God—is the sum and substance of all the commands both of the Old and the New Testament. As the harlot was for the dividing of the child, so Satan is for dividing the heart. He would have our love and affections shared between Christ and our lusts; for he knows that Christ reckons we love him not at all, unless we love him above all. But God will have all or none, "My son, give me your heart!" "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might!"
Look into the Scripture, and see what foundation that salvation stands upon—and you shall find that God has fixed it upon those great duties which alone tend to the perfection of your state as Christians. God has fixed your all upon believing; only believe. God has fixed your all upon obedience, "You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve." "Only let your life be such as befits the gospel of Christ." So that your all is fixed by God upon these two great duties of believing andobeying; both which tend to the perfection of your state as Christians. Now, shall God command—and shall not we obey? Can there be a higher motive to duty than the authority of the great God, whose will is the eternal rule of righteousness? "O let us fear God, and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man!"
Consideration 2. The Lord Christ is a thorough Savior—a perfect and complete Mediator. He has not shed his blood by halves, nor satisfied the justice of God, and redeemed sinners by halves. No—but he went through with his undertaking; he bore all our sins, and shed all his blood! He died to the utmost, satisfied the justice of God to the utmost, redeemed sinners to the utmost, and now that he is in heaven he intercedes to the utmost, and saves to the utmost. It is observed, that our Lord Christ, when he was upon the earth, in the days of his flesh, he wrought no half-cures; but whoever they brought to him for healing—he healed them thoroughly. "People brought all their sick to him and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed." Matthew 14:35-36.
O what an excellent physician is here! There is none like him! He cures infallibly, immediately, and perfectly! He cures infallibly. None ever came to him for healing—who went away without it. He never practiced upon any who miscarried under his hand. He cures immediately. No sooner is his garment touched—but his patient is healed! The leper, Matt. 8:3, is no sooner touched—but immediately cured! The two blind men, Matt. 20:34, are no sooner touched—but their eyes were immediately opened! He cures perfectly, "As many as were touched—were made perfectly whole." Now all this was to show what a perfect and complete Savior Jesus Christ would be, to all sinners who would come to him. They would find healing in his blood, virtue in his righteousness, and pardon for all their sins—whatever they were. Look! as Christ healed all the diseases of all who came to him, when he was on earth—so he pardons all the sins, and heals all the wounds of all those souls that come to him, now that he is in heaven. He is a complete Savior—and shall not we be complete saints? Shall he be altogether a Redeemer; and shall not we be altogether believers? O, what a shame is this!
Consideration 3. There is enough in true religion to engage us to be altogether Christians; and that whether we respect profit or comfort, for grace brings both.
First, Godliness is a GAINFUL thing; and this is a compelling motive that becomes effectual upon all. Gain is the god which the world worships. What will not men do—what will they not suffer—for gain? What journeys do men take by land, what voyages by sea, through hot and cold, through fair and foul, through storm and shine, through day and night—and all for gain! Now there is no calling so gainful as godliness; it is the most profitable employment we can take up. "Godliness is profitable unto all things." 1 Timothy 4:8. "Godliness with contentment is great gain." 1 Timothy 6:6. It is a great revenue. If it is closely followed, it brings in the greatest income.
Indeed, some men are religious for the world's sake; such shall be sure not to gain. But those who are religious for piety's sake, shall be sure not to lose, if heaven and earth can recompense them; for "godliness has the promise both of the life that now is, and of that which is to come." Ah, who would not be a Christian, when the gain of godliness is so great! Many gain much in their worldly calling—but the profit which the true believer has from one hour's communion with God in Christ, weighs down all the gain of the world. "Cursed is that man who counts all the gain of the world worth one hour's communion with Jesus Christ," says that noble Marquis, Galeaceus Caracciola.
It is nowhere said in Scripture, "Happy is the man who finds silver, and the man who gets fine gold." These are of no weight in the balance of the sanctuary; but it is said, "Happy is the person who finds wisdom and gains understanding. For the profit of wisdom is better than silver, and her wages are better than gold. Wisdom is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. She offers you life in her right hand, and riches and honor in her left. She will guide you down delightful paths; all her ways are satisfying." Proverbs 3:13-17. By wisdom and understanding here, we are to understand the grace of Christ; and so the spirit of God interprets it. "Behold the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding." Now of all merchants, he who trades in this wisdom and understanding will prove the richest man—one grain of godliness outweighs all the gold of Ophir. There are no riches like being rich in grace. For,
1. Godliness is the most necessary gain. The things of this world are not so. Silver and gold are not so—we may be happy without them. There is but one thing necessary, and that is the grace of Jesus Christ in the heart. Have this—and have all. Lack this—and lack all.
2. Godliness is the most substantial gain. The things of this world are more shadow than substance. Pleasure, honor, and profit comprehend all things in this world, and therefore are the carnal man's trinity. The apostle John calls them, "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life." This, (says he,) is all that is in the world: and truly, if this be all, all is nothing. For what is pleasure—but a dream and conceit? What is honor—but fancy and opinion? And what is profit—but a thing of naught? "Why will you set your eyes upon that which is not?" The things of the world have in them no sound substance, though foolish, carnal men call them substance. But grace is a substantial good; so our Lord Christ calls it, "That I may cause those who love me to inherit substance," to inherit that which is. Grace is a reality: other things are but show and fancy.
3. Godliness is the safest gain. The gain of worldly things is always with difficulty—but seldom with safety. The soul is often hazarded in the over-eager pursuit of worldly things. Nay, thousands do pawn, and lose, and damn their precious souls eternally—for a little silver and gold, which are but the guts and garbage of the earth!"For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" Mark 8:36. But the gain of godliness is ever with safety to the soul; nay, the soul is lost and undone without it, and not saved but by the attainment of it. A soul without grace is in a lost and perishing condition. The hazard of eternity is never over with us—until the grace of Christ Jesus is sought by us, and wrought in us.
4. Godliness is the surest gain. As it is safe—so it is sure. Men make great ventures for the world—but all runs upon uncertainty. Many venture much, and wait long—and yet find no return—but only disappointment. They sow much—and yet reap nothing. But the gain of godliness is sure; "to him who sows righteousness, shall be a sure reward." And as the things of this world are uncertain in the getting, so they are uncertain in the keeping. If men do not undo us, moths may; if robbery does not, rustmay; if rust does not, fire may; to which all earthly treasures are incident, as our Lord Christ teaches us, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal." Matthew 6:19. Solomon pictures the world with wings, "Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle!" Proverbs 23:4-5. A man may be rich as Dives today—and yet poor as Lazarus tomorrow. O how uncertain are all worldly things! But the true treasure of grace is in the heart—that can never be lost. It is out of the reach both of rust and robber. He who gets the world—gets a good he can never keep! He who gets grace—gets a good he shall never lose!
5. The profit of godliness lies not only in this world—but in the world to come. All other profit, lies in this world only. Riches and honor, etc., are called this world's goods. But the riches of godliness are chiefly in heaven—in the enjoyment of God, and Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, among saints and angels in glory. Lo, this is the gain of godliness; "such honor have all his saints!"
6. The gain of godliness is a durable and eternal gain. All this world's goods are perishing; perishing pleasures, perishing honors, perishing profits, and perishingcomforts. "Riches are not forever!" Says Job, "Have you entered into the treasures of the snow?" Gregory upon these words observes, that earthly treasures are treasures of snow. What pains do children take to scrape and roll the snow together to make a snow-ball, which is no sooner done but the heat of the sun dissolves it, and it comes to nothing. Why, the treasures of worldly men are but treasures of snow. When death and judgment come, they melt away, and come to nothing. "Riches profit not in the day of wrath—but righteousness delivers from death." You see here the great advantage of godliness; so that if we look at profit, we shall find enough in godliness, to engage us to be altogether Christians.
Second, Godliness is the most COMFORTABLE profession. There are no comforts which can compare to the comforts of grace and godliness.
1. Worldly comfort is only external. It is but skin-deep, "In the midst of laughter the heart is sorrowful." But the comfort which flows from godliness is an inward comfort, a spiritual joy; therefore it is called gladness of heart. "You have put gladness in my heart;" other joy smooths the brow—but this fills the heart.
2. Worldly comfort is always mixed. The spring of worldly comfort is in the creature, in some earthly enjoyment; and, therefore, the comfort of worldly men must needs be mixed and muddy, "an unclean fountain cannot send forth pure water." But spiritual comfort has an upper spring. The comfort which accompanies godliness, flows from the manifestations of the love of God in Christ, from the workings of the blessed Spirit in the heart—who is first a Counselor, and then a comforter. Therefore the comforts of the saints must needs be pure and unmixed comforts; for they flow from a pure spring.
3. Worldly comfort is very fading and transitory. "The triumphing of the wicked is but short, and the joy of the hypocrite is but for a moment." Solomon compares it to the "crackling of thorns under a pot," which is but a blaze, and soon out. So is the comfort of carnal hearts. But the comfort of godliness is a durable and abidingcomfort; "your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man shall take from you." The comfort of godliness is lasting—yes everlasting; it abides by us in life, in death, and after death.
First, "It abides by us in LIFE." Grace and peace go together. Godliness naturally brings forth comfort and peace: "The effect of righteousness, shall be peace." It is said of the primitive Christians, "They walked in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit." Acts 9:31. Every duty done in uprightness and sincerity, reflects some comfort upon the soul. "In keeping the commands, there is great reward;" not only for keeping of them—but in keeping of them. As every flower, so every duty carries sweetness and refreshing with it.
Objection. "But who more dejected and disconsolate than believers? Whose lives are more uncomfortable? Whose mouths are more filled with complaints, than theirs? If a condition of godliness and Christianity is a condition of so much comfort—then why are they thus?"
Solution. That the people of God are oftentimes without comfort, I grant, "They may walk in the dark—and have no light." But this is not the products of godliness; grace brings forth no such fruit as this. There is a threefold rise and spring of it: Sin within, Desertion and Temptation without.
1. SIN within. The saints of God are not all spirit, and no flesh; all grace, and no sin. They are made up of contrary principles. There is light and darkness in the same mind; sin and grace in the same will; carnal and spiritual in the same affections; there is "the flesh lusting against the Spirit." In all these, and too oft the Lord knows, is the believer led away captive by these warring lusts. So was the holy apostle himself, "I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin." This was that which broke his spiritual peace, and filled his soul with trouble and complaints, as you see, "O wretched man who I am! who shall deliver me from this body of death?" So that it is sin which interrupts the peace of God's people. Indwelling lust, stirring and breaking forth, must needs cause trouble and grief in the soul of a believer; for it is as natural for sin to bring forth trouble, as it is for grace to bring forth peace. Every sin contracts a new guilt upon the soul, and guilt provokes God; and where there is a sense of guilt contracted, and God provoked—there can be po peace, no quiet in that soul, until faith procures fresh sprinklings of the blood of Jesus Christ upon the conscience.
2. Another spring of the believer's trouble and disconsolateness of spirit, is the DESERTIONS of God. his follows upon the former. God sometimes disappears, and hides himself from his people, "Truly, you are a God who hides yourself." But the cause of God's hiding himself, is the believer's sinning, "Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you." In heaven, where there is no sinning, there is no losing the light of God's countenance for a moment; and if saints here could serve God without corruption, they would enjoy God without desertion; but this cannot be. While we are in this state, remaining lusts will stir and break forth, and then God will hide his face, and this must needs be trouble, "You did hide your face—and I was troubled." The light of God's countenance, shining upon the soul, is the Christian's heaven on this side heaven; and therefore it is no wonder if the hiding of his face is looked upon by the soul, as one of the days of hell. So it was by David, "The sorrows of death compassed me, the pains of hell got hold upon me; I found trouble and sorrow."
3. A third spring of the believer's trouble and disconsolateness of spirit, is the TEMPTATIONS of Satan. He is the great enemy of saints, and he envies the quiet and comfort that their hearts are filled with—when his own conscience is brimmed with horror and terror. Therefore, though he knows that he cannot destroy their peace, yet he labors to disturb their peace. As the blessed Spirit of God is first a sanctifier, and then a comforter, working grace in order to peace; so this cursed spirit of hell is first a tempter, and then a troubler; first persuading to act sin, and then accusing for sin. This is his constant practice upon the spirits of God's people. He cannot endure that they should live in the light of God's countenance, when himself is doomed to eternal, intolerable darkness!
And thus you see whence it is that the people of God are often under trouble and complaint. All arises from these three springs of Sin within, Desertions and Temptations without. If the saints could serve God without sinning, and enjoy God without withdrawing, and resist Satan without yielding—they would enjoy peace and comfort without sorrowing. This must be endeavored constantly here—but it will never be attained fully but in heaven. But yet so far as grace is the prevailing principle in the heart, and so far as the power of godliness is exercised in this life—so far the condition of a child of God is a condition of peace. For it is an undoubted truth, that the fruit of righteousness shall be peace. But suppose the people of God experience little of this comfort in this life, yet,
Secondly, They find it in the day of DEATH. Grace and holiness will minister unto us then, and that ministration will be peace. A believer has a twofold spring of comfort, each one emptying itself into his soul in a dying season; one is from above him, the other is from within him. The spring which runs comfort from above him, is the blood of Christ sprinkled upon the conscience; the spring that runs comfort from within him, is the sincerity of his heart in God's service. When we lie upon a death-bed, and can reflect upon our principles and performances in the service of God, and there find uprightness and sincerity of heart running through all—this must needs be comfort. It was so to Hezekiah, "Remember, O Lord, how I have walked before you in truth, and with a perfect heart; and have done who which is good in your sight." Nothing makes a death-bed so uneasy and hard—as a life spent in the service of sin and lust. Nothing makes a death-bed so soft and sweet—as a life spent in the service of God and Christ. Or perhaps the people of God should not meet with this comfort at the time of death; yet,
Thirdly, They shall be sure to find it AFTER DEATH. If time brings none of this fruit to ripeness, yet eternity shall! Grace in time—will be glory in eternity! Holinessnow—will be happiness then! "Whatever a man sows he will also reap; because the one who sows to his flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit." When sin shall end in sorrow and misery—holiness shall end in joy and glory! "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter you into the joy of your Lord!" Whoever shares in the grace of Christ in this world, shall share in the joys of Christ in the world to come; which is "joy unspeakable, and full of glory!"
Lo, here is the fruit of godliness. Say now, if there is not enough in true religion, whether we respect profit or comfort, to engage us to be Christians throughout?
Consideration 4. What an entire resignation wicked men make of themselves to their lusts—and shall not we do so to the Lord Christ! They give up themselveswithout reserve to the pleasures of sin; and shall we have our reserves in the service of God! They are altogether sinners; and shall not we be altogether saints! They run, and faint not, in the service of their lusts; and shall we faint, and not run, in the service of Christ! Shall the servants of corruption have their ears bored to the door-posts of sin, in token of an entire and perpetual service, and shall we not give up ourselves to the Lord Christ, to be his forever! Shall others make a "covenant with hell and death," and shall not we "join ourselves to God in an everlasting covenant that cannot be forgotten!" Shall they take more pains to damn their souls—than we do to save ours! Shall they make more speed to a place of punishment, than we do to a crown of righteousness! Which do you judge best, to be saved everlastingly, or to perish everlastingly? Which do you count the best master—God or the devil? Christ or your lusts? I know you will determine it on Christ's side.
O then! when others serve their lusts with all their hearts—you must serve Christ with all your hearts. If the hearts of others are fully set to do evil—then much more let the hearts of believers be fully set to do good.
Consideration 5. If you are not altogether Christians, you will never be able to appear with comfort before God, nor to stand in the judgment of the last and great day. For this sad dilemma will silence every hypocrite: "If my commands were not holy, just, and good—why do you not obey them? If Jesus Christ was not worth the having—why did you profess him? If he was, then why did you not cleave to him, and close with him? If my ordinances were not appointed to convert and save souls—why did you sit under them, and rest in the performance of them? Or if they were—then why did you not submit to the power of them? If religion is not good—why did you profess it? If it is good—why do you not practice it?"
"Friend, how did you get in here, without having on a wedding-garment?" If it was not a wedding-feast, why did you come at the invitation? If it was, then why did you come without a wedding-garment? I would but ask a hypocritical professor of the Gospel, what he will answer in that day? Truly you deprive yourselves of all possibility of an answer in "the day of the righteous judgment of God." It is said of the man who had no wedding-garment on, that when Christ came and examined him, he wasspeechless. He who is graceless in a day of grace, will be speechless in a day of judgment! Professing Christ without a heart to close with Christ, will leave our soulsinexcusable, and make our damnation unavoidable and more intolerable.
These are the motives to enforce the duty; and O that God would set them home upon your hearts and consciences, that you might not dare to rest a moment longer in a half-work, or in being almost Christians—but that you might be altogether Christians!
Question. But you will say possibly, "How shall I do this? What means shall I use, that I may attain to a thorough work in my heart; that I may be no longer almost—butaltogether a Christian?"
Answer. Now I shall lay down three rules of direction—to further and help you in this important duty.
Direction 1. Break off all false peace of conscience. This is the devil's bond to hold the soul from seeking after Christ. As there is the peace of God—so there is the peace of Satan; but they are easily known, for they are as contrary as heaven and hell, as light and darkness. The peace of God, flows from a work of grace in the soul, and is the peace of a regenerate state; but the peace of Satan is the peace of an unregenerate state, it is the peace of death. In the grave Job says there is peace, "There the wicked cease from troubling;" so a soul dead in sin is full of peace, the wicked one troubles him not.
The peace of God in the soul is a peace flowing from removal of guilt, by justifying grace, "Being justified by faith in his blood, we have peace with God." But the peace of Satan in the soul arises and is maintained by a stupidity of spirit, and insensibility of guilt upon the conscience. The peace of God is a peace from sin that fortifies tile heart against it, "The peace of God which passes all men's understanding, shall, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." The more of this peace there is in the soul, the more is the soul fortified against sin. But the peace of Satan—is peace in sin, "The strong man armed keeps the house, and there is all at peace." The saint's peace is a peace with God—but not with sin. The sinner's peace is a peace with sin—but not with God. This is a peace better broken than kept. It is a false, a dangerous, an undoing peace.
My brethren, death and judgment will break all peace of conscience—but not that which is wrought by Christ in the soul, and is the fruit of the "blood of sprinkling." "When he gives quietness, who can make trouble?" Now that peace which death will break—why should you keep? Who would be fond of that peace—which the flames of hell will burn up! And yet how many travel to hell through the fool's paradise of a false peace? O break off this peace! for we can have no peace with God in Christ, while this peace remains in our hearts!
The Lord Christ gives no peace to those who will not seek it; and that man will never seek it, who does not see his need of it—he who is at peace in his lusts, sees no need of the peace of Christ. The sinner must be wounded for sin, and troubled under it, before Christ will heal his wounds, and give him peace from it.
Direction 2. Labor after a thorough work of conviction. Every conviction will not do it. The almost Christian has his convictions, as well as the true Christian, or else he had never gone so far; but they are not sound and right convictions, or else he would have gone farther. God will have the soul truly sensible of the bitterness of sin, before it shall taste the sweetness of mercy. The plough of conviction must go deep, and make deep furrows in the heart, before God will sow the precious seed of grace and comfort there—that so it may have depth of earth to grow in. This is the constant method of God: first to show man his sin—then his Savior; first his danger—then his Redeemer; first his wound—then his cure; first his own vileness—then Christ's righteousness. We must see the leprosy of our sinfulness, and be brought to cry out, "Unclean, unclean!" We must mourn for Him whom we have pierced—and then he sets open for us a "fountain to cleanse them from all sin and impurity."
The sinner must see the vileness and unprofitableness of his unrighteousness, before he profit by Christ's righteousness. The Israelites are first stung with the fiery serpents—and then the brazen serpent is set up to heal them. Ephraim is first thoroughly convinced, and then God's affections of mercy worked toward him. Thus it was with Paul, Manasseh, the jailer, etc. So that this is the unchangeable method of God in bestowing grace—to begin with conviction of sin. O therefore labor for thorough conviction! There are three things we should especially be convinced of.
First, be convinced of the evil of sin—the filthy and heinous nature of it. Sin is the greatest evil in the world—it wrongs God; it wounds Christ; it grieves the Holy Spirit; it damns a precious soul. All other evils cannot be compared with this. Though to DO sin is the worst work—yet to SEE sin is the best sight! Sin discovered in its vileness—makes Christ to be desired in his fullness.
But above all, labor to be convinced of the mischief of an unsound heart; what an abhorrence it is to God, what certain ruin it brings upon the soul. O think often upon the hypocrite's hell. "For the hearts of these people are hardened, and their ears cannot hear, and they have closed their eyes—so their eyes cannot see, and their ears cannot hear, and their hearts cannot understand, and they cannot turn to me and let me heal them."
Secondly, be convinced of the misery and desperate danger of a natural condition. Until we see the plague of our hearts and the misery of our state by nature—we shall never be brought off ourselves to seek help in another.
Thirdly, be convinced of the utter insufficiency and inability of anything below Christ Jesus to minister relief to your soul in this case. All things besides Jesus Christ are "physicians of no value." Religious duties, performances, prayers, tears, self-righteousness, avail nothing in this case. They make us like the troops of Tema, to return "ashamed at our disappointment" from such "failing brooks." Alas! it is Christ's infinite righteousness which must atone for our sins--for it is an infinite God whom we have sinned against! If ever your sin is pardoned--it is Christ's infinite mercy which must pardon it! If ever you are reconciled to God--it is Christ's infinite merit which must do it! If ever your heart is changed--it is Christ's infinite power which must effect it! If ever your soul escapes hell, and is saved at last--it is Christ's infinite grace which must save it!
In these three things, right and sound conviction lies. Wherever the Spirit of God works these thorough convictions, it is in order to a true and sound conversion: for by this means the soul is brought under a right qualification for the receiving of Christ.
A sinner can never come to Christ—for he is dead in sin, in enmity against Christ, an enemy to God and the grace of God. But there are certain qualifications which come between the soul dead state in sin, and the work of conversion and closing with Christ—whereby the soul is put into a capacity of receiving the Lord Jesus Christ. No man is brought immediately out of his dead state and made to believe in Jesus Christ; there are some qualifications coming in between. Sound convictions are the right qualifications for the sinner's receiving Christ.
"I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." Luke 5:32. That is, such as see themselves sinners, and thereby in a lost condition. So Luke exemplifies it, "The Son of Man has come to seek and to save those who are lost." "He is anointed, and sent to bind up the brokenhearted, to comfort all who mourn." O therefore, if you would be sound Christians, get sound convictions. Ask those who are believers indeed, and they will tell you, had it not been for their convictions, they would have never sought after Christ for sanctification and salvation! They will tell you they would have perished—if they had not perished; they would have been in eternal bondage—but for their spiritual bondage!
Direction 3. Never rest in convictions—until they end in conversion. This is that wherein most men miscarry. They rest in their convictions, and take them forconversion—as if sin seen were therefore sin forgiven—as if a sight of the lack of grace were the truth of the work of grace. That is a notable place in Hosea 13:12-13, "Ephraim’s guilt is preserved; his sin is stored up. Labor pains come on him. When the time comes, he will not be born." As the child comes out of the womb, so is conversion born out of the womb of conviction. Now when the child sticks between the womb and the world, it is dangerous, it hazards the life both of mother and child. So when a sinner rests in conviction, and goes no farther—but sticks in the womb—this is very dangerous, and hazards the life of the soul. You who are at any time under convictions, O take heed of resting in them—do not stick in the womb!
Though it is true, that conviction is the first step to conversion—yet it is not conversion. A man may carry his convictions along with him into hell. What is that which troubles poor creatures, when they come to die, but this—-I have not improved my convictions; at such a time I was convinced of sin—but yet I went on in sin in the face of my convictions; in such a sermon I was convinced of such a duty—but I slighted the conviction; I was convinced of my lack of Christ, and of the readiness of Christ to pardon and save; but alas! I followed not the conviction.
Remember this; slighted convictions are the worst death-bed companions. There are two things especially, which above all others make a death-bed very uncomfortable:
1. Purposes and promises not performed.
2. Convictions slighted and not improved. When a man takes up purposes to close with Christ—and yet puts them not into execution; and when he is convinced of sin and duty—and yet improves not his convictions—O this will sting and wound at last! Now therefore, has the Spirit of the Lord been at work in your souls? Have you ever been convinced of the evil of sin, of the misery of a natural state, of the insufficiency of all things under heaven to help, of the fullness and righteousness of Jesus Christ, of the necessity of resting upon him for pardon and peace, for sanctification and salvation? Have you ever been really convinced of these things? O then, as you love your own souls, as ever you hope to be saved at last, and enjoy God forever—improve these convictions, and be sure that you do not rest in them until they rise up to a thorough close with the Lord Jesus Christ, and so end in a sound and perfect conversion! Thus shall you be not only almost—but altogether a Christian!